Great Lesson on “How to Be the World’s Best Law Professor” – Prof. Warren Binford

This is a great article entitled How to be the World’s Best Law Professor.  By Prof. Warren Binford.  Start a great blog and make your students follow it?  No, that is not one of her recommendations.  The article opened my eyes a little.  Now I have to figure out how to at least get a little closer to her ideals.  Here are her main points in my humble opinion.

  • Students don’t retain a ton of lectures.
    • That is certainly true today but it’s because few students listen in class.  Facebook and text messages are far more interesting than what I am talking about.
    • She writes, Socratic method of teaching “has been shown to increase learning and retention, at least in the short term.”
    • Telling stories helps “the human mind’s ability to retain content.”
    • “a moderate amount of confusion leads to ‘significantly higher learning gains.'”  [I would add that the confusion must end in a straight answer. ]
  • Assigning gobs of reading “probably” does not help as much as we assume.
    • highlighting lots of lines in books probably does not help as much as you would think.
  • Taking notes with a laptop probably does not help as much as you would think.  There is a tendency to write too much and therefore listen less.
    • Taking notes by hand is much better.

Now for the good stuff:

  • More testing.  I learned this the hard way.  Students do not realize that little is sticking in the brain.  I give two take-home mid-terms and those help the students a ton.  I can see them saying, “So that’s what you were talking about.”
    • I’m going to try to pass out multiple choice questions a few times during the semester.   I’ll have them answer the questions then review the answers.  3-4 questions maybe 4-5 times during the year.
  • “Distribute Learning across Time.”  This means discuss legal topics which are not exactly part of the specific class.
    • I try to revisit contracts a lot in my Biz Orgs class as well as basic litigation concepts.  This helps students learn to think like lawyers rather than law students (that’s a whole separate blog that is coming one of these days).
  • “Let Your Students Teach.”  I totally agree and am all for this.  I just have to figure out how to do it in class.

Final Point:  “Can They at Least Brief Cases?”

  • Prof. Binford’s comments on briefing cases are very well taken.  Briefing is a “low utility study method because in order for it to be effective, the learner must be skilled at summarizing and most people are not.”
    • Briefing cases to me is by far the most effective way of learning and understanding and remembering law.   I have personally written a brief of every 9th Circuit published case on bankruptcy since 2005, some 600 briefs altogether.  And every meaningful Supreme Court case on bankruptcy going back to 1817.  That is about 240 briefs altogether.   Explaining what the court did or thought it was doing, what the issue was and why it came out the way it did is hugely beneficial.  Every day I am asked about some bankruptcy issue by some bankruptcy lawyer and inevitably I remember some case I briefed that dips into the specific question.  But each brief takes me about an hour and it’s a subject I already know very well.   So it is a huge effort.  And my ability to write a brief that is brief yet explains what happened has improved over the years.  Practice, practice, practice.

As my students know, I have come up with a format that I am forcing my students to follow on briefs.   I’m going to send the format to Prof. Binford and see what she has to say.

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