In January, I described how my colleague, Rafael Gely, assigned his negotiation class to interview people about actual negotiations and write papers with detailed accounts of the cases. This assignment has intrinsic value as an educational experience for the students and it served as a test run for the University of Missouri “Stone Soup” Project we were contemplating.
The results were fantastic.
The assignment didn’t limit the subjects to lawyers or even legal cases and students were very creative in identifying a surprisingly wide range of negotiations to ask about.
The interview subjects included a wide range of groups including lawyers, litigants, consumers, real estate agents, corporate executives, human resource directors, university representatives, experts, and even state legislators. In some negotiations, parties were represented by lawyers and in others, people were self-represented.
The negotiations included plea bargains, landlord-tenant disputes, discrimination complaints, consumer transactions, real estate transactions, probate and trust disputes, breach of service contracts, contract buy-outs, securities litigation, personal injury suits, medical malpractice suits, child custody disputes, corporate acquisitions, inclusion of employees in a union, utility rate negotiations, disputes over Native American remains, employment contracts, and state legislation.
Here are two of the students’ papers to illustrate their accounts. These reports have been edited to preserve the confidentiality of the cases. We received permission from the students and their interview subjects to post these papers.
Convincing a Reluctant Defendant by Aaron Jolly. A criminal defense attorney had a hard time convincing her client to accept a plea bargain and negotiated several possible deals before the defendant accepted it.
Discrimination Plaintiffs with High Expectations by Shelby Murdock-Kempf. Landlords filed an eviction suit because one spouse in a couple used a service dog. The couple counter-sued claiming disability discrimination. The parties mediated the case, which was settled in mediation.
Art Hinshaw also used this interview assignment in his courses this semester and he found that it worked extremely well and plans to use it again. He said that when debriefing the interviews, he told the students this was the first time doing this assignment and he asked whether he should do it again. They gave a resounding “yes.” He said that from the papers and the debrief in class, the assignment legitimizes the lessons from class and really pulls things together for them.
You have incredibly broad flexibility to design the assignment to achieve your instructional goals. You can set parameters about the types of subjects, cases, and characteristics of cases you want to include or exclude. You can control the point in the semester you want students to conduct the interviews and the length of the reports.
There are so many possibilities for these assignments. For example, I used to teach a required first-year Lawyering course and I would have loved to have students interview legal clients to learn what it is like to be on the receiving end of legal services.
Try it. You and your students will almost certainly like it.