Friday, June 26, 2020

Tips For Teaching Online- Part II

Last week, I wrote the first in a series of posts with tips for teaching online. I expect many more law schools to join Harvard and now UC Berkeley by doing all Fall classes online. I’m already teaching online this summer and will teach online in the fall. Our students deserve the best, so I’m spending my summer on webinars from my home institution and others learning best practices in course design.

Here are some tips that I learned this week from our distance learning experts. First, I need to adopt backward design. I have to  identify the learning objectives for my courses, then decide how I will assess whether or not students successfully met the learning objective. Effective learning objectives are active, measurable, and focus on different levels of learning (e.g., remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, creating). Some people find Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives helpful.

Once I figure out my learning objectives, I will work backwards to determine what kinds of activities the students will work on either online or face to face (which for me will be Zoom). For more on this topic, see this guide to backward design from Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. By the way, if you’re wondering why I’m not just saying click here, it’s because descriptive text is better for accessibility.

Then I will figure out the technology, which is important, but shouldn’t drive how or what I teach. Although we think our students are tech savvy, we still need to keep it simple and intuitive. We have to think about how to engage the students and facilitate learning without taking up too much bandwidth.

Finally, I need to ask myself some hard questions.[1]

What do you want students to know when they have finished taking your blended course? What are the intended learning outcomes of the course?

  • This actually takes some thought. We all have our mandated ABA learning objectives but what do they really mean, especially in today’s environment? How do I make sure that the learning objectives are pedagogically sound? What do students need to learn to be practical, strategic lawyers? What kinds of people, process, and tech skills do they need for the “new normal” when it comes to delivery of legal services? Yes, I want my students to know how to communicate more effectively to clients, counsel, and judges in my legal writing course. I want my students to know how to draft, edit, and negotiate contracts in my upper level skills courses. I want my compliance students to understand the law and the soft skills. But what other skills matter now? How will I communicate those over Zoom?

As you think about these outcomes, which would be better achieved in the online environment and which would be best achieved face-to-face in class?

  • How much harder will it be to teach people skills and impart complex concepts online? I don’t have the option for face-to-face classes in the Fall and many of you won’t either, sorry to say. In the Fall, I will have one online asynchronous course and another hybrid. It will be all online but I will record some lectures and use the synchronous time for simulations, peer review, and discussions. I’m trying to determine how to make the synchronous time as engaging as possible – even more engaging than I would if I was standing in front of the room. I will have to compete with barking dogs, the comforts of a couch, and other electronic distractions that I would not have in an in-person environment. I’ll post more about keeping students engaged online in a subsequent post.

Blended teaching is not just a matter of transferring a portion of your existing course to the online environment. What types of learning activities do you think you will be using for the online portion of your course? For the face-to-face part of the course?

  • Each week, I plan to use discussion boards and no-stakes short quizzes to ensure understanding for the asynchronous portions of my courses. My pre-recorded videos will be no longer than fifteen minutes, and ideally seven minutes or less. As stated above, for the synchronous Zoom sessions, I will use polls, breakout rooms, and panels of students. Because I will have a flipped classroom, the students will have learned the concepts so that we can apply them in class. As for class discussions, I have found that I sometimes have a more intimate connection with students in a class of fewer than 25 on Zoom than I did in the classroom, but large classes are much tougher. Professors appear to have mixed views on using the Socratic method on Zoom. Since my face-to-face classes are on Zoom, I require cameras on so that I can see their faces, unless they have permission in advance from me or temporary bandwidth issues.

Blended courses provide new opportunities for asynchronous online discussions. How will you use asynchronous discussions as part of the course learning activities? What challenges do you anticipate in using online discussions? How would you address these?

  • I have used pre-class discussion boards and have required students to reply on two other submissions. These count for class participation so students can’t just write “great comment.” I have also experimented with post-class discussion board submissions. They key is to follow up and comment myself so that students don’t feel like they’re in a black hole. I also plan to have one or two students per week post a current event to the discussion board that relates to what we are doing in class. During class time, I will ask another student to discuss or summarize the current event.

How will the face-to-face, online and other “out of class” learning activities be integrated into a single course? In other words, how will all the course activities feed back into and support the other? How will you make the connections between the activities explicit to students?

  • This will be tough and this is why I will spend weeks this summer planning. I need to make it clear what the students need to read, watch, and do pre-class, in-class, and post-class. Teaching online takes much more pre-work than most people realize. But this planning is critical to ensuring that the students have a seamless course experience.

When working online, students frequently have problems scheduling their work and managing their time. What do you plan to do to help your students address these issues and understand their own role and responsibility for learning in the course?

  • Students really need structure, and even though they don’t like to admit it, they prefer it. Online learning means that students must have more discipline than they are used to. I plan to recommend a workload course estimator so that students can plan appropriately. I will also have to cut back on the work I give because economic and health issues will continue to plague my students during the pandemic. Our university and others have rolled out tools for students to manage their time, and more important, manage their stress. I also plan to do frequent check-ins and increase office hours.

Students can have challenges with using new instructional technologies to support their learning. What specific technologies will you use for the online and face-to-face portions of your course? What proactive steps can you take to assist students to become familiar with your course website and those instructional technologies? If students need help with technology later in the course, how will you provide support?

  • As I mentioned in the last post, it’s best for all professors to use the same platforms for the learning management system. You can add bells and whistles for team communication or polling later. As for helping students get familiar with the website, our university has instructional designers and lots of webinars, but I plan to test drive my eventual set up with my research assistants over the summer and ask them to be brutally honest. Fortunately, we have several online resources for students as well.

There is a tendency for faculty to require students to do more work in a blended course than they normally would complete in a traditional face-to-face course. What are you going to do to ensure that you have not created a course and one-half? How will you evaluate the student workload (and your own) as compared to a traditional class?

  • This is my biggest concern. I spend many more hours prepping my online courses than my traditional courses, and I haven’t even been doing anything particularly sophisticated. Now that I’m learning more tools and techniques, I anticipate that I will be spending more time prepping. In my zeal to make sure the students have a great experience and learn as much or more than in the traditional classroom, I will likely give them more work as well, if I’m not careful. The key is to use the findings from learning science to find a balance. 

In my next post, I’ll talk about what I’m learning about how students learn. In case you can’t wait to see what I write, check out Learning How to Learn, Small Teaching Online, and Online Learning and the Future of Legal Education. If you have suggestions or comments, please leave them below so we can all learn from each other.

[1] Our instructional designers attributed these questions to the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

June 26, 2020 in Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 19, 2020

Tips for Teaching Online- Part 1

If you're like me, you're wondering how you can improve your teaching after last Spring's foray into online learning. I wasn't nearly as traumatized as many of my colleagues because I had already taught Transactional Drafting online asynchronously for several semesters. This summer, I'm teaching two courses -- Transactional Drafting asynchronously and a hybrid course on Regulatory Compliance, Corporate Governance, and Sustainability. I'm making a list of tips based on my experience and will post about that in the future. In the meantime, I've started to think about how I can improve next semester when I will be teaching all of my courses online. Since I know that so many students had a mediocre to poor experience with emergency online teaching, I've spent a lot of time on webinars learning how to do better. This will be the first in a series of posts on what I'm learning on course design, learning styles, and best practices. But let's start with the basic questions to ask yourself as you're preparing for next semester.

First, think about whether you want to teach synchronously or not. If you're looking for maximum flexibility for both you and the students, then asynchronous teaching makes sense. If you're teaching solely asynchronously, then you need to consider how to make your videos and content as engaging as possible. You also have to do something to build community within the class and a rapport between you and the student. If you're thinking of doing a hybrid, perhaps using a flipped classroom,  recognize that it will take longer to prepare than you would think. For my summer compliance course, I record videos on substantive legal issues, monitor discussion on the class discussion board, prepare questions for students to answer prior to class using Echo 360, and then review those answers all prior to teaching the 2-credit course live on Zoom. This requires substantially more time than normal class prep, but it's well worth it because we can use class time to do simulations or interact with guest speakers from all over the world. More about these issues will come in a future post. 

Second, learn everything you can about the platforms you will use next semester so that you can master all of the features that will make your class more engaging. Even if your institution does not require you to use one platform, try to come to some consensus anyway. Students do not want to learn three different systems so do what you can to make sure that the platforms are uniform and intuitive for them. Then think of whether all of the tools you're already using can integrate with that platform. Our university is using Blackboard, Echo 360, and Zoom. The students will have one place for logon and access everything from there. Next, think about whether you want to have students use discussion boards to interact or maybe develop Slack or Microsoft Teams instead. Since many students are uncomfortable speaking in class on video, we will have to work harder to foster classroom discussion. Teams and Slack channels can help, and many students will already use them for internships or business purposes. The more intentional you are, the better an experience your students will have, even if it takes some time to determine what works for you. If you have a research assistant or student you can contact, find out which tools did and didn't work from their Spring experience. See if your university will survey students for feedback on online learning,

Third, think about whether you have the right equipment. Do you need a separate headset, webcam, or microphone? I actually don't use any of those even though I have a separate microphone. How stable is your internet? Think about whether you might need an upgraded modem or even your own mesh network. One thing I absolutely recommend is a ring light. There are hundreds of YouTube videos on how to light yourself properly using your household lamps. But, I've found that having a separate ring light makes my videos brighter and more professional looking. 

Finally, while you're designing your course, make sure you're thinking of the Americans with Disabilities Act. At UM, we've been told to do the following for presentations:

  • provide wording for links and avoid using “click here” for the links;
  • use sans serif fonts for easy readability;
  • use dark font colors on light backgrounds;
  • avoid extremely bright colors as a background color;
  • use one font throughout the site;
  • avoid overuse of all CAPS, bold or italics;
  • avoid underlining words, as the screen reader can mistake it for a navigation link;
  • make sure that images are clear and optimized for efficient loading;
  • limit the use of animated and blinking images  text, or cursors because they  can cause seizures for some people;
  • make sure that audio file lengths are adequate to meet the goals of the activity without being too large to restrict users’ ability to download the file on computers with lower bandwidths;
  • provide a written transcript  with all audio files; and
  • provide closed-captioning or has accompanying text-based scripts for all videos.

After you've thought through some of these baseline issues, you can then turn to making your content as interesting and accessible for your students as possible. Future posts will cover tips for effective presentations, tools to increase engagement, and other best practices. In the meantime, if you have any tips to share or areas you want covered, please comment below. 

June 19, 2020 in Law School, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching, Technology | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Teaching Moment: LLCs Don't Have "Corporate" Name Endings

I am teaching Business Associations this summer, and I am excited to get back in the classroom. Well, I was. Instead, I am teaching in virtual class room via Zoom.  I am still glad to be interacting with students in a teaching capacity, but I sure miss the classroom setting. I am glad, though, to have this experience so I am closer to what this has been like for our students and faculty.  I still have the benefit of my colleagues experiences, students who have been in the online learning environment, and a little time to plan, so it's better for me than it was for everyone in March. Still, there is quite a learning curve on all of this. 

Over the past several years, I have asked students to create a fictional limited liability company (LLC) for our first class.  It does a number of things. To begin, it connects them with a whole host of decisions businesses must make in choosing their entity form.  It also introduces them to the use of forms and how that works.  I always give them an old version of the form. This year, I used 2017 Articles of Organization for a West Virginia Limited Liability Company. It does a couple of things.  There is an updated form (2019), so it gives me a chance to talk about the dangers of using precedent forms and accepting what others provide you without checking for yourself.  (Side note: I used West Virginia even though I an in Nebraska, because Nebraska doesn't have a form. I use this one to compare and contrast.) 

In addition, I like my students to see how most businesses start with entity choice and formation -- by starting one.  It leads to some great conversations about limited liability, default rules, member/manager management choices, etc. Each year, I have had at least one person opt-in for personal liability, for example, for all members.

I also, which will shock no one, use the form to discuss the distinct nature of LLCs and how they are NOT corporations.  And yet, the West Virginia LLC form tries to under cut me at each turn.  For example, the form requires that the LLC name choose a "corporate name ending."  From the instructions: 

Enter the exact name of the company and be sure to include one of the required corporate name endings: “limited liability company,” “limited company,” or the abbreviations “L.L.C.,” “LLC,” “L.C.,” or “LC.” “Limited” may be abbreviated as “Ltd.” and “Company” may be abbreviated as “Co.” [WV Code §31B-1-105] Professional companies must use “professional limited liability company,” “professional L.L.C.,” “professional LLC,” “P.L.L.C.,” or “PLLC.” [WV Code §31B-13-1303] 

Seriously, people.  LLC are not corporate.  In fact, choosing a corporate name ending would be contrary to the statute.  

The form continues: 

13. a. The purpose(s) for which this limited liability company is formed is as follows (required): [Describe the type(s) of business activity which will be conducted, for example, “real estate,” “construction of residential and commercial buildings,” “commercial painting,” “professional practice of law" (see Section 2. for acceptable "professional" business activities). Purpose may conclude with words “…including the transaction of any or all lawful business for which corporations may be incorporated in West Virginia.] (final emphasis added)

Finally, the instructions state that

[t]he principal office address need not be in WV, but is the principal place of business for the company. This is generally the address where all corporate documents (records) are maintained.(final emphasis added)

My students know from day one this matters to me, and it's not just semantics. My (over) zealousness helps underscore the importance of entity decisions, and the unique opportunities entities can provide, within the default rules and as modified. My first day, I always make sure students see this at least twice: "A thing you have to know. LLCs are not Corporations!" 

Is it overkill? Perhaps, we all have our things.

Oh, and it's time for West Virginia to add a 2020 update to the LLC form.  

May 19, 2020 in Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, Law School, Lawyering, LLCs, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 4, 2020

Teaching Through the Pandemic - Part III

In two earlier posts (here and here), I addressed a number of issues and tips related to the emergency remote online teaching that became the norm for most of us in the law academy back in March.  I finished my "classroom teaching" for the semester two weeks ago.  My online timed exam was given last week.  My take-home project in another class is due this week.  I survived; the students survived.  That may be the best I can say for all that. 

However, a larger, long-term issue looms in the background relating to the online teaching we did--and may continue to do--as a result of COVID-19.  That issue?  Whether our current remote teaching will catalyze a movement in higher education, including legal education, to teach more classes online.  If university and law school budgets continue to contract, administrators may see cost-savings in moving more courses online.

This issue has engendered much debate among educators generally.  I bring it to the fore here for consideration in the business law teaching context.  I have mixed feelings about moving clinical, simulation, and standard doctrinal business law courses online. The reasons vary from course to course.  And there is no doubt much that I likely do not see or anticipate that I would want to take into account.  

As a result, I have started reading up on online teaching and online course design, and I have been thinking through my personal experience with remote teaching this semester.  Among the articles I read this past week is this one, which calls on us to push back against central administrative demands to move teaching online.  In fact, I am not opposed to moving some of my teaching online.  But I would want to be able to choose what to move online, when, and how based on quality information and my own assessment of the benefits to and challenges for our learners.

Have you thought about teaching all of your courses online?  If so, I would be interested to know your views . . .  Please share them below, or send me a message.

May 4, 2020 in Joan Heminway, Law School, Teaching, Technology | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Dear Students

This has been quite a first year as a dean. Heck, it's been quite a year for all of us.  

I woke up (very) early this morning, and it struck me that I hadn't been in contact with our students since Friday, which was our last day of classes. I don't want to be a distraction to their studies, but I also realized the midway through the first week, they might need a reminder of what they have accomplished in the face of unique and unprecedented challenges. Following is the note I sent our students, which I share for all of us who might need a reminder of what we're accomplishing. It is addressed to our Creighton Law students, but it's for all law students. Hang in there.  

Dear Students,

It’s the middle of the first week of what has to be the strangest finals we have ever experienced. This is always a time of hard work, long days, and high stress, but never before have we had to be so separate while going through it. We can’t experience study group or lunch breaks with friends, or play basketball or soccer in a group to blow off steam. In addition, there are health concerns for ourselves and loved ones, and many of us have kids at home, in wide ranges of ages who may need help with homework or just to be watched because the daycares are closed. 

Despite all of this, you have shown up.  You have worked, and you have learned.  You are a remarkable group of people, and I am so proud of all you have accomplished. I know there is more to do, and I know this has not been easy. And there will continue to be bumps in the road, so I need you to know you can do this.  Not just exams. Not just law school. All of it. You can do life, and you can be exceptional at what you do.

This is true even if you’re struggling right now. It’s not what happens in the next couple of days that will define you. It will be how you respond on the other side of this that matters, and from what I have seen, you are up to the task. And know you will have your Creighton Law community by your side, or at you back, when you need it.

I know you have a lot left to do, so I won’t take up more of your time. Please just know that even though we’re not in the law school, we’re still here for you.  Keep at it, and know you’re not alone.

April 29, 2020 in Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Law School, Lawyering | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Another Week in These Unusual Times Begins

Whenever Haskell Murray writes a running post, I always want to write one too.  I think he’s written two (here, here) since my last one (here), so I’ve decided it’s time for another!

The tenuous link to business law is this…I was blessed to have a phenomenal first-year contracts professor.  Over the years, one of my closest friends (also in that course) and I have reminded each other of the professor’s pearls of wisdom about contracts and life. “Life is a marathon, not a sprint,” he would assure us. 

I would imagine that many of us feel in the midst of a marathon these days.  As another week in these unusual times begins, I was thinking about a few of the lessons I’ve learned in distance running that were helping me to run the course we’re all on these days.  First, the importance of paying attention to your breath (Joan Heminway has written about breath and mindfulness here).  Second, if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, you’ll eventually reach the destination/be done.  Third, the need for pacing (likely the point my contracts prof was making).  Fourth, you’ve always got one more mile in you than you think you have. Fifth, running with others pushes you to be your best and makes the miles fly by.  While this is harder to do at the moment, I know that staying connected (via zoom, Skype, Strava etc.) to encouraging, positive people is especially important in these challenging times.      

While Haskell went to the 2020 Olympic men’s marathon trials (here), I only read about them in his post and in Runners World.  I first learned about the surprise, unsponsored, second-place finisher, Jake Riley, from the article Jake Riley and His Coach Were ‘Broken.’ Now, They’re Going to the Olympics (here).  Amazingly, over the past three years, Riley has apparently dealt with a serious bacterial infection, major Achilles surgery, and a divorce.  The article ends by quoting his coach as saying “‘There’s nothing better than seeing a broken man come back,’ Troop said. ‘And when they come back, they’ve got nothing to lose.’”  Of course, Riley will now have to wait an additional year for his Olympic run.   His story of grit, perseverance, and hope really inspired me.  As another week in these unusual times begins, I hope that it might offer inspiration to some of you too.  

[Revision: actually, I think my last running post is here, but Haskell has still written two since I wrote it!]

April 5, 2020 in Colleen Baker, Contracts, Law School | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Guest Post: Lessons on Teaching with WebEx and Managing Expectations

This post comes to us from friend-of-the BLPB Nadia B. Ahmad.  Many thanks to her for this contribution.  Her post follows nicely on the spirit of my "Teaching through the Pandemic" posts, which can be found here and here.  My favorite part may be the bit on "Troubleshooting Life and Expectations."

image from cdnimages.barry.edu

As I begin this post on Sunday, March 29, 2020, there are currently 674,466 confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19). Immunology and infectious disease researchers are working round the clock with their heads down for a cure and a vaccine, but we have nothing in the near term for an end to this situation. The markets have been a tumbling since January 2020 and spiraling downward since March 2020. Even Brexit and the deceleration of China's economy could not have expected this downturn in the market.  

On March 12, 2020, I taught my last in person Business Organizations class for the semester. For the first half of the class, I had the students complete a practice essay in Canvas on the business judgment rule. The remainder of the time, I had them join via WebEx on their laptops. In that class, approximately 40 percent of the students were able to login to WebEx via Canvas for a lecture of derivative litigation. The rest could join with a direct link. During that triage session while they were in the room, I learned how to troubleshoot connectivity issues with the help of my students. For the past two weeks of online learning, I have had 100 percent attendance in both my classes and student engagement is up as well.

I wanted to share some insights related to teaching via WebEx as well as online teaching generally.

Learning WebEx’s Virtual Classroom

Spending some time on YouTube helped me with figuring out how the platform works. The university also offered some training sessions, but I found YouTube video easier to help me.

Troubleshooting WebEx

Periodically, WebEx may be down altogether because of the load on its system, you can check WebEx’s global status here.

For troubleshooting WebEx audio issues, visit here.

For WebEx video support, visit here.

Some students may have a weak Wifi connection. To alleviate this issue, I also provide the dial-in number. Only one or two students have this issue, but it is also a reliable backup if students cannot connect via WebEx. To locate the dial-in number for your WebEx meeting, visit here.

Checking Hardware and Connectivity (WiFi and Audio)

Some issues with WebEx meeting will be unrelated to the platform itself. While your computer’s existing audio and video functionalities may work, I have found that using a microphone enhances the audio experience. I used Professor Josh Blackman recommendation of the Blue Snowball USB microphone.

Check your high speed internet connection here. You should be running at around 50 mbps. If your internet connection is slower, consider an upgrade in speed.

Troubleshooting Life and Expectations

As an introvert, I welcome this scaling back on social interactions on some levels. At the same time, I miss my students. I have chosen to do hybrid asynchronous/synchronous sessions. I record part of my lectures, but also have live class sessions as well. I was bit nervous to record the classes until I actually did do it and later read a post by Professor William Fischer (Harvard) on Emergency Online Pedagogy. Recording classes is considerate of not only students, but the server. Fischer writes:

First, the quality of a pre-recorded lecture is likely to be substantially higher than that of lecture delivered live. Pre-recorded lectures can be constructed in segments — which can then either be posted online separately (like this) or stitched together and posted online as a single unit. If you are not happy with one segment, you can discard and replace it. Equally important, it is much easier to integrate graphics and audiovisual material in a pre-recorded lecture. (Some techniques for doing this will be discussed shortly.) Last but not least, pre-recorded lectures can be edited.

Having used both formats, I am now strongly in favor of pre-recorded rather than live lectures. Feedback from my students over several years makes clear that they share this preference. My lectures are significantly tighter and clearer when I record them in advance. You may think that you can produce an elegant lecture in “one take,” and perhaps you are right — but I confess that I thought so as well until I watched a recording of one of my unedited presentations.

The second advantage of a pre-recorded lecture is that it is not vulnerable to a major technological threat posed by the sudden and massive shift to online education prompted by the pandemic. … Betting a class on the availability of Zoom [or WebEx] at a particular time is thus risky. By contrast, a pre-recorded lecture can be uploaded to the Internet at any time. In addition, students need not “stream” it, but instead can download it to their computers and then watch it at their convenience. This delivery method is far less vulnerable to technological overload. In addition, the larger the number of teachers who rely on pre-recorded lectures, the smaller will be the aggregate burden imposed on Zoom [and other platforms] and thus the greater the likelihood that it will be available when we need it.

Part of wanting to record a portion of the lectures is also a practical matter for me. I have three kids (ages 2.5, 6, and 9) and my partner is a health care worker and is still working. At any rate, I look forward to welcoming week #4 of online learning and will share tips on integrating current events into discussion on business organizations, the markets, and derivative litigation.

April 1, 2020 in Joan Heminway, Law School, Teaching, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Some Things I Think

Like all of us, the past few weeks have been hard. The past few days, harder. Still, I am fortunate that my challenges are nothing compared to so many. My family and I are healthy so far; my job is challenging, but not currently threatened; and the people I love are, generally, safe.  I am truly fortunate.

Complaining about courts messing up LLCs is not at the top of my mind right now, even though it remains both satisfying and important to me. Today, all I have are some thoughts.  That all I’ve got, and it will have to be good enough.

So, here are some things I think:

  • It was right to cancel March Madness, and it still makes me sad.
  • Other than being a father and a spouse, I have the most important job I have ever had.
  • I love our students. Every day. 
  • My family is the best and far more than I deserve.
  • Women are widely over scrutinized, over worked, and underappreciated.
  • I am proud to be a lawyer.
  • Lawyers lawyering everything is exhausting, and too often, wrong (i.e., bad lawyering)
  • I hate racism, and I need to work harder to be anti-racist.
  • Babies are the best.
  • Sometimes, it is better to be happy than to be right.
  • I’m proud to be Irish.
  • Law school rankings suck.
  • Online teaching and learning is more work than a lot of people think.
  • We all need to give each other a break. 
  • We can have high expectations and still be compassionate and forgiving.

I think a lot more things, but it’s time to pay attention to my family. There is no question I am the weak link in this group, and they deserve more. I guess that’s one more thing I think. Be well, friends.

March 17, 2020 in Family, Joshua P. Fershee, Law School | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, March 13, 2020

Teaching through the Pandemic - Part I

So glad Colleen published the Skadden information in her post earlier today.  I had considered doing that, too.  Instead, I will add two links to the growing knowledge base.  They both relate to teaching during these challenging times.  Then, I will offer a few thoughts of my own.

First, friend-of-the-BLPB Seth Oranburg alerted me to some distance education tips he has posted.  They can be found here.  I appreciate him taking time to write his ideas out and get this essay posted.

Second, Josh Blackman posted tips on teaching using Zoom here.  Some of us are more familiar with videoconferencing technology than others.  I have not taught more than a few classes online, but I am comfortable with Zoom.  A few of Josh's ideas were new to me and seem very useful in the emergent online teaching environment.

Since most law students will be taking all of their courses (as well as conducting meetings and continuing to do much or all of their reading and written work) online, the possibility of boredom and internet overload/online burnout is very real.  As someone who recently suffered from digital eye strain (a/k/a computer vision syndrome), I also am concerned about the possibility that some students will have to combat that.  It will be more important than ever that we take time away from our electronic devices to ensure good physical, psychological, and emotional health.  

Nevertheless, I am toying with continuing to teach my Wednesday law school yoga class online (students already have asked about it) while UT Law is closed to students, since maybe just hearing my voice and doing yoga together could be helpful and healing.  (And at least they would not have to check their phones or computers visually unless they had a question about a pose!)  Not sure about that yet . . . .

I expect to write more about this.  And maybe some of my co-bloggers will do the same.  Comments are always appreciated, too.  Let's all support each other in the brave new teaching world so many of us are facing.

 

March 13, 2020 in Joan Heminway, Law School, Teaching, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 20, 2020

Business Law Work and Martin Luther King Jr.

MLKClipart

[Image courtesy of Clipart Library, http://clipart-library.com/mlk-cliparts.html]

Today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I was in the office preparing for the week+ ahead.  I was not the only one there.  Part of me wanted to be elsewhere, publicly supporting the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  I did think about him and his work as I toiled away.

Although most of what I was sorting and sifting through today was business law-related, part of what I focused on was committee work for our celebration tomorrow that honors Dr. King.  I chair a committee at UT Law this year that is responsible for hosting one or more Martin Luther King Jr. events every year.  This year, we will have a luncheon and informal table discussions based on facts about Dr. King and quotes from his public appearances and published work.  As I was going through the facts and quotes, I came upon this quote: "No work is insignificant.  All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence."  (The quote is apparently from Strength to Love, a 1963 book of Dr. King's sermons.)  Admittedly, it spurred me on and made me feel more than a bit better about devoting much of my day to somewhat menial tasks. 

As I continued to read through the quotes, I kept finding more and more that interested me.  I observed that, among other things, Dr. King's speeches and writings address leadership in many ways.  One of my favorites along these lines: "Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle."  Yes!  And another: "An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity."  Right!  And inspiring, too, for those of us who are concerned about our students.

As I think about teaching materiality (in Securities Regulation), public company charter and bylaw issues (in Advanced Business Associations), and closely held corporation bylaw drafting (in Representing Enterprises) tomorrow, I plan to carry Dr. King's courage, perseverance, and energy into my day.  And I hope that my students are ready to respond to my teaching with enthusiasm, trust, and confidence at this early stage of the semester. "Faith," Dr. King said, "is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase."  I may read that in class tomorrow . . . .

January 20, 2020 in Current Affairs, Joan Heminway, Law School | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

More on Incorporating Negotiation Exercises Into Business Law Courses: Some Help from Professor George Siedel

I’ve previously blogged about using negotiation exercises in my undergraduate and graduate Business Law/Legal Environment courses (here).  I’ve also mentioned that, having taught both business law and negotiation courses in a law school, I know that such exercises would also work well in a law school business law course.   

Last August, at the Annual Conference of the Academy of Legal Studies in Business, I had the good fortune of catching up with Professor Susan Marsnik from the University of St Thomas Business School.  Eventually, our conversation turned to one of my favorite topics: negotiation!  Marsnik mentioned that Professor George Siedel, the Williamson Family Professor of Business Administration Emeritus and the Thurnau Professor of Business Law Emeritus at the University of Michigan, had written some great negotiation materials (here), and they were free!  Obviously, I couldn’t wait to learn more!  And now that I have, via Marsnik’s help, I wanted to pay it forward!  

Siedel’s comprehensive negotiation materials center on the sale of a house, and include Seller/Buyer roles.  He shares that “Over the years, I have developed and tested “The House on Elm Street” exercise in undergraduate and MBA courses and in executive seminars in North America, South America, Asia and Europe.  The courses and seminars have been developed for (or have included) a wide range of participants, such as athletic directors, attorneys, engineers, entrepreneurs, managers, and physicians.” (p. 2) 

What is absolutely wonderful about Siedel's materials is that he also provides not only a slide deck, but also a twenty-page teaching note, Why and How to Add Negotiation to Your Introductory Law Course, to guide you through how to teach the exercise.  This is key.  He states (and I agree) that many professors don’t include negotiation exercises in their business law courses because there is already so much material to cover, and perhaps more importantly, they don’t feel qualified to teach it.  That’s the beauty of these materials: Siedel walks you through teaching the exercise, step by step!  Many negotiation exercises for purchase do include teaching notes.  However, Siedel’s teaching notes are free, and among the most comprehensive that I’ve seen.  What are you waiting for?

In my experience, students love negotiation exercises.  Probably like many BLPB readers, I’m tweaking and finalizing my spring 2020 course syllabi as the new semester is around the corner.  I encourage you to review Siedel’s excellent materials, and consider including negotiation exercises in your business law courses.  It would be ideal if: 1) students were to be able to read at least some of a good negotiation text such as Siedel’s Negotiation for Success: Essential Strategies and Skills or Richard Shell’s Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People, and 2) you had a full 75 minutes to debrief the negotiation exercise.  However, from my perspective, you shouldn’t let the absence of either deter you, especially from trying out the negotiation exercise for the first time.  That’s exactly how I’m about to proceed, and I’ll keep you posted on how it all turns out.

Finally, a huge THANK YOU to Professor Siedel for creating and making these materials available!

    

     

January 7, 2020 in Business School, Colleen Baker, Law School, Negotiation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 6, 2020

Advice to My Business Associations Students . . . And Maybe Yours, Too

Business Associations is a tough course to teach, whether it is taught in a three-credit-hour or four-credit-hour format.  I have written before (here, here, and here) about the challenges of teaching fiduciary duties in this course.  And I recently posted here and here about the characterization of a classic oversight conundrum as a matter of corporate fiduciary duty law in Delaware.

I just recently finished grading my Business Associations exams from last semester.  They were a good lot overall, but they evidenced several somewhat common errors that seemed to beg for broad dissemination to the class. So, I sent them all a message inviting them to come in and review their exams and highlighting certain things for their attention of a more general nature.  

Today, I offer you that general counsel that I gave to my Business Associations students based on that review of their written final exams.  It is set forth below, absent my introductory and closing remarks.  As you'll see, some of it relates to substantive law, and some of it relates to exam or other skills.  Perhaps this is of use to those of you who just taught or are about to teach the course.  Maybe some students will read it and learn from it.  Regardless, here it is.

  • Agency rules and management rules in business associations law are often confused. Agency rules express the authority of a person to act on behalf of the firm in transactions with third parties--those who enter into transactions with the firm. For example, by default under the RUPA, each partner in a RUPA partnership is an agent of the partnership that can bind the partnership to contracts with others. Management rules, by contrast address the governance and control authority of a particular firm constituent within the governance structure of the firm. Thus, agency rules relate to authority that is outward-facing (pertaining to transactional parties) and management rules relate to authority that is inward-facing (pertaining to internal constituents of the firm). For example, by default under the RUPA, each partner has an equal right to manage the partnership.

  • Similarly, the concept of "limited liability" is commonly understood to refer to the limited liability of a firm owner for the firm's obligations. For example, under the RUPA, each partner is jointly and severally liable for the obligations of the partnership, whereas under corporate law, shareholders are not personally liable for the corporation's obligations to third parties. Exculpation, which eliminates the monetary liability of directors in the corporate context, relates to corporate governance claims--legal actions for breach of the fiduciary duty of care. This is internal governance litigation that does not relate to corporate obligations to third parties. So, while exculpation does limit (eliminate) a director's personal liability for a breach of the duty of care, it is not part of what people generally refer to as "limited liability" in a corporate context.

  • Fiduciary duties are typically understood to instill or increase trust in relationships. Accordingly, they are commonly employed to provide a benefit in circumstances involving untrustworthy business associates. Yet a number of you seemed to think they were an undue burden to business venturers in circumstances where trust may be lacking (i.e., where fiduciary duties should be useful). You will need to make a solid argument to most folks to justify that the detriments outweigh the benefits.

  • If an exam or assignment question asks for you to talk about why one set of rules is better than another in addressing a specific scenario, make sure you contrast examples from the two sets of rules, applying each to the relevant facts.

  • Read questions carefully and closely. When a question asks for you to reference or rely on statutory default rules,ensure that your response references or relies on statutory default rules--not on ways on which those rules can be or have been agreed around through private ordering. When a question asks for information or an evaluation or rules relating to member-managed LLCs, ensure you directly address member-managed LLCs in lieu of (or at least before) commenting on manager-managed LLCs or the flexibility of moving back and forth between member-managed and manager-managed LLCs.

  • Don't forget to cite to an appropriate source for rules on which you rely in your legal analysis.

  • Keeping track of and managing time is important to the bar exam and other in-class timed exercises. If you ran out of time in responding to the prompts on this exam, evaluate why. I can help, if need be. But understanding how and why your time management skills may have failed you can be important.

Feel free to add your observations or advice of a similar (or different) nature in the comments.  I am teaching Advanced Business Associations this semester, so I can work on some of these things during that course.  In any event, I wish you all a happy and healthy semester and year, whatever you may be teaching or doing.

January 6, 2020 in Business Associations, Joan Heminway, Law School, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (8)

Monday, December 30, 2019

What is Transactional Business Law?

The title of this post is the core question behind a transactional law laboratory that I am co-teaching with my amazing colleague Eric Amarante for a seven-week period starting next week.  The course is being taught to the entire 1L class (intimidating!) in one two-hour class meeting each week.  In essence, the course segments explore, principally through the subjects taught in the first-year curriculum, the nature of transactional business law.  This is our first semester teaching this course, which is a substantially revised version of a course UT Law added to its 1L curriculum three years ago.  We are pretty jazzed up about it--but understandably nervous about how our course plan will "play" with this large group.

Because 1Ls come to transactional business law from various different backgrounds and experiences (including different first-semester law professors), we plan to begin by striving to develop some common ground for our work.  To that end, I am asking for a late Christmas present or early New Year's gift from all of you: your answer to one or more of the following questions.  How would you define transactional business law?  What are some examples of this kind of practice?  What makes a good transactional business lawyer?  Why should every law student need to know something about transactional business law (and what should they need to know)?  Let me know.

These are the kinds of questions we'll be probing through discussions, drafting, problem-solving, and other in-class and out-of-class experiences in the context of contract law, property law, tort and criminal law, agency law, professional responsibility, and more.  The objective is substantive exposure, not mastery.  Although teaching 125+ students at once is a tall order (and we will be breaking the class down into small groups for various activities), I admit that I am a bit excited about this.  I hope you are, too, and that a few of you will respond in the comments or send me a private message.

In the mean time, enjoy the waning holiday season.  I wish a happy new year to all.  And (of course) I wish good luck to the many among you who also are starting a new semester in the coming weeks.

December 30, 2019 in Joan Heminway, Law School, Lawyering, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law - Business Law Professor Position

The City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law seeks highly-qualified candidates for a tenured or tenure-track faculty appointment to begin in Fall 2020. The principal responsibility of this faculty member will be to teach business law related courses, including Business Associations, U.C.C. Survey, and Contracts. All faculty are also expected to teach our first-year Lawyering course on a rotating basis, and all faculty are expected to teach in both the day and evening programs on a rotating basis.

CUNY SCHOOL OF LAW: "LAW IN THE SERVICE OF HUMAN NEEDS"

CUNY School of Law is a national leader in progressive legal education: we are ranked first in the country for public interest law and third in the county for clinical programs, and we are one of the most diverse law schools in the nation.

Our mission at CUNY School of Law is two-fold: training public interest attorneys to practice law in the service of human needs; and providing access to the profession for members of historically underrepresented communities. The Law School advances that mission though an innovative curriculum that brings together the highest caliber of clinical training with traditional doctrinal legal education to train lawyers prepared to serve the public interest. The basic premise of the law school's program is that theory and abstract knowledge cannot be separated from practice, practical skill, professional experience and the social, cultural, and economic context of law. The curriculum therefore integrates practical experience, professional responsibility, and lawyering skills with doctrinal study at every level.

QUALIFICATIONS

 Successful candidates will have:

a)      J.D., L.LB., or Ph.D in a law-related discipline;

b)      admission to law practice;

c)      social justice lawyering experience;

d)      a demonstrated commitment to the mission of CUNY School of Law;

e)      availability and willingness to teach in the day and evening programs on a rotating basis;

f)       availability and willingness to teach the first-year Lawyering course on a rotating basis (experience teaching legal writing preferred);

g)      commitment to scholarly engagement (established scholarly record preferred);

(a)   a demonstrated commitment to excellent teaching (ability to teach in both a classroom and clinical setting preferred); and

(b)   demonstrated success as a faculty member, including the ability to collaborate with others and share responsibility for committee and department assignments.

COMPENSATION

CUNY offers faculty a competitive compensation and benefits package covering health insurance, pension and retirement benefits, paid parental leave, and savings programs. We also provide mentoring and support for research, scholarship, and publication as part of our commitment to ongoing faculty professional development.

HOW TO APPLY

Interested candidates should apply at www.cuny.edu by accessing the employment page, logging in or creating a new user account, and searching for this vacancy using the Job ID (20886) or Title (Assistant, Associate, or Full Professor of Law) then selecting "Apply Now" and providing the requested information. (Link at : 
https://cuny.jobs/queens-ny/assistant-associate-or-full-professor-of-law/07654EF690374350BED697DD5EBAE1F4/job/)

The application requires a CV/resume and a cover letter, indicating the position to which you are applying.

August 20, 2019 in Business Associations, Corporations, Haskell Murray, Jobs, Law School | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, August 16, 2019

Is Boycotting a Bust?

     Last week, I led a “legal hack” for some of the first year students during orientation. Each participating professor spoke for ten minutes on a topic of our choice and then answered questions for ten minutes. I picked business and human rights, my passion. I titled my brief lecture, “Are you using a product made by slaves, and if you are, can you do anything about it”?

     In my ten minutes, I introduced the problem of global slavery; touched on the false and deceptive trade practices  litigation levied against companies; described the role of shareholder activists and socially responsible investors in pressuring companies to clean up supply chains; raised doubts about the effectiveness of some of the disclosure regimes in the US, EU, and Australia; questioned the efficacy of conscious consumerism; and mentioned blockchain as a potential tool for provenance of goods. Yes. In ten minutes. 

     During the actual hack later in the afternoon, I had a bit more time to flesh out the problem. I developed a case study around the Rana Plaza disaster in which a building collapse in Bangladesh killed over 1,000 garment workers six years ago. Students brainstormed solutions to the problems I posed with the help of upperclassmen as student facilitators and community stakeholders with subject matter expertise. At the end of the two-hour brainstorming session, the students presented their solutions to me.  

     We delved deeper into my subject matter as I asked my student hackers to play one of four roles: a US CEO of a company with a well-publicized CSR policy deciding whether to stay in Bangladesh or source from a country with a better human rights record; a US Presidential candidate commenting on both a potential binding treaty on business and human rights and a proposed federal mandatory due diligence regime in supply chains; a trade union representative in Bangladesh prioritizing recommendations and demands to EU and US companies; and a social media influencer with over 100 million followers who intended to use his platform to help an NGO raise awareness.

     This exercise was identical to an exercise I did in March in Pakistan with 100 business leaders, students, lawyers, government officials, and members of civil society as part of an ABA Rule of Law Initiative. The only difference was that I asked Pakistanis to represent the Bangladesh government and I asked the US students to represent a political candidate. 

     In both Pakistan and Miami, the participants had to view the labor issues in the supply chain from a multistakeholder perspective. Interestingly, in both Pakistan and Miami, the participants playing the social media influencer rejected the idea of a boycott. Even though multiple groups played this role in both places, each group believed that seeking a boycott of companies that used unsafe Bangladeshi factories would cause more harm than good. 

     Of note, the Miami Law students did their hack during the call for a boycott of Soul Cycle due to Steve Ross’ decision to hold a fundraiser for President Trump. In my unscientific poll, three out of three students who patronized Soul Cycle refused to boycott. When it came to the fictionalized case study, all groups raised concerns that a boycott could hurt garment workers in Bangladesh and retail workers in the US and EU. Some considered a “buycott” to support brands with stronger human rights records. 

     I’ve written before about my skepticism about long term boycotts, especially those led by millennials. Some of these same students echoed my concerns about their own lack of sustained commitment on proposed boycotts in the past. The “winning” hack- #DoBetterBangladesh was a multipronged strategy to educate consumers, adopt best practices of successful campaigns such as the Imokalee

farm workers, and form acoalition with other influencers to encourage consumer donations to reputable NGOs in Bangladesh. After seeing what these student groups could do in just two hours, I can’t wait to see what they can accomplish after three years of law school. 

August 16, 2019 in Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Human Rights, International Business, Law School, Marcia Narine Weldon, Shareholders, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Business Law Professor Jobs - Posted in 2019-20

This is my fifth year compiling a list of open business law professor positions in law schools and other settings (mostly business schools).

See the 2018-19, 2017-18, 2016-17, 2015-16 (law schools; business schools), and 2014-15 (law schools, business schools) lists to get a sense of what the market for business law professors has looked like over the past few years.

I will likely update this list from time to time; feel free to e-mail me with additions. Updated 9/30/19.

Law School Professor Positions – Business Area Identified

  1. American University (business law program director)
  2. Chicago-Kent
  3. City University of New York (CUNY)
  4. Emory University 
  5. Northeastern University
  6. Ohio State University
  7. Pennsylvania State University
  8. Samford University
  9. Southern Illinois University
  10. Suffolk University (transaction legal clinic)
  11. University of Akron
  12. University of California-Davis (transaction legal clinic)
  13. University of Cincinnati
  14. University of Dayton
  15. University of Kansas
  16. University of Kentucky
  17. University of Massachusetts - Dartmouth
  18. University of Memphis
  19. University of Nebraska
  20. University of Richmond
  21. University of Wisconsin
  22. Vanderbilt University
  23. Washington University (St. Louis)
  24. Wayne State University

Legal Studies Professor Positions (Mostly Business Schools)

  1. Boise State University
  2. California State University-Los Angeles (real estate law focus)
  3. California State University-Northridge
  4. Christopher Newport University
  5. Hagerstown Community College
  6. Indiana University (possibly multiple positions)
  7. Ithaca College (full-time, non-tenure track)
  8. Morgan State University
  9. Sam Houston State University (2 positions)
  10. Sierra College (Community College)
  11. St. Bonaventure University (spring 2020 start)
  12. Temple University
  13. Texas State University
  14. Tulane University (visiting lecturer, full-time, non-tenure track)
  15. University of Georgia
  16. University of North-Texas (full-time, non-tenure track)
  17. U.S. Air Force Academy (visiting professor)
  18. Wake Forest University (full-time, non-tenure track)
  19. Wenzhou-Kean University (China)

August 14, 2019 in Business Associations, Business School, Corporations, Haskell Murray, Jobs, Law School | Permalink | Comments (0)

First Day of School

Yesterday was the first day of 1L Orientation at Creighton University School of Law, which meant it was really my first day of school as a dean, too. I've been on the job for a month, but summer school has a very different feel.  This morning I also dropped my son off for this first day of high school.  (And my daughter starts 6th grade tomorrow.) It's a lot of firsts in our new city, at our new schools, and it's exciting. And perhaps a little intimidating. I am sure it was for our 1Ls, just like it was back when I started law school.  And I was about to turn 30.

There's lots of good advice for new law students our there (here, for example), so I focused my brief welcome to our new 1Ls on introducing myself and laying out my expectations for all of us.  This is obviously specific to Creighton Law, though I think and hope it is true at a lot of other places, too. I didn't actually write out a speech, but here's the gist: 

First, I let our new students know that we’re in this together. I chose to be here, and so did they. We all had options, and this is where we chose to be. I wanted to mark that so that we can remember why, when things get tough, we're here in the first place. The reason is at least slightly different for all of us, but we made the same choice. 

Next, I wanted them to know this: I have your back.  I have told the same thing to our faculty and staff, too.  That doesn't mean I can always say yes, but it does mean that I will work to see you, hear you, and help you.  

I also made clear that I would not ignore the past, but I will work to make sure we do not relive it, either. Our institution (like many others) has faced many challenges, internally and externally. We have a path forward and a group of people committed to our students.  I also wanted to make sure that they knew that even when, as a faculty, some of us disagree with each other, we all agree that our students come first. 

I then talked about how I plan to help us move forward: by building a foundation based on trust, faith, and hope. Trust in each other. Faith in our institution and values, spiritual and otherwise. And hope that working together, we can build a better, and more just, future for everyone. I noted that a key thing about faith and trust, is that they are personal choices. No one can give them to others. We can be trustworthy, which I will work to do. And we can support others in their faith.  But we each chose whether to trust and have faith.  By choosing to do this job, I am putting a lot of trust and faith into this institution and its people, and I hope others will do the same. 

Finally, I told our students what I need them to know:

You are a remarkable group. Every one of you belongs here, or you wouldn’t be here. We expect you to succeed, and we will help you succeed. I ask you to do everything you can to be all in. Be open and committed to what you are doing. This is a lot of work if you do it right, and it’s a lot of fun, too.

Good wishes to all of you in whatever your new beginnings may be. It's going to be a heck of a year. 

August 14, 2019 in Joshua P. Fershee, Law School, Lawyering | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, August 12, 2019

More on Personal Finance

In college, I majored in business administration with a concentration in finance, but I learned next to nothing about personal finance. Thankfully, my father provided some advice, and I did a bit of reading on the subject before I graduated law school. But I am still learning, and have dug deeper this summer.

More universities should instruct their students on matters of personal finance. As I mentioned a few months ago, I spoke on personal finance for a group of students at my university last school year,  and I hope to bring Joey Elsakr to speak at my university this school year. Joey is a graduate student and is the co-founder of the blog Money and Megabytes.

Last week, Joey graciously invited me to guest post on his blog. As I mention in the post, I don’t think I have that much to add to his many useful and detailed posts on personal finance, but I do think personal finance gets a lot more difficult after you have a family (namely because there are so many more non-financial factors to weigh in most financial decisions). I pose some of those difficult questions in the linked post below, and I welcome any thoughts on those questions from our readers.

Here is my guest post.

August 12, 2019 in Business School, Haskell Murray, Law School, Pre-Law, Wellness | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 2, 2019

How (Not) To Teach an (Online) Transactional Drafting Course

Later today, the students in my nine-week online Transactional Lawyering: Drafting and Negotiating Contracts Course will breathe a sigh of relief. They will submit their final contracts, and their work will be done. They can now start reading for their Fall classes knowing that they have completed the work for their required writing credit. My work, on the other hand, won’t end for quite a while. Although this post will discuss teaching an online course, much of my advice would work for a live, in person class as well.

If you’ve ever taught a transactional drafting course, you know that’s a lot of work. You are in a seemingly never ending cycle of developing engaging content, teaching the material, answering questions, reviewing drafts, and grading the final product. Like any writing course, you’re in constant editing and feedback mode with the students.

If you’ve ever taught an online course, you know how much work it can be. I taught asynchronously, meaning I uploaded materials and the students had a specific time within which to complete assignments, typically one week or more. Fortunately, I had help from the University of Miami’s instructional design team, otherwise, I would likely have been a disaster. They provided me with a template for each module, which forced me to really think through the objectives for each class session, not just the course as a whole. In my traditional courses I have learning objectives, but I have never gone into so much detail either in my head or in writing about what I wanted the student to get out of each individual class.

Teaching a drafting course online was much more work than I expected, but I can’t wait to do it again. If you’re thinking about it, learn from my travails and triumphs. First, here are my suggested “Do’s”:

  1. Find a way to build community: I wanted to ensure that students felt connected to me. I scripted a welcome video and the instructional design team filmed and edited it. This way students saw my face. I wanted the students to see each other as well, so I required them to film a 2-minute introductory video of themselves and upload it so that students could “see” their classmates. Students then commented on their peers’ videos welcoming them to the class. I did short videos for most of the modules, but these did not always show my face. No video was more than 10 minutes long because apparently today’s students can’t pay attention for too much longer than that.
  2. Have students work in groups (at first): I divided the 16 students into 4 law firms based in part on what I saw in their videos. I wanted some diversity of gender, race, and experience in the groups. Students drafted a law firm agreement outlining how they would interact with each other, meet deadlines, and resolve disputes. They also picked a firm name and managing partner. They assessed themselves and each other as group members based on criteria that I provided. The group work minimized the amount of feedback that I had to provide. As a group, they drafted the law firm agreement, a client engagement letter, and worked on a short contract. Some assignments were graded and some were ungraded. The group work counted for 10% of the grade.  This percentage wasn’t enough of the grade to cause panic, and the team assessment ensured that they didn’t slack off and benefit from their peers’ hard work.
  3. Mix it up: For each class, I had students review a presentation on Echo 360. Often, they answered questions that I posed in the presentation or did exercises from Tina Stark’s contract drafting book. On other occasions, they posted responses to prompts on the discussion boards and commented (constructively) on other responses, citing the rule or principle that buttressed their position.
  4. Make them keep track of their time and do a bill: Every lawyer hates tracking time, but it’s a necessity. I tell the students that they’ll thank me later. Each student, even on group assignments had to track their time and turn in a bill. This helped me gauge how the groups and students compared to each other. I also knew which student worked on which parts of the contracts.
  5. Let them negotiate:  After the group work portion of the course ended,the students negotiated the terms of their final contract using a set of secret facts. I required them to develop and turn in a negotiation strategy using materials and videos that I put together. Armed with their BATNAs, WATNAs, and ZOPAs, I told them to spend no more than one hour negotiating. I required them to film their negotiations, upload them, and send them to me. They then worked on individual term sheets (for a grade). After the negotiations ended and I had received all term sheets, I released the secret facts and had the students assess themselves and their opposing counsel on their negotiation skills and tactics. I also provided feedback to each student on their negotiation performance and term sheets.
  6. Require them to communicate with the client:I required a 1-2 page client cover memo or email for almost every assignment focusing on tone, language, use of legalese, etc. In my comments, I explained the importance of this type of legal writing and of tailoring the language to different types of business clients. When they worked on NDAs, I reminded that them that client may never actually read the contract, so they needed to ensure that the cover memo was sufficiently detailed to provide material information without being overwhelming.
  7. Make them teachThey say that when you teach, you learn twice. I required the each student to develop a 5-7 minute video on an assigned topic. Each student “presented” to either a group of lay/business people or a group of junior associates attending a CLE. They then had to write a blog post of  between 750-1000 words. I required students to watch each other’s videos and comment as either a business person or a junior lawyer. This provided a review of the class for the viewers. This assignment counted for 10% of the grade, but as an extra incentive to take the assignment seriously, the student with the “best” video received an extra week to turn in the joint final contract, meaning that the opposing counsel also benefitted. FYI, I was generally blown away by the videos.
  8. Allow them to use precedents and then instruct them on the limitations: Many of the students had never seen an NDA, and I allowed them to use precedents. Most were surprised by how many comments I had on their final products, especially since many of the precedents came from big firms. This was a valuable lesson for them on precision and the dangers of blind cutting and pasting.
  9. Make them redline and draft a contract with opposing counsel:The final assignment required them to draft a contract based on their negotiated terms. They soon realized that they had to do additional negotiation because some of the terms did not make sense once they started to memorialize them.
  10. Have office hours and use video conferencing:I practically had to beg the students to have office hours with me. They had no problem emailing with questions, but generally didn’t utilize my office hours, which were incredibly flexible. I offered online and in person hours, but only two students met with me during the semester outside of the live mandatory office hours. I had a mandatory live grading session by video to discuss their NDAs, their upcoming negotiations, and any questions they had about the course. During that live grading session, I acted as a partner in their law firm and then stepped into professor role.

What didn’t work as well? As you can imagine, to do the job correctly, I had a LOT of work to do. I clearly gave too much work over a nine-week period, because I know much work I had to do to give them feedback. I just wanted them to be armed with the skills they will need in the real world, but I overdid it. And this meant that sometimes I did not meet my own deadlines for getting feedback to them. Truthfully, I imposed some of that burden on myself. I offered students the chance to turn in drafts of almost every assignment for feedback. About 25-30 percent of the students took me up on that offer, but every week, I emailed all of the students with tips to improve based on the trends that I saw. In retrospect, I would give fewer assignments over a longer period of time, and would better utilize the discussion boards to foster that sense of live class discussion.

After all of that, I’m gearing up to do it again for the Fall, this time over a 15-week period. Even though I will have more time, both I and the students will have other classes. I’m also teaching business associations and legal writing, and the students will have their own classes, jobs, law reviews, and extracurricular activities to contend with.

If you have any questions or tips, leave them below or email me at mweldon@law.miami.edu. I plan to learn more about course development at the University of Denver hybrid/online learning conference on September 26th. I’ll update this post after that conference. In the meantime, this weekend, I’ll be retooling my syllabus based on my summer experience and what I’ve learned this week at SEALS. Correction, I’ll retool in between grading the joint contracts.

August 2, 2019 in Contracts, Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Negotiation, Teaching, Technology | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Bar Exam: It Doesn't Define You, But Be Relentless

I made a similar post on social media last night, but with the first bar exam of my time as a law school dean beginning this morning, I thought I post those thoughts here.  To this taking this bar exam (and any future bar exam): 

You have worked hard, now is the time for you to show what you know. I wish you success. As you get ready to sit for the exam, your preparation is done. But there are still things you can do to improve your odds. Here’s what I ask you to do when you take the #BarExam:

*Be thorough.* Answer every question, written and multiple choice. Leave nothing blank. Give yourself a chance.

*Be focused.* Pay attention to time. Don’t spend twenty-five minutes on one multiple choice question or fail to get to an essay. Spend no more than your allotted time for each question, give an answer, and move on. Come back if you have time after everything else is answered.

*Be relentless.* If you make a mistake, do your best to work around it. If you don’t know something, give it your best guess and move on. Don’t give up. Don’t walk away. Don’t quit. You can do this.

And last, but not least, try to remember that this exam does not define you. The results don’t make you good or bad. This test is not who you are. It is is simply a result. It’s an important one, and it can impact you. But don’t ever let it define you.

My thoughts and good wishes are with you.

July 30, 2019 in Joshua P. Fershee, Law School | Permalink | Comments (0)