LAW 784

Administrative Hearings Simulation Course


Public Interest Law

Course Description

This is a simulation course designed to explore administrative adjudication. It enables students to experience litigation from a judicial decision maker’s perspective and facilitates the development of practical skills useful in many different legal settings. The course also exposes students to ideas about how fair outcomes are achieved in adjudication by administrative agencies, where formal rules of evidence are not applicable unless the jurisdiction has enacted them to govern specific types of administrative adjudication. This experience is useful for its contrast to civil and criminal litigation. It is useful also for understanding more generally the American legal landscape because of the extent of administrative agency action and adjudication in the United States. Administrative agencies make decisions about important subjects as diverse as asylum, employment-related issues, educational programming for uniquely situated students, social security benefits, and parole from prison. Before filing a civil lawsuit against an agency, those seeking to challenge the agency’s decision typically must exhaust administrative remedies, which often entails participating in an administrative hearing. 

All simulations in this course are based on actual case files. Participants are positioned as hearing examiners, who must review files containing investigation reports and other potentially admissible evidence, conduct hearings in which witnesses present additional evidence, determine the admissibility of different pieces of evidence, develop a “theory of the case,” and write persuasive decisions. The vantage point as the decision maker gives students a unique perspective from which to consider how judges think about decision making. This perspective differs in many respects from how advocates think about adversarial proceedings. Yet, experiencing this perspective can inform decisions about future advocacy strategies, whether to pursue a judicial career, and how to approach legal practice in subject areas that involve administrative agencies. 

After a period of training in various relevant skills, participants will conduct complete hearings and draft decisions for three full simulated hearings. All involve easily accessible subject matter: adjudication of complaints about “potentially dangerous dogs.” Parties to these administrative proceedings care as deeply about outcomes as parties in other types of administrative adjudicatory proceedings, but the substantive law and relevant non-law subjects (such as dog behavior) are straightforward and accessible enough for participants to focus on practical transferable legal skills instead of first mastering complex subject matter. These skills include evaluating an evidentiary file, questioning witnesses using appropriately varying question types, assessing credibility of witnesses, analyzing facts in relation to statutory factors, building a theory of what happened, designing appropriate outcomes, and writing persuasive case disposition reports. 

Please note: This four-unit course has unusual scheduling. This course will meet on Wednesdays from 10 am to noon every week during the semester. Friday classes differ in length and timing, and the class will not meet on several Fridays. For the first 5 weeks of the semester, the class will meet on Fridays from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm. After that point in the semester, students begin conducting full hearings on some (but not all Fridays). There will be 3 full hearings days. On those Fridays, students will need to allocate the time block from 9:00 am to 12:30 pm and then from 1:30 pm until 4:30 pm for hearings. (These time blocks might well turn out to be much shorter, depending on the amount of pre-hearing preparation the student has completed, the complexity of the issues, and how smoothly the hearing proceeds.) Students will be working in pairs, with one serving as the primary hearing examiner in the morning and the other serving as the primary hearing examiner in the afternoon. When a member of the pair is not the primary hearing examiner, that person is serving as a secondary hearing examiner with responsibilities to participate in the hearing and to assist in the production of the report for that case. Students will have two weeks to produce the report for the case assigned to them as the primary hearing examiner. The report is structured in accordance with an easy to use template, and students will be instructed in its use before the hearings part of the course begins. 

After each hearing day, students will continue, as always, to meet on Wednesdays, during which the focus is on discussions of the cases. However, students will not meet as a class on the Friday after a hearing day. That time is dedicated to work on case reports and meeting with the instructor, as needed. The class will not meet as a class on approximately four Fridays during the semester. Those Fridays fall in the second half of the semester. 

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