Bringing Outside Lawyers into the Law School

I made it a point to have outside lawyers play a part in my course at Notre Dame Law School. I don’t know from pedagogy, so not a lot of forethought went into that decision. I simply figured that I should try to give my students a glimpse of the role of contract drafting in the larger world, rather than just the necessarily narrow view that I’m able to give them.

My first week, Brian Rogers and ur-blog-commenter Michael Fleming conducted a mock negotiation for a confidentiality agreement. The next day, Molly DiBianca and Dan Schwartz went through a similar exercise for an employment agreement. In both cases, I had my students draft the related contract.

ND Law Panel DiscussionThen today, I convened a panel discussion on “Issues in Contract Drafting.” Participating by video were two kaiju of the transactional world, Glenn West and Steve Weise. Present in person was John (Fitz) FitzPatrick, an in-house lawyer of great energy and insight. My students asked most of the questions. The one guy who didn’t say much was me, and that was the point: my students had heard plenty from me already.

I thought it went very well. Thanks to Scott Hengert and his colleagues at Notre Dame Law School, who worked with their counterparts at Weil and Proskauer to sort out the technology. Given that we weren’t able to use one of the rooms set up for videoconferencing, we made do with webcams, which added an quaint “Let’s put on a show!” quality to the event.

I’m left wondering whether such outside participation is a novelty or whether it adds sufficient value to make it a fixture in my course. I’m not sure I’m the best person to answer that. I expect that my students will let me know what they think, and I’d be happy to hear from readers.

And then there’s the question of scale. Today’s audience consisted of my students and a few from the broader law-school community. If such a panel discussion is worth doing, why not have other schools join in? Students from other schools could send in questions. I mention this possibility simply because (1) people of the caliber of today’s panelists deserve a broad audience and (2) I’m not sure how many faculty at other schools are able and willing to put together this sort of event.

Something to think about. My thanks to all who took the time to participate in my course.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

4 thoughts on “Bringing Outside Lawyers into the Law School”

  1. In a challenge to my ur-status, I will comment…

    My feeling is that so long as the participants are willing to engage in the exercise as more than a chance to tell war stories, and more importantly are willing to tailor their presentation to the professor’s teachings, and finally are used in reasonable doses, it’s all good. A bit of ‘novelty’ for sure (and what’s wrong with that? even students need to be entertained from time to time), but when used in this ‘demonstrating what we’ve been talking about’ fashion I suspect that it might connect the abstract ideas in at least a few minds that had trouble wrapping around it. And, if it teaches at least a little of how people think in the scary out-there, so much the better.

    That notion of ‘willing to bend to the teacher’ does suggest that keeping this on a small scale is best, or else you’ll simply get a basic presentation on issues that won’t directly relate to the teaching moments the professor is doing at that particular moment. At that point, it’s more novelty than demonstration.

  2. Not being too far removed from law school myself (about 3.5 years), I can tell you I would have found such an experience to be absolutely invaluable when I was in school. Practicing lawyers take it for granted, but I don’t think most brand-new attorneys have any clue how a typical contract negotiation discussion goes.

    It’s very different from moot court, mock trial, or any other type of oral advocacy that they’ve likely been exposed to. It’s advocating for your position, sure, but it’s unique in that (when done right, at least) it has a much more informal and convivial–“let’s try to figure out a way to make this work for both of us”–feel to it. And it’s not necessarily intuitive or natural–especially for someone who’s accustomed to a more traditional advocacy style, which is likely to come across as rigid and even condescending in a commercial negotiation setting.

    I think just being able to listen to two experienced practitioners work through a typical contract negotiation will go a long way toward easing your students’ trepidation the first time they are called on to negotiate an agreement themselves. And, hopefully, it will also open their eyes to the stylistic differences between contract negotiation and the oral advocacy they’re used to–so they don’t sound like inflexible jerks the first few times they do it!

  3. I have been thinking about this issue a lot recently, as I have been asked to run some Summer workshops for LLM students at UCL, on commercial transactions. If it goes ahead, it will start next Summer.

    Bridging the gap between academic law teaching and practice is tricky. It is much easier to teach practice-related subjects to people who have a year or two of experience of practice, than to teach a 23-year-old whose experience of the law is limited to the classroom.

    Showing how negotiations are done by practitioners sounds a great idea. I think it could be done via video-link to a larger audience of students.

    I am all in favour of using practitioners for practice subjects. As is hinted above, tight editorial control is needed to ensure they do what you want rather than give their standard presentations, but in my experience that is not difficult to achieve if you are clear at the outset.

  4. I’m late to comment, after finally getting around to this from my feed (procrastination nation is where I often visit, unfortunately!).
    When I attended law school I took a class taught by a commercial law attorney who left Latham. He had us spend a semester going through what we all firmly believed, at the time, were the most boring, useless, turgid documents we had ever been unfortunate enough to encounter. First up was a month on a Series C Preferred Stock Purchase Agreement, followed by indentures, purchase agreements and the entirety of the BigLaw commercial contract form books. It took multiple cups of coffee (and NoDoz) to make it through each days’ reading.
    When I started practicing as a first year associate, however, that class saved my life. When I was handed a document, I understood a lot better than my peers what were the important bits and what wasn’t, and how best to analyze the contents of the agreement. What little expertise I had (which was a lot more than the expertise my fellow first year associates had) was entirely due to that class.
    Please, please keep bringing in practicing lawyers to talk to law school students, especially those lawyers who practice in areas that don’t get love from television and movie studios. A lot of law students will end up working in these areas, and the more practical information they can get from lawyers who practice law in these fields, they more they will get out of the law school education.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.