Saturday, September 22, 2012
We tend to dwell on the negative, on where we fell short. Elena Aguilar looks to neuroscience to suggest a short daily exercise to develop a positive approach to our work and our lives:
At the end of every day, identify three things that went well in your classroom. That's part one -- what went well? When did you see indicators that your students were learning? That they were happy to be in school?
And part two: For each thing that went well, what was your role in it? What action did you take that resulted in the positive outcome?
Friday, September 21, 2012
This story from Vivia Chen at the Careerist via lawjobs.com.
Let's stop kidding ourselves about how women are faring in the nation's big firms. To put it bluntly, they are not doing well. And it's not simply that their progress has been slow or static. It's worse: Women are actually falling behind. That stark point was made by the 2012 partner compensation survey by search consultant Major, Lindsey & Africa. Some fascinating but depressing highlights about the sexes from the report:
Continue reading here.
Thanks to the New York Law Journal (via the National Law Journal) for this.
Struggling law students have a new online resource for information about mental health and anxiety—and how to help friends who may be in trouble. The Dave Nee Foundation and The Jed Foundation, organizations serving law and undergraduate students with mental health issues, have launched LawLifeline.
The website features articles about topics ranging from what makes law school so stressful to how to manage a mental health condition. Users can find information about diseases and disorders including depression, suicide, anxiety and substance abuse. The site offers an anonymous diagnostic screening tool created with Duke University to help users gauge whether they or their friends have symptoms of a mental health disease or disorder. The tool is meant to prompt suffers to seek help.
"Our hope is that it will serve as both an informational resource and useful tool for law students who think they might be experiencing mental health issues," said Wynne Kelly, president of the Nee Foundation, launched in 2005 following the suicide of Fordham University School of Law student Dave Nee.
This is part of the NYT's Room for Debate column in which different viewpoints are solicited and debated on a topic chosen by the editors. Below is the list of commentators and links to their essays in response to this week's question: "Are college students’ evaluations of their instructors a useful way to assess professors? What might be more effective?"
By Stuart Rojstaczer, creator, Grade Inflation Web site
Student evaluations can be useful when they are divorced from tenure, retention and promotion, and performed anonymously without feedback going to higher-ups.
By Ellen McCulloch-Lovell, college president
Student voices, when weighed and considered, influence teaching at places where professors understand that effective teaching is highly valued.
By Sean Decatur, college professor and dean
Evaluations from former students would be helpful because sometimes the value of a classroom experience becomes more apparent after time has passed.
By Jeff Sandefer, Acton School of Business
Universities that don’t listen to their students are unlikely to survive big changes in higher education -- and frankly, they shouldn’t.
By Scott Carrell and James West, co-authors, "Does Professor Quality Matter?"
Our study showed that students confuse course grades with long-term learning, and reward those professors who hand out the A's.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
From the Library of Congress press release:
The Library of Congress, in collaboration with the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and the Government Printing Office (GPO), today unveiled Congress.gov, a new public beta site for accessing free, fact-based legislative information. Congress.gov features platform mobility, comprehensive information retrieval and user-friendly presentation. Congress.gov, at beta.congress.gov, eventually will replace the public THOMAS system and the congressional Legislative Information System (LIS).
"The new, more robust platform reaffirms for the 21st century Congress’s vision of a vital legislative information resource for all Americans," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "It is fitting that we announce this new resource within days of Constitution Day, celebrating the establishment of our representative democracy. Continual enhancements to and now reinvention of this resource reflect the Library’s commitment to Congress’s goal to open the legislative process to the American people and promote an informed democracy."
. . . .
Using best practices for retrieving and displaying information, the refined, user-friendly system also will make finding and using legislative information more intuitive, comprehensive and accessible than the existing system. Congress.gov connects the information with a title and URL more readily identified by all constituencies.
The Congress.gov site includes bill status and summary, bill text and member profiles and the following new features:
- Effective display on mobile devices;
- Ability to narrow and refine search results;
- Ability to simultaneously search all content across all available years, with some files dating from the 93rd congress;
- Easier identification of current bill status;
- Members’ legislative history and biographical profiles;
- Maintenance of existing features such as links to video of the House and Senate floor, top searched bills and the save/share feature.
Data for the information system is provided by multiple legislative branch partners in this effort, including the Office of the Secretary of the Senate, the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Office of the Senate Sergeant at Arms, the Office of the Chief Administrative Office of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Government Printing Office.
Hat tip to Legal Research Plus.
This article in the Atlantic Magazine, The Writing Revolution, details how struggling high school students at a poorly performing Staten Island, N.Y. school achieved remarkable success through a curriculum that emphasized lots of analytical writing. It certainly supports the argument for writing across the law school curriculum and is a rebuff to those who claim multiple choice exams are pedagogically comparable to traditional essay exams for imparting the analytical skills needed to be a lawyer. I've heard that many law students are now able to take several courses without ever being asked to write a single sentence (a phenomenon that's more pervasive at the undergrad level). In a profession that values good analytical and communication skills above all else, we have to ask whether we are creating nearly enough opportunities in the curriculum for law students to hone their writing skills. Given how time consuming it is to grade students papers and the emphasis on scholarly production over teaching, this isn't going to change anytime soon notwithstanding complaints from the bench and bar that too many law grads can't think, write or organize their thoughts effectively.
For years, nothing seemed capable of turning around New Dorp High School’s dismal performance—not firing bad teachers, not flashy education technology, not after-school programs. So, faced with closure, the school’s principal went all-in on a very specific curriculum reform, placing an overwhelming focus on teaching the basics of analytic writing, every day, in virtually every class. What followed was an extraordinary blossoming of student potential, across nearly every subject—one that has made New Dorp a model for educational reform.
. . . .T]he school’s principal, Deirdre DeAngelis, began a detailed investigation into why, ultimately, New Dorp’s students were failing. By 2008, she and her faculty had come to a singular answer: bad writing. Students’ inability to translate thoughts into coherent, well-argued sentences, paragraphs, and essays was severely impeding intellectual growth in many subjects. Consistently, one of the largest differences between failing and successful students was that only the latter could express their thoughts on the page. If nothing else, DeAngelis and her teachers decided, beginning in the fall of 2009, New Dorp students would learn to write well. “When they told me about the writing program,” Monica says, “well, I was skeptical.” With disarming candor, sharp-edged humor, and a shy smile, Monica occupies the middle ground between child and adult—she can be both naive and knowing. “On the other hand, it wasn’t like I had a choice. I go to high school. I figured I’d give it a try.”
New Dorp’s Writing Revolution, which placed an intense focus, across nearly every academic subject, on teaching the skills that underlie good analytical writing, was a dramatic departure from what most American students—especially low performers—are taught in high school. The program challenged long-held assumptions about the students and bitterly divided the staff. It also yielded extraordinary results. By the time they were sophomores, the students who had begun receiving the writing instruction as freshmen were already scoring higher on exams than any previous New Dorp class. Pass rates for the English Regents, for example, bounced from 67 percent in June 2009 to 89 percent in 2011; for the global-history exam, pass rates rose from 64 to 75 percent. The school reduced its Regents-repeater classes—cram courses designed to help struggling students collect a graduation requirement—from five classes of 35 students to two classes of 20 students.
Continue reading here.
Last week, I mentioned an important new book on legal education, Reforming Legal Education: Law Schools at the Crossroads. This week, I would like to look at the book in detail. While the meat of the book is chapters describing reform at particular law schools, today, I will examine the opening and closing chapters by the editors, David M. Moss and Debra Moss Curtis, which concern the reform process in general.
These authors argue that the foremost barrier to change is faculty buy-in. Those advocating reform can overcome faculty resistence through compelling evidence (data). “First, data must be utilized to expose the realities of the law school experience–the good, the bad, and the ugly.” Second, “additional data can be considered that illustrates exemplary models for preparation of lawyers and thus helps resolve dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs.” Thus, “data serves as a key to a conceptual change model; first by fostering dissatisfaction and then by offering viable alternatives to the status quo.”
A reform program must have a philosophy that combines “what the faculty values in terms of a professional knowledge basis . . . with an exploration of best practice pedagogies to promote authentic learning. . .” The elements of such a program are: Law School Mission, Role of Faculty, Law School Curriculum, Data-Driven Reform, Practical Considerations. The most important considerations are “Instituting reforms in an intellectual atmosphere of respect and civility,” using data to overcome resistence, and developing an ongoing reform process.
The authors write that “mission statements define the core values and aims of an institution.” A mission statement should promote continuous improvement, and it should be driven by scholarship. A key issue in mission statements today is “practical training (practice-ready graduates) versus traditional approaches underpinning the reading of the law.” The authors declare, “One cannot think, write, argue, and such merely in the abstract–context matters. Clearly, notions of law and lawyering are not mutually exclusive, and contributions to this book have presented creative ways in which such outcomes can be met with the highest degree of success.” Finally, mission statements should also address the resources to support its aims.
A key issue under faculty considerations is that “a hierarchy persists within the ranks of the faculty.” The authors call for clarification of “all permutations of faculty” and “the need for a rewards structure that supports such a revised system.” The authors note, “Faculty members bring a diversity of experiences to their appointment, and such a breadth of experiences should be viewed as an asset to a school of law.” The authors also reiterate the importance of faculty buy-in, particularly by key faculty members.
The authors emphasize that “Consistency between curriculum and our core institutional values is essential.” “Without a philosophical compass, the process offers no guidance to offer questions of what is most important to teach and why.” Such a philosophy could be “purposefully ensuring that law students are learning to do what legal professionals typically do.” The authors recommend that law schools should “shift the conversation away from teaching and toward one of learning as a means to address issues of reform. In short, learning theory (how individuals learn) should drive curriculum and instruction.” Law schools should emphasize the needs of students as adult learners, and especially what motivates our students to learn. For example, “when considering issues of motivation, we might concurrently examine what electives might be available in our program and whether such student choice could promote engagement and learning.” Similarly, experiential models of learning help engagement.
Curriculum considerations also involve measurable outcomes. “Schools of law should not merely hope that students are able to cobble together ideas from often incongruent courses and experiences to construct the intended understandings.” Law schools should use curriculum mapping, which is designed to generate authentic data regarding what students actually experience (as opposed to what is merely planned for in the syllabus), with the aim of generating faculty consensus around a well-articulated set of learning outcomes.” The authors add, “legal education should be quality over stamina.” “Thus, the notion of reflection becomes a key element of promoting learning for schools of law.”
As mentioned above, reform must be data driven. The authors point out, “At all levels, education has entered an era of accountability unlike any other that has come before.” Also, data can demonstrate a need for change.
Finally, there are practical considerations for reform. First, reformers must acknowledge that there is an element of risk in change. Second, reform requires “open and purposeful lines of communication.” Finally, it takes time for reform to take hold. “The heavy lifting resides in the day-to-day execution of the vision, and once the initial changes are completed, the need for resources and support [should] not diminish.”
The authors conclude “the vital work of preparing superior graduates of law school to engage in the many facets of the legal profession is a fundamental necessity for our democratic society, and much rides on our willingness to prepare lawyers who can make immediate and significant contributions to society.”
There are three ideas I particularly like in the two chapters I am discussing today. First is the notion that we should be looking at legal education from the view of how adult students learn. For too long educators have failed to consider the first rule of communication–consider your audience. Also, motivation is vital to learning. Motivation affects learning by focusing attention and allocating the slots of working memory. It also effects the effort that is put into learning. (I have written an article on this subject, How to Become an Expert Law Teacher by Understanding the Neurobiology of Learning.)
Second, reflection is a vital part of learning. Students should not just learn facts. They should learn to relate those facts to what they know, question those facts, and see the implications in those facts. Finally, education reform must be data driven. Otherwise, law schools will just be making wild guesses on how to teach their students. Fortunately, as I have noted in previous posts, there is a mountain of scholarship on learning theory, both for adult learners in general and in the law school context.
In sum, Reforming Legal Education should be on the shelves of every dean’s office and faculty lounge. It should be read by every faculty member who is truly interested in his or her students.
From Levo League:
Best advice in the universe: PDF YOUR RESUME. Print it as a PDF. If you send a Word document to a recruiter, you have no control over how it’s going to look when he or she opens it. Here’s a hint: it will probably look awful. We’ve all had horror stories that involve Track Changes in some way shape or form.
You can find more advice here.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Below is the abstract of a paper that my Google news feed sent to me today touting what appears to be a proprietary multimedia wiki being used at City University in London to teach law students legal skills. The article is called Too cool for (law) school? Using technology to engage students in legal skills by City University Law Librarian Emily Allbon and can be downloaded here. From the abstract:
Leading web portal Lawbore was first launched at City University by the law librarian in 2003, quickly connecting with students thanks to its bold, image-lead navigation and informal approach to presenting the law. In 2007 a new area, Learnmore, was added; a legal skills wiki born out of a desire to see the building blocks of law given more attention. It encompassed multimedia resources around mooting, research, legal writing and other skills. Collaboration with a new lecturer in 2010 kicked off a new era for the site - Learnmore is unique for its quirky style, utilisation of different mediums (text, video, audio, talking slideshows and prezi) and emphasis on student-collaborated content. Comments from students have been overwhelmingly positive: “Makes it stick more in my mind, ideal for people who are more “hands-on” and “the variety of resources is refreshing, not dull and boring like a book”. 2012 heralds a five-month JISC-funded Learnmore app development. This session will seek to look both at the practical elements of using technology to aid student learning in law and the pedagogical pros and cons of such a strategy. We explore the challenges involved in engaging students with the foundations of law (when all they want to do is start studying the ‘exciting’ subjects), alongside those involved in considering the best technological tool for embedding those skills. We discuss the fine line between using technology to connect via more informal means, and the risk of appearing to try to 'get down with the kids'.
In a decision from the Eleventh Circuit yesterday denying a criminal defendant's habeas petition, Judge James Larry Edmondson complained about the increasing tendency among judges toward lengthy opinions. The majority opinion in the case stretched to 104 pages; Judge Edmondson voiced his concerns in a separate, and much shorter, concurring opinion. According to the judge, long judicial opinions increase the risk that an appellate court will find reversible error, they make it more difficult for readers to understand the decision's import and, finally, they reflect the lack of effort that is otherwise needed to produce pithier precedents. In support of his latter point, Judge Edmondson referenced Mark Twain, relying on a quote that's worth passing along to students: “If you want me to give you a two-hour presentation, I am ready today. If you want only a five-minute speech, it will take me two weeks to prepare.”
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog has the story along with an excerpt of Judge Edmondson's concurring opinion in the case.
Judge Edward Earl Carnes, writing for the majority in this Sept. 13 ruling, burned 104 pages denying a death-row prisoner’s habeas petition. We aren’t passing judgment on Judge Carnes. We’ve never authored an opinion.
But Judge Edmondson, who has, refused to join the majority opinion, if for no other reason than what he saw as its excessive length.
In my experience, longish opinions always present a strong possibility of error lurking somewhere in the text. That the opinion writer is a skilled and careful judge does not eliminate the risk. Furthermore, no one wishes to join in an opinion that they do not understand fully. It is hard, time-consuming, painstaking work for the panel’s other judges to check long opinions, line by line, cited case by cited case. (Of course, always other cases are awaiting decision and also demand the judges’ time and attention.) Moreover, long opinions, even if correct in every detail, generally make it harder for readers to separate a holding from dicta (or less than dicta: words only of explication and nothing more). The confusion of holding and dicta makes correctly deciding future cases more difficult, when judges are looking back for precedents. Sometimes, the oddest bits are lifted out of opinions — especially the longer ones (often words as to some peripheral point) — and later quoted flatly as law: as if someone was quoting a statute.
From the Huffington Post:
Over the last couple of weeks, Justice Antonin Scalia and Judge Richard Posner have been engaged in an unusual public feud over the role that legal rules play in judicial decision making. In The New Republic, Judge Posner wrote an exceptionally harsh review of Scalia's new book Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts, written with Bryan Garner. Scalia's book presents over 50 canons or legal rules that he and Garner suggest can and do help judges decide hard legal issues. In a lengthy response, Posner demonstrates that Scalia's rules cannot decide cases, that the sources and cases the authors cite don't stand for the propositions for which they are asserted, and that, of course, at the end of the day, what decides cases are the judges' personal and political values, preferences, and balancing of the equities of the parties' positions, not pre-existing legal rules.
The rest of the article discloses how nasty the confrontation has become.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
In a voter's right case presently being heard in a D.C. federal court, the Department of Justice has argued that the government has been prejudiced by the opponent's use of 12 point font which allowed it to squeeze in additional arguments in spite of the court's 50 page brief limit. Quoting from DOJ's motion to strike the state of South Carolina's brief for using the wrong font:
Defendants, United States of America and Eric H. Holder, Jr. (collectively, "the United States"), hereby move to strike South Carolina's [filing] on the grounds that the filing is not in compliance with the font size and page limit requirements previously outlined by the Court. See ECF No. 64 at 3 ("All text shall be double-spaced and in thirteen point Times New Roman, and margins shall be set at one inch.").... South Carolina's [filing] appear[s] to have been filed in 11.5 or 12-point font, using the maximum page limit of 50 pages. The United States and Defendant-Intervenors, likewise, used their maximum page limits; however, they each adhered to the 13-point requirement. Hence, South Carolina's brief, if properly formatted, would have exceeded its page limit by at least 8 or 10 pages.
Being required to respond at a page-length disadvantage of approximately 20% is extremely prejudicial to the United States.
You can read a good summary of the dispute at Lowering the Bar and here at Law.com. See, students? Adhering to formatting guidelines by using the required font and margins really does matter in practice; it isn't just law school busy-work.
Hat tip to the Law Librarian blog.
It's an e-book, released yesterday via Amazon, and from the summary below it seems less strident than his blog Inside the Law School Scam (the giveaway being the title which suggests there may valid reasons for attending law school after all). From Amazon:
Going to law school has become a very expensive and increasingly risky gamble. When is it still worth it? Law professor Paul Campos answers that question in this book, which gives prospective law students, their families, and current law students the tools they need to make a smart decision about applying to, enrolling in, and remaining in law school. Campos explains how the law school game is won and lost, from the perspective of an insider who has become the most prominent and widely cited critic of the deceptive tactics law schools use to convince the large majority of law students to pay far more for their law degrees than those degrees are worth.
DON’T GO TO LAW SCHOOL (UNLESS) reveals which law schools are still worth attending, at what price, and what sorts of legal careers it makes sense to pursue today. It outlines the various economic and psychological traps law students and new lawyers fall into, and how to avoid them. This book is a must-read if you or someone you care about is considering law school, or wondering whether to stay enrolled in one now.
Fifteen years ago, Dickinson Law, a private, well-regarded law school, became part of the Penn State system. It now has a campus in Carlisle, outside of Harrisburg, the state campus, and in State College, the remote home of Penn State. Those of us in the Keystone State have long prophesied that eventually the Carlisle campus would close. That day seems to be growing closer. Excerpts from Pennlive.com:
Dean Philip J. McConnaughay, battling a national sag in law school applications, is pushing a plan to end first-year law classes in Carlisle, possibly as early as 2013. Under the plan, all Penn State law students would start in State College.
The dean says Carlisle’s campus would continue to hold classes for second- and third-year students, including both in-person instruction and access to courses at University Park through state-of-the-art distance learning technology.
He also fired back aggressively at some of his critics, accusing them of letting sentimentality blind them to a record of improving long-term trends in applications, quality of applicants and student body diversity at Dickinson since the dual law campus course was set in 2005.
“It has been 15 years since the affiliation. Fifteen years. And the last six have seen a transformed law school, all for the better,” McConnaughay said. “To me, it’s time to get used to it. Accept it. If you don’t, you know, relax and get another interest.”
McConnaughay said he believes the best defense is to shrink entering classes at Penn State from an original target of 250 combined, to something approaching 150. There are 162 first-years starting this year: 107 in State College and 55 in Carlisle.
Reducing class size means a substantial reduction in revenue. Unless the dean has some undisclosed financial agreement with the state, I don’t know how Dickinson will be able to continue serving its students at the current level.
Media mogul Sumner Redstone has donated $18 million to the Boston University School of Law, the college said Thursday.
The gift will, in part, fund the construction of a new building to be named after the Boston native, who is executive chairman of CBS Corporation and Viacom Inc.
Those of us who attended a university when we were young will always have a special connection with that university. I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1977-79 to work on a masters degree. It makes me very sad to learn that UNC is embroiled in a major scandal.
"North Carolina chancellor Holden Thorp, whose tenure has been marred by several athletics-related scandals over the past two years, will resign at the end of the 2012-13 academic year, the school announced Monday."
"The announcement came three days after Thorp answered questions Friday from the UNC Board of Governors during a closed-door meeting about the school's top fundraiser, Matt Kupec, and Tami Hansbrough, a gifts officer and mother of former basketball star Tyler Hansbrough. Kupec and Tami Hansbrough resigned last week after Thorp discovered that the couple had charged questionable travel expenses to the school. It was just the latest scandal Thorp has presided over since he became chancellor in July 2008."
"Last March, the NCAA imposed a one-year postseason ban and scholarship reductions on UNC's football program as penalty for improper benefits and academic misconduct involving a tutor. That was on top of the school's self-imposed penalties, which included 16 vacated wins, probation, the firing of football coach Butch Davis and the resignation of athletic director Dick Baddour. The timing of Davis' firing -- just days before practice for the 2011 season was set to begin -- drew a negative outcry from some fans. Then, as an offshoot of the NCAA investigation, a UNC internal probe released in May found that 54 African American Studies classes were either "aberrant" or "irregularly" taught from summer 2007 to summer 2011. That included unauthorized grade changes, forged faculty signatures on grade rolls and limited or no class time."
"Among other actions, Thorp commissioned an independent investigation, led by former North Carolina governor James Martin, to look into any additional academic irregularities that may have occurred before 2007. That probe is ongoing."
As I have said before, how can we expect our students to be honest and ethical if our universities aren't honest and ethical?
Monday, September 17, 2012
This isn't something you see everyday. In the interest of transparency and helping others who might be looking for samples on the web, Professor Eric Goldman has posted online his 2007 application for tenure at Santa Clara U. School of Law and his 2011 application for promotion to full professor. Click here to check them both out and thanks to Professor Goldman for his openness.
Big hat tip to Professor Mitch Rubinstein at the Adjunct Law Prof Blog.
This supplement from today's National Law Journal features several columns directed at law students offering advice on everything from stress reduction techniques to career advice from prominent lawyers and jurists. Below is a list of the pertinent columns with links for further reading.
Don't lose your mind
Some law schools recognize their duty to help students cope with legal education's unique challenges.
Legal education is uniquely challenging, but don't let the hype overwhelm you. The workload is manageable if you keep a balanced perspective and implement smart strategies.
Hard as it may be for the struggling 1L to appreciate, it is possible to survive law school and build a rewarding career — whether in the law or not. Here's some advice from recovering law students who have managed this feat.
In transforming students into logical thinkers, law schools risk draining them of spontaneity and compassion.
From the Wall Street Journal blog (Sept. 13):
Well, apparently some are just as driven when they get there. According to a poll of 2012 summer associates by the American Lawyer, a “vocal minority” of 4,138 interns at 138 firms wished that that employers would give them more work, and fewer cocktail parties. From AmLaw’s roundup:
“I would ask that the Summer Associate Program be scheduled so that there is a bit more time for work,” a Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher summer associate in the firm’s Irvine, California, office wrote in response to one of the 70-question survey’s open-ended questions. “There have been times when social events took up so much time during the week that work assignments had to take a backburner.”
A summer associate working for Cooley in Virginia echoed that view, writing, “Mandatory social events can be physically and mentally taxing. . .”