Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ill-Considered Rush To Re-Design Legal Education?

Protect Experiential Learning in Law School -- Let the Market Solve the Problems

Two well-respected legal scholars, who also write frequently about how to teach law, offered an op-ed piece in The New York Times, entitled: Don't Skip on Legal Training.  Erwin Chermerinsky and Carrie Menkel-Meadow open the conversation by providing this context:
Legal education, like all education, can certainly be improved, but the widely made claims of a “crisis” are exaggerated and do not reflect the contributions legal education makes to achieving justice and well-being for many in the world. In January, an American Bar Association Task Force on the Future of Legal Education declared that it had rushed to release its report because “the urgency of the problem and the serious threats to public confidence demanded rapid action.” This crisis mentality is not only unfounded, but is also creating pressure for reforms that would make legal education worse, not better.
The claims of imminent catastrophe always focus on three things: the problematic job market for law graduates, the increased cost of legal education, and the decrease in applications for law schools.
The authors then briefly discuss these three components of the current market for legal education.  I have tracked the information about all three topics in many of my blog postings, and these authors provide a credible synthesis of each topic.  

Next, they turn their attention to proposed reforms of legal education, by saying: "Our chief concern is that the claims about a crisis in legal education will be the impetus for reforms that will do more harm than good."

They focus their discussion on two proposals:  

  • Reducing the undergraduate education required to take the bar exam; and
  • Reducing law school to a two-year program.
They call the second proposal a "terrible idea."  They back up this opinion with several paragraphs of argument starting with this:
The profession needs law schools to produce lawyers who are better prepared to practice law, not less well trained. That would be impossible in two-thirds of the time. If law school were of just two years’ duration, the first things to be cut would be clinical education and interdisciplinary courses, which are the best innovations since we went to law school in the 1970s.
This proposal worries me, too.  Yes, we will still find ways to cram the doctrinal law into the brains of students in a two year program, but the experiential, skill-building components of the curriculum will fall away.   Moreover, proponents of the two-year curricular program apparently assume that new graduates will find practice mentors after law school.  Yet, we also hear that law firms want more practice-ready graduates. 

Here's my guess: If I asked any of our very busy second semester 3L students if they would want to sacrifice the learning they have experienced during their last year, most of them would say "no."

Most of my colleagues have 10 or more years of private practice experience, so we have been teaching practical skills in our courses long before it became a topic of conversation.   

While our students would want to avoid the expense of a third year of law school, I expect most of them have enjoyed the opportunity to put theory into practice.  In fact, as we have offered my summer and intercession courses, many students are taking additional courses, not required to graduate, because they find them useful to future career plans. 

I see the market responding to all three concerns that the reformers identify: jobs, cost of education, and decrease in applicants.  In a few more years (many say by 2016 or 2017) legal jobs and graduates will equalize.  As more potential applicants wait for that day, the current applicants to law school are benefiting from trimmed tuition costs or increased scholarship money.  I've blogged on these topics previously.   

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Creating Your Purpose

Then, Living with Purpose

Tom Asaker, who blogs on business and marketing, takes a look at the difference between finding your purpose and creating it.

He says:
[P]urpose isn't discovered.
It's created.
It isn't a carefully considered and crafted image.
It's a bold statement.
A way of believing and behaving that grows and evolves and enhances people's lives.
Purpose isn't something we pull out of our brands.
It's something we passionately build into them.
Out of our experiences and values.
                            * * *
Purpose means progress.
It's movement towards a more ethical and meaningful way of being.
Purpose creates a new world.
I teach at a purpose-driven school.  We exist to create opportunities for Appalachians who are often the first member in their immediate families to attend college or professional school.  On to that purpose, we have layered  our commitment to community service and to producing graduates who will return to their communities to provide leadership and public service.  Add to that, our purpose of changing the problem-solving paradigm by teaching students Alternative Dispute Resolution, while continuing to offer courses that will make them fearless courtroom advocates.

More recently, we have built a Natural Resources Law program that rivals any program east of the Mississippi River.  In doing so, we mindfully created a program that encouraged broad discussions from many points of view about coal, fracking, renewable energy, and environmental issues surrounding any decision we make in this area of law and policy.  These conversations can be lively.  Many of our students have family members who have worked in coal production.  One of our first students was a disabled coal miner.  We have graduates working for gas production companies.  They bring their work experiences back to campus during some of these classroom conversations.

My Dean gave me a great opportunity to bring several aspects of our school's purpose together in my Environmental Dispute Resolution course.  I am teaching it for a second year.  The students are learning group facilitation/consensus building skills, values, and processes.  We focus on several difficult local issues, most recently whether to site a wind farm on a ridge of the Appalachian Mountains about an hour from campus.

In that simulation, I have used 2L students to serve as neutral fact-finders for the 3L students in the course. Those 2Ls have given presentations on the risk of wind farms to crop dusters, bats, and birds.  They have discussed the risks of wind farms to cultural sites, to aviation safety, and to communication systems, including TV, radio, cellular, and aviation radar.  Most recently, two students discussed the economic impact of the proposed wind farm on the local tax base, tourism, and property values.

Last week, we talked about the difficulty of holding all this information "gently" while the group begins to see how all the puzzle pieces might fit together.

Last year, students gave the course good evaluations.  This past Thursday, this year's students provided evaluations.  I hear several of them provided long written comments.  I look forward to reading them after I submit grades for the course.  I want to make the course better because it expresses my purpose for teaching and it expresses the purpose of my little mission-driven school.

Photo: 2013 students listening to a presentation about the archaeological, historic, and Native American cultural sites in the area.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Mother's Love and the Gift of More Time

Honoring Her with Love and Purpose

I should have had this epiphany some time ago.  But, instead, it came to me last night as I was dropping off to sleep.

I turn 60 years old this summer.  My mom, JoAnn Drinkwater Young, died at the age of 61 in 1997.  When she was my age, she was already carrying the colon cancer that would kill her.

Shortly after her death, I filled a glass bowl full of translucent blue glass marbles.  Each marble represented a week in my life should I only live to be 61.  I intended it to remind me to live my life joyfully, lovingly, and with purpose.  

On a regular basis, I have thrown a handful of marbles into my garden representing the lapse of those weeks.  Until this morning, I had about 120 marbles left in that bowl.  Just now, I threw all but one of the remaining marbles into my colorful spring garden.  The last one I put in my "treasure box." 

Every week I live beyond age 61 is a gift, in my mind.  If my mom had had extra weeks to live a healthy and satisfying life, what would she have done?  I remember her saying she'd quit work.  At the time, she served as my Dad's dental office manager, receptionist, and hygienist.  

But, beyond that, I never heard her say what she would do with more days in her life.  She would have spent more time with her grandchildren.  I'm sure of that!  She would have gardened and helped with my brother's greenhouse business. She would have caught up on her sewing projects.  And, held more dinner parties.  I suspect she would have planned a few exotic trips.  I think she wanted to visit Hong Kong.  Who knew?

So, my task is to decide how to live with my gift of many more weeks.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

40,000 Page Views for The Red Velvet Lawyer

40,000 Page Views
Friends, family, and colleagues:

Despite neglecting, this past month, my commitment to blog daily for a year, my blog has reached another milestone.  Some time today, page views of my blog topped 40,000. 

The Red Velvet Lawyer celebrated its first birthday in mid-March. It has been a great learning experience. It has given back to me a voice I had as a columnist. It keeps me in a conversation with colleagues, students, and alumni.

I appreciate your ongoing support and interest.

Love you all, and thanks so very much for your support!

Niche Marketing for Lawyers: Practice that Elevator Speech!

Tell a Story.
Start a Conversation.

At the last retreat of women entrepreneurs enjoying the coaching lessons of Christine Kane in her Gold Mastermind program, we -- yet again --  focused on identifying our ideal client and then practiced our elevator speech designed to draw that ideal client to our businesses.  

So this discussion by blogger Mark Beese, at Attorney at Work, caught my eye.  He reports on several presentations given at the recent conference of legal marketing professionals.
Niche marketing. Think about the last time someone asked, “So, what do you do?” at a networking event. What did you say? “I’m a [fill-in-the-blank] lawyer” or “I’m an attorney at [X] firm”? Do you think you made a lasting, positive first impression?
Kevin McMurdo, Principal of McMurdo Consulting and former CMO of Perkins Coie, led a lively discussion on teaching lawyers to focus on a specific niche market where they have a specific value proposition. He used the “elevator speech” to illustrate the point. Which of these responses is most memorable?
  • “I’m a regulatory lawyer at a large firm in the Pacific Northwest.”
  • “I help vintners deal with the many regulations involving wine production, bottling and distribution. My clients produce wine listed on Wine Spectator’s top 100 list. I love wine, I make my own wine and have made a career out of helping wine companies.”
McMurdo advised that lawyers define their niche market by expertise, reputation, network, industry or a specific problem they help solve. He had this advice on creating a targeted elevator speech:
  • Make it succinct, detailed and distinctive.
  • Tell a story.
  • Make it appropriate to the situation.
  • Use it to start a meaningful conversation that builds trust and chemistry.
He encourages lawyers to practice their speech within their firm, in practice group meetings, and through internal introduction videos so that others know how to best refer opportunities to you.
What is your elevator speech? 

ShalePlay App Keeps Energy Clients Current

Positioning your Law Firm 
as an Expert

Blogger Mark Beese, at Attorney at Work, reports on several presentations given at the recent conference of legal marketing professionals.  This story about "valuable free content" offered to energy law clients caught my eye.  
Paul Grabowski, CMO of Bracewell Guiliani, gave a behind-the-scenes tour of what it takes to produce an award-winning mobile app. Targeting energy companies, Bracewell’s free “ShalePlay” app provides a stream of news, analysis and legal commentary on the hydraulic fracturing industry segmented by geographic shale “plays” throughout the U.S. 
The process of creating the app took 14 months, and was a cross-disciplinary collaborative effort of in-house staff, attorneys and outside designers that required strong project management and a good budget. More than 10 software tools were involved in development, design and usage metrics. 
Grabowski’s lessons learned? 
  • Create a useful tool for clients that shares information or resources — not a brochure or directory of your firm.
  • Make it simple and fun to use.
  • Limit self-promoting content to 10 percent.
  • Innovation and creativity in law firms are fertile soil for skepticism, group-think and Murphy’s Law. Be prepared for surprises, delays and cost overruns.
ShalePlay, which received a 2014 LMA “Your Honor” award, has been promoted through multiple channels, including industry conferences and email promotions. Word of mouth, however, seemed the main driver of the thousands of downloads in its first week of release. 
The fracking glossary and news feeds have been such a valuable resource, some clients and prospects have made the app required reading for landmen and energy executives.
The iTunes Store description provides: "Requires iOS 6.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Energy Sector Mediation

Best Mediator?  Best Approach?

Interesting post on the use of mediation in energy-related disputes. Frames the debate about substantive expertise vs. process/people skills and about evaluative mediation that can drift into ethically impermissible legal advice.