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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Law School Classes on a Workshop Model

I'm thinking of teaching a future class on a workshop model, and I'm wondering if others have experience teaching a class like this.   My idea is to have a small group of students write a report for an organization with legal/policy research needs, in a setting less intensive than a full clinic.  For example, students might prepare a report for a non-profit shelter on domestic violence laws in a state, with recommendations for reform.  For a municipality, students might research innovative zoning laws from other jurisdictions and provide reform recommendations for the city.  Workshops could be on a wide variety of subjects and could be tailored to the professor's substantive area of expertise.

The benefit of a workshop model, I think, is that students would learn the substantive content of a seminar while gaining some practical experience, and they would interact with leaders in the community on a current problem.  Most of the work could be done on campus in ten to thirteen weeks.  The end product would be a report jointly produced by the students, involving legal and fact research, and it would be directly useful for the organization. 

What do others think about this alternative to the traditional 25-page seminar paper?  Should the workshop model be used more widely in law schools, particularly in the third year?

My own experience as a student in these kinds of workshops was very positive.  When I was enrolled in the MPA program at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, the school was increasingly moving toward this workshop model for professional training. 

I participated in one workshop on legal reform in Russia, in which students prepared a report for the World Bank and USAID on how to improve their assistance programs in the legal sector in Russia.  By mid-semester, we had convinced the dean that we needed a field trip to Moscow to see how these programs were operating on the ground, and all fifteen of us went to Moscow over Christmas break.  It was a terrific learning experience and an intense collaborative effort to write the final report for the outside "clients."  (In Moscow, I got arrested on trumped up charges and was shaken down for a fine by crooked cops.  It was a first-hand exposure to Russian legal "reform," but that's another story).  

In a second workshop at the Woodrow Wilson School, I worked with a team of students to make recommendations to the New Jersey DEP on how to control particulate pollution in the state.   We had to get up to speed on federal and state law, air quality monitoring, and the economics of pollution control.  It was fascinating, and it still is a memorable course almost fifteen years later.

Posted by Noah Sachs on November 4, 2009 at 04:10 PM | Permalink


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would you be willing to link to site that follows law student's search for summer law clerk position? thanks.

Posted by: kenneth david westphal | Nov 5, 2009 6:16:41 PM

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