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Capstone courses help bridge legal education and practice

Western Law rolled out a series of new capstone courses in 2016-17, which aim to help students make the transition from learning law to practising law. The courses offered opportunities for complex simulations and problem solving, community-engaged learning and interactions with leading scholars, practitioners and judges.

Capstone courses were offered in business law; criminal law; international law; litigation; and intellectual property, information and technology (IPIT) Law. Future capstone courses are planned in government and public administration and in labour, employment and social justice.

The courses were designed as part of Western Law’s curriculum reforms in 2015. These reforms included the development of seven informal curricular streams designed to assist students in choosing courses and co-curricular opportunities to suit their interests and career goals. Each stream culminates in a capstone course, which is meant to bring together the knowledge and skills that students have learned during their time in law school and encourage them to apply their learning in practical ways.

In the litigation capstone course, for example, students engaged in an extended simulation of a medical malpractice file, from the first meeting with the plaintiff through pleadings, discovery, settlement negotiations and a trial. They had to meet regularly with their clients, which included MD students as defendants, and had to perform non-legal research to understand the complex medical evidence. Each week, they engaged with local litigators, who taught them about the various stages and dynamics of litigation, including their interactions with the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA).

“I learned so much more about the litigation process after actually going through the stages myself, rather than simply studying the rules of civil procedure out of context,” said Liz Funduk, a student in the course. 

 “I left this class with renewed independence, a sense of confidence and a desire to learn more and better myself as a future litigator,” said student Kelsey Long.

The criminal law capstone course also involved a series of guest lectures and simulations designed to train students for work they would be doing in their early years of practice: bail hearings, impaired driving trials and cross-examinations of difficult witnesses. They also engaged in impromptu exercises that forced them to think on the spot and gain confidence in their ability to make oral submissions.

In a very different course, students in the international law capstone course travelled to Ottawa and New York to observe and participate in the work of governmental and non-governmental organizations, including the UN Commission on the Status of Women. 

This article appeared in the Western Law 2017 Alumni Magazine.
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