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February 9, 2007

Does (law school) size matter?

A short piece in law student mag "The National Jurist" has me thinking about the importance and impact of the size of a law school.  The article, entitled "Shrinking law schools" (and available only in print), details that a "number of law schools are shrinking the size of their incoming classes or have said that they intend to do so."  The article discusses both the economic and possible rankings impact of such shrinkage.

Brian Leiter, who is quoted in the piece, has long noted that "[m]ore than one-third of the [US News] criteria that go in to the final score favor small schools and penalize large schools."  So one answer is clear: size does matter in the realities of US News ranking.  But, as Leiter and so many others stress, US News is a very imperfect (and harmful?) proxy for educational quality.

Notably, many top schools are radically different sizes.  I believe Harvard and NYU and Georgetown are among the largest law schools in the nation, while Yale and Stanford and Chicago are among the smallest.  I sense the national mean is somewhere around 600-700 students in the standard JD program, but I have no evidence that there is a pedagogically sound reason for that mean.

So, here are my questions: is there an "ideal" law school size for serving a law school's core educational mission?  Are there sound student-oriented reasons — other than economic or US News concerns — for a school to aspire to be larger or smaller?

Posted by DAB

February 9, 2007 in Serving students | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 8, 2007

Creating an AALS Section on Educational and Instructional Technology

I've posted an article on www.teknoids.net (a website for law school tech folks and their friends) calling for the creation of an AALS Section on Educational and Instructional Technology.    I thought I'd mention it here since many of our readers nay have an interest in the formation of this section.  From the post:

The idea is to have a Section that does an annual program that provides the AALS Annual Meeting attendees with information about, and demonstrations of, the latest in educational and instructional technologies. The Section would provide a forum for interested faculty to interact with IT professionals in a situation that outside of the normal structures of the IT/faculty relationship.

I would invite anyone interested in creating this section to join the community at teknoids and help us plan.
Elmer Masters

February 8, 2007 in Technology -- for advancing scholarship, Technology -- in general, Technology -- in the classroom | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Seeking resources on modern curricular realities

As detailed in posts linked below, I am very interested in the structure and evolution of the law school curriculum.  Yesterday, my interest found expression at a faculty meeting where I suggested a "curriculum retreat" so our faculty could have a collective discussion about the successes and challenges of the past, present and expected future of OSU's standard curriculum.

Relatedly, given recent reforms at Harvard and Stanford and elsewhere, I am wondering if there already exists a useful summary/analysis of modern curricular realities at most law schools.  I suspect the ABA and the AALS might have a summary/analysis of current curricular norms and trends, but I am not quite sure where to look for such materials.  Also, I suspect that faculty members or administrators at schools considering reforms might have some internal summary/analysis.  I would be grateful for anyone willing to share this kind of work.

Some related curriculum posts:

February 8, 2007 in Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 7, 2007

Detroit Mercy School of Law Launches Law Firm Program

The National Law Journal is reporting that the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law launched its pilot Law Firm Program, a series of courses that simulates big-firm lawyering, this semester and has 18 students enrolled. Starting next year, it will require all of its 180 third-year students to complete at least four credits in the program. Students will be able to take up to 26 credits of the program's courses, which use the same numeric grading system as in most of the school's other courses. Cross-posted on Law Librarian Blog. Joe Hodnicki

February 7, 2007 in Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 6, 2007

Should advocacy count as scholarship?

Law professors' involvement in individual cases, often at the appellate level, is nothing new.  However, it seems that such involvement may be growing, as professors file more briefs and increasingly serve as amici in order to be put their position before a court. 

Generally, I think this is a good thing.  In our area of scholarship, federal sentencing, I have written briefs on behalf of Doug Berman and others as amici, and he has most recently done the writing while I serve among the amici.   This allows us to take the ideas we have propounded as scholars though journal articles and put them before a decision-maker considering a discrete set of facts. 

Certainly, if there is a problem with this trend, that problem cannot be that we are taking a position on policy issues-- academics, in their writings, are expected to take strong positions on policy issues, as that is a crucial role we serve in the larger society.  However, it could be that we risk blurring the line between somewhat objective academic and practitioner/advocate when we put our ideas in the form of a brief rather than an article.

I would not suggest that within the realm of legal scholarship briefs can serve as substitutes for articles, essays, and books.  However, can briefs be considered a form of scholarship, secondary to more traditional academic work?  Or are they something less, even a frolic and detour which should be discouraged?

-- Mark Osler

February 6, 2007 in Service -- legal profession | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

New article on "Pedagogy of Innocence"

I just noticed via SSRN this new paper by Keith Findley that's forthcoming in the Clinical Law Review. It's entitled "The Pedagogy of Innocence: Reflection on the Role of Innocence Projects in Clinical Legal Education," and here is the abstract:

The service and policy missions of innocence projects have received considerable scholarly attention.  Relatively little, however, has been written about the pedagogical mission of innocence projects as law school clinical programs.  This article examines the pedagogical challenges and opportunities presented by clinical programs that investigate and litigate large, complex innocence cases. First, the article analyzes what innocence projects can and should teach law students, including lessons about facts and investigation skills; about the need for thoroughness and skepticism, and what that means in practice; about essential values of the profession, and about the risk that the narrow focus on representing only the innocent might convey unintended messages about the value of legal representation to all criminal defendants; about ethics; about doctrine and a critical perspective of legal institutions; and, finally, about judgment. Second, the article considers how innocence projects might meet those educational objectives. Among other things, the article probes how innocence projects - and other similar large-case clinical programs - can manage the traditional tensions between the goal of nondirective student supervision, including the need to allow students to gain ownership of their cases, and the responsibility of ensuring quality representation to the clients in these complex cases, in which so much is at stake.

Some related posts on clinics and clinical education:

Posted by DAB

February 6, 2007 in Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 5, 2007

Simulations, part 2: a how-to guide

Among the Carnegie study's many recommendations, perhaps the most sweeping and difficult to implement is that legal education “integrate” rather than “add” elements of skill and values. (Tacking ethics courses onto the MBA curriculum, the authors note, is an example of a failed “additive” strategy). It’s a smart way to bypass the common refrain that law schools aren’t “trade schools” because, when properly integrated with traditional law school goals, skills-oriented learning needn’t lack for intellectual rigor or substantive relevance .

Simulations offer an ideal method of integrating skills- and values-oriented learning with doctrinal courses: they operate from a rigorous intellectual framework, they offer consistent and relatively predictable learning goals, and they provide objective evaluation criteria. After the jump I'll describe my own experiences developing training programs for practicing lawyers, broken down into the four steps of research, establishing a framework, creating the experience itself, and developing evaluation criteria.

[see also Simulations, part 1]

Step 1 : Research

Intellectual rigor begins, of course, with research – not at the library, but in the setting to be emulated. Ideally, this might involve an ethnography (especially when the practice is not well-understood) or an “expert-novice” comparison.

In a course I helped develop a few years ago targeting new legal aid attorneys, we sat down with about five well-respected supervising attorneys and asked them to identify key skills that their new lawyers lacked. One such skill turned out to be conducting the initial client interview. Unable to undertake field research (limited time and ethical barriers often makes that hard to do), we relied instead on our informants' collective wisdom. Through discussion and reflection, we arrived at the components of interviewing that were particularly troublesome for novice practitioners. One of them was structuring the interview to spot the viable legal issues present.

Step 2: Establish the framework / learning goals

We then set out to identify exactly what proficient attorneys do differently than novices during the initial interview. (Again, we did this through discussion with our expert panel, not field research, which is considerably less resource-intensive but also potentially misleading or incomplete. In this case it turned out fine, I think.) It turns out that, towards the latter stages of the interview, experts use a technique we dubbed “funneling”: asking a series of questions that narrow from open-ended to yes/no with the goal of confirming or rejecting possible avenues of legal action. Novices, by contrast, tend to “sieve”: ask disconnected questions without a strategy in place, often going in circles.

Step 3: Create the experience

This is what most people would consider the fun part of the design. Here the designers create and assemble the scenario itself, creating facts, rules, characters, motivations, and all of the other elements of story that give the simulation realism and vitality. Probably the easiest way to accomplish all of this is to base the story on a real-life story. Most of the work would then be a combination of gathering facts and removing distracting elements. Key criteria for whether such elements have relevance or not include whether they advance the learning objectives (substantive and skills) as well as whether they add to the credibility and fun.

It's hard to figure out how much detail should go into a scenario. Unsurprisingly, we found that students who lacked substantive knowledge (e.g. recent college graduates lacking legal background) struggled with the simulation as a whole when it assumed familiarity with certain laws, however generic and abstracted. (Students unfamiliar with the law didn't know what information to seek or why). At the same time, a colleague who works on creating curricula for Harvard's Program on Negotiation let me in on a trick: when teaching pure skills, too much substantive familiarity can lead participants to reject the “reality” of the simulation. Thus, running real estate takeover scenarios with our poverty lawyers helped them focus on the skill, not nitpick inaccuracies in the scenario. (They did complain that the alien nature of the scenario made the specific skills less transferable, which is something we'll have to investigate).

Returning to the idea of “integrating” skills with knowledge, I'd like to emphasize that the intellectual rigor of a simulation does not turn on this stage alone. I have seen some complex simulations that deploy sophisticated facts, characters, etc., but lack the framework that's developed during steps 1 and 2. Without that framework in place, students will not know what skills they should be learning, and instructors will not know how to provide consistent feedback to hep get them there. At best, a rigorously constructed scenario lacking a skills framework serves as a rather expensive, albeit fun, fact pattern.

Step 4: Develop evaluation criteria

Objective evaluation standards are the final proof of a rigorously-developed learning experience. In simulations centered on the substantive topic, one area of evaluation might involve, for example, measuring the outcome against some “optimum” and then reviewing the contributions or mistakes each participant made in getting to that outcome. (In many of HPON's simulations, for example, the debriefing guidelines list various options that players might come up with, providing a measure of the total value that the negotiators might have created in the process. New learners of the HPON framework often are surprised by how much value they leave on the table, showing them the way to more advanced negotiation skills).

In terms of evaluating the skill demonstrated by each participant, the framework developed in steps 1-2 return again. A well-defined contrast between “novice” and “expert” provides a natural yardstick against which the instructor can mark the progress of the student. Often, these measures are qualitative, using a rubric to gage skill attainment. For example, one rubric might examine how well the student asks followup questions; a “expert” rating might correspond with “Questions follow a defined strategy as it also accommodates new information provided by the client” while a “proficient” rating might correspond with “Questions generally follow a defined strategy, but attorney loses control when unexpected information arises.”

Conclusion: This is hard work

I hope the preceding description of how one goes about developing a simulation that truly integrates legal skills with substantive knowledge can help dispel the notion that focusing on skills in the law school setting will degrade the curriculum's intellectual content. Taking a research- and fact-based approach to simulations, and specifically learning what the actual skills are that expert lawyers deploy in their practice, would infuse the endeavor with the kind of credibility that is needed to pass muster with a rightfully suspicious law faculty.

In my next post I'll touch a bit more on how simulations might fit into law schools on a systemic level.

-- Gene Koo

February 5, 2007 in Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 4, 2007

Blogging's beneficiary and a revolution coming

Ilya Somin in this post flags Jack Balkin's notable discussion here at his blog of which law professors may benefit the most from professional blogging.  Here's what Jack says:

The most successful blogs tend to be run by younger law professors who aren't necessarily at the top-ten schools. That's because if you're an established professor at a top-ten school, you are already probably getting significant positive reinforcement for what you are doing.  But if you're a law professor who's trying to establish a name for yourself, you quite understandably feel that not enough people are paying attention to what you're saying.  The blogosphere is a wonderful way for you to put your ideas out there and gain an audience for ideas you think are valuable and worthwhile.  Blogging democratizes legal commentary; it publicizes the scholarship and the expertise of a large number of law professors who would not have gotten a voice before.

This comment resonates with me because because it is so very clear that my sentencing blog has proved to be a wonderful way for me to put out my ideas and gain an audience. 

But Jack's comment also portends a coming revolution.  The label of "younger law professors who aren't necessarily at the top-ten schools" describes perhaps 70% of current law professors and essentially 100% of wanna-be law professors.  If blogging continues to be an especially valuable medium for an especially large percentage of law professors, I predict it is only a matter of time before every law professor is expected to have (or contribute to) a legal blog of one sort or another.

February 4, 2007 in Blogging by lawyers and law professors | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack