Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, January 21, 2011

Law School as a Hazing Ritual

By now, most ASP professionals have read the New York Times article on law school as a losing game. The article was the subject of much discussion in my department. The timing of the article coincided with the AALS annual meeting, where ASP, Student Services, and Balance in Legal Education focused on the question of whether we should be graduating happier law students. The contrast between the article and the AALS section program was stark; as we are looking to graduate happier students, more and more of them are unhappy because of the lack of job prospects, which is one thing that is out of our control in Academic Success. 

A colleague on mine with a background in psychology noted the similarity between the student profiled in the NYT's article and the mentality of hazing victims. Victims of hazing often demonstrate undue veneration for the organization, because they have to justify their suffering. Hazing victims have to believe that their suffering was justified by the value and prestige of the organization. Students aren't just suffering because of a lack of jobs; students suffer throughout law school by the system of grading and sorting that prevents them from fixing their errors in thinking before final exams. When law schools operated as a sorting mechanism, where the best suffered in order to be chosen by Big Law and rewarded for their suffering with a high six-figure salary, the hazing of law students was justified by "winners" of the race. However, with BigLaw jobs disappearing, and six-figure starting salaries becoming more and more rare, the concept of law school as a sorting mechanism breaks down. If law school no longer acts as sorting mechanism, is there a reason to continue with a system that causes students to behave like victims of hazing?

The breakdown of law schools as a sorting mechanism makes the focus of this year's AALS program even more timely. While some students will continue to value a law degree despite the low salaries, disappearing job prospects, and rising debt, many more students will reject the notion that a law degree must come with three years of suffering. Breaking law school of the elements of hazing will mean graduating happier law students, and the possibility that they will venerate their law school experience for the value of the education, not as a defense mechanism. A legal education is still incredibly valuable, but it doesn't need to come with undue suffering.

ASP has a critical role in helping graduate happier law students. We can't force professors to give formative assessments, or goose the legal market so graduates have jobs, but we can help students learn the coping skills that make law school easier to digest. We can teach the academic skills earlier in the year and help students design their own formative assessments so that grades are not complete shock in January. ASP can direct students towards the skills classes and clinics that will make them more appealing to employers, despite less-than-stellar first semester or first year grades. (RCF)

 (Thank you to Lucy Sweetman of UConn, who made the comparison between victims of hazing and the student profiled in the article.)

January 21, 2011 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Reckoning Season

We are just about to begin the reckoning season. It’s when student reckon with their grades. It’s the same every year. However, after this year’s AALS meeting on graduating happier law students, I believe it is possible to soften the reckoning season for students. Reckoning season will soften when students have an idea of what their grades will be before the close of the semester, when they actually have a chance to improve. The reckoning season will be easier on all of us if students are not only less depressed, but less angry because they knew what to expect when they open their grades. Less angry, depressed students will have a host of benefits.

The reckoning season will end when students have periodic formative assessments throughout the semester that help students learn what they don’t know. As Rory Bahadur of Washburn demonstrated at AALS this year, formative assessments need not increase the grading burden. By writing short questions with a grading rubric, students can peer-grade. Or as Ingrid Michelsen Hillinger of BC Law and Sophie Sparrow of UNH Law confirmed, even if you add assessments, assigning students to teams to reduce the grading burden.

Adding assessments always begs the question: what about coverage? Best expressed by Allison Anderson of UCLA, coverage does not always mean understanding. By rushing through material at the expense of deeper understanding of the material, students are not only shocked and depressed by their grades on reckoning day, but they have not necessarily learned anything in the process.

What role will ASP play if students have a sense of their grades before the close of the semester? It means we will get to focus on skills earlier in the semester, and they will be more likely to listen when we can help before grades are final. It makes our jobs more meaningful, because students will see the importance of our roles earlier in their law school career.  It may mean more work for us earlier, but a more balanced school year with less of a crush at the start of the spring semester. (RCF)

January 19, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 17, 2011

ASP Section at AALS

There will be additional posts on AALS, but this is a brief overview of the program and the new AALS ASP section officers (Congrats to my co-editor, Dr. Amy Jarmon!)

The program, co-sponsored by Student Services and Balance in Legal Education sections, was a huge success with great turnout. It was a packed house, with every seat filled.

The program started with a brief memorial to Prof. Bruce Winick, who passed away this year. Prof. Winick was a giant in the legal academy, therapeutic justice, and the humanizing legal education movement. He will be deeply missed.

The first panel was Deborah Rhode, Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado, and Nancy Levit, discussing the current state of emotional well-being for law students. The statistics were sobering, but it was wonderful to hear so many folks so concerned about the happiness and well-being of law students and actually working to do something about the challenges to law students and recent grads.

The next panel was Paula Manning, Corie Rosen, Russell McClain, Rebecca Flanagan (me), joined after by Andrew Faltin. Paula et al got the program rocking with a song and dance (no joke) on how optimism, feedback, and programming can enhance law student well-bring. Andrew closed the section with information on how to use student self-evaluatuations to create happier law students.

The last panel, Laurie Zimet and Paula Lustbader, showed the audience how to get to know their students in"3D". Laurie and Paula provided some excellent tools to help professors get past their pre-conceived ideas about their students and help see them for who they are, not just a face in a seat. We closed out the day with Larry Krieger, the guru of law student balance and happiness, discussing his latest research on autonomy support and student success.

At the close of the program, the ASP business meeting announced the section officers for the 2011-2012 year:

Chair: Michael Hunter Schwartz

Chair Elect: Paula Manning

Immediate Past Chair: Robin Boyle

Secretary: Rebecca Flanagan

Treasurer: Herb Ramy

Executive Board:

LaRasz Moody, Emily Scivoletto, Louis Schulz, and Dr. Amy Jarmon


January 17, 2011 in Academic Support Spotlight, Current Affairs, Meetings, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)