A 1L’s Guide to Experiential Learning

I came to law school not exactly sure about the type of law I wanted to practice, so I was particularly interested in experiential learning opportunities. Sure, I could learn about different legal fields and see how I liked them in practice during my summer internships, but clinics and externships would give me even more chances to try out various specialties and hopefully find what I was most passionate about. Knowing that these options are only available to 2Ls and 3Ls, I came into my first year ready to just hit the books and keep those other plans in the back of my mind for the upcoming semesters.

But Boston College Law School had different plans. 

I’ve written before about the 1L competitions at BC Law, where students can practice their negotiation and client counseling skills with each other in a low stakes, but still competitive environment. By allowing 1Ls to participate in these competitions during their first semester, the school makes sure students don’t forget what the primary goal of law school is: You want to study hard and learn the foundations of the law, but you also want to acquire the skills you’ll need to be ready to practice upon graduation. These competitions let 1Ls start acquiring those skills in their very first few weeks of law school, which was something I certainly didn’t expect. 

The school has upped the ante even further in my second semester by having each 1L take an elective course centered on experiential learning. These non-doctrinal courses were the first we could pick for ourselves, which felt nerve wracking at the time. There were so many options and I was naturally drawn to nearly half of them, so selecting one became a mild source of stress. I heard from peers and professors that you couldn’t really go wrong with any of the courses, since you’d gain valuable experience no matter what the subject matter was, so I decided to choose one that I felt would give me broad skills that could apply to many practice areas.

My elective for this semester is called Introduction to Appellate Judging, which promised to give me a “view from the bench” by having me assume the role of an appellate judge in oral argument. Each week, two students in our 12-person class act as attorneys presenting a case to an appellate court. The other students are the judges, asking questions, deliberating on the issues at hand, and eventually voting on the case.

In law school, we read cases to determine what the court decided and why they decided that way. But this course requires me to take it a step further and look at our cases from a different lens. Rather than just considering what the court decided, I’m considering whether I agree with that decision. Rather than just analyzing why the court decided that way, I’m looking for holes in that reasoning to see if there are any questions remaining.

This week will be my first opportunity to present a case as an attorney, and preparing for that role has been a challenging and (already) quite rewarding exercise. After acting as a judge for several weeks, I can already predict the kinds of questions I’ll be asked when it’s my turn in the hot seat. Instead of just blindly planning my argument and hoping for the best, I’m already looking at my options with a newfound creativity and confidence. Sure, the public speaking practice will be helpful, but it’s this new way of thinking about cases that’ll help me argue a stronger case next week, and hopefully in the future.

Selecting this course definitely feels like it was the right choice for me, but if it doesn’t sound as interesting to you, the school offers 17 other electives, so there’s truly something for everyone. If you’re looking for more experience with corporate law, Introduction to Transactional Law might be the right fit. If you have a specific practice area you’re passionate about, there might be an elective specifically tailored to that specialty, whether it’s family law, immigration law, landlord-tenant law, or mental health law. There’s even a course on restorative justice if you’re coming to law school looking to transform the system from within.

As others told me, no matter what elective you take, you’ll get the chance to try out the legal skills you’re learning about in your doctrinal courses. As a 1L, I’m very thankful for that opportunity.

Tess Halpern is a first-year student at BC Law. Contact her at halperte@bc.edu.

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