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Review: Teaching Law Students to Teach Themselves…

Review: Teaching Law Students to Teach Themselves…

By Rory Bahadur, Washburn University School of Law

Teaching Law Students to Teach Themselves: Using Lessons from Educational Psychology to Shape Self-Regulated Learners, 59 Wayne L. Rev. 311

In her article, “Teaching Law Students to Teach Themselves: Using Lessons from Educational Psychology to Shape Self-Regulated Learners,” Elizabeth Bloom sets forth a very user friendly and informative road map for “maximiz[ing] the learning experience” to help a “diverse population of law students become self-regulated learners.”

The article initially defines self-regulated learning and discusses its origins in both the cognitivist and constructivist learning theory movements.  She isolates the essential components of self-regulated learning as Schema creation, using prior knowledge to add new knowledge and metacognition.  She concludes by precisely describing self-regulated learning as consisting of the following three phases: forethought, performance, and reflection.  The unique aspect of this article is that it then describes concretely and tangibly what each of these phases looks like or consists of rather than leaving those terms as isolated amorphous learning buzzwords divorced from the reality of the classroom.

But the article goes even further and provides concrete methodologies to teach self-regulated learning.  These methodologies are broken down into strategies to:

  1. self-regulate motivation,
  2. self-regulate behavior and resources and,
  3. self-regulate cognition.

This article is a must read for anyone seeking to bridge the divide between the copious abstract, academic literature on teaching and learning and practical strategies to implement these methodologies without being overwhelmed by terms and buzzwords which seem foreign to may faculty members.

 

Review: From Seminar to Simulation: Wading Out to the Third Wave

Review: From Seminar to Simulation: Wading Out to the Third Wave

By Tonya Krause-Phelan, WMU-Cooley Law School

From Seminar to Simulation: Wading Out to the Third Wave by Margaret Moore Jackson
19 JOURNAL OF GENDER, RACE, AND JUSTICE 127 (2016)

From Seminar to Simulation: Wading Out to the Third Wave encourages legal educators to embrace simulated teaching in light of the newly-adopted ABA standards relating to experiential learning. Because ABA Standard 303(a)(3) requires students to complete at least six credits of experiential coursework which can be earned in law clinics, field placements, or simulation courses, Professor Jackson suggests that simulation teaching can be integrated into existing courses by reformatting seminars, those upper-level, reading and discussion-based courses that typically focus on specialized areas of law not usually tested on the bar exam. Reformatting a seminar course as a simulation course allows faculty to accomplish two significant goals. First, it provides an experiential learning opportunity for students that meets, if not exceeds, the new requirement. Second, it can also create an opportunity for students to develop and use professional values as they learn to apply the law.

Beyond meeting the new standards, including simulations as experiential teaching is a way professors can foster integrated learning. Many professors already incorporate classroom exercises and role play into their doctrinal classes. Even though these efforts are designed to develop students’ professional skills, they do not satisfy the ABA’s definition of a simulation course. To comply with Standard 304, a simulation course must reasonably assimilate the experience of   client representation or engage in other lawyering tasks in a set of facts and circumstances devised or adopted by a faculty member. The simulation course requires faculty to directly supervise the student’s performance followed by faculty feedback and student self-evaluation. Finally, there must be a classroom instructional component.

From a faculty perspective, a potential barrier to merging simulated teaching and experiential learning into existing courses is the time-consuming nature of simulation teaching. Faculty are also apprehensive about how much subject matter will have to be sacrificed to carve out enough time for the simulation component. Despite the potential difficulties, there are many benefits to simulation teaching. For starters, simulation teaching assists in applied knowledge and introductory skills development in that it cements learning of substantive law. Faculty can continue informal doctrinal teaching as students engage in simulated roles by structuring assignments that teach practical lawyering skills that will also reinforce their learning of legal analysis. And because simulated teaching fosters concentrated learning of professional skills and values, it also promotes justice, underscores service to the community, and helps students to overcome assumptions and inherent biases.

Although the ABA requirements for a simulation course appear formidable, Professor Jackson suggests that restructuring courses to provide students with six credits of experiential education might not be as daunting a task as some might think. Professor Jackson provided a template for creating a plan convert a seminar course into a simulation course based on her housing discrimination class. But the format easily translates to any substantive class or seminar. Begin by identifying the competencies students should achieve by the end of the course. Make sure to envision these competencies in the context of the area of law. The objectives should be relevant and realistic in the area of practice. Be careful to limit the goals to an amount that can be effectively implemented and assessed. Consider a format that focusses on repetition and refinement of targeted skills in relation to more elaborate doctrine.

For example, in Professor Jackson’s fair housing seminar, students were assigned to represent a hypothetical client. The assignments required students to know the applicable law, provide client advice based on the law and the particular situation, communicate with other lawyers, judges, and real estate professionals as the client’s case required, and to be alert to potential injustices. Supplementing exercises included professional writing activities and oral presentations to a community audience.  A final component of the exercises encouraged students to focus on client communication designed to develop relational skills and empathy, dispel students’ false assumptions about the role of law in society, and to develop their self-conceptions as professionals to promote justice.

Transitioning to simulation teaching provides faculty with opportunities to connect learning the law with developing the skills, instincts, and inclinations to use the law to promote justice. Whether a professor seeking to augment a doctrinal class with experiential learning exercises or a professor looking to dive into the full spectrum of simulated teaching, From Seminar to Simulation: Wading Out to the Third Wave provides the pedagogical support and procedural format to transition to simulation teaching.

 

Review:  Words Count: The Empirical Relationship Between Brief Writing and Summary Judgment

Review: Words Count: The Empirical Relationship Between Brief Writing and Summary Judgment

Reviewed by Jeremiah A. Ho, University of Massachusetts School of Law

Review: Words Count: The Empirical Relationship Between Brief Writing and Summary Judgment and Summary Judgment Success, 22 J. Leg. Writing Inst. ___ (2018).

SSRN Article Link

By Shaun B. Spencer and Adam Feldman

Because I teach first-year law students, the spring semester always brings back recollections of the first-year legal writing experience, culminating with the classic appellate brief assignment.  When I came across my colleague Professor Shaun Spencer’s latest article, co-written with Adam Feldman, a J.D./Ph.D post-doctoral fellow at Columbia Law, I thought it was apt to share—not just because the article’s main handle pertains to the topic of legal writing, but also because of what it implies for law teaching generally.  The article is titled, Words Count: The Empirical Relationship Between Brief Writing and Summary Judgment Success, at it is forthcoming this year from the Journal of the Legal Writing Institute.

At the start of Spencer and Feldman’s article, the piece seems exclusively relevant for practitioners because it presents us with a statistical relationship between the readability of summary judgment briefs to the rate of favorable case outcomes.  Thus, in terms of readability, proficient legal writing is a valuable commodity in law practice according to their results.  However, the academic implication is also clear because legal writing is also what law schools teach.  The idea of effective legal writing lies at the heart of various legal writing textbooks and numerous pieces of scholarship on the subject.  Since Langdell, legal writing classes have been welded into the law school curriculum.  And ABA accreditation standards reinforce that tradition of teaching legal writing by mandating that students take writing courses throughout their law school careers.  In this way, Spencer and Feldman’s article is one to observe.  Their empirical study underscores the value of instruction and competency for the art and skill of legal writing.

Judges might hesitate to divulge that the quality of a practitioner’s writing can influence judicial decision-making of a case—since this revelation would clash with the idea that cases are resolved based on adjudication of law and facts, rather than on the skills and proficiency of practitioners.  However, several existing scholarly studies that have already examined appellate brief writing and correlated subjectivity and readability to favorable outcomes.  In their study, Spencer and Feldman now bring the empirical lens to state and federal trial court briefs in order to determine whether a positive association exists between brief readability and case outcomes.  Here, they frame two hypotheses.  First, “[i]ncreased brief readability will lead to a greater likelihood that a party will prevail on a motion for summary judgment.”  Secondly, “[w]hen the moving party’s brief is more readable than the non-moving party’s brief, the moving party will be more likely to prevail on a motion for summary judgment.”  With these hypotheses raised, they embark to test their hunches.

Spencer and Feldman use cognitive theory to explain their hypotheses.  Because the brain processes familiar and unfamiliar information differently, the fluency of information presented affects whether a person would process new information associatively or analytically.  The more fluent the information presented is, the more one tends to process associatively, and vice versa—the less fluent, the more one processes analytically.  In writing, fluency can be affected by formatting and “the look” of the document—as predicated for example by font, color, and spacing—as well as readability-related characteristics such as length and complexity of sentences, grammar, and vocabulary.

From here, the authors outline the research method they designed that includes their reasoning for examining summary judgment briefs, a protocol for selecting briefs for their sample, and the definition and coding of variables.  In total, they looked at 654 total briefs in 327 cases from both federal and state courts.  What Spencer and Feldman found was that “[w]hen the moving party’s brief was more readable, the moving party was typically more likely to prevail[.]” Also, “[m]oving from cases where the moving party’s brief is significantly less readable than the non-moving party’s brief to the opposite situations, the likelihood that the moving party prevails on the motion for summary judgment more than doubles from 42% to 85%.”  Both findings appear consistent with their initial hypotheses.  The authors explain alternative theories for these results but ultimately dismiss those theories for the correlation they reached.

For lawyers and advocates, this study presents an important focus on effective and presentable writing in litigation.  However, although Spencer and Feldman’s study does not prove a causal relationship between readability of briefs and favorable case outcomes, the authors do call out that the strong correlation raised here does bolster “the ever-increasing emphasis on legal writing instruction in law school curricula, the ABA standards on law school accreditation, and continuing legal education programs.”  Thus, this study lends credibility for elevating the profile and status of legal writing colleagues in law schools across the country.

In reading Spencer and Feldman’s article, I was reminded of the old schoolhouse phrase, “neatness counts”—but here perhaps it’s “readability counts” that is more appropriate.  With readability highly influenced by the proficiency of legal writing, what this study eventually provokes in me as a doctrinal law faculty member can be crystallized into two thoughts.  First, I have a question: does readability correlate to final examination grading or am I as the grader of my final exams doing something else in the grading process (such as assessment) that is conceptually and functionally different from the adjudication process?  Secondly, if readability does correlate to exams (even if I am assessing competency rather than adjudicating cases), then knowing how to affect fluency and readability would be an intrinsic part of the art of lawyering, factoring into the choices and strategies a legal thinker makes in advocacy.  I would see that, other than teaching doctrine, imparting such skills would be part of my job as well.  Teaching it effectively would be another way to help my students engage with the law and help empower them.  Ultimately for me, it is this correlation, drawn from Spencer and Feldman’s study, that resonates most with me.  In this way, beyond “readability counts” for practitioners, their study is also very significant for the teaching of effective lawyering.

 

Review: The Science of Equality, Vols I & II

Review: The Science of Equality, Vols I & II

By Tonya Kowalski, Washburn University School of Law

Rachel D. Godsil, et al., The Science of Equality, Vols I & II

Attendees at this past summer’s biennial ALWD conference had the great fortune to learn about the latest research on addressing diversity-related challenges. Among the featured speakers was law professor Rachel Godsil, who identified very specific strategies for addressing bias in education, particularly implicit racial bias and related phenomena.

Prof. Godsil and her colleagues at The Perception Institute have published a series of highly readable, persuasive, and practical reports on these pernicious barriers to education. Among these reports are two volumes of The Science of Equality, linked below. Each report synthesizes and assesses the research, but also describes a series of empirically supported strategies for intervention.  For example, Volume 2 offers a simple, low-cost strategy for educators to use when providing written feedback. The “wise feedback” approach couples messages about high expectations with expressions of confidence in students’ ability to meet those expectations. Studies show that such messages vastly improved response rates and quality from students in a particular marginalized group.

The topics and strategies range from institutional to individual. Readers will find an array of proposals suitable for both classroom professors and administrators.

Notes and Links:

  • The Science of Equality in Education: The Impact of Implicit Bias, Racial Anxiety, and Stereotype Threat on Student Outcomes
  • The Science of Equality Vol. 2: The Effects of Gender Roles, Implicit Bias, and Stereotype Threat on the Lives of Women and Girls
  • Additional publications
  • ALWD is the Association of Legal Writing Directors
  • This post’s author is currently an ALWD board member but has no personal stake in The Perception Institute.
Review: Reframing the Socratic Method

Review: Reframing the Socratic Method

By Tonya Krause-Phelan, WMU-Cooley Law School

Reframing the Socratic Method by Jamie R. Abrams
64 JOURNAL OF LEGAL EDUCATION 562 (2015)

Reframing the Socratic Method offers a fresh idea to redesign the Socratic Method from a professor-student exercise into an exercise that fosters diverse participation and develops essential lawyering skills. Professor Abrams acknowledges that the Socratic Method, used by law schools for over a century, has become the quintessential example of question-based learning. But contrary to many modern critics of the Socratic Method, Professor Abrams does not disparage the Socratic Method or call for its elimination. Nor does she endorse it. Instead, she encourages professors to restructure the Socratic Method in three ways to ensure it aligns with current innovations and reform: make it client-focused, research-focused, and skills-sensitization focused.

First, Professor Abrams suggests that the Socratic Method should focus primarily on the client, instead of the case. Traditionally, Socratic dialogue begins by asking the student what happened in the case which causes students to think about the case abstractly. As a result, students do not consider the case from the client’s point of view. Further, it does not permit students to scrutinize the decisions made by the lawyers in the case. With a few simple changes, professors can move the Socratic Method from a rule-based to a client-based task. Instead of asking students to recite the facts of the case, a client-based Socratic approach asks the student to explain what happened to the plaintiff or why the plaintiff sought counsel.  These modified questions still highlight the relevant facts of the case, but they allow students to understand the facts from the client’s point of view as well as to consider the attorney-client relationship.

Next, Professor Abrams recommends that instead of using the traditional Socratic Method approach to focus on case outcomes and hypothetical questions, the Socratic questions should be changed so that students use relevant legal authority to represent the client. Instead of asking a student to recite the court’s holding, students should be asked what precedent, the client’s lawyer would have found in preparing the client’s case. These modified questions, propel students to analyze the legal authority relied upon by the court, to understand how the precedent negatively or positively affected the client, and to understand the historical and social underpinnings of the legal precedent. To further insert research-based components into the Socratic dialogue, professors could require students to apply information contained in the case footnotes or to prepare supplemental material to answer research-focused questions. This allows students to develop the ability to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a client’s case.

Finally, Professor Abrams proposes that professors modify the Socratic dialogue to sensitize students to the broad range of legal skills needed to lawyer effectively. She acknowledges that this type of questioning may not be practical in every case. But when possible, the professor should ask questions that guide students to think about effective lawyering skills. These refined questions could range from what role settlement negotiations play in a client’s case to understanding the relevant ethical rules used to determine who the client is and how to meet the client’s objectives. Professor Abrams illustrates how reframing the Socratic Method in a commonly-taught constitutional law case, Reed v Reed, changes the dynamic of instruction from professor-student to student-propelled focus on the client, legal research, and effective lawyering skills.

Professor Abrams explains that reframing the Socratic Method achieves three benefits. First, it allows for coherence and continuity to legal education. Second, it trains practice ready lawyers because students will be better prepared to tell the clients actual answers to actual questions and they will be sensitized to how intensive legal research truly is. And third, it creates inviting and inclusive classrooms. While detailing specific examples for each type of modification she recommends, Professor Abrams illustrates how easily professors could modify the manner in which they already use the Socratic method to accomplish the current goals of innovation and reform.

 

 

Review: The Master’s Tools: Deconstructing the Socratic…

Review: The Master’s Tools: Deconstructing the Socratic…

By Rory Bahadur, Washburn University School of Law

The Master’s Tools: Deconstructing the Socratic Method and its Disparate Impact on Women Through the Prism Of The Equal Protection Doctrine by Tanisha Makeba Bailey
3 MARGINS: MD L.J, RACE, RELIGION, GENDER & CLASS 125 (2003)

This article traces the history of women as law students and empirically documents the tangible disparate impacts of Socratic Pedagogy on female law students. The second half of the article, which is not discussed in this review, is a fascinating discussion about how these disparate impacts may be significant enough to warrant an Equal Protection challenge.

The article initially describes the history of women in legal education and summarizes the exclusionary attitude law schools had toward women by quoting Supreme Court Justice Joseph Bradley as follows:

[T]he civil law, as well as nature herself, has always recognized a wide difference in the respective spheres and destinies of man and woman. Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life . . . . The paramount destiny and mission of women are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother

Next the article does something important and rare; it defines the Socratic Method. It’s modern incarnation is described as, “a masochistic interplay of domineering, and at times evasive, professors attempting to inform humiliated, and silenced students.” The author describes this method as both humiliating and debilitating, concluding that the gravity of the effect on female law students is simply ignored. She concludes, “the Socratic Method impairs the ability of women law students to perform and excel academically, leading to a crippling of their long-term performance in terms of grade-based opportunities.”

She uses interviews, testimony, and data to quantify the effects of Socratic teaching on female law students. She groups the effects into two broad categories: silencing and grade disparity. Components of the silencing category are actual silencing of law students who are not comfortable interacting in a Socratic class, the oppressive atmosphere of the Socratic classroom and the resulting psychological debilitation it causes.

Grade disparity is documented by comparing prelaw school academic success and rank of entering male and female students with the ranks after the first year of law school. The data clearly indicates that something favors the increased class rank of the male students after the first year of law school. Her conclusion is summarized as follows; “The fact that women consistently academically outrank men prior to law school admission, and then during law school their grades become grossly disproportionate, reflects the egregious effects of the Socratic Method.”

While the documentation of these effects is something we all need to take seriously if we are to provide the same opportunities for success for all our law students regardless of gender, another crucial fact is the conclusion the author reaches when she describes the recommended pedagogy for minimizing the disparate impact on female law students. The author suggests in part, a pedagogy based on the “ethic of care, which includes “using alternative methods of teaching, giving more exercises, practice examinations, and other feedback . . . .”

Even if you are a Socratic diehard, the assumption is that student learning is something every law professor cares deeply about. If that assumption holds true, then we cannot dismiss the almost normative identity of this author’s recommendations and those of the Carnegie and Best Practices Reports on legal education.

 

Review: The Inseparability of Professionalism and Personal Satisfaction…

Review: The Inseparability of Professionalism and Personal Satisfaction…

By Jeremiah A. Ho, University of Massachusetts School of Law

Lawrence S. Krieger, The Inseparability of Professionalism and Personal Satisfaction: Perspectives on Values, Integrity, and Happiness, 11 Clinical L. Rev. 425 (2005).

Through his writings and teachings, Professor Lawrence Krieger has devoted a notable—dare I say, even honorable—body of work on the humanistic side of lawyering.  Thus, even though his article, The Inseparability of Professionalism and Personal Satisfaction: Perspectives on Values, Integrity, and Happiness, was published more than a decade ago, it still reads with relevance today, especially in light of the many worries that law teachers have expressed regarding the professionalism issues with current law students.  His article here first discusses reasons why law schools have been teaching a limited sense of professionalism—restricted to only “telling law students and lawyers that they should act in certain ways” for either vaguely described “noble reasons” or singly to avoid bar discipline.  Then it illustrates how to redirect that teaching to a more noble and personally fulfilling sense of professionalism.  Such training should be more specific, relevant, and profound, according to Krieger’s article.  It ought to be tied to professional satisfaction, happiness, and a deep set of inherently principled values.  Through humanistic and empirical science, he shows why this connection is true and how to instill a deeper, more personally satisfying sense of professionalism in our students.

To connect professionalism to career and life satisfaction, Krieger begins from a place of dissatisfaction, describing the empirical evidence amongst lawyers that reveal their low career satisfaction and high concerns for mental health issues.  “Those values and motivations that promote or attend professionalism have been empirically shown to correlate with well-being and life satisfaction, while those that undermine or discourage professionalism empirically correlate with distress and dissatisfaction,” Krieger writes.  He also relies on the Maslow hierarchy of human needs that explains people’s drives for growth and satisfaction:  people pursuing higher needs, such as self-actualization and esteem, tend to experience growth motivation and psychological maturity; those pursuing lower needs, such as survival, security, competence, belonging, and respect from others, experience more deficiency motivation accompanied by minimal life satisfaction.  All of these correlations are also supported by modern psychological research, which Krieger examines.  Between intrinsic values of purpose and personal happiness and external motivators such as money or status, modern psychological research builds on Maslow to show that “when intrinsic values and motivation dominate a person’s choices she tends to experience satisfaction and well-being, whereas when extrinsic values and motivation are most important to her she will experience angst and distress.”  Those values that promote happiness are likely to lead to professional behavior; while the vice versa seems to be true.  Furthermore, Krieger finds that the intrinsic value of integrity is tied to professionalism and satisfaction.

Because law school and the legal profession places heavy emphasis of external rewards, law students can be led astray from professionalism and career happiness by their drive to seek out such extrinsic motivators.  In this way, Krieger offers a teaching exercise to instill in students an awareness of the correlation between intrinsic values and professionalism.  He makes his students actively seek out intrinsic values by having them write out hypothetical eulogies of themselves followed by lessons on an idealized professionalism that seeks out noble behavior, by introducing research on the dismal mental and emotional well-being of attorneys, as well as studies on the typical goals and behaviors of happy and healthy individuals.  After such lessons, Krieger asks his students to revisit that eulogy to identify intrinsic values that students have written about in regards to themselves.  Then students must match up those identified values with values that promote professionalism.

As Krieger notes, “[t]he results of this exercise are illuminating, because they show students and lawyers the kinds of things that matter most deeply to them.”  In running this exercise, Krieger has observed that his students tend to express intrinsic values and virtues in their eulogies rather than external ones.  Ultimately, this exercise helps his students differentiate the intrinsic values that lead to personal fulfillment and professionalism from values that would distort their sense of professionalism and career identity and possibly hinder personal fulfillment.  It’s an intriguing exercise, odd in the sense of what’s required is writing one’s own eulogy, but goal-oriented in nature and form, where the law teacher shapes students’ conception of professionalism by getting them to actively acknowledge on their own the types of intrinsic values that professionalism embodies and what values they ought to seek.
 

 

Review: Grit

Review: Grit

Reviewed By Prof. Emily Grant, Washburn University School of Law

Angela Duckworth, Grit (2016)

Dr. Angela Duckworth is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.  Her book Grit came out last year, and it is spectacular.

The concept of grit includes a combination of passion and perseverance.  Gritty people have both determination and direction. The notion of grit is correlated with ideas of industriousness, creativity, hope, and conscientiousness.  And that character trait, Dr. Duckworth argues, is responsible for high levels of achievement, even more so than sheer talent, ability, or intellect.  To be clear, Dr. Duckworth doesn’t ignore the existence and importance of talent, but she asserts that “a focus on talent distracts us from something that is at least as important, and that is effort.”

In the first part of the book, Dr. Duckworth makes the case that grit matters.  She discusses various research and psychological studies, and she shares interviews with people from all walks of life including West Point cadets and professional athletes and school teachers and business moguls.  She also includes a ten-question self-assessment to measure how gritty you are (see her website: https://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/) to measure how gritty you are.  Dr. Duckworth then discusses how to grow your own grit, i.e., how to develop and nurture passion and perseverance in yourself.

But it’s the last part of the book that was most intriguing to me as an educator (and frankly, as a parent)—how to help cultivate grit in other people.  She talks about parenting for grit and about how to create a culture of grit.  It is this portion of the book that I will be rereading before the start of every semester to contemplate how I can encourage passion and perseverance in my students.

In addition to being substantively fascinating, the book was wonderful to read.  It was a powerful book for me as a person, as a parent, and as a professor in charge of encouraging high levels of achievement in my students.  This is the kind of book I will give as a gift for every graduation to which I am invited.  I will likely make my own son read it when he finishes high school and starts out on whatever path is next.  I would like every incoming law student to read it.  You most definitely should as well.

If you’d like a taste of Dr. Duckworth’s research and theory, you can listen to her six-minute TED talk on the topic:

https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance

Or a 45-minute Freakonomics podcast: http://freakonomics.com/podcast/grit/

Review:  Lawyers at Work: A Study of the Reading…

Review: Lawyers at Work: A Study of the Reading…

Reviewed by Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

Article: “Lawyers at Work: A Study of the Reading, Writing, and Communication Practices of Legal Professionals”[1]
By Ann Sinsheimer and David Herring Professors of Legal Writing at University of Pittsburg School of Law.

This article reports on the results of an ethnographic study of associate attorneys in the workplace, specifically studying what they actually do in terms of reading, writing, and communicating.  Not surprisingly, the study found that associate attorneys spend most of their time reading, writing, and communicating.  The fascinating part of this study is the finding that associates are not reading many judicial opinions, writing many formal memos, or communicating in a courtroom setting.

The study found that lawyering for junior associates was fundamentally about reading: both digitally and in print.  They read primary authority, but most frequently, they read broad-based secondary authorities and non-legal texts.  These associates read often in print and bounced between free on-line sources and paid on-line sources, being very conscious of the high price of the paid on-line resources.  Reading closely and carefully was important to the associates but many times they skimmed and scanned documents in an effort to efficiently ferret out the importance of the document.  Associates had to quickly hone their ability to read with a purpose: to solve a problem.

The study also found that associates did write: a process which began with reading and rereading the information they had gathered to substantiate their writing.  Often working from templates, associates spent a good amount of time editing their writing before sending their work to their supervisor.  As email represents a large portion of their writing, much effort was spent honing their writing, focusing on word choice, tone, and content.

Not surprisingly, the environments where these lawyers worked were stressful, even the most congenial of the workplaces were stressful.  Although derived from numerous sources, the most common sources of stresses were being pressed for time and needing to juggle multiple tasks at one time.  Working with constant interruptions also led to high levels of stress.  Of note, the authors found that “[t]he ability of the attorneys to understand their role influenced their sense of well-being as well as their capacity to successfully perform their reading and writing tasks.”

The article goes on to discuss other interpersonal skills exercised and needed to help associates be successful, namely teamwork (in a vertical structure with a senior partner), organization, and time management.  Prioritizing and communication as a team rose to the top as critical skills.

Wrapping up the article, the authors suggest law schools look at helping students read for the purpose of problem solving.  As for writing, the authors suggest law schools, across their curriculum, have students create emails for various purposes.  Further, teaching students to use and change templates or forms is an invaluable skill. Lastly, law schools should create opportunities for law students to practice the interpersonal and communication skills necessary to navigate the “sort of high pressure and hierarchical workplaces” observed in the study.  The article gives several suggestions on exercises to use.

[1] The article can be found at http://www.legalwritingjournal.org/volume-21/

 

Review: “All of the Above: Computerized Exam Scoring of Multiple Choice Items Helps To: (A) …”

Review: “All of the Above: Computerized Exam Scoring of Multiple Choice Items Helps To: (A) …”

By Heidi Holland, Gonzaga University Law school

Article: “All of the Above: Computerized Exam Scoring of Multiple Choice Items Helps To: (A) Show How Exam Items Worked Technically, (B) Maximize Exam Fairness, (C) Justly Assign Letter Grades, and (D) Provide Feedback on Student Learning” by Lynn M. Daggett, 57 J. Legal Educ. 391 (Sept. 2007).

All of us are working to integrate formative assessment pursuant to the mandates of ABA Standard 314, and multiple choice exams are one way to do it. However, few law teachers have training in how to use multiple-choice questions effectively.  While it is certainly not a recent article, Professor Lynn Daggett’s article is instructional and encouraging to both the novice and experienced teacher.  In her article “All of the Above: Computerized Exam Scoring of Multiple Choice Items Helps To: (A) Show How Exam Items Worked Technically, (B) Maximize Exam Fairness, (C) Justly Assign Letter Grades, and (D) Provide Feedback on Student Learning,” Professor Daggett introduces her readers to the strengths and limitations of multiple choice questions, explains what they can be used to measure, shows how data can be used to guide the assignment of letter grades, and provides specific examples of the concepts in use.

Professor Daggett begins by explaining “core psychometric concepts” including validity (construct, predictive, and content) and reliability.[1]  She also sets the framework for assessment: that it can be criterion-referenced or norm-referenced. Criterion-referenced tests measure whether a student can demonstrate mastery, whether it be of a skill or a concept.  A norm-referenced evaluation, on the other hand, compares a student’s performance against her peers.[2]

Effective instruction and assessment both require intentionality on the part of the instructor, and “law teachers have to decide what the purpose(s) of the [test/question] is, including whether the [test/question] is designed to separate out levels of learning within a class (norm-referenced evaluation), or to measure whether students have mastered specific concepts or skills (criterion-reverenced evaluation).”[3] With the instructor’s goal identified, Professor Daggett then explains how computerized scoring can be used as an assessment tool.

With the mean, median, mode, standard deviations and z-scores in mind, Professor Daggett offers instructors methods of assigning letter grades.  Nonetheless, data does not substitute for professional judgment, and Professor Daggett explains how she uses the data to guide her discretion always keeping in mind that we “perform somewhat of a gatekeeper function in assigning low letter grades, particularly in first year classes. . . . [A] grade of D+ or D from [her] means the student has demonstrated barely adequate learning of course concepts and skills and more generally should not continue in law school unless grades in other courses reflect considerably more mastery.”[4]

As previously noted, Professor Daggett’s article is not just informative; it is instructional. She explains how to decipher and use item analysis, which is part of a standard computerized scoring report from a multiple-choice exam. The article details how to judge the efficacy of test questions, provides an example of the specific information shared with students after an exam, and encourages all of us to provide feedback to students about concepts they have not yet mastered. With thorough explanations and three appendices, you should come away with a better understanding of how to use multiple-choice questions fairly to assess student learning.

 

[1] Pg. 394

[2] Pg. 399

[3] Pg. 401

[4] Pg. 401

 

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