WACO, Texas -
One of the hallmarks of Baylor Law School's 160-year existence has been the consistent development of successful Baylor Lawyers.
While law schools across the country are beginning to transition to a more practice-focused curriculum, Baylor Law has remained attentive to its students' professional needs since its inception through long-standing programs like Practice Court and a well-rounded curriculum.
However, this consistency of approach is powered by an on-going focus on innovation. Baylor Law is ahead of the curve in programming to ensure its students receive an education that continues to fully prepare them for the practice of law.
As its alumni know, Baylor Law School is not the easiest road to a law degree; however, the intensity of the Baylor Law program is a pathway to success for those who are willing to embrace the challenge.
At Baylor Law, expectations for students are high and coursework is demanding, but rather than existing in a "get-ahead" vacuum of competition, students are members of a tight-knit community. Students, and faculty members, exchange ideas and share experiences, developing relationships that last long after graduation.
The level of intensity at the School can be seen through Baylor Law's two interscholastic law competitions – The Top Gun National Mock Trial Competition and The Closer National Transactional Law Competition. Both competitions are distinct depictions of the careers for which Baylor Lawyers are prepared. Students must be able to work under pressure and under short deadlines, training to think and speak in stressful, unpredictable scenarios. The competitions showcase Baylor Law's definition of "practice-ready."
Now in its eighth year, The Top Gun National Mock Trial Competition is an innovative, invitation-only mock trial tournament. Unlike other mock trial competitions, Top Gun competitors receive the case file just 24 hours in advance of the first trial, and the case is modified as the competition continues, with additional changes occurring before the final round.
"Students must accomplish in 24 hours of preparation what they do over the course of three or four months in other competitions," said Gerald Powell, JD '77, Abner V. McCall Professor of Evidence Law.
In the tradition of the Top Gun competition for the nation's best student trial advocates, Baylor Law launched The Closer, an innovative transactional law competition, in 2017. The invitation-only competition is limited to law schools that have excelled at past transactional LawMeets®.
For The Closer, students also receive the competition problem 24 hours before the competition rounds begin, thus eliminating extensive, advanced preparation.
The relational nature of Baylor Law holds true even in the competition setting. Though Baylor Law students do not compete in Top Gun or The Closer, they are involved with the planning and execution of the competition. It is an opportunity to develop relationships, to discover mentors, and to build community within specific areas of practice.
"Baylor Law students also staff the The Closer competition, providing administrative assistance, accompanying competitors to the site visit, role playing representatives of the clients, acting as hosts to the lawyers who judge the rounds, and serving as timekeepers for the rounds," said Professor Elizabeth Miller, JD '85, who established The Closer. "In this manner, Baylor Law students become acquainted with the student competitors from other law schools as well as practicing lawyers who act as judges for the competition rounds."
The Baylor Academy of the Advocate in St Andrews is another shining example of the harmony Baylor Law creates between intensity and community. The Academy is a two-week program where students receive intense practical training in trial and appellate advocacy from some of the best lawyers, judges, and advocacy professors in the United States. Intimate by design, with a student to faculty ratio of approximately 3 to 1, the program is limited to 60 students from Baylor Law and law schools across the United States, providing the perfect environment to develop professional connections and friendships.
"Every summer I am amazed to see our distinguished faculty, such as District Court Judge Ed Kinkeade and his wife, Melissa, entertain students in a personal, one-on-one setting," said Professor Jeremy Counseller, JD '00, Academy of the Advocate program director. "The Academy of the Advocate is unparalleled in its curriculum yet still provides students with a fun summer abroad experience and supportive community."
While a high level of intensity within a supportive community is one of the most distinctive aspects of Baylor Law's approach to preparing students for the legal profession, the integration of professional skills and leadership opportunities through the program is distinct. At Baylor Law, courses are sequenced to build on each other. The knowledge, skills, and values learned are continuously utilized throughout the educational experience.
Baylor Law is one of the few schools in the nation with a comprehensive three-year legal writing program that focuses on the development of practice-ready writing skills.
"Baylor Law has never treated legal writing as something adjunct to the rest of the program. The writing faculty serve as voting members of the full faculty, and the full faculty has worked with the writing faculty to develop the program," said Scott Fraley, director of legal writing at Baylor Law. "Few law schools cover as much material as Baylor Law does throughout the writing program."
As Fraley noted, legal writing is not only a series of courses in and of itself, but it is also a skill that is exercised throughout the Baylor Law curriculum, particularly in Practice Court, in which the writing faculty is actively involved, preparing writing assignments, and grading motions, and responses.
"Acquiring critical thinking abilities, legal knowledge, and lawyering skills in law school is essential for law students but not enough to adequately prepare them to meet the demands and pressures they will face in the legal profession," said Leah Teague, JD '85, associate dean and professor. "From their first day at Baylor Law, we begin teaching students the importance of what it means to be lawyers—trusted advisors and zealous advocates for their clients and effective leaders in their communities." The Professional Development and Leadership Development Programs at Baylor Law were created to help students develop their professional identities, character, and leadership capabilities.
The mandatory Professional Development Program helps students gain a better understanding of the professional and business practicalities of practicing law as well as the professional responsibility that accompanies it. This unique, first-of-its-kind program is more comprehensive than the professional formation programs of any other law school. The Program provides flexibility, allowing students to tailor professional development to the kind of legal practice they plan to pursue.
While leadership training has long been a part of the culture at Baylor Law, the innovative Leadership Development Program was created to provide specific emphasis and training in particular leadership skills that students need in an increasingly-complex and ever-changing environment. Baylor Law is leading the way as more law schools recognize the importance of leadership development to better prepare students to make a meaningful difference in the lives of their clients, the legal profession, and their communities.
While Baylor Law remains committed to many of its long-held traditions, programs are simultaneously evolving and producing new opportunities, demonstrating innovation and willingness to adapt to new ideas. Baylor Law is focused on improving and enhancing its offerings to students so they will be equipped for the rigors and opportunities awaiting them after graduation.
Sometimes this constant push for improvement takes the form of refining and updating the traditional hallmarks of the School, like Practice Court. Practice Court is recognized as one of the most rigorous, but most rewarding, law school experiences for the honing of real-world lawyering skills.
"For most of our students, Practice Court is the hardest thing they have ever done to this point," said Jim Wren, JD '80, professor of law. "No other law school has this consuming kind of capstone experience. The only reason we can do it at Baylor Law is because we've always done it, since 1922. Every Baylor Lawyer alive has been through it."
"Through the rigors of Practice Court, I began to realize that grace under pressure, giving your personal best each day, and fighting with integrity for a worthy cause are what define a successful Baylor Lawyer," said Louie Cook, JD '16, now an attorney with Sico Hoelscher Harris & Braugh, LLP. "The grueling program requires you to bring your personal best each day and challenges you to live a life that is focused on using your skills and talents to make a difference."
With the many accolades Practice Court has received, many might take an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to the program, but that is not the way of Baylor Law. Excellence in any program requires innovation to stay ahead, so Practice Court professors are continually seeking to enhance and evolve students' experiences. In addition to the full integration of legal writing and jury trials, students now conduct evidentiary hearings, discovery hearings, summary judgement hearings, video depositions, and jury voir dires. Students have the opportunity to integrate their chosen professional track with their Practice Court trial as well.
"For example, a student who wants to specialize in trust and estate work can request a case where a trust or estate dispute is at the center of the case," said Wren. "Also, students now have real juries instead of student juries for their big trials, and we are putting the technology in place to allow students to observe the jury deliberations remotely."
In addition to enhancing already existing programs, innovation at Baylor Law has led to the creation of new opportunities. Legal Mapmaker™ and Business Boot Camp are two of the newest Baylor Law programs.
Legal Mapmaker™ was launched in 2016 in collaboration with other Texas law schools to help prepare young lawyers to open their own law firms. It provides a business model strategy with two goals: (1) to help lawyers succeed, and (2) to help the public find affordable legal services by showing lawyers how to provide legal services efficiently and with low overhead.
"This collaborative program seeks to address the access-to-justice gap and jump-start the careers of our new Texas lawyers," said Stephen Rispoli, JD '12, assistant dean of student affairs and pro bono programs. "Legal Mapmaker™ is not the complete solution to the access-to-justice issue in America, but we believe it is a significant step in the right direction."
Though other law schools across the country are also working to address the access-to-justice issue, there are many aspects of Legal Mapmaker™ that make this approach unique. For instance, the cost-effective nature of the program is a strong differentiator as many other programs are struggling with sustainability. Also, Legal Mapmaker™ aims to provide concrete, step-by-step recommendations rather than offer a variety of options.
"Rather than subjecting our attendees to information overload and analysis paralysis, we evaluate all the options, consult with experts, and then make the recommendation that we believe is best," Rispoli said.
Also launched in 2016, Business Law Boot Camp was created by Professor Elizabeth Miller in response to the knowledge that 40-percent of current Baylor Law students are seeking transactional careers. Though Baylor boasts a robust transactional curriculum, Business Law Boot Camp gives students the opportunity to participate in a week-long intensive intersession course that immerses students in practical perspectives on multiple aspects of business and its legal requirements and implications. The course offers networking, mentoring, and professional development opportunities.
"All of the adjunct faculty and speakers were chosen with a view towards their passion for helping prepare future transactional lawyers and their ability to communicate with students in a dynamic and engaging manner," said Miller.
Boot Camp sessions are interactive and help students discover relationships between the various areas of law and understand how transactional lawyers execute their work. Because the students are exposed to many different voices and experiences through adjunct faculty and guest speakers, they learn there are multiple pathways that lead to a successful or fulfilling career.
"On the final day of the class, after a lively discussion with two M&A lawyers about negotiating strategies and techniques, students engage in a mock negotiation of a confidentiality agreement," Miller said. "This exercise enables the students to apply insight and knowledge gained earlier in the week, in particular a three-hour session dealing with legal issues and documents involved in structuring the sale of a business as well as a three-hour session on contract drafting."
No matter what form innovation takes at Baylor Law, the goal remains the same – to develop the curriculum, programming, and environment that will best equip students to become great lawyers, great citizens, and great leaders.
As the School looks forward to its next century and a half of equipping students for the practice of law, it is dedicated to advancing this mission: Strengthened by tradition, refined by innovation, Baylor Law is committed to a future of continued excellence.
ABOUT BAYLOR LAW SCHOOL
Established in 1857, Baylor Law School was one of the first law schools in Texas and one of the first west of the Mississippi River. Today, the school has more than 7,400 living alumni. It is accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools. Baylor Law School has a record of producing outstanding lawyers, many of whom decide upon a career in public service. The Law School boasts two governors, members or former members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, two former directors of the FBI, U.S. ambassadors, federal judges, justices of the Texas Supreme Court and members of the Texas Legislature, among its notable alumni. In its law specialties rankings, U.S. News & World Report ranked Baylor Law's trial advocacy program as #3 in the nation. Baylor Law School is also ranked #51 in the magazine's 2018 edition of "America's Best Graduate Schools." The National Jurist ranks Baylor Law as one of the "Best School for Practical Training," and #4 in the nation in its most recent "Best Law School Facilities" listing. The Business Insider places Baylor Law among the top 50 law schools in the nation. Baylor Law School received the 2015 American Bar Association Pro Bono Publico Award, making it only the third law school in the nation to be honored with the award since the award's inception in 1984.
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 D1 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big XII Conference. Learn more at baylor.edu