Bylaws and business meetings: a 1L experiential module

Ruth Anne Robbins, Distinguished Clinical Professor of Law, Rutgers Law School

The first year of law school rightfully has been criticized for overly prioritizing the litigation model and for making it the central focus of our teaching. This emphasis lulls students into believing that the judicial audience is the primary consumer of legal communications. To counteract that skewing, those of us teaching in the 1L curriculum are often exhorted to find ways to discuss transactional forms of legal writing. But, contract-drafting is not easily built into a curriculum already bursting at the seams with the must-have’s that we cram into the lower-credited experiential classes of the 1L year.

Enter the idea of dedicating part of two or three classes to small-organization bylaws and business meetings. The bylaws of a small organization are constitutional, so this type of teaching module fits in nicely with what they are learning in other introductory courses. And while some students may know a little bit about bylaws and business meetings from previous experiences in college, religious groups, or other volunteer activities, most students probably won’t have a great deal of knowledge. Learning about these ideas will appeal to them because of the immediate applicability to the very student-run organizations in which, as rising 2Ls, they are poised to assume leadership positions.

I begin by asking those students with a little bit of knowledge to help me outline, on the board, the setup and order of a business meeting. Typically, at least one or two students in a group of 20 will be able to walk others through it with a little bit of prompting. We talk about why a roll call must happen right after the call to order and opening ceremonies. Ask your own students how many of them know something about quorum—you may be startled to learn how few students do. Teaching them what quorum is and how it relates to business-agenda items engages the students and almost immediately makes them realize just how practical this module is.

Discussions about business meetings naturally leads to a conversation about the rudiments of Robert’s Rules of Order and how voting happens on an agenda item.[1] I have sometimes run a class or two in a business-meeting format, inviting students to make formal motions about some of the softer deadlines in the course. As part of that, students must calculate quorum to hold class at all. I always ask them the lowest number of votes it would take to carry a vote, assuming we had exactly quorum present. Students are awoken to the fact that in a class of 20 students, 6 students might be able to bind the other 14. (That is: quorum for a group of 20 students is 11. And if only 11 are present, a simple majority to carry a vote is 6). “It’s important to show up and have your vote counted,” I have remarked. The message isn’t lost on them.

Students also have the opportunity to step into role for actual representation work. A few years ago, knowing this module, our Women’s Law Caucus president approached me and asked if the 1Ls in my class might provide some advice about issues her executive board had identified in their bylaws. Naturally, I immediately agreed. To prepare students for their client, they first looked at a larger set of bylaws I had worked on for a local high school boosters organization. I changed a few items to take the bylaws out of compliance with the New Jersey statutes governing non-profit organizations (a relatively easy statutory scheme). Fifteen questions later, they knew enough to issue-spot in the much simpler student-organization bylaws. Then, in small groups, they looked at the Women’s Law Caucus bylaws and a week later offered their recommendations to the officers. Who adopted almost all of the advice.

This was such a feel-good moment for all involved that I have made it an annual module. Depending on the year, I have had students conclude with a client letter written by the small groups together, or I have simplified it even further and simply had the 1L students meet with the organization’s officer in class to offer their verbal recommendations (I act as scribe for the  officer in those circumstances). Each year I walk away impressed with the speed of absorption my 1L students have for this material. They take the representation seriously, and I think that they also enjoy it. I am likewise impressed with the 2L and 3L student’ willingness to serve as the client for my 1Ls even though it will net them extra work down the road as they work through the bylaws-amending process. I think they also feel that they learn valuable lessons by being the client. Having just completed this year’s project, I already have received a request from an organization’s new president to have my next year’s 1L students put her organization’s bylaws under their microscope.

This assignment is win-win for all involved. It is low-stakes for the 1L students, but it engages them in professional identity development, statutory analysis, problem-solving, and client-counseling skills. The module provides a pragmatic experience—who among us hasn’t been part of a business meeting or bylaws consultation?—and it offers a different perspective on legal practice. To put it simply: it’s relatively easy, it’s fun, and it’s real-world. I highly recommend it to others.

[1]The essentials of Robert’s Rules can be found online although the 11thedition is still a to-purchase item.

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Our Authors and Readers Propelled us Into the Hall of Fame! Thank you! Happy New Year.

Web 100 Hall of Fame badge.

As 2018 draws to a close and the new adventures of 2019 are still resting below the horizon, it seems a fitting moment to acknowledge gratefully all those who contribute to making this blog a useful and informative read.  This year,  our thoughtful and insightful authors – please take a look at their names on our sidebar – together with our loyal and well informed readership has earned us a new honor.  As you may remember, for three straight years, from 2014 to 2016, Best Practices was named one of the ABA Journal‘s top law blogs. This year, Best Practices  has been named to the ABA Journal‘s Blawg 100 Hall of Fame. That’s right, we are Hall of Famers!

The ABA Journal noted

‘”At this blog, law professors discuss what skills and qualities—beyond knowing the law—the future lawyers in their classrooms really need and the nitty-gritty of how to teach them. Recent posts discuss suggestions for bar exam reform, approaches to take with Generation Z law students who were raised on the internet, and what law students remember about professors decades later.”

On reflecting on this honor, please bear with me as I take a trip down memory lane to 2007,  over a  decade ago , when this blog was but a twinkle in the eye of the Clinical Legal Education Association’s then named “Best Practices Implementation Committee” (which exists today as the renamed “Best Practices in Legal Pedagogy Committee.”)

CLEA’s Board had commissioned one Professor Roy Stuckey to lead the charge in editing and publishing the original Best Practices  book to be distributed for free (see right sidebar for a free copy) in timely accordance with the publication of Carnegie’s Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law . Together the two books caused quite the stir in the legal academia and presaged the critiques that would come post-recession about the way law schools had lost their way in serving its students and society.  Roy emphasized,  as did the committee working with him, that Best Practices was meant to be an evolving guideline NOT a textualist nightmare.   University of New Mexico Law Professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez  described  the need for further iterations to flesh out the cultural awareness and competence sections. In response to these and others concerns, Pace Law’s Professor Vanessa Merton suggested the development of a BLOG  as a way to continue the critique and conversation in real time adding acquired knowledge and exploring experiments gone flop!  Albany Law agreed to foot some minor bills and provide some tech support for creating the blog.  I agreed to become editor by figuring  out what a blog actually was!  Hence the Best Practices in Legal Education Blog was born.

The Blog was softly launched in late 2007 with some preliminary posts. The hard public launch was planned to coincide with the January 2008 AALS annual conference in NYC.  New York state law faculty lugged Best Practices books with them to the conference by subway, metro north, Amtrak, cars, buses and feet!  In the main hall of vendors, we signed up folks onto  the blog’s feeburner site (see option on right sidebar!)  and shared a table in the Hall with Equal Justice Works! We also hosted  a birthday celebration for both Roy and Best Practices!  

In 2015,  a second book arrived.  A group of experienced, thoughtful and collaborative women faculty – Professors Deborah Maranville, Lisa Bliss,  Carrie Kass and Professor Sedillo Lopez – engaged in a several year drafting process gathering  newly informed teaching, curricular, extracurricular and assessment insights and innovations. Their book reflected upon and fleshed out original Best Practices principles to guide law schools and legal educators facing new challenges  With the input of hundreds of chapter co-authors, readers and commentators Building on Best Practices: Transforming Legal Education in A Changing World published by Lexis-Nexis has become a desktop bible for many of us.  It is also available  for purchase in e-chapters

In the past decade, this modest little blog has hosted so many talented authors, guest contributors, insightful commentators and the most loyal and passionate readership.  We have been ably assisted by devoted and tech savvy student assistants as well as by fellows Justin Myers and Kevin Ramakrishna .   We would be lost in cyberspace without the tech wizardry and grammarian expertise of nina Roepe.

Vintage Christmas Clip Art - Laurel Wreath Frame - The ...

We do not intend to rest on our laurels, however! Issues of law, the Rule of Law, and the role of law in supporting a free and democratic society have become more important than ever.  How we teach and who we teach and who does the teaching are ever more important questions – even more so than a decade ago.  Here, on this blog, without a lot of fanfare, or social media confetti, or hysterical tweeting, we can discuss, explore and examine how to proceed to facilitate learning for the budding lawyers who will lead the way forward.  They are eager and they are our hope.

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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. 

Blended Learning for Law Schools

I just returned from an inspiring and thought provoking three days at the Wolters Kluwer-sponsored Leading Edge workshop. The gathering of about 35 thought leaders from legal education – a wonderfully diverse group – was structured as an un-conference, so the participants designed the agenda upon our arrival and all the discussions revolved around topics that the invitees chose and facilitated. The topics ranged from assessment to increasing diversity in the academy, to teaching about leadership and cyberlaw, to disruption of law schools (yes, that was the session I lead).

Among the many recurring themes at the conference was online learning, particularly blended or hybrid learning, also referred to as flipping the classroom. Over the last few years, researchers have increasingly confirmed that students learn best in courses that combine online with face-to-face learning. Here, the Mayo Clinic describes the utility of blended learning in the health sciences field. Similarly, the US Department of Education found many benefits of flipping the classroom in its meta-analysis of online learning. These and other studies talk about the many advantages that derive from blending online and in-class instruction.

In the law school context, I made these videos about flipping the law school classroom and blended learning in legal education, in which I talk about how online learning can free up class time for law students to begin to gain exposure to essential lawyering competencies during each course while still covering the doctrinal material that professors hope to assign during a typical semester. Adding blended elements to your courses can be fun and rewarding. Here are some tips for getting started.

Top Five Things to Consider When Flipping a Law School Course

  1. What topics do you want to flip?

Before you begin, identify the topics that you typically cover for which the flipped classroom model would make the most sense in the course.

  1. You don’t have to produce all of the videos.

Don’t be reluctant to assign video content produced by other professors. Like other teaching and scholarly activities, such as writing an effective article, practice guide or even blog post, the production of effective and engaging video content takes time. As a result, I often assign my students to read law review articles and casebooks prepared by other professors. Assigning videos prepared by other professors is analogous. Indeed, by assigning material prepared by others, our time is freed up to spend on more active teaching activities. Visit legaledweb.com for a collection of videos prepared by leading law faculty.

  1. Begin with planning what will be “flipped in” rather than what will be flipped out.

Plan what you want to do with the additional face-to-face time with students that blended learning will afford. This is the point of having a flipped classroom. For example, consider adding new activities into the classroom (such as interviewing, negotiation or drafting exercises) that hone practical lawyering skills and competencies.

  1. Produce chunked, short video content.

Research shows that effective videos do not exceed 5-8 minutes in length, and some are even shorter. Break up a longer subject matter into a few chunked segments, making sure that each video addresses a discreet legal topic. Remember to make the video engaging and to speak clearly and concisely.

  1. Hold the students responsible for watching the videos.

Start each class with an assumption that the students watched the video. That will create an expectation for the group. Start the class by expanding on the videos lessons and assigning activities/discussions that ask students to use the theories learned from the videos actively through role plays, simulations, small group work or Socratic dialogue.

Best of luck innovating legal education. Let us know, in the comment section below, how it goes for you. What works? What could be improved? What insights can you share with the community?

And if you want to learn more about flipping the classroom and other innovations in teaching pedagogy, visit legaledweb.com

 

Is Litigating an Expression of Academic Freedom?

I recommend to you a really thoughtful post on the Academe blog entitled  “Why Litigation is Academic Freedom”  The post addresses the ongoing political attacks on UNC Law School’s Civil Rights Center (Center) and uses an interview with one of our contributing authors, Judith Wegner,  to flesh out the issues.

As Professor Wegner notes,

The Center for Civil Rights (CCR) was founded by distinguished UNC Law alumnus Julius L. Chambers in 2001. Chambers was among the country’s foremost civil rights lawyers, who established a leading integrated law firm, successfully advocated in civil rights cases before the US Supreme Court, served as Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and returned to his home state to lead NC Central University as its chancellor.  He was a brilliant, visionary advocate for justice, and the center is intended to prepare a new generation of lawyers to follow in his footsteps.

The post notes that the Center receives no state funds, but “has received grants from major foundations and partnered with a wide range of organizations.”  Members of the University  Board of Governors make a number of contentions including that “university-associated” centers and/or law clinics should not engage in litigation and that law students associated with public universities should not be engaged in suing state or local governments. Particular members claim that the Center has “a political axe to grind.” 

Wegner deftly explains the importance of Centers, clinics and externships to the education of lawyers and the reason that litigation is exactly what law students should be learning to do!  In addition, she aptly points out that the Board of Governors arguments are

simply another way of claiming that the center should not engage in litigation on behalf of poor and minority clients. These clients are ones who would typically not have alternative options for representation. Limits on the kinds of cases that can be brought by legal aid lawyers, recent cuts in the state budget for legal services for the poor, and threats to funding for the national Legal Services Corporation leave such clients with even fewer options.  

The law school has a diverse range of class offerings that explore all manner of issues from diverse points of view. Indeed, the law school also hosts a Center for Banking and Finance (created at the same time the Center for Civil Rights was created) and a Center for Climate, Energy, Environment, and Economics. Neither of these other centers has been attacked or their activities challenged, nor should they.

Finally, the post encourages those who agree that the attack on UNC Centers and Clinics is politically motivated and a violation of academic freedom to take action:

If I tell you that we are in jeopardy of compromising our integrity and commitment to the state and to the search for truth, please believe me.  And please do something about it.  Write Chancellor Folt, President Spellings, and SACSCOC—again, the emails are: chancellor@unc.edu, margaret.spellings@northcarolina.edu, and questions@sacscoc.org.  Do not be complicit. Stand up for truth and for justice!

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.

CLINICAL COSTS: SEPARATING FACT FROM OPINION

by Robert Kuehn,  Washington University School of Law

The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once observed, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” When it comes to expanding clinical legal education, the knee-jerk opinion is that it is too expensive for legal education to follow the lead of other professional schools and ensure that every student graduates with a clinical experience through a law clinic or externship. Even the richest law schools couldn’t resist playing the cost card to scare the ABA out of requiring additional professional skills training: “Requiring all law schools to provide 15 experiential credit hours to each student will impose large costs on law schools, costs that would have to be passed on to students. . . . Even a law school with significant financial resources could not afford such an undertaking.” 1

Yet, the facts show otherwise — every school, from the well-heeled to the impecunious, can provide a clinical experience to each student without increasing tuition. Indeed, an array of schools already require 15 credits of experiential coursework (simulations, law clinics & externships) and a clinical experience (a law clinic or externship) for all their J.D. students without noticeable impacts on tuition. At the City University of New York, students must take a twelve- to sixteen-credit law clinic or externship prior to graduation, and at only $15,000 in resident tuition ($24,000 non-resident). Students at the University of the District of Columbia similarly must enroll in a seven-credit law clinic in their second year and a second seven-credit clinic in their third year, paying $11,500 in resident tuition ($22,500 non-resident). Starting with the 2013 entering class, Washington and Lee University requires twenty academic credits in simulated or real-practice experiences that include at least one law clinic or externship. The professor overseeing the program explained that a review of the first few years of the new curriculum showed it is “slightly less expensive than our former, traditional third-year curriculum. And . . . than our current first and second years.”2  Most recently, Pepperdine announced that beginning with next year’s class, students must graduate with at least 15 credits of experiential course work, yet the school increased tuition for 2015 by less than its average increase for the prior three years.

These examples are consistent with studies showing that every school can afford to require a clinical experience for every J.D. student. Continue reading

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