Law in Contemporary Society
Let's conduct a thought experiment. "If someone you loved were entering as a 1L in September of 2008, how would you help that person do better than you did?"
    Pretend that the person you love wants out of law school the same thing you wanted out of law school. It's too late to ask, "how could we have done better?" We can only ask, "how can we help the next generation do better?"
Multiple suggestions, multiple comment boxes.

-- AndrewGradman - 24 Apr 2008

I'll go first.

I define "doing better" as "minimizing the effort to get the grades you want," hypothesizing that confidence in one's future grades impacts happiness, ability to learn, and all the other qualities of life.

Holmes said that "The law consists of that paraphrase of Precedent that a judge is most likely to utter." (To paraphrase.)
  • the professor is a common-law Judge,
  • each day's lecture is a Precedent,
  • and the exam is the Law,
then the [exam] is the paraphrase of [lectures] that the [professor] is most likely to generate -- i.e. the words which a student empathizing with the professor is most likely to write.

A student empathizes with a professor by paraphrasing, into his own words, the professor's chosen language -- the syllabus and lecture -- the "primary sources".
He defines how his peers empathize with a professor by paraphrasing, into his own words, their own paraphrases of the primary sources -- the language of his study group (present classmates) or of multiple G-drive outlines (past classmates) -- the "secondary sources."

  • Presenting success as measure of "empathy with the professor" elides a much more interesting claim about the nature of our education - namely, that the content itself is not intrinsically valuable, and success is only a matter of mimicking expectations. If that is what you mean to say - it's interesting and worth discussing directly. -- JuliaS - 30 Apr 2008
  • I didn't mean to give the impression that I believe success on 1L exams has any bearing on success in real life. 1L exams happen to be a domain in which one should limit one's actions to another's expectations; they are a pure empathy test. But I think that "success" lies precisely in learning in which domains, and to what degree, one should resist another's expectations. I think most human interactions fall into this category.
  • There can be valuable content in an education, but what we learned in 1L year has a hideous content-to-noise ratio. Joseph says, "Isn't the important part of law school the process of figuring out the law from the noise?" and I respect that view, but I balance that against the role of the EDUCATOR, which is to give us clues, or a code, with which to make that separation.
    1. An education that asks students to draw those lines -- and gives them no feedback on their efforts -- risks creating a circus full of Legal Magicians.
    2. An education (even a legal education) that assumes that the opposite of noise is law, is not an education; or so we learned this semester? ...
  • The content of education is empathy, and creativity, and likability, and leadership; and if the 1L core doesn't eradicate these traits, it teaches them only tangentially, or accidentally; which is why I would help a friend minimize the effort to get those grades that he truly needs -- for his self-esteem or his job search -- so he can maximize his efforts to learn these all-important skills. -- AndrewGradman - 30 Apr 2008

LESSON 1: DO NOT attempt to empathize with the professor privately; empathy is a relative term, a social construct, a function of the curve. Define a student empathizing with the professor in terms of how your peers empathize with your professor. All your learning is from your peers.

LESSON 2: Only bother with the primary sources when they differ from the secondary sources.

  • If you find good G-Drive outlines, you'll rarely need to take class notes, because your teacher's lecture will differ little from past years' outlines;
  • if you find your syllabus fully represented there, you'll only need to read a few cases -- won't even need to buy a casebook;
  • and if you find enough G-Drive outlines, you'll only need a study group for social purposes.

Information equals ordered data. In principle, one single document could come into being that permits future students to empathize with and predict the professor without buying a casebook or transcribing a word of lecture. My outlines for Contracts and Civil Procedure, combining the best of six G-Drive outlines, might permit a student to do this. I plan to contribute them to the G-Drive.

But that's part of the problem: the addition of outlines makes it MORE difficult for future 1Ls to qualify all the data. If our goal is to provide the 1L with more information and less data, we should lower the costs to him of identifying information. We must identify for him a Maxwell's Demon that has the incentive to weed the data from the information.

Suppose a CLS Wiki. Not a free-for-all Wiki, like this one. Instead, each teaching assistant gets her own real estate; everyone else gets various posting rights in the neighboring real estate. The question is, What rights, and which people, do we assign to the respective pieces of real estate?

Don't give up; tweak the assignments of rights & persons as they fails. This is an experiment. The Maxwell's Demon that you are creating is The Wiki itself; you owe it to the next generation of 1Ls to not give up.

-- AndrewGradman - 24 Apr 2008

Andrew, your lessons rely on a few assumptions that cannot be proven:
  1. that there's as much data online as their is from other sources,
  2. that any of us are able to separate the good or useful data from the misleading or irrelevant data without consulting secondary sources, and
  3. that the person implementing the method is smart enough to infer a lot from outlines which are essentially summaries of a greater wealth of knowledge.

These assumptions are unverifiable and will sometimes be true, but not always.

I believe that the benefits of collaboration can be better achieved if we all work together to put more information online, in wikis and such, instead of just working together to better understand what is already there.

Finally, I think focusing on grades at all is dangerous because of the curve. If a single person collaborates better with others, that person will likely learn more and get better grades. But, if the whole school begins to collaborate better together, then we'll all learn more, but none of us will get better grades. If collaboration is going to be the primary means, then the primary goal should be better learning and not better grades.

-- OluwafemiMorohunfola - 25 Apr 2008 -- adjusted by AndrewGradman - 30 Apr 2008

1) RE my "assumptions" 1 & 2 & 3: ...
... the perception that there's insufficient data / insufficient methods / insufficient intelligence can all be paraphrased as saying "there's sufficient data, methods and intelligence ... but not enough TIME." Someone investing the time (as I have done) into the G-Drive outlines can create that magic document; the criticism, which is a good one, is that this technique is not TIME-EFFECTIVE; but that's just to say that we need to outsource the process.

2) The curve is bullshit. Teachers could just as well grade us in absolute terms and then tweak the boundaries to conform to the curve. It makes sense: given a test, any sampling of persons will conform to a curve.
My goal is to make the content of the class (the object of empathy) more objective, less fuzzy, so that a bad grade can be defined in terms of "not learning material" rather than (as it currently is) "insufficient empathy." If one can objectively determine what one needs to know (i.e. constructing it by talking with his cohort), then he can at any moment measure the gap between what he knows and what he needs to know; the longer he spends away from a representative sampling of his peers, the less he can measure that gap. -- AndrewGradman - 29 Apr 2008

  • Yes, the curve is bullshit. But Femi is right. If your goal is to achieve more confidence in your grades, you would have to do so by increasing your performance and abilities relative to everyone else's. Collaboration that enriches yourself and your classmates equally is not the way to do that. -- JuliaS - 30 Apr 2008
  • Julia, I've modified my paragraph a bit: I don't want to characterize collaboration as a way to learn the material, so much as a way to CONSTRUCT the material. If we replace collaboration with exchange, we'd see: there exists no economy without exchange; that doesn't mean that people exchange out of altruism. -- AndrewGradman - 30 Apr 2008

I have two points, (I think):

1) Isn't the important part of law school the process of figuring out the law from the noise? Give someone the perfect outline, and they won't do as well as the person who created the perfect outline, or even the person who tries to make their own outline from the source materials, not the other outlines. Good lawyers don't have kickass outlines, they know how to read, comprehend, and create working knowledge of their source materials.

  • But, Joseph, I am very skeptical that law schools are trying to teach us to be good lawyers, given that 95% of us need to go to law firms to learn to be good lawyers. Hypothesis: good lawyers know how to get other lawyers to give them kickass outlines. -AG
  • I think your hypothesis might be correct for 2L, 3L, beyond, and maybe even spring of 1L. However, someone could know every bit of information in the best outline ever, and still do terrible on first semester exams because they never learned how to write a law school exam, analyze multiple issues quickly, and apply concepts to fact patterns in a logical fashion. I think that skill is learned by struggling through the material during the fall (as painful as that may be). Collaboration helps (especially when synthesizing material come exam time), but a lot of that process is internal at first. GH

2) Many teachers do grade on absolute terms and then tweak the boundaries to the curve. I know Robert Scott's class... the highest grade was something around 50% of the absolute score.

I do have many good friends entering law school. I'm not the best person to give them advice, but I told them to: 1) Limit extracurricular activities & commitments to 4-5 hours a week at most. 2) Take a law school exam writing course. 3) Reduce readings to black letter law before class. 4) Use class to understand the application of the various elements of the cases or principles that were at the heart of the reading. 5) Clean up your outline every 2 weeks or so. 6) Use exam preparation period for group practice exams and review your answers against others in your section.

I didn't follow all of those bullet points myself, but that the best advice I can conjure from my first year here.

-- JosephMacias - 30 Apr 2008

If the idea is to improve grades (or confidence in grades) by gaming the system, I don't think collaboration is the right way to do that, given the curve.

  • Do you have a study group? Have you ever collaborated with someone who has a different professor? Have you ever traded notes with someone in your class who's not in your study group? Do you really think it's impossible to grade a collaboration test on a curve? -AG

If the idea is to enrich learning through collaboration, I don't think that minimizing effort is the right criteria. Are you concerned with improving actual learning or merely grades?

  • It sounds like you believe that high grades are correlated with good learning, and that the criteria we're graded on align with the things that we ought to learn. I respectfully disagree. The less time we spend studying for exams, the more time we have to actually learn. -AG

You seem to advocate pursuing the later without regard for the former, which seems like the exact wrong advice to give an incoming 1L. As for your initial question: if someone I loved were entering law school and I wanted to help them do better, I would tell them to relax.

Caring less about grades seems like the best way to maximize those dimensions - happiness, ability to learn, and all the other qualities of life.

  • I am assuming people who come to law school knowing what grades they want, and knowing how happy they want to be. I believe they can get both, if they can get the right people to help them. The antidote to stressing over exams doesn't have to be caring less about exams. It could be better understanding exams. -AG

-- JuliaS - 30 Apr 2008






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