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Woburn: A Game of Discovery

This lesson is available only in a non-standard lesson format. As CALI updates the format of this lesson, we will continue to make this lesson available to you and your students in its current form because we believe it still has educational value. While this lesson still, essentially, runs as intended, there are potential technical problems: 

  1. there is no way to print the score certificate standard in most CALI lessons; 
  2. there is no ScoreSave feature and, thus, it is incompatible with LessonLink; and 
  3. the built-in save feature has been disabled. It was unreliable and did not work as the lesson lead students to believe.

Because of these printing and saving complications, if you assign or suggest this lesson, we highly recommend you not require any sort of proof of completion from your students.

Effective December 1, 2006, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were amended to reflect changes in discovery resulting from the electronic storage of information. CALI's lessons do not yet reflect these amendments. As each lesson is revised to reflect the amended rules, the lesson's catalog description will be updated to enable students and faculty to easily tell which lessons include the amended rules.

This game is designed to introduce students to the fundamentals of the discovery process. It is based on the acclaimed book "A Civil Action," by Jonathan Harr, and draws its problems from the litigation arising out of the contamination of the Aberjona aquifer in Woburn, Massachusetts.

Woburn provides students with a unique opportunity to acquaint themselves with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure regarding discovery in the context of a concrete, real-life case. Assuming the roles of plaintiffs' and defendants' attorneys, the players alternate making decisions about when and how to disclose or request discovery of certain pieces of information, as well as when to cooperate with and when to oppose their opponent's discovery efforts. The simulation is highly interactive, with the computer taking the role of Judge Skinner, who occasionally intervenes to rule on discovery motions.

The thirteen problem sets included with Woburn cover a wide variety of topics, including:

  • Mandatory initial and supplemental disclosure requirements;
  • Proper use of various methods of discovery (subpoenas, interrogatories, depositions, requests for document production, medical examinations, requests for admission);
  • Expert witness reports;
  • Work product and privilege defenses;
  • Cost-shifting for discovery activities;
  • Attorney's fees awards; and
  • Sanctions for conduct in violation of the rules.

Woburn will teach students the details of the rules. It will also illuminate the strategic dimensions of discovery. While pursuing their discovery efforts within the context of the rules, the players are forced to think strategically about the costs of various discovery activities, time constraints, and their reputation with the judge, jury, and the legal community at large. Frivolous motions are punished by a loss of reputation; time-consuming document requests may exhaust a player's financial resources. The need to juggle these non-legal factors brings the rules to life, showing the student how particular rules affect attorneys' decision-making processes in concrete situations.

The game is to be played out of class, on the student's own schedule. At the end the students will have internalized the structure and dynamics of the discovery rules, and be ready to discuss the more conceptual or policy-oriented issues in class.

This new, internet-based interface makes Woburn easily accessible and easy to play. On-screen reports let the players know at all times how their discovery efforts are progressing, and pictures of the actual persons involved in the trial as well as of the contamination site, court documents, and so forth, further heighten the impact of the game.

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