April 30, 2005
Consumerism in Legal Education
A few days ago, I featured a provocative 2005 article by University of Tennessee College of Law Professor Robert Lloyd (see below, April 24 post). Professor Lloyd is not new on the scene; he has been publishing his critical views on legal education for quite some time.
He introduces his 1995 article, "Consumerism in Legal Education," (45 J. Leg. Ed. 551) with a line from Gilbert & Sullivan: "When every one is somebodee/Then no one's anybody!" (sic) Translated to law school lingo: "Administrators, pulled by conflicting and increasingly strident constituencies, try to satisfy everyone, and satisfy no one."
Who is not satisfied? Students and their parents, faculty, clients, law firms ... and, presumably, Professor Lloyd.
The root of the problem discussed by Professor Lloyd seems to be found in schools and colleges which "...now concern themselves more with fostering self-esteem than with teaching thinking skills." He wrote those words in 1995. A few months ago (February 2005) a school district in my state of Rhode Island banned spelling bees - the paramount reason cited by school administrators was that bees "humiliate those who compete but don't fare well." Is that the buzz around academia, or just in Tennessee and Rhode Island?
This model takes its toll on law schools, Professor Lloyd posits, because we are inundated with "people [students] who have never thought critically about anything yet think they know the answer to everything," and who are personally insulted by professors who have the temerity to expose fallacies in their reasoning, or challenge their premises. Treating law students as "consumers" leads to placating them in ways inconsistent with production of lawyers with high-end critical thinking expertise; many students receive a "...style of teaching that fits their liking."
Fitting their "liking," Professor Lloyd appears to think, is different than the more benign concept of fitting their "learning style." Students often "like" to take the easy way out - classes graded more generously; classes with papers rather than exams; classes taught by lecturing profs rather than challenging profs (or, as he puts it, "...twenty-five minutes of lecture and twenty-five minutes of 'let's pretend we're thinking about this case'").
So what do you think? Have our schools drifted away from rigor? If so, or if not, how do our academic support efforts relate to this drift?
I think I know where Professor Lloyd stands on this question. He writes, "By inflating grades," (which he believes most schools do), "we're making it harder on the bar examiners. It's hard enough for them to fail the bottom ten percent when those people are D students. As we approach the point where the bottom ten percent are B students, the bar examiners will be hard pressed to maintain any standards at all."
There are many tough balancing acts inherent in law school. What are your thoughts on this one?
(Consider addressing this issue on the Academic Support List Serve. djt)
April 29, 2005
In the Academic Support Spotlight
Laurie Zimet is a recognized expert in academic support and diverse teaching methods. She has planned and presented workshops at national conferences sponsored by the AALS, LSAC, Institute for Law School Teaching, SALT, and numerous law schools. One of these presentations inspired the collaboratively written article, "Inclusive Teaching Methods Across the Curriculum: Academic Resource and Law Teachers Tie a Knot at the AALS," 31 U.S.F.L.R. 875 (1997). Since 1999, she has made annual plenary presentations on learning theory at the AALS New Law Teachers Conference. She sits on the Advisory Committee for the Institute for Law School Teaching and is a founding member of the Academic Support sections of the AALS and SALT.
With two colleagues and grants from the Institute for Law School Teaching, Laurie created videotapes on teaching and learning. The videotapes are part of two faculty-training kits that have been purchased by over 170 law schools and individuals. In "Teach to the Whole Class: Barriers and Pathways to Learning,” students discuss factors that enhance and impede their learning. The second video, "Principles for Enhancing Legal Education," addresses essential principles involved in good teaching. The videos have been showcased at conferences and faculty colloquia across the country.
At Hastings, Laurie Zimet runs one of the largest academic support programs in the country. Prior to Hastings, she directed the Academic Success Program at Santa Clara University School of Law for eight years. Prior to Santa Clara, she taught Legal Writing and Research at Hastings. In addition, she has taught law courses at Mills College and served as an advisor for the school’s interdisciplinary law major.
Laurie has lectured on legal writing and litigation related topics for the Practising Law Institute, Chevron, and the Federal Deposit Corporation. Subjects of her articles range from using paralegals in pre-trial litigation to the constitutional right of privacy in discovery. Her co-authored chapter on civil liability for rape appeared in Women and the Law, which was selected Best Law Book by the Association of American Publishers.
She received her B.S., summa cum laude, from State University College at Buffalo with a double major in social work and criminal justice. She graduated from Hastings and practiced in the area of civil litigation, emphasizing third party liability. (djt)
April 28, 2005
In the Academic Support Spotlight
Ellen Swain signs on as co-editor!
I am very happy to announce that the Law School Academic Support Blog will now have TWO (2) (II) editors. Vermont Law School's ASP Director has joined the staff as co-editor - readers can now expect more posts, greater variety, and a necessary infusion of better ideas for the blog. (Two head are better than one, especially when the second one is Ellen's.) (djt)
Ellen Swain currently directs the Academic Success Program at Vermont Law School, where she holds an appointment of Assistant Professor of Law. Swain brings a varied background of writing, advocacy and public service to her position.
A cum laude graduate of Vermont Law School, Ellen held a two-year judicial clerkship in the New Hampshire Superior Court upon graduation from VLS. She then worked as a staff attorney with the New Hampshire Public Defender Program, where she represented juveniles and adults charged with a range of offenses, including identity theft and homicide. NHPD values high-quality litigation and ethical lawyering. Ellen brings those values to her work with students through the Academic Success Program at VLS and encourages students to focus on improving the quality of their work, which will help their development as a lawyer, rather than to focus on the narrow goal of a higher grade. Ellen is licensed to practice law in Vermont and New Hampshire.
Ellen believes that her training in the high-stress and fast-paced world of criminal litigation prepared her to keep her perspective while working with law students. As final exams approach and the student stress levels skyrocket, Ellen’s colleagues will ask, “How do you handle all of the anxiety of the students?” Ellen replies, “It’s not so bad; nobody is going to jail.”
She’s grateful to have the opportunity to work with bright students who are motivated to improve their skills and enjoys watching students improve their performance. Working as a public defender brought Ellen close to individuals who were vulnerable and marginalized by society and gave her a renewed appreciation for the power that education has to transform one’s life.
Helping to make the law school curriculum as accessible as possible to students with diverse learning backgrounds is one of Ellen’s goal at VLS. She is grateful that VLS agreed to support her work with an expert from Landmark College, to help her to gain specialized skills for working with students with learning differences and ADHD. She continues to seek out trainings and read voraciously on the subject.
Starting in the Spring of 2006, Ellen will teach two sections of the Evidence Labs at VLS, a weekly class for Evidence students where they complete simulated courtroom exercises.
Before attending law school, Ellen worked as a journalist and freelance writer. Learning to write quickly under pressure is a skill she developed in the newsroom as a cub reporter working on deadline for a daily newspaper. She urges the students to write as accurately and clearly as possible and to strike a 25-cent word if a 10-cent word will do the same job.
Her background in community service includes working at a home for teenaged mothers and assisting handicapped individuals to ride horses in a therapeutic riding program.
In her copious spare time (ha!) Ellen enjoys spending as much time as possible in the outdoors with her husband: skiing, hiking, biking, swimming, boating and sitting still. She continues to work on a novel and practice yoga.
April 24, 2005
Hard Law Firms and Soft Law Schools
At one time or another, most of us in the Academic Support profession occasionally scratch our heads and ask ourselves, "What is this student doing in law school?" One professor believes the answer is rather self-evident.
Consider this provocative North Carolina Law Review article by Robert M. Lloyd, the Lindsay Young Distinguished Professor of Law at University of Tennessee College of Law. (83 N.C.L. Rev. 667)
Unfortunately, he maintains, "While the practice of law has been getting Harder, law schools have been getting Softer." In this recent article (March, 2005) Professor Lloyd decries the proliferation of Soft courses, which "...allow students to use what Mary Ann Glendon has referred to as 'verbal acrobatics,' rather than Hard legal analysis, and we have to accept the fact that law schools attract people who prefer verbal acrobatics to rigorous analysis." What are verbal acrobatics? "The term Professor Glendon uses is 'verbal acrobats,' describing those who engage in the practice ... Those who are less charitable call it 'bullshit.'" (fn. 64)
The "verbal acrobats" are pursued by law school admissions offices, Professor Lloyd explains: "...numbers-driven admissions policies most law schools use screen out the very students we need to give our classes a better leavening of people with strong analytical skills. ... The admissions process fills law schools with students who have weak analytical skills."
Do you agree with Professor Lloyd? (djt)
Final Exam Frenzy
As our students enter this last week of April, many - especially the wunnelles - are turning to their academic supporters for advice particularly related to this seasonal adventure.
Reading the web pages of others in our field ... pages directed to students ... provides both an assortment of resources to direct students to, as well as a host of fresh ideas to incorporate into your own suggestions for students.
Associate Dean and Adjunct Professor of Law, Robert M. Saltzman has performed a service for us all: University of Southern California Law School's exam resource page includes book suggestions, links to practice exams, and many links to law school Academic Support pages around the country.
In the Academic Support Spotlight
B.A. Swarthmore College
J.D. Loyola University School of Law
Corinne has been a member of the Academic Support Community for sixteen years! She has much to offer those of us who are (actual or relative) newcomers. When you are perplexed about how to handle an academic support situation at your law school, bounce your ideas off Corinne Morrisey. (djt)
Corinne Morrissey knows something about transitioning to a new profession, as many of her students are doing. Morrissey was an administrative assistant in the litigation department at Baker & McKenzie before enrolling in law school. “I was very familiar with cases and case law because of the work I did,” she says, “so I decided to earn a law degree.”
As an evening student, Morrissey continued her work at the law firm, and was hired by the firm after she passed the bar. She worked for Baker & McKenzie until 1989 when she transitioned again as the academic support person at The John Marshall Law School. She was the first person to hold this full-time position and created a network of services to assist students struggling with their adjustments to law school.
Today Morrissey heads the Academic Achievement Program which provides advice and resources as the situation warrants. Its primary efforts are directed to helping students: 1) Transition from undergraduate school or the workplace to the rigors of law school; 2) Meet the challenging experiences of law school; 3) Transition from law school to preparation for the bar exam and the workplace.
Drawing on her experience grading bar exams, Morrissey has worked with students to prepare for the bar. She created and wrote the Writing for the Practice of Law course. She organizes workshops on such topics as outlining and lectures on bar exam essay questions. She also sets practice times for students to take the Multistate Bar Examination, and she brings in speakers to help make students aware of the challenges the exam may present.
“The bar exam can be a very scary thing. We work with our students to help get them ready for those two days so that they aren’t traumatized by it,” Morrissey said. “Yes, the bar exam is a lot of work, but we believe that our efforts of working with students from their first semester through their last semester helps them realize that perseverance is important, and success is possible.”
Outside of John Marshall, Morrissey provides pro bono legal services through Chicago Volunteer Legal Services. She and her husband, Frank, enjoy traveling in their free time.
In the Academic Support Spotlight
J.D. Santa Clara University School of Law
Although Vinita Bali refers to herself as a "fledgling in the academic support arena," after three years she seems to have come a long way. Have you met Vinita at one of our Academic Support gatherings? She offers the community this third-person biographical sketch (djt) . . .
Vinita joined the faculty of Santa Clara University School of Law in August 2002 as the Director of the Academic Success Program. Now in her third year directing the program, Vinita feels that she has developed and grown tremendously, but knows that the learning and growth have just begun.
The opportunity to empower individuals through education goes to the heart of her personal commitment, and she describes her work as "the most invigorating and fulfilling" that she has engaged in. Considering that she has had extensive experience in the legal field, encompassing representing disabled individuals in administrative courts for several years, practicing as a business litigator, and most recently as a transactional lawyer, the statement speaks volumes to the work engaged in by the numerous Academic Support professionals in the legal education community. “The ASP community gives tirelessly of itself with tremendous heart and caring. Despite the responsibilities ASP professionals carry within their own school communities, they unhesitatingly offer their support and wisdom to others in the field,” Vinita says. What makes Vinita’s experience in her work even more rewarding is the congenial and collaborative environment fostered and cultivated by both the students and the faculty at Santa Clara law school. She often describes this as the greatest asset of the law school, tapping into this enormous resource and incorporating it into the structure of the Academic Success Program at Santa Clara.
Recognizing that she is a fledgling in the academic support arena, Vinita has actively sought the advice of other professionals, attended conferences, and read extensively in the field. She has learned tremendously by visiting other programs, finding that observing selected components of programs that have caught her attention have offered her a “fast track” opportunity to learn. She sees herself as a person who takes her time to observe and learn, but who “moves with tremendous energy and enthusiasm when a truly worthy idea presents itself.” She sees the issues of her students at a more personal level as well, having recently returned to law school to obtain an LLM degree.
Vinita’s commitment to her law school and to her community are apparent in her extra curricular involvements. She serves on three Boards of Directors: the non-profit group HOPE Services, the Santa Clara County Women Lawyers' Committee, and non-profit Attorneys Helping Education and Development. Vinita also is an active member of the Board of Santa Clara University School of Law Alumni Association, and the Legal Studies Steering Committee Advisory Board of the East Side Union High School District.
When not busy with her work at Santa Clara, with her 14 year old daughter, in her of-counsel position as a transactional lawyer, or with her Board involvements, Vinita can be found rock climbing at beautiful Yosemite, off the beaches in Thailand, or in the deserts at Moab (see photo, left - can you find Vinita?) or Joshua Tree. She describes this avocation as her “true passion, and a complete release from every worry in the word.” That is, not considering the worry inherent in this dangerous sport, of course. (Editor's note: I found rock climbing on the same "dangerous sport" web page as "bull running." djt)