Appreciating Our Professors: Reading the Law with Philip Frickey

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The law school professor who most influenced me is Philip Frickey.

I didn’t take a course with Professor Frickey until I was a third-year student, but his thinking began to influence me, indirectly, during my first year, in the half-semester Legislation course that the University of Minnesota required me to take in the spring. My section of Legislation was taught by Jim Chen, then (the 1995-96 school year) a relatively new law professor, and now Dean of the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law. Professor Chen led my small section of students through discussion of what it means to interpret a statute, guided by Professors Eskridge and Frickey’s conception of the “funnel of abstraction” (the same funnel that now guides my own students in our discussions of how to interpret a statute). Continue reading “Appreciating Our Professors: Reading the Law with Philip Frickey”

Appreciating Our Professors: Opposites Attract

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[faculty photo]Here is a weird alignment of the stars that – I swear – was completely unplanned. Responding to the call for a post on our most influential law professors, Professor Papke, who I think would proudly acknowledge his place on the left side of the playground, offered an obviously heartfelt homage to the conservative Robert Bork who he was lucky enough (I’m jealous) to have had for Constitutional Law.

I had Larry Tribe for Con Law, but, although I have great respect for him, he’s not the one that I want to remember here. No, even though I am hanging off the jungle gym on the right side of the lot (and we are quite happy to have concrete beneath us), I want to turn port way past Larry to the guy who, after reflection (and I came to this conclusion before David’s post), was the law professor who influenced me the most.

Continue reading “Appreciating Our Professors: Opposites Attract”

Appreciating Our Professors: Remembering Professor Bork

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This is the first in a series of posts this month remembering law professors who influenced us.

When I looked over the courses for my first semester of law school, I realized I had a fellow named Robert Bork for Constitutional Law. This meant nothing particularly important to me at the time. It was well before his nomination for the United States Supreme Court, and he was just another professor in my mind. However, I soon realized that the good professor would be quite different than others to whom I was assigned. The politics of the law school in those days were for the most part toward liberal or even to the left of liberal, but Professor Bork was a staunch conservative. Each of his classes was an intense argument about what the Constitution meant or should be understood to mean, and he never gave an inch in a room full of students who for the most part did not agree with him. Still playing in my mind is the whole week of classes in which Professor Bork insisted cases championing the principle of one man, one vote were inconsistent with the Framers’ intent.

Bork never convinced me that he had the correct read on the Constitution, and I actually moved farther and farther away from his conservatism the longer I studied with him. Yet Professor Bork demonstrated for me a way to teach law. He insisted the law had to be taken seriously and that it had ramifications. He didn’t come to class to show us how smart he was or to play stylized teacher-student games. He closed the door, loosened his tie, and tried to articulate what was the best and most valuable way to understand what we were studying. It was a variety of earnest, engaged teaching that I wish was a bigger part of the contemporary legal academy.

If U.S. News Goes Under, What Will Law Professors Complain About?

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Law professors, and particularly law school deans, love to complain about the law school rankings done every year by U.S. News & World Report. (Unless their school rises in the rankings, in which case they are an objective measure of merit.) It’s been pretty well demonstrated that, more than a decade into the rankings project, the primary thing the U.S. News rankings measure is how well the school did on previous years’ rankings. In other words, there’s a massive feedback loop going on that is difficult for any one school to break out of. Nevertheless, schools try, because students and even professors, despite their complaints, rely on the rankings to evaluate the worth of various schools.

People have been wondering how to change this dynamic for a long time. Some, like Brian Leiter, have set up their own rankings, although Leiter’s system only measures the top 40 schools or so, where rankings are arguably less important. But what if U.S. News folded? The company seems to be in deep trouble. It’s recently given up on competing with Time and Newsweek in the weekly magazine market, becoming biweekly instead. Today’s New York Times reports that it’s giving up on that plan, too, even before it went into effect: now USN&WR will become a monthly magazine instead. A monthly news magazine? I think the likely next step will be for USN&WR to announce that it’s becoming a magazine with an infinitely long publication cycle, i.e., folding up shop.

If that happens, who will law professors have to kick around anymore?

Harvard Program Waiving Third-Year Tuition for Students Committing to Five-Year Public Interest Careers

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From Clinicians with Not Enough to Do, this post discusses a new program at Harvard Law School, reported in the Harvard Crimson.  The graduating class of 2011 will be eligible for the program, and over 100 students expressed initial interest.  Students who commit to working for five years in the public interest would be eligible for tuition waivers for the last year of law school.  In addition, forty-eight third-year students signed commitments to five-year public interest careers, and they will receive in exchange $5,000 towards their current tuition.  

The average student graduating from Harvard leaves with $109,000 of educational debt, the Crimson article reports, so the waiver seems like a real help for students who want to take a lower-paying public interest job but otherwise could not afford to do so because of their debt burdens.  

The idea is interesting, reducing the debt load at the outset for those committed to public interest work, rather than providing assistance with loan repayments to those students after graduation.  Loan Repayment Assistance Programs are in place at many law schools; Marquette, for instance, has had one for several years. I have never heard of a program like the Harvard tuition waiver, though, and I would be interested to hear what students think about the idea.

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

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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

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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?

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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.