Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Thoughts on starting at a new school

After a 2 month absence, I am back on the blog, and a huge thank you to Amy for covering for me while I was moving!

One of the things I noticed as I was perusing past posts is the number of ASP positions that have opened up recently. Several schools will be hiring new people in the coming months, and here are my preliminary, abbreviated thoughts on starting in a new position in ASP:

1) Figure out the reporting structure:

You need to know who you will report to, and if that is a different person from the one that writes your evaluation. In past positions, I have reported to the head of legal writing, the assistant dean for academic affairs, the dean of students, and the dean of the law school. You need to know if the person who gives you assignments also writes your evaluation.

2) When you know who you report to, make sure you know what their priorities are:

It's great to hit the ground running, but it's not so helpful if you come with a stellar plan for 1L ASP when your supervisor really wants you to focus on bar prep, 2L remediation, or intro to law/orientation programs. Before you start planning, you need to figure out where you should be spending the bulk of your time and energy.

3) Know the evaluation structure:

At some schools, this is anything but transparent. Know who is evaluating you, and how you will be evaluated. Ask a lot of questions if evaluations are a black box of opacity--opacity is not always a bad thing. I've  worked at a school where evaluations were never talked about with supervisors; if there was a problem, they let me know early so I could fix the issue and move on. At that school, evaluations were not the time to discuss performance--performance was an ongoing topic of discussion, because growth was an ongoing project. I've been at (one) other school were opacity was a terrible thing; evaluations were subjective and designed to humiliate, so everyone knew who was "boss" at the law school. The evaluation structure was whatever the evaluator wanted to use, from any period of time.

4) Know what your admin. assistant/secretary can and cannot do for you:

Your admin will be your lifesaver or your worst enemy; try, try, try not to make your admin your worst enemy. Ask colleagues what your admin can and cannot do for you. Some law schools have one faculty secretary, and that person is overworked, yelled at, and stressed out all the time--do not make their life harder than it already is. Other law schools have several admins, and you are expected to delegate many tasks to them. But you cannot assume the latter; ask your colleagues.

5) Know where to get lunch, and if people lunch together (or, get to know the social culture):

The social culture of a school is critical; if you misread the social culture, it can damn you professionally. The social culture at UMass is wonderful--relaxed, and collegial. Uconn-Storrs (distinct from the law school) had a much more formal social culture, but one that was incredibly welcoming, warm and genuine. Uconn-Storrs has a very unique culture; everyone lunches together, everyday, at noon, in a conference room.  Few law schools do this, but it was fantastic. I learned the informal rules of the office that way; I learned who to ask for what, when; and I learned how I could help people. One of the things I will miss most about UConn is lunching with colleagues everyday.

I am sure I will have much more to add about starting at a new school. But for now, I need to get back to writing a new syllabus and reading for my upcoming Property class. (RCF)

 

July 30, 2013 in Advice, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Getting the Most Out of Conferences

I would like to start with a wonderful experience I just had, that is, attending the AASE conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.  As I was coming home on the plane, I got to thinking about the importance of being ASPish when attending a conference.  Here are some thoughts:

 Before:  The week beforehand, think about what your goals are for the conference.  This could include gaining a specific area of knowledge, a skill, getting started on publishing, finding a mentor, joining leadership, acquiring course materials or relevant syllabi. Read the program and think about which sessions you will go to.  If you have a buddy, agree to exchange information from the sessions you attend.

 During:  Make a friend. We all need someone you can call in our dark moments when we need advice or support from someone who knows what it is you are going through.  Having someone you can bounce ideas off of without embarrassment is a wonderful thing. Be a friend.  Offer to send someone your materials or give some advice about something.

Take good notes.  For my learning style, it is essential that I take notes.  Whether you use a computer or handwrite, keep a section in your notes with action items to do when you get home. Add to the action items as you go through the conference and as ideas you want to use arise.  Monitor your progress on your conference goals.  Sit at a table for a meal with people you do not know and get to know them.  Take advantage of the social activities (board games!).  It is a great way to get to know people and also to have fun.

Find and tell a presenter from last year how what they spoke about made a difference in what you did over the last year.  Fill out evaluations as you are in the presentation.  We all know the importance of feedback and since we are all ASPish, the feedback will be positive and concrete. Pace yourself – take a nap?  Even extroverts can be overwhelmed at ASP conferences! If provided, put handouts in your folder on left side, program on right.  Keep receipts in you folder on left side so that when you return you can do your reimbursement request right away. 

 After:  When you get back, print your notes and put them in a binder. Or, if you are not a paper person, scan handouts, especially those that are lessons “in a box” and put them on a thumb drive or in a computer file for easy access. If the conference materials were provided on a thumb drive write on it with a Sharpie or tag it with the date, conference title and location. Follow up with emails or phone calls to your new friends. Send out at least one email to students (and your Dean) with a nugget you got from the conference the first week you are back. Send a thank you to the dean of one of the coordinators, presenters or send thank you to a sponsor.  Fill out you reimbursement request.  Scan your notes and materials for the best websites referenced and add those websites to your favorites.  Order desk copies of new books you heard about.  Practice using tools you learned about i.e. pollev.com (thanks Russell!)

 Finally,  prepare a lesson or workshop using a technique or information you gained from the conference.  Conferences provide a wonderful experience, looking forward to seeing you all next year in Indianapolis. (Bonnie Stepleton)

 

June 13, 2013 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Physician, Heal Thyself: Taking My Own Advice

It’s summer now.  All of the exams are scored, grades assigned. It’s time for a little reflection….

It occurred to me at the recent inaugural AASE conference (which was great, by the way!) that
this last year was really busy for me.  Not in a “Wow, I surely did accomplish a lot this year” way, but in a “Man,this year was so busy that I feel like I got very little accomplished” way. 

If you are like me, then any given day during the semester could look something like this:

    9:00 a.m.:        Eat breakfast while returning yesterday’s e-mails.

    9:45 a.m.:        Make a to-do list of the things I want to accomplish today.

    10:00 a.m.:      1-on-1 meeting with struggling 2L.

    10:30 a.m.:      1-on-1 meeting with 1L.

    11:00 a.m.:      Prep for 1:00 class.

    11:15 a.m.:      Interrupt prep to meet with a walk-in student.

    11:30 a.m.:      Return to class prep.

    11:45 a.m.:      Another drop-in.

    12:00 p.m.:      Skip lunch to complete class prep.

    1:00 p.m.:        Teach class.

    3:00 p.m.:        Return to office for office hours.

    4:00 p.m.:        Grab lunch.

    4:15 p.m.:        Eat lunch at desk while reviewing a past exam for the next student meeting.

    4:30 p.m.:        Place partially eaten lunch on credenza and meet with struggling 1L. 

    5:00 p.m.:        Ask 5:00 appointment to be patient, because the 4:30 meeting is going long.

    5:10 p.m.:        Begin 5:00 appointment. 

    5:30 p.m.:        Ask 5:30 appointment to wait about 10 minutes.

    5:50 p.m.:        Apologize to 5:30 appointment for the late start. 

    6:55 p.m.:        End 5:50 appointment, which went over an hour due to my “late start guilt.”

    6:56 p.m.:        Look at partially eaten lunch on credenza.  Decide to take a bite.

    6:57 p.m.:        Throw partially eaten lunch away.  It has turned.

    7:00 p.m.:        Call my wife, and tell her that I’m working late tonight.

    7:05 p.m.:        Work on faculty committee work.

    8:30 p.m.:        Begin reviewing today’s e-mails. 

    8:45 p.m.:        Begin reviewing student work sent in today’s e-mail.

    9:30 p.m.:        Look at the list of things I meant to accomplish today. 

    9:35 p.m.:        Choose to leave work notwithstanding 90% of my to do list is not done. 

    9:36 p.m.:        Promise to do better tomorrow.

    10:15 p.m.:      Grab dinner at a drive through to eat at home.

    11:00 p.m.:      Go to bed.

    1:00 a.m.:        Wake up with indigestion.

    1:05 a.m.:        Check e-mail before going back to sleep.

    1:10 a.m.:        Return e-mail from a troubled student. 

    1:11 a.m.:        Troubled student responds.

    1:13 a.m.:        Respond to troubled student.

    1:15 a.m.:        Troubled student responds.

    1:17 a.m.:        Respond to troubled student with a very clear, “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

    1:20 a.m.:        Troubled student responds with “just one last question.”

    1:22 a.m.:        Respond to troubled student.

    1:25 a.m.:        Troubled student responds. 

    1:30 a.m.:        Turn off my phone and promise to e-mail troubled student tomorrow.

Does this seem at all familiar to you?  Am I crazy?  Because I have to be honest with you, I originally was trying to be funny when drafting the sample day above.  But it occurred to me by the time that I finished that it was all too realistic.  I absolutely have days like this.  A lot of them.  And please note that as I string days like these together, there’s nothing on that list that says “spend six uninterrupted hours working on scholarly writing” or “go off-campus for a weekly afternoon of community service at local high school” or “work out” or “read for fun” or “eat lunch at a reasonable hour” or “write that blog post that you promised Amy Jarmon months ago.”

As I think about this, I wonder how I get anything done.  I’m so busy, and there’s always so much to do.  I’m not complaining, mind you.  I like to be busy.  But I realize, looking at the schedule above, that my days are so full that a lot is getting missed.  I realize now, in my head, that my thoughts sound a lot like a law student’s:

                “I don’t have time to do everything.”

                “Where am I supposed to find the time?”

                “I’m working really hard, but I always feel behind.”

                “I have so much to read.  I can’t get anything else done.”

                “I can’t think beyond tomorrow.”

                “I’m not sure how I’m going to get everything finished.”

                “I’m not getting enough sleep.”

                “I don’t have much personal time.”

                “I’m not procrastinating.  I just can’t get to things until just before they are due.”

                “I don’t know where I’m going to find the time to get all of my work done.”

                “I guess I’ll just do the best I can.”

I hear these complaints from law students every day.  And I genuinely believe that I give them really good advice.  So, I wonder, how might I advise myself?  Here is some simple, familiar advice that I now offer to myself, and possibly to those of you who are like me:   

        1. Make a schedule.

Plan out what you want to accomplish each day.  Don’t just put “write” or “work” on your calendar.  Plan days with detail. For example, set aside reasonable stretches of time to work on
individual tasks.  Keep in mind all that you must accomplish in a given day.  Set aside time in your schedule to accomplish each task and to complete the tasks overall.   

In addition, engage in long-term planning.  Look weeks (even months) ahead to see what deadlines exists or what longer projects must be completed.  Estimate the amount of total time that you need to complete those projects and then spread the bigger tasks out, working on a little bit at a time, rather than trying to accomplish all of it at once.  All nighters are often a reflection of poor planning.  If you plan better, hopefully you won’t be spending the last day or two before a deadline working insanely to finish your project. 

        2. Focus on one thing at a time.

Even though we all think we can multitask pretty well, you might find it helpful to isolate certain tasks.  When writing, find an environment that is free of distractions – though you should know yourself and avoid an environment that is too quiet, if you know you won’t be productive there.  An hour spent meaningfully on one task is probably more efficient than three hours spent on that one task while simultaneously trying to accomplish other goals or spending those hours in a state of distraction. 

        3. Build in time to care for yourself.

It is important to eat and work out and spend time with family.  Don’t just expect that time to appear.  Plan it out.  Put “Lunch” in your schedule, and put “Work Out” in your schedule at specific times.  Then, respect those times.  From now on, you are unavailable to do work during those times.  You’re going to feel better if you eat and exercise regularly, and the remaining hours in the day will be more energized and productive. 

        4. Prioritize tasks.

On busy days, figure out what must be done and what can wait.  Reschedule a meeting if you must; ask for extra time on a task when you can.  Then spend your day focusing on the most important things but avoiding the guilt about the other, less important things.

        5. Do not allow one task to dominate your time

It is all too easy to get sucked into working on one task to the exclusion of all others.  Don’t let this happen.  Even though you have prioritized tasks, and one seems (or is) more important than the others, do not let that one task allow you to fail on all the others.  I see this all the time with my students who are working on writing assignments.  The writing assignment is due this week.  It will get a grade.  It seemingly is the most important thing on the schedule.  Students work all day and night on the writing, simultaneously falling behind in reading, outlining, class attendance, and other obligations they have.  While working on the paper with extreme multi-day focus is actually an understandable decision when one is taking a snapshot view of a student’s life, less so when looking at the “movie” version.  Decisions have consequences, even the well-intended decision to focus on only one thing that happens to be due this week.

        6. Grind.

Sometimes, you will find yourself in a position where you will have to grind.  By that I mean that you will be busy, tired, working late, irritable (is that allowed in ASP?), hungry, and overwhelmed, among other things.  But you have to press forward; keep working and check things off of that to do list.  Things will settle down, especially if you plan ahead a little better, and you’ll be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

        7. Just start working.

If you’re feeling paralyzed about work, sometimes the best thing you can do is start working.  Overwhelmed by the amount of research you need to accomplish in order to write a scholarly article? Just sit down at your computer and start writing the article, figuring out the finer points of research focus as you go.  Need to grade exams, just pick one up and start reading it.  Need to give Paula Manning-type feedback on a paper, just get started.  Need to write a blog post, just tap into your thoughts and get started.  Don’t worry about perfection, just do some work. 

One of my favorite pieces of advice for students who are having trouble outlining is the advice to just get started.  The task seems so overwhelming to them, so I say this:  Imagine riding a bicycle on flat ground, or maybe even a little uphill.  When you first get started, you have to stand up, shifting your weight on the pedals, rocking the bike side-to-side, in order to build momentum slowly.  But, after you have momentum, you find that the pedaling is easier, you can sit down on the seat, and you can still keep up your pace with less intense effort.  So, dig down and spend a little extra energy to just get started.  You’ll find that once you do, the going forward is much easier, as is forming the belief that you are able to keep moving forward.

I am going to follow my own advice.  Starting today.  (Well, maybe tomorrow, because today is almost over.)  Ask me at the end of the summer if I finished my article and book.  If I don’t give you the right answer, point me back to this blog post.  Please.  Because it’s going to be busy in the fall.  Really busy.  So the time for productivity and accomplishment is now. 

Happy and productive summer months, one and all!

 (Russell McClain)

June 10, 2013 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Should I take a course just because it is bar tested?

As Amy stated in her post regarding Academic Advising, thinking about whether a course is bar tested is an important aspect of registration planning.  Often, I am asked, “Should I take all of the courses that are bar tested?”  My answer (as it is in many situations) is:  “It depends…”

Therefore, when confronted with this question from students, I ask them a series of questions in return.  This self-assessment helps students to become experts in their own learning and helps them to set appropriate learning goals for their future.  Here are a few sample questions for your students to consider: 

  • How have you performed in your first year?
  • Was legal writing difficult?
  • Do you prefer multiple choice exams or essay exams? 
  • Can you identify characteristics you valued in your first year professors?
  • Can you identify characteristics you disliked or did not work for your learning style?
  • Did you have closed book, timed exams in your first year?  If yes, how did you perform?
  • Do you prefer large classes or small seminars?
  • If your first year was (extremely) challenging, have you been able to assess why?
  • What areas of law interest you most?
  • Do you have a clear career plan?  Practice area/job prospects/jurisdiction?
  • What would be your ideal law school schedule?

 Once these questions have been answered, I can more specifically address whether students may need to take certain bar tested courses or whether they need to work on other skills to help them succeed in law school and beyond.  Taking bar tested courses merely for the bar exam is unwise.  However, there are situations where taking more bar tested courses may be helpful.

If you do not have time to meet with students individually, you can give them a list of questions like these to review on their own.  Once they have taken some time to reflect, you can post general advice regarding the skills necessary to pass the bar exam, how specific courses may help build those skills, and the specific subjects tested on the bar exam in your jurisdiction.  This will help guide their course selection and will give them a better idea of what to expect on the bar exam.

(LBY)

April 18, 2013 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Academic Advising and Registration

The mandatory meeting for first-year students (optional for upper-division students) to discuss our registration process for next year's classes was held last week.  Registration will start next week.  For first-year students, the process can create a great deal of stress because it is another "unknown" to them.

The Associate Dean for Academic Affairs explained the ins and outs of the curriculum requirements beyond the first-year required classes.  The Registrar explained the actual procedures for registration. 

And then the rumor mill started to make the process even more stressful.  The sources were sometimes upper-division students' comments but often just from imagination: 

  • Horror tales about registration for rising 2L students (computer freezes, no places in popular courses because rising 3Ls will take all the spots, long wait lists, etc.) while ignoring changes in the system and statistical realities. 
  • Rumors that students will fail if they get Professor X while swearing they will get an A with Professor Y - even though course statistics do not reflect these guarantees. 
  • Rumors playing up the fear factor of different professors' exams or teaching styles or course topics and ignore that different students learn and test better in different ways and have different backgrounds and interests. 
  • Moanings about the audacity of the law school's hiring of unknown visitors/new hires/adjuncts who cannot be easily pigeon-holed.

So what is the 1L student to do to survive registration and choosing the best class schedule?  Here are some tips that I give students when they consult with me:

  • Know the requirements for graduation: credit hours, normal course loads, required doctrinal courses, skills development courses, writing courses, certificate programs, dual degree programs.
  • Think ahead beyond the next semester to the full academic year and the next academic year - how will fall 2L courses impact spring 2L courses and how will 2L courses influence the 3L courses. 
  • Consider summer school credits (including study abroad) if the student plans to attend and know the policies that are involved.
  • Have alternate course choices in mind in case a class is closed out entirely or only waiting list spots are open at the time the student registers.
  • Take a balanced course schedule by considering paper versus exam courses, required versus elective courses, large versus seminar courses, difficult topics for the student versus topics that come more easily, hands-on skills courses versus traditional courses, courses that interest the student versus ones that have less appeal, law versus dual degree courses (if applicable), and other factors.
  • Watch out for prerequisites that are needed for later courses or clinics that the student wants to take.
  • Talk to professors about elective courses that sound interesting but are only briefly covered in the course descriptions to find out more about the courses.
  • Talk to professors in specialty areas in which the student may want to practice to get advice on courses that would be beneficial for background.
  • Consider courses that will give background for the bar exam but which may not be required courses for one's law degree. 
  • Talk to multiple students who have taken a course/professor in the past because variety of input will likely highlight pros and cons rather than one-sided feedback.
  • Look at the exam schedule to see what the grouping of exams will be like for particular combinations of courses (available at our school prior to registration).

With careful thought and planning, registration can be a less stressful experience for students.  Faculty, administrators, and others can provide guidance as students weigh the pros and cons of different course choices.  (Amy Jarmon) 

 

April 3, 2013 in Advice, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Academic dishonesty and academic distress

Many law students and law professors think the student most likely to be involved in academic dishonesty is the gunnar. The gunnar will do anything to get ahead, including cheating or plagiarizing materials. The gunnar is the student that either impresses or annoys the professor, and either annoys or terrorizes classmates. The gunnar cheats because they want to be number one, and don't care how they become number one.

As an ASP professional, I see a different type of student involved in academic dishonesty, the student who is not deliberately breaking the rules, but is willing to do anything to survive. This is the student who will take any advice about how to succeed, because they know they are barely keeping their head above water. Unfortunately, this is also the type of student who is trying so many different strategies, that they fall behind in their legal writing projects or homework assignments for class. In desperation, they copy from commercial sources, copy from models of legal writing assignments, and break rules about collaboration on graded assignments. Unlike the gunnar, this type of student doesn't always see what they are doing as dishonest. Because they don't understand why they don't understand what is being taught, they assume everyone must be using these methods to survive.They rationalize their choices, which blinds them to the depth of their challenges.

I find that this type of student is sometimes the most difficult for an ASP professional. Oftentimes, we have built a strong relationship with the struggling student, and we know how hard they are trying. We see the student as a someone doing everything they can to succeed, so we blind overselves to the possibility that they may be turning in materials that are not their true work product. It is only when another professor turns the student in for breaking the honor code or academic policy that we see what they student has been doing.

It is important for ASP professionals to recognize that some of our most beloved students, the students we see trying so hard to succeed, are also capable of academic dishonesty. It does not serve the student or the profession to overlook their actions. It is emotionally difficult to confront a student about academic dishonesty, but it is essential to their personal and professional development. (RCF)

March 18, 2013 in Advice, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Leave Your Point of View at the Fact Pattern Door: Part 2 of 2 (Guest post by Seth Aiken, UMass Law)

In the first installment of this post, I suggested that for some law students, life experience and a strongly held point of view can get in the way of law school success. “Older” students, having lived and worked and experienced a little more than most of their peers can tend to let their own point of view and perceptions about the world interfere with legal reasoning. Rather than seeing the legally significant issues in a fact pattern, they focus on the implausibility of the facts and how unlikely or unfair a scenario seems in the context of their own experience or personal values.

With these students, my strategy is to have them start by adding a phrase to the beginning of the first sentence of every essay question, “On an island that you’ve never been to and where no visitors ever go…(essay question begins). I want them to remember that a fact pattern is a closed universe and that adding facts or injecting personal insights into it will only derail their best efforts.

Then I give my students five steps for looking at a fact pattern and drawing out the legally important issues:

  • Call of the Question – Start at the end of the exam and read the call of the question so you understand what you are being asked to do.
  • Acts – Rather than trying to spot and analyze whole issues, start instead by reading the fact pattern sentence-by-sentence and highlighting any act or failure to act by a party – anything someone in your fact pattern says, does, or chooses not to do.
  • Resist Judgment – You do not have enough information yet to know whether any of these acts give rise to a legally significant issue. Resist making any judgment about whether the act is relevant, worthwhile, good, bad or otherwise because all you know right now, is that somebody said or did something.
  • Elements – Assuming you studied and know all the elements of every issue you might be tested on, go to each act and consider if it could be one element of an issue. Remember, don’t skip or overlook an act just because it seems like a little thing. The seriousness or severity of the action doesn’t matter. Whether you think the action would lead to a legal action in real life doesn’t matter. What matters is whether that act in the fact pattern, taken at face value could satisfy one element of something you are being tested on. On the other hand, you don’t want to force an issue that simply isn’t relevant. Some facts ARE there to tempt you into a time-wasting, grade-crushing wild goose chase. In order to stay on target, ask:

a) Is the issue you’re thinking about within the testable universe? (i.e. DO NOT analyze a Criminal Law issue in a Torts exam.)

b) Is this issue relevant to the call of the question? (i.e. DO NOT discuss the rights of B vs. C when the question is asking only about the rights of A vs. B.)

c)  Are there other facts that satisfy each of the other necessary elements to make out this issue? DO NOT speculate about other elements based on your common sense or some past experience.

Success vs. Relevance – This is the fifth and final step I ask my students to think about because I want the word “success” to trigger a few different cautionary flags.

The success of the issue: Just because a complaining party has a weak case (weak elements) and is likely to lose doesn’t mean the issue isn’t worth raising. If you can make a good faith, “straight-faced” argument that each of your elements is supported by some fact or facts, it is probably a relevant issue, win or lose. In fact if you can make a good faith argument that MOST of your elements are supported by facts, you should raise the issue. Weak facts or a missing element bear on the success of an issue, but are never a reason to not raise it. Being able to explain to your professor why an issue fails is just as important as being able to show why an issue succeeds.

The successes a student brings into the exam:  You are walking into the exam with a point of view based in your life experience.  Your successes and accomplishments have equipped you to identify and solve many challenging problems, to relate to people and empathize with their circumstances. HOWEVER – here in this exam, you must leave those successes and accomplishments behind. Relating to the people in your fact pattern and empathizing with their circumstances will distract you from seeing what is relevant and keep you from engaging in effective legal analysis.

Seth-Thomas Aitken, UMass School of Law - Dartmouth

February 24, 2013 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Exams - Studying, Guest Column, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

As Administrators We Need to Model Head and Heart for Students

I spent seventeen years in my first career working with undergraduate and graduate students.  Then after graduating law school as a non-traditional student and practicing for some years, I decided to return to higher education and combine my education and law backgrounds.  Those earlier years in my student affairs career have certainly held me in good stead in my current ASP work.

For most of the years in my first career, I was involved not only with academic dismissals but also with disciplinary cases and, towards the end, with Honor Council cases.  I was the one who investigated cases, presented at administrative hearings, and counseled dismissed students. 

Part of my discussions with students focused on their behaviors (actions or lack of actions), consequences, rules, integrity, maturity, self-discipline, etc.  I always wanted students to learn from the situations so they could avoid future problems.  This aspect of my work was really more about the head - how to think through situations, how to see alternative courses of action, how to understand societal norms, how to implement different study strategies for success, how to behave differently, or whatever matched the circumstances. 

No matter how difficult the student had been during the process of an academic dismissal or a discipline/Honor case, I always tried to add a second part to the discussion.  I switched to the heart by focusing the end of a discussion on how the student was coping with the results (suspension, possible readmission later, permanent dismissal), how the student was dealing with the legal process if there was one when disciplinary actions applied (we took administrative actions first because too many lawyers had played around with court continuances in order to go beyond a graduation date or a transfer when we previously waited), whether the student had told their parents/spouse/others, and what the student's plan of action was for the future.

Why did I spend the time switching from head to heart matters?  Because no matter what a student had done, the student was still a human being.  Once we had dealt with the head matters, the student was still often dealing with the heart matters all alone.  Most students had not told family or friends that they were in academic or disciplinary or Honor Council trouble.  Most students had hoped to the last moment (often unrealistically) that a suspension or dismissal would not happen.  Most students were without a game plan to deal with the worst outcome.

One thing I learned early on was that if I could look beyond the failures/behaviors to the person, the student left with a different attitude than if I stayed merely aloof and clinical.  The student was more willing to take responsibility for the situation rather than blame the school, the administration, the student witnesses, the faculty member, or others involved.  The student was more willing to look at the life lessons and consider change.  The student was less likely to bad mouth the school to others later on in life.

By taking the time to treat the student as a person, to help the student decide the next steps, to listen to the fears, or to even role play how the student would tell family and friends, I allowed the healing to begin.  I allowed the student to learn that one can recognize bad decisions the student made or disapprove of/censure behaviors but still treat the person with dignity.  I let students know that someone cared about them even in unpleasant circumstances when many might say they got themselves into the situations.

At law schools, I think the head part of the process is sometimes focused on totally, and the heart process is ignored.  Students from various law schools around the country have told me about getting only an academic dismissal  letter and not being given an appointment to discuss  it.  Students have told me about being told they are "not good enough" or do not have "the right stuff" to be in law school.  They have told me about comments suggesting they will be failures in life because they could not meet law school academic standards.  The stories have come from students at both public and private law schools, at law schools in every tier, and law schools in different parts of the country.

Our profession has begun to recognize that there are "soft skills" that attorneys need and that the human element does have merit in the legal process.  I hope that we can regularly recognize the same need for the human element at our law schools when we deal with the multitude of conduct and academic problems that students are involved in during law school. 

As professional schools, we definitely need to maintain standards of conduct, integrity, and academics.  But we also need to maintain those standards while treating others as human beings during the processes. 

Few of our students are dismissed under circumstances so egregious that they are incapable of being productive and worthy members of society.  If we model combining head and heart in unpleasant circumstances, we treat students with dignity and provide a lesson that will resonate throughout their lives about how to treat others.  (Amy Jarmon)     

          

December 27, 2012 in Advice, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How should you spend your semester break if you are a law student?

We finish our exam period tomorrow afternoon.  The first-year students finished yesterday.  The building has emptied significantly since 5:00 p.m. after the last 1L exam.

Some students (especially 1Ls) have been asking what they should do over the semester break to get ready for second semester.  For the most part, I advise them to relax, rest, recharge their batteries, and renew their relationships with family and friends.

They are often surprised that I do not tell them to read a study aid for each new class or start to read their casebooks.  I realize that some of them are eager to "get ahead" and "have a leg up on their classmates" for the next semester.  However, I caution them to not get too gung-ho.

Here are some reasons why I do not suggest a bookish break:

  • Most law students are worn out after the semester and need time away from the law school routine.
  • Many law students have become myopic over the semester without a life outside of law school and need to regain perspective on life outside the law school walls.
  • Family and friends have endured the "loss" of their law student for 15 weeks and want to reconnect.
  • Brain cells are often gasping from exertion and need a Florida vacation from the heavy-lifting of cases, hypotheticals, and legal analysis.
  • Many law students have had too little sleep, too few nutritious meals, and minimal exercise for the entire semester - good habits need to be re-established.
  • Professors will skip topics in the casebooks, take a different perspective on a course from a study aid, and emphasize different angles on a course - studying/reading ahead may cause a student to go off track before the course even begins.
  • Reading a casebook or study aid without class discussion can lead to emphasizing the wrong material or, even worse, serious confusion about the material.

If a student really feels compelled to prepare for the second semester, I suggest that reading a good book on law school study skills might be more beneficial than a book about a course subject area.  Books by Michael Hunter Schwartz, Herb Ramy, Dennis Tonsing, Ruth Ann McKinney, Andrew McClurg, John Delaney, Charles Calleros, Will Huhn, or other ASP'ers and professors will likely assist students who want to become better law students during the next semester. 

Why do I say that?  Many law students read "how to succeed" books before they arrive at law school.  That is useful preparation, but I seriously think they get even more out of the books if they re-read them after they have at least one or more semesters under their belts.  What previously was merely theoretical to them now has real context. 

Students who are in their 2L and 3L years can also benefit from these books because they now realize they have specific, repeating areas of weakness that need to be addressed.  If they do not know where they are weak, then the books will help them to evaluate changes that they may need in multiple study areas.

Most of all, I think students need to have a break - that is why it is called a semester break.  It is fine to do some general evaluation of study skills and preparation to do better as a student.  However, burning oneself out with studying before the next fifteen-week marathon is just asking for trouble.  (Amy Jarmon)

 

   

December 18, 2012 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Repeat Bar Takers: "Let’s Make a Deal and Let’s Make a Plan"

When repeat bar takers come to me for assistance, there are many facets to my strategy to help them.  In previous posts, I discussed how to lend support and encouragement, how to help them diagnose their weaknesses, and how to destroy their self-doubt.  Now, the next and final phase is to start planning for their next (and final) attempt at the bar exam.

A strong plan will make a huge difference in their preparation.  I ask them to map out the next two to three months.  They can print a blank calendar; use an online program; represent days on index cards and tape them to a wall; or use a white board.  But, I find that they need a visual because it provides motivation, perspective, and a finish line.

Realistic, achievable goals are important for repeat exam takers.  Easily reached goals are ineffective; but, goals that are challenging but doable provide the incentive students need to keep progressing.  One tip is to have them use learning strategies like chunking to guide their organization of the material that they will be studying.  Taking small chunks or pieces of subject will help them feel more in control and less overwhelmed.

Although they may get a calendar from their commercial bar review, since they are repeaters, I ask them to create their calendar based on their individual priorities and needs. They may need to spend more time memorizing, or more time on a particular subject, or they may need to concentrate their time on essay writing practice.  In multistate jurisdictions, some students may need to devote more time to the MBE questions than the written portion or vice versa.  Yes, they need to study every subject and they need to practice within every subject, but I want their schedule to reflect the specific needs we have diagnosed. 

In addition to creating a calendar outlining their study schedule, I ask them to infuse a few “rewards” into their daily or weekly routines.  For some, a reward will be time for an exercise class or a run around the lake.  For others, it will be enjoying happy hour with friends on a Friday night.  For students with children, it is carving out time to suit the needs of their family.  It is a mistake to leave these soul- filling, stress releasing activities off of their schedules.  Plus, when a productive environment with sufficient break time is created, the student is less likely to procrastinate.

Before they leave my office, the reality is that I may never see them again, so I not only try to get them to make a plan, I also try to get them to make a deal.  The deal is that they commit to passing the exam this time around.  While this seems like a simple statement, the ripple effect is powerful.  They have made a conscious decision in my presence to begin again and declare their ability to pass.  Now, they are ready, they are empowered, and they are equipped with the tools to help them succeed. 

Best wishes to all of the repeater exam takers this coming February!

Lisa Young

December 13, 2012 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Times They are a Changin'

There has been a shift in focus at many law schools across the country due to the ever changing legal market, the downturn in the economy, and the push for reforms in legal education. When change takes place as a reaction to outside forces, it is not always done thoughtfully with a deliberate action plan.  Reacting is limiting and may lead to unfavorable results.  Responding, rather than reacting, will lead to changes that are logical, intentional, and will help create a positive momentum system wide.

How does this shift affect Academic Support Professionals and the services we provide students?  A reaction to the change in our student body, whether it is their LSAT scores, the numbers of students enrolling, or their undergrad GPAs, could deplete academic support services to students if the services provided are not highly valued or acknowledged as a benefit.  Funding for such programs may be transferred to areas in the law school that directly feed advancement in US News rankings or to other programs that shine a spotlight on the school. 

However, I submit that when academic support services are viewed as integral parts of the law school curriculum, students benefit, law schools benefit, and the legal profession benefits.  It is counter intuitive to think that support services for students can be reduced during these changing times; but, I know it is happening.  I am lucky that my institution values academic support but I know that many other ASPers face a more troubling reality.  Yet, students, more now than ever, need academic support professionals to guide them through their arduous law school experience. 

If students are entering law school with lower UGPAs and LSATs, Academic Support Programs should be expanded to meet the needs of their student populations not minimized to fit shrinking budgets.  While budget issues are a real concern, providing much needed academic support and graduating practice ready students are arguably more important.  Academic Support Professionals are uniquely situated to guide students throughout their law school journey, especially non-traditional students or those with risk factors that may impede their success.

How should we as Academic Support Professionals respond to these changing times?  I think we can all construct a lengthy list in our minds as to why the services we provide are essential to the educational growth of our students. However, I urge you to go one step further.  Write down your list and share it with as many members of the faculty and administration at your law school as you can.  In doing this, you have enlightened others (that have power and influence) as to the many ways in which you shape the law school community.  You have also identified ways in which you can help respond to the ever-changing nature of legal education and the makeup of your student body.

Another response is to assess and evaluate your program.  While many of us do this already, we could all benefit from taking some time to revisit the idea and determine whether we are reaching our desired outcomes.  How is your program currently being assessed?  What can you learn from the data that has been collected?  Is there something else that should be included?  Reflecting on what is working and what needs improvement will enhance the quality and efficiency of your program and will keep you directly engaged with carrying out its mission.

Lastly, a great way to respond to the changing nature of legal education is to get more involved in the discussion.  Think about presenting a new or innovative teaching method or step up to present a work in progress.  The more that we as a community can support each other and highlight the essential nature of our work, the more valuable we are individually to our respective law schools and collectively as a whole.  Consider collaborating with others and finding ways to get involved.  By responding, rather than reacting, to the changing times, we will make a positive impact on our law students and on our profession.

Lisa Young

October 1, 2012 in Advice, Current Affairs, Publishing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Overcoming a fear of public speaking

I have spent the past three weeks teaching gifted 10, 11, and 12 year olds in Palo Alto, CA. I do this every summer, and I learn a lot from the kids. I teach college-level Model United Nations and Advanced Geography, and all the students are required to formally address the class about their nation's position on the issue involved in the simulation.  This year, the class had a student who was terrified of public speaking. Her terror mirrored what I see in 1L's approaching moot court. I learned a great deal from this student as she overcame her fear and went on to be on the the class's strongest advocates.

1) Trust rules of procedure.

The student, who I will call A, learned that rules of parliamentary procedure were her friend. All students needed to follow the rules, so she knew what to expect when she was asked to speak. No one could yell out or distract her, or they would be violating the rules. While moot court doesn't use rules of parliamentary procedure, there are rules that protect the speaker. Many students with a fear of public speaking are afraid of public ridicule, and the rules associated with moot court prevent the heckling they fear.

2) Preparation will make you feel better.

A knew her position on the issues. She could answer any question. She knew she had done the research. Her paper was approved by two different teachers. These steps helped allay some of her fears that she would be asked a question that she could not answer. Some of her fear of public speaking was a fear of being caught off-guard. Preparation, and guidance, make a huge difference when a student fears public speaking.

3) Everyone makes mistakes.

A was not the first speaker, which allowed her to listen to her classmates before she had to speak. We asked her to listen for mistakes, because even the best, most fluid speakers make mistakes. When she saw that the mistakes did not mar the substance of most speeches, she was able to relax.

4) If you feel the ideas flying out of your head, stop talking. Take a deep breath. Start again.

When A realized that no one would heckle her if she forgot part of her speech, it calmed her nerves. But we still needed to reassure her that she could forget her speech, and she could take a second to regain her composure and resume speaking. She had a 60-second time limit on her speech (far less than most appellate arguments in moot court) but she still had enough time to take a deep breath and start again if she felt like she was losing control. Just the knowledge that she could take a second helped keep her calm during her first few speeches to the class.

For those of you who are thinking "but the stakes are SO much higher in law school," take a minute to recall being in middle school. This class was filled with super-competitive, ambitious, and gifted middle school students who have never failed at anything in their short lives. These students choose to take a college-level class during their summer vacation. The thought of making a mistake feels life-altering to them. Because they live in dorms while they take the class, they cannot escape from their peers. The fear that A felt is not much different from the fear felt by 1L's. (RCF)

 

August 14, 2012 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Congratulations on finishing your first year! Now what?

Amy and guests have recently written some fabulous posts for graduating law students. I am going to address students who can celebrate a different accomplishment: finishing their first year of law school. In many ways, the first year of law school is the toughest year. Students are learning new material, presented in a new format, from an unfamiliar type of book (since most colleges use textbooks, not casebooks). Here is a list of thought questions for students who have finished their first year of law school.

1) Did I meet my own goals?

It's easy to go on autopilot during the 1L year. Getting through the day, the week, and the semester are important short-term goals. However, everyone comes to law school with certain long-term goals. The time after 1L exams, but before 2L classes begin, is the ideal time to evaluate your long-term goals. Law school is an expensive, life-altering commitment. Are you meeting your own goals? If not, are these goals still in reach? What can you do to reach those goals next year? Are those goals reasonable? If your goals were reasonable and you did not reach them, should you be reworking your long-term plans?

2) What did I enjoy this year?

It's so easy to kvetch about what didn't go right. Almost no one does as well as they think they will or should do on exams. This is the time to consider what was enjoyable during the 1L year. Did you really enjoy a specific class? What did you enjoy about the class (was it the teacher, was it the material, or both?) Are there upper-division classes in this area of law or with this teacher? What are the employment prospects in this area of law? What type of clinical, externship, or volunteer experiences will I need if I want to work in this area of law? If you really liked the teacher, does the teacher employ RA's during the school year? If what you really enjoyed was something outside the classroom, how are you going to nurture that part of your life next year?

3) What should I think about changing for next year?

This is the time to really evaluate your successes and your failures. Evaluating your actions is not the same as judging yourself. don't beat up on yourself if you did not reach all your goals; figure out how to change so you can reach those goals next year. Evaluate how close you came to your goals if you did not reach them, and think about what it will take to reach them next year. If you succeeded, break down what you can replicate for the future. (RCF)

June 5, 2012 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Is law school right for you?

I have had a number of appointments lately with students who wanted to talk about the pros and cons of staying in law school.  Some of them were disappointed with their grades.  Some had outside family, medical, or financial issues that were weighing on their minds.

If you are asking yourself whether or not law school is right for you, here are some things to consider:

  • Why did you originally want to attend law school?  Are those reasons still as important to you?   Reminding yourself of why you originally enrolled can help to refocus your thinking about law school. 
  • Were your reasons tied to internal or external motivations?  You may well have a mix of motivations.  However, when the going gets tough and doubts arise, internal motivations are often more deeply supportive of your chosen path.  (Internal motivation examples: I want to help immigrant families with legal problems.  I loved working as a paralegal before law school.  External motivation examples: My parents told me I should be a lawyer.  I got turned down for medical school.). 
  • Have you changed your mind about what you want to do with a law degree?  Some students have doubts because they decide they don't like the original type of law they thought they wanted to practice.  That is okay - law includes a multitude of different legal specialties.  Some students decide they don't want to work in BigLaw.  That is okay - there are many different practice experiences: different sized firms, government work, non-profit agencies, public service.  Some students decide that they do not want to practice at all.  That is okay - there are a number of alternative careers for law graduates.  Explore practice areas and career options with your career services office.  Talk to professors and other lawyers about their careers and areas of expertise.  If you decide that another graduate degree or work experience matches your career goals better than a law degree, that is the decision you need to make   
  • Do you enjoy cases, legal concepts, and legal analysis?  If you enjoy the daily study of law, that may be a positive indicator to remain.  However, if you hate what you are doing, you may be happier in another field of study.  Note that enjoying the law is not the same statement as enjoying law school
  • Do you enjoy being in law school most days?  Law school is not an easy environment for many reasons.  If you are miserable every day, then that is not healthy for you.  However, if most of the time you deal positively with the workload and environment and keep your perspective, then you may decide that the issues you have with law school can be handled.  Most law schools have academic support professionals who can help you learn ways to study smarter rather than harder and to manage your time well.  They can also refer you to other professionals who can help you evaluate any remaining issues. 
  • Are there family or medical or other priorities that mean you need to leave law school right now?  All law students have responsibilities and circumstances that are outside the law school.  If those priorities need your focus right now to the exclusion of law school, then you need to do what is necessary to meet those obligations.  Consider the best way to meet any personal responsibilities within the options your law school provides. 
  • What are the options that you have at your law school?  You may be able to take a leave of absence, go to part-time status, or have other options at your school.  If you decide to leave at this point, make sure you follow proper procedures.  If you have financial aid, make sure you understand the ramifications of your choice.  If you can keep your options open (for example, a leave of absence), do so. 
  • Who are the people who can help you with your decision?  Talk to faculty, deans, your academic advisor, parents, mentors.  Do not try to make the decision by yourself.  Find objective people who can help you see the pros and cons.  Get as much information as possible from your law school's administration before making a decision.  Consider what you will do next if you decide to leave law school - better to have a game plan if at all possible.

Law school may be the very best match for your goals and circumstances.  However, law school may be a good match later, but the timing is off now.  Finally, if law school is not a good match for you, there is no shame in choosing a different path and walking away from this choice.  (Amy Jarmon) 

February 5, 2012 in Advice, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Guest Post on Bar Prep by Courtney Lee

This is a blog post I share with my students on the Monday before the bar exam, when they need that final push to go forth and conquer.  I write with the California Bar Exam in mind, but the general ideas can transfer to other jurisdictions. 

Tant que je respire, j’attaque! 

It’s finally here!  Hopefully you set a time today to stop studying so that you can relax and attack the exam with a fresh mind tomorrow morning.  Trust me, you’ve been studying for months and a few hours will not make much, if any, difference.  As you start to wrap things up, here are a few last-minute reminders: 

Mind the clock!

It’s the cardinal rule of bar prep:  Do not exceed 60 minutes on any California Bar essay question!  No matter how difficult a particular question may be, no good can come from spending more time on one answer at the expense of others.  A graduate once admitted to spending extra time on a question that was complex and contained a lot of issues.  He received an 85% on his answer – a terrific score – but it was not enough to compensate for the scores he received on the other essays that he had to rush through. 

Follow IRAC!

You have no greater friend on the California Bar Exam (aside from your watch) than IRAC.  Even if you encounter a “throat-clearer” issue, you can still use IRAC and make your grader happy.  For example:

Personal Knowledge

A witness may not testify to a matter unless the witness has personal knowledge of the matter.  Here, Wit saw the accident occur, so Wit has personal knowledge.

That is a very short analysis, but it still follows the IRAC format. IRAC keeps your answer organized and is what your graders want and expect to see, so don’t deviate. 

Zip your lips!

No matter how tempted you are to rush out of the testing center at lunch and double-check every detail of your answers with your friends before you forget, resist!  Graders look at your answer holistically, so why bother comparing your thoughts with someone else?  There is a Contracts question on file where the two released answers each decide differently on the UCC/Common Law issue.  Can you imagine if those two applicants had discussed their answers with each other after the exam?  Each would have spent the next four months fretting about failure, when in reality they wrote the two published answers. 

Don’t panic!

This one is difficult, but important:  If you encounter a question on which you draw the dreaded blank, do not panic.  All panicking does is waste time.  Instead, there are a couple of proactive measures you can take: 

What would my mom say?

When I took the bar, the second essay question covered a topic our commercial review professors promised would hardly be anywhere in the MBE, let alone in the essays – yet there it was.  Instead of freaking out and thinking about how certain I was that I would fail (okay, maybe I did that for a minute), I thought about the question from a lay perspective:  what would my mom, who never went to college, say if I asked her this question?  Remember, the examiners are not trying to trick you.  If you think about it logically, you probably will kick-start your brain and be able to pick out the issues and even remember some (or all) of the rules. 

Reverse Engineering

If you can’t remember a rule, read through the facts again with a critical eye. Why was Fact A included? Why was Fact B included?  The examiners tailor their questions so that almost every fact can be used in an applicant’s answer.  By reading through the facts and hunting for clues, you can probably “reverse engineer” the rule by picking out the facts that illustrate the elements. 

Finally, and most importantly:  NEVER, EVER GIVE UP!!

I was reasonably sure that I failed that second question; in fact I’m still not convinced that I got a passing score on it.  Unfortunately I also encountered a couple of other questions (not just one) concerning subjects that I did not expect to see at my sitting.  On top of all of that, I felt completely confident about five MBE questions – literally, five out of two hundred!  But none of this matters because I stayed calm, answered to the best of my ability, and passed the exam as a whole. 

So you encounter a curve ball, and you swing and miss.  So what?  That’s only one strike.  If you throw down your bat and walk away, you might miss out on hitting the game-winning home run!  Cheesy analogies aside, you simply have to stay positive and keep attacking each question with confidence, even if you have to fake it. 

The title of this entry is a quote from Bernard Hinault, who won the Tour de France five times in the 1980s.  Translated to English, it means, “As long as I breathe, I attack.”  Take that attitude with you into the bar exam for the next three days, and no matter what they throw at you, don’t let it phase you.  As long as you breathe, you attack! 

I will be thinking of and rooting for every one of you this week!! 

 

January 29, 2012 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 30, 2011

How to make the most of AALS (for new ASPer's)

This is a follow-up to our previous posts on how to make the most of conferences. AALS is a little different than LSAC conferences, and while my overall advice is the same, I am modifying slightly to adjust for the differences.

1) Don't be shy, and don't take it personally. ASPer's are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet, in any profession. Speak up and introduce yourself. If someone is not open and friendly, keep in mind that they may be jet-lagged (East Coast conferences are hard for West Coast people), overwhelmed (especially if they are on multiple executive boards and committees), or just shy themselves.

2) Attend as many sessions as you can.Be active and engaged. This is important not just for the ASP community, but for members of your law school community. I know a number of people cannot make it to this years meeting because of budget cuts at their school. By being active at AALS, you are showing your school you are worth the investment.

3) Join committees. Volunteer. Be vocal. If you want to be a leader within ASP, we have to hear from you. The ASP section is always looking for people to serve on committees; volunteer. It is not a major time commitment (but it is a commitment), and it helps people get to know you. Don't hide your light under a bushel; speak up in committees. So many times I hear from new ASPer's that they do not want to say much because they do not have enough experience. However, new voices keep the profession fresh and engaged.

4) If you have something you want to see in the blog, come talk to me or Amy. This is not an official part of the conference, but it is important to us. Amy and I have been at this blog for a while. We know there are many things that people want to hear about, but we may not necessarily think of when we are drafting posts. So tell us what you want to know more about! And if you are confident enough and have something to say, offer to draft a guest column for the blog.

5) Get up for the breakfasts; they are great networking opportunities. Okay, so many people aren't thrilled about 7am new law professor or legal writing breakfasts (thankfully, ASP is having a lunch this year). Get yourself up anyway; these are excellent networking opportunities. Yes, the food is usually terrible and expensive. Go anyway. It is your chance to talk to people you would not ordinarily meet.

I am looking forward to AALS this year, and I will be there the entire conference. Say hi. (RCF)

December 30, 2011 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Teaching Bar Takers the Importance of Accurate and Complete Rule Statements

A guest post from Ron Dees, of Washburn Law School:

A tool for teaching bar takers the importance and value of accurate and complete rule statements: 

As you all know, many times students fail to memorize and/or transcribe accurate and complete rule statements into their exam essays.  This almost always leads to incomplete analysis due to missed issues and missed opportunities to discuss facts relevant to those issues. It can also lead to incorrect conclusions. Incomplete analysis and incorrect inclusions in turn lead to lower overall scores on exams.  This is an issue that is relevant throughout law school, but is even more important on the bar exam because bar exams are rule based exams.  That is to say that legal theory and policy are not heavily tested.  What is tested on bar exams is the examinee’s ability to reach a well-reasoned conclusion by applying the rules of law to hypothetical fact situations.

Even after three years of law school, some bar takers simply don’t seem to realize the importance and usefulness of rule statements.  They sometimes seem to think of rule statements as nothing more than a technicality to be placed at the “Rule” place marker section in their IRAC or CIRAC format. Thus, it is often necessary to show them the importance of using accurate and complete rule statements. Doing so will help the student do a more complete analysis, and the student will begin to realize the added value of rule statements when shown how using rule statements as outlines for analysis makes formatting and writing essays easier. That in turn can help lower exam stress levels, because the student will feel confident that the rule they memorized during study can be used to easily format essays on exam day.

A simple table can be used as a tool for teaching the importance of accurate and complete rule statements. As the table below shows, breaking down the rule statement into its individual parts or elements allows the student to quickly form an outline for the analysis portion of their essay before they begin writing.  This outline allows them two advantages.  First, their writing will be well organized and secondly the outline serves as a checklist of items that should be discussed in the analysis.  If the rule statement is accurate and complete, the checklist will be accurate and complete, and the likelihood of missing necessary parts of the analysis is lower. If the rule statement is incomplete, the analysis may still be well organized, but vital parts of the analysis may be missing, which will cost the student potential points.

The rule for “piercing the corporate veil” is used here in IRAC format as an example:

Student A

Student B

Essay Roadmap using complete rule statement

Essay Roadmap using incomplete rule statement

Issue: Can the corporate veil be pierced to reach the personal assets of the shareholders?

 

Rule:  The corporate veil protecting shareholders from personal liability can be pierced to reach the shareholders’ personal assets if: (a) corporate formalities are ignored and injustice results; (b) the corporation was undercapitalized at the time of formation; or (c) the corporation was formed to perpetrate a fraud.

 

Analysis:

(1)Were corporate formalities ignored?

(2) If so, did injustice result from the lack of formalities?

(3) Was the corporation undercapitalized?

(4) If so, was it undercapitalized at the time of formation?; or

(5) Was the corporation formed to perpetrate fraud?

 

Conclusion: The corporate veil may not be pierced to reach the personal assets of the shareholders

Issue: Can the corporate veil be pierced to reach the personal assets of the shareholders?

 

Rule: The corporate veil protecting shareholders from personal liability can be pierced to reach the shareholders’ personal assets if: (a) corporate formalities are ignored; (b) the corporation was undercapitalized; or (c) the corporation was formed to perpetrate a fraud.

 

 

Analysis:

(1) Were corporate formalities ignored?

(2) Was the corporation undercapitalized; or

(3) Was the corporation formed to perpetrate fraud?

 

 

 

 

Conclusion: The corporate veil may be pierced to reach the personal assets of the shareholders.

 

Student A uses the complete rule as an outline, and we can see that a complete analysis will discuss the existence or non-existence of facts relating to five issues. Student B uses an incomplete rule statement, and thus is missing two sections of analysis that should potentially be included in the analysis. The missing analysis sections result directly from the missing portions of the incomplete rule statement.  This represents a lost opportunity to earn points on the essay.  The potential points for discussing resulting injustice and capitalization at the time of formation will likely be lost because the student failed to use a complete rule statement as an outline for their analysis.

Furthermore, Student B may reach an incorrect conclusion on the issues discussed due to the same shortcoming. As an example, the hypothetical may contain a fact stating that the corporation has recently become undercapitalized. Student B may thus incorrectly conclude that the veil may be pierced on the grounds of undercapitalization, because the incomplete rule statement does not contain the associated requirement of “at the time of formation.” Student A will be able to use checklist issue number four to cause her to recognize that the undercapitalization came about at a later time in the corporation’s existence and that timing must be considered.  Thus, the undercapitalization in the given hypothetical does not fulfill the requirement of “at the time of formation.” Therefore, Student A will correctly conclude that the veil may not be pierced on the grounds of undercapitalization.

An example such as this is often helpful in teaching students the importance of using precise and complete rule statements. First, it highlights how the rule statement can be used to provide a roadmap to success in the form of a complete outline for essay answers. Secondly, it highlights how the resulting outline can aid the student in formulating a complete analysis and reaching accurate conclusions.

December 12, 2011 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Essay Exam Answering Tip #120611 - Memorize

Last month, Professor Jarmon wrote a piece about the importance of memorization for earning good grades.  What she wrote is one-hundred percent accurate (of course!).   Note the two steps she recommends:

  1. Memorize the rules, exceptions to rules, methodologies, policy arguments, and so forth.
  2. Go beyond memorization.

Many students do neither.  Too many concentrate on one to the exclusion of the other. 

Some professors erroneously tell students that “law school is not about memorization.”  I say “erroneously” because, as Professor Jarmon pointed out, law school IS about memorization … and so much more.  But for the moment, let’s just focus on grades – and for most courses, that means focusing on exams. 

In order to write a high-scoring essay exam answer, a student needs to employ many skills and strategies.  Cogent presentation, high level analysis, sophisticated legal reasoning … yes, these are critical capabilities when it comes to earning “A” grades.

But one cannot earn an “A” … or a “B” … without being able to spot the issues that the professor expects to see analyzed.  In order to find issues, one must “know” the law.  In the deeper sense, to “know” the law is to understand its background, variations, nuances, subtleties, and so on.  But in the fundamental sense, to “know” the law (in the context of exam-answering) is to be able to write a rule statement without actively thinking; to “know it by heart.” 

Before walking in to a Torts final exam, a student committed to earning the best grade he or she is capable of earning ought to have learned “by heart” at least each of the following:

  • As to each tort, a statement of every “rule” – meaning a sentence or more that includes every element that must be proven to result in a determination that the tort has been committed.
  • As to each affirmative defense, a statement of every “rule” – meaning a sentence or more that includes every element that must be proven to result in a determination that the defense is viable.
  • A definition of every element, including “tests” to determine if that element can be proven.

A schematic template for constructing an essay is, essentially, included within these three categories.  Here’s a partial example:

  • To prove negligence, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed a duty to all foreseeable plaintiffs, that the defendant breached this duty by not acting in accord with the standard of care, and that this breach caused the injury to plaintiff.
  • Duty. A plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed a duty to all foreseeable plaintiffs, that the defendant breached this duty by not acting in accord with the standard of care, and that this breach caused the injury to plaintiff.
  • Standard of care. The standard of care is the degree of prudence and caution required of an individual who is under a duty of care.
  • Breach of duty. A breach issue can be looked at from (at least) two different angles ...
  • Balancing test. Liability turns on whether the burden of adequate precautions is less than the probability of harm multiplied by the gravity of the resulting injury. B<PL. 
  • Negligence per se. The three essential criteria include: that plaintiff is a member of the class intended to be protected by the statute, that the type of injury which occurred is the type the statute was enacted to guard against, and the violation was not excused. 

But a student need not memorize these 214 words.  This works:

  • Negligence – duty, breach, standard of care, cause, damage.
  • Breach – balance, per se.  Etc.

Should a student “memorize by rote”?  Ideally, no. It’s unnecessary if a student has adequately prepared for each class, produced a personal course summary (outline), and answered dozens of short-answer (and longer) practice questions.  The repetitive use of the fundamental rules to resolve tough problems imbeds the elements into the memory for most.  But not all.  That’s why memory tools are important to many law students.  (More about that later.)

Another helpful item to add to the bullet-point list above (what to memorize) is this: a list of every issue studied.  This provides an excellent checklist for the student to quickly run through during the pre-writing stage of composing the essay answer.  How much rote memorization does this entail?  Not much.  (For an example of a Criminal Law checklist, go to this link, then scroll down to Criminal Law, Checklist.)

Students must remember that the “memorization” part – the learning by heart part – is only a small part of what must be done to score high on exams.  But if a student is not able to run through the elements of each intentional tort (for example) quickly, without pausing to try to recall specifics, issues will be missed.  Don't let that happen!

{This “tip” is one of a continuing series.  Law school academic professionals are authorized to use this material in their work however they choose – and law students who read these tips are encouraged to integrate them into their practice sessions. To see where this tip fits in the grand schema: Click here.} (djt)

December 6, 2011 in Advice, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fall Finals Study Plan

Thanksgiving approaches. Time for students to commit their study plans to writing!  Here are my recommendations for students who want to prepare for exams AND enjoy their families and friends during a (partially) relaxed Thanksgiving break.

For each course, set target dates for completion of your outline (course summary), early completion of your briefing for class, and the number of practice exam questions you intend to answer.  Thanksgiving Day is Thursday, November 24, 2011. Usually, law schools have no classes on the day before, Wednesday, November 23. Reading week and exams follow shortly after the semester resumes.

For many students, time with family and friends is too important to neglect at this time of year.  Plan to relax!  Writing out your detailed study schedule before November (then sticking to it) will allow you to relax, because you will see the relaxation as PART of the study plan instead of interference with it.  

Example for Contracts class:

A.  Outline completed by November 14.
B.  All cases briefed for class by November 16.
C.  50 MBE questions answered by November 22.
D.  50 single-issue essay questions answered in writing by November 24.
E.  20 one-hour essay questions answered in outline form before reading week.
F.  15 one-hour essay questions answered under exam conditions by 3 days before exam date.

The next step is to break each of those (A through F) down into components.  How many hours per week/day do you realistically estimate it will take you to complete your outline, and to brief the cases ahead of the class schedule? Spread those hours out on your daily calendar.

Do the same for the questions you intend to answer, including notes as to the source of the questions.  You can start gathering questions today.  Here's an idea: exchange questions with your study group, to share the burden of finding questions that address the issues you need to focus on.

Do this for each class, and you'll see that you have enough time between now and the date of each exam to prepare fully, so that you can enter the exam room with well-deserved confidence!

Look in your law library for an old issue of Student Lawyer Magazine, an American Bar Association publication ... Volume 33, Number 7, dated March 2005, includes an article I wrote entitled, "A Plan for Your Exams."  The article provides a more detailed explanation of this exam study plan!  (djt)

November 2, 2011 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Essay Exam Answering Tip #103011 - Focus on Key Facts

“Legal problem solving — identifying and diagnosing problems and generating strategies and tactics to achieve client objectives — is a legally trained person’s most basic function. Most legal problem solving activity involves some legal analysis — combining law and facts to generate, justify, and assess a legal problem’s merits.” (Legal Services Practice Manual: Skills (2010) Link)

All lawsuits arise as a result of disputes involving facts. Our legal system revolves around resolving disputes through the application of rules of law to the facts of a case. Yes, trials and appeals are about “law,” but remember that the trial court judge, or the jury, is referred to as the “trier-of-fact.”  Determinations of facts are so important that the Bill of Rights guarantees that facts once decided by a jury are pretty much the last word.  The seventh amendment provides that, “...no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."  This clause forbids any court from reexamining or overturning any factual determinations made by a jury, unless the factual determinations are clearly erroneous.

The two major components of the dispute resolution process are the applicable law and the facts of the dispute.  In the professional practice of law, you will be sifting through the case file to identify which of the hundreds or thousands of facts produced by discovery (for example, witness statements, deposition transcripts, answers to interrogatories, photographs, and correspondence) are “key” facts.  Key facts are those facts  that are critical to the outcome of the case. A key fact is so essential that if it were changed, the outcome of the case might well be different.

In law school, you are practicing this skill of focusing on facts – in order for you to learn to assess legal problems, you must be able to find the important facts ... the key facts, the facts upon which the outcome of the issue in question depends. When writing an answer to a law school essay exam question, you must ferret out these salient facts from all the facts presented in the narrative. Think of them as keys that unlock point-scoring issue discussions.

But how?  Here are the basic steps to determining which facts are key facts.

  • Identify each claim possibly raised by the exam question.
  • State the rules that will be used to resolve each issue of each claim. These rules include the elements which need to be addressed in the discussion of each issue.
  • Pinpoint which facts in the question possibly relate to the elements of those issues.

This last step involves determining which facts may be legally significant. Legally significant facts might be, for example, that a tenant with an eviction notice has never been supplied with hot water; or that the shooter was an off-duty policeman; or that a party to a contract may have been a minor; or that the geographical distance between the provoking incident and the killing may have been long enough to provide adequate time for a reasonable person to “cool off” the heat of his passion.

After outlining your answer, read through the exam question one more time carefully and quickly (you should be quite familiar with the question by this time, so the reading can go much faster than it did the first time through). Make sure you have assigned all the facts presented in the hypothetical question (the exam) to some issue. If not, ask yourself if these facts suggest another issue, can be used to further explain an issue you already noted, or are merely "red herrings" (facts in the question which might lead you to an errant discussion). Then use this fact-rich outline as a roadmap for answering the question. Note that your outline need not include explanations of why facts are important – the detailed analysis comes in your answer. The outline is only your writing guide.

As for the outline, you may want to follow a traditional outline pattern (bullet points, hierarchies, mind-mapping, etc.) … or, to accent the fact-finding, you may want to think about a two-column approach. You can outline your answer using two separate columns. Specifically, you can list the issues in one column, and then note the facts that need to be discussed in relation to those rules in the column next to it. This method will allow you to match the issues or sub-issues of law with the facts of the question. Skimming through the question quickly (again) before actually writing the essay, you can quickly note if you have skipped over a fact.

Long before encountering exams, work on recognizing key facts.  Focus on key facts when you brief cases for class. Some students find that including basic fact patterns in their self-made course outlines – as illustrations of the rules that appear in the outlines – helps them think of the rules in situational terms.

Many years ago, when I was a little boy, fictional Los Angeles police Sergeant Joe Friday, hero of the “Dragnet” television series, used to say to witnesses he interviewed, "All we want are the facts." Well, there’s more to it than that when you’re trying to score high on a law school essay exam … but Sgt. Friday was zeroing in on one of the two essential components – you should too!

{This “tip” is one of a continuing series.  Law school academic professionals are authorized to use this material in their work however they choose – and law students who read these tips are encouraged to integrate them into their practice sessions. To see where this tip fits in the grand schema: Click here.} (djt)

October 30, 2011 in Advice, Exams - Theory, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)