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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bringing LRW into the Doctrinal Classroom and Some Final Thoughts

This is the last post in my series on LRW.  In it, I will share some of my own plans to bring LRW into the doctrinal classroom and offer some final thoughts for doctrinal faculty to keep in mind about LRW.

First, some cautions against bringing practical lawyering into the doctrinal classroom:

  • Doing so is difficult because it may require more time and effort giving feedback to students.  (I believe that more feedback is a good thing, but descriptively, it is difficult and time-consuming.)
  • Doing so is difficult because most standard law school teaching materials (casebooks and teaching manuals) don't obviously lend themselves to it.
  • Doing so may be difficult, particularly for junior faculty, if the law school is traditionalist.
  • Doing so may require professors to be highly selective in the materials and issues they can cover.
  • Doing so may be difficult if the professor doesn't have experience with practical lawyering skills.

All of that said, I have decided to give it a try.

This semester, a primary goal of my Legislation course is to prepare students to craft briefs and memos interpreting statutes.  To be sure, this is probably an implicit goal of any class that focuses on statutory interpretation.  But I am making it explicit, and the final weeks of the course will be devoted to constructing legal briefs or memos addressing difficult questions of statutory interpretation.  We will deal with several different cases and issues, working as a class, in small groups, and individually.  I will also give out real briefs and have students deconstruct them.

The students seem very eager to get to this part of the class, as am I; and I think the practical payoff will make the extra work worthwhile. 

The real cost is that I can only cover a fraction of the casebook (Eskridge/Frickey/Garrett).  We began the course with an introductory section, then moved to the theories of statutory interpretation, and then to the nuts-and-bolts doctrines of interpretation.  In order to make room for the practical skills section at the end, I have had to skip everything else in the casebook (which is a lot).  In this case, the tradeoff is worth it, because I'm fine with the class being about Statutory Interpretation alone, rather than a broader Legislation class.

However, when I teach my other (much bigger, enrollment-wise) courses--Civ Pro II (the Rules of Civil Procedure) and Con Law II (basically the Bill of Rights, minus a lot of stuff that gets covered elsewhere)--it will be more difficult to integrate practical lawyering skills.  I plan to use attorneys' briefs and pleadings in Civ Pro, and will likely require students to draft a complaint, answer, discovery requests, and so forth.  But I can't see how to do much more than that without skimping on breadth of coverage.  And beyond deconstructing briefs, I'm not really sure how to integrate LRW into Con Law. 

I am eager to hear what others have been successful (or unsuccessful) with.

Finally, for those who are uninterested in integrating practical lawyering skills and who don't spend much time thinking about LRW, please just keep the following in mind:

  • Doctrinal courses and LRW are closely related and mutually reinforce one another;
  • Doctrinal professors should reinforce the importance of LRW and other practical lawyering classes when possible;
  • The LRW course teaches students crucial practical skills that are central to legal education--it is not a throw-away course;
  • Teaching LRW is difficult and extremely time-consuming;
  • Students spend a lot of time on LRW (and should);
  • In many cases, first-year students only get serious feedback from LRW instructors;
  • LRW instructors often get to know students better than doctrinal faculty do, and may know if students are having personal or academic difficulties before any other member of the faculty or administration;
  • Students who do well in LRW are often (but not always) the same students who do well in doctrinal classes.

Thanks to everyone who has read all of these posts (hi mom!) and for the provocative comments along the way.  Go hug an LRW instructor.

Posted by Hillel Levin on October 23, 2008 at 04:33 PM in Hillel Levin, Life of Law Schools, Teaching Law | Permalink


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In my Legislation class, the writing assignments are not instead of a final exam; they don't count towards the grade (beyond normal class participation), but are practical cases putting the theories, doctrines, and skills they have learned to use. Throughout the semester, we use problems in the book to do this; but at the end, we are going to put it all together for a couple of weeks with three or four practice cases. My goal isn't to have them "write" per se, but rather to properly structure a brief, using the tools they have learned. We will do these in class (mostly), alternating with full class exercises, small group exercises, and individual exercises.

However, the final exam IS a writing assignment. It will be an 8 hour exam that requires them to draft a brief in a complicated case, after getting a package of materials containing everything they need.

I would say that this isn't writing in the narrow sense of LRW, but rather in the larger "lawyering skills" sense. We spent a lot of time on doctrine and theory (and Supreme Court cases); how do you practically use this stuff as a lawyer? That's the point.

Yes--we should discuss and coordinate!

Posted by: Hillel Levin | Oct 28, 2008 11:11:26 AM

Sounds terrific. We should probably coordinate since i do a very barebones version of this in 2nd-semester Torts. One question: are these writing assignments instead of a final exam? I think that's what I'd do -- the more we can get final exams out of upper-level courses the better.

Posted by: Jason | Oct 28, 2008 11:02:01 AM

Hillel, I am a firm believer that the more writing our students do, the better.

In the late 1980s, when I was a professor at South Carolina, we divided the entering class into 8 sections of 30 and had tenured and tenure-track faculty teach LRW in connection with a standard first-course. I did Civil Procedure (both semesters, 6 credits) this way twice. Even though I had two 3Ls to help me, it was time consuming and really impacted my time for research and writing, especially in a semester when I was teaching a second 2 or 3 credit course. Still, I think it was a very positive learning experience for the students, there are plenty of drafting exercises you can do with Civ. Pro., I got to know those 30 students very well, and I think the students were prepared to hit the ground running if they had a law-related job after their first year. On the other hand, having a CP class of 70 do much more than draft a complaint, answer, perhaps a short memo in support of a summary judgment motion and some simple interrogatories is a challenge. I recommend drafting model documents for each exercise, hiring a strong 2L or 3L to be your TA and have him or her mark up the students' drafts, and then use class time to discuss the common problems - use our great classroom technology to show them.

It has been many years but in my upper level classes (Copyright, Administrative Law, Remedies) I used to have my students write three 5 to 8 page office memos during the semester instead of having a final exam - space them out at 1/3, 2/3 and at the end of the semester. I would draft the problem - the memo from the senior partner - and all the students would be working on the same problem. I would give them a week to 10 days and have the memos turned in at the start of class.
I tried to draft the problem based on the casebook and any supplemental materials I had distributed in class instead of expecting or requiring outside research. If the class was relatively large - 50 or more - I would allow them to pair up but making it explicit that they would receive the same grade. In some years I did not worry about anonymous grading but in other years I figured out a way to handle anonymous grading with these office memos. This was, as with teaching legal writing in connection with a regular first year course, very time consuming ... grading, written feedback takes time ... but I felt that what I was having my students do in these classes was much more like what they would be doing as new associates or clerks instead of writing answers to a series of exam questions over a 3 or 4 hour period.

Good luck with your Legislation writing exercises and see next week
at school. I am enjoying your blog.

Posted by: David Shipley | Oct 25, 2008 1:58:48 PM

Good luck. It's the right thing to do. It will be a lot of work, and will earn you no reward, but your students will appreciate it.

Posted by: anon | Oct 24, 2008 3:37:24 PM

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