Global Legal Skills: Mountains, Mariachi and Mentorship in Monterrey

I had the pleasure of attending the annual Global Legal Skills Conference this week, hosted by the Facultad Libre de Derecho de Monterrey. Sarah Kelly and I were glad to present the in-class role-play methods we use in our core LLM courses at St. John’s, and I was grateful to our audience, who engaged in all the steps of an introductory negotiation exercise and gave feedback on the experience.  This year negotiation and problem solving were popular topics, and seem to feature prominently in courses for all law students, not just LLMs who are nonnative speakers of English. Three ideas that I would like to adopt in my LLM writing and analysis class are: Lurene Contento’s simple graphing method for introducing  LLM students to creative problem solving, Barrie J. Roberts’ idea of treating Negotiation and Dispute Resolution practice as a form of English for Special Purposes, and Laurel Oats and Mimi Samuel’s exercises for noticing and practicing register and professionalism in legal correspondence.

LRAW ALDA activity

While I was admiring the steep mountains of Monterrey and taking copious notes at the conference, a role play was underway back at St. John’s.  Our first-semester Legal Writing students and ALDA students participated in our third client interview and letter-writing activity. As in previous semesters, Professor Horowitz’s ALDA students played clients who were grappling with some complex, fact-intensive legal problem. ALDA students met with their “lawyers,” my LRAW students, to divulge their problems and communicate their facts in as much relevant detail as possible.  This semester, we had a trademark issue, a patent issue, a design defect issue, an eminent domain issue, and a motor vehicle negligence issue.

Before the meeting, the lawyers had little information about the client or the problem, just a three-line phone message.  They had to run a professional meeting, make their clients comfortable,  and ask as many clarifying and encouraging questions as needed to understand the scope of their client’s problem. Before the interview, the lawyers divided into “law firms” to share thoughts about how to coax information from a client, and what language options they had for asking for clarification.  When one student declared he would just ask the client, “What’s your problem?” we had a great time discussing why that question would not get the desired reaction or facts, and figuring out how, indeed, to ask the client about his problem using other words.  It reminded me that this is why practical exercises are so important to our students: they can practice and test  (and sometimes fail, and then learn) the discourse of lawyering as they learn the substantive law. I look forward to applying some new ideas inspired by GLS in our skills lessons to come.


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