Social Media and Law Schools (an introduction)

Want an introduction to social media?  Earlier this week, my colleague, Andrew Brandt, and I held a faculty workshop for our colleagues at Villanova Law about using social media to build our community and showcase our ideas. Here is a link to the powerpoint we created for the talk (although did not use). http://www.slideshare.net/MichelePistone

Some of our colleagues asked me to follow up on how to use hashtags (#) and handles (@) on Twitter. I found this great one-pager, http://bit.ly/1bsh4oh, on using Twitter that may be of interest to you all.

If you are on Twitter, please share your handles with this community so we can follow you. And if you want to follow me, I am @profpistone.

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3 Problems with Legal Education

UC Hastings Dean Frank Wu has an interesting article in Above the Law about Law Schools.  He mentions three problems with legal education: (1) a glut of lawyers in today’s market; (2) high cost; (3) insufficient training in practical skills.

Do you agree?  Would you add anything to the list?

Law School Applicants: What Are The Jobs Students Hire Law School To Do?

Following on some recent discussions about disruption and legal education, I’d like to solicit help from the community in determining what are the “jobs to be done” in legal education?

HBS Professor Clay Christensen tells us that a central place to begin an analysis of disruptive innovation is with the question: What jobs do our customers want us to do for them? In other words, what needs arise in our customers lives that they look to us to meet/satisfy?  Here is a relevant article: http://www.forbes.com/sites/stephenwunker/2012/02/07/six-steps-to-put-christensens-jobs-to-be-done-theory-into-practice/

I think that once the legal academy gets a good handle on this question, it may help us figure out how to reform legal education in light of the recent dramatic changes in market conditions.

I am still forming my ideas on this, so am looking to start a discussion and for feedback.  The more I think about it, we actually may have to address two questions, one focused on law school applicants and the second on law school students.  Or maybe the law school student questions are a sub-category of the overarching law school applicant questions.  That still needs to be fleshed out.

Here is my draft list of jobs that applicants to law school need to be done (in no special order and some may not apply to every student):

  • I need something respectable to do after college
  • I need to feel good about myself (to feel smart, special, elite)
  • I need a place where I can enjoy spending time with my friends/people who share the same ideas/talents/perspectives as I do
  • I need to become qualified to sit for a bar exam/ to become an entry level lawyer
  • I need to feel part of a larger community/network
  • I need to figure out how to use my gifts/talents for a fulfilling career (I am not a math, science type, so medical school, computer science, engineering, are not for me)
  • I need to find a career that will enable the lifestyle I anticipate for myself and my family

Each of the above needs has sub-needs.  For example: “I need to become qualified for the bar/ to become an entry level lawyer” has lots of sub-needs, such as:

  • I need to learn how to think like a lawyer
  • I need to learn fundamental legal concepts and theories
  • I need to learn the laws and legal theories that are relevant to my field of interest
  • I need to begin for form a professional identity
  • I need to learn the practical skills and professional values of lawyering
  • I need to learn how to conduct legal research
  • I need to learn how to write like a lawyer . . .
  • I need to find a job in my field
  • I need to begin to meet lawyers in the community in which I will work

I realize that many students may not independently identify these are needs.  What does that mean for the “jobs to be done” analysis?  Is education different in the sense that professional students may not always know their needs?  I’d also like guidance on how that is handled in the analysis.

Thanks in advance for any guidance, suggestions, comments, corrections, etc.  I hope that this sparks a fruitful discussion and look forward to hearing your feedback.

A Rise in Alternative Careers Is Changing Legal Education

By Jill Backer Contact All Articles
New York Law Journal
October 28, 2013

In April of this year, Kaplan Test Prep did a survey of 200 pre-law students. Fifty percent of those students stated that they do not intend to use their future law degree in a traditional legal field. If this statistic extrapolates out to the larger law student population, we have a generation of law students of which only half will ever be practicing lawyers. So if half of law students do not intend on ever practicing law in a traditional way at a traditional firm—what is their intention? The answer is as varied and individualized as our law student population. The answer is also forcing a revitalization of legal education and at no time has legal education ever been accused of changing too quickly.

I often hear the term “alternative legal careers” being thrown around but I am not sure that this has ever been readily defined. Does it mean people who have not passed the bar? Or those in compliance positions, entry-level solo practitioners, or even legal educators? Or those who don’t work at a law firm? The answer to these questions and other questions is yes.

There is a lot of chatter about the definition and assessment of the jobs law students obtain after graduation. Back in 2011, the ABA, in conjunction with NALP, came up with the category of “J.D. advantage” to describe jobs that specifically do not require bar passage but do utilize skills learned in law school. The employers might have preferred candidates with a J.D. (or even required a J.D.), and the job is one in which the J.D. provided a demonstrable advantage to obtaining and/or performing the job. Interest in these jobs skyrocketed as the market fell, with more and more students seeking the J.D.-preferred positions when there were many less traditional positions available. In fact, in 2011, one in every seven jobs taken by new law graduates fell into the J.D. advantage category. (NALP Bulletin, May 2013).

In my opinion, the category and even the term “J.D. advantage” is a bunch of rubbish. Graduates in J.D. advantage jobs are sometimes every bit of lawyers as their brethren at firms and other traditional jobs. Today, lots of associate work and especially first-year associate work can rarely be achieved only by a barred attorney. I believe the legal community and its governing body the ABA are finally just coming to the recognition of what we already know—the J.D. is an agile and flexible tool that can be utilized in many forums.

Let’s face it, the opportunities on the traditional path for new law graduates are shrinking. Therefore, all professional opportunities can and should be defined under “working” and not put under some other nomenclature of J.D. advantage. There are few professional pursuits that would not value the analytical thinking and knowledge of the law and ethics that law school offers. This new category describing any deviation from the traditional path is not required and seems to paint in broad strokes a picture of these jobs as “lesser.” Jobs outside law firm associate positions are in no way less, and in some cases can offer much more.

Here in Brooklyn, there is a hub of a new technology age guided by entrepreneurial spirit and innovation. If a new graduate were to join a start-up business at a local incubator, is that a J.D.-preferred job? After all, while the graduate may not be doing legal work day-to-day, you can be sure that their legal education will be of huge use and influence in the new venture. In fact, you can bet that contracts and other issues involving the law would find their way to the law graduate’s desk rather than another employee. How do we say this is not a law job but a J.D. advantage, or perhaps because the employer did not specify—not even J.D. advantage.

Compliance is another area where the J.D. advantage term is overused. As recently as 10 years ago compliance positions were considered quasi-legal jobs. However, as regulation became more intricate, more and more J.D.s were hired into these roles at all levels. Today, most new hires in the compliance world are J.D.s. In fact, this is a huge and lucrative area of growth for the law profession. However, under the ABA rules, these are J.D. advantage jobs rather than legal jobs.

So here is what we know—there are fewer jobs in traditional legal roles for entry-level attorneys. New graduates are seeking out different opportunities due to fewer traditional positions and a real desire to practice/work in non-traditional forums. The ABA has decided to define any job without a traditional title—associate, staff attorney, assistant D.A., etc.—as something other than a lawyer. So where do we go from here? We need to change legal education and the ABA to fit the new reality.

Law schools have already begun a huge era of revitalization of legal education—some might say an overhaul. Some of these changes are meant to streamline legal education, others to provide more practical training. However, there is another factor that is changing law school: teaching to and preparing the ever-growing population of graduates that do not wish to practice in a traditional forum. Brooklyn Law School teaches a business boot camp and has a clinic that incubates new businesses in all facets, not just legal. There are other law schools that have language classes and compliance courses that are not rooted in the law.

These types of endeavors will help entering law students navigate the business world while utilizing their legal education. This string of classes shows a new multidisciplinary approach in legal education. The more well-rounded student is coveted by traditional and alternative employers alike. The old yard-stick used to measure future success was academic prowess. That is slowly changing as employers of all ilks realize that they need to incorporate softer skills and business skills as well as legal skills to keep their organizations afloat. Being a knowledgeable and ethical attorney is no longer enough to satisfy today’s legal market.

We are facing a turning point in the legal market. Law students are not focused on the same goals as a generation ago, as evidenced by the Kaplan survey cited at the beginning of this article. They are seeking out a new type of legal career that is not rooted in the traditional ways and definitions of law practice. The institutions of the legal market need to accept and understand that one way of using a law degree is no less than another. Law schools have to prepare these students as well as they do those engaged in the more traditional practices. Thankfully, law schools seem to be rising to that challenge.

Jill Backer is associate director for employer relations at Brooklyn Law School.

Infographics on Technology

This is a very interesting and informative look into how technology is impacting education.

A rose by any other name: Evaluation and Assessment at Cross Purposes

A barrier to developing, improving, or sharing our assessment practices is the confusion surrounding the vocabulary of assessment.  Whenever it occurs or by whatever method, assessment is simply the process of discovering what and how well students have learned and then using that information to improve. One can quickly become mired in a sea of words that feel like jargon, with assumptions that confuse and distort the real meaning of this otherwise familiar practice of all good instructors. Part of the problem is that the language is not our own and so, by its very adoption, reinforces the impression that assessment is an intrusion into our classrooms.  Because these confusions are so destructive to the ability of an institution to move forward with assessment, we must either work to make this vocabulary our own or develop a different vocabulary for the same ideas.

Even though discovering what students have learned in order to improve teaching is a natural part of a good teacher’s practice, law schools are having difficulty in knowing exactly what this talk of assessment means. Faculty frequently mistake outcomes assessment for something more complex, unusual, or even sinister. “Assessment” becomes confused with “evaluation” (as in program or teacher evaluation) or “standardized testing,” and, before long, we are thinking of K-12 school district funding decisions based a “No Child Left Behind” external control of education.

There is a fundamental difference between assessing student learning for the purposes of program or teacher evaluation and assessing student learning for the purposes of improving that learning.  If we are assessing for accountability, we collect data (e.g., pass rates) about students learning outcomes that we do not necessarily control (e.g. bar exams) so that we can report that data to external constituencies (e.g. accreditors). In contrast, if we are assessing for student learning, we observe evidence (e.g., essays, performances) of student learning outcomes that we have designed ourselves so that we can interpret and use that evidence to improve the learning of our students.  When accountability to those outside the learning process is the driving force behind assessment, the temptation may be to assess only those learning outcomes that we know students have mastered and avoid looking for places where learning could be significantly improved.  We might skew our teaching and curricula away from learning outcomes we truly care about to more closely match the learning outcomes we believe outsiders consider important.  Of course that already does happen to some degree.  The influence of ABA standards of accreditation and bar examinations on curricula is so obvious we may not even recognize the degree to which our faculty control of the program of legal education is directed by these learning outcomes and assessment methods.

It is against this backdrop of fear that some law teachers approach the topic of outcomes assessment.  However, resisting assessment out of a concern that others will rob law faculty of their freedom means giving up one of the most powerful tools to protect that freedom. If a faculty can clearly communicate the learning goals they have for their students, and can demonstrate how their program of legal education leads to more students accomplishing those learning goals at higher levels of mastery, that proof of learning can become powerful tool for demonstrating accountability: to the students, the academy, the bar, and the public. That is not to say that assessment for accountability will not be required or should not be undertaken with seriousness of purpose and honesty in method.  Assessment for improving student learning, however, should be just as important, if not more so, so that we can be accountable to ourselves and our students.

Law Practice at the Cusp of Disruption

Colleagues, please read this article by Clay Christensen and his colleagues.  As law professors, we need to understand how the practice of law is changing.  Only if we understand it can we best prepare our students for the world they are entering and will be practicing in going forward.  It talks about the move from BigLaw to NewLaw, and sees more evolution along the lines of Axion, AdvanceLaw, Lawyers on Demand, all within the scope of BigLaw.  

Then let me know what you think in the comments section below. 

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