June 08, 2009
Case Studies in Business Associations
Posted by Gordon Smith

In our Business Organizations casebook, Cindy Williams and I have included a number of business school style case studies. This summer, I am in the process of creating some new case studies (suggestions welcome) with the goal of having at least one case study per chapter in the next edition of the casebook. Why do I teach case studies? And why do so many of our adopters tell us that they value that feature of the book?

This afternoon at the AALS Mid-year Conference on Business Associations, in a session on case studies featuring Faith Stevelman (New York Law School), George Geis (Virginia), and Jacqueline Lipton (Case Western), I articulated a justification for using case studies alongside the usual law school source materials, judicial opinions. The key feature of legal case studies that makes them distinctively useful as a pedagogical tool is that they allow factual analysis unfiltered by the litigation process. This can be important for a number of reasons, but it is especially important if you are interested in teaching the students about business relationships, rather than just legal doctrines.

When I teach Business Associations, I want the students to understand why parties to business relationships behave the way they do. Legal doctrines are an important part of that story, but focusing on judicial opinions exaggerates the role of legal doctrines. I don't intend this observation as a criticism of judicial opinions, but rather as a simple acknowledgment that judges are paid to decide cases, not to describe business relationships. As a natural result, the facts in judicial opinions are tailored to respond to particular doctrinal demands. If you were interested in understanding the role of legal doctrines relative to other forces in determining how business people behave, however, you would want a much richer set of facts than is typically provided by judges. When well written, case studies provide that richer set of facts.

Rich facts also have other advantages. Two seem particularly important in the Business Associations context. First, rich facts enable law students to learn business concepts more thoroughly. One of the major challenges in teaching Business Associations is that most law students have no prior business experience, but they need to understand business if they want to become effective business lawyers. Or even understand the legal doctrines that many of them think are the sole focus of the course. In my experience, case studies are much more effective than judicial opinions at teaching business context.

Second, rich facts allow students to practice the skills of transactional lawyering. Later this week, we will have a Workshop on Transactional Law here in Long Beach, so I hope to write more about this topic then, but for the moment, I will be content with this: the skills of a transactional lawyer that are enhanced through the use of case studies include the ability to pull from myriad potentially relevant facts the most important facts relating to a particular issue (a task performed for the students -- albeit sometimes clumsily -- by lawyers and judges in a litigation context) and the ability to think prospectively, seeing the implications of various facts on the future behavior of the parties in a business relationship.

In the session on case studies in which I made the foregoing observations, Don Langevoort (Georgetown) added an important point about a limitation that case studies share with judicial opinions: with both materials, the facts are taken as a given and the students are tasked with analyzing those facts. But students would also benefit from working in a context in which facts are evolving, such as a clinic or simulation. Excellent point. It does not diminish my enthusiasm for case studies, but suggests that the teaching of Business Associations still has a long ways to go for most of us.

Business Organizations, Teaching | Bookmark

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