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College of Law to launch teaching law firm in summer

March 07, 2013

Arizona State University has approved the summer 2013 launch of the ASU Alumni Law Group, a teaching law firm that will hire and mentor recent graduates of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

The Law Group, a stand-alone, nonprofit firm, is modeled after a teaching hospital, a full-service, fee-based institution that will prepare new and recent graduates to move from the classroom to practice. It will provide legal services to a wide variety of clients, focusing on those who cannot afford to pay current market rates and using graduates supervised by experienced attorneys to deliver those services.

Dean Douglas Sylvester said the College of Law saw a need to further its educational mission, and is taking action.

“There is no question that law schools need to rethink their role in preparing students for legal careers,” Sylvester said. “In a market where many are calling for systemic legal reform, we at ASU are not waiting for others to change – we are changing how we educate and mentor lawyers right now, and are doing so in a way that makes sense for our graduates and for Arizona.”

The firm will be comprised of four to five litigation and transactional practice groups, with five recent College of Law graduates serving as associates in each, for terms of up to three years. The groups will each be overseen by experienced supervising attorneys whose connections to the legal community run deep, and who are dedicated to training new lawyers. In addition to providing on-the-job training, the firm will provide formal training to junior lawyers on substantive areas of law, essential skills, and client development and retention. The firm will hire about 10 ASU law graduates per year for a total of 30 associates at any one time.

“The ASU Alumni Law Group represents the next stage in the evolution of legal education,” Sylvester said. “This firm will bridge the gap between law school and practice by providing graduates with real-world training in a supportive teaching environment. Associates who go through this program will be well positioned to compete for a wide variety of legal jobs.”

The initiative is being embraced by the Arizona legal community. “The ASU Law Group will provide valuable training and mentoring for new lawyers, while also fulfilling a need for affordable legal services in the community,” said J. Scott Rhodes, Managing Attorney at Jennings Strouss in Phoenix. “I anticipate that many successful legal careers will start with a stint at the ASU Alumni Law Group.”

The firm intends to partner with other units at ASU, including SkySong, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center, to help new and emerging companies grow and spur economic activity at home, and the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Innovation, to provide low-cost, high-quality legal services to nonprofit organizations that will help them serve Arizonans more effectively. Such partnerships would leverage efforts already underway at ASU to help improve Arizona’s economy and quality of life.

In addition, the ASU Alumni Law Group will work with designated client groups, such as veterans and the Hispanic community.

“I am proud to see that Arizona State University continues to find innovative ways to prepare their graduates for success in these particularly challenging times,” said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (ret.). “The establishment of the ASU Alumni Law Group is another positive way in which the College of Law is putting its students and graduates first.”

The ASU Alumni Law Group is the latest in a series of innovative and student-centered initiatives from the College of Law:

• The College of Law has invested additional financial resources into student and graduate career services, including recently hiring a full-time recruiter to work with graduates in their job searches.

• In December, the Arizona Board of Regents and the City of Phoenix took steps to advance the relocation of the College of Law to downtown Phoenix. The new building, the Arizona Center for Law and Society, is scheduled to open in 2016. The move will bring students closer to many of the region’s largest public and private employers.

• The College recently announced the creation of the North American Law Degree, a three-year J.D. designed to prepare graduates to seek licensure in both Canada and the U.S., and also prepare them for cross-border practice, a growing area of need for businesses. The North American Law Degree will create opportunities for graduates to work in international law and uniquely position them for such opportunities.

• The College of Law played a key role in helping to lead the proposal – recently approved by the Arizona Supreme Court – to allow third-year law students to sit for the spring bar exam. This rule change is expected to give ASU students a leg up in the job market by effectively making them more employable more quickly.

• The College of Law has dramatically expanded the amount of hands-on, experiential opportunities for its students by more than quadrupling the number of clinics in the Clinical Program in the last 10 years. In 2002, the Clinical Program had three clinics. It now has 13.

ASU boasts more practical experiences, through clinics, externships, and pro bono opportunities, than almost any other law school in the country, with individual graduates averaging 250 hours of client contact while in school and each graduating class providing more than 100,000 hours of free legal services.

“The ASU Alumni Law Group stands as a testament to the innovative thinking and commitment to student success that have become the hallmark of the ASU Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law,” said Sean McGarvey, president of the College of Law’s Student Bar Association. “The College of Law, its administration and faculty continue to remain ahead of the curve in working with students to confront the challenges of an increasingly competitive legal market. Students are universally enthusiastic about this initiative, which is sure to launch many successful careers while enhancing professional development and legal acumen.”