Last week, thanks to my colleague and fellow blogger Kathryn Piper, we both had one of the highlights of our semester: a cross-program collaboration activity in which Katy’s Transnational Legal Practice (TLP) LLM students acted as lawyers and my American Law Discourse & Analysis (ALDA) LLM students acted as clients.
Each class of students was sub-divided into groups of two or three, and students were given background facts and instructions which they read in advance. My ALDA students were each provided a detailed backstory in which they were business partners with a legal problem. For example, one ALDA group were entrepreneurs who had invented something (e.g., a translation device that interprets spoken legal English into multiple languages), and they were trying to think through a potential transaction with an overseas business partner.
TLP students had much less information than the ALDA students. Two days before the role-play activity, the TLP students were divided into “law firms” of two to three students each. Each firm received a short phone message from the firm’s receptionist. The phone message notified the attorneys of an upcoming client meeting, and gave a two-sentence hint of the type of problem the client thought they had (e.g., a trademark issue, or cross-border transaction with a new buyer). With only this scant information, the “law partners” met in their firms and prepared some questions for their clients.
On the day of the meetings, we set up tables with a placard with each law firm’s name on a table. And law firm names used the surnames of the students on that team. (So if, e.g., Katy and I were the lawyers on one team, there would be a “Piper & Horowitz LLP” sign on the table.)
The meetings turned out to be extremely engaging for all students, which each taking a different path and having its own flavor. Interestingly, my ALDA students, who were extremely nervous going in, explained later that they were very relieved when they realized that Katy’s TLP students were equally anxious. Upon completion of the meetings, both classes pushed their chairs into a semi-circle, and each group had a chance to discuss their experience. They shared vocabulary, the solutions they reached, and we discussed alternatives to telling nervous or demanding clients “I don’t know.”
The follow-up assignment for the TLP “lawyers” was to draft a client advice letter based on the meeting, to be due the following week. For the ALDA “clients,” the assignment was to write a follow-up email to their lawyers confirming the key points of the meeting as well as next-steps.
Overall, the activity led to an extremely high level of engagement as well as a concrete sense of satisfaction in applying their learning in an unscripted situation. Additionally, the range of personalities, accents, language levels, cultural backgrounds, and discourse styles really did a wonderful job of simulating legal practice in a global environment.
We look forward to future such TLP-ALDA collaborations–which will most likely become a staple going forward–and also plan to write a few more posts regarding observations and insights gained from this activity.