A Reluctant Technologist – Best Practices for the 21st Century

BLOG Authored by:  Irene Scharf

Professor of Law

Univ. of Mass. School of Law


From a reluctant technologist:  For several reasons, this year we’ve instituted in the clinics at the law school an email security program to boot-strap onto school’s email system we’ve been using to communicate with our students. We did this for a few reasons.  First, we realized that, once the students are not longer in the clinic, if we continued using their general emails, the confidential client case information in those email accounts will remain in their possession.   So, we needed to establish a dedicated email system that would be used exclusively for students’ (and supervisors’) confidential client communications, one that would not follow the students with them when they left the clinic. In addition, these dedicated email addresses can also be used by clients, who are becoming more attuned to the internet and especially email, so they can communicate with their clinic students in a “safe” environment. Finally, these confidential emails are always available to the clinic staff, even after a student leaves the clinic, so that we are able to access this information if it is needed for a case.


I was a reluctant participant in this project, feeling that, and fearing that, I was becoming obsolete, given the myriad of technological interconnections in which we, as lawyers and clinicians, must become not just familiar, or proficient, but outstanding.  Also, “Best Practices” for legal practitioners remains open to argument, particularly as the technology, and attempts of outsiders to “invade” these systems, becomes more sophisticated.  It seems that, as soon as one advance is made, it becomes obsolete and needs updating.  This is difficult to keep abreast with, particularly difficult for law school clinical programs, which often do not have the resources to maintain the continued vigilance that seems required these days.


For now, though, we’re “all set.”  Let’s see how long that lasts …

Being in the Moment with our Students

BLOG post authored by:

Irene Scharf

Univ. of Mass. School of Law

About a month ago, when the President announced that he was taking executive action to address various issues that would assist about 5.5 million immigrants in this country, lawyers, legal services offices, religious organizations, and law schools around the country stepped up to organize, even at the very busy time of year’s – and semester’s – end, to help in whatever way they could.

For law school immigration clinics, and even for law students not enrolled in clinics but interested in helping and dipping their toes into immigration, students and their teachers experienced, in this call to action, “being in the moment” – with their teachers, with their clinics, and with the people who they will help. That immigration clinic faculty all over the country naturally took up this role modeling, while an automatic response to real need, is both a testament to them and a meaningful example law professors can set for their law students. An issue arose. People needed help. Law students were invited to participate, with their teachers, to help those in need. Law school clinics teamed up with local legal services providers. With religiously-affiliated groups. Community-wide events are being held. Everyone working toward a common, worthy goal. Students witness, and participate in, activist, justice-centered lawyering. That’s best practice.

Thanks to all our wonderful readers and contributors, we WON!

Best Practices for Legal Education” blog won first place in the ABA Journal Blawg 100’s Careers / Law School category. Our blog garnered more than 150 votes and was one of 13 popular vote winners out of 100 blogs.

The Blawg 100, as selected by the ABA Journal, was featured in the journal’s December 2014 cover story. As a winner of the popular vote, “Best Practices for Legal Education” will be featured again in the February issue.  The ABA Journal‘s Blawg 100 is an annual list of the best in blogs about lawyers and the law.

We also have a cool new BADGE featured on our site! Booyah!

A special thank you to Michele Pistone of LegalEd  for her great work on getting out the vote!

So keep those contributions, posts and comments coming!


Update from AALS Conference on Integrating Clinical Pedagogy Across Curriculum

BLOG POST Authored by:
Mayer, Connie
Interim Associate Dean for Academic Affairs; Raymond and Ella Smith Distinguished Professor of Law
Albany Law School

I just returned from the 2015 AALS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. this past weekend where I had the honor of helping to plan the session entitled, “Integrating Clinical Pedagogy Across the Curriculum: Making it Work.” The session was co-sponsored by the Section on Clinical Legal Education and the Section on Teaching Methods. A panel of very dedicated law faculty highlighted how clinical methods can be used effectively in non-clinical courses to enhance learning. Two panelists, Professor Alice Abreu (Temple) and Professor Ray Brescia (Albany), described their use of live clients in teaching Tax Policy and Practice and Law and Social Innovation. They highlighted their use of clinical methods including problem-solving in a real world setting, reflection, and live client interaction. Three panelists, Professor Kenneth Klein (California Western), Professor Nicole Iannarone (Georgia State), and Professor Brian Krumm (Tennessee), discussed their use of simulations, reflection, professional role plays, and collaborative learning in teaching their courses (Representing Enterprises, Professional Responsibility, and Civil Procedure, respectively).

Given the new focus on experiential learning, both from the ABA and from employers seeking to hire graduates who are more ready to take on their professional roles, the burden (and reward) of seeing students develop their professional identity through clinical methodology cannot be solely on the shoulders of the clinic, though the clinic will remain the focal point for experiential learning. There is “added value,” however, if faculty teaching non-clinical courses also adopt some of the clinic methods that are known to promote deeper learning.

The session raised some very interesting questions that we need to continue to explore. If simulations are used in a non-clinical course, how much time should be devoted to teaching the skill being used? For example, if students are asked to negotiate a problem with the goal of enhancing their understanding of the subject matter area, how are they taught about the process of negotiation? If individual faculty members integrate certain clinical methods, how are they coordinated with one another and with the work of the clinic? Are the courses sequenced (or can they be) so that students begin to learn skills and develop a professional identity in a more intensely supervised setting and then move on to non-clinical courses where they can practice those skills in a less supervised setting? How can the success described by the panelists be used to promote broader curricular change?

As a former clinical teacher, I use clinical methods in my non-clinical courses and I find them rewarding and an important way to enhance learning. As the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, I encourage faculty to use clinical methods in non-clinical courses. But there is a need to coordinate these individual efforts and think through how to place in order the opportunities for experiential learning that we offer. We are lucky to house the Center for Excellence in Law Teaching, directed by Professor Mary Lynch, who organizes regular workshops on teaching that provide a platform for discussion of these issues. The clinical conference in the spring on “The New Normal” will also help us continue this conversation.

Thanks to our wonderful moderator, Professor Jane Aiken (Georgetown), to committee member Professor Lisa Reel Schmidt, and to our hard-working co-chairs, Professor Joy Radice (Tennessee) and Professor Spencer Rand (Temple) for a very inspirational session!

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

Free Webinar on Friday — Flipping The Law Classroom: Infusing Active Learning Through Technology

As the semester comes to a close it is a fantastic opportunity to reflect on your teaching strategies and what worked and what did not. If you have thought about introducing blended learning with in-class instruction this upcoming spring consider joining LegalED for our upcoming webinar Flipping of the Law Classroom: Infusing Active Learning through Technology on Friday, December 12th at 2:00-2:45 pm EST.

Fill out this form if you wish to participate as we have limited open slots.

Jeremiah Ho of University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Law will be leading this webinar and we are thrilled and honored to work with him!  Jeremiah shined in our Igniting Law Teaching Conference this past April. You can see his presentation, “Not Your Father’s Case Method: Bringing Skills into Doctrinal Courses” here (If you are interested in presenting at our 2015 Igniting Law Teaching Conference visit our Call for Talks)

Again the webinar Friday, December 12th from 2:00 – 2:45pm EST.  If you are interested in participating, please fill out this form so I can reserve your slot.

We will be using GoToMeeting software and will be sending sign-in information before the webinar.

We hope you can join us for the free webinar!

Making Educational Videos for Legal Education

Educational videos are becoming one of the most popular online learning formats in K-12 and higher education.  The semester break is a great time to start thinking about how to make educational videos for your courses.

Since last year, I have been working with law professors to begin to incorporate educational videos into legal education.   Together with FWD.us, a group of law professors recently launched a series of educational videos on immigration law and additional videos are currently being produced.  The videos were made by several law professors from a host of law schools, including: Lenni Benson (NYLS), Amanda Frost (AU), Lindsay Harris (Georgetown), Cesar Cuauhtemoc Garcia Hernandez (Denver), Laila Hlass (BU), Hiroshi Motomura (UCLA), Michael Olivas (U of Houston), Jayesh Rathod (AU), Philip Schrag (Georgetown), Ragini Shah (Suffolk), Juliet Stumpf (Lewis and Clark), Shoba Wadhia (Penn State), Virgil Wiebe (University of St. Thomas), and Michael Wishnie (Yale).

I learned a lot from making these and other educational videos on law and law teaching.  Many of my colleagues have asked for advice on how to get started.  Over the next 3 blog posts I will detail the 3 easy ways to produce educational videos for legal education together with some lessons learned. The three posts will be on (1) Voiceover Powerpoint/Keynote Slideshow, (2) Screencasting (3) Whiteboard Animated Videos.

Voiceover Powerpoint/Keynote Slideshow

Both Powerpoint and Keynote allow you to record yourself talking over each slide in a slideshow.  It is quite easy to record an audio narration over a Powerpoint or Keynote slideshow.  Open the slideshow on your computer and speak about each slide at your normal pace.  As you move through the slideshow, your voice is recorded.  Then, when you are done, save the presentation as a movie, a function available on both Powerpoint and Keynote.  Here are useful articles about recording narrations over slideshows.

If you use Prezi, the program does not have an embedded system for adding audio.  You will have to record your voiceover using a different program, such a Quicktime or Garage Band and then import the audio clip to your Prezi.  Here is a quick Prezi that walks you through that process.

Watch this slideshare for tips on how to make slides pop.  There are also tools such as Haiku Deck that you can use to create your slides before exporting to Powerpoint or Keynote.

Stock Images

Free Images- These two links list several great resources to find free images for your presentations. Make sure to read the terms of use since each site’s terms may vary slightly.

Paid images- iStockphoto is the largest and best solution for paid images. http://www.istockphoto.com

Pricing depends on the size and quality of image you need.  Getty Images, which has a lot of professional photography, recently announced that its photos can be embedded for free in certain material.  http://www.gettyimages.com/embed

Lesson Learned:  To improve the visual quality of your Powerpoint or Keynote slideshow, use as many images as you can and try to reduce the amount of written text on each screen.  Research on learning sciences teaches us that learners have both an auditory and a visual track.  When they see an image, while listening to a presentation, both tracks are fully engaged.  This is best for retention and transfer.  When text is on the screen, learners use their auditory track to read the text.  Therefore, if you speak as they are reading the text, your students have to make a choice of whether to listen to the narration or to read – they can’t do both at the same time.

What type of images do you use? Do you have any experience with keynote or PowerPoint? Please share with us! If you know of any additional resources add them in the comments below.

At LegalED, we are also looking for teams of law professors to curate (think book editor) video content for the site.  If you are interested in curating a collection of videos in your subject area, please let me know!  You can leave a message in the comment section below.

I’ll have more to share on this topic in future posts.  Don’t forget to follow the conversation @LegalEDweb


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