Legal Practice Specialty

Legal Practice Specialty: Litigation, Transactions & Alternative Dispute Resolution
Conference on Mediation Practice at TJSL

At its core, law school teaches students to research, write and argue like a lawyer. Thomas Jefferson School of Law's faculty and professional library staff take great pride in teaching these critical skills. The law school's legal writing program includes full-time faculty teaching legal writing and reasoning in the first semester and, in the second semester, experienced practitioners teaching persuasive brief writing. This program provides students with more credit hours for their written work than almost any other law school in the nation. This means TJSL students have the unique opportunity to spend more time developing the fundamental skills of legal reasoning, research, and writing during their first year. In addition, after the first year, every student (1) completes a substantial paper, brief, or series of shorter writing assignments, under the direct supervision of a faculty member; and (2) participates in a least one practical skills course such as trial practice, mediation, negotiation, appellate advocacy, contract drafting, client counseling, and negotiation. Each of these courses is taught by a faculty member with vast experience both as teachers and as practicing lawyers who regularly use the skills that they teach. Our professional librarians offer multiple sections of advanced legal research and research "boot camps," enabling upper level students to hone this critical skill. And law review students receive special instruction in scholarly writing and may work directly with a professor on a one-to-one basis in writing their law review notes.

Beyond these basic skills, the law school provides a rich array of opportunities to gain practical experience in carefully supervised environments, including skills-based classes, clinical programs, and competition teams. TJSL offers three clinics covering the spectrum from litigation to transactional work to ADR.

Veterans Legal Assistance Clinic (VLAC): The VLAC consists of both a fieldwork and a classroom component. In the fieldwork component, students provide civil legal assistance to the residents of Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD). VVSD is a well-respected and highly successful transitional program for homeless veterans. VLAC students meet and consult with VVSD residents with regard to virtually any type of legal problem. Students then provide full service legal representation to VVSD residents and alumni in a variety of areas, including: family law (child support and visitation, dissolutions of marriage, guardianships); administrative law (Social Security, SSI, VA benefits, military discharge upgrades, Food Stamps); offender reentry (probation modifications, expungements); and limited criminal representation. Students are certified to provide direct client representation through the California State Bar’s Practical Training for Law Students program. The students are supervised in their fieldwork by Professor Steve Berenson (a tenured faculty member and licensed California attorney), and a clinic attorney. 

Mediation Program: This program enhances students’ dispute resolution competency by affording an opportunity to mediate small claims court cases and creating networking opportunities with seasoned ADR professionals. Students learn mediation skills through an intensive 40-hour introductory training that combines traditional lecture with role-playing, simulation, and other experiential exercises. The students then use those skills to resolve disputes on a supervised basis through local court mediation programs. This practical internship is supplemented by an Advanced Mediation seminar that links theory with practice and offers an opportunity to reflect on, critique, and receive feedback on the dispute resolution experience at court.

Small Business Law Center: This program affords students the opportunity to assist individuals and small businesses with transactional work ranging from corporate formation to trademark licensing. The goals of the Small Business Law Center are to: (1) provide upper division students with greater opportunities for practical skill development; and (2) serve the unmet legal needs of the local community of low- and moderate-income entrepreneurs, small businesses, and community-based non-profits that cannot otherwise hire lawyers at market rates. Under the supervision of Professor Luz Herrera, third-year law students represent clients on a range of legal services, including contract review, drafting and negotiation, helping clients navigate regulatory requirements, particularly in the areas of licensing and employment, and all aspects of entity formation. The initial focus of the clinic is on community economic development and plans to grow in areas such as intellectual property, tax, and estate planning.

Field Placement:  TJSL’s Field Placement (commonly known as the Externship) Program was recently ranked 5th in the nation for placement of full time students. Participating students take part in both class instruction and supervised field work. The program is overseen by the School’s Director of Externship and Pro Bono programs, Judybeth Tropp. Placements include positions with local prosecutors and public defender offices as well as experienced attorneys who specialize in family law, transactional law, tax, estate planning, personal injury, immigration, complex litigation, real estate law, corporate, and intellectual property practice. 

Other externship opportunities have included:

  • Casa Cornelia (a not-for-profit where among other services, attorneys work with refugees on asylum petitions); The Family Law Facilitator (a not-for-profit attorney run program assisting clients with family law issues);
  • The Family Justice Center (a project of the local City Attorney’s Office, where students work with clients who are seeking restraining orders and other legal services regarding issues surrounding domestic violence);
  • Elder Law (a not-for-profit run by attorneys providing legal services for clients sixty five and older);
  • The Employee Rights Center (a not-for-profit assisting clients who have been improperly dismissed from their work and clients in wage disputes with their employers; students also represent clients at administrative hearings); 
  • The delinquency and dependency branches of the Public Defender’s and the Alternate Public Defender’s Offices;
  • Bio-tech firms’ internal legal departments;
  • The San Diego Volunteer Lawyers Program;
  • The Legal Aid Society;
  • The YWCA Domestic Violence Program;
  • The California Innocence Project; and Housing Opportunities Collaborative (a not-for-profit housing collaborative working on housing issues, property rights, and foreclosure and loan modifications).

TJSL also has three active competition teams in the areas of trial practice (Mock Trial Team), brief writing and oral arguments (Moot Court Society), and negotiation, mediation, and arbitration (Alternative Dispute Resolution Team). Teams travel throughout the country representing the law school that allows them to build practice skills as they learn as part of a supervised team.

The TJSL Library also serves as an invaluable resource for students. Libraries, we often think, are all about books, and the TJSL library has over 250,000 volumes and volume equivalents as well as a vast array of on-line database access. This collection covers every imaginable need a law student might have, from course work, to law clerking jobs, to entertainment (check out the popular reading materials and legal themed movies). Of course, wireless internet access is available throughout the library. Students can even search the catalog and access the databases over the internet from their home or anywhere else in the world. For law students, however, the library's collection of books and on-line resources may be less important than the availability of professional library staff to assist students with their research. The TJSL library is open 7 days, and 115 hours, per week. For 88 of those hours, at least one professional research librarian is available to assist students. Both of these figures rank number 1 among California law schools, and 16th and 17th nationwide.


Advanced Legal Research

Appellate Advocacy

Civil Procedure & California Civil Procedure

Contract Drafting

Field Placement

Law Practice Management

Legal Writing I & Legal Writing II


Mock Trial

Moot Court

Negotiation: Theory & Skills

Pre-trial Practice

Solo Practice

Supreme Court Advocacy

Small Business Law Clinic

Trial Practice & Advanced Trial Practice

Veterans Legal Assistance Clinic

Many substantive elective classes building legal practice components into their curriculum.

TJSL faculty teaching skills classes, and our professional librarians, all enjoy interacting with students outside of class. Our open door policy is genuine and intended to ensure that each student gains a firm grounding in basic legal practice skills necessary to successfully enter the legal profession.

Professor Ellen Waldman (Mediation) founded and supervises the school's mediation program, which affords students an opportunity to mediate disputes in small claims court. Prior to joining TJSL she clerked for the Honorable Myron Bright of the Eighth Circuit in Fargo, North Dakota, and practiced law in Washington, D.C., where she received mediation training. She was subsequently awarded a scholarship in 1990 to pursue an LL.M. in mediation and served as a fellow at the Institute of Law, Psychiatry, and Public Policy in Charlottesville, Virginia and at the medical ethics department at the University of Virginia Medical School. Professor Waldman speaks, trains and publishes in the areas of mediation and medical ethics.

Professor William Slomanson (California Civil Procedure, Civil Procedure) served as an attorney for a Los Angeles insurance defense firm before joining the Thomas Jefferson School of Law faculty. Prior to law school, Professor Slomanson served in the Navy and received the Navy Achievement Medal. In 1992, he was elected editor of the American Society of International Law’s section on the United Nations Decade of International Law, a position which he still holds, and served as chair of the section from 1995 to 2006. He was appointed to the California Law Revision Commission’s Civil Procedure Panel of Experts. In 2002, he began teaching in Kosovo each summer, where he is now a Visiting Professor at the Pristina University. In 2006-2007, he lectured in Moscow, Budapest and Istanbul. In Fall 2007, he was appointed to serve as a Corresponding Editor for the American Society of International Law’s International Legal Materials. He has published extensively in the fields of civil procedure and international law, having written eleven books.

Professor David Steinberg (Supreme Court Advocacy) has been teaching for nearly 20 years at the Thomas Jefferson and Pittsburgh law schools. An innovative teacher, Prof. Steinberg has long incorporated clinical components into his civil procedure, criminal procedure, and civil rights class. His new course in Supreme Court advocacy will provide opportunities for students to perfect their oral argument skills while learning the process of the U.S. Supreme Court. He has published more than 20 articles on topics ranging from civil procedure to the religion clauses to the history of the Fourth Amendment.

Professor Steve Berenson (Veterans Legal Assistance Clinic) a national expert on clinical education founded and now supervises TJSL's Veterans Legal Assistance Clinic, which provides a range of legal services to veterans living in San Diego communities. Following graduation from law school (where he served as Trial Operations Director of the Harvard Defenders), Professor Berenson clerked for Justice Edith W. Fine of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. He then spent more than five years as an Assistant Massachusetts Attorney General, where he focused on civil litigation in the areas of administrative, constitutional and consumer protection law. During that time, Professor Berenson also served as a Supreme Court Fellow with the National Association of Attorneys General. He then spent two years as a teaching fellow in Harvard Law School's Lawyering Program, and four years at Nova Southeastern University's Shepard Broad Law Center, teaching in the school's Lawyering Skills and Values Program and its Children and Family Law Clinic. Before running the clinic, he taught legal writing at TJSL.

Associate Professor Ilene Durst (Director Legal Writing II Program, Legal Writing I & II) focuses her scholarship on language and narrative theory, with particular application to appellate advocacy, immigration law and the literary representation of the legal culture. Before joining TJSL she clerked for the Supreme Court Appellate Division, Second Department and had extensive litigation and immigration law experience with law firms and public service organizations in New York. She currently directs the adjunct faculty teaching the second semester persuasive writing course.

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Linda Keller (Legal Writing I) served as a clerk and supervisor in the Legal Research Office of the Connecticut Judicial Department and later taught legal writing for four years at the University of Miami School of Law, where she also served as Fellow of the Center for the Study of Human Rights, before joining TJSL.

Professor Ben Templin (Legal Writing I, Contract Drafting) practiced corporate law at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, representing venture capital funds as investor's counsel. Before joining TJSL he taught Legal Methods to undergraduates at the University of California, Berkeley, and his web site ( provides instruction in exam writing techniques to first-year law students. Before going to law school, Professor Templin was a director of online services at Ziff-Davis Publishing Company and editor-in-chief of MacGuide, a Macintosh computing magazine.

Associate Professor Claire Wright (Legal Writing I) was a law clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where she worked primarily for then-Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Before coming to TJSL, she was also a partner at the international law firm of Baker & McKenzie, where she practiced both real estate and international trade law, and the consulting firm of Ernst & Young LLP, where she directed the firm's World Trade Organization (WTO) Center, and advised a large number of countries and companies regarding WTO issues. She is a member of a committee of the American Law Institute, and has worked on a variety of human rights matters for Amnesty International.

Associate Professor Sandra Rierson (Legal Writing I) clerked for the Honorable Richard A. Gadbois, in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles and subsequently practiced law with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges, also in Los Angeles, where she became a partner in 1998.

Assistant Dean of Academic Success and Bar Preparation Leah Christensen (Legal Writing I) clerked for Justice William A. Bablitch of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. She then practiced in the areas of medical malpractice, environmental law, and public education law. She has previously taught legal writing at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and the University of Wisconsin Law School and is recognized nationally as an expert in law student learning. She has conducted extensive research in the areas of legal reading and its correlation to law school success; law students with learning disabilities; goal orientations and its relationship to law school success; and cognitive strategies to enhance law school performance.

Associate Professor Luz Herrera (Small Business Contracts Drafting; Civil Justice Seminar; Seminar on Community Economic Development) has worked at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on empowerment zones and at the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office. Before coming to Thomas Jefferson, she opened her own practice serving the under-privileged community in Compton, California. She is director of TJSL's clinic that provides legal services to underprivileged communities in San Diego County, The Small Business Law Center.

Assistant Professor of Lawyering Jeff Slattery (Legal Writing I & II; IP Licensing Drafting) has scholarly interests in the area of rhetoric theory and practice. He has practiced intellectual property law and taught substantive courses in law and business to artists, musicians, authors, and filmmakers, including engagements with California Lawyers for the Arts and the University of Southern California.

Visiting Assistant Professor Priscilla Vargas Wrosch (Legal Writing I & II) clerked for the Honorable Magistrate Judge James F. Stiven in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California and practiced law with Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, LLP and later Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann, LLP, where she practiced in the areas of Corporate Restructuring and Securities Fraud Litigation.

Adjunct Professor & Director, Clinical Skills Training Program Paul Spiegelman (Negotiation Theory and Skills, Moot Court, Pre-Trial Practice) has been teaching legal practice skills for three decades and regularly handles death penalty appeals to the California Supreme Court. Prof. Spiegelman is the director of the law school's highly successful Moot Court and Alternative Dispute Resolution teams.

Adjunct Professor Michael Begovich (Trial Practice, Advanced Trial Practice) is a Deputy Public Defender for the County of San Diego.

Adjunct Professor Julie D. Cobalt (Introduction to Mediation) received her law degree from California Western School of Law. She also has a masters degree from Monterey Institute of International Studies (summa cum laude), and her bachelor’s degree from Hamline University. She has been a mediation trainer with the National Conflict Resolution Center and with the National Conflict Resolution Center, San Diego Superior Court, as well as San Diego City Attorney. She is also engaged in private practice with an emphasis in civil litigation.

Adjunct Professor Zuzana Colaprete (Accounting for Lawyers, Federal Income Taxation, Estate Planning & Taxation, Estate & Gift Tax, Accounting for Lawyers, and Trusts) received her Masters in Law Degree in Taxation from the University of San Diego School of Law; her MSBA in Accounting, San Diego State University and her B.A. from Hofstra University. She is a Certified Public Accountant and a former tax attorney with the District Counsel Office of the Internal Revenue Service. Previously employed with PricewaterhouseCoopers, she is currently in private practice with an emphasis in all levels of I.R.S. representation, tax planning and estate planning.

Adjunct Professor Karen Gallagher (Legal Writing II) is a TJSL graduate and a pro se clerk at the U.S. District Court in San Diego.

Adjunct Professor Harry Zanville (Negotiations Theory & Skills) received his law degree at the University of Toledo and his bachelor’s degree at Westminster College. He has been in private practice and also served as a former consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Adjunct Professor Chris Ramey teaches Advanced Civil Discovery Practice in California.

Director JudyBeth Tropp (Judicial Internship & Clinical Education Seminars) received her law degree from Fordham University School of Law and her bachelors degree from Smith College (cum laude). She is a former assistant district attorney with the Appeals Bureau in Brooklyn, New York and former deputy public defender, with the County of Los Angeles.

Associate Director (Bar Studies) Mike Neal teaches Lawyering Skills; Pre-Trial Civil Practice.