Monday, July 3, 2017

Learn the fundamentals of writing first—experiment later

Learn the fundamentals of writing first—experiment later by Bryan Garner.

Excellent advice.  The great composers learned basic theory and counterpoint before they started writing extended works.  Pianists learn scales and chords before they tackle difficult pieces.  Great writers read other writers before they start writing novels.

(Scott Fruehwald)

July 3, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Yale Sues Connecticut over Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

From NBC:

Yale University has sued the state of Connecticut over rules it says limit the number of gender-neutral bathrooms it can designate on campus, the latest skirmish in the broader U.S. fight about gender identity.

The Ivy League school said in the lawsuit it wants to designate all single-occupant restrooms at its law school as gender neutral, but the plan would run afoul of the state building code, which does not count gender-neutral bathrooms when it assesses whether a public building has enough toilets.

The suit was filed on Friday in Connecticut Superior Court in New Haven, after the university received complaints from law school students. Yale has asked the state to drop requirements that single-user restrooms have an assigned gender label.

You can read more here. You would have thought that the parties could have solved the problem through negotiation.


July 2, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Best Universities Worldwide

From the UK’s Times Higher Education blog:

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2016-2017 rank 980 universities around the world, and just under 400 of them are universities in Europe.

A UK university - The University of Oxford - takes the top spot in our Europe ranking, while 90 other UK universities appear in the league table. Germany is the next most-represented European country, with 41 institutions, many of them within the top 100.

Of the universities in mainland Europe, a Swiss institution – ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich – achieves the highest rank, making it into the top five in Europe and the top 10 in the THE World University Rankings 2016-2017.

The top 10 European universities include UK, Swiss, German and Swedish institutions, but UK universities take most of the top spots.

You can access European rankings by country:

Best universities in the UK
Best universities in France
Best universities in Germany
Best universities in the Netherlands
Best universities in Italy
Best universities in Spain
Best universities in Ireland

The top ranking U.S. universities are the California Institute of Technology, Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley, the University of Chicago, and Yale, in that order.

 You can read more here. For what it’s worth.


July 2, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

July 2: Happy Independence Day!

You may know that July 2, 1776 was an important date in U.S. History. From the National Archives:

Independence Day Should Have Been July 2 –July 2, 1776 is the day that the Continental Congress actually voted for independence. John Adams, in his writings, even noted that July 2 would be remembered in the annals of American history and would be marked with fireworks and celebrations. The written Declaration of Independence was dated July 4 but wasn't actually signed until August 2. Fifty-six delegates eventually signed the document, although all were not present on that day in August.

Who Signed and In What Order? –John Hancock signed first, with a large hand right in the middle because he was the President of the Congress. The others signed by state delegation, beginning in the upper right in one column, and then proceeding in five other columns, arranged from the northernmost state (New Hampshire) to the southernmost (Georgia).

Who Signed Last? It is believed Thomas McKean of Delaware was the last person to sign. When Congress authorized the printing of an official copy with the names attached in January 1777, McKean's name was not included. He signed after that date, or the printer made a mistake by omitting him.

You can read much more here.


July 1, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Northern Illinois: Law Dean Resigns

From the Chicago Tribune (excerpts):

Eric Dannenmaier, who had been on voluntary administrative leave since February, resigned recently as the dean of the College of Law, officials said. The school's board of trustees, meeting Wednesday in DeKalb, named veteran law school professor Mark Cordes as interim dean.

A spokesman for the school said the investigation into improper workplace conduct by Dannenmaier uncovered a violation of university policy, but the school did not immediately provide specifics. .

Dannenmaier acknowledged that "for some at the law school, I pushed too far too fast."

In his letter, he recounted being informed of a complaint in February regarding his communication with two temporary staff members whom he hired in the summer of 2016.

According to the letter, the two female employees alleged Dannenmaier created a "hostile work environment," but Dannenmaier also noted there was no allegation of "inappropriate touching" or "quid pro quo requests."

He went on to say he was "highly shocked" by the allegations and noted a review showed the two employees enjoyed working with him.

"I will likely never understand how they could interpret any of my words or actions as creating a hostile work environment or what motivated the complaint months after the communications alleged," he wrote in his letter.

You can read more here.



July 1, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

BYU Law Launches New Legal Design Lab

From the news release:

BYU Law School is pleased to announce the launch of LawX, a legal design lab that will create products and other solutions to address the pressing issues relating to access to legal services.  “LawX will tackle some of the most challenging issues facing our legal system today,” said Gordon Smith, Dean of BYU Law School. “Some gaps in legal services may not be attractive targets for innovation by small, private startups or larger profit-oriented businesses, but closing these gaps would make a tremendous difference to many people who feel priced out of the market for legal services. A legal design lab embedded within a law school is an ideal platform for addressing these issues. LawX will use design thinking to address these problems, and when appropriate, to create products to solve them.” . . . 

The first LawX project – slated for fall 2017 – will focus on helping self-represented defendants answer a lawsuit.  The project will be directed at everyday people who do not understand how to respond to a lawsuit and might not have the resources to hire an attorney. You can read more here.


July 1, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 30, 2017

ABC Settles “Pink Slime” Lawsuit

From Poynter:

ABC and Beef Products Inc. settled an important defamation case three weeks into a trial that alleged the network knowingly used false information in a series that asserted Lean Finely Textured Beef was "pink slime."

The product is blended with ground beef to reduce fat content. As a result of a 2012 series fronted by anchor Diane Sawyer and reported by correspondent Jim Avila, the privately held family company said it suffered huge negative consequences, including shutting three of four plants.

You can read the analysis here.


June 30, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Winston Churchill on Writing Paragraphs and Chapters

When Churchill was writing The River Wars (1899), he gained an understanding of how to organize his writing. From My Early Life, Chapter XVI:

I affected a combination of the styles of Macaulay and Gibbon, the staccato antitheses of the former and the rolling sentences and genitival endings of the latter; and I stuck in a bit of my own from time to time. I began to see that writing, especially narrative, was not only an affair of sentences, but of paragraphs.

Indeed I thought the paragraph no less important than the sentence. Macaulay is a master of paragraphing. Just as the sentence contains one idea in all its fullness, so the paragraph should embrace a distinct episode; and as sentences follow one another in harmonious sequence, so the paragraphs must fit on to one another like the automatic couplings of railway carriages.

Chapterisation also began to dawn upon me. All the chapters should be of equal value and more or less of equal length. Some chapters define themselves naturally and obviously; but much more difficulty arises when a number of heterogeneous incidents none of which can be omitted have to be woven together into what looks like an integral theme.

Finally the work must be surveyed as a whole and due proportion and strict order established…. I already realised that ‘good sense is the foundation of good writing.

(my paragraphing of the text)


June 30, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Proposed AALS Section on Empirical Study of Legal Education and the Legal Profession

New Proposed AALS Section on Empirical Study of Legal Education and the Legal Profession , by Judith Wegner (former dean North Carolina and co-author of the Carnegie Report) on the Best Practices for Legal Education blog.

"We, as legal scholars and innovative professional staff, have begun to undertake important studies of key issues facing legal education and the legal profession. But we have not done so systematically, and we have not had a very effective support structure to bring our best efforts to bear through skillful research grounded in empirical methods. We also lack ready means to collaborate across the individual silos that separate administrators, podium faculty, clinicians, legal writing instructors, academic support professionals and admissions personnel.

We are getting close to building a stronger network of colleagues interested in taking up empirical research on legal education and the legal profession, through a newly proposed AALS Section on Empirical Study of Legal Education and the Legal Profession. We’ve secured nearly twice as many signatures as required under AALS Bylaws and will be presenting a proposal for the AALS Executive Committee to consider at its upcoming July 2017 meeting."

This sounds like an important proposal.  While the new teaching approaches have been tested extensively in other fields, there has not been as much empirical research in legal education.  For more information and to sign the petition for the new section click on one of the links above.

(Scott Fruehwald)

June 30, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Did Bob Dylan Plagiarize SparkNotes?

When Bob Dylan finally presented the speech (though not in person) that he was obliged to give when he accepted the Nobel Prize, he made several references to Moby Dick by Herman Melville (here). At Slate, Andrea Pitzer tells us that she compared words in Dylan’s speech with the summary of Moby Dick in SparkNotes, a popular crib that lazy or confused students employ. Her research uncovers many similarities. She asked some academics whether Bob had committed plagiarism. Here are their mixed responses:

 Longtime Dylan fan and George Washington University English professor Dan Moshenberg told me no alarm bells went off for him while reviewing the passages. Gwynn Dujardin, an English professor from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, had more issues with Dylan’s approach, noting the irony that “Dylan is cribbing [from] a contemporary publication that is under copyright instead of from Moby-Dick itself, which is in the public domain.” A final reviewer, Juan Martinez, a literature professor at Northwestern University, said, “If Dylan was in my class and he submitted an essay with these plagiarized bits, I’d fail him.”

 The article (here) gives examples of the alleged infractions. You might run them by your students.Here is another article on the subject: Robert J. O’Hara, Moby Dylan: An Analysis of Bob Dylan’s Summary of Moby-Dick in His 2017 Nobel Lecture (here). Mr. O’Hara is harder on Bob and joins with Andrea Pitzer in making this suggestion: “I happily endorse Pitzer’s suggestion that Dylan contribute at least a portion of his Nobel Prize money to the anonymous editors of SparkNotes, without whose last-minute assistance his laureate haul might have been lost.”


June 29, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ten Tips for Writing Less Badly

In 2010, political scientist Frank Munger wrote an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education offering ten tips on writing less badly. It’s aimed at academic writers. Here are the headlines:

  1. Writing is an exercise.You get better and faster with practice.
  2. Set goals based on output, not input."I will work for three hours" is a delusion; "I will type three double-spaced pages" is a goal.
  3. Find a voice; don't just "get published."Paradoxically, if all you are trying to do is "get published," you may not publish very much. It's easier to write when you're interested in what you're writing about.
  4. Give yourself time.
  5. Everyone's unwritten work is brilliant. When you are actually writing, and working as hard as you should be if you want to succeed, you will feel inadequate, stupid, and tired. If you don't feel like that, then you aren't working hard enough.
  6. Pick a puzzle.Portray, or even conceive, of your work as an answer to a puzzle.
  7. Write, then squeeze the other things in.Put your writing ahead of your other work.
  8. Not all of your thoughts are profound. So start small. It is hard to refine your questions, define your terms precisely, or know just how your argument will work until you have actually written it all down.
  9. Your most profound thoughts are often wrong.Or, at least, they are not completely correct. Precision in asking your question, or posing your puzzle, will not come easily if the question is hard.
  10. Edit your work, over and over.Have other people look at it.

You can read the full explanations here.


June 28, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Another Book on New Teaching Approaches

James Lang, Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons From the Science of Learning (2016).
"Cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists, and biologists all have produced a revealing body of research over the past several decades on how human beings learn, but often translating these findings into the classroom is overwhelming for busy instructors. Small Teaching bridges the gap between research and practice by providing a fully developed strategy for making deliberate, structured, and incremental steps towards tuning into how your students are hardwired to learn.

Developed by a global authority on teaching and learning, the practice of "small teaching" enables every type of educator in all disciplines to energize and boost student understanding by introducing small activities that require minimal preparation and grading. The models inside are specifically designed to be used as both one-time experiences to innovate a course session or unit plan as well as a menu of options that can be combined into an entirely new teaching approach. Each chapter gives examples of how a particular learning phenomenon appears in everyday life, supporting research and findings, up to five small-teaching models, guidance for customizing your own models, and quick-reference features when you need inspiration fifteen minutes before class. Small teaching techniques include brief classroom or online learning activities, one-time interventions, and small modifications in course design or communication with students that let you:

  • Capture or recapture the students' attention, provide quick opportunities for student engagement, and introduce or wrap up new learning
  • Deepen student understanding of material and expand their ability to analyze and improve their own learning
  • Give students the tools, techniques, and principles to effectively practice a range of cognitive skills

Small Teaching gives you all the know-how and how-to for making big improvements to your learning environment."

(Scott Fruehwald) (hat tip: Renee Allen)

June 28, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Decline of the LSAT

At the Excess of Democracy blog, Derek Muller gives four reasons why the LSAT's value is in decline. The highlights:

First, schools have started to turn to the GRE in lieu of the LSAT.

Second, LSAC has become bizarrely defensive of its test. To the extent it intends to go to war with law schools over its own test--and go to war in ways that are not terribly logical--it does so at its own peril.

Third, prospective law student may now retake the LSAT an unlimited number of times. Given the fact that schools only need to report the highest score--and given the fact that the highest score is less reliable than the average of scores--we can expect the value of the LSAT to decline to a still-greater degree.

Fourth, LSAC will now administer the LSAT 6 times a year instead of 4 times a year. But given the unlimited number of opportunities to retake, plus the highest-score standard, we can expect, again, a still-greater decline in value of an LSAT score.

Professor Muller emphasizes consequences of relying on LSAT scores in the admissions arena:

Many of the problems I've identified here are principally driven by one concern: the USNWR rankings. Without them, enterprising (and risk-taking) law schools might consider only the average, or only the first two or three attempts, or consider the index score to a greater degree, or weight the quality of the undergraduate institution and difficulty of the undergraduate major to a greater degree.

I have heavily edited the posting. You can read the full posting here (June 6, 2017).


June 27, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Lawyers' Fees and Claret: A Story Too Good to Pass Up

Off Topic (maybe not). I recently came across this story, originally posted on Faculty Lounge and reposted on Legal Ethics Forum.

Several decades ago, an American client asked me to help recruit some British barristers for an international project.  I flew to London and met in chambers with a QC and a junior, and we discussed other barristers who might be interested in joining the group.  After about thirty minutes, the conversation veered oddly off course, as the two barristers began talking about the need for “cases of claret.”  One of the possible recruits liked a particular type of claret, another one preferred some other claret, and they all seemed to be interested in acquiring it only by the case.  They went on this way for a good twenty minutes, matching barristers to claret and commenting on how many cases of claret each one usually brought home.

Finally, it dawned on me.  “Oh,” I said, in a direct manner that made my Chicago upbringing even more obvious, “you’re talking about money.”

The room fell deadly silent, as if I had uttered some unforgivable vulgarity in relation to the royal family. (This was in the days before scandal and divorce had rocked the institution, which was still spoken of in hushed and reverential tones.)

The junior barrister tensed in his chair, giving every indication that I had triggered the “fight or flight” reflex.  It was as though he had been surprised in a bordello raid, and was trying to decide whether to demand a search warrant from the constable or bolt for the back door.

The QC at first appeared paralyzed; his vigorously ruddy complexion having turned deathly ashen. Obviously shaken, he eventually stirred.  “Well, well,” he said, “that’s enough of that. Perhaps you should speak with the clerk.”  There was no more talk of claret, or money.  If my client had not been so internationally prominent, I am quite sure that I would have been shown the door.

(by Steven Lubet)

You can read the rest here and here.


June 26, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Law School Assessment Blog

Last week, I mentioned an excellent post on formative assessment by Larry Cunningham, What Law Schools Can Learn about Assessment from Other Disciplines.  It is from a blog that Dean Cunningham started last year.  There is lots of info on his blog concerning formative assessment.

Law School Assessment

(Scott Fruehwald)

June 26, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

AAUP Takes Stand against Political Harassment of Faculty

Recently, a right wing media outlet has led attacks on faculty members for statements that faculty members and usually their schools complain were taken out of context. The American Association of University Professors has issued a statement on the matter. Here are the opening paragraphs:

We are dismayed that another faculty member, John Eric Williams of Trinity College, has become the target of a flood of threats following reports about his social media postings by the right-wing media outlet Campus Reform. In this case, the college was shut down for a day so that law enforcement officials could investigate threats to the college and to the faculty member. This is the second time this month that an institution of higher education has had to close down in response to threats, disrupting education and creating an environment of fear on campus.

We condemn the practice, becoming all too common, of bombarding faculty members and institutions of higher education with threats. When one disagrees with statements made by others, threats of violence are not the appropriate response. Such threatening messages are likely to stifle free expression and cause faculty and others on campus to self-censor so as to avoid being subjected to similar treatment. Targeted online harassment is a threat to academic freedom.

You can read the rest here.

For an article on the subject, please click here.


June 25, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

American Airlines Won’t Cut Leg Room by 2 Inches

Good news for travelers. From Conde Nast Travel:

Never do two inches feel quite so large as when you don't have them on an airplane—thus the previous outrage over American Airlines' announcement it would be cutting that much legroom in some economy seats on new planes. But now, the airline has changed course.

The largest carrier in the U.S. announced the change in plans in a company letter to employees Tuesday, according to CNN, citing "a lot of feedback from both customers and team members." Originally, the plan called for reducing seat pitch, or the space between the same spot on two seats, in three rows of economy class from 31 inches down to 29 inches on the airline's new 737 MAX jetliners. Additionally, the rest of economy would have seat pitch reduced to 30 inches in an effort to squeeze more seats on to the planes.

As a result, the airline will have a minimum of 30 inches of pitch for all main cabin rows on the 737 MAX planes.

You can read more here.


June 25, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Needed: A New Bar Exam

Over at the Best Practices for Legal Education blog (June 8, 2017), Ben Bratman call for a rethinking of the bar exam. He argues that the National Conference of Bar Examiners stands in the way of innovation:

Written performance testing was the last meaningful innovation in bar exam testing. In thinking about who might lead an effort toward the next one that introduces greater clinical evaluation, including possibly of oral skills, I think not of a top-down effort from the resolutely conservative NCBE. It is focused on getting as many jurisdictions as possible to adopt its Uniform Bar Exam (26 and counting as of today). Rather, I think of a bottom-up effort by individual states—perhaps with California in the lead—serving as laboratories for testing methods that could ultimately spread to other jurisdictions, thereby persuading or forcing the NCBE to join.

The biggest barrier to innovation at the state level is the NCBE’s influence, which increases with each state that adopts the UBE and thereby constrains itself to offer the conventional bar exam that the NCBE requires it to.

He concludes:

Today, 24 years after the MacCrate Report, 20 years after the advent of the MPT, and 10 years after the Carnegie Foundation Report, the legal profession needs a better bar exam.  I join Professor [Deborah Merritt’s call for a national task force on the bar exam, sponsored by AALS, the Conference of Chief Justices, the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, and maybe even the NCBE.  As Professor Merritt writes, such a task force could “study current approaches to the bar exam, develop a more realistic definition of minimum competence, and explore best practices for measuring that competence.”

You can read more here.

As I write this posting, I think about my newly-graduated students on the first floor of the building sitting through an expensive commercial bar review course viewing mostly videos. I wonder if this exercise in memorizing lots of rules and some test-taking techniques is the best way for them to prepare for their professional futures.


June 24, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 23, 2017

How to Write So Judges Will Like You

At the Adams and Reese blog, we read the results of interviews with a dozen judges on the topic of legal writing. The blog relates the many points on which judges agree. Here is the concluding paragraph:

“The skill of a lawyer,” said one judge, “is to make a complicated problem simple.” Your writing is how you tell the court what you want and why you are due to get it. It’s how you make your case and advocate for your client. It’s a large part of how you win. So the next time you sit down to write something to a judge, from a discovery motion to a bet-the-farm appellate brief, remember that you are only one among many other things on the court’s to-do list. Make your work product stand out. Make the judges breathe a sigh of relief as they turn the page. They’ve already told you how.

You can access the blog posting here.


June 23, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Larry Cunningham on Assessment

What Law Schools Can Learn about Assessment from Other Disciplines

Some great advice:

I came away from the conference with the following takeaways about how these other disciplines are using assessment:

  • They use assessment data to improve student learning, both at an individual and macro level.  They are less focused on using assessments to “sort” students along a curve for grading purposes. Driven in part by their accreditors, the sciences use assessment data to help individual students recognize their weaknesses and, by graduation, get up to the level expected for eventual licensure, sometimes through remediation. They also use assessment data to drive curricular and teaching reform.
  • They focus on the validity and reliability of their summative assessments.  This is probably not surprising since scientists are trained in the scientific method. They are also, by nature, accepting of data and statistics. They utilize item analysis reports (see bullet #3) and rubrics (for essays) to ensure that their assessments are effective and that their grading is reliable. Assessments are reused and improved over time. Thus, a lot of effort is put into exam security.
  • They utilize item analysis data reports to improve their assessments over time. Item analysis reports show things like a KR-20 score and point biserial coefficients, which are statistical tools that can help assess the quality of individual test items and the exam as a whole. They can be generated by most scoring systems, such as Scantron and ExamSoft.
  • They utilize multiple, formative assessments in courses. 
  • They collect a lot of data on students.
  • They cooperate and share assessments across sections and professors.  It is not uncommon for there to be a single, departmentally-approved exam for a particular course. Professors teaching multiple sections of a course collaborate on writing the exam against a common set of learning outcomes.
  • They categorize and tag questions to track student progress and to assist with programmatic assessment. (In law, this could work as follows. Questions could be tagged against programmatic learning outcomes [such as knowledge of the law] and to content outlines [e.g., in Torts, a question could be tagged as referring to Battery].)  This allows them to generate reports that show how students perform over time in a particular outcome or topic.
  • They debrief assessments with students, using the results to help students learn how to improve, even when the course is over.  Here, categorization of questions is important.
  • They utilize technology, such as ExamSoft, to make all of this data analysis and reporting possible.
  • They have trained assessment professionals to assist with the entire process.  Many schools have assessment departments or offices that can setup assessments and reports. Should we rethink the role of faculty support staff? Should we have faculty assistants move away from traditional secretarial functions and to assisting faculty with assessments? What training would be required?

(Scott Fruehwald)

June 22, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)