Thursday, April 4, 2013
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.
Monday, April 1, 2013
Having 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.
UPDATE: THE FULL TASK FORCE PRESS RELEASE CAN BE FOUND HERE.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Jeremy has been writing thoughtfully on these pages about curricular reform. Those interested in the subject (and/or metaphors about elephants and 800 pound gorillas) may want to read the comment that my extraordinary colleague (and contractsprof) Jack Graves and I submitted to the ABA Task Force ont he Future of Legal Education. Here's the link.
[Meredith R. Miller]
Friday, December 14, 2012
The title of this post references Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa's influential 2011 book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. For the sake of argument, let's assume that this book accurately reflects the state of higher education. That is, let us assume the following:
- Undergraduates attending U.S. colleges and universities report that learning is not their top priority;
- Students make alarmingly little academic progress, especially in terms of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing, during their four years of undergraduate education;
- The gap between students who get a lot out of their undergraduate educations and those who get little is at least persistent and perhaps growing;
In addition, let us adopt the hypothesis that our students are not adults, but emerging adults. That is, let us assume that our students are not fully formed, cognitively or emotionally. They are beginning to accept the responsibiltiies of adulthood, but they are not really there yet.
For those of you who have been following this series of posts, the answer might not be surprising. Students are not learning the skills that a liberal arts education used to provide. One way to make certain that they develop those skills is by providing a liberal arts education in law school. It would not be a traditional liberal arts education but a liberal arts education designed to meet the needs of twenty-somethings rather than teens, and clearly oriented towards arriving at practical, professional goals. As I suggested before, for most law schools, the model should be small, cloistered liberal arts education, at least in the first year, rather than the research university model. In some ways, designing this curriculum is easy and a lot of fun, because we already know what our students want to do career-wise. We don't have to design a one-size, fits-all curriculum that would be appropriate for both English majors and engineers and everything in between. Whether our law students are English majors or engineers, they still need the same package of professional skills necessary for the legal profession.
While tuition pressures and student impatience and immaturity are pushing reform towards a shorter law school curriculum, our students really need a longer and more intense learning experience in law school. Most but not all law schools would benefit from a first year designed to get students' critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills to the level that, twenty years ago, was presumptively already achieved after college. That means they need to take a lot of small, writing-intensive courses while also learning professional skills and training for an ethically challenging, client-centered practice.
Finding a way to deliver such an education without greatly increasing our students' debt-load is of course the great challenge. One option would be to create a hybrid model in which the first two years of legal education focus on the sort of liberal arts cognitive and ethical skills development that I discussed above, combined with the sort of integrated doctrinal education that has been subject of previous posts. The second two years (yes, the second two years) should be underwritten by prospective employers who work collaboratively with law schools to develop a curriculum that is part apprenticeship, part law clinic and part bar preparation. So, while law school now takes four years, students only pay for two of them, with the firms or businesses covering remaining tuition costs in lieu of salaries for their apprentices. In principle, all four years of such a legal education could be rewarding and challenging for the students, and they would emerge far better prepared for practice that they are under the current system.
This is just one idea for addressing our students' needs, if in fact the assumptions that inform this design are accurate. I am agnostic on the question of whether undergraduates really are academically adrift and are emerging rather than fully matured adults. Like everyone in the academy, I have my own views, but I admit that they are anecdotal and unscientific. I have chosen these assumptions because they seem to be informing a lot of the ideas for change that are driving the movement for curricular reform at law schools today. But I think there is a disconnect between the problem and the solution.
Law schools are playing a game of "Can You Top This?" by touting their clinical and skills training programs, because that seems to be what the students and the market are demanding. But if students lack basic cognitive skills, as well as maturity, what is the rush to get them into practice? We all need to slow down. If the assumptions listed above are informing calls for change, we need to wait for our students to become adults before we force them to deal with adult problems. We can't expect them to magically develop critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills by simply throwing them into practice. We also should not give up on their cognitive development because, if the emerging adulthood literature is right, our students are still capable of intellectual growth of a kind that our adult brains cannot match.
As educators, our main concern is providing our students with the training they need so that they can succeed in the profession of their choosing. But as legal educators, we also have to consider the needs of our students' future clients. The fact that our students want to serve clients as soon as possible is not a sufficient reason to let them do so before they are ready both in terms of their cognitive development and their maturity.
I should add that my thoughts in this area have been influenced by the work of two of my colleagues, Susan Stuart (right) and Ruth Vance (left), who are engaged in a scholarly project devoted to working out the long-term consequences for legal education of the latest research into the preparedness and cognitive development of the current generation of law students. My thoughts here only scratch the surface of the subject matter. And those interested in the topic should look for Ruth and Susan's work, which we all hope will be coming to a law journal near you in the near future.
Monday, December 10, 2012
The 2007 Carnegie Report on Legal Education recommends that law schools do more to integrate the components of legal education.
Recommendation #1 ("Offer an Integrated Curriculum") from the executive summary of the Carnegie Report reads as follows:
To build on their strengths and address their shortcomings, law schools should offer an integrated, three-part curriculum: (1) the teaching of legal doctrine and analysis, which provides the basis for professional growth; (2) introduction to the several facets of practice included under the rubric of lawyering, leading to acting with responsibility for clients; and (3) exploration and assumption of the identity, values and dispositions consonant with the fundamental purposes of the legal profession. Integrating the three parts of legal education would better prepare students for the varied demands of professional legal work. In order to produce such integrative results in students’ learning, however, the faculty who teach in the several areas of the legal curriculum must first communicate with and learn from each other.
Recommendation #2 ("Join 'Lawyering,' Professionalism and Legal Analysis from the Start") is similar:
The existing common core of legal education needs to be expanded to provide students substantial experience with practice as well as opportunities to wrestle with the issues of professionalism. Further, and building on the work already underway in several law schools, the teaching of legal analysis, while remaining central, should not stand alone as it does in so many schools. The teaching of legal doctrine needs to be fully integrated into the curriculum. It should extend beyond case-dialogue courses to become part of learning to “think like a lawyer” in practice settings.
All of this suggests that curricular reform needs to start in the first year and that we need to re-design our first- year courses in coordination with our colleagues who teach legal skills courses such as legal writing, legal research and drafting courses.
So, how does one design a contracts course that can address these recommendations? Certainly casebook authors can defend their offerings as including practical exercises that supplement the study of case law with modes of learning that come closer to mimicking law practice than does the traditional case method. But it is difficult to work through those exercises effectively in the large-class settings that typifies the first-year experience. If you have 70-100 contracts students, you cannot readily sit down with them individually or in small groups to discuss their approach to problem sets or their attempts to negotiate a deal.
One way to bring more skills training into the first year is to integrate doctrinal courses and skills training courses. Drafting, negotiating, mediating, client interviewing exercises that are part of a lawyering program can be coordinated so as to relate to the subject matters of the first-year courses that are being taught at the same time. But that means that the lawyering projects have to have issues that are relevant to what is being taught at the same time in (say) contract and civil procedure or to criminal law and property.
If one is going to go this route, it seems to me, each law school is going to have to generate its own teaching materials. In the alternative, teams of legal scholars can create integrated curricular materials that they can then sell to law schools for adoption. Or perhaps a little of both. Perhaps a law school can develop a first-year curriculum for its students, and if it seems effective, it can then sell a license to other law schools to use the materials for their students.
In any case, it seems to me that existing casebooks are inadequate to meet the need for a fundamental rethinking of our approach to legal education. Mind you, I write all this as someone who is not fully on board with the Carnegie Report's recommendations; that is, as someone who, as I wrote in the first post on this subject, is actually quite satisfied that versions of the case method can be effective in the first year. But if legal educators are going to heed the call for fundamental reforms, we have to acknowledge that our current teaching materials are not up to the task.
Friday, December 7, 2012
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
Friday, September 7, 2012
Coming Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at American University's Law School:
A panel discussion featuring:
Laura Dickinson, Oswald Symister Colclough Research Professor of Law, George Washington University. Author, Outsourcing War and Peace: Protecting Public Values in an Era of Privatized Foreign Affairs (Yale Univ. Press 2011)
Capt. Chad Fisher, U.S. Army. Chief, Branch IV, Government Appellate Division, U.S. Army Legal Services Agency; counsel for the United States in Ali.
Lt. Col Peter Kageleiry, Jr., U.S. Army. Senior Appellate Attorney, U.S. Army Defense Appellate Division; counsel for the Defendant-Appellant in Ali.
Steve Vladeck, Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Scholarship, Washington College of Law
On July 18, the highest court in the U.S. military justice system—the circuit-level Article I Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (“CAAF”)—issued the most significant ruling on the scope of U.S. military jurisdiction in the past 25 years. In its unanimous decision in United States v. Ali, 71 M.J. 256 (2012), CAAF upheld a 2006 amendment to the federal military code that authorizes the trial by court-martial of “persons serving with or accompanying an armed force in the field,” including civilian contractors, during most overseas (and some domestic) military deployments. In so holding, CAAF distinguished a long line of Supreme Court decisions rejecting military jurisdiction over civilians both because the defendant in this case is a non-citizen and because his offense took place during a “contingency operation.” This panel of experts—including the opposing counsel before CAAF in Ali—will debate the merits of the court’s decision and seek to assess its potentially significant implications going forward with regard to contractor liability, the future of military jurisdiction in general, and the power of the military over civilians in particular.
Here's the flyer
Here's the website[JT]
The Petrie-Flom Center is excited to announce our latest venture – the launch of a new blog, titled Bill of Health, edited by Petrie-Flom faculty co-director, I. Glenn Cohen, and Petrie-Flom executive director, Holly Fernandez Lynch. The blog will go live Wednesday, September 5, 2012, and can be accessed at http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/billofhealth/.
Our goal is to provide a one-stop shop for readers interested in news, commentary, and scholarship in the fields of health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics. You can expect to find regularly updated posts reacting to current events, testing out new scholarly ideas, reviewing the latest books, and announcing conferences, events, and job openings. We also hope to cultivate a strong community of commenters, so that the blog becomes an interactive discussion forum.
A widely collaborative effort, Bill of Health features content from Petrie-Flom affiliates, as well as leading experts from Harvard and beyond. Institutional collaborators include HealthLawProfs Blog, the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Public Health Law Research program at Temple. We’ve also lined up a stellar cast of bloggers so far, including:
Katharine Van Tassel
In addition, we’ll be joined by some great guest bloggers, including Mark Hall, Allison Hoffman, Adam Kolber, Jon Kolstad, Kristin Madison, Anup Malani, Arti Rai, Annette Rid, Chris Robertson, Nadia Sawicki, Seema Shah, Talha Syed, Dan Wikler, and Susan Wolf, as well as a several Petrie-Flom graduate student affiliates. Read more about our team here.
Please take a moment to stop by and check out Bill of Health
For more information, contact:
Holly Fernandez Lynch, firstname.lastname@example.org, 617.384.5475
Thursday, September 6, 2012
The National Jurist reports on the soon-to-be-established Indiana Tech Law School's "unique early decision application process." The start-up law school will accept early applications from September 15th October 31st. Those who apply early will pay a reduced application fee, and the school pledges to get back to them with an answer within three weeks. According to Dean Peter Alexander, accepted students will have one week to withdraw their applications from other law schools and will pay a $300 deposit to Indiana Tech. "Any applicant who accepts his or her seat through the early decision program is also representing that they will not submit a later application to any other law school.”
My guess is that a student who applies to the early decision process is actually doing nothing more than locking in a safe school at a savings of $25, because of the reduced application fee. A student could apply early, get accepted, and make no deposit. She could apply to ten other schools and then come crawling back to Indiana Tech in April or really any time before classes start in August. My guess is there will still be a seat for her. Or she could make the deposit and still apply to other schools notwithstanding her representation that she was not doing so. And if she gets admitted at an accredited school, she will go there and lose the $325 she invested at Indiana Tech.
Indiana Tech might think that such conduct reflects poorly on the character and fitness of the student, but that would be a misreading of the nature of a contractual obligation (assuming that this is a contractual obligation), at least according to Justice Holmes. As this is not a relational contract but a one-off transaction, the deal here is nothing more than a promise to perform or to pay damages. Indiana Tech is better off to the tune of $325 for the student's fleeting interest in the Indiana Tech enterprise (less the administrative costs of processing the application, but those costs are mostly already built in). The student has made her Holmsian choice and has learned her first lesson in contracts law before even cracking a casebook.
Thursday, August 9, 2012
On August 6, 2012, the Sixth Circuit decided Branham v. Thomas M. Cooley Law School, a case involving the termination of a tenured law professor, Lynn Branham. Professor Branham, currently visiting at the St. Louis University School of Law, is an expert in criminal law and had been teaching at Cooley Law School since 1983. For some reason, the Cooley Law School asked her to teach constitutional law and torts in Spring 2006. She complained but complied and then went on leave for a semester. When she returned, she was again asked to teach constitutional law. When she refused, she was terminated.
A District Court found that Professor Branham had not been properly terminated, because the dismissal process had not been in accord with those provided for in her employment contract. Cooley then followed the proper procedures -- Cooley's faculty voted to dismiss Branham and the Cooley's Board of Directors upheld that decision. The District Court was thereby satisfied, and it entered judgment for Cooley.
The Sixth Circuit affirmed the District Court's ruling on the breach of contract issue. Professor Barnham had entered into a one-year contract with Cooley, and the fact that she had tenure did not create rights beyond those provided in the employment agreement. She was entitled to a faculty vote and then the vote of the Board of Directors. Both of those occurred, and the Sixth Circuit was not overly concerned with the fact that they occurred tardily.
Under Michigan law, an employer's process must comply with five elements of "elementary fairness": notice, opportunity to be heard, formulation of issues and fact, a rule of finality and other procedural elements appropriate to the nature of the proceeding. The Sixth Circuit was satisfied that the elements of elementary fairness were met in this case.
One might think that Professor Barnham should be entitled, at the very least, to damages for breach of contract for the period during which she had been dismissed without appropriate procedures, but the Sixth Circuit found that because Cooley eventually followed the appropriate procedures, Professor Barnham had no claim for damages. She was only entitled to equitable relief, which she apparently recieved when Cooley complied with the District Court's order to give her appropriate process.
The Sixth Circuit opinion focuses on the contractual issues and on the question of whether Cooley followed the appropriate procedures for the termination of a faculty member. The Court defers to the faculty members who determined that Cooley had "good cause " for termination of Professor Barnham. We can only hope that, at some point, some body with authority to make such a determination de novo will recognize that a tenured faculty member's refusal to teach courses removed from her area of expertise does not constitute "good cause" for her termination.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
The newly formed LSU Journal of Energy Law and Resources (JELR) at the Louisiana Sate University Paul M. Hebert Law Center invites submissions of articles for the Journal’s companion blog, The LSU Law Energy Blog. The blog will launch in August 2012 and will continue to publish pieces on a rolling basis. JELR is a student-edited journal devoted to the promotion of legal scholarship in energy law. The Journal is committed to publishing a variety of topics within the purview of energy law, including interdisciplinary pieces. The LSU Law Energy Blog will supplement the Journal by providing shorter articles on recent developments in energy law and the surrounding fields published by students, practitioners, and professionals in these fields.
Submissions: To be considered for publication on The LSU Law Energy Blog, please submit an entry on a current, relevant energy law topic or a case note on a major energy law case. Topical entries should be around 500 words and case notes may be longer. The deadline for submissions is quickly approaching—July 31. Please email these entries or requests for deadline extensions to email@example.com.
Friday, June 29, 2012
I have returned from an enriching 5 weeks in Southeast Asia, mostly in frenetic Ho Chi Minh City, where I taught a class titled "Workplace Law in Global Context." I blogged about my travels at Saigoner, which would be of interest only to those readers with curiosity about what I ate (e.g., spider).
I'll be back in the contracts blogging saddle next week. In the meantime, I wanted to share some thoughts and pictures that might be of interest to ContractsProf readers.
We stayed in a government owned hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. I was amazed by its efficiency - in the U.S., a hotel run by the government would operate like the post office.
I've shared a few pictures of a floating market in Can Tho on the Mekong Delta. The floating markets are the main tourist attraction in Can Tho and they start up early in the morning. A guide took us to see the boats; from the boats, people were all selling fruit wholesale. To the masts of their boats, the sellers tie the fruit they have for sale. Pineapples, watermellons and bananas were the main offering that day. There was a little boat that went around like a convenience store for the sellers, in it a lady offered the sellers coffee and hot bowls of pho.
Along the banks of the Mekong, people live in clapboard houses made of whatever they can find – mostly pieces of shipping containers and plastic tarps. The houses are on log stilts. One of the houses was partly constructed with a plastic advertisement for Kaplan University.
processing factory were wooden and dusty and it seemed improbable that they still functioned the way they did. We were told that Vietnam is second to Thailand as the world's largest rice producer.
The Vietnamese have a refreshing lack of anxiety about heavy machinery. In the U.S., we would not have been able to get that close to those rickety rice machines, and certainly not without a helmet and a waiver form. Same goes for firing automatic weapons (I fired an AK-47 and an M-16 at the Cu Chi tunnels) and renting or hitching a ride on a moto-bike.
Another eye-opening field trip was a garment factory
tour I arranged for my class. After a presentation on the company, we were toured around the factory. It had over 1000 workers in the Ho Chi Minh outpost. You really cannot picture a room of 600 people making jackets for Columbia and Izod in assembly lines until you see it. After the tour, we asked a million questions through an interpreter. Most of the factory's buyers are U.S. and European companies. I found it interesting that (at least thelast time I checked), Vietnam is not a signatory to the CISG. This is especially so given that their garment exports apparrently rose 14% in the first 4 months of 2012 (and their claim as the world's second largest rice producer).
Finally, I thought readers would appreciate this picture from outside the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange (oh, the irony). Their statue (as compared to this) is arguably a more honest depiction of markets.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
The University of Mississippi is seeking applicants for a one-year visit during the 2012-13 academic year. Our primary curricular need is a full-year contracts course. Other subjects are negotiable. Interested applicants must apply on line at jobs.olemiss.edu. Please include a CV and a cover letter (including courses he or she is best prepared to teach). For more information please contact Donna Davis, Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put "visiting position" in the subject line. The University of Mississippi is an EEO/AA/Title VI/Title IX/Section 504/ADA/ADEA employer.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
The newly formed LSU Journal of Energy Law and Resources at the Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert Law Center invites submissions of scholarly articles and proposals for articles for publication in its inaugural issues, slated for publication in the Fall of 2012 and the Spring of 2013. The LSU Journal of Energy Law and Resources is a student-edited journal devoted to the promotion of legal scholarship in energy law. The Journal is committed to publishing a variety of energy law topics, including articles focusing on energy law contracts and transactions.
Submissions: For publication in our Fall 2012 issue, please submit a completed paper, along with a cover letter and CV, to email@example.com by April 15, 2012. All completed papers submitted after April 15th will be considered for the Spring 2013 issue and should be submitted no later than October 15, 2012. If you wish to submit a proposal for a paper, please submit your proposal of no more than 500 words briefly describing the issue along with a CV by attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org. Proposals for papers will be considered on a rolling basis, but will not be considered for the Fall 2012 issue.
Monday, March 5, 2012
The Spring Contracts Conference was a huge success, thanks largely to the hard work of our co-blogger Eniola Akindemowo. She was so busy dealing with logistics during the conference that she did not have enough time to hang out with many of the conferees, and we were remiss in failing to thank her properly. But it was a great event, and it ran very smoothly, despite the fact that, through no fault of Professor Akindemowo, we got a late start on planning the conference this year. As is always the case, the conference featured the usual heady mix of familiar faces, up-and-coming scholars, and practitioners with a scholarly bent. We delighted in the opportunity to recognize Mel Eisenberg with a lifetime achievement award and Omri Ben-Shahar for his award-winning article, Fixing Unfair Contracts.
San Diego was a great location for the conference, and the Thomas Jefferson School of Law did a great job of hosting. They have a truly magnificent new building, and rooms and tech support could not have been better for a conference such as ours. The conference ran on time from start to finish, we all received well-organied binder with short versions of the conference papers, and I don't think I've ever attended a conference at which all of the PowerPoint presentations came off without a hitch.
So thanks to Professor Akindemowo for all of her hard work in setting up and hosting the conference. Until next year.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
In a characteristically insightful blog post, Dave Hoffman uses Vokes v. Arthur Murray as a nice launching point to discuss some aspects of the scam-critiques aimed at law schools. Vokes is such a great teaching case, and Dave's post leaves me feeling like I could have done a better job teaching it this year.
There's not much to add to the mix in the scamosphere, as many bloggers, including some of our own here at ContractsProf, have already commented very thoughtfully. In my humble opinion, the law school scam coverage is old news often sloppily reported with the vitriol amps turned up higher. And the coverage of these law school scam stories, at the New York Times in particular, seems completely disproportionate to the coverage of the number of other significant things happening in the world. (You really want cynicism? These stories get linked all over and end up on the most read and emailed list on the newspaper's website, driving page views. Page views drive advertising revenue. So, why not write another law-school-is-a-scam article?).
Anyhow, perhaps ironically in light of the recent spate of "scam" coverage about law schools, it seems that the vast majority of my students had very little sympathy for Ms. Vokes.
[Meredith R. Miller]
Monday, November 21, 2011
The legal blogs are afire (see our very own Jeremy Telman's post here, and others here , here and here ) about this article about the impracticability of the law school curriculum. The article takes aim at “chin-stroking scholarship” that supposedly “nobody” reads. I'm puzzled about labeling scholarship as worthless because it's not more widely read - that doesn't necessarily reflect the potential value of the article. The article grossly over generalizes the nature of legal scholarship. Maybe it’s my chosen areas (contracts and cyberlaw), but most of what I read --and yes, I do read a lot of law review articles-- tackles real world, sticky social and legal issues caused by technological developments and contemplates possible solutions based on (surprise!) legal doctrine. Theoretical articles, as we contracts profs know, shed light on the “why” questions and thus help in the application of doctrinal rules to novel situations. The bad rap that scholarship receives seems to come from a handful of articles which are published by a handful of journals that push the envelope and get all the attention of (some) journalists and (some) judges. (I’m not commenting about the articles cited in the NYT piece because, unlike the journalist, I try not to judge an article I haven’t read by its title). I don’t think that’s a problem in and of itself – not all of legal scholarship should be about real world solutions and what might seem like an outrageous, pie-in-the-sky idea now may not seem so outrageous in a few years. (The anti-intellectual criticisms in the article remind me of equally inane arguments about the irrelevance of a humanities curriculum, literary novels, classical music and art). What is problematic is when journalists or judges use a handful of articles as examples of what all law review articles are like. These folks just don’t know the good stuff that’s out there -- many articles do in fact explain doctrine, have at least the potential for practical application or contribute in some way to our understanding of the law. The fact that more articles don't get cited by courts is a shame and may reflect more about the elitist bent of (some) judges than it does about the nature of legal scholarship generally. The real problem with legal scholarship is that it's not more widely read. I think that more judges should read more legal scholarship, and in a wider variety of journals. Maybe then we wouldn’t have short-sighted, doctrinally confused cases like ProCD v. Zeidenberg – a case about which many of us contracts profs have written. Unfortunately, not enough courts seemed to have read those articles. Maybe the state of contract law would be better if they had.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
For those in the academia with low blood pressure, I recommend reading David Segal's reportage on the current state of law schools (the latest can be found on the front page of Sunday's New York Times) because he can raise your blood pressure in a hurry. And I'm not certain if anybody will really be happy to read what he has to say, because the message is that law schools are running a scam and that anyone who depends on law schools -- students, law firms that have to hire law school graduates, clients -- is a chump. In the end, Segal's angle is great at generating rage but terrible at generating solutions.
The heart of his argument in the most recent article is that law students pay outrageous tuition but get no practical training. His solution, to the extent that he offers one, is that there ought to be stronger skills programs, including clinics, but of course the tremendous growth of clinics, with their small student-to-faculty ratios, is one of the most important reasons for rising tuition. Teaching students the law, legal ethics and practical skills turns out to be an expensive proposition. Law schools in the United States have chosen to try to do all three. If Mr. Segal wants to see legal education that ignores the development of practical skills, he should have a look at legal education in other parts of the world. Nonetheless, given the fluidity of laws and regulations, law schools in the United States have chosen quite sensibly to give students sufficient training in legal reasoning so that they can figure out the rest on their own.
It may well be that students thus emerge from law school ignorant of practical matters, like (taking Mr. Segal's opening anecdote) the steps one has to take to accomplish a merger. I teach business organizations, and I confess that I do not cover the steps necessary to accomplish that goal. However, I am pretty certain that even if I did, my students would forget those humdrum details until reminded of them in practice and that, once reminded by a partner in that practice area, they would have the tools they need to master the process. In Mr. Segal's anecdote, a first year associate confuses a merger with a stock purchase, but that distinction is covered in the law school curriculum. It turns out that it is just very difficult for students to retain all such information through three years of law school, bar preparation and entry into the work force.
In this blog post, I want to focus on one of Mr. Segal's side points, which goes to something like a contractual issue. Mr. Segal argues that law reviews churn up a lot of resources at law schools -- including a big chunk of student tuition -- and result only in wildly impractical navel-gazing. The implication is that not only students but also taxpayers who stand behind student loans are thus paying for something for which they did not bargain. There's a lot to be said about this.
Mr. Segal presents some statistics suggesting that about 40% of law review articles are never cited either by other law review articles or by courts. That suggests that there is quite a bit of useless scholarship out there, but I think the numbers would be quite different if he focused only on scholarship published in the top flagship law reviews and the top specialized journals. Those publications get cited to a lot and they very rarely have subject matters as esoteric as (to take Chief Justice Roberts's example) "the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th-century Bulgaria." Mr. Segal also ignores the fact that a lot of faculty scholarship involves writing casebooks and treatises and engaging in law reform, the impact of which immeasurably larger (not to say more important) than that of legal scholarship published in law reviews.
But what of the other 40%? Are those resources simply being dumped down the toilet? My answer is no for a lot of reasons, but here I just want to focus on the one reason most relevant to Mr. Segal's critique of law schools. 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.
I know that others have had very different experiences at their law reviews, but my experience is an important reason why every law school has a law review. In fact, when law reviews proliferate so that there may be half a dozen or more at prestigious schools, the impetus for such proliferation comes from the students who recognize, among other things, that the experience of working on a law review will help them develop important, practical lawyering skills as well as a greater appreciation of the theoretical underpinnings of legal doctrine.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
As announced in this GW Press Release and this White House (OMB) Press Release, parts of which are pasted below, Daniel Gordon (pictured) has been named Associate Dean for Government Procurement Law Studies :
From George Washington Univesrity:
GW Law is pleased to announce the appointment of Daniel I. Gordon, Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy in the Office of Management and Budget, as its new Associate Dean for Government Procurement Law Studies. He will assume the newly created position on January 1, 2012.
“Dan Gordon has long been one of the worldwide leaders in this important field, and he is that rare person who can translate his experience and knowledge into learning and action,” said Paul Schiff Berman, Dean and Robert Kramer Research Professor of Law. “Our students will greatly benefit from his ‘insider’ perspective and his practical know-how. I am confident that the creation of this position signals to Washington and the world that now more than ever, GW Law is the premier place to study government procurement law and policy.”
Mr. Gordon says he is looking forward to his new position, and shares Dean Berman’s enthusiasm for the groundbreaking role.
“While GW Law has a long history of excellence in the area of government contracts, adding the position of associate dean should provide opportunities for building on that history to take the Law School even further,” said Mr. Gordon. “Ultimately, we will want to find new ways to reach students, including potentially nontraditional frameworks, and new ways to explore connections between government contracts law and other disciplines, such as corporate, public international, and anti-trust law.”
Mr. Gordon added that his recent career experience will shape his approach to knowledge-sharing and program development at GW Law.
“Procurement policy is intertwined with procurement law, but seeing things from the policy side has enriched my understanding of the importance and the impact of procurement law,” said Mr. Gordon.
Mr. Gordon was confirmed as the Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy in November 2009. In that role, he developed and implemented acquisition policies supporting more than $500 billion of annual federal spending. Previously, he spent 17 years at the Government Accountability Office in various roles including managing associate general counsel in the Procurement Law Division, deputy general counsel and acting general counsel.
Today, Dan Gordon, the Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy, announced that later this year he will be leaving the post to serve as Associate Dean for Government Contracts Law at the George Washington University Law School.
President Obama appointed Dan Gordon as the Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy in 2009 in order to turn around the explosive contracting growth of the last decade and re-instill accountability, drive fiscal responsibility, strengthen the acquisition workforce, cut out waste and rebalance the relationship between the federal government and the contractors that support our agencies. In Dan, he selected someone with decades of experience working with the federal procurement system, in private practice and at the U.S. Government Accountability Office. When Dan began at the White House, he brought with him a commitment to openness and integrity, combined with a strong sense of what we needed to do to improve the federal acquisition system, after too many years of neglect.
[JT h/t Steven Schooner]
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
This observation is law school related, so I will take the liberties of posting it to our humble blog about contract law. And, since I have used the word "porn" in my post, we'll probably generate some traffic and maybe even get a few unexpected people interested in contract law....
So, is it me, or has "law porn" finally found my email inbox? This year, it appears that there is a particularly high volume of junk email from law schools about how great they are... more than ever before and certainly a higher volume in proportion to the ordinary print brochures (though, I've received plenty of those too, they just don't interrupt me the same way as an email when it pops up).
[Meredith R. Miller]