Simulation-based learning Experiments in The Lawyering Method at Harvard University, with Visiting Professor Peggy Cooper-Davis

Building on the success of the Lawyering Method at NYU, NYU's Experiential Learning Lab partnered with Harvard University’s Bok Players, housed at the Bok Center for Teaching & Learning, to better articulate the dimensions of simulation-based learning in legal education. The Bok Players are an interactive theatre company whose mission is to examine issues of diversity and inclusion in classrooms as well as the academic community at large.

As part of the Professional Responsibility in Family Practice course, taught through the Lawyering Method at Harvard Law School in the Spring of 2018, Professor Peggy Davis engaged professional actors from the Bok Players in the role of clients, and collaborated with applied theatre scholars to identify and document the core considerations that go into designing effective role work for law students.

Right: Peggy Davis, Visiting Professor, Harvard Law School & Director of the Experiential Learning Lab at NYU Law; Left: Mara Sidmore, Artistic Director of Applied Theatre Practice, Bok Center for Teaching & Learning, Harvard University.


The Lawyering Method involves a carefully structured sequence of grounding, assignment, planning, execution and critique.


1. Grounding

The Lawyering Method does not offer recipes or blueprints. Rather than offering step-by-step instruction in how to accomplish a task, it offers students concepts and vocabularies that they may draw upon in finding their own way. With their attention drawn to the components of a lawyering task and to principles that might guide their management, students are prepared to make informed choices rather than follow prescribed paths.

In this excerpt, Professor Davis reviews a vocabulary of question forms and students consider how they might be used in a client interview:

2. Assignment

In an assignment phase, students take on a hypothetical case that challenges them to undertake the tasks under study within a constellation of real world dynamics they will encounter in practice. In this phase the learners are provided with the context of the imagined scenario and given the chance to think through potential approaches and tactics. Assignments are given in role by faculty acting as supervising attorneys. They present a problem and offer leads and guidance in solving it, but leave ample room for students to exercise discretion.

3. Planning

In a planning phase, students engage in collaborative, strategic planning to meet the challenge. They discuss the problems posed by the scenario at hand and weigh approaches they might take during the simulation.

4. Execution

In an execution phase, students meet the challenge through formal or informal interactions. These interactions can include client meetings, interviews, negotiations and court hearings.

In the following segment, students have studied and discussed the interview process, been challenged to meet a particular client, and planned and begun to conduct that meeting with the benefit of faculty feedback

5. Critique

A critique process is maintained throughout the exercise as students subject their preparation, planning and performance to periodic self, peer, and faculty critique. Critique may be written and considered after the fact or explored in the moment during an execution phase.

In this student-initiated moment of reflection, critique and further planning around a complex question of identity and difference, the interview team refines its performance in light of feedback from the actor/teacher, from other students, and from the facilitating faculty members.


Through debriefs, written reflection, and evaluations, the following were some of the learnings from this experiment:

1. Addressing the interactive dimensions of lawyering immediately benefits students throughout their coursework and into their clinical practice.

2. Enacting scenarios allows opportunity for self-reflection on lawyering behavior, performance, and impact; most learners are eager to discover more about who they are and how they come across.

3. The law is dynamic and can be understood in a variety of ways; using law in simulated contexts opens students’ eyes to new interpretive possibilities.

4. Working with professional actor/teachers has special value.

5. Simulation work can be a forum for comfortable and constructive discussion of the management of diverse identities.

“In life you don’t get to look backstage every side, you only get to see backstage your own side... People thought through the issues in a richer way … And I think that’s a lot of what was going on. The hope is that they can, when they’re not in this artificial environment, be better at imagining the backstages of the other sides.” - Peggy Davis

Students Say:

"This course was a really innovative, interesting way to learn about the legal profession."

"Experiential learning is a really powerful tool."

"This course helped me learn law, practice skills, and reflect on my interactions with others in a legal setting."

"...an amazing classroom environment where everyone felt comfortable to be open and honest."

"This type of course seems like one that is a great model for others."

"HLS should do more simulation-based learning!"

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