In Legal Practice Skills, a year-long, six-credit course, students will learn how to find the legal principles that apply to a particular situation; combine legal authorities to develop a cogent overall picture of the law; apply the law to a new set of facts; and present analyses and solutions orally and in writing.
Students will practice communicating formally, in legal documents and oral arguments, and informally, as all lawyers do on a daily basis, through email and in face-to-face meetings.
Through a series of exercises designed to simulate actual law practice, Legal Practice Skills exposes students to a range of practice skills beyond legal writing, including interviewing, negotiation, basic contract drafting, and fact development. The course urges students to think broadly about how different assignments and tasks fit together, as well as how they contribute to the ultimate goal of representing a client.
Legal Practice Skills Instruction
Legal Practice Skills is taught by full-time faculty who bring to bear a wide variety of professional experiences, spanning government, law firms, public service, and education, and share a commitment to best teaching practices. Students also hone their writing and oral communication skills in small groups led by Littleton Fellows, talented third-year students who are selected through a competitive process and are trained and closely supervised by the Legal Practice Skills faculty. Throughout the course, students receive individualized feedback from faculty and Littleton Fellows on their oral and written work.
Legal research is taught by Penn’s law librarians, who hold degrees in both law and library science. During interactive research workshops, students follow the librarians through examples of computerized research problems on their own laptops. Research and writing are integrated so that students use the resources they find to solve problems presented by the assignments in the course.
The Learning Process
Throughout the course, students assume the role of attorneys, drafting legal documents and engaging in practice simulations that expose students to aspects of transactional and litigation-based law practice. They also work collaboratively with their peers in class to formulate arguments. The faculty and Littleton Fellows work together to provide students with feedback on their work in individual and group settings.
The fall term covers the fundamentals of legal analysis and exposes students to a range of other practice skills. The course begins at 1L Orientation, with an introduction to the U.S. legal system and basic case-briefing skills. From there, students learn how to research, construct, and present legal arguments in legal memoranda, substantive emails, and face-to-face meetings. Students will use these skills to draft an in-depth memorandum analyzing a legal issue that arises from the transaction and a related assignment requiring students to orally communicate legal advice in a short video. To end the semester, working in teams, students also help guide a simulated client through a business transaction, practicing basic client interviewing, negotiating, and contract-drafting skills.
In the spring term, students learn and practice fact development and advocacy skills. Early in the semester, they write a motion brief addressed to a trial judge and argue the motion. For the rest of the semester, students grapple with a summary judgment problem, developing and distilling relevant facts from a client interview and various primary documents, drafting an affidavit and a statement of undisputed facts, and researching and drafting a summary judgment brief. Along the way, they also practice informally communicating with their client and supervising attorney, orally and in writing, and engage in simulated case conferences and settlement negotiations. The course culminates with an oral argument at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia before a panel of practicing lawyers and judges.