As part of the weekend’s activities, my wife and I attended many orientation sessions sponsored by his university (Wake Forest). I couldn’t help compare what WFU did for its undergraduates and what we do at U.Mass. for our beginning law students. Some differences can clearly be explained by the fact that our law students are not basically children while almost all of the undergraduates are still in their teens. Even factoring in this divergence, I could not clearly identify why some of the other differences existed which, in turn, got me thinking about the purpose of orientation for law students. As most of us have probably just completed this for our 1Ls, I thought that a discussion of what goals a law school’s orientation program should serve would be timely.
In some ways, the formalism of the process at WFU was very impressive. The convocation ceremony, in particular, seemed to separate the upcoming college experience from that which proceeded it. I wasn’t able to identify a similar experience for our law students although we used to have them take an “oath” that was similar to an attorney’s oath in an attempt to get the students to recognize that their status was changing and they were entering a profession.
Another difference I noted immediately is how little time WFU spent trying to teach the incoming students what they had to do to academically succeed in the program. (This doesn’t mean that there weren’t lots of warnings about things that could interfere with success — particularly about alcohol abuse.) In our law school orientation, on the other hand, we spend lots of time addressing the studying techniques that have proven valuable over time, from careful briefing through the advantages and disadvantages of various synthesis techniques such as outlines and study groups. On first glance, you could expect the pattern to be the opposite. By the time students get to law school, they should be fairly competent learners while this may be less true for new undergraduates.
Thus, my question. What should the optimum law school orientation program achieve? What do you like about how your institution orients 1Ls and what do you think should be done better?