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August 16, 2009


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Alexander Tsesis

I enjoy teaching seminars and teach them very differently than doctrinal courses.

I teach in the constitutional law area. For doctrinal classes, I use blind calling, meticulously ask questions about the majority, concurrence, and dissent. I have students critique cases and discuss how they fit into a bigger body of jurisprudence. My exams are issue spotting case studies.

In seminars, on the other hand, I never call anyone blindly. I ask questions and expect that the students have read the material without ever checking whether they have in fact done so. But I keep running notes indicating whether and how well students have contributed to the discussions. The questions are significantly more theoretical, analytical, and synthetic than in doctrinal classes. And, frankly, I expect people to do extra reading on top of what I assign to contribute to the class discussion. I also use short papers on the readings that students hand in during before several sessions, and they hand in a seminar paper at the end of the course on an original topic. The final method I use for assessing performance is an in-class presentation about the seminar paper.

John Di Giacomo

I'm not a law professor, but for what it is worth I think the risk management approach was extremely successful in Advanced Copyright Law. A lot of copyright law, to me, seems to be a combination between philosophy and policy, and it is often hard to see how high level concepts translate into something that appears in a demand letter or as a line in a reply brief. I think that the risk management approach not only requires students to approach high level concepts from a practical perspective, but it also requires them to employ both legal and non-legal (i.e., business) reasoning in creating proposals to deal with risky legal situations. Clients expect the former and appreciate the latter, and appreciative clients return. :) The risk management model is very Brechtian in that sense.

Robert Heverly

The following was sent to me by Mike Kelly at Creighton Law School, with a request to post (TypePad wasn't playing nicely with Mike):

Rob, thanks for bringing up this great topic. Your approach seems fresh and innovative. I'd like to add that I can't say enough (and neither can my students) about the value of "role play" exercises. You have to get far enough down the substantive and procedural road to pull these off - so they're usually after Fall or Spring break, but the payback for students diving deeply into the perspectives of the players is immeasurable. For instance, in National Security Law & Policy, I'll have ten students on the "hot seat" around a table inside the horseshoe class seating arrangement while the others look on. This group is a mock meeting of the principles and advisors of the National Security Council chaired by the VP (yes, someone has to actually play Cheney - now Biden). I sit at the table as the chief intelligence advisor and each student has a dossier in front of them that briefs them from their respective bureaucracy - so Treasury has an economic outlook, State a diplomatic outlook, Defense is military, AG is legal, and so on. They are given a problem such as China massing for an invasion of Taiwan or a bomb exploding outside the Turkish embassy in Ashgabat and an unmarked white van racing for the Iranian border, so there's always an artificial time limit. They've got to do a policy and legal analysis to make a recommendation to the president in that time period, and I pass notes to the players changing the facts in real time as we move along. The other students around the room watch this from the perspective of assigned interest groups (a Senate committee, or Human Rights Watch, etc.) and then critique the policy that emerges, knowing that they will have a turn on the hot seat next.

For my International Environmental Law seminar, they represent assigned states hammering out a new climate change treaty (some are coal dependent, some are emerging markets, some are advanced industrial states, some are low-lying island states). For International Criminal Law, we negotiate a binding legal definition for international terrorism (eg. the Russians and Saudis don't always agree with the Israelis and Colombians). The point is, that no matter what role play I use, that is consistently the thing highest rated on my class evaluations. It takes a LOT of front-end work, but, as I said, the participation and perspective appreciation by the students is fantastic. Role plays can really bring the stuff home. When I started doing this thirteen years ago, my colleagues thought I was nuts, but now they do some of it too.

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