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Law School to Launch Experiential Learning Center


By Ed Hayward | Chronicle Staff

Published: Dec. 2, 2013

In an effort to get law students “lawyering” before they graduate, the Law School will combine its clinical and experiential programs into a new unit that will serve as a “law firm within a law school.” The new Center for Experiential Learning will serve clients seeking legal aid for cases ranging from civil litigation to wrongful criminal convictions.

The center, which will be housed in the law school’s Smith Wing when it opens next September, will include space for supervising faculty, support staff and client services, according to BC Law School Dean Vincent Rougeau. The center will fold current offerings such as in-house clinics, internships, semester-in-practice and short-term externship programs into a clearinghouse designed to give students real-world experiences required by the profession.

“Experiential learning is an essential part of providing the very best legal education for our students and complements the high quality academic preparation our students receive,” said Rougeau. “We are determined to provide significant hands-on learning opportunities for our students in the years to come, with the ultimate goal of having all of our students participate in some form of experiential learning before they graduate.”

Rougeau has named Clinical Professor of Law Paul Tremblay as the faculty director for experiential learning to coordinate the center’s programs.

“We are very excited about the synergies that will come from bringing everyone under one roof,” said Tremblay. “We’re also very committed to maintaining our ties to the local community. We’ve built strong connections during our 45 years in Waltham, and we’re focused on continuing to serve that area and an even wider community around Boston. This move will allow us to maximize resources and expand our services to a larger client base.”

The new center is the focal point of a long-term strategy for practical experience at the law school. Seventy percent of all BC Law students participate in some form of experiential learning, Rougeau said. A significant goal of the center is to raise the rate of participation to 100 percent.

BC Law students sharpen their legal skills through projects and programs that serve dozens of clients each year. Students staff in-house clinics that work on cases focused on civil litigation, community service, housing law, immigration cases, juvenile rights advocacy and the legal aid projects of the BC Defenders and the BC Innocence Project. Students also participate in external initiatives such as the Attorney General Clinic, Semester in Practice, and externships.

These successful models of experiential learning will now function much like a single law firm and share student workspace, support staff, resources, and technology. The Smith Wing will be reconfigured to contain a client waiting area, interview and conference rooms, student workspace, and faculty and support staff offices. The school has operated an off-site clinic in Waltham for many years and plans call for the establishment of storefront clinics in several communities in and around Boston for clients who cannot get to the Newton Campus.

Rougeau said all law schools face the challenge of preparing their graduates for an increasingly competitive job market as the legal industry continues to rebound from the effects of the recession. By placing its diverse lineup of experiential programs in a single center, BC Law wants to ensure that all students are exposed to a broad spectrum of legal experience both inside and outside the courtroom.

“The top law firms hiring Boston College Law School graduates look for deep legal knowledge and rich experiential preparation. We’re proud of our record of meeting those needs,” said Rougeau. “Many of our alumni also put their law degrees to work in the fields of management, non-profit leadership, policy-making, regulation and government service. This new center will help us meet the challenge of preparing our students to succeed as lawyers, and in the many different fields that now seek out law school graduates for a broad array of positions.”

Nathaniel Kenyon, director of marketing and communications at Boston College Law School, contributed to this story.