This semester, a colleague and I are teaching an undergraduate seminar: “Social Networking and the Law,” and, so far, it has been a blast.
As Elliot noted in his recent post, Serving Undergraduates, undergrads are indeed a different animal than law students. They have different motivations and different knowledge foci. Despite these differences, we envisioned the class as “Law School Lite,” and wanted to give our students a taste of bittersweet law school.
Before moving on to more substantial topics, we taught the following to help level the field:
- What are the sources of law in the US?
- How is the court system structured?
- What do those funny-looking numbers and letters next to a case name mean?
- How do you find and read a case? (IRAC)
- What is jurisdiction?
We took our time with these topics, bringing in the following:
- lots of verbal examples and illustrations,
- articles from newspapers,
- a montage of TV police dramas in which actors quibble about jurisdiction,
- fun kids’ videos and quizzes to describe the structure of the government,
- a field trip to the law library to wander the stacks, and
- in-class group projects.
Although it was a large investment of time (around 5 sessions), these basics have proved invaluable to our current discussions. (And being a little less formal about teaching the basics is really fun!) We strayed away from teaching legal research and legal concepts in a traditional way, realizing that pointing out the things in the landscape that they’ve seen, but never recognized, would make it real for the students.
A recent session on privacy and Facebook started to bring many of the topics together for the students. They all use Facebook, so the application of these ‘new ideas’ to something familiar seemed really satisfying to them. Everyone was talking, asking questions, citing to cases in the articles, getting into debates about Facebook’s legal responsibilities, and including anecdotes about experiences using social media. They were having a good time applying legal concepts to their world, and our evening class ended up running late!
It was a great session, and I left feeling inspired to have more classes that click. More than that, I am wondering about how to bring some of these positive aspects into teaching legal research to law students. The ‘show and tell’ technique is tried and true, but maybe it’s time for me to think about making it fun. Future law students, thank an Undergrad!