Site moved to

6 posts categorized "Five by Five - Episode 7"

November 26, 2004

Five by Five - Ambivalent Ambroglio

Our final contributor to the Law Student Edition Five by Five is another anonymous law student, Ambivalent Imbroglio -- the only two-time 5x5 contbibutor

1. Make classes smaller - especially in the first year. Classes of 100 or more people are an incredibly inefficient way to learn. They are an efficient way to move people through a degree program, but they are not a good way for those people to really learn anything. Law degrees should not be mechanically mass produced like automobiles. If you cut classes to a maximum of 20 students, you could cover the same amount of material twice as fast because you could approach the material much differently. Large classes allow for almost no discussion; therefore, law professors generally assign too much reading and spend all their class time trying to get one or two students to superficially summarize that reading and pull out one or two main points that the professor thinks important. Guess what? We can get the bulk of that from a commercial outline, and we don't need to mortgage our entire future for the pleasure. Other graduate programs in the humanities and social sciences offer a better model for classroom learning. There, classes are generally "seminars" of 12-16 students. A typical class begins with the professor doing exactly what most law professors do-asking some basic questions and highlighting some main points to make sure everyone has read and understood the material. The difference is, in a class of, say, 20 or fewer students, everyone can ask questions and all of this introductory matter can still be covered in a tiny fraction of the time it would take to do the same thing in a class of 100. In these smaller classes, professors then often give a mini "lecture" on the material, offering background that wasn't in the reading, and bringing in new material and perspectives for students to consider. Then the professor will generally begin asking more serious, in depth questions of individual students about the material, and the majority of class is discussion. This allows students to raise whatever issues or questions they'd like, and it ensures that those questions get treated seriously and that everyone can learn from both the questions and the answers. Finally, so much discussion exposes indefensible views and biases, while giving a fair airing to those for which legitimate arguments can be made. Having spent four years in such classes, I can say that they were much more difficult intellectually, and therefore much more rewarding. But more important, they're simply a much better format than the 100-per-class model for addressing the complex moral and ethical issues at stake in every area of the law. I won't attempt to seriously address the financial repercussions of cutting every law school class to a max of 20 students, but possible ways to cut current expenses include: cutting faculty pay by 20-40% at the top and 5-10% at the bottom (enough good people are dying to teach that this won't damage faculty too seriously; if you're a law professor in it for the money, you should get out, anyway); spending less money on aesthetic improvements (flatscreen monitors that are nice to look at but largely useless, lots of wood panelling, leather couches) that do very little to improve education but merely attempt to raise a law school's U.S. News rank; locating law schools in lower rent parts of cities and towns, etc.

2. If you must have large classes, make use of teaching assistants. Since it could be a while or never before law schools get to smaller law school classes, then fergoodness sake, make better use of your top 3Ls by employing them as teaching assistants in those enormous classes. Three-five TAs per 100 students could meet for an hour a week in small sections to lead discussion of the issues that get skimmed right over in class. They could also manage web discussion boards and class blogs where students would be encouraged (and required) to participate in the conversation. The goal of all of this would be to get every student engaged and thinking critically about the material, rather than simply trying to memorize rules and cases to regurgitate on an exam. The TAs could be paid or volunteers, but the experience could be good for a couple of credits for 3Ls-especially those who think they might one day like to teach.

3. Forget about "blackletter law" for the first semester or year. The first semester should be general legal history and theories of what law is, where it comes from, the possible ends it might serve, different legal systems around the world, and a basic introduction to major schools of thought about the law ("crits," formalists, law and econ, social justice, etc.). This new "context" curriculum for the first semester should also include serious examination of the difference between practicing law in the public interest v. practicing in the private interest-and isn't simply that one of them pays more money. Why rearrange the first semester or first-year curriculum? Because this would teach students what it means to ask questions about what they learn and show them where to look for both the questions and different perspectives on their answers. How can you think critically about a law and econ approach to torts if you don't know what "law and econ" means or what it stands in opposition to? You can't. And where in the current typical first year/first semester curriculum is a law student supposed to learn this? The idea seems to be that one of the 1L profs is bound to mention what law and econ means at some point, but the random approach is no way to show students the terrain on which they're going to live and work for their legal careers.

4. Drown professors in fines and peer opprobrium when they encourage students to become evil - even or especially when such encouragement is only implicit. From day one, my law school experience has been peppered with little jokes from professors and administrators through which they express their assumptions that their students are going to graduate and immediately begin doing anything for money, regardless of the moral or ethical consequences. These jokes come with a sort of wink in the form of, "I know none of you would ever rob six American Indian tribes blind, but the attorneys that did sure made a lot of money!" Ha. Ha. Ha. These jokes seem to come almost unconsciously from faculty, probably as a sort of cynical defensive mechanism they've developed to protect themselves from being paralyzed with horror by the awful things that lawyers sometimes do. However, here's where faculty need to take a serious stand; they should be condemning such humor and behavior in the strongest terms, making an example of any faculty member who feels it is professionally acceptable to suggest to students that, while it's officially wrong to lie, cheat, and steal, as an attorney, that's what you'll get paid for. The point of this reform is larger than putting an end to this form of dark humor in the classroom; the real objective is to require faculty to model good professional behavior to their students and to accept nothing less. This could be the beginning of a profession-wide renewed commitment to ethical lawyering. Faculty could join collectively in condemnation of every scandal that hits the news involving attorney misconduct, spending 5 minutes in each class pointing out what the attorney did wrong, and making sure every student understands that such behavior is a disgrace to the profession-not with a joke and a wink, but with serious and uncompromising disdain. The ABA could follow up by demanding that state bars institute serious, effective, and efficient malpractice grievance and punishment systems to help weed out the "bad apples" and begin showing the public that lawyers really aren't the slimy subhuman species they so often appear to be. So long as the profession-at every level-tacitly endorses lawyer crime, lawyers will continue to be criminals.

5. Make clinics, internships, and externships mandatory, and/or make a J.D. a two-year degree. Breadth in education is great; however, law students pay too much damned money to waste time in a third year of law school simply for the sake of being more well rounded. The law degree could be a 1-yr. degree plus a 1-2 year apprenticeship, or it could be a 2-yr. degree with no apprenticeship, and the world would not suffer one bit. In fact, society would benefit b/c more law students could get through law school with small enough debt loads that they could actually afford to work in the public interest instead of the corporate/private interest. Seven states already offer ways to gain bar membership w/one year of law school or less; more schools should support such programs and encourage them in their own jurisdictions.

Five by Five - Anthony Rickey

The next guest is Columbia law student Anthony Rickey, author of Three Years of Hell to Become the Devil:

First of all, thank you to the [non]billable hour for inviting me to one of his "Five by Five" forums.  Before giving my five answers, I'd like to explain a bit of where I'm coming from. At the beginning of my 1L year, Scheherazade of Stay of Execution recommended that I read Patrick J. Schiltz, On Being A Happy, Healthy, and Ethical Member of an Unhealthy, Unhappy, and Unethical Profession, 52 Vand. L. Rev. 871 (1999).  If you're a law student, or considering becoming a law student, I can't recommend it more highly. (Then go to Westlaw, check the papers citing it, and read some of the folks who disagree with Prof. Schiltz. It's a good habit to get into.)

I picked up two things from the piece. First, that there the profession of law contributes to a chronic unhappiness among many of its members. Second, addressing these flaws may involve a lot of small steps, but it also requires a great deal of what we used to call "blue-sky" thinking back when I held the august title of "online strategist" and advised my clients on how to change their business processes.

So, I'm taking my host's question very broadly and marking down the changes I would make if I had an infinite amount of political and social power, an unlimited budget, and more than enough rope to hang myself and ever co-conspirator I could ever hope to muster. These suggestions come from the perspective of a student skeptical of the justifications for leaving the practice of law as a profession rather than a business, so take them with however much salt you think needs to season them. But here goes.

1.  Eliminate the ABA's accreditation system. The requirement for ABA accreditation of law schools preserves little but the high price of becoming (or retaining) a lawyer. To the extent that these are "one-size fits all" rules, they prevent us from coming up with new and innovative ways of addressing the problems of lawyers and legal education. From online law schools like Concord to more traditional ideas of apprenticeship, there should be more than one path to a career in the law.

Did you know that the following are requirements: Every law school must have its own law library (Standard 601), and these may not include only electronic sources (Standard 606); that library must have a full-time director (Standard 603), who must be responsible for library policy in association with a dean (Standard 602); every full-time faculty member must have their own office (Standard 701)?

None of these seem too unreasonable in themselves, until you think of the innovations they forbid. Why shouldn't all the law schools of New York City get together and contract out library services to some McLawLibrary? Why shouldn't first-year full-time professors be made to share offices if it meant more could be hired? And why shouldn't a school be able to survey its library usage and decide that for some things, paper is just a thing of the past?  Does anyone really think that ignoring these requirements would result in substandard lawyers destined to fail the bar exam or underserve their clients? Is having a single micromanaged standard for the whole nation really in the best interests of justice, our economy, and our students?

2. Increase the signal-to-noise ratio in evaluation:  One of the most frustrating aspects of my time in law school has been exactly how bad most signals of student success actually are. It's a familiar chestnut among first years that you will get your best grades in the classes you felt you did worst in and vice-versa.  Not only is this true, it fosters an immense cynicism: many of those who are successful feel more lucky than justified, while many of those less fortunate have little guidance for the future. A number of the latter students comfort themselves with the idea that the whole system rests upon random chance--and to a degree they may very well be right.

In my best courses last year, I had a number of assignments throughout the course, generally graded by TAs. These helped me guess at what I could expect on the exam. Even better were those professors who encouraged us to pick up our papers after the exam and review what we'd written.  One professor had a simple and direct rubric for figuring our grades; another had a multi-layered, multi-level grading process explained in exquisite detail.  The former professor gave me one of my worst grades, the latter one of my best, but either way I understood how and why I'd received what I did.

In too many other cases, a review of my exam revealed a bright and shiny letter grade and a few squiggled comments that I swear to God reminded me more of classical Japanese than anything approaching English. When asked, one professor said that grading was a more holistic process, too difficult to pin down numerically. I can understand that feeling, but that's not an excuse: good feedback is what makes academic growth possible. Lack of feedback just makes the process look arbitrary.

Oh, yes, and by the way: make any grade curve center around something sensible, like a C+. B/B+ centered curves just increase the noise-level involved in grading because there's not enough differentiation in grades. An A should mean something extraordinary, not just "good."

3. Move EIP to the second semester of 2L year.  I'm not giving away any secret here: at many law schools, most students accept crushing debt burdens in exchange for the promise of dramatically-increased future earnings. While there's always the pro bono contingent, many of us are going through this whole system because we want a job. Change how one gets that job, and every other motivation shifts.

At the moment, too much of legal job searching focuses on the first year of law school. With the early interview process starting about the same time as 2L year, the only thing employers see is first-year grades. Since most students expect to work for their summer firm--or at least they hope for an offer--1L grades become overemphasized. This makes no sense at all to me, because first-semester 1L grades measure two different things (to the extent that they measure anything at all):  what one has learned in a given class, and how fast one has picked up on a very new and often very foreign system. In many cases, I think the second factor is much more important than the first.  But if a law firm is hiring for the long haul, is this really the quality they're looking for?

Ideally, I'd get rid of the connection between 2L summer positions and final jobs, but I assume that this is driven at least partly by the law firms. Failing that, moving the entire process to the second semester of 2L year would increase by half the amount of information a law firm had to observe from a transcript. And at schools where 1L classes are fixed, some of the information would be much more indicative of an individual student's personality: that 2L semester is much more likely to include electives at most schools.

4. Describe the whole lawyer, not just grades. When I was searching for my 1L summer job, I was struck by an odd contradiction in my law school's rules: I wasn't allowed to put my GPA on my resume, but I could send a transcript to prospective employers. Now, most law firms have some serious resources devoted to recruiting. Wasn't it reasonable to expect that they'd just plonk my grades into a database that would spit out a GPA for them?  (And indeed, this is what many of them did: I heard one recruitment coordinator typing my grades as she asked me about them over the phone.)

There's a lot of this in law school: when faced with the fact that the evaluative techniques are too rough to be truly meaningful, systems are put in place to artificially underemphasize them. The feeling seems to be, "The information revealed by our current technique (a grade-point) is imprecise, so let's have less information."

This is backwards. As already mentioned, a lot of this problem could be resolved by recentering grade curves and grading more granularly. But wouldn't it be better to have multiple systems of evaluation, each of them summarized on the transcript?

For instance, if a school truly wants to emphasize pro bono work, put the number of pro-bono hours a student has worked right on the transcript--and put it first.   Want to give a student a chance to shine in his or her own particular area of interest? Let him or her choose an elective in the first year instead of competing in a uniform set of classes. Allow and even encourage students to do extracurricular legal work, pro bono or even for-profit, and put it on the transcript. Even better, if a school thinks a student's GPA doesn't accurately reflect the depth of the student, find a way to factor such things into the GPA itself.

5. New paths for students start differing new paths for professors.  Too much of law school is built around "standard" patterns. Law students take the LSAT, get into the best school they can, work one or more summers at a firm, and end up an associate at one of those summer firms. Students compete to be on Law Review, and then compete for clerkships.  Very rarely does anyone ask why.  As Dahlia Lithwick puts it, "Not since the days of the Tonka backhoe and Malibu Skipper will you have so lunged for stuff in which you have no real interest, just because everyone else is lunging."

What struck me this summer was how much further up the line this consistancy goes. This summer I received an email from a student--not at my school--quite bitter about not having made law review, angry because now he'd "never become a professor."  I tried to search out some advice--some page helpfully titled 'How to become an academic even if you didn't make law review'--and was shocked at how little I could find. The advice was almost always the same: get on the (not "a") journal, clerk as high up the chain as you can, and then start the application process after a few years of practice. 

There's a certain sense of "as above, so below" to this system: so long as the majority of professors have the same background, they're going to tend to guide pupils through the same set of experiences. Students will see how their mentors have advanced, and emulate them. I'd love to be taught by a professor who was granted tenure not because of a particular piece of scholarship (a "tenure" article), but solely because of his skill with students (perhaps "tenure" students) or his prior history in practice. The mere existence of such teachers gives hope to those who, for whatever reason, choose a different path for their own career.

That probably sums up my five answers:  law school and the legal profession will flourish when success can be reached by differing paths.  Students should be able to enter the profession in different ways, free of the stultifying hand of the ABA.  They should be evaluated honestly, but in ways that reflect the differing skills and values that they bring to the school, and that they will take with them into practice.  And no matter the path they took to become an attorney, they should be able to follow that path straight back into academia.

Now, certainly that was enough rope to hang myself. As I said, take it with a grain of salt: it's a very large question, and if I knew the answers, I wouldn't be a student.

Five by Five - Jeremy Blachman

The third spot in our Law Student Five by Five is held down by Jeremy Blachman, author of the eponymous Jeremy's Blog.  Jeremy is a 3L at Harvard who is not going to work for a law firm.  Here are his five answers to our question, "What five things would you change about legal education?"

1. Okay, I’m going to start off bold. I think law schools ought to exert some collective energy to get the law firms off the campus until the third year of law school.  

In a way, I feel like legal education is caught between two paradigms, and hasn’t figured out how to reconcile them. On the one hand, in a lot of ways, law school provides a very liberal arts-like education, with a lot of talk about legal theories and ways to think about the law, and very little comparative emphasis on the actual practice of law. On the other hand, from the moment you get to law school, you find yourself showered with information about law firms and how to get a job at one, and pulled toward this vocational emphasis. I think this creates a real inconsistency in trying to make sense of what the heck the point of law school is. Is the point to get a legal education, or is the point to get a law firm job? I think they’re pretending it’s the former, but really it’s just a cover for the latter. 

At least here at Harvard, from the moment we arrive on campus 1L year, we’re invited to law firm receptions, information sessions, resume workshops, interview training, dress code seminars, job fairs, and handed printouts of 50-slide PowerPoint presentations on the process. We learn more about how to get hired by a law firm than what lawyers at law firms actually do. We learn more about the difference between cotton fiber resume paper and white linen resume paper than about the difference between corporate practice, litigation, and whatever the heck lawyers do if they don’t work at firms. We learn more about what to wear to an interview than why we should be thinking about going. So a few people get law firm jobs 1L summer, and the rest cry about how they didn’t. And then before school even starts 2L year, we’ve got resume deadlines and lists of firms to select and interviews to start preparing for.

2L fall meant half-filled classes while people flew out to visit law firms, and much more talk about the Vault rankings than about the merits of whatever we were supposed to be learning in class. By Thanksgiving of 2L year – less than halfway through law school – pretty much everyone has a law firm job lined up for the following summer, and since the firms can’t risk getting a bad reputation on campus by deciding not to give some of their summers full-time offers, everyone knows they’re set with a full-time job after law school, if that’s what they’re looking for. And the next year-and-eight-months is spent with one foot out the door.

As soon as the recruiting process was over, the collective energy of my law school class collapsed. Law school doesn’t matter anymore. Our grades don’t matter, our attendance doesn’t matter, the reading doesn’t matter, and learning doesn’t matter. Part of the problem is that classes just aren’t that engaging (see #3), but part of the problem is that if the point was to get a job, you’re done. Having your post-graduation outcome set for you less than halfway through school is stupid. It undercuts the whole point of being here for three years.

The presence of law firm recruiting on campus largely changes law school from an educational experience to a job mill. But I don’t know what the answer is. Obviously, there are lots of students who are here expressly to get a law firm job, or at least that’s one of the reasons they’re here. And that’s completely fair. So I don’t think we can or should necessarily forbid students to seek out firm jobs, or law firms to seek out students. But there ought to be some way to postpone the process a bit. In the broader sense, law schools need to decide their mission: are they trying to train lawyers for firm jobs, or is the purpose more high-minded than that? If they’re just training people to work for law firms, the education we get matches up poorly (see #2). But if the goal is something more, the presence of law firm recruiting and the emphasis given to it from the very start of 1L year is desperately hurting.

2. And now, the flip side of #1. If law schools are trying to train their students to be practicing attorneys, no one has told the people writing the curriculum.

It seems like the energies here are largely spent on this theoretical education, reading old English cases, figuring out where the law comes from, trying to understand the reasoning behind different legal regimes. All interesting and valuable stuff, for sure. But then the practical aspects of what lawyers actually do are shoved off, at least here, into a pass/fail “legal writing” class taught by “instructors” and given no respect at all.

Law school hasn’t provided a particularly good sense of what lawyers do on the job, or how to actually practice law. We learn how to think about the law, but I took contracts and don’t know how to write one. I took civil procedure and don’t know how to file a lawsuit. I didn’t take evidence, and no one’s making me. Even after spending a summer at a law firm, I’m still not entirely sure what lawyers do. And lawyers who don’t work at law firms? Are there any? What do they do?

I think law school does a relatively poor job of introducing us to the range of careers that lawyers have, and what the day-to-day practice of law in a variety of settings is like. I have heard the excuse given that you can only learn these things on the job, and law school’s role is just to provide a foundation. That’s fine, but a little more emphasis on the practical side of things – especially if we’re going to have to decide our career paths before we’re even halfway through – would be nice, and not just as part of a pass/fail class designed not to be taken seriously.

3. These problems are all interrelated to some degree. The timing of the recruiting process making more than half of law school feel irrelevant wouldn’t be such a big deal if classes were engaging for their own sake.

I expected the quality of teaching at law school to be a great deal better than it has been. I can’t help but think that for a good number of professors, the teaching is secondary – as far as why they got hired, and as far as what they spend their time on once they’re on the faculty – to publishing papers. It’s great to be taught by top-notch scholars; it would be even better if they could actually teach. I have had some absolutely brilliant professors; having them has made me see how good a law school class could be, and has made me disappointed with the rest of my professors, who haven’t even come close. Part of it is that they don’t seem like they’ve prepared for class, they haven’t read the materials, they haven’t thought about what they’re going to say before they start talking, or they just aren’t particularly engaging and dynamic speakers able to convey knowledge in a compelling way.

I would change the tenure process. I would include a real teaching evaluation, and not just rubber-stamp candidates based on their research and publications. I would incorporate salary incentives for excellent teaching (I realize measurement is difficult, although, really, can’t you tell within five minutes of sitting in a classroom whether this is a professor who is truly competent or not?). I would demand excellence. I don’t think excellence in the classroom is currently demanded. I wish that would change.

4. Of course, good teaching would be easier if the materials professors were working with were stronger. Casebooks are awfully boring. 

I have no problem with the case method as a foundation, although I haven’t really thought through the alternatives. I have no problem with the Socratic method. I think the Socratic method done well is really quite excellent. The Socratic method done badly is dreadful.  But so is a terrible lecture.

The problem, I think, is that we don’t see enough materials in law school about how the law relates to the broader society, and to people’s lives. Some of the most interesting readings I’ve been assigned have been newspaper and magazine articles, television news program transcripts, and books written for ‘normal’ people. I think the cases we read can be supplemented with outside materials. The law is important in everyone’s life. If we practice law, we will be dealing with how the law plays a role in people’s everyday lives. Law school, especially in the reading materials we get assigned, pays relatively little attention to this. I think that’s a mistake.

5. Finally, I don’t think legal education does a very good job of fitting all of the pieces together. 

I have a fine understanding of the isolated areas of law I’ve taken in classes in – I know some contract law, some constitutional law, etc. I have no idea how they all come together in one big legal system. I have no idea if there’s any relationship between our torts regime and our criminal law regime; between our tax law and our constitutional law. Maybe these links don’t exist. Or maybe if I sat down and thought about it for a while, I could come up with something. But I don’t know where I would even look to find a discussion of these macro-issues, what class I would take, or whether they’re even important. We have a legal system, but what we learn are fragments of it, and I don’t know that we ever see how it all fits together to create a rule of law. This seems like a gap in the education. I might be wrong.

I haven’t touched on other areas where legal education could improve –its use of technology, lack of focus (at least in the U.S.) on issues of international and transnational law, the unchanged-for-generations 1L curriculum, the high cost of education leading people to take the law firm route in greater numbers than might otherwise, the student-run legal journals, and more issues I’m sure I’m not even thinking of. But, for me, I think my five are the areas where I’d most like to see change, and feel like change would have the most impact on legal education overall.

November 25, 2004

Five by Five - Buffalo Wings and Vodka

Our second contributor in the law student edition of this Five by Five is another anonymous blogger.  This time, the author of Buffalo Wings and Vodka gives us the Five Things he would change about Legal Education:

 1. Make Legal Research & Writing a Real Class:  I know this may be better at some schools, but a lot of places only give LR&W a pass/fail status, or, like UT, make it a one-credit-hour affair. I understand that this is in an effort to take some of the pressure off of us, but it doesn't work because:

A. We do realize, on some level, that it's the only useful thing we'll get out of law school.

B. If it is for credit, no matter how small or insignificant, we're going to stress out about it.

C. If we're going to stress out about it anyway, then we should be rewarded in the only currency that law students (at least of the first-year variety) understand: Grade Points.

So make it a full class. I don't care if you staff it with lecturers, or third-year students, or exceptionally bright kindergartners. Just stop putting it into our heads that it is somehow less important, and then sticking us with a pair of B-minuses that haunts us for the rest of our legal career, causing us to question our self-worth and to seriously consider dropping out and working at Applebee's.

2. Condense it to Two Years:  Don't get me wrong: I love law school. But while I'm going to enjoy my third year full of interdisciplinary classes and whiskey, I would probably be better off out in the world, making money and impressing women. The only real reason for law school to last as long as it does is that universities need to pick up extra cash wherever they can, and I understand that. But why not milk the undergraduates instead? I'm just a future commercial litigator, trying to scrape by on $60,000 in living expenses a year so that I can go out and do God's work. So let me do it already.

3. A Pass/Fail First Semester:  Since nobody is going to accept the Two-Year Law School idea, we might as well make the three years a little more workable. Though I'm not
going to say that first-semester grades are no indicator of intelligence, I will suggest that they are an even stronger indicator of who has figured out how to take a law school exam. And it's a shame that not everybody gets a chance to do this before stuff really starts to count. The fact that I'm awesome at bolding subheads and underlining key concepts should not be able to make up for the fact that I know less about the law than the dude next to me (or, for that matter than my cat). So why not give everyone a chance to get the lay of the land, so that you can make evaluations based on something that matters?

Now, I appreciate the need of law firms to have an early sorting mechanism, but this really wouldn't hurt them much. We could move interview season to the beginning of the second semester of 2L year instead of the first semester, and everyone could still make their decisions in plenty of time for the summer. "But what about 1L employment?" you say. Well, I decided not to work as a 1L, and it didn't hurt me. So I say that all law students across the country start using the 1L summer to get a tan, write that novel they've been
putting off, and cherish the last few months of freedom they'll ever have.

4. Get Rid of Open-Book Exams:  In law school as we know it today, everyone has a friend that it's in an older class, and every friend knows someone who took every class, and at least one of those people is going to have an outline that is of publishable quality. So we all walk into exams with these massive binders that are tabbed and indexed and have charts and graphs and pop-up pages and advertising in them, and it's just ridiculous.

Go back to closed-book exams. Go back to a system where I'm only responsible for as much as I can cram into my head.  As things stand now, I'm carrying so much into an exam with me that I can barely get through the door, let alone get it all on paper.

5. Eliminate Wireless Access in Classrooms:  The Internet, in general? Good. The Internet in law school classrooms? Bad. On any given class day, you'll find someone playing solitaire, someone watching ESPN highlights, someone IMing people across the room, and someone reading stupid law student weblogs. Which is why I am absolutely not allowed to bring my laptop to class. I just can't hack it.

But it's not enough that I alone practice laptop abstinence. Because, since everyone else has one, I end up spending the class period watching someone else suck at poker, or buy crap they don't need, or read "Sugar, Mr. Poon?". And that's just not good for anyone.

Five by Five - Sugar, Mr. Poon?

Our first panelist in the law student edition of this Five by Five is not a law student at all, but was when he started his blog, Sugar, Mr. Poon?, so I asked him anyway.  Though I know his secret identity, I am sworn to secrecy (go to the FAQ's 1 and 2 to see if you can figure it out yourself).  So, here you go Mr. Poon.

Five Things I'd Change About Legal Education:

Note:  I just noticed that my distinguished co-panelists are still law students.  I'm  a recent graduate now working at a big firm in NYC.

1.  Teach Us to be Lawyers Better:  My first-year Legal Writing professor told us that his pass/fail writing class would be the most important in our 3 years of law school.  I don't think that's quite right -- but I do think it's right with respect to many students who don't take advantage of clinical opportunities in law school.  Evidence and Corporations and Tax and "Law and Jackson Pollock's Motorhome"-esque classes provide a good basis of information, but when you're practicing you're gonna need to look up that issue of Delaware law to avoid malpractice, whether you got an A+ on your Corps exam or not.

I was fortunate to have been involved in several practice-oriented classes, and I've found that it was THOSE experiences that prepared me to be a lawyer -- or at least a first-year associate at a big firm.  (Although friends who are working in much different jobs -- either at law firms or in other sectors or what not -- agree with me on this point.)

Or, put another way, being able to debate the Supreme Court's revitalization of the sovereign immunity doctrine is great, but it doesn't give you a clue about what makes a good Statement of the Case.

(And don't get me wrong -- your ConLaw class has a good deal of value.  I really enjoyed law school on an intellectual level because of classes like ConLaw and Torts and so on.  But in terms of the "traditional" practice of law -- be it at a big firm or as a solo practitioner -- knowing how to draft a motion or defend a deposition are more important skills than knowing Potter Stewart's shoe size.)

On that note...

2.  Make the Third Year More Clinical:  Maybe this is Part 1(b).  I would be surprised if one of my distinguished co-panelist-type-people doesn't offer the suggestion that law school be shortened to 2 years. I hear this a lot.  I don't think it's the most terrible idea, especially given the cost of law school these days.

I have a better idea:  integrate clinical/practical classes into the third-year curriculum and make one or two mandatory each semester.  My school had a mandatory public service requirement, which was a very good thing.  But it didn't mean you'd get any practical experience. Integrating those experiences into the third year would keep that year alive and fill the practical experience void at the same time.  (See also #5 for a discussion of judicial internships/clerkships in the third year.)

And one of those classes should be on Lawyerly Advice.  Law students need to hear things like "Always hand in work that is good enough to be filed" and "Stay away from that Whitewater thing".

(A more stark version of this model is used in a majority of American medical schools, where the education is (roughly speaking) 2 years of book learnin' and 2 years of <strike>touching peoples' privates</strike> <strike>poking and prodding strangers</strike> <strike>taking someone's temperature... and not orally</strike> hands-on learnin'.  Works well.)

3.  More cookies:  Seriously.  Sometimes my professors gave out cookies or other sweets.  And sure, I got a little jumpy from the sugar high and probably blogged more than usual during that class, but I recall paying attention more too.  And besides, you know, like, cookies are yummy, and stuff.

4.  Depress the Cost of Bar/Bi:  Look.  You can go to law school and not practice law.  Fine by me.  May be joining you sooner or later.  You da mon.

Statistically speaking, however, most of us law grads at least take the Bar Exam and try out this lawyerin' thing in one capacity or another.  And the Bar Exam in each state in the Union now uses the Multistate Bar Examination -- a horrid little 200-question test that I hate with a passion because it is evil and should be burned.  (No, I'm not bitter - I passed the NY Bar. . . but I'm angry at that stupid f-ing test anyway.  I hate you so much, MBE.)

The MBE deals in majority and minority rules and is generally designed to confuse you with poorly-worded sentences and trick you into not using your common sense.  I think law schools should have a class on this stuff, just to get you ready.  Could be an elective.  Just a thought.

5.  Push More Students Toward Judicial Clerkships and Internships:  I think that a lot of law schools don't push clerkships and internships enough.  Yes, the clerkship market, especially in the federal courts, is very competitive.  But internships are generally much easy to come by, and can be done while in school.

In fact, as part of "Mr. Poon's Happy Fun Time Third-Year Clinical Bonanza" detailed in #2 above, I would reach out to judges in the area to set up semester-ly internships that get students into chambers and into court.  Being in a courtroom for the trial process is great experience, both in law and in life.*  Law schools should use their position in the  community and prestige to create those opportunities for their students which will make them better prepared to be lawyers and/or good at Grand Theft Auto.

*May or may not be true -- I got it from a fortune cookie.

PS - After re-reading the above, it may seem to some like I'm complaining that law schools aren't enough like trade schools and/or lawyer factories.  That's not what I'm saying.  I'm saying that for all the wonderful things I learned in law school - and I learned a lot - the things I learned in my clinics and internships were the most valuable to what I am doing now (and what most of my friends are doing, including those not at a job similar to mine).  And they need to be a greater component of American legal education -- or at least mandatory, for Newdow's sake.

PPS - It also may seem like I'm complaining that law schools aren't giving out enough cookies.  I am.  They aren't.  No, seriously.

November 18, 2004

Five by Five - Law Student Edition

By Monday, I'll have up the next Five by Five.  This time, I've asked five law student bloggers to answer this question:  What five things would you change about legal education?  On the roster:

Ambivalent Imbroglio

Three Years of Hell to Become the Devil

Sugar, Mr. Poon?

Jeremy's Weblog

Buffalo Wings and Vodka

I've also asked my pretrial students at Washington University Law School for their responses.  If you've got some good ideas, let me know.