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Case Studies

Frequently Asked Questions

What are "case materials"?

As used in our website, the phrase "case materials" refers to case studies and simulations, as well as accompanying exhibits and teaching notes. While both case studies and simulations can be used as tools in the "case study teaching method," they are different in form and manner of use. A case study is a narrative that recounts the factual history of an event or series of events. It is typically used as the basis for in-class analysis and discussion. A simulation is a set of facts, roles and rules that establishes the framework for an in-class participatory exercise.

Why should I use Stanford case studies or simulations as part of my curriculum?

Research has shown that existing law school teaching methods and curricula do not adequately teach students the full complement of "lawyering" skills they need to competently practice law. The traditional appellate case method assumes that a problem has reached a point where litigation is the only alternative, and presents students with a scenario in which all relevant issues have been identified, the questions of law narrowly focused, and the questions of fact resolved. Skills-oriented courses and clinical programs (such as law clinics and externships) have made significant contributions to law schools'9 ability to teach lawyering skills. Their reach, however, has been limited by a combination of factors, including their high cost and the relatively few law students who actually take advantage of these programs.

While we do not envision the case study method displacing the appellate case method or clinical programs, we do believe that the case method can be used in conjunction with existing teaching methods to add considerable educational value. Case studies and simulations immerse students in real-world problems and situations, requiring them to grapple with the vagaries and complexities of these problems in a relatively risk-free environment - the classroom.

What student skills will be sharpened through the use of case studies and simulations?

Incorporation of case studies and simulations into environmental law school curriculums can bolster student skill acquisition in the critical areas listed below. Based on a 1990-1991 American Bar Association questionnaire, the MacCrate Task Force concluded that traditional law school curricula and teaching methods fall short in teaching these fundamental lawyering skills:

  • problem solving
  • legal research
  • factual investigation
  • persuasive oral communications
  • counseling
  • negotiation
  • recognizing and resolving ethical dilemmas
  • organization and management of legal work

How are the Stanford case studies used to teach law school courses?

The case study teaching method is adapted from the case method developed and used successfully for many years by the nation's leading business schools. The method uses a narrative of actual events to teach and hone the skills students need to competently practice law. Students identify for themselves the relevant legal, social, business, and scientific issues presented, and identify appropriate responses regarding those issues. Suggested questions for class discussion are prepared in connection with each case study, itself the product of long, probing interviews of the people involved in the actual events. These narratives, or case studies, may be long or short, and portray emotion, character, setting and dialogue. Students present their thoughts on key issues during class discussion, usually from the viewpoint of the key protagonist in the case study.

How are the Stanford simulations used to teach law school courses?

Simulations are typically used to reinforce and synthesize concepts, skills and substantive law already covered in a course. The simulations are designed for limited instructor and maximum student involvement during the exercise itself. However, once the exercise has drawn to a close, ample time should be allotted for a debriefing session. During the debriefing, instructors and students can engage in a candid discussion of the relative effectiveness of different approaches used during the simulation, clear up any lingering questions about substantive issues, and probe ethical and/or policy issues raised by the simulation.