I have a fiduciary duty to my students, school, and profession to provide training for universal skills, while introducing practice-ready skills, and fostering the growth of each student’s professional identity. I must meet students where they are, regardless of their educational background to guide their learning, and guide them to a professional level of competency. Thus, I use multiple assignments and feedback to guide student learning to a professional level of competency.
In this Property class, students learn the foundational principles of property and universal lawyering skills like synthesis and written analysis that students need to master in order to pass the bar and, more importantly, practice law responsibly. Students also focus on how property law can be a tool to create just results by focusing not just on the doctrine and ethical implications, but also on student’s ability to synthesize rules persuasively and communicate legal arguments clearly.
Property is a core first-year class required of all students. Property is designed to provide students with the core doctrine and fundamental skills that every lawyer needs to practice law competently, ethically, and professionally. Property class is taught following the guidelines the Carnegie Foundation set forth in the book, Educating Lawyers. Specifically, students have an opportunity to engage in professional identity and professional responsibility exercises, active learning, and exercises that teach fundamental skills needed to pass the bar and practice law competently. As recommended by Carnegie and a host of other resources, this course also allows students to have autonomy, which means students will have an opportunity to select certain activities that they believe will benefit them the most and, conversely, skip some activities that they believe will not benefit them. Because there is overwhelming evidence that students learn best when given incremental guided exercises, this course provides many opportunities for these types of activities.
Students review the fundamental doctrine of property that is tested on the MBE and that most people will encounter in their lifetime. These principles may include laws that relate to: capture, find, adverse possession, landlord tenant, sales, easements, covenants, co-tenancy, present possessory estates, and future interests. To reinforce this knowledge, students take regular multiple choice quizzes and engage in oral and written analysis of legal concepts in class.
Students work collaboratively and individually to develop fundamental legal skills that prepare students for the bar exam and their future career as a lawyer. As a first year course, students also engage in activities that are designed to teach the fundamental skills necessary to succeed in law school. Students use specific synthesis tools to learn how to synthesize rules objectively and persuasively as well as see the range of possible synthesized rules. Students engage in many lessons on how to study for and write a model law school exam answer which also prepares students for the practice of law. Students receive feedback about how to improve their basic writing and critical thinking skills. Because these skills are universal, the skills students learn in Property will serve them in their other courses.
To reinforce practice-ready skills, students engage in experiential learning both inside the classroom and with their assignments. Students have options to choose between discipline-specific skills, like drafting an easement, and universal lawyering skills, like negotiating a contract.
Finally, because adopting the values of the profession is so critical to the responsible practice of law, students have assignments that help them develop their professional identity, explore implicit bias in the legal system, and explore access to justice issues that include opportunities to provide pro bono and community service to underserved populations.
First Year / Required / Carnegie-Integrated Course / Legal Writing
Lectures / Collaborative/Cooperative/Team Learning / Group Discussion / Simulation / Peer Teaching / Socratic Inquiry / Legal Writing
To guide learning, students engage in assignments that meet students where they are and guide them to mastery.
To help students prepare for class, students engage in exercises that identify how an expert might approach the reading. In class, students synthesize the rules from the cases together, then test the facts of the cases against the entire rule.
To reinforce doctrine, dive deeper into the topic, and identify nuances cut for time, students take multiple choice quizzes. To emphasize mastery, students can retake these quizzes repeatedly.
To help students learn legal analysis and maintain consistency between class and assessment standards, students must answer class questions using complete analysis. We use Socratic dialogue to develop arguments and end with reciting a fully formed analysis in exam format. Additionally, students take multiple choice quizzes that turn fair answers into model answers. Students engage in practice essays with self or peer diagnostic tools and professor feedback. Students take multiple short midterms and receive extensive feedback about their written analysis.
To reinforce practitioner skills, students engage in practitioner preparation assignments that are designed to teach universal lawyering skills and discipline-specific skills. We discuss the difference between asserting legal rights and practical efforts that are more efficient and less hostile.
To reinforce values, we discuss the ethical implications of client situations in class. Students engage in one or professional identity and responsibility assignments that help them identify their core values, the profession’s values, and the obstacles to justice like poverty, prejudice, and implicit bias.
Students have the opportunity to engage in a range of practice-ready exercises, which vary from semester to semester, and students will often have a choice as to which ones to complete. Samples include:
- Negotiating an easement between two adjacent property owners. At the conclusion of this assignment, students draft an easement that is worthy of notarizing and filing with the County Clerk.
- Negotiate the sale of a home to address client concerns like price, move-in dates, inclusion of appliances, and other common client interests. With this assignment, students will encounter many issues parties typically face when negotiating the purchase of a residential home such as issues related to the duty to disclose defects, issues of implied warranty of habitability, and traditional executory period negotiations about repairs. At the conclusion of the negotiation, if an agreement is reached, the negotiating students will sign a residential sales agreement and update their respective senior partner with the results of the negotiation.
- Write a conveyance based on the transcript of a client interview. After reading though the transcript to become familiar with what the client is asking, students will write the conveyance from the student's client to the client's children, according to the client's wishes. Students will also document what each party has at the time of the conveyance. Finally, students will indicate where the student had to make a choice despite not having enough information from the client transcript and identify additional questions the students would want to ask the client.
- Generate their own practice-ready exercise that provides practical, lawyer-based skills training in the context of their current employment or pro bono activities.
Course Development & Lessons Learned
Early on, I focused on written legal skills. Over time, I incorporated lessons for all of the fundamental skills. However, it has been important to incrementally develop these lessons to allow me time to manage the full scope of the course and provide quality instruction and feedback before and after each exercise.
Shifting introductory information and nuances to out-of-class assignments has allowed more time for skill development in class without sacrificing depth or breadth of coverage.
Advice and Teaching Recommendations
The organization of the course is critical to gaining student buy-in. For example, in the past, I have had “multiple choice quizzes,” “written analysis quizzes,” and “out of class midterms.” The sheer number of categories makes the course harder for students to understand. Moving forward, I combine all quizzes and exams into one category.
Making the rules consistent and easy to understand also makes a difference. For example, it is easier to take the highest multiple choice grade rather than requiring 100% correct to earn credit. Similarly, in the past, I’ve offered many practitioner assignments due at different dates, but only required students to complete one assignment. Moving forward, I have one due date with options about which assignment to complete.
Students buy in better when upper classmen and the bar department give ringing endorsements, so giving these groups some class time has been important. It is also important to inform other section professors about the assignments and have them reinforce the importance of them.
Evidence of Effectiveness
With the class preparation exercises, students have come to class more prepared and ask higher quality questions. Students develop a deeper appreciation of synthesis, moving from a dualistic approach that creates “one right” rule to a relativistic approach using synthesis persuasively. It is easier to identify students who are falling behind.
Students tend to improve their written analysis significantly during the semester. At semester’s end, even weak students create organized essays, fully explain facts spotted, and avoid the most common legal analysis errors. These writing skills transfer to both oral and written analysis in both bar and practitioner settings.
The professional identity assignments have created a dialogue and emphasize the importance of maintaining a sense of self and maintaining a commitment to professional values.
The practitioner preparation assignments put theory into practice and allow students to gain “experience” that they can discuss during interviews.
Allowing students to have choices with assignments has given students the initial impression that the course requires much more than it actually does.
In the past, students only needed to take two bar preparation quizzes, but there were ten available. Moving forward, I plan to create fewer, but longer, quizzes and make all mandatory.
In the past, quizzes were full/no credit, but students could take unlimited attempts. Moving forward, students will earn the highest score of their attempts.
Additionally, I have created one due date for practitioner preparation and professional identity assignments, but students can still choose from listed assignments.