Administrative Law: Dinosaur Park Simulation

University of Denver Sturm College of Law

The practice of law often requires use of imagination and creativity. However, there are few places in law school where law students exercise these traits. Even simulation and problem classes rely on hypotheticals tailored to law, but not to the unedited, rough facts of problems actually brought to attorneys on a daily basis. My upper class courses, including Dinosaur Park Administrative Law, are “ill-structured” simulations, ones that merely put into place a scenario that expands in unpredictable ways based on law student manipulation. These scenarios can go anywhere based on student exercise of ingenuity and practical skills. Development of the legal imagination, evidenced through the use of practical skills knowledge, is critical to producing practice-ready lawyers.

Course Description 

Administrative Law is a required course at our law school. I have taught the course in this simulation four times over ten years. The course teaches all three Carnegie categories: legal analytics, practice skills, and professional identity. The class teaches legislative drafting skills while also teaching administrative law. The class takes the novel Jurassic Park and treats the scenario of a company releasing dinosaur DNA into the biosphere as a real world problem. The students work in teams to decide how to address the problem legislatively, creating a regulatory framework to effectively deal with all aspects of the problem. Students typically create a regulatory agency and give it powers and limits, integrating constitutional and statutory requirements into their invented structure. The course is innovative in taking a complex problem described in a long report (Jurassic Park) and puts students in the position of lawyer legislator. Students learn administrative law but also must wrestle with policy decisions and their own views of government control and free enterprise in the process. I began teaching the course this way because in the traditional class students only get a fragmented view of administrative policy and process. The case method is not very good in conveying a robust view of the very dynamic administrative state.

Course Design 

Upper Level / Practicum / Carnegie Integrated Course / Required / Legal Writing

Course Objectives:

Students will develop core knowledge in the area of federal and state administrative law, including the Administrative Procedure Act and practice and procedure before state and federal agencies.

Students will decide how to regulate in the area of dinosaur biogenetics, will draft a legislative regulatory scheme, including policy and agency design, information collection and release, rulemaking, adjudication, appellate procedure, and agency ethical issues including conflict of interest and practice before the agency provisions.

Students will work collaboratively in teams to brainstorm and draft in the various areas of the proposed statute.

Students will present their work orally and in writing for purposes of constructive feedback and critique.

Students will lead class sessions in teams related to their area of drafting and expertise.

I developed the course in order to address the "forest" of administrative law and policy. The casebook method for teaching administrative law is fragmented and therefore only teaches students the individual "trees" in the area of administrative law. The process of drafting an entire regulatory scheme teaches in depth the reasons for various regulatory policy choices, including, for example, policy differences between informal and formal rulemaking or liberal versus conservative approaches to physical search authority. I have added two teams since I started teaching this way, a fact team (responsible for knowing all the details of the Jurassic Park novel, like a complex litigation scenario) and a Regulatory Landscape and Details Team (responsible for ethical issues and also for knowing the regulatory landscape that already exists for cloning and DNA regulation). Also, the course exams are built from the contextual facts produced in the class.

Teaching Methods 

Lectures / Collaborative/Cooperative/Team Learning / Group Discussion / Simulation / Peer Teaching / Socratic Inquiry / Legal Writing (Legislative Drafting)

Student assignments include:

Team teaching portion of Administrative Law course related to their developed area of expertise.

Drafting portions of regulatory legislation for dinosaur biogenetics.

Researching relevant areas of Administrative Law to support drafting efforts and justifications.

Students receive oral feedback on class teaching presentations and written feedback on drafts. Performance rubrics are distributed at beginning of class.

Students take a late midterm contextually developed from the facts of the class.

Outcomes 

Student learning measured through oral presentation and questions + contribution to critique of drafts, portions of legislation drafted, midterm exam. Student work product is a strong measure of the effectiveness of learning, but students also turn in a final report that indicates the work they’ve done on the project. This report reveals effectiveness of learning.

Future plans include bringing actual legislative drafters into the class to work with students on their assignments.

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