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.


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.

Are You Ready to Apply Unequivocal Research Findings That Students’ Use of Laptops in Class Reduces Learning?

University of Michigan Education Professor Susan Dynarski wrote a compelling article in the New York Times, Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting.

She cites research finding that when students use laptops in class, they not only reduce their own learning, but they also reduce the learning of nearby students.

The whole article is worth reading.  Here are some excerpts:

“[A] growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures.  They also tend to earn worse grades.  The research is unequivocal:  Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them.

. . .

“In a series of experiments at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students were randomly assigned either laptops or pen and paper for note-taking at a lecture.  Those who had used laptops had substantially worse understanding of the lecture, as measured by a standardized test, than those who did not.

. . .

“The strongest argument against allowing [students to choose whether to use a laptop in class] is that one student’s use of a laptop harms the learning of students around them.  In a series of lab experiments, researchers at York University and McMaster University in Canada tested the effect of laptops on students who weren’t using them. Some students were told to perform small tasks on their laptops unrelated to the lecture, like looking up movie times.  As expected, these students retained less of the lecture material.  But what is really interesting is that the learning of students seated near the laptop users was also negatively affected.

. . .

“I ban electronics in my own classes.  I do make one major exception.  Students with learning disabilities may use electronics in order to participate in class.  This does reveal that any student using electronics has a learning disability.  That is a loss of privacy for those students, which also occurs when they are given more time to complete a test.  Those negatives must be weighed against the learning losses of other students when laptops are used in class.”

Given the “unequivocal” findings described in the article, you may want to generally ban laptops in your classes.  While you are at it, you might also prohibit use of cell phones, which may be even more distracting.  Students are likely to readily accept restrictions on their use of electronic devices in class if this is a normal practice of a substantial proportion of faculty in the school.  If you are ready to start restricting use of electronics in your classes, you might encourage like-minded colleagues at your school to do so too.

In my classes, I made exceptions if students told me in advance that they had a specific reason they needed to check their cell phones (such as one student whose wife was about to give birth).  I also allowed students to use electronics to refer to role-play instructions during simulations so that they didn’t have to print them out.  Students should get accommodations for disabilities through the normal procedures.

Not Beyond Politics: What the Al Franken Revelation Can Teach Us About Teaching Justice

The past few days–let’s be honest, the past year–I’ve grappled with how to teach my law students about eradicating misogyny and sexual misconduct without politicizing my clinic, classroom, or law school.  The hard truth is that perhaps I cannot escape the “politicization” of our legal system.  The law, and justice, are after all built on a democratic system that relies on elections and appointments to assign power and mete out justice. I’ve become more open in the classroom, the clinic space, and all my student interactions about both my outrage and my optimism.  Like many, I remain outraged–and frankly, anxiety-ridden–about last year’s executive office results (I still can’t type certain words like “President” and “T#u#p” in the same sentence).  Still, I harbor optimism and pride about the political mobilization it has triggered.  One connection, I believe, is the wave of victims speaking out about sexual misconduct inflicted on them by powerful men.  Can we as law professors use these news bites as teaching material? Absolutely. Sexual misconduct is almost always criminal conduct, and its impact on the victims is wildly misunderstood. Beginning to understand it better is an obligation of our legal system, so we can devise better legal responses.  Only then can we heal as a nation of laws and of humans, incidentally and systematically.  Over on Prof. Carolyn Grose’s blog, she gives a law student the voice she deserves to discuss Al Franken and its impact on her and the law. It inspired me: http://profgrose.com/having-the-courage-to-love-like-grown-ups-thoughts-from-a-former-franken-staffer/





Teaching Programs at AALS Annual Meeting

Early bird registration for the AALS Annual Meeting in San Diego ends tomorrow.  

Here are some more reasons to be there, from the newly-formed Section on Technology, Law and Legal Education:  

Half-Day Program: Friday, January 5, 2018 from 8:30 am – 12:15 in Pacific Ballroom 24.

Join us for an interactive program designed to open our minds to the challenges and opportunities presented to law schools by the changing nature of student learning styles and the legal profession in the digital age. How can we respond to the changing nature of student learning? The premise of the Socratic method is that during a dialogue between professor and student A, all students are closely following along, imagining their response, and drawing understanding from their own reading and their rapt engagement with the dialogue. However valid this premise may have been in the days of Christopher Columbus Langdell, it seems dubious for the digital age. Our challenge is to find ways to meet students where they are. Digital technology offers new possibilities for learning, but also for distraction. How can we prepare our students for work in light of the changing nature of law practice? The work of Richard Susskind and others has illuminated the ways in which artificial intelligence and the worldwide digital communications network have altered the needs and possibilities of law practice. We will consider those changes and how as professors we can better prepare our students for that changing world.

We are working on this in collaboration with a group of law professors from Australia. Peter Strauss (Columbia) and Kathy Laster (Victoria University, Australia) are leading the program. Papers will be considered for publication in the Journal of Legal Education.

Pedagogy Program: “Teaching Through Technology” Thursday, January 4, 2018 from 3:30-4:45.

Technology is impacting everything — from how we shop for groceries, meet our partners, and track our daily walks to how we practice law and teach law students.  Join us to learn about how technology is being used in the practice of law and in legal education to make lawyering and teaching more effective and efficient. During the first part of the program, our speakers will talk about the state of technology in the legal practice. During the second part of the program we will hear from law professors as they discuss paper(s) relating to how faculty have incorporated the teaching of and with technology into their curricula.

Papers from this program will be published in Journal of Legal Education.


Speaker: Ruth Hauswirth, Cooley LLP

Speaker: Emily Janoski-Haehlen, University of Akron School of Law
Speaker: Elmer R. Masters, The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI)
Moderator: Laura Norris, Santa Clara University School of Law
Speaker: Karen Sanner, Saint Louis University School of Law


Improving Legal Education Across the World


By: David Thomson, Professor of Practice at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law

Many of us who focus at least part of our research and scholarship on legal education reform focus most or all of that time on the situation in our own country, the United States.  With 200 law schools here engaging in numerous “natural experiments” to improve legal education (from expanding experiential learning to allowing the GRE for admissions, and more), and with the U.S. market for legal services roiling through its own changes, we have our hands full as it is.

At least speaking for myself – the author of Law School 2.0: Legal Education for a Digital Age (2009), a book about the future of legal education – for many years, I myopically focused on the situation in the U.S. exclusively.  I was, for the most part, ignorant of the situation in other countries.  But as that book slowly made its way around the world, I have found myself drawn in to a broader interaction with what is happening in legal education outside our borders.

I recently returned from trips to Japan and Russia, and I write this still dealing with the scrambled egg brain of double jet-lag (so please keep that in mind if this post makes no sense).  I thought readers of this blog might be interested in what I am learning from our colleagues in these two other countries.

It turns out everyone is dealing with the same things we are dealing with.  That is a vast oversimplification, of course, but the recurrent themes we often discuss – in conferences and scholarship and blog posts – are themes I have heard in these other countries.  Would it surprise you to know that the legal education system in Japan and Russia (whether in undergraduate form, or at the masters level) is primarily lecture based, and that there is the desire – but resistance – to move away from that?  Would it surprise you to know that clinical education is growing, but is by no means as strong as many would like it to be?  Would it surprise you to know that there is interest in best practices for teaching law, but that progress is slow?  We might be a little bit ahead of the common practices in these other countries, but the themes are much the same.

In Japan, I had the honor of making the acquaintance of Professor Akira Fujimoto, one of the founders of the PSIM consortium at Nagoya University’s faculty of law.  PSIM began by establishing a relationship with NITA here in the U.S., and NITA has long supported PSIM in its development.  It now comprises law professors and administrators at 30 Japan-based law schools, and is primarily focused on trial advocacy training.  I was a speaker at their 10thth Anniversary symposium on Teaching Sustainable Practical Skills in early September, with Karen Lockwood, the Executive Director of NITA.  PSIM members attended the symposium to learn more about legal education in the United States, and to understand changes in law teaching that are becoming more common here.  I spoke about the “Carnegie Integrated Course” model that we developed at the University of Denver, and also about the impact of technology on law teaching in the U.S.  During the Symposium Q&A and the social event that followed, there was intense interest in learning about different models of teaching the law than the classic lecture format.

In Russia, I have been lucky to be a part of the Legal Education Exchange project, sponsored by the U.S. Russia Foundation, for the last four years.  This project brought four U.S. Law schools (Georgetown, Denver, McGeorge, and Emory) together with four Russia-based law schools (Baltic Federal, Moscow State, Russian Foreign Trade Academy, and Urals State), with each school having a “partner school” (in the order provided here).  It started with the first LEX Conference in Moscow in 2014, which brought us all together for information exchange about teaching methods, and for preliminary meetings with our partner schools.  Since then, I have traveled to Russia three times for additional meetings, and last week was at Moscow State to offer a two-day workshop on Law School Assessment in the U.S.  Over 20 professors from seven Russia-based schools attended the workshop, and there was great interest in how to draft learning outcomes and rubrics, and the backward design of courses.  I also had the pleasure of teaching MSU’s Masters degree students over two days, and was very impressed with their fluency in English, and their genuine interest in our legal system.


In both countries, there are issues of lower enrollment, reductions in bar passage rates, and complaints from the practicing bar about graduates being underprepared to practice law.  These pressures are – as they are in our country – encouraging a broader discussion about how to improve legal education, while retaining those aspects of it that remain valuable.  It has been immensely encouraging to me when I meet kindred spirits in other countries who love teaching, and who care deeply about how to make legal education better for their students.

This post, of course, is only a small window into a complex topic, but it is a snapshot from the window I have had the privilege of looking through.  I hope that others who have experience teaching best practices in other countries will comment on this post about what they have learned, so we can add to our understanding of how best practices for legal education are spreading around the world.

How do you create a sense of belonging in your classroom?

If your campus is anything like mine, students are struggling. Many students, especially those from underrepresented and disadvantaged groups, face ongoing achievement gaps and report a less than favorable campus climate. What if there were a cost-effective, easily implemented, and valid way that we, as individual instructors, could increase students’ achievement and reduce educational inequalities? Would you implement it?

The good news is that such a solution exists. Social psychologist Aneeta Rattan and her colleagues have drawn from robust educational research and made policy recommendations to do just that. They suggest that when students have a growth mindset and a belonging mindset educational outcomes improve, achievement gaps narrow, and more students report a sense of belonging.

Growth mindsets: For decades, Carol Dweck has championed the well-documented benefits of nurturing growth mindsets in students. In this case, a growth mindset refers to a belief that intelligence can be developed with effort and strategy, as opposed to a fixed mindset – believing that intelligence is innate and doesn’t change much. Because students with a growth mindset believe that their intelligence can grow, they engage in behaviors that promote learning and achievement. I’ve written about how to encourage growth mindsets in an earlier post: https://bestpracticeslegaled.albanylawblogs.org/2017/06/07/intelligence-is-it-stagnant-or-malleable-exploring-formative-assessment/

Belonging mindsets: When students feel they belong in an educational environment, they perform better and are less likely to drop out of a program. This is particularly true for underrepresented students who, by virtue of being different, often feel they don’t belong.

When negative stereotypes exist, members of the stereotyped group worry about whether they fit in, whether they will succeed in law school, and whether the legal profession is for them. These worries can deplete students’ cognitive resources, zapping them of their motivation and their ability to bounce back from setbacks. Because learning depends on motivation, students without a sense of belonging fall behind.

That’s why educators must be in tune with the kind of environment they create. Do you work to encourage belonging mindsets? If so, what do you do? I’d love to hear your ideas and learn from your methods. If you haven’t spent much time yet thinking about how to foster belonging in your classroom, check out this short web course developed by researchers from Stanford University: https://www.mindsetkit.org/belonging

I also recommend reading: Leveraging Mindsets to Promote Academic Achievement: Policy Recommendations in Perspectives on Psychological Science (Aneeta Rattan, Krishna Savani, Dolly Chugh, and Carol S. Dweck 2015).

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