Monday, 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.



March 21, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.'


March 21, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.


March 21, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 21, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, 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.

If you'd like to check our the past updates, click here, here, here and here. Right now, though, it all seems so pointless . . . sigh.


March 20, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.”

. . . .

Continue reading

March 20, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.


March 20, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

Continue reading

March 20, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.


March 20, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

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
• 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.

• 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
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:

(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.


March 20, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)