Saturday, April 20, 2013
Further eroding the demand for lawyers are software products like this one called General Counsel Navigator that is intended to provide in-house corporate attorneys with quick answers to many common legal questions thereby obviating the need to consult with an outside law firm. For instance, in-house lawyers are often asked by their corporate clients about the legality of prize sweepstakes. Rather than call an outside firm that will charge to have an associate prepare a state-by-state survey of the law, in-house counsel can instead check a desktop software package that's been vetted by 150 corporate counsel to get a quick and inexpensive answer along with links to the relevant citations.
Whatever you may think about the shortcomings of using software in lieu of talking to a flesh and blood attorney, it's a form of artificial intelligence that's still in its infancy and will only get better with time. You can read a brief review of General Counsel Navigator courtesy of the Corporate Counsel blog here or watch the informational video below.
To honor Roger Ebert’s passing, I offer his blog entry on Gatsby. Here, he compares the opening and closing lines of the book with the “retold” version published by Macmillan for “intermediate readers.” It is not really a comparison; it is an excoriation of American education. Worth reading.
Ebert’s piece got me thinking about how we lawyers treat the stories of real people. We give them a persuasive edge and necessarily simplify them. We rob them of their richness. Perhaps we will accomplish our aims better if we retain as much nuance and richness as possible. I’m not entirely sure.
Friday, April 19, 2013
Here are the details:
The University of Idaho College of Law invites applications for two faculty positions: a Legal Research and Writing Assistant Clinical Professor and a Director of Externship and Pro Bono Programs. More information on both positions and the application process is available on the University’s faculty hiring website.
You can also contact Associate Dean Jeffrey A. Dodge at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or need additional information.
Over at the Law School Academic Support blog, Amy Jarmon Advises overwhelmed students:
- Attend classes and prepare for them. Skipping class to gain more study time may mean that you miss important information about the exam or the wrap-up of major topics for the course. Not reading and briefing in order to save time only mean that you have the gist of the course without real understanding.
- Avoid spending lots of time organizing to study rather than actually studying. If a clean desk, organized bookshelves, and a code book with a thousand colored tabs do not increase your actual learning, you have been inefficient (used time unwisely) and ineffective (gotten minimal or no results).
- If you are sick, go to the doctor and follow the doctor's advice. Multiple negative repercussions follow from coming to school sick and refusing to get medical attention: you infect others with your illness; your illness becomes more debilitating than it should; you ultimately lose more class and study time than you would have with prompt treatment.
- Get enough sleep; do not get less sleep during the remaining weeks of the semester. Without sleep, your body and brain do not work well. You absorb less material, retain less material, zone out in class or while studying, and are generally less alert.
- Eat regular and nutritious meals; do not skip meals to save time. Your body and brain need fuel to do the studying you have to do. Dr. Pepper and Snickers bars are not a balanced diet. Neither are pizza and soda.
- If you have an emergency during the exam period, tell the academic dean or registrar. You may be eligible for delayed exams because of the circumstances (medical illness, family illness, death in the family). Most law schools have procedures/policies dealing with emergencies and will work with students who have exceptional circumstances.
Take time to use your common sense to help you make wise study and personal decisions during these last few weeks of the semester. Do not put yourself at a disadvantage by blindly taking action fueled by panic - think about the consequences of your choices.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Law schools are often considered cash-cows for their respective universities and that's proving true in this particular case but for all the wrong reasons. A leading university has just announced it will implement a 20% across the board cut in operational expenses due to the decline in applications at its law school. From the Catholic University student newspaper:
Catholic University will cut operational expenditures by 20 percent under a proposal by the Provost, a move that is the result of a decline in revenue from law school enrollment.
Earlier this year, the Provost asked deans from the University to trim down their operational expenditures for the next fiscal year by 20 percent. This decision has come following a decline in revenue from decreasing law school enrollment – a challenge that is being experienced by universities nationwide.
. . . .
With the increasing cost of law school in the United States, universities across the nation have experienced a decline in law school enrollment. For many universities, including CUA, this decline means a significant decrease in revenues that the university as a whole depends on year-to-year.
“We are led to understand this is because of plummeting enrollment in the law school,” shared McKenna.
Between 140 and 200 new law students enroll each year and pay between $33,600 and $44,000 annually.
“The decline in law school enrollments is a nationwide problem that has had budget consequences at a very large number of universities. CUA, in my view, is handling the budget challenges quite skillfully,” suggested Henderson.
Long-term, Suarez sees this as an “adjustment period” where the University has to find revenue sources that differ from what it is used to having available.
. . . .
Continue reading here.
The following deal with more than etiquette. They deal with treating others as human beings. Though pretty basic, they’re worth passing on to your students. From the ALI-CLE blog:
If you have morphed into a robot, click CLOSE. If you have managed to hold onto to your humanity in this cyber-century, realize that humans like it when other humans treat them like humans.
Here are your tools for simple, routine acknowledgment. Select and apply as you see fit:
Tip of the head
“Hi, Jack, glad to see you’re walking without the crutches.”
Here are ten dos and don’ts for the quick office pass-by:
DO make your acknowledgement appropriate to the relationship and situation.
DO use a name and personalize, but respect the other’s time.
DO make your acknowledgement big enough to be received, but don’t overdo.
DO be brief. It’s an office, not a pub; everyone is supposed to be working.
DO realize that everyone is human; snub the guard and risk a hassle when you forget your ID.
DON’T be uppity. No hallway comments on operas, yachts, caviar, etc.
DON’T wink. No one ever knows what that means.
DON’T be creepy. No weird voices.
DON’T make exaggerated body movements. You are not a clown or a mime.
DON’T interrupt, stare, drool or ask for an autograph. (Senior partner is walking Jay-Z and Beyonce around: step in only if partner signals you.)
One of the innovative methods that legal education reformers have advocated using is peer review. Patricia Grande Montana has posted an article entitled Peer Review Across the Curriculum.
Abstract: "This paper examines the Carnegie and Best Practices Reports’ recommendation that law schools devote more attention to helping students develop the professional skills they will need in practice and proposes peer review as an attractive option.
Peer review, the process in which law students critique each other’s written work, is a powerful tool to teach students the knowledge, skills, and values essential to becoming a competent and professional lawyer. Through peer review, students improve their legal writing and analysis, enhance their editing skills, learn to cooperate with others, manage and evaluate constructive criticism, and develop a deeper appreciation of audience, among other things. For professors, it is an opportunity to assess their students’ performance and provide additional, useful feedback on their understanding of the legal doctrine and competence in legal analysis and writing.
As writing and professional skills instruction throughout the law school curriculum, not just in writing and skills courses, becomes more prevalent, law professors will need to find new and innovative ways to help their students achieve practical proficiency in the skills needed for legal practice. This paper explores peer review as one effective way."
I think that peer review is an effective technique because it helps students develop their critical skills. It is easier to see the problems in another's paper than one's own.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Following up on previous posts in which readers of Above the Law in New York, Boston and Chicago rated the quality of their practical legal education, the popular blog has now published survey results for southern law schools. Schools were rated by students on a scale of 1 to 4 with 4 being the best. Without further ado, here's the list:
Practical and Clinical Training:
1. University of Tennessee (3.57)
2. University of Florida (3.46)
3. Wake Forest (3.33)
4. Duke (3.30)
5. Emory (3.32)
6. University of Virginia (3.23)
7. University of Richmond (3.18)
8. George Mason (3.15)
8. Tulane (3.15)
10. Vanderbilt (3.07)
11. University of Georgia (3.00)
11. University of Miami (3.00)
13. University of North Carolina (2.93)
14. University of Alabama (2.89)
15. University of South Carolina (2.20)
Click here to see how students rated their schools on the quality of faculty, financial aid advising, career counseling, and social life.
Over at the Best Practices for Legal Education blog (April 5), Professor Benjamin Madison offers his thought on a recent over-billing scandal. He also offers an exercise that should encourage law students to be thoughtful when they bill:
In my civil procedure and pretrial practice classes, I have students break into groups to work on projects—e.g., a plan for discovery in a simulated case, or jointly preparing a pleading, a motion, or some other document in the simulated case. When I have the groups do these projects, I now plan to assign them an hourly rate (say, $200 per hour) and tell the student “lawyers” that they must—independent of one another—keep track of the time they spend on the matter. I’ll explain that billable hours are often broken down into increments, such as most commonly a tenth of an hour (or six minutes). I will then have them multiply the time they record by their hourly rate. If the student spends fifteen minutes on the project, I’ll ask whether they will round up to three-tenths of an hour (i.e., 18 minutes) even though they did not spend that much time working for the client. If the student decides that’s fair, then she or he would bill $60.
The exercise should reveal some interesting results. If students keep time separately (as I will insist), my guess is that there will be discrepancies in the amount of time recorded. That will provide an opportunity to discuss the necessity to be careful in contemporaneous recording and developing the habit of recording precisely when one starts and finishes a project or task. Moreover, we can discuss the common practice of rounding up to the next tenth of an hour (the 18 minutes noted above). Although the practice is common, the professor can ask students whether they believe such a practice out to be spelled out in the engagement letter if they plan on doing it. Students then ought to realize that clients are less likely to be surprised or object if they make the practice of rounding up time clear from the outset.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Members of the Conference on College Composition and Communication have passed a resolution denouncing the use of anti-plagiarism software like Turnitin on the ground that. among other things, it creates a hostile classroom environment in which students are presumed to cheat. An excerpt from story at Inside Higher Ed is below. But what sayeth you, law profs, about the use of products like Turnitin to detect cheats?
. . . .
According to the resolution [passed by the CCCC], "plagiarism detection services can compromise academic integrity by potentially undermining students' agency as writers, treating all students as always already plagiarists, creating a hostile learning environment, shifting the responsibility of identifying and interpreting source misuse from teachers to technology, and compelling students to agree to licensing agreements that threaten their privacy and rights to their own intellectual property."
The resolution formalized a long-simmering faculty resistance to the services, which come in the form of software. While many faculty members use the software enthusiastically, some -- especially in composition -- argue that the software oversimplifies a complex issue, shifts responsibility from people to technology and breeds mistrust between students and teachers.
CCCC Chair Chris Anson said there were a number of problems with the detection services, including instructors who rely on the software to do key parts of their job.
“Their job is to pay attention to assignments," Anson, a professor at North Carolina State University, said of faculty members. "They shouldn’t be finding ways to get around that responsibility, which is an important one."
. . . .
Recently, I attended a statewide bar association meeting where I heard a well meaning high official in the association explain how important it is to teach Legal Writing in law school. However, it became clear that he thought that our teaching focused exclusively on matters like placing the apostrophes in the right place.
This leads me to wonder how well connected we are with the practicing bar. To be sure, some bars are well connected with us. On the other hand, my bar is pretty enlightened, but apparently still does not have a good understanding of what we do. I might note that I counted all of two law professors (including me) at this large gathering. Serious outreach needs to be placed on the agenda.
Monday, April 15, 2013
Immediately below, my co-blogger, Lou Sirico, asks "Should Law Schools Focus on Teaching 'Skills Competencies?'” My answer is we should teach both substance and skills in the same class. Education research has shown that students understand and remember material better when they have to apply it. Research also demonstrates that students understand and remember material better when they have to manipulate it, such as in writing a paper. Why can't law schools have antitrust classes that use problem-solving exercises at the end of each unit or assign several short written assignments? In other words, we should use skills components in every doctrinal class to help our students better learn the material. In addition, how can you have a skills class that doesn't use substantive law?
My school, like many others, is focusing on teaching skills and evaluating the curriculum in terms of skills competencies. Recently, however, I have spoken with a number of practicing lawyers who take a different view. Let me paraphrase and consolidate what I have heard:
They will learn how to practice after they graduate. They really can’t learn about the practice in law school. They should take the hard courses like antitrust. They’ll learn how to practice law when they graduate.
I already can hear the protests from those of us in the academy. Still, I can’t discount what I hear from prominent practitioners. Are we missing something?
Sunday, April 14, 2013
This article from The Atlantic posits that the underemployment problem among elite law schools, where graduates take jobs for which they are overqualified simply because they can't find ones better matched to their skills and credentials, is a larger issue than many realize. According to the article, once you move outside the top 9 law schools, underemployment jumps to double digits. Move outside the top 15 law schools and underemployment jumps again to around 20 percent.
The barren job market for law school grads has become a familiar reality by now. But here's something that tends to get lost in the story: The problem isn't just about no-name law schools churning out JD's nobody wants to hire. Even graduates at some of the country's top programs are struggling.
At this point, it seems, there are only a small handful of schools that could reasonably be called safe bets.
The American Bar Association recently released its annual collection of jobs placement data from all 202 accredited law schools, and the big picture was, as expected, dreadful. Nine months after graduation, just 56 percent of the class of 2012 had found stable jobs in law -- meaning full-time, long-term employment in a position requiring bar passage, or a judicial clerkship, i.e. the sorts of jobs people go to law school for in the first place. The figure had improved just 1 percent compared to the class of 2011.
Meanwhile, a full 27.7 percent were underemployed, meaning they were either in short-term or part-time jobs, jobless and hunting for work, or enrolled (read: burning cash) in another degree program.At some of the most prestigious law schools in the country, the numbers were only marginally better. Below, I've listed the top 25 programs in the U.S. News rankings, along with their underemployment score as calculated by Law School Transparency. Past the top 9, underemployment hits double digits. Outside of the top 15, it mostly hovers around 20 percent.
Continue reading here.
"preLaw," a magazine published by National Jurist, has published its own law school rankings based on post-graduate success, student satisfaction, affordability, and diversity. Still, the law schools viewed as the most elite land at the top. The rankings begin on this page.