Apparently, the law library of the future is going to be one big Kindle

The Journal of the Legal Writing Institute has just published a short essay by Professor Ronald E. Wheeler of Suffolk University Law School, titled “Is This the Law Library or an Episode of the Jetsons?

The big takeaway: the library is going to resemble a super-advanced Kindle and its patrons will look like they are parts of the Borg Collective:

It will include technologies that we know about and technologies that are beyond our imaginations. Things like retinal and holographic displays are predicted to be in use in the next 5 to 10 years. Lawyers, law professors, and other law library patrons will be browsing touchable, holographic shelves to select volumes instead of walking through the stacks of physical libraries. Intelligent,robotic, personal assistants will be providing clerical and other kinds of support to library researchers. Law library patrons won’t carry around smartphones or tablets. Instead they will work on skin-embedded screens with fingernail displays, brain mapping, brain uploading, and DNA storage.

I encourage you to click the article title above to read Professor Wheeler’s view about what this technology means for how we must adapt our teaching, practicing, and researching of the law. Some, he notes, will have to overcome their thinking that electronic resources are less “scholarly” than print resources.

I will admit to some trepidation over technology, including the use of electronic briefs in appeals and the use of laptops in classrooms, but I’m no Luddite. I have concerns about how technology, or at least the misuse of technology, might undermine legal practice and scholarship. Still, I must admit that a general resistance to change and plain old nostalgia influence my thinking. Will today’s younger generation, seemingly so eager to embrace change, have the same nostalgia for their own “good old days” technology? Even the lawyers trained on the technology Professor Wheeler describes might lament the more advanced, “newfangled” technology that displaces the technology they used at the beginnings of their careers.

By the way, I stole that Kindle joke from an exceptionally funny Portlandia skit. Since it’s Friday afternoon, and we probably all deserve a laugh, here it is:

Have a nice weekend, everyone.

Does classroom laptop use inhibit law school learning?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about whether it was a good idea for judges to read appellate briefs on iPads or other screens, pointing out studies regarding decreased comprehension and retention reading from a screen compared to reading from paper. Thus, it does not surprise me at all that use of laptops in classrooms (especially law school classrooms) has some serious implications for learning. Take a look at this abstract of The Dynamics of the Contemporary Law School Classroom: Looking at Laptops Through a Learning Style Lens, by Regent University law professor Eric A. DeGroff:

The Millennial Generation is at ease with modern technology and with juggling multiple tasks. Many of them, however, come to law school less prepared in other ways for the rigor of legal education. Their learning styles, visual orientation, short attention spans, and previous learning experiences make them less suited for the focused and reflective thinking that are critical to learning legal analysis and linear reasoning. Research strongly suggests that some learning styles are more compatible than others with the discipline of analytical thinking and the demands of legal education. Students with learning styles less compatible with law school expectations face significant challenges even under the best of circumstances. This article suggests that the use of laptops in the classroom may exacerbate the challenges these students already face.

The article addresses the laptop issue in the context of learning styles and the dynamics of the learning process. It briefly discusses the history of the laptop issue, traces a significant body of research over the last several decades documenting the distracting effect of laptops even when used in connection with classroom activities, and presents the results of the author’s experimentation with a no-laptop policy in his first-year Property course. The author does not suggest removing laptops from the law school experience entirely, but recommends that professors of first-year doctrinal courses consider the adoption of a no-laptop policy for their classes.

When I saw that abstract in my Social Science Research Network email update, I was reminded of a Washington Post article I read more than five years ago: “Wide Web of diversions gets laptops evicted from lecture halls.” The article noted that some professors (including law school professors) had banned laptops from their classrooms, mostly because of the diversions that WiFi access created:

Wireless Internet connections tempt students away from note-typing to e-mail, blogs, YouTube videos, sports scores, even online gaming — all the diversions of a home computer beamed into the classroom to compete with the professor for the student’s attention (source:

“This is like putting on every student’s desk, when you walk into class, five different magazines, several television shows, some shopping opportunities and a phone, and saying, ‘Look, if your mind wanders, feel free to pick any of these up and go with it,’ ” [Georgetown law professor David] Cole said.

As readers of my “iPad judges” post may suspect, though, I think the problem goes far beyond the diversions presented by a WiFi-enabled laptop. As the abstract to Professor DeGroff’s article points out, the technology generation may be arriving at law school with shorter attention spans, suggesting that the technology created problems long before the students ever arrived on campus. But where I think the WaPo article really hits the nail on the head is with this observation (my emphasis):

Cole has banned laptops from his classes, compelling students to take notes the way their parents did: on paper.


Cole surveyed one of his Georgetown classes anonymously after six weeks of laptop-free lectures. Four-fifths said they were more engaged in class discussion. Ninety-five percent admitted that they had used their laptops for “purposes other than taking notes.”

Even when used as glorified typewriters, laptops can turn students into witless stenographers, typing a lecture verbatim without listening or understanding.

I did quite well in law school, and I remember going minutes at a time in classes without writing anything down, because I realized the value of the class was in the give-and-take of the “Socratic Method” dialog that I so relished (yet so many of my classmates loathed and feared).* After some meaningful dialog, I was able to distill key points and limit my notes accordingly.

In other words, I actually thought during class. I hope students are still doing that.


*Not everyone is enamored of the Socratic Method.

Big city justices roll into Napa

The First District Court of Appeal convened yesterday in Napa to hear two criminal cases at a public auditorium before about 400 high school students. The justices also treated the students to a Q&A session.

Given that most people’s exposure to the law through the entertainment media nearly always involves a trial, this session strikes me as an excellent opportunity to educate the public about appeals. After all that exposure to movie-version trials, one suspects that the typical student, unless adequately briefed on the proceedings beforehand, would walk away from an appellate hearing saying to himself, “That’s it?” I’m curious whether that sentiment came out during the Q&A or in the preparation leading up to the event.

Also anticipating that sentiment was the reporter who wrote the article run by the Napa Valley Register the day prior to the session, who apparently had brief experience covering appellate decisions, and offered this comparison of trial and appellate proceedings:

While jury trials have some drama, what with the grilling of witnesses and introduction of eye-opening evidence, trials also can be tedious.

At the court of appeals, it is literally stand and deliver.

A lawyer has 20 minutes or so to persuade the court he or she is right, with the other side firing back from steps away. Either side can be undone by the justices, who can ask whatever they want whenever they want of whomever they want, making hash of a lawyer’s best-laid plans.

This actually strikes me as a a pretty fair layman’s synopsis of the differences between trial and appellate proceedings. It’s no doubt enough to scare some people out of ever considering appellate practice (probably the same people who prayed all during law school that their professors would not call on them in class). For the well-prepared appellate advocate, it not only can be a great challenge, it can also be quite enjoyable.

By itself, however, the comparison does not answer the “that’s it?” query. There are plenty of subtleties (and a heck of a lot of preparatory work!) involved in every oral argument. I will continue to write on those topics, but you can see what I mean by some of my earlier posts on the topic of oral advocacy.

Looks Like I was Wrong about Tweeting Jurors.

I didn’t think we’d see them anytime soon.  I was very, very wrong.

UPDATE:  So I got to thinking . .  . I’ve got 20 or 30 years left in my legal career.  Will I see a juror’s mental telepathy about a case raised as a ground for appeal?  I don’t know, but if mental telepathy is possible, it will sure change oral argument, especially how an advocate handles questions from the court.

Law School Rankings Under Scrutiny Again

When I last wrote about law school rankings (in the summer of 2007), it was in response to a post at the Law School Innovation blog rounding up some reporting and commentary on law school rankings, including an article in National Law Journal about a potential boycott of magazine rankings surveys used by the magazines to rank the schools. I don’t know whether any schools actually protested through a boycott, but yesterday’s Wall Street Journal gives the schools more food for thought.

Their front-page article, Law School Rankings Reviewed to Deter ‘Gaming,’ discusses the practice of some schools to admit lower-qualified candidates only to their part-time programs, where the qualifications of the students do not figure into the rankings by U.S. News & World Report. The potential impact on rankings resulting from fixing the loophole might create an incentive for schools to change their practices, with negative effects for students:

Counting part-timers would roil the law-school rankings, which have a big impact on where students apply and from where law firms hire. A number of law-school administrators interviewed about the potential change contend it could have another effect: narrowing a traditional pathway to law school for minorities and working professionals. Those groups often perform worse on the important Law School Admission Test, or LSAT, and schools could feel pressure to raise their admission thresholds.

A change in criteria would “catch the outliers but punish part-time programs that have existed forever and aren’t doing it to game the system,” says Ellen Rutt, an associate law-school dean at the University of Connecticut. If U.S. News makes the move, many schools with part-time programs would have a tough choice: Leave their admission standards for part-timers unchanged, which could hurt their rank, or raise the standards, likely shrinking the programs and cutting revenue.

My own school (University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law) had a robust evening program. Even though I was a full-time student, I grew familiar with the quality of the part-time students because many of my elective classes were taught in the evening (in order to make them available to the part-time students). If there was a significant difference in the amount or quality of classroom participation by students, I sure don’t remember it. (Of course, I have no idea if the part-time students at McGeorge were any “less-qualified” on paper than my full-time classmates.)

While I don’t think rankings are meaningless, I hardly think they are as important as many employers and applicants seem to think they are. It is distressing to me to see so much emphasis on a school’s ranking, especially when I read in the article about measures schools take specifically to improve their ranking.

If you’d like more detail about the article before you read it, read this post at WSJ Law Blog. Some of the commenters have very strong feelings about the magazine’s ranking system.

For an alternative ranking, see Brian Leiter’s Law School Rankings.

UC Davis Law Students Procure Ninth Circuit Reversal

Congratulations are in order for UC Davis law students Anjuli Fiedler and Rachel Golick who, under the supervision of UC Davis School of Law professor Carter C. White, represented and obtained a reversal for the appellant in Simpson v. Thomas, case no. 07-16228 (9th Cir. June 11, 2008), Maybe this happens more frequently than I suspect, but it strikes me as a pretty big deal. Especially since the appeal raised two issues of first impression.

Blogging Professors

The New York Times recently ran a piece called The Professor as Open Book, about professors (across all disciplines) sharing personal information on their blogs and social networking sites. How much is too much?

Hat tip: Legal Writing Prof Blog, where John Marshall Law School professor Mark Wojcik offers some commentary on the subject.

It was just last June when University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos wrote in a tongue-in-cheek way about being perhaps the last law professor in America without a blog.

You’ll see precious little personal info on this blog. I only got around to adding my picture a week or so ago. And that’s not exactly private in any event. Like many legal blogs, this blog functions in part as a marketing tool. Having my picture in the sidebar is no different than having it in the county bar directory.

Realism in Appellate Training

If we want students to learn to address an appellate court, shouldn’t the seating at moot court competitions at least resemble an appellate courtroom? All too often, it doesn’t, says Professor Colleen Barger at Legal Writing Prof Blog. Physical limitations of the venues hinder it, she notes, and she’s asking for suggestion she can offer moot court tournament organizers. If you have any, head over to the link.

A Professor’s Lament and More Legal Writing Resources

Professor Austen Parrish of Southwestern Law School, as a guest writer at Prawfsblawg, laments the poor writing skills of first-year law students, including this comment: “Exam answers (at times written like lengthy text messages) can bring seasoned professors near to tears.”

He offers a list of helpful books.

The commenters on the post don’t seem particularly optimistic.

A Call to Law Professors and Those Who Know Them

Prawfsblawg posts Are you now or have you ever been a member of a debate team?  It is a call for participation by law professors in a worthwhile project.  (For that reason, this post incorporates almost the entirety of the linked post.  I’m sure Prawfsblawg won’t mind if it helps get the word out, but I’ll feel less guilty about it if you click the link to the Prawfsblawg post.)

Jim Speta , a law professor at Northwestern, is trying to identify law professors who debated in high school or college.  He’s seeking to make the case that debate provides skills and interest that lead students to consider law school, in order to support the expansion of the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues, which has been bringing debate back to urban high schools.

Professor Speta can be reached by e-mail at I was a debater in high school, I already had the U.S. Naval Academy and at least a 5-year military commitment firmly in my sights.  I was virtually the only competitor I knew — not just from my school, but from any school — that didn’t want to become a lawyer.  I wasn’t anti-law.  I was just headed in another direction.Whether my debating colleagues were already interested in law and  joined the debate team to gain lawyering skills or gained their interest in the law through their debating experiences, I couldn’t tell you.  Probably a little of both.But the answer to this “chicken or the egg” question doesn’t matter.  Whether the renewal of debate programs will foster an interest in the law or only draw students already interested in it, the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues seems like a good idea to me.  Students learn a great deal from debate and other forms of public speaking.

Law School Rankings

There’s a lot of talk out there right now about law school rankings.  I heard on the radio the other day that some liberal arts schools were boycotting the magazine rankings and that some law schools were considering doing the same.  The Law School Innovation blog has a post rounding up some recent articles about rankings, including a Wall Street Journal article about blogs ranking law schools, a WSJ blog post about alternative rankings systems (which includes lots of links), and a National Law Journal article predicting that the liberal arts school boycott is not likely to spread to the law schools.

Professor Rubinstein at Adjunct Law Prof Blog has some commentary on the situation, with links.

If you’re curious where your law school now ranks, you might want to check these out.