A Legal Startup Review
If you attended law school or simply Google the “cost of a JD” you know that your books can cost anywhere from $1500-$2500 per year. Although it doesn’t seem like much when you’re in school since you just use your loans to cover it, most of us didn’t think that we would be paying those books off along with the interest on them for years to come. And let’s face it, you’ll never use them again. If you’re lucky, you can resell them for half the price online (unless a new edition comes out) and have enough to cover the cost of your coffee for the
month erm.. year.
So what did one savvy professor come up with to lighten the financial burden and the heavy load of the books? A real-time, up-to-date, electronic textbook and related content for every subject, for the EXTREMELY low price of $49 per subject! That’s math even a lawyer can do! You get all three years of books for the cost of one, plus the relevant real-time content. Introducing: ChartaCourse!
The founder of ChartaCourse is Professor Mark Edwards (Mark) of the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, MN, who was previously a clinical faculty member at the University of Wisconsin Law School for 2 years, working with a group related to the Wisconsin Innocence Project. He was also in private practice with a large law firm for 5 years, and previously clerked for a federal judge for 2 years. Mark joined forces with two other law professors and a technical mastermind (in my opinion) to develop ChartaCourse.
How the Idea Came to Fruition
Mark calls it “the world’s slowest ‘eureka’ moment.” He had been teaching law for several years and after a while, the walls of his office were covered with “badly” hand-drawn diagrams of the structure of his courses: how the concepts he was teaching related to one another. They helped him to see the relationships between the ‘tree’ of any particular lecture and the ‘forest’ of the course as a whole. His students saw his diagrams and wanted copies. He eventually began handing them out in class and students raved about them. He noticed improved comprehension in his students almost immediately. Consequently, Mark did his research and discovered that his concept mapping was also great teaching tool.
It wasn’t until his 5th year, though, when a new edition of his casebook came out that ChartaCourse began. The new edition had trivial changes from the previous one, and he was unable to use both books in his course. For the first time, he bothered to find out how much his students were paying for their books (professors get them for free from the publishers). He was shocked to discover it was $250! The digital versions were not much cheaper and offered no additional features or benefits. They were merely PDF versions of the printed books.
Mark got to work. He spoke with some tech people about the possibility of integrating cases, background readings, practice problems, diagrams, and videos into a digital product so that it would help his students learn and save a ton of money. That was the first step on the road to ChartaCourse.
A Product for Students and Professors
ChartaCourse was built by law professors for law students and professors. Mark worked with professors at law schools around the country, from San Francisco to Brooklyn, to Chicago, Atlanta and San Diego. They created a fully composite charts that can be used “out of the box” to teach each course; however, individual professors decide which course materials to use in their classroom. It is designed to allow complete customization for the adopting professor, which an attractive feature; however, the design is student-focused. Eventually, Mark is planning on offering licenses to law schools for packages of charts in the very near future. To date, about 950 students use ChartaCourse.
Features and Capabilities
Concept Map Format
- Essentials – This is the background reading, introducing the topic and linking to deeper content.
- Cases – All of the cases are edited and redacted by the author. The cases have both internal and external links to links embedded within them. Because ChartaCourse is not limited by physical space, they are able to include many more cases than are found in a typical casebook.
- Practice Problems – Essay, true/false and multiple choice problems are built in throughout the chart. Adopting professors can decide whether to include answers to the questions.
- Statutes, Rules and Regulations – No more paying $250 for a Civil Procedure casebook and another $50 for a book of the Federal Rules. All statutes, rules and regulations are included within the chart.
- Videos – Videos are one of the most popular and effective features of ChartaCourse. Nothing brings a topic to life-like video. Here are some powerful examples of the use of video to make the distant and abstract immediate and concrete.
- Guideposts – Guideposts are decision trees applied to legal concepts. They are an excellent learning tool because they teach students to focus on the questions they should be asking, rather than on the answer they should reach. Here, for example, is a decision tree that helps students work through the analytical structure of the law of custodial interrogation.
- Powerpoint – Some professors like to base their classroom lectures around Powerpoint. They can embed the Powerpoints right into ChartaCourse.
- Extras – Extras are little things that add life to the courses — pictures of parties to a case, newspaper articles regarding a case, interesting documents related to an issue, etc.
- Complete customization – Professors can completely customize a course for their own use. They can add and hide material, and re-arrange the chart. Changes they make will be saved for future semesters.
- Real-time updating – Unlike casebooks, ChartaCourse is updated practically in real-time. Important new decisions are added to the chart within hours of their release. The news of the day can be added that day.
- Syllabus embedded – Professors can embed their syllabi directly into the chart. Each assignment is internally linked, so that students need only click on the assignment and it appears.
- Side-by Side features – Each feature can be opened side-by-side with another. For example, students can work through practice problems using the guideposts, which is a great in-class exercise.
- Highlighting and Note-taking – Students can highlight case materials, and choose from a palette of colors. The highlights will stay in place and be there the next time the student opens the material. They can also take notes directly into the notepad. Their note and highlights will be separately collated so that all of their notes and highlights for a particular topic can appear together.
- Toggling – Users can make all but highlighted areas disappear. Very useful as an in-class teaching tool.
- Printing – Students can print or download to pdf as much or as little content as they want.
PROS AND CONS
- Available on All Devices – ChartaCourse is available on all devices. So whether you’re commuting to school on a train like I used to, you can read your case law and take notes on your laptop or tablet. Small price to pay for convenience.
- Customizable for each Jurisdiction – Each professor can customize it to fit their needs. That means they can add state-specific materials as needed.
- Security and Privacy Measures – ChartaCourse uses SSL protocol to make sure all transactions are secure. They never see, nor ever want to see, their customers credit card information. Each student has a unique username and password and can highlight and take notes right into the system. Each student account is maintained separately on their servers.
- Useful as a Supplement – Even if the professor prefers to use a textbook instead of ChartaCourse, students can and do use ChartaCourse as a supplement. The price is competitive with most supplements and contains a lot of traditional supplementary materials such as practice problems, diagrams, flowcharts, etc. Several professors have even used it that way as they transition from a casebook to ChartaCourse.
- Minor Technical Glitches. I encountered only three technical glitches when using ChartaCourse:
- Printing all my notes (it printed a draft of my notes and the final version), which I was able to clear up by logging out and logging back in.
- The link on the “Create an Account” page that allows you to log in if you already have an account led me to an error page.
- Some of the concept maps were unable to fit on my screen, but that may be related to my screen more so than ChartaCourse.
Overall, ChartaCourse is an incredible tool for law students and professors. Personally, I wish it existed when I was in law school, but I’m happy to see current and future students will benefit from Mark’s incredible innovation.
You can follow Mark on Twitter @ChartaCourseUSA
Contact Information: http://www.chartacourse.com/contact-us/