Monday, March 9, 2009

Professors Cobb & Kaltsounis On Teaching Collaboration in Legal Writing Classes

Two UW Law faculty members recently published an article in the Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors: Tom Cobb & Sarah Kaltsounis, Real Collaborative Context: Opinion Writing and the Appellate Process, 5 J. Ass’n Legal Writing Directors 156 (2008).

Cobb and Kaltsounis make the case for bringing real life context to the teaching of collaboration in legal writing classes by showcasing a recent classroom experience. They describe their implementation of a lesson plan that based the students’ assignments for the entire quarter on a case up on appeal to the Washington Supreme Court.

Using relevant case materials, the students followed the steps in the appellate judicial decision making process and played the various roles, including that of judicial law clerk drafting a bench memo, judge at an oral argument conference defending a position and determining whether a unanimous opinion could be reached, and judge drafting a final opinion. Throughout, the students were encouraged to work together, but they had to individually commit to one position and defend it. Eventually, they were able to see how their legal questions were resolved when the Supreme Court issued its ruling.

The students not only learned collaboration as a skill, but also about the interplay between advocacy and analysis in the judicial process and the merits of collaboration in this context. The authors note that other legal processes that involve group decision making can similarly be used in the classroom setting and urge classroom experimentation with collaboration in specific legal contexts. Ultimately, they suggest that:

" … the classroom can and should be a laboratory — or “collaboratory” — for the legal profession. The ultimate promise of collaborative work in and out of the classroom is to improve the legal process and lead to better reasoned and more just results."

Link to Cobb and Kaltsounis’ article on the JALWD website or on Westlaw and learn more about bringing real-life context to the teaching of collaboration in legal writing classes.
-- Tania Schriwer

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