Developing the University of Missouri “Stone Soup” Case Database

Stone Soup graphic

The University of Missouri’s Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution is exploring the feasibility of developing a searchable database of descriptions and analyses of actual cases.  This post describes our plan and invites you to respond with your comments, suggestions, and commitments to participate.

The source of cases would be course assignments in which students interview people about actual cases and then write reports including narratives of the cases.  The reports would include some standard elements to permit efficient searches but otherwise, faculty would design the assignments as they wish.  The reports could focus on disputes, transactions, and other decision-making processes.  The database project would use procedures to ensure compliance with ethical requirements and good research practices.

We have a very broad conception of dispute resolution, which includes litigation.  In the past, there was a clearer division between “alternative” dispute resolution and litigation. These days, they are thoroughly intertwined and hard to separate.  In addition to cases about traditional ADR processes, the database would include reports about pretrial litigation, trial, and appellate litigation as well as government administrative procedures, internal organizational processes, and many others.

Faculty could use the assignment in a wide range of courses including ADR, litigation practice, clinic and externship, civil and criminal procedure courses, and even courses focusing primarily on legal doctrine.  In any course, the reports would need to include detailed chronologies of events in cases, though the focus would vary depending on the subject of the course.

Students generally would be required to submit the papers to satisfy course requirements (though some students could write up cases for extra-credit, independent studies, law review notes etc.).  Students would not, however, be required to have their papers submitted to the database.  In addition, interview subjects could agree to have the interviews used for the course assignment but not the database.  There would be an agreement specifying intellectual property rights, providing that the students would retain the copyright to their reports and specifying the rights of the University of Missouri and database users.

The database would be like a variation of Westlaw and SSRN.  Like Westlaw, it would include accounts of actual cases but it would focus on empirical accounts of what happened, not analyses of legal issues limited to legally-relevant facts.  Like SSRN, it would depend on contributions by our community, though the contributions would be case reports and/or analyses of cases rather than other types of scholarly articles.

In a post on the Indisputably blog, I describe the plans for developing the University of Missouri “Stone Soup” Case Database project.  We are now soliciting input to refine the details of the database.  About June 8, we plan to circulate updated versions of key documents listed below.  At that point, we would solicit commitments for faculty to use a Stone Soup assignment in one or more courses next academic year.  If we receive enough commitments by June 19, we will proceed with this project.

The Indisputably post includes documents with:

● a vision of using the database to create knowledge collaboratively
● guidance for faculty interested in using a Stone Soup assignment in one or more courses, including getting approval from institutional review boards
● information about ethical rules permitting lawyers and other professionals to discuss cases if they protect confidentiality
● procedures to protect confidentiality
● a model course assignment to conduct interviews about actual cases
● a model solicitation or confirmation for interviews
● guidance for students in conducting and summarizing interviews
● sample research papers
● possible database fields
● a form to commit to use an interview assignment next academic year

My Missouri colleague, Rafael Gely, and Arizona State Professor Art Hinshaw used this interview assignment in their negotiation courses this semester and they found that it worked extremely well and plan to use it again.

Art told his students this was the first time doing this assignment and he asked whether he should do it again.  They gave a resounding “yes.”  He said that from the papers and the debrief in class, the assignment legitimizes the lessons from class and really pulls things together for them.

We are hopeful that we will get enough interest to proceed with this Stone Soup project. Even if we don’t, it is a terrific course assignment that you could use in virtually any course.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss this, please get in touch with me.

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