Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Winter Olympics and ASP

I’ve been using a lot of cold weather sports analogies lately in discussing study habits and exams with students. I think it is the result of the Winter Olympics pre-empting my normal Law & Order three times a week schedule, but there are some truths to be found in the winter games.

Think about it: exams start and end with the same amount of fanfare (ok, we don’t have fireworks, but there is a real sense of tension and when exams are over, the celebration is enormous but similarly not well remembered the next day…). There is a lot of sweating involved. It seems that all of our competitors, I mean students, in law school are living under one roof during exams (known as the Library or Study Village).

Here are some more examples of how law school is like the Winter Olympics from the ASP point of view.  Feel free to use these gems with your students and you too could earn a Gold Medal for odd analogies.

For example, I have been telling students that their exam issue spotting is a lot like the Giant Slalom. That is, they need to hit every gate and do it in a fairly artful way. Not only that, but they will be timed and that timing is key because they need to finish the exams.

Exam writing, however, is more like Speed Skating. You should be IRAC’ing each issue you spotted on the way down the mountain like a speed skater who is circling the track: the same way each time around. Also, your answers, like the circular track, must be complete in that they cover the defenses and counterarguments.

Outlining is a lot like Board-Cross. It combines two different events essentially: reading and class. There are few rules, but you should try to organize yourself around the law (or laws of physics…).

Multiple choice questions are lot like Luge. Stay on course: once you think you have the right answer, stick with it. The other answers are supposed to look compelling, but they are, in fact, a cold hard wall.

Practice exams are like the qualifying runs for Skiing. They should let you know if you are hitting your timing and style correctly.

Take-home (and open book) exams are a lot like Curling. You think it will be simple and easier, but it is not. You are expected to be more precise than on any other type of exam.

Study groups should never be like Ice-Dancing, but more like Figure Skating. Why? You should never rely on anyone else to hold you up or worse yet, throw you. If you don’t know the law yourself, then you can’t answer the questions .

Figure Skating is also a lot like the exams themselves: even if you practice well, you might still fall on your…., umm, ice. (ezs)

February 28, 2006 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Lawyers with Disabilites

The most recent (March 2006) issue of the ABA publication Student Lawyer includes (see page 34) a conference notice of interest.  Quoting from the magazine ...

"The ABA Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law ... in conjunction with ABA president Michael Greco and the EEOC, is sponsoring a National Conference on Employment of Lawyers with Disabilities.  Participants will discuss ways to further the employment opportunities for and promote the hiring of recent law graduates and young lawyers with disabilities."

The conference is on May 22 and May 23.  "The conference," the notice continues, "encourages law students to attend the conference.  To support student participation, the commission will offer a reduced registration fee as well as scholarships to students demonstrating need."

Encouraging news: "With proper accommodations and open lines of communication, lawyers with disabilities have proven themselves to be as successful as their peers without disabilities."

In the academic support field, most of us work with students manifesting a variety of disabilities (visible and invisible); and many of us contend with comments by students, faculty and lawyers along these lines, "Why is she even going to law school?  Who is going to hire a lawyer with (fill in the blank)?"  Oh, that gets to me.  Between your school's Career Services office and its Academic Support office ... somewhere ... we need to be able to provide accurate, up-to-date answers to these inquiries ... not only for those who ask the questions above, but, more importantly, for those who ask this question: "Will I ever get a job if they find out about my _________?"

For detailed conference information, visit the commission's web page. (djt)

February 26, 2006 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Disability Matters, Encouragement & Inspiration, Meetings, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Seizing the Phantom: A Reader Comments ...

Commenting recently on Dan Weddle's November 22 post (Thinking Like a Lawyer), a lawyer wrote to us this week ...

"This is an important little essay, I think.  Especially where you say: Truly learning to think like a lawyer is a profoundly good thing.  Without those who are willing to devote themselves to the intellectually and morally hard work of defining precisely the contours of justice, the nation is left to the murky reasoning of casual thinkers or, worse, to the calculated thinking of those who have no moral bearings.

I'm a lawyer taking his second bar exam due to a move to another state, and I still feel like the precise thinking required of me is a phantom I shall never seize.  This is just idealistic enough for me to press on.  Thanks!


February 26, 2006 in Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wow: Technology!

You're gonna love this.

Read the attached, then visit the web site: digital notes.
(Many other websites describe the product, and offer other prices, so shop around.)

Your notes, student notes ... whaddya think?

Do you have some tech ideas you use that others might be interested in?  Send me an e-mail note.


February 26, 2006 in Advice, Miscellany, Teaching Tips, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

A Summer Weekend in Chicago?

If you are looking for a great conference that will provide insightful and practical advice for helping law students learn, check out the upcoming Twelfth Annual Gonzaga University Institute for Law School Teaching Conference.  Hosted by Chicago-Kent College of Law on June 2-3, this year's conference will focus on "Inspiring Students and Facilitating Learning."  The conference lineup boasts an impressive array of presenters and will feature seminars that focus on student learning outside the classroom.  Take a look; you might find a sudden desire to spend a weekend in the Windy City. (dbw)

February 25, 2006 in Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 24, 2006

This Is the Real World

I was chatting with my dean, Ellen Suni, last night; and she made an important observation we should all take to heart.  She pointed out a tendency among struggling law students to abandon the "artificial world" of law school in favor of the "real world" of law firms.  Given that tendency, it is paramount that ASP programs make clear at every opportunity how the strategies we are providing to students correspond to the skills real lawyers must employ in that "real world" beyond the law school walls.

Ellen has observed over the years that students whose grades are not particularly stellar make an understandable adjustment in the focus of their energies.  Because their grades may not impress future employers, they must make their impression by working as clerks in whatever firms will give them summer and part-time employment.  They give up on improving their grades in favor of creating a track record in “real-world” legal work in the hope of impressing a part-time employer enough to be kept on after law school.  As a result, they walk away from ASP help because it seems irrelevant to what they consider more realistic, attainable goals.

The effect of that choice is, ironically, that the students miss the best opportunities to learn the skills essential to effective practice because they see no correlation between law school study skills and professional practice skills.  The problem is exacerbated for some because they find themselves working on projects that do not require the higher-level skills they will need when clients and cases are their own and there is no one else around to do the more sophisticated work.

Therefore, ASP professionals need to make the case explicitly and repeatedly that we are actually teaching them practice skills disguised as academic skills.  We need to draw directly the correlations between specific academic skills and specific practice versions of those skills.

For example, the ability to recognize during an exam alternative interpretations of facts or unstated but reasonable possibilities springing from the stated facts is a skill they will use daily in the world of law practice.  An ASP professional might present a hypothetical concerning a college student who is party to a contract and coax students to see the possibility that the college student was too young at the time of the contract formation to have had capacity to be bound.[1]  A law school exam might contain such facts, and the professor might expect her students to pick up on that very real possibility and address it. 

Practice presents those situations every day.  No one in practice assumes that what the client says is all that is relevant to the analysis of the client's situation.  Every good lawyer thinks beyond what the client sees, the opponent sees, the witnesses see, even in terms of facts, before settling into an analysis of the issues facing that client.

But students often miss that connection.  We have to provide it for them if we expect them to redouble their efforts in law school when their efforts thus far have produced problematic grades.

For each skill we present to students, we should think carefully about its relevance to the practice of law.[2]  We should brainstorm all the ways each skill is used in law practice and draw those parallels explicitly from day one of our programs so that students see our programs as relevant beyond the academic confines of law school.  (Perhaps we should drop the term “academic” from our programs and call them something that suggests more accurately and fully what we – and our colleagues on the faculty – are really doing.)

Do you draw those parallels for your students on a regular basis?  If not, you might consider the power those connections hold not only for motivating students but for making their efforts pay off long term in ways critical to the competent practice of law. (dbw) 

[1] During our chat, Ellen suggested this hypothetical as an example, so I freely steal it here for my own purposes.

[2]My co-editor, Dennis Tonsing, is a master at making those connections. His text, 1000 Days to the Bar:  But the Practice of Law Begins Now, is an excellent resource for anyone looking for the parallels between the study and practice of law.

February 24, 2006 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Yadda Yadda Yadda, Lawyer Style...

Here in our neck of the woods (that is the cold and wintry northeast), we are all abuzz in the legal community about an e-mail scandal.  Basically, a young, new attorney decided to decline a job offer (after possibly accepting it) at the very last minute and did so in a fairly bratty e-mail to her future (and more experienced) employer.  She told him that she was opening her own practice so that she could essentially "reap what I sew."  (She was not, by the way, opening a tailor shop).  He responded that although he did not take issue with her decision, he did have a problem with her delivery method.  She told him that real lawyers put contracts in writing-and he told her (in a fairly restrained way) that this was not a "bar exam question" and that her behavior would certainly not bode well for her in our fairly insular bar network.  She responded, "bla bla bla."  Which demonstrated a complete lack of H's and an overabundance of chutzpah if you ask me.

So why do we all know about it?  Well, like those old shampoo ads, the potential employer told two friends, and they told two friends and so on and so on.  Within three days some forwarded version of this exchange was probably found in every attorney in Boston's in box, complete with commentary from the folks who had read it along the way.  In my version, it appears that someone actually sent it back to our bratty seamstress along with a really long list of cc's.  I know that I then sent it to, among others, my husband (an environmental lawyer) and a former colleague serving over in Iraq with JAG. 

The next day, it was on the front page of the Boston Globe and last night I saw it on Fox news (please don't form any political judgments based on the fact we were watching Fox news; we don't have cable, CSI: Miami was a repeat and I find the Olympics kind of nerve-wracking).  Another faculty member here saw it on a national news broadcast also.

So, (and here is where I finally link this to ASP), what is the role of an academic support program in fostering professionalism among students?  Last week, before the whole "bla bla bla" thing, coincidentally, I had to deal with a student who sent me an e-mail with the subject line, "MY SWEET-ASS MEMO."  Yes, it was all in caps.  This was quite shocking as I sat at home checking my e-mail on the laptop with my nine-year-old looking over my shoulder.  I knew I could not let this slip past without pointing out that this lacked appropriate professionalism on the part of the student.

But then I wondered.  Isn't ASP, by far, one of the least formal places in the law school?  Shouldn't we try to create the kind of rapport that makes students feel comfortable coming to us for help?  How can I point out this student's error without sounding prudish?  I ended up scolding the student in a return e-mail (I deleted the offending language from the subject line).  I told him that while we are essentially a safe haven and more relaxed part of the law school, that his correspondence with our office still had to be professional.  I asked him to refrain from using such language in the future. 

I felt like I had put on my traditional lawyer garb, put my hair in a tight bun and perched my glasses on the tip of my nose for a moment, but I know I did the right thing because his response was, "I'm sorry" and not "bla bla bla."  Maybe I have prevented the big e-mail scandal of 2008, and maybe not.  It remains to be seen.

In a note of disclaimer, or perhaps even just an ethical honesty issue, I should point out that our seamstress is a graduate of the school I teach at-and no, I have never seen her before. (ezs)

February 21, 2006 in Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Review as a Powerful Tool Throughout the Semester

Perhaps the most neglected yet critical activity in the typical law student's life is reviewing material throughout the semester.  The pressure to complete daily class readings, case briefs, outlines, legal writing assignments, competition write-ons, and other ongoing activities each week can relegate reviewing earlier material to the "left over" time at the end of the week, which is an imaginary time in a fairy tale land of eight-day weeks.  As a result, students often find themselves reviewing the semester's early material for the first time during their exam weeks.   

Students who wait until the days before an exam to review the semester's material deprive themselves of important benefits.  Regularly reviewing the semester's critical ideas allows students to begin building conceptual frameworks for each course early on, and such frameworks are ultimately essential for making sense of each course's subject matter. 

In addition, as each framework develops, new ideas more readily find their places in the logic of the subject matter, and connections between new concepts and earlier material become easier to see.  In fact, because new material in a course often puts new glosses on earlier material, the student who has remained familiar with the earlier material is always in the best position to refine his understanding of the earlier concepts. 

Ongoing review is also a time saver in the short run.  Because in most courses concepts build upon one another, extending earlier ideas and fleshing out ongoing themes, the more a student has internalized those earlier ideas, the more quickly she grasps the new.  After all, new concepts are more easily understood and mastered when their connections to known concepts are apparent.

Final review for exams is, of course, radically different for those who have been regularly reviewing and reshaping their understanding of each course's critical concepts.  They needn't expend the time or energy to build the semester's frameworks or internalize key concepts; they can focus instead on advanced review techniques.  Like athletes who have trained throughout the off season, they can devote themselves to refining and perfecting their preparation for exams rather than straining to reach game readiness in a compressed time frame.

Now (actually, pretty much any time) is a good time to remind our students to schedule time in each week to review what has gone before.  They should do so with one eye on internalizing the material (something most students understand must eventually take place) and with the other on piecing together the large and small conceptual frameworks that characterize mastery of complex subjects.

Students will nod in agreement, of course, flooded with guilt and anxiety about their unfulfilled good intentions; so we should probably not stop with mere reminders.  We should offer some practical suggestions on how to work ongoing review into overloaded schedules and make clear its immediate benefits in making current class preparation more efficient and effective.   

Most students understand the value of ongoing review, but they too often let the tyranny of urgent demands defeat their best intentions.  We should do what we can to help them keep short-term demands from crowding out long-term strategies that will benefit them not only later but in the here and now of mid-semester.  (dbw)

February 19, 2006 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Helping Students with Their Job Searches

Jarmon_1 Amy Jarmon, Assistant Dean for Academic Success Programs at Texas Tech University School of Law, offers a helpful recommendation to go along with the two exercises suggested in the Feb. 13 posting, "I'm Not in the Top Ten Percent!  I'll Never Get Hired!":

"I often recommend a book by Richard Bolles entitled What Color is Your Parachute?  The book comes out with a new edition each year.  Although it is written for any job seeker, it focuses on helping individuals determine their strengths, passions, and skills, which ties in with Exercise 2 [brainstorming and exploring one's own strengths].  It also focuses on informational interviewing which ties in with Exercise 1 [developing a list of contacts for job networking].  There is a website which acts as a supplement to the book:"

Thanks, Amy (dbw)

February 16, 2006 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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)

February 15, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 13, 2006

"I'm Not in the Top Ten Percent! I'll Never Get Hired!"

It's that time of year when 1L's encounter on-campus interview schedules for the first time.  For most (about 85% of the class), it isn't a pleasant experience.  Many of the interviewers expect to see and to hire primarily those in the top 15% of the class, and the message to everyone else is clear:  if you are not in the top 15% after the first semester, you can forget about getting a job for this summer and probably ever.

Of course, that message is neither intended by anyone nor accurate; but it seems a sensible conclusion to the students outside looking in on the campus interviews.  They simply don't have enough information about how the profession operates to draw any other conclusion.

For that reason, I like to take a moment with my first-year students and explain a couple of things about law firm economics.  I ask them, "If you are in a law firm with 300 attorneys and you send one of them to interview all day at a law school, what percentage of billable hours has your firm lost for the day?"  Answer:  less than 1%.

Then I ask, "If you are in a firm with only five attorneys and you send one of them to interview all day at a law school, what percentage of billable hours has your firm lost for the day?"  Answer: 20%.

Finally, "If 90% of lawyers did not graduate in the top 10% of their classes, where do you suppose they are while the big firms are interviewing on campus?"  Answer: working on things that generate billable hours.

In other words, I tell my students, on-campus interviewing is not routinely conducted by the firms that employ most of the attorneys out there because those firms are not large enough to justify the loss of billable hours.  Billable hours are how law firms and lawyers make their money, so they expend their time in efficient ways.  Sitting over in the law school interviewing for one or two clerks is not really particularly efficient.

So how do they find clerks and future associates?  They do it through networking.  Someone knows that someone else is looking for a clerk and puts a student in touch with the hiring firm.

After that explanation, I have them do a couple of short exercises that are good for their confidence and are practical ways to start a job search.

Excercise 1

First, I have them make a list right then and there of all the lawyers and judges they know.  The lists are usually very short.

Second, I have them make a list of all the people they know who might have an attorney.  I remind them that people who own businesses, people who have wills and trusts, people who have been injured, people who have adopted children, people who have been divorced all may have attorneys.  That list is longer.

Third, I have them circle five people on that list whom they could comfortably call and say, "I am in law school and would like to get together with people in the practice and pick their brains about opportunities in the law, including summer clerkships.  Would you mind if called your attorney and, using your name as an introduction, asked the attorney to lunch?" 

I tell them to then contact each attorney, ask her to lunch, and keep the conversation focused on opportunities "out there."  Don't put her on the spot and ask for a job (attorneys are bright enough to know what you want and will broach that subject if they think you may be a fit); but take along several copies of your resume in case the attorney says that she knows several lawyers who might need help and that she would be happy to send your resume along.  Be prepared to write down the names of attorneys she thinks you should talk to, using her name as an introduction.

The strategy gets them out of the doldrums, tells them that there are many more jobs out there than would be apparent from on-campus interview lists, and gives them a practical way to start using the contacts they already have but hadn't thought about.

Excercise 2

Another exercise I like first-years to do is to brainstorm all of the strengths they would bring to the practice of law.  They have to brainstorm freely and widely, thinking about experiences, character qualities, skills, and other attributes.  The key to this exercise is free association:  they must list as fast as they can anything that comes to mind, whether it is accurate or not.

I then have them pick the top three strengths that they believe are most accurate about themselves and have some possible transfer into the world of legal practice.  For each, they spend about five minutes free writing (brainstorming in prose) about why that strength will serve them well in the practice.  At the end of each free writing, they are to reread it and distill it into one or two sentences that capture the essence of what they have said.  They keep those musings to review before they go into any interview.

They tend to surprise themselves in this exercise.  One third-year student came to me a couple of years ago and said that he had an interview with a litigation firm and that he had no idea what to tell a potential employer that would set him apart from other candidates.  Law was a second career, and his first was spent as a fire fighter and gave him no skills to transfer to law; he had no business training or other traditional professional skills.

I had him brainstorm out loud the skills and character qualities he had to have in order to be a fire fighter.  He discovered that he knew how to keep his head and think clearly in the midst of chaos; he knew how to make critical decisions when lives were on the line and there was little time to think; he knew how to function as part of a team, holding up his end and trusting colleagues to hold up theirs when the chips were down; he knew how to put his personal safety, comfort, and convenience aside when another person was in desperate need of his skills; he knew how to subdue fear when someone else needed him to do his job under dangerous, stressful conditions; he knew how to show up every day, tired or not, motivated or not, because others depended upon him; he knew how to take control of a situation that was by definition out of control. 

The list went on like that.  All I had to do was have him connect the dots to a busy legal practice.  He realized that even the busiest legal practice would never present challenges to match the stress or the rapid-fire, life-and-death decisions he had routinely made for years as a fire fighter.  He realized that he had skills and character qualities his younger colleagues at the school hadn't lived long enough or had the opportunities to develop. 

And he got the job.

Sometimes, all you have to do is help them see what is already there. (dbw)

February 13, 2006 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 10, 2006

Important and Disturbing New Article About Peer-on-Peer Bullying in Law School

Much of my research has been devoted to the problem of bullying in elementary and secondary schools, but I was completely unprepared for what I read in Darby Dickerson's recent article, "Cyberbullies on Campus," 37 U. Tol. L. Rev. 51 (2005).  I read a draft of the article last spring, and I have been eagerly awaiting its publication ever since because I think it may be one of the most important and groundbreaking articles about legal education in many years.

Darby Dickerson, who is Vice President and Dean of Stetson College of Law, discusses frankly and openly some very disturbing incidents of peer-on-peer bullying at her law school and presents empirical evidence suggesting that what she discovered there is very likely happening elsewhere across the country.  The article should be read widely in the law school community.

If you are unfamiliar with the phenomenon of bullying, you may be tempted to think it a trivial problem that students should be tough enough to endure with a little humor and a little backbone.  What you'll find in Darby's article will change your thinking. 

You'll find that bullying isn't at all what most people imagine it is.  "Bullying" is an unfortunate term because it evokes for Americans images of something childish and relatively harmless.  If the research had begun in this country instead of Europe, the phenomenon would likely have been termed something that for Americans would be more evocative of its true nature, because what researchers are talking about is not harmless teasing or even occasional mean-spiritedness.  It is an ongoing, debilitating abuse that does real damage to its victims, who are often outnumbered and usually powerless to stop it.  And it is happening in higher education; there really isn't any doubt about that anymore.

What is critical to understand about bullying is that faculties at the elementary and secondary level are nearly always oblivious to its existence, even though it has been shown to be shockingly prevalent in our lower schools.  Bullies operate underground and are exceptionally clever at hiding their actions from school officials and talking their way out of trouble.

It is therefore incumbent upon the law school community to avoid the mistake so routinely made in the lower schools.  We cannot assume that these dynamics do not exist in our schools simply because most of us are unaware of them and because we assume law students are too mature to be inflicting such cruelties on others.  If lower schools are any guide, we need to take seriously the possibility that some of our students are suffering serious and ongoing abuse by some members of their classes and we don't know about it.

Perhaps we will find that our schools are free of such problems.  But after reading Darby's article, I don't think you'll believe it is safe for us to assume that they are. (dbw)

February 10, 2006 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 9, 2006

First Regional Announced!

This Is a "SAVE THE DATE" Notice!

The Northeast LSAC Regional Academic Assistance Workshop will take place at Roger Williams University Ralph R. Papitto School of Law in Bristol, Rhode Island, on Thursday, June 15 and Friday, June 16.

Why Thursday and Friday?  Sunday is Fathers' Day ... many attendees may need to travel on Saturday.

Who should consider attending?  Those new to the Academic Support field.  We intend to have some "old hands" on board to help those who are developing programs, and/or who are themselves newcomers to law school academic support.

Would you like to present solo, or as part of a duet or panel?  Let me (Dennis Tonsing) know what you have in mind (by e-mail, please). Do you have a suggestion as to what ought to be presented (by someone other than you)? Let me know.

Details? Forthcoming. Watch the blog, and watch the ASP list-serve. (djt)

February 9, 2006 in Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Please Skip the Laundry List

I know I have been away awhile. In part, this is due to preparations for our Law School's sabbatical inspection coming up in a few weeks. In part, this is due to preoccupation with my daughter's college application process. And, in part, this is due to dealing with a recent moderately unpleasant medical diagnosis.

However, as I have been reviewing more and more practice exams of students preparing for the Bar Exam, I have been struck by a common problem: the tendency to approach a subject by talking about everything on the laundry list of topics, rather than exercising discretion on what topics are truly raised by the facts.

As an example, I gave a Civil Procedure question with two calls. One called explicitly for a discussion of defendant's motion to dismiss for failure of the plaintiff to join a particular person. Rather than immediately begin a discussion of Compulsory Joinder and structure the answer along the lines of FRCP 19, most students began by discussing personal jurisdiction, then subject matter jurisdiction, then venue, and finally, after using most of their time, students got to the first of three sub-issues raised in a Rule 19 analysis.

This tendency should be of great concern to us in our training of lawyers. As Dennis Tonsing has written, and as we all recognize, there are analogs between what we ask students to do in Law School and what they are asked to do in the professional practice of law. Selecting and divining the right issues, and only the right issues, for discussion on an exam has its analog in narrowing and selecting the right issues to research and prepare for when a client walks in the door, because clients have neither the time nor the money to pay for unnecessary research.

We therefore need to caution students that, while it makes great sense to go into an exam with a mental checklist of possible issues, they should not answer a question by automatically writing everything on the checklist. They must learn to critically consider which issues are raised, and which are not. This facility is part of "thinking like a lawyer." (mwm)

February 7, 2006 in Bar Exam Issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

You Had the Power All Along...

This weekend, my older daughter will be appearing in the school play (7:00 p.m. Saturday at the Pierce School in Brookline, MA, tickets are going fast....), the Wizard of Oz.  She is a chorus memberas are all the 2nd and 3rd graders (it is a "Grades 2-6 production").  The 4th graders get to be munchkins and "winkies" (my daughter had no interest in being a winkie, because, as she pointed out giggling, she is a girl...).  The chorus members sit on a riser throughout the play, patiently waiting to chime in where needed. 

Now, I understand that giving big parts to little kids (no matter how talented, says the proud mother) is a big risk, but when you think about it, the "chorus only" system requires the youngest children to do the most difficult things:  sit still, pay attention to the story (although not being a part of it) and remember context free words to songs and when to sing along.  That is a lot to ask of 7, 8 and 9 year olds.

Then I thought, doesn't law school ask first year students to do the most difficult things as well?  Does it make sense to give students with the least law school experience the most arduous tasks?  We ask first year students to take year long classes and get very little feedback from professors until they have to hit their target on a final exam.  We make them wait all year to find out if they understand the material and get a final grade.  Although we do have midterms here, they are not half the grade but rather a quarter.  We ask first year law students to master legal writing and analysis within the first month or so of law school and then we expect them to be able to do all this with increasing skill throughout the year.  We ask them to read thousands of pages of what looks like English, but is really law language.

Certainly, in academic support, we warn students about the expectations and their propensity for exponential growth.  But first year law students, fresh out of college or working, are still blown away by the amount of work.  I am not one of those curriculum rebels who thinks Langdell should be hung in effigy from our fourth floor atrium (I haven't really given it that much thought, honestly), but I think we need to remind students at this time of year how far down the yellow brick road they have come.

To this end, I tell students to look at their first case brief or even their first writing assignment and let them see the progress they have made.  They have all come a long way from those hazy days of orientation.  They are now capable of things they could not do even a month ago.  They have risen to the challenges and have mastered a great number of skills.   (Case briefs and memos and outlines, oh my!!!)  There are no magic ways to get what you need in law school; essentially the Wizard of Oz himself was just a nervous man with good common sense. 

So on Saturday, I will happily hand my daughter flowers after her performance because even though she is "only in the chorus," she worked hard, took it seriously and did her best.  Our students deserve this recognition as well.  We need to remind them that: (as the endless soundtrack in my head says in a very high little voice...), "you're out of the woods, you're out of the dark, you're out of the night.  Step into the sun, step into the light..."  Ding dong.  (ezs)

February 7, 2006 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 5, 2006

Looking for Work?

Dear Academic Support Community Friends ...

Today (Sunday) I posted three position openings.  I make note of that here, because sometimes we don't scroll down far enough to see what's posted below.

Keep in mind, you can find any old posting by checking the Chronological and Topical Archives you'll find on the right-side frame of this blog.  Once you arrive at the Archives page, scroll down to the topic you're interested in (in this case, "JobsDescriptions and Announcements").  (djt)

February 5, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Is Massachusetts in Your Future?

The Academic Support Program at Southern New England School of Law invites you to apply to Direct the Program. The Director will be responsible for designing and administering an academic support program to enhance the study skills and learning of all law students, particularly wunnelles and upper-level students on academic probation, by ...

•Presenting academic skills workshops for day and evening students on case briefing, outlining, multiple choice strategies and techniques, grammar and punctuation, study skills, time management, and exam writing;
•Holding one-on-one academic counseling sessions with day and evening students;
•Holding one-on-one writing tutorials with students in the process of working on writing assignments;
•Supervising and training teaching assistants for first-year discussion groups and tutorial sessions;
•Meeting individually with 1L students and 2L and 3L students on probation to assist with
strengthening students' study habits and analytical skills;
•Providing an essay writing program aimed at improving both law school exam and bar exam writing skills;
•Working closely with the Dean of Legal Skills to reinforce the writing curriculum and strong writing skills;
•Working closely with the Orientation committee to assess student ability during and before orientation through diagnostic testing;
•Working closely with the faculty and Associate Dean to identify and accommodate students with learning and/or other types of disabilities.

QUALIFICATIONS: Applicants should have a strong commitment to academic support, a distinguished academic background, and strong organizational, administrative and interpersonal skills. JD and law school academic support or other comparable experience required. The candidate should have excellent communication skills and the desire to work with faculty and staff in developing and implementing the program.  SNESL is an equal employment opportunity employer and invites applications from all interested parties. 

You are invited to send a résumé, cover letter and contact information for two references to:

Appointments Committee
Professor Frances Rudko
Southern New England School of Law
333 Faunce Corner Rd.
North Dartmouth, MA   02747  (djt)

February 5, 2006 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Those Leaves are Beautiful!

Take it from me, folks, Vermont is beautiful!  Professor Ellen Swain, Director of Vermont Law School's Academic Support Program is looking for an Assistant Director of the program.

Vermont Law School, a private, independent law school on the beautiful White River in rural Vermont, seeks an Assistant Director of Academic Support to be responsible for assisting the Director in administering programs aimed at improving students’ academic skills and ensuring success on the bar examination. 

Responsibilities include: 

1) Coordinating and designing workshops or classes to ensure students possess academic skills necessary for the passage of the Multistate Bar Examination, the Multistate Performance Test and the state essay section of the bar examination;
2) Designing programs to improve skills relating to bar passage;
3) Counseling students regarding options for bar study;
4) Monitoring bar passage rates;
5) Assisting the Director in designing and developing Academic Support Programs for upper-level students;
6) Maintaining a website devoted to bar preparation; and,
7) Assisting students with disabilities with the use of assistive technology.

Applicants must: be a licensed attorney, possess a strong academic background and excellent writing, speaking and organization skills as well as a commitment to academic support.  Prior academic support experience (either professional or as part of a graduate or law school program) or teaching experience (i.e., legal writing or comparable teaching experience in writing and analytical skills training) is preferred.  Evening and some weekend work is required.

To apply, Professor Swain asks that you send your résumé, cover letter, a writing sample (five pages or less), and three references with contact information to:  Human Resources, Vermont Law School, PO Box 96, South Royalton, VT 05068 or to Vermont Law School is an Equal Opportunity Employer. (djt)

February 5, 2006 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Mourning a Friend of Academic Support

Professor Adam G. Todd, Director of Academic Support & Assistant Professor of Legal Writing at Northern Kentucky University's Salmon P. Chase College of Law, sadly informed the Blog of the passing of Chris Iijima.

As reported in the University of Hawai‘i newspaper, Chris Iijima, "...beloved law professor, lawyer, teacher, musician, community organizer, and scholar, died peacefully in Honolulu, Hawai`i on December 31, 2005, surrounded by his family. Chris battled amyloidosis, a rare blood disease, for several years with courage and humor. He reached the age of 57 the week before he died."

Many of us had a chance to meet Chris at some of the past LSAC academic support conferences.  He will be missed.

Professor Todd writes, "Chris’ article entitled “Separating Support from Betrayal: Examining the Intersections of Racialized Legal pedagogy, Academic Support, and Subordination” 33 Indiana Law Review 737 (2000) is a must read for academic support professionals."

For those in the New York area, a celebration of Chris' life has been scheduled in March.  Further information about Chris' legacy, visit  (djt)

February 5, 2006 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Too Cold Where You Are?

This past week, Prof. Linda L. Berger of Thomas Jefferson School of Law announced this position opening: Director of Academic Success.

The successful candidate will further develop, coordinate, and evaluate a comprehensive program that provides academic support to students from orientation to law school through admission to the bar.  Depending on the successful candidate’s background, experience, and interests, the position carries with it the opportunity to play a broader institutional role.

The future development of the program will be determined by the new Director in collaboration with the faculty and senior administrators.  Components may include learning and study skills workshops for all students; individual counseling and referral for at-risk students; substantive courses incorporating learning and study skills; and involvement in summer pre-law programs, new student orientation, bar preparation coordination, community outreach programs, and faculty teaching workshops.   

Thomas Jefferson School of Law is a non-profit, independent, ABA law school located in San Diego, an attractive and diverse urban community along the Pacific Coast. 

Review of applications will begin immediately.  Thomas Jefferson is an equal opportunity employer and encourages applications from women and people of color. 

Professor Berger asks that applicants send a résumé and cover letter to: 
ASP/Bar Pass Task Forcec/o Prof. Linda L. Berger
Thomas Jefferson School of Law
2121 San Diego Ave.
San Diego, CA 92110 (Electronic submissions are welcome.)
(619) 374-6933


February 5, 2006 in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)