Friday, October 31, 2014
Tenure standards and recruiting
A new question for this ongoing exchange: If a school (not Harvard/Yale/Stanford) were to take the lead and up its tenure standard to 5-6 articles in five years (from its current 2-3 in the same period), how would that affect entry-level recruiting? Would people be scared off? Would it send a signal of scholarly commitment? Would it make absolutely no difference? Some other option?
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Scholarly productivity, generational change, and empirical data
Following on my earlier post and Orin's follow-up: A colleague* shares this 1998 article by Deborah Merritt (Ohio State). The focus of the study is the connection between excellence in scholarship and in teaching.** But the piece studied faculty hired between 1986-90 and that cohort's scholarly productivity from the time of hiring until Summer 1996. The tables are worth a look. For example, she found that 30 % of that cohort had published two or fewer articles, while 11 % had published ten articles or more. The largest (a total of 47 %) was clustered around 2-4 articles.
* Who also chides me for not bringing data to bear in my original post.
** For what it is worth, she did not find them inversely correlated.
But building on Orin's theme of generational change, the study seems dated. The interesting question is how much has changed if we were to run a similar study of people who began teaching in the last 10-15 years. My pure speculation is that we would see a slight upward shift, with that 30 % mark around six-seven articles or fewer.
I think of the late '80s as an important transition point, when a broader number and type of law schools began shifting to a focus on scholarship and began hiring faculty with an interest in publishing and imposing an obligation to do so. But the past 10-15 years have seen a second generational change, expanding on the broad scholarly commitment that took shape in the period that Merritt studied. In this latter period, we have seen the rise of VAPs and fellowships, the rise of PhDs, and the rise of people writing while clerking knowing they need it to get a teaching job --all of which contribute to a greater quantity of scholarship at the outset by people trying to get a job, which, for some percentage of people, will carry on throughout their careers.
Update: A reader points me to this study by Tracey George and Albert Yoon on the hiring process (before the bottom fell out of the market) and candidate details and qualifications, including pre-hiring pubs.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Kentucky Law Journal: Exclusive Submission Window
Tenure's "New Normal"
Building on the recent conversations about productivity and tenure standards: An untenured emailer asks: What is the "new normal" for tenure, whether as a matter of written standards or the "common law" of tenure? And, as I asked in Marcia's post, are schools upping the numbers, either in writing or in common law? Are we increasing the pressure on pre-tenured faculty, both by raising the bar and through the uncertainty? Relatedly, if you were writing tenure standards from scratch in the current writing and publishing environment, in the current scholarly environment, what would you adopt as the tenure standard?
The standard at FIU is three substantial scholarly works either published or accepted for publication at the beginning of the sixth year. That standard was adopted before I got here, although I imagine it was consistent with other schools at the time. As for creating a new standard, it seems to me that one article per year (and I agree with Orin that a new prawf should try to send something out in February of Year One) is more than reasonable, meaning a more approrpiate statutory minimum might be five pieces and a productive tenure applicant would be be in the 5-10 range. I would add that, to the extent coming in off a VAP is the new normal, many faculty would "count" anything written during the VAP but published after starting on the tenure track.*
* So going Orin one better, someone coming off a VAP might be encouraged to hold that final VAP piece for the August cycle, which allows her to begin at her new school by immediately placing a piece.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
More scholarly outlets?
Zak started a conversation and Bridget Crawford asks a follow-up: When did it become the case that one post-law school is not sufficient to make one a viable candidate and that 2-3 post-school pieces are the norm? One possibility (raised by Bridget and Glenn Cohen in the comments to Zak's post) is the rise of the VAP and the time and writing expectations it provides.
I want to connect it several changes in scholarly publishing (which may be complementary to the VAP explanation):
1) There are more outlets for scholarship. Most schools have several journals and the number seems to be rising. The number of speciality journals has increased, including "law-and-policy" journals that publish the same type of public-law stuff that already plays well in general law reviews.
2) The "typical" article is shorter than it was 10-15 years ago, prompted by the guidelines adopted by several of the t14 reviews. The typical piece is 15-20k words, as opposed to 25-30k. This means, I suppose, that you can write two articles in roughly the time you used to be able to write one.
3) The rise of on-line supplements and similar outlets for shorter scholarship provides an incentive and opportunity to publish one big piece and one small piece in a year.
I am not looking at FAR forms this year, so I do not know if any of these explanations is empirically supported. But I do know that all 3 have affected how and what I write. So it makes sense that they also might affect what VAPs and others planning for the market do (especially if they are getting advice from people in roughly the same position as me).
The Slow Writing Movement
Orin's post below on tips for new professors is chock-full of good advice. I'm especially interested in his first suggestion, Send out an article in the spring submission of your first year. The reasons he gives make sense.
In the spirit of giving advice from lots of different angles, however, I want to push new professors to think about writing in a different way.
I tend to think that, as a general matter, we write too much, too quickly. Sure, there are execeptions, freaky people who pound out amazing stuff at an intimidating pace. But I've always admired the folks who take their time a little, who publish more like every other year. These folks tend to workshop the junk out of their stuff. They road test, reflect, restructure, rewrite.
One impact of VAPs on entry-level hiring is that new professors come to schools with writing habits/tendencies already built in. I have always felt that I am more a scholarly creature of my VAP than my home institution. My mentors during my VAP years pushed quality over quantity. Quality and quantity aren't mutually exclusive. But there's something to be said for beating the crap out of a paper before publishing it.
There are other factors at work here, to be sure. Sometimes tenure policies specify a certain amount of output. Other times there are social norms that dictate a specific level of productivity. Tenure matters, and you have to do what it takes to get tenure. But if there is wiggle room, slow down.
Rather than cranking to submit in your first year, another option is to write and reach out. Orin is correct that faculties value productivity. But only when it's good. Rather than impress your colleagues with your speed, make your paper the absolute best it can be. Engage your colleagues, ask for advice, get their feedback on what you've done.
For the slow writing movement to take hold, however, faculties have to be on board. If newly-hired faculty members don't submit a paper in their first year, rather than whisper behind their backs about productivity, take them to lunch. Engagement is a two-way street.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Another voice on classroom technology
From Clay Shirky, a professor media studies at NYU. I especially appreciate the point that student distraction by technology is a biological inevitably; as he writes, "[h]umans are incapable of ignoring surprising new information in our visual field, an effect that is strongest when the visual cue is slightly above and beside the area we’re focusing on." This is important on two levels--one personal, one professial First, it gives lie to the "if you'd be more interesting in the classroom, they'd pay more attention" trope. Second, I can use it to explain to my wife why my eyes always move to watch sports on a tv screen in a restaurant.
Tips for First-Year Law Professors
I want to offer some advice for the fortunate few who landed a tenure-track law teaching job recently and are now in their first year of teaching. Everyone has a different perspective, of course, and if I go astray, I hope others will respond in the comment thread. But if this is your first year of tenure-track law teaching, here are some tips you might consider:
1. Send out an article in the spring submission window of your first year. When your new colleagues voted to hire you, they made a bet that you'll be a productive scholar. Now they're watching you to see if their bet was correct. Prove them right by sending out an article in the spring of your first year. You'll benefit in lots of ways. First, your colleagues will be very pleased to see you off to a good start. Second, tenure will look (and be) so much easier with a new article already under your belt. And third, it will get you into the habit of sending out an article in the spring submission window. My sense is that the best submission window is usually around the last week of February. Put that on your calendar and plan to send out your article around then.
2. Invite your senior colleagues out to lunch. Your senior colleagues can be a tremendously useful source of wisdom and insight for you. They know how to teach, they know how to write, and they know all the ins-and-outs of the quirky academic institution you have just joined. Plus, some of them are even really nice people. (Strange but true.) For all these reasons, it's good to get to know them outside of faculty meetings and workshops. Here's an idea: Pick a few senior professors who you think may be particularly good role models for you -- perhaps they're in your field, or maybe they're particularly prominent scholars -- and invite them each to lunch. Chances are, they'll be happy to have lunch with you, happy to get to know you, and happy to share any advice they can.
3. Don't assign too much reading. It's common for new law professors to assign a lot of reading for class. In my view, it's better to assign less reading and go over the material in a rigorous way as part of a rich class discussion than to assign more reading and go over it in only in a breezy and superficial way. And in many cases, more reading means more students unprepared for class. I find that when teaching upper-level students in a doctrinal class using a standard casebook, somewhere around 20 pages of reading for a one-hour class is a good ballpark. If you're teaching fall 1Ls, maybe start with 10 pages per class-hour and work your way up to 20 by the end of the semester. Of course, these are just ballpark estimates, and the actual amount depends on the school, the book, the course, etc.
4. Lay low in faculty meetings, with one possible exception. New profs usually don't know of any long-running tensions on the faculty. If you're lucky, the tensions will be very minor. Still, it's best to stay away from fault lines if you can, especially before your tenure vote. Given that, you should plan to stay out of any particularly contentious faculty debates that might come up your first year. Go to faculty meetings and pay close attention, but mostly stay out of controversies for now. A possible exception is entry-level appointments. Having just been through the appointments process yourself, you're particularly well-suited to weigh in on entry-level hires. You may know the candidates personally, and as a peer you'll be familiar with their accomplishments in a way that more senior faculty won't be. So consider weighing in on entry-level appointments as your one area of participation.
5. Consider guest-blogging, at least at some point. This advice is probably more for second-year or third-year professors than first-year professors. But relatively early in your academic career, consider guest-blogging for a month at a general-law-blog site like Prawfs. Ideally, write a handful of posts connecting your scholarly work and scholarly interests to some news story or issue of interest to the broader readership. This is a great way for your work to come to the attention of other law professors. Sites like Prawfs are widely read by legal academics, especially among more junior scholars. A few blog posts introducing your work is an effective and relatively easy way to promote your work within the academy.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
In praise of being a white belt
My oldest child is getting ready to test for a black belt in tae kwon do next week, and my other two children are only a few months behind. They started taking classes a few years ago at a school that encourages the whole family to take classes, so I joined them. I was not good. I still am not good, but it's taught me a number of valuable things about teaching that I never would have realized otherwise.
1. Embrace being a white belt. The white belt is the earliest stage of any martial art, the stage of a total beginner. A white belt may be the world's expert in some other field, maybe even in some other martial art, but in this one, and in this school, this person is a beginner. It requires a level of humility and adventure to let yourself be a beginner, especially when you've worked so hard to establish yourself as an expert with authority in a heirarchical field like ours. But there is only room for improvement from beginner-ness. When else is there nothing but up-side, an opportunity to see what you can do and improve on that?
Our students go through something like this when they start law school. I'm sure that you remember what it was like, whether you went straight to law school from undergrad, worked for awhile, or had pursued another degree. You had worked hard to accomplish things, had even felt some level of mastery, maybe, and now, you were starting over. And students seem to fall into two main categories. Some think that everyone else is more accomplished than they are. Others chafe at the failure of others to recognize their brilliance. If we remember some important things about being a beginner, we can help our students through the pain of beginner-ness to also see its virtue and embrace the possibilities--including doing the kinds of work that will make them successful lawyers.
Being a beginner is context specific but also a universal experience. Everyone (except maybe Cass Sunstein, or Chuck Norris) is always right now a beginner at something. And a person can be a beginner at one thing while being a master of another. There is no impact on a person's intelligence or worth to accept being a beginner at something. And just because other people are better at this thing doesn't detract from the things you are an expert in. In beginner-ness is there is no shame, and only potential.
2. Practice makes you better, and practice involves failure.As a beginner, your job is to try something you never have before or do something in a new way. You will fail in some way. But you will learn from the way that you failed and will try something different the next time. And that time, you will fail in a new way. And the process will continue.
Performance of some skill can really only be learned this way, through demonstration, attempts, failures, analysis of the failures, and new attempts. Learning how to be a lawyer is learning to perform a set of skills. Because many people come to law school thinking that they will be only gaining knowledge, i.e. memorizing rules, they aren't prepared for this reality. They don't always realize that they are learning how to perform or how to show they are engaging in the right process. And we are not always clear that the process is what we are teaching them.
3. Perseverence. Being successful means continuing to try and learning from those failures. It sucks to fail in new and exotic ways. But working through that is necessary not just to succeed in law school but to succeed in practice, too. As we are frequently reminded Grit Trumps Talent and IQ when it comes to success.
4. Perspective. In school and in practice, unlike tae kwon do, people aren't always trying to kick you in the head, at least not literally. But even when they are, you've got your equipment and learned how to evade and block those kicks. In addition, you can learn to live with a little bit of anxiety, learn to accept that for what it is and not let it paralyze you. Finally, I have lots of bruises from all of those kicks, bruises that I cover up with long sleeves and pants, so people can't see them. This helps me remember that everybody has bruises that don't show. Some of them are literal, and some are emotional. I have to be careful to recognize the potential of these bruises in my interactions with students, dealing with difficult topics in the law or aspects of their performance in school.
5. It is awesome to kick stuff and break things when you read, talk, and think for a living. Need I say more?
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Think about proposing programming for the annual meeting, or participating in a junior scholars workshop. And if you are ever interested in serving on a committee, let Russ Weaver (the executive director) know. The appointments usually happen in the summer, but he keeps track of volunteers all year long.
Posted by Marcia L. McCormick on October 14, 2014 at 11:00 AM in Civil Procedure, Corporate, Criminal Law, Employment and Labor Law, First Amendment, Gender, Immigration, Information and Technology, Intellectual Property, International Law, Judicial Process, Law and Politics, Legal Theory, Life of Law Schools, Property, Religion, Tax, Teaching Law, Torts, Travel, Workplace Law | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, October 13, 2014
Law School Centers
Many law schools have centers or institutes, most of which seem to be ways to carve out market niches, to attract students, to help graduates market themselves, and to attract scholars in a particular field. We have three of them at SLU (the Center for Health Law Studies and the Center for International and Comparative Law), and I am the director of one: the William C. Wefel Center for Employment Law. This center has been a part of the law school since 1987, and in that time has served as an institutional home for our employment and labor law concentration and provided a way to coordinate interesting programming and bring in outside speakers. The center has also provided a way to connect faculty who teach, write, or provide legal services in related areas.
For many years, the center was supported by the efforts of one or two faculty members, simply added onto their other full teaching and research responsibilities, with occasional help from one of the faculty support staff. Now, as a result of some new educational programming and shuffling of staff, the center has more support, including a full-time program coordinator. Additionally, we are in the midst of developing metrics and processes to evaluate our programs, as many law schools are, in line with the ABA's learning outcomes standard, a standard that has been required by other educational accreditors for some time. As a result, we are exploring what our center could be.
We are surrounded by some useful examples. Our own Center for Health Law Studies has been very successful in that field, bringing together researchers, advocates, students, and those who work in health law settings. The Institute for Law and the Workplace at Chicago-Kent, which Marty Malin wrote about for a recent symposium we held on teaching labor and employment law, is an example in the labor and employment arena. In addition to being home for a certificate program, the ILW has business, union, and law firm members, which contribute to the center and participate in its programming. There are opportunities for students (experiential and scholarships), a peer edited law journal and Illinois public sector newsletter, and a number of workshops, conferences, and events with outside speakers.
Our main focus is to provide the best educational and experiential program for our students. We already have a solid curriculum, including the opportunity to spend a semester in Washington, DC, working full-time for an agency that works in the area. We also want to be able to focus on the needs of our community, and provide a home for research, both of which we have made some forays into. So what else might we consider for our center? Are there any centers or institutes you know of that are doing interesting and important things? Have there been difficult tradeoffs in centers or institutes you know about? I'd be interested in any thoughts in the comments.
Monday, October 06, 2014
And then Ferguson
The start of the semester is always a bit of a frenzied mess. I'm usually rushing to revise my syllabi, get a head start on finer tuned preparation for classes, finish up a summer project, find my grown-up clothes, and get my kids organized for the start of their school year. This year was no different. And then a police officer shot an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, one of the ninety municipalities in St. Louis County. And then people started protesting, there was looting and a fire one night, and law enforcement engaged in a number of strategies to shut down the protests, including curtailing speech at night, prohibiting people from standing still on the city streets and sidewalks, and using tanks, tear gas, and rubber bullets. Much of the events were broadcast over live video feeds, so that people near and far could watch what was unfolding. In short, the metro St. Louis area was caught up in the turmoil, and between the public's demand for answers and the focus of the national media, the demand for information about the law and the federal, state, and local legal systems was incredibly high. In addition, the demand for legal services and public outreach within the community was incredibly high. Those of us in the region who work in areas related to criminal law and criminal procedure, civil rights, race, the First Amendment, or other areas related to poor people and their interests were constantly on call for at least the first few weeks. We also had a responsibility to ensure that colleagues and students who lived in Ferguson were safe and supported, and that we were helping our students understand the issues and their relationship to the community as future lawyers.
After the jump I want to highlight the ways that my colleagues, students, and a group of SLU alumni jumped in with both feet to serve the community we are a part of and to empower them to work for needed reforms. Much of the groundwork had actually been laid well before the protests and police response through ongoing projects to serve underserved communities. Before I do that, I want to emphasize a broader point. It is often difficult, in the midst of things, to recognize the important moments, moments when our students and the communities we serve need to see us in a variety of lawyerly roles, or moments when we need to act because we can and others cannot. To me, the most remarkable part of the stories related to Ferguson is that many people recognized their moment, and many people chose to act. For a law school committed to social justice, to training men and women to service with others, recognition of the moment and action were particularly important and helped to renew at least my faith in that mission.
So now, let me highlight some of the important contributions that lawyers and students in the St. Louis community have made.
1. Arch City Defenders. Last year, Eric Miller highlighted the work of this 501(c)(3) entity, which provides holistic civil and criminal legal services to low income people in connection with other social services. In August, they issued a white paper, describing both abuses that violate the law in municipal court proceedings, and the way that the system of municipal violations and municipal court proceedings "push the poor further into poverty, prevent the homeless from accessing the housing, treatment, and jobs they so desperately need to regain stability in their lives, and violate the Constitution." This white paper addresses several root causes of the alienation that led to the protests in Ferguson.
2. SLU Clinical faculty Sue McGraugh (see her Twitter feed @slewzq for excellent updates), John Ammann, and Brendan Roediger have represented protesters, lobbied for a number of reforms of the municipal court system, sponsored forums educating members of the public about their legal rights, and supported student advocacy work at city council meetings and other public forums. A more full list of activities is here.
3. Justin Hansford, an assistant professor, is an active leader on the ground, helping the U.S. Human Rights Network prepare a report to the United Nations and collaborating with the Advancement Project, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, National Lawyer's Guild and other national legal groups with associated legal efforts.
4. Students . . . lots of students have been active in the work of the clinics, in voter registration drives, as legal observers in the protests, educating the public about their legal rights, developing ongoing strategies for reform and education, surveying the legal needs of the Ferguson community, and more.
5. Bill Freivogel (St. Louis Public Radio, Director of the Univ. of Southern Ill. School of Journalism and Professor in the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute) has been collecting and publishing general information for the public on the legal issues related to the shooting and subsequent protests. Relying on a cast of many sources, his articles have focused on the rules about deadly force, why the officer wasn't immediately arrested, the grand jury process, the prosecutor's plans after this grand jury returns (or refuses to return) an indictment, the federal investigations related to Ferguson, and how changing police practices could help bring justice to the community.
I'm sure that I am leaving out people whose work I chose not to highlight or don't know enough about.
One takeaway to leave you with is a cautionary note. Ferguson is a relatively sleepy suburb, which is why the size of the protests and police response were both so surprising. There are people who are fairly disillusioned with the system and who feel relatively powerless there, but they have, by and large, reacted by protesting and not resorting to violence. There are other parts of the metro area with larger concentrations of people in poverty, larger numbers of people affected by systemic racism, people who feel more alienated, and who may see no reasonable alternative to violence, places like North St. Louis. Depending on the results of the grand jury proceeding and the police response in anticipation of violence upon news of those results, there is a lot of possiblity for things to get much worse. I hope they don't.
Wednesday, October 01, 2014
Life is short
Thanks to Howard for the introduction and to him and all of the permaprawfs for letting me guest here this month. I had expected to thank Dan, of course, who asked in May if I would do another guest stint (my last one was a number of years ago), and so it was oddly comforting that the actual invitation from typepad to begin blogging had the subject line, "Dan Markel has invited you to join PrawfsBlawg." I have had similar messages before, automated from accounts connected with friends or family members who have passed away. I like these messages from the ether, like a friendly wave from the other side.
I didn't intend for my first post to be so sentimental, but night before last a woman in my circle of friends passed away, and her husband and other friends have been writing about her decision to end treatment that would not cure her so that she could live her remaining days as fully as possible with her family. It's a good reminder to work in the things that matter all of the time. And so, in her honor and as a reminder for all of us, here is a link to the poem that she asked her husband to read at her memorial service, On Living by Nazim Hikmet, which begins:
Living is no joke,
you must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel for example,
I mean expecting nothing except and beyond living,
I mean living must be your whole occupation. . . . .
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Teaching current events
Interesting piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. At my school, one of the categories on student evals is how we work current events into the discussion. I have used things from Ferguson in Evidence, notably in discussing character evidence and other acts. And I think the controversy around the non-hiring of Steven Salaita at Illinois may lend itself to some discussions of promissory estoppel (there have been some interesting on-line debates about whether he might have a good P/E/ claim). But I think that is as far as a law school class can go with current events, at least before things play out legally and outside of a small, niche seminar.
On a related note, we are working to start a program of monthly faculty talks/panels to discuss ongoing and current events with students and student organizations. Something different than a series of "teach-ins," it will be more a chance for faculty to share their work and to engage with students on hot topics.
Wednesday, September 03, 2014
First, by way of introduction, I am an associate professor at Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law in Orlando, and I teach Torts, Business Organizations, Health Care Law, and several Health Care Law Related Seminars. I write about topics at the intersection of science and the law, most recently in areas related to contraception in the Affordable Care Act, egg freezing, surrogacy, and prenatal testing ( SSRN author link here). I hope to write about some of the new issues cropping up in these areas over the next few weeks.
As most you can empathize, the beginning of the semester is extremely busy. I am chairing our Appointments Committee again this year--but the other reason for the hecticness is because I decided to switch my Torts and Business Organizations books this fall. This is my sixth year of teaching Torts and this is the third Torts book I have used (I switched to Farnsworth and Grady). This is my fifth year of teaching Business Organizations and this is the first time I have switched books (I am now using Smith and Williams). Of course, my grand plan was to prep the entire semester for both courses over the summer--and big shocker, that did not happen.Many colleagues warned me about the time suck of switching books and how much work it would be, and they were right. BUT I am loving the new books I am using--and it has made the material fresher and more interesting to me (and hopefully--as a result to my students). (By the way, I have no affiliation with either book or authors but I am enjoying teaching from them very much--and I know there are a lot of other excellent Torts and Business Organizations books out there as well) As someone who had gotten used to my old material, switching books has also allowed me to try out new teaching methods--especially incorporating many more problems into each class--to which the students seem to be responding really well. The new books are forcing me to be a student again-- I am rediscovering the material and it has been great. Don't get me wrong--if you find me up at midnight preparing for class, I am not always this positive. Some of my colleagues -(like Dan O' Gorman--perennial Professor of the Year at Barry and Fred Jonassen -who have similarly been unhappy with the books they were using) have written their own self published Contracts books that they, of course, love (and they are shopping it to publishers by the way) --but for those Prawfs who lack the time and/or motivation to do that--and don't completely adore their textbooks, I think the effort to review some examination copies of new textbooks - to see if something really fits one's teaching style and law school's student body better-is totally worth it. Now back to prepping for class...
Monday, August 18, 2014
Dean Frank Wu on Rethinking Law School
There has not been, in the recollection of anyone now living, a similar set of challenges for law schools. As with all such situations, however, leaders must spot the issues. We are in danger. We should not deny that.
I welcome the opportunity. We must cooperate -- bench, bar, teachers, students -- to take apart the system and put it back together again better.
Among other things, Dean Wu suggests that legal education should be re-worked to look and function more like medical education (a point that others, including my former colleague, Vincent Rougeau, now dean at Boston College, have also made).
I think that Dean Wu is right to underscore and emphasize what he calls the "maldistribution of lawyers" and also the "cost structure of legal education" and the crisis of "student loan debt." I do regret, though, what seemed to me to be his endorsement of a criticism that, in my view, is (for the most part) a straw man. After noting that the "century-old case method is transitioning towards skills training," he says "[t]he analysis of appellate decisions remains integral to the first year courses, but it would amount to an incomplete education at best" and contends critically that "some law school graduates" -- unlike medical-school graduates -- have engaged in "book learning alone."
The "transition" Dean Wu describes is clearly underway, but it seems to me that it has been for decades (and it has involved adding lots of enriching things -- not only skills training and clinical work -- to the "century old case method"). It's been a long time, I think, since anyone thought "the analysis of appellate decisions" alone could make for a "complete" legal education or since more than a handful of law-school graduates were trained through "book learning alone." The "law schools teach nothing of practical relevance or worth" charge is out there, I realize, but I continue to think it is significantly overstated. (And, to be clear, to say this is not to say anything about the extent to which "skills training" should be emphasized or incorporated more than it is at present.)
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Even football coaches are banning laptops
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Leiter on FAR forms
Brian Leiter offers six thoughts/pieces of advice on completing FAR forms. I agree with all six of his points, especially these two: 1) In listing courses, "be who you are, and not someone else," and do not try to game the system, and 2) Do not use the Comments, especially for something vacuous, like "I'm committed to being an excellent classroom teacher."
Monday, August 11, 2014
Tips for New Law Teachers
If you are teaching law for the first time, you may be interested in this list of tips for new law professors. Best of luck!
Wednesday, August 06, 2014
SEALS v. AALS
At the Law Deans on Legal Education Blog, Richard Gershon (Mississippi) compares SEALS and AALS as conferences, identifying the pros and cons of each. Speaking as someone who regularly attends SEALS and has not attended AALS in seven years (mostly because of timing), I agree with pretty much everything he says. I do think his criticism about lost networking opportunities at SEALS because of its length are overstated--many people stay the full week (on their own dime, obviously) and many stay at least four days.
SEALS always has had the air of a boondoggle--professors and their kids playing at a beach resort for a week while purporting to be at an academic conference. But most folks balance time with family and time in the conference. There are some great panels and discussions every year and many of them are as well-attended as AALS panels I've seen (there were about 50 people at a panel on Bickel last year). In reality, people do not go to these conferences for the panels, anyway. So the real difference between SEALS and AALS may be this: When people skip SEALS panels on Amelia Island in August, they do it to play golf or jump in the pool; when they skip AALS panels in New Orleans in January, they do it to get drinks and good food. Make of that what you will.
Tuesday, August 05, 2014
Submission angsting thread, Fall 2014
It has been a semi-annual Prawfs tradition to provide a space for questions, answers, comments, complaints, and general angst about the article submission windows. (Dan spoke, and Matt still speaks, reverently of this as the time of Redyip's semi-annual return).
Either way, the "Fall" submission window is open and angsting may commence.
So, if you are an author or law review editor and want to share information about your submission experience to the law reviews, this is the place to do it. If you have questions about the process, this is the place to do it. Feel free to use the comments to share your information (and gripes or praise) about which journals you have heard from, which you have not, etc. Have at it. And do it reasonably nicely, pretty please.
Update: the last page of comments is here.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
Is there such a thing as "experiential" scholarship? I asked this question to some of my colleagues during a recent lunch. I asked because there has been much debate on experiential learning and what that might look like in a law class, and there has also been much debate on what relevant scholarship looks like. I was curious if others thought there was any correlation.
After a great discussion with my colleagues, the answer (like all good law school answers) is, "it depends." The discussion boiled down to three observations:1. The Target Audience - For legal scholarship to have an impact, legal scholars should keep in mind why they are writing a piece and who should read it (obviously this goes beyond, "I need to publish so I will come up with a sexy title to capture the attention of law review students"). The target audience could be practitioners, judges, policymakers, and/or academics. If scholarship is, or even can be, correlated to making students practice-ready, then it seems like the first three audiences would be the primary targets since they are actively in practice.
2. The Platform Problem - While academic audiences might be inclined to browse through law review articles, the others - judges, practitioners, and policymakers - are less and less likely to do so. If my target audience extends beyond academics, a lot of issues arise. What platform do I use to reach them? For example, if I want my scholarship to be read by practitioners, where do I publish? The ABA sections all have different periodicals that are published throughout the year. But what about the other audiences - what platform does one use to reach judges? And, of course, articles for non-law reviews would be much shorter than traditional articles. Does that mean forego the traditional law review and go straight to these other platforms (if one can be found)? I don't think so. Instead, that question leads to the third observation.
3. Expertise and Marketing - To become an expert in a certain area undoubtedly requires a lot of research and thought. Such in-depth work is reflected in traditional law review articles. Once a legal scholar becomes an expert, then the key is to market it to the target audience. Write a law review article with the target audience in mind. Once you've mastered the area, actively seek out publication opportunities that will actually reach the audience you want - write a short piece in the area for an ABA publication, turn it into an op ed, try to present at conferences where your target audience attends, become involved in drafting legislation, blog on relevant sites ... bottom line, take your expertise and, for lack of a better word, market it so that it has the practical impact desired. Perhaps this is what a lot of legal scholars already do, but I must admit I haven't done it well. Upon reflection, I think my failure to proactively market my scholarship to non-academics (most of my pieces target judges and policymakers) stems from the fact that, until recently, I was on the tenure track and it was unclear to me whether the effort and time it takes to reach out to such audiences would count as scholarship. Should it? And, more on point, would marketing scholarship to non-academic audiences help us think of ways to teach experientially or help make our students more practice-ready?
Saturday, June 14, 2014
CFP Deadline: Seventh Junior Faculty Fed Courts Workshop
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
What teaching issues are you thinking about this summer?
Our faculty is having a lunch discussion this week about teaching. I simply love to teach. And, as a newly tenured professor who recently went through the tenure process, I have been reflecting a lot on my teaching. There are many areas where I could improve. In particular, this summer I have been thinking about the following three issues. While these matters have been previously discussed, I am interested in your current thoughts on each (and any other teaching issues on your mind this summer):
1. Unprepared Students: To this day, every time I call on a student, my heart skips a beat in hopes that the student is prepared. Sometimes I think I am as nervous as the students before I call out a name. I do feel that it is essential students learn that they must be prepared. I have heard of different ways to deal with unprepared students. Some professors wait for the student to read the case during class. Others assign reading panels for the week. Others call on students in alphabetical order. I am old school - I randomly cold call. If I do call on a student who is unprepared, I require them to call on another student to cover for them (like a life line). My hope is that the fear of being forced to put another student in the hot seat is scarier than coming to class unprepared. I have had moderate success with this approach. I have also toyed with counting unprepared students absent for the day. I would be interested to hear what others do.2. Internet Use During Class: I think I may have somewhat given up on this. I try to call on students who are obviously surfing the web during class discussion. But, to be honest, when I was a law student I attempted to multitask in class too - I just didn't have the internet, but I did have crossword puzzles, letters and notes to write, readings for other classes to catch up on, etc. So, sometimes I feel a little hypocritical when I make too big of a deal about surfing the web during class. In one small seminar class, I didn't allow computers, and for that small class it worked very well. I had the most engaging student discussions when laptops were closed. I haven't tried the no computer rule with a big class yet. I am hesitant to do so because I often use the web during class discussion to look up statutes and other materials. Also, students have case briefs and other prepared materials on their computers and need access to them. But, I have toyed with the idea of a "no computer week." Has anyone done this and was it successful?
3. Taking Too Many Notes: This point is somewhat tied to #2 above. Recently, there was an interesting study that determined that students do better when they handwrite lecture notes rather than typing them. Basically, the study pointed out that people tend to type faster than write, so they are less judicious in what they type than what they write. Until I read this study, I hadn't given this matter a lot of thought. Perhaps I should be encouraging students to handwrite class notes.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
On class supplements
I have written a supplement (available at your local supermarket checkout line). I assign supplements in every course I teach, including selecting one casebook that combines the best elements of a treaty treatise and a casebook. But the overuse of supplements and study aides, especially in 1L courses, feels as if it is getting out of control. Two related problems: 1) Students are using supplements and study guides in lieu of the class reading and 2) Students are using too many study guides and it is all getting confusing.
Some examples: 1) On Civ Pro, I gave question (from a recent 5th Circuit case) that basically lined up with Nicastro, yet a significant number of students never mentioned Nicastro, but discussed the competing opinions in Asahi (which is what a supplement written before 2011 would have discussed). 2) Several students meeting with me after grades came out told me how hard they worked in the class, always indicated by how many different supplements and study guides and audio recordings they used, never by how much they focused on the actual assigned cases, rules, and statutes.
Do others notice this problem? And is there a way to get it under control, to make students focus primarily on the primary sources and let the supplements be just that?
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Teaching vs. Scholarship vs. Influence
A lot of discussion has been had about spending time on scholarship vs. teaching. Scholarship is, of course, the activity that makes our Deans and peers happy and drives our promotion and tenure packet; teaching (and teaching well) requires a lot of time, but is something that some (but not all) of us enjoy. One main issue is that too many new faculty spend too much time on teaching prep and not enough of their scholarship, leading to major stress as their promotion deadlines appear.
Now that I've had tenure a few years, I'm looking again at how and where I spend my time. I love to teach -- it's invigorating and I truly enjoy working with students. I love to write (except when I'm in that "pit of despair" stage of writing that happens all too frequently). But lately I've had a few opportunities to work in what I'll call "influence." I was asked to come give a briefing at the Senate building on patent troll legislation -- currently dead or dying, by the way! (N.B. I have no delusion that I am the cause of the bill's demise...) I've written some op eds on a few pending Supreme Court cases. I've been interviewed by reporters on current issues, such as language being used in the net neutrality debates.
Given that there are only so many hours in the day, I need to make choices about where to spend my time. (And I apologize if this is a path that has been well worn - the opportunities to engage in the world outside of teaching and scholarship is relatively new to me.) Many of these influence opportunities arise based on my scholarship, but to participate in these influence activities means that I may write a little slower (or, heaven forbid, spend less time prepping for a class session).
Certainly there is value that can come from all three of these activities, but I get the feeling that influence activities, while exciting and important to me, may not be viewed as important by others, such as students or peers or maybe even the people who adjust my salary every year. It's a lot harder to qualitatively judge the influence activities -- right? My students regularly provide a rating that, in theory, indicates the value and quality of my teaching. My articles are placed in journals that can be rated on any number of ranking metrics. But how can you evaluate how well I influenced? Is this why it may be viewed as less important than the other two?
It's nice to think that something I'm doing may have some influence on the outside world -- and maybe some folks' mainstream scholarship does that...but is the cost of engaging in other influence activities worth the potential costs to teaching and scholarship?
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
State panel denies InfiLaw license
The South Carolina Committee on Academic Affairs and Licensing voted 3-1 to recommended rejection of the sale of Charleston Law School to InfiLaw. Members cited two lawsuits against the company by other law schools. Faculty, students, and alumni all oppose the sale. It now goes to the full Commission on Higher Education for a vote on June 6.
Saturday, May 17, 2014
Jennifer raises a good point: There is too much law to know now. I can think of several subjects I would add to Texas Tech's upper-level requirments. So perhaps the solution is breadth over depth--expose students to a bit less of more areas and subjects. And if that is what we are after, what about a trimester/quarter system? Stanford and Chicago are the most prominent law schools to follow that calendar (Stanford switched about five years ago). And Northeastern uses a year-round quarter system, with students alternating quarters in the classroom and in field co-ops over the course of three calendar years. I did undergrad on a quarter system and really enjoyed the academic experience.
The trade-off in law school is obvious. Students can take 12 courses in an academic year rather than 8-10, so they can be exposed to more subjects and areas. But instead of 13 weeks/52 class hours of a four-hour course, they get 10 weeks/40 class hours; instead of 13 weeks/39 hours of a three-hour course, they get 10 weeks/30 class hours. In Civ Pro, for example, this means so long Erie and discovery.
Thoughts? For those teaching at/attending/attended Stanford or Chicago, how did you like the trimester system? Does the trade-off work and is it worth it? Do we need to trade depth to get additional breadth?
Friday, May 16, 2014
Justice Scalia and the upper-level curriculum
Scalia also criticizes the absence of required upper-level classes, noting the curriculum from his Harvard days. I probably would be all for required upper-level classes, but do not see how it would happen. The problem is that the first-mover would be at too-great a disadvantage. Schools are now actively and competitively recruiting good students and students are playing schools against one another; one thing schools may try to offer is "flexibility" in the final two years and the chance to "create" an upper-level course package. School A thus can sell that flexibility as against School X and its mandatory post-1L classes (however limited they may be). School X is not going to win the battle for that student (all else being equal), even if its approach may produce better Scaliaesque lawyers-as-professionals.
On the other hand, is that move necessary? At least outside the super-elite schools, the pressure of bar passage causes schools to push students hard towards "bar-tested" courses, which likely are the same courses that schools would make mandatory in any event.
Justice Scalia on legal education
Justice Scalia delivered the law school commencement address at William & Mary earlier this week week and had a lot to say about two-year law schools, "carefully-structured skills-based experience," and the difference between law-as-trade and law-as-profession. Will Baude offers his thoughts. Apropos of my post last month about what every lawyer should know, Scalia specifically points to the First Amendment:
Can someone really call himself an American lawyer who has that gap in his compendious knowledge of the law? And can a society that depends so much upon lawyers for shaping public perceptions and preserving American traditions regarding the freedom of speech and religion, afford so ignorant a bar?
This all reflects a very Tocquevillian view of the law and lawyers as a learned intellectual aristoracy. And much of the resistance to proposals such as two-year law schools and all-experiential education rests on a similar view.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Is Yours One of the 45 Law Schools to Which it is Worth Going: A Look at the Broken Market for Legal Education
As those of you who have read my earlier posts (and I hope you have) know everything I’m writing on legal education takes as a premise that the entire system of financing higher education is broken and that we, as a society, are borrowing against our future by making college, let alone graduate and professional schools, financially prohibitive to those who otherwise have the interest and ability to pursue it. But as bad as the debt to employment ratio is for many law students right now it is made worse by a misperception of a uniform level of financial stress, a uniform kind of desirable job, and a uniform market for legal services. These misperceptions are making the market for legal education inefficient yet this inefficiency is supported by a social norm that higher must be better (yes, Wikipedia--Prof. Ellickson don't rescind my property grade)--and as a result causing hardship for prospective law students and law schools alike.
On Monday, fearless leader of the Law Professor blogs network, Professor Paul Caron, in our flagship, Taxprof Blog highlighted this working paper by Kelsey Webber who “does the math” and concludes that there are only 45 law schools worth attending at sticker price. That may sound better than the critics who conclude that there are no law schools work attending, but it is based on the same flawed assumptions.
Like all “works in progress” there’s lot to pick at—starting with the premise that any law student anywhere is paying “sticker price,” but over the next five days, or so, I’m not going to pick at the paper but rather am going to challenge the generalizations it reflects. I’m going to focus on law’s status as a highly regionalized profession and on the differences that have always existed between schools that historically sent a big chunk of their students to large firms and schools that never did.
And I’m going to address a lurking elephant in the living room that is contributing to the misery—students pursuing legal educations often do so not out of a sense of vocation but rather as a hazy path to a good income. Nothing wrong with that—but it interferes with an efficient, market in which law students would flock to regions not suffering from economic downturn and to law schools offering attractive combinations of low tuition/strong financial aid.
I’m not here to blame students for decisions they make at age 20 with limited available information. I’m just pointing out that this idea of a universal hierarchy of law schools perpetuated by US News rankings has fueled the suffering and distress in the regions where there is little hope of getting a job that would make law school a sound investment. I'm not blaming the messenger, I'm suggesting that they don't work in law the way they work for Clinical Psychology Programs, Engineering Schools or even Medical Schools where higher ranked programs (regardless of location) are closely linked to better job prospects.
I’m also going to address some measurement issues that assume a “big law” view of the world. So, for example, while lack of a big law job 9 months out of law schools is catastrophic because traditionally those were sewn up by the end of the second year summer or certainly by graduation, it means far less outside big law where students are seldom even considered until they have passed the bar-something that won’t happen until five or six months after graduation. And in general, what it means in relation to whether law school was “worth it” depends entirely on the size and shape of the financial hole law school creates. And that varies a lot.
At the other end, I’m going to dispute how safe a bet these 45 schools actually are for every student interested in becoming a lawyer. These are all great schools. The students attending them worked hard to get there, and have every right to enjoy the status they confer, but, again, law is highly regionalized and I plan to vigorously dispute the pernicious paradigm that all higher ranked law schools are better for all law students than all lower ranked law schools.
To be continued.
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Faculty protest at Charleston Law
In the run-up to hearings and a vote (scheduled for next Monday) by the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education regarding the sale of Charleston Law School to InfiLaw, the tenured faculty and untenured faculty (speaking through counsel and anonymously, for fear of retribution) have sent letters to the Commission urging denial of InfiLaw's request for a license to operate the school. The tenured-faculty letter notes the "culture of intimidation and fear--fear of reprisal for speaking out against the transaction or even voicing concerns" about the proposed sale and a desire not to "see the Charleston School of Law mirror the admissions practices, attrition rates, transfer rates, or educational programs of the InfiLaw consortium schools." (For an alleged picture of alleged life at an InfliLaw school, see this lawsuit by two tenured professors fired by InfiLaw-owned Phoenix School of Law).
The Commission has hearings scheduled for this Friday and next Monday morning, with a vote scheduled for Monday afternoon.
Saturday, May 10, 2014
Hear, hear. (From Feminist Law Professors) (H/T: Kerri Stone):
Thursday, May 08, 2014
Bee by Bee: Facing the Multitude of Legal Educations’ Problems Beyond Cost-1) Making Students Not Just Practice Ready but Work Ready
In an earlier post I analogized the problems facing legal education to being attacked by a swarm of bees coming from a broken hive. The broken hive is the broken higher education financing system--and fixing that is a necessary first step to making the long overdue changes to how legal education in structured and delivered. But that doesn't mean we have to stand by in the meantime and ignore the individual bees.
One of the angriest bees we're facing right now is preparing our students for employment in the face of the disappearance of high paying big law firm jobs that allowed students to repay the large amounts of money they had borrowed to attend law school. (And this isn't just about debtors-every one of our students has given up three years when they could have been advancing in another field or pursuing other graduate training).
But the reality we face is, as Moody warns, that the legal services model has changed forever. And curriculum and teaching methods have to change too. It's not possible anymore to separate legal education from the market for lawyers, but teaching the skills they might need to succeed in a traditional law practice doesn't seem to be moving the dial much.
A trend I see with my health law students is greater opportunities to work on compliance issues at hospitals, companies and even government agencies that in the past did not hire lawyers for these jobs. Regulation, especially in healthcare, has become so complex that it just doesn't make sense to try and train non-lawyers to keep up. If you don't know what Red Flag Rules are--and how extensively they are affecting just about every business that takes in money, follow this link.
Legal education's critics and accreditors are deeply suspicious if not scornful of any but a job requiring bar passage—under the theory that only these jobs fulfil the promise made to prospective students that they will be qualified for employment as lawyers. Well, snark if you will, what it means to be employed as a lawyer is changing.
If an employer’s preference is to hire a licensed attorney (or will pay a licensed attorney more than someone without that credential) then that's not the equivalent of a job at Starbucks or even one that involves going to Starbucks and bringing back coffee for other people. It's an example of how integrated legal issues have become in regulated industries like health care, banking, oil & gas, and (thank you Elizabeth Warren) consumer products.
So maybe we need to look at practice ready skills more broadly to include not just traditional advocacy or corporate drafting tasks but rather a broader set of general work skills. For example, here is a great article by Professor Susan Wawrose at the University of Dayton based on her extensive interviews with legal employers about what they want to see in the law students they hire. Yet many of the issues the employers raise are not about the ability to get a document into evidence or draft a non-disclosure agreement, they are about the kind of job skills (like eagerness to do the work assigned) that any employer would want.
We sometimes forget that even though the ratio is shifting, probably at least half of our students have gone straight through school without ever having a full-time office based job. From what I've seen, law students are at a disadvantage in a business setting because they often don't have the work experience of the other employees at their level. A law firm is (or was--that's changing too) a very protected environment where lawyers don't have to worry about "business stuff." In a more general setting, individual managers will have to do things like make budgets, manage people, and read financial statements.
There is a lot we could do--short of a dual degree MBA-to bring our students the kind of financial, communication, management and negotiating skills they need to quickly join the flat teams of today's workplace (as opposed to being at the bottom of the hierarchy of a large law firm). Many law schools have aleady jumped into this with leadership institutes, communications courses, even coding courses. .
Many of us have business schools associated with our institutions who might want to share their expertise with our students--and have us share our expertise with their students. This list is a good example of business skills that are quite different from the advocacy type skills that might first come to mind in training a law student. Here's an interesting list of quant skills that a first year MBA student--and its likely that quite a few of the executives a young lawyer would be dealing with have MBAs or a business major--would be expected to have-do our graduating students even know what these things are, let alone how to do them?
We can't stay still as the world of work changes. Please feel free to share in the comments section any work your law school is doing in this area.
Tuesday, May 06, 2014
Outcomes Based Assessment is Coming
Thanks for all the comments about evaluation of faculty teaching—and thank you to Professor Bainbridge for the transition to the next topic—Outcomes Assessment. The days when we in legal education could say that the bar exam did outcomes assessment for us are rapidly coming to an end. Outcomes assessment (or “output assessment as it is sometimes known) is something we in legal academe will soon likely be required to do in every class, for every student. Why? Because our regional accrediting agencies already demand it and the ABA has already put forward for comments changes to Section 301 here reflecting this report by a 2008 subcommittee.
If I’ve lost anyone here about regional accrediting agencies, now is a good time to lift the veil. So long as we depend on our students using federal student loan programs to pay their tuition, we must meet the Department of Education’s standard that we provide a “quality” education. And while the DOE does not tell us, or anyone else, what “quality” is, it can require that we submit ourselves to an entity it recognizes as being qualified to do so. We all know that the ABA sets standards of quality for legal education, but unless you have a role in developing new programs, you may not be aware of your regional accreditor, but rest assured your Dean and Provost think about them all the time. For example, Texas A & M University would not have been able to acquire Texas Wesleyan Law School without the approval of the Southern Association of Schools ad Colleges. Here’s the TAMU Press Release and here’s the actual SACSCOC announcement.
So back to Outcomes Assessment— it makes sense to evaluate law schools and faculties on their results rather than their efforts (we don’t raise the grades of students because they “tried hard”) but like all assessment it can’t happen without first identifying what outcomes to measure and how to do it. Is it mastery of material in individual courses? Bar Passage? Employment in a J.D. required job? Competency in practice? Client satisfaction? Personal satisfaction? All of these are desirable outcomes for our law students, but the question legal education shares now with all higher education is which of them can be directly linked to what happens in law schools.
Luckily for us as we make the transition to outcomes assessment, there is a wealth of reference material. This piece from Prof. Gregory Munro reviews the topic of outcomes assessment at the level of the individual law school class. Since we are relatively late to the outcomes assessment party there are a lot of models out there. Here is a very interesting article by Profs. Deborah Maranville, Kate O’Neill, and Carolyn Plumb drawing lessons for legal education from Engineering’s experiences in assessing not just content outcomes but also ethical ones. Here is an article by Carolyn Grose about her experiences integrating outcome measures into her Trusts and Estate class.
At a practical level, our friends at UCHastings have put together a very helpful compilation of resources, including sample syllabi, for law professors who want to create and then assess learning objectives in their classes. The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning is a rich and frequently updated source of helpful material on all aspects of law teaching, very much including issues of outcomes assessment.
This will be a big change for us both on the level of setting individual output/outcome goals for each of our classes and then on a larger scale for our schools as a whole. But it’s a change that’s coming and for which we need to prepare ourselves. I know that these links only scratch the surface of the work being done within legal academe to address the need for outcomes measures and I invite everyone to include material they either created or know about that will be helpful to the community at large.
Monday, May 05, 2014
Opening Up the Discussion on Student Evaluation of Teaching
Yesterday I gave you links to sources pointing out some reasons why teaching evaluations--as currently done at many schools--do not always provide accurate or useful data. Thanks for the comments!
Today, I'd like to open a problem solving conversation by relating some information I picked up on my way to getting a Ph.D. in higher education: A) Measurement (assessment) is far harder than it looks; B) It's impossible to measure something unless you first identify what it is and C) There's no point measuring something without an understanding of why you want the information.
There is a vast literature available with ideas about evaluating faculty. Have a look here, here and at these thoughts from AAUP. Our problems in legal academe with misusing student evaluations is that we aren't necessarily asking the right questions of the right people in the right way. Evaluating curriculum is very different from evaluating teaching. I think it's more than reasonable, it's important to involve all stakeholders (students, faculty, administrators, alumni, and the general population of future clients) in decisions about what to teach and how to teach it. I will be writing more later about how medical schools have been doing this over the past 30 years. But its not fair (or even helpful) to confuse assessing how well an individual professor is doing her job with what that job should be.
I think it would be very helpful if every school considered its own individual goals and objectives for classroom instruction. And I'm going to put forward some suggestions below about how that might happen.
But first, in the words of noted legal practice guru Prof. Laurie Zimet of Hastings, lets all remember "we aren't going to solve this problem today."
So what does it mean to decide first what we should be measuring?
Well, lets say a faculty decides that every class teaching a subject on the bar exam be organized according to how it will be tested. In Torts, that would mean a professor who spent more time on intentional torts than negligence wouldn't meet this standard. How could that be measured? What about syllabus review?
Or, maybe a faculty decides that each of our students deserves to have their outside of class questions answered within two business days. Of course we ask the students themselves--but why just by anonymous survey? What about interviewing a small group of students and ask them for examples of times they've asked for help and how the professor responded.
I'm not recommending punitive inspections. What about having a peer visit the class a few times during a semester and then immediately meeting with the professor to discuss what they saw? Maybe not for every class, but what about first year professors, professors up for promotion, or where there has been a problem reported?
Is all of this more work than glancing at a scantron sheet--yes. But deciding what needs to be going on in our classrooms and then finding out if that's happening is very important.
Finally--how we evaluate professors is a key component in what kind of teaching we get back (same is true with students). In other words, we are likely to get back what we measure.
So what do you think? What should we be doing in the classroom--and who should be evaluating it? How can we separate evaluation of teaching with evaluation of curriculum? And where in your institution can you find the resources to review how well what you're measuring reflects what you really want to know?
Student Teaching Evaluations
As classes wrap up, many of us are wondering how our teaching evaluations came out. How did we do? Not only are these evaluations deeply personal commentary on us as teachers, they can be important for promotion and tenure. And I’m here to suggest, along with many others including William Arthur Wines and Terence J. Lau, Observations on the Folly of Using Student Evaluations of College Teaching for Faculty Evaluation, Pay, and Retention Decisions and Its Implications for Academic Freedom, that in most colleges, universities, and law schools—they shouldn’t be. Or at least not until we know a lot more about what we want to measure, how to ask the right questions to do that, and how to understand the information we get back.
I think getting information from our students about their experiences in the classroom is important, but at the risk of spoiling what will be a series of posts on this topic, I suggest that few of us as law professors can do this well without considerable assistance from people who do educational assessment for a living.
Here are a few things to get on the table.
First, there is a substantial literature on teaching evaluations. Thanks to Professor Deborah J. Merritt who published a terrific article summarizing the data, we all should be aware that evaluations done based on 30 seconds of teaching the first day of class have been found to correlate closely to evaluations made after an entire semester. In other words, students make up their minds very quickly.
Second, (and thanks to Prof. Merritt for this too—I assume everyone is reading her blog on law school reform, the law school café) women, women of color and men of color, respectively, get lower teaching evaluations than white men. Across the board. In every subject.
Third, teaching evaluations are a classic example of the dangers of not understanding some basics about statistics. I suggest reading this three part blog post by Professor Philip Stark at Berkley “Do teaching evaluations measure teaching effectiveness”—but here are some of my favorite distortions:
1—We use averages—that means adding up all the scores and dividing them by the number of students responding—when we should be using medians (numbers reflecting the middle of the scores) or modes—(the most common score). Lets say on a scale of 1-7, two teachers both come in at a 5. But one gets all 5s and the other a wide range of scores that contained both 1s and 7s. Are these the same?
Also, by not looking at all the scores, we can miss important themes—like consistently low scores for availability or respect for students.
2. We think we know how to compare one faculty member’s scores with another’s—but we really don’t.
That’s because the scores are presented as numbers, but they’re really categories. Unlike a thermometer or a ruler where we know that the numbers all have an equal amount of “space” between them, the teaching scores are an “ordinal categorical” variable. As Prof. Stark explains, “We could replace the numbers with descriptive words and no information would be lost: The ratings might as well be “not at all effective”, “slightly effective,” “somewhat effective,” “moderately effective,” “rather effective,” “very effective,” and “extremely effective.”
As he asks, “does it make sense to take the average of “slightly effective” and “very effective” ratings given by two students?”
Also, without any information about the scores of the faculty as a whole, we can’t assign relative meaning to these numbers. So, if every faculty member teaching first year courses has a score of 4.5 or above, then someone with a 4 is outside of the mainstream. On the other hand, if the numbers cluster very tightly between 3.9 and 4.2—with 4 being the most common score—than it would be fair to say that someone getting a 4 is succeeding about as well as everyone else—in terms of achieving scores.
This problem (not knowing the scores of other faculty members in similar courses) becomes even worse when looking at the teaching evaluations of a faculty member at another institution.
There is a lot of information out there on how we can set goals for ourselves as communities of law teachers and how we can measure the results of those goals. And more on that tomorrow.
Saturday, May 03, 2014
Sen Elizabeth Warren's New Memoir of Special Interest to Law Profs
There are a lot of reasons why law professors should read Senator Elizabeth Warren’s recently published memoir--“A Fighting Chance." The top two are that it's well-written and frequently very funny. (for full effect--I suggest the audio version that the Senator narrates herself).
Beyond that, not only is it a lucid explanation of the banking industry’s efforts to limit the ability of creditors to make a fresh start through declaring bankruptcy, it is an account of her extraordinary academic career--one that she achieved without any of the traditional criteria such as academic pedigree, powerful mentors, family connections, prestigious fellowships or judicial clerkships. For those unfamiliar with her as Bankruptcy Professor-here are some posts she has made on the Credit Slips blog.
She also closely documents her struggles to balance family, both her children and elderly parents (and pets). There is a lot for law professors to unpack here--including how her interest in the people behind the laws has shaped her career.
But more generally, I look forward to discussing how critical it is for the future of legal education that Senator Warren succeed in convincing her colleagues of the need to reform the way higher education is financed. Whether she herself has the best plan for fixing student loans—well different people have different views-including just eliminating them. But unless we can stop the ever increasing cycle of debt that is making our students’ lives so difficult, any of the important changes that need to be made in legal education risk being about as effective as bailing out a sinking boat with a bucket that itself has a hole in it.
As I will elaborate later, I’m very optimistic that we can all create a program about which students can say 5, 10, 15 years later that they are better off for having gone to our law school. But we’re probably not there now. Rather, we are in a situation similar to being attacked by a hive of bees. Every individual bee, lack of job opportunities, bimodal salary distributions, drop in state support for public institutions, lack of transparency about student outcomes, out dated curriculums, disconnect between the classroom and the practice of law, imposition of a value system that drives law students into disproportionate levels of depression that may well follow them throughout their careers, is capable of inflicting painful or even lethal stings. But the breach in the hive comes from a level of student loan debt that cannot be supported by any reasonably obtainable career path. It’s not a perfect metaphor—student loan reform is necessary but not sufficient to developing a legal education that better prepares our students for the important role they will play in society.
On "turning 40"
I just finished (well, almost -- my students are taking their exams) teaching my 40th law-school class: Criminal Law - 9, Constitutional Criminal Procedure -5, Constitutional Law - 7, Freedom of Speech - 5, The First Amendment - 4, Freedom of Religion - 5 (once as a mini-course in Israel), Catholic Social Thought and the Law - 3, The Death Penalty - 1, The American Jury - 1. (Thankfully, this "40" milestone looks to be much less complicated, and a much happier occasion, for me than it was for Paul Rudd's and Leslie Mann's characters in "This is 40.")
It's easy to report that I still love law-teaching and continue to regard the chance to participate in the development and launching of my students' vocations as a huge blessing. My students have been great (and they've been patient as I get slower and slower on the basketball court). The trickier task, "at 40," is to figure out, and honestly assess, whether or not I have improved as a teacher -- or, even if I have, if I have as much as I could and should have.
Sure, I know the material better than I did the first few times around. I'm more comfortable than I was at first with not knowing the answer to a good question, and with being challenged, and with having to correct myself, and with needing to apologize for a mistake. I've changed books and classes often enough that, I think, I've pretty well avoided the danger of the "same old notes, same old script, same old class" problem. I think I've managed to lose the nervousness while retaining the enthusiasm. So far so good.
That said, if I'm honest about it, I wonder if I could or should have done more. My courses proceed pretty much as they always have in the non-seminar classes -- a mix of review, lecture, discussion, "soft-Socratic" questioning, and looking ahead. I draw some things on the board, but have only used PowerPoint (or other digital tools and resources) on a handful of occasions and not, I think, very effectively. I've assigned and used a lot of secondary materials and scholarship to supplement casebooks, but have probably not done enough to bring in current events, relevant material from other disciplines (say, sociological or psychological material in Criminal Law). I evaluate students -- that is, I write and grade exams -- in pretty much the same way I did in 1999. For the most part, I have not incorporated experiential-learning or clinical assignments and exercises into my courses.
I'm not inclined to think that "change" is an imperative, or that it's always good, but . . . maybe I should have changed more? Maybe that happens at 50 . . . .
Friday, May 02, 2014
Laptops, redux, redux
A study by two psychologists showing students learn when taking notes by hand rather than on laptops, which I previously discussed, has been published in the journal Psychological Science and is beginning to draw some attention.
Interestingly, the authors leave open the question of handwriting notes on a tablet, which may be the best of both worlds--hand-writing and initial selectivity with a permanent electronic copy.
Thursday, May 01, 2014
A Quick Hello
I am happy that Dan and PrawfsBlawg are letting me guest here this month. Thanks!
I'm Kristen Osenga from the University of Richmond School of Law. My teaching and research interests are intellectual property, interpretation, and language and the law, with a particular interest in patent law.
This month I plan on sharing some of my research and thoughts on my latest obsession -- patent trolls. Who isn't fascinated by these terrible creatures? I also want to talk about some cognitive biases I see at play in intellectual property law. Finally, this term has also been a banner year for patent cases at the Supreme Court...of course I'll be weighing in on these as the opinions come down.
And so as not to bore you all with patent law, patent law, and more patent law, I have been thinking about (and experimenting just a bit) with "flipping the classroom." Although I think this is an intriguing way to teach and allow for more problem-based learning or experiential exercises in the classroom, I am surprised at some of the skepticism and pushback I have heard. I look forward to sharing my (not so great) experiences, my plans for doing it better the second time around, and some of the debate about whether it is good for students and/or worth the excess work.
Hello—and thank you to Dan and PrawfsBlawg for inviting me to guest this month!
My name is Jennifer Bard and I am a Professor at Texas Tech University School of Law where, among other things, I direct our Health Law Program. I’ve been blogging in the “Profs” family at HealthLawProfs and more recently also at the Harvard Bill of Health. My research interests include legal & ethical issues in conducting research, the effect of increasing knowledge about the brain on the legal response to criminal conduct, and the intersection between Constitutional Law and the regulation of health care delivery and finance. Here’s where you can find some things I’ve published.
Over the next month, I look forward to blogging about issues I’ve been thinking about a lot including the future of legal education—both in terms of curricular reform and addressing the substantial challenges facing us about the cost of law school and the rapidly changing job market, current issues in higher education, and of course on-going developments in health law.
My thinking has been shaped a lot by two degrees I got after law school. The first was a master’s of public health which gave me the “prevention” model of solving. The big idea in public health is that it’s always easier to prevent a problem than to solve one—but first you need to understand its causes. The second is a Ph.D. in Higher Education that introduced me to the much larger theoretical and regulatory context in which legal education occurs.
This is a time of significant change in higher education as it faces close scrutiny from consumers and the state and federal governments representing them. For example, on Monday President Obama issued a report calling for substantial changes to the way universities both prevent and respond to sexual harassment and sexual assault. Here is the first PSA to come from the White House on this topic. Although law schools often see themselves as autonomous islands within the larger university, we are all going to see the effects of this and other related campaigns.
UF Law's (and My) New MOOC: The Global Student's Introduction to US Law
I am now officially part of a MOOC, which went online today. It has been a learning experience (!!), with the biggest lesson being that it is nowhere as easy as you might think to put one of these courses together. I plan to blog about the experience at length when I get a chance. For now, though, you might be interested in viewing the University of Florida Law School's foray into the great MOOC experiment: The Global Student's Introduction to US Law.
The course description is as follows:
In this course, students will learn basic concepts and terminology about the U.S. legal system and about selected topics in the fields of constitutional law, criminal law, and contract law. A team of outstanding teachers and scholars from the University of Florida faculty introduces these subjects in an accessible and engaging format that incorporates examples from legal systems around the world, highlighting similarities to and differences from the U.S. system. Students seeking an advanced certificate study additional topics and complete assignments involving legal research that are optional for basic level students. The course may be of interest both to U.S. students contemplating law school and to global students considering further study of the U.S. legal system.
My Senior Associate Dean Alyson Flournoy spearheaded the project, and we had excellent technical assistance, which was crucial, by Billly Wildberger. My colleagues Pedro Malavet, Jeff Harrison, Claire Germain, Loren Turner, Jennifer Wondracek, and Sharon Rush all provided lectures, and our research assistant Christy Lopez is providing support with the discussion forums.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
What should every lawyer know?
It is schedule-selecting time again, particularly for 1Ls trying to map out the next two years. A colleague proposed a different way of thinking of this: Lawyers, as Tocqueville's American aristocracy, should have some core base of legal knowledge when they leave law school. Thus, there is some set of courses every law student should take--beyond classes targeting the areas in which a student wants to practice, bar-tested classes (although there is some overlap), and classes providing general skills and experiential practice. What is the law school canon? It must be a small portion of the 59 post-1L credits, thus leaving students room to 1) explore specific areas of interest and 2) do some skills/experiential stuff.
Accepting the underlying premise (and I understand that some people might not), what courses belong in that canon? If you were advising 1Ls on the doctrinal classes they should make sure to take before they graduate, regardless of anything else, what would they be? [Update: Just to clarify: This is for upper-level courses; I take as a given that the current 1L curriculum is unchanged] [Further Update and Clarification: I am not talking about career advice and what they should take for career/practice purposes, but general legal knowledge]
A tentative list:
• First Amendment
• Bus Orgs/Corps
• Federal Courts (at least if you are even thinking about being any type of litigator)
• Administrative Law
This is 19 credits, leaving another 40 for the student to play around with. What am I missing? Is there anything that should not be on the list?
Clarifying Again: Let me try to put the question this way. People would say you should not leave college without taking a basic course in some area of human knowledge and creation, such as, say, Shakespeare (even if your career is not going to involve his work in any way). So what are the legal equivalents of Shakespeare?]
Wednesday, April 09, 2014
(Practical) learning experiences
FIU today hosted an oral argument of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, as part of the court's Project Outreach, a public and military education program. My colleague Eric Carpenter, who joined the faculty this year after twenty years in the Army, including a stint teaching at JAG School, arranged the visit. His Military Justice class wrote an amicus brief and one student was given ten minutes of argument. The court followed the argument with a public Q&A session for students, military lawyers and personel, and others.
It was a great learning experience; it would be great if other courts would so similar things in law schools and other public places.
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
Better to post your criticisms on Twitter, I guess
One law student's travails (from Above the Law).
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
The new experiential-learning requirement
I gather, from Brian Leiter and Paul Caron that the ABA Council of the Section on Legal Education has voted to (among other things) require six (not fifteen) credits of experiential learning of all students. Mary Lynch calls this a "small step" but a step in "the right direction." (My own view, for what it's worth, is closer to Brian's.) Here (thanks to Prof. Lynch) is the language of the relevant new standard:
“one or more experiential course(s) totaling at least six credit hours. An experiential course must be a simulation course, a law clinic, or a field placement. To satisfy this requirement, a course must be primarily experiential in nature and must:
(i) integrate doctrine, theory, skills, and legal ethics, and engage students in
performance of one or more of the professional skills identified in Standard
(ii) develop the concepts underlying the professional skills being taught;
(iii) provide multiple opportunities for performance; and
(iv) provide opportunities for self-evaluation.”
Whatever we think of the merits of this new requirement, it appears that most law schools will have to make some changes -- in some cases, adding and staffing new experiential courses and in others, perhaps, simply changing their graduation requirements -- to comply with it.
Are there new, creative, "outside the box" things that schools and faculties might try? The standard is not entirely open-ended, of course: An experiential course must be "a simulation course, a law clinic, or a field placement." Still, this would seem to leave enough room to create offerings that depart from, even as they build on, the experiential offerings and models with which we're most familiar: direct-service clinics, simulated negotiations, mock-trial and moot-court courses, externships in local (or not-local) prosecutors' and public defenders' offices, etc. Brian has reminded readers that "no law school in the United States is actually equipped to offering 'experiential' learning adequate to the full range of careers lawyers pursue" so it would seem that coming into compliance, in a way that actually helps our students and does not simply protect schools' accreditation, could be a challenge. What do you think most law schools will do, given the new requirement? What could they -- we -- do?
Friday, March 14, 2014
Friday, March 07, 2014
The problem with PowerPoint