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October 08, 2012


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I've struggled with this while doing prep this summer, and am revisiting that now that I am teaching it. I know of some that don't teach it at all, which I think is not ideal, and others who spend weeks on it -- which is plainly torture and perhaps an unwise use of class time (totally agree with you on this point). I never worked on a RAP issue in my practice, so I am using the present and future estates workbook which I think does about the best job possible in explaining the answers to the students. RAP is dense and inaccessible, but I think the workbook makes it less so. Ultimately, I think a practitioner perspective can help, I've used it on other concepts (easements, trespass) and it seemed to liven the class up a bit.

Calvin Massey

RAP can be effectively taught in two or (at most) three class sessions. Use Jee v. Audley for the common law rule, Symphony Space for its application to commercial transactions and as a segue to the reform doctrines and USRAP. Of course, this works only if you have taught future interests well, because a student has to be able to characterize the interests accurately and determine when the uncertainty as to future ownership (not possession) will be eliminated. Take a look at the treatment of RAP in my new Property casebook (West, 2012) to see how this works.

Ben Barros

I think that Property professors face a choice with the RAP - either teach it in depth, and take two weeks to do it, or only do a superficial coverage of it that will allow students to spot the potential issue and seek expert advice if needed. I used to do the former, but since Pennsylvania abolished the RAP, I take the later approach. I briefly go over the concept of the rule, go through a few examples of the rule in action, and expect the students to know what interests are subject to the rule so that they can seek advice if needed. Ralph, I like your old firm's approach to the rule.

I have a modest disagreement with Calvin. I don't think that the RAP can be taught effectively in two or three class sessions, if by effectively we would expect students to be able to accurately apply the rule in all circumstances. Calvin's approach would effectively teach the concept of the rule, but actually being able to spot the lives in being or their absence takes a lot of practice.

Roman Hoyos

I actually find that the section on possessory estates and future interests is the easiest to teach in property. And for some reason my students seem to enjoy the instruction that goes on in that section more than any other. I have had uniformly positive feedback on that section. Wierd, I know.

I think a problem-based method is the way to go. We don't discuss any cases in the section on RAP, or possessory estates/future interests in general. There are a couple in the reading, but we don't discuss them. I spend one week on possessory estates and future interests (I teach them together), and another week on RAP. 8 hours total. The first day we discuss how to create a possessory estate, and the future interest(s) that attaches to each estate.

The second day I do nothing but problems, basic ones, anywhere from 10-15 in 2 hours. I put students' names into the problems, and tell them the first student named is called on, and can rely on help from any other student identified in the problem. We then work through each problem together in PowerPoint. I do the same thing the next week for RAP. On the first day, I give them a 4 or 5 step process for applying RAP. The second day we spend on problems about RAP just as we do for PE/FI. It's more important, to my mind at least, to get the students to understand the basic reasoning process behind future interests and RAP than its complexities.

Students love the problems. They get a lot of practice working through them in each class. One student told me he impressed some attorneys he worked with with his understanding of RAP. And he was not a top student in the class. A nice example of a successful transfer of knowledge, I'd say.

I stay away from more complex dimensions of RAP, like the unborn widow rule. It just unnecessarily adds to the students' confusion. And the likelihood of it being tested on the bar is remote. (Not that I teach to the bar, mind you.) Besides, if they have the basics down, students should be able to reason through the unborn widow rule themselves, once they get RAP down and they're ready for it. So I teach RAP as the highly formalistic doctrine John Chipman Gray intended it to be. (Just had to throw that in there.)

Dan Ernst

Mary Bilder's thoughts on teaching the RAP:

Good post. I know this sometime is difficult to decide.

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