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August 2, 2008

But what if it doesn't work out?

One innovation over the past twenty years in law school (and university) development seems to be that when buildings, rooms, chairs, etc. are named after donors, the name includes both members of a couple.  I certainly see the reasons for this-- regardless of who directly made the money, both spouses played an important role, and hopefully they collaboratively made the decision to donate. 

But what happens when they divorce?  I haven't heard of this, but imagine that it must have happened somewhere, resulting in an embarrassing blank spot in the sign announcing the "Gregory .......... Zimbalont Courtroom."

-- Mark Osler

August 2, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 31, 2008

Liveblogging the SEALS Conference 2008: Revamping the Law School Curriculum

Seals Mark Niles, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Washington College of Law

"Integrated teaching" -- Sometimes involves co-teaching, e.g. property + civil procedure profs collaborating on teaching Matthews v. Eldridge. Can also provide a bridge to upper-level courses.

Spring electives for all 1st-year students.

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Edward Rubin, Dean, Vanderbilt University Law School

Revamping the curriculum to account for Dewey: education as training the mind. Langdell, of course, preceded Dewey -- and while it seem odd that, in trying to help law school pedagogy catch up, we're looking almost a century backward, as Rubin points out, neuroscience is starting to validate some of Dewey's theories (e.g. mirror neurons and learning by doing).

So -- each year looks different, moving from foundational to interactive. Skills targeted include problem-solving and working collegially with both peers and senior attorneys, not just making appelate arguments.

Another experience is to draft a statute, with the idea that it will teach a different way to read statutes; likewise with contracts (rather than adjudication of contracts). These are skills that also provide understanding of the underlying ideas.

Abolished most administrative tasks and devoted the time conserved to development.

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Douglas Blaze, University of Tennessee College of Law

Tennessee is, opposite of most law schools, coming from practice and connecting to theory. All faculty have been the same, not distinguished between clinical and classroom.

Two tracks: advocacy and transactional, whithin which a progression among 2nd-3rd year experiences, culminating in a capstone project. For advocacy, trial as the capstone, so start from trial practice and evidence to build up, including negotiation, client counseling, clinical. For business, starting from introduction to transactions, taxation, with capstone such as a simulation for tax counseling, entity formation, or negotiation of a commercial lease, chapter 11 reorganization. These are huge investments: small classes requiring significant time for faculty.

Lessons: integrate, don't just add on (cf. Carnegie). An integrated faculty is better at integration. These commitments will have costs, financial and otherwise. Identify outputs -- what students have and need. And constantly revise.

Questions

How to protect junior faculty? Have them work in teams, decentralize the budget so that the teams control the resources for conferences, adjunct faculty, etc. Give them time -- for example, in unified tenure system, clinical teachers need time to develop scholarship.

How to deal with bar passage rates? Would be nice to see the bar changing their subject matter focus to match the law schools.

Are teams proto-departments, esp. if they have their own budgets? Not really -- faculty are often in different teams.

Advice for bringing more senior faculty along? Do the research and present the evidence: what are the "prestigious" law schools doing? Keep the process open and let them come up with their way of participating.

How do first-year electives fit in with the upper-level course, e.g. Intro to IP versus the upper-level IP course? Maybe make them the same. Or leave it flexible.

Administrative issues of sequencing -- scheduling for fall/spring, advising? "It's a pain."

What's the role of alumni? Do focus groups: what would you like to have had in law school now that you've had experience? What would you like to see in new hires? Since they're not educators, the results are not the same as the Carnegie Report. Very often, innovations fail because students don't buy in: a legitimacy gap because they don't want to be academics like us -- they usually want to be practitioners. With alumni input, this is not an intellectual frolic but actual market demand. With fast pace of change, this should be an ongoing dialogue with alumni.

How do these changes affect hiring? There's a lot of resistance to hiring people who are different. Definitely look for different people: Supreme Court clerks may not know that much about drafting. The basic question to ask is, "What are you really working on?" An informal survey of the top 30 schools is that about 50% of recent hires have Ph.D.s -- these are academics. Signal that we take teaching seriously. But there's a real tension between scholarship and training.

July 31, 2008 in Conferences | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 30, 2008

Interesting examination of law school student evaluations

I just came across this interesting article by Professor Arthur Best about student evaluations, titled "Student Evaluations of Law Teaching Work Well: Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree."  Here is the abstract:

Academics in the fields of psychology and education generally describe student evaluations of teaching as reliable and useful.  On the other hand, law professors often criticize them as unreliable and impaired by students' biases.  This Article considers resolving these discrepant views by paying close attention to the various purposes for which student evaluations of teaching are used. For some uses, such as guidance for students in course selection, shortcomings of the evaluations would be of slight consequence.  For promotion or tenure decisions, despite law professors' skepticism, schools should use the data to identify outlier instructors.  Basing conclusions only on large numerical differences among faculty should protect faculty members from unfair consequences caused by students' biases, since the effects of biases (if present) are likely to be relatively small.  It is also consistent with the modern consensus among educational researchers.

The Article also reports findings from analysis of a large number of law school evaluation of teaching forms.  Virtually all of them use phraseology that ignores the collaborative nature of teaching and learning.  They focus attention on the professor, with the unintended consequence of portraying students as passive participants in their education.  The Article recommends revising questionnaires to have a balance between terminology that ignores students' roles and terminology that reflects them.  With regard to other attributes, there are large variations among different law schools questionnaires.  The Article documents those differences and identifies some that may be problematic.

Posted by DAB

July 30, 2008 in Serving students | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 28, 2008

Technology in Legal Education

To help legal educators locate materials that inform and enrich their teaching and writing, Nova Southwestern law prof Pearl Goldman offers an annotated bibliography of articles, commentaries, conference papers, essays, books, and book chapters that examine the impact of technology on legal education in this 100-plus page article (pdf) The article was published in the Summer 2008 issue of Law Library Journal. -- Joe Hodnicki

July 28, 2008 in Technology -- in general | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack