Putting Policy into Practice

Law students working together in a classroom

There’s a saying that practice makes perfect. At Villanova Law, students have the opportunity to perfect their legal skills through innovative coursework and hands-on experience. Now, a new insurance law course, Advanced Insurance Law: Coverage Disputes, provides students with a simulation experience that closely mirrors the work they will encounter as associate attorneys at law firms.

Taught for the first time during the spring 2018 semester, the course was co-developed and co-taught by Chaim Saiman, Professor of Law, and Villanova Law alum and Adjunct Professor Samuel Arena, Jr. ’83, Chair, Fidelity & Surety Practice at Stradley Ronon. It features an original teaching approach that brings together multiple practice areas including insurance law, contracts, torts, civil procedure, legal writing, civil pre-trial and professional responsibility in order to replicate the lifecycle of a complex insurance coverage dispute. These types of disputes are commonly litigated by major law firms who represent national insurance companies.

“Coverage Disputes is a capstone course that transitions students from law school to practice,” said Saiman. “We took a practice-based approach in creating this course so students can learn the skills needed to practice this type of law. We’re breaking students out of the doctrinal silos in which law is typically taught and are preparing them for the realities of multi-disciplinary practice.”

Through workplace simulation and roleplay, students in the course assume the positions of counsel for the policyholder and/or insurance carrier, as they work through the lifecycle of an insurance coverage dispute. They draft and submit their work for review by their professors acting in the role of senior partners. Students also present, defend and receive feedback on their coverage analyses in “office” meetings with the senior partners. This mimics work at a typical firm, while at the same time hones their writing and professional development skills.

“The incredible feedback on each class assignment from Professors Saiman and Arena made me a more confident writer and helped me better understand the expectations of an assigning partner,” said former Coverage Disputes student Cliff Breese ’18. “The pedagogical approach—emphasizing practical lawyering skills throughout the curriculum—sparked my interest in insurance law.”

After only one semester, the course has already had an impact on helping students stand out from other candidates and secure job placements, like Breese, who is now an associate at Reed Smith LLP’s Philadelphia office, working in their Insurance Recovery Group. Former students are using the memos produced during class as writing samples in interviews and to demonstrate their interest and knowledge of insurance law, prompting an on-the-spot job offer in one instance. Other students are using the course outline to assist them in their current associate positions.