Thursday, November 10, 2011

Teaching transactional legal skills via the internet

Transactional Law Instruction Takes to the Web courtesy of the National Law Journal:

The chairman of a company's compensation committee needs advice. The chief executive officer is leaving for another job, and the board of directors is worried that the highly valued chief financial officer will leave, as well. Should the company offer the latter a $50,000 bonus to stay, or should it draft a severance agreement offering one year's salary benefits if she is terminated within six months of the new chief executive's arrival?

The company and its dilemma aren't real, but rather a scenario offering law students from around the country an opportunity to act as transactional lawyers and advise the client about how to proceed.

This particular scenario is one of several "mini-meets" available on a new Web site geared toward teaching law students transactional skills — something most law faculties are struggling to do.

The Law Meets Web site was the brainchild of Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law professor Karl Okamoto, who in 2010 started the first transactional law competition. Law Meets Web takes the idea of an in-person transactional law competition — similar to moot court in that teams compete to craft a business deal for fictional clients — and expands it using the Internet.

The Web offers law students a simulated opportunity to act as transactional attorneys and receive feedback on both their substantive knowledge and interaction with clients.

"We've discovered that there is an enormous demand for this type of experience for students," Okamoto said. "We thought, "Maybe there is a way to do this using technology."

The Web site offers a range of business scenarios in which a client needs advice. Law students watch the client interviews videos online, then submit short videos of themselves advising that client, which are posted to the site. The students review the other submissions and vote on which they think are best.

The 10 submissions that gain the most peer endorsements are critiqued by a panel of experts, who offer comments and advice. Those critiques are also posted on the site, where anyone can watch them for guidance.

A new scenario is posted every two weeks.

The site is still in the pilot phase, but students from 14 law schools have submitted video responses thus far. University of Mississippi School of Law Professor Mercer Bullard is among the law faculty members who have used Law Meets Web in their classes. Bullard assigned a mini-meet to his corporations class this semester.

"It's bringing something new to the table," Bullard said. "Law schools generally do not do enough to train students on doing verbal presentations. This is a very efficient way to have students do a practical, verbal exercise."

Bullard said he plans to integrate the site into his future corporations classes.

While the Law Meets Web site is still in its infancy, the in-person transactional law competition Okamoto started in 2009 has grown exponentially. Instead of a single competition that Drexel has hosted at its Philadelphia campus for the past two years, there will be five regional meets this year. The top performing teams will compete in the final at Drexel in March.

Okamoto said that a single competition could not handle the growing number of teams that wanted to participate — even with new regional competitions, not every law student would have the ability to compete in person. But every law student can participate in the online mini-meets at no cost.

The site eventually will have to generate enough revenue to operate, Okamoto said, but for now it is primarily funded through a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for small business innovation and research.

The site has the potential to train law firm associates in addition to law students, Okamoto said.

University of Virginia School of Law Professor George Geis used a mini-meet scenario to help select the school's team for the regional transactional law competition.

"It's very promising," he said. "The ability to learn through an applied set of problems is something I strongly endorse."

One of the Virginia students who has competed in a mini-meet involving the company trying to retain its CFO was 2L Randy Barr. He advised the company to offer the severance agreement.

"I think it was very helpful, the fact that we submitted videos," Barr said. "You had to channel the information and make it understandable to a client, both verbally and visually. People don't necessarily want legalese thrown at them."

(jbl).

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_skills/2011/11/teaching-transactional-legal-skills-via-the-internet.html

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