Thursday, March 31, 2011

Friday Fun: It's the ABA Journal's annual "Peeps in law" contest

It's spring in the blogosphere which means the annual ABA Journal's "Peeps in law" contest is here (it also means the ATL annual Law Revue contest can't be far behind). You still have until April 5 to enter your own Peep diorama (and win fabulous prizes in the process). In the meantime, enjoy "Oliver Wendell Peep, Jr." below.











"The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a peep falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

Click here to see the rest of the entries so far.


March 31, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reminder - ABA Standards Review Committee will hold open forum in Chicago on Saturday for comments on proposed change to faculty job security

I don't think there's anyone in the legal academy who doesn't already know that the ABA Standards Review Committee is considering changes to the accreditation standards that would eliminate tenure as a requirement for running a law school. The request originated with deans who say they need more flexibility over labor costs at a time when applications are down creating additional pressure to keep tuition costs reasonable.

Many constituents have weighed-in.  Just about all of them strongly oppose the proposal on the grounds that the elimination of tenure would threaten academic freedom and thereby compromise the educational experience for students.  By clicking here and scrolling down, you can access the many letters and position papers that have been filed with the committee (including a letter by Guido Calabresi). Below are the details about Saturday's open forum (the deadline for submissions has passed):

The Standards Review Committee of the ABA Council on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar will hold an open forum in Chicago on April 2, 2011 to hear comments about the following topics currently under its consideration:

1.  Student Learning Outcomes.

2.  Security of Position, Academic Freedom, Governance, Attracting and Retaining  Competent Faculty.

3.  Valid and Reliable Admission Test.

4.  All other Standards, Interpretations and Rules of Procedure.

Anyone interested in speaking at the open forum is encouraged to submit a written notice of intent by March 1.  Here are the other details:

Speakers are requested to advise the Committee by March 1, 2011 if they wish to speak at the open forum. 

Persons who wish to speak are encouraged to send written comments by March 28, 2011.

The amount of time allocated to each speaker will be determined after speakers have registered their interest in speaking.

If there is insufficient time for all interested persons to speak at the open forum, preference will be given to individuals and organizations that have attended prior committee meetings or provided written comments on previous drafts.

The Committee will post new drafts on its website by March 15, 2011.

Requests to speak and written comments should be sent to JR Clark,

The open forum will be held at the following time and address - Saturday, April 2, 2011, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., Hotel 71 - Penthouse Ballroom, 39th floor, 71 East Wacker Drive, Chicago.


March 31, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

A nice reminder of why we teach

During a time when many public school teachers (and some university professors) face layoffs due to budget problems, here's a nice editorial from the New York Times called "What I Learned at School" about the positive influence teachers have on their students.  (The NYT recently erected a paywall which requires a paid subscription to read the news but I think non-subscribers are supposed to be able to access links to individual items like this. If not, let me know).

As a writer, I often receive feedback from readers I have never met. But the other day, I received a most unexpected message in response to one of my essays:

“I am so proud of you and all you have accomplished. I shared your opinion from The L.A. Times with my family and reminisced about you as my student at Hibbing High School.”

It was signed Margaret Leibfried, who was my English teacher — a teacher who appeared at a critical juncture in my life and helped me believe that I could become a writer.

. . . .

If we want to understand how much teachers are worth, we should remember how much we were formed by our own schooldays. Good teaching helps make productive and fully realized adults — a result that won’t show up in each semester’s test scores and statistics.

That’s easy to forget, as budget battles rage and teacher performance is viewed through the cold metrics of the balance sheet. While the love of literature and confidence I gained from Ms. Leibfried’s class shaped my career and my life, after only four short years at Hibbing High School, she was laid off because of budget cuts, and never taught again.

You may be able to read the rest (or not) by clicking here.


March 31, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Teaching Law Through Popular Culture

This post from the MinnLawyer Blog  made me wonder how popular culture can be used in the classroom.  The post discusses Fordham University's upcoming two-day conference about the music and influence of Bob Dylan. 

“The event will focus on the legal issues discussed in Dylan’s music and lyrics and the influence his art has had on society and legal practitioners today....The Hibbing native and former University of Minnesota student is the most frequently cited musician by legal writers.  His cannon abounds with themes of social justice, racism, intolerance and war.  Dylan croons of hanging judges, innocent men sentenced to jail and civil rights with a poet’s ear for language.”

How do you use popular culture in your classroom to help your students grasp and learn legal concepts?


March 31, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

A neuroscientific defense of PowerPoint

For those PowerPoint lovers out there, or those who need more convincing, here's a great article by Ohio State Professor Deborah J. Merritt called "Legal Education in the Age of Cognitive Science and Advanced Classroom Technology."  In it, Professor Merritt argues that PowerPoint is well suited to the way our brains learn. The key is using visuals rather than bullet points to reinforce important concepts.  Here's a brief excerpt:

PowerPoint can advance the cognitive science principles that are essential to good learning. The medium’s greatest strength lies in its ability to project visual images. Tapping that capacity enhances right brain thinking, increasing students’ ability to synthesize complex materials and see the big picture. PowerPoint also supports several techniques for expanding working memory, enabling students to master complicated material more readily.

You can read the rest here.


March 31, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

A book on how to write a better appellate brief

This recommendation comes to us from the (new) legal writer blog.  It's "Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation's Top Advocates" by Ross Guberman (Oxford University Press 2011). Here's a summary:

With Point Made , legal writing expert Ross Guberman throws a life preserver to attorneys, who are under more pressure than ever to produce compelling prose. What is the strongest opening for a motion or brief? How to draft winning headings? How to tell a persuasive story when the record is dry and dense? The answers are "more science than art," says Guberman, who has analyzed stellar arguments by distinguished attorneys to develop step-by-step instructions for achieving the results you want.

The author takes an empirical approach, drawing heavily on the writings of the nation's 50 most influential lawyers, including Barack Obama, John Roberts, Elena Kagan, Ted Olson, and David Boies. Their strategies, demystified and broken down into specific, learnable techniques, become a detailed writing guide full of practical models. In FCC v. Fox , for example, Kathleen Sullivan conjures the potentially dangerous, unintended consequences of finding for the other side (the "Why Should I Care?" technique). Arguing against allowing the FCC to continue fining broadcasters that let the "F-word" slip out, she highlights the chilling effect these fines have on America's radio and TV stations, "discouraging live programming altogether, with attendant loss to valuable and vibrant programming that has long been part of American culture."

Each chapter of Point Made focuses on a typically tough challenge, providing a strategic roadmap and practical tips along with annotated examples of how prominent attorneys have resolved that challenge in varied trial and appellate briefs. Short examples and explanations with engaging titles--"Brass Tacks," "Talk to Yourself," "Russian Doll"--deliver weighty materials with a light tone, making the guidelines easy to remember and apply.

You can read more about this book, including reviews by several prominent practitioners, by clicking here.


March 31, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Is PowerPoint the "Miller Lite" of learning?

Many teachers have strong feelings about PowerPoint. Some love it, others don't. For certain applications, it's the best way to communicate ideas or illustrate key points. For instance, I couldn't teach my art law class without it. On the other hand, there's a risk of overuse which can undermine student learning when sophisticated, nuanced ideas are over-simplified in order to fit the slide format.  Students may mistakenly believe that memorizing bullet points is the equivalent of learning.  Teachers may be tempted to substitute difficult explanations with slides that appease students' desire to be spoon-fed. In that respect, PowerPoint can become the Miller Lite of learning: "Great taste . . . . Less filling!"

Whether you agree or not, you may want to check out this column from U. of Washington Professor David Barash from the Chronicle of Higher Ed called "My PowerPoint Boycott."

I have . . . sworn off PowerPoint, at least most of the time. Accordingly, when spring quarter begins at the University of Washington this Monday, I will tell my large-enrollment “Introduction to Animal Behavior” class that this course will be taught the old-fashioned way: Just them, and me, and an antique overhead projector on which I’ll draw the occasional graph and spell out any unusual terms.

I know, there are lots of arguments pro and con regarding PowerPoint and pedagogy; like most other things, it is a technology that can be overdone to the detriment of all, and underdone, too—which, I admit, may well be my current situation.

And click here to check out the always interesting reader comments which, as of this writing, are mostly disapproving too.


March 30, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

While law school applications are up in Iowa, in Kansas, not so much

Apropos to the below post, this story from Lawrence Journal-World tells us that U. Kansas expects law school applications to drop by as much as 20% compared to last year.  One 2L interviewed for the story suspects it's because applicants have become more knowledgeable about the realities of the legal job market in light of news reports like the New York Times article "Is Law School a Losing Game" that got so much coverage a few months back.

KU extended its [application] deadline by one month, to April 15. Even with that extension, [interim Dean] Mazza said the school expects a drop from 15 to 20 percent from last year’s group of about 1,100 applicants.

Those figures would place KU below the national average of 11.5 percent smaller pools of students, Mazza said, and would be “one of the steepest declines we’ve seen in the past decade.”

That’s no surprise to Tonda Hill, a second-year law student from Leavenworth. She’s noticed a lot more focus on the realities of the job market facing law graduates, who are typically laden with high debt loads.

Dean Mazza says that while the number of applicants is declining, the quality of those applicants is getting better. He believes that's because students who are really serious about wanting to be lawyers continue to apply despite the tough job market while those who are only interested in riding out a bad economy are foregoing the law school option. 

In addition, Dean Mazza notes that KU is bolstering its legal skills curriculum in order to better prepare graduates for the tough job market.

You can read the full story here.

A big hat tip to the ABA Journal for alerting us to the story.



March 30, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Law Applications Slide Nationwide, But Rise at Iowa

While the Law School Admissions Counsel predicts an 11.6 percent decrease in law school applicants nationwide, the University of Iowa College of Law is predicting a 13 percent increase.

 What’s its secret? Compared to most surrounding law schools, its tuition is relatively cheap--$24,154 for in-state students and $42,922 for out-of state students—about $6000 lower than Minnesota and $11,000 lower than Michigan, though Wisconsin is about $6,000 less expensive. The school also offers a number of scholarships.

A comment by Iowa Professor Herbert Hovencamp is telling: “When I went to school in the ’70s, the older generation paid for the younger’s education,” he said. “We’ve moved to a system where the young are expected to pay their way.”

Here’s the story in The Daily Iowan.


March 30, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to effectively network if you're an introvert

We'd previously blogged about how to improve your networking skills by "working the room" like a pro (a critical skill for any law student looking for a job or a recent grad looking for clients). But what if, like me, you're an introvert? Attempting to "work the room" can be intimidating and feel "false" and unnatural.  How does one get more comfortable with it?

To the rescue comes the Lawyerist with these tips on networking for introverts:

Introverted lawyers should approach networking in ways that will minimize confrontation. For starters, become a joiner. Sign up for one or two bar committees, social organizations, or nonprofit boards that will have regular meetings. Small nonprofits, in particular, are eager to have lawyers serve on their boards. Through these meetings, over time, you will get to know your fellow participants and they will have the opportunity to get to know you.

. . . .

Introverts should also take the opportunity to participate in on-line discussion groups. Ask anyone who is active in a listserv and they will tell you that they get to know the personalities of their fellow participants just by reading their posts. More importantly, they develop trust in their colleagues and refer business to them. This is where an introverted lawyer can shine because often your strengths lie in deliberation and thoughtfulness (as opposed to your extroverted cousins, like me, who think while speaking, which occasionally has unintended consequences).

You can read the rest here.


March 29, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Yet another attorney chastised by judge for "garbled" court filings

This time it was an attorney representing himself in front of the D.C. federal district court. The fact that the litigant was a Harvard Law grad appears to have contributed to the judge's ire as  noted in her decision:

Despite the fact that plaintiff is a 1989 graduate of Harvard Law School, his Amended Complaint is complex, garbled, and accompanied by hundreds of 'exhibits,' which appear to have been assembled in no particular order.

Here's more from the Blog of the Legal Times:

[On Friday, March 25, 2011], U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle dismissed a suit filed by New York attorney Brud Rossmann. Rossmann, who lives in Washington as well as New York, sued Chase Home Finance LLC in October in Washington federal court, claiming the lender misapplied payments he made toward a property he had bought in Virginia.

Noting that Rossmann graduated from Harvard Law School in 1989, Huvelle chastised him for filing a complaint that was “complex, garbled, and accompanied by hundreds of 'exhibits,' which appear to have been assembled in no particular order.” One of these filings included a bill for veterinary services for the Labrador, Huvelle wrote in a footnote.

. . . .

As a practicing attorney, Huvelle wrote, he is held to a higher standard in how he pursues a claim than other pro se applicants who are not attorneys.

You can read Judge Huvelle's decision here and more commentary from the Blog of the Legal Times here.


March 29, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Top tips from the bench, bar and profs for writing a great appellate brief

Here's an article from the Vermont Bar Journal called Improving Your Appellate Briefs: The Best Advice from the Bench, Bar and Academy. From the introduction:

This article will distill the best available advice from practitioners, judges, and professors, respectively, about writing briefs. It will draw on my teaching and my brief-writing practice, and on the academic writing and practical experience of others, to offer instructional tips designed to improve all aspects of your appellate briefs. It may be most helpful for the practitioner who writes a brief infrequently and needs a comprehensive, yet concise, guide to brief writing. But it will also serve as a refresher for the lawyer who writes briefs regularly, yet has not consulted instructional materials on this subject since the early years of practice or a long-ago CLE seminar. Thus, both the bewildered novice and the grizzled veteran can benefit from this article.

You can read the rest here.


March 29, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

A “Checklist Manifesto” for Law Students

Jennifer Murphy Romig’s article “The Legal Writer’s Checklist Manifesto” was recently posted on SSRN and will be published in Vol. 8 of Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD.  It offers several points of advice to law students that can be adapted to legal writing and other tasks that our students will encounter.

She bases her article on Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (Metropolitan Books 2009) and demonstrates that Gawande's ideas are also applicable in the legal services industry.  She discusses the benefits of creating checklists specifially for legal writing  that should help students (and practicing lawyers) become better at organizing their legal writing projects.  She also discusses how a checklist model can help in the many group-based projects that are part of practicing law. 

It seems like a worthwhile exercise for our students. 



March 29, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

How to Manage Without Micromanaging

When you are serving as a manager, how do you avoid micromanaging those who are supposed to be doing the work or end up doing the work yourself? On the Harvard Business Journal blog, Linda Hill and Kent Lineback suggest the “prep-do-review” technique. Here is a brief summary: 

Prep: Start by previewing people's plans with them and suggesting changes, if necessary. You do this by asking crucial questions.

Do: Based on what you learned in the Prep stage, you can decide whether and how to be involved in the doing of the activity.

Review: Great managers make post-action review a regular practice for themselves and their people. You can make it the focus of a one-on-one after an activity has been completed.


March 29, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Libya or Shoplifting?

This is off topic.On March 28, Lawrence Kudlow of CNBC had to have been embarrassed.  President Obama has  just delivered an important speech about U.S. involvement in the Libyan crisis. Kudlow then conducted a  discussion with top commentators. Then, with apparent embarrassment, he told the audience that he had to end  the discussion so that CNBC could show a documentary on shoplifting—a somewhat  revamped version of a previous 60 Minutes episode.

 I remember when cable held the promise of a “wired nation” and national town meetings.  Life is full of disappointments.


March 29, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Writing tip: How to avoid those pesky comma splices

A comma splice occurs when the writer combines two sentences with a comma. Below are some examples from the Business Writing Blog as well as advice on how to fix them:

  • Thanks for your help, it's exactly what I needed.
  • I will see you on Friday, I'm looking forward to lunch.
  • These examples are great, thanks for sending them.
  • My interview is tomorrow, we'll see how it goes.

Each of those items is two sentences. Each item is incorrect according to all style guides. 

Why do intelligent people make the error? I think people worry that they will come across too informally or too plainly if they use such short sentences. They believe using 4-to-6-word sentences, especially two of them in a row, can't be professional. 

But two short, crisp, clear sentences in a row are professional and punchy.

Some people call the error a "comma splice," since the sentences are spliced incorrectly, using a comma. To correct the errors, replace each comma with a period (full stop). Or for a breezy tone, use a dash, like this:

  • Thanks for your help--it's exactly what I needed.
  • These examples are great--thanks for sending them.
  • My interview is tomorrow--we'll see how it goes.

This example works better with a period than a dash:

  • I will see you on Friday. I'm looking forward to lunch.

You can read the rest of Lynn Gaertner-Johnson's column here.


March 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

How Much Do Michigan Lawyers Make?

And how much do they charge? A study by the Michigan State Bar reveals all. The report breaks down the information in a number of categories:

I 2010 Attorney Income

Exhibit 1 2010 Estimated Attorney Income—Private Practitioners........................5

Exhibit 2 2010 Estimated Attorney Income—Non-Private Practitioners................6

II 2010 Attorney Hourly Billing Rates

Exhibit 3 2010 Attorney Hourly Billing Rates.........................................................7

Exhibit 4 2010 Attorney Hourly Billing Rates by Years in Practice........................7

Exhibit 5 2010 Attorney Hourly Billing Rates by Firm Size....................................8

Exhibit 6 2010 Attorney Hourly Billing Rates by Office Location...........................9

Exhibit 7 2010 Attorney Hourly Billing Rates by Field of Practice.......................10

Exhibit 8 2010 Attorney Hourly Billing Rates by Primary County of Practice......12

Exhibit 9 2010 Attorney Hourly Billing Rates by Primary Circuit of Practice........14 

Here’s the report.


March 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

One law student's defense of the Socratic teaching method

Here's a spirited argument from one law student in favor of retaining the tried and true Socratic method at a time when legal educators face increasing pressure to reform the law school curriculum in order to better prepare students for law practice. This student argues that the Socratic method is already the best preparation for practice.  From the Albany Government Law Review Fireplace:

The reality is that “‘[n]o one has ever died because of the Socratic method . . .” and the added pressure is pivotal in getting used to what the profession is all about. Thus, to disfavor a practice that has been respected for centuries, precisely because of its tenacity, would completely undermine the law school learning process and make it less rigorous. Another Harvard Law professor reiterates that pure lecturing (which it seems these students would prefer) would mean “the lecturer pumps laboriously into sieves. . . .It treats the student not as a man, but as a school boy reciting his lines.” Law school has a reputation for being so difficult because the professor is not going to hold the student’s hand from start to finish; it is presumed that students already have acquired the skills necessary to adapt to a new world of academia.  It would be entirely elementary to expect the professor of higher education to adapt to every student’s individual needs.

. . . .

Learning theory before practice, by means of the Socratic method, is at the hallmark of the intellectual tradition of legal education.  It makes the law school classroom the starting point, as the challenging forum that turns the fresh young minds of first year students into sophisticated and empowered practitioners of today.  If law school only taught practical tactics in lawyering, with no theoretical or philosophical premise to conceptualize the historical underpinnings of what the law is today, law students may as well earn an online degree and call it a day.

. . . .

Some legal scholars believe that just because the legal academic institution is hesitant to adopt “progressive” methods means that the Socratic method is “archaic” and devoid of any true significance. This belief is alarming.  The Socratic method has been used for over centuries and there is a reason for it: the risk of being questioned invokes classroom participation in such a vicarious way that it explores the strengths and weaknesses of the student’s legal arguments.  These students are more apt to learning legal analysis by actually doing it, cold, with questions thrown at them rapid fire, strengthening their oral dialogue. In essence, if a student finds the material to be so intellectually challenging that being questioned about it Socratically contributes to overtaxing psychological pressure, chances are, that student will have a hard time practicing law.  The reality? “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

You can read the rest here.

Hat tip to the Best Practices For Legal Education blog (which also includes a response to Ms. Carravetta's original post).


March 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Law firm sues over "fake" online review left by disgruntled ex-employee

The internet turns everyone into a potential critic and makes every business and service subject to the vagaries of consumer complaints. Law firms are no different as the story below, courtesy of the Texas Lawyer, makes clear. 

A small Texas firm, Weston & Associates, is suing a former paralegal who left negative feedback on which has allegedly cost the firm significant reputational and economic harm.

Bellaire lawyer Michael W. Weston and his firm, Weston & Associates, have filed a defamation suit alleging a 'false review' about the firm was posted online on They seek more than $1.25 million in damages.

Weston and his firm are suing a paralegal who formerly worked at Weston & Associates and a man who has her same last name. The plaintiffs allege in the petition filed March 3 in Harris County's 133rd District Court that the Nov. 22, 2010, 'fraudulent posting' on was accessible through a Google search. The further allege the review resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of lost business, because it was 'made public to thousands of potential clients since Nov. 22, 2010.' [See the petition.]

As alleged in the complaint, the "fake" review states:

'I went to this attorney on the recommendation of a friend. He had used the father for a bankruptcy. I would be using the son to help with debt settlement. I found him to be condescending to my situation and cold in demeanor. If you are looking for a factory that turns out debt settlements then this attorney is for you. If you want someone to answer your questions and help you through a hard time in your life then find another firm!!!!!!!'

Weston said he only recently found the negative review after doing a Google search for his firm. He said that his stomach dropped when he realized that the review had been online for several months resulting in an unknown quantum of negative publicity.

This is undoubtedly a situation that firms will face with increasing frequency moving forward.  You can read the rest of the story here.

Hat tip to the ABA Journal.


March 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Update: Academics Resuscitated at Texas?

An Update to our recent post. The Chair and three members of the Texas Board of Regents have written to alumni and others that “We respect (academic research). We embrace it. There has not been, nor will there be, an attempt to exclude research in how we value faculty.” To be continued.

 In my earlier post, I included an incorrect link to the letter from the chair of the Texas alumni organization. Unfortunately, I have lost the connection. Here is the most recent article from the Austin American Statesman covering the story.


March 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)