The College of Law is enriching its JD curriculum with the Third Year
in Practice Program. Known as 3YP, the program gives students an
opportunity to complete general law school course requirements in two
years and spend their third year immersed in the practice of law.
Launching in fall 2014, 3YP will combine clinical, simulation and
professional skills courses with an intensive externship program.
Participating students will spend a significant part of their third year
working in select government agencies, nonprofit organizations, law
firms or judicial chambers under the close supervision of a practicing
attorney or judge.
The 3YP option enhances DePaul’s experiential learning curriculum by
allowing for more out-of classroom credits and a more intensive field
placement experience, with an ultimate goal of better preparing students
for the realities of the profession.
A call for change
The program responds to the changing demands of the legal field and
reflects recent practices by law schools and attorneys aiming to
reinvigorate instruction and the profession.
In 2013, the American Bar Association (ABA) Task Force on the Future
of Legal Education conducted a review of legal education. Its report—for
consideration by institutions, the legal world and the public—called
for sweeping changes. Among them, the panel requested increased
innovation in law schools and a greater shift from doctrinal instruction
toward development of the day-to-day skills and competencies required
“Legal education embraces new forms of pedagogy, but not always along
the same timeline as other areas of study,” said Associate Professor
Allison Tirres, co-creator of the 3YP program. “Law schools and law
professors have for a long time done things that are innovative,
including using the Socratic method of question and answer in the
classroom— rather than mere lecture—and providing clinical
opportunities. I think many law schools are just now moving forward with
further pedagogical innovation.”
At a retreat in October 2013, DePaul College of Law faculty members
discussed the structure of the law school’s curriculum. The dialogue,
Tirres said, was “informed by a growing recognition that experiential
learning is an important and valuable part of legal education.”
The 3YP concept originated with Associate Professor Zoë Robinson, who
conceived of it as part of a three-track program at DePaul, allowing
students to pursue a traditional JD, a joint JD/LLM or a third year in
practice. Faculty members acknowledged its benefit for a certain subset
of students, as well as for the university in deepening ties with legal
practitioners and nonprofits in Chicago.
Tirres took on the responsibility to build the program and enlisted
the help of senior faculty member Professor Leonard Cavise, director of
the Center for Public Interest Law and Chiapas Human Rights Practicum,
to craft the basics and guide it through the faculty approval process.
They also convened an informal working group to further hone the
Clinical Instructor David Rodriguez soon emerged as program director.
His experience in nonprofit and for-profit sectors, and enthusiasm for
legal education and innovation stood out to Tirres and the 3YP program
committee, comprised of faculty, staff and alumni.
Rodriguez took the committee’s momentum even further, researching
pedagogical theory and consulting contacts at other law schools and
legal clinics. He also reached out to local practitioners to discuss the
most promising externships for 3YP students.
The end product allows students to apply following their first year
and, if accepted, combine the classroom work for the second and third
years. The third year will be open for externships, clinics and
professional skills courses.
To create even more time for experiential learning, DePaul is
increasing the allotted out-of-classroom credits from 12 to 21, still
within ABA regulations. The combination of clinics and externships will
give students an unprecedented opportunity to work directly with actual
clients and one-on-one faculty mentors.
Clinics and professional skills courses will expose students to
litigation and transactional work, focusing on legal drafting,
negotiation and client counseling. In addition, the program will include
a capstone seminar designed to help students retain the skills learned
in 3YP. Rodriguez says that the range of approaches will create a
powerful dynamic for program graduates.
Addressing new needs
Advocates of 3YP also see the full-immersion approach as a step
toward addressing the national imbalance between market underemployment
and unfulfilled legal needs.
“The legal profession needs to serve more people in more places, not
just those in big cities and not just those with high incomes,”
explained Tirres. “This is increasingly true in recent years, since the
big firm model of legal service delivery has pulled most lawyers out of
rural areas and out of the price range of most clients. We should be
preparing our students to be able to open their own practice and to take
that practice wherever there is a need.”
In addition to the market shifts, Rodriguez points out that law
students are changing. Institutions are responsible for addressing the
developments in communication, professional dynamics and even cognitive
processing on account of technological innovations, he says.
Some colleges are adjusting to the change by looking to existing or
emerging models. Harvard Business School’s spherical “hive” classrooms
help students close the gap between school and career by replicating the
crowdsourcing approach of corporate learning circles and allowing
students to educate themselves using laptop computers.
Law schools are taking a more conservative approach, looking to
models used in professions like teaching and medicine, which require
extensive on-the-ground training.
“Medical schools utilize the residency as a way to train students,”
said Tirres. “The government funds different programs to ensure that
doctors go to areas where there is a high need. We don't have this
training structure in law. But we can expand our curriculum to provide
intensive fieldwork for students. 3YP is one way to build on our current
offerings and provide that kind of training for fledgling lawyers,
while also serving the needs of clients in the greater Chicago area.”
The effort to produce great lawyers—and a greater number of
practicing lawyers—is gaining momentum beyond the institutional realm.
As an article in the March issue of National Jurist pointed out,
California’s state bar task force has proposed a competency training
requirement en route to law licensure.
Continuing an experiential approach The 3YP opportunity is merely the
latest chapter in DePaul’s commitment to skills-based training—an
extension of the educational philosophy the school has maintained for
decades. The Field Placement Program, established in 1974, still thrives
today, offering nearly 200 externship placements with private firms,
corporations, and public interest and government agencies.
Experiential education is not new at DePaul,” explained Professor
Barbara Bressler, newly named associate dean of experiential education,
who has served in leadership roles with the Field Placement Program, the
Center for Intellectual Property Law & Information Technology, and
founded the Technology/Intellectual Property Clinic. In her role as
associate dean, Bressler will carefully manage the College of Law’s
experiential learning efforts.
“DePaul has consistently expanded experiential opportunities for
students over the years. It is because we already have excellent skills,
practicum, clinical and field placement offerings, that we can offer
the 3YP experience to our students.
“I know that with the support of the university and our wonderful
alumni and with the participation and assistance of our dedicated and
enthusiastic faculty, the law school will be able to offer innovative
experiential programs that will be well received by our students and the
By all accounts, 3YP is designed to accommodate diverse career paths
by providing students with comprehensive, legal training in an organized
“We’ve had a number of students who, because of the confidence they
gained participating in our experiential learning programs, were able to
establish their own practices, or immediately contribute to a small or
midsize firm,” Bressler added. “The number of our graduates who work in
solo, small or midsize practices is likely to increase given the need
for lower-cost legal services and the changes in the way that larger
firms are operating.”
Recent alumna Renee Gross (JD ’13) says she benefited from the
College of Law's experiential approach. At DePaul, she participated in
the misdemeanor and poverty law clinics, both of which exposed her to
the process of preparing a case, interacting with clients and appearing
in court. She also interned with the housing practice group at the Legal
Assistance Foundation (LAF).
“At LAF, I researched cases, interviewed clients, and drafted motions
and legal memos on different housing law topics,” Gross said. “All of
these experiences helped build my confidence and developed my
understanding of the legal system. They provided greater insight into
the health struggles of some of our society’s most vulnerable
As coordinator of legal initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food
Policy & Obesity at Yale University, Gross now provides analyses and
support for national, state and local public health policy options
concerning food marketing. She notes that many of her peers are
interested in pursuing careers where they can apply their degrees in a
nontraditional manner and says 3YP makes sense for law students in
today’s legal environment.
“Every specialization within the legal field requires ample
experience,” she said. “The classroom component is essential, but it’s
important to balance this traditional aspect of law school with time
spent learning from seasoned attorneys and working on solving real legal
DePaul’s greater mission
Strengthening student career preparation and supporting creativity in
teaching are fundamental to the experiential education program at
DePaul. The program places faculty in closer contact with students,
which Rodriguez hopes will encourage creativity in instruction.
He believes the program could soften transitions not only for
students entering the legal market, but for the College of Law and its
professors as the larger academic community incorporates new approaches
to teaching law.
“[Professors] are able to give virtually instantaneous feedback to
the student, but they are also forced to continually assess the efficacy
of their own teaching models,” he said.
As an instructor in DePaul’s Poverty Law Clinic, Rodriguez said he
makes a conscious effort to impart the fundamentals of good counseling.
“In our clinics, we teach students not only how to represent real
clients in real cases,” he said, “but also important intangibles, like
the unique struggles of clients, and the common humanity with those who
come from many different walks of life. In this way, a good teacher is
also a good Vincentian teacher."
Rodriguez points out that the 3YP program aligns with DePaul
University’s Vision 2018 strategic plan. The first objective calls for
curricular innovation and program development to adequately prepare
students. While this may seem like a traditional goal, the plan
acknowledges a broader institutional commitment to student outcomes.
“Ultimately,” Rodriguez suggested, “we always need to be mindful of
our approach so that we can help our students become more mindful of