Economic Value of a Legal Education

Readers may be interested in Populist Outrage, Reckless Empirics: A Review of Failing Law Schools, a recent blog post by Michael Simkovic & Frank McIntyre drawing on their article The Economic Value of a Law Degree .

Simkovic & McIntyre challenge the empirical analysis underlying Brian Tamanaha’s claim that legal education is no longer a good value given current law school tuition levels. They point out numerous ways in which Tamanaha’s argument rested on apples to oranges statistical comparisons, and note flaws in other studies he relied on.

Key conclusions: “[T]he value of a law degree typically exceeds its costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even at the twenty-fifth percentile, a law degree is typically a profitable investment. At current price levels, law degrees generally provide an attractive double-digit pretax rate of return.Legal education is profitable both for students and for the federal government as tax collector and lender.”

For me the most provocative idea in the post was one from Tamanaha — supported by Simkovic & McIntyre — that I hadn’t remembered: Law students are good enough loan repayment risks that law schools might consider providing loans directly to their students at lower interest rates than are currently available. A new best practice, perhaps?

The Task Force Speaks!

By: Margaret Martin Barry

I suspect that like many others in legal education, I turned to the final word from the Task Force on the Future of Legal Education with interest and hope.  After all, it has become the poster child for the growing crisis in higher education.  We recognize that there is high personal and public value in an educated populous.  That accounts for our investment in elementary and secondary education. However, unlike many of our Western counterparts, we limit our investment in higher education to loans, program-based grants and ever diminishing contributions to state schools.  What the report describes as the tension between the public and private value of legal education is not so much a tension between these two values as a lack of collective will to invest in our future through education.

This does not mean that higher education, including law schools, is off the hook with regard to  addressing costs.  There is evidence that law schools have gone to task in doing just this. However, it is unrealistic to look back to a day when law schools were less expensive and conclude failure if the earlier benchmark is illusive.  Higher education costs more today.  Similar to others in higher education, law students need and expect access to technology, high quality education that expands and refines their thinking and effectively prepares them for the work they hope to do, academic support, career support, and support for extracurricular activities that nourish their academic and professional development.  To produce this costs money.

Central to the production costs is having faculties that are dedicated to meeting educational needs, needs that are part of the public and private bundle of values the Task Force references.  While one may question the historic inflexibility of law school faculties in the face of critique of their educational priorities, I know I have, the inflexibility has been essentially born of a fundamental disagreement with regard to what constitutes high quality in legal education and priorities in maintaining that quality.

As the Task Force points out, the decibel level of criticism coupled with uncertainty about the market for legal services has induced a “climate receptive to change”.  Many law schools have engaged in cost cutting measures and curricular redesign.  Support for teaching is no longer limited to the broader support for scholarship, and the trajectory towards reduced teaching loads to support increased production of scholarship is halting, or at least being reconsidered.

Law schools and their faculties are also less certain that their task is sufficiently achieved if legal education is limited to the exercise of covering a body of doctrine and learning to think and write in a certain way.  Other skills that are part of the value a legal education should provide are making their way into the core goals for providing a quality legal education.  Slowly, the old dichotomy between what the 2007 Carnegie Report described as “knowledge” and the other competencies that a legal education suggests, which Carnegie referred to as “skills and values” is breaking down.  Yet the Task Force identifies dichotomy without recognizing its limited value or acknowledging its growing irrelevance:

“…[I]t is commonly stated that the basic purpose of law schools is to train lawyers, but there is no consensus about what this means.  It matters greatly whether, for example, one takes a view of lawyers as deliverers of technical services requiring a certain skill or expertise, or as persons who are broad-based problem solvers and societal leaders.”

Can one seriously deny that lawyers deliver technical services requiring not a certain skill but a range of them?   Are problem-solving and leadership skills somehow relegated to another strata that can be disaggregated from the professional role?  The Task Force goes on to correctly point out that a law school’s “views about purpose may not be reflected well in the curriculum”.  However, this is not because of such a narrow view of what lawyers do but a limited, though evolving, view about the extent of law school’s role in preparing them to do it.

To move law schools along the path of change, the Task Force speaks much about heterogeneity.  I certainly value diversity, but when it comes to what law schools should offer, there are considerations not specifically addressed by the Task Force that should be expressly understood before we get too far down the path.  Society, including the law student, has an interest in knowing that a graduate of a law school has a working foundation in the work that lawyers do.  We can discuss whether this expectation is realistic, whether indeed clinical legal education is the answer or post law apprenticeships are inevitable or legal education should train specialists instead of generalists, but legal education has for some time promised more than we produce.  Now that the cover provided by the law firms and agencies that provided post graduate training is eroding, the reality of the limitations of traditional legal education is more apparent.  Expansion of clinical offerings and outreach to the bar are manifestations of this recognition.

Connected to its assessment of the financial burden of law school, the Task Force speaks of the need for more limited training that would allow for greater service to those who cannot afford the debt laden lawyer.  It referenced the Limited License Legal Technician provisions that Washington State has been rolling out.  Limited licensing may well be inevitable for a variety of reasons, though without specific funding for the services they would provide, it may not do much more than what lawyers offering unbundled services and pro bono legal services are currently seeking to do for those unable to otherwise afford legal service.

The Task Force proposes several new entities within the ABA to address cost, debt burden and assessment and improvement of legal education.  It does not discuss where these entities should fit in relation to the existing Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.   However, it does goes on to list a number of Accreditation Standards and Interpretations of Standards that the Council of that section should “eliminate or substantially moderate”.   I believe it is fair to say that several have been under significant reevaluation for the past several years.  What I found of concern from a Task Force that took a year to produce its report is the fact that it listed the Standards and Interpretations without connecting their existence or elimination to goals for the quality of legal education, or even directly to cost reduction.

For example, while one might argue that the current detail in interpretations 402-1 and 402-2 are byzantine and not directly related to ratios in a given classroom, is it enough to say that a law school must have “a sufficient number of full-time faculty to fulfill the requirements of the Standards and meet the goals of its educational program”, which is what would be left if the interpretations are eliminated (something that is currently proposed by the Sections Standards Review Committee, by the way)?  Once we identify full-time faculty as a basis for developing a student faculty ratio, what do we do about administrators and those full-time teachers that a law school might not identify as faculty?  What benchmark do we have for enforcing this indicator of quality?  If we are responding to concerns about costs, should classes of 300 students be acceptable because it is cheaper and arguably meets educational goals that can be identified?

Similarly, if we throw out Standard 405, and 206(c) and 603, what are we saying about leadership in law schools?  Why, at the core, does higher education value security of position?  It has long been understood that such security attracts those who value legal education and want to dedicate themselves to the teaching, scholarship and service that is expected to maintain and improve law schools that have, for all the flaws identified and assessment in progress, managed to provide significant educational value.  The idea that tenure is dragging law schools down ignores not only the dedication of many law professors, but their ability to speak to the educational mission they serve instead of being ignored or dismissed by administrators who may be more focused on a bottom line than balancing the equally significant institutional purpose.

The report also spends time discussing generally the need for greater ability to innovate, suggesting that the ABA Standards inhibit heterogeneity.   While I agree that the variance process should be made more transparent and that successful innovations should lead to appropriate regulatory modifications, it is worth reminding ourselves that not that many schools have innovated within what is currently consistent with and arguably encouraged by the existing Standards, much less sought variances to go beyond them.  It may well be that far more than underscoring differences, we first need to be more certain than we are about what constitutes a sound legal education, at any institution.   The end result may not be as homogenous as the Task Force fears, but it should provide greater assurance of reliable preparation for the profession.

All this said, I am grateful to the Task Force for undertaking this project.  I know it reflects a lot of work over and above busy schedules.  Given the membership and some of the input entertained – indeed, given the waves of criticism that legal education is facing coupled with uncertainty about legal service market, I dared to hope for something more than additional committees, cursory comments on accreditation standards that have already been the source of significant discussion, and a call for law schools to reduce costs and other steps the vast majority are already undertaking.  Maybe the message is that there is nothing new to add, we will continue to mull it all over, propelled relentlessly by evolving markets and minimal public commitment to the value of higher education.

The Role of Tenure: The Virginia Experience

The AALS Presidential Workshop on Tomorrow’s Law Schools included a session on effective participation in faculty governance.  Much of the discussion centered around the summer 2012 kerfluffle in which the governing board of the Univ. of Virginia abruptly ousted University President Teresa Sullivan — and then rehired her after the faculty protested en masse.  Prof. George Cohen (chair of the faculty senate at the time, I gathered, having missed the introductions) acknowledged the importance of tenure in giving the university’s faculty the courage to speak up. He noted that lacking tenure the university’s administrators felt unable to do so.  I was struck by the importance of tenure to the privileged faculty at an elite university in such a situation.  Reinforces the impact of the stories from less privileged and more vulnerable faculty relayed in yesterday’s post by Mary Lynch from testimony presented on proposed changes to accreditation standard.

Is the declining law school enrollment bottoming out?

Some interesting analysis from the ABA journal:

….figures suggest that enrollments are coming closer to matching the Bureau of Labor Statistics job projections, which project that the economy can absorb about 22,000 new lawyers a year through the year 2020. That’s good for prospective students, he says, who will have more reason to think that a law degree will translate into the career they intended. The decline in enrollments also creates revenue pressures that will force law schools to look for ways to provide a more affordable legal education.

On the negative side, the enrollment figures are still 20 to 25 percent higher than the projected market for new jobs requiring or preferring a law degree, he says. And other data suggests that some schools are maintaining enrollments as high as they are by accepting students with lesser credentials, which could have negative long-term implications for the legal profession.

David Yellen, dean of Loyola University of Chicago School of Law, says while the figures are not surprising, it is “still kind of stunning” to think that law school enrollments have declined nearly 25 percent in three years. “The last time fewer than 40,000 students were enrolled in law school was in 1977,” he says.

Yellen also says that while he thinks 52,000 new law school enrollees a year is too many, we’re now at the point where we might want to ask whether the market correction has gone too far and is being driven as much by negative publicity as anything else (emphasis added).

However, new applications are projected to be down another 10 to 15 percent in the coming year, he says, “so we’re definitely not at the bottom of the cycle yet.”

The enrollment figures come from the questionnaires that ABA-approved law schools file annually with the section. Over the next several months, the section plans to publish more reports about the data, including school-specific information, which will also be posted on the statistics page of the section’s website.

Last updated Dec. 19 to include enrollment figures from 1975.

Law School Hybrid

December 18, 2013
By: Carl Straumsheim

William Mitchell College of Law has received approval from the American Bar Association to launch a part-time J.D. program that blends face-to-face instruction with online courses. Although the hybrid program marks the first of its kind, experts are split on whether it marks an experiment or a turning point for how legal education is delivered in the U.S.

The four-year part-time program, meant for students whose location or work commitments prevent them for pursuing a legal education full-time, will mix recorded lectures and quizzes with video conferences and online discussion forums when it launches in January 2015. Students will also be required to complete externships and attend weeklong on-campus simulations at the end of each semester to practice their legal skills. Mitchell’s Board of Trustees approved the program Tuesday night.

“Our message is that this is not an online J.D. degree,” said Eric S. Janus, president and dean of the college. “This is a J.D. degree that has very substantial and rigorous face-to-face components that I think are going to be designed in a unique way to help people become more prepared to practice law.”

Online education and accreditation from the American Bar Association rarely mix. Although fully online law programs exist without ABA approval, institutions that seek accreditation need to tailor their programs to a set of standards that have been in effect since 2002. The program itself needs to consist of at least 83 credits — Mitchell’s hybrid program clears that hurdle exactly — but no more than 12 can be granted from pure distance education. Of the remaining credits, one-third of the coursework can also be completed remotely. As an added twist, programs can offer only four credits of distance learning per semester.

Barry Currier, managing director of the ABA’s legal education section, said the four-credits-per-semester rule may have discouraged law schools from experimenting with hybrid programs. He also pointed out that few law schools seem to be aware of or interested in developing programs that take advantage of those regulations.

“Maybe they think their students won’t like it?” said Currier, previously dean of the online Concord Law School of Kaplan University, which after clashing with the ABA decided not to seek its approval. “Maybe they think employers won’t be interested in students that went to a school that was one-third blended?”

For many law schools, the requirements regulating distance education have been been viewed as “insurmountable,” said Simon Canick, associate dean of information resources at Mitchell. “I think a lot of law schools also use the existing ABA standards as a reason to not push the envelope,” he added.

To receive approval for its hybrid program, Mitchell submitted a variance request that exempts the program from the requirements — under certain conditions. The college must enroll no more than 96 students per year, assess the program on an annual basis and report its findings to the ABA. The college also had to waive its right to confidentiality to help other law schools learn from its experiences.

“I see this as a first step for the ABA to be welcoming of innovation,” Janus said.

Variance requests represent another untapped opportunity for law schools to experiment with new forms of legal education, Currier said. “The ABA has not gone around and said ‘Oh please, please, please submit a variance request,’ ” he said. “It is not the case that there are dozens of requests for variances about distance learning that have been turned down. Maybe the perception is they would have been turned down.”

If the experiments prove successful, however, they could guide the ABA to revise its own standards, Currier said.

The approval of the hybrid J.D. program can also be seen as the ABA responding to those who have called for law school reform — a group that includes President Obama, a graduate of Harvard Law School. The ABA last year launched a Task Force on the Future of Legal Education, which concluded the organization’s own policies was stymieing innovation.

“The current procedures under which schools can seek to vary from ABA Standards in order to pursue experiments are narrow and confidential,” the task force reported in September.

Mitchell submitted its variance request in July, and Canick said the college benefited from the timing of the task force’s report.

“I think the ABA faces some significant pressure externally to innovate and allow innovation,” Canick said. “Here comes this proposal that’s really good. I think they were eager to show they were going to embrace innovation.”

Mitchell, an independent law school located on one block in the residential Summit Hill neighborhood of St. Paul, Minn., may not seem like a hotbed of legal education reform. Like many law schools, the college has seen its enrollment shrink over the past few years. About 240 students enrolled this fall, down from about 260 the year before and about 300 two years ago.

“We’re doing fine, comparatively speaking,” Janus said. “I do think that part of the message is that law schools have to add value, and the programs they offer need to be meaningful and accessible to the people who want to study law. This is not a response to declining enrollment.”

The online option instead represents a third track and a nod to the college’s history, Janus said. Mitchell was founded in 1900 as St. Paul College of Law, a night school catering to the same type of students who would consider an online education. The college added a full-time option in the ’70s.

Aside from the mode of delivery, the three tracks are fairly similar. Applicants for the hybrid program won’t see more lenient admissions requirements or tuition savings, for example. “We understand that the blended learning is not for everybody, but it will meet — we think — the needs of a group of people,” Janus said.

The law school has for years offered about a dozen blended and online courses, and plans for a fully hybrid J.D. program have been in the works since 2009. Currier said the the decision to approve the request was a result of the strength of Mitchell’s application, not external pressure.

“What the council saw was that this was a school that has a long history of part-time legal education and a long history of serving students who are a little more nontraditional in terms of age and working experience than many law schools,” Currier said. “I think it’s safe to say something like this has never been approved before.”

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/12/18/american-bar-association-approves-experimental-hybrid-jd-program#ixzz2nryuK8wt
Inside Higher Ed

Congratulations UNM and Editors of the proposed new Best Practices Book!

This weekend, the University of New Mexico hosted a workshop BEST PRACTICES IN LEGAL EDUCATION: The Walls Are Coming Down” in which draft chapters of a new “Best Practices” book were reviewed and discussed.  The proposal to create a second book focused on best practices in legal education is the brainchild of Professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, ably assisted by Professors Deborah Maranville, , Carolyn Kaas and Lisa Bliss. The symposium workshop brought together law professors from throughout the country interested in how legal education and the world of law schools has changed since the publication of the 2007 book Best Practices in Legal Education. Facilitated by Professors Beryl Blaustone and Alex Scherr, the conference explored how many law professors fluidly move from former silos of clinical, legal writing, lawyering, librarian, doctrinal, theory, or skills concentrations to pioneer a new kind of curriculum, better prepare students for the profession, explore the limits and usefulness of technology, and deepen the understanding and learning of law students through self-improving assessment processes.

Fully cognizant of the pressures on legal educators, the fact that not all in legal education welcome the need to change, and the moral imperative to address the concerns of debt-ridden unemployed law students, the authors, editors, advisory board members and readers reviewed challenges, cross-cutting themes and areas of promise. They engaged in innovative thinking about how to move legal education forward for the good of the profession, society and the students who desire to be lawyers of tomorrow. The keynote speaker for the Friday night dinner and author of the first book, Professor Roy Stuckey, directed the participants’ attention to what legal education should look like in 2027. At the same time, he reminded us that those seeking to improve legal education today stand on the shoulders of folks such as the honorable Rosalie Wahl and former ABA president Bob MacCrate who paved the way for the changes we have seen in the last 40 years. He recalled their joint mission to prepare “agents for justice in our communities.”

Every law graduate needs to understand fully that civic professional role of the lawyer. And every admittee to the bar has a sworn duty to improve our system of and access to justice. Returning to those principles can help prioritize our cost-cutting and can position us to move forward in the best interests of our students, our institutions and the society our profession is pledged to serve.

ABA COUNCIL CALLS FOR NOTICE AND COMMENT ON PROPOSED CHANGES TO LEGAL EDUCATION

The ABA Council on Legal Education posted for Notice and Comment significant changes to the accreditation standards relating to the program of legal education, mandatory institution of an outcomes and assessment regime, and the status of and retention of faculty. Many of these proposed changes have been discussed in earlier posts in this BLOG for going on four years. I have copied here the memorandum discussing the notice and comment. WHAT SAY OUR READERS???

MEMORANDUM

TO: Interested Persons and Entities

FROM: The Hon. Solomon Oliver, Jr., Council Chairperson
Barry A. Currier, Managing Director of Accreditation and Legal Education

DATE: September 6, 2013

SUBJECT: Comprehensive Review of the ABA Standards for Approval of Law School Matters for Notice and Comment

At its meeting held on August 8-9, 2013, the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar approved for Notice and Comment proposed revisions to Chapter 1 [General Purposes and Practices], Chapter 3 [Program of Legal Education], Chapter 4 [The Faculty], Standard 203(b) [Dean], and Standard 603(d) [Director of the Law Library] of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools.

The Standards Review Committee of the Section has been conducting a comprehensive review of the Standards. As part of that review, the Committee considered multiple drafts and received informal comments from many interested persons and entities.

The proposed revisions and accompanying explanations are attached below and published on the Section’s website:

http://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/notice_and_comment.html.

We solicit and encourage written comments on the proposed changes by letter or e-mail. Written comments should be submitted no later than Friday, January 31, 2014.

Hearings on these proposed changes are scheduled for October 2013 and February 2014 (details below). Both hearings will be held at the American Bar Association, 321 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60654.

October 21-22, 2013
Monday, October 21st, 1 p.m.
Tuesday, October 22nd, 9 a.m.

February 5-6, 2014
Wednesday, February 5th, 1 p.m.
Thursday, February 6th, 9 a.m.

Please address written comments on the proposal and requests to speak at the hearing to JR Clark, jr.clark@americanbar.org.

Thank you.

Barry A. Currier
Managing Director of Accreditation and Legal Education
Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar
American Bar Association
321 N. Clark Street, 21st Floor
Chicago, IL 60654-7958

OBAMA COMMENT ON 2 YEARS OF LAW SCHOOL

It is not surprising that President Obama wants to decrease the cost of higher education and make it more affordable for the average American family. Nor is it surprising that he floated the idea of decreasing cost by decreasing the number of years a law student has to PAY for school as reported by the New York Times here.    Without a full understanding of all the issues, that often appears to be a sensible idea.  What is surprising is that the President confuses unpaid interning with a “clinical experience.” As we know from the medical and other professional settings, clinical experience is NOT the same as allowing   barely trained law students to “HAVE AT IT” in a practice setting. Nor is every environment appropriate for clinical training and supervision. The whole point of “clinical education” is supervision, feedback, mentoring, and learning to learn from observation, experience and mistakes.

Another problem with the President’s “shoot from the hip” comment, is that the very reason that new law students can’t find jobs is the same reason today’s law firms are NOT appropriate for the kind of mentoring which was done in days of yore. As a member of the New York State Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession and a chair of the Education and Training Subcommittee, I learned from legal employers and their clients that the market-driven, competitive nature of private industry today has created a situation in which clients no longer want to pay for the on-the-job training of new attorneys. More senior attorneys are so tightly time-managed relative to billable hours that they have significantly less hours and energy to mentor, supervise and help form new attorneys. That’s where law schools have added value for graduates and provided the support and individual attention that tomorrow’s lawyers need through clinical programs (both in-house and in the field). If the President wants to add his significant heft to this debate, he should do so in a more nuanced and effective manner than making an off the cuff comment.

ABA COUNCIL ELIMINATES ANY MEANINGFUL SECURITY OF POSITION FOR FACULTY AND TURNS ITS BACK ON EXPERIENTIAL FACULTY

As reported last week here, the ABA Council on Legal Education met in San Francisco to review proposed revisions to law school accreditation standards.  The ABA reviewed four proposals sent to them by the Standards Review Committee (which I described in an earlier post here) and which were intended to address  faculty competence, academic freedom and governance rights.   The Council sent out for notice and comment two of the four proposals. Some commentators have suggested that one of the adopted proposals includes some security of position and the other does not. However, a closer look suggests that neither proposal affords any meaningful security of position.  see National Law Journal  

The alternative that mentions security of position states that:

(d) A law school shall afford all full-time faculty members a form of security of position sufficient to ensure academic freedom and attraction and retention of a competent full-time faculty (emphasis added).”

At first glance, I optimistically thought “Maybe ensuring a competent full-time faculty would require something beyond at-will employment?” However,  I was reminded by a professional colleague that this proposal is identical to the current provision for legal writing professors, which has been interpreted to permit at-will contracts as long as the teachers are “competent,”  Undeterred in my optimism, I thought “Well ensuring academic freedom certainly needs to ensure some job security especially for folks like clinicians who have been attacked repeatedly for representing the powerless against the moneyed members of our society, right?”  However,  the ABA interprets that same language  in the clinical context to permit one-year renewable contracts,  as long as the institution has a “policy” on academic freedom,

As Amy Poehler would say “Really!1?!  Really!?!”    Is that really the kind of job security that will fill you with confidence in advocating  on behalf of seemingly powerless clinic clients or articulating unpopular but important legal positions?   And what about all this talk from the ABA and the profession about how students need to be better prepared for practice and the profession.   “Really!1?!  Really!?!”  How is that going to happen when you de-value those in the academy who teach through supervised practice ?   CLEA President Kate Kruse got it spot on when she wrote on the clinic listserv,

“Because tenure is now and is likely to remain the norm only for doctrine professors, both of these provisions protect current faculty power relationships and threaten the presence in legal education of teachers specializing in experiential education.’

That is not good news for legal education, law students or future clients.  REALLY.

How Much Experiential Legal Education is Enough?

I remember when I first started teaching, many schools had limits on how many law school credits students could earn through clinics, externships and simulation courses.  I am not sure exactly why.  I think the idea was that these courses were “soft” and did not require the intellectual rigor that classroom courses required.   There might have been a concern about grading in those courses as well.  It was thought that the grading might be inflated since they were usually not subject to the imposition of a grading curve.

My, how times have changed.

Now that employers want students who are prepared for the practice and students want education that prepares them for the practice, the question is now, how much experiential education is enough to prepare them?  Karen Tokarz, Peggy Maisel and Bob Siebel and I recently completed an article suggesting that  about one third of the curriculum would be ideal.  We suggest the courses should be spread throughout the three years (we include legal research and writing as a “skills” course.)  We believe that this amount would capitalize on the legal knowledge and analytical skills they develop in the  traditional  law school classroom and would help students better understand the values and develop the skills they need to become successful lawyers.   Simulation courses  such as trial practice, moot courts, negotiation and counseling, alternative dispute resolution, etc would help students develop and perfect the technical skills and well designed hybrid courses, externships and clinics would help students integrate the skills, knowledge and values that will enable them to develop as competent and ethical lawyers.   This would remedy the fact that students are often bored by the third year of law school and it would focus law school education on helping students prepare themselves to do pursue the careers they seek.  We suggest that law schools should develop learning objectives for their programs and work on assessing the effectiveness of the overall program, including classroom, simulation courses and hybrid, clinics and externships.

In the article we point to  schools that have been moving in that direction.  We highlight the seventeen (17) law schools that require clinical course work and we also describe the growing movement of schools that guarantee a clinical course for every student who desires one.   Now, we need to engage one of the most important principles of Best Practices for Legal Education, we need to assess the effectiveness of our programs.  That will tell us how much experiential education we need.

A Student’s Perspective on Technology in the Classroom

I have been a student at two law schools now: one is the well-established Albany Law and the other is a new law school in Tennessee that just graduated its first class in May, the Lincoln Memorial University’s Duncan School of Law. There are, of course, vast differences between the two schools, but my post today is intended to talk about the relative approaches to legal instruction in relation to technology in the classroom. Of course, each professor has his or her own methods for teaching any given class; however, there are stark differences between the over-arching practices of each school. While Duncan may not have the longest history as an institution, the school was able to develop innovative techniques regarding the  use of technology and progressive teaching methodology without being burdened by “tradition” or resistance to change.

Priding itself on its technology in the classroom, Duncan professors made prevalent use of audio-visual presentations (charts, power point slides, etc.) and computer-aided instructional techniques. Among the practices supplementing traditional instruction methods were daily “turning point quizzes.” At the beginning of each class, students were electronically asked a series of questions regarding the materials covered in the previous class; some classes graded these quizzes, others were merely for instructional purposes. The students would respond (usually by answering MBE-style multiple choice questions), and their answers would be displayed in poll-results format. Based on the results, the instructor was able to spot where the students lacked a complete understanding of the material and was better able to proceed with the day’s class–building on previous understanding towards a more complete instruction method. These “turning point” quizzes are similar to “Clicker” quizzes, except that the turning point quizzes could also have varied answer formats (such as short answer and essay responses).

The instruction style at Albany Law seems to be more traditional, that is, the instructor usually uses a modified Socratic method. I have been in classes that have taken a more practical approach, even including simulated cases–this is a somewhat recent addition presumably brought about by our Best Practices efforts. Of course, once the class period is over, there is typically little “looking back.” While material certainly built upon previous topics, the process is sometimes less clear. During the previous year (my first year at Albany Law), I found myself missing the constant feedback of the “turning point” quizzes and the ability to go back and review slides to revisit lectures if I needed clarification of some topic that was covered. I do not intend to say that my education was somehow better at my previous school than it is now–I have had teachers so glued to the textbook and their powerpoint presentations that they barely took time to actually teach–but the use of technology in the classroom to further outcome-based learning techniques was a crucial instrument to my learning process.

Of course, Duncan is in its relative infancy. The students did not have access to the clinical and practical experiences available to students at a more developed school with a more extensive network of connections. I would suggest a blending of the two styles: student-oriented outcome-based learning (perhaps through the use of reviewable technology and turning point quizzes to supplement the more doctrinal courses) and clinical/practical experiences.

If anyone can think of some practical ways to incorporate the use of technology in a class to further outcome-based techniques, please share your ideas in the comments.

Maximizing Active Learning

The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning has some fascinating ideas about getting students invested in the materials they are learning. Most recently, Sophie M. Sparrow at the University of New Hampshire School of Law wrote:

“Engaging students in active learning has long been one of my main teaching practices. As many of us know, educational experts have found that students learn more when they are actively engaged, such as by speaking, writing, or discussing, rather than listening to a lecture or discussion. Having just completed a three-day workshop with educational expert L. Dee Fink on course design, however, I learned that I should redesign my approach if I want maximize what students learn from their active learning assignments. This month’s idea is about how to improve active learning exercises.”

Continue reading here.

Law Schools, Placement, Ethics

Wednesday’s editorial by Case Western Dean Lawrence Mitchell in the New York Times has generated heated negative commentary.  TaxProf Blog collects much of it here  Boyd Law School Interim Dean Nancy Rappaport’s response here was one of the milder and more thoughtful.

Less noticed was the Ethicist’s answer to a law student’s question in Friday’s edition of the Times:

The law student asked whether schools that charge high tuition, but place less than half of their recent graduates in long-term, full-time, legal positions act immorally.

The Ethicist’s answer was “it’s not unethical — just fiscally unfortunate” on the ground that the school’s “principal ethical responsibility is to educate law students to the best of that institution’s ability, which isn’t inherently tied to how easily those graduates become gainfully employed. That responsibility is mostly yours.”

His answer raises at least three important issues:

1. The Caveat.   The Ethicist assumed that institutions do not “know their graduates will be uncompetitive but pretend otherwise to coerce new students into overpayment.”    To say he avoided the “sixty-four thousand dollar question” isn’t quite accurate.* But to the extent law schools fudge, hide, or downplay their true employment numbers for graduates — and each of these has been done by some schools — his conclusion does not hold.  More broadly,   faculty have an obligation to educate themselves about the job market and changes in the structure of the legal profession and be willing to think about implications for their institutions.

2. Educate Law Students to the Best of the Institution’s Ability.  For readers of this blog, this issue is core.  How many US law schools can honestly claim that they are educating  law students to the best of their ability?  As individuals, many law teachers care about teaching and work hard at it. Few institutions have done the hard work of institutional transformation.  We cannot answer that question “yes” unless we are willing to:  Work as members of a team, not merely as individuals.  Focus on the curriculum as a whole and how it can best serve our students, not merely on what we’ve always done, or what interests us personally.

To serve our students we must think in broad terms about what the Carnegie report dubbed the Apprenticeship of Identity and Purpose and give our students the experiences that will help them identify their gifts and the ways to use them that will feed their souls.  We must also acknowledge that our job is to develop skills.  We necessarily impart information, and should do that effectively.  But for most students that information is only important if they can use it to engage in ethical problem solving.  Knowing how to regurgitate information on an exam is not enough.

3. The Student’s Responsibility.  Students need to recognize — and individual faculty and institutions must help them do so — that law schools cannot hand them jobs on the proverbial silver platter.  Guidance we can provide. But it’s the student’s job hunt, interview, and, ultimately, life.

* In present day dollars three years of law school tuition typically exceeds $64,000.  On the other hand the quiz show of that name ran from 1955-1958 and the on-line inflation calculator tells me $64,000 in 1955 is worth $552,398.81.  Earlier this year Forbes claimed that the total cost of law school, including opportunity costs, is typically about $285,000, or, for those with high debt, just over $300,000, and judged it still a good investment.

The High Cost of Legal Education–alternative educational models

The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed entitled “First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Law Schools,”  Their idea is to teach law in undergraduate school.  This is very much like the system in Mexico and many other countries. Interestingly, they suggest an apprenticeship to enhance the theoritical knowlege.  What do you think? 

 The link is here.

 By JOHN O. MCGINNIS

AND RUSSELL D. MANGAS

Over three years, tuition at a law school can exceed $150,000. Even this princely sum does not capture the full cost. During the time spent at these schools, most students could have earned substantial income. A recent analysis by Herwig Schlunk of Vanderbilt University suggests that for bright students with attractive career opportunities, the total cost of law school is closer to $275,000.

The high cost of graduate legal education limits the supply of lawyers and leads to higher legal fees. And higher fees place legal services out of the reach of middle-income families at a time when increasing complexity demands more access to these services. In short, the current system leaves citizens underserved and young lawyers indebted.

Some have argued that to reduce costs states should simply drop their educational requirements, policing lawyer quality through bar exams, if at all. But the requirement of a legal education can serve important public needs.

First, most citizens, particularly the less educated, do not know much about law and have difficulty evaluating the skill of individual lawyers. Some education in law makes it more likely that a lawyer will be competent. Second, educated lawyers provide a public good. In the United States, most important political questions become legal questions. Educated lawyers can supply a deeper social understanding that informs political policy-making.

 

Here is a straightforward solution: States should permit undergraduate colleges to offer majors in law that will entitle graduates to take the bar exam. If they want to add a practical requirement, states could also ask graduates to serve one-year apprenticeships before becoming eligible for admission to the bar.

An undergraduate legal degree could be readily designed. A student could devote half of his course work to the major, which would allow him to approximate two years of legal study. There is substantial agreement in the profession that two years are enough to understand the essentials of the law—both the basics of our ancient common law and the innovations of our modern world. A one-year apprenticeship after graduation would allow young lawyers to replace the superfluous third year of law school with practical training.

This option would reduce the law school tuition to zero. And the three years of students going without income would be replaced by a year of paid apprenticeship and two years earning a living as a lawyer.

The idea of learning law as an undergraduate discipline is hardly untested. Great Britain, for instance, educates lawyers in college, not graduate school. These college-educated lawyers appear to provide legal services on par with those of their American colleagues.

In addition to reducing the cost of training a lawyer, an undergraduate law degree could facilitate innovation in legal teaching. Because an undergraduate major would be situated within a college of arts and sciences, it would be easier to provide an interdisciplinary education, mixing elements of social science and humanities with legal doctrine.

Law demands fluency in many such disciplines. For instance, the merits of a mass torts case may turn on statistical inferences. Students could integrate relevant courses in statistics, economics and psychology into their undergraduate program rather than trying to catch up in law school. Thus, an undergraduate legal education has the potential to produce better rounded, more capable lawyers.

Of course, encouraging colleges to offer undergraduate legal education would not prohibit law schools from continuing to offer the current, three-year J.D. program. The maturity and career change that this graduate option would provide would continue to benefit some students.

Further, the undergraduate option would improve graduate education by forcing law schools to justify their cost by offering additional benefits. LLM programs—which result in a master’s degree—would also become more robust, as undergraduate-educated lawyers can earlier gain practical experience to better decide what specialty course to pursue.

Overall, by increasing competition, an undergraduate law degree would increase diversity and quality in legal education.

But the great benefit of the undergraduate option would be lowering the cost of legal education, thus increasing the supply of lawyers willing to charge lower fees. Lower fees mean broader access for middle- and lower-income Americans. Ultimately, law exists to serve the public.

Legal education needs to provide more diverse options to assure a more diverse bar and a better-served public.

Mr. McGinnis is a professor of law at Northwestern University and Mr.

Mangas is an attorney at Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago.

Harvard Law’s Curricular Reform: 3 Years In

This was recently posted on PrawfsBlog by Glen Cohen.

Several years ago, under the stewardship of then-dean Kagan and then-professor-now-dean Minow, Harvard Law School made a significant change to its first year curriculum. Different portions were phased in at different times, but this will be the third full year of it all being in place, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss the reforms. Unlike the Langdellian Socratic method that was also started at Harvard, I have seen less copying of our reforms. That may be that others do not think it a good idea, but I suspect it is more to do with the fact that this was a resource intensive change (adding an additional 21 professors needed to teach 1Ls) that was implemented at a moment where most schools are facing economic woes.

Here is the reform in a nutshell:

The typical Harvard 1st year courses (Civ Pro, Contracts, Torts, Property, Criminal Law) were all dropped from 5 credit hours a week to 4 credit hours.  An additional 4-credit class entitled “Legislation and Regulation,” which largely combines a course in legislation/statutory interpretation with parts of administrative law was added.  In addition, a 4-credit international/comparative law elective was required and added to the first year curriculum. Students choose from a menu of seven classes for 1Ls with foci such as private international, public international law, international humanitarian law, an comparative law (China, for example).  Last, and most recently, we moved our finals into the fall and now give the 1Ls a winter (or J-) term class called “Problem Solving Workshop,” which is taught intensively over 13 week days. Each day the students are given a problem, and in small groups have a day or two to solve it and submit work product as a group. While some of the problems are focused on litigation, others are things like dealing with public relations and media, negotiating, and other skills. The next day the students re-assemble, debrief and consider how different groups dealt with the problem, and start a new problem. The course is pass/fail. Once in the middle of the class and once at the end the students meet with practicing lawyers to test their proposed solutions against the practical realities as the lawyers see it.

Students also take a regular elective in the spring.

Here is my internal sense of how these have been received, but one reason why I want to post about it is to get feedback from those of you in the world out there who have seen our students under the new curriculum and their performance.

Click here for the rest of the article.

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