Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Constitutional Litigation Class

Sarah Ricks teaches a constitutional litigation class at Rutgers-Law Camden. (here)  You heard that right--a constitutional litigation class.  In fact, she has written a casebook for the course, which is part of the Carolina Academic Press: Context and Practice Series. (sample chapter here)

The class "focuses on the constitutional and statutory doctrines necessary to litigate 4th, 8th, and 14th Amendment claims, and 1st Amendment religion claims that arise in prison."

The course includes both doctrine and skills: "The class, Current Issues in Civil Rights Litigation, casts students as lawyers handling simulated legal problems. Structured around 10 law practice simulations, the course allows students to creatively explore how attorneys shape and apply doctrine. Simulations include a jury charge conference; a meeting with a client to decide next steps in the litigation; a settlement conference before an appellate mediator; and testimony before a legislative body. In class, students often collaborate on short practical exercises based on how lawyers use doctrine in practice, such as drafting client interview questions or discovery requests."

The course has been very successful: "In anonymous evaluations that Penn permitted for use in this story, students praised Ricks’ Civil Rights Litigation course as: 'Superlative. Prof. Ricks exudes passion for this area of law. The entire design of the course is based around engaging students beyond the traditional realm of learning doctrine. She brought in guest speakers, provided examples about doctrine and practice from her own career, and wove in many lessons on practical aspects of being a litigator. She also encouraged debate and discussion that solicited conflicting opinions on many topics.'"

I cannot think of a better way to teach advanced constitutional law than the way Professor Ricks does in her class and her book.  As I have said before, a lawyer needs to thoroughly understand doctrine to be able to draft discovery, meet with clients, and draft jury charges.  In addition, learning theory has demonstrated that students remember doctrine better when they apply it.  Simply stated, active learning is much more effective than passive learning.

(Scott Fruehwald)

P.S. Here are some comments on Professor Rick's book:

The practical approach of the course “is ahead of the curve when it comes to addressing the crisis in legal academia because these materials expose students to the practice of law prior to their entrance into a tight legal market,” notes Sahar Aziz, associate professor of law at Texas-Wesleyan.

“My students raved about the class. When I asked them whether I should use the book again, the answer was a resounding yes.”

Toledo Law School Professor Rebecca Zietlow said the practical approach was “refreshing”: “The students found the simulations interesting and challenging. They were incredibly engaged throughout the semester.”

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