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BC Law School Launches Experiential Learning Center

Heights Editor

Published: Thursday, December 12, 2013

Updated: Thursday, December 12, 2013 04:12

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Erin Fitzpatrick / Heights Staff

Beginning next September, opportunities for students at Boston College Law School to learn the practical skills of their profession will be consolidated into a newly created Center for Experiential Learning located on the law school’s campus in Newton Centre.

Currently, BC Law students can participate in in-house clinical training that allows them to serve as advocates for underserved populations in civil litigation, housing law, immigration cases, and juvenile rights advocacy, among other areas.

For over 40 years, the law school has also operated a clinic in Waltham that has been able to serve clients who do not have access to the campus itself. Students are also given the chance to complete externships, working alongside lawyers in practice and taking classes to connect their experience to their educational goals.

Within the realm of experiential learning, all of these offerings will be combined under the purview of the new center, which will be headed by Paul Tremblay, a clinical professor of law.

According to Tremblay, resources that were previously designated for the Waltham off-site law firm now will be sent to the programs centered on the Newton Campus, with plans in the works to create several additional satellite or storefront locations in the community. Preliminary conversations have also begun with the BC Neighborhood Center in Brighton, which provides social services to low-income clients, particularly immigrants.

“BC has such a strong connection to Brighton and, frankly, most of our students live right near there, so that adds to the service area that we would otherwise not be meeting,” Tremblay said.

For the on-campus center, Tremblay said that construction will take place over the summer to reconfigure offices in the law school’s Smith Wing to better accommodate student workspaces. Over the long-term, the center hopes to take over Barat House, a mansion on the Newton Campus that is currently not being used in its entirety.

Plans for the center have developed within the last year, after BC Law Dean Vincent Rougeau learned of similar programs at other law schools, such as Stanford.

“It struck me and many of my colleagues that those models had something to offer us and maybe we should think a little more carefully about how to adopt some of the models to what we do at BC,” Rougeau said.

While the program has taken ideas from existing models, Rougeau emphasized several key features of the center that make it unique to BC, including our collaboration with the University’s other professional schools.

“A very unique aspect of what we’re doing at BC is that we wanted to take advantage of what the University does,” Rougeau said. “We have now developed partnerships with other schools, particularly the Graduate School of Social Work and hopefully the [Lynch] School of Education and the [Connell] School of Nursing, where we can start looking at legal problems for underserved populations as part of a broader set of problems and then cooperate in our programming and education across all of those disciplines.”

Rougeau also believes that the new center will be an attractive facet of the school for future applicants, as well as employers of BC Law graduates.

“I hope it will demonstrate to prospective applicants that BC Law is really at the forefront of thinking about what students need, and the best part of a cutting-edge legal education,” Rougeau said. “We hope employers will notice that we’re giving students a dynamic set of skills through a more thoughtful approach to practical and experiential learning. I hope it will cause our colleagues at other law schools to take notice of what we’re doing and really give BC a platform to present a new, improved model of legal education.”

In general, Tremblay pointed to several beneficial aspects of clinical, experiential learning for law students.

“The students inevitably tell us that the experiential learning is the best thing they’ve done at law school,” Tremblay said. “Learning the legal doctrine and theory is intellectually really challenging ... but you only really get a sense of what it’s like to be a lawyer and get that gratification by working with clients.”

While closely supervised by full-time law school faculty, all of whom are licensed lawyers in Massachusetts, students are the primary advocates for the clients who seek legal services from the clinics.

“The beauty of that is our students are what we call lead counsel,” Tremblay said. “They do all of the work, they make all of the decisions, interview the clients, negotiate with the other lawyers, argue in court, and address the board meetings when we represent small businesses—all the work they would do as lawyers, they do as students.”

Tremblay also stressed the importance of clinical training in relation to the University’s goals to educate students ethically and morally.

“BC Law School places a really high emphasis on training ethical lawyers,” he said. “We have a really strong commitment to professionalism, and we teach it in all of our classes ... [students] are learning that who you are as a person matters as much as who you are as a lawyer.” 

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