Creative use of the law school as a resource

Friendly faces for sure. But also a great resource for building legal background knowledge and English language communication skills.

One of the great things about running and teaching the American Law: Discourse & Analysis (ALDA) Program is that it operates completely within St. John’s Law School. And working within the law school means access to resources that can be used creatively to enhance legal learning and also build important background knowledge in engaging ways while developing a strong sense of connection with the school.

Here are a few examples I’ve used. It would be great to hear of examples from other law schools.

  • A field trip down the hall to St. John’s Law’s “Wall of Judges” as part of an activity on the U.S. court system. The “Wall of Judges” has photos of every St. John’s Law alum who has been a judge, which takes up an entire hallway. The photos are organized by court which the activity ties in with charts of the federal and NY state court systems.
  • Recordings of discussions from other law school classes. Like many law schools, a professor can request the IT department to video record any class for the benefit of students who may not be able to attend on a given day. So in connection with our work on the Lefkowitz v. Great Minneapolis Surplus Store contracts case, I collaborated with Professor Christopher Borgen, who teaches Contract Law, to get a recording of his actual class discussion of the Lefkowitz case. A great opportunity to see how the case is discussed by native English speaking JDs, a chance for authentic listening practice, and a way to encounter a familiar topic in a different mode which supports vocabulary development.
  • The Moot Courtroom at St. John’s Law

    Using the Moot Courtroom (which looks like a real courtroom) for students to make arguments in connection with a moot court-style assignment.

  • Interviews with living, breathing JD students: I’ve tasked ALDA students with interviewing JD students on topics such as legal ethics and how the JD students keep organized in law school, what the JD students know about various famous judges and lawyers, and whether they’re familiar with certain lawyer jokes. Often the assignments require the ALDA students to obtain a 30-second recording of the JD student answering the question which the ALDA student is then required to transcribe. In class, we also use the recordings and transcripts to compare and evaluate as well as for listening practice.
  • U.S. Presidential History & Constitution Scavenger Hunt: At St. John’s Law, we have a series of pictures of U.S. presidents hanging in the halls, each with an actual letter or document written by that president. I used this recently in an activity designed to familiarize ALDA students with U.S. presidents and their connection to Constitutional issues to help highlight and make more concrete the interplay of checks and balances among the three branches of government.
  • A trip to the St. John’s Law Review office to meet some of the staff members (one of whom is the Teaching Assistant for our class) and learn more about law review and legal academic journals.

In addition to the actual learning, it’s also of course a nice opportunity to get students up out of their seats and moving around, which is conducive to learning in its own way.

I’ll share additional examples in a future post. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing of any other examples. To mis-paraphrase the Capital One ad campaign: “What’s on your walls?”

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