Friday, September 30, 2011

Welcome Heather Gutterud to Whittier Law

Heather Gutterud has joined the Whittier Law School Academic Support Program as an Academic Support Program Fellow after graduating from Whittier Law School magna cum laude in the spring. While a student at Whittier, Ms. Gutterud served as a teaching assistant for several classes and was Associate Editor of Law Review. More information about Heather can be found on Whittier web pages here: Heather Gutterud Profile.

When you see Heather at a workshop, please give her a heart-felt ASP welcome!

September 30, 2011 in Academic Support Spotlight | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Welcome to Halle Hara at Capital University

Halle Hara has joined Capital University School of Law as Professor and Director of Academic Success Protocol.  She comes to ASP work after more than 13 years of practice experience and extensive legal writing and publication experience.  You can find more information about Halle on the Capital University web site: Halle Hara Faculty Profile.  Please welcome Halle to ASP work!

September 29, 2011 in Academic Support Spotlight | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Two positions at Barry School of Law

Barry University School of Law is continuing its search for an Assistant Dean of Bar Preparation and Academic Success, and a Director of Academic Success.  Both positions offer a competitive salary and benefits.  Complete descriptions and information may be accessed on our human resources page at http://www.barry.edu/jobs/default.aspx.  Under the job category search, select “Executive” and under the location search, select “School of Law.”

True to its nickname, “The City Beautiful,” Orlando also offers amazing theme park attractions, friendly neighborhoods, and excellent schools. Please forward this announcement to anyone you think may be interested in these wonderful opportunities. 

 

September 28, 2011 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Essay Exam Answering Tip #92611 – Begging the Question

When grading exam answers, professors reward logical, persuasive presentations. Resolving issues using logical fallacies earns no points.

One pitfall to avoid is the use of a circular argument.  This is also known as “begging the question." This fallacy occurs when one assumes the truth of what one is attempting to prove in the very effort to prove it. In other words, an argument is fallacious when the conclusion lies buried in the premise(s) used to reach that conclusion. Question-begging arguments often mask themselves in clever rhetoric. They can be easy to miss because they often sound good.

Example: “The Supreme Court’s power of judicial review is inherently undemocratic. When unelected judges reign supreme in the exposition of the Constitution, it cannot be said that we have a government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people.’”

Explanation: The writer is assuming the truth of what she is trying to prove in the very effort to prove it. If you look at these two sentences closely, you will see that they are essentially paraphrases of one another. Because the second sentence is longer and more complex, it tends to trick us into thinking that it is a logically distinct idea — but it is not.

This example if from Neal Ramee’s Logic and Legal Reasoning: A Guide for Law Students, in which Mr. Ramee correctly explains, “Learning how to spot and avoid such logical fallacies can enormously strengthen your legal writing and advocacy by helping you adhere to the ‘pristine logic’ of correct syllogistic reasoning.”  (Recommendation: read Mr. Ramee’s 10-page “guide.”)

Begging the question — from the Latin petitio principii — arises all too often in exam answers. If you write, “The contract is enforceable because it fulfills the validity requirements” or, “Defendant is liable for negligence because of his negligent conduct,” you’re begging the question. Each of these statements lacks the point-scoring analysis your professor is looking for.  The Contracts essay answer needs to state the elements that establish validity (or enforceability) and to show how the facts in the narrative fulfill the requirements. The Torts answer ought to specify precisely what the negligent conduct is and the rationale behind the conclusion that this conduct is negligent.

Remember that stating the “right” answer (for example, that a party was negligent) is not what scores the points in an essay answer — rather, points are scored by your logical, organized interweaving of the facts with the elements of the law in a compelling analytical presentation.

{This “tip” is one of a continuing series.  Law school academic professionals are authorized to use this material in their work however they choose — and law students who read these tips are encouraged to integrate them into their practice sessions. To see where this tip fits in the grand schema: Click here.} (djt) 

September 26, 2011 in Advice, Writing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Right Attitude for Law School

I recently asked some of my former undergraduate students who are now 2L's if they could give me a short blurb on what they wish they knew before they started law school. My students have gone on to schools across the country, from schools ranked in the top 10 to lesser-known and regional law schools. I received some wonderful responses, but one stands out for me. The response was from a student who did well, but not outstanding, his 1L year, goes to a very good but not elite law school, and attends a law school that was his second choice. Doesn't sound like a recipe for happiness and success? Well, his response to my question is a good reminder that attitude makes an enormous difference in what is defined as “success.”

(I have edited his response to remove identifying details , but my changes are not substantive.)

On being ready for law school

"I honestly think the mental aspect of law school is harder than the academics.You need to be able to remain calm and collected and that is tough to do when you have hundreds of pages of reading, on concepts you won't immediately understand....Just remember, keep calm, and just try your best, try not to freak out, think big picture (you will be a lawyer), then think how foolish it seems to be worrying yourself sick over a reading assignment. Don't get me wrong, reading assignments do matter, but don't beat yourself up over it."

On not feeling guilty about taking time for yourself

"...don't stop doing the things you love to do. You need to do this stuff to keep a somewhat balanced life. Don't feel guilty about putting studies away for a bit to do stuff for yourself. It's important to keep your sanity. Don't feel guilty when your friends or classmates mention how much time they spent reading last night when you spent the night enjoying the [baseball] doubleheader. If you need a break, you need a break. As long as you get the work done, it doesn't matter when or how you do it."

Law School in the Bigger Picture

"Have fun, don't be afraid, push back--don't let your thoughts be completely dominated by other students, or even professors for that matter. I enjoy law school because I know I want to be a lawyer, and law school is training to be a lawyer."

I plan on sharing his response with both my undergraduates preparing for law school and my students in law school who feel demoralized by the process. The student reminds himself why he goes to law school--to be a lawyer--and has found a way to enjoy the process without getting sucked into the grind. Law school makes it easy to get frustrated by the day-to-day  pressures. Taking a step back can remind students of the importance of a longer-term perspective. (RCF)

September 23, 2011 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Retrieval Practice"-Creating Tests that Reaffirm Knowledge

What do you want your tests to accomplish? Are they meant to measure learning that has already occured? Are your tests meant to provide an end of term grade? Are your tests meant to assess how much material students covered in the semester? If you use tests in any of these ways, I challenge you to see tests in a new light: as a teaching tool. Before I begin, I want to hat tip several people who already use this technique in their teaching: Ingrid Michelson Hillinger of BC, Rory Baduhur, Jeremiah Ho, and Michael Hunter Schwartz of Washburn, and Paula Manning of Western State. I am certain there are more people who use this technique; these are the people I know off the top of my head on a Monday morning.

"Retrieval practice" uses tests as a method of assessment and reinforcement, seeing the test itself as a learning experience that helps consolidate knowledge. For students, retrieval practice means something they need more of but dread: tests. But testing should be frequent and involve self-quizzing, as well as tests that build upon previous skills so students are reviewing as well as consolidating new information. Each of the law professors above have presented at conferences on different methods of frequently assessing student learning in ways that build skills; there is no one correct way to use retrieval practice. Prof. Hillinger uses group work that challenges students and builds skills throughout the semester. Prof. Badahur and Ho use frequent mini-tests, which students can peer-correct or self-correct, to test skills as they are being learned. Prof.'s Manning and Schwartz use so many different testing methods throughout the semester to keep students active and engaged.

Based on what I have learned over the past year, I have dramatically changed the structure of the Remedies course I teach each fall. Instead of giving fours tests throughout the semester, I give four exams (each with increasing value towards their final grade) and a mini-assessment at the end of every class. I start each class with a lesson on a skill, such as outlining for learning. This is the most typical "ASP" part of the course. I move into a doctrinal lesson in Remedies. Unlike traditional doctrinal teaching, I use visuals, give note-taking guides, and explain my pedagogy as I am teaching. Students know why I am using any particular teaching method, how it is used in their other courses, and how this teaching method relates to a practice skill. I make my thinking explicit. In other words, I don't hide the ball. I give them the ball, and then explain why I use the ball, the other ways of using the ball, explain it's character and design, and how the ball can be used outside the classroom. The last part of my class is a mini-assessment that tests their understanding of the lesson and asks them to apply the skills they have been learning in class. This past week, when we reviewed the science and skills of reading and briefing cases, I asked them to brief next week's case in class, with me, trying the techniques they just learned. I gave them a 1/2 hour; far more time than they would take if they were rushing through the brief at home. I assured them their was no "wrong" answer, that this was a chance to experiment with technique and format and get feedback on their efforts. The benefit to me from this lesson is that I get to see if they understand before I move on to a new skill. Because skills build on each other, I can assess early in the semester if we need to spend more time on a skill, before we all become frustrated with a lack of understanding later in the semester.

While it is at best a brief introduction to retrieval practice, there is an article in the NYT's on it in practice. The article mentions Mind, Brain, and Education. There is a Mind, Brian, and Education journal from Harvard's Graduate School of Education; it is excellent and well worth the very modest subscription pric (I have been subscribing since 2007). I have also been to a Harvard conference on mind-brain connections in students with learning differences, and I regularly use what I learned at the conference. (RCF)

September 13, 2011 in Advice, Exams - Theory, News, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Essay Exam Answering Tip #91311 – Spot the Issues

To score high on law school essay exams, you need to spot as many issues as possible.  They lurk in the narrative.  If you can't spot the issues on an exam you won't score the points.

Issue-spotting is the most fundamental activity in the process of writing an answer to a law school essay exam question. Those students who spend their exam time spotting issues then follow up by organizing their answers, formulating their legal analysis of the issue they have discovered, and then writing the answer in a way that demonstrates their lawyer-like thinking will get the best grades.

Consider making a mental checklist of the issues that continually arise in (for example) Contracts essay exams, then scrutinizing each question/answer by running through your checklist. Some students actually memorize a checklist of possible issues and scribble that down (quite abbreviated) after the test period begins … others use a “mental” checklist. This works for many students … think about it!

If you use the “checklist” approach, remember that it’s just for comparison against your answer outline. Don’t expect to write about everything on the checklist! Selecting and divining the right issues, and only the right issues, for discussion on an exam has its analog in narrowing and selecting the right issues to research and prepare for when you will be advising clients, or when you prepare for oral arguments in court.  Clients have neither the time nor the money to pay for unnecessary research.  Judges are even more demanding than clients! (In other words … try to find all the issues, but only the issues!)

To improve in the area of spotting issues, search through the question for facts that either side might use to fashion an argument that might help that side – then, if the argument is untenable, explain why. Here's a hint: as a general rule-of-thumb, most facts you find in the narrative can be used to support or attack a position.

On the other hand, if the argument would be merely specious (superficially attractive but actually of no real interest or value) it ought not to be raised. This is a decision a lawyer has to make in real life, asking herself, “Do I raise this as an issue, or is it too far-fetched?”  Likewise, it is a decision a law student needs to make in composing an answer to an essay question. But the law student has an advantage: most professors adhere to the policy that no points are taken off for including as an issue something that is not an issue. (Keep in mind, however, that you need to be prudent in this regard, because spending time writing about “non-issues” uses up time which would be better spent earning points by discussing actual issues.  Also, be sure to find out from your professor if this is the grading policy.)

Separating the actual issues from non-issues is a skill that you will pick up as you proceed through law school. If it seems difficult, don’t worry – you are on the road to learning this skill now, and as you answer more essays you will become better and better at it!

{This “tip” is one of a continuing series.  Law school academic professionals are authorized to use this material in their work however they choose – and law students who read these tips are encouraged to integrate them into their practice sessions. To see where this tip fits in the grand schema: Click here.} (djt)

September 12, 2011 in Advice, Exams - Theory, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Essay Exam Answering Tip #9911 – Write with Concision

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subject only in outline, but that every word tell.  William Strunk and E. B. White

Mr. Strunk and Mr. White got it!  Often, less is more, and simple is best.  I like the phrase, "...every word tell."  When you write your exam answer, every word ought to be a point-scoring word.

Example: When you're answering a Contracts essay exam question, there's no need to define Contract. That's right.  Just as there is no need to define “Tort” or “Crime” in Tort or Criminal Law essay answers, there is no need to define “Contract.” Simply begin with the first issue.  That's because your "audience" as you write an exam is not a "know-nothing," but rather, a (fictional) peer who is familiar with the facts of your case (the question you're answering) and the basics of the law ... but she needs a refresher on the particulars.

So writing that "...a contract is an agreement between parties that ..." (etc.) scores no points; whereas, it is important to state the applicable portions of the statute of frauds before using that as a defense.

Likewise, there's no reason to discuss matters that are not germane to the call of the question.  One mistake is to write about what the defendant should have done instead of what he did do, then explain how things would have turned out differently for the parties if that were to have occurred.  In other words, changing the facts of the hypothetical and writing about the issues that arise under the altered facts.  That's a no-no.  As in "no points."  It wastes your time.

Concision reigns.

{This “tip” is one of a continuing series.  Law school academic professionals are authorized to use this material in their work however they choose – and law students who read these tips are encouraged to integrate them into their practice sessions. To see where this tip fits in the grand schema: Click here.} (djt)

September 9, 2011 in Advice, Exams - Theory, Writing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

NOW What?

Do you have to address the question, "NOW what am I going to do?  I have $100,000 in debt, and law jobs are drying up?" This is not just a Career Services question ... it definitely affects law school performance, and esprit de corps on campus in general.  So, NOW what?

According to Alan Scher Zagier, writing for the Associated Press, "The days of top law school graduates having their pick of six-figure jobs at boutique firms — or at least being assured of putting their degrees to use — are over.  Post-graduate employment rates are at their lowest levels in 15 years."

The article continues, explaining that because the employment rates have declined, so have the law school application rates.  "New student enrollment at UCLA law school is down 16 percent, while the University of Michigan reports a 14 percent decrease in applicants."

Now here's the good news (or maybe it's just speculation) for our students ... those who apply may be more committed, more sure of their career choice.  While a few years ago, very bright people with an aptitude for doing well in law school - but not necessarily with the desire and commitment you'd want to see in a lawyer representing you - were attracted to law school seeing it as "...a cakewalk to get a big salary," according to Sarah Zearfoss, the assistant law dean and admissions director at the University of Michigan.

According to the AP article, Larry Lambert, a 28-year-old U.S. Navy veteran struggled with the question of whether there were just too many lawyers before deciding to enroll in law school this semester.  He told the reporter that a candid conversation with a burned-out lawyer had "stopped me cold in my tracks." He began law school nevertheless, hoping to work as a federal prosecutor or in another position where he can "be a part of something bigger," and sees this diminishing application trend as "...one of the best things to happen to the profession in a long time. People don't go into social work thinking they want to get rich. They want to help people. The law should be like that."

Now THAT's the spirit!  Could it be that this trend - if that's what it is - will lead to more satisfaction among law students and then (am I the eternal optimist?) in the profession itself?  Click here to read the article.  (djt)

September 7, 2011 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Play Nice

As you may know, I'm a proponent of approaching law school as "practicing" law ... preparing for the professional practice by doing each day in law school many of the things laywers ought to be doing.  Example: attend every class.  There are hundreds of excuses ... even reasons for missing a class now and then.  But how many excuses or reasons stand up to the scrutiny of a client or a judge when a lawyer blows off a deposition or fails to show up for the second day of trial?  (Answer: zero.)

Now here's a real-life example.  In law school, students ought to be encouraged to learn to solve problems through dialogue, discussion, and respectful negotiation.   As Academic Support Professionals, many of us are the "go-to" folks for students who have "issues" with other students, faculty, or administrators.  That role doubles when we have dual capacities (like also serving as Dean of Students) as part of our responsibilities.

When students approach the office in tears, or in a heated rage, explaining how they have been wronged, think about how to counsel them with the "practice" idea in mind.  Law school can be a wonderful training ground for civil behavior under stress ... or the opposite.

Consider an order recently made by United States District Judge Sam Sparks in the case of Morris v. Coker.  "You are invited," wrote Judge Sparks, "to a kindergarten party on ... September 1, 2011 ... in courtroom 2 of the United States Courthouse, 200 W. Eighth Street, Austin, Texas."  His Honor includes a list of exciting topics to be addressed at the party, including, "How to telephone and communicate with a lawyer ... How to enter into reasonable agreements about deposition dates ... [and] an advanced seminar on not wasting the time of a busy federal judge and his staff because you are unable to practice law at the level of a first-year law student."  Later in the order, the Court encourages the invitees to bring their toothbrushes.  (Read the Court Order here.) 

According to Above  the Law, a web site for lawyers and law students, Judge Sparks is "...a colorful judge with a robust sense of humor, as well as a low tolerance for lawyer shenanigans and quarrels." 

Judge Sparks has campaigned for civility for years.  Another example of his impatience with purile behavior is his order of April 25, 2007, which includes several rhymed couplets.  Excerpts:

   Babies learn to walk by scooting and falling;
   These lawyers practice law by simply mauling
   Each other and the judge, but this must end soon
   (Maybe facing off with six-shooters at noon?)
   ... There will be a hearing with pablum to eat,
   And a very cool cell where you can meet
   And work out your infantile problem with the deposition.

(Read the whole "poem" here.)   Law school is a great place to learn to deal with difficulties.  After three years of practicing this skill, lawyers ought to be able to live up to the expectations of (even) Judge Sparks!  (djt)

September 4, 2011 in Advice, Miscellany, Professionalism, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Newcomers to ASP work - let us introduce you

It is the time of year for us to include spotlight postings on the blog to introduce all of the new folks who have joined ASP in recent months. To do a spotlight, we need a small picture, a brief bio, and a link to your faculty profile if you have one on your law school's web pages. If your faculty profile includes a photograph, we may be able to use that one instead of your sending an additional photo file. We are also happy to post information if you have switched law schools but stayed in ASP work. Send your information to Amy Jarmon at amy.jarmon@ttu.edu. Welcome to ASP!

September 1, 2011 in Academic Support Spotlight, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)