Case Studies

The program’s portfolio of situational case studies presents narratives of real-life events and asks students to identify and analyze the relevant legal, social, business, ethical, and scientific issues involved. Playing the role of protagonist in each case study—such as a private attorney counseling a biotechnology company facing hazardous waste issues, or a federal official seeking to develop an effective fishery management plan—students formulate appropriate strategies for achieving workable solutions to conflicts, then discuss and debate their recommendations in class. This interactive approach to learning bolsters students’ acquisition of skills in critical areas: factual investigation, legal research, counseling, persuasive oral communication, and recognition and resolution of ethical dilemmas, to name a few.

The Stanford Law School Case Studies Collection is an exciting innovation in law school teaching designed to hone students’ problem-solving skills and stimulate creativity. The Collection includes situational case studies and interactive simulations (collectively referred to as “Case Materials”) that place students in the roles of lawyers and policy makers and teach fundamental lawyering skills such as investigating facts, counseling, and resolving ethical dilemmas.

In June of 1997 the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Policy Program hired an experienced environmental lawyer to develop “situational” case studies for use in classroom instruction to better prepare students for the practice of law in the real world. Most of the case studies have been field tested in the classroom and evaluated for effectiveness in increasing student mastery of fundamental lawyering skills and increasing student participation in classroom discussion. Feedback from students has been excellent. Stanford Law School plans to unveil case studies collections in the areas of Law and Business in the coming years.

You can use this site to download Case Materials for examination. With prior permission from Stanford Law School, instructors can also obtain copies of Case Materials they want to use in the classroom for free. This Case Studies Collection will be updated regularly as we add new Case Materials and revise existing Materials, so visit the site from time to time for new developments!


What are “case materials”?

As used in our website, the phrase “case materials” refers to case studies and simulations, as well as accompanying exhibits and teaching notes. While both case studies and simulations can be used as tools in the “case study teaching method,” they are different in form and manner of use. A case study is a narrative that recounts the factual history of an event or series of events. It is typically used as the basis for in-class analysis and discussion. A simulation is a set of facts, roles and rules that establishes the framework for an in-class participatory exercise.

Why should I use Stanford case studies or simulations as part of my curriculum?

Research has shown that existing law school teaching methods and curricula do not adequately teach students the full complement of “lawyering” skills they need to competently practice law. The traditional appellate case method assumes that a problem has reached a point where litigation is the only alternative, and presents students with a scenario in which all relevant issues have been identified, the questions of law narrowly focused, and the questions of fact resolved. Skills-oriented courses and clinical programs (such as law clinics and externships) have made significant contributions to law schools’9 ability to teach lawyering skills. Their reach, however, has been limited by a combination of factors, including their high cost and the relatively few law students who actually take advantage of these programs.

While we do not envision the case study method displacing the appellate case method or clinical programs, we do believe that the case method can be used in conjunction with existing teaching methods to add considerable educational value. Case studies and simulations immerse students in real-world problems and situations, requiring them to grapple with the vagaries and complexities of these problems in a relatively risk-free environment – the classroom.

What student skills will be sharpened through the use of case studies and simulations?

Incorporation of case studies and simulations into environmental law school curriculums can bolster student skill acquisition in the critical areas listed below. Based on a 1990-1991 American Bar Association questionnaire, the MacCrate Task Force concluded that traditional law school curricula and teaching methods fall short in teaching these fundamental lawyering skills:

  • problem solving
  • legal research
  • factual investigation
  • persuasive oral communications
  • counseling
  • negotiation
  • recognizing and resolving ethical dilemmas
  • organization and management of legal work
How are the Stanford case studies used to teach law school courses?

The case study teaching method is adapted from the case method developed and used successfully for many years by the nation’s leading business schools. The method uses a narrative of actual events to teach and hone the skills students need to competently practice law. Students identify for themselves the relevant legal, social, business, and scientific issues presented, and identify appropriate responses regarding those issues. Suggested questions for class discussion are prepared in connection with each case study, itself the product of long, probing interviews of the people involved in the actual events. These narratives, or case studies, may be long or short, and portray emotion, character, setting and dialogue. Students present their thoughts on key issues during class discussion, usually from the viewpoint of the key protagonist in the case study.

How are the Stanford simulations used to teach law school courses?

Simulations are typically used to reinforce and synthesize concepts, skills and substantive law already covered in a course. The simulations are designed for limited instructor and maximum student involvement during the exercise itself. However, once the exercise has drawn to a close, ample time should be allotted for a debriefing session. During the debriefing, instructors and students can engage in a candid discussion of the relative effectiveness of different approaches used during the simulation, clear up any lingering questions about substantive issues, and probe ethical and/or policy issues raised by the simulation.

Requesting Permission to Copy or to Use Materials

Send your request for permission to use or copy Case Materials to To assist us in reviewing such requests and tracking the actual use of our Case Materials, please provide a description of the course (of up to 500 words) for which the Case Materials will be used. In addition, please include a brief description of the kind of course for which the Case Materials are intended, including:

  1. Whether the course is an elective or required course, undergraduate, graduate, or continuing education.
  2. The nature of the academic program and institution in which the course will be taught, such as law school, business school, Earth Sciences department, public interest law firm, etc.
  3. The number of times the course has been offered.
  4. Expected enrollment for the course.
  5. The history of the course’s development.