The supervised practicum course is available for students seeking an experiential learning opportunity that is not otherwise available in the Law School's curriculum and a faculty member is willing to supervise the student’s work in the field. This is a distinct class from the “Supervised Research” course.
Under Faculty Rules, a student may only enroll in one supervised practicum during his or her career at Washington University Law School and may not be enrolled in a law clinic or externship and a Supervised Practicum in the same semester. A student may earn from 1 to 3 units of academic credit graded credit/no credit. Credits earned in the practicum are considered non-Law Classroom Units (non-LCUs).
The supervised practicum is an exceptional course because the School’s recent expansion of externship courses and law clinics provide a wide array of law in practice opportunities that minimize the gaps the supervised practicum course was designed to fill. That said, instances arise when the supervised practicum is a suitable vehicle for academic experiential learning. The practicum does not count against the School's Clinical Program Guarantee.
The work students perform in their practicum placements should be structured primarily for the student’s educational benefit. Student assignments should include types of work being done by lawyers at the placement.
Externships and practica are distinct from being a paid law clerk because the paid clerk is there as an employee to meet the employer’s objectives. In contrast, students in practica and other academic externships are at the placement for legal practice experience and bring educational objectives to the placement. Thus, the student should determine what the institution has to offer the student. In the process of obtaining that experience, students will undoubtedly provide some valuable service and will, of course, be bound by the rules and norms of the placement. The more actively students seek a good educational experience, the more students will receive from the fieldwork. In choosing placements, and while in them, students should speak with the field supervisor about the primary work of the institution and what role the student may play in it.
Students should try to become involved in the interactive aspects of the practicum. That may require the student to ask to go to meetings and hearings and to sit in on important phone calls. Students should arrange their schedules to make those types of events a priority; these live experiences, as distinct from the other law school experiences, afford many lessons and challenge students to reconcile the law on the books and the law in action. Students should seek these opportunities even if they will not be adding value to the event because just observing and reflecting on lawyers or courts at work can be educational.
Note that students may not receive credit for hours spent doing administrative work, except to the extent that such work is necessary to complete the student’s own assignments. If a field supervisor asks students to answer phones, perform word-processing, filing or copying, the student should simply explain that they are at the placement for educational purposes, receiving academic credit, and that the school does not allow students to take on such assignments. If the supervisor asks the student to do more than a modest amount of administrative work, students must raise that with their faculty instructor.
For each unit of academic credit, a student must complete 52 hours of fieldwork during the semester (i.e., 4 hours/week over the 13 weeks of the semester). Students may schedule time in any way that works for the student and the field supervisor. Students should make sure they and their field supervisor have a clear understanding about the student’s schedule.
To participate in a Supervised Practicum, a student must arrange for an appropriate placement site (and supervising lawyer or "field supervisor" in that office) and find a member of the law faculty to supervise the practicum. The student must submit a "Request to Take Supervised Practicum" form to the Associate Dean for Clinical Education and Vice Dean no later then the end of the second week of classes of the semester during which the student seeks credit.
Once the student has arranged the placement, the student should count the number of weeks remaining in the semester, taking account of holidays, and calculate the number of placement work hours per week needed to meet the target number of hours. If a student wishes to finish work at the placement before classes end, and the field supervisor agrees, calculate the weekly hours accordingly.
Students must keep a contemporaneous record of their hours, showing dates, times, work done during each time period, and the location of work done elsewhere than at the organization. Student time logs should list the date, the hours worked, and the tasks completed during those hours. It should include a total of the number of hours recorded for the period covered by the log, and a running total of the number of hours per semester. The time log for any given day should be broken into units to show the amount of time spent on each task. Students must submit a copy of their time log with each journal assignment.
Learning Agenda or Contract
Students will meet with the attorney supervising their practicum and draft a learning agenda (sometimes referred to as a “Learning Contract”). This Contract is essentially a statement of the student’s goals in undertaking the practicum and ideas on how to accomplish them. The purpose of this document is for the student to consider what is most important to them in the experience and to encourage students to plot a tentative course to achieve those goals. A student’s experience in the field will be shaped primarily by how carefully the student formulates goals. If students engage with the fieldwork passively, waiting to receive whatever comes their way, the field supervisor will determine the student’s experience. On the other hand, if students have specific goals and pursue them, these goals will lead the student to the types of experience they desire.
Before drafting the agenda, consider what lawyers in the office might do:
- Case evaluation/planning and problem solving
- Interviewing and counseling clients
- Factual investigation and informal discovery
- Legal drafting, written discovery, and depositions
- Legal research, analysis, and writing
- Negotiation, mediation, and settlement
- Administrative hearings, trials, appellate arguments
- Legislative or other policy advocacy
Students should also consider what, if any, lessons they wish to learn regarding law in action, such as how courts operate, a substantive area of law and practice, how policy is made and who makes it.
After determining their goals, students should explore with their field supervisor the experiences that would help in attaining those goals. A list of planned experiences will help students achieve a more structured, varied, and successful experience. Of course, students will need to be flexible and realize that this agenda will most likely be modified as the semester progresses.
While the format of this learning agenda is not important, students should include two categories of information: 1) goals for the practicum (e.g., “develop my research and writing skills” or “learn about the criminal justice system”) and 2) for each goal, list potential/planned experiences or assignments that would help in attaining that goal (e.g., “draft a trial memo” or “observe a felony trial”).
After the student has met with the field supervisor and written a final draft of a learning agenda, the student should send a copy of this agenda to the faculty supervisor and schedule an appointment to discuss it.
Weekly journals should be about two pages long and include a discussion of: 1) feedback received; 2) new insights about the law, lawyering, and the legal system; 3) progress regarding personal learning objectives; 4) self-assessment of progress; and 5) problems or concerns. The journal should be reflective as well as informative. The journal aids the student in reflecting on and planning for the placement and will help the faculty supervisor monitor and ensure the quality of experience.
Each week, the student must submit to the faculty supervisor a record of the student’s time. The timesheet should include: 1) dates/hours worked; and 2) type and subject matter of work and tasks accomplished. (Of course students should keep privileged communications and attorney work-product out of these submissions.) Students should keep their time records in 15-minute intervals.
Making the most of the practicum:
Whether students receive good supervision and useful feedback on their work is determined by their chosen field supervisor and by how much supervision and feedback the student seeks. A practicum student’s goal should be to develop a relationship with the field supervisor that allows the student and supervisor to communicate with each other freely about the work.
Schedule a regular weekly meeting with the field supervisor. This will provide time each week to ask questions about work the student performed or is performing or to discuss other projects, cases, or dynamics in the office. A regular meeting will allow students to reflect and afford an opportunity to review work product or discuss other aspects of the work.
In the middle of the semester, students should schedule a mid-semester evaluation meeting with their field supervisor. At this meeting, a student should ask the field supervisor for feedback on the student’s work, and talk about aspects of the experience that have or have not been satisfying. This is an ideal time to identify the types of experience that students had hoped to have that have not yet occurred, and to ask whether that experience is possible (e.g., go to a hearing, interview some clients, write a brief).
At the end of the term, students must schedule an exit interview with their field supervisor. This meeting, like the mid-semester meeting, is an opportunity for mutual feedback. If students are interested in constructive criticism of their work, make sure to apprise the supervisor of that.
End of Semester Checklist
At the end of the semester, students must fill out the End of Semester Checklist Form and submit it during their final meeting with their faculty supervisor. Students should not turn in the form until they have completed all of the items on the list. It offers students an easy way to check whether they have completed the course requirements.