Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, December 2, 2016

Books About UFOs

A lot of times when I do presentations for high school or college students, people ask me what they should major in if they plan on going to law school.  Most of the time I answer Religion or Philosophy for close-reading and logic reasons, but I recently decided to take a close look at my bar stats and see if I was right.  I still think I am, but I would also advise students to minor in something that forces them to be creative.

According to my recent stats on students who fail the bar exam, the vast majority of students who fail majored in Political Science (35 percent) in undergrad, while the rest largely majored in Communications, Business, or Pre-Law.  Granted, I was not looking at a particularly large group of students, and people who are interested in studying law in grad school probably gravitate to these majors as it is, but it did seem notable.

For new law students, one of the biggest things to get one's head around is the idea of a hypothetical exam where anything can happen and there is no absolute correct answer.  I was an English and Creative Writing Major, and I've done my best to avoid learning anything practical like Business or Math, but in my limited understanding of what goes on in PolySci, Comm, Bus, or Pre-Law, I don't think students in those disciplines get too many chances to really flex their imaginative muscles, or at least not in the same way as someone trying to write a poem or a short story or compose music might.

When I work with struggling students, one of the most helpful things I work with them on is helping them learn to "deeply imagine" (a term I borrowed from Ethan Canin of the Iowa Writers' Workshop) legal situations that might be presented to them.  For example, I ask them to imagine "So, you're in your office, and your client, a 15-year-old kid, has thrown a frozen turkey off an interstate bridge.  He didn't realize frozen turkeys bounced, and the turkey bounced through a windshield and killed someone.  He's in the chair directly in front of your desk, completely terrified.  Mom is next to him crying.  Dad is pacing back and forth, threatening to kill the kid himself.  How would you explain what crime the kid might be guilty of?"  When I can get them to see it that way, writing an answer in clear IRAC form, with counterarguments, without writing a prologue or wrap-up or spending too much time on some case they read in class, seems to change from an arbitrary writing tip to a completely sensible way to deal with the situation.  

Although many commentators have blamed the drop in bar exam pass rates on ability, intelligence, grit, or gumption, it might really be a product of the failure of the imagination.  In the modern era, "deeply imagining" practice is fairly hard to get.  As a Gen Xer, I might have been part of the last generation who had daily "deep imagination" practice.  If you are part of this generation or earlier, take a look at an old Atari 2600 game or a movie with any effects by Ray Harryhausen.  My children (10 and 12) are boggled that my mind could turn blue dots into space ships or cheesy dolls into the Kraken.  I've also never heard my children say they were bored -- ever -- even on car trips.  They have their books, movies, cartoons on demand, and video games.  They've never had to play car bingo or make something out of boxes to play with (unless they really, really wanted to).  "Deeply imagining" anything is not really necessary for happiness or entertainment anymore.

This morning on the way to school, I told my kids how my junior high friends and I had once made a shot-for-shot remake of the movie Airplane!  and convinced a good deal of the school to come to a toga party to celebrate (in retrospect, I have no idea why any of our parents agreed to a bunch of seventh graders reenacting a scene from  Animal House, but 1980s Texas was a lot weirder than people give it credit for).  My son kept asking me, "Were you a nerd or weirdo or something?"  My answer was, "Not really.  We roped almost everyone into it.  As kids, we were all kind of bored, and we had to entertain ourselves somehow.  That forced us to be creative."

When I went to law school, hypothetical questions seemed completely logical to me.  Exams were pretty easy because I could "deeply imagine" and SEE everything -- how the situation in the exam would look if it was happening to real people, and what I would need to say to them.  That skill was invaluable in law school, and I've worked hard to try to pass it on to students who might not have had as much practice with it as I did.  (Alex Ruskell) 

   

 

December 2, 2016 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Chewing the Cud: Should You Be The Tortoise or the Hare in Exam Prep

With exams for many students in full swing, the question becomes how "paced" to "pace" oneself in between a series of final exams.  Let me offer one thought as you swing from preparing and tacking one exam to preparing and taking another exam.  

For most of us, because we are under significant time pressures to read, organize, and write final exam answers, we tend to approach our preparation efforts with the similar feeling (i.e., that we will never be able to finish a final exam on time) unless we spend most of our exam preparation efforts engaged in timed practice.  

In other words, we try our best to work on speed at all costs because we are so worried that we will never finish the exam.  But, if you work on speed, you will never get better...only faster.  And, that's where the story of the tortoise and the hare comes in.

You know the story.  The hare bolts but soon runs out of energy because she did not pace herself.  She practiced sprinting in the moment rather than running the race for the long prize.  

On the other hand, the tortoise - slow and methodical - just keeps plodding along, step by step, pace by pace, moment by moment, until, against all odds, the tortoise passes the hare and crosses the finish line to the astonishment of all...in first prize.  

You see, it is not true that those that write the most or finish the exam the quickest earn the best grades.  

Rather, success on final exams comes in showing your work, step by step, pace by pace, moment by moment, in solving legal problems as a professional attorney would do.  And, that requires not sprinting in bursts of practice but rather in thinking carefully and slowly and critically and methodically through lots of practice final exam problems.

In short, the key to doing your best work on final exams is to slow down your practice, to reflect on your reading, analysis, and writing, and to incorporate what you learn through each practice set so that you become better able to handle future legal problem-solving scenarios.

Let me give you another picture.  Perhaps you've heard the saying: "Chew the cud."  According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the phrase means to "think slowly and carefully about the subject."  It's roots come to use from another animal account, this time dealing with cows.  

You see, cows are said to "chew the cud."  Unlike many animals that just swallow their food, cows are constantly chewing their food.  That's because the process of digesting food for cows requires a number of steps.  First, cows need to chew their food to moisten it in preparation for digestion and send it to a part of their stomachs that adds acids to further soften the food.  Then (and this is going to get a bit gross), the first bites of food are sent back to the mouth from the stomach (i.e., regurgitated) so that the cows further chew the softened food so that another part of the stomach can property extract the critical nutrients.  http://www.cattle-empire.net/blog/115/what-cud-and-why-do-cattle-chew-it   In short, cows can't get fed from food that doesn't get crunched, regurgitated, and then re-crunched again.  And, we can't do well on final exams unless we chew on exam problems, write out exam answers, and then review and re-write our answers so that we learn.

In brief, the short days in between exams should be filled with "chewing the cud" by slowly and methodically working through practice problems so that we learn how to get the most out of our preparation efforts for final exams.  Or, as another saying goes, "haste makes waste."  So, take your time and think carefully and slowly rather than hastily and carelessly as you work through practice problems in preparation for your next final exam.  (Scott Johns).

 

 

December 1, 2016 in Advice, Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I SHOULD HAVE COME LAST SEMESTER

Two of the most important workshops offered by our Academic Success Program (ASP) are consistently poorly attended. It may be because they are programs offered later in the semester or because students fail to recognize the value of the workshops until after exams. The first workshop is the Legal Analysis Workshop which addresses how to effectively issue spot, how to organize answers to essay questions, and how to develop effective analysis. Students with graded midterms seem to take the time to attend the Legal Analysis Workshop because they want to perform well on their exams or simply want to ensure that they can make positive adjustments prior to final exams. Most students are of the impression that they have a firm grasp of what is expected on exams and know how they will perform. However, for some, this is a false sense of confidence and students who really need this information to not seek it out.

The second workshop is an Exam Preparation Workshop which is presented in collaboration with our Student Affairs Office. This workshop is presented prior to Fall break to encourage students to make adjustments during the break. The workshop addresses various exam preparation skills such as memorization, resolving challenging concepts, developing a study plan given the time constraints, and applying information to multiple choice and essay questions. Once grades are posted, I am often visited by students who inquire about why we do not offer exam preparation support or help students learn how to take law school exams. I am often perplexed because the programs are advertised using a number of outlets. Students can also meet with the ASP directors individually, with Teaching Assistants who add these components to their sessions, and/or obtain information about exam preparation posted electronically. Once I inform them about all these opportunities and how to acquire the information; they either tell me that they were not paying attention or felt overwhelmed by other aspects of law school. They often say: “I should have come earlier” which always makes me smile. We leave the past behind and work on the tasks ahead, preparing for the next set of exams. 1Ls, please seek out academic support resources at your law school as it is never too late to receive help. (Goldie Pritchard)

November 30, 2016 in Advice, Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Fall Break Considerations

As my students left for fall break, my advice to them was plan for a healthy balance between rest and academic productivity.  Catching up on sleep and recharging for the exam preparation period and for exams is imperative.  My students had a significant assignment due prior to fall break so this is a much-needed opportunity to reclaim some Zzz’s.  I also encouraged students to accomplish some of the heavy lifting they need to achieve prior to exams.  By heavy lifting, I do not mean taking on ambitious feats such as starting and completing outlines for every single course.  Yearly, students boast these plans but seldom, if ever, do they accomplish them.  The focus should be on smaller goals that students would not have time to otherwise accomplish while balancing classes during the semester.  Goals such as simply identifying concepts they do not understand and dissection those concepts or making a list of items to discuss with professors during office hours.  Goals such as reviewing or completing outlines for one or two courses are also effective. Quality over quantity is very important.  Doing what is best for you rather than simply mimicking what others are doing.

As an ASPer, I experience the same challenges my students face. How do I find the perfect balance between maximizing student free days and rest?  When students are away, meetings and other administrative demands seem to increase.   I also like to address a few things on my to-do list that I have neglected throughout the semester.  This year, I had an unrealistic laundry list of things to do but only managed to complete a few tasks and I have to be okay with this.  This was a unique semester which put significant demands on my time and included a number of early mornings and late night meetings.  I have neglected my family so I have to reconnect with them and unplug from work for a little bit.  This is a necessary challenge because like the students, I am a human being too and should take care of myself.  Happy Holiday Season to all and PLEASE get some rest.  (Goldie Pritchard)

November 23, 2016 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 11, 2016

You're a Street Walking Cheetah with a Heart Full of Napalm!

In the past couple of weeks, I've had dozens of students tell me that they "aren't ready" to start doing practice problems.  

If you haven't started doing practice problems, YOU MUST START NOW!  

The thing is, when exactly are you going to feel ready?  The day before the exam?

Ask yourself, have you ever actually felt "ready" for anything that was really important to you?  If I had had much of a choice to when I was "ready" to take the SAT, the LSAT, the Bar (actually, I was ready for that one, because I was so sick of it); when to turn in a short story to go to the Iowa Writers' Workshop; when to walk up and say "hi" to a woman I thought was really pretty; when to get married to that same woman; when to get a mortgage; when to get puppies; when to have children; when to appear in court; when to write law books; when to play with my band on the radio; when to teach a class; etc., etc., so on and so forth, there's a good chance I'd currently be unmarried, unemployed, and living under a bridge.

Most of us are never really going to feel perfectly "ready" for whatever big thing is coming down the pike.  

For law school exams, it's pretty easy to hide behind making outlines and reading notes.  There's nothing at stake.  Until you actually test yourself, you can believe you know enough to get by.  It's a safe feeling.  It's frightening to suddenly find out, "Holy smokes!  I have no idea how proximate cause works!"

However, you need to test yourself before your actual exams, or you're going to be finding out what you don't know when you get your grades.  You need to tell yourself, "I have to get ready for this.  I can get ready for this.  I am strong enough to discover what I don't know and I can fix it now."

Listen to this song, and tell yourself, "I'm not scared of anything!  I am a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm!"

Iggy and the Stooges, "Search and Destroy"

(Alex Ruskell)

November 11, 2016 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Vulnerability: A Required Prerequisite for Learning?

According to research referenced by columnist Elizabeth Bernstein, vulnerability can be a great thing.  Although being vulnerable is often seen as a sign of weakness, something to be avoided at all costs, it can actually operate to produce wonderful things in our lives.  As case in point, Ms. Bernstein paraphrases Dr. Hal Shorey, a psychologist, as stating:"Vulnerability can also humanize you, facilitate learning, and enable optimal problem solving."  In short, real learning requires us to be vulnerable.  But, what is vulnerability?  "Psychologists and social scientists define vulnerability as the courage to show up and be seen and heard when you can’t control the outcome."  http://www.wsj.com/articles/you-took-an-emotional-risk-now-what-1478536377 

Ouch!  That's how I felt throughout most of law school…out of control...but not at all courageous.  And, as I'll explain below, that's because I spent most of my time preparing for exams by creating giant study tools rather than practicing exam scenarios.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself here...

Stepping back, how does the courage to be vulnerable relate to law school learning?  

Let me give a suggestion.  The "safe" thing to do to prepare for law school exams is to do what everyone else is doing:  grab your lecture notes, get hold of your case briefs, and create massive gargantuan outlines of all of your subjects…and...if you still have any time left before exams, read through a few old final exams to get a sense of the subject.  But, if you are like me, when I read through exams (or even just outline a few old exams), I sort of convince myself that I understand it, that I could write it, that I actually know what I am doing.  And, here's the rub.  That's not learning but rather just presuming that I know how to answer final exam questions.  So, here's the key.

Rather than spending the bulk of your time over the course of the next several weeks or so creating massive outlines, reorient your time so that most of your final exam preparation efforts are focused on what you are actually going to be tested on in your final exams, namely, solving legal problems.  That means that you should be reading, conversing, debating, outlining, writing, re-thinking, and re-writing old practice exams.  It will be hard.  It will not feel good.  It will not feel safe.  In fact, you'll probably feel like you don't know enough to start practicing exam problems.  But, if you wait until you think that you know enough to start practicing for your final exams, you will run out of time to practice final exams.  And, because you are not tested on creating great study tools but rather solving final exam problems, it will be both too little and too late to do much good if you just create study tools.  So, be brave by being vulnerability.  Grab hold of some old final exams from your professor.  Take a stab at them.  Try writing out answers.  Input what you learn into a study tool. Then go see your professor for feedback.  It will be hard to ask for help, to show your work to your professor.  That's because it requires you to accept that learning requires vulnerability.  But, you'll be might glad that you did.

Finally, in case your professor or your law school doesn't have old final exams readily available, do not give up…at all.  Instead, there are lots of free resources through your Academic Support Professionals, your Dean of Students, and even on the internet.  As a suggestion, here's a website that consolidates old bar exam essays, point sheets, and answer guides for a whole host of subjects to include Criminal Law, Torts, Contracts & Sales, Property Law, Constitutional Law, Evidence, Criminal Procedure, all arranged by date of the exam and…here's some great news…by subject matter too!  Old Bar Exam Essays By Subject Matter   So have at it by opening yourself up to focusing your final exam preparations on practicing lots of exam problems intermixed with creating your study tools.  (Scott Johns).  

November 10, 2016 in Advice, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Self-Care and Stress Management

Life is filled with ups and downs but how do you manage your emotions?  Some students are working on their final legal writing assignment, signaling that exams are fast approaching for all students.  Around this time of the year, various student organizations and institutional entities have programming to help students manage stress.  We have a range of activities available to our students. Activities include “Game Night” which allows students to gather together to play various board games to de-stress.  Each semester, there is a “De-stress” day which includes ice cream and opportunities to pet dogs from the Veterinary Medicine School; this is a hit with our students.  We have “Mindfulness” Tuesdays and “T’ai Chi and Qigong” Tuesdays led by two of our professors.  There are several offices such as the Office of Student Engagement, Diversity Services Office, and Academic Success Program where students can seek assistance and direction on how to manage stress.

I find it important to explore a number of mediums of delivering important information to students.  The video below addresses stress relief tips in a quick, quirky, and informative manner.  “WellCast” explores physical, mental, and emotional paths to wellness.  While many of the videos on WellCast are geared to a younger audience, a few of them apply to an adult audience.  We can always use some animation in our life! (Goldie Pritchard)

 

November 9, 2016 in Advice, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Greatest Reward

The most rewarding aspect of my work is hearing about the impact I have on the lives of my students. I typically hear from students themselves but it is even more rewarding to hear from those they hold near and dear.  It is an honor when parents and friends know about you before they have even met you.  I cherish these moments dearly when I face challenging days or wonder whether I am truly making an impact.   Around this time in the semester, I am typically juggling individual meetings with students, reaching out to students who were unsuccessful on the bar exam, reviewing midterms, quailing fears about final exams, helping students strategize for the remainder of the semester, serving on committees, and not to mention preparing for and presenting workshops to 1Ls and LL.M. students in addition to answering numerous phone calls and email messages.  I promise you, there is a lot more but I will stop there.  I enjoy all that I do but it can seem a little overwhelming at times.

During those more demanding periods of time, students typically remind me of why I do what I do. Simple things like a visit from a prospective student sent by three former students who saw me as a resource, thank you cards collected over the years, and a visit or phone call from a former student make all the difference.  What really energizes me are the phone calls from students who have passed the bar exam and attained their goal of becoming attorneys.  Sorry again to the individuals I share space with because I typically scream with excitement. How can you not feel good about your students’ accomplishments?  I hope that all those who do this work recognize their value and contributions to the lives of each and every student they engage with.  During challenging periods of time, it is very easy to forget about the hundreds of students you have interacted with over the years.

As a graduate student, one of my advisors suggested that I keep every card, every note and every email I have ever received from a student in a drawer.  She said: “when things get challenging, read some or all correspondence to center yourself and reconnect with who you are and what you do.”  I have found this advice invaluable because sometimes the supporter can use a few words of encouragement.  I hope that we all take the time to remember why we do what we do, our purpose and our strength. (Goldie Pritchard)

November 2, 2016 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Herculean ASPer?

A herculean ASPer is an academic support professional who is perceived to have extraordinary powers which allow her/him to overcome every difficult task pertaining to a law student’s academic and bar success. These powers often exceed normal human power and capability; they are superhuman.  This is my fictional description that I believe describes the perception of many academic support professionals and sometimes even how these professionals perceive themselves if they took the time to reflect.

Academic support professionals are problem solvers who are willing to put in the time and effort to help guide students as they navigate their law school learning and bar exam preparation processes. This means that we are simultaneously juggling interactions with several different students, with several different needs, and at a variety of points in their individual progression.  We help students manage emotions and address non-academic needs.  We are creative individuals who are flexible enough to adapt to individual student progression and process. Doing this type of work is what gets us up in the morning and keeps us going.

While we might appear or perceive ourselves as superhuman and herculean in nature, I have found that at various points in the semester and the academic year responsibilities require more careful attention to time management. This can be difficult for someone who generally has difficulty saying “no”, values helping, and is solution oriented (speaking only for myself).  Whenever I find myself in such a predicament, I have to remind myself of what I advise students concerning managing their time and balancing responsibilities, particularly at demanding stages of the semester.  Here are the three things I try to keep in mind:

  1. Learn to say “no.” Only take on commitments you know you have time for and you truly care about. Although there are so many tantalizing opportunities, you still need to be effective in what you are doing and deliver a respectable product or service. This is the hardest thing to do. Be real with yourself and choose quality over quantity.
  2. Turn essential tasks into habits. Everything you want to accomplish each day results from repeated actions and developed routines. Start small with a manageable task and work from there. If you are required to produce regular written documents, then you may need to establish a set time and write regularly for that period of time. This means weekly or daily writing with time limits for completion.
  3. Personal fulfillment should be the goal. Enjoy and evaluate whatever you are doing. We can get so busy making sure we get everything done that we do not stop and smell the roses or appreciate what we do. You Only Live Once (YOLO). You do not get back the hours and minutes that have passed so do not experience regrets. Be open to opportunity and embrace your passions.

All the best as we work on ourselves to better help others work on themselves! (Goldie Pritchard)

October 26, 2016 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

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."  http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-benefits-of-a-little-small-talk-1475249737  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.   http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/nicholas.epley/EpleySchroeder2014.pdf

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."  http://pss.sagepub.com/content/23/2/166

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:  http://www.law.du.edu/index.php/barprep/resources/colorado-exam-essays

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 interventions...by 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

What About The GOLD MEDAL STUDENT?

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!

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 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 teacher...in just one course...who provide individualized feedback within that course...improve grades for their students...across all courses, even controlling for LSAT and UGPA:  http://abovethelaw.com/2016/05/one-thing-can-improve-all-your-law-school-grades/ 

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)