Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Predicting Success or Failure

Some students just aren't going to make it.  Either they are not going to make it through law school; or if they do, they will not be able to pass a bar in any state.  Sometimes the admissions office has made an error; sometimes the student has.  But who am I to say?

In today's economy, many college graduates are opting for more school rather than a full-out job search.  Law school applications are going up, and while that trend may give each school a better crop of applicants overall, sometimes students are just here because they didn't know what else to do.

Not knowing what else to do isn't a good reason to be in law school.  Often students forget their altruistic reasons for wanting to be lawyers (right about this time of year according to the studies), but students who never had one find all the work crushing and not a means to any end.

As ASP professionals, we often encounter these students.  They did well as undergraduates; and, pushed by parental or other pressure, they applied and came to law school.  But law school is not nearly as much fun as college; in fact, it requires some work every day, not just before exams. 

I think students who find themselves in law school for no apparent reason are more likely to be in academic distress.  Not only that, but once they are in academic distress, they are more likely to stay in distress or be dismissed.

Sometimes just doing poorly on exams is impetus for students to want to improve their grades because, after all, they did do well academically before law school and they think of themselves as academic achievers.  But this reaction doesn't always work.  If it doesn't, can we help these students manufacture a law-related goal that will be the light at the end of their tunnel?  Or can we admit to them (and ourselves) that they don't belong in law school and save them the time and money a few more years of school will entail? 

Are we really doing students a favor when we tell them to pack up their toys and go home?  I thought so until I worked with one particular student. This student came to me and said she was going to give up law school.  She already had a bunch of advanced graduate degrees, a full time job and a young child at home.  She was going to school at night.  She was extremely intelligent and told me that law school was more of a hobby, an extra degree for her resume.  She had no intention of changing her job or life after law school.  I agreed with her decision; but in the end, she spoke with another faculty member who talked her out of leaving.  She will be graduating in December.  She still stops by, and I am still embarrassed that I thought she should leave. 

On the other hand, I worked with  another student who was told by other faculty members that he did not belong in law school.  I told him to use those professors' comments in his graduation speech, and he did.

So here's the bottom line:  I am averaging about .500, which is great for baseball but not for predicting another person's future.  And sadly, I am sometimes grateful for the academic standing rules that dismiss students automatically when their GPAs and/or accumulation of unsatisfactory grades reach a certain, numeric level.  I wish I had some quantifiable, or at least reliable, way to figure out who wears the cap and gown and who doesn't.  I can make an educated guess or I can flip the ASP coin--the odds seem to be the same. (ezs)

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