Thursday, March 9, 2017

Week 3: Learning to Brief a Case

The Week of Chester, the Parrot

Students are still enrolling in the course. So, we continue to provide background information as everyone continues to settle in.  This week we covered some important topics, but mostly through lecture (my least favorite way to teach).  

We cover:

  • Primary versus secondary sources of law. 
  • Binding versus persuasive precedent in the common law system.
  • The Qatari legal system and the role of case law.
  • The Qatar International Court and Dispute Resolution Center.
  • Case briefing.
  • The professional value of competence as a lawyer.
  • What a partner or a judge expects from a lawyer's writing.
  • Bracket use in quotations.
  • Ellipses dot use in quotations.
  • And, how to read and brief a case carefully.
It's ambitious coverage, and I often wonder how much of it they really understand. Luckily, we cover it several times throughout this course and the required Legal Writing II course.

We use Conti vs. ASPCA as the first case students work with and brief.  A New York judge ruled on who owns a parrot, Chester, that escaped captivity.  It must decide if the parrot is a wild, tamed, or domesticated animal.  If a wild animal, the new owner gets to keep the parrot.  If the parrot is tamed or domesticated, the original owner deserves its return.  

I like working with this case.  My slides feature the back story on four cited cases involving a diamond ring, a sea lion, geese, and a canary. I do a lot of pantomime.

The Conti case helps students begin to understand rule synthesis in a common law tradition.  They struggle with the idea of cases as precedent.  But, I am getting better at offering them support by providing more scaffolding for their work.  They respond better if they know exactly what I want. I guess all students do. 

This week, I asked students to read the case out loud, with each student reading a paragraph.  It helps me assess their English language reading skills.  About a third of the class, struggles with the reading.  Nearly all the students stumble over the Latin-origin English words: received, reviewed, asserted, decided   . . . .

And, it is hard to know how much of spoken English they understand.  They consume a lot of U.S. media, especially movies. But, they still have limited vocabularies. As we build trust, they may take up my invitation to ask when they do not understand a word I have used.

In light of these communication barriers, I am even more focused on multiple information absorption styles.  I give them readings, charts, photos (lots of photos), short lectures, buzz group discussion work, fun online quizzes, and video to try to close the communication gap.  

I cannot end this post without saying that these students have very good listening skills.  I wonder if they are part of a story-telling tradition that some folks say enhances this information absorption style. The brain builds for it at a young age. 

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