Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Academic Support Spotlight Shines Again!


Daniel Dropko
Academic Excellence Program Manager
Cleveland-Marshall College of Law

Born in Vermilion, Ohio in 1947, Dan is a child of the postwar culture of the 50's and 60's.  He began his professional life as a broadcaster for a National Public Radio affiliate in Champagne, Illinois, (okay, Champaign) where he had earned a bachelor's degree in Music History. 

Subsequently, Dan acquired a Masters degree in Teaching English as a Second Language and worked as a Lecturer in ESL at the University of Florida and as a Teaching Fellow at Harvard University. 

He graduated from the University of Florida College of Law in 1988, and worked for 13 years as an Assistant Public Defender in Jacksonville, Florida.  Since 2004 he has been the Manager of the Academic Excellence Program at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Dan maintains an active interest in music and teaching and upon request will teach you how to fold an origami paper crane. (djt)

October 21, 2005 in Academic Support Spotlight | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bar Tips

Is your Academic Support Program responsible at all for Bar Examination preparation?

If so, you may want to read (and pass along to your students) "Brace Yourself for the Bar Exam," an article appearing in a 2003 issue of Student Lawyer Magazine.

In the article, Cynthia L. Cooper (author, journalist, playwright) not only recounts bar exam horror Cynthia_l_cooperstories ("Suddenly a woman starts galloping down the aisles, flailing her arms, yelling, 'I am a covenant running with the land!'"), but offers tips and germane quotes from bar takers, and bar coaches.

One bar taker, she tells us, awoke in the middle of the night before the exam screaming, "Which way did the robbers go?"

Our friends Laurie Zimet (Hastings), Rich Litvin (Quinnipiac), and others are quoted in this still pertinent article.  (djt)

October 20, 2005 in Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Is Academic Support Just Academic?

I often have students who make appointments to discuss more than just how to brief, outline, or take exams. They often want to talk about what is going on in their classrooms besides just substantive law and academic skills development. Students recognize (as should we) that Academic Support involves more than just academic skills assistance. Other things in a student's life will affect their academic performance. One of those, I think, is whether they feel welcomed by faculty and other students, and part of a community. That is, after all, one point of recognizing the importance of educational diversity in Law School.  I have included a link to a piece I have written that addresses one type of diversity often not discussed: ideological diversity. What can Academic Support professionals do about promoting ideological diversity in the Law School community to make students feel more welcome and less isolated (and should they)? While I do not have a solution, recognizing this issue is an important beginning. Indeed, as my most long-time client says, "The solution to your problem often lies in its description." Please consider my observations at this link: Role Models.

Perhaps I am being churlish: it is difficult being part of a tiny ideological minority (particularly when, outside of academia, I am in the majority). However, as Academic Support professionals we can certainly track whether idelogical intimidation or just rudeness, particularly toward conservative students, is commonplace in our classrooms, and at least remind our colleagues how it can affect academic performance. (mwm)

October 20, 2005 in Diversity Issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Welcome to Mario

Mainero673_1Mario W. Mainero
Director, Academic Success Program
Whittier Law School

And now ... Contributing Editor to this Academic Support Blog.

We are pleased to welcome Mario as a Contributing Editor to this active blog site.  Those of you who have met Mario at Academic Support gatherings across the country over the past few years are aware that he brings a unique set of talents, experience and perspective to the profession.  His insight, his exuberance and his zeal will add quite a bit to the readers' enlightenment and, I'm hoping, entertainment.

Perspective and entertainment?  You bet.  Mario, a singing mathematician, once sang the National Anthem on “Gene Autry Day” at Anaheim Stadium, home of Major League Baseball’s Angels.

Professor Mainero joined Whittier Law School as its first Director of the Academic Success Program in August 2001, after practicing for 21 years in Orange County, California, in the areas of commercial and probate litigation. He also served for 5 years as a Judge pro tem in Orange County Municipal Court, hearing small claims and traffic cases.  Although we value his vocal and numerical talents, this (the practice) is the perspective that makes Mario a superior Academic Support professional.

Since joining the faculty at Whittier Law School, he has developed an Academic Support Program that includes a two-week Summer Program for at-risk incoming admittees, a program for all first-year law students that includes both large-group lectures and small group weekly sessions to teach note-taking, outlining, study and exam-writing skills, one-on-one weekly meetings with students in academic difficulty, and a full-year Early Bar Preparation Program that addresses all subjects and examination styles on the California Bar Exam, and includes a three-day Simulated Bar Exam administered during Spring Break.

Mario and his wife, Denise, live in Corona del Mar, California, with their two children, Christina, 16, and Anthony, 13, and their two dogs, “Belle” and “Electra.” 

Watch for more posts by Mario Mainero.  (djt)

October 19, 2005 in Academic Support Spotlight | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Position Open

Susan E. Keller, Associate Dean of Academics at Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, California, forwarded this information about a position opening.

Western State University College of Law seeks applications for Director of STELLAR (Strategies to Enhance Legal Learning and Achieve Results).  The STELLAR Program includes both traditional academic support as well as innovative co-curricular programs designed to improve educational success for the entire student body.  The Director of STELLAR is a tenure-track position with teaching, curricular and administrative responsibilities. Experience in providing direct educational support is desired but not a requirement.  Western State is provisionally approved by the ABA and is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

For more details about the position, Dean Kellers asks that you contact Appointments Committee Chairperson, Professor Neil Gotanda, at 714-459-1135,, or her, at 714-459-1141, (djt)

October 19, 2005 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Briefing for the Real World

At a recent academic support conference, one of the participants pointed out a disconnect between bar exams and law school exams:  bar exams tend to have a “right” answer to a legal problem while law school exams focus on ambiguity, giving weight to reasoning and problem-solving where an absolute “right” answer may not exist.

I have since been struck by how many students, in their briefing and outlining, seem to be preparing for some sort of over-simplified MBE instead of law school exams. They completely ignore the reasoning of cases, boiling everything down to facts and rules, as if law school exams will not test their abilities to work with the nuances of those rules; as if law school exams will not require them to work with varying legal tests that do not necessarily produce mathematically predictable results, with policies that may be in tension with one another under particular sets of facts, and with arguments for competing results.

I find myself repeatedly redirecting students to focus on identifying and briefing the rationales that underlie the rules and holdings they so dutifully record in their notes.  Law students will read well over two thousand cases before they graduate from law school; as a result, they have a golden opportunity to transform their own reasoning skills before being tested on them, on exams and in the real-world practice of law – as long as they deliberately take advantage of the opportunity.

The lesson was driven home to me in a recent meeting with a second-year student.  I had earlier suggested she modify her case briefing technique by actually breaking out and numbering the various logic and policy justifications articulated by the court in reaching its conclusions.  After a few weeks of doing so, she reported that her confidence had suddenly shot up because – get this – she found that for the first time since she began law school, she was anticipating where the professor was going in class and was repeatedly correct.  For the first time since arriving, she felt as though she could really do this work.

What is it about law school culture that seems to compel so many of our students to focus on rules alone?  Sophisticated legal thinkers know that rules, important as they may be, are just the intellectual landmarks in a much larger landscape filled with nuance, fine distinctions, and subtle shades of meaning. 

We need, apparently, to continually remind our students that landmarks may be crucial to pointing travelers in the right direction; but landmarks are seldom the destination in and of themselves and are not much good by themselves unless we live in a world made up only of landmarks. 

You and I know that the real world of law is not merely a collection of landmarks, not here and not out there.   What seems almost intuitive to us, however, may be foggy new intellectual territory to our students.  Sometimes, all they need is the simplest advice to suddenly see the terrain clearly. (DBW)

October 18, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sacrifice vs. Compromise

I know we have been discussing sacrifice lately here on the ASP blog, but I felt while reading the posts that a woman's perspective would be different.  I have had female students ask me about how to plan a career and a family simultaneously and whether it is possible.  My answer is always the same:  I'll let you know when I've figured it out myself. 

I have never worked at a law firm, only for the government or in academics.  When we moved to Boston about seven years ago, I interviewed at a medium-sized firm and the woman interviewing me asked if I thought I could bill 1,800 hours a year.  After some quick math, I told her no.  I know she caught me looking at the pictures of her children on her desk and understood the questions I wanted to ask her.  How does she do it?  And more importantly, why?

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I have three small children (8 yrs. old, 5 yrs. old and almost 8 mos. old) and I work full time here in ASP (which for us is actually only four days a week).  My law school experience (ungraded since I went to Northeastern) did teach me that hard work was valuable and self-esteem producing.  I was totally into the "sacrifice" idea then and I firmly believed that I was going to have to be very responsible as a lawyer because my clients would be looking to me for important information and advice.  And I was this very responsible lawyer for a number of years:  working late to get my subpoenas out, prepping witnesses and carrying a staggering caseload as a NYC prosecutor.

But then I had a child, and another, and yet another.  And now I feel (despite appearances for anyone who knows what I really look like) stretched thin.  I have made sacrifices on both ends my career and my family.  I often feel that nothing gets 100% of my attention, that at best, I have only 95% to give and only rarely.  I pray it will rain on Saturdays so soccer is cancelled (I suppose I owe divine thanks for the last two weeks...). I wonder often if I am doing anything to best of my ability. 

Don't get me wrong, I feel entirely devoted to my students.  I want them all to succeed and get every last benefit of law school. I want them all to be confident and competent attorneys who will pass the bar the first time.  But I also remind them at orientation that they need to remember who they were when they walked in the door to the law school, because in three years you could easily forget who that was.  So I advise them to continue painting or hiking or baking or whatever it is that reminds them of who they are.  I have even prescribed a day off every now and then for perspective.  I remind them to call their mothers and walk their dogs.

Perhaps, (and this is a big one) women have never had the luxury of defining themselves almost completely by their profession once there is a family.   Do I dare to tell students that after my first child was born, being a lawyer went from my career to my job?  Perhaps that is the sacrifice I chose and they will choose differently.

Certainly practicing law is a very noble and responsible profession.  But what we should not sacrifice is the inherent humanity of a profession that helps with the entire cycle of life:  from birth through death.  Our clients are people (mainly) and our actions as attorneys will impact their lives.  I regularly advise my students to work hard and not make excuses that wouldn't hold up in court, but the truth is if we had perfected this profession, we wouldn't all be practicing.  (ezs)

October 17, 2005 in Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

At the Halfway Point

Aren't we about halfway through the first semester?

GlasswaterHow are your wunnelles doing?  No doubt, many are doing well (with the emphasis on doing); that is, they are not only accomplishing the pre-class chores of reading and briefing, but are also engaging in the real learning activities the post-class work.

On the other hand, because they receive little feedback, many are lulling themselves into believing they're doing well because they "know the material," or think they do.

About this time of year, I send a letter to each student, suggesting they consider tweaking their study regimes.  This year, I pulled a handful of surveys I've collected over the years, to determine the study habits of students who thought they were doing well, then surprised themselves by not hitting their mark.  These are the study methods to avoid, wouldn't you say?

I have attached my letter to this blog post, but deleted the numeric information and names of folks other than me.  If you would like to use the letter as a model to encourage your own students, go ahead and refashion it to suit your school's circumstances, and your program objectives.

Let me know what you think.  (djt)

October 16, 2005 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)