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Legal Education Digest

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Nelson, J --- "Teaching the Law School Curriculum" [2005] LegEdDig 15; (2005) 13(3) Legal Education Digest 20

Review Article: Teaching the Law School Curriculum, S Friedland & G F Hess (eds), Carolina Academic Press (2004) 407pp

Dr John Nelson

[2005] LegEdDig 15; (2005) 13(3) Legal Education Digest 20

This book is intended, according to the editors, as a teaching resource written for law teachers young and old, veteran and new, adventurous and risk adverse. (p.xxix) It is concerned with the teaching of the core subjects in the law school curriculum, with the goal being to provoke, augment, offer, or initiate a richer and more informative teaching and learning experience (p.xxix) for teachers and students alike.

It is significant that the book is the product of the joint contributions of 170 law teachers in the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, there is no discussion by the editors about the processes they followed in persuading such a large number of legal academics to participate by sharing their own teaching resources. This in itself is an extraordinary achievement, let alone the time and effort the editors must have devoted to surveying the individual submissions and passing judgment on what was worthy of inclusion and rejection.

There are 15 core subjects addressed, each with its own chapter. These subjects are: Business Associations; Civil Procedure; Clinical Law; Constitutional Law; Contracts; Criminal Law; Criminal Procedure; Evidence; Family Law; Federal Income Tax; Legal Research and Writing; Professional Responsibility; Property; Sales and Secured Transactions; and Torts.

Each chapter is divided into five sections: approach; material; exercises; brief gems; and feedback and evaluation. For example, with Business Associations, there is a preliminary statement that the approaches to this course vary in methodology and coverage, but they usually concern the different phases in the life of a business entity, while a common curricular challenge is the need to reconcile the students’ wide disparity of business knowledge. As a consequence, the contributions under the ‘approach’ section of this chapter deal briefly with the following issues: learning goals for business associations courses; choice of entity; an organisational structure for teaching corporations; and challenges: real-life context and business experience.

The contents of the ‘material’ section for each subject vary widely. In Business Law and Clinical Law, for example, there are only four items and one item respectively, whereas in Civil Procedure there are 10. The material chosen for insertion in these sections of each chapter include: the five top cases; slides; handouts and outfits; concept sheets; film clips; illustrative litigation documents; video re-enactments; problem-solving materials; story-telling materials; client interviews and witness preparation; classic cases, newspapers and trial transcripts; law library research flowchart; and adventures in PowerPoint.

Similarly, in the ‘exercises’ section of each chapter, there is a wealth of sample materials plus suggestions as to how they should be employed in teaching students. In ‘brief gems’ sections the editors highlight a range of statements and suggestions which they consider to be particularly valuable contributions.

Each chapter is rounded off with a section on feedback and evaluation pertinent to the subject under discussion. Examples drawn from the subject chapters are: class participation; final exam preparation and feedback; using grading sheets to improve exam feedback; making the student the professor; student journals to increase reflection on legal practice and on personal professional development; practice exams and quizzes; using multiple-choice questions; midterm student evaluations; getting students to critically review their writing.

In summary, Teaching the Law School Curriculum would appear to qualify as an excellent resource book, not just for the teachers of core subjects to whom it is specifically addressed, but also for the teachers of optional subjects within the curriculum. Most of the teaching resources display a lot of imagination and inventiveness in endeavouring to overcome the difficulties faced by students in coming to grips with the challenging concepts encountered in the contents of particular subjects. If properly adapted by the individual teacher to their own situation, they should amplify their capacity to create a teaching/learning environment in which students can maximise their performance.

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