Newswise — The University of Dayton School of Law will become the first law school in the nation to offer an accelerated option that allows highly motivated students to finish law school in five, instead of the traditional six, semesters. If students begin their law studies in the summer, they can graduate in two years. The focus is on empowering students to develop the calendar and course of studies that fit their goals. It's all part of a new curriculum to be launched in fall 2005 that borrows a page or two from medical and business schools. Every student will complete an externship and pass a skills-competency test before graduating. Taking a cue from medical schools that use actors to play the parts of patients in simulated exams, the School of Law will hire actors to play the roles of clients. The test may cover everything from domestic violence to depositions to the toughest one: breaking the bad news to your client that he doesn't have a case. "It's on the cutting edge of legal education and will put the University of Dayton School of Law in the forefront," said U.S. District Judge Walter H. Rice.
What can lawyers learn from doctors and business experts? ''Plenty,'' said Lisa Kloppenberg, dean of the School of Law. ''When it comes to training new lawyers, the University of Dayton School of Law sought out best practices at medical and business schools so that it could provide more high-quality, experiential learning opportunities for students." To achieve depth of knowledge in a practice area, all students will complete one of three curricular tracks--advocacy and dispute resolution; general practice; or law, technology and innovation. All tracks include mandatory courses in dispute resolution and values and ethics, as well as a capstone course that brings together skills, theory, research and writing. The new curriculum is designed to provide students with the breadth of knowledge needed to pass the bar on the first attempt and hit the ground running after graduation. "The University of Dayton is enabling its law graduates to become problem-solving leaders who serve their clients, the justice system and their communities with ethics and integrity," Kloppenberg said. "Our new curriculum includes innovative elements designed to attract high-caliber students and prepare them well for the bar and practice."
Kloppenberg said prospective students have already expressed an interest in the option of finishing their degree more quickly and getting a jump on the job market. "You can save living expenses and actually graduate in two calendar years if you start in the summer and use the next summer to clerk at a law firm. A new generation of students who have gone through college at an accelerated pace, want to learn rapidly and want to begin their careers quickly," she said. Like Heather Duwel. She took college classes while finishing high school and expects to graduate this spring from Otterbein College with a degree in psychology--at the age of 20. Her top choice for law school is the University of Dayton because of the accelerated curriculum. "It's not that I want to get out so quickly. I'm afraid I'll start to get bored," said Duwel, of Vandalia, Ohio. "Plus I've wanted to be a lawyer since I was little. I want to get my degree and become a family attorney. I want to make a difference." The new curriculum is designed to graduate job-ready lawyers who have been seasoned by real --and simulated--experience. Law professor Dennis Turner has already incorporated role-playing into his "Virtual Law Firm" seminar that is being offered this semester. He's hired an acting coach and a cadre of skilled actors to play the roles of clients and witnesses--all geared to help students learn skills such as interviewing, negotiating and plea bargaining. Turner, who is designing the mandatory skills proficiency tests that will be a part of the new curriculum, sat in on a simulated client session at the University of Massachusetts Medical School last year and saw how it benefited medical students. He quickly realized how valuable a lesson this could be for law students. "It was like Saul's fall on the road to Damascus for me," he said. "Law schools turn out law graduates and say, 'You can represent clients,' but don't test them on this. This will give students the opportunity to make mistakes, but mistakes that don't hurt a real client. These are mistakes they will never make again." Each student will leave UD's law school with a DVD of their finest moments with clients. "They can say to a prospective employer, 'Take a look at this. You can see me in action.'"