Teaching Legal Reasoning More Efficiently?

Teaching the traditional analytical skills more efficiently and effectively could provide a much needed opening for broadening the range of skills taught to all law students. In the legal academy’s version of the “socratic method”, law teachers historically taught the analytical skills” implicitly”. They demonstrated legal reasoning by pushing students away from their raw intuitions of fairness and justice to articulate rules and exceptions, while attending carefully to the inevitable ambiguities of language.

Some law teachers suggest that the process of learning to “think like a lawyer” fundamentally requires time and practice and therefore cannot be significantly speeded up.

Yet the implicit approach has been repeatedly challenged by scholars seeking to teach legal reasoning more explicitly, by naming and explaining how it works.*  (An obsession with the goal of teaching legal reasoning more efficiently was a major thread in two phases of my own legal career when I taught first year civil procedure. I struggled both to teach skills more explicitly and to provide students with opportunities to practice them.)

A recent contribution to this quest by my colleague Jane Winn grows out of her experiment teaching common law legal reasoning to undergraduates. Students were randomly assigned to use either a well-regarded study aid, or Winn’s own materials. The materials were also leavened by her own and colleagues’ experiences teaching foreign LL.M. and J.D. students coming from legal systems growing out of the European continental legal tradition.

Winn’s effort, aimed at law students, is notable in three respects. First, at twenty-nine pages it fills an intermediate-length niche: longer than a typical class “handout’, but shorter than the various book length alternatives. Second, it covers case briefing, outlining and exam questions, demonstrating how the three are related. Third, it grew out of an attempt to test her teaching method empirically using random assignment to a control group. Both law students and legal educators should find it a useful contribution.

The 2015 ABA accreditation standards may provide a laboratory in which to test efforts such as Winn’s. Standard 302 now requires law schools to adopt learning outcomes that, under subsection (b), must include legal analysis and reading; Standard 314 requires law schools to provide students with both formative assessment (feedback) and summative assessments (final “grades”); under Standard 315 law schools must engage in “ongoing evaluation of the program of education, learning outcomes, and assessment methods”. At its best this combination of more intentionally articulated outcomes, feedback to students, and program evaluation could prompt law schools to evaluate the potential for greater efficiency and effectiveness in teaching legal reasoning. I remain hopeful that enough schools will approach this task rigorously and in good faith that at least some progress can be made.

*Winn’s illustrious predecessors include:

  • Leading Legal Realist Karl Llewelyn, whose The Bramble Bush: Classic Lectures on Law and Law School have been assigned to generations of law students;
  • University of Chicago Professor and President and U.S. Attorney General Edward H. Levi, author of An Introduction to Legal Reasoning, originally published in the University of Chicago Law Review and then in book form;
  • Critical Theorist and Harvard Professor Duncan Kennedy, who took the decidedly un-Harvard step of visiting at New England School of Law in his attempt to reach beyond elite students and sharpen his skill at teaching students about the “gaps, conflicts and ambiguities” that underlie the development of the common law. He shared his insights widely with former students moving into teaching careers. produced a short volume
  • My former colleagues Pierre Schlag and David Skover, who produced a short volume early in their careers that catalogued the Tactics of Legal Reasoning (1985).
  • Richard Michael Fischl and Jeremy Paul, Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams (1999)
  • Leading clinical teachers Albert J. Moore and David Binder, Demystifying The First Year of Law School: A Guide to the 1L Experience (2009)

In recent decades much of the heavy lifting in legal reasoning has devolved upon teachers of legal analysis, research and writing. Among the results is a burgeoning literature proposing variations on the syllogistic Issue-Rule-Analysis (or Application)-Conclusion approach to analyzing and writing about legal problems, as well as a variety of textbooks.


Legal Education & Civility in the Legal Profession

A recurrent theme in current critiques of legal education is the need to develop lawyers with interpersonal, intrapersonal, and leadership knowledge, skills and values, as well as the traditional analytical skills and doctrinal knowledge. (A significant portion of Chapter 6, Teaching the Newly Essential Knowledge, Skills, and Values in a Changing World in the recent volume Building on Best Practices: Transforming Education in a Changing World (Lexis 2015) is devoted to the what and how of teaching such topics.)

Opportunities to reflect on this theme abounded in early October, when I had the privilege of attending the Civility Promise Continuing Legal Education seminar in Sovana, a small hill town in southern Tuscany, Italy. Sponsored by Seattle University Law School. and Robert’s Fund, the seminar brought together fifteen attorney participants from diverse practice backgrounds. They included a retired corporate attorney and managing partner of what is now a leading global law firm, a retired trial court judge, and lawyers with criminal or civil litigation, or transactional practices in both private and government settings.

Conceived by Paula Lustbader, teacher extraordinaire and emeritus professor of law at Seattle U. in collaboration with Italian artist Sergio Tamassia, the seminar was co-taught by two exceptionally skilled presenters: Tim Jaasko-Fisher, Senior Director of Curriculum and Programming for Robert’s Fund, formerly Assistant Attorney General and then Director of the University of Washington Law School Court Improvement Training Academy, and Craig Sims, Chief of the Criminal Division of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.

The seminar identifies three pillars of civility: consciousness, community, and creativity. After fostering each pillar within the group in a brilliantly executed mix of didactic, reflective, and creativity-facilitating teaching methods, participants are challenged to take their learning into the profession.

Each participant was drawn to the seminar for their own personal reasons and several shared compelling experiences — the opposing counsel whose business model was the shake down, the ultimately unsuccessful malpractice suit based on the theory that an attorney approaching a case with a collaborative mindset violated her duty to her client, the former colleague who cracked under pressure and – the ultimate case of incivility — murdered his opposing counsel. And all bemoaned the all-too-common misconception that the adversary system is about behaving uncivilly, rather than developing and presenting the most compelling arguments on the merits.

Concerns over incivility have led some jurisdictions to adopt mandatory civility codes and help inspire the burgeoning mindfulness movement. Like the profession, many law schools are pursuing mindfulness for multiple reasons, including encouraging civility. Whether these efforts will be sufficient to effect widespread change in individual attorney behavior and the culture of the legal profession remains to be seen. But the Civility Promise seminar provided both incentive and tools for change. We can also hope that it will inspire similar efforts in legal education.

Unmasking Assumptions about Employment Outcomes and Legal Education

In an upcoming Wisconsin Law Review article, Robert Kuehn, Associate Dean for Clinical Education and Professor of Law at the Washington University Law School, presents a cogent, well-supported and thoughtful article describing the limitations of and lessons we can learn from the existing empirical analysis correlating student enrollment in clinical education and employment outcomes.  Kuehn’s article, entitled Measuring Legal Education’s Employment Outcomes is particularly powerful because it provides a thorough empirical rejection of the claim that clinical coursework might actually harm employment outcomes, as asserted by Professor Jason Yackee and which attracted some sound-bite attention earlier this year. In what is, perhaps,  an unexpected twist, Kuehn demonstrates that using Yackee’s statistical assumptions and methodology also would produce negative correlations for those students who participate on law journals or in moot court competitions.  Kuehn argues that one can’t draw any reliable conclusion from Yackee’s 2013 model, and perhaps not from any nationwide statistical model – as opposed to a particularized analysis of one school –  on the likely effect of clinical courses (or other activities like law journal or moot court) on employment, and surely not the negative effect Yackee posits. Kuehn points out that as to clinical coursework, the available evidence (through surveys) indicates that such experiences do aid some students in securing employment.

If you, like me, still become a bit nervous about how much you actually remember from undergraduate statistics courses, do not be alarmed by this post!  You will find Kuehn’s article accessible and a quick good read, even when he is using words like “regression analysis,” “granular data” and “variable choices.”   Here are the points made in Measuring Legal Education’s Employment Outcomes which I found most helpful:

  1. Kuehn’s reminder that when one confuses correlationwith causation one is bound to come up with a “misdiagnosis.” One problem with Yackee’s analysis is the lack of granular data to calculate the true employment rate for those who took a clinic (or who did not).  In fact, the data is so poor that “the results never account for more than half of the variability in employment across schools.”
  2. Kuehn’s explanation of the “confounding effect of prestige” and bar passage on employment outcomes.
  3. The problems of validity and reliability raised by analyses which employ information from ABA questionnaires, particularly those self-reports submitted prior to 2014.
  4. The fact that “13% of law schools” provide 80% of the school-funded jobs to law graduates. Not surprisingly, Kuehn found this factor biases many results if you examine nationwide statistics. And when Kuehn removes those jobs from the statistical analysis, Yackee’s correlation with clinical education falls apart even using his own assumptions and methodology.
  5. Yackee’s model yields completely different results if one uses the US News Lawyers/judges data versus academic peer data to control for the possible influence of perceived prestige.
  6. Application of Yackee’s model to “Law Journals” and “Skills Competition” and S. Newssub-groups also show no relationship to employment outcomes!
  7. In Yackee’s model, a better ranking is “strongly associated with improved employment outcomes.” However, Kuehn points out that a “closer examination of the relationship between rank and employment indicates that this positive association, although statistically significant when applied across the entire range of top 100 schools, does not hold true for schools ranked 51 through 100 (emphasis added).” 
  8. Kuehn’s documentation of employers who require, “strongly prefer” or identify law clinic experience as a positive factor in hiring such as The U.S. Department of Homeland, legal services and  legal aid offices, district attorney, public defender, fellowships and private law firms.
  9. Kuehn’s description of National Association of Law Placement (NALP) existing information: such as the  2011 survey of lawyers with non-profit and government offices;  the NALP survey of lawyers in firms of predominantly more than 100 attorneys; the NALP survey of public interest legal employers;  and the NALP 2013 presentation on the employment market reporting that ” law firms say they want new graduates to have ‘more experiential learning, client-based and simulation.”
  10. Kuehn provision of good information on other employer information such as the Lexis-Nexis WHITE PAPER: HIRING PARTNERS REVEAL NEW ATTORNEY READINESS FOR REAL WORLD PRACTICEProfessor Neil Hamilton’s employer survey to determine the relative importance of twenty-one different competencies in employer hiring decisions, and Professor Susan Wawrose’s legal employer focus groups which found employers prefer new hires with ” well developed professional or ‘soft skills” along with “strong fundamental practice skills.”

Professor Kuehn concludes by recommending that studies could best be done on a school-by-school basis by “surveying likely employers to find out what educational experiences of students are most valued.”  Professor Kuehn also recommends that schools could also “retrospectively look at various employment outcomes for graduates and any relationship” to students’ experiences while in school.

I agree with Professor Kuehn and am happy to report that  Albany Law School,  through its faculty Assessment committee and Admissions office,  is currently engaged in conducting employer focus groups and analyzing what best helps our students obtain employment in their desired career paths.  Until good data and information suggests otherwise, Professor Neil  Hamilton’s advice to law students,which Professor Kuehn quotes in his “must read” article, bears repeating:

In this challenging market for employment, a law student can differentiate herself from other graduates by demonstrating to legal employers that the student both understands the core competencies that legal employers and clients want and is implementing a plan to develop these competencies, including an ability to demonstrate that the student has experience with these competencies.

What’s going on in California? “TFARR- recommended” 15 credits of competency training

For those who did not closely follow the California State Bar debate on the requirement of 15 credits of competency training for bar admission (the work of the Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform, or “TFARR”), I summarize the current status.  (Although I am currently co-prez of the Clinical Legal Education Association, known as CLEA, this post is not written with that hat on.)  This is my own thinking, albeit, informed by the excellent work of the CLEA Advocacy committee.

The TFARR process was two-staged, over a three year period, with opportunities for public comment throughout. CLEA  participated in that process and submitted five separate comments on the proposals that are available at http://www.cleaweb.org/advocacy under “Briefs and Other Advocacy” (documents 4-8).

In the end, TFARR recommended 15 credits of competency training which can be achieved in a variety of ways (in addition to how experiential credits can be earned under the new ABA regulations), and which include six credits of summer work. You can read the TFARR Phase II Final Report  at: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/AboutUs/PublicComment/Archives/2014PublicComment/201411.aspx

The process was complete in November, 2014, with final TFARR recommendations to the State Bar Board of Trustees (that responded to public comments) and unanimous adoption by the Board: http://board.calbar.ca.gov/Agenda.aspx?id=10891&tid=0&show=100008800&s=true#10013881 (agenda item 113). The TFARR Phase II FInal Report represents a compromise based on extensive input.

Lately, some confusion has arisen because of a letter posted to the AALS website authored by a non-standing committee of Deans.  The confusion arises because:

  1. Neither AALS nor this special Dean’s committee ever participated in the two stage TFARR process and so appear to be sort of “johnny come latelys, ” and
  2. The letter mistakenly focuses on an earlier draft of the final proposal failing to recognize the compromises already reached in the final proposal.

I understand that there are efforts underway to correct the confusion which makes me happy since the Deans’ letter is signed by two people whom I have long admired in a variety of contexts.

Other blogs are already exploring the 15 credit  proposal and its interesting and creative approach. For example,   “Kudos to California”  What do our readers think?

Building on Best Practices now available as eBook

Are you trying to:

  • Develop a meaningful law school mission statement?
  • Understand new accreditation requirements, learning goals, and outcomes assessment?
  •  Expand your experiential offerings?  Decide whether to use modules or courses?  An on-site clinic, an externship, or community partnership?
  •  Teach ALL of your students in the most effective ways, using a full range of teaching methods?
  • Add to your curriculum more of the professional identity, leadership, intercultural, inter-professional and other knowledge, skills, and values sought by 21st century legal employers?
  • Lead thoughtfully in the face of the challenges facing legal education today?

These and other topics are addressed in Building on Best Practices:  Transforming Legal Education in a Changing World,  now available in ebook format from LexisNexis at no charge.

The print version is not yet out.  LEXIS-NEXIS is taking advance orders for $50, plus shipping.  BUT we understand that they will make one copy available to every US legal educator for free upon on request.  Details on this and international availability still to come.

Thanks, and congratulations, to book project sponsor Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA), the more than fifty legal educators who participated as authors, and the countless others who assisted as readers and in numerous other ways.

And, a huge shout-out to my wonderful and talented co-editors, Lisa Radke Bliss, Carrie Wilkes Kaas, and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.

DOE Gainful Employment Rule Affects For-Profit Law Schools

Federal district courts in New York and the District of Columbia have rejected challenges to the Department of Education’s “gainful employment rule”. A recent story in The American Lawyer, “New Rule Spells Trouble for For-Profit Law Schools”, explains how the DOE gainful employment rule will likely affect for-profit law schools. The gainful employment rule, which is based on graduates’ annual incomes and their discretionary incomes, requires a for-profit school’s graduates to have debt payments that are 8% or less of their annual incomes, or 20% or less of their discretionary incomes. A school fails the test if student debt payments exceed 12% of annual incomes or 30% of discretionary incomes. A school is considered “in the zone” if loan payments of graduates are greater than or equal to 12% of their annual incomes, or payments are greater than 10% but less than or equal to 30% of discretionary incomes. A for-profit school becomes ineligible for federal loans if it fails both the annual income and discretionary income tests in any two of three years, or if it fails both tests or is in the zone for four years. The story also explains that graduates’ enrollment in income-based repayment programs is not considered in the government’s application of the new rule. The American Lawyer story contains tables that project how the rule could be applied based on available debt, income, and employment information for graduates at the six for-profit law schools. The DOE gainful employment rule goes into effect July 1, 2015.

A 21st Century “generalist legal education”? Skills & professional identity focused.

More musings on generalist v. specialist education, and how much doctrine law schools need to teach.

A conversation with one of our University of Washington alums — Leo Flor, Westpoint grad, Gates Public Service Law Scholar, Equal Justice Works Fellow at Northwest Justice Project, and spark plug for the new resource Representing Washington Veterans  — has me chewing on whether we need a new understanding of what a “generalist legal education” means.

Leo noted that the JD is often viewed as a relevant generalist credential, even though most law school grads move into traditional bar-passage-required “law practice” jobs.  And he observed that many job postings for alternative positions list an MBA or MPA as a relevant qualification, but not the JD.

The traditional generalist education of my era, and to a significant extent still, was intended to teach a set of analytical skills and and expose students to a broad range of legal doctrine potentially relevant to a general practitioner and to passing the bar exam. Though passing the bar remains important and is a significant factor in designing the educational program for lower tier schools, few 21st century lawyers are truly general practitioners.

Perhaps the generalist foundation needed in this era is built on skills, more than doctrinal knowledge.  And for Leo’s purpose not only skills in a technician sense.  Skills also in a “professional identity” sense.  Self-awareness & understanding of ones’ own gifts.  Leadership and interpersonal skills. Such an understanding of generalist could make the JD an appropriate credential for the types of job Leo described.

In a previous post, I suggested that that, at least for those students who come to law school with significant self-knowledge and experience, a substantively specialized curriculum could make sense, if combined with the general analytical and research skills to learn new areas.  This is not a new  idea.  Back in 2002 then-law-student Kevin E. Houchen self-published a detailed review of the trend toward certificate programs and concentrations, arguing that for a subset of students such specialization makes sense.

A decade later in 2012 the New York Times touted  NYU’s  limited moves toward greater specialization not just once, but again in an article  promoting specialization for law schools focused on Biglaw.

And in early May of this year 2015 at the National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services sponsored by the ABA and Stanford Law School, speakers reiterated these themes.   Richard Susskind (13:08) argued that legal education needs to train graduates for 21sth century jobs like legal project managers, legal process analysts, legal knowledge engineers, and legal risk management.  Prof. Deborah Rhode(13.29) observed that it “makes no sense to train Wall Street M &A lawyers the same way we train someone who’s going to be doing routine real estate and divorce work in a small town.”

It is not so very difficult to understand what acting on Prof. Rhode’s observation might mean.  As a practical matter, some curricular differentiation based on where graduates will practice already takes place, linked primarily to  different levels in the law school hierarchy.  Beyond that, many schools offer an extensive enough curriculum – both in doctrine and skills — to permit considerable specialization aimed at traditional law practice niches, even beyond formal concentration tracks and certificate programs.

For more specialized training law schools that offer extensive LL.M. programs routinely allow students to complete an accelerated JD/LL.M in three calendar years.  In the tax field, where the LL.M. has long been de rigueur, many schools provide such opportunities, including NYU, the long-time leader in tax LL.M’s.  And increasingly, schools educate students not just in substantive tax specialties, but also — using my own school, the University of Washington as an example — with  tax-focused skills and clinical training for both JD. and LL.M. students.

My hunch is that increasing numbers of students already opt to specialize, sometimes with a substantive law focus, often combined with a skills focus, e.g.  corporate deals with drafting or criminal & tort law with trial advocacy.

Richard Susskind’s challenge is a bigger stretch for legal education, though, again, some initiatives are visible, such as Michigan State‘s Reinvent Law Laboratory.

A key challenge for law schools is to learn how to identify prospective students or develop admitted ones who understand their life goals and values, and their intellectual and personal gifts well enough to make intelligent decisions around specialization.  To meet that  challenge, a holistic approach to education is needed –whether understood in the MacCrate framework of knowledge,  skills and values, or the Carnegie framework of cognitive, professional skills and ethical professional identity apprenticeships.


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