Thursday, April 17, 2014

SKILLS: Guest Blogger Ann Schiavone on Teaching Using Legislative Simulations


I'm thrilled to introduce today's guest blogger on the Legislation Law Prof Blog:  Ann L. Schiavone.  Ann returned to Duquesne University School of Law in 2013 as an assistant professor of legal writing. Prior to joining Duquesne's faculty, she was a member of Akron University Law faculty and taught such varied courses as Legal Analysis, Research & Writing I & II, Legislative Process & Drafting, as well as seminars in Sexual Orientation and the Law and Animal Law. Prior to teaching and while earning her law degree, Ann served as the legislative assistant in the Pennsylvania State Senate and House of Representatives.


The rest of Ann's life is also interesting:  she lives with her husband and five dogs in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh, and in her free time, she is an avid equestrian and an amateur genealogist.  Deep thanks to Ann for sharing her experience and insights on using legislative simulations.  Ann's picture and post are below: AnnSchiavone 2011




Using Legislative Simulations to Teach Today’s Law Students about Lawmaking


Most every law student can repeat the mantra “the legislature is the lawmaking body of the government.”  But, do these students really understand and internalize that concept?  Law schools have long demonstrated bias for the courts, judicially created law, and judicial interpretations of statutes.  One need only take a quick look at the required courses in most schools, or sit in on any course employing the dominant pedagogical approach of the casebook method to recognize the bias. 


In recent years, laws schools increasingly have worked to give their students a more varied view of the practice of law, specifically including mandatory or elective legislative and rulemaking courses, either within the first year, or in the upper-level curriculum. Many of us who teach in the area of legislation, legislative process, and legislative drafting have been on the cutting edge of this movement.  The purpose of this post is to show how including simulations in legislatively based courses can enhance students appreciation for the legislative (or lawmaking) process, expand students’ legal problem-solving universe, and give our current generation of learners (the Millennials) what they want most: self-directed, interactive and collaborative learning.[1] 


Just as the casebook method encourages students to place themselves in the role of advocates and decision makers, legislative courses should place students squarely in the lawmaking process.  While there are numerous pedagogical ways of accomplishing this, my legislative process and drafting course follows a “mock legislature” format in order to place each student in the role of legislator.   Over the years the course’s` “legislative body” has changed. (I’ve used a mock United States Senate, a mock state legislature, and in years with smaller enrollment, I use a single legislative committee as the simulation vehicle.)  At Duquesne Law, my course focuses in Pennsylvania legislative process, but truly any legislative body will work. 


In the first one-third of the course students learn the substantive material necessary so that they may fully engage themselves in the simulation.  Such material includes concepts of legislative process, as well as the impact political competition, consensus building, lobbying, and interest groups can have on the process.  In addition, students learn about
construction and interpretation of statutes, and legislative drafting techniques.  While this portion of the course is taught in a more traditional manner, I never pass up the opportunity to encourage collaborative learning through small group and problem-solving exercises.  While students are learning the groundwork necessary for the simulation, they are also preparing for the simulation, by organizing political parties, selecting committee assignments, electing leaders (for both parties and committees) and thinking about, researching, and beginning to draft their first piece of legislation.


The bills drafted for the simulation are the fuel for the mock legislature experience.  Each student selects their own topic within the sphere of the legislative body at work.  For example, the students working in the US Senate must draft a bill appropriate for the US Senate, and students working in a Pennsylvania legislative body will draft a Pennsylvania bill.  (This always leads to good discussion of separation of powers and, in some cases, preemption.)   


During the second one-third of the course, the class performs the simulation, beginning with committee meetings.  Each student must present his or her bill to the committee to which the bill was assigned.  The student faces questions from committee members and defends the drafting choices of the bill.  Committee members can vote to amend bill and then vote on whether to send bill to the legislature floor.  If bills pass to the full legislative body for a vote, the students must, again, face questioning from all their peers.    


Students have drafted bills on a large range of topics.  Some are simple, some more complex:

            Providing oversight and regulation of hydraulic fracturing practices (“fracking”).

            Legalizing marijuana.

            Bolstering laws to curb or prevent human trafficking.

            Providing relief for persons burdened by student loans.

            Amending Megan’s law.

            Providing labeling transparency for genetically modified foods.


But all the bills have one thing in common; the students each choose a bill topic (with my prior approval) on his or her own, and are therefore more fully invested in the outcome of the exercise.  Generally, this fact alone encourages each student to work harder and put more effort into the course. 


Early in the course, I divide students into majority and minority political parties.   Throughout the simulation, I grant “bonus points” to encourage both competition and cooperation amongst the students.  Often they must calculate their own best interest.  Should they cross the aisle to support a bill in which they believe?  Or should they stay strong and support the party?  While these pressures are artificial and not as complex as in a real legislative body, it still gives the students a taste of the dilemmas of decision making in a legislature.    


The final one third of the class includes “real world” experience, including a final project working with local non-profits and legislators on bills to solve problems of interest to the community.  The class sessions also include significant discussion of legislative current events. 


[1] Emily Benfer and Colleen Shanahan, Educating the Invincibles: Strategies for

Teaching the Millennial Generation in Law School, 20 Clin. L. Rev. 301, 310 (Fa. 2013).

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