April 16, 2010

A law school contradiction.

2 observations from a 58-year-old marketing professor who just started going to law school:
• The stress level is “scarily high” because of the pressure for good grades, coupled with a demanding workload. “From the very first week of law school, assorted deans stressed that our job prospects upon graduation would be directly related to our first-year grades,” [Steve] Cohen writes. “This is particularly salient inasmuch as we attend a ‘second tier’ law school.”

• Computers in the classroom are a bad idea. “I am utterly shocked by the number of students who spend the entire class on their BlackBerry or Facebook account,” he says. “I find it both stupid and rude.”
It seems to me that if a lot of the students are succumbing to the lure of BlackBerry and Facebook instead of paying attention to class that it relieves pressure on the students who are working hard trying to earn the best grades. I'd look around, see those computer screens on irrelevant websites, and think: Good! Thanks for cushioning the grade curve for me.

38 comments:

DADvocate said...

Another point from the article: Young people drink a lot. “I am not a teetotaler,” Cohen says. “But I am amazed by how much people in their 20s drink. And how often they drink to excess. Getting sick from alcohol is neither a badge of honor—as it is among underage drinkers—or a stigma. But for me it is disturbing.”

It seems this would relieve pressure on the students who are working hard also as students who are drunk/hungover generally don't do that well. Not everyone interprets everything in terms of how well it serves them.

Pogo said...

"... shocked by the number of students who spend the entire class on their BlackBerry or Facebook account"

They don't make a connection to the fact that they are paying quite a lot for a service, from $10 to $40K a year.

It's like leasing a Mercedes for three years, but leaving it in the garage.

Pogo said...

"play solitare or another game that kept my hands busy, and still pay good attention"

Good point, however.

It's not unlike Althouse's doodles, (which habit I share), a distraction that enhances focus.

rdkraus said...

Long time since I was in law school, but I remember that class work was related to grades WAY LESS than you'd expect. You really did not know, with a few exceptions, who the smart people were, until the grades came out. Lotta people who were virtually invisible turned out to be at the top of the class grade wise.

Some students almost never came to class at all. They "dropped in" to take exams, then were off somewhere. They did not get poor grades.

Pogo said...

"Some students almost never came to class at all. They "dropped in" to take exams, then were off somewhere. They did not get poor grades."

I met one med school classmate for the first time at graduation (total 100 students). I'm pretty sure he went to anatomy class, but then he disappeared.

rdkraus said...

Pogo

How strange is it to go to take an exam and there are several people there who you have NEVER seen in class?

Next year, they're still there. Who knows now (long time ago for me), but class was not a necessary component of doing well in law school.

Hoosier Daddy said...

My one observation is why in the hell would someone want to start law school at 58 years old. I'm 43 and the thought of spending another 4 years in school gives me gas. Not to mention going back into debt to the tune of $40K

Pogo said...

"How strange is it"

Maybe they were the forerunners of internet universities.

jayne_cobb said...

rdkraus,

It's important now due to the fact that you must attend 80% of each class or they will fail you.

AllenS said...

Makes one wonder how many classes the former law student attended?

LoafingOaf said...

Some students almost never came to class at all. They "dropped in" to take exams, then were off somewhere. They did not get poor grades.

That's weird, cuz at my law school they had kinda strict attendance. In some classes, if you had more than four absences you would not be allowed to sit for the exam.

But most of what you actually needed to know for exams was in the commercial study guides available at the bookstore. Law school is largely just memorization. Or, in some classes that have open notes exams, just preparing a good outline that you can swiftly find shit from during the exam. Law school grads have big egos, but it ain't rocket science. The funniest thing about law school is how many mentally ill people there are amongst both the student body and the faculty.

rdkraus said...

My school (a well known public university) was mostly in the hands of hippie leftists, with a large gay activist component (this is late 70's early 80's). I don't believe any prof ever took attendence.

It was beneath them. Like teaching anything you might need to actually practice law (OK, there were a few exceptions, largely the adjunct faculty).

Ann Althouse said...

"Long time since I was in law school, but I remember that class work was related to grades WAY LESS than you'd expect. You really did not know, with a few exceptions, who the smart people were, until the grades came out. Lotta people who were virtually invisible turned out to be at the top of the class grade wise."

Not talking in class is different from not paying attention. A lot of those silent students are taking great notes.

"Some students almost never came to class at all. They "dropped in" to take exams, then were off somewhere. They did not get poor grades."

I blame the teacher for not providing value in class and keying the exam to that value. I make a point of writing an exam that rewards the students who prepare before class and engage during. I consider that my job and a matter of basic fairness the teacher owes to the students.

Ann Althouse said...

Playing solitaire on the computer helps me pay attention to what's being spoken. It's just interesting enough to keep my mind from running all over the place.

kathleen said...

Class time in law school was almost meaningless in regards to grades.

Ann Althouse said...

I don't mean I play solitaire during my class, but I play solitaire when listening to someone else speak at length and I'm not supposed or able to actively interact.

rdkraus said...

Ann

"I blame the teacher for not providing value in class and keying the exam to that value. I make a point of writing an exam that rewards the students who prepare before class and engage during. I consider that my job and a matter of basic fairness the teacher owes to the students."

One time a Prof (a "rising star") was teaching out of one of the little nutshell guides. People noticed. Hilarity ensued. Lotta people had the same book.

Later, he was disbarred for actions taken in his law practice.

Meanwhile, I attended almost every class. I was already married, paying for it, and determined to get as much out of it as I could.

lyssalovelyredhead said...

Re: attending and using class:

My school (U. Tennessee) was, I think, a little weird in that regard- not a lot of socratic, a lot of emphasis on practical application (Many professors would pose hypos specifically geared to situations where you were representing a party or acting as a clerk for a judge hearing the case). I always felt like I got a lot from class. The books provided a lot of raw information, but class distilled it into the form to apply it elsewhere.

Of course, I'm a "learn by doing" sort of person. Most of my studying (beyond reading for class) was making outlines, and then making mini-outlines out of the outlines. If I had just used a canned outline, I don't think I would have gotten much out of it.

It was up to the prof whether or not to count attendance, I'd say about 1/2 did, and some had some pretty odd systems to it. I was like rdkraus, married, already had a mortgage, paying all the bills. I guess I missed maybe 3 classes for reasons other than because I had an interview or had to be in court for clinic.

Like Loafing Oaf said, it's really not hard, if you just use some common sense.

And I'm with Hoosier- going to school at 58, unless he's independantly wealthy and just has nothing better to do, is pure craziness, particularly in this market. I'm beginning to think that going back at 26 was pretty nuts.

- Lyssa

Class factotum said...

I attended almost every class. I was already married, paying for it, and determined to get as much out of it as I could.

Funny how that sort of thing changes your attitude. I skipped class frequently in college and my grades reflected it.

I went to business school after having worked for five years. I was paying for it out of savings. I prepared for every class. Went to every class. Sat in the front row. Asked questions. (My philosophy was if I didn't understand, nobody else did, either.) A 4.0 is not that hard to get if you just treat school like a job. Wish I'd known that in college.

John Henry said...

In my experience, there was little correlation between attendance and grades. Nearly everyone was prepared when exams came around (and it was T-10, so everybody was capable), and they had access to outlines from prior years because most students were generous enough to share them. There were several classes I didn't take notes for or read for at all because I had excellent outlines for that professor from other students. I still attended class because many of the professors were brilliant and it was enjoyable to listen to them (and if they were talking about something uninteresting that day, that's what blogs - including Althouse - are for). But law school, as currently structured, is about being able to write 45 minute essays; given a certain baseline familiarity with the material, paying attention in class is not necessary.

A.W. said...

For some reason laptops in the classrooms brings out the worst nanny state impulses in alot of people.

First, if a person is harming their own education with computers, how exactly is it your problem?

Second, here's a whack with a giant cluebat. some people truly do need computers. they are called handicapped people.

Third, even if you are not handicapped in a manner that computers help to cope with, the fact also is that computers are incredibly handy tools. for instance, instead of carrying around a large case book you can just download the relevant cases and cary a computer. i wouldn't be shocked if you can start to do that in kindle soon. and it is a powerful advantage to have your notes in searchable form.

Really, seriously, everyone, stop being assholes about computers in class.

A.W. said...

Btw, i would add that i don't read Althouse as being one of the people being an asshole about computers in class.

Skyler said...

Different people learn in different ways. It's rare that I could learn much in a lecture, but I was forced by the school to attend classes.

It's really absurd to think that the massive volume of law that takes so much time to read can be covered in a one hour lecture. Good professors can cover subtleties nicely, but good professors are rare. Professors study law, and rarely study teaching.

If you want to do well in law school, you should spend your efforts outside of class and not rely on the 1% you can learn in class.

Skyler said...

Our hostess Ann wrote: I blame the teacher for not providing value in class and keying the exam to that value. I make a point of writing an exam that rewards the students who prepare before class and engage during. I consider that my job and a matter of basic fairness the teacher owes to the students.

What an odd attitude. Seems very self-important.

Is the purpose of law school to teach people to be lawyers and test their understanding of law, or is it to impart knowlege?

Oh, who am I kidding? Law school exists for the sole purpose of promoting the importance of law school. Thus, professors who think that grades should reflect how much students interact with them is consistent. If the professor is important, then so is the school.

The system is rotten to the core. Even the bar exam forces students to study fake law that isn't the law anywhere.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"I blame the teacher for not providing value in class and keying the exam to that value. I make a point of writing an exam that rewards the students who prepare before class and engage during. I consider that my job and a matter of basic fairness the teacher owes to the students."

I paid great attention in your class (Civ Pro 2) for about the first month, but often I found all the re-traced circles and lines on the board confusing. I'm sure some people responded well to that technique, but not me--not a visual learner. After a while I got a commercial outline and relied on that. I still went to class but I was one of the guys messing around on the internet the whole time. I got an 87. This was with the old 95-point scale, where an 87 was pretty good. A few points above the mean, anyway.

I think you have to find your own method, and it's different from class to class and definitely different from professor to professor. When I had class with Erlanger or Kidwell or Church or McCauley, I hung on every word and took almost verbatim notes and participated all the time. That worked great for those classes. I did the same thing with Palay in Torts and thought that was one of my best classes but I bombed the final. If I had that one to do over again I would have bought an outline and never gone to class. I'm still convinced he grades his exams by throwing them down a flight of stairs and the ones that land on the top step get a 95, the next step 94 etc. etc. After the first year it was pretty easy to spot which professors I needed to listen to and which ones I didn't.

bagoh20 said...

From what most are describing here, it seems that law school is a waste of time and money. What can you learn by attending it that you could not get from an iPad and a work ethic. Of course the actual degree, but doesn't that seem like a huge rip off?

I was a science major and most of that could be learned, even before computers, without class, but you did a lot of lab work involving skilled manual techniques and direct observations that go beyond just information.

If I was a 20 year old, I would prefer to take all the money that would be used for college and use it to start a business. With that and the same amount of time as school requires, any intelligent person could be quite wealthy in business in 4 years and definitely in 6 or 8. Then you could learn anything you want and do whatever is your bliss without regard to earning a living.

The downside is missing all those parties as an undergrad, that was great times. I did know a number of non-college kids who hung out at my school and even got that part. Living on or near campus as a twenty something is definitely a good time, but just extended adolescence, NTTIAWWT.

We certainly need academics and universities, but this nation would be better off with more following a personal business path creating wealth innovation and energy outside of school's narrow vision.

Advanced education is not required or even desired for the majority of a population, despite our romantic ideals. It is just one path and one contributing branch in the tree. We should all not climb the same branch or said tree gets precarious.

bagoh20 said...

Imagine the jobs available for lawyers if half of the class was out building businesses and creating wealth and industry rather than crowding each other out of the same few jobs, leading to frivolous law for the sake of making a buck with no injustice to repair.

PatCA said...

"Good! Thanks for cushioning the grade curve for me."

That's what my nephew thought upon entering high school and viewing the rampant slackerism. Ended up with a full scholarship to an Ivy League college. Thank you, slackers!

Joe said...

This was with the old 95-point scale

What kind of retarded system uses a 95-point scale. That is seriously one of the dumbest things I've ever heard. No wonder law schools are so screwed up.

edutcher said...

When I went back to school (age 48) to get my computer science degree, laptops were just coming in. If you goofed around during class, you missed a lot of technical stuff you were going to need to get through the projects and the exams. Not paying attention struck me as stupid because you are, after all, paying for this.

When laptops became more common, the prof would go through the room when class was done and make sure the few who used them had actually taken notes. They took a dim view of their time being wasted, if not yours.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"What kind of retarded system uses a 95-point scale. That is seriously one of the dumbest things I've ever heard. No wonder law schools are so screwed up."

The Univeristy of Wisconsin Law School does. Or did. They changed it a year or two after I left. I know, it made no sense. Employers would see that you had like an 86 average and think you're a "B" student, but that was really like being an "A-" student.

ALP said...

Ann: Thank you for this post; the article and comments are of great interest to me at this point in life. I am returning to school this fall, at age 49, for bachelor's degree #2 (landscape architecture). Although I expect my program will be very different from law school - there is some really interesting, thought provoking stuff here.

I considered law school at one point in my life. Thankfully, I took the practical step of obtaining a paralegal certificate, and worked for ten years as a paralegal - the idea being that I should observe lawyers in action for some time before signing onto the whole LSAT, law school, bar exam process. I quickly realized a career in law was not for me. How did I determine this? In the entire time I worked as a paralegal, never, not once, did I ever look a the the attorney I was working with and say to myself: "I would rather be in YOUR place."

jimbino said...

Wrong. Students who spend their time on the Blackberry are those who realize that law school is nothing more than a prerequisite to taking the bar.

They are the students who would go directly from college to the practice of law if it weren't for the stupidity of having to sit still for 3 years listening to the law school babble.

Skyler said...

I'm with Jimbino.

If you have a family practice waiting for you, or you intend to start your own business, then getting the highest grades is a waste of energy.

Ann Althouse said...

"When I had class with Erlanger or Kidwell or Church or McCauley..."

Very weird not to be able to spell your own professor's name. You hide behind a pseudonym, so who's to say who you are?

And that "non-visual" learner whine is exceeding lame. If diagrams on the blackboard don't help you the way they help others, why wouldn't you just ignore them and go on the words alone?

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

Sorry, "Macaulay." Is that right? I guess I was just typing without proofreading. I honestly didn't mean my comment as a knock on you by any means. And certainly didn't mean it as a whine. I just had a hard time following you sometimes. Are you saying you don't think that people learn in different ways? Didn't you have professors that were tough to follow, even if you recognized that they were very very smart? I read what you write here regularly and follow your points just fine as written.

Also, I don't understand why you'd knock somebody for using a pseudonym in this sort of forum. It's not that I'm ashamed of my ideas or what I'm saying. I'm certainly not trying to push buttons. But people can be scrutinized by employers and things like that these days for what they say on the internet. Plus I just like the Doobie Brothers. If you want to know who I am you could email me and I'd tell you. I doubt you'd remember me though.

Kirstin said...

I graduated from law school before people brought laptops to class. I can't imagine a student reading the newspaper during a lecture (at least not in the first few rows), and going on Facebook is like that, except it's more inconspicuous. Most of my professors counted class participation in the final grade, so students usually cared about attendance.

Justin said...

I'm currently a 2L at a midwestern law school, and must be one of about 5 students who does not use a laptop in class. Having internet access during class would only serve as a needless distraction, so I stick with pen and paper. As for my peers, most aren't checking facebook or any other website during class. There are, however, several students who do nothing but.