PUBLISHED:November 20, 2023

1L students learn key legal skills in Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions exercise


A new federal courts program is teaching law students how to maintain professionalism during heated discussions with differing perspectives.

Recently, as part of Duke Law’s professional development program, our 1L students engaged in an immersive, innovative courtroom exercise based on the Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions (CD3) program, a national federal courts initiative created by U.S. District Court Judge Robin L. Rosenberg ’89 with U.S. District Court Judge Beth Bloom. 

This was the first time the CD3 program has been offered to law students, reflecting “a strong statement from Duke Law that it values civility and that professionalism is a core component of the legal profession,” said Judge Rosenberg. Along with U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III ’87, Judge Rosenberg worked with Duke Law faculty, alumni, local attorneys affiliated with the Federal Bar Association, and our Office of Academic Affairs to facilitate the nearly three-hour classroom exercise.

“The ground rules for civil discourse, at the core of the CD3 program, provided a productive framework for the students to interact with each other on the issues raised in the Supreme Court cases featured in the program,” Judge Rosenberg said. “The students were engaged in all facets of the program. They shared their own challenges in navigating difficult conversations with people who hold different views on important topics.”

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Assistant Dean for Academic Initiatives Amanda Lacoff said, “This was a fantastic way to bring together our alumni, local attorneys, faculty, and 1Ls to emphasize and demonstrate the importance of practicing civil discourse as a professional skill, critical to their future careers as lawyers.”

The first-year students took on traditional courtroom roles – attorneys, judges, and jurors. While working through different aspects of the case, students were challenged with handling heated discussions, expressing differences of opinion, and maintaining professionalism both in and out of the courtroom.

“My short time out of law school has shown me that lawyers often operate in the gray, dealing with issues where it is easy for reasonable people to disagree and even feel strongly about their stances,” said Tranae Felicien ’22, who is currently clerking for Judge Rosenberg and assisted with organizing the program. “It’s great to have a program that highlights this as part of professional development at Duke!”

Read more about CD3 in a 2022 article in Judicature magazine,“Critical Life Skills Through Courtroom Experiences.”