Two Views of Law School: Doctrine and Lawyering Lab

The first semester of 1L behind me and fully rested from break, it was with enthusiasm that I showed up yesterday morning for the first day of spring classes.

Yet more than my recent weeks of (1) sleeping in, (2) visiting long-lost friends, and (3) watching all the iterations of Bandersnatch, my experience last week at BU Law’s Lawyering Lab rendered me confident in my choice in law school and even more positive about entering the legal profession. Much of this stemmed from the experiential, rather than doctrinal, nature of the pre-semester program.

In a nutshell, Lawyering Lab groups 1Ls from across sections into teams that negotiate on behalf of a party in an immersive transactional simulation. Our scenario involved biomedical tech, IP, and contract drafting. As a practice overall, it was valuable because it (1) introduced students to those from other sections, (2) provided a low-stakes environment in which to learn, and (3) focused primarily on practical skills rather than purely intellectual enrichment.

Meeting students from other sections might seem trivial, but honestly it was refreshing. I’m in section C, home to around 95 students. All of my classes have been with these same folks, and we’ve grown close as a group over the past semester, but it means inteconnectionthat I basically don’t know the other 2/3 of my peers in the class of 2021. I worked in a team of five. Part of what the benefit of meeting these people was gaining exposure to the qualified character and diverse backgrounds of my peers, information I cannot always access in a large doctrinal class during a series of cold calls. Day after day of Lawyering Lab, I was impressed my my teammates’ various abilities to organize and apply themselves in space and time.

“I’ve reserved room 414 for us to plan in from 2-4pm.” “Guys just checking in we have about 45 minutes until client counseling so make sure you update your part of the Google doc.” “I think we need to spend time later not just prepping our points but anticipating what the other team is going to find important in the contract.”

We all had different strengths and points of weakness, but I was thoroughly impressed by the positive attitude and willingness to collaborate my peers demonstrated. It made me proud to be studying at BU with them, and optimistic about our potential to make a positive impact on the legal field.

Lawyering Lab’s low-stakes learning environment was an excellent way to return from break and prepare for spring classes. Don’t confuse “low-stakes” with “boring” or “unimportant.” I have several criticisms of the way 1L doctrinal classes are structured and assessed, one being the radically overdetermined effect that a single curved exam can have on a student’s employability absent any other balancing mechanism.speed bus jump

If you consider 1L cynically, it can feel like the 1994 film Speed, featuring a scenario where Keanu Reeves must keep a bus from dropping below 50 miles an hour in order to keep it from exploding (i.e. reading, briefing, and anticipating cold calls for three months). At one point, the bus must bus clear a 50ft gap of elevated highway: not making the jump means the end of the movie (i.e. taking final exams). For the record, the foregoing description is certainly not how I felt last semester, though on certain days I did feel the need to keep my foot pressed down on the pedal.

This is all to say that Lawyering Lab lowered the stakes. We were present to learn and to develop professionally, and the absence of quantitative assessment made the experience sincerely enjoyable. Having had several years of professional experience before entering law school, it was a refreshing return to problem solving, learning by doing, and succeeding by collaborating with talented colleagues.

The practical skills we applied in Lawyering Lab also made for an enriching experience. Doctrinal classes certainly do teach relevant content and cultivate rhetorical proficiencies necessary for practice, but Lawyering Lab allowed us to apply some of lawyering labthat knowledge in a simulated real-world environment. Day two involved a client counseling session where a BU alum visited to play the client your team represented. We had to describe her legal options and help her reach an independent decision on what course of action she felt would benefit her business and address her concerns over risk. The feedback she provided was valuable. For one, she empowered us to be confident in our position as legal counselors: “If I say as your client that I intend to breach a contract, you as my lawyer are compelled to give me proper advice. That means clearly explaining to me the repercussions of breach and having me acknowledge as your client that you do not advise me to do that, that if I do so it’s on me, and that you’ve given me the right guidance and warning. That’s what you’re there to do. You know that. You need to make that clear.”

Prepping materials, conducting research, counseling a client, negotiating and drafting a contract, and reflecting on our performance was a rewarding experience. It has given me excellent subject matter to bring up in my judicial internship interviews (more on that in an upcoming post) and more importantly has given me confidence in my practical ability to succeed as a lawyer.

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