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Saturday, July 07, 2012

In defense of hiding the ball in law school classes: Does being confused help you learn stuff?

Every year on my course evaluations, I get a few bitter complaints --say, 3-6 out of roughly 90 students -- that class is unnecessarily confusing. Why do I have to hide the ball, they complain? Why can't I just tell them the n-part test, the doctrinal rule-plus-exceptions in the good old "bar review" style, so that they can memorize it and repeat it back to me on the final exam?

Every once in awhile, I indulge the yearning for exposition of cut-and-dried rules without reasons (or with reasons so obviously unsatisfactory that they hardly count as reasons at all). When I do, my ratings predictably tick up. One term, when I had to teach two sections of the same course, I engaged in this "bar review" style lecturing just to make it easier to keep both sections moving at exactly the same pace. Although I was guiltily phoning it in, a certain segment of the class loved what they got: I got rave reviews -- 4.83 in one section (on a 1-5 scale).

So why don't I deliver such legal Cliff Notes more often? Despite its advantages for winning popularity of a certain sort, I feel that this method of conveying information actually cheats the students. Now I have found some hard research to back up my intuition that my students' being confused is good for them. Sidney D’Mello has published an article in the journal Learning and Instruction earlier this year that, as reported by noted science writer Annie Paul, shows that students learn more and better when the learning process is frustrating and confusing.

According to Paul, D'Mello's research shows that

[E]ven negative emotions can play a productive role in learning. In this latest study, he and his coauthor Art Graesser examined the effects of confusion. They asked their subjects to interact with a computer program featuring animated agents discussing scientific case studies. The characters sometimes disagreed with each other, and sometimes conveyed information that was contradictory or just wrong. The students were then required to decide which agent’s opinion was correct. Subjects who reported feeling confused by the exercise actually scored higher on a test following the computer interaction, and when presented with new case studies, they were better able to spot the studies’ logical flaws.”
“Confusion, D’Mello explains, is a state of “cognitive disequilibrium”; we are mentally thrown off balance when we encounter information that doesn’t make sense. This uneasy feeling motivates us to restore our equilibrium through thought, reflection, and problem solving, and deeper learning is the result. According to D’Mello, engaged learners repeatedly experience “two-step episodes alternating between confusion and insight.” Back and forth, between perplexity and understanding: this is how the learning of complex material happens.

Paul continues by noting that
“In fact, deep learning may be unlikely to happen without the experience of confusion, suggests a study conducted by another researcher, Arizona State’s Kurt VanLehn. The students in his experiment were not able to grasp the physics concepts they were learning until they had encountered, and surmounted, an intellectual “impasse.” Still another study, this one led by Harvard physicist Eric Mazur, found that students who observed a demonstration in science class understood the relevant concept no better than before—unless the students were asked to predict the outcome of the demonstration in advance. When their predictions turned out to be wrong, the resulting confusion motivated them to consider the concept more deeply, and they learned more.

So... should I be happy that roughly a half-dozen of my 90-odd students reported unresolvable confusion in their teaching evaluations on the eve of the final exam?

Nope. Paul notes that, while teachers "should deliberately induce confusion in learners," this confusion should not be “hopeless confusion” but rather “productive confusion” in which the instructor "help[s] the student recognize that the way out of confusion is through focused thought and problem solving; by providing necessary information and suggesting strategies when appropriate; and by helping the student cope with the negative emotions that may arise." With such effective teaching, Paul reports that "learners will be experiencing a very different kind of feeling: elation, pride, and the emotion that D’Mello calls 'eureka.'"

In other words, don't 'phone it in with those cut-and-dried doctrinal lectures, but don't leave them hopelessly lost. Tough marching orders. I know that I disappoint some of my class on the latter criterion. Judging from my final exams this term (all of which were pretty darn good and some of which were brilliant), however, I did not fail too dismally -- and, after reading Paul's post, I am even more determined not to fail on the first criterion by giving in to my students' demands for "bar review" Cliff Notes. Sure, I'd like my students to be happy. But they are not paying me so that I can be popular or they can have fun: They are paying me so that they can learn. I've heard it said that, if you do not hate your personal trainer a little bit, then he or she is not working you hard enough. I am inclined to think that the same goes for a law professor who cheats their students of the "eureka" moment by delivering the cut-and-dried lecture setting forth the treatise-style exposition of "the" (so-called) law.

Posted by Rick Hills on July 7, 2012 at 09:43 AM | Permalink

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One of the commenters to Paul's piece invokes Vygotsky's ZPD -- "zone of proximal development." The basic idea is to make material challenging but "engage-able." This summer I've been reading Dan Willingham's "Why do Children Hate School?" and Arum and Roksa's "Academically Adrift." What I've come away with is a sense of the changing nature of the "cultural capital" law teachers can expect incoming students to possess. It is one thing for a student to be confused because a set of ideas is difficult and often conflicting. That may work itself out in the interplay between teacher and student. It is quite another thing for a student to become confused because of an utter lack of preparation for engaging in critical thinking. That is much more difficult to work out, and as an academic support director at a lower tier school I spend a lot of time making the attempt. Teachers at "elite" and "non-elite" schools alike must work with the first kind of confusion. But it is primarily teachers at non-elite schools who must work through confusion of the second type. So I would say that the amount and nature of the confusion a teacher might deliberately interject into material is heavily dependent on the characteristics of the students being taught - one must find the ZPD.

Posted by: Michael Duff | Jul 7, 2012 12:00:37 PM

A classic puzzle. All of us have our own teaching styles, and every legal subject is a bit different, so YYMV. But I personally find that it helps to recreate the kind of learning process that a student is likely to experience as a skilled practitioner. The basic idea is to quickly present doctrine up front, followed by extended exploration of uncertainty.

Here's my thinking. In many areas of law, it is trivially easy to find a case offering the blackletter law test. Any lawyer or law student can find that in a few seconds. On the other hand, it is quite difficult to understand how courts apply that test, or why what looks like the test at first really isn't the test in practice. When teaching that sort of material, I find it helpful to start with the blackletter law test that everyone will find at the outset. I just present it to students at the beginning of class. But then I assign cases that bring up the ambiguities in the test, how the test is actually applied, and what it actually means apart from the blackletter law. I then spend most of class exploring all of those problems, and those are the kinds of problems I will test on. Like legal practice, the exams are open book, so memorizing the test for the exam doesn't do you any good. And every student has the blackletter law in front of them, so that gives students no grading advantage in a curved grading system. Instead, the exam tests students on their skill in applying the test, which is designed to replicate the real-world in which a lawyer's skill is the skill of recognizing ambiguities and how real applications of the test can differ from the blackletter law. In other words, I test on the thorny and difficult issues explored in class, with the blackletter law just a backdrop in which to explore the hard issues.

Maybe my approach works for the kinds of subjects I teach and not for other subjects. Or maybe I am just delusional about how this works in my classes. But t I think this approach hits the kind of sweet spot you identify. Students get all the blackletter law in the first few minutes of class. No student feels lost, as I have given them the doctrine in a nice powerpoint slide at the beginning of class. But then the rest of class delves into the really thorny issues, and I don't sugarcoat the uncertainties. The exam then can become an assessment of lawyerly skill that should replicate relatively accurately the kind of skills that distinguish better lawyers from less skilled ones, so that grades are relatively accurate indicators or lawyerly skill to the employers seeking to identify that among prospective hires.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jul 7, 2012 12:01:23 PM

We think about this a lot in the design of CALI lessons. There is always some "hiding the ball", but there is also lots of feedback (many times not immediately) as students work through the Q & A of a CALI lesson. The authors design lessons so that students eventually get the right answer ... and for the right reasons ... not just by guessing or process of elimination.

Posted by: John Mayer | Jul 7, 2012 1:52:23 PM

Thanks to all for the thoughtful feedback. As my last kid has left for college -- my youngest daughter entered the Coast Guard Academy this June -- I have some extra time on my hands to re-think how I teach.

Orin, I am inclined to agree with you that delivering the clear parts of the doctrine up front and then focusing on the ambiguities afterwards might be the right balance. I am toying with the idea of scotching casebooks altogether and using some very plain hornbook or treatise to communicate the basics (for administrative law, the ABA Guide to Federal Agency Rulemaking, for instance) and then assigning a real-life legal problem and a set of more open-ended cases and other materials relevant to the problem. I might even just record a lecture that runs through the doctrine, assigning the video of the lecture for out-of-class viewing so that I can spend most of class working on the legal problem after taking questions on the basics of the doctrine in a fairly brisk and straightforward way (maybe using a "clicker" to quiz students in a safely anonymous manner).

The in-class work on the assigned problem could include mooting teams of students to debate the problem in an oral argument format and assigning written briefs or memos on the problem. The "canned" part of the class would be a Guide to the Perplexed, but the brainstorming through the real-life problem would be the effort to re-confuse everyone, hopefully resulting in some "Eureka!" moments. I have not attempted this strategy yet, but I am curious if anyone has taken the bifurcation of class between Cliff Notes and doctrinal paradoxes so far.

Michael, I appreciate the relevance of "ZPD." The problem is that there is a range of ZPD in all of my classes: I have students who have positively Talmudic experience wrestling with textual ambiguity as undergraduates and students who become confused -- even indignant -- if the law is not a set of rules that one read off the back of a board game box's lid. (By the way, I share the latter group's indignation much of the time!) Maybe a bifurcated class described above or described by Orin would make sure that there is something for everyone. The goal is exactly what Orin describes: Getting everyone to wrestle with a problem in a lawyerly way.

John, I'll take a look at the CALI materials. Thanks for the lead.

Posted by: Rick Hills | Jul 7, 2012 2:50:58 PM

Rick - I'll take the opportunity to shamelessly plug Carolina Academic Press's Context and Practice series (I'm a CAP author). The books are structured around clear statutory/rule exposition followed by lots of practice of rule application. Richard Seamon has just completed an Administrative Law text that is in production. I plan on using it in ad law course next year. Good luck!

Posted by: Michael Duff | Jul 7, 2012 3:54:46 PM

Nice rhetorical flourish, Dybbuk! (Not that original -- but the best rhetoric never is).

But help me out with the moniker: Isn't a Dybbuk a spirit of a dead person who possesses another person in harmful ways requiring an exorcism? What's the message that one should draw from the pseudonym? That you are dead yet a nuisance and need to be exorcised because of the harm you are causing?

Just curious.

Posted by: Rick Hills | Jul 7, 2012 4:37:39 PM

Indeed, there are many uses to adversity. The fact that it happens within the economically questionable transaction of a law school education, however, puts a different tincture to it.

Imagine that you have a certain black letter law rule. It's dogmatic at this point, and a practitioner has merely to cite it correctly for it to be taken as true. A law professor faced with conveying this rule can, of course, deliberately hide the ball. She could basically say nothing for the hour or so, and eventually the frustrated students will manage to dredge up the basic contours of the rule from sheer frustration. Or she could review the cases that led to its development; the social forces that were in play at the time that the rule entered the caselaw; the equities of the specific case; an anecdote or two from the history of the parties or the oral argument. In short, an hour of spoken (and Socratic, if readings are carefully assigned) content that would pass muster if printed and published. It would be interesting to compare the great printed law lectures of the past with a transcript of a modern class.

In short, I'd question your thesis.

Posted by: Harlot's Ghost | Jul 7, 2012 5:16:54 PM

Indeed, there are many uses to adversity. The fact that it happens within the economically questionable transaction of a law school education, however, puts a different tincture to it.

Imagine that you have a certain black letter law rule. It's dogmatic at this point, and a practitioner has merely to cite it correctly for it to be taken as true. A law professor faced with conveying this rule can, of course, deliberately hide the ball. She could basically say nothing for the hour or so, and eventually the frustrated students will manage to dredge up the basic contours of the rule from sheer frustration. Or she could review the cases that led to its development; the social forces that were in play at the time that the rule entered the caselaw; the equities of the specific case; an anecdote or two from the history of the parties or the oral argument. In short, an hour of spoken (and Socratic, if readings are carefully assigned) content that would pass muster if printed and published. It would be interesting to compare the great printed law lectures of the past with a transcript of a modern class.

In short, I'd question your thesis.

Posted by: Harlot's Ghost | Jul 7, 2012 5:16:56 PM

Six of 90 reported their frustration with your methods. A significant portion of the remainder simply didn't feel like doing it, because I'm guessing that your course evaluations were handed out in the last five or ten minutes of one of your last two or three classes, when every law student has more pressing concerns than shaping your future pedagogy.

Anyone who wants an indictment of the typical first-year Socratic experience need not look further than his university or law school bookstore. Law students will be the only ones whose space for textbooks is equaled by an adjacent space for books purporting to clarify what you couldn't grasp just by reading the textbooks. No other doctoral or professional program has this feature. I can only suppose that this is because the material for law classes is inherently much harder than medicine or physics.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Jul 7, 2012 7:57:56 PM

The fact is that a number of students don't think the ball is hidden. They are able to find it quickly. The people who are the most frustrated are the ones who can't find it, or have to take too long to find it. The reason many can't find it relates to the comments Duff made at the top. Professors think students are coming in with skills that many do not possess because their educations from K to through college have been deficient. That's what make the proposals that law become an undergraduate degree as it is in England risible. Most lawyers there have Oxbridge educations. Students who attend those schools are much better prepared that typical American students.

Posted by: BH | Jul 7, 2012 8:47:38 PM

"Morse Code for J" writes:

"I'm guessing that your course evaluations were handed out in the last five or ten minutes of one of your last two or three classes, when every law student has more pressing concerns than shaping your future pedagogy."

In point of fact, no, MCFJ: As a matter of NYU Law School policy, the first 15 minutes of the penultimate class is reserved for filling out the on-line course evaluation form, but they can be filled out at anytime during the last two weeks of class, including after the last day.

I do not have data on whether there is a selection effect. My intuitive assumption (derived from reading Yelp and the like) is that very angry and very happy people tend to fill out the forms most avidly, with neutral students not taking the time. But that's just a guess.

In the event, 60 out of 89 people actually filled out the on-line form. 28 out of 60 (47%) gave me a 5 out of 5 for being an effective teacher; 16 (27%) gave me a 4 out of 5. Assuming for the sake of argument that the 29 students who did not fill out the form all loathed the class, that means that 45 students out of 89 gave me 3 or lower and 44 gave me 4 or higher -- roughly a 50% split. So universal frustration does not seem to be the norm.

Actually, I wish that I had received a clearer negative signal: It would be easier to draw an inference as to how I should respond. When fourteen students express extreme enthusiasm (examples: "Hills is excellent. A very effective teacher"; "Professor Hills is arguably one of the better professors I have ever had"; "Very clear. Made wading the administrative quagmire easier if not easy': "Professor Hills is an incredible academic and also an excellent teacher--a rare combination"; "I don't think we have had a professor yet as invested in students and the law school as is Professor Hills") while a half-dozen express deep dislike (examples: "Hills is exuberant but impossible to understand and follow"; "Mr. Hills has a horrible teaching style"; "Instead of attempting to teach the subject matter directly and effectively, he pushes and pulls the class through a fairly ridiculous rigamarole each day"), it is hard to know how or whether to change.

Of course, there is no magic bullet: One cannot please everyone and probably should not try. "Morse Code" will probably always want a cut-and-dried lecture with deliverables at the end. But even Brian Leiter, an outstanding lecturer who rejects "Socratic" questioning, has at least one student who apparently would like the Socratic approach. (That student reported that “I'm a fan of socratic because it forces me to prepare for the course and think through the material more for each class. I tend to zone out after a few minutes of straight lecturing. so in any class I would be zoning in and out about 10 times.” http://www.brianleiter.net/TeachingEvaluations.pdf). (To Brian's credit, Brian's teaching evaluations are a matter of public record. I'd make mine public as well, except that I cannot figure out how to convert the on-line html table into a .pdf file: Suggestions?)

I should add that the last two years of evaluations have been substantially lower (hovering around 4 out of 5 on the "effective teacher" question) than the first five times that I taught the same course (4.82, 4.38, 4.43, 4.51, and 4.54 on the question of whether I was an effective teacher -- an average of 4.5). Why did the numbers go down, when the course remained basically the same in coverage? I do not have an easy answer, but here's a hypothesis: The first five times that I taught the course ('07, '08, '09, and twice in '10), I tended to "phone it in" more frequently by lecturing on doctrine -- something I find pretty easy, pretty dull, and pretty useless in helping anyone make an effective legal argument with an unfamiliar set of facts to which the rules only awkwardly apply. In the last two years, having mastered the material to the point of being bored silly by doctrinal lectures, I have moved more towards real-life problems rather than doctrinal bullet points. The advantage is that the exams have gotten noticeably better. The disadvantage is that a half-dozen students in the last two years were obviously confused and upset by the new approach that stressed application of cases or rules to new facts where the rules were unsettled. (If one teaches statutory interpretation as I do, then unsettled rules are, of course, the norm).

But, as Orin notes, there are ways of bridging the gap between delivering abstract propositional knowledge about uncontroversial doctrine and working through intractable problems by applying the doctrine. So thanks for the suggestions, those of you who offered them.

Posted by: Rick Hills | Jul 7, 2012 10:27:45 PM

We need to significantly modify the teaching of doctrinal courses, and we need to use a variety of teaching approaches in doctrinal classes (not just lecture or the Socratic method). In particular, we need to add problem solving exercises, which requires students to apply knowledge to facts. Educational scholars have shown that students remember more and are able to use knowledge better when they apply it. Students should also be taught to be reflective learners. One way to do this is to have students read cases with a purpose (reading a case to write a brief for the plaintiff, rather than just reading a case for class) and to have students assume roles in classes (prosecutor, defendant, judge). As Michael Duff suggested above, an easy way to change doctrinal courses is to use the CAP Context and Practice Series casebooks. (I am not an author.) They contain all the materials a professor needs to teach doctrinal courses in conformity with contemporary legal educational theory.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Jul 7, 2012 10:33:32 PM

Well, I am sorry that you are in a bad mood, dybbuk! But feel free to haunt this site if it makes you feel better.

Just to be clear: I do not "deliberately mystify and confuse the material": I deliberately mystify and confuse the students. And I do so because, whether deliberately or otherwise, the underlying material is mystifying and confusing. I don't write the conflicting opinions, the n-factor tests with overlapping and contradictory factors, the conflicting canons, the murky statutory terms that could be illustrative, exhaustive, or something in between. I don't declare that precedents announcing principles of statutory construction do not have precedential force except when they do. I know that you think the canned version that you get in some nutshell or hornbook is "the law" -- but it isn't: You've been conned. I do not want to con my class, so, when I try the hardest to teach well, I often end up being most confusing.

Sometimes I confess that, tired of hearing invective from people like yourself, I give in to temptation and provide the canned account of "the law" that folks like you seem to like. Normally, however, I try to work harder than that, because lying to my students about "the law" just does not feel right.

But it just doesn't feel right.

Posted by: Rick Hills | Jul 8, 2012 11:04:41 AM

Rick,

I recommend more vigorous moderation of comments: including deleting those that are characterized by such invective or simply abusive ad hominem in substance. Those of us who blog generally on matters of some significance or value, with Marc DeGirolami at Mirror of Justice (whose example I recently chose to follow), need to begin instituting minimal standards of blogging/commenting etiquette. If the blog itself doesn't explicitly set out such standards, then individual bloggers should themselves do so. The temptation to descend to a norm set at the lowest common denominator which permits perverse revelling in such muck and mire simply overwhelms some of us.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jul 8, 2012 11:46:54 AM

Dybbuk, you say: "The alleged reason for this technique is to sharpen the studentss minds and provide those "eureka" moments. The real, structural, reason is because it is the easiest way for the faculty to extract three years' tuition, without providing clinical training--an especially important consideration when large numbers of law school professors have minimal practice experience and are essentially faking their way though it."

I don't have any idea what you mean by a "real, structural, reason" and suspect you may not either. Let us try to focus on the decisions that we know are made, by teachers setting out to teach a class. "Eureka" moments are probably manufactured for good reasons (because they are the culminations of a productive teaching technique), bad reasons (because professors enjoy the mastery and showmanship), and more neutral reasons (because it is all professors know how to do, whether or not it is good). The idea that professors would do it because they consciously or unconsciously wish to draw out a legal education without providing clinical training is laughable. Left to his or her own devices -- as professors are, notwithstanding the occasional meetings of the cabal -- teachers are probably torn between the temptations of manufacturing eureka moments for the thrill of it all, spoon-feeding doctrine as it has been rendered by commercial handbooks to maximize student pleasure and evaluations, just not giving a damn, or worrying about the choices they make. I may or may not agree with this answer, and I am suspicious of any studies that seem culled to support a prior method, but your invective seems unwarranted and misdirected.

Posted by: Me | Jul 8, 2012 12:02:54 PM

My apologies for perverse reveling, to both Patrick and "dybbuk." (BTW I really like your nom d'plume, dybbuk, and I've now adopted "Third Base" as my nickname around the house: My oldest daughter, back from college, thought that one was hilarious).

I leave it to Markel to moderate. I'm just hear to cadge tips on teaching and maybe -- I confess, a little perversely -- tweak the more over-wrought anonymous commenters. But my own view is that Dybbuk crossed no lines of taste: He/she probably just had a really awful experience as a 1L. I am glad that my post can provide a little cathartic outlet.

Posted by: Rick Hills | Jul 8, 2012 12:29:40 PM

Dybbuk, just try to be clear as possible, and put the rhetoric on the back burner -- I know you speak for the trees. The dynamic, as I understand it, is that professors figure out how to teach their classes, and they do this virtually no guidance. I think that is a bad thing, but that's beside the point. You posit that "structurally" they want to bilk students by prolonging their educations. Do you believe that this affects their individual decisions, or that they engage in collective deliberations to this end? What is the incentive for individual actors, and what is the mechanism?

I accept, actually, that there is inadequate incentive for law schools to produce students as fast as they might, or otherwise to minimize costs. I just think converting that into an attack on every particular is sloppy and lazy.

Posted by: Me | Jul 8, 2012 1:03:31 PM

@Rick/July 7 at 10:27 p.m.:

First, if I seemed rude to you or to any of the other professors commenting here, I apologize.

Second, the NYU course review policy is much better than some others out there, including my alma mater's. Up until my last year, course reviews were handled with a one-page form, bubbled on the front to indicate shades of agreement with various statements and blank on the back for more personal comments. In general, I simply bubbled in generic good feelings about my professors, because they were almost always nice people trying their best to teach as much as the semester and the format would allow. Usually the worst ones would get the long responses, or in one case, a page of pre-written remarks stapled to the form. Your statement about selection bias rings true with me.

With all that said, you took a deliberately contrarian stance on whether "hiding the ball" is good for instruction, and I remain skeptical for many reasons, including that many professors either don't use the Socratic method or restrict its use to the 1L courses when the majority of class sorting is being accomplished (see Steven I. Friedland, How We Teach: A Survey of Teaching Techniques in American Law Schools, 20 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 1 (1996), available at http://digitalcommons.law.seattleu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1489&context=sulr). None of the bar examination preparation courses use anything like it. Judging by your reviews, you may be one of the better users of the method, and maybe "hiding the ball" works as well or better than mainly didactic instruction for your students - but that doesn't mean that students generally are well-served by it.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Jul 8, 2012 4:02:52 PM

I wonder if this post is aptly titled -- are you really "hiding the ball"? That phrase conjures toying with your audience, deliberately misleading them solely for your own amusement, and so on.

It sounds like what you are instead advocating is building the legal principles from the ground up rather than (for example) listing "rational basis, intermediate scrutiny, strict scrutiny" on the board and going from there. I think this version of hiding the ball works fine when the general rules of a legal area are simply stated, as in constitutional law, and the difficulty relates to understanding how the Court developed those rules and how they are applied in unusual fact patterns.

So, I think what works best will depend on the class and topic studied. In my classes, I specifically assign every tax code provision that will be relevant to the discussion. Thus, the students have the ball (the statutory supplement) -- they just don't know how to read it. I can't imagine doing it any other way -asking students to answer tax questions without the tax code would both be fruitless and an exercise in malpractice.

Also, a side comment -- I generally agree that many law school classes are poorly taught and that teaching should receive greater emphasis in the academy. I thus skipped the overwhelming majority of my law school classes, but I always attended Professor Hills'. Contrary to the impression one might get from this post and perhaps others, there were many efforts made to make the material understandable -- the relevant rules were written out for us on the chalkboard, handouts were provided examining and explaining difficult questions, and so on. Born on third base or not, Professor Hills is one of the good ones.

Posted by: andy | Jul 8, 2012 7:40:25 PM

Thanks for the generous words, andy. And no apology needed, Morse Code: As you noted, I took a "deliberately contrarian stance" (a perhaps unfortunately habitual stance for me). An occupational hazard of such deliberate provocation is that, well, people will be provoked, and I will risk being misunderstood: Righteous folk will gird their loins to do battle with Satan, or John Houseman, or whomever they mistake me for. So...serves me right if I get some blowback after throwing around loaded terms in troubled times. (BTW your point about casebooks' unnecessary obscurity is entirely well-taken and well-expressed. But keep in mind that, in that same bookstore, right next to Shakespeare and Melville, you can find Cliff Notes for those who don't want to take the trouble to read the originals. Gilbert's is the Cliff Notes of the law: Does it do the same disservice to students as Cliff Notes do, by depriving them of the experience of mastering a tough, dense original text head on?)

Yes, precisely, andy: Your expression -- "building legal principles from the ground up" -- expresses what I had in mind much better than "hiding the ball." But how many people would read past the jump if the title had been "Should law professors build legal principles from the ground up?"

Posted by: Rick Hills | Jul 9, 2012 12:41:21 AM

@BH -

"That's what make the proposals that law become an undergraduate degree as it is in England risible. Most lawyers there have Oxbridge educations. Students who attend those schools are much better prepared that typical American students."

This is absolutely not the case. LLBs are taught at many British universities, not just Oxford and Cambridge, as is the Graduate Diploma in Law. The vast majority of qualified lawyers in the UK are non-Oxbridge but have at least a 2:2 or 2:1 (i.e., the equivalent of a good GPA). Since LLB students are undergraduates they cannot have had "Oxbridge" [i.e., Oxford or Cambridge University] educations before attending law school.

If, however, you wish to simply say that US education up to undergrad falls behind British education, then you won't find too much argument here.

Posted by: Gilman Grundy (AKA FOARP) | Jul 10, 2012 8:30:29 AM

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