Friday, October 16, 2009
A study by Kerma Partners and Redwood, a unit of LexisNexis, on the "stuff" that causes some associates to thrive in the legal profession can tell us a lot about the skills law schools and law firms actually value in new attorneys. Law school grades and law school rank matter less than some less-intuitive measures, like participation in college athletics. The results of this study were less surprising to me, because my late fiance, and law school classmate, was a college athlete who thrived in law school and during his brief experience in a large corporate law firm, as did many of his friends. While the study specifically identifies the team work and leadership skills that are developed as a college athlete, there are a number of other skills honed in high-stakes athletics that translate to success in law firm life.
1) Law school rank-order, or "curved" grading is less jarring when you (or your team) are used to being ranked.
2) High-stakes competition is not new to college athletes, and prepares students for the highly competitive law school environment.
3) Practice only makes perfect when the practice is disciplined, relevant to critical skills, and there is an adequate foundation of basic preparedness. Time-on-task matters more to success than overall practice hours.
4) College athletes are accustomed to performance evaluations that can be very critical, and take the suggestions as useful input, not an evaluation of their worth as a human being.
5) Many college athletes have been in competition with people who cheat, cut corners, and behave unethically, but they do not use it as a litmus test of the sport. When a college athlete finds out a peer has cut corners or cheated on a test or assignment, they are less likely to blame the school, the profession, and let the experience taint their entire career.
6) Most college athletes have to be very disciplined with their study time, because most are not aided by tutors and endless hours to complete assignments. That discipline carries over into law school study time and career management.
7) Team sports are excellent practice for study groups in law school. You need to rely on each other to be prepared and each member must carry their own weight. Everyone needs to be prepared before they practice as a team.
I am extrapolating on the study, and many of these observations are based on what I saw first-hand as a law student as an ASPer. Not all college athletes thrive in law school, but finding the common skills that lead to success in both fields helps us direct all law students. (RCF)
Thursday, October 15, 2009
I am often privy to information from students about the things we do as professors without realizing they are driving students crazy. If I hear it from just one student, I figure it might be an individual misunderstanding or problem. But when I hear it repeated by multiple students, I assume that the concern is genuine.
Whenever students mention a legitimate area of frustration, I try to take note so that I will not do the same thing in my own courses and drive my own students nuts! Over my years at different law schools, I have accumulated a list of the "crazy-makers" that have gotten multiple mentions:
- Regularly mumbling or speaking so softly that at least 1/3 of the lecture hall cannot hear the professor - and then refusing to use the microphone when students get up the courage to ask for that solution.
- E-mailing or posting lengthy reading assignments the night before or the day of class so that students cannot predict their workload and organize their work efficiently and effectively in light of other coursework, deadlines, and commitments.
- Posting office hours and regularly not being there for them - and then not posting makeup hours or scheduling other individual times to see students.
- Scheduling an appointment with a student to go over a paper/exam that the professor has and then not being able to find it, resulting in a re-schedule.
- Assigning class seats alphabetically (instead of letting students choose) so that students are in seat locations inappropriate for their learning styles or disabilities - and then not allowing students to relocate when other seats are available.
- Regularly answering every student question about something the professor just stated with the exact same statement that was not understood by the questioner the first time.
- Banning laptops for all students when some students learn better with a laptop because of their learning styles or disabilities - and making no adjustments in how the course is taught from previous semesters to take into account that students are handwriting notes..
- Requiring other presentations, workshops, or section meetings without adequate warning so that students must cancel long-scheduled appointments or decide which of two requirements they will attend.
- Announcing that there will be an "open code or rule book" exam early in the semester and then a few days before announcing that there can be no writing/highlighting in the book so that students who have learned by annotating and highlighting must buy a new book for the exam.
- Not providing any practice questions to the class or old exams for the law school database so that students are unable to use appropriate study strategies for that professor's unique exam style.
- Telling the students in class what the exam formats will be and then giving an exam including different formats.
- Telling the students in class that a particular topic will not be on the exam and then testing on that topic.
- Testing only on the last two weeks of the semester's material when students have been told that the exam will be comprehensive covering the entire semester.
- Returning a first assignment of the same type after the second similar assignment was due so that the students had no feedback and opportunity to adjust their performance accordingly.
Changing the instructions significantly for a paper or memo after students have already completed work under the initial instructions so that those hours of work are totally wasted.
We all have realizations during teaching that "I'll never do that again." We have the final determination of how to run our courses. However, we can hopefully learn not only from our own insights but also from our students' legitimate reactions to what we do. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Some students seem to be "magnets" for life's problems. The same student gets ill, has problems with a significant other, has a car that dies, has a delayed financial aid grant/loan, has a family member in the hospital, and has a puppy that gets sick. Obviously, these students may have their attention diverted from their academics as life's problems accumulate.
During my eighteen years working with students with academic issues, I have noticed that academic issues rarely come along without some life issues attached. However, not all students with multiple disruptions suffer as drastically in their academic performance. I have spent some time trying to determine reasons why some students juggle all of their life problems and academics better than others.
Here are some thoughts why certain students cope better than others. The items on the list are not in any specific order. The students who still succeed academically seem to have several of the following characteristics:
- They manage their time well. They schedule time to study within the parameters of other things going on in their lives. They are more efficient and effective with the time they have available. As much as possible, they stay on top of reading, outlining, and studying despite the exigencies they are facing. They get notes from classmates for days they were sick. They organize rides with friends until a new car is obtained. They take flashcards to drill with while in the vet's waiting room. They read ahead in anticipation of going home for dad's upcoming surgery.
- They utilize the resources available to them. They schedule appointments with the student health services or counseling center as appropriate. They are proactive about talking to the deans about possible options at their law school: medical withdrawal, dropping to an underload, leave of absence, re-scheduling final exams, incomplete or in-progress grades, etc.
- They explain their problems to their professors without using them as excuses. They are forthright with the information and explain what they are and are not able to do. They may well ask for appropriate extensions, patience with their non-preparedness for class, or schedule extra meetings with the professor to compensate for missed classes. But they do not use the exigencies as excuses for not having to do the work or doing mediocre work in expectation of a sympathy grade.
- They remember that law school is an important priority even though not the only priority. They realize they must focus on studying as well as handle the emotional fallout of life. They do not become consumed by life to the extent of ignoring law school. They set aside time each day to deal with life and time to study as well. If they become unable to handle both priorities they talk with the deans about their options. (Sometimes they have to make the difficult decision to withdraw and come back when life is under control and they can accomplish what they need to do academically.)
- They maintain their perspective during difficulties. They do not let an emergency or disruption send them into a tailspin. They differentiate between molehills and mountains. They count their blessings during hard times. They practice staying calm during crises. They often have a spiritual core that keeps them centered rather than feeling that they must shoulder the world alone.
- They are able to set boundaries on demands in their lives. They limit the amount of time that others can "control" their lives. They do not let others interrupt their lives constantly with demands that are non-urgent or unreasonable. They can differentiate between urgent, important, and unimportant. Examples: they will run routine errands for their grandmother once or twice a week rather than whenever they get a call; they return telephone calls or e-mails during study time on a priority basis rather than on mere occurrence; they meet their obligationis academically rather than let a friend consume hours talking about her boyfriend woes.
- They focus on living their own lives rather than other peoples' lives. They realize that the only life they can control is their own. They realize their own limits as to how they can help others. Ultimately, they recognize that they cannot save their parents' marriage, prevent their little brother from dating the wrong girl, or prevent their best friend from drinking too much. They make referrals to skilled professionals, listen as appropriate, and show love to those whom they love. But they do not take on the responsibility of solving everyone else's problems.
It is hard to juggle law school demands during normal circumstances. When life throws multiple problems into the mix, it takes courage and hard work to balance everything and make wise decisions. Students who reach out for help from deans, professors, academic support professionals, and the many other resources available to them are more likely to navigate the problems and law school without academic disaster. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I vividly remember the first time I was called on in law school. It was Contracts class. I was well-prepared. I opened my mouth to respond, and nothing came out. It was probably only a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity. Anxiety almost took over. The ironic thing is that I had regularly done public speaking throughout my prior career.
When my students tell me that they have a fear of speaking in class, I empathize with them. Sometimes it is just fear of a new situation. Other times it stems from learning styels. Students who are listeners rather than talkers with a high degree of reflective thinking in their learning styles are unlikely to jump in and rabbit on in class.
My 1L students who avoid class participation and internally gasp when they are called upon usually fear the Socratic Method and having all eyes on them in a large section. However, 2L and 3L students also admit that they are reticent to speak in class. The problem for them is that class participation often makes up some portion of their grade. So, unlike the 1L student who can silently pray that she is not called upon, the 2L or 3L has to brave it and raise a hand or forfeit a chunk of the grade.
Here are some tips that I give to my students to help them become more confident:
- After reading and briefing (or taking notes if material other than cases is assigned), take a few minutes to synthesize your reading. Then out loud explain the reading to an empty chair, the family pet, or an understanding friend. Next think of the professor's usual questions and answer them out loud. You can practice your answers and gain confidence by this recitation step.
- When the professor asks a question in class, answer silently in your head. Then compare your answer to what another student says. Listen to the professor's feedback. You will probably find that you would have answered correctly. Again, your self-confidence should get a boost from this exercise.
- Gain additional practice voicing your opinions, questions, and answers by talking in your study group more than usual, talking with a classmate about the material, participating in student organization meetings, or asking the professor questions on office hours. The more you talk, the less apprehensive you will be.
- Pick the class that you feel most confident in about the material and/or most comfortable with the professor/class size. Prepare carefully for each class. Write down one or two questions that you could ask in class. Choose one or two of the professor's typical questions that you could answer. In each class period for two weeks, make yourself participate once. Then particpate twice each class period the next two weeks. Continue to increase your participation over the semester.
- After you have had success in one class, use the same methods in another class. Be consistent about challenging yourself to participate every class.
- If you find it hard to make yourself voluntarily participate, consider going to the professor for assistance. Explain that you are trying to get over your fear of speaking in class and ask that the professor call on you some days. Most professors are pleased when students try to confront their fears and are willing to help in overcoming the challenge.
Law school is a "safe place" to gain more confidence in speaking in groups. Practice is essential in developing a new skill. As an attorney, you will be expected to speak up in meetings, hold client interviews, and lead case/project meetings. Why not gain those skills in the law school environment? (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, October 12, 2009
David A. Sousa is an educator, author and consultant who has written seven books applying brain research to different groups of learners. I just finished reading his ABA book titled How Brain Science Can Make You a Better Lawyer. Although the book is geared towards lawyers making presentations (especially litigators, though law professors are mentioned), it has useful information for all of us. The first chapter focuses on information about how the brain works. The second chapter discusses using one's brain in the workplace setting. Chapter Three looks at brain research that can be applied in practice. The final chapter delineates a framework to use. (Amy Jarmon)