Transactional Legal Education at Elon University School of Law
Article Date: Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Written By: Andrew J. Haile
In November 2002, Professor Dale Whitman – then-President of the American Association of Law Schools – wrote an article claiming that most law schools were failing to provide the practical training needed to prepare students to practice transactional law. This lament persists today-mostly from law firm partners, who complain that freshly-minted graduates leave law school unprepared for transactional practice. In his article, Professor Whitman wrote that law schools specifically needed to do a better job of providing students with opportunities to experience transactional law and, in conjunction with this goal, needed to hire faculty who could bring greater practice experience to the classroom. Of course, at the time of Whitman's article, Elon University School of Law was not yet established. Since its founding in 2006, however, the law school has sought to answer Professor Whitman's call and prepare its students for the practical aspects of being transactional lawyers.
The school offers numerous doctrinal and skills-oriented courses to prepare students for a transactional practice. Like most schools, the business curriculum starts with an overview of the various business entities in a mandatory Business Associations course. Professors Tom Molony and Andy Haile teach this course. Both Molony and Haile possess the practice experience called for by Professor Whitman-before coming to Elon, Molony was a partner with Robinson Bradshaw & Hinson in Charlotte; Haile was a partner with Brooks, Pierce, McLendon & Humphrey in Greensboro. Molony and Haile include practical exercises in the course, such as preparing Articles of Organization, drafting Operating Agreements, and drafting simple Buy-Sell Agreements. They also expose their students to the practicing bar by inviting practitioners and judges to guest lecture and to discuss with students the practical, everyday aspects of their work.
Several other courses also provide substantive practical experience. For example, all Elon students take a course during their second year entitled "Public Law and Leadership," in which they are paired with local non-profits and assist these "clients" with their business and organizational needs. Other practice-oriented courses offered in the past or which will be offered this year include Commercial Contract Drafting; Accounting for Lawyers; Mergers & Acquisitions; Real Estate Transactions; and Closely-Held Business Planning. All of these courses focus on preparing students to practice through simulation exercises or practice-oriented problems. They are all taught by full-time or adjunct faculty with significant practice experience, including the law school's Distinguished Practitioners in Residence. The Distinguished Practitioner in Residence Program has brought to Elon highly-regarded and experienced practitioners (for example, Don Dancer, former CEO and General Counsel of International Rectifier Corporation, and John Flynn, a director at Carruthers & Roth law firm, will serve as Distinguished Practitioners in Residence during the 2011-2012 academic year).
Supplementing the curricular offerings and the practice experience of the faculty, Elon seeks to provide students with further practical experience through the law school's Preceptor Program. This program matches first-year students with experienced attorneys, many practicing in the area of transactional law. As part of the program, the Preceptors (the volunteer practitioners) are asked to provide their assigned students with opportunities to experience the practical aspects of the Preceptors' work-allowing students to attend a closing, for example. Students and Preceptors both report positive results from these relationships and the exposure to practical experiences that the Preceptor Program has provided for the students.
While still a relatively young law school, Elon has undertaken an earnest and so far successful program to address the shortcomings identified by Professor Whitman and to provide Elon students with the skills necessary to practice transactional law successfully. As Elon continues to develop and hone its curriculum, it intends to build on this solid base.
Haile is Assistant Professor of Law at Elon University School of Law.
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