Saturday, March 2, 2013
Contemporary critiques of legal education abound. This arises from what can be described as a perfect storm: the confluence of softness in the legal employment market, the skyrocketing costs of law school, and the unwillingness of clients and law firms to continue subsidizing the further training of lawyers who failed to learn how to practice in law school. As legal jobs become more scarce and salaries stagnate, the value proposition of law school rightly is being questioned from all directions. Although numerous valid criticisms have been put forth, some seem to be untethered from a full appreciation for how the current model of legal education developed. Indeed, a historical perspective on legal education is sorely missing from this debate, as many of the criticisms merely echo charges that have been lodged against legal education for well over a century, but do not draw lessons from how those former critiques ultimately failed to deliver fundamental change. This Article reviews the historical development of legal education in America, including the critiques and reforms made along the way, to see what insight we can gain that will inform our own efforts to make law schools better at preparing lawyers for practice.
Professor Paul Campos, a critic of today’s law school world, has announced that he is ending his blog, “Inside the Law School Scam” (Feb. 27). Here are some excerpts:
19 months and 499 posts later, it turns out that the core message of this blog – that legal academia is operating on the basis of an unsustainable economic model, which requires most law students to borrow more money to get law degrees than it makes sense for them to borrow, given their career prospects, and that for many years law schools worked hard, wittingly or unwittingly, to hide this increasingly inconvenient truth from both themselves and their potential matriculants – has evolved from a horrible heresy to something close to conventional wisdom.
That enrolling in law school has become a very dangerous proposition for most people who consider enrolling in one is now, if not a truth universally acknowledged, something that legal academia can no longer hide, either from ourselves, or – far more important – from anyone who doesn’t go out of his or her way to avoid contact with the relevant information.
This blog is now the length of about four typical academic books. Anyone who wants to browse through it will find posts touching on just about every topic related to legal education and the legal profession regarding which I have something to say. Readers looking for a more concise statement can buy or borrow a copy of my book Don’t Go to Law School (Unless), either in paperback or e-book form.
All of which is to say that I’ve said what I have to say, at least in this format. I’ll continue to write on this topic, both in academic venues, in the popular media, and even from time to time in blog form, at Lawyers, Guns and Money. But the time has come to move on from here.
There are multiple aspects to the legal education and legal industry crisis. There is the lack of jobs for recent graduates. There is the crushing debt that many law school graduates face. There is a need for reform in how law schools deliver instruction. Although we have discussed it on this blog (here and here), one aspect of the crisis that has not received a great deal of attention is the unmet needs for legal services by the poor and middle class. Now, Dean Michelle J. Anderson has weighed into this important issue in her comment to the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education.
Dean Anderson writes, "I would like to address a common narrative that often frames an analysis of the future of legal education. Many inside and outside the academy assert that there is a glut of attorneys, and that the dramatic drop in applications to law schools over the past three years is a market correction for this overabundance. I want to challenge this position."
She continues, "Poor and moderate-income people in the United States desperately need legal services. This need has been exacerbated by the financial crisis and the collapse of the housing market. Cuts in funding for civil legal services and growing economic inequality have further limited equal access to justice. Many who were once middle class have slipped into destitution as a result. Their need for basic legal counsel is great."
She adds, "In 2006, the ABA adopted a resolution urging states 'to provide legal counsel as a matter of right at public expense to low-income persons in those categories of adversarial proceedings where basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving shelter, sustenance, safety, health or child custody.' This resolution is even more important seven years later, after the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression."
She concludes, "The legal academy must graduate attorneys academically prepared and financially able to represent those clients most in need of legal services."
In sum, we have two problems: thousands of law school graduates not being able to find jobs and millions of the poor and middle class not being able to obtain legal representation. Surely, we can find a solution that brings both groups together.
Friday, March 1, 2013
A George Orwell classic is his essay, “Politics and the English Language.” In it, he sums up all that good writing and the plain English movement champion. Because it is short, your students may find it more accessible than the many fine books on the subject.
Here are Orwell’s six rules:
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Thanks to Professor Bill Henderson at the Legal Whiteboard blog for finding this bit of insight about the subliminal message sent to students by many law schools. No w0nder students are confused by the conflicting messages they feel they get about effective communication and legal writing. Their teachers repeatedly tell them to keep it simple yet the unspoken message they receive through the casebooks and elsewhere says that if you want to talk, walk and act like a lawyer, obfuscate. And leave it to a non-academic to see what's always been right under our noses but has somehow always avoided detection.
From the Prism Legal blog.
On Sunday I spent time sipping a coffee outside of Berkeley Law School. I was struck by its facade, pictured below, and what it signals about lawyers.
One entrance to the school is a monolithic concrete facade, broken only by two quotes (Cardozo and Holmes) on giant plaques, one above each entrance. The quotes are long and, the the font and spacing makes the text hard to read. The language is complex and hard to understand for the average person.
Here is my take on the subliminal message for law students:
- Expect to write long, dense prose for a specialized audience. If you can say something in a lot of words instead of a few words, that’s great. Don’t make things easy; don’t worry about the average person.
- Focus only on the words. Don’t worry that how you lay them - fonts or spacing - make the text hard to read. Great content stands on its own - it’s worth suffering through.
- There is no context for the law; instead, it appears on a giant blank slate. You can find it if you try hard enough and simply apply it. Never mind society, citizens, or business, focus on the words because you really operate in a vacuum.
I have nothing against a lot of text inscribed on walls. One of my favorite spots in Washington, DC is the Lincoln Memorial, where the Gettysburg Address is inscribed on one wall. On each visit, I look forward to re-reading it.
My only point is to think about the subtle messages law schools send to students. I hope that the current public debate about U.S. legal education leads to a new set of signals about what it means to be a lawyer.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
The separately accredited schools in Newark and Camden would combine under one Rutgers banner, with a single faculty, student body, and admissions process. Faculties at both schools voted unanimously in late January to support the idea.
"I strongly and heartily support to move forward with a concept that would bring the law schools at Rutgers together," Barchi told the board Thursday.
At a time when legal education is in a national spotlight because of rising costs and tightening job opportunities, deans of the schools said the move could help Rutgers strengthen its brand and expand its reach.
A merger could become "a solution that can really enable us to make law school more affordable, more accessible, and will enhance the job opportunities for our graduates to have both the New York and Philadelphia markets and together with the whole East Coast," said Rayman Solomon, dean of the School of Law in Camden.
Pooled resources could lower tuitions or increase scholarship funding, said John J. Farmer Jr., dean of the School of Law in Newark.
The deans could not say how the administrative structures would work - Solomon joked about playing musical chairs to determine whom the dean would be - or what the potential merger would cost.
"Everyone has lots of questions, some of which can't be answered yet," Solomon noted before the meeting.
One thing was clear, Farmer said. "Do we remain committed to Camden and Newark?" he asked. "Absolutely, yes."
There are no plans to close or move the campuses, the president and deans said, or are there plans to expand to New Brunswick, Rutgers' main campus.
Continue reading here.
When we try to explain a complex idea in writing, we often find it difficult to do so in a way that will be clear to the reader. In the February issue of the Michigan Bar Journal (p. 44), We get a valuable suggestion from John Strylowski, a veteran at writing and reviewing regulations and directives of federal agencies. He suggests using tables:
A table diagrams a complex idea and helps your readers understand the relationships between its various parts. By breaking your idea down into its parts and clearly labeling them, a table
helps your reader to more easily grasp what you’re saying. Tables have these advantages over text:
• They allow your readers to scan your material and go quickly
to what they need to know.
• They make it easier for your readers to see the underlying
structure of your material.
• They usually use fewer words than text alone.
• They help you, the drafter, to spot flaws in your own logic.
The article offers several illustrations of helpful tables.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Professor Bradley T. Borden has developed an innovative method of teaching transactional law, which combines the business school case study method with the law school case method.
Abstract: This article presents a teaching method (the client-file method) for transactional law courses that combines the business school case-study method with the law school case method. The client-file method of teaching requires students to become familiar with real-word legal issues and the types of documents and information that accompany matters that transactional clients bring to attorneys. The method also requires students to learn and apply substantive law to solve problems that arise in a transactional law practice. Because the client-file method places students in a practice setting, it helps prepare them become more practice-ready before they graduate. Although the client-file exists in various forms in many parts of the legal curriculum, this Article describes its specific use in a transactional business course with accompanying diagrams and a description of the learn cycle it facilitates.
National Jurist Magazine asked Carmen Grossman, a top legal headhunter with Major, Lindsay & Africa, to identify the hot practice areas at the moment. As a preliminary matter, Ms. Grossman said that legal hiring is stronger on the coasts than elsewhere and that applicants with excellent foreign language skills are also highly sought after. So where exactly are the jobs according to Ms. Grossman?
Real estate is becoming “red hot,” according to Grossman. That’s certainly nice to hear after the long stretch where it was not so hot.
Corporate is also busy, Grossman said. There has been a general upswing in transactional work.
Health care, especially in the Regulatory area, is hot right now.
Energy is a busy practice area right now, especially in Texas.
IP work, especially in the technology area, has also been busy.
For interview advice and how to best position yourself to get the job, click here.
Recently, some writers have proposed the possibility of eliminating the third year of law schools as a partial solution to the "law school crisis." A few weeks ago, I wrote a post in response to an op-ed in the New York Times proposing such a solution. (here) My post was picked up by the ABA Journal. (here)
Here is the gist of my opposition to moving to a two-year program:
I strongly disagree with the proposal that law school should be two years. Under our current system of legal education, most attorneys are not ready to practice even after three years in law school. I have often written on this blog about the need to serve minorities and the poor, but providing substandard lawyers is not the right solution. The problems of the underserved can be as complicated as those of corporations. Moreover, public service organizations and public interest law firms do not have the resources to train lawyers who did not receive the proper training in law school.
Similarly, while I believe there is a significant problem with the high costs of a legal education and the debt that many graduates incur in law school, I do not think that two years of law school is a solution to that problem either. First, lawyers who have only two years of law school will have to compete with lawyers who have three years of law school. Who do you think firms will hire and who will get the best assignments? Second, as is true of public interest law firms, most law firms today do not have the resources or time to train new lawyers. Finally, the two-year proposal will not stop the glut of attorneys on the market today. In fact, it might make it worse because more people might go to law school if they only have to go for two years.
One comment to my post stated, "If finding a job after a 3 year JD is tough, think of the nightmare of a 2 year 'certificate' program. Who do the Dean's think will be hiring 2L bar passers?" Another declared, "How, exactly, would giving students even less training result in better lawyers able to jump out and start practicing even earlier? Already the schools don't teach them how to run their own practices, offering little or no business training. With even less time, schools would be packing more "pure law" into the curriculum, leaving no time for anything practical. And then we'd expect these students to fix the access to justice issues and fill jobs in the public service."
Now, Professor Stephen Gillers has also weighed in on the issue in a comment to the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education. He takes a more neutral view than I do, giving arguments for both sides of the controversy. However, he does agree with some of my criticisms concerning eliminating the third year.
He writes, "Allowing admission to the bar after two years of law school to reduce debt and make five-figure jobs affordable must conjure with the reality that there will still be many three year graduates. The three year 'overhang' will weaken the market for the two year graduate." He then adds a hierarchy argument, "Another fact to consider is that many students who elect the two year degree to save money and avoid debt will be those who are in greater financial distress. We would be making it easier for the economically pressed students to choose two years where those who can absorb the cost and the delay will largely go on to a third year. "
He also notes, "As others have suggested, an LL.B. after two years of study may attract the attention of some prominent schools that do not now offer any law degree. Indeed, it is not farfetched to imagine that some colleges may offer an LL.B. after five (rather than four) years of study."
He also asks what will be lost if a third year of law school is eliminated. For example, "The number of seminars may decline as a result of reduced student demand for them. Seminars are the usual venue for a substantial writing requirement. Will that be eliminated for the two year degree?" Similarly, "absence of a course in particular field will put the two year graduate at a further competitive disadvantage with a three year graduate who has taken that course. Imagine that each of two students has applied for a job to a firm that does intellectual property or environmental law work, courses the three year student had the time to take but which the two year student has not." Likewise, a student may not be exposed to an area of law that she might find exciting if she knew about it.
He concludes, "If a prospective student asked my advice, I would strongly urge her to spend three years in law school. But the question is different. It is whether we can say – and therefore urge state courts to say – that three years are needed to ensure the level of competence a state should require for bar admission. I don’t think we can say that." However, "Now we are faced with the question whether we should recognize hierarchy in legal education and legal work, at least by permitting bar membership after two years of post-college study, accompanied by a law degree carrying a different name."
Consultant and scholar Dan Bowling offers six myths about lawyers and then debunks them. Here are the myths:
Myth 1: Lawyers are miserable.
Myth 2: If you're depressed, that's your problem.
Myth 3: Negative, cautious types get better grades.
Myth 4: Lawyers are cynical.
Myth 5: Successful female lawyers are cold and emotionless.
Myth 6: Emotional intelligence is overrated.
For the debunking, please click here.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Here's a "different" approach to retooling the law school curriculum in response to the present "crisis" in legal ed; develop a curriculum that combines the analytical training of a traditional law school degree with third year course work that trains students to work in fields where a law degree is an asset but not required. OK, so you're thinking to yourself: "Wait a second. Students are supposed to go to law school so they can get jobs working outside the law?!?" Given that a college degree is the new high school diploma when it comes to finding work these days, maybe it's not such a stretch to think some schools might find success marketing the JD as post-graduate credential booster. Of course it still makes no sense at all given the going rate for a traditional JD but if a school could find a way to deliver the degree on the cheap, it could turn out to be a win-win for both schools and job seeking applicants.
From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by attorney Ben Weiss, author of Malice in Wonderland: What Every Law Student Should Have for the Trip.
In the face of increased supply and muted demand, it makes little sense to force-feed students a diet of specialized legal skills that have little application in fields outside of law. Instead, America’s law schools should boldly adapt their model to the market realities faced by their students. Law schools should adopt multidisciplinary curriculums that will entice employers other than law firms to hire their graduates for jobs other than as attorneys. A juris doctorate is advertised as a versatile degree that can open doors outside of the legal profession. It is time for law schools to help swing those doors open the day after graduation.
To begin, law schools should offer students the option of earning a special certificate, with their juris doctorate. Let’s call these special certificates an “O’Wendell.” Students could earn an O’Wendell by taking a subset of specialized classes that marry the hallmarks of a legal education, critical thinking and reasoned argument, with the vital economic and geopolitical issues of the future. The entire third year of law school should be devoted to practical, focused classes that help students to monetize their degrees in fields outside of law.
Imagine if a law student could earn an O’Wendell in Chinese corporate strategy; international consulting firms would take notice. An O’Wendell in energy policy would appeal to federal agencies and Fortune 500 companies seeking to navigate complex regulations. O’Wendells in South American e-commerce would appeal to venture capital firms and tech start-ups. Business schools allow students to graduate with concentrations in finance, accounting or marketing. Law students should also have the option to pursue sub-specialties tailored for a global marketplace.
The old guard will decry this proposal as heresy. Law school administrators will argue that the mandate of a law school is to train lawyers. But while they refuse to evolve, their students and graduates are suffering. In coincident, forward-thinking institutions are adapting. On her recent decision to overhaul Northwestern University’s (Kellogg) MBA program, Dean Sally Blount explained, “The world has changed and we’re never going back. Our goal is to truly internalize that.” Law schools owe it to their students to vigorously challenge orthodoxy. True Socratic thinking demands no less.
Continue reading here.
Hat tip to Above the Law.
Despite a generally unsuccessful effort, the attorneys bringing fraud suits against law schools keep on trying. From the National Law Journal:
They have asked the New York State Court of Appeals to review an intermediate appellate panel's December dismissal of a suit brought by nine former students who allege New York Law School inflated its postgraduate employment statistics to trick them into enrolling.
The plaintiff's legal team—led by Jesse Strauss, Frank Raimond and David Anziska—argued in a motion for leave to appeal filed on February 19 that the Court of Appeal—New York's highest court—should weigh in on the case, given that several lower court judges have cited differing grounds for dismissing nearly identical cases. The New York dismissals also are out of sync with rulings in California that have been more favorable to similar fraud suits, they argued.
"There is really no guidance right now for other litigants and for law schools," Strauss said. "It's difficult for us to advise them on the law, and the schools need to know what they can and cannot do in terms of marketing in New York."
At the moment, Albany Law School has won a motion to dismiss. Decisions on motions to dismiss by Brooklyn Law School and Hofstra are still pending. In California, several law schools have lost on similar motions, while Cooley Law School, John Marshall, Chicago-Kent, and DePaul have won on their motions.
Monday, February 25, 2013
In this column from the National Law Journal, Connecticut Appellate Court Judge Douglas Lavine says that good advocates always sweat the small stuff whether in brief writing or preparing for oral argument. The devil is in the details and those details make or break your credibility with the tribunal. While many of these "tips" are self-evident, they are still worth repeating and forwarding to your students if only to make the point that real judges really do care about the "basics."
Both during oral arguments and in written briefs, a host of small problems can build to a major distraction.
. . . . [M]y book title for advocates would be something like this: Do Sweat the Small Stuff — And That Means Everything. The premise of the book would be that little things can cause large problems, as a microbe can cause a disease. I try to be a person who takes the big view of things, but in this column I will concern myself with trifles — the smaller and more obvious the better. I dedicate this column to a catalog of seemingly minuscule things that can have large consequences in written, and oral, advocacy.
In real estate, it is location, location, location. In advocacy, it is credibility, credibility, credibility. That is my mantra. Anything that heightens credibility helps you persuade; anything that diminishes credibility helps you lose. Some of the things I will be discussing are problems not only because they are problems by themselves, but because they — drip, drip, drip — puncture your credibility. They are a problem because they cause the decision-maker — often a judge — to avert his or her attention from what you are arguing and focus his or her gaze on how you are saying it. Or how inartfully you are saying it.
I will start with a few of the small things that create problems for oral advocates.
1. THE FAILURE TO STAND UP.
Yes, I have seen lawyers who remain seated when court is opened and the judge takes the bench. Call me old-fashioned: Unless the lawyer is suffering from a physical limitation, the failure to stand is either simple rudeness or indicates a complete lack of knowledge of, and regard for, professional norms.
2. THE FAILURE TO STATE YOUR NAME AND WHOM YOU REPRESENT.
Believe it or not, more than a few times, I have observed lawyers stand up when their case is called and just start talking. They assume that because their case is next on the docket, the judges will know who they are and whom they represent. This assumption is dubious. A baseball game doesn't officially start until an umpire yells "Play ball." An argument doesn't officially start until counsel — or a self-represented party — stands up, states his or her name, and is told to proceed. An unadorned statement like this is usually sufficient: "Good morning, your honor. My name is Thomas Seaver, and I represent the appellant, Cleon Jones, in this case." Failure to observe this simple professional norm is quite noticeable and starts the case off on the wrong foot. Of course, this does not apply in the case of an ongoing trial or proceeding.
3. INTERRUPTING THE COURT OR OPPOSING COUNSEL.
It is an unfortunate reality that sometimes judges interrupt counsel or act in rude and heavy-handed ways. The natural human response is to interrupt, to assert oneself, to show that you won't be pushed around. Judges, however, often frown on the natural human response. Courtroom behavior is highly stylized. A vigorous exchange may be OK, but one of the immutable rules of the courtroom is that lawyers do not interrupt, or speak over, judges. Don't do it.
It is also an unfortunate reality that some lawyers talk over their adversary, interrupt and are generally verbally aggressive. Nonetheless, fighting fire with fire is not the way to go. Speaking at the same time as your adversary is frowned upon. It can be very hard to hold your tongue if you believe opposing counsel is misstating facts or making an unfair argument, but hold your tongue you must. You will have your chance to speak when the other side is done.
4. NOT KNOWING WHAT RELIEF YOU ARE SEEKING.
One of the most disenheartening things I have ever seen in a court happened in Hartford, Conn., some years ago. I was presiding over what we in Connecticut call a special proceedings calendar. A young lawyer came in and asked for a prejudgment remedy. I leafed through the court file and saw that the defendant had been defaulted. I could have searched for the affidavit of debt in the file, but instead, to keep the ball rolling, I looked up and asked the lawyer what amount she was seeking. She replied: "I don't know." I looked out and saw a veteran lawyer, standing in the back of the court, just shake his head in disbelief. I understand that cases can be handed to you at the last minute, but you must always be prepared to tell the court what you want it to do.
5. USING JARGON OR ACRONYMS.
There are many different styles on display in courtrooms. There is a level of informality, however, that is not acceptable. As mentioned in a previous column, one lawyer referred to the panel I was sitting on as "you guys" in an argument not too long ago. Dudes — don't do this! It is thoroughly unprofessional and off-putting and even uncool. Likewise, try to avoid frequent references to acronyms which you may have digested, but which may cause confusion or annoyance to the decision-makers to whom you are arguing. You can never go wrong if you use standard American English, speak slowly and loudly enough to be heard, and sit down when you have made your point.
. . . .
Continue reading here for Judge Lavine's checklist of mistakes to avoid in brief writing.
Over at the Law School Academic Support blog, Amy Jarmon offers a menu of snacks that she brings to class. Different classes get different snacks. An early morning class, for example, gets different snacks than an evening make-up class. You can get some ideas here.
Sunday, February 24, 2013
As I mentioned last week, there was a debate on legal education reform on the PrawfsBlawg. In response to one of the posts, I wrote, "I think an important issue is being missed in this debate. To be able to teach, one needs to know how to teach. Most people go into law teaching without ever having taught before, without any training on how to teach, and without thinking about what teaching is. Has anyone here looked at Teaching Law by Design by Michael Hunter Schwartz, Sophie Sparrow, and Gerald Hess (Carolina Academic Press 2009)? Has anyone here attended a conference on law teaching?"
Michael J.Z. Mannheimer wrote in reply, "Your argument proves too much. No one in ANY discipline -- except, of course, education -- has extensive training in teaching and learning. Sure, a newly minted Ph.D. may have a few semesters of teaching under her belt. But that simply gives her a head start on teaching experience; it does not mean she actually knows what she is doing. And, yes, I have been to conferences on teaching, and we have had some of the usual suspects visit our school to give hour-long presentations on learning styles and so forth. And when I go back and talk about it with my wife -- who has a Ph.D. in Education -- she smiles sweetly and tells me how cute it is that we think that we can even approach in a two-day conference or a lunchtime presentation what took her four years of coursework (including her masters) and two years of laboring over a dissertation. Yes, we can go to conferences on teaching and read books about it, but we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that this provides anything more than a pretty superficial grasp of the art of teaching. And unless we start requiring that university teachers in every field acquire at least a masters in Education, there simply is no other way."
I repeat my original statement: To be able teach, one needs to know how to teach. Law professors are teachers, so they should be improving their teaching every day. It is our responsibility to our students.
First, many law schools have started VAP programs. However, reading the descriptions of these programs, one must conclude that, with the exception of Temple, they are intended to prepare scholars, not teachers. Since teaching is supposed to be as important in the legal academy as scholarship, why aren’t there more programs for preparing teachers?
Second, there are numerous books, articles, and other resources that professors can use to become better teachers. Teaching Law by Design by Michael Hunter Schwartz, Sophie Sparrow, and Gerald Hess is an excellent introduction to law teaching, which incorporates the latest in teaching scholarship. How Learning Works by Susan A. Ambrose is an easily readable introduction to new approaches to teaching and learning in general. As I have mentioned numerous times, the Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers Website has course portfolios, descriptions of innovative law school programs, and a list of teaching resources.
Similarly, there are valuable teaching conferences held every year, and there should be more. The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning holds conferences every year. (June 7-9 at Washburn this year.) LWI and ALWD hold frequent conferences that include many presentations on teaching. Finally, since so many law professors question the value of the AALS conference, why not include more teaching sessions on it.
Law schools provide mentors to new professors for scholarship. Why not also provide mentors for teaching? Law schools have many faculty forums on scholarship; why not have faculty forums on teaching? (I realize that some law schools already do this, but not enough law schools do.)
Finally and most importantly, professors need to work on teaching everyday. Planning and reflection are major parts of the new learning in education. Law professors should carefully plan every class. What are my goals for this class? How can I accomplish these goals? What are the best teaching methods for this class? Equally importantly, professors should reflect after every class. Was I an effective teacher today? Did my students understand what I was trying to teach them? Did I use a variety of teaching methods? What teaching methods were particularly effective for the material? How can I improve on how I taught today? In sum, law professors should be slightly better teachers with each class.
P.S. Since I wrote this post for later posting, two bloggers have discussed the need for better law school teacher preparation. (here, here) Paul Campos declared, "More generally, how is it that law professors are particularly qualified to teach anybody anything? It’s one of the curiosities of the American educational system that, as one ascends in the hierarchy of teaching, one needs less formal training in being a teacher. Elementary and secondary school teachers are required to study educational theory and to undergo formal apprenticeships. Most university faculty have no formal training in education per se, but at least they usually acquire practical experience in teaching as graduate students, before they become full-fledged faculty members. By contrast, it’s not unusual for legal academics to have literally no teaching background of any kind before they are unleashed on their students."
Eric Muller added,
* Once in a faculty position, most law professors receive no training in teaching and are slow to seek out development resources from teaching centers on their campuses.
* Mentoring efforts for junior faculty are much likelier to focus on scholarship than teaching.
* Most law faculty members (of all levels of seniority) generally receive no more peer feedback on their teaching than they absolutely must.
* The more prestigious the institution, the more teaching is seen as a hindrance to research, the less time people spend in the classroom, the more a reduced teaching load is dangled as a hiring or retention incentive, and the harder faculty members work to find ways of getting release time from teaching.
Although a draft of his article entitled The Crisis of the American Law School was posted here on SSRN last summer, it is now available in final print form at 46 U. Mich. J.L. Reform 177 (2012). From the abstract:
The economist Herbert Stein once remarked that if something cannot go on forever, it will stop. Over the past four decades, the cost of legal education in America has seemed to belie this aphorism: it has gone up relentlessly. Private law school tuition increased by a factor of four in real, inflation-adjusted terms between 1971 and 2011, while resident tuition at public law schools has nearly quadrupled in real terms over just the past two decades. Meanwhile, for more than thirty years, the percentage of the American economy devoted to legal services has been shrinking. In 1978 the legal sector accounted for 2.01 percent of the nation's GDP: by 2009 that figure had shrunk to 1.37 percent--a 32 percent decrease. These two trends are not mutually sustainable. If the cost of becoming a lawyer continues to rise while the economic advantage conferred by a law degree continues to fall, then eventually both the market for new lawyers and for admission to law school will crash. In the early years of the 21st century, this abstract theoretical observation has begun to be confirmed by concrete events. The ongoing contraction in the employment market for new lawyers has combined with the continuing increase in the cost of legal education to produce what has begun to be recognized as a genuine crisis for both law schools and the legal profession.
Because clinics require small classes, they have been comparatively expensive. With law school admissions and revenues declining, will clinics be the first to go? Not necessarily, says Mary Lynch as the Best Practices for Legal Education blog (Feb. 22). Here are two excerpts:
The Traditional Rhetoric:
[I]n- house clinics and well supervised and designed externship/field placements courses just “cost too much” compared to the low cost of putting a faculty member in front of a class of 50-100 students and letting them have at it! In other words, the old narrative holds that the actual “cost” of clinic courses is not about express value to the students, alums, and employers, but its relative cost vis
An Alternative View:
Over the past decade and particularly since the global recession, that narrative has broken down, as law schools compete with each other to be the most bold and “innovative” in re-structuring their curricula or creating an entirely “experiential” third year . And economically, that has made much sense. As admission numbers plunge, so does the faculty student ratio and, thus, the relative costs of making law schools focus more on the development of its students has radically declined.
The relative faculty/student ratio is changing everywhere and that is making appropriately designed and updated clinical courses less “expensive” everyday under any cost-value ratio and even under the reductive and incomplete “relative cost” analysis.