In response to the American Bar Association's challenge to bring more practical training into legal education, Duke offers third-year students an opportunity that is unique among elite law schools: to develop a "Capstone Project." Students work closely with a faculty member on an intensive, real-life project that builds on previous study and integrates academic and practical learning.
Third-year Capstone Projects provide students the foundational skills for the transition between law school and the beginning of their professional careers, whether in private practice, public service, teaching, or a non-law position. Projects will introduce students to complex legal problem-solving comparable to the work expected of young scholars, associates at top law firms, and junior lawyers at national public interest law firms or major regulatory agencies. Although the precise parameters of each individual project will be flexible, the program will have core requirements for each project, including a substantial final written work product that reflects the process of planning, analysis, implementation, and evaluation. All projects will be supervised by a member of the governing faculty, and in some cases with the assistance of outside experts in the substantive area of the project.
In undertaking a Capstone Project, students will spend a substantial portion of time over the semester or academic year engaged in intensive legal work in an area of professional interest. Capstone Projects will allow third-year law students, working alone or in teams of up to four students, to translate what they have learned during the first two years of law school into practical legal skills through in-depth exploration of a particular area of the law or public policy, while expanding their problem solving and team-building skills.
Students ordinarily will recruit a member of the Duke Law School faculty who teaches or writes in the substantive area of their projects to supervise their work. When that is not possible, students may recruit a mentor or mentors in the substantive area of the project from outside the Law School to work with their faculty advisor. Outside mentors can be alumni of the Law School or other professionals with no prior relationship with the Law School; however, the faculty advisor will be responsible for monitoring the project throughout all phases, including reviewing written status reports and participating in face-to-face meetings with the project team. The Capstone Year Committee must approve outside mentors.
Professor Kathy Bradley will serve as administrator for the Capstone Projects program. She will assist students to design Capstone Projects and monitor students’ progress in implementing the projects. The Capstone Year Committee will assist Professor Bradley in performing these functions. The members of the Committee are: Professors Jim Coleman (chair), Andrew Foster, Carolyn McAllaster, Bob Mosteller, Jeff Powell, and Neil Vidmar.
Capstone Projects should distinguish students who undertake them as particularly well prepared to make the transition from law school to the practice of law.