California Western School of Law Dean Steven Smith believes that attorneys are problem solvers, and he's helped to create an environment at school that teaches that.
California Western offers several programs that give students a "hands on" learning experience with an emphasis on public service.
"In the last three years, I've seen a marked increase in the level of student interest in public service and the ideals of their profession," Smith said.
One successful program continues to be the California Innocence Project, in which students work to free wrongly convicted inmates. This year, the program obtained three exonerations within the last few months.
The school also recently received a state grant to expand its street law program. In the program, California Western students visit area high schools to explain legal issues.
"There's nothing like teaching something for it to be a strong learning experience," Smith said. "It's also good for the high school students. It's essential that the general public have some understanding of the law, and that's what our students can provide to high school kids."
Another unique program that California Western offers is called STEPPS (Skills Training for Ethical and Preventative Practice and career Satisfaction). The program, enjoying its second year, combines professional responsibility, second-year legal writing and professionalism.
Students are divided into 16-person "law firms" with a faculty member acting as the firm's managing partner. They take on simulated cases against other student firms. The two-course sequence is voluntary, but Smith said it likely will become a requirement in the near future.
"It's a great way to raise issues of professionalism in a fairly realistic setting," he said.
The school also continues to offer a joint masters degree program in health law with the University of California San Diego, a program Smith helped launched several years ago. Doctors and other medical professionals join with lawyers to teach classes together.
California Western teams with UCSD on speaker programs as well, and the two institutions have been engaged in ongoing discussions about other ways they can work together.
"The success of those (programs) has caused us to talk about what is next; what would be advantageous to UCSD as well as California Western," Smith said.
In the future, the dean wants to expand the school's international offerings, building on a summer program that California Western and four other law schools hold around the world each year.