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STEPPS Program Overview

The California Western curriculum strives to ensure every student leaves law school with the ethical knowledge and skills training necessary to practice law. At the center of California Western’s unique sequential experiential curriculum, the STEPPS Program bridges the gap between the first-year legal skills program and third-year clinical and internship programs.

Structure of the STEPPS Program

In the STEPPS Program, second-year students study the substantive law of legal ethics and develop interviewing and counseling skills by working on simulated cases under the guidance of an experienced practitioner. The four-credit course includes three credits of classroom instruction and one credit of experiential education.

First Year

During the Legal Skills course first-year students learn the basic structure of legal arguments and legal writing. They also develop the analytical ability necessary to understanding all substantive law.

Second Year

As part of the STEPPS Program students act as lawyers, under the guidance of an experienced practitioner, and take part in simulated cases.

Third Year

During the third year at California Western, students continue their experiential legal education through clinics, externships or advanced simulation courses. These programs allow students to act as lawyers on real cases under the direct supervision and guidance of an experienced practitioner.

Innovative Teaching and Learning

The STEPPS Program uses a variety of teaching and learning methods. The classroom sessions, led by Professor Casey, focus on solving ethical dilemmas through a collaborative discussion. The law office sessions draw on an array of pedagogical methods, including the “fish-bowl,” role-plays, video recording sessions, video-based evaluation, “quick-writes,” individual reflections, and peer review. Students learn through active engagement and reflecting on their experiences. 

Learning Methodology

  • Students develop skills through a three-stage methodology: prepare, perform and reflect.
  • Students prepare through readings and a discussion of general principles.
  • Students perform through formative exercises and video-recorded assignments.
  • Students reflect by critically evaluating their performances and by receiving feedback from experienced practitioners.
  • Through advanced simulations, students develop the competence to perform legal skills and the confidence to put those skills to use in practice.

Students learn via a "standardized client” model, adapted from the standardized patient model in medical schools. Students video record interactions with an actor playing the role of a client. The recordings allow for advanced analysis, critique, feedback and provide an opportunity to compare different approaches to the same client.


  • In addition to the skills of interviewing and counseling, students improve their legal research and writing skills through written assignments.
  • Students will use the prepare, perform and reflect methodology in written assignments.


  • Develops the ethical norm of collegiality.
  • Promotes creativity through brainstorming.
  • Focuses on collaboration and teamwork.
  • Includes supportive feedback.

Professionalism and Professional Development

  • The law office setting allows students to develop professionalism in a safe environment.
  • Students hone fundamental skills necessary for the practice of law.
  • Students build a portfolio of work that can be used to apply for externships, summer internships, and post-graduation legal employment.  

STEPPS Program Areas of Focus

  1. Substantive law governing lawyers, including the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility, the California Rules of Professional Conduct, the Model Code of Judicial Conduct, court cases, and ethical opinions related to professional responsibility and ethics.
  2. Legal skills, including legal analysis, legal research, different types of legal writing, interviewing, counseling, problem-solving, and strategic planning.
  3. Values of the legal profession, including collegiality, collaboration, preventive practice, integrity, diligence, and reflection.
  4. Professional development and career satisfaction, including norms and expectations of the profession, career choices, matching personal expectations to career trajectories, and the value of pro bono public service.

Students in the STEPPS Program Can Expect the Following: 

  • To learn the rules of professional responsibility and norms of ethical behavior in the legal profession.
  • To develop skills of legal writing and research, interviewing and counseling.
  • To learn through experience by working on simulated cases.
  • To integrate the professional norms and values of collaboration, collegiality and professionalism through interactions with an experienced lawyer.
  • To foster the development of a professional identity through a series of reflective assignments.
  • To engage with an experienced mentor on a regular basis.
  • To explore issues of career satisfaction.

Five Basic Principles of the STEPPS Program

  1. Focus on the knowledge, skills, and values necessary to the practice of law.
  2. Integrate experienced practitioners into the mission of legal education.
  3. Sequence the curriculum so each phase of the curriculum builds on the previous phase and prepares for the next phase.
  4. Utilize innovative teaching and learning techniques.
  5. Foster the development of professional identity.