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Should Ukrainian law schools adopt an experiential program

20.06.2017 / 18:26

Should Ukrainian law schools adopt an experiential program

Before answering the question of whether Ukrainian Law Schools should adopt an Experiential Program of teaching, we must first determine the role or purpose of a law school education.

What is the Role of Law School?

I have been educated and practice in the United States so I am most familiar with legal education there. However, I have taught law in many post-soviet countries, namely Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine and have become familiar with post-soviet legal education. There are many differences with the U.S. legal system which should be briefly noted.

Unlike Ukraine, legal education in the United States is a post baccalaureate degree. It is a requirement in the United States, that law school candidates must have an undergraduate degree from a four year university before applying to law school. After graduating from a three year course of study in a U.S. law school, the graduate is awarded a Juris Doctorate or J.D. degree. Law schools in the United States do offer a Masters of Law or LL.M. but this requires a full year or two following the conferment of a J.D. It may seem odd that a Masters degree in law follows a doctorate degree in law in the United States. The reason is that historically, the U.S. was similar to Ukraine and did not require a bachelor’s degree prior to the study of law. Law school graduates were once awarded a bachelor’s degree in law or an LL.B and thus the next degree was a Masters. Almost 100 years ago, U.S. law schools began requiring students to have an undergraduate bachelor’s degree, thus eventually awarding a J.D. in place of the LL.B. Thus the reason that a Masters of Law follows a Doctor of Law in U.S. law schools. Once a student graduates law school with a J.D. degree, having completed seven years of undergraduate and law school studies, no further educational requirement is needed to practice any type of law, other than passing the bar examination of the state in which the lawyer wishes to practice. It is not the purpose of this article to debate which program is better or to discuss whether Ukraine should adopt the U.S. model of education. However, the comparison is relevant in determining the role of law schools today.

In my opinion, the role of law school, whether in Ukraine or the U.S., is twofold: firstly, to produce well educated individuals and secondly, to produce skillful and competent attorneys.

In regard to the first prong to produce well educated individuals. Many law school graduates will enter business, government, or academia and should have a broad-based, well- rounded education. In the U.S., because of the requirement to have a four year undergraduate degree, much of the general or “well-rounded” education has already taken place and U.S. law schools do not need to teach subjects such as history, philosophy, or language. Ukrainian law schools must include such subjects in order to develop the well educated lawyer.

The second prong of legal education is to produce skillful and competent attorneys. Law school graduates will go out and counsel society and their advice must be correct and precise.

Society expects and is due this level of expertise. It is in this area of developing skillful and competent attorneys, that I think Ukrainian law schools should adopt a program of Experiential Education.

What is Experiential Education?

Experiential education is teaching the actual practice of law to students. The purpose is to develop the skills necessary to deal with the real life situations that students will face when they graduate school. It is taught through “simulation” classes where the student is confronted with a likely scenario or problem that he or she will face once he or she is practicing law. The student, under the watch of the teacher and fellow students, must apply the theoretical legal principles to the situation at hand in reaching a solution. In essence, it teaches the student “how to lawyer” in the real world.

The author, a trial attorney, teaches workshops in both Civil and Criminal Trial Law. The workshop entails: learning the applicable substantive and procedural law and applying the legal principles to the testimony of six witnesses which are provided to the students. The course is taught through three mediums: lectures (hearing), legal films (seeing) and practice (doing). Each part of a trial is reviewed: opening statements, direct examination of witnesses, cross examination of witnesses, and summations. Each student is required to stand before the class and present an opening statement, conduct direct and cross-examination of witnesses, and sum up in closing argument. Each student is critiqued on his or her performance and has the opportunity to see and hear the presentation of fellow students. The course culminates in the students putting their practice together, forming two teams, and squaring off at a trial of the case before parties who know nothing about the facts. After the trial, the students anxiously await the decision of the court.

I have taught this course at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Poland, Vilnius University in Lithuania and Odessa Law Academy in Ukraine. I believe this course has been an overwhelming success for many reasons:

1.  Students learn the substantive and procedural law which is necessary in order to try the case.

2.  Students learn numerous trial skills by watching others and practicing their assignments.

3.  Students deal with real life ethical problems that arise and which they may face in practice and learn how to deal with such problems.

4.  Besides developing individual skills, students learn to work on a team for the final trial.

5.  Byproducts of the course are that students improve their English (since I speak no Ukrainian) and also develop confidence in public speaking.

6.  Lastly, I believe the students enjoy the course because they not only feel that they develop useful real world skills, but the course is actually fun.

Is Experiential Education Limited to Trial Courses?

Absolutely not. Because of my experience as a trial lawyer, I am comfortable teaching a course in trial law. Experiential education can be adapted to many areas of the law. In the U.S. there are experiential courses in the subjects such as: negotiation, mediation, document drafting, client interviewing, international arbitration, etc. There really is no limit for embracing experiential education into any course or program.

Should Ukrainian Law Schools Initiate Experiential Education?

Perhaps the best answer is, why not? If my premise is correct, that law schools have an obligation to not only produce well educated individuals but also to provide society with skillful and competent attorneys, what better way to develop their skills and competency? Experiential education gives students the opportunity to learn critical lawyering skills that they will use in the real world. Experiential education should not replace traditional law school courses, but should take its place next to such courses in the law school curriculum.

In many U.S. law schools, experiential education is a requirement for graduation. Odessa Law Academy has been in the forefront of Ukrainian legal education, by establishing with much success experiential education in both Civil and Criminal Trial Workshops. What does any Ukrainian law school have to lose by including experiential education into its curriculum?

Where Do We Go From Here?

The courses I have described are known in Experiential Education as “Simulation”. They are factual situations which require students to step into the role of lawyers, apply their legal knowledge, and solve the problem. Simulation courses are the first step of Experiential Education.

The second step would be Practicum courses whereby the students deal with a real-life problem outside of the law school under the guidance of a professor in a small seminar setting. The outside legal problem may result from an internship with a local office of the court, state prosecutor, or defense attorney. It will generally involve an additional 10-15 hours a week of work. The student will get first hand real life experience with an internship arranged by the school. The student will discuss the issues with the professor and fellow students at the weekly seminar. In this way, all students learn a variety of “real world” legal problems and their possible solutions.

The third and final step of experiential education may be the formation of a legal clinic at the law school. In a “clinic” situation, the law school acts similar to a private law firm in helping the poor with legal problems with which they may otherwise have a difficult time in finding legal representation. It may deal with issues such as housing, family law, or minor criminal matters. The students, under the supervision of the professor and Ph.D candidates deal with live clients in real situations. In such cases, students deal with not only legal issues, but also economic, societal, and political issues. Forming a legal clinic is an extremely ambitious undertaking. But after establishing Simulation and Practicing Courses, legal clinics are a natural progression of experiential education. They can also be started on a very modest level.


It is my hope that Ukrainian Law Schools will adopt and integrate experiential education as part of the curriculum for the good of its students as well as society they will serve. Academia has always been and should continue to be a place where new ideas germinate and come to fruition.

About the Author

Jan K Seigel, Esq. is a practicing attorney in the United States. He has taught Experiential Education courses in many post-soviet countries. Through USAID he has taught the methodology of Experiential Education to Ukrainian law professors.

Mr. Seigel is available to teach or help organize experiential education programs. He can be reached at JanSeigel@SeigelLaw.com.

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