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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Practical Applications in Property

Last year, I taught Property for the first time.  I used the Sprankling/Coletta casebook, which I found easy to teach and my students found easy to understand.  I supplemented the casebook with materials and exercises drawn from my 10 years of real estate practice.  When I received my evaluations at the end of the semester, the students’ refrain was that they appreciated my attempt to mix doctrine, theory, and real world application.  My goal, which, based on their exam performance, I think I accomplished, was not to replace doctrine and theory with practice problems, but to use real world problems to illuminate the doctrine and help them see Property as I do – as an endlessly fascinating area of the law. 

One weakness of my approach last year was that it was fairly haphazard.  I came up with “brilliant” ideas of how to illustrate a particular principle a few days or the night before class.  I pulled forms or example documents from my library or from the Internet, and then tried at the last minute to weave those examples in to my plans for class.  As a result, I hadn’t had time to fully think about the best way to utilize those materials.

So one of my big projects this summer has been to organize and refine the exercises I used last year, and to add new exercises.  Before I teach again in the Spring, I will have an electronic casebook supplement to distribute to my class, which will have exercises for every major subject we talk about in class.  Some are simply real world hypos where the student is asked to advise a client on their legal options.  (Last year, they had several opportunities to write a short memo about a problem and e-mail it to me.  I made quick comments and handed them back.)  Many of the hypos are based on real cases, so after working through the problem, students can be told how that case was actually resolved.  Two exercises that I’m still working on, but I think are most promising, involve zoning and the sale of a home.

For the zoning exercise, students will be asked to represent a homeowner in a community with fairly restrictive zoning.  The client’s home was built prior to the zoning and therefore grandfathered in.  But sadly, there was a fire.  The client obtains a building permit and then begins to rebuild the same house.  The neighbors seek an injunction.  The students are given the relevant sections of the zoning code and asked to advise their client on the best course of action.  What can he do?  What should he do?

For the home sale exercise, they will represent a seller of a home and be asked to read and comment on a contract prepared by the buyer on a standard form.  Based on information provided to them about what their client wants to accomplish, they will be asked to assess risk and advise their client on a counteroffer.

I did two big exercises like this in class last year, one on the recording acts (which I discussed on the blog) and one involving residential leasing.  Each of the big exercises take an entire class period.  The hypos can be done outside of class.  Although it represents a significant investment of time, I think its worth it.

When I’m finished with the supplement, I’ll be happy to share it with anyone who is interested in looking at it or using some of the exercises in class.  The only catch is that you have to give me feedback to make it better!

Tanya Marsh

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I would love to get a copy of the supplement when it becomes available. I'd also appreciate the recording act exercise/model answer! This year I'm adding two short writing assignments and a quiz, on top of an initial short writing assignment; I anticipate that together they'll be 35% of the total class grade. I'm always looking for different things to make the materials work better, though this year my big investment will be in revising the mortgage materials to better reflect what is actually happening.

Posted by: Rebecca Tushnet | Aug 17, 2011 8:26:38 AM

Thank you so much for your kind offer. I would also appreciate receiving a copy of the supplement. I thought your recording act exercise was great, but the only problem with a class of 70 is that when we attempted to do the search in class, the website couldn't handle it. It was a fun experience, though.

Posted by: Shelley Saxer | Aug 18, 2011 12:23:52 PM

Rebecca and Shelley,

I will be happy to send you the materials when they are put together. Shelley, I'm sorry I crashed the system -- I will try to keep that in mind with the other exercises! :)


Posted by: Tanya Marsh | Aug 19, 2011 5:42:58 AM

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