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Deborah Merritt is the John Deaver Drinko/Baker & Hostetler Chair in Law at The Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law. She has received multiple teaching awards for her work in both clinical and podium courses. With Ric Simmons, she developed an "uncasebook" for teaching the basic evidence course. West Academic has adopted their template to create a series of texts that reduce the traditional focus on appellate opinions. Deborah writes frequently about changes in legal education and the legal profession.

What’s Your Story?

October 6th, 2018 / By

I’ve been attending the SALT Teaching Conference, hosted by Penn State Law in the aptly named Happy Valley, Pennsylvania. It was a great conference, with many thought-provoking ideas: I hope to share several of them over the coming days.

Here’s my first pass-along idea: Mariela Olivares from Howard University’s School of Law told us that she asks students in her Immigration Law course to write their personal immigration stories. When did members of their families arrive in the United States? Was the immigration voluntary or forced? What challenges did they face? What opportunities? Mariela allows students to choose whether these stories are confidential (for her eyes only) or can be shared with the rest of the class.

What a great way to engage students in the course content! As the course proceeds, students can reflect on how the laws affected their own family’s experience–and how that experience might differ under contemporary regulations. Even a class of 20 students will generate a rich set of stories that, if students are willing to share, could illuminate many corners of the course content.

This is also a wonderful way to build empathy in a doctrinal classroom. Empathy begins with self knowledge, and Mariela’s exercise requires students to confront their own history and feelings about the immigration system. Then, as students share their stories with others, they can begin to experience the system from a variety of perspectives.

I think it would be easy to expand this technique to almost every course in the curriculum. A Torts professor could ask students to write about an incident in which they or a family member suffered a physical or emotional injury. As with immigration stories, the exercise probably would generate stories relevant to every legal principle covered in the course. Which injuries could have been addressed by the tort system? Which ones were left out? Why? If the student/family member did not seek redress, why not?

Even courses about procedural rules could incorporate stories. Next time I teach Evidence, I may begin the semester by asking students to write about an incident in which a piece of evidence contributed to a decision they made–and they later discovered that the evidence was false or misleading. I won’t be looking for stories about the courtroom, but about everyday life. I suspect that the everyday stories may help me illuminate the problems with character evidence, hearsay, eyewitness identifications, and other evidence challenges.

So what’s your story? And how could personal stories kick off a course that you teach?

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NALP Employment Data

August 2nd, 2018 / By

The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) has just released data about employment outcomes for the Class of 2017. More than two-thirds of graduates (68.8%) found full-time, long-term jobs requiring bar admission. According to NALP’s figures, that’s “higher than the rate measured before the recession.” The boost in employment outcomes, however, rests largely on the decline in JD class sizes. Between 2013 and 2017, the graduating class size fell by more than 25%.

Employment outcomes thus offer a mixed picture. On the one hand, as NALP’s Executive Director James Leipold writes, “we are closer than at any time since the recession to having the number of law school graduates more closely match the number and kind of jobs available.” Graduates are also obtaining more of the lawyering jobs they prefer; as Leipold notes, the percentage of graduates taking JD Advantage jobs has fallen, “suggest[ing] that despite the growth of new JD Advantage opportunities in areas like compliance, many law graduates prefer bar passage required jobs if they can be found.”

On the other hand, as Leipold also stresses, these positive employment outcomes rest on “a smaller [graduating] class and not more jobs.” Indeed, the Class of 2017 “secured fewer private practice jobs than any class since 1996.” The “unemployment rate ten months after graduation still remains much higher than it should be” and “the actual number of jobs obtained was flat or went down in virtually every sector.” (more…)

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Now They Just Need Jobs

July 31st, 2018 / By

Legal education is regaining some of its luster: The National Law Journal reports that applications for this year’s entering class increased 8% over last year. The news for next year is even better: LSAT-takers increased 30% this summer compared to last year. But observers, including LSAC’s president Kellye Testy, urge caution. The entry-level job market remains relatively flat, with fewer 2017 graduates finding long-term, full-time positions requiring bar admission in 2017 (23,114) than in 2011 (24,149). Those employment levels don’t accommodate our current, reduced class sizes–much less an expanded class.

Integrating employment data with admissions is a tricky business, as I and several others note in a recent ABA Journal article. On the one hand, it is worrisome for schools to charge tuition to students who are unlikely to find jobs that will fully use their expensive degrees. On the other hand, limiting admissions to reduce the supply of lawyers can raise prices for consumers (although lawyers, unfortunately, are not known for their competitive, cost-saving innovations).

However your school strikes this balance, this is a good time to consider how we can improve employment prospects for current and future students. Here are my top five ideas. Some may help expand the market for entry-level lawyers. Others could give your students an employment edge over those from other schools. (more…)

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You Too Can Check Out Quimbee

July 30th, 2018 / By

Since I posted about Quimbee, several colleagues have asked if there are ways to check out this new study aid. That’s easy: just sign up for a free 7-day trial. The trial really is free. You don’t need to enter credit card information; nor will Quimbee hound you to purchase the service when the week ends. I signed up for a free trial before writing my blog post and, other than a polite email noting that my trial was about to expire, Quimbee did nothing to pressure me for money. Nor have I gotten spam since my trial ended. So, if you wonder what your students are reading on Quimbee, go ahead and check the site out.

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Can We Teach Students to Read Cases?

July 24th, 2018 / By

I suggested in my last three posts that law students don’t learn how to read judicial opinions as carefully and thoughtfully as they should. Can we fix this? Can we modify legal education so that JD’s develop stronger case-reading skills? Solving this problem is important in itself: most lawyers interpret appellate opinions at least some of the time. Considering how to fix this problem, furthermore, can shed light on other pedagogical challenges. (more…)

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But Can They Read Cases?

July 8th, 2018 / By

I recently suggested that the case method fails to achieve one of its central goals: teaching students how to read and synthesize judicial opinions effectively. I identified three reasons for this shortfall: the format of law school exams, a growing emphasis on teaching doctrine, and the impact of contemporary study aids. But is it true? Are law students failing at case analysis?

An empirical study led by education scholar Dorothy Evensen suggests that they are. Evensen collaborated with Laurel Oates, an internationally recognized expert on legal analysis, and two other empiricists (James Stratman and Sarah Zappe) to examine the case reading skills of more than 300 students at five different law schools. The four published their study ten years ago, but it is just as relevant today. Let’s take a look at the study’s method, findings, and import. (more…)

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Quimbee

July 2nd, 2018 / By

What is Quimbee? It’s a database of more than 13,800 case briefs summarizing the cases presented in almost 200 casebooks. The covered casebooks include all of the bar subjects plus many more: antitrust, copyright, counterterrorism, cyberspace, education law, health, insurance, oil and gas, sports law, and others. The briefs seem thoughtful, complete, and well organized. If users discover an error, Quimbee invites them to submit a correction.

About two dozen law schools (including heavy hitters like Yale, Berkeley, and Northwestern) have signed up for Quimbee; students at those schools use Quimbee for free. Students at other schools can access Quimbee for a modest fee: just $15 per month for all of the site’s case briefs. For $24 per month, students can use the briefs, flashcards, video lessons, multiple choice questions, essays with model answers, and professional development courses.

Even the ABA has lent its endorsement; students who elect Quimbee’s platinum subscription receive an ABA premium membership as part of the deal. For a one-time payment of $499, these students get three full years’ of access to Quimbee’s case briefs and other services, downloads of course outlines, and the ABA membership. That’s a law school career of case briefs and other study aids (plus a bit of networking) for the price of two casebooks.

Plenty of other publishers have developed attractive study-aid subscriptions. There are also websites that offer case briefs and law school outlines for little or no charge. I focus here on Quimbee because it’s a good example of the resources that today’s law students use. These easily tapped sources raise the question: How much pedagogic value does the case method deliver when most students are using canned case briefs and course outlines? (more…)

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The Strange Case of the Case Method

June 29th, 2018 / By

The case method is legal education’s signature pedagogy. Law professors point to the method with pride, and that pride has considerable foundation. In theory, the case method accomplishes at least five pedagogic goals:

  1. It demonstrates that law is not static; law evolves through judicial interpretation. On some topics, students also see how the law evolves through legislation and administrative regulations.
  2. It teaches students how to read and synthesize judicial interpretations. Depending on the subject, students also learn how to read statutes and harmonize them with judicial opinions.
  3. It prepares students to advocate for changes in the law–primarily in the courts, but with some approaches that can be used with legislators and other decision-makers.
  4. It develops critical thinking skills (careful reading, analogical reasoning, identification of patterns and distinctions) that are transferable to many other contexts.
  5. It instructs students on the doctrinal principles discussed in the cases and accompanying statutes.

Can the case method accomplish all of these goals–especially when it is used in a large classroom with a single end-of-semester exam? I doubt that the method ever achieved as much as it claims, except perhaps for the highest achieving students in a classroom. Today, the method has been quietly subverted to accomplish primarily the fifth goal: instructing students on doctrinal principles. Law schools stake their value on teaching the other four cognitive skills listed above, but we deliver less of that learning than we believe. (more…)

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The Justice Chasm

June 17th, 2018 / By

The justice gap has become a chasm. Almost one-fifth (19%) of Americans now live in poverty or near poverty (p. 16). These low-income individuals collectively experience about 140 million civil legal problems a year (p. 14). Fifty-five percent of those problems affect the individuals “very much” or “severely” (p. 23): that’s 77 million serious problems a year. Yet these individuals receive legal assistance for only 30% of their serious legal problems (p. 35). Our legal system fails to address some 54 million weighty legal problems a year–and that doesn’t count the unaddressed legal problems of middle-income Americans or small businesses.

Pro bono services won’t bridge this gap. There are only 1.34 million active attorneys in the United States. Even if every one of us provided pro bono services to low-income clients, we would each have to handle about 40 pro bono civil matters a year. That’s in addition to the pro bono criminal, appellate, and law reform matters some attorneys already pursue. And each of these 40 matters would affect a client “very much” or “severely.”

Practicing lawyers will not–and probably cannot–serve 40 pro bono clients each year. Salaried lawyers cannot take that much time away from their assigned duties; struggling solos cannot afford to offer so many unpaid services. Equally important, many lawyers lack lack expertise in the practice areas that affect low-income clients.

Nor will taxpayers plug this gap. The Legal Services Corporation and other legal aid organizations suffer chronic under-funding. Indeed, they regularly combat political threats of extinction.

What’s the solution? Can the United States create a justice system that more fully meets the needs of its people? Or will we continue to maintain a system that, while delivering high-quality services to wealthy individuals and big businesses, offers little help to those who cannot afford the price tag of legal assistance? (more…)

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Daniel Cameron Merritt

June 14th, 2018 / By

My beloved son Daniel died in January from complications of pure autonomic failure, a rare neurodegenerative disease. Dan suffered from his illness for more than a decade; he fought his pain and disability with a lively mind and love of other people. Dan was particularly interested in legal education and the legal profession–he often contributed ideas to this blog and corrected my mistakes before I posted.

Daniel also coauthored three articles with me. He was a genuine contributor to each of those pieces. In fact, after we published the first one, my father (a law professor) called me to say, “this is the best article you’ve ever written!” Clearly Dan’s influence had an impact.

In Daniel’s honor, here are recaps of the three articles we wrote together. I treasure the memories of writing them, as well as the ideas we proposed. (more…)

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About Law School Cafe

Cafe Manager & Co-Moderator
Deborah J. Merritt

Cafe Designer & Co-Moderator
Kyle McEntee

ABA Journal Blawg 100 HonoreeLaw School Cafe is a resource for anyone interested in changes in legal education and the legal profession.

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