UAlberta Law sessional instructors rewarded for revamping wills and estates course

Doris Bonora and Erin Lafuente receive Pringle/Royal Teaching Excellence Award

Sarah Kent - 14 August 2020

Doris Bonora, ‘86 LLB, and Erin Lafuente, ‘01 LLB, were jointly honoured with the 2020 Pringle/Royal Teaching Excellence Award for their innovations in the classroom and their commitment to student learning.

Bonora and Lafuente, both Edmonton partners at Dentons, undertook a major overhaul of the wills and estates course this past academic year and the effort paid off.

“We had several comments from students saying that they had never considered a career in wills and estates but that after our class it was a topic area they would consider based on our passion for our practice,” said Bonora and Lafuente in their award nomination letter.

When Bonora co-taught the course in 2018 with another instructor, she felt uninspired by the lecture format of the class. She and Lafuente, a previous guest lecturer, knew they needed to find new ways to get students engaged and excited about the topic of wills.

“People were taking notes for the purposes of taking notes. A common question was ‘Is that going to be on the exam?’ ” said Lafuente. “It felt artificial when we really just want students to be excited about learning.”

In revamping the course, they planned student-led presentations, added a class participation component and designed a hands-on assignment in which students practised drafting a will for a fictional person.

“We really thought this was an amazing way to give them a skill that almost every lawyer uses in their future practice,” said Bonora and Lafuente.

The change in students’ interest was quickly apparent. “We stayed after class to mentor and answer questions about drafting and the estate planning process,” they said.