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Become Obsolete Graciously Please and Stop Blaming our Students

Become Obsolete Graciously Please and Stop Blaming our Students

By Rory D. Bahadur, Washburn University School of Law

Most of us have heard the lament from colleagues that, “Because K-12 and undergraduate has changed so much since we went to school, students enter law school today undereducated and so unaccustomed to rigor, that law schools need to invest an inordinate amount of time just to enable students to be competent at the things that lawyers need to do.”  Corollary comments are:  students can’t write, and their grammar is deficient yada yada yada.

Taken to its logical extreme, this sentiment means the practice of law and civilization is essentially dead because kids no longer learn the things needed to become successful lawyers. There are a few things which have been deemed correct assumptions of our civilization at different times in our history.  Reflect on the reactions of people at the time as they slowly discovered these things were not true:

  1. The sun rotates around the earth;
  2. The earth is flat;
  3. The earth is at the center of the universe;
  4. Women are inferior to men;
  5. Continents are immovable; and
  6. The ether is a necessary transmission medium for light.

We can all agree that these are no longer true.  Yet are the following assumptions we cling to as law professors equally false?

The first assumption is there is value to the minutia of grammar and our students are deficient because their grammar and punctuation skills are not “like ours were.”  A counter narrative, however, says ‘Grammar is classist, it’s ableist, and it’s oppressive. It reeks of privilege, and those who spend their time correcting others’ grammar do too.”[1]  One wonders whether Shakespearean elitists of the 16th century could ever imagine that “thine grammar would become archaic and clumsy.”  Grammar may also be a race-based check on valuation of individuals according to their conformance with an artificial social construct.[2]

The second assumption is that today’s students don’t know how to work.  I will suggest here that what efficient and hard work was 10 years ago is in large part inefficient and archaic today.  Today’s students have instant access to information that we had to “work hard” to get.  As a result, what we envision as “productive hard work,” needed to get information is now inefficient and useless because they can ask Siri and get the same information.  Their time is better spent creatively using information rather than memorizing and obtaining it.

If you don’t believe me, try to learn a legal concept with which you are unfamiliar.  11 years ago, that concept for me as a new teacher was 11th amendment immunity and the Seminole Tribe case.  I spent hours researching law review articles, reading cases and trying to figure out where a good starting point was for the doctrine.  I mentioned the struggle I was having to my 16-year-old son who said, “Read Wikipedia first.”  I did and in three and a half minutes was able to have a clearer starting point for the doctrine than after three or four days of “hard work.”

Much of the research on Millennials and Generation Z suggests that professors who have information and pass on knowledge are viewed as close to useless by today’s students.  In order to engage these students, we need to provide context and demonstrate how information and knowledge is useful in current and relevant ways.  That’s not their fault.  Knowing stuff is no longer a big deal but the creative use of the information everyone has access to is what’s important today.

 

[1] https://medium.com/no-prescription-needed/grammar-the-worlds-most-under-recognized-social-construct-a54e096ecc9c

[2] https://medium.com/no-prescription-needed/grammar-the-worlds-most-under-recognized-social-construct-a54e096ecc9c

 

Skills-Focused Exam Prep Exercise

Skills-Focused Exam Prep Exercise

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

Yes, it is again that time of the semester again. The post-Thanksgiving emotional climb of test anxiety is upon us much like the Christmas music that has begun to trail us at retail stores.  I can see that anxiety in the eyes of my first-year students coloring their expressions when I greet them in the hallway or stare at their faces in the lecture hall.  Once November hits and the days start to get shorter, the inevitable fear of exams loom.

For many of them, the fear of exams is really about not having any confident direction or know-how in terms of preparing and taking law school exams.  That’s natural for new first-years.  What I’ve uncovered over the years is that a simple conversation with students is very helpful to allow students who are new to law school testing to get a handle on how to perform well on first semester finals.  I call this my yearly exam pep-talk.

What has been even more helpful prior to having my pep-talk is to give my first-years an exam-writing exercise that doesn’t focus on whether they are substantively correct on the material, but focuses on the skills of exam writing itself.  Then afterwards I have the talk about exam taking.  I tried this exercise recently with high satisfaction and success.  My theory is that after having an exercise that only focused on exam-taking allowed us to have an even fuller discussion of exam writing and solidified much of the truth about that process in order to dispel the fear of finals—the fear of some sort of unknown, in other words.

Here’s what I did:

(1) I gave a one-issue hypothetical fact pattern in class that covered a recent doctrine we recently taught in class.  Through class dialogue and discussion, I tested the students on their substantive application of that fact pattern.  I made sure to go the rule and the most correct response, working out the substantive answer together in class so that we’re all on the same page.

(2) Then I requested that they each take the same fact pattern home and write a one-issue IRAC response that reflected what we’ve already worked out for this fact pattern.

(3) At the next class, they returned with their written IRAC responses.  I passed a rubric for that response.  However, the rubric only measured their ability to write an organized IRAC essay—measuring for characteristics such as organization, IRAC structure, clarity, and grammar/syntax.  I made students turn to a partner, exchange fact patterns, and grade their partner’s response using this skills rubric.

My intent was that if the substantive issues had been clarified previously, the students were then able to focus on the how-to of writing exams when they wrote the one-issue IRAC at home.  For instance, they were now better able to focus on strategy and making effective choices in organizing an IRAC during the exam session.  Then grading each other’s responses with my skills rubric made it easier for them to understanding my thought process as the grader.

Doing this before my exam pep-talk helped them have better questions to ask me when I took the time to talk to them about exams.  What resulted was more effective focus and questioning regarding the skills part of their answers rather than the substantive aspects.  It led to a much better and more constructive conversation about exam taking that I had ever had.

Notes on Supporting Non-Millennial Law Students

Notes on Supporting Non-Millennial Law Students

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

Usually about this time in June—during the early-to-middle weeks of the summer break—is when I do an assessment of my teaching from the past academic year.  By now, all of my final exams have been scored for a while and grades have been submitted.  Students are gone off for their summer jobs and internships.  A sense of quiet resides within the faculty hallways and invites contemplation.  For me, it’s a great time look back because the distance from finals grading has dissipated any visceral feelings—positive or negative—that might have otherwise influenced a look-back at my teaching.  I want any assessment to be as honest and objective as possible.

In looking back this particular year, I note the presence of a few more non-traditional, older law students in my first-year courses than usual.  Because of their increased presence, the challenge of trying to support them was thrust upon me from fall to spring.  Of late, I have seen many great pieces in current law teaching literature focused on teaching law students from the millennial generation.  However, when curiosity got the best of me and I searched for current articles on teaching and supporting law students outside of the millennial generation, I found some statistical knowledge, but not very much constructive observations or information.  For those likeminded folks who have also wondered how to better teach and support our older, non-millennial law students, I have a few observations from my own experiences this year.

  1. Non-millennial law students are not a homogeneous group. Just because they are beyond the current mainstream generation of law students in age, does not mean that they resemble each other either.  Many of my non-millennial law students varied in age and background from each other as well.  As a reflection of that variation, they brought to the student body many differences in socio-economic status, career backgrounds and goals, and life experiences.  For me, as the instructor, this variation also meant trying to use different strategies to make them feel included in the dialogue in the classroom—often relying on their practical experiences before law school to invite conversation.  For instance, in Contracts, cases dealing with homebuying or employment relationships often allowed my non-millennial law students who own property or have had working experiences to engage in the material from a more practical way and offer insight.
  1. Non-millennial law students often prepare differently for classes than younger law students. One very observable characteristic between my millennial and non-millennial law students has been in their method of preparation.  Whereas my millennial law students will often find something in their case reading is relevant only because it’s relatable at the time to a concept that we were readily and simultaneously learning in the course, my non-millennial law students will try to broaden what is relevant and significant by asking themselves, “Do I need to know this just in case?”  This difference translates into their preparation for my classes and final examination.  While I have to sustain relevancy for my millennial law students, I have to show my non-millennial law students what material or information might be extraneous.
  1. Some non-millennial law students tend to become important emotional pillars in the student body. Because of their life and career experiences prior to law school, my non-millennial law students often become role models in extra-curricular positions or become sources of emotional support to their millennial counterparts in the first year.  This occurrence often does put added stress to their own studies and time management.  As the professor, I often will remind my non-millennial law students to take a moment and assess what they can or cannot take on—especially for those students who might also have an active family life or work responsibilities outside of law school.
  1. Non-millennial law students learn just as quickly and as readily as millennials. I have no quantitative or qualitative statistics here.  This observation is just anecdotal.  However, I have witnessed the successes of many non-millennial students in my various classes, which gives me confidence in making this statement.  I do concede that success could be attributed to the amount or type of preparation that non-millennial students put forth rather than natural ability.  But I stand by this assertion, nonetheless.  It is an observation that counters biases against any societal perceptions of “handicaps” to learning as an older law student.
  1. Non-millennial law students bring a contextualized experience to the dialogue of the classroom. Often, this observation is touted as a reason to welcome the admission of older law students in law student body.  It adds to the diversity of the student population and can be seen as generating different viewpoints in class dialogue.  That is true to some extent.  However, I have noticed that sometimes the prior work, life, or industry experiences outside of law school can also impair ways to see the other side of a situation—especially if they have had some extensive work experience in something related to my course.  So I often will spend time in the classroom welcoming their viewpoints but also de-contextualizing them by countering with hypotheticals that might get them to see other possible sides of an issue.

These points above are generalized observations and not all non-millennial law students exhibit these traits.  However, I hope my descriptive observations here give some guidance and food for thought to other law teachers out there who are interested in making sure non-millennial law students succeed just as well as their millennial peers.

 

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.

 

Using Instant Replay to Teach Standards of Review

Using Instant Replay to Teach Standards of Review

By David Sorkin Associate Professor of Law
The John Marshall Law School

Using Instant Replay to Teach Standards of Review
David E. Sorkin, The John Marshall Law School
Bepress – David Sorkin 

A colleague recently posted a question on the Legal Writing Institute’s mailing list, seeking ideas for “fun” ways to teach students about standards of appellate review. Several other colleagues responded with suggestions, some of them noting the similarity between legal standards of review and the standard for overturning a official’s call in a football game or other sporting event. The point has also been the subject of considerable legal scholarship.[1]

I use an exercise in my first-year legal writing classes based upon this similarity. After introducing the concept of standards of appellate review, I show my students a brief clip of a football play involving a close call, and ask students to articulate the relevant rule —for example, a forward pass is illegal after the ball has crossed the line of scrimmage. I tell students to apply that rule to the facts they have observed and vote on the appropriate call.

Next, I show the actual call that was made by the field official. Some students will undoubtedly disagree with that call and suggest that it ought to have been challenged. Sometimes a student will even reference the standard that governs instant replay reviews—“clear and obvious visual evidence” warranting reversal (or as it was termed prior to 2016, “indisputable visual evidence”). We then watch the play in slow motion and discuss whether the call should have been reversed under that standard. This leads into a discussion of why the NFL has selected that standard of review, whether it is the appropriate standard, and how it compares to the standards of review used by appellate courts.

One play that works well for this exercise is the so-called “Instant Replay Game”—Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers, November 5, 1989:

Packers quarterback Don Majkowski threw an apparent game-winning touchdown pass with less than a minute remaining in the game. The linesman called a penalty on the basis that Majkowski had crossed the line of scrimmage before releasing the ball, making it an illegal forward pass. The Packers challenged the call and the referee reinstated the touchdown after viewing an instant replay, ruling that Majkowski had not crossed the line of scrimmage. (The rule itself was subsequently changed, to define an illegal forward pass based upon the position of the passer’s feet instead of the position of the ball.)

For a more accessible example, consider Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys, September 15, 2008:

Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson caught a long pass and ran into the end zone, flipping the football behind him to celebrate what appeared to be his first NFL touchdown. The Cowboys challenged the touchdown call, noting that Jackson had already flipped the ball by the time he reached the goal line. The call was reversed, and the Cowboys ultimately won the game by four points. (Jackson’s hasty celebrations date back to his high school days.)

Several controversial calls were made by replacement officials during the NFL referee lockout of 2012, including the “Inaccurate Reception”—Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks, September 24, 2012:

Down by five points with eight seconds remaining, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw a long pass to receiver Golden Tate in the end zone. Both Tate and Packers safety M.D. Jennings got their hands on the ball. The two replacement officials near the play made contradictory calls and then ruled that the two players had simultaneous possession, resulting in a game-winning touchdown for Seattle. On review, the referee ruled that there was not adequate evidence to overturn the call, so the touchdown stood. (The scope of review was limited by NFL rules; the field officials probably should have called offensive pass interference and voided the touchdown on that basis.) Two days later, the NFL settled with the referees association, ending the lockout.

There are, of course, many other examples that will work. For example, the Dallas Cowboys lost a 2015 playoff game as a result of a reversed call. A collateral attack on that ruling (brought by a prisoner suing the NFL) was dismissed on procedural grounds.

Some may prefer to use examples from other sports. Most use a standard of review similar to that of the NFL.

The exercise gives students an opportunity to practice legal analysis in a familiar (or at least different) context, and is especially helpful in introducing them to what otherwise can be a very dry topic.

I hesitate to use sports analogies in class, knowing that they are likely to put off some students. But I have found that, at least in this instance, doing so tends to engage students and elicit enthusiastic participation from those who do not usually volunteer (especially Packers fans, even in Bears country).

 

[1]See, e.g., Steve P. Calandrillo & Joseph Davison, Standards of Review in Law and Sports: How Instant Replay’s Asymmetric Burdens Subvert Accuracy and Justice, 8 Harv. J. Sports & Ent. L. 1 (2017), http://harvardjsel.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Calandrillo.pdf; Kenneth Kilbert, Instant Replay and Interlocutory Appeals, 69 Baylor L. Rev. 267 (2017), https://ssrn.com/abstract=3008827; Russ VerSteeg & Kimberley Maruncic, Instant Replay: A Contemporary Legal Analysis, 4 Miss. Sports L. Rev. 153 (2015), http://mssportslaw.olemiss.edu/files/2015/09/EIC-VerSteeg-Edit-FINAL-Macro-p.-153-273.pdf; Mitchell N. Berman, Replay, 99 Cal. L. Rev. 1683 (2011), https://doi.org/10.15779/Z38DQ4S; Chad M. Oldfather & Matthew M. Fernholz, Comparative Procedure on a Sunday Afternoon: Instant Replay in the NFL as a Process of Appellate Review, 43 Ind. L. Rev. 45 (2009), https://mckinneylaw.iu.edu/ilr/pdf/vol43p45.pdf; Aaron R. Baker, Replaying Appellate Standards of Review: The NFL’s “Indisputable Visual Evidence”: A Deferential Standard of Review, 16 Tex. Ent. & Sports L.J. 14 (2007), http://teslaw.org/wp-content/uploads/bsk-pdf-manager/2017/03/Spring_2007_vol.-16-1.pdf; S. Christopher Szczerban, Tackling Instant Replay: A Proposal to Protect the Competitive Judgments of Sports Officials, 6 Va. Sports & Ent. L.J. 277 (2007), http://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/virspelj6&div=15; Bennett Liebman, Reversing the Refs: An Argument for Limited Review in Horse Racing, 6 Tex. Rev. Ent. & Sports L. 23 (2005), http://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/tresl6&div=4; Jack Achiezer Guggenheim, Blowing the Whistle on the NFL’s New Instant Replay Rule: Indisputable Visual Evidence and a Recommended “Appellate” Model, 24 Vt. L. Rev. 567 (2000), http://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/vlr24&div=22.

Ferrari Has Really Fast Race Cars: A Mnemonic for Doing a Case Analogy in the “A” Section of IRAC

Ferrari Has Really Fast Race Cars: A Mnemonic for Doing a Case Analogy in the “A” Section of IRAC

By Ben L, Fernandez, Legal Skills Professor
University of Florida Levin College of Law

IRAC is an acronym for Issue, Rule, Application and Conclusion.  I imagine every law school in America teaches its students to use some variation of IRAC as the structure for analyzing a legal issue.  And IRAC works fine if the analysis is simple, like this:

Issue
The issue in this case is whether Supermarket Corp. was responsible for maintaining the premises in reasonably safe condition.

Rule
A basic tenet of premises liability in tort law is those who own or control property have a duty to maintain it in safe condition.  Oliveri v. Massachusetts Bay Transp. Authority, 363 Mass. 165, 167 (1973).

Application
Supermarket Corp. was the owner of the property where the accident occurred, and was also in control of the store on the premises.

Conclusion
Therefore Supermarket Corp. was responsible for maintaining the premises in reasonably safe condition.

The problem with IRAC is most legal reasoning is not that simple.  Society doesn’t need lawyers to analyze legal problems that can be deduced from a general rule.  The problems lawyers are most often tasked with analyzing involve analogical reasoning.  We analogize or distinguish fact patterns to determine whether and how the rule applies.  So the “A” in IRAC isn’t usually as simple as applying the rule to the facts.  We need to compare the facts of the fact pattern to the facts of a similar case.  And IRAC doesn’t give the students much guidance on how to structure the application portion of the analysis.

When I teach IRAC as a form for analyzing a legal issue, I tell students to start with the issue and the rule, then apply the rule by giving an example of how the rule was applied in a reported case.  To do the application part of IRAC, start with the facts of the case, describe the holding, and explain the reasoning for the court’s decision.   Then state the fact pattern is analogous, compare the facts to highlight the similarities, apply the rule of the case, and come to a conclusion.  The mnemonic I use to help students remember that structure is “Ferrari Has Really Fast Race Cars,” which stands for Facts, Holding, Reasoning, Facts, Rule and Conclusion.

Here is an example of what an analysis would look like using this formula:

Issue
The issue in this case is whether evidence of dirty brown wax beans and black strawberries on the floor of a supermarket is enough to show the property owner breached the owner’s duty to keep the premises in reasonably safe condition.

Rule
“Where a foreign substance on a floor or stairway causes the business visitor to fall and sustain injuries, he may prove the negligence of the defendant by proof that . . . the foreign substance was present on the defendant’s premises for such a length of time that the defendant should have known about it.”  Oliveri v. Massachusetts Bay Transp. Authority, 363 Mass. 165, 167 (1973).

Application:  Facts (Ferrari)
For example, in Anjou v. Boston Elevated Ry. Co., 208 Mass. 273 (1911) the plaintiff slipped and fell on a banana peel.  According to witness who had examined it, the banana peel “’felt dry, gritty, as if there were dirt upon it,’ as if ‘trampled over a good deal,’ as ‘flattened down, and black in color,’ ‘every bit of it was black, there wasn’t a particle of yellow,’ and as ‘black, flattened out and gritty.’” Id. 

Application:  Holding (Has)
Based on that evidence, the court held that “[t]he inference might have been drawn from the appearance and condition of the banana peel that it had been upon the platform a considerable period of time, in such position that it would have been seen and removed by the employees of the defendant if they had been reasonably careful in performing their duty.” Id.

Application:  Reasoning (Really)
A banana peel is perishable.  It decays over time and turns black.  Therefore, if a banana peel looks black and gritty, it is reasonable to infer it’s been sitting for a while.

Application:  Facts (Fast)
This case is analogous.  The customers in both cases slipped and fell on perishable substances.  Wax beans and strawberries, like bananas, are perishable.  After the passage of time, beans turn brown and strawberries turn black, just like bananas turn black when they decay.

Application:  Rule (Race)
For the same reason it is reasonable to infer a black banana peel has been on the floor for a substantial length of time, it is also reasonable to infer dirty brown beans and black strawberries have been on the floor for a long time.

Application / Conclusion (Cars)
Based on the evidence, the store owner in this case should have known of unsafe condition and either cleaned it up or warned customers of its existence.  By failing to do either, the owner breached the duty of reasonable care.

Conclusion
Evidence of dirty brown wax beans and black strawberries on the floor of a supermarket is enough to show the property owner breached the owner’s duty to keep the premises in reasonably safe condition.

Ferrari Has Really Fast Race Cars.  To apply a rule by making an analogy, start with the Facts of an analogous case, and the case citation.  Then state what the court Held, and explain the court’s Reasoning.  Insert a paragraph break and state the fact pattern is analogous.  Then compare the Facts of the fact pattern to the facts of the case.  Apply the Rule to the fact pattern the same way the court applied it in the case.  And come to a Conclusion.

 

Escape the classroom: how to bring class simulations to life

Escape the classroom: how to bring class simulations to life

By Carman A. Leone, Maj, USAF[1]
Assistant Professor of Law

In the spring semester of 2017—sitting in a fluorescently lit, sterile classroom—I watched a pair of my students awkwardly negotiate in the front of the classroom with my colleague who was playing the role of an Afghan police chief.  The simulation was a roleplay assessment offered as part of the United States Air Force Academy’s negotiation course.  The students were playing the role of two junior Air Force second lieutenants who needed to negotiate security protocol with the police chief in his Afghanistan-based office.  The students mechanically applied a few of the negotiation skills I taught them during the course.  One of the students smirked at something my colleague said while in character, seemingly scoffing at the ridiculousness of the simulation.

This irritated me.  I wanted the students to take the simulation seriously and chalked up their lack of enthusiasm as their problem, not mine as the professor.

Shortly after, I realized it was my problem.  After the simulation, but before fall 2017 semester started, I participated in an “escape the room” game.  The premise of escape the room game is to solve a series of riddles and puzzles using clues embedded in a thematic setting.  Although the building which housed the game was in a nondescript industrial park, my particular game was set in a mountain hunter’s cabin, complete with trophy mounts, wood paneling, a worn bookcase, pad-locked drawers inset within a desk, and a trap-door-backed fireplace.  As I crossed the threshold from the office waiting room into the “game room,” I was transported.  Dozens of details in the room were clues that lent to a piece of a bigger puzzle.  For example, by reading backwards a riddle inside a tattered book on the inconspicuous bookshelf in the corner of the room, I realized I needed to count the number of “points” on the trophy mounts hanging on the wall, which then provided the numerical combination necessary to open a pad-locked drawer of a desk in the room.  The contents of the drawer provided another clue for the next puzzle.  For sixty minutes I felt as though I was truly locked in a hunter’s cabin, largely due to the thoughtful details which made the game authentic.

Before conducting the Afghan simulation again the following semester, I decided to transform my classroom into the Afghan police chief’s office, using the inspiration from my experience in the escape the room.  First, I placed two free-standing floor lamps in the room to provide low, warm lighting to replace the fluorescent lamps that previously shined overhead.  I moved a light-weight bookshelf next to a freestanding, dark-stained table which served as a desk.  I stocked both with a few books and mementos typical of a real office.  A framed picture of my family sat on the desk next to a collection of dry erase markers which the best students would ultimately use to brainstorm potential options on the flipchart resting on an easel just feet away from where they sat.  A framed, ornate dagger was placed on the edge of the desk for intrigue and intimidation purposes.  A side table, set with a water pitcher and four matching glasses, sat inconspicuously next to the desk.  Behind the desk, a “to-do” list was written on the large whiteboard, serving as clues to the interests of the police chief, about which the wisest of student would inquire.  There were dozens of planted details and clues that students could have used to help unlock success in the simulation.

Remarkably, very few students used the clues that were within fingers’ reach of where they sat.  The students who performed the best identified the planted clues and used them effectively.  For example, students who noticed the framed picture on the desk and asked whether the Afghan police chief was a father or husband, created a terrific opportunity for rapport building.  Even better, those students who asked about to the “to-do” list written on the whiteboard behind the desk unlocked a number of interests of the police chief that were not otherwise apparent.  One of the best pairs of students asked the Afghan police chief to sit at the side table where they all would be more comfortable, eliminating the power dynamic by removing the police chief from behind his desk.

In a debrief following the exercise, students noted just how unique the experience was.  Many reported feeling nervous and unsure of themselves when they walked into what they described as “the dim lair of the Afghan police chief.”  Some claimed to have recognized the planted details, but many admitted they did not know what to do with them.  Some recounted the adrenaline they felt walking into the room, as if they were stepping onto the sports field ready to compete.  Others described crumbling under the weight of nervousness and uncertainty.  All agreed the experience was unique and realistic.

A few students offered ways to even further improve on the experience.  For example, one student suggested playing authentic Afghani music at the beginning of the exercise while students walk into the office to begin the simulation.  Another student offered the idea of lighting incense in the room to add to the authentic experience.

Ultimately, I offer this advice to educators concerned with the lack of enthusiasm in roleplay scenarios:  if you want your students to submerse themselves into your simulation, make it irresistibly authentic.  Not only will it improve the level of engagement, but it will provide a unique opportunity students may not experience until they graduate.

 

[1] The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the United States Air Force Academy, the U.S. Air Force, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

Should I Teach To The A Or The C Student…

Should I Teach To The A Or The C Student…

Should I Teach To The A Or The C Student And Can Active Learning Render This Question Moot

By Rory D. Bahadur, Washburn University School of Law

Your law class has 60 students.  Within 2 weeks of class you realize that some are weaker than others as you get a sense of the responses to class questions and the responses of small formative assessments.

20 minutes into one class some students understand the black letter concepts quickly and are ready to move on to more nuanced and sophisticated examinations of the doctrine.  Others have trouble grasping simpler even elemental concepts.  What is the appropriate teaching decision at this point?  Should you revisit the doctrine to try to get every student on board or should you teach to keep adding complexity and information to avoid boring some students with repetition of concepts these students already understand?

This continues to be a challenge to many professors and I guess in a very unscientific manner my solution was to consider myself having done it right if on my student evaluations “a few” students said that I went too quickly.  That way I felt only a few complained and the pace was therefore not too slow for the majority/middle.

More recently I have taken to doing the traditional teaching at a pace that suits the students who are getting the material the fastest.  This takes about 1/2 the classroom time that I would need if I was doing the same presentation for the majority/middle.  At this point some students look at me and are woozy from information overload.

At this point in the lecture I divide the class into groups of 3-5 students. These groups are different each time and are randomly created and consist of students all along the spectrum of doctrinal understanding.

I then handout a series of short problems based on the material we just covered way too quickly for most students to feel comfortable.  The first problem is very basic but each becomes slightly more complicated.  Each group assembles in a particular region of the classroom and each group is required to do each problem.

For example after teaching the basics of assault and battery in torts I distribute the following problem set to the groups.

Problem Set

I ask each group to type up the perfect answer to each problem.  After each problem in italics are the substantive concepts I hope the particular problem invokes.

After about 15 minutes of group work we begin to discuss the hypotheticals.  As a group the students respond to the questions and one student from each group reads the typed up group answer.  When they are done I ask if any groups disagree and why with the explaining group’s conclusions and reasoning.  I do this for each question and I simply moderate the discussion without leading it.

The following pedagogical concepts are engaged in the process:

  1. Collaborative work as they are chatting and collaborating about the doctrine to come up with the answers
  2. Experiential work as they are problem solving
  3. Students take the role of teacher. People who understand concepts and come to the answer quickly are questioned by those who did not within the group.  This explanation or verbalization of concepts to explain to others requires an understanding of the material.  And as all of you reading this know if you want to learn a subject then try teaching it.  Remember the first time you taught any class how much learning occurred.  LoL
  4. Active learning, students are engaged in learning activities that they do at their own pace and they develop their own contexts for understanding the doctrine not those of the perceived “uncool, geriatric lecturer” in the room.
  5. The groups are less formally hierarchical and lower pressure than the typical law school classroom

Basically this active portion of the class renders the “to whom do I teach,” question irrelevant because the students who got it are learning it even more thoroughly by having to explain it and the students who did not get it when I taught it have the opportunity of another method of delivery of the concepts.

The hardest part about this for us ego driven professors is realizing that after my initial teaching of the concept those students who don’t understand it from me may never understand it from me so why get in the way of their learning and waste class time by stagnating the learning and braying about the doctrine repeatedly.

Forget Waldo – Where’s IRAC?

Forget Waldo – Where’s IRAC?

By Alice Burke, The John Marshall Law School

Students new to law school are bombarded with new concepts and sometimes, their accompanying acronyms.  None of those acronyms seems to strike quite the same terror as IRAC.  For some students, the concept of IRAC is as elusive as Waldo.  The fact is, it doesn’t have to be.   If students simply know where (and how) to look, IRAC can materialize before their very eyes.

IRAC is not all that new to legal writing.  Many law schools were teaching students to organize their analyses using IRAC thirty years ago.  Many of those students can now be found sitting on federal and state benches across the country.    And guess what?  They’re still using IRAC to organize their legal writing.  And guess what else?  Their judicial writing is readily available to students everywhere in reporters, on electronic databases, and on court websites.

Students who want to see what IRAC looks like need go no farther than the nearest court decision.  If it originated within the last twenty years, chances are they will see an example of one of IRAC’s many permutations in action.  As a Writing Specialist helping students adapt their existing skills to the new dialect that is legal writing, I use many different approaches to help students understand how to incorporate IRAC into their papers.  And as you would expect, we spend many advisory sessions looking at student papers.  What you might not expect, however, is that some of my most fruitful advisory sessions have been spent looking closely not at the students’ papers but at the court cases that they are using to support their analysis.

When IRAC remains elusive to students, I invite them to take out one of their controlling cases, and we use that decision to “discover” IRAC.  Together, we find where the discussion begins, and identify the global rule statement.  We notice whether the court breaks the global rule into discrete elements, or explains away parts of the rule that for one reason or another are not relevant to the issue before it.  Then we move through the opinion to the first issue before the court.  We note how the court identifies the discrete issue, and segues from there into the governing rules of law.  We observe how the writer has narrowed the focus to a single part of the overall issue, and witness how case citations are woven into the paragraph.  We notice whether the decision uses multiple paragraphs to discuss the applicable rules and how the court uses the facts of precedent cases to illustrate how the rule works.

Then, we note where the “rule” portion of the discussion gives way to “application.”  We pay attention to transition words like “Here,” or “In this case,” that signal this shift, and then note how suddenly we start seeing far fewer italics (indicating decided cases) and far more proper nouns (indicating the parties in the case before the court).  We study how the court compares and contrasts the case to previously cited cases before reaching a conclusion on the issue.

If we are lucky, the decision then goes on to consider another element or factor.  We can look at how the opinion transitions from one to another and then I ask the student to tell me where the opinion identifies the next issue, outlines the governing rules, applies those rules to the facts before the court, and arrives at a conclusion.   Frequently, this provides the breakthrough the student needs to understand how IRAC works (and to convince them that it’s not some crazy thing their professor came up with but that nobody actually uses) and to use it to structure their own analysis. I encourage students to be alert to the presence of IRAC in the many cases they read for their legal writing classes as well as in their doctrinal classes so that they can begin to see its many subtle variations. Short of putting a distinctive red and white striped shirt on it, it is the best way I have found to help students find IRAC.

 

 

An Exam Debrief Exercise for Getting Students to Think Like Graders

An Exam Debrief Exercise for Getting Students to Think Like Graders

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

Two weeks ago, I finished my midterms in first-year Contracts. Instead of doing the usual exam debrief the next class day, I tried something new that I very admittedly borrowed from Professor Allie Robbins at CUNY Law. Rather than merely walking through the essay problem and explaining the issues and answers, my students graded sample partial exam answers based off the exact same essay problem I gave them on the midterm.

My Contracts midterm this fall covered the major formation issues (governing law, manifestation of mutual assent, and consideration). For this exercise, I wrote up two sample answers addressing only the mutual assent issues (i.e. offer and acceptance). Both sample answers hit the issues and discussed the facts and analysis similarly. On the substance alone, both answers would have likely received the same score for issue spotting. However, Sample Answer A was much better organized and discussed the issues using a very detailed IRAC structure, while Sample Answer B was less well-organized, often failed to follow the IRAC format, and in essence, was a sloppier answer.

Since they had already taken the midterm and we had already discussed the entire essay, they were already familiar with the essay problem and particularly its coverage and analysis. With the two sample answers and grading rubric in front of them, I gave them 10 minutes in class to grade both answers.

My goal was to show them that organization is really important and that an otherwise good answer can lose points can be lost if the grader cannot readily find it. My students were surprised, at first, at how hard it is to grade an answer. My sarcastic response (“Yay, happy holidays to me.”) drew some irreverent laughter. But the more important response was the shift in my students’ perspectives from thinking that the exam was where they illustrated only what they knew about the subject matter to understanding that the exam was also where they had to demonstrate their knowledge in the most effective way—in an organized manner that can better display their mastery of legal reasoning.

When I polled the students for which answer they preferred, the overwhelming choice was Sample Answer A, the more organized, structured answer. Their preferences for Sample Answer A were followed by responses such as, “Answer A is much more effective and easier to read,” and “The writer for Sample Answer B really didn’t sound like a lawyer.”

I told them that format and structure counts on my exam: “So you see how Sample Answer A is likely going to get a higher grade because what I’m also looking for is effective legal reasoning?” I revealed to them that I didn’t think Sample Answer B would fail, but if it wouldn’t have received as high of a grade than Sample Answer A. “And if you’re going to spend all that time and energy on my final talking about the same things, why would you not aim for higher?” Students also noted that following the IRAC format more closely seemed to allow Sample Answer A to craft more precise rule statements and juxtapose law and fact for a more balanced analysis. Sample Answer B, on the other hand, tended to ramble. On law school exams, format and structure does makes a difference. Hopefully, this exercise did get my students to be much more motivated on developing their IRAC and essay organization skills for their fall final, alongside their ability to understand the doctrinal material. Happy holidays to me.

At CUNY Law, Professor Robbins uses this exercise also in bar support to show bar takers why a well-structured and organized answer would make a difference to a bar grader with hundreds of essays to grade and only a few minutes to grade each answer. My variation brings this into the first-year classroom. But in both settings, the exercise hopefully tries to convey that on exams, it’s not just what you say, but also how you say it that matters.

 

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