Sunday, November 21, 2010

Does required course content impinge on "Academic Freedom?"

Here's a story that may be particularly interesting to legal writing professors who teach in a "lockstep" program where part, or all, of the course's content is mandated by a director or other administrator.  From the popular columnist ProfHacker at the Chronicle of Higher Ed:

Recently, on a discipline-specific listserv, tempers flared and egos were bruised.  The subject of this virtual brawl, a brawl that went on for weeks?  A department’s (or chair’s) decision to control and standardize course content in that department’s course offerings.

. . . .

Advocates of control in large sections of classes made some very good points.  A common syllabus, for example, is often very helpful for large departments when graduate students and adjuncts teach many of the lower division, general education courses.  The common assignments and syllabi can help new instructors understand the rigor the department expects for its courses.  Common assignments and syllabi can help a new instructor understand the scaffolding that needs to occur for student learning to take place, and these tools can ensure that appropriate course content is being followed (that no one is teaching astrophysics or basket weaving in a first-year composition course, for example).  Lastly, the consistency of course content can also help students have a similar experience across sections.  This can be particularly important for first-year students.

On the other hand, many listserv members questioned a department’s right (authority?) to dictate to faculty what and how they will teach their courses.  To have a common syllabus for first-time graduate student instructors is one thing, many on the listserv argued, but to mandate that tenure-track or tenured faculty also follow the same common syllabus with little voice in how the course is structured, how the learning outcomes would be measured (assignments), or even which textbooks the course would use has gone too far.  Many listserv members in this camp of the debate question faculty members’ academic freedom if such departments impose such control.  Additionally, many wonder if students would learn to navigate a world of choices (easy / hard professors, one assignment type instead of another assignment type, for instance), if they are given no choices.

You can read the rest of the discussion, along with reader comments, here.


November 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Survey finds that more law firms are devoting resources to associate training

This is occurring, in large part, because clients are refusing to subsidize the training of new graduates.  From the National Law Journal:

As the country's economic fortunes slowly improve, law firms on the road to recovery are showing an increased willingness to put resources into training programs for associates, according to a recent survey by ALM Legal Intelligence and Practical Law Company Inc.

Just over half of survey respondents -- a group that included law firm partners, professional development specialists, law librarians and administrative staff -- said that their firms had increased the amount of time devoted to training over the past 12 months.

. . . .

Thomas Clay, a consultant with Altman Weil Inc., says that he sees the industry moving toward a more training-friendly attitude. "The very blunt rationale is they've got to get these people to be more valuable quickly, because the marketplace just isn't seeing it these days," Clay says.

Part of what's driving that shift, Clay says, is the reluctance of budget-conscious clients to pay for work done by inexperienced lawyers. Firms are responding, Clay says, by trying to increase the 'perceived value' of their younger lawyers as soon as possible, 'because some clients are saying 'We don't want to use first- and second-years. They don't have much value to us."

You can read the rest here.


November 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Oyez Project now hosted by Chicago-Kent

Thanks to our sister publication, the Law Librarian Blog, for tipping us off.  It's a great resource for professors (skills and otherwise), students and practitioners.

From the press release:

Chicago-Kent College of Law is the new headquarters of the Oyez Project (, a multimedia archive devoted to the Supreme Court of the United States and its work. Visited more than 700,000 times in the past 30 days, the site aims to be a complete and authoritative source for all audio recorded in the Court since the installation of a recording system in October 1955.

The site's archive of digitized arguments enables users to search for key terms relevant to their research. A search for a particular term, such as "strict scrutiny" or "substantive due process," yields a list of snippets from case transcripts that link to the corresponding audio.
. . . .
Founded and directed by political scientist Jerry Goldman, the site also provides written summaries of Supreme Court cases and holdings, detailed biographies and voting records of Supreme Court justices, links to written opinions, and a virtual tour of the Supreme Court building.

The site will soon make its content more widely accessible to mobile users via apps for iPads and handheld devices. iPhone apps for selected content are already available.

You can read the rest of the press release here.


November 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Guidance for adjusting your Facebook privacy settings to shield the NSFW stuff from clients and other professional contacts

As we've said before, there are important legal, professional and personal consequences to granting the world-at-large access to your Facebook page.  Here's a checklist courtesy of the National Law Journal (complete with screen-shots) of steps to take to help you keep your personal and professional social worlds separate via Facebook's privacy settings. 

This is a three-step process.

1. Create two separate lists on Facebook.

Go to

Click on "Friends" on the left tab.

Click "Edit Friends."

Click "+ Create a List" on the right.

I recommend creating at least two lists — "friends and family" and "business contacts."

Continue reading

November 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pennsylvania Lawyers Aren't Fans of New Tech Devices for Professional Use

According to a recent story in Pennsylvania’s Legal Intelligencer, Pennsylvania law firms are sticking with traditional laptops and BlackBerry smartphones. For the most part, lawyers surveyed use mobile devices to check emails and view, edit, and draft documents on laptops. They don’t see much use for iPads and eReaders other than for entertainment.


November 21, 2010 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Should teachers use technology to reach students or restrict it to better impart "traditional" learning skills?

That's the interesting question raised by this article in today's New York Times called "Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction" about the tension high school teachers feel between the desire to reach students on their own turf versus restricting the use of classroom technology in order to better help students learn traditional skills like effective reading and writing.   And although the story deals with high school students, the same issue exists in the law school classroom regarding the teacher's desire to incorporate technology that engages students while still trying to maintain a distraction free environment so that students can learn the kind of deep thinking that's characteristic of legal analysis.

Here's an excerpt:

It does not mean [the high school principal] sees technology as a panacea. 'I’ll always take one great teacher in a cave over a dozen Smart Boards,' he says, referring to the high-tech teaching displays used in many schools.

Teachers at Woodside [High School] commonly blame technology for students’ struggles to concentrate, but they are divided over whether embracing computers is the right solution.

'It’s a catastrophe,' said Alan Eaton, a charismatic Latin teacher. He says that technology has led to a 'balkanization of their focus and duration of stamina,' and that schools make the problem worse when they adopt the technology.

'When rock ’n’ roll came about, we didn’t start using it in classrooms like we’re doing with technology,' he says. He personally feels the sting, since his advanced classes have one-third as many students as they had a decade ago.

Vishal [a senior who is the subject of the story] remains a Latin student, one whom Mr. Eaton describes as particularly bright. But the teacher wonders if technology might be the reason Vishal seems to lose interest in academics the minute he leaves class.

Mr. Diesel [a film teacher], by contrast, does not think technology is behind the problems of Vishal and his schoolmates — in fact, he thinks it is the key to connecting with them, and an essential tool. 'It’s in their DNA to look at screens,' he asserts. And he offers another analogy to explain his approach: 'Frankenstein is in the room and I don’t want him to tear me apart. If I’m not using technology, I lose them completely.'

You can read the rest here, here's a related video story, and here's a series of interviews with high school teachers talking about their views of technology in the classroom.


November 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Issue spotting versus problem solving

In the "New Normal" column  of the online ABA Journal blog, columnist Paul Lippe notes that law school's emphasis on "issue spotting" trains lawyers to find reasons why the client's proposal won't work rather than help her find ways that it will.  Essentially, the client wants your help to move forward, not give her a litany of reasons why she can't.

One of the common critiques of law school and lawyers is the proclivity to “issue-spotting,” to identify problems in a proposed course of action.

In theory, issue-spotting helps sharpen understanding of a problem and application of a solution. In reality, it’s often a passive-aggressive way to express skepticism that can be pretty destructive and divorced from responsibility (“it could be risky to get in the elevator because it might fall out of the sky”…oooo-k, how often do these things actually fall, and are you going to walk to the 43rd floor?”).

. . . .

In today’s New Normal, inertia through issue spotting is a recipe for disaster. Global competition and technology are transforming the landscape for clients and lawyers – identifying low probability reasons why a particular action may not work is much less useful than obtaining a deep understanding of the problem and proffering solutions tailored to it.

You can read the rest of Mr. Lippe's column here.


November 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Resource for Teaching Excellence

A helpful resource the Essays on Teaching Excellence published  by POD, the Professional and Organizational Network in Higher Education. Though they are aimed at the undergraduate level, I have found them valuable, especially since the authors  back  up their advice with research. Here is the description:

Essays on Teaching Excellence

Editor: Elizabeth O'Connor Chandler, University of Chicago,

Essays on Teaching Excellence is a series of eight short and succinct scholarly essays published by the POD Network on an annual basis, free of charge. The essays present innovative viewpoints on college and university instruction. Written in concise and non-technical language, and supported by research, the essays seek to assist instructors in reflecting upon and refining their practice of teaching to achieve the results they seek - students learning to the best of their abilities.

The essays may be shared or distributed in print or electronic form as long as the POD Network and each essay's author are cited.

Click on the year below to view each volume's contents. You can download the whole series or click on a title to download the individual essay.


November 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Scholarship alert: "Access to justice starts in the library: the importance of competent research skills and free/low-cost research resources"

This article, by St. Thomas Law Librarian and Legal Research Instructor Deborah K. Hackerson, can be found at 62 Me. L. Rev. 473 (2010).  From the introduction:

Access to justice is an important aspirational goal for everyone in the legal profession. Lawyers, however, cannot provide access to justice without adequate practical skills and the tools necessary to complete their work. Lawyers and law students provide many hours of public and pro bono service every year.  With the current state of the economy and the record jobless rate, it is likely that the need for low cost and free legal services will continue to grow. In order to carry out the mission of continuing to provide services to those in need, law students must prepare learn the practical skills needed to serve their clients, including those who cannot pay.

Continue reading

November 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

New "skills" scholarship: "When will law school change?"

This article is authored by a Jones Day partner who is a member of that firm's lawyer training committee and author of the book "The Path to Parnership:  A Guide for Junior Associates."   The full cite is Steven C. Bennett, When will law school change? 89 Neb. L. Rev. 87 (2010). 

From the introduction:

Law schools, to paraphrase the fictional Professor Kingsfield, take students who know next to nothing about law, and teach them to "think like lawyers." But a rough understanding of the methods of legal analysis does not necessarily equip budding lawyers with all the skills required for success in practice.  Most importantly, although the ability to interpret rules of ethical conduct is one important element of the law school curriculum, mere familiarity with the rules of professional responsibility cannot impart sensitivity to the ethical issues that can arise in practice (much less ensure that new lawyers will place a high priority on maintaining essential standards of professional behavior).  The recent Carnegie Report,  an independent external review of law school teaching practices which compared legal education with other forms of professional training, emphasized the need to impart basic skills to lawyers before they enter practice, but also expressed concerns about producing lawyers who lack a commitment to professional responsibility. These concerns, moreover, have appeared in a series of prior studies and reports.

Continue reading

November 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lincoln the Lawyer

The Marquette Law Review ( vol. 93, No. 4) had published an excellent symposium on "Legacies of Lincoln." Of particular interest to the legal skills audience are two articles: Mark Steiner's "Abraham  Lincoln and the Rule of Law Books" and Joseph Ranney's "In Praise of Whig Lawyering: A Commentary on Abraham Lincoln as Lawyer--and Politician." Another interesting  article is Julie Oseid's "The Power of Brevity: Adopt  Abraham Lincoln's Habits, 6 J. ALWD 28 (2009).


November 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Professor Laurence Tribe does his part to support the "Plain English" movement

The online ABA Journal blog is reporting that Professor Laurence Tribe has resigned from DOJ due to recurring symptoms from a benign brain tumor.  In an interview with the New York Times, Professor Tribe recounted his frustration at not being able to accomplish more during his time at DOJ due to financial constraints and the difficulty of getting legislation passed.  Instead, Tribe adopted a pragmatic style, trying to get done what he could under the circumstances.  As he told the NYT, one of his accomplishments, which he characterized "as a 'trivial' yet memorable improvement" was changing a sign at a Los Angeles  courthouse that read “unrepresented pro se litigants” to the plain-English “people without lawyers.”

Thanks, Professor Tribe.  Every contribution, big or small, to the "Plain English" movement counts.


November 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Friday fun: Do you like Full Metal Jacket and other Kubrick films?

Then you'll probably love this analysis by a self-taught British film buff who, writing under the pseudonym "Rob Ager,"  maintains a website devoted to interpreting subliminal messages in several popular films including those by Stanley Kubrick.  With respect to Full Metal Jacket, check out the video clip below in which "Mr. Ager" finds a parallel between the hellish interior shots at Hue City and the barracks of Parris Island.  He also concludes (beginning at about minute 6.40) that each member of the "Lusthog" unit in Vietnam represents an alter-ego of the pre-brainwashed Marine recruits from bootcamp (i.e. Lawrence = Animal Mother, Snowball = Eightball, Cowboy = Joker, etc.). 

Ok, that's just one of the films Mr. Ager tackles with his very insightful analysis.  Check out his complete list of film reviews and see if one doesn't open your eyes a bit about a favorite film (it's also a nice distraction right before the weekend).


November 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Beware the dangers of videotaping your class.

There have been a series of incidents recently that illustrate the risks that classroom tapes, usually made by professors for their students' benefit, can wreak havoc if they fall into the wrong hands and wind up on YouTube.  As noted in this story from Inside Higher Ed:

While the cases differ widely, faculty members at Cornell University, Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge and the University of Central Florida have all seen pieces of their lectures go viral in the last several weeks. Taken collectively, the carefully edited clips play up familiar stereotypes about faculty: there’s the quick-tempered bore (Cornell), the liberal indoctrinator (Louisiana State) and the lazy test-recycler (Central Florida)

The most egregious incident occurred at Louisiana State where it was later determined that a person not even enrolled in the professor's class surreptitiously taped a lecture, edited the tape to distort the professor's views, and then posted it on YouTube in order to attack the professor's supposed liberal leanings.  I have also previously blogged about a University of Florida business professor who was fired after a classroom tape appeared on YouTube showing him apparently stoned (by coincidence, a law student of mine happened to be in that professor's class on the day in question and confirmed to me that he was drunk, not stoned). 

If it isn't already part of your syllabus, consider adding a provision that prohibits the videotaping of class under any circumstances.  It might not prevent what happened to the Louisiana State prof (if someone is intent on portraying you in a false light, they'll find a way to do it) but at least it may give you some recourse.  


November 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Last chance to get your free copy of "Typography for Lawyers" (but only if you're a legal writing prof)

Time is running out to obtain your free copy of "Typography for Lawyers," a resource the Law Librarian Blog calls "essential" to any skills prof's bookshelf.  The catch is you must be a legal writing professor to get a free copy from the publisher.  Click here for more details.  According to the publisher, almost 200 of you have already responded.  The offer expires at midnight, November 30, 2010.


November 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

New scholarship: Empirical analysis of how the relationship between clients and law firms is evolving

Posted by the Legal Scholarship Blog, this working paper is available for download here.  The article is entitled "Hiring Teams from Rivals: Theory and Evidence on the Evolving Relationships in the Corporate Legal Market" ahd is authored by ProfessorMichele DeStefano Beardslee of Miami and Professors Ashish Nanda, David B. Wilkins and John C. Coates all of Harvard.  From the abstract:

How are relationships between clients and law firms in the corporate legal market evolving, and why? Drawing on interview and survey data from 166 chief legal officers of S&P 500 companies from 2006-2007, we extend theory from economics, management science, and sociology, and find that - contrary to standard depictions of client-provider relationships in corporate legal services, which suggest that hiring decisions have become akin to spot contracting based on individual lawyers’ skills - we find (1) large companies have relationships with a small number, typically ten to twenty, of preferred providers; (2) formally limited in duration and subject to renegotiation, these relationships nevertheless continue to be enduring; and (3) clients focus not only on law firm platforms and lead partners, but also on teams and departments within the preferred providers, allocating work to these subunits at rival firms over time, and following “star” lawyers from firm to firm more often if they move as part of a team. The combination of long-term relationships and subunit rivalry provides law firms in these relationships with steady aggregate work flows and allows companies to keep cost pressure on firms while preserving relationship-specific capital, quality assurance, and soft forms of legal capacity insurance - that is, a soft guarantee that their law firms will stand ready to provide legal services when and as needed by their clients. Apart from their descriptive value, our findings have normative implications for law firms, corporate departments, law firms, and law schools.


November 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

If law firms eliminate brick and mortar libraries, do they still need flesh and blood librarians?

That's the question raised by the "New Normal" column in today's online ABA Journal Blog.  My short answer is:  Yes, of course they do because librarians as information management experts are critical to the mission of any law office.  Fortunately, that's the same conclusion reached by Patrick Lamb, the New Normal's co-columnist.

A librarian is somebody who oversees a library, a 'place set apart to contain books, periodicals or other material for reading, viewing, listening or studying.' In other words, a librarian oversees something not needed in law firms—all that 'stuff' is contained in the box on everyone’s desk.

But all is not lost for professional librarians. Indeed, if they play their cards right, the future may be brighter for them than most. In a presentation at the recent ACC Annual Meeting, Google’s General Counsel Kent Walker relayed this startling piece of information: in the entire history of humankind, until 2003, man had created a total of 5 exabytes of information. Today, we create 5 exabytes of information every two days. And the pace of information creation is accelerating.

What does that mean for law librarians? They are information and research professionals in an era when finding essential information is more important than ever. Associates, who do most of the research in law firms, are not research or information professionals. They may become good at analyzing information, but that is somewhat of a crapshoot, and they certainly are not trained at finding the 'stuff’' that we frequently need every day. When you live in a value-fee world, someone who finds the right information efficiently is really valuable.

Amen, brother. You can read the remaining commentary here.


November 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Everyday Nautical Metaphors

Perhaps almost all metaphors eventually break loose from their moorings. From the archives of Mental Floss, here are  nine colloquialisms (clichés?) that derive from the high seas: clean bill of health, in the doldrums, three sheets to the wind, filibuster, chew the fat, slush fund, by and large, groggy, and  under the weather.


November 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Chat with the "Shadow Scholar"

On November 16,  we posted a link to a first-person essay by the “shadow scholar” who makes a living writing papers for students ( "Who writes the Papers that Students Plagiarize?").  Here, from the Chronicle of Higher Education, is the transcript of an interview with the shadow scholar.


November 18, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

The High Overemployment Rate

Over at the Harvard  Business Review’s blog, there’s an interesting piece on overemployment. Yes, the unemployment rate is high, but businesses (including law firms) are piling more work on existing employees, who become overemployed. Here’s a paragraph from the blog:

"But growth — albeit anemic growth — has returned. Yet companies are not hiring. And those employees, many of them burnt out from the last two years, are being asked to take on more and more. In those growing companies where hiring is still frozen, what's the cost to the individual? And what's the toll on the organization?"


November 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)