Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, October 22, 2018

Habit Stacking to Create Lasting Change

Have you ever decided to eat healthy, exercise, or do some other generally good action only to fail within a few days?  If not, then you are awesome and can go back to studying.  However, if you are like me, then you struggle to create new habits.  I resolve to eat healthy and not drink Dr. Pepper every Sunday night, but by Monday around 1:30, I eat whatever I have time for and drink a Dr. Pepper.  Forming new habits is hard, but the simple trick of habit stacking may be able to help.

Habits form and continue based on cues.  Some people smell donuts or see a Starbucks and immediately crave the item.  Everyone has tons of habits we go through each day to automate our lives.  Habits make life manageable.  As law students, studying becomes a habit.  Studying in a particular spot at a particular time is a habit.  The spot could be a comfy couch with electronic distractions everywhere or a quality desk with no noise.  The goal is to create study cues that can help with focus, concentration, and understanding.

James Clear has great resources for creating habits at  I plan to try to implement his habit stacking idea and encourage students to attempt it as well.  Habit stacking is a way to form new habits.  He says to make a list of current habits.  I would encourage students to make a list of current study habits.  List when, where, how long, and anything that triggers studying.  I would also suggest students create a list of desired study habits.  The key is to write it down to help plan the habit stacking.

The next step in habit stacking is to link desired habits with ones already occurring.  If I know that I heat up my lunch every day at the microwave, I can then use the microwave as a cue to refill my water bottle or use the Kuerig next to the microwave to make tea.  The idea is to attach the new activity to one already on autopilot.  The new habit is easier to maintain when it is next in line of a string of tasks.  You can also insert new habits between two existing ones.  Habit stacks can make new activities or choices easier to maintain.

For students, I suggest a handful of activities for you to consider for habit stacks.  My suggestions assume you are setting aside enough time to read and understand the material.  After reading, write down the 3 biggest takeaways.  Explain how the reading relates to previous material and draft 2-3 questions for class.  Do that prior to closing the casebook.  After writing that last question, then close the book.  Closing the book is a cue homework is finished, so add in the thinking exercise prior to that cue. 

Pre-reading activities are good habits to form.  After sitting down to study, open the book, and then write down what you think the reading will be about.  Write down any questions from the previous reading and class.  After that, start reading.  Opening the book is an existing cue to start working.  Sandwiching pre-reading between opening the book and starting the reading will build that habit.

Reviewing after class is a good stacking exercise.  Once class is over, many students close their book and leave class.  My suggestion is to stay seated and leave your book open.  Write down the main takeaways and any questions or confusing topics from class.  Also, write down where in the outline or big picture of the class you think this fits.  Finally, close your book after writing everything down.

Lastly, consider where to stack practice questions and/or quizzes.  Find time immediately after dinner or between 2 other activities where quizzing, CALI lessons, or other assessments will fit.  It could be get to class, open your laptop, and complete a quick quiz.  Anything that helps stack the habit.

Creating new habits is difficult, but connecting the new habit to something you already do could make small changes that have big impacts.

(Steven Foster)

October 22, 2018 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Welcome Guest Blogger: Louis Schulze

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Louis Schulze will be joining the Blog as a regular guest blogger over the coming months. We are excited that he will be joining us in this capacity. If you have not previously had the pleasure of meeting Louise at AASE, AALS, or other conferences, here is some information about him:

Louis Schulze is Assistant Dean and Professor of Academic Support at Florida International University College of Law.  He and his colleague Prof. Raul Ruiz run the law school's Academic Excellence Program, in which Louis teaches academic support and Raul directs the bar preparation program. FIU Law's students have placed first in bar passage rate in five of the last six Florida bar exams.  Dean Schulze teaches Introduction to the Study of Law, Legal Reasoning, and Legal Analysis.  His scholarly work focuses on the potential impact of educational psychology and cognitive science on legal education.  A few of his articles can be found HERE and HERE.  

Dean Schulze has lectured to students and presented scholarly works at law schools across the country, including Columbia Law School and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.  He has served on the executive committees of the AALS Section on Academic Support, the Association of Academic Support Educators, and the AALS Section on Empirical Studies of Legal Education and the Legal Profession.  He is happy to talk to anyone who will listen about the Boston Bruins, New England Patriots, and Boston Red Sox.

(Amy Jarmon)

October 21, 2018 in Academic Support Spotlight | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Are you being sabotaged by perfectionism?

A perfectionism epidemic has broken out at most law schools across the country. It is the time in the semester when many students spin their wheels in studying because perfectionism has them in its grip. First-year students suffer acutely; but upper-division students are not immune. 

The symptoms may vary, but the underlying perfectionism is there. Here are some of the symptoms I see regularly:

  • Spending an exorbitant amount of time preparing for class because "I don't understand every bit of every case yet."
  • Copying large chunks of case language into a case brief because "I may not state it as well as the judicial opinion."
  • Getting less than 6 (in some cases way less) hours of sleep each night because "I haven't finished everything to the standard I want."
  • Feeling paralyzed about starting course outlines because "I have never outlined before and may get it wrong."
  • Filling tome-like outlines with total trivia because "I may leave out something important."
  • Avoiding practice questions because "I don't know everything yet."
  • Abandoning completion of practice questions because "I didn't get them all right."
  • Despairing over an average grade on a quiz because "I should have gotten an A."
  • Continuing to research after the exact same sources are found because "There may be something out there that I missed."
  • Procrastinating because "It won't be perfect and starting late gives me an excuse for it being less than perfect."

Perfectionism makes people miserable. No human will ever be perfect. Our students come with histories of success: high grades; superb recommendations; trophies; accolades for A-Z. Many of them have minimum experience with being less than perfect (or at least appearing perfect). Consequently, it is hard to settle for excellent or very good instead of perfect.

One of my law professors warned me my first semester of law school that I would never feel that I had done everything that could be done. There would always be one more case I could read, one more edit of a draft I could do, one more practice problem I could complete, one more study aid I could check, and so forth. He warned that perfect was not the goal - the best I could do under the circumstances for that day was all I could ask of myself.

He was right - not only about law school, but also about legal practice. We could spend 24/7 and still feel as though there was more we could do.

We need to put aside perfectionism before it gives us sleepless nights, ulcers, migraine headaches, and more physical souvenirs. We need to refuse perfectionism's cocktail of shame, guilt, worry, frustration, and depression.

So, let's embrace accomplishing what we can to our best ability today under today's circumstances:

  • Set a realistic number of goals for today.
  • Prioritize those goals as very important, important, least important and finish them accordingly.
  • Set a realistic time allotment for each goal and stick to it rather than push for perfect.
  • Recognize today's circumstances and work realistically within them: deadlines, appointments, personal illness, etc.
  • Refuse to equate your human imperfections with failure.
  • Make a new "to do" list for tomorrow and realize tomorrow is another day to do your best.
  • Get a good night's sleep: you will be more alert, focused, and productive for tomorrow's tasks.

(Amy Jarmon)

October 20, 2018 in Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 19, 2018

Position at Washburn Law

Visiting Assistant Professor of Law/Assistant Director of Academic Support and Bar Passage
(Recruitment No. 18-001037)

Washburn University's School of Law invites applications for the position of Visiting Assistant Professor
of Law. This is a full-time, non-tenure track faculty position that serves as the assistant director of
academic support and bar passage. The successful candidate will begin as soon as possible but no later
than August 2019. The ideal candidate will have law school teaching experience, and/or experience
teaching in a law school academic support program.

Required Qualifications
• Juris Doctor degree from an ABA approved law school.
• Successful passage of a bar exam.

Preferred Qualifications
• Strong academic record . .
• Experience teaching in and managing a law school academic support program.
• Experience making oral presentations.
• Experience remediating complex legal rules.
• Excellent written communication and legal writing skills.
• Demonstrated ability to manage multiple tasks and meet deadlines.
• Demonstrated ability to work with a diverse student body and work collaboratively with faculty
and staff.
• Proficiency with Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint.
• Law practice experience.
• Experience using TWEN, D2L, Microsoft Office Suite, and Banner.

The Visiting Assistant Professor of Law will assist in the implementation of programs designed to
improve the critical skills necessary for students to succeed in law school, on the bar exam, and in
practice. The Visiting Assistant Professor will:
• Teach academic skills or bar readiness courses;
• Work one on one with students on academic probation or at academic risk to help them develop
habits and methods to improve their academic performance;
• Conduct skills enhancement workshops and small group tutoring sessions;
• Provide academic support to LLM students;
• Maintain data for performance tracking and other assessment tools;
• Complete assessment projects as assigned by the program director;
• Assist with the coordination and delivery of bar preparation initiatives;
• Coach and support students and alumni as they prepare for bar exams;
• Offer active learning workshops on bar essay writing and multiple choice test taking skills;
• Read and critique student practice essays and provide feedback to assist in further essay
development and improvement;
• Stay current about trends and developments in the uniform and multistate bar exams; and
• Perform additional tasks as assigned by the academic support program director or associate
dean for academic affairs.

Application Procedures
Application review will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled. Send a letter of
interest, resume, and the names and contact information of three professional references to or Kerri Pelton, Washburn University, 1700 SW College Ave, Topeka, KS
66621. Salary range is $65,000 to $70,000 commensurate with experience and qualifications. Washburn
provides an excellent fringe benefits package. The successful candidate will be required to submit to a
background check prior to hire.

The Washburn campus is located in the heart of Topeka, Kansas, blocks from the state capitol. Topeka
has been named a Top Ten City in Kiplinger's magazine. Topeka features affordable housing with
beautiful, historic neighborhoods filled with well-maintained parks, and is the home of the Brown v.
Board of Education historical site. Topeka is also conveniently located near Kansas City making it an
ideal place to live and work.

Washburn is an Equal Opportunity Employer (EOE) and dedicated to providing a student-centered and
teaching focused academic environment and a curriculum that engages the diversity of human
experience across the globe. We seek candidates who are committed to Washburn's efforts to create a
climate that fosters the growth and development of a diverse student body, and we encourage
applications from members of groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education.
Application materials should clearly articulate how the candidate will contribute to the University's
commitment to diversity and inclusion through their teaching, research, and/or service.

Washburn University provides equal access to and opportunity in its programs, facilities, and
employment without regard to race, color, religion, age, national origin, ancestry, disability, sex, sexual
orientation, gender identity, genetic information, veteran status, or marital or parental status.

October 19, 2018 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Ramping Up the "To Do" List -- A Resolutions Chart

Wisely stewarding our precious 168 hours a week is a key to thriving in law school and in life.  Ideally we should create realistic schedules that cover both short-term and long-term projects, giving ourselves appropriate intermediate deadlines and devoting the planned amount of time to the activities we have identified.  Dennis Tonsing's 1000 Days to the Bar  gives a very detailed, helpful, and realistic approach for doing this in the chapter on time management.  Both his text and sample schedule emphasize that weekly attention to outlining, flow charts, and practice hypos is as important as preparing for class.  I regularly recommend this chapter and its approach to my students.

Alas, scheduling in this manner doesn't work for everyone.  (No system does.)  When I talk with students about scheduling, many proclaim, "Schedules don't work for me; I make a daily "to-do" list."  But the standard "to-do" list tends to be an undifferentiated mishmash of immediate needs that usually neglects long-term projects.  Those who rely on daily lists rather than a weekly schedule are often focused on class preparation to the exclusion of systematic course review and exam preparation.

Most of us have seen or used a priority matrix (sometimes called an "Eisenhower decision matrix") that divides tasks into quartiles (important and urgent, important and not urgent, not important but urgent, and not important and not urgent).   People tend to react strongly to these: they find them either incredibly useful or highly annoying.  I fall into the latter camp; so do most of the list-makers among my students.  How, then, to focus them on long-term goals?

Inspired by a blog post by Anita Dhake, a former big firm lawyer who retired in her thirties to travel and write, I started using a resolutions chart.  Anita titled her post "The most valuable habit I ever adopted," and I'm finding this is true for me as well.  Indeed, I have two resolutions charts now -- one for building good habits at home and one for building good habits at work.  The resolution chart supplements the planner or to-do chart and provides an affirming method of building good habits and tracking progress toward long-term goals. 

Here's the method (cribbed from Anita's happy original post):  Start a spreadsheet.  Across the top, write five or so resolutions that will make your life better by adopting the habits every day (or every work/school day).  These can be a mixture of super-simple and more challenging.  Students might include "Check syllabus assignments" (super-easy) and "Write answer to 10+ minute hypo" (more challenging and more subject to procrastination).   My work resolutions chart currently includes "Check in library books" (super-easy, but something I often forget to do) and "Grade homework" (more challenging and much more subject to procrastination).  Put in a row for every day of the month.  Print out your sheet.

Look at your resolution chart daily to remind yourself of the habits you are trying to establish.  Then, before bedtime, or leaving school or the office, take out your resolutions chart.  Give yourself a gold star or a smiley face (or something similar that makes you happy) for every resolution that you accomplished.  Accomplishing the easy goals helps you build your confidence; accomplishing a harder goal helps you to establish great habits.  On days that you don't do the resolution, give yourself a number: a 1 the first time, a 2 the second time, and so on.  This helps keep you honest!  At the end of the month, score yourself.  If you missed three days, you still get an A.  Missing up to 6 days garners a B and 7-9 days gives you a C.  Miss more than 9 days? -- you'll go on probation with a D.  Don't feel bad about your "grade" -- celebrate your accomplishments and be honest about your challenges.  And that in itself is a great accomplishment.  (Nancy Luebbert)

October 17, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Threats and Challenges in Law School

Final exams.  Olympic competition.  Oral argument.  Job interviews.  The bar examination.  These are all high-stakes experiences, often competitive, in which successful outcomes depend on strong performance.  As discussed last week, in such situations the human brain can adopt different chemical and behavioral states, depending on whether the situation is perceived as a threat or as a challenge.  In a threat situation, the brain becomes hyper-alert to danger and error, processes information more deliberately, and shies away from risk.  In a challenge situation, the brain pays less attention to detail, processes information in a more relaxed and automatic way, and is open to taking risks that have sufficient promise of reward.  How can we use our knowledge of these two mental states, not just to understand our students better, but also to help them do better?

Let's start by noting that the brain can enter these different states at different times even if it is undertaking the exact same activity.  A baseball player might step up to the plate in the third inning and see his task -- to try to get a hit -- as a challenge, and the same player could step to the same plate, even holding the same baseball bat, in the ninth inning and see it as a threat.  So it's not the task itself that determines our mental state.  It's the surrounding circumstances.  Early in the game, when the outcome is still up in the air, a player may be "gain-oriented", focusing on accruing advantages (in this case, runs), and his brain will be in challenge mode.  In the last inning, though, if his team has a slim lead, that same player could shift his focus and become "prevention-oriented", focusing on maintaining his team's lead by not making mistakes of which the other team might take advantage.  In that case, his brain will be in threat mode.

In the same way, our students can undertake the same activity -- issue spotting, say, or answering multiple-choice questions -- at different times, and might find themselves in either challenge mode or threat mode.  This is a good thing, a useful thing.  After all, human brains evolved to be capable of these two modes, so each mode ought to have some beneficial qualities.

As Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman point out in Top Dog, in an academic setting there can be an optimal sequencing to these modes.  Students perform best if they start their semester working in challenge mode and end it working in threat mode. 

This makes sense in a general way.  At the beginning of a course, students don't know much about the subject, and their goal should be to try to gain knowledge and skill as quickly as possible.  A gain orientation is associated with challenge mode -- the brain plays hunches and takes educated guesses, because the risk (primarily, to grades) is low but the potential reward (flashes of insight) is high.  Towards the end of the course, though, risk increases, as the student faces more heavily weighted final exams.  At the same time, rewards are lessened, since (ideally) the student has already internalized most of the material and is not likely to learn a great deal more.  On a final exam, a student is more likely to be in threat mode -- pondering the answer more slowly and cautiously, less inclined to make risky arguments, perhaps even debating word choice as he tries to recall the exact wording of a rule.

If a student is well-prepared for the final exam, proceeding cautiously with their mind in threat mode may be quite favorable.  It can encourage methodical analysis, and help the student avoid unnecessary errors.  However, there are two potential issues to consider.

First, as alluded to above, there are two sources of risk and reward in law school.  One is the knowledge and understanding of the subject matter, and the other is the final grade in the class.  A student who downplays either source is at a disadvantage.  Reminding students to pay attention to learning the rules and how to use them, and to developing their test-taking skills at the same time, is part of what Academic Success is about.  Being able to describe these abilities as complementary sources of risk and reward may provide us with another way of doing that.

Second, while being in threat mode may help a student avoid errors, they still may not perform well if they only enter threat mode for the first time in the final exam.  Since threat mode slows analysis and limits the options the brain is willing to consider, it can change the way people behave during exams.  We have doubtless all had students who felt confident in a subject all semester and then did poorly on their final, later explaining that they thought of some of the correct responses but abandoned them because they were afraid they might be wrong, and that they spent so much time working on the first half of the exam that they didn't have time to complete the second half.  While there are several plausible explanations for such mistakes, one possibility for them to consider is that they had never practiced answering questions in that course in threat mode.  If all of their practice was under the speedier, more relaxed challenge mode, then they had never really practiced under exam conditions.

Ideally, humans would have a switch we could activate to shift from challenge mode to threat mode and back.  But, while we don't, it is nevertheless possible for professors to influence students and help shift them into threat mode.  As Bronson and Merryman explain, teachers can affect their students' brains just by changing the way they present their examinations.  If students are given a test and told that they will receive a certain number of points for every correct answer, then they focus more on the idea of gaining points, which encourages a gain orientation and thus a challenge mode.  If, on the other hand, students are given a test and told that their scores start at 100 and that they will lose a certain number of points for every correct answer, then they focus more on not losing points, which encourages a prevention orientation and a threat mode.  Even though mathematically the two scoring systems were identical, the differences in presentation caused measurable differences in performance.

Thus, one way to encourage our students to practice for final exams (and oral arguments, bar exams, etc.) in threat mode is to explain, in advance, that you will be scoring their practice work by subtracting points from a pre-determined maximum score.  Conversely, students who fall into threat mode too early in the semester, perhaps because they are disproportionately worried about grade risk, might be coaxed towards challenge mode by being given exercises for which they will receive a certain number of points for every plausible point or argument.  Even though the tasks the students are undertaking remain the same, we can help their brains approach them differently.

October 16, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Science, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 15, 2018

Updated Report on Learning

The National Academies recently released an update to their previous book How People Learn.  The original book from 1999 provided critical findings on what factors affect learning in the classroom.  Many of the new ideas in law schools have parallels in the book.  New research since 1999 necessitated an update, so they produced a new report.

The update expands on a few ideas from the first book.  The report still encourages “student centered learning,” and it discusses the cultural contexts to learning.  However, the recent technology invasion changed our current students.  The new book addresses some of the technology issues when teaching. 

Chapter 6 focuses on student motivation.  The book addresses student self-efficacy, intrinsic motivation, goals, and the influence of teachers on those factors.  Culture and influence also have effects on motivation.  Motivation is a huge problem with some law students.  Many of us believe our students would perform better with just a little more hard work.  The key is figuring out how to get them to do more work.  This information could be helpful for encouraging more work.

I haven’t read the new report yet, but the information looks promising.  I encounter problems with technology and motivation every bar prep period.  Similar to many of you, we have many students right around the cut score every exam period.  Any information that can help us gain a few points could make a huge impact.

The one glaring problem is the report isn’t specific to law school.  It is largely for primary and secondary education.  As Rebecca Flanagan discussed at SWCASP last year, learning theories based on research on children may not have the same effects on adults.  Adult learning may require changes to our techniques.  The report is probably still a good resource for new ideas, but the ideas may not work the same with adults.

The Education Week article referencing the report is hereYou can get a free copy of the new report here.  While long, I hope to pull good information from the report throughout the semester.  Even our smallest ideas can help students.

(Steven Foster)

October 15, 2018 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Raising the Bar Newsletter

Have you seen the new publication from AccessLex Institute titled Raising the Bar? The first issue includes a mix of articles on conferences, publications, tips, grant information, resources, program profiles, and more. If you missed the first issue, the link is here.  (Amy Jarmon)

October 14, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Call for Proposals for Southwest Consortium of Academic Support Professionals 7th Annual Conference

Southwest Consortium of Academic Support Professionals
7th Annual Conference
March 8, 2019
St. Mary’s University School of Law
San Antonio, Texas

Call for Proposals

We welcome all law school faculty and staff to submit proposals for presentations addressing this year’s conference theme, Collaboration: Rowing Together in the Same Boat.

Academic support programs are under constant pressure to achieve results, but often find themselves working with students who need more than just traditional academic support in order to succeed. Collaboration – either within the law school or with outside sources – can play a key role in maximizing academic support’s effectiveness and reach. SWCASP invites proposals for presentations that explore how collaboration, in all its forms, can improve academic and bar support for our students.

Please send you proposal to Jennifer Warren at no later than December 15, 2018. Proposals should include presenter contact information (name, title, school, email) and a brief description (300 words or less). Please note that most presentations will be scheduled for 50 minute blocks. Proposals with multiple presenters are welcome!

October 13, 2018 in Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 12, 2018

Congratulations to Bill MacDonald for a Top 10 Badge


Congratulations to Bill MacDonald for the award of a Top 10 Blog Posts badge by Texas Bar Today for his October 9th post. The link is here if you missed his post: Threats and Challenges in the Brain.  (Amy Jarmon)

October 12, 2018 in Academic Support Spotlight | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Tips for Turning Bar Exam Sorrow Into A Successful Fresh Start

It's that time of year.  In the midst of many celebrations over bar passage, let's be frank.  

There are many that are not celebrating.  Their names were not on the list of bar exam passers.  And, for some, it's not the first time that they've found themselves in this situation; it's a repeat of the last time around.

For aspiring attorneys that did not pass the bar exam, most don't know where to turn.  Often embarrassed, many with significant debt loads, most feel abandoned by their schools, their friends, and their colleagues.  All alone.  

I'm not expert in helping with turnarounds. But, I'd like to offer a few tips that have proven quite helpful in helping repeaters change history to become "fresh start" bar passers:

First, as academic support professionals, reach out to each one.  Make yourself available on their terms.  Let them know that you care.  Let them know that you are mighty proud of them, success or not.  Support them, one and all.

Second, give them breathing room, lot's of time and space to grieve.  Don't push them into diving back into the books.  Don't lecture them.  Rather, assure them that they don't need to get cranking on their studies.  Help them to be kind to themselves.  It's not a matter of just hitting the books again, and this time, doubly-hard.  Instead, they need to take time out to just be themselves.

Third, when they are ready, set up a "one-with-one."  Notice: I did not call it a "one-to-one".  Rather, set up an appointment or meeting in a place of their choosing at a time that works for them in which you sit side by side, on the same side of the table or desk or cafe.  They are not bar exam failures; they are real law school graduates.  They earned their parchments. So, listen to them as colleagues on the same side of doing battle on the bar exam.  Let them talk and express themselves as they'd like. Hear them out.  How are they feeling?  What went right?  What's their passion?  What saddens their hearts?  

Finally, whey they are ready, make a copy of one of the essay problems that didn't go so well.  Better yet, make two copies, one for each of you!  That's because you are on the same team.  Set aside 15 or 20 minutes and just ask them to mark up the question, brainstorm what they are thinking, and jot down the issues that they see.  But...and this is important...tell them that you don't expect them to remember any law at all. Period.  And, you do the same.  Exactly the same.  Don't peek at an answer key or even their answer. Instead, try your hand too; wrestle with the same question that they are wrestling with.  Then, come back together to listen, ponder, and share what you both see as the plot of the essay question, the issues raised by the storylines, and the potential rules that might be in play.  Once you've done all this prep work together, now, look at their answer.  This is important, just look.  Ask them what do they see? What do they observe? What went great for them? Where might they improve?  In short, let them see that they have "inside information" about themselves based on their own personal bar exam experience and answers that they can capitalize to their advantage.  Most often in the midst of working together, graduates tell me that they realize that they knew plenty of law to pass the bar exam.  In fact, most are amazed at how well they memorized the law.  And, that's great news because it means that they don't need to redo the bar review lectures at all.  They know plenty of law.  That frees up lots of time during the bar prep season to instead concentrate on just two (2) active learning tasks.

So, here are the two activities that bar re-takers should be prioritizing to successful pass the bar exam:

1. First, they should work daily throughout the bar study period through lots and lots of practice problems (essays and MBE questions).  Every one that they can get their hands on.  Open book is fine.  It's even better than fine; it's perfect because they should be practicing problems to learn because we don't get better at problem-solving by guessing.

2. Second, they should keep a daily "journal" of the issues and rules that they missed when working over problems (to include tips about the analysis of those rules).  

Just two steps.  That's it.  There's no magic.  But, in not redoing the lectures, graduates will find that they have plenty of time to concentrate on what is really important - learning by doing through active reflective daily practice.  Countless times, it's through this process of a "one-with-one" meeting that we have seen repeaters turn themselves into "fresh start" bar passers.  

Finally, I want to write directly to those of you who find yourself in the situation of having to re-take the bar exam.  You really aren't alone.  Need proof?  Here's a short video clip put together by the Colorado Supreme Court about re-taking the bar exam to include a few tips from some jurists and practitioners that have been in your shoes.  (Scott Johns)


October 11, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

A New Type(face) of Desirable Difficulty: Sans Forgetica

Those clever Australians have come up with a new tool for learners.  A team at RMIT University in Melbourne has designed a font, dubbed "Sans Forgetica," which is designed to help students remember what they read by using the principles of desirable difficulty.  

Most typefaces are designed to help readers read quickly and easily.  Sans Forgetica does the opposite: it is deliberately designed to slow the reader down.  Not only do the letters slant to the left, but large chunks are carved out of each letter.  The result is a typeface that is difficult but not impossible to read.  The added complexity the font produces slows readers down, takes them out of automatic pilot, and helps them recall important matter.   The new typeface is getting lots of attention, not just in Australia but in the Washington Post and other U.S. news outlets.

Typographer Stephen Banham stresses that Sans Forgetica is designed as a highlight typeface for key elements in study notes, not for extended use.  "If you were to read a novel in Sans Forgetica, it would probably induce a terrible headache," he says.   So using this font for an entire outline would be a bad idea, but students could fruitfully use it sparingly to highlight key material -- and teachers could also experiment with this font to test its effectiveness in a variety of situations.  Sans Forgetica is available for free download from RMIT University and works with Apple, PCs, and Google Chrome.

Hat tip to UNLV's Chelsea Baldwin for suggesting this topic.  (Nancy Luebbert)  

October 11, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Threats and Challenges in the Brain

In the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, the Japanese ski jumping team was having a very good day. After seven jumps, it had racked up a score so high that no one believed they could lose. The team’s final jumper, Masahiko Harada, who had already landed a jump of 122 meters on his first jump, only needed to jump 105 meters on his second to clinch the gold medal. But Harada faltered. His jump was not well executed, and he only managed to get to 97.5 meters before his skis touched the ground. The Japanese team ended up with the silver medal, finishing behind the German team.

Four years later, the Winter Olympics were being held in Nagano, Japan, and, once again, Masahiko Harada was on the team. He and the team were hoping to redeem themselves, and, of course, all eyes were on them as the home team. Harada was no longer the team anchor, so it was hoped that, without the pressure of having to be the final jumper for the team, he would perform at the Games as well as the team knew he could in practice. The first two jumpers did extremely well, putting the Japanese team in first place. But then Harada . . . did even worse than he had at Lillehammer, achieving a distance of only 79.5 meters on his first jump. The team fell to fourth place.

Things looked bad until Takanobu Okabe landed an Olympic record-setting 137-meter jump on his second attempt, bringing the Japanese team back into contention. They weren’t back in the lead, but at least they had a chance for a medal. And now it was Harada’s turn again. In his last two Olympic jumps, when he just needed to not screw up to keep the team in position, he screwed up. Now, if he wanted to help the team get a medal, he had to do more than not screw up. He had to excel.

And he did. He tied Okabe’s record, making his own 137-meter jump, and sending the Japanese team into first place. They would go on to win the gold medal in the event.

How did all of that happen? Why did Harada jump poorly in his last jump in Lillehammer, and his first jump in Nagano, but then manage to jump exceptionally well in his second Nagano jump? The stakes were high – Olympic gold – all three times, so surely there was always enormous pressure on him. What made the difference?

It might be easier to explain the difference if we consider, not the stakes, but the positions in which Harada found himself. In his second 1994 jump and his first 1998 jump, his team was in first place. He knew he had to perform to a certain level to maintain his team’s position. Expectations were high, but he didn’t have to do unusually well. He was just focusing on not making a mistake, because this situation was a threat to his (and his team’s) position.

In contrast, by the time he’d reached his second 1998, his team was no longer in first place. They weren’t expecting to win, but, thanks to Okabe’s big jump, at least they had a chance. Harada had less to lose, and good reason to allow himself to take risks, because there was more upside than downside to doing so. This situation was not a threat to his position; it was a challenge.

In their book Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain that there are physical differences between the way our brains react when we view a situation as a threat and the way they react when we view a situation as a challenge. In a threat situation, there is an increase in activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is associated with more deliberate and less automatic decision making. At the same time, the parts of the brain that watch out for external dangers (the left temporoparietal junction) and for internal errors in judgment (the anterior cingulate cortex) also become more engaged. Also, as activity in the amygdala increases, the brain becomes more sensitized to avoiding risk than to seeking reward.

In a sense, your brain starts paying closer attention to everything you see and do, and it clamps down on behaviors it perceives as potentially risky. In playing it safe, though, your brain limits the scope of the choices you feel comfortable making, which in turn shrinks the range of performance of which you are capable. When Harada was going for the 105-meter jump for gold in Lillehammer, his brain was subconsciously refusing to allow him to take actions – picking up more speed, jumping off closer to the end of the ramp – that would have given him great distance, but also would have carried an increased risk of falling.  The cumulative effect of all those refusals made him, in a very real sense, incapable of performing anywhere near his best.  In other circumstances, this would have been of little consequence -- 97.5 meters was by no means the worst jump in the Olympics that year, and it was probably several dozen meters longer than you or I could have managed.  But in high-level competition, seeing the jump as a threat robbed Harada of the ability to show the world what he was capable of, and left him and his team wanting in comparison to the Germans.

In contrast, when you see something as a challenge, your brain takes on an entirely different set of characteristics.  Hormones are released in the brain that dampen the activity in the left tempororparietal junction, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the amygdala, so you expend less energy and attention watching out for dangers, errors, and risks.  Instead, your decision making starts to flow more easily and automatically; you rely on expertise and habit rather than stopping to deliberate over every choice.  And when risks are perceived, they are not automatically shunned; instead, your brain attends to both the potential losses and the potential gains, and is open to taking the risks when the gains are great enough.  When Harada was preparing to take his second jump in Nagano, he was no longer trying to protect his team's first-place position, so he didn't see the jump as a threat.  He was able to look at it as a challenge -- Let me see how much I can obtain from this -- and, subconsciously, that freed up his range of behaviors to choose from.  Only when his brain allowed him access to all the skills and knowledge he had acquired was he able to achieve the exceptional result he hoped for.

* * * * *

No doubt you smart people have already noticed the resemblances between Harada's performances and those of some of our law students, especially the ones who sometimes seem not to perform to the level of which they are capable.  Whether students view tests, oral presentations, and other ordeals as "threats" or as "challenges" can have powerful effects on their performance.  As we will see next week, though, threat stances and challenge stances both have a place in legal study, and there are ways that we, as teachers, can help students take the right stances at the right times.


October 9, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 8, 2018

Japanese Math Teachers Could Be a Model for Improving Legal Education

Sputnik changed teaching forever.  Falling behind the Soviet Union in the race to space caused people throughout the US to evaluate how we were teaching science and math.  Numerous theories ignited thought, and many individuals wanted the US to be the world leader in technology.  Unfortunately, we never fully realized our potential.  The US continually lags behind on the international math exams, and we are at fault.

Japan is widely seen as the technology innovator.  They continually score higher than all the other counties on the international math exam.  They use a unique form of teaching focusing on one problem, but the hardest aspect to swallow is Japan’s success is primarily built on the US theories developed after Sputnik.  The US failed to deploy the new theories throughout the country.  Japan capitalized on Americans’ work to produce a technologically advanced society.  Sputnik changed teaching, but unfortunately, the changes happened in Japan.  Now, we need to look to them to train our teachers.

Elizabeth Green describes the American failure and Japanese success in an article in the New York Times Magazine.  The Japanese practice of jugyokenkyu, translated lesson study, could help law schools improve.  Jugyokenkyu is when “[a] teacher first plans lessons, then teaches in front of an audience of students and other teachers along with at least one university observer. Then the observers talk with the teacher about what has just taken place. Each public lesson poses a hypothesis, a new idea about how to help children learn. And each discussion offers a chance to determine whether it worked.”  Jugyokenkyu approaches teaching as a collaborative effort with feedback.

Obviously, law schools don’t need specifics for teaching math.  However, numerous reports, recommendations, and standards haven’t changed legal education.  Maybe it is time for law schools to embrace jugyokenkyu.

The foundation for jugyokenkyu is deliberate preparation with goals; performance for students and colleagues; and feedback from experts.  In ASP, we know that process works.  We tell students to take practice exams, seek feedback, and make changes for the next exam.  In LRW, professors tell students to put down papers for a few days because individuals tend to read over errors in his/her own work.  If those are true for our students, then those statements are true for us.  We need feedback from someone who understands teaching law students to know whether our methods are working.  We will miss our own mistakes just like reading over an error in a brief.  We need deliberate practice with feedback as much as students.

The amazing transformation of Japanese math teaching is the anomaly, but we should attempt to follow that trend in legal education.  Theories, ideas, and published articles didn’t change America after Sputnik, so continuing that failed practice won’t change legal education.  I know I am saying this in a blog.  However, let’s consider how we can take steps to make lasting improvements to help our students.

My first suggestion is work within our own law schools.  Find a group of individual professors who are determined to help students learn better.  Start small with each person in the group deliberately planning a lesson.  The rest of the group observes the lesson, or someone can record the class for observation.  Everyone should then meet and talk about the lesson.  If each person in the group does that twice during a semester, the evaluation and critiques would help everyone. 

My next suggestion is to work with ASPers at other schools.  I know the quickest response to the last suggestion is “no one at my school would do that.”  While I believe there are at least a couple professors who want to improve teaching at every school, inter-school feedback can work.  We could create a TWEN page or page on the AASE site where we post videos of our teaching.  Others within the community could then watch and provide feedback.

ASPers posting lectures would provide an additional benefit for the annual conference.  We could see others’ lectures we hear about at AASE.  Some of the presentations always talk about how he/she teaches students a particular concept.  If that lecture was already posted, we could watch the lecture prior to the presentation and have a deeper discussion of teaching.  We could also have round table feedback sessions on teaching from lectures posted.  As we change our area, we could talk about it in our law schools to get other professors on board.  We can spread jugyokenkyu throughout law schools.

We continually hear that legal education needs to change.  Similar to k-12 education, entities demand we use better practices.  Demands generally don’t lead to widespread change.  Feedback from experts, who are our colleagues, is how Japan became the best country for math in the world.  We should try a model that works instead of continually following the same failed practice.

(Steven Foster)

October 8, 2018 in Professionalism, Program Evaluation, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Welcome Bill MacDonald as a Contributing Editor to the Blog


Please welcome William MacDonald as one of the new Contributing Editors for the Law School Academic Support Blog. I am sure you have enjoyed reading his posts for the past few weeks.

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of meeting Bill at various ASP and bar prep workshops or conferences, here is some information about his background and interests:

Bill is the Director of Academic Success at SUNY University at Buffalo, a position that encompasses both academic support and bar preparation.  He teaches a course for the entire 1L class that introduces students to academic and professional skills, and a course for about half of the 3L class that introduces them to the Bar examination and prepares them for the rigors of an intensive summer bar preparation course. 

Prior to arriving at SUNY-Buffalo, Bill served for four years as the Director of Academic Support at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, California. He had earlier worked as Assistant Director of Graduate Career and Professional Development at his alma mater, Georgetown University Law Center.

Before his career move to academia, Bill practiced in taxation in Washington, DC for six years. He then returned to school to obtain his LL.M. in Estate Planning from University of Miami School of Law.  He transitioned into estate planning practice in Naples, FL before heading to McLean, VA to continue his practice. 

Bill is a native of Massachusetts. In addition to his years in the DC area, Florida, and southern California, he lived and taught in Japan for a few years. He is glad to be in Buffalo which he describes as a land with proper seasons and snowfall.

Bill wrote a blog on career growth and fulfillment for several years with his writing partner, Meg Flippin. The two bloggers discontinued their blog to work together on a novel examining the same issues – a lightly satirical story of a robot named Tendo who is tired of feeling like a robot, and her adventures as she moves from one profession to another to try to find her fit.  The novel is now complete, and Meg and Bill are looking for an agent and a publisher. We wish them the best of success in these endeavors!

Bill tells us that he is blessed to have a brilliant wife, Deborah Pratt, who is a wizard in organization development and professional training, and two bright, kind, and creative children.  And you may be fascinated to learn that Bill was a finalist in the 2006 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions as well as an early contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – in fact, he still holds the record as the only person ever to have won at least $125,000 on both shows.

We look forward to Bill's insights in his future posts! (Amy Jarmon)

October 7, 2018 in Academic Support Spotlight | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Congratulations to Scott Johns on a Top 10 Badge

TexasBarTodayTopTenBadgeCongratulations to Scott Johns, one of the Contributing Editors, for being recognized by Texas Bar Today for his blog post on Thursday, September 27th. In case you missed reading his winning blog post, you can find it at this link: The Window of Knowledge vs. the Window of Experience

October 6, 2018 in Academic Support Spotlight | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 5, 2018

Director of Academic Achievement Position at U of Denver

Professor of the Practice of Law (Open Rank) - Sturm College of Law

Tracking Code
Job Description

The University of Denver Sturm College of Law seeks applications from experienced entry-level or lateral candidates at the rank of Assistant, Associate, or Professor of the Practice of Law to teach in its innovative Academic Achievement Program, beginning in August 2019. Responsibilities in this position will include: administering, supervising, and overseeing the law schools comprehensive Academic Achievement Program (to include the first-year academic support program); teaching academic support/bar passage courses; identifying, advising and counseling students on academic support matters; measuring, assessing, evaluating, and improving the effectiveness of the law school's academic support program; and collaborating with other faculty and staff members dedicated to the professional achievement of students and graduates, including the Director of the law school's Bar Passage Program.

Essential Functions

Key responsibilities for the position include:

  • Teaching foundational academic skills to first-year students in both classroom and workshop settings.
  • Counseling students regarding their academic performance. 
  • Providing writing support for students across a range of academic settings.
  • Teaching upper-level classes in legal analysis.
  • Teaching a course in the Bar Success Program and working individually with students preparing for the bar examination.
  • Supervising student assistants.
  • Providing additional services (in collaboration with other faculty and staff colleagues) to enhance the academic success of students.

The initial term is one academic year with the possibility of renewal based on job performance and pedagogical needs.

Required Qualifications

  • J.D. (or their equivalent).
  • Outstanding academic records.
  • Relevant professional experience. 
  • Strong conceptual understanding of legal pedagogy and the learning sciences.
  • Outstanding interpersonal, organizational, writing, and speaking skills.
  • Proficiency in data collection and analysis.
  • Ability to develop strong relationships with students, faculty, and staff.
  • Capacity to make outstanding contributions in the areas of teaching and service.

Preferred Qualifications

  • Advanced degree in education, psychology, counseling or a related field.
  • Record of conference presentations and/or publications in the field of academic support.

Application Deadline

Application review will begin on Friday, October 19, 2018, early submissions are advised. Applications will continue to be reviewed until the position is filled.

Special Instructions

Candidates must apply online through to be considered. Only applications submitted online will be accepted. Once within the job description online, please scroll to the bottom of the page to apply. Inquiries about this position can be made to the Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee, Professor Tamara Kuennen at

Please include the following documents with your application:

  1. Cover Letter
  2. Resume
  3. Three References
  4. Teaching Statement

NOTE: The online system is limited to uploading 10 files. Please combine content if necessary to get all content uploaded.

The University of Denver is an affirmative action employer and that age 40 and over, color, disability, gender identity, genetic information, military or veteran status, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or any other applicable status protected by state or local law are not taken into account in any employment decision.

All offers of employment are based upon satisfactory completion of a criminal history background check.

SCOL-JD Instruction (189400)
Position Type

AASE Questionnaire:

1. The position advertised:
X a. is a full-time appointment.
___ b. is a part-time appointment.
2. The position advertised:
___ a. is a tenure-track appointment.
X b. may lead to successive long-term contracts of five or more years.
___ c. may lead to successive short-term contracts of one to four years. (Full Time Position)
___ d. has an upper-limit on the number of years a teacher may be appointed.
___ e. is part of a fellowship program for one or two years.
___ f. is an adjunct appointment.
___ g. is a year-to-year appointment.
___ h. is a one-year visitorship.
___ i. is for at will employment.
Additional information, question 2:
The position is within the university’s non-tenured track professor of the practice faculty series.
3. The person hired:
___ a. will be permitted to vote on all matters at faculty meetings.
X b. will be permitted to vote in faculty meetings on matters except those pertaining to hiring,
tenure, and promotion.
___ c. will not be permitted to vote in faculty meetings.
Additional information, question 3:
The position includes governance rights on matters related to hiring and promoting non-tenure
track faculty members.
4. The school anticipates paying an annual academic year base compensation in the range
checked below. (A base compensation does not include stipends for coaching moot court teams,
teaching other courses, or teaching in summer school; a base compensation does not include
conference travel or other professional development funds.)
___ a. over $120,000
___ b. $110,000 - $119,999
___ c. $100,000 - $109,999
X d. $90,000 - $99,999
X e. $80,000 - $89,999
___ f. $70,000 - $79,999
___ g. $60,000 - $69,999
___ h. $50,000 - $59,999
___ i. $40, 000-49,999
___ j. $10,000 - $39,000.
___ k. less than $10,000.
Additional information, question 4:
Competitive compensation package based on experience.
5. The person hired will have the title of:
___ a. Associate Dean (including Dean of Students).
___ b. Assistant Dean.
X c. Director.
___ d. Associate Director.
___ e. Assistant Director.
___ f. Professor – Full, Associate, or Assistant (tenure track).
___ g. Professor – Full, Associate, or Assistant (clinical tenure track or its equivalent).
X h. Professor – Full, Associate, or Assistant (neither tenure track nor clinical tenure track).
___ i. no title.
Additional information, question 5:
The person hired will serve as Director of the Academic Achievement Program within the nontenured
track professor of the practice faculty series (assistant, associate, or full).
6. Job responsibilities include (please check all that apply):
X a. working with students whose predicators (LSAT and University GPA) suggest they will
struggle to excel in law school.
X b. working with students who performed relatively poorly on their law school examinations
or other assessments.
X c. working with diverse students.
___ d. managing orientation.
X e. teaching ASP-related classes (case briefing, synthesis, analysis, etc.).
X f. teaching bar-exam related classes.
X g. working with students on an individual basis.
___ h. teaching other law school courses.
Additional information, question 6:
Job responsibilities include participating in orientation. The position may also include teaching
a remedial 2L legal analysis academic course that is part of the bar passage program.
7. The person hired will be present in the office:
X a. 9-10 month appointment
___ b. Year round appointment (works regularly in the summer months).
Additional information, question 7:
8. The person hired is required to publish, in some form, in order to maintain employment.
___ a. Yes.
X b. No.
Additional information, question 8:
9. The person hired will report to:
___ a. the Dean of the Law School.
X b. an Associate Dean.
___ c. the Director of the Academic Support Department.
___ d. a Faculty Committee.
Additional information, question 9:
The person will meet regularly with the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, the Director of the
Bar Passage Program, and other faculty members and law school administrators.

October 5, 2018 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0)

Assistant Teaching Professor and Director of Bar Support Position at Drexel

 Assistant Teaching Professor and Director of Bar Support 

Drexel University Kline School of Law, in Philadelphia, seeks an Assistant Teaching Professor and Director of Bar Support for a position commencing on January 1, 2019 or later. We are accepting applications now, and the position will remain open until filled.

JD Degree and membership in at least one state bar required. Law teaching experience, expertise and experience in academic support or bar support preferred. Ability to work collaboratively and to communicate well with students, faculty and staff.

The person filling this position will develop and teach courses to support the successful bar passage of our graduates, coordinate bar support activities throughout the law school, and have additional teaching responsibilities as agreed upon. 

The Kline School of Law is part of Drexel University and is centrally located in Philadelphia.  Its JD program includes a professional practice requirement in the form of a clinic or co-op placement for academic credit, as well as a pro bono service requirement. Students can pursue concentrations in Health Law, Business and Entrepreneurial Law, Intellectual Property Law, and Criminal Law.  Its nationally ranked legal writing program prepares students for their professional practice requirement.  A robust Academic Success curriculum under the Direction of a full-time Director of Academic Success offers faculty-led workshops, Dean Scholar sessions in each large first year course, upper level courses in analysis and writing strategies, counseling, and individual assistance by a Writing Specialist.

The person appointed will assume responsibility for assessing our current communications, programming, and support of successful bar passage, and for augmenting and revising our current academic programming in this area.

These responsibilities may include:

  • developing, coordinating and teaching part of a two-semester sequence of bar examination preparation courses for third-year students that may be required for certain students and elective for others.
  • centralizing communication with students about bar examination preparation and the requirements for admission to the bar.
  • coordinating a faculty and alumni bar mentor program for students.
  • analyzing student data relating to bar passage 
  • offering resources to faculty regarding teaching techniques and assessments that support bar exam preparation.

The person appointed will also have the opportunity to teach academic courses as part of our J.D. program consistent with their interests and the school’s academic needs.

This appointment will be a full-time contract position. At the Kline School of Law, Teaching Professors participate actively in the life of the law school, including attending faculty meetings and workshops, and serving on committees. After an initial contract period, most of our Teaching Professors hold renewable contracts and vote on all matters other than appointment and promotion of tenure-track faculty.

Please apply through the Drexel Jobs Portal at    The position is titled Asst Teaching Prof/Director of Bar Support, and is requisition number 9252 for Department 3392: Kline School of Law.

For further information, contact Terry Jean Seligmann, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, at

October 5, 2018 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Key to that "Peaceful Easy Feeling"

As reported in a Wall Street Journal essay by author Nicholas Carr, if you have a smart phone, you'll likely be "consulting the glossy little rectangle nearly 30,000 times over the coming year."[1]  Most of us seem to think that is not a problem at all, at least based on our actions.

That’s certainty true of me.  I depend on my smart phone, nearly all of the time.  It’s with me everywhere.  To be honest, it’s not just a telephone to me.  It’s my mailbox, my knowledge bank, my social facilitator and companion, my navigator, my weather channel, my bookshelf, my news outlet, my alarm clock, and my entertainer, just to name a few of the wonderful conveniences of this remarkable handheld technology. 

But, here’s the rub. As outlined by Mr. Carr, there are numerous research studies indicating that smart phones, while often times beneficial to us, can also at times be harmful to our intellectual life, our communication and interpersonal skills, and perhaps even our own emotional and bodily health.[2] 

First, Mr. Carr cites to a California study that suggests that the mere physical presence of smart phones hampers our intellectual problem-solving abilities.[3] In the study of 520 undergraduate students, researchers analyzed student problem-solving abilities based on smart phone proximity. The researchers divided students into three classroom settings based on phone proximity while watching a lecture and then taking an exam.  In one classroom, students placed their phones in front of them during the lecture and the subsequent exam.  In another classroom, students stowed their phones in purses and backpacks, etc., so that students were prevented from having immediate phone access during both the lecture and the subsequent exam (i.e., sort of an "out-of-sight-out-of-mind" approach).  In the last classroom, students were required to leave their phones in a different room from the lecture classroom.  Interestingly, nearly all students reported that the proximity of their phones did not compromise their attention, learning, or exam performance.  But, test results indicated otherwise.  The researchers found that exam performance was inversely correlated with smart phone proximity.  Students with phones on their desks performed the worst while students with phones in another room performance the best. Surprisingly, however, just having a smart phone stowed nearby detracted from exam performance too.  Apparently, just the knowledge that our smart phones are readily available negatively impacts our problem-solving abilities. In other words, to perform our intellectual best as lawyers and law students, smart phones need to be - not just out of sight - but well beyond our grasps whenever we are engaged in intellectual tasks on behalf of our clients because problem-solving appears to be compromised just by the presence of our smart phones.

Second, Mr. Carr cites to a study where researchers found that smart phone proximity is harmful to face-to-face communication and interpersonal skills.[4] In this United Kingdom study, researches divided people into pairs and asked them to have a 10-minute conversation.  Some pairs of conversationalists were placed into a room in which there was a phone present.  The other pairs were placed in rooms in which there were no phones present.  The participants were then given tests to measure the depth of the conversation experienced based on measures of affinity, trust, and empathy.  Researchers found that the mere presence of cellphones in the conversational setting harmed human relationships and interpersonal skills such as empathy, closeness, and trust, and the results were most harmful when the topics discussed were personally meaningful.  In sum, smart phone proximity can negatively impact our interpersonal social communication skills, important skills for law students and attorneys to attend to and strengthen in order to better serve our clients and the public.

Third, Mr. Carr references a study substanting that smart phones can negatively impact our emotional and physical well-being.[5]  In this study out of large US university, researchers evaluated the impact of the presence of smart phones in self-identity, cognitive abilities, emotional anxiety, and physiology by having participants work on word puzzles while measuring blood pressure and pulse correlated with self-reported survey results on anxiety levels and emotional well-being based on a state of pleasantness. While solving word puzzles, researchers at times would remove phones from the presence of the subjects while on other occasions researchers would ring the phones of the subjects.  The results are startling.  Blood pressure rises, pulse quickens, anxiety increases, sense of unpleasantness increases while cognitive abilities decline both when participants are removed from their phones and when they receive phone calls. In other words, we identify ourselves with our phones.  They have become extensions of ourselves, to such a large degree, that to be deprived of access to our phones or the use of our phones negatively impacts our well-being as human beings.  In short, we have allowed our phones to become part of us, to share in our feelings, such that we feel detached from ourselves when we are detached from our phones. In my own words, we feel alone (and indeed unalive) without our smart phones by oursides and in control of our lives. Or, to put it more simply, we can’t seem to live without our smart phones, and we can’t live with them too.

Plainly, that's a lot to think about.  And, with all of the conversations swirling around with respect to the beneficial and detrimental impacts of technology on our cognitive, emotional, and physiological beings, there is still much that is yet to be known.  But, I leave you with this thought. 

Recently, I had one of my best weekend ever.  But, it didn’t start out grand at all.  In fact, the weekend begain like most of my weekends, busy, so busy that I neglected to check my pockets before washing my jeans.  In my haste, I washed my smart phone too.  Now horribly drenched, my phone was lifeless.  Comletely dead.  Stlll. At first, I was speechless. But, oh what I weekend I then experienced.  Freed from my smart phone, I slowly began to relax. I started to connect to real people in real relationships and with real things. No phone calls and no buzzing emails or texts to interpret life’s relationships. I have to admit; it was one of the most best days of my life.  Because of that experience, I now try to take one day per week free from my smart phone.  Life can indeed be sweet to our souls, bodies, and minds without the constant intervention of our phones.  And, better yet, life can be even sweeter for those around us too.  So, feel free to join me in taking meaningful smart phone respites.  The more the better.  (Scott Johns)

[1]Nicholas Carr, How Smart Phones Hijack Our Brains, Wall Street Journal, Oct 7, 2017.

[2]Mr. Carr references numerous research articles, several of which are discussed in this article.

[3]Adrian F. Ward, Kristen Duke, Ayelet Gneezy, and Maarten W. Bos, Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity, Journal of the Association for Consumer Research 2, no. 2 (April 2017): 140-154,

[4]Andrew K. Przybylski, and Netta Weinstein, Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (2012),

[5]Russell B. Clayton, Glenn Leshner, Anthony Almond; The Extended iSelf: The Impact of iPhone Separation on Cognition, Emotion, and Physiology, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Volume 20, Issue 2 (2015), 119-135,

October 4, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Getting Unstuck


We all get "stuck" sometimes.  Whether you call it writer's block, perfection paralysis, or another name, you're in the grip of it when you've spent hours or days on a project with precious little to show for it --except, perhaps, some record-setting times in online games.  1Ls get bogged down with legal writing assignments and outlines; upper-division students get stuck on moot court briefs or law review articles; lawyers and faculty can grind to a halt on briefs, memos, papers, or any of the myriad of projects we tackle.

How do you get unstuck?   Everyone must find their own approach, but these ideas can help:

  • Recognize that you are stuck.  Be honest, but gentle, with yourself.  "Hmm, I don't seem to be getting anywhere; I must be stuck again" acknowledges your paralysis as a fact without any negative judgment.  On the other hand, "What's wrong with me?  I always sabotage myself.  I'm a failure" can slow you down even further as your writer's block becomes an occasion for beating yourself up over anything you've ever done less than perfectly.  Practice being as nice to yourself as you are to others.
  • Stop digging.  The saying "If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging" is attributed to everyone from Will Rogers to Warren Buffett, but whatever the source it contains a lot of wisdom.  Once you recognize you're stuck, change what you're doing.  Whether it's checking Instagram or playing FreeCell or merely staring blankly at a screen, stop!  Close the tab or the app; shut down your computer/tablet/phone if that's what it takes.  Don't succumb to "just a minute more" thinking.
  • Break the cycle by doing something physical for a few minutes.  Walk upstairs or around the block.  Do some crunches, jumps, power poses -- whatever makes you feel good and gets some oxygenated blood flowing back into your system.
  • Try tackling your project in a more physical way.  Drafting your writing in longhand can help.
  • Try freewriting.  Set your timer for five to ten minutes and write without stopping, even if at first all you can put on the page is "I have absolutely no idea what to say."  Don't edit, correct, or ponder -- just write.  The actual physical act of writing without stopping somehow breaks the cycle of self-criticism that gets in the way of generating ideas and flow.  Although 95% of what you produce during this period will be end up on the cutting room floor, freewriting not only unblocks barriers but often results in choice insights that you can use in your finished product. 
  • When you are back in the flow, write first and revise only afterwards.  The curse of computers and their progeny is they encourage us to proof, edit, and revise from the start, which gets in the way of creating a coherent draft incorporating all our ideas.  Try writing out your entire piece in rough form first to get your ideas out on paper, then revise for spelling, grammar, flow, and sense.
  • Create something and let it go.  Learn when you need perfection (rarely) and when you are best served by producing something that is merely good.
  • Did I mention being gentle with yourself?  Getting stuck is part of the human condition.  Resolving the problem calmly is part of the lawyer's toolbox.  (Nancy Luebbert)


October 3, 2018 in Advice, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)