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Wake Forest Law requires first-year students to take inaugural Professional Development Course

For the first time this fall, Wake Forest Law will require first-year law students to take a Professional Development Course for credit.

The one-credit class will be graded and led by Associate Professor Tanya Marsh and Associate Director of Career and Professional Development Francie Scott (’04). Instruction will consist of 16 weeks of classes, spread out over the fall and spring semesters.

“This course is ground breaking,” Marsh explains.  “Wake Forest is one of only a handful of top schools that offer a course like this, and what really distinguishes our approach is the faculty component. In addition to the weekly lecture, each 1L will be assigned to a small section, which will meet with two full-time faculty members for a small group discussion that allows the students to delve more deeply into the week’s topic.”

The goals of the course include educating students about the culture of law practice, helping them understand the diversity of law practices, helping them define their own career goals, and strengthening mentoring and advising relationships with faculty.

“Every law school understands that students are expected to be practice-ready on day one,” Scott explains. “This course builds on the already-impressive roster of classes and programs at Wake Forest Law that promote specific skill development such as our clinics, trial practice and externships, among others. But this course will also more broadly acclimate students to the culture of the professional world that they will enter, and encourage them to be intentional about their career planning. By focusing on their individual strengths, interests and values, they will ultimately find more satisfying careers.”

Specific course topics include values, ethics and judgment, defining your “brand,” understanding law as a business, cover letter development and interviewing skills.

“We are trying to indoctrinate them in what the expectations are for being a professional,” Marsh added. “We are also going to focus on discrete skills, like how to write a professional business email or a cover letter. It is taking the skills they have and putting them into a professional context.”

Dean Blake D. Morant says this course is among the continuing efforts at Wake Forest Law to position the school as a trailblazer in legal education.

“It is gratifying that our faculty, in looking at all the challenges facing legal education today, recently voted to augment the first-year curriculum with a required course in professionalism,” he said. “This exciting course, which is not taught at many law schools,  teaches students those skills that are necessary to succeed as professionals and includes the intangibles rarely included in a program of instruction. While American law schools quite effectively teach students how to think, they haven’t always done a great job in teaching skills that graduates need to succeed as professionals.  Our new course does this and more.”