Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Professor Ben Barros is starting a series of posts on reconsidering the conventional wisdom on the legal job market on the Faculty Lounge, using his law school, Widener-Harrisburg, as the study sample. You can find the entire series here.
In his first post, Professor Barros reconsidered the conventional wisdom that "recent graduates are getting law jobs at distressingly low levels." This wisdom is based on the claim that "The nine month data show that only X% of graduates of a particular class got legal jobs. Therefore, only X% of that class ever got legal jobs." The problem with this assumption should be obvious. Professor Barros declared, "Nine month data, however, simply does not tell the whole story of the employment outcomes for any particular graduating class. The timing of the bar exam is part of the story here. So is, I think, the economy." His conclusion was "that many of my former students were getting good jobs, but it was taking some of them longer than it had in the past to get these jobs because of the poor economy."
An interesting point. Are most law school graduates who do not have a job nine months after graduation among the long-term unemployed, or, as Barros's study suggests, are they just taking longer to obtain jobs. If Barros is correct, then it will affect how we deal with the law school graduate employment problem.
Bloomberg Law has put together a nice compilation video from last week's ABA task force meeting at Indiana University. Many of the panelists make some pretty alarming and scary predictions about the near term future of legal education. The blog rethinc.k has pulled out some of the better conference sound bites which are published below. Better yet, watch the full video which is only six minutes or so to get the full impact of what the expects think we're facing in the next several months.
“If there’s anyway this task force could put U.S. News out of business, I would urge it to do so.” Gary Roberts, Dean Indiana University McKinnly School of Law
“To say that law schools are forced to behave a certain way because of U.S. News, I think shirks your own moral obligation. It’s out there because there was a public consumer need for that.” Rebecca Berch, Chief Justice, Arizona Supreme Court
“I would strongly favor a two-year option in law school.” Jon Streeter, Immediate Past President, California State Bar
“Every aspect of the economy is expected to use technology to be more cost effective. In other words, using fewer people to accomplish the same result. Education in general, in particular higher education, seems to be highly resistent to this.” Thomas W. Lyons III, Partner, Strauss, Factor, Laing & Lyons
The Spring 2013 issue of “The Law Teacher” is out. It’s the publication of the well-regarded Institute for Law Teaching and Learning. Here’s the table of contents:
Remember the Water Buffalo........................... 1
Book Review: David Nadvorney and Deborah
Zalesne, Teaching to Every Student:
Explicitly Integrating Skills and Theory
in the Contracts Class.................................. 3
Old Professor Tricks............................................. 4
The Supreme Court Conference Room:
Legal Writing as Legal Process.......................... 5
Infusing Ethics into the Legal Writing
Curriculum—and Beyond.............................. 7
Book Review: How Children Succeed:
Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of
It’s OK to Leave Law School............................. 10
Crossword Puzzle................................................ 11
Eliminating the Blackacre Opportunity Cost:
Using Real-World “Targeted Fact
Environments” in First-Year
LR&W Courses.................................................... 13
Reflection, Reality, and a Real Audience: Ideas
from the Clinic..................................................... 15
Beyond the Legal Classroom: Leveraging
Major Local Events to Engage Students and
Further an Interdisciplinary Approach to the
Study of Law................................................... 17
Teaching Statute Reading Basics in a First Year
Doctrinal Course: A Handout and Suggested
Classroom Exercises....................................... 18
Law School Communities “Saving Social
Security”— Imparting the Intangibles of
Practice Readiness.......................................... 21
Report from South Korea: My Experience
Teaching Law Students at Seoul National
Passion is Necessary, Compassion is Priceless:
A Message to the Clinical Law Student..... 25
Introducing Students to Free On-line Legal
Research Resources: An Interactive Class..... 26
Happily Ever After: Providing Students With
Epilogues for Cautionary Tales................... 28
Developing Classroom Authenticity: “Big
Talk” Format.................................................... 29
Adding a Standardized Assessment Exercise to
the Legal Writing Toolbox............................ 31
On the Importance of Subtle Distinctions: A
Short Exercise in Close Reading and Critical
Blogging: Reflection Spurs
Students Forward........................................... 34
Classroom Justice: Beyond Paper-Chase
Monday, April 29, 2013
This short article by Shawn Nevers, a law librarian at BYU, appearing in the current edition of the ABA Student Law Journal exhorts readers to take a course in advanced legal research before they graduate. You'll find no argument with that here.
Most law schools offer some sort of advanced or specialized legal research course as an elective. Take it! Take it even if you don’t love legal research. Especially take it if you’re not good at legal research. You will soon be doing research on someone else’s dime. Why not get ready for it?
Most, if not all, advanced legal research classes are taught by law librarians. They are expert researchers who know about the latest legal resources and can teach you a lot about the legal research process. You’ll also get the chance to do a lot of research, which is critical to becoming a good researcher. If you don’t practice researching now, you’ll be doing it at your job, which is where you’d be better off impressing than learning.
Abraham Lincoln’s quip about a book he read could easily be applied to legal research—“People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.” The truth is, however, that whether you like it or not, legal research is a critical part of lawyering. Don’t underestimate its importance.
If you're a law student, be sure to check out the rest of Mr. Nevers legal research tips and advice here.
According to a recent poll by Brian Leiter (April 18), they are (in top to bottom order):
1. Consumer Law
2. Energy Law/Natural Resources Law/Water Law
3. Employment Law
4. Alternative Dispute Resolution
5. Immigration Law
6. Family Law
7. Insurance Law
8. Comparative Law
9. Elder Law
10. Wills, Trusts & Estates
Dean Nancy Rapoport has just posted an article on SSRN that compares lying to U.S. News to the Enron case.
Abstract: "This essay suggests that lying about the numbers that schools report to US News is no better than the lying that Enron did about its various methods of 'earnings management.' It also suggests that administrators - being humans - can talk themselves into lying about the numbers for all sorts of (very bad) reasons."
"With so many examples of 'schools gone wild,' it’s difficult for law deans and law faculties to tell their students that lawyers shouldn’t lie. The law schools that have misstated their stats are sending the message that lawyers shouldn’t lie, unless: (1) lying will make their lives easier; (2) verifying the facts is too much trouble; or (3) the likelihood of getting caught—and punished—is low. That’s not the message that we should be sending. So why do law schools misrepresent their stats to U.S. News?"
"But what I want to discuss is the ease with which people can find themselves caught in a lie and how our lies affect what we’re trying to teach our law students."
"Cognitive dissonance (the subconscious rationalization of two competing moral views) is easy to spot in fudging the rankings. Someone who thinks of herself as honest and who still, say, plays with her school’s placement figures to make them look better than they really are is subconsciously justifying her 'creativity' by deciding that U.S. News’s questions are so bogus that she shouldn’t have to take them seriously. If she’s not sure that her answers are accurate, she can always assume that someone else will catch her mistake (diffusion of authority). She can reason that, because other schools are hiding their bad placement numbers by hiring their own graduates, her school should do the same (social pressure). When schools let the U.S. News rankings drive their own admissions decisions (e.g., preferring LSATs over work experienceor "striving") or scholarship awards (buying higher LSATs with full rides plus stipends)—or when schools set the size of their entering classes and transfers solely to keep their LSATs and UGPAs high—those decisions are all perfect examples of anchoring bias (letting the rankings drive all other decisions)."
"When we lie, we’re telling our students and alumni that it’s ok for them to lie, too."
"'Rankings management' just reminds me too much of the 'earnings management' that I followed when I devoured every news article out there about the Enron scandal. I know that Enron is ancient history by now to most people. It’s not ancient history to me and to many of my friends who lived through the experience in Houston, in Portland, and elsewhere. But one key factor of Enron’s collapse strikes me as relevant today."
"But cheating at the rankings also imprints a school’s students and graduates. The same administration that is stressing adherence to an honor code and the importance of professionalism and ethics may be the one 'construing' its answers and developing very delicate loopholes. Bad LSATs? Move those students to the part-time program! Part-time program LSATs now being counted in the rankings? Cut the entering class and admit lots of transfers! Placement low? Hire graduates as research assistants, unless they’re not good enough to do that type of work (in which case, hire them to do filing)!"
"But it’s also important for us to remember that we—administrators and law professors—are modeling the behavior that we want our students to adopt. Whether we like it or not, we’re role models. Therefore, what we’re actually teaching our students when we fudge is that a zealous advocate stops at nothing to achieve her client’s objectives, even when those objectives aren’t very worthwhile. Once we teach our students that, we’ve created another generation of liars. No ranking is worth that."
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Bill Henderson has an insightful post on legal education reform, inspired by the recent ABA Taskforce on the Future of Legal Education meeting.
He writes, "These programs are laudable and, from an institutional perspective, necessary. But will an ABA taskforce, or AALS, LSAC, or some other industry group taskforce produce substantial change? History suggests that the answer is no and that, instead, meaningful change will come from the bottom up rather than the top down. Change will occur at the bottom from either the desire to survive or the opportunity to do something great. Other similarly situated institutions that feel less urgency or inspiration will eventually perish. It is just that simple.
The accreditation system we have created is an anachronism. But if we think the ABA Standards are holding back the forces of innovation in legal education, we are kidding ourselves. Any law school or law professor who wants a better way can have one -- we are all like Dorothy and her red slippers in the Wizard of Oz: we have had the power all along (credit to Paul Lippe, who cracked this line the other day.)"
He mentions the privilege that law professors enjoy, then he notes. "But the fact is we need to justify that privilege through our behavior; otherwise, just like now, we become vulnerable." He adds, "Reform in legal education is not a light switch. It is mindset that affects how we spend our time and who we spend it with."
He concludes, "If we want reform, well, let's work on it and actually get something done that will inspire others. Eventually it will take hold and take off, with or without changes to the ABA governing standards." You can read the rest of the article here.
Professor Henderson is correct. If we are going to change legal education, we will mainly have to do it on an individual-by-individual basis. In other words, we need to make the changes in our individual classes. We need to add problem-solving exercises to our classes, to teach our students metacognitive thinking (here), to give frequent formative assessments, to give writing assignments to our students, etc. In sum, law professors need to change their mindset for legal education.
Fastcase, a commercial legal research tool offered free with membership in many state bar associations, has just improved its citator - known as Authority Check - by offering a feature that tells you whether your case has received any negative, later case treatment. Known as Bad Law Bot, it uses algorithms to find negative citation history for your case. Bad Law Bot then flags those negative decisions and provides you with the links to the cases. Click here to see several screen shots that illustrate how it works or check out the video below for a more detailed explanation from Fastcase CEO Ed Walters.
Hat tip to the Law Librarian blog.
Other influential states may be getting ready to follow New York’s lead and require bar candidates to first complete hours of pro bono service. From the National Law Journal (excerpts):
It's been nearly a year since the New York State court system announced its first-of-its-kind 50-hour pro bono requirement for new attorneys. No state has followed suit yet, but that may soon change. Leaders of the State Bar of California are poised this fall to adopt a similar rule, while a task force of judges, legal educators and attorneys in New Jersey is weighing the merits. Any move by California could well have a ripple effect throughout the country.
Lippman announced New York's pro bono requirement in May 2012. Many applauded the move as a way to improve access to legal services for the poor and instill a sense of professional responsibility in new lawyers, but some criticized the rule for heaping additional responsibilities on already busy and financially strapped law students, and for placing a new training burden on legal service organizations.
Effective in 2015, every applicant to the New York State Bar Association must have completed 50 hours of pro bono legal work. Supervised work done in law school clinics and for nonprofit organizations, plus court clerkships or externships, will count toward the requirement.
The [California] task force recently unveiled a draft report containing three key recommendations: adoption of a 50-hour pro bono mandate; requiring new lawyers to complete either 15 credit hours involving practical skills or a six-month apprenticeship or clerkship after graduation; and requiring new lawyers to complete 10 hours of specially designed continuing legal education courses.
California's proposed pro bono mandate differs slightly from the New York rule in that new lawyers could fulfill the requirement either in law school or during their first year of practice.
Saturday, April 27, 2013
Nothing in this video report is news to anyone with even passing knowledge of the law school "crisis" though the graphic employed by Bloomberg Law drives home the point especially well. The data, which shows law school tuition has increased 1000% since 1985 while average salaries have been in decline since 2009, is based on the work of Professor Jerry Organ (St. Thomas) and his forthcoming article Reflections on the Decreasing Affordability of Legal Education which is available here on SSRN.
If you go to the Supreme Court and wear a jacket bearing a controversial slogan, can you be arrested? From the BLT blog:
The high court visitor, Fitzgerald Scott, was wearing a jacket painted with the words "Occupy Everywhere." The authorities determined the clothing, with its accompanying message, violated a federal law that restricts certain expressive activity inside the Supreme Court. Scott refused to remove the jacket. He was arrested.
Scott alleges in his suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that the authorities had no ground to arrest him. U.S. Justice Department lawyers said in February, in court papers seeking the dismissal of the case, that federal law prohibited the political message on Scott's jacket. Police had ample cause to ask Scott to remove the jacket or leave the building, according to DOJ.
Scott's attorney, Jeffrey Light, a Washington solo practitioner, this week responded to the government's effort to end the case. How to resolve the dispute? Light pointed to a 1971 case in which the high court reversed the conviction of a man who wore a jacket that said "F---k the Draft" inside a courthouse in Los Angeles.
Light called the Supreme Court ruling in Cohen v. California "well-known to any law school graduate." The decision, he said, was "widely celebrated as one of the most important and influential First Amendment cases of the modern era."
Friday, April 26, 2013
A number of law professors use Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail when they explore rhetoric with their students. As we observe the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable message, Sojourners magazine offers several articles that explore its context. You can access them here.
According to the American Lawyer, " The Am Law 100's modest gains hint that a fundamental recovery is taking root." The article states,
"In fiscal 2012, The Am Law 100 posted modest gains on our key metrics. For gross revenue, revenue per lawyer, and profits per partners, firms notched low single-digit year-over-year increases. But these averages belied the unevenness of the recovery. Only 76 firms reported gross revenue increases last year. And only 66 firms had profit per partner increases—down from 80 firms and 72 firms, respectively, on the previous year's Am Law 100 list."
In sum, "As a whole, The Am Law 100's revenue increased by 3.4 percent (or $2.43 billion) to $73.4 billion last year, a new record." You can read the rest of the article here.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Earlier this month, a New York appellate court affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by former students of New York Law School alleging the school had mislead them about their employment prospects based on inflated post-grad job data. And now another New York court has also tossed out a similar suit against Brooklyn Law School. The Wall Street Journal Law Blog has the details:
A New York state judge has rejected a lawsuit by five Brooklyn Law School graduates who claimed they were misled by the school regarding the success of its graduates in finding high-paying legal employment.
The graduates, who sought a refund of tuition and other damages for a class of graduates, claimed they were duped into believing that it would be easier than they realized to obtain legal employment. The case is one of several brought against law schools across the country regarding their representations about post-graduate employment.
In an opinion earlier this week, New York State Supreme Court Justice David J. Schmidt in Brooklyn noted the school’s own data was sufficient to “enable a reasonable person to determine that most graduates were earning modest incomes.”
The judge also found that the school’s disclaimers about its salary and employment data were sufficient to warn potential students from “using the information as a springboard from which to derive his or her own expected income.”
Jesse Strauss, the plaintiffs' lawyer who has brought similar lawsuits against several other law schools around the country, told the WSJLB that he is deciding whether to appeal. Brooklyn Law School was represented by Skadden in the matter.
Continue reading here.
Recently, the ALI-CLE blog offered several links to articles on the topic. You can access them here.
As a male parent, let me offer my own thoughts:
- Take as long a maternity leave as you can.
- Recognize that the parent-child bond may be far stronger than you ever anticipated and that you will be devoting more of your time to parenting than you expected. And recognize that you will need to (and want to) reorder your priorities.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
This is a pretty incredible program. The law firm, D.C.'s Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, will even reimburse non-lawyer staff members who seek to better themselves by pursuing an advanced degree. And the better your grades, the more the firm pays. Nice!
From the Washington Post:
For many prospective students, the decision to go to law school means taking on a hefty burden of debt.
But not for future attorneys at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, a law firm that specializes in patent and trademark work. Finnegan has a generous reimbursement program that covers 100 percent of staffers’ law school tuition.
To qualify for the reimbursement, employees must work as “student associates” while they attend law school. These positions are typically part time, and the firm bills clients at a lower rate for the work.
“I signed some checks for Harvard and Stanford in the past year that nearly made me choke,” joked Barbara McCurdy, managing partner. But “the benefit for us is that we attract really excellent talent.”
Erin Sommers is an associate at Finnegan’s Washington office who got her law degree from Georgetown University. She started at the firm as a technical specialist with no legal experience, but she eventually wanted to go back to school. The reimbursement program, she said, helped make that possible.
Continue reading here.
ABA Journal Question of the Week: Is the Socratic method and lecture-based classes the best way to teach law students?
The ABA Journal question of the week is Is the Socratic method and lecture-based classes the best way to teach law students? The article invites debate in the comments.
The answer according to Shailini Jandial George is that " law students would benefit from the use of more visual aids, visual exercises, and assessments of their work during class time." (here) I agree, as long as the visual aids focus the students on what is to be learned, not the visual aids.
This is the best response so far:
"Teaching law students exclusively with the Socratic method is like teaching doctors to only practice medicine on the dead. The practice is so much more than just 'thinking on your feet' and law firm busy work. I’m surprised more students haven’t staged a revolt. Their time in law school consists of nothing more than weekly lectures and an exam with no feedback yet they still have to take a bar prep course and don’t know how to prepare jury charges." RutgersLawGrad
Here is the report of the Chronicle of Higher Education on the current meeting of the ABA’s legal education task force. According to the Chronicle, the significant proposals are:
- Shortening law school from three years to two.
- Allowing law schools to rely more on distance education.
- Testing students on a series of competencies as they progress through law school and allowing those who reach a certain level to work as legal technicians.
I hope the Chronicle is wrong. We need proposals that are far more creative.
Today, many law schools hire VAPs—visiting assistant professors. In theory, the VAPs get some experience teaching courses and some learning about the law school culture. They also get time to finish the writing project that seems necessary to succeed in today’s job market. In return, the law schools get cheap labor and the ability to avoid hiring expensive full timers to teach the courses that the VAPs will be teaching. (I think this is a fair description).
In this economy, however, there are not many full time jobs waiting for the VAPs. Some VAPs move from school to school, hoping that next year they will get that wonderful job.
If my analysis is right, then something is wrong. One might argue that the VAPs know what the risks are. However, they may not fully understand the realities of the job market. Their hopes may cloud their judgment. The economy may also cloud the judgment of the law schools in perpetuating the VAP system. If I am wrong, please educate me.