Wednesday, August 16, 2017
First, I would like to acknowledge the entry by my colleague OJ Salinas titled “Focusing When You’re Frustrated and, Potentially, Frightened: Some ASP Thoughts Following Charlottesville.” He expresses a part of my inability to be optimally productive and focused this Monday. I did not realize that my inability to focus was related to all the news I listened to and watched throughout the weekend. I hope that we can all take time to gather our thoughts and feelings, sit with our emotions, determine how we will manage our emotions and function effectively for our students.
Now, on to address what the title states. As students throughout the country prepare to and attend orientation programs, they are enthusiastic and anticipate the start of something they may have dreamt about their entire life or that grew out of an experience or an acquired passion. As I observe new students make their way through the building, stop by to say hi, and ask upper level students a number of questions, I smile because this marks the start of a new academic year. It also reminds me of the excitement I felt at the beginning of my law school career more than a decade ago. However, my journey to law school was not as smooth and exciting.
As a college student, I recall deciding that I wanted to attend law school and visiting the academic advisor responsible for students with a pre-law interest. This advisor was not very kind to me neither did she appear enthusiastic while engaging in conversation with me. She tried to deter me from pursuing my aspiration while providing several justifications, many of which were unfounded, as to why law school was not for me. I would later learn that this advisor also attempted to discourage several other young women of color from attending law school. How unfortunate! Without a strong support system which included each other, and our motivation to attain our dreams, we (young women of color and me) could have given up on our law school aspirations. But instead, we remained determined, asked questions, shared information, got involved with various pre-law organizations, and forged our own paths to our dreams. We would have never made it to law school otherwise. Words are powerful and can impact one’s journey in life in both positive and negative ways. If I did not know the person I am or had accepted the advisor’s perception of me, then my potential in life would have been significantly limited.
As Academic Support Professionals prepare for or start the new academic year, it is important that each of us considers what we utter to our students or how we communicate with them. We cannot put all students in a box simply because they exhibit similar behavior or characteristics. Every individual student is their own person with their own strengths, weaknesses, and life experiences which might dictate how they react to certain situations. We should encourage students but this does not mean providing them with a false sense of hope or confidence. We should be open to the differences in approach and process of all students as we might learn something along the way. We are partners with our students as they determine their path, build skills, and reach their goals. Even with the most confident student, negative words uttered to them or about them cloud their positive outlook, motivation, and determination. This is not to say that we should be silent about negative things but we should be strategic.
All the best to students embarking on their law school career! I would encourage you to listen to advice but also keep the advice in perspective. You are in law school because your institution believes that you are capable of being successful in law school but don’t let that go to your head because you still have to work hard. All the best to Academic Support Professionals as well (Goldie Pritchard)!
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
I went to the Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) conference for the first time. SEALS is different than most (all?) other conferences that I have attended as an academic support professor. Although the conference is not specifically academic support focused, SEALS has a variety of sessions that will interest any ASPer, including legal writing topics, effective teaching strategies, formative assessment techniques, balancing dual administrative and faculty appointments, and the like. Plus, if you also focus on a doctrinal area, SEALS has numerous sessions for that too. (You can view the full 2017 schedule here.)
SEALS is primarily comprised of three presentation formats: (1) panel presentations, (2) roundtables, and (3) moderated discussion groups. The panels consist of three of four structured job talk-esque presentations followed by a question-and-answer session. While intriguing and thoughtfully presented, the panels are not what makes SEALS a draw for attendees. Meanwhile, the roundtables function similar to a typical “What I Wish I Would Have Known” event during a law school’s orientation week. For example, I attended a roundtable discussion where a dozen new professors were able to chat with current and former law school deans about what a typical dean expects of newer professors.
The most interesting format, however, is the moderated discussion group. The moderator of the discussion group invites roughly 10 different individuals to pitch their projects or ideas, all of which are at varying stages of development. Each pre-selected "discussant" talks for 5-10 minutes and then the other attendees ask questions and provide feedback, in a very low stakes supportive environment. This continues for two or three hours. Most discussion groups encourage discussants to focus on a pre-selected theme, but the conference rules tend to be loosely enforced in a way that encourages innovation and brainstorming. Anyone can attend a discussion session and participate in the responsive comment period, but if you want to guarantee yourself a few spotlight minutes to pitch your idea, then you should get on the discussant list by reaching out to the moderator. I attended several discussion groups and even got to pitch an idea at one session, despite not being on the pre-selected list by simply reaching out to the moderator via email a few days before the event. A pre-selected discussant could not make the conference at the last-minute and I was permitted to use their designated slot. I was told my email strategy (which was suggested to me by a seasoned SEALS participant) is somewhat common at SEALS. Thus, I encourage you to consider the same approach if you find yourself at SEALS without a specific invitation to speak.
Another feature which makes SEALS unique is the family-friendly atmosphere. Likely because SEALS is hosted in a warm-weather, beachy environment, many attendees opt to bring their friends and families. In fact, SEALS actually encourages guests by providing each person with an official conference name tag and invitation to numerous receptions throughout the week.
Lastly, if I were asked to describe SEALS in a word, I would say “relaxed.” Few attendees attend all of the sessions; rather most attendees balance work-and-play very nicely at SEALS. There is no pressure to attend the entire event. The conference is long enough (10 days) that you can pick the few days that interest you most. SEALS planners even send all participants a special link to a Crowd Compass App to encourage everyone to create their own personal conference itinerary. The App allows you to set session reminders, prompts you with presenters’ names, and lets you search for other attendees. All in all, SEALS was a nice break from the more traditional academic conference. (Kirsha Trychta)
Monday, August 14, 2017
Focusing When You’re Frustrated and, Potentially, Frightened: Some ASP Thoughts Following Charlottesville
Like many individuals throughout the country, I was saddened to see and hear what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am not sure I have the words to describe my thoughts and feelings related to this weekend. Or, maybe, I do. But, they are likely not suitable for this blog.
I’ll try to focus the rest of this post on a topic related to law school academic success. Surely, this weekend’s events don’t relate to our students’ academic success. Right? It’s not like this weekend’s events could impact our students’ abilities to focus on their law school studies. Right?
Let me refocus.
Surely, I have other things that I should be thinking and worrying about . . . like, law school pre-orientation programs. I am running the first of our two voluntary pre-orientation programs for incoming 1Ls later this week. I will have worked with over 40% of our incoming 1L class before the start of orientation. These students are incoming 1Ls who have volunteered to participate in our Legal Education Advancement Program (“LEAP”). This program helps 1Ls transition to the study of law in a welcoming and supportive environment. Yet, these are also students who have likely been impacted in one way or another by the events in Charlottesville. After all, it doesn’t take much to see what happened on the news or to read something on the Internet. It doesn’t take much to see where the events took place and wonder whether a similar event could take place near you.
I am sure there are many other law school academic success professionals who should also have other things to be thinking and worrying about. They, too, may be getting reading for their pre-orientation programs. They, too, may be finalizing their syllabi, organizing conferences, and meeting with students. They, too, may be looking for ways to make the law school experience a positive and productive one for their students.
Surely, there are many things that should be preoccupying our minds. But, it’s often difficult to focus on what we should be focusing on when events like this weekend’s event in Virginia take place.
Surely, there are many things that our students should be thinking and worrying about as they prepare to start a new school year. For example, our 1Ls may be worrying about finding a place to stay, locating the bookstore, or figuring out how to brief a case. Our 2Ls and 3Ls may be finishing up summer work, finalizing resumes, or scheduling on-campus and callback interviews.
But, yes. It is difficult to focus on what we should and want to be focusing on when frustrating and, potentially, frightening events like the one in Charlottesville try to suck out all our energy, positivity, and goodwill. It is likely no different for our students—particularly our students of color. They may, similarly, find it difficult to focus on what they need and should be focusing on to be successful law students. Law school is hard. It is going to be even harder over the next few weeks.
Give your students some time to digest this weekend’s events. Be supportive and lend a listening ear. Yet, try to be realistic about the work that needs to be done in law school. If you find it difficult to engage students to change their approach to law school work because they are too worried or preoccupied with external events, like Charlottesville, you might try to reframe law school work in such a way that your students may be more motivated to read, study, and improve . . . to act.
For instance, despite my strong restlessness about this weekend’s events, I am going to try to attack this week’s pre-orientation program with vigor and hope—hope that the students that I will be working with will become successful lawyers who will help make this country a better place for all of us. Surely, that relates to law school academic success. (OJ Salinas)
Saturday, August 12, 2017
In my post yesterday on this topic, I covered three aspects important to 1Ls understanding the law school environment and succeeding in their studies: professional education, long-term memory, and active learning. This post considers two more aspects: comprehensive final exams in doctrinal courses and time management.
Comprehensive final exams in doctrinal courses. Most incoming students are used to courses that have multiple tests and assignments that make up the final grade. Each test or assignment covered a segment of the course. No course or assignment covered the entire material for the 15-week course. The non-cumulative nature of the tests and assignments encouraged students to learn the material in a compartmentalized fashion with no incentive to remember or understand the material in a more comprehensive manner.
Students have told me that professors often let them drop the lowest grade among the tests or assignments. If you didn't understand the content (or didn't bother studying enough), you would get rid of that low grade as if it never happened. Other students have told me that they could opt out of the final test for the semester if they exceeded a certain score for prior work or were happy with the grade they already had. And a few students told me that a good cry or tale of woe for the professor would always get them a grade change so that the preparation for a test or assignment wasn't crucial.
In legal education, many doctrinal courses (doctrinal examples: contracts, torts, constitutional law, criminal procedure) end with a comprehensive exam covering all 15 weeks of material - even if there have been practice exams or some writing assignments. Active learning and long-term memory (see Part 1 of this blog topic) are essential to the best grades on these exams. By actively learning the material during class preparation, class attendance, and note review, there is less effort required later. By striving for understanding and not just memorization through outlining and reviewing outlines, the depth of knowledge improves, awareness of nuances develops, and long-term memory is built. By applying the concepts in practice questions throughout the semester, law students can self-monitor their understanding and improve their test-taking skills.
Think of it in practical terms: we forget 80% of what we learn within 2 weeks if we do not review the material. If you wait too long to revisit material, you have massive amounts to relearn because it has become vague or completely forgotten. Students who wait until late in the semester to outline confide that they can no longer decipher their class notes or remember the context of sentences that meant something many weeks ago. The myth at my law school is that you begin to study for exams 6 weeks out. But that means a law student is trying to relearn 9 weeks of mostly forgotten material while trying to learn 6 weeks of new material at the same time. Exhausting and stressful to say the least!
The best plan: spread review and practice throughout the semester. By scheduling their outlining, reviewing of outlines, and practice questions throughout the semester, law students can have memory work for them rather than against them. Regular review means that 12 or 13 of the 15 weeks of the course can be ready for the exam before the end of classes! Only the newer material will have to be pulled together; the other already mastered material can be more generally reviewed and refreshed through additional practice questions. Being able to accomplish exam studying throughout the semester, leads us to the next aspect of law school.
Time management. We know from national data that diligent undergraduate students study a maximum of 19-20 hours per week; and most undergraduate students report studying far less - some less than 10 hours per week. Students filled all their free time with student organizations, sports, part-time work, social activities, social media, and other leisure aspects. Most students tell me that they wrote papers a day or two before the due date and studied for tests only a few days (or hours) unless it was a really hard course. Many students tell me that they had a weekly routine for student organization activities/meetings, exercise or intramurals, part-time work, and some social activities. Rarely did they have a routine study schedule; at most they had a calendar of due dates. They studied when they felt like it.
Law school requires students to master time management if they want to get the grades they have the potential to earn. A full-time law student needs to study 50-55 hours per week if the active learning, long-term memory, and regular review are to occur as well as thorough class preparation and completion of assignments. A part-time law student needs 35-40 hours per week for the same results usually. We know statistically that most new law students have probably never studied that much in their lives! If new students have worked full-time before law school, then they are used to 40 or more hours of employment each week.
New law students will need 2-3 weeks of settling in to law school before they can set up a regular routine for all tasks. They need to learn how to read and brief cases, develop an understanding of what their professors teaching styles and emphases are, learn the legal vocabulary, and begin to experience legal writing. But by the end of 2-3 weeks, it is time to set out a routine time management schedule to provide for class preparation, outlining, review, practice questions, and legal writing assignments. That schedule should also include sleep, meals, exercise, and down time.
The idea is to know when you will get things done rather than wondering what you should do next. We tend to fritter away time when we don't have structure. And today it is easier to fritter away massive amounts of time with electronic distractions! You can flip tasks up and down during the day as tasks take less or more time. But you try each day to complete your daily tasks. You can build in several blocks of undesignated study time during the week for unexpected study tasks or especially lengthy tasks that occur - this allows you to easily see where to move or add tasks to your schedule rather than panic. Realize that you will become more efficient and effective at all of your study tasks with practice and will likely be able to decrease time blocks in your schedule for some tasks or for a particular course.
Schedules will need tweaking; but with realistic time blocks and better organization of life tasks (errands, laundry, meal prep, etc.), it is possible to have a routine that works most weeks. So Tuesday during 3-5 p.m. you read for Civil Procedure; you go to bed at 11 p.m. and get up at 6 p.m.; you outline the week's contracts material on Friday 10-11 a.m.; you work on your legal writing assignment on Wednesday 1-3 p.m.; you go for a run Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 3-4 p.m. and then eat dinner 4-5 p.m.; you review part of your contracts outline 2-3:30 p.m. on Saturday; you complete practice questions for Torts on Sunday 3-4 p.m.; and so forth.
By structuring your weeks, you will feel less overwhelmed because you can literally see when you will get things done. By including appropriate times for sleep, meals, exercise, and down time, you gain school-work balance. By gaining expertise in time management while you are in law school, you will be able to carry that skill over to practice. Many new attorneys are stressed by the demands of practice if they are not skilled at time management already.
Once again I encourage you to use the academic support resources at your law school. If comprehensive final exams and time management are not part of your educational experiences already, ASP staff can assist you in learning strategies to prepare for final exams and assist in setting up a routine time management schedule. You can learn these new skills and strategies with the assistance available to you. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, August 11, 2017
New law students can improve their adjustment to law school if they consider several aspects of their educational background, study habits, learning styles, and lifestyles before they enter law school. By being more intentional in considering these aspects, law students can be more aware of their strengths and preferences. They will be less shocked by some of the differences between legal education and prior education. They can be aware of changes they will need in their approach for a successful legal education.
Three aspects to consider are included in this post; a follow-up post will consider two more aspects.
A professional school education. Many undergraduates take a variety of courses which they perceive as merely fulfilling requirements and not useful in real life. Courses are frequently one-off content rather than building a foundation of concepts for future courses or life tasks. One may take the history of fine arts, calculus, or physics to fulfill general education requirements without any thought of needing the knowledge again - and often with the hope of never using the information again.
Some undergraduates choose majors based on whim, reputation for easy grades, or popular trends as a means to get the degree without any expectation of having a job in those fields. Education seems less important if it has no relevance to one's future. For example, a survey several years ago showed that engineering students preparing for a career path studied nearly twice as many more hours per week as their liberal arts counterparts.
Law school curricula contain courses that are designed to improve skills that lawyers need every day (critical reading, critical thinking, critical writing). Many 1Ls consider their legal research and writing courses the bane of their existence. Those skills are essential to success in the legal profession where research and writing are daily tasks. Also, law students who regularly skimp on reading and briefing for doctrinal classes, find they are ill-prepared for efficiently and effectively analysing hundreds of cases in practice. For some students, the first summer clerking position can be a nightmare and hopefully a wake-up call for more diligence.
In addition, many courses contain legal content that is foundational to the bar exam and basic legal knowledge for practice. Most law school curricula require a number of the courses that appear on the bar exam. For example, even though a 1L vehemently declares he will never practice criminal law, that content is going to show up on the bar exam. (I also know from experience that some corporate litigation CEO client will walk in and want you to talk intelligently about what to expect after his son's drug arrest even though you obviously will refer him to a criminal defense colleague.)
The importance of long-term memory. Working memory (previously called short-term memory) is premised on the fact that the information is only needed for a short period: until the presentation is over, until the test ends, until the paper is handed in, until the course ends. After the deadline, concepts and information are immediately forgotten. The educational trash can is filled to the brim. Cramming promotes this short memory span because the brain is expected to retain the information for a use-by-date close at hand. There is no intention to retain the knowledge for reuse. The grade, and not the future, matters.
Long-term memory builds a foundation of concepts and information that are reinforced and applied over a period of time. Law school, the bar exam, and legal practice all go more smoothly with a focus on long-term memory. Briefing cases, note-taking, reviewing class notes, outlining, reviewing outlines, and applying the information to new scenarios throughout the semester build long-term memory. Long-term memory is like a filing cabinet of organized and readily accessible information in your brain.
When a third-year course refers to concepts from first-year contracts, law-term memory allows the concepts to come back with little or no review. When one's summer clerkship assignment focuses on a search-and-seizure issue, the concepts from criminal procedure are there as a base of knowledge on which to begin. When the bar exam course rapidly covers dozens of courses in six-eight weeks, long-term memory promotes review of those courses rather than the total re-learning of massive amounts of material that was lost if only working memory was used.
In practice a lawyer depends on long-term memory for building expertise in specialty areas of law. Lawyers want to recall similar client facts, prior cases read, statutory language, and more. Although they will constantly update their knowledge and research new twists on prior issues, they depend on a depth of knowledge and understanding of the law to gain competence and confidence. Even remembering the basics from law school courses can save time in interviewing a client or researching.
Active learning as a way of life. Active learning requires engagement on the part of the learner and self-monitoring. An active learner in law school does more than read the large number of cases to say that the assignment is done. The active learner asks questions while reading the cases, considers how the cases are similar and different, relates the legal concepts to the subtopic and topic, and considers how those legal concepts would be used in different scenarios. The active learner has thought about the material and tried to synthesize the different cases before going to class.
Although law professors will go over the cases at least somewhat in class, they will not tell the students everything they need to know. They will expect law students to prepare well and understand the basics from the cases and consider inter-relationships among cases. The class discussion will often focus on more nuanced concepts, policy arguments, and application of concepts to new scenarios. Professors may use the Socratic Method of questioning to get students to think about these aspects that springboard off of the cases. Professors may throw out hypothetical facts to get students to consider twists on facts and how the law will (or won't) apply. Students are asked to argue both sides of the scenario for plaintiff and defendant.
Memorization of the black letter law is important; however, it is only a beginning. Law students need to continue to review the legal concepts and inter-relate them to better understand how the law applies to the topics and subtopics through outlining. They need to actively engage in applying the concepts to new fact scenarios through practice questions so they know how to use the law to solve legal problems.
Passive learning promotes little engagement with the material and an attitude of just doing the assignment rather than critically thinking about the material. It is this type of learning that many students tell me they have most often experienced in prior educational experiences. The textbooks laid out the concepts without any need to think about them or ferret them out of the text. One just needed to read and memorize what the texts said. The professors often lectured to tell them exactly what they needed to know for the tests. Knowledge was clearly laid out to be learned in a rote way in many courses. The A grades went to those who could spout the most dates, facts, definitions, etc.
Some students relate that even in courses where they had to discuss themes or apply concepts across works of various authors, they were often expected to espouse the professor's stated views rather than apply the themes or concepts more critically or innovatively. If creativity was allowed, then some tell me that everything written was accepted as good ideas without having to carefully support arguments or consider counter-arguments.
These law school aspects of professional education, long-term memory, and active learning may be alien to some law students. As a result students might initially make learning choices that will cause them to falter. They will approach legal learning with strategies that worked in prior education but do not work in law school. They will not see each course as building skills and knowledge needed to pass the bar and become a competent professional. They will approach class preparation as a passive task to be completed rather than an active learning exercise. They will become frustrated by the law school classroom because professors do not tell them what they need to know for an A grade and instead expect them to make leaps in thinking through questions and hypotheticals they do not understand. They will mistakenly believe that a good grade will be produced by cramming and mere memorization of the law because that worked in the past.
If you are a new 1L student, consider what your background has been like in past education. If any of these aspects of legal education are different from your prior education, the good news is that there are academic support professionals who can show you new strategies tailored to learning in law school. You can succeed and not just survive in the different learning environment. Seek out the ASP resources available at your law school. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, August 10, 2017
All across law school campuses, newly-entering law school students are beginning to embark on their first steps in legal education. Often times, the initial week is filled with orientation lectures. Unfortunately, in some cases, the first educational experiences that new law students receive are spent mostly on the "recipient end" as passive classroom listeners. There's nothing wrong with listening but listening for hours on end is just not that productive because we learn best through active participatory engagement. So, here's a thought that might help inspire a bit of redirection in the orientation week.
Rather than focus on "orientation," why not turn the goal into "orienteering" our new learners to law school learning. In short, that means turning the noun "orientation" into the verb "orienteering"...by doing very little talking to students...and much more working with students in the midst of law school learning experiences. For those of you that like to hike with map and compass, the process of orienteering means that we take out our map, we use our compass to get our bearings, and we look around us at the landscape of our surroundings to figure out where we might be located on the map, and then we find a path to hike to our intended awe-inspiring destination. Law school is similar. That first week experience with newly-arrived law students should be spent on activities that get them "hitting the legal trail," so to speak, as soon as possible, and from the get-go. In general, they don't need lectures about library services, or how to navigate the law school website, or how to locate their mailboxes. Instead, they came to learn to be lawyers. So, get them started on learning to be lawyers.
Practically speaking and as many law schools do, it's a grand week to have them engaged in reading and briefing cases, participating in mock classroom discussions, practicing taking class notes, reviewing class notes and materials, creating mini-study tools, practicing mini-final exam scenarios, and assess what one learned throughout the week. Simply put, that means that our new law school students are actually taking responsibility for starting to learn how to learn in the very first week of their legal education. And, with so much to learn, there's no time to waste. Most importantly, people remember very little about what we say. They remember much about what they do. So, keep the focus on the law students orienteering themselves to law school learning. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
News flash, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) is this Saturday, August 12th. This exam is perfectly nestled between the end of summer classes and the start of a new academic year. It also occurs shortly after the bar exam for those who sat for the July Bar Exam. While students and graduates have good intentions, the summer MPRE is sometimes forgotten, overlooked, or simply ignored for a number of reasons. Some assume at the start of the summer that they have all summer long to think about and start studying for the MPRE while others are plagued by other concerns. Students who only recently finished summer classes are stressed and tired so the need to refocus their energies on preparing for yet another exam is daunting. Individuals who recently sat for the bar exam and either relegated taking the MPRE or failed to previously attain the necessary score for their jurisdictions have only had the opportunity to take one deep breath before returning to study mode. Hopefully it was not too hard in comparison to preparing for the bar exam. For those rising 2Ls and 3Ls who simply ignored messages from their Academic Support Program or forgot to sign-up for the MPRE; you still have opportunities to take this exam so take a deep breath but come up with a plan. Below are a few myths and last minute tips for individuals anticipating the Saturday MPRE:
(1) You only need to study for two weeks, one week, or the day before the MPRE
Based on my experience, students who provide such advice to other students are individuals who were probably unsuccessful in attaining the requisite score on their first attempt at the MPRE. Very few of my students, even those who completed a Professional Responsibility course and are at the top of the class, are able to study in this limited amount of time and be successful on the MPRE. You know how long it takes you to learn, retain, and apply information; you know your process so plan accordingly. You also know how differently you manage “code” and “rule intensive” materials. Most MPRE programs give you about a month to prepare for the exam so why would you spend less time preparing?
(2) You do not need to complete practice questions just learn the rules
If you have recognized that you need to consider how rules are applied to hypothetical situations as you studied for law school exams, then why would your approach change for the MPRE? If you realized that completing essays and multiple questions allowed you to hone the nuances of specific concepts then why wouldn’t you do the same here? True understanding of the rules and how they apply is another way of learning the information.
(3) You do not need to complete a timed exam
If you had exam time management challenges in the past then you may want to assess how you access, retrieve, process, and answer questions under timed circumstances. Even if you have never experienced exam time management challenges in the past, wouldn’t you want to know how you manage this subject area, in this testing format, with these time constraints so that the day of the exam is not the first time you attempt this?
Last Minute Tips
(1) Do not simply rely on what you covered in your law school Professional Responsibility course. There may be topics you did not cover; therefore, survey your materials and review topics not covered if you have not already done so.
(2) Practice! There is still time to complete timed MPRE questions prior to the day of the exam. If you have not already practiced, please close the books and learn from the questions. You have time to complete at least two full exams, in addition to all the questions you have already completed.
(3) Read the instructions carefully as some of this information might surprise you and plan for what you can and cannot bring into the testing room.
(4) Commit to your strategy or approach and do not change it mid-exam.
Good luck to everyone taking the MPRE! (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Before the start of each new semester, I send an email to each colleague who will be teaching a bar exam tested subject that semester. I offer some general information about the bar exam and some targeted information about how their particular subject matter is tested on the bar exam—based on a compilation of details gleaned from NCBE outlines and a comprehensive MEE indexing project (Download MEE Pathfinder) performed by our dedicated library staff. Although the list is far from perfect, my colleagues have reported that they find the information useful as they prepare syllabi and select topics to cover within the course. Below is my email template. Feel free to use it, if you find it helpful.
Your subject matter [is / is not] tested on the multiple-choice section of the bar exam.
Generally speaking, the multiple-choice section consists of 200 multiple-choice questions: 175 scored questions and 25 unscored pretest questions. The 175 scored questions on the MBE are distributed evenly, with 25 questions from each of the seven subject areas: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts. Students have 6 hours to complete this section of the exam (i.e. about 1.8 minutes per question).
With regard to your course, [add the specifics for the multiple-choice topic from the master list below.]
Your subject matter [is / is not] tested on the essay section of the bar exam.
Generally speaking, the essay section consists of six 30-minute questions. Areas of law that may be covered on the essay section include the following: Business Associations, Civil Procedure, Conflict of Laws, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Family Law, Real Property, Torts, Trusts and Estates, and Sales & Secured Transactions. Some questions may include issues in more than one area of law, and the particular areas covered vary from exam to exam. The [local jurisdiction does / does not] test state-specific rules on the essays.
With regard to your course, [add the specifics for the essay topic from the master list below.]
Master Subject List
The five most commonly tested subtopics on Business Association essays are: identifying which business association would suit the client’s needs, the requirements for formation of a partnership, liability to third parties, the fiduciary duties of officers/directors within a corporations, and agency issues.
Conflict of Laws
Conflict of Laws issues are embedded in the other essay topic areas. They do not appear as stand-alone questions. Historically, conflict of laws questions are most frequently paired with family law issues, especially child custody issues.
Approximately two-thirds of the civil procedure multiple-choice questions are based on jurisdiction, venue, pretrial procedures, and motions practice. Other subtopics— such as conflict of laws, jury trials, verdicts, judgements, and the appeals process—account for the remaining one-third of questions.
With regard to Federal Civil Procedure essays, the examiners ask questions about jurisdiction substantially more than they ask questions about the actual rules. The four most common Civil Procedure topics are personal jurisdiction long arm / minimum contacts statutes, federal question jurisdiction, diversity jurisdiction (especially the amount in controversy), and joinder of parties.
Approximately half of the constitutional law multiple-choice questions are based on individual rights. The other half are based on judicial review, separation of powers, and federalism.
The most commonly tested subtopic on the Constitutional Law essays is freedom of speech, followed closely by the equal protection clause.
Contracts & Sales
Approximately half of the contracts questions are based on contract formation and performance / breach. The other half of the questions are based on defenses, parol evidence, remedies, and third party rights. Of the 25 total questions, one-quarter are based on Article 2.
The four most commonly tested subtopics on Contracts / Sales essays are: offer and acceptance, statute of frauds, accord and satisfaction, and anticipatory repudiation.
Criminal Law & Procedure
Approximately half of the questions will be based on criminal procedure and half will be based on criminal law. Within criminal law, the examiners tend to distribute the questions equally across four categories: homicide, all other crimes, inchoate offenses, and general principles.
The examiners rarely ask criminal law essay questions and only occasionally ask criminal procedure questions. The five most common topics are inchoate offenses, homicide, fourth amendment, Miranda, and the exclusionary rule.
Evidence multiple-choice questions are typically divided up as follows:
Presentation of the evidence: 25%
Privileges & Writings: 9%
The three most commonly tested subtopics on the Evidence essays are: relevance, character evidence, and use of prior inconsistent statements.
The four most commonly tested subtopics on Family Law essays are: how to get divorced, property division, “best interests of the child” standard, and child support obligations.
The examiners divide the questions up equally among five categories: ownership interests, rights in real property, real estate contracts, mortgages, and titles.
The four most commonly tested suptopics on the Real Property essays are: recording statutes (race, race-notice), easements, deed warranties, and landlord-tenant leases.
The five most common subtopics on the Secured Transactions essays are: collateral classification, purchase money security interests, debtor/creditor rights of attachment, perfection, and priorities.
Half of the multiple-choice questions will be based on negligence. Intentional torts, strict liability, and “other” torts account for the other half of the questions.
The most common subtopic on the Torts essays is negligence (duty, breach, and causation), followed by the doctrine of respondeat superior / vicarious liability.
Trusts & Estates
The six most commonly tested subtopics on the Trusts & Estates essays are: benefits of creating a trust/will, how to create a trust, modification of a trust, future interests / remainders in trusts, validity of a will, and intestate distribution.
Monday, August 7, 2017
I have been thinking about the wonderful, varied, and interesting lives our students bring to law school.
Each student comes to our law schools with a unique and authentic experience. Unfortunately, some of these experiences are sometimes deemed insignificant. The person who has lived the experience may be too anxious or ashamed to share it. Or, others around this person may be too afraid to acknowledge that their individual experiences may not be the only way to have experienced some “thing.”
Each student comes to our law schools with an individual story that can enrich our learning environment and augment the law school experience for other students. For example, how one student responds to the facts of a particular case or identifies with the rationale or policy supporting some legal authority may provide a different insight and promote more critical thinking than the most qualified professor alone. This insight and critical thinking begins to grow, encouraging others to be more willing to take their blinders off and expand their narrow view of an issue, or better yet, of the world.
As we prepare to start a new law school semester, let’s remember what makes each of us unique and authentic. Let’s embrace, not obscure, our differences. And let’s try to foster our students’ abilities to recognize and appreciate differences. Being different doesn’t mean being weak. Being different doesn’t mean being irrelevant. Being different doesn’t mean being unworthy of success. (OJ Salinas)
Sunday, August 6, 2017
The Law School Academic Support Blog is one of a variety of blogs that make up the Law Professor Blogs Network. Over 100 law professors serve as editors of the various topical blogs within the network. The Legal Writing Prof Blog and The Legal Skills Prof Blog are just two of the specialty blogs that might appeal to ASP/bar prep professionals. Many of the blogs in the network are on specific legal topics: appellate advocacy, contracts, environmental law, M&A to name just a few. You can check out the entire list of blogs within the network at: Law Professor Blogs.
Saturday, August 5, 2017
Can you believe it is already August?! In just a few short weeks, our law schools will be welcoming our new 1L students and welcoming back our 2L and 3L students.
Where did the summer go? When graduation passes, the summer seems to stretch before us. Weeks of bar preparation for folks with those duties. Weeks of closing out the prior academic year and projects for the next year for others. In either case though, the summer seems so full of possibilities and time.
For those who have just finished bar prep duties, there seems too little time to pull things together plus find some time to relax. For those who are focused on academic support, the "to do list" that looked so attainable in May now seems too long still to accomplish in time.
So take a deep breath! Finish off those PowerPoint slides and handouts for Orientation. Send final instructions to your fall law student staff members. Prioritize those last items on your list. Coordinate those final dates and rooms for workshops. Finalize your syllabus for your courses. Send reminders to faculty to coordinate last-minute details.
In August it always seems too close for comfort as well as so exciting. I love the anticipation of a new academic year! It is so nice to see the familiar faces of our returning students and hear about their summers. It is a pleasure to meet the new 1Ls and see their mix of eagerness and nervousness. After all, this is what being an ASPer is all about! (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, August 4, 2017
For those of you who are new professionals in ASP/bar prep at your law schools, signing up for the ASP Listserv is done in the following manner. If you run into problems after you have tried to subscribe following the instructions, I would suggest that you contact Stephen Sowle (he runs the listserv) for assistance at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Amy Jarmon)
To sign up for the ASP listserv, follow these steps:
Address email to email@example.com
In the body of the message enter: subscribe ASP-L your_first_name your_last_name title school_name
your_first_name is your first name,
your_last_name is your last name
title and school_name are optional
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
When the final day of the bar exam has come and gone, I breathe a sigh of relief and panic, all at the same time. First, it means what it means, the bar exam is over so our recent graduates have truly left the building and I no longer need to worry about them until bar exam results are released. Second, it means that the summer is almost over and the start of the new academic year is fast approaching. Third, it means I have likely failed at achieving a majority of the lofty goals I set for myself at the start of the summer. Finally, it means that I may not have an opportunity to take a break as I will have a long list of to-dos that I need to get through because the first two to three weeks of the semester are not the most productive. How do one person Academic Support offices that manage academic and bar support do it all? I am sincerely interested in knowing how you do it all and when you take breaks particularly if you are also involved in summer programs, orientation, teaching, working with target populations, and addressing diversity matters. I will be happy to share some of your ideas with others here if I receive enough feedback.
After being a one person Academic Support and Bar Support office for a year, I was fortunate to have a colleague for almost seven years. The duo created a great balance and allowed me to feel comfortable about taking my annual one week vacation sometime during bar review because I knew someone was here in the office and I could completely remove myself from the office. It was also great to have someone to talk to who understood the day to day challenges of academic support life. Even though I have contemplated and worked towards this transition, I probably was not strategic enough because when the bar exam ended last week, the reality of my situation hit me suddenly. As I saw my Academic Support colleagues leave for one to two week vacations, I pitied myself as I sat in my office Thursday morning.
Thursday, the building was very quiet both because summer classes had ended and the bar exam was over. I was exhausted by the marathon that was bar exam preparation even though I was not preparing to sit for the bar exam. However, I was productive but not as productive as I could be so I left the building. After lunch with one of our fellows who is moving out of state, I got home, collapsed on the couch, did not wake up until late in the evening, and went to bed early that night. I realized that I was exhausted. This is when all of the things I tell students about wellness and self-care came to mind. I recognized that I needed to practice what I preached. An exhausted supporter is inefficient, ineffective, and not operating at their optimum level and I owe my students the best of me.
Friday was amazing; I was very productive and completed a significant portion of a large project I had difficulty completing throughout the summer. I also decided that I needed to take some time off to rest. I cannot afford to take a full week but I can definitely take a few days here and there. I saw the post “Be Good to Yourself” by Amy Jarmon which only confirmed my decision and underscored additional things I will consider in the near future. I am starting off with the first bullet point, I am “squeezing in a holiday” this week. I took a day and a half off the first part of this week, am in the office Wednesday and will take the following few days off with the goal of hitting the ground running next week. It has been my experience that all things come together but it is also very important to take a break. I was fearful of taking a break, dreading all the work that would accumulate and await my return but a short break for rest and recuperation is necessary. I hope that you do the same, for once the semester starts, there is no turning back. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
I have read multiple articles (including Goldie Pritchard’s 2016 blog post) that the best way to remind yourself what it is like to be a first-year law student it to try something totally new. That sounded like a good suggestion, so earlier this year I intentionally set out to be a novice at a difficult task and mindfully soak in the experience. I decided to grow a giant pumpkin. I have never grown anything myself, let alone something “giant.” My husband, however, has been growing everything and anything—including big pumpkins—competitively for several years. He is an expert. Over the last few months, I’ve learned a lot about what it is like to be a novice. Here is lesson number one.
Novices are blissfully unaware of the extensive criteria an expert takes into consideration when making an important decision in their field, and if confronted with all of the available options the novice may become overwhelmed.
Step one in giant pumpkin growing is seed selection. As a newbie, my plan was to simply use something from my husband’s seed collection. He has hundreds in a large bin, after all. I looked at a couple of packages, spotted an attractive looking specimen, and made my decision. The whole process took less than 5 minutes. My husband sat there stunned, horrified. “You’re done already?” he wondered aloud. You see, there are dozens of factors an expert grower takes into consideration in seed selection: parent plants, color versus size, history of known genetic defects, and the prestige associated with the original grower, just to name a few. As my husband began to explain all of my options, I quickly did not care for the seed selection process anymore. It was too much information and too many decisions at a time when I still was not convinced that there was any real difference between a 1912 Carter and a 2106 Schmit. I went from happy and confident in my ability to quickly select a seed to second-guessing everything about my choice. I changed my mind several times and shut down emotionally. I wanted to quit. I eventually took the easy choice: I would grow a seed from my husband’s own pumpkin. There was absolutely no sophistication to my analysis, but that was the best I could do under the weight of the endless choices.
This got me thinking about hierarchy of authority in legal writing. Students must look at the vast array of cases and statutes on Westlaw (or, dare I say, Google) the same way I looked at my husband’s bin of seeds—as a collection of seemingly equal options from which to choose, with little regard for the finer distinctions. Our students are likely overwhelmed by basic case information that to us experts seems straightforward. First semester students likely see little difference between the judicial opinion of a court of last resort in a neighboring jurisdiction and the intermediate appellate court decision of the controlling jurisdiction. In fact, the former might prove to be a more attractive option to the student than the latter.
This novice’s recommendation: Provide less information initially, and then dole out additional information in small strategic chunks over a period of time, even if it means the novice might risk making a poor initial choice. Let the novice make a small, perhaps less sophisticated choice confidently and then learn from their mistakes. The novice would appreciate less information, not more. Rather than being overwhelmed with all the options, let the novice decide a few basic decisions. Once they understand the fundamental decision making process, layer on the additional choices. Repeat the process until all the expert factors are imported into the decision making process.
Monday, July 31, 2017
I wrote in last week’s post of my trip to the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) conference in Minnesota. The conference theme focused on diversity and inclusion, which we know will also be the focus of our upcoming Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) conference in October.
My colleague, Alexa Chew, and I lead a discussion at ALWD on ways to make law schools more welcoming for everyone. We spoke about our experiences participating on our Diversity and Inclusion Task Force at UNC Law. We spoke about how allowing students to share their stories and listening to their stories can create more awareness and understanding of the diversity and inclusion problems that may be wounding your law school.
Alexa and I wrote a blog post in advance of our ALWD presentation in Jennifer Romig’s Listen Like a Lawyer blog. We wrote that most of us working at law schools want a more diverse and inclusive environment. However, many folks working in our law schools are often unaware of what our students are experiencing during their law school tenure. So, schools get into a situation where they are trying to fix or work on a "problem" that they have not identified or know little about--or worse, that they may be inadvertently contributing to.
Alexa and I provided a few suggestions that could help more folks “get in the know.” The suggestions are relatively simple and inexpensive, but they may still have a huge impact on how students feel when they walk through the doors of your law schools. I suspect many of you in the ASP world are likely already doing many of the suggestions quite well! Keep it up!!! And encourage others in your law school to follow your lead!
Sunday, July 30, 2017
Many of our law students are immersed in legal work this summer. The variety of their experiences will be as wide as the universe of legal work. Some will be buried in library research and memo writing. Some will be drafting documents. Some will be busy with intake interviews. Some will be compiling trial notebooks. And everything in between will align with someone's summer job.
It is not unusual for a rising 2L to exclaim, "Now I understand Civil Procedure!" It is the aha moment when what seemed to just be dry cases and procedural mumbo-jumbo becomes alive in a real case with a real client. All the innovative books based on real cases and role plays during 1L year were just not the same as the real thing.
The aha moment can happen with any course material and at whatever point the student is in the study of law. Life is breathed into the concepts now applied in a summer clerking experience. The client scenarios they deal with can enrich their understanding: formerly compartmentalized concepts become interrelated; separate courses become integrated through a series of case issues; procedural steps take on significance within litigation; strategic pros and cons develop as a case unfolds.
Ideally we hope that the summer experience will not only solidify prior learning, but will also trigger more active learning in future semesters. After a taste of practice, law students can enhance their learning by asking how the material would be used with clients, how the material relates to other material, how procedures affect outcomes, what analysis would each party use, and more. If future courses become relevant in their minds to working with clients, then they go beyond dusty words on pages and requirements for graduation.
Many law students this summer will also realize at a gut level for the first time how much responsibility they owe in their work to a real person. What they and the lawyers on a case say and do directly impacts someone's life. Professionalism takes on an entirely new dimension when one deals with a client and not a mere hypothetical. It can be a very sobering realization.
Hopefully students return to their studies with new motivation to be the best lawyers they can be. Courses and skill sets are no longer just for grades. Those courses and skills are essential to being a competent and professional lawyer. Their clients will depend on how diligently they approached their legal studies as the foundation for their career. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, July 29, 2017
Many ASP and bar prep professionals are tired right now. They are either finishing up summer programs that they run or have just surfaced from the long run up to the bar exam. No doubt they are feeling done in.
So here are some suggestions as you catch your breath:
- If possible, squeeze in a holiday. Whether it is a long weekend or a week or two, it is time to recharge.
- List five fun things you will do before the 1Ls arrive and the new semester starts. Then schedule them on your calendar so they actually happen.
- List three accomplishments this past year of which you can be proud. Enjoy the feeling of a job well done.
- List three things that you want to learn about this coming year to make you better at your job.
- List two new programs or ideas that you want to try this coming year.
- List one professional person in ASP/bar prep, at your law school, or in your legal community you would like to get to know better this year.
Now, go relax and revive before it gets hectic again. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, July 28, 2017
Congratulations to everyone who just finished the bar exam this week. Well done! You put in a lot of time preparing and did your best during the exam.
- Take a few days to relax and rest. Many of you will sleep almost non-stop for a couple of days.
- Spend time with family and friends. Ask that it be a bar-free zone without discussion and questions about how it was, when the scores are known, etc.
- Treat yourself to something special in celebration of your hard work: a few days at the beach; a hike in the countryside; meals at favourite restaurants; a marathon session of your favourite TV program.
- Get back into a routine of sleep, good meals, and exercise. Being healthy will help your mood as you await the results.
- Stay positive and do not dwell on the bar exam. It is done and dusted. Remember that you do not need 100%. Give yourself credit for your hard work, and let it go.
- Make a plan for the time before results come out. If your employer lets you begin work before results, then plan what skills you want to focus on in your new job. If you are without employment, then keep yourself busy with part-time work, volunteering, a hobby, or other endeavour.
You have completed a very challenging step. Acknowledge your achievement. Believe in yourself. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, July 27, 2017
For those of you that just tackled the bar exam this week, here's a few words of congratulations and a couple of tips as you wait for results from this summer's bar exam.
First, let me speak to you straight from the heart!
Bravo! Magnificent! Herculean!
Those are just some of the words that come to mind…words that you should be rightly speaking to yourself…because…they are true of you to the core!
But, for most of us right now, we just don’t quite feel super-human about the bar exam. Such accolades of self-talk are, frankly, just difficult to do. Rather, most of us just feel relief – plain and simple relief – that the bar exam is finally over and we have somehow survived.
That’s because very few of us, upon completion of the bar exam, feel like we have passed the bar exam. Most of us just don’t know. So now, the long “waiting” period begins with results not due out for most of us for a number of months.
So, here’s the conundrum about the “waiting” period:
Lot’s of well-meaning people will tell you that you have nothing to worry about; that they are sure that you passed the bar exam; and that the bar exam wasn’t that hard…really.
Not that hard?
You know that I passed?
There’s nothing for me to worry about?
Let me give you a concrete real life example. Like you, I took the bar exam. And, like most of you, I had no idea at all whether I passed the bar exam. I was just so glad that it was finally over.
But all of my friends, my legal employer (a judge), my former law professors, and my family kept telling me that I had absolutely nothing to be worried about; that I passed the bar exam; that I worked hard; that they knew that I could do it.
But, they didn’t know something secret about my bar exam. They didn’t know about my lunch on the first day of the bar exam.
At the risk of revealing a closely held secret, my first day of the bar exam actually started out on the right foot, so to speak. I was on time for the exam. In fact, I got to the convention center early enough that I got a prime parking spot. Moreover, in preparation for my next big break (lunch), I had already cased out the nearest handy-dandy fast food restaurants for grabbing a quick bite to eat before the afternoon portion of the bar exam so that I would not miss the start of the afternoon session of the bar exam.
So, when lunch came, I was so excited to eat that I went straight to Burger King. I really wanted that “crown,” perhaps because I really didn’t understand many of the essay problems from the morning exam. But as I approached Burger King, the line was far out of the door. Impossibly out of the door. And, it didn’t get any better at McDonalds next door. I then faced the same conundrum at Wendy’s and then at Taco Bell.
Finally, I had to face up to cold hard facts. I could either eat lunch or I could take the afternoon portion of the bar exam. But, I couldn’t do both. The lines were just too long. So, I was about to give up - as I had exhausted all of the local fast food outlets surrounding the convention center - when I luckily caught a glimpse of a possible solution to both lunch and making it back to the bar exam in time for the afternoon session – a liquor store. There was no line. Not a soul. I had the place to myself. So, I ran into the liquor store to grab my bar exam lunch: two Snicker’s bars. With plenty of time to now spare, I then leisurely made my way back to the bar exam on time for the start of the afternoon session.
But, here’s the rub:
All of my friends and family members (and even the judge that I was clerking for throughout the waiting period) were adamant that I had passed the bar exam. They just knew it!
But, they didn’t know that I ate lunch at the liquor store.
So when several months later the bar results were publicly available on the Internet, I went to work for my judge wondering what the judge might do when the truth came out – that I didn’t pass the bar exam because I didn’t pack a lunch to eat at the bar exam.
To be honest, I was completely stick to my stomach. But, I was stuck; I was at work and everyone believed in me. Then, later that morning while still at my work computer, the results came out. My heart raced, but my name just didn’t seem to be listed at all. No Scott Johns. And then, I realized that my official attorney name begins with William. I was looking at the wrong section of the Johns and Johnsons. My name was there! I had passed! I never told the judge my secret about my “snicker bar” lunch. I was just plain relieved that the bar exam “wait” was finally over.
That’s the problem with all of the helpful advice from our friends, employers, law professors, and family members during this waiting period. For all of us (or at least most of us), there was something unusual that happened during our bar exam. It didn’t seem to go perfectly. Quite frankly, we just don’t know if we indeed passed the bar exam.
So, here’s a few suggestions for your time right now with your friends, employers, law professors, and family members.
1. First, just let them know how you are feeling. Be open and frank. Share your thoughts with them along with your hopes and fears.
2. Second, give them a hearty thank you for all of their enriching support, encouragement, and steadfast faithfulness that they have shared with you as walked your way through law school and through this week’s bar exam. Perhaps send them a personal notecard. Or, make a quick phone call of thanks. Or send a snap chat of thankful appreciation. Regardless of your particular method of communication, reach out to let them know out of the bottom of your heart that their support has been invaluable to you. That’s a great way to spend your time as you wait - over the course of the next several months - for the bar exam results.
3. Finally, celebrate yourself, your achievement, and your true grit....by taking time out - right now - to appreciate the momentous accomplishment of undertaking a legal education, graduating from law school, and tackling your bar exam. You've done something great, and, more importantly, something mightily significant. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
It is Wednesday, day two of bar exam testing. There is not much bar exam takers can do at this time but tell themselves that they have control over the here and now. They did all they possibly could to successfully pass the bar exam (hopefully). This is the Multistate Bar Exam Day! As a bar exam taker, your mantra should be that this will be your best day, you prepared for this, and if worse comes to worst, you can make an educated guess with a 25% chance of getting it right. You will also answer all of the questions. Think about what you get to do when you are done. You can rediscover what it means to be human being, eat, sleep, and be “normal.” Applaud the fact that you survived bar review. You survived the first day of testing so it is inevitable that you will survive the second day as well. You’ve got this! All the very best to bar takers everywhere and to all the Academic Support Professionals cheering their students along! (Goldie Pritchard)