Thursday, March 30, 2006
Further information regarding the Northeast Regional Academic Support Workshop
Q. When is it?
A. Thursday, June 15 (starting at noon) and Friday, June 16 (all day).
Q. Where is it?
A. Roger Williams University School of Law in Bristol, Rhode Island.
Q. Who should attend?
A. Those who are (relatively) new to academic support in law school, and those who are instituting new academic support programs at their schools.
Q. How many may attend?
A. Maximum: 40.
Q. What topics will be addressed?
A. Presently scheduled workshop topics include ...
• Whom we support
• Academic support for students with LD/ADHD
• What new ASPers should know, including “political” issues, and program evaluation basics
• Interrelation between Academic and psychological (etc.) counseling
• Teaching students how to answer exams
• My first year in ASP & yours ... what to expect
• Ask the experts
Q. Who will be presenting?
A. Presenters include:
Lorraine Lalli, Roger Williams Law
Ellen Swain, Vermont Law
Darby Dickerson, Stetson Law
Linda Feldman, Brooklyn Law
Pavel Wonsowicz, U. Nevada Law
Herb Ramy, Suffolk Law
Natt Gantt, Regent Law
Dan Weddle, U. Missouri (KC) Law
Kim Baker, Roger Williams Law
Others to be announced later
[Do you want to present? Alert me and we can discuss it.]
Q. How much will this cost?
A. Registration fee: $50, which includes all materials, lunch and dinner on Thursday, and light breakfast and lunch on Friday. Registrants will pay for their own travel and lodging.
NOTE: Summer in Bristol, RI, is a tourist-heavy time. Book soon to obtain lodging. Call Tracy (below) for more travel information after visiting the web sites below.
Q. Where is Rhode Island?
A. Visit: http://www.visitrhodeisland.com/. The closest Airport is T.F. Green airport (Providence). Logan airport in Boston is about one hour away (more time if traffic).
Q. Where is Roger Williams University School of Law?
A. Visit: http://law.rwu.edu/.
Q. How do I secure a spot at the workshop?
A. Send an email to Administrative Assistant TRACY SARTRYS. Her address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You may reach Tracy by phone at (401) 254-4647. Because of limited space, only “for sure” reservations will be accepted.
Q. Where can I stay?
A. Newport is about 30 minutes south of Roger Williams University. Providence is about 20 minutes north of the school. The (above) websites should be your guide. We will assemble some more detailed local hotel information soon, and forward it to those who plan to attend. (djt)
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Vincent A. Thomas has announced his departure from Hamline Law School, where he has served for many years as Assistant Dean of Students and Adjunct Professor of Law, and alerted our community to the opening of his position.
Vince has accepted the position of Assistant Dean for Student and Multicultural Affairs at The University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis.
He describes the opening at Hamline as follows:
"Hamline will commence its search for my successor immediately. My position at Hamline would be a great job for anyone in career services, academic support, or admissions who would like to transition into law school student affairs, or anyone who'd prefer a job at a smaller private school that includes an admissions component. The students, faculty, and staff at Hamline are people of uncommon warmth and decency. The Twin Cities area is a great place to live, especially if you are raising children. If you would like more information about my position at Hamline, please contact my colleague Anne T. Johnson, our Assistant Dean for Administration and Programs, at email@example.com."
Congratulations to Vincent. (djt)
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
In my first year of law school (on the first day), I met the man I ultimately married. We were already dating by the time we had to do oral arguments for our legal writing class and our TA’s thought it would be good ‘ole nifty fun to make us argue against each other. We both agree that I won (did I mention that he is a very smart man?).
Our first year students will be doing their oral arguments for their legal research and writing classes over the next weeks. Now, for me, oral arguments were always the fun part of the class, but then again I was a (geek alert!!) high school debater (and on the math team, too!) and I thought oral arguments were just peachy. Sadly, most of our students are not as excited by the prospect of this activity as I was.
I have seen a number of panic-stricken, yet well dressed, students this week who have come to me for advice and to answer the age old question, “why do we need to do this?” My answer is always this, “because I said so.” Oops, actually, that would be my answer for my kids, for students I say, “Because the ultimate weapon in a lawyer’s arsenal is the courtroom and being comfortable there means you have the edge over your adversary.”
It is that simple. “I’ll see you in court,” is often considered a threat (at least on TV and in movies) but if you cannot make good on that threat, you will not be the most effective lawyer you can—and you have an ethical obligation to be a zealous advocate for your clients, not someone who makes empty threats. Oral arguments are the first step in finding a comfort level in court.
Granted, there are attorneys who don’t see the inside of a
courtroom after their bar swearing-in ceremony. I know a lot of lawyers who would rather never go to the courthouse and
not just because parking is a nightmare (which it is). But I really believe that being able to
navigate a courtroom is an essential skill for lawyering. In fact, I often recommend that my
probationary students take a trial practice class or a clinic to get some
courtroom (or courtroom-like) experience.
I have found that students who lack confidence in their exam-taking abilities really thrive in a more practical lawyering-skills kind of class. I think some of these students are more hands-on learners who need to see the way the rules of evidence operate in court rather than manipulate them on paper only. Not only that, but a practical kind of class (especially a clinic) can help a student rediscover their initial reasons for wanting to come to law school. It can be an epiphany to remember why you wanted to be a lawyer in the first place. I have found (anecdotally) that this will improve a student’s grades across the board and not just in that class or clinic.
As for my nervous first year students, I tell them my old courtroom stories of embarrassing situations I lived through. My favorite: the judge who figured out that I did not know to stand up whenever addressing the court, so he signaled me to stand when I did. Well, since I did not know why I was standing, I didn’t know when to sit down either, so he gave me another signal to sit. That judge had me randomly jumping up and down for an entire proceeding using hand signals. In the end, I caught on that he was having fun at my expense and we all had a good laugh. Which taught me the most valuable lesson about oral arguments, “Never, never, never, take yourself too seriously.” Thanks, Judge Lauria! (ezs)
Sunday, March 26, 2006
As another round of exams nears, we need to make certain our students understand the difference between recognizing familiar concepts and actually knowing those concepts. When students complain that they felt they "knew the material" but inexplicably did not do well on a test, they are closer to the truth than they realize: they felt that they knew the material; they did not actually know it.
That false feeling stems from the way many students study. They prepare for tests by simply reading their notes again and again. As a result, each time they reread the same material, it naturally feels very familiar; so they believe they have learned it. Familiarity creates for them the illusion of internalization.
Unfortunately, even on open-book exams, genuine internalization of material is critical to performance because the typical test question requires students to merge multiple complex ideas with complicated fact patterns and to do so under time pressure. No time exists for looking up all of those ideas or for thinking through their relationships to one another for the first time.
We need to caution students to test themselves in real ways to see whether they can actually recall and competently manipulate critical concepts under pressure, as opposed to merely recognizing those concepts when they read them. They need, for example, to take practice exams without notes and use model answers or study partners' answers to identify what they only thought they knew. They then need to move beyond merely reading concepts over and over as a substitute for internalizing concepts through memorization and repeated use under exam-like conditions.
In other words, they need to disabuse themselves of any false sense of security about what they truly know if they hope to correct their deficiencies in time for exams. The window may still be open for making those corrections, but it is closing fast. For those who continue to think rereading material is the same as studying it, that window is going to close quietly; but it will close nonetheless. (dbw)
My friend Ellen Swain (Vermont Law School Academic Success Program Director) recently directed me to an interesting ABA Journal article.
In Discontented in the Law, author Jill Schachner Chanen explains: "It’s no secret that law and job satisfaction don’t always go hand in hand, but a recent survey shows just how miserable some lawyers really are, especially those newer to the practice. ... The reason boils down to work-life balance, according to a survey by the National Association for Law Placement Foundation. The struggle to find that balance is especially pronounced among lawyers in supervised or nonmanagerial positions, the survey found."
Consider this: what do students learn in law school?
If they don't learn to "balance," then their learning of legal concepts, analytical processes, preferred methods of citation, and tax regulations is for naught.
Excellent law students become excellent lawyers. Miserable law students (even those—or maybe especially those—with high GPAs) become miserable lawyers.
Ms. Chanen writes that Milwaukee lawyer Christina Plum, chair of the ABA’s Young Lawyers Division, also is not surprised by findings in the survey (mentioned above). "It’s hard for me to imagine a lawyer not having to struggle to balance work with all of the other choices in their lives," she says.
Yes, it is a struggle. But it would be far less of a struggle if students spent their (pardon me, please) 1000 days in law school practicing how to achieve this balance.
This, I believe, is the most critical message of academic support. Yes, students, you need to learn how to read casebooks. Follow the exercises in Ruth Ann McKinney's book. You need to learn how to brief cases. Check out the examples in Bridging the Gap. You need to learn rules, strategies, and so much more. But if you don't learn "balance," it is all for naught. Spend three hours outside of class for every hour in class. That's 60 hours each week, right? Sleep eight hours each night. 56? That gives you 52 (awake) hours each week for the other stuff of life. Use it. Or lose it.
If we don't make this message explicit to our students, we are doing them a disservice. (djt)
Saturday, March 25, 2006
"I stayed up till 4:30 a.m. studying, crashed, then woke up just in time to get to school for my Property final. That's after three days of constant studying. I haven't had a full night's sleep since Spring Break."
Well, you didn't do as well as you could have on that exam, did you?
I think this may be accurate: sleep deprivation causes more poor grades than we imagine.
Read Dr. Sanjay Gupta's article, "Sleep Deprived," on page 66 of the March 13 issue of TIME magazine.
The good doc explains that "...a chronically sleep-deprived person will often go through repeated episodes of microsleep, sometimes accompanied by micro-dreams (which are usually interpreted as hallucinations)." Did you ever wonder why students "answer questions that the professor didn't ask," or "use facts not included in the hypothetical?" ... micro-dreams, my friends.
"If you have been up for more than 20 hours, your reflexes are roughly comparable to those of someone with a blood-alcohol level of .08—which in many states is enough to be considered legally [or illegally (ed.)] drunk."
"Sleeping only six hours a night for a week makes you as tired on the seventh night as if you had had no sleep at all," he explains.
Now the math is a bit too sticky for me, but I get the idea. A student who sleeps only five or six hours each night (max) for most/all of the week, then stays up most/all night to study for a final is operating in this condition:
* hallucinatory; and
I tell students to practice law now ... to practice being the kind of lawyer they themselves would like to have representing them if they were, for example, being tried for a serious felony they did not commit. How many of your students would like their lawyer to show up at trial in that condition?
Balance. That's the key. Let them know. (djt)
Friday, March 24, 2006
I once had a student whose husband was a professional baseball player; and when, during her first year of law school, she complained about how frustrated she was with the results of her hard work, he responded with what I think is one of the best analogies I have ever heard regarding the law school experience.
He said, "When I played high school baseball, in that league I was it. When I played college ball, in that league I was still it. When I made the pros, everyone had always been it; suddenly, I wasn't it anymore." Then he told her, "You've just found out you're in the majors."
I like that analogy because I think it holds up pretty well. Those who make it into law school tend to have been it everywhere else, and what served them well before no longer sets them apart from the crowd. But there is also an important corollary: in the highest levels of competition, minor adjustments in technique can have startling impacts on performance.
For example, when George Brett first began playing for the Kansas City Royals in the '70's, he was no hitting phenom. He was hitting around .200 and was worried about staying in the majors. Charlie Lau, Brett's batting coach, convinced him to change his hitting style, to shift his weight and improve his extension. Brett won his first batting crown two years later and finished his career having won batting crowns in each of three decades, something no one had ever done before. He's in the Hall of Fame.
My students sometimes think it sounds crazy that something as insignificant as changing a studying technique here or there could actually turn an average law student into a pacesetter. I think to myself, yeah, and it sounds crazy that changing a major leaguer's batting style can transform him from a .200 hitter into a hall of fame batter; but that's how it works when you're playing in the majors. (dbw)
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
After seeing a number of students over the past few days (post-Spring break), I realize that I am basically saying the same things at each meeting. So here, for your distributing pleasure, is my top-ten list of things I nag students about in Mid-March. Enjoy!
- Yes, you really do need to do your own outlining. The person who gave you theirs probably did get an A in the class because he/she did it themselves and did not rely on any one else’s outline. You only get 50% of the benefit in having someone else's outline as opposed to 100% of the benefit of writing your own.
- Neither Mr. Emmanuel nor Mr. Gilbert will be giving you your exams. Do the reading your professor assigned.
- Go to class. Go directly to class. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.00.
- Go to the Dean’s office and request accommodations for your exams if you need them. Do it now because there is a deadline, and no, I don’t think the deadline can be extended and/or waived because of your disability. When should you go? NOW!!!
- Think about whether you are typing or writing your exams and do something about it now if you plan to type. There is a deadline (see above for deadline stuff). Again, I recommend doing it NOW!!!
- If you are tan (from the sun, a spray-on tan is ok) after spring break, I will know you did not do the reading, outlining and exercises we discussed. You may look great, but that tan will fade before exams and the reading and outlining requirements will not. Get back to work!
- Do at least 10 multiple choice questions a day in the subjects where they will appear on your exams. 4 out of 5 ASP professionals recommend it and the 5th one says, “Do 15.”
- Get old exams from the library website and answer them. Go talk to your professor after you’ve done it and ask for feedback. This is the most valuable study aid known to mankind (and by mankind, I mean ASP professionals). Are you giving your professors what they want on exams? This is a question best answered before the exams start.
- Get to know your exam schedule now and try to pre-plan your studying accordingly. (See my rant from last semester on “exam plans.”)
- Come see the ASP office to talk about exams and to borrow study aids. You can test drive a variety of materials before spending a lot of panicked money by stopping by to see us. We are here to help. (ezs)
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
We had a lovely adventure last week as we were driving down to New York City from Boston. And by lovely, I mean hair-raising and awful. We were driving out of New Haven after having had a nice lunch at a diner, when our car seemed to be struggling to get up the hill after the tunnel (for those of you who travel on Route 15 in Connecticut, you know where I mean). Then the motor revved really high and we couldn’t seem to put the car in gear. Did I mention the three small children in the backseat? Anyway, we made it up the hill, coasted down the hill toward an exit ramp and made it pretty far until the ramp started to curve uphill slightly.
At this point my husband got out of the car and I moved over to the steering wheel and he pushed. The people in the green Honda Odyssey (and you know who you are!!!) who beeped at us and made rude gestures because we were in their way, made me wonder if the people of Connecticut and by extrapolation, the whole world (I cannot claim my thinking was rational at that moment) were all horribly unhelpful. (“Look mommy, that lady is pointing at us”, said my five-year-old). I felt that we were all alone in our misery.
But then, some nice stranger made me see that wasn’t the case: he got out of his scary looking black Dodge Ram pickup truck (“look Mommy, he has a big skeleton painted on his car.”) and helped my husband push the car until we got over the little hill and could coast easily into the conveniently located “park and ride” lot next to the highway. I parked beautifully; if I do say so myself.
After that, every encounter we had with other people: the tow-truck driver, the mechanics, the
car-rental folks, was positive and affirming. What does this have to do with Academic Support, you ask? Well, it made me think that ASP is the place
where students’ events can be turned around and that hopefully after a little
push from us, every subsequent encounter students have in law school will be
Law school can be an uphill battle and not every student can get their acts in gear at the same speed as others. Also, the people who students might think will be helpful sometimes prove to be more concerned with their own comings and goings (wow, is this analogy great or what?). And sometimes, all it takes is a little common kindness and help from a stranger to make the rest of the journey seem less lonely.
Bottom line: a little help makes a big difference. Our story ended well, too. We rented a car and continued on our way. After all, we were on our way to visit my 97-year-old grandmother and while we were halfway there already, why turn back? She was glad to see us. (ezs)
Sunday, March 19, 2006
It's late in what has been a long, grueling year for first-year students; briefs are due soon; exams are around the corner; and all the intensity is beginning to wear students thin. Our students, who have given more to law school than they have ever given before to an academic endeavor and done so for less immediate reward, are tempted like exhausted swimmers to let up and let whatever happens happen.
This is a good time to send a note of encouragement or to wander the halls a little, keeping an eye out for opportunities to encourage individual students and remind them how far they've come in just a few months. It's a time of year that students need to know that they can do this work and that the hard work will pay off. (dbw)
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Students are often shocked that their undergraduate study methods fail to serve them well in law school because as undergraduates they found significant success, at least in terms of grades, using those methods. What law school does is expose the flaws in those methods, flaws that actually hindered effective learning in undergraduate school.
Bright students often get away with poor study skills for years because their intellectual strength compensates for what are in reality self-defeating approaches to learning. The study of law is less forgiving than many undergraduate programs, so what worked as compensation for poor studying in undergraduate schools fails students when they are confronted by the rigor and intellectual competition of law school.
Those students need to evaluate their study habits even at basic levels and learn new techniques. You might direct them to Virginia Tech's study skills website for some practical help with basic study skills. Check out the entire site (not everything necessarily transfers directly to the law school environment), but click on the page "Concentration: Some Basic Guidelines" for an example of what it offers; I think your students will find some very useful advice that is as relevant to law students as it is to the undergraduates targeted by the site. (dbw)
Thursday, March 16, 2006
I would like to provide a follow up to yesterday's (March 15) posting to add some important context. In that posting, "Helping Students Bring Order Out of Chaos," I suggested a list of questions that students can use to help them think through how to organize a mass of research results into an outline of a scholarly article. I asked my colleague Paul Callister what he thought of my advice because Paul, who directs our law library at UMKC, also co-teaches with me a course in scholarly writing. He, not surprisingly, suggested that we must keep clear the ongoing interrelationship between writing and research.
Paul is absolutely right, and his point is important. The writing process and the research process are intertwined for the scholar because both, in reality, are different manifestations of a thinking process that begins at the first inkling of a potential topic and continues to the last editing decision.
Throughout, the research directs the writing, and the writing directs the research, right up to the last moment of the process. Anyone who produces scholarship knows that the entire endeavor, from start to finish, continually sends the writer back to rethink the material, to research it from a different angle in order to flesh it out or refine it in new ways necessary to the writer's constantly evolving understanding.
When a good writer asks, early on, why a problem is important, she has only begun to really ask that question. She knows that if she stops asking it because she has compiled some research results – even a large number of research results – she has effectively stopped thinking about a critical aspect of the problem and has closed herself to new understandings. As a good writer, she will keep that question on the table to very end.
Students need to understand scholarship in those terms. Scholarship is about actively engaging ideas and letting that engagement transform the scholar's own understanding until the last sentence is tweaked for the last time. In other words, the questions on yesterday's list are actually ongoing questions that, along with others, should have been asked and researched long before – and should be asked and researched long after – the outline of a first draft.
Within that ongoing process, of course, the questions can be put to multiple uses. The use to which my posting suggested they be put is one of organizing and focusing the writer's thoughts for the purpose of creating a structure for the article. Once that purpose has been tentatively achieved, however, they will be used again and again for multiple purposes, including revising (rethinking) the organization that initially emerged.
When students approach scholarship as nothing more than gathering and sorting an impressive mass of material, they have missed the point of the entire endeavor. They are thinking in the simplest and least useful ways about what are likely important ideas.
When, therefore, one of our students comes to us asking for advice regarding his scholarship, we must make certain he truly understands the task: to think deeply about an idea and to refuse to stop thinking deeply until the final draft is finally complete. As a result, he will find himself researching even in the last revision because even in the last revision he will still be refining his understanding of that idea. (dbw)
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Students often ask me for advice on how to write scholarly articles to fulfill upper-level research and writing requirements, and one of the chief difficulties they face is how to take a mass of research and organize it into an outline. I thought I might share with you a series of questions I ask my students to pose for themselves as a way of identifying the categories of information that will ultimately form the structure of their articles.
I first make certain that they know two things:
1) that they have to discover a clear thesis – a point they wish to make that can be stated in a sentence or so; and
2) that they should arrange their material by considering it from the reader's point of view – a reader who is relatively uninformed, skeptical, and possibly hostile to the thesis the student is asserting.
Given those two principles, they should see all of the questions as an extrapolation of one key question:
What does the reader need to know, understand, and believe in order to accept my basic point, i.e., my thesis?
From that question come several useful questions they should ask themselves to spur their thinking:
1. What is the point that I am trying to make – i.e., what is my thesis?
2. Why is my thesis important? (Why should the reader care?)
- Does it solve a problem?
- Does it expose a problem that needs to be solved?
- an injustice?
- an inconsistency in the law?
- an inefficiency in the law?
3. What legal theories and doctrines underlie my thesis?
4. What policies or values does my thesis exemplify or reflect, and are they likely to be shared by the reader?
5. What changes in current theories or doctrine does my thesis require in order to be accepted?
6. What practical obstacles exist to the implementation of my thesis?
7. What must be done to overcome the obstacles?
8. What shared values can I appeal to?
Given the answers to 1-8:
9. What must the reader know?
- The nature of the problem or the origin of the problem, for example.
10. What must the reader understand?
- The effect of the problem?
- The logic of the theories or doctrines underlying or setting up my thesis?
- The logic underlying my thesis?
11. What must the reader come to believe in to accept my thesis?
- The need for a solution?
- The importance of the problem?
- The importance of my thesis?
- The validity of the theories or doctrines underlying my thesis?
12. What are the logical steps for a reader to go from uninformed and unconvinced to informed and
The list is hardly exhaustive, of course, and the sub-questions under each larger question are merely examples; but I found that the list largely reflects the implicit and explicit questions I ask myself when I structure an article. From such questions the writer can identify the necessary concepts the reader must grasp and begin to see potential structures that would help the reader do so.
The writer will likely discover that several effective structures might work but will also likely discover that certain concepts must be clear before others will make sense; so only those structures that respect that fact will actually work.
I thought my students might find an explicit list of questions helpful to spur their thinking and give direction to their writing, so I scratched out this list. I thought you might also find the questions helpful (or a better list of your own making) if students ask you how to begin to bring order out of the chaos of their research. (dbw)
Monday, March 13, 2006
Please take a moment to fill out our short reader survey here. We would like to have a better idea about who is reading this blog so we can better serve you. Thanks in advance for your help. (The survey will remain at the top of the middle column throughout this week.) (dbw)
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Although I cannot claim to be an avid reader of Woman’s World magazine, nevertheless, I do thumb through it on occasion when I visit the dentist.
Do you suppose he (my dentist) will mind that I tore out part of a (March 7 edition) page detailing “9 Easy Ways to Boost Your Energy?” You may want to send your students some of these methods … for between study sessions. Included in the nine easy ways are:
• Take a catnap (the magazine recommends no longer than 30 minutes).
• Walk briskly for about ten minutes to raise your alertness level.
• Munch almonds—but not in the library of course. Almonds are loaded with magnesium (also, I discovered, with fat).
• Eat snacks—also outside the library—composed of carbos and proteins, for a “longer-lasting” power boost.
• Sip green tea. In addition to the law students' main nutrient (caffeine), this fluid contains “the amino acid L-thiamine, which helps counteract energy-sapping anxiety.”
• Sniff some flowers. No study quoted, but the magazine claims the scent of fresh flowers has been “proven to increase vitality and concentration by 17 percent.”
• Stretch for 30 seconds every quarter hour, according to research at LSU.
• Laugh. Now that’s the toughest one to handle when studying for a law school final.
• Drink water. Dehydration is draining. Most libraries allow water.
Do you have other energy-boosting tips to pass along to students? E-mail some to me and I’ll post them on the blog. (djt)
Friday, March 10, 2006
Do you have something you could share with the ASP community? Here's a great opportunity from the program committee of the AALS Section on Academic Support:
CALL FOR PRESENTATION ABSTRACTS
The Section on Academic Support is seeking presenters for the AALS Annual Meeting program. If you are interested, please send a one or two page description or bullet outline of the content you want to present. Be sure to include a description of your proposed presentation methods along with a biographical description and your qualifications for presenting on this year's topic.
Workshop Topic: "Integrating Academic Support Across the Curriculum." Our workshop description and suggested subtopics for prospective presenters are as follows:
Brief Workshop Description: This workshop will highlight ways in which schools can interweave academic support topics throughout their first-year curriculum and beyond. Studies have shown that the most effective interventions are integrated into students' regular coursework. The presenters will address how to achieve maximum benefit of academic support throughout a school curriculum. Workshop participants will be asked to think broadly and critically about what constitutes effective teaching learning in law school. The workshop will be geared towards both doctrinal and skills professors.
Potential Subtopics: The presenters could potentially address the following subtopics:
- Including the "Must-Haves" - academic support topics that all schools should include (such as course outlining techniques, developing analysis - application of law to fact);
- Integrating academic support concepts into doctrinal and skills courses;
- Designing, critiquing, and grading individual and group assignments;
- Teaching with low-tech and high-tech resources; and
- A related idea not on this list.
Please send your presentation abstracts to Prof. Robin Boyle via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, March 31, 2006. If you have questions, you may direct your questions to Prof. Boyle at her email address or call her at (718) 990-6609.(dbw)
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
I have been meeting with students about their legal writing papers this week. Lots and lots of students. The papers are due tomorrow, so I am seeing about 8-10 students a day until then. Often these students have done all the requisite research and really given the problem a lot of thought, but cannot seem to organize their issues even using the templates we bombard them with: IRAC, CREAC, PREAC etc.
The biggest problem seems to be in discussing and synthesizing the vast array of case law they have found in the E sections for CREAC and PREAC, or in the A for IRAC. Students often seem to flounder on what information on the case to include and which to exclude in these sections and more importantly how to arrange the cases in their thematic paragraphs. I’ve actually invented a new word to help students in determining what not to do, “write thematically, not casematically.” Nifty, huh?
But really, I tell students that they can usually sum up the case in two sentences using the formula of facts, holding, rationale (oh my!). It should look like this: “In the Smith case, the court found that monkeys were in fact members of the legislature because they were easily as capable as elected officials in making law for the state. The court reasoned that if a ham sandwich could be indicted, then a monkey could rule the land.” This is not a real case (I felt the need to mention that because you never know).
I have also been advising students to use these “explanation of the law” areas to lay out a spectrum upon which they can place their fact pattern to show that they are correct. In persuasive writing you can control the spectrum so long as you do not misstate the law or attempt to mislead the court.
Basically, the spectrum idea looks like this: in [our first case] in this jurisdiction we have slam-dunk summary judgment, in [another case] the court granted summary judgment where the facts were slightly less compelling than ours and finally, in [a third case], where the facts are highly distinguishable from ours, the court laughed at the motion for summary judgment and then set the motion papers on fire using their wands. The key is to lay out a spectrum where the relief you are seeking has been granted to parties who are less worthy than you for reasons you will explain later on (in the next paragraph in IRAC or really soon in CREAC) in the paper.
This makes perfect sense to me, but I have been forced to draw pictures in some cases to make this point to students. I fully expect to see my post-it diagrams of case law spectra flutter by me on the Boston Common some day. Probably tomorrow, after the papers are turned in. (ezs)
Tuesday, March 7, 2006
Yesterday, as I was walking into school I bumped into a former student of mine. She was “six minutes late for a depo” she said. She was dressed in a suit, hosiery and nice shoes. She had a briefcase and a big handful of other documents. My first thought was, wow doesn’t she look all grown up and lawyerly. I had to really hold myself back from pinching her cheeks and telling her how much she had grown.
Sometimes I think I lose sight of the fact that a vast majority of the students I work with will graduate, pass the bar and start being lawyers. In ASP we tend to work on the small picture: the next set of exams or legal writing assignments. Sometimes we even help to micro-manage the outlining process. But our success with a student inevitably takes that student out of our lives because they no longer need us.
This is very much like parenting, isn’t it? Nurturing followed by letting go is a pattern I am sure I will have to follow with my children (but not yet, because I am absolutely, certainly not ready to let go and I won’t be for a while….). I often tell students to remember their big picture: the goals that led them to law school, where they fit in the universe of their friends and family outside this building, etc. But I seem to have lost sight of mine.
I think somewhere along the way I forgot that my role in a student’s trip through this building was to help and then disappear. The reminder that the students I work with go on to be real, grown-up lawyers was refreshing. And I swear that former student looked taller too. (ezs).
Monday, March 6, 2006
Do you find that as the "final brief" deadline approaches, first-year students at your school become [more] frenzied? Do they blow off classes? Do they stay up all night writing, rewriting, and drinking way too much coffee?
This is not a good thing.
Here is a recent (February 2006) example of what happens when students (apparently) don't pay enough attention to their legal writing class. See King Order. Be sure to read the footnote.
Thanks to Jon Tonsing for bringing this order to my attention. (Note: Jon is not involved in the litigation that spawned this order.) (djt)
Sunday, March 5, 2006
Do students sometimes show up in your office with tales of woe that almost (or do) bring tears to your eyes? Dollars to donuts you haven't heard a story quite like this one . . .
"Reclaiming a Dream" is the name of the article on the last page of the March 2006 issue of California Lawyer. I guess I read it because of the author's unlikely first name.
This Cupcake is rather special, I discovered. Who is she? Well, during much of her life, these appellations were appropriate: "Dope fiend, gangsta, prostitute, crook, high schoold dropout, drunk."
You've heard the expression, "She had it all." Cupcake Brown had none of it.
What a life. According to a New York Times review of her recent book, "Ms. Brown describes discovering her mother's dead body as an 8-year-old. She traces every terrible thing that later happened back to this catastrophic loss. The man she called Daddy turned out not to be her biological father, and so he lost custody of Cupcake. The man she called Sperm Donor handed her over to foster care in California. Bounced from place to place, she was abused not only by Cinderella's wicked stepmother but by yet another father figure, a man who took her to the parking lot of a Kmart for sexual assignations at 12. She never made it to cheerleading practice."
After 14 years of working the streets, "You could see the imprint of my ribs — I was a size 1. I had no shoes. My hair was sticking up like Buckwheat. My lips were cracked and burnt from the crack pipe," Ms.Brown, 40, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It was then that I realized that I was dying, and I didn't want to die like that."
Now, Cupcake Brown is referred to by her clients and judges before whom she appears as "counsel." As an antitrust litigator with one of the largest law firms in the country, Ms. Brown, a magna cum laude graduate of the University of San Francisco School of Law, is not only a busy lawyer, but also a busy speaker.
Her memoir, A Piece of Cake, was published last month.
Cupcake? According to Oprah Winfrey's web site Ms. Brown's unlikely first name is the result of a nurse's misunderstanding of her mother's post-delivery request for a snack.
In the California Lawyer article, Ms. Brown writes, "The journey was well worth it. I tell my story openly on the chance that others will find hope and inspiration in it." Maybe some of your students will. (djt)