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Stanford Law School Case Studies Collection

Faculty Responses

Stanford is on the cutting edge of what I believe will become the norm of law school teaching in the next decade. In contrast to the traditional appellate cases that form the basis of almost all environmental casebooks, your case studies provide much more context, detail, and real-life complexity that our students will confront as they become practicing lawyers. They require the students to really work through the primary materials as they find for themselves how difficult it can be for the regulated community to achieve full compliance.

I use the Philern (Part I) and Calcium Supplements cases in my introductory environmental law course. Philern is fantastic. It provides a complex workplace problem that requires far more than rote reading of a regulation. It also provided a nice example of non-legislative rules (an incredibly important source of environmental law that is generally neglected in casebooks). It also led into a fascinating class discussion over the role of a lawyer in compliance counseling—to what extent is it appropriate for the lawyer to discuss management issues within the firm. The Calcium Supplements case provides a nice example of product regulation and, like the Philern case, a great opportunity to discuss institutional roles, in this case the "appropriate" role of an NGO in negotiating with state agencies.

Two thumbs up!

Professor Jim Salzman
Washington College of Law American University


Thank you for putting together a set of such valuable resources! As a grizzled oldtimer who has been teaching environmental law at the undergraduate level for 28 years, I am truly in awe of how far along your efforts have brought the field of teaching enviornmental law.

J.Marc McGinnes, J.D.
Environmental Law, Policy & Diplomacy
Environmental Studies Program
University of California, Santa Barbara


We completed the Bay Area District IERC problem. It went fabulously well. I used it in an advance environmental law course of 24 students and the case study was a wonderful vehicle for teaching. We were also benefited by the fact that, as you likely know, the Bay Area District has since last spring proposed a dramatically different and down-sized version of the original IERC proposal. Thanks to your case study's reference to the Bay Area District home page, I was in contact with the staff at the District working on the new plan, which they e-mailed to me, and which I reproduced for the class. Allowing the students to see and study the differences between the initial proposed and the final proposed was simply terrific. We spent three classes on the problem.

Richard Lazarus
Professor of Law
Georgetown University Law Center


Thanks for sending the case studies earlier this winter. They were a lot of fun. Next year I hope to use more of them (only had time for Philern and Lower Fox River!).

Alison Rieser
Professor of Law and Director,
Marine Law Institute
University of Maine School of Law


First, let me say generally that these are fabulous teaching tools. They provide a welcome alternative to appellate cases, as they include the full factual context leading to relevant legal, rather than the distilled factual summary an edited (or even an unedited) judicial opinion provides. Although the study of law through judicial opinions is an important pedagogical tool given that lawyers must learn to succeed in that forum, lawyers generally must also learn to wade through large factual contexts to weed out the relevant from the irrelevant. Also, lawyers must learn to operate with the human dimension-politics, inept client employees, irate citizens, etc. The Stanford case studies strike me as an extremely viable pedagogical tool for adding that dimension of legal training to the law school classroom.

Overall, I expect that through the use of traditional casebook instruction, punctuated at appropriate intervals with in depth exploration of the Stanford case studies, an environmental law instructor will be able to present a more realistic and challenging picture of environmental law, policy, and practice. An especially ambitious instructor may even find that a very successful course could be built entirely around the Stanford case studies. I say ambitious because the size of some law school classes may make exclusive use of the case studies difficult, and there is some limitation as to how much doctrinal ground one can cover through in depth case studies.

The following discussions explain how I used the Philern Co. (Part I) and Balcones Plan case studies and how I believe they enhanced my classes:

Philern Co. (Part I)

I used the Philern case study in an executive training program at LSU last month (I teach two half-day sessions on environmental management to two sections of mid-level managers). They loved it! It was so engaging to them that I had to cut half of my materials! They are people who would fit the "plant manager" role, and they totally understood the many twists and turns of the management side of the case study. They really got into it.

I used the Philern case study, without the accompanying source materials, in a class titled Environmental Issues in Business Transactions. The course is essentially environmental law for the general practitioner/business law for the environmental specialist. The class meets three hours a week, divided evenly each week between lecture and "lab." In the lab portion I use a variety of tools to get the students to think about and apply the doctrinal material to factual settings. They often have to work out problems in small groups, negotiate, etc.

I used the Philern case study in one of the lab sessions. Up to that point in the course, we had covered basic liability issues, a variety of transactional settings, and had most recently explored asset purchase transactions and the issues they present to buyer and seller. I distributed the case study and asked the students to read it for the upcoming lab with the following question in mind: What concerns should a potential acquirer of the Philern facility from the parent corporation have with respect to environmental liability and management? The point was to get them to focus on not only the obvious issues of spills and the government investigations, but also the long term problems associated with the government relations, lack of lab employee training, disgruntled employees, employees inept at dealing with government inspectors (all part of the real experience of environmental attorneys).

At the beginning of the lab session, I had each student write up a list of the five biggest concerns. Then I broke the class into small groups of five, asking each group to agree on the five biggest issues (I float around the room, listening in on group discussion and offering input). Each group then reported their list, during which class discussion unfolded.

What I found through use of the case discussion was a much more focused discussion, and increased student participation in the discussion, and a willingness by the students' to "think outside the box." Normally I can only get this kind of effect through invention of my own case studies, usually based on my own practice experience and much short and shallower than the Philern study. Indeed, as an impromptu assignment I asked the students for the next lab to hand in a written outline of how they would compose a letter to their client presenting the issues. This assignment led into the lab topic for the day-composing client letters.

Balcones Plan

I used the Balcones case study in a seminar titled Endangered Species and Ecosystem Management Law. During the first half of the course we study the nuts and bolts of the ESA and the students read a selection of materials plus Noah's Choice. During the second half of the course we study topics in ecosystem management through selected readings and Wilson's The Diversity of Life. The transition class is a study of the Austin experience-i.e., moving from species-specific focus to an ecosystem focus-for which I usually use chapter 7 of Noah's choice. The session's discussion is based around the question: If you were dictator of Austin how would you get it out of this predicament? Because the case study picks up where that chapter ends (failure of the bonds), it provided a perfect segue into the discussion and a framework for students to use in their formulation of ideas. We referred several times to the discussion of alternatives to the BCCP and the alternative funding structures. Given the seminar setting and high LL.M. student content of the class, I did not use the case study in any more structured a manner. Clearly, however, the addition of the case study allowed a fuller exploration of the issue.

I am very thankful to Stanford's Environmental and Natural Resources Law & Policy Program for allowing me to use the case studies and will continue to provide feedback when I use them, or other case studies in the series, in these and similar courses.

J.B. Ruhl
Professor of Law
Florida State University College of Law.