Simulation Courses and Standard 303’s “Primarily Experiential” Requirement

Many professors use simulation exercises in their teaching; not as many have ever taught a simulation course. What does it mean? What is required?

To meet Standard 303’s criteria under the new, six-credit experiential requirement, a simulation course must:

  • be primarily experiential in nature
  • integrate doctrine, theory, skills, and legal ethics
  • engage students in performance of one or more of the professional skills identified in Standard 302
  • develop the concepts underlying the professional skills being taught
  • provide multiple opportunities for performance and
  • provide opportunities for self-evaluation.

Additionally, under Standard 304, “[a] simulation course provides substantial experience not involving an actual client, that

(1) is reasonably similar to the experience of a lawyer advising or representing a client or engaging in other lawyering tasks in a set of facts and circumstances devised or adopted by a faculty member, and

(2) includes the following:

(i) direct supervision of the student’s performance by the faculty member;

(ii) opportunities for performance, feedback from a faculty member, and self- evaluation; and

(iii) a classroom instructional component.”

These two standards provide a relatively detailed list of requirements, but the very first item seems the least well defined. What does it mean for a course to be “primarily experiential in nature?” If a two-credit seminar course is enhanced with an additional hour of simulation activities, meeting all of the other listed requirements, is the resulting three-credit course “primarily experiential in nature?” All three credits?

Maybe the answer depends upon the degree to which the simulation is integrated into the teaching of doctrine. A course can ask students to think about the implications of doctrine from the perspective of the role they are assigned to play. If woven throughout the course, references to the simulation can enrich students’ understanding of the content, which they will then apply in the performance aspect of the course. Still, assuming the two credits of content are still being taught, is this course “primarily experiential in nature?” Or does this requirement mean simulation courses must be advanced-level options for students who have already completed a course introducing the content, such that the primarily experiential application of doctrine can take place? I don’t think that’s what it should mean.

Approaching simulation courses from design principles instead, several authors ask us to think carefully about the goals of our simulation courses and the ways in which we assess student performance. See, e.g., Roy Stuckey, Teaching with Purpose: Defining and Achieving Desired Outcomes in Clinical Law Courses, 13 Clinical L. Rev. 807 (2007); Paul S. Ferber, Adult Learning Theory and Simulations – Designing Simulations to Educate Lawyers, 9 Clinical L. Rev. 417 (2002); Jay M. Feinman, Simulations: An Introduction, 45 J. Legal Educ. 469 (1995). The Carnegie Report says, “Doctrinal teaching goes on informally as students engage the simulated cases, so that assignments used to teach practical lawyering skills also reinforce their learning of legal analysis.” Stuckey, supra at 823, citing Carnegie at 226-27. But surely doctrinal teaching can also take place more formally in a simulation course, provided it is integrated with the simulated role that makes the course primarily experiential.

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