April 2, 2011
Kansas Recognizes the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause (!)
The Kansas House voted Tuesday to pass a bill reaffirming the state’s position on the supremacy of the United States Constitution in the judicial system.
Rep. Peggy Mast, an Emporia Republican, said the bill would ensure that Kansas would not have the problems that other states have experienced because other cultures’ laws conflict with U.S. constitutional laws.
Other states considering similar legislation have been severely criticized. Bills introduced in the Missouri Legislature this year by Republican lawmakers aim to prevent Missouri courts from applying laws from other countries or those based on Sharia, the Islamic religious law.
From the Democracy Project West blog.
Of course, the U.S. Constitution already states:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.
The Kansas lawmakers seem to worry that Kansas courts might apply Sharia law. I wouldn’t lose any sleep over that possibility.
Explaining Your Fee to Clients.
It happens to every lawyer—although hopefully not too often. You propose or quote a fee to a client or prospective client and are greeted with a response such as “I can’t afford it” or “How can you have the nerve to charge that?” When that happens, don’t get angry, or defensive, or cry. It’s all part of a game. Here is how you play it.
In this article by Bob Denney on Attorney at Work, Denney offers detailed instructions on how to explain your fee to a client and how to educate a client who wants a lower fee. Worth reading.
"Power corrupts; PowerPoint corrupts absolutely"
That's the subtitle of this Wired article (called PowerPoint is Evil) from 2003 by Yale Professor Emeritus Edward Tufte who is considered a leading authority on visual communication theory. Whether you share this anti-PowerPoint bias or not, you may still find this interesting. Here's an excerpt:
Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides -a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something.
. . . .
At a minimum, a presentation format should do no harm. Yet the PowerPoint style routinely disrupts, dominates, and trivializes content. Thus PowerPoint presentations too often resemble a school play -very loud, very slow, and very simple.
The practical conclusions are clear. PowerPoint is a competent slide manager and projector. But rather than supplementing a presentation, it has become a substitute for it. Such misuse ignores the most important rule of speaking: Respect your audience.
Ouch. You can read the rest of the article here.
April 1, 2011
Late-breaking news - severe budget woes hit U. Washington law library!
This just in:
In response to the state's unprecedentedly stark budget crisis, the law library is cancelling nearly all of its online subscriptions. Associate Dean Hazel Pennyton explains, "The materials available free on the Internet have grown so much that it really makes sense to prefer them to the ridiculously high-priced subscription databases. In any event, many of our students prefer Wikipedia to scholarly treatises and practice guides on LexisNexis and Westlaw, so we expect this change to make little difference in the quality of their research."Here are some pointers for the transition.
Dean Pennyton remarked that the cancellation of the online subscriptions will bring other benefits. Training time will be greatly reduced. Printer jams in the dedicated Lexis and Westlaw printers will be a thing of the past. And students and faculty will no longer have to keep track of passwords.
- For caselaw from U.S. states, formerly available on Westlaw and LexisNexis, visit each state court's website. You'll find that many of them have a few years of recent cases posted. In addition, Google Scholar gives you access to many states' cases.
- For state statutes, visit the state legislatures' websites. If you miss the convenience of annotated state codes on LexisNexis and Westlaw, get over it.
- Instead of the reliable reporting by experienced, specialized journalists found in BNA newsletters, we recommend you keep an eye on Colbert Nation.
- For comprehensive coverage of the back runs of law reviews, formerly available in PDF from HeinOnline, we recommend our bound periodicals in the Compact Stacks on L2. If you need a PDF, a scanner is available in the Reference Area. Please be patient if the person ahead of you has a couple of hundred pages to scan.
The next phase of budget cuts will involve cancellations of most major print subscriptions. Says Dean Pennyton, "We have plenty of matched sets to serve as a backdrop for photographs, and the new cases and statutes will be somewhere on the Web, so we'll be able to save a bundle here."
April fools, everyone!
Hat tip to librarian extraordinaire, Rob Hudson.
Fewer African Americans and Mexican Americans in Law School
The proportion of black students in law school dropped by 7.5 percent from 1993 to 2008, reports Columbia Law School, which examined data from the Law School Admission Council. The proportion of Mexican-American students decreased by 11.7 percent over the same period. Together those students' enrollment went from 9.5 percent of the incoming class in 1993 to 8.7 percent in 2008.
This is what the audience heard at a recent conference at Catholic U’s law school. The article on the Chronicle of Higher Education online covering the conference is entitled “Panel Suggests Ways to Increase Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Law Schools.” However, the article reports only two suggestions: (1) Collaborate with high schools to reach these students at an early stage. (2) Encourage the students to work for two years at a meaningful job before starting law school.
Justice Scalia Gets Ticketed
What passes for legal celebrity news:
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia seemed unusually subdued at the beginning of arguments Tuesday in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, waiting until the second half-hour – page 29 of the 56-page transcript — to ask his first question of the day. He is usually dominating the discussion well before that point.
Now a possible explanation has emerged: he had been in a car accident in Virginia just over an hour earlier while driving into work. News accounts called it minor, but it must have been unsettling; it involved four cars, and Scalia's own car was towed away, according to a Washington Post account. The accident occurred just before 9 a.m., and he was on the bench by 10.
Here’s the link to the story.
How to create an effective oral presentation
March 31, 2011
Friday Fun: It's the ABA Journal's annual "Peeps in law" contest
It's spring in the blogosphere which means the annual ABA Journal's "Peeps in law" contest is here (it also means the ATL annual Law Revue contest can't be far behind). You still have until April 5 to enter your own Peep diorama (and win fabulous prizes in the process). In the meantime, enjoy "Oliver Wendell Peep, Jr." below.
"The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a peep falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”
Click here to see the rest of the entries so far.
Reminder - ABA Standards Review Committee will hold open forum in Chicago on Saturday for comments on proposed change to faculty job security
I don't think there's anyone in the legal academy who doesn't already know that the ABA Standards Review Committee is considering changes to the accreditation standards that would eliminate tenure as a requirement for running a law school. The request originated with deans who say they need more flexibility over labor costs at a time when applications are down creating additional pressure to keep tuition costs reasonable.
Many constituents have weighed-in. Just about all of them strongly oppose the proposal on the grounds that the elimination of tenure would threaten academic freedom and thereby compromise the educational experience for students. By clicking here and scrolling down, you can access the many letters and position papers that have been filed with the committee (including a letter by Guido Calabresi). Below are the details about Saturday's open forum (the deadline for submissions has passed):
The Standards Review Committee of the ABA Council on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar will hold an open forum in Chicago on April 2, 2011 to hear comments about the following topics currently under its consideration:
1. Student Learning Outcomes.
2. Security of Position, Academic Freedom, Governance, Attracting and Retaining Competent Faculty.
3. Valid and Reliable Admission Test.
4. All other Standards, Interpretations and Rules of Procedure.
Anyone interested in speaking at the open forum is encouraged to submit a written notice of intent by March 1. Here are the other details:
Speakers are requested to advise the Committee by March 1, 2011 if they wish to speak at the open forum.
Persons who wish to speak are encouraged to send written comments by March 28, 2011.
The amount of time allocated to each speaker will be determined after speakers have registered their interest in speaking.
If there is insufficient time for all interested persons to speak at the open forum, preference will be given to individuals and organizations that have attended prior committee meetings or provided written comments on previous drafts.
The Committee will post new drafts on its website by March 15, 2011.
Requests to speak and written comments should be sent to JR Clark, JR.Clark@americanbar.org
The open forum will be held at the following time and address - Saturday, April 2, 2011, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., Hotel 71 - Penthouse Ballroom, 39th floor, 71 East Wacker Drive, Chicago.
A nice reminder of why we teach
During a time when many public school teachers (and some university professors) face layoffs due to budget problems, here's a nice editorial from the New York Times called "What I Learned at School" about the positive influence teachers have on their students. (The NYT recently erected a paywall which requires a paid subscription to read the news but I think non-subscribers are supposed to be able to access links to individual items like this. If not, let me know).
As a writer, I often receive feedback from readers I have never met. But the other day, I received a most unexpected message in response to one of my essays:
“I am so proud of you and all you have accomplished. I shared your opinion from The L.A. Times with my family and reminisced about you as my student at Hibbing High School.”
It was signed Margaret Leibfried, who was my English teacher — a teacher who appeared at a critical juncture in my life and helped me believe that I could become a writer.
. . . .
If we want to understand how much teachers are worth, we should remember how much we were formed by our own schooldays. Good teaching helps make productive and fully realized adults — a result that won’t show up in each semester’s test scores and statistics.
That’s easy to forget, as budget battles rage and teacher performance is viewed through the cold metrics of the balance sheet. While the love of literature and confidence I gained from Ms. Leibfried’s class shaped my career and my life, after only four short years at Hibbing High School, she was laid off because of budget cuts, and never taught again.
You may be able to read the rest (or not) by clicking here.
Teaching Law Through Popular Culture
This post from the MinnLawyer Blog made me wonder how popular culture can be used in the classroom. The post discusses Fordham University's upcoming two-day conference about the music and influence of Bob Dylan.
“The event will focus on the legal issues discussed in Dylan’s music and lyrics and the influence his art has had on society and legal practitioners today....The Hibbing native and former University of Minnesota student is the most frequently cited musician by legal writers. His cannon abounds with themes of social justice, racism, intolerance and war. Dylan croons of hanging judges, innocent men sentenced to jail and civil rights with a poet’s ear for language.”
How do you use popular culture in your classroom to help your students grasp and learn legal concepts?
A neuroscientific defense of PowerPoint
For those PowerPoint lovers out there, or those who need more convincing, here's a great article by Ohio State Professor Deborah J. Merritt called "Legal Education in the Age of Cognitive Science and Advanced Classroom Technology." In it, Professor Merritt argues that PowerPoint is well suited to the way our brains learn. The key is using visuals rather than bullet points to reinforce important concepts. Here's a brief excerpt:
PowerPoint can advance the cognitive science principles that are essential to good learning. The medium’s greatest strength lies in its ability to project visual images. Tapping that capacity enhances right brain thinking, increasing students’ ability to synthesize complex materials and see the big picture. PowerPoint also supports several techniques for expanding working memory, enabling students to master complicated material more readily.
You can read the rest here.
A book on how to write a better appellate brief
This recommendation comes to us from the (new) legal writer blog. It's "Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation's Top Advocates" by Ross Guberman (Oxford University Press 2011). Here's a summary:
With Point Made , legal writing expert Ross Guberman throws a life preserver to attorneys, who are under more pressure than ever to produce compelling prose. What is the strongest opening for a motion or brief? How to draft winning headings? How to tell a persuasive story when the record is dry and dense? The answers are "more science than art," says Guberman, who has analyzed stellar arguments by distinguished attorneys to develop step-by-step instructions for achieving the results you want.
The author takes an empirical approach, drawing heavily on the writings of the nation's 50 most influential lawyers, including Barack Obama, John Roberts, Elena Kagan, Ted Olson, and David Boies. Their strategies, demystified and broken down into specific, learnable techniques, become a detailed writing guide full of practical models. In FCC v. Fox , for example, Kathleen Sullivan conjures the potentially dangerous, unintended consequences of finding for the other side (the "Why Should I Care?" technique). Arguing against allowing the FCC to continue fining broadcasters that let the "F-word" slip out, she highlights the chilling effect these fines have on America's radio and TV stations, "discouraging live programming altogether, with attendant loss to valuable and vibrant programming that has long been part of American culture."
Each chapter of Point Made focuses on a typically tough challenge, providing a strategic roadmap and practical tips along with annotated examples of how prominent attorneys have resolved that challenge in varied trial and appellate briefs. Short examples and explanations with engaging titles--"Brass Tacks," "Talk to Yourself," "Russian Doll"--deliver weighty materials with a light tone, making the guidelines easy to remember and apply.
You can read more about this book, including reviews by several prominent practitioners, by clicking here.
March 30, 2011
Is PowerPoint the "Miller Lite" of learning?
Many teachers have strong feelings about PowerPoint. Some love it, others don't. For certain applications, it's the best way to communicate ideas or illustrate key points. For instance, I couldn't teach my art law class without it. On the other hand, there's a risk of overuse which can undermine student learning when sophisticated, nuanced ideas are over-simplified in order to fit the slide format. Students may mistakenly believe that memorizing bullet points is the equivalent of learning. Teachers may be tempted to substitute difficult explanations with slides that appease students' desire to be spoon-fed. In that respect, PowerPoint can become the Miller Lite of learning: "Great taste . . . . Less filling!"
Whether you agree or not, you may want to check out this column from U. of Washington Professor David Barash from the Chronicle of Higher Ed called "My PowerPoint Boycott."
I have . . . sworn off PowerPoint, at least most of the time. Accordingly, when spring quarter begins at the University of Washington this Monday, I will tell my large-enrollment “Introduction to Animal Behavior” class that this course will be taught the old-fashioned way: Just them, and me, and an antique overhead projector on which I’ll draw the occasional graph and spell out any unusual terms.
I know, there are lots of arguments pro and con regarding PowerPoint and pedagogy; like most other things, it is a technology that can be overdone to the detriment of all, and underdone, too—which, I admit, may well be my current situation.
And click here to check out the always interesting reader comments which, as of this writing, are mostly disapproving too.
While law school applications are up in Iowa, in Kansas, not so much
Apropos to the below post, this story from Lawrence Journal-World tells us that U. Kansas expects law school applications to drop by as much as 20% compared to last year. One 2L interviewed for the story suspects it's because applicants have become more knowledgeable about the realities of the legal job market in light of news reports like the New York Times article "Is Law School a Losing Game" that got so much coverage a few months back.
KU extended its [application] deadline by one month, to April 15. Even with that extension, [interim Dean] Mazza said the school expects a drop from 15 to 20 percent from last year’s group of about 1,100 applicants.
Those figures would place KU below the national average of 11.5 percent smaller pools of students, Mazza said, and would be “one of the steepest declines we’ve seen in the past decade.”
That’s no surprise to Tonda Hill, a second-year law student from Leavenworth. She’s noticed a lot more focus on the realities of the job market facing law graduates, who are typically laden with high debt loads.
Dean Mazza says that while the number of applicants is declining, the quality of those applicants is getting better. He believes that's because students who are really serious about wanting to be lawyers continue to apply despite the tough job market while those who are only interested in riding out a bad economy are foregoing the law school option.
In addition, Dean Mazza notes that KU is bolstering its legal skills curriculum in order to better prepare graduates for the tough job market.
You can read the full story here.
Law Applications Slide Nationwide, But Rise at Iowa
While the Law School Admissions Counsel predicts an 11.6 percent decrease in law school applicants nationwide, the University of Iowa College of Law is predicting a 13 percent increase.
What’s its secret? Compared to most surrounding law schools, its tuition is relatively cheap--$24,154 for in-state students and $42,922 for out-of state students—about $6000 lower than Minnesota and $11,000 lower than Michigan, though Wisconsin is about $6,000 less expensive. The school also offers a number of scholarships.
A comment by Iowa Professor Herbert Hovencamp is telling: “When I went to school in the ’70s, the older generation paid for the younger’s education,” he said. “We’ve moved to a system where the young are expected to pay their way.”
Here’s the story in The Daily Iowan.
March 29, 2011
How to effectively network if you're an introvert
We'd previously blogged about how to improve your networking skills by "working the room" like a pro (a critical skill for any law student looking for a job or a recent grad looking for clients). But what if, like me, you're an introvert? Attempting to "work the room" can be intimidating and feel "false" and unnatural. How does one get more comfortable with it?
To the rescue comes the Lawyerist with these tips on networking for introverts:
Introverted lawyers should approach networking in ways that will minimize confrontation. For starters, become a joiner. Sign up for one or two bar committees, social organizations, or nonprofit boards that will have regular meetings. Small nonprofits, in particular, are eager to have lawyers serve on their boards. Through these meetings, over time, you will get to know your fellow participants and they will have the opportunity to get to know you.
. . . .
Introverts should also take the opportunity to participate in on-line discussion groups. Ask anyone who is active in a listserv and they will tell you that they get to know the personalities of their fellow participants just by reading their posts. More importantly, they develop trust in their colleagues and refer business to them. This is where an introverted lawyer can shine because often your strengths lie in deliberation and thoughtfulness (as opposed to your extroverted cousins, like me, who think while speaking, which occasionally has unintended consequences).
You can read the rest here.
Yet another attorney chastised by judge for "garbled" court filings
This time it was an attorney representing himself in front of the D.C. federal district court. The fact that the litigant was a Harvard Law grad appears to have contributed to the judge's ire as noted in her decision:
Despite the fact that plaintiff is a 1989 graduate of Harvard Law School, his Amended Complaint is complex, garbled, and accompanied by hundreds of 'exhibits,' which appear to have been assembled in no particular order.
Here's more from the Blog of the Legal Times:
[On Friday, March 25, 2011], U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle dismissed a suit filed by New York attorney Brud Rossmann. Rossmann, who lives in Washington as well as New York, sued Chase Home Finance LLC in October in Washington federal court, claiming the lender misapplied payments he made toward a property he had bought in Virginia.
Noting that Rossmann graduated from Harvard Law School in 1989, Huvelle chastised him for filing a complaint that was “complex, garbled, and accompanied by hundreds of 'exhibits,' which appear to have been assembled in no particular order.” One of these filings included a bill for veterinary services for the Labrador, Huvelle wrote in a footnote.
. . . .
As a practicing attorney, Huvelle wrote, he is held to a higher standard in how he pursues a claim than other pro se applicants who are not attorneys.
Top tips from the bench, bar and profs for writing a great appellate brief
Here's an article from the Vermont Bar Journal called Improving Your Appellate Briefs: The Best Advice from the Bench, Bar and Academy. From the introduction:
This article will distill the best available advice from practitioners, judges, and professors, respectively, about writing briefs. It will draw on my teaching and my brief-writing practice, and on the academic writing and practical experience of others, to offer instructional tips designed to improve all aspects of your appellate briefs. It may be most helpful for the practitioner who writes a brief infrequently and needs a comprehensive, yet concise, guide to brief writing. But it will also serve as a refresher for the lawyer who writes briefs regularly, yet has not consulted instructional materials on this subject since the early years of practice or a long-ago CLE seminar. Thus, both the bewildered novice and the grizzled veteran can benefit from this article.
You can read the rest here.
A “Checklist Manifesto” for Law Students
Jennifer Murphy Romig’s article “The Legal Writer’s Checklist Manifesto” was recently posted on SSRN and will be published in Vol. 8 of Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD. It offers several points of advice to law students that can be adapted to legal writing and other tasks that our students will encounter.
She bases her article on Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (Metropolitan Books 2009) and demonstrates that Gawande's ideas are also applicable in the legal services industry. She discusses the benefits of creating checklists specifially for legal writing that should help students (and practicing lawyers) become better at organizing their legal writing projects. She also discusses how a checklist model can help in the many group-based projects that are part of practicing law.
It seems like a worthwhile exercise for our students.