Category: Law school

Emotional intelligenceLaw schoolMediationmindfulnessPeople skills

Mindfulness without meditation

They had me at “hello.”

Actually they had me with the title of the handout:

“Mindfulness without Meditation.”

Last week I attended the 2017 meeting of the Southeastern Association of Law Schools, a.k.a. SEALS, in beautiful Boca Raton. The SEALS meeting lasted all week but included a two-day Conference on Mindfulness in Law co-sponsored by SEALS, the AALS Section on Balance, the Mindfulness in Law Society, and the Fredrick P. Lenz Foundation.

Day two featured a session on “Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness in Law.” That’s where the elusive promise of mindfulness without meditation came in. There were several speakers, and I hope to blog about each of them. This post focuses on remarks by William Blatt of the University of Miami.

Professor Blatt has seven years’ experience teaching a law-school course on emotional intelligence and mindfulness. He acknowledged that mindfulness as a concept can be difficult to effectively communicate. Being mindful helps people to be at peace with themselves, to be more productive, and to have better relationships. But it’s like a neutral gear or a general state. It’s universal, but subtle. Telling someone to gain emotional intelligence by being mindful is like telling a triathlete to get better by exercising.

Professor Blatt uses his mindfulness class to delve into more specifics:

  1. Attention regulation

Students are drawn to techniques that help them concentrate better because they know it will help them academically. To help students see how they must intentionally focus, Professor Blatt draws a parallel to focused intensity in body building. He walks students through a bicep curl exercise. No weights are needed. The first time you just lift your arm. The second time, you imagine a marble in your bicep and you place a finger on your bicep, lifting your arm with focused intensity.

  1. Body awareness

Becoming more aware of your own body can help with mindfulness. The bicep curl exercise above is one way to do it. But Professor Blatt showed some more energetic ways to do this. First, breathe for 30 seconds but forcibly exhale. Let your breath be heard. By breathing out so strongly, you gain more body awareness.

Beyond that, you can get up out of your seat, put your arms over your head, bend your knees, and jump. Like 20 times. Your attention will come back to your body. Yes it looks strange to see a hotel ballroom full of law professors doing this, but it works.

  1. Emotional regulation

One barrier to mindfulness is repetitive thoughts. Professor Blatt shows students how to take a word—maybe “stress”—and repeat it over and over again. The key is to distort it. Repeat it so fast that it sounds like gibberish. Or slow it down and say it in a deep, slow, movie-trailer voice. Or say the word in a mouse voice. These techniques can break the association of such repetitive thoughts.

Professor Blatt also talked about ways to reframe certain feelings. Stress may feel like a threat, but perhaps it can be reframed as an opportunity. This is easy to say and hard to do. Professor Blatt suggested a good technique which is to change a problem into a question beginning “how…” For example “I’m feeling stressed about maintaining this blog” could become “How can I continue to find and post good content on this blog?”

Building on this interrogative technique, Professor Blatt talked about the broader “release technique” which walks through a series of questions about deciding whether to release a current emotional state—or not. The hyper-rational among us who find themselves dealing with an unwanted emotional state may like this pragmatic series of steps.

  1. Perspectives on the self

Does an individual have just one personality—one mood, one approach, one way of being in the world? “I contain multitudes,” Walt Whitman wrote. Professor Blatt discussed a technique for mindfulness in which you try to acknowledge these different “sub-personalities.” The examples he gave were the controller, the seeker, the skeptic, the big mind, and the big heart. Allowing yourself to “hear” the voice of these sub-personalities builds compassion for yourself and is connected to mindfulness more broadly.

I enjoyed Professor Blatt’s remarks about mindfulness because they spanned a wide range of mindfulness techniques from active (jumping up and down) to practical (using a checklist for deciding whether to let something go) to linguistic (articulating a difficult word in an exaggerated way) to conversational (practicing “talking and listening” to your own sub-personalities).

As he said, mindfulness is a general state. But there are many paths to reach—or at least to seek—that state.

InterviewsLaw schoolLegal communicationLegal educationNon-verbal communication

Non-Verbal Persuasion

This guest post summarizes the authors’ presentation, “Beyond Words: What Business Schools Can Teach Us About Non-Verbal Persuasion” at last week’s Association of Legal Writing Directors Biennial Conference held at the University of Minnesota Law School.

By Erin Carroll, Georgetown Law, and Shana Carroll, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management

The practice of law places great emphasis on words. Yet, how we communicate transcends words. Studies confirm that when we (lawyers and non-lawyers alike) speak, our tone, volume, pace, stance, gestures, and expression may convey more to our listeners than the words we use.

carroll-profile-200-287Most law schools teach oral presentation skills during the 1L year in the context of the appellate argument or the meeting with the supervising attorney. But often these skills are afterthoughts to a focus on written work. And even in teaching these skills, professors may unduly home in on the substance of arguments rather than on the way they are delivered and how listeners receive them.

Given the realities of legal practice, law schools would do well to conceptualize presentation skills more broadly. Law professors should consider the range of situations in which students will present and how those presentations could be more effective, putting aside their substance.

Business schools can serve as a model. Business school curriculums generally recognize that innumerable interactions in the working world are indeed presentations. Pitching clients, negotiating deals, running an effective meeting, and reviewing employees, for example, qualify. They all offer opportunities for speakers to consider and shape how they want the listener to understand their message.

Carroll_Shana

This is no less true for lawyers. Lawyers—at least those in the private sector—are also businesspeople, bringing in clients, doing deals, and interacting with colleagues. Public sector lawyers, too, negotiate, interview, and supervise. Interactions that fall into any of these broad categories can be bettered by adroit presentation skills.

Accordingly, we urge our business and law school students to think about how they can use their voices and their body language to drive home their intended meaning. That means focusing on volume, pace, tone, emphasis, stance, and an array of other paralinguistics (the qualities of how something is said rather than what is said) as well as gestures and expressions.

First, to familiarize our students with the multitude of means by which we communicate to our listeners, we have done the following exercises:

  • Ask students to find a video of a speaker they find particularly effective or ineffective. Have them post the video to a discussion board along with a description of why that speaker was effective or not. To the extent a student’s description is generic, press the student to substantiate it by indicating particular paralinguistic qualities or aspects of body language.
  • Alternatively, have students watch a video in class, identify these qualities, and discuss them. We have used this video of the 1992 presidential debate between Bill Clinton and George Bush, and this video of a press conference given by Tony Hayward, the former chief executive of BP, just weeks after the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

For either exercise, create a list of the different paralinguistic qualities and aspects of body language that can impact meaning. These could include: volume, pace, inflection, facial expression, movement, and fluidity. Professors might also discuss the importance of congruence between body language, paralinguistics, and message in conveying meaning.

In our classes, once students have some comfort with identifying and critiquing the presentation skills of others, we give them the opportunity to experiment. Here are a couple of things we suggest:

  • Start with a quick, kinesthetic exercise that gets students to hear the range of sentiment their voices can convey and see how their body language can impact meaning. We accomplish this by asking students to pretend they are ordering a ham sandwich. Students line up around the perimeter of the classroom and one by one come up to a podium at the front. Once they get there, we shout out a descriptive word like “despondent,” “angry,” “elated,” or “frustrated.” Students must then try to express that emotion when they say the following sentence: “I would like a ham sandwich with the works.” All sorts of sentences could be substituted here, but we like that this exercise uses something that feels a bit silly as a means of easing nerves.
  • Students are then ready to try out those same skills in a more serious scenario. Pass out slips of paper that include a couple of sentences that students might actually say in an upcoming presentation. For example, if oral arguments are approaching, short excerpts from student briefs could be used. Once students have their “script,” they get a couple of minutes to prepare to present it. During that time, students can think about what meaning they want to convey to the listener and how they can use volume, pace, tone, emphasis, gestures (and any other skills the class has discussed) to best do it. Students could be encouraged to experiment with different variations to identify which approach works best given their objective. They could also be placed in pairs or small groups and allowed to practice and get feedback from one another. Students could then be asked to volunteer to share their version with the class.

Of course, there are many, many other exercises that emphasize paralinguistic and nonverbal communication skills. These could include, for example, exercises on articulation or stance. What will be most helpful depends, of course, on the students’ and professors’ goals.

Regardless, law professors should keep in mind just how broad presentation skills are, how often students will use them in practice, and the variety of ways to teach them. We want to ensure that we are helping students improve their ability to persuade beyond simply teaching them to make a well-reasoned argument.

 

DiversityEmotional intelligenceEmotional laborInclusionLaw school

Listening begets listening

Thanks to Professors Alexa Chew and O.J. Salinas for their guest post below on fostering an open dialogue on diversity and inclusion in law schools. They will be presenting on these issues this week at the Association of Legal Writing Directors’ 2017 conference.

Law schools throughout the country continue to face issues related to diversity and inclusion. Students may feel unwelcome or marginalized at their law schools, and these feelings can impact their academic performance. This isn’t news, and most people want to foster a more inclusive law school environment.

chewBut what might be news are the details of these students’ individual experiences or the scope of these negative experiences within a student body. This matters because a precursor to making a law school more inclusive is understanding how students are feeling excluded. It also matters because if you’re not hearing those details, you might think that your school doesn’t have an inclusion problem. Or worse, you might be unknowingly contributing to it.

Whether you know it or not, your school probably does have an inclusion problem.

There is likely a group of faculty and staff at your school who know this well because they hear more than their share of students’ unhappy stories. Being one of those “go-to” folks is a blessing and a burden. It is a gift to be trusted with the intimate details of someone’s misery, to be present with another person’s vulnerability, to hear things before they need to be shouted. But it can also take an emotional toll on the listener. This is especially true when the student’s experience overlaps with the listener’s—for example because both are racial minorities or the first in their family to attend college.

A thing about burdens, though, is they get lighter when more people take them on. Not only that, but sharing burdens builds community.

salinasResearch suggests that the differences or misunderstandings that divide us can be lessened when we speak to each other and get to know each other a little more. Inviting students to share their stories and listening to those stories can improve those students’ well-being, especially if they feel that they haven’t been listened to in the past.

Here are some ideas for helping to invite these conversations:

  • In an individual conference or office hours, you might ask a student open-ended questions about how school is going. Listen to the answers non-judgmentally. Observe the student’s body language. Put on your lawyer hat and ask follow-up questions based on what you’ve heard and seen. (But remember it’s not an interrogation!)
  • In class, you could share a personal anecdote that suggests you have some experience with feeling like you don’t fit in. Explain that it’s common for law students to feel like they don’t belong. The reasons might be diverse, but the feeling of being an outsider is shared. This common ground can form the foundation for further conversation.
  • In class, you could issue a more explicit invitation to students–let them know that you are genuinely interested in their law school experience. Let them know that they can feel free to talk with you about non-academic concerns. (But be aware of reporting requirements at your institution. If you get the sense that a student might want to disclose information that must be reported, for example to your institution’s Title IX office, you’ll need to stop the conversation and advise the student of your duty to report certain information. This might be welcome news to the student, or it might not. The student can then make an informed choice about what else to share with you.)
  • Host a forum where students share their stories related to diversity and inclusion. A physical forum can foster real-time dialogue about students’ experiences and potential actions to address their concerns. The presence of faculty, staff, and administrators at a forum can expand the conversation by signaling that these issues matter and should be taken up by the whole community.

As readers of this blog surely know:

Listening begets listening—the more you practice, the better you get.

When it comes to conversations about diversity and inclusion, you might be afraid of saying the wrong thing. That’s a reasonable fear, and we’ve both said the wrong things during these conversations. It doesn’t feel great. But sometimes there isn’t a right thing to say. Sometimes the best you can offer is your time, your attention, and your ear.

If you are attending the ALWD Conference this week, we invite you to attend our session on Wednesday afternoon at 2 pm, where we will be hosting a conversation about these issues. The 2017 ALWD Conference is dedicated to discussions surrounding diversity and inclusion, as reflected by its theme: Acknowledging Lines: Talking About What Unites and Divides Us.

Thanks again to Alexa Chew and O.J. Salinas of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill:

Alexa Chew is a Clinical Associate Professor of Law at UNC Law. You can also find her on twitter at @aznchew.

O.J. Salinas is a Clinical Associate Professor of Law at UNC Law. You can also find him on twitter at @ojsalinas.

 

Clinical legal educationLaw schoolLegal educationLegal skillsMoot Court

Habit-forming classrooms     

How much time do law students spend in class? I’ve been thinking about the behavioral implications of so much time in front of laptop screens. I look forward to reading but don’t actually need to read Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked to know that looking at a screen is some kind of behavioral habit. And the time students spend in law-school classrooms may be feeding that habit.

Yes, some professors ban laptops. Most do not. Yes, some law students use their laptops just exactly like a yellow legal pad and quill pen, never once checking any updated social media feed during class. But most do not. So just how much time do law students spend in front of laptop screens during a typical three-year JD program?

An estimate can be derived from ABA regulations for law schools, which I learned more about at the Legal Writing Institute’s recent conference for moot court advisors helped to answer this question. ABA Standard 311 requires 83 credit hours to graduate, 64 hours of which must constitute  “attendance in regularly scheduled classroom sessions or direct faculty instruction.” The broad topic of ABA requirements came up at the moot court conference because within this 64 hours, students graduating in 2019 and after will need six hours of experiential-learning credits to graduate. Moot court advisors from Oklahoma City College of Law, Mississippi College of Law, the University of North Dakota, and Ohio State University talked about the new ABA requirement for experiential learning.

That number—64 hours—is the key to answering my question about total laptop time.

Let’s use the ABA’s numbers to assume that a student takes only 64 classroom hours to graduate and the rest of the 83 comes from extracurricular activities, externships, and other types of educational activities.

Out of the required 64, let’s further assume six of those are experiential learning in a clinic or simulation, in which students should be closing their laptops and working closely with people a substantial portion of that time.

That leaves another 58 hours of course credit in lecture and Socratic law-school classes. Let’s assume the student uses a laptop during all of that time. Is this an unrealistic assumption? I don’t think so, but you can easily adjust the math below to reach estimates for 80 percent laptop usage or 60 percent laptop usage.

If we do assume the student opens a laptop for notetaking during all of these class sessions throughout law school, what’s the total time that student’s eyeballs will be on the screen?

A credit hour is 50 minutes of classroom time per week plus two hours of preparation time (ignored for purposes of this calculation). Each semester has 15 weeks, but one of those weeks can be used for exam review and exam taking. Thus the total amount of classroom time can be calculated as follows:

50 minutes a week,

14 weeks a semester,

multiplied by 58 credit-hours.

What’s the mathematical result?

40,600 minutes

677 hours

84-and-a-half business days

That’s a lot of time with eyeballs on screens. Taking notes in a law-school lecture may not be habit-forming like Candy Crush, but it’s still a behavior. Repeat a behavior enough, and you have a habit (colloquially defined). Walk into the room, take out the laptop, pop it open and turn it on. When the professor begins to speak, direct attention to the front of the room, and start typing. Listen for a while and keep up with class, typing notes in bullet and sub-bullet form vertically down a Word or notes page of some sort. Then a thought pops up about an expected email reply. Open a tab to quickly check. Keep one ear on the professor’s words and get them down. Close the email tab and return to the notes doc. Rinse and repeat.

The 58 credit-hours of classroom time make up almost two-thirds of a student’s academic time in law school. Assuming that a student gets excellent training and practice on interviewing (including listening skills) somewhere in the other 35 credit-hours, can that training and practice overcome the weeks, days, and hours spent looking at the laptop? Of course people use different communication skills and tools in a large classroom and a one-on-one interview. But are these communication habits so easily siloed and separated? What is the leakage—if any—between classroom listening habits and professional listening habits? As Will Durant said in paraphrasing Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, “We are what we repeatedly do.”

This month tens of thousands of law students are shaking off their final exams and going out into the “real world” for summer work. At courts, agencies, businesses, and law firms, these personal laptops will largely be left behind. But what habits won’t be?

__

Here are just a few of many recent articles on laptops in the law-school classroom:

Kristen Murray, Let them Use Laptops: Debunking the Assumptions Underlying the Debate over Laptops in the Classroom

James Levy, Teaching the Digital Caveman: Rethinking the Use of Classroom Technology in Law School

Steven Eisenstat, A Game-Changer: Assessing the Impact of the Princeton/UCLA Laptop Study on the Debate of Whether to Ban Student Use of Laptops during Class

 

 

 

Law schoolLaw school prepLegal educationLegal skillsLegal writing

Let the ice cube melt

The other day I had to have my eyes dilated. As they slowly came back into focus, I tested them on this week’s issue of The New Yorker. One of the essays focused on Allison Janney, currently starring on Broadway in “Six Degrees of Separation.” Janney’s character in the play owns a Kandinsky (Wassily Kandinsky, one of the first abstract artists of the early 20th Century), and in the New Yorker essay Janney was viewing a Kandinsky at the Guggenheim as she gave the interview:

On her phone, she pulled up a Kandinsky quote from the play: “It is clear that the choice of object that is one of the elements in the harmony of form must be decided only by a corresponding vibration in the human soul.” She grimaced. “A sentence like that is so hard to understand,” she said. “It’s like an ice cube that hasn’t melted. That’s the way my father used to talk about learning the piano or learning a language. He said, ‘It’ll melt, just give it time.'”

Kandinsky’s actual quote seemed like a legal writing professor’s dream, in terms of editing issues to attack:

  • throat-clearing language (“It is clear that…”)
  • a gaggle of prepositional phrases (“of…of…in…of…by…in…”)
  • passive voice, of course (“must be decided only by…”)

But underneath the verbiage is the artist’s essential concept. How could that wordy sentence be rewritten without changing the concept? I came up with the following:

“The artist must decide on elements in the harmony of form only by seeking a corresponding vibration in the human soul.”

This edit cuts 10 words. Is it better? Even though it reflects standard writing edits, it changed some of the original. Most obviously, obliterating the passive means adding an actor. But maybe Kandinsky wanted to hide “the artist” by using the passive. The most concrete thing in the whole sentence is the last thought—“a corresponding vibration in the human soul.” Using abstract, passive, verbose language leading up to the final culminating moment—“the human soul”—is itself a form of verbal artistry.

This conceptual verbal artistry is at home and welcome in art-theory discourse, not so much in legal writing. The values of plain language and efficient writing have little use for a quote like “It is clear that the choice of objects . . . blah blah blah.”

So after reading Kandinsky’s quote in the essay, I was ready to move on to another portion of the magazine. But luckily, I finished the paragraph, catching Allison Janney’s wonderful turn of phrase quoted from her father:

“It’ll melt, just give it time.”

I think she meant that after effort and thought by the person approaching this sentence, the sequence of words will break down. They will “melt” into meaning in the person’s mind. The sentence itself doesn’t change; after all, that’s what Kandinsky meant for it to say. But the person encountering the sentence can melt it in their own mind so it’s not so rigid and foreboding.

How does this melting occur? As Janney’s father advised her, through time and patience. Not through focused effort directly lasered onto the ice cube. An ice cube melts effortlessly through the passage of time.

This ice-cube metaphor seems to me a wonderful metaphor for learning the law as well. For new law students faced with old cases and new concepts in arcane and twisted language, at times the only logical reaction is to grimace—just as Janney did when she read the Kandinsky quote. And of course you can apply techniques, tips, and tricks (as shown earlier in this post) to break down what you hear and read into something you can actually understand and use.

But really, ultimately the only valid long-term strategy is letting the ice cube melt. It melts slowly and imperceptibly. But then, at some point, something has happened. You can speak the language, and you can play the instrument. The ice cube has melted. You are thinking like a lawyer.

 

 

AdvocacyClinical legal educationFact investigationLaw schoolLegal education

Future trial lawyers, take heart

Listen Like a Lawyer will be delving into communication and writing in the next few posts. One reason this blog is generally dedicated to listening is that there are already many excellent legal-writing blogs available for the legal community. (For example: Forma Legalis, Lady Legal Writer, Law Prose, Legible,  and Ziff Blog, just to cite a few.) The writing-related posts here will connect to broad communication themes such as voice, empathy, and the relationship between senior and junior lawyers emerging from a lot of writing and talking as well as reading and listening.

Law professor Philip N. Meyer once did an unusual thing: he spent thirteen weeks observing a federal jury trial on a daily basis. Day after day throughout an entire summer, Meyer sat as a watcher and listener, taking in the spectacle of the trial and everything it entailed—from the painful moments to the surprisingly lighthearted. Leaving court late at night, he spied the lead defense lawyer sitting alone in a car in a remote parking lot with the windows rolled up, practicing his closing argument. This experience is just one of many inspirations for his book Storytelling for Lawyers (Oxford 2014).

Storytelling for Lawyers has neither a chapter on listening nor an index entry on listening. The book is about talking and writing—in other words, producing—narratives, much more than listening as such.  But Meyer mentions listening on page 2, talking about his work as a trial lawyer:

I learned to watch and listen to how my audience listened to me, and I would respond to their concerns, reshaping my stories to fit the shape of their imagining.

The book is about crafting stories that will resonate with audiences, whether at trial or in motions practice. So I recommend it.

But now let me get to the point of this post and why I titled it “Future trial lawyers, take heart.” Meyer teaches a variety of classes including doctrinal classes in criminal law and torts. In his chapter on voice and style, he begins with a reflection on what it’s like to grade law-school examinations:

As I grade these examinations, as best I can articulate it, the singular difference between the mediocre examination answers (C and below) and the middling to good examination answers (B-range grade) is primarily in the “substance”—whether students can identify the relevant issues and accurately articulate the relevant legal rules necessary to analyze the problem.

The distinction between the B exams and the A exams is, however, primarily in the “voice” and “style” of presentation. Voice and style, however, mean something much different in the context of law school examination taking than in the artful trial and appellate narratives that litigation attorneys construct in a factually far more complex and indeterminate world. (This, I think, speaks to why excellent litigation attorneys were often poor law school test takers.)

Meyer goes on to explain that the voice and style of top law school examinations “clamp[] down” on the facts, use clean organization, and employ the King’s English.  The student’s voice must be neutral and must not call attention to itself. “A” exams certainly don’t use colloquialism or humor. And they don’t explore the story embedded within the exam hypothetical in any depth. Meyer quotes a former student describing the events in an exam as “floating factoids.”

This is just one professor’s reflection on his experience grading exams, and he prefaces all of this by saying he grades holistically rather than with a detailed objective checklist. Still, it’s refreshingly transparent and I think every law student should read this—especially those just receiving their first round of law-school grades.

Law students who want to get into the courtroom and try cases may be disappointed that the skills distinguishing great trial lawyers maybe aren’t really tested in this (very popular and prevalent) type of law-school exam. That disconnect is the subject of discussion, critique, and reform, and more discussion, critique, and reform. The positive side here is that Meyer’s reflection invites law students to understand their grades as only loosely related (if there is much of any relationship) to how they might expect to perform in court.

Meyer’s reflection on the emasculated role of facts in many law school exams reminded me of an attorney’s recent #PracticeTuesday tweet. Bryan Gividen was responding to a call to bust law students’ myths of what it means to be a lawyer:

 

Working with the facts, crafting the story, developing a voice, testing whether the voice and the story resonate with an audience, all of these tasks are deeply connected with what it means to be a trial lawyer. The best appellate lawyers experiment with all of these things as well, but there are limits: the idea of “clamping down on the facts” by rigorously adhering to the record, and controlling one’s voice for the genre of the appellate brief and the audience of the appellate panel. Gividen draws this line when he identifies competitive appellate work as an exception to “practicing the facts.”

Any law student or lawyer who wants to develop their skills practicing the facts should benefit from studying Storytelling for Lawyers. Meyers concludes the book with a reflection on why law stories are different from stories told by journalists, filmmakers, and artists:

A final characteristic of law stories, especially the stories told in litigation practice, is that these stories are typically open or unfinished stories—their endings are strongly implied but not ordered or prescribed. It is up to a decision maker to write the ending, provide the closure and the coda that gives the story its meaning, and determine the outcome.

Legal storytelling has a rich literature, and anyone intrigued by this brief exploration of Meyer’s book would enjoy delving into the legal storytelling/applied legal storytelling scholarship. One gem is  Ruth Anne Robbins’ Harry Potter, Ruby Slippers, and Merlin: Telling the Client’s Story Using the Characters and Paradigm of the Archetypal Hero’s Journey, 29 Seattle L. Rev. 767 (2006). She argues that the client should not look to the judge as the hero and savior; the client should show how they are traversing a series of challenges and need the judge’s help in a mentoring role. The client is the real hero, a flawed hero but a hero nonetheless, seeking to carry on with their larger, bigger, more meaningful challenge. So the judge is not supposed to save the client; the client can save themself if they can just get through this lawsuit and carry on with their larger quest. Thus the opposing party is not the true antagonist but merely a “threshold guardian” impeding the client’s real quest.

Law students can take heart in this advice as well, in understanding their own personal story and quest. Law-school exams are basically a “threshold guardian.” They are a gatekeeping challenge the law student must face in the larger quest for something more meaningful.

 

 

 

Law school

New semester, better listening skills

For law students starting a new semester, here is a roundup of past Listen Like a Lawyer posts that may be helpful:

Listening at your externship

Listening to children (if you work in a children’s clinic)

Preparing for a negotiations class

A technique for taking notes

Organizing guest-speaker appearances for a law-school organization

There is no evidence to support distinct “learning styles”

Working in groups and balancing introverts and extroverts

Laptops in class

Observing your first oral argument

Next steps in oral-argument preparation (trying some improvisation)

 

 

 

Client developmentFact investigationLaw schoolLegal technologyPeople skills

Is attention personal or professional?

A law professor’s New York Times op-ed, “Leave Your Laptops at the Door to My Classroom,” prompted lots of discussion on blogs and Twitter. Should law students be told and required to close their screens and (to the extent this is even possible) pay attention in class?  Or should they have the freedom to decide whether to engage in behavior that may (or may not) hurt their learning, disrespect classmates, and create a distraction?

I think a hard question here is this:

Is attention personal or professional?

 

 

If attention is personal, then the student should have the freedom to decide whether and how to use a laptop. It’s the culture of American education to wax nostalgic about daydreaming, note-writing, talking to one’s neighbor.  The teacher takes countermeasures, seizing notes and flashing the light switch on and off. But there’s something heroic about the student’s personal quest for autonomy and freedom to think and stage whisper about . . . whatever. And even more so in law school, which is a professional school for grownups who (opponents to Rosenblum’s position argue) should be able to make the decision when and how to pay attention, and when and how to take notes.

If attention is professional, then law professors have a better argument on laptops. What is a law school? I googled this question and came up with a law review conveniently titled the same, by Prof. Stephen Wizner of Yale. Granted it’s from 1989, but this still seems like a decent answer for today:

What is a law school? That is a question that ought to have a fairly straightforward answer: a law school is a professional school for the education and training of lawyers. If we know what lawyers do – or ought to do – we should be able to design a curriculum that will prepare law students to carry out that professional role in a competent, ethical, socially responsible manner.

Paying attention is part of being competent and ethical. And, I would argue, seeming to pay attention is also part of being competent—or at least part of being able to attract and retain jobs and clients. Judicial ethics rules officially sanction “the appearance of impropriety.” On a far more unofficial level and a far more pervasive scale, potential employers and clients sanction “the appearance of inattention.” They don’t give jobs to candidates who don’t seem to be listening and paying attention in an interview. They don’t return more work to an associate who doesn’t seem to be listening and paying attention when meeting with a partner. And they don’t give their legal business to lawyers and law firms who don’t seem to be listening and paying attention in a “dog and pony” show to demonstrate their desire and ability to take on a new case.

This connection of the law school classroom to what lawyers actually do is part of Professor Rosenblum’s argument for banning laptops:

Students need two skills to succeed as lawyers and as professionals: listening and communicating. We must listen with care, which requires patience, focus, eye contact and managing moments of ennui productively — perhaps by double-checking one’s notes instead of a friend’s latest Instagram. Multitasking and the mediation of screens kill empathy.

Likewise, we must communicate — in writing or in speech — with clarity and precision. The student who speaks in class learns to convey his or her points effectively because everyone else is listening. Classmates will respond with their accord or dissent. Lawyers can acquire hallmark precision only through repeated exercises of concentration. It does happen on occasion that a client loses millions of dollars over a misplaced comma or period.

The importance of these skills leads him to the following conclusion:

My students need to learn how to be lawyers and professionals. To succeed they must internalize an ethos of caution, care and respect. To instill these values and skills in my students, I have no choice but to limit laptop use in the classroom.

The reaction of the legal and broader education communities varied quite a bit, from cheers to jeers. Personally I haven’t banned laptops. I like being able to ask people to quickly look something up as part of their interaction with my writing class, and I share materials on my course site that students can download and take notes on. This is a writing class—not a pretrial lit class with interviewing skills—so listening and paying attention are an implied but not explicit part of the class goals. If I were teaching an interviewing class, listening and paying attention and not looking at a screen would be very open and transparent parts of the evaluation and grade. But I’m not, and neither is Prof. Rosenblum as best I can understand. (He mentions a stilted, unproductive discussion in his class on sexuality and the law as the catalyst for his decision to ban laptops.)

So one way to ask the question is, how much does a professor assume the responsibility of teaching and valuing soft skills relevant to students’ professional success? This is both a question of traditional professorial autonomy and preference (how much does each professor actually want to do so) and of institutional decisions (should soft skills be pervasively taught and modeled; or cabined within certain dedicated classes and domains)? For example, a career services adviser should certainly be giving a student feedback on focus and perceived attention level during a mock interview. And any student who gets distracted by a smartphone in the midst of interviewing a simulated client—or heaven forbid, a real client—should be given a bad grade.

It’s perhaps ironic for a listening blogger that my decision arguably diminishes the value of listening in my own classroom. I don’t think—I know—that paying attention and listening will help students get jobs, get better assignments, and get clients. And paying attention and listening will help them do their jobs, exceed expectations on individual assignments, and lead clients to want to give them more work. I guess I want them to have the freedom to take notes and encounter the world of information necessary for my class using their laptops—while also developing the mental agility and personal willpower to appropriately switch back and forth from computer use to personal listening. Those who can do this are more likely to thrive professionally, and those who cannot are more likely to . . . not thrive.

So there is no clean answer and thus no single approach. Attention is both personal and professional. How law professors teach and train new lawyers will continue to hover delicately over that line.

Law schoolLeadershipLegal communicationLegal educationPeople skills

Best Practices for Law Schools and Student Organizations when Inviting Guest Speakers

This post is formatted as a draft policy on best practices for law schools and law-student organizations when they invite guests to speak to or interact with their law school community. This policy errs on the side of formality and specificity, attempting to spell out specific steps for inviting guests and planning events. Feedback is welcome, particularly from members of the bench and bar who may want to share their thoughts on having a good (or bad) experience guest-speaking at a law school.

Purpose

The purpose of these best practices is to articulate norms of civility and courtesy for events sponsored by law schools and law-school student organizations in which guests—such as members of the bench and bar—are invited.

The norms are based on the idea of thoughtful reflection before planning an event, open communication while planning the event, respectful attention and engagement during the event, and appropriate expressions of gratitude after the event.

Observing these norms make the experience of hosting a guest more likely to be a positive experience for the guest. Observing these norms may also make the experience more meaningful for event attendees. Observing these norms may, in the broadest sense, encourage legal professionals to accept future offers from other organizations to future events. Thereby, these norms serve to encourage positive interactions between the bench and bar and students and faculty at law schools.

Audience

These best practices are offered for consideration by any law school or law-student organization that invites guests to campus to speak and interact with students and faculty.

Before the Event

The organization will confer with law school administrators and event planners to ensure that inviting the desired guest is appropriate in light of other law-school communications with that guest, the overall relationship with that guest, and the law school’s other commitments and events during the proposed time for the event.

The organization will make a reasonable estimate of how many attendees it can expect at the event. The organization will communicate with potential guests when making invitations and share the estimated attendance. Guests should have this information when deciding whether to accept the invitation.

For example, a legal professional may be willing to donate his or her time to speak to 30 law students, but not 3.

The organization will take reasonable steps to schedule the event at a time when attendance will meet the initial estimate. This includes checking with calendars and event planners for scheduling conflicts. After reasonable steps have been taken, the organization will assess whether to pursue the event should a conflict arise.

If the organization later learns of a scheduling conflict that would materially change the conditions that guest experiences in the event, the organization will contact guest and describe the new conditions, giving the guest the opportunity to revisit and change the commitment to attend the event.

The organization will set a schedule for the event that provides an appropriate time and setting for the guest to speak or lead a discussion. This includes confirming and communicating the amount of time available for the guest to speak. It also includes organizing any lunch, cocktails, or other refreshments so as not to interfere with the time and setting of the guest’s presentation.

One or more designated representatives of the organization will provide coordinated communication to any guests the organization may invite for the event.

Communication will be coordinated, meaning everyone within the organization with some responsibility for the event will stay in communication with others within that organization. Thus the organization will provide consistent, timely information to guests. The organization will facilitate directions and parking and any other logistical details, and will share this with the guest as soon as reasonably possible.

Ideally, the organization will share logistical details with the guest before the guest feels the need to contact the organization and ask for those details.

The organization will delegate to one or more individuals the task of preparing an introduction for the guest. This includes verifying in advance and then using the proper pronunciation of the guest’s name. It also includes the task of asking for a resume or C.V. or other biographical details, or collecting them from research.

Students who may be unsure of what an appropriate introduction is or how to deliver it should ask experienced professionals at their law school.

Digital Etiquette During Events

As a general practice, the organization will notify its members and others invited to the event, in advance of the event, about its policy for encouraging, permitting, discouraging, or prohibiting digital distractions including phones, tablets, and laptops.

Having no policy and leaving digital etiquette up to attendees is a possible option, but it surrenders the organization’s role in creating the appropriate environment at the event.

Prior to the event at an appropriate location near the entrance of the space where the event is taking place, members of the organization will post prominent signs stating the event’s policy on phones, laptops, and other digital devices.

If the organization believes the guest may wish to permit or encourage event-related digital activity during the event, such as tweeting and other social-media sharing, the organization should check with the guest before the event and adjust event policies accordingly.

For example, some guests may strongly desire that their presentation be shared on social media, and others may wish to discourage such sharing.

At the beginning of the event, a designated representative of the organization will announce the event’s policy for laptops, tablets, phones and other potential digital distractions.

This can be done in a friendly manner such as before theater productions.

Members of the organization will set the standard of respectfully focusing on the guest during the session.

If the event draws both members and non-members, attentive focus by members can create a respectful and positive environment for the guest.

If appropriate, attendees who are seen committing distracting behavior inconsistent with the norms announce for the event may be discretely asked by a member of the organization to stop.

After the Event

A representative of the organization will personally thank the guest and attend to any needs the guest may have in connection with the event, such as parking vouchers.

A representative will offer to accompany the guest to their next destination in the law school (or the building exit).

The organization’s leadership will thank the guest in writing after the event. Whether to email, type, or hand-write the note is a decision to be discussed among the organization and with others at the law school as needed.

The organization will contact the law school administration if appropriate to confer whether additional thank-you notes should be sent from administrators.

The organization will seek to build institutional knowledge about the relationship with this guest. Event organizers will create notes to disseminate to future leaders of the organization. This process allows relevant information to be handed down to future leaders within the organization responsible for planning new events.

Clinical legal educationLaw schoolLaw school preplearning stylesLegal education

Learning styles, revisited

For the past month, I’ve been struggling with an ankle injury. Yesterday at the orthopedist’s office, the medical questionnaire asked about patients’ preferred learning style. The question was something like this:

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 8.21.06 AM

My answer was and remains, “ I don’t care how you give me the information as long as you fix my ankle!”

And that connects to a post from last year, “Back to school means ‘what’s your learning style?’” That post points out that learning styles are better thought of as learning preferences by individuals. It cites some research and analysis questioning whether teaching to an individual’s preferred learning style actually enhances their learning outcomes. In other words, it’s not clear that teaching to learning styles helps people actually learn.

The consensus at least among learning-style skeptics is this: learning-style preferences do not mean information actually is more effective when packaged to meet any one person’s preference. A learner may prefer to learn visually, but certain lessons about music must be presented in auditory format. A learner may prefer to learn by acting and moving, but certain math concepts must be presented visually in a formula. For physical therapy, learning by doing makes a lot of sense so you can model the right way to do the exercises. The basic takeaway is this:

The nature of the information is the most significant factor in how that information should be presented to learners.

This is an important point for those who care about good listening skills. With the popularity of texting and email and other screen-based forms of communication, comfort with and preferences for listening and face-to-face conversations would seem to be in jeopardy. Future lawyers should not use their exposure to learning styles to say, “I’m going to text the client this bad news instead of calling her because I prefer to get information in writing and visually.”

As I wrote last year, many people have written really good articles about using learning styles in the law-school classroom. And none of this is to excuse a decision by a professor to always use the Socratic method or any other default method. But it is worthwhile to question what seems to be the very popular belief that people learn information effectively when it is reshaped to fit their preferences.