Stone Soup:  Student Papers From Gely’s Negotiation, Simcox’s Trust & Estates, and Dauber’s Evidence Courses


Faculty using Stone Soup assignments have required students to write papers summarizing interviews or observations of actual cases.  Like the assignments themselves, these papers vary quite a bit, as illustrated below.

This post provides sample papers to give faculty ideas about what you might assign your classes in the future and provide papers you might suggest as models to your students.  Of course, we got students’ permission to share the papers.  You also might just enjoy reading them as stories.

We start with papers from Rafael Gely‘s negotiation course in which students conducted interviews about actual negotiations.  Then you will read about papers in Stacey-Rae Simcox’s trusts and estates course about actual estate settlements.  Finally, take a look at papers from Bob Dauber’s evidence course in which students described observations in court.  (Of course, we got permission from the students to share their papers.)  The descriptions below include links to the assessments of these courses.

I particularly suggest that you read Anthony Meyer’s paper.  It starts with some hypotheses and then tests them based on the cases described in his interviews.  Lawyers and other professionals make implicit theories all the time.  This paper is valuable in making the theories explicit and doing an excellent job of collecting and analyzing data to test them.

I would LOVE to post more student papers from SS classes.  Faculty might let students know that you will submit 2-3 papers for posting, which might be an extra incentive to do a good job. This isn’t an essay competition with a single winner. Instead, it is an opportunity for a lot of students to get some recognition (and perhaps a line on their resumes).

Rafael Gely’s Negotiation Course

Rafael used a Stone Soup assignment in his Negotiation course in the spring and fall semesters last year, requiring students to write 6-8 page papers.  In the spring semester, students were assigned to conduct a single interview about a significant negotiation.  In the fall semester, students were assigned to conduct four to six interviews about negotiations.  There were complementary advantages and disadvantages to these two approaches.  Analyzing a single negotiation enabled students to provide more depth of analysis, but it didn’t permit comparisons of negotiations.  Of course, analyzing more negotiations permitted comparisons but not as much depth.

His students gave me permission to read their papers and I thought that the quality of the papers varied much like students’ papers in my prior courses, but the quality of the papers overall was much better than in my courses.

Here Comes the Sun:  Interviews with Individual Solar Energy Customers by Anthony Meyer.  This paper analyzes a solar energy company’s negotiations with four different customers.  Somewhat similar to the structure of social science articles, this paper identifies variables to be analyzed.  These include the effect on negotiation style of the company’s repeat-player identity, customers’ motivations, preparation, logistics of negotiation, personality of the company’s sales agent, and negotiation techniques such as reliance on framing techniques and cognitive biases.  This paper provides detailed analyses of the four negotiations and finds that some aspects were consistent with the hypotheses and others were not.  It illustrates the value of having students analyze more than one case as it enabled comparisons and some basic theory-testing.

Preparation for and Power in Negotiation by Morgan Knott.  This paper also describes four negotiations, but they are in very different contexts, including negotiation with an administrative agency, a personal injury plaintiff, an equipment buyer, and a prospective employee.  The interview subjects did different types and amounts of preparation and the paper analyzes subtle uses of power in the negotiation.

Negotiation of a Complex Real Estate Partnership by Samuel Ranzetta.  This paper provides a detailed analysis of the negotiation of a partnership agreement between a real estate firm and a non-profit organization to build a low-income housing development.  It analyzes the strategies of both parties, including the use of power.

Convincing a Reluctant Defendant by Aaron Jolly.  A criminal defense attorney had a hard time convincing her client to accept a plea bargain and negotiated several possible deals before the defendant accepted it.

Discrimination Plaintiffs with High Expectations by Shelby Murdock-Kempf.  Landlords filed an eviction suit because one spouse in a couple used a service dog.  The couple counter-sued claiming disability discrimination.  The parties mediated the case, which was settled in mediation – but not easily.

Stacey-Rae Simcox’s Trust and Estates Course

In her Trusts and Estates course, Stacey-Rae Simcox gave an extra-credit assignment for students to conduct interviews about people’s experiences with a significant estate settlement, and 45 out of her 67 students took her up on this opportunity to write 3-6 page papers.

I guess T&E texts are full of bizarre cases as students described cases from their interviews either as being unremarkable or as crazy as the ones they read about.  This, in itself, is an important lesson considering that the “hidden curriculum” in law schools is that hotly contested appellate litigation is the normal and most common dispute resolution process, when we know darn well that it’s not.

Straightforward Settlement by Spencer J. Jorgensen.  This paper describes the settlement of an estate going to two children and a trust for five grandchildren, which was implemented without a hitch.  The fact that the process was so straightforward was the focus of the analysis.  The paper identifies several factors that made it go so easily including the clarity of the estate plan and the facts that the children were well off, had no conflict, and wanted to resolve this efficiently.

Settlement Following Foreign Customs Rather Than Domestic Law by an anonymous student.  This paper describes the settlement of an estate of a decedent from India though he and his heirs all had lived in Florida for quite some time.  The decedent died intestate but, following Indian norms, he had informally indicated that he wanted to follow the traditional system in which only sons inherit, not daughters.  The decedent’s three daughters agreed to this outcome without dispute.  The paper considers why they did so rather than trying to enforce legal rights.

Siblings Disputing Decedent’s Mental Capacity and Heir’s Undue Influence by Kali de Vlaming.  This actually is a hairy contested case like the ones in the textbooks (and with an eerie similarity to a multi-stage simulation I wrote).  The interview subject challenged a will that was executed shortly before the decedent’s death.  The prior will would have divided the estate between the three siblings.  The new will gave each sibling only 5% of the estate and gave the rest to friends who cared for the decedent during her final days.  The siblings settled by accepting 25% instead of 15%.  The paper provides interesting descriptions of why the challenger accepted the settlement and his (none-too-favorable) views of his lawyer.

Bob Dauber’s Evidence Course

Most of the law school curriculum focuses on litigation yet most law students graduate probably without ever having set foot in a courtroom.  (Or, possibly just as interesting, without watching hallway conversations between counterpart lawyers and between lawyers and clients.)

In his Evidence course, Bob Dauber gave an extra credit assignment for students to observe motions in limine in court and write 1-2 page papers;  62 out of the 91 students took advantage of this opportunity.  The papers described the court proceedings and related them to provisions of evidence law.

Family Custody Case by Philip Moncla.  This paper describes how a witness started to describe the content of a document that had not been put into evidence.  The judge admonished her to stop – and noted that the opposing counsel should have objected.  This hearing also involved two issues of relevancy, about a letter and w-2 forms.

Bomb-Making Case by Benjamin Mills.  This case involved the manufacture and use of bombs in the Iraq War, from 2005-2007.  The paper describes motions to preclude (1) witnesses from wearing military or law enforcement uniforms or medals, (2) photographic evidence and descriptions of injuries caused by improvised explosive devices, and (3) evidence regarding the defendant’s transfer to U.S. custody.

Personal Injury Case by Esther Sivak.  This paper notes that jurors submitted questions to ask a witness in a trial and describes the admission in evidence of a video deposition and impeachment of an expert witness using testimony from his deposition.

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