Ave Maria Law School: The “Magic” of Integrating More Practice-Ready Programs into the Curriculum

Topics: Client Relations, Law Schools, Legal Education, Legal Innovation, Surveys, Talent Development, Thomson Reuters

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In Thomson Reuters’ examination of methods that law schools can use to help their students become more “practice ready,” we identified law school faculty already integrating practice-ready skills into their curriculum as well as legal organizations helping new associates connect theory to practice. In the following series of profiles, we explore how these approaches are shaping law students and law firms.  

When students hear about how online legal research, document building and contract drafting programs work from their peers — not just from librarians pushing it on them — it raises their curiosity: ‘How do I get access to this?’, says Ulysses Jaen, law library director and assistant professor of law at Ave Maria Law School in Naples, Fla.

Such programs are designed to help law students make the connection between theory and practice, and Ave Maria Law School, where Jaen teaches, was one of the first schools to adopt a suite of these programs, Thomson Reuters’ Practice-Ready Program. Jaen integrated it into his curriculum by developing a Practice Ready Entrepreneurship course this past Spring semester. The three-credit course for second- and third-years is aimed at those students interested in developing more skills, as well as those considering going into business for themselves.

“As a law librarian, I see students and their skills level from their first day of orientation through their graduation,” he says. “I saw that more of them could learn more about how a law firm actually works before they graduate, so that they get into a firm ready to practice. When I saw these needs, I decided to jump on the Practice-Ready Program.”

“It’s Like Magic”

His Practice Ready Entrepreneurship course emphasizes teaching students how to run their own law firm, and what they’d need to do in order to be successful from a business perspective, such as managing clients. It also fosters an understanding of how vital technology is to the practice of law.

“E-filing, research, communications — it’s all through technology,” he explains. “Our students need to be savvy in everything from confidentiality and IP to protecting our clients’ interest. It’s part of their responsibility but also facilitates the practice of law. Knowing more about technology is essential for a recent graduate.”

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Ulysses Jaen of Ava Marie Law School

In the past, Jaen focused on exposing students to technology even before the Practice-Ready Program was available. “I’ve been doing this for over a decade now,” he notes. “I first tried to incorporate more practice-ready skills into my Advanced Legal Research course and found that students wanted more.”

Using the Practice-Ready Program, he introduced students to technology tools that would’ve been valuable resources for them earlier in law school. “Once students use Doc and Form Builder or Drafting Assistant Essential, it makes their life so much easier,” he contends. “They loved Drafting Assistant Essential — they wished they had known about it as a 1L. It’s like magic for them!”

When using these materials, Jaen says that students are learning more, and it generates more demand from students to learn how to use these tools properly. “They didn’t even know what they didn’t know.”

He hosts his Practice Ready Entrepreneurship course on TWEN, with links to interactive materials, discussion forums and readings, among other resources.

Hands-on Experience

Jaen said experiencing the real-life application of legal tools and technology, alongside the Practice-Ready program tutorials and other materials, has raised his students’ awareness of all the resources at their disposal. “When our Westlaw rep came in for workshops and presentations, our students were fascinated,” Jaen says, adding that providing law students with more access to technology and tools during law school will help them transition to practicing law more seamlessly. He noted the enthusiastic response from students in his Practice Ready Entrepreneurship course.

“Students who’ve used Practical Law totally love it,” Jaen explains. “It gets them from the beginning to the end on the structure of a will or trusts. I hope Thomson Reuters continues to develop more subject areas on Practical Law. Having all of these resources combined in one subject area is fabulous.”

Jaen said the hands-on experience the Practice-Ready Program gives students is key. “Multiple researchers and experts have talked about how law students don’t understand the concept of the billable hour or legal management systems,” he adds. “Our students need to be more skills-based. They need to learn from complaint to demand letter, all the way through.” Jaen is also encouraging students “to utilize the Thomson Reuters package to make themselves successful when they graduate” by taking advantage of the access to research and drafting tools.

As a law librarian, he also appreciates how the Practice-Ready program “makes the library much more attractive to students.” Overall, Jaen says the program has helped students realize that they need to know how things work in the real world, and how they need to emphasize efficiency and effectiveness in the way they go about doing this work.