You’re in the courtroom with a small group of your classmates trying to find a key to open a lockbox, the clock is ticking, and the only way to find that key is by solving a problem applying the skills and concepts that you have learned during your first semester of legal writing at University of Arizona Law, a program ranked #8 by US News and World Report.
This is the scene at the end of the fall semester for all first-year law students at University of Arizona Law. An alternative to a review session, the legal writing escape room tests students’ knowledge and understanding of the skills and concepts they have covered during their first semester in Legal Research, Analysis, and Communication (LRAC). Small groups, formed at the beginning of the year, solve a series of problems to decode clues and complete an escape room in under an hour. Students aren’t graded but the three teams with the best times get a prize and bragging rights.
“The point is for the students to have a good learning experience and recognize all the things that they have learned and consolidate them, but not for them to have a stressful, frustrating time,” explains Director of Legal Writing Susan Salmon. “Problem-solving skills are important lawyering skills.”
Salmon credits the creation of this unique review session to Associate Clinical Professor of Law Joy Herr-Cardillo, who came up with the idea after attending an escape room with a group of students as part of an auction prize. With the help of Writing Fellows, the Legal Writing team sat down and brainstormed the first review escape room in 2018.
“Students enjoy it, and even those who arrive somewhat skeptical end up thinking that it’s a really fun and challenging experience,” says Salmon. “By participating in the escape room, some students may also realize they missed some key information or might not be as knowledgeable as they could be about a particular best practice we covered during the semester, so that is also useful.”
The unique skills assessment is just one of the many unique ways University of Arizona Law’s legal-writing faculty use team-based learning to prepare students for life after law school.
“By the end of the semester, teams have already built a working relationship, usually a successful and effective one,” says Salmon. “We have many goals in using team-based learning in the first year, but a primary motivation is that we know—both from our personal practice backgrounds and from surveys of legal employers—that lawyers often must cooperate, collaborate, and work effectively in teams. So, being able to recognize the strengths that you bring to a team and the strengths that other people bring and then harness those strengths to work effectively together to solve problems—that’s an essential lawyering skill. And the escape room really reinforces and highlights that skill.”