August 30, 2006
Is Orientation Worth It? (A Posting by Our Newest Contributing Editor)
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)
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