Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Last week was the oral midterm examination week for students in my in Business Associations class. I admit to exhaustion and jubilation at the end of that week every year. I think the students feel about the same way . . . .
This year's examination related to an expulsion of members in a member-managed limited liability company (LLC). The facts were based on an interesting Tennessee case with which many LLC aficionados are no doubt familiar: Anderson v. Wilder. The exam questions related to the validity and effects of the expulsion under the Revised Uniform Limited Liability Company Act and the LLC's operating agreement, the potential breaches of fiduciary duty and failure to comply with the contractual obligation of good faith and fair dealing, and the possible resulting causes of action and remedies--including any effects of the members' dissociation.
In a blog post last weekend from Lou Sirico and our other friends at the Legal Skills Prof Blog, I divined support for all of us who engage in practice-focused legal education: these teaching/learning methods can help students to thrive, not merely survive. It has been my (admittedly anecdotal) observation that students who engage in simulations (as well as those who participate in clinics and internships/externships) in law school are happier and more well-adjusted about their education and their post-graduation employment. Last week's oral midterms--conducted in groups of three--gave me some windows on that world. I will share a few here.
Once the examination has started and the immediate nerves have subsided, I always am amazed to see the eagerness of the students to dig in and both express and justify--with legal rules and sources--their arguments on behalf of our ostensible clients. They turn into motivated, capable advocates so rapidly--it's amazing. Their energy levels and passion are palpable (and so different from what I generally see in class). They are engaged, professional, and even (in some cases) confident.
The immediate reactions of the students are varied, but overall positive. At the end of the examination session (in which I often engage the students in a conversation about the utility of the examination for their envisioned legal practice areas), one third-year student noted in an endorsing manner that the simulation was like the meetings she saw happening at the office in which she currently is working. Another actually noted (perhaps in the throes of an adrenaline rush) that the exam was fun. That gave all of us a good laugh. In fact, we had some healthy, natural laughter in many of the sessions over the course of the week. At times, I actually felt as though I was in a law office working with colleagues--and it was a law office in which I wanted to work!
As an aside, I will note that the reactions of the students to past group oral midterm examinations has been overwhelmingly positive. Some characterize it as the most practical experience they had in law school (or at least in a doctrinal law school course). All say that it helped them to see how they could use the legal doctrine to help people--rules that formerly were just rules became tools they could wield to assist others in vindicating their rights or engaging in productive business transactions. Many note that they gained a deeper appreciation for business law, and some of these new business law fans changed their career plans to focus more on business law. I invite students to set up appointments with me to discuss career options, and a few actually do that.
I have been very satisfied with the role of the group oral midterm examination in the achievement of the learning objectives I establish for my Business Associations course. Having said that, each year, I step back after the exam and determine what worked well and what didn't. I consider adjustments to the exam procedures and instructions, make notes on the grading rubric, and consider possible changes of various kinds.
Lou's post helped to add a new element to my thoughts about the place of the group oral midterm examination in my course. After I read the post, I determined that one of the teaching objectives for my Business Associations course should be to use my group oral midterm examination in a more intentional way to encourage student thriving. I have almost a year to plan it out. Wish me luck. Ideas are welcomed.