Injecting Law Student Drama Into the Classroom: Transforming an E-Discovery Class (or Any Law School Class) with a Complex, Student-Generated Simulation

47 Pages Posted: 15 Sep 2010 Last revised: 15 Dec 2012

See all articles by Paula Schaefer

Paula Schaefer

University of Tennessee College of Law

Date Written: September 14, 2010


Gem Finch, Boone Radley, and Pickle Harris are just three of the characters who play a dramatic – and key – role in my e-discovery focused pre-trial litigation class. I did not originally invite them into the class for the drama. I was interested in their email. In 2009, I was planning a pre-trial litigation class that would include e-discovery issues. But I could not find a pre-packaged case that included ESI – the electronically stored information that is the mainstay of e-discovery practice. The case materials included in most pre-trial litigation books involved car accidents and simple contract disputes. I knew that I needed ESI to make the course work. So with ESI in mind, I developed a two-semester simulation. In the fall semester, I offer a group of law students a single hour of course credit (as an independent study) to email one another, following a loose script, to create a business dispute among their assigned characters. Their dispute becomes the lawsuit in my pre-trial litigation class the following semester. In that course, independent study students play the clients and the witnesses (“student-characters”), and the pre-trial litigation students are their lawyers (“student-lawyers”).

While the initial goal of the simulation was ESI, the result was (and is) a complex, realistic drama that enhances every aspect of the course. Developing a theory of the case requires more than reading a two-page summary of facts, as might be required in a typical pre-trial litigation class. The student-lawyers have to review thousands of documents, interview witnesses, and stay in constant contact with their clients. Their clients are passionate and opinionated. The witnesses have allegiances and their own motives. To meet the demands of their clients, the student-lawyers must learn e-discovery doctrine and develop the skills needed to litigate the case and address the ethical dilemmas they encounter. In the process, the student-characters gain knowledge and skills they will take to practice, too. In short, the simulation does more than generate the data for e-discovery. It makes the course into something akin to the practice of law. In this article, I explain the transformative power of a complex, student-generated simulation.

Keywords: e-discovery, ESI, law pedagogy, law teaching, simulation, pre-trial litigation

JEL Classification: K40, K41

Suggested Citation

Schaefer, Paula, Injecting Law Student Drama Into the Classroom: Transforming an E-Discovery Class (or Any Law School Class) with a Complex, Student-Generated Simulation (September 14, 2010). University of Tennessee Legal Studies Research Paper No. 130, Nevada Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Paula Schaefer (Contact Author)

University of Tennessee College of Law ( email )

1505 West Cumberland Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37996
United States
865-974-6793 (Phone)

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