Teaching Materials for Practicum Courses

You would have to live under a rock not to know that law schools increasingly feel the pressure to teach practical skills. Law schools can no longer teach doctrine and count on law firms to teach new lawyers the skills they need.  As a result, many schools are starting to incorporate practicum-style courses into the curriculum. These courses allow students to learn litigation or transactional skills in the classroom by working on simulated cases or transactions.

My sense is that many of us are interested in teaching these courses, but the practicalities are daunting.   Two years ago, I set out to create a course that would teach students how to be corporate litigators. I had visions of teaching my students an array of practical skills, including how to untangle financial statements, read complex statutes, and draft various case materials. It looked so good in my head. Then I actually tried to put together the course. There was no textbook. There were no model exercises. There was no anything… I spent a crazy amount of time putting together a course packet, coming up with weekly drafting assignments, and thinking about how to teach the skills I thought my students would need. I hesitate to say exactly how much time out of fear of scaring away others, but I still have flashbacks of sitting at my kitchen table for days on end trying to come up with creative fact patterns and drafting exercises.

At the end of the day, I was able to put together the materials for a course called Corporate Fraud & Litigation. I have taught the course twice now, and I really love it. But the preparation continues. I still develop new graded exercises every year out of fear that last year’s students will pass on their answers to this year’s students. The end result is that I spend significantly more time preparing for this course than for my other two courses combined.  I am currently contemplating a complete overhaul of my course, but I have to admit that the massive work involved gives me pause.

I wonder whether the reality of having to prepare these materials—and then prepare many of the exercises anew every year—is holding back the development of these courses.  At some level, of course, this preparation is part of our job, and given how great the job is, we have no basis to complain. As someone who is obsessed with curricular issues, however, I have to think it is tough to roll out a new curricular model when preparing a class under the new model takes far longer than preparing to teach a traditional doctrinal course. If I went purely by my own self-interest, there is little doubt that I would opt to teach another doctrinal course rather than a practicum course. In fact, I might even opt to teach two doctrinal courses rather than a single practicum course!

The lack of materials for practicum courses also impacts what courses adjuncts teach. Many adjuncts are really well-suited to teach hands-on courses where students work through simulated cases or transactions. Adjuncts could also teach ethics courses grounded in specific doctrinal areas (corporate law ethics, family law ethics, etc.) that are taught using a problem-based approach. But it is hard to recruit good lawyers to teach these courses when they would have to spend significant amounts of time creating the materials and exercises from scratch.

As a corporate law professor, I am struck by the untapped market out there. In almost every curricular area, professors who want to teach practical skills have to reinvent the wheel. Many textbooks include some practice questions and exercises, but few books are based entirely around the practicum model. There are a few exceptions, including the new Business Planning book by Therese Maynard and Dana Warren and the Environmental Law Practice book by Jerry Anderson and Dennis Hirsch, but these books are few and far between. I would love to see the major casebook publishers devote more attention to this market niche. Ideally, I would even love to see the author/publisher offer new graded exercises every year, perhaps through a password-protected website. No matter how they are put together, however, it seems that there should be a market for practicum-style materials in a wide variety of curricular areas.

In the absence of a market solution, I am going black market. If anyone is interested in my course materials, just let me know. I am happy to share them. If you have developed materials for a similar course in another area and you are willing to share them, let me know. I am happy to serve as a clearinghouse for professors who want to chart a new path in other curricular areas.

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8 Responses

  1. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    I’d love to see the materials. I note that Lexis has a whole new series called “Skills and Values” with some wonderful new titles. One is Contracts, by William Woodward of Temple and Candace Zierdt of Stetson). It is short in length but packed with amazing depth.

  2. Paula Schaefer says:

    I had a similar experience creating materials for an e-discovery pretrial litigation class when I could find no prepackaged materials that would allow for realistic e-discovery. I wrote about the simulation I created in an article that is forthcoming in the Nevada Law Journal. The article (and links to simulation materials and course syllabus) are available at ssrn. The article can be found at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1676976. It is titled, “Injecting Law Student Drama Into the Classroom: Transforming an E-Discovery Class (or Any Law School Class) with a Complex, Student-Generated Simulation.”

  3. Tina Stark says:

    The lack of materials is a very real problem. In the absence of textbooks, as a short-term solution, Emory has created the Emory Exchange for Transactional Training. The website has available for download exercises made available by professors teaching skills in both transactional doctrinal and practicum courses. If you would like access to these materials, e-mail Edna Patterson at Emory who will arrange for a username and password. edna.patterson@emory.edu.
    Here’s the URL for the site:

  4. David Young-Cheol Jeong says:

    It would be appreciated if you would send me the materials. As I moved from 20+ years practice to teaching four years ago, I am new to doctrines or theories. Thus, I spent about one third of my M&A course on M&A Contract structure, drafting, and negotiations. I also gave several memorandum/brief writing projects to my students at corporate law course. For corporate compliance and venture capital courses, I need insights.

  5. Jessica Erickson says:

    I have (finally!) sent the materials to all who requested them. And thanks for the reference to the Lexis materials. I think these materials are great — I just wish they would have them for upper-level courses such as tax, employment law, sentencing, etc. as well. I do think an upper-level contracts or civ pro course that focused on application would be a real benefit to the curriculum though, and these books could be a real asset to the professors who teach them. David, you may want to check out Prof. Maynard and Warren’s Business Planning text. I am not sure that it has specific compliance or venture capital materials, but it may provide some help.

  6. Sarah Ricks says:

    Carolina Academic Press also has recognized the need to provide law teachers with practical teaching materials that integrate the teaching of skills and doctrine. The new Context and Practice Series is designed and edited by Michael Hunter Schwartz with input from Gerry Hess: http://www.cap-press.com/p/CAP

    Each casebook has a rich Teacher’s Manual, filled with practical exercises, sample exams, and suggested teaching methods.

    My own book in the series is Current Issues in Constitutional Litigation: A Context and Practice Casebook (Carolina Academic Press 2011)
    Here’s the catalogue: http://www.cap-press.com/isbn/9781594604270

    The Teacher’s Manual is over 400 pages.

    To further help teachers, my casebook has a companion website including relevant YouTube video, video of guest speakers, and other teaching materials, always being updated: http://constitutionallitigation.rutgers.edu/

    Here is a sample chapter: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1744353

  7. Mark Williams says:

    I would sincerely appreciate a copy of the materials. Thank you very much.

  8. Jeff Wilder says:

    Thank you for sharing your information. I would love to see your materials it would really help me plan my courses for my music classes.

    Thank You

    Jeff Wilder