The Stone Soup Project is about learning how things actually work in practice. Exposing students to the real world of practice through interviews or observations of actual cases can help them make sense of legal doctrine.
Although we have started using Stone Soup in traditional ADR courses, the same techniques can work in a wide variety of other courses. This post sketches some ideas of how you might use it some of these courses. The courses listed below are for illustration and you can use it in many other courses.
You might want to require students to write papers about interviews or observations but these assignments can be very useful even without requiring papers.
Papers and grading are means to an end and not the end in itself. Promoting learning is the goal and having students conduct interviews and discuss them in – and out – of class can advance that goal. Most students are likely to be motivated to do these assignments if they can, so they don’t need grading to make them do this.
Ideally, each student would conduct a separate interview or observation, but you can permit students to do them in groups of two or three, especially in large classes.
One of the virtues of Stone Soup interview assignments is that you can expose students to people in many roles in addition to lawyers and judges.
It is particularly valuable for students to get the perspectives of legal clients, who typically are portrayed in our readings as cardboard figures who merely demonstrate our teachings, not as the principals, who lawyers serve.
In many courses, students can readily find friends or relatives to interview for Stone Soup interviews about their experiences as parties. In some of these cases, they may be represented by lawyers but it can be very useful for students to learn about situations where people represent themselves.
In real life, lawyers work with many other professionals. You can give students a perspective of these professionals’ perspectives by assigning them to interview them.
The following list of courses identifies parties and non-lawyer professionals who students might interview in each course. Of course, you could assign students to interview lawyers if you want.
Administrative Law: Students could interview friends or relatives who have participated in administrative proceedings such as unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, etc. Students might interview administrative law judges.
Business Organizations: Students could interview business owners, directors, executives, and managers about how the law affects how they structured their businesses or any disputes related to their organizations.
Commercial Transactions: Students could interview business owners, executives, and managers about how the law affects how they structured their transactions or any disputes related to their transactions.
Consumer Protection: Students could interview friends or relatives about substantial consumer problems and what, if anything, they did about them. Students also could interview business owners or managers about how they deal with consumer issues and disputes.
Employment Discrimination: Students could interview friends or relatives about substantial employment discrimination problems that they experienced or were accused of and what, if anything, happened as a result. Students also could interview business owners or managers of for-profit and non-profit organizations about how they deal with employment discrimination issues and disputes.
Family Law: Students could interview friends or relatives about substantial family law problems. Students also might interview professionals who regularly deal with family law issues such as mental health professionals and financial professionals.
Insurance: Students could interview friends or relatives who had substantial problems involving insurance in their personal or professional lives. They might also interview people working for insurance companies such as claims adjusters or risk managers.
Interviewing and Counseling: This is a perfect course for a Stone Soup assignment. Students could interview friends or relatives who were represented by lawyers about their experiences as clients. This would not only provide information about these experiences but would also provide students an opportunity to conduct real interviews in addition to simulations that may be used in the course.
Labor Law: Students could interview friends or relatives working in unionized workplaces, either as workers or managers, about how labor law has affected their lives at work. Students might also interview union officials and management human relations officials.
Landlord-Tenant Law: Students could interview friends or relatives about landlord-tenant disputes, either as landlords or tenants. Students might also interview employees of real estate management companies that manage rental property.
Pretrial Litigation: Students could interview lawyers about their strategies regarding pleadings, discovery, or motions.
Professional Responsibility: Students could interview lawyers about challenging ethical problems they experienced or observed in other lawyers.
Real Estate: Students could interview friends or relatives about real estate transactions and disputes that they have been involved with. Students also could interview real estate brokers, lenders, appraisers, title company officials, and other professionals involved in real estate transactions.
Tax: Students could interview friends or relatives as well as accountants about tax problems.
Trusts and Estates: Students could interview friends or relatives about estate settlement issues, which is what Stacey-Rae Simcox did in her course. Students could also interview professional trustees.
I think that it’s a scandal that law students can graduate without ever stepping foot in a courtroom. In my opinion, all students should be required to observe some court proceedings before they graduate. These proceedings are open to the public and there are courts near virtually all law schools.
Although it’s unlikely that most schools would require students to observe actual court proceedings, individual faculty can assign them to do so as part of their courses.
In addition to watching what happens during the court proceedings themselves, students should be encouraged to pay attention to lawyers and parties in the audience and hallways as they consult and possibly try to work out last-minute agreements.
Here’s a model assignment for students to observe criminal court proceedings. This could be adapted for other types of cases.
Bankruptcy: Students could observe hearings in bankruptcy courts.
Evidence: Students could observe court proceedings to focus on evidentiary issues. That’s what Bob Dauber did in his evidence course.
Family Law: Students could observe family court hearings, which can be dramatic – and deadly boring, but good to know about.
Pretrial Litigation: Students could observe motion hearings. Since so few cases are tried, pretrial hearings are where most court adjudication actually occurs.
If you would like to use a Stone Soup assignment in one or more of your courses next year, please email me to let me know which course(s) and semester(s) so that we can include you in an updated roster of Stone Soup faculty.