Practical Advice

  • December 8, 2011
    Practical Advice
    Current Issues in Constitutional Litigation
    A Context and Practice Casebook
    Sarah E. Ricks and Evelyn M. Tenenbaum

    By Sarah Ricks, a clinical professor of law at Rutgers School of Law and co-director of the Pro Bono Research Project.

    The New York Times recently declared, “American legal education is in crisis.” One cause, the editorial argued, is legal education’s traditional preference for theory over practice: “In 2007, a report by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching explained that law schools have contributed heavily to this crisis by giving ‘only casual attention to teaching students how to use legal thinking in the complexity of actual law practice.’” Widely publicized calls to reform legal education have come from Best Practices; its blog; and other blogs, e.g., "Room for Debate – The Case Against Law School."

    One challenge for law teachers who want to integrate practical skills into doctrinal teaching is finding appropriate teaching materials.

    Evelyn Tenenbaum and I collaborated on a casebook responding to the call for a more practical approach to teaching law. Current Issues in Constitutional Litigation: A Context and Practice Casebook focuses on practical materials to teach the constitutional and statutory doctrines necessary to litigate constitutional claims arising under the 4th, 8th, and 14th Amendments, under the 1st Amendment in the prison context, and the 11th Amendment defense.

  • May 2, 2011
    Practical Advice

    A New York Times report on law school scholarships reveals the real risk many law students may face in attending schools where their scholarships are tied to grade point average requirements.   

    As American law schools have “quietly gone on a giveaway binge in the last decade,” with more than one in four law students now receiving a scholarship, many students will inevitably lose those grants, because grading curves at some schools  make it mathematically impossible for all of those who receive scholarships to keep them, the article explains.

    At Golden Gate University School of Law, for example, more than 50 percent of students are given merit scholarships, but the curve typically allows only a third of students to achieve the 3.0 GPA required to keep the scholarships. 

     “By the middle of second semester of that first year, everyone saw the system for what it was,” said Alexandra Leumer, a law student at Golden Gate University School of Law who lost her scholarship. “We realized that statistically, because of the curve, there was no way for many of us to keep our scholarships. But at that point, you’re a year in. They’ve got you. You feel stuck.”

    University of St. Thomas School of Law Professor Jerry Organ, one of the few scholars to study law school scholarships, attributed this trend of offering too many scholarships to the U.S. News & World Report rankings, which place significant weight in grading schools on students’ undergraduate grade point averages, LSAT scores and bar exam passage rates.

    Lower-ranked schools can attract students who have higher GPAs and LSAT scores by offering large numbers of scholarships, and thus boost their rank. And the rankings have a much greater influence on law school selection decisions because law schools, unlike undergraduate institutions, “share far more similarities than they do differences,” the article explains.

    Are law schools deceiving students to boost their rankings?

    One current student at Golden Gate who declined to be identified had this answer:

    I had a friend once who told me that hunting is a sport. I said, ‘Hunting is not a sport.’ He said: ‘Sure it’s a sport. It’s just that the animals don’t know they’re in a game.’ That’s what it feels like to be a law student these days. You have no idea you’re in a game.

    Read the full article here. And read reporter David Segal's replies to reader comments here.

  • April 27, 2011
    Practical Advice

    For those contemplating a career in law and therefore potentially investing in a legal education, this article for The New Republic by University of Colorado law school professor Paul Campos is a must-read.

    Campos reports on the “main sources of information on post-law-school employment rates,” and how faulty they are. His report suggests that prospective students would do well to examine closely or ignore the claims by most of the ABA-accredited schools that within nine-months of graduation almost all their graduates have full-time employment.

    The professor says the numbers do not represent the true employment of recent graduates. In fact, according to his own study of the available information, he says the numbers of gainful employment are likely much, much lower.

    Campos writes:

    In the course of my research, I audited a representative sample of individual graduate responses and found several instances of people describing themselves as employed permanently or full-time, when in fact they had temporary or part-time jobs (I found no instances of inaccuracies running in the other direction). Perhaps some graduates exaggerate their employment status out of embarrassment, or for strategic reasons, but, whatever their reasons might be, this apparently not uncommon practice suggests that the true employment rate should be lowered even further.

  • December 2, 2010
    Practical Advice
    Dare to Ask!
    The Woman’s Guidebook to Successful Negotiating
    Cait Clarke and Neil Shister

    By Cait Clarke, director of federal programs at Equal Justice Works.
    Barely a month into his presidency, Barack Obama signed an Executive Order creating the White House Council on Women and Girls. "I want to be clear that issues like equal pay ... are not just women's issues," affirmed the President in remarks. "Our progress in these areas is an important measure of whether we are truly fulfilling the promise of our democracy for all our people."

    Creation of the Council that March morning was reasonably big news, noted in The New York Times ("The White House celebrated women on Wednesday," wrote Rachel Swarns). A spate of congratulatory columns and blogs followed. "Women issues getting traction," proclaimed the headline atop op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof's piece two days later.

    Then, after the last ripples of launch publicity stilled, the Council effectively disappeared from public view. Its next mention in The Times would be 17 months later, this past October, and then only as a brief item in the week's calendar note ("The White House Council on Women and Girls will play host to a women's entrepreneurship conference in Washington featuring Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama"). To my count, it hasn't shown up since.

    I cite this story not to criticize the Council nor to minimize the praiseworthy work I'm sure it must be doing, but rather to underscore the notion that the mission of "empowering" women may constitute impeccable ideology but it elicits, at best, ephemeral popular support.

    The "inconvenient" truth is that, to fully prosper as both a class and -perhaps more importantly - as individuals, women must get better at asserting themselves. Policy and statute are certainly critical to stop flagrant, documentable abuses. Context is important. But women themselves must, in a phrase, become considerably more comfortable about asking for what they want and be adept in getting it.

    It was to that end - empowering individual women with skills that couldn't be marginalized - that I set out to write Dare to Ask! The Woman's Guidebook to Successful Negotiating. True, there are good negotiating texts available, but few (maybe none?) directly show women how to negotiate as women!

  • November 19, 2010
    Practical Advice

    Litigators, take note: A Yiddishe Kop lawyer has successfully devised a novel legal argument for suspending his trial: a "writ of possible simchah."

    In a Yiddush- and footnote-laden motion filed in the Southern District of New York, lawyer Bennett M. Epstein lays out the "facts" that his "beautiful daughter" Eva ("with a doctorate, no less") and her husband are expecting their first child. The motion continues:

    Should the child be a girl, not much will happen in the way of public celebration. Some may even be disappointed, but will do their best to conceal this by saying, "as long as it's a healthy baby". My wife will run to Philly immediately, but I will probably be able wait until the next weekend. There will be happiness, though muted, and this application will be mooted as well.

    However, should the baby be a boy, then hoo hah! [footnote: Yiddush for "a big fuss"] Hordes of friends and family will arrive from around the globe and descend on Philadelphia for the joyous celebration mandated by the halacha [footnote: Jewish Law] to take place during daylight hours on the eighth day, known as the bris6 [footnote: Hebrew for "covenant", for the Covenant of Abraham, i.e, ritual circumcision, joyous to everyone except, apparently, the baby]. The eighth day after December 3rd could be right in the middle of the trial. My presence at the bris is not strictly commanded, although my absence will never be forgotten by those that matter.

    Judge Kimba M. Wood ruled on the motion the very next day, permitting Epstein to attend the bris "in the joyous event that a boy is born," but added:

    But the Court would like to balance the scales. If a daughter is born, there will be a public celebration in Court, with readings from poetry celebrating girls and women.

    Read the full motion here.