Name: James E. Moliterno

Title: Tazewell Taylor Professor of Law

School: William & Mary

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 8795

Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795

Phone: 757 221-3822


Home Page:


Summary Description:

Learning professional norms and ethics is better done in role. That simple truth is the fundamental premise of the Legal Skills Program at the William & Mary Law School. All other corollary principles that have guided the design, implementation, and modification of the program over its 15 years of operation spring from this fundamental premise.

The Program was the inaugural first place recipient of the ABA E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award in 1991.

Since 1988, each student at the William & Mary Law School has taken the Legal Skills Program, a four semester course of comprehensive skills and ethics development. In the Program, students are members of one of twelve small (approximately 16 person) law offices that are led by a Senior Partner (full-time or adjunct faculty member) and a Junior Partner (a competitively selected, paid third year student).

They learn through readings and classroom sessions the material that would be covered in the professional responsibility course and a range of professional skills courses, including the research and writing course, an interviewing course, a negotiation course, a document drafting course, and a basic trial practice course. Combining the instruction in what lawyers do with the instruction in the ethical and legal principles that limit and guide what lawyers may and should do allows for a deeper, more meaningful learning of all of the material involved, especially the material relating to the ethical norms of the profession.

While engaged in their classroom learning, the students are cast in the role of lawyer in a series of sophisticated simulations. Each student represents people playing the roles of his or her clients from a beginning of the lawyer-client relationship to some logical conclusion of it. In some instances, that conclusion is a negotiated settlement of a dispute or a negotiated deal; in others the conclusion is the end of the litigation process. Through their representation of four clients, students face conflicts of interest, confidentiality, and duty to court issues, among others, all in the role of lawyer. In every instance, the representation allows the student to have managed a lawyer-client relationship from beginning to end, to manage relationships with supervising lawyers, opposing parties’s lawyers, team-member lawyers, and in appropriate instances, court personnel.

Through these simulations, the students become practiced at the activities of lawyering, but more importantly become acclimated to the professional relationships that they will soon live their lives working within.

There simply is no better way to learn admirable ways of behaving than to engage in those ways with thoughtful mentors and teachers as guides. This was the best aspect of the apprentice system, which is happily gone because of its many other fundamental shortcomings. Nonetheless, to capture this role-based introduction to the profession and place it within our academic institutions promises to enhance the professional values of those entering the profession in a way no other program of instruction can hope to do.

Further, published descriptions of the Skills Program can be found in the four articles cited in part D1 below.


Program History:

The Skills Program was founded when I arrived at the William & Mary Law School in the fall of 1988. It has been in continuous operation since then. Except for a one year sabbatical in 2002-03, I have been its Director for that sixteen year period. (I do not mean to suggest by this submission that no one else has had a significant role in the Program’s creation and administration.)

As a required course at our law school, the Program has graduated every student to have graduated from the law school since the class of 1991, approximately 2400 students. I fully expect that the Program will be a core part of our curriculum for the foreseeable future.

The Program has become a trademark program for our Law School, featured prominently in all of the Law School’s self-description materials, praised in many quarters including alumni and ABA accreditation inspectors. While many innovative programs have come and gone, often because of short-term involvement of program founders or difficulties of administration, ours has endured and become a self-identifying, central feature of our Law School community.

Indeed, the Program, with its small groups for first year students, each group’s third year student Junior Partner, and its week-long orientation time before the rest of first year classes begin, has been a unifying and perpetuating force for our Law School’s sense of civility, community and public service. The chief duty of each of the teaching assistants in that initial week is to ensure that each beginning student feels that he or she is a valued member of our supportive, civil community who would be missed if he or she were not here. This community-sense and the Program’s place in it have been critical to the maintenance of our Law School’s culture.

The Program’s reach has extended beyond our school and students. The Program has been on the agenda at several conferences beginning in 1990. Many law schools have requested and received materials from our Program; several have sent faculty to visit us to learn about our Program; several have adopted programs that include features of ours. We have been visited by delegations of legal academics from law schools in Great Britain, Canada, Australia, Japan, Czech Republic, China, and Russia. I am in communication with many of these legal academics as they advise their own institutions regarding courses of professional skills and ethics development.


Confidential Items:


Expanded Program Description (Optional):

The Program’s teaching methods, goals and objectives have been described in published materials, most prominently and fully in Experiential Education, Legal Education and Professional Responsibility, 38 William & Mary Law Review 71 (1996), Professional Preparedness: A Comparative Study of Law Graduates’ Perceived Readiness for Professional Ethics Issues, 58 Law & Contemporary Problems 259 (1995), and Teaching Legal Ethics in a Program of Comprehensive Skills Development, 15 Journal of the Legal Profession 145 (1991); and The Legal Skills Program at the College of William and Mary: An Early Report, 40 J. of Legal Educ. 535 (1990).

The Program has been exceedingly well-received and its success documented. Favorable references to the Program have been made in numerous publications including periodicals such as The ABA Journal, The Professional Lawyer, The Wall Street Journal, and U.S. News and World Report. Book authors such as Sol Linowitz have singled out the Program for praise. Many law journal article authors have praised the Program.

More importantly, perhaps, empirical data generated supports the proposition that the Program better prepared law graduates for their professional lives, and in particular to identify and resolve ethics issues that they face in their practices. Some of the data gathered is described in Professional Preparedness: A Comparative Study of Law Graduates’ Perceived Readiness for Professional Ethics Issues, 58 Law & Contemporary Problems 259 (1995). Among other things, the survey evaluated the views of law school graduates, 2-5 years out of school, regarding their law school preparation to identify and resolve ethics issues in their practice. Four schools’s graduates participated in the survey, William & Mary and three other similarly ranked, similarly sized schools. The William & Mary graduates, who had been through our Program, rated their preparation significantly higher than the graduates of the other three schools, who had experienced the traditional professional responsibility course. Much more is said about these results in the article.

Graduates of the Legal Skills Program also gave significantly higher ratings for their preparation for ethics issues than had students who had participated in live client clinics at their schools. Even if similar results might be achieved in live client clinics, training in the Legal Skills Program is provided to all the students in a law school, rather than the relatively modest number of students served by live client clinics.

As well, graduates of the Skills Program reported lower levels of stress in their practice than the other survey respondents. The experience of practice in the long-term simulation context seems likely to allow students to develop a familiarity with practice demands that allows a more comfortable transition into practice. Lower stress levels in turn, seem likely to result in more productive professional relationships.


Supporting Materials:

The Program was the inaugural first place recipient of the ABA E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award in 1991. At the Law School, we have continued the spirit of the Gambrell Award by annually giving our own Professionalism Awards to one student from each of the twelve law offices in the Program for the students’s demonstrated excellence in “professionalism, public service, integrity, dedication to the improvement of lawyering skills, and actual improvement of lawyering skills.”

A large volume of appropriate submissions are available. I hesitate to burden the selection committee with the volume, but would happily provide whatever the Committee might wish to review. Large volumes of favorable student end-of-semester evaluations are available. We also gather student comments on the Program’s effect on their summer employment.

A course description and various documents are available at

Professional Preparedness: A Comparative Study of Law Graduates’ Perceived Readiness for Professional Ethics Issues, 58 Law & Contemporary Problems 259 (1995)

I have sent electronic copies of the syllabus as instructed in the award application.
Syllabus-Fall 2002: LS I

Syllabus-Spring 2003: LS II

Syllabus-Fall 2002: LS III
Syllabus-Spring 2003: LS IV

The syllabus indicates the reading assignments. The primary book for professional ethics material for the students is Moliterno, Ethics of the Lawyer’s Work 2d ed. (West 2003).

Many other documents, including problem materials, are readily available should the Committee wish to see them.