Monday, April 7, 2014

Advice from Goldilocks for Law Students

Remember Goldilocks in the home of the Three Bears?  She did not want porridge that was too hot or too cold; she did not want a chair too hard or too soft; she did not want a bed that was too hard or too soft.  She wanted everything to be just right.

I often remind my law students about Goldilocks.  They do not want briefs that are too long or too short.  They do not want outlines that contain too many case details or too few rules.  They do not want exam answers too conclusory or too verbose.  They do not want to do too little research or too much research.  They want each step to be just right.

First-year students especially have trouble finding that "just right point" in their work.  Second- and third-year students are not immune from the problem, however, in at least some of their tasks. 

Students may obsess about the line to draw - how much is too little and how much is too much?  Some become paralyzed in their work because they are looking for perfection in knowing the just right point from the get-go.  They need to understand that they will learn to draw that line only by continuously repeating the tasks.  The practice in doing the tasks leads in time to the ability of finding the just right point with ease.

Learning is a process and not a "given" from the start for most law students.  Students can use self-monitoring to find the "just right point" over time as they repeat the various tasks.  Here are some examples of what I mean:

  • Reviewing one's briefs after class against what the professor indicated/discussed in class.  Why was the student's issue statement too broad or too narrow?  What facts were included that were not needed or were left out?  What policy arguments were missed or inaccurately stated? 
  • Comparing one's class notes after class with another student.  What important points were missed from the class discussion?  Did the hypotheticals mentioned by the professor get written down?  Were the professor's steps of analysis delineated in the notes?  Were notes taken down verbatim in a mechanical way or thoughtfully included for the salient points? 
  • Critiquing one's outlines after each topic is completed.  Does the outline contain the law and policy needed to solve new legal problems?  Does the outline flip one's thinking to the bigger picture and synthesis of the law or stay stuck in a series of case briefs?  Is the outline skimpy without the steps of analysis and depth of understanding or is it filled with trivia that is not helpful?
  • Comparing one's written practice question answers with the model answers or discussing them with study group members after everyone has done them separately.  Were all of the issues spotted?  Were there any rules left out or mis-stated?  Were the facts used correctly when applying the law?  Were all of the steps in the analysis delineated?  Were both parties' arguments included?
  • Reviewing low-grade exams at the beginning of the next semester to analyze what one did well or poorly.  Most professors will allow students to compare their exams to anonymous A papers or rubrics or model answers.  Many professors will go over the exams with students as well.
  • Evaluating at the end of each semester one's progress on each study task for finding the just right point.  Formulating strategies for further improvement on the tasks one is still struggling with.

If the student cannot determine strategies for further improvement after self-monitoring, then help from academic success professionals, professors, and teaching assistants should be sought out. (Amy Jarmon) 

  

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