Teaching Optimism, by Margaret Martin Barry

Chris Rock’s tweet “Are black men an endangered species? No, endangered species are protected by law,” captures at once the failure to apply our laws and when applying them to do so effectively. Scan to the recently released Senate Select Committee’s Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, yet another example of how we struggle as a culture with the rule of law.

How do law schools inspire students to work within a system that yields such results?

The AALS Deans Steering Committee had this to say: “Law school empowers students to become agents of change because it teaches students about the legal system of the United States, a system that has the seeds of change built into its structure.” The statement goes on to say that “The rule of law is the foundation of our society, our political system, and our economic system” and “The primary role of law professors is to teach the next generation of lawyers to think critically about problems, to understand the structure and power of law in our society, and to be thoughtful and engaged with respect to solutions.”[1]

Indeed, critical thinking about legal and other strategies that touch on social wrongs has been discussed in law school classrooms and clinic supervision for decades. However, our legacy is the workarounds and neutralizing of civil rights, workers rights, environmental, and other laws intended to help us solve social ills; the seeds of change have not borne the results expected. Students who are attracted to law school because they see law as a tool for solving problems, soon sense a system that is mightily frayed. As these students navigate the texts and training offered, they struggle with how within our venerated legal system to achieve change that will connect the law to the values they consider essential for a viable society.

Vermont Law School’s curriculum committee just approved a new course called Legal Activism: Lawyering for Social Change designed to expose students to theoretical and practical approaches to legal activism. The course will use Alan K. Chen and Scott Cummings, Public Interest Lawyering: A Contemporary Perspective (Aspen Elective 2012) as its text, taking advantage of the book’s focus on activist lawyers and legal strategies in our history. The impetus for the course was largely the disconnect between the careful web of procedure, precedent and statutes that perpetuate unsustainable results and the desire so many of our students have expressed to find paths that reflect the values they hold.

As law schools consider how to prepare students for the “new normal” (a painful phrase), we must recognize that among them are those who question the very premises of normalcy. Our challenge is to work with these students to foster a sense that they can achieve meaningful results, and that it is not too late to try. Their pursuit of change may test the structure of law in our society and its relevance to the increasingly urgent problems we face. While they may not discover more sustainable results than those achieved by activist lawyers in the past, we will do well to help them envision the possibilities.

[1] See “Statement on the Value of Legal Education,” http://www.aals.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Statement-on-the-Value-of-a-Legal-Education.pdf

NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION VIGOROUSLY OPPOSES PROPOSAL TO BRING UBE TO NY THIS JULY

Less than a month ago, the New York State Courts circulated a proposal to change the New York State (NYS) Bar Exam by adopting the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) along with a second, separately graded “New York Law Exam” segment consisting of 50 multiple-choice questions, tested for one hour on the second day of the exam.   The proposal would make the changes effective for all current graduating law students who face the bar exam in July 2015.    This past weekend, the New York State Bar Association House of Delegates unanimously opposed the proposed immediate changes,  sending a  message to the NYS Board of Law Examiners and to the New York Court of Appeals – do not bring the Uniform Bar Exam and a yet to be formulated or studied New York Exam to NYS in  July 2015.  Even more significantly, the House directed the State Bar President, based on an amendment from the floor,  to do everything possible to prevent immediate implementation of a new bar exam in New York.  

So, how did NYS get to the point where the Courts and the Bar are in such conflict over proposed changes to the bar exam?

For several years,  the NYS Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar Committee (LEAB)  (on which I have formerly served as an active member) has been studying how to improve the bar exam to make it fairer for all groups of test takers and more relevant to what graduates need to know, value and do in the early years of practice. See NYSBA Legal Education September2013Journal particularly page 31.  The Committee, through its chairs, has reached out to the NYS Board of Law Examiners and the Chief Justice about these matters without success.  The UBE was not one of the reform measures which LEAB proposed for further study or pilot projects.

Suddenly, and without notice to the NYSBA LEAB Committee,  co-chaired by  well-respected practitioner Eileen Millett and equally well-respected Touro Law Center Dean Patricia Salkin , the courts circulated and posted the following:

1) UNIFORM BAR EXAMINATION (UBE)
 POSTED OCTOBER 7, 2014

The New York State Board of Law Examiners has recommended to the New York Court of Appeals that the current bar examination be replaced with the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE). The Court of Appeals is considering adopting the UBE for the administration of the July 2015 bar exam. On October 6, 2014, the Court of Appeals issued a Request for Public Comment on the proposal. Submissions will be accepted until November 7, 2014. A copy of the Request for Public Comment is available by clicking this link:   New York Court of Appeals Request for Comment  http://www.nybarexam.org

The proposal and request for comment document asserts that  “The UBE is prepared by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) and passage of the test would produce a portable score that can be used to gain admission in other states that accept the UBE, provided the applicant satisfies any other jurisdiction-specific admission requirements. As the UBE is accepted by more states,the portable score will facilitate lawyer mobility across state lines, resulting in expanded employment opportunities for lawyers throughout the nation and facilitating multi-state law practices.”

Given the surprise announcement from the Court on October 6, 2014 of a 30-day comment period (open until this Friday, Nov. 7th) , the LEAB and its co-chairs  had only a matter of weeks to research, discuss and prepare a report for the State Bar Association about the implications of the proposed changes. The LEAB report 10-29-2014 (2) argues that it is simply too soon to discuss the merits of the Uniform Bar Exam and its potential impact on test takers in New York because of the surprise nature of the announcement along with absence of any study or report discussing a need, a cost-benefit analysis, or a discussion of whether there could be disparate impacts on minority test-takers.  LEAB is concerned about potential increase in costs for test-takers, impact on barriers to entry to the profession in New York, and impact on the New York job market.  LEAB  discussions emphasized that the practicing bar has been pressuring law schools to meet the demands of a changing market place including, among other things, producing more “practice ready” lawyers that would presumably include a richer knowledge of New York Law.  Impacts on foreign lawyers and other important issues for consideration were also raised.

On this past weekend, co-chairs Millett and Salkin presented their findings to the NYSBA House of Delegates.  The presentation to the State Bar can be viewed here (Click on the Nov. 1 House of Delegates Meeting and then click on the Report of the Committee on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar)  Co-Chair Millett challenged the notion that the proposed reforms as outlined would actually result in  portability. Co-chair Salkin pointed out that the notion of “uniformity” seems misleading given that in NY many uniform rules are not used and that  current law school  courses focus on statutes different than those used by the UBE .   Significantly, three past presidents of the NYSBA testified against the proposed immediate changes including Steve Younger who emphasized the issues raised by New York’s special connection with international lawyers from around the globe admitted to practice  in New York State.  Many expressed concern for current students facing the July Bar, including Albany Law School Professor Michael Hutter who asked  “Why the Rush to Judgment?” Dean Patricia Salkin and Betty Lugo (President-elect of the Puerto Rican Bar Association founded in 1957) expressed particular concern that minority bar associations were not consulted, and that questions on the proposed brand new “New York Law Exam” component have never been tested on previous exams, a “best practice” for all standardized tests that are given as points of entry to higher education and the professions.

Why does this matter?

The contents, pass rates and disparate impacts of the bar exam matter tremendously .  This is our profession’s gatekeeping device.  It announces  what we value and what we do not value. It will be a make or break change for many law students starting in July who have prepared their course of study under different sets of expectations. For many schools and many students, bar exam subjects and testing methods determine their course curriculum rather than what they need to meet student learning outcomes or preparing for practice. This proposed change deserves further scrutiny and evaluation.  New Yorkers also deserve that the Court evaluate  the success of licensure practices which include clinical evaluation while in professional school as opposed to sole reliance on standardized testing.

See attached SALT Letter-NY Bar opposing the proposed changes.

My  Reaction to the Proposed Changes:

POTENTIAL ADVANTAGES:

  • Should proposed changes result in a decrease in the number of doctrinal subjects tested on the NY Bar exam that will be an advantageous change both for making the bar exam more relevant and for allowing law schools and students to craft better curricular choices to prepare them for the jobs and careers of today and tomorrow.  (see earlier BLOG post on this issue here.)

POTENTIAL DISADVANTAGES:

  • The process for adopting the proposed change is too hasty and is unfair to current third year students and to second year students who have already planned three semesters around the exam.
  • The proposed changes have not been studied appropriately. For example, no one knows if the new format, particularly the 50 question NYS multiple choice format,  will exacerbate the already disparate impact on graduates of color and/or if it will create a separate barrier for admission to those who will make great lawyers but not particularly good standardized test-takers given the speededness/speediness factor – 50 multiple choice in one hour will make or break you on the NY part!
  •  The proposed format fails to address the critical need for bar licensure to include evaluation of actual, supervised, and  limited practice of law while in law school or immediately thereafter.  As a gateway to a client-centered, civic profession, evaluation of the limited supervised practice of law could and should replace – at least some part – of the current standardized testing.

NEW YORK LAWYERS, LAW STUDENTS  AND LAW PROFESSORS ACT NOW!  Comments due by this Friday November 7th.

Address comments to:

UniformBarExam@nycourts.gov

What price is right? Law School Education and Paul Campos

What is a poor law student to do?  Paul Campos has yet again set his sights on what he considers is the bain of legal education- for-profit law schools.  Campos details how how a Chicago-based private equity firm got into the business of law schools.  Summit Partners created InfiLaw and began to become legal educators by first purchasing Florida Coastal Law School and later adding Phoenix School of Law and Charlotte School of Law.  The results while good for Summit Partners who receive their profits upfront according to Campos, left the InfiLaw graduates the big losers in long run.  Campos noted that the average Infilaw graduate accumulated over $200,000 in debt while only 36% of the Class of 2013 had actual legal employment.   This follows an overall trend in higher education where undergraduates and graduate students alike are funding their education with high-interest private loans that will take a life-long career of work to discharge.  I pose a question that Prof. Bill Whitford taught me in my Contracts class at the University of WIsconsin more than a few years ago.  What if the high costs of a legal education is not unconscionable as Campos suggests but the price a population of specialized students are willing to pay to gain access to a legal education that still has some social capital?

I am not a free market guru who will chant the mantra of law students paying for what the market determines is a valuable education.  But there is a grain of truth in arguing that students who would not be accepted at traditional law schools are being given an opportunity to have a traditional law school experience.  I do not know the statistics for the Infilaw students but I have a hunch that many of these students are first generation attorneys who come from modest working class or disadvantaged backgrounds. They are willing to take a chance on themselves and make a life-time investment that may not pay off in the long run.  The forecast is not good for Infilaw students.  Will they pass the bar on the first attempt?  Will they acquire a level of employment or income that will erase their debts?  Paul Campos says no and statistics will back up his claims.  But do we shut out a group of over-achievers because only a small number will gain what legal scholars would deem success?

In my contracts class those many, many years ago, Prof. Whitford explained that there is a population that businesses are willing to take a chance on who have no credit or bad credit and who are willing to take on high interest rates to obtain merchandise.  There is a good chance that this poor-credit/no-credit population would default on credit and be unable continue payments.  The businesses knew and took the chance but built in the loss upfront with high-interest rates.  The buyers knew they were paying far beyond the value of the merchandise just to be able to obtain the merchandise.  Were the merchants unconscionable Prof. Whitford asked?  In a consumer culture that is awash with the  creation and cultivation of desire and consumption, how could anyone resist?  Even those with poor or no credit.   Didn’t we risk becoming paternalistic in determing who deserved what?  Prof. Whitford posed provocative questions to my first year class.

I am not a proponent of for-profit law schools.  I am the product of the  Chicago Public School and the public university systems.  I obtained a quality, low cost education that no longer exists.  Campos’ article is a condemnation of the for-profit law school system that seeks to prey on a certain population.  I agree.  But we have no alternative.  States are seeking to strip affirmative action programs from the law school admissions process.  The University of Texas Law School buttresses for annual attacks on it’s admissions process.  First generation law students, economically disadvantaged law students and law students of color have no viable alternatives.  If these students are willing to take on the debt, derision and scorn of being a product of a low-tiered, for-profit system, I will not discourage them.  They attend with full knowledge but want to become attorneys no matter what the costs.  This is not a free market economist argument of caveat emptor but a lawyer who has loved the practice and teaching of law for over 20 years and does not wish to see it closed to those who desire the same experiences-no matter the costs

The Baby Has Finally Been Birthed!

Comprehensive revisions passed

The ABA House of Delegates passed the comprehensve revisions with “minimal  fuss” according to the ABA Journal linked  above.  One area, however, garnered  significant attention and also resulted in  an odd, though perhaps meaningless ,  procedural move.  The House voted  to send back to the Section on Legal Education for further consideration the comment to standard 305 which prohibits payment to students for credit-based courses.

What does this mean? Law schools which have not already done so must start identifying, articulating publicly and assessing student learning out outcomes, providing every student six  credits of clinic or clinic-like experiential courses and requiring students to take two credit hours worth of professional responsibility coursework.

Well, it’s a start……

TEACHING RESILIENCE AND BEING RESILIENT : Filling Our Tanks This Summer

About a month ago, I had the pleasure of attending the annual AALS clinical conference held  in Chicago.   The conference focused on achieving happiness and resilience at a time of challenge in legal education while exploring methods for becoming “better” clinical teachers.  Clin14BookletWeb

The Keynote opening presentation by Professor Nancy Levit from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law outlined research about happiness,  lawyers and legal careers.   Professor Levit’s  book with Doug Linder, The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law, was published by Oxford University Press in 2010. Their sequel, The Good Lawyer: Seeking Quality in the Practice of Law is now available.  The Levit and Linder research helps answer questions for our students and ourselves about how and why lawyers find a  legal career rewarding.   Much of the research reveals that simple truths about happiness – such as feeling valued or being part of a community – bears repetition.   The presentation was informative and the research can be used in advising our students, supporting our colleagues and caring for ourselves.

After her keynote, panelists Professor Calvin Pang (University of Hawaii, William S. Richardson School of Law)  and Professor Joanna Woolman (William Mitchell College of Law) with moderator American University Professor Brenda Smith presented a few clips from a very realistic “role play” focused on a “devastating” day in court and the responses  of a clinical teacher, clinical student, and non-clinical colleague.    (The film will be available after the conference – I believe at the AALS site – for those who want to use it in their home schools.)  In the film, the law student  faces a surprising negative court ruling and then experiences his client yelling at him outside the courtroom.   In conversation with the clinical professor, the student expresses anger with his client and believes he should just “drop” clinic.  The clinical professor listens to the student and also explores other aspects of the student’s current anger and despair including his having received a number of employment rejections during this same time period.

The film was provocative and engendered good discussion about the role of law professors .  Many of us have experienced with our students or in our own professional lives the coinciding emotional burdens of dealing with difficult emotions in client’s cases and receiving negative news on the home or career front.   Managing and coping with all those emotions and burdens is a never-ending part of professional development and law schools can and should play a significant role in preparing students with appropriate skills, appreciation of professional values and coping tools.

In a final exercise, the entire room of about 500+ created word trees on three questions:

1.  What do you do as a teacher to “fill your tank.?”

2. What do you do to encourage your students to adopt habits to make themselves whole?

3. What are the barriers and obstacles to the first two?

In asking myself these questions and watching the hundreds of others eagerly participate, I reflected on the particular importance of the resilience, holistic, and happiness theme at this moment in time.   Students and recent grads need our positive support.  Institutions need our creative, optimistic energy.   But providing that energy and support can be personally tolling.

Student-centered faculty – and in particular clinical faculty with summer burdens or untenured faculty with heavy writing demands – must  carve out some real off time or vacation in order to be effective in the long term.  Their institutions must support their need for renewal.  Filling  our personal “tanks” with sunsets, summer treats (ice cream for me!), some  relaxing days, renewed commitment to exercise or getting outside, and time vacationing with loved ones helps form the foundation for resilience in the academic year.  We need to do this not only to support our own resilience but to equip ourselves with the experience-based wisdom that will be needed in great quantities in the coming semesters.  In order  to assist our students and our institutions at this precarious time for law schools, we need to nurture our whole selves now.

LegalED Igniting the Law Conference April 4th @ American University Washington College of Law

At our first conference this upcoming Friday we are featuring over 30 law professors from the United States who will be presenting in TEDx styled talks. Here is a link to our impressive speaker list:

http://legaledweb.com/igniting-law-teaching-conference-speakers

Here is some more information about our vision for LegalED and our conference:
Unlike MOOCs, where one professor teaches thousands.  We believe that all professors topics that they know best and that collectively we can bring students more ideas and perspectives, which is important for legal education. In studying the law, it is important for students to be able to see an issue, a problem from various perspectives.

And the unique thing about the conference is that we are creating a body of professional development materials for professors.  In the legal academy and probably in higher ed generally, not a lot of attention is paid to how students learn or to the craft of teaching.  This conference addresses that head on and begins to create a collection of videos, available 24/7 for professors interested in improving their craft.

Also check out our website and please feel free to contact me with any questions.
http://legaledweb.com

-Benjamin Pietrzyk
Uncommon Individual Foundation

REMINDER: Educating the Transactional Lawyer of Tomorrow

Educating the Transactional Lawyer of Tomorrow
 
Emory University School of Law –  June 6-7, 2014
Emory’s Center for Transactional Law and Practice is delighted to announce its fourth biennial conference on the teaching of transactional law and skills.  The conference, entitled “Educating the Transactional Lawyer of Tomorrow,” will be held at Emory Law, beginning at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, June 6th and ending at 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, June 7th.
We are accepting proposals immediately, but in no event later than 5 p.m. on Monday, March 17, 2014.  We welcome proposals on any subject of interest to current or potential teachers of transactional law and skills, focusing particularly on our overarching theme:  “Educating the Transactional Lawyer of Tomorrow.”
Please submit the attached proposal form electronically via the Emory Law website at https://emorylaw.wufoo.com/forms/2014-conference-proposals/before 5 p.m. on Monday, March 17, 2014.
Beginning March 1, 2014, you can also register for the Conference at our Emory Law website at https://emorylaw.wufoo.com/forms/2014-emory-law-conference-registration/.
 
If you encounter any technical difficulties in submitting your proposal or in registering online, please contact Edna Patterson, Conference Coordinator, at edna.patterson@emory.edu or 404.727.6506.
We look forward to seeing you in June!
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