Friday, September 5, 2008
I was recently approached by a publishers rep and asked which textbook I use for my mandatory spring class. I don't have a book for my spring class; I cobble together pieces of different books I like to create a text for my spring class. I always require Getting to Maybe, but it is really not enough for an entire graded course. Many of the books I love (Expert Learning, Reading Like a Lawyer) I use during the first semester of law school. I need something more advanced that is tailored to the needs of second semester 1L's who are struggling after their first semester, and may or may not have used some of the great starting off right in law school texts.
What I would like to see is a legal skills casebook. The ed psych is pretty clear we need use the methods and lessons from the doctrinal or casebook classes to teach skills if we really want them to stick and transfer across classes and years. If we are using the casebook and, to a lesser extent, the problem method, in their other classes, we should have a book with a similar format to help teach skills. I know this is a tough order. Using Charles Calleros and Mike Schwartz's ideas about using non-legal cases or problems to illustrate the types of problems these students are experiencing, the "cases" in the imagined skills casebook would be the type of problems that are holding them back from achieving their best. Asking students to collaborate to find possible solutions these cases or problems would teach them some of the skills they need, and would ask them to use the skills they need to succeed in class to resolve their own challenges. While I am not a big fan of the socratic method, I do believe using cases and hypotheticals involving students own problems in law school would help them see why we use the socratic method. If they have to read a case or a problem in a casebook before class, and the skills professor is able to tweek the case and create hypotheticals about the problems that keep students from achieving their best. We would be using the same methods as their other classes, but with cases and problems that teach students the skills necessary for success.
These are just my preliminary ideas about an imaginary casebook. There may be a book out there that I have not found yet that meets my needs. I read a great deal, but by no means I have read everything there is to read in the field. My hope is that one day we will have a flexible curriculum based on best practices to help guide ASP, yet adaptable to the needs of individual students and the needs of individual institutions. (RCF)
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
I have been seeing, and hearing, much about "customer service" lately. Customer service is important; it is what keeps people coming back to purchase products and services from retailers. What really concerns me is the move towards "customer service" in law school. We don't serve customers, we serve students. We don't sell a product or a service, we educate people. Law school isn't like a pair of shoes; you can't return it if it doesn't fit right or doesn't match a dress. You can't "return" law school if it's not right. Our duty is just-in-time critical. We only have one shot to get legal education right for each student, and sometimes that may produce discomfort. We are not retailers; we do not mass-produce a product that can sit idly on store shelves until it it is purchased or thrown away. Nor is education strictly a service; we build relationships, and if we do it right, we help people become a more actualized professional. There isn't a metaphor that can accurately capture what education is, and customer service is certainly not the way to describe what we do.
By focusing on "customer service", law schools are demeaning the students. Our students are more than customers. I don't want them to come out of my office happy with their experience; I want them to come out of my office with the help they need to become better students and better people. Sometimes that is one visit, but more often than not, it is a process that requires several visits. We work together to find ways to solve their problems. Sometimes students should come out of my office less happy; fixing a problem is hard work, and that is not always what they want to hear. But I am not dispensing advice to make people happy, I am a support to help them through their law school career.
"Customer service" also demeans the institution and the process. I am not a telemarketer or a retail clerk. Education is a calling. If legal educators wanted to be in retail, they would not be working in law schools. We are in the "business" of the public good. We are not doing our jobs if we produce a static product that does not change or grow with the needs of the community. If we were just in it to keep our "customers" happy, we would all need to be paid a lot more. But our satisfaction doesn't come from the money, but comes from knowing we help people, dynamic and ever changing, meet the needs of people in the community.
The "customer service" model contributes to the dehumanization of law students. This is what we should be working to ameliorate and end, not encourage. People are not products. Viewing them as a product we send out to be "sold" after three years of manufacture ignores their humanity, their individuality, and their unique gifts and talents.
Customer service certainly doesn't help us promote professionalism. If we are just retailers, than it doesn't matter how they turn out, because we sold our product and we are done (unless they want to give us more money, of course). But I do care how may students turn out. I care deeply about their lives and careers after they exit law school. My focus may be on their time as students, but as people, I want them to know education never ends. As lawyers, we have a duty to promote professionalism before, during, and after their time in our hallowed halls. Professional quandaries aren't limited to exercises in a textbook. We are teaching people to answer tough questions that will challenge them throughout their careers. If students are just customers, we are failing to fulfill our responsibilities to our students and to the greater community.
I am hoping this "customer service" movement dies a quick death, soon. I educate students, not customers. I serve the community, not just my students. I have a duty higher, and more precious, than just producing a product for the marketplace.