Opened in 1983, CUNY School of Law is the only law school that, from inception, has defined its mission as training law students for public interest and public service. Designed to prepare our students to practice our motto, "Law in the Service of Human Needs," our unique and integrated curriculum has made us a national leader in progressive legal education with the highest placement rate of graduates in public interest and public service careers.
The basic premise of the Law School's program is that theory cannot be separated from practice, abstract knowledge of doctrine from practical skill, and understanding the professional role from professional experience. Our curriculum integrates practical experience, professional responsibility, and lawyering skills with doctrinal study at every level. Forming the core of our lawyering curriculum are the skills recognized by the profession in its 1992 report from the ABA Taskforce on Law Schools and the Profession (commonly known as the MacCrate Report) as essential to successful law practice-problem solving, legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, factual investigation, communication (legal writing, oral argument), counseling, negotiation, litigation and alternative dispute-resolution procedures, organization and management of legal work, and recognizing and resolving ethical dilemmas.
We teach lawyering and practice skills through each year of law school: first-year students acquire clinical experience through simulation exercises conducted in a required year-long Lawyering Seminar; upper level students take an advanced one-semester Lawyering Seminar III in a public interest law area of their choice; all upper-level students earn 10-16 credits in either a clinic.
The Law School's curriculum also draws heavily upon the strengths of traditional legal education. Our required courses cover the standard doctrinal areas and insure the development of facility in legal synthesis, issue spotting, and rule application central to traditional legal education. While mastering the contours and hierarchy of the rules in these core doctrinal areas, students are taught to use theoretical perspective to deconstruct and leverage doctrine, to use social, economic, and political context to enrich understanding, and to maintain a sharp focus on the justice implications of the law they are learning.
Our curriculum pushes beyond the traditional separation of substantive law courses into narrowly-defined subjects. Attorneys are seldom presented with legal problems neatly compartmentalized into analytically distinct subject headings. Accordingly, our curriculum bridges these gaps, producing law graduates able to address the many-sided problems that confront attorneys-and their clients-in real life. Thus, students study Torts, Criminal Law, Civil Procedure, and Family Law in separate courses, but draw on all four substantive areas in Lawyering Seminar as they work on a simulated case file, for example, through a simulation involving municipal liability, the responsibility of the police, and allegations of elder abuse.
Because collaboration is both an important practice skill and a valuable learning mode, the Law School encourages students to work together and provides opportunities and frameworks to develop collaborative skills and practices. This approach has the effect of altering the traditional hierarchical structure and atmosphere of legal education. Students collaborate in virtually all of their work, so the cutthroat competition rampant at most law schools is absent. The Law School's small size and favorable faculty-student ratio foster a supportive learning environment designed to maximize continuing individual and professional development. We view examinations as the servant, not the master of learning, so our curriculum relies heavily upon writing exercises and simulation work to evaluate student performance and progress. Lawyering Seminar teachers "supervising" their students' work on simulated cases expect the "lawyers-in-training" to work together to problem-solve, brainstorm, and evaluate strategies. This approach not only fosters a collaborative spirit, but also creates opportunities for students to experience the challenges and exhilaration of developing an individual sense of role and responsibility as lawyer.
A public interest focus and theoretical perspectives are integrated across the curriculum, consciously enhancing our students' capacity for active and responsible choices about the effect of their work as lawyers in society. Our students learn to reflect on and learn from their own experiences, to recognize the law's relationship to the social, economic, and political context in which it operates, and to be lawyers who will practice law with a concern for the social responsibilities of the legal profession.