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Alumni teach 1Ls the 3Ps of a cutting-edge legal education

When Hamline Law sought to better integrate the practice and the theory of law for new students, the administration called on Hamline Law alumni to help teach the course. Now entering its third year as a required course for 1Ls, the “Practice, Problem-Solving and Professionalism” course (P3) has involved well over 100 alumni to bring the course to life.

Hamline Law professors Bobbi McAdoo, Sharon Press, and Jim Coben designed the course in 2010 with the goal of helping students see the role of problem-solving in all aspects of lawyering, from litigation to administrative law to business development. The course introduces students to the skills necessary to effectively interview and counsel clients with an eye towards selecting the right process to address clients’ concerns. Students learn the basics of negotiation which they then practice in simulations and in real-life.

Alumni Ken Morris (J.D., '92), Lateesa Ward (J.D., '91) and Carrie Miller-Dolan (J.D., '95) shared the teaching role as adjunct professors with Hamline Law professors, providing their perspectives from a wide range of practice areas. Morris, a lawyer and member of the Hamline Law Dean’s Board of Advisors, brought his broad experience as an entrepreneur and business owner in a variety of fields including healthcare, biotechnology and financial service. Ward, an accomplished litigator and trial lawyer in employment law, contracts, product liability and mass torts, also has served as a federal court-appointed mediator. Miller-Dolan, named Adjunct Professor of the Year by the Hamline Law Student Bar Association, after many years as a successful litigator now specializes in family law mediation.

This past spring, alumni Chris Messerly (J.D., '86) and Phil Sieff (J.D., '85), lawyers at Robins, Miller, Kaplan & Ciresi, shared a case study with students on the tragedy of the 35W Bridge Collapse. This was a good case for P3 students because it involved lawyers engaged in broad-based problem-solving, not only as litigators, but also as client counselors, negotiators, special masters, mediators, and as drafters of legislation to protect those who were harmed.

Messerly told students how he got involved in the case. He was driving home from work when he heard that the bridge had collapsed. His immediate reaction was thinking, “What can I do to help?” He thought about giving blood but then realized, “I am a lawyer. What can I contribute in that capacity?” From there, Messerly and Sieff split up the major work, one figuring out why the bridge came down and the other determining how those injured could be compensated.

In another segment of the course, P3 panel discussions featured Hamline Law alumni who had traveled different career paths since graduation. Law alums talked about their pre-law career, their decisions to go to law school, their search for the right job, their on-going effort to balance busy lives and careers, and the importance of mentors in their law careers.

In one quotable moment, a 1985 graduate shared her shock as a new lawyer when she realized that clients really do not care about the lawyer’s ability to spot issues. What a client really wants, she said, is the lawyer’s help to resolve a problem.

As part of P3, small groups of 1Ls interviewed law practitioners in a variety of settings. Students wrote insightful essays about their alumni subjects, and were encouraged to reflect on their own motivations and goals for their legal education.

The P3 class helps 1L students understand that litigated cases - the focus of their 1L doctrinal classes - are just part of what real lawyers do. By seeing themselves as problem solvers, law students are encouraged to think more expansively about the opportunities that will open to them as lawyers.

P3 professors draw their law alumni volunteers from those alums who sign up to be student and alumni mentors through HUSLink.

The P3 course is also the focus of a law review article entitled “It’s Time to Get It Right: Problem-Solving in the First-Year Curriculum,” by Professor Bobbi McAdoo and Associate Professor Sharon Press, Director of the Dispute Resolution Institute, and law alumna Chelsea Griffin (2011), in the Washington University Journal of Law & Policy (Vol. 39, 2012).

Learn more:
Hamline Law Career Services: HUSLink Alumni Mentor Registration