Law school classes can be very predictable: cases, cold calls, policy discussions, and repeat. It is incredibly refreshing when the professor changes up the pace of the class or uses new tools to break the monotony.
During my time in virtual law school, I have observed many professors experiment with different ways of presenting and teaching the material. Their efforts have greatly enhanced my time learning legal doctrine behind a computer screen, without my fellow classmates seated around me.
In sharing these wonderful approaches, I hope that you will think about what tools would help you learn better, and maybe even suggest some of these things for your professor to adopt!
One professor of mine collects memes from students and incorporates them in the PowerPoint slides, for when there is a break for questions and comments. These memes speak to the topics we have learned in class, or generally comment on the experience of law school (especially law school during the pandemic). Some of them are fun and light-hearted, and others actually provide some thought-provoking commentary. Regardless of their nature, memes have been a great way to inject some humor into class, and I have really appreciated them.
2. Oral arguments
Oral arguments give the opportunity for students to apply what they have learned to a potential problem. While they often show up in moot court and legal writing and research classes, they are rare exercises in classes.
First, the professor distributes the fact pattern and assigns students to roles such as attorney, law clerk, court clerk or judge. After preparing and during class, students present their arguments, interrupt with questions, and deal with unsettled areas of the law or ambiguous information.
The oral arguments are relatively low pressure – each attorney speaks for only a couple to several minutes. I have found them to be quite fun, both as an oral advocate and an observer. As an advocate, I get to advance arguments and use persuasive rhetoric; and as an observer, I learn from my classmates’ creative arguments and insightful responses. I especially liked that my professor allowed us to indicate our preference about being an attorney or judge (speaking roles), or helping prepare as a law clerk or court clerk, thus taking into account the fact that not everyone is comfortable with public speaking.
Lastly, I enjoy these oral arguments as they give me a glimpse of the doctrine in action. Applying longstanding legal rules to current disputes and questions shows how the law works in real life, and whether it works well or not. Oral arguments also help me prepare for the exam. After the arguments, the professor often conducts a debrief, asking for comments about the substantive issues, drawing attention to certain arguments, and even concluding which side is more likely to win. If the litigation is based on a real case, we get to learn how a court actually ruled based on the facts. I pay close attention to these discussions, as they hint at how the professor would like legal issues to be analyzed on the final exam, and how various legal arguments are received by courts in reality.
Often, I sit in class wondering how my fellow classmates think about a court decision, the policies underlying doctrine, or how a legal area can be reformed. Polls provide a quick way to take the temperature of the room and encourage discussion of multiple aspects of a given issue.
My professor uses polls in this way: the professor prepares questions, some that request a formal application of legal principles and some that elicit open-ended discussion, and asks the class to vote on the different choices. The results are published, followed with a discussion about whether a certain answer is correct under the doctrine, or about why students support a specific position. These discussions have allowed me to better understand the legal doctrine, as well as the opportunities for the law to be improved, or sometimes overturned.
4. Breakout rooms
In a traditional large law school lecture class, it is uncommon for professors to put students into discussion groups. The Socratic method tends to be the modus operandi. As a result, each student rarely gets to speak much, and there are few opportunities to hear from other students about their perspectives. The breakout room feature on Zoom “forces” students into groups to discuss the professor-provided questions and prompts.
While it took me some time to warm up to this tool, I grew to appreciate it. In the breakout groups, I have been able to meet more people, learn about their thoughts and past work and educational experiences, and to process my thinking in a comfortable space. I noticed that I have become more engaged in class, and absorb the material better.
In sum, these four features that my professors use have greatly improved my law school learning experience, and I hope that you will recommend them for your instructors!
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