Course Portfolios

Advanced Advocacy: Legislative Policy

Jean Whitney
William S. Boyd School of Law
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

"I believe that students learn best when they understand the context and purpose of their learning. Guided simulation experiences give students opportunities to test their knowledge and skills by applying concepts and theories in context and observing the consequences and to develop professional skills and values through interactions with peers and senior colleagues. Experiential learning is essential to preparing students to be competent, skilled, ethical, and mindful practitioners of law."

Course Description

This course is one of several advanced Lawyering Process (research, analysis & writing) courses students at UNLV can take to satisfy the third semester Lawyering Process requirement. I teach the course every other spring when the Nevada Legislature is in session. Typically, students take this course and a legislative externship for a "legislative immersion" experience. This is a simulation course in which students are treated like associates in a legislative advocacy organization. Students further their cognitive apprenticeship by learning about the legislative process and statutory interpretation and by applying what they learn as they work on their own legislative proposal. Students continue their apprenticeship in professional skills when they identify a legislative issue that interests them, research and develop a legislative proposal, draft a bill, write a policy memo that analyzes the issue and supports the proposal, and present their proposal at a mock legislative committee hearing. And in furtherance of their apprenticeship of professional identity and purpose, I invite various “players” in the legislative process, including legislators, lobbyists, and legislative staff to discuss their work and the unique ethical issues that arise.

Overview. In this course, students learn about the practice and theory of legislative processes, advocacy in the legislative context, and judicial interpretation of statutory law. After some introduction to the doctrinal material, the course becomes hands-on and students write memos and position papers on legislative issues; select a policy issue, for which they draft legislation and advocate for enactment. Students present their work to a "mock legislative committee" made up of legislators, legislative counsel, or other practitioners involved in the legislative process.

The objectives of the course are that students will: learn about various theories of representation, legislative structures and processes; learn about theories of statutory interpretation and how to apply this knowledge when drafting legislation; learn the value of the various sources of legislative history and agency interpretation of enacted laws; learn the importance of and improve their skills in both legal and non-legal research to support and analyze legislative proposals; learn the basic principles of & process for drafting legislation; learn more about persuasion and the components of written and oral persuasive discourse; learn importance of using plain, clear and concise language; write persuasive and informative papers to educate and persuade lawmakers on various legislative issues including “talking points,” summaries of legislation, press releases and other documents to help bill sponsors promote legislation; explore the ethical issues faced by various "players" in the legislative process; and develop a bibliography of sources and resources that will assist with future drafting tasks.

Course Design

Upper Level   Carnegie Integrated Course   Non-Required   Legal Writing

Teaching Methods

Collaborative/Cooperative/Team Learning/Group Discussion/Simulation/Peer Teaching/Legal Writing

The students complete a variety of assignments throughout the semester - assigned readings about legislation & statutory interpretation; track bills that have been introduced in both houses of legislature; complete drafting exercises; research state-specific legislative drafting guidelines; research legislative issues selected for their projects; compile list of helpful research sources on legislative issues; evaluate bill drafts of colleagues and test for interpretation problems; write policy memo and develop presentation for committee hearing; present legislative proposal to mock legislative committee and respond to questions. I use a variety of methods for assessment of student learning - quizzes or 2-minute memos on readings; drafting exercises & research reports; a Multistate Performance Test-type exam that involves drafting a policy; peer edits on drafts; and evaluation of their final work product - both oral and written. Each time I teach the course, we develop rubrics for each major assignment after we complete the reading and discuss attributes of effective bill drafts, policy memos, and committee presentations. I also have an associate evaluation meeting with each student during which we discuss their self-assessment and my observations on their improvement on knowledge, skills and values over the semester.

Recommendations

Anyone interested in teaching a course like this one should recruit outside resource people who are actually involved in the legislative process to participate in the class and be as flexible about course planning to allow for as many of those resource people to be involved as possible. The best class sessions are those in which students are engaged in discussion about the work and professional dilemmas encountered by the various players in the legislative process.

The biggest lesson I have learned in teaching the course three times, is to trust that the students' will learn more by experiencing reality than by my "teaching" them what it might be.

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Outcomes

The most obvious evidence of student learning is the students’ work product - final bill drafts, policy memos, and the confidence with which they handle their presentations to the mock legislative committees. Legislators, legislative counsel, and lobbyists who have served on the "committees" have been uniformly impressed with the students' work and comment that no such experiential learning opportunities were available when they were in law school. Student comments have been generally positive. Although they all comment that the course requires lots of work, they also acknowledge that they learned a great deal and appreciate the experience.

I plan to continue teaching this course and we offer several advanced lawyering process simulation courses - real estate transactions, contracts, and civil litigation. Next we hope to develop similar courses that will help students learn in the context of criminal and administrative law practice.