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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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New Year’s Resolutions for Law School Professors

January 1st, 2018 / By
  1. Keep your brain healthy by trying new types of mental exercise. Commit to learning at least one of these cognitive skills during the new year: fact gathering, client counseling, interviewing, or negotiating. Then help your students exercise their brains by teaching these kinds of cognition in the classroom.
  2. Cut back on fatty law review articles. The legal academy is showing dangerous signs of scholarly obesity. Writing law review articles is like eating chocolate cake: best done in moderation.
  3. Meet new people. Talk to practitioners and clients in the fields you teach. How do practitioners approach their clients’ problems? What matters most to the clients?
  4. Help the disadvantaged. Teach your students the doctrine and cognitive skills they need to serve low- and moderate-income clients.
  5. Challenge your biases–and those of your institution. Do you value some types of scholarship and teaching more than others? Does your institution award higher salaries and status to colleagues who teach case analysis rather than other types of cognitive expertise? How do those biases affect the provision of legal services?

Embrace change: This is the 6,576th day of the new millennium.

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Provisional Accreditation for UNT-Dallas

June 6th, 2017 / By

The Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has granted provisional accreditation to the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law. As I wrote last fall, this innovative law school well deserved a chance to try its wings.

Here are some distinctive features of the school:

  • 51.4% of its students are minority students. National Jurist recently named the school the third most diverse law school in America.
  • The student body is notable for its diversity in age and prior work experience, in addition to race and gender.
  • Tuition for 2016-17 was $15,768 for full-time residents and $11,653 for part-time residents.
  • During 2016-17, more than half (51.8%) of students received scholarships, with a median grant of $1,250 (for both full-time and part-time students).
  • Entering scholarships depend upon academic record, socioeconomic background, first-generation status, and community service. There are no conditional scholarships.
  • The school requires completion of courses in accounting and finance for lawyers; interviewing and counseling; negotiation and conflict resolution; effective oral communication; and the business of law.
  • The school also requires students to complete two fully experiential courses (drawn from clinics, externships, or practicums)
  • Many upper-level courses incorporate writing, research, and/or skills segments. Students must complete multiple segments in each of these three categories (in addition to required writing, research, and skills courses)
  • Students must demonstrate proficiency in several practice-related technologies.

The first group of 74 graduates will receive their degrees this month–and those degrees are now from an ABA-accredited law school. Godspeed UNT-Dallas and grads!

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Reflections of a Bar Exam Skeptic

May 26th, 2017 / By

Robert Anderson has posted a thoughtful comment on the bar exam in which he dubs me a “bar exam skeptic.” I accept the label with pride: I have been deeply skeptical of the bar exam for years. I first wrote about the exam in 2001, when the national pass rate for first-time takers was a relatively high 77% (see p. 23). My skepticism today, with a national pass rate of 69%, is no greater or smaller. As I wrote recently, it’s time to convene a National Task Force to examine our bar admissions process.

Who Cares About the Bar Exam?

As Professor Anderson rightly observes, decanal concerns about the bar exam have risen as pass rates have fallen. That’s human nature. The content and scoring of the bar exam are boring subjects for alumni gatherings, graduation speeches, or law review submissions. Few legal educators spontaneously write about setting cut scores, scaling essay questions, or equating test scores over time. The bar exam is like plumbing: most people take it for granted until something goes wrong.

But now the bar exam pipes are leaking and people are paying attention. The leak doesn’t mean we should patch things up just to revive pass rates; the bar exam should measure competence, not admit a predetermined number of lawyers. But now that people are paying attention, this is a good time to consider whether we’re using the right type of filter and piping in our rather antiquated system.

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What Do Students Do in Clinics?

May 17th, 2017 / By

Douglas Kahn has posted an article criticizing the “proliferation of clinical and other experiential courses” in legal education. These courses, he argues, reduce the number of “doctrinal” courses that students take, leaving them “ill-prepared to practice law as soon after graduation as law firms would like.” The TaxProf Blog posted a summary of the article, and a baker’s dozen of readers have offered pro and con comments.

It’s an old debate, one that has bristled for more than 50 years. The discussion doesn’t surprise me, but Professor Kahn’s ignorance of clinical education does. His bold assertions about clinics reveal little familiarity with the actual operation of those courses. Let’s examine some of Kahn’s claims.

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Clinics and Costs

May 6th, 2017 / By

Bob Kuehn has written an incisive article about the relationship between law school tuition and clinical education. Contrary to many educators’ assumptions, Bob finds that there is no statistically significant relationship between the tuition charged by schools that require a clinical experience and schools that do not. Requiring students to complete a clinic before graduation, in other words, does not correspond with increased tuition.

Similarly, schools that guarantee students a clinical experience–should they choose to take one–do not charge significantly higher tuition than schools without that guarantee. Accounting for tuition discounts did not change these results: Schools with clinical requirements or guarantees did not acquire significantly more tuition revenue per student than those without those requirements or guarantees.

The same story emerged when Bob analyzed clinical course availability (rather than requirements or guarantees). Enhanced clinical opportunities never correlated significantly with higher tuition (either list price or discounted). On the contrary, several analyses found a significant relationship between clinical opportunities and lower tuition rates. Bob summarizes the results of his research in a post on the Best Practices for Legal Education blog.

How could this be? Aren’t clinics incredibly expensive to run? Well, yes and no. As Bob explains, the availability of clinical education depends more on the choices that law schools make than on the direct cost of clinics.

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Does Feedback Improve Performance?

April 27th, 2017 / By

My colleague Ruth Colker gives her 1L students the opportunity to obtain mid-semester feedback on their written work. In her Constitutional Law course, currently taught during the spring semester of the first year, Ruth invites students to submit a practice answer to an essay question drawn from a previous exam. She grades each practice answer using the same rubric she used on the previous final, makes extensive written comments on the answers, and encourages students to discuss their answers with her in person.

The exercise is not mandatory; nor does it factor into the final grade. About half of Ruth’s students choose to obtain this optional mid-semester feedback. She wondered if those students performed better on the final exam than students who did not elect the feedback. To study this question, she assembled a team of colleagues, including an expert statistician, Abigail Shoben, from Ohio State’s College of Public Health.

I was delighted to work as part of this team, which also included law colleagues Ellen Deason and Monte Smith. We’ve just published our results. Here are some of the highlights:

 

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Thinking and Writing Like a Lawyer

March 15th, 2017 / By

If law school classes teach students to think like lawyers, then why are so many final exams poorly written? It’s not that students “can’t write,” it’s that we haven’t really taught them to think like lawyers.

Joan Rocklin is the latest educator to tackle this issue, in a paper just posted on SSRN. Rocklin explains why law professors should teach exam writing to their students and, equally important, how we can do that effectively.

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New Semester, Old Classes

January 10th, 2017 / By

The optimistically named “spring” semester has begun at most law schools. One-L’s nervously await their fall-semester grades while climbing a mountain of new reading. Two-L’s focus on their externships, student organizations, and job searches, while mostly ignoring the assigned reading. Three-L’s celebrate with glee the fact that this is their “last first day.” They haven’t even opened their course syllabi, much less the assigned readings.

In a very thoughtful essay, Bob Kuehn reminds us what’s wrong with this picture. Whether the students do the readings or not, they’re not learning enough of the professional skills they will most need as new lawyers. Study after study demonstrates that law schools fail to give students enough education in professional essentials like listening effectively, interviewing, counseling, negotiating, identifying client goals, strategizing to meet those goals, and problem solving.

Law schools prepare their graduates to perform as superb appellate lawyers, but only mediocre (at best) lawyers for every other type of legal problem or client need. Graduates slowly learn how to lawyer for those clients, but they don’t give their early clients and employers the excellence those groups deserve. And, without a sound foundation at the start, these graduates may never become the superb counselors, strategists, and problem solvers they could have been.

Law schools have made progress, but we haven’t traveled nearly far enough–and our progress has been crawl-like. As 2017 unfolds, I hope to offer some ideas for more effective progress. Meanwhile, put Bob’s essay on your personal first-week reading list. And then, do more: read the underlying studies and reflect on what they mean for legal education. Let’s try for a newer new semester this time next year.

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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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