Gregory Elinson

Assistant Professor
College of Law

Course(s) Targeted by this Innovation

LAW 506 & 507: Civil Procedure I & II

Purpose and Impact

Civil Procedure, a year-long course at the College of Law, is required for all first-year students. Civil procedure is foundational to the study of American law. In consequence, it is tested on the bar examinations of all fifty states (including Illinois). More importantly, it is impossible to read a legal decision or understand its significance without appreciating the procedural context in which the case arose. Nor is it possible to advise a client about their likelihood of success in litigation absent an understanding of how the client’s legal dispute will take shape once filed. In short, civil procedure is critical to any kind of client service or legal-analytic task. Reflecting this level of importance, surveys of practicing lawyers consistently suggest that they wish more time and energy had been devoted to civil procedure instruction in their law school curricula.

The proposed innovations will have a two-fold impact. First, utilizing student response systems will help me evaluate students’ understanding of key rules and doctrines in real time. I can ask students to give their best answer to a hypothetical question about a new doctrine or case—whether of my own creation or drawn from past bar exams—and thus identify with greater precision those who are grasping the material or those individuals who may need additional instruction. At the level of the class, this capacity should help with pacing the course, moving more quickly through material that students understand well and more slowly through issues they need more time to master. And at the level of the individual student, it will give me greater insight into who might be struggling and what kinds of issues they would benefit from reviewing with me. Second, implementing more simulation-based activities over the course of the year will help students develop a better sense of how the rules and doctrines they are learning about play out in practice, either in the courtroom or in advising clients. For instance, we begin the course with the concept of a “complaint”—the document that initiates a lawsuit in federal court. While it is helpful for students to learn about the requirements for a complaint and to see examples of filed complaints, it seems similarly beneficial for them to draft a short complaint themselves using a corpus of materials created for the class. Already, this kind of practical learning is a component of the law school’s clinical programs, but it is more rarely a component of doctrinal instruction.

Description of Innovation

I intend to implement two curricular innovations. The first is to use instant quizzing via a student response system to assess my students’ learning in real-time. The study and mastery of law is fundamentally about applying concepts. It is never enough to memorize a rule, especially in a world where legal research tools are accessible to any lawyer with a computer. As a result, student learning is necessarily measured in terms of their facility in using the doctrinal tools they have acquired to solve practical problems that might arise, whether drawn from actual examples or fictional hypotheticals designed to push the limits of a doctrine or rule. The key measure is not whether they can describe or summarize it, but whether they can use it to make sound legal judgments or provide accurate counsel to clients.

The second is to create several simulation-based exercises for my civil procedure course. The most important ideas we study in the course—initiating a lawsuit via a complaint, negotiating motion practice pre- and post-trial, and running the complex jurisdictional gauntlet that the Constitution, Congress, and courts have thrown up—are all amenable to study in several modes. Even students who have a good grasp of a doctrine or a rule and its application to hypothetical problems may not be able to anticipate how those ideas will play out in practice, simply by virtue of their inexperience. For other students, manipulating the doctrine in a simulation can help them understand its content, for practical applications often make the rule or doctrine less abstract and more obviously relevant to a specific factual setting. By drafting a short complaint or a short motion to dismiss on the merits or on a particular jurisdictional ground, students can see how the doctrine works on still another dimension. Doing so will aid them in understanding the nuances of a particular doctrine or rule, but also will prepare them for their life outside the law school, whether in their summer work or after graduation.

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