PUBLISHED:January 10, 2011

More than 250 students attend Wintersession

More than 250 Duke Law students cut their winter breaks short to return to campus for three days of professional skills development and networking as part of a new program dubbed Wintersession.

The program centered on a slate of short, intense courses that emphasized interactivity. In Deposition Practice, students took simulated depositions and received feedback from practitioners. In Capital Markets Financing and Advanced Business Strategy, students worked through a complex simulated business transaction. All courses were fee-free and worth a half-credit.

Non-credit programs included a session on getting and keeping a job and a discussion about finding work-life balance.

“Wintersession served as a chance to learn how practitioners attack specific problems that arise in the legal environment,” said Claudia Ahwireng ’11. “Also, the extracurricular programs were a helpful way to get some tips on professionalism and gaining confidence as a young attorney.”

Ahwireng took Sandra Johnson’s Deposition Practice course. Johnson ’75, is a partner at Johnson & Johnson in Raleigh who also teaches Trial Advocacy through the National Institute for Trial Advocacy. She emphasized role-playing in her Wintersession course, taking the students through a number of deposition scenarios involving difficult witnesses, difficult attorneys, and working with interpreters.

Another of Johnson’s students, Negar Amir-Haeri LLM ’11, said she appreciated the practical nature of Johnson’s advice, on such matters as the etiquette involved in deciding a location for a deposition and the strategy behind deposition seating arrangements. Many of the deposition skills she learned will likely translate into her primary field of interest, international arbitration, said Amir-Haeri.

“Understanding how to ask useful questions, understanding how to build towards a desired result, these are very helpful things to have practiced,” she said.

The most unusual program? Golf for Professional Success, in which students learned the basics of golf -- and how to build business relationships on the links. This lunch program was sponsored by 1983 alumni Chris and Valerie Mason, and includes free follow-up golf lessons for five men and five women who are novice golfers.

Guest instructors and speakers included two former judges, eight law firm partners, four in-house and general counsel, the associate director of enforcement for the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the chair of the U.S. International Trade Commission. Fourteen of the instructors were Duke Law alumni. Duke Law Professor Jim Cox taught an Introduction to Accounting course using the casebook he wrote.

Dean David F. Levi sees the extraordinary student response to Wintersession as evidence of students’ eagerness to build professional and practice skills.

“We want to give our students every opportunity to hit the ground running when they begin their legal careers,” he said. “The courses focused on particular professional skills and covered topics that don’t necessarily require an entire semester of study. And it was a fun way for them to further develop as professionals and lawyers.”

Wintersession is just one of a variety of programs Levi has implemented that integrate professional development into the Law School’s curriculum.