Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How Do You Grade the Work of Law Students? Is Student Performance in Part a Function of the Professor's Competence in Teaching the Materials?

At the ABA Law Journal Law News Now, Debra Cassens Weiss writes about Greta Van Susteren and her law school grading practices during her tenure as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law School 1984-1999.

What interested me is this quotation:

"This may be a little bit bizarre, but in a setting, at least at Georgetown, if someone is not doing well, I think it's the professor's fault. The people there pay a lot of money, and they're very aggressive and they're hard workers."

This is a side of the law school equation that is not often discussed, but that quotation certainly reflects my own views for the period that I taught law as FFA Lecturer for Anglo-American Law, Legal Writing and Legal Research at Trier Law School (1998-2003).

At the beginning of each semester, I made it clear to the students that if everyone wrote A's on the final exam and on their written and research work, they would all get A's. Indeed, I always regarded it is my own failing in teaching if the results were substantially less than that. It was my job to get the material through to the students. In fact, most of the students did get A's and B's, with fewer C's and D's, and only a few F's.

I always gave a multiple question final examination with relatively objective correct answers, and combined this grade with the grades obtained on the legal research and writing projects. Indeed, since I had about 200 students per semester, I had up to 20 student assistants who assisted me in the grading of papers, using a master answer sheet, although I subsequently examined every student's papers and exams again personally, and did change grades, if required. In any case, nothing thrilled me more than to see answers reflecting that the student had indeed assimilated the materials to be learned. That was certainly one of my greatest rewards in teaching, topped only perhaps by the opportunity to interact on a high level with young, gifted people.

My grading practices were in stark contrast to the normal practices in German law examinations, where, by tradition, good grades are rarely given. The German law teaching system regards the study of law more as a gauntlet system to be endured, with first-year students in Civil Law (Zivilrecht), Criminal Law (Strafrecht) and Public Law (Öffentliches Recht) being failed in their first examinations in numbers approaching 50% or more.

In my opinion, this in part is due to the fact that there is nothing comparable to the LSAT in Germany. In fact, in Germany students with good high school grades can study law right after graduation from German high school (German Gymnasium), rather than, as in the American system, only after college graduation and only if they have good LSAT scores, showing thereby the kind of logical acumen which is required for law study. The result of this initial lack of selection is that one often finds 1st-year students in German law schools whose acumen for law is minimal.

I tried to get around this problem by telling my students, who were almost all 1st-year law students with mostly excellent grades in high school, that about 1/3 of them would not make it to the semester's final examination, not only because of problems in their German law courses, but because they would themselves acknowledge that they were in the wrong field and would move on to a different career path. Indeed, I tried to advise students accordingly, based upon the papers that they submitted in my courses. There were for example numerous students gifted in writing literature, but poorly suited for law. I advised them to change their course of study.

Accordingly, in our view some bad judgment is at work in the new Michigan Law School Special Admissions Program for the 2010 term where Michigan undergrad applicants will not even be allowed to take the LSAT, but are required to have a grade point of 3.8 or higher to apply for law school. Based on our experience at Trier, where numerous students with straight A's in the German high schools were not necessarily a right fit for law school - but well suited for other professions, this appears to be a policy of wishful thinking rather than an admissions policy based on obtaining the best available information about each law school applicant.

Update: As if our ESP antennas were working at full power in making the above posting on the above topic, we discovered this morning (Oct. 1) from Martha Neil at the ABA Law Journal Law News Now (via Brian Leitner) that Harvard Law School has just adopted a modified pass/fail system (honors-pass-low pass-fail) similar to that used at Stanford Law School and Yale Law School, dropping letter grades.

Stanford Law School effective graduating class 2011 applies a system which grades by the labels honors, pass, restricted credit and no credit.

Yale has honors, pass, low pass, credit, failure, requirement completed (RC).

Berkeley has an intricate quota system which is described at Berkeley Law Grading Policy as follows (get out your calculator):

"Up until the fall 1997, students received one of four grades in courses at Berkeley Law: High Honors (HH), Honors (H), Pass (P) or No Credit (NC). In fall 1997, a grade of Substandard Pass (PC), which falls between Pass and No Credit, was added; this grade indicates that the student received credit for the course but the work was of low quality. In first-year classes, the curve for honors grades is strict - the top 40 percent of the class receives honors grades, with 10 percent of the class receiving High Honors and the next 30 percent receiving Honors. There is no required curve for the grades of Pass and below, and faculty members are not required to give any Substandard Pass or No Credit grades. In second- and third-year classes, up to 45 percent of the class can receive honors grades, of which up to 15 percent of the class can receive High Honors. In small seminar classes, the curve still exists, but it is further relaxed. A very few courses are graded on a Credit (CR)/No Pass (NP) basis."

Basically, that is similar to the stodgy virtual quota system used in Germany, only here at an elevated grading level. It is unfortunate that the assignment of these "word" grades has little to do with actual performance, either by students or professors, but merely reflect a student's percentage standing in his or her class. The Berkeley system is no great improvement over letter grading.

At the least, if no letter grades are used, any "terms" used as "grades" should reflect whether a student has understood the material well, satisfactorily, unsatisfactorily, or as good as not at all. This can vary from course to course, from professor to professor, from student to student, and from year to year. To have a fixed quota system is, in the eyes of this observer, rather absurd.

Nuts & Boalts comments on the grading developments.

Georgetown University Law Center will not be following suit.

The Yale Daily News has a detailed article by Isaac Arnsdorf about recent events in law school top echelons.

World Financial Markets Seek a State of Equilibrium as the Values of Assets Seek to Reach Realistic Levels

All things in the universe seek a state of equilibrium, and this applies equally to the world financial markets.

At the National Post, Terence Corcoran has written an article that Financial markets go up and down as they should. As a result, the proposed financial bailout (A US "Legislative Proposal for Treasury Authority to Purchase Mortgage-Related Assets"), as rejected by US Congress in the person of the U.S. House of Representatives, would not have staved off the ultimate financial future.

That future portends that "the market is going to continue marking stock prices and other assets down until values reach realistic levels." This is the essence of market capitalism.
See the CNN article, Markets mayhem after U.S. bailout failure.

The trouble with that approach, as written by Ben Stein at the New York Times, is that In Financial Food Chains, Little Guys Can't Win, causing Stein to wonder:

"Maybe the bailout should not be of the banks at all, but of homeowners themselves. Maybe if we make the government the buyer of last resort of homes, we will stabilize the markets, stabilize the debt associated with the markets and take the gain out of the credit-default swaps for the speculators. Yes, price would be a huge issue, but so it is for Mr. Paulson’s plan for buying debt from banks."

In either case, however, someone would be obtaining a windfall gain, paid for by somebody else.

In the case of a bank bailout, we would be punishing the victims, who, by their taxes, would be bailing out the perpetrators, i.e. the banks. In the case of a homebuyer bailout, we would be bailing out those who chose to buy homes beyond their means, or were even speculating with real estate to make windfall profits, paid for by those who are living within their means.

In Europe, the entire money, banking and financial crisis has led French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a master of the exploitation of the political scene to his benefit, to proclaim:

"The idea of the all-powerful market that must not be constrained by any rules, by any political intervention, was mad. The idea that markets were always right was mad....

The present crisis must incite us to refound capitalism on the basis of ethics and work … Self-regulation as a way of solving all problems is finished. Laissez-faire is finished. The all-powerful market that always knows best is finished...." [emphasis added by LawPundit]

But, of course, Mr. Sarkozy, as an experienced politician, must know that when money is concerned in the real world, ethics and work have little to do with anything.

On average, in a world governed by inheritance, 100% of the world's assets change hands every generation, neither on the basis of ethics nor on the basis of work performed, but rather simply on the non-economic basis of selfish family relationships, bearing no relation to ethics or work performance whatsoever.

Similarly, countries whose territory sits on vast quantities of natural resources, such as oil and gas, exploit those resources selfishly for their own benefit, often hiring citizens from less favorably endowed countries to do the work. There is no correlation here between wealth and work or ethics at all. Quite the contrary, it has made many wealthy who do no socially beneficial work of any kind. If you want to see an UNETHICAL world, look to the financial world.

The state of the world economy has little to do with ethics, and if work is an issue, it is usually the work of the other guy, not the work of the person or institution that is accumulating wealth.

Why then, as Sarkozy suggests, should an unrealistic standard suddenly arise for financial markets, where greed and avarice are rampant, and have always existed? It is a world devoid of good or evil, ruled only by the ethic of money. Either you have it, or have it not. Being a good guy is irrelevant. Indeed, the real world indicates, au contraire to Monsieur Sarkozy, that it can be equally profitable to invest in God OR Satan.

Very few persons will disagree that new corrective legislation will be required to deal with inappropriate financial instruments, such as derivatives, which Warren Buffet has called "financial instruments of mass destruction", as the BBC writes, "financial instruments that allow investors to speculate on the future price of, for example, commodities or shares - without buying the underlying investment."

That is simply a type of Las Vegas gambling on a global financial scale that has to be stopped. Similarly, subprime mortgage markets will have to be much more strictly regulated in the future to keep home-buying on a prudent and payable scale.

None of this means that market capitalism has failed. Market capitalism does not guarantee smooth sailing, but that is a different matter. If the already existing regulators - who Sarkozy champions - had done their jobs diligently all of these past years, there would be no financial crisis. Everyone involved in these matters has failed, and now the price has to be paid.

And, not to forget. There WILL be winners. And some of them may not be the good guys.

Learn from Golf, Gene Sarazen and 1929 : Don't Panic, Take it Easy and Go to the Links As the World Financial Markets Struggle for Inevitable Balance

We read this story about the 1929 stock market crash many years ago in a type of businessman's chain letter and were glad to find it again online at the Aircraft Resource Center:

Here is the story in the approximate version that we heard it 30 years ago:

"The question:

Over a generation ago, in 1923, who was:


1. President of the largest steel company?

2. President of the largest gas company?

3. President of the New York Stock Exchange?

4. Greatest wheat speculator?

5. President of the Bank of International Settlement?

6. Wheat Bear of Wall Street?


These men were considered some of the world's most successful of their day. Now, 80 years later, the history book asks us, if we know what ultimately became of them. The answer:


1. The president of the largest steel company, Charles Schwab, died a pauper.

2. The president of the largest gas company, Edward Hopson, went insane.

3. The president of the NYSE, Richard Whitney, was released from prison to die at home.

4. The greatest wheat speculator, Arthur Cooger, died abroad, penniless.

5. The president of the Bank of International Settlement, shot himself.

6. The Great Bear of Wall Street, Cosabee Livermore, also committed suicide.


However, in that same year, 1923, the PGA Champion and the winner of the most important golf tournament, the US Open, was Gene Sarazen. What became of him? He played golf until he was 92, died in 1999 at the age of 95. He was financially secure at the time of his death. The moral: Screw work. Play golf. You'll live longer and be better off in the end.


Origins:


This is a vintage piece of
glurge, one which appears to have been in continuous circulation since at least 1948. Over the years it has been through a variety of alterations, with names being added and dropped from the list, the fates of the various men changing in severity, and different morals being tacked onto the end. In modern versions many of the names have become so distorted through mistranscription to be almost unrecognizeable." [link added by LawPundit]

To learn the TRUE STORY go to the Aircraft Resource Center.

Bavarian State Elections Point to Populist Turmoil in German Politics : Free Voters Coalition Comes out of Nowhere to Win 10% of the Bavarian Vote

The populist emergence of Sarah Palin of Alaska as the Vice-Presidential nominee of the Republican Party in America is not an isolated phenomenon of the USA.

The state elections just held on Sunday in Bavaria, Germany closed with a dramatic populist result as the ruling conservative CSU party (Christian Social Union) for the first time since 1962 failed to obtain an absolute majority of the Bavarian vote. Their 43.4% outcome was 17.3% below their result in the state elections five years ago.

As written in the German Spiegel Online International:

"The conservative Christian Social Union turned in its worst election result since 1954 in Bavarian state elections on Sunday. The ballot box collapse brings a decades-long political monopoly to an end -- and may call Chancellor Angela Merkel's re-election into question."

The cause of the decline was not the exodus of voters to the traditional opponent of the CSU, the German Socialist Party (SPD), who themselves turned in their worst performance since the year 1945 with only 18.6% of the vote.

Rather, a great number of voters turned to alternative populist parties such as the FW (Freie Wähler, "Free Voters"), a conservative citizens' coalition (it is not officially a political party) which, as written by the Spiegel Online International "came out of nowhere to get 10.2 percent." See the political platform of the Free Voters here (only available in German language).

This development might be a cause for concern in some circles because it could indicate that a considerable percentage of the voter population in Germany might be suffering from some of the same symptoms currently that historically led to the collapse of the Weimar Republic and led to the rise of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (the Nazi Party), which began in the same populist manner under the name of the Free Committee for a German Workers' Peace.

The Free Voters are capitalizing on the various political and economic problems (such as the banking crisis and affiliated world financial problems) which afflict - not only - modern-day Germany. The Free Voters are running on a populist platform whose main slogan is that the local community is the nucleus - literally germ cell - of the state (Die Kommune als Keimzelle des Staates), as if locally-centered politics could solve global problems, a myth which always seems attractive to unsophisticated voters.

A similar conservative populist result also occurred in the state elections in Austria.

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