Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Another Datapoint for the Laptops Debate

In my inbox this morning was the HBS Daily Stat with the title, "You'll Absorb More if You Take Notes Longhand."  Here is the accompanying explanation:

College students who take notes on laptop computers are more likely to record lecturers’ words verbatim and are thus less likely to mentally absorb what’s being said, according to a series of experiments by Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of UCLA. In one study, laptop-using students recorded 65% more of lectures verbatim than did those who used longhand; a half-hour later, the laptop users performed significantly worse on conceptual questions such as “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?” Longhand note takers learn by reframing lecturers’ ideas in their own words, the researchers say.

SOURCE: The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking (emphasis in the original)

Wouldn't the same analysis almost surely apply to law students?  Experience tells me that many law students would argue that they are in the minority who learn better through computer transcription.  But what if, given a choice, over half decide to use laptops?  It would be likely that many, if not most, would be making the wrong tradeoff.

Data rarely changes hearts and minds.  As a result, there is likely a gap between maximum learning/knowledge worker productivity and what we are able to accomplish in an education or  workplace setting.  Why?  People like what they are used to and rationalize why data does not apply to them.  There is a solution to dilemma, I suspect.  We just have not found it yet. 

May 27, 2014 in Blog posts worth reading, Cross industry comparisons, Data on legal education, Fun and Learning in the classroom, New and Noteworthy | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

New Study Tool - "SeRiouS" Learning Platform


Logo-184e34c8eec23e71d5723ff536ff6a43Most of us would agree that the essence of lawyering consists of seeing the issues embedded in the narrative, and translating the narrative into legal argument.  That's a hard thing to teach.

But you still have to know the language into which you are translating the narrative.  And learning language - whether we like it or not - involves cramming a lot of stuff into our memories.  Particularly before the bar exam.

My friend and colleague at Suffolk, Gabe Teninbaum, has created a new learning platform with which law students and bar preppers can address this latter issue.  He calls the product “SeRiouS,” which stands for Spaced Repetition Systems.  Gabe is making the program available for free in beta mode at SpacedRepetition.com (at least) through the July 2014 bar exam. Gteninbaum   

Although the very thought of cramming sends chills down my spine, sometimes you gotta do it (I took the MPRE to be admitted to the Massachusetts bar seven years ago and it was an unpleasant flashback!).  Crammers know what the studies bear out:  you forget most of what you crammed (66%) within 24 hours, and almost all of it (79%) within a month.

Gabe's claim (give it a try!) is that SeRiouS improves the memory retention rate to 92% for as long as the student is using the system, and takes less time than traditional methods.

To slow the rate at which users forget, SeRiouS shows them online flashcards and, after each one, prompts the user to report how well he or she knew the answer after flipping it over.  If the user knew it well, the card won't reappear for a longer time; if the user struggled to remember, SeRiouS will shown it again sooner. Based on these  answers, SeRiouS’s algorithm customizes itself to the user’s personal rate of forgetting, and then uses that information to prompt studying at just the right time. 


With spaced repetition, as with any other cramming, it’s “garbage in, garbage out.”  In other words, if the content of the flash cards stinks, so will the memorized result.  Currently, SeRious  has 600+ law professor-created flashcards on the topics most likely to be tested on the Multistate Bar Exam and in core law school courses. 

The system works on any device as long as there’s internet access.  SeRiouS updates constantly based on users’ work, and individual users’ data is stored in the cloud.  

I don't endorse commercial products, but this one is free for the time being.  You can also reach Gabe with questions, comments or feedback.

May 22, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

"Verbatim: What is a Photocopier?"

The New York Times has is publishing a new series of short documentaries films called Op-Docs.  The Op-Doc below is a dramatization of a deposition, albeit the script is a verbatim rendition of an actual deposition transcript. The plaintiff's lawyer is trying to establish whether the witness's office (which happens to be the Recorder for Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas) has a photocopy machine.  Simple question, right?

The video is quite funny, but suffice it to say the verbatim transcript does not cast litigation in a favorable light.  The fact that the Ohio judiciary is the defendant is even more troubling.  Mediums like a documentary on the Times website seems like a promising change catalyst. 

May 4, 2014 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, New and Noteworthy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

What Ails the Large Law Firm? Will the Real FutureFirm Please Stand Up

TimeinabottleFive years ago this April, I helped organize a novel experiment on how to reengineer the modern law firm.  The occasion was FutureFirm 1.0, a collaborative competition in which teams of law firm partners, associates, and in-house lawyers to create a strategic plan for the fictional firm of Marbury & Madison (M&M).  The goal was a new business model that would enable the firm "to survive and thrive over the next 20 years."  See M&M Fact Pattern.   

We planned FutureFirm 1.0 in the fall of 2008, but by April 2009, things looked pretty unstable.  Deal flow had ground to a halt, and corporations were reluctant to fund noncrucial litigation.  Law firms in turn were rescinding offers to thousands of law students.  Further, the specter of law firm failure hung in the air.  Suffice it to say, the timing was not right for sharing the results of FutureFirm.  As a result, my analysis of the event, "What Ails the Large Law Firm?  Will the Real FutureFirm Please Stand Up," was never published or circulated.  

With five year anniversary of FutureFirm 1.0, I decided to uncork my time-in-a-bottle essay and post it on SSRN and JDSupra.  

Having not read this essay for five years, I am surprised at how well the FutureFirm analysis holds up.  Yet, the biggest takeaway from my FutureFirm experience is not the specifics of the analysis, but acclimating myself to the permanence of new change dynamic, much of which I can see through the participants of FurtureFirm 1.0.   

  • Two law firm partners subsequently left to start their own boutiques, one of which is aggressively moving into managed services in South Africa.  
  • Another law firm partner became a judge in King County, Washington (Seattle).
  • Several summer associates joined BigLaw only to leave within three or four years to become sophisticated in-house lawyers who are themselves driving change.
  • Several people in all roles have switched over to the business side.  Indeed, new legal businesses are actively being planned.

In the spring of 2014, the new normal is here to stay, and it has no froth.  FutureFirm was probably a fringe activity back in 2009.  Now, an event like FutureFirm would be one of the key places to go for answers.  Indeed, I have very serious senior in-house lawyers at Fortune 100 companies who want to run this type of colloborative competition to help better design tomorrow's legal departments.  So stay tuned for that.

I hope you are sufficiently curious to do a bit of time travel and give "What Ails the Large Law Firm?" a read.  I would welcome your thoughts and feedback. 

May 1, 2014 in Data on the profession, Innovations in law, Law Firms, Legal Departments, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)