May 21, 2011
Suggested books for 1L law students
I would suggest the following books written by academic success professionals or law professors. These books can be very helpful in understanding what law school will be like and how to succeed academically and personally.
Read one or two of these books before you arrive for your first semester. When you come to the point in the semester where you need a skill (examples: reading and briefing cases, outlines and graphics, exams), re-read that chapter because it will remind you of techniques when you most need them. Finally, re-read the books after your first semester to review the information and implement strategies and techniques that you missed or did not fully understand the importance of previously.
Andrew J. McClurg, 1L of a Ride: A Well-Traveled Professor's Roadmap to Success in the First Year of Law School, Thomson West, 2009.
Ruth Ann McKinney, Reading Like a Lawyer: Time-Saving Strategies for Reading Law Like an Expert, Carolina Academic Press, 2005.
Herbert N. Ramy, Succeeding in Law School, Carolina Academic Press, Second Edition, 2010.
Michael Hunter Schwartz, Expert Learning for Law Students (workbook available also), Carolina Academic Press, Second Edition, 2008.
Ruta K. Stropus and Charlotte D. Taylor, Bridging the Gap between College and Law School: Strategies for Success, Carolina Academic Press, Second Edition, 2009.
Dennis J. Tonsing, 1000 Days to the Bar: But the Practice of Law Begins Now!, William S. Hein & Co., Second Edition, 2010.
These are only a few of the books by academic success professionals or law professors. There are a number of others from which you can select. Have a productive summer reading! (Amy Jarmon)
May 19, 2011
Ten tips for preparing for your 1L year
Throngs of eager 1L students are awaiting the fall semester to start law school. Many of them want to take some constructive steps to prepare themselves to do well academically and personally. Here is my advice on ten things that will pay off big time:
- Have fun with family and friends this summer. Law school is a marathon that tends to consume one's time. The carefree days are over come August. Relax now. Spend time with the people who are important to you. Make sure your energy levels are high for the start of the semester. You won't get a true break until December after your exams are over.
- Read voraciously. The type of reading does not necessarily matter. The main point is that you get used to reading large numbers of pages each week. Also practice summarizing the main points of what you have read: the story line, the important events, the main points. Mix it up: novels, biographies, history, philosophy, plays. Whatever strikes your fancy is fine - it does not have to be about the law. In fact, reading doctrinal law books may not be helpful because you will not have the classroom context for what you are reading.
- Read one or two books on academic success by academic support professionals or law professors. There are lots of books on succeeding in law school. The advantage of reading books by academic success and professor experts rather than by ex-law students or attorneys is that those who are currently involved with law students on a daily basis and have professional expertise in law school success are more likely to give you well-rounded advice rather than narrow "this worked for me advice." For book suggestions, watch this blog for later postings.
- Visit a courtroom. If you have never observed a court hearing, now would be a great time to sit in the public gallery and absorb the world of law. Attend a variety of court proceedings if possible in your area: federal, state; traffic, civil, criminal, family; trial, appellate. Too many law students come to law school with no clue about what happens in court. The latest legal sitcom or movie is the closest they have ever been to the real thing. Observing in court will provide you with context for your legal studies.
- Evaluate your motivation for going to law school. Internal motivators are helpful when the deadlines pile up: planned to be an attorney for a long time, want a profession in which you can help others, interested in an area of law, relates to prior work experience, like reading about the law. Try to expand your personal list if at all possible. External motivators are less likely to sustain you when the workload seems huge: want to make lots of money, didn't know what else to do, your parents want you to be an attorney, you didn't get into a Ph.D. program.
- Evaluate your readiness to study long hours. Many 1L's have been able to get top grades with very little studying prior to law school. Most law students tell me that they studied less than 20 hours per week in college. For a law student to get grades commensurate with academic potential, it will be necessary to study consistently 50 - 55 hours per week in a full-time program. (Cramming does not work in law school because there is an overwhelming amount of material, application of concepts is critical rather than mere regurgitation of material, and retaining material long-term is important for the bar exam).
- Evaluate your time wasters. Law students who get into academic difficulty often do not use their time wisely to complete the many tasks that are required. The biggest time wasters for law students seem to be surfing the web, using social media, talking on the phone, playing video games, taking naps, and watching television.
- Have a realistic financial plan. 1L students are not allowed to work under the American Bar Association rules unless they are in part-time or evening programs. (After the first year, law students are allowed to work 20 hours per week maximum under the ABA rules.) Plan what you can realistically spend each month and stick to your budget. You don't want your student loans to run out before the end of the semester because you did not allocate monies well. You will not be able to focus on academics if you are fraught over bills.
- Talk with your family and friends about the demands of your upcoming law school life. Law school is not like your prior educational experiences. You will have to study harder (and smarter) than ever before in your education. You will be with classmates who have been the best and the brightest at their colleges and universities. Most law schools have a grading curve with a C or C+ median for 1L students - A and B grades are not as easy to come by in law school. You need to talk with your family and friends about your no longer being able to take every weekend off, going on a fun-filled vacation during Thanksgiving or Spring Break, or having lots of company come visit. You need them to understand that you have to be very focused and diligent if you plan to get top grades.
- Get on a regular 8-hour sleep schedule now. Law school study demands that you be alert so you can be productive, focused, and retain material. Research shows that you should go to bed and get up at a regular time each day (varying by only 2 hours on the weekend) if you want your brain cells to work optimally. A minimum of 7 hours of sleep is needed for good brain function. I suggest getting 8 hours because it is likely that you are already sleep-deprived (Americans and the Japanese are the most sleep-deprived nations in the world). You can cut back to 7 1/2 or 7 hours if you need to once law school starts.
These ten tips are based on what has worked well for thousands of law students over the years. Your 1L year will be exciting, challenging, exhausting, and demanding. However, you can succeed easily if you do not misplace your commonsense. (Amy Jarmon)
May 18, 2011
Thoughts on the dreaded curve
I am going to get meta here and refer to two other blogs writing about something we have blogged about (I think?) and we have talked about in the ASP community. The Faculty Lounge links to Prawfsblog and work by Ethan Leib on mandatory grading curves. Dan Filler comments on something many of us have encountered in ASP; if a student is in the bottom of the class with a 3.0, they can't see they need help. If that same student has a 2.4 (or 2.0) it is a different story; students intrinsically know this a problematic GPA.
Years ago, I encountered this phenomenon with a student with roughly a 2.9/3.0. The student was furious that s/he had to meet with me. S/he was certain she was not struggling, although s/he was in the bottom 10 in the class. S/he was on a journal (one that accepted everyone who applied and had a passing grade in their Legal Writing course). S/he went on to tell me s/he had graduated from high school at 16, graduated at the top of s/her college, and the law school was making a mistake. I spoke with a few faculty members after the meeting, who had a similar experience with the students--the student was deeply in denial, and angry at anyone who tried to confront the problem. I recently saw a link to the student (now alumni) profile on a business networking site, and it appears s/he to be struggling to find work. It also appears that s/he did not take or pass a bar exam, or chose not to list bar passage in their profile.
Would it have helped if the student was at a school with a more harsh curve? I don't know the answer to that. It may have been easier for me to show the student they were in trouble. I think the curve has some pernicious effects on student motivation, collegiality, and morale. But an "easy" curve, such as one that doesn't require grades lower than a B-, may be worse than no curve at all. It lulls students into a false sense of their own competence. A C is a shock to the system in a way that a B- doesn't appear to be.
I don't want this post to sound like I am suddenly a fan of mandatory curves. I actually think they should be abolished. What is happening at many schools, in response to the jobs crisis, is artificial inflation of grades that defeats the purpose of a curve AND hurts students who need extra support. I recieve an email from a former student at least once a week asking for help finding a job; I understand the problem. But I don't think the answer, at least from an ASP standpoint, is to ease the curve and bring students false hope about their prospects and needs. (RCF)
May 17, 2011
Looking for work in an ASP world
As you will see from the job postings that have populated this blog over the last several weeks, it is the hiring season again. Some of our ASP colleagues will retire - we will miss their wisdom. Many current ASP'ers will move on to new positions at other law schools or be promoted within the ASP hierarchy in their own law schools. New folks will consider ASP as a career change that they hope to make.
The variety of academic support programs is amazing. There is no "one size fits all" model for this type of work. The programs are as unique as the law schools that are served. Here are some variables that may be helpful to think about when picking the right position to match you:
The law school:
- Accreditation status of the school
- Stand-alone or part of a college or university
- Academic reputation of the school
- Profession's view of the school
- Financial position of the school
- Bar passage rates for the school
- Demographics of the student body
- Demographics of the faculty
- Alumni support for the school
History of ASP/bar prep:
- Long-standing program with depth and breadth
- Defunct or limping program to be revitalized or redirected
- New program to build from the ground up
- Part-time efforts by faculty/staff to be taken over and expanded
- Support of the faculty for ASP/bar prep efforts
- Support of the administration for ASP/bar prep efforts
Reporting structure and collegiality:
- To whom will you report: associate dean for academics or for student affairs; faculty committee; other designation; multiple reporting lines or just one
- Who will report to you: assistant director; counselors; tutors or teaching assistants; administrative assistant; other designation
- Who are the colleagues on your level in the hierarchy
- Who are the possible mentors and supporters within the organization
- Relationships among faculty, administration, and staff
- Tenure-track faculty: research, teaching, and service aspects; promotion and tenure process
- Non-tenured faculty: type of contract and review; promotion opportunities; research, teaching and service aspects; voting status
- Administration: position for 9-, 10-, or 12-months; type of contract and review; opportunities for teaching or service; promotion opportunities; speaking/voting status
- Part-time: tacked on to other duties at the law school already; limited to just part-time duties in ASP/bar prep alone; type of contract and review
- Academic support: all students; all 1L students; invited students in the program; probation students
- Bar prep: responsible personally for this area in addition to ASP; coordinate with another person responsible for bar prep program; supervise bar prep person; 3L students; 2L and 3L students; all students; repeat takers; focus on state bar; focus on multiple state bars; statistical analysis duties
- Pre-law: work with undergraduates desiring to attend law school; work with pre-law advisors for the undergraduates; work with pipeline programs in K-12 education
- Other: legal writing clinic; ESL expertise; work with student assistants such as teaching assistants, tutors, fellows; the sky's the limit here
- One-on-one appointments: probation students; invited students in the program; all students; all 1L students; length of appointments; topics for appointments
- Credit or non-credit classes: mandatory enrollment; voluntary enrollment; mixed enrollment; semester-long or year-long; ASP skills only; integrated into doctrinal subject matter; taught by ASP'ers; taught by faculty; co-taught by ASP'ers and faculty
- Workshops: small or large groups; orientation or semester sessions; mandatory enrollment; voluntary enrollment; mixed enrollment; range of topics; taught by ASP'ers; taught by faculty; co-taught by ASP'ers and faculty
- Supplemental study groups: study skills only; doctrinal review; all 1L students; invited students in the program; upper-division students as fellows, tutors, or teaching assistants; faculty involvement
- Other media: podcasts; Facebook; Twitter; web pages; other technology; handouts on topics; brochures
- Set budget line with flexibility to justify increases in the future
- Set budget line not likely to be increased
- Negotiable budget each year
- Negotiable budget for a new program
- Budget line for professional development funds (travel, professional books, research assistants)
- Budget line for teaching assistants, tutors, fellows, work study students
- Budget line for library materials such as study aids
- Budget line for food to attract students to programming
- Internal university grant opportunities to fund new programming ideas
- Director's office preferably with small conference table to work with study groups
- Office space for any assistant directors or part-time bar prep or other staff
- Library space with shelving for study aids and academic success books for circulation
- Reception desk for clerical assistance (could be in the library space)
- Workroom for file cabinets, photocopier/network printer
- Space for teaching assistants or other student staff preferably with computer stations (could be in the workroom area)
- Small classroom with AV equipment for workshops
- Study spaces for students within ASP
Other items to consider:
- Encouragement/requirement for publications, presentations, professional association duties
- Opportunities to teach outside the ASP area
- Involvement on law school committees
- Involvement on university-wide committees
- Salary and benefits
Each ASP'er will have personal requirements to consider as well such as housing, career opportunities for a spouse, cost of living, commute time, community amenities, and more. The list provided is far from exhaustive, but gives some aspects that may be important to consider. (Amy Jarmon)