December 7, 2012
Thoughts on Curricular Reform I: The Problem
My law school, like many others, is in the throes of curricular reform. I would like to share with our readership some ruminations on the experience in a series of posts. Very little of what follows is specific to my law school's process. That process is on-going and I cannot write with any specificity about what changes we are planning to adopt, as we have yet to come to firm conclusions.
Less than ten years into teaching, I am already something of a dinosaur. I have previously published a limited defense of the case method and the Socratic method (a lengthier version is still available on SSRN). I still believe that a flexible, soft Socratic approach to teaching can be very effective for contemporary law students, especially if supplemented by mini lectures and problems. However, after eighteen months of work with our curriculum committee, I am persuaded that many within the legal academy are prepared to jettison the Langdellian heritage in favor of more hands-on teaching methods.
Like most academics, and probably like most people, I am confident that my own method for doing what I do is a good one. Unfortunately, there is no reliable empirical evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of my teaching method over others. We have not undertaken a systematic study to determine whose contracts students go on to pass the bar at the highest rates or whose contracts students are most likely to be successful transactional lawyers or commercial litigators. My students respond well to my approach to law teaching (to judge by my student evaluations, which is the best evidence I've got, faulty though it is), and they seem to master the concepts that we cover in my contracts course as well as they ever have (to judge by steady medians on the multiple-choice portions of my exam). But I am willing to entertain the hypothesis that they could do better through other methods, and I believe I have a professional obligation to experiment responsibly to try to discover what works best for today's law students.
My colleagues have shared with me a substantial body of empirical work that suggests that our current students do not study or learn through the same methods that I used when I was a law student. The current generation also arrives at law school less well-prepared in precisely the cognitive areas in which legal studies make the most rigorous demands. I am not entirely persuaded that the science on which these conclusions are based is entirely reliable, but I am willing to set aside my skepticism for the sake of the thought experiment of trying to devise a curriculum that would meet our students where they are.
In future posts, I hope to consider the following subjects:
- The impact of curricular reform on teaching materials: is this the death of casebooks?
- The costs of moving to a more skills-based curriculum
- The balance of teaching and scholarship in the 21st-century law school
- Coordinating teaching strategies with colleagues while preseving academic freedom
- Balancing meeting students where they are, in terms of maturity and development of cognitive abilities, with pushing students so that they can adapt to challenging professional environments
December 6, 2012
Get Ready - AALS Annual Meeting
(From the friendly folks at the AALS Contracts Law Section)
The program for the Section on Contracts at the 2013 AALS Annual Meeting will be on Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 8:30-10:15 AM. We had an enthusiastic response to our Call for Papers and have put together an exciting panel. The selected speakers and their topics are as follows:
"Good Faith Notice and the Bilateral Employment Contract," Rachel Arnow-Richman, University of Denver Sturm College of Law
"Instructing Juries on Noneconomic Contract Damages," David A. Hoffman, Temple University, James F. Beasley School of Law
"The Dog that Didn’t Bark: Private Investment Funds and Relational Contracts in the Wake of the Great Recession,” Robert C.Illig, University of Oregon School of Law
"Formality in Patent Licensing," Karen E. Sandrik, Willamette University College of Law
We look forward to seeing you in New Orleans.
Chair, AALS Section on Contracts
December 5, 2012
Study Break: Visions of Leonard v. Pepsico on 30 Rock
In a recent episode of 30 Rock ("Mazel Tov, Dummies!"), Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) gets married. Liz attempts to subvert the wedding industrial complex by tying the knot in her gym clothes at City Hall. She fights any desire to make it a "special day," leading her boyfriend/fiance to tell her "it is ok to be a human woman."
Interesting for our purposes: there is a sub-plot in the episode that is reminiscent of Leonard v. Pepsico. It begins at a little past 4 minutes into the episode. A creepy character played by John Hodgman comes to collect a woman (the character Jenna Maroney) that he says he earned by collecting $1,000,0000 Surge points. Surge is a soda and his claim to the money is based on a tv advertisement. The Surge points catalogue entitles Hodgman to the item or its equivalent value. Since it is "illegal to own someone," Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) has to determine Jenna's value (and Jenna is not happy with the assessment of her worth).
Take a study/grading break:
[Meredith R. Miller - h/t 1L Matthew Gray]
December 4, 2012
More Thoughts Fit for the Exam Season
Chapman University Law Prof Donald Kochan (pictured) noted our link to Professor Whaley's exam advice and offers some of his own. He has recently published “Thinking” in a Deweyan Perspective: The Law School Exam as a Case Study for Thinking in Lawyering. Here is the abstract:
As creatures of thought, we are thinking all the time, but that does not necessarily mean that we are thinking well. Answering the law school exam, like solving any problem, requires that the student exercise thinking in an effective and productive manner. This Article provides some guidance in that pursuit. Using John Dewey’s suspended conclusion concept for effective thinking as an organizing theme, this Article presents one basic set of lessons for thinking through issues that arise regarding the approach to a law school exam. This means that the lessons contained here help exercise thought while taking the exam—to think through the exam approach. The second, more subtle, purpose is to demonstrate that the law school exam can serve as a case study in the effectiveness of certain thinking tools that have much broader application. For that reason, this Article is not your typical “how-to” guide, but instead provides guidance critically and generally applicable to the thinking enterprise itself.
In addition, Professor Kochan offers the following excerpt on "outline dumping":
Learning, information, and memory will never be enough to accomplish good judgment. Instead, judgment is only evident when those things are applied to the perplexity to be solved. Outline dumping skips this crucial step.
To borrow and extend Dewey’s metaphor: the refrigerator (one’s outline or memory) may be filled with all of the stock necessary (knowledge, rules, and experience) to make a good meal (write a good exam), but the meal cannot be the stock alone simply removed and placed on the table—instead the meal must be prepared, the right ingredients mixed in the right combinations, and the fresh new material (the facts and other data from the exam question) must be added in order to create the meal; and it still must be presented and served with the care and skill of the great chef (the essay form and analysis), and finally the product must be sold to a patron-consumer of discriminating taste (the professor-evaluator). This method is far more likely to garner a good review than would taking out the ingredients, plopping them on a table, and calling it dinner.
Instead of outline dumping or simply restating facts or giving sterile statements of legal rules unconnected to the case at hand, the effective exam taker must master the skill of assessment of the relevant law and facts and application of law to facts. Dewey prescribes that “[a]pplication is as much an intrinsic part of genuine reflective inquiry as is alert observation or reasoning itself.”
Weekly Top Tens from the Social Science Research Council
December 3, 2012
Some Valuable Advice from a Reliable Source
Professor Emeritus Douglas Whaley (whose casebook I have just adopted for my first attempt at a sales course) offers this advice on exams.
Unilateral Offer for Return of Laptop Enforced to the Tune of $1 Million
As reported here in the New York Post, hip hop artist and producer, Ryan Leslie, offered via YouTube video a $1 million reward for the return of a lost laptop and external hard drive.
Mr. Leslie laptop and an external hard drive were allegedly stolen while he was touring in Cologne. Plaintiff Armin Augstein claimed to have foudn the missing items while walking his dog. He returnd the property to the German police and claimed his reward when notified of its existence.
According to the Post, Mr. Leslie gave two explanations for his refusal to pay the reward. First, Mr. Leslie suggested that Mr. Augstein may have been in on the heist, since he found the laptop fifteen miles from where the theft allegedly took place. Second, Mr. Leslie claimed that his duty to pay was contingent on his ability to retrieve certain musical tracks from the external hard drive, something Mr. Leslie claimed he was unable to do. Because Mr. Leslie had returned the hard drive to the manufacturer, the judge informed the jury that they should assume that Mr. Leslie could have retrieved the tracks before doing so.
During jury deliberations, Mr. Leslie's attorneys attempted to settled, but plaintiff refused. After three hours of deliberation, the jury returned with a decision awarding plaintiff the full $1 million. His lawyer commented that Mr. Augstein was due not just a "thank you" but an apology. The law requires only a check.