Review: Using the Client-File Method to Teach Transactional Law

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By Andrea Boyack from Washburn University School of Law

Faced with a systemic identity crisis, a pedagogical reality-theory disconnect, and calls from all quarters to graduate “practice-ready” lawyers, the legal academy has been desperately seeking ways to incorporate lawyering skills into the curriculum. In his forthcoming article, Brad Borden adds his voice to the chorus singing the praises of a business school approach to teaching transactional law. Borden’s approach, dubbed the “Client-File Method,” aims to mimic the training junior transactional associates once received in law firms – back when they were willing to devote time and resources to bringing new attorneys up to speed.

Borden builds upon prior work of Celeste Hammond, Tina Stark, Karl Okomoto, Ronald Gilson, and Kenneth Klee (and many others) who have advocated the incorporation of the “case method” used in business school and medical school into the teaching of transactional law. The approach is simulation-based, integrates skills, doctrine and ethics, and generally addresses the “bridge the gap” mandate of the MacCrate and Carnegie Reports. Many of these prior works – as well as much of the literature on the case-method approach that originated in Harvard Business School in 1925 – discusses why an intense, reality-based, role-play simulation provides students the professional training they need to succeed beyond school. Borden’s article quickly embraces this theory and then delves into the nitty-gritty how-to questions of crafting a case-method course, describing in detail the resources needed to successfully incorporate the client-file method in an upper-division transactional class.

The beauty of Borden’s concise piece is its accessibility. Although the pedagogy of transactional law teaching has been the focus of an increasing number of articles, conferences and innovations, there still remains a rather embarrassing divide between the few members of the academy who theorize about transactional law teaching methods and the many professors who teach numerous and varied courses offered in business and transactional law. Borden’s quick how-to demystifies the simulation-based approach for professors who have not been following the “conversation” about why context-building and skills-incorporation is crucial. As such, it allows mass marketing of the client-file method concept and outlines easy-to-follow (although admittedly labor-intensive) steps to achieving the practice-ready outcome. Preparation for the client-file method involves putting together a client file for a simulated transaction. The file includes memos (perhaps styled as senior partner directives) that provide factual background and give instruction to students, financial information on and related to the client and transaction, and pertinent legal documents.

If you teach any transactional course – even if you have not been reading about business school methodology or practicum-focused theory – you should read this short article and consider adopting Borden’s approach. In this new world of practice-readiness, students must add enough value to justify their billable rate – even in their first day on the job as a transactional lawyer. The client-file method will likely help them do just that.

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