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Focus on needs of the legal profession distinguishes California Western dean

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As the practice of law adapts to meet the changing needs of clients and organizations, opportunities exist to develop partnerships between law firms and law schools. Together, firms and schools can prepare profession-ready graduates and meet the growing need for legal services. California Western School of Law, San Diego’s oldest law school, is poised to lead the way in this national effort.

Top Attorney Niels B. Schaumann, now entering his second year as the school’s president and dean, recognizes that critical structural problems in legal education must be addressed if law schools are going to meet the needs of students and the employers who hire them.

“One of the national critiques that I think is completely on target is that the path of legal education has diverged from the path of law practice, to the point where practitioners and academicians seldom interact,” Schaumann said. “Students receive a lot of theoretical knowledge in the classroom in their three years, but little or no practical experience. If we trained doctors the way we train lawyers, the life expectancy of Americans would be years shorter.”

California Western distinguishes itself among the region’s law schools by combining a commitment to excellence with practical education exemplified by strong internship and clinical programs and the nationally recognized STEPPS program.

“California Western graduates are known among employers for their readiness for the job,” Schaumann said. “When someone opens a door to one of our graduates, we hear wonderful feedback on the quality of their preparation.”

While Schaumann is proud of California Western’s excellence in hands-on education, he says it is only the foundation of a number of initiatives the school has already launched or is planning — ideas he believes will boost the quality of the school’s legal education and serve as a model for how law schools should educate lawyers in the 21st century.

The law school recently launched a curriculum reform initiative in which faculty members partner with San Diego lawyers and judges in many practice areas to analyze and revise California Western’s curriculum so that it teaches the core competencies required by employers. The revised curriculum for Health Law, the first practice area evaluated, begins next month.

“This may be our most important effort because it goes to the heart and soul of what we teach and whether it relates to the real world and the needs of the legal profession. We’re going to partner with practitioners and work together to develop the new law school curriculum so that we are providing the outcomes they expect from new lawyers — the skills, knowledge and values a student must be equipped with to succeed immediately upon graduation,” Schaumann said.

With a focus on molding prepared graduates who bring a creative, client-centered approach to their work, California Western can embrace the opportunities presented by the significant changes in the practice of law.

-Submitted by California Western School of Law.

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