Resources for Incorporating Practical Problem-Solving Teaching Into The Doctrinal Classroom

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May 2013 Idea

By Jill Gross, Pace Law School

The transformation of legal education to teach more law students to be practice-ready is a movement that is here to stay. Adding more clinics, externships or simulation courses can help accomplish this transformation, although this is less likely to reach students in large numbers and it is often more expensive than other vehicles. An additional way to expose many more students to lawyering skills – at no additional cost – is to integrate the teaching of problem-solving skills into existing doctrinal and other larger courses.

In 2010, the ABA Section on Dispute Resolution launched the Legal Education, ADR and Problem Solving (LEAPS) Project to increase instruction of what we call “practical problem-solving” (PPS) in a wide range of courses, including doctrinal, litigation, transactional, and ADR courses. PPS involves the range of skills that lawyers use regularly in practice in addition to legal research, writing, and analysis. These skills include fact gathering, client interviewing and counseling, communication, negotiation, representation in ADR processes, drafting legal documents, and professionalism, among others. For more detail about PPS, seehttp://leaps.uoregon.edu/content/what-pps.

Among other projects, LEAPS created a website with a variety of resources to support and expand the teaching of PPS, including:

1. Explaining the many reasons why increased teaching of PPS benefits students;
2. Detailing teaching ideas for PPS instruction;
3. Providing materials and consultants to enable law faculty to implement increased PPS teaching; and
4. Linking to other useful websites and teaching resources.

Faculty interested in incorporating more PPS into their courses will find the teaching techniques link particularly useful. The page includes general descriptions of various teaching methodologies, with exercises, problems and simulations instructors can adopt, as well as links to other resources. Many of the ideas require little or no additional time for instructors or students. For example, when discussing selected cases in doctrinal courses, faculty can frame questions in the context of client interviews or counseling or negotiation between lawyers, instead of appellate arguments. Faculty can inject PPS into class discussion when analyzing hypothetical problems and possible solutions, or assign students to conduct simulations during or outside of class to work through particular legal issues in a specific factual context. These are just a few ways that faculty can increase attention to practical application of legal doctrine.

Incorporating PPS into doctrinal courses may be quite natural for some faculty – and, indeed, many faculty have been using these techniques for a long time. Some colleagues may not feel comfortable doing this without some help. So LEAPS has convened small panels of highly-respected faculty to be available to consult with faculty around the country who want advice about incorporating PPS into their courses. Thesepanels of consultants cover nine subject areas: civil procedure, clinics, contracts, criminal law, family law, labor and employment law, professional responsibility, property, and torts. Consultants can provide teaching tips and materials to law professors teaching those subjects who want to incorporate more PPS in their courses but don’t want to reinvent the wheel.

In addition to increasing one’s own PPS instruction, we think it is important for faculty to encourage colleagues to increase their PPS instruction. We have developed suggestions you can use to help individual colleagues increase PPS teaching in their courses. Some faculty may feel reluctant to incorporate PPS elements into their courses, so we have suggestedresponses to address foreseeable concerns. Addressing their concerns can help them figure out how they can try teaching methods that can help future generations of law students graduate more practice-ready.

Finally, in light of the current pressures on legal education, your law school may be particularly interested in sponsoring colloquia, talks or informal discussions about improving instruction. You might suggest the law school sponsor a discussion about PPS teaching by inviting an outside speaker, such as a member of the LEAPS executive committee or one of our subject area consultants, or by facilitating the discussion yourself. Regular users of ILTL resources may be in the best position to lead such discussions with colleagues at their own schools. The LEAPS website provides suggestions and materials, including a generic PowerPoint presentation that can be adapted for particular audiences, for making the discussion as productive as possible.

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