Thursday, May 28, 2015

ABA Approved Online JD Programs Have Arrived

It feels like we are on the cusp of a real revolution in JD programs offering online options. Law schools first started dabbling in online LL.M. programs because LL.M. programs are outside of the auspices of ABA oversight and do not have to comply with the ABA limit dealing with online hours.

But that limit seems to be loosening. In January 2015, William Mitchell started the first hybrid JD program that the ABA conceptually approved in 2013. From WM's website: Each semester has a clear and carefully designed curricular focus. Students spend 11 or 12 weeks a semester completing online coursework that culminates in a week-long, on-campus Capstone week focused on experiential learning.

This new hybrid-degree program requires only 2 weeks on campus for the academic year. It is, in effect, an online, ABA-approved JD degree.

At this point, it's either move forward with the trend or get left behind. Law school, in its current form, is well suited for online education. Generally, the professor lectures for 3 hours per week with a comprehensive exam at the end of the term. This can easily be facilitated through online-education software. 

Blackboard Learn and Blackboard Collaborate, among other platforms, allow for lecture capture (with closed captioning). The instructor can interact with the students synchronously or record a lecture for asynchronous viewing. The instructor can require participation through things like discussion board posts from each student. If an instructor requires participation like this each week, it may be even better than only calling on a student once or twice in a live course throughout semester. If the instructor strategically uses the discussion boards, the students will have to digest and apply the material regularly. 

I have taught an online LL.M. writing course for a couple of years using the Blackboard platforms mentioned above, and it's easy to interact with the students. We hold class synchronously and have numerous one-on-one draft conferences throughout the course of the term where we utilize screen sharing to discuss drafts. The quality of the papers submitted through the online program is of the same caliber as those submitted at the end of a face-to-face class. 

As mentioned above, the time is now for law schools to really start developing these programs or risk losing out on a valuable student base.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Can We Have Too Much Collective Knowledge?

More to the point is can we have too big of a record of collective knowledge that it is no longer useful? Barbara Fister recently discussed some of the pitfalls of publishing. Specifically, she mentioned an article by Luc Rinaldi that exposes the issues with peer review:
  • Some journal publishers are allowing papers to go to the head of the peer-review line if they are paid for the expedited service. This undermines the purpose of peer review by creating a limited pool of reviewers who will turn their reviews in quickly if the authors pay for the service. This is, in part, to satisfy those who need CV lines stat and can afford it in journals that carry a prestigious publisher’s brand (such as Springer/Nature) but publish anything that passes the review process.
  • Scammers have set up loads of pretty obviously fake pseudo-journals and conferences
  • Reviewing articles is a lot of hard work, gets little recognition, and often fails to spot problematic scholarship. There may be better ways to filter out bad scholarship, but we can’t agree on what they are.
  • People living outside Europe and North America want the credibility of peer-reviewed scholarship, but may not be familiar with or respectful of the rules.
  • Because we now have new models for financing publishing and many new publications are being launched, it’s hard for scholars to keep up with what’s legitimate. 
And Fister added her own issue, which is that there is too much scholarly publishing overall. I’m not saying we should quit doing research, but maybe we should be a little more selective about what we feel needs to be part of the record. For one thing, it’s getting harder and harder to consult the record, as bloated as it is. It’s incredibly costly, both in terms of the time we put into writing and reviewing it and developing and sustaining systems for sharing and preserving it all. It also means that people are so frantically gathering up metrics of our productivity that we have less time to think, and some of our best thoughts require fallow time.

All of these issues with publishing and peer review and the bloated record make a strong argument for the continued need of librarians. It's harder to vet reputable information because of things like sham journals, and it's harder to access relevant information because there is so much of it being produced. One part of the evolving role of librarians means staying abreast of these issues and bringing this knowledge to our patron base. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

ExamSoft Settles For $2.1 Million With Test Takers Receiving $90

The NYTimes is reporting that ExamSoft has been approved to settle the class-action lawsuit arising out of a computer glitch during last July's bar exam for $2.1 million.

"Last summer, law school graduates racked up some of the lowest scores in nearly a decade on the all-important bar exam. As the test takers and several law school deans viewed it, the poor results were not the fault of the graduates. Rather, it was a computer glitch that prevented them from uploading their completed exams on the first day of the multiday test."

Now, those test takers are being offered a small amount for their suffering: about $90 a person.

"Writing in a legal blog this month, Prof. Jerome M. Organ, at the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis, asks that because takers spent a night 'completely anxious and stressed out trying repeatedly and unsuccessfully to upload their essay answers, should it be a surprise that they might have underperformed somewhat' the next day?"

I saw firsthand the results of this snafu last summer. A good friend couldn't upload his exam because of the glitch, and he spent the first night in a panic - getting maybe 2 hours of sleep overall. Of course it affected his performance the next day. Thankfully my friend still passed his exam, but it's easy to see how this could have had a major impact on the results.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Librarians At Risk For Automation

The Wall Street Journal recently asked, is your job creative enough to resist robot automation?
“Jobs that are considered creative today may not be so tomorrow,” according to the report, Creativity versus Robots, written with Nesta, a London-based non-profit research and innovation group. The paper, published last week, delves into the possible effects of automation on the workforce.

The Nesta /Oxford report tries to handicap which occupations are creative enough to avoid near-term automation. Of the  702 occupations categorized in the U.S., 21% ranked as “highly creative,”–offering the most protection against automation. Such jobs included artists, architects, web designers and IT specialists.

Jobs that are highly susceptible to computerization, according to the report:  office administrators, call-center staff, librarians, cattle and crop farmers, loggers, miners, car salesmen and hotel staff.

“The results strongly confirm the intuition that creative occupations are more future– proof to computerization,” the report states, adding that the results also suggest a pervasive restructuring of labor markets over the decades to come. The report urges governments to help workers that are made redundant into novel creative professions.

In libraries, we already have something called automated materials handling where a machine sorts books for reshelving. And with all of the talk of algorithms smart enough to sort information, there may very well come a time when librarians are at an increased risk for automation.

There is also a new book out called Rise of the Robots which discusses what automation will do to the labor market. In the late 20th century, while the blue-collar working class gave way to the forces of globalization and automation, the educated elite looked on with benign condescension. Too bad for those people whose jobs were mindless enough to be taken over by third world teenagers or, more humiliatingly, machines. The solution, pretty much agreed upon across the political spectrum, was education. Americans had to become intellectually nimble enough to keep ahead of the job-destroying trends unleashed by technology, both robotization and the telecommunication systems that make outsourcing possible. Anyone who wanted a spot in the middle class would have to possess a college degree — as well as flexibility, creativity and a continually upgraded skill set.

But, as Martin Ford documents in “Rise of the Robots,” the job-eating maw of technology now threatens even the nimblest and most expensively educated. Lawyers, radiologists and software designers, among others, have seen their work evaporate to India or China. Tasks that would seem to require a distinctively human capacity for nuance are increasingly assigned to algorithms, like the ones currently being introduced to grade essays on college exams. Particularly terrifying to me, computer programs can now write clear, publishable articles, and, as Ford reports, Wired magazine quotes an expert’s prediction that within about a decade 90 percent of news articles will be computer-­generated.

Ford goes onto not that employers will favor automation because of lower overhead costs, and Ford offers little hope that emerging technologies will eventually generate new forms of employment, in the way that blacksmiths yielded to autoworkers in the early 20th century. He predicts that new industries will “rarely, if ever, be highly labor-intensive,” pointing to companies like YouTube and Instagram, which are characterized by “tiny workforces and huge valuations and revenues.” On another front, 3-D printing is poised to make a mockery of manufacturing as we knew it. Truck driving may survive for a while — at least until self-driving vehicles start rolling out of Detroit or, perhaps, San Jose.

There's something comforting in knowing that it's not just librarians who will go the way of the rotary phone. But the greater implications of an automated work force is, at this point, terrifying.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Law-Lib Listerv

If you are new to the law-librarian profession, you may want to consider subscribing to the law-lib listerv. It's a very active email listserv where law librarians come together to send each other news, job postings, and share materials.

To subscribe, send an email to sympa@ucdavis.edu with subscribe law-lib in the subject line. 

You should leave the body of the message blank, and delete any signature information from the end of the message. Note that Sympa prefers commands in the subject line, rather than in the body of your message.

I receive up to 10 emails a day from the listerv - many asking for help with material. And our library has used the listerv to gather hard-to-find resources from other libraries outside of the traditional ILL system. The listerv is extremely useful and a great network. 

For more information, see the Law-Lib Listerv FAQ

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Experiential Legal Education

Practical legal education is all the rage right now. After years of complaints by practitioners that law students were graduating without the skills necessary to actually practice, law schools en masse have finally started listening. 

This trend also coincided with the fact that fewer firms were willing to mentor law graduates in the practical side of practice. With so many law students graduating into a depressed market, law firms could pick and choose those graduates who needed less formal mentoring and could "hit the ground running" so to speak. 

This begs the question, if we make legal education more experiential, would it really matter? This was the exact title of a post on the Law Professor's Blog last year, and Bill Henderson thinks that the answer to this question is yes. "A competent lawyer needs domain knowledge + practical skills + a fiduciary disposition (i.e., the lawyer’s needs are subservient to the needs of clients and the rule of law).  Since practical skills—and some would argue, a fiduciary disposition—cannot be effectively acquired through traditional Socratic or lecture teaching methods, the ostensible logic is that schools become better by embracing the 'learning-by-doing' experiential approach."

According to Henderson, law schools need to consider three things to create and market a quality program:

1. Clarity on Goals.  We need to understand the knowledge, skills, and behaviors that are highly prized by legal and non-legal employers.  Truth be told, this is tacit knowledge in most workplaces. It is hard intellectual work to translate tacit knowledge into something explicit that can be communicated and taught. But we are educators -- that is our job!  If we think employers are missing something essential, we can add in additional factors. That's our job, too.

2. Designing and Building the Program. Working backwards from our goals, let's design and build curricula that will, overall, accelerate development toward those goals.  This is harder and more rigorous than lesson planning from a casebook.

3. Communicating Value to the Market.  If our program is indeed better, employers and students need to know it.  This also requires a crisp, accurate message and a receptive audience.  This requires planning and effort.  That said, if our program truly is producing more effective lawyers, it logically follows that our graduates (i.e., the more effective lawyers) will be the most  effective way to communicate that message. 

These are all great points that the legal academy needs to build on. We need to understand experiential learning in action and see empirical research on the effects of certain strategies. To that end, Touro Law Center has created the Journal of Experiential Learning. This journal aggregates knowledge from law faculty, judges, and practitioners to offer information on law school experiential learning. The inaugural issue has valuable information spanning the entirety of the law school curriculum. 

Since this is a journal that encompasses all facets of legal education, from all stakeholders, they encourage members of the bar and the bench, as well as the academy, to contribute to future volumes. Contact mberman@tourolaw.edu for additional information about journal submissions.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Practical Legal Writing Akin To Scholarly Writing

Since 2012, I have taught eight sections of a scholarly writing course for law students. For fall 2015, I have been tapped to teach a different type of writing course. I will teach research & writing to international LL.M. students. I am excited to try something new - and also a little apprehensive.

For the LL.M. course, I will teach the students how to research, write an objective memo, write a persuasive brief, and do an oral argument. That is a lot to fit into one semester. Practical-legal writing is different than scholarly writing, and I have to refresh my own memo and brief-writing skills to effectively teach the process to students.

This made me happy to run across the following article
Adam G. Todd, Teaching “Scholarly Writing” in the First-Year LWR Class: Bridging the Divide between Scholarly and Practical Writing, 22 Perspectives: Teaching Legal Res. & Writing 35 (2013).

From the article: 
The divide between “academic writing” as is found in seminar papers or law journal articles and writing found in practice is often overstated. Certainly there are some clear differences. As David S. Romantz points out in his cogent review of Fajans and Falk’s book, scholarly writing requires legal analysis without regard to advocacy or “the client,” but instead speaks to other “academicians” in the field of the topic being addressed. Romantz states the purpose of scholarly writing is not to predict or advocate but explore ideas and advance a critical dialogue about a topic. Finally, the subject matter of scholarly writing is typically selected and shaped by the writer in contrast to practical writing, which must conform to the needs and circumstances of the client. However, both scholarly and practical writing have many similarities in terms of style, form, and tone. Both forms of writing require thorough research, lucid analysis and argumentation, and “uncompromising attention to detail.” Both forms of writing have, while not identical, quite similar audiences. Good scholarly writing, ideally, considers the practical aspects of the law. Similarly, good practical writing does not ignore but considers the scholarly sources on a given topic. Practical writing should be cognizant of theory and the issues raised by experts as reflected in scholarly writing. 

The author, Todd, discusses how he had the students approach the different types of writing. Specifically, I asked them to think of the “Question Presented” and “Brief Answer” of the memo for this seminar class as the “Introduction” of the paper, which would articulate a statement of their thesis and provide a brief summary of their arguments and findings. I pointed out that the memo’s “Statement of Facts” is similar to the “Background” section typically found in scholarly papers. The “Discussion” section of the memo mirrors the central discussion section of the paper, which is broken down into subsections with subheadings. The memo’s “Conclusion” section also closely resembles the “Conclusion” section of the paper. Finally, the citations used in the text of the memo are to be reformatted into footnotes.

Todd is right that a lot of the skills necessary for effective scholarly writing transfer nicely to practical writing. And this discussion of the similarities of practical writing and scholarly writing is the bridge that I needed to feel more confident in teaching my course this fall. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

ABA Drops 20-Hour Work Limit

It appears that the ABA has quietly dropped the limitation that full-time law students only work up to 20 hours per week.

Before the latest iteration of the ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools, this was the pertinent standard:

Standard 304. COURSE OF STUDY AND ACADEMIC CALENDAR
(f) A student may not be employed more than 20 hours per week in any week in which the student is enrolled in more than twelve class hours.

For 2014-2015, Standard 304 is now Standard 311, and there is no mention of the 20-hour work limit.

If you are interested in working, beware that while the ABA seems to have dropped the limitation, law schools may still impose the restriction through the honor code. If your law school does have a 20-hour limitation, you may want to discuss it with the powers that be and notify them of the change in the ABA Standards.

And although you may be able to work more than 20 hours per week while going to law school full-time, it may not actually be advisable. Law school is supposed to be an intensive course of study, and a full-time job will inevitably take away from the immersive experience that is recommended.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Library Discovery Tools & Bias

Discovery layers in library catalogs offer a simple way to search across library content. But there are issues with discovery layers because the companies that make the search tools are also in the content business. And one fear is that these companies might favor their own content in the results generated by the discovery layers.

Discovery layers in library catalogs generally mean that patrons are finding reputable content because they are using the carefully curated collections of libraries. One study looked at how the adoption of a discovery tool changes the use of articles from publisher-hosted online journals. "Based on data from 33 libraries and 8,765 journals from six major publishers, their analysis showed 'an overall increase in usage for the entire set of journals in the year after implementation, though the extent of change varied by discovery service and publisher.'"

This is good news. We want students to use highly reputable, peer-reviewed articles that can be hard to find using a traditional library catalog. We know that, generally, if students find an online database too laborious (say, three clicks), they will skip it.

Discovery layers are a good thing, but is there bias? To understand if there is bias, "it helps to understand how discovery tools work. Libraries make large investments in different kinds of content, such as their subscriptions to databases of scholarly articles, or the books that fill their local catalogs. The new breed of search software hinges on building 'a very large, consolidated index that represents all of those things,' says Marshall Breeding, a consultant who specializes in library technology. Vendors of discovery tools will make deals with providers that sell content to libraries, he says, so that content can be represented in the discovery tools’ indexes and made available for search. (Beyond products from Ebsco and ProQuest, other major tools in this genre, known as 'web scale' or 'index based' discovery, include Primo, from Ex Libris, and WorldCat Discovery Services, from OCLC.)

Vendors describe their discovery tools as unbiased arbiters of information. Ebsco, for example, sells both search software and content, as does ProQuest. Asked whether Ebsco favors its own content in the results generated by its search tool, Sam Brooks, executive vice president for sales and marketing, dismissed the idea as 'competitor-driven propaganda.' He added, 'There’s no truth to that whatsoever.' Bias toward a content provider, he says, 'would be commercial suicide for any discovery vendor.'"

Although the vendors insist they are unbiased, Andrew Asher, Assessment Librarian at Indiana U. at Bloomington, took a look at the potential bias. "Mr. Asher’s experiment discovered that default settings of the tools had a major effect on what resources students chose. Working with Google Scholar, which is integrated with Google Books, students used more books. With Summon, they used a lot of shorter newspaper and magazine articles. With ­Ebsco Discovery Service, they used more journals, which meant they scored highest under the study’s rating rubric. (In a blog post responding to Mr. Asher’s study, ProQuest said the methodology 'inadvertently penalized' Summon, its product.)"

The bias may be inadvertent, but it does appear that the vendor created discovery tools do favor their content.

Ultimately, though, how much all this will matter is debatable. "Only about 20 percent of faculty members begin research at their libraries’ online catalogs, according to a 2012 survey by Ithaka S+R. Meanwhile, the competition for student and faculty attention has only intensified since 2004, when Google’s 'simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature' made its debut. That free service, called Google Scholar, has many fans in academe."

After noting the criticisms of Google Scholar (limited advanced search functionality, incomplete or inaccurate metadata, inflated citation counts, lack of usage statistics, and inconsistent coverage across disciplines), Asher reluctantly stated his preference for using it. "I kind of hate to say it, since I am a librarian," he says. "We pay a lot of money for discovery tools. And then I go off and just use Google Scholar."

Friday, May 8, 2015

Millennials' Research Skills Lacking

After reading a very depressing article in the latest issue of the Law Library Journal about the demise of law libraries, this article gives me hope that people will continue to see the value of a librarian.

Time recently reported on a study that exposes the myth of the digital native conducted at Illinois Wesleyan, DePaul University, and Northeastern Illinois University, and the University of Illinois’s Chicago and Springfield campuses in 2011. InsideHigherEd discussed the study in detail.

The most alarming finding in the ERIAL studies was perhaps the most predictable: when it comes to finding and evaluating sources in the Internet age, students are downright lousy. Only seven out of 30 students whom anthropologists observed at Illinois Wesleyan conducted what a librarian might consider a reasonably well-executed search.

Throughout the interviews, students mentioned Google 115 times -- more than twice as many times as any other database. The prevalence of Google in student research is well-documented, but the Illinois researchers found something they did not expect: students were not very good at using Google. They were basically clueless about the logic underlying how the search engine organizes and displays its results. Consequently, the students did not know how to build a search that would return good sources. (For instance, limiting a search to news articles, or querying specific databases such as Google Book Search or Google Scholar.)

Even when students turned to more scholarly resources, that did not necessarily solve the problem. Many seemed confused about where in the constellation of library databases they should turn to locate sources for their particular research topic: Half wound up using databases a librarian “would most likely never recommend for their topic.” For example, “Students regularly used JSTOR to try to find current research on a topic, not realizing that JSTOR does not provide access to the most recently published articles,” Duke and Asher wrote in their paper, noting that “articles typically appear in JSTOR after 3-5 years, depending on their publisher.” (JSTOR was the second-most frequently alluded-to database in student interviews, with 55 mentions.)

Regardless of the advanced-search capabilities of the database they were querying, “Students generally treated all search boxes as the equivalent of a Google search box, and searched ‘Google-style,’ using the ‘any word anywhere’ keyword as a default,” they wrote. Out of the 30 students Duke and Asher observed doing research, 27 failed to narrow their search criteria at all when doing so would have turned up more helpful returns. Unsurprisingly, students using this method got either too many search results or too few. Frequently, students would be so discouraged they would change their research topic to something more amenable to a simple search.

All of these findings suggest a huge need for librarians and really go to the evolving role of the librarian - in part, offering instruction on how to navigate and contextualize information. The main problem is that even though Millennials lack these skills, they do not seek the help of librarians. According to the study, most of them view us as "glorified ushers" pointing in this direction or that. And they often overestimate their research skills.

There may be something to the "shock and awe approach" of helping students understand their deficiencies so that they can really learn to research.