Thursday, July 12, 2018
Richard Arum, dean of the University of California-Irvine’s School of Education and co-author of 2011's blockbuster Academically Adrift, says that U.S. undergraduate education is "failing and declining" because students are not studying nearly enough. He cites several studies that show students are spending on average only 12-13 hours per week prepping for classes which is about half of what students used to spend in 1960 by way of comparison. And a third of college students spend less than an hour studying per day. Yikes. Dean Arum lays part of the blame at faculty for failing to sufficiently inspire students.
Why does this matter to readers of this blog? Because legal educators should be concerned about the studying habits of incoming law students at a time when bar pass rates are hitting all time lows (here, here and here). If the trend identified by Dean Arum holds, it does not portend well for law schools. Check out more of Dean Arum's remarks here via TimesHigherEducation.com (signing up for a free subscription may be required). In the meantime, an excerpt:
Leading sociologist says that universities’ failure to enthuse students is to blame for low levels of study outside the classroom
Undergraduate education is “declining and failing” in US universities because students are not studying enough outside the classroom, an influential educationalist has claimed.
Speaking at Times Higher Education’s inaugural Teaching Excellence Summit, Richard Arum, dean of the University of California, Irvine’s School of Education, blamed falling levels of independent study by students on institutions, stating that they are failing to enthuse students to study or inspire them to prepare for lectures and seminars.
Professor Arum – co-author of the controversial 2011 book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, which sparked worldwide debate on the quality of university learning outcomes – told delegates at the University of Glasgow that recent studies showed that US undergraduates were studying for just 12 to 13 hours a week on average in 2016. This is roughly half the level in 1960, when students committed an average of about 25 hours a week to independent study.
“A third of college students say they spend less than an hour studying alone a day,” said Professor Arum, who underlined that the “academic engagement of students is very low."
. . . .
Continue reading here.
Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Professor Deborah Merritt has posted her third article on the case method on the Law School Cafe. In this article, she questions how well students are taught to read cases. She bases her article on a study that concludes that law students rate poorly at case reading skills.
"Student performance in the Evensen study was distinctly mediocre. On average, first-semester law students answered just eight out of fourteen questions (57%) correctly; second-semester students fared no better. Nor did case-reading skills improve after the first year: Students in the third and sixth semesters of law school continued to average less than 60% on this test of case-reading skills. As Evensen and her colleagues concluded, 'it looks as though our students’ case-reading abilities need attention.'"
She concludes, "Despite any caveats, the results of the Evensen study are alarming. The ability to read cases is a basic skill that all law schools purport to teach: We devote a considerable portion of the curriculum to reading and analyzing cases. Yet the average student in the Evensen study reached only a basic level of case reading proficiency–and failed to improve over three years of law school." She also notes, "Other studies, unfortunately, suggest that law schools fall short in teaching other types of critical thinking." She adds, "If this type of mediocrity marks contemporary legal education, we need to know that–and we have to figure out ways to improve. Law schools will not serve clients–or continue to attract students–if we don’t live up to our claim of teaching students how to 'think like a lawyer.'"
I heard one of the authors of the study speak at a conference over ten years ago. What troubled me the most from his presentation was that law students do very poorly at synthesizing cases. This skill wasn't widely taught at the time of the conference, and it still isn't today. Law professors need to teach case synthesis in every first-year class so that law students become proficient in this skill.
At least in certain practice areas. From HartfordBusiness.com:
Ryan Powell is among thousands of recent law graduates studying for July's multistate bar exam, but like many other Connecticut pupils, he isn't worried about finding a job.
That's because Powell, 26, has already accepted an employment offer from Goldberg Segalla, a corporate law firm located in downtown Hartford. And he's not alone. Of the 153 students who recently graduated from UConn's Hartford law school, about 115 pupils (or 77 percent) said they landed a job by commencement.
Industry experts say the legal job market for recent grads has stabilized and begun to rebound in certain practice areas over the last two years after suffering a blow during and following the Great Recession. Consequently, Connecticut's three law schools are reporting high rates of student employment following graduation.
Some larger firms have been expanding and looking to recruit more diverse candidates to meet client needs, says Michael Menapace, new president of the 1,800-member Hartford County Bar Association. Firms are looking to recruit, hire and retain more diverse junior associates than ever before, he says.
"Because clients are demanding better diversity … firms are responding," Menapace said. "Attracting and retaining them is a big issue amongst law firms right now."
Graduates are also fortunate that firms are adding lawyers to accommodate growing practice areas such as cybersecurity, data protection, labor, employment, employee retirement and health care, said Menapace, who is also a Quinnipiac law professor and parter of Wiggin and Dana LLP.
Still, smaller firms in Connecticut aren't growing as fast due to the state's limp economy, he said.
. . . .
Continue reading here.
Monday, July 9, 2018
Professor Deborah Merritt is writing several posts on how law schools teach first-year law students. As I mentioned last week, she is very critical of the case method.
Her second post (here) is on Quimbee, an online service that contains an extensive database of canned case briefs for law students.
Professor Merritt notes that many law students probably use Quimbee's canned briefs. This is frightening to me. Case analysis is a cognitive fundamental for lawyers. If students take a short cut by using canned briefs, they will not be able to do more complicated skills effectively.
She writes, "But case reading is not an all-or-nothing skill. It is like playing an instrument: you get better if you practice. Students who read judicial opinions throughout law school almost certainly read opinions more effectively than those who rely upon Quimbee."
She adds, "Even more worrisome, case briefs and other study aids shortcut the critical thinking skills that the case method was designed to teach. It’s much harder to read a judicial opinion than a case brief–and that’s the point. Law schools have relied on the case method to teach students careful, critical reading; analogical reasoning; and the recognition of patterns that lurk below a court’s language. Students learn some of those skills by reading case briefs and following class discussion, but they don’t sharpen those skills as much as professors believe."
Who is to blame for this? "It’s easy to blame “lazy” students or “profit-hungry” publishers for this state of affairs, but the fault lies with legal educators. We’ve rarely tested students in a way that rewards actual case analysis. Nor have we kept up with the times."
I will continue to comment on Professor Merritt's posts as she posts new ones.
Sunday, July 8, 2018
If you're part masochist who'd like to vicariously relive the stress, anxiety and sleep deprivation associated with the final weeks of bar prep, then be sure to check out this story from Law.com that collects several posts from the Twittersphere in which recent law grads studying for the exam vent. It's a good reminder that no matter how lousy your summer may be going, at least you don't have to deal with that again.
Saturday, July 7, 2018
The Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly report released yesterday (Friday) shows that the legal sector got a significant bump in June by adding 4,800 jobs. The BLS also revised (as it often does after more data comes in) the job report for May which had originally shown a net loss of 200 jobs but now reflects a gain of 300. The monthly BLS legal sector job reports include multiple job categories within the legal services industry like paralegal and legal secretary in addition to lawyers. You can check out the raw data from BLS's June report here (scroll down to "legal services" under the category "Professional and Business Services"). The National Law Journal has a detailed summary here.
Friday, July 6, 2018
These are mostly common sense (i.e. do your most important studying during the part of the day when you're at your best, eliminate distractions while studying, take breaks, etc.). Nonetheless, it's always worth repeating and emphasizing the basics of a good study routine (though I disagree with the part about leaning on your particular learning style since, as we've written about before (here, here and here), there's no evidence to support that theory).
Anyway, for our student readers or for profs who's like to pass this along to their students in the home-stretch of bar prep, here you go.
Tuesday, July 3, 2018
Apropos to this July 4th holiday week, the University of South Carolina School of Law just opened a new legal clinic to provide free legal services to veterans. Law students will get a chance to practice advising clients on a number of issues pertinent to veterans including estate planning, accessing benefits and family law practice. Experiential learning whilst doing good. Bravo.
And Happy July 4th to our readers.
The Strange Case of the Case Method by Deborah Jones Merritt.
"I doubt that the method ever achieved as much as it claims, except perhaps for the highest achieving students in a classroom. Today, the method has been quietly subverted to accomplish primarily the fifth goal: instructing students on doctrinal principles. Law schools stake their value on teaching the other four cognitive skills listed above, but we deliver less of that learning than we believe."
Monday, July 2, 2018
Do you know about "spaced retrieval practice" to help students improve long term learning and exam performance?
This advice comes from an influential research study published back in 2013 in the Educational Psychology Review which I was recently reminded of via the Twitter feed of cognitive science professor Daniel Willingham. The resulting article is called The Power of Successive Relearning: Improving Performance on Course Exams and Long-Term Retention. It suggests a student study and testing strategy that combines the following techniques for improved retention and exam performance:
- Making meaningful connections for students between the new material being learned and the concepts they already know.
- Have students engage in retrieval practice - to maintain the information and make it accessible, learners should practice by attempting to recall that information.
- Allow for "spaced practice" - to make the practice effortful and effective, distribute student practice repetitions over time.
Researchers call their technique "Spaced Retrieval Practice" and it consists of having students both practice learning the material over carefully spaced intervals and well as practice retrieving it via testing or similar techniques also at spaced intervals. The study found that students who both engaged in repeated practice and retrieval performed better on exams than those who merely engaged in repeated practice or studied their own way. The spacing of the practice and retrieval opportunities seems to be key insofar as it requires more effortful engagement with the material on the part of students which leads to longer lasting retention and learning.