Legal Writing Program Gives First-Year Students Real-World Experience
UNH Law’s Legal Skills Program is challenging first-year students to solve real legal problems for New Hampshire organizations.
Students in this year’s Legal Writing and Analysis II class are the first to participate in the new program, which brings together the students and a local nonprofit with an access-to-justice issue that it has neither the time nor resources to solve. The class is currently working on behalf of New Hampshire Legal Assistance on a challenge involving state constitutional law.
The goal of the program is to take on a live legal issue that gives students a chance to get as close to real practice as possible in the first year.
Vorenberg said the new program allows the students to put to the test the skills they’ve learned over the course of the first year. In the first semester, students read case files and learn to perform objective analysis to explain the law. In the second-semester class, students learn how to advocate, she says, which involves learning persuasive writing, and “understanding, explaining, then winning.”
This particular legal issue, which students hope to help NH Legal Assistance resolve, is a great teaching tool for the class because it is complex and centers on funding challenges, Vorenberg said.
“We’ve realized that typical case studies often don’t prepare students for how messy law practice is,” she said. “With a canned problem, you can manipulate it the way you want. But in real life, the law, most of the time, is not handed to you.”
Vorenberg said because of state funding cuts, children in low-income families no longer have access to a Guardian ad Litem, someone appointed by the court to represent their best interests. This issue concerns NH Legal Assistance because it represents indigent clients going though parenting proceedings.
Because of confidentiality issues, the students can’t focus on an actual child who would be a client of NHLA, so Vorenberg and her colleagues created a case file of a mock client based on the real children NHLA represents.
Students are spending the first part of the semester working on assigned briefs, either representing the state or the child, and arguing that the funding cut as applied to children in the same circumstance as the mock client is unconstitutional – or not. In April, they’ll begin practicing their arguments in class. And at the end of the semester, the class will host a moot court for students to argue their case in front of lawyers and judges who are familiar with this constitutional issue.
With students’ permission, the top briefs from both sides will be given to New Hampshire Legal Assistance.
The work is invaluable to students and reflects UNH Law’s focus on educating practice-ready lawyers. “Even in their first year, students here are doing the work of real lawyers,” she said. “We’ve been ahead of the curve for a while – a lot people here at UNH have been pioneers way before anybody thought practice-ready was a good idea.”