Friday, October 7, 2005
Ellen Swain, Academic Success Program Director at Vermont Law School, recently responded to a list-serve inquiry. I am reprinting much of her superb response here in case some of you missed it.
Whether you have to make decisions on granting accommodations or whether you support students with disabilities, the question is whether proofreading a student's work fundamentally alters the academic requirements of law school, and in the workforce, whether a qualified lawyer must be capable of writing grammatically perfect prose without assistance.
I'll throw out some thoughts. I worked as a professional writer before attending law school.
No publication ever published my work without scouring it for grammatical mistakes, punctuation mistakes, and, in some instances, fact-checking. Following the initial checks, another editor did a final proof before publication. Was this done as an accommodation? No, it's just the common sense view that no writer can catch his or her own mistakes. Simply put, it takes a newsroom to write a grammatically correct newspaper article.
When I worked as a judicial law clerk, none of us ever passed along a draft to our judges without having another set of eyes look over the text. The judges would regularly ask me to review their writing for any possible mistakes.
As a practicing attorney in a busy PD's office, I regularly asked colleagues to read through a filing for any grammatical mistakes or to check the logic of my arguments. My colleagues did the same.
Ultimately, helping students to come up with good strategies for proofing their own work - such as running it through a screen reader, which will read back the text in audio form, using the free software, "readplease," or through Kurzweil - is a responsible way to assist students at a level below making a finding of entitlement to an accommodation.
You might also suggest that students print out their papers on a different color paper to do the final edits; it helps to find those mistakes. Now editorless, I use that method myself.
Just some thoughts,
In back-to-back articles in the Summer 2005 edition of Boalt Hall's (U.C. Berkeley's Law School) "Transcript," articles (both linked here) by free-lance reporter Linley Erin Hall and Law Professor Marjorie M. Shultz address the concept of what makes "good lawyers" – and how lawyers are chosen.
Ms. Hall's article, "What Makes for Good Lawyering," focuses on a six-year study headed by Boalt Law Professor Marjorie Shultz and Sheldon Zedeck, a UC Berkeley Professor of Psychology (both pictured here). The researchers identified 26 factors that contribute to lawyering effectiveness, and are now attempting to develop tests to predict those factors. Their hope is that the tests might be administered as part of an admissions process that will affect the characteristics and qualities of future members of the bench and bar.
"The new tests should not only improve the ability of law schools to identify the applicants most likely to become effective lawyers," Ms. Hall points out, "but also create more diversity in law school classes," particularly important in California after the 1996 passage of Proposition 209, prohibiting voluntary race-or-gender-sensitive descionmaking in admission to public institutuions.
The companion article, "Expanding the Definition of Merit," addresses the lack of congruity between function and means which may be undermining professional quality throughout the profession. Professor Shultz writes: "Law schools aren't particularly responsive to that gatekeeper role. Most make no organized effort to assess likely professional competence; their admission decisions are dominated by narrow criteria intended maninly to predict academic performance."
Because choosing law students is tantamount to choosing lawyers, the current admissions practices should, she argues, be revisited. Instead of being interested (almost exclusively) in predicting who will succeed academically in school, rather, schools ought to be concerned about who has the actual or potential competencies and commitments that make for quality lawyering.
LSAT emphasis is the current problem, as these researchers see it. "Some evidence suggests that law schools de facto place even greater weight on LSAT scores than their official policies state." The irony involved in the decision to use the LSAT as a critical factor in admission decisions is found in the fact that most law grads practice law or work in jobs that rely on their professional training ... contrasted with most graduate departments in universities, which train people primarily for academic rather than professional careers, yet appear to pay more "attention to assessing professional potential" in admissions candidates.
"Selecting prospective lawyers on the basis of a broader range of competencies should improve the quality of the profession." (djt)
Thursday, October 6, 2005
Okay, so it has been a while since I've blogged.
That's because I've been spending lots of time interviewing applicants for the positions of Co-Editor and Contributing Editor. The search was successful!
Very soon, I will be announcing the new editorial staff. Hint: the new editors are from the east coast, west coast and the heartland of America.
What does this mean to you, the Reader? More information, more perspectives, more provocative articles.
Thanks for putting up with the brief hiatus. (djt)