. . . because there is no social justice

Yesterday, I reviewed a student reflection that broke my heart a little bit. The student responded to my prompt, which asked her to comment on her summer work experience in the context of advancing social justice, by describing an intractable problem with her indigent client. She described hours upon days of work attempting to resolve an unjustified power shutoff for the client, and she ended her piece by explaining that she would continue to work with this case, this issue, and this client “because there is no social justice.”

My response to the student in part, was as follows:

As I sit here preparing to write a piece about the disintegration of our criminal “justice” system, prompted by yet another set of police homicides of men of color this week, your comment that “there is no social justice” certainly resonates with me. The need for us as lawyers, mentors and teachers to reflect with our students about that harsh reality, and to get up and do our jobs as public interest lawyers again the next day, is sometimes overwhelming. I share your frustration, which is not even the right term. I often feel in working with domestic violence victims in my clinic as if we are just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The fact that we do not stop, though, is what keeps the ship of justice afloat. Battered, barely making it, but afloat. I fear it is at greater risk now than ever in this nation, though, and advocates like you will be critical to affect change from inside. Please keep doing what you are doing.

I like the sound of that metaphor about a ship of justice. But I’m frankly not sure if it is even apt.  What ship? What justice? As my colleague Leigh Goodmark noted yesterday, “As soon as I saw the news about Dallas this morning, I thought, I can’t. I just can’t face another day of violence and death and destruction.

That’s privilege. I don’t have to face the reality that when my son leaves the house, he might not come back. That my husband–or I– could be pulled over for a broken taillight and shot as we reached for identification. I don’t have to go into the streets to protest and die trying to protect my children from sniper’s bullets. Because I don’t live in black or brown skin, with a threat hanging over me every minute of every day.

That’s why we have to keep looking. Keep talking. Keep posting. Keep letting our friends of color know that we hear them, we see them, we value their lives, and we love them. Keep demanding better from our police, our government, ourselves. Our friends don’t ever get to say, I can’t. We shouldn’t either.”

Our privilege as law professors goes beyond skin color, but make no mistake, it is seeped in elitism.  Today I am using that privilege on this blog to say these words. That is all. It is not enough. It will never be enough. But I won’t stop. I don’t know if there is social justice. But I know there is a movement towards it, and I want to be a part of it.

 

Building on Best Practices now available as eBook

Are you trying to:

  • Develop a meaningful law school mission statement?
  • Understand new accreditation requirements, learning goals, and outcomes assessment?
  •  Expand your experiential offerings?  Decide whether to use modules or courses?  An on-site clinic, an externship, or community partnership?
  •  Teach ALL of your students in the most effective ways, using a full range of teaching methods?
  • Add to your curriculum more of the professional identity, leadership, intercultural, inter-professional and other knowledge, skills, and values sought by 21st century legal employers?
  • Lead thoughtfully in the face of the challenges facing legal education today?

These and other topics are addressed in Building on Best Practices:  Transforming Legal Education in a Changing World,  now available in ebook format from LexisNexis at no charge.

The print version is not yet out.  LEXIS-NEXIS is taking advance orders for $50, plus shipping.  BUT we understand that they will make one copy available to every US legal educator for free upon on request.  Details on this and international availability still to come.

Thanks, and congratulations, to book project sponsor Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA), the more than fifty legal educators who participated as authors, and the countless others who assisted as readers and in numerous other ways.

And, a huge shout-out to my wonderful and talented co-editors, Lisa Radke Bliss, Carrie Wilkes Kaas, and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.

Inner Development, Community, Social Justice (Concurrent Session, AALS Conference on Clinical Legal Education)

Last, but not least, in this series highlighting lessons from experts in other disciplines relevant to how to navigate the chaotic “new normal”  in legal education: Thursday’s concurrent session organized by Tennessee’s Paulette Williams:  “A Commitment to Inner Development: Connecting the “New Normal” with Clinics’ Social Justice Mission”.

The session brought  Edward Groody and Timothy Dempsey from the Community Building Institute in Tennessee.  The Institute helps social service and criminal justice organizations become more effective by training participants in community building practices.  Taking an evidence-based approach built on motivational interviewing, trauma-informed care, and pro-social supports, community building is a “highly experiential process that helps participants remove barriers to communication and unlearn unproductive attitudes and behaviors.”

Groody began the session with a detailed overview of a four-stage process for building community:

  • Pseudo-community
  • Chaos
  • Emptying/Letting Go
  • Community

That process adds an important step — emptying/letting go — to Bruce Tuckman’s familiar “forming, storming, norming, performing” model of group formation.  My own interpretation of this additional,  third step is that it provides space for  participants to recognize,  and learn skills to address, the emotional issues that so often get in the way of honest connection with others.

Dempsey then shared powerful stories of how that process helps ex-offenders with post-prison re-entry,  allowing them to move past behavioral responses that may have seemed — and perhaps were — functional in their previous lives, but would block their efforts to move forward.   Or, to put it another way, this step acknowledges that in order to take advantage of education or employment opportunities, people need to let go of fears, resentments or trauma.  This is challenging work that is the foundation of many spiritual traditions, but can help build strong connections with others.

Time constraints prevented Paulette Williams from speaking in detail about how she makes use of this process in her clinical teaching work.  I hope she finds other forums for sharing those experiences and insights.

The insights of this community building process struck me as relevant not only to social justice and clinical legal education work, but also to faculty interactions within our law schools.  From another time and place, I well remember a year when every faculty meeting resulted in controversy, usually about something relatively minor that seemed to be a proxy for other, larger, but unacknowledged issues festering beneath the surface.    I suspect that many faculties are experiencing something similar as they operate  in the  current climate of uncertainty and change, too often getting stuck in the fear those conditions foster.  It’s  difficult for me to imagine applying this model in the typical law school environment.  But successfully moving through the “emptying/letting go” phase, as individuals and a group,  could be oh, so helpful!

Teaching Optimism

Chris Rock’s tweet “Are black men an endangered species? No, endangered species are protected by law,” captures at once the failure to apply our laws and when applying them to do so effectively. Scan to the recently released Senate Select Committee’s Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, yet another example of how we struggle as a culture with the rule of law.

How do law schools inspire students to work within a system that yields such results?

The AALS Deans Steering Committee had this to say: “Law school empowers students to become agents of change because it teaches students about the legal system of the United States, a system that has the seeds of change built into its structure.” The statement goes on to say that “The rule of law is the foundation of our society, our political system, and our economic system” and “The primary role of law professors is to teach the next generation of lawyers to think critically about problems, to understand the structure and power of law in our society, and to be thoughtful and engaged with respect to solutions.”[1]

Indeed, critical thinking about legal and other strategies that touch on social wrongs has been discussed in law school classrooms and clinic supervision for decades. However, our legacy is the workarounds and neutralizing of civil rights, workers rights, environmental, and other laws intended to help us solve social ills; the seeds of change have not borne the results expected. Students who are attracted to law school because they see law as a tool for solving problems, soon sense a system that is mightily frayed. As these students navigate the texts and training offered, they struggle with how within our venerated legal system to achieve change that will connect the law to the values they consider essential for a viable society.

Vermont Law School’s curriculum committee just approved a new course called Legal Activism: Lawyering for Social Change designed to expose students to theoretical and practical approaches to legal activism. The course will use Alan K. Chen and Scott Cummings, Public Interest Lawyering: A Contemporary Perspective (Aspen Elective 2012) as its text, taking advantage of the book’s focus on activist lawyers and legal strategies in our history. The impetus for the course was largely the disconnect between the careful web of procedure, precedent and statutes that perpetuate unsustainable results and the desire so many of our students have expressed to find paths that reflect the values they hold.

As law schools consider how to prepare students for the “new normal” (a painful phrase), we must recognize that among them are those who question the very premises of normalcy. Our challenge is to work with these students to foster a sense that they can achieve meaningful results, and that it is not too late to try. Their pursuit of change may test the structure of law in our society and its relevance to the increasingly urgent problems we face. While they may not discover more sustainable results than those achieved by activist lawyers in the past, we will do well to help them envision the possibilities.

[1] See “Statement on the Value of Legal Education,” http://www.aals.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Statement-on-the-Value-of-a-Legal-Education.pdf

What price is right? Law School Education and Paul Campos

What is a poor law student to do?  Paul Campos has yet again set his sights on what he considers is the bain of legal education- for-profit law schools.  Campos details how how a Chicago-based private equity firm got into the business of law schools.  Summit Partners created InfiLaw and began to become legal educators by first purchasing Florida Coastal Law School and later adding Phoenix School of Law and Charlotte School of Law.  The results while good for Summit Partners who receive their profits upfront according to Campos, left the InfiLaw graduates the big losers in long run.  Campos noted that the average Infilaw graduate accumulated over $200,000 in debt while only 36% of the Class of 2013 had actual legal employment.   This follows an overall trend in higher education where undergraduates and graduate students alike are funding their education with high-interest private loans that will take a life-long career of work to discharge.  I pose a question that Prof. Bill Whitford taught me in my Contracts class at the University of WIsconsin more than a few years ago.  What if the high costs of a legal education is not unconscionable as Campos suggests but the price a population of specialized students are willing to pay to gain access to a legal education that still has some social capital?

I am not a free market guru who will chant the mantra of law students paying for what the market determines is a valuable education.  But there is a grain of truth in arguing that students who would not be accepted at traditional law schools are being given an opportunity to have a traditional law school experience.  I do not know the statistics for the Infilaw students but I have a hunch that many of these students are first generation attorneys who come from modest working class or disadvantaged backgrounds. They are willing to take a chance on themselves and make a life-time investment that may not pay off in the long run.  The forecast is not good for Infilaw students.  Will they pass the bar on the first attempt?  Will they acquire a level of employment or income that will erase their debts?  Paul Campos says no and statistics will back up his claims.  But do we shut out a group of over-achievers because only a small number will gain what legal scholars would deem success?

In my contracts class those many, many years ago, Prof. Whitford explained that there is a population that businesses are willing to take a chance on who have no credit or bad credit and who are willing to take on high interest rates to obtain merchandise.  There is a good chance that this poor-credit/no-credit population would default on credit and be unable continue payments.  The businesses knew and took the chance but built in the loss upfront with high-interest rates.  The buyers knew they were paying far beyond the value of the merchandise just to be able to obtain the merchandise.  Were the merchants unconscionable Prof. Whitford asked?  In a consumer culture that is awash with the  creation and cultivation of desire and consumption, how could anyone resist?  Even those with poor or no credit.   Didn’t we risk becoming paternalistic in determing who deserved what?  Prof. Whitford posed provocative questions to my first year class.

I am not a proponent of for-profit law schools.  I am the product of the  Chicago Public School and the public university systems.  I obtained a quality, low cost education that no longer exists.  Campos’ article is a condemnation of the for-profit law school system that seeks to prey on a certain population.  I agree.  But we have no alternative.  States are seeking to strip affirmative action programs from the law school admissions process.  The University of Texas Law School buttresses for annual attacks on it’s admissions process.  First generation law students, economically disadvantaged law students and law students of color have no viable alternatives.  If these students are willing to take on the debt, derision and scorn of being a product of a low-tiered, for-profit system, I will not discourage them.  They attend with full knowledge but want to become attorneys no matter what the costs.  This is not a free market economist argument of caveat emptor but a lawyer who has loved the practice and teaching of law for over 20 years and does not wish to see it closed to those who desire the same experiences-no matter the costs

The Role of Tenure: The Virginia Experience

The AALS Presidential Workshop on Tomorrow’s Law Schools included a session on effective participation in faculty governance.  Much of the discussion centered around the summer 2012 kerfluffle in which the governing board of the Univ. of Virginia abruptly ousted University President Teresa Sullivan — and then rehired her after the faculty protested en masse.  Prof. George Cohen (chair of the faculty senate at the time, I gathered, having missed the introductions) acknowledged the importance of tenure in giving the university’s faculty the courage to speak up. He noted that lacking tenure the university’s administrators felt unable to do so.  I was struck by the importance of tenure to the privileged faculty at an elite university in such a situation.  Reinforces the impact of the stories from less privileged and more vulnerable faculty relayed in yesterday’s post by Mary Lynch from testimony presented on proposed changes to accreditation standard.

Congratulations UNM and Editors of the proposed new Best Practices Book!

This weekend, the University of New Mexico hosted a workshop BEST PRACTICES IN LEGAL EDUCATION: The Walls Are Coming Down” in which draft chapters of a new “Best Practices” book were reviewed and discussed.  The proposal to create a second book focused on best practices in legal education is the brainchild of Professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, ably assisted by Professors Deborah Maranville, , Carolyn Kaas and Lisa Bliss. The symposium workshop brought together law professors from throughout the country interested in how legal education and the world of law schools has changed since the publication of the 2007 book Best Practices in Legal Education. Facilitated by Professors Beryl Blaustone and Alex Scherr, the conference explored how many law professors fluidly move from former silos of clinical, legal writing, lawyering, librarian, doctrinal, theory, or skills concentrations to pioneer a new kind of curriculum, better prepare students for the profession, explore the limits and usefulness of technology, and deepen the understanding and learning of law students through self-improving assessment processes.

Fully cognizant of the pressures on legal educators, the fact that not all in legal education welcome the need to change, and the moral imperative to address the concerns of debt-ridden unemployed law students, the authors, editors, advisory board members and readers reviewed challenges, cross-cutting themes and areas of promise. They engaged in innovative thinking about how to move legal education forward for the good of the profession, society and the students who desire to be lawyers of tomorrow. The keynote speaker for the Friday night dinner and author of the first book, Professor Roy Stuckey, directed the participants’ attention to what legal education should look like in 2027. At the same time, he reminded us that those seeking to improve legal education today stand on the shoulders of folks such as the honorable Rosalie Wahl and former ABA president Bob MacCrate who paved the way for the changes we have seen in the last 40 years. He recalled their joint mission to prepare “agents for justice in our communities.”

Every law graduate needs to understand fully that civic professional role of the lawyer. And every admittee to the bar has a sworn duty to improve our system of and access to justice. Returning to those principles can help prioritize our cost-cutting and can position us to move forward in the best interests of our students, our institutions and the society our profession is pledged to serve.

Building on Best Practices: Call for Ideas and Authors

The Clinical Legal Association, Best Practices Implementation Committee is planning a follow-up publication to Best Practices for Legal Education by Roy Stuckey and others.     The vision of the book is to build on ideas for implementing best practices, and to develop new theories and ideas on Best Practices for Legal Education.   If you would like to author a section in the book please let us know as soon as possible.   Then by December 1, 2011 send either of us a 3-5 page abstract identifying the knowledge, skills and values as well as the learning objectives and methodology of your innovative teaching idea.   The Editorial Board will meet at the AALS meeting in January to select pieces for inclusion in the book.

 

If you have any questions or thoughts about the project please feel free to contact either of us.

 

Looking forward to drawing  on the expertise of the legal academy to build on Best Practices for Legal Education!

 

Antoinette Sedillo Lopez ,Chair, Publication Committee

Deborah Maranville,  co-editor

 

Building on Best Practices–Call for Ideas and Authors

The Clinical Legal Association Best Practices Implementation Committee is planning a follow-up publication to Best Practices for Legal Education by Roy Stuckey and others. The vision of the book is to build on ideas for implementing best practices, and to develop new theories and ideas on Best Practices for Legal Education. We would like to call for topic suggestions and author abstracts. If you are interested in submitting a topic suggestions, please do so by August 1 by emailing Antoinette Sedillo Lopez at lopez@law.unm.edu with the topic idea and potential authors and resources relating to the idea. If you would like to author a section in the book and 3-5 page abstract identifying the knowledge, skills and values as well as the learning objectives and methodology of your innovative teaching idea. The abstract is due December 1, 2011. The Editorial Board will meet at the AALS meeting in January to select pieces for inclusion in the book.
If you have any questions or thoughts about the project please feel free to contact me or Deborah Maranville, co-editor.
Looking forward to drawing on the expertise of the legal academy to build on Best Practices for Legal Education! Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, Chair, Publication Committee

Best Practices for Legal Education in Monterrey, Mexico

The States in Mexico are, one by one, revising their criminal law and criminal procedure codes to change from an inquisitional, written system to an adversarial system with oral trials. Of course, this transformation is a major change in their legal culture. And, the law school leaders in Mexico understand that this shift requires that they change their approach to legal education. Lectures about legal doctrines made sense when lawyers were only called upon to prepare legal documents. Now that lawyers who represent criminal defendants will have to present opening arguments, direct examinations, cross examinations and closing arguments, law students need to develop different skills. I was very privileged to travel to Monterrey, Mexico with Professor Catherine Carpenter of Southwestern Law School to provide a training session about teaching to prepare students for the practice of law in an adversary system. The session was organized by Maestro Manuel Caloca at the Casa de la Cultura Juridica de la Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nacion (The House of Judicial Culture of the National Supreme Court).

This gave me a wonderful opportunity to talk about Best Practices for Legal Education. I pointed out that the whole book is available on line. As for our training, Catherine and I role played a Socratic class. She did a superb job of questioning me about a criminal case involving involuntary manslaughter. I tried to throw her a couple of curve balls, but she caught them and effectively tossed them back. She is an extremely engaging teacher in the best tradition of Best Practices and I was very pleased that she was the model of the Socratic Method. I then had the opportunity to talk about clinical legal education and skills training through use of simulations and in the tradition of leaning by doing, we used the case Catherine taught through the Socratic method to have them prepare a direct examination and a cross examination of the defendant. I was pleased to see how engaged and motivated they were. They had a lot of questions about teaching and it was obvious that they all care very much about teaching. One of the law teachers described how she used skits to get the students to learn about the adversary system and her students prepared videos of their skits that she can use to teach other students. I was also pleased to reconnect with a long time friend who is a professor at the University of Guanajuao, Juan Manuel Olvera. The mock trial team he coached from the University of Guanajuato recently won the national mock trial competition!

Catherine also presented her work as author of the ABA curriculum report and also some insights in her role as chair of the Accreditation Committee of the ABA. Of course, because Mexico’s legal education is a five year program after high school, the context is quite different, but the faculty was very interested in trends in legal education in the United States. And, that trend is actually consistent with Mexico’s reform: focusing on improving the preparation of law students for the practice of law.

We also met Luis Fernando Perez Hurtado who is the Director of a non-profit Center for the Study of Law Teaching and Learning (Centro de Estudios sobre la Ensenanza y el Aprendizaje del Derecho). His non –governmental organization’s mission is to improve legal education and he was very pleased to learn about the Best Practices for Legal Education. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is translated into Spanish. It is really exciting to think that the Best Practices “movement” might have a role in transforming legal education in Mexico. It will be intriguing to see how the adversary system develops in Mexico and how law schools change to prepare students for the change.

Cost of Legal Education

A recent GAO report, HIGHER EDUCATION: Issues Related to Law School Cost and Access is garnering attention in the blogosphere ( clinicians -with-not-enough-to-do, poverty law) and more conventional media.

Responding to a GAO survey, law schools blamed  a move toward ” a more hands-on, resource-intensive approach to legal education” and competition for US News rankings for increases in tuition, not ABA accreditation standards. More resource intensive legal education included: clinical and skills courses; diversity of specialized course offerings; increased students support – academic, career services, admission .

The report made no attempt to evaluate the relative role of the three cited factors.  On the surface it seems intuitively obvious that clinical and skills courses would be more expensive than “podium” courses.  For better and worse many schools  rely heavily on grant and other outside funding, as well as low-cost adjunct faculty, for clinical and skills course, which would, of course, reduce the cost of such courses to the law schools.  So interesting question whether clinical and skills courses deserve their “star billing” on this list.

Note that many – but not all –  “best practices” are more resource intensive than dominant approaches to legal education.   “Best practices” and “more hands-on, resource- intensive”  overlap but are not identical.

Collaborative Externships Update

Almost seven  months ago I blogged about the the Laurel Rubin Rural Externship Advocacy Project sponsored by the Washington State Access to Justice and the Law School’s committee.   Externship Collaborations

In June the Project was formally launched Continue reading

Best Practices and Supreme Court Nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor: the Importance/Impact of Experience & Intercultural Knowledge

As the right and the left examine and attack President Obama’s nominee,  Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor, we should take a look at her from a “Best Practices” perspective.   Although the focus of Best Practices is the legal academy, its values transfer well to consideration of a Supreme Court nominee.

I posit that Sotomayor is a Best Practices kind of nominee.  Why?  Continue reading

THE ROLE OF CRITICAL THEORY SCHOLARSHIP IN BEST PRACTICES

As law schools and law faculty engage in legal education reform, the question arises: What is the role of critical theory or theory-critique?    Some of our friends and colleagues in the critical race, feminist, post-feminist and other theory-critique schools may feel left out of the dialogue/teaching initiatives when,  in fact, such “theory-critique” skills are an important part of effective lawyering.  Continue reading

The Importance of Training Cross-Cultural Practice Skills

The Best Practices book suggests that a law school curriculum should focus on knowlege, skills and values that are relevant to the practice of law.  I believe that cross-cultural knowledge, intercultural communication and self-awareness are very important to the effective practice of law and will become even more important as our world continues to shrink. The following is a little excerpt from an email Professor Joe Harbaugh sent me about my article Making and Breaking Habits:

I was amused by the “political correctness”/faculty agenda reactions of some of your students; in the field of business, the experiential and survey research on negotiation over the last decade is dominated by cross-cultural studies.  For many lawyers, these aren’t “soft” issues; they’re about as tough as they get!  Today’s lawyers must be conscious of and astute about the questions you address if they are to adequately represent their clients.  Indeed, many of them also may be required to “teach” their clients about the importance of being culturally conscious to successfully conclude a transaction or resolve a dispute.

I love getting support for teaching about these issues! Thanks Joe!

%d bloggers like this: