Category Archives: Law School News & Views

A Berkeley law journal dumps the Bluebook

The Bluebook “impedes” the editors of the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice’s ability to fulfill its mission to publish innovative, intersectional, and rigorous scholarship according to this announcement. So the editors have replaced it with this six page “practical citation system.” What do you think? — Joe

Legal education reformer Robert MacCrate died last week

Professor Nancy Schultz (Chapman Law School) contributed this memorial to Robert MacCrate (July 18, 1921 – April 6, 2016) on Legal Skills Prof Blog. — Joe

Reading is fundamental to lawyering according to study of working attorneys

That’s one of conclusions reached by Ann Sinsheimer (Pittsburgh) and David Herring in Lawyers at Work: A Study of the Reading, Writing, and Communication Practices of Legal Professionals, 21 Legal Writing Journal___ (Forthcoming, 2016). Here’s the abstract:

This paper reports the results of a three-year ethnographic study of attorneys in the workplace. The authors applied ethnographic methods to identify how junior associates in law firm settings engaged in reading and writing tasks in their daily practice. The authors were able to identify the types of texts junior associates encountered in the workplace and to isolate the strategies these attorneys used to read and compose texts.

The findings suggest that lawyering is fundamentally about reading. The attorneys observed for this study read constantly, encountering a large variety of texts and engaging in many styles of reading, including close reading and also reading broadly, skimming and scanning texts for information. Their writing processes typically began by reading and rereading the information they used to substantiate their written work. They functioned in stressful environments in which they felt pressed for time and had to juggle multiple tasks.

This paper explores the implications of these findings for a variety of audiences, including legal educators, law firms training junior associates, and those doing research on legal pedagogy. For legal educators, the results of this study can be used to develop classroom exercises and to train new teachers. Notably, legal educators should consider devoting more time to teaching reading skills. Although legal educators often assume that law students possess the necessary reading skills, this study indicates that this assumption is faulty and that instruction in this area is likely a key component in the successful transition to practice. For law firms, this study sheds light on the tasks with which new attorneys struggle and reveals the areas in which new attorneys require the most facility. In terms of legal research, this ethnography provides a model that can be expanded to study these same practice areas and other practice areas at law firms of all sizes throughout the country.

H/T to Legal Skills Prof Blog. — Joe

 

How much does a law review article cost?

About some of the conclusions reached in his article, Citations, Justifications, and the Troubled State of Legal Scholarship: An Empirical Study [SSRN], co-authored by Dean Amy Mashburn (Florida), Jeffrey Harrison (Florida) stated in his The Cost of Scholarship (and Peeps) blog post that law profs produce an estimated 8,000 law review articles per year at an aggregate cost of about $240,000,000 annually. That’s approximately $30,000 per law review. Harrison adds in his blog post:

I read that the average student graduates with $140k in debt. That is about 4.5 articles or, if all scholarship money were devoted to reducing student debt, 1700 students a year could graduate without debt. Personally, I am not that comfortable writing 4.5 articles and making the case that they are worth the same as asking a 24 year old to start his or her life with 140K in debt.

Here’s the abstract to Citations, Justifications, and the Troubled State of Legal Scholarship: An Empirical Study:

Recent pedagogical, economic and technological changes require law schools to reevaluate their resource allocations. Although typically viewed in terms of curricular changes, it is important also to focus on the very significant investment in legal scholarship and its impact. Typically this has been determined by some version of citation counting with little regard for what it means to be cited. This Article discusses why this is a deeply flawed measure of impact. Much of that discussion is based on an empirical study the authors conducted. The investigation found that citation by other authors is highly influenced by the rank of the review in which a work is published and the school from which the author graduated. Courts, on the other hand, are less sensitive to these markers of institutional authority. Perhaps more importantly, when the purpose of the citation is examined, a very small handful of those citing a work do so for anything related to the ideas, reasoning, methodology, or conclusions found in the cited work. This is slightly less true for judicial citation compared to citations by other authors. Given the level of current investment in legal scholarship and findings that reliance on it is far lower than citation counts would suggest, the authors offer a number of recommendations designed to increase accountability of legal scholars and the utility of what they produce.

H/T to ATL’s Stats Of The Week: Law Review Sticker Shock. — Joe

Official 2017 US News law school rankings now available

And the leaked data was correct. Here’s the link to the official digital version of the 2017 rankings. — Joe

The Top 100 from the leaked 2017 U.S. News law school rankings

See Staci Zaretsky’s post on Above the Law for the leaked Top 100 law schools. — Joe

US News law school rankings leaked again

ATL’s Staci Zaretsky is reporting that a portion of the 2017 US News law school rankings were released accidentally. From her report:
1. Yale (no change)
2. Harvard (no change)
2. Stanford (no change)
4. Columbia (no change)
4. Chicago (no change)
6. NYU (no change)
7. Penn (no change)
8. Michigan (+3; ranked #11 last year)
8. UC Berkeley (no change)
8. UVA (no change)
11. Duke (-3; tied at #8 last year with UC Berkeley and UVA)
12. Northwestern (no change)
13. Cornell (no change)
14. Georgetown (no change)

— Joe

What is the ideal design for a basic legal research program?

In The State of Legal Research Education; A Survey of First Year Legal Research Programs or ‘Why Johnny and Jane Cannot Research’ [SSRN] Washington and Lee’s Caroline Osborne identifies the following four elements in the ideal design for a basic legal research class:

  1. A required research class of a minimum of two credits taught in the spring semester of the first year (1 credit) and the fall semester of the two-L year (1 credit).
  2. A professor with both a JD and an MLS or MIS, preferably admitted to the bar and possessing some experience in the practice of law or an equivalent level of practical experience.
  3. A grading schema equivalent to that of the first year doctrinal courses.
  4. A curriculum that includes research strategy; the fundamental resources of secondary sources, case research, statutory research and the administrative state; problem-solving; and concepts of efficiency and effectiveness.

Here’s the paper’s abstract:

Dissatisfaction with the research skills of the new associate is an oft-repeated refrain. This article explores the state of research education in the law school curriculum. Questions explored include: whether or not legal research is a required first year class; the number of semester of research instruction; the expertise of the professor; number of credits awarded for legal research, scope of the curriculum and observed challenges. Also considered is the impact of a more vigorous writing focus on research skills education. Survey data collected from the two hundred ranked law schools is used to explore these questions and as the basis for reforming research education.

Recommended. — Joe

Posner on the relationship between the academy and the judiciary

Yes, Judge Richard Posner has written another book, Divergent Paths: The Academy and the Judiciary (Harvard UP, Janurary 2016). Here’s the blurb:

Judges and legal scholars talk past one another, if they have any conversation at all. Academics couch their criticisms of judicial decisions in theoretical terms, which leads many judges―at the risk of intellectual stagnation―to dismiss most academic discourse as opaque and divorced from reality. In Divergent Paths, Richard Posner turns his attention to this widening gap within the legal profession, reflecting on its causes and consequences and asking what can be done to close or at least narrow it.

The shortcomings of academic legal analysis are real, but they cannot disguise the fact that the modern judiciary has several serious deficiencies that academic research and teaching could help to solve or alleviate. In U.S. federal courts, which is the focus of Posner’s analysis of the judicial path, judges confront ever more difficult cases, many involving complex and arcane scientific and technological distinctions, yet continue to be wedded to legal traditions sometimes centuries old. Posner asks how legal education can be made less theory-driven and more compatible with the present and future demands of judging and lawyering.

Law schools, he points out, have great potential to promote much-needed improvements in the judiciary, but doing so will require significant changes in curriculum, hiring policy, and methods of educating future judges. If law schools start to focus more on practical problems facing the American legal system rather than on debating its theoretical failures, the gulf separating the academy and the judiciary will narrow.

— Joe

Some Thoughts on Thinking Like A Lawyer

What does it mean to “think like a lawyer?”  For all the years I’ve worked in legal education (about 40) I admit I haven’t thought about the phrase much.  I have cups from Lexis with the phrase embossed on them.  But the phrase keeps coming home to me from time to time beyond promotional materials.  I encountered it when I had some unfortunate experience with my home plumbing during the Christmas break.  My kitchen sink backed up on Christmas morning.  That led to a series of events that started with drain cleaner and ended with cracked pipes and water leaking into my basement.  Ugh.

The clog was still intact on the Tuesday after Christmas when two plumbers arrived to remedy the situation. I had bailed the sink more than a few times between Christmas and then.  We put a little water in the sink and it started to pool in the drain.  One of the plumbers asked me what chemicals were in the water.  I said there shouldn’t be in there by now.  He replied that the boiling had to be caused by something.  There was almost imperceptible bubbling in the drain water.  I explained that early on in this adventure a friend of mine and I used drain cleaner at first.  I said almost automatically that I needed to “disclose” that to him.  We then had a short conversation about legal duty, though he wasn’t concerned about that.  I continued that law school does that to people.  I could not think of the condition of the sink without considering the legalities.  I told him at this point it was hard not to because of the perspective legal training creates.

I remember talking to a student last semester.  He had been working at a firm specializing in family relations, particularly those that are strained.  He was only half way through the curriculum and started to view the relationships in his family through a legal perspective.  I told him not to fight it.  That’s what law school does.  That’s thinking like a lawyer.  It’s not that his relatives would be potential clients as much as legal training puts that overlay on life.  It’s either sad or it means law school did what it was supposed to, or both.  I admit, sometimes I watch Tom and Jerry cartoons and count up the civil causes of action both have against each other.  Sad, I know.

Anyway, that’s it.  You know you think like a lawyer when legal rules play a part, not necessarily the only part, of everyday perspective.  In my plumber’s situation, it’s duty to warn or make safe.  Since I couldn’t make the chemicals in the water safe, I had to warn.  I don’t want a lawsuit after all.

 

Mark

“Free The Law:” Ravel and Harvard Law Team Up To Do Just That

There is so much to catch up on.  The recent news is that Ravel Law is teaming up with Harvard to scan significant portions of the primary law collection with the ultimate goal of placing the bulk online for use by the public.  The story in the New York Times mentions the fact that the librarians are cutting the books apart so the pages could go through high speed scanners.  The implication here is that there is no turning back for the project. Here is another story from the Harvard Law School News.

The interesting part for me aside from having as much primary law on the web is that this is the first major scanning project announced since the Google Book decision from October 16th.  Most primary law is in the public domain so there shouldn’t be any question about the legality of scanning.  Nonetheless, that decision should comfort the project managers.  I wonder if the decision will be giving impetus to any other large scale digitizing projects.

Mark

Here’s a Novel Way to Cut the Cost of Law School

Oakland University and Wayne State University have partnered so that the last year of undergraduate work and the first year of law school are essentially the same year.  According to the Detroit Free Press (the “Freep”), the first 30 hours of law classes at Wayne would count as the credits to complete a bachelor’s degree at Oakland University.  That’s a saving of $13,350 in tuition for both degrees.  In my value system, that money could by 26,000 cans of cat food, or a small car.

More information is available from Wayne State University and Oakland University:

For more information about the partnership, current and prospective OU students can contact David Lau at 248-370-3229 or lau@oakland.edu. For more information about Wayne Law, contact Wayne Law Admissions at 313-577-3937 orlawinquire@wayne.edu.

Mark

Short Takes On The News: Public Defenders, Lawyer Ideology, and Faculty Pay

Short Takes on the News

The Governor of Maine is promoting legislation that would revise how representation for indigent criminal defendants is organized in that state.  Rather than organizing a public entity to perform the work, the State would contract with lawyers for individual cases.  The story in the Bangor Daily News doesn’t mention this directly, but this would likely save a cat box load of money that would go to government pensions for state employed Public Defenders otherwise.  I wonder if Maine would be willing to try this same approach with the Prosecutor’s Office.  Probably not.

Has anyone ever wondered about the political ideology of the legal academy?  I’d say the answer is no only because the bias anecdotally appears to be liberal.  Well, someone took the time and effort to measure that bias in multiple contexts.  A new paper called The Political Ideologies of the American Lawyer by Adam Bonica, Adam S. Chilton, and Maya Sen seems to confirm just where that bias lines up on a spectrum of left and right.  The legal profession collectively lines up somewhere center left close to where Bill Clinton would be (he’s a marker on the chart along with other well-known politicians).  Medical doctors and bankers tend to be more to the right.  Go figure.

Graduates of elite law schools tend to be more liberal:

The most striking result in Figure 6 is that all 14 top law schools have distributions that lean to the left. That is, there are more liberal alumni from those schools than there are conservative alumni. Not only do all of the schools lean to the left, the skew is fairly extreme in several of the schools. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the University of California, Berkeley has the most liberal leaning distribution of alumni of all the elite law schools. That said, although the ideology of Berkeley graduates skews the furthest to the left, it is obviously not the only school with a heavily left skewed distribution. In fact, all of the top six law schools—Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Chicago, and NYU—have a relatively small number of graduates with conservative CFscores.

There’s a joke in there somewhere but I’m not the one who is going to make it.

There is an in depth write-up of the paper in Quartz.  It can be downloaded here.

Finally, the EEOC has investigated pay discrepancies between male and female faculty members at the University of Denver and wouldn’t you know it, there is a pay gap.  Moreover, it’s been going on for at least four decades.  The story is in the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Denver Post.  I guess liberality stops at the paymaster window, at least at UD.

Mark

A Little Law School News For Monday

I’m teaching orientation classes this week.  Got to have 1Ls signed up for Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law after all.  Posting may be a bit more spotty that usual because of that.  Nonetheless, there are a few interesting things going on in the law school world aside from the crush of students trying to figure out what the heck they’ve gotten themselves into.

It’s not exactly a secret that the Western Michigan University Cooley School of Law enrollment dropped from 4,000 students in 2010 to 1,880 for the current academic year, at least as reported by Crain’s Detroit Business.  That’s been the trend for many law schools with varying degrees of lower enrollment.

What’s more interesting is where the trend is right now.  Here are the latest LSAC statistics:

As of 8/8/15, there are 343,251 fall 2015 applications submitted by 55,702 applicants. Applicants are down 1.9% and applications are down 4.0% from 2014.

Last year at this time, we had 100% of the preliminary final applicant count.

I have to believe that that the drop in applicants and applications this year is in tolerance for most law schools.

In other law school news, the Indiana Tech Law School has snagged Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoller to teach a class on Indiana constitutional law in the Fall Semester.  The class is aimed at second and third year students.  I wonder how they managed that one.

Mark

Bar Examiners, Deans, Point Fingers At Each Other For Drop in 2014 Bar Passing Rates

There is an article posted this morning on Bloomberg BNA worth reading.  It’s called “Are Lawyers Getting Dumber?” and it considers the apparent drop in passing the bar exam in 2014.  The President of the NCBE, Erica Moeser, tends to blame the preparation of law students and, generally, the quality of law students sitting for the bar.  That’s one plausible assessment, what with the decline in law school applications, or should I say quality law school applications.

The big debate in the last several years is whether law schools would shrink enrollment to protect the rating of the class.  No schools like to see their average class LSAT and GPA aggregates drop.  On the other hand, someone has to pay for those tenured faculty salaries and that may mean admitting a few students who wouldn’t necessarily be admitted in “normal” times.  Deans, naturally, blame the test as being harder.  The article examines the tension between these two points of view.

I’ve said in other forums that the bar exam is hard and that it is not an interesting or particularly engaging test.   It’s orientation time, so new students can put off these thoughts for three to four years.  I would recommend that those in their final year of law school take preparation for the exam seriously.  I say that from watching graduates prepare over the years.  It’s the type of draining experience that no one would want to go through twice, especially for something that directly affects a graduate’s legal career.  Either that, or go to school in Wisconsin where law school graduates there are not required to take the Wisconsin Bar Exam.

Mark

Westlaw Gets Into The Cloud Business, Sort Of

At least in the Academic version.  I received an email yesterday promoting new features in Westlaw for the coming academic year.  One of them is:

Share Your Uploaded Documents

This exciting new feature will let you share user uploads with professors, students, study groups, research assistants, journals and law reviews, moot court and clinics.

  • Upload your own documents into your WestlawNext® folders.
  • Add citations, hyperlinks, and KeyCite flags to online documents.
  • Annotate (add highlights and notes) to your own content.

Previously one could only designate and share items that were flagged from Westlaw content.  It certainly is an interesting play to get students and faculty to spend more time on Westlaw.  More information is in an audio tutorial here.

Mark

Is/Was Law School A Bad Deal, Or Is That Just The Way It Was Portrayed In The Press?

There is a post on Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports from last week that analyzes negative coverage of law schools.  The first paragraph sets the tone:

In a recent column, the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof confessed, “One of our worst traits in journalism is that when we have a narrative in our minds, we often plug in anecdotes that confirm it.”  The quote is timely, given recent controversy surrounding New York Times’ coverage.

The decline in law school enrollment and available jobs for graduates is one such narrative.  Michael Simkovic’s analysis of newspaper coverage is worth a read.  The Wall Street Journal, for example, is far and away the paper that publishes the most negative stories about law school(s).  Other fun facts include that the negativity peaked somewhere around 2011 and slowly declined to almost nothing today.  I’m guessing that journalist got bored with the story.  Check out the charts and other data Simkovic gathered for the piece.  Read it here.

Mark

Repost: New Law Students: Make Friends With A Librarian

I wrote a post about three years ago for the old Law Librarian Blog on why new law students should make friends with a law librarian.  That post was deleted along with all the other LLB posts after the “trouble.”  I found a copy recently, and given that this is the time of year for orientation, I thought it would be worth it to post again.  I think it’s still relevant today.  Here goes:

U.S. News & World Report has a short post out for new law students who will start their law school career in the next few weeks. It offers four points for navigating law school:

  1. Come prepared
  2. Focus on finals
  3. Make friends
  4. Remove distractions

I’d like to focus for a moment on the third one.  The author suggests making connections within the law school and the wider university through activities and other diversions as a break from the law school routine. That’s great advice as law school can be a highly competitive grind.  I’d like to make one other suggestion that may help the new student:  get to know a librarian.  Why? Because we know stuff that students do not.

We know the cycle of the law school academic year. It normally doesn’t shock us when 1Ls invade the library for the legal writing treasure hunt.  It’s not exactly the running of the bulls, but there are certain parallels.  For students it’s a new experience.  For us, it’s “been there done that.”  Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even for the simple stuff.  There’s usually a ready answer that can make a student’s life easier.

We also know the resources.  It may be nice to have all of those apps on tablets and phones. And I’m sure there are plenty of new law students who have a lot of experience doing research in college. Legal research, however, is a different animal. Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg Law are not free in the wild. The mechanics can be a challenge despite the trend to provide Google-style interfaces. Librarians understand how this stuff works and can help.

I’ll offer related word of advice: not everything is online. More important, not everything is online and is free.  It’s more often than not a pay for play world.  Luckily the law library has licensed a lot of the good stuff.  We can tell students what information is easily accessible and what is not.  We can also ex plain how to get remote access to stuff, like articles, hard to find documents, exams, and other materials.

Librarians know the law school. We’re not the concierge for the school, but we know how it works. We can tell you generally which office likely handles what responsibility.  We can tell you where are public copiers, scanners, microform readers (yes, they are still necessary) and other useful resources may be.  We can also tell you generally what your expectations should be in using them. The library is probably the friendliest location in the law school.  Students use the library facility regularly in spite of the integration of technology into the curriculum. We try to make the place a comfortable and quiet space to study.  Take advantage of that.

So, make friends with a librarian.  We won’t break the rules for you. But our institutional knowledge of the law program and legal information can make a student’s life easier. We even know where the bathrooms are located.  Don’t be afraid to ask.

Mark

Rutgers Gets ABA Approval to Merge Its Two Law Schools

The details are in a report from NJ.com.

Mark

Brooklyn Law Offering Limited Refunds to Some Unemployed Graduates

The Brooklyn Law School is doing something innovative concerning jobs for graduates.  CNN is reporting that the school will refund 15 percent of the total graduates paid in tuition if they are still searching for a job nine months after receiving their degree.  There are some catches, though nothing onerous.  Students must work through the career services office and plan to take the bar.  More details are in the CNN report.

Mark