Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, February 27, 2009

Which kind of motor vehicle is this case?

The typical law school class is heavily focused on cases.  Consequently, to 1L law students, the cases often seem to be the essentials rather than mere vehicles for bringing them the essentials they will need for developing a bigger picture of the course.  Part of their misunderstanding of how to use cases is caused by our teaching methods and part may be because of their learning styles. 

Some law professors expect their students to know every detail of every case for class recitation.  Others just touch on a few points from the case.  The former style suggests to some students that they need to know every detail for the exam.  The latter style may leave some students wondering which details tie to those points or which details were important.

Professors will often throw out a series of hypotheticals to get their students to understand nuances of the application of a legal rule.    And, professors may give no answers to those hypotheticals and leave the ultimate task of getting from the cases to the big picture for students to discover in their studying outside of class.  Some students will walk away not knowing how the class discussion of cases related to the hypotheticals and what they were supposed to learn.

Does this mean that these professors are bad teachers or bad people?  No.  It does mean that some 1L students struggle with determining what is ultimately important in the course.

Because of their learning styles, some students will struggle more than other students in making sense of law school classes and cases.  Global-intuitive learners will tend to have less problem than the sequential-sensing learners in the class.

Global-intuitive learners naturally process everything looking for the bigger picture and the inter-relationship of ideas.  They prefer essentials because details are not particularly attrative to them.  The highly detailed professor will have them wondering why they have to sit through all of the trivia.  The professor who touches on a few points, throws out unanswered hypotheticals, and expects the students to pull it all together is more understandable to these learners.  However, if these learners are high scorers on their learning styles, they may miss important details, organization, and nuances of analysis. 

Sequential-sensing learners naturally process each case and each sub-topic as discrete individual parts.  They think about units and the facts and details of those units.  They naturally gain security from knowing everything there is to know about a case.  They only look for the bigger picture later.  The stronger their preference for "bottom up" learning, the harder it will be for them to see the bigger picture.  It is these learners who sometimes get "left in the dust" of our typical law school case approach.  Without help, they may get to the bigger picture too late to do well on the exam.  (By the way, these students actually know more law usually than any of their global-intuitive friends.)

(In the "old days" of law school teaching, global-intutitive professors probably predominated and may have thought that the sequential-sensing student was not made of the "right stuff" to be a good lawyer.  Fortunately, more awareness of learning styles means that both processing types are seen to have advantages and disadvantages in the study of law because all four processing steps are needed for the best essay answers or memos.  And, in practice, the client benefits most if both types of learners are on a team for the case.)

My sequential-sensing learners struggle in deciding what can be discarded for their outlines.  They are concerned that they will leave out something important.  They are concerned that they need to know it all - every minute detail and every tiny fact.

Over the years, I have tried to find ways to help these sequential-sensing learners get a different perspective on cases.  They will still read in more detail and still have separate units initially, but they can get to the bigger picture more quickly with some help.  I talk a great deal with them about synthesis of cases, of sub-topics, etc.

By chance I came up with a basic analogy to help sequential-sensors understand the relevance of cases to the overall course.  We talk about cases being like motor vehicles that may drive into your driveway but are ultimately owned by someone else and just "visiting." 

The shiny little sports car:  These zippy little cases pull into your driveway with little cargo capacity.  As a result, there is less of importance to unload.  Perhaps, you will find a definition of an element or an exception to a rule.

The family sedan:  These sedate cases pull into your driveway with large trunks of essentials.  One may find a substantial rule discussion, a sizeable interpretation of a statute, and/or a well-reasoned opinion with steps of analysis.

The family station wagon:  These workhorse cases will be loaded down with many essentials (using even the roof rack).  In addition to the type of cargo found in a family sedan, they often come loaded with extra policy discussion, additional variations on rules (minority and majority rules, restatement rules, model code rules), discussions of ambiguous or vague statutes, and/or discussion of multliple issues.

The U-Haul rental truck:  These vehicles are the really major cases driving into your driveway.  Think U.S. Supreme Court and state court of last resort.  These major cases are packed with important essentials: doctrines of epic proportion, significant policy discussion perhaps, methodologies or bright-line tests, involved discussions of multiple precedents, complex issues and points of law, and/or possibly dissents and concurrences. 

Whatever the motor vehicle size of a case, however, you let it drive away.  You do not park it permanently in your driveway.  You unload the essentials for your outline and wave goodbye to the driver with a thank you.

My sequential-sensing learners suddenly understand that it is okay to let go of the myriad of details once the essentials are spotted for their outlines.  They begin to see that their task is to find only the most important cargo.  They begin to see how cases are mere vehicles that fit together into a bigger picture of sub-topics and topics and applying that law to new fact scenarios.  (Amy Jarmon)   


February 27, 2009 in Learning Styles, Reading | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Job Posting for Dean of Students Widener - Harrisburg

The Harrisburg campus of Widener University School of Law is accepting applications for the Dean of Students position.  Located in the state capital, the Law School is in close proximity to the State Legislature, numerous government agencies and state and federal courts.  The School’s Law and Government Institute and Environmental Law Center provide opportunities for students to be actively engaged in preparation for the practice of law in the government as well as in the public interest and private sectors.  The law school, with its day and evening divisions, provides flexible scheduling opportunities for students.

The Dean of Students is responsible for developing and implementing programs designed to help students develop personally and professionally.  She/He is available to provide personal and academic support for all students through individual counseling and programs.  Personal support includes counseling students facing difficult personal issues and, when appropriate, facilitating referrals for professional treatment.  Academic support includes advising related to course selection, scheduling and graduation requirements.  The Dean of Students has significant responsibility for counseling students with low grade point averages and responsibility for various matters related to academic dismissal.  She/He also advises and counsels students on issues related to the Law School’s Honor Code.  In addition to advising and counseling, the Dean of Students plans programs supportive of student development and events related to graduation. 

The Dean of Students must also work closely with other offices that provide student services.  She/He works with the Registrar’s office in overseeing various aspects of the examination process; with the Financial Aid and Business offices on scholarship and other financial matters; and with the Supervisor of Student Organizations, who is responsible for oversight of student organizations and activities.  The Dean of Students sits on various faculty committees and is occasionally asked to participate in University-wide committees.  She/He also assists in maintaining the law school’s ties to the legal community by attending various local, state, national bar association and other professional meetings.

Minimum Requirements: J.D. and admission to practice in any U.S jurisdiction.
Deadline: April 1, 2009

Letters of interest, resumes, salary requirements and a list of references should be sent to:

Vice Dean John L. Gedid
Widener University School of Law
P.O. Box 69381
3800 Vartan Way
Harrisburg, PA  17106-9381

Widener University is an equal opportunity employer that encourages excellence through diversity.  Women and minority candidates are encouraged to apply.

February 26, 2009 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Space in the Sculpture"

I'd like to thank Ruth Ann McKinney of Carolina Law and give her credit for conceptualizing this metaphor and introducing me to it while I was a law student.

One of the concepts my students have struggled with this semester is the importance of what is left out of the court's opinion.  For students with a background in the arts, an apt metaphor is to space in a sculpture.  When looking at a great sculpture, it's not just what the artist does with the clay, steel, or marble that is significant. The beauty and meaning of the sculpture is also shaped by the space in and around the sculpture, where the artist has chosen to remove, carve, or shape the sculpture.  Similarly, the court's opinion is shaped not just by what facts they choose to include in their rationale, but the facts they choose to ignore, the facts they find irrelevant, and the thinking they choose not to explain in the holding. What is left out of an opinion is the space in the sculpture; it is what shapes the decision as much as the material used to create the sculpture. 

My favorite example is Robert Indiana's Love sculpture. It is ubiquitous, so most students know  it if I reference it as an example.  Without space in the sculpture, the places where the artist choose to remove steel, it would be a giant block of metal, not one of the most important pieces of pop art of our time.  An opinion that includes all facts, policy, and thinking about the case would be a giant stack of paper without any direction or meaning. (RCF)


February 25, 2009 in Reading | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Call for Proposals from the AALS Section on Academic Support

Call for Proposals by the Workshop Program Committee for the AALS Section on Academic Support
2010 AALS Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana
Annual Meeting Dates:  January 6-10, 2010

The theme of our 2010 AALS workshop will be:

“Transforming Learning in the Classroom: the 21st Century Law Professor”

The AALS Section on Academic Support will showcase how professors are transforming the learning environment of their classrooms through innovative and creative methods.  Many of these methods  have their roots in traditional academic support tenets of varying lesson plans to reach different learning styles, providing feedback throughout the semester, assessing students in creative ways, engaging students both in and out of the classroom, and encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning.   The committee requests proposals that demonstrate modern classroom and teaching techniques including but not limited to: active learning activities, teaching assessment procedures, exam drafting, skills development in doctrinal courses, and innovative lesson plans.  Show us what’s new and different in legal education in the 21st century! 

The Program Committee will give preference to presentations designed to engage the workshop audience, so proposals should contain a detailed explanation of both the substance of the presentation and the interactive methods to be employed.  In addition, we would like to highlight talent across a spectrum of law schools and will look for variety in presentations and presenters.  If you do not have a proposal to submit, but are interested in participating in a presentation, please contact Emily Randon (see below), as assistance with the overall workshop is always welcome.

Based on participant numbers for the last several years, we anticipate over 100 people attending the program.  To assist the presenters in the interactive piece, the program committee members and other volunteers will be on hand to act as facilitators with audience members.

Proposals must include the following information:
1.  A title for your presentation
2.  A brief description of the objectives or outcomes of your presentation.
3.  A brief description of how your presentation will support your stated objectives or outcomes.
4.  The amount of time allocated for your presentation and for the interactive exercise.  No single presenter should exceed 45 minutes in total time allowed.  Presentations as short as 15 minutes will be acceptable.
5.  A detailed description of how the presentation will be interactive.
6.  Whether you plan to distribute handouts, use PowerPoint, or employ other technology.
7.  A list of the conferences at which you have presented within the last three years, such as AALS, national or regional ASP or writing conferences, or other academic conferences.  (The committee is interested in this information because we wish to select and showcase seasoned, as well as fresh, talent.)
8.  Your school affiliation, title, courses taught, and contact information (include email address and telephone number).
9.  Any articles or books that you have published describing the lesson you will be demonstrating.

Send proposals by Monday, March 9, 2009 to Prof. Emily Randon, University of California, Davis School of Law, at the email address of  If you have questions, feel free to contact Emily Randon directly at 530-752-3434.

If you know of colleagues who are true innovators in techniques that achieve the objectives of the academic support community, please encourage them to submit proposals!

We look forward to seeing you in New Orleans!

The ASP Section Program Committee:
Emily Randon, Chair
Robin Boyle Laisure
Hillary Burgess
Barbara McFarland
Kathy Garcia
ASP Section Chair:  Pavel Wonsowicz

February 23, 2009 in Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)