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March 9, 2007

The Competition Question

Team As I prepare a mock trial team for the National Ethics Trial Competition next week, I have been wondering about the educational value of interscholastic moot court and mock trial contests.  Obviously, I think there is some value in them, or I wouldn't be involved, but I would concede it is a complex question.  The contests are necessarily artificial, and (except for client counseling competitions) cut out one of the most important aspects of legal work--  interaction with a client.   

With my teams, I try to give them freedom to developing their own examinations, openings and closings, while I guide them only on the process to do so.  It often is a great teaching opportunity, as while the competition system is imperfect, it is closer to the practice of law than much of the rest of law school.

Due to good coaching and a dedication of resources, there are powerhouse schools that do very well in competition year after year, such as South Texas and Stetson.   Intriguingly, there is little overlap between top-ranked academic schools and the top-ranked competition schools; I have never seen Yale involved in a national mock trial competition.   I would imagine this is because those schools do not have a focus on practical trial skills.   That fact conceded, though, I would imagine that some of those schools might want to use teams to satisfy those students in their midsts hungering for more practical experience. 

-- Mark Osler


March 9, 2007 in Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 7, 2007

Law Students Face Employment Difficulties for Online Comments

A Washington Post article by Ellen Nakashima reports on a Yale law student who has found obtaining a job difficult because of comments posted about her online.  Law firms, the article reports, routinely Google prospective employees as part of a background check.   

She graduated Phi Beta Kappa, has published in top legal journals and completed internships at leading institutions in her field. So when the Yale law student interviewed with 16 firms for a job this summer, she was concerned that she had only four call-backs. She was stunned when she had zero offers.

Though it is difficult to prove a direct link, the woman thinks she is a victim of a new form of reputation-maligning: online postings with offensive content and personal attacks that can be stored forever and are easily accessible through a Google search.

The woman and two others interviewed by The Washington Post learned from friends that they were the subject of derogatory chats on a widely read message board on AutoAdmit, run by a third-year law student at the University of Pennsylvania and a 23-year-old insurance agent.

...Employers, including law firms, frequently do Google searches as part of due diligence checks on prospective employees. According to a December survey by the Ponemon Institute, a privacy research organization, roughly half of U.S. hiring officials use the Internet in vetting job applications.

The woman and two others interviewed by The Washington Post learned from friends that they were the subject of derogatory chats on a widely read message board on AutoAdmit, run by a third-year law student at the University of Pennsylvania and a 23-year-old insurance agent. The women spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution online.

Law students should be very careful about what they post (even in forums that appear private) but it is difficult, of course, to prevent others from writing about you. 

What can law schools do to reduce risks for law students because of unsavory characterizations online?

Anupam Chander

March 7, 2007 in Serving students | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Examining and reforming student evaluations

My OSU colleague Deborah Jones Merritt has this fascinating and provocative new piece posted at SSRN about student evaluations.  The piece is entitled "Bias, the Brain, and Student Evaluations of Teaching," and here is the abstract:

Student evaluations of teaching are a common fixture at American law schools, but they harbor surprising biases.  Extensive psychology research demonstrates that these assessments respond overwhelmingly to a professor's appearance and nonverbal behavior; ratings based on just thirty seconds of silent videotape correlate strongly with end-of-semester evaluations. The nonverbal behaviors that influence teaching evaluations are rooted in physiology, culture, and habit, allowing characteristics like race and gender to affect evaluations.

The current process of gathering evaluations, moreover, allows social stereotypes to filter students' perceptions, increasing risks of bias.  These distortions are inevitable products of the intuitive, "system one" cognitive processes that the present process taps. The cure for these biases requires schools to design new student evaluation systems, such as ones based on facilitated group discussion, that enable more reflective, deliberative judgments.  This article draws upon research in cognitive decision making, both to present the compelling case for reforming the current system of evaluating classroom performance and to illuminate the cognitive processes that underlie many facets of the legal system.

In addition to being interested in reader reactions to this article, I would also be eager to hear suggestions for innovate ways for law students to effectively evaluate and help improve law teaching.

Posted by DAB

March 7, 2007 in Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Posner on the Economics of College and University Rankings


The rankings raise several interesting economic questions: the effect of rankings on information costs, in general and with particular reference to higher education; the manipulability of rankings by the colleges themselves; the effect of the rankings on education; and why U.S. News & World Report's annual rankings, though fiercely criticized by prominent universities (such as Stanford), face little competition.

And answered by Judge Posner on The Becker-Posner Blog. -- Joe Hodnicki

March 7, 2007 in Rankings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 6, 2007

Distance Learning # 3

The Southeast Association of Law Schools (SEALS) conference will have two panels this summer on distance education.  Details are here.  The following describes the basic panel:

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Distance Learning But Were Afraid to Ask

Law schools have been reluctant to use computer technologies to offer distance education courses or programs. However, revisions to ABA regulations, decreased technological costs and the creation of distance education consortiums are supporting an emerging market for legal distance education. The use of internet technologies is blurring boundaries between the distance education and the "traditional" classroom because the technology is making it possible for distance education to be potentially as interactive. This panel will discuss the differences between "traditional" and distance education courses, focusing on the preparation and work necessary to create and teach an internet-based course. The session will define the kinds of distance education course (synchronous, asynchronous or blended) and will explain the kinds of technical and academic resources needed to offer such a course. Finally, panelists will provide a brief introduction to the kinds of courses and programs being offered by law schools, concluding with general recommendations on how to get other faculty members more involved. Moderator: Professor Anthony Baldwin, Mercer University Law School Speakers: Professor Rebecca Trammell, Stetson University College of Law; Professor Billie Jo Kaufman, American University, Washington College of Law; Professor John Baker,Louisiana State University Law Center; Professor Phill Johnson, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.


March 6, 2007 in Technology -- in the classroom | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 5, 2007

How Do U.S. News Rankings Affect the Financial Resources of Public Colleges?

In The Power of Information: How Do U.S. News Rankings Affect the Financial Resources of Public Colleges? (NBER Working Paper No. 12941) Ginger Zhe Jin and Alex Whalley reach three main conclusions:

  1. USNWR coverage causes colleges to increase educational and general expenditures per student.
  2. These expenditure responses are funded by a 6.5% increase in state appropriations per student, but tuition revenue does not respond.
  3. The state appropriation response to USNWR exposure is larger the larger the pre-college age population, voter turnout and USNWR newsstand sales are in a state.

The authors write "our results suggest that, in addition to a consumer response, the publication of quality rankings may influence the provision of quality through a political channel."  -- Joe Hodnicki

March 5, 2007 in Rankings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack