Developing the habit of critiquing the law – or legal nihilism?

We often ask students to consider the role of law and policy in shaping society and providing a means for solving problems. But what problems has the law ever solved?

Posing that question to students, what do they come up with? Certainly, the legal system provides a way for disputes between individual persons or entities to be resolved, one way or another. The rules of the system say that the dispute is over.

But what about overarching, systemic, societal problems? I’m thinking about residential segregation at the moment, and the resulting disparities in wealth accumulation, educational quality, and employment opportunity, just to name a few. Discriminatory housing policies were once implemented and enforced by law; then they were prohibited. Particularly where a good share of the responsibility for the development of a given problem can be directly traced to prior law, have legal reforms ever resulted in solving that problem? Is this a question that can be posed in some manner to students, as a means of developing the habit of critiquing and improving the law?

Simulation Courses and Standard 303’s “Primarily Experiential” Requirement

Many professors use simulation exercises in their teaching; not as many have ever taught a simulation course. What does it mean? What is required?

To meet Standard 303’s criteria under the new, six-credit experiential requirement, a simulation course must:

  • be primarily experiential in nature
  • integrate doctrine, theory, skills, and legal ethics
  • engage students in performance of one or more of the professional skills identified in Standard 302
  • develop the concepts underlying the professional skills being taught
  • provide multiple opportunities for performance and
  • provide opportunities for self-evaluation.

Additionally, under Standard 304, “[a] simulation course provides substantial experience not involving an actual client, that

(1) is reasonably similar to the experience of a lawyer advising or representing a client or engaging in other lawyering tasks in a set of facts and circumstances devised or adopted by a faculty member, and

(2) includes the following:

(i) direct supervision of the student’s performance by the faculty member;

(ii) opportunities for performance, feedback from a faculty member, and self- evaluation; and

(iii) a classroom instructional component.”

These two standards provide a relatively detailed list of requirements, but the very first item seems the least well defined. What does it mean for a course to be “primarily experiential in nature?” If a two-credit seminar course is enhanced with an additional hour of simulation activities, meeting all of the other listed requirements, is the resulting three-credit course “primarily experiential in nature?” All three credits?

Maybe the answer depends upon the degree to which the simulation is integrated into the teaching of doctrine. A course can ask students to think about the implications of doctrine from the perspective of the role they are assigned to play. If woven throughout the course, references to the simulation can enrich students’ understanding of the content, which they will then apply in the performance aspect of the course. Still, assuming the two credits of content are still being taught, is this course “primarily experiential in nature?” Or does this requirement mean simulation courses must be advanced-level options for students who have already completed a course introducing the content, such that the primarily experiential application of doctrine can take place? I don’t think that’s what it should mean.

Approaching simulation courses from design principles instead, several authors ask us to think carefully about the goals of our simulation courses and the ways in which we assess student performance. See, e.g., Roy Stuckey, Teaching with Purpose: Defining and Achieving Desired Outcomes in Clinical Law Courses, 13 Clinical L. Rev. 807 (2007); Paul S. Ferber, Adult Learning Theory and Simulations – Designing Simulations to Educate Lawyers, 9 Clinical L. Rev. 417 (2002); Jay M. Feinman, Simulations: An Introduction, 45 J. Legal Educ. 469 (1995). The Carnegie Report says, “Doctrinal teaching goes on informally as students engage the simulated cases, so that assignments used to teach practical lawyering skills also reinforce their learning of legal analysis.” Stuckey, supra at 823, citing Carnegie at 226-27. But surely doctrinal teaching can also take place more formally in a simulation course, provided it is integrated with the simulated role that makes the course primarily experiential.

Ready to Learn, Beyond the Black Letter of the Law | By: Ray Brescia

In his recent op-ed for the National Law Journal, Ray Brescia discusses the need for upper-level classes in law school that afford students a chance to learn the art of the legal profession, and not just the tools of the trade.  Read: As School Year Begins, Think Outside the Tort.

Top Ten Things Law Professors Can Do This Year to Learn About EdTech

Let’s face it, the role that technology can play in the practice of law is becoming more evident – with predictive coding, eDiscovery, and companies like LexMachina that use legal analytics to, among other things, predict the outcome of patent litigation.  But many in the legal academy still cannot conceive of how technology can change legal education.  If you are in that camp or know others who are, let me suggest that we do not dismiss the potential for change in legal education without knowing more about the emerging field of edtech and the forces behind it.  Want to learn more?  Here are ten things you can do this year that might change your thinking about the role of technology in the future of legal education.  The suggestions come from my article, which has other suggestions as well.

1.  Catch up on some important reading.  Read David Thomson, Law School 2.0: Legal Education for the Digital Age (2009).  Also, read the work of Bill Henderson, including A Blueprint for Change, 40 Pepperdine L. Rev. 461 (2013) and Andrew P. Morriss & William D. Henderson, Measuring Outcomes: Post-Graduation Measures of Success in the U.S. News & World Report Law School Rankings, 83 Indiana L. J. 791 (2008). Read David Barnhizer’s article, Redesigning the American Law School, 2010 Mich. St. L. Rev. 249 (2010). 

2.  Read, too, assessments about how technology has impacted and will continue to impact higher education generally, works such as Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary Education, and The Department of Education’s Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies

3.  Learn about the millennial generation who are “born digital” and how their more networked and connected lives affect the way they approach learning.  A great book on this topic is by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser of Harvard Law’s Beckman Center on Internet and Society, Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives (2008).  Think about the implications of the fact that between 2000 and 2002, the largest group of first time internet users were between two and five years old, placing the oldest members of this group in college now – and in law school soon.  Begin to understand how the emerging “participatory culture” is changing what one needs to learn to be fully prepared to function in the twenty-first century.  You can do this by reading Henry Jenkins, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (MacArthur Foundation)

4.  Begin to explore the potential for law schools to employ teaching methods that use technology to a greatly enhanced degree.  For example, read about flipping the classroom, a teaching methodology that blends online lectures (which students view at their own pace as homework) with in-class instruction, as it is used in K-12 education, Jonathan Bergmann & Aaron Sams, Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day (ISTE/ASCD, 2012), or watch these videos on flipped learning in legal education.  By migrating lectures to the web, flipped learning can free face-to-face classtime for active learning, including Socratic dialogues, drafting exercises, simulations and role plays.  

5.  Investigate innovations in adaptive learning, a technique using computer software first to assess what a student knows and then to adapt the content taught to the knowledge level of the student, thus providing a more personalized learning experience for each individual.  Computer-based adaptive learning is already being used by the Kaplan test preparation company for college students planning to take the LSAT and GMAT; by Khan Academy for younger students; and by many companies, such as Knewton, for a wide range of users.  

6.  Consider the impact that gaming can have on education.  Follow the work of Jeannette Eicks (Vermont) and Stephanie Kimbro (Stanford), both of whom are working on projects that involve gaming and law.  Read James Gee, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2003); James Gee, Good Video Games and Good Learning, at http://dmlcentral.net/sites/dmlcentral/files/resource_files/GoodVideoGamesLearning.pdf.  Educational games are available for a variety of topics, including civics, see http://www.icivics.org/ (a game-based website started for former Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor); climate change, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/hottopics/climatechange/climate_challenge/; national conflicts, see http://www.peacemakergame.com/game.php; and even algebra, see http://www.dragonboxapp.com.

7.  Monitor the impact that recent decisions by law schools to develop online programs for non-JD degrees has on programs at other schools, such as the decision by graduate tax law programs at, among others, Alabama, Georgetown, NYU, Villanova, and Boston University to offer their programs online. Read Distance Learning in Legal Education:  A Summary of Delivery Models, Regulatory issues and Recommended Practices. Attend a meeting of the Distance Learning in Legal Education Working Group, organized by Vermont Law School professors Rebecca Purdom and Oliver Goodenough.  The group meets three times a year, once in the fall (which is in a few weeks at William Mitchell School of Law), once during the AALS Annual Meeting, and a third time in the spring.  

8.  Monitor the effectiveness and reaction of law graduates who take online bar preparation courses such as Themis. 

9.  Explore some of the new apps being developed for iPads and Androids to teach legal concepts.  Law Stack is an Apple app for legal research loaded with various federal statutes.  Law School Dojo, by Stanford Law’s Margaret Hagan, is an app with quizzes on legal concepts for a range of subject matters, including contracts, torts, civil procedure and international law.

10.  Register for and attend the 2015 AALS Clinical Conference, May 4-7 in beautiful Rancho Mirage, CA.  The theme of the conference is the “New Normal.” One of the three tracks for the conference is devoted to the future in the “new normal,” both for the practice of law and for legal education. As to law practice, we hope to address how professors can understand the rapid and profound technological change that could well remake law practice and how those changes can advance our work for social justice. We want to explore how changes in service delivery and structure of law practices can and should impact our teaching. And we hope to address how professors can better use technological advances and insights from learning sciences in their teaching. 

The internet, the driver of all the changes and developments noted above, is a technology and a tool that, for the reach and extent of its often disruptive and its often liberating effects, can be compared only with the printing press.  When writing of Gutenberg’s invention, Elizabeth Eisenstein, a careful and meticulous historian of immense reputation, wrote (favorably quoting Renaissance scholar Myron Gilmore) in her two-volume magnum opus, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, that “’[i]t opened new horizons in education and in the communication of ideas. Its effects were sooner or later felt in every department of human activity.’” As I explain in my recent article, I strongly believe that “[s]o too it is, or sooner or later shall be, with the internet.”

Are there things I am missing?  Add them in the comments below.

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

Legal Education and Professional Identity, by Steve Friedland

I participated in a discussion group about teaching the formation of professional identity at the Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) conference in early August, led by Professors Ben Madison of Regent University School of Law and David Thomson of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.  It was clear there was lots of passion in the room to engage students in the formation of professional identity directly and throughout law school.  The real question was how to do it.  There were some very good ideas of how to do it within the parameters of traditional classes, such as Professional Ethics, and how to do it outside of classes by affecting the culture of a school and its environments.

One of the main problems in this area, it seems to me, is that the notion of ‘professionalism’ is often a foreign concept to students; after all, until someone becomes a lawyer, how will they understand what this means?  This is where learning science comes into play, specifically experiential education, the kind advocated by David Kolb in his famous experiential learning cycle way back in 1984.  Kolb suggested that experience should be used as a learning tool in stages. An experience serves as the first stage, and is then followed by reflection, abstraction and theorization, and finally, the transfer of knowledge to new problems or questions.

This learning cycle fits into real life quite well.  If one is learning to drive, for example, then it is important to progress from the classroom to the passenger seat to the driver’s seat.  Of course, the ‘driver’s seat’ need not be attached to a two thousand pounds of nuts, bolts and engine, but can at first be behind the wheel of a simulator.  Simulation and exercises in legal education also can serve as a platform for the formation of professional identity.  For example, a simulated oral argument about a case could involve two teams of students asked to argue different positions.  This division into groups requires collaborative work and presents an opportunity to explore how professionals participate and communicate on teams.

Students also could be given non-legal exercises that raise professional identity issues.  If students were walking home from school one night and see a $20 bill sticking out of an ATM machine with no one else around, would they take it?  Why or why not?  Does it matter whether the students were now working in a courthouse where the ATM is located or working as a lawyer for the bank that owns the ATM?

From a different perspective, what if the students were mountain climbing in the Andes Mountains and were roped up with the person closest to them in the entire world at 20,000 feet. In this hypo, the person roped to the student slips and falls off of the mountain.  The only way the student can save him or herself is to cut the rope, leading to a long fall for person #2.  Would the student cut the rope?  This question raises professional ethics of a different kind — what is the mountain climber code in this situation?  Also, what factors would the student consider in making such a decision? (A somewhat similar situation actually occurred in real life with two mountain climbers high in the Andes.  The mountain climber on the mountain cut the rope and the other climber, dangling below, fell, but survived.  I would have loved to have eavesdropped on their conversation at the bottom of the mountain. See Touching the Void (2003), based on a 1988 book by Joe Simpson of the same name.)

All told, the formation of professional identity can help students connect with and maintain the values that might have landed them in law school in the first place.  And it could weave into the understanding of law the importance of the lawyer’s role within the system – and how service to others might require a different application of values than service to oneself.

Shultz and Zedeck: Collaboration and Motivation in Orientation!

One-Ls at Albany Law, just like those at many other schools, are in the midst of Fall 2014 Orientation. Today, I participated as a  “faculty observer” in a collaborative skill building exercise organized by our Associate Dean Alicia Ouellette.  Imagine my delight to see copies of Schultz and Zedeck’s 26 lawyering effectiveness factors distributed at each table in the school gym!

Teams of 20-25 students, most of whom had either just met each other or not yet met, were tasked with:

  • Assembling a small children’s bike (to be donated to the Boys and Girls Club); the first team to both build the bike and have a team member ride the teeny-tiny bike around the orange cone course set in the gym would be declared winner. :)
  • Building the tallest pasta-marshmallow structure
  • Making sure every student on the team participated in the endeavor.

Faculty participants were assigned to observe what they saw happen during the group exercise, report their observations to their student team, and explore with the student teams questions such as:

  • what worked well?
  • what was challenging about  mandatory collaboration?
  • what might they have done differently to more effectively collaborate?
  • what might these exercises suggest about effective lawyering?

The students brought good humor to the task.  They brought a range of experiences, including a few with engineering backgrounds and/or “mom/dad” know-how, and a range of abilities. The fact that the bikes were to be REALLY used by local community members was a motivating factor.  In fact, students vocally expressed concern about the safety of the quickly assembled bikes noting,  “Remember, some kid is going to ride this!” and “It has to be safe.”

By the end of the assigned time period, everyone in my group had participated …. at least a bit. The debriefing was more effective than one might have predicted. One student on my team noted gender differences in approaches – a number of women were reading instructions for assembling the bike while a few of the males started to immediately put pieces of the bike together. This led to a discussion of THE CONFIDENCE GAP.  Another student noted the difference between working on a task when you know what the outcome should look like (the bike) and working on a concept without a uniform or agreed upon vision of what the outcome looks like (the highest pasta structure). Many students reflected on the significant importance of communication skills, particularly listening.

Other teams reflected on the challenge of being asked to accomplish a collective task when most members of the team felt inadequately prepared. With faculty guidance, that team explored when that might happen in law school or in practice.  Issues such as time management, resource management – one team ran out of tape – and problem solving techniques were also discussed. Students, encouraged by faculty suggestions, also pondered what kind of teams they might participate in their post-graduation future .

As I looked around the tables, I could not help but think of Richard Susskind’s book,  Tomorrows Lawyers.  These one-Ls will be entering a profession and a world in which working with others, problem solving, creative thinking, and clear communication will be even more critical for those in our profession than in times past.   As graduates, these students will be participating in teams and in collaborative enterprises that we faculty probably cannot now envision.  However, it is our job to facilitate their acquisition of the kinds of skills and capacities and attitudes that will best serve them in the uncertain but potentially exciting future.   Happy New Semester all! Happy Facilitating!

Orientation 20140813_142119

 

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