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Recommit to the Profession of Teaching and Helping Your Students Recommit to Their Work

Recommit to the Profession of Teaching and Helping Your Students Recommit to Their Work

By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

Over the past six months, I have struggled with what some might call a “mid-life-professor crisis.”  As I struggled to keep up with committee work, teaching, writing, applying for promotion, etc., the feeling of being overworked was overwhelming me. I write this post today because I know others struggle with the same feelings.  It makes professors wonder if this is the right place and the right job.  The answer to that question is intensely personal but the way to get to the answer is not very personal.  I took time over the break to look deep into the recesses of my heart and mind asking myself some tough questions: do I make a difference, is this where I want to be, and if so, why?  Here is two words that came to the surface again and again: recommit and privilege.

First of all, I realized I needed to recommit to the science and the art of teaching.  I needed to put teaching first: before scholarship, before committee work, and before other work responsibilities.  We are here to teach students, to perfect that craft, and to dedicate our energy there.  The decision seemed so clear to me at that point.  Teaching is what I love, and I need to focus on it first.  Once I said that out loud and recommitted to that love, my direction seemed so clear: stay with teaching.  I have been able to put it first for the first couple of weeks.  Feel free to hold me accountable as the semester heats up!

Secondly, once I recommitted to my first love (teaching) I realized what a privilege it is to be able to come to work and teach students how to be lawyers.  The last week has been so much more joyful focusing on this privilege.  Some may call this gratitude, but I see gratitude as part of realizing the privilege. We are indeed lucky to do this work.

Lastly, once I saw this and felt it in my heart, I knew I had to share this perspective with my students.  After I told them what a privilege it was to be a lawyer and to be their teacher, we discussed what lawyers do to make a difference in the world.  Some students brought up how helping one person changes the world.  As we started to talk and share, I saw the student’s shoulders start to straighten, and, it seemed, their mood lifted.  I urged the students to think about what is good in their world and to think about what is a privilege in their lives.  This conversation took about 5 minutes and then we continued to learn about grammar and contract drafting.  After class, several students stopped me to say thank you for stopping the “rat race” for just a few minutes which allowed them to breathe and be thankful.  Take some time to recommit yourself, and, if you feel comfortable, share that commitment and gratitude with your students.

Visual Aids for the Law Classroom

Visual Aids for the Law Classroom

By Aaron Caplan, Loyola Law School, Loyola Marymount University

Visual aids are not the most important thing a law teacher does in the classroom.  They can never substitute for well-chosen material, clear organization, thoughtfully chosen in-class activities, being a good explainer or being a good listener.  With that said, good visual aids can help students learn more effectively – and bad visual aids make learning harder.

A series of videos based on a presentation I gave at the AALS New Law Teachers Workshop in June 2019 explores what makes successful visual aids work.  The first segment explores the psychology of multi-media learning, providing a theory for preparing visual aids that complement one’s lesson plan and not detracting from it.  The following segments provide examples of visual aids that I have used with success in various classes, including illustrations, visual renderings of legal texts, visualizations of concepts, and more.

The videos can be reached here:  www.lls.edu/CaplanVisualAids/

Assessing Legal Research Skills: A Fresh Approach

Assessing Legal Research Skills: A Fresh Approach

By Eric Voigt, Faulkner University, Jones School of Law

I have asked myself many times, “Self, could my first-year law students research a legal issue without any guidance from me?” You have probably asked yourself a similar question if you teach a skills-based course. This semester, I decided to create a new assessment measure to answer my question: an online research exam.

Summary of How I Teach Legal Research

My students learn to perform legal research through multiple methods. Students first read the assigned chapters from the textbook I have authored titled Legal Research Demystified: A Step-by-Step Approach. Students then jump online and answer multiple-choice questions on Core Knowledge for Lawyers (https://coreknowledgeforlawyers.com). Core Knowledge automatically grades each answer and provides an explanation (similar to Core Grammar) to reinforce basic research concepts. Next, students complete guided research exercises using the research services and tools they just read about. During class, I discuss the commonly-missed questions and answer their questions. Last, students must apply their research skills to the open memo problem—once again, with guidance from me.

Purpose of Online Research Exam

Despite those formative assessments, I wanted a higher degree of confidence that my students could “fly the research nest” and answer a legal question on any unfamiliar issue. To that end, I am creating an online research exam that my students will take this semester. I have one primary purpose: determine whether my students could find—and understand—relevant statutes and interpretive cases without guidance from me.

Content of Online Research Exam

For my research exam, students will not simply answer questions on research concepts (e.g., What is KeyCite?). Instead, students will resolve a client’s legal question using Westlaw or Lexis Advance. Specifically, they will research state statutes and update them, including confirming their validity, checking effective dates, and reviewing amendments. They will also need to find cases that have interpreted the statutes. Last, students will synthesize the relevant rules and authorities and predict the client’s likelihood of success.

Delivery Format of Online Research Exam

Students will electronically complete my research exam directly on TWEN (The West Education Network), which is my course management system. (Next year, students will be able to complete the research exam on Carolina Academic Press’s platform, Core Knowledge.) Most of the exam contains multiple-choice questions, but it also has a few fill-in-the blank questions and one short answer question. The final question, for instance, requires students to follow CRAC principles (Conclusion-Rule-Application-Conclusion) and write a few paragraphs on whether the client would prevail.

By placing the exam online, I can include questions that build upon prior ones, allowing me to assess students’ understanding of different steps of the research process. For example, suppose a student finds the wrong statutes in response to an initial question. I could still assess whether the student understands how to update the statutes by identifying the correct statutes in subsequent questions and asking about their validity and effective dates.

Because some questions provide the answers to prior ones, I will establish certain limits. Using TWEN’s advanced options, I will prevent students from downloading the exam and viewing any subsequent question until they have answered the question on their screen (called “sequential quizzing”). I will also have TWEN grade the first selected answer for each question, so a student cannot change an answer based on what the student learns from later questions.

I will have students take the exam outside of the classroom, so they will not be limited to our eighty-minute class periods. Students will have a three-day window to start the research exam; once started, they will have three continuous hours to complete it. Students will need the extra time to discern the relevant from the irrelevant authorities, as well as more time to analyze the application of law to the client’s situation.

TWEN’s Grading Features

TWEN has several useful grading features. TWEN automatically grades the multiple-choice and fill-in-the blank questions. As to a short answer question, a professor can electronically mark each one correct or incorrect and can even assign partial credit. TWEN then tallies each student’s scores on all questions. The professor can “release” the grades for all students, allowing each student to view only his or her own grade.

Benefits of an Online Research Exam

Assigning an online research exam has multiple benefits to professors and students, such as the following:

  • Professors assess students without giving up an in-person class meeting.
  • Professors who assign the exam in lieu of in-person meetings (permitted under the ABA rules) could free up an entire week of classes to provide feedback on students’ draft memos.
  • Professors can ascertain whether students have learned how to do “real” legal research.
  • Students receive their exam grade immediately upon completion.
  • Students discover any weak research skills before the deadline of the open memo.
  • Students gain confidence in researching on their own and learn skills that can be applied to the open memo problem.

In short, an online research exam is a good assessment tool for first-year and upper-level students. It could be assigned in an integrated research and writing course or a stand-alone research class. If you would like a copy of my research exam, please email at evoigt@faulkner.edu.

Formative Feedback in Many Forms

Formative Feedback in Many Forms

By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

While attending the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning conference this past summer, I learned about live critiquing from Professor Amanda Sholtis from Widener University Law School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Her session captivated me, and it made me want to try live critiquing with my first year LRW students.  The following is a brief description of my formative assessment with my first closed-universe writing problem:

  1. The students are given three heavily edited cases to synthesize and a fact pattern containing a problem to solve. It is a problem which has three elements and, therefore, will have three IRACs (or IREAC, CREAC, etc.).
  2. We synthesize the cases in class together.
  3. For the next class, I give them a writing template and a writing example. They are to read those documents and bring a completed draft of the closed-universe problem to the next class.
  4. During that next class, they were given my rubric to self-assess one of the IRACs they wrote (I choose which IRAC they self-assess in class).
  5. I give them 20 minutes to work through the rubric with their own paper.
      1. For the self-evaluation, I instruct them to use the rubric which fully explains what a good issue statement should contain; what a good rule statement should contain; what definitions should look like, etc.
      2. I also instruct them to note in the margin of their paper what needs to be improved on their paper for each section of the IRAC.
      3. Then, I give them a “good” example of the IRAC for the same issue which they just worked on for the self-assessment. The “good” example is fully annotated by me, showing the students what is good about each section of the IRAC.
      4. The students used the rest of that class period to review the “good” example and compare it to their paper.
      5. I was available during that classroom work time to answer questions, etc.
      6. Once the self-assessment was over, I told them they need to apply what they learned while writing the final draft.
  6. Once the students turned in their final draft, which only contained the two un-assessed IRACs, they signed up for a live critique with me.
  7. I give each student ½ hour to go over their final draft with me.
      1. I don’t review their final drafts until we are sitting together for the face-to-face conference.
      2. I have my rubric with me, and I have a “good” copy of the two remaining IRACs with annotations of what is good in each section of the IRACs.
      3. The students take the rubric and the “good” paper home with them.
      4. During the ½ hour, I spend with each student, I just start reading his or her paper. I stop periodically and make comments on what is good and what needs improvement.  The students take notes, ask questions, and dialogue with me.

I found the process helpful in getting to know my students, getting to know the sticking points in their thought/writing process, and getting feedback on my instructions.  The students overwhelmingly preferred it to getting a bunch of comments on a paper which they admit they usually don’t read, and if they do, they often don’t understand them.  With the next paper, I gave the students the choice to have live critiquing or written critiquing.  Over half of my students chose live critiquing, which I considered a good sign that students liked it.

The downsides to this process, however, are:

  1. I have 37 first-year LRW students so I spent a lot of time meeting with students. I would, however, have spent the time grading anyway.  Thus, I think the time spent is a wash.
  2. It is stressful to meet face-to-face with students and talk to them about what they are doing wrong. I am a social person, and so I really enjoyed the process.

I found live critiquing inspiring, helpful, and surprising. If anyone would like more information about this, I am happy to engage in a further conversation.

Review:  Teaching Controversial Topics

Review: Teaching Controversial Topics

Reviewed by Jane Korn, Gonzaga University School of Law

Article:  Teaching Controversial Topics [1]
Written by Beth Burkstand-Reid, June Carbone, and Jennifer S. Hendricks

In the highly politicized climate, it seemed especially appropriate to look for advice on teaching controversial topics.  While the article reviewed is in the context of a family law course, almost any course can have controversial topics.  I teach both Civil Procedure and Employment Discrimination and while there are more minefields in Employment Discrimination, Civil Procedure has a few.

The authors first explore what controversial topic is and they indicate that this includes those that are heavily politicized and note that these areas often promote rigidity in thinking.   Controversy can also arise when topics are personalized by students, either by personal experience or because of a lack of diversity in the classroom.  While some diversity is noticeable, other types may not be known to the professor such as sexual orientation or some disabilities.

It is important to lay the groundwork before the first class or even before.  A course description can set the expectation for prospective students in your class.  For example, you can indicate the wide range of topics you will be covering which should put students on notice that there will be controversial topics covered.  The authors also suggest that if you want to market the class more narrowly, you can state that a certain position is the starting point rather than a matter for debate.  You can also lay the groundwork during the first class.  The authors caution that dictatorial control can backfire but that laying expectations can aid discussion without chilling all debate

The article lays out three strategies for expected controversy:

  1. Learning who stands for what – deciding who in the classroom advocates for which position.  Sometimes an outside speaker or colleague is helpful to present a viewpoint.  You can also take blind surveys to find out various positions on anticipated controversial topics to gauge the varying positions.
  2. Using media and pop culture to bring in what otherwise may be marginalized views.  This can also reduce tension through humor.  Historical versions of pop culture can also provide context and background.
  3. Shifting ground by blunting controversy by confronting it obliquely. One way to accomplish this is to shift the discussion away from what side is right to what arguments can be made.

No matter what we teach, there will be controversy.   The authors note that we must recognize that what worked in one class during one semester may not work in another.  The toolbox of techniques suggested by the authors is a welcome resource for dealing with the difficult issue of covering controversial topics in the classroom.


[1] Beth Burkstand-Reid, June Carbone, and Jennifer S. Hendricks, Teaching Controversial Topics, 49 Fam. Ct. Rev. 678 (2011)

Getting to Know Your Students

Getting to Know Your Students

By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

Hi All,

I hope your semester is off to a great start.  I know that I have been silent these last few weeks, but I have been swamped with the end of summer and the start of the semester.  I had some time today to post a blog post with a teaching idea on getting to know your students and starting to build a learning community in your classroom.  At the beginning of the semester, I sent my students a “Getting to Know You” form which contained the following questions:

  1. Tell me anything you would like me to know about you.
  2. How comfortable are you with writing and research? Please give me as much information as you can so I can gauge your experience.
  3. Why did you decide to go to law school?
  4. Why did you choose Gonzaga?
  5. What study methods work best for you?
  6. How do you learn best in the classroom?
  7. Think of your favorite teacher; what qualities made that teacher your favorite?
  8. Think of your least favorite teacher; what qualities made that teacher your least favorite?

These simple questions gave me insights into who is sitting in front of me.  I stapled a picture to each of their information sheets so that I could put a face to the information.  I am only one week into the semester but the information has already helped me.  For instance, when I am forming working groups for the day, I was able to pair students who are comfortable with writing and research with students who are less sure.  Also, knowing what study methods work for the students in front of me, helps me shape how I teach each group of students.  Because each group of students is so different, it is good to have information about those students rather than creating lesson plans without that information.

Being human to my students and letting them know I care

Being human to my students and letting them know I care

By Jane Korn, Gonzaga University School of Law

I have taught first year law students for a long time.  Please do not ask how long!  But years ago, I became worried about the mental health and stress levels of my first semester, first year students. I teach a four credit, one semester course in Civil Procedure during the first semester of law school.   On the last day of the week that I teach in Civ Pro, I take a few minutes out of class time and ask my students to tell me how they are doing.

The first time I do this, usually at the end of the first week of law school,  I tell my students that it is my custom, from time to time, to take time out from Civ Pro, and talk about anything they would like (with some limits).  In some years, it takes weeks for them to take me up on this offer.  Other years, they start right in.  They ask questions like the following:

  1. When should I start outlining?
  2. How much time should I spend studying every night?
  3. How important is getting involved in extracurricular activities?
  4. What if I don’t know what kind of law I want to practice?
  5. Do professors care about grammar and organization on a final exam? (I only answer what I expect and do not answer for other faculty)

I think that much of the time, they do not get a chance to ask a law professor these kinds of questions, and can usually only ask upper class students.  While we have faculty advisors, students may or may not feel comfortable asking them questions like the above.  They eventually do (and sometimes quickly) feel comfortable asking me a wide variety of questions.  They sometimes ask personal questions and, within reason, I answer them because it makes them feel more comfortable with me.  Questions on gossipy matters about other faculty are off limits. If for example, they complain about another professor,  I handle this question with a smile and say something like – you should ask that professor about this issue.

I set aside class time for several reasons. First, while I do worry about giving up valuable teaching time, lessening the stress of my students may make them more able to learn.  Second, students often feel like they are the only one with a particular concern during this first semester, and they often do not have the ability to know that others have the same concerns or questions.  In the first year, many of our students are not from this area and are far away from support systems, at least at first until they can make friends at law school.  The ability to know that other students have the same problems they do can lessen the feeling of isolation.  Using class time to answer questions to the entire group may help them with this sense of isolation and being the only one who doesn’t know something.  It also lets them see that their concerns are important and credible.

Every year my teaching evaluations reflect this process positively.  Students feel like I care (which I do).  However, the reason I do it is to increase their comfort during those first few exciting, confusing, and terrifying months of law school.

Content Analysis Coding Practice

Content Analysis Coding Practice

By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

Hi All,

I have been doing training on assessment practices for in-class use and for institutional programmatic assessment.  To that end, I am learning many techniques which I am employing in my class to find out what teaching methods are working and what are not.  I learned the following coding method which allows me to assess answers from my students to open-ended survey questions.  To use the coding method, I look for themes in their answers.  I describe the system below.  Please contact me should you have any questions on the methodology or what I do with the information.  In traditional, interactive fashion, there is a practice exercise at the end so readers can see how simple this method is.  Once I see themes, I am able to respond and make changes.

Method:

Course goal:  Students will learn how to locate and print and on-line sources which are complete and relevant to solving a factual problem.

Question posed:  You are asked to do many assignments and activities in this class to help develop your legal research skills.  Please identify an assignment or type of activity that you found most helpful in developing your research skills.  Please include in your answer a specific description of what about the assignment and/or activity that helped you.

I asked this question to my students as I wanted to hear the student perspective on which types of assignments and activities most effectively helped them develop research skills.  I give many assignments, but I was unsure which ones were useful. I also wanted to know what about the assignment was helpful: step-by-step instructions, group work, lecture, or flipped classroom model. I developed a coding system so that I could analyze the results.  I devised the coding after reviewing a 20% sample of student responses.  I randomized who I chose.  They turned in the responses, and I chose every 5th one.

  1. Identification number for class level: (accelerated student=1; a traditional 1L=2)
  2. Overall response: (0=no response/question was unanswered; 1= student provided a usable response; 2=state/implied that research skills were not strengthened in LRW I course; 3 =response was either not useful or could not be coded)
  3. Positive mention of a structured assignment which led the student with step-by-step instructions to helping them develop research skills. (0=no; 1=yes)
  4. Positive mention of a structured assignment which required to use or develop research skills but no mention of step-by-step guidance being useful. (0=no; 1=yes)
  5. Positive mention of a structured assignment which required students to work collaboratively. (0=no; 1=yes)
  6. Positive mention of lecture on how-to-do research in print by LRW professor. (0=no; 1=yes)
  7. Positive mention of demonstration on how-to-do research on-line by the librarians. (0=no; 1=yes)
  8. Positive mention of video demonstration on how-to-do digest research in print which is uploaded to the TWEN page. (0=no; 1=yes)
  9. Positive mention of one-on-one assistance of a faculty member. (0=no; 1=yes)
  10. Positive mention of one-on-one assistance of a librarian. (0=no; 1=yes)

Use the coding scheme on the previous page to code the following three responses.  Each student has one row.

Student 1: Accelerated student: I learned the most about research when we did the mini assignments on finding cases in the digests in print.  It was most effective to me as we were allowed to work in groups, the professor gave us clear instructions as to each step in the process and I was able to watch the video on TWEN where the professor walked through an example.  Other assignments did not teach me as much when I had to struggle alone as I wasted a lot of time.

Student 2: Traditional 1L: This class and all my law classes have been a struggle for me.  I often don’t know where to go for help, and I am tired and stressed all the time.  The teacher seems to favor the three girls in the front row.  The rest of us aren’t encouraged to say anything.

Student 3: Traditional 1L: the assignment that taught me the most about research and really helped to develop my research was our first open memo.  What helped the most was struggling through the resources myself, asking for guidance from the librarian, and meeting personally with the professor who went to the library with me.  I found myself looking back at my lecture notes and the reading to remember how to do things.  This particular assignment helped bring it all together.  The other mini-assignments were too disjointed to help me much.

Coding sheet

 

 

Change Your Syllabus, Change Your Life

Change Your Syllabus, Change Your Life

By Elizabeth Sherowski,
Visiting Clinical Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

What’s in your syllabus? If you’re like most law professors, it’s a mash-up of course information, schedules, learning objectives, and university-dictated policy language. You probably cobbled it together during your first few years of teaching (cribbing some parts from other professors’ syllabi), and you probably haven’t updated it, other than to change the dates on the reading assignments, in some time.

But what message is your syllabus sending to your students? The syllabus is usually the first thing that your students experience in your course — and you never get a second chance to make a first impression. By changing the focus of the syllabus from rules and policies to explanations and support, we can change our students’ (and our) view of the course.

The Rule-Focused Syllabus

Imagine if, on your first day of teaching, one of your senior colleagues handed you a list of all the ways she predicted you would make mistakes in your first year, and the penalties you would incur for making those mistakes. That’s basically what we’re handing to our students when we kick off the course with a list of all the things they’re not supposed to do (miss class, turn work in late, start emails with “Yo, what up?”) and the penalties for doing them.

Syllabi that focus on policies and rules create a transactional relationship between the learner and the teacher. “If you do these things, and don’t do these other things,” it says, “I will reward you with this grade.” Frankly, that’s a terrible way to learn. It leads the student to focus on the outcome (the grade) rather than the process and importance of what they are learning. Additionally, research on adult learners shows that they learn best when teachers are partners, rather than authority figures. Presenting the course as a collection of rules, and presenting ourselves as the arbiter of those rules, actually hinders learning.

The Learner-Focused Syllabus

Now imagine if, on your first day of teaching, that senior colleague instead handed you a list of teaching practices they had found to be effective, with explanations of why those practices worked. That’s the idea behind the learner-focused syllabus — it explains what the students will learn, why it matters, and how to be successful. Rather than focusing on what matters to the teacher or the administration, it focuses on what matters to the learner.

For example, instead of just listing course objectives (“students will be able to research and apply federal regulations”), a learner-focused syllabus explains why those objectives matter and how they will be met:

Federal regulations impact almost every part of life, from the time we’re born (Department of Health, Department of Education) until after we die (Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service). Through in-class demonstrations and client simulations, we will learn to locate these regulations in print and online and apply them to our clients’ legal issues.

A student receiving the first syllabus will know what they will learn, and no more. A student receiving the second syllabus will know what they will learn, plus how they will learn it and how it fits in with their larger goal of becoming a successful attorney.

The same is true for rules and policies. Instead of taking a punitive or dictatorial stance (“students are required to bring both books to every class session, and failure to do so will negatively affect their grade”), a learner-focused syllabus explains the reasons behind the rules and policies, and helps students know and do what’s expected:

In some courses, it may seem that the reading is optional, but that is not the case in this class. Our casebook and supplement illustrate concepts that we will be learning throughout the course, and we will refer to them often. Therefore, please bring both books to every class meeting.

Nothing has been lost in the conversion from rule-focused language to learner-focused language — the students are still required to bring their books to class. But they’re more likely to comply with the second request because it explains the reason behind the rule and shows how following the rule will help them to succeed.

Changing Your Syllabus Will Change Your Life

Two years ago, I switched from a rule-focused syllabus to a learner-focused syllabus (you can see the evolution here). I knew it would change how students interacted with the course, but I didn’t realize how much it would change my teaching (and my attitude) as well. Changing my syllabus refocused my attention on what I love about teaching: helping and encouraging students, not making and enforcing rules.

The learner-focused syllabus also forced me to explain (and subsequently re-evaluate) my course objectives, making the course more coherent and the teaching less taxing. The new syllabus helped my students focus on what really mattered, and teaching became more enjoyable with learners who were interested in learning skills that would help them achieve their long-term goals, rather than just angling for an A.

Changing my syllabus was a lot of work, but it paid off in more-motivated students, a more coherent course, and a much happier professor.

 

Elizabeth Sherowski is a Visiting Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Law. Email her at esherowski@unc.edu.

 

 

A Negotiation Exercise for Your Legal Skills (or Contracts) Course

A Negotiation Exercise for Your Legal Skills (or Contracts) Course

By George J. Siedel, University of Michigan

An ABA Business Law Section task force recently completed a landmark report titled “Defining Key Competencies for Business Lawyers” that was published in 2017 in The Business Lawyer (Winter 2016/2017).  The report drew on the framework of the ABA MacCrate Report (“Legal Education and Professional Development–An Educational Continuum”), and is directed toward law schools and law firms.

Both reports emphasize the importance of negotiation as a key lawyering skill.  As the MacCrate report notes, “the skill of negotiation is a fundamental part of legal practice….”  The reports also discusses the analytical skills that lawyers must have when participating in negotiations.  The MacCrate report, for example, emphasizes that all lawyers must be able to (1) determine the bottom line; (2) evaluate alternatives; (3) identify outcomes from the negotiation; (4) analyze whether the negotiation is zero-sum, non-zero-sum, or a mixture of the two; and (5) examine the negotiation from the perspective of the other side.

A Free Teaching Package to Develop Negotiation Skills

I have developed a free teaching package that can be used by professors who want to introduce these skills in their courses.  The package includes a negotiation exercise with two roles, a Teaching Note, and Powerpoint slides.  The package could be used in a legal skills development course, in a legal writing program that includes negotiation, or (because the exercise is a contract negotiation) in the first-year Contracts course.  Here is a link to the package:

https://umich.box.com/s/ewycm8d4vedns15hj7m68oxfx4yu2qvz

The exercise, titled “The House on Elm Street,” involves a transaction that everyone can relate to—the sale of a house.  The twist in the exercise is that, unknown to the seller, the buyer is a secret agent representing a company that wants to demolish the house.  Students receive a short (two-page) role as either the buyer or seller, and they negotiate for 30 minutes, followed by an instructor-led debriefing.

The exercise is designed to achieve several learning goals that include the analytical skills mentioned in the two ABA reports.  Students will learn how to:

  1. understand the different types of negotiations;
  2. prepare for negotiations using a negotiation analysis that includes a reservation price, most likely outcome, stretch goal, and zone of potential agreement;
  3. recognize and decide ethical issues, using law-based standards (fraud, fiduciary duty, and unconscionability) and general ethical standards;
  4. develop and use their negotiating power through the concept of BATNA (“best alternative to a negotiated agreement”);
  5. apply contract and agency law concepts to negotiations; and
  6. create value in a manner that benefits both sides.

The Teaching Note is divided into three sections.  Section I explains how to set up the negotiation exercise.  Section II provides a script, with slides, for debriefing the exercise.  Section III discusses a document titled “Self-Assessment and Feedback for the Other Side” that is appended to the Teaching Note.  Students can use this document to evaluate their negotiation skills and develop a plan for skill improvement.  In law school courses where legal skills are taught within a legal writing course, the evaluation and plan could be used as a writing assignment.

Feedback from Participants

I have used this exercise in degree courses and in executive seminars in North America, South America, Asia and Europe.  In addition to law students, attorneys and judges, other participants in the courses and seminars include athletic directors, engineers, entrepreneurs, managers, and physicians.  Organizations in the public sector (for example, the World Bank) and private sector (one of the five largest U.S. companies) have used the exercise for negotiation training led by in-house staff.

Feedback on the exercise has been positive.  Here is a comment on the debriefing experience and the plan for improving negotiation skills.

What a great learning experience! [T]he ability to get feedback and actually debrief a negotiation is really powerful!  I considered myself rather self-actualized, but some interesting things came to light in the class discussions.  I know that if I make a concerted effort to work on [my plan for skill improvement] it will certainly serve me well in my career—both now and in the future.

I have also received considerable feedback regarding the impact of the learning from the exercise.  Here is a comment from a participant who used a planning checklist based on skills covered in the exercise.

I received a quote from a key supplier a few weeks back that was very good and I was just going to accept it as is. [But first I decided to complete the] planning checklist and called in the supplier. We had a great meeting, expanded the pie, learned tons about what each other wanted. In the end we renegotiated everything, set up yearly pricing reductions and a 2 tier pricing schedule that allows me to cover depreciation expenses on any expansion and provides my supplier the long term commitment from me he wanted.  Win-Win. The projected savings over the next 5 years is over $4M ….

If you decide to use the exercise, I would appreciate your comments and recommendations for improvement of the materials.  Thank you.

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George J. Siedel is the Thurnau Professor of Business Law and the Williamson Professor of Business Administration at the University of Michigan.  He can be contacted at gsiedel@umich.edu.

 

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning