The five professors who teach Legal Drafting at the University Of Florida Levin College Of Law meet weekly to collaborate with each other.  We also set aside two or three class sessions every semester to experiment with new and innovative teaching ideas.  This semester I used that time to introduce additional collaboration into the class.  I collaborated with another professor who teaches negotiation skills, and had the students work in pairs to negotiate the terms of the agreement before they drafted it.

Collaboration among professors benefits professors by exposing them to “new perspectives, teaching techniques and areas of expertise.”[1]  Collaboration among students benefits students by teaching them interpersonal skills, communication, leadership, cooperation and conflict resolution.[2]  Although the culture in most law schools fosters individualistic achievement, “the legal world into which law students graduate requires the ability to work effectively as a member of a group.”[3]  And skills courses like legal drafting are ideal candidates for collaborative learning.[4]

To prepare for my class, I drafted a complaint for a slip and fall case, a sample settlement agreement, and two sets of confidential client instructions (one for the plaintiff’s attorneys and one for the defendant’s attorneys).  I tried to make the exercise as realistic as possible.  I gave each party a range of settlement authority and also introduced some non-monetary issues the parties could negotiate, like confidentiality and the terms of any release.

I asked a professor who teaches negotiation at the University of Florida to come to the class and speak to the students about how they might approach a negotiation like this on behalf of a client.  I thought of also asking a practitioner in Gainesville to come and speak, but I decided to keep it simple and just have the one guest speaker for now.  My primary goal in collaborating with the professor was to integrate the related subject of negotiation into the course.

Integration is important because it mirrors reality.  Unlike law school, where, for example, skills are segregated from doctrine, the practice of law involves both “mastering doctrine and being skilled.”[5]  In the real world, everything overlaps everything else.   As a result, I think we send students a more accurate message by integrating substantive topics into skills courses (and skills projects into doctrinal courses).

I also split the class in half, with half of the students representing the plaintiff and the other half representing the defendant.  It would have been fun to work with another class, maybe even a class in another law school, but I also thought it better not to make the logistics too complicated.  The key was for the students to role play as attorneys so the exercise would simulate a real world negotiation.

Like collaboration and integration, simulation is another valuable teaching tool.  Simulation gives students an opportunity to learn by doing; it makes them active learners, instead of passive learners listening to a lecture.[6]  By role playing in class, students can also get some of the same experiences as they would get from a clinical course.

For the first class, I pretended to be the client (i.e. the plaintiff) and met with the plaintiff’s attorneys for half of the class to explain the instructions and answer any questions.  After that I pretended to be the defendant and met with the defendant’s attorneys to do the same thing for the second half of the class.  I think that was important to do because in practice you not only work with other attorneys to settle a case, you also have to work with clients (and often negotiate with them as well).

The second class involved a presentation by the professor who teaches negotiation.  I think the course benefited by integrating it with another subject.  In practice negotiation is part of the drafting process.  You have to be an advocate, but you also have to work with the other side to come to a resolution of each issue.  You have to negotiate to get the deal done.

After that class, the students met to negotiate the terms of their settlement agreements.  I didn’t grade the assignment, but I did tell them they would flunk if they didn’t come to an agreement and settle the case.  Transactional attorneys usually get paid from the proceeds of the transaction, I told them.  So if the deal falls through, nobody eats!

And as it turned out, everyone ate. I learned more about teaching by listening to my guest speaker. My students learned about negotiation, which is an important part of legal drafting in the real world; and they learned to work together to resolve a dispute. I was already teaching them to draft well. By collaborating I was also able to teach them an important practical lesson.   Being the best drafter will get you an “A” in law school, but it will do you no good in practice unless you also know how to collaborate with people and close a deal.

[1] Susan M. Chesler and Judith M. Stinson, Team up for Collaborative Teaching, 23 Perspectives: Teaching Legal Res. & Writing 169, 170 (2015).

[2] Janet Weinstein, Linda Morton, Howard Taras and Vivian Reznik, Teaching Teamwork to Law Students, Journal of Legal Education, Volume 63, Number 1 (August 2013), p. 38.

[3] Michael I. Meyerson, Law School Culture and the Lost Art of Collaboration: Why Don’t Law Professors Play Well With Others, 93 Neb. L. Rev. 547, 556 (2015)

[4] See e.g., Jay Finkelstein, David H. Gibbs, Teaching Methods: Collaboration between Schools and other Simulations, 15 Transactions: Tenn. J. Bus. L. 663, 670 (2014).

[5] Kathryn M. Stanchi, Step Away from the Casebook: A call for Balance and Integration in Law School Pedagogy, Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, Vol. 43, Issue 2 (Summer 2008), p. 612.

[6] Paula Schaefer, Injecting Law Student Drama into the Classroom: Transforming an E-Discovery Class (or Any Law School Class) with a Complex, Student-Generated Simulation, Nevada Law Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 1 (Fall 2011), p. 135.

Ben Fernandez

Ben Fernandez teaches Legal Drafting (litigation documents, contracts and legislative documents) at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. He previously taught Legal Methods (Legal Analysis), Legal Research and Objective Writing, Lawyering Process for Litigation Practice, and Transactional Drafting at Florida Coastal School of law. Also, he worked as an adjunct professor teaching Legal Writing at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, and Business Law at Cape Cod Community College. Ben has twenty-five years experience representing financial institutions, government housing finance agencies, non-profit corporations, home buyers and sellers, and other clients in commercial and residential mortgage loan closings, affordable housing finance transactions, and residential real estate developments on the South Shore and Cape Cod. He had his own practice in Plymouth, Massachusetts for ten years. Before that, he practiced law in the city of Boston for fifteen years. He worked as in-house counsel for a state-sponsored affordable housing finance agency, managed the business department of a prominent minority-owned firm, and was an associate at two large Boston law firms. Ben also served on the Board of Directors for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Plymouth, Massachusetts. He was a volunteer teacher in Junior Achievement's Financial Literacy program, and a regular speaker at Homebuyer Education Workshops sponsored by South Shore Housing and Housing Assistance Corporation on Cape Cod. Ben has an LL.M. in Banking and Financial Law Studies from Boston University School of Law, as well as a J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law and a B.A. from Cornell University.

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