Reflections on Teaching Foreign & International Legal Research for the First Time

By Beau Steenken

In my last post, I related my experiences designing and proposing a new Specialized Legal Research (SLR) course on Foreign & International Legal Research. This time around I thought I would share my impressions of how my course went in its first iteration. I will do so by discussing what went most right, what went most wrong, what went kind of right and kind of wrong, and the changes I plan to make in the next iteration (which will occur in the Fall 2018 semester.) Before I get to the analysis, though, I’d like to thank the seven wonderful UK Law students who were intrepid enough to take a brand new course and serve as my guinea pigs!

· What Went Most Right: “Partner Meetings”
My class featured three graded assignments, one for each of the subparts of the course (foreign legal research, international legal research, and European Union legal research). I generally tried to give the students two weeks for each assignment, and midway through the assignment window I required students to come conduct a mock “partner update meeting” with me. This was partially so that I could ensure everyone was on track as the topics were mostly brand new for all of my students, but it also served to fulfil the A.B.A. requirements for self-reflection in experiential simulation courses.i The simulated partner meetings exceeded my expectations. All of my students came in prepared having already conducted significant research on their problems. They also all happily engaged in self-assessment and rightly felt more confident with some sources than others. Finally, none of the students had fully exhausted their available research avenues, so they (and their assignments) all benefited from the meetings for which they were appreciative.

· What Went Most Wrong: Lecture/Discussion Balance
I tried to run my course as a simulation course in preparation of offering it as a way for students coming in under the new ABA rules to use it towards their experiential requirement.ii As such, I treated my class as a mock firm, and planned to deliver most instruction via discussion. We even met in the law school’s committee conference room. Unfortunately, I often found myself drifting back into lecture, as the topics were—well—foreign to my students. While a classroom instructional component remains a part of simulation courses,iii I think that I need to balance it better next time to keep students active more of the time.

· What Went Kind of Right and Kind of Wrong: Assignments
As mentioned above, I had three assignments. In the first, students prepared powerpoint presentations comparing the immigration laws and structures of three different jurisdictions. In the second, they prepared an internal memo recommending one of three possible international defenses for the use of armed force by a fictitious state. Finally, they wrote a client letter to a fictitious American toymaker advising the client whether or not taking steps to accept an offer to expand into the French market would make economic sense after an initial glance at E.U. laws on toy safety. I graded each
assignment with an outcomes-based rubric to track achievement of my course learning outcomes. The assignments went kind of right in that my students did in fact achieve many of the learning outcomes for the course. The assignments went kind of wrong in the fact that my course evaluations universally indicated that the amount of work that went into the assignments would have been more appropriate for a three hour credit course than a one hour credit course.

· Changes for Next Time
When I teach the course again next fall, I plan to do a couple of things differently to mitigate what went wrong last time. First, I am going to take a couple of steps to improve the lecture discussion balance. I think I am going to have students prepare oral reports to their fellow students on some instructive topics. I am also going to teach the international component (which I know better) before the foreign component, as I think I will establish a better balance with the material with which I am most comfortable. I also plan on reducing the size of assignments, possibly by breaking students into groups, so that each student only gets a single issue or jurisdiction, while allowing them to provide evaluation/synthesis as a group.

In conclusion, while I certainly enjoyed my first round of teaching Foreign and International Legal Research, there were definitely areas where I found I could improve. I am greatly looking forward to my second attempt next fall to see how the class improves in its second iteration!

i ABA Standard 303(a)(3)(iv).
ii See ABA Standards 303(a)(3), 304(a).
iii ABA Standard 304(a)(iii)ABA Standard 304(a)(iii).

One response to “Reflections on Teaching Foreign & International Legal Research for the First Time

  1. Pingback: Teaching FCIL Research: Revisiting 15 DipLawMatic Posts on Teaching | DipLawMatic Dialogues

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