August 22, 2017

Bruce Smith Named Dean of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law

smithOn Monday, April 4, 2016, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law announced the appointment of Bruce Smith, J.D., Ph.D., as its new dean, effective July 1, 2016. Smith will replace Dean Martin Katz, who is returning to the faculty.

Smith is currently a Guy Raymond Jones Faculty Scholar at the University of Illinois College of Law, where he specializes in Anglo-American criminal procedure in the 18th and 19th centuries. Smith was Dean of the University of Illinois College of Law from 2009 to 2014 and has served on the faculty since 2001. Prior to that, he was in private practice in the Washington, DC area for five years, where he focused his practice on intellectual property litigation and sports law. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree, summa cum laude, from Williams College; bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Cambridge, England, which he attended as a Hersch Smith Fellow; his J.D. from Yale Law School; and his Ph.D. in history from the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, where he was a Mellon Fellow in the Humanities.

For more information about the appointment, click here.

Run the Red Rock Scramble 5.8K to Benefit the Colorado Indian Bar Association

RedRockScrambleThe Colorado Indian Bar Association is hosting its annual fundraiser, the Red Rock Scramble, on Sunday, October 11, 2015, at 10 a.m. This 5.8K run on a hard-packed dirt road with beautiful views of the flatirons and surrounding mountains benefits the CIBA and raises money for scholarships to benefit one student each year in attendance at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and the University of Colorado School of Law who will be practicing in the field of Federal Indian Law or who commits to working with American Indian communities. Registration for the run is only $30, and small prizes will be awarded to the top male and female runners in each of several age categories. CIBA will also provide a $50 gift certificate to a running store to the overall top male and female runners. Click here to register and for more information about the race.

The Colorado Indian Bar Association is a local bar association consisting of American Indian lawyers, practitioners of American Indian law, and American Indian law students in Colorado. CIBA promotes the development of Indian Law for the maximum benefit of Indian people, strives toward justice and effective legal representation for all Indian people, provides a forum for Native Americans to become more involved in the local and national issues affecting Indian people, provides networking and support to encourage Native Americans to pursue careers in the law, and promotes the nomination of Native Americans for judicial appointments.

Register today for the Red Rock Scramble!

February 2015 Bar Exam Results Released

On Thursday, May 7, 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court released the results of the February 2015 Bar Exam. Congratulations to the people who passed the bar! Welcome to Colorado’s legal community.

A total of 359 people took the exam, and 222 (62%) passed. The University of Colorado Law School had 30 test takers, and 20 (67%) passed. The University of Denver Sturm College of Law had 73 test takers, and 57 (78%) passed. National law schools, including Columbia, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Duke, Michigan, Chicago, UC Berkeley, Virginia, and Texas, submitted 14 test takers, of whom 11 (79%) passed.

We at CBA-CLE wish all of you the best of luck on the beginnings of your careers. We hope to meet you in our classroom soon. You can also get the CLE Pass to gain access to our library of Video On-Demand and MP3 homestudies, as well as special pricing on live seminars.

Don’t forget: if you haven’t stopped by already, you are required to take our Practicing with Professionalism course. This is a mandatory program and is a condition of admission to the Colorado Bar. Click here to find a class.

Colorado Law Schools Rise in 2016 U.S. News Law School Ratings

The 2016 U.S. News and World Report law school rankings are in, and both Colorado law schools saw slight increases. University of Colorado Law School ranked 40 this year, up from 43 last year. The University of Denver Sturm College of Law ranked 67 this year, up from last year’s 68. DU’s part time program was ranked 10 this year, up two spots from last year.

U.S. News changed their rating procedure this year, and schools were discounted for having large percentages of students in university-funded jobs. U.S. News did not completely eliminate employment information for graduates employed by their schools, since any legal job is preferable to unemployment.

In addition to the main law school ratings, each school had specialty programs with high rankings. CU’s Environmental Law program was ranked 5th nationally, the legal writing program at DU was ranked 7th, and DU’s clinical program was ranked 14 this year.

For the complete U.S. News and World Report law school ratings, click here.

Saving Ourselves From Ourselves (Part Two): The Borg Isn’t a Personal Problem

“We are the Borg. You will be assimilated.
Lower your shields and surrender your ships.
We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own.
Your culture will adapt to serve us.
Resistance is futile.”

rhodesTo recap from last time:

Ethos is “the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community, as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.”

Like any institution, the law profession has its own ethos, manifested in expressed and unspoken beliefs and aspirations that guide our attitudes and behaviors.

What I’m calling the “Legal Borg” (c’mon, we gotta have a little fun every now and then!) is that portion of the law ethos that is responsible for the cognitive- and performance-impairing brain damage we learned about in the Killing Them Softly series, also for lawyers’ high rates of depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and suicide.

The Legal Borg is the part of our professional ethos that’s out to get us. It’s stealthy and insidious. It avoids detection not by hiding but by convincing us we’re not seeing what we’re seeing. Or that what we’re seeing isn’t worth the bother.

Take lawyer career dissatisfaction, for example: it’s been on the rise for decades; we know that personally and anecdotally, also from numerous bar association polls and university research studies. Same thing with lawyer psychological distress. The Borg’s response? To convince us — individually and collectively — that these things are a personal problem. Some people just can’t handle the stress. Too bad for them; the rest of us have work to do. If you need help, get it, it’s out there. In the meantime, we don’t like thinking or talking about it, so don’t ask, don’t tell.

Further, if we dare question whether we’re okay with that, the Borg isolates us, labels us aberrant. For example, work-life balance initiatives are all over the legal profession, in bar association initiatives such as this one through the CBA (also summarized in The Colorado Lawyer archives back in 2007 — I wonder whatever happened to it?) and in law firms such as this one (chosen at random — there were too many). Statistically, these initiatives have been largely populated by women, although that is changing. So what does the Borg do? It declares that this is primarily a “women’s issue,” or perhaps a “parents issue,” and creates “alternative” career paths for these outliers. “We’ll accommodate them, but we all know that’s not where the real action is.” So says the Borg.

As for law firms with wellness programs, that’s a California or Europe thing. Not in our house! Besides, you need to be careful with those programs — you can get in trouble if you get carried away.

And so it goes. That’s the Legal Borg working overtime to promote the perception that for everybody but an irrelevant, dissenting few, things in the profession are as they have always been, and we’re all better off that way.

It’s a strategy that’s worked for a long time, but there are signs everyday that that the Borg’s grip is weakening — enough to make you wonder if the tipping point may have already been reached. We looked at one of those signs — an ethical initiative in Ohio — last time. Consider also this description of another Ohio initiative (convened in Columbus the day after I was recently there — darn!): a confab sponsored by the Supreme Court of Ohio Commission on Professionalism on “Preparing the Leaders of Tomorrow’s Changing Legal Profession.”

That title may be misleading. We may not be talking about “tomorrow” anymore. The future may already be here.

More on that coming up.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. Years ago he left his law practice to start a creative venture, and his reflections on exiting the law practice appeared in an article in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. His free ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures in leaving the law, and the lessons he learned about personal growth and transformation, which are the foundation of much of what he writes about here.

A collection of Kevin’s blog posts, Enlightenment, Apocalypse, and Other States of Mind, is now available as an ebook. Click the book title to sample and download it from the distributor’s webpage. It’s also available on from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Amazon, and Scribd. The collection includes Forewords from Debra Austin, author of the Killing Them Softly law journal article which has been featured here, and from Ron Sandgrund, author of The Colorado Lawyer article mentioned above.

You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

2014 Colorado Assembly of Lawyers and New Attorneys Sworn in at Fall Admissions Ceremony

groupoathMany of the 632 new attorneys who passed the Colorado bar exam in July of this year were admitted to practice law in Colorado on Monday, November 3, 2014, at the Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver. Preceding the admittance ceremony was the 2014 Colorado Assembly of Lawyers. The annual assembly culminates October’s Legal Professionalism Month, during which members of the Colorado legal profession rededicate themselves to the highest standard of professionalism and integrity. This year’s assembly featured a panel discussion about professionalism in the 21st century. Following the assembly, the new attorneys took the Oath of Admission, and were welcomed to practice by Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nancy Rice, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Marcia Krieger, and CBA President Charley Garcia. The keynote address was given by former Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Bender.

The University of Colorado, University of Denver, and the Colorado Bar Association Young Lawyers Division all held receptions immediately following the fall admission ceremony. CU’s reception for their alumni was held at Kevin Taylor’s at the Opera House and DU’s reception for their alumni was held at Rock Bottom Brewery. For the first time, CBA YLD held a reception for those just sworn into practice from out of state schools. The CBA YLD reception was held at Pizza Republica where more than 50 new attorneys and their family enjoyed drinks and appetizers.  

Killing Them Softly (Part Eight): What We Might Be Missing

rhodesThe Abstract to Prof. Austin’s Killing Them Softly states that “This Article provides a groundbreaking synthesis on the neuroscience of achieving optimal cognitive fitness for all law students, law professors, and lawyers.” The article is all that, and more: it’s also a call to action.

Killing Them Softly looks at issues such as legal ethics and the cognitive performance and general wellbeing of law students and lawyers through the lens of neuroscience. What we see through that lens invites us to change — assuming we don’t like the idea that we’re inflicting brain damage on ourselves and each other.

Strange, though, isn’t it, but articles like this are rarely incendiary. They get read and cited, they prompt dialogue, and then the wheels of change roll slowly through institutions, grinding against a powerful ethos of “this is the way we’ve always done it.” Eventually change happens, but it’s not exactly a forest fire.

What we might be missing is that the market for legal products and services isn’t constrained by institutional sluggishness, and is already running ahead, embracing change. The market isn’t hidebound, it can move as fast as it wants. And if it wants something other than lawyers thinking through a cognitive fog, it can get it. Now.

Presumably, there will always be a need for lawyers who can “think like a lawyer” that way the ideal was originally intended, but nowadays that’s a shrinking market segment. A sizeable and burgeoning market segment has already broken off that apparently doesn’t want lawyers who think like lawyers — at least, not in those brain-damaged, cognitively impaired ways we’ve been looking at in this series. That segment has already found a way to buy legal commodities delivered by non-lawyers that used to be delivered as services by lawyers. (This blog catalogued some of these developments earlier this year. See Future Shock and the Business of Law, The New Lawyer Entrepreneurs, and Learning to Think Like a Lawyer an Entrepreneur. )

Saying “but they’re not supposed to do that” is a finger in the dike. Worldwide ecommerce wants what it wants when it wants it, and the fastest market responders are all over mindfulness and wellness as a business growth strategy. If they so choose, those are the people who will develop a new market segment of law schools and law practices operating at “optimal cognitive fitness” and fostering “achievement cultures,” as Prof. Austin advocates.

Now that’s incendiary change. If we want in on it, the resources are out there. Again, from Prof. Austin:

One of the most supportive achievement workplace cultures can be found at Google. The master of ceremonies, and developer of Google’s Search Inside Yourself (SIY) emotional intelligence curriculum, is Chade-Meng Tan. The benefits of developing emotional intelligence competence include strong work performance, excellent leadership skills, and the capacity for sustainable happiness.

For more about SIY, check out the Inside Yourself Leadership Institute website. Here’s their mission statement:

We develop effective, innovative leaders using science-backed mindfulness and emotional intelligence training.

The World of Woo-Woo has taken up residence on Wall Street. The legal profession might want to join them. Prof. Austin issues the invitation:

Neural self-hacking is likely to be the newest fitness movement and law students, law professors, and lawyers should be among the early adopters of a regimen of cognitive wellness.

Early adopters? The legal profession?

It could happen.

The concept of “emotional intelligence” originated in Daniel Coleman’s book by that name. More on that another time.

Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. Years ago he left his law practice to start a creative venture, and his reflections on that topic appeared in an article in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. His ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures and lessons learned about personal growth and transformation, which are the foundation of much of what he writes about here. If you enjoy reading this blog and would like to contribute a blurb to Kevin’s upcoming collection of these posts, please email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

A collection of Kevin’s blog posts, Enlightenment, Apocalypse, and Other States of Mind, is now available as an ebook. Click the link to sample and download it from the distributor’s webpage. (Soon to be available on iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Scribd.) Includes Forewords from Debra Austin, author of the Killing Them Softly law journal article, and from Ron Sandgrund, author of an article on lawyers exiting the law in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer, in which Kevin was interviewed.

Killing Them Softly (Part Seven): The Ethics of Mindfulness And Why it Works

rhodesProf. Austin’s Killing Them Softly article reminds us that not only can we help ourselves to overcome legally-inflicted brain (and heart) damage, we have an ethical duty to do so:

Each law student, law professor, and lawyer has the power to alter brain processes to achieve states more conducive to learning.

Rule 1.1 of the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct requires lawyers to be competent in completing their duties on behalf of their clients. Law students, law professors, and lawyers can benefit from developing a neuroscience-based understanding of how to optimize their own cognition.

If we’re willing, neuroscience can help us take up the challenge to operate at a higher cognitive and ethical level:

Developments in neuroscience identify areas of cognition in the brain and indicate recommendations that enhance cognitive effectiveness, performance, and productivity. Steps taken to increase cognitive fitness can strengthen lawyer creativity and well-being.

Knowledge of these neuroscience findings will empower law students, law professors, and lawyers to enhance their cognitive wellness.

Law schools and law firms, like many cutting-edge companies, can curate a culture of cognitive wellness.

Promoting cognitive wellness is good health, good ethics, and good business. As for the latter:

In addition to bolstering cognitive competence, cognitive wellness initiatives may also provide a lawyer with a competitive advantage.

Many innovative companies promote wellness to provide vibrant workplaces and thriving employees. Research shows that perks such as onsite gyms, work/life balance programs, stress management classes, mindfulness training, and nutrition coaching improve the bottom line.

If we’re not doing this already, then where do we start? According to Prof. Austin, with mindfulness training:

The best cognitive approach to dealing with stress is mindfulness. Research on mindfulness indicates that it:

  • strengthens the insula in the thinking brain (the early detection system of well-being);
  • increases gray matter and connections between brain regions;
  • improves immune function;
  • decreases distraction; and
  • equips the brain to notice patterns and events before responses become overly-reactive.

Mindfulness works as an antidote to cognitive impairment because it bypasses our habitual cognitive processes. Mindfulness doesn’t ask us to think, analyze, reason, argue, and high achieve our way into a stress-free mindset. Instead, it shifts our brains to a new state of perception and awareness, where we can make behavioral choices that alter the ethos of stress itself. In fact, mindfulness is not about thinking at all:

{M]indfulness is attention without labels, ideas, thoughts, or opinions. Mindfulness means “being fully aware of something” and paying attention to the moment, with acceptance and without judgment or resistance. It requires “emotion-introspection rather than cognitive self-reflection,” and specifically does not involve the analysis of thoughts or feelings. Mindfulness is a form of self-understanding involving self-awareness rather than thinking.

Practiced with intention and perseverance, mindfulness is just what the brain (and heart) doctor ordered:

Mindfulness improves information processing and decision-making. It provides space between awareness, and judgments and reactions, which may encourage the onset of flow. Flow is a term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to describe the state of effortless concentration when humans are so engaged in a task they lose track of time.

Being mindful allows you to have control over your attention so that you can place it where you want and shift it to something else when you want to. When attention is steady, it cannot be appropriated by whatever intrudes on awareness, but remains grounded and stable. Developing greater control over attention is a powerful way for law students and lawyers to sculpt their brains.

And, we might add, it’s not just a powerful way to sculpt our brains, but our careers and our profession as well.

More on that next time, and then this series is over.

A collection of Kevin’s blog posts, Enlightenment, Apocalypse, and Other States of Mind, is now available as an ebook. Click the link to sample and download it from the distributor’s webpage. (Soon to be available on iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Scribd.) Includes Forewords from Debra Austin, author of the Killing Them Softly law journal article, and from Ron Sandgrund, author of an article on lawyers exiting the law in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer, in which Kevin was interviewed.

Killing Them Softly (Part Six): Bouncing Back

rhodesThe reason not all law students and lawyers are paralyzed with stress-induced brain damage is because our brains are resilient. They bounce back. They successfully resist or unlearn stress conditioning.

Stress is profession-wide, but adaptation to stressful experience, including resistance and recovery, is individual by individual. As Prof. Austin explains in Killing Them Softly:

The brains of all healthy law students are comprised of the triune structure: the primitive, emotional, and thinking brains. The critical unit of communication within each brain is the tree-shaped neuron, which relies on the electrochemical process of transmitting information through the brain and between brain and body. Every law student has a multitude of neuronal networks operating within the brain. But each student’s transit system map of neuron data pathways, referred to as the connectome, is unique.

“You are your synapses,” and your brain is a “work in progress” because your connectome is continuously rewiring itself. The brain is in a constant state of change. It has the capacity to produce new neurons in the hippocampus and the olefactory bulbs (parts of the emotional brain) in a process called neurogenesis. The modification of neural networks in response to experience, such as legal education, is neuroplasticity.

Linda Graham’s book Bouncing Back describes neuroplasticity this way:

Technically, neuroplasticity is the lifelong capacity of the brain to create new neurons (brain cells) and connections among neurons (neural pathways and circuits). . . . When you focus attention on the conditioned pattern you want to rewire, you activate the neural networks of that pattern and cause the neurons to fire again. When you know how to harness the neuroplasticity of your brain in that moment, you can alter the pattern.

In other words, neuroplasticity isn’t just something that happens in the normal course of life inside our skulls, it’s also a skill we can consciously practice to our advantage. As Prof. Austin points out, “The brains of law students and lawyers are continuously being rewired and everything they do, think, and feel is governed by their neural networks.” We can either allow this to happen without our conscious intent, and leave the prospect of suffering brain damage and recovering from it up to chance, or we can engage in the intentional “neural self-hacking” Prof. Austin advocates — a term taken from “a class taught at Google, [that] teaches employees about the power of neuroplasticity.”

Using neuroplasticity to our benefit is a skill we can either use or lose. As Prof. Austin says,

The brain has the power to change itself through the personal effort and choices of its owner. Brain plasticity is competitive; we keep the skills we practice and we lose the ones we do not.

Embracing this skill requires focus and perseverance. As Bouncing Back says:

All mental activity creates neural structure. Using neuroplasticity to strengthen brain structures is like working out at the gym to build up our muscles. (Of course, the structures of the brain aren’t actually muscles; they’re densely networked circuits and pathways of neurons. But strengthening the capacities of these neurons to communicate with one another, and to integrate the information being processed into new responses, is comparable to working out to strengthen our muscles.)

Perseverance in our efforts to harness neuroplasticity is the sine qua non of rewiring our brains. By persevering in the use of new tools and techniques, we are stabilizing the new neural circuitry so that it can serve as a reliable platform of resilient behavior, not easily overridden by the pulls of the past. . . .

Frequent and regular repetition creates steady neural firing and rewiring and accelerates the process. . . . [A] stance of willingness — focusing on possibilities — is more effective than a stance of willpower — focusing on performance. It almost doesn’t matter how small the increment of change is.

What’s important is that we choose practices that catalyze positive change and that we persevere.

We’ll look at one of those catalytic practices next time.

Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. Years ago he left his law practice to start a creative venture, and his reflections on that topic appeared in an article in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. His ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures and lessons learned about personal growth and transformation, which are the foundation of much of what he writes about here. If you enjoy reading this blog and would like to contribute a blurb to Kevin’s upcoming collection of these posts, please email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Watch for Enlightenment, Apocalypse, and Other States of Mind, a collection of Kevin’s blog posts from the past three years, soon to be available as an eBook.

IAALS: Judge Arguello on a Diverse and Inclusive Legal Profession: Si Se Puede

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on IAALS Online, the blog for IAALS, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver, on October 14, 2014.

By Zachary Willis and Riley CombelicJudgeArguello

“Big dreams, hard work, and serendipity” are the words Judge Christine M. Arguello of the United States District Court for the District of Colorado would use to describe how she achieved her professional successes as a lawyer and judge. But, she also acknowledges the help of various mentors and the support of academic institutions along her way to becoming a federal judge. She believes (and is bolstered by the results of a recent Gallup poll) that without this help, diverse and economically challenged students do not stand as good a chance of achieving such academic and professional success.

In order to help the next generation, Judge Arguello founded Law School – Si Se Puede, a pipeline program that advances inclusiveness in the legal profession by equipping students with the skills they need for their journey to law school and beyond. The program selects highly-motivated undergraduate students who represent populations that are traditionally underrepresented in the law (i.e., low-income students, students of color, and/or first generation high school graduates) and pairs them with three mentors each—a law student, a junior attorney, and a senior attorney—who commit to helping them through their undergraduate career and ultimately “demystify the process of applying to law school.”

I believe if there is to be a more diverse and inclusive legal profession in Colorado, then everyone needs to play his or her part in helping to make it so, even if that means addressing it one student at a time.

Judge Arguello has been involved with Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers since its inception. To learn more about Law School – Si Se Puede, click here.

Zach Willis joined IAALS in September 2012 as Communications Manager. He manages the online content for the organization, as well as print publications, social media, marketing, and outreach.

Before coming to IAALS, Willis was a legal editor, program attorney, and online content manager for the Colorado Bar Association CLE, tasked with overseeing the organization’s award-winning online legal resource, which tracks legal updates and news relevant to Colorado legal professionals. While at CBA-CLE, Willis also coordinated marketing and developed promotion strategies for publications and conferences. Previously, Willis worked as a law clerk for Senior Judge Edwin L. Felter, Jr., at the Colorado Office of Administrative Courts.

Riley Combelic joined IAALS in January 2014 as an Intern and Online Contributor, working on projects for all initiatives. Combelic is currently pursuing his J.D. and is a third-year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, where he is specializing in corporate and securities law.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

Killing Them Softly (Part Five): Rethinking the Holy Grail

rhodesThe Holy Grail of legal education has long been teaching law students to “think like a lawyer.” Most of us have a vague sense of what that means and how it’s accomplished, but turns out it’s an actual brain process known to neuroscientists as conditioning. Linda Graham’s book Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain For Maximum Resilience and Well-Being describes conditioning as follows:

Conditioning creates automatic habits of behavior by encoding the neural firing patterns of repeated responses to experience, stabilizing the neural circuitry of that learning, and storing those patterns of response in implicit (unconscious) memory. When you repeat a pattern of behavior often enough, eventually you don’t have to focus your attention on it anymore; the neural circuits underlying that behavior have stabilized in your brain, enabling you to respond to a similar situation automatically.

Creating habits of behavior through conditioning is your brain’s way of being efficient. Without conditioning, you’d have to relearn how to tie your shoes every morning. . . .

[F]ocused attention causes neurons in the brain to fire; focusing on the same object or experience causes repeated neural firings; and repeated neural firings create new and stable neural structure. When we focus our attention on cultivating a particular pattern of behavior, a character trait, or attitude or lens for filtering experience, we incline the mind toward that objective . . . We notice more readily the desired trait or behavior, register it more fully in our consciousness, and direct mental activity toward it,

[W]hen we formulate an intention, . . . the repeated focus on that intention begins to build new brain structure and circuitry that support us. . . . We turn a neural goat path into a freeway.

Thus the Holy Grail is pursued and realized. For three years, we condition law students’ brains, turning their lawyer-like neural goat paths (remember what it was like the first time you read a case or a contract?) into neural freeways (consider how you read them now).

No problem if that’s all that happened, but combine brain conditioning with the brain damage caused by law school stress, and ironically, it appears that too often we accomplish this educational ideal by turning out lawyers who all think in the same brain-damaged way. The Destruction of Young Lawyers describes this outcome as follows:

At the same time that law school breaks students, it also creates them, or rather, molds them in its image. But what does it create? On the positive side it creates people who have good reading and writing skills, who are diligent and hardworking, who can see both sides to an issue. Law students are hard workers, and they are typically very high achievers with above-average intelligence.

But on another level, law school churns out some very scared people. . . . [A]t the same time that [law students] are taught to act empowered, they are truly disempowered. . . . Despite the appearance of professionalism and self-sufficiency, law students are actually helpless and dependent when they graduate.

Thankfully, there is an antidote. Bouncing Back introduces it:

If conditioning is the process that encodes stable patterns in our neural circuitry, neuroplasticity is the mechanism that works to alter them.

As Prof. Austin says in Killing Them Softly:

The modification of neural networks in response to experience, such as legal education, is neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is why some (not all) lawyers’ brains and hearts recover from law school and avoid the impact of law practice stress.

More next time.

Prof. Austin provides another take on this topic with her upcoming law journal article, “Drink Like a Lawyer: The Neuroscience of Substance Use and Its Impact on Cognitive Wellness.” I will provide a link when one is available.

Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. Years ago he left his law practice to start a creative venture, and his reflections on that topic appeared in an article in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. His ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures and lessons learned about personal growth and transformation, which are the foundation of much of what he writes about here. If you enjoy reading this blog and would like to contribute a blurb to Kevin’s upcoming collection of these posts, please email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

IAALS: Let’s Stop Choosing Law School Like It’s 1999

Alli_Gerkman_bw_2014

This post originally appeared on IAALS Online, the blog for IAALS, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver, on April 29, 2014.

By Alli Gerkman

I was preparing for a presentation to prospective law students last month when I realized it has been 15 years since I was standing in their shoes, trying to make the right decision about law school. I wanted to tell them about resources they should be looking for—beyond law school rankings—but as I tapped into all the resources I know of, one thing became very clear: we’re still asking prospective law students to make one of the most important decisions of their lives almost the same exact way we were doing it in 1999. And probably 1989, for that matter.

Which is pretty funny (and tragic), if you think about everything else that has happened in the last 15 years. “Google” became a verb. Our smart phones let us talk to anyone at any time—by video. Cars drive themselves. And, more relevant to the concept of choosing law school, all of our decisions have been made easier through individualized recommendations. When I go to the New York Times, it recommends articles based on my usage. My Amazon home screen recommends books based on past purchases. And Spotify introduces me to new music based on what I play. All of these used to be dominated by generic recommendations—newspapers were driven by “front page” articles, booksellers touted bestseller lists, and Billboard charted the top hits in the country. These generic recommendations persist (and provide some value), but they have been richly supplemented by individualized recommendations that drive our choices.

In the world of choosing law schools, we have the generic rankings and recommendations—including US News & World Report, and a number of others that have popped up over the years—and these provide a certain value, but they hardly give the whole picture and they certainly don’t provide prospective students with individualized information about a decision that, in the end, is very personal.

We’re trying to help with that. Last year, Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers launched Law Jobs: By the Numbers, an employment calculator that allows you to review school employment numbers based on the criteria you care about most. With the American Bar Association’s release of the 2013 employment numbers, we made the tool easier for prospective students to use by adding a Q&A tool that walks you through each factor, explains what it is, and lets you decide whether you want to include it in your final calculations. At the end of the Q&A, you get a personalized list of schools based on your personal selections (here’s one example). Lots of groups will tell you which law schools are best, but only Law Jobs: By the Numbers lets you decide for yourself.

This is just the first step, but we think it’s a step in the right direction. Perhaps US News & World Report rankings won’t go away anytime soon. And perhaps that’s okay, so long as, like other industries, we find ways to supplement the generalized rankings with individualized information that allows prospective students to make choices about where to go to law school that are, in the end, right for them.

Alli Gerkman became the first full-time Director of Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers, a national initiative to align legal education with the needs of an evolving profession, in May 2013. She joined IAALS in June 2011 as Online Content Manager, developing and managing all IAALS web properties, including Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers, and became IAALS’ Director of Communications in August 2012. She brings significant professional development experience to the initiative, having spent five years in continuing legal education, first as a program attorney organizing multi-day conferences for a national provider and then as program attorney and manager of online content for Colorado Bar Association CLE. While at CBA-CLE, she developed an online legal resource that was the recipient of the Association of Continuing Legal Education’s 2011 Award of Professional Excellence for use of technology in education. She has written and presented nationally to continuing legal education providers, bar executives, and lawyers. Prior to her work in continuing legal education, she was in private practice.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.