Friday, October 19, 2007
The Humanizing Legal Education Conference, sponsored by Washburn University School of Law, began tonight with a banquet and talk by speaker Barb Glesner-Fines of UMKC School of Law. Professor Glesner-Fines spoke about the HLE movement and the challenges of defining the movement and its principles. She established three:
First, do no harm. Teach with compassion and benevolence; create an active, engaged, respectful, and mutual learning environment.
Second, remember that we teach students, not subject matter. Even more important, we should teach the whole student, not just the legal technician. Taking the attitude that "it's not my job" to do other than teach the subject matter contributes to law student disengagement and abdicates our responsibility for helping students learn how to become a lawyer.
Third, teach peace and justice. Lawyers are healers and problem solvers, and myriad trends in the profession (therapeutic law, collaborative law, clinical educatio, ADR) support those values. The practice of law is not all about being a gladiator or warrior, and we need to recognize and support all ways of lawyering. We also need to find ways to enable debt-burdened students to pursue their goals instead of sacrificing them on the altar of monthly loan payments.
In closing, she quoted Rousseau:
"Propose what is feasible, they repeatedly tell me. It is as if I were being told to propose what people are doing already, or at least to propose some good which mixes well with the existing wrongs. Such a project is in certain ways much more unrealistic than my own, for in that mix the good is spoiled and the bad is not improved. I would rather follow exactly the established method than adopt a better method halfway. There would be fewer contradictions in man, for man cannot aim at the same time at two opposite goals. Fathers and mothers, what is feasible is what you are willing to do."
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
How much time do you give your students for each assignment, from day of distribution to day it's due? Historically, I have given my students between 3 and 4 weeks. Now I wonder if that's too much time.
Here's why: I am concerned that the generous number of days lulls many into a false sense of "I can do it later," even though my syllabus suggests a more plodding sort of schedule. For example, shortly after the class that teaches these traditional components of the office memo, the syllabus advises students to try the Question Presented and Brief Answer. The pedagogical reasoning supporting this advice is that it's good to practice new skills while the information is fresh in mind. Of course, it's also possible that it may take several drafts to get a QP/BA set that works pretty well.
But very few students work on the memo a little at a time. Instead, they postpone thinking and writing until a couple of days before it's due. The end product reflects that delay. I don't think they plan for it to happen that way. But first-year law students have so many pressures, and they tend to be concerned only about putting out the most immediate fire--which is the next assigned reading in their contracts, torts, property, civil procedure classes.
Therefore, I'm thinking that next year, I may cut the time for memo writing in half--not delaying distribution of the problem until 3-4 days before it's due, but cutting the time to somewhere between 10 days and 2 weeks. With a shorter time frame (but still ample enough for drafts), is it possible that student focus and performance will improve? (And is this closer to the timetables they'll have in their clerking jobs?)
Readers, what has been your experience? Is this an idea worth pursuing?
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
The Eighth Annual Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Conference is scheduled for March 21-22, 2008, at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law. The Program Committee invites proposals for presentations of 20, 30, or 55 minutes on any subject of interest to those teaching legal research and writing. Twenty-minute slots work well for demonstrating teaching methods or exercises. The proposal deadline is January 12, 2008. To submit a proposal, visit http://www.law.utah.edu/special/rocky-mountain-lwc/proposals/.
hat tip: Bonnie Mitchell
Northeastern University School of Law invites applications for a non-tenure track faculty position as Director of its Legal Research and Writing (LRW) Program (initial term of appointment up to three years). The Director’s primary responsibility will be the on-going development and implementation of the Legal Research and Writing component of the school's larger first-year Legal Skills in Social Context Program, which trains first-year students in a wide range of basic legal skills and, by the spring semester, engages them in actual legal research for nonprofit, community-based organizations (supervised through a separate Social Justice component of the program).
Deadline to apply is November 1, 2007. Submit letter of application, resume, and three references (names, addresses and contact information) to Peter Enrich, Chair, LRW Search Committee, Northeastern University School of Law, 400 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02115. Members of the Search Committee will be available at the October faculty recruitment conference of the American Association of Law Schools in Washington, DC to interview candidates.
New York Law School requests applications for the newly-created position of Director of the First Year Legal Skills Program, which will be implemented upon completion of the law school’s current building project. The position may be tenure-track or long-term contract, depending on the qualifications and interests of the person hired. The Legal Skills Program will integrate legal writing and research, written and oral advocacy, legal analysis and lawyering skills, including interviewing and counseling, into a consolidated, two-semester first-year program carrying four credit hours per semester, to be taught in small classes by full-time professors.
To apply, send a letter of interest and resume to the First Year Task Force, Claire Voulgarelis, Assistant to the Associate Dean for Faculty Development, New York Law School, 57 Worth Street, New York, NY 10013, or via e-mail attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for applications is November 15, 2007.
Professor Tracy Bach, at Vermont Law School, is currently Chair of the the Poster Committee of the AALS Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research. She announced today that posters prepared by Professor Kathy Vinson of Suffolk University Law School and Professor Melissa Weresh of Drake University Law School have been selected for display at this year's AALS annual meeting.
As Tracy put it:
"Kathy's poster on using podcasts to complement in-class teaching and Mel's poster presenting her research about the path to clinical tenure beautifully embody the hallmarks of effective academic posters: clear and concise text presentation and striking use of visuals. The Committee is especially pleased that our poster selections present both our Section's research and teaching strengths to the law school community."
The selection committee also included Professors Kirsten Dauphinais (University of North Dakota School of Law), Sue Liemer (Southern Illinois University School of Law), and Lisa Penland (Drake University Law School).
[submitted by guest blogger Hillary Burgess, an adjunct at Rutgers Law School - Camden]
More on the Grading Diet
Hats off to Professor Liemer for being able to put herself on a grading diet and (presumably) stick to it. I love the suggestion, but have to admit, I'm not sure I'm that disciplined. Like my "no-junk-food-in-the-house" forced diet, I have forced myself onto a grading diet by varying the due dates on my course schedules across sections or within sections.
For example, one semester, I was teaching 3 courses: Class A had 60 students with 3 papers, Class B had 40 students with 4 papers, and Class C had 20 students with 5 papers. I scattered the due dates so that papers for class Class C were due week 2, 7, and 12, Class B were due 5, 10, and 15, and Class C were due 4, 6, 9, 11, and 14. (Note, I gave myself the full 10 days to grade the 60 papers by not having any papers due week 1, 3, 8, and 13.) Of course, I had to structure the lectures so that the papers were due on pedagogically sound deadlines, but with a bit of thought, I've found a pedagogically sound schedule that won't drive me more crazy than I was born can often be created.
I've also done so within a class where I divide my students up into tracks according to career interest and provide specific assignments that focus on the topic and/or specific writing assignment of their intended career. Eg. A brief could have criminal law as one topic and contract law as a different topic. Tracks have different due dates, one week apart, which forces me to grade 1/2 the papers one week and 1/2 the papers the next.
Finally, I've employed the extra credit for early submission strategies when I've taught fewer students and/or courses. All papers are due on X date, but if you turn them in one week early, you earn 1/2 % extra credit toward your final grade in the course. Usually, only 1/3 of the students actually turn them in by the early submit date, but that still forces me to pace my grading into 1/3 one week and 2/3 the next. A variation on this idea is 4 paper options due in the semester, but students will only be graded on 3, with extra credit for turning in the first assignment instead of the last 3.
Do different tracks or staggered due dates or two possible submission dates sound like a lot of work? It is. And it does take careful course planning (but we're all doing that anyway) and a bit extra research up front to develop different tracked assignments, for example. But, it's a one time cost for a multi-semester payoff. And what's more fun about the administrative aspects of teaching than developing assignments?
440 papers in one semester is a lot of work no matter how you cut it (that's the most I've ever had). But for those of us who aren't quite as disciplined as Professor Liemer, forced dieting has worked for me.
Now, if only we could find a grading diet that burned a calorie for every word we read on students' papers or wrote as part of feedback!
Monday, October 15, 2007
If you have a good ear, you probably already know about The Rule of Three. You may even be employing it in your legal writing without realizing you're doing so. I recently read about it in an article thus entitled, by Elliott Wilcox, in the New York State Bar Association Journal's September 2007 edition. Wilcox uses classic examples to remind us how effective a rhetorical device the triple repetition of a phrase, pattern, or rhyme scheme can be:
"Friend, Romans, countrymen, ...."
"I came, I saw, I conquered."
"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
"Snap, Crackle, Pop."
He also explain how comedians use the rule of three, twisting the third element to give us something unexpected and humorous. And he advises that if you find yourself with two or four items or examples, you need to do some adding or subtracting, to arrive at the magic three items in a list that your audience, whether in writing or speaking, will find persuasive and memorable.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
If you didn't make it to the regional legal writing professors' conference held in Kansas City last week, you can still see some of the handouts and PowerPoint slides from the presentations, at the conference website. There are plenty of interesting ideas there, and if you need more details about any particular teaching suggestion, you can always contact the professor who gave the presentation.
In the crunch of mid-semester, while critiquing stacks of 1L papers, it's easy for a legal writing professor's mind to wander to other career options. One good tonic might be reading Chicken Soup for the Teacher's Soul: Stories to Open the Hearts and Rekindle the Spirit of Educators.
hat tip: Professor Mark Wojcik, John Marshall Law School