November 10, 2012
My Favorite Plain English Vignette
From William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well,” Chapter 2:
I would have preferred the presidential approach taken by Franklin D. Roosevelt when he tried to convert into English his own government's memos, such as this blackout order of 1942:
Such preparations shall be made as will completely obscure all Federal buildings and non-Federal buildings occupied by the Federal government during an air raid for any period of time from visibility by reason of internal or external illumination.
"Tell them," Roosevelt said, "that in buildings where they have to keep the work going to put something across the windows."
E-textbooks that tell you whether students have done the reading
You heard right, a publisher has begun selling an electronic textbook that, among other features, tells the professor whether students have done the reading. From the Chronicle of Higher Ed.:
CourseSmart, which sells digital versions of textbooks by big publishers, announced on Wednesday a new tool to help professors and others measure students’ engagement with electronic course materials.
When students use print textbooks, professors can’t track their reading. But as learning shifts online, everything students do in digital spaces can be monitored, including the intimate details of their reading habits.
Those details are what will make the new CourseSmart service tick. Say a student uses an introductory psychology e-textbook. The book will be integrated into the college’s course-management system. It will track students’ behavior: how much time they spend reading, how many pages they view, and how many notes and highlights they make. That data will get crunched into an engagement score for each student.
The idea is that faculty members can reach out to students showing low engagement, says Sean Devine, chief executive of CourseSmart. And colleges can evaluate the return they are getting on investments in digital materials.
Three institutions—Villanova University, Rasmussen College, and Texas A&M University at San Antonio—plan to run pilots of the product, called CourseSmart Analytics. It’s expected to be broadly available in 2013.
“There is a screaming demand in the marketplace for knowledge around what impact course materials have on learning,” Mr. Devine says in an interview at the Educause technology conference here.
But reading surveillance raises privacy issues. The American Library Association, for example, recently raised alarms about efforts by libraries to lend e-books on Kindles, which exposes their patrons’ reading behavior to monitoring by Amazon.
Isn’t it a bit creepy to have textbooks watching their users?
Mr. Devine’s answer: “Not if it helps you succeed.” But he also points out that students will be able to opt out if they don’t want their data shared.
“We do understand the Big Brother aspects of it.”
November 9, 2012
Midsize law firms cautiously optimistic about future
In contrast to a recent survey of BigLaw firms that are reporting flat growth, midsize firms (those with fewer than 400 lawyers) are cautiously optimistic the future according to a survey conducted by the National Law Journal:
Managing partners at midsize law firms across the country report guarded optimism about business during the year to come.
The results of a survey The National Law Journal sent to leaders at firms with fewer than 400 attorneys showed that most firms of that size planned to add lawyers—although not many—to their practices. They also expected higher profits per partner.
The responses came from 26 midsize law firms, 17 of which employed between 100 and 199 lawyers. The firms were based in major cities in the East Coast, West Coast, Midwest and Southwest.
Half of the firm leaders expected litigation to provide the most revenue growth, and 19 of the firms planned to add lateral attorneys in that area. Corporate work was the second-most cited growth practice, with four firms expecting increased revenue there and 16 planning to add laterals. Fifteen of the 26 firms said they expected deal flow to increase moderately; 10 expected it to remain flat.
Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Mitchell attorney Stan Gibson echoed the expectations regarding litigation. He said that Jeffer Mangels, which is based in Los Angeles with 125 lawyers, saw patent litigation double this year. "Large companies have realized they can get first-rate service and big firm legal expertise from midsize firms, without the big firm rates," said Gibson, chairman of the patent litigation practice.
Asked to identify practices facing the biggest challenges next year, 11 firm leaders pointed to real estate and seven to corporate work.
Washington and Los Angeles were targeted for the largest expansions. Only one firm expected to add laterals in New York, and only one to add laterals in Chicago. Fifteen of the 26 firm leaders expected their firm's total headcount to increase by 1 percent to 5 percent. Six anticipated that their firms' headcounts would rise by 6 percent to 10 percent.
Continue reading here.
Examples of Plain Language Rewrites
From the Plain Language International Association website:
From a brief of a few years ago. Widgets inserted to protect the guilty (submitted by Judge Mark P. Painter, Cincinnati, Ohio, www.judgepainter.org):
Due to the fact that the plaintiff-appellant had up to this point in time supplied an insufficient number of widgets, defendant-appellee specified that, in the event that an insufficient number was supplied in the future, the contract would be held to be terminated, and deemed to be null and void and of no further effect. (55 words)
Because Smith Co. had not supplied enough widgets, Jones Co. said that, if this happened again, Jones would terminate the contract. (21 words)
From A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr, a close call...
He said he wanted a settlement that would provide for the economic security of the families, and for their medical bills in the future.
He said he wanted a settlement that would make the families financially secure as well as pay their future medical bills.
And a recent headline from a Virginia case:
"It's a $25 fine for driving while applying mascara."
This reverses the onus on the wrong behavior ands makes it sound like:
It is the applying of mascara that is unlawful, instead of the driving under sub-optimum conditions; or
The primary activity was applying mascara which was interrupted by driving.
Rewritten, the headline should properly read:
"It's a $25 fine to apply mascara while driving."
From a Clarity Award Winner from the State Bar of Michigan's Plain English Committee:
"[Name] informed you of the procedures for calculating interest for insufficient estimates. If the enclosed invoice(s) include charges for insufficient estimates, a detailed insufficient estimated [sic] used to calculate these charges is also enclosed."
"How to pay your bill: To avoid penalties as well as further interest, you must pay this bill by its due date."
And another Michigan Award Winner:
I give my Agent the power to exercise or perform any act, power, duty, right, or obligation whatsoever that I have or may hereafter acquire, relating to any person, matter, transaction, or property, real or personal, tangible or intangible, now owned or hereafter acquired by me, including, without limitation, the following specifically enumerated powers. I grant to my Agent full power and authority to do everything necessary in exercising any of the powers herein granted as fully as I might or could do if personally present, with full power of substitution or revocation, hereby ratifying and confirming all that my Agent shall lawfully do or cause to be done by virtue of this Power of Attorney and the powers herein granted.
I give my agent the power to do anything that I have a right or duty to do, now or in the future.
November 8, 2012
Job opening for Elder Financial Justice Clinical Prof
Here are the details:
College of Law
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The University of Illinois College of Law – a national leader in the field of elder law and policy – invites applications for a clinical professor to develop and direct an Elder Financial Justice Clinic focused on matters relating to elder financial abuse. Each year, elderly U.S. citizens lose roughly $3 billion through financial frauds perpetrated by strangers, family members, friends, and neighbors. Despite increased attention to the phenomenon of elder financial abuse at the state and federal levels, instances of wrongdoing remain underreported, under-investigated, and under-prosecuted. The primary missions of the Elder Law Clinic will be to educate law students about the prevalence of elder financial abuse, to equip students with the necessary tools to detect, manage, and prosecute instances of wrongdoing, and to represent indigent elderly clients who have been financially victimized.
The position is a nine-month appointment as a Clinical Professor. Responsibilities include teaching a classroom component to the Clinic designed to orient students to the problem of elder financial abuse and to develop the necessary skills to detect, manage, and prosecute cases; closely supervising student casework and other matters related to the Clinic’s representation of clients; developing relationships with other entities – including governmental agencies, advocacy groups, financial services organizations, and other campus units – that may be in a position to advance the Clinic’s mission; and undertaking administrative responsibilities relating to management of the Clinic.
The successful candidate must be licensed to practice law (or in a position to secure licensure) in the state of Illinois; experienced in the area of civil or criminal litigation – ideally, with prior exposure to the field of fraud; and able to work effectively with students, clients, the bench and bar, other faculty members, and the broader community. Previous experience with clinical education is preferred, but not required. Salary is dependent upon experience.
To apply for the position, please create your candidate profile at http://jobs.illinois.edu and upload a letter of interest; resume; and the names, addresses and telephone numbers of three references by December 5, 2012 via the University of Illinois’ online system. All requested information must be submitted for your application to be considered. Proposed start date would be the first day possible after hire.
For questions about the application process, you may contact Chris Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org
The University of Illinois is an Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity Employer and welcomes individuals with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and ideas who embrace and value diversity and inclusivity (www.inclusiveillinois.illinois.edu).
William Zinsser Explains How He Wrote “On Writing Well.”
A few years ago, William Zinsser composed a lengthy column on how he wrote and revised his classic guide “On Writing Well.” He tells us that in his own writing, he had tried to emulate E.B. White, among other accomplishments, the coauthor of “The Elements of Style.” Zinsser worried that he would have nothing new to say in his own book. Here is an excerpt:
The dominant manual at that time was The Elements of Style, by E. B. White and William Strunk Jr., which was E. B. White’s updating of the guide that had most influenced him, written in 1918 by his English professor at Cornell. My problem was that White was the writer who had most influenced me. His was the style—seemingly casual but urbane and wise—that I had long taken as my own model. How could I not agree with everything he said about language and usage in The Elements of Style? He was Goliath standing in my path.
But when I analyzed White’s book, its terrors evaporated. The Elements of Style was essentially a book of pointers and admonitions: Do this, don’t do that. As principles they were invaluable, but they were only principles, existing without context or reality. What his book didn’t teach was how to apply those principles to the various forms that nonfiction writing can take, each with its special requirements: travel writing, science writing, business writing, the interview, memoir, sports, criticism, humor. That’s what I taught in my course, and it’s what I would teach in my book. I wouldn’t compete with The Elements of Style; I would complement it.
That decision gave me my pedagogical structure. It also finally liberated me from E. B. White. I saw that I was long overdue to stop trying to write like E. B. White—and trying to be E. B. White, the sage essayist. He and I, after all, weren’t really much alike. He was a passive observer of events, withdrawn from the tumult, his world bounded by his office at The New Yorker and his house in rural Maine. I was a participant, a seeker of people and far places, change and risk. At Yale I had also become a teacher, my world enlarged by every new student who came along. The personal voice of the teacher, not the literary voice of the essayist, was the one I wanted narrating my book.
The column offers more on other aspects of Zinsser’s excerpts. Well worth reading.
New ETL Portfolio On International Business Negotiations
Improving teaching in law schools lies with the individual teachers. As I've mentioned before, Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers has portfolios from expert teachers showing how they teach courses from Contracts to White Collar Crimes. Jay Gary Finkelstein and Daniel D. Bradlow have just posted a portfolio here on International Business Negotiations.
The authors describe the course:
"Teaching students to be transactional lawyers requires innovation. Transaction documents provide no insight into the process of reaching agreement. Our course, in which students participate in an extended simulation exercise, brings the process of structuring and negotiating an international business transaction into the classroom. It allows students to learn how lawyers translate business concepts into legal agreements that meet their clients’ objectives, experience the demands of working collaboratively, learn about the impact of business transactions on society, and develop their negotiating skills. The simulated environment allows “mistakes” to become lessons and not malpractice. This course has been offered with the two negotiating teams located in one law school and at two different law schools."
November 7, 2012
Tips for the initial law job interview
From the Lawyerist blog.
Do your homework
Separate Job-Obtaining Phase from Information-Gathering Phase
Work on your small talk
Don’t lose your sense of humor
Watch others at lunch
End each interview by asking for what you want
Click on the link for the full details on each of the tips.
Demand for law firm services remains flat
As reported by today's Wall Street Journal Law Blog:
LBers craving comfort in the familiar can latch on to this: with stocks in a post-election plummet and yet another storm bearing down on the battered Northeast, law firms continue to provide admirable consistency.
How so? Demand for their services remains essentially flat, according to a third quarter analysis of the law firm market out this month from Peer Monitor, a division of Thomson Reuters’ Hildebrandt Institute.
Among the cheery data points:
- Litigation demand fell this quarter, evening out earlier gains to remain flat.
- Deal work continues to be in the basement, at least in aggregate. Corporate work is down 1%, and transactional practices are weak, with bankruptcy down 2.6% and real estate down 2.7%.
- While demand was up 2.5% for labor and employment — one of the few bright spots this year, practice-wise — growth has slowed to the most sluggish pace in the past two years.
“Nearly all major practices were down during the quarter,” according to the report, which is based on data from 125 large and mid-size U.S. law firms. “The law firm market continues to struggle. Weakening demand and low rate growth are challenging any meaningful top line growth while expenses, although moderating, continue to run ahead of revenues. Productivity continues to decline as capacity exceeds demand.”
Continue reading here.
Effective Teaching Requires Chemistry With Students
From veteran teacher Walt Gardner (excerpt):
[N]on-cognitive outcomes are given too little attention in today's accountability movement. That's because attitudes and values are remembered long after knowledge and skills are forgotten. Yet reformers completely ignore the importance of the former due to their obsession with the latter. That's totally counterproductive if the goal is to create lifelong learners. Teachers can - and do - teach their subjects well, and yet teach their students to hate the subjects in the process. ***The best advice I can give teachers today who face demands I never did during the 28 years that I taught is to try to form bonds with students. As I wrote before, "there has to be chemistry between teacher and students.”
November 6, 2012
Domestic legal outsourcing is fresh source of new law jobs
We've reported before how law firms are outsourcing legal work to domestic contract lawyers working in low cost, hinterland cities ("onshoring" if you will) as a way to lower costs, keep clients happy and thereby remain competitive (here). National Jurist Magazine is reporting that the trend has gained enough traction such that it's become a welcomed source of jobs for new law grads (if one can overlook the irony that it's because of this trend that once plentiful and high paying BigLaw jobs have vanished). Nevertheless, given the reality of the "new normal," the pay is nothing to sneeze at, ranging from $50-$80k according to the magazine.
The practice of law firms and corporations seeking legal support services from an outside company is gaining in popularity with legal process outsourcing companies increasing their domestic presence, according to a study on market trends by Northwestern Law.
The trend has been controversial given that it has shipped legal jobs overseas. But the recent rise in domestic companies has created employment opportunities for new graduates. Additionally, some positions do require applicants to move to other countries such as England, and India.
Many of the job salaries range between $50,000 and $80,000.
“[Job growth] is happening in India and happening in the U.S. as companies expand their footprint and create U.S.-based delivery centers,” said Greg McPolin, managing director at Pangea3, a legal process outsource company. “Law students that are graduating now have options within the LPO industries.”
Many in the legal industry say LPOs are here to stay — part of an evolving legal model.
“I think people in every facet of the legal eco-system now get it,” McPolin said. “The world economy changed drastically in 2008 and that has made an indelible change on the legal system as we know it. [LPOs] are a permanent feature in the way corporates consume legal information and I think attorneys know that as well.”
Click here to keep reading and for a link to job openings with LPO's that offer domestic opportunities.
There's a writing skills crisis in America
According to data from the National Center for Educational Statistics and the National Center for Educational Progress, America’s students are struggling and have been at varying degrees of seriousness since 1998. Using writing assessments delivered to students around the U.S., the research found that only one student in five produces proficient prose. Even worse, 20% of America’s 12th-graders can’t even meet basic standards.
Even with spell check and a thesaurus on hand, just 27% of students are able to write essays that are well-developed and use proper language and grammar.
The most recent assessments by the NCES don’t paint a rosy picture either. This year’s batch of tests were administered by computer, with students having access to spell check and a thesaurus if they needed it. Even with that advantage, just 27% of students were able to write competent essays. Part of the problem may be that students just don’t know how to use word-processing software. Students who have access to computers at home and regularly use them to complete assignments were more likely to score better on the tests (though that could also be an economic issue, too, as students who qualified for free lunch often scored lower).
Ideally, students should enter college with solid writing skills but that doesn’t always happen. Sadly, those who enter with poor writing skills often leave with them. A report compiled by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and partner organizations surveyed employers about grads’ writing abilities. According to those employers, 26.2% of college students exhibited knowledge and skills in writing that qualified as deficient. Even worse, employers felt that 28% of grads not only weren’t good writers but were deficient in all written communications, meaning they had trouble even fulfilling the basic writing duties their jobs required.
Why do graduates produce writing that’s deficient? It seems that many aren’t getting the attention and remedial training they need to improve it, despite shelling out tens of thousands for their degree programs. Released in 2011, the book Academically Adrift followed 2,300 students through their college education. During their senior year, fewer than half of the students in the study felt that their writing had improved while in college. Research suggests this lack of improvement might be a matter of falling standards. Fewer than 50% had to write papers longer than 20 pages and those who took courses that were challenging were more likely to report improvements than their peers in less challenging courses.
According to a report from the College Board, the organization that administers the SAT, the average scores for both reading and writing on the SAT saw a drop in 2011. Reading scores dropped by three points to 497 and writing scores dropped by two points to 489. Some have attributed the drop to the fact that more students are taking the SAT, rather than just the more elite students like in years past. Yet that doesn’t remove the significance of the drop, as all students who graduate from high school should be able to perform at a minimum level, and many cannot even meet basic standards.
What happens when students arrive at college unable to form coherent prose? They (hopefully) have to take remedial courses. A case study in 2003 found that 17% of college freshmen needed remedial writing classes to be able to write at a college level. That’s not only taking up time, but it’s also costing a lot of money: an estimated $1 billion every year.
Anyone who has read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers knows that it takes hours and hours of practice to get good at something, but today’s kids aren’t spending much time boosting their writing skills. Most spend fewer than three hours a week on writing, just 15% of what they spend watching TV.
With skills in writing closely correlated with skills in reading, part of what makes American students struggle so much with writing may be their poor reading ability. NAEP tests found that 70% of U.S. 8th graders scored below the proficient level on the organization’s reading exam. Like writing, the issue with reading may be a matter of rigor. Only 30% of students in this age group report reading daily.
A lack of solid writing skills doesn’t just hurt student grades, it also takes a hefty toll on the economy. The National Commission on Writing estimates that the nation’s top companies spend more than $3.1 billion a year on remedial training. The negative impact of writing isn’t just limited to corporations, however; it impacts the government, too. The NCW estimates that states spend $221 million on writing training each year to bring employees up to level.
Students today are not only poor writers, most don’t really care much for most traditional forms of writing. A 2010 study conducted by Writing in Digital Environments (WIDE) Research Center at Michigan State University asked college students about their attitudes and behaviors regarding writing. The results were surprising. Students were found to view sending text messages as a valid writing form and ranked it as the most valuable form of writing over all others. While academic writing did make the top three, the overvaluation of texting is a troubling sign that shows that today’s students may have misplaced priorities.
Sadly, there is a significant gender divide between male and female students with regard to writing. This year’s NAEP tests revealed that the academic divide between the genders begins early on, with female students handily outscoring their male counterparts in writing. Female students in 8th grade averaged 160 points, their male counterparts just 140. Things evened up a bit as students aged, with female students in 12th grade scoring 157 and males 143, but that’s still a very significant gap. One of the biggest factors in determining success? How much students like writing. Eighteen percent more of female students than male students said they enjoyed writing, and without a drive to practice many boys may be missing out on chances to improve.
There have been numerous criticisms that writing instruction today is not formally rigorous enough, perhaps placing too much of an emphasis on expressing feelings. Unfortunately, many students feel that writing stinks. Whatever writing teachers are doing to teach students, it’s not endearing the practice to them. In fact, few students report it as being one of their favorite things to do. Just 53% of girls love to write and 35% of boys. When students don’t enjoy writing, they’re not going to seek it out. A paper published at PSU in 2008 explored some of the reasons students hate writing. Among the top three: students believe they don’t know how to write, students aren’t sure what the teacher wants, and (contrary to the critics) students feel disconnected from their own writing by constrictive writing assignments.
Lesson: Don't Get Too Full of Yourself
A lesson for your students to carry into their professional lives. In Chris Matthews’ book, "Hardball," he recounts the following story:
“Do you guys know who Bill Bradley is? Well, let’s just say he’s everything you’d want to be and more. So here’s Bill one evening at a dinner at the White House. The waiter is filling water glasses and passing out bread and butter. Bill says to the guy, ‘Hey you, waiter. Get me some more butter, this just isn’t enough.’ To which the waiter says, ‘I’m sorry, each guest only receives one serving of butter.'
Nearly hysterical Bradley then goes on to ask, ‘Son, do you know who I am?’ A bit startled at the challenge the waiter says ‘No, I’m sorry sir, but I don’t.’ Leaning back with an assured grin Bradley then begins, ‘I’m Bill Bradley. I was an All-American basketball player at Princeton and got an Olympic gold before even graduating. Then I turned down the NBA to be a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. After finishing that up I came back to the US, played for 10 seasons with the Knicks and won two championships. Then I retired and became a senator. Oh yeah, and then I ran for President.’
Taken aback a bit by the aggressiveness in Bradley’s short outburst, the waiter took a few moments to gather himself then returned the brazen stare and said, ‘I don’t think you know who I am.’ ‘Well, who ARE you?’ Bradley asked. The waiter grinned, ‘I’m the guy in charge of the butter. One per person.” And with that, the waiter walked away.
No matter where you go in your career, no matter how important you THINK you are, always be aware of who controls the butter.
Professionalism versus Professional Identity
Some writers in the legal education reform movement have stressed the need to distinguish between "professionalism" and "professional identity" and to teach professional identity as a central part of law school. David Thomson has just posted a paper on this subject entitled 'Teaching' Formation of Professional Identity. He explains "how Professionalism relates to behaviors, such as timeliness, thoroughness, respect towards opposing counsel and judges, and responding to clients in a timely fashion." On the other hand, "Professional identity relates to one’s own decisions about those behaviors (which sounds like overlap, but it is not), as well as a sense of duty as an officer of the court and responsibility as part of a system in our society that is engaged in upholding the rule of law." In my view, professional identity is metacognitive, while professionalism is how lawyers specifically apply professional identity.
Abstract: The Carnegie Report criticized legal education for, among other failings, not being intentional about the formation of professional identity among its students. As we develop our thinking about professional ethics instruction, we should be explicit about what we mean. In recent discussions, the terms "Professionalism" and "Professional Identity" have been used interchangeably. While there is some overlap between them, each contains components that are distinct from the other.
This article will offer a definitional line with which to articulate the distinction and a pedagogical process by which we might address the concern articulated in the Carnegie report. The problem is that formation of an identity is not something we can “teach” per se, since you cannot teach someone to form his or her identity. This article will offer a framework that should be applicable across the curriculum. It describes a combination of guidance steps that ideally take place in a particular order, which the article calls a “Guidance Sequence for Formation of Professional Identity (GSFPI).”
The sequence has four essential components. 1) An exercise or a writing assignment that sets up an ethical dilemma as it appears in practice; 2) An identification by the student of the ethical quandary raised in completing the assignment; 3) An expression by the student of the ethical issue and their reflection on their own decisions about how they resolved the dilemma; and 4) Some form of feedback and response from the professor about the decisions and choices the student made. The article describes several law school course contexts in which this sequence might be used, with an emphasis on teaching through simulations.
November 5, 2012
Legal sector adds jobs for second straight month
Six hundred new jobs were added in October according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which also revised the number of legal sector jobs added in September to 1,300 from 1,000. As reported by AmLaw Daily, this means a net gain of 6,000 legal jobs since the beginning of the year. For those keeping score at home, here's the monthly breakdown since January:
- October 2012 - 600 jobs added
- September 2012 - 1,300 (revised) jobs added.
- August 2012 - 1,100 (revised) jobs lost.
- July 2012 - 1,500 (revised) jobs added. (Revised again to 2,000 jobs added).
- June 2012 - 20o jobs lost.
- May 2012 - 600 jobs added
- April 2012 - 3,900 jobs added
- March 2012 - 1,300 jobs lost.
- February 2012 - 800 jobs added.
- January 2012 - 1,000 jobs added.
Writing Tips from an Advertising Man
In the “Mad Man” era, David Olgivy was a giant in the advertising world. His celebrated book, Confessions of an Advertising Man, remains a classic. I especially remember how he persuaded Eleanor Roosevelt to appear in an ad for Blue Bonnet Margarine.
In 1982, Olgivy wrote an interoffice memo on writing. Here are his directives:
The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.
Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.
Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:
1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
6. Check your quotations.
7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.
Thanks to Brain Pickings.
November 4, 2012
Critique of Brian Tamanaha's Criticism of Legal Education
Ray Worthy Campbell has posted an insightful critique of Brian Tamanaha's book criticizing legal education. He thinks that, while Tamanaha has made a compelling case concerning the problems with legal education, he argues that Tamanaha has not proposed a realistic solution.Law School Disruption
Abstract: "Parked at the crossroads of higher education and legal practice, U.S. law schools find their once serene setting to be under siege. The legal services industry faces a period of profound structural change with uncertain consequences for the traditional practice of law. Meanwhile, higher education wades through its own Slough of Despond, with its mission unclear and elite institutions spooked by disruptive change.
Just at this moment Brian Tamanaha has entered the scene with a book entitled Failing Law Schools. Tamanaha argues persuasively that law schools are in crisis, with costs so high and employment prospects so poor that most law schools now represent a bad investment for students. He tells how things came to this sad pass, with legal educator selfishness playing the leading role. He builds a compelling case.
Tamanaha falters when he attempts to present a path forward for law schools. In proposing changes for the future, he essentially seeks a return to a more affordable past. In the context of changes sweeping higher education and legal services, such a return may not be possible or desirable. Law schools that find themselves in a challenging situation will need to address – and perhaps embrace – radical change in order to chart a path forward.
Tamanaha’s failure to address the future flows from fundamental limitations in his approach. First, Tamanaha errs in treating law schools as a special case. The most severe ills afflicting law schools – the orientation towards benefitting faculty rather than serving students, a system-wide elevation of research over teaching, and soaring tuitions – appear in similar degree across the academic spectrum of modern U.S. universities. Second, Tamanaha also fails to engage with some of the most disruptive (and promising) changes coming to higher education, including eventually law schools. Effective online learning threatens to split the instruction aspect of higher education from the research and networking aspects, with enormous implications for educational finances as well as institutional missions. Tamanaha’s modest 'back to the future' vision fails to engage with the ways these new developments create opportunities for schools to be better than they ever have been, at lower costs.
Tamanaha also fails to take into account the changing nature of the legal services market. He focuses on training traditional lawyers for traditional legal practice. Both at the high and low ends, however, change is coming to the legal services market, impacting both the demand for traditionally schooled lawyers and potentially creating demand for new kinds of service providers. Tamanaha’s prescription fails to address this systemic change, and as a result fails to look at how law schools might be best reconfigured to serve a society with changing needs.
That said, Tamanaha has helped launch a discussion that needs to be had. No professor with a conscience can comfortably watch half his or her students spend three years of their youth and significant sums on a legal education only to find no jobs that justify the investment. For those schools not in the very upper tier of American legal education, something needs to change, and Tamanaha’s book helps structure the discussion of what that change should be."
I agree with Campbell that we cannot return to the models of the past. We must face the economic realities of the present and create a new form of legal education that is both affordable and effective.
New website matches potential clients with attorneys from the comfort of home
The service, called Lawdingo, goes one better than LegalZoom and RocketLawyer by offering clients a free consultation with an attorney licensed in their jurisdiction. If each side is happy, the attorney can be retained online without the client every having to leave home. As the website says "Skip the hassle! Legal advice is at your fingertips."
Lawdingo's founder says he hopes the service will not only be a great convenience to clients looking to find an attorney without having to make, and wait for, an office appointment, but that it will also put a dent in the number of unemployed lawyers by giving them another means to find business and lower overhead by practicing via a virtual law office. From Lawdingo's press release:
How do you find a good lawyer to handle a divorce, start-up issues or a criminal defense case, anywhere? It's a hard thing to do because the market is so fragmented, both geographically and by domain expertise.
A new site and service, Lawdingo.com, makes matches between attorneys and people who need their help. It aims to do so more quickly and affordably than earlier alternatives on- and offline.
The founder and chief executive of Lawdingo Inc., Nikhil Nirmel, told VentureWire he raised $100,000 in seed funding from veteran engineers and entrepreneurs, with a commitment to double that capital if he hits certain milestones.
Now out of private beta, Lawdingo.com "lets people talk to a lawyer online," the CEO explained. Attorneys who want to use the site to connect with prospective clients are heavily vetted before they're allowed to join. Once accepted, they must be available to talk "now or within the week by video chat, phone or email," with potential clients, Mr. Nirmel said.
Users access qualified lawyers within their state via Lawdingo online, so they don't have to wait for an open appointment and drive across town to meet an attorney one month later. Instead, they get a free consultation in the virtual, and can decide to proceed and pay online, or move into some other long-term agreement, offline, with pricing established upfront.
The legal advice that users get via Lawdingo.com is tailored, specific and actionable, unlike content shared on general, social media sites or even law-firm blogs. It's not do-it-yourself or software-guided legal help, like that provided by LegalZoom or RocketLawyer, two other tech ventures trying to transform the market.
The average free online consultation given to Lawdingo users lasts for 20 minutes, said Mr. Nirmel. Lawyers set their own terms but must offer free consultations up to one hour in duration.
Attorneys don't have to pay a commission or lead-generation fees to Lawdingo for new business should they lock in a long-term retainer. Attorneys also get 100% of the fees users pay for consultation by the hour on the Lawdingo platform.
The start-up makes its revenue by charging attorneys a monthly fee for the software as a service. That pricing, in the company's pilot phase, was $95 per month per user. The monthly subscription pales in comparison to the time and money most attorneys, or their firms, spend to be seen in search engines, and directories from Yelp.com, more generally, to specialized sites like Lawyers.com.
So far, investors backing Lawdingo include a seed fund in Cambridge, Mass., called Stevens Ventures, a former Yelp Inc . engineer named Adam Derewecki, and Rohan Srinivasan, who is best known for his work in Google Inc.'s finance team. Other angels who preferred to remain unnamed include an engineer who has been with Google since 2004.
The founder of Stevens Ventures, Nathaniel Stevens-- also the founder of local search business Yodle Inc. --explained that he backed Lawdingo Inc. because: "Interacting with lawyers is still an inconvenient and costly pain, especially when you're in the retail or consumer law market. The Web is under-exploited as a channel, here."
Mr. Stevens also endorsed Mr. Nirmel's abilities to build products tailored for local and niche professional markets, while managing and scaling up his team.
The Wall Street Journal reported in June that only 55% of newly minted attorneys--those who graduated from law school in 2011--attained full-time, long-term jobs in the U.S. Lawdingo hopes to improve those numbers, too.
Mr. Nirmel said the site and service should help major law firms and sole practitioners all to become more profitable, by giving them visibility with and access to customers in markets beyond their brick-and-mortar offices.
Continue reading the press release here.
Hat tip to Above the Law.
Surveys show teachers believe technology is hampering ability of students to pay attention
And one implication may be that students' ability to think in a sustained and deep fashion, which is essential to the development of analytical abilities, may be suffering. As reported by the New York Times:
There is a widespread belief among teachers that students’ constant use of digital technology is hampering their attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks, according to two surveys of teachers being released on Thursday.
The researchers note that their findings represent the subjective views of teachers and should not be seen as definitive proof that widespread use of computers, phones and video games affects students’ capability to focus.
Even so, the researchers who performed the studies, as well as scholars who study technology’s impact on behavior and the brain, say the studies are significant because of the vantage points of teachers, who spend hours a day observing students.
The timing of the studies, from two well-regarded research organizations, appears to be coincidental.
One was conducted by the Pew Internet Project, a division of the Pew Research Center that focuses on technology-related research. The other comes from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization in San Francisco that advises parents on media use by children. It was conducted by Vicky Rideout, a researcher who has previously shown that media use among children and teenagers ages 8 to 18 has grown so fast that they on average spend twice as much time with screens each year as they spend in school.
Teachers who were not involved in the surveys echoed their findings in interviews, saying they felt they had to work harder to capture and hold students’ attention.
“I’m an entertainer. I have to do a song and dance to capture their attention,” said Hope Molina-Porter, 37, an English teacher at Troy High School in Fullerton, Calif., who has taught for 14 years. She teaches accelerated students, but has noted a marked decline in the depth and analysis of their written work.
She said she did not want to shrink from the challenge of engaging them, nor did other teachers interviewed, but she also worried that technology was causing a deeper shift in how students learned. She also wondered if teachers were adding to the problem by adjusting their lessons to accommodate shorter attention spans.
“Are we contributing to this?” Ms. Molina-Porter said. “What’s going to happen when they don’t have constant entertainment?”
Scholars who study the role of media in society say no long-term studies have been done that adequately show how and if student attention span has changed because of the use of digital technology. But there is mounting indirect evidence that constant use of technology can affect behavior, particularly in developing brains, because of heavy stimulation and rapid shifts in attention.
Kristen Purcell, the associate director for research at Pew, acknowledged that the findings could be viewed from another perspective: that the education system must adjust to better accommodate the way students learn, a point that some teachers brought up in focus groups themselves.
“What we’re labeling as ‘distraction,’ some see as a failure of adults to see how these kids process information,” Ms. Purcell said. “They’re not saying distraction is good but that the label of ‘distraction’ is a judgment of this generation.”
The surveys also found that many teachers said technology could be a useful educational tool. In the Pew survey, which was done in conjunction with the College Board and the National Writing Project, roughly 75 percent of 2,462 teachers surveyed said that the Internet and search engines had a “mostly positive” impact on student research skills. And they said such tools had made students more self-sufficient researchers.
But nearly 90 percent said that digital technologies were creating “an easily distracted generation with short attention spans.”
You can continue reading here.
Should I Dress Up for Class?
In this article by Scott Farver, the former 5th grade teacher explains why he always wore a tie to class:
If I wore a tie for an important person like the president of the United States but not for my students, what kind of message would that send? If I did not wear a tie, did that mean they were unimportant? I don't know if my students would ever reach that conclusion, but I felt like it was implied somehow. We dress up for important people and events. We dress up for presidents. My students are important. Every day of school is important, as important as if the president were visiting.
While I am not proselytizing that every staff member in a school building dress up, I do feel that students need to know they matter. So I wear a tie. I shine my shoes. I get haircuts. I try to reflect their value by what I wear, how I speak, and how I behave. When I enter a classroom, I think about how I look because I want my students to know they are important, as important as a president.
When I first began teaching, I dressed very casually. After a while, I realized that the students wanted to see an authority figure teaching them. It didn’t help that in those days, I lacked gray hair. So I started wearing a tie. Even now, when I do have a good bit of gray hair, I wear a tie to almost all my classes.