Teaching Graduate Students

In my last post, I talked about my spring semester teaching experience. So what am I doing this summer?  Jumping right back into the classroom with a group different from the typical JD – our graduate students.

This is my second summer teaching an introductory legal research class to the JM students at our law school.  As a bit of background, the JM, or Juris Master, program is geared toward working professionals wanting to gain better insight into the various legal issues they come across in their jobs.  The students can tailor their curriculum to what best suits their needs and we are excited that our numbers have been strong.  For the first two years of the class, we have averaged around 20% of the JM students enrolling in this elective option.

With this class being taught in the summer, these students have already experienced at least one academic year in the program.  However, we have decided to keep the class basic, covering the topics of case law, statutory and regulatory research along with secondary sources, current awareness and the research options beyond WEXIS.  It is essentially a re-emphasis on the building blocks of what they have been hearing during their first year in the program.  It reminds me of first semester legal research for 1Ls broken down into even more fundamental terms.

I like to think of my teaching by examining what the students get out of the class and also what I learn from the experience.  For the graduate students, they get an opportunity to ask LOTS of questions about the basics of not only legal research but also our legal system.  I don’t mind if someone wants to get detailed about the concept behind a digest or how a bill becomes a law and then makes it into a code.  During the academic year, these graduate students are in regular classes with JDs and have indicated that they sometimes feel apprehensive about asking certain basic questions.  While I point out that there are no bad questions (and the JDs could also use the re-enforcement), I also have the time to delve deeper into these inquiries and don’t mind if it leads us down an unexpected path.

For me, it is a refreshing way to interact with the basic materials of our profession.  These non-traditional students do take me up on the offer to ask lots of questions.  I end up coming up with new and better ways to discuss black letter law, treatises or why the print version of the Code of Federal Regulations has different colored covers.  I usually teach specialized advanced legal research classes and this return to the basics is quite enjoyable.

So what about everyone else?  Do you have the occasion to teach non-traditional groups and if so, what do both you and the students get out of the opportunity?

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