CAMDEN — This fall, the Rutgers School of Law–Camden is welcoming a new class of students who represent the future of the legal profession.
In three of four years, law firms will expect those students to become useful associates on their first day of employment. Rutgers–Camden is committed to doing everything it can to ensure that happens.
Law schools have come under scrutiny for not doing enough to prepare students for law practice, but through a comprehensive curriculum that allows its students to gain real world experience, Rutgers–Camden is focused on preparing law students to be more client-ready than ever.
“It’s important for students to be client-ready,” says J.C. Lore, a clinical professor of law and associate director of lawyering programs at Rutgers–Camden. “In the past, law firms and other employers frequently would bring in newly-graduated students and spend the first year or two dedicating a lot of time and resources to training them. Now, graduates need to be prepared to walk into courtrooms and immediately be effective advocates for their client while having the requisite skills to proceed to trial.”
The Rutgers School of Law–Camden offers a wide array of clinical and pro bono programs and courses that encourage students to obtain hands-on experience and represent clients under the supervision of experienced lawyers.
Each year, clinics at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden handle hundreds of cases with student attorneys providing free legal services to the Camden community.
Clinical programs include a Child and Family Advocacy Clinic in which students represent children in child abuse and neglect cases in Family Court in Camden; a Children’s Justice Clinic that serves high-risk youth; a Civil Practice Clinic in which students provide representation in civil cases under the supervision of an attorney; and a Domestic Violence Clinic where students provide legal advice and representation to people seeking domestic violence restraining orders in Camden County and occasionally in Burlington and Gloucester counties.
In addition to the clinical programs, Rutgers–Camden offers a revamped trial advocacy course that brings about 30 law practitioners and judges to campus — many of them Rutgers–Camden alumni —to work with students to develop their trial advocacy skills.
“The course gives the students an opportunity to perform two full trials, including a civil jury trial at the end of the semester in front of a real jury, and they learn these skills by actually practicing them,” says Lore.
Courtroom experience isn’t the only way Rutgers–Camden law students are gaining professional experience. Client readiness also involves non-litigation skills such as drafting wills, preparing bankruptcy filings, and helping Camden residents with basic state and federal income tax returns through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Project.
“Students gain valuable lawyering skills not only in the classroom but through the law school’s extensive clinical, externship and pro bono programs,” says Eve Biskind Klothen, assistant dean for pro bono and public interest programs at Rutgers–Camden.
For instance, in both the 501(c)(3) Pro Bono Project and the Bankruptcy Pro Bono Project, students learn, after training and observation, how to interview clients and do some counseling as well.
Through the Mediation Project, students complete the New Jersey mandated 18-hour mediation training in order to mediate cases in the local municipal and superior Courts.
“Not only do they become successful mediators and assist in the administration of justice by getting cases off the court’s docket, mediation skills such as goal identification and understanding of what clients really want to achieve enhance students’ understanding of how to provide the very best representation possible,” Klothen says.
The Pro Bono Program also includes many other projects, several of which also provide opportunities to develop and improve lawyering skills.
Up to 20 students annually complete real legal research assignments through Rutgers–Camden’s Pro Bono Research Project at Rutgers–Camden, which offers free legal research services to nonprofit organizations, government agencies, or lawyers working pro bono.
“Students benefit from increased opportunities for experiential learning,” says Sarah Ricks, a clinical law professor who started the Pro Bono Research Project with Klothen in 2003. “Experiential opportunities in law school can help students develop professional skills.”
In 2009, Ricks created a class based on the Pro Bono Research Project model by adding research training, casting students as peer reviewers of one another’s written work and oral presentations, and offering academic and intensive writing credit.
Collaboration between legal writing and clinical courses is another way Rutgers–Camden is meeting the market demand for more client-ready law graduates.
This model integrates legal writing courses with clinical work so students can grow as legal writers while also being exposed to a courtroom experience and observing how their writing and research will be applied in practice.
The interdependence and client-centered focus is reflected in the collaboration between the faculty members at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden, as many legal writing professors teach extensively in or work with the clinical and pro bono programs.
“Rutgers–Camden stands in a fairly unique position in that it’s had more integration between the clinicians and writing professors than what’s common at many other law schools,” says Ruth Anne Robbins, a clinical professor and director of lawyering programs at Rutgers–Camden.
The clinical and writing collaborations include a class, taught by a legal writing professor, Jason Cohen, in which students perform research and writing for a Philadelphia nonprofit organization that offers free legal services to low-income members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered communities.
Beth Stephens, a professor of law, instructs a course on human rights advocacy and litigation.
In addition, there are litigation and medical malpractice courses that combine fundamental, skills-based courses with simulation experiences that teach pre-trial litigation skills.
Rutgers–Camden offers several for-credit moot court competitions, including the Hunter Moot Court program, an advanced course in appellate advocacy in which students work in teams on simulated cases that places emphasis on the unique facts of a client’s case.
Through the process of learning advocacy on behalf of clients, Robbins says, the students learn the specifics of particular types of litigation or transactional documents.
“Realistically, we can’t teach every kind of pleading or contract that’s out there,” Robbins says. “What we can work on is teaching students how to focus on client needs and how to use problem solving techniques to, for example, navigate the court rules and figure out what might need to go in that complaint or motion, or to negotiate an agreement and write a contract. That is what we call ‘client ready’.”
For more information about the various clinics, clinic-and-writing courses, and trial advocacy programs, visit camlaw.rutgers.edu.
For more information about Rutgers–Camden news stories, visit us at news.rutgers.edu/medrel
Media Contact: Ed Moorhouse