Bridging the Gap: How Introducing Ethical Skills Exercises Will Enrich Learning in First Year Courses
43 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2012 Last revised: 1 Jan 2013
Date Written: March 6, 2012
Law schools have begun to raise the bar beyond the baseline mandates and aspirational goals of MacCrate and Carnegie, and are looking seriously at how to implement the suggested methods of Best Practices and other innovative models. Facing increasing pressure to prepare law students to be ethical, competent practitioners, law schools must rise to the challenge of introducing a broad range of practical skills and ethical values across the curriculum and throughout the three years of law school. It is no longer reasonable that a single required course in professional responsibility will somehow suffice to instill the long-lasting and deep values in legal ethics expected by both the members of our profession, clients, and the American public. Instead, law schools are introducing more experiential opportunities throughout the curriculum that offer students the opportunity to integrate and apply the range of skills and substantive law that they have learned.
These opportunities seem to be entirely unavailable during the first year of law studies. This is a missed opportunity, since first-year courses are fertile ground for exposure to principles of professional responsibility. It is in this time period when students are in the process of learning foundational lawyering skills. Law faculty who teach first-year courses face unique challenges as they seek to orient law students to basic legal methods, analysis, and the concept of doctrinal law stemming from cases and statutes. The authors’ own teaching experiences and research have shown that offering students the opportunity to apply doctrine in a practical context through simulated client interactions leads to a richer and more complete legal education, which we believe better prepares students for the ethical and competent practice of law. As part of these simulations, students are given a chance to experiment with foundational lawyering skills such as client interviewing and counseling, problem-solving, drafting and synthesis of law and fact. While experimenting with these skills, students will also wrestle with the types of ethical dilemmas they will face in practice.
We share one approach of how a Contracts professor and a Lawyers’ Ethics professor are responding to these challenges in a first-year classroom and offer theoretical and practical support for the notion that providing students with the opportunity to develop and hone essential lawyering skills through simulations within the context of a doctrinal class will better prepare our students for the ethical and competent practice of law.
The Article offers support for the integration of ethical considerations into the first year of law school generally. We examine the learning objectives sought to be satisfied through the integration of ethics and contracts, and provide a description of this problem-centered exercise usable in any first year contracts class, with the fact pattern and other supporting documentation necessary to run the simulation attached as Appendices. The Article concludes with anecdotal results from the authors’ use of this exercise, and suggestions for assessment tools for faculty to use in evaluating the exercise.
Keywords: ethics, contracts, lawyering skills, first year curriculum
JEL Classification: K12, K19
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation