November 2, 2007
The Law School Culture: Cooperation over Competition
At this time in the semester, I am always concerned when I see exam stress turn normally nice law students into discourteous ones and normally discourteous law students into mean ones. When students become stressed and anxious they often take it out on others (and on themselves, but that is a whole other topic).
I try to talk with my students about actions that they can take to keep the law school milieu "healthier" during this stretch into and through exams. They are often surprised that they as individuals can have a major impact on the culture of the law school. Here are some of the suggestions that I make to them:
- Offer to help another student in your class who is struggling with the material. Answer questions on material about which the student is confused. Recommend a study aid that helped you. Tell the student about a source for practice questions. Encourage the student to see the professor (or tutor) about the material.
- Look for the silver lining in the clouds for both yourself and others. Look for the learning opportunities in exam studying rather than at the obstacles or drudgery. Problem solve rather than feel powerless and overwhelmed. Give (and take) praise for each study task completed well. Help others stay positive.
- Compliment other law students on things that you admire in their studying, extracurriculars, or personal lives. Tell someone congratulations on making a trial team or winning a competition. Praise someone for an awesome job when called on in class. Let someone know that a class presentation helped you in understanding the material. Mention to someone that you admire that person's thoughtfulness or honesty or some other trait.
- Use daily inspirational sources to create a positive attitude in yourself which will spill over to others: quotes or scriptures; visualization of your success on exams; prayer; photographs or cartoons; "pep talks" from mentors, family, or friends; music that inspires you.
- Say "thank you" and "please" more often. Everyone wants to feel appreciated and not to feel taken for granted.
- Smile at anyone who looks tired, worried, or anxious. You may be the one bright spot in that person's day.
- If you are a local, invite a law student who is "home alone studying" for Thanksgiving Break to join your family for Thanksgiving dinner.
- Perform random acts of kindness towards other law students. Provide homemade cookies for your seminar class. Share your pizza in the student lounge with another student you do not even know. Leave encouraging notes for law students whom you know are struggling. Share your class notes with someone who has been ill before they ask. Lend a study aid that you have already used to another student who cannot afford a copy.
- Refuse to participate in gossip about others. Gossip is unhelpful in the best of circumstances and during this part of the semester is usually mean-spirited and designed to make others look like academic disasters. Do not tell anyone about gossip that you know. If someone starts to tell you gossip, politely decline to listen.
- Step in if you overhear another law student being mean or bullying to a classmate. You can merely interrupt the conversation by saying that you need to talk with the "victim" to get that person out of the situation. Or better yet, let the aggressive law student know that the behavior is not necessary or appreciated.
- Think about what you need to feel good about yourself right now or what you would want someone to do for you. Provide those "wish list" items for another law student as well as for yourself.
For most law students, this time in the semester is tough. I stock up on tissues for my office, walk through the law school to smile at and encourage students, praise my probation students who are working hard, and fill up the office candy bucket more frequently. And, I listen very carefully for the "between the lines" messages in my students' statements/voices. (Amy Jarmon)
Two Blogs of Interest
There are two law school blogs that may be of interest to you if you have not already discovered them:
Law School Inovation Blog postings discuss a variety of issues and techniques regarding innovation at law schools
Empirical Legal Studies Blog postings discuss empirical studies on a number of legal education topics
October 30, 2007
Learning the Dance Steps
Suzanne Darrow Kleinhaus liked Amy Jarmon's post, "Dancing with the Stars – Law School Version" (Oct. 18), and she boiled it into a checklist of questions that students can use to assess their own learning and that ASP professionals can use to diagnose problems. I thought readers would find it helpful, so I've reproduced it below.
"Learning the Steps"
1. Have you learned the basic "dance" steps?
How to read cases?
How to brief cases?
How to de-construct statutes?
How to outline?
How to engage in an IRAC–based analysis?
2. Are you sensitive to the differences among the "dances"?
Have you noticed differences among your professors' styles of teaching?
Have you noticed differences among types of exams?
Do you see that some courses may be more case-based (common law) or more code-based(statutory)?
Do you see that some courses may be more policy-based or more methodology-based?
3. Have you learned the unique "rhythm" for each of your courses?
Have you memorized the black letter law?
Have you "become one" with the material so that your understanding is intuitive and flows?
Do you see the large picture and the places where the individual pieces belong in that picture?
4. Do you practice to improve your performance?
Have you made studying a priority?
Do you spend hours perfecting your knowledge and understanding?
Do you practice applying the law to new fact scenarios throughout the semester at every opportunity, to improve your understanding of nuances in the law and their application of the law to different facts?
Does your organization of the analysis, both oral and written, flow with and from the material?
5. Do your evaluate your performance?
After a poor practice session or exam, do you evaluate your difficulties?
If your performance was not of the quality you expected, do you strategize how to change your approach?
Do you persist in your practice to become more expert?
October 29, 2007
If you are looking for a good resource on taking law school exams, check out Suzanne Darrow-Kleinhaus's Mastering the Law School Exam, published by Thomson-West. It lays out detailed approaches to preparing for and taking various types of law school exams and includes practice exams and model answers. I think students, ASP professionals, and law professors would all find it very helpful.
October 28, 2007
Tip from Professor Burgess
In response to a recent blog, Professor Hillary Burgess (Rutgers) ... sent the blog this comment . . .
I recommend Julie Morgenstern's Time Management From the Inside Out. Here basic plan is to sort tasks, purge roles and tasks you don't have time for, then allot a specific time each week for the remaining tasks. She recommends making a master schedule that you will follow generally week to week, changing as needed for things like doctor's appointments. I have found master schedules really help to identify, "If I don't use this time to do X, I won't have time to do it later," rather than looking at a day as a big blanket of time that somehow gets eaten up each day.
I read some of Julie Morgenstern's work a few years ago when a law student brought me a book saying, "This book saved my [academic] life!" I agree, Hillary (pictured here), it's certainly worth taking a look at! (djt)