One of the listservs I joined early in my law library career was Teknoids (way back in 1997 or 1998.) Although it is made up primarily of techies in law school libraries and IT departments, I still love the conversations that go on. The conversation on what was titled “Everybody’s Favorite Topic…” was on what law schools will do since Westlaw is no longer going to support free printing for students, but will leave the printers for the law schools as a gift, just in case they want to pick up the tab for students printing out cases. Paul Birch from the University of Richmond School of Law (at the request of my fellow AALL member, Joyce Janto) started the conversation by asking if others would share their up-to-date printing policies. Judging by the title of the email, however, it seemed that Paul knew the conversation would take on a life of its own… and it did. I especially like the idea that John Mayer throws out (half-joking/half-serious) about moving off print completely and just giving students a Kindle to send their print to via PDF and email.

You can read through the whole conversation here, but I thought I’d post a few highlights that were interesting to me:

  • Cyndi Johnson: Since I’m sure Lexis will follow suit and pull their printers too, I’m going to start discussions with the relevant parties (SBA, the Dean, etc) about our options. Our students pay a technology fee which gives them 600-pages of printing per semester with all clinic, research assistant, journals, and moot court jobs waived. Anything above that is paid at $.05/page. We are pretty firm about not crediting Westlaw/Lexis jobs that were printed on their printers unless the printers are down. I’ve talked to the faculty teaching legal research and they stress not printing every page when doing research but it happens.
  • John Mayer: 600 free pages valued at $.05 per page = $30. Times three years of law school = $90. Ergo, buy everyone a Kindle (http://cca.li/bd) when they arrive and send all print jobs to PDF and email it to their Kindle.
  • David Dickens:
  • Gary Moore: We give the students 2400 pages for an entire academic year and a number of their texts are already available on e-reader. I still have some students telling me it’s not enough pages. It’s not dead. It fact it may be undead. The print zombie and right out of a George Romero movie, it’s going to take some time before you can kill them all.
  • John Mayer: 2400 x $.05 x 3 years = $360 – you could buy them a Kindle Fire (or almost an Ipad!) Make them sign a contract that if you give them the ereader, they won’t print or charge the ereader people who print 10 cents a page.  Use the invisible hand of economics!
  • Tom Bruce: That’s a Dada-ist art thing, right? Ceci n’est pas un pipe?
  • Ken Hirsh: Wouldn’t it be more apropos for someone to bludgeon you with an Epson FX-80? Although the trail of discarded perforated paper edge would give the CSI team quite a head start.
  • Jonathan Ezor: *cue Roger Daltrey scream*
  • Gary Moore: [trying (and succeeding) to bring the conversation back from pop-culture references] If no longer allow free pages and you charge for printing, then they will ask what is the tech fee for then, which, of course,  it is for other things like labs and exam software (both heavily used by students).  Some will respond “I already use my own laptop to print and don’t use the lab”. …
    If you go completely print free, then there are other issues, like what material is allowed in an exam (that also means the exam software companies need to catch up) and lot of other administrative issues.  It also means that all materials will be e-reader accessible.  It also means do we require students to own a laptop/tablet (we don’t have a requirement now, though 95% of our students take exams on computer). …
    We, meaning IT directors, can spearhead the charge to go print free and use e-readers, or not allow “free printing” any more, but it requires a major commitment from everyone at a school (faculty, admin and students) and a full support structure, if you go the way of a required standard tablet.   Also, everyone must be willing to deal with the repercussions and be committed to not revert back.
  • Ken Hirsh: I’m not advocating going print-free.  I am saying Westlaw’s (or more accurately, TR’s) action is not a valid reason to increase either the amount of free printing or tech fees.  Students don’t want to pay more in tuition or fees.  Don’t make them.  Let them use market behavior to decide what to print.
  • Gary Moore: But John is right that the use of Kindle Fires/IPads are on the rise and a lot of the texts are available for those.  We have to seriously rethink how students access their material and actually support that use, because that is the way to go.
    However, there are a lot of things that go along with that commitment.
  • Phil Bohl: 
    MONEY?
    Our students do not pay a technology fee. … Our biggest obstacle in pushing out our printers and adopting the digital copiers has been on the cost recovery side.
    Since we own and manage the printers and the print management system we can set any price and apply any subsidy, no real dollars are involved until students use up their initial print credit.  Then they pay for every page by purchasing a block of print credit; minimum of $10.
    With the copiers [maintained by Cannon], it’s all real money and to provide a print credit to each student would require transferring funds from our account to the university’s central IT budget.  …  So about three years ago we started raising our prices and lowering the print credit amount each year to make it possible for us to eventually phase out the subsidy for student printing.
    REDUCE DEMAND?
    [W]e redoubled our efforts to make students aware of the millions of pages they were consuming.  Following a modest campaign,  print volume dropped significantly …
    With such a huge reduction in student printing, this may be less painful that we first thought. At the same time, over the past five years we have seen our library copier volume go down to nearly nothing.  I’d wager that initially part of that volume was shifted to the printers but not all of it.  With more materials born digital or digitally accessible, copiers are nearly anachronistic for most of what goes on in our library.  We have also added a KIC station which has further reduced copier volume — and adds to our list of popular services.
    All that said, I think we can (in time) gingerly transition both the lexis and westlaw print volume onto our digital copiers with students paying the freight.  I’ll really miss the paper.
  • Ben Chapman: We tried and failed to phase out our $35 per year print subsidy last year. I’m hoping that we can have better luck doing that this year. Obviously, the change in Westlaw’s print policies doesn’t help at all. Here’s one of the things that I’ve been thinking about: what if we provided them with better tools to read, write, and organize the buckets of material that they get, along with tools that help faculty distribute electronic materials with less pain. I’m wondering if we can use that to justify a reduction or elimination of the print subsidy. So, maybe the discussion is not really about student printing – maybe it’s more about what are we doing to smooth the transition to a paperless law school:
  1. We need ways to make epub, PDF, and other etexts easier to distribute to students. Emory has a great ereserves system that helps with that currently; unfortunately, I hear that it’s old and no longer developed and they may retire it. That will mean that more ematerials will wind on up Blackboard, which never seems to be the students’ first choice.
  2. We have purchased a subscription to FileOpen http://www.fileopen.com/, which helps manage PDF DRM. While we are not generally fans of DRM, it’s helpful in situations where students need access to particular resources for a particular period of time (moot court briefs, for example). As a side-effect of the DRM, we can prevent (stop your snickering, Tom Ryan) most casual printing and copying.
  3. We’ve put in two DLSG KIC scanners (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UO68IT1QIE) to encourage people to make electronic copies of things.
  4. I’m considering funding the purchase of tools like Scrivener (http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php) to help students organize digital materials more easily. We do not yet provide Microsoft Office for free to students, although there is talk of that.
  5. The University (as part of a new Internet2 initiative) is pursuing the idea of Box.net integration with 50GB per account.
  6. The University is investing in Blackboard and the 9.1 update is coming in May.
  7. We preach the gospel of Evernote and Dropbox regularly.
The conversation is still going on, and is interesting to follow, not just from the view of law school IT, but also to think about how these students are taught about the different print alternatives that are out there, and what type of experiences they will be coming to the law firms once they graduate.
Image [cc] zen

There has been talk for the last few years about the unsustainability of the Graduate School program in the United States. For many of us, we have heard the segment that talks specifically about law schools, and have watched as many of the schools are caught in… shall we say, stretching the truth about hiring rates and salaries after graduation. Unfortunately, these issues are not limited to law schools, they are affecting practically every graduate level program in the United States. The cost of obtaining a graduate level degree is not necessarily being off-set by the employment opportunities out there that require these degrees. However, students still persue them; graduate colleges still accept them and increase tuition and fees each year, and; Federal Student Loans are guaranteed by the US government insuring that schools get paid, banks get paid, and students get left with massive amounts of debt.

Everyone Else is to Blame


Last week, I ran across a few things that reminded me that this problem isn’t going away anytime soon. First of all, I had lunch with my co-blogger, Toby, who reminded me that no one involved in this situation thinks that they are the problem. He told a story of how years ago he sat in a room with people representing law schools, bar associations, law firms, and lawyers, and how it became a “everyone is to blame but me” session. He mentioned that everyone knew the system was flawed, but that the flaw lay in someone else’s area of responsibility.

The second thing I saw was a tweet from Jim Milles from this week’s Association of American Law Schools’ annual meeting:

Jim Moliterno on Washington & Lee’s 3L curriculum reform. This is a great time for reformers because there’s demand to do better. #aals12

I responded to Jim and asked him how in the heck can there be reformers in an environment when no one thinks they are the problem?? His response was that he thought it “was a little bit of encouragement from Dean Moliterno” on the subject. So, does that mean this is not a call to action, but more of a wish that someone would step up and be the reformer that law schools need? Best of luck with that.

So once again, law schools know there’s a problem, yet aren’t ready to step up to the plate to fix it.

Industry Responsibilities


What about the Bar Association?? Well, apparently they aren’t to blame either, according to the ABA President, William Robinson. In a Reuters interview, Robinson placed the bubble blame squarely on the shoulders of the students who go to law school:

It’s inconceivable to me that someone with a college education, or a graduate-level education, would not know before deciding to go to law school that the economy has declined over the last several years and that the job market out there is not as opportune as it might have been five, six, seven, eight years ago…

Robinson’s suggestion to the problem is if a student does decide they are willing to take the risk of entering a down-market job industry like legal, at least do it through a cheaper school. Robinson then picked up the ball and squarely punted it away from the ABA by saying that the ABA was completely powerless in holding down the cost of a law degree.

So the ABA isn’t to blame, it must be the Schools or Students fault.

Students Responsbilities


That brings me to an article I saw regarding students and the burden they have with debt after grad school. On the Life Inc. portion of the Today Show’s website, there was an interview of two law librarians titled “Loving the job, but hating the student loan debt.” At first blush, I have to admit that I wasn’t very sympathetic to a couple that took on more than $150,000 in student loans, and was having a hard time meeting those obligations even though their combined income was more than $100,000 a year.  While reading this, it made me wonder if William Robinson’s assessment that students are idiots for jumping into grad schools, and taking on massive amounts of debt for a potentially moderate paying profession is correct.

Is it wise to go to a grad school that charges in the neighborhood of $40K a year in tuition, as this librarian did by getting a degree at Drexel instead of a state school?? If the median wage of a law librarian is $54,500, does it make sense to go to a program that will cost you somewhere between $80K and $100K to finish? Jennifer Wertkin nailed the situation perfectly when she tweeted a response to this story and said “Law librarians overeducated & underpaid.” Although it is required for most law librarian jobs to have an advanced degree like a JD or an MLS, can that be sustained in an economy that doesn’t produce the pay to support the debt needed to enter the workforce?

Pressure to Take the Risk 
In a way, the whole situation reminds me of the recent housing bubble. Think of the similarities of the home ownership pressures and the pressures that the higher your education level is, the more successful you will be. We are told that college graduates are more likely to make tens of thousands of dollars more than their high-school counterparts. Grad school graduates make more than undergraduates. It reminds me of the argument we heard about home ownership equaling success (think of those home owners vs. renters stats for crime, income, stability, etc.) So, there is pressure on the students to take on more education than they probably need. Add to that, the easiness of credit for college tuition (conveniently backed by the Federal Government in most cases), increased tuition costs, and add in a sudden economic downturn, and you got yourself a bubble ready to burst.

Free-Market and the Big “POP!”


Earlier this year, I heard futurist Andy Hines make a comment at the AALL Future’s Summit, that Higher Education in the United States is in for an implosion in the next ten years. I think he may be right on that topic, and I think I might know what will cause the implosion. Of course, this is all speculation on my part, so I could be wrong, but bare with me on this. Just think about what would happen if the Federal Government decided to adopt some austerity programs, and one of those programs was to stop guaranteeing student load debt? Suddenly, the free market would kick in and students would have to practically prove that they have employment lined up in order to get a student loan for grad school. No loan guarantees would essentially sink most grad programs. It will be at that time that you will hear the giant “POP” in this bubble.

It seems that the whole world has change, especially since around September of 2008. Whenever you listen to someone talk about the legal industry, it seems that the phrase of choice is “The New Normal.” However, has legal education gotten this memo? That’s the topic of this week’s Elephant Post Question, and we have some excellent contributions. The consistent theme seems to be that everything has advanced around the edges of legal education, but the core aspects haven’t changes very much at all.

Thanks to everyone that contributed this week. Once you digest all of these perspectives, scroll on down and take a look at next week’s Elephant Post, where we take a break from all the crystal ball gazing and have a little fun.

Toby Brown
AFA/KM

Short answer: They use e-mail now.

Long answer: In the 80’s I worked at a law school.  In the 90’s and 2000’s I worked for a state bar and had regular contact with the law schools.  Now I work at a firm that hires the products of law schools.  With that perspective in mind – I really can’t see any noticeable changes in what law schools do or what they produce.

I suppose one exception might be the use of online legal research tools – given to students for free.  However, it appears they are not taught how to do this in a cost-effective manner.  I’m just guessing at another example – assuming they use PowerPoint or some equivalent in Moot Court.

I haven’t heard of extensive use of online classes, as I have seen in many undergraduate programs.  Maybe I’m wrong there.

So bottom line: They are doing it almost the same way they were 20 years.  Except now I hear tuition is much higher.

Ted McClure
Academic Law Librarian

The 100-fold increase in the velocity of information. The volume of information has increased even more, but it is the speed at which we are confronted with information that has been truly boggling.

Thirty years ago in law school I used Westlaw over a 256 baud modem. Students learned how to use Decennial Digests, annotated statutes, the Index to Legal Periodicals, and USSCAN. Newsletters, loose-leaf services, and slip opinions were the fastest modes of transmission. Shepard’s existed in print only. Academic discussions took place in law reviews and lasted years. Students took notes (or in the back row played hangman) on loose-leaf paper in binders.

Twenty years ago, law schools had computers mostly for word processing. Students were learning terms and connectors for online searching but were still learning the print resources because so few practicing lawyers had online access. Newsletters, loose-leaf services, and slip opinions were still the fastest modes of transmission. Academic discussions still took place in law reviews and lasted years. Students still took notes (or in the back row played hangman) on loose-leaf paper in binders.

Ten years ago law schools had internet access, and card catalogs were being replaced by online versions. Web sites existed, and you might keep an eye on a few. Most practitioners were still doing legal research with print resources, so you still had to learn how to use them. But the internet was already starting to change the velocity of information: Email distribution lists were starting to replace newsletters, and you could check Westlaw or Lexis for the latest court opinions if you knew what you were looking for. Shepard’s and KeyCite were online (too expensive for practitioners, however). The first academic blawgs were bubbling up, but you needed to know were to find them. Most academic discussions still took place in law reviews. Students still took notes (or in the back row played hangman) on loose-leaf paper in binders.

Now I monitor around 200 RSS feeds for my faculty members and edit an academic blawg. I have court opinions within minutes after they are announced, opinions about the opinions within minutes after that, and can forward them to the appropriate faculty members within minutes after that. Blawg editors out there are watching most everything important and feeding it to everyone interested. I have Westlaw (and KeyCite), Lexis (and Shepard’s), FastCase, HeinOnline, SSRN, federated search, and other online sources at my desk, or I can undock my computer and use it elsewhere. Academic discussions online take hours, sometimes minutes. Students take notes (or in the back row play Farmville or complain on Facebook) on laptops and netbooks. I can monitor what my students think is important on Facebook. I can respond immediately and publicly to questions like “What’s the new normal at law schools?”

It’s a lot more fun! <shameless self-promotion> See “How to drink from a firehose without drowning“,  </shameless self-promotion>

Sarah Glassmeyer
Academic Law Librarian (and Legal Research Professor)

Twenty years ago I was a freshman in high school. Ten years ago I was a 2L.  I’ve been on the non-student side of legal education for 5 years now.  In my limited perspective, it doesn’t feel like law schools have changed much.  Still teaching doctrinal classes from the caselaw method, still ignoring and underfundign LRW programs and not really encouraging practical skills courses.  The legal acadame stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that it’s really just a glorified VoTech program.

Students, on the other hand…

Twenty years ago I remember having my parents drive  me into Cincinnati so that I could go to the public library and use their CD Rom collection of periodicals because I was obsessed with the Canadian comedy troupe “The Kids in the Hall” and that was the only way to learn more about them. Consequently, the library was a special place with unique knowledge and the visit to it was “an event.”  The idea that I could sit at home and get must of the same information on “The Internet” would have blown my mind.  So, students perceptions of physical spaces such as libraries have changed.

Ten years ago, I still took all my class notes by hand. Maybe 2 or 3 people per 75 person class had a laptop.  If they did have a laptop, they certainly weren’t on the Internet with them (playing solitare, sure…but no email, IM, or looking up the answer to the profs question).  For better or worse (and I’m not entirely sure which side of the scale it tips to), the addition of technology have changed the classroom environment.

In the past five years, social networks have arisen and people who aren’t nerds are much more locked into their computers and other technologies.  I’m sitting in my office right now watching a student with an iPod in his ears, texting on his phone, a laptop open (a Mac, no less!) with three IM windows up (plus Facebook) and…oh, yeah, an Emmanuel’s outline.  Is it actually possible to learn with all those distractions?  I’m going to say no, you need to unplug at least some of those things to adequately learn the law.  However, I don’t know that anyone has ever encouraged (read: forced) today’s law students to ever do that.  I really worry that we are churning out a generation of lawyers who have been failed by the educational system their entire lives…they’ve been taught to pass standardized tests, have limited critical thinking skills, aren’t willing to (or perhaps capable of) reading through dense pieces of text for understanding and don’t even have the tools to gain these skills.

Ed
Legal Publishing

What has changed at law schools is that the volume of graduates has increased beyond what the job market can handle. As a result, the market is flooded with graduates who are unable to pay back student loans. Most lawyers I know express similar views and all repeatedly tell friends and family members who are considering going to law school that they should not.

Danny Johnson
Law Student – 1L

Very expensive tuition is the new norm at law schools!

Elmer Masters
CALI developer

20 years ago I was just finishing my first year of law school. Since then I’ve been a faculty research assistant, a reference librarian, an electronic resources librarian, law school web developer, director of law school IT, and, for the past 8 years, chief tech guy for the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI). In that time I’ve witnessed (and participated) in a huge shift in the infrastructure that supports legal education. At the same time, I haven’t seen the same rate of change in the way that law is taught.

New and remodeled classrooms in law schools feature smart podiums, projection and sound systems and white boards. Wireless is ubiquitous, student laptop ownership near universal, and everyone in a law school has a computer. Many law schools encourage faculty use of course management systems. Exams are taken on computers, typically student owned laptops. Students ran over 1 million CALI Lessons online last year.

While more and more faculty are using tools like blogs and wikis to enhance their teaching, in many places consistant use of PowerPoint slides in the classroom is considered a cutting edge technique. Simply the teaching of law has not kept pace with the advances in technology available to it. Teaching law is very conservative profession. The slow uptake of technology to enhance teaching is evidence of that and it is one thing that needs to change most about law schools.

So, the new normal at law schools? Lots of great technology available but not used, same old teaching methods being used.
[Image (CC) emdot]
Next Elephant Post:

What is the best lawyer television show and/or movie of all time??

I’m going out on a limb and pick a Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off, Angel. The whole idea of a law firm where the Senior Partners are Demons from Hell… literally. I mean, really… how can you go wrong with a story line like that??

So, dust off your pop-culture references and think about what your favorite law firm, lawyer, judge, paralegal, law librarian… just kidding, they don’t make movies about law librarians for some reason… and share it with us.

&amp;lt;p&amp;gt;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;Loading…&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;&amp;lt;/p&amp;gt;

As many of us gear up for a smaller Summer Associate program, we find that we need to tweak some of the basic skills (or completely teach them) for many of those Associates. I hear a lot of griping at conferences about the skills that law students have when they are fresh out of their 2nd or 3rd year, so we thought we’d give all of you a chance to step up and let us know what you think would better prep these future lawyers for the profession they just spend $100K+ to enter.

We had a number of different perspectives on the issue, and we thank each of you for contributing to this week’s Elephant Post. As is our routine every week, we post next week’s Elephant Post question below and give everyone a chance to share their perspective on the issue. So, read through this week’s perspectives, then take a couple of minutes to look over next week’s question to see if you have any insight you’d like to share.

Toby Brown
AFA/KM

#1 – The KM piece.  Law schools teach students how to look backwards.  I call this the great Paradigm of Precedence.  Although there is value in gaining and building critical thinking skills, doing so with such a past-focused lens is a recipe for failure in a world of constant change.

So law schools should stop teaching students how to look in just one direction, but should instead teach them how to look in all directions.

#2 – The AFA Piece.  Law schools should stop teaching law likes it’s an academic exercise not to be tainted by the evils of profits.  Instead they should give law students practical skills on how to run a profitable practice.  The reality is unprofitable practices correlate with poor client service.  If a lawyer can’t efficiently and effectively run a practice, then they really can’t practice.  Law schools would do well to better prepare future lawyers for this reality.

probatur denuo
Unemployed lawyer
Law schools should radically change, if not eliminate the third year of law school. Here are two suggestions for alternate uses of that final year:

1) Instead of silly electives that will never apply again, the third year should be a time of mandatory apprenticeship. During this time, the student can work at a law school clinic, complete a work/study cooperative with a government agency or law firm, or intern for a minimum of 20 hours a week at a company. This would help the students experience the “real” practice of law while they are under the benefit of the student practice order. The students would get genuine experience that would make them more attractive to potential employers, and they would also have a valuable chance to decide whether the practice of law is truly for them.

Schools should have an “alternative careers” department. If students decide law is not for them, an “alternative careers” department could help them identify their true interests as well as opportunities to develop other expertise outside of the straight practice of law.

2) Bar exam preparation has turned into a massive business, making a profit on the backs of desperate and frightened bar exam takers, some of whom are unable to pass the bar exam at drastic personal cost. I think a lot of this misery could be avoided if law schools implement mandatory for-credit bar review courses for the third year of law school. Ideally these courses could be structured around well established bar preparation materials (such as books published by Emanuel or Barbri), review the local law and include study skills and psychological preparation for high stakes exams. A course like this should be mandatory at all schools for the lowest-performing students, and optional for the rest. In fact, I even believe such a course can even be graded – with those students who receive a C or lower receiving further tutoring or perhaps counseling for alternative careers.

Nikki
legal marketer
Business basics

Law firms can’t just keep raising fees anymore and very few partners have any concept of how to run a business efficiently, much less grow one. This has implications not only for the health of their firm but to how they approach corporate clients.

An english major/law school graduate may not understand budgeting cycles, cashflow and other basic business practices that their clients live by  – thus they are in danger of giving wildly impractical advise or at least dangerously undersestimating its impact on clients.

Next Week’s Elephant Post

What is the future of legal directories?  Are they still valuable?  If so, in what form?

This question came to us from Dallas law librarian, Kevin Miles. Yes, that’s right, you can send us questions you’d like to see asked for our Elephant Post series!! Let us know what you think about the future of legal directories. Where are they heading? Are they going the way of the horse and buggy, or are they evolving into something that looks nothing like its current configuration??

The upcoming Elephant Post this week deals with the question of what do law schools need to stop teaching, and replace it with something that the profession sees as more valuable to those entering the legal profession. I have to be one of the first to admit that when I transitioned from a law school job to a law firm job, I was stunned by the extreme differences between the two jobs that were supposed to be of the same profession. Setting aside some of the obvious distinctions, such as Westlaw contracts going from five-figure dollar range to the seven-figure dollar range, there were core areas of distinction between my law school job duties and my law firm job duties. After working in the law firm environment now for nearly a decade, I am constantly reminded of the dichotomy between law schools and law firms.

As I was making my way through my reading list, I ran across Jason Wilson’s post on an upcoming paper from Lisa D. Kinzer, a law student from the University of Texas School of Law, where she discusses her survey on the utter reliance that law students have with WestlawNext. When I read a couple of the sentences explaining the thoughts behind the paper, it reminded me once again of the distinctions of “what’s important” in the law school setting may not have any importance what so ever in the law firm. Indicating that students have a significant preference of using WestlawNext, Kinzer states:

When one considers that very few practitioners even have access to WestlawNext, the implications for the effective preparation of law students for the workplace are considerable…. In this paper, I review the results of my survey and offer proposals as to how law schools can incorporate the seemingly addictive WestlawNext into their research curriculum while still ensuring that students will be effective when working with the limited resources available at the average law office.

Law schools have an almost bipolar approach to how they prepare students for the legal profession. I know, many of you may think that tri-polar or quad-polar may be more accurate, but I’ll just stick to the research approach at this time.  Just think of what the legal research and writing teams have to accomplish, and bring in the law librarians as well. First of all, there is the task of having to teach the basics of reading, writing, and researching based on the traditions of the profession. However, on the opposite end of this spectrum lies the advanced research tools, such as WestlawNext, that work to perform many of those basic tasks for the researcher.

In a way, you can think of it as teaching a teenager how to drive by having them read a book about a Ford Escort with a manual transmission, then taking them out on the road in a high-end SUV with an automatic transmission. I’m sure that the driving instructor would confidently answer that all of the students are capable of driving a manual transmission… although, almost none of the students will have actually driven one. Much like many of the R&W profs and law librarians will say that since students have access to the old “Westlaw.com” platform, they should be able to research on it if they are forced to. If you’re a teenager and you have the keys to an Escalade and an Escort… both with full-tanks of gas, and Daddy will replenish the gas tank when you bring it back… which one do you think they are going to drive?

Now, before my friends in academia start drafting hate letters to me, I want to point out that I don’t think that the problem rests with the R&W profs or the law librarians at the law schools. I think that the blame for letting students get out of law school without the proper amount of core legal research skills rests mainly on the shoulders of the law firms that recruit students without laying out the standards of what is expected of them when they show up on day one, and pass along that information back to the R&W profs and law librarians. Think about it… when is the last time that a law firm librarian went to the law school librarian and gave them a list of core skill that are needed to work at this law firm? I’m sure it happens, but not very often.

As long as we pretend that law schools and law firms don’t really need to work together to improve the skills that law students have when they transition from academics to professional setting, then this problem will persist. I’ve heard for years, from both academics and firms, that they are hoping that either the Bar or some other association will step up and work out the details of changing how law students are better prepared for entering the profession. Well, guess what. These Bars and associations are made up from the same batch of people wanting it to be someone else’s responsibility.

I think that this problem is worked out the same way that many environmentalist look at how everyone could save the world: “Think Globally, Act Locally”. If you’re really disappointed at the skills that your Summer and Fall Associates have when they come to your firm, draft up what skills you expect these associates to have, and give it to the law schools you generally hire from. At a minimum, it will get the conversation going. There’s a saying that I use a lot around the office that kind of fits the situation that many R&W profs and law librarians at law schools find themselves in. “I can create great tools that do wonderful things, but if it doesn’t fit your needs, then it is worthless.” I usually back that statement up with a call for input from those I work with to tell me what they need. I think it is high time that law firm and law school professionals start talking and telling each other what they really need.

After reading NYTimes reporter David Segal’s article, “Is Law School a Losing Game?”,I thought back to the year that I graduated law school.

The earlier ’90s were not much kinder than now. Coming out of school on the heels of the energy recession, I was one of the lucky few to land a job. Most of my peers struggled to make their way: forming their own partnerships, going solo, moving back home to join the family law firm, going into legal recruiting.

I’ll never forget one day when I was being extra diligent and made my way back to my alma mater’s library when I ran into a former classmate. I was shocked when he told me that he was bird-dogging cases at the courthouse while living out of his car.

I’ll never forget the look on his face: it was a mixture of horror, shame and desperation.

I was the first in my family to become a lawyer.

When a relative decided to follow in my footsteps, I cautioned them in all the mistakes that I had made: focus on your grades, forget about class recitations, get as many clerkships as you can and start looking for a job as soon as you start school.

And, above all, don’t live off of student loans.

There were many days that I regretted that law degree. Today, I have made my peace with it. And now I know that I’m fortunate to have a job in the legal field that is personally satisfying.

Not everyone is so lucky.

The Law Library staff at the University of Michigan (MLaw) has launched an educational campaign promoting the key benefits that the library offers. The library promotion points out the benefits that can help a student succeed during their time in law school. The MLaw Library Director, Margaret Leary, ticks off a few of the benefits they want to remind the students that are available in the law library:

  • a quite place to study
  • experts to help them with Legal Practice assignments
  • student journal work
  • research for seminar papers
  • selection of note topics for student journal competitions
  • and a lot more…
In addition to the poster campaign, MLaw Library is also promoting its Ask A Law Librarian live chat reference. (I actually used this service to get in touch with the folks at MLaw Library to prepare this story!!) The library still offers tradition email, phone and (gasp!) live in-person help, in addition to the chat service.
“The posters are augmented by new MLaw Library pins we wore during orientation, enhanced orientation sessions for the 1L’s and each student journal, and a new “lunch and learn” on Sundays, aimed at the student journals but open to anyone,” Leary explained in an email. She also knows that in addition to getting to those 1L’s early, it is also important to give them something to remember you by. Apparently, the quickest way to the 1L’s heart is through their stomachs. Leary goes on to claim that “the Library was the first to give the 1L’s free pizza, forever endearing them to us!” 
There are a number of posters hung around the law school promoting the library services and benefits to students, faculty and anyone else that wanders into the law library. Here’s the blurb for the poster promotion:

We’ve just launched an educational campaign to introduce students to library staff and remind students of some of the key benefits associated with library services. We want to keep the library’s tremendous resources front-and-center in the minds of our students as they consider research projects and papers in the course of the year. This “flipbook” presentation will introduce you to the posters appearing now throughout the Law School.

Go check out the posters and see if it piques your interest in how putting reminders of the services you provide “front-and-center” of your customers, clients, patrons, etc. helps determine the value that they see in you.

Law.com had a post this week with a great quote from an AGC of United Technologies. He basically called recent law school graduates “worthless.”
Ahh – this lovely quote took me back in time. Some time back in the 90’s I attended a seminar that covered this same subject. After sitting through the general session, I renamed it the “Whose Fault is it?” Seminar. The program was a collaboration of the Organized Bar, the Law Schools and the Private Bar (a.k.a. law firms). Everyone agreed that law school graduates did not graduate with the necessary practical skills needed for actually practicing law. But then everyone disagreed on who was to blame for this.
Law schools were following the proud tradition of educating students on the foundations of the law using the ever-popular Socratic method. The organized bar was then testing them to see if they actually learned these foundations and then spit them out on to the market. Law firms would then give these newly minted lawyers a half-day course on WordPerfect 5.1, the gold standard of the day, and set them to billing time. Depending on which section of the audience you represented, the blame was placed on: A) law schools for not teaching sufficient (if any) practice skills, B) the organized bar for not actually testing these people on real-world skills, or C) law firms for not properly training new lawyers. This engaging dialogue lead to … more of the same.
There have been a few changes since then. My former employer, the Utah State Bar, instituted a Mentor Program. Some law schools have added practice management courses (electives though). And law firms have professional development professionals on staff. But the bottom line, especially for Chester Paul Beach, is that the core problem remains. Only he clearly blames the law schools. IMHO the system should shoulder the blame and not any one component.
At the end of the seminar I attended I was conversing with a law school dean about how law schools might adapt and adjust to address this problem. The response: “We won’t be taking that path any time soon. We’re academic institutions, not vocational schools.”
Classic and oddly prophetic.

According to the New York Times, Loyola Law School in Los Angeles is “tacking on 0.333 to every grade recorded in the last few years” with the goal of making “its students look more attractive in a competitive job market.” Apparently, the new grade inflation for law students is becoming all the rage across the country, and if your school isn’t doing it, the students get upset. I’ve seen a number of tweets and blog posts talking about this “phenomenon” over the past few days, and every time I see one flash by, my only thoughts are “Big-Whoopty-Freakin’-Deal!!” Last time I checked, if you raise everyone’s grades, everyone’s class ranking stays the same.

Hint to law students… if you have a B+ average and you’re in the bottom 1/3rd of your class ranking… employers know there is grade inflation. All that grade inflation doesn’t really help you, or make you look that impressive to potential employers. Everyone knows it is going on, that’s why we look at class rankings and the reputation of the school your attending. So, complain to the Dean of your school all you want to raise everyones grades from a B- to a B or a C+ to a B-, it won’t help.

Now instead of faking your way from a B+ to an A-… be proud of your grades. We here at 3 Geeks think that recruiters should hire the “C” students. Like Toby said back in February:

Harry S. Truman said “The ‘C’ students run the world.” The gist of that statement in our context is that C students are the ones with the relationship skills. For them school wasn’t about getting the best grade. Beyond learning, it was about enjoying the people you met. These C students are the ones that make business happen It’s their relationship skills that get and keep clients and make the business a success.

So quit focusing on the red herring of inflating your grades and start working on improving your overall class ranking. If you can’t improve that, then work on those skills and relationships that will make you better prepared for the transition from the academic world into the real world of the business of being a lawyer.

A chance conversation with my AFA counter-part lead to a dialogue on the suitability of lawyer personalities to a successful law practice. In part, this was out an outcome of Lisa’s post on the sales skills of lawyers. In our conversation, we decided that to be truly successful these days a lawyer needs 1) Technical skills, 2) Leadership/Business skills and 3) Relationship (a.k.a. sales) skills. Without too much thinking, it’s obvious these are typically three distinct and mutually exclusive skill-sets. Finding a lawyer who has all three of these is rare at best (think Lisa’s super-model). Then our conversation turned to law schools and the types of personalities and skills they are designed to attract and build. One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from a law school dean, “We are academic institutions, not vocational schools.” Which is to say, law schools focus exclusively on technical skills. And even then, it’s more on the academic side of technical skills – and not much of hands-on, practical skills. And what’s worse, when law firms recruit from law schools, they want only the best … technicians. As we talked through this subject it became apparent this is yet another aspect of the profession that needs to change. In the past, legal technical skills were all that was needed to succeed. But now in the days of price competition and utilizing what everyone else calls a “business model,” firms need broader skill-sets from their partners. Harry S. Truman said “The ‘C’ students run the world.” The gist of that statement in our context is that C students are the ones with the relationship skills. For them school wasn’t about getting the best grade. Beyond learning, it was about enjoying the people you met. These C students are the ones that make business happen It’s their relationship skills that get and keep clients and make the business a success. Firms recruiting at law schools might want to keep this concept in mind. The Law Review students may make the best technical lawyers, but they likely won’t be the ones that will drive the success of your firm. Perhaps George W. Bush said it best. “To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you, too, can be president of the United States.”