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.

Learning and Teaching – the Progression

I have become interested in progression and ordering lately.  Not so much with chickens and eggs, but more with respect to progressions used in the classroom.  Traditionally, I would start a class with a case and deploy it to open up an area of substantive law, utilizing questions, problems, canons of interpretation, and other cases to explore the meaning of concepts presented in the initial case or topic. The substantive areas depended on the course and ran from appurtenant easements (Property Law), to impeachment by prior untruthful acts (Evidence), to searches incident to lawful arrests (Criminal Procedure). My interest in ordering made me aware of the fact that I approached each class with a duality of teaching and learning.  Teaching usually was first in my progression.  The spotlight was on me as the teacher; I opened and conducted the class and then ended it when time ran out. I had many assumptions.  I assumed student motivation existed; that students started, followed, and ended the class with me; that students had effective practices of adding information to their understanding; and that students readily retrieved the information when needed.

But I wondered what would happen if I reversed the norm of ordering?  What if I placed learning first in the progression, especially in reference to motivation?  Motivation in law school is a lot like a roller coaster (at least it was for me) – it ebbs and flows quite a bit, sometimes within the same day. Motivation is often invisible to the classroom, but weighs heavily on learning.  Early in the first year there is a surfeit of it, and by the third year, well, lets just say there is not as much of it.

This reversal of progression, with learning first, changed a lot for me in the classroom.  In the past year or two, it has allowed for more variation, for greater focus on student improvement, for more experiential “doing” as part of basic courses, and for more direct consideration of student motivation.  For example, in this new progression, students fill out cards explaining what motivates them to learn the most and the least. Students also start each class by indicating where we are in the tapestry of subject matter – something they were used to me doing.  Since experiences often are helpful motivators, many more experiences are blended into the course — students now interview real world participants in law (e.g., police officers in a Criminal Procedure course) or Evidence (trial lawyers) and create short but deep PowerPoint presentations or videos in all courses about a point in the course that was worth further exploration.  These presentations served to recap what people had learned and to offer a combined “outline” of sorts for exam preparation.  Further, classes now end (at the students’ request) with a brief synopsis of what we did, to see if everyone finished around the same place.

In all, I found that focusing on learning generally, and motivation in particular, were very worthwhile.  I enjoyed the new way of guiding the course even more than I did the old.   There were different assumptions made, but I think they were more accurate.  Priorities can inform progression.

AALS Video Series on Law Teaching

Recently, a fellow blogger sent us a very helpful tool, that we wanted to share with our readers.  Last year, during the 2015 AALS Clinical Conference, a series of informative videos was created for law professors about the complications associated with law teaching.  The entire series is about an hour long, with each individual video being only about 5 minutes long.  These videos address some of the important pedagogical issues that law professors are currently grappling with, such as assessment, adding experiential learning to doctrinal courses, reflection, and technology.

This in the link to the entire series:

Valuing Faculty Committee Work

In “Incentivizing and Assessing Committee Work Contributions, Why Now? Professors Andi Curcio & Mary Lynch suggest that changes in legal education models necessitate re-thinking law school committee work responsibilities and rewards.  Their article  is a worthwhile read for anyone who believes the current system of committee workload allocations needs to change. Below is their abstract.

Faculty scholarly productivity reaps tangible internal and external rewards while the “reward” for excellent faculty committee work performance often is additional committee work. Some faculty members perform substantial committee work while others spend little time on institutional service, leaving them more time for scholarship. Despite equity issues, this system maintains the faculty self-governance model integral to academic freedom, and the necessary service work gets done. This article suggests that this traditional workload distribution model may be unsustainable. Innovations in legal education brought about by financial pressures, declining enrollments, and new accreditation standard requirements will result in increased committee workloads while reductions in full-time faculty at many schools leave fewer faculty members available to do that work. Those currently doing the lion’s share of the work may be unable, or unwilling, to take on more committee work. This article examines methods for avoiding an institutional governance crisis.

Grounding the discussion in social science literature, it explores ways to more fully engage all faculty members in committee work by creating accountability structures via smaller committees, peer evaluation of committee work contributions, and rewards for extraordinary service work. It posits that peer evaluations of committee work set normative standards and provide tangible evaluative tools, potentially changing cultural expectations about committee work participation. The article discusses the benefits and potential pitfalls of faculty committee work peer evaluations, provides a sample evaluation rubric, and sets forth a roadmap for implementing a committee work peer evaluation program. It also examines ways to encourage committee work stalwarts to continue their extraordinary service via a reward system. Amongst the rewards discussed is a year’s release from committee work responsibilities to allow for more time for scholarly pursuits. Throughout, the article suggests ways to engage more faculty in the work necessary to maintain thriving self-governing educational institutions in today’s changing legal environment.

Ten Questions to Ask Yourself Before Volunteering

As a follow-up to my previous post on “-crastination”, Creativity and the Importance of Downtime, I’m sharing a copy of my favorite handout for helping all of us, students and faculty alike, learn to engage in discernment around saying no, and yes.

TEN QUESTIONS
Ask yourself these questions

Before volunteering your time, skills & energy to ANYTHING!

  • Is there a chance I will find myself changed by this work?
  • Does this work express my values, the things I say are important to me?
  • Will this put me with people I want to know better?
  • Will doing this help me know myself better?
  • Do I enjoy thinking of myself as a person who would do this?
  • Do I have a special gift to share?
  • When I look back in a year or ten years, will I remember doing this?
  • Will this make me feel more connected or more disjointed?
  • What will I need to say NO to in order to say YES to this?
  • Will it be FUN!

 

Thanks for Maylin Harndon for sharing her version of this with me.

 

 

 

Teaching Legal Reasoning More Efficiently?

Teaching the traditional analytical skills more efficiently and effectively could provide a much needed opening for broadening the range of skills taught to all law students. In the legal academy’s version of the “socratic method”, law teachers historically taught the analytical skills” implicitly”. They demonstrated legal reasoning by pushing students away from their raw intuitions of fairness and justice to articulate rules and exceptions, while attending carefully to the inevitable ambiguities of language.

Some law teachers suggest that the process of learning to “think like a lawyer” fundamentally requires time and practice and therefore cannot be significantly speeded up.

Yet the implicit approach has been repeatedly challenged by scholars seeking to teach legal reasoning more explicitly, by naming and explaining how it works.*  (An obsession with the goal of teaching legal reasoning more efficiently was a major thread in two phases of my own legal career when I taught first year civil procedure. I struggled both to teach skills more explicitly and to provide students with opportunities to practice them.)

A recent contribution to this quest by my colleague Jane Winn grows out of her experiment teaching common law legal reasoning to undergraduates. Students were randomly assigned to use either a well-regarded study aid, or Winn’s own materials. The materials were also leavened by her own and colleagues’ experiences teaching foreign LL.M. and J.D. students coming from legal systems growing out of the European continental legal tradition.

Winn’s effort, aimed at law students, is notable in three respects. First, at twenty-nine pages it fills an intermediate-length niche: longer than a typical class “handout’, but shorter than the various book length alternatives. Second, it covers case briefing, outlining and exam questions, demonstrating how the three are related. Third, it grew out of an attempt to test her teaching method empirically using random assignment to a control group. Both law students and legal educators should find it a useful contribution.

The 2015 ABA accreditation standards may provide a laboratory in which to test efforts such as Winn’s. Standard 302 now requires law schools to adopt learning outcomes that, under subsection (b), must include legal analysis and reading; Standard 314 requires law schools to provide students with both formative assessment (feedback) and summative assessments (final “grades”); under Standard 315 law schools must engage in “ongoing evaluation of the program of education, learning outcomes, and assessment methods”. At its best this combination of more intentionally articulated outcomes, feedback to students, and program evaluation could prompt law schools to evaluate the potential for greater efficiency and effectiveness in teaching legal reasoning. I remain hopeful that enough schools will approach this task rigorously and in good faith that at least some progress can be made.

*Winn’s illustrious predecessors include:

  • Leading Legal Realist Karl Llewelyn, whose The Bramble Bush: Classic Lectures on Law and Law School have been assigned to generations of law students;
  • University of Chicago Professor and President and U.S. Attorney General Edward H. Levi, author of An Introduction to Legal Reasoning, originally published in the University of Chicago Law Review and then in book form;
  • Critical Theorist and Harvard Professor Duncan Kennedy, who took the decidedly un-Harvard step of visiting at New England School of Law in his attempt to reach beyond elite students and sharpen his skill at teaching students about the “gaps, conflicts and ambiguities” that underlie the development of the common law. He shared his insights widely with former students moving into teaching careers. produced a short volume
  • My former colleagues Pierre Schlag and David Skover, who produced a short volume early in their careers that catalogued the Tactics of Legal Reasoning (1985).
  • Richard Michael Fischl and Jeremy Paul, Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams (1999)
  • Leading clinical teachers Albert J. Moore and David Binder, Demystifying The First Year of Law School: A Guide to the 1L Experience (2009)

In recent decades much of the heavy lifting in legal reasoning has devolved upon teachers of legal analysis, research and writing. Among the results is a burgeoning literature proposing variations on the syllogistic Issue-Rule-Analysis (or Application)-Conclusion approach to analyzing and writing about legal problems, as well as a variety of textbooks.

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Legal Education & Civility in the Legal Profession

A recurrent theme in current critiques of legal education is the need to develop lawyers with interpersonal, intrapersonal, and leadership knowledge, skills and values, as well as the traditional analytical skills and doctrinal knowledge. (A significant portion of Chapter 6, Teaching the Newly Essential Knowledge, Skills, and Values in a Changing World in the recent volume Building on Best Practices: Transforming Education in a Changing World (Lexis 2015) is devoted to the what and how of teaching such topics.)

Opportunities to reflect on this theme abounded in early October, when I had the privilege of attending the Civility Promise Continuing Legal Education seminar in Sovana, a small hill town in southern Tuscany, Italy. Sponsored by Seattle University Law School. and Robert’s Fund, the seminar brought together fifteen attorney participants from diverse practice backgrounds. They included a retired corporate attorney and managing partner of what is now a leading global law firm, a retired trial court judge, and lawyers with criminal or civil litigation, or transactional practices in both private and government settings.

Conceived by Paula Lustbader, teacher extraordinaire and emeritus professor of law at Seattle U. in collaboration with Italian artist Sergio Tamassia, the seminar was co-taught by two exceptionally skilled presenters: Tim Jaasko-Fisher, Senior Director of Curriculum and Programming for Robert’s Fund, formerly Assistant Attorney General and then Director of the University of Washington Law School Court Improvement Training Academy, and Craig Sims, Chief of the Criminal Division of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.

The seminar identifies three pillars of civility: consciousness, community, and creativity. After fostering each pillar within the group in a brilliantly executed mix of didactic, reflective, and creativity-facilitating teaching methods, participants are challenged to take their learning into the profession.

Each participant was drawn to the seminar for their own personal reasons and several shared compelling experiences — the opposing counsel whose business model was the shake down, the ultimately unsuccessful malpractice suit based on the theory that an attorney approaching a case with a collaborative mindset violated her duty to her client, the former colleague who cracked under pressure and – the ultimate case of incivility — murdered his opposing counsel. And all bemoaned the all-too-common misconception that the adversary system is about behaving uncivilly, rather than developing and presenting the most compelling arguments on the merits.

Concerns over incivility have led some jurisdictions to adopt mandatory civility codes and help inspire the burgeoning mindfulness movement. Like the profession, many law schools are pursuing mindfulness for multiple reasons, including encouraging civility. Whether these efforts will be sufficient to effect widespread change in individual attorney behavior and the culture of the legal profession remains to be seen. But the Civility Promise seminar provided both incentive and tools for change. We can also hope that it will inspire similar efforts in legal education.

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