Report on the CSALE “2019-20 Survey of Applied Legal Education”

by Bob Kuehn, Professor of Law & Associate Dean for Clinical Education Washington University School of Law

The Center for the Study of Applied Legal Education (CSALE) is pleased to announce that the report on its “2019-20 Survey of Applied Legal Education” is now available on CSALE’s redesigned website:  https://www.csale.org/#results.

The report summarizes the collective survey responses from 95% of law schools and over 1,300 law clinic and field placement instructors. The 2019-20 survey, CSALE’s fifth tri-annual survey, provides the most comprehensive, accurate picture to date of clinical legal education programs, courses, and faculty.

In addition to the report, CSALE provides customized information on aspects of the data, such as how a school’s clinical courses or faculty compare to peer schools or more detailed sorting of survey question results. Requests for a customized report should be sent to administrator@csale.org.

Blended Classes: The Value of Face-to-Face and Synchronous Online Teaching

Like many law professors, I found myself a few months ago teaching regularly from a laptop in my home.  With little prior online teaching, I was intimidated.  Relying on expert help at our school and in the legal education community, on lots of practice using the platforms available, and on the generosity of my students (who kindly took time to do pre-class sessions), I muddled through the semester.

               When I learned we were likely to be teaching online again in some capacity, I decided to take advantage of the available resources to help understand the similarities and differences between face-to-face classes and online classes.  I was delighted to find among these resources an article by one of my favorite educators, Gerald Hess.  His article that explored many of the questions on my mind.  See Gerald F. Hess, Symposium: The State and Future of Legal Education: Blended Courses in Law School: The Best of Online and Face-to-Face Learning?, 45 McGeorge L. Rev. 51 (2013).   (Note on a separate resource: coauthored with Michael Hunter Schwartz and Sophie Sparrow, Professor Hess’s book Teaching Law by Design [Carolina Academic Press 2009] has helped me more than any other single source in designing and teaching my courses.   It should be mandatory reading for all new law professors.)

Professor Hess’s article cites credible authority that online teaching fosters students’ development of self-directed learning.[1]  My colleague, Natt Gantt, and I have been working with St. Thomas Law School’s Holloran Center to provide tools with which law teachers can both adopt development of self-directed learning and use the materials on the Holloran Center website to achieve and measure that learning outcome.[2]   We had not, however, focused on the strengths of online teaching as a means of achieving self-directedness.  Perhaps it should have been obvious to me that, if a student knows that she will be expected to actively participate in the online class, she will take more ownership of her learning.   I had to see the online format in action to begin appreciating its benefits.

               Professor Hess’s article references not only interviews of teachers and students but also empirical evidence that evaluates how effectively face-to-face, online, and blended (combining face-to-face with online) instruction achieves learning outcomes.  The findings offer support for online as a more effective means of achieving learning objectives than traditional face-to-face classes.  However, Professor Hess cautions against exaggerating these findings because most of the empirical research did not involve on law schools (but did include graduate courses).   When one compares the ability to achieve learning outcomes through face-to-face versus online teaching, however, this evidence suggests that we keep an open mind.  When comparing face-to-face teaching with blended teaching, moreover, the results show “stronger learning outcomes than did face-to-face instruction alone.”[3]

               Professor Hess explains why such conclusions make sense.   A well-designed blended classroom encourages students’ collaboration in the learning process.  Such a class also allows students to use their strengths to their advantage while developing or improving new skills.   For instance, the face-to-face class allows students who think quickly on their feet to interact with the professor and each other.   Many students, however, feel more comfortable participating online, after having had the chance to ponder a prompt or post.  All students, moreover, must actively participate in the process of learning.

               Professor Hess’s articles sets forth General Design Principles for an effective blended class.  I encourage anyone who may be teaching a blended class in the upcoming academic year to review his design principles.  I am sure they will help to ensure a class is as effective at achieving learning outcomes as possible.   I know that they showed me I still have a lot of work to do.    However, I realize now that the effort can lead to more effective teaching and learning than in what I had come to accept as the previous norm—face-to-face classes. 


[1] See Hess, supra, at 60-62.

[2] See, e.g., Larry O. Natt Gantt, II, and Benjamin V. Madison, III, Self-Directedness and Professional Formation:  Connecting Two Critical Concepts in Legal Education, 14 Univ. of St. Thomas L. J. 498 (2018); see also Univ. o St. Thomas Law School’s Holloran Center for Leadership in the Professions, Competency Milestones: Self-Directedness, https://www.stthomas.edu/hollorancenter/hollorancompetencymilestones

[3] See Hess, supra, at 69 (quoting Means et al., U.S. Dep’t of Educ. Evaluation of Evidence Based Practices in On-Line Learning:  A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies 28 (2010).

Why law profs should teach law students to write for the digital reader in the age of COVID-19 (with checklist)

On behalf of Joseph A. Rosenberg, Professor of Law, CUNY School of Law

1.Introduction and Context

The author proposes that law professors teach legal writing intentionally designed for the digital reader.

The proposed framework uses visual design elements and digital functionality to overlay traditional structures of legal writing. Writing for the digital reader addresses the challenges of reading on a computer screen and amplifies best practices for legal writing. The result is a conceptual framework for written communication that helps bridge the gap between the writer’s “intention” and the reader’s “attention,” regardless of medium (paper or digital).[1]       

The COVID-19 pandemic and the move to online learning by law schools has exposed the pre-existing need to incorporate writing for the digital reader as part of the fundamental framework for teaching legal writing across the law school curriculum. Digital writing represents a “best of both worlds” approach: to write well for the digital reader is to write well for the paper reader.

Digital writing does not replace the creative, human writing process, complex narrative and analysis, or the role of “old school” technologies in that process—for example, pen and paper. Similar to the difference between a paper and digital map, writing for the digital reader adds dynamic dimensions that enhance communication between the writer and reader.        

Writing for the digital reader meets today’s law students, who are mostly “digital residents,” where they are. It facilitates “adaptive transfer” by encouraging all students to draw on their learning experiences, including oral and written communication. It is a bridge for students from their lived experiences in the digital age to the unfamiliar landscape and structures of legal writing and analysis.

In addition, the lynching of George Floyd (and many other Black people in America) and the Movement For Black Lives, has forced the U.S. and its legal system to confront its white supremacy origins. As part of this broader reckoning, law professors and law schools need to re-examine lawyering traditions and practices, including legal writing. Unless we actively practice more contemporary approaches to lawyering, include anti-racist discourse, critical modes of analysis, and different assessment practices, we will be, in the words of Professor Teri A. McMurtry-Chubb, “Still Writing at the Master’s Table.”

Writing for the digital reader prepares law students for contemporary practice: “Lawyering in the Digital Age.” In legal education, the shift to digital technology, according to Professor Conrad Johnson, “transforms the way we practice traditional lawyering skills and requires us to teach the new skills of contemporary practice.”[2] Writing for the digital reader is an example of a contemporary approach to a traditional lawyering skill.  

The author hopes to encourage law professors and law schools to help reshape the teaching and practice of legal writing to better reflect the reality of lawyering in the digital age. Law professors can use the checklist below to get started.

2. Why law professors should teach writing for the digital reader.

Written communication is a core lawyering skill for law students: in many ways, to be a lawyer is to be a writer. The fundamental concept of legal writing, and how it is taught in law schools, should reflect the reality that the audience will likely be reading on a computer screen. This includes the full range of professional writing that law students will learn and do while in law school and as lawyers.[3] Even writing that may have to be printed and read on paper, for example, “know your rights” materials and communication to clients who are detained or incarcerated, will benefit from a “digital writing” approach.   

Scholarship on visual design and the impact of digital technology on legal writing provides a theoretical and practical basis for shifting our notion of a legal document from paper to digital. For example, Professor Ruth Anne Robbins, in her 2004 seminal article, Painting with Print, and in her 2015 work with Professor Steve Johansen, Art-iculating the Analysis, made important connections among visual design techniques, legal writing, and lawyering strategy. Professor Kirsten Davis, in her 2014 article, The Reports of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated, asserted that “all legal reading is rapidly moving to on-screen legal reading.” Professor Ellie Margolis, in her 2015 article, Is the Medium the Message? observed that, “[T]urning the traditional, linear, text-based brief into a multidimensional e-document is a key example of how the medium changes the message and suggests that it is time to rethink that classic legal document.”

Lawyers no longer have a choice about incorporating technology into their practice and ABA Model Rule 1.1, Comment 8 requires that lawyers understand the risks and benefits of technology as part of the duty of competence, and ABA Formal Opinion 477R provide guidance about the lawyer’s duty to make “reasonable efforts” to secure confidential client information when using technology to communicate.

A 2012 survey found that 58% of federal court judges read briefs on an iPad, some U.S. Supreme Court Justices have been reading briefs on computer devices since at least 2010, and recently, all three judges on the Supreme Court in New Delhi, India used laptops in a remote paperless hearing. Various courts, for example, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, have detailed information about the design of briefs and courts are beginning to transition from mere e-filing of scanned documents to accepting or requiring electronic briefs with expanding digital functionality.

Visual design and digital functionality can be found in the work of the U.S. Supreme Court: for example, Justice Stephen Breyer used visual design in his 2020 Opinion in June Medical Services v. Russo (bullets and annotated map, see pp. 6-9, 32-33, 37), and the Annual Report on the Judiciary by Chief Justice John Roberts is a digital document with hyperlinked citations.

Any form of legal writing, broadly defined, can be transformed from “paper” (two dimensional) to “digital” (multi-dimensional) with modest changes in design, structure, and functionality. Writing for the digital reader incorporates, accentuates, and builds upon the components, structures, frameworks, and techniques that are effective for the paper reader. Digital writing can be adapted by law professors because particular elements or tools can be overlaid, sprinkled or infused regardless of the particular document, assignment, class, or module.

Law students can use a visual design approach to both construct their written analysis in outlines and drafts (for example, by using organizational visuals to deconstruct complex rules or facts) and present in their final writing whatever digital elements are appropriate, depending on the purpose and context of the writing. A writing for the digital reader framework emphasizes and synthesizes the following interactive elements:

3. Our “brain on screen” explains the need to write for the digital reader.

In the digital age, we are challenged by massive information overload and multiple distractions. This heightens the need to understand how “screen habits” affect the way in which we process information and maintain, develop, or lose cognitive focus.

Most law students are “Millennials,“ born after 1980 and now America’s largest, most diverse, and some say progressive, generation; they are starting to be joined in law schools by “Generation Z.” Both generations are “digital residents” who, despite a persistent digital divide, have inhabited a world of computers, smartphones, and social media for their entire lives. As noted by Professors Ellie Margolis and Kristen Murray in their 2016 article, “Using Information Literacy to Prepare Practice-Ready Graduates,” these students have “grown up composing text almost exclusively on screens, [and] have a very different experience with the reading and writing process than lawyers who began practicing law in the twentieth century.”

Reading on a computer screen (including laptop, tablet, smart phone) is associated with distraction, lack of sustained attention, and diminished comprehension. Researchers and educators fear that deep learning and meaningful comprehension are threatened as we try to read and:

To meet these challenges, we need to cultivate what Maryanne Wolf calls “cognitive patience” in our students (and ourselves) and, ultimately, a “biliterate brain” that switches effortlessly among different modes of reading.[4]

Regardless of medium, law students can develop and maintain habits of mind and strategies to compensate for diminished attention and manage information overload. Metacognition—awareness of their own learning process—will help students (re)balance and self-regulate their learning strategies and improve their ability to engage in deep reading and learning, even while using computer devices.

4. Checklist for teaching law students to write for the digital reader.[5]

Learning to write for the digital reader can help students improve their writing. This checklist incorporates practical approaches that draw on visual design, best practices in writing, and digital functionality. Professors, students, and attorneys can use it as a guide for written communication.

 Meet students where they are. Most of our students are “digital residents” who have lived their entire lives in the digital age. We can help them transfer their online experiences, knowledge, and skills to academic and professional writing assignments with practical frameworks and approaches.

 Begin with a reflection exercise. Ask students to reflect on their writing, including papers, articles, texts, emails, tweets, and posts.

  • What techniques do they use to communicate in writing online?
  • In more traditional papers?
  • What makes reading online easier or more difficult?

 Writing as a process. Writing for the digital reader can help students think about their writing process.

  • How do they generate and organize ideas?
  • Do they take notes, create an outline, write in stream of consciousness, or use other approaches?
  • What technology do they use: pen, paper, computer, a combination of paper and computer?

 Writing choices flow from content. Encourage students to focus initially on the goals of the writing and their ideas, research, analysis, and content. Thoughtful analysis, strong content, and clear objectives are the foundation for effective writing. Structure and format flow from substantive analysis.

 See writing with fresh eyes. Ask students to “step back” and review an initial draft.

  • Do lines of text appear “bunched” together?
  • Does the student’s eyes “glaze over” when they are reading due to long sentences and paragraphs?
  • Do they have to struggle to find the meaning of text that is too dense and hard to follow?

 Write to overcome screen reading challenges. Research shows that when we read on a screen, we are more distracted, less able to maintain sustained focus, and our comprehension diminishes. We can teach students how to use techniques and strategies to compensate for these problems.

 Eliminate or minimize distractions. Practice focused reading in 20-30 minute blocks without checking texts, emails, or social media. Minimize notifications and any other distracting “pop ups.” Take a short break.

 Headings, topic sentences and paragraphs. Encourage students to use headings and sub-headings in the early stages of writing process and, for most writing, through the final draft. This helps organize ideas and thoughts. Headings can “announce” topics or make an affirmative point. Topic sentences and concise paragraphs will also help both writer and reader.

 Spacing, lines, and fonts. Be aware of spacing, lines, and font (typography). The size and type of the font will likely depend on the conventions of the assignment or genre of writing. Spaces between lines, and the length of the lines of text, can help or hinder the reader.

 Use visuals and media to present information.

 “Organizational visuals.” Also called “navigational” visuals, these techniques are a great starting point to help the writer’s understanding, analysis, and structure. When writing about elements, rules, and multiple items, students can express information using “tab form” to create lists with:

1. Bullets,

2. Numbers, or

3. Letters.

 Graphs, tables, & charts. These are more tools students can use to communicate information. The key is to highlight content, not format of presentation. Students can use a simple table to compare and contrast information in context with practical, side by side examples.

 Images, diagrams, & videos. Depending on the context, students can use multi-media to support & illustrate their analysis. Media can help students develop ideas & analysis, and also meet the goals of the assignment.

 Hyperlink citations. We are so used to clicking on hyperlinks that we barely notice: they are a key difference between digital & paper writing. Writing assignments should include hyperlinks to legal citations and other resources.

 Best practices for hyperlinks. Hyperlinks can help students think differently about the purposes and form of citations.

  • Does the hyperlinked authority enhance text?
  • Where should it be located?
  • What is the proper form?
  • Does the hyperlink work; what if it breaks?

 Hyperlinks, paywalls, and #NoTechForICE. Use hyperlinks to discuss public and private databases, including ethical dimensions: @thomsonreuters (@Westlaw) & @ElsevierConnect (@LexisNexis) dominate legal research, law school course websites, and sell data to ICE & law enforcement agencies.

 Bookmarks. Students can insert bookmarks in longer documents. These bookmarks enhance functionality. Students can use bookmarks without a full table of contents. Students can insert hyperlinks to bookmarked sections in a roadmap or introductory section at the beginning of a document.

 Self-assessment. As part of the thinking and writing process, students see their piece of writing as a whole.

  • Is there a balance between text and space?
  • What visual tools are used in the writing?
  • Are the visual tools appropriate for the context?
  • Do the visual tools advance the purpose of the writing?

 Continue the editing, revising, and proofreading loop. In the digital age, learning how to write for the digital reader is a necessity. Students can learn to write at the intersection of visual design, best practices in writing, & digital functionality, and also improve their screen reading. Professors can too!

5. At a glance typography for legal writing for the digital reader.

Design choiceRecommendationsComments
Typeface or fontBaskerville Bookman Book Antiqua Calisto Century Century Schoolbook Garamond New Baskerville Palatino Times New RomanSerif for body of doc Sans Serif for headings Any “Book” font good for legal writing (Some say avoid Times New Roman because designed for newspaper columns and not as legible)  
Font sizeBetween 10 & 13Depends on letter height & line length
White space (including margins)Use expansively 1.5 as default, 1.0 and 2.0 as appropriateAvoid bunching together text without enough space. Double space not as effective for screen reading
Headings & subheadingsUse headings & sub-headings Sentence format Arabic numerals (1.0) Arial Century Gothic Trebuchet CorbelUse Sans Serif font for contrast Avoid: ALL CAPS, Small Caps, Cap At Beginning Of Each Word, & underline Align with left margin (do not center) Insert extra space before each sub-heading (distances from prior section, connects with related text)
Organizational or navigational visualsUse for elements, lists, points (bullets, numbers, letters, other visual signals).Avoid “burying” items within a paragraph. Use to complement, not replace narrative text.
Page numbersUse p. 1 of 20Avoid p. # alone
Length of documentWord countNot number of pages
Line length & justificationShorter line length (6”) (margins equal to or more than 1”) Rule of thumb: line should be 2 or 2.5 times alphabet length (52 to 65 characters)Use proportional spacing

[1] Maryanne Wolfe, Reader Come Home (HarperCollins 2018).

[2] Conrad Johnson, Lawyering in the Digital Age at 308 in Bryant et al., Transforming the Education of Lawyers: The Theory and Practice of Clinical Pedagogy (Carolina Academic Press 2014)..

[3] For example, formal legal memoranda and briefs, articles, essays, emails, letters, websites, posts, tweets, blogs, “DIY” guided interviews, court forms, reports, and community education materials.

[4] Maryanne Wolfe, Reader Come Home (HarperCollins 2018).

[5] Modified from author’s Twitter thread on @JoeRosenbergLaw, March 13, 2020.

Defund the Police or Reimagine Policing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adapting to the New Normal: Tips for Socialization While Social Distancing in Law Schools

I don’t think any of us realized that the day before spring break would be the last day we would be able to walk the halls of Albany Law for a while – I know I didn’t. In fact, I couldn’t have been more excited to escape that building in anticipation of vacation. But now, I miss waving to friends, catching up between classes, and the feeling of being in the Rochester Moot Courtroom. No one expected to have to transition the entire law school online to keep loved ones safe from COVID-19.

What we need now in this time of crisis is leadership and yes, even law student leaders can play a part. In light of the current situation, student leaders at Albany Law School put on their creative thinking hats to try to maintain a sense of community by offering “virtual events” and a list of online resources. Having a sense of community brings us together and keeps us feeling connected when we can’t physically be with one another. It keeps our relationships developing and our heads kept high. Most importantly, it provides a space for support, which is something we desperately need right now.

I thought of the idea for “Pet Happy Hour” when I was experiencing my first “Zoom” class. It was just a “test” class, so there was no substantive material being discussed. Then, several students “brought” their pets to class. Everyone in the class immediately started to smile – like instant therapy! I thought about how special our pets are and how animals can help us destress. Then I thought it would be fun to host a virtual event where students could show off their pets and wind down from the week with one another (and grab a drink). Since the inception of this idea, my student group has teamed up with two others to promote this therapeutic space to the rest of the student body. I’m excited to admire everyone’s pets and of course, show off my own!

Here are a list of the events/resources, which you could potentially recommend for your school:

  1. “Pet Happy Hour” – Several student groups teamed up to host a virtual pet happy hour on Zoom, where participants are being asked to bring their pet (or come admire other pets), grab a drink, and hang out.
  2. “Virtual Murder Mystery Night” – A student group will be hosting a virtual murder mystery game night. Participants are asked to sign up beforehand on a public google spreadsheet to ensure they receive character information before the game. (Note: there is a small cost associated with purchasing the game packet. ~$2 a person).
  3. “Virtual Meditation” – One of Albany Law’s very own professors leads a meditation session on Zoom every Friday at 12PM.
  4. “Virtual Exercise” – The Wellness Initiative at Albany Law is hosting a virtual yoga session and HIIT class for students on Zoom.
  5. “Rise in Wellness Blog”The Wellness Initiative at Albany Law has a blog with many resources listed including resources specific to COVID-19. A post by our Director of Communications and Marketing provided 5 excellent pieces of advice for working from home. Here they are quickly summed up:
    1. “Create a routine”
    1. “Keep a dedicated working space, if possible”
    1. “Make ground rules”
    1. “Take advantage of technology”
    1. “Stay positive”

It’s certainly a stressful time, but I think it helps to know that none of us are alone – we’re all in this together. Just because we are social distancing, doesn’t mean we can’t still stay connected. I urge other law schools to use some of the resources I’ve provided or find other creative ways to keep that connection with students. If your school has some other ideas, I would love to hear them in the comments!

Why Law Schools Need to Teach Critical Thinking

by Scott Fruehwald

Law schools have never systematically taught critical thinking.  I do not mean that law schools do not help develop critical thinking.  However, this is not done on a systematic basis.  There is no method or approach for teaching critical thinking in law schools.

For example, taking a class in negotiation will help students develop critical thinking, but not systematically.  This is like learning grammar just by speaking a language.  While this gets the student some of the way, to be systematically trained in a language, a student must explicitly study grammar.  Similarly, the Socratic method does help develop some critical thinking processes, but it mainly teaches students how to extract and understand doctrine.

I have just completed a book that shows law professors how to understand and teach critical thinking: How to Teach Lawyers, Judges, and Law Students Critical Thinking: Millions Saw the Apple Fall, but Newton asked Why.

Critical thinking is “[t]he intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”  (here)  “It is . . . automatically questioning if the information presented is factual, reliable, evidence‑based, and unbiased.” (here)  Critical thinking is a set of processes, including metacognition, conceptualizing, synthesizing (constructing), asking questions, organizing, developing and evaluating alternatives, considering unintended results, planning, self-monitoring, reflection, spotting assumptions, evaluating inferences, exercising epistemic vigilance, supporting arguments with evidence, evaluation, skepticism, and self-direction.

Here are several things that critical thinking can do:

1.  Critical thinking helps overcome superficial thinking.  It helps you see when you are relying on unsupported assumptions or opinions.

2.  Critical thinking helps overcome thinking based solely on intuition.

3.  Critical thinking produces rigorous and disciplined thinking.

4.  Critical thinking helps individuals create questions.

5.  Critical thinking helps individuals know when they need more information.

6.  Critical thinking helps avoid unintended consequences.

7.  Critical thinking supports problem-solving.  It helps make sure you don’t skip a step in the problem-solving process.

8.  Critical thinking helps overcome biased thinking.

9.  Critical thinking helps avoid mistakes by providing a method to evaluate (double-check) one’s work.

10.  Critical thinking helps an individual critique the work of others.

11.  Critical thinking promotes deep thinking.

12.  Critical thinking helps an individual see all sides of an argument.

13.  Critical thinking helps individuals solve difficult problems.

14.  Critical thinking helps individuals support their arguments.

15.  Critical thinking helps individuals recognize how a problem is framed and overcome the framing effect.

16.  Critical thinking helps thinkers recognize when selfish motives lie behind an argument.  It helps thinkers recognize manipulation.

17.  Critical thinking teaches students how to construct the law.

My book introduces critical thinking, shows how to teach it to lawyers, judges, and law students, and demonstrates how to use critical thinking to improve the Socratic method.  It also shows law professors how to improve their teaching through critical thinking.  Finally, it includes chapters on teaching legal writing and judges.  Since critical thinking development requires practice, it includes many examples and exercises.

Universal Design in the Law School Classroom—a Few Thoughts

One of the many things that most of us teaching in universities, very much including law schools, lack by way of training is any overview of how living with a disability affects learning, let alone what interventions might make a difference.

At best, some of us have second hand knowledge through the experience of friends and relatives (My Mom was a Speech Pathologist) who have that training or perhaps their children who are recipients of such instruction in grade school.   So no matter how willingly we provide the “accommodations” ordered by often overwhelmed university offices tasked with meeting the institution’s legal obligations, we do so without an underlying understanding of what those accommodations are supposed to achieve.  Or how they are supposed to achieve them.

Fortunately, it is not necessary to get a degree in teaching and learning to acquire a basic proficiency in how to teach in ways that make it more accessible to all students and as well as to work with experts to address the specific needs of individual students.

The resources below reflect a variety of sources for information as well as some ideas about universal design that would make learning more accessible to everyone.  It’s also helpful, in general, to be open to the idea that learning and sensory perception is different for everyone—and it’s probably better to let students make their own decisions about things like where in the room they want to sit than to adhere to traditions like pre-assigned seating.

To preview an article I’m working on, it is also important for us to realize that many of the common tasks assigned to law students, especially in classes intended to teach the crucial skills of legal research and writing, depend on levels of Executive Function rather than intelligence or knowledge basis or even ability to “think like a lawyer.”

Here are some resources:

Preparing Accessible Documents and here

An article from Diversability Magazine, Navigating Learning Disabilities in Law School.  https://www.diverseabilitymagazine.com/2017/04/navigate-learning-disabilities-law-school/

This information from Vanderbilt covers a lot of ground, and offers very practical suggestions in the section titled, “Strategies for Creating Accessible Learning Environments”

A recent survey of medical students seeking input on what would enhance their learning was a plea for no more blue slides with yellow text.   These links are helpful to make sure that we are not making life harder for students when we design slides. https://www.yorksj.ac.uk/media/content-assets/student-services/documents/A-Guide-to-Dyslexia-(PowerPoint)-A5.pdf

Here are some practical suggestions that we might offer all our students dealing with pages of dense text in small print-https://www.ws.edu/student-services/disability/teaching/learning.shtm

Hearing impairment is very common and sometimes comes on so gradually that people don’t even notice. It’s fair to assume that everyone would benefit from things like not just the Prof. using a microphone but passing one around so that students can here each other.  Here are some things to keep in mind about students with hearing impairments-including a very helpful point that no assistive device “restores” hearing and that we should respect a student’s own assessment of where in the classroom works best for them.  https://www3.gallaudet.edu/Documents/Clerc/TIPSTOGO-2.pdf

Best Practice Contributors Highlighted in Best Articles of 2019

A big congratulations to our very own bloggers, Jennifer Bard and Benjamin Madison, for being featured on the TaxProf Blog!

Jennifer Bard’s article, “Are the Students Failing the Bar Exam Today Canaries in the Coal Mine warning us of a More General Need to Change Legal Education?” and Benjamin Madison’s article, “New Rubrics Available to Help Law Schools that Have Adopted Learning Outcomes Related to Professional Identity Formation” were both listed as TaxProf Blog’s “Best Legal Education Articles of 2019.”

Refuting the False Trope on Clinical Courses and Bar Passage

Robert Kuehn, Washington University School of Law

It has been observed that “the fewer the facts, the stronger the opinion.” Until recently, this could be said about the possible influence of enrollment in clinical courses on a student’s likelihood of passing the bar examination. While there was a shortage of empirical studies on any possible relationship, there have been plenty of opinions on how taking those courses might be harmful, opinions often reflected in graduation restrictions on clinical courses and requirements for bar subject-matter courses.

But, there are now significantly more facts to refute those opinions. Two recent, large-scale studies have both found no relationship between the number of law clinic or externship courses or credits a law graduate took and her likelihood of passing the bar exam.

In a forthcoming article in the Journal of Legal Education, academic records of ten years of law school graduates of Washington University in St. Louis and Wayne State University were reviewed for any relationship between the number of law clinic, externship, or, more generally, experiential courses or credits and bar passage. After first accounting for the possible influence of law school grades on bar passage (the most significant predictor of bar success), the study found no correlation at either school between law clinic or externship enrollment and bar passage — no relationship between participation in a law clinic or externship and passage, none between the number of clinical courses and passage, none between the number of clinical credits and passage, and no evidence that students graduating with lower GPAs were disproportionately enrolling in those courses as a way to avoid doctrinal courses (another not uncommon trope). This lack of any relationship was in spite of increased enrollment in experiential courses at both schools over the ten-year period and decreased enrollment in courses teaching material tested on the bar (referred to as bar subject-matter courses).

The article notes that nationwide data on experiential course enrollment and bar passage also belie any claim the two are related. That data indicate that as enrollment in experiential courses was increasing from 2006-2016, bar passage percentages were fairly steady and that the recent decline in passage coincided with decreased, not increased, enrollment in those courses.

A recent study commissioned by the California State Bar found a similar lack of relationship between law clinic and externship courses and bar exam performance. The study reviewed law school coursework and performance on three July exams for over 7,500 bar applicants from eleven California schools. It found no relationship between the number of academic credits from law clinic courses and exam performance, either across all schools or even when reviewing schools separately. Similarly, there was no relationship between the number of externship or internship credits and performance, again when examined across all schools or within schools. The broad range of entering credentials at the eleven schools, and lack of a relationship even within those schools, indicates that the results should be applicable to most law schools, including those with lower LSATs and undergraduate GPAs for entering students.

The study results from Washington University/Wayne State and the California State Bar are similar to smaller studies at Texas Tech and the University of Denver that also reported no statistically significant relationship between enrollment in a law clinic or externship course and bar passage.

The Washington University/Wayne State and California State Bar studies further revealed that opinions about the value of bar subject-matter courses should be moderated. There were small correlations at both schools between the number of bar subject courses and bar passage. But this result (explaining less than 5% of the variability in bar outcomes) was only for low performing students and additional courses showed no marginal benefit once students took the school’s average number of bar courses.

The California State Bar study focused on whether taking a specific course was related to performance on the bar exam topic taught in those courses. It found that neither attendance nor performance in courses covering any of the 13 bar-related topics was related to performance on the corresponding California bar exam or Multistate Bar Exam content covering that subject.

Studies at other schools also indicate that enrollment in bar subject-related courses do not support broad claims about the benefit of taking those courses.

It is time to put away the misinformed trope of participation in law clinic and externship courses harming a student’s chances of passing the bar exam and let the facts do the talking. Law schools should recognize and students should be told they can obtain valuable preparation for the practice of law by enrolling in clinical courses without affecting their likelihood of passing the bar exam.

Active Retrieval Practice: Known to Improve Learning but Underappreciated?

Exam time has arrived in law schools.  Students who want to excel on exams (and later, as attorneys) would do well to try out active retrieval practice.  To understand the value of retrieval practice, some brief discussion of well-established cognitive science is necessary.  Learning involves (1) taking knowledge into short-term working memory, and then (2) moving it from working memory to long-term memory by actively using the knowledge.[1]  In their excellent book, Teaching Law by Design, Dean Michael Hunter Schwartz, Professor Sophie Sparrow, and Professor Gerald Hess explain this process of storing learning in cognitive schema.[2]  They liken schemata to a “folder system[] provided for users of computer operating systems.”[3]  As they observe, however, storing knowledge “isn’t enough.  To analyze a problem, students must recall (“retrieve”) what they have learned and use that learning . . . .”[4] 

Research on cognition demonstrates that meaningful learning in any discipline requires the learner to perform some form of active retrieval exercises to be able to use the knowledge in analyzing and solving problems.   Active retrieval methods are ways in which the learner recalls knowledge and uses the recalled knowledge to solve problems or answer questions.[5]  Recalling for mere “knowledge checks,” sometimes called rote learning, is not effective.[6]   In the law school arena, a student can recite a memorized rule but not be able to apply it to fact patterns in a way that shows understanding.   Effective retrieval-based learning activities require the student to solve problems or to answer questions.  By doing so, the learner strengthens her understanding  of, and ability to recall, the knowledge.[7]  In law school, mid-term exams require students to recall information at least in mid-semester.  The problem there is that neuroscience shows a marked forgetting curve: if learning is not retrieved within a few days of its being stored, the knowledge is lost and must be relearned.[8]  Indeed, retrieving and using the knowledge are the critical parts of developing meaningful learning. 

               Spurred by the adoption of ABA Standard 314, my colleagues and I have been giving mid-term exams and using a variety of interim assessments designed to have students to recall information from previous classes. I regularly have a mid-term that includes multiple-choice, essays, or both.  The exams are graded and students receive a model answer. I discuss with students the answers to the assessments and common mistakes (e.g., failing to state rules accurately, insufficient application of facts in supporting one’s analysis).   The exam and follow-up discussions achieve the goal of providing the “meaningful feedback” that ABA Standard 314 seeks.   The mid-term is also summative. My experience is that many students do not take a practice, ungraded mid-term seriously. Having the exam count, but not so much as to prevent a student from recovering from a poor exam, helps to ensure that students prepare for and spend time on the mid-term.

               Another way that I have incorporated active recall practice is by using multiple-choice polling questions.  In the first class after we finish a course segment, we begin the class with multiple-choice questions that students answer by polling.    I ensure participation by recording the polling, by student, and including their responses (or lack thereof) as a class-participation part of the grade.  In answering the questions through polling, students must recall knowledge to analyze the question and reach a conclusion.   For example, after completing the study of removal jurisdiction and procedures, I use a series of multiple-choice polling questions that explore the many nuances of removal.   These sessions provide “meaningful feedback” to both students and to me.   If everyone misses a question, you can be sure I go back to discuss the area.  I also encourage anyone who missed a question in these polling sessions to meet with me after reviewing the topic addressed by the question.

               I urge students not to rely solely on the mid-term and the polling sessions as a means of ensuring they have learned material well.  Instead, I highly recommend preparing answers to essays under timed conditions.  At times I provide a model answer after they practice an essay. I also invite students to meet with me to go over their answers.   In these discussions, I almost always find some area in which a student has a mistaken understanding of a rule or concept.  If we did not uncover that misunderstanding, a student could repeatedly recall a flawed rule or approach.  Hence, I appreciate more than ever the wisdom of Standard 314’s emphasis on formative assessment.   After resolving any misunderstandings, I encourage a student to rewrite an answer.  That allows the student to revisit the topic and solidify her understanding.  Indeed, the act of writing itself helps students to embed the rules and concepts more firmly in their memory.[9] 

               What is true for law school is also true for the Bar Exam.   Last summer Sara Berman and I created a podcast for the ABA on practicing tests (essays, Multistate Performance Tests [MPTs], etc.) as some of the most effective ways to prepare for a state’s Bar Exam.[10]  Ideally, a student learns everything she needs to know in law school Bar review is just that–review.  More often, Bar applicants have a vague recollection of rules and concepts from their time in law school.  In other words, Bar applicants often find themselves relearning rules and concepts.  In so doing, they will learn more effectively by practicing an essay or MPT answer and by submitting these answers for grading to their Bar Preparation company and the faculty at their law school who help Bar applicants.  In doing these exercises, they benefit for at least two reasons.  First, it will identify areas in which the applicant’s knowledge of rules and concepts is so weak that she cannot answer a question.   Knowing that, the applicant can review that area and know that she needs to do so.  Second, exercises such as practice essay answers will require applicants to recall the rules they do know and apply them.  The more they do so, the more likely they are to remember them on the Bar. 

               Repeated, active retrieval practice is one of the best ways to learn to perform on exams or in law practice.  Yet, despite the data showing its effectiveness, such practices are not the norm in higher education.[11]  The practice is likely not the norm in law schools.   Standard 314 ought to help to some extent increase active retrieval before the end of the law school semester.  Yet, at present students are not spending their time as wisely as they could. Instead of preparing detailed outlines, and memorizing rules or flash cards, they would learn more from methods that require them to recall and apply legal rules and analysis.   Indeed, one might say this fact is one of the best kept secrets in law school. Perhaps it is time to let this secret out.


[1] Michael Hunter Schwartz, Sophie Sparrow & Gerald Hess, Teaching Law by Design 4­–7 (Carolina Academic Press 2009).

[2] Id.

[3] Id. at 5–6.

[4] Id. at 6.

[5] Jeffrey D. Karpicke, A Powerful Way to Improve Learning and Memory: Practicing Retrieval Enhances Long-Term, Meaningful Learning, American Psychological Association (2016), available at https://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2016/06/learning-memory (last checked Dec. 6, 2019).

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Louis N. Schulze, Jr., Using Science to Build Better Learners: One School’s Successful Efforts to Raise its Bar Passage Rates in an Era of Decline, 68 J. Legal Educ. 230, 245 (Winter 2019).

[9] Bryan Goodwyn, The Magic of Writing Stuff Down, 75 Educational Leadership 78–79 (April 2019).

[10] Sara Berman and Ben Madison, Practice Makes Passing, Episode 6 of American Bar Associations Path to Law Student Well-Being Podcast series, available at  https://www.spreaker.com/show/path-to-law-student-well-being  (June 22, 2019).

[11] According to Dr. Karpicke, college students likewise use rote learning methods more than they use active retrieval exercises.  See Karpicke, supra note 5.

Guiding Students From Law School Into the World

It seems that one of the things we law professors can do to help our students develop their identities as professionals and their obligations to the greater society is to incorporate into the law school events that plug students into what’s going on in the “real world.“ I did just this in a small way this week by offering all the students the opportunity to attend and participate in a talk/discussion about the Supreme Court arguments that were heard last week in the DACA case.

The students were invited to attend a portion of my immigration clinic class. Food and pro bono credit hours helped, I’m sure, but the event brought a plentiful group of students I had not interacted with before, who were both knowledgeable about and interested in the issue of the day.  The event lasted only about 45 minutes, but that was long enough to produce a lively and I think informative conversation about oral arguments, professionalism, case theory, the role of policy, administrative law, and of course the specific legal issues raised by the case.

With so much of the law school endeavor focused on exam taking and other tasks that force students into a single-focused, competitive role, bringing them into a discussion about key issues at stake in our country in the moment could likely enhance their connections to their future and help them envision some individual goals they can aim for once out in that “real world.”

“Being Human To My Students And Letting Them Know I Care”

This is a wonderful blog post I found on the Institute for Law Learning and Teaching by Jane Korn, Professor of Law at Gonzaga University School of Law. As a current law student, I think that this practice should be implemented in all law schools for first year law students. I had a professor during 1L who did something similar. He would start the class every week with, “so how is 1L going?” and we could spend 10 minutes discussing general concerns about 1L and papers or exams we had coming up. Not only did it ease some of the anxiety, it also showed that the professor really cared about the students. It was like they were saying, “I’ve been there too and I’m here to support you.” Kudos to Professor Korn for setting aside some time in her class to do this!

“I have taught first year law students for a long time.  Please do not ask how long!  But years ago, I became worried about the mental health and stress levels of my first semester, first year students. I teach a four credit, one semester course in Civil Procedure during the first semester of law school.   On the last day of the week that I teach in Civ Pro, I take a few minutes out of class time and ask my students to tell me how they are doing.

The first time I do this, usually at the end of the first week of law school,  I tell my students that it is my custom, from time to time, to take time out from Civ Pro, and talk about anything they would like (with some limits).  In some years, it takes weeks for them to take me up on this offer.  Other years, they start right in.  They ask questions like the following:

  1. When should I start outlining?
  2. How much time should I spend studying every night?
  3. How important is getting involved in extracurricular activities?
  4. What if I don’t know what kind of law I want to practice?
  5. Do professors care about grammar and organization on a final exam? (I only answer what I expect and do not answer for other faculty)

I think that much of the time, they do not get a chance to ask a law professor these kinds of questions, and can usually only ask upper class students.  While we have faculty advisors, students may or may not feel comfortable asking them questions like the above.  They eventually do (and sometimes quickly) feel comfortable asking me a wide variety of questions.  They sometimes ask personal questions and, within reason, I answer them because it makes them feel more comfortable with me.  Questions on gossipy matters about other faculty are off limits. If for example, they complain about another professor,  I handle this question with a smile and say something like – you should ask that professor about this issue.

I set aside class time for several reasons. First, while I do worry about giving up valuable teaching time, lessening the stress of my students may make them more able to learn.  Second, students often feel like they are the only one with a particular concern during this first semester, and they often do not have the ability to know that others have the same concerns or questions.  In the first year, many of our students are not from this area and are far away from support systems, at least at first until they can make friends at law school.  The ability to know that other students have the same problems they do can lessen the feeling of isolation.  Using class time to answer questions to the entire group may help them with this sense of isolation and being the only one who doesn’t know something.  It also lets them see that their concerns are important and credible.

Every year my teaching evaluations reflect this process positively.  Students feel like I care (which I do).  However, the reason I do it is to increase their comfort during those first few exciting, confusing, and terrifying months of law school.”

 

The Legal Interviewing and Language Access Film Project (LILA)

By: Laila L. Hlass and Lindsay M. Harris

Teaching effective interviewing skills is a perennial problem. Although there are excellent texts on the subject, few examples of real or model interviews exist, particularly ones which incorporate collaboration issues between student partners, language access issues with the client, and how to address issues of bias when they arise in the interview.

In 2018, we designed, screen-wrote, produced and released The Legal Interviewing and Language Access Film Project (LILA), two instructional videos and a teaching guide featuring a law student clinic pair representing two different immigrant clients, in two different introductory meetings, one of which is conducted with interpretation.

Our goal was to better teach interviewing in our own experiential courses, but we also hoped to share this resource with our colleagues. Since the videos were launched, law school clinics and experiential learning programs across the country have adopted the use of the videos. At the time of writing, more than 100 educators at nearly 75 law schools have requested use of the teacher’s guide for these videos. This includes more than 30 immigration clinics, but also educators teaching in a variety of other clinics, purely doctrinal courses, as well as courses focused on client counseling and interviewing skills.

The videos raise a multitude of issues within interviewing including client-centered lawyering, collaboration, interpretation, and addressing bias. Our films enliven and deepen the learning environment by utilizing modeling, as well as stimulating classroom discussion, reflection and role play. 

In Interviewing Victor: The Initial Meeting, two law students Lisa and Max interview a teenage asylum-seeker in removal proceedings, Victor, raising a number of issues relating to initial client interviewing, including: Road mapping and organization of the interview; Building rapport; Confidentiality; Role description, including representation at later stages, and explaining the arc of case; Verbal and nonverbal cues; Tone; Answering client questions or ethical issues that are difficult and unexpected; Recording the interview and seeking permission; Taking notes; Form of questions; Word choice; Approaches to sensitive topics and response to client’s distress; Client-centered lawyering; and Working with a co-interviewer.

In Josefina: Using an Interpreter, two law students Lisa and Max working with interpreters to interview a monolingual Spanish-speaking client seeking a U visa as a victim of a crime in the United States. This video raises questions regarding: Using third person; Pacing of speech; Summarization and  expansion of interpretation; Challenges when one student speaks the client’s language but partner does not; Confidentiality; Use of interested parties, such as family members; Approaches to changing interpreters; and Use of common language words where the interpreter doesn’t know the intended meaning.

For faculty who hope to adopt the videos in a course, pro bono orientation or other training, please email either Laila Hlass lhlass@tulane.edu or Lindsay Harris Lindsay.harris@udc.edu for the teacher’s guide, indicating in which course(s) you are considering using the films.

Building A Solid Foundation Before Week 1

By Louis Jim, Assistant Professor, Albany Law School

One year ago, I began teaching Introduction to Lawyering, which is the required 1L course on legal analysis, communication, and research at Albany Law School. The textbook I used, like many “legal writing” textbooks, provided information about the types of legal authorities (primary or secondary) and weight of those authorities (mandatory or persuasive). And any textbook about legal authorities would, of course, also provide information about this nation’s three-tiered court structure. In class, I discussed those concepts, showed flow charts illustrating the structure, and distributed a map of the circuit courts of appeals. But I failed to assess whether my students truly understood the significance of the three-tiered structure and how that significance related to their other first-year classes.

This past summer, I attended the AALS New Law Teachers Workshop, where a number of presenters inspired me to think about new methods to assess whether my students understand the foundational needed to succeed in the first year and beyond. In response, I made two significant changes to my course design this semester. First, I required my students to complete weekly reflections in the last ten minutes of our Friday class.[1] The students must tell me two things they learned in my class and two things they want to learn more about in class. Students may then leave comments or ask questions on any topic even if the comments or questions are not related to law school.

Second, rather than simply discussing court structure with them, I created an in-class activity to assess whether students understood the significance of that structure. The students completed this activity at our first Friday session, which was the last day of their first week of law school. I rewrote a hypothetical that was originally written by my colleague at Albany Law School, David Walker, Assistant Professor and Director of the Schaffer Law Library, for a quiz in his advanced legal research class. A copy of the hypothetical can be found here:

The students spent the first ten to fifteen minutes of class reading the hypothetical. I then asked a series of multiple choice and short answer questions using Poll Everywhere based off the hypothetical. A copy of those questions can be found here:

I provided a link to the webpage where students would respond the poll’s questions, and students answered the questions using their laptops. Their anonymous responses were displayed on the large monitors at the front of the classroom. As we worked through the questions and hypothetical, I defined common terms that students would encounter in the cases they read for their doctrinal classes (e.g., motion, ruling, opinion, holding, judgment, etc.). I also distributed an outline that allowed the students to write the definitions and take other notes. A copy of that outline can be found here:

I hid the responses until at least three-quarters of the class had responded as I did not want a student’s response to be influenced by their classmates’ responses. By displaying their answers anonymously, every student could participate without fear of embarrassment, a fear prevalent in the first few weeks of law school. By using Poll Everywhere, the students who did not choose the right answer also saw that they were not alone. For each question, we also discussed each of the answer choices and why a particular choice was correct and the other ones were incorrect. Because everyone had to answer the questions, everyone—and not just the victim of the cold call—stayed engaged.

Because we completed this activity on the first Friday that we met, the students also completed their first reflection on that day. One student had commented in her reflection that she wished that we had completed that activity before the first week of classes began because it gave her a better understanding of the assigned case law in her doctrinal classes. I met with this student that following Monday, and she said she had a better understanding of her Week 2 reading assignments in her doctrinal classes after having completed the activity. Another student added that the activity filled many gaps in his understanding of the material in his doctrinal classes. Later that week, another student told me in person that she also wished we had completed the activity before the first week of classes.

As attorneys and/or professors, we often take for granted our understanding of the hierarchy of authority of the court system and our understanding of the terminology common in case law. Those just starting law school, however, may have never read a case before. But more often than not, the new law students’ first law school assignment requires them to read a case (likely more than one) and be prepared to discuss the case (or cases) on the first day of class. Those readings contain terms and concepts that new law students may have heard on television or read in a newspaper, but most new law students lack an understanding of how those terms and those concepts relate to the substantive law. Students may then feel discouraged in the first week because they don’t understand the concepts that seasoned attorneys take for granted. Although law students should and must develop skills in synthesizing rules and applying them, as educators, we must provide a solid foundation so that students can start developing those skills. With that in mind, next year, I hope to complete this activity even earlier so that students begin Week 1 with a solid foundation.


[1] This semester, I teach two sections of Lawyering, and each section meets once on Wednesday and once on Friday. On weeks in which we don’t have time to complete the weekly reflection in class, the reflection becomes an optional assignment that students can email to me. Much to my surprise and delight, some students completed the optional reflections too.

Getting to Know Your Students

By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

This post can be found on the “Law Teaching” section of the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning website.

“I had some time today to post a blog post with a teaching idea on getting to know your students and starting to build a learning community in your classroom.  At the beginning of the semester, I sent my students a “Getting to Know You” form which contained the following questions:

  1. Tell me anything you would like me to know about you.
  2. How comfortable are you with writing and research? Please give me as much information as you can so I can gauge your experience.
  3. Why did you decide to go to law school?
  4. Why did you choose Gonzaga?
  5. What study methods work best for you?
  6. How do you learn best in the classroom?
  7. Think of your favorite teacher; what qualities made that teacher your favorite?
  8. Think of your least favorite teacher; what qualities made that teacher your least favorite?

These simple questions gave me insights into who is sitting in front of me.  I stapled a picture to each of their information sheets so that I could put a face to the information.  I am only one week into the semester but the information has already helped me.  For instance, when I am forming working groups for the day, I was able to pair students who are comfortable with writing and research with students who are less sure.  Also, knowing what study methods work for the students in front of me, helps me shape how I teach each group of students.  Because each group of students is so different, it is good to have information about those students rather than creating lesson plans without that information.”

Thank you to Sandra Simpson for allowing us to re-blog this!

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