Wednesday, February 15, 2006

CSI: Law School

There are orange traffic cones and yellow police tape all around the front of our building today. I am certain it is unrelated to Valentine's Day but has happened because a blizzard and a few days of 45 degree temperatures make an icicle hazard.  In a building full of lawyers and lawyers-to-be, we know better than to risk it with innocent pedestrians and litigious law students walking in front of the building.

Ironically, though, it looks like a crime scene. And I think I know who the victim is: student morale. This is the time of year when time moves both too fast and too slow for our students and this time-shifting paradigm doesn't bring good feelings with it.

There is too little time to keep up with all the deadlines.  Papers are due, interviews are happening or being set up and classes are moving along. This means that there is writing to do, resumes to create, “interview suits” to be purchased and the ever present ogre of outlining howling at the door; all at the same time. Spring break isn’t for another month.  These students feel isolated, and in part, it is because they have no time for anything but school.  Being in the darkest part of the tunnel seems to lend itself to tunnel vision for students.

But time is both a student’s friend and enemy. I have recently begun to work with our students who were flagged by their midterm grades as being “at risk” academically. As part of our initial meeting I ask them to fill out a self-diagnostic where I ask them about the time they spend studying. I ask if they briefed cases, outlined, worked in study groups and also if they felt they had enough time to do things outside of school.

Students often say they don’t have enough time. Some students claim they don’t even have enough time to work with me because their schedules are packed. And for the most part, the students too busy to see me are evening students who work a full time job (often outside of the city where we are located) and are barely keeping up as it is. I have the most respect and often sympathy for evening students; they juggle far more than I have ever been able to, and by and large they are successful. But on the other hand (and here is where I start sounding grumpy), some students I see make me wonder. If they are smart enough to get into our evening division, why don’t they understand the commitment that going to law school at night entails?

Perhaps what makes me grumpy is the belligerent feedback I get from students who complain that seeing me will be the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of their time commitments. I, respectfully, disagree. Spending an hour every other week or so with Academic Support is like priming the time pump. We can help. Coming to Academic Support will be a good investment of time because perhaps there is some ineffective studying going on, or incorrect and inefficient outlining. Or maybe, we know who you need to see immediately if you are drowning in work (outside and inside school) and need some relief.

Oddly, there are other students who seem to have too much time.  They are studying morning, noon and night and are still panicked.  Their outlines are up to date for next week.  They are also worried (not surprisingly) that their relationships outside of school seem to be suffering. These students are compulsively doing more because they are still spooked by the specter of those midterm grades and are trying to be prepared for the next set of exams now. But, really, all you can do at this time of year is do the reading for class, go to class and outline consistently (and in real time, not future time).

So here is the bottom line: students need to invest their time wisely and remember to not let their relationships with people outside school become the victims of panic.  They will need these folks to lean on in May and it would be a crime indeed to let them go. (ezs)

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