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Friday, May 24, 2013

Skilled Labors

This blog post is actually a blatant attempt at crowdsourcing ideas, but hopefully one you will also find useful. When I was a first year law student, my "skills training" included one stab at writing a memo to a partner in a law firm, and one appellate brief. They were graded, at least, so one was required to take the exercise seriously, but that was it. There should be room for a bit more.

I teach contracts in the second semester here at FSU. I have four credit hours, so I already feel a bit pressed for time in covering everything that must be covered. This year, as I mentioned in a previous post, I added two memos, one graded, and one ungraded, that included a client counseling element as well as legal analysis. That was good, but I'm not sure it was quite right.

What "skills training" have you added to your courses, first year or otherwise? What would you most likely add first, if you could? Contract drafting? Statute drafting? Client counseling letters? Pleadings and responses? Dispute resolution? Negotiation? And what's stopping you?

Posted by Jake Linford on May 24, 2013 at 11:04 AM | Permalink

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We add a credit for a full on practicum. Alas, I can't tell you what's in mine, because I'm teaching contracts for the first time next year. My colleagues tell me that they have between 4 and 5 assignments, but the size and difficulty vary. Some take forms and tweak them to match facts. Some draft clauses only, but from scratch. I'll probably do a mix of that.

Posted by: Michael Risch | May 24, 2013 11:18:09 AM

How about using a textbook that is oriented toward gradually teaching skills, such as the Schwartz and Riebe.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | May 24, 2013 12:22:27 PM

Thanks, Scott. I noticed your review of the Schwartz and Riebe book last year. Have you tried it in class?

Posted by: Jake Linford | May 24, 2013 1:22:50 PM

No, I don't teach contracts.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | May 24, 2013 1:34:54 PM

Jake, it's great that you are thinking through this and impressive that you did a graded assignment. I have not been so bold, but have tried a couple of things. When I taught Contracts in two terms, I used a negotiation exercise from Knapp Crystal and Prince (my casebook) that involved good faith (you see the Chuck Knapp influence there) and conditions. I had them write pre- and post- evaluations as well as write out the settlement agreements or last-offer statements.

I also assigned my own drafting exercise after teaching Nanakuli asking students to write language for Shell Oil that would "solve" or "prevent" the problem Shell ran into in the case (which of course is not possible, at least not without creating a host of other problems). That type of exercise is nice because it is relatively concise, makes them apply cases/rules prospectively, and has them struggle with careful drafting.

What I struggle with is how to match the right skill with the right doctrinal material. For instance, I find drafting is particularly useful in teaching express conditions, negotiations may be better for breach/remedies, etc. All this said, now that I teach K in 4 hours in the first term only, I focus “skills” on the skill of exam-taking and a little bit of contract reading (using a K from the casebook or the Tampa bay Rays-St Petersburg stadium contract). Those are less interesting exercises, but in the first term I feel more cautious.

Anyone who wants to explore extensive skills in a Contracts class should look at the Skills & Values book by Bill Woodward and my friend and colleague Candace Zierdt. Candace manages to use it very effectively in a 4-hour format, but I am simple not as good at this as she and have not tried it yet.

Posted by: Jamie Fox | May 24, 2013 3:05:13 PM

If you’re interested in adding a short contract drafting component to your contracts class, you could use my book, An Introduction to Contract Drafting (see http://www.westacademic.com/Professors/ProductDetails.aspx?productid=188038). Our legal writing program (Arizona) uses it.

Posted by: Bill Sjostrom | May 26, 2013 1:10:58 AM

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