Multi-Stage Simulations and Enjoying Grading Redux

Jim Coben was shocked, shocked that I didn’t mention multi-stage simulations (MSS) at the Legal Educators’ Colloquium Resource Share.  (I was dutifully following instructions to focus on new stuff.)

To help Jim recover from his shock, I am posting this item.  Also to jog your memories and provide an update.

After last year’s conference, I wrote this post, which describes the use and virtues of MSSs.  It’s hard for me to imagine a better law student learning experience except perhaps in clinics or externships.  MSSs can do a fantastic job of simulating real life and helping students appreciate the challenges of being a client and serving them.

In my negotiation course, the first third of the course involves single-stage simulations to illustrate various issues in negotiation, including legal ethics, theories of negotiation, identity, culture, emotion, trust, persuasion, power, fairness, apologies, and handling problems.

The last two thirds of the course are devoted to two MSSs.  One is a probate dispute and the other is the negotiation of a partnership agreement to operate a restaurant.  Both start with initial client interviews and, in later classes, involve consultations between counterpart lawyers as well as preparation of clients before the final negotiation.  For more information, read the original post.

One of the major benefits of using MSSs is that students really get into their roles, especially when they are in role for an extended time.  In most law school courses, clients are treated as what some people refer to as “cardboard” characters who are bit players in the supposedly main event of appellate litigation.  Of course, clients usually are critically important characters in real life, who often are EXTREMELY frustrated with the quality of their lawyers’ service. Students in my class who played clients really get this, which often is an eye-opening experience.  Conversely, students playing lawyers find that satisfying clients is way harder than they had been led to believe in their other courses.

I have students fill out brief self-assessment forms after each stage of the simulation (which they do not submit to me).  The major assignments of the course are 6-8 page assessments analyzing a single challenging issue in their simulation.  (Click  for the paper assignment and self-assessment forms.)

This semester, my class recently completed the probate simulation and submitted their papers.  Although many student performed well in various aspects of the simulation, I think that they can learn the most by focusing on things that felt particularly hard.

Students chose excellent topics to analyze, including the following.  Some topics were addressed in several papers and the number of papers are indicated in parentheses.


  • difficulty of lawyers in understanding clients’ interests (3)
  • inadequate preparation, particularly of clients (3)
  • dealing with clients’ emotions and managing exchange of apologies (3)
  • describing the law to clients in plain English
  • dealing with clients’ feeling of powerlessness
  • lawyers inaccurately conveying clients’ views to the other side during negotiation (and clients’ challenges when they feel that lawyers are doing so)
  • difficulty in developing suitable settlement options
  • failure of lawyers to intervene to handle problems in negotiation
  • dealing with mistakes of fact, law, or general knowledge


  • dealing with clients’ emotions and managing exchange of apologies (3)
  • deciding whether to raise difficult (usually legal) issues in negotiation (3)
  • managing client expectations (especially if they are unrealistic) (2)
  • finding the right balance of being cooperative and assertive (2)
  • mismatch and change of cooperative or adversarial tone
  • difficulty in developing trust with a counterpart lawyer
  • moving toward agreement without losing clients’ confidence

I asked students to focus only on a single issue and I’m sure that many of them found these and other issues to be challenging even though they didn’t write about them.

It was a pleasure to read these papers because students took seriously the simulation and writing assignment.  Many students grappled with problems that they will struggle with in practice and I am sure that this helped them appreciate the challenges and consider strategies for dealing with them.

If I was the Grand Emperor of Legal Education, I would decree that all law students engage in lots of MSSs where they play clients in some simulations and others where they play lawyers working with clients.  The simulations would need to continue for an extended period so that everyone really got into role.

Alas, there’s not an opening for the Grand Emperor position right now.

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