Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Spring Contact with Students

Hello all!

Like many of you, the Spring semester is my busiest time of year. The reason? Most 1Ls receive their first significant grades at the end of the fall semester. Prior to this, we could only warn students about the possible consequence of failing to adhere to our suggestions. For too many, their fall grades have confirmed everything we had been warning them about.

At the beginning of the Spring semester, I review first-year grades to assess which students have the greatest likelihood of failing at the end of the year. These students are then invited to work with me for the balance of the Spring semester. Unfortunately, it can take weeks before all grades are submitted, and during this time students become quite anxious. In addition, they are starving for morsels of information about grades, academic probation, and their prospects of one day becoming a lawyer. If they do not receive information from us, they will listen to the misinformation being passed on by their classmates. To address this issue, I send all first-year students an e-mail in which I lay out my plans for the Spring. This year’s letter appears below, and you should feel free to borrow from it liberally. (hnr) 

Over the next two weeks, you will be receiving first-semester grades. In fact, many of you have already begun to receive them. I will be reviewing these grades and inviting certain students to work with me on a one on one basis for the balance of the semester. It will take me some time to complete my review, but I hope to send out these invitations by the end of January.

In the meantime, please be aware of how grades may be affecting you and your emotional well being. Certainly, some of you will be satisfied and even pleased with your grades, but others may find their grades unsatisfying, demoralizing and depressing. If you are in the latter group, please keep a few things in mind.

Your grades are not an indication of anything except how well you were able to communicate your knowledge of a particular subject during a fairly short window of time. This does not mean that a poor grade is not your responsibility. In the larger scheme of things, however, it is only one assessment of a fairly small subject area. 

In addition, a poor grade does NOT mean that you lack intelligence, or that you will never be a lawyer, or that you are a bad person. It may mean that you have not absorbed the information adequately or that you have not conveyed your knowledge clearly. The snowball effect of one poor grade can be devastating to your future performance. Do not let a bad grade turn into anything more than an opportunity to assess where you need to improve either your study habits or exam writing skills.

As you assess your personal study habits and what you can do to improve your performance, please consider the following. In my experience, many students who perform relatively poorly during the first semester of law school have failed to dedicate sufficient time to their studies. Studying for law school is much more than merely reading your assignments for class. Reading the cases for class is a necessary first step, but the road to mastering your first year classes requires more. 

Even if you are studying more than at any other point in your academic life, it still may not be enough in law school. For both day and evening division students, law school is a full-time job. Including class time, day-division students should expect to spend approximately 60+ hours per week on their studies. For evening-division students, this number is 30-35 hours per week including class time.

Another common denominator that I find among students who have struggled during the first semester of law school is a failure to review their class notes consistently. For some this means creating an outline and for others it may mean creating a flow chart. At a bare minimum, you must read, dissect, and analyze everything in your class notes and your case briefs on a weekly basis. 

Finally, it is understandable if some of you are upset about your grades. It is likely that you have achieved a great deal academically in the past, and you are unaccustomed to your current level of performance. Being upset is natural and can be motivational, but do not lose focus of the fact that the second semester of law school has already begun. Do not let one set of relatively weak grades distract you from your ultimate goal – becoming a lawyer. 

Good luck in the spring semester.

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