McGuireWoods Lawyers Teach Unique Higher Education Practicum at Washington & Lee University School of Law

September 24, 2009

Many of our lawyers give of their time each year to teach classes in various law schools around the country. One such effort is underway this semester at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va. The class is part of a new third-year curriculum reinventing how to best prepare law students for the “real world” in the legal profession.

The course “Higher Education Practicum” is being taught by a team of our higher education lawyers who represent more than 100 colleges, universities and related foundations around the country. The course simulates both private law and in-house counsel practice performing legal work on behalf of these institutions. Students work in teams on a variety of problems commonly faced by U.S. colleges and universities.

Among a number of law schools revamping their teaching methods to law students, Washington & Lee University created an entirely new third-year curriculum focusing on legal simulations and practical experience, instead of the traditional model of case law and classroom learning. Students learn through a series of practicum courses that include simulating practicing lawyers and judges.

Dean Rodney Smolla of the Washington & Lee University School of Law specifically requested that McGuireWoods lawyers teach this course, given our extensive experience in the area. The dean commented that, “Eight lawyers specializing in the education law practice at McGuireWoods are generously donating their time to design and teach an intensive and highly realistic course to six very fortunate Washington & Lee law students. This could well be a record for the best student-faculty ratio in the history of legal education.

Although a number of institutions are beginning to rethink their approach to legal education, Washington & Lee has created one of the most ambitious programs geared toward preparing its students to transition into a professional environment that includes an emphasis on teamwork, critical thinking, and approaching issues from the client’s perspective.

“The practicums ‘bridge the gap’ between traditional lecture courses and clinicals such as the Legal Aid, 3L criminal defense practice, etc., and turn the Socratic method on its head, in that students are expected to act like lawyers rather than students,” said partner Craig Wood (Labor and Employment, Charlottesville). “That is, we want and expect the students to own the problem and take it in the right direction, which involves asking the right questions of the client.

Active participation by local lawyers and judges is a key component to the program’s success, and the contributions of the McGuireWoods team are not going unnoticed.

“The law school and its students are privileged to have the benefit of the expertise and experience of lawyers from one of the most accomplished education law practices in the nation,” Dean Smolla said. “The firm’s generous pro bono efforts have been a great service to Washington & Lee, and by extension, to the profession and the public, in this bold pioneering effort to make the third year of law school a yearlong program of intense preparation for entry into the practice of law, in the highest traditions of professionalism and public service.

McGuireWoods’ higher education team is a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary practice group that represents public and private colleges and universities, including for-profit, career colleges. In addition to the services they offer to colleges — including tax issues, faculty tenure, governance, athletics, financing and intellectual property concerns — our lawyers also assist banks, lending institutions, and education consulting companies with issues related to student lending.

As indicated by Dean Smolla, the efforts and time given by our team are greatly appreciated by the university, but the experience is mutually beneficial for our lawyers. The willingness to make positive contributions and give back to the community speaks to the core values of McGuireWoods.

“One of the great things about this law firm is that when you ask for help, you invariably get it,” said partner Bud Schill (Business and Securities Litigation, Richmond). “The people here are willing and ready to pitch in on projects even when there is no reward other than the satisfaction of having done something beneficial for others. There is a lot of wisdom in this law firm. When we get opportunities to share it with young lawyers, whether they are ours, someone else’s, or even students, it’s a real pleasure to be able to do that.”

McGuireWoods Team of “Professors”

Stephanie Karn (Labor and Employment, Richmond)
Lori Lord (Complex Commercial Litigation, Richmond)
Harrison Marshall (M&A, Securities and Corp. Svs., Charlotte)
Michele McKinnon (Tax and Employee Benefits, Richmond)
Jacob Rooksby (IP Litigation/Patents, Richmond)
Bud Schill (Business and Securities Litigation, Richmond)
Rob Tyler (IP Litigation/Patients, Richmond)
Joshua Whitlock (Business and Securities Lit., Charlotte)
Craig Wood (Labor and Employment, Charlottesville)