March 21, 2011
New York State Bar Association "task force" identifies ways to improve the training of new lawyers
Last summer, the president of the New York Bar Association formed a task force to consider issues facing the future of legal practice. The recently published report addresses four key areas: 1.) the evolving structure of private practice, including alternative billing practices; 2.) the education, training and development of new lawyers; 3.) work-life balance and integration; and 4.) harnessing technology to support practice. Here's a summary of the recommendations regarding the training of new lawyers:
1. Engage with educators and employers to conduct research and curriculum reform geared towards identifying and inculcating core competencies (knowledge, skills, values, habits and traits) that make for successful lawyers, as contrasted to solely doctrine-based learning.
2. Support the development of new assessment tools for law students and new lawyers, including the use of outcome-based analysis for new lawyers and alternatives to traditional essay-writing in law schools.
3. Experiment with the bar exam to de-emphasize strict memorization of diverse legal rules and principles, emphasizing the core legal rules necessary to begin practice and the assessment of problem solving capabilities. Support research into the disparate impact of credentialing practices upon minority applicants to the Bar, to determine whether the credentialing process accurately predicts success or arbitrarily inhibits diversity.
4. Reduce credit restrictions on the extent to which clinical or “outside the classroom” experiential coursework can count towards admission to the New York State Bar. New York State is the most restrictive state in accepting clinical and practical education.
5. Formally study and consider whether to adopt a mandatory mentorship program for new lawyers or to integrate continuing legal education requirements with mentoring.
6. Monitor the cost of legal education and support critical evaluation and transparency of hiring criteria and salary expectations. The NYSBA should support efforts to minimize the impact of student debt on the future members of the profession and encourage prospective students to make informed decisions about the cost of legal training, based on accurate information.
You can read the full report here.
Hat tip to the ABA Journal.
Law school applications drop to 10 year low
We reported back in December that, according to the Law School Admissions Council, applications for next year's 1L class had dropped 12.2% from the year before. The most recent figures, released last week, show a slight uptick since the last report. Law school applications for next year's entering class are now down only 11.5%. However, that still represents a 10 year low. From the ABA Journal:
Applications to start law school in the United States in the fall of 2011 have dropped 11.5 percent since last year and are on target to hit the lowest level in a decade, according to data provided by the Law School Admission Council Inc.
After widespread publicity about the hard-hit legal economy, it appears many prospective applicants have gotten the message that a law degree isn't necessarily a ticket to well-paid employment or even a legal job, the Wall Street Journal reported.
'When the economy first went down, students saw law school as a way to dodge the workforce,' says pre-law adviser Ryan Heitkamp of Ohio State University. 'The news has gotten out that law school is not necessarily a safe backup plan.'
How to Give Constructive Criticism
Giving constructive criticism can be difficult. We like to be “nice,” and criticizing can be helpful, but not seem “nice.” At the Harvard Business Journal online, consultant Peter Bregman emphasizes the importance of giving criticism. Here is his suggestion on how to proceed:
First, ask permission. As in: "I noticed something I'd like to share with you. Are you interested in hearing it?" Or simply, "Can I share some feedback with you?" Once they say "yes" — and who wouldn't? — it evens out the power dynamic, makes it easier for you to speak, and prepares the other person to accept the feedback more openly.
Second, don't hedge. When we are uncomfortable criticizing, we try to reduce the impact by reducing the criticism. Sometimes we sandwich the criticism between two compliments. But hedging dilutes and confuses the message. Instead, be clear, be concise, use a simple example, make it about the behavior, not the person, and don't be afraid of silence.
Third, do it often. That's how you create a culture in which people are open and honest for each other's benefit. If you only offer feedback once in a while, it feels out of character and more negative.
Of course, not all feedback needs to be critical. Positive feedback is excellent at reinforcing people's productive behavior, encouraging them to use their strengths more effectively and abundantly. Offer it frequently. Just do so at a different time than you share the critical feedback.
Note that his advice differs from the common advice that you should sandwich giving criticism between giving compliments.
Using Mobile Devices May Not be the Best Way to Learn/Retain Information
Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox recently reported on a study of comprehension when using mobile devices.
“When reading from an iPhone-sized screen, comprehension scores for complex Web content were 48% of desktop monitor scores. “…
“New research by R.I. Singh and colleagues from the University of Alberta provides one more reason: it's much harder to understand complicated information when you're reading through a peephole.”
It will be interesting to watch the developments in mobile website design.
March 20, 2011
Our last The Amazing Race update
Looks like I've got to find a new Sunday evening hobby. If you watched The Amazing Race tonight, then you saw our favorite team - Cara and Jaime - get eliminated. Dagnabbit! They raced extremely well but there's so much luck involved that no matter how good a team is, they can be eliminated at any time if the breaks go against them.
This week Cara and Jaime suffered a severe set back when those crazy-goths-in-love, Kent and Vyxsin, forced them - to their faces! - to make a "U-turn." That required Cara and Jaime to complete an extra, time-consuming task before moving onto the next challenge. During the "extra task," Cara once again put to great use her law student organizational skills by placing the Chinese dolls in the correct order. But the next and final challenge, assembling a giant dinosaur out of wooden parts, proved too much for Jaime and our team was, unfortunately, eliminated. They both handled it with grace and sportsmanship. For Cara, it's back to the law books.
Something that Cara shared with me that doesn't always come through on the show is how stressful and tiring the competition is. Think about how exhausted you feel after you arrive in a foreign country following a long, overnight flight. Then think about how stressful it must be when you don't speak the language but still need to figure out how to get to your destination without the use of a map or mobile device. Sometimes it involves hopping in a car in a foreign city without knowing the rules of the road or being able to read the street signs. But you've got to get there as quickly as possible because you're racing for a million dollars. You don't get a chance to shower or freshen up in a hotel room; perhaps you don't even get a chance to eat. Once you arrive at your destination, you then have to complete a timed challenge that requires endurance, strength or concentration.
Cara told me that sometimes they didn't shower or eat for days. Sometimes they didn't get much sleep during the overnight travel segments. And some of the public transportation and bathrooms were gross. On top of all that, you never know if your leading the pack or trailing in last place. All-in-all, it's a very impressive accomplishment just to have competed.
Smartphones transform medical practice as doctors create virtual collaborative groups - are there lessons here for lawyers?
The BNA Electronic Commerce & Law Report (subscription only) has a very interesting article about the ways in which mobile technology is transforming how doctors work. (We'd previously blogged about how physicians are beginning to use artificial intelligence software to diagnose patients and the implications for A.I. applications in legal practice). One of the ways that smartphones are changing medical practice is that they allow doctors to form online collaborative groups to problem-solve patient medical issues. Are there any lessons here for how lawyers might form virtual law firms to solve client problems? Below is an excerpt of the article. If your interested in reading more, here's the cite: 16 Electron. Comm. L. R. 118 (January 19, 2011).
A recent survey of primary care clinicians showed that “64% of physicians report owning a smartphone and those using their smartphone daily for clinical tasks are more likely to be active, peer influencers.” “By 2012, all physicians will walk around with a stethoscope and a smart mobile device, and there will be very few professional activities that physicians won't be doing on their handhelds. Physicians will be going online first for the majority of their professional needs and will be regularly pulling online resources into patient consultations,” said Monique Levy, senior director of research at Manhattan Research.
. . . .There are a multitude of drivers underlying clinicians' swift embrace of smartphones. Physicians initially followed their patients to the Web as the explosion of health information created transparency, confusion, and self-diagnosing. Further, physicians realized their reputations were being affected in some cases by Web chatter, and that they could gain some control by entering these discussions.
Likely more critical factors in attracting clinician interest include the technology's potency for improving patient care and providing new ways of interacting with peers and patients, for example, collaborative, Health 2.0 tools. Research by Google and Manhattan Research found that the majority of physician smartphone users consider the device “essential to their practice.”
. . . .
Further advancing the medical knowledge pool are the “collective intelligence” networks represented by physician online communities. These collaborative, virtual brains can “think” in advanced ways, as discussed in books such as “The Wisdom of the Crowds,” and harnessed by companies like Innocentive. In an article in Computer, M.C. Domingo describes the potency of this model in medicine:
“In a physician social network, physicians exchange views about drugs, devices, and treatment options and can use their knowledge from daily practice to ask and answer specific clinical questions that are not obvious in the medical literature. The premise is that gathering and sharing information about new clinical findings, drug treatments, and patient care can bring unprecedented benefits to the medical community: physicians can better solve problems, collaborate on difficult cases, and predict future events through a network than they could individually or even in a small group.”
A one hour exercise that raises GPA of minority students
This is pretty cool. A Stanford University psychologist found that reassuring minority students that they're not alone in feeling, well, alone when they first get to college can boost their grades by up to a third. From the Stanford website (with video, below):
[W]hen black freshmen participated in an hour-long exercise designed by Stanford psychologists to show that everyone – no matter what their race or ethnicity – has a tough time adjusting to college right away, their grades went up and the minority achievement gap shrank by 52 percent. And years later, those students said they were happier and healthier than some of their black peers who didn't take part in the exercise.
"We all experience small slights and criticisms in coming to a new school" said Greg Walton, an assistant professor of psychology whose findings are slated for publication in the March 18 edition of Science.
"Being a member of a minority group can make those events have a larger meaning," Walton said. "When your group is in the minority, being rejected by a classmate or having a teacher say something negative to you could seem like proof that you don’t belong, and maybe evidence that your group doesn’t belong either. That feeling could lead you to work less hard and ultimately do less well."
You can read the rest here.
Hat tip to Inside Higher Ed.
Tips on how to prevent plagiarism
The do's and don'ts of helping to prevent plagiarism from the Chronicle of Higher Ed:
Do define plagiarism in your classes. I have seen many syllabi that say that plagiarism can lead to failing the particular assignment or the entire class. That is what I say on my syllabi. But I have discovered that many people say this without any explanation as to what plagiarism means. Many people seem to assume that everyone works from the same definition, which is not always the case. Sure, a student who downloads a paper from the internet or pays someone else to write her or his essay is committing plagiarism, and most of us would agree with that. But what about other cases? What is the difference between plagiarism and bad paraphrase, for example? That is a question I have had to discuss with many people over the years and one of the major reasons that cases get reported to administrators. These discussions show how faculty sometimes cannot agree on what counts as plagiarism, which helps lead to my next point.
Do not assume that students have learned to cite sources as you wish in previous writing courses or in high school. I have heard many faculty outside my department’s writing program say that they should not have to define plagiarism or teach citation in their classes because students should have learned it already. There are a few problems with this line of thinking. First, many students do get out of high school never having written an essay that involves research or working with sources. This is happening more and more because of the state-mandated tests students have to take to earn a high school diploma. These tests usually do not require that students cite anything, so teachers who have their salaries or continued employment tied to the test scores of their students do often focus on teaching for the test. Do we rant and rave about this? We can and we should, but it is not the fault of the teachers or of the students. Second, many students do not take their required writing courses in their first semester or even their first year. I once heard the complaint that students should have learned citation in their writing course, but the students in question were in a college that did not have students take that course until their second semester, so the instructor was assuming that students in his first-semester course had knowledge that students could not have. Third, students in introductory writing courses do not learn all citation systems in that course. I have colleagues who believe we should be teaching MLA, APA, and Chicago style in our classes, but we barely have time to address one of them well. Yet some faculty expect students to come out of my class, where I teach MLA, and be able to use APA or Chicago style without any guidance or instruction. This also leads to my next point.
Do remember the realities of university life and the fact that introductory writing courses are often taught by passionate but overworked adjuncts. Almost one hundred percent of our courses are taught by adjuncts. That is a point I raise a lot with administrators. Those of us who are full-time faculty in my department are fighting to change that, but change is not happening anytime soon. We have a great group of energetic and eager adjunct faculty, but they do not all have the same training. We try to train them, but there are three of us and thirty of them. And this is true at many, many places. Some of our adjunct faculty work really hard to teach things like citation, but they may not have the experience or the training to teach it as well as they could. This is actually why, in my college, students take research courses in their major and do not rely on my department to teach research to their students. Different departments want students to follow different disciplinary conventions, and they know we are not the ones who can teach research in every disciplinary model. This becomes even more complicated when non-writing courses are also taught by adjuncts who have even less training in teaching citation. People may try their best but still not be able to teach all they should, which is why one of my pedagogical mantras is to teach what I want them to know, even if it takes time from other things. All of this is further explanation for why you cannot expect students to know all you want them to know when they come to your class.
Do assign projects that students cannot find already done in other places. Summary is an important skill, and I teach it in my classes. But I have seen some assignments that ask students to summarize an entire book and then give their opinions on it, and summaries of that book exist in multiple places online. It makes it too easy for students not to do the reading and just read all the summaries. Some will just choose to copy from all of the summaries that exist. Instead of asking for information that already exists, put another spin on the assignment. Ask them to read a book but to connect it to the larger themes or other texts in the course. Or ask them to relate the book to certain news events of the last month or two. Do something that forces students to do more than repeat what already exists. Sure, they may plagiarize parts of their essay, but it makes it more difficult to plagiarize the whole thing.
Do provide detailed prompts for all major assignments. Every time I have had to deal with a plagiarism case, I ask not only to see the paper and the sources from which it was taken but also the instructor’s syllabus and the prompt for the assignment. I check the syllabus to see what it says about plagiarism, and I check the assignment to see what it says about citation as well as what the student was actually asked to do. I have been amazed at the number of times an assignment prompt says nothing about which citation system a student should use, and I have been even more surprised when I ask the instructor about that and she or he replies, “Well, students should know.” I have seen students get marked down for following MLA style when the instructor wanted (but did not state on the prompt) APA style. Along with teaching students what you want them to know, you should also just plain tell them what you want, preferably in multiple ways such as assignment prompts, syllabi, repeated mentions in class, and the like. Oh, sure, some students will still say they did not know, but it has been very easy as an administrator when I can pull out the written prompt and show them what they should have known. Without a prompt, that becomes much more difficult.
Do follow your university’s protocols. If your university has a procedure for handling plagiarism cases, follow it. I have seen problems arise when faculty wait too long past the timeline set in my university’s policy to raise the issue, and I have seen students wait too long, too. It is probably a good idea to go over the university’s policy in every course you teach at least once to ensure that everyone knows it because saying “I didn’t know” is not an excuse for faculty or students. If your university does not have a clear policy, then ask your colleagues what they do and see if it’s possible for your department or program to come to some sort of consensus. If such consensus is not possible, at least be clear (perhaps outlining on the syllabus and/or the assignment prompt) how you will handle such cases. It will make your life easier in the long run.
You can read the rest here.
Networking: How to Work a Room
I have learned that few of my students know how to network. I am sure that many lawyers also have little idea how to meet people and potential clients efficiently and effectively. One valuable networking skill is working a room. For those of us not terribly good at meeting people and being comfortable in large groups, it helps to have a method to follow. On his blog “Marketing Catalyst,” Bruce Allen offers a procedure for working a room in 60 minutes or less. Here it is.
ABA Standards Review sub-committee recommends law schools post employment data on their websites
A sub-committee of the ABA Standards Review Committee (which sets accreditation standards for law schools) has released a report recommending to the full committee that law schools be required to post employment data on their websites for the purpose of helping prospective law students make a more informed decision about whether to go to law school and, if so, which schools to attend.
The report notes that this recommendation is in response to the criticism leveled at law schools for being less than forthright about employment data:
Over the past few years, there has been a great deal of criticism directed at law schools
for their public presentation of employment information. Much of this criticism is
warranted. Too much information is presented in a potentially misleading fashion. The most significant problems fall into one of two categories:
Employment rates• A school’s overall employment rate may include nonprofessional jobs, part-time jobs, temporary jobs and jobs funded by the school. This can create a misleading impression about the true success of the school’s graduates. We believe that the
• Schools appear to disclose employment rates using different methodologies. The
Annual Questionnaire instructs schools to calculate the employment rate as a percentage of those whose employment status is known as of Feb. 15. Therefore,
a graduate whose status is unknown does not harm the school’s employment rate.This can artificially inflate the true employment rate, assuming that mostgraduates who do not respond to the school’s inquiries are not employed. U.S.News uses its own methodology for rankings purposes, which includes asemployed graduates enrolled in full time degree programs and ¼ of graduates whose status is unknown (although this appears to be changing with the new rankings being issued this month). We believe that the percentages disclosed should be based on the entire graduating class, with only those known to be employed being counted as such.
best approach is to require schools to disclose more disaggregated data about these categories of jobs.
The sub-committee similarly found that the information released by law schools about the starting salaries of new grads can be misleading when those stats are based on a small sample or are biased in favor of the highest earners. Accordingly, the sub-committee is recommending a reform with respect to the reporting of this information as well.
Schools receive salary information from a fairly small percentage of graduates. Graduates reporting their salaries are skewed towards those earning the most. Therefore, the median known salary of a school’s graduates is likely to overstate (often significantly) the median of all graduates who are employed. The same is true when schools disclose a median salary of graduates in private practice, because respondents are skewed towards those in large firms. A school that touts median salary information, without appropriate qualifiers, is misleading prospective students. We propose that all salary information clearly indicate the number of respondents and percentage of all graduates included.
In light of this, here's the proposed reporting standard the sub-committee is recommending be implemented:
Standard 509. BASIC CONSUMER INFORMATION
(b) A law school must publicly disclose the employment outcomes of its graduates by
preparing and posting on its website the attached chart.
(1) The employment information must be accurate as of February 15th for persons who graduated with a JD or equivalent degree between September 1 two calendar years prior and August 31 one calendar year prior.
(2) The information must be posted on the school’s website by March 31 each
(3) The information posted must remain on the school’s website for at least three years, so that at any time, at least three graduating classes’ data is posted.
(4) The information must be gathered and disclosed in accordance with the instructions and definitions issued by the Section’s Questionnaire Committee.
(5) Any additional employment information the law school discloses must be fair, accurate and not misleading.
(A) Any publicly disclosed statistics regarding graduates’ salaries must clearly identify the number of salaries and the percentage of graduating students included.
You can click here (and scroll down to page 4) to see a copy of the proposed chart law schools will be required to include on their websites if the committee's recommendation is adopted.
Hat tip to the TaxProf Blog.