TEACHING RESILIENCE AND BEING RESILIENT : Filling Our Tanks This Summer

About a month ago, I had the pleasure of attending the annual AALS clinical conference held  in Chicago.   The conference focused on achieving happiness and resilience at a time of challenge in legal education while exploring methods for becoming “better” clinical teachers.  Clin14BookletWeb

The Keynote opening presentation by Professor Nancy Levit from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law outlined research about happiness,  lawyers and legal careers.   Professor Levit’s  book with Doug Linder, The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law, was published by Oxford University Press in 2010. Their sequel, The Good Lawyer: Seeking Quality in the Practice of Law is now available.  The Levit and Linder research helps answer questions for our students and ourselves about how and why lawyers find a  legal career rewarding.   Much of the research reveals that simple truths about happiness – such as feeling valued or being part of a community – bears repetition.   The presentation was informative and the research can be used in advising our students, supporting our colleagues and caring for ourselves.

After her keynote, panelists Professor Calvin Pang (University of Hawaii, William S. Richardson School of Law)  and Professor Joanna Woolman (William Mitchell College of Law) with moderator American University Professor Brenda Smith presented a few clips from a very realistic “role play” focused on a “devastating” day in court and the responses  of a clinical teacher, clinical student, and non-clinical colleague.    (The film will be available after the conference – I believe at the AALS site – for those who want to use it in their home schools.)  In the film, the law student  faces a surprising negative court ruling and then experiences his client yelling at him outside the courtroom.   In conversation with the clinical professor, the student expresses anger with his client and believes he should just “drop” clinic.  The clinical professor listens to the student and also explores other aspects of the student’s current anger and despair including his having received a number of employment rejections during this same time period.

The film was provocative and engendered good discussion about the role of law professors .  Many of us have experienced with our students or in our own professional lives the coinciding emotional burdens of dealing with difficult emotions in client’s cases and receiving negative news on the home or career front.   Managing and coping with all those emotions and burdens is a never-ending part of professional development and law schools can and should play a significant role in preparing students with appropriate skills, appreciation of professional values and coping tools.

In a final exercise, the entire room of about 500+ created word trees on three questions:

1.  What do you do as a teacher to “fill your tank.?”

2. What do you do to encourage your students to adopt habits to make themselves whole?

3. What are the barriers and obstacles to the first two?

In asking myself these questions and watching the hundreds of others eagerly participate, I reflected on the particular importance of the resilience, holistic, and happiness theme at this moment in time.   Students and recent grads need our positive support.  Institutions need our creative, optimistic energy.   But providing that energy and support can be personally tolling.

Student-centered faculty – and in particular clinical faculty with summer burdens or untenured faculty with heavy writing demands – must  carve out some real off time or vacation in order to be effective in the long term.  Their institutions must support their need for renewal.  Filling  our personal “tanks” with sunsets, summer treats (ice cream for me!), some  relaxing days, renewed commitment to exercise or getting outside, and time vacationing with loved ones helps form the foundation for resilience in the academic year.  We need to do this not only to support our own resilience but to equip ourselves with the experience-based wisdom that will be needed in great quantities in the coming semesters.  In order  to assist our students and our institutions at this precarious time for law schools, we need to nurture our whole selves now.

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SRC voted to eliminate Interpretation 305-3 which distinguishes paid employment from academic field placements

American Bar Association Accreditation Standard 305  addresses “study outside the classroom” and, in particular, field placement courses.  Interpretation 305-3 states:

A law school may not grant credit to a student for participation in a field placement program for which the student receives compensation. This Interpretation does not preclude reimbursement of reasonable out-of-pocket expenses related to the field placement.

The written submission by the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) filed January 31, 2014 (found here or on ABA site) argues

To revoke this regulation would give employers in paid field placements significantly more power both to control student work and to minimize the employer’s supervisory role, and would significantly reduce externship faculty control over the educational benefit of the placement.

This is a real concern. When I directed Albany’s field placement program, I often had to discuss with supervisors the difference between their treatment of academic interns and paid clerks. For example, throwing an inexperienced student into night court without direct attorney supervision may free up the evening of the harried assistant public defender or assistant prosecutor but it fails to teach the intern the constitutional way to practice law. And, if you pay the interns you may well be entitled to assign them to pick up your dry cleaning or walk your dog because your time is more valuable, however those activities are hardly educational. These were actual issues I addressed and was able to resolve in favor of the students educational experience because the employer had no money in the pot and needed to follow the requirements of the law school. That leverage will be undercut if interpretation 305(3) is removed.

I also agree with CLEA’s position that

……nothing suggests that field placement courses are displacing a large volume of paid part-time work for law students. To the contrary, pervasive anecdotal evidence suggests that employers are unable to pay and would prefer that students work without pay. Field placement directors (and placement offices) routinely field requests from employers who seek to offer unpaid work through a field placement experience. Nothing suggests an increased demand by employers to pay students who are also getting credit.

If anything, during difficult economic times, law students need the negotiating power of an experienced attorney and faculty member even more, since they are more vulnerable to exploitation by employers. I urge the Council to keep Interpretation 305 (3) in place to protect the educational quality of field placements. As discussed in another earlier post, during Thursday’s public hearing before Council members, Interpretation 305 (3) was discussed, including the applicability of the Fair Labor Standards Act, possible exploitation of students, and the problem of differing expectations regarding treatment of paid and unpaid interns. These issues are complicated and deserve further attention. With the SRC members deciding to complete the comprehensive review at the February meeting and leave issues which need more data and input for another day, it was surprising, in my opinion, to observe them move so quickly on the proposal to remove 305-3 without a more informed vetting of the issues.

Disclosure: I was recently elected co-vice president of CLEA. However, I was not responsible for the CLEA position letter on this interpretation. When writing on this blog, I do not represent CLEA.

Quite Moving but Frightening Testimony at AALS Conference

I write from the Hilton Hotel in New York City where the American Association of Law School annual conference has just ended.   The most memorable and riveting session I attended was the ABA panel presentation on proposed revisions to accreditation standards,   I knew full well that this would be an intense session and blogged about the dangers of these proposed revisions earlier in the year  here. .  The proposed revisions will change dramatically what I consider an essential facet of legal education:   the ability to acknowledge, discuss, debate, theorize,and write about  issues that are unpopular.  It will also prevent law faculty from teaching about and working with students representing clients on issues which are unpopular.   I knew this discussion would be intense but I was not prepared for  the stories of our brave peers in the academy which reinforced for me the fundamental importance of academic freedom supported by tenure or security of position.

One professor who self-identified as a female American who is Muslim reported  that she received death threats at work for appearing at a Department of Justice panel on National Security and Muslim issues.   She noted that without tenure and academic freedom, she would be at risk for firing for doing no more than accurately describing the national security legal issues.  She also eloquently explained that as a young, female professor of Muslim religious and cultural identity, she was vulnerable for receiving student pushback and bias for her assuming the position of power and authority over students.  Without academic freedom secured by tenure,  she would fear student bias in evaluations or impressions which could threaten her job security because of her Muslim identity.   A white woman who  taught at a religious school in the deep south,  movingly described her experiences. Without academic freedom supported by tenure, she found that  just raising legitimate legal issues and cases regarding property, same sex marriage, second amendment law, domestic violence or other issues could put her at risk of losing her job.  Had she not been supported by a tenure system which requires “cause” not popularity as measured by teaching evaluations or other factors, her personal and financial incentive would encourage her to avoid  teaching  important legal questions  for fear of back”pushback” .  Professor Terry Smith of Depaul College of Law presented remarks on behalf of the minority law professors section whose members attended in great numbers.  I share with you  his statement here (ABA Statement 1 4 13 ) Another member of the minority law professors section, Professor Anthony Farley,  cautioned that these issues are not “speculative” and spoke about ongoing attacks on academic  freedom, faculty governance, tenure and security of position at a particular school.  Other faculty members discussed how its hard to teach constitutional law in this country without mentioning race but that faculty who do not have security of position will find it difficult because when race is mentioned in a classroom, faculty inevitably suffer in teaching evaluations by students who are uncomfortable talking about race.

Professor Kate Kruse, past president of the Clinical Legal Education Section  noted that for many clinicians academic freedom has only been made real by the current ABA  standard 405 (c) and the  proposed revisions make no attempt to provide a “safe harbor” for the majority of clinicians and legal writing professors who also need to enjoy academic freedom.  There was some discussion by panelists and audience members about an earlier proposal which would have eliminated the hierarchical status types among faculty and questions about why that proposal was never presented for notice and comment.  See earlier blog discussion of the proposals. Past President of the AALS Clinical Section and Fordham Law’s Professor Elizabeth Cooper noted how tenured clinicians are  often asked by untenured  clinical colleagues to make points at public meetings that they are unable to make for fear of impact on their continued employment.

Members of the panel thanked those who testified for good reminders about the negative and practical consequences of these revisions. The Chair of the Council on Legal Education, attended and wanted the audience members to know that he had listened carefully to the concerns.  Past President of the AALS, Professor Leo Martinez and panel members urged  all interested parties to submit written  comments about this controversial proposed revisions on the ABA website found here.

OBAMA COMMENT ON 2 YEARS OF LAW SCHOOL

It is not surprising that President Obama wants to decrease the cost of higher education and make it more affordable for the average American family. Nor is it surprising that he floated the idea of decreasing cost by decreasing the number of years a law student has to PAY for school as reported by the New York Times here.    Without a full understanding of all the issues, that often appears to be a sensible idea.  What is surprising is that the President confuses unpaid interning with a “clinical experience.” As we know from the medical and other professional settings, clinical experience is NOT the same as allowing   barely trained law students to “HAVE AT IT” in a practice setting. Nor is every environment appropriate for clinical training and supervision. The whole point of “clinical education” is supervision, feedback, mentoring, and learning to learn from observation, experience and mistakes.

Another problem with the President’s “shoot from the hip” comment, is that the very reason that new law students can’t find jobs is the same reason today’s law firms are NOT appropriate for the kind of mentoring which was done in days of yore. As a member of the New York State Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession and a chair of the Education and Training Subcommittee, I learned from legal employers and their clients that the market-driven, competitive nature of private industry today has created a situation in which clients no longer want to pay for the on-the-job training of new attorneys. More senior attorneys are so tightly time-managed relative to billable hours that they have significantly less hours and energy to mentor, supervise and help form new attorneys. That’s where law schools have added value for graduates and provided the support and individual attention that tomorrow’s lawyers need through clinical programs (both in-house and in the field). If the President wants to add his significant heft to this debate, he should do so in a more nuanced and effective manner than making an off the cuff comment.

ABA COUNCIL ELIMINATES ANY MEANINGFUL SECURITY OF POSITION FOR FACULTY AND TURNS ITS BACK ON EXPERIENTIAL FACULTY

As reported last week here, the ABA Council on Legal Education met in San Francisco to review proposed revisions to law school accreditation standards.  The ABA reviewed four proposals sent to them by the Standards Review Committee (which I described in an earlier post here) and which were intended to address  faculty competence, academic freedom and governance rights.   The Council sent out for notice and comment two of the four proposals. Some commentators have suggested that one of the adopted proposals includes some security of position and the other does not. However, a closer look suggests that neither proposal affords any meaningful security of position.  see National Law Journal  

The alternative that mentions security of position states that:

(d) A law school shall afford all full-time faculty members a form of security of position sufficient to ensure academic freedom and attraction and retention of a competent full-time faculty (emphasis added).”

At first glance, I optimistically thought “Maybe ensuring a competent full-time faculty would require something beyond at-will employment?” However,  I was reminded by a professional colleague that this proposal is identical to the current provision for legal writing professors, which has been interpreted to permit at-will contracts as long as the teachers are “competent,”  Undeterred in my optimism, I thought “Well ensuring academic freedom certainly needs to ensure some job security especially for folks like clinicians who have been attacked repeatedly for representing the powerless against the moneyed members of our society, right?”  However,  the ABA interprets that same language  in the clinical context to permit one-year renewable contracts,  as long as the institution has a “policy” on academic freedom,

As Amy Poehler would say “Really!1?!  Really!?!”    Is that really the kind of job security that will fill you with confidence in advocating  on behalf of seemingly powerless clinic clients or articulating unpopular but important legal positions?   And what about all this talk from the ABA and the profession about how students need to be better prepared for practice and the profession.   “Really!1?!  Really!?!”  How is that going to happen when you de-value those in the academy who teach through supervised practice ?   CLEA President Kate Kruse got it spot on when she wrote on the clinic listserv,

“Because tenure is now and is likely to remain the norm only for doctrine professors, both of these provisions protect current faculty power relationships and threaten the presence in legal education of teachers specializing in experiential education.’

That is not good news for legal education, law students or future clients.  REALLY.

NYT – The Unseen Costs of Cutting Law School Faculty

Take a look at this NYT’s article by University of San Diego Professor, Vic Fleischer, noting that “The law school at Seton Hall University has put its untenured faculty on legal notice that their contracts may not be renewed for the 2014-15 academic year.”  While disagreeing with the Seton Hall decision, Fleischer offers some suggestions of his own on how law schools could cut costs, “Post-tenure review (by faculty, not administrators) can ensure that faculty members remain productive. Libraries can be moved online. Clinics can be closed, and adjunct faculty can be better utilized to team-teach practical courses alongside research faculty. The size of the administrative staff can be pared down, especially those who manage programs that might be considered luxuries.”  

At a time when law schools are being criticized for paying insufficient attention to training in practical lawyering skills and professional values (not to mention, the advent of scalable online teaching technologies), I do not see how closing clinics is the answer.  I would prefer for the discussion to recognize that if we eliminate clinics altogether, then what remains to be taught in law schools could easily move online.  In an article I will be sending out next week, I go into this in a lot more depth. 

Counting Clinical Opportunities

I just finished writing a letter to the editor of National Jurist about the magazine’s ranking of the “Best Law Schools for Practical Training” in the September issue.  They don’t have a letter to the editor section, so I don’t expect it to get it published, but I did want to educate the magazine about Best Practices and Carnegie.  The methodology of the ranking was apparently to count the total number of students enrolled in the school and divide that by the number of clinical spots available and then rank the law schools based on that quotient. 

 

At a law school like New Mexico which has a mandatory clinic, they apparently only counted the mandatory clinic slots (about a third of the student body since clinic is normally taken in the third year of law school).  We ended up ranking 14th.  I realize that is pretty good, but then the article states that the top school, Yale, offers clinical opportunities to 90% of its student body.   Of course, schools such as UNM, CUNY, UDC and others that require clinic for graduation offer clinical opportunities to 100% of the student body.  So, I am unsure how a school that offers clinic to 90% of its students is ranked higher than those schools that offer it to 100% of its students.  In addition, the raw numbers fail to take into account the rest of the law school curriculum and its commitment to training that is consistent with Best Practices and Carnegie. Of course, the schools that were ranked at the top of the survey are excellent schools and likely to do well, in large part, because of their commitment to clinical legal education

 

Roy Stuckey has asked whether someone should evaluate law schools based on the ideas in Best Practices.  While it is great that magazines such as National Jurist are interested in writing pieces about practical education, given these quantitative types of rankings, the idea of some qualitative evaluation would be a service to future law students. 

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