Thinking About Law School? Check Out These Blogs!

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A good lawyer understands the importance and value of due diligence. OnLine Courses has compiled a list of 100 blog posts they believe you should read before going to law school. Topics include: getting in; getting started; paying for school; getting a job; getting through law school; making the most of the education offered; getting the skinny from those who have gone before; test taking; and lawyers, the law, career paths and opportunities.

I guess calling this list cursory would be an understatement and calling it comprehensive would be overstating the obvious!

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Focus on Outcome, Not Income

All right, I admit that my title isn’t quite accurate, but it does have  that alliterative quality that makes for a memorable catch-phrase. What I am refering to here is a thought-provoking post at Clinician’s With Not Enough To Do regarding a shift in the focus of higher education to stress “outcome” over “input.”  The author, Carolyn Grose, is a member of the “Future of Legal Education Task Force”, a force I am certain is paying close attention these days to the problem of helping crops of new attorneys hit the ground running as traditional legal jobs dry up.

The post excerpts a presentation to the William Mitchell College of Law outlining the Task Force’s progress to date on how to render legal education responsive to the needs of modern lawyers and their firms and clients. In keeping with the American Bar Association’s recent injunctions regarding accreditation, the Task Force opines that legal education needs to shift from “input” to “output.” “Input” is what students are taught. “Output” is what students know and can perform. This boils down to increasing the “practical wisdom” of students passing out of the third year and into the real world.

Seems a Herculean task. But a laudable goal without a doubt. In keeping with an “outcome”-driven approach, the Task Force suggests working backwards in designing the curriculum. The first step in this backward progress is identifying desired “outcomes” for law grads. The areas of proficiency deemed most important include: basic legal knowledge of core subject matter and legal systems, process and source of law; the skills of analysis, research, communication, and representation; and, professional conduct and judgment in the use of knowledge and skills.

None of these “outcomes” seem particularly earth-shattering: they track the same “outcomes” my school seemed interested in imparting 20 years ago. My question is:  What does the Task Force suggest regarding the degree of emphasis to be placed on each outcome? In other words, how much effort should be placed upon instruction in “core” subjects and how much should be focused on research, writing, analytics, organization and communication, both written and oral?

I believe the answer should lie, at least in part, in educators’ assessments of how easy it will be for a fresh attorney to glean the knowledge and skills after graduation. Emphasis should be placed on the knowledge and skills that are peculiar to the profession or more difficult to learn without academic guidance. Students cannot bank on the chance that they will find their personal “Yoda” who will help them use the “Force” to defeat the Dark Side; good mentors are few and far between in the real world. Who has time to help a new associate understand how to navigate a completely unfamiliar area of law and cogently explain his or her findings to a partner focused, now more than ever, on the elusive bottom line? When will the most prestigious law schools “buy” this “outcome”-based approach and drop the pretense that ivory-tower academics should win out over practical skills training – the nuts and bolts of the average lawyer’s every day practice ? Until there is a major shift in perceptions across academic institutions and the largest firms regarding what really matters in practice, there is unlikely to be widespread change regarding the nature of legal education.

Which brings me back around to my original point: the title of this post. Maybe it isn’t that far off the mark, after all.

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Law Schools Innovate & Lawyers Reap The Benefits

Not often thought of as hotbeds of cutting-edge tech, Robert Ambrogi pens an informative article over at Law.com about innovation generated in law schools of practical use for lawyers and beyond. These applications and services include: the Intellectual Property Litigation Clearinghouse (on-line database with info about IP disputes in the U.S.); The Grace Case Project (offering coverage of the federal criminal prosecution of W.R. Grace & Co. pending in U.S. District Court in MT); The Journal of Legal Analysis (open access journal by Harvard University Press); ABI Bankcruptcy Case Blog (student-penned research on bankruptcy issues); the Intellectual Property Colloquium (series of monthly podcasts produced by UCLA and supported by Loeb & Loeb); Life After Innocence (blog by law students offering resources and legal assistance to recent exonerees); and, The Codicil (journal by Texas Tech students covering estate planning, communit property and related topics).

Thanks Bob for this great list and thanks Legal Writing Prof Blog for the tip!

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What? Law Schools Not Teaching Legal Research?

Can it be true? Well, Arthur Miller, the King of Civil Procedure, says so. The Legal Writing Prof Blog has this entry about a recent Town Hall Meeting held in Portland Oregon sponsored by none other than West Publishing / Thomson. Apparently, law schools are sacrificing the practical for breadth of course selection. In Mr. Miller’s opinion, the pure practice apparently is suffering as a result.

Here is part one of the interview:

Here is part two of the interview:

 Mr. Miller believes that the deficit in research and writing skills begins in early elementary school and may not be rectified at the higher levels of schooling or on the legal job. This is particularly true if the new attorney ends up in somewhere other than the largest law firms, where there is some commitment to a certain level of basic research and writing training in-house for new attorneys.

Never fear. Even if you suffer from the deficits described by Mr. MIller, you can always find the best quality research and writing right here at Advantage Advocates!

What? Law Schools Not Teaching Legal Research?

Can it be true? Well, Arthur Miller, the King of Civil Procedure, says so. The Legal Writing Prof Blog has this entry about a recent Town Hall Meeting held in Portland Oregon sponsored by none other than West Publishing / Thomson. Apparently, law schools are sacrificing the practical for breadth of course selection. In Mr. Miller’s opinion, the pure practice apparently is suffering as a result.

Here is part one of the interview:

Here is part two of the interview:

 Mr. Miller believes that the deficit in research and writing skills begins in early elementary school and may not be rectified at the higher levels of schooling or on the legal job. This is particularly true if the new attorney ends up in somewhere other than the largest law firms, where there is some commitment to a certain level of basic research and writing training in-house for new attorneys.

Never fear. Even if you suffer from the deficits described by Mr. MIller, you can always find the best quality research and writing right here at Advantage Advocates!

JD In A Jiffy?

 Apparently, this is the week for law school news. Northwestern University is offering a new option for those would-be lawyers especially anxious to “get it over with” as soon as possible. The ABA Journal reports that, beginning in 2009, Northwestern will be the first top-tier school to offer a two-year (technically five semesters with mini courses crammed between semesters) law degree for those with a minimum of two to three years of substantive work experience. Northwestern joins Southwestern Law School and the University of Dayton in offering these quick(er) fixes. Not everyone is in favor. The Chicago Tribune reports the former dean of Northwestern and current University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone calling the move “irresponsible” and a potential sacrifice of the quality of the education. The Tribune article also cites University of Illinois associate dean Lawrence Solum’s comments that the two year model would reduce the amount of time available to law students to explore summer employment opportunities. In the article, Northwestern’s dean David Van Zandt counters that “Any time you innovate, you are always going to have people who pooh-pooh it or look down their nose,” noting the conservative nature of legal education, and law in general. Unlike others in the legal education community, Van Zandt is vitally concerned with consumer opinion and has worked to bring the law school to number 9 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings.

Of greater personal interest to me are three new required courses on quantitative analysis, dynamics of legal behavior (teamwork)  and strategic decision making (project management). These courses are designed to improve, among other abilities, communication skills, such as the ability out of law school to prepare a decisive one page memo devoid of waffling. Any attempt to improve the quality of legal writing out of the gate is o.k. in my PDA. Hopefully, though, less time spent in class means lower tuition: the school’s current full on tuition rate is an eye-popping $42,672 per year. Of course, one year less in school means one year closer to that $150,000 to $200,000 per year first year associates out of Northwestern can expect to make, and that “ain’t” no chump change.

Well Someone Had To Do It

A nod to Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites for the FYI, the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover, Massachusetts is preparing to convene a conference in September to prosecute President George Bush and other high ranking officials in the administration for war crimes. The Dean of the School, Lawrence Velvel announced the school’s very concrete plans to prepare the structure for such a process in a press release. Velvel opines in the release that punishment of such high ranking officials could materially affect the course of our country, as similar prosecutions of German and Japanese leaders following World War II changed the aggressor characteristics of their respective cultures.

 

Velvel suggests jail, or better yet, the gallows, if Bush is convicted. At the conference, Velvel hopes to create an umbrella coordinating committee with legal groups such as the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU.

Before you scoff at the naivete of Dean Velvel (or his legal acumen for that matter) consider that the issue of President Bush’s war crimes trial is not fresh.  Marc Ambinder considered it in his blog on April 9, 2008.  Vincent Bugliosi prefers a more common variety of crime, murder, when considering possible charges and convictions for the President. Congressman Dennis Kucinich included war crimes in his articles of impeachment introduced to the House on Monday, June 9, 2008. Some commentators, such as Jack Balkin, believe a war crimes trial here in the U.S. would be an impossible dream. I won’t link to the more extreme viewpoints on this topic, which, as imagined, can be quite polarized. Suffice to say that in this time of economic and international pessimism, a law school’s plan to prosecute a president can be a hot topic worthy of press coverage.

Whether concrete plan or contemporary analytical exercise in legal reasoning, it will be interesting to see what Dean Velvel’s conference yields, or what other headlines will be holding our attention in September.

Are Lawyers Made or Are They Born?

I don’t think anyone can seriously challenge the assertion that there are a whole lot of lawyers around. While compiling my list of potential clients for my research, writing, editing and marketing business, I initially limited my search to the six or seven towns immediately surrounding my own city, a picturesque fishing port outside of Boston of moderate size. From an area of no more than 20 square miles, I quickly filled my Access database with a whopping 850 unique entries. It takes an awful lot of real estate closings, family law matters, civil or criminal proceedings and estates to keep 850 lawyers busy enough to keep their shingle hanging. Are these lawyers made or are they born? Nature or nurture? What makes a person desire to study and then practice law? No doubt, some cut their teeth arguing why they should be permitted another hour of television on a school night with unwavering dedication to their cause, couldn’t wait to join their high school debate clubs, chose their pre-law major on the first day of freshman year and ran headlong into law school and practice, knowing all along that they were meant for the law. Still others may have been subconsciously drawn to linguistics and Latin, philosophy and English, civics, political science or other related subjects and realized, when the time finally came to decide, that law just seemed a most natural fit. Finally, there must have been a few who arrived at their third or fourth year of college, or at some stage in a non-legal career, and either believed that the pursuit of law was the lesser of all available evils or felt they desperately needed a change in direction.

I myself was a “jack of all trades” in advance of my decision to enter law school. There were so many subjects of interest to me that I found it difficult to decide. I pursued double majors and triple minors. I had more than one option for graduate school and chose law, and I am happy to say that it was a very good choice for me. I do believe, however, that law school was my training ground. I worked hard to acquire those “tools of the trade” that any good lawyer must possess. In other words, I believe that I was “made” into a lawyer by training and experience. So, for sure, for me, lawyers are indeed “made.”

But that does not end the inquiry. A conversation with my oldest son when he was only three years old remains etched on my mind. We allowed no toy guns in our home. I made no bones about my dislike for weapons in general and guns in particular. He accepted my position without question, until his first year of pre-school. The worldly influence wrought by his peers worked its magic; my son announced in no uncertain terms that he would be a cowboy for Halloween and that his costume would include a shiny six-shooter.

I held my ground: no guns. He thought about this and a few days later, he asked again. I repeated my injunction: no guns. Guns are bad. I thought that if I kept it simple, my rule would be easily grasped and accepted. He looked at me with complete seriousness and asked me: “Do policemen carry guns? Do army men carry guns?” He continued on: “Army men are good, right? And policemen protect us.” He then hammered home his final nail:  “If they carry guns, then guns can’t be bad.” You can probably imagine the rest. His silver six-shooter remains the only gun in our home. Needless to say, I believe that attorneys also can be “born.”

Whether made or born, we lawyers come to the law from diverse backgrounds. We craft our practice to best fit our temperaments. Hopefully, whether by nature or by nurture, we can all find fulfillment in this vastly important and encompassing calling. And, with a little luck, we can help nurture others in their quest to find the true benefits of a life in the law.