Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Veteran ASP Spotlight: Louis Schulze, Jr

Louis should be excited because he is featured here twice in two weeks (once for his scholarship here and now)! I first met Louis at one of the conferences I attended early on in my ASP career. He led a discussion surrounding an article he had written and at the time, was seeking feedback. The discussion included comments and questions about the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). I also had an opportunity to work with Louis briefly during my tenure as chair of the programming committee for the Academic Support Section of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS). Louis was reliable, kind, and very helpful. I seem to always remember positive words and feedback sent in my direction from anyone far and near, and Louis is one of those whose feedback was very kind and therefore remembered (Goldie Pritchard).

Q: Please indicate your full name, title and institution of employment.

Louis Schulze

Assistant Dean and Professor of Academic Support

Florida International University College of Law

Q: Please briefly describe your ASP work including length of time associated with it and what initially stimulated your interest.

I’ve been in the academic support field for about ten years, starting at New England Law | Boston for seven years and a bit over three years here at FIU Law. I started teaching in the legal writing field and found myself wanting to do more for students who underperformed. It frustrated me that many of these students weren’t struggling due to a lack of diligence or intelligence but because they had less training in critical thinking or effective learning skills. Because that lack of training seemed correlated with socio-economic status, I was particularly motivated to do what I could to help level the playing field to promote students’ success.

Q: Which aspect(s) of ASP work do you enjoy the most? What would you consider your greatest challenge thus far and how have you overcome the challenge?

Anyone who has seen me teach knows that I act like a fool in the classroom. I try to bring an energy that connotes genuine enthusiasm for the material. (This isn’t in any way fabricated; I’m a complete law nerd. If they sold trading cards of SCOTUS justices, I’d be one of those people who gets the whole set, including COA, etc.)

I try to keep things fairly light in the classroom and then all of a sudden get really intense, pushing the students to do more and give better answers. Because the levity precedes the intensity, students seem more comfortable when I push them harder – they know it’s coming from the right place.

Also, personally and professionally, I get immense joy from fostering students’ success. My favorite time of year is when grades come out and I hear from my students who got through the first year despite incredible odds. It’s always an awkward moment for my colleagues in my corridor when I start bellowing the chorus of “We Are the Champions” at the top of my lungs because I heard that a student made it above a 2.00 or passed the bar. But, because being in ASP means being half professor, half coach, we have the best of both worlds and, IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), the best job in the legal academy.

Q: What do you want your professional legacy to be?

That I made it through my whole career without anyone noticing that I’m a completely unqualified rube. (Ooops).

Q: What motivational advice or encouragement would you offer to new and/or mid-career ASPers or law students?

IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), one can serve students best by maintaining a balance between being emotionally invested in their success while at the same time remaining objective. Having a professor demonstrate a genuine personal investment in a student’s success can actually have a far more powerful impact on that student than I ever realized. On the other hand, for some students the best advice might be an austere and somewhat shocking message that is both difficult to give and difficult to receive. Academic support professors need to be empowered to give both types of advice based upon the needs of the particular student. If a law school does not provide that sort of empowerment, the academic support will be less effective.

Q: Is there anything else you deem necessary to share (quote, encouragement, inspiration, visual, etc.…)?

Bart

May 17, 2017 in Academic Support Spotlight, Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Part II: Learning & Justice: An Academic Achievement Necessity!

In a previous blog, I wrote about the question of justice, namely, that learning the law without learning to think about what is the right thing to do is, in short, to be learning aimlessly, to be learning without sprit, to be selling our students short.  It is an empty vain experience.  What Does Justice Have to Do with Learning the Law? Everything!

And, as a consequence of our (my) failure to so often talk about principles of justice throughout our (my) classes, we are often creating a toxically-damaging learning environment because our students came to law school not to just memorize cases but to learn to do justice.   Thus, without actively incorporating discussions of justice within our courses, our students JUSTIFIABLY feel like justice has very little to do with why they came to law school in the first place.  No wonder they struggle so often to feel like they fit in.  They don't.  

But, it's not because they don't fit in law school.  Rather, its because we don't fit in law school because we are so often not getting at the real root of the purpose of our legal education, namely, righting and healing and restoring relationships in a broken fragile world.  As a consequence, we should not be surprised when our students are not jazzed about our intricate discussions and hyperactive hypotheticals that are so often devoid of heartfelt life yearings.  

So, that brings me to a suggestion on how to incorporate principles of justice within the study of law.

First, be bold.  Name it.  Let your students know that justice is difficult, its edgy, its often amiss.

Second, provide a framework.

As a tool, it might be helpful to explore possible ways to think about what the right thing to do might be.  As set out by Dr. Michael J. Sandel in his wonderful book entitled "Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?," there are three major principles that we might look towards for guidance as to justice: (1) the welfare principle; (2) the freedom principle; and, (3) the virtue principle.  http://justiceharvard.org/justice-whats-the-right-thing-to-do/  Please note:  If you happen upon Amazon, you can browse the first chapter of his book to brilliantly capture the scope of the three approaches.  If not, here's my own simplistic version:

Justice

1.  The Welfare Principle might also be called the "Mostest-for-the-Greatest" principle (or, as philosophers call it, the utilitarian principle).  In brief, the right thing to do according to this principle is what would bring the greatest benefit to the greatest number in society.  We often see this play out in constitutional litigation concerning something like the "undue burden" test in dormant commerce clause cases.  It's a balancing test.  We balance the burden on interstate commerce against the benefit to local state interests in order to see which might maximize the greatest good or utility or benefit.  In another context, we see this principle called to duty - so to speak -  in tort law concerning what a reasonably prudent person might due under similar circumstances.  Finally, this principle is often discussed in the course of environmental litigation as to the benefits of environment regulation versus the societal costs.

2.  The Freedom Principle seems to be widely adored but rarely advocated, at least in my survey of government litigation concerning constitutional rights issues.  We might label this as the "Absolutist" principle, namely, that certain rights are absolutely off-limits from government coercion or usurpation or abolition.  Think of freedom speech or freedom of religion.  But, as we quickly learn in constitutional law, the First Amendment freedom of speech can be heavily regulated by the government provided the government provides a sufficiently "good" reason.  For example, when the government silences a particular subject, it generally must meet strict scrutiny analysis by demonstrating that the restriction is necessary to achieve a compelling government interest.  So much for absolute protection!  Thus, we most often see the freedom principle give way to other perhaps competing arguments as to justice, often based on the welfare principle or the virtue principle.

3.  So, that brings us to the Virtue Principle.  We might call this the "Honor" principle.  Think of the marriage cases.  The issue in the marriage cases, at its roots, centered upon what sorts of marital relationships ought to be honored, with the court holding that the purpose of marriage is fundamentally about society honoring committed loving relationships among consenting people.  In contrast to the arguments of many states, marriage is not fundamentally about children.  Thus, the court, seeing that states honored opposite sex marriages but not same sex marriages, reasoned that all marriages regardless of gender must be honored the same because gender is irrelevant to the issue of loving relationships.  In other words, the right thing to do is to honor consistently all marital relationships that share the same fundamental marital characteristics.  In short, the court found that it was unfair to honor only opposite sex marriage but not other marriages because the failure to do so is dishonorable and not virtuous.  Justice requires giving honor to what is deserving honor.

Now, as we see from many of the cases covered throughout law school, the courts are often bouncing haphazardly among these various conceptions of justice (and more) without saying what they are doing.  Shame on them!  That's where these principles of justice can come in mighty handily in law school classes.  Let's get them out in the open!  It's not that these principles will necessarily determine what is the right outcome in a particular case.  But, arguments about these principles are what is at root in most cases.  And, as complex people with many attachments and predispositions, we will start to see that we often favor one principle of justice at the expense of another (which is to say at the expense of others).  So, just reflecting on these principles with our students can help our students better understand and appreciate how they can participate - as future attorneys - in helping to make society a little bit more just for the next generation.  And, that's a great thing to learn in law school!  (Scott Johns).

 

May 11, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Veteran ASP Spotlight: Barbara McFarland

I was introduced to Barbara McFarland at my very first Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Annual Meeting, several years ago. Barbara was very kind and welcoming to this new ASP professional. Also, she offered much assistance when I sought best practices and other materials for a new course for students who are considered “at risk” after the first semester of law school. I modified and used some components of the materials she shared which ideally complemented the course I teach. Barbara is very humble in sharing her accomplishments and contributions to academic support so I would urge you to read her biography on her law school website (Goldie Pritchard).

Barb

(Barbara McFarland is pictured here, far right)

Q: Please indicate your full name, title and institution of employment.

Barbara B. McFarland

Director of the Office of Student Success Initiatives & Assistant Professor

Northern Kentucky University, Salmon P. Chase College of Law

Q: Please briefly describe your ASP work including length of time associated with it and what initially stimulated your interest.

I started doing academic support work 20 years ago (or maybe more) as an overload while teaching legal research and writing at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. I came to Chase in 2006 to continue that combination of positions, but in 2007 the Dean moved me into a full-time position in academic support. A year or two later, he added bar support to my duties.

Q: Which aspect(s) of ASP work do you enjoy the most? What would you consider your greatest challenge thus far and how have you overcome the challenge?

While I am fairly proficient at programming for students from the top to the bottom of the class, the thing I think I do best is to convince students that they CAN do the work in law school, pass the bar exam, and competently practice law. The biggest challenge in being a one-person office responsible for as many as 500 students in the building is finding time to accomplish the important tasks that keep getting bumped back behind the urgent tasks. I have NOT overcome that challenge, unfortunately.

Q: What do you want your professional legacy to be?

My former students are my legacy, especially the ones that might not have graduated from law school or passed the bar without some support and guidance.

Q: What motivational advice or encouragement would you offer to new and/or mid-career ASPers or law students?

If one student per year sends an email or stops by to tell you thank you for what you do, hang on to that positive message; it will get you through another academic year!

Q: Is there anything else you deem necessary to share (quote, encouragement, inspiration, visual, etc.…)?

While I do not believe that everyone admitted to law school will or should succeed, I do believe that we—the law schools—owe every admitted student the opportunity to do his or her best work.

May 10, 2017 in Academic Support Spotlight, Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Veteran ASP Spotlight: Rodney O. Fong

You may consider this entry and future ones “self-serving” but please stay tuned. When my ASP mentor recently left the profession, I thought it might be a splendid idea to highlight a few “veteran ASPers” while they are still active in the profession. After conversations with a few colleagues, I decided to start highlighting a few individuals I view as “veteran ASPers.” I encountered these highly experienced individuals at certain points of my ASP journey which began almost ten years ago. Each contributed to my success by helping me in small or significant ways and shared their wisdom, experience, and advice. I deemed it expedient to streamline questions rather than ask them anything and everything I could have possibly wanted to know. It is impossible to highlight everyone so I am starting with a select few, Rodney O. Fong being the first.

Rodney O. Fong is an awesome individual. I was first introduced to him by my former law school Dean who suggested that I contact him for advice, direction, and possible mentoring. He responded to my email message which was followed by a great phone conversation. I admire his commitment to diversity, student success on the bar exam, and desire to help new professionals. Please learn about him below. (Goldie Pritchard)

Fong

Q: Please indicate your full name, title and institution of employment.

Rodney O. Fong

Co-Director of Law+Plus and Bar+Plus Programs & Assistant Professor of Law 

University of San Francisco School of Law

Q: Please briefly describe your ASP work including length of time associated with it and what initially stimulated your interest.

I switched from practice to teaching because I love teaching and counseling people. Also, I found that practicing law limited on the number of people I could help, namely my clients.  But by training more people to become lawyers, I could indirectly help more clients in our communities.

My law school had a formal academic support program and I was a student in the program as well as a tutor during my last two years of school. I started teaching in 1990, focusing on academic support and, in 2005, I formally added bar preparation.

Q: Which aspect(s) of ASP work do you enjoy the most? What would you consider your greatest challenge thus far and how have you overcome the challenge?

I love the challenge of figuring out how to better prepare our students. First it was putting together workshops and lesson plans focusing on IRAC and study skills. Then I delved into education and learning theory exploring ways to teach students more effectively. Next, it was figuring out how generational differences affected our Gen X and Gen Y students and that continues today with unraveling the effects of helicopter parenting. More recently, I have been working on applying socio-psychological theories and creating reduction and intervention strategies.

My greatest challenge has been helping law schools transition from input measures, like LSAT and UGPA, to output measures, such as graduation rates, bar passage, and employment. Law schools are now being evaluated on how well we teach our students and what they are learning, hence the ABA requirements for establishing student learning outcomes and formative and summative assessments. Unfortunately, changing the law school culture has been slow and painful. But schools that have been able to fully integrated academic support into their teaching and learning culture tend to be more successful.

Q: What do you want your professional legacy to be?

I have two things that I am equally proud of. First, I am proud of all the students that I have been able to help become lawyers, especially those from underrepresented groups and first generation students. They are now in the profession assisting clients and making an impact on our communities. I am also proud of helping the students who decided not to become lawyers. Law school and practicing law is not for everyone. But if I was able to help someone in their decision to leave law school and still maintain their dignity and confidence, then that is a success. Many of these students go on to become successful in other fields.

The other thing I am proud of is helping a law school overcome low bar performance to retain its ABA accreditation. It was not a matter of tutoring a few students to pass the exam, but changing the culture and attitude of an entire institution. When the bar results started to improve, you could feel the change in attitude and confidence within the school and that is something I will never forget. To hear students proclaim that they want to do better than the class before them was amazing, especially when a couple of year before, they doubted if they could even pass the exam.

Q: What motivational advice or encouragement would you offer to new and/or mid-career ASPers or law students?

For my ASP colleagues – Changing institutional cultures, attitudes, and behaviors is a process that takes lots of time and patience. Also, timing is critical. An institution may not be ready for change. But when it is, you have to be ready and prepared to lead.

Q: Is there anything else you deem necessary to share (quote, encouragement, inspiration, visual, etc.…)?

My favorite quote during this time of law school uncertainty is a Chinese proverb: “Chaos – where brilliant dreams are born.”

May 3, 2017 in Academic Support Spotlight, Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Are you a practicing attorney who wants to switch to ASP/bar work?

Practicing attorneys who want to switch to law school positions often contact those of us who have ASP/bar experience to get advice on making the transition. Requests for information are particularly prevalent in spring and summer when turnover is high and so many positions are advertised. Here are some tips for attorneys considering the switch:

  • Read through all of the ads posted even if they are not for law schools or parts of the country where you want to be. You will see trends in position descriptions, required/preferred skills, duties, departmental structures, reporting lines, and other typical characteristics for the jobs. This broader view of ASP/bar work provides you with comparison information as you focus on specific ads.
  • Write variations of your cover letter and resume that match the specific law schools and ad requirements to make yourself more marketable. A one-size-fits-all approach may overlook your major selling points for a particular position. Make sure your cover letter matches the emphases in the ad so your resume gets a review. Remember that for some positions, your first "cut" is at the university's human resources level instead of at the law school!
  • Take time for a serious consideration of your strengths and weaknesses for the types of positions you want to apply for at law schools. List your specific qualifications and experiences that match the trends you see across job ads; this is your strengths/pros list. Next list specific qualifications and experiences that you lack for the trends you see across job ads; this is your weaknesses/cons list.
  • On your strengths/pros list: add characteristics that you may have initially overlooked in the ads; continue to add your own qualifications/experiences initially forgotten.
  • On your weaknesses/cons list: add strategies for filling these gaps as quickly as possible. Here are some strategies you might consider:
  1. read multiple sources in the ASP/bar field (Carolina Academic Press has a wonderful catalog of books to choose from; West Academic, Wolters-Kluwer, and Lexis are other publication sources)
  2. regularly read the Law School Academic Support Blog and read archived articles from the last year where relevant to your gaps
  3. consider informational interviewing by phone or in person with some ASP/bar folks at law schools where you are not applying for positions: your alma mater; law schools in your current location; law schools where colleagues have connections
  4. inform yourself through web resources about ABA standards, LSAC law school admissions data, NCBE bar data, etc.
  • Salary information is not typically given in ads for ASP/bar support positions. Ads will normally say that salary is dependent on qualifications. At some universities, you can view an online position that will give a position grade/level - the corresponding HR/payroll pages may show the salary ranges by grade/level. However, in many cases, there will be no readily available information. On-line salary comparison calculators can give you a ballpark for what salary in a new geographic location would align with your current salary.
  • There is a great deal of movement by ASP/bar professionals among law schools as people gain more experience and move to other law schools for promotions etc. You may need to find an entry-level position and later move up in your school's hierarchy or change schools once you have specific ASP/bar experience.
  • Realize that there may be other types of law school positions that may be suited to your specific interests, qualifications, and experiences: doctrinal faculty, legal writing and research faculty, clinical faculty, career services, development, admissions, student life, special events coordinator, etc.

April 15, 2017 in Advice, Job Descriptions, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The "TOC" Outline: It's All About Catching Up With Old Friends!

Feeling crunched for time to make a course outline.  Well, here's a tip to give you a jump-start if you've happened to wait until now to start making your outlines in preparation for final exams.

  1. Make a copy of the casebook table of contents (TOC) (and super-size it on 11 x 14 paper if you like to make hand-written outlines).
  2. If you are a hand-writer, then grab a pen and get ready to roll.
  3. If you are a typist or you like to make flashcards or flowcharts, then grab your preferred tool and list out the chapter subjects and the sections, giving your work lots of "breathing room" to input the cases and materials from the chapters.
  4. Brainstorm a short "sound-bite" for each case, one by one, and input that "blurb" into your outline.  Note:  Trust yourself!  Your blurb can just be a phrase or one sentence (two at the max).  That's because there's a learning concept called "useful forgetfulness."  The process of deciding what to put down (i.e., boiling the case or article down to its essence without re-writing verbatim your class notes or case briefs) leads to much deeper memory because, by volitionally choosing NOT to put everything down on paper, you are using your own brainpower to personally analyze what is really important about the case or article to you.  In other words, this is where learning happens...because...you've taken the time to distill it in your own words!
  5. Keep on adding in the short blurbs and, before you know, you've built a TOC outline.

One final note.  As I go back to review my class notes and cases to write my case blurbs, I try to skim for just the big concepts, i.e., as though I'm just trying to "catch up with old friends."  In other words, I'm just trying to get reacquainted, so to speak.  

Not sure what a case blur looks like?  Well, here's a sample:

Fisher v. Carousel (lunch buffet plate snatched from NASA mathematician's hand by restaurant work):  tortious battery includes contact either through direct physical touching or through touching an object intimately connected to a person because the purpose of battery is to protect human dignity from forceful violations that impact our minds and invade our wills.

In sum, as you can see from the example, I list the case name, I identify a few material facts, and then I re-write the holding of the case in my own words...with a slight twist...because I add the word "because" to explain the court's rationale.  And, there you have it:  a hand-dandy TOC outline!  (Scott Johns).

 

 

 

 

April 13, 2017 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Countdown to Graduation

Our semester comes to a close in about a week and exams are looming. Many 3L students are suddenly hit with the reality that these are their final days of law school. They constantly remind me of how many weeks, days, hours, and seconds remain until they graduate. For some students, the initial excitement associated with graduating felt at the beginning of the semester or academic year has now morphed into fear of facing the actuality of graduating and “adulting.” The sheer reality of wrapping up an academic career, forever for most, is quite intimidating. Some of the conversations many of my 3Ls are having revolve around:

  • Fears of not finding a job
  • Fears of failing on a job
  •  Financially sustaining themselves
  • Fears of not passing the bar exam
  • Intimidation about the bar review process
  • Ensuring that they actually do graduate
  • Concerns about entertaining friends and family coming for graduation

Throughout the school year and specifically this last semester, I have tried to engage students in conversations about preparing for the Bar exam. Many of the questions were answered through speakers and presentations, in electronic bar related materials made available to students, or through various emails throughout their law school career. But it is only now that several students appear concerned about the Bar exam and want to discuss it. This comes as no surprise to me and although it happens each year, my principle concern is always to ensure that students are given the necessary information or are directed to where they need to go for the information. (Goldie Pritchard)

 

April 12, 2017 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

"The Little Things Matter...If You Want to Change the World:" So Says Admiral McRaven

It's gone "viral."  Apparently it's the most watched graduation speech...ever.  That's great news for our world because the subject was about changing the world for the better.  So, here's the kicker, according to graduation speaker Admiral William McRaven (now chancellor at the University of Texas), it starts in the morning.  

That' right.  Start in the morning...with making your bed.  You see, according to McRaven, it's the little things that matter because the little things add up to bigger things, and the bigger things add up to big things, and the big things, well, add up to great things (at least that's my paraphrase of his speech). So, when you make your bed in the morning, you've already taken one mighty little step to taking charge over the issues that you are about to confront that day.  In short, even before you've reached school, you've demonstrated a success.  And, success begets success.  

That's particularly important in the study (and in the practice) of law.  I heard a speaker today say that the issue with lawyers is that lawyers overthink.  That made me think, of course, because I am a lawyer.  I overthink everything.  And, in my overthinking, I tend not to get moving because I don't know where to start.  So, instead of concrete positive action in trying to change the world, I'm often stalled in my thoughts, which leads to worry.  In short, I'm stymied, perplexed, and overstressed.  But, it doesn't have to be that way, according to Adm. McRaven.  If I just start each day with tackling a simple problem, I'll see progress.  And, as I start to make progress, I start to feel more confident, to believe in myself, in tackling even more problems on the way to changing the world.

Let's bring this back to the classroom.  In the study of law, we are so often afraid to "make our bed."  What do I mean by that?  Well, we spend way too much time overthinking the cases in our reading for classes that we never start using the cases to practice solving legal problems.  We stay in bed.  We hide under the covers.  We don't move into the morning by working through hypotheticals, testing ourselves, seeing if we can figure out how to solve legal problems.

So, here's my suggestion:  

Just start working on the little problems, the short hypotheticals. It doesn't have to be big gnarly essay questions.  In fact, start small.  But, start.  Grab pen and paper along with your notes and take a stab at solving a practice problem.  That will lead to solving bigger practice problems, which will increase your confidence to solve even more difficult problems.  And then, before you know it, you'll be witnessing your own graduation...as a brand new problem-solving lawyer...and well-prepared to change the world for the better too!  (Scott Johns)

P.S. Here's a video clip from part of the University of Texas speech: Step 1: If You Want to Change the World...

April 6, 2017 in Advice, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Be Confident

This is the week our students’ appellate briefs are due therefore I assumed that they would be unprepared for the directed study group meeting scheduled for this week. Instead of cancelling the meeting, I developed several activities with the materials students had covered thus far in their doctrinal course. The students were engaged and appeared to enjoy the activities. We highlighted areas they were unfamiliar with, areas they needed to work on, and areas of strength. Students worked in groups and one of the groups was composed of mostly male students and one female student. The female student held her own but one situation gave me pause. Her group was consulting before they buzzed in their answer. I heard her say the correct answer but her male counterparts disagreed and tried to persuade her otherwise. The group spokesperson stated the answer the majority agreed on but it was an incorrect answer. When they realized she had the correct answer, they were dumbfounded. I told the male students: “you should have listened to her” and I saw her smile. I was glad to validate her “correct” contribution and thought about the experiences of other female students.

At times, the law school environment can be a challenging place for female students for a variety of reasons including the fact that their abilities are sometimes underestimated and undervalued. This can reduce confidence in even the most confident person. There are several articles, studies, and news reports on the topic. However, I found an eight minute TEDx Talk which illustrates some of the challenges females face and how they can help themselves and other females find “The Confidence Factor.” Here is the link to “The Confidence Factor” by Carol Sankar.

Sankar suggests three things all women must do enact their confidence factor, challenging them to students, particularly female students:

1. Know the power of negotiation. If you know your worth before you leave the house; you now have the power of negotiate. Know your worth.

2. Seek a balance of support and mentorship. Support is the praise and comfort but not the facts. Mentorship is when people tell us the truth regardless of how we feel about what we hear; someone with the courage to push us and tell us the truth.

3. Your inner circle. Create an inner circle which includes one who likes you, one who can’t stand you, one who will tell the truth, and one who will tell you a lie. Also consider individuals not known to you. (Goldie Pritchard)

April 5, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Teaching Law: What's Justice Have to Do With Law (and Learning)?

Recently while teaching asylum law, we took some time in class to talk about justice.  How do we know what is the right thing to do?  What standard(s) should we use to decide whether a case result is just or not?  I was just about to recap our discussion when a student asked, poignantly, "What does Justice have to do with the Law?"

In brief, the student commented that very few classes ever even talk about justice, and, the student also asked me directly if I have ever even talked about justice as a litigator before the court.  Those were great questions.  And, the student got me thinking...deeply...because if what we are doing is not just, then we should be doing something else.  And, if we are not talking about justice, then, let's be frank, we are not engaging with our students in heart-felt learning because they came to law school - not to be mechanics robotically applying the law - but to make the world better, to make the world more just, in short, to restore and right and mend relationships.

As I reflected on my student's questions, I started to realize that implicit in much discourse concerning the outcome of cases are principles that manifest themselves in real impact on real people.  So, my first step was to refocus on teaching about the people (and not just the mechanical facts, issues, holdings, and rationales).  I try to find out what happened to the litigants.  I sometimes call the attorneys that litigated the case.  In short, I try to bring life to the cases that we read.  Second, I try to keep my eye out for opportunities to talk about whether the decisions in the cases that we study are just (and why or why not).  I try to make it explicit.  Third, as we talk about representing people, I bring up opportunities to appeal to courts by using principles of justice.  

So, that brings me back to learning.  It seems like many law students are just plain tired, primarily it seems to me, because we have taught them that the law is lifeless.  We've stripped the cases of all humanity.  We talk about cases as if they are just impersonal scripts, and, in the process, our students begin to feel like the lawyer's job is just to keep the machine going.  That they are a cog in a process that lacks life.  That law school is not a place to learn about how to make the world better but rather just a place that keeps the world going, faltering along, without improvement, growth, or hope.  Our students start to think that justice has very little to do with the law.  

Perhaps that is true.  But, it need not be so.  That's because in a common law system the law grows out of relationships and arguments presented by real people to real people to resolve real disputes based on real appeals to the heart.  So, as we teach our students, I need to help them empower themselves to speak boldly and think deeply about what the right thing to do is (and why).   And, when I do that, my students start to sit up straight, they take notice, they start pondering, thinking, and, of course, learning...because they realize that they do have something to say, something that is important, something that might actually someday make a powerful impact in the lives of others when incorporated into the common law.  In fact, our world needs their voices - all of their voices in order to realize justice for all.  

If you're looking for a place to learn how to incorporate justice into your teaching, here's a great source.  Professor Michael Sandel has a free web platform that focus on teaching justice with much of the discussion based on the law and litigation. And, in the process, you'll see a masterful teacher helping his students develop into learners.  http://justiceharvard.org/justicecourse/   (Scott Johns).

March 30, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Impact of Words

Yesterday, as I was leaving the supply room, heading towards the floor where my office is located, I overheard a conversation that stopped me in my tracks. I saw a student filling her water bottle as a professor approached her. The professor communicated how impressed she was with the student’s performance on an assignment, emphasized positive aspects of the assignment, touted the student’s abilities, and praised her for thinking outside the box. I was drawn to this exchange by an unmistakable display of enthusiasm which radiated on the student’s face. Although this student has excelled academically, she appeared excited, amazed, and touched by the professor’s positive words. The student indicated to the professor and me that this encounter made her day. As it is rare to witness positive affirmations in the law school environment, a few kind and genuine words can create a jolt of confidence that can carry students a long way.

Merriam-Webster defines affirmation as: “a positive assertion.” I understand that the word affirmation comes from the Latin “affirmare” which means “to make steady, strengthen.” Words are very powerful. When we verbally affirm another’s dreams and ambitions, we are instantly empowering them with a deep sense of reassurance that our wishful words will become reality. Law school can shake a student’s confidence regardless of how self-assured that student is. A law school community should always encourage and help strengthen students by reminding them of their aspirations and goals.

I find that affirmations are a way of helping students rewire their brains, thus creating a positive and supportive environment that helps with their overall well-being and academic improvement. I do not provide students with affirmations on a regular basis but whenever I do, I am genuine and strive to ensure I communicate positives that support and strengthen students when it appears they need it. Then I empower them to do what they need to do next. Some of the words I share include reminding students that they "possess the qualities necessary to be successful otherwise they would not be here at the law school"; they "have the ability to conquer challenges as their potential for success is infinite given the challenges they have already overcome to be here"; and "each obstacle in their way is carving their path towards greatness."  Words are powerful, have impact, and can strengthen students by helping them believe in their potential to manifest their dreams. (Goldie Pritchard)

March 29, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 24, 2017

A Simple Song

It's difficult to write simply.  Many students make the mistake of trying to "sound like a lawyer" when they write, when really the goal should be to sound like a newspaper.

To improve your writing, train yourself to cut.  James Joyce is considered one of the giants of English literature.  Years ago, I saw a draft of his novel, Ulysses, where he'd crossed out every word on the page except "eeled."

If you haven't done so already, make sure you do a lot of practice questions before exams (and actually write them out -- don't outline or bullet point).  When you go over your answers, see what can be cut.  For example:

Wordy Answer

The first issue that we must consider is whether Skippy can correctly argue that he has acquired title to the land through the doctrine of adverse possession.  In determining whether adverse possession can be applied, courts look to several factors.  Those factors are use that is open, continuous for the statutory period, exclusive, actual, and notorious.  If any of these elements are not met, adverse possession fails.  Skippy has several good arguments, although Slappy, the landowner, will argue that the land was not gained through adverse possession.  First, Skippy's use was open in that ....

Direct Answer

Skippy

A person gains title to land through adverse possession if he or she engages in use that is open, continuous, exclusive, actual, and notorious for the statutory period.  Here, Skippy's use was open because Slappy would have seen the well if he went onto the land to look; it was continuous because ....

Practice cutting by taking a pen and marking out the extraneous stuff until you can cut in your head as you write.

Cutting is a skill that will serve you well in practice, teaching, or whatever it is you decide to do with your law degree.  Be direct.  Be simple.  Avoid Latin.  Only use a word like antidisestablishmentarianism if you're drunk.  Think Hemingway, not Faulkner.  Punk rock, not Prog rock.  Rothko, not Bosch.  Your clients, employees, graders, or students will thank you.

The Shins -- Simple Song

March 24, 2017 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

It Takes a Village

“It takes a village” or “it takes a village to raise a child” are sayings that we often hear. The origins of these sayings are unclear and there is much dispute about the origins. It is primarily thought that these sayings originate from an African proverb which states: “it takes a village to raise a child.” Some also believe the saying has Native American roots. Here, my discussion is centered on the relevance of these sayings in relation to the work of Academic Support professionals. In this context, I am highlighting the collective social responsibility our law school community shares for one another and particularly for the students we serve. We all have a concern for the morale and overall well-being of the community.

In our law school communities, there are individuals, visible and invisible, who contribute to the daily and overall functioning of our institutions. These individuals can, and often do, have a profound impact on students, providing them with support in a variety of ways. The individuals I am referring to are the administrative assistants, custodial and janitorial staff, librarians, teaching assistants, and general clerical or other support staff. These individuals interact with students in different ways than students do with faculty and administrators, probably because students view them as “regular and average” individuals rather than individuals in positions of authority. I have found that students often share more personal information with these individuals because they have regular interactions with them. As students typically stick to study spaces, they are more likely to run into a teaching assistant or a custodian. Also, students might communicate their stresses and fears as they drop-off or pick-up materials from administrative assistants. The best aspect of these interactions is that most of these visible and invisible individuals are familiar with campus and community resources because they are a part of both of those communities. Through their relationships with communities, they are often able to provide students with moral support, words of encouragement, and a piece of familial nurturing, something rarely found in the law school environment and something certain ethnic and cultural groups desire.

Why then are these individuals mentioned above an asset to Academic Support professionals? They are an asset because they not only provide valuable insights into the habits, culture, and concerns of students, but also alert Academic Support professionals to things they might want to implement. By interacting with the lady at the welcome desk, I was urged to become a notary to provide a free service to students who could not afford to pay to have bar application documents notarized. By speaking with a custodian, I learned about a student who slept on campus during the final exam period for fear of missing early morning exams, thus enabling us to find alternate options for the student. By overhearing a conversation between a student and a teaching assistant, I learned that some students were unable to afford food therefore a colleague and I jointly developed creative ways to inform students about the food bank on campus.

The best part of all of this is that interactions are mutually beneficial: students find the support they need and the visible and invisible members of our community share the enthusiasm of having students who look like them or hail from similar backgrounds attend a professional school and work towards becoming a lawyer.

It is noteworthy to mention here that regardless of a law student’s family name or place of origin, career growth or development, each student's academic success and degree completion metaphorically "belongs to the entire law school community." And for those of us who grew up in rural areas in Africa or as members of certain ethnic and cultural groups, ingrained in our experiences is the idea that we all share in our successes, achievements, and challenges. (Goldie Pritchard)

March 22, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Study Supports Memory Palaces

There's a new study out that once again supports the effectiveness of creating a memory palace when one is trying to memorize a large amount of information:  Memory Palaces.

I'm a big fan of the practice because 1) it works and 2) it's kind of fun.

This spring, the students are facing a lot of open book exams, so there's been the usual need to remind all of them that "open book"  does not mean they don't have to memorize.

Although, as pointed out by Johnny Thunders, memory does have its downside:

Johnny Thunders -- You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory

(Alex Ruskell)

 

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

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 pause...and...in 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).  http://www.values.com/optimism

(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: http://www.americanbar.org/nominations  (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

Pants

(Alex Ruskell)

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