The study of law is in constant motion. In order to prepare the law professionals of tomorrow, they must be ready to confront the many challenges that lay ahead. We sat down to discuss the role played by IE University in getting students ready to face these challenges with Soledad Atienza, Director of IEU’s Bachelor of Laws.
What is a typical day for you as Director of the Bachelor in Laws?
I spend a lot of time talking to our professors and students to gain a deep and sincere understanding of their issues, difficulties, and goals. For students, these issues could be surrounding how to access the profession in their jurisdiction, where they should go on exchange, or which elective course they should take. For professors, it could be about finding teaching materials in their area, creating more engaging courses, developing new challenges for students, or finding opportunities to involve students from our Madrid and Segovia campuses.
I also take time to look at other academic institutions to identify trends. It’s not so much about the competition, but understanding the demand. For example, we took a risk when we launched the law program. We were the first to launch such an ambitious program, in terms of international focus, and we’re happy to see other universities following suit. We absolutely consider ourselves pioneers, but there are other universities in Europe who are doing very interesting things and adding international elements and experiences to their programs as well.
Another important part of my routine is checking out the legal market, and studying what leading law professionals in the field are doing. I look at leaders, key players, and what the best firms are looking for. This constant research and contact with the legal industry is very important for us to continuously update our program based on true market needs.
What can you tell us about the Law Unplugged course?
Law Unplugged is a course dedicated to lawyering and legal skills. It’s a very innovative course that captures the unique personality of IEU’s Bachelor of Laws. It runs from year one to year three, and the objective is to bring legal practice to life for students. We want students to understand what it means to work as a lawyer, think as a lawyer, interview a client as a lawyer, or write for a client as a lawyer. This course runs at the same time as all of the other technical and legal courses, so students take civil law, commercial law, labor law, and Law Unplugged at the same time.
«We were the first to launch such
an ambitious program in terms of
What makes the Law Unplugged course innovative?
It’s innovative both in methodology and content. At IE Law School, content goes beyond the regular syllabus by teaching topics such as leadership in law firms, teamwork for lawyers, understanding clients, and human resources at law firms. In terms of the methodology, we use real-life simulations to encourage students to start thinking and acting as if they were professionals right from year one. They have to start thinking like lawyers rather than like students.
Can you give us an example of how you bring legal practice to life in the Law Unplugged course?
My students are now preparing to do a simulation of a contract negotiation at the Madrid office of Jones Day. Some of them will act as buyers, and some of them will act as sellers. It’s the first time they will be working on such a long and complex contract, and they not only have to focus on the legal issues, but also on the way that they talk to their clients, negotiate, and work as a team. They will be put in a situation where they have to deal with real-world problems, and discover what it’s like to use the soft skills they’ve been learning about.
Our university and our programs are very challenging, and very demanding. We want to get the best out of the students, and to do that, we need to push them sometimes.
Are there opportunities to do these kinds of simulations with other law firms?
The IE Law School is proud to work with many of the top Spanish and international law firms. As well as with Jones Day, we do the same kind of simulation with Cuatrecasas, Gonçalves Pereira, Clifford Chance, Latham & Watkins, and White & Case. Over the years, we have developed solid, long-term relationships with all of these firms.
What do the law firms gain from their relationship with the IE Law School?
We give law firms the opportunity to meet the leading legal professionals of tomorrow. This helps them with recruitment, and also to observe the characteristics of future lawyers. Their professional profiles, interests, and goals will be fundamentally different than today’s lawyers. Law firms, therefore, gain valuable insights into the future of law.
Many of these firms go on to employ our students or offer them internships. We also run a job shadowing program with some of the firms, which gives the student their first taste of what it is like to work at a law firm.
What do employers want from law graduates?
What law firms appreciate about our students specifically is their profound understanding of legal problems. Critical thinking and work ethic, two characteristics traditionally valued throughout the legal industry, are still very relevant. Today, firms are also looking for multilingual students with a background in business as well as law, experience with public speaking, ability to work on a team, experience leading small clubs or associations, and an international background thanks to exchange programs. It isn’t easy to find a university that provides this kind of training!
Is the degree therefore oriented towards finding jobs for students?
Our approach is not explicitly focused on finding jobs for our students. It is, however, very focused on integrating our students into the legal profession in Spain and internationally. We want our students to know what it’s like to work as a lawyer. We are not looking to find a job for our students through these kinds of exercises or simulations, but we want them to have the best training and the best preparation when the time comes for them to join the professional market. We believe that the training we provide will help our students get into a legal career faster.
“The class is structured in
such a way that it is impossible
for students not to participate actively”
How do you ensure teaching methodology keeps up with the increasingly international practice of law?
Every jurisdiction in Europe is a civil law jurisdiction, meaning that law has been taught for many years in a very traditional and conservative way. The very opposite is true of the teaching methodology in the US, which is based on the case method, where students read cases and debate them in class. At IE University, we try to use that active teaching methodology to teach civil law. Students have to prepare before they come to class, and participate in class debates. What makes our program unique is that we combine an active methodology with the realities of the legal practice.
We encourage students to have an open mind. For this reason, we prepare them in other areas, to make them dynamic and able to give real solutions to multifaceted legal problems. Some of these other areas are mandatory, because they are a complement to the legal course, such as accounting, economics, and management. But on top of this, they have to take courses in humanities. They also have the opportunity to sign up for seminars, workshops, and electives in architecture, psychology, communication, and other areas that are not directly linked to law.
Where do you see the intersection between law and humanities?
A law program contributes to the education of the students not only by making them lawyers, but by helping them discover how society works. They understand the needs and the solutions not only to legal problems but also to social and economic problems.
The legal profession is a profession that provides a service to society. It’s an intellectual profession that requires constant study. The kind of education that we give to students empowers them to make a real, lasting impact on society. Some of our students may go on to become lawmakers, judges, legal consultants, or lawyers. Whatever they do with their degree, they will have the knowledge necessary to make real changes.
What is the profile of an average Bachelor of Laws student?
In general, we have ambitious, hard-working students, who know what they want from life. Many of them have somewhat idealistic goals in terms of what they want to do with their careers, or they’re interested in pursuing a career at a top multinational firm. Our students don’t tend to be financially oriented, but they’re after a sophisticated legal career at a well-known firm. They want to do complex transactions. They do not want to do regular legal administrative work. They are not looking to be part of a large company just for the sake of it, but because they want to make waves.
What are the biggest challenges first-year Bachelor of Laws students face?
In year one, students find the workload to be demanding. Our program is very ambitious and we need to push students to study hard from the very beginning in order for them to keep up with the pace of this undergraduate degree. Not everybody has experienced this kind of academic pressure before, so this makes things difficult for some.
What kind of support can you offer students who are struggling?
Students can work with their professors on the academic content, they can ask for tutorials and they can go over the exams again. We also have an advisor who meets with the students periodically to provide them with academic support, and teach them about study skills.
You studied an MBA at IE Business School. What was your student experience like?
I studied a general MBA, which meant that I had classes in economics, marketing, finance, and accounting. Finance and accounting were extremely demanding for me, and this experience has allowed me to empathize with my students because I know that there is a mental barrier for lawyers when it comes to these subjects. We are not less capable of studying finance and accounting, but when you’ve been told that you aren’t good at something, you end up believing it. I tell my students that if I learned finance, then they can too.
The MBA opened my mind to a very different professional world from the one that I had always known. I studied law, I did a master’s in law, I worked as a lawyer, and I was extremely focused on the legal world. In terms of experience, studying at IE Business School and studying an MBA gave me the opportunity to reinvent myself, see other fields and change my career to do something absolutely different.
**Written by: The Report Company