CLE15: Suppose the class began the day the case walked in the door (PH)

by Pamela Henderson on 20/06/2015

Jennifer E Spreng from Arizona Summit Law School, USA.


Key point: the way we learn is inherently integrated, so we have to reflect this in the way we teach.

I am being asked to imagine it’s my first day at law school and the tutor has told me a new client, Lee Taylor, is about to walk through the door.  She wanted to lose some weight in anticipation of her daughter’s wedding, so she tried a named drug.  A doctor prescribed the drug for her and she lost the weight, but missed the wedding due to suffering a heart attack,  possibly due to heart valve damage caused by the drug.  Students are allocated to law firms in order to advise different parties – Lee, the drug manufacturer, the pharmacist, the doctor etc.  This would be a challenge anywhere, but of course the US has potentially around 50 sets of law (state and federal) that might apply.  There are substantive legal issues and procedural concerns e.g. can the case get lifted out of the federal court and heard in the state court which might be considered more sympathetic to the claim.  This procedural outcome may depend upon substantive merit.  Ooh, it’s getting very complicated for someone accustomed to only one set of laws.  I guess this is one reason why we have governing law clauses in international contracts.

Jennifer is talking about how they restructured their curriculum to integrate case studies with substantive law subjects, including Lee Taylor has a simulated case study for the Introduction to Civil Litigation module.  It blurs the boundaries between subject matter, doctrine and skills.  It brings authentic learning activities into the classroom, affording opportunities to engage higher order skills, make connections between different concepts and solve problems.

Jennifer identifies structured & organised knowledge, higher-order thinking, freedom from boundaries and intellectual & professioal capacities as crucial to a student’s ability to apply the law to a client’s problem.  This could be done in first year and introductory courses, providing scope to make the outlying years more authentic, invigorating and exciting, but Jennifer doesn’t think it’s happening yet.

It’s not access to justice unless the lawyer can:

  • do the research
  • have evidence excluded
  • try the case
  • write an uncontestable will
  • avoid American court jurisdiction
  • get custody for Dad etc etc

Just because you are poor it doesn’t mean that your problem is any easier, so your lawyer still have to be fully capable of doing the job.

Dean CC Langdell seems to have figured this out many years ago, but we have moved away from his ideas.  Maybe we need to go back to them?


Jennifer has just declared an unexpected passion for public transport.  We have a closet train spotter in our midst.  Or train station spotter anyway – she just recited the stations between Whitton and London Waterloo.  We’re impressed, but Jennifer is questionning the value of it. After all, it’s just a memory test and sometimes that’s all we expect of our students:  they learn rules and then spout them back at us; they have instrumental understanding, but they have no relational understanding.

Now we’re looking at a map of the London Underground and hearing about how something that has structural sense means you can always get where you need to be eventually.  Here, the analogy is that the lines of the Underground all interlink at some point, so if the Northern Line is closed beyond Waterloo today, you can probably still get to St Pancras by selecting one of the other Lines.  Jennifer uses this very cleverly to explain how we can support students in developing relational knowledge.  Also, refers to the spiral curriculum.


In particular, things that are fundamentally connected ought to be in the same course, but people focused on doctrine and people focused on skills don’t always see that their things go together.  That’s what is missing from legal education.




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