Thursday, August 31, 2006
Suffolk University Law School in Boston invites applications for the position of the Director of the Academic Support Program beginning in the spring semester of the 2006-2007 academic year or the beginning of the 2007-2008 academic year. The responsibilities of the Director of the Academic Support Program include administering the program to enhance students’ study skills, analytical skills, and overall learning, in addition to meeting individually with students and teaching academic skills workshops in the classroom. We welcome applications from all persons of high academic achievement with a strong commitment to academic support, and particularly encourage applications from women, minorities, and others whose backgrounds will contribute to the diversity of the faculty. Academic support or law school teaching experience is preferred. Interested candidates must have a J.D. degree and be admitted to a bar. Interested applicants should send a cover letter, resume, a list of three references, and a law school transcript to: Professor Tom Finn, Chair, Legal Practice Skills Committee, at firstname.lastname@example.org (or alternatively, send their materials to the Chair at 120 Tremont St., Boston, Massachusetts 02108-4977). The Committee will begin reviewing resumes on September 15, 2006 and will continue until the position is filled. Suffolk University is an equal opportunity employer.
Well, I just got back from the NCBE Academic Support Conference in Madison, Wisconsin and I have a lot to report. I've learned quite a few things from both the NCBE and my fabulous ASP colleagues:
1. Bar examiners are human beings. They are not, as we all previously thought, evil robots intent on extinguishing the spirit and self-esteem of our aspiring lawyers. Not only that, but they appear to be intelligent, nice and hospitable: so hospitable, in fact, they they insisted on feeding us every 1.5 hours.
2. Many ASP programs across the country are offering bar prep and bar related classes and workshops to their students, some for credit, some not. Some schools have been lucky enough to get the big outside vendors to come in and conduct classes for their students. (Now, I am definitely looking into that!) Some ASP programs invite in or give discounts for hypnosis and/or yoga classes to fight stress and depression.
3. The MBE, MEE and MPT go through a very rigorous internal creative process before ever hitting the big exam day. It was fascinating to see how the process works. And, despite statistical information that woman and "minority" groups are consistently under performing on the MBE in particular, we are assured that the test is fair and unbiased. Hmmm.
4. The Bar Examiners at the conference told us that practicing hundreds or thousands of MBE questions is not effective. Sure, in lieu of studying the material this is true, however, I will still tell students that the way to Carnegie Hall and success on multiple choice questions is the same: practice, practice, practice. (Do NOT take the B,C or D trains to garner success on multiple choice tests.)
5. The University of Wisconsin at Madison is huge. We walked at least a mile loop each day (to counteract the feedings) and didn't even see the whole campus. Not only was the campus beautiful (right on the water), but the walks themselves proved educational. For example, my lovely walking buddies (you know who you are, ladies) taught me, among many other things: that female cows can have horns, the difference between a steer and a bull, and why forget-me-nots are called that. It turns out the exercise came in handy because (see next item).....
6. The airport in Chicago (O'Hare) is also huge and just because your plane lands in the same terminal that your connection leaves from, doesn't mean that the gates are close together. Oddly, I think I passed about four Starbucks on my way from one flight to the next. I heartily apologize to the nice guy sitting next to me on the Boston bound part of my journey who had the pleasure of cranky, sweaty me for two hours.
7. I am now ashamed of my "Northeast Superiority Complex". As it turns out, you can find excellent ethnic food and outstanding medical care in places other than New York and Boston. I had a great Nepalese meal during the conference at a lovely restaurant in Madison. Also, the gentleman sitting next to me on the Madison-Chicago leg of my journey told me that he had just finished his last infusion of an experimental medication in Madison. Evidently, one of only three doctors in the world who wold operate on and treat his brain tumor were in Madison. He told me this well over a year past the time his doctors in another state said he would survive. He assured me that our plane would land safely because any other outcome would be far too ironic. He was right, we were safe but a little late.
8. Finally, and this isn't something I learned, but rather something that was reinforced, ASP folks (with very, very few exceptions) are the nicest people in legal education, bar none (get it? BAR?). We really love our students and want them to succeed more than anything else. To put it in elementary school terms, we play nice and we share. We offered each other wisdom, materials and, best of all, friendship.
Thank you all, it was a great adventure. (ezs)
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
I am pleased to welcome our newest contributing editor, Herb Ramy, to the blog. Herb has just assumed the role of Director of the Academic Excellence Program at New England School of Law after having designed and, for several years, served as Director of the Academic Support Program at Suffolk University Law School. He is the author of Succeeding in Law School (2006) and Navigating the Internet: Legal Research on the World Wide Web (2000); he has also published several scholarly articles. Below is his first posting for the blog, and I think you will find it thought provoking and insightful. (dbw)
Is Orientation Worth It?
I have just taken part in my first orientation at New England School of Law (NESL), although I have been a part of a law school orientation for the past nine years at Suffolk University Law School. I thought the orientation went quite well, and it has been interesting to see what another law school does during those first fretful days of the semester.
On one level, I was happy to learn that NESL’s orientation was not all that different from Suffolk’s. Both programs are 3-4 days long, utilize faculty/students panels to convey certain law school truisms, and address the topic of case briefing. Initially, the similarities suggested that I must have been doing something right for the past nine years. Then, a not so pleasant thought occurred to me . . . maybe both schools have been handling orientation incorrectly! I don’t think that is really the case, but it got me wondering as to what we are trying to accomplish during an orientation program. I say “we” because ASP offices often play an important role in these programs.
What are we trying to accomplish during orientation? If the answer is “we want to teach students the skills necessary for success in law school,” then I’m afraid our efforts may be doomed to failure. In many (possibly most) law schools, orientation is a 3-5 day affair during which we program 3-5 hours per day. If we subtract from that time hours devoted to panel discussions, assigning lockers, welcoming speeches, and social functions, we are left with only a handful of hours for skills instruction. I’m not sure that I can teach case synthesis in an hour, particularly where my students have read the grand total of two cases prior to coming to class!
You may think that I’m advocating for much longer orientation periods, but I’m not. At one time, I strongly believed in the need for longer and more in depth orientation programs that lasted 3-4 weeks. Then, reality started to creep into the conversation. Sure, we can accomplish a great deal if orientation lasts 3 or 4 weeks, but most administrations won’t be willing to do this, and with good reason. Having students arrive 3-4 weeks before the traditional start of classes can be a logistical nightmare. Where will they live, eat, and sleep? What about students who have summer plans that overlap with orientation? Will other faculty and administrators be willing to participate in an orientation program that begins at the end of July or beginning of August? Before you say yes, keep in mind that most of these folks don’t take vacations from September through May because of the academic calendar. (By the way, I am purposely excluding CLEO programs or targeted orientation programs from this discussion due to the much smaller number of student participants.) And, if your school has an evening division, then the above concerns are twice as big a problem.
So, where does that leave us? Maybe back at the beginning. Maybe relatively short orientation programs aren’t such a bad thing if we modify our expectations. Instead of using orientation to teach all the skills necessary to succeed in law school, maybe we should focus on 1 or 2 ideas and hammer them home. If we do a good job, then orientation can serve a public relations purpose. Students pleased with our work during orientation are more likely to attend our ASP classes or meet with us one on one. Then, the real work can begin.
Just my two cents . . . (hnr)
Thursday, August 24, 2006
I just read (thanks to the Boston.com News Alert) that Pluto is no longer a planet. Wow, I imagine that there will be a lot of shoe boxes with painted Styrofoam balls in this week's recycling. I know that my sense of universe has been altered. Alright, maybe not; after all, my only real connection with Pluto was wondering why a dog had a dog as a pet. But, I think (wait for it, here comes the ASP link....) that this is a teachable moment for our students.
The declassification of Pluto as a planet is a result of a change in the rules that define planets. This is an eerie parallel to our legal system; after all, whenever an authority (be it scientific, legislative or judicial) decides to change a rule, the consequences can be quite dramatic. Not only that, but the thought process and debate that went into the change in the definition of "planet" were strikingly similar to rules synthesis and legal analysis. After all, the scientists concluded that a planet was:
''a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a ... nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.'' (from AP article located on NYTimes.com).
Think of this as an elemental test (not in the chemistry way). To be a planet, you must: (1) be in orbit around the sun; (2) have sufficient mass for self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that you assume a nearly round shape and; (3) a clear neighborhood around your orbit. If you cannot prove all of these things, you are not a planet. (I may actually be a planet, but I digress.) Pluto couldn't show sufficient evidence on the third element.
The scientists who synthesized this rule clearly were shooting for the stars here (pun awful, but intended). They were seeking a universal (again, awful but intended) rule that would draw a line that was less likely to be arbitrary than the rule they already had. This is exactly what the legal system tries to do in fashioning rules. We are always seeking to create a better, less arbitrary and longer-lasting rule. We strive in our analysis of rules to synthesize the one statement of the rule that is the fairest statement of what we want the law to be.
Also, the scientists addressed the "floodgates" issues. By allowing Pluto planet status, they would have been forced to allow a number of other undeserving large rocks to be called planets as well. Instead, the scientists created a tiered system which classifies Pluto and some others as dwarf planets (sleepy, dopey, etc... I couldn't resist), but not as "classical planets."
In the end, we lose a planet but gain insight into legal reasoning. Hi-ho. (ezs)
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Friday, August 18, 2006
Cathaleen A. Roach has written a thought-provoking article about trends we may expect to see in our students over the next few years, trends that are not entirely encouraging. Several studies have suggested that students in high schools and colleges are receiving less and less instruction and practice in research and writing and, as a result, are graduating college with increasingly poorly developed analytical skills. In addition, students are exhibiting increasing passivity in their approaches to learning.
Her article has important implications for legal pedagogy in general and academic support efforts in particular. You will find her article, "Is the Sky Falling? Ruminations on Incoming Law Student Preparedness (and Implications for the Profession) in the Wake of Recent National and Other Reports," in 11 Leg. Writing 295 (2005).(dbw)
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Well, I have oriented all my students, and now I can sit back and bask in the pleasure of knowing that they are all perfectly prepared for whatever will come in the next few weeks. Right? Well, maybe not, but I certainly tried. I did my usual spiel: you know, "we call them briefs because they are supposed to be short and private." (In case you wanted to incorporate this joke into your orientation lecture, you should know that the students did not laugh as loudly as I did, but feel free to give it a try.)
I think that I have finally, after many years of doing ASP orientation, come up with a "theme" for my talk. My theme this year (and perhaps for many years to come) is the triumvirate of learning. Not a group of three classes, but rather the three stages of getting the most from your classes. The first stage (before class) is preparation: reading and briefing all the assigned cases. The second stage is coming to class, religiously, and taking comprehensive notes. I do warn students to avoid what I call, "court reporter syndrome" and not take notes as if they were merely recording the class without pausing to let the material sink in. And finally: (I wish I could put some musical emphasis here, but in your mind I want you to think aah-ah with golden light and all that) outlining (very soon) after class to bring the first two components together.
That's it. I know I haven't broken down law school into three simple and easy steps, but I tried to make sure my students understand what was expected of them. In law school, I often felt that I had not only missed the boat, but also that I didn't know there was a boat, when it might be sailing or that I was supposed to be on it. Often, I could have done what was expected of me if I had only known what that was. Granted, sometimes I wasn't as diligent about finding out the boat schedule as I should have been, but a little guidance would have helped. Therefore, since the LSAT does not measure psychic ability, I attempted to give my students this information before the pier sits empty again.
Oh, and one last case briefing joke (that I enjoy more than the students, of course) is: for the first couple of weeks, your briefs may actually be longer than the case itself; those are called boxers. Bah-dum-bum. (ezs)
Monday, August 14, 2006
Well, summer seems to be over. I am sitting here in my office (alone) trying to wrap my brain around orientation which will begin later this week. On the one hand, it is a time filled with all sorts of promise: new students with their fresh, sunny new faces and on the other hand, students returning under the cloud cover of academic probation (or as we call it, "Academic Warning"). It is an interesting balance as we go forward.
Balance is the word I use to describe our orientation strategy. We spend a good deal of time scaring the poop out of students by reminding them (endlessly) that this is NOT college, you CANNOT get away with studying only before exams, you CANNOT miss classes, etc. Also, we tell them they are entering a foreign country where the locals appear to speaking English, but they aren't. Instead, we are all speaking "law" which is a different language altogether and the first few weeks of law school are more like immersion in a foreign country to learn the language than anything else. We do temper this with the revelation that we do not expect students to "get it" at first, but then we crush their shiny fresh spirits by explaining that they should "get it" really soon or else.
I think if I delivered my orientation lecture while wearing a blindfold and holding the scales of justice, I might get the point across more clearly. Or, perhaps the students would think they got caught in one of those tourist walks that are led by folks in costume all around Boston (ask me sometime about how my nine-year-old heckled Ben Franklin).
But then, just to complete the scene, I tell the students that I am here to help; that they should feel free to come and see me for anything during those first hard weeks. In a way, it is a cruel manipulation. First, I tell students to be scared; really scared. But then I tell them not to be because I can help. It's like if Superman hung you on the edge of a cliff and then flew by (about two hours later) to rescue you (minus the tights and cape, after all it is still pretty hot here).
I sincerely mean everything I tell the students, I am not running a scam here but I often feel like I have placed the image of the monster in the students' heads only to then offer to help slay it. But the bottom line is this: I am offering an accurate warning and then offering to help the students arm themselves for the onslaught. My only "profit" from student attentiveness to my orientation lecture is perhaps a slight lack of business down the road (but really, with three kids and three cats at home, I am just excited anyone would listen to me at all). (ezs)
Thursday, August 3, 2006
"My mother drew a distinction between achievement and success. She said that 'achievement is the knowledge that you have studied and worked hard and done the best that is in you. Success is being praised by others, and that's nice, too, but not as important or satisfying. Always aim for achievement and forget about success.' " – Helen Hayes (US actress [1900 – 1993])
Good advice for first-year students. It isn't the grades or the rank; it's the learning that matters. High grades and high ranks are nice, but it's the learning that carries the day when a client's interests are on the line. (dbw)
 From The Quotations Page, www.quotationspage.com