University of Denver

Family Law Course Blends Legal Doctrine with Field Observation and Simulation

Former Senior Director

Four years ago, Professor Andrew Schepard and his colleagues at Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University developed a family law class that would strike a balance between doctrine and skills development. This week, we added it to our growing collection of innovative law school courses. In a recent interview, Professor Schepard discussed the course, which he has taught the last three years:

"The goal is to reinforce their substantive learning with skills development to send them the message that these two are not separate things... Knowing your doctrine is a necessary but not sufficient condition to being an effective lawyer... If you give them a challenge which incorporates legal doctrine and say, 'perform a professional role using this legal doctrine,' they have to learn the doctrine better. They can't just wait until the end of the semester." (the full interview is available here)

Pam Gagel, who heads up the Honoring Families Initiative at IAALS, says courses like this will be important as jurisdictions around the country look for practical solutions to the widespread challenges in divorce and child custody actions.

Erin McGrath took Family Law with Skills as a second year law student and she agrees that integrating a practical skills component makes the class invaluable. In fact, she recommends it to all students at Hofstra--even those not actively pursuing a career in family law--because of the benefits she gained by learning the practical side of a substantive area of law:

Visit the full course portfolio to access the course description and design, along with a paper on the class concept, an assignment list, student work, videos, and recommendations from Professor Schepard for educators interested in teaching a course like his.

Do you teach an innovative law school class that integrates two or more of the Carnegie apprenticeships? Please consider sharing your teaching methodology, tips, and activities.