First Year Trial Practicum gives students a unique view of the law
Drake Law School 1Ls recently experienced the First Year Trial Practicum, a practice-based curriculum that is the only of its kind among American law schools. The First Year Trial Practicum shifts first-year classes to the Neal and Bea Smith Legal Clinic courtroom, enabling students to view an actual state or federal trial as if in an educational laboratory.
The trial practicum dissects every phase of a trial, from jury selection to jury verdict, incorporating small group discussions, lectures, practice panels and debriefings with attorneys, judge and jurors. The experience has a lasting impact on the students involved. Current 1L, Jake Lantry stated that “The First Year Trial Practicum was an incredible experience. The opportunity to watch an entire trial, from voir dire to verdict, has been the most valuable part of my legal education to date.”
This year’s trial was a civil case with the State trying to meet the burden of proof that the defendant was a sexual violent predator. The practicum began with jury voir dire, the State’s opening statement, and the testimony of the defendant (called by the State) and the State’s expert witness. The following day, the State’s expert witness testimony was continued, followed by the Defense’s opening statement and testimony from the Defense’s expert witness. Final arguments, jury instructions, jury deliberation, and verdict were completed during the third day of the trial. After each day’s events, Judge Novak and the attorneys debriefed with the law students.
Upon completion of the First Year Trial Practicum, students were asked to describe the experience in four separate words. The photo
depicts the descriptions given by the students. Words that are larger were expressed more times than those that appear smaller.