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Raising the Bar: Experiential Learning Opportunities Abound at St. John’s Law

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Students at St. John’s Law have many opportunities to learn by doing. Experiential learning is a cornerstone of our educational approach; it allows students to test substantive areas of the law and different practice environments as they identify and forge their career paths. Many of our experiential programs enable students to help New York’s underserved as they prepare for a full life in the law animated by the vision and mission of St. Vincent de Paul.

Experiential learning permeates our curriculum in a rigorous writing program that encompasses our first-year legal writing course as well as upper-level courses in drafting, bankruptcy practice, patent application preparation and prosecution, pre-trial advocacy, and business planning, among other offerings. Students also gain vital advocacy and dispute resolution skills as participants in our co-curricular Frank S. Polestino Trial Advocacy Institute, the Moot Court Honor Society, and our Dispute Resolution Society. With ample opportunity to experience the real world of law — to successfully join thinking and acting — our students are able to carry forward St. John’s tradition of exceptional leadership and service.

In the Law School’s in-house and partner clinics, students receive invaluable training in practical skills by representing elderly victims of mortgage fraud, by prosecuting defendants accused of domestic violence, by serving as guardians for abused and neglected children, by seeking asylum for refugees, and by providing a wide array of legal assistance to the poor and underserved in New York City. Working in this way, students see how their hard work and selfless service uplift people and benefit their communities. During the 2013-2014 academic year, 122 students are participating in our clinics, which include the:

• Bankruptcy Advocacy Clinic
• Bread and Life Immigration Clinic
• Child Advocacy Clinic
• Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic
• Criminal Defense Clinic
• Domestic Violence Litigation Clinic
• Economic Justice Clinic
• Prosecution Clinic
• Refugee and Immigrant Rights Litigation Clinic
• Securities Arbitration Clinic

Students in our Externship Program work directly with mentor-attorneys on real cases. We identify and approve placements in the New York area and, currently, there are 248 approved employers in the program. Faculty-led seminars, organized according to students’ placements, complete the externship experience. Here is a sampling of our current and past externship placements:

• A&E Television Networks
• Brooklyn Defenders Services
• Channel 13 WNET
• District Attorneys’ Offices
• Federal Trade Commission
• Judicial Chambers (federal, state, and city courts)
• Mental Hygiene Legal Services
• Merill Lynch
• New York City Law Department
• New York Stock Exchange
• The Legal Aid Society (civil, criminal, and juvenile rights)
• United States Attorneys’ Offices

The numbers speak to the success of our clinical and externship programs.  For the Class of 2013, 75% (233/309) participated in at least one externship or clinic. Over 50% of the class (157/309) did more than one externship or clinical semester, and about 25% of the class (76/309) did three to five semesters of externship or clinics.

St. John’s Law is also home to eight centers that bring together faculty, students, and practitioners to engage specific areas of the law. The centers offer courses, conferences, symposia, and speakers’ series; they affiliate with student organizations, law journals, and competitions; and they provide resources for externships, clinical placements, and networking.

Our  student-run law journalsincluding the St. John’s Law Review, the St. John’s Journal of International and Comparative Law, the American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review, and the Journal of Civil Rights and Economic Development, provide our students with diverse avenues for publication. Our students also regularly participate and excel in national and international legal writing competitions hosted by bar associations and other organizations.

St. John’s Law students also gain additional valuable insight and perspective by attending a variety of events hosted at the Law School. Throughout the year, top practitioners, leading academics, and notable judges bring diverse perspectives and real-world experience to St. John’s. Two recent highlights were the visit of United States Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, who spent an entire day at the Law School, and the visit of the Appellate Division, Second Department, which held an actual session at the Law School, marking the first time the court has ever sat at a law school.