Tom Cobb and Sarah Kaltsounis, Real Collaborative Context: Opinion Writing and the Appellate Process, 5 J. Ass'n Legal Writing Directors 156 (2008), https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/faculty-articles/226
Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors
collaboration, judicial decision-making
Several questions motivated us to begin experimenting with new and more ambitious forms of collaboration in our teaching. We aimed to infuse the classroom with what might be called “real collaborative context.” We looked for instances of collaboration that actually occur in the legal process and asked students to participate in those processes in order to gain a better understanding of the social aspects of legal practice and jurisprudence.
Our hope is that students will experience collaboration not so much as a classroom performance whose main goal is to assist in learning something else that could also be taught in a noncollaborative way—for example, legal analysis, the structure of legal documents, or editing strategies. Rather, we hope to encourage students to experience the fusion of collaboration and the legal process—and to use that experience to see how social interaction shapes legal decision making and to gain a deeper understanding of the law.
Our initial experiment focused on appellate judicial decision making, an area whose study has been central both in jurisprudence and education, and which can therefore provide students with key insights into the legal process that are particularly relevant to their academic work in the first year of law school. However, a contextually rich approach to collaboration has broader applications as well. In our view, such an approach can be extended fruitfully to other educational projects such as public interest law office simulations, explorations of evidentiary inferences in factual investigation, or scenarios in which lawyers work together to evaluate cases in a law office setting.
Each of these legal processes draws extensively on group decision making. By experiencing each form of such decision making, students will be able to learn fundamental lessons about legal reasoning and practice. We hope that broader integration of real collaborative context in law school classes will eventually help introduce innovative approaches to group decision making back into law practice.
Ultimately, students and teachers who experience (and experiment with) contextually rich collaboration in the classroom will be in an ideal position to help improve collaborative decision-making processes in legal practice.