“The facts are crucial,” said Ellie Miller (J.D. ’18) about the work she did last summer while interning for a litigation firm. During the first year of law school, however, students typically read the facts as provided in casebooks, so they can appear static.
“In practice, the facts come in different forms and can change as you investigate and obtain more of the details,” Miller said.
Following the launch of the Lawyering Foundations course in fall 2013, Georgia State Law students are exposed early in their legal education to how dynamic facts can be in legal practice. Instead of using only canned fact patterns, students sift through documents like in practice and piece together the facts on their own.
“The materials in the case files are modeled after documents that lawyers utilize in their cases depending on the area of law,” said <a href=”http://law.gsu.edu/profile/brandy-owens-domengeaux/” target=”_blank”>Brandy Domengeaux</a>, Lawyering Foundations instructor. “The idea is to expose students to the fundamental legal skills that lawyers utilize to determine the facts of their case, inconsistencies related to the facts, missing facts, and whether particular facts are relevant or irrelevant.”
The file for a criminal problem, for example, would include police reports and a photograph of evidence, whereas an employment file would include human resources documents and deposition testimony.
In addition to piecing together the facts, students in Lawyering Foundations also work on a witness interview. After spending a couple weeks researching the area of law, students learn that the materials in the file are incomplete and that another witness needs to be interviewed.
“Students are typically surprised to hear that they have to do some investigative work,” said <a href=”http://law.gsu.edu/profile/trisha-kanan/” target=”_blank”>Trisha Kanan</a>, Lawyering Foundations senior lecturer of law.
Amy BeMent (J.D. ’17) recalled how this fact investigation assignment made her think about the facts differently.
“It was eye opening to find out that you don’t have everything you need,” BeMent said. “Up until this point in law school, the facts were always just given to you.”
In crafting questions for the witness interview, students also learn how the law feeds into that investigation.
“Students have to read and understand the caselaw in order to assess where there are holes and which areas of inquiry are the most important to the case,” Kanan said. “It simulates how attorneys prepare for a witness interview with a summary judgment motion in mind.”
As the year progresses, students also see how the facts evolve in a case. After using a short case file to analyze a pretrial issue in a legal memorandum in the fall semester, the case file expands in the spring semester. Students then have to grapple with new, and sometimes, conflicting facts and assess how it changes the analysis as they write a trial brief.
“The change can rattle you, but in a good way,” BeMent recalled. “I remember reading the deposition testimony and thinking to myself, I can’t believe my client said that — what am I going to do now.”
Working with the facts in Lawyering Foundations has been helpful, Miller said, because “it is more like real life, which means we’ll be more ready to hit the ground running in externships and clinic experiences.”