Whether it be bombs going off at the Boston Marathon finish line or a D.C. sniper on the loose, the country’s top decision-makers are tasked with keeping the U.S. safe from any and all national security threats. Now, law students are being prepped to deal with hot seat situations, too. At least that was the goal of a two-day simulation at the Georgetown University Law Center last weekend that asked students to use law, politics and public opinion to mitigate a threat.
A total of 80 law students from nearly a dozen law schools participated the National Security Crisis Law Invitational, a simulation developed by Laura Donohue, director of Georgetown’s Center on National Security and the Law, eight years ago.
“There is a lot about how we teach in law school that doesn’t work for students who are jumping into national security law,” Donohue said in an interview with The National Law Journal. “We teach the law as it is written, not how it is applied. Law is one of many competing considerations during a national security crisis. How do you talk with policymakers? How do you bring the law into the conversation?”
Donohue said that she created the simulation as a way to help students understand how best to apply the law during real world, high-pressure crises. It’s in these stressful times that your gut reaction has to be the right one. Your actions have consequences.
Leading up to the National Security Crisis Law Invitational, students spend several months hitting the books on national security law, as their performances on Georgetown’s campus are accessed by highly regarded national security experts, including James Baker, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and Rosemary Hart, special counsel in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.
This is only the second year that law students from outside of Georgetown have been invited to take part in the simulation. Students at this year’s invitational came from American University Washington College of Law; Cornell Law School; George Washington University Law School; Indiana University Maurer School of Law–Bloomington; New York University School of Law; Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law; Stanford Law School; Syracuse University College of Law; University of Virginia School of Law; and The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School.
Teams acted as departments within the National Security Council and were paired with mentors with a background working within the agency students were assigned.
Practitioners, Georgetown alumni and 55 professors took on staff roles for the president, who was represented by Georgetown Dean William Treanor. As the students worked, they received updates from fictional version of the Associated Press and a televised news network to create “sound” to make the decision-making process more difficult for students to navigate. Students had to decipher the difference between relevant information and just chatter in order to determine their crisis response.