Stone Soup, Reflective Practice, Action Research, and Social Justice

Why did you go to law school?  Why did you decide to go into academia?  What do you want to accomplish in your work?  What do you hope for your students?

I recently read a great article that reminded me why I went to law school and became an academic.

Probably like many subscribers to this blog, I wanted to use the legal system to make the world better – and help students, lawyers, and others do so too.  As instructors, we hope to inspire our students to maintain good values and prepare them to do good deeds as they embark in the world as professionals.

This post summarizes my Indisputably blog post describing ways that you might do this as part of the Stone Soup Project.

Coming of age in the 1960s and 70s, I was particularly concerned about redressing historic injustices.  I appreciated that adversarial struggle, including litigation, was necessary to promote positive social change.  But I also recognized limitations of that approach and my interest in dispute resolution reflected my aspiration for a world in which citizens would be able to make progress through mutual respect and democratic cooperation.  While the dispute resolution movement has made some contributions to helping have-nots in society, that is not its focus or necessarily the result of its work.

I saw a way to tie these concerns together and provide a deeper rationale for the Stone Soup Project when I read Michèle M. Leering’s article, Enhancing the Legal Profession’s Capacity for Innovation: The Promise of Reflective Practice and Action Research for Increasing Access to Justice, 34 Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice 189 (2017).  Since 1985, Michèle has been the executive director of the Community Advocacy and Legal Centre in Ontario, Canada.  She also is a PhD candidate at Queens University Faculty of Law in Canada.

My Indisputably blog post provides extended excerpts from her article to give you the gist of her ideas.  I encourage you to read the entire article if these ideas move you.

Here, I will include a few quotes from her article.  Then I suggest some ways that you might use Stone Soup in your courses to do action research so that you and your students might contribute to making this a better world, while providing outstanding instruction for your students.

Excerpts From Michèle’s Article

“This article explores the promise that ‘reflective practice’ and ‘action research’ offer for fostering a culture of innovation in the legal profession and the justice sector.  I believe that cultivating reflective practice beginning in law school and encouraging legal professionals and the organizations they work for to use action research strategies will synergistically contribute to a more reform-oriented and responsive legal culture and justice system.”

“At its most fundamental level, reflective practice requires skills in self-assessment–in the spirit of continually improving practice–to ensure one becomes a more proficient legal professional.  However, this is only the beginning; this minimum standard is then enriched by adding critical reflection of all kinds (on assumptions, on practice, on law, on justice, on ‘law as lived,’ on what constitutes legal knowledge), and self-reflection.  Integrating the insights gained from these reflective domains leads to further insight and richer professional knowledge.”

“Action research is a form of research that is used when there is a desire to improve practice and/or to create change with organizations or systems.  Using largely qualitative data collection methods, it is well suited to situations where little is understood about the problem or the lived experience. . . . It is ideally suited for supporting innovation in the access to justice sector because it encourages reflection and action in a cyclical process that incrementally and iteratively begins to change the situation while it is being researched.”

She concludes:  “To increase the willingness of legal professionals to engage in action research, a pragmatic approach to build this form of research would be to create succinct resource kits unique to legal education, the legal profession, and the justice sector needs.”

Stone Soup is the kind of “resource kit” that she describes.

How You Can Use Stone Soup Action Research in Your Courses

Michèle’s ideas combine theory, empirical research, teaching, legal practice, and social action.  In my Indisputably blog post, I suggest a few examples of how faculty can apply her ideas with a particular dispute resolution focus, which I summarize below.  These ideas can be applied in virtually any law school course.

We can constitute our classes as action research teams (along with all the other things we do in our courses).  Faculty can define the research questions (as Doug Yarn did in his mediation course, focusing on mediators’ case prediction behavior), students can define the questions (as a dispute resolution clinic class did following a mediation training unit), or faculty can arrange to do participatory action research, in which the stakeholders participate in the process of defining the research questions.

Some research projects could be designed to contribute to institutional development while others would analyze practice problems or focus on theoretical questions.

Examples of Institutional Design Studies

To conduct action research, students could conduct interviews of stakeholders in a system and possibly observe some proceedings.  Ideally, researchers would interview parties in addition to professionals.  This presents significant ethical and practical difficulties, however, so generally you would not include parties as research subjects.  Interviewing parties is possible, though you would need to undertake some additional, rigorous procedures.

Here are a few examples of systemic problems that your class could analyze, which may or may not address problems of disadvantaged groups.

  • self-represented litigants’ problems in navigating the courts
  • employees’ problems in making complaints to their employers
  • parties’ problems dealing with contracts with binding pre-dispute arbitration provisions
  • organizations’ problems in handling ongoing flows of litigation

Theoretical and Practical Problems

We all know that people sometimes don’t follow the theories we teach – though sometimes they do.  That’s what we have heard from colleagues whose students have done Stone Soup assignments.  Indeed, a major purpose of the Stone Soup Project is to have students inquire about the extent to which people do and don’t follow our theories.  Here are some examples of theoretical and practical projects that classes might work on collectively.

  • identify strategies for lawyers to deal with uncooperative and unrealistic lawyers and parties
  • identify strategies for lawyers to develop more productive relationships with clients
  • learn how lawyers and litigants evaluate likely court results (as research shows that most of them do a lousy job of it)

To use your classes to conduct action research, you would need to get research projects approved by the ethics research board at your school.  This can be a hassle and I plan to write a blog post with suggestions to make this as easy as possible.

Potential Outcomes

If your class undertakes an action research project, it can produce many different outcomes and products, including:

  • good, empirically-informed class discussions
  • compilation of students’ research into a single document, which might or might not be published
  • practical materials such as informational brochures to help self-represented litigants navigate the courts
  • materials to train professionals
  • (possibly confidential) briefings of stakeholders about research results
  • public conferences to discuss research results
  • recommendations for development or modification of institutional systems

From the initial Stone Soup experiments, we know that students generally are quite jazzed by these assignments.  They crave learning about the real world and love talking with lawyers and other practitioners.

Imagine how much more excited they would be if their Stone Soup activity made a positive contribution to society.

And imagine how you would feel if you develop a course that makes this happen – and you do so on a regular basis.

If Not Now, When?

Do these ideas touch your deep hopes and dreams?  If so, you can realize them through the Stone Soup Project.

Presumably it is too late to incorporate these ideas for action research into courses for the coming semester.  But I hope that you will seriously consider doing so next academic year.

If you haven’t finalized your plans for your courses this semester, you might include assignments in which students individually conduct interviews or observe cases.  This post includes materials to develop interview assignments.  Last year, there were more than 19 course offerings in which faculty used these assignments.  This post collects faculty’s assessments of the assignments in their courses.  In addition to traditional ADR courses, faculty used Stone Soup in courses on access to justice, evidence, externship, and trusts and estates.

If you will use a Stone Soup assignment this semester, please let me know and we can add you to the list of the inaugural cohort of Stone Soup faculty.

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Clinical Faculty — Who are you? Who, who, who, who?

Robert Kuehn, Washington University School of Law

Though clinical faculty have largely moved out of the proverbial basement, they remain a distinct sub-group within most law faculties. Often labeled as something other than law professors (“clinicians”) because of their teaching methods and goals, faculty that teach law clinic and externship courses also differ as a group by gender, race, employment status, and salary from “podium” faculty teaching doctrinal courses. And unlike the movement out of the basement, it’s not clear that clinical and doctrinal faculty are moving closer to each other on those attributes.

So who are the faculty who teach law clinic and externship courses? Predominantly female, and more so today than in the past. In the latest survey by the Center for the Study of Applied Legal Education (CSALE) of over 1000 faculty who teach in a law clinic or externship course, 62% identified as female. Externship courses are more heavily taught by female faculty than law clinics, as 75% of full-time externship teachers are female. As the graph below shows, over the last decade an increasing proportion of clinical faculty are female.

Graph of Clinic Faculty make up by Gender
Faculty who teach legal writing are even more heavily female — 72% identify as female. In contrast, the ABA reports that females (now half of all J.D. students) make up 44% of full-time teaching faculty, and a significant part of that percentage is comprised of clinical and legal writing faculty.

Clinical faculty also are predominantly white, but less so than a decade ago. In the most recent CSALE survey, 21% of full-time faculty who primarily teach in a law clinic or externship identified their race/origin as something other than white. There was little difference in race/origin between externship and law clinic teachers. The percentage of minority clinical teachers has increased by over 50% since the first CSALE survey in 2007-08.
nullGraph of Clinic Faculty Make up by Race

Minorities make up a significantly greater percentage of clinical faculty than of legal writing and slightly more than law faculties as a whole. Only 11% of legal writing faculty are non-Caucasian, while 20% of all law teachers and approximately 32% of J.D. students at ABA-approved law schools are minorities.

There are no data on the percentage of LGBTQ faculty from available surveys of law faculty. The AALS Directory of Law Teachers surveys do ask whether the teacher is a member of the LGBT community. However, the AALS has not published reports on data from its annual directories since 2009.

There are stark differences in employment status between faculty groups. In 2016-17, only 23% of clinical faculty had tenure or were on tenure track; 9% had clinical/programmatic tenure/tenure track. The percentage of traditional tenure/tenure track clinical positions has declined from 31% in CSALE’s 2010-11 survey and 46% in 1998.[1]

Only 18% of legal writing faculty were tenured or on tenure track in 2016; another 6% were in positions with programmatic tenure/tenure track.[2] ABA data suggest that 90% of law faculty who primarily teach doctrinal courses (i.e., all 2013 full-time “teaching resources” minus clinical, legal writing, and skills teachers) are tenured or on tenure track.

Salaries are a final area of difference, even within clinical faculty. The table below illustrates differences in law clinic and externship teacher salaries between those entering or early in their teaching career and clinical faculty as a whole. There is no significant difference between the median salary for externship faculty and the median for law clinic teachers.

Salary Table

The median salary for legal writing faculty is estimated to be about $10,000 lower than the median for clinical faculty, based on a review of the median of average 2015 salaries for directors and other full-time legal writing faculty. Tenured and tenure-track faculty make considerably more than clinical and legal writing faculty. The median salary for an assistant professor on the tenure track was $105,000 in the 2015-16 SALT salary survey, approximately $20,000 more than clinical teachers at a comparable point in their careers and approximately $10,000 more than the median for all legal writing faculty. The median salary for a tenured professor was over $145,000.

Data, of course, present an incomplete picture of law faculties. And while we should be careful not to let our differences define us, it’s hard to move to where you want to be without first knowing who you are. This data will hopefully help answer “clinical faculty, who are you?”

[1] Richard K. Neumann Jr., Women in Legal Education: What the Statistics Show, 50 J. Legal Educ. 313, 328 (2000).

[2] Assn’ of Legal Writing Directors & Legal Writing Institute, Report of the Annual Legal Writing Survey (2016) (preliminary data from 2016 survey) (on file with author).

Jumpstart Outline: Ideas to Help You Make a Plan to Teach “Public Citizen” Lawyering in Any Law School Class

Best Practices for Legal Education and Building on Best Practices urge legal educators to help students develop their professional identities. One aspect of a lawyer’s professional identity is performing the role of “public citizen.” The Preamble of the professional conduct rules in most jurisdictions explains that lawyers are “public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.”

We can help students begin to understand what it means to be a “public citizen” if we address the issue in concrete ways across the curriculum. The following outline provides some ideas for integrating public citizen lawyering into your course.  This is a long list, but there should be an idea or two that will work for your course, whatever its focus.

Use (or Adapt) Existing Course Materials, Exercises, and Activities to Make Explicit Connections Between the Course and the Lawyer’s Work as a Public Citizen

  • Find the Public Citizen Lawyers in Your Current Textbook. Are there lawyers in your textbook that are fulfilling the public citizen role? Discuss them when you see them.
  • Use Course Materials to Help Students Identify and Discuss Injustice. Help students become justice-seeking lawyers by helping them identify injustice. In the chapter Social Justice Across the Curriculum (in Building on Best Practices), Susan Bryant identifies seven questions that can be used in any class to help students explore injustice.
  • Discuss Needs for Law Reform in the Subject Area of the Course. When you encounter areas of needed law reform in course material, discuss how lawyers can play a part in making that change.
  • Use Writing Assignments to Give Students Experience Advocating for Law Reform. For writing assignments that require students to recommend or draft proposed changes to the law, make the explicit connection that this one way that lawyers fulfill the public citizen role: they advocate for improvement in the law. Provide them avenues to publish, discuss, and otherwise publicize their work.
  • Lawyer Speakers Should Be Asked to Discuss How they Serve. If you ordinarily invite lawyers to class to talk about course related topics, prompt them to talk about the things they do to serve the public and the legal profession.
  • Integrate Social Justice Issues Into a Course Exercise. Is there an exercise you currently use to develop knowledge or a skill in which you can introduce an issue of social justice? For thoughts on designing and debriefing that exercise, see Susan Bryant’s chapter Social Justice Across the Curriculum in Building on Best Practices: Transforming Legal Education in a Changing World, at pp. 364-66
  • Prompt “Public Citizen” Discussion in Journaling Exercises. Prompt students to reflect upon public citizen issues in their course journals. What are areas where they see a need for law reform? What could they do to address those issues now and in practice? Suggest that students talk to lawyers (with whom they work) about how they serve the public and the profession. Ask the student to reflect on those discussions in their journal.

Create New Activities and Exercises that Integrate Course Material and the Lawyer’s Role as Public Citizen

  • Prompt Students to Create a Professional Development Plan.Particularly in classes where students may have common career goals (such as in an externship or capstone class), prompt students to write about their values, interests, and strengths, and to make a plan for the future, including a plan for service.
  • Integrate Pro Bono or Service Learning Into the Class. Find an opportunity for the class to represent a client or clients or serve a community organization or population that is connected to the subject matter of the class.
  • Create a Law Reform Activity for the Class. Engage in action as a class to reform the law in an area of need connected to course material. For suggestions see Mae Quinn’s article Teaching Public Citizen Lawyering: From Aspiration to Inspiration, 8 Seattle J. for Soc. Just. 661 (2010).
  • Require Students to Interview a Lawyer. The interview should cover course-related material as well as the lawyer’s service to the poor, the public, and the profession.
  • Organize a Book Club. Identify a non-fiction law-related book with a connection to your course material and that provides a springboard for discussing the lawyer as public citizen. A great book about pro bono service and its impact on both client and lawyer is William H Colby’s Long Goodbye, The Deaths of Nancy Cruzan. A book that prompts lawyers to think about the ingredients of a happy life – including pro bono work and “serving a larger social purpose”– is Nancy Levit and Douglas Linder’s book The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law.

Share Information about Yourself as a Public Citizen

  • Be Inspiring. Tell an inspiring story about what another lawyer’s service meant to you or about what your service may have meant to someone else – and how that made you feel.
  • Talk About Yourself as a New Lawyer. Tell stories about your experiences as a new lawyer attempting to fulfill the public citizen role. What did you learn from those activities? Did you have mentors that inspired or encouraged you?
  • Note the Times When You Struggled. Share the times in your career when you have struggled with balancing the demands of practice, your personal life, and serving the public. What worked for you and where do you continue to struggle?
  • Incorporate Examples Connected to Course Subject Matter. Weave in examples of what you currently do to serve the public and the profession and explain why you serve.
  • Revise Your Faculty Webpage to Emphasize Your Public Citizen Work. Include your pro bono service activities, service to the profession (committees, CLEs, etc), and board service on your law school profile – not just your C.V.
  • Promote Your Service to the Public and Profession on Social Media. Alert your law school communications person to stories about your service activities so that students and alumni can learn about what you do through law school social media. Also, promote these same things in your own use of social media.

Fulfill the Public Citizen Role with Students Outside of the Classroom (Not Necessarily Connected to a Course)

  • Provide Access to Justice. Participate with students in organized pro bono events or service activities.
  • Improve the Law. Enlist students to help you prepare to testify or do research about a suggested change in the law – and bring the student along when possible.
  • Serve the Profession. Ask students to help you with a CLE – from preparation to attending and presenting with you. Or invite students to participate in a bar committee or bar event with you.
  • Identify a Need and Fill It. Work with student organizations you advise to identify a group with interests related to the organization. Find out their needs and make a plan to partner with them.

 

What inspires the scenarios and characters in your final exam questions?

As we wrap up another season of grading, I return to the thought that grading finals can feel like reading the same story again and again. This task is slightly more entertaining for me if the story involves some interesting characters or scenarios. Here are a few places I look for inspiration when I write final exams.

  1. Real Cases. Sometimes, a case in the news serves as inspiration for a final exam. That happened this fall when my PR final posed a question involving a lawyer who solicited clients in a funeral home in a state where he was not licensed. Other times, I work backwards and pick an issue I want to address in my final (like Rule 19 in civil procedure) and then find a case involving that issue. (For the Rule 19 case, I once used a scenario based on Diaz v. Glen Plaid in which the defendant asserted that the University of Alabama was an indispensable party in a case involving the trademark-protected image of a houndstooth elephant).
  2. TV Lawyers. The set-up for my essay question is often a memo from a lawyer asking a junior lawyer to help with a client’s problem. I often base that senior lawyer’s name on a tv lawyer. Through the years, those attorneys have included Alicia Florrick, Ally McBeal, Jimmy McGill, Kim Wexler, and many others. The facts have nothing to do with these lawyers or their tv shows. The names are really just for my personal amusement.
  3. Other Characters from TV and the Movies. Beyond tv lawyers, I sometimes look to other tv shows and movies for inspiration for scenarios and character names. My civil procedure exam once described a federal lawsuit arising from a bowling accident involving characters from The Big Lebowski. Knowledge of the movie does not help exam performance, but often inspires a joke (perhaps something about a rug that really tied the room together) that makes exam grading easier for a moment. I have learned not to make the scenarios sound too much like something that might be happening on the actual show. (During the show’s heyday, a student complained I had included “spoilers” in an exam question involving Nashville. I assured her that the scenario was just my imagination and that I had not spoiled anything she was planning to watch on DVR once finals were over).
  4. People I Know.  Even if I have the scenario, it is hard to come up with the multitude of character names needed for a three-hour exam. I tend to return again and again to the names of people I know. Most of my exams include character names inspired by my childhood neighbors, elementary school classmates, and law school friends. (I finally admitted this to my law school friends and the conversation quickly turned to how much worse it is to take a law school exam than to write or grade it. I did not try to win that fight).  My civil procedure exam typically includes a character named after my own civ pro professor.
  5. People My Students Know. Finally, another source of character names is people that my students know: their own law professors. I would never use my colleagues’ names in a scandalous scenario, but rather in a (mildly) funny scenario that the students will appreciate. For example, a multiple choice question on my civil procedure exam described my students’ contracts professor suing me for breach of contract.

In truth, reading dozens of exams involving these characters does not make the month of December “fun” (or make it feel like the “vacation” that my mom thinks I get at this time each year).  But it helps a little.

An Open Letter to My Fall 2017 Professional Responsibility Students

In my ten years of law school teaching, I have had so many great classes but I have never had a class quite like yours. It is not just that you made me feel good about the future of the legal profession. You did that, but the thing that was special was the atmosphere you created in the classroom. I think you all learned more as a result.

I tried to say some of this to you on the last day of class. But I have thought about it more since then, and I want to say this publicly. My purpose is twofold: I want to say thank you to the sixty of you, and I want other law students to know what they can do to get more out of each class.

In a large class, it can be hard to feel that everyone is engaged in the material and participating in the discussion. But that happened this semester. As the semester progressed, I tried to piece together what was happening. I think the following things that you did were especially important:

  • You all contributed to the conversation. Many of you regularly raised your hands because you wanted to add something to the class discussion. And every single one of you participated when I asked you to discuss a case or answer a question. You all were consistently well prepared for class. There were no free riders in this class.
  • You never belittled or talked about one another during class. I have to admit, I watched and waited for you to be disrespectful to one another in small (but typical) ways – but it never happened. Anyone who has ever taught a law school class knows what I was expecting. Students roll their eyes and whisper to one another about the student who tells a long story, who asks a convoluted question, or who acts especially interested in the material. But I never saw you treat one another with anything but respect.
  • You used your laptops to take notes. I know when students are using their laptops to chat with one another during class – because I see a large number of people smile at the same time, all looking at their laptops and not me. I never saw that in your class. Those of you who used laptops seemed to be taking notes. I know there may have been moments when you looked at Facebook or answered an email from your mom, but it was never obvious that you were doing that. And I appreciate that and so do your classmates.
  • You were willing to play along. I often asked you to role-play during the class. And you did it! You did not complain when I asked you to defend the deposition of a belligerent client, talk through whether your law firm could accept a case adverse to your sister, or bill time to a bunch of fake clients for three days. I think you learn more when you play the part of a lawyer, and I appreciate your willingness to go along for the ride.
  • You made connections with other courses. You did not resist when I asked you to see that the attorney-client relationship is an agency relationship – the same thing you were studying in business associations. You did not complain, “this isn’t civ pro” when I asked you to recall something you studied in civil procedure last year and see its relationship to PR. You were able to explain the connection between legal malpractice and the negligence law you learned in your 1L torts class. Instead of denying that you studied these topics in other classes – which past students have often asserted with a straight face – you were open to seeing how these bodies of law fit together.
  • You made connections between the class and the legal profession. Many of you started to recognize professional responsibility issues outside of the classroom. You told me about stories you read in the news and sent me links to court documents and outrageous attorney ads. You told me about experiences – good and bad – that you had with lawyers as their employees and their clients. You felt passionately that bar applicant Tarra Simmons should be given the opportunity to take the Washington bar exam. As future members of the legal profession, I am glad that you now feel equipped to comment intelligently upon these issues.
  • You expressed thanks and showed respect. I love that many of you said big, warm hellos to one another and to me when you walked into the classroom each morning. I appreciate the way that you nodded when your classmates made good points and the way that you made eye contact with me when I talked. So many of you took the time to say thank you – often in writing – when we discussed something in class that you enjoyed or that you expect to use in practice. In all of these ways, you were good role models for me. You reminded me to take the time to make connections with the people around me and to say thank you.

If you learned something this semester and enjoyed the class, it was because of what you and your classmates did in that classroom. A professor can only do so much. A professor can be well prepared for each class and bring a passion for the material. But the real magic happens – or doesn’t happen – because of what the students contribute to the class. During this past semester, I often thought, “I wish other law students could see what is happening here.” Maybe this letter will give them a glimpse of what I saw and what students are capable of doing in any law school classroom.

Thank you.

 

Letter to Kelly

Out of the blue, I got an email from a student at my university who I had never met.  She said that her best friend is graduating from college this month and will start law school in the fall.  As a graduation present, she is collecting letters with advice for her friend and she asked me to write one.  So I sent her the following letter, except that I changed the names.

I invite readers to add your thoughts and other resources to share in a comment below as this link will be provided to Kelly.  What would you add or change in this advice?

__________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Kelly,

Your friend Lee obviously cares about you a lot.  She asked me (and others) to write a letter to you with advice about law school.  So here goes.

Studying law and using your legal training may be both exhilarating and daunting.  I believe deeply that lawyers generally play an invaluable role in our society.  We often help people solve difficult problems, promote justice, and make relationships and institutions function properly.  The letter and spirit of the law are the foundation of our society.

On the other hand, lawyers deserve some of the criticism we receive.  We are part of an adversarial legal system that too often perpetuates unproductive conflict, is inefficient, helps the “haves” to come out ahead, and disempowers people.

So my first piece of advice is to keep focused on your goals and how you can best achieve them.  Pay attention to the effects of the law and your work.  Many law graduates practice law in a wide variety of contexts – and some do all sorts of other things.  Commit yourself to doing some good things that law-trained people do.

I imagine that you have seen a lot of TV shows and movies portraying lawyers and perhaps even law school life.  I think that they generally distort reality a lot.  What’s called the “hidden” law school curriculum also creates misimpressions by focusing so much on appellate cases.  Although it’s important to understand the logic of appellate case analysis and the legal doctrine you will read, these cases represent only a small fraction of what most lawyers actually deal with in their work.  Appellate case analysis reflects significant hindsight bias and over-emphasis of the role of law as opposed to facts, interests, and emotions.  In practice, lawyers experience cases prospectively with large amounts of these elements, which often dwarf any uncertainty about the applicable law.

So I suggest that you develop a healthy skepticism about these images and do what you can to learn how legal practice really works.  I think that you will be a lot happier and more effective if you have realistic expectations.

As you proceed through law school and a career after graduation, you will become initiated in a tribe with a new language and customs.  This can produce a great sense of belonging and power as you learn how to use the law.  It is easy to forget how (what I facetiously call) “normal people” view the world.  You still are a normal person – don’t forget what that feels like.  Balance your work with a healthy home life so that normalcy is a regular part of your life.

Law school probably will be a lot different from your undergraduate experience.  I believe that most law school faculty really care a lot about their students and work hard to help students learn what’s important.  Unfortunately, the system of legal education in the US has been rightly criticized for too often doing a poor job of preparing students to practice law.

So don’t simply assume that you will be adequately prepared if you just “check all the boxes” you need to graduate.  Don’t give in to the temptation to do as little work as necessary to get an acceptable grade.

Instead, get the full advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by taking the initiative to carefully plan your curricular and extra-curricular activities.

Be prepared to continue learning throughout your career.  Law is constantly changing with new statutes, court opinions, and procedures.  Expectations about lawyers may change.  Rapidly-evolving technology probably will change legal practice.  Be on the lookout for these and other changes and prepare yourself to deal with them.

Generally try to see the world through others’ eyes.  This is not only a good thing to do as a human being, but it is very important to be an effective professional.  If you practice law, you will probably feel frustrated at times with some of your clients and people on the other side of litigation and/or transactions.  The better you understand their perspectives and empathize with their concerns, the more you can avoid unnecessary conflict and effectively represent your clients.

Take good care of yourself.  Law school and legal practice are extremely stressful.  Law students and lawyers often abuse alcohol and other drugs and suffer from mental health problems.  If you are having problems, don’t stuff them.  Get help.  And if you see colleagues having problems, try to help them get help.

For more detailed advice, I encourage you to read my former colleague, Steve Easton’s, article, My Last Lecture: Unsolicited Advice for Future and Current Lawyers, and my sequel, My Last Lecture: More Unsolicited Advice for Future and Current Lawyers, as well as my article, Escaping From Lawyers’ Prison of Fear.  This is probably a lot more to read than Lee had in mind.  But you will need to get used to doing a lot of reading – and this is easier than most of what you will read in law school.

In closing, I wish you great satisfaction in law school and wherever you go in life.

Sincerely,

John Lande

Isidor Loeb Professor Emeritus

University of Missouri School of Law

Discussion of Restricting Use of Laptops in Class

I recently cross-posted “Are You Ready to Apply Unequivocal Research Findings That Students’ Use of Laptops in Class Reduces Learning” here and on the Indisputably blog.

There it stimulated a series of comments by faculty and students.  If you are interested, take a look, starting with a comment by Alyson Carrel, Northwestern’s assistant dean for law and technology.

I would love to hear others’ experiences and views about this.  Feel free to share your thoughts in a comment here or on the Indisputably blog.

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