Saturday, March 16, 2013

"Information is Cheap, but Meaning is Expensive: Building Analytical Skill Into Legal Research Instruction."

This article is by Professor Yasmin Sokkar Harker (CUNY) and available at 105 Law Libr. J. 79 (2013). From the synopsis:

Law students and new attorneys must have well-developed analytical skills in order to find information that is pertinent to their legal problems and to become competent legal researchers in today’s information-rich environment. Law librarians and legalresearch instructors can help develop students’ analytical skills by asking them to participate in activities that encourage metacognition about processes that are criticalto information seeking.


March 16, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Family Savings for Higher Education: Not Enough

According to Moody’s , family savings for these educational costs are very small and proportionately smaller than in the past:

Moody’s, which rates 515 colleges and universities for credit quality, puts a number on the problem in a report released Mar. 12. The average family that has set aside money for a four-year degree has only $12,000 today, down from $22,000 three years ago. In that time the cost of educating a student has climbed 10%. Result: The net tuition income that colleges have to get elsewhere (per student, over four years) has climbed from $59,000 to $77,000.

Those other sources of fuel for the higher education industry are, primarily, the current income of parents and students, borrowing by students and parents and government aid. None of these sources can now be counted on to keep up with rises in the cost of running a college. Students’ willingness to borrow seemed limitless a few years ago but is now tempered by awareness of how much recent grads are struggling with their loans.

Here’s the article from Forbes magazine.



March 16, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 15, 2013

New legal "skills" scholarship: "Learning to work together: how collaborative clinical education can be used to train law and paralegal students together"

This article is by Professor Kate Crowley (Charlotte) and is available at 14 T.M. Cooley J. Prac. & Clin. L. 129 (2012).  Here is the synopsis:

Even though they may work together for most of their careers, lawyers and paralegals often have no introduction to the other's profession until beginning their careers. Through collaborative clinical education, law students and paralegal students can be taught and trained together, giving them an introduction to-and understanding of-the work the other does well before entering the working world. Borrowing from educational models in medicine, law schools could integrate paralegal students into existing clinics, subject to certain rules and prerequisites.


March 15, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pope Francis

Even a Legal Skills blog can’t ignore the election of a new Pope. The personality and commitments of a new pope influence not just the church, but the rest of the world. Here, we have a pope with proven compassion for the poor.

As a liberal practicing Catholic, I knew it was too much to hope for a pope that would revise the church’s official stand on certain doctrinal issues, including gender issues and sexual morality, and my opinion was confirmed. However, a compassionate person may begin to understand the views of others and the pain that others feel. In any case, day-to-day Catholics tend to follow their own hearts on these issues anyway.

Let me recommend a column by the liberal evangelist Jim Wallis, also a prominent religious author and editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine. His column contains two quotations of the Pope, then Cardinal:

"We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least," said Bergoglio at a 2007 Latin American bishops meeting, according to National Catholic Reporter. "The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers."

The second was about clerical privilege and insular church hierarchy. That ecclesial isolation has set the terms of the Catholic Church’s reputation and behavior for far too long.

The new pope said:

"We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church. It's true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that's sick because it's self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former."

Here is a link to the column.



March 15, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Students websurfing during class has contagion effect that causes others to underperform too.

A new study by researchers at York University in Canada has found that students who use their laptops to surf the web during class not only causes them to underperform academically but also negatively affects the performance of students around them who are trying to concentrate on the lecture.

Multitasking on laptop impedes classroom learning, York U study shows

Laptops are increasingly taking the place of writing tools such as pen and paper, especially among postsecondary students. However, using a laptop to browse the internet while listening to a lecture can be intrusive, a recent York University study reveals.

“The results of our experiment confirm that multitasking on a laptop reduces a student’s ability to comprehend lecture content,” says Tina Weston, a co-author and doctoral student in the Department of Psychology York’s Faculty of Health.

“A more surprising finding was that students sitting nearby a multitasker also underperformed, despite actively trying to focus on the lecture. These students were placed at a disadvantage because of the choices of their peers,” adds Weston, who worked alongside McMaster University doctoral student Faria Sana on the study led by Professor Melody Wiseheart of York U’s Department of Psychology.

The study, published this month in Computers & Education, a leading publication on technology use in classrooms, was conducted on undergraduate level student participants. They were asked to attend a university-style lecture and take notes using their laptops as a primary task.

Half the participants were then randomly assigned to complete a series of non-lecture related online tasks during the lecture. These tasks were meant to mimic typical student web browsing during class in terms of both quality and quantity, according to the researchers. In a comprehension test at the end of the lecture, multitasking participants performed worse than non-multitasking participants.

For the same study, another set of undergraduate students was asked to take notes using paper and pencil while attending to the lecture. Some of them were strategically seated throughout the classroom so that they were in view of those multitasking on laptops, and others had a distraction-free view of the lecture.

The authors conclude that both the multitasking student and the peer in close vicinity perform poorly on in-class assessments compared to non-multitasking students.

Hat tip Inside Higher Ed.


March 14, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Harvard Controversy: Can Your Administration Search Your Email Inbox?

If you read your institution’s rules and regs, you undoubtedly will find that it can, as a matter of law. But we may be concerned not about law but about generally accepted understandings and expectations. From Wired Campus, here is an analysis (excerpts):

The revelation that Harvard University secretly looked at the e-mail inboxes of 16 resident deans in the wake of last year’s cheating scandal has led to outrage among some of its professors, with prominent faculty members taking to the Internet to vent their frustrations.

From a strictly legal standpoint, employees generally do not have a right to privacy when using their employers’ computers or e-mail services, legal experts say. Individual policies may offer some protections, but there is nothing illegal about an employer’s reading e-mail messages sent through its own systems or networks.

In a statement released on Monday, Harvard explained that the searches consisted only of looking at e-mail messages’ subject lines and that the inquiry was limited to the resident deans’ administrative e-mail accounts, which are separate from their general Harvard e-mail accounts and are intended only for Harvard business.

The distinctions between employees and faculty members, between subject lines and message contents, and between private and public universities make e-mail privacy a confusing aspect of professorial policies, said Robert M. O’Neil, founding director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and a former president of the University of Virginia.

Without any kind of general policy across the board, it all comes down to individual expectations, he said. If a university gives its employees reason to expect more privacy, then that university should usually honor that expectation.

“At the same time, the guidance that we have from various courts seems to suggest that an employer does have some degree of access to an employee’s routine communications,” Mr. O’Neil said. “It’s still very much in flux and is a highly confusing field.”

 “All of that arises in the uniquely public context, and Harvard is about as private as you can get,” Mr. O’Neil said. “So I think it’s a dramatic difference and a critical distinction.”


March 14, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Illinois Bar Association: Special Committee Report--On Legal Education Reform

The Illinois Bar Association: Special Committee on the Impact of Law School Debt on the Delivery of Legal Services has just issued its Final Report & Recommendations.  I think that this Report will become a very important document for reforming the legal profession, law schools, and legal education.  While this report has many findings and recommendations, especially on the effect of law school debt, I would like to concentrate on its findings and recommendations concerning the delivery of legal education in this post.  I am sure that my co-bloggers and I will have more on this important Report in the next few days.

The Report states, "The Special Committee concluded that, given the dynamics discussed above, the training that law students receive in law school today is increasingly not worth its high cost—essentially creating a “perfect” storm. The problems with the current legal education model go beyond the difficult economic climate. In fact, the Special Committee received testimony that the tight job market facing recent law school graduates may have—at least in part—resulted from the inadequate training of law students for the jobs that are available. The majority of lawyers who testified indicated that new lawyers are not adequately prepared for practice, and that hiring partners have consequently become less willing to hire new lawyers, preferring instead those with a minimum of several years of experience. The inadequate “practice ready” skills of new graduates has apparently contributed to the reality that only 55% of the law school class of 2011 had full time, permanent jobs that required a JD nine months after graduation."

Among the findings of the Report are:

1. "Law schools place an inordinate focus on academic scholarship. Although they are paid more, faculty today teach less and have fewer administrative responsibilities than several decades ago, all in the name of granting more time for scholarship."

2. "Law schools fail to provide adequate opportunities for law students to practice legal writing skills in the context of problems that might arise in a typical practice setting."

3. "Law students do not receive adequate feedback on their performance during law school."

4. "The faculty tenure requirements of most law schools, along with law schools’ focus on academic scholarship, deemphasizes practice experience as a qualification. As a result, many faculty lack the practice experience that would assist them in training the next generation of lawyers and judges."

Recommendations: "Law schools themselves must transform their curricula to focus on educating lawyers for practice."

1. Focus on practice-oriented courses: "Law schools should prioritize simulation courses, live-client clinics, and other courses that give students the opportunity to learn and apply legal principles in the context of real life problems. . . . At the same time, law schools should integrate practical exercises into traditional doctrinal courses so that students begin to learn to practice law from the beginning of law school."

2. Provide fewer exotic courses: "Law schools should cut back on courses such as “Law and Literature” that focus exclusively on the academic study of law, with no practical application."

3. Provide more writing assignments and constructive criticism: "More law school courses should include writing assignments and opportunities for students to receive feedback on their work prior to the final exam."

4. Teach law office management.

5. Teach a bar review course.

6. Transform the second and third years of law school: "Law schools should use the second and third years of law school to help students transition to practice through apprenticeships in practice settings, practical courses, and teaching assistantships, rather than more traditional doctrinal courses. The Special Committee does not believe the third year of law school should be cut, as doing so would likely leave graduates even less prepared to practice than they are currently."

7. Change tenure and hiring requirements to put less emphasis on scholarship: "Law schools should prioritize teaching ability and practice skills when hiring and granting tenure, rather than academic scholarship."

8. Use practitioners and judges on hiring and tenure committees.

9. Use more properly-trained and supervised adjunct faculty.

10. Give clinical and legal writing faculty an equal say in governance: "Clinical and legal writing faculty should have the same responsibilities with respect to law school governance as traditional faculty."

(Scott Fruehwald)

March 14, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

New Books in Carolina Academic Press's Context and Practice Series

I have written many times on this blog about the innovative volumes in Carolina Academic Press's Context and Practice Series.  CAP continues to issue new books in this series.  Among the most recent tomes are:

Administrative Law: A Context and Practice Casebook by Richard Henry Seamon

Constitutional Law: A Context and Practice Casebook by David Schwartz and Lori Ringhand

Professional Responsibility: A Context and Practice Casebook by Barbara Glesner Fines

There are also forthcoming volumes on Common Interest Communities Law, International Business Transactions, Torts, Wills, and Workers' Compensation.  Among the topics covered by existing books in the series are Contracts, Civil Procedure, Sales, Evidence, Constitutional Litigation, Employment Discrimination, International Women's Rights, and the Lawyer's Practice.

CAP describes the series as:

"A few principles are core to the series’ vision. Best Practices recommends that law professors set high expectations, "engage the students in active learning,” “give regular and prompt feedback,” “help students improve their self-directed learning skills,” “employ multiple methods of instruction,” and, in particular, “use context-based instruction.” Educating Lawyers argues that law professors need to do a better job helping students build practice skills and develop their professional identities.

Accordingly, the books in this series:

  • Provide resources, such as multiple-choice question banks and essays with answers, designed to make it easier for professors to provide students opportunities for practice and feedback;
  • Focus on problem-solving in simulated law practice contexts across a wide range of practices, including both advocacy and transactional practices;
  • Include teachers’ manuals that make it easy to use multiple methods of instruction and to emphasize active learning;
  • Guide students’ development of self-directed learning strategies;
  • Incorporate learning objectives and doctrinal overviews and situate topics in the law practice contexts in which they arise;
  • Include questions that prompt readers to question, reflect, and analyze as they read;
  • Provide exercises that require students to reflect on the roles of lawyers and their own professional development;
  • "Integrate self-regulated learning skills and exercises; and
  • Help students to discover links between what they are learning and real life."

Using these books in your classes is an easy way of incorporating the new learning of the Carnegie Report, Best Practices, and other sources on legal education reform into your classes.  You can find more information here.

(Scott Fruehwald)

March 13, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Law prof warns that recent college grads don't have necessary critical reading, thinking and writing skills

Professor Michele Goodwin of U. Minnesota authored an editorial in today's Chronicle of Higher Education in which she says there's a growing opinion among legal academics that many of today's law students do not possess the minimum skills needed to succeed academically.  More specifically, Professor Goodwin notes that some colleagues have reported that today's college graduates have the worst writing skills they have ever encountered.

Law Professors See the Damage Done by ‘No Child Left Behind’

Kenneth Bernstein, a retired award-winning high-school teacher, recently issued a warning, first in Academe and then reprinted in The Washington Post: Professors beware—students educated under the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top policies are heading your way.

Bernstein explained, “I want to warn you of what to expect from the students who will be arriving in your classroom, even if you teach in a highly selective institution.”

He was right to warn us, except for one error: Those students have already arrived.  Very bright students now come to college and even law school ill-prepared for critical thinking, rigorous reading, high-level writing, and working independently.

. . . .

For more than a decade, a culture of test taking and teaching to the test has dominated elementary and secondary education in the United States, even at elite public and private schools. And now its effects are being felt by professors.

At the Association of American Law Schools conference in January, a number of professors voiced concern about these cultural shifts, their impacts in the classroom, and law schools’ roles in perpetuating the trends by placing high value on LSAT scores. According to some conference participants, students’ writing skills are the worst they have ever encountered. Moreover, they complain that students are less sheepish and more blatant about just wanting “the answers.” The challenge of learning on their own is so overwhelming to some law students that it has become far more common for students to demand their professors’ notes.

One professor at a top-20 law school recently confided that he has to teach his students how to write business letters. A professor at another elite school complained that grading exams is far more difficult now because the writing skills of students are so deficient that each exam requires several reads. Bernstein’s article suggests that he knows what accounts for this—federal education policy. He  may be right.

Teaching to the test is increasingly the dominant approach even in Advanced Placement courses taken for college credit. As teachers and their schools are evaluated and even ranked in magazines on how well students perform on tests, the emphasis at the ground level has shifted from teaching higher-level thinking to preparing students for standardized tests of all sorts.

. . . .

Teaching to the test overshadows (if not supplants) teaching critical thinking, higher-order reasoning, and the development of creative-writing skills. As Bernstein emphasizes, contemporary teaching or teaching to the test does not “require proper grammar, usage, syntax, and structure.” In fact, those skills may be perceived as unimportant in this modern age—as many of the tests taken by K-12 students employ multiple choice, and those that require essays grade on a rubric that pays little if any attention to the quality of writing.

Law schools are complicit, according to Washington University in St. Louis’s Brian Tamanaha, because they too play a numbers game. They also emphasize tests, such as the LSAT, which may not be the best indicator for student success but fits, as does GPA, into U.S. News & World Report’s rubric for law-school rankings.

In the quest to fill seats and boost tuition, law schools have also allowed grades to inflate. Two years ago, one law school increased all student grades retroactively by .333. The stakes boil down to student job placement.

. . . .

Continue reading here.


March 13, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Skills That an Administrator Should Learn Early

At the Chronicle of Higher Education, George McClellan, vice chancellor for student affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne, discusses skills that an administrator should learn early in his or her career. I think we could all benefit from learning these skills, though we may spend our entire careers developing them. This is a very worthwhile article.

Here are the skills:

Giving depositions and court testimony.

Handling internal politics

Moving up the ranks.

Aiding Those Suffering Loss and Grieving. (and dealing with your own grieving)


March 13, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Update on U.S. News Law School Rankings

Over the past two days, I have shown how the U.S. News law school rankings are of no value in helping prospective law students make a decision on where to go to law school and how the rankings have had a pernicious effect on law schools and law students.  Now that the rankings are out, there is more information on the rankings.

First, the lawyer/judge reputation survey category had a response rate of only 9%.  Such a low response rate is statistically meaningless.  They do average the scores for two years, but two meaningless surveys do not make a meaningful one.

Second, while U.S. News has fixed some of the problems with the employment category, as the Leiter Blog (Scott Altman) reports,  "these figures did not discount the full-time, permanent JD required jobs that law schools funded."  "But some schools report many such jobs.  GW, for example, reported that 80 of its graduates were employed in full-time permanent positions funded by the school.  US News includes these 80 jobs in GW’s fully-weighted employment statistic.  Virginia reported 64 such students.  The University of Chicago reported 24."  "I am unsure whether these law-school-funded jobs are genuinely full-time, permanent, JD required positions – though I have my doubts.  I am quite sure that they are not the kind of job that should be lumped for consumer purposes with permanent jobs not funded by the schools.   By displaying statistics that include these jobs, US News does a disservice.  By refusing to disclose the role these jobs play in rankings, US News only exacerbates the infirmities of its rankings with nontransparency."

Altman is correct.  With this gap, the employment category is still meaningless. In addition, it leaves open the possibility of law schools still "gaming" the system.

Third, as Leiter notes, "These results are very Northeast-centric, due to the way U.S. News surveys law firms."

Finally, as Leiter points out, "The University of Illinois, which suffered a severe reputational penalty last year for its fraudulent data reporting, sunk even further to 47th overall, and reputational scores outside the top 30 among both academics and practitioners.  In terms of faculty quality, it is now pretty clearly the most underranked law school in U.S. News, but it may also offer a cautionary note to schools that cheat in the reporting." 

(Scott Fruehwald)

March 13, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Essential legal research apps for the courtroom

Some great legal research tech tips from attorney@work that's part of a blog post called "Litigating With Your iPad . . . . on a Desert Island."

One of the very best things about having an iPad in court is that you have access to nearly your entire law library, all in a 1.44-pound device. If you are already a West or Lexis subscriber, you must use the WestlawNext or LexisAdvance app. They provide access to all the services of your favorite research provider. If you’re not a subscriber (or even if you are), download the free Fastcase app, which provides free, basic access to state and federal case law.

It’s also important to find an app with the rules and statutes for your relevant jurisdictions. While several apps provide access to rules and statutes, only one of them—AllLaw—provides them for all states. However, some of the other apps have better features, like LawBox, but only provide access to a limited number of jurisdictions. Search the App Store for [Your State] [Statutes or Rules or Law] and you’ll see what’s available to you.


March 12, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Time Magazine: "Just How Bad Off Are Law School Graduates?"

There's nothing especially new here in this Time Magazine editorial that references last week's NYT article on law schools that have started their own firms to put grads to work along with well trafficked stories (here, here and here) about the debt burden and limited job prospects facing current law grads.  For completists only.


March 12, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Judge Nixes NYC Ban on Big, Sugary Drink Sales

From the ABA Journal online:

A state-court judge has struck down a New York City program that was to go into effect on Tuesday and would have banned some Big Apple businesses, including restaurants and theaters, from selling sugary drinks like soda pop in supersize containers.

In a blow to the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had promoted the ban, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling said it didn't make sense and issued a permanent injunction, according to Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.

Despite the health benefits that might have been achieved under the program, the city's regulations are "fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences," explained Tingling in his written opinion. "The simple reading of the rule leads to the earlier acknowledged uneven enforcement even within a particular city block, much less the city as a whole. ... the loopholes in this rule effectively defeat the state purpose of the rule."

Additional coverage: "NYC Bans Supersize Sugary Drinks at Restaurants and Theaters; Juice, Booze Among the Exceptions" "NAACP sides with soft-drink industry in challenge to NY ban on large sugary sodas" "Sweetened beverages are dangerous, need FDA regulation, say public health officials"

New York Times (reg. req.): "Preparation and Vows of Defiance as Big Sugary Drink Ban Is Set to Start"

To be continued, I’m sure.



March 12, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Pernicious Influence of the U.S. News Law School Rankings

Yesterday, I posted about why prospective law students should not use the U.S. News law school rankings to help them decide which law school to attend.  (Basically, it gives them no useful information.)  Today, I would like to talk about the pernicious effect that the rankings are having on law schools and urge law school administrators to ignore them.  

For example, a group of Law Professors calling themselves the Coalition of Concerned Collegues wrote this comment to The ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education:

"[P]reoccupation with the annual ranking of schools by U.S. News and World Reports gives schools a perverse incentive to spend more in areas rewarded by the U.S. News formula.  Two examples are expenditures per student and faculty- student ratios, which have risen dramatically in the decades since the rankings went into effect. " 

In particular, "Schools also have incentives to reduce tuition for students with high median GPA and LSAT scores, even though these applicants are unlikely to have the greatest financial need. This causes students from modest economic backgrounds paying full tuition to, in effect, subsidize the education of their more privileged peers. A school can do better in the rankings if it spends more in ways that could enhance its reputation. The combination of rising costs, declining applicants, and perverse incentives puts the financial survival of some schools in question."

Dean David Yellin has similarly criticized the effect of U.S. News law rankings on law schools (here).  He declares, "Many factors have contributed to this trend [high tuition], but none more than the impact of competitive forces in general, and the U.S. News & World Report rankings in particular."  He remarks, "Too many legal educators become obsessed with U.S. News.   I have seen a few deans campaign for their position promising to game the system to move their school up.   Others have issued a press release when they move a handful of spots (needless to say, there is usually silence when a school moves down)."

He notes that "Law schools have always cared about the prestige that comes from being highly regarded by judges, lawyers, students and legal academics.  Soon after U.S. News began ranking law schools in 1989, it became the most visible indicator of prestige.  It did not take schools long to begin trying to affect the various factors that go into the ranking.  The most heavily-weighted factor is the reputation survey sent to four members of each school's faculty.  Schools have tried many things to increase their standing in that survey, including glossy mailings hailing their accomplishments,  increasing the amount of scholarship produced by their faculties (which has been achieved by increasing the size of the faculty, reducing the teaching expectations of some faculty and recruiting highly regarded scholars from other schools).  Not surprisingly, with most schools following the same pattern, very few have actually succeeded in raising their reputation survey ratings.  But this effort has been a major cost driver."

He notes that "The focus on recruiting highly credentialed students has also been a cause of another big factor in law school tuition increases:  the expansion of law school administrative staffs."

He also makes a comment like the one I noted above, "The grades and LSAT scores of incoming students are also major factors in U.S. News.  As a result, schools pay more attention to these credentials than ever.   Many schools now spend massive sums on scholarships aimed at luring students with higher credentials.  The proliferation of these merit scholarships has unfortunately contributed to a major reduction in need-based financial aid.  And it has encouraged schools to increase tuition overall to pay for these scholarships."

Lastly, "A final example of U.S. News'  influence on tuition (although there are many more) is that 10% of its ranking methodology is based on expenditures per student.  How this relates to quality U.S. News does not say.  But if you spend more on your students, you do better in the ranking."

In sum, the U.S. News law school rankings have driven law schools to make some unwise decisions.  It is time for law schools to ignore U.S. News and start making decisions based on the best interests of their students and the public at large.  In fact, law schools should not participate in the U.S. News madness at all.  When those questionnaires come in the mail, throw them in the trash.

(Scott Fruehwald)

March 11, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

More on Google Scholar legal research tips

From an article by Professor Alena Wolotira (U. Washington) called Googling the Law: Apprising Students of the Benefits and Flaws of Google as a Legal Research Tool and available at 21 Perspectives 33 (2012).  An excerpt:

We all use Google in our daily lives to quickly find answers to our simple questions. Google has made it so that it takes mere seconds to find, for example, the schedule for the bus home, the definition of an arcane word, or a recipe for hollandaise sauce. It seems, however, somehow unrefined to use the free Internet for the purposes of legal research and even more indecorous to instruct law students to use Google in completing their research assignments. Don’t we have sharper and more specialized tools for performing legal research than the blunt object that is Google? Of course we do: the resources that we traditionally use for legal research continue to serve our purposes well and allow the well-trained researcher to locate primary and secondary legal materials quickly and effectively. On the other hand, law students are likely to start the process of legal research with Google because it is what they know, it is fast and easy, and it sometimes does yield usable results.

Legal research and writing professors might, therefore, consider their students’
likely propensity for using Google (and their likely progression to using its costly imitator, WestlawNext) when creating lesson plans for teaching basic legal research. While Google has some serious limitations when it comes to performing organized and thorough legal research, it is a legitimate and useful tool that can easily be discussed and explored in legal research classes. In this article I identify some useful features of Google. Unless otherwise qualified, “Google” is synonymous in this article with any free Internet search engine, such as Yahoo, Bing, or Ask in performing basic legal research, as well as some weaknesses that I think law students should be made aware of before they depend on it entirely for their research tasks. By explaining the pros and cons of using Google (and the free Internet in general) in performing legal research, we can create more informed and savvy researchers who will use the free legal information on the Internet to their best advantage and who are not quite as dependent as they might have been on expensive and harder to use commercial databases.


March 11, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Harvard Reportedly Searched Emails of Some Deans

From USA Today (excerpts):

Harvard University officials secretly prowled through the e-mails of 16 resident deans last fall after an e-mail about a cheating case on campus was leaked to the news media, two newspapers reported Sunday.

 The Harvard deans, who were not alerted to the search, serve on the Administrative Board, the committee addressing the cheating, The Boston Globe and The New York Times reported.

 Harvard spokesman Jeff Neal said in an e-mail to USA TODAY, "Any assertion that Harvard routinely monitors e-mails -- for any reason -- is patently false."

The leaked e-mail, which was written by the head of the Administrative Board, Jay Ellison, on Aug. 16, did not name students.

 Monitoring employee e-mail is a common practice in the workplace, says Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute.

 "Some people think only rank-and-file employees have their e-mails read and big shots are exempt, but I have news for you: Everyone is being monitored, even Harvard professors and executives," Maltby said Sunday.

Most companies spell out that they routinely monitor workers, Maltby said, "but Harvard's policy is that it does not monitor except under very specific circumstances."

Were those met in this situation? After hearing Smith's statement, Maltby said, "I'm a lawyer, and I am still not sure what that means.

 "What's unclear is what triggered university officials to investigate the deans' e-mails when it would appear all the deans are guilty of is embarrassing the organization by telling the truth," Maltby said.

 Maltby’s comments might make some academics feel a bit nervous. They also might make those in University Counsel's offices a bit nervous. The story gives no indication that the Harvard officials ever checked ahead with University Counsel.



March 11, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

How Prospective Law Students Should Use The U.S. News Law School Rankings To Help Them Decide Where To Go To Law School

Since the new U.S. News law school rankings are supposed to come out this week, I thought I would provide detailed guidelines on how prospective law students should use the U.S. News law school rankings to help them decide where to go to law school.  Prospective law students should not use them at all.  As I said earlier,  a ouija board is as accurate.

As I stated in a post last year, the rankings have no value in helping prospective law students decide where to go to law school.  None!  They are meaningless.

Here are some of the problems based on earlier ranking years: The assessment score by lawyers/judges constitutes 15% of the score.  However, only about 12% of those surveyed responded, and, more importantly, I question how these legal professionals can have knowledge of the approximately 200 law schools in this country. Likewise, the peer assessment score (by deans, most recently tenured faculty member, etc.) constitutes 25% of the total, but these are based mainly on scholarship, which tells students little about which law school is best for them.  

Selectivity (25%) can be misleading. G.P.A.s are not uniform because colleges are of different quality and have different grading policies (i.e., grade inflation). As U.S. News has admitted, "The difficulty level of college courses is much less important than the grades received in those classes, because law school admissions committees do an initial sort of applicants based solely on GPA and LSAT scores."  (here)  As Brian Leiter has noted, student-faculty ratio are manipulable because it depends on how schools "count" their faculty. Finally, acceptance rates are also misleading because they often indicate how good a law school is at getting applications (such as using free online applications) rather than selectivity. 

I am not the only one who believes that the U.S. News law school rankings are meaningless.  Brian Leiter has recently stated: "You all know the overall rank assigned to a school by U.S. News is meaningless, often perniciously so." (here) A number of years ago, Leiter pointed out that some of the ranking categories are highly manipulable and some of the categories favor smaller schools and penalize larger schools.  Likewise,  Lynda Edwards has written, "Critics of the U.S. News rankings say the magazine exercises too little control over the quality of the information submitted; several of the self-reporting factors utilized in the methodology, they say, actually reward those law schools willing to cheat." (here)  (see also herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, etc.) 

Professor George Critchlow has elaborated here:

"Surely there is a lesson here for law schools that hope also to become famous. While many legal educators occupy their time thinking about how to attract students, establish goals and allocate resources based on a mission defined by things such as public service, ethics, professionalism, good teaching, or preparing students to be "practice-ready," it may be that the only mission statement necessary for less famous law schools is: 'Our mission is to become famous.' Once formulated in that way, the benefits are immediately apparent and the strategy for implementing the mission becomes clear and concrete."

He continues, "A former law school dean who moved on to be President of Reed College -- a college that refuses to participate in USN rankings as a matter of principle -- has this to say about getting out of the rankings game: 'By far the most important consequence of sitting out the rankings game, however, is the freedom to pursue our own educational philosophy, not that of some news magazine.'" 

"The legal profession is of such value and importance to society that training people for the profession requires law school to be more than just another competitive business. Law schools should not exist only to provide jobs for law professors who desire job security and do not want to practice law. Law schools should not pursue recognition solely for the sake of recognition and attracting tuition; rather, they should have a purpose, a mission that is realistically designed to make a difference in the world. They should follow that mission so long as it is practicable and worthwhile -- even if the effort escapes the attention of those who keep lists of the 'top' law schools. Who knows -- maybe a law school could become famous by doing the right thing?" 

In sum, the U.S. News law school rankings are of no value to prospective students in choosing a law school.  Equally important, when prospective law students use U.S. News to help them decide where to go to law school, they are encouraging law schools to waste money on things that help raise their U.S. News rankings but do not help their students' education.  It is your tuition; how do you want your law school to spend it?  Finally, Dean David Yellin has recently demonstrated that law schools' quests for higher ranks have driven tuition increases.  (here)  Ignore the U.S. News rankings.

(Scott Fruehwald)

March 10, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

New York Times editorial says student loan debt is drag on economy at large

Today's NYT has an editorial calling for government intervention that will allow students to reduce their loan payments on money borrowed from private lenders much like the IBR program lets students to repay their federally funded loans based on what they actual earn.

Student Debt and the Economy

The student loan debt crisis has become a drag on the economy. Younger Americans who are saddled with bankrupting payments — or credit ratings damaged by delinquency — are in no position to buy homes, save for retirement or start businesses.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently released a study showing just why many young people are being strangled by student loans. It found that 43 percent of 25-year-olds had student debt in 2012, an increase from 27 percent in 2004.

Unemployment and the collapse of household income in the recession only made the borrowing problem worse.

According to the new study, student debt almost tripled between 2004 and 2012, and is approaching $1 trillion, while the percentage of borrowers who were more than 90 days delinquent had risen to 17 percent, from 10 percent in 2004. In addition, student loan debt was the only kind of household debt that continued to rise through the Great Recession, and it is now the second largest after mortgage debt.

. . . .

To get a handle on the student debt problem, the federal government needs to provide relief programs for private loan borrowers too. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced last month that it was soliciting ideas from policy makers and others for a plan that would give private loan borrowers some relief. Such a plan, which would most likely involve a public-private partnership that freed up capital for refinancing, would have to be part of any solution to the student debt crisis.

You can continue reading (though a subscription may be required) here.  There's also a related NYT editorial here called "A Dangerous 'New Normal' in College Debt."


March 10, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

In-Class Texting and Facebooking Mean Lower Grades

This conclusion need not rest on your intuition. Empirical studies support it. From the Chicago Tribune:

In the past five years researchers have published the results of five surveys and experiments that link texting and Facebooking with lower academic performance. In 2011, researchers at California State University reported that students who received or sent a high number of text messages during a video recorded lecture scored worse on a quiz than those who received or sent few or no text messages.

In a 2012 study, a researcher at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania surveyed 1,800 students about how often they Facebook, instant message, email, text, search online and talk on the phone in class. Among the results: 69 percent of students reported they had texted in class, and students who texted or used Facebook more frequently in class had lower overall semester GPAs. The author of that study, Reynol Junco, also co-wrote a study that linked texting and Facebooking during study time with lower GPAs.


March 10, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)