Innovative UC Law SF Program Helps First-Year Law Students Succeed

Associate Dean of Academic Skills Instruction & Support Jennifer Freeland explained an issue-spotting learning exercise during her torts class for first-year law students in February 2023.

At UC Law San Francisco, an innovative program helps first-year law students succeed by teaching the precise skills needed to excel in classes, perform better on tests including the California bar, and, eventually, practice law.

The Sack Program deploys a small army of law professors, academic skill instructors, and upper-division law students who guide first-year students. They teach 1Ls how to distill and synthesize legal rules, spot relevant issues, analyze legal problems, write clear and organized answers, and adopt effective test-taking strategies.

Sack Fellows Ariana Metheny ’24 and Henry Nibbelin ’24 assisted students during a learning exercise in Associate Dean Jennifer Freeland’s torts class in February 2023.

“The Sack Program has been very beneficial to me in my transition to my first year of law school,” said Sarah Fahn ’25. “I am grateful that UC Law SF has this program for all 1Ls to help bridge the gap for a new style of learning that may otherwise be very hard to navigate alone.”

Since it first launched as a pilot in 2015, the program has led to vast improvements in grades and bar passage rates among UC Law SF students.

Created by UC Law SF, the Sack Program builds on the teachings of required classes – including torts, property law, contracts, criminal law, or civil procedure – by adding an extra credit hour of academic skills training to courses. The program also includes one-on-one meetings with upper-division law students who work as teaching fellows and provide personalized feedback for writing assignments.

John Herbstritt ’23 helped law students master legal analysis and writing skills as a Sack Fellow in Spring and Fall 2022.

It’s named after UC Law SF alumnus Jerome Sack ’48, a former dean of Lincoln Law School who used to tutor law students in the Tenderloin in the 1960s and ‘70s. His former students created a teaching assistant fund in Sack’s memory to celebrate his dedication to teaching law.

“You could be the smartest person in the world but not know how to write for a law school exam and get a bad grade,” said John Herbstritt ’23.

Herbstritt is one of several upper-division law students recruited to serve as Sack Teaching Fellows each year. The fellows meet at least twice a semester with first-year students. They give personalized feedback for writing assignments, provide moral support, and offer advice on how to survive and thrive in law school. They also alert professors and skills instructors if a student needs extra help in a particular area.

Professor David Takacs developed the concept for the Sack Program in 2015.

The program’s concept was developed by UC Law SF Professor David Takacs, who recognized that many first-year students were not mastering legal analysis – a skill that professors did not explicitly teach in classes, “The whole point of the Sack Program is to be as transparent as possible in teaching you not just the doctrinal stuff, but what to do with that stuff – teaching the core skill of legal analysis and how to use it.”

The Sack Program is designed and implemented by Associate Dean Jennifer Freeland, who heads the Office of Academic Skills Instruction and Support (OASIS) at UC Law SF. Freeland, who also teaches a Torts Sack course, said the program helps students develop skills that will serve them well in law school and beyond.

“We’re laying an early foundation in this class because this is the beginning of their professional careers,” Freeland said. “These are skills to pass exams and do well in law school, but also to practice law.”