June 4, 2011
Advice for new attorneys from a federal judge
From Senior Judge John Kane (U.S.D.C. - Colorado) during last week's swearing-in ceremony for new lawyers held in Denver. From Law Week Colorado:
Many lawyers become steeped in the belief that justice is irrelevant and present even morally based decisions as if they were products of a mechanical and value-neutral process over which they have no control. They are known to say to clients, “I don’t know whether you should say this or that. My job is to tell you what the law says and leave the right or wrong decisions up to you.” Some judges slink off the bench saying, “Right or wrong, this is the law.” My suggestion is that if you presently find yourself accepting that position, move on to another line of work now before it is too late, and if you haven’t accepted that position, don’t go there or you will find yourself condemned to a life of mediocrity.
Other lawyers have worked very hard for years and then quit with what is commonly called “burn-out.” To them, the profession of law no longer seems worth the effort of carrying such great weight of responsibility. Still others, however, practice into their dotage, eager and passionate for the next case, the new client, the latest development or project. I suggest to you that “burn-out” comes to those who limit themselves to the logic and mechanical application of the law and legal principles, mere functionaries moving widgets across the table. They burn out because they fail to visualize the law’s purpose, which is to achieve justice and they practice law as if it has no justice function. The lawyers who leave the profession, who burn out, do so because they find themselves on a value-free treadmill, involved in one flavorless dispute after another until the activity itself becomes pointless.
Hat tip to Stephanie West Allen.
Retaining and Rewarding High-Performing Faculty
In these times when faculty salary raises are minimal or nonexistent, Academic Impressions offers ideas on low cost ways to reward deserving faculty. In this article,Mary Coussons-Read, professor of psychology and acting chair of the department of physics at the University of Colorado Denver, reviews low-cost practices that can make a difference.
Make the Most of Your Faculty Awards
Beyond integrating the competition into a departmental reception or an annual dean's reception, look for additional opportunities to celebrate and publicize the achievements of those faculty who contended and won:
- Post a celebration of the achievement on the department website
- Interview the faculty winners for the alumni newsletter
- Invite faculty who won the award to offer a keynote address to their college during the next term or the next year
Also, increase publicity around the awards themselves to encourage both faculty pride and performance:
- Generate "buzz" around the awards earlier in the year
- Make it clear that an award reflects well on the college or the department, and generate a healthy level of competition between colleges
- Make it clear whether teaching, research, and service excellence awards will be one factor in the dean's decision on where to allocate funds across departments
Beyond high-profile faculty awards, other low-cost opportunities for public recognition of faculty achievements include:
- Acknowledging a professor's achievement during a faculty meeting
- Holding a smaller, more intimate "celebration of faculty excellence" reception at the dean or department chair's home
Invite High-Performing Faculty to Serve as Mentors
A prevalent human resources practice in other industries is to provide high performers with frequent, structured opportunities to share their best practices with colleagues. The practice can easily be adapted to higher education. Establishing structured opportunities for mentoring or sharing practices can cultivate faculty pride, reward high performers, and encourage a high-performance faculty culture.
Reward Faculty with Resources
Finally, Coussons-Read recommends identifying non-monetary resources that you can offer high-performing faculty both in recognition of their achievement and to help further their professional activities
June 3, 2011
Law School Mission
The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning conference on Engaging and Assessing Our Students took place at New York Law School this week. It was a very informative conference, and it presented a detailed picture of how legal education is changing. Its most important lesson is that all law schools and law professors need to be aware of the changes that are occurring in our profession and adopt those changes that are useful for the new legal world and our particular students. In the next few posts, I will discuss some of the conference's themes.
I would like to begin with the "big picture." In his opening remarks, Dean Matasar stressed that mission drives it all and that this mission can't be the sum of faculty parts. Each law school needs its own mission geared to its talents and society's needs; for example, other law schools shouldn't follow NYLS's model, but rather develop its own. Not all law schools should be geared for preparing students for "big law" because most law schools have only a small percentage of students that go into big law. He also emphasized that law schools must have the highest professional standards and that we must be honest with our students.
Dean Matasar's comments mirror themes we have raised on this blog. A widening and more diverse world requires that law schools serve different student populations than existed just a few years ago. We need to prepare law students that can deal with many different types of clients. In doing this, we need to be as transparent and honest as possible so that students can choose the law school that will best fit their goals and abilities, not ours.
THOMAS.GOV – Enhancements
The Library of Congress recently posted information about recent enhancements to THOMAS. You can read the full post here.
There is now “a video link for the Senate in the Current Activity box, which goes to C-SPAN2. The link for House video was previously added after HouseLive launched... and a new Library of Congress search system , which now can search all of the legislation in THOMAS.”
You can also follow THOMAS on Twitter (@THOMASdotgov).
What About Your Firm is Most Important to You?
On his blog (May 27), Cordell Parvin suggests getting your priorities straight by ranking the following in order of significance:
- A good role model and mentor who personally takes an interest in you and helps you achieve your goals
- Control of your career
- Feeling your work makes a difference
- Feeling a part of a team
- A clear understanding of the firm’s mission, vision, how you fit in and what is expected of you
- Using technology better than other law firms
- Interesting work and constant learning experiences
- Continual feedback
- A sense you will be treated fairly
- 10. Opportunities for community service
Suppose we change the question to "What About your Law School is Most Important to You?"
10 trial practice blogs worth checking out
From the blog Lawyerist (which is a very worthwhile read itself):
These 10 are by no means the only trial practice blogs out there, nor the only ones worth reading. Here are 10 that might be worth adding to your reader:
If you have other favorites, let us know in the comments below and we'll supplement this last later.
LexisNexis no longer lets customers "pay as you go"
Instead, you've got to sign a long-term contract. Over at 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, the speculation is that Lexis is doing this in an effort to hang onto subscribers in a faltering market.
Whether you are BigLaw, MidLaw, or SmallLaw, the change that LexisNexis just made may have some significant effects on how you conduct legal research and plan your subscriptions for legal research services. LexisNexis is no longer offering "LexisNexis by Credit Card." In order to access those legal research tools, you'll need to sign up for a (long-term?) subscription to Lexis.
I talked to one subscriber last night who told me that her subscription that she uses for credit card access runs out at the end of the month, and "then I have to get a 'subscription from sales' or go to www.lexisweb.com." The LexisWeb site is a minimalist version of legal information, and doesn't contain the value-add products that a real LexisNexis site has. "The timing is suspect with its correlation with plunging market share; I think it's a move to prevent firms from cancelling their subscription and just buying what they need."
Many law firms have used the Credit Card option for LexisNexis in order to only buy "what they need" and will now have to re-evaluate that strategy. Other products, such as Fastcase, rely upon the credit card option for their users to access cite-checking resources such as Shepards. As of last night, the link to Shepards from Fastcase was still working, but I'm not sure if that will continue. If so, then it looks like all of those users will either have to sign up for Lexis, or will have to use KeyCite as their citation tool.
June 2, 2011
Innovative Transactional Pedagogies
Teaching transactional legal skills has recently become an important part of legal education. I believe that teaching transactional skills is just as important as teaching litigation skills, which have been part of the legal curriculum for over twenty years. A recent panel discussed three teaching pedagogies in transactional skills: teaching corporate finance as advanced contract drafting, teaching numeracy, and teaching substance and skill in contract drafting through the use of in-office meetings and analytical memos. A transcript of this panel can be found here.
Legal Citation News
This week the Illinois courts have adopted a public domain citation system. More information here:
“The new method eliminates the need to contract with publishers to have official opinions produced in bound volumes (which must then be purchased), reportedly saving Illinois taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year."
Hat tip Stanford Law Library (@stanfordlawlib)
A movement towards universal citation - Universal Citation.org will meet later this summer “to provide the organizational infrastructure needed to facilitate the adoption and use of a uniform set of media and vendor neutral citations that can be used for all American court decisions.” More information here.
Hat tip Boley Law Library (@lawlib)
Historical Federal Case Records – Preservation Plans
“Historically significant” case records will be retained and others will be discarded.
"The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the agency charged with storing the government's records, is working with the Judiciary to review millions of federal court cases accumulated since the 1970s at the Federal Records Centers (FRC) located throughout the country. At the same time, the Judicial Conference is asking judges to do their part to make sure the historically significant case documents among these files are retained." Read the full article here.
hat tip Maryland Law Library (@mdstatelawlib)
The (real) demands of working as a lawyer
This post is not for the lawyers or law profs but for those who are still thinking about going to law school. Dude, make no mistake - you're going to work your a** off and the pay isn't that great unless you're among the creme de la creme of law grads (and for those people, the pay is indeed better but the hours are much worse). You may think you're going to be #1 in your class, but so does everyone else (here and here). Since only one person can be #1, the odds are heavily stacked against you. If you're still cool with all that, then welcome aboard brother. Very nice to have you. Please stay awhile
It's Saturday, 5:42 PM CST as I write this. I've been at the office since 9 AM. I'm going to do it again tomorrow. Churning through research and cranking out two separate briefs that are due this week. Write, write, write. Edit. Delete. WestLaw. Twitter (#rakofsky). Write.
Instead of seeing this in person [the author's son]
I knew it when I signed up for the job. I knew it when I worked 40 hours a week while going to Law School at the same time. I knew it when my wife took our our son to the E.R. for the first time and I wasn't there because I was in another city two hours away getting ready to take the Bar the next day.
But this is what I asked for. This is what all of us who want to be lawyers, or are lawyers, asked for. To be thrown in the gauntlet and asked to step up again and again for those depending on us, when we are down or hurting. To provide counsel and guidance when we feel as though we can’t provide the same for ourselves.
I'm here on the weekend, making the sacrifice, because the client's problems are my problems. They don't wait for the 5 day work week and the 9-5. This is a career, a profession - not a job. If you're not in it for this, if you can't pay this price, then it's probably better that you look for something else to do with your life.
You can read the rest here.
Grading on the Bell Curve
As the academic grading season for the year draws to a close, I again have to wonder about the trend to grade on a predetermined curve. May schools compel or strongly encourage professors to grade on a bell curve—for example, 10% As, 15% A minuses, 15% B plusses, etc., Some schools require the curve only in larger classes, for example, classes with 30 or more students.
Is this trend the product of junk science? The bell curve may have its place in mathematical probability theory, but what evidence is there that grades in a law school class should replicate the bell curve, and if they don’t, then something was wrong with the test or the skill of the grader? If I look at the raw scores of my students, they rarely resemble anything that looks like a bell curve.
My guess is that a proper “curve” would resemble a flat line with some deviation at either end—something like the profile of a mesa. At a given school, most students enter with the essentially the same numerical scores, and most should perform almost identically. Some students may fall at either end of this flat line curve because they possess a special aptitude for law or have little aptitude for it OR because they work especially hard or are especially lax in their studies—OR because they have or lack both an aptitude and a work ethic. Variations in the grades of students in the vast middle my arise from several minor factors, including an overly refined system for allocating grades.
An overview of the state of the U.S. legal services industry
- As reported by the Wall Street Journal and Slate, applications to US law schools have fallen by 11.5% in the past year and now stand at their lowest level since 2001. This is despite the fact that the number of ABA-accredited law schools has jumped 9% in that same period.
- As The New Republic discovered, employment rates nine months after graduation (reported by schools to be around 90%) include part-time, temporary and non-law jobs. Actual full-time legal employment figures likely don’t even break 50%.
- The New York Times found that 80% of US law schools insert “merit stipulations” into scholarship offers that mean students can lose their grants if their GPA falls below a given level.
- The National Law Journal reported earlier this year that three small law schools have announced tuition freezes, while the New York Law Journal found two other small schools have chosen to shrink their class sizes.
- The NLJ also reports that some law schools’ graduates, including SMU Dedman and Duke, are having such trouble finding work that the schools are paying for placement assistance programs.
- The ABA’s plan to seriously overhaul the law school accreditation process (again from the NLJ) appears so radical to schools that the American Association of Law Schools is pleading with the ABA not to go ahead.
- Finally, Steven Harper at the AmLaw Daily has a treasure trove of grim stats: 20% of US law schools’ 2009 graduates are still looking for work; net US law job growth to 2018 will be only 100,000 while law schools graduated 44,000 new lawyers last year alone; half of all US law grads have more than $100,000 in law school debt, and on and on.
Tips for summer associates
Courtesy of the PrawfsBlawg. Rather than reprint the entire post, below are the talking points.
- Don't bite off more than you can chew. It's better to do a really good job on a few assignments than take on too much, hoping to impress the bosses with your work ethic, but have quality suffer.
- Don't make typos or other careless errors because those you're working will fast lose confidence in you. Proofread everything, then proofread it again.
- Don't be a brat - pretty self-explanatory.
- When getting an assignment, ask questions and take notes. Don't leave the partner's office without fully understanding what she wants.
- Be a team player - offer to help out someone who's busy rather than leave early.
- Trust no one; confide in no one (the first one is mine, the second one comes from Prawfsblog).
- Dude, have you seen economy lately?!? Make sure you get the offer in hand before letting on that you have doubts it's the right place for you.
You can check out detailed advice for each one of these tips by clicking here.
June 1, 2011
Writing Tip of the Week
Writing Persuasive Headings
Last week, I stressed the importance of articulating the structure of your brief or memo. One of the most important parts of showing the structure of your writing is headings. In a persuasive brief, a heading tells your reader what is in the section or subsection, it introduces your arguments, and it persuades. The why or because is especially important. In addition, the judge should be able to read the headings in your table of contents and get a clear idea of your arguments. Finally, everything in a section or subsection should relate to the heading or subheading. If it doesn't, the section needs to be revised or the heading rewritten.
A good persuasive heading should contain a conclusion, the law, the facts, and why. (of course, some of these overlap.) The heading should be as focused and specific as possible.
I. THE COURT HAS PERSONAL JURISDICTION OVER MR. AARON BECAUSE HE ESTABLISHED MINIMUM CONTACTS WITH ALABAMA WHEN HE SIGNED A CONTRACT WITH AN ALABAMA COMPANY.
New Directions in ADR & Clinical Legal Education
The Washington University of Law & Social Policy has published a symposium on
“New Directions in ADR and Clinical Legal Education.” From the Introduction by Professors Karen Tokarz and Annette Ruth Appell:
The authors in this volume are in the forefront of innovative teaching, practice, and scholarship in dispute resolution and clinical education. In their articles, they eloquently highlight the important goals shared by dispute resolution and clinical legal education—to foster creative problem solving, to empower clients and advance the interests of parties, to promote social justice, and to enhance ethical practice and professionalism. The authors illuminate new and exciting ways in which dispute resolution and clinical education, jointly and severally, can inform, improve, and reform not only legal education, but also the practice of law, the legal profession, and systems of justice.
Here is a list of the articles:
by Karen Tokarz and Annette Ruth Appell
34 WASH. U. J.L. & POL'Y 1 (2010)
Four Ways of Looking at a Lawsuit: How Lawyers Can Use the Cognitive Frameworks of Mediation
by Jonathan M. Hyman
34 WASH. U. J.L. & POL'Y 11 (2010)
Implicit Bias and the Illusion of Mediator Neutrality
by Carol Izumi
34 WASH. U. J.L. & POL'Y 71 (2010)
Lawyering at the Intersection of Mediation and Community Economic Development: Interweaving Inclusive Legal Problem Solving Skills in the Training of Effective Lawyers
by Beryl Blaustone and Carmen Huertas-Noble
34 WASH. U. J.L. & POL'Y 157 (2010)
Lawyering and Learning in Problem-Solving Courts
by Paul Holland
34 WASH. U. J.L. & POL'Y 185 (2010)
Assisting Indigent Families in Conflict: A Pro Bono Test Drive for a Family Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Clinic
by Kimberly C. Emery
34 WASH. U. J.L. & POL'Y 239 (2010)
Why No Clinic Is an Island: The Merits and Challenges of Integrating Clinical Insights Across the Law Curriculum
by Jeff Giddings
34 WASH. U. J.L. & POL'Y 261 (2010)
When is the best time to read student course evals?
Most people assume it's the end of semester, right? This column suggests that it might be more beneficial to wait until the start of the next one. From the Chronicle of Higher Ed.:
Up until recently it never occurred to me to read my evals any other time than the moment I received them. In some institutions this may be as soon as grades are officially turned in, in others, it may not be until weeks or months after the semester is over. But whenever it is, I assumed the default move was to tear open the envelope and read your evaluations the minute you had them in hand.
But last week I heard an intriguing piece of advice: don’t read your course evaluations until it’s time to teach that particular course again, whether it’s a semester later or years later. The theory is that if you’re not reading them in the heat of the moment, with the course and the students still fresh in your mind, it’s easier to be more objective about the evaluations. They hurt less and mean more.
Also, you’re often in no position at the end of the semester to change anything about the course, so why not maximize their effectiveness by reading them when you are in a position to take them into account—right before you teach that particular class again.
Interestingly, most of the reader comments - which I often find to be extremely helpful - disagree with the author and favor reading evals right away. Also, several commenters fall into the "I no longer read evals" camp. Click here and scroll down to check out the CHE comments and tell us, below, what's your practice when it comes to reading student evals.
Tips for creating keyboard shortcuts
From the Chonicle of Higher Ed:
I found the solution to creating a keyboard shortcut for ANYTHING in two articles in the blog Lifehacker. One article covers creating keyboard shortcuts for Windows users and another works for Mac users. The solution for Mac users is especially simple: you can add shortcuts for anything within your system preferences. It takes all of 15 seconds to create one that wasn’t there previously. The Windows approach is more complicated, but Lifehacker clearly walks you through the process.
Now that I have the ability to make shortcuts to anything, I’ve decided to start standardizing some basic commands I use in different tools. For example, on different occasions I use bulleted lists in email, Word documents, blog posts, and in PowerPoint slides. I’ve now standardized that keyboard command in every one of the authoring tools I use. I decided to go with the same key strokes that work in Google Docs—Command-Shift-8—to keep things constant since I can’t change its shortcuts and since I use it as my primary word processing tool most days. (Did I mention that we like Google Docs around here?) I’ve similarly mapped the keyboard shortcut for making comments in a Google Docs document to my copy of Word. I reach for the mouse less, and I get my work done sooner. And that means I can get away from the keyboard faster.
Writing Tip of the Week
A problem that appears in many attorneys' writing is nominalizations--using a noun to do the work of a verb.
Examples. The diplomats worked at normalization of relations between the countries. The company's business was the importation of fine china. These examples sound overly formal, and they are wordy. Once you can recognize nominalizations, they are easy to fix--just move the action to the verb. Examples. The diplomats tried to normalize relations between the countries. The company imported fine china.
The diplomats worked at normalization of relations between the countries.
The company's business was the importation of fine china.
These examples sound overly formal, and they are wordy. Once you can recognize nominalizations, they are easy to fix--just move the action to the verb.
The diplomats tried to normalize relations between the countries.
The company imported fine china.
For more exercises on nominalizations, see my Exercises in Clear Legal Writing, Chapter One, at pp. 5-10, on SSRN.
May 31, 2011
Of metaphors, spies and "black ops"
Now this is interesting (and useful to anyone who's interested in the "science" of persuasion). From The Atlantic:
A small research arm of the U.S. government's intelligence establishment wants to understand how speakers of Farsi, Russian, English, and Spanish see the world by building software that automatically evaluates their use of metaphors.
That's right, metaphors, like Shakespeare's famous line, "All the world's a stage," or more subtly, "The darkness pressed in on all sides." Every speaker in every language in the world uses them effortlessly, and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity wants know how what we say reflects our worldviews. They call it The Metaphor Program, and it is a unique effort within the government to probe how a people's language reveals their mindset.
"The Metaphor Program will exploit the fact that metaphors are pervasive in everyday talk and reveal the underlying beliefs and worldviews of members of a culture," declared an open solicitation for researchers released last week. A spokesperson for IARPA declined to comment at the time.
IARPA wants some computer scientists with experience in processing language in big chunks to come up with methods of pulling out a culture's relationship with particular concepts."They really are trying to get at what people think using how they talk," Benjamin Bergen, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, San Diego, told me. Bergen is one of a dozen or so lead researchers who are expected to vie for a research grant that could be worth tens of millions of dollars over five years, if the team scan show progress towards automatically tagging and processing metaphors across languages.
. . . .
Every writer (and reader) knows that there are clues to how people think and ways to influence each other through our use of words. Metaphor researchers, of whom there are a surprising number and variety, have formalized many of these intuitions into whole branches of cognitive linguistics using studies like the one outlined above (more on that later). But what IARPA's project calls for is the deployment of spy resources against an entire language. Where you or I might parse a sentence, this project wants to parse, say, all the pages in Farsi on the Internet looking for hidden levers into the consciousness of a people.
"The study of language offers a strategic opportunity for improved counterterrorist intelligence, in that it enables the possibility of understanding of the Other's perceptions and motivations, be he friend or foe," the two authors of Computational Methods for Counterterrorism wrote. "As we have seen, linguistic expressions have levels of meaning beyond the literal, which it is critical to address. This is true especially when dealing with texts from a high-context traditionalist culture such as those of Islamic terrorists and insurgents."
Click here to read more.
Hat tip to Stephanie West Allen.