Larry Cunningham is a provost, dean, and professor of law at Charleston School of Law. Cunningham brings a wealth of experience in both teaching and practicing law to this position and has led Charleston Law students to unprecedented success.
According to a news release from Charleston Law, the Office of Bar Admissions of the Supreme Court of South Carolina reported that Charleston School of Law recorded a 77% first-time bar pass rate for the July 2022 bar exam. This was Charleston Law’s highest first-time rate since 2013 and the school’s best since South Carolina first administered the Uniform Bar Exam in February 2017.
Prior to coming to Charleston Law in 2020, Cunningham held multiple titles at St. John’s University School of Law, including professor of legal writing, associate dean for Student Services, associate academic dean, vice dean, and associate dean for Assessment and Institutional Effectiveness.
Before making the switch into teaching law, Cunningham practiced as a Judicial Law Clerk for the U.S. District Court. Later, he was an assistant commonwealth’s attorney for the Alexandria Commonwealth Attorney’s Office. Cunningham last practiced law as assistant district attorney in the Appeals Bureau of the Bronx District Attorney’s Office until 2008 when he began teaching law at St. John’s University School of Law.
In the following Q&A, Cunningham chats with South Carolina Lawyers Weekly about Charleston Law students’ success on the July 2022 bar exam, his switch from practicing law to teaching law, and what entering the workforce looks like for recent law school graduates.
When our students graduate, they head into diverse practices, ranging from large to small firms, government agencies, corporations, public interest organizations, and judicial clerkships. As a result, the employment of our graduates is not as sensitive to fluctuations in particular segments of the employment market. South Carolina’s economy continues to boom, and, as a result, legal hiring in this state is particularly robust.
We help prepare students to secure employment by being proactive. Every student completes a program in the first semester in which they are taught how to write a resume and cover letter, how to interview, and ways to find a job. Students are then assigned a career counselor who works with them on an individualized strategy for achieving their goals. Students supplement their traditional classroom experiences with externships (from which they can pick from over 150 sites) and five clinics.
Graduates’ success on the bar exam is attributable, first and foremost, to the hard work that they put into this difficult standardized exam. We cannot take the bar exam for them. That said, we help them every step of the way. Our curriculum is rigorous. We have many required courses, all in the fundamentals that are tested on the bar exam. There is no fluff in our curriculum. And our curriculum is taught by expert faculty — professors who are not only extremely knowledgeable about the law but how to teach it to students. Our faculty are incredibly dedicated to students’ success. During the bar preparation period, it is not uncommon for faculty (myself included) to be texting late into the night with graduates answering their questions.
We also have a dedicated Office of Academic and Bar Success that helps students from orientation through the bar exam. They teach students how to learn and how to approach the bar exam. We also partner with BarBri to provide a fully paid-for commercial bar prep course to every student upon graduation. Our partnership with BarBri also gives students and faculty access to resources throughout the curriculum. Lastly, we have made a concerted effort to increase the academic credentials of our incoming students. We have had five consecutive years of increasing credentials (LSAT and undergraduate GPA).
I enjoyed every day of the practice of law. As a prosecutor there was never a dull moment. I loved investigating crimes, trying cases, writing briefs, and arguing appeals. But I always felt drawn to the classroom and legal scholarship. As a student in law school, I mostly took seminars and grew to enjoy long-form, scholarly writing. Classroom teaching is, to me, a lot like being in the courtroom (albeit much less adversarial!). It requires understanding your audience, being prepared, and knowing what your goals are.
Charleston School of Law has been a leader in this area. We have offered a Legal Technology for Practice course for some time; it is taught by Katie Brown, our fantastic Associate Dean for Information Resources. Her course brings in experts on legal technology and introduces them to different technologies such as Slack, litigation analytics, metadata tracking, Six Sigma, Agile, and Lean. Professor Allyson Haynes Stuart is an expert in privacy and e-discovery and recently co-hosted a major conference on cybersecurity with an alumnus, Barnaby Page, and his firm, SentinelOne. In addition, all students have access to the Procertas Legal Technology Assessments program, which trains students on the basics of technology tools in law practice.
I don’t think I ever truly “relax” while on the job, but one of my favorite new places on campus is our brand new, state-of-the-art law library and student center. It has lots of places for students to study, meet with each other in groups, relax, get ready for class, and receive expert advice from our law librarians and the Office of Career Services. And being in the heart of downtown Charleston, we are all able to enjoy the fun and excitement of this great city.