Top Challenges for Case Study Programs

What gets in the way of case study adoption? The Case Studies Affinity Group, a consortium of Harvard-affiliated case programs, took up this question during its quarterly meeting on May 12. The Affinity Group welcomed as panelists Carolyn Wood, Assistant Academic Dean & Director of SLATE and the Case Program, Harvard Kennedy School; Lisa Rohrer, Executive Director of the Case Development Initiative at Harvard Law School; and Susan Madden, Associate Director, Case-Based Teaching and Learning Center, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Together, the panelists identified key challenges facing case study programs at Harvard and beyond:

  • Poor visibility. A searchable index of all available case materials is a fundamental resource, but surprisingly challenging to achieve when instructors write case studies for their own courses. This index must be featured prominently in faculty onboarding or resource pages; ideally, faculty would receive formal pedagogical training or advising on available curricular resources. According to Wood, the Kennedy School of Government circulates an e-update three times per year to 80+ HKS faculty to highlight new cases and share high-level statistics and FAQs on case teaching and case usage. HKS also reaches out to instructors directly, suggesting a few new case studies specifically tailored to their course(s).
  • Few role models and mentors. The prevalence of poorly-facilitated case discussions can undermine support for case method teaching, but a skilled, energizing case teacher can transform student learning and inspire fellow faculty. Case study programs need respected opinion leaders on the faculty to act as champions; if such role models also direct or supervise case programs, the programs themselves can develop from this galvanizing leadership.
  • Incentive structure. Faculty members are typically promoted based primarily on research and scholarship, while teaching is thought to be weighted less. We need career incentives for faculty to stay on the cutting edge of pedagogy. In the interim, we can make the case development effort worthwhile for faculty by dovetailing case topics with faculty research interests, so that there is a greater return on investment for case research.
  • Lack of testing environments. Instructors need spaces to test new teaching styles outside of the classroom. Workshops where instructors test-teach short cases and see peer approaches would increase success, confidence, and ease for new case teachers.
  • The challenge of case teaching. Case teaching has been the dominant means of instruction in business schools across the globe for decades.  It can seem intimidating for instructors in fields outside of business to adopt case method teaching when they lack a stock of tested cases in their field, robust training, and the pervasive culture of case teaching that is so prevalent in business schools. Public policy faculty often practice case teaching in a more heterogeneous manner than their business school colleagues. Wood muses, “Even the most skilled case teachers at HKS are often reluctant to call themselves case teachers, perhaps because they’re uncertain they meet the HBS definition of a true ‘case teacher.’ But in our context, there’s room for variation in how case method teaching is practiced so long as it’s done in a manner that advances active learning.  It’s all about using authentic problems to push students to practice higher-order thinking skills (analysis, decision-making, advocacy) in a group context in class.”  Susan Madden notes that Emory University addresses this barrierby hosting a global health case study competition, encouraging multidisciplinary teams.
  • Benefits of traditional materials. According to Wood, some HKS faculty report that students read less carefully in the digital age; it is hard for students to skim case studies and still contribute deeply to the discussion. Furthermore, in legal education casebooks and lectures provide a broad abundance of information; it is hard for instructors to cut a lot of material and replace it with one deep scenario. However, instructors have successfully paired traditional legal cases with case studies, so that students may extrapolate to other scenarios. To achieve breadth with a single case study, instructors can mine the text for lessons comparable to those in legal casebooks, and lead students to articulate enduring, transferable takeaways.

Nonetheless, case study adoption should be slow. Wood explains that it is better to have a small number of instructors who teach cases well than many who teach ineffectively. Relationships between case writers and faculty take time to build; quality cases take time to research and write. With a foundation of quality, case study programs can address their challenges without undercutting the main objective: more engaged, thoughtful teaching and learning.

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New Mega-Hit Case Study on Tech Ethics

New FREE Product: Algorithmic Allegories (Version 1.0)

In June 2014, people got emotional about Facebook.

That month, Facebook published the results of its “emotional contagion” study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In conjunction with researchers at Cornell, Facebook experimentally altered the algorithm that populates the News Feed, the primary activity and content list on Facebook. The goal? To explore if emotions can spread through Facebook. In the experiment, the algorithms for a random subset of users were manipulated to display either proportionately more negative emotional content or proportionately more emotional content; a control group saw content according to the current algorithm. The study found that the emotional nature of News Feed content does influence users’ moods, as indicated by their subsequent posts.

This was news to Facebook users, none of whom had volunteered for, opted into, or known about the study. Some found the invisible consequences of the algorithm chilling. Privacy activist Lauren Weinstein said, “I wonder if anyone killed anyone with their emotional manipulation stunt.” This impassioned response is the launching point of a new, free Advanced Problem Solving Workshop case, “Algorithmic Allegories (version 1.0),” spearheaded by HLS Professor Jonathan Zittrain.

Algorithmic Allegories chronicles the Facebook study controversy and the legal issues it introduced, as well as offering six related hypotheticals to probe the moral, legal, and technical implications of algorithms in our lives. By considering the use of algorithms in print media, charity, business, and other situations, participants form nuanced ethical positions on the Facebook Emotional Contagion study. Participants then engage in a class-wide debate about the study. Participants learn to assess the feasibility of implementing policy in a rapidly changing, technology-powered landscape; appreciate the responsibilities of those who use algorithms; write policy briefs; and advise clients.

Though the infamous experiment was conducted on a small fraction of users, Facebook data scientist Dan Farrell told Radiolab that “any given person is probably currentlty involved in ten different experiments” on Facebook alone. The pervasive use of algorithms begs for human consideration.

Sure enough, more than 100 customers have downloaded Algorithmic Allegories in its first month. See what the buzz is all about by downloading the case for free.

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Can We Have Justice in an Imperfect World? DSK Case Study Shows Fractured Relationship between Justice and Justice System

Professor Jeannie Suk

Professor Jeannie Suk

Product: “Cyrus Vance and Dominique Strauss-Kahn: Dilemmas in a High-Profile Prosecution”

HLS Professor Jeannie Suk repurposed a discussion-based case study, “Cyrus Vance and Dominique Strauss-Kahn: Dilemmas in a High-Profile Prosecution,” to explore the disconnect between justice and the justice system in a foundational 1L course. In her two sections of Criminal Law, Suk paired the case study with analysis of Inmates of Attica Correctional Facility v Rockefeller, 477 F.2d 375 (1973), a seminal case that affirmed discretion in charging and prosecuting.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Cyrus Vance

Cyrus Vance

Originally written by Professor Philip Heymann, the “DSK” case study chronicles the allegations of rape against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, director of the International Monetary Fund and presidential hopeful in France, during a hotel stay in New York City. The allegations pitted the credibility of a black immigrant maid against that of a well-off, famous white man; Manhattan’s new district attorney, Cyrus Vance, had to decide whether to allow Strauss-Kahn out on bail and, later, whether to drop charges when the evidence base unraveled. On the line was not only Strauss-Kahn’s image, but Vance’s too.

Professor Heymann originally used the case in an elective on Decision-Making and Leadership in the Public Sector. His teaching plan explored the permissible factors that go into charging decisions, the implications of prosecutorial discretion particular to the DSK case, and strategies for investigating hypotheses and gathering evidence.

But for Suk’s 1Ls, it was important to explore the relationship between discretion and justice. She asked:

  • What is discretion? Why don’t legal rules determine criminal liability and punishment?
  • Is discretion fair to defendants? To victims? To society?
  • Is it fair to take the case to trial if a prosecutor believes beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant is guilty, but knows a jury is unlikely to convict or the admissible evidence is unconvincing?
  • If the prosecutor conducts himself properly, is the outcome automatically just?
  • Under the Rawlsian veil of ignorance, are prosecutors better suited as trustees of justice or delegates of the people? How much should public pressures influence prosecutorial discretion?

Together, the class parsed out available standards for charging someone with a crime: probable cause, beyond a reasonable doubt, and the grey areas in between. Through Socratic questioning, Suk elicited from students the notion that probable cause does not signify a probable conviction, which is determined by the strength of the admissible evidence.

From many angles, Suk showed how written law and established procedure do not necessarily bring justice. For instance, she asked the class to consider whether an acquittal for a rapist, due to insufficient evidence or lingering doubt in the jury, would send a message of justice. Suk posed another example, the mandatory arrest and prosecution of domestic violence suspects, as a procedural extreme: does removing human intervention actually bring more justice? Furthermore, Suk noted that it is unconstitutional to consider race in prosecutorial decisions, but prosecutors do commonly think of representing, empowering, or bringing justice to specific populations. The perception of fairness, whether in charging or trial, can engender faith in the justice system.

To conclude, Suk explained how prosecutors were the lynchpins of the criminal justice system. Suk said, “There are legal incentives to cast many behaviors as criminal with big punishments. It’s a one-way ratchet up.” Overcriminalization, she argued, is premised on prosecutorial discretion: the system presupposes that not all offenses will be pursued, and thus prosecutors should be able to tailor charges and offenses to the individual defendant. Should prosecution be monitored by an independent institution? Should we allow for private prosecutions, as other countries do? These are questions that these 1Ls will carry with them throughout their legal careers.

“Cyrus Vance and Dominique Strauss-Kahn: Dilemmas in a High-Profile Prosecution” (A), (B), and (C) are available through the Case Studies website. Educators and staff at non-profit institutions may register to download review copies free of charge.

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New Case on the Realities of Business Development

New Product: Chasing Growth at Sasker Devereaux

EM: Business development is a critical component of any successful law practice, but poses challenges unique to each partner.  A new discussion-based case study, Chasing Growth at Sasker Devereaux, profiles law firm partners struggling with business development; through the case study format, each participant unearths personally relevant lessons. Lisa Rohrer, the executive director of the HLS Case Development Initiative, shares her thoughts on the latest CDI case:

LR: This case is the second time we’ve collaborated with Kevin Doolan, a guest faculty member in our Executive Education program, on practical challenges facing lawyers in law firms today.  The first case, Three Vignettes on Pricing of Professional Services, dealt with pricing and this latest collaboration is about business development. The case chronicles a managing partner as he debates how to encourage and support his partners in their business development efforts. We also “get into the heads” of two partners who are struggling with these issues. One of them is a very technically proficient and somewhat introverted partner who needs to rebuild his practice after losing several large clients but is not sure where to start. He ends up at a networking event where he feels extremely uncomfortable and leaves early, feeling sorry for himself. The second partner has attended a sales training course and absolutely crashes and burns when she attempts to apply what she learned to a real client prospect. The case also addresses the concept of cross-selling, why it can be so annoying to clients, and how it can be done effectively.

One lesson from the experience of the partners in the case is the importance of authenticity and finding approaches that work well with your personality. When we teach this case, we focus on a range of strategies and tactics that can be applied by different types of people in different situations. In many instances, the best “sales” tactics don’t feel like selling at all and the case enables a lively discussion about the different approaches. Kevin used the case in a recent Accelerated Leadership Program for law firm partners and I think the characters in the case really resonated with the participants. Sometimes in law firms, people are afraid to say that they really aren’t sure how to do something and so skills like business development are not adequately addressed. The case enables us to tap into the insecurities so many of us feel when faced with developing new business.  Using a story instead of a lecture, we can elicit the emotional aspect of their day-to-day experience, which creates a more memorable and impactful class session.

I’ve enjoyed working with Kevin because he comes at case writing from the perspective of a practicing lawyer and law firm leader from over 25 years at the law firm Eversheds in the UK. While the case itself is based on a fictional firm, it is certainly grounded in the reality that Kevin saw in his law firm days. The fictional case study is also fun as a writer because you have more freedom to be creative with the details and personalities of key characters. The challenge, then, is to not be so creative that the characters become unbelievable. We did a lot of tweaking of the case to strike the right balance so that the case is interesting to read yet grounded in the reality of law firm life. As always, we welcome the thoughts of readers and instructors about how our cases play out in the classroom, so please do send feedback.

To share your thoughts on “Chasing Growth at Sasker Devereaux” or any of our case studies or role plays, email or call 617-495-8689.

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To Save or Not to Save? New High-Stakes Multiparty Role Play on Infectious Disease

New Product: Drug Trial Committee

6136_PHIL_scientists_PPE_Ebola_outbreak_1995Imagine that a deadly infectious disease, the Anthella virus, is spreading throughout the world population. Scientists everywhere are rushing to find a cure. Fortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have just developed an antidote. Unfortunately, there are only three doses. Who will be saved?

Based on the Ebola outbreak of 2014, a new role play from Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program involves the life-or-death policy decisions of a public health crisis. Written by Professor Robert Bordone, clinical instructor Alonzo Emery, and clinical fellow Sara del Nido, Drug Trial Committee is easy to implement but challenging to negotiate.

As members of a committee seeking to provide transparency in allocating resources in national health crises and disasters, participants are tasked with deciding unanimously who may receive medical treatment. Participants must choose three of seven candidates: a beloved reality TV star; a single public interest lawyer; a stay-at-home dad with health issues; an undocumented seasonal worker with a family abroad; an epidemiologist infected while researching a cure; a young prodigy with a history of depression; and the prodigy’s brother, a recovering addict. The other four candidates will not be treated. If the group cannot decide, the drug’s efficacy will expire and all, presumably, will die.

The case requires approximately an hour to teach and just five minutes of student preparation, but introduces students to the process of multiparty negotiation in an emotionally charged, time-pressured scenario. First, participants deliberate for approximately thirty minutes; the remainder of the hour may be used to debrief the exercise. Instructors may tease out how processes were formed, what criteria were used, what group dynamics transpired, and the advantages and disadvantages of various processes. Discussion of values, transparency, and fiduciary duty may arise. Instructors have the option to precede the case with a slideshow of images, so that participants develop an emotional connection with the patient candidates.  The case may also be adapted for a decision rule other than unanimity—such as a chairperson with final authority or simple majority rule. This case works best with at least four groups of five, but is manageable with four to six participants or larger groups.

To download Drug Trial Committee, visit HLS Case Studies. Educators and staff of non-profit institutions are eligible to receive review copies free of charge.

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New Teaching Note: Legislating Intellectual Property Law in the Digital Age

Product: From Sony to SOPA: The Technology-Content Divide

A teaching note is now available for From Sony to SOPA: The Technology-Content Divide, a classic Problem Solving Workshop background note about tensions in intellectual property law.

Opponents to the Stop Online Piracy Act feared the end of free speech on the Internet.

Opponents to the Stop Online Piracy Act feared the end of free speech on the Internet.

With the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in 2011, the conflict between copyright holders, technology producers, and legislative enforcers boiled over. SOPA was designed to increase federal powers to curb online copyright infringement. The Act proposed that Internet Service Providers shut down domain names with infringing content, that search engines not link to infringing content, and that businesses not transact with infringing sites. The Act would also make unauthorized streaming illegal. However, opponents feared censorship and limitations on fair use. It was the first proposal to make sweeping restrictions on the unfettered Web, far less targeted than take-down notices.

The “Sony to SOPA” background and teaching notes set up an engaging and thoughtful debate about SOPA and intellectual property. Authored by HLS Professor Jonathan Zittrain and former HLS Professor John Palfrey, the background note surveys over twenty years of legal precedent beginning with the Sony v. Universal Studios (“Betamax”) decision. Providing a primer on peer-to-peer, torrenting, and other file sharing platforms, the background note prepares students to analyze and discuss the controversial 2011 SOPA legislation. Suggested supplemental readings include the text of SOPA and a white paper on the DNS concerns in the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), a related bill.

As the teaching note details, the workshop is designed to take place for six hours over four days, but can be adapted to different time constraints. Participants adopt the roles of stakeholders in the SOPA legislation: general counsels at Google, the Motion Picture Association of America, and PayPal; the Electronic Frontier Foundation; Senator Ron Wyden, who led the opposition to SOPA; venture capitalists; lobbyists at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and DNS (Domain Name System) experts.

On Day One, the instructor guides the class in interpreting the bill, and the DNS experts present their assessment of SOPA. Stakeholder groups then draft a memorandum interpreting the bill and highlighting concerns with it. Day Two consists of a debate among the stakeholder groups, launched by those in support of SOPA. For homework, participants write longer memoranda proposing changes to the bill. Day Three involves another debate based on the memoranda, and stakeholders have the opportunity to amend their proposals in class before a final discussion. Day Four reviews the outcome of the SOPA bill and debriefs the workshop exercise. There is also opportunity to include a guest speaker on intellectual property law.

Educators, staff at non-profit institutions, and trainers can access this teaching note through HLS Case Studies. Registered members of the site can download the background note at no cost.

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Case Studies Q&A: New Case on the Management of Legal Departments

New Products: Driving Blind at General Motors (A) and (B)

Nathan Cisneros, case writer at the HLS Case Development Initiative, shares his behind-the-scenes perspective on crafting a case based on public sources, messy chains of command, and cover-ups:

EM: What inspired the case study?

Chevy Cobalt, the car central to the ignition switch recall

Chevy Cobalt, the car central to the ignition switch recall

NC: In February 2014 General Motors (GM) issued the first in a series of recalls for a serious safety defect that was linked to over a dozen deaths. As the automaker expanded the recall by millions in the ensuing months, many onlookers wondered if anyone had a firm handle on the problem. GM’s new CEO, Mary Barra, was the company’s fourth in five years. She was blindsided by the recall but quickly won praise for her promise to conduct a full and complete investigation. It was a promise she needed to make. Early reports suggested GM had known about the defect since at least 2004; the federal government, victims, car owners, and shareholders all wanted to know why GM waited over a decade to remove unsafe cars from the road.

As winter melted into spring and summer we at the Case Development Initiative watched the GM case with increasing interest and horror. Murmurs in the press and on Capitol Hill suggested that GM’s own legal department, the department meant to protect the company from exactly this sort of problem, might actually have contributed to the recall delay. Finally, in June 2014, a 315-page independent report commissioned by GM was released. It described in excruciating detail how GM’s legal and engineering departments played hot potato with an ignition switch defect for years. Just weeks later, Barra was in front of Congress with general counsel Michael Millikin at her side, deflecting questions from Senators about why she hadn’t yet fired her top lawyer.

For Barra, the report was the end of the discussion. For us it was just the beginning. What happened at GM, and what can we learn from this terrible tragedy?

EM: What challenges and opportunities did the case writing process present?

NC: We were very interested to learn about how the legal department interfaced with the rest of GM. What were its responsibilities? Legal departments are embedded in complex organizations. Even with the best intentions miscommunications happen and competing interests emerge. We were not sure at first we would have enough material to explore these questions because we relied entirely on publicly available information. However, the combined detail of GM’s independent report, Congressional testimony, and the many excellent accounts by journalists convinced us to give it a try.

We were also mindful of the opposite problem—too much detail. Case studies are meant to facilitate useful classroom discussion about important strategic and professional challenges. “Useful classroom discussion… useful classroom discussion…” We returned to this phrase over and over while preparing the GM case. There was so much detail, so many interesting side stories. However, at the end of the day the classroom discussion is what counts, and all those details and interesting anecdotes should be on the page only if they facilitate a “useful classroom discussion.”

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

NC: We piloted this case with a group of senior in-house lawyers. The opening vignette describes CEO Barra and GC Michael Millikin’s appearance before Congress in July 2014. Participants were also shown a video of the proceedings. I saw several grimaces as senators asked Millikin’s boss why he hadn’t yet been fired. It is a brutal clip. I thought participants would be very interested in Millikin’s fate, and whether CEO Barra made the right call. After all, it is such a stomach-twisting scene. However, participants were much more interested in Millikin’s concrete actions in the days and weeks after the recalls were first announced. They didn’t want to debate whether or not he should remain GC. They wanted to know what he did as GC, and what he else he could have done.

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

NC: We divided our narrative into an (A) and (B) case. The (A) case tells the story through July 2014, when Millikin appeared before Congress, which is where we intended the narrative to finish. However, several important developments since convinced us that an addendum should be written, which became the short (B) case.

Unfortunately, this tragic story has not yet reached the final chapter. It has been one year since GM’s first big ignition switch recall, and in that time the number of fatalities continues to climb. We all look forward to someday soon reading about how GM has repaired both itself and its reputation with GM customers from this terrible series of events.

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New MOOC Blends Multimedia Case Studies and Synchronous Online Participation

JuryX: Deliberations for Social Change juryx_608x211_0212

By Amanda Reilly

One of the central duties of the traditional institution of jury was to preserve popular conceptions of justice and evaluate the power of the government—to determine the truth or falsity of factual allegations and to maintain impartiality. Yet over time, the institution of jury in America has lost its efficacy, also diminishing to some extent the art of deliberation in our society.  A new massive open online course (MOOC) is an experiment in reclamation, empowerment, and problem solving, and will blend case studies and virtual, synchronous participatory learning for a novel and impactful educational experience.

Professor Charles Nesson

Professor Charles Nesson

JuryX: Deliberations for Social Change, a new, free HarvardX online course launched by Harvard Law School Professor Charles Nesson, challenges students to examine and rethink the concept of jury,  as well as to be active participants in the deliberation process. During the 12-week course, students are introduced to not only historical legal cases but also case studies about social issues, such as the decriminalization of marijuana and efforts to legalize it in Jamaica, the potential for the Olympics and World Cup to advance education around the world, identity and anonymity as they pertain to the NSA leak by Edward Snowden, and the problem of increased police brutality against young black men, crystallized in the hashtag #icantbreathe.

JuryX encourages students to exercise and hone their deliberation skills, exploring techniques for participating in juristic discussions on numerous topics and debating solutions to contemporary social problems. This course also reconceptualizes experiential learning online by employing multimedia case studies; Unhangout, a platform for video chat discussion groups; and open social media (e.g., Facebook and Loomio). JuryX case studies will later be available for download through HLS Case Studies. Register for the MOOC here to get an exclusive look!

School:  HarvardX

Course Code:  HLS3x

Classes Start:  March 10, 2015

Course Length:  12 weeks

Amanda Reilly is the Program Associate at HLS Case Studies.

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Law, Ethics, and Policy in Humanitarian Crises: A Student Perspective on New Simulations

New Products: Somalia in Crisis: Famine, Counterterrorism, and Humanitarian Aid

By Danae Paterson

In the fall of 2014, the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict (PILAC) offered prototypes of two case studies under the thematic umbrella of Somalia in Crisis: Famine, Counterterrorism, and Humanitarian Aid. The first case study focuses on an NGO General Counsel simulation, and the second centers on a National Security Council simulation. Both simulations entail a nuanced fact pattern based on the humanitarian crisis of the 2011 Somali famine, which presents a variety of complicated tensions and dilemmas. I took part in the prototypes of both case studies, which were facilitated by PILAC Director and HLS Lecturer on Law Naz Modirzadeh and Senior Researcher Dustin Lewis. Revised and published in February 2015, these case studies are now freely available for use in classroom study or professional instruction.

somalia2The NGO General Counsel simulation asks students to assume the role of general counsel to a U.S.-based and U.S.-funded international nongovernmental organization (INGO) conducting humanitarian aid work in the context of the Somali famine crisis. The quintessential tension of the case study rests on the professional aims of the INGO to provide relief to targeted Somali populations, on one hand, and U.S. counterterrorism laws, which may prohibit the work of the aid groups in portions of the territory controlled by a listed terrorist organization (al-Shabaab), on the other. The general counsel must navigate the complicated legal, policy, and ethical tensions at the intersection of counterterrorism agendas and international humanitarian aid, and ultimately advise the INGO President on the matter. The simulation allows the student to engage with and interview key INGO actors (the INGO’s Regional Director, its Senior Policy Advisor, and the Chairwoman of its Board), produce a written memo, and conduct a final presentation.

whitehouse_historypgThe National Security Council simulation incorporates the same fact pattern but asks the students to assume very different roles. Students may be assigned to represent actors organized into five teams: 1) the National Security Council Staff; (2) the Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Department of the Treasury; (3) the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security; (4) the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Office of the U.S. Representative to the United Nations; and (5) the Office of he Vice President. These respective teams represent different interests and goals, and the ultimate task of the simulation requires the five teams to work collaboratively to develop consensus on policy recommendations in relation to humanitarian aid and counterterrorism in Somalia. Students are asked to facilitate, give verbal presentations, and/or draft memos, depending on their assigned teams.

Ultimately, both simulations present unique and challenging opportunities both to grapple with the law and to engage in a professional application of legal, facilitative, and client-attorney skills. These experiences are especially valuable in terms of interviewing diverse stakeholders and presenting complex legal concepts to non-lawyers. These are critical skills in the practice of law, but a mode of experiential learning that is often absent from the traditional legal classroom. A particularly challenging exercise in this general skillset is the presentation in the NGO General Counsel simulation, which requires students to synthesize the legal arguments made in their written memos in a fashion that is simultaneously informative, accurate, and persuasive, as well as sensitive to the different interests at stake and accessible to a non-lawyer. This means that the student must not only understand deeply his argument to identify the key points and articulate them but also anticipate the priorities and interests of his audience. The student must also be prepared to adequately answer questions from the varied group of stakeholders.

These simulations take the student far beyond the requirements of a typical law school assignment, which ends at the submission of a written work product. In actual legal professional settings, a lawyer will, after producing the formal legal advice, often have to continue to engage in a sophisticated, responsive, assuring, and competent manner with a client. In certain respects, these skills may be what matter most to a client, beyond the sophisticated legal argumentation a lawyer develops. In these ways, the simulations add incredible value to the traditional legal educational experience by creating the space to develop a more critical legal and professional skill set.

Danae Paterson, a J.D. candidate at Harvard Law School, has been a research assistant at PILAC since December 2014, contributing to its case studies portfolio.

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Case Writer Q&A: Nathan Cisneros

Nathan Cisneros, a case writer for the Case Development Initiative at Harvard Law School, sums up his job as “talking with interesting people about interesting events and then sharing what I’ve heard with interested people.” Today he shares with us the importance of compelling questions and collaboration in case writing:

EM: What subjects do you focus on? What sort of work are you doing now?

NC: The Case Development Initiative writes cases about topics not usually covered in law school: How do you manage people? How do you weigh career options? How do you reform an organization? These are questions any professional might ask, but we are able to examine them through the eyes of a lawyer. For example, in 2014 we reported a great sponsorship program in a large law firm, and investigated a major scandal at a large American company [forthcoming].

We also examine big challenges confronting the legal services industry today: How does a law firm survive in a shrinking market that is more competitive than ever?  How does a legal department wade through the proliferation of legal services options and still deliver quality service for the firm? We are finishing an update of a case about a major law firm that seemed to have uncovered the secret to successful law firm mergers. We are also looking at how traditional law firms deal with novel legal services products.

EM: How do you approach the case writing process?

NC: I’ve always thought that it is best to start with an interesting question or surprising event. If you start with a compelling question you usually discover a compelling answer, whatever it may be. Since case studies are richly detailed narratives of real-world events, we can’t choose our own ending. However, if we begin with a gripping question we invariably arrive at a captivating resolution. Needless to say, our primary objective is to create a useful tool for classroom discussion, not a page-turner, but they feed into one another. It is far easier to provide nuanced perspectives on a strategic challenge or professional dilemma in case studies built around a truly puzzling incident.

EM: What challenges have you faced in the research and writing processes? How have you overcome them?

NC: Case studies are primarily pedagogic tools. We want our cases to stimulate interesting classroom discussions about important decisions professionals are likely to encounter. I sometimes find myself slipping into journalist mode (what’s the angle?) or social scientist mode (add a citation!), which pulls away from that primary goal.

Fortunately, the best way to overcome any writing or research challenge is to tackle it as a team! I work with two excellent case writers. I’m never abashed asking a silly question or sharing first drafts because I know my colleagues will steer me in the right direction.

EM: Do you have any tips for case writers or teachers in the legal classroom?

NC: There is no standard text or curriculum on how to handle the business of providing legal services. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be taught! The case method allows instructors and students to examine strategic and career challenges together to see what works and what doesn’t. Students exposed to a broad range of cases in the classroom will have a deep well of experience from which to draw when they encounter professional challenges outside the classroom.

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