Archive for March, 2013

Flip the faculty

Over at Law School Café Professor Deborah J. Merritt is ruffling feathers in the world of legal education with a recent post entitled “Core Faculty.”  Here’s a flavour:

“The tenured and tenure-track professors form the core of a law school faculty. At most of our schools, those faculty teach doctrinal courses and seminars; they also devote considerable time to research. Over the years, we have added clinical and legal writing professors to our faculties, but they rarely are part of the core. These writing and clinical professors are paid less, usually lack tenure, and bear fewer expectations for scholarly research…

I would flip this structure. If I were starting a law school, I would hire experienced legal writing and clinical professors as the core tenure-track faculty. At existing schools, I would move as quickly as possible to that structure. Why? The legal writing and clinical professors are the ones who know best how to teach what we claim to teach in law schools: how to think like a lawyer.

Legal writing professors have analyzed the components of thinking like a lawyer, developed the vocabulary for explaining that process to students, and created hundreds of well designed exercises. Where does a student really learn how to analyze and synthesize cases? In a class of 75-120 students, where the professor calls on one student at a time for 150-200 minutes a week, offers little individualized feedback, requires no written product until the final exam, and tests students on issue-spotting during a 3-4 hour exam? Or in a class of 18-20 students, where the professor offers a sequence of assignments designed specifically to teach analysis, synthesis, and other critical reasoning skills; provides frequent individualized feedback; requires several written assignments; and grades students on their ability to produce well reasoned analyses of a problem that requires research, analysis, and synthesis of new cases and statutes?

The traditional law school classroom, with its case method and socratic questioning, is better than pure lecture at teaching critical reasoning. But it is still a woefully inefficient and ineffective process of teaching students how to read cases and statutes, how to synthesize those materials, and how to apply them to the facts of novel problems. During the last thirty years, our legal writing programs have developed at a remarkable rate. They now surpass other first-year courses in their ability to teach critical thinking. If you want a professor who knows how to teach legal analysis to first-year students, and who has studied the pedagogy of teaching those skills, then choose a legal writing professor.

The same is true of clinical professors in the upper level. These professors know how to build on the reasoning skills that students developed in the first year. They don’t greet students with the same casebook/socratic method of instruction. Whatever its merits in the first year, that style offers diminishing returns in the upper level and bears little relationship to how practicing lawyers learn new areas of law….”

Readers of this blog will be well aware of my commitment to (for want of a better way of putting it) “practical” legal education, both in terms of coverage (subject matter that my students have more than a cat in hell’s chance of encountering in practice) and in terms of skills-based outcomes.  I also believe in the kind of balanced legal education eloquently outlined here by Susan Carter Liebel.  So as a “traditional” tenured faculty member myself, albeit something of a British outlier, I don’t take issue with Prof. Merritt’s provocative posting, nor with her advocacy on behalf of my legal writing and clinical colleagues.  However, it would be good to see some acknowledgment of the fact that there are “traditional” / “doctrinal” faculty in law schools who are not wedded to the “traditional law school classroom, with its case method and socratic questioning” and are committed instead to the kind of integrated approach to course design, classroom instruction and student assessment favoured by the Carnegie Foundation’s Report.  What’s needed IMO is an integrated faculty to deliver an integrated curriculum.


The Walters Way may be a bit quiet during April as Adrian has a busy travel schedule (he has some classes in international bankruptcy law to teach in NYC for starters).  You can keep track of him on twitter at @walters_adrian.

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Following on from Xiomara Angulo’s recent posts on networking here and here, I want to draw your attention to some other great materials courtesy of Kevin O’Keefe of Lexblog:

1) Kevin’s webinar about networking through the internet. The target audience for the webinar is lawyers and law firms. Even so, it is a great resource on the use of blogs and social media for networking and profile development. Key message: engage the audience!

2) Kevin’s recent post “Networking? Conversations with benefits” on his blog, Real Lawyers Have Blogs. The post links to an article by Bella Rareworld that underscores several of the points made by Xiomara in her posts.

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After we had endured the Oscars the other weekend, it occurred to us here at the Walters Way that we should establish our own version of the academy awards.  To be sure, the limited prestige and kudos conferred by such an award (a “Walters”???) is hardly likely to be the key that will unlock untold riches for our honoree.  Nonetheless, we will proceed anyway, and to ensure that you don’t tune out at this point, I solemnly promise that our ceremony will be conducted without the assistance of Mr Seth MacFarlane…

There is but one category and the category is: “Adrian’s Favourite Law or Law-Related Book of 2012.”  And in this category (drumroll…) the hands down winner is… (pause while he tries to prise open envelope)…

**By Men or By the Earth by Illinois native, Tyler Coulson**

Oscar Statue

By Men is a true story stark in its simplicity.   A man (Tyler) went to Law School.  He did very well in Law School.  He secured a much sought after 2L summer internship at a BigLaw firm in Chicago.  A year later he started as an associate attorney in the same BigLaw firm.   Then, in his third year at the firm he quit.

Did he quit to take up a position in another law firm or to hang out a shingle?  No.  Did he quit to pursue some other career?  No.  Not a bit of it.

He quit to take a walk with a rescue dog called Mabel.

A very long walk as it turned out.

Between March and November of 2011, Tyler and Mabel walked all the way across America.  Yep, that’s right, they walked from the Atlantic coast of Delaware to the Pacific Coast of California.   As Tyler’s Twitter profile used to say: “I was born.  Then I was an attorney.  Then I quit to walk across America with my dog, Mabel” (or words to that effect).

Tyler & Mabel

When I first heard about the book courtesy of Alison Monahan over at The Girls Guide to Law School I was immediately gripped by the sheer momentousness of the story.  Financially, Tyler could not afford to quit (you won’t be surprised to learn that he has student loans to repay).  But recognizing that he was in danger of losing his soul, he quit anyway.  This is likely to be powerful stuff, I thought.  And so it proved.

In truth, the book tells three interwoven stories.  (1) The story of Tyler’s life as a law student and a BigLaw associate.  (2) The story of the walk, the people whom Tyler and Mabel met on the journey (some warm and generous, some unpleasant, some downright scary) and the very real and frequent dangers they encountered en route to CA (speeding vehicles, terrible weather, rattlesnakes, a bear they came across on a Maryland camping ground etc., etc., — you get the picture).  (3) The story of the walk’s immediate aftermath.  As you might imagine, the dominant story is the account of the walk itself.

There are many lessons we might choose to draw from By Men about life in the legal profession generally and life in the legal profession c.2008-2011 in particular.  We could read it in part as a book about the importance of rethinking how we define success in law school and in the legal job market.  We could read it in part as a book about the realities of law firm culture.  We could read it in part as a book about the problems that certain personality types face working in large law firms (in that respect, it certainly connects with the extensive literature on lawyer unhappiness and its causes, a literature epitomized by works such as Douglas Litowitz’s, The Destruction of Young Lawyers and blogs such as Lawyers with Depression). We can undoubtedly read it as a book that has a great deal to teach us about adaptability, determination, persistence and raw survival.

But in the final analysis, for me, By Men is quite simply an epic story of Homeric proportions.  A tale of a restless man’s search for himself. A flawed hero, his faithful dog, and the whole of life out there on the road.

I tweeted in January that I had not read anything as compelling and moving as By Men in ages. I stand by that assessment.


Check out Tyler Coulson’s website and blog here. You can follow Tyler on twitter @tyler_coulson.

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Xiomara Angulo Blog Photo (2)In her first post about the art of networking for the shy and introverted, IIT Chicago-Kent graduate Xiomara Angulo encouraged us to shake off the idea that networking is a professional activity exclusively confined to events and cocktail receptions.  But sooner or later, it may make sense in terms of your professional development to attend such events. In this follow-up post, Xiomara offers some pointers on how to handle and derive benefit from networking events.  Welcome back Xiomara!

If you saw my previous post on redefining networking, you might be inclined to think that shy and introverted people should only stick to non-traditional methods of networking. On the contrary, even if you consider yourself to be shy or introverted, you should consider attending networking receptions since this is just one more way of reconnecting with your contacts: see Step 4 of previous post: Create face-to-face contact. However, you may be better served by building relationships through non-traditional methods first, and then going to networking events once you feel more comfortable. If you’re ready to take the plunge, here are a few tips to help you navigate the waters:

  • The first thing you should do to prepare yourself for this out-of-comfort-zone experience is recall your focus. This sounds silly and almost irrelevant, but ask yourself: “Why am I here, doing this?” “What am I trying to learn?” “What questions have I always had on my mind about certain legal positions or issues?” The answers to these questions will help you realize that you have a purpose for this event and much about which to inquire. The process will also help you realize that this networking reception is but one event, and that not making a contact won’t necessarily change your legal trajectory (remember to avoid creating a “leaning tower of business cards”).
  •  Next, make a written or mental list of your current activities. Are you involved with any organizations? What is that organization’s focus, and what is your role there? Are you researching any interesting cases? Are you writing any articles? Do you have any events scheduled or have you recently attended any? Taking this step will remind you that you are interesting and that you have knowledge or something else meaningful to contribute to a conversation.
  •  Once at the event, keep in mind that working this room, today, for 1-2 hours, is not your only way of making contacts. Remember all the people in your life with whom you have already established and are fostering relationships. Approach the room as you would any other social event where a potential clerkship, internship, or job was not on the line. Just allow your instinctive good manners to kick in:  be polite, listen, and try to engage.
  •  On the flipside, if you cannot shake off the nerves and feel yourself being drawn to the open bar more than once to ease them, remove yourself from the situation. Even once you have gotten to the point where you are relaxed and having a good time, remember to be mindful of your alcohol intake or avoid alcohol for that night altogether.
  •  During my second year of law school, I learned a trick which was groundbreaking for me: being the host! When you host an event, you have an automatic ice breaker: “Hi, My name is Xiomara, I helped organize this event and I’d like to thank you so much for coming.” You also have the out you need if you are not connecting with the person: “I’m afraid I have to finish thanking our other guests – thank you again for being here, it means a lot to everyone involved in organizing this event. Enjoy the rest of your night.”
  •  Even if you didn’t help host, highlight your connection to the organization: “Hi, my name is _________, I am a student here, I am a volunteer with this organization, I am a law clerk with this firm, your interest and participation in our organization’s events is really appreciated. Thank you for being here.” If your addressee considers this awkward, then just say thank you and move on. If they don’t, they’re probably interested in getting to know you and you’ll have an opportunity to make a connection.
  •  Don’t forget that if you do make a connection, you should follow up and try to schedule an informal coffee or lunch to get to know the person better. In your request, highlight why you feel that this would be helpful.  Perhaps you are interested in learning more about the area of law they practice in; perhaps you are both interested in promoting legal opportunities for a particular group; perhaps they seem like a friendly person who would be willing to give you their time and share their wisdom and conversation with you. Be sincere with yourself and with your contact about the connection.

You’ve paid a lot of money and expended substantial mental and emotional energy to become a lawyer. Relax a little and don’t overthink networking. You can build relationships with just about anyone in your life – all you really need is some time management, a computer or phone, and the willingness to be a friend.

~ Xiomara is a 2012 IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law graduate. She is an immigration associate at Andres Cerritos Law Offices and serves on the CARPLS Legal Aid Associate Board. Connect with her at angulo.xiomara@gmail.com or @xangulo2 on Twitter.


Note for calendars:

In conjunction with the Chicago-Kent Student Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois is holding an event entitled Effective Networking: Tips for the New Lawyer and Seasoned Professionals starting at 6:00 pm on March 13, 2013 at Chicago-Kent.  Among the speakers will be our recent guest blogger, Desiree Moore!!

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