National Security Pedagogy: The Role of Simulations

Journal of National Security Law and Policy, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 489-547, 2012

Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 13-004

50 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2013 Last revised: 24 Jul 2014

See all articles by Laura Donohue

Laura Donohue

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: 2012


This article challenges the dominant pedagogical assumptions in the legal academy. It begins by briefly considering the state of the field of national security, noting the rapid expansion in employment and the breadth of related positions that have been created post-9/11. It considers, in the process, how the legal academy has, as an institutional matter, responded to the demand.

Part III examines traditional legal pedagogy, grounding the discussion in studies initiated by the American Bar Association, the Carnegie Foundation, and others. It suggests that using the law-writ-large as a starting point for those interested in national security law is a mistake. Instead, it makes more sense to work backwards from the skills most essential in this area of the law.

The article then proposes six pedagogical goals that serve to distinguish national security law: (1) understanding the law as applied, (2) dealing with factual chaos and uncertainty, (3) obtaining critical distance — including, inter alia, when not to give legal advice, (4) developing nontraditional written and oral communication skills, (5) exhibiting leadership, integrity, and good judgment in a high-stakes, highly-charged environment, and (6) creating continued opportunities for self-learning. Equally important to the exercise of each of these skills is the ability to integrate them in the course of performance.

These goals, and the subsidiary points they cover, are neither conclusive nor exclusive. Many of them incorporate skills that all lawyers should have — such as the ability to handle pressure, knowing how to modulate the mode and content of communications depending upon the circumstances, and managing ego, personality, and subordination. To the extent that they are overlooked by mainstream legal education, however, and present in a unique manner in national security law, they underscore the importance of more careful consideration of the skills required in this particular field.

Having proposed a pedagogical approach, the article turns in Part IV to the question of how effective traditional law school teaching is in helping to students reach these goals. Doctrinal and experiential courses both prove important. The problem is that in national security law, the way in which these have become manifest often falls short of accomplishing the six pedagogical aims. Gaps left in doctrinal course are not adequately covered by devices typically adopted in the experiential realm, even as clinics, externships, and moot court competitions are in many ways ill-suited to national security.

The article thus proposes in Part V a new model for national security legal education, based on innovations currently underway at Georgetown Law. NSL Sim 2.0 adapts a doctrinal course to the special needs of national security. Course design is preceded by careful regulatory, statutory, and Constitutional analysis, paired with policy considerations. The course takes advantage of new and emerging technologies to immerse students in a multi-day, real-world exercise, which forces students to deal with an information-rich environment, rapidly changing facts, and abbreviated timelines. It points to a new model of legal education that advances students in the pedagogical goals identified above, while complementing, rather than supplanting, the critical intellectual discourse that underlies the value of higher legal education.

Keywords: national security pedagogy, national security lawyers, clinical education, total immersion simulations, national security, legal education, legal pedagogy

JEL Classification: K00, K30, K39

Suggested Citation

Donohue, Laura, National Security Pedagogy: The Role of Simulations (2012). Journal of National Security Law and Policy, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 489-547, 2012, Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 13-004, Available at SSRN:

Laura Donohue (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

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202 662-9282 (Fax)

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