Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Clickers appear to be a popular choice among undergrad profs for making a large class seem small

This post from the popular columnist ProfHacker at the Chronicle of Higher Ed asks readers for suggestions about how to use technology to make a large class feel smaller (the ProfHacker's idea of a "large" class is 45 students while some of the commenters mention they teach classes of up to 500 students!).  While readers offer several suggestions, a recurring one is to use clickers to engage more of the class.  Here's a representative comment:

The most useful technological tool I adopted was clickers – if you want to do many low-stakes assessments, clickers are great because you can get immediate feedback. You can also use clickers to do peer instruction, which supports the community-building goal. Derek Bruff has a ton of info about clickers (http://derekbruff.com/teachingwithcrs/).

We've talked before on this blog about the merits of clickers. This is just more evidence that they can be a very good way to engage more of your class.

Click here to read the ProfHacker's column and then scroll down to see the readers' comments.


January 25, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Columbia law school to launch research center that will study intersection of law and business

Today the National Law Journal is reporting that Columbia will be starting an academic research center to study some of issues related to intersection of law, business and public policy as a result of a $10 million gift to the school. 

The gift will endow one professorship each at the law and business schools, and allow scholars from both disciplines to generate research and real-world solutions to problems in business and law, administrators said. The center also seeks to encourage students to pursue careers “in the nexus of business, law, and public policy.”

. . . .

Columbia Law Dean David Schizer said during an interview Monday that the center is the next step in a series of ad-hoc collaborations the two schools began in 2004. “I think this is an institutional structure to make those collaborations permanent,” he said. “It’s going to create a community of people at both schools working together on research topics.”

Law professor Edward Morrison and business school Vice Dean Chris Mayer will jointly oversee the new center. They are already collaborating on research into the mortgage markets. Schizer foresaw additional research into the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and systemic risk regulation.

The center will help develop curriculum for Columbia’s new three-year J.D./MBA program, announced last fall.


January 25, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Types of Families: The Challenge for Family Lawyers

An article in the National Jurist points out, with nontraditional families and relationships on the rise, family lawyers have more challenging and interesting cases:

 Diversely evolving attitudes and behaviors from American society’s classes, ages, and racial backgrounds have created sharp declines in marriage rates for poorer, less educated Americans, and a rise in various new family forms, such as cohabitation and same-sex couples, according to a joint study by the Pew Research Center and TIME Magazine released in late last year.

Maybe the challenge arises because the law has not kept up with new types of relationships and has not offered solutions to the issues they raise.


January 25, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bryan Garner takes his legal skills seminars on the road

And he's coming to a town near you.  Bryan Garner is the EIC of Black's Law Dictionary, author of Garner's Modern American Usage and co-author with Justice Antonin Scalia of Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges.  Here's the schedule:

  • Feb. 1: Little Rock
  • Feb. 2: Kansas City
  • Feb. 14: Nashville
  • Feb. 21: Miami
  • Mar. 3: Dallas
  • Mar. 7: Austin
  • Mar. 8: Houston
  • Mar. 16: Phoenix
  • Mar. 25: New Orleans
  • Apr. 11: Chicago
  • Apr. 20: Cleveland
  • Apr. 26: Minneapolis
  • May 5: Washington, DC
  • May 9: Philadelphia
  • May 12: Boston
  • May 17: New York

Hat tip to our good buddy Raymond Ward at the (new) legal writer blog.

Click here to learn more about Bryan Garner's seminars.


January 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

The role of laughter in SCOTUS arguments

From our sister publication, the Law Librarian Blog:

NPR recently featured an interview with litigation consultant Ryan Malphurs at Which Supreme Court Justice Cracks The Most Jokes? The answer to the question is Justice Scalia. The interview covers some of Malphur's findings in “People Did Sometimes Stick Things in my Underwear” The Function of Laughter at the U.S. Supreme Court, 10 Communication Law Review 48 (2010). Malphur's article focuses upon the effect of laughter, not the role of humor, during Supreme Court arguments. From the article:

Most readers would agree that generally the impact of humor is laughter, but I focus upon the impact of the resulting laughter upon the communication environment of oral arguments. So for these reasons, this study emphasizes the role of laughter rather than humor. The delineation between humor and laughter is important in the analysis of laughter’s function during Supreme Court oral arguments, not only to prevent interpretive challenges, but also because, historically, studies of laughter have fallen under the larger canopy of humor theory and readers should not confuse a study on laughter with a study of humor.

You can read the rest here.


January 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Advice for recent grads: How to build your expertise

Here's a helpful advice column from Law.com for new grads who are trying to carve a niche for themselves.  The author deals with three topics related to niche-building including choosing a specialty and marketing.  Here's what she says about becoming an expert:

[I]t's possible to develop a niche in an area in which you have no prior knowledge or experience. You can build expertise over time. Demonstrate initiative and commitment by reading everything you can get your hands on and attending MCLE courses related to the practice area, even if it's on your own time and dime. Join specialized bar associations, and get active on committees. Moreover, depending upon your desired area of practice, you may need to go back to school for an advanced degree or take exams to become a certified specialist, or to appear before a new tribunal.

Talk to attorneys involved in your desired area, and ask them how they actually spend their time. What do they like or dislike? What qualities and skills do they use? What future do they see in that practice? If possible, find a mentor who is experienced in your targeted specialty.

Seek to work with individuals in the industry (not necessarily attorneys), join and get active in trade associations, and research industry issues. The most challenging aspect of developing a niche practice is learning the "buzz words" and matters that affect businesses in that industry. Study the legal issues involved with the particular sector (e.g., regulatory, legislative, contractual). Research ways to address these concerns and present those services to your target clientele.

You can read the remainder of her advice on expertise, marketing that expertise and how to choose a specialty by clicking here.


January 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Plain Writing Act of 2010: Legislative History and More

On its website, the Plain Writing Association is providing a valuable service to those of us interested in government communication with us in plain English. It has posted everything you could possibly want to know about the federal Plain Writing Act of 2010. Here is what the website has to offer:

Plain Writing Legislation: A Comparison of Bills
      — This Project of the Plain Writing Association uses proofreading marks and side-by-side comparisons to show how the various versions of the major plain writing bills of the last few years evolved into the Plain Writing Act of 2010. (MORE)

Plain Writing Legislative History
      — This Project of the Plain Writing Association presents a legislative history of the passage of the Plain Writing Act of 2010, documenting the process by which failed plain-writing legislation in the 110th and 111th Congresses ultimately led to the Act. (MORE)

Government Use of Plain Language Editing Software
      — This Project of the Plain Writing Association is a separate website, StyleWriterForGovernment.com, which advocates the use of the ground-breaking plain-English editing software known as StyleWriter Software to assist government in writing more clearly and concisely, in compliance with the Plain Writing Act. (MORE)

The Media's Response to Plain Writing Legislative Efforts
      — This ongoing Project of the Plain Writing Association attempts to document the media's response to the legislative efforts leading to the Plain Writing Act of 2010.  Focusing mainly on the period from 2007 to 2010, the Project, arranged chronologically, presents links to articles and posts in blogs, newspapers, and other periodicals. (MORE)

A Historical Bibliography of the Plain Language Movement
      — This ongoing Project of the Plain Writing Association presents links to articles that cover the main categories of the history of the plain language movement within American government. (MORE)


January 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Making Sure the Check Is In The Mail

Students often  don’t  understand the business side of  private law practice. You have to be prudent in spending money and alert in making sure your clients pay your bills.  Otherwise, you go out of business.  Here is some advice from the attorney-at-work  blog:  Spell out  your billing practices in your letter of engagement. The posting also offer some tips on how to collect:

  • Enter your time daily. If you don’t keep contemporaneous time records, you can lose as much as 40 percent of your potential billable inventory. Make every effort to capture all billable time. Otherwise, you are giving away your services for free.
  • Bill as promptly as you can. Let a lot of time go by and your client will no longer remember how valuable your services were.
  • Assign collection calls to one person. Delegate this task to someone who understands the billing process and has ready access to copies of unpaid bills.
  • Use a computer-based calendar tool to track and document all conversations with clients. Whether you use a simple electronic calendar or a sophisticated CRM system, this practice will greatly increase effectiveness in collecting overdue receivables.
  • Build on relationships with clients. Every document, letter or statement you send to a client is an opportunity to build your relationship. Avoid using canned form letters. Personalize client communications by jotting handwritten notations on any letters you send. This goes a long way toward building client relationships—and that goes a long way toward prompt payment.


January 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

How do law schools pay for more skills training that everyone says we need to provide?

A recent New York Times story about highly leveraged law grads unable to find work has focused more attention on the need for law schools to offer a more practical education.  Granted, all the skills training in the world won't help students find jobs if there simply aren't enough to go around.  That aside, schools should be doing whatever they can to help students hit the ground running upon graduation - that's what employers want and it's also what students will need if they plan to hang a shingle, either by choice or circumstance. 

If you're a dean, though, where do you get the money to pay for more skills training?  Generally speaking, skills training (e.g., legal writing and clinical programs) is expensive by law school staffing standards because it involves small classes that allow teachers to offer close supervision and lots of feedback.  A doctrinal teacher, on the other hand, lectures to 100 or more students at once (it's the high teacher-student ratio inherent in doctrinal teaching that makes law schools "cash cows" for the rest of the university).  To do skills training right, you've got to hire more teachers which costs money and I don't see deans spending that money now.  Faculty salaries are already the biggest item in the law school budget.  On the other hand, skills profs earn the lowest salaries on the faculty.  Sometimes those salaries are less than a third of what the doctrinal superstars make who publish a lot.

No one would be calling law schools a "scam" or a high priced lottery (as the New York Times recently did) if tuition was only $10k per year.  Schools can't, economically or ethically, raise tuition to pay for more skills teachers in order to provide more personalized, practical instruction.

Add to the mix the fact that the ABA is presently considering removing the tenure requirement from the accreditation standards in order to give deans more flexibility when it comes to faculty staffing.  That doesn't portend well for skills faculty who are often considered more expendable than doctrinal faculty. 

Unless there's a realignment of economic priorities away from scholarship and towards skills training, I don't see students getting a more practical legal education anytime soon.  To be honest, I don't see that kind of re-prioritizing coming on a large scale anytime soon either.  Scholarship rules the roost within the legal academy and that's not likely to change.  It's certainly less likely to change among the elite law schools (and those that aspire to be them) unless pressure is applied by employers, large donors, or other outside interests.  Perhaps it's more likely that we'll see some re-prioritizing among the lower ranked schools as they try to market themselves to prospective law students as more employer-friendly institutions.  

To say the least, finding a way to pay for the additional skills training that everyone says law schools need to offer is going to be a challenge for administrators and faculty in the years ahead.


January 23, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Is MySpace (for lawyers) dead?

Last week the popular publication 3 Geeks and a Blog declared the fax machine dead.  So this week, we're going to up the ante by declaring MySpace dead - at least with respect to it being a viable social networking option for lawyers.  Unless you're in a band, or you're someone who likes to follow bands, is anyone really joining MySpace these days?  More particularly, do any lawyers use MySpace for their social networking needs? 

Given that MySpace, which was launched in 2003, became the biggest social networking site on the planet a short three years later, its had a precipitous fall.  (MySpace just announced it is cutting its workforce by almost 50%).  Until 2008 it was still bigger than Facebook but now, of course, Facebook is the leader among businesses (including law firms) that want to have a social networking presence.   

What exactly happened?  Was it Facebook's simple, graphic layout that helped attract more serious-minded folks from the ADHD interface of MySpace?  Was it Facebook's origin as a collegiate networking site that gave it more cachet over MySpace which some believe appealed to less affluent and educated users?

Whatever the explanation, it appears that MySpace is indeed dead among professionals, including lawyers, who want a social networking presence on the web.  What do you think?  Do you still use MySpace?  Do you know anyone who does?  Let us know in the comments below.


January 23, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Importance of Maintaining Your Credibility

“Credibility’s Power: Appellate Lawyers Should Be Forthright in Addressing Their Cases’ Weaknesses” is the title of Pennsylvania attorney Howard Bashman’s article in the January 18 edition of the Legal  Intelligencer. The article also appears on his blog  http://howappealing.law.com  Mr. Bashman writes:

 From the perspective of the judges, an appellate advocate who was unwilling or unable to address and perhaps even neutralize apparent weaknesses in his or her client's case probably lacks the ability to assuage the judges' concerns about thoseweaknesses. Thus, far from helping their client's case by engaging in a game of dodge ball with the judges, the advocate is instead sending the signal that no response helpful to the client's position exists.

 Of course, by the time an appeal reaches oral argument, the judges assigned to decide the case may already have developed firm views about the case and how the appeal should be decided. Those pre-argument views will be based on the appellate judges' examination of the briefs filed on appeal, the trial judge's opinions, and important portions of the record developed in the trial court.

 The manner in which a party's appellate briefs depict the facts of the case, what happened before the trial court, and the applicable law will play perhaps the most important role in establishing that party's, and the advocate for that party's, credibility before the appellate court. In the same way that the lawyer who evades difficult questions at oral argument is likely to be viewed by the judges as evasive, a party whose appellate brief resorts to misrepresenting the facts and the law is unlikely to convey to the appellate judges that the party has a strong likelihood of prevailing on appeal.

 One might think this advice is old hat and unnecessary today. However, Mr. Bashman , an accomplished appellate lawyer, states that he repeatedly runs into briefs from highly respected firms that misrepresent the case law. Maybe we need to remind our students of the fine line between zealous advocacy and excessively zealous and unprofessional advocacy.


January 23, 2011 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)