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Using a Simulated Case File to Teach Civil Procedure: The Ninety-Percent Solution
Journal of Legal Education (2016)
  • David B Oppenheimer
Civil procedure is a challenging course for most first year law students. Part of the challenge for our students comes from confronting new and exciting ideas about dispute resolution. But part of it also comes from the difficulty of relating the course to anything they already understand – the students lack context, and context matters. And if we don’t engage them through active learning, we compound the problem. Our students arrive in our classrooms knowing something about the operation of the criminal law. (More than a few have probably experienced it more closely than they would have preferred.) They probably think they know something about the concepts that underlie our foundational courses in Torts, Contracts and Property. But few of them have had much contact with our civil dispute resolution system. As educators, we have responded by trying to provide context and engage them through active learning, by assigning them to read fictional and non-fictional accounts of cases; having them participate in litigation-oriented pro bono or clinical projects; recommending movies; passing out pleadings; using CALI exercises; incorporating moot court arguments into our courses; combining civil procedure with First Year Writing courses; inviting lawyers and/or judges as guest lecturers to talk about their cases; asking them to read stories about the background of cases we assign; using problem sets; experimenting with experiential approaches to learning; and (as an experiential approach) organizing our syllabi around simulation problems based on actual or simulated case-files. All of these strategies are potentially useful, but the most useful require a substantial time commitment, which is increasingly challenging as the number of units reserved for civil procedure is reduced. In this essay, I describe how I use a simulated case-file from which I assign regular drafting exercises that are already largely completed, so that the students only have to draft the key portion of the pleading or brief. I call this the 90% solution, since 90% of the work is already done, but the final 10% preserves most of the educational benefit of using simulation. I then review the literature on how others have addressed this problem, and on the value of context and active learning in legal education, and relate it to the benefits of using a simulated case-file using my 90% solution.
  • Experiential education,
  • civil procedure,
  • housing discrimination
Publication Date
Citation Information
David B Oppenheimer. "Using a Simulated Case File to Teach Civil Procedure: The Ninety-Percent Solution" Journal of Legal Education Vol. 65:4 (2016) p. 817
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