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PLUS Curriculum

Sep 24, 2014, 14:31 PM

Curriculum: DiscoverLaw.org Prelaw Undergraduate Scholars (PLUS) Program

Introduction

The following information is merely descriptive of the rigor and skill development expected in proposals for the DiscoverLaw.org Prelaw Undergraduate Scholars (PLUS) Program. It is by no means intended to be a template for programs. The DiscoverLaw.org PLUS Subcommittee will be looking for creative approaches to introducing students to the academic environment of law school and legal career opportunities.

Curriculum Overview

Most of the PLUS programs have had around 20 substantive classroom days. In general, the programs scheduled activities between 9:00 am and 4:00 pm, five days a week. The length of each substantive class ranged from 50 to 90 minutes, but some sessions ran as long as three hours. The final week often included time for studying and final exams. When activities were scheduled for the evening, they tended to be guest speakers, study sessions, networking with law students or lawyers, or PLUS community building.

The PLUS programs developed curricula that balanced an introduction to the content and rigor of law school along with an introduction to the legal profession. The introduction to law school provided students with an overview of basic concepts and skills needed to be successful, as well as an overview of the law school admission process. Most programs had at least one course covering legal topics and one legal writing course. Legal reasoning and other legal skills may have been part of these courses or a separate course. The LSAT was formally introduced in all programs through a series of workshops using materials provided by LSAC, but the emphasis was always on the skills to be tested rather than explicit LSAT preparation. Participants were also exposed to a variety of career options and opportunities to interact personally with judges and lawyers.

Legal Skills

The programs all helped students develop skills in analytical and logical reasoning, reading comprehension and critical reading, preparing and presenting oral arguments, and preparing and participating in classroom discussions using a Socratic seminar format. The curricula also included case analysis and briefing; writing persuasively, which improved grammar and punctuation; legal research; and other forms of oral and written expression. All of the programs made extensive use of actual case material for assignments. Many went to great efforts to coordinate assignments from the legal writing or reasoning courses with the more content-focused coursework.

Legal Topics

Many of the PLUS programs devote time to introducing students to the legal topics likely to be covered in the first year of law school. Although typically at least one main course focuses on a particular content area, the course emphasis remains on developing legal skills. Most of the programs also covered other topics such as contracts, civil procedure, civil rights, torts, criminal law, and constitutional law using a variety of formats, including mini-courses and lecture series. The topics selected were often determined by the expertise of the law faculty at the host law school. An introduction to the US legal system was explicitly covered in a course in some programs.

Writing

Every program identified legal writing as an important component and, accordingly, had at least one course that helped students develop legal writing skills. In general, the emphasis was on persuasive writing. Some programs had additional sessions to include tutoring assistance. Most programs provided ample time for feedback. The assignments often included writing a case brief, legal memorandum, and/or written preparation for an oral argument. Most of the programs also required several shorter essay papers.

Legal Research

The programs addressed the development of participants’ skills in legal research in different ways. Some programs offered separate sessions on legal research, while others devoted some class sessions or assignments to developing those skills. The four-week duration of most programs has been found to be insufficient to have students learn the research process and use those materials for coursework. Any introduction to the law library or legal research should remain at an introductory level.

Advocacy

The majority of the programs had participants prepare and make oral arguments using a mock trial or moot court format. In most cases, this provided participants with an opportunity to apply the skills they learned in class such as analyzing cases or drafting a brief. These presentations were often scheduled for the final few days of the program. The judges often included legal professionals from the local community.

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