How You and Your Students Can Benefit From Stone Soup Next Year

The University of Missouri Law School started the Stone Soup Project about a year ago to incorporate more knowledge about actual practice in legal education.

Stone Soup contributes to a more balanced educational diet, adding context of disputes and more focus on parties.  Readings on legal doctrine generally are extremely acontextual.  Of course, students get value in reading excerpts of appellate case reports to learn about legal doctrine and analysis.  Similarly, students get value in reading about practice theory.

But I think that most law students get too little education about how cases actually look to lawyers.  In real life, cases are full of facts, evidence, uncertainty, risk analysis, interests, relationships, and emotions, which provide context that is systematically stripped out of most of our teaching materials.

And parties – central characters in lawyers’ work – typically are portrayed as cardboard figures who are included merely to demonstrate our teachings, not as the principals, who lawyers serve.

Readers of this blog know this.  People – maybe including you – have been saying this for a long, long time.  Indeed, this has been a major motivation for clinical and other practice-oriented instruction.

Stone Soup is another systematic effort to provide a more balanced educational diet for students by including more of these perspectives in our teaching.

How Stone Soup Works

Since we started the Project about a year ago, we have engaged almost 1000 students in 40 classes covering 12 subjects, taught by 32 faculty from 25 schools in 3 countries.

Faculty generally have assigned students to conduct interviews about actual cases and/or practitioners’ backgrounds, philosophies, and practices.  Some faculty assigned students to observe court proceedings or mediations.  You can tailor an assignment to fit your educational objectives.

Most assignments were in traditional ADR courses, but faculty also used Stone Soup assignments in other courses including Access to Justice, Evidence, Relational Lawyering, Resolving Community Civil Rights Disputes, and Trusts and Estates.  Faculty could use them in almost any course, such as Labor Law, Employment Discrimination, Professional Responsibility, Civil Procedure, and Criminal Law, among many others.

Stone Soup faculty assessed their courses, identifying what worked well, what students learned that they would not have learned without the assignment, and what faculty would do differently in the future.  Here’s a collection of their assessments.

Faculty consistently reported outstanding results that far exceeded our expectations.  Stone Soup has provided many benefits including:

  • increasing students’ exposure to the real world of practice
  • helping students develop critically-important interviewing and analysis skills
  • identifying how theory does and doesn’t map well onto actual practice
  • supplementing faculty’s knowledge, especially for faculty who haven’t practiced in the subjects they are teaching – or haven’t practiced at all
  • increasing students’ and faculty’s enjoyment of the courses

Faculty who used Stone Soup assignments in their courses this year generally plan to use Stone Soup again with little or no change.

How You Can Use Stone Soup

The first year’s experiences yield some general suggestions for using Stone Soup.  In particular, faculty should require students to complete interviews or observations as soon as appropriate in a course, and should schedule time in class to discuss what students learned.  Discussing insights from these assignments early in a semester provides a base of experience that everyone can refer to during the rest of the course.

Here’s a table identifying characteristics of Stone Soup courses and including links to faculty assessments of the courses.  The table demonstrates the incredible creativity of faculty in tailoring assignments to fit their instructional goals and circumstances.  For each course, it shows:

  • Class size
  • Description of the Stone Soup assignment
  • Whether the assignment was required, one option of an assignment, or extra credit
  • Assigned paper length, if any
  • Due date
  • Percentage of grade, if any
  • Whether the results of the assignment were discussed in class

Some faculty like the Stone Soup idea generally but wonder if it work in their courses or feel hesitant for other reasons.  This post identifies some colleagues’ concerns and responses to those concerns.  In particular, the assignments need not add much, if any, workload, students generally can find interview subjects without faculty assistance, and Stone Soup can work well in almost any law school course.

If you would like more information, you can read this report on the Project’s first year and/or get in touch with me.

If you would like to join the roster of colleagues using a Stone Soup assignment next year, please let me know the courses(s) and semester(s) in which you would use it.

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