Clinical Law Prof Blog

Editor: Jeffrey R. Baker
Pepperdine University
School of Law

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Problematic Award for Experiential Professor of the Year

Above The Law, in its particular style, here via Tax Prof Blog, reports this story from Washington University, in which Prof. Mae Quinn declined to accept an award as “Experiential Professor of the Year.”   As quoted in the article, Prof. Quinn wrote to the school, “.. . I find being named ‘Experiential Professor of the Year’ both offensive and marginalizing,” calling it “express ghetto-ization and limitation through labeling.”

Context is everything, and, per the article, this has been an on-going discussion at WashU.   I understand and am sympathetic to Prof. Quinn’s point, although I have not decided whether I share it.   No one should venture to judge her stand, the school or its SBA, without direct relationships with them all. 

This moment illuminates some critical, perennial questions, endemic to questions of rank, status, roles and the work of law schools.  

As clinics and experiential education become more central to law school curricula, should we not honor the particular craft of teaching through experience?    On the contrary, in light of historic hierarchies in law schools, does the appellation perpetuate faculty castes and inhibit the reform of legal education? 

Is the award a way to ensure honor to clinical teachers, or does it ensure that we will not be considered "real" professors?  

Does the award rightly praise the important and specialized work of teachers, for employing pedagogy rare among “podium” teachers, or does it really marginalize what should be central?  

Context, institutional culture, personal relationships and motivation all matter when discerning what might be at the heart of the award and Prof. Quinn’s stand, and we all should weigh them carefully as we build programs and teach in our own schools.  Advocacy takes many forms as we seek to discern how to advance justice and good teaching. 

May 8, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Service-Learning in the Law School Curriculum

In my first post about service-learning, I asked the question: who is serving whom? In this post, I want to reflect on why I think service-learning is important in the law school curriculum, and how it is different from and expands upon the skills and values we teach in law school clinics.

My first experience with service learning was almost twenty years ago, when I was an undergraduate student at Saint Mary's College. As part of our exchange with our neighbor, the University of Notre Dame, I participated in several alternative spring break experiences through Notre Dame's Center for Social Concerns. In fact, it was my participation in the Migrant Experiences Seminar as both an undergraduate and as a law student that set me on the path toward immigrant advocacy in my legal career.

Experiential learning generally - and service-learning in particular - has recently gained more traction in the law school curriculum. But what is the specific value of integrating service-learning more fully into the law school experience, and how is it different from other experiential learning opportunities? My UDC-DCSL colleague, Professor Susan Waysdorf - who has written extensively about service-learning in the law school curriculum - describes service-learning as programs that "place primary value on the service contribution and on the humanitarian participation of the students and teachers."

Professor Waysdorf's definition of service-learning resonates with me because it emphasizes the value of service-learning in the law school curriculum not just to our students, but to us as educators, as well. What do we, as teachers, gain by "giving up" our spring break to spend time with our students on these trips? What are we ourselves learning and teaching our students about the skills and values of the legal profession, and how do we distinguish it from what we teach in clinic?

I often describe clinic as a lab - in clinic, our students are able to work on a small number of cases chosen specifically for their pedagogical value, in a controlled environment and under close supervision. In service-learning, the set-up is dramatically different - both students and teachers are taken out of the safety of the clinic environment, and put in a situation where they are required to be vulnerable. Service-learning allows us to learn from those whom we are "serving" in a way that makes the experience powerful and disarming, precisely because of its lack of structure (in comparison to both clinics specifically and the law school curriculum as a whole).

In my final post in this series, I will share some stories of our service-learning experiences on the Arizona/Mexico border, and reflect further on how the addition of such opportunities to the law school curriculum can be profoundly life-changing for both students and teachers.

Recommended Readings:

Teaching the Reflective Approach Within the Service-Learning Model, Laurie Morin and Susan L. Waysdorf, 62 Journal of Legal Education 4 (2013).

Returning to New Orleans: Reflections on the Post-Katrina Recovery, Disaster Relief, and the Struggle for Social Justice, Susan L. Waysdorf, 12 Univ. of the District of Columbia Law Review 3 (2009).

Katrina Disaster Family Law: The Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Families and Family Law, Mc-Carthy-Brown and Waysdorf, 42 Indiana Law Review 721 (2009).

May 8, 2014 in Clinic Students and Graduates, Current Affairs, Immigration, Interdisciplinary Programs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

On Surviving Law School

While many of you were engaging in critical discussions about how to become better clinicians last week in Chicago, I was presenting at an attorney training on domestic violence and missing my favorite conference of the year. At the training, I participated (and yes, occasionally eavesdropped) on conversations about law school experiences. Several attorneys disclosed how challenging their law school years had been – not because of the workload or the competition – but because of what they perceived as an environment that was hostile to their personal ideals and values. One participant expressed her belief that her legal education denigrated the same social justice values that propelled her towards that very legal education. Another presenter described her prestigious law school as a boot camp – where they tried to tear down the individual in order to build up the lawyer, stripping students of sentimental ideals such as fairness and justice and discouraging critical thinking about privilege and hierarchy. And no, none of them were familiar with Duncan Kennedy. I asked.

This is not the first time I (nor, I suspect, most of you) have heard such comments. Several law students I interviewed about their volunteer work following a tornado articulated sharp critiques of the values imparted through law school. A student in a Public Interest Seminar told a story of a Torts professor who warned students not to use the “f-word” in his class - by which he meant “fair” - and the profound impact that directive had on her participation and confidence. A 3L recently responding to a request for advice from an admitted student passionately implored her to remember who she is today and to fight to remain that person every day of the next three years.

Public interest drift in law schools is well-documented, as is the depression experienced by many law students, so these are not new observations. Nonetheless, I find myself pondering the same old deep, dark (and admittedly melodramatic) questions. Is law school something that some students simply have to survive or endure in order to achieve their long-term goals? Are we squandering one of our best natural resources – the idealism of bright, young adults? Why can’t we teach students to “think like a lawyer” without destroying the social justice motivations that brought them to law school? Are we complicit in a law school culture that at best remains silent, and at worst, denigrates issues of social justice? What more can we, as clinicians, do to make the law school curriculum more responsive to students who believe a law degree is still a tool they can use (to quote one incoming student) “to make the world a better place?”

May 8, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Caring Professors and Student Success

In an age of pervasive assessments, technology everywhere, MOOCs and a proliferation of online options for education, perhaps all we need is love.

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

College graduates, whether they went to a hoity-toity private college or a midtier public, had double the chances of being engaged in their work and were three times as likely to be thriving in their well-being if they connected with a professor on the campus who stimulated them, cared about them, and encouraged their hopes and dreams.

….

College graduates had double the odds of being engaged at work and three times the odds of thriving in Gallup's five elements of well-being if they had had "emotional support"—professors who "made me excited about learning," "cared about me as a person," or "encouraged my hopes and dreams." Graduates who had done a long-term project that took a semester or more, who had held an internship, or who were extremely involved in extracurricular activities or organizations had twice the odds of being engaged at work and an edge in thriving in well-being.

May 7, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Massachusetts: Walking the Walk

Walking

 

Many state bar associations talk about the importance of Access to Justice Initiatives.  At times, there can be more conversation than action around this extremely important and increasingly serious problem.  Needless to say, I was genuinely surprised and excited to learn about Massachusetts’ decision to include an Access to Justice Topic to the list of potential topics that can be tested on the MA Bar Exam. 

The Proposal

In the fall of 2013, the Mass Access to Justice Commission unanimously recommended that the Board of Bar Examination adopt a proposal, recommending the addition of an Access to Justice Topic.  You can read the full proposal here.  The excerpt below highlights some of the Commission’s reasoning:

The Bar Examination’s goal of ensuring that new lawyers are minimally competent to enter the profession also requires that new lawyers are prepared to solve the civil problems most often faced by low and middle income people. Given the changing nature of the legal profession and the Justice Gap, it is essential that new lawyers in Massachusetts be prepared to handle cases and provide assistance in the key substantive areas in which the Justice Gap is most prominent.”  

Substantive Law

A recent article in the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly reported on the substantive areas of law that could be covered: “According to new Rule 3:01, §3, the areas of law to be tested in the field may include: landlord-tenant, including evictions, affirmative defenses and counterclaims, and fee-shifting statutes; foreclosures; divorce, including child custody, support and visitation; termination of parental rights; domestic abuse; guardianship and conservatorship; consumer matters, including debt collection, predatory lending, and unfair or deceptive practices; health care proxies; power of attorney; advance directives; due process doctrines related to fair hearings, civil commitment and civil right to counsel; representation of nonprofit organizations; and ethical rules, including the Rules of Professional Responsibility 1.2, 1.5, 1.14, 1.15, 4.3, 6.1, 6.5 and limited assistance representation.”

Follow The Leader

While I am giving a huge round of applause to Massachusetts for recognizing the importance of the “Justice Gap” and for implementing a change that will have significant impact on our students, legal education, the profession and in our communities, I would be remiss if I did not urge us to consider submitting similar proposals to our state bar associations.   The Access to Justice Commission recognized that this was an important first step for their state but more importantly that this could be the beginning of a larger movement; the proposal might not only have a positive impact in Massachusetts, but may serve as an important precedent in other states as well.”  I hope this is true, and I commend Massachusetts for going far beyond just talking the talk.     

 

May 7, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Clinics in the News

With a hat tip to Carter White, supervising attorney with the UC-Davis King Hall Civil Rights Clinics, see these two good stories from our neighbors in Northern California.

First is this fascinating story of UC-Davis students, under the supervision of Prof. Gabriel “Jack” Chin, and their advocacy to seek posthumous admission to the California bar of Hong Yen Chang, the first Chinese immigrant to be admitted to any U.S. bar. 

Second is this great story on the Stanford Community Law Clinic.  It is good press for the Stanford clinics and a great example of the important work of justice and good teaching.

Updated with better links.

May 6, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Clinics in the Cloud

Last week, a clinical professor at another law school sent an email to the clinic listserv asking:

“What policies or protocols do those of you who have a cloud based case management system have in place to re-enforce confidentiality and security for students. Is access to the system outside the clinic office part of your policy, and if so, what measures are taken to ensure students remember not to access the system in a non-secure setting, such as the student center, coffee shop, at home, etc.  Pepperdine has a nice series of technology hypotheticals from a few years ago that we have used in training, but beyond that, how are you addressing these challenges?”

As someone who still has a cassette tape player in my 2001 4-Runner (and occasionally uses it!), I waited on the sidelines, but the listserv was silent.  On Friday, someone contacted me off list and prompted me to respond since I had negotiated a contract with Clio last year (here is a copy of the Clio contract https://docs.google.com/a/willamette.edu/file/d/0BwSIrKM39nhKMjZiYWhseGlUcmM/edit and the related state bar due diligence questions https://docs.google.com/a/willamette.edu/file/d/0BwSIrKM39nhKQ3d1N0REM1FneVE/edit). 

As I explained in my response, Jack Lerner and I are just beginning to write a short law review article intended to help clinical faculty and administrators with cloud-based practice management systems, but it is not likely to be completed until later this year or sometime next year.  In the meanwhile, I do think that Brittany Stringfellow Otey’s article, Millennials, Technology, and Professional Responsibility: Training a New Generation in Technological Professionalism, is the best that I have seen dealing with the specific concerns raised.  Here is a link to Brittany’s article on SSRN: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2420153.

Although I am not “high tech,” I explained generally:

“We basically provide students with a fairly detailed manual of policies and procedures that includes confidentiality obligations, review the content in class, and then do another review in a ‘Game Show’ format we call ‘Legal Jeopardy.’  Thus, the students have exposure to what they can and cannot do three times, but then we rely on their own self-discipline.  We have gone through these concerns many times with our tech folks and we have not found a way to impose external controls that still allow for seamless 24/7 access.”

 I offered copies of our confidentiality provisions (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwSIrKM39nhKODJQSFljOWZDbXM/edit?usp=sharing), the “Legal Jeopardy” PowerPoint we use for review of our manual's policies and procedures (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwSIrKM39nhKNno2QUNzbVdTdkk/edit?usp=sharing), and a copy of our clinic manual (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwSIrKM39nhKeWhPaXZEdzBpS2s/edit?usp=sharing) to anyone interested.  I have received dozens of requests for these materials offlist and so decided to upload them all to Googledocs so that anyone with a link can access them.  I decided to add our Digital Technology Usage Policies (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwSIrKM39nhKYmh6R1hkNlFIdlk/edit?usp=sharing), which are part of our clinic manual.

Jack Lerner of USC’s Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic also sent a copy of the confidentiality pledge he requires student to sign in his clinic (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwSIrKM39nhKNFVFRjF0VGE4eEk/edit?usp=sharing), and explained that he also has students run utilities at the end of the semester that erase clinic-related files from their laptops.  I found information on one of the programs he recommended for Windows (http://eraser.heidi.ie/).  MacOS has its own built-in utility, according to Jack.  I have already begun exploring with our tech support colleagues here at Willamette the possibility of adding this protocol to our end of the semester practices, and encourage you to consider doing the same.

I hope that these resources are useful to some of you, and think it would be wonderful if we could create a database on Googledocs where we could create a digital commons comprised of useful documents (syllabi, manuals, PowerPoints, etc.) for the entire clinical community to access.  Here is an example of what Sandy Ogilvy created for the externship community (http://lexternweb.law.edu/program.cfm).  Anyone want to take the next step?

May 6, 2014 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones...and Words Can Hurt: The Case of the Chatty Chalkboard

Just a little Tuesday outrage to go with your afternoon snack via a posting on fellow clinician Margaret Drew's Facebook page.  Perhaps you saw this - then again - perhaps not:

Image: Sign posted outside Bar-Ly in Philadelphia's Chinatown

It seems harmless, right? But upon some reflection, the real problem is the underlying message, which, without being hypersensitive, implies that domestic violence is funny.  After many complaints, the sign was taken down, and the employee who wrote the message was fired, yet for anyone who has experienced domestic violence or worked with survivors, the message touches a significant nerve.  And that nerve smarts a little, even when faced with something seemingly so tongue in cheek.

Humor can be an effective tool - for reflection, for stress relief, for group bonding.  That being said, how do we combat these sorts of larger public messages as advocates working to spread altogether different messages (i.e. domestic violence is a serious issue)?  Is raising awareness enough?  Are there arenas where humor is appropriate for sensitive topics, and if so, when/where/how do we do that?  How do we handle sensitive issues in our clinics, and how do we use humor in that setting? 

May 6, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Social Media Connections

Following on Warren's post, supra, please join us at this blog's companion Facebook group.  

We are also on Twitter:  @clinicallawprof

Today, our fledgling Facebook group hit 100 members after two weeks, and we would love to see you there. 

May 5, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Be Nice, or, Setting Expectations for Public Citizenship

The California State Bar will add new language to its oath for new lawyers to include a vow of civility and professionalism:

“As an officer of the court, I will strive to conduct myself at all times with dignity, courtesy, and integrity.”

Will this change the face of the profession?  Will it change the perception of the profession?   Will it only increase the canon of lawyer jokes? 

I do not know, but this new language is instructive and will affect the expectations of new lawyers and perhaps inculcate a renewed sense of virtue.    As a teacher, I believe strongly in the value of setting clear, explicit expectations early.   I am also learning more and more about the force of “hidden curriculum,” those signals we send to our students by the values we laud, by the way we indicate success or failure.   

If we teach students, by the emphases of our curriculum, by the tone of our discourse, by the career paths we encourage, that the profession is for profit, power and prestige, they will learn it.    If we teach students, by the model of our service, by the civility of our classes, by the praise of public citizenship, that the profession is for justice, service and the rule of law, then they will learn it.

This may appear to be a cosmetic move by the bar, and some young lawyers may smirk as they swear it, sure that it is a joke at odds with what they have been taught.   Perhaps, however, some young lawyers will swear it with their hearts, minds and guts, because their teachers taught them what it means to be a lawyer. 

May 4, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Going to Sea

(Adapted from my essay in PEPPERDINE LAW, Fall 2013, at 18 -19.)

One morning early in the semester, I met a student in our clinic office.  She soon would graduate top in her class.  She had won national advocacy competitions.  She was a former D-I collegiate athlete, accomplished and brilliant.  She was terrified.   She told me she had not slept well.  She was nervous and kept checking her notes to ensure she was ready, fidgeting like a 1L.  She was on her way to her first client interview. 

My student had succeeded in every aspect of her legal education, but the prospect of meeting a real person, of undertaking our client’s cause, of receiving her story and evaluating the case, of translating her knowledge into practice intimidated her.  

She was experiencing a moment I call The Shift.  Law students spend their lives performing for their own advancement.  They are working for a grade, working for class rank,  working for a job, working for resume enhancement, working for a professor’s praise and recommendation.  They are self-centered, because we make them be self-centered.  This is endemic to legal education.  In clinics, though, they face something new.   They are no longer working for themselves, but they are working for a client who is depending on them.   They feel the burden of a client’s life, family and fortunes, and they grow anxious when they realize the stakes.   The Shift is that profound moment when a student feels the weight of professional obligations to a real client, and this moment imparts lessons that students cannot learn vicariously, through experiences we cannot simulate.   This is the purpose and great value of clinical education.

The legal academy is facing a crisis of scrutiny and skepticism.  Students are demanding, rightly, more return on their massive investment in law school.  The bar is demanding, rightly, graduates better equipped to practice law.  The market is speaking, and “practice-ready lawyers” is the watchword.  In diverse ways, law schools are reacting, even scrambling, to adjust methods and objectives that have been stable for a century.     Across the spectrum of legal education, law schools are figuring out how to train lawyers, not just to teach the law.   Experience matters, and we find contemporary law schools returning to old ideas of apprenticeships and learning through practice.  

Clinics and externships are at the heart of these discussions, because students can only become “practice ready” by practicing.  In 1947, ahead of his time, Professor Charles Henderson Miller of the University of Tennessee said, “To study the phenomena of law in society without books is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study the law without clients is not to go to sea at all.”

Practice readiness means readiness for clients, courts, law offices, co-counsel, opposing counsel, business, transactions, staff, money, marketing and scores of banal surprises.  It also demands a return to humanity, the ability to translate the language of law into the language of the people we serve.  The grand idea of practice readiness rests on three pillars: doctrine, skill and professionalism.  Without all three, our students are not ready to practice with any confidence.  These are not zero-sum choices, but these pillars should inform each other from the first day of law school to the last. 

Lawyers cannot be merely good social theorists with doctrine at their intellectual disposal, or they will be useless to a real client with a problem.  Likewise, lawyers cannot merely be technically proficient and charismatic, or they will fail to discern and understand the complexity and depth of the law necessary to advance their clients’ interests.  Lawyers must have an expertise in the law and must be technically proficient and skilled to bring that knowledge to bear.  That synthesis is the beginning of professionalism, but it is not the end.

Good lawyers require wisdom, self-awareness, epistemic humility, creativity, imagination, compassion and discipline.   Great lawyers seek these virtues intentionally and constantly.    These qualities are what the market demands and what students need. 

Clinics create environments and generate experiences that are essential to the formation of effective professionals.  Students will have these experiences sooner or later.  In the wilds of law practice, they will have these experiences with high stakes, uncertain security and inconstant advice.  In clinics, they can learn and grow with direction, with mentorship and guidance, with real stakes but without the risk of doing great damage, to their clients or to their own careers.  Clinics work at the intersection of doctrine, applied with skills in practice to real clients, and students here can experience the role of attorney with the attendant demands of intellectual and emotional life.  They feel the pressure, the confrontation, the demands, the gratification, the fear of law practice.   They encounter in clinics the real thing, not a discussion or a simulation of it.

In Externships, students enter the marketplace.  While clinics can generate intense experiences with clients and cases, field placements expose students to the bar, to lawyers at work.  Students witness how lawyers talk to each other, how lawyers collaborate with support staff, how lawyers grapple with the administration of their business.  This is real life in the law, and students are incrementally better prepared to practice at graduation if they have already experienced the culture shock of immigrating from school to work.   Their learning curve is steep in the best situations, but it is easier if they can find their way around a law office.  In Externships, students learn from practice, deepen their expertise, meet lawyers, hone their craft and observe the world as it is.   This makes our students all the more valuable to the lawyers who hire them.     

Best of all, we achieve these educational objectives while doing the work of justice for those who need it most.  We manifest the mission of our profession by seeking liberty for the oppressed and justice for the vulnerable, by seeking homes for the homeless, by seeking peace.  These are not metaphorical ideals but the fruitful reality of our law practice.  Students find the power and privilege of the profession instilled with hope, faith and love.  They begin their careers with some of the most important work of their lives. 

My student did a great job in her client interview.   She received her client’s story with compassion.  She asked good questions and built a reliable narrative.  She evaluated the claim and crafted a strategy.   She made decisions and translated her ideas into pleadings.   She filed a suit and prosecuted it to a favorable outcome for a client who could not afford her.   She went to sea, and she was ready for practice.    

May 1, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Twittering on the Brink

The day after I published my first blogpost, my 11-year-old daughter persuaded me to buy The Ultimate Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook.  We pretended it was for her, but I knew better.  Shortly after she handed me the text, I noted Chapter Five was titled “Mean Streets:  Urban Survival,” which included an entry on “How to Clean Up Your Online Reputation.”  One post and I already felt compelled to do damage control.  The fact that the advice could be found somewhere between “How to Cross a Piranha-Infested River” and “How to Outrun a Pack of Zombies” pretty much cinched it for me. 

What titles better capture the anxiety of a 40-something law professor venturing into the realm of social media?  Don’t they know that law professors don’t do media?  Heck.  We don’t even do “social.”  That is why we are professors!  Many of us aren’t even trustworthy with a “Reply All” email function after a rancorous faculty meeting (http://www.uomatters.com/2014/04/uo-law-school-prof-angry-about-plan-to-use-his-raise-for-scholarships.html), let alone a digital platform that transports our late night ramblings instantly and permanently to 2.5 billion Internet users all over the globe.

But Worst-Case Scenarios can bring out the Indiana Jones in all of us, and right now, legal educators need to dig deep into our “Urban Survival” kits.  Moody’s recently downgraded several independent law schools (http://www.nationallawjournal.com/home/id=1202651992392/Independent+Law+Schools+Suffer+CreditRatings+Slips%3Fmcode=1202617074964&curindex=2); The New York Times reported this month that five law schools have closed in the past two years (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/05/business/bold-bid-to-combat-a-crisis-in-legal-education.html?_r=0), although legal educators struggle to identify them (http://www.thefacultylounge.org/2014/04/five-law-schools-have-closed-in-the-last-two-years.html); and all the while, enrollments continue to plummet (http://www.lsac.org/lsacresources/data/three-year-volume).  So we law professors are starting to do something truly radical (at least for us):  we are trying new verbs.  We are tweeting, blogging, posting, tumbling, linking, and more.  But do we know what we are doing or why?  Of course not!  Thus, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a series of articles in The Digital Campus this week helping all of us to better appreciate and understand the importance of social media in the academy (http://chronicle.com/section/The-Digital-Campus-2014/715/).

If a Luddite like me (who cannot figure out how to turn off iTunes on her iPhone after listening to a little Eddie Vedder) can figure out how to Tweet, so can you!  Here are some fast facts about social networking and survival tips for those of us who are Twittering on the brink.

Facing Facts

Ever wonder what your students are doing in class?  They are on Facebook posting or reading someone else’s posts or messaging, possibly about your suit, but let’s hope it is about the class discussion (in a good way, of course).  Don’t believe me?  Sit in the back of a large lecture hall and witness it yourself.  Eighty-four percent of 18-29 year-olds and 79 percent of 30-49 year-olds are on Facebook (http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/social-demographics-2013_b53515#more-53515).  Heck.  Even my 90-year-old grandma is on Facebook.  But my grandma is not why you need to be on Facebook, it is because our students are, as are our alumni, and our competitors…er, colleagues, at other law schools. 

Facebook is where our students engage, sometimes even when they are in class.  It is the digital town square where people go to socialize and engage, so if you are not in the town square, you are not part of the conversation.  But here’s the irony:  law school social media etiquette is that most professors and students do not become Facebook friends until after they graduate.  Why?  Professional boundaries.  You really don’t want to see that picture of your students with their buddies and a pile of empty PBR cans when they are supposed to be studying any more than they wants to see you vacationing at your cabin with your family when you are supposed to be grading.

So why do it?  Once our students graduate, there is a little more distance and Facebook provides a wonderful way to keep in touch with our former students.  We get to witness weddings, new babies, moves to new cities, travel, and more.  It allows our professor-student relationships to be transformed into lifelong friendships, and that is worth learning new tricks, at least for this old dog.

 Linking In

So what social media can you use with your students while they are still your students?  LinkedIn.  Of all the mainstream social media platforms, LinkedIn is consistently the most formal and professional.   Currently, LinkedIn is used by 15 percent of 18-29 year-olds and 27 percent of 30-49 year-olds (http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/social-demographics-2013_b53515#more-53515).  It is the only social networking site surveyed that is used more by people in the $75k+ salary range than in any other salary category (http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/social-demographics-2013_b53515#more-53515).  Given that most of our students will enter this demographic shortly after graduation, we need to model for them how to use LinkedIn and so I routinely “link” with potential new law school students whom I meet as well as students enrolled in my courses every semester.  It helps them develop a professional profile and network and allows you to become updated quickly on the professional activities and positions of your students and alumni.  This is especially important when you are asked to serve as a reference or write a letter of recommendation or simply help your law school compile placement data. 

Dare to Tweet

Another social media platform to consider using to engage with your students (and potential students) prior to graduation is Twitter.  A 2013 Pew Research center survey found that 31 percent of 18-29 year-olds and 19 percent of 30-49 year-olds use Twitter (http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/social-demographics-2013_b53515#more-5351). Twitter's use among adults under 40 years of age (law schools’ key demographic) has more than doubled since 2010 (http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Twitter-Use-Rises-Across-US-Age-Groups/1010119), and the latest data shows that 71 percent of
Twitter users are 29 years of age and younger (https://www.sysomos.com/docs/Inside-Twitter-BySysomos.pdf); in other words, the age of our students and potential students.

The beauty of Twitter is that it is a one-way street (unless you decide to reciprocate).  You simply put your ideas and observations out there for any of the 300+ million Twitter users to read, and if you are interesting (at least to some) or a celebrity, you might develop a following.  The pain of Twitter, especially for law professors, is that you are limited to 140 characters per Tweet.  Some say it makes Tweeters better writers, but others would argue that any communication forum that encourages the dropping of vowels and the use of contractions should be shunned forever.  

In any event, Twitter allows you to share links to recommended readings for your students (or other followers), post links to your publications, update your followers on lectures, and more without getting as personal as one might on Facebook, for example.  At the same time, The Chronicle published an opinion this week suggesting that getting at least a little personal on Twitter might make you appear more authentic (http://chronicle.com/article/In-Defense-of-Getting-Personal/145945/).  And don’t worry, as painful as limiting your thoughts to 140 characters might sound, there are plenty of resources (see, e.g., http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2387516,00.asp) to teach you how to tweet in a way that won’t make you look too much like, well, a law professor Twittering on the brink….   

 

May 1, 2014 in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)