Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Beloit Mindset List

Thank you to John Edwards at Drake for reminding us that it is the time of year for the Mindset List. 

Beloit College has published its latest list which explores the world view of entering college freshmen (Class of 2016).  I have included a link to it here for all of you who want to know what to expect in four years:

Beloit Mindset 2016

For those of you who want to refresh yourselves on what the Beloit Mindset List said about the Class of 2012 who just graduated from college and is now represents many of our new 1L class, the link for the list is here:

Beloit Mindset 2012 Graduates New 1L Students

And if you want to remind yourself about our 2L and 3L students or our non-traditional students, you can browse the lists for respective years at the main page:

Beloit Mindset By Year

I am always a bit surprised at some of the items on the list while others make me chuckle.  Those references that we all use in class become more outdated each year.  (Amy Jarmon)

August 23, 2012 in Learning Styles, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Common Sense for New Law Students

New law students are now gracing our halls.  Their faces hold a mixture of excitement and uneasiness.  They want someone to tell them the ONE RIGHT WAY to read cases, brief, outline, and complete all of the other study tasks.  They get inundated with lots of advice regarding how to get the best grades in law school from a myriad of sources.

By mid-September (if not sooner), I see them totally lose sight of some basics that make a huge difference in their ability to do well in law school.  They seem to let their common sense fly out the window.

Here are 10 common sense tips that will allow a student to be successful:

  1. Get a minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep per night.  You cannot learn and retain anything if your brain cells are not alert.
  2. Eat three nutritious meals a day - not caffeine, sugar, and junk food.  You cannot learn and retain anything if your brain cells do not have nourishment.
  3. Exercise for at least 30-45 minutes three times a week.  You can alleviate stress and sleep better with exercise.
  4. If you are sick, go to the doctor.  You may not feel that you have time for a doctor's appointment, but you especially do not have time for an illness to drag on for weeks because you did not get the medication/treatment that you needed.
  5. Do not believe everything you hear on the grapevine.  Law schools are fertile ground for rumors and gossip.  If something you hear sounds outlandish or wrong, it probably is.  If the item is important, check it out with a reliable source. 
  6. Be patient with yourself.  Law requires new ways of thinking, writing, and studying.  You will need time to learn how to do those things well.  Do not expect to get everything right initially.  Even today's Olympic swimmers started in the shallow end.
  7. Compete with yourself rather than with everyone else.  You cannot know how you will do in relation to your entire section, but you can know whether you are putting in your best efforts each day.
  8. Get assistance when you need it.  Use the resources at your law school to help you succeed: professors, academic support personnel, tutors or teaching fellows, writing specialists, and the many others who will be willing to assist you.
  9. Stop wasting time.  Limit the electronic distractions in your life: e-mail, twitter, facebook, texting, cell phone calls.  Focus on studying and use these tasks as rewards after you get your work done.
  10. Treat others as you would want them to treat you.  You do not have to be cut-throat competitive or a jerk to succeed in law school.  Your classmates will be your future professional colleagues.  You want them to refer clients to you, give you a thumbs up for a job at their firms, and remember you positively.  Build a good reputation as an attorney starting now.

No matter how brilliant you may be, you still need to use common sense.  I have seen too many law students falter because they ignored the basics.  (Amy Jarmon)   

August 22, 2012 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Essential Life Skills for Law Students

All of us in academic success teach students the strategies that they need to perform the traditional legal study skills more efficiently and effectively: reading cases, briefing cases, outlining course material, fact-pattern-essay exam taking, multiple-choice exam taking, successful study groups, etc. 

All of us also know that we teach our students essential life skills.  However, our students do not always consider how very important those life skills are.  They instead become focused only on grades in law school.  They do not contemplate how life skills that apply to success in law school also apply to being better attorneys, friends, spouses, parents, and citizens. 

Here are some of the life skills that I think we teach our law students to help them in everything they will do.  The list is not in a particular order, and I am sure all of us could add to it.

  • Time management
  • Project management
  • Stress management
  • Preferences for learning
  • Effective memory strategies
  • Curbing procrastination tendencies
  • Life-work balance
  • Clarification of personal and professional goals
  • Problem solving - academic and non-academic
  • Evaluating strategies, options, and techniques
  • Facing difficulties (and even failure) and moving forward
  • Celebrating improvement and overcoming obstacles.
  • The balance between relying on oneself and asking for help.

I want my students to succeed academically.  But I especially want them to succeed as valuable human beings.  (Amy Jarmon)

 

August 21, 2012 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Overcoming a fear of public speaking

I have spent the past three weeks teaching gifted 10, 11, and 12 year olds in Palo Alto, CA. I do this every summer, and I learn a lot from the kids. I teach college-level Model United Nations and Advanced Geography, and all the students are required to formally address the class about their nation's position on the issue involved in the simulation.  This year, the class had a student who was terrified of public speaking. Her terror mirrored what I see in 1L's approaching moot court. I learned a great deal from this student as she overcame her fear and went on to be on the the class's strongest advocates.

1) Trust rules of procedure.

The student, who I will call A, learned that rules of parliamentary procedure were her friend. All students needed to follow the rules, so she knew what to expect when she was asked to speak. No one could yell out or distract her, or they would be violating the rules. While moot court doesn't use rules of parliamentary procedure, there are rules that protect the speaker. Many students with a fear of public speaking are afraid of public ridicule, and the rules associated with moot court prevent the heckling they fear.

2) Preparation will make you feel better.

A knew her position on the issues. She could answer any question. She knew she had done the research. Her paper was approved by two different teachers. These steps helped allay some of her fears that she would be asked a question that she could not answer. Some of her fear of public speaking was a fear of being caught off-guard. Preparation, and guidance, make a huge difference when a student fears public speaking.

3) Everyone makes mistakes.

A was not the first speaker, which allowed her to listen to her classmates before she had to speak. We asked her to listen for mistakes, because even the best, most fluid speakers make mistakes. When she saw that the mistakes did not mar the substance of most speeches, she was able to relax.

4) If you feel the ideas flying out of your head, stop talking. Take a deep breath. Start again.

When A realized that no one would heckle her if she forgot part of her speech, it calmed her nerves. But we still needed to reassure her that she could forget her speech, and she could take a second to regain her composure and resume speaking. She had a 60-second time limit on her speech (far less than most appellate arguments in moot court) but she still had enough time to take a deep breath and start again if she felt like she was losing control. Just the knowledge that she could take a second helped keep her calm during her first few speeches to the class.

For those of you who are thinking "but the stakes are SO much higher in law school," take a minute to recall being in middle school. This class was filled with super-competitive, ambitious, and gifted middle school students who have never failed at anything in their short lives. These students choose to take a college-level class during their summer vacation. The thought of making a mistake feels life-altering to them. Because they live in dorms while they take the class, they cannot escape from their peers. The fear that A felt is not much different from the fear felt by 1L's. (RCF)

 

August 14, 2012 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Art of Reading Carefully

A persistent problem with some of my law students is that they do not read carefully.  It troubles me that this problem seems to cut across class years and class ranks and appears to be getting more wide-spread. 

So much of our lives as attorneys revolves around tasks that call for precision.  If our students do not learn to be more precise during law school, how are they going to excell in their work?

I am not talking about common first-year mistakes in understanding cases.  I am talking about students who simply never learned to read with care.  Here are some examples:

  • Students regularly ask professors questions that were covered in detail in class syllabi.
  • Students do not follow instructions on an assignment or exam even when clearly provided.
  • Students are asked to read a document carefully, but come to class with only a gist of that document.
  • Students do not read a complete e-mail or the attachments provided - even when they know that deadlines and task completions are required.
  • Students fail to read law school announcements, Orientation packets, registration instructions, Student Handbooks, and other items that they told are important.

When I have talked to colleagues about this problem, the following thoughts have been shared:

  • The Internet, e-mail, and text messages have turned students into grazers who never read for depth.
  • The parents of this generation of students kept track of everything for them so they are unaccustomed to being responsible for reading carefully and retaining information.
  • Students these days do not know how to read because they do not read books in their leisure time; they watch video clips on YouTube, watch TV, play video games, but rarely sit down to read books that are not assigned.
  • Undergraduate professors told them exactly what they needed for the exams so they did not have to read carefully - in some cases did not read at all for most classes.
  • They think they can look everything up on the Internet later, so why worry about boring text.
  • They got As and Bs without having to work very hard because of grade inflation in lower education, so they do not know that precision might be important for graduate-level academics (and life). 

So, what can we do to get our students ready for the careful reading, thinking, and writing that they will have to accomplish successfully in law practice?  Below are a few things that I have become more conscious about doing with my students.  I am sure that my colleagues can provide other thoughts and techniques.

  • Discuss professionalism in one's work as a law student and how that becomes professionalism in one's work product as an attorney.
  • Go over a case or fact pattern in great detail so they begin to see the information that they missed with only a cursory reading.
  • Parse a complex statute so that they see why every word and punctuation mark matters.
  • Ask questions that go to the legal nuances of the material they have read so that they begin to see the depth of understanding needed. 
  • Resist telling them the answer.  At times I have to bite my tongue and reply along the lines of "turn to page 3 in your syllabus and read point 8 on the format for your presentation" or "read the facts paragraph again and tell me what the court said about the defendant's acts."   
  • Encourage them to review exams with C+ or lower grades with their professors to see how they could have improved the grade (more careful reading of the fact pattern, more care in the organization, more precise rule statements, more depth in analysis).
  • Give examples of where a lack of careful reading or precision would cause problems for an attorney in practice - real-life examples are best.
  • Allow them to experience consequences for missed assignment deadlines, incorrect format, lack of proof-reading, or misread instructions.  Consequences learned in the law school environment will usually be less dire than than consequences learned later in practice.  (Of course, there are times when a student's circumstances warrant an exception to this suggestion.)

Part of being a professional is being conscious of one's responsibility for a high quality work product.  By mastering care in their everyday reading and class work, our students will learn to turn out work products that are professional.  (Amy Jarmon) 

August 3, 2012 in Professionalism, Reading | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

What Mowing My Lawn Taught Me About Law School Learning - Part 2

LESSON 2:     YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT.

Optimal yard care involves proper performance of several critical duties: (1) cutting the lawn, (2) edging at the borders of the lawn to create clean lines, (3) pulling weeds from the garden, (4) pruning plants, bushes, and trees, (5) watering plants, and (6) other related tasks like fertilizing, overseeding, aerating, raking, stump removal, and replanting.  (Just writing that last sentence stressed me out!  I’m going to take a break.  Be back shortly.)  . . . . . So, when I am sitting in my house on the weekend, I know (really, I feel) that “mowing the lawn” is waaaay more than just mowing the lawn.  I find it really difficult to commit to what could be several hours of lawn care.

It’s not that I don’t have time to mow the lawn, but I don’t have time to do all of that other stuff.  I start thinking about the fact that the last time I was edging, the weed-whacker ran out of line, so I’m going to have to replace that.  I make a mental list of all of the things that I’m going to have to do in addition to the mowing.  No way I can accomplish all of that.  It’s too much.  I resolve to do nothing for now.  Save it until later, when I can do it all.    

Eventually, I say to myself, “The lawn isn’t going to mow itself.”  If I let the grass continue to grow, I’m going to need a pith helmet and a machete instead of a lawn mower.  The homeowners association is going to send me a notice.  My wife will start talking to me about the dangers of deer ticks.  So, I get up and mow the lawn.  It doesn’t take forever.  And, if I really don’t have time to do all of the other things, I realize that they can wait.  But I did what I really needed to do.  Maybe the lines aren’t as perfect as they need to be, but I have prevented my lawn from being a nightmare.  Even though I did not trim, edge, prune, plant, weed, cultivate, water, fertilize, or any of the other things I could have done, I finished the important part.  The rest can wait, and my lawn looks good.  Frankly, the other things I need to do seem far less daunting, now that the big part is finished.  

What this taught me about law school

Perfectionists come in two extremes.  The first type works her fingers to the bone, getting every aspect of a task right, laboring until that moment that the task is thoroughly complete, shiny, and, yes, perfect.  Type-1 perfectionists sometimes can lose sleep, go hungry, or otherwise sacrifice self-care in an effort to achieve perfection in their work.  The second type of perfectionist looks at all that needs to be done to achieve perfection and starts to feel a little overwhelmed.  This feeling of being overwhelmed may paralyze the Type-2 perfectionist, who may choose to do nothing, fearing that any attempt to do something just won’t be good enough.  I don’t think either type of extreme perfectionist is healthy, but I’m going to focus on Type-2 for now.

In law school, it is easy to feel overwhelmed.   4 courses.  2 classes per week per course.  50
pages of reading per class.  1 legal writing paper.  5 job applications due.  2 student group meetings.  5 gym workouts.  Saturday night party.  If you are a Type-2 perfectionist, all of this work makes you want to crawl into a hole.  Rather than attacking this invincible mountain of work, you do nothing.   

A better way to approach this might be to do what you can now.  You can accomplish a lot in the time you have, even if there is not enough time to make it perfect.  Do the reading, even if you don’t think there’s enough time to finish a brief.  Get the first draft of your paper done.  Do what you can, and don't try to do everything at once.  Good may not be perfect, but it's a darn sight better than nothing at all.

 (Writer’s Note: I am going to resist the perfectionist urge in me to hold onto this blog post any longer and edit it a few more weeks.  It may not be perfect, but I hope it is good enough to make a good point!)

August 2, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)