September 1, 2012
AmLaw survey shows law firm associates are happy in their jobs
Happiness is a relative thing. Rather than complain about the long hours or size of their bonuses, today's associates working in the "new normal" are happy just to have jobs according to a recent survey of mid-levels by American Lawyer.
They've endured a recession, layoffs, deferments, secondments, salary freezes, and even the loss of their spring bonuses. And yet, midlevel associates at the country's biggest law firms are happier with their jobs than they've been in years, according to our annual associates survey. The rising satisfaction level among midlevels showed up in almost every facet of this year's edition of our annual 85-question survey. Fifty-seven percent of respondents, for instance, described their firms as appropriately staffed, a 7 percent increase from 2011. Seventy-nine percent described their workload as manageable, a 2 percent gain over last year. Ninety-two percent said that if they had the choice to make again, they would again choose to come to their firms, a 2 percent increase from a year ago. Questions about how clearly firms communicate what it takes to make partner, training, and firms' openness about finances showed big year-to-year gains. The bottom line, according to one legal recruiter: "I think that this group of midlevel associates realizes that any gripes they may continue to have have less to do with any recession-related changes and more to do with whether Big Law fits into the lifestyle they want."
Click here for a more detailed summary of the survey results.
Legal Educators as Translators
We increasingly engage in interdisciplinary scholarship and employ the lessons of other disciplines in improving our writing and advocacy skills. Those other disciplines include psychology, classical rhetoric, neurobiology, history, and narratology, just to name a few. As my friend and colleague Jill Ramsfield often says, we are translators. We translate the learning of other fields into information that is valuable to those in our field.
As translators, we have some responsibilities.
- We must make sure that we accurately understand what the other fields have to say. For example, “law office history,” the superficial and inaccurate use of history examples is a longstanding problem.
- We can’t ignore what other fields have to offer. We have a duty to share their learning. Otherwise, we shortchange those who look to us for insight and guidance.
August 31, 2012
Cheating Scandal at Harvard: You are not Going to Believe What the Students are Saying.
By now, you have probably heard about the cheating scandal at Harvard, where nearly half of a class consisting of 279 students have been accused of cheating. The New York Times has a new article on the scandal, which includes the reactions of students in the class. Their comments are unbelievable.
Apparently, the students took the course because it had a reputation as an easy course. After the course was over, the students complained that the class and the exam were not easy. (Remember, this is Harvard.)
The article states, "Harvard students suspected in a major cheating scandal said on Friday that many of the accusations are based on innocent — or at least tolerated — collaboration among students, and with help from graduate-student teachers who sometimes gave them answers to test questions." "The students said they do not doubt that some people in the class did things that were obviously prohibited, like working together in writing test answers. But they said that some of the conduct now being condemned was taken for granted in the course, on previous tests and in previous years." However, "Instructions on the final exam said, 'students may not discuss the exam with others.' Students said that consulting with the fellows on exams was commonplace, that the fellows generally did not turn students away, and that the fellows did not always understand the questions, either."
Similarly, "An accused sophomore said that in working on exams, 'everybody went to the T.F.’s and begged for help. Some of the T.F.’s really laid it out for you, as explicit as you need, so of course the answers were the same.' He said that he also discussed test questions with other students, which he acknowledged was prohibited, but he maintained that the practice was widespread and accepted." The students also stated, "The exam instructions said it was “completely open book, open note, open Internet, etc.” Some students asked whether there was a fundamental contradiction between telling students to use online resources, but not to discuss the test with each other." Finally, one student complained, "'They’re threatening people’s futures,' said a student who graduated in May. 'Having my degree revoked now would mean I lose my job.'”
I have seen this before. In one of my classes, I caught two students who had turned in almost the same papers on a legal writing assignment. After the Honor Council found them guilty, they came to see me. They said that collaboration like this was common in undergraduate school. They also asked if I couldn't do "something." I told them I couldn't, that this kind of conduct wasn't tolerated in law school. The Dean upheld the Honor Council verdict. The students were given Fs in my course, and they had to take it again. They also were put on probation for the rest of law school, and they had to tell prospect employers why they had received an F in legal writing for five years.
What bothers me the most about these former students of mine and the Harvard students is that they don't understand what education is about. The most important part of college and law school is learning--learning about the world, learning how to reason, and learning how to be critical. Students who cheat may get good grades, but they get little out of their university or law school. Later in life, they will have to turn to cheating again because they will lack the skills to do their job or make it in life. I feel sorry for those who do not understand the joys of learning.
LexisNexis survey shows paperwork at small firms eats up valuable billable hours
One of the take-aways is that lawyers working in smaller firms must learn to delegate administrative tasks in order to maintain billing efficiency. Not so surprisingly, according to the Lexis survey solos and lawyers at micro-firms have the most difficulty maintaining billing efficiency due to administrative tasks. As reported by the Wall Street Journal Law blog:
Earlier this summer, Law Blog looked at the efficiency gap among lawyers, i.e. the yawning gulf between attorneys who bill clients for nearly all the hours they work (hello Delaware!) and those who spend as much as 60% of their time on non-billable tasks.
So what exactly do lawyers do when they’re not billing clients?
That’s according to a follow-up poll conducted by legal technology company LexisNexis. The survey asked about 1,000 attorneys, most of them at firms with between one to twenty lawyers, which tasks gobbled up time that could have been used to bill clients.
The biggest takeaway: everybody needs some help around the office, be it a secretary, a bookkeeper, or just some law office software to help keep things organized. Lawyers at big and small firms alike reported that administrative tasks—billing, filing, document management, accounting—took up the most of their non-billable time.
“Attorneys. . . are really bad at delegating,” said Loretta Ruppert, senior director of community management for LexisNexis Legal and Professional. “These are things that staff members should be doing.”
Solo practitioners and two-lawyer firms were the least efficient in that respect, according to the survey. And 10% of respondents said they couldn’t accurately account for all their time as a result of “chaotic schedules” and “a variety of personal distractions” (which sadly, were not enumerated in the poll results).
Schmoozing clients and other networking activities ranked low on the list of billing distractions. Nearly 70% of lawyers surveyed said client development had “relatively little impact on their ability to focus on billable client work.”
But a number did report that they used non-billable time to hit the books, researching case law or otherwise getting up to speed on different practice areas.
Continue reading here.
Top Ten College Towns
Here’s one list from the magazine, “Livability.” What's the definition of a “college town?”:
“True college towns are places where the identity of the city is both shaped by and complementary to the presence of its university, creating an environment enjoyable to all residents, whether they are enrolled in classes or not,” Livability’s editors write. “They’re true melting pots, where young minds meet old traditions, and political, social, and cultural ideas of all kinds are welcomed.”
I’m not sure this is the definitive list. The comments following the article list more candidates. I am a major fan of Saratoga Springs, home of Skidmore College.
College Station, Tex.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
August 30, 2012
Yale's Response to Legal Writing Profs' Letter
As most of you know, last week, legal writing professors and their colleagues sent a letter to the Yale Law School administration concerning a post on the Yale admissions blog. (here) Here is Yale's response:
Thank you for your feedback, which was forwarded to me by Dean Post, concerning the advice I provided to aspiring Yale transfer students on the 203 Admissions Blog in June 2011. I would like to respond to your concerns and I hope you will share my response with the legal writing community.
As you may know, the admissions process at Yale Law School is a holistic process, in which letters of recommendation are one of many factors considered in evaluating a student’s potential. Our process is a faculty-driven one, in which individual faculty exercise enormous discretion to weigh various parts of an application according to their own criteria. No one factor is determinative, and all parts of the application that provide evidence of a student’s ability are welcomed and considered in their entirety.
My purpose in writing the June 2011 post was to give practical advice to potential applicants, not to articulate Yale policy. There is in fact no formal evaluative policy. I was describing, based on my experience reading almost 20,000 JD admissions files and almost 1,000 transfer files, the kind of application that is typically successful in gaining admission to Yale Law School. I believe such transparency furthers the interests of both applicants and the Law School by allowing promising students to put together the most effective possible applications. Because I am writing for a general audience, my advice is designed to offer broad, rule-of-thumb guidelines that will likely maximize a student’s chance of admission.
In providing this advice, I did not intend for my post to cast doubt on the important role and valuable contributions of legal writing professors in legal education. It seems clear to me that the concerns raised by the legal writing community highlight significant issues that are quite beyond the scope of my post. In trying to address these issues, I have been unable to find a way to accurately revise or supplement my original blog post without making it too complex to be of any practical use for a potential applicant. In the interest of staying true to both the practical purpose of my advice and the unique nature of our admissions process – which I believe is fair and respectful to applicants and all those who speak on their behalf – I have chosen, after much deliberation, simply to remove the post from the blog.
Please feel free to write or call me directly if you have any questions about our admissions process. I especially encourage you, as I do all faculty members, to reach out to me if you are personally recommending any students whom you feel would be strong candidates for transfer to Yale, and I would be happy to ensure that those students receive close consideration in our process.
Yale Law School
More Friday Fun: Best student excuses
This one comes from Inside Higher Ed:
Ghosts, erupting volcanoes and the outbreak of civil war are some of the stranger excuses offered by students who failed to submit work on time.
The list of unusual excuses has been compiled by John Curry, lecturer in computing at City of Bath College, who contacted Times Higher Education after reading about the comical crop of exam howlers in this year's annual competition.
Curry, who teaches applied computing accredited by the University of Bath, said he had been amused and amazed by some of the extraordinary legitimate reasons and genuine excuses that he had been given over the past 14 years.
One student asked for extra time after he was wrongly held as a spy in China, while another undergraduate gained an extension because he had been declared legally dead and the Indian government was trying to seize his home, Curry said.
One student asked for leniency because his World of Warcraft character had died.
Variations on "the dog ate my homework" excuse have met with little sympathy. These have included pets deleting work or eating a USB stick. Similarly, pet illnesses and disappearances cut no ice. "Some of the excuses seem pretty improbable, but when you have someone's death certificate in their hands, you have to accept their excuse," said Curry, an expert on cyberwarfare.
Excuses relating to IT disasters that were once accepted by lecturers now tend to be dismissed, he added.
"Students are told to back up their work, and universities now have extensive IT facilities if something happens," he said. "Some of the excuses are just [a way] to stall for 24 hours. If you go on social media, you can improve your mark marginally by just picking up on the gossip about a paper.
"I think lecturers are more aware that undergraduates communicate with each other like this."
Other stalling excuses include "I left my work at home," "lent it to a friend who lost it" and the bluff "I thought the hand-in was tomorrow," Curry added.
More unusual, but bona fide, reasons he has encountered include students being held at gunpoint, being unable to fly to Britain because rebels were shelling an airport and being kept awake by a ghost.
"That person genuinely believed there was a ghost and I actually accepted their word and gave them a few more hours," he said.
"I'm actually more sympathetic to someone who just says 'I have not done the work' because they are being honest. I might give them a few more hours. However, that is very, very rare; it's only happened on one occasion."
Friday Fun: Signs you've gone to the wrong law school
This comes from the blogger known as Bitter Lawyer:
2 There is a tip jar at the front of each classroom. Professors manage to mention it at least twice during each lecture.
3 The new career services director—the fourth one at the school in the last five months—is younger than you. You are 23.
4 The school’s contracts course is three weeks long. “These days, you don’t need all of that stuff,” an administrator explains.
5 The law school’s sole vending machine offers miniature bottles of Jim Beam and 32 ounce cans of Milwaukee’s Best. It also dispenses student loans, making it the school’s official financial aid office.
6 The law school’s mascot shows up at the beginning of each first-year class to do a “pep-me-up” cheer. The mascot is a 1992 version of “Eutectic,” the mascot of the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.
7 When you show up for your first class, most students in the class already have two 32 ounce cans of Milwaukee’s Best in front of them. Half have bought Harvard-branded Koozies to hold their beers.
8 For internet access, law school administrators give out the Wifi password to the Holiday Inn’s wireless network next door.
9 The law school’s approved official hashtag on Twitter is more than 140 characters long.
10 The law school’s most famous alumni is in prison, where he also got his degree. He has been disbarred.
LegalZoom's lawsuit may proceed against North Carolina bar on question of whether it is engaged in UPL
LegalZoom has been involved in litigation in a couple of states (here and here) over what boils down to the question of whether it is engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. The online legal services provider had filed suit last year against the North Carolina State Bar after it refused to register LegalZoom's prepaid legal services plan in that state. On Monday, a state judge denied in part the state bar association's motion to dismiss which allows the case to go forward on the issue of whether LegalZoom is in fact engaged in UPL. Here's LegalZoom's press release:
LegalZoom's lawsuit against the North Carolina State Bar will move forward after Special Superior Court Judge for Complex Business Cases James L. Gale denied in part and deferred in part the North Carolina State Bar's Motion to Dismiss the lawsuit earlier this week. The suit alleges violations of the state's Monopoly Clause, violations of LegalZoom's due process rights, and commercial disparagement.
"The ruling allows LegalZoom to move forward in its efforts to expand North Carolinians' access to the justice system," said Chas Rampenthal, General Counsel of LegalZoom. "We look forward to the day when the interests of one small group of people -- attorneys in North Carolina
-- are not put above the interests of the many citizens of North Carolina who are allowed by law to create their own legal documents or purchase prepaid legal service plans."
This lawsuit follows ongoing attempts by the North Carolina State Bar to prevent LegalZoom's operations in the State of North Carolina and to prohibit citizens of North Carolina from using self-help legal documents and prepaid legal service plans in the state.
In the twelve years since its founding, LegalZoom has responded to a number of requests from state bar associations and other governmental agencies across the country. LegalZoom has always cooperated fully with all inquiries and continues to operate in all 50 states, including the State of North Carolina.
What Successful People Do the First Hour of Their Work Day
At Fast Company, Kevin Purdy collects these pieces of advice:
Don’t Check Your Email for the First Hour. Seriously. Stop That.
Gain Awareness, Be Grateful
10 minutes of thinking of everything you’re grateful for: in yourself, among your family and friends, in your career, and the like. After that, visualize “everything you want in your life as if you had it today.”
Do the Big, Shoulder-Sagging Stuff First
Brian Tracy’s classic time-management book Eat That Frog gets its title from a Mark Twain saying that, if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, you’ve got it behind you for the rest of the day, and nothing else looks so bad
Choose Your Frog
"Choose your frog, and write it down on a piece of paper that you'll see when you arrive back at your desk in the morning, Tripani advises."If you can, gather together the material you'll need to get it done and have that out, too."
Ask Yourself If You’re Doing What You Want to Do
Feeling unfulfilled at work shouldn’t be something you realize months too late, or even years.
August 29, 2012
Some law schools diversify by offering Juris Master degrees
Whether in response to declining law school applications or not, some schools of late have implemented (or expanded) programs that offer a J.D.-lite to people working in a variety of fields who want to gain some legal knowledge in order to advance in their careers but without the cost and time commitment required for a full on J.D. Below is a description of the Juris Master program offered by Emory that aims to help people working in diverse fields including architects, healthcare workers, the media and even members of the clergy obtain a better grasp of legal issues pertinent to their jobs. In light of Professor Deborah Jones Merritt's post the other day over at Inside the Law School Scam discussing how employers are increasingly relying on in-house personnel for compliance work rather than J.D.'s, this might become an important source of revenue for some law schools as demand for their primary product flags.
Today's professionals cope with growing regulation, intensifying risk and liability concerns and increasingly complex decision environments. Developing a clearer understanding of law's influence on our individual and institutional decisions has never been more crucial. Regardless of your background, by building your expertise in law with the JM degree, you will be better equipped to deal with these rapidly changing scenarios, by gaining insight into questions such as:
- What laws and regulations apply to my profession?
- What trends in law and regulation should I incorporate into decision-making?
- How does regulatory reform impact my profession, and how can I influence regulatory change?
- How can I assess risk in a changing environment?
- How can I communicate better with my organization’s attorneys?
- Can we get sued for this? If so, who will win?
Whether you are a working professional interested in gaining a better grounding in law and regulation to advance your career, or a prospective graduate student whose primary degree would be enhanced by an integrated study of law, Emory Law’s Juris Master program offers the insight and flexibility to help you achieve your goals.
Emory Law's JM Supplements Your Professional Pursuits
Professionals in accounting and tax, architecture, business, diplomacy, energy, engineering, finance, health care, journalism, politics, public health, the religious ministry, among other relevant areas, increasingly need to understand the law. The JM enables you to do so.
- Complete your coursework either full time in as little as one year or part time in up to four years.
- Customize your coursework for the 24-credit-hour program to meet your individual career needs.
JM Students attend courses with JD and LLM students. Courses are offered throughout the day, including some late afternoon and evening options. Part time JM students may choose courses based on their area of interest and work schedule.
Continue reading here.
Jim Chen on Merit Scholarships
About a year ago, there was a great deal of discussion on this and other blogs concerning the transparency of merit scholarships. Many law schools were awarding merit scholarships to attract students with the highest G.P.A.s and L.S.A.T.s, allegedly to help their U.S. News rank. The alleged problem was that law schools were awarding these scholarships without revealing to students what their chances were of keeping these scholarships after the first year.
Jim Chen has now written an article on merit scholarships, Scholarships at Risk: The Mathematics of Merit Stipulations in Law School Financial Aid.
Abstract: Many law schools in the United States condition financial aid grants on the recipients’ maintenance of a certain grade point average. These merit stipulations require students to meet or exceed minimum academic standards in order to keep all or part of their financial aid. Law students should take merit stipulations into account when they decide whether to accept an offer of admission paired with a conditional grant of financial aid. By all accounts, they do not. Law schools should transparently disclose the likely effect of merit stipulations on their financial aid awards. By all accounts, law schools do no such thing. Absent external coercion, they are unlikely to change their current practices. In the absence of industry-wide standards counseling full disclosure of financial aid practices, this article will try to equip law school applicants with the mathematical tools to assess the real impact of merit stipulations on their financial well being.
This article first presents very simple models for discounting financial aid awards for the risk of failure to uphold a merit stipulation. It outlines a simple methodology for calculating the expected value of a financial aid award subject to a merit stipulation. The article also evaluates one extraordinary circumstance in which a law school has implicitly revealed its break-even point — the amount of aid that the school would award if it did not impose any merit stipulations.
Building upon those foundations, this article performs a comprehensive analysis of law school grades and merit stipulations as artifacts of the standard normal distribution. It performs three distinct tasks. This article defines standard scores and explains how law school grading is based on the relationship between the standard score of each student’s raw score and the mean and standard deviation of of the distribution as a whole. This article then describes the risk of failure to satisfy a merit stipulation in terms of the normal distribution’s cumulative distribution function. For those instances in which the risk of failure to satisfy a particular school’s merit stipulation is known, this article demonstrates how to use the inverse cumulative distribution function to estimate the mean and standard deviation of a school’s grade distribution. As a bonus, this final exercise provides an introduction to value-at-risk analysis, a leading tool for assessing risk in global capital markets.
A perspective on the financial difficulties faced by solos doing criminal defense work
As of late, a few bloggers have been chronicling the financial challenges of running a solo practice in a business climate where lawyers are undercutting each others' fees just to get the business (here, here and here). For a very sobering view of just how tough it can be operating a solo practice even for experienced, very skilled lawyers, check out this blog post from Simple Justice describing the additional financial challenges facing those who practice criminal law where paying clients can be as hard to find as flood insurance in New Orleans during hurricane season.
[I recently spoke with a guy who] had left a stable and reasonably well-paying job to go solo. Unlike [this guy], he had a strong reason to do so, having gone from defense lawyer to prosecutor, only to find that he couldn't stomach the job and had to return to defense. Even so, he looked back on his decision as a monumental mistake.
He was an experienced lawyer, with more than ten years in the trenches. He had substantial trial experience, though he hadn't tried a case since going out on his own. He followed the advice, played by the rules, and came into the game with the legitimate ability to fulfill his obligation to defendants.
He was dying. His business was essentially non-existent. As his savings depleted, the realization of more than a decade of his life, the sacrifices of his family, hit home.
During the conversation, he told me that as he talked to other criminal defense lawyers, he was told that they were doing great. Fabulous. Big cases here. Huge cases there. Trials, trials, trials. New clients calling daily, with interesting cases and bulging wallets. Life couldn't be better.
"Why," he asked me, "was everybody lying? Or am I the only one drowning?"
I've spoken with many lawyers, many readers. You know who you are. You know that I know the truth. The business of criminal defense is dying. It's awful. It sucks. And you're hanging on by a thread, if at all. Yet, most put on their game face, talking themselves up as if they are somehow beating the odds, knocking down the world, making a killing. Nobody wants to tell their brethren that they're in the same boat, struggling daily to cover the nut and praying that the next phone call isn't another nutjob or desperate defendant without a dime to his name.
It's not that there is a shortage of criminal defendants, though crime is significantly down and serious crime even more so. There is a shortage of criminal defendants who can afford to pay for a lawyer. Sure, there are some lawyers who are doing well, but you can count them on your fingers and toes, without resort to dropping trou. And there are a great many criminal defense lawyers, exceptionally good ones, who fight over crumbs these days, because that's all they can do to survive.
It's time we admit this, because walking around the courtroom hallways with our chests puffed out isn't putting any food on our tables.
During my phone call, we spoke of the baby lawyers hanging out in the hallways trying to catch the attention of a defendant's mother with $100 in her pocket. We spoke of n00bs, barely competent if at all, taking felonies for $1500 total. He didn't blame them, knowing they had loans to pay.
Continue reading here.
A Reply to a Paul Campos Correspondent
Yesterday, Paul Campos had a post on his blog concerning a letter he had received from a law professor about an e-mail that professor had received from a former student, who was now a lawyer. The professor had requested feedback from the former student. Among other things, the former student/lawyer said:
" For reasons that baffle me, law school only provides meaningful feedback through one final exam at the end of the year. What's worse is that this feedback is basically limited to a mysterious grade that, from the student's perspective, has no clear relationship to the student's performance. . . . This is basically a high-risk/high-reward one shot opportunity to prove what you know. For students like me, who learn through hands-on practice, I feel like this system failed me."
"Students generally go to law school to get a job. Law professors, in contrast, are quite academic. Law school felt incredibly divorced from the real world practice of law - which is why people say that law school won't teach you how to practice law, and why the bar exam is an additional requirement to law practice that is very different from law school. I would generally try to move your class into a more vocational style to address the real interests and goals of your students."
"As a last general point, I am not an expert on education, either academic or vocational, nor am I an expert on learning. There is an absolutely gigantic literature on how students, esp. grade school or high school students, really learn. . . . As far as I know, the typical law professors has zero exposure to this scientific literature. . . . If I was a law professor genuinely interested in my students learning, and doing well in an objective sense (not just on a curve), then I would not only expose myself to this literature, but I would master it, and apply the techniques that distinguish the best teachers from the mediocre teachers."
I have good news for Campos's correspondent. Although they are still in the minority, there are many legal educators who are applying the latest education research to their teaching. A number of law professors have applied these techniques to their courses, and they have published portfolios for their courses on the Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers website. (here) ETL also has a list of over twenty law schools that are committed to legal education innovation. (here) Moreover, the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning has yearly conferences on education reform and innovative teaching techniques.
There are also many scholarly articles on legal education reform and incorporating new techniques into law school classes. Many of these articles are on assessment reform. I have summarized these reforms and innovations in my article, How to Become an Expert Law Teacher by Understanding the Neurobiology of Learning. Finally, several recent casebooks incorporate new teaching techniques. (here and here)
As you can see, a great deal is happening in legal education reform. Practicing attorneys can help, too. You can let your law school know that you support legal education reform and you want your law school to graduate practice-ready attorneys. Most importantly, you can hire your new attorneys from law schools that produce graduates who have more practical training. (again, here)
The Seven Habits of Highly Useless Corporate Lawyers
From the archives of the What About Paris? Blog (July 27, 2006):
1. Be risk-averse at all times. Clients have come to expect this from their lawyers. It's tradition. Honor it.
2. Tell the client only what it can't do. Business clients are run by business people who take risks. They need to be managed, guided, stopped. Don't encourage them.
3. Whatever you do, don't take a stand, and don't make a recommendation. (You don't want to be wrong, do you?)
4. Treat the client as a potential adversary at all times. Keep a distance.
5. Cover yourself. Write a lot to the client. Craft lots of confirming letters which use clauses like "it is our understanding", "our analysis is limited to..." and "we do not express an opinion as to whether..."
6. Churn up extra fees with extra letters and memoranda and tasks. Milk the engagement. (If you are going to be a weenie anyway, you might as well be a sneaky weenie.)
7. This is your Mantra: As out-house counsel, you are American royalty. Never forget this.
August 28, 2012
Oregon law dean says students shouldn't be worried about law school
Emerald: With the more negative reports coming out about law school, what was your reaction?
Michael Moffitt: It’s funny because a lot of these reports are coming out as though this were something that just happened last month, a brand new development. The reality is that the legal market and legal education have been going through a fundamental transformation for most of the last decade. There have been some more recent developments in the market that I think have pressed fast forward on some of those developments, but there is not a lot in any of the reports coming out that are news to anyone who’s business is education. Theses are things for which we have been preparing for years. We’re really well positioned as to some of the changes, and we’re like a lot of other law schools in others. So, it’s not a surprise; it’s a confirmation of the expectations that we’ve been having about some of these evolutions.
Do you get a lot of questions from parents and students about these things?
Less I think than the media reports might suggest. The reality is, students have always asked really good, hard questions about how they’re going to spend potentially three more years of their life. You should be asking hard questions. Oregon law attracts the kinds of students who are going to be well engaged in whatever it is they do … We attract students who want, frequently, to do creative entrepreneurial things, often in the public interest, defined broadly. That’s exactly the population that’s been asking these questions for a long time. And so, no I don’t. I haven’t experienced a difference this year as opposed to last year. It’s always been high; they always ask good questions about that.
What is your response to them?
One of the challenges that incoming law students face is they’re trying to guess what they’re going to want to do three years after they begin a transformational educational experience. That’s a lot of guesswork. What we have to do is work really hard with students not just as they’re coming in but during their time here to make sure that by the time they’re leaving, they’re prepared to begin their professional lives in whatever way they think is most appropriate for them. Most law students come in with a very clear picture of what it is they want to do when they graduate. Most law students, me included, are completely wrong. We’re well-intended, but we learn things along the way … That’s part of what the law school experience is. What we try not to do is force students into a track that depends on them being “right” when they were juniors in college, about what they’re going to do four or five years later. That’s just not the world that any of us lives in anymore. It might have been at one point, but the market’s shifting too quickly for that to make sense.
. . . .
For those coming into their last year or recently graduated, what do you tell these students that are about to enter into this, grimmer workforce than expected?
Not to oversimplify, but the most important thing they can do at this stage is engage with the networks that we have set up. We have people who are among the best professionals in the country, working in our Center for Career Planning and Professional Development. Those professionals cannot do their job unless they work with the students closely. I’m trying to do everything I can to encourage our current students and our recent grads to connect with each other and connect with us. Law Ducks want to help law Ducks. Every week, I get inquiries from people saying ‘Hey do you know anybody in this-and-such a city who specializes in (this) because I’m looking for somebody to give some more work to do.’ I need to be able to take advantage of that by knowing who’s out there looking for what. So, part of the answer is engage, engage, engage.
. . . .
There are a lot of people right now asking ‘Is it worth it to go to law school?’ How do you respond to that?
I am not someone who thinks everyone should go and get a J.D. I think that there are some people who would really be best served by taking a class or two, and that’s enough. I think that there are a lot of people who would be very well served to get the skills and the credentials that come along with a J.D., but unless I know a lot more about somebody, I can’t recommend for or against law school. It’s a lot of time and a lot of money. And depending on what you want to do with your life, that could be a great investment. Or that could be silly. It’s part of why we do such a thorough, whole-file review of every applicant. I’ve got no interest in admitting someone to this law school if they don’t want to be here. This isn’t right for them. I do think that law school is right for people, beyond just the obvious: If you want to be a lawyer, you have to go to law school. As I’ve been out visiting with alumni, some of the people who have been the most rabid supporters of the law school are entrepreneurs. They’re people who started their own businesses, or they’re people who got into lobbying, or they are elected officials, or they work in jobs that don’t actually require a J.D. — but they say ‘It was that legal training that made me good at what I was doing.’ So, it’s not just people that want to be a lawyer that should go to law school, but I don’t think it’s a smart move for people to say ‘Well, I don’t know. What else was I gonna do?’
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Continue reading here.
Longitudinal study of language use shows interesting trends
A team of psychologists from San Diego state has conducted a pair of studies (here and here) examining the use of words in books over many decades and discovered a couple of interesting trends; 1. we have become more self-absorbed over time; and 2. women have gained prominence and status as measured by pronoun usage. Pacific Standard Magazine reports on both studies:
See Dick. See Dick look in the mirror. See Dick admire his reflection.
Researchers who have scanned books published over the past 50 years report an increasing use of words and phrases that reflect an ethos of self-absorption and self-satisfaction.
“Language in American books has become increasingly focused on the self and uniqueness in the decades since 1960,” a research team led by San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge writes in the online journal PLoS One. “We believe these data provide further evidence that American culture has become increasingly focused on individualistic concerns.”
Their results are consistent with those of a 2011 study which found that lyrics of best-selling pop songs have grown increasingly narcissistic since 1980. Twenge’s study encompasses a longer period of time—1960 through 2008—and a much larger set of data.
Last month, we described a sobering study of 50 years’ worth of books, which found “an increasing use of words and phrases that reflect an ethos of self-absorption and self-satisfaction.” The same research team—Twenge, W. Keith Campbell and Brittany Gentile—has just come out with another analysis of our reading matter, and its implications are more inspiring.
Using the Google Books database, the researchers examined the ratio of male pronouns (he, him, his, himself) to female ones (she, her, hers, herself) in the texts of 1.2 million books published in the U.S. between 1900 and 2008. They suspected feminine references would represent a larger percentage of such words over time, as women gained in power and status.
They were right. But there were periods of regression, and a real shift didn’t occur until the late 1960s.
Specifically, they found 3.5 male pronouns for every female pronoun in books published between 1900 and 1945. This ratio increased to 4.5 to one in the 1950s and early 1960s—the Father Knows Best era, when women stayed in the kitchen and, apparently, off the printed page.
With the coming of the feminism, however, things shifted rapidly. “Beginning around 1968,” the researchers write in the journal Sex Roles, “the ratio dropped markedly until, by the 21st century, U.S. books used about two male pronouns for every female pronoun.”
Success in Law School: Ten Commonsense Tips
At the Law School Academic Support Blog (August 22), Amy Jarmon offers ten tips. They certainly are commonsensical, but you needn’t work in a law school very long before realizing that students need to hear them.
- Get a minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep per night. You cannot learn and retain anything if your brain cells are not alert.
- Eat three nutritious meals a day - not caffeine, sugar, and junk food. You cannot learn and retain anything if your brain cells do not have nourishment.
- Exercise for at least 30-45 minutes three times a week. You can alleviate stress and sleep better with exercise.
- If you are sick, go to the doctor. You may not feel that you have time for a doctor's appointment, but you especially do not have time for an illness to drag on for weeks because you did not get the medication/treatment that you needed.
- Do not believe everything you hear on the grapevine. Law schools are fertile ground for rumors and gossip. If something you hear sounds outlandish or wrong, it probably is. If the item is important, check it out with a reliable source.
- Be patient with yourself. Law requires new ways of thinking, writing, and studying. You will need time to learn how to do those things well. Do not expect to get everything right initially. Even today's Olympic swimmers started in the shallow end.
- Compete with yourself rather than with everyone else. You cannot know how you will do in relation to your entire section, but you can know whether you are putting in your best efforts each day.
- Get assistance when you need it. Use the resources at your law school to help you succeed: professors, academic support personnel, tutors or teaching fellows, writing specialists, and the many others who will be willing to assist you.
- Stop wasting time. Limit the electronic distractions in your life: e-mail, twitter, facebook, texting, cell phone calls. Focus on studying and use these tasks as rewards after you get your work done.
- Treat others as you would want them to treat you. You do not have to be cut-throat competitive or a jerk to succeed in law school. Your classmates will be your future professional colleagues. You want them to refer clients to you, give you a thumbs up for a job at their firms, and remember you positively. Build a good reputation as an attorney starting now.
Some Writing Tips from David G. Post
David Post has some writing tips for legal writers here. His general principles are:
- 1. Good prose is like a windowpane.
- 2. Impersonate your reader.
- 3. Your language becomes clear and strong not when you can no longer add, but when you can no longer take away. [I really like this one.]
- 4. Read the cases. Read more of them. Read the ones you have read over again. Repeat. [excellent advice]
- 5. You will not learn to write well by talking – to me, or to anyone else – about writing; you will learn to write well by writing.
- 6. Good legal writing is writing. A good paper or article provides an answer to a question (or related questions), and persuades the reader that the answer(s) are the best ones available. It is not a “book report.”
- 7. Give yourself time to revise, and to revise again.
- 8. There is, unfortunately, no such thing as an “A for Effort” when it comes to written work.
- 9. Everything you put on the page matters.
- 1. Before you submit anything to me – an outline, a draft, whatever – read it over, from start to finish, in one sitting, as if you were the person for whom it was written. [This is also one of my central rules.]
- 2. When you come to speak to me about your project, bring something in writing (or, if possible, email it to me in advance).
- 3. Read your work aloud [This is also one of my central rules.]
- 4. Write your Introduction LAST.
- 5. Quote first; explain later.
- 6. Use topic sentences.
- 7. Do not thump on the table.
- 8. Eliminate the passive voice from your papers.
- 9. Avoid unnecessary introductory and transition words.
- 10. Watch out for “as explained below” and “as explained above.”
- 11. Do not use “since” when you mean “because.”
- 12. Be wary of “because”; it often reflects a failure of organization.
- 13. Use parallel structure.
- 14. If you’re saying the same thing, or referring to the same thing, use the same words.
For the details on the above, go to Post's webpage.
August 27, 2012
Tips for using citations persuasively in briefs and motions
This is a great, practical article from the New York Law Journal that you may want to pass along to your students when it comes time for them to add citations to their moot court briefs.
By Harry Steinberg.
Mark Twain had a proclivity for swearing—at the slightest provocation or frustration, he would let forth a stream of profanities that would singe the ears. His long-suffering wife, Livy, thought she would try to break his swearing habit by showing him how unbecoming such outbursts were. The next time she dropped or spilled something, she let loose a burst of profanity that she had carefully memorized from having all too often heard those words coming from her husband's mouth.
Twain did not skip a beat. He looked calmly at his wife and said, "Dear, you have the words, but you lack the melody."
What can the lawyer sitting down to write a motion or brief learn from this story? Simply this: It is not enough to cite cases in a pro forma, "business as usual" manner, as all too many lawyers do. You have to do more than sprinkle cases through your motions or briefs like salt. You have to make every case you cite count. The cases you cite must get your point across in a manner that will persuade the judge to rule in your favor. Citing cases in the usual, dull manner will not get your point across. Put differently, it is not enough to say all the right words—you have to get the melody right as well, as Mrs. Twain learned.
This article focuses on getting the "melody" of case citation right.