University of Denver

Rutberg: Experiential Learning in Law School May Encourage Student Happiness

IAALS Intern

A study from the Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law & Ethics shows "law students who found ways to exercise their top strengths in daily life were less likely to report depression and more likely to report satisfaction." With this understanding, Professor Susan Rutberg of Golden Gate University School of Law, an Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers Consortium school, has published an article suggesting that experiential learning, such as through legal clinics, may increase law student happiness. Programs that allow students to synthesize and utilize legal concepts learned in substantive classes, and to actively work with clients on real cases, help students gain confidence in their lawyering skills. This increased confidence encourages students to exercise their strengths, resulting in tangible achievement, which Rutberg believes translates to higher satisfaction and happiness.

Golden Gate has expanded its clinical program and has instituted an experiential learning requirement to help boost student morale but also to encourage students to become better lawyers. In addition to offering extensive on-site clinics, Golden Gate offers a Honors Lawyering Program that allows students to work on their own cases before they become apprenticed for lawyers or judges in a field of their own choosing. The law school also provides experiential courses and programs, such as a summer trial and evidence program, designed to give students significant practical experience before graduating. Golden Gate reports that such programs have led to an increase in student satisfaction.

Golden Gate Professor Wes Reber Porter's course, White Collar Crime in Practice, is highlighted on the Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers website. Click here to view the course portfolio and teaching materials, which emphasize experiential learning.

Cindy Pham is a third year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and contributes to IAALS Online. Please direct inquiries about this post to