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Monday, July 28, 2008

AALS Plenary, Call for Talents, and Legal Education: The Musical

I am looking for suggestions / self- or other-nominations of law professors who use singing as part of their classroom teaching. Turns out, many do and students love it! HLS's Dean Bob Clark for example is well-known for having composed approximately 50 jingles that he then sung to his corporations classes. The Committee on Curricular Reform is planning to showcase some of these musical talents at the AALS plenary on teaching this year in San Diego.

Following the success and great interest (record attendance according to the AALS administrators) of last year’s plenary session on Rethinking Legal Education for the 21st Century, this year the Committee on Curricular Reform is organizing a three hour plenary session of demonstrations, panels and discussions, entitled Workshop on Redesigning Legal Education. Here is a brief description put forth by our committee chair, Vanderbilt’s Dean Ed Rubin:

Getting down to specifics this year, we will address some of the most promising -- and most troublesome – possibilities in legal education: the integration of academic and skills training, the use of technology in the classroom and beyond, the assessment of student learning, the lessons that pedagogic theory offers about standard, often unexamined legal teaching methods, and the appropriate level of formality or informality between the classroom teacher and the students. At the core of these various issues, which will be presented through suitably varied formats, is a central question: What should law professors do to be effective teachers? Should they incorporate simulations into lecture classes, ask students to answer classroom questions en masse over the Internet, employ evaluation devices during the course of the semester, alter their approach in light of contemporary psychological theories, sing a song at the beginning of class? The workshop will offer a (necessarily brief) overview of path-breaking developments on these topics, and provide resources for further exploration.

The program itself will include segments on assessment (organized by committee member, and my former dean, Dan Rodriguez (Texas), learning theory (organized by Bill Sullivan), integration of clinical and skills training in academic programs (organized by Larry Marshall) and demonstration of technology in the classroom (organized by Larry Cunningham).

To warm things up, we are planning a short segment at the beginning of our program of “legal education and song singing” or “musical law teaching,” followed by a brief discussion about pedagogic distance -- how informal a teacher should be with her students? I am in charge of organizing this first part and I am looking for suggestions as to those fabulous courageous teachers who use the technique of singing songs about torts, contracts, common law cases, law and policy as part of their teaching. You can either post comments or email me directly with names. The workshop as a whole is a rich and exciting program and I am sure many will find it highly relevant to their work as teachers and educators. Stay tuned!

Posted by Orly Lobel on July 28, 2008 at 10:45 AM | Permalink


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My friend went to a top ranked law school, and argued that law schools should offer concise teaching on black letter law, by offering students materials like the concise BarBri Conviser Mini Review, so that students can get a broad and focused view of how the law is currently implemented and actually works. So that they have more of a base to build upon in analyzing theoretical legal issues professors like to wax upon so much, so students can move on to higher level concepts and questions more quickly and confidently, with a more rigorous intellectual base/background to theorize upon--which professors often neglect to realize that their students may not have yet, or ever, in the process of their law school education.


Posted by: trickledown | Aug 30, 2008 2:23:51 PM

Last term, I sang a couple of Civil Procedure song parodies for my students at the end of the semester, such as "Back in the FRCP" (instead of "Back in the USSR"). I also played electric guitar. The students seemed to really enjoy it, and thankfully, I didn't end up on YouTube.

Posted by: Ira Nathenson | Jul 31, 2008 11:32:59 AM

I do a "Songfest" at the end of my year-long property course. I sing some songs and encourage students to join me. This year, I even had a guitarist, bass player and bongo drummer! I wrote "Oh Pierson" (to the tune of "Oh Donna" by Ritchie Valens) and "Like a Reversion" (to Madonna's "Like a Virgin" [I got this idea from another professor]). My students wrote their own songs as well. I include below a few lines to their "property" version of a song from "Rent."

525,600 cases
525,600 cases so dear
525,600 cases
How do you measure, measure a year?
In case briefs, opinions, in outlines and pots of coffee
In moot court, legal memos, in laughter, in strife
525,600 cases
How do you measure first year in law?
How about good grades?
How about A grades?
Measure in grades?
Measure in grades?
First year of law . . .

Posted by: Rose Cuison Villazor | Jul 29, 2008 12:17:59 PM

A colleague of mine at BU Law, Mark Pettit, has received considerable press attention for his singing in first year contracts. See:



Also, several of us who teach first-year courses join together to sing a couple of songs to the first-year section that bids the highest for our "talents" at the annual public interest auction.


Ken Simons

Posted by: Kenneth Simons | Jul 29, 2008 10:35:42 AM

This is not a song about a particular topic, but it does have pedagogical significance. I teach a lot of code or statute heavy classes (securities regulation, partnership and LLC, sales, secured transactions). When students, as is their wont, forsake ACTUALLY LOOKING AT THE STATUTE OR CODE FOR THE ANSWER and instead resort to their "feelings," I have been known to break into a lovely a capella baritone version of the 1976 Morris Albert lounge lizard classic, "Feelings:"

Feelings, nothing more than feelings,
trying to forget my feelings of love.
Teardrops rolling down on my face,
trying to forget my feelings of love.

Even though howling wolves can be seen putting their paws over their ears when I sing, somehow this amazing piece of music inspires me to stay in tune.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Jul 29, 2008 2:24:41 AM

At University of Illinois, we have several musical law professors. Professor Christine Hurt sings to her torts classes, accompanied by Professor Paul Stancil on guitar, while Professor Richard Kaplan serenades his income tax classes.

Posted by: Illini Law | Jul 28, 2008 10:45:50 PM

Response of sorts here:


Posted by: Sarah Lawsky | Jul 28, 2008 9:08:36 PM

Nat Stern at Florida State. He writes song paraodies on particular cases/issues in Con Law, plays the sax, and has other faculty members(usually another 1L prof from last semester) come into class to sing with him.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jul 28, 2008 8:39:35 PM

Singing in class has a surprisingly significant impact on the students. During the Spring 2008 semester, I sang in my Federal Income Taxation class on three occasions. Each time, I sang only about 2 bars from a song (Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender," Tom Jones's "It's Not Unusual," and Harry Nilsson's "Can't Live"). I later timed myself and discovered that I had sung for a total of 16 seconds in the entire semester. Even so, my course evaluations, emails, and hallway chatter were full of comments (almost all positive) about my singing in class. I saw no indication that this had any impact -- positive or negative -- on attention spans, etc., but there is no denying that the students took notice.

Posted by: Neil H. Buchanan | Jul 28, 2008 4:32:20 PM

There's that barbri person -- Paula Franchese, or something, I think? She's a professor somewhere, and has a jingle or two in the barbri tapes...

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jul 28, 2008 2:32:59 PM

Cynthia Estlund at NYU (Property) sings to her class and solicits new songs and performances from the students.

Posted by: NYU Stud | Jul 28, 2008 11:38:57 AM

Not directly on point, but have you see this?: http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2008/07/idaho-bar-using.html#comments

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jul 28, 2008 11:07:13 AM

David Roberston who teaches torts at Texas has some great tort songs he sings while playing guitar.

Posted by: UT grad | Jul 28, 2008 11:03:06 AM

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