Prerequisites

Darian Ibrahim —  20 February 2007

I teach at a relatively small school, which has its great advantages. One of those is that faculty get to teach a range of courses in their respective fields – in my case business law. But this can also present challenges. Sometimes non-“core” courses, such as my law and entrepreneurship course (which focuses on venture capital but also covers other issues relevant to start-ups), are taught on a rotating basis. Because upper-level students have only one chance to take the course, I don’t require prerequisites, although I strongly suggest business associations and the basic tax course as co-requisites. Inevitably, students come in with wide variations in their knowledge of corporate and tax law, not to mention the economics/IO literature. To mitigate the differences, I grade on the basis of an in-class presentation and short paper on a particular topic (on the theory that everyone can get up to speed on one topic). But my lectures do have to be accessible to all without boring the students with advanced training (or me!).

I’m interested to hear how other profs handle this problem.  I think the approach may depend on whether the course is of the seminar variety, with no exam, or a standard exam course.  So next year when I add securities regulation to the mix, for example, I will probably require business associations as a prerequisite unless students have some sort of advanced training that’s an adequate substitute.

2 responses to Prerequisites

  1. 

    Thanks, Thom. Those are helpful thoughts and suggestions.

  2. 

    Darian–

    While I also teach at a small law school with rotating upper-level courses, I haven’t confronted precisely this issue because none of my classes really requires prereqs. One of my colleagues, though, alternates securities and corp finance, for which bus orgs is a prereq. I believe he has allowed students to take the upper-level courses concurrently with bus orgs, which we offer every semester.

    I’ve confronted a similar problem in antitrust. The problem there is that students need to know some basic price theory and industrial organization. Economics and business majors are usually familiar with the requisite concepts; English and psychology majors generally aren’t. I handle the problem by beginning with a crash course on price theory and IO. I also summarize essential concepts in handouts, which permits me to move quickly through the material so as not to bore the students that are familiar with the relevant concepts.

    (By the way, I wouldn’t worry about boring students by repeating material from other classes. One of my senior colleagues, Ed Hunvald, has coined what we refer to around here as the Hunvald rule: “If a law student remembers something from a past class, it’s wrong.”)

    In environmental law, I have to get students up to speed on two things: the basic economics of externalities and the basics of administrative law (which is not a prereq for envtl law). Again, I have a couple of crash course lectures supplemented with detailed handouts.

    So far, this has worked pretty well for me.