Category: Teaching

New York Times Financial Advice: Be an Unpaid Intern Through Your 20s (Then Work till You’re 100)

Jason Mazzone has already addressed the main shortcomings of the latest N.Y. Times article by David Segal on law schools. I’d like to situate it as part of a neo-liberal ideology developing at the Times and other scriveners for the powerful.

If you pair the basic message of Segal’s piece (“law students and professors aren’t doing enough to raise corporate profits”) with that of Ed Glaeser’s anti-retirement musings in the same pages (“work into your 90s”), the ideology starts to emerge. Labor economist Mark Price pithily suggested it:

Law schools couldn’t possibly teach the wide range of firm specific skills that law firms need . . . . And yet you have a writer [pushing] propaganda that the big law firms are tired of paying for on the job training.

On the other hand it is at least comforting to know that law firms are not that different from firms in Manufacturing or Health Care[;] that is[,] they would prefer that somebody else pay for the skills that make them profitable.

This is a classic problem of uneven bargaining power familiar since the 1920s.* Why are wages falling while productivity is rising? Because firms realize they can fire current workers, shift their duties (unpaid) to frightened current employees, and reap the profits of having one person do the work of many. It’s another form of “shadow work” that contributes to the time bind so many Americans find themselves in. When 65% of economic gains go to the top 1% of the population, it’s not too hard to discern this dynamic.
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Suggested Reading (for Law Students and Profs): Open Book: Succeeding on Exams from the First Day of Law School

Barry Friedman and John C.P. Goldberg have a new book out on how to take law school exams called Open Book:  Succeeding on Exams from the First Day of Law School.  It is something different and really worth recommending.  Here are a few reasons why I would love my students to read the book and its online content.  First, the book imparts fabulous advice on why law profs give exams and how those exams directly connect to law practice and the whole law school endeavor.  Second, the website has so many practice exams (in all of the core areas) with marked up answers that explain the reasons behind the prof’s thinking and evaluation of the answers.  This is an incredible help: students learn what worked on the exam and why.  Third, the joy that the authors take from teaching and the practice of law leaps off the page — it’s so clear how wonderful they are as teachers and mentors.  Their enthusiasm and respect for what lawyers do is obvious and inspiring.  The pedagogy will appeal to law professors, and it is an entertaining read, nicely illustrated.  The website is full of useful content (those practice exams and feedback I talked about).  (Profs: to check it out, you need an access code to get to the premium content but can easily get one by writing them from the author contact page.)

Here’s the back-of-book blurb:

Open Book is the ultimate insider’s guide to succeeding on law school exams. The authors draw on decades of classroom teaching and student counseling to create a concise, lively book that imparts a method of law school exam-taking that maximizes your chances of success—and helps prepare you for the world of practice. Their Web site ( gives you access to valuable exam-related resources.



Popular Misconceptions About Contracts

My new book, Contracts in the Real World: Stories of Popular Contracts and Why They Matter, has three aims:

* to reveal contract law’s pragmatic, common sense beauty;

* to show the relevance of longstanding principles and famous cases to contemporary problems and disputes in the news; and

* to correct dozens of popular misconceptions about contracts.

In the latter spirit, following is a list of popular misconceptions about contracts. Most are very general while a few are quite specific.

The list is numbered 1-20 but I’ve left 18-20 blank, hoping that you will add at least that many in the responses. I’d also be happy to have any of these stricken or revised. Thanks! Read More


Farewell, Barnes and Zoning Matters, Really

In the last week I’ve come across two teaching resources that are worth sharing.  As the headline suggests, the first is about the Barnes Foundation, which closed the doors to its original home in Merion, Pennsylvania at the end of June.  For years I’ve been urging my Estates and Trusts students to visit the Barnes before it is “too late,” by which I meant “before it moves to downtown Philadelphia.”  I did this partly because I thought one needed to see the Barnes to fully understand the ongoing battle over its future, and partly because the Barnes was really, really cool.  Now that it is officially “too late,” I will point them to this 360 degree interactive tour of the Barnes that was put together by the New York Times.  Their effort really gives a flavor of the place, although many of us undoubtedly mourn that we’re left with only a computer program.    

Next up is something for Property professors: an episode of This American Life entitled “Game Changer.” You can access the episode, which is about drilling for natural gas in Pennsylvania, here.  Fast forward to minute 33:30 and soon a reporter will say, “The standoff between [the gas company] and [the town] started with one of the least gripping topics in all of government: zoning.”  While the reporter’s explanation of the difference between conditional and permitted uses isn’t any more interesting than what I say in class, the story she tells is much more engaging than anything I’ve previously used to teach zoning.  Moreover, the story of the small town that tried to write a zoning ordinance after Big Gas arrived does a better job of driving home the economic consequences of zoning than anything I’ve encountered to date.


F.M. LaGuardia and Lawyers In the Way

As a law professor and lawyer, I like law and lawyering. But I hate as much as the next guy when lawyers get in the way of people trying to do business. 

In the past year, lawyers have poisoned three separate personal deals of mine, over matters neither I nor the other side needed to care about.  The lawyers were hurting not helping their clients. 

Lawyers need to know, and as a law professor I try to teach, the difference between legal matters and business issues. Lawyers must know the difference and stay out of the way of business matters. 

All this prompts me to reprint below a wonderful letter from the inimitable Mayor of New York, Fiorella La Guardia.  The letter, dated January 29, 1944, is addressed to the heads of various airlines, including American, Eastern, PanAm, and United. 

The  letter’s ultimate paragraph and final words speak volumes to my point, and the letter as a whole is vintage piece of written communication.  Read More


Teaching Materials for Practicum Courses

You would have to live under a rock not to know that law schools increasingly feel the pressure to teach practical skills. Law schools can no longer teach doctrine and count on law firms to teach new lawyers the skills they need.  As a result, many schools are starting to incorporate practicum-style courses into the curriculum. These courses allow students to learn litigation or transactional skills in the classroom by working on simulated cases or transactions.

My sense is that many of us are interested in teaching these courses, but the practicalities are daunting.   Two years ago, I set out to create a course that would teach students how to be corporate litigators. I had visions of teaching my students an array of practical skills, including how to untangle financial statements, read complex statutes, and draft various case materials. It looked so good in my head. Then I actually tried to put together the course. There was no textbook. There were no model exercises. There was no anything… I spent a crazy amount of time putting together a course packet, coming up with weekly drafting assignments, and thinking about how to teach the skills I thought my students would need. I hesitate to say exactly how much time out of fear of scaring away others, but I still have flashbacks of sitting at my kitchen table for days on end trying to come up with creative fact patterns and drafting exercises.

At the end of the day, I was able to put together the materials for a course called Corporate Fraud & Litigation. I have taught the course twice now, and I really love it. But the preparation continues. I still develop new graded exercises every year out of fear that last year’s students will pass on their answers to this year’s students. The end result is that I spend significantly more time preparing for this course than for my other two courses combined.  I am currently contemplating a complete overhaul of my course, but I have to admit that the massive work involved gives me pause.

I wonder whether the reality of having to prepare these materials—and then prepare many of the exercises anew every year—is holding back the development of these courses.  Read More


What’s Your Tenure Policy?

Thanks to Dan and Angel for inviting me to post.  This is my first post-tenure post, and also my first guest post.  I am a perma-blogger at The Faculty Lounge, so it will be fun to see how things work around here.

A number of schools are facing the question of how to structure their tenure calendars.  It seems that in many places within the legal academy, tenure and promotion are combined into a 5-7 year, one-time occasion where a professor goes from untenured Assistant (or initial Associate) to Tenured Full Professor.  And in many other places–often those schools following a traditional university model–like my home school of Syracuse University College of Law–the tenure process is much longer.  Promotions: Assistant–>Associate–>Full Professor.  And Untenured to Tenured, with no default attachment of promotion and tenure.  Some schools may be a hybrid of the two: at promotion from Assistant to Associate, tenure is automatically granted. Read More


Digital Law Books: II

As we all migrate to the digital world, imagine the future of the law school course book by reflecting on its history, purposes, and promulgation over the seven generations since C.C. Langdell initiated our current mode of legal education in 1870.

Some see the future of digital course books as a radical shift, akin to the original revolution of Langdell’s Contracts casebook. Others dismiss it as a simple marketing maneuver, the way post-Langdell addition of notes, questions or problems might be regarded.

In a new essay, I look back at casebook history to find it suggests that digital course books are more likely to be something in between, an incremental but meaningful evolution. The essay, a chapter in a new book on the subject, engages with great innovations in law school course books over the past century-plus, highlighting historic contributions from luminaries across the century and today.

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Privacy vs. Security vs. Anonymity

When I first began my PhD, I was keen to properly sort and define any new terms and reconcile them with my own education and experience. Three terms that always seemed to be intermingled were: Privacy, Security and Anonymity. Certainly they are related, but I wanted to be a little more specific and understand exactly when and how they overlapped.

First, let’s establish some basic definitions. For the purpose of this blog post, the following definitions will suffice (I’ll address alternative definitions later):
• Privacy: having control over one’s personal information or actions
• Security: freedom from risk or danger
• Anonymity: being unidentifiable in one’s actions

Next, create a Venn diagram with three overlapping circles (each circle representing one term). Then, within each area, try to provide examples that reflecte those properties. That is, imagine some situation where you would have security without privacy, or security without anonymity. When can you have all three? When can you be anonymous but lack privacy?

This may not be as easy as it seems. Certainly it helps once the definitions are set, but if nothing else, I think it’s a useful way to separate and identify the essence of these words (at least, as each of us sees them) and the contexts in which they may or may not exist. Before you continue, take a minute, examine the diagram above, and try to think of examples to fit each area.

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Back to School: Research and Teaching

Research and teaching are what I do for a living, and I’m delighted to work at a university whose President, Steve Knapp, knows their value.  In a courteous review in yesterday’s N.Y. Times, Dr. Knapp demolishes the dusty themes in a new book by the curmudgeons, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, Higher Education?  The book bears clichés and canards against the modern university, primarily denying the value of research and rehearsing laments about its opposition to teaching.  Dr. Knapp’s polite piece delightfully debunks these specious critiques. 

Dr. Knapp notes the book’s strengths: it is “lucid, passionate and wide-ranging,” “well-structured and strongly argued,” and poses “searching and sometimes troubling questions” about today’s university operations and purposes.   Questions involve topics, some within university control some not, like the narrowness of academic specialization, the greediness of some faculty, and the frivolity of some student/parent demands for extras.   The book usefullly identifies well-known laudable goals, like reducing student debt, “engaging students,” “mak[ing] students use their minds,” and “end[ing] the exploitation of adjuncts.”

Dr. Knapp notes that the book’s primary target, though, is research.  The book makes the suggestion that, once upon a time, universities saw their role solely as education, and today they see it as all about publishing research.  The authors heap heavy scorn on the notion that research actually helps teaching or is necessary to good teaching.   Their most extreme proposals are that universities “spin off” medical schools and research centers, end paid sabbaticals, and abolish tenure.  Dr. Knapp notes that the authors, who should know what they’re talking about, Hacker being a noted academic and Dreifus a long-time adjunct professor, rely on “sometimes sweeping generalizations.” 

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