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December 15, 2010


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Bernie Burk

Your model fails to mimic practice in a critical respect. In firm practice environments, people do go to one another for help spotting issues, finding resources, etc. But there are mechanisms for monitoring, over the longer term, who is contributing and who is free-riding. To be sure, these mechanisms are imperfect. But your exam scenario is a one-round game in which free riders are rewarded equally to contributors. Lousy way to grade.


I have to agree that this would be a nightmare from the students' perspective. It reduces the class to a popularity/connections contest. It might be true that practice is like that, but most employers do not think law school classes measure those skills/attributes. Another risk you face as a professor is inconsistent grading. There was a story of this happening where I went to school where a group of 4 students turned in the same exam and got grades ranging from A- to C+ because the professor graded inconsistently.


We've been thinking about this for our new Global Professional LLM program, which is an executive-style masters degree in business law, open to lawyers and a small number of non-lawyers with an interest in law. We would love to incorporate team assignments as in Executive MBA programs because this is such an integral part of providing legal services in the new global business environment. It is challenging to make team assignments part of individual evaluations/assessment, so our faculty are thinking about starting with some group work (presentations, problems or cases, etc.) in the classroom.

Orin Kerr

I agree that this is a bad idea.

In addition to the prior comments, I think the analogy fails. It is true that "talking with others about what you're working on is a normal part of law practice." But it is also a normal part of *preparing* for law school exams. A student meets in a study group, consults with her professor, looks at other outlines, and uses whatever collaborative techniques she favors. Preparing for exams is already a collaborative exercise, just like legal practice. And when you walk into court and a judge asks you questions, you answer yourself in real-time, just like in individual exams.

Jeff Yates

I have assigned collaborative projects for students in small seminars. I don't make it a very large portion of the overall grade, but they do receive a 'group grade'. That said, I have them write individual narratives recounting their group experience and I reserve the right to adjust individual grades based on my cumulative reading of the narratives. In class I stress the importance of learning to work in groups and how this has 'real world' applicability. We also spend some time discussing (as a group) how to handle free rider problems, working in groups, and personal accountability. Thus far, students have seemed receptive to the idea.

David S. Cohen

To follow up with a response I got via phone (yes, people still use that!): the prof who called me said that he regularly gives collaborative exams in his conflicts of law course. He said that he asks students to work in groups of 3 as a 3-judge panel writing an opinion. They can write one opinion for the group or individuals can write concurrences/dissents (while joining part of the group opinion). He said that his students have really liked this type of exam and have not complained about any of the fairness issues that I raised in my post. He said he also likes it for a variety of reasons too.

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