Monday, January 19, 2015
If you are a first year law student - especially - it is important to take stock of your law school learning and progress. Regardless of the results of your fall exams, there is much to be learned from your exam results.
* Get copies of your exams -- all of them -- to the extent that your law school permits. Review your exams carefully.
* Ask yourself how your best essay answers differ from the essays that you are less pleased with.
* If your professors have made rubrics or sample/model answers available make good use of those resources.
- outline the model or sample answer & look to see how it compares with your own.
- does the model or sample answer use the IRAC structure?
- does your answer follow the IRAC structure, using IRAC is a good way to ensure that you include the necessary components of legal analysis, such as the rule and use of the exam facts?
- what points of law or analysis are noted in the rubric or sample/model answer -- but not in your answer?
- did your course outlines contain the information needed to do well on the exams? If not, learn from this experience as you prepare outlines for the spring courses.
* Make appointments to meet with your porfessors -- even for courses that ended in December. Meeting with your professors helps you to learn from the exam experience. But be prepared for those meetings by thoroughly reviewing your exams - before the meetings.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
Every year at the beginning of the second semester, I send out the same email to the first years. It seems to help. So, if you are a student who has stumbled across this blog, you might appreciate this story. I bet most of your professors have a similar one (and, like me, turned out better for going through it):
"By now, the grades have started to roll in, and you may be less than happy with how things are turning out.
In all honesty, the best thing that ever happened to me during my schooling was after I turned in my first English paper in college. I had never gotten less than an A in anything in my life, I was the “English” guy for the Academic Decathlon Team, I’d won several creative writing contests, and I wanted to major in English. On my first paper, I got a C.
When I went to talk to the professor, a man who wore seersucker suits and looked like a cross between Mark Twain and Colonel Sanders, he said in his genteel Virginia-tidewater accent, “Is English your first language? Your name is Russian. Are you translating as you write?”
The unfortunate thing was that he was genuinely curious and English is my first, and only, language.
As painful as it was at the time, I truly believe that that C made me a better student — I learned from my mistakes, buckled down, and did a lot better in school than I probably would have had I never experienced that setback."
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Winter Break is over and the semester has begun. Regardless of whether you have your fall semester grades, it’s important to start the new semester with the right approach: optimistic, determined, and with an open mind. The last one is the toughest because it means having an open mind about yourself and ability to grow and change. When a friend experiences a set-back we are quick to encourage but when it comes to ourselves, we aren’t very forgiving. This semester, try doing for yourself what you do for others. Instead of giving up because something is too hard, accept that success will take some time and effort. Don’t think you can’t make your situation any better because you can improve if you keep trying. See mistakes as something to learn from; and before you settle, ask yourself if this is really the best you can do. Think back to something that didn’t come easy to you (learning to swim, ride a bike, drive a car). What if you quit instead of persevering? You certainly wouldn’t be where you are today. Keep your head up, keep working hard, and keep that mind open. (KSK)
Monday, January 12, 2015
When it comes to legal writing, "if you cannot say it, it does not exist."
While attending the 2015 meeting of the American Association of Law Schools, I had the opportunity to attend the Blackwell Reception. The Blackwell Reception is put on by the Legal Writing Institute and the Association of Legal Writing Directors.
At the 2015 Blackwell Reception, these organizations presented two awards:
The Golden Pen Award went to the Honorable Michael Ponsor, Judge for the United States District court for the Western District of Massachusetts.
So, finally -- the significance of the title of this blog post: "If you cannot say it, it does not exist." Judge Ponsor made this statement as he accepted his award and, not surprisingly, received much applause from the roomful of legal writing professors. Judge Ponsor's statement goes well beyond the confines of legal research and writing classes.
Even if this bloger did not do double duty in both Academic Support and Legal Writing and even if this blogger did not work at a law school in Western Massachusetts (where Judge Ponsor is a welcome and respected speaker) his statement would be worthy of this blog. The statement applies to every aspect of a law student's journey toward success in law school and in law practice. As law professors, law students, or lawyers, if we cannot explain or articulate our analysis, that analysis does not exist. I have already used Judge Ponsor's statement -- in the first class of my upper level course.
Have a great Spring Semester!
Saturday, January 10, 2015
Interested in presenting, but do not know where to start? There are many great conferences in the coming year and you should share your insights, practices, and teaching methods with the ASP community at one of them. If you have never presented or feel like you need a fresh perspective to writing your proposal, I have included a few ideas to get you started:
- Carefully read the call for proposals and craft your proposal by using that as your template. If there are samples, even better. Use them as a guide, but add your unique viewpoints to set yours apart.
- Think about the audience that is attending the conference. What do they want to know? And, how would they like you to deliver it? Lecture, poster presentation, or interactive involvement.
- Be specific, but not too specific. Make a few broad statements and support them with a few specific examples. You do not want your proposal to be too amorphous, but you also do not want it to be too narrow. This flexibility will allow you to make changes between submitting the proposals and giving the presentation.
- Brainstorm ideas:
- Think about the best presentations that you have seen. Why were they meaningful to you? What did you take away from those presentations?
- Think about your year. What is something impressive that you accomplished in the classroom or within your school? What was your lightbulb moment? What was your biggest challenge in the classroom, with your co-workers, or with your students? How did you overcome those challenges? What was the best article your read, book you read, or class you attended? What did you learn? How did it change your teaching?
- Write ten things that are you really good at doing. Go!
- Write ten things that you wish you were really good at doing. Go!
- Look over recent listserve threads, blog posts, or news stories. Think about how you can add to the discussions or elaborate on the issues.
- Make a bold statement- something provocative, debatable, or controversial. Go boldly where no ASPer has gone before!
- Once you have brainstormed your ideas, draft the outcomes you expect. What do you want the participants to be able to do or do differently after they hear your presentation?
- Revise, edit, and redraft. Use spell check and have someone you trust read through your draft. This will help you appeal to a wider audience and will ensure that you do not have typos or confusing goals.
- Submit your proposal and do not get discouraged if it is not selected. It is not personal! There are typically many more submissions than available openings. The important thing is to keep trying if your proposal is not at first selected.
- If your proposal is selected- congratulations! Now, begin thinking about your presentation straightaway. Record your thoughts and start preparing while your ideas are still percolating.
I can’t wait to hear your presentation!
Lisa Bove Young
Friday, January 9, 2015
I have attended a few conferences this fall, and it has been wonderful to meet new ASPers. So many new ASPers have fantastic new ideas, new programs, and new skills. As program co-chair for this year's conference, I want to encourage professionals new to ASP to submit a proposal to AASE. We need you to talk about your new ideas! Don't worry that you are "too new"--"too new" is exactly the right time to present at AASE, a community of friends, colleagues, and helpers who want to see new professionals succeed. Don't worry that other people have already done what you are doing; we need people who will remind us of what it is like to start out in the field. And everyone approaches the same challenges in different ways, so chances are your methods will be new, and helpful, to members of our community. And don't worry that you can't commit to a presentation on your own; if you would like to present with a more experienced member of our community, we are happy to arrange a joint presentation--you don't even need to suggest your co-presenter!
The bottom line is that new ASPers are critical to our success as a community, the vitality of our organization, and we want YOU to add to this year's conference. Presentation proposals are due Jan 12, to email@example.com.
Sunday, December 28, 2014
AALS is about the begin, and here is my near-yearly reminder to network, network, network. The best part of AALS is the networking; network in ASP-specific sessions (which I encourage everyone to attend) as well as general networking at breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. The amazing thing about our field is the spirit of giving between colleagues. We will share everything we have, and everything we know, with anyone who asks. Most of our current programs are built on the shoulders of the giants in our field (and I won't try to name them, because I'll miss someone). The most beneficial learning experiences come from working with peers at other schools, sharing programs and advice. And in this time of budget-cuts and right-sized enrollment trends, it's wonderful to be able to share anecdotes and stories with colleagues in the field.
No one believes me when I say I am painfully shy and socially awkward (maybe they believe the socially awkward part, but are too nice to tell me!) I know many of us struggle to get to know people we have never met before when we are attending big conferences. One of the great learning experiences of my career came from a serendipitous connection with Joanne Koren from Miami Law. It was my first year in ASP, and my first AALS, and I didn't know anyone. I met Joanne, and she mentioned she was looking for someone to tour the D.C. monuments with her. I said I would love to go, and it was one of the most memorable , wonderful AALS experiences. I have learned so much from Joanne over the years, but I would not have had the opportunity if I didn't take the leap and tour the monuments with someone I had just met.
Enjoy AALS, and network, network, network!
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
The semester is over and you've spent the last week either sleeping or catching up on everything you put off during exams. You've still got a few weeks until next semester starts so it is time to find a balance between rest and relaxation, and reenergizing so you can start the new year off right.
The first goal is to stay healthy:
- Drink plenty of water: we often eat when what our body really needs is hydration. Drink a glass of water the next time you feel sluggish or have the munchies. Odds are this will do the trick.
- Get moving: in addition to physical benefits, regular exercise gives you more energy, improves your mood and lowers stress.
Next, do something each day:
- Plan your day: even if you are on vacation, identify two or three things to accomplish each day. This prevents the stress of scrambling at the last minute.
- Use your brain: you don’t have to read legal tomes or memorize statutes but you should learn something new every day. Increasing your knowledge keeps you inspired and motivated.
- Reflect daily: end each day with a few minutes of reflection of what you’ve accomplished (not what you haven’t done).
Last, focus on what makes you happy:
- Express gratitude: identifying things you are grateful for promotes happiness and increases self-worth.
- Clean your desk/room: doing this might not make you happy but the end result will. A clean space allows you to focus on your work instead of the clutter.
- Indulge yourself: set aside time to indulge yourself (just a little) so that you don’t resent having to work or study.
Too much of any one thing is never good so use these next few weeks to find a balance. It will be both enjoyable and productive and you’ll have a good foundation for next semester.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Many schools have students who graduate in December. To help them transition from the whirlwind of finals, graduation, and holiday celebrations to bar prep, here are a few things for them to consider:
- Create a realistic, yet rigorous study schedule. Begin after graduation, but make space to savor the end of law school before jumping into your bar prep.
- Communicate your study plans. Make sure that your significant other, family, and co-workers know that your priority is passing the bar exam. They will be your support system through this journey and they need to understand what you will need to be successful. (Perhaps a meal delivered now and then, or help with childcare...)
- Use Spaced Repetition to study instead of focusing on only one subject at a time.
- Remember to stay healthy- exercise, eat well, and get a full night of sleep. This will increase your focus and efficiency.
- Ask for help! When you are feeling overwhelmed, or have a question about your performance or a particular area of law, ask someone. You can ask your bar review provider, a classmate, or your Academic Support for assistance.
- Find balance. You will always feel like you should be doing more- more studying, more MBE practice, more essay and PT writing, and more outlining. However, you also need to know when to say when.
- Give yourself mini-rewards for reaching your daily goals and bigger rewards for reaching your weekly goals.
- Keep a positive attitude and surround yourself with positive people. Believing in yourself is the key to your success!
Congratulations to all of the December law school graduates and best of luck getting started with your bar prep.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Every year someone on the listserv asks for advice because they have been charged with creating a new ASP course. I remember the anxiety I felt when I had to design my first course. Kris Franklin's new book, Strategies and Techniques for Teaching Academic Success Courses, should fill this need. The book will be given away free during AALS.
I have read the book, and highly recommend it. Although I have been teaching in ASP for many years, it was an excellent refresher on what I should do doing and thinking about when I design (or redesign) a course.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
During law school, I took a class on environmental law and national parks that I was really into. I knew it frontwards, backwards, and sideways. When I took the exam, I finished an hour early and looked around at my fellow students who were still busily scribbling away (the era of Bluebooks had not left us yet). I checked my answers a few times and then just figured I had been really prepared for the exam. So, I turned in my exam and sat out in the hallway reading a Thomas Pynchon novel while I waited for my friends to get out.
When they finally left the exam room an hour later, everyone was going through the usual exam post-mortem, which I tried to ignore (I also believe in the credo of Fight Club stated below). Then someone said, "What did you write for question five?"
Question five? What question five? I had answered four questions. There was a fifth?
To this day, I really don't know what happened. Whether I somehow didn't turn over the test paper, or whether there was a printing mistake, I have no idea. I went to my professor, but he said the mistake was on me. I still did fine in the class, although question five was something along the lines of "Explain why you like squirrels," so I probably would've really crushed it if I actually noticed question five. But, except for waking up screaming every six months or so, I've largely forgotten about it.
Which is a roundabout way of saying I absolutely agree with the Fight Club idea of not talking about exams. And I also agree that once you take an exam you should put it behind you and let it go (at this point, if you have a daughter between the ages of five and 11, you probably read the last three words of that sentence in a soaring alto).
Almost everyone of my colleagues, from folks that graduated 40 years ago to folks who graduated five years ago, has a similar story. Clearly, things worked out. The important part is that if you do make a mistake on the exam or realize you answered a question wrong, you need to consciously throw it behind you. Dwelling on it now won't help you. Spending Christmas break beating yourself up over it won't help. And, more than likely, it is less of a disaster than you think (in that environmental law class, I still pulled a B +).
The important thing is to keep moving frontwards.
And let it go!
(If you now need to get Elsa out of your head, I suggest either "What Does the Fox Say" or "Call Me Maybe").
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
“The first rule of Fight Club is, ‘don’t talk about Fight Club.’ The second rule of Fight Club is, ‘don’t talk about Fight Club.’”
Brad Pitt uttered these words 15 years ago in the iconic movie Fight Club (a movie about a fight club). Even today when I ask my class, “What is the first rule of Fight Club?” every single guy responds, “Don’t talk about Fight Club.” You may wonder why I would ever ask such a question and the answer is, the same holds true for exams. Don’t talk about exams. Talking about exams is like asking a woman how much she weighs or asking anyone how much he or she makes. First, outside very specific situations (like your doctor’s office), there is absolutely no reason to ask these questions. Second, you wouldn’t ask your friends these questions because you know that no matter the response, someone walks away from the conversation feeling bad. Talking about the exams is exactly the same: there is no reason to talk about it and someone always walks away feeling bad. I’ve had students challenge me and ask, “what if you have to talk about an exam?” and “what if there really is a reason?” I throw it right back and say, “give me an example.” In all the years I've been doing this, I’ve yet to hear a legitimate reason to talk about exams. As you continue through exams, keep in mind the first rule of law school exams, “Don’t talk about exams.”
Monday, December 8, 2014
You have studied and prepared -- will continue to study and prepare -- for your end of term exams. You have outlined each subject and prepared exam checklists that contain the legal issues/rules, elements that yopu need to know to do well; you have reread and continue to reread your outlines; you have written practice exam essays; and you have done practice multiple-choice questions. Keep up that good work and maintain that momentum.
As you prepare for exam day(s), you can take one more step by taking a page from athletes preparing for competitions. Use visualization techniques to build or enhance confidence as you move into the exam period. Breathe deeply, close your eyes, visualize a large powerful animal, visualize yourself as that large powerful animal. Take that image of yourself with you into the exam room. On exam days, employ strong, erect, powerful posture -- posture that reflects confidence.
While there is no substitute for study and preparation for law school exams, you can sse the combination of preparation and visulaization techniques to build confidence as you approach exams. Visualize yourself as powerful; enter the examination room with erect, strong posture; picture yourself writing exams confidently.
(This post was inspired by a presentation at the New England Consortiium of Legal Writing Teachers Conference - September 2014 at Vermont Law School -- "The Sport of Lawyering: Using Visualization to Improve Performance," Julie St. John, Assistant Professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law)
Thursday, December 4, 2014
On the morning I had to take my very first law school exam, I woke up believing I had been struck blind. My eyes were sealed shut. I stumbled around my apartment, tripping over my roommates who lived on the floor (long story) and made my way to the bathroom. I got my eyes unstuck with hot water and a washcloth. It turned out I had pink eye -- which I have never had before or since.
By the time everything was sorted out, I had something like 20 minutes until my exam started. I hopped on my bike, flew down the hill, and made it to the exam just in time for everyone to scatter away from me as I sat down for the exam. I could barely see, but the exam turned out fine. I eventually went to student health who: 1) asked me how often I hung out with young children (I was 22 and single, so never); 2) told me not to smoke (I didn't); and 3) sent me home with eyedrops, a handout on safe sex, and a condom.
Based on that exam experience (and others, including a woman who cried next to me during the entire bar exam), I always tell my students to simply expect the worst when they are getting prepared for exams. Expect the exam room to be too cold, flooded with raw sewage, or infiltrated with wild dogs. Expect your car not to start, your dog to eat your textbook, and a marching band to tune up outside the exam room. Expect your computer to crash. Expect the power to go out. Expect weird questions on the exam.
And, if none of that happens, great.
But if something like that does, don't let it throw you. Too many students let monkeywrenches take out the whole engine.
After falling into a fountain, Peter Sellers, as Inspector Clouseau in the film A Shot in the Dark, says "It's all part of life's rich pageant" (strangely enough, a clip is not floating around the Internet). Along with being the title of the best R.E.M. record, it's a pretty good attitude to have regarding hiccups and problems during exam week.
Things are going to happen -- study enough and feel confident enough that you can simply roll with the punches.
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Along with the opening of Disney's EPCOT center and the death of Leonid Brezhnev, 1982 is best remembered for the release of Conan the Barbarian, the "Citizen Kane" of barbarian movies.
As anyone with a love of barbarians can tell you, the best line in the movie is when Conan (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who surprisingly lost the Academy Award for Best Actor to Henry Fonda) tells the Mongol general what Conan thinks is best in life:
For law students, the next couple of weeks of studying for exams are likely to be pretty dreadful and keeping motivated is difficult.
To keep motivated, I suggest to my students that they post a picture that represents why they are in law school on their bathroom mirror -- whatever it may be. While it may be something noble like "helping others" or supporting their families, it might be something less attractive like having the coolest condo in Manhattan or, like Conan, "crushing their enemies." The fantastic writer Elizabeth McCracken once told me that "Revenge is a perfectly good motivation for writing." I quote that line all the time.
Importantly, whatever the reason is, that reason is personal, locked in the bathroom, and only has to have meaning to the person brushing his or her teeth every day in that mirror. It doesn't have to be edited, thought about, or worried over.
At this point in my life, the picture on the mirror would be my children. When I was 22 and a first year law student, it probably would have been trees and wolves.
Or a really bitchin' guitar.
Monday, December 1, 2014
Across the country law students are studying for semester exams. This is not the first blog post about staying healthy, managing time, and staying organized and motivated during exam prep. There is a reason for that. Law students tend to get distracted by what you are doing for exams that you forget to understand why you are studying for exams. It’s because you want to be a lawyer. Well, I’m a lawyer, too. Yes, I went to law school a long time ago and but exam prep hasn’t changed much. Law students still consume way too much caffeine, don’t shower or shave often enough, and stay up until the wee hours of the morning and then crash until noon. I don’t recommend doing any of these things. Law school is the bridge to the profession of law so treat it as such and start studying like a professional. Get up at 7-7:30, shower, eat breakfast, and be ready to study by 8-8:30. Put in 4 good hours in the morning (with a short break) and then take an hour for lunch. Not only do you need to feed your body but you need to give your brain a break and a chance to re-charge. After lunch, it’s time for another 4 focused hours of studying. It’s now 5-5:30 but you aren’t starving because you ate a decent breakfast and lunch. You take a 30-minute break (have a snack, get some fresh air), and are good for another 2 hours. Now it is 7-7:30 and you are hungry and tired. You’ve put in 10+ hours and it’s time to call it a day. You prepare and eat dinner and catch up on email and social media. Before going to bed, you review all you’ve accomplished and make a plan for the next day so when you get to your study spot you are ready to go and don’t have to waste time figuring out what to do. If this sounds too easy to be true, it’s not. It just requires you to stop thinking like an undergrad and start thinking like a lawyer.
Monday, November 24, 2014
For most people, the end of November means Thanksgiving and the holiday shopping season. It means family, food, and football. For law students, it means the start of exams. It is a time for writing papers, creating outlines, and studying. A lot of studying. For 1Ls especially, it can be stressful and quite overwhelming. This is the first set of exams they will take and success is not guaranteed.
I recently had breakfast with a group of 2Ls and as the conversation turned to exams, I asked them to share some advice: what do 1Ls need to know about law school exams? Here are their wise words:
- Make your own outline and start with 20 minute blocks to overcome beginner’s inertia.
- Focus on what is important, including the non-school aspects. Don’t let finals take over your life.
- Don’t mistake organizing for studying. You make the perfect outline and not know a thing on it.
- Know the terms of art and use them when answering questions.
- Many people study in different ways. Trust your methods. Don’t feel like you have to be white knuckle the whole finals period.
- Studying is key, but you need to know when to stop. If your outline is done (and it should be) stop the night before the final and do something else: anything else. Especially near the end of your finals, you need to give your brain a break.
- Don’t neglect relationships.
Saturday, November 8, 2014
Law school attracts extroverts and in many ways is designed for them. An astute law student must highlight their successes, be vocal participants in a Socratic classroom, and zealously advocate in order to thrive in the competitive law school environment. However, being an introvert does not mean that an individual cannot excel in law school or contribute meaningfully to the practice of law.
There is a great TED talk by Susan Cain, a lawyer turned writer, who explores introversion and the value of quiet. In this TED talk, she implores everyone to “stop the constant group work”, “unplug and get inside your own head”, and share your gifts with others. Part of her manifesto includes a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” How beautiful would it be for law school classrooms to honor the quiet introvert as much as the outspoken extrovert? Is it possible to encourage “gentle shaking” in a law school doctrinal classroom? Here are a few suggestions that will help introverts feel more comfortable speaking up and contributing in a sometimes intimidating law school classroom.
- Rethink participation during class and provide alternative means to have students engage with the material or with each other.
- See each student as an individual who expresses their ideas and knowledge in multiple and various ways.
- Have students sign up to be the expert for a particular class period or for a particular set of cases.
- Use think- pair-share prior to full classroom discussions about a topic, case, or set of problems.
- Distribute or post discussion questions with the reading assignment prior to class.
- Allow students to pass in class (within reason).
- Teach students how to brief cases and prepare for class discussions. This type of transparency will create more engaged students and lead to a more a dynamic discussion.
- Do not call on students too quickly. Let the question stew with the class and allow introverts more time to reflect and process.
- Consider a flipped classroom so that students feel more prepared to discuss and/or participate during class time.
- Use technology in the classroom. Technology is ubiquitous, and can be integrated it into the classroom to provide added layers of participation and engagement- especially for diverse learners.
- Create learning groups, which will help make a large law school classroom more accessible to introverts.
- Reflect on your own learning style and personality. How do they affect your teaching style and how is your delivery received by extroverts and introverts? How can alter your style to be more inclusive?
(Lisa Bove Young)
Monday, October 27, 2014
First year law students may be experiencing law school mid-term exams at this time of the semester. These exams bring with them stress – on the one hand – and opportunities for growth and learning – on the other hand.
Prepare for mid-term exams by completing, perfecting, and condensing outlines. Do practice questions to gain experience dealing with law school essays and with multiple-choice questions. Find questions by looking at what your law school may have on file, by asking your professors, or by looking at study aids that contain questions and corresponding answers. Write practice essays under conditions that mimic those of the actual mid-terms. Meet with study groups to discuss the answers; meet with professors to review your answers. Last – but not least – go back to your outlines to be certain that they contained the concepts needed to answer the practice questions.
After the mid-term, review the feedback given by the professor. If the professor distributes a model answer, outline the model answer – as you compare your answer to the model answer. Additionally, do an IRAC check of your essay to see whether you included the necessary components of a law school essay. Once you have an understanding of what went right and what went wrong, try to rewrite the essay – as a learning-by-practice experience. Meet with your professor to review your work and to make the most out of the learning opportunities that mid-term exams present.
Monday, October 6, 2014
Recent studies show that reading is good for us and that reading in print is, well, even better.
To quote a recent, ahem – online publication – “reading in print helps with comprehension.”
So, what do these studies mean for law students? Law students might consider the following:
- In your Legal Research and Writing class, print out the sources, e.g., the cases and statutes, that are relevant to your assignments and that you will use to write those memos.
- Print out your notes and outlines – if you have typed them. Put these materials in binders and read them from the printed page – not on the screen.
- Reconsider using textbooks in e-book format and favor print books.
- Build in time to read for relaxation – a print book, short story, or magazine – of course.