Guidance for discussion leaders

Posted Feb. 26, 2016:

Dear class: I am deeply impressed at the hard work each of you have done working to prepare to serve as a co-class leader. Below the line are the guiding principles posted earlier this semester. Above the line I am adding some additional guidance to help you take your class leadership to the next level.

  1. Share the responsibilities. On occasion, one leader spends significantly more time speaking than another. Part of being a good leader is making sure that: 1) you speak up and help to lead; and 2) you share the leading responsibility with your co-leader. You may want to split up some duties in advance. For example, if there are four cases, each of you might take main lead on two.
  2. Double up on the responsibilities. Even if you split up the cases, each of you should be superbly prepared to discuss them all, and should have additional points to add above and beyond what your co-leader has to say.
  3. Less is better than more. Sometimes a class leader will spend significant time discussing every imaginable detail of the case. That’s unnecessary. Each and every member of the class is already familiar with the case and the facts. Each member is well-prepared to discuss all the assigned materials. When leaders spend excessive time on minute details, others may tune them out. Instead, leaders need to be selective: focus on the most important details in each case. Limit recitation to only the most important details, such as the rule of law, the key facts, the underlying policy issues, or the debatable issues arising from the case. We are all lawyers or near-lawyers here and I don’t want to spend our very limited class time on simple 1L-ish case recitation. Each of us are well-prepared, and I can tell from our frequent and spirited discussions that the members of the class are also “chomping on the bit” to discuss and debate the interesting points.
  4. Thought-provoking questions. I do not want to ever again hear the question “What did you think of the case?” I may in fact buy a Nerf(r) ball and bring it to class to gently (but visibly) toss at you if you ask that question. You are in graduate school and I trust that each of you can come up with more intriguing discussion questions than that. See the Jan. 31 guidance below for ways to come up with more intriguing questions.
  5. Audiovisuals or though-provoking materials. An important sign of a good discussion leader is someone who goes beyond the assigned readings to bring in interesting examples, audiovisuals, or cutting-edge disputes that can serve as useful points of discussion based on the readings of the day. If you find something, send it to me beforehand so I can have it loaded on the class tablet.

I’m sure I will think of more, so I’ll treat this page as a work-in-progress.

Posted Jan. 31, 2016:

Class members and leaders have done a good job in the past several weeks and there has been significant, thought-provoking discussion. Now that nearly everyone has gone through the first round serving as class leaders, here is some guidance on what we can do to continue developing our skills at leading and participating in group discussion.

As a class leader, your primary responsibilities are:

  • Explain key cases and principles of law
  • Lead a discussion that pulls in the entire class
  • Prepare thought-provoking discussion questions
  • Take questions from students who are confused or troubled by the result in a case
  • Call on people as appropriate
  • Pull in the professor for guidance as needed

To prepare for these responsibilities, class leaders need to:

  • Consult in advance with your assigned partner to determine who will take primary responsibility for what
  • Call on class members with specific thought-provoking discussion questions, and to avoid the “what did you think” question. Specific questions might focus on:
    • What was the rule of law used by the decision-maker?
    • What counter-arguments might you make?
    • What are the ramifications for the decision regarding competition, brand development, incentives to create brand names, etc.?
    • How would you change the disputed brand name, logo, branding strategy, etc. to avoid the problems that arose in this suit?
  • Class leaders are also encouraged to find interesting branding news stories or trademark disputes to share with the class. You can use such materials to pose thought-provoking questions to the group. Send any such materials to Professor Nathenson via email ahead of time so that he can pull them up onscreen.

Less is more.

  • Good presentation sometimes means that less is more.
  • That means it is not necessary for you to provide exhaustive detail on each case. The students have read the cases and will likely tune out a lengthy recitation of the facts and holding of a case.
  • It is also not necessary to create visuals or Powerpoints, but if you do, feel free.
  • If you do create visuals, create visuals that enhance the discussion, such as illustrating a point that is better seen than read, or that provides a visual example of what you are talking about.
  • Regarding videos, as a general rule, avoid using videos unless necessary as they chew up large gobs of class time that would be better spent on discussion.

Class members’ responsibilities:

Class members have also done a good job in this first weeks. Your basic responsibilities as a class member are to be prepared for each and every class as if you were also a leader. In other words, I don’t want leaders wasting precious time explaining things that are clear from the readings; instead, I want leaders to assume that everyone is prepared and take the discussion from there. Class members should also come up with their own questions to share with the leaders and the group. In essence, I consider each member of the class to be a co-equal leader at all times. Although I designate several people to lead in each class, I am happy to see that everyone is taking a role in each class in pushing the discussion forward.

Beta (v0.1.5) posted Jan. 31, 2016