The Widener University Commonwealth Law School (Widener Law Commonwealth) is one of two law schools run by Widener University. The law school began in 1989 as an extension of Widener University’s other law school located in Wilmington, Delaware. Widener Law Commonwealth was situated in the capital of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, to meet the need for attorneys in the state’s legal complex. In 2015, Widener University’s two law schools separated and now operate as completely independent schools. Widener Law Commonwealth plays a crucial role in Pennsylvania’s capital including housing important legal collections in its law library. The law school has produced a number of Pennsylvanian public servants including state Senators and Judges. Don McGahn, former White House Chief Counsel, is also an alumnus.
The Juris Doctor degree at Widener Law Commonwealth requires 90 hours of coursework for completion of which 58 hours are mandatory courses. Students choose 32 hours of elective courses some of which much be selected from a menu of courses. Students complete all six of the core courses of the traditional legal education: civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, property, and torts. Students are also required to complete additional substantive courses covering administrative law, business law, criminal procedure, evidence, professional responsibility, and sales. These core academic subjects are complimented by skill-based courses covering the legal process, essential legal skills, and a three-semester study of legal methods. All students also take a course preparing them for the bar exam in their final semester.
Students choose 32 elective courses. Six credits must be satisfied with experiential learning courses. Students must also select some of their electives from a menu of courses covering additional core subjects. In choosing their electives, students can focus their electives on certain courses to achieve a certificate in one of five core practice areas. Certification programs also suggest experiential programs to help prepare students to practice in these areas. Widener Commonwealth Law also offers well developed programs in the areas of Business Advising and Environmental and Sustainability Law. These programs also have dedicated centers that combine faculty experts and also offers students the opportunity to engage with practitioners on real issues related to the practice area.
All Juris Doctor candidates at Widener Commonwealth Law may combine their law degree with another professional degree from Widener University as part of the school’s dual degree program. Students may pair their J.D. with either an online M.B.A. degree or a Master of Library Science (M.S.L.S.) from the Clarion University of Pennsylvania. Both joint degree options present a path for specialization in the legal field as students seek to distinguish their professional skills.
All students at Widener Commonwealth Law may take part in the school’s Academic Success program which provides an array of programs throughout the entirety of student’s academic progression to ensure success in the classroom and on the bar exam. Students benefit from tutoring services, specialized skill-based classes to enhance learning strategies, and programs to help first-year students transition to law school.
Career and Career Placement
Widener Commonwealth Law’s most recent employment outcome data evidence that 97% of graduates were employed within 10 months of graduation. Additionally, of those employed, over 93% were employed in long-term, full-time careers that either required a law license or preferred a Juris Doctor degree. In terms of career choices, private law firm work accounted for over 40% of all graduates’ first career choice. Small law firms, in particular, constituted a third of first careers for graduates. Widener Commonwealth Law graduates also opted heavily for careers in government (25%) and judicial clerkships (20%)–reiterating the school’s central role in Pennsylvania legal offices. As expected, over 85% of graduates remain in the Commonwealth to begin their professional careers.
The Widener Commonwealth Law Career Development Office (CDO) works with students, alumni, and employers to create an environment where students can find meaningful careers. The CDO works with each student to develop a career strategy (including long term goals) through both individual counseling and regular programming. The CDO works with employers to maintain a database of job listings and hosts a number of network events to strengthen their professional relationships with regional employers.
Experiential Learning/Distance Education
At Widener Commonwealth Law, students learn to practice law in both the classroom setting as well as in clinical settings. All students are required to take a three-semester course as part of the school’s “Legal Methods Program” which ensures that students graduate with a mastery of legal research, writing, and research.
In addition to the methods program, Widener Commonwealth Law students can work with the Central Pennsylvania Law Clinic to represent real clients in a range of legal situations. Students work alongside faculty members in a number of practice areas as they transfer their classroom lessons into the actual practice of law.
In the school’s externship program, students earn between one and four credits working a legal office during the semester. Widener Commonwealth Law offers externships in virtually every type of law office from government offices to local corporate law offices. Students can learn virtually any aspect of practicing law as well as begin to build their professional networks.
At this time, Widener Commonwealth Law only offers residential coursework for its degree programs.
Widener Commonwealth Law stresses to all students the need to balance the rigors of law school (and the legal profession) with a healthy lifestyle. The campus of Widener Commonwealth Law reflects this goal. Students enjoy yearly programmings such as the Dean’s annual picnic or the arrival of stress relief dogs during exam week. The university campus spans almost 20 acres including recreational facilities, fitness classes, and a butterfly garden. Students at Widener Commonwealth Law spend countless hours in community service each year through a variety of co-curricular organizations. All students have access to health and counseling services.
Located in the capital city of Harrisburg, Widener Commonwealth Law is surrounded by the rural beauty of Central Pennsylvania. The city itself sits on the banks of the Susquehanna River where its charming downtown affords students countless bars, restaurants, and housing options. The city is also a short distance from both Philadelphia and New York which allows students easy access to two of the country’s most visited places. With affordable living and an easily accessible campus, Widener Commonwealth Law provides students with an exceptional quality of life throughout their academic careers.