Located in the central Appalachian mountains in the far western stretches of Virginia, the Appalachian School of Law (ASL) is an independent, private law school founded to serve the Appalachian community. For over 20 years, ASL has educated lawyers in the region with an emphasis on alternative dispute resolution and the ethical practice of law. ASL is located in the small town of Grundy, Virginia which was devastated by flooding in 1977. The law school became the anchor for the town’s economic revival. Each year, the law school generates over $10 million in revenue for the regional area. Today, the law school continues its original mission to educate students from the regional area to practice the law ethically and with passion.
The Juris Doctor degree at ASL is completed in a traditional three-year, full-time program. The first-year curriculum introduces students to the core courses of traditional legal education: civil procedure, contracts, criminal law, property, and torts. All first-year students also take a two-semester course covering the legal process which also introduces them to the fundamental skills of legal writing and research. Prior to the start of the traditional curriculum, all students participate in a one-credit course that introduces them to the basic skills necessary to succeed in legal education.
The second of year of study at ASL focuses on courses traditionally covered on most state bar exams. ASL also requires students to complete a substantial amount of pro bono service work. Students are required to complete courses in criminal procedure, constitutional law, and professional responsibility. The final year of law is mostly elective in nature as students prepare to transition to their professional careers. Third-year students take small seminars as well as practicum courses that sharpen their real-world practice skills. In their final semester, all students complete a bar review course.
All students at ASL also complete six hours of experiential education and a major writing assignment. In determining their electives, students may opt to earn one of three certifications offered by ASL. Each certification requires students to complete specific courses in the subject area as well as experiential learning requirements. Certifications are available in litigation, criminal law, and natural resource law. Whether students complete a certification or not, all students are required to complete 90 total hours of coursework to earn their Juris Doctor degree.
In conjunction with Virginia Tech University, ASL offers students the opportunity to earn a certification in cybersecurity from Virginia Teach while also pursuing their law degree. Virginia Tech offers two cybersecurity certifications–one in policy and other in management–which each require nine total credit hours. These courses are completed online allowing students to earn the certification from the ASL campus.
Career and Career Placement
Based on recent graduation employment data, roughly 60% of all graduates of ASL are employed within 10 months of graduation. Of those employed, almost 90% are employed in full-time, long-term careers that either requires a law license or prefers a Juris Doctor degree. Over half of employed graduates pursued careers in private practice with small law firm accounting for over a third of graduates’ first career choice. Another quarter of graduates pursued careers in either government offices or the public interest sector. Generally, a percentage of ASL graduates secure clerkships in the local court system, emphasizing the important role the law school plays in the regional legal system. Graduates of ASL largely remained in the Appalachian states of Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky to begin their professional careers.
ASL is a small community that is served by a single director of Career Services. The school’s small, tight-knit student body, however, allows the director to engage with each student directly as they plan a career strategy. The Director also engages with local employers, plans career fairs, and preps students for their interviews. The school’s alumni network is also close-knit and allows students to engage with practicing ASL attorneys in meaningful ways.
Experiential Learning/Distance Education
ASL’s academic program was built on the foundation of providing students with as much real-world practical experience as possible. Each semester, students are required to spend 25 hours in pro bono service to the community. This work allows students to work with clients in a meaningful and practical manner. Upon completion of the first-year of education, all students also participate in an externship with local attorneys during their summer. This places students in legal offices working alongside attorneys in a range of practice areas. Finally, ASL students in their third year can work in the school’s clinical program. This program combines additional external field placements with a practicum course that covers a related skillset. Practicum courses meet once per week which allows students to learn on the job while also sharpening their skills in the real world.
At this time, ASL requires residential coursework for its degree programs.
With a student body of fewer than 100 students (most of whom hail from the regional area), the campus of ASL is more like a family than a law school. The law school is built to help students succeed in their studies and legal careers. The atmosphere is one of support and collaboration rather than competition. The law school also plays a critical role in the region as well as the city of Grundy, Virginia where it is located. Unlike most law schools, ASL does not “rank” its students. Instead, students work together through the school’s many organizations and co-curricular activities such as the very competitive moot court program.
Set in the small town of Grundy, ASL is surrounded by the beauty of the Appalachian mountains. The small town offers students a quiet and peaceful setting to focus on their academic careers. Although located in Virginia, the law school is located in close proximity to the Kentucky border as well as the mountain towns of Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina. Students enjoy all the best of the mountain culture and have played a critical role in the town’s rebirth for almost two decades.