Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Success: It's a Matter of Perspective!

It's the middle of the academic semester for most of us.  

That often means midterm exams or filling out bar exam applications or working on that summer job hunt.  In the midst of so much to do with so much competition for achieving success, it's easy to feel out of place.  To be overwhelmed.  To sense that I don't really belong in law school or that I can't succeed.

When that sort of self-doubt starts in, it's time to step back and gain perspective about who you are, your strengths, your character, and your purpose.  You see, too often I am comparing myself against the wrong benchmark (others!), and, in doing so, I'm trying to be someone who I am not.  And, that's mighty stressful because it is awful hard (i.e., impossible) to be someone else!  So, instead of trying to measure success based on what others are doing, step back and get some perspective about who you are.

Not quite sure about how to get some perspective?

Well, there's a great video clip that illustrates the point quite well.  It involves a boy struggling to hit a baseball.  When it seems that all is lost, that he just can't manage to connect the baseball bat to the ball, he takes a that moment of pause...he realizes something brilliantly radiant about what he is good at. So, if you happen to feel like you are not quite hitting the mark in law school, take a moment to enjoy this short video clip. I promise, it will warm your heart and bring a smile to your face. And, in the process of taking a pause, you'll be reminded of a great truth -- that success is a matter of perspective (and not at all a matter of competition).

(Scott Johns).

March 9, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Spring Break Shenanigans

It is spring break at my law school and it is very quiet. Most of the students have left for the break but a few remain. Some students are anticipating getting ahead in their academic work, working on legal writing assignments, or hoping to improve overall academic performance by starting to prepare for exams early. Other students continue to maintain their individual meetings with my office so I continue to interact with students. Although it is spring break, I find myself with much to do such as: (1) planning for the remainder of the semester, (2) planning for a part of the summer, (3) checking-in with students who recently sat for the bar exam, and also (4) getting some rest.  Additionally, I try to take a day or two off from work to laze around or simply take care of household responsibilities because I know that I will have to wait until July for the next lull.

Spring break is typically a time when I am able to make “small talk” with my colleagues when I take breaks away from my desk. It is also a time when I can leave the building for lunch because attempting to leave the building when school is in session is a challenge due to back to back meetings throughout the day. Even when I am able to leave the building for lunch, I encounter difficulties finding a parking space upon my return because parking is also a challenge. Today, in recognition of International Women’s Day, I had lunch with a female colleague I have been trying to meet-up with for several months. Happy International Women’s Day to all Academic Support Professionals who self-identify as female! (Goldie Pritchard)

March 8, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 3, 2017

Work is a Four-Letter Word

My love of punk rock reflects my general paranoia about the messages that consumer culture crams into our heads.  This week, in meeting with students about bar prep, poor performance, or other issues, I was struck by how many students made some reference to their need to relax.  For example, I got an email saying someone couldn't meet at a certain time because "that was the time they went home to take a nap."  Another student told me that they were spending all of Spring Break "beaching and golfing."  Another student listened to my spiel about bringing up her grades and then said, "That's great advice -- but, to be honest, I'm not doing that much work."

It kills me when students fail the bar and it turns out they did under 50 percent of their commercial bar prep.  I generally blame the phenomenon on computers, but I'm beginning to wonder if it's really coming from advertising and culture.

Since we live in a consumer culture, most of the messages we get on a daily basis are about consuming.  Consuming goes hand and hand with relaxing -- stop doing whatever it is you are doing and eat this burger, drink this coffee, put two iron tubs out in your backyard and hold hands with your mate, etc.  Social media reflects it in weird pictures of people's dinners and smiling vacation shots.  Besides advertising and social media, there's constant messaging about working less, slowing down, and smelling the roses.  That stuff has to sink in.  

ASP is in a weird position because we're often dealing with students in crisis, and we are often counselors and sounding boards for struggling students.  Consequently, being a hard ass and piling on a bunch more work is probably not a fantastic idea.  However, although I used to worry about "burn out" when figuring out study plans for struggling students, I've more or less stopped taking that into consideration.  Making the assumption that no student is going to do 100 percent of what I say, I figure I don't need to add to the constant barrage of "you deserve and need to take time off" that students hear everyday.  I tell them they need to sleep, eat healthy, and exercise, but I leave relaxing for them to figure out.

The above post may ultimately be just another example of an older generation dissing on a younger one ("Back in my day, I had to walk uphill both ways to school"), but I want all of them to succeed.  I used to describe what I do as teaching them to study "smarter," but maybe I should really change it to studying "smarter and harder."

The Smiths -- Work is a Four-Letter Word 

(Alex Ruskell)

March 3, 2017 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

"Voice Opportunities" to Make a Difference in Legal Education: ABA Nominations - Due April 10, 2017!

The ABA Section on Legal Education and Bar Admissions is seeking nominations for leadership positions on the Council.  In light of the important field work that academic support professionals play in the enhancement and the betterment of legal education, this is a great opportunity to share your voice and expertise with others.  So, if interested, here's the link to nominate yourself or others:  (Scott Johns).

March 2, 2017 in Advice, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

You Are Not An Island

Microaggression. Merriam Webster initially noted this word as “a term to watch” but added this word to the dictionary in February 2017. Microaggression as defined by Merriam Webster is “a comment or action that is subtly and often unintentionally hostile or demeaning to a member of a minority or marginalized group.”

How do we, academic support professionals, support our students who deal with microaggressions and aggressions that impact their ability to focus on academic work and impact their academic performance? I pose this question not because I have an answer but because this is a question I have asked myself lately.

It is quite difficult to be mentally present, engage with doctrinal content, and focus on tasks at hand while being concerned about what covert or overt actions will occur next or be directed towards you. The idea that one might have to contend with a racial or ethnic land mine at any time in a law school classroom or hallway is very daunting. A microaggressive comment from a professor during exam review can be devastating particularly when we encourage students to meet with professors to review exams and obtain feedback. There are a few articles addressing the impact of microaggressions on the recipient which highlight serious psychological effects.

Oftentimes, just reminding students of why they are in law school and encouraging them to not give up on a future legal career while having honest discussions about how they will manage these situations is usually a starting point. I spend time encouraging students to view these encounters as strengthening their abilities to deal with difficult situations while making them realize they are not alone. We discuss their feelings, anticipated accomplishments and consequences of each situation, and management of similar situations. I fundamentally view this process as an unwritten part of my job mainly because I am a person of color who was once a student of color. Silencing the loud voices of negativity when a student already has a few layers of self-doubt, and awakening and reminding students of the infinite reach of their abilities to view the world as a better place can be a struggle and long term process.

Racial Battle Fatigue (RBF). A term coined by William Smith in the Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Society (2008) is “a theory attributed to the psychological attrition that People of Color experience from the daily battle of deflecting racialized insults, stereotypes, and discrimination.”i “RBF is the cumulative effect of being “on guard” and having to finesse responses to insults, both subtle and covert.”ii

How do we, academic support professionals, support our students who have been microaggressed when we are managing our own instances of microaggressions and aggressions but also contending with Racial Battle Fatigue? I pose this question because I am curious about how other academic support professionals manage such situations.

To make a very long story short, I had a week filled with incidents that would fit the classic definition of microaggressions and some I would characterize as aggressions coming from various aspects of life in the span of five days. I was anxious and somewhat distracted, which is out of character for me, unfocused, and unhappy but tried to be positive but all efforts failed. I faced each situation, responding in various ways I deemed appropriate, sought the support of my circle of trust, and moved on. I usually do a good job not showing my frustrations. In retrospect, I did not realize how much these encounters impacted me.

Something amazing happened the following week; I found joy, passion, and energy because of the students. I received a number of kind notes, nice words, positive feedback about programs and presentations, and other expressions of appreciation. For someone who is accustomed to problem-solving, affirming students, acknowledging wrong doings, validating feelings, empowering students, and checking-in to ensure that all is well, I did not quite know what to do with myself. It was like the universe suddenly said: “everything is great; this is just a step in your journey.”

I often believe that I am on an island even though there are so many people that surround me. No one knows the many battles fought and won within the confines of the four walls of my office, on the island. What often keeps me going are moments when students make comments to me such as; your words or actions made a difference and changed my outlook when I was on the precipice of giving up and filled with tears. This brings back memories of individuals who did the same for me during moments of immense pressure and self-doubt. (Goldie Pritchard)

iRacial Battle Fatigue’ Is Real: Victims of Racial Microaggressions Are Stressed Like Soldiers in War

iiChristopher Dorner and Racial Battle Fatigue

March 1, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Law School Action Comics


(Alex Ruskell)

February 17, 2017 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Waiting

Writing papers is a drag.  I think it's a safe generalization to say that most students, when faced with a writing assignment, start down the primrose path of procrastination, which pushes people to panic and plot putting down their pencils in the p.m. instead of producing a page of proper paragraphs or poetic prose, probably producing protracted palsy and palm sweat with poisonous prophecy and postgraduate poverty, prayer, and pupil pressure.

Basically, anticipating starting the work is the worst part.

So, instead of waiting until you have a few clear hours or a clear day to do your work (in most cases, seemingly the day before it is due), try to do a little bit every day as soon as you get the assignment.  Fifteen or 30 minutes every day adds up, and once you get started, your brain will likely come up with ideas during your downtime, making the entire project a lot easier and giving you time to edit and rethink the way you might be analyzing or phrasing things.

If you don't believe me, believe Tom Petty:

The Waiting -- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

(Alex Ruskell)


February 10, 2017 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Should I Be My Students' Teacher or Their Coach?

I just came out of a great conference.  However, it wasn't a great conference because it made me feeling better.  In fact, I left the event realizing how far I often fall short of the mark as a teacher.  But, it was the sense that I learned (or perhaps re-learned) some key principles...that I can bank on in trying to BECOME a better teacher.  

So, let me cut to the chase.  Based on the principles shared by conference leader Dr. Maryellen Weimer, Professor Emeritus at Penn State University, I started to think that I might be trying too hard to teach my students.  That's right.  I might be trying so much to help my students learn that I leave very little for them to do, which is to say, that I leave them no room for learning.

You see, according to Dr. Weimer, I can't actually "learn anything for my students."  Rather it's my students that are the learners.  And, to be frank, learning is just plain hard work.  It's messy.  Its discomforting.  It's even downright excruciating sometimes.  But, I often don't want my students to feel that sort of uncomfortable frustration that is required to generate real learning.  Or, as Dr. Weimer put it, "we are often doing a lot of the hard messy work of our students" by making decisions for them, which, if true, means that our students are not truly learning.  In short, we are just teaching them to be dependent on us rather than coaching them to succeed as independent learners, to put it in my own words.

So, my sense is that my students need less of me as a teacher and more of me as a coach.  They need me to step out of the limelight, to give them fresh air to try, to let them work hard and ponder mightily as they grapple with the course materials.  That's because learning is personal.  It therefore requires lots of practice.  It requires deep engagement in the materials.  It requires sometimes (or even often) failing.

But, as Dr. Weimer pointed out, my students often do not see me fail.  Instead, they often see me demonstrating how to succeed (i.e. teaching!).  But, I didn't learn the materials through success.  Rather, I learned the materials through lots of rough 'n tumble practice (and that means through lots of trials, errors, and downright embarrassing mistakes).

So, Dr. Weimer encouraged me (us) to open up with our students, to admit our mistakes, to let our students have empowered agency to personally engage with the materials.  In short, it's time for me to teach from the sidelines, and, that means that I am not "making the big plays for my students." Instead, I am their coach on the sidelines and they are the players moving the ball downfield as learners.  That's a game that I am excited about watching.  Oh, and by the way, taking Dr. Weimer's words to heart, I admitted to my students just today that I have made lots and lots of mistakes on the path to learning how to become a lawyer, and it was through walking through those experiences that I truly learned.  (Scott Johns).

February 9, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Academy Fight Song

As your grades are coming in, you may be less than happy with how things are turning out. Use this to your advantage.

In all honesty, the best thing that ever happened to me during my college career was getting a C on my first English paper.

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 that college was going to be a lot different from high school (where I got all As without doing much), figured out my mistakes, buckled down, and did a lot better in school than I probably would have had I never experienced that setback.

So, if you’re not happy with all of your grades -- what should you do? First, please email your academic success office to set up an appointment to talk. Every year, students in your position raise their grades in the spring semester and throughout the rest of their law school career – however, those that raise their grades address issues head-on and come up with a plan.

Second, you should go over your exams with your professors. Contact them to see how you go about doing so. Without looking at your exams, you won’t know what the problem was.

Everyone on the faculty, staff, and administration at your law school wants to do everything they can to help you succeed. Take advantage of what your law school has to offer.

(Alex Ruskell)

January 20, 2017 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Dr. Martin Luther King, "The Letter from the Birmingham Jail," and IRAC?

Continuing from Professor Goldie Pritchard's excellent post yesterday regarding "Student Motivation and MLK Celebration Day," on April 13, 1963, Dr. King penned one of the most famous letters of all time: "The Letter from the Birmingham Jail."

In writing to fellow religious letters, Dr. King explained, in his words, that "I am in Birmingham because injustice is here."  Then, turning to the question about whether it was proper to engage in direct action in the form of sit-ins and marches, Dr. King defends civil disobedience, arguing that the root question was whether the segregation laws were just or unjust.  If unjust, then disobedience was justified.  

That led Dr. King to explain why the law was unjust in a very famous paragraph:  "Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong."

Wow!  Impactful!  Poignant!  Straight to the heart of the issue!  Take a close look at the paragraph above.  Did Dr. King start with the issue?  After stating the issue, did he next state a rule and then explain the rule to his fellow religious leaders?  Moving on, didn't he next transition to an analysis of that principle by concretely applying the rule to the segregation laws?  Finally, look closely as Dr. King finishes with a succinct conclusion.  That's right...Dr. King's argument is structured in IRAC and yet Dr. King was not an attorney (rather, he earned a Ph.D. from Boston University).

When I first saw Dr. King's use of IRAC, I was shocked because I thought that IRAC was just a tool that lawyers used to analyze legal problems.  In short, I was convinced that my legal writing professor invented IRAC.  And, it felt SO unnatural to impersonal...that I tried my utmost to avoid writing in IRAC.  

Looking back, I see my folly.  IRAC was not invented by attorneys. Rather, IRAC is the structural foundation for some of the most monumental moral arguments of all time.  In short, IRAC (what the rest of the world calls deductive reasoning) is powerful because it is a common form of analysis to all of us, long before we ever came to law school.  Simply put, we have been using IRAC for all of our lives, and yet, we just didn't know it.  So, take time out to reflect on the power of IRAC as a tool for persuasive analysis.  As demonstrated by Dr. King, IRAC can be the structural foundation for making moving moral arguments, arguments that in Dr. King's day led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  So, don't shy away from IRAC.  Rather, embrace it, refine it, polish it, and always, with an eye on what's the right thing to do.  In that way, paragraph by paragraph, you as a future attorney can make the world a better place for others.  (Scott Johns).

January 19, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Possible Empirical Value of the Computer-Disconnected Classroom Experience

Hat tip to Dr. Nancy Johnson!

In a recently published article entitled "How Laptop Internet Use Relates to Classroom Learning," researchers Susan Ravizza, Mitchell Uitvlugt, and Kimberly Fenn report two interesting findings with respect to the empirical relationship between classroom internet use and final exam scores.  

First (and perhaps not surprisingly), according to the article classroom non-academic use (such as surfing the web, watching videos, or using social media) has a negative impact on final exam scores.

Second (and perhaps surprisingly), according to the article classroom academic use of a computer (such as to look up a term that is being discussed in class on Wikipedia) has no measurable impact on final exam scores.

Taken together, the research suggests some caution with respect to student use of computers in classroom settings because, based on their findings, even academic use of computers by students during the classroom is not producing beneficial learning outcomes as measured by final exam scores.

In light of the lively debate concerning student use of computers in classrooms and potential benefits or detriments, here's the article in full:

(Scott Johns)

January 12, 2017 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 6, 2017

History Lesson -- Part II

Positive life change always arises out of a failure of some sort.  Sometimes these failures are large and sometimes these failures are small, but ultimately our lives are better for them, even if they hurt at the time.

Right now, law students are starting to get their grades back from the fall semester.  The thing I hear most often from students around this time, especially from 1Ls, is "this is the worst semester grades I have ever had."  It seems like almost everyone feels this way.  I hear it from students all over the spectrum.  Just this morning, I heard it from a student who received two Ds and a student who received a B+ and an A.  Consequently, I'm guessing that almost every law student is planning on making some life changes this coming semester.

Even among those who aren't law students, the New Year is a famous time for people to make resolutions for positive life choices that only last until February.  There are two tricks to making positive life changes stick.

First, a student should look back at his or her past semester and be specific in what needs to change.  He or she should also make sure that the planned change reflects the seriousness of the failure.  As an example, after a show my band played last month, I felt so sore the next day from jumping around on stage with a guitar strapped to my shoulders that I couldn't move.  I figured the basic problem was that I've gained 50 pounds in the five years that I've lived surrounded by South Carolina's deliciousness and lack of public transportation.  So, instead of making some vague promise to myself to "work out more" or "eat healthier," I picked a few specific things I could change.  Those things were:  Dunkin Donuts only one morning a week (down from every morning), take the stairs at work, beer only two nights a week (keeping it under a six-pack and trying to stick with light beer, down from a few craft beers more or less every time we had band practice), lifting weights MWF (up from not exercising at all), and not going back for seconds at dinner (down from probably hitting thirds or fourths).  The failure I'm addressing isn't dramatic (feeling sore after rocking people's faces off), so my changes aren't that big.  If I'd been told I had a heart condition or something, I would feel motivated to do more.

The other day, I spoke with a student who didn't do as well as she had hoped, and we came up with a similar list of specifics:  leave laptop and take class notes by hand, study at undergraduate library instead of at home, do practice questions in every subject every week, and meet with Academic Success once per week.  With these specifics, I have no doubt she is going to drastically improve this coming semester (because I've seen it happen over and over and over again).

Second, if a student wants to change, that student has to seriously take a look at who he or she is.  It never seems to work if a student decides to drastically change ("I'm going to get up every day at five a.m.  to do my work, although I've alway been a night person that sleeps until 10 a.m.!") or tries to mirror a successful student whose life and personality might be drastically different.  The student has to look at himself or herself and see the places that can be tweaked.  As an example, giving up the sweet, sweet ambrosia of Dunkin Donuts and beer entirely would probably be the most effective thing to do, but I know that once I tell myself that I can't have something, that's all I'm going to want.  So, I'm letting myself have a little of both within parameters that work for me (for others, a six-pack might seem like a ridiculous amount of beer to drink in a week--my wife, who doesn't like beer, thinks it's silly, while I can't fathom the amount of ice cream she apparently needs to feel fulfilled--plus, I'm in a band, so there's some cred issues involved).  One size never fits all, and playing someone else's jam leads to bad bar bands covering "Mustang Sally" for the bazillionth time.

So, in the spirit of looking back and doing what works for you, I've included The Minutemen's "History Lesson -- Part II," the punk rock classic that provided this blog entry its title.

The Minutemen -- History Lesson Part II 

(Alex Ruskell)



January 6, 2017 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

New Semester Preparation

For those Academic Support Professionals with year-round academic support and bar support responsibilities, there are very few opportunities to plan and organize. One is constantly moving from one task to another and interacting with a variety of students who need a lot of face time. I have always admired those who are able to find a good balance between job duties, personal life, and professional development. I am still trying to strike a healthy balance and seem to fall short often.

In the years I have worked as an Academic Support Professional, I do not believe I have truly taken a vacation. Meaning, I have never completely unplugged from work related tasks. I may not check email messages but I do pick up my phone and apparently my phone seems to ring a lot when I do not check email. The one thing I have refused to do is connect my work email to my phone because I know I will never have a mental break. This year, I decided to make the concerted effort to do what I encourage students to do, truly take a break. I understand that I have to take baby steps and the first was not checking emails for three out of the seven days I had off during winter break and turning off my phone for an entire day. It was uncomfortable but I had a very positive experience because I could explore non-work related interests.

Fall break, Winter break, and Spring break give me a few days to evaluate, plan, and get ahead. I particularly appreciate Dean Jarmon’s post from day before yesterday which can be found here. She provided effective and manageable ways to do things you care about and cater to your professional development. Conferences are the one time I get to work with colleagues, share ideas with them, and learn from them. I bring back a lot of new information and feel rejuvenated. Happy conferencing ASPers! I will see many of you soon and look forward to catching up with others later this year. (Goldie Pritchard)

January 4, 2017 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Breaking Free from the Stress and Strains of Final Exams: Try Out the "Smile Loop!"

Wow.  At long last, final exams are over...sort of.

For most of us, we have a very difficult time with uncertainty in general, which is particularly exasperating as we wait - sometimes for weeks - for our grades to arrive.

So, despite the festive times of this month, we often find ourselves unable to relax, to enjoy the season, and to simply wind down and rest.  

Nevertheless, there's a simple way - in just a flash of a moment - to help break free from the many stresses and strains of the past few weeks of final exams.  Why not try out, today, the "smile loop?"  It sounds, sort of, fun, doesn't it?  So, here's the scoop (and the science too):

You see, according to an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal by Elizabeth Bernstein:

"Smiling produces neural messaging in your brain that makes you happier. Some studies have shown that when we smile our facial muscles contract, which slightly distorts the shape of the thin facial bones.  This leads to an increase in blood flow into the frontal lobes of the brain and the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine. And, when we smile at someone, that person tends to smile back. So, we've created a feel-good loop."

For those of you that are not scientists (that's me!), the short scoop is that smiling brightens not just our days but the days of those around us.  And, it sure seems to me that smiling at another person gets us on the right track to thinking about others rather than worrying about the past few weeks of final exams (with its lingering wait for grades).  

I had the chance to put smiling to the test in very unforgiving circumstances over the course of the past few weeks as a volunteer attorney.  There's a little Greek island just a few short miles off the Turkish coast.  Because of its locale so close to Turkey, thousands of people have been fleeing on small inflatable boats across the Aegean Sea to escape persecution, calamity, and in some cases war in their native countries - from Syria to Iran to Iraq to Afghanistan to South Sudan - with the hope of receiving refugee in the European Union.  I talked with a man, his wife and his adorable small children that risked it all traveling by land from Afghanistan through Iran and Turkey only to be finally living for months in a small UNHCR tent in a refugee camp on the island of Chios.

Despite the lack of resources and the uncertainty of still waiting - for months on end - to receive as of yet an asylum hearing, he smiled.  And, then his children smiled. Why, his whole family smiled.  In the cold of the wind swept coast of this little island refugee camp, we all smiled...together.  He and his family may not have had much to give but they gave something immeasurably priceless...they shared smiles with me.  

Let me say, this was not unique.  As I walked through the refugee camp with a number of refugee-seekers, even though we often didn't speak the same language, we were able to communicate in ways that are often richer than words.  Over and over, refugees would just come up to me with big generous smiles and warm handshakes of greetings.  Memorably, a small Syrian boy grabbed my hand one day by the lunch tent as a group of young people were dancing, asking me to join in the footsteps and singing.

You see, smiles are not just a trick to make your life better or happier.  No, no at all!   Rather, smiles are the sweetness of life itself in helping us to make the world a little better for others.  So, as you wait for final exam grades to come in, be of good courage and share smiles with those around you.  Who knows?  That brief smile might get you up and dancing!

(Scott Johns).

December 22, 2016 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Take a Real Break

As my students wrap up the semester and head home, they are filled with excitement. Students recognize that they survived the semester although at various points and particularly during the exam period they viewed this feat as impossible. Smiles on their faces and relief felt from completing exams provide glimmers into their true selves which were previously masked by stress and the rigors of law school. Some students are not quite excited because they are filled with concern about the results of their efforts, grades, and the desire to go through a complete postmortem of their preparation and exams. My job is to calm concern, remind students that they have no control over the results that are now in the hands of their professors and stressing about the results changes nothing about how quickly they will receive the results and what the result will be. I say to them with enthusiasm: “All you can do now is enjoy your break!”

Here are my two recommendations to students for the holiday season:

(1) Take a break

Catch up on sleep and enjoy family and friends, if possible. Catching up on sleep is imperative. You probably abused your body and sacrificed sleep as you prepared for exams. Please give yourself a few days to catch up on sleep and to simply be lazy. This is the best time for that. Here is a good resource for an 8 hour deep sleep music or peaceful music for relaxation and meditation: Sleep, Meditation, and Relaxation Music

(2) Plan for next semester

Plan for when you will start the gradual transition to reading and preparing for next semester’s classes so you are not overwhelmed. Set a date and time when you will complete specific tasks. If you are a 3L, this may be the ideal time to plan for your bar application and bar review process. This may also be the time, while at home, to assemble all of the necessary documentation you might need as you prepare to apply for the bar exam, if you have not already. (Goldie Pritchard)

December 21, 2016 in Advice, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Everyday I Write the Book

If you are gearing up for final exams or the February Bar, one of the most helpful things to do while studying is keep a "Big Book of Things I Did Not Know."  

Basically, as you go over practice answers, keep a legal pad of reasons why you got an answer wrong (or right for the wrong reason).  Keep it short.  So, for example, you might write "Only defendants can remove to federal court."  Every evening, work on memorizing that list.

By doing this, you should never not know those things again.  In my experience, students who do this drastically improve their performance on exams and the bar. (Alex Ruskell)

December 16, 2016 in Advice, Exams - Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Exams are coming!

Monday marks the first day of exams for 1L students at my institution and I can sense it. Students are stressed and it is only going to get worse. Students are trying to determine what they can accomplish in the limited amount of time they have remaining. Students simply feel overwhelmed by the exam preparation process. At this point, we need to move beyond regret and encourage students to be as effective and efficient as they can be given the task at hand. Here are the top three things concerned students will likely hear from me:

(1) Quality over Quantity

I hear of students spending hours in the library simply to spend hours in the library. Some students feel a sense of accomplishment if they spend hours in the library, even if they are not studying the entire time. Presence in the library equates to information somehow being learned and retained. A library is an amazing place for students with a plan. Students who have a plan, implement the plan, and set deadlines are often more successful and better prepared for exams. A library can be an amazing learning environment if used appropriately. Start your studies with concepts you find most difficult and are most afraid of.

(2) Practice

Attempt a practice question for each and every subject area and attempt questions using the various modes of testing used by your professors. Exam day should not be the first time you write the answer to a practice question. It is also not enough to write answers to questions, it is important to know how to critique answers. More importantly, it is necessary to be honest with yourself about your performance. Challenging practice questions are not intended to be discouraging but to highlight what you know and don’t know which can be a very useful study tool.

(3) Checklist

Checklists are a great way to ensure that you are addressing all possible issues in an issue spotter exam and to ensure that you are addressing all elements or parts of a rule for each specific issue. Checklists can also be a great mechanism for starting the process of memorizing information. All the very best to law students everywhere taking exams in the very near future! (Goldie Pritchard)

December 7, 2016 in Advice, Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 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.   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


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)