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Skills and service combine to boost practice readiness

June 14, 2016

Experiential Learning Reorg 2016 Stacy400

Professor Stacy Seicshnaydre (L ’92), new associate dean of experiential learning and public interest programs, will oversee a reorganization of Tulane Law School’s vast array of skills-building offerings.

Photo by Tracie Morris Schaefer

Experiential Learning Reorg 2016 PBTotals

Tulane Law was a pioneer in making pro bono a curriculum standard (the minimum recently was raised to 50 hours), and students volunteer thousands of hours in legal services.

Experiential Learning Reorg 2016 PBVols

Tulane Law School, a pioneer in clinical education and the nation's first law school to require pro bono service for graduation, is poised to lead again in teaching lawyering skills, thanks to an ambitious new leadership plan.

Tulane Law’s experiential learning odyssey started in 1979 when a brand-new Harvard Law School graduate launched the school’s first clinic and trial advocacy program from a Freret Street building down the block from the law school.

This summer, the program undergoes significant reorganization, drawing pro bono, legal clinics and other training opportunities under a single umbrella to further strengthen new graduates’ preparation for practice through service and skills-building.

Stacy Seicshnaydre (L ’92), a professor whose fair-housing scholarship has influenced state and national policy (and director of the Tulane Civil Litigation Clinic since 2004), will lead the restructured program as associate dean of experiential learning and public interest programs.

Her appointment marks the first time Tulane has marshalled its entire lawyering skills and community engagement programs under unified leadership. Previously, experiential learning had been led by Assistant Dean Jim Letten (L ’79), who has joined the Butler Snow firm in New Orleans, and Director Jane Johnson (L ’74), a pillar of Tulane skills training who is retiring after 37 years in legal education. Separately, externships and pro bono programs had been led by Assistant Dean Julie Jackson and program director Eileen Ryan, both of whom are retiring in the summer.

Experiential Learning Reorg 2016 Jane300

Professor Jane Johnson (L ’74), director of experiential learning who’s retiring after 37 years as a pillar of legal education, visits with graduation speaker Rod West (L ’93). She directed the Civil Litigation Clinic for 26 years, launched the externship that became the Domestic Violence Clinic and later oversaw expansion of externship opportunities to include judges’ offices, government agencies, nonprofits and, most recently, corporate counsel offices.

Seicshnaydre said the reorganization provides an opportunity to integrate engaged-learning offerings in ways that maximize the benefit to students by showing them how to take advantage of all available opportunities.

“A skills program should not just be a cafeteria-style program where people are making menu selections without thinking about how one course can lay the foundation for another course,” she said.

Letten and Johnson oversaw major expansion of options through which students can gain skills and contact with the profession, including a new corporate counsel externship program, an innovative partnership with Valero Energy focusing on environmental compliance and an array of simulation courses.

Johnson said the transactions field — such as real estate finance, mergers and acquisitions and bankruptcy — could lend itself to new courses that pair traditional classwork with skills development in a lab setting.

“We’re not locked into pre-existing structures,” she said. “You can evaluate your goals and set new ones and take it to the next level, as they say.”

Experiential Learning Reorg 2016 Julie300

Since Tulane Law added a first-in-the-nation pro bono requirement in 1988, the public interest programs have been administered by Eileen Ryan, program director, and Assistant Dean Julie Jackson, both of whom are retiring.

With the various aspects of skills learning more fully integrated, students can be advised on ways to sequence pro bono, volunteer internships, for-credit externships, year-long clinical experiences and other options to develop increasingly sophisticated expertise, understand their professional obligations and help identify the practice areas they want to pursue.

“This is about bringing into balance two essential aspects of legal education, which include a more traditional focus on theory and doctrine and bringing that theory and doctrine to life in the context of a real client,” Seicshnaydre said.

Seicshnaydre, who holds the William K. Christovich Professorship of Law, got her first experience in client representation as a Tulane Civil Litigation Clinic student-attorney handling a housing discrimination case under Johnson’s supervision. Later, as the first Tulane Law graduate to win a Skadden Fellowship, Seicshnaydre worked on housing cases for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and then returned to her hometown to help start the nonprofit Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.

Directing the Civil Litigation Clinic for 13 years “has given me the opportunity to help students hone practice skills like planning, problem-solving, client counseling, fact investigation, time management and oral and written advocacy, all for the purpose of helping students shape their professional identities,” she said. “One of the essential missions of a law clinic is assisting participants to make the transition from student to lawyer. I see that as a broader mission of the experiential learning program.”

Professor of the Practice Lucia Blacksher, a clinical instructor since 2009, now will direct the clinic. She spent five years as a trial attorney with the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division and five years as Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center general counsel.

Dean David Meyer praised the contributions of the departing administrators. "Through their outstanding and visionary leadership, Jim Letten and Jane Johnson have positioned Tulane for national leadership in experiential learning," Meyer said. "And Julie Jackson and Eileen Ryan together created Tulane's pro bono program and made it a national model for legal education. We owe them a great debt as we look forward to the advances their hard work now makes possible." 


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