Thursday, October 29, 2009

Legal Research Project: Client Compliance Documents, Sookie Stackhouse Style

I try to give students in my specialized legal research class in administrative law a practical final project that integrates the research strategies and resources we've discussed throughout the course. Last year, I gave them a regulation that was open for comment and asked them to document the research they conducted to become familiar with the subject matter of the regulation and then draft a comment to the proposed regulation (they didn't have to submit to the agency).

The problem with relying on an assignment like this is that you are at the mercy of agencies having a regulation open for comment when you need it that is both interesting enough to sustain a research problem and a student's (and the professor's) attention span. This was the problem I ran into this semester.

After lamenting to a coworker about the dearth of "fun" regulations, she suggested I make the students prepare a client-centered document. Because one of the goals of an administrative lawyer is to counsel clients on how to comply with regulations, it seemed like a good idea to ask students to prepare a personalized guidance document for a piece of recently enacted legislation. I gave them a fact pattern, very loosely based on the HBO series "True Blood,"which implicates the genetic non-discrimination in employment law passed last year.

They were asked to research the law and pertinent secondary practice materials and draft a layman's explanation of the law (which means I should not see sentences like "According to an article in the Harvard Law Review, employers are in violation of 42 USC 2000e-2(a) when..."). They are also expected to produce an annotated bibliography of the resources they relied on to draft this document (10 minimum).

I don't care as much about the document as I do about the research they conducted to produce the document. There are some forbidden employer practices discussed in the facts drawn directly from the law's legislative history. There is relatively old EEOC guidance that discusses genetic information and the proposed regulations to the new law (with comments) are available for examination as well. There is even an executive order.

The assignment is due on Friday. That's when I find out whether I've drafted a brilliant research assignment or something much...bloodier. Stay tuned.

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