The flipped-classroom approach helps students become as practice ready as possible, enabling professors to operate like partners, providing hands-on mentoring during class time while using videos to cover the lecture material for students outside of class.
Students in the University of Miami School of Law’s Transactional Skills Program are getting a truly modern and practical legal education. Through the school’s Transactional Skills classes, they get hands-on experience in the building blocks of transactional practice. And they get that experience through a flipped-classroom model that lets them do the sort of work they’ll encounter early in their careers.
A Comprehensive Transactional Law Education
Miami recently announced a concentration and area of focus in transactional law. These programs include three levels of transactional skills courses, among other required and elective classes. Professor Marcia Narine Weldon leads the program and says she designed it based on gaps in her own law school education and in her experience working with new lawyers: “I want the students to learn what I wish I had learned in law school and what I wish the interns in my corporate law departments had known,” she said. “We are trying to build the program so that employers know our students are coming out with the skills they need to do good work from day one.”
The program is modeled after the one at Emory University School of Law with a lot of guidance from Tina Stark, founding executive director of Emory’s Center for Transactional Law and Practice, and Sue Payne, the center’s current executive director, who helped brainstorm ideas when the program was being conceptualized. And like the Emory program, the courses include the involvement of adjuncts committed to teaching practical skills and experience. The adjuncts are a key component of why this program works and serves the students so well.
“I’m so excited that we provide practical education for our students,” Weldon said. “In these classes, the adjuncts are working with them to negotiate, draft, and revise operating agreements for LLCs, NDAs, employment contracts, private equity, asset purchase, and license agreements. They’re also learning about deal design and structure, due diligence, and so much more.”
Weldon leads the three levels of Transactional Skills courses, designing the content for the first two levels and overseeing the adjuncts who deliver the courses. Classes are small – limited to 12 students per section. Three years into offering transactional skills courses, the program has grown to 20 sections across the three levels (with many students on a waitlist for additional classes). The small class size allows the instructor to give personalized feedback to each student on each assignment. “The instructors are acting like a partner of the firm mentoring each student,” Weldon says. Weldon herself often plays the role of “client” in simulated meetings to review contract drafts.
In the flipped-classroom model, the students watch a video on the class topic and take an assessment before coming to class. Weldon produces videos herself or selects focused Hotshot videos for each class session, letting the adjuncts focus their time on the class period itself and giving feedback on student assignments.
The time students spend watching videos counts toward total class time. Their results on the formative assessments help the instructors focus their time in class. “We can see what people struggled with and go deeper there,” Weldon said. “If everyone does well on a section, the instructor can skip that entirely when the class is together.”
She keeps the videos short. “Forty-five-minute video lectures are terrible!” she said. She makes some of the videos herself and relies on Hotshot for the rest. She worked with the Hotshot team to identify the courses that best support the syllabus. “I can’t do them better,” she said. “And why would I want to? I want to spend my time with students helping them absorb the learning.”
Students love having the videos for class preparation, Weldon said. They can pause the video if they need to hear something again, and closed captioning helps overcome any language, learning style, or other comprehension barriers. “When you’re lecturing in class, students don’t want to raise a hand to ask questions,” she said. “But this give them control to learn at their own pace without feeling like they are disrupting the class.” Students are grateful for having the videos to fully digest the learning before class.
“I enjoy this format because I like to have the ability to watch something many times to understand it before having to speak about it in class and interact with the material,” said student Trevor Rowars. This feature is particularly helpful for Miami’s many international students, especially where English is not their first language.
Weldon provides structures for the adjuncts, too. She provides sample exercises, and they choose how to build on the concepts, through war stories and other experiences from their practice. She encourages them to provide in-depth feedback on assignments – the kind of feedback they would give an associate who was creating real work product.
Weldon notes that some professors are interested in trying a flipped-classroom approach but put too much pressure on themselves. “I don’t edit my videos,” she says. “I record from start to finish, and the students get to hear all my sneezes and coughs and ums. That’s more like what they get in the classroom anyway.” In other words, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. Plus, with resources like Hotshot now being available, there’s no need to create all the resources from scratch.
High Impact for Students, Grads, and Their Employers
She says that many of her students have some internship experience in a corporate setting. They would be told to mark up a contract without knowing what to look for or how to approach the assignment. They come into class with some exposure to the work but without understanding why they did anything in that summer role.
“They are able to get hands-on learning with deep context for everything they’re doing,” Weldon said. “They get to learn from BigLaw partners, in-house counsel, and solo and small firm practitioners that deal with these issues everyday. That is priceless wisdom. And, when they move into new roles, they have the credibility of having learned from senior practicing attorneys.”
Even students who don’t plan to focus on transactional law appreciate the skills classes. ”You have to know how contracts are structured to be an effective commercial litigator,” Weldon said. Additionally, students in Miami’s Entertainment and Sports Law LLM are required to take these classes to learn the fundamentals needed for their more complex sports and entertainment drafting classes - a separate Miami program.
Those students who go on to work for small firms and companies benefit from understanding how big companies operate. “They may be at the small company being acquired someday,” Weldon said. “With these classes they’re much better prepared to navigate their business through a complex process.”
Rowars, the Miami student, said the transactional skills classes helped him with his internships and interviews. “These classes have allowed me to be conversational about complex contractual concepts, develop my drafting abilities, and learn valuable business concepts,” he said.
The curriculum evolves each year with feedback from students, alums, and the partners who work with them. For example, they added accounting for lawyers content from Hotshot to fill a knowledge gap observed among the students. Feedback from students inspired the growth of the program, growing from Transactional Skills I to the additional levels. “Any time I hear ‘I wish I’d had that in law school,’ I consider whether it’s a fit for the courses,” Weldon said. “And because we can deliver a flipped-classroom with our own videos and Hotshot’s, we can scale that learning to far more students, far more effectively.”
Speaking of evolving curriculum, as Hotshot adds more content, Weldon is also able incorporate more Hotshot videos into additional classes such as business associations, compliance, corporate governance, and sustainability.
*Hotshot can work with your school or firm to implement a flipped-classroom model in your curriculum or training program. We can also brainstorm other ways to engage and educate your students and associates. Contact us to learn more or check out our topics, learning tracks, and training guides.