Wednesday, July 23, 2014
A lawyer should use the opening paragraph of a court document to advance the client’s cause. Consider this traditional opening paragraph:
PLAINTIFF BELCOM COMPUTER
COMPANY, INC.’S OPPOSITION
TO DEFENDANT WORLDWIDE
TELCO, INC.’S MOTION TO
DISMISS OR, IN THE
ALTERNATIVE, TO STRIKE
PLEADINGS BASED ON
PLAINTIFF’S VIOLATION OF THIS
COURT’S JUNE 13, 2003 ORDER
TO THE HONORABLE JUDGE OF
NOW COMES PLAINTIFF BELCOM
COMPUTER COMPANY, INC.
(‘‘Belcom’’), and files this its Opposition
to Defendant Worldwide Telco, Inc.’s
(‘‘Worldwide’s’’) Motion to Dismiss or, in
the Alternative, to Strike Pleadings Based
on Plaintiff ’s Violation of This Court’s
June 13, 2003 Order (‘‘Worldwide’s Motion
to Dismiss’’), and for its Opposition,
Belcom would respectfully show unto this
Honorable Court as follows:
Now compare this version:
Belcom’s Opposition to
Worldwide’s Motion to Dismiss
Belcom has fully complied with this
Court’s June 13, 2003 order to amend
its complaint. As the order requires, Belcom’s
amended complaint states specific
facts supporting its contention that Worldwide
deceived the patent office in applying
for the patent at issue, thus rendering
the patent invalid. Instead of disputing
those facts, Worldwide now seeks drastic
relief—asking this Court to dismiss or
strike Belcom’s invalidity claim. Worldwide’s
motion should be denied.
I think most of us prefer the second version. For a discussion of why the second version is better, please click here for Beverly RayBurlingame’s article in the June Michigan Bar Journal.
Another important article by Neil W. Hamilton. The Qualities of the Professional Lawyer.
Section I below analyzes empirical data identifying the qualities that legal employers and clients want in a new lawyer. Section II analyzes the empirical evidence on what qualities of the professional lawyer inform the profession’s understanding of professionalism, professional formation and an ethical professional identity. That evidence reveals a powerful service ethic anchoring professional formation: An internalized moral core characterized by a deep responsibility for others, particularly clients. Section III explores how the qualities of the professional lawyer form the foundation upon which a law student and early-career lawyer builds over a career to develop all the values, virtues, capacities and skills of an effective lawyer. Section IV reflects professional formation’s central role in fulfilling the legal profession’s “social contract” with the larger society. That section also considers the “moral insight” attained by lawyers at later stages of professional formation. Section V concludes with a discussion of some key lessons to remember going forward in your law studies and career as a lawyer."
Publication opportunity for LRW faculty, law librarians, clinicians and practitioners interested in legal research and writing training
Here's a great opportunity to get published if you're interested in writing about issues related to the teaching of legal research or legal writing whether you're a LWR faculty member, clinician, doctrinal faculty, law librarian or practitioner. Perhaps you're a practicing lawyer involved in mentoring or training junior lawyers and you've some good teaching techniques, observations or insights you'd like to share. Or perhaps as a practicing lawyer teaching part time as an adjunct faculty member you have a unique perspective on LRW pedagogy. This is your chance to reach more than 5,000 readers by submitting a short manuscript to Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing, a Thomson Reuters publication. The submission guidelines and publisher's contact information are below (ignore the part about a mid-July deadline and instead submit whenever your manuscript is ready).
Perspectives is a journal for law librarians, law professors, and everyone else who is intrigued by the challenge of teaching legal research and writing. In three electronic publications each year (fall, winter, and spring), Perspectives provides a forum for exploring a broad array of teaching theories, techniques, and tools. Readers and authors include:
- new and experienced law librarians and law professors;
- practicing attorneys who help associates to develop as researchers and writers or who serve as adjunct faculty at law schools; and
- writing specialists at law schools, law firms, courts, and other legal institutions.
Submissions from authors are generally due in mid-July for the fall issue, in mid-September for the winter issue, and in mid-January for the spring issue. Perspectives articles tend to be short, typically between 1,500 and 5,000 words (between two and eight double-spaced pages). The articles generally examine how teachers can best help law students, young lawyers, and others learn to research and write efficiently, enjoyably, and effectively. The articles do so, moreover, in a relaxed, lightly footnoted, and highly readable prose—more like that of many bar association publications than that of traditional academic journals. Most articles focus on a practical issue, task, or topic, for example:
- the use of wikis as a teaching and learning tool;
- game-based teaching techniques;
- clinicians’ insights for research and writing professors;
- student engagement with appellate advocacy assignments;
- incorporation of frequent student-to-faculty feedback;
- collaborations between research and writing instructors; and
- creating and managing online courses.
In addition, regular columns address curricular design, teachable moments, technology for teaching, thorny research matters, and experts’ writing tips. Members of the Perspectives editorial board manage these columns. The editors are experts in teaching research and writing in law firms, libraries, and law schools. They have discretion to edit articles, including by shortening them to conform to available space, and the editors are available to advise prospective authors.
Perspectives is available in PDF at http://info.legalsolutions.thomsonreuters.com/signup/newsletters/perspectives/
Submitting Articles to Perspectives
- How, to Whom, and When to Submit
Submit manuscripts by e-mail as an attachment to:
Elizabeth Edinger, Editor
Catholic University of America Law Library
Alternatively, particularly if your article would fit well in a regular column, you may submit an article to a column editor. The editors’ names are listed in each issue of Perspectives. Deadlines are generally in mid-July for the fall issue, in mid-September for the winter issue, and in mid-January for the spring issue.
2. Manuscript Form and Length
1. Author Information. Provide only your name, professional title, and institutional affiliation. Place this information immediately after the article’s title, not in a footnote.
2. Typeface and Margins. Type in standard-face, double-spaced text with 1.5-inch margins.
3. Length. Articles should run between 1,500 and 5,000 words (two and eight pages). Longer articles may be considered but also may be shortened to fit available space.
4. Footnotes. Use footnotes, not endnotes. Identify notes in the text by superscript numbers.
5. Citation Form. Conform citations to The Bluebook (19th ed. 2010). Follow in particular its “Bluepages,” which describe citation form for legal memoranda and court documents and use regular fonts, not LARGE AND SMALL CAPITALS. Use italicizing, not underlining.
6. Ellipses. Treat an ellipsis as a single word, constructed of three periods preceded and followed by a space—for example: “The idea was ... hers.”
7. Commas. Use “serial commas.” That is, in a series of three or more elements, separate each element by a comma—for example: “The names were Ax, Boxx, and Crux.” In addition, do not use a comma to separate Jr. or Sr. from the name—for example: John Kennedy Jr.
8. Word Preferences.
a. Use appendixes or indexes, not appendices or indices.
b. Use citation, not cite, and citing, not “Bluebooking.”
c. Generally, do not hyphenate legal writing or legal research.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
The results of a recent survey suggest that the greatest risk lies in central administrative systems. Here is a summary from Campus Technology:
For example, respondents reported that their biggest areas of unease from a risk perspective are central administrative systems (chosen by 70 percent), followed by faculty and staff computers and Web applications (which tied at 64 percent), and faculty and staff mobile devices (designated by 60 percent). Yet only 57 percent said they work in environments that bother to classify their sensitive data or provide usage guidelines.(My emphasis)
While 76 percent of schools report giving "special attention" to personally identifiable information (such as social security numbers or banking information) and that same number have policies in place to restrict access to personally identifiable information (PII), encryption is lacking. While 54 percent encrypt PII in transit, an even smaller number — 48 percent — encrypt PII "at rest."
You can read more here.
Monday, July 21, 2014
New York will implement program where law students exchange pro bono service for early bar admission
This sounds like a win-win; law students provide legal service to low-income clients who might not otherwise have access to a lawyer in exchange for school credit and the chance for early bar admission. From the New York Law Journal:
New York's 15 law schools and the state court system are laying the groundwork for a new Pro Bono Scholars program, where students can dedicate their final semester to pro bono work on behalf of low-income clients in exchange for early bar admission.
Starting next spring, about 150 students will spend 12 weeks working full-time for a law school clinic, legal services nonprofit, government agency or law firm. Placements will begin March 2, after participants take the February bar exam.
Though their work will be unpaid, students will receive at least 12 academic credits and participate in a weekly, on-campus seminar to complement what they're learning on the job. Licensed attorneys will supervise them.
Early bar admission is a top selling point for potential Pro Bono Scholars. Participants will be admitted by June 2015, up to a year before their classmates who take the July bar exam.
. . . .
Continue reading here.
From the ABA blog (abridged):
Samuel A. Thumma joined the Arizona Court of Appeals after 20 years in private practice and as a trial judge. Based on his rookie year as an appellate judge, Thumma offers suggestions for “the nearly rule-less” practice of writing appellate decisions in an article for the winter 2014 issue of The Judges’ Journal. Some highlights:
Keep the audience in mind. Any appellate decision should have as the primary audience the parties and their counsel, although with a decision that can be cited as a precedent, the audience is broader and more diverse.
Your introduction matters. Grab the reader with a short, tight, clean introduction.
Create structure with headings. In most cases, Thumma uses these headers: Introduction, Facts and Procedural Background, Discussion, Attorneys’ Fees (if applicable) and Conclusion. In multi-issue appeals, adding sub-headings can provide further clarity.
Less is more. Details should be essential or omitted.
Confirm proper jurisdiction. Ask yourself: What appealable judgment or order was appealed, how is the appeal timely, and how did the court have appellate jurisdiction?
Specify the standard of review and how facts are construed, as it may be important for deciding the case, but for a decision that can be cited as a precedent, in determining how the case may be cited.
Address or at least mention the fair issues raised in the briefs. For non-precedential decisions, noting all issues raised by the parties is critical for perceptions of legitimacy and to minimize motions to reconsider. For a precedential decision, it may be helpful for future cases to note what was raised but not addressed or decided.
Clearly specify the relief granted.
Avoid unintended consequences. Clarity and brevity decrease the chances that the decision will be used inappropriately as a precedent in a case with different facts or legal arguments.
Develop your own writing style and preferences. For example, if you don’t like the morass of long, complicated sentences common to legal writing, vary your sentence length.
At the top of a list of Thumma’s personal writing preferences: “I assume no one reads footnotes.”
You can read the full posting here
A More Rigorous Approach to Teaching the Reasoning Portion of Case Analysis: A Key to Developing More Competent Law Students
The first skill that law schools teach their students is case briefing. Consequently, it is very important that law schools do this right. When I was in law school, case analysis was taught very superficially, and it can still be taught better today.
I have developed a more rigorous approach to case briefing, which requires students to identify the type of reasoning the judge is using in a case and how the judge is using it in detail. I have just posted a draft of an article on my approach on SSRN:
Sunday, July 20, 2014
"Using Experiential Education To Develop Human Resources For The Nonprofit Community: A Course Study Analysis"
This new article by Professor Ann Hodges (Richmond) is directly relevant to those interested in "practical legal skills" training so we're passing it along to you, our readers. It can be found at 6 Drexel L. Rev. 1 (2014) and here on SSRN. From the abstract:
In this era of shrinking resources and increased pressure to produce “practice-ready” lawyers, law schools are seeking new and cost-effective ways to provide experiential education. This article reports and analyzes the results of a survey of graduates and students from a course in Nonprofit Organizations that incorporated a community-based project designed to develop skills, enhance learning and encourage post-graduation involvement with nonprofits. Although limited to one course, this course study, like a case study, offers valuable information. Consistent with other research on experiential education, the survey supports the conclusion that such projects, while less resource intensive and comprehensive than clinics, offer benefits to both the students and to the community.
Yesterday, I listed Ben Yagoda’s list of seven grammar rules that you really should take seriously. Today, I offer his list of seven rules that he says you don’t need to worry about:
- Don’t split infinitives.
- Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.
- Don’t use “which” as a relative pronoun.
- Don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
- Don’t use the passive voice.
- Don’t neglect to use singular verbs. (By that I meant that it is OK to use singular verbs with data and media, as well as a plural one in a sentence like “A number of my friends are coming over.”)
- Don’t use words to mean what they’ve been widely used to mean for 50 years or more. (Here I dismissed shibboleths like using like to mean “such as”; decimate to mean “kill or eliminate a large proportion of something”; liable to to mean “likely to”; over to mean “more than”; and since to mean “because.” I didn’t mention the shibboleth against shibboleth, but will do so here, prophylactically.)
On the whole, I would agree, but would frame is rules in a more nuanced way. For example, I would avoid the passive voice, but use it when it makes for a better, clearer, and more persuasive sentence.
You can read more here at the Chronicle of Higher Education (not sure if you need a subscription).
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Professor and author Ben Yagoda offers these seven rules:
- Using the subjunctive in a sentence in hypothetical or counterfactual sentences, e.g., “If Hillary Clinton
waswere president, things would be a whole lot different.”
- Avoiding bad parallelism like, “My friend made salsa, guacamole, and brought chips.”
- Being careful with a few tricky verb tenses, such as “I’m tired, so I need to go
laylie down” and “Honey, I shrunkshrank the kids.”
- Watching out for pronoun use that will earn you calumny, such as “It was a great vacation for my wife and
Ime” and “They gave special awards to Bill and myselfme.”
- Avoiding dangling modifiers.
- Correct semicolon use.
- Avoiding what are still commonly considered the incorrect meanings for such words and expressions as begs the question, phenomena (as a singular), cliché (as an adjective), comprised of, and lead (as the past tense of the verb lead).
You can read more here at the Chronicle of Higher Education (not sure if you need a subscription for this one).
Friday, July 18, 2014
In legal education, the word “doctrinal” is most often used to refer to courses such as Contracts, Torts, Property, and Criminal Procedure. Doctrinal has long been used as a descriptive adjective, but also as a word of exclusion. We often hear legal writing courses are not substantive and not as significant as doctrinal courses. Linda Edwards’s new book, Readings in Persuasion: Briefs that Changed the World, persuasively challenges this view.
This paper evaluates what we mean when we use the term doctrinal in a legal education context and considers six powerful descriptors for the doctrine of legal writing, all extrapolated from Edwards’s book: (1) legal writing is founded upon a collective body of robust scholarship; (2) it relies upon principles of science to create legal meaning; (3) it embraces an artistic craft model for the production of legal meanings, emphasizing the creativity, autonomy, and discretion that form the core of a lawyer’s professional identity; (4) it involves critical introspection, opening up areas of thought traditionally obscured in legal education and ensuring that law students appreciate the power they will eventually wield in law practice; (5) it is substantive because legal writing is law making — we cannot separate the substance of the law from the words we use to forge legal meanings; and finally, (6) because it relies on real cases and context to teach students how to engage with the legal process, the doctrine of legal writing builds and improves upon law school’s classic case-method pedagogy.
U. Montana Law School adds more practical legal skills training to the first year curriculum and beyond
The changes in the first year curriculum include assigning each student to a six person "law firm" run by a "junior partner" teaching assistant. The "firms" are intending to be learning laboratories where students meet each week to practice lawyering skills like "interviewing, counseling, negotiation, drafting, legal research, and written and oral advocacy in the form of extensive simulated professional legal situations and required clinical education."
National Jurist's PreLaw Magazine has more details here - Montana Expands Experiential Curriculum - including a description of the curricular changes the school will be implementing in the second and third year to add more experiential learning opportunities.
How about an app that does one simple thing? It sends to the recipient a simple message: “Yo.” That’s it. The inventor has already raise $1 million from investors. Will investors invent in anything? (apparently yes) Will customers really employ the app? (yes). Does the advent of this app suggest that we’re entering a new tech bubble?
You can read more at Think Progress
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Cardozo Law School has announced that it has revamped its curriculum to offer more practical legal skills courses following the success of some pilot projects. The New York Law Journal has additional details:
After spending the past year testing potential changes to its second- and third-year curriculum, the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law is rolling out new and revamped offerings this fall with an emphasis on practical lawyering skills.
Students can choose a concentration in one of 11 areas, including criminal law, intellectual property or tax law, and will have access to an alumni and faculty mentor. All alumni mentors are practicing attorneys.
Cardozo now requires students earn six credits of practical skills through a clinic or externship. The school will offer several new skills-based courses to be taught jointly by a faculty member and an adjunct practicing attorney. Some courses, such as contract drafting, were introduced last year on a pilot basis and will be offered permanently, vice dean Melanie Leslie said.
"The legal market has changed, and we want to be responsive to that," she said. "We want to be able to ensure we're able to give students the skills they need to compete."
The school also will expand its annual lawyering skills program, allowing more students to take its intensive trial advocacy program—a two-week immersion course on courtroom litigation strategy—as well as courses on corporate transactions and financial literacy.
. . . .
Continue reading here.
From Road Warriorette, here is an abridged version of the advice:
Dress smart. In my experience conference halls are always either freezing or boiling, never much in the middle. Thus, layers are the best way to stay comfortable.
Comfortable shoes. Conferences are usually synonymous with huge hotels or convention halls. You may have to walk close to a mile just to get to the location (especially if you’re in Vegas as so many conferences are). Comfortable shoes are a must, otherwise you will be crying by the end of the day. If you have to wear heels, slip some flats or flip-flops in your bag for the commute
Snacks and water. Keep snacks like nuts, a protein bar, fruit, or maybe even some Dove Darks handy so you won’t go light headed from hunger before you get to eat.
Electronics. Make sure to have all of the chargers you need—don’t leave any behind in the hotel room, because without fail that will be the one you need. Want to be the most popular person there? Bring a power strip. If you have a portable charger, bring that too. Tip: Scope out the plugs as you’re walking in so you know where to go when you need a charge.
Bonus tip: Don’t be embarrassed to use a rolling briefcase. It will hold everything you need, plus conference freebies, and not hurt your shoulder. Win!
I think packing a sweater, your favorite pain reliever, and Pepto bismol are the most important bits of advice. You can read the rest here.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Yesterday, I wrote a post on the importance of teaching problem solving in law school, mainly using ideas of Kathy Vinson. Today, I will show why it is important to teach problem solving in the first year, even if the law school offers extensive advanced skills courses.
Recently, many law schools have enacted advanced skills requirements, and there have been several proposals put forward to require advanced skills courses, one of which was adopted by the California bar. Even if all law schools offered extensive advanced skills courses, law schools would still need to teach problem solving in the first year because it is foundational, just as briefing cases or learning how lawyers think is foundational. In other words, problem solving prepares students for advanced skills courses.
Advanced skills courses do not teach basic problem solving. They use the skill, but advanced skills teachers generally assume that students already understand problem solving. However, as Kathy Vinson has noted (here at 14-15), students today come to law school with a deficiency of basic skills. Furthermore, general education researchers believe that students should be taught skills explicitly. (here at 109) Consequently, just like thinking like a lawyer, first-year courses should explicitly teach problem solving.
In addition, problem solving is basic to everything students do in law school and in law practice. As a group of researchers have written, "Lawyers, at their core, are problem solvers." Teaching Law Practice Prepaing the Next Generation of Lawyers 124 (Charles Cercone et al. eds., 2013). Similarly, another author has written, "Problem-solving is the single intellectual skill in which all law practices are based." Tracy A. Thomas, Teaching Remedies as Problem-Solving: Keeping it Real, 57 St. Louis U. L.J. 673 (2013). Problem solving also teaches law students to solve a problem from the beginning, which is how they occur in real life, instead of at the end, as the case method does. (here at 4). Therefore, law schools should be teaching this foundational skill early in law school.
I believe that law schools should offer a two-hour course in legal reasoning and problem solving in the first semester. This course would teach legal-reasoning miniskills, such as syllogistic thinking, analogical reasoning, distinguishing cases, and synthesizing cases, then at the end have a problem-solving unit like the one at Harvard. Simultaneously, the doctrinal courses should use problems as one of their teaching methods. (I have no objection to using the Socratic method or case approach in the first year as long as they are only one of several teaching approaches.) I think that these courses should have at least one problem at the end of every unit (at least once a week). Adopting the approach in this paragraph would better prepare students for advanced law school courses and practice.
From CNN Money:
Leslie Thompson earns $40,000 a year working two jobs, but her Albuquerque, N.M., house almost went into foreclosure twice this year.
Thompson's trade? She's a lawyer.
Lawyers have been struggling for a while now, but it's gotten even worse: Half of lawyers are now starting at a salary of less than $62,000 a year, according to the National Association for Law Placement.
Not only that, but starting salaries have fallen 13% over the past six years, down from $72,000 in 2008. At the same time, lawyers' student debts are piling up. Thompson is carrying over $150,000 in student loans.
. . . .
Continue reading here.
According to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures:
In 22 states the decision to ban or allow concealed carry weapons on campuses is made by each college or university individually: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.
Due to recent state legislation and court rulings, 7 states now have provisions allowing the carrying of concealed weapons on public postsecondary campuses. These states are Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah, and Wisconsin. In March 2014, Idaho's legislature passed a bill permitting concealed weapons on campus and making it the 7th state to permit guns on campus.
You can read the report here.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
I have long been in favor of using the problem-solving method as a major teaching tool in legal education. While most of the courses I took in law school used the Socratic method or a lecture approach, a few courses, Tax, PR, UCC, and Bankruptcy, employed problems to a significant extent. I felt that I learned more in these courses than in my other courses because the teaching approach engaged me more in the class.
When I became a legal writing professor, I, of course, used the problem-solving method because problem solving is essential to doing legal writing projects. I also came to see the importance of problem solving in doctrinal courses because active learning helps students remember doctrine better than the Socratic, case method, and it helps them develop the ability to use doctrine. This view was reenforced by the publication of Best Practices and the Carnegie Report, as well as by numerous conferences I have attended on legal writing, legal skills, and legal education reform. I have concluded that problem solving should be a significant part of every doctrinal course.
Kathy Vinson’s new article on problem solving (here), which I discussed on this board last Friday, includes an excellent discussion on the importance of problem solving as a teaching tool in law school.
Professor Vinson’s major reason for stressing the importance of problem solving is that law practice is about the client. Problem solving makes graduates "client-ready," while the Socratic, case method does not. Professor Vison writes, "Upon graduation, students should not continue to think like students instead of thinking like lawyers engaged with the problems of their clients. Problem solving requires students to engage in and grapple with the nuances and messiness of a client’s problem, and possess an open mind to consider solutions outside of the law."
She continues, "While legal education may not be able to fully prepare students for the practice of law, instruction in problem solving can better prepare them and maximize their learning experience for success as law students and as lawyers. Legal education can better prepare students to solve client’s problems effectively by incorporating problem solving into the curriculum so they can engage in deeper understanding of the law and transfer what they learn to solve new problems in familiar or unfamiliar practice settings. Problem solving instruction in law schools can enhance students’ development as legal professionals and better prepare students for the challenges of today’s legal practice. As proactive problem solvers, students may also become more marketable."
Professor Vinson declares, "Legal education should focus on the client and how to use the law, theory, and skills to help a client solve her problem. Furthermore, students often work alone in law school in a competitive and sometimes isolating environment, yet, in practice, collaborative teamwork is essential. Finally, although professionalism, professional identity, and high emotional intelligence are critical skills to develop strong client relationships and succeed in practice, law school often does not discuss or develop these areas."
She then makes an important observation: "Unlike the Langdellian case method, which focuses on appellate cases and introduces students to client’s problems at the end— instead of the beginning—of the case, the problem solving method starts at the beginning of a case—before a student knows all the facts, learns the client’s goals, narrows the issues, clarifies the identity of the client, and considers the options. The case method only gives examples of how others, i.e., a judge, resolved the client’s problem; instead of focusing on judge-centered thinking, problem solving focuses on exposing students to lawyers’ thinking processes and their roles. A problem-solving approach also involves collaborative work and creative thinking." (emphasis added)
After reviewing various calls for using problem solving as a part of legal education reform, Professor Vinson mentions the cognitive deficiencies of many new law students, especially considering that law schools have been digging deeply into the applicant pool since the recession. She notes that "Problem solving requires self-regulated learning. . . Problem solving challenges prior learning and creates a cognitive conflict between understanding the law (i.e. the rules of evidence) and understanding how the law is a tool to solve a client’s problem (i.e. using the rules of evidence as a tool). Students should be taught how the underlying principles of problem solving skills/strategy allow for deep learning as that skill transfers to different types of problems. Problem solving requires students to engage in high levels of thinking." She adds, "Problem solving requires sophisticated cognitive skills of practicing lawyers, such as: identifying a client’s problem; proposing and evaluating solutions; developing a plan of action; implementing the plan; and reflecting and adjusting to information, ideas, and results. Problem solving skills build on more basic cognitive skills (i.e. lower levels of the pyramid) and require students to deal with complex, ambiguous problems, and analyze, synthesize, and evaluate to create solutions." In addition, "Problem solving provides a conceptual framework that allows students to transfer their learning and apply what was learned in one context to another." Moreover, "Adult learning theory suggests that students learn more, better retain information, and contextualize the material in active learning situations like simulations and exercises." Finally, problem solving helps students develop metacognition–the ability to think about thinking.
Problem solving can also help students overcome a fixed mindset–the notion that intelligence is fixed and that one cannot improve on the intelligence one is born with. Professor Vinson asserts, "Some students who may not excel on a traditional law school exam or when called in via the Socratic method may excel in experiential courses, such as problem solving, where they focus on the application of skills in a different way or different skills are critical to success, beyond book knowledge. By excelling in problem solving, a growth mindset is fostered, which can lead to future success." Those that criticize the Socratic method for how it affects women and minorities should be especially attentive to this idea.
The problem-solving method also helps deal with Millennials, who were raised on the internet. Vinson points out, "As a result of helicopter parenting, Millennials find it difficult to deal with ambiguity, may lack creativity, and avoid risking failure. In problem solving, they must embrace these."
Professor Vinson summarizes the benefits of a legal problem-solving approach to legal education: "Problem solving helps close the gap between academia and practice through experiential learning. By connecting legal knowledge, theory, and skills to help clients, students develop deep learning that they can transfer to practice. In addition, numerous additional benefits exist from incorporating problem solving into the legal education curriculum. Beyond the deep learning that students develop, there are numerous soft skills that are ancillary benefits, such as professionalism, professional identity, and emotional intelligence." Problem solving also helps students foster "creativity, flexibility, good judgment, common sense, reflective learning, relationship building, and practical wisdom." It can also lead to non-legal solutions to clients' problems.
I have spent a long time on Professor Vinson’s discussion of the importance of problem solving because I believe that problem solving is vital to legal education reform. Just making a few changes on the edges of legal education is not enough. As Professor Vinson concludes "Legal education is at a tipping point, and perhaps problem solving can balance the skills-doctrine ‘ship in the stormy seas of legal education’s "perfect storm" through the help of the beacon of the client-centered ‘lighthouse.’"
P.S. While I have concentrated on Vinson’s comments on the importance of problem solving, there is much more to her article, such as what is problem solving and how to implement it in law school. The article is worth reading several times. You can find the complete article here.
The Vault's summer associate program ranking? Go here. The Vault's ranking of law firms that provide the most practical training? Go here (and scroll down). Law firm rankings? Go here. Today we have for you The Vault's 2015 law firm diversity rankings. From the press release:
Ropes & Gray Tops Overall Diversity Rankings; New Winners Mark Individual Diversity Categories
Vault.com has released its Law Firm Diversity Rankings for 2015 with a brand new No. 1 firm for Best Overall Diversity and new firms landing atop each individual diversity category.
The big news coming out of the rankings this year is Ropes & Gray's emergence as the Best Law Firm for Diversity, which ends Carlton Fields Jorden Burt's five-year reign as No. 1. Brand new winners claimed the top spot in each individual diversity category as well. They are as follows:
- Diversity for Women: Schiff Hardin
- Diversity for Minorities: Littler Mendelson
- LGBT Diversity: Foley Hoag
- Diversity for Individuals with Disabilities: Ropes & Gray
- Diversity for Military Veterans: Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner
The rankings are based on the results of Vault's annual survey, administered earlier this year to nearly 17,000 law firm associates. Participants were asked to rate their employers on a variety diversity initiatives including recruitment, retention, promotion and mentoring efforts with respect to minority, women, LGBT individuals, individuals with disabilities and military veterans. A formula that averages the scores in all five categories is used to determine the Best Law Firms for Overall Diversity.
"A firm's commitment to diversity directly impacts employee satisfaction, but also the bottom line," said Nicole Weber, Law Editor at Vault.com. "Maintaining a diverse workforce is essential to meeting the changing and wide-ranging needs of clients, and clients recognize this fact—they want to work with diverse teams of attorneys who will bring a variety of ideas to the table."
The 25 Best Law Firms for Overall Diversity were those most highly rated by their own associates for their overall commitment to hiring, retaining and promoting diverse attorneys:
"While many firms have succeeded in recruiting diverse candidates, promotion and retention still remain a challenge in this profession," added Weber. "We are happy to hear from so many associates who are proud of the work their firms are doing to promote an inclusive and heterogeneous work environment."
In addition to its first place spot in the Overall Diversity ranking, Ropes & Gray ranked No. 1 for Diversity for Individuals with Disabilities and appeared in the Top 5 for each of the other categories as well. According to its associates, the firm works hard to ensure that diversity remains an important focus of the firm by creating "tons of affinity groups and an inclusive environment where diverse employees can meet and support one another." One associate also notes that Ropes & Gray succeeds in an area of diversity in which many law firms struggle—retention. "The firm is very positive and encouraging of diversity with a range of affinity groups and one-on-one mentoring. Most importantly, our partnership is very diverse."
Diversity Remains a Top Priority at Many Firms
Here are some other firms that stood out in this year's Diversity Rankings:
Littler Mendelson: In addition to taking the runner-up spot in Overall Diversity (trailing Ropes & Gray by a very narrow margin of .06 points), this employment and labor law practice leader secured the No. 1 spot in the Diversity for Minorities category and appeared in the Top 5 for all other categories. Littler associates boasted about the firm's "inclusion initiatives" and "prominent minority and female partners," noting that "the firm is devoted to diversity and places an emphasis on it." One diverse candidate stated, "I came here MOSTLY due to the diversity commitment."
Carlton Fields Jorden Burt: After sweeping Vault's Diversity Rankings last year (it earned the No. 1 spot in every category), Carlton Fields Jorden Burt is No. 3 for Overall Diversity this year. Though its five-year run at the top has ended, its associates continue to take great pride in the firm's commitment to creating an inclusive environment; the firm ranked in the Top 10 in every category. Associates told Vault that the firm "has done a good job of hiring and promoting women and LGBT individuals" as well as "recruit[ing] minorities by participating in certain job fairs and summer programs." Additionally, "ompared to other large firms, it feels more culturally rich and inclusive."
Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner: Demonstrating a strong commitment to those who have served the United States, Finnegan took the top spot in Vault's newest Diversity Rankings category—Diversity for Military Veterans. In addition to creating a "welcoming environment" for military veterans, Finnegan participates in a "large amount of pro bono work taking up appeals for veterans, to the extent that [the firm has] a dedicated attorney and staff in charge of those efforts." The firm had respectable showings across the board, appearing in the Top 15 of the other categories as well.
Schiff Hardin: Maintaining its No. 5 spot in the Overall Diversity category was hardly Schiff Hardin's only achievement in this year's Diversity Rankings. The firm ranked in the Top 15 in every category, including the No. 1 and No. 2 rankings in Diversity for Women and Diversity for Minorities, respectively. According to one associate, the firm's commitment to diversity "greatly benefits the firm culture and avoids a monolithic and frat-type culture," perhaps explaining its success in the Diversity for Women category. Additionally, a female associate with a young child noted that "the firm has been very accommodating in allowing attorneys to have alternative working arrangements."
Foley Hoag: Foley Hoag climbed four spots since last year to take the No. 1 spot in LGBT Diversity. The Boston-based firm also ranked No. 16 in Overall Diversity; No. 17 in Diversity for Women (a category in which it did not rank last year); and No. 24.