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Academic Success Programs

Mason Enhancement Program for Academic Success

Student studying

Historically, the School of Law has offered admission to students from diverse racial, cultural, ethnic, socio-economic and educational backgrounds, some of whom show academic potential but who require additional preparation before beginning their first-year at UDC-DCSL. The Academic Success Program operates a summer program to introduce such students to the study of law and prepare them for the demands of the first year of law school, an entirely new learning experience.

The summer program curriculum includes three courses, typically including Legal Writing, Legal Reasoning, and a first-year doctrinal subject. It is taught by full-time members of the faculty, assisted by teaching fellows and upper-level teaching assistants. Students also attend sessions on time management, study skills, legal vocabulary and other skills that will contribute to their academic success in law school. The goal of the program is to help familiarize students with the stringent demands and expectations of law school so that they may realistically prepare for entrance into the first-year class.

First Year Programs

Professor Alphran teaching

During the first year of law school, the Academic Success Program offers assistance to all students to ease the transition to law school and help them learn the basic skills of legal education. The ASP sponsors a series of workshops during the fall semester, focusing on time management, study and learning strategies, classroom preparation, outlining and review, and exam-taking skills. Students are also introduced to concepts of self-regulated learning, including pre-reading strategies, reading strategies and strategies for obtaining assistance. ASP workshops on exam preparation and exam-taking are offered prior to the first semester final exams. These workshops focus on essay-writing, multiple-choice questions, issue spotting, organizational structure and stress management. Students are also encouraged to select appropriate learning strategies to enhance long-term and short-term memory recall, such as the use of mnemonics, note cards, outlining, flow charts, comparison charts and the like. Teaching assistants trained by the ASP faculty are also used to conduct review sessions for every first-year course.

Legal Reasoning I is a two-credit course required for all second-semester, first-year students whose grade point average at the end of the first semester of law school is below 2.3. Legal Reasoning I is also open on a space-available basis to first-year students with grade point averages above 2.3 who desire to work on their legal reasoning skills. Legal Reasoning I emphasizes the process of "thinking like a lawyer" through exercises in case briefing and analysis, issue spotting, rule articulation and synthesis of cases and forms of deductive and analogical reasoning.

Legal Reasoning I coordinates the students' practice in building specific analytical skills with doctrinal issues drawn primarily from their first-year courses. The theory behind this approach is that learning is improved in the contemporaneous doctrinal subject, and the analytical and exam-taking skills are transferable to other first-year subjects.

Upper Level Programs

Legal Reasoning II is a two-credit course required for students who are on academic probation during the first semester of their second year. The course is open on a space-available basis to other upper-level students. Legal Reasoning II builds upon the pedagogy of Legal Reasoning I, combining metacognitive and essay-writing skills with the doctrinal subjects students have learned in their first year of law school. Higher-level competencies are added to the basic building blocks of legal analysis taught in Legal Reasoning I. For example, Legal Reasoning I emphasizes the skill of issue-spotting within a specific doctrinal area (i.e., Contracts), whereas Legal Reasoning II introduces the skill of identifying issues raised by a factual problem that may have several doctrinal aspects (e.g., breach of warranty and negligence claims in a summary judgment procedural context).

Professor Gray teachingBoth Legal Reasoning I and II use a competency-based "mastery" system of evaluation. Students must demonstrate "mastery" of a core set of skills in each of the competency goals identified for the particular course. The "mastery" plan is designed to promote competency and to serve the needs of those students who, in the past, completed Legal Reasoning I and II, but still had not attained the level of skills necessary to successfully complete law school and pass the bar exam.

Professors in upper-level doctrinal courses continue to reinforce the strategies learned in the first year. Frequent feedback, self-evaluation tools, review sessions, and bar exam formats are features of several upper-level courses. Upper-level clinics are structured on a competency-based model, with mid-term feedback on oral competency, written competency, legal analysis, problem solving, professional responsibility, and practice management.

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