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Friday, July 24, 2009

Concluding Thoughts on Teaching in a Summer LL.M. Program

For the first time in two weeks, I've actually relaxed a little before class, in part because I know what I'm going to do today - the last of ten consecutive weekdays in which I've taught a two-hour long class in federal Img_1 securities regulation to non-U.S. lawyers (except for the three U.S. lawyers that we admitted to the program this year).  It's not as abbreviated as you think at first.  My 3-credit hour securities regulation class in Boston has 35 class hours; this is 20, and it's stuffed into two weeks.  Add a little heat and humidity, plus the hard work of scaling a class back by 15 hours of material and having it still make sense, and it explains why you get back to your hotel, take a shower and pretty much collapse every night.

So here I am sitting outside with an eszpreszo dupla at the Cafe Alibi on the Egyetem Ter (University Square), reflecting on the experience.

1.  Don't complain.  While it is indeed hard work, like most things about being a law professor, it's a nice gig.

2.  It's very much an online exercise.  The problem with assigning American casebooks is not just the cost but the difficulty of schlepping the books around, particularly when the students have three classes (i.e. six hours of class) a day.  We use TWEN, with publishers' permission to copy some material out of the casebooks.  In my case, I set up links on TWEN to the University of Cincinnati Securities Law Deskbook, posted my syllabus and class outlines, provided PDF files with exercises taken from Choi and Pritchard (with permission), and posted copies of the key cases.  I also recommended the "Securities Law in a Nutshell" as a source for an overview.

3.  The pedagogical challenge in a course like securities regulation is finding a balance between overview and detail.  If you skate over the top, the students might as well just read the Nutshell.  When you dig into the regulations (for example, teaching Regulation D small and private offerings, Regulation S overseas offerings, or the Rule 144 resale safe harbor), just the logistics alone, not to mention the specificity and complexity in the face of the language barriers, can be a frustrating challenge. You need constantly to dig into the trees, and then return for the big forest picture.

4.  By and large, the "students" are delightful.  Most of them are already experienced lawyers.  They come from Malaysia, Lebanon, Iran, Hungary, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Mexico, Honduras, Ukraine, and a few more I can't recall offhand.  The program involves three summers of the two-week program in Budapest, plus online courses, plus a research project and paper.  We had the closing ceremony last night, in which the third-year students had the "last word."  For all that we have the MacCrate and Carnegie issues in the U.S., the students here, I think, perceive of their American professors as pragmatic, energetic, and accessible, at least in comparison to traditional (continental) European legal academics.

5.  Don't underestimate the work it takes to organize this.  I come away with much respect and admiration for Bridgett Halay, the director of the program.  She is combined lawyer, meeting planner, counselor, confidante, mediator, diplomat, and curriculum planner.  (My colleague Steve Hicks is also here, and works hard, but he's a full professor, so his ego doesn't need any more boosting.) Imagine a two-week long conference with 70 or so participants and ten or so faculty members.

6.  To my chagrin, as a person who thinks Power Point should be used as seasoning - sparingly, and as an accompaniment to teaching, not an outline or crutch - the students here love Power Point as much aIMG_0532s in the U.S.  Moreover, the classroom (see right), in addition to being rectilinear, acoustically challenged, and not ampitheatrical, has the usual problem of having the screen for Power Point cover the chalkboard (which I'm sure, by the way was installed somewhere around 1872).  And I, of course, love the smell of  the chalk dust and the roar of the crowd (not to mention those nostalgic screeches of chalk against slate).  I also put on my stern face the first day when most of the class came sauntering in anywhere from five to twenty-five minutes late.  Now my philosophy of teaching runs something like this - I can lead you to water but I can't make you drink.  And while I care deeply about leading you to water, particularly if you want to drink, I really don't care if you make the decision not to drink - it's your life, not mine.  Hence, I don't care if you surf the Internet or do Twitter during class, but I really don't like it when people coming in late disrupt everybody else.  As a result, my gift from the class in the closing ceremony yesterday was a small chalkboard, signed on the frame by all the third-year students, on which was inscribed (in chalk) "Class begins PROMPTLY at 2:30 p.m.  POWER POINT SUCKS."

7.  Budapest is an interesting place.  Physically, it's beautiful.  The view down the Danube is breathtaking, particularly in the evening.  It's seedier than Vienna, and more exotic, I think, because of the strangeness of the Hungarian language, but it's a city that had kings and nobles in the tradition of Vienna, Munich, and Berlin.  There's more here that survived the war than in the former East Berlin, so the old world aspect lives on much more.  And there's a kind of post-Communist edginess, even now, despite the fine restaurants and nice hotels.  You don't want to hail a cab on the street, get scammed in by the hustlers on the Vaci Utca (the main tourist pedestrian zone), spend much time in the Keleti vasutallomas (railway station), or try to find an office supply store to buy a roller ball pen.

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on July 24, 2009 at 06:37 AM in Teaching Law | Permalink

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Comments

As to the students letting me know, I think that's either courtesy or fear - not of me, but instilled by other expectations of the somewhat paternalistic aspect of legal education in the U.S. I don't keep track, even of my own "system" because I have no patience or desire for that kind of bureaucracy. I explain to the them that the "on call" is merely to have some segment of the class with enough familiarity with the material to have some interaction.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Jul 27, 2009 9:53:03 AM

I can't imagine a student actually letting me know in advance that they won't be able to make it to class, even if attendance is mandatory.

Last november, we had a series of guest lectures for the one course I teach each year (the rest of my work consists of writing my dissertation). Out of courtesy to the speakers, we decided to make attendance compulsory. As a result, I spent quite a bit of time each week e-badgering the absentees, trying to get an explanation for their absence. We never considered failing any of them for the course, and in the end we even waived the makeup assignment we had intended to give them.

Point being: probably mostly because of the much lower tuition fees here, students and faculty alike don't tend to be very concerned about attendance.

Posted by: Martinned | Jul 27, 2009 9:48:03 AM

Although I think many U.S. law school have an "official" policy that missing a class more than a certain number of times earns the student an incomplete, my experience has been that attendance policy, as a practical matter, is up to the individual professor. Personally, I don't take attendance, but I have an "on-call" list that does not have a penalty associated with it, and most students will let me know if there is a problem with being there on an on-call day, even just as a courtesy.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Jul 24, 2009 6:00:07 PM

Jeff,

I enjoyed hearing about your time in Budapest. My summer teaching experience was somewhat similar although more routine and certainly less exotic. We cover Judaism, Christanity, Islam, Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism and Buddhism in six weeks, four days a week, two hours a day, and I bicycle to and from class, which is not very far but involves some steep hill climbs (at least for me on an old Schwinn with one gear). I always need an hour or two when I come home to get my energy back for other work.

I lecture with a chalkboard and no Power Point or any other bells and whistles and because the class begins promptly at 8:00am, I need to work hard to keep their attention. They're assigned two chapters per tradition from two course texts (one being an anthology of religious scriptures) and study guides for each tradition I've put together of basic terms and concepts, so they've plenty of reading, especially in light of the fact that some are taking another two-hour class and are also working, at least part-time (and that 'balance' thing you cite holds in our case as well).

But as you say, don't complain, as I too readily recall working in construction in the heat of summer and despite the precipitous drop in pay, I much prefer the current "gig." And I subscribe to your basic pedagogical principles although I don't permit laptops because they too--like late arrivals--become a distraction. Still, despite the whirlwind tour through major religious worldviews, it's gratifying to hear the kind and generous comments about the course (well, at least from some students) when it's all over.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jul 24, 2009 1:08:59 PM

Now my philosophy of teaching runs something like this - I can lead you to water but I can't make you drink.

What's the attendance policy in US law schools? Studying law in the Netherlands, I hardly ever had mandatory attendance for classes. You turn up, or you don't, it's up to you. All that matters is passing the exam. At my current university, teaching Public Administration, it generally works the same way, with the obvious exception of specific project courses. My sense is that most continental European universities avoid making attendance mandatory, whenever possible.

(Coming late is a different story. Some lecture rooms have rear access, in which case coming late shouldn't be a problem, as long as the student is quiet. Otherwise, coming late is generally not OK.)

Posted by: Martinned | Jul 24, 2009 12:58:44 PM

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