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W&L School of Law Receives $2 Million Gift for Third-Year Reform

After announcing a sweeping reform of the third-year curriculum last year, Washington and Lee’s School of Law has received strong endorsements for the novel approach from many quarters. Now the school has received a major financial boost with the announcement of a $2-million gift to support the efforts to change the way third-year students prepare for transition from law students to legal practitioners.

John Huss, a member of the law class of 1965, and his wife Ruth, gave the money for unrestricted use within the third-year program. The gift provides $1.5 million in cash to support the immediate needs of the program in its first years of operation plus an additional $0.5 million to match additional funds raised.

“John’s extraordinary gift comes at a critical time in the history of the law school,” said Dean Rodney A. Smolla. “The faculty and administration have designed an exceptional and transformative third-year experience. A full third of the permanent faculty will join with distinguished judges and practitioners from a variety of top firms to provide this inaugural class with a unique and unparalleled selection of real practice experiences and advanced training in professionalism. John’s gift will help ensure that this new program will be absolutely first-class in every respect.”

The School is making final plans for the inaugural year of the program, which will begin in the 2009-10 academic year. Recently, 75 second-year students, more than half of the class, volunteered to be the first group to go through the program, which seeks to provide a bridge from the study of legal theory to the actual practice of law by engaging students in a broad array of real-world and simulated applications of legal knowledge.

Announced in March of 2008, the Law School’s new third-year program marks a dramatic departure from the way law schools traditionally educate third-year students. The new third-year curriculum is entirely experiential in nature. Traditional classroom instruction will be replaced by practice simulations, real-client interactions and the development of law practice skills. At the same time, students will be immersed in a year-long professionalism program that explores what it means to “live one’s life in the law.” This part of the curriculum features study and reflection on legal ethics, civility in practice, civic leadership, pro bono service, and law firm economics.

The Huss gift will support clinical activities, a variety of students needs, and technical and administrative support for the new third-year program. It will also fund faculty positions and visiting professors of practice.

W&L already has made significant additions to its faculty and administration to support the program. Last year, Smolla elevated clinical professor Mary Z. Natkin ’85L to Assistant Dean for Cinical Education and Public Service and charged her with ensuring that each student graduates with a real practice experience. In addition, Smolla brought in a number of accomplished practitioners, including Virginia Supreme Court Justice Donald W. Lemons and well-known criminal defense attorney Judy Clarke, to help teach the school’s new practice-based simulation courses.

Most recently, the School announced the addition of James E. Moliterno as Vincent Bradford Professor of Law. One of the nation’s leading educators in experiential learning and legal professionalism, Moliterno was the architect William and Mary law school’s award winning ethics, skills, and professionalism program.

“This is an enormously consequential addition to the faculty at Washington and Lee,” said Smolla. “For the past three decades, Professor Moliterno has been one of the leading national and international voices in his field. There is no academic in the United States better suited to help lead us into our new third-year program.”

All third year students in the program will be required to obtain a Virginia practice certificate. The program will remain voluntary through the 2010-11 academic year before becoming mandatory for all third-year law students in 2011-12.