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Innovative Foundations Class Teaches Professional Development to First-Year Students

July 30, 2020

Now in its third year of being taught to first-year law students, the one-credit Foundations of Professional Practice course at Lewis & Clark Law School teaches students skills to navigate law school and the steps to prepare and present a solid professional identity in the legal field for success.

The Foundations of Professional Practice course was developed as a way for students to grow their professional identities- that is, who they will be as a practicing lawyer. “Lewis & Clark Law School does a wonderful job of teaching students and preparing them for their careers, and we are always looking for ways to improve, especially as law practice evolves,” stated Professor Sandy Patrick, who developed and designed this course.

“As both our faculty and students identified areas of growth, a course seemed like the most logical way to provide professional development in a variety of areas: professional identity and values; job-seeking skills; study skills, time management, and exam preparation; and cultural competence,” Patrick continued.

Patrick wanted to design a course with the aim to help students develop three essential competencies for law study and practice, based on ABA Standard 302 on Learning Outcomes: Professionalism, Problem-Solving, and Communication. “Our faculty is committed to keeping legal education relevant to the changing times, and Dean Johnson supported the idea,” Patrick stated. From there, a collaboration with Assistant Dean of Faculty John Parry and Associate Dean for Student Affairs Libby Davis began. Since then, Assistant Dean of Career Services Devra Hermosilla became involved along with Professor Janet Steverson, former Dean of Diversity and Inclusion. Over the course of three years, Foundations has evolved and students cite it as critical to their success.

Foundations helped provide context for my first year of law school by focusing on the challenges of practicing law,” stated Noah Maurer ’22. “I appreciated hearing from the wide range of life experiences within the Class of 2022. Throughout the course, I heard from strong legal role models that made me feel more at home with the legal community”

The Foundations course helps students to define their own personal values and the professional who they want the world to see by asking questions such as: What traits does an effective lawyer consistently demonstrate? What does professionalism really mean in law practice? How might your own belief system affect your law practice? In answering these questions, the class talks about what professionalism means in concrete terms.

The conversation centers around the ideas of character and fitness, expectations of clients and colleagues, listening actively and generously, and portraying one’s best self to the world. “The class helps students become culturally competent through a listening session that helps students learn how to truly listen to others in order to understand rather than to respond and through a session on implicit bias,” stated Professor Janet Steverson, former Dean of Diversity and Inclusion.

The class also covers practical topics like time management, strategies for handling stress, performing well at job interviews, and performing effectively on the job. Relationships developed through the Foundations course have also led to securing job externships.

“The interaction I had with upper-level students during a Foundations roundtable event is the reason I secured an awesome externship for the summer after my 1L year,” stated Sarah Rogers ’21. “I had not applied for any jobs at the Public Service Career Fair and was hesitant to just show up without any interviews scheduled. A 3L at the roundtable convinced me to go and put myself out there. I took his advice and ended up making a connection and getting hired!”

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