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.

Quite Moving but Frightening Testimony at AALS Conference

I write from the Hilton Hotel in New York City where the American Association of Law School annual conference has just ended.   The most memorable and riveting session I attended was the ABA panel presentation on proposed revisions to accreditation standards,   I knew full well that this would be an intense session and blogged about the dangers of these proposed revisions earlier in the year  here. .  The proposed revisions will change dramatically what I consider an essential facet of legal education:   the ability to acknowledge, discuss, debate, theorize,and write about  issues that are unpopular.  It will also prevent law faculty from teaching about and working with students representing clients on issues which are unpopular.   I knew this discussion would be intense but I was not prepared for  the stories of our brave peers in the academy which reinforced for me the fundamental importance of academic freedom supported by tenure or security of position.

One professor who self-identified as a female American who is Muslim reported  that she received death threats at work for appearing at a Department of Justice panel on National Security and Muslim issues.   She noted that without tenure and academic freedom, she would be at risk for firing for doing no more than accurately describing the national security legal issues.  She also eloquently explained that as a young, female professor of Muslim religious and cultural identity, she was vulnerable for receiving student pushback and bias for her assuming the position of power and authority over students.  Without academic freedom secured by tenure,  she would fear student bias in evaluations or impressions which could threaten her job security because of her Muslim identity.   A white woman who  taught at a religious school in the deep south,  movingly described her experiences. Without academic freedom supported by tenure, she found that  just raising legitimate legal issues and cases regarding property, same sex marriage, second amendment law, domestic violence or other issues could put her at risk of losing her job.  Had she not been supported by a tenure system which requires “cause” not popularity as measured by teaching evaluations or other factors, her personal and financial incentive would encourage her to avoid  teaching  important legal questions  for fear of back”pushback” .  Professor Terry Smith of Depaul College of Law presented remarks on behalf of the minority law professors section whose members attended in great numbers.  I share with you  his statement here (ABA Statement 1 4 13 ) Another member of the minority law professors section, Professor Anthony Farley,  cautioned that these issues are not “speculative” and spoke about ongoing attacks on academic  freedom, faculty governance, tenure and security of position at a particular school.  Other faculty members discussed how its hard to teach constitutional law in this country without mentioning race but that faculty who do not have security of position will find it difficult because when race is mentioned in a classroom, faculty inevitably suffer in teaching evaluations by students who are uncomfortable talking about race.

Professor Kate Kruse, past president of the Clinical Legal Education Section  noted that for many clinicians academic freedom has only been made real by the current ABA  standard 405 (c) and the  proposed revisions make no attempt to provide a “safe harbor” for the majority of clinicians and legal writing professors who also need to enjoy academic freedom.  There was some discussion by panelists and audience members about an earlier proposal which would have eliminated the hierarchical status types among faculty and questions about why that proposal was never presented for notice and comment.  See earlier blog discussion of the proposals. Past President of the AALS Clinical Section and Fordham Law’s Professor Elizabeth Cooper noted how tenured clinicians are  often asked by untenured  clinical colleagues to make points at public meetings that they are unable to make for fear of impact on their continued employment.

Members of the panel thanked those who testified for good reminders about the negative and practical consequences of these revisions. The Chair of the Council on Legal Education, attended and wanted the audience members to know that he had listened carefully to the concerns.  Past President of the AALS, Professor Leo Martinez and panel members urged  all interested parties to submit written  comments about this controversial proposed revisions on the ABA website found here.

ABA COUNCIL CALLS FOR NOTICE AND COMMENT ON PROPOSED CHANGES TO LEGAL EDUCATION

The ABA Council on Legal Education posted for Notice and Comment significant changes to the accreditation standards relating to the program of legal education, mandatory institution of an outcomes and assessment regime, and the status of and retention of faculty. Many of these proposed changes have been discussed in earlier posts in this BLOG for going on four years. I have copied here the memorandum discussing the notice and comment. WHAT SAY OUR READERS???

MEMORANDUM

TO: Interested Persons and Entities

FROM: The Hon. Solomon Oliver, Jr., Council Chairperson
Barry A. Currier, Managing Director of Accreditation and Legal Education

DATE: September 6, 2013

SUBJECT: Comprehensive Review of the ABA Standards for Approval of Law School Matters for Notice and Comment

At its meeting held on August 8-9, 2013, the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar approved for Notice and Comment proposed revisions to Chapter 1 [General Purposes and Practices], Chapter 3 [Program of Legal Education], Chapter 4 [The Faculty], Standard 203(b) [Dean], and Standard 603(d) [Director of the Law Library] of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools.

The Standards Review Committee of the Section has been conducting a comprehensive review of the Standards. As part of that review, the Committee considered multiple drafts and received informal comments from many interested persons and entities.

The proposed revisions and accompanying explanations are attached below and published on the Section’s website:

http://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/notice_and_comment.html.

We solicit and encourage written comments on the proposed changes by letter or e-mail. Written comments should be submitted no later than Friday, January 31, 2014.

Hearings on these proposed changes are scheduled for October 2013 and February 2014 (details below). Both hearings will be held at the American Bar Association, 321 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60654.

October 21-22, 2013
Monday, October 21st, 1 p.m.
Tuesday, October 22nd, 9 a.m.

February 5-6, 2014
Wednesday, February 5th, 1 p.m.
Thursday, February 6th, 9 a.m.

Please address written comments on the proposal and requests to speak at the hearing to JR Clark, jr.clark@americanbar.org.

Thank you.

Barry A. Currier
Managing Director of Accreditation and Legal Education
Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar
American Bar Association
321 N. Clark Street, 21st Floor
Chicago, IL 60654-7958

Philip Schrag’s NYT Letter to Editor about Obama’s 2-Year Law School Remarks

Philip Schrag’s letter to the NYT editor responding to President Obama’s suggestion to cut law school from three to two years notes that the proposal may have surface appeal, but that clinical training, which best prepares students for practice, may be one of the first things cut.

OBAMA COMMENT ON 2 YEARS OF LAW SCHOOL

It is not surprising that President Obama wants to decrease the cost of higher education and make it more affordable for the average American family. Nor is it surprising that he floated the idea of decreasing cost by decreasing the number of years a law student has to PAY for school as reported by the New York Times here.    Without a full understanding of all the issues, that often appears to be a sensible idea.  What is surprising is that the President confuses unpaid interning with a “clinical experience.” As we know from the medical and other professional settings, clinical experience is NOT the same as allowing   barely trained law students to “HAVE AT IT” in a practice setting. Nor is every environment appropriate for clinical training and supervision. The whole point of “clinical education” is supervision, feedback, mentoring, and learning to learn from observation, experience and mistakes.

Another problem with the President’s “shoot from the hip” comment, is that the very reason that new law students can’t find jobs is the same reason today’s law firms are NOT appropriate for the kind of mentoring which was done in days of yore. As a member of the New York State Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession and a chair of the Education and Training Subcommittee, I learned from legal employers and their clients that the market-driven, competitive nature of private industry today has created a situation in which clients no longer want to pay for the on-the-job training of new attorneys. More senior attorneys are so tightly time-managed relative to billable hours that they have significantly less hours and energy to mentor, supervise and help form new attorneys. That’s where law schools have added value for graduates and provided the support and individual attention that tomorrow’s lawyers need through clinical programs (both in-house and in the field). If the President wants to add his significant heft to this debate, he should do so in a more nuanced and effective manner than making an off the cuff comment.

Why Formative Assessment is Essential in Legal Education

As the ABA Council meets to consider and debate the proposed revisions to the Accreditation Standards found in section 3, The Program of Legal Education, I want to highlight a Forbes article by Michael Horn of the Clayton Christensen Institute.  Horn has been studying disruption in education for the last several years.  

If we take as a given that our goal in educating potential lawyers is for every single one of our graduates to have mastered the material before graduation, then a system that incorporates formative assessment and feedback is essential.  That’s because our current system of feedback and assessment does not ensure that students will be motivated to achieve mastery.  Why?  According to Horn, “the keys events embedded within curricula that could help students feel successful – examinations – occur [at the end of the semester].  Students generally don’t receive feedback on how they did for another couple weeks while the professor grades them.  And when the grades are handed out, the privilege of feeling successful is reserved only for the best students.  By design the rest experience failure.”  

But, according to the “Jobs To Be Done” theory that Clayton Christensen and Horn posit, law students hire law schools in part to make them feel successful and make meaningful progress.  How can our system of assessment be so out of line with what students hire us to do?

The article is definitely worth reading and explains why I envision blending online learning with active, problem-based, face-to-face instruction as a means to build motivation and thrive for mastery in learning for all our students.

What Do the Best Law Professors Do?

Kudos to fellow bloggers, Michael Hunter Schwartz, Gerry Hess and Sophie Sparrow for highlighting excellent pedagogy in their new book, What Do The Best Law Professors Do?

In the comments below, let’s share some more ideas.  What do you or your colleagues do that would make this book?

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