Thursday, October 31, 2013

Satellite of Love

Along with decorative gourds and tiny sociopaths demanding candy, the end of October brings an uptick in study group formation as we get closer to finals (I saw what looked like three new ones in the lobby on my way into work).

Several years ago, this annual rite resulted in some major kerfluffles, ados, and foofaraws -- so-and-so is cheating on one group with another, so-and-so doesn't do any work, s0-and-so always brings an enormous bag of potato chips, so-and-so's non-lawyer biker boyfriend enjoys attending -- and everyone ended up in my office for advice on how to work things out.

In response, I found an earlier posting from Amy Jarmon about the things study groups need to keep in mind, and I turned it into an actual contract, which I printed out and passed around to the First Year class.  

A few days later, I saw several completed and signed contracts sticking out of bookbags, books, and binders, and all the complaining stopped.  Since that time, I have mentioned the contract (repeatedly) and the concerns and complaints disappeared.

Many, many thanks to Amy, and below is the contract (Alex Ruskell) -- 

 

non in legendo sed in intelligendo legis consistent 

 

STUDY GROUP CONTRACT

1. New members will be added only if _____ members agree.

2. New members will not be added after _________ (a certain point in the semester).

3. A member may/may not belong to more than one study group as long as all members are informed of the decision to do so.

4. A member will not be “fired” unless: 

A. The group has talked with the person about problem behaviors (eg. argumentativeness, slacking on commitments, lateness, dominating the group discussions, etc.).    

B. The person has had ____ chances to improve on the problem behavior after discussion.

C. The group unanimously agrees that the member will be told to leave and as group discusses the decision with the member.

5. A member who decides to leave the study group must tell the other members that he or she intends to do so and not just “disappear.”

6. The study group will have a rotating facilitator who is responsible for setting the agenda and keeping the group on track each week.  The order will be: _________________, ___________________________, ______________________. 

7. The study group will meet ________ times per week at _______________________.

8. Study group members may/may not bring food -- certain types of food are banned:  ________________________.

9. Each member is to show respect for other members and their opinions. 

10. All materials developed by the study group together are not to be shared outside the group unless __________________of the members agree.

11. All matters discussed in the study group are to be confidential and are not to be used for “gossip.”  (The exception would be if the group is concerned about the physical or mental well-being of a member so that the appropriate action would be to talk to a dean, counselor, etc.)

12. Study aids purchased jointly should be equally available for use as a matter of courtesy.  If the group agrees to share study aids purchased by individuals, then rules may be needed.

                                                                                Signed: _______________________


October 31, 2013 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Crystal Ball for Bar Passage?

I want to give a hat tip to Paul L. Caron, Professor of Law at Pepperdine and owner of Law Professor Blogs, for the following link that might be of interest to our readers. http://witnesseth.typepad.com/blog/2013/08/what-are-my-chances-of-passing-the-bar.html

While I think it is risky to rely on calculators to assess bar passage probability as their results only factor in quantitative data, some students may find this calculator a useful resource for determining where to take the bar exam.  Since many of us in Academic Support realize that qualitative data plays a huge role in bar success, the results from this "bar passage calculator" are not perfect.  Additionally, if a student is told that their bar passage odds are low, they may make that prediction a reality.  However, if a student is open to moving to a jurisdiction where their bar passage odds may increase based on the numbers, this calculator could be beneficial.  My advice is to check it out and think about the pros and cons before distributing it widely to your students.

Lisa Young

October 8, 2013 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Everybody Hurts

Every year, I have a handful of first-year students who do not utilize ASP because they believe that it is only intended for students for whom "something is wrong."  They think (or, more precisely, fear that others think) that ASP is for students who don't understand the law, or haven't slept in a week, or have a recurring dream where they are naked in class and the professor is beaning them with copies of the Restatement.  

They are not wrong to think that ASP is primarily targeted at struggling students. ASP is usually built around specific programs targeted at students who have already "failed" at one indicator or another (low LSAT, low GPA, failed exams).

The problem is that the perception of ASP as a program for students who can't quite make it means that some students who could greatly benefit from ASP services are not taking advantage of them.  They believe either that they "get it well enough" (a common feeling for weak first-year students in the fall) or they are embarrassed to come. In the past, some struggling students have told me that they feel there's something shameful about using ASP.  One of the ways I've tried to fight against this problem is to work on "de-pathologizing" struggle in the first year. 

The first year of law school should be a struggle.  It should stretch students' minds. Law school asks them to think deeply and critically, forces them to analyze all that they think they know, and requires them to participate in class in an utterly new pedagogical style.  The question that law school thrusts upon first year students is: How do you know what you think you know?  This is not just a matter of learning to think like a lawyer.  For some students, it can call into crisis their entire worldview.  Of course they struggle.  They must struggle, because it's in the struggle itself that thoughtful, critical thinking is born.

We tell them that law school is difficult and that they will think in new ways, study more hours, and do more work than they might have done before in their educational careers.  Despite this, some students still seem to get the message that there is something wrong in needing help in that struggle.  Perhaps it comes from their peers, or perhaps it's a result of the ease and success they had in undergraduate school.  Perhaps it's a message from the larger culture and the image of what a "smart and successful" lawyer should look like.  But wherever they are getting it from, the belief that struggling with law school is a sign of weakness is compounding their difficulty.  

This year, I have made a great effort to not say things along the lines of "If you're not getting this for some reason..." or "If you need my help..."  I have also tried to present coming to workshops, going to tutoring, and seeing me individually simply as something that successful law students do as part of their routine.  I think it's worked -- I've had over 100 students at every workshop, and I've had to switch rooms for tutoring because of overflow issues.  I've also been emailing as many students as I can to ask them to meet me individually to look over outlines or do sample questions.  I've let them know in that email that they aren't being targeted for any other reason than that they were the next name on my list. Finally, I employ 18 tutors, all of whom are in the very top of the class. In hiring the tutors this year, I made sure that as first-year students each of them came to every ASP workshop and went to all of the tutoring sessions available.  That way, I can simply point at the very successful tutors and say, "They came to everything -- they utilized services -- nothing was 'wrong' with how they were doing in law school -- they just realized ASP was a good idea -- and look how things turned out."

Luckily, I don't think this perception affects a majority of students. However, year after year, a majority of first-year students who get in serious trouble didn't use ASP when it could have helped them. Consequently, whatever small things I can do to reach students who might not have used ASP are worthwhile. [Alex Ruskell]

 

 

September 26, 2013 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Writing Process and ASP'ers

During the last few years I have been blessed with some writing opportunities that have taught me a great deal about putting words on paper while juggling a busy ASP office.  In addition to writing articles for the Student Lawyer and writing posts for this Blog, I have had the opportunity to publish Time and Workplace Management for Lawyers through the ABA this past spring. 

If anyone had asked me before these opportunities if I would ever be published in any format, I would have been skeptical because my full-time job is so busy.  Here are some of the tips that I can pass on to ASP'ers who might want to write but who are unsure how to get started:

  • Realize that you have something to say that can help law students and your colleagues.  ASP'ers may discount their expertise if they are treated as "just administrators" and peripheral to the law school experience in their own work settings.  ASP'ers are experts and with declining law school applications are becoming more important because of the changing law school populations.
  • Turn items that you already use with your law students into writing opportunities.  You may be able to use e-mail study tips, a series of handouts, a Power Point workshop, or other material as the basis for an article.
  • Turn presentation materials that you have done for a regional workshop or national conference into an article on the same topic.  Watch for conferences which are linked to publication opportunities with paper submissions linked to the sessions. 
  • Turn trends and observations that you have noticed about student skills or problem areas into possible research projects and later writing opportunities.  Remember, however, to clear any research through your institution's human subject research approval process.  Once you have collected and analyzed your results, consider whether you can turn your research into an article.
  • Look for opportunities to write articles in related disciplines.  Legal writing, balance in legal education, pre-law advising, teaching legal education, and student services are just some of the overlap areas that often have academic support writing opportunities.
  • Start out with smaller writing opportunities that seem possible within your time constraints: guest posts submitted to this Blog; guest posts for other blogs that you read; short articles (usually 1,000 to 2,000 words) or comments (roughly 500 words) to newsletters, web publications, and other publications; book reviews for publications.
  • Realize that many writing opportunities in the beginning are unpaid opportunities.  Once your material becomes known, you may be able to land a paid situation on a regular or occasional basis.  Even unpaid opportunities are beneficial!
  • If law review articles are your interest, then talk to faculty and ASP'ers who are already published to gain tips on submissions; look for mentors who will review your articles and make constructive comments during your writing process.
  • Consider starting your own blog or web pages.  You can use tweets to gain followers.
  • Consider posting your research papers on SSRN either as finished works or as working papers for comment.
  • Set aside time in your schedule to write so it will happen instead of staying just a wish.  Personally I work in the evenings and especially on the weekend when I have articles and book projects.  An article of 1,200 words may take me 8 hours of writing time and 2 hours of editing time.  My book on the other hand went through about 5 drafts during the approximately 20 months before the manuscript went to the publisher. 

Writing is not for everyone.  It is okay not to be interested in such tasks if you are not required by your law school to publish.  However, if writing appeals to you, make time for it.  Being published can add to your resume, your own feelings of personal accomplishment, and your credibility with ASP'ers, faculty, and students.  Most of all, enjoy the process and the opportunities.  (Amy Jarmon) 

 

September 17, 2013 in Advice, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Effective Case Briefing

Students often ask how to determine which concepts in a case should end up as part of the case brief’s reasoning section. Because judges do not simply ramble in their opinions, every sentence is an important part of the reasoning that drives the opinion. Therefore, what should students capture in their case briefs?

The answer lies in one of the key purposes of briefing cases: identifying the legal principles and the logical steps that will be necessary for resolving similar issues on an exam. In other words, students should learn to brief cases the way lawyers brief them – to draw out the analytical templates courts use when addressing particular issues. In doing so, students will not only begin preparing themselves for their exams, they will accomplish the most important purpose of briefing cases: training themselves to think like lawyers and judges.

They should focus the reasoning portion of their briefs on the future. They should ask themselves which concepts will be useful to them when they are answering an exam question; those are the ones they want to capture and later put into an outline that will guide their analyses on the exams.

Below is a list of the types of concepts students should watch for, not only in the cases but also in class discussions. In fact, if they print off this list and keep it next to them when they are in class and when they are reading and briefing for class, they may find it easier to separate the important concepts from the background and case-specific concepts that will not likely drive a future analysis.

WHAT SHOULD YOU BE GETTING FROM READINGS AND CLASS DISCUSSIONS?

Key themes running through the course

Accurately stated rules

Corollary rules

Exceptions

Tests, definitions

Precise understanding of the logic underlying the rules, tests, definitions, and their

corollaries and exceptions

Key policy aims underlying each rule, etc.

Essential steps in the logic of applying each rule, etc.

Critical similarities and differences among rules, among tests, etc.

Critical attributes of facts that satisfy or do not satisfy the rules, definitions, etc.

Archetypal fact patterns that implicate each rule

    i.e., what dynamics are always present when a particular rule is implicated?

    E.g., transferred intent in battery: one person always propels something toward another and hits a     third person instead. The means could be throwing, driving, mailing, pushing, or any of a     thousand other means. The dynamics always boil down to the same thing.



Dan Weddle



August 22, 2013 in Advice, Reading, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Need help getting on the ASP listserv?

As someone who has tried no less than ten times to subscribe to the ASP listserv before I finally got enrolled, I wanted to pass on this advice:

1) Send your email to: owner-ASP-L@chicagokent.kentlaw.edu

2) Subject line should be:

Subscribe ASP-L [your name]

3) Body should include:

Your name

Your Title

Your School

This worked for me, and it is different from advice previously posted on the ASP blog...hopefully it will help other people struggling with the listserv! The Chicago Kent listserv information is here: http://www.kentlaw.iit.edu/current-students/information-technology/policies/mailing-lists

(RCF)

August 10, 2013 in Academic Support Spotlight, Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Upcoming 1Ls: Top Ten List

Most law schools will hold orientation for new first-year students within the next couple of weeks.  It is an exciting time - and a bit scary.  Here is my top ten list of things 1L students should think about and do before arriving for the first day of law school:

  • Move in a few days ahead of time to get unpacked and settled.  You will feel less hassled if your apartment is ready, you have explored your new city, and you have taken care of cable, Internet, and errands before orientation begins.
  • Take care of as many school-related tasks as you can beforehand: parking permit, school e-mail account, immunizations, payment of bills, and other items.  Most law schools have ways for you to accomplish many tasks on-line ahead of your arrival.
  • Make a list of the reasons why you want to go to law school and to be a lawyer.  When you get tired during the semester, the list will remind you why all of the hard work is worth it.
  • Make a list of the personal attributes that you have and the values that you hold dear.  These things make you unique and worthwhile as a person.  When you get overwhelmed and begin to wonder who you are, the list will ground you and remind you that you are still that unique and valuable person.
  • Consider what you want to say to introduce yourself to the myriad of new people you will meet.  Everyone who is a new first-year student is outstanding, so bragging and bravado will probably be less successful than you may think.  You want to come across confident and genuine.  Also think about the different audiences that you will be meeting: fellow 1L students; upper-division students; professors; decanal staff. 
  • Spend time with your family and friends now.  You are going to enter a very busy phase in your life.  You will not have the same amount of leisure time as you have been used to previously.  Fill your last summer days with quality time spent with others.
  • Participate in your favorite activities before you leave home. Go to the movies; play pool with friends; go hiking or camping; spend the evenings salsa dancing; read fluff novels.  You can have regular down time in law school if you manage your time well.  However, some activities may need to be saved for special occasions or vacations rather than being weekly events.
  • Prepare your mind set for new experiences, different challenges, and the need to adopt new strategies.  Law school will require new study methods, present new ways of writing, and require acceptance of "it depends" analysis.  You will be less stressed if you can remain flexible and open to new ideas and methods.  Most law students feel uncertain initially until they gain more expertise in this new environment.
  • Get in touch with your spiritual side.  Whatever your belief system is, you will feel less alone and overwhelmed if you are not carrying the weight of the world all by yourself.       
  • Get plenty of sleep and establish a routine now.  For your brain to work well, you need at least 7-8 hours of sleep at regular times each night.  Start going to bed and getting up now to match what your class schedule will be.  If you do not know your classes yet, aim for 11 p.m. bed time and 7 a.m. wake up.

Safe travels to your new law school.  Best wishes for your semester.  (Amy Jarmon)

August 8, 2013 in Advice, Miscellany, Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The days are long and the (summer) months are short

Summer is the season that non-bar prep ASPer's decide they are going to get caught up on everything. However, that is rarely the case. Although it can feel like eternity to be stuck in an office when the sun is shining and the beach is beckoning (especially for those of us in New England and the Midwest, where the sun only shines 5-6 months a year), the reality is that the summer flies by. UMass begins orientation next week. Classes start for all students in two weeks. My to-do list is still very long, and I have little time to finish everything that needs to get done. Despite the pit in my stomach when I look at my list, I know everything will get completed. Here are some tips for wrapping up the summer: 

1) Make a two-column list:

In the first column, lists everything that has a concrete due date. In the second column, list all the amorphous, ambitious projects that have no end-date. Start with the projects that have a concrete deadline that is coming up soon, things like a lesson plan for orientation, or finishing a syllabus. At the end of the day, take 20-30 minutes to analyze your date-less projects; are these projects that need to be done? Are these projects actually many mini-projects, that can be tackled by task, over time?

2) If you have big projects on your list, break them down into manageable components:

I read some great advice in an Inc. magazine article; whenever you have a major goal that you can't seem to reach, work backwards. Break down everything that needs to get done, then group the tasks into categories. When you check off a category, you will feel a special excitement--you can see that you are getting closer to your goal.

3) Minimize distractions:

Don't multi-task. You just get a lot of things half-completed, usually poorly. If you need to compulsively read the news (me) or compulsively check email (many people), try one of the free software programs that de-activates you from the internet for a period of time (see Freedom, http://macfreedom.com/). This article gives basic information on ten other programs that help you focus on one project at a time http://99u.com/articles/6969/10-online-tools-for-better-attention-focus.

4) Schedule your projects, and move meetings around to accommodate project completion (not the other way around):

There is an excellent TED talk that discusses why meetings are a waste of time (see here: http://www.ted.com/talks/jason_fried_why_work_doesn_t_happen_at_work.html). Alas, I also find they are a necessary evil. But I find that when I put meetings first, and task-completion second, I never get anything accomplished, but I have acquired a new to-do list from all the meetings I've attended. When you really need to get things done, it's best to switch priorities. I schedule tasks into my calendar, and all meetings have to be scheduled around the tasks.

5) Schedule your email:

In nine years working in academia, if there is no constant refrain, it's that email is a massive time-suck. I've read a thousand different suggestions for minimizing that time-suck, from only reading email three time a day, to answering all emails immediately, first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. None of these worked for me. However, I learned to stop using email as an excuse. I let people know when I will be answering emails immediately, and when they should expect a wait before they receive a response. What I have found is that people respond quite well when I let them know ahead of time that I am in a busy period and they may have to wait for a response. Students, who are known for becoming angry when professors don't respond to their emails immediately, have been amongst the most understanding when I have let them know they may need to wait for a response. Students become angry when they feel like they are being ignored. If you let them know what is on your plate, and promise them a response within a certain time-frame, 95% of them will be great about the delay. When I know I have to get things accomplished, I set an auto-reply on my email that tells people what I am doing and when they should expect to hear from me (usually within two weeks). I also add a message that lets them know who they should contact in case of emergency.

(RCF)

August 6, 2013 in Advice, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

So many books, so little time...What to choose?

Many new ASP professors are in the midst of choosing books for their growing ASP library, or a text to help them teach an ASP course. The choices are amazing; there are hundreds of good ASP books out there. In the past, Amy, Dan and I have reviewed ASP books. There are now so many, and so many coming out soon, that it is impossible to keep up with them all. So for people new to ASP, I am going to tell you what I am teaching with this year, and why I chose these three books. This list is personal and somewhat idiosyncratic; there are, easily, ten other books I could have chosen that are as good as the books I chose for this semester.

For orientation: RuthAnn McKinney's Reading Like a Lawyer

Writing is thinking. Before a student can write well, they need to understand what they are reading. I chose Reading Like a Lawyer because it starts with the most fundamental skill, essential to success in all classes: reading cases, efficiently and thoroughly. I will be using Reading Like a Lawyer for the first several weeks of our required introductory skills class for incoming students after we start the book during orientation. Another good book if you want to start with a skill-building book during orientation is Plain English for Lawyers.

For our OneL (introductory skills) class: Barry Friedman and John Goldberg's Open Book

Open Book is one of the newer ASP books. I chose this book for the second 2/3rds of our required  introductory skills class, OneL. I chose this book because it is relatively short, straightforward, and it gives stellar advice on exam prep and exam-taking skills. I wanted a short(er) book for the second part of the course because students are going to overwhelmed by reading and studying for exams, and OneL is a p/f course. If I chose a longer book, I doubt students would read before class. However, it was a tough call between Open Book, John Dernbach's Writing Essay Exams to Succeed (Not Just Survive), and the late Charles Whitebread's The Eight Secrets of Top Exam Performance in Law School. However, if I was not starting with Reading Like a Lawyer in OneL, I would have seriously considered Herb Ramy's Succeeding in Law School, Charles Calleros' Law School Exams, or Susan Darrow Kleinhaus' Mastering the Law School Exam.

As a (required) supplemental to my Property course: Jeremy Paul and Michael Fischl's Getting to Maybe

I am teaching Property to third-semester, part-time evening students. Getting to Maybe is, in my experience, the very best book out there for teaching advanced exam skills. I would NOT recommend Getting to Maybe during the first semester of law school; students must have some experience with law school exams before this book can be helpful.  I have a second caveat; ideally, this book should be taught, not just recommended, which is why I make it required reading for my Property class. I am embedding the lessons from the book into my lesson plans on doctrinal material. This book should be taught instead of recommended because it teaches advanced skills and dismisses foundational skills that are essential to success. I always cringe when I read the pages that dismiss IRAC; IRAC is an essential skill, and it is misunderstood by the authors. Students who are struggling with basic exam skills misunderstand the dismissal of IRAC; they take it to mean IRAC is useless. Students cannot discuss “forks in the facts” if they don’t understand they need to start with an issue statement, and a broad statement of the rule at issue. However, when the lessons from this book are discussed, given context, and explained, students gain a more nuanced, thorough understanding of exam writing. Despite my caveats, this is the best book on the market for advanced exam skills.

(RCF)

July 31, 2013 in Advice, Books, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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)