An Experiment in Legal Education: Simulating ADR Processes in the Capstone Course on Labor and Employment Law

By Cooper, Laura J. | Dispute Resolution Journal, February-April 2011 | Go to article overview

An Experiment in Legal Education: Simulating ADR Processes in the Capstone Course on Labor and Employment Law


Cooper, Laura J., Dispute Resolution Journal


Realistic dispute resolution comes to life in an experimental law school course.

The author is the J. Stewart and Mario Thomas McClendon Professor in Law and Alternative Dispute Resolution at the University of Minnesota Law School. She was the driving force in creating the Capstone Course discussed in this article. Prof. Cooper co-teaches this course with attorney and AAA arbitrator Karen Schanfield. The author would like to thank the organizations participating in the Capstone Course at the Law School, and especially the AAA and Vice President Jan Holdinski and Employment Solutions Manager Mary Jara for generously offering the resources of the AAA to make the students' experience meaningful and realistic.

In a conference room in Minneapolis, an arbitration hearing is underway. On one side of the table sit the claimant, Dr. Rex Brown, and his lawyer and on the other side sit the representatives and counsel for the respondent, Willow Ridge Medical Center. Dr. Brown is seeking damages from Willow Ridge for breach of contract and defamation.

Karen Schanfield, a Minneapolis attorney from Fredrikson & Byron, is the presiding arbitrator, and the case manager is Mary Jara, from the American Arbitration Association's Dallas office, which administers arbitration proceedings in Minnesota. This proceeding seems en tirely unremarkable, except for the fact that the conference room is at the Uni versity of Minnesota Law School and the parties' "attorneys" are actually second- and third-year law students.

This was a mock arbitration conducted as part of the law school's first Cap stone Course in Labor and Employment Law in the Spring of 2010. The idea for this course came from a 2007 report of the Carnegie Foundation for the Ad - vance ment of Teaching called "Edu cating Law - yers: Preparation for the Profession of Law."

Since the early 20th century, the Car negie Foundation has been studying and seeking to improve education of professionals, including engineers, doctors, nurses, architects, members of the clergy and teachers. More recently, it embarked on a study of legal education. It sent re searchers to observe law school classes and clinics in the United States and Can ada. Researchers spoke to students and faculty mem - bers and conducted extensive re search on legal education and professional education generally. The report produced as a result of this research concluded that legal education had much to learn from professional education in the health sciences. For example, medical students learn to practice medicine by working with patients under the supervision of skilled physicians. Medical students become acquainted with the tasks of actual physicians and develop professional judgment while experiencing in context the application of professional and ethical standards. The Carnegie Foundation report recommended that law schools adapt the medical training model to legal education. However, it recognized that, because legal education is shorter in length than medical education, law schools cannot offer the same slow accretion of professional skills over many years. Furthermore, it acknowledged that clinical courses in which law students represent real clients, though they have great value, also have limitations, including high cost, uncertain opportunities for learning targeted skills and values, and the risk of adverse real-world consequences for clients. The report ultimately concluded that law students could develop professional judgment, advocacy skills and legal ethics through student role-playing in well-designed simulations accompanied by course work in which expert attorneys would model lawyering skills.

Minnesota Law School's one-semester Cap - stone Course on Labor and Employment Law was developed with the support of the Robina Foundation and two legal organizations that are committed to enhancing legal education in labor and em ployment law: the Labor Law Group, an international not-for-profit organization of labor and employment law professors, and the American Bar Association Section of Labor and Em ployment Law. …

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