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The Experiential Simulation Course Checklist, Part 1

When developing courses to meet the requirements for experiential simulation courses, there are three ABA standards that come into play: Standard 303(a)(3), Standard 302, and Standard 304.

When combined, there are eight bullet points that one must meet to comply with the standards for experiential simulation courses**:
  1. "Primarily experiential in nature" (Standard 303(a)(3)):  To meet this bullet point, an ABA Guidance Memo provides additional help. It notes that the "primarily" suggests "more than simply inserting an experiential component into an existing class." Furthermore, the "primarily" "indicates the main purpose of something." It is clear that the experiential nature of the course should be central to the course's design and should be prevalent across the entire length of the course. In fact, the ABA notes that the "experiential nature of the course should . . . be the organizing principle of the course, and the substantive law or doctrinal material that is part of the course should be incidental to it, not the other way around."
  2. Provides "substantial experience not involving an actual client, that is . . . reasonably similar to the experience of a lawyer advising or representing a client or engaging in other lawyering tasks" developed by a faculty member (Standard 304): There are many skills that are "reasonably similar" to lawyering tasks--including research, which new attorneys spend approximately 35% of their time conducting. This standard makes it clear that the class cannot be lecture-forward--students must be engaging in lawyering tasks. The performance of skills must have an emphasis in these courses. The ABA Guidance Memo makes clear that this is likely met if the course meets the "primarily experiential in nature" criteria.
  3. Integrates "doctrine, theory, skills, and legal ethics, and engage students in performance of one or more of the professional skills identified in Standard 302" (Standard 303(a)(3)): Simulation courses must combine doctrine and theory with skills and ethics; this tells us that while lecture must not be the central teaching method in the course, it's likely that there will be a lecture component to teach doctrine and theory. These courses must also engage students in one of the professional skills listed in Standard 302, such as "legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, problem-solving, and written and oral communication."
  4. Develops "concepts underlying the professional skills being taught" (Standard 303(a)(3)): This point tells us that the course cannot focus solely on the practice of skills in a vacuum; some time must be spent tying skills back to the concepts underlying those skills.
  5. Provides "multiple opportunities for performance" (Standard 303(a)(3)): This implies multiple exercises or assignments for the students, but there is no suggested amount of practice outlined in the ABA standards. However, due to the experiential nature of the course being the "main purpose" of the course, one can infer that instructors should err on the side of regular opportunities for students to practice their skills during the course.
  6. Provides "opportunities for self-evaluation" (Standard 303(a)(3) & Standard 304): This implies more than one activity requiring students to engage in reflection about their performance, in an effort to learn to critique their own work.
  7. Includes "direct supervision of the student's performance" by and "feedback from a faculty member": (Standard 304): This suggests that class size for a simulation course shouldn't be too large; in a class of 70, for example, it would be challenging for the faculty member to have direct supervision over all the students. Students in simulation courses should be getting some kind of written or oral comments on their work from their professor over the length of the course designed at helping the student to improve their lawyering skills.
  8. Includes "a classroom instructional component" (Standard 304): The ABA explains that the classroom component must be "fairly rigorous" if it will allow for the "integration of doctrine, theory, skills, and legal ethics," and for the "develop[ment] of the concepts underlying the professional skills" being taught. It further recommends that the classroom instructional component includes assignments, learning outcomes, and assessment. The ABA Guidance Memo clarifies, however, that the classroom requirement doesn't have to meet the "not less than one hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction . .  . per week for fifteen weeks" for each credit of the course; as such, the "classroom instructional component" doesn't have to equal the prescribed number of class hours.
In incorporating these eight criteria into their simulation courses, professors are meeting the baseline requirements of experiential simulation courses. Next time, we'll talk about some of the challenges in actually meeting these requirements--specifically for legal research courses.

See Part 2 on how to balance "experiential in nature" and "the classroom instructional component."

**Adapted from Alyson M. Drake, The Need for Experiential Legal Research Education, 108 Law Library J. 511, 527 (2016), available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2753172

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