Monday, October 1, 2012

Times They are a Changin'

There has been a shift in focus at many law schools across the country due to the ever changing legal market, the downturn in the economy, and the push for reforms in legal education. When change takes place as a reaction to outside forces, it is not always done thoughtfully with a deliberate action plan.  Reacting is limiting and may lead to unfavorable results.  Responding, rather than reacting, will lead to changes that are logical, intentional, and will help create a positive momentum system wide.

How does this shift affect Academic Support Professionals and the services we provide students?  A reaction to the change in our student body, whether it is their LSAT scores, the numbers of students enrolling, or their undergrad GPAs, could deplete academic support services to students if the services provided are not highly valued or acknowledged as a benefit.  Funding for such programs may be transferred to areas in the law school that directly feed advancement in US News rankings or to other programs that shine a spotlight on the school. 

However, I submit that when academic support services are viewed as integral parts of the law school curriculum, students benefit, law schools benefit, and the legal profession benefits.  It is counter intuitive to think that support services for students can be reduced during these changing times; but, I know it is happening.  I am lucky that my institution values academic support but I know that many other ASPers face a more troubling reality.  Yet, students, more now than ever, need academic support professionals to guide them through their arduous law school experience. 

If students are entering law school with lower UGPAs and LSATs, Academic Support Programs should be expanded to meet the needs of their student populations not minimized to fit shrinking budgets.  While budget issues are a real concern, providing much needed academic support and graduating practice ready students are arguably more important.  Academic Support Professionals are uniquely situated to guide students throughout their law school journey, especially non-traditional students or those with risk factors that may impede their success.

How should we as Academic Support Professionals respond to these changing times?  I think we can all construct a lengthy list in our minds as to why the services we provide are essential to the educational growth of our students. However, I urge you to go one step further.  Write down your list and share it with as many members of the faculty and administration at your law school as you can.  In doing this, you have enlightened others (that have power and influence) as to the many ways in which you shape the law school community.  You have also identified ways in which you can help respond to the ever-changing nature of legal education and the makeup of your student body.

Another response is to assess and evaluate your program.  While many of us do this already, we could all benefit from taking some time to revisit the idea and determine whether we are reaching our desired outcomes.  How is your program currently being assessed?  What can you learn from the data that has been collected?  Is there something else that should be included?  Reflecting on what is working and what needs improvement will enhance the quality and efficiency of your program and will keep you directly engaged with carrying out its mission.

Lastly, a great way to respond to the changing nature of legal education is to get more involved in the discussion.  Think about presenting a new or innovative teaching method or step up to present a work in progress.  The more that we as a community can support each other and highlight the essential nature of our work, the more valuable we are individually to our respective law schools and collectively as a whole.  Consider collaborating with others and finding ways to get involved.  By responding, rather than reacting, to the changing times, we will make a positive impact on our law students and on our profession.

Lisa Young

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