What Students Gain as a Result of Their MSLAW Education
As noted, MSLAW exists to provide qualified persons the opportunity to attend law school and, upon successful completion of its rigorous program of study, to sit for the Massachusetts Bar Examination. In addition, once an MSLAW graduate passes the Massachusetts Bar Examination, the course of theoretical and practical legal education the graduate has mastered will allow him or her to successfully practice law immediately upon graduation. To accomplish these goals, MSLAW has defined the core competencies necessary for its graduates to succeed on the Massachusetts Bar Examination, and continuously refines and implements strategies to ensure that MSLAW’s goals are met.
Mastery of the Skills, Professionalism, and Civility Needed to be an Effective Lawyer
Writing persuasively: In order to become skilled attorneys, MSLAW students first need to write clearly, persuasively, and effectively. Thus, they must enroll in and successfully complete four different, required writing courses, which are constantly evolving to meet the changing needs of both the students participating in the course, as well as the ultimate consumer of these legal services.
(Some students must complete six required writing courses. These students are admitted because they have shown MSLAW’s Admissions Staff and MSLAW’s Admission Committee members that they deserve a chance to succeed in law school, but lack sufficient writing skills to be admitted into the first required writing course. These identified students must enroll in Clear Writing during their first semester of study at MSLAW.)
The first required course is Writing & Legal Reasoning. It is an unfortunate fact that many college graduates (and especially recent college graduates) have received insufficient instruction on how to write clearly and persuasively. Since so much of the competent practice of law involves writing clearly and persuasively, MSLAW has since its inception required its students to master this necessary skill. In Writing & Legal Reasoning, MSLAW students learn the important basics of grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure needed to be successful legal writers. They also spend half the semester learning how to write persuasive arguments, before moving on to writing an effective client letter and a closed memorandum of law. The facts and the legal principles involved in the closed memorandum are based upon subjects the students are taking that particular semester. For instance, in each fall semester, students enroll in Civil Procedure, Business Entities & Operations (Property has been moved to a second year course) and Criminal Law. The closed memorandum thus involves legal issues discussed in those classes, which assists students in applying what they have learned to a given set of factual situations and legal principles. If a student fails to demonstrate sufficient mastery of the writing skills being imparted in this course, he or she must retake the course.
Students who successfully complete Writing & Legal Reasoning then move on to the second required course, Writing and Legal Research. Building upon the skills that have acquired in Writing & Legal Reasoning, students in this course learn how to research case law, statutes, and regulations, and how to apply the results of that research to hypothetical fact patterns on legal subjects frequently tested on the Massachusetts Bar Examination (such as Wills & Trusts, Business Associations, and Family Law, to name a few). In addition, they are taught to write documents regularly written by lawyers, such as inter-office memoranda (to a senior partner) and trial court memoranda. If a student fails to demonstrate sufficient mastery of the writing skills being imparted in this course, he or she must retake the course.
In the third required writing course, Writing & Legal Advocacy, students continue to build upon what they have learned in the prior two writing courses, this time taking the role of advocates and counselors, drafting trial court and appellate court briefs (again, on substantive subjects they have already taken), and appearing before judges in a courtroom setting to present and defend their legal positions. If a student fails to demonstrate sufficient mastery of the writing skills being imparted in this course, he or she must retake the course.
The fourth required writing course is Motions and Litigation Practice. Building upon the skills learned in the prior three writing courses, students in this course start with client intakes, and then draft complaints, answers, interrogatories, requests for production of documents, motions to dismiss, and motions for summary judgment. If a student fails to demonstrate sufficient mastery of the writing skills being imparted in this course, he or she must retake the course. Successful completion of these four courses helps to ensure that students can immediately and effectively represent clients upon graduation and passing the Massachusetts Bar Examination.
Most students also then elect to enroll in an additional writing course called Case Preparation. In this course, students are given a choice about which legal subject they wish to further focus upon, either (a) Advocacy before Judges, Juries, and Arbitrators, (b) Driving Under the Influence/Gun Violations, or (c) The Trial of a Criminal Case in Superior Court. This course requires students to write (and re-write) client letters, briefs and legal memoranda, as well as appear before judges in a courtroom setting to present and defend their legal positions.
Once students complete these courses, they are able to elect to further hone their writing skills in other writing courses, such as Drafting Contracts I, Drafting Contracts II, The Legislative Process and Legislative Drafting, Independent Study, the Judicial Internship Program, Clinic, Prosecution and Adjudication, Patent Law and Patent Application Practice, Trials and Technology, and Drafting Wills & Trusts.
In order to better prepare its students, MSLAW has recently added another writing course, called Bar Essay Writing and Analysis. All students whose cumulative grade point average is below a 2.4 prior to their penultimate semester at MSLAW must successfully complete Bar Essay Writing & Analysis, to further hone their writing abilities. Students who have a cumulative grade point average above a 2.4 can also take the course if they wish, and can take it on a graded, or on a pass/fail, basis. Students who receive a C- or below must retake this course prior to enrolling in Comparison of Massachusetts and National Law, MSLAW’s capstone course, taught to students in their last semester of study at MSLAW.
In addition to in-class instruction of writing skills, students can avail themselves of the expertise of MSLAW faculty in its Writing Lab during each semester.
Reading and analyzing judicial opinions: With the exception of the writing courses and most of the professional skills courses, almost all course materials are taught from casebooks (some of which have been authored by MSLAW professors), and each professor stresses the importance of careful reading of the voluminous number of cases covered in each course. Based upon this approach, and with extensive in-class discussion, students gain the knowledge and skills necessary to distill what is important in each case presented. MSLAW faculty, staff, and student organizations further this development by means of optional classes on brief writing and case analysis, either individually (through professor audiotape reviews of class materials), or by MSLAW’s two-night “Midnight Breakfast”, a popular series of reviews taught by an MSLAW faculty member.
Reading and analyzing statutes and regulations: Over the last twenty years, the number of statutes (and the regulations which accompany those statutes), has grown exponentially, on local, state, and federal levels. It is thus ever more important that new lawyers have been well trained to competently address the nuances and issues these statutes and regulations present. Many of the cases students read in their classes have their primary focus on careful reading and interpretation of state and federal statutes and regulations. The courses are as follows:
Business Entities Taxation
First Amendment Issues
First Amendment Law
Massachusetts Consumer Protection
Massachusetts Landlord/Tenant Trial Practice
New Hampshire Practice and Procedure
Uniform Commercial Code
Writing trial court and appellate briefs: In their required Writing and Legal Research, Writing and Legal Advocacy, and Motions and Litigation Practice courses, students submit trial court and appellate court memoranda and briefs on topics frequently tested on the second day of the Massachusetts Bar examination. In addition, students can further hone their trial and appellate brief advocacy skills in the following classes:
Family Law Advocacy Clinic
Judicial Internship Program
National Moot Court Advocacy Team
Trials and Technology
American Association for Justice Trial Competition
BLSA Trial Advocacy Team
The National Moot Court Advocacy Team, The American Association for Justice Trial Competition, and BLSA Trial Advocacy Team students have won numerous prestigious awards, including New England Trial Advocacy Champions, Northeast Region Trial Advocacy Champions, Northeast Trial Advocacy 1st Runner Up, and Best Brief in the East. On multiple occasions over the past few years, MSLAW students on these teams have won individual honors for Best Oral Advocate.
Gaining technological skills to further enhance their job prospects: The economics of the legal profession have changed, and continue to change, and it is now widely acknowledged that among the skills law firms are looking for in prospective hires is the knowledge that research is done much more efficiently and cost-effectively by graduates with superior technological skills. MSLAW offers the following courses to provide that knowledge and expertise to its students:
Cybercrimes & Cyberterrorism
Cyberspace and Internet Law
Issues in Internet Law
Law Office Technology
Drafting legal documents for clients: As previously noted, MSLAW prides itself on providing its students not only the theoretical knowledge of the law, but the practical knowledge of how to practice law competently. Thus, MSLAW offers the following elective courses:
Asset Protection and Planning
Business of the Practice of Law
Drafting Contracts I
Drafting Contracts II
Drafting Wills & Trusts
Representing the Juvenile Criminal Defendant
Understanding the cares and concerns of clients: Since almost all of MSLAW’s courses are taught by practicing lawyers with extensive professional experience in the subjects they teach, students in all classes learn the crucial importance of treating clients with respect, and approaching clients’ legal problems with compassion and concern.
Learning to speak persuasively to all audiences: In class, MSLAW students are encouraged to stand before their colleagues and defend their legal reasoning, and the give and take involved, on a daily basis, sharpens their ability to speak persuasively. In addition, in many of the writing courses, students appear in a real courtroom, in front of faculty judges, and argue their clients’ cases. In each of their first year substantive courses, students are required to research a complex set of issues and present their findings and opinions to their first year professors.
Learning that going to court is the last resort: MSLAW’s faculty believe that filing a complaint, or an answer, or any contested motion, is an action which should be taken only after all attempts to settle the dispute have not come to fruition. As Abraham Lincoln said, the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good person, and MSLAW believes that helping clients reach their legal objectives without resort to a “scorched earth” policy is the mark of a competent, civil, good lawyer. Thus, all MSLAW professors stress in their classes the financial (not to mention the psychological) benefits for clients of dispute resolution, either informally, with a meeting of the disputing parties, or more formally, through professional mediation or arbitration, as an alternative to litigation. In addition, MSLAW offers the following classes:
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Civil Procedure & Conflict Resolution (required class)
Mediation, Conciliation, and Negotiation
Collaborative & Alternative Justice
Learning the ethical rules which govern attorneys: MSLAW requires its students to take Legal Ethics and the Practice of Law. Students cannot receive a passing score in this course unless they achieve a passing score on the national Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam within one year after taking the course. Additionally, all MSLAW professors are required, during the semester they are teaching a course, to constantly raise ethical issues which arise in the practice of law. Students are thus exposed to the understanding that legal ethics is not something to be learned as a mental exercise, but that it permeates the ethical practice of law on an almost-daily basis.
Preparation for success on the Massachusetts Bar Examination: As currently constituted, the Massachusetts Bar Examination is a two day test. The first day is the Multi-State Bar Examination, which consists of 200 multiple choice questions on Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Constitutional Law, Torts, Contracts, Civil Procedure, Property, and Evidence. MSLAW requires its first year students to successfully complete a semester-long course of study in each of these subjects. (Beginning in the Fall of 2016, Property has been moved to a required second year course, replaced by Business Entities & Operations.) In each of these courses, professors teach students the substantive law, as well as Massachusetts differences. The students are provided with full-time faculty mentors, and are also provided faculty, staff, and student group assistance to assist them in understanding the applicable principles of law being taught.
To ensure that MSLAW students gain the knowledge necessary to be successful on the bar exam, each professor teaching a multi-state subject is required to test the students on a midterm, and a final exam. In addition, each of these professors is also required to introduce multiple choice questions on the subject matter he or she teaches, to expose students to the nuances involved in such questions, and the laser-like focus needed to perform well on such a test. The midterm and final exams must also test the students’ emerging abilities to analyze a fact pattern, and apply the law learned in a concise, well-written essay.
In their last semester, students are required to enroll in Comparison of Massachusetts and National Law, which is team-taught by the same full-time faculty members who taught their first year courses. This six credit course meets thrice weekly, and in each class the professor gives a multiple choice quiz on the subject matter being taught. At the end of each specific subject matter being taught (typically, two weeks), the students are given a final exam on the subject, consisting of 40 multiple choice questions, plus an essay. The pressure to perform well is exceedingly high, because a student cannot graduate unless he or she passes the Comparison course. In order to do so, the student must successfully complete at least five of the seven sections taught in the course. Students who successfully complete the course are then given a final examination, which consists of a two day test. On the first day, students take a 200 multiple choice question test. On the second day, students take a series of essay exams. Both tests are designed to mimic the Massachusetts Bar Examination. The students must receive a passing score on the final exam in order to pass the course and graduate. If a student fails the final exam, he or she must re-enroll in the Comparison course the following semester, and cannot graduate until he or she passes the Comparison course.
The second day of the Massachusetts Bar Examination consists of 10 fact patterns involving Massachusetts law, on subjects such as Family Law, Constitutional Law, Wills and Trusts, Evidence, Business Law, and Consumer Protection. Each of the subjects tested is a separate course offered to MSLAW students, and students are required (or, if the courses are electives, actively encouraged) to enroll in these courses, in order to enhance their chances of performing well on the second day of the bar examination.
Students who are studying for the bar exam and students who are entering their final semester at MSLAW may take, free of charge, a series of workshops entitled “Preparing for the Multistate Bar Examination.” These workshops are taught by an expert on bar preparation, and involve intensive, hands-on application of important testing skills, such as critically reading multiple choice questions to spot key terms in question prompts, eliminating wrong answer choices more quickly, and managing time constraints.
After graduating, but before each bar examination, graduates are provided additional instruction on the essay portion of the Massachusetts Bar Examination. Four MSLAW full-time professors offer a four day “Boot Camp” free of charge, and in addition, meet with graduates after the first day of the Massachusetts Bar Examination to go over some last-minute important, frequently tested concepts over dinner. The “Boot Camp” and the dinner are free to MSLAW graduates.
Practicing law competently upon passing the Massachusetts Bar Examination: MSLAW provides its students with a vast array of resources to help them become competent, skilled attorneys. The first hurdle, as mentioned, is passing the Massachusetts Bar Examination. The second hurdle, faced by too many law school graduates, is actually being able to actually practice law. For far too long, traditional law schools have neglected their duty to actually teach their students how to practice law. And this is not surprising, given the research-oriented backgrounds of most professors at ABA law schools, academics who have actually practiced law very little in their careers, if at all.
As one eminent jurist stated, when asked about newly admitted attorneys, “Most of them do not even know where the courthouse is, and heaven help the clients of those who do!”
For too long, it was the unspoken rule that newly minted attorneys would learn how to practice law from mentors, in a large firm setting. But this was a myth, and it has been exposed as such. Today, most law firms do not have the financial or personnel resources to patiently wait for their attorneys to learn how to practice law. Law firms today want newly hired attorneys to immediately add value to the law firm.
Since its inception, MSLAW has eschewed the traditional (and increasingly, economically untenable) ABA law school approach, and has instead prided itself on teaching students how to competently practice law immediately upon admission to the bar as attorneys. To this end, as stated, MSLAW students learn how to write clear and persuasive court documents such as memoranda and briefs.
But that is not where their practical education ends. MSLAW offers a wide variety of upper level courses which focus on the practical skills needed by new attorneys. Courses such as Family Law Mediation and Negotiation, Creating, Managing, and Marketing a Small Firm, and the wide variety of judicial clerkships, law firm clerkships, and clerkships with regulatory agencies further ensure the practical aspect of MSLAW students’ educations. In addition, MSLAW offers additional practical courses, such as Bail to Jail (taught by a trial court judge), Drafting and Prosecuting Trademark Applications (taught by a practicing intellectual property attorney), Immigration Law (taught by an attorney who specializes in Immigration Law), The Law of Search and Seizure (taught by an attorney who specializes in criminal defense work), Landlord-Tenant Law (taught by the Chief Justice of the Housing Court), Civil Trial Practice (taught by a trial court judge), Criminal Trial Practice (taught by a trial court judge), and Massachusetts Evidence (taught by a justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court). To its knowledge, no other law school comes close to providing the practical legal education MSLAW provides to its students.
B. Assessment of Student Learning
MSLAW is an academically rigorous law school. In all of the previously discussed required and elective writing courses, students are evaluated throughout the semester on their written submissions. In all first year courses, students are evaluated by their performance on quizzes, midterms and final examinations. In all substantive courses, professors are required to give midterms and final examinations.
What students are expected to learn is clearly enunciated in the syllabi for each course. How students learn is a more difficult question to answer, or to even try to quantify. MSLAW has never relied on the ABA model of pedagogy to teach its students. MSLAW’s faculty understands that “discussion teaching” is a much more effective way to engage students in the subjects being taught. MSLAW’s faculty also understands that electronic media presents its own learning problems, because it is not easy to wean students from their long learned habits of simply logging on to the internet to find an answer to every question asked. But unfortunately, the Massachusetts Bar Examination is a closed-book examination, so the students must possess a prodigious amount of knowledge in their own brains in order to succeed on the exam. That being said, MSLAW’s faculty, headed by Professor Olson (who teaches Law Office Technology and Issues in Internet Law) is spearheading the implementation of alternative learning modules in all MSLAW courses.
C. Measures of Student Success, including Retention and Graduation
MSLAW admits students it believes are qualified to succeed in law school. This is accomplished, as previously noted, by MSLAW’s thorough screening process, which requires applicants to write two essays, which are graded by a faculty member of MSLAW’s Admissions Committee. But what can never be accurately gauged is the amount of effort any admitted applicant will engage in. And, simply put, while being admitted to MSLAW is a testament to an applicant’s intelligence, prior academic and work success, and maturity, a student will not succeed at MSLAW without putting in a massive amount of effort.
MSLAW loses its students primarily for three reasons.
First, a student is academically dismissed for failure to maintain a cumulative grade point average of 2.0. (Once a student’s cumulative grade point average drops below a 2.0, the student is placed on academic probation, and has one semester to raise his or her cumulative grade point average to a 2.0 or above.) MSLAW’s grading curve prevents students from just coasting through. That being said, it must be noted that MSLAW faculty and staff work extremely hard to ensure that each student is given the proper tools and support to succeed, through MSLAW’s Faculty Advisor program, its in-class and online reviews, and its Writing Lab.
Second, the majority of MSLAW students already have careers in the workplace, and thus they are older, with mortgages, spouses, children, and other financial commitments and time constraints. Sometimes, these commitments and constraints (including job relocation) require MSLAW students to abandon their lifelong dreams of becoming lawyers.
Third, some of MSLAW’s students transfer to higher-priced, ABA-accredited law schools, either because of the perceived elite status of those law schools, or because they wish to ultimately practice law in a state where graduates of MSLAW are currently prevented from practicing, despite having successfully completed MSLAW’s rigorous course of study and passing the Massachusetts Bar Examination. (A list of the jurisdictions where MSLAW graduates are allowed to practice law is posted at http://www.mslaw.edu/accreditation-bar-eligibility/)
For these reasons, over the years MSLAW has retained through graduation approximately 65% of its entering classes.
MSLAW exists for one, previously stated purpose – to provide a high quality, affordable, practical legal education to deserving persons who for decades have been shut out of the opportunity to become members of the legal profession. One of the primary barriers to being admitted to ABA law schools is an (arbitrarily) unacceptable score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The criticisms leveled against the LSAT are legion, not the least of which it has no predictive value on whether a person will be a competent lawyer. It is a predictor of first year law school grades, at best. Thus, MSLAW has never considered LSAT scores when deciding whether to admit otherwise qualified applicants.
Passing the Massachusetts Bar Examination is the goal of most MSLAW graduates. In recent years, MSLAW graduates have not passed the exam at rates which used to equal (and sometimes exceed) the bar passage rates of other regional law schools. The bar passage rates of recent MSLAW graduates has been detailed earlier in this Interim Report.
MSLAW’s Curriculum Committee has made numerous changes in recent years to help increase the bar passage rates of MSLAW graduates, including:
(i) MSLAW has initiated a new course, Bar Essay Writing and Analysis. This course, as discussed above, helps to hone the issue spotting and writing skills students need to pass the Massachusetts Bar Examination. It is a required course for every MSLAW student with a cumulative grade point average below a 2.4 entering his or her final year of study at MSLAW. It is an elective course for students whose cumulative grade point average of 2.4 or above. If taken as an elective, a student may petition to take the course on a pass/fail basis. Students who do not receive a grade of C or better in the course must retake the course until they receive a grade of C or better in the course. Once students successfully complete this course, they can enroll in the Comparison of Massachusetts and National Law course, taken during their final semester at MSLAW.
(ii) As discussed above, MSLAW students who are studying for the bar exam and students who are entering their final semester at MSLAW may take, free of charge, a series of workshops entitled “Preparing for the Multistate Bar Examination.” These workshops are taught by an expert on bar preparation, and involve intensive, hands-on application of important testing skills, such as critically reading multiple choice questions to spot key terms in question prompts, eliminating wrong answer choices more quickly, and managing time constraints.
(iii) Data compiled from recent graduates shows that too many of them do not take a commercial bar preparation course prior to the bar examination. One factor in their decision not to do so is the expense of such courses, which can run into the thousands of dollars. Beginning with the June 2017 graduating class, MSLAW has generously agreed to reimburse students for 50% of the cost (up to $1,000) of an approved commercial bar preparation course from three of the largest providers, BarBri, Kaplan, and Themis.
Satisfactory Levels of Student Achievement on Mission-Appropriate Outcomes
There is only one mission-appropriate outcome which matters to MSLAW, and that is to improve graduates’ first-time-taker passage rates on the Massachusetts Bar Examination. MSLAW faculty and staff have redoubled their efforts to assist graduates in preparing for and passing the Massachusetts Bar Examination.
But it is clear more needs to be done. The statistics from recent Massachusetts Bar Examinations provide some glimmer of hope, as it appears that more than a few of MSLAW graduates miss passing the examination by just a few points. And, if just a few more of those graduates can increase their scores by just a few points, MSLAW’s first-time-taker bar passage rates will return to their previous high levels. Thus, MSLAW is hopeful that the recently implemented policies discussed above will help. In addition, MSLAW faculty and staff will continue to brainstorm, discuss, and explore all avenues to further assist MSLAW graduates on the examination.
Massachusetts School of Law's mission is to provide an academically rigorous affordable legal education emphasizing ethics, advocacy, leadership, and professional skills. MSLAW provides an accessible and affordable legal education to tomorrow’s leaders in law, business, and technology who seek to contribute to their communities as advocates, lawyers, and leaders. Lawyers have substantial influence in our society and MSLAW prepares its graduates to use that power to help their clients and obtain the societal advancement that a law degree has traditionally provided.
To accomplish its mission, Massachusetts School of Law brings together a diverse group of scholars, judges, expert practitioners and other professionals to provide individuals from all backgrounds a rigorous, professionally advantageous, affordable legal education so that they can improve their lives and better serve their communities.
The Massachusetts School of Law does not discriminate against any person on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital or parental status, disability, source of income, or status as a Vietnam-era or disabled veteran admission to, access to, treatment in, or employment in its programs and activities.