I recently had a conversation with a very happy 1L at the reference desk. I asked him how he was liking his first year of law school and said I hoped it wasn’t too stressful. He smiled and said he was really enjoying it and that it wasn’t stressful at all and really not near as much work as he thought it would be. I was surprised and told him this wasn’t the typical response for a 1L and asked him to tell me more. He said he had subscribed to an online “academic success in law school” website, which was “amazing” and made law school “relatively easy”. He said they had case briefs to match all of the textbooks used in his classes and so he never had to read any of the cases for his classes at all. He said the case briefs were written in “lay-men’s terms” and super easy to understand. He said he just printed out the website’s case briefs and took them to class or he could pull them up on his phone during class. He said there were also 4-5-minute cartoon videos for most cases to explain them and also overview sets of videos to explain the concepts of each area of Law. Curious, I went to the Contracts course overview video set. There were 20 short videos and I chose the 7 minute one on Consideration. It was enjoyable to watch and anyone could grasp the concept within minutes.
A couple of days later I saw a group of students hovering near our Law Library Thanksgiving Thankfulness Tree display. Students can write what they are thankful for on a paper leaf and tape it on the tree. One of the students was laughing and taped a leaf to the tree that said she was most thankful for this website. I asked her why and she said, because it makes 1L year so much easier. I don’t have to read any of the cases my professor assigns and I still know all the answers in class without having to work hard to prepare. She said the only problem with the website is that “they haven’t covered every upper level class” and topic yet, but she said she is “sure they are working on it”.
I had heard of the website in passing, but never really looked at it before. I soon learned that anyone can get a free 1 week subscription and indeed the product does look fun, innovative and great. It explains things so simply that I could see high school students being able to understand the legal material. Compared to regular law school this makes learning the law seem easy as pie! But isn’t law school supposed to be hard? Isn’t part of law school and part of becoming an attorney “learning how to think like a lawyer”? Making students figure out esoteric things on their own teaches them critical thinking skills. Hiding the ball makes them have to figure out where the ball is, what the ball means once they find it and how to use and remember the ball in the future. But what if the student is just handed the ball in a very quick, entertaining, visually appealing, friendly, and a “we’re in this together” kind of way? What if law school becomes just learning material, like you would in any undergraduate class without having to figure anything out at all?
Also, the website claims to be the law student’s “secret weapon”, but secret from whom? Clearly someone knows about it because they have 334,000 subscribers and the number goes up every few days. The website has 15,900 case briefs from 215 named casebooks, 216 practice exams, 7836 electronic flashcards, 97 multiple choice topic quizzes and numerous outlines etc. They’ve been working hard on their product which is great, except when it might not be. If the analysis has already been done for the student how does this affect the critical thinking skills they are supposed to be learning in law school? There have been canned case briefs before, but not used so pervasively, on such a grand scale and coupled with cute videos arguably supplanting reading the cases. I’m reminded of the age-old scrubbing bubble commercial with the tag line “We work hard, so you don’t have to!”. What are the unforeseen consequences of thousands of law students learning to be lawyers this way?