Baylor Law School ranks No. 1 in the nation for practical law training

In their final year, Baylor Law students go through the school's practice court program, giving them valuable practical training. Photo courtesy of Baylor Law School

By Luke Lattanzi | Staff Writer

Baylor Law School was recently named the No. 1 law school in the nation for practical law training.

According to preLaw Magazine, the law school distinguishes itself for practical law training due to its practice court program that all Baylor Law students are required to take, as well as its effort to provide practical law training through various clinics and externships.

What also makes Baylor Law unique, according to Interim Dean Patricia Wilson, is the high number of law professors who have experience practicing law before going into academia.

“I think every single law school in this country has really smart people on their faculties,” Wilson said. “The Baylor Law faculty has strong academic credentials, but also, so many of us have practical experience. And I think that shows up in the way we approach teaching and preparing our students to practice law.”

Wilson said the law school is always evaluating how its practical training can remain relevant on a national level. One area the law school is looking to improve upon is its practical training for students who want to go into business or transactional law.

“One of the things that we’re regularly doing is we’re checking with those attorneys that are practicing so that we have a sense of, ‘What else should we be doing?’” Wilson said. “‘What direction do we need to go to ensure that our students will always be as practice-ready as we could possibly make them in the three years or so that we have them in law school?’”

Assistant professor of law Christopher Jaeger, now in his third year as a faculty member, said Baylor Law stood out in its practical training initiatives when he was searching for a position three years ago. Jaeger said most law schools treat the law as an “object of study” — that is to say, a predominant emphasis on legal theory rather than how to apply the law in practice.

“My third-year experience as a law student, I took a variety of really interesting courses,” Jaeger said. “I took courses in behavioral law and economics. I took courses in law and neuroscience. I took courses on how to write legal scholarship. All very interesting things, none of which were training me to be a lawyer on the ground, ready to practice when I hit the law firm.”

Jaeger said the law school requires students to take certain courses focused on practical training that other law schools do not require, such as learning about what remedies are available after prevailing in a lawsuit. The centerpiece of Baylor’s practical training emphasis, Jaeger said, is its practice court program, which is baked directly into the curriculum for final-year law students.

Unlike other schools, Baylor Law divides its academic years into four quarters rather than two semesters, and the practice court program lasts for two quarters. Jaeger recalled his first time practicing law right out of law school and having to ask his colleagues how to perform certain tasks due to not learning how to perform them in the classroom.

“For two quarters, you are simulating the work and workload of an attorney and learning to function and thrive in that environment, doing the sort of work you’ll be doing when you hit the firm, so that when Baylor alums hit the working world after law school, they’re ready to do the sort of tasks that the partners or managing folks at their employers want them to do,” Jaeger said.

Jaeger has also taken his own initiative to better provide practical law training to his students. Having originally majored in psychology as an undergraduate student at the University of Missouri and as a doctoral student at Vanderbilt University, he is currently the only faculty member at Baylor Law to hold both a J.D. and a Ph.D.

Many legal cases, especially criminal cases, boil down to the “reasonableness” standard, asking the question of whether or not a person’s actions were reasonable. Jaeger’s interdisciplinary research features an intersection between psychology and law, investigating how juries decide what is reasonable. Rather than only relying on legal theory, Jaeger seeks to understand what makes juries — which are usually composed of ordinary people — decide cases.

While legal theory may say that the reasonableness standard is a purely economic cost-benefit analysis, Jaeger said his research suggests that people do not think about reasonableness in a purely economic sense, which may lessen the effectiveness of a lawyer’s argument.

“One payout from my research academically is I have something to say about legal theory, but I also have very practical advice for lawyers out there on the ground trying to figure out how to represent the client the best they can in a case,” Jaeger said.

Another aspect of Baylor Law’s practical training that both Wilson and Jaeger emphasized is the large number of required writing courses relative to other law schools. Despite what many may think about the legal profession or how it is portrayed in movies, much of being an attorney is done outside the courtroom, with large amounts of time spent researching and writing.

“I tell students, many of you probably imagine yourselves doing some courtroom heroics or theatrics, and you may have opportunities to do this, but you will spend far more days as a lawyer on phone calls and meetings and drafting documents, whether those are briefs, transactional documents, deal documents,” Jaeger said. “You’ll spend much more time on that than you will the glory-televised courtroom stuff.”

Baylor Law also hosts legal writing competitions, such as its annual “Paper Chase” and “Ultimate Writer” contests, which are known to be some of the most competitive and challenging legal writing competitions in Texas.

“Our commitment is evident in the programming that we have,” Wilson said. “So, again, when you look at practice-ready — well, if you can’t write, you’re not ready for practice, because so much of the practice is writing.”