Saturday, November 17, 2012
My road to ASP was through some amazing mentors, and a tragedy that shifted the direction of my career. I still work in ASP because of the students, and the amazing support of our incredible community.
I went to law school to work in education policy. I had worked in k-3 education before law school, and I loved it. But I saw political agendas, not research and science, shaping curriculum, and I decided to leave teaching so I could move policy towards sound education practices. Once I started law school, I was appalled by the teaching methods. I had some amazing, gifted teachers who gave 100% to their students, but the overall program, with large classes, little or no feedback, and vicious competition for grades, was appalling to me. So I applied to work in the RRWA program at Carolina Law, run by the phenomenal RuthAnn McKinney. I was selected to teach a spring ASP tutorial to students who volunteered to be a part of the program. I quickly found myself spending more time on my ASP lesson plans than my classwork. The perfect moment was when one of the students in the tutorial told me his grades for the semester, and he did better than I did in classes I had taken with the same teachers the year before.
I was searching for jobs in education and policy in the Boston area during my 3L year of law school. My fiance had a job at a big firm in Boston. Tragically, my fiance died unexpectedly of natural causes during our 3L year. Suddenly, I had no job, no place to live, and needed to figure out my future plans ASAP. Ruth McKinney gently nudged me away from education policy and towards ASP. Ruth passed my resume out during an LSAC ASP meeting. I got a call, and started in ASP that fall. In addition to Ruth, I had the fantastic luck to be taught by two giants in legal education, Gail Agrawal and Judith Wegner. Both Judith and Gail were instrumental in my development as a professional, and helped me find my way to ASP. If Ruth was my mentor, I can count Gail and Judith as guardian angels.
Starting off in ASP is overwhelming. I felt like I was in over my head, despite a previous career in teaching, experience teaching ASP in law school, and fantastic mentoring and support from Ruth. At my first job, I was absolutely blessed with the second amazing mentor of my career, Paula Manning. I don't think I would have stayed in ASP after that first year if it wasn't for the constant support, encouragement, and hand-holding from Paula. I loved my students, I loved my work, but Paula always had my back, professionally and personally. I think that support from the ASP community is what keeps many of us in the field, even when times are tough. We are here for our students, but it's the incredible support from the ASP community that keep us going through the hard times. (RCF)
Thursday, November 15, 2012
When reviewing 1L's first drafts of practice exams, there is one problem that always comes up: writing in law is not creative writing. 1L's get confused by this statement, especially when their professors tell them that creativity is an important part of lawyering. However, the creativity that law professors are referring to, and the creativity that law students try to demonstrate on exams, are two different things. This is a particular challenge for students who majored in English in undergrad, and for law students who previously worked in creative fields, such as PR or marketing. Students need to understand that the purpose of writing for a legal audience is different from the purpose of writing in those fields. Lawyers need to be understood. A creatively written contract, that uses terms of art in new or novel ways, is likely to be misunderstood by the parties, and wind up in court. This is NOT what a lawyer wants when they write a contract. Therefore, lawyers use terms of art carefully; in fact, lawyers use words carefully. The goal of writing for a legal audience is not to show them how many 25 cent SAT words you know; the goal is to be understood.
Here are some other basic rules of writing for a legal audience that 1L's frequently misunderstand:
1) Using the same words throughout an exam is smart. Don't try to change your vocabulary so you don't overuse a word. That rule is true for creative writing, but it undermines the coherence of your essay when writing in law.
2) Keep your sentences short. Long sentences frequently contain too many ideas that need to be discussed separately.
3) Use linking words, like because. Although your sentences should be short, you need to be sure that you make explicit connections between law and fact. You are not a fiction writer; you do not want to make the reader make inferences. Spell it out for them.
4) A paragraph should focus on one idea. If you have a new idea, start a new paragraph. If you reread your work, and find that you have multiple ideas in one paragraph, chances are you are not discussing any one idea completely.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Jeremiah Ho, Assistant Professor of Law, has worked in academic support for three years. He is currently at UMass Dartmouth and shares why he is in ASP work:
"I work in academic support because when I was in law school, I had great ASP professors who cared about students, and without their help and dedication, I would not have excelled so early. Now I get to teach as well and try to do right by them."
Jeremiah is known for incorporating ASP principles in the classroom. We have been so glad to have you as an ASP colleague.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
One of the great books on law school exam prep has one piece of terrible advice: don't use IRAC. The bottom line is that ALL law school professors expect law school exam answers that are organized, easy to read, and logical. It may be called CRAC, IRAC, TRAC, or TICRA-FLIPC; the name of the organizational system doesn't matter. A law school exam needs an organized answer. The problem is that many law professors don't understand IRAC is just an organizational system, and that students need to have an organizational system before they can move to the fluid, responsive (and organized!) answers that get A's. Just like most people learn how to drive an automatic before moving to a stick shift (and they generally stall the car quite a few times before they are fluid with a stick), law students need to start with a simple organizational system before they can move to the move to more advanced writing styles.
Here are some rules of thumb I use with students who are just starting to write practice exams:
1) Issue: It's the problem you need to solve. Your issue should tell the reader (your professor) what legal problem you found in that facts. Your issue should be narrow enough to be answerable; a too-broad issue statement means you have too many questions to answer in the time allotted.
2) Rule: What legal rule is implicated in the hypothetical facts?
3) Analysis: An element of law/case + relevant hypothetical facts in EVERY sentence. I use this formula because students just starting to write practice exams tend to restate too many hypo facts, restate entire case holdings, or they do the opposite, and only include too little law or too few facts. Another problem is parallel structure; students write a sentence about the law, and a sentence about the hypothetical facts, but do not make the connection between them. By telling students they need law and facts in every sentence, it moves them away from common mistakes in analysis. THEN I move on to more advanced analysis, but only after they have mastered the basic structure of analysis.
4) Conclusion: It doesn't matter how you conclude, but you need a conclusion that is the logical extension of your analysis. Don't get stuck in analysis paralysis, where all possible options seem equally plausible, so you leave the reader hanging.
Lamborghini's are amazing cars. However, no one learns how to drive on a Lamborghini; the sports stick is so stiff that a new driver would give up before learning how to drive. An automatic Honda Civic is the way to go when learning how to drive. And like learning to drive, learning to write an organized law school exam takes time and practice. It's better to start mechanical and move to advanced, even if the advanced writing skills are ultimately what we want from our students. (RCF)
Sunday, November 11, 2012
Herb Ramy, Professor of Academic Support, at Suffolk University School of Law is in his fourteenth year working with law students. Many of you know Herb from his excellent book, Succeeding in Law School. Herb shares the reasons why he loves working in ASP:
"Working as an ASP Professor, while challenging, is extremely rewarding. There are many barriers to success in law school, and I derive a great deal of satisfaction from helping students see those barriers and overcome them. Each year students come experiencing fear and doubt as to whether they can make it in law school, and I get to watch as they hit their stride and slowly grow more confident in their newfound abilities. Three or four years later I get to watch them walk across the stage at graduation. How many people have jobs where they get to make this kind of difference in people’s lives?"
Thank you, Herb, for being an inspiration to many of us in ASP and to your students!