Forbes article focusing on law schools, competencies and skills development

Earlier this week, Forbes contributor Mark A. Cohen discussed what he calls “the interdependency — and misalignment —   of law school stakeholders.”  Cohen refers to a comment in a recent speech by Mark Smolik, the general counsel of DHL Supply Chain Americas, that  “he would no longer subsidize on-the-job-training of law firm associates.”  According to Cohen, Smolick’s remarks are an

indictment of the Academy for its failure to produce practice-ready graduates with required skillsets and a swipe at law firms for their failure to more fully invest in associate training to drive client value.

Cohen is urging today’s law students to look to the marketplace for “efficient, accessible, cost-effective, and just-in-time learning tools available to fill knowledge gaps and to teach new skills.” He boasts about one product that produces “high quality videos” and uses “flipped classrooms.”

I don’t disagree that law schools need to transform faster, provide more skill building,  emphasize the business context in which lawyers are hired to help, and prepare law students for the team realities of today and tomorrow’s economy.  And I appreciate Cohen’s raising this issue and inviting discussion. But his claim that only a “handful” of law schools are savvy on these issues – or as he put it have “yet to read the memo” – made my Irish blood boil. Maybe it is because it is the end of the week and I’m just tired? Maybe it is because I  just recently (September 13th) hosted yet another Flipping (every pun intended) workshop at our school showcasing all the great work being done by my colleagues in flipping their classroom? Maybe it is because if Cohen googled law schools and flipping classrooms,  he would have found Michele Pistone’s fabulous LegalED information? Maybe it is because he could have found this blogsite pretty high up on that google search and clicked on a number of posts such as here and here  and here and here and here  and here ?  Maybe it is because  nobody is noticing the work of folks like my faculty colleague Antony Haynes on innovative online opportunities?

I invite you to read the article, see what you think and tell us on this blog about what Cohen missed happening at your school!

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Experience with Peer Support, Peer Review and Feedback on Teaching?  

We are all familiar with engagement in peer review of scholarship. Law faculty culture prioritizes peer input and review of scholarly ideas and articles. Sending drafts of articles to colleagues for feedback, “workshopping” preliminary ideas, and vetting scholarship is part and parcel of the work we do. We visit other schools, make presentations and attend conferences because we value peer discussion and  input. It is the basis by which we create and communicate knowledge.

I don’t believe, however, we have a similarly pervasive culture for formative peer review when it comes to teaching in law schools, although such culture exists at other higher education institutions. According to The University of Texas Faculty Innovation Center, an academic culture which prioritizes informed peer collaboration, review and input on teaching benefits everyone,

Good teachers continually learn and develop. Peer Review, which combines the examination of course materials with in-class observations and collegial discussion, helps prompt this learning among faculty. Ideally, these interactions and conversations can create opportunities for us as colleagues to reflect on and adapt our teaching practices in order to become better teachers and increase student learning.

Northeastern University Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning through Research recommends a four step process:

  • Initial conversation between the observer and the observed
  • The observation itself as an informal data collection and distillation process
  • Follow-up conversation in which the observer shares the observations and collaborates with the observed teacher in any kind of brainstorming or troubleshooting that the observations invite.
  • Reflective summary written by the observed instructor, integrating what was learned from the process and how this will influence future teaching.

Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching includes the goal of “enabling more intentional and mutually supportive communities of scholar teachers.”

It is true that we have made some progress in elevating the role of teaching in law schools in the past decade. Legal Education certainly woke up to the need for a culture change around curriculum and teaching following the publication of Best Practices for Legal Education  and Educating Lawyers.  The economic downturn heavily affected the admission process and the need to focus on student learning. ABA requirements regarding student learning outcomes also redirected attention and resources towards what students actually learn while in law school. Moreover, organized efforts such as the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning  and the AALS Section on Teaching Methods  have converted many to the idea that teaching and learning are matters worthy of scholarship, innovation and peer discussion.  Places like this blog and others support exchange of ideas, methods and innovations.

It is also true that as far back as 2008, pioneering legal scholars Gerry Hess and Sophie Sparrow studied factors which encourage or assist the professional development of law teachers including peer observation. So there are many resources available to improve teaching in law schools. Yet, across the academy, are we truly immersed in a continual process of formative feedback for law teachers? If so, the web shows little evidence of it.

I think some of the culture gap is explained by the fact that historically peer review of teaching only happened during a promotion and tenure process that resulted in an up or out decision by the faculty — hardly a formative approach. A voluntary formative program of peer support and review – not used for personnel decisions – should allay those fears.  Appropriate concerns about interference with academic freedom in the classroom might explain some of the culture gap. Except that, even more concerns about academic freedom arise with respect to peer input into “controversial scholarship,” since draft writings can be more easily captured and reproduced than can observations of a single class session. What I think explains the gap, instead, is that we have not properly trained or equipped law faculty with the tools and methods for conducting and receiving helpful peer observations.

At Albany Law, we have promoted a culture of inquiry around teaching and learning for many years now — colleagues sit in each others classrooms from time to time, our Academic Dean prioritizes teaching support, our Center for Excellence in Law Teaching showcases teaching ideas and invites collegial discussion through teaching workshops, and our Director of Online Learning and Instructional Technology facilitates flipped classrooms and other innovations. What we haven’t done is formalize a voluntary peer support and review program. This year, we are planning to revisit our very loose approach and learn from the ever evolving resources and experimentation of others.

So readers, contributors and chance internet searchers, please post here what if any processes have you implemented to support peer observation of law teaching? Is it a voluntary program as we envision at Albany? How has it worked? Or, if you have an opinion about faculty peer review programs, let us know what you think!

I hope to compile the results and report back later in the year!

P.S. If you are more comfortable with e-mail than a blog comment, feel free to contact me at mlync@albanylaw.edu. 

Professor Merritt’s Blog post on attorney discipline and bar exam WORTH A READ!

Our blog has often posted about many issues related to licensing lawyers, experiential requirements for admission, the monopolizing power of the NCBE and the pros and cons of the UBE.  Thus, I recommend to our readers an excellent post by our blogger friend Professor Deborah Merritt over at Law School Cafe on bar exam scores and lawyer discipline. Professor Merritt analyzes an article by Pepperdine Professors Robert Anderson and Professor Derek Mueller entitled The High Cost of Lowering the Bar Exam.   Professors Anderson and Mueller opine that “lowering the bar examination passing score will likely increase the amount of malpractice, misconduct, and discipline among California lawyers.” Merritt objects to any causal inference noting,

Two key facts, however, weigh strongly against drawing that type of causal inference. First, as Anderson and Muller point out, “[t]here is virtually no discipline in the first 10 years of practice.” If the bar exam measured qualities related to attorney discipline, one would expect to see disciplinary cases emerge during those 10 years. Wouldn’t attorneys with marginal competency (as measured by the current bar exam) reveal their deficiencies during their early practice years?

Second, attorney discipline almost never rests on lack of knowledge about legal doctrine, poor reasoning skills, or bad writing–the skills currently measured by the bar exam. Levin and her colleagues reported that attorneys most often received discipline for failing to communicate with clients (20.0%), lack of diligence (17.93%), and failure to safeguard client property (11.26%). Only 4.14% of disciplinary sanctions related to “competence”–and even some of those cases may have reflected incompetence in areas that are not tested by the bar exam.

My favorite comment by Professor Merritt provides another example from which we should not infer causality (however tempting it might be to some of us who have been hurt by patriarchy),

We should not exclude individuals from a profession based on qualities that merely correlate with misconduct.

To underscore that point, consider this: The strongest predictor of attorney discipline is the y chromosome. Male attorneys are much more likely than female ones to be disciplined. If we want to use correlations to reduce instances of attorney discipline, it would be much more efficient to ban men from the profession, subject them to special character exams, or require them to achieve a higher bar exam score than women. Those actions, of course, would raise special issues of gender discrimination–but they illustrate the drawbacks of predicting malfeasance based on correlations.

These questions and assumed correlations are important ones. Many defend the decreasing bar passage statistics as appropriate market correction to prevent “undesirables” from entry into the profession — a consumer protection argument. However, as Professor Merritt points out, there is so much more to unpack here. For example, most misconduct challenges occur against solo practitioners or small firms. This raises overlapping socio-economic questions: which lawyers could be perceived as easiest to challenge, which lawyers have the best legal defense teams, and which kind of clients have the most reason to complain.

After teaching for over 28 years and observing which graduates pass the bar on the first try and which do not , I am skeptical of the Anderson-Mueller argument. I would love to see the NCBE and other scholars engage in a socio-economic analysis of bar passage and of disciplinary misconduct.

Law Schools in the “Age of Accelerations”

How can law schools prepare students to enter what Thomas Friedman calls the “Age of Accelerations,” when new technologies, climate change, and globalization will likely reshape the planet, and the legal profession, for decades to come?  Friedman’s prescription for educators, contained as part of his eye-opening new work, “Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations,” suggests that higher education needs to become more student centered, student directed, and project based.  It must offer students opportunities for mentors who can guide them through their educational experience and internships that can give them exposure to real-world problems.  In an interdisciplinary course I teach at Albany Law School, together with faculty from the University at Albany, entitled “Law and Social Innovation: Creative Problem Solving,” my colleagues and I try to put some of Friedman’s prescriptions to the test.

In the class, law students and public administration students work in teams to provide high quality research support to local governments on a range of issues, most recently helping local cities deal with issues of urban blight.  The students work on projects that have them conducting field research and assisting local government lawyers and technology staff in bringing legal actions to combat the scourge of vacant and abandoned homes that impact many cities in Upstate New York.  The students assist those lawyers in working through the process of taking such actions and then make recommendations as to how the cities can streamline their processes to make them more efficient and effective.  In these ways, students learn not just how things are done in the cities and how to get things done, but how to work effectively in teams, to tap into their own creative sides, to engage in problem solving, and to communicate their ideas effectively.  The liaisons in city government offer them the chance to work closely with them in a real-world setting and mentor them on the realities of real-world practice.  My faculty colleagues and I also offer mentoring and individualized and customized support throughout the semester as our students explore their own capacities for creativity, leadership, and public service. In these ways, we tap into what Anders Ericsson calls “deliberate practice”: intentional, focused attention to measured, incremental improvement on discrete tasks, leading to ultimate mastery.  We also glean insights on how knowledge workers can distinguish themselves in a time of automation and outsourcing, thanks to Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future,” and working in teams, from research on the functioning of groups at Google, as captured by Charles Duhigg in his work “Smarter, Better, Faster: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business.”

In short, I would like to think the students learn the skills and approaches that Friedman believes are needed generally in this Age of Accelerations, but also much of what is recommended by those in legal education specifically, like the Clinical Legal Education Association’s Best Practices efforts and the work of Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers consortium.  I have written in greater depth about this class—its educational goals, the strategies we use to meet those goals, and the current state of the profession and the context in which students entering law schools currently find themselves—here.  Give the article a few moments of your time if you can spare them; I welcome comments and feedback on the class structure and approach and would be happy to share syllabi and thoughts on how the class can be adopted in and adapted to other contexts.

What is a “Fact”? A “Story”?

In Washington D.C., on the GWU campus, there is a statue of a hippopotamus. A nearby sign explains that the statue was placed there because hippos once could be found in the Potomac. George and Martha Washington liked watching them from their Mount Vernon porch. They were also a favorite of children visiting the estate. George Washington even had a false set of teeth made of hippopotamus ivory.

As you have likely guessed, that sign offers readers what we might call mendacities, misrepresentations, falsehoods, alternative facts, untruths, lies, or bulls**t. To end any suspense, there really is a statue, the sign really does say most of these things, and George Washington really did have a false set of teeth made of hippo ivory. But the Washingtons never saw hippos frolicking in the Potomac and no one would have children anywhere near the Potomac if there were. To see hippopotami in the Potomac, someone would have had travel to Sub-Saharan Africa, capture a pod of hippos (they are social creatures) without being attacked (they are very dangerous, killing 3,000 people each year), carry them across land to seafaring boats, make the trek across the Atlantic, and then to the Potomac—all while keeping the animals’ skin moist at all times. The hippos might freeze in the winter if not recaptured and quartered somewhere warmer. Hippos are also very large, weighing in at 1.5 tons or more.

Nevertheless, these facts and falsehoods hang together as a story. When did you begin to question that story? When you began to question, did you then question the entirety of the facts or were you willing to believe any of the information as fact? As lawyers, you know that stories are composed of facts, but if asked for a definition of a fact or of a story, can you provide one?

More importantly, we want the next generation of lawyers to fully appreciate the answers to those questions. With the decentralization of information, I find that I need to be more deliberate in my approach to teaching different categories of facts: actual facts such as the sun rising in the east on our planet; verifiable facts, such as the natural habitat of hippopotami; and debatable facts, such as whether this sentence should have used “whether or not” instead of “whether.” I also spend a significant amount of time distinguishing facts from characterizations, which are essentially the opinions or judgments of the writer. Someone’s “lovely summer-preview week in April” is someone else’s “torturous week in April” if that second someone suffers from summer Seasonal Affect Disorder. And, now, sadly, I am spending more time teaching the difference between facts and misrepresentations or falsehoods, such as a statement that this blog post focuses primarily on hippopotami (a misrepresentation) or on cat memes (a falsehood).

For several years, I have also spent several class hours on the importance of story structure as the delivery vehicle for facts and story strategy as a driving force in persuasion. A story involves characters, a setting, and hurdles or challenges that a particular character or characters must overcome to reach a desired goal. Implicit in that definition is the passage of time, i.e. a beginning, middle, and end. It is easy to see how legal matters exist as stories. The nub is in the teaching of the re-telling, from the client’s perspective, using description and detail—that is, facts—rather than characterizations.

Facts must be presented as a narrative rather than as a list if the author wants the audience to interact with those facts and remember them. Facts by themselves don’t persuade. Stories persuade. That’s not my opinion, but has been demonstrated by science across a variety of fields. We think, act, make decisions in story. As those of us studying and writing on applied legal storytelling know, former Oceanographer at the Department of Energy, Kendall Haven has published books to help professionals digest the vast amount of science out there. For yourself, take the simple but germinal test in the study conducted in 1944 by Drs, Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel. Look at the video and see if you can answer a few of the questions. If you can, you have demonstrated that you think in story. To demonstrate this to my students, before showing the video I divide the class in thirds and assign each group a client to represent. After showing the video twice I ask each group to tell a story from that client’s perspective.

Contrary to what we may call our lawyer’s sense of justice when the verifiable facts disprove falsehoods, citing just the facts by themselves may actually backfire–here’s a great Harvard Business Review article with links to the original studies that will help explain why. In law, there are several studies of jurors that demonstrate the power of story, but only a handful of studies testing legal audiences. In a 2010 article Ken Chestek wrote about a study that used carefully constructed briefs to study the preferences of judges, court staff attorneys, newer attorneys serving as law clerks, appellate attorneys, and law professors. From the data, he concluded that stories are more persuasive to decision makers than syllogistic reasoning by itself. Attorneys and judges with more than five years of practice overwhelmingly chose a storied version of an advocacy document over a straight-up law/application version. Only the attorneys newly out of law school deviated from this pattern—begging the question, are we doing something in law school that skews this number so much from what judges and seasoned attorneys believe to be effective lawyering?

Assuming you are on board that our students should graduate knowing what facts are and knowing that representing clients means being able to appreciate and tell their clients’ stories, the last question to answer is the curricular locale for teaching these things. Historically, the clinic and externship programs at law schools have been celebrated for focusing students on facts and narrative in a capstone experience. I am a true believer that those programs will continue to be the locales in which students will most strongly make the connections between legal and narrative reasoning. But we do students a stronger service if they enter the capstone experiences with a strong foundation. The casebook authors can include more story so that teaching professors can reinforce the ideas of facts and narrative. The skills professors of the trial advocacy and practicum courses include some training, but the first and heavy lift most appropriately belongs in the required first-year legal research, analysis & communication course series. Gone are the days when we can teach those courses by indulging in the pedagogy of a legal document’s traditional text-based sections or on a singular paradigm for organizing legal reasoning. In 2017 we must focus on making students client-ready. Written and verbal communication in law occurs in a variety of mediums, to a variety of audiences, and in a variety of different rhetorical situations. The connecting universals across law and legal communications will always include law, facts, and story.

*Thank you to Courtney Knight, Class of 2017, Rutgers Law School, for the story idea.

DO LAW SCHOOLS ADEQUATELY PREPARE STUDENTS FOR PRACTICE? SURVEYS SAY . . . NO! – Robert Kuehn, Washington University School of Law

Under ABA Accreditation Standard 301, law schools have two educational objectives: prepare their students “for admission to the bar and for effective, ethical, and responsible participation as members of the legal profession.” There has been much concern lately over declining bar passage rates, focusing attention on whether some schools are admitting students who may not be capable of passing the bar exam and whether a school’s program of legal education adequately prepares its graduates for the exam.

In focusing on the bar exam, it’s important not to lose sight of legal education’s primary duty of ensuring that law school prepares students for entry into the legal profession and a successful career. If studies of practicing lawyers and recent law graduates matter, it is clear that law schools are failing, even worse than in preparation for bar admission, to adequately prepare their students for legal practice.

A 2012 study by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) analyzed the job activities of newly-licensed lawyers to determine which knowledge domains and professional skills and abilities are most significant to their job. Acquisition of professional skills and abilities were deemed significantly more important to newly-licensed lawyers than legal knowledge — 25 skills and abilities were deemed more important than the highest rated knowledge domain. The percentages of lawyers using these 25 skills in their work (all rated between 89% to 100%) also were all greater than the percentage using the highest rated knowledge domain (86%). Yet these skills and abilities generally are not developed in traditional doctrinal law classes but in the experiential and first-year legal writing courses that, under the ABA standards, need only account for ten percent of a student’s legal education.

These important skills and abilities are also a small part of the bar exam, which purports to measure competence to begin the practice of law. Although the NCBE study was promoted as the basis for further development of the exam, since the study’s completion the portion of the exam devoted to testing skills remains the same (the 3-hour Multistate Performance Test). The NCBE’s only apparent response to the study’s dramatic finding that professional skills and abilities are what new lawyers need most for competent practice was to add civil procedure (the study’s highest rated knowledge domain) to the Multistate Bar Exam.

A report released this year by Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers reinforces the disconnect between legal education’s overwhelming focus on legal knowledge and the competencies new lawyers need. A study of more than 24,000 lawyers in 50 states sought to determine the foundations entry-level lawyers need to launch successful careers in the legal profession. The study found “that characteristics (such as integrity and trustworthiness, conscientiousness, and comment sense), as well as professional competencies (such as listening attentively, speaking and writing, and arriving on time), were far more important in brand new lawyers than legal skills.” Yet, again, only in clinical and first-year legal writing courses are there efforts in the law school curriculum to address the “soft skills” so necessary for the success of new lawyers.

These two studies mirror the findings of decades of earlier studies. In a 1978 study, mid-career lawyers rated the importance of 21 types of legal knowledge and skills in their daily work and the role of their law school training in attaining that knowledge or skill. With the exception of knowledge of statutory law, none of the eight areas of legal knowledge was considered very important for their work. In contrast, six of the methodology and skills areas were deemed of great importance.  When then asked to rate their law schools’ role in developing skills, two-thirds said their school had been “not helpful” or “played no role” in their ability to develop essential practice skills like interviewing, counseling clients, and negotiating; more than 40% said law school failed to train them to draft legal documents or effectively communicate orally.

A later study of Montana lawyers came to similar conclusions. It asked what level of competence a lawyer should have to perform in a professionally competent manner and what level of competence they observed first-year lawyers to have. The results indicated the need for greater emphasis in law school on the development of professional skills and the importance of character traits to a new lawyer’s successful transition to practice. A 1993 study of Chicago and Missouri lawyers found large gaps between the skills lawyers deemed most important to their practice and the attention law school paid to those skills, especially in the areas of oral and written communication, drafting legal documents, problem solving, negotiation, fact finding, counseling, and litigation. The lawyers believed that a majority of these practice skills could be learned in law school, if the focus of legal education were changed. A similar study of Minnesota lawyers found most did not believe they were well prepared immediately following law school on nine of seventeen important practice skills. Like respondents in other studies, those lawyers believed these skills can be effectively taught in law school.

More recent studies have not reflected any improvement in the role of legal education in preparing graduates for practice. The American Bar Foundation’s After the JD study tracks the careers of a sample of lawyers who passed the bar in 2000. It asked lawyers three and seven years of out of school if “law school prepared me well for my legal career.” On this fundamental objective of legal education, law schools failed miserably — 40% of lawyers after three years of practice and 50% after seven years said that law school did not adequately prepare them. Both groups overwhelmingly agreed that law school was too theoretical and unconcerned with real life practice. In another study of early-career lawyers, only 28% believed that law school prepared them to practice law.

Two studies by LexisNexis reinforce this view. In a 2009 survey, 90% of attorneys in private practice and corporate law offices said that law school does not teach the practical skills needed to practice law today. A similar study six years later found that legal education has not improved, contrary to the claims of some legal educators and regulators. In the 2015 survey, 95% of hiring partners and senior associates who supervise new attorneys responded that recently graduated students lack key practical skills at the time of hiring. The lawyers also believe its not a matter that law schools cannot teach these skills but that they simply refuse to do so: “Most attorneys involved with hiring and management of new lawyers agree practical skills can be effectively honed through clinics, internships, clerkships, and experience in actual or simulated application to a case.”

Law students who just graduated realize their need for more practical training — 87% say legal education needs to undergo significant changes to better prepare future attorneys; 97% favor a law school model that incorporates clinical experience. Judges agree. When asked what change would most benefit law schools, judges of all types of court (federal and state, appellate and trial) rated more coursework on practice-oriented skills the highest, far exceeding support for expanding the core curriculum.

Fifty years ago the dean of the University of Chicago School of Law stated that the aim of law school “is not to train lawyers, but to educate men [and women] for becoming lawyers.” If the attitude of the ABA and law school deans has changed since then, it isn’t reflected in the readiness of law school graduates for practice when over 90% of lawyers give legal education a failing grade. So while educators worry about declining grades on the bar exam, isn’t it also time to fix legal education’s longstanding failure to meet its duty to adequately prepare it students “for effective, ethical, and responsible participation as members of the legal profession”?

Looking Beyond the Trends: Who’s Our Curriculum Really For?

Just catching up on my summer reading and I came across a short piece titled, “My Best Marketing Advice for Lawyers,” by John H. Fisher, Esq.  In the article, Attorney Fisher responds to an inquiry for his best marketing advice by saying: “Identify your ‘Ideal Client’ and nurture and cultivate the relationship with your Ideal Client through a series of educational and informative newsletters, speaking events, books, and social events.” 1  This three-step plan: paint a picture of your ideal client, attract your ideal client, and nurture the relationship with your ideal client was clear, linear, and supported with some truly clever and constructive examples of providing best tips and advice – for your referral partners. The article concludes that this plan has the power to change law practices, create goodwill, and perhaps make the actor a “mini-celebrity among peers.”  Apropos of the previous blog, such advice seems consistent.  And, to be fair to Mr. Fisher given what follows, he was posed the question, and we are still in the post “failing” law school phase.

 

Two of several things that give me pause here, are in who is assumed to be the “ideal” client and how we are affecting our students’ priorities when we offer and even encourage them to take “law” school courses in economic trends in the legal profession and personal finance.  The apparent underlying assumption of both articles is that the “ideal” client is someone who will financially advantage the lawyer, and/or that the wealth of our profession and ourselves is worthy of credit in a school devoted to the study of law. Understanding that making a living is important, I’d note that there are no major stories about whether lawyers make a “living wage” either here2 or in other nations, or of lawyers who cobble together several jobs over the long-term to support themselves or a family.  But I did, however, recently listen at a ceremony where the head of a non-law institute spoke eloquently about the goal of that educational institution as doing justice and having their faculty involved in field-work toward helping others establish workable justice systems.  Non-lawyers.

 

Whenever students struggle with understanding a statute or regulation and where I sense a disconnect, I encourage asking who benefits from a policy or something being advocated.  Then, recognizing how easy it is to go along with an idea that is being advocated when it is self-benefitting, I encourage students to ask who is left out and, if appropriate, why we continue to allow others’ priorities to be that determinative.

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