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Bar News - February 19, 2010

The Law School of the Future: The Daniel Webster Scholars


Second year Webster Scholars Alex Vitale, left (“attorney”) and Brian Buonamano, right (“client”) practice an interview
The Daniel Webster Scholars Honors program, which is gaining wider recognition with each successive year, has expanded to 20 the number of students it may accept into a class. Initiated by the NH Supreme Court in July of 2005, the program began in May of 2006 with just 15 students in a two-year practice-based alternative to the usual bar exam.

Under the direction of John B. Garvey and conducted at Franklin Pierce Law Center (FPLC) in Concord, the program, the only one of its kind in the country, has received national recognition from the beginning and has been watched closely by legal educators, judges and attorneys.

In fact, the Society of American Law Teachers is hosting a conference to be held at Franklin Pierce Law Center April 23. “Other states interested in replicating the program will have an opportunity to attend,” Garvey said. “Among those being invited to come are Supreme Court justices, deans of law schools, Bar examiners, bar leaders, law school faculty members—the decision-makers, in other words.”

“But it’s always going to be a work in progress,” said Garvey, who left his private practice to head up the program. He is delighted with its growth and the fact that the program is now accepting 20 students per year. “We had 50 applicants for this fourth class,” he continued, “and probably 40 of them were qualified, but we could take only 20. I hope that eventually we will have an open enrollment and be able to take all who are qualified.”

As for the expansion of the program, Garvey says that if the class size goes beyond 20, additional sections (and faculty) would have to be considered. “The full extent of that impact is currently being evaluated,” he said.

The Proof of the Pudding

Of the first class of Scholars, all were hired by graduation and all but two were hired or otherwise involved in practice from the second class—and of those two, one was hired a few months later and one moved out of state and did not actively seek employment initially. The third class will graduate this coming May.

“About 50 percent are hired in-state,” said Garvey. “And many stay here who didn’t plan on it when they first came to New Hampshire. We have kept several talented lawyers who might have gone anywhere—but they like the quality of life in New Hampshire. However, we have others working in New York City, Chicago, DC, etc.”

The changed economy may affect the hiring rate of future graduates, but Garvey says that firms that ARE hiring will want the most for their investment. “I assume that getting ‘client-ready’ graduates …will be even more attractive.”

Garvey says he believes that Franklin Pierce now has many applicants who apply to Pierce Law because of the Scholars program. “New students drop by my office all the time and say they have come to FPLC because of the Webster Scholars program—it’s a hot topic in inquiries to the school.”

Garvey himself has been called upon to speak on the program at conferences around the country; his latest engagements were at a national conference on law school assessment in Denver, CO, in Sept. of 2009, and the New England Bar Association annual meeting in Newport, RI, in October of 2009. “The ABA recently announced that law schools need to test whether students have actually learned what they should learn by graduation to be good lawyers,” he said. “We are looked at nationally by other schools all the time.”

A Legal-community Effort

The program began as a collaborative effort of the NH Supreme Court, the NH Board of Bar Examiners, the NH Bar Association— and Franklin Pierce Law Center. It is considered a bellwether for the future direction which law school education may take. In May, 2009, the fourth class was sworn in.

Supreme Court Justice Linda S. Dalianis was the chief moving force in promoting the program, along with Justice James E. Duggan. Frederick J. Coolbroth, chair of the Board of Bar Examiners, has described the program as a “two-year Bar exam.” Webster Scholars still sit for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) and must pass the character and fitness requirements, but all during the two-year program Scholars perform before judges, lawyers and teachers, Bar examiners and classmates, receiving instant feedback in nearly every venue.

Others in the legal community have become involved, too. For instance, Arpiar Saunders of Shaheen & Gordon in Concord has worked with Garvey to run a fact-pattern in pre-trial advocacy. The students role-play, organizing two firms, playing senior associates, junior associates and teaching assistants. Adults not connected to the program are hired to play clients—and the cases are argued before real judges, after the filing of pre-trial papers.

US District Court Judge Joseph LaPlante is one of several judges who participated in the simulation, holding a pre-trial conference in federal court. US District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro heard oral arguments in his court on summary judgment, as did Superior Court Judge Kenneth Brown and Superior Court Judge Kathleen McGuire. Dan Lynch, chief clerk of the US District Court has given in-court instruction on “what courts do” and explained the important role of the clerk’s office in litigation.

Being a Webster Scholar

On the selection committee with Garvey are Marcus Hurn, Sophie Sparrow, Jordan Budd, Margaret McCabe, Dana Irwin, and Amy Vorenberg, all teachers of first-year students at FPLC. Applicants to the program are chosen at the end of their first year and must have a GPA of 3.0 to apply; they must also express a desire to be involved in a collaborative effort, as the Scholars work extensively as a group or as partners.

There is also substantial individual performance; for example, the Scholars write motions and memos, argue in court, draft uncontested divorces and LLC agreements. They must each keep an on-going journal and at the end of each DWS course, write a refl ective paper. For some, this kind of introspection is hard at first, but they soon learn that the self-evaluation helps them to improve and to track their progress. It helps them to build, day-by-day, upon what they are learning.

Students in the second year of the program not only interview clients, they take depositions, practice doing time sheets, go to partnership meetings, among other exercises— and when they take summer jobs in law firms, are “far ahead” of other summer help. Said Garvey, “In addition, we have had great positive feedback, not only for summer interns, but also for first-year associates hired by firms in the state.”

As part of their alternative bar exam, members of the first class were evaluated by trained “clients” on a five-point scale of eight client-centered factors (see Client Assessment Criteria) that looked at all the things a lawyer should do in an interview to gather sufficient information for the case.

New Technology, New Opportunities

Garvey says the biggest challenge to the program at present is the fine-tuning of a software program called SIMPLE (simulated professional learning environment) to be used by the Scholars. Garvey is working with Glasgow Graduate School of Law in Scotland to create a virtual world—a world already in use in Glasgow, with 250 students participating. Garvey hopes that this type of software will eventually allow more people to obtain the benefits of the program.

With SIMPLE, as with other such programs, a school is enabled to use fewer people, since a student using the program—say for estate planning—can write letters, ask for forms, monitor replies, can read and respond—and all at the push of a button (or click of the mouse).

With this software, a student—or students— could build two firms of four or five people each, working across from each other. Students could use the software platform to utilize simulation and reality, together or alternately.

“This is not ‘ivory tower’ stuff,” says Garvey. “It’s very practical from beginning to end.

Every part of the Scholars’ program is tested, re-tested, and modified when improvements can be made. Feedback is provided from students and all those so intimately involved—particularly the Supreme Court and the Law Center itself.

“It takes time and patience,” said Garvey. “Constant testing, constant adjustment, and a realization that we are a work in progress… but we believe this program is truly an example of what a law school education will be in the future, not just here, but all across the country.”

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