There are many different models for integrating the teaching of practical problem-solving skills in legal education. The skills can be categorized in different ways, the courses and teaching methods to present the material vary, and curricular models change over time.
In 2010, the LEAPS Integration Subcommittee conducted a survey to find out how schools integrate practical problem-solving skills in their J.D. curricula. The survey asked for basic information about how law schools teach negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and other non-litigation dispute resolution (NLDR) processes. The Subcommittee was particularly interested in whether law schools integrated these skills into required J.D. courses.
One hundred and thirty law schools responded to the survey. Based on the survey responses, the Subcommittee conducted follow-up interviews with about thirty-five law schools. Seventeen of those schools integrate practical problem-solving skills (in the form of NLDR skills) in their required curriculum in various ways. Instruction in NLDR included discussion of processes such as negotiation, mediation and arbitration, classroom simulations of those processes, problem-solving of various fact patterns involving client interviews, brainstorming and role plays, and use of guest lecturers who are practicing neutrals.
Schools used the following models of integrating NLDR instruction into the required curriculum. Note that some schools adopted more than one of these approaches simultaneously. This list indicates which schools use the particular models and you can click here to get more information about those schools’ programs.
- Five schools include some NLDR component (such as a mediation or negotiation simulation) in their traditional first year legal research and writing course (Hamline; UNLV; Southern Illinois; St. John’s; Stanford)
- Six schools include an NLDR component (such as client interviewing, counseling, negotiating and problem-solving) in a first year lawyering skills course (Connecticut; Missouri; NYU; U. Pacific-McGeorge; Richmond; Samford –Cumberland).
- Four schools incorporate some NLDR component in doctrinal first year courses: three in Civil Procedure (Minnesota; UNLV; Thomas Jefferson) and one in Contracts (Appalachian).
- Two schools require an innovative course on problem-solving in the first year, which includes teaching of NLDR (Hamline; Harvard).
- One school (Vermont) integrates NLDR teaching throughout the first year curriculum, by having a faculty member specializing in dispute resolution serve as a guest teacher in five different first year activities or courses: Orientation, Civil Procedure, Legal Writing, Constitutional Law, and Legal Profession.
- Two schools require NLDR in second year required courses: one in Family Law (Appalachian) and one in an upper-level writing course (Whittier).
- Two schools require NLDR teaching in a required third-year Dispute Resolution capstone course (Mercer; Minnesota).
- One school requires upper level students to take at least one course in dispute resolution among a menu of courses (Florida International).
The diversity of these models illustrates the multitude of ways that law schools can require their J.D. students to learn about NLDR processes, and more broadly, practical problem-solving skills. Of course, these are not the only possible models.
Hopefully, these survey results will encourage other schools to develop curricula ensuring that all their students receive some education in non-litigation dispute resolution in addition to litigation-oriented courses. Of course, each school should tailor its curriculum to fit its particular goals, resources, and constraints.