December 2013 Idea
By Emily Grant, Washburn University School of Law
Peter Maggs was my contracts professor at the University of Illinois College of Law and, according to the law school’s Facebook feed, he’s been there 50 years. He’s a legend. Beyond sheer longevity or his myriad accomplishments in contract law, he will forever be remembered by my classmates for Maggs’ Last Stand: on the final day of contracts, Professor Maggs stepped up to the podium, recapped the entire semester of contracts law in 50 minutes, gave a slight nod, and exited stage left to thunderous applause. It was truly something to behold. (I’m actually surprised it’s not on YouTube by now.)
In preparing for my final day teaching Decedents Estates and Trusts this semester, the first non-legal-writing class I’ve taught in seven years, I was trying to decide what kind of review session to have. When I asked my students what would be most helpful to them, they smartly suggested anything in which I tell them what’s going to be on the final exam. Right. A Last Stand was certainly an enticing option, for the drama if nothing else. I also considered the opposite end of the spectrum – just taking questions (sent in advance, thank you very much!) without having anything scripted in advance.
I ended up borrowing an idea from Laura Graham, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Law, who shared with the Legal Writing Professor listserv a way to help students organize the analysis section of a memo. I hung pieces of brown kraft paper around the classroom, each with a topic heading of a section of material from the semester: Intestacy, Will Formalities, Nonprobate Transfers, Charitable Trusts, etc.
As the students came into the classroom, I handed them a half sheet of paper and a sharpie and instructed them to write down a concept or rule or case holding from the semester. Each student then taped their rule on the appropriate piece of kraft paper, in logical order to the extent possible.
After the taping, we talked through each major topic, identifying the rules and case holdings that students had included under each, with me supplementing from my own list of rules and adding any necessary color or clarification or reminders about the subject. By the end of class, we had talked through, or at least mentioned, the major topics from the semester and provided a rough sketch of a course outline.
Likely not as YouTube-worthy as Maggs’ Last Stand, but it was a fun way to engage the students in the review process.