The Charlotte School of Law’s Commitment to Training Law Students to be Practice-Ready Attorneys Drives Our Transactional Course of Study
Article Date: Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Written By: David L. Batty
In his November 2002 President's Message to the Association of American Law Schools, Professor Dale Whitman identified two primary areas of concern with the state of transactional legal education at that time. Specifically, in the section of his message entitled "Clinics for the Rest of Us," he noted that law schools relied too heavily on adjunct faculty to teach transactional legal skills and the typical law school curriculum lacked sufficient clinical training opportunities for students interested in becoming transactional attorneys. Professor Whitman's critique carried considerable weight and many law schools responded by revamping their curricula to incorporate clinical and skills-based transactional instruction. However, most law schools have been slower to diversify their faculty to include full-time professors with significant transactional practice experience. As a new law school founded in 2006, the Charlotte School of Law has deliberately recruited a full time faculty with a balanced wealth of both practical and academic experiences. Guided by the commitment to train law students to be practice-ready attorneys upon graduation, the Charlotte School of Law faculty and administration have created a curriculum that includes a rigorous and innovative transactional course of study.
The Importance of a Faculty with Practical Experience
The foundation of the Charlotte School of Law's transactional practice instruction program is the faculty. Several of the law school's full time professors were transactional attorneys for many years before joining the faculty. These professors share an extensive background in the transactional practice of law, including experience with complex capital markets transactions such as asset-backed securitizations, syndicated lending and real estate finance, as well as general corporate representation and mergers and acquisitions. Other members of the faculty have prior experience as in-house counsel for large corporations. This collective familiarity with a transactional attorney's actual day-to-day responsibilities enables the faculty to incorporate practical transactional skills training into core doctrinal courses such as Business Associations and Commercial Law. The law school supplements these foundational business classes with an intensive course in basic business and financial concepts for those students who seek additional instruction.
Our location in Charlotte puts the law school in the midst of what is likely the largest and most diverse local bar organization in North Carolina. We are fortunate that the Mecklenburg County Bar has a strong and long-standing commitment to public and community service. Due to this commitment, the law school has a significant number of talented adjunct professors who, together with our full time faculty, offer a variety of practical transactional skills courses to our students. Because student are acquainted with the basic elements of the transactional practice of law through our introductory business and commercial law courses, adjunct professors are able to address advanced transactional topics more quickly than might otherwise be possible. This deliberate curriculum design allows us to avoid Professor Whitman's concern about an over-reliance on adjunct faculty and instead maximizes the value of our adjunct faculty as a teaching asset.
Students Benefit from a Variety of Practical Skills Courses and Clinical Opportunities
Students at the Charlotte School of Law are able to develop their transactional skills through a variety of hands-on courses such as Advanced Business Transactions, Commercial Leasing, Real Estate Finance, and Transactional Writing in Context. The law school also offers seminars in Business Drafting and Commercial Real Estate Development. These courses and seminars train students to appreciate the business and economic issues that are often more important in shaping negotiations and agreements than "black-letter" legal principles.
Moreover, the Charlotte School of Law has taken Professor Whitman's recommendation to give "serious thought to bringing our students clinical and simulated clinical experiences in transactional lawyering." Students who aspire to become transactional lawyers are not limited to classroom instruction because
the law school offers several clinical and experiential opportunities.
The Charlotte School of Law recently became the third law school in the United States to have a cooperative legal education program, joining the law schools at Northeastern and Drexel Universities. The Charlotte School of Law Corporate Counsel Cooperative Legal Education Program promotes experiential learning by providing law students, many of whom have business backgrounds or interests, the unique opportunity to be mentored and supervised by in-house corporate attorneys through an educationally supportive internship. During a typical internship with in-house counsel, a student will be called upon to review contracts and leases, update policies and documents, and investigate client compliance issues. Corporate participants in the program benefit directly from the partnership by receiving cost-effective legal assistance from highly motivated student lawyers-in-training. Students participating in the co-op program are required to take a companion Corporate Counsel Capstone Course. This course is taught by a current or former in-house attorney and is intended to introduce students to the in-house practice of law by providing an overview of the role, scope, and nature of responsibilities of corporate counsel. Students are also exposed to the issues that arise in the ordinary course of an in-house attorney's practice. The course covers a broad spectrum of activity within a corporate setting, including corporate governance and organizational structure, human resources, compliance and security, professional conduct and ethical considerations, the art of structuring, documenting and negotiating a transaction, performing risk assessments, and understanding basic finance and accounting principles. During the pilot program in the spring of this year the Charlotte School of Law placed students with the in-house counsel departments at Compass Group, Family Dollar, Rack Room, and TIAA-CREF. Presently, approximately ten large local companies are participating in the program.
The Entrepreneurial and Non-Profit Law Clinic was developed in 2010 in partnership with the Institute for Entrepreneurship of Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) for the purpose of providing basic legal services to emerging businesses in the Charlotte area. The Entrepreneurial and Non-Profit Law Clinic serves entrepreneurs who cannot afford legal counsel for initial business formation matters and basic business contracts. Through the Clinic, students handle all aspects of the representation under the supervision of an adjunct faculty member who has a business law practice. Students are expected to screen and interview prospective clients. Once clients are selected, students are required to actively work with their clients to develop necessary legal strategies to complete the basic tasks of business planning and formation within the time constraints of the academic term. The Clinic equips students with the knowledge, skills and values needed to represent small business clients. Clinical experiences and education are supplemented with intensive classroom instruction to ensure that the students learn the substantive law and the legal skills necessary to represent Clinic clients. Since its formation the Clinic has served more than 150 clients.
Students can also participate in the Real Estate Finance Advanced Clinical Lab. The Real Estate Finance Lab covers the legal issues arising out of the real estate foreclosure process and guides students through a study of the macro-economic and legal factors currently fueling the growing foreclosure trend. Students learn about preventative measures that the government, lenders, appraisers, agents, and other real estate professionals are implementing to help consumers avoid the stigma and damaging effects of foreclosure. Students are then required to apply what they have learned in practice by reviewing actual foreclosure files to determine if any preventative relief is appropriate. Finally, students will learn alternatives that consumers can choose when faced with foreclosure. This training allows students to understand the impact that seemingly abstract legal principles and polices have on the lives of individuals. As a result, many students have a deeper appreciation for the importance of a lawyer's role as counselor.
The Charlotte School of Law's Pro Bono Program also provides students with an opportunity to gain transactional experience. The Beazer Homes Restitution Fund Clinics is a litigation clinical program that trains students to understand the substance and structure of the underlying transactions to fully evaluate their client's legal rights and remedies. Pursuant to a deferred-prosecution agreement entered in 2009 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Beazer acknowledged several fraudulent mortgage-origination and accounting practices and set up a multi-million restitution fund. Charlotte School of Law students participating in the free Beazer clinics assist homebuyers with claims documents to be sent to a third-party administrator who is managing a restitution fund established under the deferred-prosecution agreement. Under the supervision of experiential education faculty, students are trained to review HUD-1 homebuyer forms to determine if Beazer engaged in any wrongdoing relating to down payment "gifts" and lower interest "discount points." To date, more than 300 families in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area have been assisted by law school students.
Effective Transactional Training Continues After Graduation
The law school is in the process of launching a Small & Solo Practice Center so that recent graduates who form their own practice immediately after law school will have access to valuable support resources. The Practice Center will serve as an "incubator" for these new law firms by providing office space and services including a conference room, copier, fax machine, receptionist, and IT support. Additionally, the Practice Center will pair new solo practitioners with experienced practicing attorneys. These experienced attorneys will acts as mentors to assist the program participants as they transition from law students to practicing attorneys and later to independent solo practitioners. Graduates will be allowed to remain in the program for up to twenty-four months. The Practice Center is an outgrowth of two existing courses that prepare law students for the business of running a law firm. The Law Office Management course emphasizes the practical aspects of managing a small law firm, including law office economics and organization, ethics and professionalism, personnel matters, and information technology. The Small & Solo Firm Practice course is designed to prepare students for the transition from law student to active practitioner, and it covers such topics as marketing, proper client intake, risk management, effective timekeeping and setting, charging and collecting fees.
A Focus on Student-Centered Outcomes Creates Practice-Ready Attorneys
The Charlotte School of Law's mission centers on achieving the best possible outcomes for our students. To advance this mission, we have developed a rigorous practical skills training program, innovative transactional clinics, and post-graduation support services. This focus on experiential education and professional development provides our students with the leadership, management, and interpersonal skills that are necessary for career success.
Batty is an assistant professor at Charlotte School of Law and formerly practiced with Winston & Strawn LLP and Kennedy Covington Lobdell & Hickman LLP. Adjunct Professor Abbie Baynes and Professors Cynthia Adcock, M. Mark Heekin, Erin Kane, Sean Lew and Emma Lloyd contributed to this article.
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