Thursday, April 26, 2018

An Open Letter to Florida Law Dean Laura A. Rosenbury

Dear Dean Rosenbury,

I read your comments concerning The University of Florida Levin College of Law's problems on the February Florida bar.  [From Daily Business Review, "The University of Florida Levin College of Law, for instance, came in last on the February exam with a 31.8 percent success rate. A statement attributed to its dean, Laura A. Rosenbury, called the “shocking” results “a clear wake-up call.” “The results are utterly unacceptable given the caliber of our students and the quality of their education,” according to the email. “The efforts we undertook prior to the February bar exam were clearly insufficient. We will be increasing the support we provide to the students taking the July 2018 bar exam. We have a long tradition at UF Law of respecting our students’ autonomy and control over the courses they take. Given these shocking and disheartening results, we are rethinking this approach and doubling down on our intervention strategy.”]  Below are my suggestions on how to improve your bar passage rate.

You don't have to reinvent the wheel to improve your bar passage rate.  There is plenty of research out there on how to improve law student performance.  In addition, law professors have written many casebooks and texts that reflect the new learning on legal education.

As FIU Dean Tawia Ansah declared, “You can take really good bar-prep courses … but if the leadup to that isn’t sufficient, it’s going to show up in the results.”  More specifically, educational research has demonstrated that you need active learning during all three years of law school, including the use of problem-solving exercises and frequent formative assessment, especially in the first year.   Law schools also need to help students improve their metacognitive skills.  Students particularly need to change their study skills.  For example, pacing learning throughout the semester and self-testing instead of just rereading help both retention of knowledge and the ability to use that knowledge.  I have discussed active learning and metacognition in depth in my article How to Help Students from Disadvantaged Backgrounds Succeed in Law School , 1 Texas A & M Law Review 83 (2013).  Moreover, Louis Schulze has written an article about the academic success program at Florida International University (here).  Not only will the above techniques help you improve your bar pass rate, they will help you turn out more effective lawyers who are self-directed learners.

There are many books on teaching in general.  I highly recommend Susan A. Ambrose, How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (2010).  Every law professor should read this book.

Establishing a more effective teaching program is not as hard as it sounds because numerous authors have written casebooks and other texts for this purpose.  Foremost among these is the Context and Practice Series from Carolina Academic Press.  The books in this series are casebooks, which provide opportunities for feedback, problem-solving exercises, self-directed learning strategies, and materials on professional development.  CAP also has a Skills & Values Series, which professors can use as a skills supplement to their favorite casebook.  Wolters Kluwer has developed The Law Simulation Series, and West Academic has four series to help students develop skills.  (here)

Law schools can give their students a head start by having them read books that develop their foundational cognitive skills during the summer before law school.  I have written two books for this purpose: Developing Your Professional Identity: Creating Your Inner Lawyer (2015) and Think Like a Lawyer: Legal Reasoning for Law Students and Business Professionals (2014).   My book A Companion to Torts: How to Think Like a Torts Lawyer (2015) helps students develop legal reasoning and problem-solving skills within a torts context.

Best of luck with improving your bar pass rate.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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Thank you, Scott, for your wise and encouraging comments. Indeed, decades ago, in the shadows of doubt cast by others, I initiated formative assessment to supplement the problem-solving approach I have always used in teaching. Students like it. It works. But it also requires much work. Yet it's most helpful to the professor, because it lets us know what the class has grasped and lets us adjust focus in response to how students respond. And, yes, it's fun.

Posted by: James Edward Maule | Apr 27, 2018 5:57:12 AM

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