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July 31, 2012

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Michael Duff

Jim - The last line of your post is what I was thinking about from the beginning. Aside from functioning in a professional environment - if what one means is getting along with bosses and co-workers - how will these students service clients possessing complex human problems of all stripes? Indeed, as the number of practitioners destined for biglaw continues to shrink, won't the need for practitioners to have gritty interpersonal contact in more earthy legal environments be increasing?

Eric Gouvin

Great observations, Jim. I think many law professors would be hard-pressed to convincingly articulate what the marketing people call the "value proposition" for engaging in the face-to-face method of teaching/learning. I believe there *is* something of real value in that process, but perhaps we as legal educators aren't as self-aware as we should be to make the case. We should all be asking ourselves what we bring to the table beyond the transmission of information (whether that information is theory or doctrine)and then make that extra something an explicit part of the classroom instead of burying it and hoping the students can figure out on their own why class time is useful.

Many, perhaps most, students think class is about information transfer and if they can obtain information through "self-service," as you say, they are not interested in obtaining it through the (in their minds) less efficient method of questioning and discussion. Sadly, I think the attitidue that learing is a matter of information transfer it is more of a cultural turn generally, and not limited to law students. I fear that society generally and education policy makers in particular, no longer value education as a process of self-discovery and as a tool box for future learning that will inform professional praxis, but rather as a commodity -- data to be obtained, processed and certified through testing on the way to a credential that is being purchased in a marketplace.

This is conditioned into students at an early age through high-stakes multiple choice testing mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act. I've witnessed with some horror how the curriculum from grade school through high school has devloved into an ongoing test-prep course. Teachers in those early years should be inspiring students to learn for the love of learning, to challenge them to solve problems creatively, to instill a sense of wonder in the world and to nurture curiosity, but now teachers are under the gun. If they don't cram in the quadratic equation, next to all the details of the Treaty of Ghent and the location of the far-flung Isles of Langerhans, then all will be lost when their students take the high-stakes test and miss all the trivia. The big things -- the intangible things -- that primary and secondary education are supposed to be doing have been sacrificed to focus on the things that cna be measured. We graduate school teachers are reaping the harvest of those poorly served elementary and secondary students of the 1990s and 2000s.

JKW

It seems intuitive that person-to-person interaction adds value to the educational experience, but please parse that out in your next post. In your dorm dispute scenario, the players emerge "with resolution." Would the resolution have been better had it been in person? Might it have taken longer, or not been resolved at all? Discuss.

Orin Kerr

Jim writes:

************
Two roommates get into a dispute. They are unable to resolve it face to face; indeed, the dispute only becomes more acute as resolution eludes them. Each storms into his own bedroom. An exchange of texts or IMs ensues. They emerge with resolution.
************

Is this supposed to show that texts and IMs are the problem, or that they are the solution? I'm not sure why it's not the latter.

JoshMBlackman

Do you think that future generations of clients, who were also brought up with the self-service style of learning, may wish to interact with similarly-inclined attorneys? That is, clients desirous of legal services may seek to obtain them through alternate channels, with much less face-to-face interaction (for early signs, look no further than products like LegalZoom or Rocket Lawyer).

John Steele

I apologize if this comment seems too sharp. Let’s break out two issues: (1) the ways that we “train future lawyers to function proficiently professional environments,” and (2) this generation’s preference for more “self-service” in education.

On the former issue, may I politely suggest that the law schools have been doing an awful job for a long time? Almost all professional environments for working lawyers involve the juggling of daily or weekly deadlines that require close coordination with other busy professionals who have their own deadlines to juggle. On the other hand, law schools have tended to teach students to cruise for ten weeks and then cram for four, have told students that learning how to practice is something that they will eventually learn “on the job,” have judged students on the basis of three hours of exam-taking at the end of three and a half months of soft socratic teaching, have given feedback via a single letter grade, and have evaluated students as individuals for their abstract analysis rather than as team members for their practical usefulness.

So if our concern really is about training students for the realities of professional environments, we have a lot of reform ahead of us —— a view long shared by students, alums, hiring partners, clients, state bars, judges, and the authors of the MacCrate and Carnegie reports, to name just a few. That disjunction between legal education and professional proficiency didn’t matter that much when JD’s were inexpensive, high-paying jobs were plentiful, and clients were willing to pay to teach young lawyers what they never learned in law school. But it sure matters now. (By the way, a Canadian professor, Annalise Acorn, has recently written a paper on the ways that standard law school instruction teaches law students to be professional procrastinators. I found her argument compelling. She presented the paper at the ILEC-V conference along with a student of hers who was able to offer first-hand, concrete examples of the problem.)

On the latter issue, how should we think about students who want a more dis-intermediated law school experience and more control over what happens during their three years of schooling? Is that a good sign? Students are metaphorically saying, “give me the mouse and I will navigate this for myself.” Isn’t that appropriate if they are the ones taking on all that debt and who will have to live with the outcomes of their educational experience? And appropriate if the world is moving to dis-intermediated interactions? As a former hiring partner and head of associate evaluations, I’ve been pleased at how much more hands-on students have become about their schooling, training, and financial situation since I started teaching. They know so much more about the financial side of legal education and law jobs and about how curricular choices impact them. I only wish that law schools enabled —— or even demanded —— more of that enlightened decision-making by students. (As for the networking aspect of dis-intermediation, my anecdotal experience is that they are very good at networking in the modern way. Better than their elders in many ways.)

Or, perhaps, the new attitudes toward in-person interactions are a bad sign. But they could be a bad sign not because this generation is emotionally stunted (why does each generation of grown-ups have to learn that “the kids are alright”?) but rather because students have correctly concluded that the current methods of interaction with professors and deans just aren’t particularly useful to students. So if law professors and deans really want the students to value in-person interactions, shouldn’t the professors and deans strive to make those interactions more of a value-add proposition for the students’ professional lives? After all, some of the services you mention in your post were slow, expensive, inconvenient, and unnecessary once we figured out how to avoid them. But back in the day there was no way to avoid them. Maybe its our generation that needs to adapt.

Alexander Hamilton

Canadian professor, Annalise Acorn, has recently written a paper on the ways that standard law school instruction teaches law students to be professional procrastinators. I found her argument compelling. She presented the paper at the ILEC-V conference along with a student of hers who was able to offer first-hand, concrete examples of the problem.)

citation or Link please

John Steele

Unfortunately, the journal Legal Ethics doesn't currently allow public posting. As I had mentioned at my legal ethics blog, once there is a public posting I will be glad to link. In the meantime, please contact her directly:

http://www.law.ualberta.ca/facultystaff/profiles/acorn.php

Alexander Hamilton

Having had an unusual career path, law teacher then private law practice, I agree with the observation but completely disagree with the reason.

First, having been around legal education for 40 years, I will state, first hand, that I have only ever know or heard of one law teacher worthy of an A for their classroom performance. A good friend of mine took Torts at Arkansas from Robert Leflar. Leflar taught the text, but for every point provided the students with the pertinent Arkansas cases on the same points, as well as pleadings, discovery, and jury instructions. IOW, he taught Torts, not what I call-half torts. A good student at the end of his or her first year knew how to prepare or defend most garden variety tort cases.

Today, there is no a faculty in America that works hard enough to perform this task. Instead, we have BS research and super pandering to CATO and the Federalist Society.

Second, the faculty knows nothing about the law practice. Lawyers don't give a damn about the law; they are dealing with The Psychology of Human Misjudgment. Read Munger's speech at Harvard (and if you don't know Munger you know nothing about the law practice)

Last, and most importantly, law students now know, after Obamacare has been to the supreme court, that there entire professional lives will be nothing but courts appearances before ring wing judges afflicted with Legal Casuistry.

Judges are not worthy of respect today. Teachers and deans who talk about reasoning, etc., etc., are barking up a tree to students who are doing everything possible to remain moral. Nothing sickens me more than to see a Dean introduce students to a Scalia or Alito. These are dead men with dead souls.

You want students to come and talk. Start with the fundamental problem for legal education. Dred Scott was decided by judges totally unworthy of the designation. Give students the tools so that they can easily and readily identify the Taneys in the current crop on the bench.

college management system

Informative post and valid issues are raised about today's education.

kids nike shoes

Self-Service education also has shortcomings.

Steve Mann

These individuals are NOT shunning human interaction. In fact they are engaging in more human interaction than ever before. Its just that the form and tools in which this interaction takes place is now different. Word of Mouth is one of the primary influencers for buying decisions that occur in the market these days. People are seeking the trusted advice of peers and colleagues. Human interaction is now more varied than ever before with individuals now having the capacity to interact with and seek input from a wide variety of trusted sources.

Matthew Bruckner

I appreciate you sharing your insights. Really interesting post.

Jgmilles

I see that at least one SUNY Buffalo has posted a link to this post on one of the class Facebook pages. I hope that some students will take the opportunity to comment here and say for themselves what their expectations are and why they may not seek out face-to-face interactions with faculty and administrators. I suspect that Steve Mann is correct, that they simply don't see technology-mediated interaction as so foreign and separate from face-to-face communication.

My further guess is that students expect their "business" interactions with law school--financial aid, academic advising, course selection, and so on--to be relatively frictionless and efficient. I don't think this expectation is bad, nor do I think it is unique to the current generation of students. I realize this statement may seem to be contradicted by your comments in a previous post about students who prefer to email faculty about deadlines rather than look up the syllabus. However, on the one hand I know that our faculty contribute to confusion about syllabi and course information by using at least three different courseware systems, and on the other hand, I suspect availability bias overemphasizes the number of students resorting to email.

M.F.V.

As a Student at UB Law I can tell you that I highly value student/faculty contact. While I am just one student, I can can tell you about my experience. As an undergraduate I was afforded the opportunity to be assigned an academic adviser. This person was the central location for information regarding the school and the student's academic performance. This was very helpful, not only because it provided a point person for your benefit, but someone which you had to meet with once a semester, that was supposed to ask about your academic progress as well. Because you met with this person, who wasn't in school administration, the contact felt more personal, and students often were friends with their advisers and trusted them to give the students advice.

I believe that Professor Milles brings to light an issue that many of the incoming first years have struggled with, which was the inundation of so many platforms to deal with. There has not been one centralized place to get information for the law school. We have SIP/the CSO website/frequent emails, TWEN, and of course the HUB with its many different facets. The bottom line, without all of the personal anecdotes is that no one feels comfortable walking up to a stranger and asking him/her for driving directions, let alone about their life direction/career goals/ personal issues on or off campus. Dean's are seen in large forums only, and while they do make their selves available, going into a dean's office, who you barely know, is intimidating. Electronic media is a less intimidating medium for interacting with people you don't know, but that doesn't mean we want less person to person contact, it just means we need the opportunity to get to know the people around us, and that they care for not only our success in school, but us as people.

DHgate

Well in my opinion reading books by oneself is just a kind of Self-Service Education. Actually we should offer our students with self-service education, but still there are several questions. Firstly, it is hard for the others estimate how well one has learnt. Secondly, though the number of teachers is large, still it is limited and we have not enough teachers for the self-service education. Therefore the student must rely on the books & videos. It's okay for the college students, but no for the young kids. Also the basic education should be all-around, then how can Self-Service Education ensure this ? Though sounds fine, Self-Service Education still has a long way to go, and hope it will have a bright future.

Second Year at UB

When a student says "academic advising" they think of someone with a job focus and title that is actual academic advising, like they have for undergrads. Alumni mentors and faculty are good supplements, but it is not traditional academic advising the term connotates, and it is a bit different to speak with someone who is actually familiar with all of the classes and graduation requirements, as opposed to a faculty member who is not, or an alum who graduated 20 years ago.

It is also a pain to get some things done in-person at UB because of how bureaucratic it is. Some offices have very *VERY* long lines (SRC), many take an irregular lunch hour (or more) that you only know of when you get there to see a sign posted on the door, and UB shuts down before work ends so you need to interrupt your work to wait out the long lines and lunch hours. Why do we need to come to school to sign a slip from the professor and drop it off on the floor below to change the class when we sign up online anyways?

You might say long lines and lunch hours and rainy days are all part of life, but then you can't blame us for not wanting to deal with it when there are more efficient alternatives.

Some of the other points I agree with though. Forget about face-to-face interactions, many students I know don't even like talking on the phone. They prefer texting. And one courseware system is an idea that has been around for a long time, why do we need to use UB learns, TWEN, HUB etc? It would be easier to pick one platform and make it uniform. I think these student expectations are completely warranted, other institutions have very smooth office interactions and easy-to-navigate websites.

BoredJD

Professor, the reason students don't seek academic advising, or career advising, or any kind of advising from you, is because you have no advice to give that can't be figured out based on common sense or looking on the school's webpage. If a student came to you and asked you for career advice or help getting a job, what would you tell them?

When I was in law school, my dealings with the school were 1) bureaucratic nightmares and endless red tape to do something as simple as book a room for a student group event, 2) meetings with faculty and career advisors who gave me generalized advice about "networking" that didn't help me find a job. The faculty who teach at American law schools are generally incompetent about anything except their own narrow research interests. They can't even keep tuition under control at their own law schools or help their students get jobs. The more I think about it, the more outrageous your post becomes. Your students are graduating with debt loads many times what you had and into a terrible job market, and your great insight into the differences between them and you is that they send emails instead of meeting face to face? If you want some anecdotes about the uselessness and incompetence of faculty and administrators, how much time do you have?

Perhaps your next post should touch on how young people's behaviors are impacted when they are staring down the barrel of 100K or more of high-interest, non-dischargeable student loan debt.

DCML

Have you been in CVS recently? Or a Fedex Kinkos? The level of "service" now hardly meets what you're talking about in the past re service people (courtesy, expertise, etc.). So younger people have had to become self-servicing because there is no comparative service by your definition or they can find a service easier, with more courtesy, expertise, etc. online.

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