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The Continuing Centrality of Litigation

John C. Jeffries, Jr. '73

When laypersons think of lawyers, they think first of litigation.  That will probably always be true.  Litigation is the paradigm of what lawyers do.  Our efforts to expand our business-law offerings and to increase the variety of intellectual disciplines available in our classrooms do not signal a turn away from litigation.  On the contrary, our commitment to litigation has expanded and deepened.  More than ever, litigation is the centerpiece of our curriculum.

The centrality of litigation is evident in any list of mainstay courses in the Law School curriculum.  Civil Procedure is required.  Almost everyone takes Criminal Procedure, Evidence, and Federal Courts.  Many students take a variety of other courses focused on litigation, including (among others) Complex Civil Litigation, Conflict of Laws, Products Liability Law, Remedies, and Civil Rights.

For more concrete skills-training, the Law School has long relied on the Trial Advocacy Program, which features distinguished lawyers and judges from Virginia and beyond who teach litigation skills in a mock-trial setting.  We now run twelve to fourteen sections of Trial Advocacy every year.  Generations of students have benefitted from this training, and satisfaction with the experience is very high.

Recently, Trial Advocacy has been supplemented in two important ways.  First is the National Trial Advocacy College, an intensive week of trial training held in the Law School in January of each year.  For many years, the Law School had an ownership interest in this program. Two years ago, we gave that up in favor of increased access for our students.  Now, fifty of our students can enroll in the National Trial Advocacy College at a cost of only $200, as compared to the $2,100 charged to attorney-participants.  Students who take this opportunity report that it is well worth the time and money.

Second, there has been an explosion of clinical offerings.  Only a generation ago, clinical education was largely missing from the Law School.  That was partly the result of resource constraints and partly a result of the difficulty of finding able and experienced clinical instructors.  Today, both problems have been solved.  The Law School now offers clinical instruction in Advocacy for the Elderly, Appellate Litigation, Capital Post-Conviction, Child Advocacy, Criminal Prosecution, Criminal Defense, Employment Law, Environmental Law, First Amendment, Housing, Immigration, and Mental Health.  Additionally, we offer a spectacular clinic in the Supreme Court, which gives students the opportunity to be responsibly involved in every stage of Supreme Court litigation except oral argument.

Taken together, Trial Advocacy and the expanded array of clinical offerings make the Law School a great place to learn how to marshal documents, testimony, and law. In the public mind, that is the essence of a superior lawyer, and we wish it to be the hallmark of every Virginia lawyer who steps foot in a courtroom. We think that has always been true, and we remain committed to that ideal.