Is a Laptop-Free Zone the Answer to the Laptop Debate?

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One of the most charged debates within law faculties across the country is the issue of implementing (or not) a ban on laptops in the classroom. Most law schools have wireless Internet access in the building, and some schools even require students to own laptops. More recently, however, individual law school professors (and, in at least one case, the law school itself) have begun banning the use of laptops in the classroom. The impetus for such bans seems to be professors’ concerns with students surfing the Internet during class, checking their email and instant messages, and even instant messaging their classmates “the answers” during class. Some professors feel the laptops create a physical barrier between them and their classes, and they are unable to gauge the students’ understanding of the material.

Professor Jana R. McCreary of Florida Coastal School of Law enters the debate with an article that will be published this spring in the Valparaiso University Law Review. Professor McCreary’s article contributes to the debate some empirical research on students’ laptop use. She surveyed almost 450 second-year law students from three law schools (University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, Nova Southeastern Shepard Broad Law Center, and Seattle University School of Law), asking students to respond anonymously to questions about their laptop use in class and their opinions about laptop bans. Her conclusion: many students use laptops as a tool for note-taking, organizing, and, indeed, thinking; thus, an all-out ban would be detrimental to students’ learning. Her solutions: create a laptop-free zone in the front of the class and/or implement a temporary one- or two-week ban on laptops to allow students to experience class without the laptop and to decide on their own whether to continue to use a laptop.

Continue reading “Is a Laptop-Free Zone the Answer to the Laptop Debate?”

The Judicial Process, Defined

Posted on Categories Judges & Judicial Process, Legal Education2 Comments on The Judicial Process, Defined

Last week I bemoaned the fact that those of us who do work in the judicial process area have no organizational home of our own. My aim in this post is to talk a little bit more about what I’ve got in mind when I talk about the judicial process as a field of learning. Probably the best way to do so is to describe the seminar I’m teaching this semester, “Judging and the Judicial Process,” which provides a pretty good first cut.

Our focus, as I put it in the course description, is “on courts as institutions and on judges as the primary actors within those institutions.” We started with what one might call the “standard” model of judging, which calls for judge-umpires to apply determinate law via formalist analysis. Then we pretty much blew it up, considering the work of the legal realists, public law theorists, political scientists, cognitive scientists, and so on. Continue reading “The Judicial Process, Defined”

“Elderspeak”: Guarding Against Condescension Towards Our Clients

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Yesterday’s New York Times had an article discussing the phenomenon of “Elderspeak,” defined as the belittling, condescending, and falsely nice and cheerful way many people talk when they are addressing older adults.  The pattern is easily recognizable to anyone who has every accompanied a gray-haired relative on any errand or to an appointment: quick use of the elderly person’s first name, unnaturally loud voice, talking slowly, or unwanted endearments like “dearie,” “gramps,” or “good girl.”  According to researchers quoted in the article, these methods of address are not only resented by the elderly people who are faced with them, but elderspeak may actually produce more negative images of aging.  “And those who have more negative images of aging have worse functional health over time, including lower rates of survival” (Dr. Becca Levy, quoted in the article).

While the article is particularly critical of health care professionals for falling into the elderspeak trap, it also cites examples from other settings, including stores and restaurants.  Lawyers are not singled out, but there are lessons for us here as well. Continue reading ““Elderspeak”: Guarding Against Condescension Towards Our Clients”

On Zeigler: How He Teaches

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Thirty years of law teaching entitles an individual to pause, reflect, and pass along some insights about the craft.  Or so it seems to me.  Professor Donald Zeigler of New York Law School has availed himself of the opportunity by giving American legal education a slim yet rich volume with the three-word title How I Teach (Tribeca Square Press 2008). 

In much smaller print on this paperback’s cover appear the words “Successful techniques for the law school classroom.”  These seven additional words, coupled with the big three, pose something of a paradox.  Together they can be construed to suggest that all or virtually all of law teaching (or perhaps all or virtually all of what Professor Zeigler considers his law teaching) unfolds within the walls of the law school classroom.  In Professor Zeigler’s defense, the seven words do lend themselves to an alternative construction, a construction that conveys the limits and boundaries of his scholarly project.  Quite simply, Zeigler is eager to share with professional colleagues lessons that, presumably, have enabled him to develop into an effective classroom instructor and, also presumably, have enabled his students to extract considerable value from his classroom teaching.  And share he does.  It thus seems fair to cut Zeigler some slack in connection with the ten words he has selected to characterize his project.  Enough said about the volume’s cover, title, and subtitle. Continue reading “On Zeigler: How He Teaches”

“Nucular” and “Nuclear” and So-Called Standard English

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Writing, Political Processes & Rhetoric4 Comments on “Nucular” and “Nuclear” and So-Called Standard English

As a legal writing professor, one part of my job is to help students who didn’t grow up speaking or writing “Standard English” continue adapting their writing to meet the expectations of employers and clients.  Of course, to get through college, many students have already made changes in the way they use English.  But some students come to law school with additional work to be done.  In fact, at least for me, the effort to consciously conform my English speaking and writing patterns to expectations different from those I grew up with never really ends.  

So, like the blogger in this post at frogs and ravens (which I reached via feministlawprof), whatever criticisms I might make of Sarah Palin, jabs at her speech patterns rub me the wrong way.  As frogs and ravens points out, “How you pronounce a word says nothing about your character, your intelligence, your values, or your education.  All it says is whether you are (a) one of the lucky people who grew up speaking ‘the right way’ as your native accent, (b) one of the people who did not, or (c) one of the people who did not and makes a conscious effort to abandon the speech patterns of their childhood to fit in with the expectations of others.”  And it seems somewhat ironic, and, well, dumb, that the prejudice against “regional and working-class accents” enables a candidate “to distance herself from her upper-middle-class lifestyle, her position of power, and her lofty ambitions” just by the way she pronounces words.

What Types of Documents Should Law Students Write in Legal Writing Classes?

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Practice, Legal Scholarship, Legal Writing, Marquette Law School6 Comments on What Types of Documents Should Law Students Write in Legal Writing Classes?

I am enjoying reading the current issue of the Journal of Legal Education.  In particular, the second article, From Snail Mail to E-mail:  the Traditional Legal Memorandum in the Twenty-First Century, authored by Kristin K. Robbins-Tiscione, has gotten me thinking about the documents we use to teach students in the first-year writing courses.   Continue reading “What Types of Documents Should Law Students Write in Legal Writing Classes?”

Is the Election Affecting Students’ Preparation for Class?

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That’s the question that came to my mind after reading this article in the Boston Herald about the effects of a bitterly contested presidential election on employee productivity. My colleague Paul Secunda is quoted in the article, noting that emotions are at an especially high level in this election year. And if the workplace is being affected, I’m guessing the classroom is, too.

Marquette Law School in the Early Twentieth Century

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The second installment of the symposia celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of Marquette Law School was convened earlier today. The same panel of scholars from the first session returned to discuss the period from 1908 to 1940.  Joseph Ranney began by explaining how this time period saw the bureaucratization and professionalization of both legal education and the bar, and how these trends shaped the development of the Marquette Law School. In particular, Mr. Ranney noted the importance of the creation of the American Association of Law Schools, which sought to establish an accreditation process for law schools, and the transformation of law school faculties from exclusively part-time/adjunct professors to a combination of full-time and part-time/adjunct professors. Continue reading “Marquette Law School in the Early Twentieth Century”

Representing the Vengeful Client

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Practice, Legal Scholarship, Speakers at Marquette1 Comment on Representing the Vengeful Client

At today’s faculty workshop, Robin Slocum, the Boden Visiting Professor Law, gave a fascinating presentation of her latest paper, entitled “The Dilemma of the Vengeful Client: A Prescriptive Framework for Cooling the Flames of Anger” (forthcoming in the Marquette Law Review). Noting that lawyers and the legal system can sometimes become weapons for vengeance in the hands of an angry client, Robin suggested that client counseling can help both the client and the lawyer achieve better outcomes in litigation and avoid the psychological and physiological costs of such vengeance-seeking activity. Effective client counseling, she argued, should focus on uncovering the thoughts and beliefs that underlie anger in order to identify the more rational aims of litigation. In addition, Robin suggested that law schools may consider adopting courses that build lawyers’ emotional competency to engage in this type of counseling.

Podcasting Legal Writing Lessons

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Over the course of the six years I have taught here, the Law School’s technological resources have gotten better and better. For instance, every classroom in which I teach now has equipment that allows me to project documents onto a screen at the front of the classroom, working on edits as we discuss them in the classroom. I can project from the web as I discuss legal research tools, such as the law library’s helpful start page. I can play audio or video files for the class, such as tapes of oral arguments from oyez.org or from the Wisconsin Supreme Court site for my appellate writing and advocacy class.

Most recently, with the help of our IT department I have been using digital recording technology (a headset microphone and audacity software) to record some of my instruction and make it available for students to work through at their convenience. The podcasts are especially effective for material that some students need more help with than others, such as citation, grammar and punctuation, or editing for conciseness. Last semester, my students’ responses to the podcasts was overwhelmingly positive.

The pioneer podcaster among the legal writing faculty was Alison Julien, who, I understand, has moved on to “webcasting,” i.e., digital videorecordings of her instruction.

The Paper Chase: What Does the Film Tell Us About Contemporary Legal Education?

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Popular Culture & Law7 Comments on The Paper Chase: What Does the Film Tell Us About Contemporary Legal Education?

I recently screened The Paper Chase (1973) in one of my law school classes.  While the majority of current law students are more familiar with recent pop cultural portrayals of legal education such as Legally Blonde (2001), The Paper Chase seems to me to set the stage for those portrayals, especially through the character of Professor Kingsfield and the images from his menacing Socratic classes.  I interpret The Paper Chase as the fictional story of a law student encountering and then overcoming the dehumanizing forces of legal education. Continue reading “The Paper Chase: What Does the Film Tell Us About Contemporary Legal Education?”

Did You Learn About IRAC in Law School? How Did IRAC Become Such an Important Part of Legal Writing Teaching? And Should it Be?

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Writing3 Comments on Did You Learn About IRAC in Law School? How Did IRAC Become Such an Important Part of Legal Writing Teaching? And Should it Be?

When I became a legal writing professor, one of the first and most surprising things I learned was how important the “IRAC” (Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion) formula has become in most legal writing teaching nowadays.  Almost every legal writing textbook relies on some version of the formula.  In fact, so many legal writing professors have developed their own personalized version of the formula that the variations of the acronym form a dizzying alphabet soup:  CREAC, CRuPAC,  RAFADAC, IRLAFARC, etc., etc., etc.  

The rise of IRAC seems to have gone hand in hand with the increasing professionalization of legal writing teaching.  At the same time, legal writing teachers have long debated the uses and misuses of IRAC in legal writing and in legal writing teaching. For example, almost the entire November 1995 issue of The Second Draft (bulletin of the Legal Writing Institute) was devoted to the question of “The Value of IRAC.” Continue reading “Did You Learn About IRAC in Law School? How Did IRAC Become Such an Important Part of Legal Writing Teaching? And Should it Be?”