Thursday, September 7, 2006

The Newest Member of Our Editorial Team

Jarmon1 We're welcoming another familiar face to the blog today.  Amy Jarmon is joining us as a contributing editor.  She has a long history of helping students succeed, and we are looking forward to hearing from her regularly on the blog.

Amy was hired to develop the first academic success program for Texas Tech School of Law in 2004.  Although her program serves all 650 law students, she works also with students on probation and teaches in the month-long Introduction to Legal Studies course for entering 1L students whose predictors are lower than those of their classmates. Prior to her move to Texas, Amy was the Director of Academic Success Programs and Acting Assistant Dean for Law Student Services at University of Akron School of Law. 

In her first career, Amy worked in decanal positions with undergraduate students for 17 years and spent 10 of those years working in a “bridge position” between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs to assist students in achieving their potential inside and outside the classroom.  Amy is a licensed attorney in Virginia and on the Roll of Solicitors for England and Wales.  She teaches Comparative Law: The English Legal System as an elective course for upper-division students. (dbw)

September 7, 2006 in About This Blog | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Running in stilettos is like case briefing because...

I saw a woman running for the train this morning.   She was wearing shoes that could be characterized as per se dangerous instruments under NY Law; that is:they had a blade longer than four inches.  Watching her go down the hill and then navigate the tracks (we have outdoor trains in my neighborhood and you have to cross the tracks to get into town), reminded me of first year law students and case briefing.  Granted, I hadn't had any coffee yet and the relationship between the shoes and case briefing was tenuous to begin with, but I'll try to get this analogy working in any event.

First year law students are struggling to brief all of their cases at this time of year, I think, mainly because we told them to.  In a way, we are like those fashion magazines that say, "be like us, look good, here's the way..."  We did explain why briefing was important at orientation or shortly thereafter.  But like this morning's fashion victim, I think they are doing it because everyone else is (or at least they say they are) and frankly it looks good.  However, like the per se dangerous shoes, case briefing is really uncomfortable at the beginning, especially when you have to hit the ground running (as 1Ls do).   Case briefing is not an intuitive exercise and when the benefits of doing it right are still not obvious, then it becomes quite onerous.

Eventually, our students will learn less awkward ways of getting the information they need from cases and putting it down on paper (or screen).  Until then, this week's (and maybe, next) case briefs will be awkward: too long and incorrectly framing the issue and/or rules and holdings.  Yet, like so many things in law, practice will make, not perfect, but certainly better.  Heck, I know some women who cannot wear flat shoes anymore because they have grown so accustomed to wearing heels.

The bottom line:  over time, our students will learn to do case briefs as easily as lacing up a pair of sneakers.  Which they should wear, especially if they need to run for the train. (ezs)

September 6, 2006 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

What's In a Name?

What’s in a name?  Or, to be more specific, does it make any difference (within reason!) what we choose to call our programs?  Are students more likely to work with us if we bill ourselves as an Academic Excellence Program as opposed to an Academic Support Program?  Do students really feel stigmatized if the enter an office with the word support prominently displayed on the door?

On the one hand, as an attorney I understand the power of words and even punctuation.  Change a single word or move a single comma, and you may dramatically alter the meaning of a sentence or phrase.  Applying the point to the academic world, think about the difference that a single word like “Professor” can make.  Professor Ramy is entitled to respect and is assumed to possess a certain level of expertise and knowledge.  Mr. Ramy, on the other hand, is more likely to be blown off by his students and has to work harder to be taken seriously.  All that being said, I’m still not sure how much of a difference it makes if I use the word excellence, as opposed to support, to modify program.

I can, however, follow the argument.  The word “support” suggests a program for students who need help.  To some, the word may even suggest a remedial program.  If students perceive our programs as providing only remedial assistance, then we are inadvertently contributing to the stigmatization of our students.  Then, students will stop coming to our offices or attending our classes to avoid appearing like students who need help.

A term like “excellence,” however, suggests a different type of program.  Instead of a program that emphasizes remedial assistance, “Excellence Programs” are for any student who wants to achieve a high level of success.  Even the school’s very best students might take part in an “Excellence Program” in order to hone their already considerable skills.

While I can follow the above argument, I’ve never seen data supporting it.  Has anyone interviewed students as to how they perceive an “Academic Support Program” vs. an “Academic Excellence Program”?  Is the argument so obvious that supporting data is unnecessary?

Assuming for a moment that a program’s name does carry with it some unintended baggage, it seems to me that students are smart enough to go beyond a program’s name and judge it based on who we serve.  If I work exclusively with students who have low LSAT scores, or with those who are on probation, then my “Academic Excellence Program” will quickly be perceived as a remedial program.  Similarly, if I work with students on law review, those taking part in clinical programs, and students with low LSAT scores, then my “Academic Support Program” won’t be perceived as a remedial in nature.

We can change a program’s name, but our students are smart enough to figure out who we truly serve.

Just my two cents . . .

hnr

September 6, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

How Successful Law Students Read Judicial Opinions

A important new working paper by Leah M. Christensen, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, examines the differences in the way high performing and low performing law students read legal texts.  The article, "Legal Reading and Success in Law School:  An Empirical Study," will be published in the Seattle University Law Review this spring.  Below is an abstract of the article, and you can click on its title above to access the paper itself in the SSRN Electronic Paper Collection.  This paper is a must read for those of us in Academic Support. (dbw)

Abstract: Does the way in which law students read legal text impact their success? This
article describes important new research on how law students read legal text. This study
examined the way in which first year law students in the top and bottom 50% of their
class read a judicial opinion and whether their use of particular reading strategies
impacts their law school grades. The results were significant: even when students had
gone through the same first-semester classes, the more successful law students read a
judicial opinion differently than those students who were less successful. In addition,
there is a correlation between the reading strategies of the top law students and their
first-semester grades. This article describes the results of the study using both empirical
data and actual student transcripts to show how the most successful law students read
legal text. This article also offers practical suggestions for legal educators to help
students learn to internalize the most useful and efficient reading strategies.

September 5, 2006 in Reading | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)