The Washington College of Law at American University (WCL) is the only law school in the country to be founded by women. The law school later became the first to be led by a female dean and the first to graduate an entire class of only women. Since its founding, the school is now co-educational but still retains its diverse character. In recent classes, over 40% of students have been minorities. WCL is home to several nationally renowned programs including its trial advocacy and clinical programs which are considered to be in the top five in the country. WCL is located in the nation’s capitals and its alumni have steadily made their way into the federal courts. Currently, WCL boasts 15 sitting federal judges as alumni.
The first-year curriculum at WCL is a mixture of traditional legal education and innovative approaches to legal education and the practice of law. Students take core courses in civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, property and torts. During both semesters, students take a course that provides a foundation in the critical skills of legal research and writing. In the spring, students are introduced to the legislative and regulatory process. First-year students also choose one elective course from a small set of recommended courses. WCL offers a full-time and part-time options for their Juris Doctor program. Part-time students complete the same courses in four semesters rather than in two. First-year students also benefit from the law school’s addition of the “Compass Program” in 2019 which provides students with workshop-style academic coaching throughout their first year. Workshops provide essential skills for academic and professional success.
Upper-class students must meet minimum requirements for graduation including a course in professional responsibility, six hours of experiential education credits, and an upper-level writing assignment. To guide the rest of their curriculum, WCL offers almost 30 designated programs which suggest a slate of coursework and skill-based training to prepare students for their future practice. A number of WCL’s programs are considered among the nation’s best especially their clinical program and their program for international law.
The Washington College of Law at American University has one of the most recognized Master of Laws (LL.M) programs in the country. The one-year program requires students to complete 24 hours of coursework while concentrating in one of ten different legal practice areas. Many of these concentrations are one-of-a-kind programs including the LL.M in Gender, International and Comparative Law as well as an LL.M in Human Rights taught entirely in Spanish language classes. The law school’s proximity to the nation’s capital attracts students from all over the world looking to refine their legal skills in a collaborative and diverse academic setting.
WCL also confers the Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) degree to students who complete a major research project and produce a dissertation of publishable quality. Like the LL.M, the S.J.D. program is notably international. The programs graduates have become Supreme Court Justices in Uganda and Israel as well professors all over the world.
For non-attorneys, WCL offers a Master of Legal Studies (M.L.S.) program that is taught completely online. The M.L.S. program is intended for professionals whose careers intersect with the legal sector. To allow for further specification, M.L.S. students may focus on either business administration (taught in conjunction with the business school), health care, or information technology. The M.L.S. requires 30 hours of coursework for completion.
Juris Doctor candidates may also combine the legal education with a professional degree from five different graduate programs at American University or with a degree from a number of international universities. All dual degree programs required admission to both programs. Students complete their first year of law school following the normal curriculum before sharing classes for the following three to four years. Dual degrees prepare students for the increasingly complex, cross-disciplinary nature of the legal practice.
Career and Career Placement
The most recent statistics for graduates of the Washington College of Law show that 87% are employed or seeking additional education within 10 months of graduation. Of those, 92% are employed in professions that require a licensed attorney or prefer a law school graduate. The large number of graduates (over 400 students in 2019) run the gambit of career choices. The single most popular career choice were government positions (22%) which is not surprising given the law school’s location in Washington, D.C. Graduates were just as likely to choose a career in the public interest sector as in a large law firm with over 500 attorneys (both at 10%). Over 10% of graduates also accepted positions in the business sector. Just under 60% of graduates began their careers in Washington, D.C., or surrounding states of Maryland or Virginia.
The Office of Career & Professional Development (OCPD) staffs eight professionals that serve the large and diverse community of the Washington College of Law. The OCPD partners with students through their academic careers to provide a wide range of services that include traditional one-on-one counseling and programs to address the specifics of negotiating job offers, dressing resumes, and preparing for interviews. The OCPD also has active initiatives to help place its diverse student body in untapped careers as well as secure prestigious judicial clerkships.
Experiential Learning/Distance Education
All students at WCL are required and encouraged to compliment their academic studies with skill based opportunities through the school’s clinical and externship programs as well as the trial advocacy program and simulation classes.
WCL’s clinical program is one of the most renowned in the country. Clinics allow students to work as student-attorneys under the supervision of faculty experts who oversee their legal practice in several areas. The ten practice areas represented in the legal clinic allow students to focus on their career goals whether those involve litigation, defending the innocent, or working in transactional law. The externship program offers similar opportunities by placing students in a government office in the Washington, D.C. area. The extensive federal offices have a constant need for new attorneys providing an excellent pipeline for students at WCL.
WCL’s trial advocacy program provides students with an opportunity to compete in advocacy competitions that simulate trial and appellate cases. The law school also offers semester-long simulation courses that focus on real-world, complex legal problems and the legal skills required to solve them.
The Washington College of Law is a pioneer in online education. For students in their J.D. and LL.M programs, WCL offers more than a dozen online courses that provide flexibility for students especially part-time students. Additionally, WCL offers their M.S.L. degree (a Masters for non-lawyers) completely online as well as a number of certification programs for international lawyers.
The student body of WCL is as diverse as any in the country. Moreover, the law school celebrates its diverse, international character as it reflects the modern practice of law, preparing students to interact with lawyers with different backgrounds and viewpoints. The school’s wide offering of student-run organization include at least eight organization dedicated to celebrating the school’s many diverse backgrounds. The large student body is still tight-knit and supportive. The school also provides counseling and wellness programs to all students.
The campus of the Washington College of Law is located in the Northwest Corner of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area just 2 miles from the Smithsonian Zoo and with close proximity to all of the wonders of the nation’s capital. The law school is minutes from Chevy Chase, Maryland which provides more affordable housing opportunities than living in the District. Wherever students live, they enjoy the unique opportunity of living in a city full of museums, dining, and provocative art and music.