Saturday, September 15, 2012
The microphone isn’t working. Your powerpoints are not showing properly. The other panelist who was the real expert has yet to appear. This article at the Chronicle of Higher Education includes comments by readers who have faced these sorts of problems.
I learned how to handle these problems when my children were very young, and their music and acting class was putting on a performance at a local church. They had a lot of trouble getting the recorded music to work. One of teachers would keep poking her head through the curtains with the biggest smile while the other teacher worked back stage to remedy the problem.
The lesson: When things go wrong and the audience knows it, act like your still having fun. There’s a problem, but oh well, you’re still enjoying your time.
David M. Moss & Debra Moss Curtis have just published an important new book on legal education, Reforming Legal Education: Law Schools at the Crossroads. It is available from Amazon.
The editors have posted the Introduction and front matter on SSRN. Abstract: "In today’s volatile law school environment, curriculum reform has emerged as a significant focus. It is commonly understood that law schools effectively teach certain analytical skills, but are less successful in other areas, and often scramble to adapt to evolving aims. This book demonstrates how law schools are successfully reforming their curriculum - and lays the framework to show how all schools of law can engage in a continuous reform model that proactively shapes our profession.
It is expected that faculty and professional staff engaged in legal education will utilize this book as a primary resource to guide their respective reform efforts. Each contributed chapter presents a case study of a data-driven curriculum reform effort. The initial chapters set the conceptual context for the book, while the final chapter offers summative recommendations for considering legal education reform as derived from the earlier case study chapters. This book adds significantly to the literature in legal education, as we gain first hand insight into evidence based reform for the legal education community."
The book includes chapters on education reform at particular law schools, including Washington & Lee, Washburn, Iowa, Nova Southeastern, Golden Gate, Charlotte, and Western State. There is also a chapter on innovation in academic support programs. The book concludes with a chapter by the editors on the essential elements of education reform.
I have already discussed the chapter on Washington & Lee's innovative third-year program here. I will discuss this book more over the next couple of weeks.
Friday, September 14, 2012
Ross Guberman, author of the highly touted guide to excellent legal writing - Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation's Top Advocates - has published the results of a survey in which he asked "thousands" of law firm partners what writing skills they value in associates. It's part of a new column at Above the Law devoted to career advice for recent grads. While the survey results are not surprising, it's nice to have oodles of empirical data to support what we've always told students; that success in practice means learning to write clearly and concisely. To reinforce the point with your students, consider sending them this link like I did today so they can read for themselves what employers say they want.
Here's an excerpt:
. . . . Concision
Partners say they spend too much time cutting clutter and other distractions from associate drafts. Anything that interrupts the message—wordy phrases, jargon, legalese, redundancy, blather, hyperbole—is a candidate for the chopping block.
- “Get to the point, no ‘throat clearing.’”
- “[Avoid] unnecessary or inaccurate phrases such as in order, at this point in time or almost unique. Similarly, avoid using words such as utilize when use is sufficient.”
. . . . Clarity
Partners acknowledge that most legal topics are dry and complex, but they still believe associates could do much more to produce clear, active, and direct writing.
- “Your sentences [should not] average more than 25 words.”
- “Sound like a human being.”
. . . . Structure
In associate drafts, partners find that the structure often tracks the associate’s research rather than the reader’s likely questions. Many partners long for the days when attorneys mapped out their sections and paragraphs before writing a single word.
- “Don’t save the punch line for the end. Let your reader know the point you are making up front.”
- “This is not an academic exercise; keep the consumer’s goal in mind and deliver what it is they need to know efficiently.”
. . . . Using Authorities
These days, nearly all associates find the authorities they need. But partners want associates to do more than just copy or summarize those authorities; they want to know how each authority supports the associate’s points explicitly.
- “This may be as much an analytical skill as a writing skill, but I have been struck by how often junior associates think sending you five cases is an appropriate response to a research assignment.”
- “[A]ssociates should work on better integrating their discussions of the facts and the law in briefs, i.e., doing more than just stating the facts and stating the law, but explaining how the facts apply to the law.”
No, because they lack empathy. In the end, empathy is what makes us human.
This essay considers the possibility that computers might soon be capable of writing many of the documents lawyers typically write, and considers what qualities of writing are uniquely human and whether those qualities are sufficient to render human written work superior to computer generated work.
After noting that despite the claims of rhetoricians and narrative theorists, not all legal writing is persuasive writing, and that it is in the non-persuasive area of prosaic, functional documents that computer generated documents might gain a bridgehead into the legal market, the essay tracks the development of computer-generated written work, particularly in the areas of sports journalism and corporate reporting. The essay notes that the templates developed to generate these documents can be customized to produce the tone desired by the customer, meaning that both rhetoric and narrative have been captured and transformed into tools that can be manipulated by computer programmers. This in turn means that computer generated documents will not be devoid of rhetorical or narrative interest, making the programs that develop them potentially appealing for lawyers even if they seek to use them to draft persuasive as well as more functional documents.
What these programs will lack, however, is empathy -- the ability to anticipate what information a reader will need from a document, and when the reader will need it, and to draft a document that meets the reader's needs and expectations. An empathetic human writer knows when to follow and when to break the genre expectations of a document and can send powerfully persuasive messages to a reader by use of that knowledge.
The essay concludes that empathy is a crucial, and uniquely human, aspect of persuasive writing and that an empathetically-aware written document should be superior to a technically accurate but non-empathetic computer generated document.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
Life would be great except for the people, eh? Who among us hasn't thought that from time to time. The conventional wisdom is that if someone rubs you the wrong way, it's because he reminds you of something about yourself that you don't like. Unless, of course, it's because the person truly is a despicable miscreant who betrayed everyone's trust, sold state secrets to the Russians, surreptitiously videotaped having sex with his wife to share with friends, cavorted with strippers on company time and no doubt clubbed some baby seals too. If that's what's getting under your skin, then this column from the Harvard Business Review blog likely won't help much. But if instead it is indeed that old self-loathing rearing it's ugly head, the advice that follows might help after all. It boils down to using those unpleasant interactions to help identify and change something about yourself that you don't like. Turning lemons into lemonade, as it were.
Consider, for a moment, the reason you don't like someone. Maybe you think they're greedy. Or selfish. Or dismissive. Or downright mean. In other words, they have some character flaw or disagreeable trait that bothers you. Like my view of Jeff as self-serving, egocentric, and self-satisfied.
Now — and here's the hard part — think about whether, in the dark shadowy parts of your psyche, you can detect shards of that disagreeable trait in yourself.
Can you be greedy, selfish, dismissive or downright mean? You really don't like that part of yourself, right? You wish you could distance yourself from that side of you. Just like you wish you could distance yourself from that disliked person.
In other words, chances are, the reason you can't stand that person in the first place, is that they remind you of what you can't stand about yourself.
Suddenly, working with people you don't like becomes a lot more interesting. Because getting to know them better, and accepting the parts of them you don't like, is actually getting to know yourself better and accepting the parts of yourself you don't like.
So the way to overcome your dislike of someone else? Overcome your dislike of yourself.
That's where the person you don't like can come in handy. Use him to understand yourself better. Consider why you have a problem with him. What does he do that bothers you so much? Move past his inability to run meetings or write a good email and get to what's really bugging you. What about his personality or behavior sparks annoyance or disgust in you? What do you hate about him?
Then, consider how your answers might be a reflection of you. This is a game and you win by finding that hated behavior in yourself.
. . . .
Think about times when you feel greedy or selfish or dismissive or downright mean. Can you see it? Can you feel your feelings of both attraction and disgust? Can you admit to yourself that it's not black or white? It's black and white. Can you live with the complexity of your humanness? That's the key to being compassionate with yourself.
You can (and maybe should) keep reading here.
Tips from the blogger known as Bitter Lawyer on how to, um, suck-up during on-campus job interviews.
- What’s it like to work at the greatest firm in the world?
- If I were to join the firm, would I have an opportunity to work with you some day?
- Does the firm have a maximum billable hour limit?
- How long did it take for you to become a legal genius?
- Do you recommend living close to the office so when a partner calls, it won’t take long to get to the office?
Bitter Lawyer expounds on each of these here.
From the Chronicle of Higher Education:
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has displaced the University of Cambridge in the top spot of the QS World University Rankings, one of higher-education’s most closely watched listings. A news release describing the results says that this year’s rankings reflect “a global shift in emphasis toward science and technology” and that MIT owes its new dominance to “its superior citation rates and student/faculty ratio, alongside an increase in international faculty.”
For 2012, the five top universities, in order, are MIT, Cambridge, Harvard, University of the City of London, and Oxford. In 2011, the top five, in order, were Cambridge, Harvard, MIT, Yale, and Oxford. It’s interesting how universities can improve and decline in just one year. J Still, the groupings remain pretty much the same. Think international U.S. News.
Most of us think very little. However, the author of this Note disagrees.
Abstract: Recently, law school graduates have faced the worst entry-level legal employment market in half a century. Many in this “Lost Generation” of law students may never enjoy the opportunity to practice law in a meaningful way, much less obtain any significant return on the time and (usually borrowed) money they invested in their legal education. Given the vast discrepancy between the employment prospects these students anticipated and the employment opportunities they actually enjoy, many feel that their law schools misled them about the economic value of the education those schools provide. Believing their alma maters have caused them legally cognizable injuries, alumni of at least fifteen law schools have even filed purported class-action lawsuits seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages for those alleged injuries. Although the true significance of these lawsuits cannot be fully appreciated at this time, the lawsuits have already contributed to the goals of the law school transparency movement, and those with an interest in legal education will certainly follow the lawsuits with great interest. This Note will explore the impact of this new type of class-action litigation by focusing primarily on three lawsuits that were filed in 2011 — Alaburda v. Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Gomez-Jimenez v. New York Law School, and MacDonald v. Thomas M. Cooley Law School. Specifically, this Note argues that class-action lawsuits against individual law school might usefully supplement other potential methods for persuading law schools to heed the calls for increased transparency, and will continue to serve a purpose even if the legal education industry adopts — or is made to adopt — additional reform in that area.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Some people are great at networking. They can enter a room full of strangers at a professional conference and walk out a short time later with a plenitude of new best friends. They're the exception since most people - lawyers as much if not more so than many other professionals - really dislike networking finding it either socially uncomfortable or unseemly. But that's irrational thinking according to this post from Attorney@Work. If you went to law school to help people, then what better way to find out who in the room really needs your help other than networking? It's all a matter of perception and finding a way to re-frame for yourself the experience of networking.
Unfortunately, most lawyers aren’t particularly excited about the idea of networking. Even lawyers who’ve taken steps to get help with business development will object, inevitably, when it’s time to test their networking ability. Two primary fears seem to be the basis for their lack of enthusiasm and their objections. So let’s take a look at why those fears are unfounded.
Legal Services Are Not Used Cars
As soon as attorneys hear the term “networking,” their imaginations start to run wild. They envision used-car salespeople hawking automobiles, probably with tampered-with odometers. Next comes the objection I’ve heard countless times: “I didn’t go to law school to be a salesperson.”
. . . .
Fear of Seeming Disingenuous
“This all sounds pretty disingenuous to me. Won’t the other person know that getting together for lunch is simply a pretense for me to try to get business?” Well, kind of. But don’t worry about it. Experienced networkers recognize that effective networking is all about how people can help each other—professionally or even personally.
Learn how to debunk both of these fears by continuing to read here.
Your role is to determine fact[s]. Nobody can tell you what to do in that area. That's entirely your decision. If you get to the issue of damages, I will instruct you as follows: number one, you should determine not only that portion of the case but all [of] this portion of the case without using bias or prejudice; in other words, we want you to be-and I'm going to date myself a little bit by saying this. Do you remember Star Trek, the original one with Mr. Spock? Mr. Spock could look at things totally logical. He was not influenced by passion. He certainly wasn't influenced by prejudice, and that's … how you need to look at a case. You need to look at a case for the facts as you see them. You need to look at the case for the law. You apply the facts to the law, and that's how you come up with a decision. You don't allow sympathy to enter into your decision.
Star Trek is fading from the memory of a younger generation, and the judicial references must be mystifying to some in the audience. I’m sure that Harry Potter allusions are multiplying.
Below are the details. The successful candidate will start in the fall of 2013; the full job description can be found here.
The University of Virginia School of Law seeks highly qualified applicants for the position of Director of its Appellate Litigation Clinic. The Director will teach and supervise clinic students in all phases of legal advocacy, serve as counsel of record for the clinic's clients throughout the year, including summers, and manage the operation of the clinic. The Director also will be expected to teach an additional course outside of the clinic. This non-tenure-track position will begin in the fall 2013 semester.
Candidates must have a J.D. degree from an ABA accredited law school, at least four years of litigation practice experience, including appellate experience, and be licensed to practice law in Virginia or become licensed no later than July 2014. A commitment to teaching and excellent writing, editing, supervision and advocacy skills are required. A competitive candidate will have significant appellate advocacy experience, prior law school teaching experience and demonstrated professional engagement.
Salary commensurate with experience and qualifications.
Apply on-line at http://jobs.virginia.edu (Posting Number 0610681). Include a resume, three references, and a detailed description of relevant law practice, teaching and supervision experience.
Deadline for applications is October 15, 2012.
The University of Virginia is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer.
The clinic will match law students seeking to develop transactional skills with students from the university's business school who are interested in launching their own companies. As this article from Law.com notes, it sounds like a win-win for all involved.
The University of Virginia School of Law's new Transactional Law Clinic is intended as a win-win for participating law and business students.
The business students will receive free legal advice on their start-up ventures, while the law students gain experience advising clients about the myriad legal issues that come with starting a business. Those skills are tough to develop by reading case law, said clinic director Russell Schundler.
. . . .
The clinic will pair six law students with 12 business students who are launching companies through the Darden Business Incubator, a program of the university's Darden School of Business. Under Schundler's supervision, the law students will offer advice about everything from incorporation and contracts to intellectual property and regulations.
The law students will spend the spring advising their clients, who will spend the next summer getting their companies off the ground.
UVA looked at similar clinics at Stanford Law School and Yale Law School, but the pairing of student lawyers and entrepreneurs is unusual, according to Schundler. The law school ran a pilot program last year and decided to formalize it as a clinic.
Continue reading here.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
This humorous article from The Atlantic Wire is directed mostly at verbal communication skills but those pesky "crutch" words still have a way of insinuating themselves into one's writing too. They are superfluous written "ticks" that detract from the power that comes from stating one's point as directly as possible. They are weak rhetorical devices because they communicate equivocation rather than confidence, not something any advocate wants to do.
The Atlantic has compiled a list of the worst offenders in common use today. Check it out and see if any of your personal verbal or written pet peeves made the list. If not, please feel free to add suggestions in the comments below.
Crutch words are those expressions we pepper throughout our language as verbal pauses, and sometimes as written ones, to give us time to think, to accentuate our meaning (even when we do so mistakenly), or just because these are the words that have somehow lodged in our brains and come out on our tongues the most, for whatever reason. Quite often, they do little to add meaning, though. Sometimes we even use them incorrectly. Almost always, we don't need them at all, which doesn't mean we won't persist in using them. Here's our list of frequently used crutches, and what your crutch of choice has to reveal about you.
Actually. Actually, you may already know how we feel about actually. I've argued that it's worse than literally because it offers up sheer attitude in place of literally's intellectual pretensions.
. . . .
As it were. If you use this, which I did above, you are possibly worse than a literally-dropper. You're the most self-aware of crutch-word users, because you know you're saying something rather cliched, a hackneyed expression or at best an aging metaphor, and yet you're going forward with it anyway.
. . . .
Basically. You like to cut to the chase, to synopsize, to bring things down to old bottom line of what's really, truly important. You are always downsizing, cutting the clutter, throwing out a sweater for every new one you purchase. So, basically, this is what you do.
. . . .
In a weird way. You are the experimental hallucinatory drug user of crutch words. Or maybe you just feel things, like, a lot. Whatever: You're very emotive. So, in a weird way, your expression makes sense, at least to you, though everyone else is, like, "Why does he keep saying in a weird way?
Be sure to read the rest of the list here.
Big tip 'o the hat to Legal Blog Watch.
But how many new attorney jobs is it going to create? The Employment Insider is reporting that energy law as a specialty practice area is red hot right now because of advancements in fracking technology that have made turned parts of Texas and North Dakota, among other places, into boom towns. While any news about growth in the legal sector is good, I'm thinking this is such a niche area of practice, only a handful of new grads have any chance of landing a job doing doing energy law. And those with the right background who worked in the energy industry before going to law school undoubtedly already have the few jobs out there locked up. But if you think you've got a shot at it, then take comfort in the advice of the Employment Insider:
For law students interested in the energy market it is important to have knowledge in certain areas of the industry.
“The real issue is understanding natural resource issues and other legal aspects, like environmental issues,” [a legal recruiter] said.
The drilling advancements have opened up new opportunities to develop energy instead of seeking it in other countries. Ohio and western Pennsylvania in particular have become important in the market of natural gas; however, Texas is still considered the top state for energy. Houston-based Vinson & Elkins LLP, was ranked No.1 in the category for energy, gas and oil on Vault’s ranking for the best law firms in each practice area.
Are we wired for competition, empathy, or both? This essay from Columbia University’s Teachers College Record starts with a discussion of the child’s game musical chairs and asks how much fun it is for the child who fails to get a seat. Author Nadine Dolby concludes:
Questioning and eliminating games such as musical chairs from our children's lives may seem silly -- too minor to have any impact on the future of the planet. But "musical chairs" is not allowed in my daughter's Montessori school, and for good reason: only practices (that includes games, toys, etc.) that lead to the development of a peaceful, empathic child are allowed. I would suggest that we need seriously to consider the daily practices of our own, grown-up lives, and ask the same question. I think we will find much to get rid of, and many more joyful, cooperative, productive ways to fill our days, and remake our world.
We might analogize to our students' lives and what happens when they don’t get a good grade, positive feedback, or a job. Worth reading.
Monday, September 10, 2012
One author says yes.
Legal Education's Perfect Storm: Law Students' Poor Writing and Legal Analysis Skills Collide with Dismal Employment Prospects, Creating the Urgent Need to Reconfigure the First-Year Curriculum by James Etienne Viator.
Abstract: This article addresses concerns about the quality of legal education, specifically law schools’ perceived failure in teaching legal writing and critical thinking skills. The solution suggested is, instead of teaching rhetoric or legal reasoning as a separate course (or integrated with a school’s legal research and writing course), for law schools to adopt the Iowa model of integrating the teaching of these skills into first-year substantive courses.
In light of the market, even the best job candidates must also be entrepreneurial during this season's OCI so says the Wall Street Journal Law Blog. Although the blog is speaking about those students seeking positions next summer with BigLaw, the advice is especially relevant to any student hoping to land a paying gig. It means that in addition to the conventional wisdom to network, network and then network some more you should now include the need to tell employers you are willing to pay your own way for the privilege of interviewing with them.
[T]hese days even good grades aren’t enough to guarantee a slot in the Biglaw pipeline, which is narrower than ever amid tepid demand for legal services. As WSJ reported today, law firms have gotten even pickier, forcing students to take a more entrepreneurial approach to landing these coveted summer gigs. That means networking, loading up on 1L summer internships and, in one case, paying your own way to interviews.
. . . .
“Firms have just dramatically shrunk these summer class sizes and they’re not going back,” said James Leipold, executive director of the non-profit National Association for Law Placement, or NALP.
On top to that, many firms have scaled back their on-campus interviews (OCI), the traditional route for students to catch the eye of Biglaw recruiters. Nationwide, just under 13% of 2011 law graduates got jobs after graduation through OCI, compared with more than 23% of 2009 law graduates, according to NALP.
So law schools are prodding their students to do whatever it takes to stand out.
“You can’t rely on on-campus interviews, you can’t rely on job postings,” said Sari Zimmerman, assistant dean for the office of career and professional development at University of California’s San Francisco-based Hastings College of the Law. “Given the reality, they have to pull out all the stops. They cannot afford to be passive, or to engage in failure fatigue.”
For those keeping track, hiring has fluctuated quite a bit since the beginning of the year.
- August 2012 - 1400 jobs lost.
- July 2012 - 1500 (revised) jobs added
- June 2012 - 20o jobs lost.
- May 2012 - 600 jobs added
- April 2012 - 3900 jobs added
- March 2012 - 1300 jobs lost.
- February 2012 - 800 jobs added.
- January 2012 - 1000 jobs added.
After seeing a healthy uptick in hiring in July, the legal sector shed 1,400 jobs last month, according to preliminary data released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The August job loss figure equals the bureau's original estimate of how many positions the legal industry added in July. Friday's report revised the July figure to show the industry adding 1,500 new jobs that month, meaning the August losses didn't totally erase July's gains—at least until the bureau revises its August data next month.
Meanwhile, Friday's report showed the total number of people employed in the legal sector slipping from a three-year-high of 1.12 million in July to 1.118 million in August. Prior to the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008, the industry consistently employed about 1.17 million people.
Factoring in the August dip, the legal industry employs 3,200 more people than it did a year ago and has experienced a net gain of 1,400 jobs since the start of 2012. The sector has whipsawed between adding and losing jobs nearly every month this year, with April and May—which, respectively, saw job gains of 3,200 and 300—comprising the only two-month period of uninterrupted growth. Legal employers had cut 500 jobs in June and added 300 positions in May.The overall U.S. economy added a less-than-expected 96,000 positions in August, according to Friday's BLS report. Despite the lackluster hiring, the nation's unemployment rate dropped to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent, a decrease attributable to the fact that some 368,000 people stopped looking for work
I’m in my job, because I can’t think of anything I’d rather do. You might be interested in comparing yourself with those who answered the question in this survey:
According to a recent American Psychological Association (APA) Workforce Retention Survey of more than 1,200 Americans with full-time and part-time jobs, "despite uncertainty in the job market, the top reasons working Americans say they stay with their current employers are work-life fit and enjoying what they do." Specifically:
• 59 percent of respondents noted that they remain with their current employer because of the pay;
• 60 percent of participants said that they stay in their job due to benefits;
• 67 percent of people believe their jobs fit well with the other aspects of their lives;
• 67 percent of those surveyed explained that they stay in their jobs because they enjoy the work they do;
• And 39 percent noted a lack of other job opportunities as the reason for remaining with their current employer.