Are we teaching what they will use?

Here at Stanford we haven’t shown our students Shepard’s in print in at least a decade.  And we have long since stopped using the digests in print as well.  So it was good to see these decisions validated in an article from the latest issue of Mississippi College Law Review, “Are We Teaching What They Will Use? Surveying Alumni to Assess Whether Skills Teaching Aligns with Alumni Practice,” by Sheila F. Miller.

The article wasn’t surprising to me, except the evident reluctance by law school alumni to use low-cost tools made available to them, namely Casemaker and Fastcase.

As can be seen from the frequency of usage chart, Lexis and Westlaw continue to be the most popular choices for online research. This finding is not significantly different depending on the size of firm, or year of graduation. This data is similar to a 2007 survey of Chicago lawyers in which 87% of attorneys surveyed who had practiced for zero to five years did “most” of their research in Lexis or Westlaw.   Casemaker provides free research for members of both the Ohio and Indiana Bar Associations. 43 Yet, only 16.9% of respondents used Casemaker often, very often, or always, and only 13.5% used it at least sometimes. This was a surprising number given the number of the respondents in small offices. In the follow-up interviews there was some criticism of Casemaker. For example, attorneys stated Casemaker is “too slow” and Casemaker is “not as easy as Westlaw, and I have an unlimited subscription for Ohio law.”

From Footnote #43:

Fastcase provides basically the same service for some other states, and we asked in the survey about Fastcase as well. The numbers were so low on Fastcase use that I did not include them in the tables of results.

“Weighing Paper against Pixel”

From the November issue of Scientific AmericanWhy the brain prefers paper, by Ferris Jabr

In many studies people understand and remember what they read on paper better than what they read on screens.  Researchers think the physicality of paper explains this discrepancy.

How to Use Legislative History to Teach Grammar

Anyone teaching the importance of legislative history in legal research need only point to a single punctuation mark: the mighty comma.  As a disclaimer, I strive to put my years of Latin classes to good use, but do not profess to be punctuationally-perfect.  (Interestingly, the Romans did not use modern punctuation, but I digress…)   One thing I do know, however, is that other people’s grammatical shortcomings sure can wreak a lot of havoc… making them a great teaching tool.

This past week, I was researching a state statute that, among many other things, imposed conditions on persons who had committed a “felony or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”  At first blush, one would read this to mean that the conditions apply to persons involved in domestic violence felonies and misdemeanors.  Get this:  That provision actually governs anyone who commits either a “felony” or a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”  In other words, we should really be reading a comma into the statute between “felony” and “misdemeanor” where the legislators neglected to put one!

Uncovering the latent comma was not easy.  News articles referred to the imposition of the conditions on felons, but without citing the supporting statutory clause.  Secondary sources referred to conditions emanating from the “domestic violence clause” of the statute, failing to illuminate that the clause also covers all felonies.  Case law cited the statute as creating certain conditions, but decided matters on other grounds.

The best recourse was to trace the historical progression of the clause, which I was able to do through older versions of the statute and the legislators’ own analysis.  Earlier iterations made no reference to domestic violence whatsoever, as the clause originally pertained to persons who had committed any felony.  Years later, the legislature added “or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” but failed to demarcate this clause with a comma that would have resolved ambiguity.  If the legislators had simply written “any felony, or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” I would have spent fifteen minutes on a project that instead took five hours!  (Note:  I do not require legislators to bold, italicize, or underscore the comma; any font or stylization will do!)

Do you have any grammar-related teachable moments you’d like to share?  We’d love to hear them and pass them along to our classes.  To that end, I particularly enjoyed Prof. Susan J. Hankin’s “Statutory Interpretation in the Age of Grammatical Permissiveness:  An Object Lesson for Teaching Why Grammar Matters,” which references recent literature on the subject and also offers some great case law examples to use in class.

Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers

Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers
The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) at the University of Denver.

The site includes examples of innovative courses and and a respurces page with strategic plans, teaching strategies, and surveys.

From the description and press release:

“Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers” provides a platform to encourage law schools in the U.S. to showcase innovative teaching to produce more practice-ready lawyers who can better meet the needs of an evolving profession.

Rebecca Love Kourlis is the Executive Director of IAALS and a former Colorado Supreme Court justice.

“Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers leverages the Carnegie Model of learning,” Kourlis says. “Our project provides support for shared learning, innovation, ongoing measurement and collective implementation. We are very excited to launch this project to encourage new ways to train law students and to measure innovation in the years to come.”

William M. Sullivan is the Director of “Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers.” He also is the lead author of the 2007 Carnegie Foundation report, Educating Lawyers.

“Our goal is to encourage law schools that are already committed to innovation to share what they know in a structured, collaborative place so that other law professors may discuss and develop new teaching techniques,” Sullivan says.

IAALS will manage this initiative, the first of its kind in the country. The initiative is partnering with a growing number of law schools (including Stanford Law School) in a consortium committed to innovative teaching The initiative is fully funded by IAALS, the consortium, and the University of Denver.

Martin J. Katz, Dean of the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver serves with Kourlis and Sullivan on the initiative’s Executive Committee.

“We want to help law schools integrate three sets of values or what the Carnegie Foundation calls ‘apprenticeships,'” Katz says. “They are knowledge, practice, and professionalism. We believe this initiative can change how law professors and deans, students, and ultimately the legal profession respond to our changing world.”

Article on Legal Education in Brazil

The latest issue of the Revista Jurídica Universidad de Puerto Rico has an article on reform of the legal education system in Brazil.

Legal Research in Brazil: Traps and Alternatives to Legal Formalism                                                                                               Caio Mario da Silva Pereira Neto and Paulo Todescan Lessa Mattos                                                                                          Revista Jurídica Universidad de Puerto Rico. Vol.77  No.2 (2008).

“We persistently talk of a crisis inlegal teaching in Brazil and otherLatin Ameican countries in spite of a the recent wave of innovative experiences in many institutions of the region. The diagnosis of this crisis is not new… it is possible to highlight at least two central aspects of the diagnosis: (1) an apparent incompatability between legal practices that are perceived as traditional … and the need for legal actors to be in constant transformation because of internationalization; and(2) the ostensible inefectiveness of the teaching methods employed , which are based exclusively on lectures where professors articulate abstract dogmatic concepts …”

Researching Across the Curriculum: The Road Must Continue Beyond the First Year

“Researching Across the Curriculum: The Road Must Continue Beyond the First Year”

Oklahoma Law Review, Vol. 61, 2009

BROOKE J. BOWMAN, Stetson University College of Law

In the ever growing movement to integrate skills and values across the law school curriculum, research instruction cannot be overlooked or forgotten. Research serves as the fulcrum upon which “skills and values” such as ethics and practical application of doctrinal studies, rests. Therefore, research instruction cannot be limited to what the students learn in their first-year legal research and writing classes. A concentrated effort must be made in all classes to ensure that what the students learn in the first-year research and writing classes will be further developed, refined, revisited and reinforced. This Article, Research Across the Curriculum: The Road Must Continue Beyond the First Year, offers a new paradigm for how research instruction should change in the upper-level classes from requiring all students to take Advanced Legal Research courses, for example, to integrating research instruction into specialized areas such as international law and tax courses.

Source:  LSN Law Educator: Courses, Materials & Teaching Vol. 5 No. 5, 03/06/2009

The Laptop-Free Zone


“The Laptop-Free Zone”

Valparaiso University Law Review, Vol. 43, 2009

JANA R. MCCREARY, Florida Coastal School of Law

This new article, “The Laptop-Free Zone,” addresses the hotly debated issue of laptops in law school classroom; those debates are ongoing on countless blogs, on NPR, in national newspapers, and across law school campuses. This article reports and analyzes the data collected through an IRB-approved survey of almost 450 law school students at three different law schools regarding the students’ views of laptops and reported distractions caused by laptops. To provide context, the article also addresses the current arguments against laptops, negating those points as being outweighed by the proper and beneficial use of laptops. Additionally, the article provides information to be considered in teaching adults and to different learning styles, namely, global and analytic learners, and how those concerns are matters to consider in the laptop debate.

According to the survey results, students who do not use a laptop are overwhelmingly more likely to be distracted by others’ laptops than students who are using their own laptops. In other words, yes, laptops cause distractions, but that primarily affects students who are not using a laptop. Accordingly, based on the learning style information and my survey results, I suggest that laptops not be banned from law school classrooms. Instead, I argue that professors must do their best to teach to all students – to those who feel they learn best by using a laptop as an aid and to those who complain of the distractions caused. I do this by implementing a laptop-free zone, restricting the first or first few rows in my classrooms to no laptops. This creates an area where students who are distracted by neighboring screens and nearby typing are free (as possible without an all-out ban) from those distractions. Further, doing so still respects those students who have learned to use a laptop as an educational tool.

As a surprise to me, the survey also showed that many students make the decision to give up their laptop after experiencing attending a class without one, noting they would not have been willing to go through such an experience by their own decision. However, once they experience not using a laptop in the law school classroom environment, they often change their method of taking notes and report improved learning and classroom experiences. Accordingly, I also suggest that instead of banning laptops, we provide beginning students with only a week or two of a laptop ban at some time during the first semester of school. This compromise will serve the interest of the most students most effectively, respecting them as adults while providing supportive guidance to their own decisions about their learning environment.


 Source: LSN Educator: Courses, Materials & Teaching Vol. 4 No. 23, 10/24/2008

LRW – “Practice Writing: Responding to the Needs of the Bench and Bar in First Year Writing Programs”


Practice Writing: Responding to the Needs of the Bench and Bar in First Year Writing Programs

Phoenix Law Review, Fall 2008


MARGARET SOVA MCCABE, Franklin Pierce Law Center

Do first year legal writing programs really prepare law students for the rigors of practice writing? This article begins to answer this question based on attorney and judge survey results, as well as interviews with judges who had also read student work in preparation for their interview. We found that while legal writing programs do provide a good foundation for legal writing skills, improvement can be made. Important changes that we have made at Pierce Law include: shorter, more frequent assignments; variation/flexibility in choice of organizational paradigm; understanding the difference between settled and unsettled areas of law; and increased emphasis on grammar, punctuation, and style.


Source: LSN Law & Courts Vol. 2 No. 47,  09/01/2008

Teaching as a “collaborative, approachable ‘guru'”

Generations X and Y in Law School: Practical Strategies for Teaching the ‘MTV/Google’ Generation

Loyola Law Review, Vol. 54, p. 1, Winter 2009

JOAN CATHERINE BOHL, Stetson University – College of Law

The current generation of law students, members of Generations X and Y, experienced virtually unprecedented access to technology for their whole lives. The American educational system through which they passed was also fundamentally different from the American educational system earlier generations experienced. These factors have had profound influence on current law students’ learning styles. In this article, I address those learning styles in the context of the time-honored educational traditions of law school. I conclude that new approaches to law school teaching are necessary, and I discuss why the often-asserted claim that we simply need more technology in the law school classroom is deeply flawed. By analogizing to the paradigm shift that occurred in mutual fund management and marketing, I establish that successful law teaching depends on law professors who shed the old, authoritarian models of law teaching in favor of being collaborative, approachable “gurus” in the classroom. I also discuss the need to incorporate active learning into the law school experience and suggest some practical strategies for doing so.


Source:  LSN Law & Society: The Legal Profession Vol. 3 No. 18,  07/15/2008

Collaboration in legal research and writing classes

Real Collaborative Context: Opinion Writing and the Appellate Process

Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors, Forthcoming

THOMAS D. COBB, University of Washington School of Law

SARAH F. KALTSOUNIS, University of Washington School of Law

Collaborative learning is crucial to law students’ intellectual development and professional formation. Yet something about the forms of collaboration we typically adopt has always produced the sense that collaborative learning has failed to achieve some of its most ambitious goals. This article articulates a more engaging and empowering approach to collaboration, one that asks law students to participate in aspects of legal practice or judging that involve group decision making – such as appellate judging. By participating in these processes, students gain a more sophisticated understanding of judicial decision making, and how its social aspects influence legal reasoning. In addition, students and teachers who experiment with these collaborative reasoning processes may position themselves to help improve group decision making in a variety of areas of legal practice.

Source:  LSN Young Scholars Law APS Vol. 5 No. 27,  06/18/2008