Are Law Schools Failing New Lawyers?

The process of legal education, particularly instruction in the basic skills of research and writing, is really taking it on the chin this week. I just wrote about a seasoned lawyer lamenting modern education in legal research, with its focus on computers instead of books as the starting and finishing point for investigation.

Today, the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (“LSSSE”) releases the results of its 2008 Annual Survey -  Student Engagement in Law School: Preparing 21st Century Lawyers, which have been made available on-line at the link. Inside Higher Ed reports that “the [survey], released today, show[s] nearly half of all law school students reporting that their education does not ‘contribute substantially’ to their ability to ‘apply legal writing skills’ in the real world.” Students from 85 schools in the U.S. and Canada took the survey and are leveling the criticism. The first bolded sentence in the Foreword of the report reads “Thinking Like a Lawyer is Not Enough.”

The survey is intended to assist schools in bettering themselves. The students have been vocal in their criticism of legal writing instruction:

“[d]espite near universal agreement on the value of these skills and competencies, legal writing, for example, is typically featured primarily in the first year, and viewed by students as a sidebar in their doctrinal classes,” writes George D. Kuh, LSSSE director and professor at the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, in his introduction to the 2008 results. “The low value placed on writing is symbolized by the facts that relatively few legal writing faculty are tenured or in a tenure-eligible role and are often paid less than other faculty members. Nevertheless, good lawyers must be good legal writers; it is a skill that will serve students well as they transition to the practice of law.”

While it is conceded by survey participants that there are plenty of opportunities to practice writing in school, they feel there is insufficient instruction in “practical” legal writing and chance to apply the skill to particular writing tasks.

Besides issues with writing instruction, there are many interesting points raised in the IHE article and the results should prove captivating to law school administration. For example, students bringing computers into the classroom admit to using them primarily for non-class-related purposes. On the other hand, those students that do use them to review case briefs or take notes report that they feel better prepared. In essence, while technology might be a potentially tempting distraction, it also is a potentially effective tool if used wisely.

If you are interested in reading further, the link above takes you to the technical reports and the 2008 Results. From scanning these results and reports, the sense I get is that ever-increasing competition between schools for students has pushed administrators to expand course offerings and include greater specialization and choice in the curriculum. But, with only so much time in the day and in the three year law school process, more time for specialized courses necessarily means less time for pure instruction in the basics. Given this seemingly mutual exclusivity, law school professors in all subjects should consider paying extra attention to incorporating legal research and writing instruction within their specific subject courses. Higher level research and writing courses should be made available to students wishing to avail themselves of the chance to hone this vitally important legal skill. Better writers and researchers make better lawyers. Recalling my own transition from law school to law practice, I am convinced that any tool, instruction or edge available in law school to ease that transition would have been a welcome one indeed!

iPhone Musings From The Studio

For both the interested and disinterested, I did receive one gift from my holiday wish list (because I purchased it for myself). I got the iPhone 3G with 16 gig of memory to replace my Treo 750. It is shiny black and chrome with a whopping big screen. I have been playing with it for about two weeks and have some initial impressions. Plus i have an App-endix to help customize your iPhone experience!

iPhone

First – the downsides. Email is definitely hobbled in functionality compared to my old Treo and my current Blackberry Curve. On my Treo, I could attach multiple images and easily select which of my many email accounts I wished to send a message from. SMS messaging was easy. The Treo and Blackberry give me push email, which the iPhone most regrettably does not. I also find editing my numbers in messaging to be a tad difficult: once the iPhone locks onto a number from contacts or a prior message, it hangs on like a pit bull. I miss my turn by turn GPS service on my Treo and cannot understand why the iPhone, with its built in GPS, doesn’t have it yet. And why no flash?

Next – the upsides. It has one fine looking screen. Coupled with a br“Wow”ser of extraordinary facility, the internet experience cannot be beat. I can see this little slab replacing much of my on-line activity on my larger boxes. I regularly find myself surfing on the phone while writing on my laptop. The app store is just fine, with lots of fun and useful free apps. I haven’t paid for one yet. Scads of stuff with more tools appearing daily. The camera takes a nice picture, provided you have a steady hand, even without flash support (the Curve has a blinding flash). And the unit’s UI is so simple it’s silly. The iPhone is a great introduction to smart phones for newbies, and a refreshing change from complicated and inadequate designs for us diehards.

Finally – a parting thought: the iPhone is best targeted to the older generation. Why do I say this? Three reasons:

1. The screen is huge, hence the text is huge, and hence I can now read it with my failing eyes without the need for my magnifying glasses. Result: I look hipper.

2. The iPhone imbues its user with such an air of coolness and MOMA-esque design sense that it instantly transforms the user into a trendsetter, even if they wear their shirts buttoned with collar up and their pants tucked into their socks. Result: I look hipper.

3. You don’t have to be a youngster born and bred to electronic gadgetry or an Albert Einstein to work its functions and much can be accomplished with elegant gestures over its glossy surface a la Tom Cruise in Minority Report. Result: I look hipper. Or at least I look like Tom Cruise *ouch*.

APP-ENDIX

The Ten Most Awesome iPhone Apps of 2008

Wired Magazine compiled this list of awesome iPhone apps and I definitely agree with more than one. Taken directly from the article linked above:

10. Stanza
A book reader that grabs free titles from public domains, Stanza has soared in popularity — making the iPhone a worthy competitor to Amazon’s Kindle. And if those free books aren’t enough, Stanza recently expanded to incorporate a store to purchase commercial titles. The app did a good job pleasing Wired.com’s Charlie Sorrel, who modified his Moleskine notebook so he could embed his iPod touch in it. (That way, he could read e-books at the cafe while exuding an aura of pretentious artiness, instead of pretentious geekiness.) Download Stanza (Free)

9. SayWhere
You get used to typing on the iPhone after some time, but punching in addresses to look up directions is by far the biggest drag. DialDirections was the first to introduce speech-recognition capabilities to the iPhone with SayWhere, which translates users’ speech into queries for Google Maps, Yelp, Traffic or Yellow Pages. It’s a nifty app, especially for keeping drivers’ eyes on the road rather than the iPhone’s virtual keyboard. Download SayWhere (Free)

8. Tweetie
Twitter, a new form of micro-blogging, became more legitimate when it broke the news of the deadly Mumbai attacks. And Tweetie is the best app we’ve found to follow your Twitter friends. The app neatly separates Twitter feeds into categories, and the interface resembles the bubbly iChat interface that most of us have come to love. It even lets you search Twitter and save those searches for later. A must-have for Twitterholics.  Download Tweetie ($3)  

7. NetShare
This app is so cool you can’t have it anymore. Nullriver’s NetShare, an application that turns your iPhone into a wireless modem, disappeared from the App Store shortly after its release. Later, we learned Apple banned the app because NetShare violated AT&T’s terms of service agreement. So only a lucky few (including some Wired.com staff) got the benefits of unlimited iPhone tethering, which normally costs about $30 a month, for a one-time price of $10. Bummer!

6. Shazam
Everyone’s familiar with this scenario: You hear a really catchy, unfamiliar song on the radio and you have no idea what it’s called. You hum it to yourself repeatedly and attempt to memorize the lyrics, only to forget it after slamming a few shots at the bar. Shazam will never leave you struggling to recollect these thoughts again: Hold the iPhone up to a speaker playing the unknown tune and the app will identify it — album, artist and song title — just like that. Download Shazam (Free)

5. Ocarina
The hottest music app in the App Store, Ocarina thought beyond the iPhone’s touchscreen and found a unique way to use the handset’s microphone. Blowing into the mic simulates the experience of tooting into a flute; you play around with four virtual "holes" on the screen to change the note. Ocarina users around the world can even hear what you’re playing in a globe mode. It takes a while to get a hang of it, but Ocarina gives away just how creative iPhone apps can get so long as developers have enough imagination. Download Ocarina ($1)

4. TapTapRevenge
You’d have to be living on a different planet (or a retirement home) if you haven’t heard of Guitar Hero, the game that gets players to twitch their fingers compulsively along with the beat of their favorite songs. Developer Tapulous took the same idea to make an extremely addictive rhythm game called Tap Tap Revenge. Tapping blinking lights on a screen to catch tunes isn’t exactly the same as rocking out on plastic guitars and drum pads, but it’s still highly addictive. And Tap Tap Revenge is so popular it’s even offering the option to download new tracks to tap to, similar to Guitar Hero and Rock Band’s music stores. Download TapTapRevenge (Free)

3. Trism
Trism is such an addictive and appealing game that it blessed its developer Steve Demeter with $250,000 in profit in just two months. And deservedly so, because the game’s really well designed and plays something like a Bejeweled with an accelerometer to move around the puzzle pieces. It wouldn’t be fair to call it one game, either: There are three different modes to keep you hooked. Download Trism ($3)

2. Pandora
Whoa whoa whoa — free downloaded music on a portable device? You don’t say. Pandora’s alternative music distribution made this happen, and the app is cool as hell on the iPhone. Add a station for an artist you like, and the app will play that artist’s music as well as similar tunes you might like. What better way to find new music with the wealth of new bands out there? Download Pandora (Free)

1. Google Earth
When Steve Jobs called the iPhone "Your life in your pocket," he probably didn’t expect Google to deliver the world in your pocket. Well, virtually. Displaying satellite imagery around the world in a 3-D globe, Google Earth is one of the most intense, mindblowing apps that truly shows off the powers of the iPhone. If you want to impress your grandmother with a demonstration of just how far technology has come since she was a girl, this ought to do the trick. Download Google Earth (Free)

Top 30 iPhone Apps for Organization and Productivity

Jennifer Van Grove at Mashable has this list of organization and productivity apps for the iPhone – both free and paid. There are many to choose from and I suggest you hit the link for some tools to mod your business rod, so to speak.