ContractsProf Blog

Editor: D. A. Jeremy Telman
Valparaiso Univ. Law School

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

On Issue-Spotting and Hiding the Ball

As for the series on law school instruction and law schools in general that Jeremy started here recently: count me in!

I agree with Jeremy’s views that issue-spotting is very important in helping students develop their “practical skills,” as the industry now so extensively calls for.  As Jeremy and Professor Bruckner do, I also never give up trying to have the students correctly issue spot, which in my book not only means spotting what the issues are, but also omitting from their tests and in-class analyses what I call “misfires” (non-issues).  In my opinion, the latter is very necessary not only for bar taking purposes, but also in “real life” where attorneys often face not only strict time limits, but also word limits.

But I’ll honestly admit that my students very often fail my expectation on final tests.  Some cannot correctly spot the issues at all.  Many have a hard time focusing on those aspects of the issues that are crucial and instead treat all issues and elements under a “checklist” approach overwriting the minor issues and treating major issues conclusorily.  Yet others seem to cram in as many issues as they can think of “just in case” they were on the test (yes, I have thought about imposing a word limit on the tests, but worry about doing so for fear of giving any misleading indication of how many words they “should” write, even if indirectly so on my part). 

Maybe all this is my fault … but maybe it isn’t (this too will hopefully add to Professor Bruckner’s probably rhetorical question on how to teach issue-spotting skills).  Every semester, I post approximately a dozen or so take-home problems with highly detailed answer rubrics.  I only use textbooks that have numerous practice problems long and short.  I review these in class.  I also review, in class, numerous other problems that I created myself.  I give the students numerous hints to use commercial essay and other test practice sources.  Yes, all this on top of teaching the doctrinal material.  All this is certainly not “hiding the ball.”  Frankly, I don’t really know what more a law professor can realistically do (other than, of course, trying different practice methods, where relevant, to challenge both oneself and the students and to see what may work better as expectations and the student body change).

So what seems to be the problem?  As I see it, it doesn’t help that at least private law schools at the bottom half of the ranking system have to accept students with lower indicia of success than earlier.  But even that hardly explains the problem (who knows what really does).  Some law schools have to offer remedial writing classes and various other types of extensive academic support to students in their first semesters and beyond.  Some of the problem, in my opinion, clearly stems from the undergraduate-level education our students receive.  In large part, this makes extensive use of multiple-choice questions for assessments and not, as future lawyers would benefit from, paper or essay-writing tests or exercises.  Thus, undergraduate-level schools neither teach students how to spot "issues" from "scratch" nor do they teach them how to write about these.  Numerous time have my students told me that they have not really written anything major before arriving in law school.

Why is that, then?  Isn’t that problem one of time and resources; in other words, the fact that not just law professors, but probably most university professors, are required to research and write extensively in addition to teaching and providing service to their institutions?  For example, see Jeremy’s comments on his busy work schedule here.  Something has to give in some contexts.  At the undergraduate level, maybe it’s creating and grading essays and instead resorting to machine-graded multiple-choice questions and not challenging students sufficiently to consider what the crux of a given academic problem is.  Just a thought.  I am, of course, not saying that we should not conduct research.  I am saying, though, that I find it frustrating that lower-level educations, even renowned ones, cannot seem to figure out how to use whatever resources they do, after all, have to train their students in something as seemingly simple as how to write and how to think critically.

At the law school level, some “handholding” and various types of practical assistance is, of course, acceptable.  But to me, the general trend in legal education seems to be moving towards a large extent of explaining, demonstrating, giving examples, setting forth goals, assessments, and so forth.  I agree with what Jeremy said in an earlier post that we should at some point worry about converting the law school education process into one that resembles undergraduate-style (or high school style!) education.

Recall that the United States is not an island unto itself.  Many studies show that our educational system is falling behind international trends.  Where in many other nations in the world (developed and developing), students are expected to come up with, for example, quite advanced research and writing projects for their degrees, we are - at least in some law schools - teaching students just how to write, and what to write about.  This is a sad slippery slope.  Until the American educational sector as such improves, I agree that we should do what we can to motivate and help our students.  But I also increasingly wish that our “millennial” students would take matters into their own hands more and take true ownership of learning what they need to learn for a given project or class with less handholding, albeit of course still some guidance.  Nothing less than that will be expected from them in practice. 

April 23, 2015 in Commentary, Contract Profs, Current Affairs, In the News, Law Schools, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 20, 2015

What Is the Place of Core Doctrinal Teaching and Scholarship in the New Curriculum?

When I was a law student, I knew what the core of my legal education was.  It consisted of traditional legal courses like contracts, civil procedure, property, torts, constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, etc.  In my second and third years, most of my courses continued to be core doctrinal courses. I had the option of doing a clinic in the third year, of course, and for some of my colleagues in law school, that was a central experience, but it was very much optional, especially since in those days, if I wanted real-world legal experience, I got it during the summers, and I could also work a bit during the school year.  I don't think there was any doubt in anyone's mind that, for better or worse, doctrinal teaching was the core of legal education.  Skills training was regarded as ancillary, and clinics were supplementary, or perhaps a capstone.

ScholarToday, I think the message is much more confusing.  I have surveyed a number of websites of law schools outside of the top 50 and many push variations of the same themes: come to our law schools and we will give you a practical, hands-on experiential learning experience that will get you a job (or at least qualify or prepare you for one).  If traditional doctrinal teaching is mentioned, it is usually in the context of bragging about small class sizes.  These law schools do not generally emphasize traditional doctrinal teaching or scholarship.

This is completely understandable.  Teaching contracts (and other first year courses) is not sexy.  Since the first year curriculum is the same with respect to probably 75% of the subjects at all ABA accredited law schools, the folks who try to market individual law schools will not distinguish their institutions by emphasizing the things that all law schools do.  They have to emphasize unique programs, and even if a school really has an outstanding doctrinal teaching faculty, such claims just come off as puffery.

But the problem is that students don't get much experiential education in the first two years of law school.  So attracting them based on clinics and externships makes the doctrinal teaching that they get in the first two years seem, for some students, like some sort of ghastly hazing process.  The situation reminds me a little bit of the Simpsons episode when Police Chief Wiggum confronts a new recruit who just wants a gun:

Chief Wiggum: All right, you scrawny beanpoles: becoming a cop is *not* something that happens overnight. It takes one solid weekend of training to get that badge.

Man: [screaming] Forget about the badge! When do we get the freakin' guns?

Chief Wiggum: Hey, I told you, you don't get your gun until you tell me your name.

Man: I've have it up to here with your "rules"!

My students don't want freakin' guns (or those that do already have them).  They want their own freakin' clients. So when they reach the third year, or do externships in the second year, they think that those experiences are the core of their education and everyone should understand if doctrinal courses takes a back seat.  So, for example, some students are non-plussed that their absences caused by clinical or externship obligations are not excused.  Or they take it as self-evident that they can show up 15-20 minutes late for class because "a client meeting ran over."  And this is not at all because clinicians encourage such attitudes.  On the contrary.  But students nonetheless pull this conclusion out of the ether. 

I get it.  In their position, I would do the same thing, but I had a job lined up as after my first summer, and my law school had a 95% or more bar passage rate when I graduated.  Things are different in this era of declining bar passage rates.  Clinical experiences are invaluable in all sorts of ways, but they do not seem to help with bar passage or with job placement.  By the way, I am always surprised by the lack of a link between clinical education and bar passage, as I always assumed that students would really come to appreciate and thus be motivated to learn the law's subtleties when confronted with them in a live-client context. I have only come across a few studies, which tend to be small or idiosyncratic.  I would love to see more empirical research in this area.

In addition, we are increasingly moving more skills training into the curriculum, both by devoting more time to skills courses and by introducing more skills training into the doctrinal programs.  The candle is burning at both ends, and the class time devoted to traditional coverage of doctrine is shrinking.  But the more worrying problem is that some students are unaware of how crucial doctrinal courses are for their future success.   They may be led by our marketing efforts and our new curricula into the false hope that if they can actually "be good lawyers" in the clinical context, it could not possibly matter that they do not do well on traditional law school or on standardized exams.

April 20, 2015 in Law Schools, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Merchantability Applied to Legal Scholarship

Katowice Fair Building Collapse graphic

 

We know that merchantability means passing without objection in the trade. If law review articles were goods, what would that trade be? For law professors, it  seems like it is second and third year law students.  At some level it would also reviewers of works when a professor is considered for promotion. Recently, though, a colleague of mine and I did a bit of research and began to wonder if acceptable in the trade -- as defined by law students and law professors --  is a meaningful strandard within the trade of academia.

Law professors who do research are generally spending the money of others. The actual buyers are, therefore, those who pay  for the scholarship. Let's add that they have no idea what the standard is but would uniformly agree that every article should make someone or something better off and should reflect high quality research. Students and reviewers should be regarded as agents for those paying the bills.

If that is the measure of merchantability (and why wouldn't it be) then editors and reviewers should apply that standard in their own decisions. Clearly they do not and left to their narrow and inappropriate standard for merchantability we have  massive amounts of scholarship that, let's face  it, is written to justify being granted tenure.  There is little verification that most, no matter how carefully done or clever, actually benefits anyone. Some of it -- a small percentage -- is cited but rarely for the substantive points made as opposed to piggy-backing on a fact asserted in the first work.  Morever the research is often sloppy.  Here is an example. I recently read an article that makes the claim that a certain area of law is now consistent with empirical studies. I looked at the cite and it was to another professor who had not actualy done any empirical work and did not quite say what was claimed. And the work cited by that professor was not on the point made in the first article. In fact the most frequent cite is  the hearsay cite in which the author makes a claim because someone else made the same claim.

I expect readers of this will disagree but shouldn't the test of merchatability mean making someone or something (even if a fish) better off and shouldn't documentation be careful and accurate? Don't misunderstand, much of scholarship meets these standards. But much of what currently passes in the trade without objection does not. 

January 23, 2015 in Commentary, Current Affairs, Law Schools, Miscellaneous, Recent Scholarship, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Call for Applications: Project on the Foundations of Private Law

Harvard Law School
POSTDOCTORAL FELLOWSHIP, 2015-2017 

HLS

PURPOSE: The Project on the Foundations of Private Law is an interdisciplinary research program at Harvard Law School dedicated to scholarly research in private law.   Applicants should be aspiring academic with a primary interest in one or more of property, contracts, torts, intellectual property, commercial law unjust enrichment, restitution, equity, and remedies. The Project welcomes applicants with a serious interest in legal structures and institutions, and welcomes a variety of perspectives, including economics, history, philosophy, and comparative law. The Fellowship is a postdoctoral program specifically designed to identify, cultivate, and promote promising scholars early in their careers. Fellows are selected from among recent graduates, young academics, and mid-career practitioners who are committed to spending two years at the Project pursuing publishable research that is likely to make a significant contribution to the field of private law, broadly conceived. More information on the Center can be found at: http://www.law.harvard.edu/programs/about/privatelaw/index.html.

PROGRAM: Postdoctoral Fellowships in Private Law are full-time, two-year residential appointments starting in the Fall of 2015. Fellows devote their full time to scholarly activities in furtherance of their individual research agendas. The Project does not impose teaching obligations on fellows, although fellows may teach a seminar on the subject of their research in the Spring of their second year. In addition to pursuing their research and writing, fellows are expected to attend and participate in research workshops on private law, and other events designated by the Project. Fellows are also expected to help plan and execute a small number of events during their fellowship, and to present their research in at least one of a variety of forums, including academic seminars, speaker panels, or conferences. The Project also relies on fellows to provide opportunities for interested students to consult with them about their areas of research, and to directly mentor its Student Fellows.  Finally, fellows will be expected to blog periodically (about twice per month) on our collaborative blog, which is under development.

STIPEND AND BENEFITS: Fellows have access to a wide range of resources offered by Harvard University. The Center provides each fellow with office space, library access, and a standard package of benefits for employee postdoctoral fellows at the Law School.  The annual stipend will be $50,000 per year.

ELIGIBILITY: By the start of the fellowship term, applicants must hold an advanced degree in law. The Center particularly encourages applications from those who intend to pursue careers as tenure-track law professors, but will consider any applicant who demonstrates an interest and ability to produce outstanding scholarship in private law and theory. Applicants will be evaluated by the quality and probable significance of their research proposals, and by their record of academic and professional achievement. 

APPLICATION: Applications will be accepted starting December 15, 2014. Completed applications must be received at conner@law.harvard.edu by 9:00 a.m. on February 2, 2015. Please note that ALL application materials must be submitted electronically, and should include:

1. Curriculum Vitae
2. PDFs of transcripts from all post-secondary schools attended.
3. A Research Proposal of no more than 2,000 words describing the applicant’s area of research and writing plans. Research proposals should demonstrate that the applicant has an interesting and original idea about a research topic that seems sufficiently promising to develop further.
4. A writing sample that demonstrates the applicant’s writing and analytical abilities and ability to generate interesting, original ideas. This can be a draft rather than a publication.  Applicants who already have publications may also submit PDF copies of up to two additional published writings.
5. Three letters of recommendation, emailed directly from the recommender. Letter writers should be asked to comment not only on the applicant’s writing and analytical ability, but on his or her ability to generate new ideas and his or her commitment to pursue an intellectual enterprise in this area. To the extent feasible, letter writers should provide not just qualitative assessments but also ordinal rankings. For example, rather than just saying a candidate is “great,” it would be useful to have a statement about whether the candidate is (the best, in the top three, among the top 10%, etc.) among some defined set of persons (students they have taught, people they have worked with, etc.).

All application materials with the exception of letters of recommendation should be e-mailed by the applicant to conner@law.harvard.edu. Letters of Recommendation should be emailed directly from the recommender to the same address.

For questions or additional information, contact:

Bradford Conner, Coordinator, conner@law.harvard.edu.

December 16, 2014 in Help Wanted, Law Schools | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 31, 2014

More on the Puzzling ICAM Problem

 

Crossword_puzzle_with_lady_in_black_coat

As I noted about a month ago the problem for the 2015 International Commercial Artbitration Moot is wonderful for those who like crossword puzzles, solving problems, reading mysteries, or doing detective work. There are facts, deadends, and read herrings galore. No one goes for a big sleep as far as I can tell but there is the dreaded issue of "fundamental breach." In fact, that appears to be the centerpiece of the problem. Just to make it a little twisty, the fundamental breach is by the buyer whose letter of credit may not conform to the contract. Since even that would be too simple, there is a second letter of credit that may or may not conform but which came after the first arguably non comforming one. There are phone calls, emails, letters, accusations, and even an emergency arbitration that, maybe, should not have occurred at all.

At my school 32 students are now writing briefs for the claimants side of the case and preparing for their oral arguments next week. There is something here even for profs not involved in the Moot. Just reading the problem will spark all kinds of ideas for exam questions suitable for  the basic contracts course.

 

October 31, 2014 in Conferences, Contract Profs, Games, Law Schools, Meetings, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Vis Problem Is Up

                                                                                             640px-Riesenrad_Vienna

The problem is up for the 22nd Annual International Commerical Arbitration Moot. Between now and early December, teams will write the brief for the Claimant.  In mid January the brief for the Respondent is due. And then, in March,  200-300 teams from law schools around the world will gather in Vienna for the competition. 

There is no limit to the  number of students on a team but they must argue in pairs. Typically one student handles the procedural issues and one the substantive or the CISG issues. There are 4 rounds to start with the 64 highest scoring teams moving on to a single elimination tournament.

The problems  identify an actual arbitration agency whose rules govern the procedures, This year the procedural issues center around whether the Claimant the right to make an emergency appeal to the arbitration agency and whether the Respondent may join the parent company of the Claimant for purposes of its counterclaim.  In one of those puzzles that charactizes the Moot, the parent company "endored" the contract at issue but claims not to be a party do it.

The substantive issue concerns a letter of credit which does not conform (or does it?) to what was called for in the contract. The buyer attempts to "cure" in a sense but the seller says "too late, we have already avoided the contract." Thus, it raises avoidance and cure isssues under the CISG.

This is, at best, a first cut on the problem. As the weeks pass, the problem will reveal itself as the layers are peeled off. 

I am happy to trade notes and views with other interested profs.   

[In the meantime, try to find the third man.]

 

 

October 6, 2014 in Conferences, Contract Profs, Film, Help Wanted, Law Schools, Meetings, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Count Down to ICAM (the Vis)

                                                                                             Vienna_Opera_(night)

 

I am sure most readers know what the CISG is. I was surprised to learn that some are not aware of the International Commercial Arbitration Moot (ICAM) held in Vienna annually over the weekend and then into the week just prior to Easter. It is maybe the most rewarding experience I have had as a teacher. The organizers of the Moot release the problem on the first Friday of October. It is usually a spawling but somewhat realistic fact pattern,  Typically there are procedural issues and substantive issues dealing, obviously, with international contract law. Over two hundred teams from around the world gather for 4 days of prelims.  The top 64 then go into a single elimination tournament. 

At my school, like others, we organize a course around the Moot. In the fall, the students first have 5 weeks of regular class sessions on the CISG followed by an exam.  After that, the problem comes out and they have 4-6 weeks to write their briefs.  Finally, there are oral arguments. From those exercises, 4 to 6 students are selected to be on the team. (all students earn 3 credits whether they make the team or not) Those students must prepare a claimant's and a respondent's brief and practice twice a week until the competition. It requires dedication.  

There are a couple of drawbacks. First is it expensive to send students and a coach to Vienna. At Florida we have been fortunate to have support from the International Section of the State Bar, private donors, and the Law School. Second, the judging in Vienna can be hit and miss. In the four day premlinary period the abitrators (3 each per session) may apply different standards and are sometimes not well prepared. Thus, the goals be for the students must be to learn at much as they can, network, and enjoy, for a few days, interacting with students from all  over the world. The winning teams are always superb but some left out of the tournament may also be superb. 

I realize there are maybe only a handful of people out there who do not know of this opportunity but I've found it to be very worthwhile (and also hardwork)

September 8, 2014 in Conferences, Contract Profs, Law Schools, Meetings, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Congrats to UC Irvine on a Great Consumer Class Action Outcome

This week, I received notice that I am a member of the plaintiff class in Schlesinger, et. al. v. Ticketmaster.  After ten years of litigation, the parties' proposed settlement is pending before the Superior Court in Los Angeles.  If you purchased tickets through Ticketmaster between 1999 and 2013, you most likely are also a part of the class.  The case alleges (in short) that Ticketmaster overcharged customers for fees.  Ticketmaster claims that its processing fees were necessary for it to recover its costs, while plaintiffs allege that those fees were actually a means of generating profits for Ticketmaster.  Shocking, no?

U2_360_Zooropa_Oakland
Image of U2 Concert uploaded by Dream out loud (talk)


The terms of the settlement are actually pretty sweet.  Class members will get a discount code that they can use on the Ticketmaster website entitling them to $2.25 off future Ticketmaster transactions.  Class members get to use the code up to 17 times in the next four years.  The value of the discount codes is about $386 million, and if the money is not used up, class members will be eligible for free ticket to Live Nation events.  Ticketmaster's website will also now include disclosures about how it profits from its fees.

But then there's THIS:

Ticketmaster will pay $3 million to the University of California, Irvine School of Law to be used for the benefit of consumers like yourself. In addition to the benefits set forth above, Ticketmaster will also make a $3 million cy pres cash payment to the University of California, Irvine School of Law’s Consumer Law Clinic. The money will establish the Consumer Law Clinic as a permanent clinic, and it will be used to: (i) provide direct legal representations for clients with consumer law claims, (ii) advocate for consumers through policy work, and (iii) provide free educational tools (including online tutorials) to help consumers understand their rights, responsibilities, and remedies for online purchases.

The settlement strikes me as masterly.  It gets a beneift to people who, if the allegations are true, were actually harmed by the alleged conduct, but it does so in a way that will generate more business for Ticketmaster going forward, and Ticketmaster may value that new business stream at around $386 million in any case.  Ticketmaster has had to make changes to its website to eliminate the risk of deception going forward.  And the world gets a consumer protection clinic funded the sort of business against whom consumers need to be protected.  

Congratulations to the attorneys who came up with this settlement and to the UC Irvine Conumser Protection Clinic on its new endowment.

June 19, 2014 in Commentary, In the News, Law Schools, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Jan Levine Earns Legal Writing's Highest Awards

Jan Levine2(0) smallerWe are delighted to congratulate Jan Levine, associate professor and director of Duquesne University's Legal Research & Writing program. Jan became the first professor to win, in the same year, the AALS Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning & Research Award and the Thomas F. Blackwell Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Legal Writing. As former Freedman Fellows at Temple Law, the four of us owe Jan a substantial debt for his training and assistance
in entering the academy. Jan modeled for us the demand for excellence to which we aspire.  It is gratifying to see his worth recognized by others.
 
[Meredith R. Miller, Sheila Scheuerman (TortsProf Blog), Chris Robinette (TortsProf Blog) and Byron Stier (Mass Tort  Litigation Blog)].

January 8, 2014 in Law Schools, Meetings, Miscellaneous, Teaching | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Contract as Shank

A contract is like a screwdriver. Prison shanks small

A screwdriver can be used for turning screws and opening cans of paint. Or it can be used as a dagger in mortal prison combat. Likewise, a contract can “facilitate an efficient private ordering of society,” but it can also be “a means of social dominance and oppression.” Law professors should be quicker to tell new students about the shank-side of contracts.

That’s the gist of Teaching Contract Law: Introducing Students to a Critical Perspective Through Indentured Servitude and Sharecropper Contracts, 66 SMU L. Rev. 341 (2013), by Dr. Gregory Scott Crespi.

Crespi provides a sample lecture in which he tells of homeless English people becoming indentured servants and former slaves becoming sharecroppers. In both cases, contracts were used to bind people to functional slavery.

Crespi gives this lecture around the third class of the semester. He believes that informing students of such abusive contracts early in their legal educations allows them to bring a critical perspective to subsequent doctrinal studies and to consider the law’s context and unintended social consequences.

Dr. Crespi has done us several services by publishing this piece: (1) he has given us a brilliant lecture to use if we don’t feel like doing our own critical research; (2) he has kept it short, six printed pages, excluding footnotes; and (3) he has told us some important stories about abusive contracts.

But I wonder if Crespi’s approach is like teaching students to play tennis without a net? Does the first-semester 1L understand the intended consequences of the law well enough to opine on the unintended consequences? Students arrive at law school fluent in cynicism, but they have difficulty describing the relationship between well-established doctrines and the common good. So perhaps students should be encouraged to develop a critical perspective later, rather than sooner.

Using Crespi’s screwdriver analogy, imagine a master carpenter saying to his new apprentice, “The first thing about a screwdriver is that it turns screws. The second thing is that it can open a can of paint. The third thing is that it can be sharpened into a dagger and used to kill a man.” It’s a fascinating narrative, but is it apt for the apprentice? I’m inclined to think students need to know doctrine before they can criticize it and that giving new students the critical perspective too early might cause them to develop a distorted view of Contracts and the world.

Query the right view of Contracts and the world. If the professor think it’s more shanks than screwdrivers, perhaps the critical lesson should come early. I probably won’t be giving that lesson until at least class number four.

[Kenneth Ching]

[Image by Xeni Jardin]

 

November 18, 2013 in Commentary, Contract Profs, Law Schools, Recent Scholarship | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

In Defense of Student-Edited Journals

Meredith Miller's post from yesterday touched on a topic that most law professors have considered at some point or other.  For years, there has been a movement to replace student-edited law reviews with a more professional model.  Judge Posner threw his support behind an operation called PRSM -- the Peer Reviewed Scholarship Marketplace.  But the idea has not caught on (judging by the stagnating PRSM membership).  In my view, it is a fine thing to have different models out there, so it is fine with me that some student-edited journals are experimenting with peer review (and I hear anecdotally that many student-edited journals have been doing so informally all along).  But my main point here is to stress how we all benefit from student-edited journals, and law professors should stop griping and realize how lucky they are to have the current arrangement.  

I have written on this subject before here, emphasizing the benefits students derive from their work on law journals.  Here is the heart of my argument from that previous post:

 Some of the best training that happens at law schools happens at law reviews.  I came to law school with ten years of scholarly experience under my belt, because I had written a doctoral dissertation, published historical scholarship and taught before making the jump to law school.  Still, my skills as a researcher skyrocketed in my third year as a law student when I was responsible for overseeing a team of cite and substance editors on a number of review essays that we published in our Review of Law and Social Change.  The evidentiary standards for legal scholarship are far more exacting than they are in the humanities and the non-quantitative social sciences.  No claim can be made without authority.  As a result, I became a far more intrepid researcher, and I unlearned intellectual habits acceptable to my former field of study and adopted intellectual habits essential to successful lawyering.  

In this post, I would like to address some of the advantages of student-edited journals from the author's perspective.  The main advantages of student-edited journals is that they are plentiful and rely on free labor.  Since as I explained above, the labor is a valuable component of legal education, I don't feel too badly for the students who are not paid for their editorial work.  But their efforts are responsible for raising the level of legal scholarship well above that of other humanities and social sciences.  

Having more journals to publish in is good.  Allow these adorable kids to explain:

 

You see, it's not complicated.

When I was a historian, I submitted articles for peer review.  I waited 3-6 months for readers' reports.  Sometimes the readers' reports were positive, and my article got published without further editing beyond typesetting.  Other times I was told to revise and re-submit.  In general, I would say that the suggested revisions were recommendations that I recast my own research to satisfy the reviewer, and I was not always convinced that doing so would enhance the quality of the piece.  But I would do my best to revise, and there were times when my attempts to satisfy the reviewer were unsuccessful.  I could move on to the next journal, but I don't think I ever did.  I published in a specialized field, and there were usually only a couple of journals where it made sense for me to publish.  The universe of qualified reviewers was also limited.  Two of my historical writings, to which I devoted months of work were never published, and one of them should have been.  

Without a doubt, legal scholars benefit from being able to submit simultaneously to scores of publications.  If none of those publications bite, we wait six months for the next round and try our luck with a fresh crop of editors who may not have the benefit of a meaningful institutional memory.  At some point, worthwhile scholarship finds its way into print, and as long as the publication is included on a database, and most journals are, students, attorneys, and scholars can find it regardless of the prestige of the publication.  

Okay, so what is the downside?

One potential downside is that a lot of useless nonesense gets published.  I would be very interested to see evidence that peer review prevents the publication of useless nonesense.  People bandy about the statistic that 40% of law review articles are never cited.  Okay, is a higher percentage of peer reviewed material cited?  In any case, as I wrote in another post:

As for scholarship itself, Brian Leiter was here a few weeks ago to deliver our annual Seegers Lecture on Jurisprudence.  In response to a question about the value of scholarship, he said something very close to my view.  Most of what gets published is a dead end.  But a certain percentage of it is very valuable, and there is no way of telling ex ante which scholarship is going to move the ball in a meaningful way.  That's why we need lots of people doing their best to move the ball and why we need to continue to support faculty scholarship. 

The other downside is that students are incompetent as editors not only in selection but also in the way they deal with the text.  This, I say, is nonsense.  Peer review may be more rigorous but peer editing clearly is not.  Whenever I have submitted essays for peer review, the final product is almost identical to the original, except for formatting and the repair of the odd typo.  Student editors work hard to improve the quality and clarity of the writing, and they also find authority where it is lacking.  They make us seem much more lucid, knowledgeable and careful than we really are -- or than we are when we first submit our offerings up for publication.  

The last time I published in a peer-review, peer-edited journal, my piece was: 1) accepted, 2) rejected following a coup on the editorial board, and 3) re-accepted after the coup unraveled.  The re-acceptance was conditional on revisions.  The readers' reports came to me nearly two years after the original submission, but I received many vague missives from the journal suggesting that I had very little time to make the necessary changes or the journal would pass on publication.  I made the requisite changes (which were idiotic and necessitated a new research project) and re-submitted.  For months, I heard nothing.  My inquiries recieved no response until I received the page proofs.  The page proofs corresponded to my original draft.  That's right, the "professional editors" who insisted that I revise my article were then prepared to publish my article without the revisions.  Publication followed some months later, about two years after the article was first accepted for publication.  I know we all have horror stories about student editors, but could they really have done much worse than that?

I have been storing these thoughts up for a while, hoping that I would one day have the time to publish them in a student-edited law journal.  For now, a blog post will have to do.

[JT] 

October 22, 2013 in Conferences, In the News, Law Schools, Recent Scholarship | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 21, 2013

NYT's Adam Liptak on Lackluster Legal Scholarship (or, On Elephants Swatting Flies)

In case you didn't see it, Adam Liptak's Sidebar column in the New York Times takes aim at student-edited law reviews with such zingers as: "Law reviews are such a target-rich environment for ridicule that it is barely sporting to make fun of them."  Liptak gets it mostly right in describing the dismal status quo, incluing the utter lack of relevance of most law review articles to the practicing bar.  (I had a law professor who said the best way to keep a secret is in a law review article and I tend to think he was right). 

I am shocked that this story is newsworthy and I don't necessarily agree with the prescription that "blind screening, peer review and more training for the student editors" would make all the difference.  But I am most grateful that Liptak's column references a 1936 essay by Yale Professor Fred Rodell titled “Goodbye to Law Reviews.”  It made my day.  Check out the abstract:

It is doubtless of no concern to anyone that this is probably my last law review article. As a matter of fact, this makes one more article than I had originally planned to write. It was something in the nature of a New Year's resolution. Yet the request to do a piece about law reviews seemed a golden opportunity to make my future absence from the "Leading Articles, Authors" lists a bit more pointed than would the business of merely sitting in a comer, sucking my thumb, and muttering Boo. Keeping well in line with two traditions—a course which lawyers will readily understand—I decided to break the resolution and not wait for opportunity's second knock. This, then, is by way of explaining why I do not care to contribute further to the qualitatively moribund while quantitatively mushroom-like literature of the law.

There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content. That, I think, about covers the ground. And though it is in the law reviews that the most highly regarded legal literature—and I by no means except those fancy rationalizations of legal action called judicial opinions—is regularly embalmed, it is in the law reviews that a pennyworth of content is most frequently concealed beneath a pound of so-called style. The average law review writer is peculiarly able to say nothing with an air of great importance. When I Used to read law reviews, I used constantly to be reminded of an elephant trying to swat a fly.

Just proves that there is nothing new to say.

[Meredith R. Miller]

October 21, 2013 in Commentary, In the News, Law Schools, Recent Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Another New Blog Joins the Law Professor Blog Network

LPBNAs announced here on the TaxProf Blog, the Mother Ship of the Law Professor Blog Network, of which this blog is a proud member, a new Law Deans on Legal Education Blog has just been launched: 

From the inaugural post:

We are pleased to introduce our new blog devoted to legal education from the perspective of law deans. We hope this blog will provide a place where you will find information, opinions, and thoughts about a range of topics and issues related to legal education. The editors of this blog are Dean Richard Gershon of the University of Mississippi School of Law, Dean Paul McGreal of the University of Dayton School of Law, and Dean Cynthia Fountaine of the Southern Illinois University School of Law. We look forward to sharing our thoughts about legal education with you and hope you enjoy our blog.

[JT]

October 8, 2013 in About this Blog, Law Schools, Teaching, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 19, 2013

First Day of the First Minimester

Valparaiso-logoWhen I started graduate school in 1986, people were saying that the early 90s were going to be a great time for newly minted history Ph.D.s.  Universities had exploded in the 60s, and a lot of tenured faculty members were due to retire.  There were going to be a lot of openings in a lot of fields.  And of course, none of us graduate students were worried in any case because we were young and indestructable -- all brilliant and all certain to continue to be at the top of our fields.  

But the people who were hired in the 60s didn't retire, and many of those who did retire were not replaced or were replaced in non-traditional fields.  The year I got my Ph.D. (1993) ended up being pretty dismal for newly minted Ph.D.s, and I never found a tenure-track job in history.  I never came close.  I was on the market for five years and never even got an on-campus interview for a tenure track job at any of the hundreds of universities, colleges, technical colleges and private high schools to which I applied.

When I tried repeatedly and failed repeatedly to get a job teaching history, there were structural problems with gradaute programs in history.  Lots of programs were admitting far too many students.  They were doing so because gradaute students were a cheap labor supply for teaching (or T.A.ing) undergraduate courses and because faculty members wanted to have graduate students to work with.  History departments wanted to develop their Ph.D. programs because that enhanced the reputation of the program and of the university.  But there weren't enough jobs, and history programs were not really training people to get jobs, since graduate students were either taking obscure upper-level courses or were working on their far more obscure dissertations that they were hoping to publish as scholarly monographs that only libraries would buy and only other professional historians in their narrow sub-field would read.  That remains the model for doctoral programs in history, and the model remains broken.  I have no idea why the typical history doctoral student in this country spends at least five years working on a book that almost nobody will read when they could just as easily devote their time to writing 3-5 historical essays of publishable quality which, when published, will eventually be in a database where they will be full-text searchable and actually of use to other scholars and laypeople alike.  Harumph!

Contrast that with the feverish if not frenzied innovation that is currently underway in the legal academy.  Schools are experimenting in every imaginable way -- reducing faculty and administrative staff, decreasing class size, and most importantly, adjusting the curriculum to better prepare today's students so that they can pass the bar and also be ready to start practice in a legal environment where more seasoned lawyers have very little time to train new attorneys.  Those who criticize law schools for being slow to react to the new market for attorneys need some context.  The legal academy has been incredibly responsive, and the only questions are whether they have resopnded in the right ways and whether they have correctly identified as either long-term or merely cyclical the problems in the market for attorneys. 

JesseMy Law School (Valparaiso) is no different, but it is unique.  That is, we have been scrambling to figure out better ways to serve our students (just like everyone else), but we have come up with a new curriculum that is unlike any other that I have heard about.  On the blog, I just want to talk about how we are transforming the contracts course, but there is a lot more to our new curriculum.

I have already blogged about our LibGuide, which is being curated by our librarian, Jesse Bowman (pictured).  I will have a great deal more to say about the LibGuide as it continues to develop, but today I want to talk about our new seven-week minimesters.

Today is the first day of our first minimester.  We will be teaching a two-credit Contracts I course for seven weeks.  We will then have a break for exams, to be followed by another two-credit, seven-week course, Contracts II.  One purpose of the minimester system is to enable us to assess our students and give them meaningful feedback as early as possible in the course of their legal education.  So, rather than having a huge exam at the end of the semester, with very little sense of their chances of success on the exam, our students will have frequent assessment throughout the minimester and an exam at the end.  The final exam will still be important, but it will only account for part of their grade in a two-credit course, and they should have some notice, based on assessment throughout the semester of where they likely will fall relative to their peers. Since no minimester course counts for more than two-credits, we will not have the phenomenon that sometimes occurs at schools where Property or Civ. Pro are five-credit, one-semester courses, and students neglect other courses in favor of hunting the semester's big game.  

At the same time, my doctrinal colleagues and I are working closely with our skills faculty (and there is a great deal of overlap) to coordinate exercises and assessments in doctrinal courses with the subject-matter of our skills courses.  Those too have been re-conceived and re-configured from the ground up based on our assessment of where our students are in terms of their preparation for law school and what they need to get them ready for practice.

I will be blogging throughout the semester about the LibGuide and the minimester system.  I am really excited about this experiment and eager to see how it works for our students.

[JT] 

August 19, 2013 in Commentary, Law Schools, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Back to School on Monday

Touro Law starts up on Monday.  Around this time of year, I am always reminded of this Rodney Dangerfield clip from the movie Back to School:

Dangerfield to Econ Prof: "What's a widget?"

Econ Prof: "It is a fictional product.  It doesn't matter."

Dangerfield: "Doesn't matter? Tell that to the bank."

Have a great semester!

[Meredith R. Miller]

August 16, 2013 in Film Clips, Law Schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ken Adams on Contracts Drafting Courses

DraftOver at Ken Adams' blog on contract drafting, he has a new post on the need for drafting courses.

According to Ken's post, he offered his services as a drafting instructor to two prestigious law schools (Ken has been teaching drating courses every Fall since 2005) and was told that those schools don't offer stand-alone contracts drafting courses.  Rather, they teach contracts drafting in the context of courses on "Deals."  

Ken has eloquent arguments in favor of stand-alone contracts courses, and the comments sections add further support for his position.  He will get no argument here.  I agree with Ken that drafting should be a stand-alone course, and I suspect that it is at most law schools.  Still, I think there are reasons for teaching drafting as part of a substantive course that Ken does not consider, so I throw them out there:

One of the knocks on contemporary legal education (see, e.g. The Carnegie Report and Best Practices) is that the components of legal education (doctrine, practical skills, ethics) have been compartmentalized such that the students do not learn how to become lawyers in the proper contexts and have difficulties translating theoretical constructs into the actual practice of law.  So, in an ideal world, one would learn contracts drafting in the context of a substantive course in which one also learned about the legal and business environments in which real contracts are drafting.  Such a course would (again, in an ideal world) also include simulations in which students could learn other practical lawyering skills (client counseling, negotiation, etc.), as well as confront ethical challenges.  

In a previous post, we called attention to Deborah Zalesne and David Nadvorney's Teaching to Every Student: Explicitly Integrating Skills and Theory into the Contracts Class, which can be used in a course that covers both doctrine and skills.  So, I think the sort of integrated approach that certain, unnamed, prestigious law schools are attempting has its theoretical appeal.  For my part, since I have only four credits and fourteen weeks to take studens from zero to Llewellyn, I am grateful that my law school has a separate contracts drafting course that students can take in the second year.  That doesn't mean that practical exercises have no place in a first-year contracts course, but given everything else we try to accomplish in that course, we can only offer a taste of drafting in the first year.

[JT]

 

August 15, 2013 in Law Schools, Teaching, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 9, 2013

Contracts LibGuides

Jesse-Bowman2This year, my colleauges at the Valparaiso University Law School and I, with the help of our librarian, Jeese Bowman (pictured), are teaching with the aid of this LibGuide.  The LibGuide contains all of the cases that we will use in our courses, plus links to Restatement,  UCC and CISG sections, as well as tabs through which students can find links to excercises, past exams and model answers, study guides, blog posts and other information that might prove useful to our students.

The move to the LibGuide was motivated by a number of considerations.  First, we have all used different casebooks and find a great deal to praise and admire in all of them.  However, no single casebook can be perfect for each contracts professor's individual needs.  I have a roster of cases that I think work best for the material I want to convey to my students.  No single casebook includes all of the cases I want to use, and the casebook authors sometimes edit their cases slightly differently than how I would edit them.  My colleagues and I edited the cases posted on the LibGuide to suit our teaching needs, and if we differ, we can always put up multiple versions.  

Second, even if I could find the perfect casebook that had every single case I want to teach and all the relevant ancillary materials, I still could not justify the expense to my students.  Casebook prices are simply too high, since we can deliver the same materials through the LibGuides.  I should note that, because I ban laptops and other technology from my classroom, I do require that the students buy xeroxed copies of the edited cases.  That will run them $10 a piece for the first seven-week minimester.

Yup! That's not a typo!  We are teaching contracts in two, two-credit, seven-week "minimesters," a topic about which I will have a lot to say in future posts.  

The LibGuide is still a work in progress.  Each week, I send Jesse more materials to add to the LibGuide.  This is another advantage of the LibGuide over print course materials.  It is easily expanded; easily revised; easily updated.  

The final advantage of the LibGuide is (dare I say it?) . . . LibGuides are fun.  Ask any librarian!  And believe you me, librarians know how to have fun.  They are fun for the same reason that this blog is fun.  You can follow links that interest you, and they often take you to unexpected and illuminating places.  We hope that our LibGuide will grow and prosper and that it will provide a portal through which our students can wander cautiously, tentatively until [whoosh!] they fall down a rabbit hole and emerge in the Wonderland of contract law.

[JT]

 

August 9, 2013 in Commentary, Contract Profs, Law Schools, Television | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Opening at Ave Maria Law

Ave Maria LogoAve Maria School of Law invites applications for multiple faculty positions from entry-level and lateral candidates, pre- or post-tenure.  Ave Maria particularly welcomes applications from candidates with teaching and research interest in Contracts, Business Organizations, Sales, Negotiable Instruments, Secured Transactions, and related commercial subjects.  Applicants should have superior academic credentials; a record, or the promise, of excellence in teaching and legal scholarship; and an interest and commitment in exploring his or her teaching and research interests in an institution that strives to integrate the Catholic intellectual tradition into teaching, scholarship, and service.  Entry-level applicants may demonstrate scholarly promise by publications in scholarly journals or scholarly works in progress.  In the case of any applicant with tenure, a distinguished record of teaching and scholarship is required.  Interested candidates should send their materials to Professor Patrick T. Gillen, current chair of the Appointments Committee.    Applications can be e-mailed to Professor Gillen at ptgillen@avemarialaw.edu or can be mailed to his attention at 1025 Commons Circle, Naples, Florida 34119.  Resume review will begin immediately and continue until the positions are filled.

Ave Maria School of Law, providing legal education enriched by the Catholic Faith, seeks employees whose education, experience and beliefs are consistent with its mission.  Ave Maria School of Law is an EQUAL OPPORTUNITY/AFFIRMATIVE ACTION employer that values diversity, including diversity in religious affiliation, and strongly encourages applications from persons of diverse backgrounds willing to support the institutional mission; it requires compliance with all state and federal laws governing employment discrimination. 

[JT]

May 1, 2013 in Help Wanted, Law Schools | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Contracts clauses in contracts class

I thought I might jump on the “classroom posts” bandwagon and blog a little about something I have been trying to do more of in my Contracts class – incorporate contract clauses in class discussions.  What I typically do is introduce a contract provision when I’m wrapping up a particular topic.  For example, when we finished up the section on substantial performance (and breach and conditions- it’s hard to talk about one without the other, IMHO), I asked my students about the meaning and effect of this provision:

“ TIME SHALL BE OF THE ESSENCE IN THE PERFORMANCE OF THE OBLIGATIONS UNDER THIS AGREEMENT. “

The phrasing sometimes throws off students – what’s this “of the essence” business? But they realize that the provision indicates that the timeliness of performance is important to the parties.  In other words, if the services are to be performed according to a schedule, they intend to stick to the schedule. More to the point, without such a clause, a court will probably not find a small delay to be a material breach.  With the clause, even a short delay may constitute a material breach - which brings me to substantial performance.   A material breach has legal effects, one of which is that a party who has materially breached has not substantially performed -- and so can’t recover expectations damages under the doctrine of substantial performance.  A material breach also excuses the other party’s performance. 

The clause illustrates how the different doctrines work together, and given the emphasis on “skills” teaching, underscores that doctrine and skills are really intertwined.  (I’m not sure how anyone can effectively teach skills without a good grasp of the underlying doctrine).  Another reason to introduce contract clauses is to help my students overcome the automatic response that most normal people get when they see boilerplate – glazed eyes, numbing sensation, urge to do something more exciting. My hope is that once they learn the legal meaning behind the legalese, reading a contract will be a more engaging and rewarding experience.

[Nancy Kim]

 

 

April 4, 2013 in Law Schools, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 1, 2013

ABA Adopts Radical, Contracts-Based Curricular Reform

ABA LogoHaving recieved comments from numerous quarters, including from this blog's own Meredith Miller, the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education, has announced that it is recommending that all areas of law now be understood as subsidiaries of contracts law. In addition to recommending that all law schools require their students to take six hours of contracts in the first year, the Task Force is recommending that second year students take required courses in Sales, Leases, Licensing and International Sales.  Those courses, including related live-client courses, simulations, moot court and trial advocacy competitions, and practica, will constitute much of the second year curriculum. 

According to the Task Force sources who asked not to be named because the Task Force's report has yet to be released officially, those elements of the reform proposal were uncontroversial.  "Everyone recognizes that all lawyers need a firm grounding in contracts and contract-related areas.  The only question disagreement on the Task Force was over whether six credits in the first year was enough.  Some members wanted 24."

Somewhat more controversial is the Task Force's recommendation that other areas of law be subsumed within the law of contracts.  According to our source, the Task Force is recommending that both Constitutional Law and Criminal Law be re-conceptualized as constituting either actual contracts or social contracts best understood with the traditional doctrinal tools of contracts law.  The Task Force concedes that this innovation was in part driven by a desire to reduce students' text book costs.  "All they have to buy is one, maybe two books by Randy Barnett, and they are covered," according to our source.  In addition, the Task Force recommends that International law courses will now be divided into Private International Contracts and Public International Contracts (Treaties). 

When asked if the Task Force anticipated difficulties persuading faculty members from other doctrinal areas to re-conceive those areas in terms of contracts law, our source told us that the Task Force considered the question and could not conceive of a doctrinal area that would not be better understood through contracts doctrine. 

[JT]

UPDATE: THE FULL TASK FORCE PRESS RELEASE CAN BE FOUND HERE.

April 1, 2013 in Law Schools, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)