July 08, 2012

"ABA: Law schools getting the message on practical skills"

The title of this post is the headline of this new article from The National Law Journal. Here is how it starts:

The dismal job market for newly minted lawyers has influenced how most law school administrators approach their course offerings, with 76 percent of the institutions surveyed by the American Bar Association reporting that they've modified their curricula to adapt. 

That's one key finding in the ABA's first empirical survey of law school curricula in a decade, which will be released on Aug. 4 during the organization's annual meeting in Chicago.

The influence the employment picture is having on law school classes is seen most obviously in the rise of so-called practical skills courses: clinics, simulations and externships.  Law schools have increased their course offerings in each of those areas, according to the report.

The survey uses the findings of a previous ABA study of curricula that covered the years 1992 to 2002 as a baseline for comparison.   "The survey responses reveal a renewed commitment by law schools to review and revise their curricula to produce practice-ready professionals," said Hulett "Bucky" Askew, the ABA's consultant on legal education.  "The report illuminates the extent to which faculties and administrators have responded to the evolving needs of their students and to changes in the legal services industry."

Media scrutiny of law school curricula has also fueled some of the changes, said Southwestern Law School Professor Catherine Carpenter, chair of the ABA committee that produced the report.  Additionally, more than half of the schools surveyed reported being influenced by two separate reports that called for more professionalism and real-world skills in law schools: The so-called Carnegie Report and Best Practices for Legal Education, both published in 2007.

"Wholesale curricular review has produced experimentation and change at all levels of the curriculum, resulting in new programs and courses, new and enhanced experiential learning, and greater emphasis on various kinds of writing across the curriculum," Carpenter said.

The vast majority of law schools — 87 percent — now offer at least one joint-degree program, with the J.D./MBA combination the most common.  While law school curricula have become more skills oriented, other areas have remained largely static.  The survey found that the average number of credits hours required for graduation increased to 89 units in 2010, up from 88 one decade ago.  Roughly the same number of schools reported requiring specific courses after the first year as they did in 2002, and subject matter tested by bar examinations appeared to play no role in course requirements, according to the survey.

July 8, 2012 in Serving students, Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 17, 2012

Should law schools help "incubate" solo practicioners?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this article in the National Law Journal, which is headlined "The next solo incubator will be in San Diego."  Here are excerpts:

Recent graduates of Thomas Jefferson School of Law who want to launch solo practices will soon have some extra support from their alma mater.  The school is the latest to start a solo incubator — a post-graduation program intended to provide affordable office space and mentoring from law faculty and alumni to help graduates gain experience and learn how to run their own practices.

The City University of New York School of Law was the first to create such a program in 2007, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and Pace Law School have followed.

"We don't take part in their law offices, but we'll provide mentorship and support," said Thomas Jefferson professor Luz Herrera, who is spearheading the initiative. "We'll also have a listserve that will put them in contact with more experienced attorneys."

The school will start taking applications for the program in July, and expects to have between six and eight participants initially.  They will spend between 12 and 18 months in the incubator.  Assisting them will be MBA students at San Diego State University, who will research the solo practitioner market in the city to help identify unmet legal needs and suggest prices for their services, Herrera said....

Fred Rooney, who developed CUNY's solo incubator, traveled to San Diego to help Herrera and other Thomas Jefferson faculty to help develop to the program.  He said he has been fielding requests from many law schools for information and ideas.  "As more solo incubators are conceptualized by law schools, each one is going to be unique," Rooney said. "I think the Thomas Jefferson model is going to emphasize cross-border matters," given that San Diego's close proximity to the Mexican border.

Thomas Jefferson will start a solo practice concentration within its curriculum next fall to prepare students who want to go that route. The school has asked local bar associations and practicing attorneys to submit proposals for what that curriculum should cover, Herrera said. The preliminary plan calls for a series of practicing attorneys to lecture on topics ranging from how to market yourself to how to maintain good relationships with opposing counsel.

I have long feared that too much of the professional and professionalism training that I try to give to my students in both doctrinal and skills courses unduly reflect only the large-national-firm "BigLaw" realities I experienced in my years in practice.  Thus, I very much like the idea of law school classes and related programming that is focused around a different model/structure for legal practice.

That said, I have always wonder how effective and successful  a true "solo" practitioner can be over time without eventually getting significant help from other lawyers and/or professional staff.  For that reason, I am not sure I like the idea of encouraging young lawyers to be thinking about a "solo" practice rather than a "small" practice.  Put differently, before embarking on a sustained effort to "incubate" solo practioners, I think a law school might be best served by exploring what kinds of small firm structures appear to be most successful in their region -- as judged by the client market and in the view of lawyers working therein -- and then developing programming to help junior lawyers join or develop these kinds of small-firm structures.  Such a program might not only serve the students, but also local small firms (which, I suspect, have little time/ability to recruit and train junior lawyers, even if/when they have the need for them as their legal business increases).

Posted by DAB

May 17, 2012 in Employment, Legal profession realities and developments, Service -- legal profession, Serving students, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 04, 2012

"Hope — but not blind optimism — helps boost law school performance"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting new piece from The National Law Journal.  It begins this way:

Which new law students will perform the best academically during their first semester and be the most satisfied with their lives? Those who are realistically hopeful, according to research into the way hope and optimism affect law student performance.

A study published in the December edition of the Journal of Research in Personality, and featured last year in the Duquesne Law Review, concluded that students who came to campus with high levels of hope got better grades and were more satisfied with their lives after completing their first semester, which tends to be the most stressful.

The researchers distinguished hope from optimism, high levels of which boosted life satisfaction but not first semester grades. "Optimism is the expectation that the future will be good, regardless of how this happens," said Kevin Rand, an assistant professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. "Hope is the expectation about things you have actual control over."

Rand conducted the research with Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law clinical associate professor Allison Martin and psychology graduate student Amanda Shea. The team launched the project in part because of the reputation law school has for exacting a high toll on students' mental health, Rand said.

"We know that graduate education can be stressful, but the existing research shows that there is actually something worse about law school," he said. "It's uniquely bad. We wanted to see who comes through that toxic environment unscathed."

The researchers asked 86 members of the incoming class at McKinney in 2007 a series of questions about their levels of hope and optimism. They also examined participants' undergraduate grade-point averages and Law School Admission Test scores.

The team then surveyed the participants after four months in law school and collected their first semester grades, performing a statistical analysis to determine how the factors related to each other. "I was a little surprised — having gone through the law school process myself — that the LSAT scores were not as correlated to the first semester grades," said Martin. "Hope was a better predictor of academic success in our study."

High rates of hope correlated to higher law school GPAs, as did higher undergraduate GPAs. There was no significant relationship between high levels of optimism and law school grades. However, higher levels of both optimism and hope predicted psychological well-being and life satisfaction among the survey participants.

The researchers cited previous studies on hope and achievement in higher education to help explain the results. Students with high levels of hope had greater graduation rates and GPAs, were more engaged in learning and were better equipped to deal with academic stresses. They tended to be better at staying on task, setting goals based on previous performance and keeping motivated.

By contrast, students with low levels of hope tend to focus more on performance than on learning, Martin said. They have so much anxiety about failing tests that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Previous research into optimism and undergraduate students' academic performance found a positive correlation between the two, but research specific to law school has found that pessimism, or a "healthy skepticism," actually predicted academic success.

Should I be optimistic or hopeful that this new research will help future law student?

Posted by DAB

January 4, 2012 in Serving students | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 13, 2011

"What is ‘Good Legal Writing’ and Why Does it Matter?"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper available on SSRN and authored by Professor Mark Osbeck. Here is the abstract:

Law schools face increasing pressure to improve instruction in practice-oriented skills. One of the most important of these skills is legal writing.  The existing literature on legal writing contains various rules and suggestions as to how legal writers can improve their writing skills.  Yet it lacks an adequate theoretical account of the fundamental nature of good legal writing.  As a result, legal writers are left without a conceptual framework to ground the individual rules and suggestions.

This article attempts to fill the theoretical void in the literature by offering a systematic analysis of what it is for a legal document to be well-written.  It starts by examining a foundational conceptual issue, which is what legal writers mean when they say that a legal document is well-written.  It argues that legal readers judge a document to be well-written if the writing helps them make the decisions they need to make in the course of their professional duties.  The article then provides an analysis of the fundamental qualities that enable legal writing to do this, concluding that there are three such qualities: clarity, conciseness, and the ability to appropriately engage the reader.

The article explains why each of these qualities is essential to good legal writing, and it examines the tools good writers use to make their writing clear, concise, and engaging. Lastly, the article examines what it is that distinguishes the very best writing in the field, arguing that great legal writing is not just writing that is especially clear, concise, and engaging, but is instead writing characterized by a separate quality, elegance, that is aesthetic in nature. The article then goes on to explore what it is that makes such writing elegant, and whether it is desirable for legal writers to strive for elegance in their own writing.  The article concludes by briefly considering the pedagogical implications of the analysis discussed in the previous sections.

October 13, 2011 in Serving students, Teaching -- curriculum, Teaching -- pedagogy, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 06, 2011

"Another 15 law schools targeted over jobs data"

The title of this post is the headline of this new piece from The National Law Journal, which begins this way:

The attorneys behind class actions against New York Law School and Thomas M. Cooley Law School announced plans on Oct. 5 to sue 15 additional law schools for publishing what they described as misleading postgraduate job statistics.

They have yet to secure enough name plaintiffs for those suits, however. They won't file until three alumni from each of the targeted schools sign on, they said during a conference call with reporters. The announcement was intended in part to drum up plaintiff interest, they acknowledged.

The attorneys, David Anziska and Jesse Strauss, detailed what they said was convincing evidence that law schools have offered a skewed picture of postgraduate employment rates and salaries for years, not just since the latest recession. "The problem isn't going away, and the legal academy isn't owning up to it," Strauss said. "We strongly believe that by the end of 2012, almost every school in the nation will be sued, if not by plaintiffs who are represented by us, then by plaintiffs represented by other law firms."

Strauss and Anziska said they are targeting the 15 schools either because alumni or students approached them with concerns, or because the postgraduate job data they have reported to the American Bar Association were "implausible."

October 6, 2011 in Legal profession realities and developments, Serving students | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 25, 2011

Of interest in The National Law Journal

These recent pieces from The National Law Journal caught my eye this weekend:

September 25, 2011 in Admissions to law school, Legal profession realities and developments, Serving students | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 12, 2011

Should law schools teach how the best lawyers and law firms use the internet?

Debates about adequate skills instruction have raged for decades within and outside law school.  Less debated, though no less important, is whether law schools are teaching their students the right kinds of lawyering skills.  My own experience as both a law student and a law professor leads me to believe and fear that law schools too often focus on teaching the next generation of lawyers the most critical skills of the last generation of lawyers.

Those who went to law school around the time I was a student (1990 to 1993) likely recall the debate over whether and how students should be allowed access to computer research sources like Westlaw and Lexis or instead needed to be taught how to "only use the books."  Savvy students (but very few faculty) at the time appreciated that computer-based research skills we ultimately likely to be much more important to our future than book-based skills.  Nevertheless, back then (and still it seems two decades later), commercial providers like West and Lexis supplied much more (and much more effective) training in computer research than did my law school.

This recent article by Robert Algeri in the The National Law Journal, which is headlined "The future of the law firm website: Your website will become bigger, more important — and more focused on the needs of individual attorneys," has me thinking about these realities and prompted the question in the title of this post. Here is how the piece starts:

After a half-century of remarkable stability and steady growth, the legal industry got hit by a ton of bricks called the Great Recession. Several years after the initial shock, it is clear that this downturn wasn't just a momentary blip, but a rather sizable shift in the business landscape. As a result, law firms are being forced to reconsider many aspects of how they do business.

What does all this mean for legal marketing? Lots.      During the past two years, my colleagues and I have studied the Great Recession's effects on legal marketing and law firm Web sites.  Our conclusion is that the law firm Web site is about to undergo a revolution. Specifically, we expect law firm Web sites to:

• Become more valuable....

• Become bigger....

• Focus more on attorneys....

Web sites already play a vital role in law firm business development. Numerous studies show this.  However, I strongly believe that they will become even more important--nearly as important as face-to-face meetings.  Why?  Because face-to-face meetings will happen less and less.

The legal business has traditionally been locally focused, with clients and the firm often located within 25 miles of one another.  That's changing. The Internet and related technologies have made it much more practical to work long distance.  But that's the least of it: Our culture is also changing. 

I could say a lot about the long-standing failure of law schools to help students better understand the business of law and the provision of legal services.  Those broader concerns aside, given the tight legal marketplace and changing legal and technological environments, are law schools uniquely deficient for not helping students better appreciate when and how modern lawyers use the internet?

Posted by DAB

September 12, 2011 in Legal profession realities and developments, Serving students, Teaching -- curriculum, Technology -- in general, Technology -- in the classroom, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 05, 2011

Identifying the disconnect at the center of the "law school scam"

I still continue to find Inside the Law School Scam an interesting and useful read, and this passage from a recent post comparing law schools to other graduate programs (and some follow-up comments) has helped me to see the heart of the problem that keeps pumping blood though the modern legal education market and has allowed the so-called "law school scam" to develop and continue.  First the passage from ILSS (with my emphasis added), then my explanation:

[It] is an interesting comparison [between law schools and the huge recent expansion of creative writing MFA programs], although in some ways an obviously inapt one.   No one goes into an MFA program intending to make lots of money.  Indeed it's notable that such programs never focus on producing successful genre writers -- i.e., the next Stephen King or John Grisham -- but are rather dedicated almost exclusively to literary fiction. Nor, as far as I know, do MFA programs engage in industry-wide placement stat deception.  (Unlike business schools I know something about these programs because my best friend and his wife are graduates of one).  The biggest distinction between law schools and MFA programs goes to the crucial issue of what economists call psychic income.  Lots of people grow up hoping to write the Great American Novel.  Nobody grows up hoping to one day be Henry Kravis's water carrier on a big M&A deal.  People go to law school, with occasional exceptions, in order to acquire a respectable and well-paid career.  MFA programs cater to peoples' dreams.  Law school is where dreams go to die (Yes I'm generalizing).

Implicit in this passage are three critical contentions/assumptions about the professional thinking of some (many? most?) law students: (1) students go to law school intending to "make lots of money" (not because they dream of practicing law), (2) students expect that "average" performance at an "average" law school will result in a in a "respectable and well-paid career," and (3) students rely on deceptive law school placement stats to justify these decisions and expectations.

I trust some (many? most?) law students — especially those who are most aggrieved and vocal in their complains about the "law school scam" — would endorse these three critical contentions/assumptions and agree they help explain why so many recent graduates are now so upset that they "invested" so much in law school and are now not getting a fair (or any) return on that investment.

Changing perspectives, let me articulate what I suspect to be professional thinking of some (many? most?) law professors: (A) students interested primarily in making money should go to business school (because only those with lawyer dreams will be happy lawyers), (B) students with "average" grades at an "average" law school can find legal jobs, but they will need to "pick up their game" in practice to have a "well-paid" legal career, and (C) students who make serious and savvy efforts to find a legal job will eventually get a legal job.  

Perhaps I am wrong to assert that others would embrace points A, B, and C above, but these realities account for why I personally have not been attuned to "law school scam" complaints until quite recently.  I have long believed that (A) those who went to law school for "the wrong reasons" were unlikely to be happy no matter their professional success, (B) my "average" students could and would find legal work at a living wage, and (C) I can help my students land a legal job if they are serious and savvy in their efforts.  (Indeed, I still hold these views, though I now better understand that (too) many law students may be in it "just for the money" and that the recession has made it much harder for "average" students to find legal work at a living wage.  But while these students may often feel "scammed," they do not often come by my office to ask for job-hunting advice.  I often have "top" students coming for job advice, typically to ask which of two job opportunities they ought to pursue, which I now realize greatly distorts my perspective on the legal job market.)

Not to be overlooked here is the inevitable affinity for law schools to spotlight — in recruiting materials and alumni publications — their most successful and happy graduates and to "hide" their least successful and miserable graduates.  A coming attractions even for a lousy Jack Black movie creates the (deceptive?) impression everyone should spend money on that movie even though only Jack Black fans will be content with the product.  (This preview metaphor justifies greater transparency in law school employment data — i.e., studios should not "scam" Brad Pitt fans into paying to see a Jack Black movie by having the whole preview focus on a tiny Brad Pitt cameo.  But this metaphor might help students appreciate the unique (insulated) perspective of law professors: law profs are essentially Jack Black fans (read, law geeks) who assume the only folks paying for their movie (law school) are fellow Jack Black fans who should still appreciate the experience even though better movies (other professional opportunities) might be at the Cineplex.)

So, even as I grow more aware/attune to the "law school scam" and suffering grads, I still have a hard time viewing law professors as avaricious Ponzi schemers eager to drive students into a lifetime of debt to fund a lavish lifestyle.  Instead, I see a group of well-meaning service-providers (law professors/schools) working earnestly to provide what they consider a valuable non-economic service ("teaching students how to think like a lawyer") to some people who are paying a lot of money (law students) problematically believing they are getting a valuable economic service ("becoming a practicing lawyer").   

To the extent that deceptive placement stats fuel this disconnect between the "law school service" most law professors seek to provide and what some (many? most?) law students actually want and expect, more honest employment data should help considerably.  But if one fears (as I do) that much bigger societal and human psychology forces are in play, more honest employment data is just a first step on a long journey toward a sounder legal education system.

Posted by DAB

September 5, 2011 in Admissions to law school, Blogging by lawyers and law professors, Legal profession realities and developments, Serving students, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 01, 2011

Imagining a "Lawyer Peace Corps" or "Lawyering for America" to do good while helping new law grads to better

I continue to find thought-provoking the posts and comments over at Inside the Law School Scam, as well as some of the still active student scam-blogs.  And, via these sources, I sense there is growing mainstream discussion of modern legal education costs/benefits within the legal profession, as evidenced by these recent pieces from the Chicago Lawyer and the Connecticut Law Tribune:

As I keep read these blogs and keep hear stories of successful recent law students having no success finding jobs upon graduation, I keep thinking about the very large number of (mostly poor) persons with unmet legal needs in the United States.  As the title of this post suggests, I cannot help but imagine the creation of some mass program for young lawyers to do good work — whether modeled on programs like the Peace Corps or Teach for America — as a means of helping unemployed recent law grads do better by doing good.

As a criminal law professor who specializes in sentencing issues, I am most attuned to the huge number of criminal defendants and ex-offenders — literally millions of Americans — who could benefit greatly from legal advice but who, for financial or others reasons, completely lack access to lawyers or are underserved by (overworked) appointed lawyers.  And I know that lawyers surely could be helping (mostly poor) people struggling with many modern American social challenges — challenges ranging from foreclosure problems, to immigration issues, to family law matters, to health care coverage, to access to education and professional opportunities.

In other words, our society now has a glut of underemployed junior lawyers and a glut of underserved legal needs.  The private legal marketplace — for many reasons, though mostly because the people with the most needs have the least money — seems unable to connect these potential service-providers and these legal needs.  But a well-structured government program or public-policy-group initiative could and should be able to do much better in connecting the potential legal service-providers with all the persons need these services.

I can think of lots of different ways to potentially structure a "Lawyer Peace Corps" or a "Lawyering for America" program — e.g., new grads could have government debts slashed for being in the program a certain number of years, some law schools (or particular classes/clinics) could serve as formal feeders. But I can also think of a lot of potential objections/problems — e.g., might junior lawyers with limited training make some legal problems worse for those now without lawyers?

For now, I just wanted to throw the idea out and see if I can get any reactions (at least from my co-bloggers).

Posted by DAB

September 1, 2011 in Blogging by lawyers and law professors, Legal profession realities and developments, Service -- legal profession, Serving students, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

August 24, 2011

Given modern labor realities, should law schools admit fewer students? Fail more out?

Applicants-Enroll 2010

If nothing else, this new blog authored by (once anonymous) LawProf called "Inside the Law School Scam" has generated some useful discussion throughout the law professor blogosphere about the current realities of law school and legal employment.  And the take-away data I found most notable and important in this context comes from this (under-reported?) New York Times piece from two months ago indicating that US law school each and every year are now graduating roughly two new lawyers for every one new legal job.  (Kudos to Brian Tamanaha for spotlighting these important data (and for the chart reprinted here) via this post at Balkinization titled "The Coming Crunch for Law Schools.")  

In light of this current significant over-supply of junior lawyers seeking jobs in legal fields with only half the opennings needed for full employment (a market problem which has arguably been going on now for numerous years), it is unsurprising that now only the most highly-ranked students and highly-ranked schools are still able to easily find acceptable legal employment and in turn have the resources need to pay off large accumulated student debt.  And, now with a glut of tens of thousands of recent law school grads who are unemployed or underemployed and yet still likely to keep seeking legal opportunities, it seems unlikely that even a huge improvement in the economy will create enough new law jobs for the seemingly ever-increasing number of new law school grads.

With an eye on these market realities, Brian and Gerard Magliocca in recent posts are exploring why there seems still to be a huge demand for law school access as reflected in law school application rates:

Though I think the law school demand side is a very important component of this story, the question in the title of this post is meant to urge discussion of the law school supply side.  In particular, I would like to hear view from anyone inside or outside the law school marketplace as to whether law schools ought to be, in light of modern labor realities, significantly reduce the sizes of their graduating classes either by letting in many fewer students or failing out many more students before these students accumulate huge law school debts.

In a future post, I will set forth my own innovative proposal for how I think modern law schools should try to deal with these issues.  In the meantime, though, I am hoping to generate some feedback on these basic questions.

Posted by DAB

August 24, 2011 in Admissions to law school, Legal profession realities and developments, Serving students, Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 22, 2011

Some Good Things About a Third Year in Law School

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Christopher Shea usefully seeks to turn the blawgosphere's attention from "Is Law School a Scam?" issue to other important questions--like "Is the Third Year of Law School a Scam?"  That's not actually the way he characterizes his question, of course. He frames it in a less hyperbolic way.

I thought I might offer a few reasons why the third year of law school is useful--in the form of a Letterman Top Ten list. Of course, these ten reasons could be counterweighed by even more numerous or stronger arguments on the other side.

10. Given the lack of resources (or incentive) of private law firms to engage in training, a third year allows one to take advanced courses in a variety of subjects. I, for example, took Advanced Civil Procedure in my last term (with the great Geoff Hazard, now a part of the incomparable UC family).

9. A third year allows one to experiment by taking courses in new areas, perhaps opening one's eyes to areas of the law that might not have seemed initially appealing.

8. Having finished taking most bar classes, a student can now finally take courses related to his or her passions.

7. Third year students run a variety of programs essential to the law school curriculum, like Moot Court or Barrister's Union.

6. Having a third year allows one two summers while enrolled as a student, thus giving one the opportunity to experiment with two different firms, two different cities, or two different kinds of legal practice.

5. A third year allows one to write and publish notes in the Law Journal, thus improving one's research and writing skills dramatically.

4. In many schools still, the first year is almost entirely spoken for with mandatory courses. A third year gives one longer opportunity to actually study the areas one is keen to study.

3. A third year allows one to serve as a research assistant to law professors, thus building an important relationship with someone who might be a good mentor.

2. Without third year law students, the legal academy would lose those who run student-edited law reviews, the principal means for distributing legal scholarship. 

1. By the time of third year, you finally know where the best bars are. (Okay, most folks probably figured this out during their first week of law school. It just took me longer.)

What would you miss most if you never had a third year in law school? Alternatively, why do you think a third year was unnecessary?

Anupam Chander

 

August 22, 2011 in Serving students, Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 18, 2011

"What if law schools opened their own law firms?"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting article in The National Law Journal, which begins this way:

Law schools have been pummeled with criticism for not producing practice-ready attorneys, so two law professors have come up with a novel fix: Law schools should operate their own law firms.

The school-owned firms would provide a training ground for recent graduates, but would function much like a normal firm, Brooklyn Law School Professor Bradley Borden and University of Maryland School of Law Professor Robert Rhee wrote in an article entitled, "The Law School Firm."  The piece will appear in a forthcoming issue of the South Carolina Law Review.

Borden and Rhee acknowledged that their idea constitutes a "radical" change from the existing law school model, but they contend that these firms would help recent graduates gain the skills they need to be successful at little expense — and possibly a profit — to law schools.

The firms would be entities distinct from the law schools, and would be professionally managed and generate revenue, although they would be operated as nonprofits. Senior attorneys would be hired to oversee the firms' practice areas, and recent law school graduates would spend fixed periods, perhaps three or six years, at the firm before moving on.

The concept is similar to that of judicial clerkships, Rhee said, in that freshly minted attorneys would spend a fixed amount of time at the firm and face no stigma when they leave.  Being in an actual, functioning law firm would offer a far more immersive learning experience than students could find in the classroom or even in a law school clinic, he said.

The law review article referenced above is now available at this link via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This Article introduces the concept of the law school firm.  The concept calls for law schools to establish affiliated law firms.  The affiliation would provide opportunities for students, faculty, and attorneys to collaborate and share resources to teach, research, write, serve clients, and influence the development of law and policy.  Based loosely on the medical school model, the law school firm will help bridge the gap between law schools and the practice of law.

Posted by DAB

August 18, 2011 in Legal profession realities and developments, Service -- legal profession, Serving students, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 06, 2010

"Would Law School Warning Labels Help?"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting new piece from The National Law Journal, which gets started this way:

People smoke.  People speed.  They don't exercise or get enough sleep.  They go to law school. By now, everyone is aware of the consequences of these actions.  In fact, they have known them for some time.  The question is: who is responsible?

Placing blame is, after all, a central component of the law.  In the case of what ails legal education, however, it is not very easy to assign.

I had the privilege of speaking with a variety of industry thought leaders on this topic for a research study on The Evolution of the Legal Profession (pdf) (sponsored by DiscoverReady).  They identified two reasons that individuals assume the debt to go to law school without a full awareness of the potential outcomes.

First, most prospective law students sincerely believe they will graduate in the top 10 percent of the class.  "You sign the loan papers with the idea that it will all pay off and it is the idealized big firm life that allows people to take debt," notes Indiana University Maurer School of Law Professor William Henderson.  He recommends that the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar direct schools to walk students through the application process more carefully to conduct an intelligent analysis of their career prospects.

Second, law school applicants are generally naive consumers of debt.  "As soon as tuition rose to a level where people had to borrow significant sums in order to go to law school, you had students with no experience taking out loans, repaying them or understanding what it means to have debt," says University of Miami School of Law Dean, Patricia White. "It was a little bit like the foreclosure crisis and the mortgage debacle," she adds.

These seem like plausible explanations given the decreasing level of zeal amongst budding barristers, evidenced by the recent examples of individuals trying to sell or return their law degrees, and the increasing number of applicants.

To address this disparity, last fall, in her first year as dean, White sent accepted applicants who had already paid their full non-refundable deposit a unique letter that generated national attention.  In it, she asked, them to reconsider their choice of attending law school.  The dean offered them the option to defer their admission for one year to further reflect on their chosen path.  Of the 32 students who accepted her offer, only eight enrolled this year.

November 6, 2010 in Deans and innovations, Legal profession realities and developments, Serving students | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 15, 2010

How could (and should) field trips become a regular part of law school experiences?

Over at The Faculty Lounge, Matt Lister has a great post titled "Field Trips for Law School Classes." In addition to discussing his field trip plans to take his students to the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Matt touched off a great comment dialogue by asking to "hear what people think of the idea, and if anyone else has incorporated field-trips into their teaching, and if so, how well they worked."

I have long thought that law school instruction could benefit from more field-trips, and I am often disappointed that my own inertia combines with structural/logistical challenges to prevent me from taking many of my classes on multiple trips. Especially for my bigger classes, I worry (perhaps too much) that many students will not be able to fit a multi-hour trip into their schedules and/or that those who cannot attend will feel unfairly disadvantaged by missing the trip. In addition, trips are rarely cost- or complication-free even if planned locally and only for a small group.

With these realities in mind, Matt's post got me to wondering if law students and/or faculty would possibly get behind the idea of working the field-trip concept into law school norms -- e.g., by having a few days each semesters specially "reserved" for trips and the allocation of some special funds to support the trips. Alternatively (or perhaps in addition), law schools might try to schedule mega-trips for the whole student-body, such as a local courthouse trip during orientation week for 1Ls or a law firm trip before on-campus interviews during 2L week.

Do readers think this is crazy talk, or might there be an innovative idea worth developing here?

Posted by DAB

July 15, 2010 in Serving students, Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 13, 2009

Will a uniform bar exam influence law school education for the better or for the worse?

The National Law Journal has this effective and important new piece, headlined "Uniform Bar Exam Drawing Closer To Reality." Here are the basics:

Next year, at least 10 states are expected to switch to the so-called Uniform Bar Exam, and 22 other jurisdictions are positioned to adopt the test in the next few years. The test, developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, will allow law school graduates to transport their bar scores across state lines without re-taking exams.  And backers say a uniform exam will improve the quality of bar exams, particularly in states with small test-development budgets.

The test still has big hurdles to overcome.  Several of the biggest legal markets have yet to sign on: New York, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois and Texas so far have taken a pass.  Some worry the test will give short shrift to important state law concepts. Others have scheduling problems and scoring concerns.  And the test puts a great deal of power in the hands of the NCBE, which gives some state-level bar officials pause.

And here is one prediction from the NLJ article about how these developments might impact law school education:

Moving toward one test will create notable changes in legal education and the practice of law, said Jerome Hafter, chair of the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.  The greatest benefit, he said, will be the portability of scores for new graduates.  In recent years, more jurisdictions have admitted out-of-state attorneys to practice by a motion to a state court; a portable score is part of a trend toward the nationalization -- if not globalization -- of legal practice, Hafter said.  He personally supports the uniform test, although the ABA legal education section has no official position on the issue.

It is important for states to be able set their own pass scores, Hafter said, but he expects that most eventually will settle on the same score, the equivalent of 135 out of 200 on the Multistate Bar Exam.  As more states move toward one test, Hafter expects a normalization of law school curriculum, to focus on the core subjects covered on the test.  Law schools would not feel the pressure to cover "niche" subjects such as workers' compensation or oil and gas law, since those subjects would not be included.

I have no doubt that the adoption of a uniform (and portable) new bar exam can and will have a profound impact on legal education, at the very least in those states that adopt the exam and probably in all states near states that adopt the exam.  If, for example, New Jersey and/or Connecticut both adopt the new Uniform Bar Exam (the nUBE), students attending the many law schools in New York City will surely be interested in making sure that some of their instruction is attentive to nUBE coverage.

Because the nUBE will definitely impact law schools -- especially those schools that have a significant student populations (1) eager to practice in nUBE-friendly jurisdictions and/or (2) that tend to worry a lot about bar passage -- the title of this post question whether that impact will be a good or bad development.  Because I think the status quo of bar exams tends to impact law school education for the worse, I am eager to believe that the nUBE might have a positive impact on legal education.  But I may be naively optimistic on this front and I am eager to hear other opinion.

Posted by DAB

October 13, 2009 in Legal profession realities and developments, Serving students, Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 01, 2009

Social Media Best Practices for Law Students

Laura Bergus, an enterprising student at Iowa College of Law, is working with her school's administration to "get real" about social media by revising their black-and-white advice ("don't use social media") to be in line with the reality of being a 21st-century, digitally connected law student. In addition to the usual advice on how to set privacy settings, etc, the guide should also include much more affirmative and proactive suggestions on how to construct an online identity for the sake of job-hunting and future professional practice. This emphasis on what positive steps law students should be taking is, IMHO, a much more effective route than simply telling students not to do things, because these good behaviors not only help give students a leg-up but also "crowd out" stupid / harmful behavior.

Laura is currently surveying students to gather background information on how students already use social networking.

I'm very much looking forward to whatever results from this exciting process!

- Gene Koo

April 1, 2009 in Serving students | Permalink | Comments (6) | 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

March 11, 2008

Are study groups cheating?

Shockwaves are blowing through the blogosphere over Ryerson University's effort to expulse a student who set up a Facebook study group for his first-year chemistry course. Without specific details as to what the students were sharing and the nature and expectations of how they would do their homework, it's hard to know how close to the line these students were to "cheating." On the one hand, a study group with 147 members looks, on the surface, more like a smuggling ring than a discussion group. On the other, today's online social networks enable large groups of people to affiliate loosely and collaborate on micro projects.

Were the students in this matter engaged in old-fashioned cheating, or is the professor a clueless digital refusnik? Study groups are a mainstay of the law school experience, as are outlines passed down through generations of 1Ls. And law students, as I've argued before, generally need more opportunities to work together. Plus, few classes have homework anyway.

Nonetheless, I'm curious: do you, or your school, have a policy about online study groups and sharing of notes? For example, what's your take on SwapNotes, which also happens to have a Facebook incarnation?

Gene Koo

March 11, 2008 in Serving students | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 13, 2008

A hierarchy of goals for law school instruction and serving students

During recent AALS presentations and in other law school reform discussions, I realized law professors often talk past each other because of different visions of the goals for law school instruction and serving students.  To give reform goals some conceptual content, I devised a hierarchy of goals for law school instruction and serving students (which now reminds me a bit of the eight degrees of tzedukah).  Here goes:

Law school instruction and serving students should be focused on...

5. helping students pass the bar

4. helping students get better grades

3. helping students learn doctrines and skills needed to be competent lawyers

2. helping students develop insights and abilities needed to be outstanding lawyers

1. helping students enhance talents and options needed to be flourishing professionals

In developing this (incomplete?) hierarchy, I have come to new insights about old issues, such as the laptops-in-the-classroom debate.  I surmise that many professors, perhaps accurately, fear that laptops (and surfing) in the classroom can undermine efforts to achieve Goals 3 and 4 and 5 for all the students.  But I consider laptops and the internet to be essential to Goals 1 and 2 and 3 for those students who are genuinely interested in the concepts and materials I cover.  Similarly...

Deeper insights about the stratification of law schools and law students also can emerge from this hierarchy of goals.  Consider, for example, Goal 5 concerning helping students pass the bar: because of their very different student populations, top-tier law schools and their students likely don't worry about this goal much; bottom-tier law schools and their students likely have to worry about this goal a lot.  And, for middle-tier schools, where the top 75% of students are very likely to pass the bar on the first try, an internal emphasis on Goal 5 will necessarily commit resources to the benefit of only a small portion of the school's student population.

Goal 4, helping students get better grades, creates a different sort of dynamic.  Most law schools have a fixed curve for most standard classes, so helping some law students get better grades will only entail that other students get worse grades.  This explains, in part, the grade-inflation pressure at most law schools: raising the overall grade curve will do more to help the entire student population on Goal 4 than will any amount of student services that merely help certain students do better on exams.

Finally, the pernicious realities of quantification and US News rankings explains why the "lesser" goals in this hierarchy tend to get so much more attention.  It is very easy to quantify and assess success with Goals 4 and 5, but quite hard to quantify and assess success with Goals 3 or 2 or 1 (unless success is defined in terms of monies given back to the law school by alums).  Thus, there will always be internal and external pressures to "do better" on Goals 4 and 5, while far too little attention is paid to Goals 3 or 2 or 1.

Posted by DAB

January 13, 2008 in Serving students | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 25, 2007

Transfer Students: What Innovation Do You Value (or Miss) at Your New School?

Following up on Doug's post about transfer students, it strikes me that transfer students have the advantage of comparing student experiences at two law schools.

Given this standpoint, transfer students are well-positioned to notice innovations at the two schools they have attended.

So, I pose this question to transfers: what innovations do you miss most from your previous school, or value most in your new school?

Anupam Chander

October 25, 2007 in Serving students | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack