Great Teaching is Great Teaching, In Any Delivery Mode

By Sara J. Berman, Director of Programs for Academic and Bar Success, AccessLex Institute Center for Legal Education Excellence

Hats off to LSAC for its important June 30th webinar featuring Berkeley Law Dean, Erwin Chemerinsky. As LSAC President Kellye Testy said at the close of the session, I too felt a longing to return to the richness of law school learning while listening to Dean Chemerinsky’s review of recent Supreme Court decisions. The session also provided a hopeful counterpart to Dean Paul Caron’s same day post, Is A Law School Meltdown Coming? Thank you, Dean Caron, for this critically important warning that I hope we all heed, and for the rays of light in between the cautionary notes.

Dean Chemerinsky showed every prospective law student —via a distance learning delivery system I might add — why the law and legal education are critically important—indeed vital to the future of our democracy. And, for all who watched and listened, or will do so when the video link is posted, Dean Chemerinsky’s Constitutional Law session provides irrefutable evidence that great teaching is great teaching, in any delivery mode.

Distance learning is not new. We have long been engaged in deep learning through books, movies, and educational television. How many of us first learned how a bill becomes a law or the proper use conjunctions because of Schoolhouse Rock? And, how many are learning important U.S. history lessons by singing the lyrics of Hamilton and watching the musical online—from a distance, not “in the room where it happened.” Thank you, Lin-Manuel Miranda, one of today’s greatest distance educators!

I am a legal ed distance learning pioneer. When people question me about the efficacy of online learning in legal education, I often point to Professor Arthur Miller. Teaching in person for decades at Harvard Law School and now at NYU, and through multiple distance formats, Professor Miller has taught more lawyers, judges, and everyday citizens than anyone could possibly ever count— about civil procedure and the American legal system— through his Federal Practice and Procedure treatise, casebooks, and hornbooks, bar review, PBS series The Constitution: That Delicate Balance for which he won an Emmy, and decades of work providing legal commentary and bringing life and clarity to legal issues on national television, not to mention the lectures he recorded for the first online law school, where I served for some fifteen years as a faculty member and assistant dean.

Quite simply, anyone who categorically dismisses “distance learning” in legal education as some sort of inferior substitute has never heard, watched, or read the teachings of Erwin Chemerinsky or Arthur Miller, or any of the thousands of other brilliant law professors across this country who are right now preparing to teach superb online courses this fall. And, this is precisely what we should be doing —preparing for the fall.

In a June 30, 2020 post, former Northwestern Dean Dan Rodriguez rightly lauds Professor Deborah Merritt, “What Prof. Merritt captures well, and what I and others have tried hard to capture as we have discussed this issue privately and publicly is this: We can and should put on a full-court-press to develop and refine our remote/online teaching abilities so as to commit to giving our students an excellent educational experience — excellent in curricular content, excellent in experiential/skill-building opportunities, and excellent in the community-building that technology can assist us with, if we are diligent and strategic, energetic and empathetic.”

And, to anyone who contests the community building part of the statement above, anyone who claims that unless we are together in person we cannot really build deep and lasting connections, let us remember that history is replete with people who have fallen in love, sustained relationships, started revolutions, and changed the world through letter writing.

The week of June 30th was indeed a busy one for legal education and distance education in particular.  In addition to the webinar and posts noted above, the Summer 2020 issue of the AccessLex Institute’s Raising the Bar (RTB) was published on July 1, 2020.  I am proud to have founded and continue to serve as managing editor of RTB. This issue is dedicated to distance learning in legal education, and features among other content, wisdom from four visionary law school deans who are at the helm of hybrid JD programs that were educating for the 21st century prior to the pandemic. I hope that readers find the issue informative and will feel inspired to continue working to develop precisely the kind of excellent educational experience in learning that Professor Merritt envisions.

As legal education continues in part or fully online in the new academic year and until this virus is eradicated and perhaps beyond, let’s work together with the same fervor depicted in Alexander Hamilton’s writing “like he’s running out of time,” to see the virtual halls of our nation’s law schools filled this fall with the brightest, most engaged minds —students from all backgrounds who are ready to learn to protect the Constitution and to ensure that our nation remains a thriving democracy, governed by the rule of law.

MORE NEWS ON STATES, BAR EXAM, AND DIPLOMA PRIVILEGES

For several months now, this blog has commented on Courts and States continuing to require a traditional bar exam for admission to practice.  It has also covered the call by law deans and law students to enact Diploma Privileges.

Since our last post on this subject Oregon has adopted a Diploma Privilege and now a New York State Senator has proposed a bill which according to its “justification” allows for “a modified form of diploma privilege. “  The bill is found here.

Senator Brad Hoylman’s Sponsor Memo reads as follows:

At this point in time, it is too early to tell with certainty whether it will be safe and feasible to hold an in-person bar exam in early September. State and local restrictions on venues being open and limiting the size of in-person gatherings may preclude the administration of an in-person test. Amid the uncertainty over the test’s administration, law graduates are reporting that the already stressful bar exam preparation has been compounded by personal challenges ranging from their own health and wellbeing to financial hardship to increased caregiving responsibilities. Allowing a modified form of diploma privilege, as proposed in this bill, would give law graduates a reprieve from further delays in admittance, while retaining the Court of Appeals’ prerogative to set standards for the profession. Under this bill, as long as there is an extent state of Emergency related to COVID-19, the uniform system of examination for admission to practice law in New York will consist of the New York Law Course, the New York Law Examination, and the Multi- state Professional Responsibility Examination, all of which can be taken online.

Nothing in the bill precludes the State from moving forward with admin- istering the Multistate Bar Examination, meaning it can remain an option for New York-based law graduates who wish to practice law in a state other than New York. Passing the MBE, however, would not be a required prerequisite to admission to practice in New York for the duration of the COVID-19 State of Emergency.

According to Karen Sloan’s article on Law.com, 2020 Brooklyn Law School graduate Claire Schapira, who is involved with an advocacy group called NY 4 Diploma Privilege hopes

that the Board of Law Examiners and Court of Appeals will act on their own, because they have the power to do that,” Schapira said. “But I think that this helps push the momentum. This is not something that graduates want because we don’t want to take the bar exam. This is an issue that has a real impact across the legal community and the community more generally.”

I agree. I spent a portion of yesterday trying to problem solve with a brilliant, hardworking, ethical and professional law graduate and accepted bar examinee.  This student also excelled in clinical practice.  Like other examinees, this immune compromised student, who is normally efficient, excellent at focus and time management, and extremely organized is being distracted from bar study by 

  • trying to keep up on what is safe to do as the virus surges again
  • changing bar expectations and information across the country
  • concern about friends and family who live in other states
  • Rent issues while studying for the bar in a safe appropriate place in the Capital NY Region 
  • Figuring out when to move to a more expensive city where a more challenging living situation but good job is waiting
  • Fear that NYS will once again punt making a hard decision by delaying exam dates until October which continues unemployment for this graduate and many others.     

It is time to provide certainty and provide New York law graduates with a diploma privilege tied to other indicators of professional promise as outlined previously on this blog here and here.

 

UPDATE: 7/8/20 See also https://news.bloomberglaw.com/us-law-week/insight-clinical-education-a-safe-and-sure-pathway-to-law-licensure

 

How Do You Ask a Person to Be the Last Person to Die for a Mistake?

This fall, American universities will face their modern rendezvous with destiny as they make momentous decisions whether to protect large communities from death and disease.  Most universities plan to conduct in-person classes and are likely to become semester-long virus incubators if they stick to those plans.

The situation would be very different if all government leaders in the US took diligent action to stamp out the virus and virtually all citizens acted responsibly to protect people they come in contact with.

But, sadly, that’s not the case.  Here’s a headline in today’s paper:  “7-Day Average Case Total in U.S. Sets Record for 27th Straight Day.  Local officials issued dire warnings about the spread of infections, blaming outbreaks on early reopenings and saying the virus was rapidly outpacing containment efforts.”

Foreseeable Dangers
Consider the following scenarios described by Kevin Gannon, a history professor at Grand View University and director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, in a post worth reading, “The Summer of Magical Thinking.”  He writes that administrators are treating faculty and staff as “cannon fodder.”

So…what’s your college or university doing about the fall semester?

According to the aggregate results for over 1,000 higher-ed institutions aggregated by The Chronicle of Higher Education, the most likely answer is “planning for in-person” instruction—61% of the colleges and universities in this dataset have said this is their plan.  The next most prevalent answer is some sort of hybrid model (20% of the institutions), with only 8% “planning for online” (one has to assume that a large portion of this group is the Cal and Cal State systems), and a mere 3.7% who have yet to decide.  What strikes me about this data is that out of over 1,000 institutions of higher learning, over eight hundred of them are planning on at least some degree of face-to-face instruction, with three-quarters of that cohort proceeding as if that will be the dominant mode for the fall semester.  Business as usual, apparently.

. . .

What are you going to do when folks don’t adhere to those community expectations?  What happens if a student comes to class without a mask and the instructor is immuno-compromised, so they ask that student to mask up or leave?  Who is responsible for wiping down tables and chairs between classes?  Do you really think social distancing will happen in building hallways and common spaces between classes?  What if a student tests positive for the virus, and one of their instructors decides they need to go into quarantine because of a family member’s health status?  Are you going to make your employees divulge personal health information whenever something like this happens?  What if you have a student who thinks masks are political discrimination and their parents back up their refusal to wear a mask on campus?  What if one of your instructors gets ill?  Who takes over the class?  How is that determined?  Should faculty have a “Covid Buddy” just in case?  How are you going to avoid getting sued? Even if you have people sign waivers (HA!), doesn’t the very act of seeking that release of liability serve as evidence you’re aware of the risks involved?  Has anybody involved community leaders in their strategizing about the fall semester?  Colleges and universities exist in larger communities, and the residents of these locales are going to be significantly affected by your institution’s choices; what are you telling them about how you’re trying to ensure their safety?

. . .

Faculty and staff can interact with literally hundreds of different students per day.  How is the institution making things safe for them?  What plans are in place for locations like the Business Office, Bookstore, Registrar, and Financial Aid, that are often overcrowded in normal times?

. . .

If you are an upper-level college or university administrator, you are most likely wealthy and white.  This pandemic is disproportionately affecting people who are not wealthy and not white.

. . .

Let me pose another question: if your re-opening plan was an experiment, would your institution’s IRB approve it?

. . .

That’s the hard conversation we need to have, and it’s one largely absent from the panglossian statements about how awesome we’ll be able to keep things this fall.  Yes, the financial stakes for our institutions are high.  Yes, this is existential for some of us.  Yes, remote instruction can impact enrollment.  All these are bad.  You know what else is bad?  Dead Students.  Dead Faculty.  Dead Staff.

Problems of protecting people on campus pale by comparison to predictable problems off campus.  Consider this headline and imagine what will happen this fall in campuses all around the country:  “Covid-19 Outbreak Reported in 15 Fraternity Houses at University of Washington.

How can universities credibly expect to limit the spread of the virus in fraternities, sororities, dorms, other student housing, bars, and all the parties that inevitably will take place?  Will students meeting new people in class and at parties forego having sex with strangers?  If not, how many students will wear masks and stay at least six feet apart when they do so?

Read this compelling moral argument by Michael J. Sorrell, the President of Paul Quinn College:  “Colleges Are Deluding Themselves.  Institutions are letting their financial and reputational worries cloud their judgment about when they can safely reopen.”

If there are major spikes of illness and death in university communities during the fall, presumably they will abruptly shift to online instruction as everyone did in the spring.  The universities’ financial and political interests that they are trying to protect will be harmed much more than if they plan for online instruction from the outset.  Universities holding classes in person will undertake risks of huge liability exposure.  And they will have caused countless preventable illnesses and deaths.

Some Faculty Pushback
The New York Times recently published this article:  “A Problem for College in the Fall: Reluctant Professors.  Most universities plan to bring students back to campus.  But many of their teachers are scared to join them.”  I recommend reading the entire article (as well as the Esquire article linked below).  Here are some key excerpts.

More than three-quarters of colleges and universities have decided students can return to campus this fall.  But they face a growing faculty revolt.

“Until there’s a vaccine, I’m not setting foot on campus,” said Dana Ward, 70, an emeritus professor of political studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., who teaches a class in anarchist history and thought.  “Going into the classroom is like playing Russian roulette.”

. . .

Faculty members at institutions including Penn State, the University of Illinois, Notre Dame and the State University of New York have signed petitions complaining that they are not being consulted and are being pushed back into classrooms too fast.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus is known for its lively social scene, says a faculty petition.  To expect more than 50,000 students to behave according to public health guidelines, it goes on, “would be to ignore reality.”

At Penn State, an open letter signed by more than 1,000 faculty members demands that the university “affirm the autonomy of instructors in deciding whether to teach classes, attend meetings and hold office hours remotely, in person or in some hybrid mode.”  The letter also asks for faculty members to be able to change their mode of teaching at any time, and not to be obligated to disclose personal health information as a condition of teaching online.

“I shudder at the prospect of teaching in a room filled with asymptomatic superspreaders,” wrote Paul M. Kellermann, 62, an English professor at Penn State, in an essay for Esquire magazine, proclaiming that “1,000 of my colleagues agree.”  Those colleagues have demanded that the university give them a choice of doing their jobs online or in person.

[C]ampuses are not fortresses, and professors in states that have seen recent spikes in coronavirus infections are particularly worried.  Hundreds of cases have been linked to universities in Southern states in recent days, including clusters among the football teams at Clemson, Auburn and Texas Tech, and outbreaks tied to fraternity rush parties in Mississippi and to the Tigerland nightlife district near the Louisiana State campus.

Last week, I sent this email to my university president urging the university to offer all classes online this fall.  He sent a very prompt, courteous reply saying that they considered all the risks I mentioned and that they would rely on “the advice of medical professionals and public health specialists to monitor the situation should we need to go online.”

In response, I asked if they set criteria for deciding to go online.  I asked how many people will have to get sick or die before the University would change course, and (not surprisingly) he didn’t specify, saying only that he would rely on expert advice and his administrative experience.

What Are You Going to Do About This?

I keep thinking about the famous (gender-neutralized) quote of John Kerry, asking about the American War in Viet Nam, “How do you ask a person to be the last person to die for a mistake?”

In these dysfunctional times, mobs of people threaten public officials when the protesters feel aggrieved by the loss of freedom to spread deadly disease.  All the while, relatively few people protest the pollution of our environment with invisible killers floating in the air we breathe.

What is your school planning for the fall?  Have faculty and community leaders been involved in the planning?  What do you plan to do about your situation?

A Comprehensive Review of Legislation and Regulation & Administrative Law Course Requirements

In support of a few different projects, I recently asked my summer research assistant to do a comprehensive review of Legislation and Regulation and Administrative Law course requirements at ABA accredited law schools in the United States. The completed list (please see file below) updates one most recently compiled by Professor Ed Richards at LSU Law School.

At this juncture, over 30 schools require JD students to take a Legislation and Regulation course (or a similarly titled course focused mainly on the role of statutes and regulations in contemporary law). At almost all of those schools the course is offered in the first year. A handful more require a course on just legislation, statutory interpretation, or the like. In addition, about ten schools impose an upper division requirement to take Administrative Law or a comparable course.

Now, perhaps more than ever, additional schools should seriously consider adding Legislation and Regulation or Administrative Law requirements. Each of the two big crises facing our country today provides yet another example of the centrality of the regulatory state—as opposed to the common law—in our legal system, thereby reinforcing the importance of exposing all law students to the fundamentals of legislation and regulation.

First, the varying government responses to the Covid-19 pandemic are acute illustrations of regulatory trade-offs—the kind that administrative agencies in numerous sectors of our society grapple with all the time: Benefits to the economy produce a cost in human life; benefits to human life produce a cost to the economy. Also, what authority do governors, health departments, and other relevant agencies have, many law students might wonder, and how did they get that authority?

Second, as to issues of police brutality and racial discrimination, the law’s response largely has come and will come in the form of legislation (or ordinances at the municipal level) and regulation. City councils consider fundamental changes to police departments, while state legislatures and Congress debate various other policing reforms. Police commissions and review boards, which are administrative agencies, are under scrutiny. Even the judicially-created doctrine of qualified immunity, which almost always insulates police officers from liability in civil suits, may very well endure in its present state unless Congress passes a statute modifying or eliminating it.

Fundamental concepts and processes of our regulatory state, several of them center stage in the issues of our day, are the focus of required courses at the various schools on the list. May that list grow each year moving forward.

Sharing Takeaways from Michele Pistone’s Bootcamp “Designing an Online Law Course”

I am posting about my experience with this  Bootcamp  for two reasons: 1) to create a space for participants to continue to share experiences and takeaways (please add in comments section below); and 2) to provide some content for those unable to participate in the virtual conference but who are interested in preparing for blended learning or online teaching in 20-21.   The hope is to form a national community of law teacher-scholars-learners as we navigate the uncharted waters of summer 2020 in preparation for the unpredictable  20-21 academic year.

I will start first.  My first takeaway is how comforting it was to discuss with other law faculty in my small Zoom breakout room group the challenges our institutions are facing, the common concerns we all have,  and the inability we have at this moment to know what August will bring.  As Michele Pistone  reminds us in her  Top 5 Tips for Teaching Law Online , we have to change our mindset — from thinking “how can we replicate what we did before” to “how do we utilize this new opportunity to ensure  student learning.”  We have to use time and space differently – thinking about class “time” as a continuum of learning interactions before during and after direct instructor contact/live sessions.  We need to prioritize pivoting and adapting from in person to virtual as the learning benefits afford us opportunities (online polling, quizzes, pre-recorded videos) and the disadvantages – ZOOM FATIGUE – constrain our usual preference for live synchronous lecture, discussion, or flipped classroom.

Preparing for the Fall Semester is akin to preparing for a camping trip or long Adirondack hike — what do I need to have in my EMERGENCY LAW TEACHING KNAPSACK?

Adirondack Hiking | Official Adirondack Region Website

I would suggest packing some handy lodestars we used today to ground our work – such as Bloom’s Taxonomy of Teaching,  VERBS Adapted From Bloom_s Taxonomy  26 Effectiveness Factors Shultz _&  Zedeck. and as my colleague Professor Christine Sgarlata Chung uses in her Bus Orgs casebook  IAALS’ Foundations for Practice.

Another takeaway from the first day of Bootcamp involved deconstructing one’s “in person” syllabus into Unit-Level Learning Goals, Learning Content and Learning Activities.  The folks in my group – who BTW were brilliant, personable and collaborative – found it made us all more intentional and descriptive in parsing our particularized goals and expectations.

Unit-Level Learning Goals

What do I want students to know, be able to do, and value?

Students will be able to: ………

Learning Content

How will the students learn?

What can help transfer knowledge from professor/expert to the student?(textbook, readings, cases, law review articles, statutes, regulations, videos, podcasts)

Learning Activities

How will the students engage with the course content?

How will students put their learning to work?(discussion, reflections, exercise, role plays)

My small breakout room group found ourselves untangling our integrated goals and content and activities to examine the pieces so we can re-assemble in a new, vibrant and effective way.

Looking forward to DAY 2 and more lessons.

I invite any and all participants to add their takeaways in the Comment Section below

The Opportunity to Learn from Other Disciplines (And Maybe in our Own Backyards) About Teaching Online

This is the third of three posts about finding opportunities in the changes we are required to make in legal education because of the rapid spread of Covid-19. The last two focused on grading and employment, this one is about teaching.

The law school classroom, as we know, is a venerable if sometimes creaky battleship.  Its tendency is to keep moving on the same path and turning it is so difficult that until now all reasons for not doing so drowned out the voices of many who believed turning it was long overdue. Another barrier to change has been a lack of specific evidence combined with a deep commitment to law school “exceptionalism”-a belief that we should not adopt contemporary best practices for teaching and learning because none were developed specifically for law school. (As well, perhaps, a fear that by doing so we will make ourselves less special or less rigorous or too transparent). Going forward, this opportunity to pause and learn new things is not just about“ online teaching” but about “online teaching” as part of “excellent teaching.”

Law School Specific Resources

It is reasonable in the current crisis to seek help first from those among us who have successfully taught law online. I have learned a lot from many people and am exceptionally grateful for the generosity of people who have shared their knowledge and expertise.  Anyone who has yet watched the AALS Technology Section’s webinars  or visited Sara Berman’s AccessLex Institute Center for Legal Education Excellence and, of course, the Best Practices For Legal Education blog edited by Professor Mary Lynch with assistance from Jessica Haller and Eileen Roepe, is in for a treat and an immediate upgrade in knowledge, skills, and abilities. So many people have stepped in in specific disciplines to offer advice and share best-practices that if you haven’t gotten an announcement, it’s worth a search of the AALS website.  The Southeastern Association of Law Schools annual SEALS conference , July 30-August 5th, will offer its programs-including its always excellent teaching & learning sessions-online (as well as in person). This may also be a good time to remember that, like the Bluebird of Happiness, help can be found at home- from our colleagues who have had to go online to accommodate family moves or, especially, from those who teach students how to “do” law as well as “think about it.” They are well ahead in their use of technology–and we should be seeking their help at every turn.

Online Education Experts Outside of Law Schools

It is no diminution of any one’s expertise to say that legal education’s expertise in online education has been severely limited by the strength of opposition that until very recently limited ABA law schools from allowing students to earn more than a few credits online. That this has changed at all is due to the success of peers in other graduate and professional disciplines who have been doing high quality distance education for at least a decade.  So, 1) let’s look at the experts in online education and 2) let’s look at the materials of institutions who have devoted considerable resources to teaching excellence–and who have generously made available to all of us what they’ve developed.

Nursing education has been in the forefront of designing online education in response to the need to bring the many nurses practicing with an LPN the two years of extra college education they needed to acquire the now almost mandatory RN. Here and here are some of the imaginative things they are doing. Also, in direct response to concerns about prestige, have a look at what’s going on in business schools–which have all developed online programs. Here’s MIT, Wharton, Harvard, ,and Kellogg‘s take on online teaching. Additionally, we should look for guidance to programs at places like Stanford and  Purdue Global which offer hundreds of online post-graduate programs.  And finally, perhaps just as much for those who are now either law professors or Pre-K through 12 instructors, there is the example of Australia’s “School of the Air” which, since 1951, has been offering comprehensive education in every subject area to children who live in locations too remote to attend a physical school building as well as, in general, some very good teaching resources offered by various offices of Australia’s Department for Education.

Institutions Offering Just-in-Time Teaching Advice for “Crash” online education

In addition to those institutions with long experience teaching online, there are now many who were forced into doing so by the Covid-19 virus.  But unlike law schools, they had in place a substantial infra-structure to support teaching across the university–and they have a lot to offer us. One of my favorite sources of help & inspiration for teaching hard things to very smart students is Harvard Medical School’s Macy Institute.

Others resources to check out are from the, of course, always excellent UFL and Texas Tech and also from Columbia, Howard, the University of Texas at Austin, and, particular,  this one from Dartmouth about how to conduct remote lab activities and experiences–lots of ideas we can translate to our own experiential exercises. A quick look at the “teaching resources” of any school you’ve ever heard of may reveal a treasure trove of helpful information.

Finally, as we work to provide excellent education online we must also increase our work to make law school classrooms places that value & promote equity, diversity, and inclusion. Here are some helpful resources from Rice, UC Davis, and some info targeted directly at students with specific learning disabilities which might make online classes challenging from UNC (including some resources specifically for faculty & staff)

In conclusion, while there are excellent resources for help with online teaching specific to law, this is a great opportunity to be more open to borrowing new methods and new ideas–and I’d suggest that until we can all be together again, there is a lot out there to inspire us.

Jennifer S. Bard, Visiting Professor, University of Florida, Levin College of Law

Developing Skepticism as a Skill – Some quick thoughts on why academic support should be thought of as separate from bar preparation/bar support

This summer’s bar exam with its uncertain timing, combined with the impact of the pandemic and the growing movement to transform parts of the legal system, brings to the fore the impact of the bar exam on legal education.  The pandemic itself has adversely affected student learning generally.  The pandemic’s adverse impact exacerbates the problems associated with teaching to the bar exam, which can best be described as when a law school directs its focus to a narrow range of subjects. This narrow focus subsequently influences student learning and choice as well as the type of support we provide to students. If for no other reasons than these, academic support ought not to have as its focus helping students pass the bar; that bar exam focus should belong more uniquely to bar prep faculty.

The bar exam is an enormous hurdle, no doubt.  Through hundreds of questions over two or three days, it tests one’s basic knowledge of black letter law of roughly fourteen subjects or seven topics and pages of sub-topics depending on how you count.[i]  Generally, those MBE subjects include contracts and sales; constitutional law; criminal law and procedure; civil procedure; evidence; real property, and torts. Any jurisdiction that offers the MEE has essay questions that cover, in addition to the MBE topics, Conflict of Laws, Family Law, Trusts & Estates, and Uniform Commercial Code.[ii] Notice that these topics are fairly related and tend to cluster, though not entirely, in the general commercial law and litigation area with some exceptions. Of course, each state may have its own requirements. And, for students, preparing for this exam can be a costly undertaking. Multiple vendors provide preparatory materials, advertised online at between $1900 and $4200. Because passing this exam is still the door (in most cases) to licensure, supporting student success on the bar exam is obviously vital.[iii]

Given that the bar exam has been offered in some form from as early as 1738 (in Delaware) and in its present form by the NCBE since 1972, and that the topics tested by the bar examiners have been consistent since that time,[iv] my bar prep colleagues have essentially committed to memory all of that material – so much so, that at any given time, they can say to our students: “that topic has been assessed on every bar exam since 2000,” or “you’ll need this for the bar exam,” or “you don’t need to know that for the exam.” Those colleagues are expert in approaching the bar exam and provide tools to help students approach bar exam essay questions – both reading them and writing responses, and ways to approach multiple choice questions.  And, one of the most often heard suggestions for studying is to keep taking the practice questions.

But, there are other areas of law: Administrative Law, Environmental Law, Immigration Law, Mental Health Law, Bankruptcy Law, Indigenous Peoples Law, Disability Law, Poverty Law, Pensions and Benefits Law, Maritime Law, International Law, Intellectual Property Law, Copyright Law, Cyber/Cybersecurity Law, Identity Justice Law, Health Law, Employment Law, Voting Law, and Tax Law, to name just a few, that are not tested on the bar exam in most states. And now, there is this extraordinary transformational legal change in which we find ourselves. This long list of topics and current events beg the question(s!): ‘If we focus our attention on preparing[v] students for the bar exam, this exam with this same set of topics,[vi] what are we, as members of the legal profession saying about the law?[vii]  If our best advice is to keep taking the practice questions that lead to the same result, what are we saying about the law?  About the importance of other areas of law?’

I am confident my bar prep colleagues are doing excellent work preparing students for the bar exam.  I recognize the examiners have added practice components. I’m not saying we should add questions, though, law has developed significantly over the decades; and, I am not arguing we should not have a bar exam – although given the responses of various jurisdictions to the pandemic, there’s an argument to be made.[viii]

Putting aside whether a future bar exam should look like the one given now, what I am saying is that academic support should not focus on a bar exam. Actually, most academic support situations arise in one’s first year of law school – far distant from the bar exam. Academic support can help students learn to be skeptical and not accept the given response, to sit with ambiguity (not the ‘answer’), and to write not only proof of a conclusion, but also to write toward a developing understanding. Someone who provides academic support for law school success should not address the idea of whether a student would need something for the singular purpose of the bar exam. Instead, the person who provides academic support should encourage the student to do and learn more, both for their time during law school and after.

I recognize that many faculty teaching doctrinal courses take upon themselves the task of helping students learn the complexity of laws as well as skills needed to succeed in law school. In recognition of both the need for these skills and difficulty of incorporating them into the 1L, Harvard Law has developed the Zero-L program that introduces students to the framework around law as well as other basic skills[ix]. Even then, however, trying to fully develop such skills in a doctrinal course, especially 1L courses, is difficult. In using the Socratic method, in many instances, the professor either winds up passing over particular students or calling out particular students. Either way, the larger class does not benefit, because either the material is not covered or the class slows. Additionally, the individual student does not benefit, either because they are humiliated or stigmatized. Moreover, those who teach “bar courses,” feel compelled to devote as much time as possible teaching the material that will be covered later on the bar exam itself, leaving little time to devote to helping students at the edges of a class.[x]  This alone, this classroom and school-wide focus on the sub-topics of a course that the bar exam will test is troubling, even if practical, under the present circumstances. Academic support, though, need not focus on those same topics. Academic support can help students in some of the other levels of thinking while in law school and provide support about approaching legal topics that are less well settled than, say, “the rule against perpetuities” (that was tested as recently as 2013 – I think.)

If it is the case that one of the best ways to learn material is to practice it, to take practice “assessments,” then students will learn their material by doing just that, and practice assessments are a recognized tool for mastering a body of material.  However, learning a body of material alone is not enough for success in law school.  While academic support can certainly help students build techniques for understanding and remembering, analogizing, and distinguishing, it is uniquely positioned to explicitly help students develop the skill sets beyond memorizing such as: how to figure out what questions to ask rather than answer, and how to challenge or critique a response. Take for example a skepticism skill. Here, in addition to teasing out what a court says in a decision, students learn to ask whether what a judge says is itself supported by proof; if so, what proof, and does the proof survive the “Aw come on” test.[xi] This skill is, of course, developed in class, but students at the start of law school often confuse skepticism and critique with their own opinion. At some point, class moves on, but the students can still benefit from support – not in the doctrine itself, but in skepticism. This skepticism skill need not be topic specific and is less likely to be useful on a bar exam than other skills, but will serve them remarkably well in practice.

Academic support can of course be, and is, many other things for students.  I’m not suggesting those things change. I’m simply suggesting we think about bar support doing what it is meant to do: prepare students to take multiple choice and essay questions on a set of the same topics semi-annually.  And then, we can think of academic support as designed to help students thrive while in law school itself.

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[i] http://www.ncbex.org/pdfviewer/?file=%2Fdmsdocument%2F226   I have not included questions of the different states for their particular licensing.

[ii] The questions are drafted by the NCBE with the assistance of academics and experts in the fields being tested. The answers, as seems obvious, are based on law existing at the time the questions were created.

[iii] We support students with bar preparation programs and classes. As to the latter, the ABA has put its imprimatur on bar support to the extent of permitting students to take, as part of their academic program in law schools, with several credits of bar preparation classes depending on jurisdiction.  Bar support classes have become an integral part of law school programs.

[iv] Assessing the bar exam itself an ongoing task with studies in several states to assess the efficacy of the test format and connection to skills of practice. https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/members_of_abas_commission_on_the_future_of_legal_education_named  (2017);   https://www.abajournal.com/web/article/building-a-better-bar-exam (2020).  The National Conference of Bar Examiners has its own task force to assess the efficacy of its test. https://testingtaskforce.org/. It is schedule to release a report based on its September survey of Practice Analysis. Thus, the bar exam and bar success occupy a lot of space and time during law school.

[v] We also support student success with a growing number of student-wellness programs, and this in turn is supported by the ABA Young Lawyers Division that has a health and wellness division with resources available to law schools and their students as well as lawyers.

[vi] Topics tested for the past fifty years, though, civil procedure was recently added.

[vii] Never mind the practice of law. At law schools, we help students develop “practice ready” skills in clinics. While it appears the majority of clinics which are litigation-focused clinics, and the subject matter is far broader than the corporate-commercial law bar topic focus, there are so few if any clinics on developing policy, on ethical lobbying, or on transnational practice.

[viii] There are also arguments that the bar exam topics overly emphasize areas of law in the commercial law context to the detriment of other areas of law.

[ix] https://online.law.harvard.edu/.  This year, with the coronavirus, Harvard is offering this program “for free” to other schools. https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2020/05/harvard-makes-online-zero-l-course-free-for-all-us-law-schools-due-to-coronavirus.html.

[x] And, this idea of ensuring bar coverage is common.  https://jle.aals.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1299&context=home

[xi] I am sure this phrase, “aw come on” has been used over time by many.  I first heard it from a professor I had in a first-year, year-long contracts class.

Oregon Law Deans Urge Diploma Privilege

Law schools in Oregon are urging the Oregon Supreme Court to institute a Diploma privilege given the precarious public health moment in which we find ourselves.

The Willamette Week reported that on June 15,

the deans of the state’s three law schools—the University of Oregon, Lewis & Clark, and Willamette University—asked Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters to waive the July bar exam, which new graduates from the law schools normally take.

The deans’ letter notes

We are deeply appreciative of the efforts of the Oregon State Bar and the Board of Bar Examiners to administer the July exam at multiple sites—including our law schools—in order to try to socially distance the applicants from each other in light of COVID-19,” the deans wrote. “But as the number of new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases continues to increase steadily in our state, this plan becomes more imprudent.”

Advocates and bar takers compiled this google document of the health, mental health and financial harm which will be done by instituting a live in-person exam.

Meanwhile, the Oregon State Board of Bar Examiners added a new waiver requirement.  It is requiring bar takers to sign a waiver assuming all risk with respect to COVID 19.  See  COVID-19_assumption of risk.

The Deans and law students are quite reasonable and prudent in requesting this relief. Oregon’s worrisome rise in the number of new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19, as well as the unequal impact of this virus on communities of color, makes the one-time issuance of a Diploma Privilege for these Oregonian bar candidates the right thing to do.

Defund the Police or Reimagine Policing

On behalf of Josephine Ross, Professor of Law at Howard University School of Law, Author of forthcoming book “A Feminist Critique of Police Stops” (Cambridge University Press, anticipated publication date mid-January 2021)

I was invited to post a blog because I have been working on a book about policing while all around us, the protests are changing the landscape. This is mostly figurative, but in some cases it is literally changing, as the streets in DC are now painted with Black Lives Matter = Defund the Police.

So I’ll start there, with the slogan “Defund the Police.” I’ve been grappling with whether the phrase feeds into the hands of Republicans by scaring people who should be allies. Why not use “Reimagine Policing” instead? Is defunding the police saying something different than reimagine? For white people like me or, as Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, “Americans who believe they are white,” we are called right now to support the dismantling of the racist power structure, the system that led to the death of Eric Gardner and George Floyd, of Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery, of Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. There is no sitting on the fence. In that vein, I invite us to think about what the slogan means.

Whatever its drawbacks, the slogan has already spurred some changes. The Minneapolis City Council unanimously passed a resolution to “replace the police department with a community-led public safety system.” This involves reimagining policing for sure, but it defunds the old in order start fresh, with different personnel and structure, with anti-racist professionals.

Calls to defund also force us to look at how police departments waste taxpayer money. My book builds on stories my students told me about their encounters with police. Howard law students told me about being stopped and frisked or pulled over for driving while black. None of their encounters helped make our communities safer. Stop-and-frisk is a form of sexual harassment. Just like unwanted touching at work, people who have been stopped repeatedly by police feel vulnerable just walking down the street. Repeated stops create a hostile environment, but it’s easier to quit a job to avoid a boss than it is to avoid the police. I call for the abolition of the stops and frisks (without probable cause) and argue that Terry v. Ohio was built on a lie. No more stops without probable cause. No more consent stops. No more patting people’s groins, pretending that’s where they might have hidden a small weapon that they will pull out while the officer talks to them.

When I talked to people outside the law school about what I was writing, I was often asked what would replace stop-and-frisk? The answer is nothing. Reimagine policing without harassment. The slogan “defund the police” speaks to this too, for why pay money for a system that subjugates us? If an organized patrol was set up to wolf whistle at young women on the street or harass women at work, we would call for them to be defunded. We would not seek retraining and education. We would dismantle it.

I think there’s still a need for a police-like agency that’s given a monopoly on violence. This unit must respond quickly to calls of rape or home invasions. Some type of detectives must investigate murders. The question is whether this police-like structure can be created from the same institutions that shot Philando Castile and kill approximately one thousand people each year. I remember when a Howard Law School student complained to me that “officials talk about blacks regaining trust as if we had trust before. We never had it.” It might be easier to build trust by defunding the old and creating something new.

I confess to writing Defund the Police on a sign before standing at the busy corner where my white neighbors stand (6 feet away) at 6pm to show support for the protesters. I figure that most law professors think they do more by writing and teaching. But I think it’s important to support our students, especially our black students, by adding our bodies to the sea of people calling for real change, not just the same lipstick job that’s been going on since Rodney King’s beating in 1991. I chose the Defund the Police sign because it pushes the envelope and forced me to really think about the slogan. I recommend taking some action no matter what your deadline and no matter what you draw on the cardboard. It makes us feel part of something bigger than ourselves.

Washington’s Emergency Diploma Privilege: A Practical Solution for Troubled Times

The Washington Supreme Court stands as a model for other courts to follow.  Recognizing the “extraordinary barriers” facing bar applicants this year, it recently issued an order allowing for licensure via diploma privilege as an option for graduates of ABA accredited law schools who are currently registered for either the July or September 2020 Washington bar examination. The order encompasses first time and repeat takers.  Examinees may still take the UBE if they want portable scores.

This order comes from the same court that recently wrote a powerful letter to the judiciary and legal community about our responsibility to recognize systemic issues that underlie and perpetuate racial injustice and to dismantle and disavow those systems.  As the justices noted:

“Too often in the legal profession, we feel bound by tradition and the way things have ‘always’ been.  We must remember that even the most venerable precedent must be struck down when it is incorrect and harmful”.

Numerous scholars have long argued that the existing bar exam, with its discriminatory impact, and its lack of relationship to skills needed for law practice, is a tradition that should be abandoned in favor of a licensing scheme that better measures minimum competence to practice law.

Scholars also have argued that we particularly need this year’s new lawyers because under-served communities have significantly increased pandemic-related legal needs and new lawyers disproportionately serve those needs.

As Dean Annette Clark wrote in an eloquent letter explaining why her faculty unanimously voted in favor of asking the Court to adopt a diploma privilege – this year is unlike any other.  This year, she writes, law graduates face pandemic-related health and financial issues  – issues that disproportionately impact communities of color.  This year, she notes, the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and the social unrest and calls to action that followed have affected graduates and have taken a particularly heavy emotional and mental toll on graduates of color.

This year, the mere act of taking the bar exam endangers examinees’ and their loved ones’ health– something states recognize because they are requiring examinees to sign waivers.  This year, graduates worry that after months of studying, public health issues may cause states to cancel the exam at the last minute.

While a pure diploma privilege may not be an appropriate long-term law licensing solution for most states, it is a practical solution given today’s world.   As Dean Clark states:

 “While requiring a bar exam for licensure is supported by long precedent, doing so now may be insupportable given the extraordinary circumstances these graduates are facing. The burdens of the coronavirus pandemic and the racial unrest we are experiencing are being disproportionately borne by our graduates of color as they struggle to prepare for the bar exam.  Removing the exam barrier to admission would be a step in responding to our graduates’ concerns and in bringing “greater racial justice to our system as a whole.”

Dean Clark’s  letter should be read in its entirety.  It sets forth strong arguments that should be presented to all state supreme courts with a request for re-consideration of the decision to hold a traditional bar exam this year.  It also lays the groundwork for why each state should establish a post-pandemic study group to evaluate whether the existing bar exam is the best way to determine admission to the bar.

Kudos to the Washington Supreme Court, as well as to the deans, faculty and students at the Washington law schools for their advocacy.  Their solution addresses problems faced by all of this year’s graduates while also addressing inequities that cannot be denied.

 

Let’s Take this Unprecedented period of Rapid Change to Consider What Can We Learn from the Delay of Fall On-Campus Interviewing: Further Thoughts on Equity and Inclusion

 

Jennifer S. Bard, Visiting Professor, University of Florida, Levin College of Law

In Tuesday’s post I suggested that we take the opportunity of dramatic, unexpected, and unwanted change delivered to legal education by the arrival of the Covid-19 virus and the need to rapidly revise decades, if not centuries, of conventions regarding grading and ranking that are tailored to the needs of a majority culture representative of the Harvard Law School Class of 1880 for whom it was created.

I also suggested that these historic grading conventions encouraged the persistent lack of diversity in our profession.

Today, I look at the opportunity that the likely delay of Fall (late summer) On-Campus Recruiting provides to evaluate one of the justifications for these grading practices which is the need to support our students’ ability to compete for the most high paying post-graduate jobs: employment at a “Big Law” firm (usually defined as one of about 200 firms employing more than 200 lawyers).  I take as a starting point the foundational point of this post: we don’t have the information we need to make good decisions about the consequences of the curricular conventions common to almost every U.S. law school.

We do know, however, that despite efforts (at varying levels of success) among law schools  to diversify their student bodies, this has had little effect on the diversification of the legal profession.  There is, moreover,  persistent evidence,  that discrimination plays a role in the interviewing practices of Big Law Firms and impacts the careers of those who are hired.  This could be intensified by the Covid-19 related slowdown of the economy.

What if our current  student grading and ranking practices are both 1) not in the best interests of the education of most of our students and 2) are playing an unwitting role in the lack of diversity in the legal profession by over-emphasizing early success?

The  first hint that a nearly universally adopted grading system based on sorting students for the benefit of Big Law firms may not be in anyone’s best interests is the absolute lack of uniformity in the role that Big Law plays in the employment of law students.  Consider, for a moment,  what we would think of a medical treatment that was administered to all patients but developed to help only 20% of patients or a restaurant that served food that would be appealing to only 20% of its customers–not much probably.  Yet despite serious efforts by many smart and caring people, the basic structure of legal education is exactly that.  81% of the roughly 190 (ties play a role in the count) law schools ranked by the otherwise defunct magazine, U.S. News & World Reports, send less than 20% of their graduates to Big Law firms. Only 9 law schools (all within the top 15) had 70% or more of their graduates employed at graduation with big law firms. Stick with this list of numbers, because it may surprise you.

The next 5 law schools had 60% of its students working in Big Law, 7 had 40%, 7 had 30%,  9 had 20%, 2 had 19 %, 4 had 18%, 6 had 17%, 6 had 16%, 5 had 15%, 2 had 14%, 4 had 13%, 2 had 12%, 11 had 11%. 10  had 10% and the rest-80 more law schools,-had less than 10% of their students employed by a Big Law firm at graduation.  Of that 80, thirty had less than 5% and 14 had zero.  Yet despite the vast differences in the likelihood that any student at any class rank will be hired by a Big Law Firm, almost every one of these schools has some form of grading curve and comparative ranking.

What would happen if most law schools took a step back-and just stopped?  What if they developed a grading system best suited to their educational goals of having the most students reach the highest possible level of legal competency?

The cynical answer is that Big Law would simply by-pass them in favor of the few that continued ranking.  But not so fast.  While there’s no basis to say that Big Law is unhappy with the pool they get from this practice, they certainly are aware that their hiring practices are very inefficient, and are giving increasing thought to how they might do better. Perhaps the pyramidal business model of today’s Big Law firm is an  historic accommodation to their hiring methods,  not a desirable outcome.  Also, current hiring methods are not resulting in the kind of diversity that their clients are asking them to achieve.  Indeed, many law firms, notably Holland & Knight, are working hard to increase diversity.

They also probably know how atypical their reliance on grades is among comparable organizations hiring graduate students. Kellogg Business School Professor and Sociologist Lauren Rivera’s book Pedigree recounts her research based on “embedding” herself in the hiring practices of law firms, banks, and consulting firms.  What she finds is not surprising—all three industries are more interested in the prestige of the graduate school than in the actual ability of any individual student.  But only law firms fail to incorporate any kind of competency based evaluation in the admissions process.   At least in part, this is because prestigious business school have long refused to even release grades to employers.  Thus, employers have had to develop an interview process that involves analyzing case studies, behavior based interviewing, and answering technical questions. We see similar retreats from grade based hiring in medical residency programs.

Would the tests that law firms themselves develop be any more equitable than the ones that, cumulatively, make up a GPA?  Maybe not.  But they could be more targeted toward what students learned in law school, rather than what they brought in with them.

So, given this opportunity for a pause in the hiring cycle and a freeze, for many schools, in the first year ranking process we could partner with our university collogues who conduct research in higher education, such as that on the curricular barriers to the success of underrepresented populations in STEM education, to see if what we are doing achieves the results we want.  And if not, to start the process of working with the legal profession to achieve something we both want: a diverse and equitably recruited cohort of lawyers who provide the highest possible quality of representation for their clients.

Let’s Take This Period of Unprecedented Change to Consider How Grading Practices Can Affect Issues of Diversity and Inclusion in Our Law Schools

Jennifer S. Bard, Visiting Professor, University of Florida, Levin College of Law

For the last half of spring semester 2020, law schools all over the country were forced to change their method of instruction, delivery of final exams, and (in many cases) grading practices because of the demands for physical isolation following the outbreak of Covid-19.  Now that the semester is over, there is a further round of disruption as many states have delayed or even cancelled their bar exams, some have granted graduates diploma privileges, while others bravely go ahead in the face of a possibility that they will have to cancel at the last minute because of ever-rising rates of infection. 

Like the opportunities that may arise when a river is drained and a ship revealed, there may never again be such an opportunity for us to consider what role we play in the glacially slow diversification of the legal profession and how we can make our law schools more equitable, inclusive, challenging, and effective for all of our students—not just those for whom it has been particularly well suited.

With many things to choose from, my starting point for looking at things we rarely question is the marrow deep belief that we owe it to our students to sort them for the benefit of large law firms—even when our employment profile shows that very few of our students will ever work at such a place.  Since the threshold for this opportunity is a top 5 or perhaps 10 percent class rank, it may seem odd, on reflection, that we have designed a curriculum designed to compare students that may have many undesirable consequences including undermining self-esteem, discouraging learning for learning’s sake, and contributing to the lack of diversity in the legal profession.  

Over the years, other justifications have been added such as the need to motivate students or assess their progress but never have we had such a good opportunity to see what law school is like without grades or, more to the point, comparative curves.

Here are some Practices We Might Question

The Primacy of First Semester Grades

One result of the decision to go pass/fail (or some variation of the words) was to “freeze” first year first semester class ranks because it was impossible to produce comparative curves

The resulting phenomena gives us a chance to ask ourselves  some tough questions:

  1. Do First Semester Grades Reflect What Students Bring to Law School Rather Than What We Bring to Them? OR Do Students Who Come in Knowing the Rules Get Better First Semester Grades?

Many students, very often First Generation Students, but also some facing racial or gender identity or expression based discrimination, frequently tell us (and the many researchers who study first generation college students) some version of “everyone knew the game but me and by the time I figured it out, it was too late.” And while students living with disabilities might intersect with any of these groups, they also are often using new adaptive equipment and certainly facing new challenges that they may have been able to mitigate in college.

Certainly many of our students do know the game from the start.  The recent AALS survey “Before the JD” found a disproportionate number of students who ended up going to law school had parents who were either lawyers or professionals. While students have, themselves, created organizations to support each-other usually with the enthusiastic support of the law school it may not be enough.

Our challenge going forward is that history is told by the victors.  We can see the students who were not comfortable the first semester but then continued to graduate “at the top of their class” (a vague term that usually means somewhere in the top 20%), but we don’t hear from the ones who didn’t draw attention through academic distress, but also didn’t thrive.

It would be helpful to know more–and many schools do know more about their own students.  But so little of this information is published.

Much is being done in supplemental programs- to name them is to leave many out- such as pre-first semester programs, orientation programs  and excellent pre-law institutes like the Tennessee Institute for Pre-Law , and in wonderful conferences organized by the National Black Law Students AssociationLavender Law, the National Association of Law Students with Disabilities,  and so many others.  

But how much more effective would it be to have a curriculum that was truly equitable and inclusive – all the way through?

2. Did Pass/Fail Grading Help Learning, Hinder Learning, or None of the Above?

Across the board pass/fail grading that makes no effort to compare students to each other is so unusual as to make any observations worth considering. The expectation was a distressing list of bad results-students putting in less effort during class, performing worse on exams — but did that really happen?

3. Ditto Open Book Exams

As above, it would be interesting to test, in the fall, the content knowledge of students who took open exams.  Not so much as to compare them with past classes, but to see what how much they learned.

4. What Will Be the Long Term Effect of the Delayed or Cancelled Bar Exams–and How Might that Change Our Curriculums?

The opportunity presented by the necessary changes to the bar exam is already in very good hands, (thank you AccesLex) but it’s still worth considering what the future will look like in states which choose provisional or full licensure.  Even decisions to delay the bar exam could raise issues of an on-going, career long licensing process, much as many doctors (but not all) must take requalifying exams every ten years to retain their “Board Certificate.” What would that mean for law schools?

To Be Continued: Part II: What Can We Learn from the Delay of Fall On-Campus Interviewing?   

Risking Illness and Death For The Chance To Become A Lawyer


In this blog post Professor Allie Robbins eloquently sets out why, during this crisis, states should implement alternative law licensing methods. She argues states should forego in-person exams this year to avoid the inevitable health risks to bar-takers, their families, and the members of the public who come into contact with them. The entire blog is set out below. It’s a powerful piece that hopefully will find its way to state boards of bar examiners and state supreme court justices as “food for thought”.

“Please do not hold the bar exam this year. Do not hold it in July. Do not hold it in September. Maybe not even next February. Figure out a better way to license attorneys. There are many options.

Recent liability waivers from Mississippi and North Carolina demonstrate that you understand the serious dangers posed by taking a two-day exam in person surrounded by a lot of other people. The fact that you are finding it difficult to find proctors and are asking for help from “young attorneys” says that your own people are telling you it is too risky.

Putting hundreds, or even dozens, of stressed out people in a room together for hours and hours in the midst of a global pandemic is a public health disaster. Temperature checks only tell you if someone has a fever, not whether someone has the virus. Many transmissions if COVID-19 occur from asymptomatic individuals. Masks are helpful, but not 100% effective. Some of you are permitting masks but not requiring them, leaving many potential carriers the option of exposing those around them. Have you tried to do 100 MBE questions with a mask on? The anxiety surrounding the bar exam is immeasurably high in normal times. This, is taking it to an unimaginable new level.

There doesn’t have to be a bar exam. But if you think there does, you can do it online, as Nevada and Indiana will be doing. Those of you in UBE states may feel that you no longer have the capacity to administer your own exam. But you did it not that long ago. You can do it again. There are expert exam writers at your local law schools who can help. You could even work together and have each state draft one essay question. There are many options. Please explore them.

There are concerns about exam security. But if that is the driving force for having an in person exam, then you are prioritizing fears about cheating over the protection of human life. Do you really think so little of the next class of attorneys that they must risk their lives to prove to you that they would not cheat on an exam?

Ask yourself honestly, would you take the bar exam during this pandemic? Would you encourage your child to? Do you really want to be responsible for the next surge in your community?

You may counter that hundreds of applicants have registered so they must want to take it. But what they want is to be a licensed attorney. Their registration is a product of employer pressure, fear, and the perverse incentives of the legal profession. Despite their registration, they are terrified.

We owe it to the newest members of our profession not to sacrifice their health for the sake of the status quo. Nothing is the same right now, and it shouldn’t be. We are in the midst of a worldwide health crisis. Is the bar exam actually worth risking their lives for? Is there really no way to determine who is minimally competent to be an attorney, other than to have them all gathered together in a room for two days?

The purpose of the bar exam is, ostensibly, to protect the public. What about protecting law graduates?

These waivers may protect you from legal liability, but if you go forward with an in-person bar exam, you will still be responsible for spreading COVID-19 throughout the population of new law graduates, their friends, families, and communities. How can this possibly be the right decision?”



Law Students Lead Intersectionally

“At this painful time, I see law students leading in the intersectional manner that will move us forward. I have attached Albany Law Affinity Groups student statement here. Please feel free to post and comment what your students are doing!”  ML

——–

Hello everyone,

I hope you are safe and well. Some of Albany Law’s student groups wanted to take a moment to address current events.

Our fellow students are suffering in ways we cannot imagine. The deaths of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other members of the black community are a tragedy and a disgrace. OUTLaw, Latin American Law Student Association, Women’s Law Caucus, Muslim Law Students Association, and Asian Pacific American Law Students Association denounce racist actions against the black community. We promise solidarity with black students and the Black Law Students Association. And as student leaders entering the legal profession, we will take active steps to fight systemic racism and provide support in our fields.

On behalf of all of us: We love you. We are here for you. We see your pain and grief. We will make space for you. We will listen to you. We will share your stories. We will follow your lead. We will fight for you. We encourage other clubs and groups to make similar commitments. Active support means everything.

If you have the resources, please donate to any of the organizations listed below:
Citizen Action of New York
New York State NAACP
National Bail Fund Network
American Civil Liberties Union
Minnesota Freedom Fund
Black Visions Minnesota
Campaign Zero
Reclaim the Block

And/or give your time and support by signing petitions and reaching out to public officials. A master list of petitions and numbers is available at blacklivesmatters.carrd.co

We are stronger together,

OUTLaw, LALSA, WLC, MLSA, and APALSA

MOVING FORWARD: DAY TWO OF DREXEL (and some favorite poetic quotes)

Congratulations are in order to Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law, to Dean Dan Filler and to all who planned and presented at the virtual conference.  LEANING INTO UNCERTAINTY: ENSURING QUALITY LEGAL EDUCATION DURING CORONAVIRUS.  Previously,  I wrote a few thoughts about Day One of the conference.  In this post, I will focus on Day Two. But first, good news for those of you who were unable to join virtually: Drexel’s Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Research, Alex C. Geisinger, plans to create a digest of the ideas and questions raised and discussed at the conference. As law schools face the evolving uncertainty presented by both the virus and the conflicting responses of our state and federal leaders, they will benefit from the kind of collaborative efforts and stimulating exchange of ideas that the Drexel conference organizers skillfully facilitated.  As I work with my law school colleagues to plan an exciting and enriching Fall 2020 Semester, I am using the wisdom gained from the conference. A few maxims from yesterday’s gathering stayed with me:
  • Acknowledge and name your biggest WORRY.
  • In crisis, there is OPPORTUNITY.
  • There is always ANOTHER crisis, we just don’t know what it will be.
I was reminded by the wise words of William Butler Yeats

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold  

Below I share five conference discussions which interested me. 1.  Relationships Still Matter and Matter Even More We know from LSSSE that for health and wellness and law students “Relationships Matter.”  How do we prioritize and facilitate those in a virtual or partly virtual world?
  • Phone call contact with each incoming 1L to find out worries, concerns, and hopes and model that relationships with individuals at the school matter.
  • Throughout semester, should teachers, staff, and administrators be polling the mood of the day or the week?
  • Set up a more systematic “social work case management system” to keep tabs on individual student, staff, and faculty wellness.
  • Provide in a simple format directly to each student in a personal phone call, meeting, or interaction a single document which outlines who the actual person and contact is when in trouble – academically, financially, emotionally, physically.  Maybe start this process over the summer using all employees  throughout the law school?  (CALI worked on a lesson that each school can use to modify the system or contact flow Lesson is at https://www.cali.org/lesson/18103)
  • Prioritize peer-to-peer opportunities for mentoring, collaboration, and synergy.
2.    Create Distinct “Places” for Students To Be
  • Virtual Libraries
  • Virtual Study Spaces
  • Virtual Social Spaces
  • Dedicated physical place for experiential learners to access supplies – not necessarily in clinic office space.
Makes me think of having students feel they have in the words of poet Mary Oliver’s a “place in the family of things”
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting— over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
3. Anticipate Enforcing Safety and Health Regulations During A Polarized Presidential Election Season
  • Messaging and Communication of Community Rules
  • Incorporate into Student and Personnel Regulations
  • Harder to Anticipate What Will Happen in a Public School Setting
4.  What changes are Temporary? What Will Continue after the Pandemic? Although forced to engage in Remote Emergency Teaching, Professors became facile with useful pedagogical online tools and will incorporate them into their general toolbox.
  • Investment already made in technology will accelerate usage.
  • This was all going to happen anyway as part of Law School 2.0?
  • Increasing options for law students? For institutions growing online programming?
  • Will law schools and universities be more open to allowing staff to work remotely?
  • Will we better appreciate, celebrate, and prioritize the importance of presence and in-person relationship in Higher Ed Learning?
5. With the impact of COVID-19 elevating the issues of access disparity and the diverse needs of our students, how can law schools minimize the threat to learning continuity and academic success?
  • Continue to modify assessment and grading practices?
  • Financial Insecurity?
    • Loss of Employment
    • Food Insecurity  – Virtual Food Pantry
    • Rent and Housing
    • Alums offered physical space (offices) for students without good space to study and take exams.
  • Supporting caregivers and others with outside responsibilities.
  • Evolving accommodations for students with disabilities and immune-suppressed students as we change the manner and methods of teaching.
The above five are a poor summary of the many ideas and queries raised at the conference and thus I look forward to the report back. As we arrive at the end of May 2020, take courage and know we are all in this TOGETHER!
One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.  Maya Angelou
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