UCF Raises the Bar in Undergraduate Legal Studies Education
With 16 full-time faculty members, 715 majors and 172 minors, the legal studies program at the University of Central Florida is among the largest undergraduate programs of its kind in the nation.
It is also one the most innovative and nimble, said Alisa Smith, Department of Legal Studies chair.
“Our faculty members are continually looking for new ways to prepare their students to enter the legal field nationally, whether it’s through dynamic course offerings, exciting internships or unique opportunities to publish,” she said.
One innovation is the inclusion of “contemporary legal courses” – courses that touch on current topics in the legal community – in the legal studies curriculum.
They are developed and taught by department faculty members and extraordinary and experienced adjunct instructors, Smith said.
“They [The courses] look at law through different lenses, so they push the boundaries of legal perspectives,” she said. “These are not your typical courses.”
The current courses cover a variety of subjects, including military law, affirmative action, aviation law, adoption law, law and documentaries, and law and emotion.
The department is also in the process of developing new courses to prepare students for a plethora of career paths.
Internships also add richness to UCF legal studies students’ experience, as the department’s internship program continues to grow.
From summer 2016 to spring 2017, 66 students participated in internships. From summer 2017 through spring 2018, that number increased fourfold to 250 students.
Some students participate in internships, not for class credit, but for the opportunity to gain legal experience.
“There is only so much you can learn in a classroom,” said Legal Studies Experimental Learning Coordinator Marc Consalo. “We can teach theory all day in a classroom, but that theory has very little to do with what practicing law is.”
Students intern in a variety of positions and offices, including public and private law offices, public defender’s offices, local and federal government departments, and nonprofit organizations. Currently, there is a student interning with a federal judge.
“The key is getting the experience that they need to be successful in their careers, but also setting them aside from the rest of the pack,” Consalo said.
This year, the legal studies department will introduce its own law journal, where students will submit and edit their own scholarly legal articles.
Professor James Beckman is the faculty advisor for the law journal, although the final product will fully be the work and efforts of the students, he said.
“It’s hard to get something published when you are a college student,” Beckman said. “So the opportunity to publish an article is a unique experience.”
The law journal is open to submissions from any undergraduate students, while the editorial board is composed of nominated legal studies students.
So far, there have been close to 50 submissions, and more students are requesting to submit work for next year’s journal.
“I was floored by the number of submissions,” Beckman said.
In 2012, UCF’s legal studies program was recognized as one of the most extensive undergraduate law offerings in the United States by two national experts who studied the program as part of the state of Florida’s mandated seven-year program review. The program will be reviewed again in 2019.
Written by Drexler B. James ’13