Incorporating Skills Training in Substantive Courses

Historically, skills training was not part of the education students received in law school. Things have changed, of course, and recently many have emphasized the need for practice-ready law grads. Incorporating skills training in substantive courses offers one promising option for improving students’ education. I’m prepping Sales (UCC Article 2) for the fall, and the course seems to lend itself well to a more skills-oriented approach. I plan to use problem-solving exercises and assignments which will not only teach students the law governing sales of goods, but will also enhance their statutory and contractual interpretation, drafting, and client-counseling skills. I have extensive experience litigating contractual disputes, so I know these skills are essential for commercial litigators. And they seem equally important to transactional lawyers.

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6 Responses

  1. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Great idea. It takes a good deal of time but well worthwhile. I hope you have a relatively small class size. That will help a lot. I think one reason it has been hard to impart serious skills training in first-year courses and many larger upper level courses is sheer numbers of students per class.

  2. Larry Rosenthal says:

    As it happens, last year, as part of a comprehensive curricular review, Chapman University School of Law adopted a new required course called Practice Foundations: Transactional Lawyering, in which transactional skills will be taught in small sections to all second year students.

    Larry Rosenthal
    Chapman University School of Law

  3. Scott Fruehwald says:

    This is exactly the kind of course that law professors should be teaching. Education research has demonstrated that students remember more and are better able to manipulate materials when they apply their knowledge in problem-solving exercises and experiential courses. All doctrinal courses should be like this.

  4. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Lest any readers be misled about the integrity of law school teaching at this point, I thought I’d excerpt the following from my chapter in Ed Rubin’s recent Cambridge U Press book about the future of law school course materials (footnotes omitted):

    3. Skills Training
    To those only casually acquainted with the history of the case method, contemporary enthusiasm for teaching problems may seem like a novel pedagogic strategy. But problems have a long and distinguished presence in law teaching dating back nearly a century. In 1922, the prescient Henry Ballantine stressed the importance of using problems rather than or in addition to cases. They are needed to position law students in the place practice will put them, he wrote, as a “lawyer and investigator . . . seeking the solution.” Ballantine added: “Our case-books and case method of instruction still have undeveloped possibilities.”

    In a similar spirit, Lon Fuller, father of the contemporary course book, stressed skills training in his 1947 Contracts book. It featured problems throughout to train students in lawyering skills. In two chapters towards the end of the book the exercises intensified, focusing on the dynamic context of conditions, and devoting “attention to problems of draftsmanship” and “problems of counseling and negotiation which may arise when a condition has not been fulfilled or when the other party has defaulted.” The Fuller book was innovative in its time, and these features that made a “stimulating contribution” to “training in lawyers’ skills” show how truly modern it is.

    In 1975, two generations later and two generations ago, Charles Knapp’s course book contributed similarly valuable materials to build lawyering skills. As described by Karl Klare, Knapp’s “doctrinal exposition is organized around a series of skillfully drafted hypotheticals, posing difficult counseling issues.” After expressing enthusiastic approval of this approach, Klare opined: “the problem-solving and counseling emphasis is further confirmation of the coming demise of the casebook method of instruction.” That prediction overlooked how the problem method and the casebook are not antithetical but complements—true at least since Fuller’s 1947 book. The Knapp book remains such a complementary combination of cases, materials and problems, through its 2006 sixth edition.

    * * * * *

  5. Christine Chabot says:

    Thanks. I’ll be able to provide individualized feedback on students’ written work, but I think there are other skills-oriented exercises that could be implemented even in a larger class. Here are a few ideas:

    1. Problem-solving. I agree with Larry’s point: problems requiring students to advise hypothetical clients can teach many important lawyering skills. For starters, they show students how law will relate to their actual work as lawyers and provide opportunities to discuss professionalism. In a contracts or business course, students might consider how to advise clients who are driven by business concerns which operate independently of the law. Perhaps students will explore how they should advise a client if the law is unclear, or how they should advise a client who is frustrated by legal obstacles to her business objectives.

    2. Statutory and contractual interpretation. I think students must learn to read statutory and contractual language with great care. When teaching statutory classes, I often put a statutory provision up on a slide and make students parse specific language. I plan to do something similar with both statutory and contractual provisions in Sales, and I may ask students how they would revise specific contractual language. These exercises also address critical lawyering skills.

  6. Edith Warkentine says:

    OK, This is one of those “shameless plugs,” but I have to call your attention to my text, Sales: A Context and Practice Casebook – like all of the context and practice series it is designed to be different than traditional texts – I have integrated a lot of material that could be used for skills including drafting, negotiating, etc. There is also an additional package of problems available for professors who adopt the book. You might also be interested in my article “Kingsfield Doesn’t Teach my Contracts Class: Teaching Contracts with Contracts” 50 J. Legal Educ. 112
    Journal of Legal Education.
    March, 2000