A Taste of Practice in the First Year

ATLANTA — Law professors often look for ways to incorporate some practical experience into their classes. When there are 80 students that can be challenging, but this semester one group of first-year students got a taste of lawyering, and watched a movie on top of it.

Georgia State University College of Law Professor Jessica Gabel’s Contracts II course required a group memo worth 25 percent of the total grade. The memorandum was based on an actual, contemporary contract dispute between the founders of the popular social networking site Facebook.  Facebook, Inc. v. Saverin raised many of the same legal issues covered in class.

In order to complete the memo, students selected classmates and created their own law firms – complete with firm names and billing rates for each member. Each firm researched and drafted a memo for the assigned client, Eduardo Saverin. The students received a case file that included the actual filings from the case and the disputed contract. In addition to the legal filings, students were also permitted to use “The Social Network” – a recent film based largely upon the deposition testimonies of the relevant parties – for factual development.

The client requested that the firms’ memos address two important pieces of his case: (a) whether the contract he signed with Facebook was enforceable; and (b) if so, could he be justified in withholding performance of that contract. All case law support was drawn from the text.  Students were instructed to use any lead cases, note cases, Restatements, or other authority found in the text, in order to present and explain the law to the client.

The memo followed proper Bluebook form, and included pin cites.  Finally, in addition to the memo, each firm prepared a client bill detailing the partners’ work for the client.

The project was a novel one for a first-year doctrinal course, and “proved to be both challenging and rewarding,” said student Kimberly Reeves.

First, the memo was unique to the first year experience because, “it allowed us to fully demonstrate our understanding of the course material,” Reeves said.  Second, the memo “gave us practical experience in interpersonal skills, memo writing, billing, and Bluebook citations.”  Finally, “the project’s basis in a contemporary, highly publicized contract dispute, demonstrated the relevancy and use of the legal doctrines far better than reading a casebook.”

Traditionally, first-year law classes award a single grade based entirely on the final exam.  For many first-years, the pressure cooker culture of one exam making or breaking a grade can be overwhelming. This project, in contrast, gave students the opportunity to create a product that reflected their comprehension of the material while simultaneously creating a working team environment common in both private and public sector legal practices.

As an added relief, Reeves explained that “having 25% of my grade before finals is very beneficial to my mental health!”

The Facebook project also required billing time, collaborating with peers, and a tremendous amount of editing, all skills crucial to practice. And since a grade was given to the firm and not individuals it made members accountable to the group.

“The students weren’t thrilled with having to create a bill,” Gabel admitted, “but that extra layer of work will be good practice for what is likely to come down the road. Once students realize how long they actually spend on one task they can see where they might be spinning their wheels or where they’ve been neglecting an issue.”

The goal is as much about strengthening their legal research, writing, and editing skills as it is about honing interpersonal skills and practicing problem solving.

“In law school, we churn out incredibly gifted advocates, but sometimes we lose the simple art of listening and problem solving,” Gabel said. “This project attempted to introduce and reinforce those concepts.”

The use of contemporary legal issues that many of the students have heard about was “was far more instructive than working the narrow questions in the casebook,” said Reeves. The class material jumped from the textbook and into context. Using real facts and real contracts “helped me really grasp issues over contract enforceability and performance.”

 

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