Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Do law students intending to practice in the areas of contracts and commercial law particularly need to consider the risk of being replaced by artificial intelligence? It wouldn't hurt.
At this month's AALS annual meeting, Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minnow made some headlines with her comments that the threat to the jobs of human lawyers from artificial intelligence is overhyped:
Minow said she didn’t see computers having a role in matters that require subjective legal judgment. “Assessment and critique of justice and justice mechanisms, I don’t see AI taking that on. Nor do I see AI taking on ethics,” she said. “I don’t mean to suggest there is no relation between AI and ethical suggestions, but I don’t think you’ll ever get rid of the human being. There will always be a need for human beings.”
Dean Minnow's points of optimism--that matters of justice and ethics will require a human component--seem substantially correct, but they highlight a particular problem in the contract and commercial law fields. Matters of human justice, like the administration of criminal penalties and the protection of civil rights, are a natural bulwark against the replacement of lawyers by computers in those fields. The values at stake are ones that we, as a society, would be (fortunately) fundamentally queasy about taking out of human hands. But what if the stakes are "mere" money, as is frequently the case with contracts? That is the kind of area where increased efficiencies and removal of the human element give less pause.
This sort of automation of transactional work is certainly underway, ranging from the drafting of basic transactional documents through websites like Legal Zoom to the intriguing use of smart contracts that can govern and enforce themselves, such as through application of Bitcoin-style blockchain technology. In short, teachers of Contracts are training students in a field with a high degree of risk of being automated out of existence.
Robolawyer is coming, so how do we prepare our Contracts students to become lawyers whose value-adding proposition is not susceptible to automation? This question has many answers, I suspect, but we won't reach any of them unless we start by recognizing the problem.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
Recently, Stacey blogged here about whether tenure is a contract. Yesterday, the news broke that a tenured associate political science professor at Wheaton College, a private Christian university, may soon get to test that theory.
Shortly after the San Bernadino, California, shooting massacre, Professor Larycia Hawkins stated on her Facebook account (which listed her profession and employer) that she “stand[s] in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God." She elaborated that “we are formed of the same primordial clay, descendants of the same cradle of humankind--a cave in Sterkfontein, South Africa that I had the privilege to descend into to plumb the depths of our common humanity in 2014.” She also wore a hijab in “embodied solidarity” with Muslim women.
The response by the College is, for now, the equivalent of “You’re fired.” The College placed Professor Hawkins on administrative leave in December "to explore significant questions regarding the theological implications of her recent public statements, including but not limited to those indicating the relationship of Christianity to Islam." Further, "Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution's faith foundations with integrity, compassion and theological clarity. As they participate in various causes, it is essential that faculty and staff engage in and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the college's evangelical Statement of Faith." According to Wheaton College President Ryken, however, the College also “support[s] the protection of all Americans including the right to the free exercise of religion, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States." Professor Hawkins’ legal team is, according to televised news statements on 1/6, exploring the possibility of a lawsuit should the professor’s preferred solution – mediation and an amicable solution – turn out to be impossible.
This case raises serious questions about the academic freedom of tenured professors – even untenured ones - with which we as law professors are also very familiar. This is perhaps even more so in the cases of private colleges. It seems to me that with a message along the lines of what even Pope Francis uttered along with a reasoned (meta)physical explanation of her views and the College’s self-professed acceptance of freedom of religion, Professor Hawkins did not act in a way that should, under notions of academic freedom, get her fired. If we as law professors do not agree with or wish to challenge certain traditional or even untraditional legal views, are we not allowed to do so because the institutions we work for or the majority of our colleagues hold another view? One would hope so. Most of us can probably agree that academic freedom is exactly all about being able to, within reason at least, provoke deeper thought in relation to what we teach. Note that Dr. Hawkins did not teach religious studies, but political science. With the current embittered debate about Muslims and terrorism around the world, Dr. Hawkins arguably raised some interesting points even if one does not agree with her statements from a Christian point of view.
Stay tuned for more news on this case!
Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Here's one for all the professors out there: Smith v. Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System, Civil Action Case No. 13-5505 Section: "G" (3), out of the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Steven Smith was a tenured professor at the University of New Orleans ("UNO"). Smith alleged a series of disagreements / misunderstandings that eventually led to Smith being committed to teaching the spring 2012 semester at both UNO and a Brazilian university, the Federal University of Bahia ("UFBA"). Smith attempted to resolve the conflict by pushing his start date at UFBA to the last two weeks of his semester at UNO. He had his students at UNO use the final two weeks to work on final projects, which would be submitted to him electronically while he was in Brazil at UFBA. Smith alleged that there was further miscommunication between him and UNO administration about Smith's schedule and whether or not it was acceptable. As a result, Smith stated that he was threatened numerous times with termination. Eventually, he was encouraged to resign and did so.
Smith sued asserting several causes of action, including breach of contract. The Board responded by arguing that Smith and the Board never entered into a contract at all.
Smith first pointed to the faculty handbook and UNO bylaws as the contract between himself and the Board. However, the faculty handbook explicitly stated that it "should not be construed as a formal contractual agreement between the University and its faculty." The court therefore found that the handbook did not constitute a contract.
That was not the end of Smith's contract claims, however, and that's where the tenure issue comes in. Smith argued that his tenure provided him with "a contractual right to continued employment." To support his argument, Smith pointed to the definition of "tenure" in Black's Law Dictionary as well as a number of statements made to Smith when he was granted tenure. The Board made no argument in opposition, leading the court to conclude that, "[a]lthough there was no specific written tenure contract, the parties appear to agree that Smith's achieving tenure meant that he was no longer an at-will employee." Accordingly, the court found that tenure was a contract between Smith and the Board. Whether or not this contract had been breached was a genuine issue of material fact precluding summary judgment.
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
The call for proposals below is reposted from our sister site, Business Law Prof Blog, as it is relevant to recent conversations here about teaching transactional lawyering skills in the context of the first-year Contracts course. The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning has a tremendous track record of putting on conferences full of cutting-edge information on the pedagogy and practices of law teaching. The "Real-World Readiness" theme looks like another winner, and perhaps some of our readers are open to presenting their ideas to this receptive audience.
CALL FOR PRESENTATION PROPOSALS
Institute for Law Teaching and Learning—Summer 2016 Conference
June 10-11, 2016
Washburn University School of Law—Topeka, Kansas
The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning invites proposals for conference workshops addressing the many ways that law schools are preparing students to enter the real world of law practice. With the rising demands for “practice-ready” lawyers, this topic has taken on increased urgency in recent years. How are law schools and law professors taking on the challenge of graduating students who are ready to join the real world of practicing attorneys? Can we be doing more?
The Institute takes a broad view of educational practices that promote real-world readiness. Accordingly, we welcome proposals for workshops on incorporating such teaching techniques in doctrinal, clinical, externship, writing, seminar, hybrid, and interdisciplinary courses. Workshops can address real-world readiness in first-year courses, upper-level courses, required courses, electives, or academic support teaching. Workshops can present innovative teaching materials, course designs, curricular or program designs, etc. Each workshop should include materials that participants can use during the workshop and also when they return to their campuses. Presenters should model best practices in teaching methods by actively engaging the workshop participants.
The Institute invites proposals for 60-minute workshops consistent with a broad interpretation of the conference theme. To be considered for the conference, proposals should be one single-spaced page (maximum) and should include the following information:
- the title of the workshop;
- the name, address, telephone number, and email address of the presenter(s);
- a summary of the contents of the workshop, including its goals and methods; and
- an explanation of the interactive teaching methods the presenter(s) will use to engage the audience.
The Institute must receive proposals by February 1, 2016. Submit proposals via email to Emily Grant, Co-Director, Institute for Law Teaching and Learning, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information is available at: http://lawteaching.org/conferences/2016/
I'm posting this proposal and solicitation of comments at the request of some valued contracts-prof colleagues named below. I hope you'll take them up on their request for feedback, which you can provide directly by clicking on the links associated with their names.
More law schools are no longer regularly or frequently offering courses in (1) payment systems, (2) secured transactions, and/or (3) sales. In part, this happens because these schools do not have faculty members who want to teach the courses. And, in other cases, because students do not sign up for commercial law courses--even if the commercial law courses are taught from 11-12 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Most students do not need 42 class hours of payment systems, 42 hours of secured transactions, and 42 hours more of sales. ["What?! I'm appalled by this heretical statement!" - Ed.] Lawyers in a general civil practice do, however, need to have familiarity with core commercial law concepts in order to master the specific statutory provisions that govern the transaction or litigation matter on which they are working. ["Okay, that's better." - Ed.] And, before that, there is a need to pass the state bar exam.
We propose that the needs of such students can best be meet in a two-credit course covering only core commercial law concepts, and we are working on course materials for such a course. We welcome your reasoned arguments against this proposal. Even more welcome would be your suggestions as to how 28 class hours can most effectively be used by students learning core commercial concepts.
We look forward to seeing you at the AALS and receiving your emails.
Hmmm. The idea of commercial law in two credits makes this teacher of payment systems and sales a little queasy (see my initial reaction in the selfie photo at left). Still, I probably wouldn't argue with the proposition that some exposure to commercial law is better than none. I'm curious what the broader contracts community thinks, so I've opened up the comments below. Meanwhile, take advantage of this opportunity to help our colleagues with an interesting project.
Sunday, December 13, 2015
Back in October, the New York Court of Appeals decided in principle that candidates for the bar must demonstrate that they have acquired legal skills (as opposed to just the legal knowledge traditionally tested on the bar exam). Our sister blog, Legal Skills Prof Blog, summarizes here some of the options being considered by the court's task force on the all-important question of how to implement such a skills requirement. The activity in New York is, in many respects, a supersized or advanced version of curricular rule changes adopted by the ABA.
This curricular movement is, I believe, an opportunity for those who teach Contracts. Skills taught in law school have traditionally had a substantial bent towards litigation, a bent that is unsurprising in a curriculum dominated by the case method. Even inroads by our friends in alternative dispute resolution still deal with skills applied after a dispute has arisen between parties. When we teach Contracts principally through appellate opinions, we follow the same after-the-fact approach toward doctrine. It doesn't have to be that way. The subject of Contracts is inherently a matter of transactional importance that should be our students' gateway to transactional thinking. By transactional, I mean an emphasis on "before the fact" lawyering where the goal is to prevent a dispute from occurring in the first place. In an era of greater focus on the acquisition of legal-practice skills, Contracts is the place where we have the possibility early on to ensure to skills include a focus on dispute prevention, not just dispute cure.
Transactional thinking is not inherently built-in to the case method and thus likely requires the introduction of skills exercises alongside traditional pedagogical approaches. More resources than ever are available now to enable us to make Contracts a gateway to transactional thinking, fortunately. Implementing such a shift still requires substantial work, however, but the change is one that is in our students' best interests if we can do it well.
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
A few days ago, I blogged here on an attempt by some university professors in California to unionize and to obtain better pay and working conditions in general.
In China, university reform is also underway, but, at least in part, with a much more troublesome intent and potentially dire effects for the nation and the world.
The Guardian reports that China’s education minister has vowed to “drive smart alecks, dissenters and thieves” from the country’s university classrooms. This is part of a wider anti-corruption campaign launched by President Xi three years ago.
The alleged misconduct ranges from action that seems reasonable (firing university leaders for filing fake expense reports and taking bribes from students) across the pitiful and almost laughable (punishing senior university officials for engaging in illicit acts of “hedonism” by, for example, driving luxury cars) to the outright shocking and extremely troublesome, seen with Western eyes. For example, several university chiefs have been toppled for “flouting Communist party rules.” Attempts are made to ban books that attempt to spread “Western values.” The education minister has also called for “greater political screening of academics before they are hired” and is worried that “enemy forces” are attempting to “infiltrate university campuses” in order to “turn young minds against the party.”
Liberal academics claim that the discussion and study of sensitive topics has generally become increasingly difficult under the leadership of President Xi.
All this is indeed very troublesome indeed. However, before we roll our eyes too much at these serious Chinese events, let us just remember that the United States academic world is far from perfect either. Recall, for example, the recent defunding of various law school and other university clinics on East Coast campuses for, at bottom, being too liberal and assisting the lower class in obtaining better pay and working conditions. A former senior faculty colleague personally told me once that one of my papers on (are you ready?) climate change was almost “too political” in Orange County, California. The article discussed mainstream factual aspects, including business and investment issues, of climate change that are now, just a few years later, being discussed in Paris by all media, including conservative outlets. Recently, numerous attempts at diversifying college campuses across the nation have shed light on potential elitism and racism in American universities. Nope, we are far from perfect ourselves. But when an entire nation deliberately and officially seeks to censor learning processes, there is indeed cause for alarm.
Last year, I had the great honor, joy and privilege of teaching international environmental law at a prime Chinese university. I brought up such “sensitive” topics as public participation in government law- and decision-making, climate change, and trade in endangered species. I was videotaped doing so (this is normal practice in China). I was also not invited back this past summer. Maybe my teaching is simply no good. Maybe more senior and “famous” lecturers were chosen. I cannot blame the university for doing so at all. I know that I have a lot with which I can contribute to any educational institution, but I also bow to and honor the many experienced, learned and very well published colleagues on the “market” these days. However, hate to think that I was, perhaps, censored away. I don’t think that is the case. If it was, then I am nonetheless happy to have at least contributed with a few provocative, Western thoughts. Perhaps I was just too much of a smart aleck...
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
A pithy piece over at the Lawyerist makes the point that while lawyers tend to be well-educated and academically accomplished, those facts do not make them inherently good writers. One particularly unhelpful contribution to the problem by legal education is the fact that "law students spend their days reading legal writing that is often verbose, stilted, and chock full of legalese." While I suspect that statement was most directed toward classic-but-musty cases like Hadley v. Baxendale and Hawkins v. McGee, it got me thinking about the reading and drafting of contracts.
Whenever I teach a contract drafting course, proper use and evaluation of existing form provisions is a recurring theme. Clients will not want to pay for reinventing the wheel, and form documents help prevent needless reinvention. Indeed, drafting everything from scratch will tend to turn much transactional work into a sunk cost, the complete antithesis of the value-adding service lawyers need to provide in this automation age. At the same time, the murky and verbose language of so many forms has its own transactional cost: more lawyer and client time is required for every instance of deciphering poorly-drafted language. Unsurprisingly, many students will resolve this tension in favor of copying legalese instead of clarifying it. Pressures of real-life contract drafting are likely to reinforce this tendency in law practice.
Poor contract forms are much like computer viruses--once they are in the system, they will replicate themselves when given the opportunity. Only a lawyer who understands the deal underlying a contract and who has developed the judgment to discern between what to fix and what to keep can prevent the virus from spreading, but even then only once. The form is still out there.
One of the challenges of teaching contracts and commercial law in today's tight legal marketplace is guiding our students toward having understanding and judgment capable (among other things) of stopping contract viruses. Some think that building such transactional cognition is beyond the capacity of law schools, but for our students' sake, I disagree. The lawyers who will avoid being automated out of existence are the ones capable of making sound and complex judgment calls.
Thursday, October 22, 2015
The Law Review has achieved a top 80 ranking in Washington and Lee Law School's Student Edited General Journal Rankings based on journal cites and case cites. It has also achieved a top 100 ranking in the Expresso Law Review Rankings for 2014–15 and has featured articles in recent years from important and influential scholars such as Professor Larry Kramer, former Dean of Stanford Law School and Professor G. Edward White of the University of Virginia School of Law. Our students are eager to have submissions on contracts law and contracts-related subjects.
Please send your submissions to email@example.com and our Articles Editor, Stephanie Kroeze, will be in contact with you.
Monday, August 17, 2015
THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA COLLEGE OF LAWanticipates hiring several tenured/tenure track faculty members and clinical faculty members (including a director for field placement program) over the coming year. Our goal is to find outstanding scholars and teachers who can extend the law school’s traditional strengths and intellectual breadth. We are interested in all persons of high academic achievement and promise with outstanding credentials. Appointment and rank will be commensurate with qualifications and experience. Candidates should send resumes, references, and descriptions of areas of interest to: Faculty Appointments Committee, College of Law, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1113.
THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer. All qualified applicants are encouraged to apply and will receive consideration for employment free from discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin, age, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, religion, associational preference, status as a qualified individual with a disability, or status as a protected veteran.
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
One of our readers asked for a follow-up on our post on the suit by Charleston Law School professors seeking to enjoin the Law School from eliminating their tenured positions. We have good news to report, at least provisionally:
Charleston's Post & Courier reports that a judge last week blocked the termination of two tenured law professors until their suit against the law school is either settled or adjudicated.
Tuesday, August 4, 2015
A new Los Angeles Times investigation has revealed that nine out of ten students drop out of unaccredited law schools in California. Of the few students that graduate, only one in five ultimately become a lawyer. In other words, a mere 2% of the people that initially enroll in an unaccredited law school end up being attorneys. Shameful at best. One example of one person who did not make it as an attorney is former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who went to “People’s College of Law” and took the bar four times, but never passed.
Unaccredited law schools are said to flourish in California. The state is one of only three in the nation that allow students from unaccredited law schools to take the bar test (the others are Alaska and Tennessee). Unaccredited schools in California are held to very few academic standards by regulatory bodies and, by their very nature, none by accrediting agencies.
Most of the unaccredited law schools are owned by small corporations or even private individuals. One, for example, is owned by a“Larry H. Layton, who opened his school in a … strip mall above a now-shuttered Mexican restaurant. He thought the Larry H. Layton School of Law, which charges about $15,000 a year, would grow quickly. But according to the state bar records, he has had six students since 2010.”
Experts again say that action must be taken. For example, Robert Fellmeth, the Price Professor of Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego School of Law, has stated that unaccredited schools “aren't even diploma mills, they are failure factories. They're selling false hope to people who are willing to put everything out there for a chance to be a lawyer."
As before, the problem goes beyond unaccredited law schools. Several ABA accredited law schools also demonstrate both poor employment and bar passage statistics, although the problem seems to be the most severe when it comes to unaccredited schools.
This story is not new to your or many others. However, it serves as a reminder of the continued importance of both insiders and outsiders taking a renewed look at regulations for (and broader expectations of) law schools in California and beyond. As always, purchasers of anything including educational “services” (which, as the above other and many other studies show, can all too easily turn out to be disservices) should be on the lookout for what they buy. A great deal of naivety by new students seems to be contributing to the problem. However, that does not justify the tactics and perhaps even the existence of some of these educational providers. Having said that, I also – again – cannot help ask myself what in the world some of these students are thinking in believing that they can beat such harsh odds. Hope springs eternal, it seems, when it comes to wanting to become a California attorney.
Friday, July 17, 2015
The Rutgers Center for Risk and Responsibility is holding its fourth annual insurance workshop on Friday, October 2, 2015. This is a day-long event on the Camden campus with an opportunity to present and receive comments on drafts or less fully formed works-in-progress on topics related to insurance law or other aspect of managing or regulating risk.
For more information, contact Professor Rick Swedloff, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, July 16, 2015
Contracts Prof Kermit Mawakana (pictured) has sued the University of District Columbia (UDC) for breach of contract and employment discrimination in connection with his termination from UDC's David A. Clarke School of Law. Last week, the District Court for the District of Columbia issued an opinion in the case. On UDC's motion to dismiss the contract claim, the court found that UDC had breached no express contract but may have breached an implied contract, and it denied the motion.
According to the court, Professor Mawakana was hired in 2006 as an Assistant Professor and promoted to Associate Professor three years later. However when he came up for tenure, his application was denied because he had not met UDC's criteria for scholarship. Professor Mawakana alleged defects in his review process that amounted to a breach of contract. The court found that the review policies did not amount to a contract and thus found no breach of an express contract, but it did find that the complaint alleged sufficient facts "if just barely" for the claim for breach of an implied contract to proceed. The court similarly found that plaintiff had alleged sufficient facts to allow his claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing to proceed.
The court did not rule on Professor Mawakana's non-contractual claims.
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
There but for fortune . . . . I spent three happy years teaching in the history department at the College of Charleston. Having studied in New York for nearly ten years, I never imagined myself living in the South, but Charleston is a charming city, and the College of Charleston was a gem when I was there, with a dedicated faculty of scholars and teachers and an unbelievably beautiful campus. When I learned that Charleston was opening a law school, I was very tempted to apply for a position.
Charleston's Post & Courier reported on Monday that Charleston Law School (CLS) has terminated seven faculty members, including two tenured faculty members. The two filed lawsuits in late June alleging breach of contract. They are seeking an injunction that would allow them to retain their status as tenured professors while also enjoining the CLS's owners from making expenditures that might otherwise be used to pay them their salary. The two fired professors were signatories of a letter published by 17 CLS faculty members in the Post & Courier in mid May. I assume that they are alleging retaliatory firing in violation of the very thing tenure is designed to protect. Certainly, the optics are bad. A preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled for the end of the month.
I have no doubt that, if I had decided to apply for a faculty position at Charleston and been hired there, I would have signed that letter. And then I too might be experiencing the joy of having to file a lawsuit in order to keep my tenured position. I do not know enough of the details to speak to the merits of the professors' claims, but my inclination it to root for them.
Monday, May 4, 2015
One of the ways in which law schools are allegedly inadequately transparent is in the award of merit scholarships conditional on the students’ achievement of a certain grade point average (GPA), usually 3.0, in law school. The New York Times set the ball rolling back in 2011, with this article about a law student who lost her scholarship when she only managed a 2.967 GPA. Law school critics allege that such conditional merit scholarships are a “bait and switch.” It is an odd claim. Law schools offer conditional merit scholarships for the same reasons colleges offer them, and there are no claims that the terms of the scholarship are unclear. Why are law students assumed to be incapable of looking into standard grade normalizations curves for the first year?
The real mystery is why conditional scholarships for law students come in for so much criticism when they seem to be generally regarded as valuable and successful on the undergraduate level. The scholarships are, as their name suggests, conditional, and it would be completely unreasonable to continue to grant students merit scholarships when their performance in law school has been disappointing. Students who lose their merit scholarship have gotten their first year of legal education for free, so what is their harm? I think the claim for harm is derivative of the larger (and largely baseless) claim that law schools do not benefit their students.
Jerry Organ published an interesting article criticizing competitive scholarships and recommending best practices for the law schools that use them, including better disclosure of scholarship retention rates. Law School Transparency proposed a new ABA standard that would require all law schools to publish on their websites data about the percentage of students who were able to retain their scholarships after the first year.
As readers of this blog should know, disclosure is no panacea. Professor Organ was able to find information about how scholarships work at 160 law schools. That means that the information was out there. Since Professor Organ was able to gather information about 160 law schools, it should not be difficult for students to gather relevant information about the one law school that they are considering attending. Many students can find their law school’s curve by looking on Wikipedia. Since a lot rides on the decision, one would expect students to investigate, especially since the investigation might not take more than a few mouse clicks.
If law schools were more aggressive and sat down with students offered conditional scholarships and walked them all through the statistics, would anything change? Would a student choose not to go to law school because she had been told that there was a 50/50 chance that she would lose her scholarship after year 1? I doubt it. She would feel confident that she would be one of the successful students and, even if not, she would still have enjoyed a year’s free tuition.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
I began this series with the question: Why Is the Legal Academy Incapable of Standing Up for Itself? Paul Campos thinks we are doing far too much of that, going so far as to compare those of us who think legal education is worth defending with Holocaust deniers. Fortunately for us, I suppose, this blog isn't on anybody's radar, but in any case I think it bears noting that I value the contributions of people who have shed critical light on legal education, although I don't agree that it is anything approaching a scam. I have gained valuable insights from the work of Law School Transparency, Brian Tamanaha, Deborah Merritt, and Bill Henderson on our sister blog, The Legal Whiteboard, among others.
That said, there is another side of the story. Legal education is constantly re-forming itself in fundamental ways. Clinical education has only been with us since the 70s; legal writing programs took off in a major way in the 80s and 90s. Both represent fundamental shifts in pedagogy in response to perceived deficits in the legal education model. Those programs continue to develop and expand, now supplemented with robust ASP programs. All of these things jack up the costs of legal education and all in the name of better preparing students for the profession. Nobody is fiddling while our students burn. In fact, at this point, it is clear that everybody in the debate passionately believes that they have the best interests of our students at heart, and I do not doubt their sincerity.
Meanwhile, just when you thought it was safe to read what the New York Times has to say about legal education, we get another one-sided piece based on a few anecdotes and one piece of scholarship. I thought I had a lot to say in response, but others have beaten me to it, so I will just provide the links:
Links to Related Posts:
The Current Series
VIII: Myanna Dellinger, Caveat Emptor and Law School Transparency
VII: Myanna Dellinger, On Issue-Spotting and Hiding the Ball
VI: Issue Spotting: A Response to a Comment
V: Did Legal Education Take a Wrong Turn in Separating Skills and Doctrine?
IV: What Is the Place of Core Doctrinal Teaching and Scholarship in the New Curriculum?
III: My Advice to Law School Transparency: Declare Victory and Move On
II: SLOs and Why I Hide the Ball (and Why You Don't Have To)
I: Why Is the Legal Academy Incapable of Standing Up for Itself?
Related Posts form 2012:
Thoughts on Curricular Reform VI: Preparing the Academically Adrift for Practice
Thoughts on Curricular Reform V: A Coordinated Curriculum and Academic Freedom
Thoughts on Curricular Reform IV: The Place of Scholarship in the 21st Century Legal Academy
Thoughts On Curricular Reform III: The Costs of Change
Thoughts on Curricular Reform II: Teaching Materials
Thoughts on Curricular Reform I: The Problem
Thursday, April 23, 2015
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.
Monday, April 20, 2015
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.
Today, 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.
Friday, January 23, 2015
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.