Reality Programming Meets LRW: The Moot Case Approach to Teaching in the First Year

Kenneth D. Chestek, Reality Programming Meets LRW: The Moot Case Approach to Teaching in the First Year, 38 Gonz. L. Rev. 57 (2003).

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Let me stake my claim clearly, up front: a course in legal analysis, writing and research is the most important course law students will take during their first year, and possibly in their entire law school career. This course builds the foundation not only for good analytical skills during law school but also for sound lawyering in the “real world” of summer clerkships and post-graduation jobs. Until that foundation is properly laid, anything built upon it (such as a legal career) will be unstable.

Because the legal writing course is taught in such a different way than other first-year classes, some students think of it as an anomaly, unworthy of the same level of attention as the other more “substantive” courses. Besides, it is much more interesting for a first-year student to debate the public policy behind the felony-murder rule than to learn how to write legal citations in proper Bluebook or ALWD format. The challenge for the legal writing professor, therefore, is to find a way to capture and retain the attention of first-year students, while imparting the skills they will need upon entering the profession. Connecting with today’s students, who grew up in the age of computer games and MTV, may require some new and innovative teaching methods.

This Article suggests the traditional skills that serve as the focus of most first-year legal writing courses (legal analysis, predictive memo writing, persuasive writing, and legal research) can be taught in an engaging way by tying all or most of the assignments into a single problem, which the students then work on all year as if they were lawyers. Using the “moot case” technique suggested in this Article, the teacher can introduce first-year law students to a wider range of lawyering skills beyond traditional skills. By assigning one section to represent one side of the case and another section to represent the other side, the students can gain a broader sense of what it means to represent a client from the inception of a case and to argue a case against a colleague (classmate) on a professional level. It also provides a sense of the context in which real legal writing is done in a law office. By doing so, the singleproblem, or moot case, approach to first-year legal writing addresses students need to see the real-world application of what they are learning. It also gives them a vehicle for some friendly competition with classmates, and thus holds their attention more completely than the more traditional approaches to the course…Read More

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