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December 2, 2006

Innovating the third-year: no standard classes?

Completely eliminating the third year of law school is one common, radical reform suggestion (often heard from current students and recent grads).  But it is not likely to ever get taken seriously: too much tradition and money supports the three-year law program to permit an industry-wide shift.   Consequently, anyone underwhelmed by the 3L experience ought to focus on innovation, rather than elimination.

Here's my idea: What if schools decreed that, after the 2L year, students could not earn any credits for graduation in standard lecture/exam law courses?  Instead, to finish up law school, 3L students would have to earn credits through non-standard courses like clinics, seminars, externships, classes in other departments, co-curricular activities, independent study, etc.  (A less ambitious, but still radical, approach would be to say that only half of 3L credits could be earned through standard lecture/exam law courses.)

Two key points drive this idea:

  1. Most students have little desire or reason to be very engaged in standard law classes as a 3L: two prior years have removed all novelty from the teaching format; future employment may already be secured; 3Ls are acutely aware of the disconnect between standard classwork and practice skills.
  2. Most law schools and professors will only develop and teach non-standard courses if students demand them: standard classes are relatively easy and fun to teach (especially if taught before); they are economical because many dozens of students can be served by one faculty member.

By requiring students to earn many or all 3L credits through non-traditional means, students would be forced to figure out what non-standard law school activities they would find interesting and rewarding as they finish up.  And law professors, in turn, would likely be pushed to develop more non-traditional courses and activities in order to serve student demands for a range of 3L options.

Posted by DAB (and cross-posted at MoneyLaw).

December 2, 2006 in Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 1, 2006

The Structural Problem of Teaching Practice Skills

I have revised my comments on Stanford's program-- one should not blog while trying (and failing) to get on a flight to Chicago in December during a snowstorm.  Sorry about that.  I have tried to refine my comments below.    

I am glad to see the changes Stanford is making.  From what I read, it is what students are asking for, and Stanford has brought in some excellent people.  I don't know enough about Stanford to offer a thorough critique of their plan, but I do recognize it as being in keeping with rumblings of change at other places.  My comments below are not specific to Stanford.   

The general trend towards practical training, with the ambitious goal of  having students ready to practice law by the time they leave law school, seems to run contrary to a few other trends that have developed over the past few (or more) decades at nearly all law schools in the top echelon.  If we are serious about making skills training a focus of legal education, we will have to re-examine these other trends.

The first of these trends is towards multi-level faculty, with primary status (tenure, full professorships) and top pay going to those who focus on publishing academic articles, and secondary status (adjuncts, clinical professorships) to those who teach practical skills such as negotiation, clinicals, and legal writing.  In essence, if we maintain this structure while promoting professional training as a co-equal goal of legal education, we are both sending a mixed message and undermining the prospects of that endeavor.   

The second of these trends has been towards devaluing practice experience in favor of Ph.D.'s as a desirable background for law teaching in tenure-track positions.   

These two are related, of course; those recruited to publish articles not surprisingly further these trends in their decisions on hiring and promotion once they become influential in the institution. 

Over the long term, I hope there will be more experiments that support the idea of skills training by making those who teach such skills full members of the faculty.    

-- Mark Osler

December 1, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Do you need funny glasses for a "3D" JD?

As Joe notes, Stanford Law School here announces a "new model" for legal education which it is calling a "3D" JD:

Stanford Law School today announced changes that are transforming the JD into a three-dimensional degree program that combines the study of other disciplines with team-oriented, problem-solving techniques and expanded clinical training that enables students to represent clients and litigate cases — before they graduate.  Stanford's innovation is being driven by the new demands on modern lawyers, which are fundamentally different from those present when the law school curriculum was formed.

Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer said the pedagogical changes the school is spearheading are focused on the second and third year curriculum. He hopes Stanford's reform — which began last year and should be fully implemented by 2009 — will provide a model for legal education generally.

The rest of the official announcement makes for an interesting read, but there really is not a lot of "there there."  Orin Kerr has this take:

I confess it's not entirely clear to me what it means. (A three-dimensional program?  Who knew that Stanford has been offering a mere two-dimensional curriculum all this time?).  As best I can tell, the real reform here is to decrease the number of required "law" courses in the curriculum so that students can take more courses outside of the law school. 

Similarly, Anthony Ciolli here asserts that "Stanford is pretty much copying the Penn Law School curriculum verbatim and passing it off as 'innovative.'"  Commentors at the WSJ Law Blog are likewise underwhelmed.

Whatever one's view on the merits, all this "reform" at leading law schools has Matt Bodie asking here in a great post whether we are now in "A New Era of Law School Innovation?"   To tweak one of my favorite lines from the movie Airplane, looks like we picked a good time to start this blog.

Some related posts:

Posted by DAB

December 1, 2006 in Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Stanford Law School Announces New Model for Legal Education

From the press release: Stanford Law School announced changes that are transforming the JD into a three-dimensional degree program that combines the study of other disciplines with team-oriented, problem-solving techniques and expanded clinical training that enables students to represent clients and litigate cases—before they graduate. Stanford’s innovation is being driven by the new demands on modern lawyers, which are fundamentally different from those present when the law school curriculum was formed. Read more about it. -- Joe Hodnicki

December 1, 2006 in Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 29, 2006

Should law professors be required to practice?

Law professors are required to teach (a little) and expected to produce scholarship (a lot).  The third part of the job description is "service," but this can mean just about anything or nothing.  Committee work, CLE lectures, conferences can all count as service, and few schools demand or even expect "service" to include any real practice of law.

Reading Neal Katyal's terrifically interesting new Harvard Law Review comment about his work in the Hamdan case has me thinking about requiring law professors to do some practicing.  Here are a few passages from Neal's piece that prompt these thoughts:

Perhaps fueled by an intense desire to move up in published law school rankings, many of the nation's leading law schools have ramped up course offerings and the number of faculty members devoted to legal theory while disparaging practitioners.  Like any excluded group, practitioners have begun disparaging the theoreticians in return.  We are witnessing one of the most significant developments in the history of American law: the majority of professors on many law faculties are now specializing in areas that are of no obvious relevance to their students' activities upon graduation....

The truth is that very few law schools today prepare students to be lawyers: this responsibility is shunted off to law firms, the judges for whom students clerk, prosecutors' offices, and others.  The obvious exception is law clinics, which do offer crucial lessons in the art of good lawyering.  But clinics, despite their many virtues, still do not reach most law students, and their connection to the theoretical law taught elsewhere in the school is often left murky.

The cost of this educational failure is massive, forcing employers to spend their limited resources on training new lawyers in the basics of their jobs.

Neal's article ultimately provides a partial defense to all the theory in law school, but it still spotlights the insights a law professor gains from working on a real case.  Of course, Neal's amazing experiences with Hamdan, one of the most intriguing modern constitutional disputes, are not what all law professors would get from practicing in their field.  But, speaking for myself, I have gotten so much from working with clients and writing amicus briefs recently, and my forays into practice have greatly enhanced my teaching and scholarship.

So why not demand (or at least expect) law professors to write a real brief or contract or will or legislative proposal every few years?

Posted by DAB

November 29, 2006 in Service -- legal profession | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Tenure Process v. Innovation

As I hope I have made clear, I'm all for innovation in law teaching, whether it be restructuring the process or introducing new ideas into individual classes.  However, I fear that our tenure system often works against innovation.  I received tenure last year, and have talked to professors at other schools at the same point in their careers who have shared my observations.  What I say below does not necessarily relate to my own experience; it is a general observation of the process.

Usually, innovation comes from younger people and those new to a given organization of any type.  The reasons for this would include the facts that those people most recently were exposed to ideas from outside the system, and have not settled into efficient routines which mitigate against change.  In law schools, those new people tend to be untenured.  This is a very general statement, of course — many great new ideas come from us old-timers, too.

One of the keys to receiving tenure, however, is not making any enemies.  Sadly, senior faculty sometimes feel threatened by innovation, and resent change even if it does not affect them — sometimes because it is an implicit challenge to the way they do things.  Untenured faculty understand this and, not wanting to make enemies, avoid innovation.   In the process they develop those comfortable efficiencies which in turn hinder innovation once they earn more freedom.

Tenure-track profs often receive the advice to "not make waves" during the period before tenure, and properly understand this to mean that they should avoid things that might alienate older colleagues — and many of those "things" would qualify as innovations.

Probably one way to address this would be to treat innovation as a distinct factor to be evaluated in the course of the tenure process.  We should encourage those best able to create positive change by counting that as a plus factor at tenure time.  That would (at least in part) address a problem we would probably rather not talk about — the protection of the status quo by senior faculty.

-- Mark Osler

November 29, 2006 in The tenure process | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

November 28, 2006

Reflections of a Law Librarian on the Death of H. Donald Wilson, First President of Mead Data Central

H. Donald Wilson died of a heart attack Nov. 12. He was the first president of Mead Data Central and was instrumental in commercializing what we now know as LexisNexis. In the late 1960s, he developed a business plan for an engineer's invention of a search engine for a database based on addressing words and phrases of fully inverted files. According to the New York Times, "[a] turning point for the acceptance of Lexis came in the early 1970s, when Mr. Wilson arranged for a skeptical audience at the Supreme Court to use the new system. The Lexis system found more cases than the court clerks found by using manual research methods."

Fifty-somethings like me remember the arrival of the first Lexis terminals. As a graduate student working at the University of Chicago Law Library, we had one terminal for the entire school and, because of its size, it was located in the Law Library's Rare Book Room. Like the rare books, access to the terminal was restricted.

Those huge machines with an array of function keys (which some of us still miss or fondly remember their "dot commands" replacements) and an acoustic coupler for telecommunication were a marvel. We all learned and taught our patrons full text searching using Venn diagrams while reformulating legal research principles around access points and routes in a format neutral frame of reference.

It wasn't long before the legal profession became dependent on "computer-assisted legal research." Later iterations of Lexis equipment did away with the manual acoustic coupler but I will never forget needing one of the older machines once. While working for a large law firm, we had to cite check a brief quickly but we could not establish a connection to Lexis using our newer automatic dialer-based terminal. All the lines were busy because Pope John Paul II had been shot that day. My Lexis rep came to my aid by giving me a telephone number and I rushed off to IIT Chicago-Kent Law Library because that library still had the older acoustic coupler terminal. The brief was checked and filed on time.

I never met Mr. Wilson, who according to the Washington Post died at his computer at home, but I can think of no one who had a greater impact on how we conduct legal research today. Those of us in our 50's experienced something unique in law librarianship. We are the bridge generation. We stand with one foot firmly planted in print materials and the other in online resources. We have Mr. Wilson to thank for that.

Joe Hodnicki
Associate Director for Library Operations
University of Cincinnati College of Law Library
Co-founder, Law Professor Blogs Network
Editor, Law Librarian Blog (where this post first appeared).

November 28, 2006 in Technology -- in general | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 27, 2006

Are there any law-school-related patents?

As discussed here in a law.com article and at great length here at Patently-O, tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear argument in KSR v. Teleflex, which could be a landmark case for patent law.  This SCOTUS spotlight on patent law got me to thinking about whether there existed any notable (or even not-so-notable) patents relating to law schools. 

For almost a decade now, as explained here, business methods have been patentable and the US Patent and Trademark Office has a special classification for teaching methods under a heading of "Education and Demonstration."  In addition, there are certainly plenty of technological devices used in law schools that present patentable subject-matter.  And yet, in a decade of law teaching, I cannot recall any patent issues even arising in my day-to-day law school work (even though copyright issues arise all the time).

So, dear readers, does anyone know about any noteworthy law-school-related patents?

November 27, 2006 in Technology -- in general | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Open-admission law journals

Student-edited law reviews that ignore grades, conduct no write-in competitions, and welcome anyone who wants to join?  Well, why not?  Paul Horwitz proposed the idea six months ago.  Inspired by a discussion of the idea on First Movers, MoneyLaw now joins issue.

-- Jim Chen

November 27, 2006 in Teaching -- research | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Distance Education in the Law School

Distance Education has been a controversial subject in legal education.  After all, it is difficult to replicate a Socratic dialog in a classroom.  But distance education is not a one-size fits all.  It can also be used to offer small specialty courses that a school would be unable to offer but for this technology, or it can be used to bring in speakers to a classroom taught by a live instructor.  My contribution to this list will be to provide some materials that might be useful in considering whether a distance education model, course, or inaction might be appropriate in a law school setting. For openers, it would be remiss not to mention the existing ABA Rules for offering distance education courses. Standard 306 provides the strict rules for such courses, including the need to have faculty approve it as a separate course, not allow 1ls to participate, and limit the hours to not more than 4 credits in any term and 12 throughout a student's course of study.


November 27, 2006 in Technology -- in the classroom | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack