January 10, 2011
Creating a course to teach students what a real transactional lawyer does
From the blog Concurring Opinions:
It was not until I left practice and started teaching that I truly appreciated the gap between legal education and legal practice. I know that statement is not a new revelation; many have discussed the lack of practical skills imparted to students during their three years of law school.
. . . .
This fall, I co-taught Business Planning with my colleague, Dan Goldberg, who focuses his teaching and scholarship on tax law. Dan and I worked together to prepare lesson plans and assignments, and we co-taught each class meeting. In fact, we structured the class to simulate a small law firm; Dan and I played the role of the tax and corporate partners, and the students played corporate associates.
. . . .
Students worked in teams and drafted parts of key documents relevant to a transactional law practice. These documents included a limited liability company operating agreement, an asset purchase agreement and a registration statement. Students also reviewed sample documents from public transactions and participated in strategy and counseling sessions with the hypothetical client during the seminar meetings.
. . . .
That was our primary objective—to help students start to put the pieces of their legal education together and try their hand at transactional practice before they have to do it for real clients. The class included many of the components of a traditional law school class—theory and doctrine—but it did so in an unfamiliar environment. One in which students did not necessarily know all of the facts, had to grapple with their clients’ objectives (which sometimes changed and sometimes were unrealistic), anticipate the opposing party’s objectives, develop solutions for their client and translate those solutions into definitive documents. As Dan often reminded the students, advising clients and doing deals are much easier the second, third and fourth times around.
You can read the rest here.
Hat tip to ATL.
More iPads and tablet computers coming to a classroom near you
According to the Chronicle of Higher Ed:
In his keynote address at the Higher Ed Tech Summit, Walt Mossberg, the influential technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal, told an audience of higher-education officials and company executives that their future held many tablet computers. And not just the iPad, but some of the 70 or so new tablet devices that have been announced this week at the Consumer Electronics Show here.
Speaking yesterday, Mr. Mossberg noted that CES this year should be renamed “TES” because there were so many of the things. (There was Motorola’s new Xoom, for instance, and Dell’s Streak 7, Lenovo’s IdeaPad Hybrid—a laptop with a detachable tablet—and devices from Samsung, Toshiba, Motion …)
And tablets will matter in higher education, Mr. Mossberg said, because students will bring them to campus, and colleges and—in particular—publishers will need to meet their needs. “The actual users, like students and faculty, will barge in,” he said.
Books should cost less, and they should be digital, Mr. Mossberg said. He is a trustee of Brandeis University, and “I vote on cost-cutting at every meeting. So the idea of having to spend a fortune on books is just primitive.” Course materials, including books, are less expensive in digital form, and tablets make them easy to use. “The multi-touch tablet computer has a serious chance of challenging the mouse-based interface, which has been around since the 1960s and came to fruition in the 1970s,” Mr. Mossberg said.
You can read the rest here.
One response to the NYT's article on the "law school lottery"
The Chronicle of Higher Ed has published this editorial in response to the much-discussed New York Times article "Is Law School a Losing Game?" In case you've been off the grid for the past 24 hours - the NYT's article argues that law school is a high priced lottery played by students who borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition money hoping for a shot at a high-paying, BigLaw job. According to the article, students have been duped into playing this lottery through misleading employment stats disseminated by law schools.
The CHE editorial takes the contrary position that law school is much more of a meritocracy where, through dint of hard work, the cream rises to the top:
Law school isn’t a game of chance. It’s a tournament. My wife, for example, entered the law-school tournament in 2001. The first stage was getting into a good law school, which she managed with stellar grades from a Big Ten university and very good (but not quite stellar) LSAT’s. That was enough for the night program at Georgetown Law, which sits near the bottom of the top tier at number 14. Then she spent the next four years working really, really hard. She attended every class, five days a week, 5:30 to 8:30 PM, and spent every Sunday, morning to night, in the law library. And unlike Spendthrift McGee, the lead character in Segal’s article, who borrowed $250,000 to attend a fourth-tier law school because it was in a warm climate, with long debt-financed European vacations thrown in for good measure, she didn’t want to be overwhelmed by loans. So she took a difficult four-fifths-time job as a law-firm analyst during the day to help pay the bills. Four years later, she graduated Magna Cum Laude, entered the federal clerkship tournament, and won that too. Now she works for the federal government as an appellate litigator.
The point being, there was nothing random about it. She want to class and other people didn’t. She spent Sundays studying while others were watching football. Everyone applying to law school takes the same standardized test. Classes are graded on a curve and class rank is relative to other students who took the same classes. It’s not perfect—nothing is—but law school is about as close to a fully transparent pure meritocracy as you’ll find in American education.
Both articles are correct - law schools haven't been forthright enough in providing prospective students with sufficient information about employment stats, the kinds of jobs grads are getting and accurate salary distributions. And certainly when the author's wife of the CHE piece graduated from law school in 2005, it was true - even at 4th tier schools - that the top students who really applied themselves could reap the benefits of their hard work. Today, though, in the "new normal" job market, it may indeed look more like the lottery described in the NYT's article than the CHE circa 2001-05 tournament.
You can read the rest of the CHE article here.
The AALS Meeting: Summarized
Here is the report of the Chronicle of Higher Education on the AALS January Meeting. The title says it all: “Law Schools Are Urged to Focus More on Practical Skills and Less on Research.”
Underlying the issue is the problem of the cost of skills training in an era of belt tightening. I understand that many deans are of the opinion that the “golden age of law schools” has ended. How unimaginative of them. In addition to trying to cut costs, law schools have to find way to increase income without raising tuition. How about a little entrepreneurial spirit?
Homelessness: "Breakfast at Sally's"
I want to recommend “Breakfast at Sally’s by Richard LeMieux (Skyhorse Publishing), the autobiographical story of a wealthy businessman who lost everything and ended up on the streets. The book chronicles his 18 months living hand to mouth. In some ways, it is an American take on George Orwell’s “Down and Out in Paris and London.” “Sally’s” is the nickname that the homeless in his city give the Salvation Army, which provides a daily meal. Here is a book review from the Christian Science Monitor.
It is easy for us and our students to forget the desperately poor or to find ways to blame them for their circumstances. This book helps us to understand that they are people much like us; maybe only a few paychecks and a bank account really separate us. If we as lawyers are to serve the poor, we need to move beyond scorn, paternalism, and pity, and understand them as fellow human beings.
The book is an easy, engaging read. For schools and communities with a "One Book” program, it would be a good choice.
January 9, 2011
The lost art of the handwritten letter thrives in prison
That's the title of this article from Saturday's New York Times:
In prisons across the country, with their artificial pre-Internet worlds where magazines are one of the few connections to the outside and handwritten correspondence is the primary form of communication, the art of the pen-to-paper letter to the editor is thriving. Magazine editors see so much of it that they have even coined a term for these letters: jail mail.
At magazines like Maxim, with its male-heavy readership and sexy spreads that feature women in just enough clothing to avoid running afoul of prison standards, mail from inmates can easily make up three-quarters of the handwritten letters that come in. Maxim says it receives 10 to 30 such letters each week. Rolling Stone says it receives at least one a day. And at Esquire, editors receive about 15 to 20 a month, about a quarter of the magazine’s mailed letters. The rest come mainly from older readers.
Many letters are like the ones Mr. Bolick sends: from inmates with plenty of free time asking to meet famous people featured in profiles and photo spreads. But they take on all forms. Some are as simple as an inmate complaining about not receiving his subscription or writing with a change of address. Others are personal reflections on a recent article. Country Weekly regularly receives songs from a prisoner in Texas who has ambitions of being a country star.
You can read the rest here.
Mini-trend in the making? Several law firms give all associates iPads
We'd previously reported that lawyers, generally-speaking, lag behind the business world in converting from laptops to iPads. But in the past few months, there have been several reports that firms are closing the tech gap. First, it was Proskauer. Then, according to Above the Law, several more firms starting giving away iPads to all their associates (here, here, and here). (The iPad gained more legal cachet last month when, during an interview with C-Span, SCOTUS Justice Kagan mentioned that Scalia reads briefs on his iPad).
Now comes this report from Above the Law that Holland & Knight has bought iPads for all its associates too. It's a cool device - especially for websurfing and answering emails when a long reply isn't warranted - I find it a lot more convenient to hold and use than a laptop. However, I don't like the iPad keyboard for typing tasks that are more than a couple of sentences long. (And, yes, I know I can buy a detachable keypad but that seems to defeat the convenience and mobility of the iPad). Perhaps that's why the device hasn't yet gained more widespread acceptance among lawyers.
D.C. Legal Ethics Committee rules no prohibition against maintaining client files in electronic format
From our sister publication the Legal Profession Blog:
A recent opinion of the District of Columbia Bar Legal Ethics Committee deals with obligations to maintain client files. The opinion summary:
As a general matter, there is no ethical prohibition against maintaining client records solely in electronic form, although there are some restrictions as to particular types of documents. Lawyers and clients may enter into reasonable agreements addressing how the client’s files will be maintained, how copies will be provided to the client if requested, and who will bear what costs associated with providing the files in a particular form; entering into such agreements is prudent and can help avoid misunderstandings. Assuming no such agreement was entered into prior to the termination of the relationship, however, a lawyer must comply with a reasonable request to convert electronic records to paper form.
You can read the rest of the opinion summary here.