Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The great briefing debate...

Case briefing is one of those things that invariably gets debated in law school until the end of law school. Does it help? Is it a waste of time? Is there a better way to learn it? There as many views on the topic as students of the law.

At our law school the evidence class is no longer taught along the format of the case breifing method. The result? People in large part do not like it. This seems to a continual pattern among students of every discipline. They advocate change, but when it comes, they don't like it. They can think of all these better ways to do things, but when given the opportunity, revert to the old ways.

I recall Professor Anthony D'Agostino of SFSU (who I heard pontificating on NPR this morning about the situation in East Europe, his field of expertise) teaching a class on "the sixties" in which he asked us how we wanted to be graded. We allowed him to grade, because frankly, we didn't want to deal with it and we knew we would be harsher on each other than he would be on us.

Here's a link from the orthodox perspective on breifing:


Interestingly enough, the ORIGINAL method used at Harvard was NOT the case briefing method.

All professional schools face the same difficult challenge: how to prepare students for the world of practice. Time in the classroom must somehow translate directly into real-world activity: how to diagnose, decide, and act. A surprisingly wide range of professional schools, including Harvard's law, business, and medical schools, have concluded that the best way to teach these skills is by the case method.

The Law School led the way. A newly appointed dean began to teach with cases in 1870, reversing a long history of lecture and drill. He viewed law as a science and appellate court decisions as the "specimens" from which general principles should be induced, and he assembled a representative set of court decisions to create the first legal casebook. To ensure that class time was used productively, he introduced the question-and-answer format now called the Socratic method.
Making the Case

A footnoted PDF of this article is available.
Click here to download the PDF.

This article includes 1 sidebar.
Click here to read "Casing the Future."

To view video footage from the Levy case, click here.

"The Business School followed 50 years later. Founded in 1908, it did not adopt cases until 1920, when its second dean, a Law School graduate, championed their use. After convincing a marketing professor to create the first business casebook, he then provided funding for a broader program of casewriting, built around real business issues and yet-to-be-made decisions. That program produced cases in multiple fields and their use in virtually all courses by the end of the decade.

The Medical School began using cases only in 1985. All were designed to cement students' understanding of basic science by linking it immediately to practical problems—typically, the case histories of individual patients. These cases formed the foundation of the school's revolutionary "New Pathway" curriculum that shifted students' pre-clinical years away from lectures toward tutorials and active learning.

In each of these professions, Harvard faculty became evangelists for the case method, spreading this educational innovation around the world. Now, through close study of case-method teaching in law, business, and medicine at Harvard, we can see how the technique has been adapted for use in distinct disciplines—and how it might evolve, and be modified, to better meet the needs of twenty-first-century students and teachers."


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