Teaching FCIL Research Series: Fun with FCIL Assignments

By Beau Steenken

studentsworkingonassignments

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

One of my favorite parts of teaching is drafting assignments, as the activity provides an outlet for creativity to a greater degree than other parts of my job. If you think about it, drafting assignments does rather mirror writing fiction. You make up a client/protagonist, give said protagonist some sort of problem or conflict, and then set up the means of resolving said conflict. This is especially true of writing assignments for experiential simulation courses as you have to provide enough detail for the problems to simulate real case files. Engaging in this activity for an FCIL research course, however, presents a unique set of challenges.

The main difficulty I encountered in drafting assignments for my initial FCIL course was to come up with assignments realistic enough to satisfy the requirements for a simulation course without leading my students to pretend violate professional responsibility standards. (I feel comfortable in assuming that my students by and large will be licensed in the U.S. and not foreign jurisdictions. Furthermore, under simulation standards, I would be assuming the role of supervising attorney, and I’m also only licensed domsestically.) Additionally, I still needed to use the assignments to measure students’ proficiency in each of the discrete learning outcomes I identified for the course in getting it approved. Thus, I still needed assignments that would require students to:

  • analyze a set of facts to determine what legal issues are presented,
  • research the law to answer legal questions,
  • communicate clearly and effectively in oral and written form, including electronic media, and
  • explain ways in which laws are made and what gives different forms of law authority.

Though I took the learning outcomes I submitted for the course from our list of approved programmatic outcomes (meaning that they were designed with courses on American law in mind), they lined up well with conducting FCIL research. I especially like the last outcome for FCIL assignments, as the forms of law differ quite a bit, and so a large part of what I teach in the class is how to determine what sources exercise what level of authority for a given jurisdiction. Still, drafting assignments that combined these outcomes with realistic problems that could be worked on by attorneys licensed in the U.S. took a bit longer than anticipated.

Altogether I had my FCIL students complete three research assignments, one each for class segments on Foreign, International, and European Union legal research. By far the easiest (and most fun) to draft was the International Law assignment. The assignment required students to take on the role of advising a made-up state (because the state was completely made up, I was also able to make up its own professional responsibility standards rendering that particular concern null for at least one assignment) and to evaluate which of three legal arguments (preemptive self-defense, collective security, or invitation to intervene) would be the best justification for a military strike that had already happened. Sadly, I became so involved in writing the scenario and so giddy at my own cleverness in fictionalizing away professional responsibility, that I forgot to also balance the assignment with consideration of feasibility for my poor students (which they brought to my attention on course evaluations). Thus, in addition to being the easiest and most fun to write, it also stands as the assignment in need of most revision going forward.

For the foreign and E.U. assignments, I got around the P.R. problem by employing a similar plot device in each assignment. My students took on the role of American attorneys conducting initial research to advise clients on whether those clients wanted to take the next step of hiring counsel in foreign jurisdictions. My foreign assignment tasked students with representing an eccentric entrepreneur who wished to relocate off-shore. They had to compare several jurisdictions of my choosing and evaluate those jurisdictions’ mechanisms for dispute resolution and the jurisdictions’ immigration regulations in order to make a recommendation as to which jurisdiction the client should relocate. (The former requirement allowed me to measure my final outcome while not breaking the Fourth Wall of the simulation assignment.) They delivered their recommendations via powerpoint presentations. In the E.U. assignment, the students represented a toy maker who’d been approached by a French company about expanding into new markets. The toymaker wanted to know whether it would be worth looking into by asking whether its current toys would likely satisfy safety regulations in Europe. Thus, students had to find and apply an E.U. Directive as well as French implementing legislation. Their conclusions on the matter took the form of either recommending that the toymaker engage French counsel or by advising that to continue would probably mean changing the toy manufacturing process. (This way they weren’t simulating practice in a jurisdiction in which none of us were licensed.) Interestingly, my students seemed to like this last assignment the best, I think because it was most similar to what they are used to doing with American law.

Ultimately, I feel like my assignments were successful, and I did get good learning outcome data from them. They were also a blast to write, not only because I enjoy FCIL subjects, but also because they required a certain degree of meta-narrative to satisfy both simulation requirements and outcomes-based education requirements.

 

One response to “Teaching FCIL Research Series: Fun with FCIL Assignments

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

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