Saturday, April 16, 2016
We live in a golden age of design.
Since Apple’s iPod brilliantly married form and function more than a decade ago, design thinking increasingly has influenced everything from home products and technology start-ups to social movements. As The New York Times put it last year, “Design has fundamentally changed the way we experience the world, from the way we interact with objects to our expectations about how organizations are structured.”
But there’s at least one enterprise in which the overall design is actually more outdated than Henry Ford’s Model T: legal education. Since Harvard Law dean Christopher Columbus Langdell first introduced the Socratic method into the classroom in the late 1800s, the fundamentals of the school learning experience have remained static.
In the typical law school design, you load up on the required basics in your first year — courses like torts, contracts, property and civil procedure, with some additional — and too often minimal instruction on writing, research and communication. There’s little time for anything but the study of legal theory.
. . . .
There’s a better way to do this, and it starts with a redesigned curriculum grounded in the realities of being a modern lawyer. In addition to foundational courses, first-year law students need to experience how legal theory is applied in practice. Lab courses taught by practicing attorneys can achieve this, providing students with early introductions to using the knowledge gained in classrooms so they can begin to develop highly valued lawyering skills.
. . . .
Continue reading here.
Friday, April 15, 2016
From the ABA Journal online. Also listing each school’s U.S. News Ranking:
The top 10 law schools for full-time JD applications for fall 2015 are:
1) Georgetown University, with 7,748 applications, ranked No. 14 overall
2) George Washington University, with 6,160 applications, ranked No. 25 (in a tie) overall
3) Columbia University with 5,716 applications, ranked No. 4 (in a tie) overall
4) New York University, with 5,714 applications, ranked No. 6 overall
5) University of California at Los Angeles, with 5,254 applications, ranked No. 17 overall
6) Harvard University, with 5,206 applications, ranked No. 2 (in a tie) overall
7) University of California at Berkeley, with 5,136 applications, ranked No. 8 (in a tie) overall
8) University of Pennsylvania, with 5,069 applications, ranked No. 7 overall
9) Duke University, with 4,819 applications, ranked No. 11 overall
10) Washington University in St. Louis with 4,613 applications, ranked No. 18 overall
You can read more here.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
New students of the University of Tennessee College of Law who arrive in fall 2016 will find a unique approach to their first-year studies that focuses on practical training, legal writing, and career planning.
UT Law’s new first-year curriculum is a significant revision of the college’s more traditional, theory-focused approach to education.
“The changes we’ve implemented bring the innovative teaching approaches we already use in our upper-level courses to all first-year students,” said Paula Schaefer, associate professor of law and chair of the college’s 1L curriculum task force. “By integrating simulations into our 1L curriculum, our students will learn the law as they use it to solve client problems.”
Experience-focused opportunities will be available through courses in civil procedure and torts and a lab course in transactional lawyering. Plus, the college’s introductory criminal law and legal process courses will connect and reinforce theoretical concepts in a more active, writing-focused experience.
In addition, a course in lawyering and professionalism will provide students with basic training in essential attorney skills while introducing the values of the legal profession. The course will encourage students to begin developing a plan for their careers in the first semester of law school.
. . . . .
Continue reading here.
Statutory Construction: Are Traditional Dictionaries Out-of-Date?
Yale student Alice Wang says yes and makes an interesting argument:
Dictionary use has become a common practice in modern statutory interpretation. This Essay offers a novel critique that challenges the status of the dictionary itself as an authoritative source of meaning. In today’s digitized world, traditional dictionaries are outmoded; sales of reference books are plummeting, and people are going online in unprecedented numbers for reference resources such as online dictionaries and Wikipedia. As a result, traditional dictionaries are losing both their descriptive authority to accurately reflect popular usage and their prescriptive authority to shape usage. This Essay thus argues that traditional dictionaries have become poor references for both plain meaning and legislative intent, calling into question their value to both textualist and purposivist analyses.
You can access the article here.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Eric Westervelt, NPR's education correspondent, had a piece tonight on All Things Considered on Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman, who has embarked on a mission to improve undergraduate education.
Text introduction: "Research shows that some teaching methods are a lot better than others. But why aren't more colleges and universities even bothering to measure teaching effectiveness? Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman, a Stanford professor, is on a mission to improve undergraduate teaching and learning."
Professor Weiman stresses active learning and professors as coaches. He notes that students need be shown why they got a wrong answer (formative assessment). He is also strongly critical of moocs because they are passive lectures. He concludes that it is unethical to teach any other way than with active learning and coaching. You can hear the entire piece here.
Sound familiar? This approach to teaching and learning is what we have been advocating for legal education on this blog for several years. It shows that education researchers are coming up with the same answers in many fields--that active learning is the key to effective education.
NPR just posted a transcript at the same URL.
An excerpt: "Carl Wieman like all good scientists lives by data. The Nobel Laureate says, so far, the data on the effectiveness of active learning techniques - coaching students to be engaged co-pilots in the quest for knowledge - is so convincing it's almost unethical to teach undergraduates any other way. Studies show students taught this way more deeply understood the material. Grades improved 20 percent. Attendance dramatically improved. And course failure rates dropped by almost a third."
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
BarWrite President Mary Campbell Gallagher offers her assessment of SCOTUS nominee Judge Merrick Garland. He strives to make his reasoning clear and favors the “living document” interpretation of the Constitution:
In the opinions I have read, Judge Garland works hard to make his reasoning clear. Take the 2013 case under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) called ACLU v. CIA. There, plaintiffs sought documents relating to targeted killings using drones. The CIA answered with the so-called Glomer response, refusing to confirm or deny that it had such records. It argued that disclosure would reveal whether or not the CIA has an interest in drone strikes. The district court granted summary judgment for the agency. In his opinion reversing the district court and remanding the case, Judge Garland emphasized earlier cases where plaintiffs had demonstrated official government acknowledgment of the existence of the documents in issue, causing the Glomer argument to fail. Applying that reasoning, Judge Garland wrote that the President had publicly acknowledged the use of drones for targeted killings, as had high government officials. It therefore made no sense, he said, to claim that the CIA had no interest in, or documents on, the subject of targeted killing using drones. He said that this question was a different question from whether the CIA itself engaged in drone strikes.
Turning to judicial philosophy, note two strands of the late Justice Scalia's philosophy. First, Justice Scalia insisted, and he persuaded many others, that the text of any statute stands alone, and that its so-called legislative history should not affect a court's interpretation of the statute's words. This may be his greatest judicial legacy. Second, while Justice Scalia was not the first to demand a strict reading of the words of the Constitution, his support for the "originalist" interpretation was hugely influential. He believed in leaving legislating to the legislators. Where does Judge Garland stand? It appears that in contrast to Justice Scalia, he favors the "living document" approach. This allows judges flexibility in choosing how to interpret the Constitution. If so, this judicial approach will determine the cast of his opinions, and doubtless the outcomes of some cases, if Judge Garland becomes a justice of the U. S. Supreme Court. See Juan Williams, writing in the Wall Street Journal for April 2-3, 2016, "The Never Ending Battle Over How to Read the Constitution". (Paywall)
You can read more here.
Robert McCrate began the current movement to reform legal education. Professor Nancy Schultz (Chapman Law School) was kind enough to contribute this memorial.
Bob MacCrate: A Kind and Generous Leader
Bob MacCrate died last week at the age of 94. His many accomplishments included serving as special counsel to the Department of the Army during its investigation of the 1968 My Lai Massacre in South Vietnam, as President of the ABA, and as President of the New York State Bar Association. In legal education circles, we know him as the chair of the ABA Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession, which produced the document known as the MacCrate Report in 1992. According to his obituary in the ABA Journal, Bob considered the MacCrate Report one of his biggest accomplishments.
The MacCrate report strongly encouraged greater attention by law schools to the teaching of the skills and values essential to being a lawyer. This is where I met Bob. Around the time of the MacCrate Report, I was writing an article that ended up being published in the Journal of Legal Education as, “How Do Lawyers Really Think?,” 42 J. Legal Educ. 57 (1992). At the time, I was director of the legal writing program at George Washington. I somehow heard about the MacCrate Report, which had not yet been published, and decided it was a good idea to find Bob MacCrate and talk to him about our mutual interest in recognizing the importance of skills teaching in law school, and the artificiality of the idea that you could teach law students how to think like lawyers without teaching them what lawyers actually do with legal doctrine in the service of their clients.
So we come to the point of why I was so happy that Lou Sirico asked me to write something for the blog. Bob MacCrate could not have been kinder and more generous in his response to being called out of the blue by a young law teacher he had never heard of. We had an animated conversation about our shared interests and our frustration with legal education. He asked to see my article. He read it, and quoted it later.
Not too long after our initial conversation, I was organizing the AALS Annual Meeting program for the Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning and Research. With the publication of the MacCrate Report a hot topic in legal education, I once again contacted Bob and asked if he would participate in a debate. He ended up debating John Costonis, then Dean at Vanderbilt. During the course of the debate, he made reference several times to me and to my article. As I recall, he said something about me being “prescient.” I mention all of this in tribute to a man who, as prominent and accomplished as he was, went out of his way to recognize someone in the early stages of her career in legal education.
If we determine greatness not only by accomplishment, but also by humanity, Bob MacCrate was truly a great man. His positive energy, his intellect, his ability to get enormous tasks done while bringing people together, his warmth, his sense of humor, and his genuine joy in meeting and working with all kinds of people, make him a man who leaves the kind of legacy we should all wish to leave. He will be missed.
Monday, April 11, 2016
Bloomberg BNA is reporting on a new program created and staffed by Yale law students that offers pro bono legal assistance to those facing home foreclosures in the New Haven area. Those Yalies are pretty impressive. First, students lobbied the Connecticut judiciary for a rules change that would let them represent homeowners facing foreclosure provided the other parties consent. Then they lobbied a couple of outside attorneys to supervise their work. And viola! A new program is birthed that provides students with practical experience while helping those in need save their homes.
Here's an excerpt from the BNA report:
There were 628 foreclosures in New Haven in 2015 — 19 more homes than the previous year, according to state data, and evidence that the city is still in the grips of the subprime mortgage lending crisis.
Most of these people can’t afford to hire a lawyer, but since February about 15 Yale Law School students have been representing local residents who face foreclosure, with a goal to assist 100 homeowners this year. The clinic shows how law schools and aspiring lawyers are finding ways to address the access to justice crisis.
“We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if they had somebody on their side who could do that?,'” said James Mandilk, a 2L Yale Law student who helped spearhead the new program. “We can’t help everybody with their entire case, but when they’re in front of the judge, they need that help the most, and we can help.”
Under the program, two attorneys volunteer to supervise law students who offer pro bono representation to homeowners facing foreclosure. Students serve as the residents’ point of contact throughout a foreclosure proceeding and argue the cases before a judge, which are brought in Connecticut Superior Court as civil litigation.
To launch the program, Yale law students lobbied the Rules Committee in Connecticut’s judicial branch to allow students to represent clients in such cases in a limited capacity.
On Jan. 1, rules went into effect that allow students to represent homeowners on any issue that the parties agree to within a foreclosure case.
. . . .
Continue reading here.
Using “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun may be a trend, but should lawyers use the device? Professor Joyce Rosenberg points out the difficulties:
“For the persuasive writer—for whom credibility is all—the
writer’s point of view matters less than the reader’s.” Lawyers
must be conservative when we write because we usually
write on another person’s behalf, for an audience that may not
be receptive to freewheeling language choices. In that context [writing]
imposes a duty of care that probably keeps the practicing bar
away from the cutting edge of a grammar shift.
The singular they presents two problems in this regard. It
may inject unintentional ambiguity (is the lawyer referring
to more than one person?). And it may damage credibility
(why doesn’t this lawyer know the grammar rules?). When we
write for our clients, it’s not a great idea to be on the grammar
Fortunately, she lists the gender-neutral alternatives. You can access them here.
Guest Blogger: Acquiring the Citation Language: Should We Burn it All? by Professor Kirsten K. Davis
Today we are featuring a guest post by Professor Kirsten K. Davis, Director of Legal Research and Writing and Director of the Institute for Advancement of Legal Communication at Stetson University College of Law. It is a reply to Judge Posner's article on Bluebooking published in the Yale Law Journal.
Acquiring the Citation Language: Should We Burn it All?
As part of my four-credit legal research and writing class for first-semester law students, I spend three to four class periods out of twenty-six on legal citation. My efforts are directed toward enabling novices to become credible discourse participants, producing legal citations recognizable to the legal reader. I'm not after Bluebook perfection, just credible, competent communication about the most commonly cited legal authorities.
To become competent legal writers, novices must learn the language of legal citation, acquire a working knowledge of customary citation rules, and practice citation within those boundaries and according to those rules. Community-affirmed legal citation manuals, such as The Bluebook or the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation, provide shared access points to these limits. After learning (or at least being exposed to) these limits, a novice can begin exercising judgment about what is sufficient for community members to understand her.
The "invisibility" of legal citations that Judge Posner commends in his Yale Law Journal article on this subject comes from readers and writers sharing a common citation language so that the reader need not pause to understand the message. That is, the designation for a reporter looks like it should to the trained eye; a court abbreviation stands for the same court in the mind of both the reader and the writer. No trained legal reader needs to stop and think about what a citation means.
The wisdom to make reasonable judgments about what's sufficient to be understood comes first from proficiency in the basic discourse boundaries and rules. And because of that, Judge Posner's citation instructions, shared on TaxProf Blog, would pose a challenge for a novice. For example, a novice doesn't automatically know what a "parallel citation" is. Without instruction on the shared vocabulary of citation, a novice won't know the difference between a regional reporter and state reporter such that she can implement Judge Posner's rule to prefer regional reporter citations. Similarly, a novice won't know to avoid pincites for short opinions unless he knows what a "pincite" is and where to look for it in different versions of an authority. Judge Posner's instructions, in fact, speak to those who are presumed to have this legal citation background knowledge--the instructions remark, "Remember, you are not working on a law review."
Citation instructions like Judge Posner's are written for a post-novice crowd: individuals with pre-existing fluency in the discourse conventions, people who already know plenty about the citation language with which they speak, clerks who know something about what is recognizable to a legal audience and what is not. And, this knowledge likely came from using The Bluebook in the first place. This audience already knows the "citation rules behind the citation rules," and from this position can make intelligent citation judgments within the confines of Judge Posner's instructions or, in fact, any guide that sets new boundaries but uses the same basic structure and vocabulary. These instructions would mean little to a novice without this background understanding. Judge Posner recognizes this when he notes in his Yale article that "a first-year law student would need a little more guidance to legal citation form."
I agree with Judge Posner: it's time for citation manuals to let go of needless minutiae, inflexibility, and complexity. But, what is minutiae and what is not? When is a citation rule an inflexible edict instead of a necessary discourse convention? What silences and gaps resulting from simplifying legal citation manuals will derail acquisition of a common citation language? What can we eliminate before no common meaning is left for novices entering the conversation? And what would that mean for a shared language about legal authorities? It might be enticing to burn The Bluebook, but I think we should be wary before we burn it all.
Sunday, April 10, 2016
With the legal-oriented media regularly reporting benchslaps, a critical article was inevitable. And here it is—a very thoughtful one. In Benchslaps, Professor Joseph Mastrosimone criticizes the practice of judges publicly shaming lawyers of their allegedly unethical or unprofessional conduct:
This article criticizes the practice and concludes that it must end based on three arguments: (1) benchslaps breach a judge’s ethical obligation to take appropriate action in response to attorney misconduct; (2) benchslaps by their nature breach a judge’s ethical obligation to treat those appearing in court with courtesy, respect, and patience; and (3) the lack of appeal rights from a benchslap compounds their inappropriateness.
The article argues that judicial ethical enforcement regimes are the proper vehicles for policing questionable judicial conduct.
You can access the article here.
Saturday, April 9, 2016
Last month, preLaw gave us a sneak peak of its list of the top 50 law schools it deems offers the best practical skills training based on a formula that considers the percentage of students enrolled in clinics, externships, simulation courses and interschool moot court-type opportunities and competitions (for a full explanation of the criteria employed by preLaw, go here). This month, the magazine releases its list of the top 25 programs. Below are the top 10 programs but you can click here to see the full list of those schools that made the top 25.
- St. Thomas (Minn.).
- UC - Irvine.
- Washington & Lee.
- U. Wisconsin.
- U. Arizona.
- Brigham Young.
- U. Denver.
In an effort to keep pace with the changing demands and opportunities available in the legal profession, Vermont Law School this week announced a new program that allows students to complete nearly half of their education off-campus through online courses.
Set to launch in the fall, the Reduced-Residency Juris Doctor program will let students earn up to 15 credits online — of the 87 credits needed to graduate from Vermont Law School.
Vice Dean Jackie Gardina, who developed the RRJD program, said it will differ from the traditional three-year legal programs in that students will spend four back-to-back semesters taking courses at the South Royalton, Vermont campus — a period of 18 months that includes the summer. Afterwards, they’ll earn the rest of their credits off campus through online coursework and a semester in practice externship — expected to take about three semesters, though it will vary based on work schedules and classes students choose to take.
You can read more here.
Friday, April 8, 2016
At Vitae, Professor Jim Lang makes this observation:
In my experience — having observed many dozens of college courses over the past two decades — most faculty members eye the final minutes of class as an opportunity to cram in eight more points before students exit, or to say three more things that just occurred to us about the day’s material, or to call out as many reminders as possible about upcoming deadlines, next week’s exam, or tomorrow’s homework.
At the same time, we complain when students start to pack their bags before class ends. But why should we be surprised by that reaction when our class slides messily to a conclusion? We’re still trying to teach while students’ minds — and sometimes their bodies — are headed out the door. We make little or no effort to put a clear stamp on the final minutes of class, which leads to students eyeing the clock and leaving according to the dictates of the minute hand rather than the logic of the class period.
He then offers valuable advice on ending a class in a way that helps students retain information and think about what they have learned.
You can read more here.
Thursday, April 7, 2016
We're very proud to announce that our blogging colleague here at the Legal Skills Prof blog, Professor Lou Sirico, is this year's recipient of the prestigious Burton Award for Outstanding Contribution to Legal Writing Education. The award recognizes "the finest law school teacher who has promoted and advanced legal writing." You can read more about the Burton Awards, including a list of past winners, at the BA website here. Professor Sirico will receive his award at a black tie event held at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. on May 23, 2016.
Here's more about our colleague from the official announcement:
Professor Sirico was accurately described in the letter nominating him as a “giant in the legal writing community.” He has been involved in nearly every imaginable corner of the legal-writing world. As an author, his stellar books include Persuasive Legal Writing (4th ed. 2015) (with Nancy Schultz), Legal Writing and Other Lawyering Skills(6th ed. 2014) (with Nancy Schultz), and Judging: A Book for Student Clerks (2003). He was the Technical Editor for Roy Stuckey’s Best Practices for Legal Education (2007), he sits on the Academic Advisory Panel for Black’s Law Dictionary, and he has written many articles both inside and outside our field. For decades, he has supported the scholarship of other members of our community—both as a generous mentor and in the more formal role of serving on the editorial boards of Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing and Legal Writing: The Journal of the Legal Writing Institute. For seven years, he served on the Board of Directors of the Legal Writing Institute; he was a member of the Executive Committee from 2000 to 2002. He chaired the AALS Section on Teaching Methods. He chaired the AALS Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research. He served on numerous committees, penned many editorials, advised the Plain English Committee of the Pennsylvania Bar, and offered limitless wisdom to our community at conferences and through the LWI listserv. In recognition of Lou’s career-long, outstanding service to the legal writing community, LWI and ALWD awarded him the Thomas Blackwell Award in 2007.
We're very proud of one of our own.
- The Legal Skills Prof Bloggers.
This past February, a panel at the ABA midyear meeting offered an analysis of issues that confront the digital writer and reader. Here is the advice that one panelist offered the writer:
- Create visible structure. Screen readers need visible structure to navigate a page, including such tools as frequent headings Frequent headings (bold-face lead-in to items like “Terminate Agreement ……) and tables of contents.
- Write summaries. Get the important information up front, which is critical for today’s readers. “There is nothing I hate worse that reading through a brief and not finding out what I need to know until near the bottom,’’ says McKeown. “Give it to me right up front.”
- Break out information with lists, bullets, tables. For example, instead of one paragraph talking about the four elements of negligence, break those elements into a list 1, 2, 3, 4. But not everyone likes lists. “When I see a bunch of bullets, I see a lazy law clerk,’’ Judge McKeown warns.
- Use white space, which can be created with shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs, headings, lists and bullets.
- Use visuals such as a flow chart or illustrative photograph.
- Stay simple in document design. Follow expected conventions; no strange fonts or fancy formats; and use ordinary capitalization, avoid ALL CAPS and First Word Caps.
- Know what technology your court is using to read.
You can read more here.
Full story here.
"While China has a long history of using dogs as meat, the festival itself is a relatively new tradition, created by an entrepreneurial group of dog meat traders."
"Ten thousand dogs were killed in one weekend at last year's festival, but Humane Society International (HSI) worked with local activists to help save hundreds of dogs."
"He captioned the photo with a powerful indictment against the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, which takes place annually in Guangxi, China. "The dogs are tortured to 'make the meat tastier.' They are also skinned and boiled alive. It's not a food festival. It's Hell," he wrote.
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
From the ABA Journal online:
Columbia University’s law school had the highest annual tuition among 99 private law schools ranked by U.S. News & World Report.
The law school charged $62,700, according toU.S. News & World Report. The lowest-cost of the 99 private law schools, on the other hand, was Brigham Young University’s Clark Law School, which charged only $23,940. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints got an even bigger break; they were charged only $11,970.
Among public law schools, the University of Virginia School of Law was most expensive for in-state students, with tuition of $54,000. Least expensive was the University of North Dakota School of Law, which charged in-state tuition of $11,161
You can find more information here.
I have learned of another professional identity course, this one at McGeorge School of Law: The Legal Profession.
From the course syllabus (here):
"In this course you will acquire knowledge, skills and qualities that are essential to a successful career in the law. Topics we will cover include professional identity, professionalism, team work, resilience, integrity, self-awareness, interpersonal communication, the business of law, and careers in the law. This course will introduce you to the roles lawyers play in society, as well as the practicalities, emerging technologies, challenges, responsibilities and privileges of being a member of the legal profession. It will also familiarize you with the wide spectrum of careers in which a law degree is required or desirable, and challenge you to think deeply about a career path that will be truly satisfying. To help you attain meaningful employment, this course will require you to understand the 'best practices' in job search activities, including resume writing, cover letter writing, use of social media, working with mentors, goal setting, and networking."
The syllabus includes the goals for each class. Example:
Learning Outcomes (Class 1):
"Begin to develop a professional identity and understand the critical role that
professional identity plays in successful legal practice.
Understand the value of and recognize opportunities to employ a growth mindset.
Understand that mastery of substantive law, analytical skills and communication skills is essential but insufficient to be a successful lawyer.
Understand the core values of the legal profession: Integrity, honesty, diligence, resilience, dependability and a desire to achieve social justice, and apply those values in practice."
If all U.S. law schools had classes like this, we would have a much better legal profession.