Washington and Lee ’s innovative third-year curriculum is entirely experiential. The course of study consists of practice-based simulations, real-client experiences, and advanced explorations into legal ethics and professionalism. The curriculum builds upon and expands the lessons of the first and second years of instruction, moving students from a passive classroom role into one more closely connected to the world of legal practice.
The new third-year curriculum is not merely a year devoted to practice skills, though lawyering skills are addressed in a variety of ways. Instead, the primary focus is to develop in law students the habits of mind and judgment of legal professionals, in short, to learn and apply law the way lawyers do in the process of solving problems for their clients.
Each third-year semester begins with a two-week skills immersion—a litigation-based experience in the fall and a transactional-based experience in the spring. In the fall, students are engaged in the simulation of an employment dispute that follows a traditional litigation path. In the spring, they handle a simulated purchase and sale a business, representing either the buyer or seller at each stage of the transaction. Students emerge from these intensive experiences with something of a "tool kit" available to them for use and adaptation to other matters in different practice areas.
For the remainder of each semester, students enroll in two electives in the form of practice-based simulations, clinics, or externships. Over the course of the year, students will enroll in four of these modules, or three in the case of a year-long clinic commitment. At least one of the four electives must include real practice experience in a clinic or an externship.
The opportunities available to students span the range of legal practice areas, both litigation and transaction based. For example, in the last year, students participated in classes involving criminal practice, fiduciary litigation, mergers and acquisitions, sports law, federal energy regulation, failing businesses, insurance litigation, international human rights and business planning. These classes are complimented by our clinical offerings, which include death penalty defense, immigration and citizenship, black lung benefits litigation, tax representation and criminal defense.
The curriculum does not replicate entirely the life of a new attorney in any of these practice settings, but students do commit to a substantial workload of 15-20 hours per week, per module. There is ample time for critique, mentoring, and teaching advanced subject matter, all reflective of the importance we attach to the close student-teacher relationships we foster across the entire curriculum. Our program is not two years of academic study followed by one year of practice, but three years of demanding, intellectually rigorous legal education.