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Bar News - July 17, 2009

Webster Scholar Honors Program, Part 2: A New Model

Editor’s note: Part 1 of this article appeared in the June 12 issue of Bar News and provides the background of the Franklin Pierce Law Center’s Webster Scholar Honors program, including the vision of its major proponent, NH Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Linda S. Dalianis. The program is designed to make law students "client-ready" by the time they graduate. The Scholars do not take the NH bar exam, although they do sit for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam and they must meet the NH character and fitness standards. Acceptance into the program, which is under the direction of John B. Garvey, Franklin Pierce Law Center professor, and is limited to 15 participants, is based on academic, professional and interpersonal strengths.

The second class of Webster Scholars was sworn in to the NH Bar on May 15, 2009. In a paper soon to be published by Garvey with co-author Anne F. Zinkin titled,
Making Law Students Client-Ready: A New Model in Legal Education, readers are given a comprehensive history of the movement toward a different kind of legal education (Part 1). The authors also present a detailed overview of the Webster Scholar Honors Program, which follows.

The Birth of a New Model

The idea for the program sprang from a meeting in May 1994 of representatives from the high courts of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, who met with the deans of Vermont Law School, Pierce Law and Maine Law School. They were joined by the presidents of the bars of the three states, to discuss the implications of the American Bar Association’s MacCrate Report, a study initiated by the ABA for improving competence in the legal profession. The MacCrate Report advocates teaching those skills and values which new lawyers should possess upon completing their education, rather than simply concentrating on the case-study method of learning.

The outcome of this first meeting was the creation of a Tri-State Task Force on Bar Admissions, consisting of members of the judiciary, law school deans, bar presidents, bar examiners, and other community leaders.

The brainchild of Senior Associate Justice Linda S. Dalianis of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, the Webster Scholar Honors Program arose from her desire to find "a better way to prepare students to practice law." Dalianis had served as a trial judge for more than twenty years and as a state Supreme Court justice for several additional years; she led an effort to improve legal education – an effort coordinated between the New Hampshire Supreme Court (which is the state’s only appellate court), the New Hampshire Board of Bar Examiners, and the dean and other faculty from the state’s only law school, Franklin Pierce Law Center.

The committee spent two years researching and brainstorming ways to implement such a program and eventually drafted the following mission statement: "The Daniel Webster Scholar Program shall be established as an honors program at Franklin Pierce Law Center. The Program will significantly increase practical experience, supplementing learning in law school to reflect the reality of today’s practice. Upon completion, Webster scholars will: know how to advise clients; know how to use existing resources; be well versed in substantive law; and, have insights and judgment that usually develop after being in practice for some years."

The Webster Scholar Program seeks to add value and bridge the gap between education and practice by focusing upon the ten fundamental skills and four fundamental values described in the MacCrate report.

Adding New Courses and Methods of Assessment

FPLC added such practice courses as Advanced Civil Procedure/Civil Litigation Practice; Contracts and Commercial Transactions Practice (Articles 3 and 9); Criminal Law Practice; Family Law Practice; Real Estate Practice; Wills, Trusts and Estate Practice.

Because the program was also intended to be an alternative to the bar exam, methods of assessment were a primary consideration. The committee determined that each scholar would "maintain a ‘portfolio’ that would contain all of the practice exercises as well as other materials, such as a video of the Scholar doing an opening statement, direct and cross examinations, conducting a mediation, or interviewing a client." The portfolio would be reviewed by members of the board of bar examiners.

According to Garvey, although the program does not presume to graduate new lawyers who are ready to take on all levels of complexity, it recognizes that legal education is a continuing process, and seeks to provide a practice-based, client-oriented education which prepares law students for the heavy responsibility of representing others.

During each semester, in addition to electives, scholars must take specifically designed Daniel Webster Scholar (DWS) courses, which generally involve substantial simulation. Following the miniseries exposure to Family Law, each student must work at least twelve pro bono hours at the Legal Advice and Referral Center (LARC) in Concord, providing telephonic advice to low-income clients.

Students must obtain at least a B- in all DWS courses and at least a 3.0 cumulative school transcript grade point average on a 4.0 scale.

At the end of the two-year course, each scholar must write a reflective paper, again using the MacCrate skills and values against which to evaluate themselves. The students identify which MacCrate skills and values were implicated during the course, then discuss their own perceived strengths and weaknesses as they relate to the identified MacCrate skills and values; they then reflect upon how they intend to improve going forward.

Consistent with the recommendations in the Carnegie Foundation’s 2007 report on legal education, and Best Practices for Legal Education, a study led by Professor Roy T. Stuckey, scholars develop portfolios which are reviewed throughout their participation in the program. A Scholar’s portfolio includes papers, legal documents the scholar has drafted, exams, self-reflective analysis based upon the MacCrate skills and values, peer evaluations, teacher evaluations, various videos of student performances in simulated settings, and the like.

Every semester, each portfolio is evaluated by a bar examiner, who provides written comments to the student. This repeated review and reflection from multiple sources "integrate[s] the teaching of knowledge, skills and values," rather than treating them as separate subjects addressed in separate courses.

Finally, during the last semester of the four-semester program, scholars participate in clinical courses and/or externships—including court clerkships. These activities involve extensive feedback from supervising professors and outside attorneys. Students prepare reflective papers about these experiences, also. The experience culminates with their final interview with a bar examiner during which the bar examiner and scholar review the scholar’s portfolio and the scholar answers any questions posed by the bar examiner.

A New Model for Other Schools?

It is the hoped that other law schools will take similar steps to introduce an education that will give students better preparation to be client-ready by graduation day. Garvey says, "We recognize that change can be a challenge in any institution, and we do not presume to tell schools exactly how to implement their own Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program, but it is our hope that others will try such a program—and that our experiences here at Franklin Pierce will be a help and an inspiration."

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