March 30, 2007
Carnegie, et.al.: why I have hope that change can happen
I sense, hovering around many of our discussions here, a certain pessimism about law schools' ability to change and cynicism about their desire to. Mark broached the topic directly when he asked: "Given that faculties are given to replicate themselves, is there any reason to think that the Carnegie Report will make a difference where Frank [of Yale Law and the New School] failed?" Likewise, Doug more recently asked apropos to the same topic: "1. How many law professors who are not deans will read this report? 2. How many law students will embrace and encourage the report's suggestions and will they be willing to 'vote with their feet' as some law schools innovate?"
My response to these questions emerge from my perspective as a former consumer of and current adjunct to law school, which puts me in a different position than Mark and Doug. I do not know what obstacles you face in trying to lead change and turn nice ideas like the Carnegie study into solid action. I glean from your comments that there are considerable structural and institutional barriers that include cultural preferences and incentives that lean against reform. I would love to read more analysis of these challenges.
I would also love to read more about avenues for change. It heartens me that there is a community right here committed to change. Do we share a common vision of what must happen? Who else agrees? Whom must we convince?
I commend this short essay to would-be reformers: Divided No More: A movement approach to educational reform. It's directed at
...faculty [who] have realized that even if teaching is a back-of-the-bus thing for their institutions, it is a front-of-the-bus thing for them. They have realized that a passion for teaching was what animated their decision to enter the academy, and they do not want to lose the primal energy of their professional lives. They have realized that they care deeply about the lives of their students, and they do not want to abandon the young. They have realized that teaching is an enterprise in which they have a heavy investment of personal identity and meaning–and they have decided to reinvest their lives, even if they do not receive dividends from their colleges or from their colleagues."
Does this passage describe you? Is it what motivates you to participate in a blog called "Law School Innovation"?
If so, then let's talk about the world as we'd like to see it. Maybe we can't change all law schools - not yet. But I'm convinced there are many law professors who would like to see a change. Let's talk about how we can support each other to do so.
The fact that the Carnegie Foundation gave us a map for reform but no vehicle is not cause for despair. It's people, not foundations, who make change happen.
March 28, 2007
What is Pepperdine Doing Right?
If the leaked U.S. News rankings are correct, one of the big changes is the ranking of Pepperdine, which jumped 21 spots in the right direction. I realize that the majority attitude regarding these rankings is to disdain them, but no one can doubt that they do matter, and that they do reflect in a general way the level of regard academics have for various schools. Whether they admit it or not, all schools are making choices so as to improve or maintain their ranking.
From what I can see, Pepperdine has made some very good choices. The following observations are from a complete outsider; other than attending a few conferences at Pepperdine over the years, I have no special knowledge of what they are up to. Certain of their actions, however, have been obvious even to outsiders like me:
1) Pepperdine is not only encouraging and enabling the publication of scholarship, but they are having their professors get out of town and promote that scholarship in other places. It seems that most of the conferences I receive notice of have someone from Pepperdine on a panel, and it is hard to walk twenty feet at an AALS conference without running into someone from Pepperdine.
2) Pepperdine has taken a leadership role within the bloc of Religiously Affiliated Schools, and more than perhaps any other institution has hosted conferences directed at this group. Pepperdine's Bob Cochran is probably the most significant person within this movement nationally. Given the sheer number of schools that fall into this group, the impact is significant.
3) Pepperdine has a very high-profile Dean (Ken Starr), who has remained extremely active on the national scene (most recently arguing the "Bong Hits for Jesus" case in the U.S. Supreme Court) while still teaching at the school and becoming a core part of that school's identity.
-- Mark Osler
Thoughts on US News rankings?
This year's US News rankings are out, and they are already being discussed broadly around the blogosphere as detailed here and here and here. Commentary, rants and even praise(?) concerning the latest rankings are encouraged in the comments.
I'll start with a sports observation based on my own cynicism of the US News methodology. I have long thought that success of a school's sports teams might raise US News rankings because of the positive buzz and name recognition that comes with football and basketball success. But, providing anecdotal disproof of this hypothesis, the two schools that have dominated the college sports headlines this year, Florida and my own Ohio State, fared very differently in this year's rankings.
Posted by DAB
March 27, 2007
The Carnegie Study: impressions and responses?
The Carnegie study's out, and I'm curious about your reactions to it: Does it capture the most important issues facing legal education today? Do you and your students agree with its conclusions and recommendations? What doesn't jibe?
More importantly, what happens next: What changes will come about as a result of this report? What can we, in our different roles, do to advance the parts of the study we feel are true and compelling?
- Gene Koo
New Skills, New Learning : Technology and Legal Education
I'm pleased to announce that my whitepaper is finally complete and "published." Many people have helped me with the ideas in this paper, and while the final result is intended to suggest general trends rather than "prove" matters to scientific certainty, I hope it raises interesting issues and proves useful for those involved with planning legal instruction and education.
One issue covered in the paper, which I've touched on previously, echoes the Carnegie study's concern about skills training in law schools today. Not surprisingly, the attorneys we surveyed often (75%) identified skills as something they wished they had learned before the end of their first year of practice. And, as I mentioned earlier, most employer aren't providing that training (only 36% report some kind of formal introduction to practice).
I encourage everyone to not just read the white paper, but also to correct, update, or extend it through the official wiki version. I know that, as a wide and shallow survey of the field, a lot is left uncovered. My hope is all of you will help to fill in the substantial gaps in research that I've left open.
(More detail and conjecture after the jump)
- Gene Koo
I review some of the important technology-related skills that lawyers need today:
- Information management in a world of data overload. A particularly interesting finding is that superior information seeking/searching is vital whether or not the attorney's employer has a robust knowledge management system in place. (When they do, it's needed to make any use of it; when they don't, it's needed to find stuff out in the wild).
- Techno-social skills for working in teams, which are increasingly large, complex, and multi-office (and even multi-national). Lawyers today don't really know how to use technology to keep these teams humming: 85% of the 100+ attorney firms have video conferencing tools, but only 16% of our respondents found these tools "useful."
- Meta-practice skills for setting up systems of practice: whether automated document assembly or coding of rules for e-discovery, understanding practice at the next level of abstraction, and being able to embody that practice in some form of technology, is increasingly a required practice management ability.
In terms of using technology to meet these needs, I focus on two main areas:
- Using technology to support authentic practice -- specifically, clinical programs should invest adequate resources to get their case management systems and related technologies fully staffed and operational.
- Creating simulations to convey specific learning. I don't just mean Second Life and its flashy ilk. See my previous posts (part 1; part 2; part 3 is still forthcoming).
One technology-related skill which I didn't really cover too closely, but which in retrospect I feel is particularly important for the majority of lawyers, is technology management. The case for why most law schools should cover this topic is pretty simple:
- Most lawyers are in small or solo practice.
- Small/solo practice attorneys have very little access to technology infrastructure or training.
- Lawyers in these practices bear a much larger responsibility for managing their offices than peers in larger firms, by simple division of labor.
The most compelling case for upgrading most attorneys' basic tech skills is the fact that, while the total number of attorneys is growing slowly, the proportion of them serving moderate- and low-income Americans is shrinking rapidly as mega-firms gobble up a larger percentage of practicing attorneys, especially younger ones. Yet, we all know that the deficit of services for average Americans is huge. Technology can help leverage these attorneys to bridge that gap, yet most solo and small-firm practitioners are starving for basic backoffice and similar technical support.
March 26, 2007
The Al Gore Law School?
What would a sustainable law school look like? What practices might a law school follow in order to reduce its adverse environmental impact? What works? What doesn't?
Consider some possible examples:
Coursepacks might be delivered electronically. However, I suspect that most, and perhaps all, students would simply print them out. Perhaps law schools could provide Sony Readers to students, allowing them to read (and mark-up) material without printing it out.
Electricity consumption might be reduced by, for example, reducing temperature management during off hours. However, students and faculty might occupy the building at all hours (this helps students prepare for their lives in practice).
Bicycling and walking might be encouraged.
Water use might be reduced in bathrooms, for example, by adopting new water-saving technologies.
March 25, 2007
Debating SSRN downloads and exclusions
Though Brian Leiter call himself a "skeptic about SSRN downloads," he created and posted here two lists of SSRN download rankings under the heading "Most Downloaded Law Faculties, 2006." A fully accurate heading for Brian's rankings would be "Most Downlaoded Law Faculties, 2006 (excluding one outlier)" because Brian decided and explained that it "was necessary to exclude Ohio State and Emory, whose presence in the top 15 was due entirely to one provocatively titled article by Christopher Fairman."
Professors Ann Bartow at Feminist Law Professors and Neil Buchanan at Dorf on Law and Ruth Colker here at LSI criticized Brian's decision to exclude one paper from his rankings. Ruth's expressed criticisms, which was sent via e-mail to Brian, begat an interesting e-mail discussion with Brian and others (on which I was cc:d). I learned a great deal from the series of back-and-forth e-mails and I asked the group if I could post parts of the exchange on LSI, but not everyone was interested in a full public airing of the e-mail dialogue that Ruth started.
Interestingly, Brian has now discussed aspects of this exchange in this new post that appears to be his defense of excluding one paper from his rankings. Brian's new post suggests that he believes that SSRN download rankings would be transformed from "a pretty weak measure of scholarly performance" to "just a joke" had he not excluded Chris's paper from his rankings.
As I explained on my home blog and as Neil lamented at Dorf on Law, there is a real risk that undue emphasis on SSRN downloads — which already seems to be a reality as evidenced by blog buzz here and here — could significantly distort how law professors produce, disseminate and market their scholarship. I am thus especially interested how folks are responding to Brian's SSRN rankings and to his exclusion decision.
Any further thoughts on SSRN download rankings or on Brian's defense of his rankings? (Comments need to be here because Brian does not enable comments on his blog.)
Posted by DAB