Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Search for Shortcuts

Research shows that doing one's own work creates deeper understanding of the material, greater retention, and better ability at applying the information.  However, one should always be encouraged to be efficient and effective in learning.  However, being efficient and effective is drastically different than taking shortcuts.

Misguided law students are always searching for shortcuts.  They think using canned briefs or someone else's class script or outline is the way to go.  However, shortcuts only short circuit real learning.

We all know that canned briefs may be wrong or take a different perspective on the case than the professor will.  In fact, I know of a law professor who has studied the canned briefs for the course and knows which ones are wrong or misleading  When a student is called on and begins to spout one of the canned briefs, the professor strings the student on and then declares at the end of the student's brilliant discourse that she used a canned brief which was incorrect. 

We would like to think that no professor's lectures would be so consistent as to be repeated word for word each year.  However, class scripts are prevalent at law schools.  No doubt there were handwritten versions before computers became vogue.  Class scripts can be wrong even though they are supposed to be absolute transcripts.  Class scripts will change when a professor chooses a new textbook, incorporates new cases or topics to reflect legal events, or decides to take a new approach.  Although students tell me they "update" the script when something new is said, I suspect they do not listen as carefully in class because they think they have it all.  Reading a script is not active learning compared to taking one's own notes.  Learning style differences may make the use of scripts even more troublesome for the student.

Students share outlines with one another as a pre-semester ritual.  Outlines from others share many of the same flaws as class scripts. Certain law school organizations are "must joins" because they have the best outline archives.  Technology has changed this ritual from dog-eared photocopies to downloads or CDs.  What amazes me is that students never ask questions to check out the product when they take an outline.  Students at every grade level in a class are generous with outlines.  After all, they do not want you to know their grades usually.  (One organization source told me they only accept outlines from "A" and "B" students.  But, last time I checked, the Registrar was not verifying those grades for anyone.  I personally know of many cases where students think that a fellow student is brilliant when the person is on probation or tell me how poorly that student did when she got a 3.0 or better.)  

However, I find it especially intriguing that there are internet databases that provide outlines to law students from every law school across the country.  First, why would you choose an outline from a database that you know nothing about?  Second, with outlines so available at every law school, why go outside your hallowed halls if you want to take a shortcut?  Third, why would you trust a database that is not even remotely connected to your school to be up to date?  I checked out the Texas Tech database for one site.  A number of outlines are for professors who have not taught at the law school for several years.  I am sorely tempted to ask my colleagues to rate the outlines for their courses and let me know the results. 

Mind you, I am not against a student comparing her brief, class notes, or outline to other sources.  I am not against students using study aids to supplement their own learning.  Where students get in trouble is when they expect others' efforts to substitute for their own in-depth processing and learning.  

Sadly, many students who use shortcuts never live up to their academic potential.  I know from my own law school career and practice that the students who have a reputation for always cutting corners in law school often have that reputation follow them into practice.  (Amy Jarmon)        

May 21, 2009 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Preparing for Law School, or for 2L Year

Amy's wonderful post on end-of-semester grades and probation students brings me to the next stage...preparing for law school if you have been admitted, or preparing for 2L year.  After the critical low-grades meetings are more-or-less over, ASP starts to see emails and receive telephone calls from newly admitted, soon-to-be JD students. We also start to see a trickle of emails from students who survived, and maybe thrived, their first-year, but want to improve.  The main piece of advice I have for both sets of students...enjoy the summer. The best thing you can do for yourself is relax, regroup, and repair. Preparation for the fall begins with taking care of yourself.  Critical things, like reading books for fun, playing and watching sports, and catching up with family, fall by the wayside during the school year. And these things are critical; they make you a fun, interesting person. I know law students won't hear me when I say that they best preparation for law school is to take care of yourself, so I will give you practical reasons to  enjoy the summer. For 2L's, fun reading and family events give you something to chat about with recruiters during OCI.  And yes, recruiters want to know you are a well-rounded person who will not only work hard, but be pleasant and interesting to work with during summer 2010.  For soon-to-be 1L's, these things give you something to talk about with classmates during orientation.  Future 1L's, you don't know how many times you will be asked what you did during the summer, what makes you interesting, or something you would like to share about yourself during orientation.  Law students, being competitive by nature, like to be interesting.  So be interesting and memorable by doing nothing but fun stuff for the whole summer; you will see shock, awe, and smiles from your classmates come fall.  And then you can continue your campaign of shock and awe by having the stamina to work your tail off all semester, because you repaired yourself over the summer. 

Fun reading reading is NOT the how-to-succeed books written by bitter former law students who write anonymously or under pseudonyms. The hay is in the barn, as they say, and angry missives telling you that law school is awful aren't going to help you.  Fun reading is Jennifer Weiner, Jane Austen, Mitch Albom, Scott Turow (yes, including  One L),and Harlan Coban.  If you must pick up a book for law school, pick up an encouraging one. Pick it up with this advice; you won't remember most of what they tell you to do by the start of school.  2L's, your brain is fried, so most advice will go in your eyes but not sink in. Unless you are on probation and there are some critical skills missing, you are best not reading about outlining, reading, or exam prep.  1L's, you are going to be bombarded with information, and it's best to give your brain breathing room, not crowd it with more advice. 

Am I being intentionally silly? Yes. Am I also telling the truth? Yes.  Academic success is more than just grades; it's a complete, healthy life before, during, and after the law school experience. (RCF)

May 20, 2009 in Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The ASP Version of Parental Pride

Now that most of our schools have finished graduation or hooding ceremonies, I am sure that all of us in ASP felt a certain amount of "parental pride" when we saw some students walk across the stage.  Each year, I find myself grinning ear to ear as I watch certain students receive their hoods and shake hands with the Dean.

When I don my regalia and sit on the stage with the faculty, I am always ready to celebrate with the graduates in general.  But I am especially proud of the graduates with whom I worked personally. 

Some graduates came in a few times to improve in a particular course or during a particular semester.  I was happy to help and glad to see their improvement.  I applaud their graduation. 

Other graduates struggled with personal, family or medical problems and spent time working with me regularly during the crises to stay focused as much as possible on their academics.  I was glad to be a source of support and encouragement.  I know that graduation has special meaning for them.

There are always some graduates who were on probation and continued to meet with me an extra semester after they got off probation, ending their careers with all As and Bs as we worked together to crack the code to law school study and exams.  I am especially proud of their continued hard work and achievements.

Some of the past probation students with whom I worked ended up in "the great middle" of their class.  They steadily improved against somewhat dismal initial grade points.  I am proud of their perseverance and steady climb to greater success.  

And, there are the Tutors and Teaching Assistants who have worked with our 1L students and our Summer Entry Program.  During their tenure, we discussed teaching and helping skills to add to their repetoire of strong academics.  I am always thankful for their service.

However they crossed my threshold, I always feel like a proud parent as I see ASP students finish this step in their journeys to becoming lawyers.  It is that sense of excitement for their accomplishments that keeps me looking forward to the next semester and the next hooding ceremony.  (Amy Jarmon)        

May 19, 2009 in Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)