June 09, 2011
Contracts Roundtable: the capsule approach
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

Thanks to Erik for organizing this Roundtable.  Unfortunately, his introduction triggers angst and guilt in me, reminding me of how much more I want to be doing in Contracts.  I'm eager to hear from our other participants . For now, though, I want to address 2 of Erik's questions:

  • Does this course need to fill a special role in the first year curriculum?
  • How do they make your innovations work in an often larger sized first year required course?

As to the first question, I think that Contracts should function to introduce 1L students to law as a mechanism for private ordering, and lawyering as a way to achieve that end.  As to the second question, at Georgia Law our first year sections are 80+ students.  My innovations have accordingly been easy to implement. 

I use 3 class sessions to introduce students to the idea of transactional lawyering. These sessions tend to be a lot of fun, and they break up the monotony of the semester.

Session 1: invite in an alum who practices in transactional law to talk about her job.  I had a VP from Chik-Fil-A this past semester.  Students love real lawyers. Have to miss class for a conference?  Don't cancel class, find an alum.  The development office will be happy to help.

Session 2: Negotiation session.  Confession: My colleague Alex Scherr guest-teaches this class.  It involves splitting the class into buyers and sellers and giving them a simple fact pattern.  Then they pair up and negotiate a deal.  The instructor solicits about 10 different outcomes that he puts up on the board for the class to see.  The results vary enormously, and show students the importance of negotiating skill, the anchoring effect, and negotiation strategy.

Session 3: NDA.  Yes, I actually teach this one.  I distribute a simple University NDA and divide the class in two.  Half represent a company with technology the university is interested in, half represent the university.  I have them issue spot silently for 5 minutes, and then discuss in groups.  Then I put all of the issues up on the board: how is confidential information defined?  Who is covered?  How can the information be used?  How protected must the information be? 

Tip: schedule one of these the day the 1Ls have a brief or memo due in Legal Research and Writing.  Teaching veterans know that students have often pulled all-nighters, and a traditional Socratic class on those days can be downright painful. Plus,they'll love you for it.

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