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Lessons for Online Legal Education

June 5th, 2016 / By

An increasing number of law schools are creating online courses, certificate offerings, and degree programs. As newcomers to online education, we should look to existing programs for inspiration. One of those is Harvard Business School’s successful CORe program, an online certificate course in business basics. I wrote about CORe’s suitability for law students several weeks ago. Here, I examine three lessons that the program offers to law schools interested in online education.

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Artificially Intelligent Legal Research

May 24th, 2016 / By

At least three law firms have now adopted ROSS, an artificial legal intelligence system based on IBM’s pathbreaking Watson technology. The firms include two legal giants, Latham & Watkins and BakerHostetler, along with the Wisconsin firm vonBriesen. Commitments by these firms seem likely to spur interest among their competitors. Watch for ROSS and other forms of legal AI to spread over the next few years.

What is ROSS, what does it do, and what does it mean for lawyers and legal educators? Here are a few preliminary thoughts.

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Prices and Priorities

May 11th, 2016 / By

Bob Kuehn has written a terrific essay refuting the notion that clinical courses are too expensive for law schools to offer. His online piece includes plenty of hard data; some he gathered and some he drew from other sources.

Kuehn’s essay reminds me of a conversation I had a few years ago with a member of my university’s board of trustees. I alluded to the challenges that public universities like ours face with reduced tax support for higher education. He responded differently than most trustees or administrators, who are happy to bemoan losses of public support. “There’s plenty of money,” he said. “It’s just a question of your priorities in spending it.”

And, of course, he was right. For the current fiscal year, my university predicted revenues of $6.1 billion dollars and expenditures of $5.5 billion. Even if revenues fell to match expenditures, that’s a lot of money to distribute.

Most universities, let alone law schools, are considerably smaller than Ohio State. About half of our budget, furthermore, stems from the medical school and health care center. (This is an interesting fact about many university budgets, that health care research and delivery is matching or exceeding other educational expenses.) Still, my board member’s comment is apt: Law schools operate sizable budgets and they have considerable discretion in allocating that money.

We don’t favor LSAT scholarships over need-based ones because budgets force us to do so; we make that choice to pursue higher rankings. Similarly, we don’t cater to the demands of tenured research faculty, rather than expanding clinical education, because our budgets are limited. We make that choice because it suits us (the tenured faculty) and because we hope, once again, that our choice will propel higher rankings.

Bob provides a welcome antidote to these ingrained choices. Expanding clinical education wouldn’t actually raise tuition; it would simply require faculties to change their priorities. And even those changes would be relatively small. We have to ask ourselves: What is the real root of our resistance to clinical education?

H/T to TaxProf for also featuring Bob’s essay today.

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Legal Education and the Justice Gap

April 29th, 2016 / By

I read recently about an organization that provides efficient, effective legal services to low- and middle-income clients. The organization, Chicago’s Coordinated Advice and Referral Program for Legal Services (“CARPLS“), has been serving clients for almost a quarter century. They currently help about 28,000 clients a year at an average cost of just $33 per consultation. How do they do it? And what can legal educators learn from CARPLS’s success? Read on.

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Harvard Goes Hollywood

April 22nd, 2016 / By

Hollywood Public Relations is promoting a new program at Harvard Business School (HBS) called the Credential of Readiness (CORe). One of Hollywood PR’s account executives sent me an email, asking if I would like to blog about the program. Why not? I’ll discuss here the program’s suitability for law students. In a second post, I’ll explore what law schools themselves might learn from CORe.

And, of course, I’ll reflect on the curious marriage of the words “Hollywood” and “Harvard.”

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Path Cleared for Paid Externships

March 15th, 2016 / By

The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar took several significant actions at its March 11–12 meeting. The first of these was approval of several changes in Standards 304 and 305, which govern experiential learning and non-classroom educational experiences. Some of the changes adjust guidelines for supervision of externships; the most controversial allows schools to award externship credit for paid positions.

I have written several times to express my support for this change. Individual schools may still choose to ban paid externships, but the path should soon be open for schools to integrate these externships within their educational programs. The ABA House of Delegates will vote on the change, probably at its August 2016 meeting, but that vote does not bind the Council. [Updated at 4:45 p.m. to correct meaning of ABA’s vote.]

The responsibility now lies with law schools to implement this change wisely. I supported the change because I hope it will help us find innovative ways to educate students more thoroughly for law practice, as well as to help employers develop lasting frameworks for education in the workplace. We won’t accomplish either of those goals unless law schools devote real resources, energy, and collaboration to working with employers on these externships.

If your law school has an innovative idea for creating paid externships–or if you’re an individual with such an idea–please send me an email (merritt.52@osu.edu). I hope to feature good ideas here and promote discussion around them. Few ideas are perfect at their inception but, through discussion and sharing, perhaps we can refine ideas that will achieve our educational goals. Consider it online workshopping of pedagogic ideas!

 

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Improving Bar Passage

March 13th, 2016 / By

Scott Johns, Professor of Practice and Director of the Bar Success Program at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, has posted a thoughtful empirical analysis of the college’s bar preparation program. Johns analyzed 642 students who graduated from the college in 2008–2010 and then immediately sat for the Colorado bar exam. He knew the exam score for each graduate, rather than simply pass-fail status, which allowed for a particularly nuanced analysis. Using multiple linear regression, Johns found the following associations with bar exam score:

  • Law school GPA showed the strongest association. An increase of one point in GPA was associated, on average, with an increase of 46.5 points in bar exam score.
  • LSAT score was the next strongest predictor. A one-point increase on the LSAT correlated with a 1.1 point increase in bar exam score.
  • Participation in two of the college’s bar success programs each correlated with higher bar exam scores. A third program did not show a significant correlation.
  • Neither sex nor minority status correlated significantly with bar exam scores.
  • Age correlated negatively with bar exam scores; on average, older students achieved lower scores.
  • Participation in the college’s part-time program likewise correlated significantly with lower bar exam scores.

All of these associations occurred while controlling for the other variables listed above. Participation in one of the successful bar preparation programs, for example, was significantly correlated with a higher bar exam score after controlling for LSAT, law school grades, sex, minority status, and other factors listed above.

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Selective Attention

February 20th, 2016 / By

Want to see why it’s more difficult to multi-task than you think? Take a look at this video. It’s silly, but it shows how limited our attention is. Our brains aren’t video cameras that record everything within hearing and seeing distance; instead, we focus selectively on parts of the landscape. Other events–like all of those changes in the video–escape our notice.

This lesson is important for students who think they can follow a law school class while texting, reading for the next class, or (horrors) reviewing another professor’s law review submission. If their attention is focused on one of those activities, they will miss much of what happens in the classroom.

The phenomenon, however, also has implications for professors.

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Education and Employment

February 6th, 2016 / By

The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is once again considering amendments to Standards 304 and 305 in order to permit externship credit for paid work. As I have written before, I support that change. When granting academic credit, the quality of the experience counts–not whether the student was paid for the work.

I have heard about unpaid externships that offered very little educational content. Conversely, I know of terrific externship placements (with both nonprofit and for-profit employers) that required students to choose between academic credit and pay under our current rules. I see no clear line between pay and educational value. Nor does a black letter rule seem appropriate for a learned profession: Surely ethical educators can determine which externships deserve academic credit.

The debate, meanwhile, raises a more troubling issue. If education and paid employment are incompatible, as some comments on the ABA proposal suggest, then we have lost an essential element of our professionalism. It’s possible that we have lost that element, but I think it’s worth reflecting on the issue.

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Experiential Education and Bar Passage

January 22nd, 2016 / By

Robert Kuehn has written an excellent post about clinical courses and bar passage. He notes that Erica Moeser, President of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, suggested in print that declining bar passage rates might stem in part from the rise of experiential learning in law schools. NCBE’s Director of Testing and Research has made the same claim, noting that: “There has also been a trend toward incorporating non-core courses and clinical experiences into the law school curriculum. These, too, can take students’ time away from learning the core concepts that are tested on the bar examination.”

When Kuehn contacted Moeser to ask if she knew about any empirical research supporting this purported connection, she admitted that she knew of none. Nor did her testing staff. (more…)

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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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