Thursday, August 11, 2016
Stress. Oh my!
Just the thought of it hits me in the stomach. But, there's more than just stomach aches at stake.
According to law professor Debra Austin, Ph.D., excessive law school stress also harms the mind too. That's the bad news. But, here's the great news! In fact, it is really terrific news! And, it is news that we can all use…today!
But first, some background.
As the American Bar Association (ABA) reports with respect to Prof. Austin's research, in general stress weakens brain cognition. But, exercise (along with other pro-active measures) actually creates more brain cells…brain cells that we can all use (whether students or ASP'ers) to perform better and without debilitating stress: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/stress_may_be_killing_law_students_brain_cells_law_prof_says
So, as many of us begin a new year of legal studies as students and ASP'ers, it's time to take charge over stress rather than having stress take charge over us. But how, you might ask?
Here's a list of three (3) possible "anti-stress"countermeasures straight out of the research from Prof. Austin:
- Be an exerciser…because neuroscience shows that exercise provides us with "cognitive restoration."
- Get slumber time…because sleep plays "the key role...in consolidating memories." So, sleep on your studies rather than staying up all night to study!
- Engage in contemplative practices…such as mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, and focusing on the positive in gratitude…because such practices increase "the gray matter in the thinking brain," improve "psychological functions such as attention, compassion, and empathy," and "decrease stress-related cortisol," among other positives.
For all the details, please see Prof. Austin's research article Killing Them Softly: Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die From Law School Stress and How Neural Self-Hacking Can Optimize Cognitive Performance, 59 Loyola L. Rev. 791 (2013), available at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2227155
To sum up, learning - real learning - means that we all must take time…counter-intuitively...away from learning…so that we can really experience learning. So, be kind to yourself today...by resting and relaxing and exercising. You'll be mighty happy that you did! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
If finances permitted or your law school offered an “early or summer start program,” hopefully you took advantage of these summer pre-law school opportunities. Early start programs range in mission, goal, structure, depth, and breath. The purpose of these programs is to provide students with a preview or general exposure to the law school environment, both the academic culture and social experience. They primarily serve to assist students in engaging with and developing some of the skills necessary to ensure academic success. Some programs cater to certain underrepresented populations, others cater to students with certain credentials, and yet others are available to the law student population at large. Most first year law students have been exposed to very limited, if any, information about the practical aspects of learning in law school. The presumption is that past academic success evidenced by GPA and current LSAT predictors are sufficient for law success. This is true for some but not for all. Attending such a program might be a good way to learn about a few things you can use before classes start and maybe even cultivate relationships with other law students. If you took advantage of such a program, hopefully, it met your expectations.
Once you have completed such a program, I would caution you to guard against being overly confident. Confidence is good but overconfidence can be an obstacle to success. Students look for and tend to think that there is a checklist for how to succeed in law school and that “one size fits all.” You will likely have to make some overall adjustments to the systems and processes you have adopted. You will also have to make adjustments to meet specific professor expectations and to acclimate to the culture at your law school. A willingness to adapt and make changes is imperative. Don’t get frustrated when you do not yield the results you expect immediately. The law school experience will challenge you academically, leave you frustrated at times, and may lead you to question your knowledge and abilities. This is the nature of the law school experience which builds up your resilience.
If attending an “early or summer start program” was unavailable to you for whatever reason, do not fret. You still have opportunities to build a sense of community and ease some of the fears and concerns you have about law school. You will likely have an orientation which will give you an opportunity to meet peers. You will also likely have an academic support program which will provide programming, workshops, and other opportunities tailored to help you develop the skills necessary for academic success.
Be confident but not too confident. All the best to first year law students. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, August 4, 2016
"A great sports instructor or coach builds us up, but also teaches us important lessons of emotional management, such as confidence, perseverance, resilience and how to conquer fear and anxiety. Many times, these lessons have a permanent impact on our mind-set and attitude well beyond the playing field." So says columnist Elizabeth Bernstein in her article: "A Coach's Influence Off the Field." http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-coachs-influence-off-the-field-1470073923?tesla=y
That got me thinking about life…my life as an Academic Support Professional. With the start of a new academic year upon us, perhaps this is an opportunity - as Goldie Pritchard puts it - to try something new. So, I've been thinking and reflecting about my life as an ASP-er, and, in particular, that I might focus on something new--serving as a coach to our law students.
You see, and this is where the rub is, the most significant teachers in my life have, well, not just been teachers. Rather, they've been more than teachers; they've been coaches. And, not just sport coaches. More like life coaches. Whether they were teaching political science or trying to help me throw a ball, they all left indelible imprints, imprints that made me a better person and that went well beyond the classroom (or the baseball field)...because they taught me lessons that were much bigger than just about political science or baseball.
Let me give you an example from political science. I once had a professor by the name of Sandel. No offense, but I can't recall the principles of Kant's categorical imperative or Hannah Arndt's political theories. But, I can vividly remember something much more important that I learned, in particular, to call people by their name…to invite students to comment and participate…to let people speak…by truly listening to them. Those were lessons well given.
Or, in another context regarding life's many daily struggles, as Bernstein sums up in her column, coaches teach us lessons that help us when the going gets tough, for example, in Bernstein's words, "...when I’m on deadline or giving a speech to an intimidating crowd: You need to arrest a negative thought immediately, in midair. Remind yourself that you are competent and know what you’re doing. Slow your breath." Let me be frank. Those are the lessons that got me through law school. And, I learned them through teachers that were, really, coaches.
Thus, as we begin to embark on a new academic season, perhaps I should focus more on coaching. After all, our work brings us in contact with people that are really struggling over learning to be learners in a new learning environment…an environment that we call law school...with people that need us to coach. So, what does a coach do? According to Bernstein, a coach says things that change our lives for the better…and for ever, such as:
“Great job in difficult circumstances.”
“You should be really proud of yourself.”
But, in my own words, a coach, first and foremost, listens and observes others. That I can do, if only, I'd stop talking so much! (Scott Johns)
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
For many academic support educators, we move from bar support to preparing to welcome the incoming class. The law school cycle never quite stops but simply slows down or picks up. Returning students are preparing for their new journey as a 2L or a 3L and incoming students are excited about a new academic adventure. There is something we can all do, students and those who work with students, to prepare for the new academic year. This is a brilliant idea that as an educator, I kick myself for not thinking about: consider how you reconnect with the learning process.
I definitely cannot take credit for this one but when I heard it, I thought that this was the best thing I heard about preparing for law school. A student, a 3L at the time, told me that in anticipation of starting law school, she spent the summer learning how to use a planner. She never used a planner in the past but she recognized that she would have to plan her life a little bit more in law school even though she had juggled school, activities, religious observances, and a business prior to law school. Using a planner over the summer allowed her to get in the habit of writing things down, crossing things off, sticking to a schedule, being flexible in making adjustments, accounting for buffer times, determining whether paper and pen or electronic planners worked best, and the like. She worked on her time management skills before law school so she had a plan while in law school. Isn’t that awesome?!
This is yet another suggestion I cannot take credit for and that was shared with me in a conversation with a colleague at a conference in 2015. Because the beginning of the academic year is upon us, I encourage you to learn a new skill or start a new activity in the days and weeks to come. I would encourage you to try something you are fearful of or would find particularly challenging. The process of facing your fear or challenge is what you should focus on. What steps did you take? Where did you start? How did you start? What was the best process for you? Were you able to follow written instructions or did you need to see a picture or demonstration? Did you revisit the task to ensure you had mastered it? When did you feel comfortable? When did you feel frustrated? First year law students, you should consider your process and your steps because you might find some aspects of law school just as challenging. For the rest of us, it is a reminder of the process. In law school, we typically learn how to learn all over again so it is helpful to be reminded of the slow, methodical, and sometimes frustrating process.
We often forget about the struggle experienced when mastering a skill that is now second nature. Regardless of how in tune we feel, we occasionally need to revisit that process. This can only make us better educators and “meet students where they are” but also move them along to where they should or need to be. I love this idea because it is applicable to all, teaching assistants/teaching fellows, upper level law students, ASP professionals, and professors.
For me, this blog is a new experience that is both exciting and somewhat intimidating but I look forward to the mistakes I will make and the things I will learn along the way. (Goldie Pritchard)
Friday, July 29, 2016
During the summer months, I sometimes get calls or emails from students who are about to enter law school asking me what they should watch or read before law school starts. My advice is always just to relax and get charged up for the coming fall. Personally, I wouldn't watch or read anything even remotely dealing with the law.
The summer before I went to law school, I had a job counting otters in Idaho (they were attacking people, which is a long story). Consequently, I spent all summer only thinking about otters, fly-fishing, and how much more fun I'd be having if my girlfriend had come with me. I was aware I was going to law school, but I don't think I thought about law once. The only books I had were the usual sci-fi and fantasy nonsense I like, and I had no television or access to movies.
I drove straight from Idaho to Austin and hit the first day of law school really psyched. Everything seemed novel and shiny. I learned that a "tort" was not a delicious jelly-filled dessert. I answered a question about an exploding stove. I found a place in the library where I could study surrounded by the death masks of English executioners. I figured out where the law school bar was. I made a bunch of friends right off. Law school looked like it was going to be grand.
Then, I got the idea that I should watch The Paper Chase because it was about law school. So, a few friends and I got the movie from Blockbuster (which, believe it or not, used to be a big deal where a person would spend a lot of their time), bought some beer and pizza, and sat down to watch.
The Paper Chase freaked me out. After watching it, I was a little terrified of returning to law school. Professors were going to yell at me. My friends and I were going to freak out during exams. I'd be buried in reams of paper.
I got over it and went right back to liking law school, but I think I would have been better off just experiencing law school as I went and not trying to get a read on it from pop culture.
So, as the final weeks of summer fade and you get ready to begin your legal career, I think you could do worse than just playing Pokemon Go and hanging out at the pool.
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
For the past few years, your focus has been on finishing law school, walking across the stage at commencement, and taking then passing the bar exam. Well, you have finished law school, you may have walked across the stage at graduation, you took or are almost done with the bar exam, now what’s next? You may be a planner and have a perfect plan for the days, weeks, and months ahead. For others, your next steps involve visiting your law school's career services office or referencing communication they may have shared with you.
All in all, take the time to appreciate and enjoy your accomplishments, get some rest, and dream big about the journey and adventures ahead of you. It is no small feat to attend law school, complete law school, graduate from law school, prepare for the bar exam, show up for the bar exam, and complete the bar exam. You did all of that! Not everyone can accomplish what you have accomplished and not everyone who started the journey completed it. Take pride in your accomplishment. (Goldie Pritchard)
Friday, April 29, 2016
Thursday, March 17, 2016
It is the time of the year when 1Ls are anxious as they face their second set of finals, 2Ls are overwhelmed with the rigors of the 2L workload and the pressure to line up a job for the summer, and 3Ls are feeling antsy to graduate and anxious about the approaching bar exam. Whether you are working with 1Ls, 2Ls, or 3Ls, academic advising can help students feel empowered instead of crazed. What exactly is academic advising? Academic advising helps students understand educational options and opportunities that are available to them, and shows them how to develop a plan that will help them achieve their educational and career goals.
When I meet with students for academic advising, I first ask them a series of questions. These questions help me to understand who they are as a learner, as well as, get a sense of their future career goals. Here are a few questions to help guide your conversations regarding academic advising and course planning.
- In your first year, which class was your favorite? Why? Did you like the style of teaching, the content of the material, or the classroom dynamic?
- Which class was your least favorite? Why? Did you dislike the style of teaching, the content of the material, or the classroom dynamic?
- Why did you want to go to law school? Have your goals shifted since beginning law school?
- Which classes that are being offered next year seem most interesting to you?
- Where do you plan to take the bar exam?
- How did you perform on your final exams? In legal writing? Have you determined ways to improve your future performance?
- Consider the sequencing of courses and prerequisites if applicable.
- Also, consider how often certain courses are offered. For example, some courses are only offered in the fall, while others are offered every other year. If certain courses are a priority for you, incorporate this into your plan.
- How did your upper level classes compare to your first year coursework?
- Do you feel more engaged with the material in your current courses? Why or why not?
- Do you still have requirements to fulfill? Courses? Pro bono hours? Experiential credits? Writing credits?
- Have you taken Professional Responsibility? If yes, have you registered for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam? If not, when do you plan to take it?
- How many bar tested courses have you taken? Which ones do you plan to take before graduation?
- How can you plan for your bar study in advance even if you are not taking all of the bar tested subjects as a law student?
- Create a few alternate plans just in case certain courses are overenrolled, not offered, or conflict with your other choices.
- Do you have any requirements that still need to be fulfilled before graduation? Courses? Pro bono hours? Experiential credits? Writing credits?
- Do you plan to work during your last year? How will you manage your course work and your job responsibilities?
- Are there particular areas of law the interest you? Take at least one class that is not required, but that interests you, you are curious about, or it just seems like fun.
- Are there common trends in your class or exam performance that can be remedied before graduation and bar study?
- Have you determined where you plan to take the bar exam? If yes, have you reviewed the bar application and calendared important dates and deadlines?
- Have you researched the available options and signed up for a commercial bar review course?
Monday, August 31, 2015
This is the third and final installment of how to succeed in law school, advice from students. Below is advice compiled from my 1Ls from last year.
Filter Your Listening But Don’t Be Afraid to Talk:
Do not listen to other 1Ls. This will not be an easy task, many 1Ls think they are qualified to give advice to other 1Ls. They do not have any more experience than you, no matter how much they think they know. It will be very hard to tune out other 1Ls, but it is worth it. Instead, seek out 2 or 3L and professors. They literally have the roadmaps to success.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people when you’re stressing out ;) they will be able to help, and sometimes you can’t do it all on your own. Talk to the people sitting next to you in class, they may become your best friends. Talk to 2Ls about professors, test-taking, law school life, anything. They are a great resource!
Be willing to put in the work:
There are a lot of new concepts, which can be overwhelming, but try to stay on top of it all. If you don't understand something, ask your professors. And do this throughout the course, rather than waiting to the end. But the tricky part is that knowing the material is really only the first step. Knowing a rule isn't enough, you have to be able to apply the rules to tough fact patterns.
Everyone will walk out, mostly, knowing the material. Because of the curve (yes, the dreaded law school curve - yes, it is as horrible as it sounds) you need to be able to articulate the material and apply it better than your classmates. The only way to make that happen is through time. Realistically, the individuals who sink the most time into law school are going to be the ones with the best grades. Of course there are other considerations, work life balance, general test taking ability, etc. These also play a role, however the general trend is the more time, the better the results. You have to be the most dedicated and committed to come out on top.
Be Prepared for Class and Pay Attention:
Course supplements aren’t nearly as important to your performance on the final as is your ability to pay attention in class. Each professor teaches the material a bit differently, so it’s important to figure out the certain areas that your specific professor emphasizes.
If you really want to get good grades, do all of the reading, go to all of the classes, and pay attention in those classes. It seems like these things are so obvious, but I was really surprised last year by the number of my colleagues who didn't consistently do them.
I think if students are able to find the discipline to really make sure they always do what they're supposed to do, there's a good chance they'll do very well. Personally, I tried to think about law school as if it were a job. Showing up and doing the work was something I had to do, not something I could just blow off.
Do What Works for YOU:
There are a lot of extremely smart and well-spoken people in law school. During the first semester, I spent way too much time stressing myself about other peoples’ study habits and progress. I also wasted a lot of time trying to imitate some of their study habits, such as study groups and listening to audio recordings. I had never studied in this manner before, and it simply did not work with my learning style. Once I tuned out the other students, I was able to make more productive use of my time. Everyone learns differently! Find what works for you and stick with it.
At the end of spring semester one professor reminded us we are all incredibly special people who have rare and highly sought-after skills. For me this stood out because it's easy to forget this when you are constantly surrounded by other law students with similar skills. We are all incredibly gifted and we need to remember that.
Just because someone says to do something doesn't mean you should do it. Follow your gut and always do what is right for you. It is incredibly difficult to not feel obligated to do the traditional 1L activities like moot court competition journal write-on, but do your best to ignore these nagging feelings. Everyone is different and different approaches and experiences benefit different people in unique ways. Do not be afraid to go against the flow, but also don't be afraid to follow it.
Law school is demanding, and sometimes I found it difficult to maintain a healthy school-life balance. Although it is important to dedicate adequate time to learning the material, I think it is equally important to step away and allow yourself time to recharge! When I neglected to do this, I found I was much more stress and retained less information. There is no need to pull extreme hours in as long as you keep a consistent schedule throughout the semester and plan ahead. Do not feel guilty about taking a day off to catch up with your old friends or going home to visit your family for the weekend!
Take necessary breaks. Law school is extremely manageable, if you just use your time efficiently. With that being said, if you aren't focusing while doing work, take a break and do something fun. It is more efficient to work when you are focused than to half-work/half-text/facebook/browse online/shop online, etc. Taking breaks is important (as long as they aren't too often).
Your physical health helps your mental and emotional health. Pack your lunch more often with healthy things and eat the pizza in moderation. Bring your workout clothes to school and schedule time for exercise. Working out is usually the first thing to go because you think you don’t have time for it. That is just an excuse. Yoga pants are really stretchy and you don’t realize how much weight you gained until you can’t fit into any of your real clothes. 30 minutes at the gym or a run through campus was a great stress relief and helped me get back into my suit in time for interviews.
Monday, August 24, 2015
Last week was the first installment on how to succeed in law school, advice from students. Here is the second: You Belong. Be Yourself. Have Fun.
First off: Congratulations. Deciding to pursue law school is difficult; getting accepted even more so. You've successfully done both, and are finally ready to begin. So naturally the next question is: Now what? You've read the online blogs, you've talked to friends, family, and attorneys, and you may have even skimmed a few books in preparation of your first year. I did the same. I quickly realized that it's not as terrifying as they make it in the Paper Chase, nor as easy as in Legally Blonde. It is challenging though, especially that first semester. I want share with you three things I think helped me most to survive that first semester.
1. You belong here.
During orientation and throughout the first few months you will meet and get to know so many great and successful people that will leave you in awe. Your classmates will be decorated servicemen and women, others were valedictorians and college athletes, attended Ivy League schools, some even had illustrious careers before law school. All of this will be overwhelming, you may even think there is nothing you bring to the table, and there is no way you can possibly compete with these people. It is important that you remind yourself that you are here for a reason. Law schools undertake the rigorous selection process that it does to ensure that those who attend here, belong here. You've had just as successful of a journey here as they have. What's more, despite their impressive resumes you all have one thing in common: zero days of law school experience. It's a fresh start for all, nobody has an advantage over you in that regard. You belong here.
2. Be yourself.
I don't mean to sound clichéd but the second most helpful thing for me was to continue being myself, especially when it came to studying. Everywhere you look you will see student's working on some law school related thing: running to the library in between classes to get in a few extra pages of reading, answering every question under the sun that's asked in class, going to office hours; some will even work on their outlines from day one, constantly adding and editing. You will also see the opposite almost everywhere you look: students using class time to make that last second eBay bid, doing a Buzz Feed quiz to see which Disney character they are; some will leave after ten minutes and others won't even show. That doesn't mean that one group is doing significantly better than the other; it means they're doing what works for them, and you need to do the same. Don't feel pressure to be in the library in between every class just because you see others doing it. They might have gone out the night before and didn't get the day's readings done. Don't feel compelled to go to a professor's office hours, maybe you just get the material. Along the same lines, don't stream the latest PGA event in class because others are doing it. They might not find lecture a particularly helpful way of learning, are just there to get the attendance points, but will stay up burning the midnight oil later. You and you alone understand your study habits best, how far along in your readings you are, and what you need to do and when you need to do it. Don't pay attention to what anybody else is doing. Be yourself when it comes to study methods and study time.
3. Have fun.
Yes it's possible to have fun in law school. You can go to bar reviews, football games, and trivia nights without your academics suffering. It's important that you don't ignore your hobbies and do non-law related things, whatever that may be. It's easy to get sucked in to the law school world and lose sight of the outside world. Don't. Doing the things I mentioned above will take your mind off studying, give you a nice break so you can keep going, plus you'll have fun doing it. Getting to know your classmates outside of the law school halls was also one of the most rewarding things I did in my first year.
So keep these three things in mind: You belong, be yourself, and have fun. You will also be surrounded by a most supportive group of professors and students to help you along the way, so never hesitate to ask for advice or support. Congratulations, welcome, and good luck!
Monday, August 17, 2015
Each summer I ask my outgoing 1Ls “what advice would you give to someone getting ready to start law school?” I compile the responses and create a Top 10 or list of Dos and Don’ts. This year, however, two students wrote such fantastic, heartfelt, and in-depth advice that I have to share them in their entirety. Here is the first one: You Only Have One 1L Year So Make it a Good One.
The summer leading into your 1L year of law school I would do one thing: relax. Spend time with family and friends, travel, and enjoy all of your favorite activities. Read a novel or your favorite book, and avoid legal treatises or cases; there will be plenty of that in the year to come. I would also avoid the law school prep books. While I did read two of these books, I found that, instead of providing solid advice and preparation, they only made me more anxious about the year ahead. In my opinion, the less time thinking about law school, before law school actually starts, the better. I learned everything those books told me, and much more, in my first two weeks at school. The books were more useful in producing unnecessary anxiety and erroneous preconceived notions of law school than actually being helpful. Some might find these guides useful, but I think law school orientation and the first few days of class provide a clearer picture of what to expect. It’s easier to begin with a blank slate and learn as you go, rather than be forced to overwrite preconceived notions. Plus, whether they show it or not, everyone starts 1L year in the same boat, naïve and intimidated, and these prep guides will not provide an easy leg up. So I say pick up a novel instead.
As far as success in law school, there is no one answer or rule that everyone can abide by and succeed. Every student is different. I can say, however, that it’s important to be yourself. Stick to the study methods and discipline that got you accepted into law school in the first place; don’t try to imitate others. Other students will inevitably brag to you about how long they spent in the library, how late they stayed up studying, or how it all just “makes sense” to them. Usually these are lies and, if not, what works for one person may not work for others. Unless they are completely deficient, do not radically adjust your lifestyle and your work habits, do what works best for you, and stick to your guns. I believe staying true to yourself and maintaining a work/life balance is absolutely essential to succeeding and staying healthy, both mentally and emotionally, your first year of law school. Make friends with your classmates, commiserate together, and blow off steam in your desired fashion when you have free time, which will still exist. Do not let life pass you by just because you have a heavy workload. Furthermore, if you find that your methods aren’t producing the results you want, speak with your professors, counselors, and upperclassmen to find successful strategies that work best for you. Along those same lines – feedback is key. Utilize your professors as much as possible, as they also want to see you succeed, and seek feedback from them whenever possible. Find out what they are looking for in your work, the things they think are important, and adjust your strategies to their class. This will pay dividends in developing your skills and knowledge. Most importantly, make sure you follow your own path, otherwise you may not be happy with where you end up.
That being said, however, the easiest way to undermine your success in law school is to fall behind. While the work may seem overwhelming at first, it’s important to complete all of the required reading before each class. Without doing so, the material in class will be much harder to comprehend and will leave you a step behind. Worse, you may be called on to answer questions about the reading. If you didn’t read, you could, at worst, lose points toward your final grade, and, at best, be embarrassed and discouraged. Over time, any backed-up work will build until you are left with an insurmountable amount of information that you now have to teach yourself. This will definitely be at a disadvantage when it comes time for the exam. Therefore, it’s important to stay ahead of your work. Even if you read the material days ahead of time, it’s critical to do the required work and be prepared for class. Leaving work until the last minute or falling behind is the easiest way to shoot your law school success in the foot.
Finally, I would emphasize all of the incredible upsides of law school. I heard plenty of horror stories coming into my first year, and generally expected to be working non-stop under constant stress. Yet, I had no idea how much fun law school could actually be. While there are certainly times of stress and feeling overwhelmed, I would highlight the other side of law school– basically, how enjoyable the experience can also be. While this is the time to buckle down and establish clear career goals, it is also a time to meet many intelligent, like-minded individuals, challenge yourself intellectually, expand your personal horizons, and make friends and acquaintances that will likely be around for life. Put yourself out there and challenge yourself whenever possible. As long as you are mindful not to overburden yourself or stretch yourself too thin, be willing to say yes to every opportunity that crosses your path. You will come out stronger and better prepared for a legal career every time. Finishing my first year of law school was an extremely proud moment for me. I felt as if I had accomplished as much in one year as I had in my entire life leading up to that point. Becoming a lawyer had seemed like a vague, distant future for most of my life, but after my first year I felt as if I could finally see where my career and my life were headed, and I could not be more excited for it. Be proud of heading into your first year of law school, and avail yourself to all of its incredible benefits. There is plenty of fun to be had. This is one aspect I wish had been more impressed upon me going into 1L year.
Friday, August 7, 2015
Across our nation, new 1Ls are concluding their preparations for the start of school. By the end of August, almost every new 1L will have crossed the threshold of a law school to begin the journey to a J.D. In these last days, there are a number of things that these 1Ls-to-be can do as final preparations:
- Read your emails and announcements from your law school every day. Read them carefully. You will be responsible for any instructions, first-day assignments, and other announcements that your law school sends out.
- Complete as many law school tasks and details as early as possible. Stay on top of instructions from your law school about computer access, email addresses, parking decals, billing accounts, and more. By completing as many steps on-line or on-campus before the first day, you can avoid a lot of last-minute hassles.
- Get moved in and unpacked as soon as possible. You need to hit the ground running from the first day of your orientation. By settling into your new space beforehand, you will have time to focus on law school instead of waiting for the cable guy, searching through boxes for necessities, and wasting time shopping for room decor.
- Complete a dry-run. At least the weekend before orientation starts, decide the best route to school by driving the options, check out where the correct parking lot is, give yourself another tour of your law school building, and scope out the neighborhood surrounding your law school for restaurants and other services. You will be more comfortable if you are familiar with the terrain.
- Prepare your elevator speech. You will be asked to introduce yourself a thousand times. Be able to do it in a minute or less. Avoid bragging, boasting, and self-adulation. You are now one in the impressive echelon of high achievers who enter law school. Stay confident, but be humble.
- Realize that you begin your professional career the first day you enter law school. Your classmates are your future professional colleagues. How you act and how you treat others during law school will determine your reputation as a lawyer for those classmates. Negative character traits and behaviors in law school can haunt you for years to come. Consider how you want to be remembered in the future.
- Spend some quality time with family and friends. Have fun with the significant people in your life in these last weeks. Law school will keep you very busy. Most full-time law students need to study 50 - 55 hours per week to get their best grades and gain an in-depth legal foundation for the bar exam and legal practice.
- Start a good sleep routine. Proper sleep will give your brain cells the boost they need. The study of law is heavy lifting. If you get 7 - 8 hours of sleep each night, you will be more alert, absorb information more quickly, be more productive with your time, and retain more information. And research tells us that a nice bonus of sleep is that you are less likely to gain weight compared to the sleep-deprived.
All of us in legal education look forward to your arrival at our law schools. Enjoy the last part of your summer as you prepare to become a 1L. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, August 6, 2015
All of us in ASP are fortunate to have so many well-written and practical books available to us on law school success. Today's post focuses on the "Classics" written by ASP professionals and faculty. Again, there are many more titles that could be included among the Classics - this list is to get the new ASP'er started.
Law School Success:
- Michael Hunter Schwartz, Expert Learning for Law Students (with workbook)
- Ann L. Iijima, The Law Student's Pocket Mentor
- Andrew McClurg, 1L of a Ride: A Well-Traveled Professor's Roadmap to Success in the First Year of Law School
- Carolyn J. Nygren, Starting Off Right in Law School
- Herbert N. Ramy, Succeeding in Law School
- Ruta K. Stropus and Charlotte D. Taylor, Bridging the Gap between College and Law School: Strategies for Success
- Dennis J. Tonsing, 1000 Days to the Bar: But the Practice of Law Begins Now
Legal Reasoning and Analysis:
- Wilson Huhn, The Five Types of Legal Argument
- David S. Romantz and Kathleen Elliott Vinson, Legal Analysis: The Fundamental Skill
Specific Skills in Law School:
- Charles R. Calleros, Law School Exams: Preparing and Writing to Win
- Suzanne Darrow-Kleinhaus, Mastering the Law School Exam
- John C. Dernbach, Writing Essay Exams to Succeed in Law School
- Richard Michael Fischl and Jeremy Paul, Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams
- Barry Friedman and John C. P. Goldberg, Open Book: Succeeding on Exams from the First Day of Law School
- Ruth Ann McKinney, Reading Like a Lawyer: Time-Saving Strategies for Reading Law Like an Expert
- Charles H. Whitebread, The Eight Secrets of Top Exam Performance in Law School: An Easy-To-Use, Step-By-Step Program for Achieving Great Grades!
These ASP Classics can fill the starter shelf for your professional library. Another post will focus on some of the newer publications. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, July 30, 2015
If you have joined the academic support/bar preparation professional community for the first time, we welcome you to a rewarding career and wonderful group of colleagues. One thing that ASP is known for is collegiality. There are many experienced ASP'ers who will be happy to share ideas, materials, pitfalls to avoid, and much more. We hope that you will reach out to those of us in the ASP profession whenever we can assist you.
This post is the first in a series to help those who are new to ASP find resources, get settled in, and discover the professional community waiting to help them. Today's post lists some of these resources. The post is by no means exhaustive!
Professional organizations for ASP:
- Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Section on Academic Support: The upcoming annual meeting will be held January 6-10 , 2016 in New York City. The tentative schedule indicates that the Section's business meeting will be at 7 - 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, January 9th with the program (Raising the Bar) on the same date at 10:30 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.. An informal meal get-together is also usually scheduled. Our Section is co-sponsoring a program with the Section on Balance in Legal Education (Finding Your Voice in the Legal Academy) at 10:30 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. on Friday, January 8th. The Section on Teaching Methods also has a program on Friday. The Sections on Legal Writing, Reasoning and Research and on Student Services are holding programs on Thursday, January 7th. The 2015-2016 Section on Academic Support Chair is Lisa Young at Seattle University School of Law (firstname.lastname@example.org). The AALS Section on Academic Support website is https://connect.aals.org/academicsupport.
- Association for Academic Support Educators (AASE): The upcoming conference will be held May 24 - 26 2016 at University of New York (CUNY) Law School on Long Island. The 2015-2016 President is at Pavel Wonsowicz at UCLA School of Law (email@example.com). The AASE website is http://www.associationofacademicsupporteducators.org/.
Websites and listservs for ASP:
- The ASP Listserv: The listserv membership is available to legal educators who interested in ASP/bar topics. To join the listserv, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Subject line can be blank or say Subscribe ASP-L. In the body of the message type subscribe ASP-L your name title law school name. The listserv is a great place to ask questions of your colleagues, mention resources of interest, post workshops and conferences, and post job openings.
- The Law School Academic Support Blog: This blog is part of the Law Professor Blogs Network and will include postings of interest to ASP'ers, law students, and law faculty. Multiple postings are made each week on a variety of ASP/bar-related topics by the Editor and Contributing Editors. There is an archive function to search prior posts. Spotlight postings introduce new colleagues to the community and highlight colleagues' work. Job announcements are also posted. You can subscribe so that articles are directed to you inbox whenever postings occur. The Editor is Amy Jarmon at Texas Tech University School of Law (email@example.com). The website is http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/.
- The Law School Academic Success Project: This website is maintained by the AALS Section on Academic Support and receives ongoing funding from the Law School Admissions Council. The website includes sections for ASP'ers and students. Student pages are available without registration. To see the ASP pages, you need to be employed currently at a law school in ASP/bar-related work and register. After you register, please update the staff information for your law school to reflect current staff. There are a variety of resources on the site. The Committee Chairperson for the Website is O. J. Salinas at University of North Carolina School of Law (firstname.lastname@example.org). The website is lawschoolasp.org.
Other resources of interest:
- American Bar Association: The Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar will be of interest. There are ABA publications, including the Student Lawyer which law students now can receive under the new free student division membership plan. The website for the Section is http://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education.html.
- Institute for Law Teaching and Learning: This consortium of law schools provides resources and conferences focused on best practices for legal education. The website is www.lawteaching.org.
- Law School Admissions Council (LSAC): LSAC has long been a champion of the academic support profession and diversity in the legal profession. For many years, LSAC sponsored workshops and conferences for ASP'ers. The website is www.lsac.org.
- Law School Success: Blog written by Susan Landrum at St. John's University School of Law. Website is http://lawschoolacademicsuccess.com/.
- National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE): The organization that brings us the bar exam. The website is www.ncbex.org.
Hopefully this "starter list" will help new ASP'ers to become familiar with some of the available resources. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Many of our students have always been the top of the heap in public education and later college and graduate education. In law school, they find themselves with a group of colleagues who are equally bright and equally successful. Add to that the differences in the law classroom, new forms of analysis and writing, and the most common one-grade-per-course testing method. The result is that some first-semester students can get overwhelmed pretty quickly if they have not spent some reflection time before arriving at law school..
Preparing for your first semester (and reminding yourself if you are an upper-division law student) is essential to your well-being. The preparation you need to do is to spend some time thinking about you and your choices.
Take out a sheet of paper and divide it into columns: values, abilities, areas for improvement, resources.
In the values column, list things that you value about yourself, life, and others. Include values also that caused you to choose law as a profession. Your values will keep you centered as you study the law. There will be people's opinions, case outcomes, methods of legal analysis, etc. that may not mesh with your values. When confronted with those different views, you have a better chance of evaluating those other perspective while staying grounded in your own values if you already know what you value and why those values are important to you.
In the abilities column, list the things that you know you are talented at in all areas of your life - academic, relationships, spiritual, hobbies, etc. Do not expect perfection in yourself or pretend to be perfect. Make an honest appraisal of what you do well. You will want to build on those abilities while you adapt to the study of law and interact with colleagues who may seem to "get it" faster than you do. Education is about developing our abilities further and meeting any challenges with adaptability. Recognize you talent base that will be your starting point and foundation.
In the room for improvement column, list the things that you know you can do better if you allow yourself to increase your knowledge and skills and take constructive criticism. Your abilities may overlap on this list, but it may also indicate improvement for other aspects. For example, you may write well for traditional writing but need to learn how to write legally; you may need to improve your listening skills rather than automatically debating everything; you may work quickly but need to slow down to catch details; you may be a procrastinator and need to use your time more effectively. Law school will challenge you to improve on what you can already do, learn new ways of doing things, and stretch yourself academically and personally.
In the fourth column, list the resources in your life that help you when you become unsure of yourself or discouraged. These resources are family and friends who are your cheerleaders, mentors you go to for advice, the religious mentors for your spiritual beliefs, positive lifestyle choices (sleep, nutrition, exercise), and other positive resources that help you tackle problems and relieve stress and anxiety. Then add to your list the resources that your law school has available for you when you have questions and concerns: professors with office hours, perhaps 1L teaching assistants, the office of academic support programs, librarians, student affairs staff, available counselors, and more. By adding your resources to the list, you are reminded that you are not in law school without support. You are not going it alone.
Keep your list handy throughout your three years. Add, modify, and delete items as appropriate over time. You will grow as a person, a student, a citizen, and a professional lawyer during the three years. Be ready to embrace experiences and become the very best new lawyer you can be for your clients when you graduate. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Yesterday evening I received a two sentence email from a student asking for advice on how to become a more detailed-oriented person because she is struggling in an internship, and she cites her big-picture orientation as a significant contributor to her struggle. As a member of the constantly connected gadget-net generation I read this email on my phone, and immediately began composing a list of free association ideas to help the student "fix" the problem while resisting the urge to comment further on the missing detail of a signature so that I would know who was asking the question. But I stopped myself from hitting send on that response, rationalizing the decision as "well, that's not what a detail-oriented person would do" and "do you really know what you're talking about because you're about to try to answer a really complicated question via smartphone email."
Today my time in the office has included internet searching for collective advice about becoming more detail-oriented. I also searched for inventories out there to assess comparative detail-orientation because maybe this student is generally sufficient at detail-orientation but is just working for a hyper-perfectionist. There have also been a few minutes where I'm wondering if maybe I am spending too much time attending to omitted details. And thinking that maybe I should be writing a post about productive-procrastination instead. But really, all of this has led me back to the free association list I drafted last night. While it lacked a certain amount of detail, it was probably a good starting place for this student if she is serious about changing her habits of thought and becoming a more detail-oriented person. The student is having a crisis moment and probably wants a list of concrete actions and just needs an immediate starting place to feel some relief as soon as possible. But, I personally would much rather provide the map of cognitive restructuring this student can follow to experience long term relief several months or years down the road.
Habit change requires sustained effort, particularly when we are seeking to change dominant preferences that have become entrenched through repeated practice. For the next few sentences, I'm going to assume that there is a documented and empirically validated scale of detail and big-picture orientation that exist on a continuum like extroversion and introversion on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. People who live at the extreme ends of the spectrum between detail and big-picture orientation are going to struggle during the first phases of new habit development because these new thought habits will start out as exercises of the imagination since there is limited personal experience with the non-preferred thought habits. Indeed, it may require finding someone who has the desired habits and is willing to demonstrate them to begin developing context of where change in the thought process needs to start. The closer to the middle of the spectrum someone is indicates fluency which allows them to adopt the set of habits that is most suited to the task at hand.
The concrete behaviors someone with strong big-picture preference can adopt to initiate change generally fall into a broad category of systems of accountability such as to-do lists, reminder programs on phone and computer, accountability partners, workflow checklists, create automatic detail inclusion when available (e.g. email signature blocks), etc. The concrete behaviors that someone who is strongly detail-oriented can implement is scheduled times for reflection on the big picture, a list of big picture assessment questions to use during those scheduled times, and assessment of the priority level of the project because perfectionism and detail-orientation are at least cousins, if not siblings or the same thing.
I will now reply to the student and provide the list I drafted last night, links to a couple of worthwhile online resources, and an invitation to meet and discuss in greater detail. In these circumstances that's probably the best approach for this student. But if I'm wrong, she'll know she can come back and help me find a better way to help her. (CMB)
Friday, May 22, 2015
Professors are grading stacks of exams as the due date for grades quickly approaches. The law school is like a ghost town when it comes to faculty presence. The few colleagues who prefer to grade exams in their offices rather than at home give daily updates on how many questions/exams down and how many to go.
Some courses are already completed and the grades posted. Our trusty Registrar's staff members post grades as soon as all of the procedures for a course to link names to exam numbers and grades are completed.
The emails, telephone calls, and visits are starting from anxious students who are waiting to see whether they will meet the academic requirements. Many of them have one or two of their grades posted at this point and are frantically calculating what they need in their other courses to make the minimums. They are losing sleep over whether the next course posted will help or hurt them.
Their angst is increased because of their prior feelings as they came out of their exams. In some courses, they felt confident and visualized getting some kind of B or A. In other cases they felt discouraged by rules recalled after leaving the exam room, running out of time, or "flipping a coin" between two good answers for the best answer. Add those post-exam discussions with classmates, and they have worried about missing things other people saw.
When the first posted grades were not the hoped for As or Bs but instead Cs or lower, they likely visualized the bottom dropping out. If they were so wrong about success in those courses, what will the other grades be like? Even if the disappointing grade might be the result of a tight curve rather than their own lack of understanding, it is little consolation.
Every law school is different when it comes to policies and procedures. Here are some thoughts to help students who are concerned they may not make their academic standards:
- Read the student handbook, on-line policies/procedures, or other materials provided by your law school about academic standards. Answers to many of your questions are already available in these materials.
- Review the specific options, if any, that you may have for your law school. Some law schools dismiss without any options. Some law schools have processes for immediate petitions while others require students sit out a period of time before a petition may be filed. Some schools allow readmission on probation while others only allow repeating the first year.
- Read carefully all letters and materials you receive about your academic status. (If you were already on probation, re-read the prior letter and materials.) Answers to many of your questions are given in those communications.
- Meet any deadlines that you are given for the options available to you at your law school.
- If documentation is required for petitions (examples: doctor's letter, psychiatrist's letter, report on ADHD testing, etc.), make sure appropriate documentation is provided.
- Be honest with yourself. Law school is not the path for everyone. Is law school what you really want to do? Did you only attend because you were not sure what else to do? Do you find the law intellectually stimulating and interesting? Instead, is it drudgery for you? What is your passion? What do you really want to do with your life?
- Consider how to tell family and friends about your academics. Having support is important. Hiding the situation from those who care about you may add to your stress. Decide whether you want to talk to significant people in your life now or later about your law school career. Perhaps talk to someone at the university's counseling center if you need someone to help you with the anxiety and decision-making.
- Have your Plan B (and Plan C and Plan D if necessary). Begin to devise what you will do next if law school is no longer an option. Application to another graduate program? Certification in a new skill? Return to the career/job you left before law school? Move back home temporarily?
- Consider the implications of probation or dismissal for your financial aid. Talk to the financial aid person for your institution. Your university may have academic progress requirements that affect financial aid for probation students. Find out loan repayment procedures if you are dismissed.
As you wait for grades, realize that you are still the same intelligent and talented person you were before law school. Not becoming a lawyer (whether you decide not to continue when the grades turn out okay or you are dismissed) is not the end of your choices. You will have a positive impact on society in other ways. And the critical thinking and writing skills you have learned in law school will translate to other fields. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, April 17, 2015
Law school is tough but so is life. Now is the time to develop your toolbox for dealing with stress. You would not use a hammer to cut a piece of wood but you won’t be able to get that nail in if you don’t learn how to use a hammer effectively. The same thing goes for stress. If you don’t develop tools for dealing with stress now, chances are you won’t handle it well later in life. Avoid- you might be able to avoid stress if you plan ahead and take control of your surroundings. Leave 10 minutes early and avoid traffic, study in a quiet area of the library where you won’t be bothered by annoying people, or say no to leading that committee or planning that event. You can say yes to some things, but you don’t have to say yes to everything. Alter- you might not be able to avoid stress but you can change the situation. Manage your time and organize your day so that you stay on task, set limits for yourself whether it’s studying or social media. Cope- if you have no choice but to accept certain things then talk to someone. Your feelings are legitimate so even if the situation can’t change, talking about it will make it less frustrating. Believing that you can’t cope is itself a stressor so changing your expectations is very helpful. You may need to redefine success or adjust your standards, especially if perfection is your goal. Oftentimes something as simple as adopting a mantra (I can do it) can help you work through that feeling of helplessness. Stress is a part of life so what matters is how you deal with it. Start applying techniques now to balance the stressors. With a little practice you’ll not only know what tools you have but how to use them.
Monday, February 23, 2015
The Legal Skills Prof Blog recently posted this reference to a short piece on acronyms. I agree that acronyms and other abbreviations can cause confusion, ruin the flow of an essay, and cause the reader frustration. The article suggests a few useful guidelines on when to use them and when to avoid them. I have even had one bar examiner tell me to instruct students that their bar exam essays should not read like a text message. In an acronym, twitter/text, abbreviation heavy culture, this is a good reminder. Thus, I advise my students that when they are in doubt, they should write it out.
Friday, February 20, 2015
To paraphrase the late, great Romantic poet Joey Ramone, "technology did a job on me, now I am a real sickie …"
A very nice and very lost old woman with a pie showed up on my doorstep at 8 p.m. last night. Unfortunately, the pie was meant for the occupants of another house on a nearby street. She asked me where the street was, and, as I considered the ethics of grabbing the pie and slamming my door, I gave her some vague directions. Mainly, I pointed and said, "It's kinda over there." In my mind, I was picturing the street that was one street over and perpendicular to my front door. The old woman disappeared into the night. I went inside and ate two Entenmann's chocolate donuts (the rich man's Hostess!) and watched my son play either a freeform jazz version of "Baba O'Reilly" or "Hot Cross Buns" on his clarinet.
The next morning on the way to school, I realized the street the old woman was looking for was actually the street behind my house. I have lived here for three years, and I know of the existence of the street, that friends of mine live on it, and that it is somewhere in my neighborhood, but I was wrong about where it actually sat.
Now, I may simply be a clueless bozo, and I realize that any success I have ever had was because of my staggering good looks, but I started wondering about why I didn't actually have my neighborhood (or city for that matter) mapped out in my head by street names. I can get anyone anywhere in Columbia as long as I am driving, but if someone asks me to explain HOW to drive somewhere, I'm pretty sure I couldn't do it.
Street names seem like a basic piece of information I should know -- clearly, they represent the physical structure of the world around me and are meant to provide points for my memory to grab onto -- but I don't know them.
In the past couple of years, I have had more than one conversation with a law student where I have asked, "And who is your professor for ….." More times than I would've thought, they actually didn't know the professor's name. At first, I found this completely mind-boggling, and then I started thinking about my problem with streets.
The thing is, with GPS and Googlemaps and my phone I have no reason to learn street names, and that technology has basically made me stop paying attention so I never learn them.
I think the same thing has happened with our students, but over a longer period, and without a B.T. ("Before Tech") Era where they had to rely on their own memory to get places or know things. Tech has made a lot of memorization absolutely unnecessary. During the old days, for many classes, at the end of the day I probably didn't HAVE to know my professors' names -- I knew where the class was, I knew the class hour, and I was studying the material so I could handle myself if called on -- but, because I was used to having to memorize things like streets and state capitals, my brain naturally picked up the professor's name and threw it in Ye Olde Memory Hole.
With the amazing amount of computing power sitting in all of our pockets, memorization is pretty much as dead as disco. If I want to know a state capital or how many hits Ted Williams had, I can immediately look it up on my phone. For the digital natives we are currently teaching, they had a schooling where it was basically unnecessary to ever memorize anything. I think in many ways their brains are not used to having to memorize and "know" things to be able to use the information, so many of them don't naturally grab pieces of information by default.
So, when I have a student in trouble, I counsel them to memorize law the old fashioned way -- by memorizing their outline, putting it aside, and then writing it out, by hand, on a yellow legal pad. I'm not a big fan of turning them to online types of techniques, like apps or sites with flashcards or what not. As much as I can, I want to get the computer out of it, because I feel like that caused the problem in the first place.