Thursday, May 22, 2008

Motivating Students Post-Grades

It's that time of year; students are receiving their grades. Much has been written and said about motivating students after they receive their grades after their first semester of law school.  I find it more challenging to motivate students after they receive their second semester grades...because I don't see them.  They are off to their summer placements or going home for the summer. In my experience, the depression and anxiety is not diminished because they are not at the law school.  When I do see or hear from them, their depression has an air of permanence that their depression did not have after first semester.  I have to convince them that they still have a way to go, the journey is only 1/3 completed, and there is much time to make up lost ground. 

However, I have to temper my positivity with the very real problems associated with under-performing for two semesters. By this time, I have already discussed all the obvious fixes; better note-taking, more focused studying, exam strategies.  The problems that cause under-performance for the entire 1L year are more nuanced and more difficult to fix.
    Does the student have an undiagnosed learning disability? 
    Are they being honest with themselves about their study time/reading habits/exam strategies?
        If not, why are they so invested in deceiving themselves? 
    Or the hardest question of all, are they just not made for law school? 

Having the " why do you really want to be a lawyer?" talk is always hard.  Family expectations, personal goals, anger, and depression are all swift undercurrents that can sink the conversation, and possibly sink the student.  As much as I stress that there is absolutely no shame in trying law school and deciding it's not for them, it's hard to move past the message that leaving law school makes them a failure.  I try to keep tchochkes related to famous, successful people who left law school around my office year-round; Mary Matalin, the Republican political strategist; singer/dancer/actor/choreographer Gene Kelly, author of "To Kill a Mockingbird" Harper Lee, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, and late Presidents Johnson, McKinley, Truman, and both Roosevelts.

(Rebecca Flanagan)

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