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.
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.
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
August 31, 2011
"Think [And Practice] Like a Lawyer: Legal Research for the New Millennials"
The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Aliza Kaplan and Kathleen Darvil, which is available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
It is time to heed the calls for legal education reform. In our changing economy, new attorneys need to be properly trained in law school to be competent at providing effective legal services for their employers and clients. Law schools must remain open to and interested in legal reform; they must partner with practitioners to incorporate more practical skills into the law school curriculum.
Updating how we teach legal research by making it accord more with how attorneys actually conduct and use legal research in practice will help accomplish this and will also more actively engage our Millennial students. There is no question that making some timely changes to legal research instruction would better prepare new attorneys to be competent practicing lawyers and would be a win-win for students, law schools and employers.
August 29, 2011
Does three years in law school have "value" other than as the means to a professional degree?
The question in the title of this post keeps coming to my mind as I read posts and comments over at Inside the Law School Scam, as well as discussions at various scam-blogs in which the basic theme is that the huge debt law schools require (encourage?) students to incur is a scam because there are no (well-paying) law jobs to be found. In this recent post, LawProf does an armchair cost/benefit assessment of the potential professional "return" on a law degree investment priced at $300K in terms of actual and opportunity costs. Missing from the LawProf analysis (as he concedes) is any discussion of the potential "value" of law school (and of being a lawyer) other than as the means to a profession degree that could (but may not) increase one's earning power/potential.
Two subsequent posts by Law Prof with the following comments, in turn, has me really wondering about the "value" of the (expensive) modern three-year law school experience:
That law is an unhappy profession has more to do with factors that law schools can do little about...
The vast majority of law students are in no way interested in paying $150,000 for a three-year continuation of their liberal arts education. They didn't go to law school because they wanted to go to graduate school to study law. They went to law school (leaving aside those who are killing time because they have no real idea what they want to do) because they were presented with a barrier to entry to the practice of law that required them to go to school for three more years, period, full stop.
I know some practicing lawyers who would agree that "law is an unhappy profession," but I also know many more practicing lawyers who really like their jobs (and not merely because they make more than a living wage). But putting aside the important question of whether law really is "an unhappy profession," this premise necessarily casts a completely different light on the "value" and vices of modern legal education. If law practice really is an "unhappy profession," law schools would seem to justify praise for giving students as a last bit of (expensive) fun (or at least ease) before they have to enter the "unhappy" profession in the real-world.
Moreover, at the same time I seriously question the premise that "law is an unhappy profession," I also question the suggestion that most new law students know where and how they wanted to "practice law" (as opposed to just knowing they want to have a good white-collar job in a certain region). The real "value" I see in the modern law school program is to provide a (comfortable?) space, significant time and considerable resources to enable bright young people (or second career people) to figure out just what "practicing law" might really mean for them.
Put differently, in addition to believing modern law schools provide a solid education in what I would call "advanced American civics," I also believe modern law schools provide a good opportunity for bright young people (or second career people) to find out about different ways they might make a living from being bright as a lawyer. To me, this is especially key to the "value" of law school programs lasting three years: most think-like-a-lawyer training can be achieved during the 1L year, but the following two years provide space, time, and resources for students figure out where and how they can find a "happy" place within what for (too) many may be an "unhappy profession."
That all said, students are often paying a lot (roughly $100K if they are paying full tuition) for the opportunity to explore what law practice might mean for them over their final 2 years in law school. Moreover, if those final two years end up further limiting a student's professional options after graduation (because of bad grades or other factors), I fully understand considerable post-graduation frustration.
Still, I know from my own experiences that I benefited personally and professionally from having extra time in law school to figure out my own professional goals (though my concerns about the loans accrued were diminished by a decent lawyer job market in the 1990s). And here I wanted to supplement my co-blogger's recent post on the good things about the 3L year, as well as encourage readers to share their perspectives on the "value" (and/or vices) of a relatively long modern law school program.
Posted by DAB
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?
IAALS launches new program called "Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers"
Via e-mail I received this annoucement of note about legal education reform, which gets started this way:
The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) at the University of Denver today launches a unique, national initiative to change the way law schools educate students. “Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers” provides a platform to encourage law schools in the U.S. to showcase innovative teaching to produce more practice-ready lawyers who can better meet the needs of an evolving profession.
Rebecca Love Kourlis is the Executive Director of IAALS and a former Colorado Supreme Court justice. “Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers leverages the Carnegie Model of learning,” Kourlis says. “Our project provides support for shared learning, innovation, ongoing measurement and collective implementation. We are very excited to launch this project to encourage new ways to train law students and to measure innovation in the years to come.”
William M. Sullivan is the Director of “Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers.” He also is the lead author of the 2007 Carnegie Foundation report, Educating Lawyers. “Our goal is to encourage law schools that are already committed to innovation to share what they know in a structured, collaborative place so that other law professors may discuss and develop new teaching techniques,” Sullivan says.
IAALS will manage this initiative, the first of its kind in the country. The initiative is partnering with a growing number of law schools in a consortium committed to innovative teaching.
The website for Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers is interesting and seems to have some useful contents, though I do not yet see just why the website (or this companion blog) ought to become a regular stop for law professors or law students.
Posted by DAB
October 16, 2010
Great Prawfs discussion of "Revamping the 1L Curriculum"
Over at PrawfsBlawg, Lyrissa Lidsky has this interesting post on 1L curriculum reform that gets started this way:
How do law schools justify their curricula in a world where tuition keeps rising and employment rates for grads keep falling?
In response to this question, and at the nudging of our curriculum committee, several of my colleagues today began discussing what should be done to revamp the 1L curriculum. It was amazing to hear how much consensus there is about what skills too many students lack after the 1L year. They can't (or don't) read cases closely enough; they can't (or don't) read statutes closely enough; their writing skills are underdeveloped; their analytical skills are weak; they lack initiative and self-reliance.
There was far less consensus on how to solve the problem. Proposals included having a separate class to teach legal reasoning skills, adding skills components to traditional 1L classes, making sure 1L students have a small section experience, beefing up legal research and writing requirements, requiring 1L profs to use essay exams, banning laptops in class, and adding components to 1L classes designed to boost "emotional intelligence" or professionalism.
The post prompted a host of really terrific comments, including a complaint and a retort from a current law student and a current lawyer (which are only quoted in part below and merit a full read):
Student Complaint: I am not a professor so I (maybe) cannot offer the best method for revamping the 1L (or even subsequent) curriculum. I do know, however, that the current method is not working. Law school is too much of a game, too much of hide the ball, and too much of "you gotta do what I say because I control the gate".
I have raised my concerns and thoughts to many professors and suprisingly they all agree for the most part. I have to wonder, if they all agree with what a lowly law student thinks, why isnt someone doing something about it? I feel that I have been under-prepared by law school and am just biding my time until the bar exam.
Lawyer Retort: I have to disagree with Mr. Billy who is frustrated by the law school hide-the-ball approach. And no, I am not a professor -- I'm a practicing lawyer.
I often here about how law school "hides the ball." This is often portrayed negatively. The people who who feel this way don't get why the American legal education system is so much better than most others.
Here's the simple truth: The practice of law is all about finding a hidden ball. All the time.
There is no such thing as a case on point. There is no such thing as a simple argument. Each time you are thrown into a new case or legal matter you come in with no context, no grounding, and you have to learn to swim over again.
January 07, 2010
"Law students at great expense are getting little more than bad sociology"The title of this post is just one of many provocative comments by law professor Charles Rounds in this potent commentary urging law schools to return to teaching traditional common-law subjects. Here are more buzz-worthy excerpts that I hope might generate some comments here:
Professional schools need to strike a balance between book-learning and real-world experience. The American law school now deserves failing grades in both departments.
But it gets worse. In response to complaints from the practicing bar that recent law graduates cannot write well and are otherwise unable to “hit the ground running,” the typical law school has beefed up its in-house clinics and legal writing programs. These politicized bureaucracies behave like labor unions. They are great at self-promotion and forging national networks. They are labor-intensive and thus frightfully expensive.
At best, these programs are pedagogically inefficient; at worst they are pedagogically cancerous. By chipping away at, or crowding out altogether, traditional core courses such as Agency, Trusts, and Equity, these clinical and legal writing programs are more than just a nuisance. One’s writing improves when one has something rational and coherent to express. Ten writing courses will not help the law student who is unable to connect the dots because he or she does not know where the dots are.
There is some irony here, as a lawyer is the agent of his or her client. Law schools are in the business of churning out common law agents but they no longer require that their students take a course in the law of agency? How can that be?
This de-professionalization of the American law school, a phenomenon of profound concern to many in the legal profession, suggests that there is an opening for the for-profit sector. A bare-bones, back-to-basics for-profit law school staffed by seasoned scholar-practitioners may be the answer. The more boot-camp-like the better, in that the rigor will prepare future lawyers for the work they’ll actually confront in the real world.
It would be a step in the right direction (but only a small one) if law schools were to revive and require the discrete Agency course and relegate to the extra curricular “subjects” such as these: Climate Change Justice (taught at Harvard), Social Justice Lawyering (University of North Carolina), Law and Literature: Murder (University of North Carolina), Social Disparities in Health (Colorado), Wal-Mart (Colorado), Law & Literature: Race and Gender (Duke), Sexual Orientation and the Law (Duke), Ethics in Literature (Yale), Civil Disobedience (Suffolk), and Critical Race Theory (Suffolk).
In any case, we are more likely to see such modest back-to-basics reforms emanating from a for-profit law school, whose faculty presumably would not be tenured, than from the tenured law faculties in the non-profit sector, which tend to walk in lock step. A for-profit law school that affords its students a thorough grounding in the fundamentals would soon win the respect and admiration of the hiring partners in the nation’s law firms. In time they would come to take with a grain of salt the puff pieces and propaganda of their non-profit alma maters, and of the American Bar Association which regulates them.
Posted by DAB
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
September 10, 2009
"The recession makes externships a sweeter deal for students"
The title of this post is the headline of this interesting recent article from the National Law Journal. Here is how it starts:
Without summer associate programs to rely on, law students are turning to alternate ways of gaining practical experience and making connections that could lead to full-time employment.
Many students are doing externships to fill that need. They work, unpaid, for credit under the supervision of faculty and an on-site attorney at a government agency, nonprofit organization or sometimes a corporation. (By contrast, internships can be for credit or for pay.) American Bar Association rules prohibit law firm externships.
Once thought valuable but not essential, externships are gaining a new stature as students do everything they can to land a job. Demand for, and participation in, externships have increased significantly, according to law school administrators.
As the economy batters law students' hopes for employment and law firms cut back or eliminate summer-associate programs, law schools are answering the criticism that they have done a poor job preparing law students for real legal work. Schools are revamping their programs, enlarging their focus to include many more opportunities for practical training. Externships are part of that picture.
June 20, 2008
Will the Northwestern innovative new program be successful?
While Gene is off at a great CALI conference, Northwestern Law School announced today its innovative new approach to legal education (official announcement here).
Making all the headlines (in Insider Higher Ed and in the Chicago Tribune) is Northwestern's creation of an accelerated track that would allow students to get a JD in 2+ years. But there is a lot more to the innovation being pioneered here in a program titled "Plan 2008: Preparing Great Leaders for the Changing World." Particularly catching my eye were these components:
- Communication efforts to ensure that students graduate with the ability to communicate in the different settings in which lawyers work. A strong focus will be placed on basic exposition, legal reasoning and analysis, drafting of simple contracts and business exposition (or effectively communicating advice to clients). Writing competency will be screened for in the admissions process and then stressed and tested throughout each year of law school, with the goal of certifying abilities in this area.
- Teamwork infused extensively into existing courses and programs. Law school candidates will be favored for their project management experience and teamwork abilities in the admissions process. Faculty will be supported and trained to facilitate teamwork efforts.
- Feedback that will improve the learning experience. The goal is to provide multiple feedback opportunities throughout course work and programs to encourage students and track their progress, rather than, as usual in law school, rely primarily on final exams to gauge achievement goals.
That is a lot to try to get done, especially while seeking to pioneer a new accelrated program. I have a sense that many students will be drawn to various aspects of Plan 2008, but that faculty may at times struggle to make all these grand plans a reality.
Posted by DAB
March 18, 2008
Boston College Law School Announces First-Year Curriculum Changes
From the press release:
Two years ago the School semesterized the first-year calendar, and shortened course offerings in Torts Contracts, and Property (the first two courses from 5 credits to 4, and the latter course from 6 credits to 4). The faculty also added Criminal Law as a required course in the spring semester.
After recent lengthy meetings, the faculty made two further changes that were recommended by the Educational Policy Committee: to start the second semester one week later in January, and to eliminate [Introduction to Lawyering and Professional Responsibility] from the first year curriculum and to allow first year students to take a 3 credit elective in its place.
See also the School's eBrief for background, Spotlight: Curriculum Reform. -- Joe Hodnicki
March 17, 2008
AU WCL to Host Conference on Innovations in the First-Year Law Curriculum
American University’s Washington College of Law will host the conference “Innovations in the First Year Curriculum” from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, March 21, 2008 [Details]
Sponsored by the WCL's Integrated Curriculum Program, Office of Academic Affairs and Office of the Dean, the conference is free and open to the public . It will bring together academic leaders from the Washington College of Law, as well as those from Georgetown, Howard, Indiana, New York, Northeastern, Rutgers, Seattle and Washington & Lee universities, the universities of Maryland, Michigan and Minnesota, City University of New York, and William Mitchell College of Law, to discuss some of the changes in theory and instruction related to the first-year law school experience.
The panel discussions and short presentations will explore recent developments, including integrated and transcurricular teaching, the inclusion of clinical or practice-based instruction, reconfiguration of first-year legal writing programs, first-year electives and other innovations. -- Joe Hodnicki
March 15, 2008
Starting a radical law school revolution at Wash & Lee
Though mentioned by Mark here, Washington and Lee's new radical reform of its 3L yeay deserve a lot of attention. Notably, a while ago in this post, I set out the seemingly radical idea of having an entire 3L year in which students could not take standard doctrinal courses. The new Wash & Lee program takes this idea further: as Dean Rod Smolla explains here, Wash & Lee is "entirely reinventing the third year to make it a year of professional development through simulated and actual practice experiences."
After reading this helpful pdf describing the new Wash & Lee program, I no longer view these comments by Dean Smolla (with may emphasis added) as overstatement:
This is one of the boldest reforms in American legal education since Dean Christopher Columbus Langdell pioneered the new curriculum at Harvard Law School in the late 19th century. For the next 100 years, American law schools largely followed the Harvard model, and in many respects it has worked remarkably well.
We are at a turning point in the history of the legal profession and the history of legal education. As the Carnegie Foundation's influential 2007 report, "Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law," forcefully explained, while the Langdell model works extremely well in the first year to teach students the essential building blocks of legal theory, reasoning, and doctrine, it is an incomplete vision of what it should mean to prepare a lawyer for the profession.
There is a need to be met in our service to the public and the profession. Many law schools from across the spectrum of legal education are responding to these forces with innovations and reforms. Five years from now, legal education will have changed. At Washington and Lee, we are proud to be a leader in this national movement. We believe it is incumbent on our Law School to be more ambitious in our mission and innovative in our approach to education....
Our purpose is to transform law school into a three-year progression from the purely academic study of law to the development of the lawyer's professional role as counselor and advocate in the highest ethical traditions of the profession.
Valuably, Wash & Lee has created this great webpage to help media report on its new curriculum, and I have found these early reports on the school's efforts to start a law school revolution:
- From the National Law Journal here, "School's third-year program overhauled to teach practice of law"
- From Inside Higher Ed here, "Overhauling Law School’s Third Year"
December 05, 2007
Harvard Law Library's InfoAdvantage
Harvard Law Library is piloting a way to push specific books, articles, and other resources selected carefully by law librarians directly into each law class's online learning portal. (Sorry to publish a second post about Harvard in one week). Librarians assemble collections of materials into topical bundles that update across all classes -- essentially functioning as learning objects. The basic content is open to all Harvard students.
What I find particularly interesting about this effort is that the librarians are taking the initiative here and letting professors opt out of the program, rather than requiring profs to affirmatively opt in. (They attempted the latter last year and got few responses).
Also worth noting is that the library is using the same platform (a home-grown learning management system called iSites) to serve as a research repository where faculty, assistants, and librarians virtually aggregate research. In many ways, this is potentially pointing the way towards a research management system not unlike those used by litigation teams.
I suspect that Harvard's is not the only law library serving in this capacity, and would love to find out about other, similar initiatives elsewhere.
October 31, 2007
Apperently being innovative means taking three years to produce a report on innovations
Today's New York Times has this article discussing curriculum reform ideas brewing at law schools. Here are snippets:
Forget all the jokes about what should be done with the lawyers. What should be done with the law students? That question is being tackled — seriously — at a variety of law schools around the country as they undertake a broad series of changes to their curriculums.
The changes range from requiring new courses for first-year students to expanding clinical programs to adding electives in the later years to encouraging law students to take courses in other graduate-level programs at their universities. Harvard Law School announced last year that it would modify its venerable curriculum, and its cross-country rival, Stanford Law School, has begun making changes, too. Columbia Law School began modifying its curriculum in 2003, and the University of New Mexico School of Law made a series of changes starting three years ago and is weighing more.
“When you haven’t changed your curriculum in 150 years, at some point you look around,” said Elena Kagan, the dean of Harvard Law. The impetus for the changes is the sense that what has been taught and how it has been taught may be “embarrassingly disconnected from what anybody does,” Ms. Kagan said. Those concerns were highlighted in a report on legal education published this year by the Carnegie Foundation....
The report has galvanized reflection at many law schools. In December, Stanford Law will be the host of a meeting of representatives from 10 schools that have designed innovative curriculums, including the City University of New York School of Law, New York University School of Law and the University of Dayton School of Law. After the meeting, the group will continue working toward a goal of producing a report in 2010, said Lawrence C. Marshall, a professor at Stanford Law who is coordinating the initiative.
Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr here reprints a colleague's "skeptical response" to the story. I would add that, if it is going to take three years for a working group just to produce a report on possible curriculum innovations, can we expect any of these innovations to be implemented in our lifetime?
Posted by DAB
October 25, 2007
Alternative Model for Law School Clinics Proposed
CUNY law professor Sameer M. Ashar proposes an alternative model for law school clinics in Law Clinics and Collective Mobilization (SSRN). Here's the abstract:
Poor people are not served well by the kinds of advocacy currently taught and reinforced in most law clinics. The canonical approaches to clinical legal education - (1) a nearly exclusive focus on individual client empowerment, (2) professional skills transfer, and (3) lawyer-led impact litigation and law reform - are not sufficient to sustain effective public interest practice in the current political moment. These approaches rely on a practice narrative that does not accurately portray the conditions faced by poor people or the resistance strategies devised by groups with activist organizers. At the margins of the field, law school clinics and innovative legal advocacy organizations have played a key role in developing a new public interest practice. Lawyers and law students support and stimulate radical democratic resistance to market forces by developing litigation, legislative, and community education methods to advance collective mobilization. This article offers a typology of clinical approaches, a critique of the canon, and a description of the features of an alternative clinical model with the ultimate aim of reconfiguring public interest law.
-- Joe Hodnicki
October 23, 2007
Distance Education in Law School: The Train Has Left the Station
UNLV law professor Diana Gleason has deposited Distance Education in Law School: The Train Has Left the Station in SSRN. Here's the abstract:
[This article} posits the idea that law schools are getting left behind a national trend to add distance education to the higher education curriculum to the detriment of legal education and law students. Approximately half the article describes reasons for the growth in distance education in non-law academia, followed by reasons why distance education has not impacted law schools. The remainder of the article discusses three changes taking place that will bring distance education to law schools. Specifically, students expect more, students are seeking a less expensive alternative to the brick and mortar law school, and a student population with non-traditional goals and demographics is starting to enter law school.
Excitement about distance education was expressed in several articles written just before the ABA Section on Legal Education & Admission to the Bar updated Standard 306---Distance Education in 2002. However, very little has been written since, nor has distance education made a substantial impact on legal education since the new standard was accepted. The attached article is timely because the national growth in distance education suggests that the legal education community will be required to embrace the remote learning phenomena sooner rather than later due to growing consumer demand. The article is also relevant to those interested in the technology that makes distance learning not only possible but in some ways preferable to the lecture forum.
-- Joe Hodnicki
September 26, 2007
Helping (underpaid?) judges through law school innovation
I am not sure I consider federal judges underpaid, but I am sure that concerns about judicial salaries create an opportunity to involve (and compensate) judges with law school innovations. Specifically, how about a program to "hire" federal judges as law school fellows for a few months in the summer?
Federal judges could be fellows in residence at law schools from, say, July 4th until Labor Day. While in residence, judges would teach a summer class, participate in faculty workshops, be available for student advising, and maybe write a commentary for a school's journal. These paid fellowships would allow federal judges to supplement their incomes by, in essence, serving as resources and consultants to law schools in the summer months. (Since the average tenured faculty member earns roughly $10-15 thousand per month, it would be very fair to pay judges around $25,000 for spending two months around the law school. They would, of course, still have to keep up with key judicial responsibilities during this period.)
Even if a law school hired, say, four judicial law school fellows each summer, the yearly investment would be $100,000 in a program that would surely produce many dividends. Better yet, I think AALS might urge Congress to foot the bill. To fully fund this kind of fellowship for 200 law school would cost only $20 million annually (which is probably about what the federal government was spent in Iraq just this morning).
Congress should see many benefits from creating a judicial fellows program. Not only could this program lower the volume on calls for judicial pay raises, but it also might keep the Justices in the states during the summer so that they do not run off to Europe and start getting crazy ideas about the import of foreign law.