Category: Law School

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Happy 10,000th Post!

I was just working on my next guest post when I noticed a little statistic in the dashboard: there have been 10,007 posts to Concurring Opinions. Which means this lil’ ol’ “blawg” passed a significant milestone about a week ago that deserves some celebration — and heartfelt  thanks to Dan Solove and the cadre of other permanent bloggers who keep it going.

By my count, post number 10,000 was a pointer to a new essay about the Kirtsaeng decision in the Stanford Law Review Online. That’s appropriate, because spreading the word about interesting and timely legal scholarship — especially stuff that appears in less traditional places like the journals’ online supplemnets — has been one of ConOp’s many services to the rest of us for years now.

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Continuous Assessment

Thanks so much to the Concurring Opinions gang for having me back for another guest blogging stint. My semester has ended, so let the blogging begin!

Except … even though I have not received my students’ exams from the registrar yet, I am grading. Why?  Because I assigned group projects during the semester and have not completed marking the last one. This raises an uncomfortable question for me: have I done the students any good by giving them a graded assignment during the semester if they don’t receive feedback on it until they are on the cusp of taking the final exam?

That really depends on the reasons for requiring “grading events” such as group projects, short papers, quizzes, midterms, or oral presentations during the semester. Like many of my colleagues, I have increasingly moved away from the traditional law school model that based the entire course grade on a high-stakes final examination, perhaps with some small adjustment for class participation. It seems clear to me that this is a good decision — even though it has meant a lot more grading (every professor’s least favorite task) and even though the institutional incentives for law faculty don’t really encourage or assist us to do depart from the tradition of the all-or-nothing final exam.

But I have to confess that my views of the reasons for continuing assessment are unsettled and even a little muddled. Here are the main candidates in my mind:

  • Earlier graded events give students feedback about their understanding of the material and performance in the course while there is still time to correct it.
  • Basing the course grade on more than one event reduces the “fluke factor” of a student who is ill or overtired or just not in top form the day of the final exam.
  • The events themselves — say, a group project — serve valuable pedagogical goals and making them part of the grade ensures that students will take them seriously.
  • Educational research shows that students learn more effectively if they synthesize knowledge as they go along rather than just doing a big outline at the end of the course, and graded events spur them to synthesize earlier.
  • Basing the grade on different types of exercises rewards varied abilities beyond the particular (and slightly bizarre) skill set that excels at law school issue spotter exams.

 

Only the first of these requires me to return students’ grades sooner than I’ve managed to do for this group project. Of course, I am saying this partly to assuage my guilt over my own tardiness. But I also wonder how well we articulate the reasons for continuous assessment to our students — or even, frankly, to ourselves. I have now more carefully engaged in the sort of reflection about these goals that I should have gone through before the semester started. Now I know for next time that my answer is: all of the above.

Uh oh. I better get back to grading those group projects right now.

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Is it better for one student to get a job than n students to fail the bar?

A student’s final law school GPA predicts bar passage better than other independent variables. But the relationship isn’t causal: raising the mean GPA of all students does not promote bar passage.  Indeed, some investigators have suggested that the inverse is more likely to be true. When GPA rises for all students, individuals at the bottom of the class aren’t sufficiently signaled that their grades are really and truly bad, and consequently such badly-warned students don’t approach bar study with the requisite degree of seriousness. That is, if a school has a mean of a 3.3 at graduation, the bottom 20% of the class probably has GPA of around a B-.  B- students may well say to themselves “sure, I’m at the bottom of the class, but I’m not a C student!  I’m not in danger of failing the bar!”  But they are.  In this perverse way, raising the mean increases the rate at which weaker students fail the bar, even as overall, grades are positively correlated with passing!

The puzzle deepens. Students often argue that employers focus on mean GPA to the exclusion of class rank.  Given that students are competing with other schools (nationally and regionally), there are race-to-the-bottom pressures on each law school’s curve generated by employment markets.  A school that produces students at the 50th percentile with a 3.5 mean will obtain better employment outcomes than one that produces students at the 50th percentile with a 3.0 mean. All else equal, schools should reduce barriers to employment.  (Of course this result depends on employers indeed acting in the irrational manner described – ignoring or downplaying class rank and focusing on absolute GPA.  This would be very, very difficult to test empirically, though I imagine someone could give it a shot using nifty studies.)

You see the tension, right?  A higher mean simultaneously could boost employment in the middle and higher end of the class while also depressing bar passage at the lower end of the class. These contrasting outcome effects turn on psychological biases resulting from overemphasizing raw grades over percentile rank, but simply providing class rank instead of grades would cause employers to balk. The tension may lead administrators and faculty to an uncomfortable question: when the two conflict, should we privilege bar passage over employment? What is the appropriate calculus? Could we live with one additional student failing the bar if two got a job?

My own view is that the price for bar failure is so high that the number of jobs won in this calculus would have to be unrealistically high.  Consequently lower means are to be preferred to higher ones at some schools.  What do you think?

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Summer Law Review Submissions

I’m trying to compile a list of law reviews that will accept submissions during the summer.  (I’m the Associate Dean for Research at my school.)  If anyone can point me to a source or if law review editors want to contact me directly, I’d be much obliged.

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Faculty and staff

The proximate cause of Danielle’s inviting me to guest-blog at Concurring Opinions was a celebration we had at Fordham of my colleague Robert Kaczorowski‘s publication of “Fordham University School of Law: A History,” the publication of which she had blogged here. The  first half the book analyzes decanal administrations prior to those of Dean John Feerick, who remains an illustrious and beloved member of the Fordham faculty. This section of the book is remarkable for being the very opposite of “law porn“: it tells the story of several decades of a law school’s decline. This decline, Kaczorowski convincingly argues, was driven largely by the insatiable voraciousness with which the central university plundered the law school’s revenues (read student tuition) for its own, non-law purposes. Today, we call that plundering the “central services charge.” At many universities, not just my own, central charges are a major driver of law school costs.

The central services charge is related to the explosive growth of the administrative sector within universities. Read More

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Snapshot Of The Legal Market

Like a blog barnacle, I continue to hang on to the good ship Concurring Opinions.  At least for another month.  Thank you for inviting me to stay on.

Today, an observation about the legal market (and a plug for a friend’s start up). Len Gray is a former Latham & Watkins associate who, prior to law school, worked as a headhunter in Atlanta.  Even so, Len was turned off by legal headhunters, whom he regarded as too aggressive and often insensitive to finding the right fit. Read More

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Vanderbilt Law Review, Volume 66, Number 2 (March 2013)

Vanderbilt Law Review, Volume 66, Number 2 (March 2013).

The Vanderbilt Law Review is pleased to announce the publication of our March 2013 issue.

 

ARTICLES

Eric Biber, Cultivating a Green Political Landscape: Lessons for Climate Change Policy from the Defeat of California’s Proposition 23, 66 Vand. L. Rev. 399 (2013).

Kristin E. Hickman, Unpacking the Force of Law, 66 Vand. L. Rev. 465 (2013).

Michael S. Pardo, The Nature and Purpose of Evidence Theory, 66 Vand. L. Rev. 547 (2013).

 

NOTES

Matthew Chiarizio, An American Tragedy: E-Books, Licenses, and the End of Public Lending Libraries?, 66 Vand. L. Rev. 615 (2013).

Justin P. Gunter, Dual Standards for Third-Party Intervenors: Distinguishing Between Public-Law and Private-Law Intervention, 66 Vand. L. Rev. 645 (2013).

Eric Yeager, Looking For Trouble: An Exploration of How to Regulate Digital Searches, 66 Vand. L. Rev. 685 (2013).

 

Are you interested in writing a response to one of these pieces? Visit Vanderbilt Law Review En Banc for more details.

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Sunday Night Monday Morning music

I’m re-reading Gravity’s Rainbow (Pynchon now on Kindle by the way). Finished V. Finished Crying of Lot 49. Tried to pick up Vineland which I loved. Wanted the difficult, mad, beautiful language. Back to Gravity’s Angel. For fans I post a song I knew before I read the book. It is Laurie Anderson’s Gravity’s Angel. Honestly, she’s not for everyone. Maybe not for most. But if you dig experimental music and complex lyrics give it a shot. The album Mister Heartbreak from which the track comes is fun too. Again fun for some. It has William Burroughs on Sharkey’s Night. I quoted it at my Cal graduation. That is below too. Shorter.

Where’s the law? Not sure. As Burroughs intones, “And sharkey says: hey, kemosabe! long time no see. he says: hey sport. you connect the dots. you pick up the pieces.” OK for a bit more, as I have said here before, life beyond the law matters. And it turns out that knowing life beyond the law might make you a better lawyer. That, by the way, is why empathy for a judge is important and a good thing. If you can’t walk in someone else’s shoes, at least read more, listen to more, watch more. Great writing, great communication opens the door to the world beyond yours and mine. At least those are the dots I connect. The pieces I pick up.

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Upcoming Conference

The Younger Comparativists Committee of the American Society of Comparative Law is pleased to announce that its second annual conference will be held on April 18-19, 2013, at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, Indiana. The purpose of the conference is to highlight, develop, and promote the scholarship of new and younger comparativists, defined as scholars who have been involved in comparative law for fewer than ten years. More than 130 younger scholars from around the world submitted abstracts in response to a Call for Papers issued in September 2012. Over 80 younger scholars who have been involved in comparative law for less than ten years as well as a select group of graduate students are slated to present their research at this conference covering a wide range of topics in comparative private and public law.

More information about the conference and a preliminary agenda are available on the following website:  http://indylaw.indiana.edu/YCCconference/.

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Warren Buffett’s Institutional Imperative and Law Schools

Warren Buffett minted a concept he calls the institutional imperative to describe a nettlesome phenomenon in business organizations that can introduce costly and enduring mistakes. The concept may explain something about how law schools got themselves into the difficulties they are in today, and why it may be so hard to escape them.

Buffett’s concept is encapsulated in the following series of attributes, adapted suitably for law schools. Their cumulative effect is to cause rationality to wilt in institutional decision making:

(1) as if governed by Newton’s First Law of Motion, an institution will resist any change in its current direction.

(2) just as work expands to fill available time, academic projects or appointments will materialize to soak up all available resources.

(3) academic cravings of the Dean, however foolish, will often be quickly supported by committees charged with bold tasks reflected in names such as Strategic Planning and Self Study and platoons of Associate Deans and Program Directors eager to produce glossy brochures boasting of the latest academic achievement.

(4) the behavior of peer schools, whether in changing the first year curriculum, adding clinical programs or other experiential learning, renovating the third year, adding new specialty journals, making splashy lateral appointments, reducing course loads, paying summer research grants or whatever, will be mindlessly imitated.

Institutional dynamics, not venality or stupidity, set schools on these courses, which are often misguided. Deans today and faculty seeking to hire new deans would do well to think hard about Buffett’s institutional imperative and organize and manage their schools in ways that minimize its influence.

* See The Essays of Warren Buffett (ch. II.F: Cigar Butts and the Institutional Imperative).