GW Law Students Find Help in Nationally Recognized Programs

GW Law students prepare for classes and careers in programs designed to help them identify professional goals and critical skills. 

September 20, 2018

Inns of Court GW Law

Students attend weekly workshops on classroom and career success as a part of the Inns of Court and Foundations of Practice programs at GW Law. (Tatyana Hopkins/GW Today)

By Tatyana Hopkins

Hoping to get acquainted with the city before the start of classes, first-year GW Law student Nick Kinslow spent the summer visiting monuments, picking his favorite neighborhood restaurants and discovering how to get around. Originally from Florida, Mr. Kinslow said it only took a few trips on Metro to learn the route from his apartment in Shaw to the George Washington University campus.

“It only took two rides,” he said. “It was very simple.”

What has not been so simple, he said, is grasping the legal concepts and terminology—which look like plain English but often have precise and distinct legal definitions—in his five law courses.

“A friend and I spent 15 or 20 minutes trying to figure out what this judge from the 1800s was trying to say, then the professor broke it down in like a minute,” he said.

To help him get a grip on the study of his “new language,” Mr. Kinslow participates in the Inns of Court and Foundations of Practice programs, which create a fully-integrated professional development program for first-year students at GW Law.

First-year students are assigned to one of six Inns of Court, named after former Supreme Court justices, and take their first-year courses with the members of their Inn. Starting the first week of classes, students are offered support and guidance from a diverse team of advisers consisting of faculty, administrators, staff and upper-class students.

The Inns of Court program is the centerpiece of Foundations of Practice, a voluntary program that helps first-year law students identify their professional goals and build critical professional skills sought by legal employers and clients.

In August, the American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on Professionalism awarded the GW Law Inns of Court and Foundations of Practice programs the 2018 E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award. The Gambrell Award recognizes exemplary and innovative programs in law schools, bar associations and other legal organizations that help maintain dedication to the legal profession and the public.

The program encourages students to take advantage of important resources to supplement their classroom education, including Inns of Court sessions, Writing Center workshops and one-on-one writing advice, Career Center workshops and individual counseling, health and wellness programs, cultural competency programs and advice from practicing lawyers.

Students who complete the program earn the Dean’s Recognition for Professional Development, a distinction acknowledged by many legal employers.

Inns of Court GW LAW

Second-year GW Law student Michelle Graessle (left) returned to the Inns of Court program as a student adviser to assist first-year law students. (Tatyana Hopkins/GW Today)

Mr. Kinslow, who was initially nervous about being “up the creek without a paddle,” said the programs are helping him with school as well as preparing him for his future career, which he hopes will merge his interests in law and entrepreneurship.

GW Law Professor Todd D. Peterson, co-director of the two programs, said the programs help students become more self-directed in their learning and build the foundational competencies required for success in the legal profession through the development of non-cognitive, professional skills not taught in doctrinal law school courses.

“I think one of the reasons the ABA has an award for professional development programs is that practicing lawyers know how important it is to help students acquire all of the skills they will need for the actual practice of law,” Mr. Peterson said.

He co-directs the programs with Susan Fine, GW Law’s interim associate dean for Professional Development and Career Strategy and is also an adviser for the Benjamin Cardozo Inn.

While other law schools have professional development programs, what makes GW Law’s programs unique, he said, are the advisory teams and the programs’ own advisory council made up of legal professionals who train attorneys in government, law firms and non-profit organizations. Council members help students make real-world connections.

Michelle Graessle, a second-year law student and Inn adviser, said she participated in the programs last year to get comfortable with the transition to law school and gained a better sense of how to shape her interests in international human rights and criminal justice reform into a career.

Ms. Graessle is a member of several law school organizations including the Student Bar Association and the International Law Review and works as a legal intern for a nonprofit that helps exonerate wrongfully convicted people in the D.C. area.

“The Inns of Court program helped me focus my efforts to identify practice areas I might want to explore, provided me with excellent networking opportunities and–maybe most importantly–kept me focused on the end goal, which can be easy to lose sight of with the stress of class and exams,” she said.