Transferring Best Practices to a Domestic Violence Agency–i.e. the real world

On February 1, 2014 I left the ivory tower of a law school I had loved for 27 years to become the executive director of Enlace Comunitario, a non-profit agency focused on eliminating domestic violence in Latino immigrant communities through intervention services such as case management, counseling and legal services and prevention activities such as leadership development, education and outreach.   This was a big transition for me, but I am loving it!  And, my long time involvement with Best Practices for Legal Education has paid off in this context.  How, you might ask, are the skills transferable?  Well I will give some examples in my next few posts…but I will share immediately that I am working to create a teaching and learning culture at my agency.   Specifically, my goal is to build the capacity of folks in the agency so that when I step down one or several of the staff members will feel ready to take on the helm. And, of course, I will want staff members to step up to take their place. Already, we are training a counselor to become a counselor supervisor and we are training a former receptionist to become a case manager. I love seeing my staff take on the teaching role! And, they are good at it.

So…one of the foundational principles of best practices is to work to develop learning objectives for your students.  Well, it is not a stretch to work with staff members and develop learning objectives with them!  And, creating evaluations that fit the job duties and the learning objectives was fun:  Each job criteria or learning objective is evaluated as follows:  “in training”, “needs improvement” “good work” or “awesome, can teach this knowledge, skill or value”.   So far the staff has responded positively to the new evaluation process.  We will finish up this month!  I will let you know how it goes!

Five Tool Lawyers

Leading Northwest legal practitioner and technology entrepreneur Marty Smith has an interesting post on the Five Tool Lawyer over at Legal Refresh. Using the metaphor of the Five Tool Lawyer, Marty breaks apart the stages of problem solving, incorporating risk analysis in a way I found helpful. In my response Five Tool Lawyers and Legal Education, I critique aspects of the Five Tool Lawyer metaphor for compressing too much into the 1st [Use interviewing skills to gather client facts, goals and needs] and 5th tools[Counsel, document, negotiate and advocate on behalf of client]. But here’s why I thought the metaphor was compelling:

"Compelling, because [it] moves beyond issue spotting v. problem solving to articulate the stages of problem solving, targeting a spotlight on often overlooked aspects. . . . By focusing on risk, the metaphor highlights two often neglected stages of the lawyer’s work – “use judgment to assess actual risks” and “problem solve for best way to meet client’s needs with minimal risk.” At the same time, it implicitly places the legal problem in the larger context of the individual’s life, or the business’s health. And it underscores the fact that lawyers need to know how to assess the significance of legal risks within that larger context."

The definitive statement of a law professor’s REAL mission, or once again Harvard Law retires the chutzpah title

I cannot improve upon Scott Fruehwald’s presentation of this happy news in a recent email:

“Harvard is offering this course in the spring:


“There are many elements that go into becoming a law professor, but at the core of the process of moving from law student to law professor is scholarship.  How do you choose your topic?  How do you write an article?  What will become your area of expertise?  What have others written about this subject area, and how do you break new ground?  How do you engage with fellow scholars in the midst of the writing process?

This reading group will focus on the generative scholarly process that is at the center of the life of the law professor.  [Emphasis added.]  Each week, a member of the faculty will present a working draft of her or his scholarship, and that piece will be discussed by the group.  Discussions will focus in part on the genesis of the research project being presented, in order to demonstrate how articles develop from the first spark of an idea to final publication.  Students will also explore substantive issues raised in the pieces, the better to become familiar with the latest work being done across a variety of subject areas.  Students will also develop their own research and scholarly agendas as the semester progresses.

Admission is by application via email to Susannah Barton Tobin at by November 8, 2013.  Please include a paragraph expressing your interest in the reading group and a CV and transcript.

As is the norm with reading groups, there will be no examination or paper requirement, and the class will be graded credit/fail.” (

The course description says it all.

Happy New Year,  Scott Fruehwald  [If you are attending the AALS Conference, please come by the ABA Publishing table and look at my book, Think Like a Lawyer: Legal Reasoning for Law Students and Business Professionals (2013).]“

All right, I [VM] cannot resist adding one comment:  The best part of this deal is that the participating faculty actually get teaching credit for this!   Well, maybe no, teaching is probably not exactly a heavy load at HLS anyway; no, maybe the best part is that the selected students (or their parents/spouses, or the US government) are paying tuition for them to serve as extra unpaid research assistants.

Or perhaps the very best part of this course is the unabashed clarity of its focus exclusively on scholarship, without a shred of pretense, or allocation of even a single seminar to such irrelevancies  as teaching, advising, evaluating and assessing, mentoring, curriculum development, preparation for practice, or engaging (with and without students) in advocacy to improve and reform the law, our profession, or society — to mention only a few of the professorial roles one might name.   (Perhaps all these skills are innate for Harvard grads?)  This course was presumably approved by at least a bare majority of the Harvard faculty (assuming that they still bother to review course proposals) so I suppose it is an accurate  statement of that faculty’s priorities.

The truly sad part is that many of us, on Appointments Committees and as faculty members, will end up not merely voting to hire the graduates of this course, but trying everything in our power to lure them on to our faculties — including promises that as long as they churn out scholarship that is “cutting edge” (nothing as pedestrian as, say, realistic law reform proposals), no one will expect them to work as hard at learning how to teach effectively or fulfill any of the other aforementioned professorial functions.  And in the course of discussions about how to seduce these young superstars who wear the crimson “H” on to third-tier faculties (at least to start), no doubt someone will point out “Look, s/he took a course on law teaching at Harvard!  One with the evocative title of ‘Becoming A Law Professor’!  What could be a better indicator of serious commitment to teaching?”

Footnote:  Naturally, given the topic, I feel compelled to add at least one:  Of course, these remarks would be seriously misplaced if “Becoming A Professor” is one of several HLS courses or programs, some of which address the aspects of professorship that I am asserting Harvard neglects.  I can’t be sure — the hundreds of courses in the HLS catalog are just too daunting — but I did try searching the past three years for any course that included the terms “teach” “teaching” “education”  “educate” “professor” “school” and some others.  Only one item surfaced, a legal history course last spring entitled “American Legal Education,” taught by Visiting Professor Daniel Coquillette.  It does sound fascinating, a course that I would recommend to students and enjoy myself.  While certainly it would be of use to anyone who aspires to the law professoriate, given its scope and format it does not quite occupy a curricular niche comparable to the new scholar-centric offering.

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.

New Blog

Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed. (ISSN 2329-2504), a digital project that supports teachers and reformers in higher education through encouraging serious engagement with the scholarship on teaching and learning has recently announced its full launch.

You can visit at

The website features a manifesto, an infographic, a list of recommended readings and a blog.

Submissions to the blog are welcome on an ongoing basis.

Since its soft launch in March, visitors have viewed the site more than 4500 times. Some of the most viewed posts to date (with links shortened through include:

Those interested can sign up on the site to receive updates of new posts by email or follow the blog through:

Please consider visiting, reading, following, commenting, sharing, and/or submitting posts to the blog.


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.

Revived CELT Website: Welcome to the Future!

Esteemed Bloggers and Blog Post Readers,

Albany Law School has redesigned the Center for Excellence in Law Teaching ( CELT) Website just in time to present you with videotaped presentations and materials from CELT’s Inaugural conference held last March 30, 2012  . If you are unfamiliar with the CELT website , I would like to introduce you to this clearinghouse of materials on teaching, , curriculum, and proposed revised  BA accreditation standards. If you  already are familiar with the website, I invite you to take some time to  re-acquaint yourself with the new organization and the wealth of information that is available for your perusal. (CELT)

Through this site, I hope you will be able to find learning resources, assessment materials and rubrics , syllabi from lawyering classes, PowerPoint presentations about different teaching techniques and links to other sources and resources.   In addition, you can access materials and presentations from the  CELT  March 2012 Conference, where innovative  thinkers attended and discussed current and proposed models for student-centered reform of legal education. (CELT CONFERENCE) This was in response to the changes students face in the profession and the new economy.  As a third year law student, I found this conference not only enlightening but reassuring. The materials that were provided to the attendees laid out ideas and suggestions to improve student  learning  and encouraged professors to take a more active role in design of the classroom experience and sequencing of the law school curriculum. .

As Special Assistant to CELT, I have attempted to organize materials on this website to make it simpler and more convenient for users to navigate.   I truly welcome your feedback. If there is something that you are looking for and cannot find, I ask that you let me know  and would be happy to direct you to the correct location of the information or figure out if there is additional material to be added to the cite.  In addition, if you have any questions about accessing the conference videotapes or materials, just send me an e-mail.

Finally, if you are interested in becoming a BLOG author or contributing a blog post to the Best Practices blog (which is housed within CELT), please let Professor Mary Lynch or myself know and we would be happy to assist!

Thank you for your readership and your loyalty!

-Stephanie Giancristofaro-Partyka

Why “Practice-Ready” Isn’t Enough

The Chronicle of Higher Education posted an article this week on practice-readiness in the legal profession.  There’s More to the Law Than ‘Practice-Ready’, by Alfred S. Konefsky and Barry Sullivan, is a call for law schools to go beyond the ABA’s resolution for law school’s to produce “‘curricular programs intended to develop practice-ready lawyers.'”  The article is about taking steps past the debate between skills and doctrinal education to have a wider discussion about successfully integrating both.  Here is a piece of the article:

So “practice-readiness” is indeed an important goal of legal education—but we think that law schools owe students more than that. Successful careers begin with competent practice in the early years, but preparation for the long haul is also essential. At the very least that means acquiring an array of skills beyond those usually mentioned in connection with practice-readiness. When we look back at the changes we have personally seen in society and the world, as well as in the legal profession and in legal education, we can only begin to imagine the world in which today’s law students will finish their careers. The real task of legal education must be to prepare students, as best we can, for a lifetime of successful, ethical, and personally rewarding practice.

The article provides some nice examples of what the authors view as important to practice like the difference between civil and common law systems, or the impact of race and gender on the practice of law (incidentally, a recent article by Professor Laurie Shanks on that issue is posted on SSRN).

Give the article a read and let us know what you think!

Building on Best Practices: Call for Ideas and Authors

The Clinical Legal Association, Best Practices Implementation Committee is planning a follow-up publication to Best Practices for Legal Education by Roy Stuckey and others.     The vision of the book is to build on ideas for implementing best practices, and to develop new theories and ideas on Best Practices for Legal Education.   If you would like to author a section in the book please let us know as soon as possible.   Then by December 1, 2011 send either of us a 3-5 page abstract identifying the knowledge, skills and values as well as the learning objectives and methodology of your innovative teaching idea.   The Editorial Board will meet at the AALS meeting in January to select pieces for inclusion in the book.


If you have any questions or thoughts about the project please feel free to contact either of us.


Looking forward to drawing  on the expertise of the legal academy to build on Best Practices for Legal Education!


Antoinette Sedillo Lopez ,Chair, Publication Committee

Deborah Maranville,  co-editor


The Center For Excellence in Law Teaching’s Inaugural Conference

Albany Law School’s Center for Excellence in Law Teaching (CELT) will host a national conference onSetting and Assessing Learning Objectives from Day One for law school faculty and administrators on March 30, 2012.

The conference, to be held at Albany Law School, will focus on setting and assessing foundational objectives for law students, as well as what some law schools have already done to better structure curriculum and prepare students to meet proposed new American Bar Association standards.

We encourage collaborative presentations from faculty teaching throughout the curriculum including those who teach in the first year, the upper level curriculum, the legal writing program, the lawyering program, and the clinical program. We also encourage collaboration between those who teach large doctrinal classes, perspective seminars, or advanced subject matter courses, with those who teach in clinic, in field placement, or in a capstone course. We welcome in particular those teachers and administrators who have experimented with school wide attempts to define and assess objectives.

 Visit the conference website at

Building on Best Practices–Call for Ideas and Authors

The Clinical Legal Association Best Practices Implementation Committee is planning a follow-up publication to Best Practices for Legal Education by Roy Stuckey and others. The vision of the book is to build on ideas for implementing best practices, and to develop new theories and ideas on Best Practices for Legal Education. We would like to call for topic suggestions and author abstracts. If you are interested in submitting a topic suggestions, please do so by August 1 by emailing Antoinette Sedillo Lopez at with the topic idea and potential authors and resources relating to the idea. If you would like to author a section in the book and 3-5 page abstract identifying the knowledge, skills and values as well as the learning objectives and methodology of your innovative teaching idea. The abstract is due December 1, 2011. The Editorial Board will meet at the AALS meeting in January to select pieces for inclusion in the book.
If you have any questions or thoughts about the project please feel free to contact me or Deborah Maranville, co-editor.
Looking forward to drawing on the expertise of the legal academy to build on Best Practices for Legal Education! Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, Chair, Publication Committee

Tales from the Assessment Trail

Like many schools, here at UMKC Law we have been working steadily on our assessment plan.  After two retreats, six focus group meetings with attorneys, countless meetings and even more emails, we have narrowed our outcomes down to 126 skills and values outcomes.  Each faculty member has exercised their six “votes” on those outcomes that they would like to first target for comprehensive assessment across the curriculum. 

It will come as no surprise that outcomes in the category of legal analysis garnered the most votes.  Devising comprehensive assessment for this outcome will simply be a matter of some conversations to insure we agree on a shared rubric. 

But coming in a close second in the polling was the outcome “be able to listen actively.”   It is a fascinating outcome on which to focus.  Apart from courses providing clinical skills training, active listening isn’t taught as pervasively as is analysis.  Even less so do we regularly assess our students’ ability to listen actively.  When one considers the amount of time students sit in classrooms listening (or at least hearing), it seems there could be ample opportunity to test the “listening” part of active listening.  The empathy part, on the other hand, could prove to be a game changer in our curriculum development.

Our next task, then, will be to determine where we currently teach this skill, where else we will want to incorporate this teaching, and – perhaps most challenging of all – how we can assess the skills of the entire student body.  Somehow the image of massive piles of bluebooks, most of which say “What I hear you saying is…” doesn’t quite cut it.  Suggestions?

Just Imagine if You Were Trying to Get a Job as a Law School Teacher . . .

How would you prepare: 1) for the hiring process; and 2) for performing the job if hired?

Imagine, too, that your training and professional experience was as a lawyer: a professional problem-solver who depends on comprehensive, up-to-date research to become thoroughly familiar with the doctrinal and conceptual framework of any legal question you confront.

It’s that time of year again.  A succession of brilliant, credentialed, eager and charming faculty candidates, mostly young, are making their way through the process, culminating in the full day of small group interviews and the all-important “job talk,” rich with graphic slides and witty asides.  An enormous amount of time, on the part of both faculty and candidates, and not a small amount of money, are dedicated to this exercise.  And of course, the results matter profoundly to the schools’ future students and those students’ future clients.

Every candidate is poised and ready for the inevitable inquiry about his or her “scholarly agenda.”  All are well-versed about the “best” journals, how to entice student editors to bite, and which are the most strategically advantageous conferences and symposia to appear at.  They have assembled posses of high-profile mentors to whom they can direct the acknowledgments on their first pages.  As many have noted, it has become all but impossible for a mere lawyer, however accomplished and insightful, to be taken seriously as a faculty candidate unless s/he has already published a few major law review articles, and can convincingly describe a planned research trajectory of unremitting erudition and sophistication, emphatically not focused on problems in legal practice.  Especially in this market of shrinking firms, starving government, and defunded public interest, it is no wonder that law schools seem able to raise the bar for admission to the august ranks of academe higher, higher, and ever higher.

But exclusively, it seems, in terms of demonstrated capacity and hunger for the scholarly side of the professorial role.

How many of these candidates have significant teaching experience?  If they do, how many – unless being considered for a “special” slot — have taught anything other than a nonexperiential “podium” course or a specialized seminar as part of an LL.M.?

It’s one thing if a candidate has tried but never managed to land an opportunity to teach in any context, but does anyone on the Appointments Committee even ask whether, when, and how the candidate has decided that s/he wants to teach law students and prepare them for the effective and responsible practice of law?  Whether s/he has ever developed and submitted a course proposal or applied to work as an adjunct – and if not, why?  Ever been invited or sought to participate in a CLE program or a program for would-be pro bono lawyers?  Sure, rarely a candidate is asked to articulate his or her “teaching philosophy,” but no eyebrow is raised when the response is a vague or frankly vapid bromide about “varying the Socratic method with a few problems” or “I try to reach everyone in the class.” No specifics about the techniques to achieve these goals is proffered or expected.  The best-received answer often seems to be, “Well, I really try to involve students in my scholarship as much as I can.”

Certainly the candidates are right on top of “hot topics” in legal scholarship – many have already attended Law and Society conferences, frequent the most esoteric blogs, and can’t wait to start trading downloads and citations so they can ascend to an SSRN Top 10.  Wouldn’t you think, if you were being recruited for a position that ostensibly involves spending something like half your work-week as a teacher, that you’d also read some background material about the enterprise of legal/professional education?  Its history, its structure, its current issues?  And if you had, wouldn’t you want to demonstrate your solid grasp of these “hot topics”?  I have yet to hear a candidate express any familiarity with Best Practices for Legal Education (either the book or this blog), the Carnegie Report [Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law], The Law Teacher or its publisher the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning, the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE), or even the MacCrate Report, let alone more esoteric subjects such as the ABA Curriculum Survey, now in the midst of update, or the proposed ABA standard on  outcomes assessment.  If a candidate is asked about some aspect of educational affairs during a group interview, faculty colleagues tend to react with dismay, casting displeased glances at the disruptive interrogator.

Yes, it’s true that the Appointments Committee will generally request the candidate’s teaching evaluations (the limitations of which deserve and have elsewhere received ample attention), syllabi, and classroom PowerPoints if available, but how often do those become the focus of discussion with the candidate or within the Committee?  Every publication of a candidate is scrutinized, but virtually never does a Committee seek arguably more illuminating embodiments of teaching prowess, such as examples of feedback on student essays and papers, grading rubrics, sample exams and “model answers”, evaluation or critique of student performance of lawyering tasks, or other assessment tools and supplemental course materials.  I have not yet had a chance to check out any of the official handbooks for candidates, such as Becoming a Law Professor: A Candidate’s Guide, by Brannon P. Denning, Marcia L. McCormick and Jeff M. Lipshaw, but I will be happily surprised if they suggest that candidates need assemble teaching portfolios of any significance.

Years ago, as an appointments committee chair, I added a step to the process: each called-back candidate not only gave a job talk, but taught a “class” the same day.  (No doubt others have made similar forays, I just don’t know of them).  To standardize, the assigned material was the same for all: a PR casebook excerpt on Jones v. Barnes, 463 U.S. 745 (1983) and related items on the allocation of decision-making authority between lawyer and client.  Any member of a law faculty should be equipped to teach a class in basic, non-technical legal ethics, right?  And while it lasted, no candidate ever complained or protested and most managed to deliver a respectable class that was at least as instructive to the observing faculty (who could also watch a video) and to the student volunteers, who had prepared just as they would for any class.  The students also provided verbal and written feedback to the Committee –- and, if the candidate asked, to the candidate too.  Most impressive to me, naturally, were the candidates who not only solicited comments about their teaching from students and faculty, but wanted a copy of the video.

Limited in scope as it was, there is much one could say about the value of incorporating such an element into the appointments process: the message it conveyed to our students, who felt they were contributing a unique and useful perspective and having a meaningful say; the message conveyed to candidates about the importance attached to quality teaching at this institution, which helped establish whether there was a “good fit”; the substantive discussions about what constitutes good, better or best teaching practices that were precipitated among our faculty as we debated candidates; and the fact that many a candidate became entranced with our students, candidly confessing that they were far more impressive than anticipated -– a strong selling point for the Law School.  (No, the students were not randomly chosen).

But, this experiment, which I guess is what it was, did not long survive changes in committee membership, the faculty, dean, president, and zeitgeist. I mention it, I guess, only to say: it is possible.

Clearly, this post will be labeled the lament of a malcontent.  I am not deluded that it will spark changes in the operation of either side of the meat market.  Candidates, like all evolutionarily successful species, whatever their private predilections, will continue to display aggressively the characteristics most attractive to their quarry, law school appointments committees — up to and including bound feet and peacock tails.  Those committees, in turn, will continue to do the bidding of faculty and administrators starved for the validation and other benefits associated with scrambling even a step or two up the almighty USNWR ranking.  Law school faculties will include ever fewer members expert in and enthusiastic about the professional art, science, and literature of teaching.

In related news, Stanford Law School has jubilantly announced that it has secured something under a million dollars to spend on a massive, long-term, multifaceted research study “to describe and understand the state of the profession, including trends and emerging developments.” “The study will seek to develop policy recommendations to help law firms adapt their business models to better meet the needs of their clients and of a rapidly changing legal market.  It will also consider the implications of these changes for legal education.”

The press release insists that the profession is undergoing transformative change. “On the surface, things look relatively unchanged . . . but firms employ thousands rather than hundreds of lawyers, with offices around the world and dramatically different partner/associate ratios. Hourly rates have soared, while clients are less willing to underwrite the training of new associates.  Legal work has become increasingly specialized because clients have more sophisticated needs and expectations, and technology and globalization have only exacerbated these trends. The demand for profitability at firms has increased the need to bill hours and this pressure-cooker environment has caused associates to hopscotch among firms.”

Conspicuously absent in the entire long project description is any mention of: the frighteningly pervasive and growing lack of lawyers for the poor, the working-class, the middle-class, and almost anyone else but the very comfortable, with concomitant deep discouragement of law graduates who wish to undertake this work; the widespread incompetence and ignorance of lawyers about basic legal tasks, including decent legal research and problem-solving, and basic responsibilities to clients; the failures of the fundamental licensing, assessment, malpractice, and disciplinary institutions of the profession; or any of the myriad other problematic aspects of our profession that are not the concern of the wealthy and the powerful.

California is a house burning down, or maybe a fireworks factory exploding, in terms of the paucity of services, assistance, and enforcement of civil and legal rights for its poor and middle-class.  It is hard not to think about what close to a million dollars in the hands of its estimable and frugal legal services organizations –- CRLA (California Rural Legal Assistance), the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, etc. — would have meant in terms of, say, halting unlawful foreclosures that rob people of their property, their retirement security, their children’s inheritances and education funding, in a very real sense, their lives. That need is immense, and it is now.

I daresay copious articles will be the fruit of this generous grant, perhaps a book or two.

I don’t know what else to say. Except that working for genuine change in legal education bears painful resemblance to being an Obama supporter.  Which leads  (in my mind, anyway) full circle to: Obama’s Treasury Secretary won’t authorize allocation of a small fraction of TARP funds intended to help the “hardest hit” communities to legal services organizations representing homeowners fighting foreclosure.  Billions to bail out monster banks who can spend it on whatever — not a penny for legal aid. See “Treasury Blocks Legal Aid for Homeowners Facing Foreclosure,” by Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation.  Priorities.  Priorities, most of all your priorities in choosing who will execute your mission, tell you everything there really is to know about the nature of your enterprise.

Vanessa Merton

Challenges in the New Law School Year

            Suddenly, the semester is upon us! Where did the summer go? Why didn’t I complete all my “projects” – why am I not fully prepared for the new semester?  As I work hard to prepare for a new semester of teaching and learning and experimenting, I realize that I need to turn the focus from “me, me, me” to “them, them, them”.

            And in doing so, I cannot help but worry about the challenges in store for the new crop of law students walking through our front doors. How will the legal profession have changed by the time they graduate?  What impact will technology and globalization have on their lives – negative or positive? How will employers evaluate young attorneys? What financial burdens will these students bear and how can they create sound personal lives built on large debt?  Will law schools truly be able to prepare them for what lies ahead and assist them in achieving a rewarding professional life?

            I find it daunting to think about these challenges.  As this generation enters a difficult job market for legal services, legal educators have more responsibility than ever to provide students with a foundation for success, formative assessment of where they stand on the continuum of professional development, and pragmatic understanding of the new legal employment world.  How can we possibly educate our students so that they graduate with the amount of core knowledge, proficiency of skill and understanding of professional identity which the current legal employer is seeking?  

            After many years of teaching, I have learned that I can’t solve every problem and can’t achieve every goal in one class, one course, or one semester.  However, each time I revisit my course goals, improve my syllabus, inform myself about what today’s students need, and work towards curriculum revision, I better the learning outcome – even if it’s only incrementally. And even when the experiment fails, the “hoped- for- learning-epiphany” evaporates, I have learned that students appreciate faculty members who care enough to revisit what they have taught before and who worry about students’ futures.  Law students usually demonstrate that appreciation by working harder and engaging with the material more deeply, thus, improving their own knowledge, skills and understanding.

            Good Luck to all you law teachers and law students as the academic year begins.  Tell us here at the BP Blog, what you are hoping for or concerned about at this pivotal juncture in legal education?

Study Suggests that Success in Skills Means Success in Law School

By: Professors Jenean Taranto and Rosemary Queenan

Among different academic variables, a student’s “Lawyering Skills Grade” is “the strongest predictor of law school success.”  That is the conclusion Leah M. Christensen, Associate Professor of Law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, reached in her article “The Power of Skills Training: A Study of Lawyering Skills Grades as the Strongest Predictor of Law School Success (Or in Other Words, It’s Time For Legal Education to Get Serious About Skills Training if We Care About How Our Students Learn.” Christensen reached this conclusion based on her study, which sought “to explore the relationship between law students’ achievement goals and their success in law school,” by asking “157 law students to respond to a survey about their learning goals in law school.”  Responses by the students “were correlated to different academic variables, including class rank, LSAT score, Undergraduate GPA (UPGA) and Lawyering Skills Grade.”  Christensen’s results found that the “Lawyering Skills Grade was the strongest predictor of law student success . . .” and “the LSAT was the weakest predictor of law school success.”  Christensen’s study also concluded that “law students who did well in their Lawyering Skills classes tended to be mastery-oriented learners, and that law students who were mastery-oriented learners were more successful in law school overall.”  Christensen notes that the correlation between success in the Lawyering Skills course and mastery-oriented learners exists because “Lawyering Skills classes appear to emphasize mastery-goals.”  Skills classes tend to encourage mastery-oriented goals by teaching students “reasoning skills ‘such as issue spotting, fact identification, fact analysis, rule identification and application of rules to facts . . . .’”  Additionally, the “concepts of advocacy, negotiation and client counseling” help to promote mastery-goal orientation.

Her study articulates a premise that has been recognized by the Albany Law School Lawyering program for approximately twenty years.  Albany’s Introduction to Lawyering program integrates theory with practice by engaging first-year students in problem solving and client-centered practice along with research, reasoning, and extensive legal analysis, and writing.  Students are assigned to “firms” representing parties in a year-long simulated legal dispute and are introduced to the legal system, ethics, and the skills and values of the profession in a practice-based context. 

In the course of representing a client throughout two semesters, students begin fact development by interviewing clients, learn to research by finding the statutes and cases relevant to the client’s situation, and learn analytical and writing skills by producing legal documents needed to represent the client.  The skills introduced through highly structured research and writing assignments in the first semester are honed in the second semester as students engage in fact development through a discovery-like process that emphasizes the relationship between law and fact.  Students further conduct independent legal research, and write and re-write the relevant legal analysis first in a trial court memo and then in an appellate brief.  Through this process, students receive a thorough grounding in statutory analysis, rule synthesis, and analytical legal writing.   By participating in settlement negotiations and appellate arguments, students also develop their analytical skills through oral communication exercises that reinforce the written assignments. The program exemplifies that teaching Lawyering in context results in greater understanding of the relationship between legal research, writing, theory, and practice. 

Christensen correctly points out that teaching skills in this way fosters greater mastery-goal orientated learning and less performance-goal learning. By introducing skills and theory from an integrated learning perspective, students have no choice but to become mastery-oriented learners because, in the context of a “real life” legal problem, students seek to achieve the best outcome for their client, working with a purpose that teaches them to ask questions, read authority critically, and focus on fact development with greater depth.  Critical thinking is further encouraged in Lawyering skills classes by support and guidance from professors who assess student performance based on multiple assignments throughout the course of the semester and year, meeting individually with students in conferences, providing productive feedback throughout the course of the year, and allowing for collaborative learning exercises.  Christensen notes that the Carnegie Commission agrees by suggesting that “‘[t]he dramatic results of the first year of law school’s emphasis on well-honed skills of legal analysis should be matched by similar skill in serving clients and a solid ethical grounding.’”  The commission findings further note that “‘[i]f legal education were serious about such a goal, it would require a bolder, more integrated approach.’”

Once students learn to approach problems as mastery-goal learners, they inevitably become stronger students overall and, ultimately, better lawyers.

To read Professor Christensen’s article, click here.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 506 other followers

%d bloggers like this: