Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Brian Leiter's poll of "most important characteristics in evaluating law schools" - legal writing # 5 and "practical skills" # 8

Professor Brian Leiter conducted a poll last week asking his readers which "characteristics are most important in evaluating the quality of a law school."  Not surprisingly, of the 17 criteria listed, 184 voters overwhelmingly chose as number one "scholarly distinction/quality of the faculty."

Below is the entire list of 17 criteria readers were asked to evaluate.  I'm pleasantly surprised that "legal writing" made the top 5 list while "practical skills" ranked # 8 (I always assumed that "legal skills" is larger category that subsumed "legal writing" but apparently voters did not see it that way).

The poll results are displayed both as the set of 5 choices selected most often by readers and the top choices if each criterion is considered individually. 

The most often selected top 5 are:

  1. Scholarly distinction/quality of the faculty
  2. Students numerical credentials (LSAT, GPA)
  3. Emphasis on legal doctrine & analytical skills
  4. Emphasis on legal research & writing skills
  5. Small class sizes

If considered individually, the ranking of the 17 criteria is as follows:

  1. Scholarly distinction/quality of the faculty
  2. Students numerical credentials (LSAT, GPA)
  3. Emphasis on legal doctrine & analytical skills
  4. Emphasis on legal research & writing skills
  5. Small class sizes
  6. Bar exam pass rate
  7. Quality of scholarly conferences & speaker series
  8. Emphasis on practical lawyering skills
  9. Practical experience of the faculty
  10. Quality of the law library
  11. Modern & technologically equipped facilities
  12. Ranking of the school by US News
  13. Percentage of graduates employed in legal profession
  14. Quality of career services office
  15. Curriculum emphasizing public service & pro-bono
  16. Curriculum emphasizing working in teams
  17. Student success in moot court competitions

You can read the rest here.


November 30, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kaplan, the LSAT people, look to open a law school in D.C.

It hopes to open in 2013.  From the Washington Post:

Kaplan is an educational company owned by The Washington Post Co. that operates both brick-and-mortar schools and online instructional programs and schools. Locally, Kaplan Higher Education has campuses in Frederick and Hagerstown, where it offers degree programs and instruction in health, business, criminal justice and other fields. Kaplan's Concord Law School already offers law degrees online.

. . . .

Kaplan's backers argue that it offers important opportunities for low-income students. Washington is already home to law schools run by American University, Catholic University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia.

You can read the rest here.

Hat tip to the online ABA Journal Blog.


November 30, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Should a 1L having second thoughts about law school withdraw?

Yes, according to a reader poll conducted by Above the Law.  The question was raised by an anonymous 23 year old 1L reader at an unidentified "1st tier" school who is having doubts about law school for financial reasons (i.e. too much anticipated debt and too few jobs).  Almost 80% of the readers polled (you'll have to log-in to read the poll results) as of this writing suggest that the student in question drop out.

Personally, I think it takes a lot of courage for any law student to voluntarily withdraw.  Too many students enroll, and then stick with it despite misgivings, for all the wrong reasons (i.e. the expectations of their parents, their peers, not knowing what else to do with their lives, etc.) .  I think this is a big reason why there are so many unhappy lawyers. 

If a student is having doubts about law school, the easiest thing to do is simply ride out the three years and hope to figure it out later.  In my experience it's unusual, especially among the youngest students, to have the kind of faith in oneself that it takes to say "I'm still not sure what I want to do with my life but this probably isn't it."  You can always re-enroll if you later decide you still want a law degree.  The few students of mine who decided to withdraw are quite memorable to me because their decision to drop out defied convention and showed real courage.

In response to those who say that students who withdraw from law school because of debt/job concerns never wanted it bad enough to begin with, I disagree.  You can have all the passion in the world yet still be pragmatic and realistic about your ability to make a living at it.  

My two cents.


November 30, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Vote for your favorite blog during the ABA Journal's 4th annual "Blawg 100" contest

We weren't nominated (no surprise since we just started this blog in October - maybe next year?) but at least two of our sister blogs have been - the TaxProf Blog and the Legal Profession Blog - in the "law prof plus" category.  Free registration is required to see the entire list and vote - which you can do here.  The list of nominees in various categories (100 in total out of an estimated 3,000 legal blogs) is compiled by the editors of the ABA Journal together with reader suggestions. 

Interestingly, the ABA Journal notes that many blogs this year have embraced Twitter as a way to disseminate their posts, the exception being those blogs edited by law profs.  


November 30, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

What Can the Twilight Saga Teach Us About Writing?

Some critics have taken the popular Twilight Saga books to task for the quality of the writing. But has anyone read them all, just looking for examples of poor writing and maybe wondering if vampires deserve better? Yes. The author of Reasoning with Vampires has worked through the books, and collected and nastily critiqued instances of unfortunate writing. In this generous season of the year, you may be looking for something mean-spirited to cackle over. Here it is.  But be careful. When you read the critiques you may become self conscious about your own writing.


November 30, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Study for the Bar Exam on your iPhone?

As we increasingly become a nation of people looking down at their smartphones, it was inevitable that the classroom would come to the iPhone.  So if you're the kind of person who learns better from your smartphone's tiny screen, give the Barbri App a look.  For the low price of $295 you can access most of the course information on your phone - lectures, practice questions, mini reviews, and a game called the Barbri Challenge.  My friend and iPhone guru Jeff Richardson has a complete review of this app - if you are getting ready to study for the bar, give it a look!

November 30, 2010 in Legal Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Should a teacher walk out of class in response to disruptive students?

Based on comments to this Inside Higher Ed piece, "Should Profs Leave Unruly Classes?", the majority of readers think the answer is "no" - that the entire class shouldn't have to suffer because of the bad behavior of a few.  (Trying to deal constructively with disruptive students rather than throwing in the towel is another reason offered by IHE's readers). 

Here's a good, representative take on how to deal with these situations:

As the faculty member in the room I am responsible for the classroom. While walking out did convince some portion of the class to complete readings before class -- I also belatedly realized that there were more constructive ways to engage the class.

Disruptive behavior (I care less about discreet testing or web use) is something we are obliged to deal with directly. Be the adult in the room and call it out.

It is rude and unfortunate but if directly addressed to those responsible -- is readily resolved. Enforce a reasonable but firm code of conduct as the one in charge of the room. Yes, it is uncomfortable and will chill discussion for the rest of the given meeting of the class but the rude ones will quickly learn to behave or go elsewhere.

Not only will the remaining students appreciate your action but those you reprimand or eject might learn that there is a cost to rude behavior.

Set an example -- or if you wish -- take advantage of a teachable moment.

You can read the article, as well as the numerous reader comments, here.


November 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

ABA president encourages law schools to prepare students for international practice

From the National Law Journal:

ABA President Steve Zack makes a point of speaking with law students when he travels overseas and is always impressed with their knowledge of the American legal system. On a recent trip to China, law students asked several pointed questions about race relations in the United States and notable court cases.

'I doubt that any similar questions could be asked if the president of the Chinese bar or even the English bar came here,' Zack said. '"Whether lawyers want it or not, clients will insist on the global practice of law. We need to train our young lawyers for that.'

. . . .

Even law schools that have had a strong international focus for years are boosting their offerings with new programs and partnerships. For example, the University of Wisconsin Law School launched two executive LL.M. programs in collaboration with law schools in Thailand and Japan during the past year. Students spend one semester abroad and one semester in Wisconsin.

The school is adding a similar degree program in Shanghai. It has a variety of academic partnerships with law schools throughout Asia and sends J.D. students overseas on summer internships with law firms in Bangkok, Thailand, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. 'If you spend your summer at a Madison or Milwaukee firm, you're not going to see anything international,' said John Ohnesorge, director of Wisconsin's East Asian Legal Studies Center.

Integrating foreign LL.M. students into the fabric of law school life is another way to create a more international atmosphere on campus, said Andrew Guzman, director of graduate programs and associate dean for international and executive education at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. Berkeley offers a course on international business transactions that pairs American J.D. students with foreign LL.M. students to work on international legal issues.

There is no shortage of foreign LL.M students to bring into the mix; U.S. law schools have rushed to add those programs during the past decade. The number of LL.M. students at U.S. law schools grew by 65% between 1999 and 2009, and most of them were from overseas.

'I don't think that law schools, collectively, have figured out what it is they should be doing,' Guzman said. 'A lot of schools are trying different things with the word 'international' in them. I think the dilemma is that we know our students will be dealing with cross-border matters, but they'll probably be sitting in a law firm office in the U.S. It's still a work in progress.'

You can read the rest here.


November 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Keeping Up with the Latest Google Technology

Google continues to offer some pretty terrific technology tools, many of which are useful to lawyers:  Gmail, Google Docs, Google Maps, and Google Translate or only a few of the great tools that lawyers can use in their practice.  It can be someone daunting, however, trying to keep up with all of the new stuff that Google churns out each week - that is, until now.

Google recently unveiled Google New, the one place to find everything new from Google.  Just this week, you can learn about improvements to Google Earth, the ability to drag and drop files into Google Docs, and updates to Google's search tool.  Bookmark this page and visit it often - Google has lots of tools that can benefit the lawyer in his or her practice.


November 29, 2010 in Legal Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Can Reading Poetry Improve Lawyering Skills?

Yes, answer two academic lawyers. In  his well known article ”Rhyme and Reason: Why the Study of Poetry is the Best Preparation for the  Study of Law,” 46 College English 333 (1984), George Gopen gives the future law student  four  reasons to study poetry:

 I: No other discipline so closely replicates the central question asked in the study of legal thinking: "Here is a text; in how many ways can it have meaning?"

  II: No other discipline communicates as well that words are not often fungible.

 III: No other discipline concentrates as much on the effects of ambiguity of individual words and phrases. 

IV: No other discipline concentrates as much on the concept of contextuality.

 In his article, “The Poetry of  Persuasion: Early Literary Theory and its Advice to Legal Writers,” 6 Journal of the Association of  Legal Writing Directors 55 (2009), Stephen E. Smith argues writing that provides pleasure increases its persuasiveness. Therefore, the study of poetry helps the legal writer craft documents that are both pleasing and persuasive.

 The topic of poetry permits me to include my favorite poem of the autumnal season.

 who are you, little i

(five or six years old)
peering from some high

window; at the gold

of november sunset

(and feeling:that if day
has to become night

this is a beautiful way)

                                    E.E. Cummings



November 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advice on how to succeed in your new law firm job

While directed at laterals, this column from the lawjobs.com has sound advice for any new law grad starting his first job.  Among the tips:


Expectations should be explored and clarified during interviews and offer negotiations. Issues such as skills, job description, compensation and benefits, performance reviews, support, client responsibility and origination credit, title, years to partnership consideration (if appropriate), lines of reporting, marketing, hours requirements, and so forth, should be thoroughly discussed.


While doing your best to be productive, keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut until you've figured out the true lay of the land. Look for the firm's unwritten rules, power structure, alliances, conflicts, social or political "in-groups" and outcasts. Determine which partners, practice areas and clients are most valued at the firm, and where the backwaters lie. Read internal and external communications and note who and what is in the spotlight. Respect any formal or informal hierarchies within the firm.


Check the firm's form files so that you can conform your work as quickly as possible. While it's not necessary to become a clone, you want to accommodate your new firm's preferences within your own style. Refrain from saying, "We did it this way at my old firm" until you are well settled and think you know a better way of doing something that will be appreciated by your new firm. Even then, you may want to suggest the alternative without attributing it to your former firm.


You are an unknown quantity and will need to prove yourself to your new colleagues. For associates, your first few assignments may be either more or less sophisticated than what you handled at your former firm. Do them cheerfully, efficiently and well. Once you demonstrate that you produce excellent work consistently and in a timely manner, the firm will be comfortable assigning you more challenging work, or continuing to do so.

You can read the remainder of these helpful tips here.



November 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

UK worries about glut of lawyers too.

U.K. bar officials are also worried about the glut of lawyers in that country and the market's ability to absorb new law grads.  Related to that, the "Bar Standards Board" is concerned that law schools produce grads with high quality practice skills.  From the National Law Journal:

Like the United States, the United Kingdom faces an oversupply of new lawyers. The Law Society of England & Wales, which represents solicitors, launched a campaign during the summer of 2009 to warn students about the potential drawbacks of a legal career. Its figures show that 7,000 students completed the legal practice course in 2008 to become a solicitor, but only 6,000 training contracts were available. (The training is required to qualify as a solicitor, which is an attorney who does not go into court).

. . . .

According to a press release from the Bar Standards Board, the review will look at the likely shape and demands of the legal industry in 2020, as well as technological changes. The review will also examine the need for 'high quality, competitive legal services and education and training providers and high ethical standards for lawyers and legal services entities.'
. . . .

'Much of the recent focus of regulatory activity has been on reforming the structures for regulating businesses,' said authority chief Executive Antony Townsend. 'This review will ensure that serious thought, based on thorough research and comprehensive consultation with all interested parties, is now given to education and training.'

You can read the rest here.


November 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

"What Great Writers Can Teach Lawyers and Judges"

From this month's issue of Precedent, a publication of the Missouri Bar Association (the full title is "What Great Writers Can Teach Lawyers and Judges:  Wisdom from Plato to Mark Twain to Stephen King").

Like most other close analogies, analogies between literature and legal writing may be imperfect at their edges.  “Literature is not the goal of lawyers,” wrote Justice Felix
Frankfurter nearly 80 years ago, “though they occasionally attain it.”  “The law,” said Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes even earlier, “is not the place for the artist or the poet.”

Despite some imperfections across disciplines, advice from well-known fiction and non-fiction writers can serve lawyers and judges well because law, in its essence, is a literary profession heavily dependent on the written word. There are only two types of writing – good writing and bad writing. As poet (and Massachusetts Bar member) Archibald MacLeish recognized, good legal writing is simply good writing about a legal subject.  “[L]awyers would be better off,” said MacLeish, “if they stopped thinking of the language of the law as a different language and realized that the art of writing for legal purposes is in no way distinguishable from the art of writing for any other purpose.”

As Justices Frankfurter and Holmes intimated, the tone and cadence of non-lawyer writers might vary from those of professionals who write in the law. Variance aside, however, the core aim of any writer, lawyers and judges included, remains constant – to convey ideas through precise, concise, simple, and clear expression. This two-part article presents instruction from master non-lawyer writers about precision and conciseness. In the next issue of Precedent, Part II will present their instruction about simplicity and clarity.

You can read the rest here.

Hat tip to Dean John Edwards.


November 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

U. Miami Law School Launches Graduate Fellowship Program

The National Jurist reports that unemployed graduates of the University of Miami Law School can enroll in “Legal Corps” where they will work in government agencies for six months with a stipend of $2,500 per month. Graduates must be members of the bar. Dean Patricia White states that the program will try to accommodate all who apply.


November 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Resolving Disputes in Family Businesses

A few days ago, I had lunch with a lawyer who says he has developed a new specialty: arbitrating and mediating dysfunctional family businesses. Here’s what I learned.

 1. The normal problems that arise in disputes among co-owners multiply when you add the family element to the mix.

2. When the founding generation turns the business over to the children, it should be very specific in stating who gets what with respect to money and control.

 3. When the founding generation steps away from the business, it should really step away and not interfere.

 3. Young people who want to work in this field should take lots of psychology courses.

 Although these insights are fairly obvious, they are worth considering at this holiday time of the year when many people spend more time with family members and hope for the ideal family—something out of a 1950s TV show. In my opinion, all families are at least somewhat dysfunctional, and probably the larger the family, the greater the possibility of a lot of disfunctionality. So don’t expect the impossible. Enjoy what you have.


November 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pleaded versus pled?

From the Volokh Conspiracy:

English, probably like all human languages, is full of internal structures of logic and order (which I’ll call “regularities” — observations that “conform[] to a trend [or] pattern”). It’s critical for people to understand these regularities in order to learn the language (which is to say to learn actual usage). They also help shape how the language changes: New terms and changes to old terms almost always fit some aspect of those regularities. The regularities are thus helpful predictors of usage, for instance when you’re not familiar enough with the term to know the usage, and can’t easily look it up (if you’ve never heard the verb suborn before, you can still make a good guess that its past tense is suborned), or when the term is too new for there to be a large pool of usage to consult.

The trouble is that those regularities often conflict with each other, or have one-off exceptions that are fully standard, notwithstanding their departure from the regularity. Regularities can’t tell you which of two rival regularities to turn to, nor can tell you when an exception to the regularities should be used. How do we resolve these conflicts? Precisely by looking at standard usage.

. . . .

[P]leaded vs. pled. There is an important and commonly followed regularity in English: Most verbs form the past tense by adding –ed. But pled didn’t develop just because someone invented a completely unusual irregularity; language rarely changes that way.

Rather, there is also a rival regularity: The other verbs that end with the –leed sound, when produced by the letters –lead and –leedlead, mislead, and bleed — form the past tense by changing the –eed sound to an –ed sound. And some (but not all) other verbs that end with the –eed sound, when produced by –ead and –eed, operate similarly: read, breed, feed, and speed (but not bead, knead, deed, heed, need, or seed). I assume that plead acquired the pled form by analogy to lead, bleed, and the like — by following one regularity rather than another, and not just by entirely departing from “internal structures of logic or order.”

So which regularity to follow? The only answer is usage. Usage gives us one answer for lead and read. It gives us another for bead and need. For plead, modern legal usage (as reflected in court opinions) reports that both pleaded and pled are standard.

I don’t think there’s any external vantage from which you can fault established usage as “incorrect” (as opposed to, say, ambiguous or confusing, which is a different criticism). Correctness is, in my view, defined by usage. But in any event, unless you are prepared to radically redesign the English language — and somehow get hundreds of millions of speakers to go along with you — you can’t define correctness by adherence to “internal structure of logic or order,” because in our actual current English language there are many rival structures, as well as exceptions to structures.

Read the rest here.

Hat tip to Above the Law.


November 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Law School and Bar Collaborating to Teach Professionalism

How can a bar association help law students learn about professionalism? In the November 2010 issue of the Michigan Bar Journal, Amy Timmer, Associate Dean of Students and Professionalism at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, tells us what her law school and state bar association have done. Here is her summary:

 In the area of professionalism,

Cooley has partnered with the

State Bar on:


• Character and fitness in our new-student

orientations and in our personal and professional

responsibility classes


• Mentoring law students and a study of

that mentoring project undertaken by

Oakland University and supported by

a grant from the Michigan State Bar



• The first and all subsequent professionalism

orientations for law students


• Hosting Attorney Discipline Board panel

hearings at Cooley and meetings of the

Attorney Grievance Commission


• Supporting the Richard Steinberg Memorial

Treatment Fund and the services

provided by the State Bar Lawyers and

Judges Assistance Program through proceeds

from our Grand Rapids campus’s

Barrister’s Ball


• Holding some sessions of the State Bar

Annual Meeting at Cooley


• A wellness initiative


We also partner with county and special purpose

bar associations on mentoring, pro

bono, and professionalism opportunities, and

find that these partnerships result in rich

experiences for our students.


November 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Westlaw competes with Lexis for the hearts and wallets of small practitioners

We'd previously blogged about a Lexis program rolled out earlier this fall that's aimed at providing solo and small practitioners with an extremely attractive pricing option:  Unlimited research (all state and federal cases and statutes) for $175.00 per month (a second lawyer in the same office gets it for $140.00 per month).  Our sister publication, the Law Librarian Blog, is reporting that Westlaw has just launched a similar program designed to compete for the same small law firm business. 

TR Legal [i.e. Westlaw] has kicked the competition in this once neglected market niche up a notch by offering flat rate plans for solos and small firms, meaning more that two attorneys as in three (more?). But while Lexis Advance is built on a new platform, TR Legal is pitching Classic Westlaw, not that shiny new, not yet ready for prime time WestlawNext. At least TR Legal is smart enough to know that WLN kinda sucks for some common state-focused research. Follow the links to Tom Boone's and Paul Lomio's critiques from here.

For an excellent side-by-side comparison of the Lexis and Westlaw small firm research packages, complete with helpful graphics that illustrate possible cost differences between jurisdictions despite the "flat rate" marketing, click here.


November 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Study shows today's college students are less empathetic than past generations but they can be taught to change.

A recent study reported on by Inside Higher Education found that today's college students are 40% less empathetic than previous generations of students.  However, empathy experts say that sensitivity towards others can be learned.  Why should lawyers, law professors and students care?  Because the ability to intellectually and emotionally empathize with one's client as well her opponent are essential skills needed to produce a good result for that client.  As IHE reports:

Are you often quite touched by things you see happen? Do you try to look at everybody’s side of a disagreement before you make a decision? When you see people being taken advantage of, do you feel protective of them?

If you are a college student or recent graduate, you are more likely to answer 'no' to the above questions, which are excerpts from a University of Michigan test designed to measure the presence of empathy in people of different ages. What they found was disconcerting: College students today are 40 percent less empathetic than those who graduated two or three decades ago.

Can empathy be learned?

The general consensus among empathy scholars is . . . yes – but only under specific circumstances.

For instance, it is unrealistic to expect students to become more empathetic if they aren’t actually committed to the idea. In other words, they have to have the desire to change, said Sara H. Konrath, the adjunct assistant professor of psychology who led the Michigan study on college students’ empathy. 'It’s probably possible in the context of what they’re doing,' she said. 'If people are willing to do that and to try, then I think there are ways to change empathy.'

You can read the rest here.


November 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Is Arbitration Best in Defending Legal Malpractice Claims?

The answer: It depends, and not everyone agrees. In a helpful article (published in San Francisco’s “The Recorder—Nov. 11, and republished in Philadelphia’s “Legal Intelligencer—Nov. 22) Brian Ahern sets out the pros and cons. Here is a  summary.


November 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)