Sunday, June 5, 2011
A theme of several presentations at the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning conference was integrating skills exercises into doctrinal courses. I have been advocating this for several years in place of the socratic method. The teacher would first present the material through lecture, the socratic method, or discussion, then reinforce the material through exercises that forced the students to apply what they learned. This last part--applying what they learned--has been missing from traditional legal education. Not only do exercises reinforce the material, but they add this important legal skill. I believe that teachers should employ legal skills exercises frequently throughout the semester.
These exercises can often be quite simple. For example, Scott Stevenson gave us the Oregon Limited Liability Statute and asked us to evaluate a simple articles of incorporation based on that statute. In this exercise, the students not only learn the law, they learn how to apply it to a situation they might see in practice.
Tonya Krause-Phelan presented exercises that she uses on the first day of her criminal law class. She first discussed the bases of criminal punishment, and we then looked at a sentencing statute. Next, we did an exercise based on a law school dress code that applied the bases of liability. One person was the defendant, and the rest of the class was divided into prosecution or defense teams. Each of the teams discussed possible punishments, then they made their arguments before the class. She then critiqued the arguments. We did further follow-up exercises, including one that used an MBE-like question. She said that she often uses this structure in her classes, but that it did not work for all subject matter. She added that doing these kinds of exercises adds to student engagement.