Open Letter from Melanie Morris, Esq., and DavidKatz, Esq., Instructors for Torts class in the Paralegal StudiesProgram, February 22nd, 2005.
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the HomelandSecurity project at Raritan Valley Community College. This projectoffered us the opportunity to explore legal issues that may arisein an emergent situation, which may be even more likely in thepost-9/11 world. Students in these classes, benefited fromparticipating in that exploration, preparing them for the"real world" of law while giving back to theircommunity.
At the outset of the project, students were given a hypotheticalfact pattern that staged what appeared to be a terrorist attack oncampus. To defuse the seriousness of such an event, thehypothetical itself used actors known to the students as theirProfessors, and otherwise fictitious groups. Students received thehypothetical positively, understanding that there will be legalimplications to any Homeland Security issue.
Each class was divided into five student groups, resulting in tengroups giving consideration to the project. Each group researchedthe project independently of the others, and brought uniqueperspectives to the project. No two groups produced the sameanalysis. Although all groups identified pertinent case andstatutory law, some groups sought other information to enhancetheir understanding of the issues involved in the project. Othersources of information included guidelines from fire safety groups,information from state administrative agencies, and even interviewswith practicing attorneys. The end result confirmed the utility ofthis method as no two groups produced an identical projectanalysis.
Participation in this project accrued some great benefits to thestudents. For instance, both classes learned that a set of factsseemingly complex on their face do not necessarily yield similarlycomplex legal analyses. For instance, the project enhanced studentunderstanding of "duty" and "immunity"- important concepts to the study of Torts. In addition,students necessarily stretched themselves to think critically whenfaced with a fact scenario that is new to them - a practicalskill they will bring to the workplace.
Furthermore, this project will also offer a great service to thepublic entities that are first responders in situations ofdisaster. Public entities can review the work of the students, ascompiled by their Professors, for guidance into the legal issuesthat might emerge in "failure to respond" cases.
For some students, Torts is among the first classes they will takein the paralegal program. Based on this, a few students expressed aconcern that they were not yet prepared to take on a project ofthis magnitude. The work produced by the students, however,demonstrated that they were well equipped to analyze the factpattern critically and soundly. Although specific follow-up to theproject is not necessary, the baseline research performed in thecontext of the class could provide a foundation for a uniqueindependent study experience for students seeking additionalinsight into other liability issues surrounding terror.
Overall, the project was a great success, pushed the students toapply themselves deeply and critically, and produced usefulinformation for the community.