Law school course gives students a dose of `Reality 101'
They file complaints. They take depositions. They interview "clients"
and advise them on the legal merits of their cases. They argue motions in
front of seasoned attorneys and jurists, including members of the Georgia
Supreme Court. And they haven't even graduated from law school.
This fall 36 Emory law students are taking a course innocuously labeled
"Pre-trial Litigation." It really should be called "Reality
101." Students get the chance to take what they've learned in the classroom
and apply it as they would in everyday practice. They're not actually practicing
law, but Professor Morgan Cloud makes sure they come as close to the real
thing as possible.
In many ways, the course is better at simulating reality than other types
of legal skills courses, says Cloud, who has been teaching pre-trial litigation
most of the 15 years the law school has offered it. "None of the other
courses, even the clinical experiences, forces students to have the full
range of experiences that a lawyer has in everyday practice," said
Cloud. Even when students work in a law office, legal clinic or court environment,
they often only get a truncated experience, since "most major disputes
don't get resolved within a semester," he added.
Key to the course's success is the participation of 10 adjunct faculty,
each of whom Cloud recruited to teach the semester-long program with him.
The faculty roster, which reads like a who's who in state legal circles,
includes: Georgia Supreme Court Justices Carol W. Hunstein and Leah Sears;
Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Frank Eldridge; Fulton County State Court
Judge Gino Brogdon; Chief Circuit Mediator for the 11th Circuit U.S. Court
of Appeals Stephen Kinnard; Fulton County Attorney Susan Forsling; and attorneys
Jane Fahey of Bondurant, Mixon & Elmore; Michael Fisher of Life Insurance
Company of Georgia; Sandy Owens of Nall, Miller, Owens, Holcutt & Howard;
and Theresa Roseborough of Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan.
Each faculty member works all semester with a two-student legal team. The
faculty member functions as a senior partner in a three-person firm, the
students as junior partners. "You guide them, help them keep their
focus and direct their activity without managing it," said attorney
Roseborough, who is participating for the first time. Faculty also act as
judges for student lawyers as they perform various pre-trial functions;
faculty judges hear motions, observe client interviews and witness depositions.
Then they take on a third role as professor/teacher, critiquing student
performance at every stage.
"This is one of the few courses that gives students the opportunity
to work with justices, judges and attorneys on a one-on-one basis,"
said Forsling. "They get to do some things that a lot of lawyers don't
do until they're at least a year into practice."
Unlike traditional courses, students don't get the law or the facts presented
to them in a canned format. "There is no textbook or casebook for the
course," said Cloud. "Their text is the law library."
Similarly, students conduct formal and informal discovery to develop the
facts of the case. For example, they take depositions and conduct interviews
of first- and second-year students who are hired and trained to play the
roles of clients and witnesses. "They have to discover the facts the
same way a real lawyer does," said Cloud.
Starting from ground zero may seem daunting, but Stephen Kinnard of the
11th Circuit's mediation program points out that "students need to
understand that lawsuits are fact driven. This course gives them the opportunity
to see how important the facts of a case really are. They learn how to obtain
admissible evidence and get from the fact stage to the trial stage."
And unlike trial courses, in which the lawyer's actions are presided over
by a judge, "pre-trial litigation involves unregulated lawyer-to-lawyer
activity," said Cloud. As Roseborough explained it, "the pre-litigation
tasks are the most time-consuming, the most demanding, and they involve
the most decisions about how to conduct yourself vis-a-vis a particular
Students must decide whether a client's situation is a civil, criminal,
state or federal matter, or whether there are options for solving a client's
problem other than a trial. The course has added a session this year on
the role of mediation, which Kinnard says is increasingly becoming the vehicle
of choice for settling legal disputes. "We're trying to teach students
that situations don't start as lawsuits; they start as problems," he
said. "That's why mediation is now incorporated into the pre-trial
Perhaps the biggest advantage of this type of supervised plunge into practice
is that for the first time, students can see the big picture. "This
is one of the most practical courses students can take on lawyering,"
said Justice Hunstein. "It teaches them how to bring it all together:
courtroom demeanor, advocacy, as well as substantive law."
Third-year student James Savin, who took the course last year, agrees. "The
course really pulls together all the different things you learned in other
courses in a way you can't get in the traditional law school class. Most
courses teach you the content of the law; this course teaches you how to
practice the law and how to apply it as a lawyer." The course also
teaches students how to think like a lawyer, said Fisher. "Until you
have to sit with someone accused of a crime and think about how to help
them, you can't really know what it's like."
When students begin to break out of their classroom routines, the excitement
is palpable. "It's akin to introducing the cadaver in medical school.
It's as real as you can get," said Fisher, a seasoned Emory adjunct
faculty member and long-time instructor with the National Institute of Trial
Advocacy. "And the students come so far so fast. With young associates
in a firm, professional development can be a slow, agonizing process. In
this course, they go from staring at me to thinking strategically about
how to interview a witness. It's great to see how well they get into the
role; they talk like they're representing a real client."
Cloud estimates that students get the equivalent of as much as two year's
practical experience compressed into a semester. That's why the course is
being emulated at other law schools around the country. "Emory is really
a groundbreaker in this area," he said.
Fisher says that the intense preparation and practical preparation have
become major reasons why both students and employers are attracted to Emory
law school. "As an employer, one critical factor in hiring is how quickly
you can take a young associate and have them do the firm's work," said
Fisher. "The more opportunities like this that students have, the faster
they can make contributions to a firm."
to the November 11, 1996 contents page