Wednesday, January 4, 2012
I have previously blogged about my efforts (which are hardly unusual) to integrate more lawyering skills and practical considerations into my Property course. It is perhaps more difficult to simultaneously teach theory and practice in heavily doctrinal, common law 1L courses like Property. However, it seems more natural for me to teach Property doctrine in a practical context since that is how I experienced the material during 11 years of practice. For many professors who lack that background, teaching Property in an integrated way would be much more daunting.
Thankfully, Colleen Medill of the University of Nebraska College of Law (my father’s alma mater!) has come to the rescue with her new book, Developing Professional Skills: Property. Designed as a supplement to traditional casebooks, and keyed to the major titles, Medill’s slim volume (approx. 120 pages, $25 cover price, $18 for the online version), is concise but powerful. Ten chapters cover the topics of: finders, trespass and adverse possession, gifts, present and future interests, co-ownership relationships, landlord and tenant relationships, real estate disclosures, conveying title to real estate, easements, and takings. Each chapter focuses on a different skill, including replying to a client e-mail, interviewing a new client, negotiation, and limited drafting. The exercises are very focused and concise, and Medill provides checklists, forms, and questionnaires to guide inexperienced students. The problems are designed to be very flexible. Students can work alone or in groups, at home or in class, check each others’ work or submit to the professor for grading.
The teacher’s manual, which is nearly as long as the book itself, contains detailed information to allow professors to guide students through the activities and debrief afterwards. Each chapter begins with a clear outline of the problem, the legal rules, the skills implemented in the exercise, the student assignment, the practice norms covered, and optional professional responsibility concepts.
I am teaching two sections of Property beginning on January 17th, but I spent a few hours last night tearing apart my syllabus in order to make room for Medill’s exercises. I am planning to use nine of the ten (excluding only takings) and will supplement with two or three of my own exercises (title search, residential lease, and home purchase). I think that I will have the students complete the problems at home when we finish each section of material, then submit to me via TWEN or e-mail, and bring a print-out to class the next day. I will have students exchange papers within a small group and offer critiques. Then I will walk through the main issues and show a few (anonymous) examples to the class. We will work through the material at a slower pace if I devote this much time to the practical exercises, but I think that the students will have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the material, and hopefully will find Property to be as fascinating as I do!