On Testing Legal Skills

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Since we’re all in the middle of finals right now, I thought I would share a quick problem, an incongruous message, that’s been bothering me.

Raise your hand if you’ve heard a law professor say something like, “No matter how well you think you know the rule, read it again every time you need to use it.” Almost all of you. Now keep it up if you’ve heard this from more than one professor. Still almost all of you. I agree that this is very good advice; rules change, subtleties escape us on first readings, and sometimes our memory is just wrong.

Now, raise your hand if you’ve heard a law professor explain a test like, “Although this is open book, you won’t have time to look up the rules. You need to know them very well yourself and just use the materials for the few you don’t know.” That’s almost the very definition of how an open-book exam is usually structured.

I’m not really sure the two are compatible.

What’s New in the Classroom: Legal Research in the Real World

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Practice, Legal Research2 Comments on What’s New in the Classroom: Legal Research in the Real World

The Advanced Legal Research courses at Marquette have a “real world” focus.  For my part, I have tried to select research problems for final projects and assignments that place students in real world practice situations. 

To the extent that I can, I avoid the “hunt and find” type research problems for which there is one right answer hidden somewhere.  The legal issues the students have to research sometimes, but do not always, have a straightforward answer. 

In the “real world,” legal research and legal writing go hand in hand.  Thus, in addition to their research plan and research log, the students must then submit a written product such as a letter or a memo summarizing their research results for a supervising attorney, a judge, a client, etc.  

This past semester I added a more detailed cost-effective research component than I had in the past.  In some of their research assignments students only had limited Lexis/Westlaw packages (like Westlaw PRO).  In order to completely and accurately respond to the research problem, the students had to come up with a cost-effective research strategy that involved using only a subsection of their current academic Lexis or Westlaw subscription in conjunction with the print materials in the library and the freely available online legal resources like PreCYdent, GPO Access, Thomas and the Cornell Legal Information Institute that we discussed in class.  The student response to my focus on the free legal research options has been largely positive.

This coming semester I plan to deliver research assignments in the variety of different formats students will encounter in practice.  This includes the delivery of research assignments through a larger case file, brief email messages that require further questions for clarification, longer written memos, and spoken conversations.  I look forward to the feedback I will get from my students after next semester.

On Being a Married, Commuting, Home-Owning, Child-Rearing, Second-Career Law Student

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Item the first – A heartfelt “thank you” to Professor O’Hear for inviting me to be December’s student blogger.

Item the second – Can I pick my own headshot? I have this great one of me in my Halloween costume as Sweeney Todd.

Item the third – On to business! When I was asked to blog, the first thought in my mind could not have been more clichéd: “What can I write about?” In response, my mind supplied an almost equally clichéd answer: “Write what you know.” So I thought about what makes me unique as a law student, and very quickly had an answer. Continue reading “On Being a Married, Commuting, Home-Owning, Child-Rearing, Second-Career Law Student”

Appreciating Our Professors: Robert F. Boden

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When I applied for admission to Marquette Law School in the fall of 1971, my application was denied because over half of my undergraduate coursework was ungraded, a consequence of the policy at the Residential College of the University of Michigan from which I graduated.  Upon being admitted to the Law School when my application was reconsidered, the lowest grade I received was in Professional Responsibility.

That I am a Professor of Law at Marquette University with particular expertise in legal ethics is due in large part to Dean Robert F. Boden, who caused my application for admission to be reconsidered, who hired me during my third year of law school, and who assigned me as a junior faculty member to teach Professional Responsibility even though he gave me my lowest grade in law school when I took that course from him. 

Marquette had some great law teachers in my era as a student (1972-1975).  Continue reading “Appreciating Our Professors: Robert F. Boden”

Cobb and Kaltsounis, “Real Collaborative Context”

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Research, Legal Writing2 Comments on Cobb and Kaltsounis, “Real Collaborative Context”

As I just mentioned, the latest issue of JALWD, which was themed “Legal Writing Beyond Memos and Briefs,” has a number of really interesting articles.  Another one I would recommend reading is Tom Cobb and Sarah Kaltsounis’s “Real Collaborative Context:  Opinion Writing and the Appellate Process.”

I have experimented with collaboration in the classroom in a number of different ways, for a number of reasons.  Most importantly, it seems to me that human beings think better in collaboration.  That’s the case for me, anyway. I am able to think more carefully and critically when I bounce my thoughts off of someone else, preferably more than one person.  Additionally, lawyers collaborate in practice, and students need practice working in those collaborative contexts. (Especially some students.  Come to think of it, so do some lawyers.)

So, anyway, Cobb and Kaltsounis’s article was extremely interesting to me.  I have to agree with their observation at the outset, that despite our best efforts, 

something about the form of collaboration we typically adopt [in the legal writing classroom] has always produced the sense that collaborative learning has failed to achieve some of its most ambitious goals. Part of the problem is that collaboration is often not as engaging as it promises to be. For all it has to offer, the act of splitting into groups and working together in a room with other people who are working in small groups can seem contrived. Small-group work often seems to supplement rather than complement the learning process. When perceived as a contrivance, it can hinder full engagement with a complex legal problem — making the group’s legal analysis seem more like a classroom exercise than a method for learning sophisticated analytical and rhetorical techniques, or for engaging in jurisprudence. Such artificiality is intensified when small-group work is paired, as it ordinarily is in legal writing classes, with a task like memo writing, which is rarely approached in small groups in legal practice. 

Continue reading “Cobb and Kaltsounis, “Real Collaborative Context””

What’s New in the Classroom: Holistic Assessment

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The current issue of the Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors (JALWD) has a number of interesting articles. In this post I want to discuss one particular article that really made me think about how I assess my students’ legal writing: Roger Klurfeld and Steven Placek’s article, “Rhetorical Judgments: Using Holistic Assessment to Improve the Quality of Administrative Decisions.”

In this piece, Klurfeld and Placek describe their work to help improve the quality of written decisions issued by the National Appeals Division of the United States Department of Agriculture. Their observations and experience make me wonder whether a holistic, reliability-tested approach to assessing student writing would improve the students’ learning experience and the overall quality of their writing. Continue reading “What’s New in the Classroom: Holistic Assessment”

What’s New in the Classroom: On the Issues

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This semester I taught a terrific group of students in my Legislation class. We had engaging and thought-provoking discussions about the legislative process and statutory interpretation. Indeed, some of those discussions continue on this Blog with some of my students participating in the on-line discussion about judicial activism.

As part of the class, I required my students to attend a number of the “On the Issues” programs hosted by our Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy and Law, Mike Gousha (see http://law.marquette.edu/cgi-bin/site.pl?on-the-issues/index for a list of the sessions from this semester along with corresponding podcasts). My reasoning for doing so, as I explained to my students, was to help them connect the material we learned about and discussed in class to real-world examples that impact us in Milwaukee, in Wisconsin, and nationally. And after each “On the Issues,” we had fruitful discussions about what the guest speakers said and how that related to the topics we grappled with in class. Continue reading “What’s New in the Classroom: On the Issues”

Appreciating Our Professors: Kathleen A. Sullivan

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I had some really wonderful professors in law school. I could easily write about a number of them in expressing my gratitude for their influence on my legal career. However, one in particular — Professor Kathleen A. Sullivan — sticks out for me. Kathleen (no one called her Professor Sullivan . . . indeed, she’d have none of it) was one of my professors in the Community Legal Sevices clinic at Yale. I began law school after seven years of Jesuit education (three years at Loyola High School and four years at Loyola Marymount University, both in my hometown of Los Angeles). And while I enjoyed my first semester classes, none of them resonated with me in terms of my educational background and values.

But then I enrolled in the clinic, and all that changed. Kathleen inspired us to embrace the enormity of our responsibility in representing and serving those who could not afford legal representation. Her message was clear: Our clients — those suffering from intense poverty — deserved the respect, dignity, autonomy, and privacy that we all shared. Kathleen also emphasized that our clients deserved zealous advocates who worked tirelessly and ethically to gain justice for them. And she led by example — spending long days in the clinic training her students and serving her clients, despite battling cancer. Continue reading “Appreciating Our Professors: Kathleen A. Sullivan”

What’s New in the Classroom: Webcasts and Writing Bees

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One of my biggest challenges in teaching students to write has been figuring out how best to teach “the basics”: grammar, punctuation, citation, and other sentence-level editing skills.  Before this year, I always devoted several class periods to just those topics.  Because students tend to enter law school with very different ability levels, however, those classes did not seem as effective as I would have liked.  The students who needed little or no instruction about grammar and punctuation were invariably bored, and other students (many of whom have candidly admitted that they have not studied grammar in years, if ever) needed more than those few classes devoted to those topics.  So how does the instructor effectively teach to the entire class?  It is difficult, to say the least. 

To remedy the problem, I decided to move all of my instruction about grammar, punctuation, precision, conciseness, and citation out of the classroom and onto the web.  I find it difficult to teach writing without a visual, so I created PowerPoint presentations (or Word documents) with rules and examples, and I recorded short lectures over the top of the presentations or documents.  When I was finished, I had a series of audio-visual presentations that students could watch at times convenient for them.  If a student already understood how to identify and correct dangling modifiers, there was no need to watch the webcast about modifiers.  If, however, the student had never heard of a dangling modifier and needed to go over the examples more than once, the webcast was there for repeated viewings.    

I was concerned, however, that if I put the material on the web, students would simply ignore it, so I wanted some way to hold them responsible for learning the material.  Out of that concern came my second teaching innovation: the Writing Bee.  Continue reading “What’s New in the Classroom: Webcasts and Writing Bees”

Appreciating Our Professors: Chuck Clausen

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Although I had many teachers who played a significant role in my development as a lawyer, a judge, and now a law professor, Professor Chuck Clausen most profoundly impacted me. His love of teaching and his unwavering commitment to his students came across in everything he did.  Chuck believed in the goodness of all people and wanted to be sure that all of us demonstrated our own personal goodness in our legal careers. He was committed to the responsibility of lawyers to help others, particularly the poor, in every way that we could.

I was fortunate enough to have Chuck for a few classes and to have him as a faculty advisor on some moot court work that I did. What I loved about Chuck is that having a conversation with him was like speaking to a renaissance man. He was so knowledgeable and engaged in so many different areas of life and of the community that I always learned something new when I was around him. His enthusiasm for life was infectious.

Because of my deep admiration for him, we continued to have contact after graduation. He truly became one of my most trusted advisors. Continue reading “Appreciating Our Professors: Chuck Clausen”

Professor Fired for Humiliating Students for Plagiarism

Posted on Categories Higher Education, Labor & Employment Law, Legal Education5 Comments on Professor Fired for Humiliating Students for Plagiarism

Writingcomp From the Daily Texan a couple of weeks ago:

Texas A&M International University in Laredo fired a professor for publishing the names of students accused of plagiarism.

In his syllabus, professor Loye Young wrote that he would “promptly and publicly fail and humiliate anyone caught lying, cheating or stealing.” After he discovered six students had plagiarized on an essay, Young posted their names on his blog, resulting in his firing last week.

“It’s really the only way to teach the students that it’s inappropriate,” he said.

Young, a former adjunct professor of management information systems, said he believes he made the right move. He said trials are public for a reason, and plagiarism should be treated the same way. He added that exposing cheaters is an effective deterrent.

This seems like a shaming method of punishment. Does it actually matter whether it works as an effective deterrent or is the medicine much worse than the disease?

Cross posted at Workplace Prof Blog.