Teaching Regulatory Law Through Online Publishing

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Students who participate in RegBlog gain in-depth knowledge about regulation and hone vital professional skills.

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If you are reading these words on RegBlog, you have already discovered the innovation in legal education that I would like to tell you about. Despite its name, RegBlog is not really a blog. Yes, it is an online publication, but it is one that specializes in serious, in-depth discussion of regulatory issues, featuring sophisticated commentary and analysis each weekday throughout the year. Its editorial process is highly selective, and among RegBlog‘s contributors have been the world’s leading regulatory scholars and practitioners. Every piece that appears in RegBlog undergoes multiple rounds of extensive editorial review before being published. Facts are checked; grammar is corrected; and organizational structure is streamlined. Both substance and style are scrutinized closely.

As RegBlog is produced by students at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, it also serves as a novel vehicle for teaching these students about regulation and helping them hone the professional skills they will need to make their careers in fields affected by regulation. RegBlog’s student editors and writers learn much through the work they put into the publishing enterprise, consistently reporting that they make great strides in their understanding of regulation and in significantly improving their writing skills.

When I launched RegBlog more than five years ago, however, I admittedly did not view the publication as a method of teaching my students about regulation. Rather, I initially conceived of its educational value in broad terms, as a public service provided by the Penn Program on Regulation. Staffed at its inception by myself and a single research assistant, RegBlog has always offered civic-minded readers a window into the crucial but too-hidden world of regulatory law and policy. Since its founding, RegBlog’s core mission has been to foster greater public awareness of the regulatory process and the substantive issues addressed by regulators around the world.

But not long after its creation, I came to see how I could also use RegBlog to provide substantial value for my law students, using online publishing to impart deeper knowledge about regulation and helping sharpen vital professional skills. By expanding student participation and making some of my classroom efforts synergistic with RegBlog, I realized I could turn what started as a public outreach service into a distinctive and valuable teaching tool.

RegBlog is now built around and supported by a yearlong seminar that I offer at the University of Pennsylvania Law School called “Regulatory Law and Policy”—a popular course through which students master core concepts of administrative law and regulatory policy analysis as well as explore advanced and specialized topics in the field. In addition to reading and critiquing current regulatory scholarship, and benefiting from guest lectures delivered by regulatory officials and practitioners who I bring in from Washington, D.C. and elsewhere, students learn by writing a series of essays during the term on regulatory and administrative law issues. Much written work that they produce eventually forms the basis of what RegBlog publishes.

Producing content for RegBlog is an elaborate yet carefully designed process, aimed at ensuring that every essay that RegBlog publishes is of the highest quality: thoroughly researched, well-organized, and clearly drafted. For students, the process begins when I divide the class into two groups and assign them to write short papers every other week, with students in each group submitting work on alternating weeks. Students can choose their own topics, either entirely on their own or from topics that members of the editorial board or I pitch to them during any a given week.

When students submit their essays for my grading and feedback, they also submit their essays for consideration by the senior leaders on RegBlog’s editorial board—a group of third-year law students, selected as part of a competitive application process by the previous year’s board, who manage all aspects of RegBlog’s operations, including selecting, editing, and producing the work that is published daily on RegBlog. Each week, after careful vetting and close consultation with one another, the board members select the best student essays to invite for possible publication. Students invited to revise their work for publication not only learn from and incorporate the detailed feedback that I provide them, but they also benefit from the guidance subsequently provided by the editorial board members who are assigned to work with them to polish their work for publication.

Due not only to my own high expectations for their writing but also the competitive nature of the weekly essay-selection process, students take very seriously the written work that they produce for the seminar, putting a tremendous amount of time into researching, writing, and editing their essays. Along the way, they learn a remarkable amount about regulation. Some students decide to explore entirely new topics with each new essay, while others pursue a common theme, focusing all of their papers in a particular area of regulation, such as banking regulation or international trade. Those who choose the former, exploratory route frequently come to find new professional interests and passions due to the varied issues they encounter and choose to research. Those who take the latter route, concentrating on a specific regulatory domain, start to form a considerable amount of expertise, even in highly specialized fields where few law school courses are offered.

The seminar’s paper assignments, and my concomitant high expectations and the competitive essay-selection process, not only provide students with a unique education in regulation; they also afford students an excellent opportunity to cultivate and strengthen various writing skills that are essential to success in the legal profession. Students come to appreciate the art of brevity and internalize the importance of precision. In addition to setting a word limit of 1,000 words for each paper, I place a premium on students’ writing clearly and engagingly to speak to a busy, nonspecialist reader. Meeting this standard necessarily requires that students write concisely, sometimes breaking bad habits that they have acquired from writing long papers in college (which too seldom provide any incentive for writing succinctly). More than just placing an exacting constraint on exposition, the need to write concisely about highly complex regulatory issues demands that students acquire a very deep, comprehensive understanding of the substantive issues about which they seek to communicate.

Students gain a newfound appreciation for the aphorism that all good writing is rewriting. Not only are they expected to edit, revise, and polish their work carefully before submitting it for a grade, but those students whose work is selected for RegBlog’s publication process find themselves revising still further. Further, I meet with each student at least once per term to review a rough draft of their work, although some students avail themselves of my office hours each week to gain feedback that they can use before submitting their work for a grade and for possible publication. One way or the other, most students are writing or rewriting every single week of the term, strengthening skills that they will use in their careers when writing for busy clients, over-worked judges, and harried government officials.

In addition to learning more about regulation and strengthening their writing abilities, students gain other professional skills by virtue of the fact that RegBlog is a professional enterprise. As a daily publication—one that, for the past five years has featured new content each business day, including during holidays, exam periods, and school breaks—RegBlog imposes a particularly demanding set of expectations for everyone involved in its production. Students must learn to embrace the fast-paced, high-pressure environment associated with operating a daily, high-quality publication.

Within this intensive work environment, board members and students in the seminar employ a variety of valuable professional skills. They must meet deadlines, respond promptly to emails, pay close attention to detail, and learn to collaborate with one another. Members of the editorial board practice leadership and communication skills. Everyone practices teamwork. In these ways, RegBlog requires students to live up to the very kind of professional expectations that they will need to meet throughout their careers. In short, RegBlog is an experiential educational opportunity.

RegBlog’s only downside as a pedagogical tool may lie in the difficulty of its replication. It demands a lot of time and effort, not only of the students but also of the instructor. I teach a yearlong seminar instead of the more typical single semester one. I engage closely with students at all stages of their writing. I read every essay that they publish and am frequently asked for guidance, especially as they seek to learn about new regulatory issues. Although I would encourage other faculty to consider the RegBlog model, I must also warn them of the intensity of the time and energy it has demanded.

Still, I have found teaching and advising students through this model to be immensely rewarding. Thanks to the students’ highly motivated efforts, RegBlog has made a demonstrable impact in furtherance of its original goals of educating the public and of providing an important source of information and analysis to the regulatory profession. And in so successfully achieving its initial mission, RegBlog has also worked exceedingly well over the last five years as a tool to support my classroom goals. The impressive pieces of writing that my students routinely produce, along with the eminence of the outside contributors who regularly submit their work to RegBlog for these same students to edit and publish, offer perhaps the best testament to the success of this remarkable innovation in teaching regulatory law.

Cary Coglianese

Cary Coglianese is the Edward B. Shils Professor of Law, Professor of Political Science, and Director of the Penn Program on Regulation at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He is the founder of and faculty advisor to RegBlog.

This essay is part of The Regulatory Review’s five-part series, Innovations in Teaching Regulatory Law.