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St. John’s Law 1Ls Learn Key Lawyering Skills in New Intersession Course

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

There was a palpable energy in Professor Elayne E. Greenberg’s classroom as first-year students divided into small groups and, sitting across from one another, started to negotiate in a role play exercise. “I enjoyed learning the fundamentals of negotiation hands-on,” says Krista Collins ’17. “As 1Ls, we’re in our books so much of the time. Here, we got a chance to think on our feet and to experience how the art and practice of negotiation play through the daily business of being a lawyer.”

Krista and her 1L classmates were participants in a new required course called Lawyering that was held during the January intersession. Developed by Professor Greenberg, who is assistant dean for dispute resolution, professor of legal practice, and director of the Hugh L. Carey Center for Dispute Resolution, and Paul F. Kirgis, professor of law and faculty chair of the Carey Center, this two-credit intensive focuses on negotiation skills and the companion skills of interviewing clients and drafting agreements—core competencies for lawyers. It’s part of a suite of new intersession offerings designed by the Law School faculty in response to the challenges and opportunities of the new legal marketplace.

“Using the intersession format, we’re giving students the skills-based education they’ll need in their careers,” says Associate Academic Dean Larry Cunningham. “At the same time, our curriculum remains grounded in the fundamentals of the law taught in classes like contracts, tax, evidence, trusts and estates, and criminal procedure. Together, this balance of tradition and innovation will prepare our students well for the profession.”

Reflecting on the inaugural effort, Professor Greenberg says that students benefit from the intersession course in multiple ways. “First, they have the luxury of uninterrupted focus that facilitates more constructive and efficient skill learning. Second, they tend to form stronger bonds with each other and the professor. These relationships encourage the students to learn from each other and provide more opportunities for professors to customize their teaching to accommodate student needs. Finally, the longer blocks of teaching time allow professors to seize the teachable moments and delve into topics in greater detail.”

Students have also given the Lawyering course high praise for compelling them to re-think how they want to practice law. “From day one we were engaged in exercises that helped us build our communication skills,” Olivia Cheung ’17 says. “The unique class format gave us an opportunity to explore the lawyer-lawyer and the lawyer-client relationships, and to see what it’s like to represent different interests.”

The students also had a chance to experience and to develop a wide range of negotiation approaches and styles. “It was very interesting to see where different people draw the line between being collaborative and being adversarial in negotiating,” says Piotr Okragly ’17. “I came away more fluent in the language of lawyering, and I look forward to building this fluency as well as the practical skills I gained in this course.”