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Category: Law School

14

My Problem With Laptops

quill.jpgProfessors often complain about students using laptops in class. Chief among the complaints is that students send e-mail and surf the web when they should be paying attention—and this is bad for the particular student and a distraction for others who can see this activity going on.

I’m not persuaded by that complaint. I can do more than one thing at once so I’m sure other people can too. Even before laptops students divided their attention between the professor and other activities—a newspaper, a crossword, reading a note. I also figure that if a student, especially in graduate school, isn’t paying attention then I’m not doing a very good job of teaching.

I also happen to like laptops.

So why this semester did I ban my first-year students in Constitutional Law from bringing laptops to class?

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46

Abolish the Bar Exam

barexam3a.jpgThe recent story in the WSJ that Kathleen Sullivan (law, Stanford) failed the Bar Exam raises anew whether the exam ought to be abolished. Before discussing this issue, I must note that I found the story to be a bit sensationalistic for the WSJ, as its main purpose seemed to be to mock Kathleen Sullivan. I was interviewed by the reporter of the story a few days ago because of my blog posts earlier this year (here, here, and here) arguing that Bar Exam should be abolished.

The reporter emailed me and wrote: “I’m a reporter with the Wall Street Journal. I’m researching arguments in favor and against the abolition of bar exams, and wondered if you might have time to share your thoughts on this matter with me today.” I spoke to him about my arguments, but he asked a few times if I could name any prominent professors or lawyers who failed. I told him I didn’t know of any and that even if I did, I would consider revealing this fact to be a bit tawdry, as failing the Bar Exam is considered an embarrassing fact. I didn’t see why it would be necessary to bring embarrassment upon a person for a story about the abolition of the Bar Exam.

I was quite surprised when I read the story, a bit peeved at not being quoted, and somewhat annoyed that the story seemed to be primarily cast as a way to showcase Sullivan’s failure rather than address the problems of the Bar Exam. The reporter did not mention Sullivan at all in my interview.

So since they didn’t make it into the story, I want to reprise my arguments against the Bar Exam. As I wrote in a post called “Bar None”:

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10

The return of the BAR/BRI pirates

Is it the end of the line for the great bar-prep near-monopoly?

A new New York Times story discusses the issue:

In complaints filed in the spring and summer, different groups of students charged that BAR/BRI has paid competitors to shut down and negotiated illegal agreements with potential competitors to divide the market. In particular, they cite a 2003 agreement with Louisiana State University, which until 2004 operated its own bar review course; under the deal, BAR/BRI promised to pay tens of thousands of dollars each year to the school, and the school promised not to run a competing bar review course.

It will be interesting to see how the allegations play out. I don’t know enough about the case to have any opinion on the merits, but I will be keeping an eye on it. Also, I’ll be wondering how it affects my own school, which is in the process of implementing a new bar prep course. (Advance word about the course is good, and I hope it works well). In any case, the story notes some of the reasons bar prep courses are so attractive:

Each state’s exam, typically the second day, usually consists of essays and multiple-choice questions that focus on the law in that particular state. The kinds of questions often require knowledge of topics that some students might not have learned about in school, adding to the allure of a review course aimed precisely at the topics on the exam.

Which raises its own questions. If BAR/BRI is doing an effective job of getting law graduates past the bar, are they really helped if it is shut down? The suit alleges that BAR/BRI overcharges its customers. But I’m willing to be overcharged a little for a system that works.

4

Why Don’t More Women Want To Be Law Professors?

ProfessorImage.gifFor several years, the number of women in law schools has been very nearly the same as the number of men. But more men want to become law professors.

Among entry-level applicants for law teaching this year, the ratio of men to women is about 3:2. (The figure is based on the list of participants in the Association of American Law Schools recruiting program, the normal route to law teaching.)

Many schools want to increase the number of women on their (largely male) faculties, but the task is difficult if for every two women applying for jobs, there are three male applicants.

As reflected by the overall stiff competition for teaching jobs, being a law professor is a wonderful thing. Professors get to work on whatever interests them. The hours are embarrassingly flexible—few other jobs let you leave town for the entire summer. The pay, while less than in private practice, is very good. Nobody is supervising you on a day-to-day basis. And you can avoid co-workers you don’t like.

So why don’t more women law graduates apply for this most perfect of jobs?

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3

Who’s Your Daddy?

family.jpgNepotism is at work in the legal academy. The next time you wonder how a professor with an unremarkable resume landed a job, check the family tree. You’re likely to find—sometimes even in the very same school—a professor parent.

Or spouse. Husband and wife professors complain about the burdens of finding work as an academic couple, but being married to a high-profile professor can be a significant career booster. Schools that badly want a professor will lower their standards and hire that professor’s spouse—or work things out so that the spouse can teach at another school in the vicinity. (The practice seems to be a benefit of heterosexual marriage: I’ve never heard of a same-sex couple being treated so favorably.)

Judicial clerkships are a route to teaching but here too nepotism is common. Judges are prohibited from hiring their own family members but the rule doesn’t extend to the family of a current or former law clerk. Husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, sometimes even parent and child, clerk for the same judge or justice—passing around the clerkship like it’s the family silver.

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7

On Becoming a Supreme Court Clerk

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This article about David Bragdon, who was just hired to clerk for Justice Thomas, is worth reading, especially for those who miss their A3G fix. Bragdon is significantly more forthcoming in print than I would have expected. Two choice quotes:

“I think conservative justices are more likely to hire conservative clerks,” he said. “I interviewed with Justice Thomas and his clerks, and his clerks really drilled me on my judicial philosophy, both to see how much I knew and to test my ability to argue various issues.”

“There could be some shifts in the way the Supreme Court decides certain issues [based on the new justices coming to the court],” he said. “I don’t think Roe vs. Wade will be overturned, there aren’t enough votes to change that decision, but other key issues could be affected.”

Too bad the interviewer didn’t ask the obvious follow-up question: which “key issues” does this rising Supreme Court clerk think will be affected by the confirmation of Justice Roberts and the possible confirmation of Judge Alito?

(Hat Tip: Howard B.)

7

Clearly I’m teaching the wrong classes. . .

The CNN headline pretty much says it all: “Girl with peanut allergy dies after kiss.” It is proof of my through law-geekiness that my first thought was “that would make a great question for a torts exam!”

Torts finals always seem to involve strange hypotheticals. I still remember my own torts final as a law student — it involved a man who opened his umbrella in the rain, and was struck by lightning.

It’s pretty hard to work a peanut-kiss-death into my Wills final or my Securities Regulation final. (I suppose I could try to work it into some strange hypothetical to test the statutory bar on inheriting from a decedent who is murdered by the devisee, but that would be a stretch. And besides, those exams are already written.).

But if I ever teach torts, I’ll be thinking back to the peanut case — and wondering if I can turn it into a good hypothetical about a “kiss of death.”

2

Private Accrediting: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

humphreystrings.jpg

US News’ rankings are exerting powerful influences over law school practices, in areas like admissions (and presumably hiring and promotion of faculty, to enhance reputation scores). They’re beginning to look like an accrediting agency that operates parallel to the ABA. US News arguably sets benchmarks for such areas as admissions, faculty-student ratios, and library size.

(Jeffery Stake’s article “The Interplay Between Law School Rankings, Reputations, and Resource Allocation” and posts like this one by Brian Leiter explore how US News is affecting (or might affect) class size and other admissions decisions. My (admittedly impressionistic) sense is that a great many law schools are bending their behavior to US News factors.)

In the spirit of “If you can’t beat them, join them,” maybe what we should be doing is lobbying US News to change the factors that count in their rankings. Perhaps, for example, we should encourage US News to take diversity of student body into account. If US News gave (even small credit) for diversity, perhaps it would cause (major) shifts in law schools’ admissions decisions. I wonder if US News is already poised to do this? In 2005 they began publishing a diversity index, but it doesn’t yet count towards a school’s overall rank.

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0

Swiftly Shrinking? Toward the Lilliputian Law Review Article

book-tiny1.jpgThis law review article submission season, a bunch of law reviews banded together to create a page limit for law review article submissions. According to the policy as announced by the Harvard Law Review and followed at several other law reviews:

In an effort to address the growing length of law review articles, the Harvard Law Review has adopted a new policy limiting the length of articles we will accept or publish.

The Review will give preference to articles under 25,000 words in length — the equivalent of 50 law review pages — including text and footnotes. The Review will not publish articles exceeding 35,000 words — the equivalent of 70-75 law review pages — except in extraordinary circumstances.

Eugene Volokh of the VC has some data on the effectiveness of the policy:

Here’s an early data point: Jean-Gabriel Bankier of Berkeley Electronic Press’s ExpressO submission service . . . reports that, based on “more than 1,000 unique submissions in both 2004 and 2005,” the averages were:

2003-69.1 pages

2004-73.3 pages

2005-64.0 pages

So that’s about 9 pages shorter on average. Thus, in total, this season saw over 9000 fewer pages of law review article text. Where did those 9000 pages go? That’s roughly 2.7 million words . . . vanished. They are lost forever, gone, never to be read and enjoyed. Oh, the verbosity!

1

Faculty Recruitment Practices

Brian Leiter has this interesting recent post on some high-pressure AALS faculty recruitment practices. Coincidentally, I just received an email from the “AALS Special Committee on Faculty Recruitment Practices,” which states, in relevant part:

The special committee’s specific charge was to determine whether, in light of [certain] complaints, something like a statement of good practices in faculty recruitment was appropriate. Of course, a prerequisite first step in fulfilling that charge is determining what practices are occurring and whether or not they are sufficiently problematic in frequency and type that a statement of good practices is necessary or appropriate. To that end, a survey of current practices seemed appropriate. Hence, this email message, which is being sent to faculty members who participated in the faculty recruitment conference within the past two years and are now full-time faculty members at an ABA approved law school/AALS member law school. We know that you are very busy individuals.

Busy, yes. But not too busy to blog.

My guess, based on anecdotes from the law clerk hiring process and discussions about international norms with colleagues, is to doubt that AALS will succeed at stamping out abuse in the absence of a real enforcement hammer. But you’ve got to give them credit for trying, because the current market is set-up to produce some unhappy marriages between candidates and schools.