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January 23, 2007

Simulations, part 1: Thinking like (and being) a lawyer

In my next few blog posts I’m going to focus on the role of simulations in the law school curriculum, writing both with reference to my current research as well as my own experience developing and participating in simulations.

Simulations and games can provide learning environments in which students develop the knowledge, skills, values, and identity that uniquely define a profession, according to Prof. David Shaffer of the University of Wisconsin. His new book, How Computer Games Help Children Learn, outlines how carefully-designed games can, with appropriate scaffolding by teachers, help learners develop appropriate “epistemic frames” for understanding the world and solving problems. While Shaffer’s book focuses on K-12 education, its focus on professional frames offers a very promising avenue to implement the recommendations of the Carnegie study to integrate doctrine with lawyering skills and ethical and moral considerations.

Simulations and Epistemology: “Thinking like clients”

Stanford might well be the leading law school developing simulation-based courses as part of its broader efforts to reshape upper-level classes, as Dean Larry Kramer described in an earlier LSI post. In a recent chat, Dean Kramer described to me the goal of these simulations as helping law students to “think like a client” rather than merely “think like a lawyers” across different doctrinal areas. Through simulations, law students work in teams with students from other graduate schools to solve a fully-described, substantive problem. “The responses from students,” he states, “have been tremendous.”

To get a better sense of how Stanford’s simulations might help law students to “think like clients,” I spoke with Stanford’s Vice-Dean, Mark Kelman, who offered several examples. In one recent course, eight law students worked prepped eight graduate science students for a simulated patent litigation (validity and infringement) case. The law students’ role was to help the scientists convey technical information to a lay audience. According to Kelman, “For the lawyers, if you can’t learn to both prep and understand the people who are the source of the IP, you’re grossly handicapped in your work.”

What, then, does it actually mean to “think like a client”? Returning to Shaffer’s framework of (1) knowledge, (2) skills, (3) values, and (4) epistemology, it seems clear to me that the IP simulation Prof. Kramer sketched out does not intend (primarily) to teach lawyers the knowledge or skills to be an engineer. Rather, by introducing law students to engineers’ values and broader sense of identity, these simulations help future lawyers better represent future clients by better understanding their needs. (Conversely, future engineers learn how to work with their attorneys to craft more effective IP protections for their inventions).

Of course, learning to “think like a client” is itself a skill – one that Dean Kramer is betting as foundational to not just “thinking like” but actually being a lawyer.

-- Gene Koo

January 23, 2007 in Deans and innovations, Recommended readings, Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink


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That approach to simulating teamwork involving scientific information is great. It would be worthwhile in nearly any area of the law, too, since experts can be essential even in fields like juvenile law and criminal sentencing.

Posted by: Osler | Jan 24, 2007 11:03:13 AM

The very exciting and significant work Stanford is doing in helping all of us rethink legal education is certainly important and is grounded in a legal pedagogy that clinical education has developed over more than thirty years. Folks might be interested in the clinical literature on simulations. A good start on that literature can be found in the simulation section of the Clinical Bibliography at http://faculty.cua.edu/ogilvy/Biblio05clr.htm

Although many schools already have extensive simulation programs, some more skills focused and some more substantive, some well integrated into standard doctrinal classes and some clearly set off in "the clinic," many of us are in the process of, or will start, rethinking the role of simulations in light of recent changes to accreditation standards.

Like Gene, I can attest to the extraordinary power of simulation based teaching, particularly when actors play the non lawyer roles, as they do in many of our simulation courses. Lawyering is a complex activity in the sense that it requires the integration of intellect, emotion and technique. Giving students structured opportunities to put it all together and then reflect on their lawyering is a powerful way to shape professionals.

My own legal education was the now classic three step progression from first year doctrine, to second year simulation to third year live client clinic. Some folks have been doing this for a pretty long time, but too many law students remain untouched by well developed methods and approaches that really work. We are a very conservative group and surprisingly resistant to the clear weight of the evidence.

Ian Weinstein
Prof. of Law and Director of Clinical Education
Forhdam Law School

Posted by: Ian Weinstein | Jan 25, 2007 10:38:37 AM

I have always been a staunch supporter of "skills" training (or simulation training) and Quinnipiac University School of Law does an incredible job with their clinic in all areas of skills/simulation training. The program is headed by Carolyn Wilkes Kaas.
In addition, I specifically teach students how to open their own law practice right out of law school at Quinnipiac University School of Law, a segment of student which is historically diminished, discouraged, and disenfranchised when in school.
I've been teaching this course for 7 years and it has only gained in popularity, a full 20% of my students successfully going solo directly after passing the bar.

You might want to consider my blog as a resource for those who express this ambition. And I am fully supported by our clinical director, Carolyn Wilkes Kaas as I used to teach their Introduction to Representing Clients clinical program.

Posted by: Susan Cartier Liebel | Feb 18, 2007 3:23:13 PM

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