Saturday, December 31, 2005
In an attempt to provide more support for upper-level students who are tackling their R&W requirements, UMKC's Law Library Director, Paul Callister, and I developed a course in scholarly writing last spring. You might consider proposing a similar course for your law school as part of your ASP efforts.
The course is designed as a one-credit, pass/fail offering that takes students from the initial stages of topic development through strategies for getting their articles published in appropriate journals. Using two outstanding texts, Mary R. Falk's Scholarly Writing for Law Students and Eugene Volokh's Academic Legal Writing, we use a "writer's workshop" approach that includes direct instruction in the writing process and advanced research techniques, as well as numerous opportunities for the students to share their research and drafts with one another for critique and advice.
Paul provides most of the instruction in research; and I provide most of the instruction in writing, each of us playing off the other's focus to create as best we can an integrated approach to the material. We do not grade the students' work or even provide much reading or critique because we believe that such input should come from their individual faculty advisers. Our objective is to give the students strategies and techniques they may not get from advisers and to help them work through writing and research difficulties as they arise. As long as they attend the class and participate fully, they can earn the credit.
One of the most important and appreciated facets of the class, we have found, is the workshop approach that allows students to bounce ideas off each other and obtain feedback as their projects develop. They are not allowed to edit each other's work, of course, or to collaborate inappropriately; but they seem to benefit tremendously from the workshop interaction as they test their own theses and those of their peers. It is intriguing to watch them as they talk through conceptual difficulties with one another and find their thinking crystallizing into more coherent and focused approaches to their projects.
The class is scheduled to meet for an hour, once a week. When the students' schedules permit, however, we sometimes take a couple of weeks off to allow them to work on their drafts and then reconvene for an extended session that allows for more extensive group work. Last spring, we were able to schedule two class times during the week to give ourselves more flexibility in class meetings, given that a one-hour course need only meet once per week. This fall, however, our students' schedules made such an arrangement impractical; so we stuck with once a week. Nevertheless, the interactions were rich and beneficial.
We are still massaging the course and experimenting with our approach, but students seem to have found it quite helpful so far. Because we have avoided the grading load, the course has not been particularly burdensome, as writing courses go; and our rapport with the students has had more of a "coaching" feel than is sometimes true of first-year writing courses, where students and professors have to deal with disappointing grades on the students' assignments.
All in all, our feeling is that the course has been a success and has addressed an important need for students. You might want to explore a similar offering, perhaps using a larger team of instructors or guest lecturers from among the scholars, writing professors, and librarians on your faculty. The resources are there; with a little creativity, you can offer an important set of resources without creating too much strain on anyone's already crowded schedule. (dbw)
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
As you are preparing your spring ASP program, you might consider adding a scholarly writing component. Many students arrive at law school already struggling with writing generally, and their struggles are compounded as they strive to master writing for legal contexts. The problem becomes even more complex as they attempt to move from the instrumental legal writing they learned in the first year to the scholarly writing demanded by their upper-level R&W requirements. Some ASP workshops on scholarly writing or even a full-blown scholarly writing course can be a great help.
Consider what many students face as they enter law school. They come in with poor training in writing and a "how much baloney must I pour into this paper to get to the page limit" approach to research-based writing assignments. They must learn to research what for them are dizzyingly complex legal problems in a completely foreign library system. They must learn to write with precision for an exacting audience that will consist mainly of lawyers and judges who have no patience for sloppy research or fuzzy legal thinking and writing. They must learn to tailor this research and writing to resolving specific legal questions raised by hypothetical fact patterns and either predict how a court would likely rule or persuade a court to rule in a particular way. They learn IRAC.
Then comes the upper-level research and writing requirement. No longer focused upon a discrete set of facts that raise a set of specific legal issues, the R&W requirement forces students to cast their nets into a legal ocean they have barely learned to navigate (and even that navigation has been learned mostly close to shore) and come up with something interesting and novel to say about a legal topic they barely understand.
When they begin their first tentative forays into the world of academic legal writing, they find that their seemingly fresh, new topics have already been the subject of intense scholarly exploration by seasoned law professors. Finally, even if they can come up with something useful and novel to say, they find that because there is no hypothetical fact pattern to which their research and writing must be tailored, IRAC is useless as an organizational tool.
They could use some help.
One way to help might be to create a series of workshops on scholarly research and writing for legal audiences. The ASP professional need not be the one who actually conducts all of the workshops, of course. Recruiting other law faculty and librarians to deliver the sessions can be an excellent way to provide the students with very practical and insightful advice on developing topics, using research tools not covered in first-year writing courses, and tailoring writing to academic audiences. After all, a law faculty is made up of scholars, and the law library is filled with people who think about research problems all day long. Many of those people are rich sources of experience and expertise and would be delighted to help.
It is true, of course, that students have individual faculty advisors for their R&W assignments. Those advisors, however, may not always have thought deeply about the processes of legal reseach and writing. They may have produced extremely important scholarhip in their particular areas of law, but ironically their extensive backgrounds can sometimes make it difficult for them to explain to a novice how to discover and develop a novel topic when everything in the field seems novel.
Some of those scholars, on the other hand, are quite interested in and thoughtful about the processes that drive good scholarship; and they can provide an abundance of practical advice for novice scholars. It makes sense for the ASP professional to tap such expertise for the student body as a whole whenever possible.
Librarians are also a treasure trove of research strategies that students have yet to encounter. Students learn basic legal research in the first year; but good research librarians can open up a much larger world of strategies and resources for budding legal scholars, a world even many faculty advisors may not realize exists.
Finally, and certainly not least, legal writing professionals are often well-established scholars for whom thinking deliberately about the writing process is second nature. Many would relish the opportunity to share what they know about scholarly writing and its similarities to and differences from the instrumental writing students encounter in the first year.
A step beyond a workshop series would be a full-blown course in scholarly writing. Later this week, I'll describe how such a course might work. (dbw)
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Do you teach your students how to take notes?
"I don't know what to write down," is a refrain I hear from wunnelles—and it doesn't end with the end of the first semester.
It's not just what you write down, of course, it's how you write it, and what you do with what you've written.
I have recommended a variation of the "Cornell Note-Taking" system for quite a while (I have attached a few paragraphs explaining the method I suggest). Imagine how surprised I was to find that students can now generate their own customized paper for taking notes!
Yes, yesterday my wife, Kristy, discovered an online resource we can direct students to, so they need not depend on the bookstore anymore.
How many lines per inch would you like on your paper? Just how wide should that left-hand margin be?
Thanks, Kristy! (djt)
Professor James R. Elkins (College of Law, West Virginia University), featured on this blog before (Looking Before One Leaps), came up with an idea (more than a decade ago) that I think might have considerable usefulness in Academic Support Programs.
In "Writing Our Lives: Making Introspective Writing a Part of Legal Education" (on the web now under an abbreviated title, but first published at 29 Willamette Law Review 345 (1993)), Professor Elkins describes the value and power of the law school journal.
No, not that journal ... the personal, introspective one.
His journal concept is based on trust. "If you trust your students, many will perform in ways that exceed the demands that you make on them. Ask students to teach themselves and significant numbers of them will do exactly that. Ask students to teach each other and they find a way to do it. Ask students to teach you and they will. They will surprise you and delight you in their good-faith attempt to do what excellence demands of them."
Encouraging students to keep introspective journals has a definite value—he believes that it allows for a weaving "...into the tapestry of professionalism the feelings, perceptions, values, ideals, dreams, and fantasies of those who seek to make a life in law." Professor Elkins explains that writing a journal does not necessitate disclosure of "intimate matters or personal secrets" (thank goodness). Introspective writing, he correctly points out (to his students) "need not be overtly confessional."
Professor Elkins first asked students to write journals in an Intro to Law course, as an option in lieu of a final examination.
"The writings of my students about their experience in legal education and how it has affected their lives has touched me deeply. Their stories of concern, anger, and outrage, fear and anxiety, and resilient hope have made me a critic of what we do in the name of legal education. When students write about their lives, we learn that there is more going on in the barren hallways, regimented law school classrooms, and inevitable late-night musings of students than any one of us might have imagined. Reading the introspective writing of law students has changed my teaching and the way I think about legal education."
Did he, the Professor, place anything on the line? Yes, indeed. He explains succinctly: "I was writing along with my students."
Do you suppose there is a place in our Academic Support Programs for journal writing? I'm interested in your comments.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
In addition to teaching Legal Research and Writing at Capital University Law School, J. Joseph Bodine, Jr. is a Senior Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Ohio Attorney General. Professor Bodine also supervises the death penalty externship program at Capital. The program affords Capital Law students the opportunity to litigate death penalty cases in the state and federal courts.
Professor Bodine sent us a comment on the posts of Professors Stillman and Jarmon about their takes on the role of academic support personnel. He writes:
I take great comfort in the recent comments regarding the role of academic support professors. My experience has been the same—at times, I feel that I am more coach, cheerleader, therapist, trouble-shooter, or best friend rather than a teacher. Then it occurs to me that the definition of teacher encompasses all those roles.
I believe that effective academic mentoring requires a holistic approach. What occurs outside of the educational environment is as important (sometimes more so) as what happens within the confines of school, and I see my role as helping my students manage outside stressors as well as helping them learn more effectively. That role, however, is challenging because my natural instinct is to serve as caregiver (once a court referred to me as “radically paternal” in a published opinion). And if one becomes too much of a caregiver, I fear that the effectiveness of teaching may suffer.
Professors Jarmon and Stillman identify what I think is the greatest challenge of being an academic support professor—where does one draw the line? And should the line be drawn at all? I take great care to avoid taking ownership of student problems or ultimate responsibility for their success or failure. At the same time, I embrace every opportunity to be, as Professor Jarmon calls it, my students’ chief encourager. I strive, like Professor Stillman, to help students keep a sense of self are so they do not become casualties of the law school experience. But I struggle to keep the necessary balance—can you care too much?
Thanks for the thoughts, Professor Bodine. (djt)
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
As exams come to an end, you probably have visits, phone calls, and emails from students who believe that they have done poorly. Some have good reason for that belief; they showed up an hour late for the exam and answered only half the questions, for example. But most just know they have not done as well as they had hoped ... they did not walk away from the exam room with that all-too-infrequent feeling of "Wow! I just aced that one!"
Frankly, those who have that "aced" feeling often have not aced anything.
The pessimistic feeling has little to do with not having learned the subject matter, or even with not having mastered the art of resolving novel, hypothetical, legal questions under extreme time pressure. Rather, it has to do with a dread of receiving ... yup ... poor grades.
Refer them to Professor Franzese's article. Say what?
Professor Paula Franzese, of Seton Hall University Law School, "gets it" when it comes to teaching. Not only is she a seven-time recipient of the Student Bar Association’s Professor of the Year Award, but she also has been named “Exemplary Teacher" by the American Association of Higher Education and was ranked the Top Law Professor in New Jersey by the New Jersey Law Journal. If you have had the pleasure of attending one of her presentations (example: AALS conference), you know why. She gets it when it comes to grading as well. She advises:
Law school modes of evaluation leave much to be desired. In a context where there is so little feedback, how one happens to do on a particular day on a three or four-hour test tends to take on an undeserved importance and magnitude. Some even construe their grades as the final word on their abilities and opportunities as a future lawyer. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Students need to read what she has written.
Professor Franzese has given me permission to link to a copy of her essay, "On Grades" (click on this link).
"Let your grades inform your life," she counsels students, "not define, diminish or even exalt it."
Think about sending your students to this link as their grades trickle in over the next few weeks. (djt)
Monday, December 19, 2005
Yesterday, I asked my eight-year-old daughter what she had learned in Sunday school. She told me they were learning, “how to pray.” I almost laughed, but she said it so earnestly, I knew better. I think she meant they were learning the ancient biblical Hebrew that makes up the prayers, but I was happy that she hasn’t seen a need for everyday, informal prayer in her almost nine years.
Law students know how to pray this way. I am certain of this, not only because I witness what seems to be prayer in the hallways or bathrooms here at the law school, but more because I remember being a law student myself. I prayed: not to be called on; to be called on; for a break in the contracts reading; for a spot in the civil trial practice class. I prayed for good co-op jobs and favorable evaluations after exams. I prayed for snow (and/or blistering heat) on exam days. I prayed to pass the bar, and since there was a blizzard during the Massachusetts bar the February I took it, I think I may have gotten some of the prayers mixed up.
And it wasn’t a formal kind of prayer, more like a fervent internal chant: please, please, please……
As exams are winding down here, I sense a great relief in the building. The air is less thick with anxiety and fewer students are muttering to themselves. I can sense that their prayers have turned away from exams and maybe towards the generosity of the faculty members who are grading those exams. Perhaps their prayers are even moving into the holiday mode. I know mine have, so I pray that you all have a wonderful holiday season. Please, please, please…(ezs).
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Denise Riebe is a Senior Lecturing Fellow at Duke University School of Law, an Adjunct Professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, a mediator, and author. Any day now, you will find Pass the Bar!—a Carolina Academic Press publication by Professor Riebe and co-author Michael Hunter Schwartz (Professor at Charleston School of Law)—on bookstore shelves.
Professor Riebe has begun research about what type of bar preparation programs schools are offering—one of the hot topics of 2005 that promises to be hot in 2006, too. Specifically, she's interested in what schools have done in the past, whether law school programs are effective, and how law schools are responding to the new ABA Interpretation authorizing for-credit law school bar preparation courses.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
The Academic Support Section of AALS is hosting a session on reading in law school at the January conference in D.C., and it promises to be an exceptional session. The topic is hot not only in the academic support field but in others as well, so the ASP folks decided that reading should be the focus of the section’s presentation at AALS this year.
Ruth Ann McKinney, whose book Reading Like a Lawyer is a must-read for just about anyone teaching or studying law, will be active in the session. Joining her will be two other impressive experts in the field: David Nadvorney, an academic support professional from CUNY with a masters in reading, and Dorie Evensen, a Ph.D. from Penn State who has a substantial LSAC grant to study reading in law schools.
The session is designed to be relevant to all teachers, not just those in the academic support field, and will provide lots of hands-on opportunities so attendees can practice some things they can do in their own classrooms to help students become better (more powerful) readers. The concepts and techniques explored in the session will be relevant to anyone working with students whose classroom engagement is rooted in what they've read – in other words, all law professors.
So you may want to invite colleagues teaching other courses as well because they will find very helpful, practical advice. Of course, the session will be particularly relevant to those who teach legal writing. In fact, at the last Legal Writing Institute conference in Seattle, reading was a very hot topic. That conference included presentations by Ian Gallacher; Cathaleen Roach and Carol Parker; Debra Moss Curtis and Judith Karp; Laurel Oates; and education experts, Drs. Dorie Evensen and Jim Stratman.
The ASP session will run from 4:00 to 5:45 on Thursday, January 5th (Session #5400). It lets out just in time for cocktails, so there will be a great opportunity to strike up some conversations and collaborations across disciplines. Okay, conversations . . . about football or ballet or whatever. Collaborations later. (dbw)
Monday, December 12, 2005
Exams are here. The building is eerily quiet and students appear to be afraid of talking out loud in the hallways lest they disturb someone else’s exam taking. Yet, with great regularity, they meekly appear in my doorway, “just to say hi.” They browse my bookshelf for study materials; they partake of my chocolate supply and chat about their plans for the holidays. And then, they leave.
So, what is that? I think the students are just checking in to see if we are here so if they have a bad day (or a bad fiduciary relations exam), we can comfort them. Personally, I think there is nothing more comforting this time of year than coming home to house that is warm and lit, ideally with cocoa waiting for you and oddly enough, I think Academic Support is that little cottage (within the law school) during exams (if you are reading this in a warmer state, replace warm and cocoa with air-conditioning and lemonade and don’t send me any e-mails telling me how warm it is where you are since I have three kids to outfit for the frigid temperatures here, not that I am bitter…).
Is ASP the law school comfort zone? Well, we don’t grade anything, we aren’t judgmental and basically we are here to help. Often we can provide some exam tip or even practice exam questions. Hopefully, no one leaves without feeling like they have a viable plan to get through exams. Isn’t that the key to a successful exam period?
In my annual reviews, my style in ASP has been deemed “maternal.” Not that I am hugging students and providing band-aids and such (after all, I am a lawyer and I do know better than to touch students and practice medicine without a license). But my question is (insert Harvey Fierstein from “Torch Song Trilogy” imitation here), is that so wrong? I understand that we are training lawyers and that there is no crying in law school (insert Tom Hanks imitation from “A League of Their Own” here), but sometimes there are tears.
Certainly we are not asking students to forget about being human beings who are involved in relationships with other human beings? Would you want to hire a lawyer who forgets that his/her clients have something at stake; something so important that they are willing to seek a legal remedy? In short, isn’t law about people and their relationships?
I think at exam time we have to remind students that an exam is merely a measure of how they answered a set of questions on a particular day in their life and not much more. I worry about students who have defined themselves as academically talented throughout their lives and then suddenly, with the first C in law school, forget who they are.
So, maybe in addition to chocolate and tissues, I should keep a mirror here in my office so students can see who they are, both before and after exams. I hope it the same person. (ezs)
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Dan recently published his brief essay, "The Closest Thing to Junior High Since Junior High" (December 6th). Professor Amy Jarmon, Assistant Dean for Academic Success Programs at Texas Tech School of Law, added her comment, which I thought ought to be "posted" here, so y'all don't miss it.
Amy, pictured below, wrote:
Thank you for a wonderful, insightful column on the confusion, pain, and fear that are encompassing our students right now. Sadly, I find that it is not just my 1L students who are struggling with these emotions and thoughts. Some of my 2L and 3L students have never recovered a sane perspective on law school and are "casualties" of the system.
This time of year always reminds me that as an academic success professional my job title is really "CHIEF ENCOURAGER" for many students. I have had students dropping by for several weeks asking for "pep talks" and reassurance. Some students are shy about the requests while others are very upfront about their immediate needs. I gladly respond to those who ask. And, I spend time walking the halls and student lounge smiling at one and all and trying to spread some cheer to those who do not cross my threshold.
I always feel blessed to have this position because it combines my education and law backgrounds. But, I realize each December (and May) that most of all I need to be a blessing to others — some of them with worried faces, trembling smiles, or false bravado.
Thanks for your comment, Amy. (djt)
Scott Turow, a partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP, has written six best-selling novels, which have been translated into 20 languages with sales of 25 million copies. He has been on the cover of Time Magazine.
He wrote One L—a book many of our students have read—during his first year at Harvard Law School (from which he graduated with honors). He worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Chicago for eight years ... during that period, he wrote Presumed Innocent on the commuter train to work.
Journalist Jeffrey Cole published and interview with Mr. Turow in the Winter 2003 edition of The Journal Of The Section Of Litigation of the American Bar Association. I stumbled upon it while searching the net for BLOG material.
Why mention it here? The following quote from the interview may shed some light on that.
Q: In One L you wrote that you thought you were less intelligent than everyone around you; you began to smoke; you began to drink; you had difficulty keeping up conversation even with your wife. Basically, you described yourself as just a mess.
A: Yes, I was. I thought I had failed. I thought I had failed as a writer. I had gone to law school looking for a fresh start. I was just really mixed up about myself and how I came to saying I am going to law school so I can support another habit. I was sure I was interested in this, but I wasn’t sure how to commit to it. It was a major U-turn in my life, and the question of my identity was involved. ...
Q: You graduated with honors?
When the next student you counsel seems to be "just a mess," consider this: you may well be talking with someone who has extraordinary capabilities, in or out of law school.
To read the entire interview (very interesting, if you've read Turow's books), click here: An Interview with Scott Turow: Reflections on Law and Life and Other Things That Matter. (djt)
Saturday, December 10, 2005
As exams wind down, I think we would do our students a great favor if we reminded them to rest over the holiday break. The first-year students are especially worn out, physically and emotionally; and the upper-division students often take on more than is realistic as journal opportunities, moot court competitions, clerking positions, and clinical experiences become available.
All of that hard work is fine if it is kept in perspective, but it is easy to lose perspective both in law school and in the practice of law. Too many lawyers are workaholics, and their personal lives suffer for it in ways that are often unfair to their families and unfair to the lawyers themselves.
Whether that tendency to overwork is created in law school or is inherent in the types of people who enroll in law school, it behooves us to counter its pull on our students. We are the first examples of legal professionals many students have ever seen up close. They look to us for guidance as to the right way to practice law; and they take our words to heart, probably more than we realize. So we should be circumspect about the messages we send.
One of the great professional skills, I have always thought, is the ability to pursue excellence without unnecessarily sacrificing life's other important concerns. If our students are going to master that balance, they need to begin doing so in law school. The profession is not particularly forgiving, and pressures always exist to do more and do it better. Those who enter the profession unprepared to manage those pressures in healthy ways are very likely to be molded by those pressures in ways they will later regret.
The concern always exists, I suppose, that we will encourage the slackers to slack or fail to prepare our students for the hard work of practice; but that concern is probably overblown. The hard workers needn't be sacrificed to make certain the less motivated step up their efforts. In fact, between the two, I'd rather spend my energy taking care of the dedicated, hard working student.
So let's tell our students to give it a rest over the holidays. Let's tell them to take a few days and pretend they are not law students, or clerks, or journal editors, or whatever else wants to take them away from their personal lives.
Let's remind them that, as someone once famously remarked, no one on his deathbed ever wished he had spent more time at the office. Better to figure that out now, before it's too late to do anything about it.
And while we're at it, let's remember it for ourselves. Let's step back from the incessant demands of our profession and, for a few days, say, "Oh, give it a rest." (dbw)
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
As I am writing this, the facilities staff is completing some of the finishing touches on our new suite. Whittier Law School now calls us its Institute for Student and Graduate Academic Support, and has housed us in the main Administration building across the hall from the Dean's suite. It got me reflecting on the implications for academic support of a new and different office space. There are advantages and disadvantages.
An obvious advantage is newness – the freshness of new surroundings is infectious – both among the ASP faculty, and among the students. Every student to come in since I moved on Monday has commented on how nice and new everything looks.
Another advantage is convenience for the students. All the ASP faculty are in one place – I as Director, and the five other ASP faculty can more easily confer and be available; so if a student needs a resource that one of us has, we can get it to the student more quickly. In addition, students now know there is one stop shopping for academic support.
Another advantage is just the environment: we have an open space, with sofas and easy chairs, ringed by our offices. We have nice pictures to hang (largely the many jigsaw puzzles of Monet and Escher prints that my daughter and I put together, glued, framed and hung) and a relaxing, inviting atmosphere for students. Moreover, because as Associate Dean and Director, I got to "decorate" the suite, I was able to include interesting photographs – one from our 10th wedding anniversary in 1996 having dinner with George and Barbara Bush, and the other a picture of my late father-in-law with Whittier College's most famous alumnus, and my former San Clemente neighbor (the first and only reference to President Nixon, who attended Whittier College and Duke Law School, on the entire Law School campus).
Disadvantages? I feel isolated from the rest of the faculty – I am now in a separate building from them. I miss the give and take discussions that came more easily when they were a few steps away. I am also concerned that it will be harder to work together as a community of faculty with this physical separation.
Still, in the end, this is about facilitating student learning; and I think the new, more student-friendly surroundings present more advantages than disadvantages. I look forward to discovering if that is true. (mwm)
This year, he has offered it to us (via the Blog) as a template for what we might want to send to our students this week. With his permission, I have revised the letter (based on personal preferences and institutional differences) and will be sending it to our student body this afternoon. Take a look — you may want to e-mail a thanks to Herb. (djt)
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
The day after I attended orientation for my first year of law school, my son attended orientation for his first year of middle school. I came down to breakfast to find him sitting at the table, holding a spoonful of cereal suspended motionless in front of his face, and staring into space.
"Are you nervous?" I asked. He nodded with an expression of profound anxiety.
"I'll tell you how you feel," I said. "You are afraid that the work will be too hard, that the other kids won't like you, that the teachers won't like you, that you'll say something stupid, and that you won't be able to get your locker open."
He nodded again with his eyes wide and asked me in an astonished tone, "How did you know?"
I said, "Because I felt that way yesterday. But I got through it okay," I added, "and you'll be all right, too."
I think of that day fairly regularly as I work with law students, because I have always thought law school is the closest thing to junior high since junior high.
In my first semester of law school, I somehow went from a confident and successful professional to a trembling mass of insecurity and self-doubt in a matter of weeks. All of the old insecurities that I had thought were long vanquished were suddenly in front of me again as if I had never left the eighth grade. I was suddenly an overly introspective, self-critical, anxious junior high kid again.
The reason is fairly simple. For the first time since junior high, I was about to be placed in a pecking order and did not know how I would rank. In junior high, being accepted and approved by my peers seemed life-and-death important: if a girl rolled her eyes when I tried to talk to her, I was a failure as a human being; if I said something "dumb" and everyone around me laughed at me, my life was over. The pecking order was constantly in front of me, and like every other junior high kid, my place on it was a roll of the dice every day.
In law school, the pecking order was all about class rank, but it had that same life-and-death feel to it. Somehow all the things that had defined me were swept aside in favor of class rank. My whole world suddenly seemed to depend upon how my grades came out and whether some law firm I had never heard of until law school would offer me a summer clerkship.
I remember stepping back and asking myself how they did it to me. How could law school culture so redefine my priorities that my sense of self-worth could be determined by success or failure in that one endeavor? How could a grown man be so easily turned into that insecure, bumbling junior high kid again?
The answer, I decided, was that law school tends to be an all-consuming, closed world that ignores most of what has defined us up to then and challenges the validity of what it doesn't ignore. Worse, we are placed in an explicit comparison with everyone else in this new little universe and guaranteed that half of us will be in the bottom half of the class. If that isn't bad enough, we get the sense that anyone not in the top ten percent of the class is destined to be a mediocre lawyer in a mediocre law firm doing mediocre work. If you can't make the top ten percent, you sure aren't going to be one of the cool kids. And you'll get to tell your loved ones and friends that you aren't all you were cracked up to be.
So our students enter December like junior high kids going to their first junior high dance. They face a clear-cut redefining of their place in the world as they begin final exams, and they have had a fairly regular series of reminders that they may not be as bright as they think. Because most law students have been academically successful whenever they put their minds to it, the prospect of failing or of even being "mediocre" is daunting indeed.
Law school strikes at a part of them that has been central to their sense of who they are, and it has made that part of them a central focus of the past four months. Under the daily pressure of law school's first semester, it is tough to keep any kind of perspective because the outside world is so consistently relegated to second place in the fight to keep up.
Somehow we have to help them stop taking themselves so seriously while taking seriously the work they are doing. Somehow we have to help them remember who they are, and somehow we have to help them regain their perspectives.
Like junior high kids, our students have to figure out what really matters and what really doesn't; but for the moment, they are pretty much at sea. It's a whole new world for them, and the rules are unclear and the outcomes painfully uncertain.
They'll figure it out, of course, the same way they figured it out in junior high: they'll find out that most of their perceptions of the world have become distorted by the claustrophobically small world of law school and that much of what makes them most anxious today is not going to seem nearly so important a few years from now.
Not scoring as well on exams as one would like, not ranking as highly as one would like, does not really define what kind of lawyer one will become. We all know that, but we have the benefit of hindsight and of having re-entered the larger world. For the moment, however, our students are back in junior high, questioning all that they are and worrying that they are about to find out they aren't much after all.
In January, we'll need to help them come to grips with the aftermath of the equivalent of their first junior high dance. They'll survive it; we did. But we can make life a little easier for them if we can figure out how to convince them that junior high really doesn't define the rest of their lives. (dbw)
Sunday, December 4, 2005
Rod Borlase wrote, "I taught Advanced Legal Research at the University of Houston Law Center, among my life's more rewarding experiences." But, the Professor (now mediator and advocate) explains, he became disenchanted.
"I worry," he explains in Why I Worry Today About Our Profession, "and that is why I left academe, why I'm here now to take up this critical issue with my favorite constituency, colleagues of my craft at bar." And what is the "critical issue" that worries Professor Borlase?
SImply put—an inability to perform basic legal research and basic, competent writing ... the inability to articulate the law and to support a legal position either orally or in writing. That's the issue.
"The problem," Professor Borlase opines, "is with our law schools, which no longer view their purpose (or very much of it, at least) as training lawyers in their profession's traditional arts, such as written or oral advocacy, but instead for academe itself, as if all those students (the worthy ones at least) aspired to be law professors just like them...."
Is he right? We've all seen examples of what he mentions, either in the professional practice, or in law school, or both. Is the problem with our law schools? Are we training lawyers for the traditional lawyering arts, or for academe?
Which are you most interested in as an Academic Support professional? (djt)
Saturday, December 3, 2005
The University of Colorado School of Law is seeking a Director of Clinical Education. The Director will administer and oversee all live-client clinics and externships, teach a clinical course, and provide vision and leadership for the Law School's extensive and diverse clinical offerings. Please see the website for descriptions of the clinical offerings.
This is a twelve-month, full-time non-tenure-track Faculty/Directorship position reporting to the Assistant Dean of Students and Professional Programs.
The Director's duties include the following:
- Direction and administration of all clinical programs.
- Teaching in the clinical program.
- Scholarship and Writing.
The ideal candidate will have leadership ability, excellent written and oral communication skills, strong interpersonal skills, a robust work ethic, and a commitment to the goals of the School of Law. The ideal candidate will also have a history of providing legal services to underserved and needy clients, a vision for clinical education in the law school setting, and experience in management and administration.
This position is available on June 1, 2006 or as soon as possible thereafter. Review of applications will begin upon posting of the position. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled. Applicants should direct a cover letter, resume, and the names, addresses and telephone numbers of at least three professional references to:
Director of Clinical Education
Attn: Sarah Krakoff, Chair
University of Colorado at Boulder
Boulder, CO 80309-0401
Friday, December 2, 2005
What is coming from inside the building? Other than the smell of teen spirit, what we are sensing now in our school is the overwhelming, air-deadening atmosphere of panic. The air literally seems heavier, the students seem more frantic, and the library's usual productive hum seems more ominous. In a (perhaps) sympathetic reaction, computers are crashing left and right. It reminds me of all the plagues we talk about during Passover: what next, locusts?
What is it all about? You guessed it: exam time is here! Just four more shopping days until the first exam and the hallways are abuzz (not decked with holly). My advice to students is to get out. Get out of the library and out of the building. Find a place to study where no one knows your name and no one else is studying for the same exam. Why? Because the din in the library created by other people boasting about what they are studying (or, even worse, not studying) is enough to make you crazy and being in a blind panic is time consuming.
I also advise students that this is a good time to wish your fellow study group colleagues well and set them free until after exams. Study groups are a great idea before and after exams, but during exams they may be fraught with emotional baggage you do not have time to carry. Also, the person in your study group who always had those fabulous, off-the-wall ideas during the semester may just be wrong.
This may be a good time to indulge in superstitions as well. I don't mean that students should necessarily set up blazing altars in the exam rooms, but rather, more along the lines of buying pens and pads they like, eating their favorite cookies and carrying around small (non-toxic, non-flammable) lucky items. For me it was a stuffed Snuffy (from Sesame Street, and you try spelling the whole name!) that my husband gave me as his first gift to me while we were dating.
My freshman year psych professor taught us that it takes two hours away from material to truly memorize it and I've clung to that fact ever since. So, to help students benefit from this little known fact, I keep a list of "exam movies" ready for those who need a two-hour break. They are all insanely funny (at least I think so) ways of letting those cases move from short-term to long-term memory. My favorite: History of the World, Part I (Mel Brooks and a musical!).
As for me, I will be in my office with my (increased) supply of tissues and chocolate waiting for the battle fatigued to come on in. Good luck on exams to all, and to all a good night. (ezs)
Thursday, December 1, 2005
"Concealed weapons create problems when fitting a suit," advises attorney/mediator Rod Borlase. "It is important to bring one’s weapon at the time of fitting." Of course.
Do we have your attention?
- About to go to court?
- Preparing for a job interview?
- Thinking ahead to a trial competition?
Professor Borlase has published an informative essay you may wish to draw from. Or not.
Noting that his "... essay is written almost exclusively for men," the author directs our attention to "... a few points that women can garner from it." For example, after not falling into the "disheartening" trap of adopting some of the "most egregious of men's professional fashion errors" (like wearing "black funeral suits"), women ought to eschew shoes with "block heels, as if sawed off a pig’s hock." Now you're talking.
Take a look and see if you agree with Professor Borlase. I have a suspicion that this advice is somewhat regional.
Your thoughts? (djt)