Thursday, October 13, 2005
Please welcome Dan Weddle, Director of Academic Support at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, as co-editor for this blog. In his first post, Dan refers to himself as “the new kid on the block,” but he has been a frequent visitor to our block for some time, just not as an ASP director.
I first met Dan when he recruited me to teach in the Council on Legal Education Opportunity’s (CLEO) Attitude Is Essential Weekends, which Dan designed and directed as a crash course law school preparation program targeting students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Dan had been working with CLEO since the late ‘90s, when he brought in the first two CLEO Summer Institutes UMKC had ever hosted. He has been directing Attitude Is Essential Weekends every summer since 2002, recruiting academic support types from all over the country to teach students who were unable to attend the longer Summer Institutes.
Dan’s prior experience also includes twelve years as a middle school and high school English teacher, including five years as an academic dean responsible for curriculum development and faculty development. He left teaching to attend law school at the University of Kansas and practiced civil litigation until joining UMKC in 1996. During the 1999-2000 school year, he was tapped to serve as an interim assistant dean of UMKC’s School of Education.
For a new kid on the block, he knows the neighborhood better than he thinks. (djt)
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Mario suggests that we not shy away from the word “sacrifice,” and I think he is right. But to make that word ring true, our students must understand what makes the sacrifices worthwhile: the reality that clients will soon entrust to them some of life’s most precious concerns. That same reality should drive our academic support efforts.
Those who criticize the notion of academic support often do so because they perceive academic support as a “bag of tricks” for getting incompetent students through law school when flunking them out would be better for the profession and the public. Whether we need to answer those critics is a topic for another posting; but it is imperative that, at the least, we strive never to deserve the criticism.
As academic support professionals, we should be about the business of preparing our students to handle the serious, real-world problems of their clients. Our students should realize from the first day of law school that they have but three years to prepare themselves to deserve their clients’ trust and competently handle their clients’ affairs.
Like doctors, our students will spend their days diagnosing, treating, and preventing legal “illnesses.” Like patients, their clients must not encounter shallow diagnoses, superficial treatments, or ineffective prevention.
Our efforts, therefore, should ensure that our students are learning as deeply, completely, and accurately as possible. Grades and ranks will take care of themselves.
Law school exams, legal writing assignments, upper-level research and writing requirements, and even bar exams are nothing more than the proving grounds for things much more important than grades or class ranks, interviews or first jobs. All of the ASP strategies for briefing, outlining, preparing for exams, using study groups effectively, and the like are really just exercises in deep, complete, and accurate learning.
Certainly, grades provide powerful short-term motivation (and often short-term learning), but mature law students are motivated by the fact that people will soon depend upon them for thoughtful, accurate advice. We can foster that maturity at the very time we are helping them prepare for exams – if we ourselves remember that the exam is just a means to an end and that the end is not better grades but deeper learning.
I am admittedly the new kid on the block in academic support – I am in my first year as an ASP director. But I already know that if all I am doing is helping students find tricks to study faster and get better grades, I’ll be bored by Thanksgiving and working on an exit strategy by Christmas.
If, on the other hand, what I am doing is helping students engage the law more deeply and effectively, ASP probably has its hooks in me for the long term. Then my own sacrifices will be worthwhile. (Dan Weddle)
I am often asked by students for advice on purchasing study aids. Usually, I advise that students create their own outlines and use those for a study aid. Yet, in the era of many first year multiple choice exams, I must admit that sometimes a study aid can be a helpful practice tool.
I have a library of study aids in my office. A treasure trove of books (and other things) that, ironically, I would have killed for in my first year of school. I even have many subjects on cassette, but I never let a student borrow them for a long car ride (doing my part for highway safety!).
So what do tell them? Well, after explaining to students that in my first year of law school I had no money for study aids (in fact, I think I used one big bottle of shampoo for the entire year--it was a bad hair year), I find myself asking some diagnostic questions. Are you a visual learner? Do you like games? Are you having multiple choice questions on your exams? Based on the answers I get, I prescribe, albeit somewhat reluctantly, a study aid.
After doing this for some time though, I realize that I tend to point students in the direction of study aids that are interactive and engaging, rather than mere reiterations of what is contained in the casebooks. I never recommend the "canned briefs" or casebook specific commercial outlines, instead I tend to recommend what I would consider workbooks.
I think students can enhance their class work and outlining with books that contain sample questions, hypotheticals, maybe a brief outline of the subject and my personal favorite learning tool: flowcharts. Sometimes I recommend the flash cards (for those gaming types). Most importantly, I think that all of these types of study aids cannot be used in lieu of reading, going to class and student outlining. All of these study tools require that students not only know their subject, but can apply the rules and do the analysis required on exams.
Note, however, that in late November, when students come to me panicked because they have not outlined yet (exams here start in early December), I recommend prayer. (ezs)
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Sometimes, the common (though rarely overtly stated) thread running through much of what Academic Support professionals do is a critique of law school pedagogy and the legal profession itself, because of the tremendous demands it places on time, family, and life in general.
Dennis Tonsing’s writings remind students of the need for both conscientious, active planning of their time and balance in their lives. But perhaps what we all need to focus on more is an acceptance of the reality of the practice of law. We all recognize it, certainly.
Dennis and I, as members of the legal academe who have also spent considerable time in private practice, certainly caution students that, to be a professional practitioner of law, you must begin the practice of law as law students from the first day of law school. But we all seem to avoid a word that encompasses what we all know is necessary, but are afraid to voice, because it has a pejorative connotation in today’s society: sacrifice.
The professional practice of law requires sacrifice: sacrifice primarily of time, but also of other needs, wants, and desires. As lawyers, we, and our students, cannot talk freely about our clients and cases—there is a duty of confidentiality—so we must sacrifice some predilection toward gossip. As lawyers, we have limits placed on us with regard to trial publicity, so, despite the way some celebrity lawyers seem to behave, we must sacrifice a natural penchant for the spotlight. As lawyers, we must be willing to represent unpopular people and unpopular groups, so we must sacrifice the natural desire for approval of our actions. As lawyers, we must be willing to provide services pro bono, and often to forego seeking payment even when a client who can pay refuses to do so, so we must sacrifice financially. But above all, as I noted in the beginning of this paragraph, we must sacrifice time.
We must learn to say no to people we love, and situations that are more tempting and more enjoyable than sitting in a cubicle or at a desk writing a memorandum or a brief, or doing research. Modern American society eschews the need for this kind of sacrifice. Certainly, when disaster strikes, we are all willing to reach into our wallets to contribute. But how many of us are willing to spend a week or two building houses for those who lost their homes to a hurricane, as one of our recent graduates did? Too often, modern society suggests we live for the moment, seek out whatever is pleasant and pleasurable, and shun that which requires sacrifice.
So, when we try to communicate how law school is not school—as Dennis points out in his book—we still do not say, “Law school is not school in part because you have to sacrifice. It takes a tremendous amount of sacrifice of time to exercise the mental muscle needed to self-learn.” It seems as if the word, “sacrifice,” has become a dirty word.
Sacrifice is not a dirty word. The founders of this nation sacrificed. A number of generations of Americans have sacrificed far more than time to preserve the freedoms represented by the very legal system our students seek to enter. I know this sounds controversial. I know it may sound insensitive to students’ needs and pressures. But it is also realistic. We aren’t going to change the nature of the profession to make it more “lawyer-friendly.” Clients are not going to care that the lawyer has to miss a loved one’s birthday party.
Dennis himself uses a vignette of a lawyer who arrives unprepared for court because he was celebrating his wedding anniversary. Our students rely on us to prepare them for this oft-times unforgiving and difficult profession. But preparation is more than learning to read and brief cases. Preparation is more than learning how to take active notes and make good course summaries. Preparation is more than taking a number of practice exams. Preparation is committing to sacrifice—both now, and in the professional practice of law.
Shouldn’t we be honest with our students and use the word we all know we mean—sacrifice, and tell them that we, and their future clients, expect it of them as much as we expect it of ourselves? (Mario Mainero)
Friday's New York Times technology section (New York Times article) reported that lawyers represent an "explosion" in the blogosphere. There are numerous blogs written by lawyers and about the law. In fact, we represent a disproportionate number of bloggers and blog readers. Why do you suppose that is?
The article theorizes that we are bored by our day to day jobs (not true in the Academic Support field), or that we are all trapped writers under the surface (I thought we were all frustrated actors, but then again I was a litigator in a prior life), or even that we all have an opinion on something that we need to express and that just being lawyers lends us some credibility (this doesn't work, even with children, in my experience).
I disagree. I think it is because we are all trained never to ask that last question and that blogging lets us do just that and then answer it as well. At trial, we put all the evidence in front of a group of people, or a judge alone and hope that they connect the dots (that through careful preparation and excellent trial technique we have placed very close to one another....). In a blog, we can connect them ourselves. I don't disagree with the article writer that we are an essentially verbal crowd, but I really believe blogging cures a frustration that lawyers often feel when we can't just blurt out the answer (i.e. "my god, people he's guilty as sin and here's why....").
There is, the article points out, even a 1L blog written by a student. I checked it out to see what goes on on the other side of the desk and found it helpful.
The next thing I'd like to know is why there are so many law related TV shows and how any of this relates to Academic Support..... (ezs)
I've been baffled recently by what to do with students who make appointments – that they "desparately" want and then show up late or fail to show up at all. Some students do manage to give me enough notice so I can reschedule that time slot, but others do not (I consider 24 minutes notice insufficient – especially when via e-mail). In the past, when students are not required to see me (due to Academic Probation), I have used a three strikes and you're out of luck policy – that is, if you blow me off three times with inadequate or no notice, I will not make another appointment to see you this semester. For students required to see me, I make notes of all of their transgressions in my folder – a semi-permanent record.
On a recent Monday morning I was particularly challenged in this area – this was a day where one of my three children was home sick and I had "divided the day" with my husband – you know, "I'll work in the morning and you work in the afternoon." I had three appointments scheduled for the morning – so I took the morning work shift – and each and every one of those students stood me up. One had sent an e-mail the night before (at 11:30 p.m.on a Sunday – a time I am not likely to be checking my e-mail), another one sent an e-mail (at 7:30 a.m. for a 10:00 a.m. appointment) and the third sent me an e-mail 24 minutes before our appointment stating that she just "woke up not feeling well".
I sent each a very terse e-mail stating that their notice was insufficient – but then what? What consequences could I impose on them that would be meaningful? (I know this sounds a lot like parenting stuff but I mentioned I had three children right?). I couldn't really cut them off – some were required to see me. I could threaten to tattle to the Dean that required them to see me – but then I would look a bit bitter (which I certainly was, but I wasn't sure I could share that with the Dean without sounding oh so very whiny).
I realized my anger was disproportionate because of the hoops my entire family went through so I could be sitting alone in my office that morning, but I am still baffled what to do in these circumstances. Any suggestions would be appreciated because as I sit here on a rainy Tuesday morning (we are on a Monday schedule today because of Columbus Day) all alone, I know this will happen again....
As for my three aforementioned students, I sent them each an e-mail with a new appopintment time which was at my convenience – not theirs – and did not really give them the option of rescheduling unless it conflicted with a class or interview. I have tried to be very clear when making Monday morning appointments that cancellations must be done on Friday unless it is an emergency.
Also, I've been lysoling and purelling (new verbs made up for this very blog!) like a crazy woman and my children now believe that all their middle names are, "wash your hands." At least I like to believe I have control over one thing..... (ezs)
Monday, October 10, 2005
When I encourage students to "practice" law in law school, professionalism is the watchword. This article, written for attorneys, highlights ten no-no's ... many of which our students can practice avoiding now.
How about this as an example of professionalism directly applicable to the academic enterprise: "Prepare ahead for a ... meeting with a client by anticipating his questions and having the answers ready...."
Several of Ms. Marrapese's examples deal with timeliness. "I received five frantic-sounding voice mails from my client today. He wanted my immediate help ... Unfortunately, I was tied up ... and didn't have time to call him back." Here's another: "I didn't do my homework today. I received a message from the client about a matter he had asked me to research a week ago."
Suggestion: encourage your students to practice professionalism, preparedness and timeliness as they work their way through law school, with this objective: entering the professional practice with excellent professional skills and habits. Guess what: their grades may reflect their professionalism. (djt)
Sunday, October 9, 2005
This informal gathering of academic support professionals meets once a semester at New York Law School. Premised on the notion that we are one another's best resources, the workshop offers just enough structure to provide focused conversation, but enough breathing room to allow the discussions to roam freely.
This year, the workshop participants will discuss the differences and similarities in the ways we talk to students about their work. Would you like to lead a discussion? Pick your topic.
If you are interested in participating, contact Professor Franklin at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at (212) 431-2353. (djt)
The faculty at Golden Gate has made a strong commitment to its academic support program – reflecting the importance of this program to their educational mission – and recently converted this position to a tenure-track faculty position.
The director will be responsible for designing and administering an academic support program to enhance the study skills and learning of first and second year JD students, including during new student orientation.
The position also includes classroom teaching in the areas of Legal Methods, Legal Analysis and related courses. The Director also will work collaboratively with Professor Fong, regarding academic support for upper-level JD students, but will not be responsible for developing programs addressing bar preparation or bar passage issues.
Applications should be sent to Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee, Golden Gate University School of Law, 536 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105 (djt)