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October 27, 2006

I'm glad to be aboard...

I'm looking forward to being a part of the discussions on this blog.  Already, I can see that the core struggle in any reform will be at the heart of what we discuss-- the tension between tradition and innovation.   Whatever we do that is new and innovative usually takes time and resources away from something which we were doing before.   For example, I am wondering what was taken out of the Harvard curriculum to make way for the new classes.

The costs of that tension are sometimes high.  Above all else, it often leads to a schism between older and younger faculty, with the younger faculty more often being the proponents of change.   Is there anything that can be done to mitigate that danger?

Mark Osler

October 27, 2006 in About this blog | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Innovative law school clinics

I had the great fortune this year to be asked to cover one of Ohio State's most innovative clinics, our Legislation Clinic.  (The Clinic Director, Professor Steve Huefner, this term is spending extra time on the many innovative projects being done by our Election Law team.)

As explained briefly here and detailed fully here, OSU's Legislation Clinic "provides a front-row view of the legislative process in the Buckeye State as students work directly with legislative leaders and their staffs on matters pending or anticipated to arise before the Ohio House and Senate."  I have been having an extraordinary experience with the Legislation Clinic this fall not only because of its interesting topics during an election season, but also because I enjoy the close student-faculty contact that the clinic fosters and because I have the pleasure of co-teaching with a superstar clinical professor, Terri Enns.

I have heard that a few other schools have some legislatively-oriented clinical offerings, but I am pretty sure the structure of OSU's Legislation Clinic is one-of-a-kind.  And, in this context, my experiences leads me to a request:

I would like readers to note — and assess or promote or even propose — unique clinical programs at law schools.

Thanks.

October 27, 2006 in Teaching -- new courses | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 26, 2006

Wisdom from whatever source derived

I'm very pleased to take part in Law School Innovation.  For my first post here, I am reprising an item posted earlier this week on MoneyLaw: "Wisdom from whatever source derived".  The conversation has evolved quickly, as James Edward Maule and I subsequently swapped reply posts.

In any event, I think it's worth starting the conversation anew here at Law School Innovation.

Jim Chen    


Wisdom from whatever source derived

In commentary on "Law school diagnosis" and in a post on his own blog, James Edward Maule suggests, only partly in jest, that Harvard Law School's vaunted curricular reform proposal can be duplicated by the simple expedient of teaching a basic course in federal income taxation as a required component of the first year:

Much time and effort could be saved, and the same worthwhile goals accomplished, by moving Introduction to Federal Taxation, as many of us teach it, into the first year. What's in the package? Constitutional law analysis? Yes. Administrative law principles? Yes. Statutory and regulatory analysis? Yes. Application of law to facts? Yes. Problem solving? Yes. Planning to avoid problems? Yes. Discussion of ethical considerations? Yes. Awareness of client needs? Yes. Development of interviewing and counselling techniques? Yes. Attention to international issues? Yes. Incorporation of business, social, economic, and political facets of the topics? Yes.

I will now construe this suggestion as a serious proposal for reforming the first year curriculum.

Jim Maule isn't the first person to suggest the inclusion of a basic income tax course in the mandatory first-year curriculum.  Many, many years ago, back when she and I shared an employer, Karen Burke made the same suggestion to me.  There's much to recommend the idea.  Most students will take basic tax eventually; those who do not almost surely should.  Jim and Karen are right: the course is filled with potential.  It has everything a law school course should have, plus the added bonus of being relevant to the future professional interests of virtually every law school graduate.  As an inveterate generalist, I've always been fascinated by the idea of adding tax to my teaching repertoire.  It covers the full range of business law issues and provides the perfect platform for considering, at the highest manageable levels of abstraction, the very purposes of government.  In teaching law students, we should happily accept wisdom from whatever source derived.

There is only one problem.  Unfortunately, I think it's insurmountable.

First-year students, when asked to extract abstract principles -- legal process, canons of interpretation, some sense of common law versus statutory or regulatory lawmaking, etc. -- in favor of substantive doctrines from a law school course will extract . . . substantive doctrines.  I haven't decided whether the reason for this lies in the nature of American undergraduate education or in some debilitating facet of legal education.  It might be even worse.  The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our schools, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.

For purposes of deciding whether to include income tax -- or admiralty or worker's compensation or insurance or any other substantive subject -- to the first-year curriculum as our students' introduction to legislation and legal process, none of this matters.  What does matter is whether we can use tax or any other substantive subject as a sneaky back door to teaching a rigorous course in legislation, legal process, or "the administrative state."  In my experience, we can't.

October 26, 2006 in Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The wimpy HLS modification of the 1L curriculum

There is a lot to say about the new 1L curriculum at Harvard Law School, and here is just an abridged sampling of some of the blogosphere reactions:

Though I joked here that I was disappointed HLS did not add a sentencing course to the first year, my real disappointment is with how "wimpy" the changes are. 

HLS added three new courses — a course in legislation/regulation; a course dealing with international law; and a course on legal problem solving — that nobody can assert are unimportant.  But HLS did not make the hard decision to replace any of the existing "traditional" 1L courses.  Though it reduced the size of some of these courses, this was perhaps a market-driven necessity because courses bigger than four credits are becoming an anomaly in the modern law school curriculum.

Gutsy reform would have been to eliminate or radically transform one or more of the traditional 1L offerings.  Property made sense 100 years ago when most students were sons of rich landowners who could need to know how to convey estates; today, a host of intellectual property topics are far more important for the average lawyer to know.  Civ Pro, Contracts and Torts have kept up with the times a bit better, but additional "renovations" and innovations in all of these traditional subjects are still needed to keep up with the modern legal times.

Criminal Law, the 1L course I teach, definitely needs modernizing because, in my view, a focus on the Model Penal Code misses the most common and pressing controversies in modern criminal justice systems.  A few years ago, I have explained my views on this front in an article in the Ohio State journal of Criminal Law with the quirky title "The Model Penal Code Second: Might 'Film Schools' Be in Need of a Remake?".  That article can be accessed at this link, and here is a snippet:

[T]he modern realities of the criminal justice system have made many components and concerns of the original MPC seem increasingly academic and almost naively optimistic.  This is an especially disquieting evolution because, in my view, what made the original MPC so brilliant — and ultimately so important and successful — was its ability to be pragmatic and realistic while also being principled and righteous.  In today's world, though the MPC's principles still look fresh, its realism looks very dated. Consequently, while the original MPC can still be used to teach modern law students about fundamental principles of criminal law, no longer can it effectively illuminate the many modern challenges which now impede the application of these principles in practice.

In sum, I am disappointed that HLS took a wimpy approach to curricular reform: by merely adding to the 1L experience, rather than taking steps to seriously reshape it, Harvard Law School has done very little to modernize legal education.

October 26, 2006 in Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 24, 2006

What law school year "works" best?

Orin Kerr here over at The Volokh Conspiracy notes and comments upon this National Law Journal article on how some "elite" law schools dean are reacting to the new 1L Harvard Law School curriculum.  I will have a lot to say about the new HLS curriculum in future posts, but I could not resist noting this remarkable quote from Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer:

"The first year is the one year that works," he said. "It is rather bizarre that, in general, law schools have focused on reforming the first year when the problems and failures in the curriculum are all in the second and third years."

Wow!  Though surely all three years of law school could benefit from more innovative programming, it is rather stunning that Dean Kramer is so confident that the first year "works" and that all the "problems and failures" are in the second and third years.  I am particularly wondering what evidence he has that first year "works" and what he thinks are the "problems and failures" in second and third years.

In my view, the varied options and opportunities given to 2L and 3L law students — both inside and outside the classroom — help empower law students to make these years "work" for them.  However, 1L year is so tightly scripted, I fear it works well only for the rare souls (i.e., most folks who become law professors) who really enjoy figuring out the puzzles of the common law and the legal histories behind modern legal realities.

October 24, 2006 in Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

If you build it, they will come...

I am pleased to announce that a number of terrifically thoughtful law professors have already expressed interest in joining LSI.  Though I will save an official announcement for when all the particulars are worked out, I wanted to post again to reiterate my open invitation for LSI contributors to include not just law professors, but also law students, practicing lawyers and anyone else interested in law school design and evolution.

As new contributors come on, I'm working on the infrastructure of identifying and organizing posts by author as well as by topic.  But, because I am only accustom to solo blogging, this may take a little time to get right.  In the meantime, I hope readers will start using the comments to begin the process of turning LSI into a group effort.

UPDATE:  I just realized I had the comments requiring approval, but now that's fixed and comments should be showing up.

October 24, 2006 in About this blog | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 23, 2006

Innovative law school courses

I hope in future posts to address in depth Harvard Law School's new 1L curriculum.  But before embarking on that project, I wanted to use this new blog to collect information abour innovative courses already in place at law school around the country.

I surmise that most law schools have at least a handful of innovative course offerings, but that most faculty and students are not aware of all the innovate coursework taking place at their home schools, let alone at other schools in their region and nationwide.  And yet, occassional innovations notwithstanding, law schools traditions and administrative realities can often hinder innovative pedagogy.  So, dear readers ...

Please use the comments to report on innovative law school courses that are in place or that you would like to see developed.

I will go first by spotlighting one course I developed at Ohio State.  A few years ago, I created a one-week summer course entitled "Judging and Clerking," which I co-taught with a local federal district judge.  The course provided a great setting to discuss and debate important judicial administration issues that do not readily arise in other courses — issues ranging from how judges should be appointed/elected to the significance of unpublished opinions to the impact and import of judicial clerks. 

October 23, 2006 in Teaching -- new courses | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

October 22, 2006

Why shouldn't all law schools regularly host real oral arguments?

As I was gearing up this new blog adventure, Dave Hoffman at Concurring Opinion reacted to hearing appellate arguments at Temple School of Law by suggesting here that states "stop building new appellate courtrooms, and have law schools (in effect) subsidize some of the costs of the court system in return for educational benefits."  Howard Bashman of How Appealing, who happened to be one of the appellate lawyers involved in the arguments at Temple, followed up here by suggesting  that one lesson law students in attendance should have drawn "is the extent to which appellate courts are forced to ration justice due to the crushing burden of an overwhelming caseload."

These two intriguing posts got me thinking that all law schools should regularly host real oral arguments — and, ideally, lots of different kinds of oral arguments involving different kinds of courts hearing different kinds of cases.  A very enriching and useful aspect of my clerking experience was observing oral arguments and discovering the wide diversity of judicial and litigant styles.  Now, as a law professor, I continue to learn a lot from reading SCOTUS oral argument transcripts and from watching/listening to on-line oral arguments in my field.

So, furthering Dave's idea, I would encourage law schools to actively recruit (local and distant) courts to conduct oral arguments within its walls.  Law professors could actively develop innovative educational programming around these arguments — by having students read briefs before the argument and perhaps even script questions for the judges; by having students draft opinions based on what they saw and perhaps even write reviews of the lawyers' and judges' performances.

Does anyone know if any law schools host real oral arguments on a consistent basis?  Does anyone see any real downsides to doing so?

October 22, 2006 in Service -- legal profession | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

A forum for discussing ... law school innovations

Welcome to the launch of a new blogging adventure: Law School Innovation (LSI).  My goal starting this blog is to create a forum for discussing ... law school innovations. 

As a regular law blog reader, I often notice much blogging about law school dynamics and new law school endeavors at blogs such as Concurring Opinions and Empirical Legal Studies and MoneyLaw and PrawfsBlawg and The Volokh Conspiracy.  (I sometime go "off-topic" at my home blog to discuss on-line companions to law journals and related bloggy topics (see, e.g., posts here and here).)

I thought it might be useful to have a dedicated blog home for these sorts of discussions, and Paul Caron and Joe Hodnicki were kind enough to embrace this new project into their Law Professor Blog Network.  Topics ranging from Harvard Law School's new 1L curriculum to the recent emergence of Supreme Court clinics to blogging as scholarship to PowerPoint and internet access in the classroom are just some of the issues I hope will get discussed here.

Though my ambitions for this blog are huge, my time is limited.  Thus, I hope other law professors, law students, practicing lawyers and anyone else interested in law school design and evolution will become regular contributors.  I would be happy — indeed, eager — to bring on as co-blogger anyone prepared to do a post or two a week on law school innovation topics.   Also, I have created a Board of Advisors for this blog.  I have no idea exactly what Advisors will do, but at least such a Board is an innovation in the blogosphere. 

I encourage early visitors to use the comments to tell me whether this new blog adventure seems like a good idea.  If I get encouraging feedback, I'll probably invest (too much) energy in this new project; if the feedback is less encouraging, this blog may wither away once college basketball season gets going.

October 22, 2006 in About this blog | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack