Monday, October 24, 2011

Engaged versus Lazy Thinking

I am currently reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, which describes how our thinking works. Early in the book he poses the following problem. Try to come up with the answer.

Steve has been described as: "Steve is very shy and withdrawn, invariably helpful but with little interest in people or in the world of reality. A meek and tidy soul, he has a need for order and structure, and a passion for detail." Is Steve more likely to be a librarian or a farmer?

Most people say librarian because Steve has the stereotypical personality of a librarian. However, the correct answer is farmer because there are twenty times as many male farmers in this country as there are librarians.

Kahneman thinks that this type of incorrect answer is due to a lack of motivation–laziness. On the other hand, those who come up with the correct answer are "engaged." Engaged people" are more alert, more intellectually active, less willing to be satisfied with superficially attractive answers, more skeptical about their intuitions."

Those of us who teach legal writing see this type of problem everyday. Students too often settle for the easy answer without thinking a problem through. We must teach our students to be engaged, to focus on all aspects of a particular problem. We can adopt exercises in Kahneman’s book to legal situations in order to force students to see what they have left out. For example, we can develop a problem on discrimination where the discrimination is obvious and is set out in great detail, but the statute requires at least fifty employees to be applicable with the employer in this case having thirty employees (this part is hidden in the middle of the text). The lazy thinker will probably focus on the sexy, more detailed part, but the engaged thinker will read the entire problem and come up with the correct answer.


October 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Resource for Environmental Law Class

SkyTruth, a non-profit environmental company, has launched an interactive map that tracks environmental incidents. 

For more information, see this post on

SkyTruth’s web-based alert system provides daily updates of environmentally-significant incidents, such as water and air pollution, and oil spills.

On the site, details about the incidents would be provided—such as time, date, location, incident type, suspected responsible party, satellite images, aerial photography, investigations, analysis and data reports.

Take a look at the tool here.  I think this would be an interesting resource for students studying environmental law.

hat tip Today's Social Media (@todaysocial)


October 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Internet Legal Research: Traditional Sources of Authority Are Blurring

With the access to so much information on the internet, lawyers and judges are employing sources of authority that extend beyond cases, statutes, and law review articles. Temple Law School Professor Ellie Margolis explores this phenomen in her recent article Authority Without Borders: The World Wide Web and the Delegatization of Law, 41 Seton Hall Law Review 909 (2011). Here is the abstract:

We live in an information age, with massive amounts of information available at our fingertips, thanks to the internet. The last few generations of law students and lawyers, as well as the future generations – the digital natives – have shifted almost entirely to conducting legal research online. This shift to online research has led to a blurring of the once clear delineation between legal and nonlegal materials, and contributed to a broadening of the types of sources used as authority in support of legal analysis. This article will show that the traditional ways of defining legal authority are rooted in a print-based system that no longer exists, and that in the world of online research, it is all too easy to lose track of where a source comes from. The combination of accessibility of information and electronic means of retrieval is erasing the once clear line between the distinct domain of law and the broader world of information. This blurring of the line is reinforced by courts, which are increasingly citing to online, nonlegal sources in support of legal reasoning in judicial opinions. The article documents the ways in which traditional means of identifying authority no longer exist, and calls for a new vocabulary for defining authority that reflects the world that exists today.


October 23, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Do attractive teachers get better student teaching evals?

This article studied the effect of teacher attractiveness, dressing well and possessing a "likeable" personality on student teaching evaluations. "Looking Good, Teaching Well? Linking Liking,
Looks, and Learning
" 34 Teaching of Psychology 5 (2007) by Professors Regan A. R. Gurung and Kristin M. Vespia of the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay.

From the introduction:

Do attractive teachers’ students learn better? Researchers consistently find that people equate beauty with goodness and believe attractive individuals possess numerous positive qualities, but few negative attributes. Attractiveness also contributes to first impressions. Given the speed at which they occur and the resistance of first impressions to change, attractiveness and other personal characteristics may influence perceptions of others, including teachers.  Attractiveness is a powerful social tool, but does that mean students learn more from attractive teachers?

A spate of recent publications have addressed this issue of teachers’ attractiveness, perhaps spurred by the popularity of Webbased systems such as which rate instructors not just on how clearly they present material and how helpful they are, but also on physical appearance. A substantial literature links attractiveness to evaluations. Furthermore, students believe instructor attractiveness relates to their educational experience. Students presented with a photograph of an attractive professor believed they would learn more from him or her than students who viewed a picture of an unattractive instructor. These students also recommended the attractive faculty member more highly to others, and they rated the teacher as more willing to provide help and less blameworthy for failing grades.

Other noninstructional factors influence student perceptions of instructors and course evaluations, including instructor warmth, immediacy, likability and reputation.  Researchers have also investigated “ideal” instructor characteristics. [Citations omitted] for example, found that students’ ideal professor was accessible,  personable, flexible, and explicit about course policies. Variables that make teachers attractive, likable, or ideal may also influence student learning, but few researchers
have evaluated this connection. We decided to conduct a comprehensive assessment of noninstructional factors that may influence learning. We defined noninstructional factors as factors not directly related to the skills of the instructor nor the subject material of the course. The personal characteristics of interest included instructors’ appearance (e.g., attractiveness, formality of dress), likability, and approachability. To assess the role of these noninstructional variables when compared to student behaviors and course design and rigor, we asked students to report on their attendance and participation,perceived course difficulty, and the class format (e.g., amount of lecture used). Challenging courses receive lower evaluations, and difficulty is likely associated with learning. Similarly, research points to the optimal course design for learning as one with multiple formats (i.e., lecture, discussion,
group work) and assignments (i.e., tests, papers.

Although we wanted to know more, in general, about students’ basic perceptions of instructors’ qualities, classroom characteristics, and their behaviors, our core research question concerned the relation between these dimensions and learning. We hypothesized that instructors’ personal qualities (e.g., appearance, approachableness, likability) would positively  correlate with and predict student learning. We also expected student (e.g., participation, attendance) and classroom (e.g., diversity of formats) variables to predict learning. Acritical question, however, was what the relative contribution of each of these variables would be.

Hat tip Stephanie West Allen.


October 23, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Portable document scanners for attorneys on the go

Some tech recommendations from the blog Attorney@work:

Attorneys have adopted portable scanners to turn paper that used to weigh pounds into gigabytes that, in total combination, weigh only as much as the device from which they are accessed.

Of course, choosing scanner is one thing; but, selecting the right scanner is another matter altogether. It is, in most cases, easier and cheaper to buy a wand scanner (like this), or a slim scanner (like this); but, for a busy lawyer, with lots of documents to process, the most effective choice is a business-level device versus a home-use device, meant to scan old family photos, one at a time, of a Sunday afternoon.

Fast batch-scanning, double-side rendering, OCR-ing scanners that reproduce at high quality are the order of the present day for the lawyer about town. These are three top scanners for the law office that meet the referenced requirements:

It’s owing to tools like these that the contemporary circuit ride does not any longer follow a barnstorming courthouse, but breaks, rather, whenever and wherever suits the roving, modern-day lawyer


October 23, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Depositon abuse costs client the case

Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis was so obstreperous during his deposition in a civil case over a Las Vegas casino gambling debt - refusing to answer even the most innocuous questions on 5th Amendment grounds - that it lead the court to enter summary judgment against him.  From the Las Vegas Sun:

Wynn Las Vegas has won a court battle in the case involving the “Girls Gone Wild” founder and a $2 million marker at the Strip casino.

The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the summary judgment granted by District Judge Michelle Leavitt, who ruled against Joseph Francis after he lost the money in a trip from Los Angeles in 2007.

After Francis lost the money, the casino made several efforts to collect. It then filed a civil suit, and shortly after it brought a criminal complaint of theft and passing a bad check.

When Francis showed up for his deposition in the civil suit, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to answer most questions, including whether he had been to Nevada, whether he was married, whether he had been to the Wynn and the names of his parents.

When the Wynn filed a motion for a summary judgment, Francis said he wanted to withdraw his Fifth Amendment answers and continue the deposition. Leavitt refused to reopen discovery and told Francis the case was “the most ridiculous exercise of the Fifth Amendment I think I’ve ever seen.”

The Nevada Supreme Court said the Wynn produced evidence to show Francis owed the marker. It said Francis failed to produce evidence to the contrary before the district court hearing on the summary judgment.

The court said, “Wynn produced evidence establishing that it did not induce Francis to gamble, alter the casino markers in any way, or engage in any of the activity that Francis alleged in his counterclaim.”

The court said, “Although answering some of Wynn’s questions at his deposition could have been incriminating, his refusal to answer nearly every question was unjustifiable.”

Hat tip to the Lawyerist blog.


October 23, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)