By: Ava Bear

Most law students can recall the names of every Supreme Court Justice or recite the definition of subpoena, but what employers are really looking for aren’t just simple memorization skills but rather applicable abilities that will shine in the courtroom. Liberty University School of Law (LUSOL) aims to achieve this goal by incorporating practical experiences and skill classes into their degree programs.

In 1992, the American Bar Association released a study called the MacCrate Report that essentially surveyed what legal employers felt about the quality of students graduating law schools. The MacCrate Report identified fundamental skills and values all law students should have. Years after the release of this report, the founding faculty members of LUSOL intentionally developed a curriculum that incorporated an in-depth skills component.

Scott Thompson, director of the Center for Lawyering Skills, has been a professor at LUSOL since 2004. He is one of six original founding faculty members.

“From the very beginning, when the curriculum for this law school was being developed, there was a conscious decision made to incorporate a very heavy skills component,” Thompson said. “[The MacCrate Report stated that] law schools are turning out students who know what the law is, but they have no understanding of how to actually put it into practice. From the time our very first class was here, we had determined that, in addition to teaching all of those core classes … we were going to require a broad group of skills classes so that students would be able to actually take the law and put it into practice.”

While every law school teaches the basic classes on topics such as contracts, torts, civil procedure, and criminal law, Liberty’s law school requires every student to take six different skills-based courses. Out of six Lawyering Skills classes, all students take the first five, then select a sixth at their own discretion.

Each skill class helps students learn to carry out specific tasks that lawyers and attorneys, regardless of their specialization, carry out on a daily basis. Lawyering Skills I and II focus on legal writing, research, and analysis. Students draft a contract on behalf of a client. In Lawyering Skills III, students engage in negotiations with opposing counsel, as well as support pretrial development, which includes interviewing clients and examining witnesses. In Lawyering Skills IV, students conduct and defend a deposition. Lawyering Skills V walks students through a trial and helps them master litigation and trial tasks.

Students may choose from a list the sixth skill class that best aligns with their career goals. These classes narrow in on legal fields such as estate planning, business planning, real estate transactions, public policy, mediation, advanced trial advocacy, appellate advocacy, and constitutional litigation.

LUSOL also offers practical experience opportunities outside of the classroom. Throughout the law school, various competitions take place, all of which test students’ abilities in their lawyering skills and knowledge of the law. Areas of competition include moot court, negotiations, mock trial, arbitration, and client counseling. Most tournaments are hosted by another school or by national organizations, allowing students to better engage with the law community.

Thompson coaches the moot court team, where students have the opportunity to participate in simulated court proceedings. Tournaments and competitions hosted by LUSOL often take place in what is known as the Supreme Courtroom on campus, which was designed to replicate the appearance of a real courtroom. According to the LUSOL website, the law school’s Supreme Courtroom “contains the only known replica of the US Supreme Court bench, down to the angles and measurements.”

Students’ skills in theoretical practice are tested on the bar exam. LUSOL tailors their program to help students understand the law as it appears on the bar exam. LUSOL offers preparation specifically for the Virginia Bar, but since exam standards vary within each state, the law school also offers other resources to help students score well. Overall, LUSOL boasts a 96.36 percent bar passage rate.

“Our skills program and the focus that we give to preparing students to pass the bar—those two work in combination. We know that students have to be able to pass the bar before they can practice,” Thompson said. “Our bar results, our pass rates, show the amount of attention we give to that, but just passing the bar also doesn’t mean that they [have the skills necessary to] practice law. So, a combination of being able to pass the bar and then practice law, I think, is what really sets us apart.”

Another aspect of LUSOL that distinguishes it from other law schools is the religious approach to the coursework.

“We’re certainly not the only law school in the country that has a Christian worldview, but we’re one of the few,” Thompson said. “No matter what type of law we’re teaching … we approach every one of those classes from a distinctly Christian worldview.”

In the end, LUSOL aims to equip graduates with what they need to prepare to enter the legal work force and interact with their senior peers. According to Thompson, though graduates admit the skills program was difficult, they are grateful for the challenge the experience provided them.