Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Surprising Benefits of Chit Chat, Eye Contact, and a Hello for Law Students & ASP (and the 10/5 Rule)!

In follow-up to yesterday's excellent post on tackling fear by Prof. Pritchard, I…unfortunately...spent most of my three years in law school in fear.  In fact, I felt like I was the only one that was without roots, without a sense of presence, without wholeness in law school.  But, since then, I now know the truth…many of us as law students feel alone and in fear.

Apparently, there is something called the 10/5 rule that might have helped me.  The 10/5 rule is used throughout the hotel and hospitality industries to help strangers feel welcome.  And, because many law students feel as though they are strangers throughout law school, I wonder whether the 10/5 rule might help law students overcome fear and loneliness to become instead empowered as partners with others in a community of learners.

So, here's the nut and bolts of the 10/5 rule:

It starts when you are ten feet away from another person.  Just make eye contact with a friendly smile. That's it.

Then, when you are five feet away, just add a friendly "hello" with perhaps a quick expression like "Wow; that's a big casebook you're carrying."

You see, according to freelance writer Jennifer Wallace: "Chitchat is an important social lubricant, helping to build empathy and a sense of community."  Often, though, we underestimate the importance of small talk.  

According to a 2014 study, Professor Nicholas Epley and Ph.D. student Juliana Schroeder conducted experiments on commuter trains in Chicago in which participants were grouped into three cohorts: some were told to engage in polite conversations with strangers, some were told to avoid conversations with strangers, and some (as a control group) were asked to engage in conversations as they normally do.  Interestingly, the rule-breakers - those in the group that actually broke the "social rules of the commuter" by engaging in small talk with strangers - reported significantly more positive experiences and no less productive time as they commuted.

In another study conducted on a campus setting of 40,000 students, researchers evaluated whether an eye gaze and a friendly smile might make any difference with respect to students' sense of belonging.  In the experiment, the authors had a research experimenter randomly walk past college students in which she either avoided eye contact, engaged in eye contact, or engaged in eye contact accompanied by a friendly smile. Trailing the experimenter was a research associate who then surveyed each passerby.  Without tipping the students about the experiment, the research associate asked each student to evaluate their sense of belonging.  Surprisingly, even when students were not aware of the research experimenter's contact with them, students who were greeted with an eye gaze reported a greater sense of belonging (with the highest reported benefit by those greeted with both an eye gaze and a smile).  As the authors indicate, "simple eye contact is sufficient to convey inclusion. In contrast, withholding eye contact can signal exclusion."

These results seem to validate the 10/5 rule.  So, why not put to practice the 10/5 rule in law school.  Looking back, I wonder whether, if I had practiced the 10/5 rule as a law student, I would have developed connections with others in law school (and put fear and loneliness aside).  Perhaps I just need to start greeting others with an eye gaze and a brief "howdy."  In light of this research, our small interactions with our students might be the bridge to help our students not just survive in law school but thrive.  So, here's to "breaking the rules" and smiling with you!  (Scott Johns).


October 20, 2016 in Advice, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Law School Success

Success or thriving in law school can be characterized in two different ways. There is “Traditional Success” which includes the things we generally think about such as (1) receiving academic honors throughout one’s law school career and at graduation and/or (2) involvement or leadership in revered and coveted activities or organizations.  For some, participation in law review or moot court, becoming a teaching assistant or a research assistant, obtaining a summer clerkship, externship, or judicial clerkship are all signs of success.  These are, for the most part, tangible things that one can see and comprehend. Involvement in the ways listed above seems to equate, for most, with a certain guarantee that one will land the dream job with the dream starting salary.  For some students, these aspirations are so interwoven with their expected law school experience that without them they feel less than successful.  The reality is that not everyone is going to have such an experience.  So what does one do if they only achieve one or none of these goals? 

For others, to succeed and thrive as a law student might mean “Achieving Your Realistic and Attainable Goals” and maybe even surpassing those goals. Succeeding and thriving in law school might include some awards and achieving your goals but more importantly, it means developing your persona as a legal professional. It means developing good relationships with classmates, professors, and staff who will become future colleagues.  It means developing a good reputation and striving for personal excellence and improvement.  It means focusing on your self-development rather than constantly comparing yourself to others. While it is important to have individuals that you admire and strive to be like, your journey is uniquely yours.  A checklist of to-dos and to accomplish only limits the full extent of the law school journey.  At the end of your law school journey, you want to look at yourself in the mirror and know that you did the best that you could, that you used all of your resources, and that you maintained your integrity, self-respect, and authenticity.  It is easy to adopt another’s path but you can forge your own unique path. 

My motto for law students is: NOT A THING is imPOSSIBLE. At times the journey might appear impossible but hope and faith can propel us beyond our wildest dreams.  It is imperative to learn from failures and shortcomings, most will have many. 

The most successful law students are those who can stare a challenge in the face, work through the difficulties and frustrations, and endure the emotions but pick themselves up shortly thereafter. Weakness is not in sharing your challenges with a peer because you never know what challenges they are facing.  Many students struggle with similar insecurities though they might show unwavering strength.  Be honest with yourself and don’t lie to yourself about your commitment to what you have to accomplish.  Sort through your challenges and deficiencies and don’t be overly confident about your abilities.  I know too many students who may not meet all of the qualifications for a particular opportunity yet opportunities that seem impossible have been made possible for them, so trust yourself.

This is dedicated to a student I have seen grow and find her place within the law school world. (Goldie Pritchard)

October 12, 2016 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Some Thoughts on Teaching Outlining, etc.

As mentioned in a previous blog, most of my law school outlines were - simply put - not outlines…and not useful at all in law school.  Rather, my outlines were just my regurgitated notes with my case briefs and class notes filling out the details.  

And, there was a good reason that I didn't know how to outline or create another organization tool (such as a flowchart, a map, an audio file, a poster, etc.).  That's because I didn't have a framework in mind to organize my notes, briefs, and casebook materials.  And, I suspect that many of our students find themselves in similar straits.

So, here's a thought…just a thought.  Perhaps Academic Support Professionals might lend a hand in providing the organizational template for outlining.  

Here's why.  First, the casebook and the class syllabus already provide our students with a rough guide as to methods to organize a law school subject.  So, we don't mind giving our students some sort of start in the process.  But, the rough guide from a casebook and syllabus are not enough.  

That's because the rough outlines in those materials do not provide students with sufficient details to organize the subject.  The tables of contents, for example, usually just provide legal terms of art.  That's it.  No so-called "black letter" law at all.  

So, here's the rub. We expect our students to craft the rules for themselves. But, in the practice of law, we don't do that at all.  Rather, at least speaking for myself, when I work on a novel legal problem, I don't ever start with a casebook.  Instead, I start with a mini-hornbook to provide me an overview of the black letter law, including the big picture "umbrella" rules, such as:  A refugee is "one who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion…"  Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 101(a)(42)(A).  

Then, I start digging into the cases to figure out, assuming that the law does not define the various terms, what persecution means or membership in a particular social group, etc.  In short, as an attorney, I have never had to create an umbrella rule from scratch based on reading a bunch of cases.  Instead, I use the cases to determine how to apply (or distinguish) the rule to (or from) the situations that my clients are facing.

If that is how most of us practice law, then maybe that is how we should study law too.  If so (and this is just a hunch of mine), maybe we should be giving our students a template of the black letter law. Then, our students can proactively use that template to flesh out the meanings of the rules, the limits of the rules, and the particular applications of the rules…by inserting within that template their case blurbs, class notes, class hypotheticals, policy rationales, etc.  

One of my best professors in law school (and also one of my most difficult in terms of grading) was not afraid at all to set out the black letter law for us, both as a preview of the coming class and as a review of the previous class.  With the law set out, we were much better able to dig into the heart of the law…what do the words mean, what are the policy implications behind the rules, should the rules be changed, etc.  

In short, we learned to think like a lawyer…even without having to craft our own umbrella rules.  And, amazingly, that's one of the few law school classes that I can still recall many of the things that I learned.  The others - just like most of my law school outlines - are just faded memories.  (Scott Johns).


September 29, 2016 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Creating Study Tools: It's Not Too Early to Organize (or Outline) Your Thoughts!

First Year Law Students: 

It's not too early (or too late) to start creating your own personal handy-dandy study tools.  But, you ask, how?  

Well, here's a suggestion for creating your study tools from scratch in just 6 easy steps!

But first, let's lay the groundwork.  

Why should I create a study tool especially with so many other tasks at hand that demand my attention in law school?  

There are at least two reasons.

First, the process of creating your own study tool creates a sort of "mental harness" for your thoughts.  It serves to bring you back to the big picture of what you have been studying the past few weeks or so.  And, that's important because your final exams are going to ask you to ponder through and problem-solve hypothetical legal problems based on the readings, conversations, and your own post-class thoughts that you can bring to bear on the subject.

Second, the process of creating your own study tool develops your abilities to synthesize, analogize, and solve problems….skills that YOU will be demonstrating on your final exams (and in your future practice of law too).  In essence, your study tools are an organized collection of pre-written, organized answers in preparation for tackling the hypothetical problems that your professor might ask on your final exam.

So, let's set out the 6 steps:

1.  Grab Your Personal Study Tool Kit Support Team!  

That means surrounding yourself with your casebook, your class syllabus, and your class notes.  They are your "team members" to work with you to help you create your own personal study tool.  Here's a tip:  Pay particular attention to the topics in the table of contents and your syllabus.  The casebook authors and your professors are giving you an organizational tool that you can use to build your own study tool.  And, in a pinch, which I have often found myself in, I make a copy of the table of contents, blow it up a bit, and then annotate it with the steps below.  Voila!

2.  Create the Big Picture Skeleton for Your Study Tool!  

That's right.  It might look like a skeleton.  Not pretty at all.  That's okay.  Remember, it's in the process of creating your study tool that leads to learning.  So, relax and enjoy the mess.  My outlines were always, well, miserable, at least from the point of view of others.  But, because I created them, they were just perfect for my own personal use.  Here's a tip:  Use the table of contents and class syllabus to insert the big picture topics and sub-topics into your study tool.

3.  Insert the Rules!  

Be bold.  Be daring. Be adventuresome.  If you see something that looks like a rule, whether from a statute or from a common law principle, for example, such as "all contracts require an offer, acceptance, and consideration," just put it into your study tool.  Bravo!

4.  Break-up the Rules into Elements (i.e., Sections).  

Most rules have multiple-parts.  So, for example, using the rule stated above for the three requirements to create a contract, there are three (3) requirements!  (1) Offer; (2) Acceptance; and, (3) Consideration.  Over the course of the term, you will have read plenty of cases about each of those three requirements, so give the requirements "breathing room" by giving each requirement its own "holding" place in your study tool or outlines.

5.  Insert Case Blurbs, Hypos, and Public Policy Reasons!  

Within each section for a legal element or requirement, make a brief insertion of the cases, then next the hypothetical problems that were posed in your classes, and finally, any public policy reasons that might support (or defeat) the purpose of the legal element or requirement.  Here's a tip:  A "case blurb" is just that…a quick blurb containing a brief phrase about the material facts (to help you recall the case) and a short sentence or two that summarizes that holding (decision) of the court and it's rationale or motive in reaching that decision.  Try to use the word "because" in your case blurb…because….that forces you to get to the heart of the principle behind that particular case that you are inserting into your study tool.

6.  Take Your Study Tool for a Test Flight!  

Yes, you might crash.  Yes, it might be ugly.  In fact, if you are like me, you will crash and it will be ugly!  But, just grab hold of some old hypothetical problems or final exam questions and - this is important - see if you can outline and write out a sample answer using your study tool.  Then, just refine your study tool based on what your learned by using your study tool to test fly another old practice exam question or two.  Not sure where to find practice problems.  Well, first check with your professor and library for copies of old final exams.  Second, check out this site containing old bar exam questions organized by subject matter:

Finally, let me make set the record straight.  You don't have to make an outline.  Your study tool can be an outline…or a flowchart…or a set of flashcards.  What's important is that it is YOUR study tool that YOU built from YOUR own handiwork and thoughts!  It's got to be personal to you because it's going to be you that sits for your final exams.  In short, people don't do well on exams because of what they did on exam day.  Rather, people do well on exams because of what they did in preparation for exams!  Still unsure of yourself?  I sure was in law school.  So, have at it with my own personal example of a study tool (using a visual mind map) that I created on a family law topic concerning when a court can permit a parent to move to another state with a child.

(Scott Johns)


   Family Law Outline



September 8, 2016 in Advice, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Locate and Visit Key Resources at Your Law School

As a prospective student and a 1L, you probably toured your law school facility. Key offices and resources were pointed out but you may not recall all of these resources nor where they are located. You likely know where your classes, the bathrooms, the financial aid office, and the various student organizations are located. Do you know where the key offices for academic and personal support are located? You might but have you made contact with someone in those key offices so that when you need help you are more likely to step into these offices? 

Every school is different but generally there is an office that falls under one or more of these categories: Academic Support/Success, Doctrinal Teaching Assistant/Tutor office or meeting area, Research and Writing Tutor/Teaching Assistant office or meeting area, Student Affairs office, Diversity office, and/or Counseling services. Stop by and introduce yourself, even if you are an upper level student, early on in the semester, you still have time. Allow yourself to become comfortable with the individuals in these offices as they might be able to help you navigate academic and non-academic challenges as they arise. You will feel comfortable and individuals in these offices might remember you if you took the time to visit. 

Ensure that you take advantage of all programs, workshops, small group sessions or teaching assistant sessions offered. Typically, no question is a dumb question for individuals who work in these offices; unless they tell you otherwise. Their role typically includes providing you with support throughout your law school journey because they have an interest in your success as a student. At the very least if you are into Pokémon, you might find a Pokémon or two lurking near these offices, so I have heard. (Goldie Pritchard)

September 7, 2016 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 1, 2016

"A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Improves Academic and Health Outcomes of Minority Students" Say Researchers Walton and Cohen

Big hat tip to Professor Rodney Fong at the University of San Francisco School of Law for his alert to this research article!

It's not too late to make a difference…a real difference…a measurable difference…to improve academic performance and health outcomes for minority students, as demonstrated by the published research findings of Dr. Gregory M. Walton and Dr. Geoffrey L. Cohen at Stanford University in their article "A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Improves Academic and Health Outcomes of Minority Students."

Here's the scoop:

The researchers surmised that a brief intervention in the first week of undergraduate studies - to directly tackle the issue of belonging in college - might make a measurable impact with respect to academic performance and health outcomes for African-American students.  As background, previous research had suggested that a lack of a sense of belonging was particularly detrimental for success in collegiate studies. In its most basic form, the intervention was threefold.

First, the university shared survey results with research participating students, substanting that most college students "had worried about whether they belonged in college during the difficult first year but [they] grew confident in their belonging with time."  

Second, the participating students were encouraged to internalize the survey messages by writing an essay to describe "how their own experiences in college [in the first week] echoed the experiences summarized in the survey."  

Third, the participating students created videos of their written essays for the express purpose of sharing their feelings with future generations of incoming students, so that participating students would not feel like they were stigmatized by the intervention (but rather that they were beneficially involved in making the collegiate world better for future generations of incoming students).  

According to the researchers, surveys in the week following the intervention suggested that participating students sensed that the intervention buttressed their abilities to overcome adversities and enhanced their achievement of a sense of belonging.  And, the impact was long-lasting, even when participating students couldn't recall much at all about the intervention.  

The researches then used the statistical method of multiple regression to control for various other possible influences and to test for the impact of race.  As revealed in the research article, the intervention was particularly beneficial for African-American students in terms of both improvements in GPA and improvements in well-being.  In short, a brief intervention led to demonstrable benefits.

That brings us back to us ASPers!  

With the start of the school year for ASPers, we have a wonderful opportunity to engage in meaningful sharing the great news about social belonging.  But, there's more involved than just sharing the news.  Based on the research findings, to make a real difference for our students, our students must not see themselves - in the words of the Stanford researchers - as just "beneficiaries" of the intervention...but rather as "benefactors" of the intervention.  

In short, our entering students must be empowered with tools to share with future generations what they learned about adversity, belonging, and overcoming…and how to thrive in law school.  

Wow!  What a spectacular opportunity…and a challenge…for all of us! (Scott Johns).

P.S. Here's the abstract to provide you with a precise overview of the research findings:  "A brief intervention aimed at buttressing college freshmen’s sense of social belonging in school was tested in a randomized controlled trial (N = 92), and its academic and health-related consequences over 3 years are reported. The intervention aimed to lessen psychological perceptions of threat on campus by framing social adversity as common and transient. It used subtle attitude-change strategies to lead participants to self-generate the intervention message. The intervention was expected to be particularly beneficial to African-American students (N = 49), a stereotyped and socially marginalized group in academics, and less so to European-American students (N = 43). Consistent with these expectations, over the 3-year observation period the intervention raised African Americans’ grade-point average (GPA) relative to multiple control groups and halved the minority achievement gap. This performance boost was mediated by the effect of the intervention on subjective construal: It prevented students from seeing adversity on campus as an indictment of their belonging. Additionally, the intervention improved African Americans’ self-reported health and well-being and reduced their reported number of doctor visits 3 years postintervention. Senior-year surveys indicated no awareness among participants of the intervention’s impact. The results suggest that social belonging is a psychological lever where targeted intervention can have broad consequences that lessen inequalities in achievement and health."  Gregory M. Walton, et al, Science Magazine, 18 Mar 2011: Vol. 331, Issue 6023, pp. 1447-1451  

September 1, 2016 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Be Teachable

Last week marked the arrival of all of our first year law students for a week of orientation. There were fun activities, a series of welcomes, some serious academic activities, and a lot of new information to absorb. Our Academic Success Program is involved in various aspects of orientation but I also like to hear what some of my colleagues have to say to the students. One statement by our Associate Dean of Student Engagement caught my attention.  He said to the 1Ls: “Make sure that you are teachable” and then he went on to make his various remarks.  This is great advice that encourages students to be open to the information that is presented and open to learning. Ego often gets in the way of being teachable and so does competition. We do not always recognize our resistance to learning and sometimes that resistance is detrimental. Merriam-Webster defines “teachable” as “able and willing to learn, capable of being taught.”  We should all be willing to learn and in turn be capable of being taught.

I think that being teachable should be paired with being open to constructive criticism and getting comfortable with being vulnerable. Law students typically receive very limited feedback and one exam at the end of the semester determines their performance in individual courses. A legal writing course is usually the course in which students receive more regular feedback because they have regular assignments with hard deadlines. I encourage students to take the feedback that they receive, determine what changes they need to make, and make those changes.  I encourage them not to take constructive criticism as an affront on their intelligence or ability to be a successful law student.  They should look at criticism as an opportunity to learn, develop a skill, and become a better student and lawyer. I know that it is easier said than done.  Even for individuals who are accustom to managing criticism, receiving criticism in law school can be a challenge at first.  It might be helpful for students to put themselves in situations where they have to manage scrutiny or constructive criticism regularly.  Maybe develop public speaking skills, audition for a play, write and have their writing critiqued, or engage in any activity they feel uncomfortable engaging in but that includes an element of critique.  Participating in any of these activities might put students under enough scrutiny and encourage them to determine how to best manage extensive critique.  The added benefit is that hopefully these experiences empower students to seek out feedback and be more receptive of constructive criticism as a law student. (Goldie Pritchard)

August 31, 2016 in Advice, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 28, 2016


As an ASP educator, it is very important for me to work with other entities in the law school building and across campus to fully address student needs. For students to operate at an optimal level, many of their non-academic concerns need to be addressed as well. I often collaborate with our Diversity Services Office and our Office of Student Engagement on these matters. Recently, I had a very rich conversation with my colleague Mary Ferguson, Esq., Director of our Diversity Services Office. She asked me:  “What about the gold medal student, what do we do for them?” I was not quite sure what to say and wondered if this was a specific reference to the Olympics that I completely missed or simply an analogy. 

Given the puzzled look on my face, she explained that the “gold medal student” is the student of color who has excelled academically, the star student in every sense of the word whose academic achievement provided easy access to law school. This individual likely participated in every pipeline and support program since they were a child. This student excelled academically with the support services made available to them as a first generation, low income, and/or member of an underrepresented group. Many of these programs identify students early and include tutoring, structured programming, academic advising, activities, and access to employment and experiential learning opportunities. The “gold medal student” was sought out by the various programs but once they get to law school, they encounter new challenges.

Because “gold medal students” were so academically successful, they are grouped with other successful students based on GPA and LSAT. They are not at academic risk so they are not a part of programs tailored to support students characterized as such.  They may also miss out on services and resources available to students of underrepresented groups or simply not avail themselves of these services. “Gold medal students” might only access services available to the student body as a whole, if at all.  These students might need the same guidance, support, and structure the academically at risk students benefit from but don’t receive it because they are not a part of that group. This distinction might impact the students’ ability to excel academically because had they participated in those programs, it may have propelled them to success.  These students might also have difficulty acclimating because they are often one of very few persons of color at their institution.  We often wonder why a “gold medal student” might underperform academically when compared to their peers with similar entry credentials and when all statistical indicators show that they should perform comparably.  The “gold medal student” becomes nothing more than an honorable mention.

This conversation really got me thinking. How do we identify or seek out this student? How do we provide them with the support they need which is different from what the general population needs?  As I thought more, I realized that I have worked with “gold medal students” but it was typically after they had a rough first semester or first year.  They were typically the students who would do what worked for them at their undergraduate institution and not make the adjustments for law school.  They were the students who needed more structure and needed more purposeful interactions which were readily available at their undergraduate institution but they now had to seek out in law school.  Once a good system is in place for these students, they are students who excel academically.  (Goldie Pritchard)

August 28, 2016 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Alone…or Perhaps…Not Quite So Alone as 1L Students?

Wow...For those of you as 1L students, perhaps you feel like I did when I started law school…alone.

But, here's some great news!  

We are not alone; rather, we are "ALL"-alone!  

You see, at least according to posters made by recent entering law school students,  most of us feel out-of-place, a bit perplexed, unsure of ourselves, wondering how we will perhaps "fit" in, and, most of all, hoping that we can survive law school.

In my case, as a person that turned forty years old in my first year of law school, I was so scared.  Downright frightened…and...intimated.  But, as it turns out (and I didn't realize at the time), most of my entering colleagues (if not all) were feeling just like I did!  

Don't believe me?  

Well, here's a few posters with comments that some of recent entering law students - in the very first week - produced to depict what they were excited about in entering law school…and what they were concerned about in entering law school.  Perhaps you'll find that you share some of the same excitements and concerns.  

And, here's the key…Don't just focus on the negatives but also take time to reflect on the positives that you share with so many (if not all) of your law students.  You see,most of us feel just like you do.  

So, take time to encourage one another and share your own personal excitements and concerns.  It's a bit scary at first, but, in the end, you'll be mighty happy that you did.  And, good luck new 1L students.  We wish you the best!


 i  IMG_1990 IMG_1984
(Scott Johns)

August 25, 2016 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

One Thing Can Improve Students' Grades in All Their Courses!

Simply amazing!

As reported in "Above the Law," there is one thing that we can do to improve our students' grades in all their courses this academic term.  

In her post about the article "The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law Student Performance,"  Kathryn Rubio summarizes the research of Daniel Schwarcz and Dion Farganis that demonstrates that law students that have just one just one course...who provide individualized feedback within that course...improve grades for their students...across all courses, even controlling for LSAT and UGPA: 

Here's the proof (or, for those of you that are trial attorneys, the empirical evidence):  The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law Student Performance

For us, this is incredible news…because…we can make that difference for our students - across all their courses - by integrating individualized feedback through our own courses and programs.

Wow…that's the power of one!  (Scott Johns).


August 18, 2016 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Capitalizing on Post Summer Enthusiasm of 2Ls & 3Ls

At the end of the first year of law school, many rising 2Ls leave for their respective destinations with an array of emotions but they are excited that the academic year has ended. The anxiety about academic performance is significant for most students.  Some of these students had a rough fall and spring semester because they did not achieve their academic goals for any number of reasons.  They are also uncertain about whether the adjustments and newly implemented strategies will yield the positive results they expect for the spring semester.  There are other students who had a successful fall semester because they met or exceeded their academic goals but found spring semester rather challenging and/or competitive.  These students are now fearful that they will not academically perform the way they did in the fall.  Finally, there are students who are confident in their academic performance both semesters but they are simply exhausted by all the energy expounded all academic year.  At the start of the summer, all of these students are happy to turn the page and embrace a new chapter away from the rigors of the first year. 

For some students, the summer means getting sleep and reentering life as an average human being. The recharge of energy is necessary for these individuals to function effectively during the academic year.  This might be the student who does not take on activities a typical law student might expect to the summer of their 1L year.  For others, the end of classes marks the start of an externship, internship, or summer associate position.  For these students, this is an opportunity to do what they came to law school to do and to be exposed to some of the intricacies of the legal profession.  Over the years, I have noted that students who return from these experiences are more motivated, have gained perspective, and are more confident in their abilities.  Certain other students instead opt to take summer classes, pair summer classes with summer practical experience or work, or simply work.  These students feel a sense of accomplishment because they are a few credits ahead or have secured finances for the summer and the academic year.  For all students, the 1L law school experience may have created some self-doubt that is now long gone.

All this to say that fall semester is a great semester for most returning students (2L, 3L). Students are more alive, reenergized, and reconnected with the confidence they had when they first walked into the law school.  Students are optimistic and maybe even idealistic.  So how do we capitalize on this bliss?

  1. Bottle it up. I encourage students to bottle the summer experiences and feelings so they can utilize them later, at a more challenging time. It is often the case that students who had very difficult academic experiences are the most excited about their summer experiences such as projects and cases they worked on, how they performed in summer classes, or the fun things they accomplished.
  2. Be purposeful. This is a time for students to jot down their aspirations and dreams and contemplate how they are going to achieve them. These can be as simple as adding one opportunity to obtain practical experience each and every semester to feel connected to members of your community.
  3. Recreate the experience. We discuss how students can have the summer experiences here in the law school environment.   Would it entail collaborating with a professor to make something happen or do we already have things in place?
  4. Empower. I actively listen to students as they share their experiences and take mental notes with the goal of later empowering students. I remind students of their accomplishments over the summer when they are disappointed. I use their practical experiences when we meet one-on-one because I know what their interests are and can help them bring the material to life. I also highlight how their experiences and individuality can contribute to the legal profession. Finally, this is an opportunity to highlight skills that they developed and explore how they can use those to be a successful student. Also, simply reminding a student about a positive comment made by a supervisor or professor can be helpful at times.

Since we are in the business of helping students succeed academically and on the bar exam, we need to pay attention to other aspects of our student’s development. We need to help students recognize the skills and gifts they possess and have developed.  (Goldie Pritchard)

August 17, 2016 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Law School Stress & Pro-Active Anti-Stress Measures for All of Us (i.e., Be A Brain Cell Creator!

Stress.  Oh my!  

Just the thought of it hits me in the stomach.  But, there's more than just stomach aches at stake.

According to law professor Debra Austin, Ph.D., excessive law school stress also harms the mind too.  That's the bad news. But, here's the great news!  In fact, it is really terrific news!  And, it is news that we can all use…today! 

But first, some background.  

As the American Bar Association (ABA) reports with respect to Prof. Austin's research, in general stress weakens brain cognition.  But, exercise (along with other pro-active measures) actually creates more brain cells…brain cells that we can all use (whether students or ASP'ers) to perform better and without debilitating stress: 

So, as many of us begin a new year of legal studies as students and ASP'ers, it's time to take charge over stress rather than having stress take charge over us.  But how, you might ask?

Here's a list of three (3) possible "anti-stress"countermeasures straight out of the research from Prof. Austin:

  1. Be an exerciser…because neuroscience shows that exercise provides us with "cognitive restoration."
  2. Get slumber time…because sleep plays "the key consolidating memories."  So, sleep on your studies rather than staying up all night to study!
  3. Engage in contemplative practices…such as mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, and focusing on the positive in gratitude…because such practices increase "the gray matter in the thinking brain," improve "psychological functions such as attention, compassion, and empathy," and "decrease stress-related cortisol," among other positives.


For all the details, please see Prof. Austin's research article Killing Them Softly: Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die From Law School Stress and How Neural Self-Hacking Can Optimize Cognitive Performance, 59 Loyola L. Rev. 791 (2013), available at:

To sum up, learning - real learning - means that we all must take time…counter-intuitively...away from learning…so that we can really experience learning.  So, be kind to yourself resting and relaxing and exercising.  You'll be mighty happy that you did!  (Scott Johns).


August 11, 2016 in Advice, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

1L Students and Summer Pre-Law School Programs

If finances permitted or your law school offered an “early or summer start program,” hopefully you took advantage of these summer pre-law school opportunities. Early start programs range in mission, goal, structure, depth, and breath. The purpose of these programs is to provide students with a preview or general exposure to the law school environment, both the academic culture and social experience. They primarily serve to assist students in engaging with and developing some of the skills necessary to ensure academic success. Some programs cater to certain underrepresented populations, others cater to students with certain credentials, and yet others are available to the law student population at large. Most first year law students have been exposed to very limited, if any, information about the practical aspects of learning in law school. The presumption is that past academic success evidenced by GPA and current LSAT predictors are sufficient for law success. This is true for some but not for all. Attending such a program might be a good way to learn about a few things you can use before classes start and maybe even cultivate relationships with other law students. If you took advantage of such a program, hopefully, it met your expectations.

Once you have completed such a program, I would caution you to guard against being overly confident. Confidence is good but overconfidence can be an obstacle to success. Students look for and tend to think that there is a checklist for how to succeed in law school and that “one size fits all.” You will likely have to make some overall adjustments to the systems and processes you have adopted. You will also have to make adjustments to meet specific professor expectations and to acclimate to the culture at your law school. A willingness to adapt and make changes is imperative. Don’t get frustrated when you do not yield the results you expect immediately. The law school experience will challenge you academically, leave you frustrated at times, and may lead you to question your knowledge and abilities. This is the nature of the law school experience which builds up your resilience.

If attending an “early or summer start program” was unavailable to you for whatever reason, do not fret. You still have opportunities to build a sense of community and ease some of the fears and concerns you have about law school. You will likely have an orientation which will give you an opportunity to meet peers. You will also likely have an academic support program which will provide programming, workshops, and other opportunities tailored to help you develop the skills necessary for academic success.

Be confident but not too confident. All the best to first year law students. (Goldie Pritchard)

August 10, 2016 in Advice, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

ASP-ers as Coaches? Perhaps!

"A great sports instructor or coach builds us up, but also teaches us important lessons of emotional management, such as confidence, perseverance, resilience and how to conquer fear and anxiety. Many times, these lessons have a permanent impact on our mind-set and attitude well beyond the playing field."  So says columnist Elizabeth Bernstein in her article: "A Coach's Influence Off the Field."

That got me thinking about life…my life as an Academic Support Professional.  With the start of a new academic year upon us, perhaps this is an opportunity - as Goldie Pritchard puts it - to try something new.  So, I've been thinking and reflecting about my life as an ASP-er, and, in particular, that I might focus on something new--serving as a coach to our law students.

You see, and this is where the rub is, the most significant teachers in my life have, well, not just been teachers.  Rather, they've been more than teachers; they've been coaches.  And, not just sport coaches.  More like life coaches.  Whether they were teaching political science or trying to help me throw a ball, they all left indelible imprints, imprints that made me a better person and that went well beyond the classroom (or the baseball field)...because they taught me lessons that were much bigger than just about political science or baseball.  

Let me give you an example from political science.  I once had a professor by the name of Sandel.  No offense, but I can't recall the principles of Kant's categorical imperative or Hannah Arndt's political theories. But, I can vividly remember something much more important that I learned, in particular, to call people by their name…to invite students to comment and participate…to let people speak…by truly listening to them.  Those were lessons well given.

Or, in another context regarding life's many daily struggles, as Bernstein sums up in her column, coaches teach us lessons that help us when the going gets tough, for example, in Bernstein's words, "...when I’m on deadline or giving a speech to an intimidating crowd:  You need to arrest a negative thought immediately, in midair. Remind yourself that you are competent and know what you’re doing. Slow your breath."  Let me be frank. Those are the lessons that got me through law school.  And, I learned them through teachers that were, really, coaches. 

Thus, as we begin to embark on a new academic season, perhaps I should focus more on coaching.  After all, our work brings us in contact with people that are really struggling over learning to be learners in a new learning environment…an environment that we call law school...with people that need us to coach.  So, what does a coach do?  According to Bernstein, a coach says things that change our lives for the better…and for ever, such as:

“You rock!”

“Great job in difficult circumstances.”

“You should be really proud of yourself.”

But, in my own words, a coach, first and foremost, listens and observes others.  That I can do, if only, I'd stop talking so much!  (Scott Johns)

August 4, 2016 in Academic Support Spotlight, Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Orientation, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Learn Something New

For many academic support educators, we move from bar support to preparing to welcome the incoming class. The law school cycle never quite stops but simply slows down or picks up. Returning students are preparing for their new journey as a 2L or a 3L and incoming students are excited about a new academic adventure. There is something we can all do, students and those who work with students, to prepare for the new academic year. This is a brilliant idea that as an educator, I kick myself for not thinking about: consider how you reconnect with the learning process.

I definitely cannot take credit for this one but when I heard it, I thought that this was the best thing I heard about preparing for law school. A student, a 3L at the time, told me that in anticipation of starting law school, she spent the summer learning how to use a planner. She never used a planner in the past but she recognized that she would have to plan her life a little bit more in law school even though she had juggled school, activities, religious observances, and a business prior to law school. Using a planner over the summer allowed her to get in the habit of writing things down, crossing things off, sticking to a schedule, being flexible in making adjustments, accounting for buffer times, determining whether paper and pen or electronic planners worked best, and the like. She worked on her time management skills before law school so she had a plan while in law school. Isn’t that awesome?!

This is yet another suggestion I cannot take credit for and that was shared with me in a conversation with a colleague at a conference in 2015. Because the beginning of the academic year is upon us, I encourage you to learn a new skill or start a new activity in the days and weeks to come. I would encourage you to try something you are fearful of or would find particularly challenging. The process of facing your fear or challenge is what you should focus on. What steps did you take? Where did you start? How did you start? What was the best process for you? Were you able to follow written instructions or did you need to see a picture or demonstration? Did you revisit the task to ensure you had mastered it? When did you feel comfortable? When did you feel frustrated? First year law students, you should consider your process and your steps because you might find some aspects of law school just as challenging. For the rest of us, it is a reminder of the process. In law school, we typically learn how to learn all over again so it is helpful to be reminded of the slow, methodical, and sometimes frustrating process.  

We often forget about the struggle experienced when mastering a skill that is now second nature. Regardless of how in tune we feel, we occasionally need to revisit that process.  This can only make us better educators and “meet students where they are” but also move them along to where they should or need to be.  I love this idea because it is applicable to all, teaching assistants/teaching fellows, upper level law students, ASP professionals, and professors. 

For me, this blog is a new experience that is both exciting and somewhat intimidating but I look forward to the mistakes I will make and the things I will learn along the way. (Goldie Pritchard)

August 3, 2016 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 29, 2016

What to Do Before You Start Law School

During the summer months, I sometimes get calls or emails from students who are about to enter law school asking me what they should watch or read before law school starts.  My advice is always just to relax and get charged up for the coming fall.  Personally, I wouldn't watch or read anything even remotely dealing with the law.  

The summer before I went to law school, I had a job counting otters in Idaho (they were attacking people, which is a long story).  Consequently, I spent all summer only thinking about otters, fly-fishing, and how much more fun I'd be having if my girlfriend had come with me.  I was aware I was going to law school, but I don't think I thought about law once.  The only books I had were the usual sci-fi and fantasy nonsense I like, and I had no television or access to movies.

I drove straight from Idaho to Austin and hit the first day of law school really psyched.  Everything seemed novel and shiny.  I learned that a "tort" was not a delicious jelly-filled dessert.  I answered a question about an exploding stove.  I found a place in the library where I could study surrounded by the death masks of English executioners.  I figured out where the law school bar was.  I made a bunch of friends right off.  Law school looked like it was going to be grand.  

Then, I got the idea that I should watch The Paper Chase because it was about law school.  So, a few friends and I got the movie from Blockbuster (which, believe it or not, used to be a big deal where a person would spend a lot of their time), bought some beer and pizza, and sat down to watch.

The Paper Chase freaked me out.  After watching it, I was a little terrified of returning to law school.  Professors were going to yell at me.  My friends and I were going to freak out during exams.  I'd be buried in reams of paper.

I got over it and went right back to liking law school, but I think I would have been better off just experiencing law school as I went and not trying to get a read on it from pop culture.

So, as the final weeks of summer fade and you get ready to begin your legal career, I think you could do worse than just playing Pokemon Go and hanging out at the pool.  

(Alex Ruskell)

July 29, 2016 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Bar Exam is Over, Now What

For the past few years, your focus has been on finishing law school, walking across the stage at commencement, and taking then passing the bar exam. Well, you have finished law school, you may have walked across the stage at graduation, you took or are almost done with the bar exam, now what’s next?  You may be a planner and have a perfect plan for the days, weeks, and months ahead.  For others, your next steps involve visiting your law school's career services office or referencing communication they may have shared with you. 

All in all, take the time to appreciate and enjoy your accomplishments, get some rest, and dream big about the journey and adventures ahead of you. It is no small feat to attend law school, complete law school, graduate from law school, prepare for the bar exam, show up for the bar exam, and complete the bar exam.  You did all of that!  Not everyone can accomplish what you have accomplished and not everyone who started the journey completed it.  Take pride in your accomplishment. (Goldie Pritchard)

July 27, 2016 in Advice, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 29, 2016

Law School Action Comics


(Alex Ruskell)

April 29, 2016 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Academic Advising

It is the time of the year when 1Ls are anxious as they face their second set of finals, 2Ls are overwhelmed with the rigors of the 2L workload and the pressure to line up a job for the summer, and 3Ls are feeling antsy to graduate and anxious about the approaching bar exam. Whether you are working with 1Ls, 2Ls, or 3Ls, academic advising can help students feel empowered instead of crazed. What exactly is academic advising? Academic advising helps students understand educational options and opportunities that are available to them, and shows them how to develop a plan that will help them achieve their educational and career goals.

When I meet with students for academic advising, I first ask them a series of questions. These questions help me to understand who they are as a learner, as well as, get a sense of their future career goals. Here are a few questions to help guide your conversations regarding academic advising and course planning.


  • In your first year, which class was your favorite? Why? Did you like the style of teaching, the content of the material, or the classroom dynamic?
  • Which class was your least favorite? Why? Did you dislike the style of teaching, the content of the material, or the classroom dynamic?
  • Why did you want to go to law school? Have your goals shifted since beginning law school?
  • Which classes that are being offered next year seem most interesting to you?
  • Where do you plan to take the bar exam?
  • How did you perform on your final exams? In legal writing? Have you determined ways to improve your future performance?
  • Consider the sequencing of courses and prerequisites if applicable.
  • Also, consider how often certain courses are offered. For example, some courses are only offered in the fall, while others are offered every other year. If certain courses are a priority for you, incorporate this into your plan.


  • How did your upper level classes compare to your first year coursework?
  • Do you feel more engaged with the material in your current courses? Why or why not?
  • Do you still have requirements to fulfill? Courses? Pro bono hours? Experiential credits? Writing credits?
  • Have you taken Professional Responsibility? If yes, have you registered for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam? If not, when do you plan to take it?
  • How many bar tested courses have you taken? Which ones do you plan to take before graduation?
  • How can you plan for your bar study in advance even if you are not taking all of the bar tested subjects as a law student?
  • Create a few alternate plans just in case certain courses are overenrolled, not offered, or conflict with your other choices.


  • Do you have any requirements that still need to be fulfilled before graduation? Courses? Pro bono hours? Experiential credits? Writing credits?
  • Do you plan to work during your last year? How will you manage your course work and your job responsibilities?
  • Are there particular areas of law the interest you? Take at least one class that is not required, but that interests you, you are curious about, or it just seems like fun.
  • Are there common trends in your class or exam performance that can be remedied before graduation and bar study?
  • Have you determined where you plan to take the bar exam? If yes, have you reviewed the bar application and calendared important dates and deadlines?
  • Have you researched the available options and signed up for a commercial bar review course?


March 17, 2016 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 31, 2015

How to Succeed in Law School, Part III: Tips and Strategies

This is the third and final installment of how to succeed in law school, advice from students. Below is advice compiled from my 1Ls from last year.

Filter Your Listening But Don’t Be Afraid to Talk:

Do not listen to other 1Ls. This will not be an easy task, many 1Ls think they are qualified to give advice to other 1Ls. They do not have any more experience than you, no matter how much they think they know. It will be very hard to tune out other 1Ls, but it is worth it. Instead, seek out 2 or 3L and professors. They literally have the roadmaps to success.

Don’t be afraid to talk to people when you’re stressing out ;) they will be able to help, and sometimes you can’t do it all on your own. Talk to the people sitting next to you in class, they may become your best friends. Talk to 2Ls about professors, test-taking, law school life, anything. They are a great resource! 

Be willing to put in the work:

There are a lot of new concepts, which can be overwhelming, but try to stay on top of it all. If you don't understand something, ask your professors. And do this throughout the course, rather than waiting to the end. But the tricky part is that knowing the material is really only the first step. Knowing a rule isn't enough, you have to be able to apply the rules to tough fact patterns.

Everyone will walk out, mostly, knowing the material. Because of the curve (yes, the dreaded law school curve - yes, it is as horrible as it sounds) you need to be able to articulate the material and apply it better than your classmates. The only way to make that happen is through time. Realistically, the individuals who sink the most time into law school are going to be the ones with the best grades. Of course there are other considerations, work life balance, general test taking ability, etc. These also play a role, however the general trend is the more time, the better the results. You have to be the most dedicated and committed to come out on top. 

Be Prepared for Class and Pay Attention:

Course supplements aren’t nearly as important to your performance on the final as is your ability to pay attention in class. Each professor teaches the material a bit differently, so it’s important to figure out the certain areas that your specific professor emphasizes.

If you really want to get good grades, do all of the reading, go to all of the classes, and pay attention in those classes. It seems like these things are so obvious, but I was really surprised last year by the number of my colleagues who didn't consistently do them.

I think if students are able to find the discipline to really make sure they always do what they're supposed to do, there's a good chance they'll do very well. Personally, I tried to think about law school as if it were a job. Showing up and doing the work was something I had to do, not something I could just blow off.

Do What Works for YOU:

There are a lot of extremely smart and well-spoken people in law school. During the first semester, I spent way too much time stressing myself about other peoples’ study habits and progress. I also wasted a lot of time trying to imitate some of their study habits, such as study groups and listening to audio recordings. I had never studied in this manner before, and it simply did not work with my learning style. Once I tuned out the other students, I was able to make more productive use of my time. Everyone learns differently!  Find what works for you and stick with it.

At the end of spring semester one professor reminded us we are all incredibly special people who have rare and highly sought-after skills. For me this stood out because it's easy to forget this when you are constantly surrounded by other law students with similar skills. We are all incredibly gifted and we need to remember that. 

Just because someone says to do something doesn't mean you should do it. Follow your gut and always do what is right for you. It is incredibly difficult to not feel obligated to do the traditional 1L activities like moot court competition journal write-on, but do your best to ignore these nagging feelings. Everyone is different and different approaches and experiences benefit different people in unique ways. Do not be afraid to go against the flow, but also don't be afraid to follow it.

Find Balance

Law school is demanding, and sometimes I found it difficult to maintain a healthy school-life balance. Although it is important to dedicate adequate time to learning the material, I think it is equally important to step away and allow yourself time to recharge!  When I neglected to do this, I found I was much more stress and retained less information. There is no need to pull extreme hours in as long as you keep a consistent schedule throughout the semester and plan ahead. Do not feel guilty about taking a day off to catch up with your old friends or going home to visit your family for the weekend!

Take necessary breaks. Law school is extremely manageable, if you just use your time efficiently. With that being said, if you aren't focusing while doing work, take a break and do something fun. It is more efficient to work when you are focused than to half-work/half-text/facebook/browse online/shop online, etc. Taking breaks is important (as long as they aren't too often). 

Your physical health helps your mental and emotional health. Pack your lunch more often with healthy things and eat the pizza in moderation. Bring your workout clothes to school and schedule time for exercise. Working out is usually the first thing to go because you think you don’t have time for it. That is just an excuse. Yoga pants are really stretchy and you don’t realize how much weight you gained until you can’t fit into any of your real clothes. 30 minutes at the gym or a run through campus was a great stress relief and helped me get back into my suit in time for interviews.


August 31, 2015 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)