U. of Michigan Law: Using Client-Centered Clinic & Non-Directive Teaching to Prepare for Transactional Practice

Topics: Client Relations, Law Firms, 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 curriculums 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.  

Michael Bloom, director of the Transactional Lab & Clinic and a clinical assistant professor at University of Michigan Law School, believes in the positive value of pressure. “It’s about putting the student in the first chair and having them learn through that pressure — owning the work they’re doing but in a supported, well-supervised environment,” Bloom says.

He also likens his role to being a curator and a coach. “Finding projects that will make for a good learning opportunity and coaching students throughout to identify mistakes and learn from them — ultimately, to make sure what we produce for the client, I’ll stake my license on,” he explains.

Client-Centered Clinic

His transactional clinic — one of four Michigan Law offers — is seven credits and open to second- and third-years. It involves eight students, who typically work on teams of two. The students work on two teams for two different clients; one client is a small, local organization and the other is a large, complex organization.

“They get to work where lawyers are their direct contact at a large client organization, and with other smaller organizations where there’s no lawyer at the organization,” he explains. “Ironically, in both cases we’re often providing support for departments and organizations that are under-resourced and overworked. Clients are often trying to do more with less and triaging more than they’d like. We help build resources that can streamline how deals are done — producing custom-built templates for a client’s goals and needs.”

The process allows students to take the time to learn about a client’s business, what the client’s goals are and how students can help further those goals, Bloom adds. “That’s our North Star — we take the time to really understand what the client is trying to accomplish.”

Build-up Muscles Around Solving Problems

Out of clinic, his students use Praktio, an online interactive training program Bloom developed around working with contracts. “It gets students up to speed on the basics, the fundamentals to work with any contract and every type of provision you might see, so we can use our clinic time as meaningfully as possible,” he said.

Michael Bloom, director of the Transactional Lab & Clinic and a clinical assistant professor at University of Michigan Law School

The intersection of technology and legal education is crucial to ensuring that students are practice ready — and an area where law schools can improve. “I see a gap around teaching students to create and to make,” he explains. “Some schools are doing this with hackathons and teaching lawyers to code — there could be a lot more of that.”

Bloom says it’s a great idea to create a class or competition to get lawyers working with designers, engineers and business students — building multi-disciplinary teams to arrive at solutions for clients. “It’s something law schools can do to bake into students’ formative years this curiosity to break and build,” he says. “A big muscle we train in law school is how to spot holes — we need to do more to build up muscles around solving problems and building solutions.”

One area Bloom focuses on is teaching students how to best use technology in their learning and their future practice, and one of the core tools they use is Thomson Reuters’ Practical Law. “We use it how law firms use it,” he adds. “The work we do involves counseling businesses from nonprofits to startups to mature companies, and a lot of that is drafting contracts and includes things like seeing what kinds of practical guidance there are on Practical Law. We lean heavily on those types of resources.”

Bloom says he works closely with clinic students to set goals at the beginning of the semester and checks in throughout to ensure that they’re working towards what they hoped to get out of the clinic. Not surprisingly, students report the hands-on experience lays the groundwork for transactional practice, Bloom says. “I get emails months and years later about how helpful it was preparing them for their practice.”

Filling in the Holes in Legal Education

Bloom became involved in clinical education after graduating from Yale Law School in 2009, when “big law firms were asking people to go anywhere but here,” he remembers. He used a deferral stipend to start teaching at University of Chicago Law School.

“I saw holes in legal education around training and how to be a transactional lawyer,” he says. Working with another faculty member and a then third-year student, he developed a curriculum, including what is now the Kirkland & Ellis Corporate Lab, as well as a textbook. After his deferral, he worked as a junior corporate associate at a big firm. “My peers reported feeling lost and not sure what was being asked of them,” he says. “I didn’t feel that way. Reflecting on how that came to be, it was how I spent my deferral.”

Eventually, he had an opportunity to go back and co-direct the clinic he helped start. “I did it because personally and professionally I was most motivated by solving real-life problems,” he explains. “That was thrilling to me — it didn’t feel like work. I could see the return on it and how it helped law students become young professionals.”

Bloom says that going to the firm provided validation that his team was on the right path. “It was a useful formula for preparing someone for success at a firm.”

For profiles of technology innovators in the legal education field, click here!