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:

“I won’t be in class; I have a job interview”: Dealing with a Changing 1L Experience

As I regularly teach first-year students, I note with interest a proposed revision to NALP’s 1L Guidelines that would remove all date restrictions on interaction between 1Ls and career service professionals (currently disallowed before October 15) and between 1Ls and employers (currently disallowed before December 1). I also note, with disappointment, the growing number of times that 1L students are missing my Legal Writing class for a job interview or, in one recent case, even for a work shift. A colleague of mine reports her frustration with the same trend.

If adopted, the change to the NALP guidelines would further chip away at the conventional but no longer sacrosanct wisdom that 1Ls should be almost exclusively focused on their academic studies, especially in their first few months of law school. I expect that many schools clinging to that wisdom would have to loosen up existing approaches to the 1L experience, if they have not already.

By way of example, the administration at the school where I teach intentionally schedules 1L classes on all five days of the week for each section. This is consistent with our policy actively discouraging 1Ls from engaging in any employment outside of law school. But probably it is not consistent with shifting realities affecting 1Ls—the very realities that give rise, no doubt, to the proposal to reform the NALP guidelines.

Career services offices, which coordinate many 1L job interviews, simply cannot avoid all potential class conflicts—or at least they cannot where all 1Ls have class five days a week. I am very curious if other schools set aside a whole day of the week or multiple entire mornings or afternoons where there are no classes for 1Ls. I expect that more and more schools will need to consider adopting such an approach.

The challenge to law schools arises not just from the growing priority for 1Ls to search and interview for summer jobs, but also, I think, from a growing priority for at least some 1Ls to actually work in jobs—law-related or otherwise—during the academic year. Indeed, I hear from more and more 1Ls that they are working outside of law school. However, I expect that there remain many schools that, like mine, actively discourage 1L employment.

Interestingly, presuming the ABA House of Delegates goes along with a pending reform to ABA Standard 305, law schools will no longer be barred from offering academic credit to students working for compensation in an approved externship. (As of now, Interpretation 305-2 prohibits law schools from granting credit to a student for “participation in a field placement program for which the student receives compensation.”) Most current externship programs or opportunities are designed for 2Ls and 3Ls. But what should schools do about 1L students who need to work during the school year to make ends meet? I imagine that, if the change to Standard 305 is adopted, some of those 1Ls might be savvy enough to ask for academic credit for their work—presuming it is law-related—and then complain when they cannot get it because the work does not fall within the prescribed curriculum.

Even if my imagination is too wild on that point, the reality is that there are 1Ls in full-time J.D. programs who are working. And, anecdotally, I sense their numbers are rising. If I am right about that trend, perhaps some 1L curricular or programmatic reform is appropriate in response. Whether that means the development of elective 1L externship programs (for unpaid work in government and public interest positions too, of course) or something else, I’m not sure. But I am sure that, for better or worse, employment–searching for it and engaging in it–is changing the 1L experience.

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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Building on Best Practices now available as eBook

Are you trying to:

  • Develop a meaningful law school mission statement?
  • Understand new accreditation requirements, learning goals, and outcomes assessment?
  •  Expand your experiential offerings?  Decide whether to use modules or courses?  An on-site clinic, an externship, or community partnership?
  •  Teach ALL of your students in the most effective ways, using a full range of teaching methods?
  • Add to your curriculum more of the professional identity, leadership, intercultural, inter-professional and other knowledge, skills, and values sought by 21st century legal employers?
  • Lead thoughtfully in the face of the challenges facing legal education today?

These and other topics are addressed in Building on Best Practices:  Transforming Legal Education in a Changing World,  now available in ebook format from LexisNexis at no charge.

The print version is not yet out.  LEXIS-NEXIS is taking advance orders for $50, plus shipping.  BUT we understand that they will make one copy available to every US legal educator for free upon on request.  Details on this and international availability still to come.

Thanks, and congratulations, to book project sponsor Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA), the more than fifty legal educators who participated as authors, and the countless others who assisted as readers and in numerous other ways.

And, a huge shout-out to my wonderful and talented co-editors, Lisa Radke Bliss, Carrie Wilkes Kaas, and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.

Helping Students Succeed in Law School

On the first day of class in every course I tell students that my job is to help them succeed in law school. I doubt that my students remember this, especially my 1Ls who are hearing all sorts of new things from their teachers and fellow students during the beginning of their legal education. So I remind students several times during the course that my obligations as a teacher include helping students succeed.

The last time I told students about my view of my job, I began reflecting on my statement. To begin, I admitted to myself that much of my job is not tied directly to helping my students succeed. Like many legal academics, my job includes teaching, service, and scholarship. Although I think that some aspects of my service and scholarship benefit students, only the teaching portion of my job has student success as a primary goal.

Then I began to think more deeply about what it means to say that my job is to help students succeed in law school. I recognize that what constitutes “success” varies tremendously among my students. For some, success means that they avoid academic dismissal and eventually graduate from my law school. For others it means that they perform at a very high level and create many options for themselves upon graduation. Some students define success in law school by their intense and varied “hands on” experiences that they hope will prepare them for the practice of law. And other students are driven by the opportunity to use their legal learning to help people in need during and after law school. And so on…

Finally, I started reflecting on what behaviors and attitudes on my part could help students succeed. I will continue to contemplate this, but here are some initial thoughts.

Learning Environment. I can play a significant role is creating a class environment conducive to learning for all students. How? By fostering three-way respect: Teacher to Student, Student to Teacher, and Student to Student. By learning students names and something about their lives. By my expectations – they should be high, yet achievable, for every student, and for myself. By making joy and celebration part of the educational experience.

Practice and Feedback. I ask my students to learn difficult doctrine, theory, skills, and professional values. Practice and feedback are critical for that learning. So I should provide students with multiple opportunities for practice and feedback, both graded and ungraded. Providing feedback to students during the course takes a significant portion of my “teaching” time. It takes place in the classroom with large groups of students and outside of the classroom with small groups and individuals. Perhaps the most valuable use of my time during my 1L course is meeting with students to provide feedback on the graded midterm exam. It provides me with an opportunity to reinforce each student’s strengths and troubleshoot their weaknesses.

Good Faith Assumption. I try to operate as a teacher with the assumption that there is a good faith explanation for my students’ behavior. Whenever I fail to do so, my students remind me of the importance of the good faith assumption. I have many examples of my falling off of the good faith assumption wagon. Here is one from this semester. A student identified herself to me on the first day of class as “very high maintenance” (her words) requiring lots of reassurance from her teachers. Several weeks later we had a poor interaction when she interrupted my conversation with another student to ask a question. A couple weeks after that, I noticed that she appeared very unhappy and distracted in class – never smiling, rarely even looking at me. I began to obsess about her poor attitude in my class. She hated me – it was obvious. Finally I asked her after class whether she was OK because I had noticed that she seemed unhappy and distracted in class. She told me that her parents had decided to separate and her high school aged siblings were taking the news very hard. She was doing her best to help her parents and siblings get through a very tough time. Her “presence” both in and out of class have continued to improve since our conversation. Or perhaps her “presence” was fine all along and it was only my attitude that needed adjustment…

I can’t succeed for them. I can strive to create an effective teaching/learning environment. I can provide opportunities for practice and feedback. I can operate according to the good faith assumption. But only my students can do what it takes to succeed. I can support them, believe in them, challenge them, but I cannot learn doctrine, theory, skills, and values for them. At the end of the day, my obligation to help students succeed in law school is not the key to my students’ success. There is no substitute for the passion, diligence, intelligence, compassion, and judgment that students must find in themselves.

Shultz and Zedeck: Collaboration and Motivation in Orientation!

One-Ls at Albany Law, just like those at many other schools, are in the midst of Fall 2014 Orientation. Today, I participated as a  “faculty observer” in a collaborative skill building exercise organized by our Associate Dean Alicia Ouellette.  Imagine my delight to see copies of Schultz and Zedeck’s 26 lawyering effectiveness factors distributed at each table in the school gym!

Teams of 20-25 students, most of whom had either just met each other or not yet met, were tasked with:

  • Assembling a small children’s bike (to be donated to the Boys and Girls Club); the first team to both build the bike and have a team member ride the teeny-tiny bike around the orange cone course set in the gym would be declared winner.🙂
  • Building the tallest pasta-marshmallow structure
  • Making sure every student on the team participated in the endeavor.

Faculty participants were assigned to observe what they saw happen during the group exercise, report their observations to their student team, and explore with the student teams questions such as:

  • what worked well?
  • what was challenging about  mandatory collaboration?
  • what might they have done differently to more effectively collaborate?
  • what might these exercises suggest about effective lawyering?

The students brought good humor to the task.  They brought a range of experiences, including a few with engineering backgrounds and/or “mom/dad” know-how, and a range of abilities. The fact that the bikes were to be REALLY used by local community members was a motivating factor.  In fact, students vocally expressed concern about the safety of the quickly assembled bikes noting,  “Remember, some kid is going to ride this!” and “It has to be safe.”

By the end of the assigned time period, everyone in my group had participated …. at least a bit. The debriefing was more effective than one might have predicted. One student on my team noted gender differences in approaches – a number of women were reading instructions for assembling the bike while a few of the males started to immediately put pieces of the bike together. This led to a discussion of THE CONFIDENCE GAP.  Another student noted the difference between working on a task when you know what the outcome should look like (the bike) and working on a concept without a uniform or agreed upon vision of what the outcome looks like (the highest pasta structure). Many students reflected on the significant importance of communication skills, particularly listening.

Other teams reflected on the challenge of being asked to accomplish a collective task when most members of the team felt inadequately prepared. With faculty guidance, that team explored when that might happen in law school or in practice.  Issues such as time management, resource management – one team ran out of tape – and problem solving techniques were also discussed. Students, encouraged by faculty suggestions, also pondered what kind of teams they might participate in their post-graduation future .

As I looked around the tables, I could not help but think of Richard Susskind’s book,  Tomorrows Lawyers.  These one-Ls will be entering a profession and a world in which working with others, problem solving, creative thinking, and clear communication will be even more critical for those in our profession than in times past.   As graduates, these students will be participating in teams and in collaborative enterprises that we faculty probably cannot now envision.  However, it is our job to facilitate their acquisition of the kinds of skills and capacities and attitudes that will best serve them in the uncertain but potentially exciting future.   Happy New Semester all! Happy Facilitating!

Orientation 20140813_142119

 

Orientation Pic 2 Orientation Pic 7 Orientation Pic 6 Orientation Pic 5 Orientation Pic 4 Orientation Pic 3 Orientation Pic 1

Building on Best Practices and the Clinical Theory Workshop

Thought-provoking discussion at the NYLS Clinical Theory Workshop on Friday.

Definitions. Carrie Kaas reported on the “definitions” project of an Alliance for Experiential Education Committee chaired by Cindy Adcock of Charlotte. That committee is attempting to generate a common vocabulary around experiential learning — a set of common definitions for the overlapping and inconsistently used terms now in use. The Building on Best Practices project will need to decide whether to adopt that vocabulary, or not.

One of the most interesting, and challenging, tasks is to decide what differentiates an in-house clinic from an externship. Is it geography? Who pays the supervisor? A distinction rooted in pedagogy? Degree of independent role assumption? Or perhaps the distinction is no longer useful & and is ready to be junked?

I lean towards pedagogy & intensity of supervision, and degree of independent role assumption. Except when I lean towards junking the terminology and recognizing that we’re dealing with a continuum on multiple dimensions, as argued in Revision Quest: A Law School Guide to Designing Experiential Courses Involving Real Lawyering.

Sequencing. Cynthia Batt from Stetson presented her draft article on curriculum sequencing that is one of several independent articles spawned by the Building on Best Practices book project. Arguing for what I have termed the “layer cake” curriculum model, she conceded that the model is not necessarily the “only” or “best” model. But, she suggested, at schools where significant numbers of faculty are resistant to integrating experiential education throughout the curriculum, whether due to insecurity about lack of practice experience, fear of change, or other reasons, it is one that might have the best chance of implementation. Fair enough. A reminder to me that I’m at a school with relatively little resistance to experiential education.

Under the Radar Creativity. Cynthia made another comment that I’ve been pondering: “I am so impressed with my colleagues’ creativity, the kinds of work they are having students do that no one else knew about. Why are people so reluctant to talk about experiential education embedded in ‘traditional’ doctrinal education?”

That creativity certainly permeates my own law school. Based on a survey last spring, my colleagues are integrating experiential exercises into over 50 doctrinal courses. And they’ve created a long list of very creative simulation oriented courses, ranging from Venture Capital Deals to Supreme Court Decision Making to International Contracting.

So much of this creativity operates pretty “under the radar screen”. But I’m not sure it’s reluctance exactly. Lack of time? Lack of an appropriate forum? Understated, we-don’t-blow-our-own-horn Seattle manners?

I don’t know. But if our two schools at opposite corners of the country are representative, perhaps legal education has changed more than we know. Are we approaching a tipping point?

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