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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.

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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Professional Skills

May 2nd, 2018 / By

Robert Kuehn has written a thoughtful review of the history of professional skills education in legal education. As Bob notes, the ABA has been notably reluctant to require law schools to educate students on the skills they will use in law practice. Our accrediting body did not require any instruction in professional skills until 2005 and, even then, the accreditors required only “one solid credit” of that training. More recently, the ABA mandated six credits of experiential work for every law student–a total that still seems grudging for skills that lawyers use heavily in practice.

Students and some law schools have been more foresighted. As Bob documents, one-fifth of law schools now require all students to complete a clinic or externship; ninety percent have enough clinic or externship spots to accommodate all of their students. Students, meanwhile, show increasing interest in learning professional skills: enrollments in clinics, externships, and simulation courses have all climbed during the last decade.

This is a good news/bad news report. Student demand for professional training has increased, schools have shown an ability to meet that demand, and the ABA has finally imposed a meaningful requirement for experiential education. At the same time, tenure-track faculty continue to distance themselves from these educational experiences and the six-credit requirement is unrealistically light for students who will build their professional success on their skills.

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Salaries and Scholarship

January 13th, 2018 / By

Law professors teach a wide variety of subjects: Property, Civil Procedure, Legal Writing, Law & Economics, Business Associations,  Feminist Legal Theory, Law Clinics. Professors bring diverse backgrounds to this teaching. Some hold JDs, some hold PhDs, some hold both. Some have practiced law, while others have not. Some earned high salaries before joining a law faculty, while others drew more modest paychecks in government, legal aid, nonprofits, or other academic fields.

Despite this variety, there is one constant: professors who focus their teaching on legal writing or clinical courses earn significantly less money than those who teach other types of classes. This is true regardless of degrees, prior professional experience, or past salary level. What explains this pay gap? And what does the gap tell us about our values in legal education?

Before answering those questions, we have to understand the size of the gap. Academics shy away from salary discussions, but silence can hide inequity. To break that silence, I have been gathering information from salary databases released by public universities. I don’t have information on every public law school, but a surprising amount of data is available.

In this post, I will refer to salaries at one leading law school. US News ranks this school among the top 25 schools nationally, and it is a clear leader in legal education. The salaries at this school, which I’ll call the Myra Bradwell College of Law, do not reflect salaries at every law school. They do, however, illustrate the type of salary gap our schools maintain between professors who teach clinics/legal writing and those who teach other subjects.*

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The Market for Legal Writing and Clinical Professors

January 5th, 2018 / By

Why do professors who teach legal writing and clinics earn significantly less than professors who teach other courses? Why are the writing and clinical professors less likely to hold tenure-track status? And why, finally, are these lower-paid, lower-status professors disproportionately female?

A common answer is: the market. Applicants for legal writing and clinical positions are plentiful, the argument goes, so the market drives their salaries and status down. Professors who teach other courses are more scarce and have more lucrative options; law schools must pay more (and offer tenure-track status) to attract them. Law schools also demand scholarship from professors teaching those other courses, and the pool of people capable of outstanding scholarship and good teaching is very small indeed. Salaries and status must be generous to land those rare individuals–but not so generous for legal writing and clinical professors.

This explanation (which I’ll call the “market hypothesis”) has some initial appeal, but thoughtful examination reveals several flaws. The most striking defect is this one: The market hypothesis doesn’t explain the very high percentage of women teaching legal writing and clinical courses. 62% of the faculty teaching clinics or externship courses identify as women; 72% of those who teach legal writing do so. The pool of law school graduates, in contrast, includes roughly equal numbers of men and women. So why don’t the hiring nets for clinical and legal writing positions pull up a more equal number of male and female professors?

If the market hypothesis is correct, it has to explain why an abundant applicant pool yields such gendered results. I explore below four ways in which the market hypothesis might coexist with our disproportionately female writing and clinical faculties.

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The Second Class Among Us

January 4th, 2018 / By

Bob Kuehn has posted a sobering analysis of the status and salaries of clinical, externship, and legal writing faculty. It should be no surprise that most of these professors lack tenure–and that they earn significantly less than the faculty who teach courses without significant writing or clinical components. The size of the differences, however, may take some tenure-track faculty aback.

Who are the colleagues who suffer lower pay and status? Overwhelmingly, they are women. More than 70% of legal writing professors and externship supervisors are women; about 60% of clinical professors are female. These are striking differences in a profession that is still male dominated in many ways.

I will have more to say about these differences over the coming days. For now, take a look at Bob’s data and think about some new year’s resolutions.

Update: I did not mention professors who teach academic support or bar preparation courses in this post, because I do not have the type of national data Bob gathered for legal writing and clinical professors. Academic support and bar preparation are among the most essential courses we offer in law schools–yet the faculty teaching them are at best second class. I will write more about these key professors soon.

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New AALS Section: Empirical Study of Legal Education & the Legal Profession

January 2nd, 2018 / By

If you’re at the AALS meeting, don’t miss the inaugural session of the new Section on Empirical Study of Legal Education & the Legal Profession. Spearheaded by Judith Wegner, this Section welcomes colleagues who are interested in conducting or using empirical research relating to legal education and the legal profession. You don’t need to be a numbers person to benefit from this Section–just someone who is interested in studying what we do in law schools and the legal profession.

The inaugural panel discussion, which kicks off at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday, January 3) shows the breadth of this Section:

  • Raul Ruiz (Florida International University): Predicting Student Outcomes: Data Mining for Law Schools
  • Victor Quintinilla (Mauer School of Law, IU-Bloomington): Productive Mind-Set, the Power of Belonging, and Bar Passage
  • Bryant Garth (UC Irvine and formerly American Bar Foundation): Understanding the Changing Legal Profession
  • Kellye Testy (LSAC and formerly University of Washington): The LSAC’s Emerging Research Priorities
  • Aaron Taylor (Access Lex and St. Louis University): AccessLex’s Emerging Research Priorities

If that’s not enough to pique your interest, there will also be break-out groups discussing:

  • Conducting and Consuming Research: What tools, resources, or professional development do you need to conduct or use empirical studies?
  • Institutional Excellence and Assessment: How can law schools best assess programmatic and student learning outcomes? What methods and data management strategies apply?
  • Admissions and Academic Success: What are best practices in admissions and academic success programs for students with mixed indicators? How do we know?
  • Bar Exam Preparation & Licensing: What interventions work in preparing students to succeed on the bar exam? How can professional licensing strategies be improved?
  • Professional Identity and Satisfaction: What can be done to enhance students’ sense of professional identity? What factors affect lawyer satisfaction, success, and happiness?

This is the place to be at AALS on Wednesday afternoon. If you can’t make the session but want to connect with the Section, email Judith Wegner at Judith_wegner@unc.edu.

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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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