Wednesday, November 20, 2013
For me, one of the most maddening things about Academic Success is when students don't take advantage of Workshops, tutoring, or any of the advice I have given them over the semester and end up failing because of it. And, when students do this kind of thing during bar study, I find it even more frustrating (not to mention mind-boggling).
In general, I try to encourage participation in Academic Success and Bar Prep by being nice and accesible -- I answer emails whenever I see them, encourage them to call me "Alex," wash their cars on alternate Sundays, etc. That seems to work pretty well with most. But, lately I've been wondering if some of the students would benefit if I actually changed tactics and instead of being "nice," pointed out harsh reality to them (which one of my colleagues referred to as being "mean").
If a student chooses not to participate in the help available to them, perhaps the best thing I can do is simply make them own their mistakes. There is nothing inherently wrong with failing the bar exam, pulling the lowest grade in the classs, or failing law school. And, if a student chooses not to talk to their profs, take advantage of academic success, do practice questions, make outlines, go to the school's bar prep, or go to their commercial bar prep, there's not a lot I can really do about it. While I tend to beat myself up over these these students when they fail, at the end of the day, it's up to them whether they want to take chances with their success. If the vast amount of money and time invested and the scary job market can't motivate them, I certainly can't.
So, much like medical patients undergoing a risky medical procedure, I'm kicking around the idea of having these students sign an "informed consent" form. I'm thinking the form might read:
"I have decided that I am OK with potentially [failing this class/failing out of law school/failing the bar]. I think other things are more important than doing the work I need to succeed, such as ___________________________________________ (job, family, exercise, social stuff, significant other, etc.) or I am unable to invest the appropriate amount of time because of __________________________________.
I do not go to tutoring because: ____________________________________.
I have not started my outline because: ________________________________.
I do not do my legal writing assignments early because: ____________________.
I do not have a set study schedule because: _____________________________.
I do not go to Academic Success Workshops because: ________________________.
I have not met my profs during office hours because: _________________________.
I do not go to Career Services because: ___________________________________.
My law school cost: ___________________.
My commercial bar prep cost: ___________________.
For my career, I am planning to: ___________________________________."
I'm not exactly sure how students will react. I imagine not well. But I would hope that actually having their choices and likely results laid out before them in black and white would make them more likely to change their ways (even if it is just to spite me).
I'm a little worried about doing something like this because a lot of law students react horribly to even the slightest criticism (and I would never use a form like this on a student who is trying but simply flailing out of control). I've had students complain when I simply noted (without naming names) that students with a GPA under a certain point are at risk for failing the bar. I've had students complain that I didn't hire them for a position they didn't actually turn in an application for. And, I once had a student complain that I was bothering him with too many emails as I was trying to get him to meet with me (another prof had put him on my radar as a student that needed help).
With that student, I backed off. He graduated at the bottom of the class, struggled with the bar exam, and was ultimately disbarred from the practice of law . Not that I delude myself into thinking that I was or could be that important to his outcome, but he made me wonder whether backing off was the right choice. Perhaps I should have pushed harder and maybe that would have forced him to take stock of what he was doing with his student career (which, in turn, might have saved him in his professional one).
The verdict is still out on whether I will try this form. We will see. (Alex Ruskell)