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Goals in the First Year of Law School
Many entering students assume that their primary objective in law school is to learn “the rules,” or legal doctrine. Undoubtedly, a major part of a law student’s time is spent mastering substantive rules of law. This, however, is only the most elementary aspect of legal education. It is roughly analogous to the relationship between learning the alphabet and reading the poetry of Pound, Eliot or Yeats.
The primary purpose of the first year is to begin the student’s mastery of lawyering skills. These include legal analysis – what is sometimes called “thinking like a lawyer.” It involves reading and understanding complex material, the application of logic, and an awareness of the way in which fundamental values can come into conflict, requiring policy judgments that necessarily go beyond strictly logical analysis. In addition, lawyering skills include the ability to communicate effectively and persuasively, arguing on the basis of authority (including cases and legislation), analogy, and policy derived from social theory, from the expressed or presumed rationale of a rule, and from other sources of law. Other skills include interviewing, counseling, negotiating and drafting.
Further, early in the first year of law school, the student should begin to understand the importance of the procedural framework in which substantive rules operate. This basic framework includes the stages of litigation and an appreciation of matters such as burden of proof, relevancy, and a variety of other evidentiary concerns.
The student should also become aware of the depth and complexity of issues of legal ethics or professional responsibility. These derive from the profession’s obligations to society and the attorney’s responsibilities to his or her client, to the court and to other lawyers.
Finally, the student should obtain an introduction to jurisprudence. This should include an appreciation of legal positivism, legal realism, natural law, and also a sense of justice and the legal system as a method – often an imperfect one – for achieving justice.
At Hofstra, students in their first year master these lawyering skills and values in a combination of learning environments suited to the purpose of their study.
Part-time students take Criminal Law and Lawmaking Institutions in their second year. Legal Writing and Research may be taken during the spring of either the first or second year for a part-time day student and must be taken during the first year summer for a part-time evening student.
Second and Third Year Required Law Courses
Legal Writing and Research and Appellate Advocacy*
Recognizing that legal writing and research are critical to legal practice, Hofstra has designed a required program that emphasizes individualized instruction in these skills. The heart of the Legal Writing and Research Program is the periodic conference between the instructor and the student, during which the latter receives a thorough critique of each writing assignment. The instructor and student then agree on goals for improvement and in the next conference examine the student’s subsequent writing to see whether these goals have been met. The writing instructors also conduct classes on techniques unique to legal writing and legal research. Legal Writing and Research is required of all first-year students. It is primarily a spring semester course, although the basics of legal research are taught in the fall. Two credits are awarded at the end of the first year.
During the fall semester of the second year, all students take Appellate Advocacy, in which they receive instruction in persuasive writing, oral advocacy, appellate advocacy and legal drafting. Each student represents a hypothetical client in a simulated appeal. The student submits two drafts of a brief, each of which is critiqued by the instructor, and the student argues the appeal orally before a panel of three judges who are role-played by a teacher, a practicing attorney and a third-year student.
Legal Writing and Research may be taken during the spring of either the first or second year for a part-time day student and must be taken during the first year summer for a part-time evening student.
Programs Beyond the Classroom: Skills Training, Simulation Courses, Externships and Clinics
Hofstra uses three primary methods of skills training in its extensive program: client representation clinics, simulation-based courses and externships. In the Law School’s client representation clinics, students represent real clients with real problems. In its simulation-based courses, students perform client representation skills in detailed hypothetical situations created by faculty. In the externship program, students participate in ongoing work at law offices and judges’ chambers. In all of the Law School’s clinical programs, students receive intensive supervision from full-time faculty to maximize their educational experience.
Client Representation Clinics
The School of Law believes that clinical education is an important part of a law student’s educational program. Clinical education helps the student integrate the ability to analyze cases and statutes with an understanding of the lawyer’s professional and social role. It also helps the law student develop important professional skills such as interviewing, counseling, negotiation and trial advocacy. Finally, clinical education allows students who wish to include community service in their law school experience to do so.
Hofstra’s first client representation clinics were established when the Law School was founded. The Law School’s Community Legal Assistance Corporation, an umbrella organization for its client representation clinics, has long provided service to the community and representation to those in need.
Third-year students enrolled in client representation clinics may appear in court on their clients’ behalf. Students also plan strategy, conduct client and witness interviews, gather facts, negotiate settlements, conduct legal research and draft pleadings.
The competent practice of law requires many skills. Research and writing, the development of facts, and the ability to deal with parties, witnesses and other lawyers are some of the more important and obvious of those skills. The Externship Program at Hofstra is one dimension of a skills program that includes trial advocacy, pretrial litigation, Inns of Court, appellate advocacy, in-house clinical programs, simulation courses and independent study. The Externship Program is designed to afford students the opportunity to work directly with judges, prosecutors’ offices, publicly funded criminal defense agencies, and other government agencies with a view toward developing lawyers’ skills in real-life situations with supervision and guidance by a full-time faculty member.
The Judicial Externship Program provides an opportunity for students to serve as apprentices for state and federal judges for a semester. As judicial externs for approximately 12 hours per week, students do research, write memoranda, observe court proceedings, and discuss cases with the judges. Through conferences with the judges, students gain insight into the effectiveness of litigation techniques and the practical impact of the judicial system. Students are supervised both by their judges and by the Law School program directors. Weekly seminars are held by the faculty directors.
The Civil Externship Program provides students with opportunities to learn lawyering skills through placements in a variety of nonprofit organizations or government agencies. Students work approximately 12 hours per week for such organizations as the state and federal judiciary, the New York State Attorney General, the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Nassau/Suffolk Legal Services, the Central American Refugee Center, the New York State Department of Labor, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Depending upon the particular placement, students may engage in all phases of legal work, including interviewing clients and witnesses, drafting legal documents, negotiating with attorneys, conducting research and preparing legal memoranda. Students are supervised by the supervising attorney in the particular organization and by the Law School faculty directors, who also conduct weekly seminars.
The Criminal Externship Program provides an opportunity for students to learn about all phases of criminal law practice through placements in such agencies as Nassau, Queens and Kings County District Attorneys’ offices and New York City and Nassau and Suffolk County Legal Aid offices. Students work approximately 12 hours per week and may be exposed to a wide variety of experiences, including legal research and writing, case investigation, witness interviewing and courtroom advocacy. Each student’s work is overseen by a supervising attorney in the appropriate organization as well as by the Law School faculty directors, who also conduct weekly seminars.
Family Law Legal Services Externship
Family Law Legal Services externs represent clients of the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Nassau/Suffolk Law Services Committee, Inc., and the Nassau County Bar in divorce and family law cases. The Volunteer Lawyers Project was established in 1983 to provide pro bono representation to indigent persons who are screened for eligibility and merit in their cases. Family Law Legal Services externs interview and assist persons seeking uncontested divorces. Some of these cases will develop into contested divorce cases in which the students may need to negotiate with opposing counsel and draft settlement agreements. Students may also have an opportunity to assist in court appearances.
Students work a minimum of 12 hours per week on their cases and associated projects. They must keep a journal and do any necessary research and writing associated with their cases. Each student must produce a minimum of 25 pages of substantial written work based on legal research over the course of the semester. The written work product of the Family Law Legal Services externs is supervised, and faculty meet with them periodically for this purpose.
Skills Training and Simulation Based Courses
Simulation-based education begins at Hofstra during the student’s first year, with many options for continuation in the upper-class years.
Moot Court Competitions
Hofstra has an extensive moot court competition program. Students participate in a wide range of competitions, including the National Moot Court Competition, Jessup International Law Competition, Judge Conrad B. Duberstein Moot Court Competition, Robert F. Wagner, Sr., National Labor and Employment Law Moot Court Competition, and Nassau Academy of Law Moot Court Competition. In the 1999-2000 academic year, the Hofstra team garnered first place in the Nassau Academy of Law Moot Court Competition, and the Hofstra team won the Best Brief Award in the regional National Moot Court Competition. The Hofstra Long Island Moot Court Team took second place in the Long Island Moot Court Competition, and a Hofstra Law student won the prize for Best Oralist.
The Law School offers intensive support of its students who want to participate in moot court competitions. It offers a full-semester course titled the Moot Court Competition Seminar that trains prospective moot court competitors. The course culminates in an actual competition, the winners of which are awarded the Ruskin Moscou & Faltischek, PC Advocacy Award.
Students at Hofstra have also successfully competed in national trial competitions, under close faculty supervision and support. Hofstra students have taken part in the National Trial Competition, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (A.T.L.A.) Competition, and the prestigious National Criminal Defense Lawyers invitational trial competition, among others.
Students who are selected to compete in trial competitions may be eligible to receive one academic credit.