Addressing Structural Racism in Law School: CUNY Law Faculty Issues Statement and Demand for Action

At law schools across the country, we are grappling with how to respond to internal and external conversations about the role of the legal profession in addressing structural racism, white supremacy, and racist policing. At CUNY Law School, Black faculty and non-Black faculty of color recently drafted and published a Statement and Demand for Action that was endorsed by the full faculty. The impressive and comprehensive statement outlines action steps, policy demands, and faculty dynamics that must change, addresses CUNY’s problematic relationship with the NYPD, and pushes for specific action to create an anti-racist campus.

As we collectively consider the path forward, what steps in CUNY’s plan resonate? What similar discussions are taking place at other law schools, and what is changing? Let us know in the comments.

 

Full text of the statement appears below this line: 

Statement and Demand for Action to Create an Anti-Racist Campus

By Black Faculty and Faculty of Color at CUNY Law

June 30, 2020

Black Faculty and Faculty of Color of CUNY School of Law issue the following statement, endorsed by the full faculty. We believe unequivocally that Black Lives Matter. We grieve with the families of Ahmaud Aubery, Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, and every victim of anti-Black violence. We stand in solidarity with those who are demanding justice for their deaths, and who are fighting to dismantle white supremacy in all its forms, and specifically, systemic anti-Black racism. We join in solidarity with those in New York City and around the country who are challenging not only structural racism and racist policing, but anti-Blackness and racism in all of our institutions. The legal academy, including CUNY School of Law, are not exempt from these legacies of slavery and subjugation.

Statement and Demand for Action to Create an Anti-Racist Campus

As Black and non-Black faculty of color, we support the Movement for Black Lives Policy Platforms and stand in solidarity with the movement to defund and abolish police and redefine public safety and accountability through non-carceral investments in Black communities. Accordingly, we reject reforms that preserve the status quo.  As lawyers and educators, we acknowledge our profession’s history of upholding white supremacy and thwarting these demands. However, we are also uniquely situated to further them. Below are preliminary areas in which the law school must work in furtherance of these goals:

Our role in the legal profession: We heartily embrace the dual mission of our law school — to facilitate access to underrepresented communities historically excluded from the profession by white supremacy, and particularly anti-Blackness, and to act as an entrée into providing legal support to communities fighting against systems entrenched in white supremacy. Our view of social justice calls for a complete reimagining of the state and society. Accordingly, we seek to serve those students who will genuinely and fearlessly pursue transformative racial and economic justice.

We uplift and honor the legacy of W. Haywood Burns, the first Black law school dean in New York State, who was also the second dean of CUNY School of Law and tirelessly fought for Black liberation in and outside of the walls of CUNY Law. We are cognizant that among the central tools of oppression under white supremacy is the law, particularly as meted out by police, military and prosecutors of all stripes — be they police who criminalize or cage, police who alienize or deport, or purportedly protective agencies who demonize or separate families.

As Black and non-Black faculty of color, we are committed to dismantling these tools of oppression through a pedagogical approach that deploys critical and radical analyses to challenge our students and by offering a robust and humble praxis in service of movements that seek transformative and restorative justice.  We further reiterate the importance of affirming CUNY Law’s dual mission, from admission to graduation and beyond, through a commitment of  institutional self-reflection that is unflinching, inclusive, and continual.

Curriculum: Black students routinely call on the CUNY Law faculty to recognize and confront the negative impact that the traditional legal curriculum has had on Black students. We call on faculty to acknowledge the concerns of students of color and incorporate the feedback into their teaching.

To work towards becoming an anti-racist campus, we demand that, starting in Fall 2020, faculty mobilize pre-existing resources like the Race, Privilege, and Diversity and Professional Development committees toward educating ourselves across the administration and faculty — including adjuncts, visitors, tenure-track, and tenured faculty — on anti-Blackness, racial capitalism, state overreach into communities of color and abolition movements, particularly by engaging with work authored by Black people, incorporating critical frameworks like critical race feminism and queer theory, disability justice, abolition, and decoloniality, among others, throughout every course, and centering intersectional Black perspectives in the classroom.

To achieve these goals, we demand that CUNY Law provide the material resources so that all faculty may take the time necessary to engage in this learning and unlearning. To ensure accountability and transparency, we demand that these committees and others apprise the full faculty in writing each semester on their progress and any challenges encountered in this process.

Non-Curricular Policy Points

  • The various departments that constitute the law school make powerful choices that should be calibrated to center and uplift anti-racist objectives. We demand increased outreach to Black and non-Black students of color in admissions by the career planning office and heightened engagement with Black and non-Black alumni of color. Understanding that internships and initial jobs are key to a student’s ability to practice law over the long-term and practice in the frontlines of social justice movements, we also demand that the career planning office provide increased support to Black and non-Black students of color, particularly first-generation higher education students, whose resumes and cover letters can and should reflect the valuable perspectives and skills that each of our students has to offer the legal profession. We call on the relevant committees to report back on these developments to the full faculty in Fall 2020.
  • For too long we have participated in maintaining barriers to the legal profession even as we seek to break those down. Accordingly, we demand that, starting Fall 2020, the minimum LSAT requirement for all scholarships, including the Graduate Fellowship, be abolished and that the law school keep records of and make public the distribution of scholarship and summer fellowship funds by race. Similarly, we demand that admissions data collection be expanded beyond the required ABA categories to include more detailed, granular, and less reductive categories to better account for the multiple and diverse identities our students bring to the school. We call on the Admissions committee to report back on these developments to the full faculty on a bi-semesterly basis.
  • CUNY Law offers the services of a Nurse Practitioner and Mental Health Counselor on the premises, but otherwise, students are not offered health insurance and are instead invited to enroll in Medicaid programs during open enrollment each period. The limited resources made available are not sufficient for CUNY’s student body. Particularly given the dynamics described above, we call on the law school to consider allocation of funds to mental health services and other medical insurance.
  • Some of our academic standing policies — such as the threshold for academic probation — have a disparate impact on Black and non-Black students of color. We demand that those policies be immediately reconsidered and amended. We call on the Academic Standing committee to report back to the full faculty on these developments on a bi-semesterly basis.
  • We reiterate the importance of the role of Black and non-Black faculty of color on the faculty appointments committee. We call on the Committee on Committees to report back to the full faculty on developments to this end in Fall 2020.
  • Like many law schools, CUNY Law relies on faculty with non-secure positions for critical teaching positions. Our adjunct, visitor, instructor, and other non-tenure track faculty contribute immensely to our institution yet lack job security, opportunities for training and development, and other benefits that permanent faculty enjoy. We demand meaningful job security for our colleagues in these positions, especially Black and non-Black faculty of color. We call on all relevant committees to report back to the full faculty on progress to this end in Fall 2020.

Faculty Dynamics

  • Invisible institutional service and labor of Black and non-Black faculty of color: In 2019, 88% of lawyers were white and in 2018, 8 out of 10 law professors were white. CUNY School of Law boasts a more racially diverse faculty. We especially acknowledge the school’s laudable efforts to bring ten faculty of color, including 4 black faculty, onto the tenure track in the past 3 years alone. Nonetheless, we must do more to dismantle anti-Blackness in our governance. Black and non-Black faculty and staff of color, both at CUNY Law and throughout the U.S., routinely perform unrecognized labor beyond their job descriptions and in the service of their institutions, to confront anti-Blackness and other forms of racism. A wealth of research shows these contributions both sustain diversity and inclusion efforts in the academy and create additional demands that detract from the time required for fulfilling traditional expectations of all faculty.

Faculty of color devote significant time to mentoring and supporting Black and non-Black students of color, ensuring that our institution can retain the most marginalized students after they matriculate.  We advocate explicitly and in more personalized ways for Black and non-Black students of color, who suffer regular indignities, while we also abide microaggressions from colleagues, the profession, and indignities from broader society ourselves. We disproportionately bear the burden of ensuring equitable distribution of labor among faculty and scholarship and fellowship awards among students.

We highlight the lack of recognition (both in salary/pay and formal acknowledgement through evaluation, tenure, and promotion standards) of the amount of invisible institutional service and labor that Black and non-Black faculty and staff of color contribute to the law school.  We demand that similar to our institution’s commitment to recognizing advocacy work product as scholarship, CUNY Law change provisions in promotion, hiring, assignment to and distribution of labor on committees, and tenure policies to honestly and explicitly reflect the now hidden workload of Black and non-Black faculty and staff of color.  For example, we need more conscientious reappointment and annual review reporting policies and re-conceptualized categories of “teaching, scholarship, and service” across the faculty.  We call on all relevant committees to report back to the full faculty on progress to these ends in Fall 2020.

  • Recognition of privilege and power: We note the complex conditions inherent in participating in governance discussions. We demand that faculty be mindful of their privilege and hierarchies of power and reflect on the ways in which they participate in committees, faculty meetings, and other spaces — stepping back where appropriate.

Policing: Generations of faculty, students, and staff of color have repeatedly expressed concerns about the relationship between CUNY Law’s public safety and the New York City Police Department (NYPD). We demand that any memoranda of understanding governing the role or presence of CUNY Public Safety, of the NYPD, or of any other law enforcement agency on the CUNY School of Law campus be shared immediately with the full faculty, staff, and student body of the law school. In keeping with the demands and concerns of generations of students, faculty, and staff, we’re calling on CUNY Law School to discontinue any formal or informal relationship with NYPD and reimagine campus security by supporting the safety and well-being of the people on campus through divestment from punitive policing systems and investment in alternatives, including de-escalation, conflict resolution, and transformative and restorative justice training for all faculty, staff, and designated student representatives. The Public Safety committee was explicitly tasked with addressing these issues in the Fall of 2019. We call on that committee to report back to the full Faculty by October 2020 on progress to these ends.

Finally, we stand by Brooklyn College’s Black Faculty and Staff (BFS), Faculty of Color (FOC) Group, Latino Faculty and Staff (LFSO), and other caucus groups in the CUNY system, and we adopt our Brooklyn colleagues’ statement, slightly adapted to the law school’s context, as follows: This moment in our country is the culmination of systemic denial of dignity that typifies antiblackness. As lawyers fighting for racial and economic justice, we know that structural inequality cannot be addressed through empty statements of standing in solidarity and promoting “diversity.”

We advocate a transformational solidarity with an ethos of social justice that is action- oriented. Transformational solidarity means that the systemic racism, surveillance, and austerity that have become a normal feature of society is aggressively challenged on campus. Transformative solidarity understands that struggles against domination are shared and that anti-Blackness and austerity work in tandem and must be fought hand-in-hand. This is a fight that involves Albany and state politics but it begins with us on campus. We demand a shift in the current institutional logic of the administration that urges faculty and staff to do more for our students with less. By embracing this moment of profound possibility in response to this crisis, we hope to imagine and create a life-affirming campus we do not have, but require.

  • Chris Adams
  • Beena Ahmad
  • Naz Ahmad
  • Saba N. Ahmed
  • Bahar Ansari
  • Nermeen Arastu
  • Ann Cammett
  • Eduardo R.C. Capulong
  • Janet Calvo
  • Asima Chaudhary
  • Natalie M. Chin
  • Frank Deale
  • Farah Diaz-Tello
  • Pamela Edwards
  • Golnaz Fakhimi
  • Raquel Gabriel
  • Mary Godfrey-Rickards
  • Natalie Gomez-Velez
  • Victor Goode
  • Fareed Hayat
  • Julia Hernandez
  • Carmen Huertas-Noble
  • Chaumtoli Huq
  • Tarek Z. Ismail
  • Ramzi Kassem
  • Donna Lee
  • Degna Levister
  • Julie Lim
  • Gregory Louis
  • Lynn Lu
  • Shirley Lung
  • Princess Masilungan
  • Michelle Pinzon
  • Missy Risser-Lovings
  • Jeena Shah
  • Charisa Kiyô Smith
  • Nicole Smith
  • Yasmin Sokkar Harker
  • Cynthia Soohoo
  • Rafael Varela
  • Shomari Ward

 

We call on all of our faculty colleagues to endorse this statement, mindful that such an endorsement carries with it the responsibility of ensuring the statement’s implementation.

 

Endorsed by:

  • Mary Lu Bilek
  • Beryl Blaustone
  • Rebecca Bratspies
  • Sue Bryant
  • Janet Calvo
  • Nina Chernoff
  • Douglas Cox
  • Lisa Davis
  • Ryan Dooley
  • Dave Fields
  • Laura Gentile
  • Julie Goldscheid
  • Florence Kerner
  • JM Kirby
  • Jeffrey L. Kirchmeier
  • Sarah Lamdan
  • Stephen Loffredo
  • Matthew Main
  • Camille Massey
  • Andrea McArdale
  • Haley Meade
  • Laura Mott
  • David Nadvorney
  • Jason Parkin
  • Talia Peleg
  • Allie Robbins
  • Ruthann Robson
  • Joe Rosenberg
  • Merrick T. Rossein
  • Jonathan Saxon
  • Franklin Siegel
  • Richard Storrow
  • Erin Tomlinson
  • Sarah Valentine
  • Kara Wallis
  • Alan White
  • John Whitlow
  • Sofia Yakren
  • Deborah Zalesne
  • Steven Zeidman
  • Jean Zorn

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

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

Is Mandatory P/F An Opportunity to More Accurately Assess Competency to Practice Law and For Bar Admission?

As our knowledge of COVID19 and its impact becomes more extensive each day, each workplace, profession and community is facing some common and some unique questions. Those working on the front lines in hospitals – such as several of  my relatives in NYC and NJ – are experiencing the kind of trauma, shortages, emotional overload and duress that is usually experienced in wartime. It can only be weakly imagined by the rest of us.   For those of us not experiencing  people suffering and dying in front of us on a daily basis, some less horrific choices are before us:  How do we modify “business as usual”?  How do we evolve and adapt with each days new tsunmai of information and data?  How do we support our best selves and our core values in this historically momentous time on our shared planet? 

Before turning to the topic of grading and assessment, I want to pause to give a shout-out to my home institution. Our multi-talented leader Dean Alicia Ouellette has been holding  community town halls every day since Friday March 20th. (BTW Dean Ouellette  just shared on Facebook  that she had been suffering from “presumptive COVID 19” fever and symptoms but thankfully is now symptom free). During our daily town halls, my faculty colleagues and I have expressed our wonder and gratitude for the  character, resilience and grit of our law students who are balancing so much right now, and facing so many financial, tech-related, health and extended family burdens. Our students’ engaged and forgiving response to “tech-curious but not necessarily tech-savvy” teachers and their community-minded empathy for those hardest hit keeps the faculty motivated and inspired.

One of the COVID19 decisions for legal educators involves whether and how we assess and sort — which in reductive  vernacular means “grade and rank.”  Maintaining appropriate expectations, options, rigor and excellence in law teaching  may assume primacy for those  who have been long focused on ensuring that law students receive real value for the time, talent and treasure they expend on law school.   For others focused on fairness in law placement,  transparent employer signals about how they will view Spring 2020 legal education may be most influential.  For those concerned about our profession’s  reputation for lack of wellness and lack of diversity, those concerns are elevated at this moment when those least advantaged are most hard pressed.  For those struggling with equity, there are so many permutations and consequences of COVID19 – whichever choice a school makes – that voting faculty could become as immobilized as Chidi Anagonye on THE GOOD PLACE. (BTW Good idea for escape television for those who love philosophy or Kristen Bell).

On the other hand, might this be a moment to look for the opportunities for reform and improvement that only come when the status quo is disturbed and rocked to its foundations as is happening now.  Here is what I am thinking:

Might Mandatory P/F force educators and employers to admit that traditional law school grading and ranking is a misleading and reductive proxy for measuring potential success as a lawyer?

Could it force employers to use other ways to learn about the WHOLE STUDENT with all her strengths, gaps, and individual aptitudes including the situation she faced during law school?

Might it accelerate a move to a more qualitative than quantitative assessment of each law student? Or, at least might it prioritize learning which enables a school to assemble a portfolio of student recommendations ( demonstration of knowledge, skills, aptitudes, and professionalism)?

Foundational resources include of course Educating Lawyers, Best Practices in Legal Education, and Building on Best Practices: Transforming Legal Education in a Changing World, which also provide helpful wisdom points. In addition, looking back through the dozen or so years of this blog’s existence, there are lessons from which we can pull core knowledge and core values to assist in our continued educational deliberations at this turbulent time. 

CORE KNOWLEDGE AND REFLECTIONS

Valuing Legal Education over Sorting – For example, focus on the difference between assessment and grading.  Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers conferences have brought employers, law schools, and legal education stakeholders together to tackle the disconnect between our current sorting systems (primarily used to help elite employers looking for a simple and reductive initial screening system) and the needs of society and most employers for competent new attorneys and the needs of students and the profession for fairness.

Focus instead on formative and evaluative assessment of law students and graduates

Focus on growth mindset, on reflection and learning from mistakes or experience

Recognize the limits and problems with GPA’s or LSAT scores to create a more competent profession with more able and diverse learners.

Acknowledge that the media and the academy is still stuck in a mindset that focuses on sorting methods rather than on better preparation and assessment of law students to serve clients and society.

Class rank does not predict who will become a competent, healthy and ethical lawyer

Effective Education includes

CORE LEARNING VALUES

Growth Mindset 

Inclusion and Diversity

Student-centered Learning  and the Introduction to the original Best Practices – “One of our basic tenets is that law schools should become more student-centered”

Wellness  

Collaboration and Innovation

Integrity 

Character 

Justice

Situational Excellence

There is a common theme here: P/F with alternative assessment information and measures should be seen not as temporary emergency expedients to “sort and rank”, but rather as long overdue components of a better educational program and more nuanced assessment paradigm.

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.  I wish all our readers and citizens of our little blue planet moments of peace, love, safety, and compassion. May someone be kind to you today and let’s pay it forward.

 

 

 

World Mental Health Day and Multicultural Awareness

October 10th is World Mental Health Day, instituted by the WHO to raise “awareness of mental health issues around the world” and mobilize “efforts in support of mental health.”  Many members of our profession, are challenged by depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.  In 2016, the ABA created the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being partly in response to the increased ubiquity and pressure of the digital age.

The ubiquity of email, text and other technological advances, all of which make the advent of the fax machine feel downright quaint, have only exacerbated our legal responsibilities. The pressure is constant. And in the midst of taking care of everyone else, we all too frequently ignore our own stressors and health in the process.  Over time, the subtle adverse effects go unnoticed and mask the existing crisis …..

The Task Force was conceptualized and initiated by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP), the National Organization of Bar Counsel (NOBC), and the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL). In August 2017, the Task Force released The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change (Wellness Study).  Many state bar associations – such as New York’s – highlighted the need for lawyer health. 

Law students, too, are subject to similar ubiquitous demands of the digital age while competing, learning, interning, seeking permanent employment, representing clients under supervision, and, for many, accruing debt. My law school, like many others, takes seriously the need to educate and support law students’ well-being and has been fortunate to receive funding from a loyal alum and board member for a Wellness Initiative. This week our Dean of Students and her office have planned a series of educational and supportive events.

Mental Health Week

Another project run by students partnered with alums helps with the economic stress of having to purchase professional clothing and suits. And our Center for Excellence in Law teaching sites provide links to self-help apps for students .

This focus on well being is not simply an administrative task. It is incumbent upon law teachers to discuss these subjects in doctrinal classes, seminars and experiential learning courses while mainstreaming ethics, professional identity and multicultural awareness into the curriculum.  Wellness intersects with several of my law school’s learning outcomes  for JD students. In particular, wellness and mindfulness are important tools in mitigating implicit bias and facilitating students ability to

Demonstrate an awareness and understanding of the knowledge, skills, and values necessary to be competent and effective lawyers in a multicultural world. (Albany Law JD Learning Outcome #6)

I experimented with linking the two in class this week. I started the class by reminding students that it was Mental Health Awareness week and the reading a poem by Mary Oliver to get them to slow down.  We also meditated for about 1 minute and 30 seconds by placing a raisin on our tongue and using that time to “Uni-task” by just focusing on the  smell, taste, feel and effects of saliva on the raisin.

We discussed vicarious trauma, implicit bias and how it affects Science.  For homework students had taken implicit association tests,   acquired some new cultural knowledge, read about transgender killings and viewed Hidden Injustice: Bias on the Bench.”  We then discussed how Implicit Bias might work against victims/survivors of domestic violence or privilege abusers which led into discussions of voir dire and Batson.  Students expressed surprise that judges cared about Implicit Bias and that NYS now requires a 1 credit CLE in Diversity and Inclusion. 

We ended class with discussing how to mitigate our own implicit biases.  This is where well-being and mindfulness come in:

  1. Reflection is a tool for mitigating bias. Emphasizing the importance of reflection as a life-long lawyer habit is something we teachers can embrace. Thus mindfulness is not only an important part of well-being, it is a tool to become a more competent lawyer.
  2. When we are tired and exhausted, we are more apt to rely on unconscious patterns, which swings the door wide open to implicit bias reactions and away from thoughtful and considered responses.

The students appeared to understand the connection and to acknowledge its potential. In the final moments of class, I led the students in a LION yoga pose. This was a real treat for me.  As the days get shorter and mid-semester stress hits, there is nothing better than seeing law students laugh at themselves (and me) as they loosen up their tight facial and jaw muscles.

How are you honoring Mental Health Awareness Week at your school or organization?  Do you see the link between mitigating bias and wellness/mindfulness?

After All These Years: Another Bar Exam Over, Another Entering Class, but Still a Disconnect between the Licensing Exam and What We Need Lawyers to Be and Do

I was never a Journey fan but I truly am astonished that after all these years of preparing lawyers for practice, and after two years of an unprecedented undermining of  the rule of law in our nation, law schools still live with a disconnect between the profession’s  licensing exam and what business, government and society needs lawyers to be and do, which includes protecting  the rule of law. 

The National Law Journal recently discussed two new major studies which will analyze whether the current exam is the best measure of new lawyer competence.  The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) is in the midst of a three year study  to “ensure that the bar examination continues to test the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for competent entry-level legal practice in the 21st century.”  (Hmm, continues? that’s a bit biased) and has already held 30 listening sessions.  

The second study, “Building a Better Bar: Capturing Minimum Competence” is an initiative of  the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System in partnership with Ohio State Law Professor Deborah Merritt, and aspires to develop a “fair, evidence-based definition of minimum competence” to improve the current licensing process.  Funded by Access-Lex, the researchers:

will be holding 60 focus groups in 12 locations around the country. While these focus group participants will primarily be new lawyers, we will also hold a number of specialized groups with supervisors. Additional specialized groups will include only women and only people of color, as well as groups in rural areas; traditional job analyses can mask the views of these lawyers, yet their perspectives are essential to create a more fully representative view of minimum competence and how to test for it effectively. Through these focus groups, we will be able to capture key information from a diversity of perspectives and provide concrete data on the definition of minimum competence that the profession can use to improve the bar exam and how lawyers are licensed.

 

Readers may remember that IAALS has provided helpful research in the past through its Foundations for Practice  research, which identified the  competencies over 24,000 legal employers value in new hires (most of which go untested by the current licensing process) as well as the evaluation of the graduates of the Daniel Websters Honors alternative to the bar exam in “Ahead of the Curve:  turning Law Students into Lawyers

I suppose I should be delighted that more studies are being launched. They are addressing the exact issues so many of us have raised for decades. However, my reaction is uncharacteristically pessimistic.  (Readers here who have tolerated my enthusiastic use of exclamation points and emphasis will agree it is uncharacteristic).  Perhaps it is the August humidity. Perhaps, it is the sorrow surrounding our nation after a week of grief from senseless gun violence But more likely, it is the fact that I am feeling frustrated that we have already studied this to death! For example, working with state bar associations The Foundations for Practice Project already studied new lawyer competencies with 24,000 lawyers from all 50 states participating and found

… the foundations that entry-level lawyers need to launch successful careers in the legal profession.

In a first-of-its-kind survey, we asked, “What makes a new lawyer successful?” More than 24,000 lawyers from all 50 states answered.

What we learned is that new lawyers need more than IQ and EQ to be successful. They also need CQ: Character Quotient. In fact, 76% of characteristics (thinks like integrity, work ethic, common sense, and resilience) were identified by a majority of respondents as necessary right out of law school.

Beyond character, new lawyers are successful when they come to the job with a broad blend of legal skills, professional competencies, and characteristics that comprise what we call the “whole lawyer.”

So why is the NCBE, who clearly has a stake in the outcome, refusing to respond to the outcome of that 3 year old study but instead promising only to do its own study. JEESH! We tweak here and there, we add more pro bono or experiential requirements, but no one truly influential will admit that our insistence on anchoring the gateway to the profession to a timed, written exam instead of clinical excellence is the problem.

Starting as early as 2008, this blog has discussed the problems with the bar exam and its role as an unhelpful, anxiety producing, discriminatory, skewed, and unnecessarily speeded, gate-keeping device.  For a sporadic history of posts between then and now, in fairly chronological order, click on the links below.

Did You Know That “Bar Courses” Don’t Matter? 

New Article: No Excuses Left for Failing to Reform Legal Education

Working with State Bar Associations on Best Practices

Bar Passage and Best Practices for Legal Education

One BAR to rule them all?

The Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program

NYSBA Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession Report

New Requirements for Bar Exam Stress Clinical Education

Existential Crisis and Bar Exams: what is really cruelest?

The Bar Exam Inhibits Curricular Reform

NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION VIGOROUSLY OPPOSES PROPOSAL TO BRING UBE TO NY THIS JULY

Preparing Students for the Multistate Bar Exam

Musings on the Bar Exam and Legal Education’s Attitude toward it

Bar Exam Musings, Part II: Skillfully Changing the Bar Exam Narrative

Experts in the Legal Field Question the Bar Exam…

What’s going on in California? “TFARR- recommended” 15 credits of competency training

New York Proposes “Experiential Learning Requirements” as Condition of Licensure: CLEA and NYS Bar Committee Respond

Examining the Bar

Keeping an experiential identity in bar passage reform

Whither Clinical Courses and Bar Passage – by Prof. Robert Kuehn

DO LAW SCHOOLS ADEQUATELY PREPARE STUDENTS FOR PRACTICE? SURVEYS SAY . . . NO! – Robert Kuehn, Washington University School of Law

Professor Merritt’s Blog post on attorney discipline and bar exam WORTH A READ!

Studying Better Ways to Test Bar Applicants for Minimum Competence: Another Reason to Care about the California Bar Exam (Besides the Cut Score Debate)

Scholarship on Bar Exam Alternatives Needed

ABA Commission on Future of the Profession & ABA Vote on Bar Passage Proposal

Drafting Exams With Test-Taking Speed in MindConcrete Suggestions for Bar Exam Reform

We have to talk about the bar exam

What can Law Schools Learn about Bar Passage from Medical Schools’ Approach to Studying Students Who Struggle with Licensing Exams?

More Resources Re Teaching, Learning, and Bar Passage

A Fresh Look at the Uniform Bar Examination

Letters raise concerns about changes to the bar pass accreditation standard

Time to Remedy the Ills Afflicting ABA Council’s Standard 316 Proposal

Are the Students Failing the Bar Exam Today Canaries in the Coal Mine warning us of a More General Need to Change Legal Education?

Shifting the Focus of Legal Education Back to Just That: Education

How Practice Tests Reduce Anxiety in Bar Preparation and the Exam

Quite a listing, huh? I suspect that the IAALS and Merritt project will provide us with extraordinarily helpful insights into measuring minimum competence. But political clout is also needed. Will this BLOG simply be adding more posts for years to come on the unfairness and inappropriateness of a slightly modified, unnecessarily stressful, timed, bar exam — a continued hazing tradition?  I hope the NCBE and other institutional influencers proves me wrong.

The role of law school internships and supervisors

Today’s ABA Journal contains an op ed by a law student complaining that “law school  biases”  infringe on his right to free speech. Part of his critique involved a change in clinical policies after he wore a #BuildTheWall T-shirt to his internship.

“It had been expressed that we could wear T-shirts, and that has been the norm for my one year at this internship. I took extra precaution by bringing a light jacket to cover it up if a client came to meet with me unannounced.”

Others are better prepared than I to debate the issue generally of whether his claims demonstrate bias in higher education or bias on the part of the student. Others can ponder whether as educators, we are more apt to be triggered by exclusive versus inclusive messages since we value designing welcoming learning environments  and growth mindset .  However, I am not interested in this school’s particular behaviour or this student’s startling apparent nonchalance about how his clothing affected his colleagues, peers and the workplace.  Rather, I am more interested in developing a better understanding of the difference between an academic discussion about self-expression, and the responsibilities and possible repression of some self-expression that most lawyers and law students undergo when donning their professional role as legal interns do.

In my 30 years in clinical education, I have witnessed multiple instances of clinical faculty navigating the tricky balance in communicating professional norms, protecting clients and academic programs, and  respecting a student’s rights. Here are just a few issues we have addressed:

helping students without wealth obtain professional clothing

multicultural insensitivity to clients by both majority and minority students

student difficulty interacting with racist, homophobic and/or sexist, clients, judges, witnesses or opposing attorneys

Unlaundered clothes, smelly students

tight clothes (in men and women)

Clacking heels, scuffed shoes, or wearing clogs all day, every day, one’s whole life

Hair over eyes

dirty fingernails

evolving norms around piercing, black women’s hair, women wearing pants, more casual clothing, hair with color not found in nature

evolving norms around cell phones in local courts, e-mail

learning to use an ancient device called a telephone, to actually initiate a call or listen to voicemail

navigating support for transgender students in unwelcoming situations

drooping pants, belly showing, off the shoulder outfits, cleavage

loud talking, gum chewing,

informality in general which can appear as rudeness to supervisors

“distracting” jewelry

women students raising their voices in a question at the end of a sentence

…and I am sure you teachers can add many more. Feel free.

As a law professor steeped in clinical legal pedagogy and theory, I start the conversation with a few  questions:

  • what is the student’s “educational goal” for her academic/professional journey or experience
  • what is the student’s “lawyer goal” in the context of this internship, case or professional experience
  • what are the client’s/workplace’s needs and goals
  • what are the needs and goals of the community that supports you having this experience — the support staff, the court officers, your sister and fellow students, the local legal community (in this area I first must acknowledge my priorities and how current student behavior may close off opportunities for future students)

Then I discuss with the student how the student’s desired self-expression fits within those questions and priorities, and the possible disconnect from her goals and the programs.

This is my approach.  What do you do?

 

 

“Teaching the Next Generation of Lawyer Leaders in a Time of Polarization” – Reflections on the AALS 2019 Conference on Clinical Education

If you have never attended an AALS Conference on Clinical Education, you have missed a transforming and immersive experience that includes supportive peers, provocative learning, and meaningful scholarly discussion while celebrating student-centered community activism.   It is attended both by those who teach primarily through clinical courses and by other professors and administrators who want to learn more about clinical androgogy, experiential learning, and justice lawyering. Deans and other law school folks enjoy the intra-law school and inter-law school collaboration efforts facilitated there.  The Clinical Legal Education Association, an advocacy organization, sponsors a biannual  new clinicians workshop adjacent to the conference and supports the local community where the Clinical Conference is held through its per diem project.  The conferences are always well attended, with the 2019 conference (held last month in San Francisco, May 4-7) hosting a whopping 780 participants.

The yearly AALS Clinical Conference is not a “talking heads” conference.  The program format varies from year to year but always involves intentionally planned opportunities for mentoring and discussion in smaller groups, with ideas and resources to bring back to campus. At the end or near end of the academic year, it provides an opportunity to nurture one’s exhausted spirit and rekindle the right-brain in a community that values  fun, creativity, and play as necessary skills for long-term  survival, teaching, writing  and do-gooding. Often, cutting edge research ideas are presented here before they take hold in the rest of the legal academy or larger community.  For example, yesteryear conferences introduced legal educators to pedagogical, andragogical and curricular theories such as backward design.   In another example, I first became aware of the early research on implicit bias at a Clinical Section program, well before this concept  entered the vernacular, was discussed by the ABA, or became a CLE requirement for lawyers in New York State.

This year’s conference did not disappoint.  Its theme, Teaching the Next Generation of Lawyer Leaders in a Time of Polarization, not only was timely but was intended to suggest that, perhaps, legal educators have a role to play in decreasing polarization and advancing understanding of shared humanity.  The conference organizer’s posited the challenge this way:

Today, we and our students are confronted with threats to virtually every norm in the legal and political world –the environment we live in, a free press, election integrity, judicial independence, standards of respectful debate, facts, the rule of law. Our students appear energized and anxious to take this on, but what new tools and opportunities should clinical legal education be providing? ….

How do we build the next generation of lawyer leaders when our students have grown up in an era of strong division, attacks on institutions of government, and the frequent rejection of civil discourse? 

The conference explored how to facilitate discussion among students and others with diverse worldviews while continuing to sustain productive learning communities for all — especially including those whose identities or religious or political views are degraded by extremist or reductive narratives.  How do we continue to pronounce and support the rule of law? How do we facilitate professional engagement in civil discourse when some classrooms are sorely lacking in diversity and a few students or one individual might carry the full weight of the ignorant or degrading narrative?  The conference organizers argued we must equip our students with creativity, judgement, and a toolbox of knowledge, skills, and values that will enable the coming generation to meet these unprecedented challenges.”

Participating in the conference was wonderfully helpful to my thinking as an educator. It made me reflect and learn from others in the small discussion group settings.  Sad to say, it was not my “transmogrifier; I am not now a wise and perfect facilitator of discussion of polarizing topics. Nor am I now certified as an educational designer of flawless learning environments.  However, I do have five reflections I want to weave into my preparation for and delivery of next year’s teaching as well as import into my discussions about the legal academy.

First, I need to defend higher education and law schools when unfairly attacked. In an era when the narrative touted in some circles suggests that lefty higher education professors exist only to foist their liberal views on students,  I found the themes and discussions at this conference more consistent with my experience in academia. Instead of arrogant proselytizing, most of my sister and fellow educators, at Albany Law School and beyond, try to empower learning in their students, facilitate creative ideas in the academic setting, enhance professional development of law students/budding lawyers and encourage community benefit and access to justice through our work.  Do we always succeed? Probably not. However, most of us have the same shared goals.

Second, I need to be mindful that Americans – and probably many of our overburdened students – are simply “exhausted.” By ugly, polarizing, speech. By hateful acts. By constant “breaking news” of dysfunction in our nation’s political capital. The conference’s plenary session “America Polarized: What Drives Us Apart? What Brings Us Together?” presented the results of a research report entitled, “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape.” It finds an “Exhausted Majority” in the American electorate. This research has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Financial Times, The Miami Herald, NPR, and CNN.

As I think of my students as containing both those excited about fighting for change but also those exhausted by polarizing discussions, how do I proceed?  How can I pick up on those cues during stressful times in the semester? How can I model and include less exhausting learning methods without shying away from ugly facts, cases, laws and legal history?  When is it time for private “one minute papers,” or private “on line feedback, submissions or comments” and when must something be thoroughly hashed out publicly?

To address this kind of polarized exhaustion, should I revisit classroom rules and class participation guidelines that facilitate learning for all my students?   In my Domestic Violence Seminar course which usually enrolls approximately 20 students, I have found some useful tools in creating an appropriate classroom climate for discussion of difficult issues. My Course Packet includes a modified version of Sophie Sparrow’s excellent Professional Engagement Expectations for the Classroom,   along with an  Assessment Rubric for Class Participation (which I modified from one my Academic Dean,  Connie Mayer,  created.  I am going to review these materials again with the concept of exhaustion in mind. (There are of course diverging views on the pros and cons of making a “safe” or educationally fertile classroom as well as what “safe” means. For contrasting views see Berkeley Education tools and an article about teaching “insensitive” topics in law schools in Atlantic Monthly). 

Third, I will remind myself of the research presented at the conference.  Research conducted by More in Common, a nonprofit research organization devoted to bridging political divides, suggests there is “more to the story” than a polarized populace. Those researchers found a wider spectrum of beliefs among Americans than one would realize when listening to, reading, or clicking on the news. They also found Americans are far more aligned on many critical issues than you might think.

For example, our data show that 75 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws, 82 percent believe that racism is at least a somewhat serious problem in America and 79 percent favor providing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought here as children. In addition, 77 percent of Americans agree that our differences are not so great that we cannot come together.

Fourth, I will encourage students (and urge myself ) to dig underneath the polarization and understand individuals’ values and fears. Professor Daniel A. Yudkin, Department of Psychology, Yale University, a post-doctoral researcher who  presented the Hidden Tribes research results,  noted at the conference and in his NYT commentary here that

our report identifies a powerful explanation for political polarization. It shows how discrepancies in people’s “core beliefs” (their moral values, parenting philosophy, feelings about personal responsibility and so on) explain differences in their political views.

Yudkin recommends this research as an entryway to discussion for teachers and scholars.  Misperceptions surrounding values and fears can cause Americans to misunderstand and misjudge each other. An example Yudkin discusses concerns views of good parenting. Conservatives align good parenting with “manners” and “respect,” while liberals tend to value fostering “curiosity” and “independence.” Fostering a discussion about how we love our children and try to be good parents could help us understand each other’s goals and values,  even if we disagree with each other’s methods.

I will consider whether in the cases I teach, the examples I provide, the arguments I encourage students to form, the hypothetical [problems I create, whether I allow room for development of empathy for the other? Do I acknowledge the underlying common humanity of all actors – in my area, as it pertains to the “abuser”, the “sexual assaulter”, the “murderer”, the “misogynist”? Should I?

Do I focus too heavily on the best opposing argument? Do I encourage enough human empathy for the other side even when preparing students to zealously advocate for ours?

Finally, using the values celebrated and embraced at Clinical Conferences such as experimentation, joy, community support, and creativity, I will continue to struggle with but also make peace with the dynamic that advancing empathy, unity and civil discourse does not impede or undermine my obligation to call out injustice. Upholding the rule of law does not preclude admitting the many times the law fails and how it rarely meets its aspirations in the daily lives of so many of our sister and fellow Americans.

Thank you to the the AALS Clinical Conference organizers, presenters and participants and the CLEA workshop organizers and presenters for providing me so much to reflect and improve upon this summer.

 

Disruptive Leadership in Legal Education

Nicholas A. Mirkay and Palma Joy Strand*

NOTE: This is an abridged version of the full essay available at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3309981

“The act of leadership is not always comfortable.”[1]

Last spring, the Wall Street Journal unveiled “The Captain Class,” a new feature focusing on “the lessons and strategies of leadership.”  The inaugural column by reporter Sam Walker focused on leadership changes at Boeing over the last decade when its Board of Directors intentionally hired Jim McNerney, a “disruptive leader,” to redirect the company’s trajectory.[2]  “The company had been floundering, and the digital revolution was barging down the gangway.” The landscape for Boeing’s business had transformed, and Boeing needed to adapt.

Disruptive leaders who reorient institutional culture, Walker observed, necessarily “embrace conflict, are ruthlessly direct, and intellectually irreverent.”  Theoretically there is a “gradual way to renovate a proud old institution,” but change rarely unfolds that way.  Rather, “[h]istory shows that it usually comes down to one determined individual—someone who bursts through the door swinging a 7-iron.”[3]

While neither of us regularly swings a 7-iron, to our own surprise we recognized ourselves in the description of disruptive leaders prodding a proud old institution to evolve to meet a changing environment. Two years ago, both of us were full, tenured professors at the Creighton University School of Law.  We sought to position the law school as a leader in responding to the shifting and uncertain landscape that currently characterizes law, the legal profession, and legal education.  Because of institutional resistance to change, however, neither of us remains in our former positions.  One of us is now a tenured Professor of Law at the University of Hawaiʻi Richardson School of Law; the other is still at Creighton and still a tenured Professor of Law, but no longer in the School of Law. 

Legal Education is Ripe for Disruption

Legal education is ripe for disruption because the legal profession and law itself are ripe for disruption.  The crisis in legal education reflects an increasing mismatch between the limited services that law and lawyers provide and vast and acute societal needs for legal services. 

In addition, law has become increasingly attenuated from justice in the sense of contributing to the creation of “right relationships” between and among people.  Because law is inaccessible to most individuals, it is irrelevant to them except as they are subjected to bureaucratic regulation by the government.  Law has become a burden rather than a useful tool for people figuring out how to live together.  A significant proportion of students come into law school seeking to work for justice, yet law school and the legal profession too often send the message that justice is irrelevant.

Nontraditional processes that allow for coordination, collaboration, and conflict engagement and resolution have already overtaken courtroom and law office services.[4] Arbitration, mediation, restorative justice, collaborative governance, LegalZoom, negotiated settlements and regulation, and more were once secondary to litigation and other lawyer-dominated processes.  The balance has now tipped, yet the focus of legal education and the legal profession on lawyers obsessively grooms the traditional tail while ignoring the ever-evolving dog.

As a result, legal education is “at a crossroads…legal educators should be talking about an entirely new business model.”[5]  Law professor William Henderson, who analyzes the legal profession and legal education, concurs:  “Legal education and the legal professions are at an inflection point where traditional models of education and practice no longer fit the shifting needs of the market.”[6] In a recent speech on “The Future of Legal Education,” departing Brooklyn Law Dean Nick Allard described change in the profession as “inevitable” and warned that “clinging to the ‘business as usual’ status quo” is not a viable option.[7]  At the same time, Allard characterized the legal profession and legal academia as “always slow and even resistant to adaptation.”[8]

Lawyers need not be the only providers of legal services.  Doctors today work alongside not only nurses but other health care professionals with diverse training and diverse skills; these teams extend the reach of the health care system.  Similarly, with additional legal professionals, the work of lawyers could reach much further than it does at present.  There has been a recent uptick in the number of persons taking the LSAT[9] and applying to JD programs in law schools.[10] While this trend lulls law schools back into comfortable reliance on the JD, a few additional lawyers will not meet the pressing demand for legal services.

The Opportunities and Pitfalls of Disruptive Leadership

When we arrived at Creighton School of Law, one of us in 2007 and the other in 2011, each of us had been faculty members at other law schools.  We saw Creighton’s small scale and personal relationships in Nebraska as creating an ideal environment for innovation and for nimble responses to the documented lack of legal services in both urban and rural parts of the state.  We were energized by the opportunities presented at a small regional private law school with close ties to the local legal community and the state bar.  We were particularly excited by Creighton’s Jesuit mission of service to others and its expressed commitment to social justice endeavors to form graduates and benefit the community.  A new, yet already nationally-recognized program in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution provided in-house expertise in innovative approaches that complement and expand the effectiveness of traditional law.

Within two years, however, a cohort of fellow faculty members, drawn predominantly from the ranks of those with the most seniority, had negatively branded us “reformers” who were seeking to move students away from “real law.” Overall, our relatively mild exercise of disruptive leadership through leadership in strategic planning and assessment, which envisioned a robust Law School response to fundamental shifts in the legal landscape, was met with a level of blowback that neither of us could have imagined.

In the face of this resistance, which escalated into a personal attack and to which a fledgling University administration capitulated, both of us sought and secured other academic appointments.  The newly-hired dean was “invited” to move out of the administrative suite and into an office on faculty row after an unexpected sabbatical year.  The Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program was transplanted to a Department of Interdisciplinary Studies in the Graduate School and its expertise and vision quarantined from the JD curriculum and students.

Academic Resistance to Change: Tenure, Academic Freedom, and Administrative Disinterest

Though legal education in the abstract may be ripe for disruption, disruptive leadership in a real-world law school setting is a tough and potentially perilous road.  Legal education is closely tied to the legal profession, and as long as lawyers have a monopoly on law, changes in legal education that respond to broader imperatives will face the challenge of not being “real law” because the entry to the legal profession lies exclusively through the straitjacket of the bar exam and admittance to a state bar.  Further, placement of legal education in universities subjects it to academic constraints that dampen potential change initiatives.

We see three characteristics of academia in general—characteristics that are not limited to legal academia—that contributed to resistance to our disruptive leadership and that are likely to ground resistance to disruptive changes in legal education generally.  The first characteristic is tenure.  Academic tenure, intended to protect and encourage open discourse, has the additional effect of protecting entrenched faculty and perpetuating institutional inertia.  The most seasoned and senior engineers at Boeing have less job security than the least productive tenured faculty member at an average college or university.  Tenure gives faculty members who resist change a powerful and easily wielded weapon:  They can choose to “not go gentle into that good night” but “[r]age, rage against the dying of the light.”[11] 

The second characteristic, related to the first, is academic freedom.  The lofty goal of academic freedom is to ensure the free and fair dissemination of views and ideas. But academic freedom can turn from shield to sword. The claim that academic freedom is being infringed can be used to challenge administrative efforts to monitor academic quality through program assessment.[12]   Even more troubling, “academic freedom has been claimed as an excuse for the most abusive and uncollegial behavior—shouting at colleagues, publicly berating students or staff members, defaming supervisors or other university administrators, shirking professional duties.”[13] 

Third, the imperatives of university administration and governing boards focus on raising funds and maintaining tradition rather than on responding innovatively to shifting economic and social dynamics.  University presidents spend a substantial portion if not a majority of their time fundraising,[14] often appealing to alumni,[15] whose views of the school necessarily look backward rather than forward.[16] University presidents and provosts may also lack essential knowledge regarding “research on innovation and their own role in the process”[17] as well as essential leadership skills, especially those related to change and conflict.  Nonprofit board members are accountable by law for fiduciary duties owed to the institution, but these duties are enforced only rarely by the Attorney General of the state in which the organization is chartered.

Law School Exceptionalism: Monopoly and Gender Dominance

The dynamic between university administrators and law schools is especially likely to be inhospitable to necessary changes.  For decades, law schools were cash cows for universities: Large class sizes and minimal hands-on clinical offerings led to law school revenues that supported other academic programs across campuses.[18]   Because of law school financial contributions, university oversight was relatively deferential, and both central office administrators and law faculty grew accustomed to laissez faire management.  Add in accreditation of law schools by the ABA, which until very recently did not even require meaningful assessment of JD programs, and you have a recipe for habits of non-accountability.  Moreover, university administrators may well be cautious about taking on entrenched and tenured law faculty who as lawyers might be expected to be relatively litigious, as we experienced. 

Two additional characteristics of legal education in particular contribute to militant resistance to disruption.  The first is the ABA’s monopoly on both the practice of law and the accreditation of law schools.  According to Professor Henderson, the legal profession is currently challenged by an environment in which “the cost of traditional legal services is going up, access to legal services is going down, the growth rate of law firms is flat, and lawyers serving ordinary people are struggling to earn a living.”[19]   Lawyers, who themselves are JDs and graduated from law schools configured to meet 20th-century needs, are in control of how legal practice is defined and regulated and of setting barriers to entry.  Lawyers wield “unauthorized practice of law” sanctions as a protection against competition despite the fact that much of the law that non-lawyers seek to practice is law that lawyers find tedious and unprofitable.[20]  

The effects of this monopoly are compounded by a second characteristic of law and legal education: a lack of diversity.  Law and legal education today remain highly gendered: Men and traditionally masculine norms permeate the profession and continue to dominate in law schools even as student enrollment approaches gender parity.[21] The two of us began collaborating as institutional leaders at Creighton as members of the School of Law’s Strategic Planning Committee.  Both of us had been elected by the faculty.  One of us (Nick) was Chair; the other (Palma) was a member who had served on the Committee for a number of years.  It was evident that we enjoyed working together and that we were a strong team.  After one contentious strategic planning meeting, a very senior (white male) member of the faculty made a point of warning Nick (via another colleague) that Palma was “emasculating” him.  A group that has been dominated by a single gender may resist a shift in gender dynamics as well as changes in practice initiated by more diverse decisionmakers.[22]

The Non-Ethics of Non-Disruption

Legal education is ripe for disruption, and disruptive leaders can challenge conceptual mindsets constructively, using technology and data analytics to map changing landscapes and reframe conversations about the future.[23]  In a changing world, adaptation allows organizations to not just hang on but to thrive. 

The casualties of law schools hanging on to the familiar are the students—the very people an educational institution exists to serve.  Is it ethical for law schools to mindlessly continue to train students for a profession that is shifting under everyone’s feet?  Is it ethical for the legal profession to wring its hands about “access to justice” while maintaining its protectionist posture?  Is it ethical for university administrators to pocket law student tuition dollars knowing that the debt those students incur is buying them an education that is unlikely to render them financially secure?  These are the unwelcome questions that disrupters in legal education should be raising – and that law and the legal profession should join in addressing.


* Director of Faculty Research and Professor of Law, University of Hawaiʻi Richardson School of Law, B.S.B.A. Saint Louis University (1989), J.D. University of Missouri (1992), LL.M. Georgetown University Law Center (1996); Professor of Law and Director, 2040 Initiative, Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, Creighton University, B.S. Stanford University (1978); J.D. Stanford Law School (1984); LL.M. Georgetown University Law Center (2006).  We thank colleagues, past and present, who reviewed and commented on this essay.

[1] Sam Walker, One Leader Sent Boeing Into a Hurricane; Landing It Was the Next Guy’s Job,  The Wall St. J. (2018) https://www.wsj.com/articles/one-leader-sent-boeing-into-a-hurricane-landing-it-was-the-next-guys-job-1524821400.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] See, e.g., Oralandar Brand-Williams, More disputes in Mich. settled through mediation, The Detroit News (2018), https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/wayne-county/2018/03/29/mediation/33406027/; and https://thelawdictionary.org/article/what-percentage-of-lawsuits-settle-before-trial-what-are-some-statistics-on-personal-injury-settlements/.

[5] Huffman, supra note 4.

[6] Bill Henderson, What signal are legal employers sending to legal education?, Legal Evolution (2018), https://www.legalevolution.org/category/legal-education/.

[7] Paul Caron, Allard: The Future of Legal Education, TaxProfBlog (June 20, 2018), http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2018/06/allard-the-future-of-the-legal-profession.html.

[8] Id.

[9] Debra Cassens Weiss, Increase in LSAT test takers seen as evidence of ‘Trump bump,’ ABA Journal (2017),http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/increase_in_lsat_test_takers_is_seen_as_evidence_of_trump_bump.

[10] Karen Sloan, Number of Law School Applicants Surges, Especially Among High Scorers, Law.com (2018), https://www.law.com/2018/07/30/number-of-law-school-applicants-surges-especially-among-high-scorers/.

[11]Dylan Thomas, https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/do-not-go-gentle-good-night.

[12] Timothy Reese Cain, Assessment and Academic Freedom: In Concert, not Conflict (Nov. 2014), http://www.learningoutcomesassessment.org/documents/OP2211-17-14.pdf.

[13] Gary Olson, The Limits of Academic Freedom, Chron.  of Higher Educ. (2009).

[14] Mitchell Wellman, 3 things college presidents spend all their time doing, USA Today (2017), http://college.usatoday.com/2017/01/27/3-things-college-presidents-spend-all-their-time-doing/.

[15] Rick Seltzer, Giving to Colleges Rises by 6.3%, Inside Higher Ed (2018), https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/02/06/personal-giving-pushes-donations-colleges-and-universities-new-level-2017.

[16] Robert M. Diamond, Why Colleges Are So Hard to Change, Inside Higher Ed (2006), https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2006/09/08/why-colleges-are-so-hard-change.

[17] Id.

[18] Megan McArdle, Law School Enrollments are Plummeting. What Happens Next?, Daily Beast (2013), https://www.thedailybeast.com/law-school-enrollments-are-plummeting-what-happens-next.

[19] William D. Henderson, Legal Market Landscape Report (July 2018), https://taxprof.typepad.com/files/henderson.pdf.

[20] See, e.g., Roy Strom, California Bar to Consider Changes to Nonlawyer Ownership Rules, The Am. Law. (2018),https://www.law.com/americanlawyer/2018/07/23/california-bar-to-consider-changes-to-non-lawyer-ownership-rules/.

[21]See, e.g., American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, A Current Glance at Women in the Law (January 2017) (legal profession), https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/women/a-current-glance-at-women-in-the-law-jan-2018.authcheckdam.pdf; Dara Purvis, Female Law Students, Gendered Self-Evaluation, and the Promise of Positive Psychology, 2012 Mich. St. L. Rev. 1693 (legal education).

[22] See generally, Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, et al., Presumed Incompetent (2012).

[23]Disruptive Leadership: A Recipe for Success, The Wall St. J. (2018), https://deloitte.wsj.com/cio/2018/07/09/disruptive-leadership-a-recipe-for-success/.

The Kids Are Alright

Regardless of your position on gun regulation, the work of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the latest victims of yet another act of senseless gun violence, has to be inspiring, if not a little humbling.  They are putting adults to shame, literally and figuratively.  Their eloquence, passion, and even their social media smarts, are creating a moment of reckoning in this country.  The so-called “adults in the room” cannot hold a candle to these students’ capacity to mobilize, empathize, reach across difference, and move a nation to action.

Many seem surprised by this. As an educator who teaches many millennial law students, I am not.  I see my students accomplish amazing things, and am constantly inspired by their intelligence, willingness to roll up their sleeves, and go to work.  Moreover, as a former law student myself (although, admittedly, nearly three decades ago), I saw students work together in the face of resistance, and the stories I have read about the work of the Parkland students and the thousands more who have taken up this fight resonate and are reminiscent of work that has occurred and will continue to occur, carried out by eager and passionate students who won’t take no for an answer and continue to “Call BS” when necessary.

What we are seeing in action is perhaps the greatest student project ever undertaken.  From the outside looking in, it looks like the students are working collaboratively and sharing the spotlight among themselves and with others outside their immediate circle.  They appear incredibly supportive of one another, are pressing ahead in support of a cause larger than themselves though grounded in their personal experiences of tragedy, and are reaching out to others to build bridges across geographies and communities. They are accomplishing slow and steady wins that help to build momentum, sustain their energy, and create confidence to take on the next challenge. In short, they are doing all of the things that a group needs to do in order to produce meaningful change.

In academia, many fear the group project.  But it is how the world functions, and how humans have been operating for millennia.  In fact, our capacity for cooperation is probably what makes us human.

Such group activity can also can have its downsides, and not just in terms of the free rider who benefits from the work of others.  Rather groups can take on a life of their own, and distorted and harmful collective understandings can emerge as a result.  In the wake of the collective tragedies of Nazism and Stalinism, “groupthink” became a source of serious academic study. But on the brink of World War II, Hungarian sociologist Karl Mannheim wrote about how industrialization and urbanization was impacting our collective capacity for this sort of groupthink as follows: “life among the masses of a large town tends to make people much more subject to suggestion, uncontrolled outbursts of impulses and psychic regressions than those who are organically integrated and held firm in the smaller type of groups.  Thus industrialized mass society tends to produce the most self-contradictory behavior not only in society but also in the personal life of the individual.”

The students of Parkland and the many others who are emerging into the broader spotlight are organizing themselves at the local level, school-by-school and community-by-community, and helping the rest of us see the disastrous and ruinous groupthink that has captured the collective imagination around gun control.  And they are doing it in remarkable ways, sustaining their collective energy in the wake of tragedy.

Recent research into how groups can work effectively, carried out by Google in what it called “Project Aristotle,” identified a series of common components in effective groups, including the following:

  • Dependability: getting things done on time and accurately;
  • Structure and Clarity: having clear goals and clear roles;
  • Meaning: the work is personally important to the team members;
  • Impact: team members think their work matters and will bring about change;
  • Psychological Safety: team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of others.

From the outside looking in, the Parkland students and the many others who have been working for meaningful responses to gun violence who have gained greater attention because of the Parkland tragedy, appear to meet these criteria for successful groups.  They pulled off hundreds of simultaneous rallies across the country in a matter of weeks.  They could not have done so had they not had some structure and clarity to their work, did not see the importance of their work, and did not derive meaning from it.  And it would appear that they are incredibly supportive of each other, both within their own groups and in relation to each other.  For example, during Saturday’s march in Washington, when a student, Samantha Fuentes, who was wounded in Parkland, was addressing the crowd, she paused a moment, turned away from the lectern, and vomited.  Other students rushed to her side, urged her to keep going.  She emerged from being doubled over to proclaim: “I just threw up on international television and it feels great!”

The students leading this campaign should be an inspiration to everyone who wants to bring about change, and can help us understand how we can do it collectively, because it is in such group efforts that real change is possible. I have written about my own experience as a law student working on a case, brought by a law school clinic, that challenged the U.S. government’s treatment of Haitian refugees in the early 1990s, a case which ultimately went to the Supreme Court.  In ways that echo the work of the Parkland students, but by no measure on the same scale or with the same impact, the team effort there, led by students, invoked many of these themes as well, and can help show how law schools can harness the collective capacities law students have for bringing about change.

In an oft-quoted phrase, Margaret Mead said to “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  How such groups should actually go about doing that is another question, and the Parkland students and the thousands of others who have been inspired by their work, or who have finally gotten the attention they deserve, may just show us the way.

Jumpstart Outline: Ideas to Help You Make a Plan to Teach “Public Citizen” Lawyering in Any Law School Class

Best Practices for Legal Education and Building on Best Practices urge legal educators to help students develop their professional identities. One aspect of a lawyer’s professional identity is performing the role of “public citizen.” The Preamble of the professional conduct rules in most jurisdictions explains that lawyers are “public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.”

We can help students begin to understand what it means to be a “public citizen” if we address the issue in concrete ways across the curriculum. The following outline provides some ideas for integrating public citizen lawyering into your course.  This is a long list, but there should be an idea or two that will work for your course, whatever its focus.

Use (or Adapt) Existing Course Materials, Exercises, and Activities to Make Explicit Connections Between the Course and the Lawyer’s Work as a Public Citizen

  • Find the Public Citizen Lawyers in Your Current Textbook. Are there lawyers in your textbook that are fulfilling the public citizen role? Discuss them when you see them.
  • Use Course Materials to Help Students Identify and Discuss Injustice. Help students become justice-seeking lawyers by helping them identify injustice. In the chapter Social Justice Across the Curriculum (in Building on Best Practices), Susan Bryant identifies seven questions that can be used in any class to help students explore injustice.
  • Discuss Needs for Law Reform in the Subject Area of the Course. When you encounter areas of needed law reform in course material, discuss how lawyers can play a part in making that change.
  • Use Writing Assignments to Give Students Experience Advocating for Law Reform. For writing assignments that require students to recommend or draft proposed changes to the law, make the explicit connection that this one way that lawyers fulfill the public citizen role: they advocate for improvement in the law. Provide them avenues to publish, discuss, and otherwise publicize their work.
  • Lawyer Speakers Should Be Asked to Discuss How they Serve. If you ordinarily invite lawyers to class to talk about course related topics, prompt them to talk about the things they do to serve the public and the legal profession.
  • Integrate Social Justice Issues Into a Course Exercise. Is there an exercise you currently use to develop knowledge or a skill in which you can introduce an issue of social justice? For thoughts on designing and debriefing that exercise, see Susan Bryant’s chapter Social Justice Across the Curriculum in Building on Best Practices: Transforming Legal Education in a Changing World, at pp. 364-66
  • Prompt “Public Citizen” Discussion in Journaling Exercises. Prompt students to reflect upon public citizen issues in their course journals. What are areas where they see a need for law reform? What could they do to address those issues now and in practice? Suggest that students talk to lawyers (with whom they work) about how they serve the public and the profession. Ask the student to reflect on those discussions in their journal.

Create New Activities and Exercises that Integrate Course Material and the Lawyer’s Role as Public Citizen

  • Prompt Students to Create a Professional Development Plan.Particularly in classes where students may have common career goals (such as in an externship or capstone class), prompt students to write about their values, interests, and strengths, and to make a plan for the future, including a plan for service.
  • Integrate Pro Bono or Service Learning Into the Class. Find an opportunity for the class to represent a client or clients or serve a community organization or population that is connected to the subject matter of the class.
  • Create a Law Reform Activity for the Class. Engage in action as a class to reform the law in an area of need connected to course material. For suggestions see Mae Quinn’s article Teaching Public Citizen Lawyering: From Aspiration to Inspiration, 8 Seattle J. for Soc. Just. 661 (2010).
  • Require Students to Interview a Lawyer. The interview should cover course-related material as well as the lawyer’s service to the poor, the public, and the profession.
  • Organize a Book Club. Identify a non-fiction law-related book with a connection to your course material and that provides a springboard for discussing the lawyer as public citizen. A great book about pro bono service and its impact on both client and lawyer is William H Colby’s Long Goodbye, The Deaths of Nancy Cruzan. A book that prompts lawyers to think about the ingredients of a happy life – including pro bono work and “serving a larger social purpose”– is Nancy Levit and Douglas Linder’s book The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law.

Share Information about Yourself as a Public Citizen

  • Be Inspiring. Tell an inspiring story about what another lawyer’s service meant to you or about what your service may have meant to someone else – and how that made you feel.
  • Talk About Yourself as a New Lawyer. Tell stories about your experiences as a new lawyer attempting to fulfill the public citizen role. What did you learn from those activities? Did you have mentors that inspired or encouraged you?
  • Note the Times When You Struggled. Share the times in your career when you have struggled with balancing the demands of practice, your personal life, and serving the public. What worked for you and where do you continue to struggle?
  • Incorporate Examples Connected to Course Subject Matter. Weave in examples of what you currently do to serve the public and the profession and explain why you serve.
  • Revise Your Faculty Webpage to Emphasize Your Public Citizen Work. Include your pro bono service activities, service to the profession (committees, CLEs, etc), and board service on your law school profile – not just your C.V.
  • Promote Your Service to the Public and Profession on Social Media. Alert your law school communications person to stories about your service activities so that students and alumni can learn about what you do through law school social media. Also, promote these same things in your own use of social media.

Fulfill the Public Citizen Role with Students Outside of the Classroom (Not Necessarily Connected to a Course)

  • Provide Access to Justice. Participate with students in organized pro bono events or service activities.
  • Improve the Law. Enlist students to help you prepare to testify or do research about a suggested change in the law – and bring the student along when possible.
  • Serve the Profession. Ask students to help you with a CLE – from preparation to attending and presenting with you. Or invite students to participate in a bar committee or bar event with you.
  • Identify a Need and Fill It. Work with student organizations you advise to identify a group with interests related to the organization. Find out their needs and make a plan to partner with them.

 

Forbes article focusing on law schools, competencies and skills development

Earlier this week, Forbes contributor Mark A. Cohen discussed what he calls “the interdependency — and misalignment —   of law school stakeholders.”  Cohen refers to a comment in a recent speech by Mark Smolik, the general counsel of DHL Supply Chain Americas, that  “he would no longer subsidize on-the-job-training of law firm associates.”  According to Cohen, Smolick’s remarks are an

indictment of the Academy for its failure to produce practice-ready graduates with required skillsets and a swipe at law firms for their failure to more fully invest in associate training to drive client value.

Cohen is urging today’s law students to look to the marketplace for “efficient, accessible, cost-effective, and just-in-time learning tools available to fill knowledge gaps and to teach new skills.” He boasts about one product that produces “high quality videos” and uses “flipped classrooms.”

I don’t disagree that law schools need to transform faster, provide more skill building,  emphasize the business context in which lawyers are hired to help, and prepare law students for the team realities of today and tomorrow’s economy.  And I appreciate Cohen’s raising this issue and inviting discussion. But his claim that only a “handful” of law schools are savvy on these issues – or as he put it have “yet to read the memo” – made my Irish blood boil. Maybe it is because it is the end of the week and I’m just tired? Maybe it is because I  just recently (September 13th) hosted yet another Flipping (every pun intended) workshop at our school showcasing all the great work being done by my colleagues in flipping their classroom? Maybe it is because if Cohen googled law schools and flipping classrooms,  he would have found Michele Pistone’s fabulous LegalED information? Maybe it is because he could have found this blogsite pretty high up on that google search and clicked on a number of posts such as here and here  and here and here and here  and here ?  Maybe it is because  nobody is noticing the work of folks like my faculty colleague Antony Haynes on innovative online opportunities?

I invite you to read the article, see what you think and tell us on this blog about what Cohen missed happening at your school!

Experience with Peer Support, Peer Review and Feedback on Teaching?  

We are all familiar with engagement in peer review of scholarship. Law faculty culture prioritizes peer input and review of scholarly ideas and articles. Sending drafts of articles to colleagues for feedback, “workshopping” preliminary ideas, and vetting scholarship is part and parcel of the work we do. We visit other schools, make presentations and attend conferences because we value peer discussion and  input. It is the basis by which we create and communicate knowledge.

I don’t believe, however, we have a similarly pervasive culture for formative peer review when it comes to teaching in law schools, although such culture exists at other higher education institutions. According to The University of Texas Faculty Innovation Center, an academic culture which prioritizes informed peer collaboration, review and input on teaching benefits everyone,

Good teachers continually learn and develop. Peer Review, which combines the examination of course materials with in-class observations and collegial discussion, helps prompt this learning among faculty. Ideally, these interactions and conversations can create opportunities for us as colleagues to reflect on and adapt our teaching practices in order to become better teachers and increase student learning.

Northeastern University Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning through Research recommends a four step process:

  • Initial conversation between the observer and the observed
  • The observation itself as an informal data collection and distillation process
  • Follow-up conversation in which the observer shares the observations and collaborates with the observed teacher in any kind of brainstorming or troubleshooting that the observations invite.
  • Reflective summary written by the observed instructor, integrating what was learned from the process and how this will influence future teaching.

Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching includes the goal of “enabling more intentional and mutually supportive communities of scholar teachers.”

It is true that we have made some progress in elevating the role of teaching in law schools in the past decade. Legal Education certainly woke up to the need for a culture change around curriculum and teaching following the publication of Best Practices for Legal Education  and Educating Lawyers.  The economic downturn heavily affected the admission process and the need to focus on student learning. ABA requirements regarding student learning outcomes also redirected attention and resources towards what students actually learn while in law school. Moreover, organized efforts such as the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning  and the AALS Section on Teaching Methods  have converted many to the idea that teaching and learning are matters worthy of scholarship, innovation and peer discussion.  Places like this blog and others support exchange of ideas, methods and innovations.

It is also true that as far back as 2008, pioneering legal scholars Gerry Hess and Sophie Sparrow studied factors which encourage or assist the professional development of law teachers including peer observation. So there are many resources available to improve teaching in law schools. Yet, across the academy, are we truly immersed in a continual process of formative feedback for law teachers? If so, the web shows little evidence of it.

I think some of the culture gap is explained by the fact that historically peer review of teaching only happened during a promotion and tenure process that resulted in an up or out decision by the faculty — hardly a formative approach. A voluntary formative program of peer support and review – not used for personnel decisions – should allay those fears.  Appropriate concerns about interference with academic freedom in the classroom might explain some of the culture gap. Except that, even more concerns about academic freedom arise with respect to peer input into “controversial scholarship,” since draft writings can be more easily captured and reproduced than can observations of a single class session. What I think explains the gap, instead, is that we have not properly trained or equipped law faculty with the tools and methods for conducting and receiving helpful peer observations.

At Albany Law, we have promoted a culture of inquiry around teaching and learning for many years now — colleagues sit in each others classrooms from time to time, our Academic Dean prioritizes teaching support, our Center for Excellence in Law Teaching showcases teaching ideas and invites collegial discussion through teaching workshops, and our Director of Online Learning and Instructional Technology facilitates flipped classrooms and other innovations. What we haven’t done is formalize a voluntary peer support and review program. This year, we are planning to revisit our very loose approach and learn from the ever evolving resources and experimentation of others.

So readers, contributors and chance internet searchers, please post here what if any processes have you implemented to support peer observation of law teaching? Is it a voluntary program as we envision at Albany? How has it worked? Or, if you have an opinion about faculty peer review programs, let us know what you think!

I hope to compile the results and report back later in the year!

P.S. If you are more comfortable with e-mail than a blog comment, feel free to contact me at mlync@albanylaw.edu. 

Dealing with Causes as Well as Symptoms of Law Students’ and Lawyers’ Lack of Well-Being

The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being just issued its report, The Path to Lawyer Well-Being:  Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.

It’s a thoughtful, constructive effort to address problems that lawyers face in practice and to promote their well-being.  It deals with serious issues including substance abuse, mental health problems, and suicide.  It includes recommendations for better education, fostering collegiality and civility, enhancing lawyers’ sense of control, mentoring, and systematic monitoring colleagues’ well-being, among many others.  It addresses legal education, recommending adjustment of the admissions process to promote well-being, detection and assistance of students experiencing problems, addressing of issues of well-being in professional responsibility courses, and provision of onsite counselors, among other things.

An appendix suggests topics for educational programs, including conflict management.  This section reads, “Our legal system is adversarial—it’s rooted in conflict.  Even so, lawyers generally are not trained on how to constructively handle conflict and to adapt tactics based on context—from necessary work-related conflicts to inter-personal conflicts with clients, opposing counsel, colleagues, or loved ones.  Conflict is inevitable and can be both positive and negative.  But chronic, unmanaged conflict creates physical, psychological, and behavioral stress.  Research suggests that conflict management training can reduce the negative stressful effects of conflict and possibly produce better, more productive lawyers.” [Footnotes omitted in this and subsequent quotations.]

Dealing with Causes of Law Students’ Problems

I believe that many students’ and lawyers’ problems are caused by law school and legal practice.  To the extent that’s so, treating the symptoms will not fundamentally deal with the systemic causes of the problems.  Rather, significant changes in the nature of legal education and practice – not merely dealing with the symptoms – would be necessary to prevent many of these problems from arising.

I recently wrote a piece, Escaping from Lawyers’ Prison of Fear, in which I examined lawyers’ fears about negotiation and a long list of other things.  I summarized evidence that “the law school experience often is highly stressful and stimulates fear-related responses.  Patterns of fear initiated in law school can persist and grow as students move into legal practice. … Several studies have found that law students ‘consistently report more anxiety than the general population. … Although some students obviously thrive in law school, for others, law school is an experience of ‘fear and loathing.’ … During law school, [] symptom levels are elevated significantly when compared with the normal population.  These symptoms include obsessive-compulsive behavior, interpersonal sensitivity, depression, anxiety, hostility, phobic anxiety, paranoid ideation, and psychoticism (social alienation and isolation).  Elevations of symptom levels significantly increase for law students during the first to third years of law school.   Depending on the symptom, 20-40% of any given class reports significant symptom elevations.  Finally, further longitudinal analysis showed that the symptom elevations do not significantly decrease between the spring of the third year and the next two years of law practice as alumni.”

“It is not clear what causes law students’ distress. Theorists have suggested various features of legal education may be causal factors including ‘overvaluing theoretical scholarship and undervaluing the teaching function, employing generally unsound teaching and testing methods, and emphasizing abstract theory rather than providing practical training.’  In particular, some things causing distress may include an intimidating Socratic teaching method, novelty of the subject matter, ambiguity of the law, heavy work load, competition, lack of grades in most courses until the end of the semester, feelings of isolation, de-emphasizing personal relationships, ignoring emotional reactions, and reluctance to get help.  Some have compared the first year of law school to ‘military indoctrination’ in which instructors intimidate students, who are ‘stripped naked, so to speak, so that [they] may be remade’ as lawyers and, as a result, become passive and fearful.  Some scholars argue that legal education trains students to ignore their own values, which undermines their self-confidence.  For example, Dean Edward Rubin argues that lawyers experience ‘ethical stress’ where ‘lawyers [and law students] are required to be insincere, to speak words they themselves do not necessarily believe.’”

The Task Force Report recommends that faculty “assess law school practices and offer faculty education on promoting well-being in the classroom.”  It cites Larry Kreiger and Kennon Sheldon’s research suggesting that “potential culprits that undercut student well-being includ[e] hierarchical markers of worth such as comparative grading, mandatory curves, status seeking placement practices, lack of clear and timely feedback, and teaching practices that are isolating and intimidating.”

The Report recommends “that law schools assess their classroom and organizational practices, make modifications where possible, and offer faculty programming on supporting student well-being while continuing to uphold high standards of excellence.”

If law school faculty and administrators want to take serious action to prevent law students’ mental health problems and lack of well-being, they should conduct a careful examination of features of their programs that unnecessarily contribute to these problems.  Students with manifest problems are like canaries in the coal mine for a much larger group of students who experience great stress but whose problems do not manifest outwardly.  Thus dealing with fundamental causes of students’ problems could benefit a large portion of the student population.

As I wrote in connection with the Stone Soup Project, students may do better if they feel that their studies are relevant to professional goals — and fun.

Obviously, no set of measures dealing with causes or symptoms would completely prevent students’ problems.  And there is a long list of pressures inhibiting law schools from making substantial changes in their educational practices, so change would be hard.  But changing the law school environment – and not only addressing individual students’ issues – might be necessary to effectively address the cause of many students’ problems.

Dealing with Causes of Lawyers’ Problems

Most lawyers’ work is stressful.  Litigation is inherently adversarial and transactional work involves efforts to gain competitive advantage.  So the stress of constantly being immersed in conflict is unavoidable to some extent.  But not completely unavoidable.

Some lawyers view their roles as problem-solvers and, as such, seek to de-escalate conflict whenever appropriate while always providing diligent representation.  Even these lawyers need to fight hard when dealing with untrustworthy adversaries.  But they do so only when needed.

The culture in some practice communities is generally adversarial.  Acting tough is the default and the norm, not something that lawyers do to deal with a few exceptionally problematic cases.

This culture seems unnecessary and counterproductive both for clients and lawyers.  I believe that changing this culture would substantially improve lawyers’ well-being.  This is not merely being civil, which is good but doesn’t fundamentally change lawyers’ approach to their work.  Rather, this involves a legal culture where problem-solving is the norm for the way that lawyers serve their clients.  My book on lawyering with planned early negotiation is one of many efforts encouraging this approach.

As with changes in legal education, changing legal practice culture is not easy nor a complete solution to the problems.  But I think that seeking such changes is worth the effort.  Hopefully, such changes would produce better education and client service – with the side-effects of improving law students’ and lawyers’ well-being.

Professor Merritt’s Blog post on attorney discipline and bar exam WORTH A READ!

Our blog has often posted about many issues related to licensing lawyers, experiential requirements for admission, the monopolizing power of the NCBE and the pros and cons of the UBE.  Thus, I recommend to our readers an excellent post by our blogger friend Professor Deborah Merritt over at Law School Cafe on bar exam scores and lawyer discipline. Professor Merritt analyzes an article by Pepperdine Professors Robert Anderson and Professor Derek Mueller entitled The High Cost of Lowering the Bar Exam.   Professors Anderson and Mueller opine that “lowering the bar examination passing score will likely increase the amount of malpractice, misconduct, and discipline among California lawyers.” Merritt objects to any causal inference noting,

Two key facts, however, weigh strongly against drawing that type of causal inference. First, as Anderson and Muller point out, “[t]here is virtually no discipline in the first 10 years of practice.” If the bar exam measured qualities related to attorney discipline, one would expect to see disciplinary cases emerge during those 10 years. Wouldn’t attorneys with marginal competency (as measured by the current bar exam) reveal their deficiencies during their early practice years?

Second, attorney discipline almost never rests on lack of knowledge about legal doctrine, poor reasoning skills, or bad writing–the skills currently measured by the bar exam. Levin and her colleagues reported that attorneys most often received discipline for failing to communicate with clients (20.0%), lack of diligence (17.93%), and failure to safeguard client property (11.26%). Only 4.14% of disciplinary sanctions related to “competence”–and even some of those cases may have reflected incompetence in areas that are not tested by the bar exam.

My favorite comment by Professor Merritt provides another example from which we should not infer causality (however tempting it might be to some of us who have been hurt by patriarchy),

We should not exclude individuals from a profession based on qualities that merely correlate with misconduct.

To underscore that point, consider this: The strongest predictor of attorney discipline is the y chromosome. Male attorneys are much more likely than female ones to be disciplined. If we want to use correlations to reduce instances of attorney discipline, it would be much more efficient to ban men from the profession, subject them to special character exams, or require them to achieve a higher bar exam score than women. Those actions, of course, would raise special issues of gender discrimination–but they illustrate the drawbacks of predicting malfeasance based on correlations.

These questions and assumed correlations are important ones. Many defend the decreasing bar passage statistics as appropriate market correction to prevent “undesirables” from entry into the profession — a consumer protection argument. However, as Professor Merritt points out, there is so much more to unpack here. For example, most misconduct challenges occur against solo practitioners or small firms. This raises overlapping socio-economic questions: which lawyers could be perceived as easiest to challenge, which lawyers have the best legal defense teams, and which kind of clients have the most reason to complain.

After teaching for over 28 years and observing which graduates pass the bar on the first try and which do not , I am skeptical of the Anderson-Mueller argument. I would love to see the NCBE and other scholars engage in a socio-economic analysis of bar passage and of disciplinary misconduct.

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