Law in Contemporary Society
I asked this question early on in the course, and I didn't receive much feedback. I'll try again. Do you think that if we had more methods of evaluation in a course beyond the one final exam that it would improve the first year experience?

I'll give my thoughts on it. I believe that this would significantly reduce a level of competition and would be more likely to foster cooperation. I have found that the most value in my legal education has come from the discussion of the law with others and while it exists in the law school, I think increasing it can only be beneficial.

I also think that having more exams or methods of evaluation would encourage professors to promote original thought on the topics in discussion and in papers or exams. This to me would be beneficial particularly in courses such as torts that are widely perceived to not be essential to our legal knowledge base as applicable to our future practice.

I'm sure that professors would resist this, given that it would be more work for them and would change the way the course is currently structured, but I think it would promote our education in a way that the do or die scenario of the 100% exam does not.

-- AndrewWolstan - 20 May 2008

I know that one professor this semester gave a midterm. It was ungraded, but students were urged to study for it nonetheless. Afterwards, she met with each student individually to discuss strengths/weaknesses of their midterm performance. I would have loved to have had this opportunity. It's unfortunate that we don't know whether we are truly grasping the concepts until after the final exam. I agree with you Andrew, more opportunities for evaluation would enhance our education.

-- MinaNasseri - 20 May 2008

Also, what's the deal with our legal writing course ("Legal Practice Workshop," as this school of ours prefers to call it) being ungraded? The one 1L class that actually matters in the long run is basically a joke. It would be great to have more feedback and guidance (and incentive to take the memo/brief assignments more seriously) in the legal writing area.

-- MinaNasseri - 20 May 2008

My two cents:

Professor Dorf was really great about giving feedback after our exam in civ pro first semester (i know this may be too late since it is after the exam for the purposes of this thread) and i found it extremely helpful (hopefully) with regard to taking my next round of finals.

Professor Blasi similarly sought to help after the torts final as he met with each of his students and went over an entire section of the test one on one.

I think that encouraging professors to do more of this sort of thing could be a great first step. It may be too late to help with regard to feedback for one particular class, but it is great to get perspective with which to move forward.

-- AdamGold - 21 May 2008

Feedback after the exam is nice, but what really made a difference to me were mid-term assignments with feedback. I'm not sure whether or not more graded assignments would reduce competition, but it definitely reduces stress (and the two likely correlate). My property prof gave the ungraded midterm Mina referred to, and it was really helpful. In studying for the final, I knew how to structure my answer and what to focus on, and I knew what my personal weaknesses were and could concentrate on improving. It was a smaller class, and individual meetings probably aren't feasible in a regular 1L section. However, I think spending one class on a midterm, graded or not, and at least one class taking it up (preferably with a model answer) would reduce the exam-time panic and uncertainty a lot, especially in first semester.

-- ClaireOSullivan - 21 May 2008

Professor Greenberg gave two graded mid-terms in Civ. Pro. Although it played havoc with other classes and it was easy to see why mid-term assignments are discouraged in law school, talking with him after the first (poor) exam result helped my exam writing considerably.

-- DanielHarris - 21 May 2008

I think a lot of the comments are focused around helping to understand how to write an exam. I think that problem could be fixed if a professor simply said how they wanted their exam answers given. What do you think of the other effects on the course structure and atmosphere. For those that had midterms, did the class have more cooperation? What about less black letter questions?

-- AndrewWolstan - 22 May 2008

I had Greenberg for Civ. Pro. I found that more exams were simply more exams. The feedback was helpful in terms of learning how to write better exams, but I didn’t find it to be helpful in terms of learning about the law. As far as cooperation goes, the midterms simply forced people to find study groups sooner and do more of the same earlier in the semester.

In Dorf’s Con Law, we were required to write two 1,2500 word papers, which were marked (but not graded) and critiqued by the TAs. I found this to be very helpful. The papers were short enough to be done in a day and forced us to start thinking creatively about Con Law in the same way that a good exam would. The papers encouraged discussion and added something to the course as a whole. This kind of midterm work is something that could really add something to a lot of courses.

-- StephenClarke - 22 May 2008

I think feedback after the fact could be helpful- I definitely didn't feel any more confident about my ability to write law school exams this semester than I did last semester. And on that note, both legal writing and legal practice good stand to be completely revamped- I feel barely competent about memo writing and briefs are still beyond me. As for the Dorf ConLaw? papers- they seemed like a joke to me, but maybe that was because my TA was more focused on whether you put a word count on the top than on anything substantive. Although it was helpful to have to think creatively about the law at a time when I was mainly focused on fighting to comprehend class lectures.

-- AmandaRichardson - 22 May 2008

I also wrote the two 1250 word Con law papers during the semester. I did find the process of writing them useful, but I agree with Amanda that the feedback ultimately depended on the TA. My law school experience and, I imagine, my legal training, would have been significantly enhanced if each class included two papers with extensive feedback from the professor in addition to the final. Perhaps there is some argument that by giving students only one shot it trains them for the rigors of the legal practice. Even so, I can't imagine that professors would disagree that the general lack of feedback poses a significant obstacle to our learning process. I assume the reason that nearly all law school classes consist of only one graded final exam is that those with authority decided that it was most practical to do it this way. Is this really the case? What would happen if a law school required professors to increase the amount of feedback over the course of the semester? Would that law school have trouble attracting professors? At least more student discussion on the subject points in the right direction of change.

I agree that more work with feedback would reduce stress. I think this would affect the overall culture not only because it would disperse the final grade, but also because it would create less uncertainty which I believe accounts for a lot of the negative interaction among first year students. My second semester was a very different experience form my first mainly because I was more confident. Of course there will always be more uncertainty at the beginning of any experience. However, the lack of feedback significantly contributed to this feeling. Also, I was incredibly surprised about how little guidance professors offered on what they wanted from us in exams. It was almost as if the work that we were actually going to be evaluated on was off limits as a topic of discussion. I applied to be a peer mentor next year because I hope to at least help calm some of the unnecessary uncertainty faced by 1Ls. I think the law schools could do a lot to offer us a better and more beneficial experience.

-- CarinaWallance - 23 May 2008

I think an interesting point that this discussion has brought up is to what extent professors have a compelling reason to offer more feedback or change the structure of their courses away from the standard one exam at the end of the term format. I too had one professor last term, Avery Katz, who did a great job of both offering pre-exam feedback (he and the TA's gave us a few sample exam questions which they would look over and comment on if we took the time to write sample answers) and substantive commentary on our exams (each student recieved a scanned PDF version of their exam with his comments plus a long memo from him with the class grade breakdown, his sample answer and the top 3 student answers to each question). However, other than that I received no feedback from my professors last term, and my legal writing prof who promised to help me revise one of my memo's into a workable writing sample never got back to me and 6 months later still hasn't returned my memo. I think a large part of the problem is that these professors have no reason, no incentive, to offer substantive feedback or structure their courses in a way that might ease some of the stress of the final exam. If you think about it--and Eben's jokes and statements this term about how he is safe because he has tenure--as long as a prof does have tenure there is no real reason for them to go out of their way to change their courses, especially if it's a 1L course that they either don't really want to teach or have been teaching the same way for a long time now. And I think that it is this culture more than anything that needs to be challenged. Because if we want more professors to offer more feedback and change the system a bit, I am afraid it will have to come from younger professors; but, if they're too scared or too unwilling to break out of what seems to be the dominant system then nothing is going to happen.

For example, my Legal Practice Workshop this term was literally worse than useless. I was in the "special" section for students who had participated in a competitve moot court. The idea apparantly was that we had already written briefs and therefore needed to work on other skills, mainly our oral argument skills, earlier, in preparation for our competitions. OK, this is a sound idea but it was put into practice in the most boneheaded manner of all time. Our syllabus was identical to every other section for the first few weeks, so that by the time we started working on oral technique, myself and many other students had already had the first oral round for our competition. Now since all these teams were organized under the auspices of CLS the school therefore should have known when the competition rounds were (plus the TAs for the classes were the moot court team coaches, and the prof could have easily simply asked us to email him with our competition dates) and should have structured the course accordingly. More fundamentally though, one would hope that someone who is brought in to teach a section for students in competitive moot courts would recognize and plan his or her syllabus accordingly so that we could all benefit from what he was going to teach us before we actually competed. This hardly seems like brain surgery to me. If it was so important to the CLS administration that we do the memo-revising exercises that took up the first few weeks of our class, it doesn't seem to me unreasonable that our professor should have simply siwtched around the syllabus and given us that busy work at the end of the course (or given it to us during the 3-4 week hiatus that we had in the middle of the course). Instead, our professor blindly followed the dictates of the administration and I feel as though I got completely cheated out of what could have been a very useful and helpful course. To be fair, our prof was not a full time faculty member (though since he was brought in explicitly to teach our section I almost feel this makes his lack of backbone all the worse), and I am obviously bitter and riled up by this whole experience, but I think it is symbollic of larger problems here at CLS.

I think a large number of us took this class this term because we wanted not only to talk about how to avoid becoming "pre-packaged meat" for big law firms but also because we wanted something different; a breath of fresh air during our otherwise rigidly planned out 1L year. However, I think if things are really going to change at CLS we need more people who willing to break out of that rigidly defined system. I think that a lot of the solutions proposed here (mid terms, more feedback, etc) are all interesting, but I'm just afraid that they can't really be put into place without a bigger more high level mental shift in how our legal education is viewed. If a prof brought in to teach a specific skill set in LPW doesn't have the courage to stand up and say "this syllabus doesn't make sense given what you've asked me to do, I'm going to reorganize it but still keep in all the requirements you want me to include" to the administration (or perhaps doesn't even understand that such a stance is a possibility) then I don't think a lot of these other changes are possible either. Maybe I'm wrong, and sorry for the long rant, but I'd be curious to hear what other people think.

On a more general note, what did people think of LPW, because personally, I think one of the best ways that the 1L experience could be changed here would be a radical overhaul of the LPW system. I'm not sure how, but I just know it needs to be changed.

-- AlexLawrence - 02 Jun 2008

I agree that LPW was a joke. I did foundation moot court and I learned absolutely nothing from my LPW professor. It wasn't for her lack of trying either, I did appreciate the effort. The only helpful aspect for me was when I delivered a practice oral argument. Maybe if there was an assignment early in the semester that was a practice based on last semesters brief then we could get out some of the initial jitters. In addition, I think that after going through the experience, the quality of writing and argument woudl improve drastically and perhaps put us on track to be better lawyers (gasp!).

-- AndrewWolstan - 05 Jun 2008

As what is likely to be one of the final comments on here, I'd also like to point out one thing I forgot to mention earlier but that has infuriated me this year at CLS: multiple choice exams. So far I have had two professors who have given exams that are half multiple choice (Civ Pro and Property). In both cases the profs provided us with multiple "practice exams" but they only had the essay questions. To be fair my civ pro prof did give us around 5-10 sample multiple choice questions but my property prof, explainging that MC questions are very tough to write a lot of, did not provide us with any. In other words, they both re-used their questions from year to year. Maybe I'm cynical, maybe I'm bitter, but it seems to me that re-using multiple choice questions like that from year to year seems kind of lazy. It also doesn't seem like it is a good way of testing students at what is supposed to be a top law school. Aren't we supposed to be learning how to think like lawyers, approach legal problems like lawyers, and then apply what we've learned in an intelligent and creative manner? At least that's what I was hoping for...not a rote memorization fill in the bubble test. Also, once again if we're only getting one test and theoretically one bit of feedback all term, I do not think it is at all unreasonable to want to have a chance to actually set pen to paper and write and express ourselves instead of bubbling in 50 answers on a scantron sheet. It just brings us back to the question of how we're going to improve law school and how we as students are supposed to improve at law school if we're not getting any feedback. And this seems like a more extreme example, because in these cases we're not really even getting a chance to write down or demonstrate any of our real work.

-- AlexLawrence - 11 Jun 2008

 

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