First Year Practicum Course

My colleague Jenny Moore permitted me to post this course description for Practicum.  She, Alfred Mathewson and  Sergio Pareja are each teaching one section of First Year Contracts.    The Practicum is a one credit course connected to  Contracts.  Here is her description: 

University of New Mexico School of Law Practicum course (Fall 2008)   


OVERVIEW:  The goal of the first year year Practicum is to give our students a chance to begin to develop their practical lawyering skills as well as their ethical and professional sensibilities alongside the analytical skills they are honing in their doctrinal courses.  We chose to link Practicum to Contracts, one of our three first semester doctrinal courses, so that we could develop hypothetical exercises that built upon a particular substantive law foundation, and so that three professors could collaborate closely in teaching the course.  Thus we created a “paper client,” Elaine Lobato, who is involved in an employment contract dispute, and we generated various practice-related exercises designed to help students think in practical ways about client representation. 


    MOORE section (please note that the other sections incorporated some of these elements as well, or generated their own exercises and assignments):


    This section of Practicum regularly broke into small groups, either two groups of 20 students, or three groups of 13.  These groups were led by the instructor, her 2L teaching assistant and invited guest facilitators, including other faculty and staff members.


    Hypothetical exercises:


    1.  The first exercise was a mock interview of the client, Elaine Lobato (played by a 3L student actor) by her attorney, Atticus Finch (a 2L actor).  Our Practicum students observed the interview, and then were given the opportunity to ask the client additional questions to help draw out the factual basis for her potential claim.  This first exercise focused on the importance of building a trust relationship with the client, as well as thorough fact development. 

    2.  Second, the students were asked to draft a letter to Ms. Lobato, as her potential attorney, offering to represent her and clearly defining the scope of representation.  This second exercise focused on the need to clearly define the issues and the role that the attorney is taking on, whether initial research, negotiations, filing a law suit, defense against a particular law suit or law suits, etc. 

    3.  The third assignment asked the students to draft a letter from Ms. Lobato to the local Board of Education, in which she sought to accept an offer of employment.  This third exercise focused on the importance of careful drafting, to ensure that the various elements of an agreement are present, including essential terms.

    4.  The fourth assignment then required the students to analyze Ms. Lobato’s letter to the Board of Education and other related communications in terms of the validity of the writings under the Statute of Frauds.  This exercise was designed to help students apply common law and statutory requirements to a particular set of facts, and to develop creative legal strategies for seeking a particular outcome.


    In addition to these four skills-based exercises, this year’s Practicum gave our students the opportunity to attend presentations by lawyers working in various fields, and to ask them questions about their career experiences.  One attorney talked about the case of Delgado v. Phelps Dodge, a wrongful death case that she ultimately brought to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which served to narrow the scope of employer immunity from tort liability for workplace injury.  Another attorney will speak with our students about his commercial and tort-related practice, encompassing transactional work, as well as the defense of catastrophic injury and medical malpractice claims.  Finally, our students attended a lecture by Sian Elias, Chief Justice of the New Zealand Supreme Court, who spoke about the rights of indigenous people from a comparative law perspective.  Her lecture was of considerable relevance to our students interested in concentrating in the field of Indian Law as well as those whose New Mexico practice will require an understanding of the interrelationships between Indian law, state law, federal law and regional/international law.


    Finally, Practicum has created several opportunities for students to think about the practice of law in a broader human context.  One of the sections developed a mini “Law and Literature” unit, in which students selected a work of fiction or non-fiction grappling with justice issues in a particular historical or cultural setting.  Students selected among three books — A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest Gaines, looking at issues of race and criminal justice; The Welsh Girl, by Peter Ho Davies, revolving around a German POW camp in a Welsh town during the Second World War; and Benjamin Cardozo’s Nature of the Judicial Process, reflecting on the historical evolution of legal precedent.  Before the semester is out, our students will have the opportunity to reflect on their own career goals, and the ways in which they hope to engage their values in the practice of law. 



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