Spread across a 40-acre campus in a leafy Boston suburb just a few miles from the city centre, Boston College Law School is an institution that strives to prepare lawyers for the “new, complex, and global world we’re living in,” according to Tracy West, assistant dean for students.
“We have recognised the realities of the 21st century,” says Ms West, who is also an assistant dean for academic advising. “They require lawyers to respond quickly to client needs, to be highly specialised but yet have a broad base of knowledge, and to be globally conversant and locally aware. Guided by our mission of social justice we prepare lawyers to be grounded in theory and with a sense of service to others.”
Founded in 1929, the school in Massachusetts, which has about 850 students, is highly selective: last year it received nearly 7,000 applications, but accepted only 20 per cent.
“When I talk about BC to prospective students, I say: ‘Our mission is to train good lawyers to lead good lives’,” says Michael Cassidy, a professor of criminal law, evidence, and professional responsibility.
“We believe in servant leadership: It’s our mission to produce lawyers who become leaders in the legal profession, but also in business, in government, and in non-profit work. It’s part of the Jesuit tradition, but it’s also one of the foundational aspects of the school.”
The curriculum for first-year students is much like that of other schools: students take traditional courses such as civil procedure, constitutional law, and contracts, among others. They are also obliged to take a two-semester course on legal reasoning, research, and writing.
“The first-year curriculum is meant to give students the basic tools and legal reasoning skills so that they can master specialised areas of the law in their second and third years,” says Prof Cassidy, who served for years as the associate dean for administration and finance, and then as academic dean.
“It teaches them to appreciate what common-law decision-making is all about. We believe we’re preparing life-long learners of the law, so skills like research and writing, public speaking, and negotiation are prominent parts of the curriculum. These are the skills lawyers will use for the rest of their careers.”
In the second and third years, there are several required classes – including constitutional law II, professional responsibility, and an upper level writing course – but most courses are electives. These range from environmental law, to family court practice, to business negotiation.
The school offers semester-abroad programmes at The Hague and at King’s College London, which combine legal placements with coursework. It is also in the process of starting a “semester abroad in practice” where students will have an international placement in the legal field and participate in virtual courses at BC, according to Prof Cassidy.
“We are trying to get our students to understand that the practice of law has global implications,” he says. “We’ve seen a rise in interest in students who want to study abroad.”
Like other schools, BC Law also offers an array of dual degrees. They are available in subjects from urban and environmental policy and planning to social work. The school recently launched a joint degree in urban planning with nearby Tufts University. It is geared to students who wish to work in areas such as zoning or development.
Another feature that sets BC Law apart is the clinical curricula. The clinics allow students to do hands-on legal work in various district courts in a wide range of practice areas from civil litigation to criminal justice to juvenile rights to immigration law.
They are meant to give students an up-close look at how law works in practice, and encourage them to think creatively in real-world situations. Clinical experience also improves their job prospects, say officials.
Nate Burris, who will graduate from BC Law next year, is the president of Law Students’ Association. He is now enrolled in the prosecution clinic. “The clinics are one of the big strengths of this school,” he says. “From my perspective it’s a great way to get practical experience. And in this climate, the fact that we’ve all been in court and worked with clients gives BC Law students a leg up in the job market.”
Mr Burris, who worked on Capitol Hill for three years before law school, says one of the best attributes of the school is its collegiate atmosphere. “The image of law school is competitive, cut-throat, and stressful, but that’s not the case here,” says Mr Burris, 27, from Vermont. “It’s a supportive community.”
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