Food for Thought

The new year (and the new semester) is here like a gust of refreshing cool after a fall of unseasonable weather. Let me offer some new food for thought as readers have time to reflect perhaps over the upcoming long weekend honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • New Reading. I wanted to recommend a couple of things worthwhile readings that have just come my way.
    1. I enjoyed the opening plenary at the AALS annual meeting, featuring a very thought-provoking paper on the future of the legal profession (and legal education) in coming days. The presenters were Ben Heineman, Jr. and David Wilkins (with Bill Lee as a co-author). The paper is available at . Its title is “Lawyers as Professionals and Citizens.” The authors welcome comments.
    2. A second significant paper considers empirical evidence relating to types of experiential education and student enrollment and satisfaction tied to different career goals. Take a look at Margaret Reuter and Joanne Ingham’s paper, The Practice Value of Experiential Legal Education: An Examination of Enrollment Patterns, Course Intensity, and Career Relevance, 22 Clinical L. Rev. 181 (2015) which uses significant NALP data to illuminate these questions. It’s also available through SSRN:
    3. Finally, a post from Stanford’s Rick Reis, of Stanford’s Tomorrow’s Professor initiative (noted in an earlier posting) is worth consideration. It summaries some important lessons on the challenges of institutional assessment and offers an excellent wet of websites that can help law schools and their faculties meet the new challenges resulting from strengthened ABA requirements. (TP Msg. #1455 Planning Effective Assessment]
  • Reflections on Teaching. I’m teaching a large section of property law again this spring, after a couple of years with other assignments. I’m also 65 and have been talking with my husband about prospects of retirement. So, I’ve been unusually reflective about my teaching this term, and have found that very liberating. I have been thinking about what I’ve learned in 35 years of teaching, and about what endures, and what my students might best gain from me (in addition to mastering basic principles of property law). So, this week I’ve spent more time offering reflections on history and jurisprudence (and perhaps a little less on doctrinal hypotheticals than had been the case in some past years). Yesterday I talked at length about Johnson v. M’Intosh (the first of Justice Marshall’s “Indian trilogy”) and explained what I’d been learning about the great Cherokee chief, John Ross and about his nemesis President Andrew Jackson (I strongly recommend “Jacksonland” by Scott Inskeep that covers this territory exceedingly well). Today I told them about law reform litigation and the case of State v. Shack (in which New Jersey’s great state supreme court of the 1970’s held that a farmer who had employed a large number of migrant farm workers could not claim that he had a right to exclude a legal aid lawyer and a doctor who had come to see clients and patients). Somehow stopping to think about what I really know, and what is most worth knowing and sharing has been especially uplifting. My experience may be of interest to others of you who are at different life changes. Ask yourself “what do I know that is most important at this time in life to share with my students”… and act accordingly.

Good luck with the start of the semester.

Clinic Supervision during School Break

Here’s some questions I’ve been asking myself about clinical supervision in the course of intense preparations for an upcoming immigration court hearing:

  • What is expected of students during school break? What should be expected of them?
  • When should a student insisting, “I want to do it even though it’s break time” be accepted by a supervisor/faculty member? Be rejected?
  •  If school breaks are important, which is a given, as all US law schools have them, is it a mistake to even PERMIT students to do case work during that time?
  • If students continue their case work during breaks, what might they be forfeiting? What harm might they experience – e.g., income earned during this time in part-time work, family re-connection time…
  • Are any harms offset by the beneficial work in which they’re engaging, the service they’re performing, the learning they’re gaining?
  •  Where does all this leave the clients whose cases need concentrated attention during these breaks? – To the supervisor/faculty member?

Have others out there considered these questions? Come to any conclusions? Want to share them?


Transactional Education Conference

From: Sue Payne, Executive Director and Katherine Koops, Assistant Director
Emory Law’s Center for Transactional Law and Practice

Perhaps you are looking for a place to showcase the great work you are doing to prepare your students for transactional law practice. Or perhaps you would like to spend some time with colleagues engaged in discussing best practices in transactional law and skills education.  Consider attending – and perhaps even presenting at – Emory Law’s fifth biennial conference on the teaching of transactional law and skills.  The conference, entitled “Method in the Madness:  The Art and Science of Teaching Transactional Law and Skills,” begins at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, June 10th and ends at 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, June 11th.

For more information about the Conference, click here. If you have never attended before, please join this community of educators interested in a lively exchange of ideas about the art and science of teaching transactional law and skills.  We look forward to welcoming you to Atlanta.

Emory Ad

The Power of “Not Yet”, Learning Outcomes & Assessment

Professor Carol Dweck talks about a powerful message:  “not yet”  Her studies demonstrate that when students understand that learning occurs on a continuum and they simply have “not yet” mastered a concept, they develop a “growth mindset” that leads to significant learning gains.

Professor Dweck notes that students with a “growth mind set” engage with the material and develop a passion for learning. They want to see how far they can push themselves. They realize they can improve and that they just have to figure out how to do so. This growth mindset actually engages neurons – a physiological process which paves the way to significant learning gains.

In contrast, she notes that students with a “fixed mindset” seek external validation of their self-worth via a “good grade”.  A fixed mindset causes students to run from failure rather than look at mistakes and failure as opportunities to learn. Students with a fixed mindset literally activate many fewer neurons than those with a growth mindset.

Professor Dweck emphasizes that a growth mindset involves understanding that you will be able to master a problem but you may need to work really hard, try new strategies and seek input from others when you get stuck – – all critical components of good lawyering.

Learning outcomes present the opportunity to create a growth mindset in ourselves and in our students. Learning outcomes remind us that our job is to facilitate student growth along the learning continuum.  They are a tool to help students learn how to think deeply about the processes and strategies necessary to tackle new material and challenges throughout their careers. They help students move from “not yet” to “I got this step, bring on a new challenge”.

The cycle of learning outcomes and assessment puts the growth mindset into practice. As educators, we identify the outcomes, gather and interpret evidence about achievement of the outcomes, and we use the evidence to modify our teaching to further improve student learning.  For both student and teacher, learning outcomes present an opportunity for intellectual engagement with the material as we strategize how to improve.

The growth mindset can also be incorporated into our formative assessments. These assessments allow students to see if they have mastered the material “yet” or if they need to work harder and  try different approaches.  Law professors can  use formative assessments to reward the effort and perseverance that lead to mastery of the material and in doing so, we can reinforce the concept of “you don’t have this yet, but you have the ability to figure it out.”

For example, in her doctrinal courses, Professor Sandra Simpson periodically posts a five question multiple choice quiz on TWEN. Each correct and incorrect multiple choice answer comes with an explanation.   She awards points toward the final grade when a student gets all five answers right. The kicker: a student can take the quiz as many times as he or she wants in order to get all five correct answers. This kind of assessment shifts the focus from the need to immediately get an “A” to the process of developing ways to identify the information and strategies needed to master the material in order to get an “A”.  It encourages the growth mindset.

Accreditation standards now require us to identify and measure learning outcomes and engage in formative assessments. When we do so, it is useful to keep in mind the power of “not yet” and  growth mindset principles.

Sharpening the Saw

Many years ago as a young professional, prior to law school, I was assigned the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey. A leadership program I was enrolled in required its reading and prompted refection and discussion on the book’s principles among my fellow participants.

Although reductive and self-promoting, Covey’s book was a helpful entry point for me into certain fundamental approaches to professional success.  The one “habit” I still have instant recall of is Sharpening the Saw.

Sharpening the Saw, as I remember it, was the habit of taking a break from work to make sure the tools one needs to do said work are in good working order. In short, it means feeding the brain and body with restoration to keep it in good working order.

My students are buzzing around me these days sawing at a frenetic pace as they prepare for final exams, write papers, and in my clinic complete their clients’ casework. I hope the students I have worked with this year have learned a little something from me about sharpening their saws.

In both my clinical and my lecture courses I include outside material and my own commentary about the need for lawyers to keep our brains and bodies in good working order. Our professional responsibility obligations demand it, in my opinion.

Last week I was away from school, and my clinic for all five “business” days–although one of them was a national holiday, and the days prior to and after it were days we had no classes.  Still, I was nervous about leaving town although circumstances in my personal life necessitated it.  At some point in the week prior to the trip I made a very conscious decision to be unavailable, except by cell phone for true emergencies. I added an e-mail autoreply. I informed my director and my staff.  I did not check e-mail.  There were no emergencies.

And this week, my saw feels razor-sharp.  My performance and energy levels are at peak.  My patience is uncharacteristically not thin.  I can close my jaw.  My students survived last week, as did my clients and staff.  I’ll be adding to my syllabi for this semester some space for this anecdote, and connecting it to existing material from experts on teaching resilience and balance in legal education.  Covey may be off-trend, but his point is well taken.

Free Webinar for New and Emerging Legal Writing Scholars

It can be challenging for legal writing professors to find the time for scholarship:  creating problems, grading memorandum, meeting with students, and the many other demands of teaching leave little time for anything else. However, legal writing professors in particular benefit from scholarship, whether to meet a scholarship requirement for job advancement, indulge an individual academic interest, or pursue a love of writing.  Personally, I identify even more with the challenges my students face when I am actively engaged in writing as well.  As the co-chair of the Legal Writing Institute’s Scholarship and Development Outreach Committee, I am happy to announce that we are offering a free webinar geared to new and emerging scholars.  With travel budgets tight we hope that many of our colleagues will take advantage of this opportunity to learn about how those in our field find the time and support for their scholarship efforts.  Details about the webinar follow:

The Legal Writing Institute’s Scholarship & Development Committee is offering a free, interactive webinar for new and emerging scholars: The Perfect Time is Now:  Getting Started and Finding Support for Your Scholarship.

The webinar will take place on December 10, 2015 from 1:00-2:00 p.m. EST, and will feature recognized scholars from across the country who will offer tips and advice as follows:

Adventures in Scholarship: Journeys Taken and Lessons Learned

  • Linda Edwards, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Colleagues, Collaboration & Community

  • Shailini George & Stephanie Hartung, Suffolk University Law School

Scholarship Groups:  How to Start and Maintain Your Own

  • Nantiya Ruan,, University of Denver, Sturm College of Law
  • Todd Stafford, University of Colorado Law School
  • Ken Chestek, University of Wyoming College of Law

To RSVP, please email Micah Desaire at and you will receive an email with a link for participation.

For further information or questions please contact Shailini George ( or Nantiya Ruan (

Announcement: Scholars and Scholarship Workshop on Feminist Jurisprudence

The Legal Writing Institute, the Association of Legal Writing Directors, the Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research Section of the Association of American Law Schools and Fordham Law School are hosting a first of its kind Scholars & Scholarship Workshop on Wednesday, January 6, 2016 (immediately preceding this year’s AALS conference).  There is no charge to attend and registration is open at Joint Workshop Registration. The registration deadline is December 1, 2015.  The full Joint Workshop Program is here.


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