Legal Citation and Pop Culture

By: Jan M. Levine, Professor of Law and Director, Legal Research & Writing Program, Duquesne University School of Law

Every academic year, legal writing professors grapple with the problem of how to best teach citation to 1L students.  Although several print- and computer-based sources of exercises are available for students, regardless of the citation guide the school requires (such as the ALWD Guide and the Bluebook), many professors develop their own exercises to expose their students to the myriad complexities of citation.  Experienced teachers know that the most enduring lessons on citation come from students preparing actual documents, such as office memoranda and appellate briefs, because students understand the issues and analysis being explored and have read the sources to be cited.  However, stand-alone exercises are helpful for introducing basic concepts of citation and explaining the more technical aspects of citation, such as full citations, short citations, signals, citation relationship to text, abbreviations, and parentheticals.  To be successful, stand-alone exercises need to have some “hook” that engages students in the otherwise dry topic of citation.

In an effort to make stand-alone citation exercises more enjoyable and realistic I have for many years created exercises based on aspects of media and pop culture that are familiar to me and to my students. I couple them with PowerPoint presentations that include associated visuals and music.  As a long-time science fiction and fantasy fan, in the past I used Star Trek and Lord of the Rings in my exercises. My latest citation exercises are based on case law and other sources that cite to the omnipresent Star Wars franchise and the DC and Marvel comic books, movies, and television shows. (more…)

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How Courts are Coping with the Coronavirus

By: Judge Richard Dietz and Judge Philip Berger, Jr.  (North Carolina Court of Appeals) with an introduction by Professor Abigail Perdue

As courthouses across America work tirelessly to quickly adapt to the COVID-19 era, I asked two judges how the coronavirus has impacted the work of their court as well as their expectations of and relationships with their law clerks.  Their valuable insights are excerpted below.
(more…)

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Embracing Online Teaching with a Growth Mindset

By: Professor Heidi Brown (Brooklyn Law School)

I have a confession: I am incredibly technologically challenged. My Apple TV no longer turns on unless I yank the little black box thingy out of the wall and plug it back in. My Bissell vacuum cleaner won’t stay charged. Every clock in my Brooklyn apartment shows a different time of day. My watch battery is dead. I still have a landline. I would rather converse on my landline than my cell phone . . . that is, if I speak on any phone at all (#introvertproblems). All signs would point to me being the least likely law professor in the universe to be enthusiastic about shifting to online teaching. Yet somehow, I am excited to take on this challenge. I’m eager to figure out a way to help our students navigate these uncertain times in their 1L year, which is already a stressful life experience. (more…)

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Hindsight is 20-20: Perspectives on COVID-19 Course Interruption from a Law Professor in China

By: Professor Ray Campbell (Peking University School of Transnational Law) with contributions by Professor Abigail Perdue

My school, the Peking University School of Transnational Law, and the city that hosts us, Shenzhen, China, both like to claim a reputation for innovation. This spring, we’ve been innovating in online education, just a step ahead of the rest of the world, but only because the COVID-19 pandemic hit China hard and early. As many U.S. law schools are only now transitioning to online education, I’ve decided to share the perspective of a law professor who is just a few steps further down the road with regard to COVID-related course interruption.

Just Do It. Before we went online, the folks at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, which has run a pathbreaking online program for a few years under ABA observation, were kind enough to meet with us virtually. They had spent a tremendous amount of time (18 months in fact!) thinking through various ways to make online education just as effective as in person teaching and to do it in an auditable way. During this time, they had slowly and thoughtfully developed comprehensive matrices, learning goals, and more.

Their process was impressive, but my first thought was, “There’s no way can I do this in the time allowed.” After all,  my first class was just a few days away, and I still wasn’t sure how to navigate Zoom competently. I feared being the slightly higher tech version of the professors from my youth who couldn’t figure out how to turn the slide projector on!

That may be where you find yourself now. But with the benefit of hindsight, I can tell you — don’t worry — you and your students will figure it out. No matter how hard I work at being a good teacher, the students substantially learn or don’t learn largely based on their own efforts and engagement. My class performance is just one component in a much bigger educational formula – i.e., reading the text, taking notes, listening, talking with classmates, reviewing hornbooks and supplements, using various self-assessment quizzes, and so on.

So no matter how gifted you are as a teacher, don’t forget that your students must take ownership for their education. They learn on their own as much as we teach them, and marginal deviations in your teaching performance caused by unforeseeable circumstances may not matter all that much in the long run. Clarify what they are expected to learn and don’t obsess over the small glitches, which are inevitable.

Think about Your Objectives. Take this unprecedented teaching moment to recalibrate. Consider what you really want to achieve in the class. If you teach the same class from the same podium year after year, it’s easy to become fixated on the minute details rather than the big picture. Online learning disrupts that script and provides an opportunity for change.  Let go of how you’ve always done things while hanging tight to your core learning objectives.

Embrace the Differences. During this thought-provoking process, you’ll probably realize, just as I did, that much of what you  already do in class can be done just as easily online. For example, if you teach with powerpoint, just use Zoom’s wonderful “share screen” feature to virtually share your slides with the class. You can put students on screen and have them answer in a Socratic fashion if that’s your style. You can even draw on a whiteboard if you have the right kind of touchpad.

However, there are a few things you can do online that you cannot do in class. Take advantage of these unique learning opportunities! For example, the anonymizing feature enables students who might be too shy to raise a hand in class to type an anonymous question and put their question in the Q&A flow while the class proceeds. The microphone I use makes me easier to hear than in a large lecture hall, and Zoom even permits students to download a video of each class with a transcript! Embrace the positive differences that online teaching can offer.

Based on nearly a decade of participating in Law Without Walls online, I have also decided to bring in virtual guest panelists. Different ‘thought leaders’ can  address our class topic from different perspectives. Zoom’s chat feature allows an ongoing commentary on the presentations so students and panelists can interject their own insights, share links to additional resources, and more.

So be creative. Try something new. Experiment with the platform.

Remember the Student’s Situation. This is a life-altering experience for you and your students.  It is hard to overstate how stressful and disruptive it can be. They’ve gone from seeking employment and internships in a booming economy to looking for work in an uncertain world.  For third years, the celebration and closure events that usually come at the end of school probably won’t happen this year, disappointing those who were very much looking forward to enjoying those milestone moments with family and friends.

Then there is the issue of being effectively restricted to a house or apartment, perhaps alone, which has been the situation in China for months now and may be the situation for much of the U.S. quite soon. It can be hugely psychologically disorienting to be sent home from school to live under what amounts to house arrest, sometimes with others are also under immense physical and mental stress. People are under tremendous strain, socially and emotionally.

So what can you do about that? Be accessible, warm, and empathetic. Look for creative ways to create and preserve a sense of community. Take some time to tell them about your life. Let them see your pets or those sharing your space. Invite students to a virtual coffee or non-class-related chat session. This goes a long way to create a tiny sense of community in an increasingly isolated and dispersed world. Simply put, be human.  Don’t succeed at the analytical level and blow it at the human level.

 

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Asynchronous Online Courses and Active Learning

By: Professor Kenneth Swift (University of Houston)

As law professors transition to an online format in response to COVID-19, one concern for some professors is whether an online course can still provide an active learning experience. I have taught law school courses asynchronously for over ten years and believe that a well-constructed asynchronous course can provide an active learning environment that in some ways exceeds the live classroom. Using this format, I have developed both an Employment Law course and a general drafting course. I also addressed active learning in my article: The Seven Principles of Good Practice in (Asynchronous Online) Legal Education, 44 Mitchell Hamline L. Rev. 105 (2018). In the article, I took principles developed through a series of highly influential articles authored by seven different law professors in the late 1990s, which helped shape modern law school teaching. Then I applied those principles to asynchronous online  teaching.

In this short post, I will share a few tips to create an active learning environment and effective asynchronous course: (more…)

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Back to the Future: Conducting Virtual Oral Arguments

By: Professor Abigail Perdue (Wake Forest)

As COVID-related course interruption prompts schools, universities, and now courts to suspend in-person meetings and transition online, two questions sprang to my mind: Are we prepared for this change? Are there established best practices for videoconferencing during court appearances? Thankfully, the answer to both questions is a resounding YES! (more…)

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Six Strategies for Successful Online Learning

By: Professor Susan Landrum (NOVA Southeastern University )

Many law schools have made an abrupt shift from face-to-face to online instruction in the past week in response to the coronavirus outbreak, and more will be joining them in the upcoming days. These changes can be stressful for law students, and it is hard to stay focused on your studies in times of uncertainty. Today, I want to focus on six key strategies you can use for successful online learning. Implementing these strategies will help you get the most out of your studies, stay focused and motivated, and make sure that you continue to make progress on your academic and professional goals. And there is an added bonus – taking charge of your academic plan can also help reduce your stress in an uncertain time. (more…)

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A Free Zoom Tutorial from a Long-Time User

By: Professor Tracy Norton (Touro) (compilation prepared with my permission by Professor Abigail Perdue)

As promised, I’ve recorded several videos to help out with teaching online generally and using Zoom specifically. Here is a link to a collection of emergency online teaching resources. I’ve also included several videos below. The first two videos are quick how-tos on equipment that could be helpful and features that help you and your space look camera ready.

The last two are different recordings of a single conversation between me, Ann Nowak (Touro Law Writing Center Director) and Lynne Kramer (Touro Law Professor, Trial Ad and Negotiations) in which we talk about some practical tips that aren’t covered in most how-to videos. We also talk about using different features for different types of classroom activities. Ann talks about her very interactive online Law Practice Management course as well as individual meetings for the Writing Center. Lynne talks about trial ad and negotiation exercises. I talk about writing courses and feedback conferences. The first of these videos is what Zoom recorded and is, mostly, what participants would have seen. The second of these videos is a screencast so you can see what I was seeing as I moderated the conversation and how I accessed the different features. At one point, I accidentally leave the Zoom room, so the Zoom video records what Lynne was saying while the screencast does not, because I wasn’t there. I hope these are helpful.

On March 11, I hosted a live  conversation with anyone who wanted to ask questions or — even better — offer answers about Zoom. The recording of that session is available here.

After my session, I dug deeper into a few good questions from the audience. Here is what I learned:

Q: If I choose Speaker View for a meeting, can I lock the camera on a single speaker?
A: Yes, you can! To spotlight your video when you speak, go to the Settings (either in the app or through the web site, zoom.us). Choose Video and then choose Spotlight my video when I speak. To spotlight someone else, Zoom has instructions explaining how to do that, which can be found here.
Q: With a single monitor, can I see the full speaker view/gallery view PLUS the screen share?
A: Yes, you can! Go to the Settings menu, and choose General. Under Content Sharing, choose Side-by-Side Mode. More information on this feature can be found here.
Q: At your session this week, only about 20 people could be on the screen at one time. I have more students than that in my course. Is there any way to get them all on the screen?
A: Yes, there is! Make sure that you are in full-screen mode and that your window is large enough to display the thumbnails. Zoom supports up to 49 thumbnails on a single screen. More information can be found here.
Q: How do I pre-assign a team or group of students to breakout rooms?
A: I put together a quick 5-minute video [click the blue text] showing where to find the settings for this. There’s also a video about breakout rooms generally along with some written instructions on Zoom.
Q: Do you have any specific tips for using Zoom to host oral arguments? 

A: My colleague, Ann Nowak, also hosted a separate session regarding how to use Zoom for oral arguments.

Q: What if I teach at a school that doesn’t have Zoom? 

A: My colleague, Professor Deborah Borman, has suggested the following Zoom alternatives:

Bluejeans
Cisco WebX Meetings
Google Hangout

Last but not least, below are several videos I have created to further assist you. Zoom’s website also has free training videos.

Video 1: Equipment Setup (6 min, 14 sec)

Video 2: Zoom Feature for Sprucing Up Your Appearance and Your Space (3 min, 43 sec)

Video 3: Zoom Recording of a Conversation Sharing Practical Tips (1 hour, 2 minutes)

Video 4: Screencast Recording of a Conversation Sharing Practical Tips (same conversation as Video 3, just from the moderator’s perspective) ) (58 minutes, 23 sec))
Recorded Using Camtasia

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Creating a COVID-19 Contingency Plan for Potential Course Interruption

By: Abigail Perdue[1]

As communities across the country brace for the potential impact of COVID-19, law professors must contemplate how to handle COVID-19-related course interruption. This kind of pandemic planning is particularly pressing for professors in small, experiential courses because they are likelier to involve collaborative group work and lengthy one-on-one conferences between professors and students. Given our current understanding of how COVID-19 likely spreads, such activities may pose a greater risk of COVID transmission unless certain precautions are taken.

Although our understanding of COVID-19 is rapidly evolving, the latest information appears to indicate that the virus spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. An infected person’s cough or sneeze expels droplets carrying COVID-19, which may land on another person’s nose or mouth or on a nearby inanimate object like a computer mouse or door handle.[2] Unless and until those objects are properly disinfected, COVID-19 can survive on them for an unknown length of time. And that is exactly how long those objects will be a potential source of contagion unless disinfected. Anyone who touches the object and then touches their nose or face risks becoming infected.

In light of these concerns, law professors may wish to contemplate small measures they can take to keep their law school communities healthy and to limit potential course interruption caused by COVID-19. Below is a non-exhaustive list of ideas: (more…)

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Introducing a Great Resource for Business Law Courses and Clinics

By: Professor Abigail Perdue

Professor Katrina Lee (Ohio State) has just published an excellent resource with West Academic that will prove incredibly beneficial to courses and clinics relating to business law as well as to Career Advisors mentoring students who want to learn more about life as a business lawyer, transactional attorney, or in-house counsel. Professor Lee’s book – The Legal Career: Knowing the Business, Thriving in Practice – is the first-of-its kind. According to West Academic:

“This business of law coursebook covers critical topics in the evolving legal profession. A fascinating, informative read for any law student or lawyer or person hoping to learn more about today’s legal landscape, the book features chapters on the structure and business of a law firm; the corporate law department; the emergence of law companies; legal technology; access to justice; employment and diversity in the legal profession; lawyer well-being; and legal education reform. Students will learn from detailed, insightful interviews of people working in law, including a co-founder of a leading law company; a legal innovation designer; the vice president and chief risk officer of a global medical technology company; a deputy legal counsel for an artist crowdfunding platform startup; a national pro bono counsel; law school deans; a law firm managing partner; and a senior director of knowledge and innovation delivery. Interactive exercises and questions for reflection and discussion are included throughout the book. This book, with its innovative holistic approach to the business of law, is ideal for business of law or legal professions courses, law school orientation, legal career services programs, and seminars on the legal profession.”

What a valuable addition to your classroom, Career Services, or law library this new resource will be!

If you have recently published a helpful teaching resource, please email us at teachlawbetter.com, and we might just share a post about it. 

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