Talking about the Elephant in the Room: How to Create a Safe Space for Online Case Discussion

Some case discussion groups have the luxury of preexisting rapport, having already achieved affiliation and understanding. But for ad hoc or online case discussion, case-based learners may find it difficult to share honest opinions, making it hard to reach collective understanding on sensitive issues.

3266056756_5631882f3e_nProfessor Charles Nesson has developed an exercise to tackle the Elephant in the Room. This activity, designed for Nesson’s JuryX MOOC but replicable in other in-person and online settings, plays with the spectrum of privacy to broach sensitive and deeply personal issues at a supportive pace.

Anonymity

The exercise begins with an acknowledge of affinity—the group has something in common, some reason for convening that is ripe with the potential of community. This perspective can give participants the sense that rifts can be overcome. It rules out the notion that a change in dynamic is impossible.

Participants are asked to suggest anonymously what the Elephant in the Room is. Participants can the Berkman Question Tool, a web tool that collects responses with the option of anonymity, to enter their idea and vote up (affirm) the suggestions of their peers. (Of course, this exercise is possible using other online or low-tech ways of collecting anonymous responses.)

Together, but without the trappings of identity that can skew actions and judgments, the group identifies the thorny issue. But it is still too dangerous to touch.

Anonymously, participants then share their fears about the Elephant in the Room—why it is hard to talk about, what might come of discussing it. On the Question Tool, participants see the thoughts of their peers, without the judgment that identity invites. They may be surprised by the commonalities that emerge or the perspectives they had not considered. These seeds of conversation and what follows may be difficult, messy, unsuccessful even, but it leaves participants wanting clarity and closure. It makes them participate and struggle through.

Pseudonymity

Next, students move toward self-identification. Participants choose a pseudonym to complete the next portion of the Question Tool. Here, participants get to play with identity: how much to divulge, what context to cast on their comments, how they might be perceived. They share their hopes for talking about the Elephant in the Room. The anticipation builds. Indirectly, the group is talking about the Elephant and the ways to move forward.

“Nymity”

Finally, participants convene to discuss the Elephant in the Room. They have imagined this moment, established common ground, aired worries and objectives that open channels of discussion. Now, they participate by name, and share a personal story about the Elephant in the Room. The stories not only provide a point of entry, but set a non-confrontational tone to the discussion. It can be easy to question someone’s logic, but harder to question how someone feels. At this point, identity has more meaning; participants are more aware of the context behind the discussion.

This exercise has been helpful in building rapport among online discussion groups, but it could also be used to begin negotiations or mediation between unfriendly parties, build community amid deep-rooted bias, or solve problems collectively. Instructors can access the full instructions for the Elephant in the Room module in the teaching manuals of Professor Nesson’s case studies from JuryX: The Snowden Effect; Thinking Big; The Decriminalization of Marijuana; and The Color of Police Action in these United States.

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Improving First-Year Doctrinal Classes

by E. Scott Fruehwald, Contributing Editor at Legal Skills Prof Blog

While legal scholars have written a great deal on improving legal education by adding experiential classes to the second and third years of law school, it is equally as important that law professors make changes in how they teach first-year doctrinal classes. The Langdellian approach to teaching was developed in the nineteenth century, and we have learned a great deal about effective teaching since then. Moreover, law students today are vastly different than the ones Langdell faced in his classroom.

First, professors should not abandon the Socratic Method; it remains a very effective method of teaching students doctrine and “how to think like a lawyer.” However, professors should add active teaching approaches to their repertoire. One active approach is to sometimes use a flipped classroom, in which students learn the material from lectures posted online, and class time is devoted to doing problem solving exercises.

Professors need to add problem solving exercises to all first-year classes. Students need to not only know the law; they must be able to apply the law to facts. I would suggest that professors give a major problem at the end of each unit, with a problem at least once a week. Alternatives could include several short problems in each class, or short analytical papers every couple of weeks. Professors should also do mini skills exercises in class to develop techniques like rule-based reasoning (deductive reasoning), analogical reasoning, distinguishing cases, synthesis, and policy-based reasoning. For example, studies have shown that second- and third-year students are generally weak at synthesizing cases. Legal publishers have recently started publishing textbooks that law professors can use as sources for exercises. Also, professors could have students identify the types of reasoning a judge is using when they discuss cases in class.

Professors should assign short drafting assignments in first-year classes. For example, students could draft complaints, written discovery, and other pleadings in Civil Procedure. Similarly, students could write contract clauses in Contracts. Students will understand contracts principles much better if they have experience drafting contracts clauses.

First-year professors also need to help law students develop their metacognitive skills—thinking about thinking. Professors can use metacognitive questions to help students be conscious about how they reason, think about their problem solving strategies, and even improve their study habits. Examples of metacognitive questions include: 1) how do you read a case?, 2) is your case reading method the most effective it can be?, 3) will the strategy you used to solve this problem work for the other problem?, and 4) will the study methods you used in undergraduate school be effective in law school?.

Finally, law students need detailed formative assessment. Students need to know as soon as possible what they are doing wrong so that they don’t continue the same mistakes. Also, studies have shown that students retain more with frequent formative assessment. Such assessment can include pop quizzes, short papers, problem solving exercises, and self-formative assessment from texts.

Here is suggestion for teaching a first-year torts class: Have the students read several cases on false imprisonment. Before class, they should synthesize a test for false imprisonment in writing. In class, professors should help the students learn false-imprisonment doctrine, using the Socratic Method or lecture. Then, work through several problems in class. Finally, have the students do a short paper in which they must solve a false-imprisonment problem.

Education researchers have uncovered a new world of effective educational approaches. First-year professors need to use these techniques to better prepare students for the second and third years of law school and to turn out better lawyers.

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Making the Case for Unfacilitated Case Discussion: How Students Make Meaning of Case Studies

Ask almost any case teacher, and they’ll tell you that guided discussion makes or breaks a case study experience. Well, anyone but Charlie Nesson.

Professor Nesson unveiled a new case discussion method in his residential and online courses on the American Jury (taught at Harvard Law School, Harvard Extension School, and HarvardX): participants read the case, receive a stimulus question, and convene in unfacilitated “jury” deliberation groups, with the task of reaching a unanimous verdict. There is no right answer, no right process. Only the urgency to make headway and break impasses—or the spontaneous leadership of a participant—will move the conversation forward. In some sense, it is the simplest of role plays: be yourself, as citizen.

In the traditional classroom case discussion scenario, the instructor asks open-ended yet targeted questions, steering participants toward realizations while encouraging debate and problem solving. Without facilitation, those takeaways might never be unearthed. But too much facilitation, and the peer-to-peer conversation never gets off the ground.

Unfacilitated case discussion removes the possibility of a heavy-handed facilitator, and values the lessons of trial and error. Participants must find a way of relating to the case, using what they have; for instance, one student considered how each issue at hand applied to her work at the Department of Homeland Security. The case studies are group-edited by the teaching team to correct for bias and leading information, so that the takeaways are not handed down from an authority figure.  Participants received an introductory note on The Art of Deliberation as well as post-deliberation surveys each week to reflect on the group dynamics and each student’s reaction to the case. These materials primed participants to be more self-aware and analytical.

Yes, groupthink, steamrollers, and impasses can prevail in these peer deliberations, but insights about democracy, the political process, and self-governance are gleaned. The popular verdict seems to most often render the correct verdict, just as the institution of American jury would have it.

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The Jury Is In: New Cases Deliberate Social Issues in Cyberspace

New Products: The Art of Deliberation; The Snowden Effect; Thinking Big: Bringing Big Sport’s Energy and Innovation to Education; The Decriminalization of Marijuana in Jamaica: A Key Step toward International Legalization?; The Color of Police Action in these United States

A new suite of free workshop-based case studies convenes participants in juries to deliberate important social issues of our time. Designed for Professor Charles Nesson’s HarvardX online course, JuryX: Deliberations for Social Change, these multimedia case studies include first-hand footage of current events, interviews with key players in the cases, and commentary from Professor Nesson. Participants are challenged to examine and rethink the concept of jury, as well as to be active participants in the deliberative process.

The course began with an introductory note, The Art of Deliberation, surveying elegant approaches for deliberating without rancor. Participants were introduced to historical legal cases (Vosberg v. Putney, Palsgraf v. LIRR, Commonwealth v. Hebert), deliberating alone or in pairs before entering the small group jury. Then, in each new module, the juries convened to reach verdicts on issues that increased in emotional tenor:

  • The Snowden Effect considers individual identity and anonymity through the lens of Edward Snowden’s NSA leak. This case study provides background on the state’s view of privacy, in order to approach privacy from the citizen’s point of view: in relation to others, through stages of anonymity, pseudonymity, and nymity. Participants must consider: “Who are we, the people of and on the net?” Participants deliberate whether Snowden is a hero or a traitor as well as how to feel about the actions of Snowden and the State.
  • Thinking Big: Bringing Big Sport’s Energy and Innovation to Education considers the possibilities for international sporting events to advance society. The case reviews the experiences of Brazil preparing for the World Cup and the Summer Olympics as well as Boston’s recent (now unsuccessful) bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games. Participants convene a jury and use Socratic questioning for cross-examination, with the aim of reaching a verdict on the opportunities and challenges that face host cities.
  • The Decriminalization of Marijuana in Jamaica: A Key Step toward International Legalization? surveys the legal and social history of marijuana in Jamaica, following for comparison the international trends in legalization. Participants negotiate an agreement between Rastafarian marijuana growers and the Jamaican Minister of Justice regarding the Cannabis Cup, a competition and celebration of the skill of growing marijuana. Through Socratic questioning and the objective of jury unanimity, participants find common ground.
  • The Color of Police Action in these United States brings the deliberative process to bear on one of the most difficult and divisive controversies of late, a true crisis of humanity: the killing of unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcement across the country. The case examines the deaths of two African Americans, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, at the hands of police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, respectively. By reviewing the grand jury decisions, the nationwide protests in response, and the ideologically tinged interpretations of these events, participants are prepared to constitute themselves as a grand jury and decide the cases themselves.

Though the cases themselves are rich with detail, information transfer is not the goal. JuryX seeks to teach students to become better citizens and deliberators. The jury pedagogy illustrates the power of consensus in solving multistakeholder issues, and the creativity that comes from collaboration, anonymity, and the power of the people. Over the next few weeks, we’ll feature technology tools and course exercises that made JuryX an open, honest cyberspace.

JuryX case studies are available free of charge from the Case Studies website.

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Keys to Facilitating Successful Student Group Work

by Amanda Reilly

Working in teams is an important part of being an effective learner and employee, yet students from high school through professional schools tend to groan when teachers assign a team project.  How can teachers foster positive attitudes before, during and after group experiences?

“It’s not about loving the group work; it’s about developing the skills,” said Dr. Maryellen Weimer, professor emerita at Penn State Berks and the keynote speaker at the 2015 spring seminar of Simmons College’s Center for Excellence in Teaching. Dr. Weimer, a renowned authority on effective college teaching, presented on successful methods for encouraging effective student group work. She said that although professors typically encourage their students to be “self-directed learners” (rather than “groupies,” who depend on others to learn), educators still must cultivate rewarding group experiences so that students can be productive in a variety of educational and professional scenarios.

Dr. Weimer detailed several ways in which teachers can facilitate student group work:

  • Focus on the details. Early in their work together, group members must delineate expectations, clarify roles, understand each other’s work styles, and commit to how they will work together. When group members establish their own group norms, they lay a solid foundation for their work, such as a group member “bill of rights” – what the group has a right to expect from each member.
  • Maintain an ideal size. What group size is most effective? Dr. Weimer argues that the ideal group is small enough for all members to share their opinions and large enough for diversity of views. A group with three members often does not possess enough diversity of thought and resources; in a group of six or seven members, some members may remain silent during discussions, and work may be divided inequitably. A group of five members is often ideal, eliminating the concerns associated with both smaller and larger groups.
  • Thoughtfully construct the group. With diversity in mind, teachers should assemble groups according to a common interest. If you allow students to self-select, it is important to help them build diverse teams. Self-selection, however, can cause introverted students undue stress and social anxiety. Weimer has found that students who don’t know each other before they do group work often create the most outstanding work, whereas students who already know each other tend to socialize more and make less progress during group work, thereby not producing exceptional results.
  • Don’t underestimate peer pressure. Students who don’t carry their own weight (e.g., “social loafers,” “freeloaders”) or who dominate and exclude (e.g., “alpha lone wolves”) have to acclimate to the group dynamic. Group conflict can be a valuable opportunity for personal growth. Dr. Weimer asks that groups share techniques for effective communication and team member accountability with the class, ensuring that each student brings something to the experience.
  • Discuss and share best practices to help groups process problems. Facilitate group work by empowering groups to solve their own problems. This helps group members understand that they are responsible for their problems and that overcoming obstacles is part of the group work process. Collaboration is a valuable part of learning how to work effectively in groups, so it is essential for teachers to provide vehicles for students to communicate and share, such as online wikis or Google Docs. Urge groups to observe how other groups communicate, or assign groups the task of making study guides for other groups.
  • Use peer formative feedback and provide summative feedback. Students are more accountable to each other when they understand that a portion of their grade is based on peer formative feedback. Formative assessment can help students identify not only their strengths but also opportunities for improvement. This type of process feedback can help groups with the parsing of duties, and assessment of their group needs. Also, remember that students place the most value on the teacher’s summative feedback, typically conveyed through a final evaluation of a group’s process and end product.

Group collaboration is an essential skill for students to learn before they enter the professional world, and the collaborative classroom is an ideal place in which students can develop this skill. With a foundation with which to build better groups, students not only learn teamwork accountability and commitment, but also enhance their ability to master course content.

Dr. Maryellen Weimer has a loyal following of educators from law, medicine, and business programs at colleges and universities across the country. More than 15,000 educators subscribe to her newsletter and read her weekly blog, The Teaching Professor Blog. If you are curious about how to incorporate learner-centered policies, practices, techniques, and approaches in your classroom, check out Dr. Weimer’s teaching resources and strategies at www.facultyfocus.com.

Amanda Reilly is the Program Associate for HLS Case Studies.

 

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Anatomy of a Copyright Case: The Challenges and Opportunities of a Semester-Long Case Study

EM: Hank Gutman HLS ’75, Lecturer on Law at HLS, was counsel for the plaintiff in Lotus Development Corporation v. Borland International, Inc. (516 U.S. 233), a landmark case in software copyright. Last week on our blog, Gutman reflected on his spring reading group at HLS, “Anatomy of a Copyright Case.” Over the course of a semester, the reading group traced Lotus v. Borland from problem to complaint to the Supreme Court. For six two-hour sessions, students pored over case files, pleadings, and briefs to understand what happened and why, and to craft winning strategies and arguments.

Today, Gutman shares with us the challenges and opportunities presented by teaching a single, semester-long case study:

Hank Gutman

Hank Gutman

HG: From a teaching perspective, the principal challenge and opportunity was deciding which of the numerous issues presented were worth pursuing in the limited time available.  For example, Borland raised a fair use defense very late in the case, and there were interesting procedural questions about the way in which that happened.  Fair use is a critically important copyright issue today – you could teach an entire course about it – but how much time did it deserve in discussing a case where it was just an afterthought?

The case also offered the opportunity to pursue issues law students don’t normally encounter. For instance, the lengthy and scholarly decisions written by the District Judge—Robert Keeton, a distinguished member of the HLS faculty—presented a wide array of procedural questions, including whether copyrightability is for the judge or a jury to decide, what is a genuine issue of fact for summary judgment purposes, when is a decision ripe to be certified for interlocutory appeal, etc.  There was even an issue at the outset over whether the case should proceed in front of Judge Keeton (who had just decided Lotus’s case against another alleged infringer), or in San Francisco, where Borland had filed its own declaratory judgment action a few days earlier.  As counsel, how would you address that problem?  Are you better off asking one judge to enjoin proceedings in the court of the other, or should you ask one of the judges to stand aside and defer? This is a very delicate, real-life issue the students were asked to decide.

Another example: when the case went to the Supreme Court, there was a huge fight within the US government over whether the government would take a position by filing  an amicus brief and, if so, on which side.  On one side, the Patent and Trademark Office, the Copyright Office, and the US Trade Representative wanted Lotus to prevail.  At the DOJ, the Antitrust Division sided with Borland, and the Solicitor General’s office seemed to agree.  The White House Counsel’s office had to referee the dispute and the assignment fell to then-Associate White House Counsel Elena Kagan.   We reviewed in class a number of the key memos and even a draft brief prepared, but never filed, by the Solicitor General’s office.  This is a side of legal practice law students don’t often see.

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Anatomy of a Copyright Case: How to Spend a Semester Dissecting a Case Study

Hank Gutman HLS ’75, Lecturer on Law at HLS, was counsel for the plaintiff in Lotus Development Corporation v. Borland International, Inc. (516 U.S. 233), a landmark case in software copyright.  Lotus sued Borland for copyright infringement of Lotus 1-2-3, a popular spreadsheet application in the years before Microsoft Excel. At issue was the menu in Borland’s Quattro Pro spreadsheet program, modeled after Lotus 1-2-3: the text and hierarchy were the same, but the code was different. The court initially sided with Lotus, but appeals favored Borland. When the case went before the Supreme Court, the decision was a 4-4 tie.

Gutman’s spring reading group, “Anatomy of a Copyright Case,” traced Lotus v. Borland from problem to complaint to the Supreme Court. Over six two-hour sessions, students pored over case files, pleadings, and briefs to understand what happened and why, and to craft winning strategies and arguments. Gutman reflected on the inaugural semester of the reading group:

EM: How was the case presented and discussed?

Hank Gutman

Hank Gutman

HG:  Most law school courses are taught from edited excerpts of appellate decisions. They start with the conclusion of the case, when the court has provided an answer. We began at the opposite end of the process, with the initial problem, the way a lawyer in practice would. You look at the facts and the statutes available and try to decide what should be done.

I thought this would be a good case study because the suit went all the way to the Supreme Court and ended in a tie vote, so there was no ultimate decision. The students could decide for themselves. The case was an attractive teaching tool because it covered a wide array of substantive copyright questions without easy answers, allowing students to think creatively. It also contained a wide array of procedural issues relating to trial and appellate practice and litigation strategy.  We tried to address both.

Each class, I took up a different phase in the ten-year life of this case . A lot of time was spent asking students to put themselves in the lawyer’s shoes. What would you have done and why? What if you were counsel for the other side?

This case, at the time, was probably the most highly publicized copyright case in the country.  But it isn’t just ancient history. There is an important dispute today between Oracle and Google over Google using Java in its Android platform. As we speak, a certiorari petition is pending before the Supreme Court in which Google told the Court that this is its chance finally to decide the issues it considered in Lotus v. Borland.   We spent our last class talking about the current case and how our analysis of Lotus might apply to its facts.

In addition to the case materials we assigned, we included a fair amount of supplemental material. It was quite a lot to read. Other syllabi might assign particular pages of a case, but when students leave law school and begin to practice, no one tells them what pages to read. They need to decide for themselves which are the most important parts of the materials, and I’m pleased to say the students did.

EM: Did your personal experience in this trial shape your teaching or class discussion? What advice do you have for instructors without this personal experience?

HG: I had ready access to some of the materials that would have been hard for others to dig up.  And in some instances, after we had discussed the strategic and tactical choices confronting counsel, I could shed some light on the actual decision making processes of the parties. But personally, it was very interesting for me to relive that litigation from the perspective of bright young law students who took a fresh look at it all. The students had very creative ideas and insights—it was terrific fun. They ended up teaching me material that I thought I already knew really well. The students arrived with a deep interest in copyright and its application to technology; even in a one-credit ungraded course, they dug into the material.

For instructors building a course around a single case, the main goal is to read and become intimately familiar with the materials, which is easier if someone’s collected them for you. I recommend that instructors remain open to the ideas and input of the students. If case teaching works the way it should, students are doing the teaching themselves.

EM: With such a well-known case, how did you address the fact that students might rely on retrospection or outside knowledge?

HG: Since there was no written decision from the Supreme Court, the students couldn’t look up a definitive answer. But in putting together readings for each week, my teaching team did consider how we wanted the story to unfold. We had an eye on what we wanted the class discussion to entail each week, and tried to allocate the readings so that the students would have enough material to discuss how they would have addressed that week’s issues, without yet having read, for example, the District Court’s opinion resolving the questions.  But in our class discussions, the students did not show the slightest hesitation  in disagreeing with either the courts or counsel.

 

EM: How did students react to the case study? Did anything surprise you in the classroom?

HG: I was pleased, but not surprised, that the students showed up each week well prepared, having read the materials, and ready to share their opinions in class.  For our last class on Lotus v. Borland, the students were asked to read the Supreme Court briefs, read or listen to the oral arguments and then, in class, to pretend they were the Supreme Court and to decide the case.  In the actual case, Lotus got four votes in the Supreme Court; in class, only two students thought Lotus should win.  So much for telling the teacher what he wanted to hear!  I was delighted, because it demonstrated that the students undertook their own independent analysis of the issues.

EM: What, if anything, would you do differently next time?

HG: I am sure that the second time through I might tweak the materials a bit, perhaps dropping an issue or two and adjusting the emphasis. We did cover a lot of ground in 12 hours.  Also, because the class was a reading group, we couldn’t assign written work. If this had been a seminar, we might have asked the students to brief an issue or, for a final assignment, write the missing Supreme Court opinion. There was certainly enough material available to fill a semester-long seminar.

A case study on Lotus v. Borland is forthcoming from HLS Case Studies. Hank Gutman is of counsel at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, LLP, where he created and until recently chaired the Intellectual Property Practice Group.

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In LCLD Pathfinder Program, Case Studies Help Young Lawyers Consider Future Challenges in their Careers

Products: Sponsorship at Wilmer Cutler and Pickering (A): Yoon-Young Lee; From Brussels to Paris

The Pathfinder Program, an associate leadership development program by the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, used two case studies from Harvard Law School to teach early-career lawyers to think proactively about challenges that might arise in the course of their careers.

LCLD, formed in 2009, works to develop diverse attorney talent to lead organizations and foster inclusiveness in society; its 220 members are general counsel or managing partners at leading corporations and law firms. The Pathfinder Program, which was launched this year, has been designed to provide early-career attorneys with “internal professional networks through relationship building skills; foundational leadership skills; and an understanding of career development strategies applicable to both in-house and law firm practice.” The curriculum includes face-to-face workshops, break-out sessions, and discussions; experiential online modules on Sponsorship, Career Management/Goal Setting, and Interrupting Bias; advice and networking with Fellows; facilitators at the participants’ workplace that ensure Pathfinder lessons are germane; and peer groups for networking and learning.

Carrie_Fletcher.jpg-171x227

Carrie Fletcher, Executive Director of HLS Executive Education

Carrie Fletcher, Executive Director of Executive Education at Harvard Law School, worked with LCLD Program Director Lori Lorenzo to design a case study module within the broader Pathfinder program. Fletcher says, “Young professionals are under enormous pressure with billing and revenue generation. There is often not much time to stop and reflect on personal challenges and accomplishments, client needs, or strategic objectives.” Pathfinder, and the case studies it uses, offer that time for reflection and growth.

In mid-April, Fletcher joined the Pathfinders in Chicago to teach Sponsorship at Wilmer Cutler and Pickering (A): Yoon-Young Lee to a breakout group for law firm associates. The case is often taught to a more senior audience—partners who are in a position to serve as sponsors—but Fletcher shaped the discussion around how associates themselves can help develop a culture of sponsorship in their firms.  The group discussed what actions they might take to position themselves to be sponsored, as well as ideas for how to find sponsors and how, at an associate level, to work toward a sponsorship culture. Fletcher explains, “You can’t assign or dictate sponsorship relationships, but you can create a culture that is ripe for sponsorship relationships.” Sponsorship, says Fletcher, is not necessarily a widespread conception in law firms, and to really take hold the philosophy must be embedded in different tiers of the firm. As Fletcher notes, “the Yoon-Young case shows that people who fill sponsor roles get a lot out of the experience too”; this encourages early-career lawyers not to be shy about seeking sponsorship. The Wilmer Cutler B Case, which provides the sponsor’s perspective, helps participants consider the actions and traits of a good sponsor and how a young associate might emulate those.

The Pathfinders breakout group for in-house counsel discussed From Brussels to Paris with John Mitchell, a consultant who has experience teaching cases. “These are high-level business-legal tensions, showing the reality of some of the problems above the pay grade of junior inside counsel,” says Fletcher. “The case also provides a basis for a more targeted discussion about the precise challenges that more junior inside lawyers face in their roles.” How do newer lawyers become ready for these tensions? How do these tensions translate down to the work of lawyers who are not yet in a general counsel role? What conflicts or tensions might associates face in their current roles? Fletcher says, “We agreed that, although From Brussels to Paris is dealing with business issues that are more sophisticated than younger lawyers likely face, it is a terrific discussion starter for the complexity of working as counsel inside an organization.”

These case studies not only educate diverse future leaders, but also promote diverse intellectual skills. Fletcher explains, “For lawyers, case studies are a different way of learning—learning by story. And in well-done case study discussions, of course, lawyers will learn from each other. The storyline and structure of the cases can sometimes make it easier to talk about difficult, challenging, or complicated topics.”

HLS continues its partnership with LCLD in June, when senior members attend a leadership program on campus.

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Is Your Case Teaching Learner-Centered? It’s Harder Than You Think

By Amanda Reilly

 

It might seem self-evident that teaching is learner-centered, but the traditional lecture and rote memorization model actually doesn’t put students first.  To address this issue, Dr. Maryellen Weimer wrote Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. Dr. Weimer, professor emerita at Penn State Berks and 2015 keynote and guest presenter at Simmons College’s Center for Excellence in Teaching spring seminar uses innovative teaching practices to develop students’ independence and empower them to take responsibility for their own learning.

During her presentation at Simmons College, Dr. Weimer, who has been described as “one of the nation’s most highly-regarded authorities on effective college teaching,” explained the five characteristics of learner-centered teaching:

  • Students should do the hard, messy work of learning. Teachers too often take on many of the learning activities that students should be doing. For example, students should engage in the process of summarization before the end of class instead of the teacher recapping important points. It is essential for students to do more than just listen. They must be fully engaged in reading, writing, discussing and problem solving.
  • Students must have some control over learning processes. Typically, educators make all the learning decisions for students and have the power and authority on the content, pace, calendar, and learning method. Dr. Weimer poses the question: What is really left for the students to decide? Dr. Weimer posits that offering students a choice of conditions under which they learn will increase students’ feelings of empowerment.

As students are grounded in their individual learning experiences, educators play the crucial role of fostering and facilitating students’ learning. Learner-centered teaching takes courage: many students would rather you tell them what they need to know, and may be reluctant to engage in this practice. However, students who acquire these learning skills improve their critical thinking, analysis, synthesis of course concepts, and are more able to evaluate their own learning.

Dr. Maryellen Weimer has a loyal following of educators from law, medicine and business programs. More than 15,000 educators subscribe to her newsletter and read her weekly weblog The Teaching Professor Blog. If you are curious about incorporating learner-centered policies, practices, techniques and approaches to your classroom, check out Dr. Weimer’s teaching resources and strategies at www.facultyfocus.com.

Amanda Reilly is the Program Associate for HLS Case Studies.

 

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New Vice Dean to Develop Experiential Learning at HLS

Daniel Nagin, Clinical Professor of Law

Daniel Nagin, Clinical Professor of Law

Dan Nagin, Clinical Professor of Law and director of the WilmerHale Legal Services Center, will serve as Harvard Law School’s first Vice Dean for Experiential and Clinical Programs. In this position, Nagin will work to build the school’s experiential offerings and foster new opportunities for hands-on learning.

Nagin, who joined HLS in 2012, founded the Legal Services Center’s Veterans Legal Clinic. He brings experience in legal advocacy and social service for homeless HIV/AIDS patients living in New York, and previously taught at the University of Virginia and Washington University in St. Louis.

In announcing his appointment, HLS Dean Martha Minow said, “With national ongoing discussions about how legal education can best prepare students for professional careers and some changes made recently by the ABA with regard to educational requirements in this area, this is a time of opportunity and responsibility, and I am confident Dan will execute his new role with the grace, insight, and wisdom for which he is already known.” Nagin will build on proposals from Minow’s Ad Hoc Committee on Experiential Learning.

HLS recently increased its requirement for student pro bono service from 40 to 50 hours. To fulfill this experience quota, students may participate in student practice organizations, spring break pro bono trips, clinics, government or NGO work, or student-initiated projects.

The Problem Solving Workshop, a case-based simulation course on lawyering for 1Ls, is one of HLS’s signature classroom experiential initiatives. The Negotiation Workshop also makes use of experiential role plays. Materials for these courses can be found on the HLS Case Studies website.

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