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Embracing experiential learning: Law school choices lead to jobs (or not)


I have only been teaching at Vanderbilt Law School for six years, and no one will make the mistake and call me an academic (I’m a pracademic). However, teaching experimental and skills based courses like Mediation and Legal Project Management or Legal Problem Solving with my colleague Professor Cat Moon has taught me something very important: The law students with multiple job offers in hand before they leave law schools are those that choose the experiential courses to augment the theoretical courses they are provided in law school.

Thinking like a lawyer is important. Learning to practice like a lawyer is equally important. In point of fact, potential employers assume that law students will be taught to think like a lawyer. What they are aggressively looking for are “practice ready” lawyers as they graduate from law school.

Over those six years, I have had anecdotal remarks made by students and former students about the value of the experiential courses they have taken at Vanderbilt Law. Earlier this year, I was awed to receive an email from a former student, now a first year associate, who reported, “Legal project management was the most valuable course I took in law school, with the possible exception of Civ Pro.” Professor Moon and I have been humbled when we receive messages like that from former students. It’s what makes us soldier on, confident that we are making a difference.

However, this year our experiential and practice focused courses are providing additional benefits to our students that were unexpected. On no less than four occasions this year (2018), Professor Moon and I have been asked by potential employers to provide them access to our “pipeline” of law students who are engaged in law school studies like mediation, legal project management and legal design thinking.

Our classes use Slack as a teaching and communication tool for our students. Now a standard Slack channel in our courses is one labeled “jobopportunities” This term’s legal project management course has specific employer entreaties directed to our students at Vanderbilt with job postings and requests for contacts to fill open positions which these employers believe our students are qualified for.

What are the lessons for law students who are interested in paying off their loans and getting interesting work to do after law school?

1) Choose law schools intentionally increasing their experiential course offerings that improve your practice readiness. A law school’s reputation for innovative course offerings increases your profile for employment demonstrably.

2) Choose experiential courses that match your career interests and request that your law school improve and enhance its experiential skill based course offerings.

Your intentionality while in law school can improve your employment prospects following the legal education journey.

After all, it’s your future. Why not be deliberate, intentional and strategic about improving it by the choices you are making now?

Larry Bridgesmith Larry Bridgesmith, J.D., is CEO of LegalAlignment LLC and a practicing lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. Larry is an adjunct professor in legal project management, conflict management and mediation at Vanderbilt University School of Law. In 2017, The Tennessee Bar Association awarded Larry its President’s Award and the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services awarded its Justice Janice Holder Award for service to the legal services community.