It’s been a quiet week…

by Susan deMaine

To paraphrase Garrison Keillor, it’s been a quiet week at the RIPS Law Librarian Blog. The regular contributors scheduled for this week have been under the weather, so here it is Friday afternoon and we haven’t had a post all week. I’ve decided to take this opportunity to write a post about a teaching tool I tried this semester: the daily briefing.

The West Wing

I first heard about the idea of incorporating daily briefings into the classroom at the Legal Writing Institute One-Day Workshop held at Ohio State Moritz College of Law on December 11, 2015. One of the speakers was Dakota Rudesill, a professor of legislation and national security law at Moritz. Prof. Rudesill requires his students to do daily briefings on breaking legislative issues and relevant news. These consist of a one-page written summary (with citations) and an oral briefing that may last anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes and includes questions from recipient of the briefing. His purpose is to develop his students’ ability to be both concise and precise with information and to simulate real world information demands. These briefings may happen in the classroom, or he may conduct them via telephone, on the stairs, in the cafeteria, or even in a taxi.  Prof. Rudesill has written an article about his use of the class daily briefing that is currently under consideration for publication.

It occurred to me that I could incorporate the daily briefing into Advanced Legal Research this spring. For ALR this semester, we developed a subject-based curriculum rather than a resource-based curriculum. I was going to open the semester with three weeks on legislation, statutes, statutory interpretation, and regulations. Plus I had a single client that we were using throughout the class: Duke Energy.

I scheduled a few students to be responsible for the briefing each day. I varied the assignments—sometimes I gave them particular issues to focus on, sometimes I gave them particular databases/products to use. This latter approach allowed me to introduce them to products such as Law 360 and BNA Environmental Law Reporter that we would otherwise not be covering. I dropped the requirement of a written summary, though if I were doing it over again, I would probably include it. I dropped it in large part because I was worried about time. Having done it once, I will be better prepared next time and will likely add the written summary back in.

The oral briefings were successful as a teaching tool, at least from my perspective (student evaluations aren’t in yet). I conducted the first briefing in the classroom, but then varied the location/experience. One time, we walked to my office because I forgot my phone. Another time, we got coffee. Each time, the briefing students plus two or three others came along and we did the briefing while we walked. I kept them short—no 30-minute briefings for me (though I did have one student who was headed in that direction).

For the most part, the students improved as they learned by watching their classmates. They became more concise and precise, relied on their notes less, and were better prepared for questions even if they didn’t have answers. It gave me an opportunity to talk about saying, “I don’t know off the top of my head. I’ll look into it and get back to you as soon as possible,” and about the confidence that comes when you have more than enough information in your head rather than in your notes. It also led to conversations about paying attention to your audience and gearing your information accordingly.

Since I had only three weeks before turning over the class to my colleague for her portion of the curriculum, each student did only one briefing. If I had an entire semester, I would have them do at least two, preferably three, to encourage further development of the skills. Prof. Rudesill is onto something when he stresses the importance of concision and precision in our communications. These skills are vital in our fast-paced lives.

Unless, of course, we’re like Garrison Keillor and have the gift of sitting back and ruminating on the news from a quiet week….

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