Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Leaders, it's time to lead

While in Washington last week for the AALS convention, I was able to hear two law school leaders say these two things:  (1)  The U.S. News ratings are a false proxy for quality, they stifle innovation and degrade our service to students, are leading us to financial disaster, and are making us corrupt; and (2)  At my institution, I am doing everything I can to maintain or increase the US News rank of our school.

In other words, these leaders were both saying that the pursuit of rankings is corrupting and bad, and that they are complicit in it.   

To identify something as wrong, in such a profound way, and continue to serve that wrong ideal is poor leadership, it lacks integrity, and it serves as a terrible example to our students and communities.  All that we do as educators is a form of teaching, and what this is teaching is the accommodation of clearly bad principles. 

If you want to a lead a law school, damn it, then lead.  If that means rejecting the tyranny of the rankings, then do so.  Stop being complicit.  Lead the rebellion.  Quit in protest.  Stand for something.  Lead, already.

-- Mark Osler



January 11, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Diversity Officers--for Corporations, Law Firms, and Law Reviews

The Wall Street Journal reports that law firms and many Fortune 500 companies have an executive who is responsible for promoting diversity within the firm: "About 60% of Fortune 500 companies currently have a CDO or executive role designated for diversity, according to a recent study by Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search firm."  One law firm which has recently created such a position did so because it found that "Without any rigid structures in place, the firm's majority—white male attorneys—were unconsciously choosing to partner with other white male colleagues on assignments," according to the firm's chairman.

Could law review editors be subject to similar unconscious biases--reflected in the selection of new editors, the selection of articles, and the selection of symposium contributors?

The California Law Review (one of my favorite law reviews) has been proactive on this front--appointing a Diversity Editor to consider these issues. Perhaps law reviews could assess their past practices--along the three axes of editor selection, article selection, and symposium contributor selection--and see whether the results require a review of their practices, and perhaps the installation of a diversity officer.

Anupam Chander

January 9, 2012 in Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 4, 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 (0)

Monday, December 19, 2011

The "Rennaisance Report"

Right up our alley is a new online journal based at William Mitchell Law School called "The Renaissance Report: A Journal of Legal Education in Transition."  You can check out their web site here.

They don't seem to have much content up yet, so it is hard to tell where this might go, but I love the idea of innovation in our field (which is why I remain involved here).  I'm intrigued by the idea that legal education is in transition, because I don't see that as a present truth.  Many of us hope that there will be a transition to a healthier, more student-centered model, while others fear that the status quo will be upset by economic realities, but I don't see either one of those things happening yet. 

Specifically, there are three elements of the status quo in legal education that seem resistant to change:

1)  Perhaps most importantly, rankings continue to shape crucial decisions in legal education.

2)  The personal incentives for most law professors favor scholarship over teaching and advocacy.

3)  There are no real attempts being made to roll back costs and tuition.

When at least one of those things begins to show movement, I'll say we are in transition.  Right now, I think it might be fairer to say that we are in the shadow of transition, as it moves inevitably towards us.  The actual transition will begin either when disaster strikes (the collapse of our current economic model) or real leaders step up to either reject the hegemony of rankings, rethink the role of scholarship, or make the painful choices that will finally shrink costs and tuition.

-- Mark Osler



December 19, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Financial Times' Special Supplement on Innovative Law Schools 2011

The Financial Times has just published a new set of stories on law school education around the world. (I should note that the report on LLM programs misses the fabulous intimate and friendly program we have at UC Davis.)

The Financial Times, a London-based paper, seems to understand developments in law school pedagogy better than the New York Times' recent efforts to do the same--see here and here.

Anupam Chander

November 29, 2011 in Law School Management, Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ph.D's and a cutting critique

Yesterday, several people forwarded to me this fascinating article from the New York Times.  The critique of law schools presented there cuts to several truths:  That too much of our scholarship has no impact on anything (and goes largely unread), that we are not student-centered enough, and that we in the legal academy are often more focused on impressing one another rather than addressing real problems in our society.

One of the intriguing criticisms in the article centers on the increasing trend toward hiring professors who have a Ph.D., but no legal experience.  I think this is a fair critique, and one which merits close examination as we keep in mind our status as a professional rather than a graduate school.  My own scholarship is almost always narrowly focused on a discrete issue in the real world, and that is intentional-- I don't want to waste my time on things that don't have a chance to solve a problem.  For the same reason, most of the classes I teach consist largely of practical teaching for the real world:  How to write a sentencing memo, for example, or what happens at an initial appearance behind the scenes.  My most recent entry on SSRN argues in favor of more experiential teaching.

Still, we must be discerning in that critique of Ph.D.'s in our midst.  It's unfair to assume that all Ph.D.'s in the legal academy produce work which is disjoined from real-world legal issues. 

In pondering this, I remember that my own experience overlaps with the very start of this trend.  I was a research assistant for the late Stanton Wheeler at Yale Law School, at a time when Prof. Wheeler was still a controversial figure because his background (and Ph.D.) centered on sociology rather than the law. 

Given that, though, there were few legal academics I have come across who are more focused on real-world legal problems than Prof. Wheeler.  This probably is no accident, as his tenure overlapped with the last of the Legal Realists at Yale. 

For example, he is largely remembered for his pioneering book with Kenneth Mann and Austin Sarat, Sitting in Judgment:  The Sentencing of White-Collar Criminals.  That book was centered on 51 in-depth interviews with federal judges; Wheeler went right to the source in describing how the law actually works. 

Rather than critiquing Ph.D.'s in the academy, we need to look more closely at the scholarship all legal scholars are producing, and rethink the way we value that work.  Stanton Wheeler was not a lawyer, but few of us produce such valuable and relevant scholarship, or teach such clear-minded truths. 

-- Mark Osler

November 21, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Professor's plea: Say no to 'law school porn'"

The title of this post is the headline of this new piece appearing in The National Law Journal. Here are excerpts:

It's that time of year when law school faculties are inundated with so-called "law school porn" — slick mailings extolling the virtues of individual law schools meant to sway voting in the U.S. News & World Report's reputation survey, now underway.

Some legal educators believe the annual barrage of mail has gotten out of control, and proves that rankings are driving administrative decisions.  They say it's time to stop paying for glossy brochures and invest that money in students.

"Some of the stuff I get is gorgeous," said University of New Hampshire law professor Sarah Redfield. "It's almost a book. Some people are spending a bunch of money on this."

A study released in 2009 that was partially funded by the Law School Admission Council, "Fear of Failing: The Effect of U.S. News & World Report Rankings on U.S. Law Schools," reached the same conclusion: that administrators are spending significant amounts of money on brochures and marketing materials in hopes of getting better results on the reputation survey.  The survey is based on voting by legal educators, lawyers and judges, and accounts for 40 percent of a school's ranking score.

In a recent blog post, University of California at Los Angeles School of Law professor Stephen Bainbridge estimated that this material — commonly referred to in legal academic circles as "law school porn" — comprises 67 percent of his work mail. He added that never reads it. He noted that he has started to receive law school promotional materials via e-mail, which he dismissed as spam.

This material does serve a few purposes, according to University of Alabama School of Law professor Paul Horwitz, who defended them on the PrawfsBlawg blog. They can provide useful information about as recent faculty hires, scholarly publications and other innovations, he wrote.

"On the whole, unlike many, I would rather receive these materials than not receive them," Horwitz wrote. "That's true even if, as is generally the case, they're ridiculously fulsome, as long as they're also informative. As long as a school wants to tell me more about who it's hired and what its folks are writing, I'll be happy to read its mailers."...

Redfield brought a thick stack of the material to a law school admissions conference at St. John's University School of Law on Nov. 11.  It represented about one quarter of what she had received this fall, she said. She theatrically dropped the stack into a recycling bin, producing a loud thud, and issued a challenge to the law deans in the audience and to U.S. News Director of Data Research Bob Morse, who sat on a panel with her.  Law schools should do away with law school porn and put the money toward diversity scholarships, Redfield said.

Morse did not sign on to the challenge, nor did his dismiss it out of hand.  Redfield's idea was met with skepticism by St. John's Dean Michael Simons.  He did not specify what the school spends on its mailings, but stipulated that it would not be enough to fund even a half-scholarship. The National Law Journal contacted a number of law schools to ask what they spend; none responded.

November 17, 2011 in Impact on law school decision-making, Rankings, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Does Having a Diverse Law School Faculty Affect Students? One Study

A fascinating study, summarized here by National Jurist.

Faculty diversity impacts law review membership, study finds

Law schools with a diverse faculty are more likely to have law review members and leaders who are minorities or women, a new study suggests. The report, completed by The New York Law School Law Review, looks at female and minority representation among law review membership and leadership at ABA-accredited law schools. Membership on a school's law review is an indicator of future career success.

“Getting into law school is only half the battle — for better or worse, grades matter a lot and law review membership is one of the most prominent indicators of academic achievement,” said Dana Brodsky, one of four 3L editors who conducted the research. “Our survey shows a possible connection between the overall environment a school provides and the achievement of its women and minority students.”


More empirical research here would seem to be in order to understand the effects, if any, of faculty diversity on student outcomes.

Anupam Chander

November 15, 2011 in Diversity, Law Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The importance of appreciating (and teaching) iPad realities for lawyers and law students

I am at a great session (on a Sunday morning!) of the Appellate Judges Education Institute concerning modern brief writing and reading in our digital age.  The biggest take-away is that the iPad has become a "game-changer" in part because already perhaps as many as half of all appellate judges nationwide are at least sometimes reading briefs on an iPad and because it seems likely that soon all judges will read most briefs on screens.  

This sessions is reinforcing my belief that law schools should be looking for ways to intergrate iPads and/or other e-readers into their skills curriculum.  Notably, a Ninth Circuit judge on reported that his circuit is providing all its judges with iPads, and I strongly believe it should be only a matter of time before some clever law schools (and/or law publishers) figure out the opportunities and advantages that might flow from giving groups of students pre-programmed e-readers with specialized applications and/or content.

Some related prior posts:

 Posted by DAB

November 13, 2011 in Electronic Education, Teaching -- pedagogy, Technology -- in general, Technology -- in the classroom | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Is wisdom a goal of legal education?

Last week I gave a paper at Baylor for a conference on "Educating for Wisdom."  It's an intriguing and challenging idea, and one I wrestled with for a while.

We certainly hope for wisdom in the products of our schools-- that is, lawyers and judges-- so it makes sense that we would do something as part of the educational process directed towards that hope.  If we do, though, it rarely seems to be intentional.

My own paper was premised on the idea that wisdom has something to do with decision-making which is rooted in principle.  This is different than most of our legal education process, where we teach decision-making as directed by rules.  Principles are different than rules; the latter direct an outcome (ie, not stealing), while the former tell us what values to consider in reaching an outcome (ie, mercy). 

The full paper, which includes some concrete ideas about educating towards wisdom, is available for download here.

-- Mark Osler


November 4, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Willing yet again to consider putting my US News vote up for sale...

Long-time readers may recall this post from four years ago, in which I asked "Would it be unethical (or even illegal) to put my US News vote up for sale?"  Here is the back-story which prompted my (sincere? tongue-in-cheek?) inquiry in 2007:

For the second consecutive year, I have received US News' survey asking me to help identify "law schools having the top programs in intellectual property law."  My receipt of this survey highlights just how flawed some aspects of US News' rankings can be. 

I was an IP litigator a decade ago and I taught a few IP courses early in my career.  But, especially with my primary field so active, I cannot even hope to keep up with all the IP doings in law schools.  Nevertheless, US News seeks my opinion on which 15 schools have "the highest-quality intellectual property law courses or programs."  Candidly, I have absolutely no idea.

I suppose I could try to make educated guesses about the best IP programs based on who sent around the hottest "law porn"covering IP topics this year.  But I also could throw darts at the survey form and probably not do much worse. 

Consequently, I am now wondering if I could and should simply offer my US News survey to the highest bidder.  Helpfully, US News promises that survey responses are kept confidential, so nobody would know whether or to whom I sold my vote.

Of course, I do not want to do anything unethical or illegal, so I am genuinely seeking an answer to the question posed in this post's title.  I know vote selling in some contexts can be illegal, but I don't think a survey by a private magazine garners too much public protection.  As for ethics, well, what I am proposing seems no less savory than what some schools have reportedly done to game the US News rankings system.  Plus, some recent research suggests that open vote buying/selling may be efficient in this kind of setting.

Fast forward four years, and I am now in my office holding this year's version of the US News' survey asking me to again help identify "law schools having the top programs in intellectual property law."   Apparently the fact that I previously talked up the notion of selling my US News' vote to the highest bidder did not get me scratched from the list of potential voters.  (I assume that the people who run the US News' survey never got wind of my talk of vote selling.  But it is fun to imagine that they heard of my (joking?) plans and nevertheless still thought I was a good person to ask about the top 15 IP programs.)

If memory serves, nobody actually offered me any money for my US News vote back in 2007, so I never did have an opportunity to consider seriously whether I could be bought off.  I do recall a few folks responding to my post via e-mail with information about how great the IP program was at their school.  In other words, I most certainly did not get rich from, but I did get some useful information in response to, my prior post. 

Back in 2007, I ultimately concluded that too much personal bias and not enough valid information would end up informing my survey responses, and so I ripped up the form and tossed it away.  Disturbingly, this year's cover letter and US News form fails to suggest trashing the survey if one lacks the knowledge or information needed to fill it out appropriately.  That very fact has me wondering if US News actually would prefer me to complete the form after getting paid for my votes rather than fail to return the form at all.

October 26, 2011 in Rankings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Measurement and Its Discontents" ... and US News rankings and law school grades

23gray-img-articleLarge-v2The title of this post starts with the headline of this interesting commentary published in yesterday's New York Times. Though not saying one word about legal education or law schools, I thought many parts of piece (and especially the passages quoted below) were especially interesting and deserved consideration as we head into the (never-ending) law school ranking season:

Why are we still stymied when trying to measure intelligence, schools, welfare and happiness?

The problem is not that we don’t yet have precise enough tools for measuring such things; it’s that there are two wholly different ways of measuring.

In one kind of measuring, we find how big or small a thing is using a scale, beginning point and unit. Something is x feet long, weighs y pounds or takes z seconds. We can call this “ontic” measuring, after the word philosophers apply to existing objects or properties.

But there’s another way of measuring that does not involve placing something alongside a stick or on a scale. This is the kind of measurement that Plato described as “fitting.” This involves less an act than an experience: we sense that things don’t “measure up” to what they could be. This is the kind of measuring that good examples invite. Aristotle, for instance, called the truly moral person a “measure,” because our encounters with such a person show us our shortcomings. We might call this “ontological” measuring, after the word philosophers use to describe how something exists.

The distinction between the two ways of measuring is often overlooked, sometimes with disastrous results. In his book “The Mismeasure of Man,” Stephen Jay Gould recounted the costs, both to society and to human knowledge, of the misguided attempt to measure human intelligence with a single quantity like I.Q. or brain size.  Intelligence is fundamentally misapprehended when seen as an isolatable entity rather than a complex ideal.  So too is teaching ability when measured solely by student test scores.

Confusing the two ways of measuring seems to be a characteristic of modern life.  As the modern world has perfected its ontic measures, our ability to measure ourselves ontologically seems to have diminished. We look away from what we are measuring, and why we are measuring, and fixate on the measuring itself.  We are tempted to seek all meaning in ontic measuring — and it’s no surprise that this ultimately leaves us disappointed and frustrated, drowned in carefully calibrated details....

But how are we supposed to measure how wise or prudent we are in choosing the instruments of measurement and interpreting the findings? Modern literature is full of references to the dehumanizing side of measurement, as exemplified by the character Thomas Gradgrind in Dickens’s “Hard Times,” a dry rational character who is “ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to,” yet loses track of his own life.

How can we keep an eye on the difference between ontic and ontological measurement, and prevent the one from interfering with the other?

One way is to ask ourselves what is missing from our measurements.... In our increasingly quantified world, we have to determine precisely where and how our measurements fail to deliver.

I suspect many who read this blog would be quick to assert that law schools are "fundamentally misapprehended when seen as an isolatable entity [subject to ranking by US News] rather than a complex ideal."  In addition, lots has been said by many US News critics about what is missing from the US News measurements. 

And yet, I cannot help but wonder how much the entire traditional law school model — and especially traditional law school grading systems — also are subject to the problem of mixing "ontic and ontological measurement."  I have long thought and feared that law schools could hardly complain all that much about being peculiarly graded by US News when these institutions continue to graded the potential of future lawyers in a (more?) peculiar way.

Posted by DAB

October 24, 2011 in Grading systems, Rankings, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

NY state judges considering loan repayment to students who aid poor

I am pleased and excited to see this interesting new report, headlined "Under Plan, Lawyers Who Counsel Poor Would Get Loan Help," in the New York Law Journal.  Here are excerpts:

New attorneys who volunteer to represent low-income New Yorkers would receive state money to help them repay their student loans under a proposal being considered by court administrators.

The idea is being weighed by court administrators as they formulate the Judiciary's budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which is due by Dec. 1, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said in an interview.

The plan was advanced by Justice Michael V. Coccoma, the chief administrative judge for courts outside of New York City, during a hearing this month by Judge Lippman and his task force on civil legal services into ways to improve funding for poor people facing foreclosure, eviction, the loss of health care and other civil matters.

The task force has estimated that, at best, only one in five poor New Yorkers in need of civil legal services receive representation. "I think we have to think out of the box to create ways to foster civil legal services," Judge Lippman said. A loan forgiveness program "is certainly worth taking a look at."

Justice Coccoma argued during an Oct. 3 hearing that the poor economy, the slack job market for law school graduates and the heavy debt load many law students take on could offer a ready pool of lawyers willing to represent indigent clients in civil matters as they work off portions of their loans.

"When I heard of an increasing number of recent law school graduates unable to find jobs, I asked myself, why could we not develop a funding stream, a steady funding stream, of programs which would provide an opportunity for these attorneys, who are eager to put their skills to work in public service programs to provide legal services to the poor?" Justice Coccoma testified. "Perhaps this task force could recommend that in exchange for a two- or three-year commitment to such a program, those lawyers would receive a reduction in their student loans."

He said the hands-on experience could be invaluable to new practitioners. "As a young attorney, you are meeting face to face with your client much sooner than if you are working with a larger firm," Justice Coccoma said. "Sitting in the office with a client face to face, then advocating for them in a court or with an agency, that is valuable experience. It is that person-to-person contact which I think is a valuable experience in a legal career."

Justice Coccoma said a state loan repayment program would be similar to those offered by the federal government to some 70,000 people through the federal AmeriCorps program, which provides tutoring, home improvements and other services to the poor.

New York state also operates projects in which medical school graduates earn reductions in their student loans by committing to practice in under-served areas. In the Doctors Across New York program, for instance, 41 doctors receive up to $150,000 in loan repayments for a five-year commitment to practice in those areas.

Lawrence Raful, dean of Touro Law Center on Long Island, said a loan repayment program for law students is a "terrific" idea. But he said it would have to be structured to provide new graduates with careful monitoring and mentoring.

"My concern is competency, mentoring, apprenticing, whatever you want to call it," Mr. Raful said. "I just don't know how you set it up. Doctors have the four years of medical school and four years of residency, so they are much more prepared to go out to western New York to provide exams and flu shots and the other basics. But how do you supervise these [civil legal services] people?"

Similarly, the chairman of the New York State Bar Association's Young Lawyer's Section, James R. Barnes of Burke & Casserly in Albany, agreed that there would have to be close oversight of participants. "Are they going to be completely on their own?" Mr. Barnes said in an interview.  "I know that many young lawyers indicate a hesitancy at going out on their own practice.  But if it is part of a larger practice you might find enough people who are willing to make that sort of commitment. I would assume the pay wouldn't be extensive, but you add it to the loan forgiveness and experience, I think you have a viable product."

Mr. Raful also questioned whether the Judiciary, if it promotes a loan repayment program, would get the plan through the Legislature.  "I am not so sure, to be honest, that the public, and therefore the Legislature, is as enamored of legal services as they are with [providing adequate] health care in under-served areas," he said.  "I am not sure about the mood of the Legislature, I am not sure they are going to throw money at this, as opposed to, say, the Tappan Zee Bridge."

Indeed, Justice Coccoma's idea was panned in an Oct. 11 editorial by the New York Post. "Once again, New York is on its uppers, and talk of new 'funding streams' for anything — let alone paying down young lawyers' student loans — is absurd and inappropriate," the paper said. It said the shortage of jobs of lawyers carries a message that "New York has enough lawyers already — and maybe too many."

As regular readers know, I think this kind of innovative program is exactly how both courts and law schools should be seeking helpful joint solutions to some of their current structural problems.  This NYLJ article effectively highlights some of the pragmatic and political challenges for the proposal being considered, but I think both could and should be readily surmounted if there is enough will among the courts and judges, interested public policy groups, and the law-school-reformer-types engaged in the scam debates

Some recent related posts:

Posted by DAB

October 19, 2011 in Legal profession realities and developments, Service -- legal profession | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

The unhappy associate

While doing a little background work on lawyer happiness, I stumbled across a fascinating article by David T. Zaring and William D. Henderson entitled "Young Associates in Trouble."  (The SSRN link is here). 

Zaring and Henderson are writing to review two novels about troubled big-firm associates, but they move beyond that to actually conduct a quantitative study of the issue:

"In this review essay, we compare Kermit Roosevelt's and Nick Laird's bleak portrayals with findings from a unique dataset on law firm profitability, prestige, hours worked, and various measures of several associate satisfactions. We also mine the findings of several empirical studies that track the experience of lawyers over time. We observe that higher firm profitability is associated with higher salaries, bonuses, and prestige. Yet, higher profits also have a statistically significant relationship with longer hours, a less family-friendly workplace, less interesting work, less opportunity to work with partners, less associate training, less communication regarding partnership, and a higher reported likelihood of leaving the firm within the next two years. Nonetheless, graduates from the nation's most elite law schools tend to gravitate toward the most profitable and prestigious (and most grueling) law firms. The attraction of the most elite firms may be superior outplacement options. Or perhaps, as both novels intimate, it may stem from a reluctance to make hard life choices."

As legal educators, is it part of our role to help our students make "hard life choices"-- even if that choice is away from the most lucrative jobs?

-- Mark Osler

October 19, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, 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 (0)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Law School Innovation Thanks Master Innovator, Steve Jobs


The visionary who made the computer more personal (in President Obama's elegant words) contributed to educational innovation by making technology seem less the realm of computer scientists, and more the realm of a broader community of creative persons.  I received my first Macintosh in 1984, and have owned Apple computers ever since, going through every generation in turn. 

Apple long cultivated a close link to educators and students, even when Microsoft sought to make itself indispensable to business.  While I am critical of Apple's proprietary approach and its overly aggressive patent claims, I appreciate Steve Jobs' love of design and his belief in the beauty of technology.

Thank you, Steve Jobs.    

-- Anupam Chander


Let me join in with the expression of thanks for Jobs' legacy (even though I suspect through the years I have enjoyed his Pixar contributions more than his Apple products).   Let me also wonder aloud why the law school arena (as well as the law services industry) has not seen an innovative figure like Jobs in its recent history.  

I suspect that, despite all the purportedly progressive individuals involved in the law school universe, the reality of the social environment and the economic marketplace of law schools tend to be quite conservative and pretty reactionary when it comes to innovative ideas and models.  But these realities will not stop us here at LSI from continuing to talk about new ideas and models.

Posted by DAB

October 6, 2011 in Technology -- in general | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

"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 (0)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What technologies (other than e-casebooks) can or will transform legal education?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable commentary discussing some new tech ideas in the field of K-12 education.  The piece by Jonathan Alter is headlined "Robo-Truant Tech And Other Apps To Fix Education," and here is a snippet:

The education reform movement is at an important juncture. It will either peter out in platitudes or advance based on a new consensus.  At this week's Education Nation conference in New York City, I came away with some hope for the latter. My cautious optimism is rooted in two Ts -- technology and transparency....

Even if they cordially despise each other, reformers and traditionalists will now have to work together to implement the new accountability laws enacted in the past few years in about a dozen states. One way to do so is by embracing smart new technology.

For years, faddish tech fixes like computers in the classroom have yielded few results. But that could be changing.  One of the most intriguing parts of Education Nation was the Innovation Challenge, a contest with shades of Donald Trump's show, "The Apprentice." Three young innovators presented their ideas on stage to a panel of judges moderated by Tom Brokaw: uses a competitive point system (always popular with students) to enable teachers to better handle the behavioral problems that so often impede learning.  The idea is to build character by rewarding teams of students who work together to stay on task and avoid disruptions.  Technology can't substitute for a teacher's class-management skills. But with as much as half of class time consumed by dealing with disruptive kids, it can help....

Classdojo won the $75,000 prize.  Even if this and other 2011 innovations flop, we're edging closer to the era when technology finally changes what is essentially a 19th-century system of education.  In science, paradigm shifts follow technological breakthroughs. Education won't be any different. 

Regular readers know I have been saying for quite some time that e-readers will eventually transform the traditional casebook model for legal education, and the popularity of the iPad and the forthcoming Kindle Fire reinforce my views on this front.  But I am wondering, and truly hoping, that there will be other technological innovation and/or breakthroughs that further revamp legal education for the 21st century.  Anyone bold enough to make predictions about what those innovations might be?

Some related prior posts:

 Posted by DAB

October 2, 2011 in Electronic Education, Teaching Resources, Technology -- in general, Technology -- in the classroom | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

More, Cheaper Lawyers Needed (A comment on "law school scams")

In the "law school scam" dust-up, there has sometimes been inadequate attention paid to the gaping need for lawyers. The worry is that a proliferation of law schools is producing too many attorneys for the market to bear, leaving many jobless.

In my experience, many ordinary people need lawyers, but many also believe that they cannot afford the lawyers they need. (Yet other ordinary people might well benefit from legal advice, but not recognize their own need.) They suffer injustices silently, even when the law would be on their side.

I am not arguing in favor of a more litigious society--lawyers can often prove useful in putting deals together, benefitting both parties--and ensuring that neither is unduly exploited in the relationship.

Thus, trying to reduce the number of law graduates might itself leave a world with a greater measure of injustice.

One solution is to make law school cheaper--and thus make it possible for lawyers to perhaps lower their fees to make justice more accessible for ordinary people. An alternative is to offer loan forgiveness programs tied to lower-than-usual earnings.

The concept of "low-bono" is a particularly valuable one in this regard--providing affordable representation, yet still allowing lawyers to make a living.

Anupam Chander

September 29, 2011 in The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The California Model

While reading this intriguing article linked in the post below (which describes the creation of a new law school in Indio, California), I was reminded of how California provides a distinct model for legal education.

In other states, bar membership is predicated on holding a degree from a law school which is nationally accredited by the ABA.  California, however, has its own state accreditation for law schools, and graduates of state-but-not-nationally-accredited law schools are eligible to become members of the bar.  Quality control is emphasized through the bar exam, which traditionally has been difficult to pass relative to the tests given in other states.

One result of this different model has been a proliferation of law schools.  For example, the law school mentioned in the article, the California Desert Trial Academy College of Law, will offer night classes in a courthouse for fewer than 50 students (at least in the begining). 

Certainly, there are advantages to the California model.  With more law schools, legal education can be more local and emphasize particular skills or areas of practice.  The Indio school is geared towards both factors-- it will emphasize trial practice, and was created in part because the next closest law school was "70 miles away." 

On the down side, many of the graduates California law schools fail to pass the bar exam, and have spent their tuition money only to fail to reach their goal.

Certainly, most other states lack the critical mass of people it would take to make the California system work-- there simply aren't enough potential law students.  But is it worthwhile, even in California?

-- Mark Osler 



September 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)