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Preparing Real World Lawyers

June 03, 2024

Our Legal Practice Skills (LPS) course teaches our students to think, act, and communicate like an attorney with a focus on document-drafting, oral advocacy, and transactional negotiation.

At the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School we are committed to ensuring our students emerge as attorneys ready to practice law—and that dedication begins with our yearlong Legal Practice Skills (LPS) course, which goes well beyond legal research and writing and combines classroom instruction with experiential opportunities in drafting documents, oral advocacy, and transactional negotiation.

Sarah Pierce teaching LPS at Penn Carey Law Sarah Pierce, Denise A. Rotko Associate Dean for Legal Practice SkillsLed by Sarah Pierce, Denise A. Rotko Dean for Legal Practice Skills, and Jessica Simon C’95, Associate Director of Legal Practice Skills, LPS convenes students in small groups while also challenging and supporting them with one-on-one instruction—a format designed for collaboration on assignments, meaningful engagement with individualized feedback, and skill-building that equips them to enter the workforce as confident new attorneys.

“The purpose is really to connect the doctrine of law that they’re learning in their other classes, such as torts, contracts, criminal law, with the practice of that law, when representing a real client, one who’s embroiled in the criminal justice system or engaged in a contract dispute, for example,” said Pierce.

Hands-On Experience

As Penn Carey Law graduates embark on a range of careers that span across practice areas, disciplines, and industry sectors, our LPS curriculum exposes students to a variety of essential lawyering skills, connecting the theory and practice of law.

“At its very core, what I’m hoping that they take out of this class is an ability to practice law, and that begins in their first summer … as soon as they start working this summer, they will be thrown in as if they are lawyers,” said Simon.

Jessica Simon C'95 teaching LPS at Penn Carey Law Jessica Simon C’95, Associate Director of Legal Practice SkillsProblems crafted for students aren’t simple or straightforward, either. When designing the yearly curriculum, LPS faculty intentionally incorporate complexity into fact patterns and the legal issues raised by those fact patterns to prepare students for the real-world application of their skills in summer internships, and, eventually, their careers.

“We are preparing them throughout the year to face that challenge” so that when their supervisor this summer asks them to answer a client’s question, “they know how to do the research and to conduct the analysis, and then also to communicate that analysis both in writing and orally back to the supervisor,” said Simon.

To practice communicating an analysis orally, as a capstone to the course, students travel to the federal courthouse in Philadelphia to participate in oral arguments in front of three attorneys acting as judges.

The students are paired with another from their own section and against two students from a different section. The judges “pepper” the students with questions “and while lots of our students are terrified of this, they end up almost universally saying it’s one of the favorite things that they did in their first year.”

Individualized Guidance & Feedback

Individualized feedback and opportunities for iterative learning are central to the structure of our LPS programming. Early in their first semester, law students are assigned to write a “closed memo,” which is a legal memo analyzing a question using only the research materials provided to them in the assignment packet. Often a student’s first exposure to legal writing, this project is expected to be a challenge. But after receiving individual comments and feedback from their professors, the students are ready to take on more complex assignments as the year progresses.

Individualized feedback allows students to pinpoint their own unique needs and enables them to effectively grow their skills. Moreover, it also serves to build students’ sense of esteem and belonging within the Law School and, more broadly, in the legal profession.

Littleton Fellows

headshot of Liz Bedrick L'23 Liz Bedrick L’23, Littleton FellowA hallmark of the Penn Carey Law LPS program is our Littleton Fellows: 3L students who earn course credit for serving as an additional resource for LPS students throughout the year.

Each cohort of about ten law students is assigned a Littleton Fellow, a 3L selected through a competitive application process to work alongside the LPS faculty. The Fellows run a regular class meeting once a week, building on the classroom teaching from and guidance by the LPS professors. Littleton Fellows may also act as a liaison between students and LPS faculty.

“I applied to be a Littleton Fellow because I wanted to serve in a mentorship role to the 1Ls,” said Liz Bedrick L’23, past Littleton Fellow. “I loved being able to guide my students through the challenges of starting law school, and it was so impactful to watch them start from pretty much nothing and grow into young lawyers.”

Littleton Fellows also enhance their own professionalism skills by working with the 1Ls. The opportunity to read and critique 1L students’ drafts improves their own legal writing proficiency. “You spend a lot of your time critiquing your students writing. There were plenty of times where I read a turn of phrase or a sentence and I thought, wow, I’m going to use that going forward,” said Bedrick.

Bedrick especially appreciated the oral argument experience as a 1L. “I’m so grateful that LPS provides that opportunity to students, because I would have never known to try oral argument later on in Law School if I hadn’t had the chance to try it as a 1L,” she said.

Best of all, emblematic of Penn Carey Law’s collegial atmosphere, student connections with their 1L instructors and cohorts continue well beyond their first year.

“The best part of teaching in the Legal Practice Skills program is the Penn Carey Law students,” said Pierce. “We know these students so well, and the best part of it is that relationship doesn’t end when they leave our classroom, but it is really a career-long mentorship and professional relationship that really sustains. And I think that’s really unique and special.”

Learn more about Penn Carey Law’s Legal Practice Skills program.