Constructing a Seminar

One definition of “seminar” is: “a group of advanced students studying under a professor with each doing original research and all exchanging results through reports and discussions.” The roots of the word are from the German word of the same spelling, which means: “a group of students working with a professor,” and from the Latin word seminarium: “breeding ground; plant nursery.” To foster healthy growth of the seminar “nursery,” sessions need to be more than a series of teacher-directed discussions. We want the structure and requirements of the course to coax students into assuming more ownership than is typical of a law school classroom. At a very basic level, a question I am thinking about right now boils down to, “How do we best get students to stay current in the reading and pay attention in a seminar class, where there is no final exam?”

A recent New York Times article discusses a study where weekly quizzes were used at the start of each class of a large undergraduate Psychology course, resulting in increased rates of attendance and improved overall grades in the course. Is there a way to import this idea into smaller law school classroom to encourage completion of the reading and regular attendance? The ideas examined in a seminar, based on study and discussion, may not easily lend themselves to multiple-choice quizzes, but perhaps short answer quizzes?

Reading for and attending seminar classes are foundational, but we also need quality class participation from students. One way to ensure students are thoroughly ready to participate is to require students to write and turn in weekly essays reflecting on the reading and briefing any cases they read. But when a seminar course awards only 2 credit hours, students may balk at weekly writing assignments – voting with their feet by dropping the course. In addition, providing feedback on weekly written assignments can be very difficult for a professor to sustain, even in a lower enrollment course like a seminar.

What kinds of course requirements provide a sound framework for a successful seminar course? Which have you tried and discarded?

Social Media and Law Schools (an introduction)

Want an introduction to social media?  Earlier this week, my colleague, Andrew Brandt, and I held a faculty workshop for our colleagues at Villanova Law about using social media to build our community and showcase our ideas. Here is a link to the powerpoint we created for the talk (although did not use). http://www.slideshare.net/MichelePistone

Some of our colleagues asked me to follow up on how to use hashtags (#) and handles (@) on Twitter. I found this great one-pager, http://bit.ly/1bsh4oh, on using Twitter that may be of interest to you all.

If you are on Twitter, please share your handles with this community so we can follow you. And if you want to follow me, I am @profpistone.

A Rise in Alternative Careers Is Changing Legal Education

By Jill Backer Contact All Articles
New York Law Journal
October 28, 2013

In April of this year, Kaplan Test Prep did a survey of 200 pre-law students. Fifty percent of those students stated that they do not intend to use their future law degree in a traditional legal field. If this statistic extrapolates out to the larger law student population, we have a generation of law students of which only half will ever be practicing lawyers. So if half of law students do not intend on ever practicing law in a traditional way at a traditional firm—what is their intention? The answer is as varied and individualized as our law student population. The answer is also forcing a revitalization of legal education and at no time has legal education ever been accused of changing too quickly.

I often hear the term “alternative legal careers” being thrown around but I am not sure that this has ever been readily defined. Does it mean people who have not passed the bar? Or those in compliance positions, entry-level solo practitioners, or even legal educators? Or those who don’t work at a law firm? The answer to these questions and other questions is yes.

There is a lot of chatter about the definition and assessment of the jobs law students obtain after graduation. Back in 2011, the ABA, in conjunction with NALP, came up with the category of “J.D. advantage” to describe jobs that specifically do not require bar passage but do utilize skills learned in law school. The employers might have preferred candidates with a J.D. (or even required a J.D.), and the job is one in which the J.D. provided a demonstrable advantage to obtaining and/or performing the job. Interest in these jobs skyrocketed as the market fell, with more and more students seeking the J.D.-preferred positions when there were many less traditional positions available. In fact, in 2011, one in every seven jobs taken by new law graduates fell into the J.D. advantage category. (NALP Bulletin, May 2013).

In my opinion, the category and even the term “J.D. advantage” is a bunch of rubbish. Graduates in J.D. advantage jobs are sometimes every bit of lawyers as their brethren at firms and other traditional jobs. Today, lots of associate work and especially first-year associate work can rarely be achieved only by a barred attorney. I believe the legal community and its governing body the ABA are finally just coming to the recognition of what we already know—the J.D. is an agile and flexible tool that can be utilized in many forums.

Let’s face it, the opportunities on the traditional path for new law graduates are shrinking. Therefore, all professional opportunities can and should be defined under “working” and not put under some other nomenclature of J.D. advantage. There are few professional pursuits that would not value the analytical thinking and knowledge of the law and ethics that law school offers. This new category describing any deviation from the traditional path is not required and seems to paint in broad strokes a picture of these jobs as “lesser.” Jobs outside law firm associate positions are in no way less, and in some cases can offer much more.

Here in Brooklyn, there is a hub of a new technology age guided by entrepreneurial spirit and innovation. If a new graduate were to join a start-up business at a local incubator, is that a J.D.-preferred job? After all, while the graduate may not be doing legal work day-to-day, you can be sure that their legal education will be of huge use and influence in the new venture. In fact, you can bet that contracts and other issues involving the law would find their way to the law graduate’s desk rather than another employee. How do we say this is not a law job but a J.D. advantage, or perhaps because the employer did not specify—not even J.D. advantage.

Compliance is another area where the J.D. advantage term is overused. As recently as 10 years ago compliance positions were considered quasi-legal jobs. However, as regulation became more intricate, more and more J.D.s were hired into these roles at all levels. Today, most new hires in the compliance world are J.D.s. In fact, this is a huge and lucrative area of growth for the law profession. However, under the ABA rules, these are J.D. advantage jobs rather than legal jobs.

So here is what we know—there are fewer jobs in traditional legal roles for entry-level attorneys. New graduates are seeking out different opportunities due to fewer traditional positions and a real desire to practice/work in non-traditional forums. The ABA has decided to define any job without a traditional title—associate, staff attorney, assistant D.A., etc.—as something other than a lawyer. So where do we go from here? We need to change legal education and the ABA to fit the new reality.

Law schools have already begun a huge era of revitalization of legal education—some might say an overhaul. Some of these changes are meant to streamline legal education, others to provide more practical training. However, there is another factor that is changing law school: teaching to and preparing the ever-growing population of graduates that do not wish to practice in a traditional forum. Brooklyn Law School teaches a business boot camp and has a clinic that incubates new businesses in all facets, not just legal. There are other law schools that have language classes and compliance courses that are not rooted in the law.

These types of endeavors will help entering law students navigate the business world while utilizing their legal education. This string of classes shows a new multidisciplinary approach in legal education. The more well-rounded student is coveted by traditional and alternative employers alike. The old yard-stick used to measure future success was academic prowess. That is slowly changing as employers of all ilks realize that they need to incorporate softer skills and business skills as well as legal skills to keep their organizations afloat. Being a knowledgeable and ethical attorney is no longer enough to satisfy today’s legal market.

We are facing a turning point in the legal market. Law students are not focused on the same goals as a generation ago, as evidenced by the Kaplan survey cited at the beginning of this article. They are seeking out a new type of legal career that is not rooted in the traditional ways and definitions of law practice. The institutions of the legal market need to accept and understand that one way of using a law degree is no less than another. Law schools have to prepare these students as well as they do those engaged in the more traditional practices. Thankfully, law schools seem to be rising to that challenge.

Jill Backer is associate director for employer relations at Brooklyn Law School.

Student Participation in Class – how important is it?

I think this is very applicable for a US audience. The only issue is that the one portion discusses statistics particular to Australia, but the general message is an important one for all law schools.

1Ls Less Distracted by Laptops Than Upperclassmen

Darlene Cardillo posted this on her Technology blog. I thought it may be of interest to everyone.

Free Upcoming Webinar: Flipping the Law School Classroom

Join LegalED for a free webinar on
Flipping the Law School Classroom

When:  Friday, Sept 27th from 2-3 pm EST

 What is LegalED?  Founded by law professors, LegalED is a website, legaledweb.com, designed to collect teaching materials for legal education.  The site is host to a growing collection of short videos (each 15 minutes or less) on law and law-related topics (substantive, procedural, practical skills and professional values), as well as classroom exercises and assessment tools.  The videos on substantive law could be assigned to students for viewing outside the classroom, in a flipped or blended learning environment, to supplement in-class teaching or to bring new perspectives into a course.  Here is a recent article about LegalED.

What is flipped or blended learning?  Flipped learning blends online with face-to-face instruction.  It uses the internet for what it does well – information and knowledge delivery.  When relevant information is delivered by online videos, face-to-face classtime can be devoted to learning activities that not only reinforce the knowledge, but also ask students to use their new learning to analyze, evaluate, apply or create material – all of which reinforces learning.

Registration:  To register send an email to: meeting@uif.org with your name and institution (participants will be asked to call into the webinar from a phone (with mute functionality, so as to avoid feedback) and should have access to a computer on which they can follow the presentation).

Register soon: space limited to the first 20 participants.
How the webinar will work:  We are “flipping” the instruction so that we can maximize the take-aways from the webinar through active dialogue and discussion.

In preparation, all participants will prepare (approx. 20 min.) for the session by:

(1) watching two short LegalED videos (each less than 6 minutes) on the topic of flipping the law school classroom  http://legaledweb.com/online-learning/;

(2) watching a short video on persuasive lawyering http://legaledweb.com/practical-lawyering-skills/ ;

(3) reading a blog post on how the persuasive lawyering video was used in a flipped classroom http://legaledweb.com/blog/2013/8/27/flipping-the-law-school-classroom.

The webinar is organized and presented by Professor Michele Pistone, Villanova University School of Law, with support from the Uncommon Individual Foundation, uif.org.

Cross-posted from: http://legaledweb.com/flipped-learning-webinar

New Blog

Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed. (ISSN 2329-2504), a digital project that supports teachers and reformers in higher education through encouraging serious engagement with the scholarship on teaching and learning has recently announced its full launch.

You can visit at http://teachingandlearninginhighered.org/

The website features a manifesto, an infographic, a list of recommended readings and a blog.

Submissions to the blog are welcome on an ongoing basis.

Since its soft launch in March, visitors have viewed the site more than 4500 times. Some of the most viewed posts to date (with links shortened through goo.gl) include:

Those interested can sign up on the site to receive updates of new posts by email or follow the blog through:

Please consider visiting, reading, following, commenting, sharing, and/or submitting posts to the blog.

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