Friday, February 7, 2014
Although there have been several signs of the Apocalypse lately, including a snowball fight in my South Carolina front yard and the appearance of Prince in a sitcom with Zooey Deschanel, I have been operating under the assumption that the world will continue to turn. Consequently, I have spent most of the past few weeks meeting with students who did poorly in their first semester.
There are many, many studies showing the importance of self-evaluation. The first thing I have students in trouble do is fill out a 5-page form asking them to relive the past semester. How many classes did they go to? How much time each week do they spend reading? When did they start outlines? What were there grades in each class? Better or worse than they thought? Did they go to tutoring? Did they come to my workshops? Ever meet with me? Ever meet with their professors?
Once they take a hard look at what they did, we start making a plan of improvement. Most of the time, the biggest self-reported issues are: 1. Started outline too late, 2. Spent too much time preparing for class (and no time preparing for exam), 3. Let Legal Writing get away from them, and 4. Never sought help.
When we've worked this out, I start helping them with outlines, scheduling, and we start with simple practice problems to get IRAC under control. I also make sure they meet with their profs.
While meeting with all of these students may be disheartening (and involve a large investment in Kleenex products), this semester I've had the great pleasure of having many returning, Second, or Third year students swing by my office and tell me how much they've improved (several CALI awards, many at least one entire letter grade jumps). So, I know this approach helps the vast majority of them.
Although, as always, there are the students I am extremely worried about. As I write this, the car keys of one of my in-trouble first years continue to hang on a hook outside my office. It has been three days since he left them here and I emailed him -- I haven't heard anything. How is he getting home? Is he looking for them? Did he forget he owns a car? Is he now living the movie "Badlands"? Did he steal someone else's car with his best girl by his side fleeing from one safe house to another with Boss Hogg on his tail as he tries to swing back to Columbia in time for Civil Procedure at 8 am?
At any rate, the fact his keys are still sitting here does not inspire confidence.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Hat tip to Jan M. Levine for reminding us about a Spring 2013 article in The Law Teacher. The article that Professor Levine wrote is based on a letter from a former student who had left law school years before and wanted to share his thoughts with the perspective he had gained. The issue of The Law Teacher can be found here with the article near the end of the issue: It's OK to Leave Law School.
Friday, January 24, 2014
Whenever I meet with students who have done poorly in the first semester, I tell them about the first English paper I turned in in college. I had never gotten less than an A in anything in my life, I was the “English” guy for big state contests, I’d won several creative writing awards, and I really thought I wanted to major in English. On my first paper, I got a C. When I went to talk to the professor, a man who wore seersucker suits and looked like a cross between Mark Twain and Colonel Sanders, he said in his genteel Virginia-tidewater accent, “Is English your first language? Your name is Russian. Are you translating as you write?”
The unfortunate thing was that he was genuinely curious and English is my first, and only, language.
And the thing was, he was right. The paper was too clever by half, full of elevated verbiage and ideas that got started but then petered out. Split-infinitives were everywhere, the Oxford Comma had apparently decided to hop a bus to Cambridge, and the whole thing rested on a very faulty argument I'd cribbed from an R.E.M. song. But, I took his advice and comments seriously, readjusted my writing process, and, in the words of my seventh grade science teacher, "Got back on the A-train."
I go on to tell my students that I bet most of their professors have a similar story somewhere back in their academic careers, so they should realize that 1) they’re not alone, 2) they can bounce back, and 3) this is an integral part of the learning experience that is often overlooked (as in, “Hell, I’m never taking Crim Law again! Let’s toss that exam and never look at it!”).
I honestly believe hitting a roadbump can sometimes be the best thing that can happen to a student. It forces the student to reflect on their learning and forces them to get better. If I had continued on my merry way without hitting that first bump I might still be scribing in bloviated sentences constructed entirely in the aether and intertwined with the thoughts and errs of beknighted folly -- or something.
So, I try to present a first semester failure as opportunity. I ask them to go over their exams with their professors to see where they fell short, then I meet with them and we make a plan to fix those holes.
And, happily, this year many, many second year students have been coming in to tell me about how they have been able to turn around their grades. While their egos may have been bruised, they have gained necessary insights into themselves and their education. And I know these insights will make them better lawyers. (Alex Ruskell)
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Another small way we can show we are invested in our students success is to add more office hours before exams. So ASPer's do this without being told that it is a good practice. ASPer's can also gently encourage faculty to extend their office hours during reading week.
1) Extended office hours allow last-minute "A HA!" moments.
2) Extended office hours can prevent undue anxiety and meltdowns. Sometimes students just need last-minute reassurance that they are on the right path.
3) Extended office hours can prevent the email avalanche before the final.
4) Extended office hours can allow a student to bow out if they are not going to make it. (RCF)
Friday, November 22, 2013
Hat tip to Joanne Harvest Koren for sending this interesting article on the power of patience and how slowing down can lead to more productivity. The article is titled The Power of Patience: Teaching students the value of deceleration and immersive attention. I especially like the idea that delays in formative assessment can be beneficial. The time a student spends waiting helps influence their experience and their knowledge. Patience, while nostalgic, needs a comeback.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Sometimes, timing is everything. Law students need to learn to use their time wisely to effectively manage the demands of law school while balancing jobs, families, and self-care. Being at the right place at the right time makes a significant difference for law students who are networking for job opportunities and seeking support systems. Also, timing and pacing during a final exam (or the bar exam) can mean the difference between a passing grade and a failing one. In this post, I have referenced song lyrics that incorporate the theme of time while relating them to the law school experience.
“If I could save time in a bottle…” I know I may be dating myself with this one, but I had to begin with this classic line from Jim Croce’s hit love song “Time in a Bottle”. Ask your students what they would do if they could save time in a bottle. Are they making the most of each moment? Are they being intentional with how they plan their schedules, spend their time, and balance their commitments? We all want more time (especially law students), but instead of focusing on the lack of time we have, highlight ways to use time more efficiently and encourage your students to be present when free moments avail themselves.
“I’ve got too much time on my hands…” This classic rock song by Styx was written as a reflection on the unemployment crisis in the 70’s. The underlying theme in the lyrics rings true in many respects for today’s law students. They are worried about their careers, finding a job, and performing well on exams. They may not be able to tighten their focus when they actually do find that they have “time on their hands." Time management does not always come naturally. Providing students with tools and resources to help them manage their time will help them prioritize, use their free time wisely, and establish effective routines.
Similar to the melancholy quality of Styx’s lyrics, Otis Redding hits a few low notes when he croons about… “sitting on the dock of the bay…wasting time….” Students sometimes sit and feel like they cannot catch a break. Redding’s hit resonates with students who are feeling like they have left the life they knew only to find that law school is challenging, competitive, and sometimes disappointing. When they feel like “nothing's gonna change”, we step in to give them hope. Providing the tools for success to law students empowers them to make necessary changes to ensure their success. Especially at the close of the semester, we need to recognize that law students are exhausted, overloaded, and feeling lost. As Cyndi Lauper so aptly sings in “Time After Time”, when law students "are lost, they turn and they will find [us]", Academic Support Professionals. We catch them and lift them back up.
After exams or a when facing a rough patch during the semester, students may need to turn to ASP for this lift or for help with creating a new plan for their upcoming semester. If their study strategies or exam performance are subpar, they begin humming, “If I could turn back time” (with Cher’s iconic diva-ness echoing in their minds). Reflecting on study habits, legal analysis skills, and exam performance are key components to succeeding in law school. Everyone has moments in their past that they wish they could replay (or delete). Using these moments as opportunities for growth instead of moments of failure, helps students see beyond their initial shock, shame, or disappointment.
Like the Stones, we want our students to sing (and feel) that "time is on my side, yes it is...." While this may not always be realistic, there are many ways to get closer to that dream. Here are a few ideas:
- Create sample study schedules for your students
- Give them calendars and checklists to help them plan their time
- Ask them to keep a journal that tracks how they use their time during a typical day or week and then ask them to reflect on their time management
- Provide a time management workshop or webinar
- Have them draft a to do list at the start of each day and evaluate their progress at the end of each day
- Pair 1L students up with a 2L or 3L mentor to discuss how to effectively schedule their time
- Challenge students to unplug for a block of time each day (This is a good one for all of us!)
- Teach students the art of delegation
- Encourage students to take time each day to recharge.
By establishing routine time management practices, students will feel more balanced and be more productive. Because as Pete Seeger so aptly wrote, there is "a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance." We should all spend more time dancing.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
You are homesick. Your little brother or dog misses you. You love turkey and stuffing. Your family expects you to participate in a 5-day round of traditional family events. You want to go skiing for the week. You live for Black Friday shopping.
But now you are having second thoughts about making the trek. Can you afford to give up the uninterrupted study time? Will you be able to get any studying done if you go home? Can you go home for a few days but not all of the time?
Be honest with yourself. How prepared are you currently for your exams? What tasks do you still have left to perform to do well on those exams? Are your outlines in good shape? Have you been reviewing regularly? Have you completed lots of practice questions? Do you have any papers or other assignments to complete? The amount of work you have already finished to prepare for exams and the amount of work left are important factors to your decision.
Consider your family circumstances carefully. Some students know that family members will understand the need to study and allow them to do so except for Thanksgiving dinner with the extended family. Perhaps everyone else will be working much of the time except the actual holiday, and the house will bequiet for solid studying. Other students know that family members will mean well but be visibly hurt if the student does not join in all of the preparations and family fun. In some cases, the family members would understand, but the student will have no will power and not study as planned. Will the circumstances allow you to get work done?
Decide whether you can have your turkey and eat it too. Depending on the travel time and expense, you may be able to go home for part of the break and stay in town to study for part of it. Leave later in the week or return earlier so that the break is split into two parts. This strategy works especially well if home is not a great distance away; but it can work even in Texas, where nothing is really close to anything else. If you use the time before you leave efficiently, you can have some concentrated study time completed before your trip. If you come back early, you can focus on exams after some fun.
Use the next 15 days for a big study push. By making the most out of every day before the holiday, it is possible to accomplish a great deal of extra studying. As a result, you will feel better about what studying is left to accomplish over the break. Get on top of all outlines. Carve out time for exam studying from time you would normally waste. Get the most results from your study time instead of passively spending time over the books. Make a to do list for each course. Cut out your 2-3 hour exercise at the gym. Stop taking naps. Turn off the TV. Get off Facebook. Use every minute so that you are pleased with your progress.
Plan your studying before the break starts. Whether you stay or leave, make a plan before the break. You are more likely to meet your study goals if you have mapped out what you want to accomplish each day. If you fly by the seat of your pants each morning, it is too easy to procrastinate and find something to do that is more attractive than studying. Think about the day as having three parts: morning (8 a.m. to noon), afternoon (1 to 5 p.m.), and evening (6 to 10 p.m.). Plan to study at least two of those parts whenever possible. Map out which course and which tasks you will complete in each time block.
Use travel time for studying. Whether you are driving or flying, you can get some studying done. Consider listening to CDs from one of the substantive law series. If travels are with a law school friend, quiz each other with flashcards or discuss practice questions during the trip. Read through your outlines while on a layover in the airport. If your travel time is productive, you will feel less stressed about study time.
Take Thanksgiving Day off if you can do so. Unless you are desperate about your study situation, take off on the actual holiday. At most, study for a few hours early in the morning or late at night while others are asleep. But enjoy the festivities: a meal or football or the Macy's parade. If you are home, be thankful for the day with family. If you are at school, find some other studiers to spend part of the day with on a break from studying. You will feel less resentful and unhappy if you have a holiday. Work hard before and after the holiday so you do not have to feel guilty on the day itself.
Most of all be thankful for all of your blessings. Being in law school is a privilege that most people will never have. Even if it is hard work, you are blessed with a future profession that can have a positive impact on our world. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, October 31, 2013
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.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
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.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
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]
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
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)
Thursday, August 22, 2013
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
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.
Saturday, August 10, 2013
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:
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
Thursday, August 8, 2013
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)
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
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.
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
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.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
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)
Thursday, June 13, 2013
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)
Monday, June 10, 2013
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.
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!
Thursday, April 18, 2013
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.