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Bringing the Drama of the Law into your Classroom with Student-Led Case Presentations



For more than ten years, the author has has used a student case presentation method in her undergraduate business law classes that has been very successful in promoting a meaningful understanding of legal principles in an active, engaged learning environment. The students take on the role of the parties in cases, making the people and the issues come to life. This article describes this teaching method, the desired learning objectives, student feedback on the method and tools and tips for instructors to try this method in their classroom.
Fall 2017 Gedge/367
It never fails to grab students’ attention when their fellow students are
role-playing an actual legal case. Using the materials in this article, you can
experience the excitement and valuable learning opportunities fostered by
this student role-playing method. Using actual cases with the students telling
the story of the case brings the drama of the law into the classroom. For more
than ten years, this instructor has successfully used the student case
presentation method detailed in this article. Having students informally role
play the characters in cases specifically chosen for this purpose promotes a
meaningful understanding of legal principles in an active, engaged learning
Following the Introduction, Part II provides an explanation of this case
presentation method including the methodology used in the classroom and
the respective role of the students and the instructor. Part III contains a
teaching note including the student learning objectives and the benefits of
active student-centered learning. Part IV provides student feedback regarding
their experience with this method. Included in the Appendices are sample
case summaries used by this instructor for student-led case presentations as
well as a Worksheet that helps students master the process of legal analysis.
A. Overview
This instructor has developed a case presentation method for teaching
(actual) law cases which has been very successful in promoting a meaningful
1 J.D., Associate Teaching Professor of Business Law, School of Business, Quinnipiac
University. © Judy Gedge 2017. Permission is hereby given for downloading, copying,
posting and distributing the teaching materials contained in this article for classroom use only.
All other rights are strictly reserved.
368/Vol. XXVII/Southern Law Journal
understanding of legal principles.2 The students are provided a summary of
the facts of the case in materials supplementing the textbook. As part of their
homework assignment, all the students prepare a structured case analysis. In
this way, the students identify the governing legal principle in the case, apply
the legal principle to the facts and present a well-reasoned legal conclusion
of the issue presented by the case. The students also identify the strongest
legal arguments for each of the two sides. Students volunteer in advance to
be the case presenters for that day’s case. As presenters, they take on the role
of the parties and present their side of the case trying to convince the class
(acting as the jury) to find in their favor. Since the volunteers don’t know in
advance which side they’ll be arguing, they need to prepare to argue/defend
both sides of the case.
After a presentation by the two opposing sides, the students in the class
ask questions of the presenters who need to think on their feet to provide
convincing responses. Then the students in the class, acting as jurors,
participate in a vote to decide who wins the case based on the governing
legal principles. We then compare the vote taken by the class with the actual
judicial decision in the case using excerpts from the court’s opinion. This
method encourages all of the students to participate in the learning process as
active engaged learners. By helping students understand legal principles and
their application, this method can improve students’ critical thinking and
reasoning skills.
This method is suitable for use in an introductory business law or legal
environment course for undergraduate students. This instructor has used this
method in class sizes of up to forty students without difficulty.3
B. Materials Assigned and Tools Provided
The materials assigned in connection with a case presentation are no
different than materials assigned for other course work. Generally a chapter
2 The author is not suggesting that this teaching method is new or unique. However, it is hoped
that these materials will prove helpful to instructors who have not yet tried this method in their
classrooms. Other instructors have adopted similar methods. See, e.g., Tanya M. Marcum &
Sandra J. Perry, Flips and Flops: A New Approach to a Traditional Law Course, 32 J. LEGAL
STUD. EDUC. 255, 268 (2015) (describing effective teaching methods including presentation of
each case by one student, presentation of each case by two or three students, role-playing the
client and having students present a legal case as a press conference with the remainder of the
class acting as members of the press).
3 Whether this teaching method would be as effective in significantly larger classes is an open
question in this instructor’s mind.
Fall 2017 Gedge/369
of the textbook is assigned.4 To reinforce their understanding of legal
principles, this instructor assigns fact patterns/cases for the students to
analyze. The students are required to identify and apply the governing legal
principle to support their legal conclusion. Approximately once a week, class
time is devoted to a case presentation by students which can take anywhere
from twenty to forty minutes depending on the topic.
Since most of the students in this course have never taken a law class
before, the process of identifying and applying the governing legal principle
is new to them and, as we know, this can be challenging for them. To help
students learn this method, a template Case Analysis Worksheet is provided.5
During the first week of class, we review this Worksheet and discuss how
students can use it to better understand the course material. In addition,
students are furnished an instructor-completed Case Analysis Worksheet
prepared for one of the cases we study during that first week. In this way the
students have a solid example to which they can refer as they’re preparing
their own Case Analyses. The key components of the Case Analysis
Worksheet are to identify and apply the governing black letter law to the
facts of the case. In addition, the students are asked to identify a question or
comment to address to each of the parties in the case. These
questions/comments are particularly helpful in promoting class participation
during the student-led case presentations.
C. Description of Case Presentation Method
There are generally four (volunteer) case presenters for each
presentation. Volunteers are solicited in class the week prior to each
presentation. Doing a case presentation is required of all students, even the
painfully shy ones. In fact, the case presentation method can be especially
helpful for students who are shy about public speaking.6 Students choose
which case they will present. On the day of the presentation, the student
volunteers sit in the front of the classroom (which means making
arrangement with the facilities department at the beginning of each semester
to get some extra folding chairs for our classroom). Students can bring their
notes or their laptops with them if they want. Once they are seated, the
students are assigned which party they will role-play. One student could be
the plaintiff, the other student his/her attorney and similarly for the other two
THE LEGAL ENVIRONMENT, STANDARD EDITION (2016), but whatever textbook the instructor
has adopted for a business law or legal environment course can work fine.
5 See Appendix B, Case Analysis Worksheet.
6 See infra Part IV for feedback from self-identified shy students.
370/Vol. XXVII/Southern Law Journal
We begin by asking the plaintiff to tell us his/her side of the story (and
in doing so they should assume that we don’t know anything about the case).
In general, the case presenters tell the class who they are, what happened and
what they would like the court to do for them. Under our standing guidelines,
students can not deviate from any undisputed facts provided in the case
summary. However, they can explain/embellish upon these facts and they
can be creative in responding to questions from the ‘jury.’ After the plaintiff
has made his/her argument, the defendant’s side has a similar opportunity to
present his/her case.
After both sides have presented their arguments (and sometimes there is
some back and forth between the two sides while they’re making their
arguments), we open it up to questions/comments from the rest of the class.7
This often turns into a lively interchange with students raising interesting
comments and questions. Sometimes, however, the class does not jump into
active participation. When that happens, there are a variety of tried and true
techniques to improve student engagement.8
It is important at some point in the case presentation to lay out a clear
statement of the governing black letter law and any defenses/exceptions that
may apply. If the presenters have not yet done so, the instructor can interrupt
to suggest that the presenters identify the governing black letter law which
the instructor can write on the board.
Before putting the case to a vote, the instructor can give the presenters a
brief opportunity to summarize their arguments (or the instructor can choose
to do this). Then we put the case to a vote asking the ‘jury’ by a show of
hands if they vote for the plaintiff or the defendant. It is helpful at this point
to call on one or two students casting their vote and ask them why they voted
that way. At this point, the class is very interested to learn how the case was
actually decided. The instructor then explains the court’s decision providing
excerpts from the judicial opinion. Students find it very interesting to see that
the court grappled with many of the same issues and concerns that we did in
D. Instructor’s Role in Student Case Presentations
While this is a student-led learning experience, clearly the instructor
plays a crucial role in the learning process. First, the instructor needs to
prepare the assigned materials9 and the instructor explains to the students
their roles both as case presenters and as members of the ‘jury.’
7 This instructor refers to the rest of the class as the ‘jury’ but she explains to the class that in a
real court the jury would never be allowed to ask questions of the parties or the witnesses.
8 See infra Section III.C.
9 See Appendix A, Sample Case Summaries for Student Case Presentations.
Fall 2017 Gedge/371
In the classroom, the instructor’s primary role is to be a gentle
facilitator,10 allowing the students themselves to ‘run the show’ as much as
possible. In fact, it works best if the instructor is not sitting in the front of the
classroom with the presenters but is seated somewhere to the side or back of
the classroom. That way the student presenters direct their attention to the
other students in the class instead of focusing on the instructor.
Once each side has presented its case, we open it up to
questions/comments from the other members of the class. Often there is a
long pause at this point in the presentation. As most instructors have
experienced, this can be addressed in one of two ways. The instructor can
allow the pause to continue to such a length that (finally) someone raises a
hand to participate. The second (and less painful) method is to provide a
reasonable amount of time for students to begin asking questions. If this
doesn’t happen, the instructor can call on a student by name and ask what his
question or comment is for one of the parties. (As part of their homework
assignment, all students are required to prepare such questions.) A softer
approach is to ask a student which side he’d rather be arguing if he were a
presenter and have him/her explain why the student would prefer to be on
that side.
It’s important to note that successful use of this method requires the
establishment of a non-threatening congenial atmosphere in the classroom.11
Students will actively participate and engage with the materials if they feel
comfortable speaking up in class knowing that they will not be made to feel
‘stupid’ or belittled when they do come forward. But surely this is the type of
atmosphere we all strive to establish every day in our classrooms.
A. Student Learning Objectives
Using the drama of real-life disputes from actual cases provides an
excellent framework to promote a deep understanding of legal principles and
their application. Using this case presentation method puts the students ‘front
and center’ in the learning process. The students who are case presenters are
2014) (describing the instructor’s role in exercises like this as “primarily to facilitate
discussion – by listening, questioning, clarifying, challenging, encouraging analysis and
problem solving”).
11 See Michael R. Koval, Step Away from the Syllabus: Engaging Students on the First Day of
Legal Environment, 30 J. LEGAL STUD. EDUC. 179, 189, n.29 (2013) (addressing the benefits
of connecting with students and putting them at their ease).
372/Vol. XXVII/Southern Law Journal
motivated to come to class fully prepared to participate in the role-playing.
The other students also play an important role by asking questions of the
presenters and, in the end, deciding the case. Of course, the instructor plays a
crucial role in the process too but it is primarily a behind-the-scenes role. The
instructor prepares the assigned materials and facilitates the in-class learning
experience. The specific learning objectives of this teaching method are:
To promote a deep understanding of legal principles and the
application of these principles to concrete, real-world situations.
To promote active student-centered learning.
To help students improve their critical thinking skills including
thinking in principles and being able to recognize strengths and
weaknesses of each side of a case.
To provide students the opportunity to practice their oral
presentation skills in a low-stakes, non-threatening environment.
To engage students with the drama of the law through student story-
telling and role-playing.
To present business law as an important and meaningful aspect of a
legal system designed to resolve disputes in a fair and just manner
(not as a laundry list of dry rules in a textbook).
B. Benefits of Active Student-Centered Learning
This student-led case presentation method promotes student-centered
learning in which all the students are actively engaged. While the volunteer
student-presenters are center-stage in this teaching method, the other students
in the class are also active participants. By asking questions and challenging
the presenters, their classmates help to identify the strengths and weaknesses
of the party’s arguments. When asked a challenging question (by a fellow
student or by the instructor), the student-presenters need to carefully consider
the question and how their answer can affect the outcome of the case. This
un-scripted aspect of the case presentation makes it all the more engaging for
the entire class (including the instructor).12 The ability to think on one’s feet
like this is a useful skill that students can readily apply in their other
academic studies as well as beyond the classroom.
12 See Peter J. Shedd, Perspectives on Teaching, Teaching is Our Calling: Do Something
Worthwhile!, 29 J. LEGAL STUD. EDUC. 363, 366 (2012) (“When facilitating a class [as
opposed to lecturing], I do not have certainty about what is going to happen next. While this
may generate a degree of discomfort, it certainly does provide a wonderful environment for
scholarly engagement. Every moment of every class potentially generates a learning
Fall 2017 Gedge/373
Active learning exercises such as this case presentation method
encourage students to think about the material in a more meaningful way
which promotes a deeper understanding of the concepts.13 Our own
experience as instructors in the classroom readily confirms that students learn
better and learn more deeply when they are actively engaged in the learning
process.14 As pointed out by Professor Ponte, “[m]any pedagogical experts
assert that student-centered or active learning is critical to student
comprehension and retention of course concepts and skills…. Pedagogical
commentators assert that active or student-centered learning emphasizes the
intertwining of abstract concepts with practical skills to improve student
understanding of both substantive concepts and professional
The case study method is an effective way to promote active student-
centered learning.16 By turning the facts of an actual case into a student-led
presentation, the case becomes a problem for the class to solve working
together. Case studies and role-playing are examples of experiential problem-
based learning.17 Use of experiential and active learning such as this is
13 See, e.g., MCKEACHIE & SVINICKI, supra note 9, at 306 (stating that learner-centered
teachers regularly turn to active learning exercises to engage the learner, and cognitive
scientists report that when students think about material in more meaningful ways, it promotes
more enduring learning); Lucille M. Ponte, The Case of the Unhappy Sports Fan: Embracing
Student-Centered Learning and Promoting Upper-Level Cognitive Skills Through an Online
Dispute Resolution Simulation, 23 J. LEGAL STUD. EDUC. 169, 169-70 (2006) (supporting the
view of many legal experts that “effective legal education needs to encourage active or
student-centered learning, rather than passive teacher-centered instruction … [as] students
learn best when they are actively involved in and responsible for their own learning.”)
(internal citations omitted).
14 See Shedd, supra note 11, at 366 (reflecting this teacher’s experience that students who are
actively engaged in the learning experience attain more meaningful and lasting learning).
15 Ponte, supra note 12, at 175-76 (internal citations omitted).
16 See Lucien J. Dhooge, A Fire in the Global Village: Teaching Ethical Reasoning and
Stakeholder Interests Utilizing Tobacco, 29 J. LEGAL STUD. EDUC. 95, 97- 98 (2012)
(identifying the pedagogical benefits of the case method as including student involvement in
class discussions and an opportunity for students to practice their problem-solving and self-
expression skills); Lamar Odom & Analco Gonzalez, Kelo v. City of New London: An Ideal
Case to Teach Ethical and Legal Principles, 25 J. LEGAL STUD. EDUC. 343, 347 (2008)
(describing an analysis of over 1,200 studies that shows that case studies improve student
performance and identifying that the case study method allows the students to become
participatory in the process and gain ownership in the learning model).
17 See, e.g., MCKEACHIE & SVINICKI, supra note 9, at 211 (describing experiential learning as a
valuable part of one’s teaching strategies which includes problem-based learning, games and
simulations); Susan J. Marsnik & Dale B. Thompson, Using Contract Negotiation Exercises to
Develop Higher Order Thinking and Strategic Business Skills, 30 J. LEGAL STUD. EDUC. 201,
203 (2013) (describing that the primary goal of PBL is to prepare students to be self-directed,
lifelong learners, and practical problem solvers moving students beyond knowledge and
comprehension of content to higher forms of learning. Problem-based learning methods cast
students in the role of active participants, learning at a deeper level.); Sean P. Melvin, Case
374/Vol. XXVII/Southern Law Journal
encouraged by the AACSB as a means of promoting active student
engagement in learning.18 Unlike a traditional lecture format, this learning
method fosters a more collaborative approach where students become co-
facilitators in their learning.19 The student-presenters are the ‘experts’ on this
case (guided, of course, when necessary, by the instructor). As the presenters
take on the role of the litigants and their attorneys, they help their fellow
students to master and apply the legal principles.
Problem-based learning, such as this, promotes students’ critical
thinking, reasoning and analytical skills.20 The Case Analysis Worksheet
assigned as homework leads the students through a modified form of the
traditional IRAC legal analysis (Issue, Rationale, Analysis and Conclusion).
It helps both the student-presenters and their classmates to prepare for
participation in the student-led case presentation. This helps students
progress beyond memorization of legal terms and the ‘flashcard’ approach to
Study of a Coffee War: Using the Starbucks v. Charbucks Dispute to Teach Trademark
Dilution, Business Ethics, and the Strategic Value of Legal Acumen, 29 J. LEGAL STUD. EDUC.
27, 34 (2012) (describing one of the benefits of problem-based learning as helping “the
student bridge the gap between theory and practice”) (internal citations omitted); Ponte, supra
note 12, at 177 (identifying numerous student-centered learning strategies including problem-
based learning, realistic simulations and role-playing exercises).
18 See AACSB Int’l—The Ass’n to Advance Collegiate Sch. of Bus., Eligibility Procedures
and Accreditation Standards for Business Accreditation,
(last updated Sept. 22, 2017), (reflecting that curricula should “facilitate and encourage active
student engagement in learning [and that] students engage in experiential and active learning
designed to ... improve skills and the application of knowledge in practice is expected” at p. 32
and that curricula should facilitate student academic engagement defined as “when students
are actively involved in their educational experiences” which can include such methods as
problem-based learning. Standard 13 at p. 40).
19 See, e.g., Shedd, supra note 11, at 366 (identifying that in leaving the stage, the instructor
was giving students the chance to learn material in a collaborative manner and that by
participating in interactive role-playing simulations the students became co-facilitators of
learning); Robert J. Landry, III, Ethical Considerations in Filing Personal Bankruptcy: A
Hypothetical Case Study, 29 J. LEGAL STUD. EDUC. 59, 63 (2012) (describing the use of case
studies as “transform[ing] the traditional role of teacher and student from the former merely
dispensing knowledge and the latter receiving knowledge, to an environment in which the
students receive knowledge and apply that knowledge to the problem presented.”).
20 Landry, supra note 18, at 63 (“Applied learning through the case study benefits students
because it may provide an opportunity to enhance students’ decision-making and critical-
thinking skills.”); Tammy W. Cowart & Wade M. Chumney, I Phone, You Phone, We All
Phone with iPhone: Trademark Law and Ethics from an International and Domestic
Perspective, 28 J. LEGAL STUD. EDUC. 331, 332 (2011) (“Cases can enhance student’s
analytical and reasoning skills as they are realistic scenarios that bridge the gap between
theory and fact.”) (internal citations omitted); Ponte, supra note 12, at 174 (describing that
through the use of case studies “students develop effective written and oral communication
abilities and strong critical thinking and reasoning skills”) (internal citations omitted).
Fall 2017 Gedge/375
learning. Students gain a deeper understanding of the concepts and legal
principles when they participate actively in a case analysis such as this.21
Storytelling is a form of active learning.22 The student presenters are
actively engaged in the presentation. Their classmates are actively engaged in
posing questions to the presenters and in voting their decision in the case.23
The entire class is actively involved in the learning process using this
teaching method.24 Storytelling is an effective pedagogical approach, one
which has been introduced in recent decades to the study of law.25
Storytelling, not by the instructor, but by student-presenters is a particularly
engaging teaching tool.26 The students are, in effect, telling the story of an
actual case using a first person narrative.27 This method can be particularly
effective in an undergraduate business law (or legal environment) course as
the students usually have little background in the legal concepts covered in
21 See, e.g., MCKEACHIE & SVINICKI, supra note 9, at 211 (“[C]ognitive theory provides good
support for the idea that knowledge learned and used in a realistic, problem-solving context is
more likely to be remembered and used appropriately when needed later.”); Marsnik &
Thompson, supra note 16, at 202 (identifying that problem-based learning helps students
progress beyond memorization of legal terms and black letter law moving towards analyzing
these concepts and applying them in meaningful ways); Robert C. Bird, et al., Troubled Times
at Upturn Records: Getting Traditional Legal Concepts to Dance to the New Online Beat, 22
J. LEGAL STUD. EDUC. 1, 3 (2004) (crediting the use of case studies, with their connection to
real-world situations, with improving student retention of materials and increasing student-
based, rather than instructor-focused, learning).
22 Donna M. Steslow & Carolyn Gardner, More than One Way to Tell a Story: Integrating
Storytelling into Your Law Course, 28 J. LEGAL STUD. EDUC. 249, 252 (2011) (identifying that
storytelling is a form of active learning in which the student is actively engaged in listening to
and participating in the telling of the story).
23 See Susan Park & Denise Farag, Transforming the Legal Studies Classroom: Clickers and
Engagement, 32 J. LEGAL STUD. EDUC. 47, 68 (2015) (identifying that when students are
placed in the position of voting as decision makers, they are much more interested in the
24 Steslow & Gardner, supra note 21, at 257 (identifying benefits of storytelling in a legal
studies class as a means to illustrate theoretical concepts so students can become active
participants in understanding the law).
25 See Patricia Pattison, Outrage and Engage: A Story of Eminent Domain, 31 J. LEGAL STUD.
EDUC. 55, 68-69 (2014) (describing with extensive citations that many university disciplines
have incorporated storytelling into their classrooms including law professors); Steslow &
Gardner, supra note 21, at 250 (describing the extension of storytelling to law school
26 See Shedd, supra note 11, at 366 (identifying from his personal teaching experience that
students who participate in interactive role-play simulations are actively engaged in the
learning environment which produces “more meaningful and lasting learning”).
27 See Pattison, supra note 24, at 77 (concluding that storytelling is particularly powerful by
allowing the parties to speak for themselves in the first person thus enabling students to
identify with the parties to the litigation and gain insight into how and why the parties made
the decisions as they did) (internal citations omitted).
376/Vol. XXVII/Southern Law Journal
the course.28 Storytelling helps to capture the students’ interest and draws
them into the story and into the drama of the cases.29 Through this student
role-playing, it becomes abundantly clear to the students that these cases
were actual disputes between actual people.30 They are not simply
hypothetical fact patterns dreamed up by their instructor. Using an actual
real-life case helps students think beyond the rules, emphasizing instead the
more abstract lessons.31 Furthermore, using cases as stories reinforces that
“human experience is the wellspring for the development of law.”32
Using this student-led case presentation method helps engage students’
interest, encourages their active participation in the learning process and
promotes valuable critical thinking skills.
C. Practical Tips
The following are practical tips for using this case presentation method
in your business law (or legal environment) class.33 Note that successful use
of this method requires the establishment of a non-threatening congenial
atmosphere in the classroom, one in which students feel comfortable
participating in class activities.34
28 See id. at 70 (identifying that storytelling is well suited for business law and legal
environment classes by adding dimension and interest to legal concepts undergraduate
business students may find unfamiliar); Jennifer L. Chapman, Case Study: Using the Supreme
Court's Affordable Care Act Decision to Introduce Judicial Review Philosophies in a Legal
Environment Course, 30 J. LEGAL STUD. EDUC. 321, 324 (2013) (“Case studies are a student-
focused pedagogical strategy, which provide a solid foundation upon which a thorough
understanding of difficult concepts may be based. They are particularly useful in business law
and legal studies courses, which commonly introduce students to new, complex topics.”)
(internal citations omitted).
29 See Pattison, supra note 24, at 66, 71 (identifying that by demonstrating the connection
between ideas and real life, stories can make material more concrete and memorable and that
using actual cases makes the stories more relevant).
30 Steslow & Gardner, supra note 21, at 257 (describing one of the benefits of storytelling as
the “re-humanization” of the parties involved in the cases underscoring “the reality that there
are actual people involved in these disputes and that the outcome affects their lives.”) (internal
citations omitted).
31 Pattison, supra note 24, at 66 (describing the benefit of using an actual case as a story to be
told by incorporating more abstract lessons to be learned that encourage students to do more
than memorize and apply abstract rules) (internal citations omitted).
32 See id. at 69 (using storytelling to teach law reflects that “law is developed by the stories of
human beings; it is not automatically created independent of human interaction.”); Steslow &
Gardner, supra note 21, at 257 n.56 (quoting Beryl Blaustone, Teaching Evidence: Storytelling
in the Classroom, 41 AM. U. L. REV. 453, 455-56 (1992)).
33 See also Part II. D. for tips on encouraging participation of students other than the volunteer
34 See Koval, supra note 10, at 179 (describing an engaging exercise for the first day of class
incorporating a host of legal problems raised in the operation of a typical restaurant over a 24-
Fall 2017 Gedge/377
Introducing the Case Presentation Method to Students. During the
first week of class, students are introduced to the case presentation
method using an attention-grabbing case assigned as homework.35 In
this case the successful bidder at an auction has bought a used safe
containing a locked compartment. He brings the locked safe to a
locksmith to have it opened and they find more than $30,000 in cash
inside the compartment. The issue, of course, is whether the buyer
or the seller is the rightful owner of that cash. After students discuss
the case in small groups, we find two willing participants to role
play buyer and seller. We then proceed to an informal case
presentation (student role-playing, questions from other students,
vote and summary of court’s decision). This introduction helps
students feel more comfortable volunteering to be case presenters
and participating in the case presentation.
Logistics. In our class (generally consisting of thirty-five to forty
students), we generally have four or five students as volunteers for
each case presentation. Generally, we have about ten case
presentations each semester.
Grading. The case presentation is one component of the student’s
homework grade in the course. The grade earned on the case
presentation is based solely on the written work submitted at the
conclusion of the case presentation. There is no weight placed on
the oral presentation in class. Students have an opportunity to do a
second case presentation in which case the higher grade prevails.
Court’s Opinion. Students are not told the name/citation of the case
on which the summary is based prior to the case presentation. In this
way, the students cannot “look up” the court’s legal
analysis/holding so students do the legal analysis themselves. The
students need to be able to read a fact pattern and identify the
governing legal principle on their own since this is an important
aspect of critical thinking and reasoning. Also, as they will be
assessed on their ability to identify and apply legal principles in the
exams, doing this as part of the homework provides valuable
training and practice. (The case citation can be provided by the
instructor at the end of class so that interested students can read the
judicial opinion.)
hour period in the format of the popular television show ‘24’ which helps lay the foundation
for student participation throughout the semester). An interesting adaptation of this activity for
underserved students is described in Charles E. Thomas, Deconstructing “Bistro 24” for a
Traditionally Underserved Student Population, 33 J. LEGAL STUD. EDUC. 5 (2016).
35 See Appendix A, The Safe Case.
378/Vol. XXVII/Southern Law Journal
Substantive Law. We don’t focus on the procedural aspects of the
case in the case presentations (e.g. jurisdiction, burden of proof,
rules of evidence, etc.). Our focus is on the substantive law – the
general rule, any exceptions and how they apply to these facts.
Use of this teaching method promotes active student-centered learning.
All the students are engaged in the case presentation. They’re caught up in
the drama of the conflict; they’re debating who should win the case and why.
They’re witnessing (through student role-playing) that legal principles are
not boring rules to be memorized; instead they see how legal principles have
a significant impact on real people’s lives. This is reinforced by the
subsequent discussion of the court’s decision in the actual case we’ve just
been grappling with.
Some students are perfectly comfortable with public speaking and
others - less so. Occasionally, a student will share with the instructor that
he/she is very nervous about getting up in front of the class as part of a case
presentation. This instructor does not excuse a student from this part of the
course work. It is a great opportunity to meet with such students individually
to help them (begin to) overcome their fear of public speaking. One way to
do this is to offer to meet with the student the day before his/her case
presentation to go over the content of the material and address any questions
the student may have about the topic or the method of presenting the case. By
the time one of these very shy students has actually volunteered for a case
presentation, the student has seen many other students presenting cases. So
he/she knows what to expect and knows that it’s a non-threatening
Student comments confirm the effectiveness of this case presentation
method. Here are examples of student comments about their experience with
the case presentation method from a (non-anonymous) Reflection Paper
Assignment submitted at the end of the semester.36
“A method that was introduced in class, the case presentations,
helped me learn the most. I think this is the case because we would
do the homework as a class and a certain law or rule would be
introduced and then we could see the ‘actual’ case unfold in front of
us. Overall, I think that this was the most helpful piece of the
lessons. It was also very beneficial to be in the case because you
36 Reflection Papers are on file with the author.
Fall 2017 Gedge/379
had to do critical thinking because we didn’t know what side we
were on.”
“I really enjoyed the case presentations. Pretending to be the
lawyer or client of the case made you think about the case from a
different perspective than just a student trying to learn the material.
It was interactive and I feel like that is a more effective learning
style than anything else.”
“I think the most beneficial learning method was the case-
presentations. Specifically, the fact that each presenter had to
prepare for both sides of the argument not knowing which he or she
would be chosen for. This forces the student to pay attention to
every detail of the case and to see it from two different
“Case studies in this class were really helpful for me. Not only did
everyone complete them, we did a sort of trial in class for those
cases. It was helpful to be in the audience when these were taking
place. This is because the audience is able to ask questions,
challenge the people representing both parties, and by doing this,
the legal issues involved in the case are made very clear. Usually
before the end of the case you know which side is going to win, and
if you were wrong initially on which party was in the right, you
know why you were wrong.”
“I found doing a case presentation was most helpful because it puts
you in a position that you may or may not agree with which really
helps you learn. When you have to defend a position you may not
have agreed with, talking and thinking through it might make you
change your opinion at the end of the presentation.”
“Another helpful study tool in this class was the case presentations.
Even though I hate speaking in front of people these were fun ways
to make the legal theory more clear. It was a good way to get the
class involved and that is another thing I enjoyed about this
“In this class, I found the case presentation to be a really helpful
learning method because I think it helped most people come out of
their comfort zone and talk in front of the class. Public speaking is
not easy for some people so I believe this was [a] really awesome
practice for everyone, including myself. To be honest, I was really
nervous to give my case presentation in front of the class and that is
why I was one of the last people to do it but I am really thankful for
the opportunity because now I feel more confident speaking in front
of people...”
380/Vol. XXVII/Southern Law Journal
A classroom of actively-engaged students arguing the merits of a
business law case. What could be better? You are encouraged to try this
teaching method so you and your students can experience the drama and
excitement of the law. With the materials provided in this article, you’ve got
everything you need to give it a shot. If you’re not sure how it will work, you
can always incorporate one case presentation next semester and see how it
goes. If this instructor’s experience is anything to go by, you and your
students will undoubtedly find this method both engaging and rewarding.
Fall 2017 Gedge/381
There are no end of cases that would be great vehicles for this case
presentation method. Many of the cases you are currently using could well be
adapted to this use. Included below are several cases that are particularly
effective tools for this case presentation method. (Instructor comments are
shown in italics.)
This case is based on City of Everett v. Estate of Sumstad, 631 P. 2d 366
(Wash. 1981) and is used in the first week of class. It really grabs the
students’ attention ($32,207 found in a locked safe bought at an auction) and
they do not need to know anything about the law to express an opinion about
whether a reasonable person observing this auction would conclude that the
sale was for the safe as well as its unknown contents. It is also valuable as an
introduction to the recurring theme of the ‘reasonable man’ objective
standard running though the common law. The following are some of the
thought-provoking questions that have come up in this case presentation:
To Mr. Sumstad: Why didn’t YOU bring the safe to a locksmith
before you put it up for auction?
To the Mitchells: If I sold you my car and the next day I
remembered that my iPad was under the driver’s seat, who does
that iPad belong to?
At the time of his death, Mr. Sumstad was the owner of certain assets
including an old safe. The sole beneficiary under Mr. Sumstad’s will was
Sam Sumstad, his grandson. Sam arranged to sell all of his grandfather’s
furniture and other personal effects. They were all sent to Alexander’s
Auction House to be auctioned off. As sole beneficiary under the will, Sam
was entitled to receive all of the proceeds from the auction. Al and Rosemary
Mitchell owned a small secondhand store. They attended an auction on
August 12, 1978 at Alexander’s Auction House where they had frequently
shopped to obtain merchandise for their own use and to sell in their store. At
this auction, the Mitchells were the high bidder on the Sumstad safe which
they purchased for $50. The rule of the auction house was that all sales were
final. The auctioneer had announced at the start of the auction for this item
that there was an inside compartment in the safe which compartment was
locked, that it had not been opened and that there was no available key to
open it. After purchasing the safe, the Mitchells took it to a locksmith to open
the inside compartment. They found $32,207 in cash inside this
compartment. The locksmith notified the Everett Police Department which
382/Vol. XXVII/Southern Law Journal
impounded the cash. The money was deposited with the Court to allow all
interested persons to make their legal claim to the money. Sam claims that,
although the Mitchells are the rightful owners of the safe, the cash inside the
safe belongs to him. The Mitchells object to Sam’s position and think the
cash belongs to them. Sam seeks the return of the cash. Did the Mitchells
enter into a contract to purchase the safe as well as its contents?
We use a well-known case, Mesaros v. United States, 845 F.2d 1576
(Fed. Cir. 1988), for our first (formal) case presentation. It addresses the
legal principle that an advertisement is generally not an offer. It is
particularly useful in showing the importance of identifying who is making
the offer (the Mint or the Mesaros). What is the offer - is it an offer to sell or
an offer to buy?
In November and December 1985, the U.S. Mint sent a large mailing of
advertising materials for the sale of a limited edition of specially minted
commemorative coins (Quantity Limited). Payment could be made by check,
money order or credit card. However, this was the first time the Mint
permitted purchasers to pay by credit card. All credit card orders were
processed on behalf of the Mint by Mellon Bank. The surprisingly large
volume of credit card orders combined with the amount of time it takes to
manually validate each credit card order caused a delay in processing the
credit card orders. (Today, this process is handled when we ‘swipe’ our
credit/debit card and the retailer obtains instantaneous authorization for the
transaction from the card issuer.) The result was that cash orders were filled
immediately, and orders by check were filled as the checks cleared. Credit
card orders were delayed due to the processing time. The plaintiffs, Mr. and
Mrs. Mesaros, received this advertisement from the Mint and Mrs. Mesaros
placed a credit card order on November 26, 1985 for $1,675 worth of the
commemorative gold coins. Before Mellon Bank processed Mrs. Mesaros’
credit card order, the supply of gold commemorative coins was exhausted. So
the Mint sent her a letter notifying her of this fact. The Mint had not
completed the processing of Mrs. Mesaros’ credit card since they had run out
of the gold coins so her credit card was not charged. The gold coin increased
in value by 200% within the first few months of 1986. The Mesaros, being
hugely disappointed, sued the United States for breach of contract. Is there a
contract between the U.S. Mint and the Mesaros? Complete a Case Analysis
Worksheet based on this summary and the assigned materials providing a
detailed and precise legal analysis of this case.
Fall 2017 Gedge/383
This case is loosely based on Toyota v. Smith, 269 S.E 2d 320, 1980. It
addresses the legal principles of the Infancy Doctrine including Ratification.
This case helps concretize the application of the infancy doctrine and
addresses the issue of ratification of the contract after reaching the age of
majority. It also introduces students to lending concepts including a secured
loan (which we study later in the semester).
Charles Smith purchased an automobile from Bobby Floars Toyota
(Toyota) on August 15, 1973. Smith was 17 years old when he purchased the
car and would turn 18 on January 25, 1974. Smith agreed to pay for the car in
30 monthly installments of $99 each (due on the first day of each month)
pursuant to an installment loan agreement that he signed. Smith made six
monthly payments beginning on September 1, 1973. One of the installment
payments was made after he turned 18, the other five payments were made
before he turned 18. On March 1, 1974, Smith returned the car to Toyota and
told the dealer he was disaffirming the contract. At that time there was a
$1500 remaining balance due on the installment loan. Toyota sold the car at
auction for $700 (which was the fair market value of the car at the time) and
sued Smith for the deficiency in the amount of $800 (all of which was in
accordance with the terms of the installment loan agreement and applicable
law). Is Smith liable for the $800 deficiency? Complete a Case Analysis
Worksheet based on this Case Summary and the assigned materials providing
a detailed legal analysis of this case.
In this case, an SUV driven by a fraternity brother returning from a
fraternity event in NYC crashed on a snowy night on I-95 resulting in the
death of the driver and 3 passengers. The other 5 passengers were seriously
injured. The facts of this case come from Grenier v. Commissioner of
Transportation, 51 A.3d 367 (Conn. 2012). The assignment and case
presentation focus on identifying and applying the standard of care in a
negligence action. This case captures the students’ attention as it deals with
college students, drinking and a fraternity and, for us, is close to home here
in Connecticut. In addition to negligence, this case can be used to address
other legal issues (that also arose from the accident) such as respondeat
superior, product liability, and sovereign immunity.
Nick, a freshman at Yale University, was pledging to join the Yale
chapter of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. In January of 2003, Nick was
taking part in “hell week” during which the fraternity’s pledging ritual
culminates in a week of hazing activities. The hazing activities included
384/Vol. XXVII/Southern Law Journal
sleep deprivation and cold-weather early-morning outdoor exercise. In
addition, alcohol was involved in the hazing activities even though Nick and
other pledges were under the legal drinking age. As part of hell week, an
elaborate game of ‘search and rescue’ was held in New York City which
event included the consumption of alcohol. The original plan was for the
participants to take the train back to New Haven when the evening’s events
were concluded. However, the fraternity’s president Pete made the decision
that, instead of taking the train back, the ‘designated drivers’ would take as
many students back to New Haven as they could fit in their cars. Pete
assigned a fraternity brother named Sean to drive one of the cars. Nick was
one of the passengers in Sean’s car for the return journey. Sean was a
‘designated driver’ and had not consumed any alcohol that evening.
However, Sean was sleep-deprived and fatigued from participating in hell
week activities during the five prior nights. The following events that
evening led to tragedy. The weather conditions were a mix of light snow and
rain and the highway was only partially plowed. At 4:50 a.m., a truck driver
lost control of his tractor trailer while travelling south on I-95 in Fairfield,
Connecticut. He crashed into the center median on I-95 and when it came to
rest, the flatbed trailer part of the tractor trailer had separated from the rest of
the truck and was blocking a portion of the northbound lane. (The flatbed
trailer did not have an independent lighting system and was therefore unlit
when it blocked the northbound lane of I-95.) As part of repair work being
done on this section of the highway by two construction companies under
contract with the State of Connecticut, a light pole had been knocked down
several days earlier and had not yet been repaired so there was no overhead
lighting on this stretch of highway. While driving north on I-95 at 5:00 a.m.,
Sean either did not see the truck or did not react quickly enough to avoid it
and smashed into it. Four students were killed including Nick and the driver
Sean (the other students were seriously injured). Nick’s parents sued (the
estate of) Driver Sean claiming negligence. Is Sean’s estate liable for Nick’s
Fall 2017 Gedge/385
Student Name:
Legal Principle:
Homework Question:
Summary of Essential Facts
Black Letter Law
o Detailed Precise Statement of the
Governing Legal Principle(s)
underlying this case
o Citation(s) to page of
textbook/course supplement
verifying that this is a valid
statement of the law
Application of Governing Legal
Principle(s) to Facts:
Answer to Homework Question: Yes/No … Be sure to include brief legal
analysis of conclusion.
Plaintiff’s Strongest Argument:
Plaintiff =
Defendant’s Strongest Argument:
Defendant =
Your Question/Comment for each of
the parties in this case:
Question/Comment for Plaintiff:
Question/Comment for Defendant:
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