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January 7, 2009

Dungeons & Lawyers: legal simulations and the art of game-mastering

part 1: What’s a legal simulation?

Dungeons+Lawyers If Paul Maharg has his way, American law professors may soon have as much in common with the game referees in World of Warcraft than Prof. Kingsfield from The Paper Chase. Maharg, author of Transforming Legal Education, is working with CALI to distribute and support software that enables legal educators to run legal practice simulations. SIMPLE (SIMulated Professional Legal Education) provides a framework for students to engage in transactions typical of real-life legal practice, providing the kind of contextualized knowledge and skill that the Carnegie Study and others have demanded.

I will leave to the Carnegie Foundation, Maharg’s own writing, and countless other pieces in educational psychology and the learning sciences to explain why context-rich simulation is so effective at teaching knowledge, skills, and values. Let’s assume that, as an instructor, you’re ready to take the leap into simulation-based learning. What is this pedagogy like? What will you need to do to get started?

Ardculloch 1 The virtual worlds that SIMPLE conjures may lack the special effects of World of Warcraft, but they, too, offer twisting plots, colorful characters, and devious puzzles. Students become protagonists who grow in strength by overcoming challenges. Non-Player Characters (“NPCs”) present most of these challenges, whether as the client in need of rescue or the witnesses guarding precious evidence. Fictional websites provide a virtual landscape for the students to explore in order to build their cases. And battle is joined not with the clash of swords but the exchange of documents. All of this might make for a poor adventure film, but it can add up to a believable, even exciting, legal conflict.

Here’s an example:

Ardculloch 2

Students enter the simulation as associates of the firm Kerrigan, Burns & Robertson. KB&R has been retained to represent a company that is being sued for a slip-and-fall that occurred on its property, located in the fictional town of Ardalloch, Scotland. (Another team of students play associates of the firm representing the plaintiff). The students-cum-associates watch a video of the initial client interview and receive, via SIMPLE’s simulated email system, a memo from their supervising partners outlining their role in the case.

Ardculloch 3 Students then engage in both informal and formal discovery, wandering through Ardcalloch via the town’s online directory listing and virtual map (think fictional Yahoo directory and Mapquest pages). They might, for example, contact the local landscaper responsible for maintaining the area where the fall took place; within a few hours or days, they should (if they made a well-formulated request) get a witness statement. (Behind the scenes, what’s really happening is that the students send a SIMPLE message to the simulation staff, who assume the role of the landscaper and respond to the request in a manner consistent with the landscaper’s version of the facts and with the character’s personality).

As the team builds their evidentiary case, they revise their overall strategy. For example, the team might uncover new data that contradict the client’s initial statement of facts, forcing further discussion with the client and perhaps a revision of the overall theory of the case. At some point the two teams meet and negotiate a settlement (court action falls outside the scope of the simulation). The teams then step out of role and review their own performance and learning.

No goblins, no dragons, no magic, and yet this is a bona fide virtual world, one rich with performance-oriented learning experiences for law students. Law professors won’t need to learn to animate 3D monsters – but they’ll certainly need a different set of skills than mesmerizing students with brilliant lectures. They might instead benefit from studying how video games scaffold immersive, effective learning. I’ll take up that topic in the next part of this series.

- Gene Koo

January 7, 2009 in Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink


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For some reason, law schools--unlike medical school-do not provide simulation to students in order to improve their practical skills. This seems like a good idea.

Posted by: Best-Legal-Aid.com | Jan 10, 2009 8:43:30 AM

this is very artistic stuff, i love it, thanks for making this kind of post

Posted by: Busby SEO Test | Jan 17, 2009 11:44:40 AM

This is a terrific idea. I've long wondered why nobody put out a good evidence game to drill the fundamentals into students.

Posted by: Prosecutorial Indiscretion | Jan 19, 2009 7:41:08 PM

My Advanced Trial and Appellate Advocacy course takes the students from the initial interview of their client through argument before the court of appeals in a simulated civil case. The students are paired in two-person law firms and represent either the plaintiff or defendant. I use a NITA case file and secure permission to modify the file along the way. Instead of giving the students the case file, they give me the name of the person who will play the client and I provide the client with the appropriate information. The initial client interview, conducted by the students, provides information to get the lawsuit process going. The initial interview leaves holes in the potential case that must be filled through informal discovery and investigation. I serve as the repository of all that information and the students must contact me, tell me "who" I am and request the information. For example, if they are seeking medical records they'll tell me I'm the hospital medical records custodian and they must provide a properly executed release to obtain their client's records. If they need information from a witness, I play the witness and answer the questions asked. Sometimes the witness will refuse to talk informally. In that case the students decide whether spending the money on a deposition is cost effective. If so, they'll notice the deposition and I'll provide a "transcript" of the testimony. As they go along, each discovery of bits of intormation lead to other sources of information, just like in the real world. If they don't ask for the right things or provide the proper release, they don't get the information. I manage this exchange of information, including court filings, all electronically. Of course, during formal discovery, they have to request, and respond to requests for, information via their opposing counsel using the FRCP. Again, failure to ask for the information means they don't have it for trial. When they actually try the case they must live with the consequences of their pre-trial investigation and discovery. In the critique after the trial, when they become aware of information they could've had but failed to secure, they see how things could have been different. Similarly, they must live with the consequences of their actions and inactions at the trial of the case when they face the appellate court. This simulation course is a year-long course and the students greatly appreciate the lessons learned along the way.

Posted by: W.A. Woodruff | Feb 13, 2009 8:58:28 AM

This is a good idea but without the dragons, monsters, magic, etc. Can we compare it with WoW? There's something missing and that's the gold where you could get it free from http://www.wowgoldpigpen.com/twittercontestform/ just by giving name for their pig. Check it out for more details and have a chance to win 500,000 World of Warcraft Gold!

Posted by: Ann | May 29, 2009 10:07:45 AM

World Of Warcraft is a seriously awesome great pass time for my whole family....

Posted by: TP | Aug 15, 2012 9:16:11 AM

World Of Warcraft is a seriously awesome great pass time for my whole family....

Posted by: TP | Aug 26, 2012 8:39:16 PM

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