Clinical Law Review seeks applications for five vacancies on Board of Editors

The Clinical Law Review seeks applications for five vacancies on the Board of Editors. The Board urges you to think about whether you would be interested, and to think about others whom you would encourage to apply. 

Members of the Board of Editors serve for a term of 6 years. The term of the new Board members will commence in January 2022. The primary role of the Board members is to edit articles for the Review. Because this is a peer-edited journal, the editing process is collaborative. Board members also serve as small group facilitators in the annual Clinical Law Review Workshop. There is at least one meeting per year of the Board, usually held at the annual Workshop. 

Applicants should submit (1) a C.V. and (2) a statement explaining their interest in the position and highlighting relevant aspects of their experience.  The Board seeks applications from people committed to the work of the Review and will prioritize applicants from underrepresented groups and applicants with diverse experiences in and approaches to clinical legal education. Applications must be received no later than January 31, 2021. Please e-mail them to CLRBoardApps2021@gmail.com.  

The committee to select new Board members is always co-chaired by two current Board members whose term is expiring. We (Jeff Selbin & Jennifer Koh) will be serving this year as the co-chairs of the Selection Committee. The other members of the committee will be designated by the three organizations that sponsor the Clinical Law Review — AALS, CLEA, and NYU — each of which will designate two committee members. 

We encourage you to contact us or other current or former Board members with any questions or for information about service on the Board. We and other Board members have found the experience to be very rewarding. 

The other current members of the Board are: Muneer Ahmad, Sameer Ashar, Susan Bennett, Warren Binford, Marty Guggenheim, Margaret Johnson, Jen Lee, and Alex Scherr. The current members whose terms are ending, along with ours, are: Muneer, Susan, and Warren. 

The current Editors-in-Chief are Phyllis Goldfarb, Randy Hertz, and Michael Pinard. 

Those who previously served on the Board are: Jane Aiken, Amna Akbar; Tony Alfieri, Wendy Bach; Bev Balos, Margaret Martin Barry, Ben Barton, Juliet Brodie, Angela Burton, Stacy Caplow, Bob Dinerstein, Jon Dubin, Cecelia Espenoza, Keith Findley, Gay Gellhorn, Michele Gilman, Carolyn Grose, Peter Toll Hoffman, Jonathan Hyman, Peter Joy, Minna Kotkin, Deborah Maranville, Bridget McCormack, Binny Miller, Kim O’Leary, Ascanio Piomelli, Mae Quinn, Paul Reingold, Brenda Smith, Jim Stark, Paul Tremblay, Nina Tarr, Kim Thomas, Rod Uphoff, and Leah Wortham. The Emeritus Editors-in-Chief are Richard Boswell, Isabelle Gunning, and Kate Kruse. The late Steve Ellmann was a founding Editor-in-Chief of the Review.

We look forward to hearing from you. — Jennifer Lee Koh & Jeff Selbin 

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

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?

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.

 

Bylaws and business meetings: a 1L experiential module

Ruth Anne Robbins, Distinguished Clinical Professor of Law, Rutgers Law School

The first year of law school rightfully has been criticized for overly prioritizing the litigation model and for making it the central focus of our teaching. This emphasis lulls students into believing that the judicial audience is the primary consumer of legal communications. To counteract that skewing, those of us teaching in the 1L curriculum are often exhorted to find ways to discuss transactional forms of legal writing. But, contract-drafting is not easily built into a curriculum already bursting at the seams with the must-have’s that we cram into the lower-credited experiential classes of the 1L year.

Enter the idea of dedicating part of two or three classes to small-organization bylaws and business meetings. The bylaws of a small organization are constitutional, so this type of teaching module fits in nicely with what they are learning in other introductory courses. And while some students may know a little bit about bylaws and business meetings from previous experiences in college, religious groups, or other volunteer activities, most students probably won’t have a great deal of knowledge. Learning about these ideas will appeal to them because of the immediate applicability to the very student-run organizations in which, as rising 2Ls, they are poised to assume leadership positions.

I begin by asking those students with a little bit of knowledge to help me outline, on the board, the setup and order of a business meeting. Typically, at least one or two students in a group of 20 will be able to walk others through it with a little bit of prompting. We talk about why a roll call must happen right after the call to order and opening ceremonies. Ask your own students how many of them know something about quorum—you may be startled to learn how few students do. Teaching them what quorum is and how it relates to business-agenda items engages the students and almost immediately makes them realize just how practical this module is.

Discussions about business meetings naturally leads to a conversation about the rudiments of Robert’s Rules of Order and how voting happens on an agenda item.[1] I have sometimes run a class or two in a business-meeting format, inviting students to make formal motions about some of the softer deadlines in the course. As part of that, students must calculate quorum to hold class at all. I always ask them the lowest number of votes it would take to carry a vote, assuming we had exactly quorum present. Students are awoken to the fact that in a class of 20 students, 6 students might be able to bind the other 14. (That is: quorum for a group of 20 students is 11. And if only 11 are present, a simple majority to carry a vote is 6). “It’s important to show up and have your vote counted,” I have remarked. The message isn’t lost on them.

Students also have the opportunity to step into role for actual representation work. A few years ago, knowing this module, our Women’s Law Caucus president approached me and asked if the 1Ls in my class might provide some advice about issues her executive board had identified in their bylaws. Naturally, I immediately agreed. To prepare students for their client, they first looked at a larger set of bylaws I had worked on for a local high school boosters organization. I changed a few items to take the bylaws out of compliance with the New Jersey statutes governing non-profit organizations (a relatively easy statutory scheme). Fifteen questions later, they knew enough to issue-spot in the much simpler student-organization bylaws. Then, in small groups, they looked at the Women’s Law Caucus bylaws and a week later offered their recommendations to the officers. Who adopted almost all of the advice.

This was such a feel-good moment for all involved that I have made it an annual module. Depending on the year, I have had students conclude with a client letter written by the small groups together, or I have simplified it even further and simply had the 1L students meet with the organization’s officer in class to offer their verbal recommendations (I act as scribe for the  officer in those circumstances). Each year I walk away impressed with the speed of absorption my 1L students have for this material. They take the representation seriously, and I think that they also enjoy it. I am likewise impressed with the 2L and 3L student’ willingness to serve as the client for my 1Ls even though it will net them extra work down the road as they work through the bylaws-amending process. I think they also feel that they learn valuable lessons by being the client. Having just completed this year’s project, I already have received a request from an organization’s new president to have my next year’s 1L students put her organization’s bylaws under their microscope.

This assignment is win-win for all involved. It is low-stakes for the 1L students, but it engages them in professional identity development, statutory analysis, problem-solving, and client-counseling skills. The module provides a pragmatic experience—who among us hasn’t been part of a business meeting or bylaws consultation?—and it offers a different perspective on legal practice. To put it simply: it’s relatively easy, it’s fun, and it’s real-world. I highly recommend it to others.

[1]The essentials of Robert’s Rules can be found online although the 11thedition is still a to-purchase item.

A Pedagogical Twist for the 1L Appellate Brief and Oral Argument

For those who teach legal writing to first-year law students, it is the season for appellate oral argument. Yes, the long-standing tradition of requiring first-year students to complete an appellate oral argument in the legal writing course continues today at the large majority of American law schools–at just under 75% of them, according to recent data. At those schools, the oral argument, which is commonly the capstone exercise near the end of the spring semester, has become something of a rite of passage for the students.

In a 2011 article, Legal Research and Writing as Proxy, I argued that assigning an appellate brief and appellate oral argument in the 1L legal writing course remains a pedagogically sound practice, even though a large majority of practicing attorneys will never engage in appellate practice, let alone complete an appellate oral argument. I still retain that view but won’t rehash my arguments here. Rather, I will focus on a pedagogical opportunity afforded by the brief/oral argument sequence of assignments that I discovered more recently.

In the last few iterations of my legal writing course, the appellate brief and oral argument assignments have proven an excellent vehicle for a bit of a pedagogical twist: A few weeks before the brief is due, not after, I teach lessons on oral argument and require the students to complete a practice oral argument round in front of my 2L teaching assistants. (The formal rounds of oral argument in front of a trio of local attorneys still occur after the briefs are submitted.) For many years, I kept brief writing and oral argument entirely separate—only after the briefs were completed and submitted would I shift the students’ attention to oral argument. (After all, that mimics the realities of the “real world“ of appellate practice.) But as a pedagogical matter, just like writing the brief helps in preparing an oral argument, working on an oral argument–and thereby having to talk out and defend one’s positions–can help in preparing a brief.

A few weeks before the brief is due, most students will have a scattered and underdeveloped array of arguments. Completing a practice oral argument can help them–or, in the case of those students who are spinning their wheels, force them–to organize and further develop those arguments for the purposes of the brief. In pursuit of this goal, I ask my TAs to give extensive feedback to both students after each practice round. Moreover, I require every student to attend two additional practice rounds as observers. At each round, the student representing Petitioner, the student representing Respondent, and the students attending as observers also begin to appreciate the formalities and peculiarities of oral argument, thus helping them to prepare for the formal rounds that will occur after submission of their briefs.

This semester, shortly after the practice rounds (just over a week before the briefs were due), my students graciously agreed to provide me some feedback on the experience. One of my students volunteered to solicit comments from all of her classmates, anonymize those comments and her own, and then send them to me. Twelve out of fourteen students in my small section gave a positive review. I include two of the more thoughtful evaluations here:

  1. I found doing the practice oral arguments before my brief was fully written to be helpful. Arguing my side in the courtroom and fielding questions from the TAs helped me more precisely narrow the theme of my arguments and determine how I wanted to frame my position in the brief itself. After receiving pushback from the TAs on certain points, I was able to refine my responses to common criticisms that would come from the other side. Additionally, I now feel more comfortable going into the “official” oral arguments having completed a practice round. However, I would have liked to participate in another mandatory practice round with the TAs after my brief is written; the substance of my oral argument has substantially changed since my first practice round.
  2. Practice oral arguments were a large motivator to get my arguments organized. I found it really helpful to speak out loud about the arguments. Doing so really helped me understand what my points were and whether or not they held up against scrutiny. Speaking about the arguments also helped me understand how they related to each other. The TA’s did a good job of making us feel comfortable throughout the process. I think overall the exercise is going to be beneficial as long as the practice round is kept informal. We were all stressed about how to perform the oral arguments, so maybe there could be a concession in the formality/process of the oral argument that could make us more comfortable.

Good food for thought, as I continue the tradition of appellate oral argument again next spring.

New Blog on Teaching and Learning Features Contributions from Law Faculty

Touro College has launched a Teaching and Learning Exchange Blog that all are welcome to drop in on.  Some of the recent posts discuss topics this Best Practices blog has highlighted in the past. For example, recent postings from four law faculty include: Laura Dooley , Hypo Hell: Using Short Form Questions in Class to Engage Students with Important Texts; Jack Graves, Multiple Choice Questions as an Integral Part of an Effective Assessment Regime; Dean Harry Ballan (and Dylan Wiliam), In Defense of Multiple Choice; and Meredith Miller, Day One: You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression.  Other interesting posts from faculty across the College include: Attention, Memory, and  Learning: What Do We Know? So What?, “I’m Not an Actor?” and Curiosity Feeds the Cat. Please bookmark this blog, facilitated by Dr. Rima Aranha.

Leadership Education in Law School: You’re Already Providing It

Regardless of whether they think of themselves as leaders, our law students will play a leadership role for the rest of their lives. Certainly many will be leaders in their local legal community, in their law offices, and in various bar associations. But beyond that, all lawyers will be expected to lead outside of their law practices. As a lawyer (and sometimes the only lawyer) in their community group, family, or organization, they will be looked to for leadership.

Just as our students may not recognize themselves as leaders, we may not recognize ourselves as teachers of leadership. But we are. Most of our classes provide excellent opportunities to talk about leadership, even if “leadership” is not in the title. And we model leadership in how we treat our students and other members of the law school, how we contribute to and connect with our communities, and how we help move our law schools forward to address the changing profession.

Recognizing the growing interest in leadership education for lawyers, the AALS Section on Leadership was chartered in November 2017. The section describes its purpose as promoting “scholarship, teaching, and related activities that will help prepare lawyers and law students to serve in leadership roles.” This section is a great place to start for a law professor who wants to learn more about leadership education.

Law professors interested in getting some innovative ideas for integrating leadership-related topics into their classes should consider attending a workshop and roundtable at the University of Tennessee College of Law on April 4-5, 2019. The program is titled Leadership Development for Lawyers. The “workshop” day of the program will give attendees the chance to choose two of four interactive sessions: collaborating with career services; integrating well-being into leadership curricula; assessing leadership development efforts; and effective leadership skill development exercises. Then, the “roundtable” day of the program will provide an opportunity for conference attendees and panelists to share ideas and experiences in leadership education.

The goal of the Tennessee workshop and roundtable is to bring together a large group of legal educators who are working in the area of lawyer leadership education–including professors who don’t (currently) think of themselves as “leadership” teachers.

 

 

More Resources Re Teaching, Learning, and Bar Passage

Thank you to Best Practices for Legal Education Blog for having me as a blogger this week.  I hope the examples I’ve provided about methods medical schools use to evaluate their curriculum, test the effect of new programs, and look for factors that affect success on licensing exams.  As I mentioned at the end of my last post, the most comprehensive source for research based information about bar passage programs as well as a source of funding for sources is AccessLex.  There is a growing literature of articles from schools which have implemented successful bar passage programs.  Here’s an article by Louis Schulze about his work at FIU.

You might also be interested in a series of articles from back in 2009-2010 when those at the front lines of legal education, first year faculty and legal writing and research faculty, began to see significant differences in performance between the students they were teaching and those in the past.  These articles provide information about how substantial changes to the k-college education system in the U.S.A. impacts law students’ transition to law school. This article by Rebecca Flanagan is a good overview.  Prof. Patricia Grande here.  A literature review of law learning strategies by Profs Jennifer M. Cooper and Regan A.R. Gurung.   One more by Profs Susan Stuart and Ruth Vance

Here are the proceedings of a 2014 Symposium entitled “Teaching the Academically Underprepared Law Student” and I invited readers to take advantage of the comments section of this blog to share other publications—including the many more recent ones.  My point here is historical, not bibliographical.  And here, as a quick reminder of one of the crucial skills the bar doesn’t test– research.  Caroline L. Osborne

Finally, something I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the new collaboration between LSAC and Khan Academy providing free, on-line, very high quality LSAT preparation may have something to offer law students.  The skills underlying LSAT performance, close reading and legal reasoning, are not immutable—students can get better at them after enrolling in law school and may find some time with these materials a helpful and interesting way to brush up on these skills.

 

 

What Do We Remember about our Teachers Decades Later?

This coming academic year will be my 20th in law school teaching. Truth be told, I don’t really need a milestone in my career to grow contemplative and introspective, as I am wont to do so under far more mundane circumstances anyhow, but this milestone is definitely doing the trick.

The grandest question that I might ask myself is what sort of difference I have made in the lives and careers of the students—well over one thousand, I expect—that I have taught or worked with since I joined the legal writing faculty at the University at Buffalo in 1999. (In 2002, I moved to the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and am still on the faculty there.) That is a rather abstract query, bordering on the metaphysical, I suppose. A related but more concrete question that I have actually been pondering is this: Decades after someone has been my student, what will he or she remember about me or my teaching? Something, I hope! And something positive, I hope too! Is there a particular thing I said, lesson I taught, teaching technique I used, kind gesture I made, or even joke I told that will stick with them, and maybe have a positive impact, even decades later?

Thinking back to my years in college and law school, I can easily identify the most  impactful specific thing that one of my professors did. I can even remember the date—September 26, 1983—as it was my very first day of classes as a freshman at the University of Washington. The class was Political Science 101, and the professor was Reza Sheikholeslami.

After I and hundreds of my fellow undergraduate students (mostly freshmen) settled into our seats in the lecture hall, Professor Sheikholeslami, sharply dressed and looking the part, strode confidently to the lectern. He scanned the crowd of young faces. Then came his first words: “Would everyone please stand up.” I hadn’t the slightest idea why we needed to stand up, and I doubt that any of the other students did either. But, promptly and without any hesitation, we all complied. He paused and again briefly scanned the crowd. “Alright,” he said, “please go ahead and sit down.”

After we settled back into our seats and the lecture hall again grew quiet, Professor Sheikholeslami explained, “This is Political Science 101, and the goal of this course is to teach you why you just stood up and then sat down.” Being an impressionable 18-year-old, I was mesmerized.

Of course, standing up and then sitting down in compliance with a professor’s instruction does not begin to reach the level of gravity of what happened in the various societies and cultures that we ultimately studied in the course. Think Nazi Germany, for example. But the metaphor Professor Sheikholeslami delivered with his opening words was ever so powerful, and the course largely lived up to it.

Wherever I see demagoguery or other anti-democratic forces rearing their ugly heads, and people are blindly following an authority to their own detriment and the detriment of others, I think back to Poly Sci 101. (I’ll refrain from further comment on the current political climate in this country.) Moreover, in various contexts in the law school classroom, I have drawn from the simple but crucial lessons of that first class with Professor Sheikholeslami. Sometimes, in my Legislation & Regulation course, the substantive lesson about obedience to authority underlies a thread of classroom discussion. More often, regardless of the course, the pedagogical lesson—try to leave a lasting positive impression with one’s students—drives me to think more creatively about how to approach a class topic.

Among the numerous professors that I had across four years of undergraduate study and three years of law study, off the top of my head I could probably name one-third of them (a higher percentage from law school than from undergraduate, I expect).  And among those whom I can remember off the top of my head, only a handful of them sit prominently in my memory—because of how talented they were as teachers, how funny they were in the classroom, how helpful and supportive they were in one-on-one work on a research project, etc. But only one remains prominent in my memory for one particular thing that he did in the classroom: Professor Sheikholeslami.

A few years after I benefited from his creative and thoughtful teaching, Sheikholeslami became the Masoumeh and Fereydoon Soudavar Professor of Persian Studies at the University of Oxford. I was saddened to learn recently that he died earlier this year at the age of 76. I regret that I never succeeded in reaching him to tell him of the positive impact that he had on me—as a person and as a teacher.

To be sure, there are many ways to define and measure good teaching. Now that I will soon begin my third decade in legal education, what I often come back to when I ponder my own qualities as a teacher is this: What do I say or do as a professor that will stick in a student’s memory and still carry some positive influence—no matter how concrete or abstract—decades later? A fond memory of any kind would be great. A memory on the level of my memory of Reza Sheikholeslami in Poly Sci 101 would be a wonderful bonus.

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.

 

What inspires the scenarios and characters in your final exam questions?

As we wrap up another season of grading, I return to the thought that grading finals can feel like reading the same story again and again. This task is slightly more entertaining for me if the story involves some interesting characters or scenarios. Here are a few places I look for inspiration when I write final exams.

  1. Real Cases. Sometimes, a case in the news serves as inspiration for a final exam. That happened this fall when my PR final posed a question involving a lawyer who solicited clients in a funeral home in a state where he was not licensed. Other times, I work backwards and pick an issue I want to address in my final (like Rule 19 in civil procedure) and then find a case involving that issue. (For the Rule 19 case, I once used a scenario based on Diaz v. Glen Plaid in which the defendant asserted that the University of Alabama was an indispensable party in a case involving the trademark-protected image of a houndstooth elephant).
  2. TV Lawyers. The set-up for my essay question is often a memo from a lawyer asking a junior lawyer to help with a client’s problem. I often base that senior lawyer’s name on a tv lawyer. Through the years, those attorneys have included Alicia Florrick, Ally McBeal, Jimmy McGill, Kim Wexler, and many others. The facts have nothing to do with these lawyers or their tv shows. The names are really just for my personal amusement.
  3. Other Characters from TV and the Movies. Beyond tv lawyers, I sometimes look to other tv shows and movies for inspiration for scenarios and character names. My civil procedure exam once described a federal lawsuit arising from a bowling accident involving characters from The Big Lebowski. Knowledge of the movie does not help exam performance, but often inspires a joke (perhaps something about a rug that really tied the room together) that makes exam grading easier for a moment. I have learned not to make the scenarios sound too much like something that might be happening on the actual show. (During the show’s heyday, a student complained I had included “spoilers” in an exam question involving Nashville. I assured her that the scenario was just my imagination and that I had not spoiled anything she was planning to watch on DVR once finals were over).
  4. People I Know.  Even if I have the scenario, it is hard to come up with the multitude of character names needed for a three-hour exam. I tend to return again and again to the names of people I know. Most of my exams include character names inspired by my childhood neighbors, elementary school classmates, and law school friends. (I finally admitted this to my law school friends and the conversation quickly turned to how much worse it is to take a law school exam than to write or grade it. I did not try to win that fight).  My civil procedure exam typically includes a character named after my own civ pro professor.
  5. People My Students Know. Finally, another source of character names is people that my students know: their own law professors. I would never use my colleagues’ names in a scandalous scenario, but rather in a (mildly) funny scenario that the students will appreciate. For example, a multiple choice question on my civil procedure exam described my students’ contracts professor suing me for breach of contract.

In truth, reading dozens of exams involving these characters does not make the month of December “fun” (or make it feel like the “vacation” that my mom thinks I get at this time each year).  But it helps a little.

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. 

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