Georgetown Law’s Week One: Simulations Test Students on Real-World Scenarios

January 16, 2018

Dean William M. Treanor and Adjunct Professor Mary Hartnett welcome Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Hartnett's class during "Week One." Other popular courses featured simulations in which students played innovative roles.

“We’re poor, we don’t have much money, and resources are low,” 1L student Ellen Watlington (L’20) reported to Chris Rea of the National Academies of Sciences at Georgetown Law during “Week One.” “What have you seen that works in coastal communities? How can we be prepared for disasters?”

Watlington was role-playing a representative of the Alliance of Small Island States, in a course called “World Health Assembly Simulation: Negotiation Regarding Climate Change Impacts on Health.” In interviewing Rea and other health and environmental experts, she and her classmates — each representing countries and civil society institutions — were preparing to negotiate an international agreement pertaining to climate change and global health as part of the World Health Organization’s World Health Assembly.

During the interview session, they conducted research for their respective countries or organizations to bolster their negotiation strategies. Their required readings included “Fulfilling the Promise of the World Health Organization” in Professor Lawrence Gostin’s Global Health Law and Roger Fisher’s Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.

Watlington’s class was among the electives offered for first- year and upper-class students during “Week One,” a one-credit, four- day mini-session held every January before the spring semester. The courses for first-years, largely simulations, are developed by Georgetown Law faculty to mirror situations that lawyers may face in the real world, from conflict resolution to teambuilding.

“Week One” serves as a fast-paced introduction to experiential learning and —because they are pass/fail — offer a supportive environment in which students can make mistakes and receive immediate feedback.

“The course is as much about specific skills — public speaking, strategic planning, negotiation and interviewing witnesses — as it is about the subject,” said Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown Law, who co-taught the WHA simulation with Oscar Cabrera, executive director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law. “They get this experiential opportunity. That’s unusual for first year.”

Arroyo’s students spent about 10 minutes with each expert, including Ambassador Jimmy Kolker, formerly the chief health diplomat at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and John Monahan, senior advisor for global health to the president of Georgetown University. Earlier that day, students Skyped with Georgetown adjunct professor and former WHO legal counsel Gian Luca Burci, who was in Geneva.

“I think having a chance to supplement your first-year experience with negotiation and practical experience is invaluable,” said Monahan, just prior to advising students representing Brazil. “You’re in a tough place to lead right now because of the political turmoil,” he told them — before discussing negotiation tactics, such as the possibility of Brazil aligning with other countries.

Congressional Hearing Simulation

Other Week One simulation courses covered congressional hearings, ethics, extradition, corporate corruption, Internet defamation, questioning witnesses, social intelligence and law enforcement and the commercial use of face recognition.

Students in the Congressional Hearing Simulation learned the ins and outs of a hearing from two Capitol Hill veterans: Laura Bernsten of the Senate Finance Committee and Judy Condi of the National Employment Law Project.

Taught by Adjunct Professors Indivar Dutta-Gupta and Laura Tatum, both of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, the course focused on the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 and what it means in today’s economy. Students spent half their time preparing for a simulation in which they would role-play members of Congress, business leaders and expert witnesses.

“I’m interested in legislative law as a career, so I thought this would be a good experience,” said Conor Youngs (L’20) a first-year student who played a California congressman. Among his duties: making a three- minute opening statement on the minority side.

Max Horvath (MPP’20, L’21), who was assigned to play the role of a witness — a President Trump appointee for the Department of Labor — said he saw the course as an opportunity to add another tool to his collection of legal skills. Horvath asked the experts about recruiting witnesses and the tone of written testimony submitted for the congressional record.

Bernsten told the class that one of the main misconceptions about congressional hearings is that they’re exploratory. “There’s always an agenda,” she said. “Everything is planned.”

The greatest concern around witnesses, she said, is finding someone who looks amazing and then discovering they’re unpredictable on the stand. “The world of witnesses is remarkably small,” she said. “In this high-stakes environment, the number of witnesses we select that are unknown is very diminished. When the issues are [Affordable Care Act] repeal and tax reform, we can’t afford to make mistakes.”

Teaching Fellow Pete Patterson (LL.M.’18) said the simulation is a great exercise for law students. “They’re trying to come up to speed on a subject matter they may have very little familiarity with, and then figure out the dynamics of a hearing,” Patterson said. “They’ve seen it on C-SPAN, but here they actually have to play the role of a witness or congressional member or staff. We go by the House rules and keep time just like they do.”

Amazing Opportunities

Among the upper-class offerings last week were courses in epidemiology for lawyers, intellectual property for start-ups, and the battle over Obamacare. Adjunct Professor Mary Hartnett taught “Supreme Court Topics: The Role of Dissenting Opinions,” in which students discussed the role dissenting opinions play in the U.S. judicial system.  The class did a case study on the Supreme Court’s recent Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

At the final class on Thursday evening, two distinguished guests showed up: author Debbie Levy, who discussed her children’s book I Dissent, about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; and Justice Ginsburg herself, whose appearance surprised and thrilled the students.

“She shared incredible insights about how she approaches a dissent, the role of the justices at oral arguments, and advice for beginning in legal practice,” said third-year student Rebecca Cooper (L’18), a teaching assistant to Professor Hartnett. “It was an amazing opportunity to have such an intimate conversation with someone that so many of us admire and view as a hero.”