Tuesday, January 24, 2012
One of the more depressing statistics I have come across is the rate of depression among lawyers and law students. I am further depressed when I see the random studies linking depression with heightened analytical ability. The theory (and it is only a theory) is that there is a connection between high-achieving lawyers and depression, because a good lawyer will see the flaw, the catch, or the error in any argument, and thereby save his or her client dollars. Someone who is depressed is more likely to see the downside, and therefore, be a better lawyer or law student. This theory ignores the enormous social and emotional toll of depression. It impacts not just the person suffering, but the people who care about the person suffering from depression.
I don't like this theory. I think it gives another excuse for maintaining the status quo. Depression should not be a way of life, for any reason. There is an excellent piece in the NYT's this week on sadness and depression, and the drive to find evolutionary justifications for depression. I found the arguments for an evolutionary explanation for depression similar to the rationalizations explaining why lawyers tend to be more depressed than people in other careers. And like the author, I am disheartened when the drive for explanations leads to a justification for an unhealthy way of life.
Larry Krieger has done amazing work on law students and depression; most of us in ASP are quite familiar with his work. In ASP, we need to recognize the difference between sadness and depression. Sadness is a temporary state all of us experience; depression should not be a common experience. Due to the populations so many of us work with in ASP, we should be trained to see the differences between ordinary sadness over an unfortunate event, and depression, which as Dr. Friedman explains in the NYT article, "a failure to adapt to stress or loss, because it impairs a person’s ability to solve the very dilemmas that triggered it." Depression, unlike sadness, causes memory problems and issues with learning, which cause additional academic problems, and causes depression to snowball. (RCF)
More information on lawyers and law students and depression:
WSJ: Why are so many lawyers depressed? http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2007/12/13/why-are-so-many-lawyers-so-depressed/
Lawyers With Depression: http://www.lawyerswithdepression.com/depressionstatistics.asp
Psychology Today: The Depressed Lawyer: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/therapy-matters/201105/the-depressed-lawyer?page=2
New York Times: Depression Defies the Rush to Find an Evolutionary Upside: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/17/health/depression-defies-rush-to-find-evolutionary-upside.html
Saturday, October 22, 2011
I am going to elaborate on Amy's post from a couple of weeks ago about taking time to care for yourself. Bad, unfair stuff happens to everyone. Not everyone knows how to handle it when it happens to them. Most people take some time, dust themselves off, heal, and move one. When working with law students, some additional context may help explain why our current students may take things a bit harder than previous classes.
The three classes that are presently in law school are different; widespread anecdotal report them as younger, which is the natural consequence of students choosing to enroll in law school after undergrad to avoid a depressed economy. Younger students may have less life experience, and less practice handling the ups and downs of life. Additionally, these students are getting bombarded with press telling them that they are fools and their decision to enroll in law school is a mistake. Add in some disappointments, such as a break-up, a family issue, or a fight with a friend, and it's harder for these students to put their troubles in perspective and see that this, too, shall pass. When all the news is bad and you don't have the life experience to see that everything is temporary, disappointment can morph into depression.
Taking some points from Martin Seligman and positive psychology, there are some strategies for working with students who need some advice handling life's disappointments:
1) Whatever state you are in now is not permanent. It may feel like the pain of a break-up, a bad grade, a fight with a friend will be permanent, but the pain will pass. Just like the excitement of a special day or thrill of a good grade passes, disappointment fades. The more you (the student)focus on the disappointment, the more permanent it will feel.
2) Remember your successes. Failure can seem pervasive when several disappointments hit at once. But no one got to law school as a pervasive failure in life. Everyone has successes. When you increase the level of challenge in your life, you increase the risk of failure and disappointment. Recalling the times you were successful can help you bounce back.
3) Remember that you choose how you frame events in your life. Events, by themselves, are neither good nor bad. Even severe traumas, like the death of a loved one, can be viewed from different perspectives. One perspective focuses on being grateful for the time you had with them, another perspective focuses on how much time you wish you still had with them. Similarly, students suffering through break-ups (so common in the first semester of law school) often spend disproportionate amounts of time focusing on their sadness because that person was "the one" and their whole life was built around them. While it is valid to be sad, focusing on how things will always be negative since the significant other is gone keeps the student in a bad cycle.
4) Remind them that the press doesn't focus on the happy, because that makes for boring news. This is the time of the year 2L's are getting offers for summer employment. Mix in the constant barrage of terrible news about law school, and it's easy for students without a big-firm summer placement to feel like a failure. Students depressed about their prospects need to remember that smaller firms and non-profits hire after the new year, sometimes late into the spring. Just because you, the student, struck out in OCI doesn't mean you will never get a job. The news media fails to note that even during the "boom" years of 2002-2007, not all student got big-firm jobs.
5) As trite as it sounds, failure is the key to success. If you are always winning, how will you handle it when you fail when the stakes are high? Learning from mistakes is critical to future success. Failed relationships teach us how to behave when we meet the right person. Fights with friends teach us how to handle disagreements appropriately. Failed interviews teach us how not to answer OCI questions posed by interviewers.
I realize that ASPer's already have these skills, and they sound obvious. Many of our students have not lived enough to have gained perspective on life's disappointments, which leads them to perseverate on negative events. This can have an immediate impact on grades, because dwelling on disappointments increases cognitive load and decreases the ability to focus on homework, reading, and studying. Focusing on disappointments also negative impacts on motivation. (RCF)
Thursday, October 20, 2011
New England Consortium of Academic Support Professionals Annual Conference
“ASP Without Stigma: Serving Our Diverse Populations”
Monday, December, 5, 2011
Boston College Law School
Please join us for the third annual NECASP conference at Boston College Law School. This year’s conference will feature admissions professionals and law students discussing who to best attract and serve the increasingly diverse law student population. Keynote speaker will be Jacq Nance, Assistant Director of Admissions, UConn Law School, who will speak about what type of support students look for in law schools.
9:15-9:30-Welcome Address by Dean Vincent Rougeau, Boston College Law School
9:30-10:30-Keynote Address by Jacq Nance, Asst. Director of Admissions, UConn Law School
and Tracy West, Assistant Dean for Students, Diversity Initiatives, and Academic Advising, Boston College Law School
Followed by Q and A
10:45-11:45-Mason Dunn, UNH Law student, LGBT issues and ASP
Followed by Q and A
12-1-lunch and law student panel
Jennifer Kent, BC Law School, BLSA President
Ramey Sylvester, The University of New Hampshire School of Law Diversity Action Coalition
1-2-group discussion of hypothetical situations encountered in ASP
$25, payable by check to NECASP
Please mail checks to: Elizabeth Stillman-Suffolk Law School
120 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02108-4977
Saturday, August 20, 2011
There is a very interesting discussion at the Freakonomics blog (same authors as the book) about how to incentivize class attendance. I think this dovetails nicely with a question posted yesterday on the ASP listserv about laptops in class. Both attendance policies and laptops bans get at the same fundamental issue: how do professors keep students in class and engaged? I don't think there is one answer to this question, but a theme seems to run through both issues. The theme is lecture-only or lecture-from-the-book courses bore students, encourage students to miss class, and increase the use of distractions in class. I have heard over and over from doctrinal professors that the Socratic Method is not lecture-only, but as the Socratic Method is employed in many classes, students can't see the difference. This is especially true when the Socratic Method is used to question only a tiny number of students in a large class; I have heard students complain they would rather lecture-only, because questioning only a few students, who may or may not have done the reading, just increases confusion.
The comments below the post in Freaknomics make sense and pose the same questions law schools are struggling to answer.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Corie Rosen of ASU-Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law recently published in article in the McGeorge Law Review on positive psychology and law students. Corie's work is a good reminder for all of us that self-efficacy is important for law students as learners and as future professionals.
1) Feedback should be temporary and specific.
Avoid making comments on students papers (and to students directly) that are permenent or pervasive. This is a hard thing to do, especially when you are frustrated. Setbacks are temporary. One bad grade or semester does not mean the student cannot succeed in law school.
2) Students need to know they have some control in their lives.
Law school can infantilize students. During their first year, they cannot choose their classes, their section, or their schedule. If you cannot let them make a decision, then explain to them why they can't make the decision. If them control where you can.
3) Encourage connection and roots in the community and in the law school.
Law school can disconnect students from their traditional support systems. Try to reorient them by letting them know where they can seek help if they need it. Help foster close relationships with peers by encouraging study groups and teaching them how to work in a study group. Show them the community outside the law school walls and help them remember the relevance of what they are learning to the outside world.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
I am going to get meta here and refer to two other blogs writing about something we have blogged about (I think?) and we have talked about in the ASP community. The Faculty Lounge links to Prawfsblog and work by Ethan Leib on mandatory grading curves. Dan Filler comments on something many of us have encountered in ASP; if a student is in the bottom of the class with a 3.0, they can't see they need help. If that same student has a 2.4 (or 2.0) it is a different story; students intrinsically know this a problematic GPA.
Years ago, I encountered this phenomenon with a student with roughly a 2.9/3.0. The student was furious that s/he had to meet with me. S/he was certain she was not struggling, although s/he was in the bottom 10 in the class. S/he was on a journal (one that accepted everyone who applied and had a passing grade in their Legal Writing course). S/he went on to tell me s/he had graduated from high school at 16, graduated at the top of s/her college, and the law school was making a mistake. I spoke with a few faculty members after the meeting, who had a similar experience with the students--the student was deeply in denial, and angry at anyone who tried to confront the problem. I recently saw a link to the student (now alumni) profile on a business networking site, and it appears s/he to be struggling to find work. It also appears that s/he did not take or pass a bar exam, or chose not to list bar passage in their profile.
Would it have helped if the student was at a school with a more harsh curve? I don't know the answer to that. It may have been easier for me to show the student they were in trouble. I think the curve has some pernicious effects on student motivation, collegiality, and morale. But an "easy" curve, such as one that doesn't require grades lower than a B-, may be worse than no curve at all. It lulls students into a false sense of their own competence. A C is a shock to the system in a way that a B- doesn't appear to be.
I don't want this post to sound like I am suddenly a fan of mandatory curves. I actually think they should be abolished. What is happening at many schools, in response to the jobs crisis, is artificial inflation of grades that defeats the purpose of a curve AND hurts students who need extra support. I recieve an email from a former student at least once a week asking for help finding a job; I understand the problem. But I don't think the answer, at least from an ASP standpoint, is to ease the curve and bring students false hope about their prospects and needs. (RCF)
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
If you have not completed the ASP survey sent by John Mollenkamp, please take the time to do so now. Or, as they say, the beatings (or harassing emails) will continue until morale improves (or until all ASPer's have responded to the survey).
I have made a plea over the listserv, as have a number of my illustrious colleagues, to finish the survey for yourself. I stand by that plea. But if you are more civic-minded, please complete the survey for all of us. We hear lots and lots about the growth of empirical legal studies, but ASP has no empirical data on the state of our own existence at other schools. Right now, we have no hard data on what we are, who we are, or what we do for students. If we want to prove how important we are to student success, we need to know what is going on at other schools as well as our own.
So please, respond to the survey. If you should have received a link to the survey, but did not receive one, please contact Ruth McKinney at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those of you in the Northeast...finish the survey now because the weather is FINALLY! looking good. The sooner you get the (very quick) survey out of the way you can go and play outside. (RCF)
Friday, April 1, 2011
The ABA Journal and the National Law Journal reported on an law review article that studied laptop use among law students. The students self-reported their laptop use in class, including their feelings on whether laptops aid their learning. Students overwhelmingly reported using laptops, and overwhelmingly reported that they used thier laptops to "goof off" during class. I am going to bypass the issues that have been argued in other blogs (should laptops be banned in class, are professors failing to teach their students). Without a study that tracks laptop use in class and student grades, I am left to wonder, do students actually know what is good for them? If something feels good and it is satisfying, people will report that the activity helps them. Here, students reported laptops aided their learning, but that really means they find laptop use satisfying. What I want to see is an empirical study of the grades and attitudes of students who use laptops, comparing students who hand-write their class notes, students who use a laptop but do not goof off, and students who use a laptop and admit to goofing off in class. I would like to see their grade trajectory throughout law school, as well as their attitudes about goofing off, if it does have an impact on their grades. This study has yet to be performed (to my knowledge).
There are so many things we could learn from a study that tracks laptops and grades. It would be a wonderful diagnostic tool in ASP; having this information to share with students would help when students come to our offices to discuss lackluster performance. Assuming the data demonstrated a correlation between goofing off on a laptop in class and poor grades, I would have a better idea of what is behind less-than-stellar performance. I would approach a student who does not "goof off" in class, yet struggles, quite differently from a student who uses a laptop and plays during class while telling me that the laptop helps them learn. Right now, I don't make that assumption because I don't know if laptop use in class has a correlation with grades. I know playing on a laptop is rude and disrespectful, to me and to peers, but unless I have hard data showing a correlation between laptop use and grades, students are less likely to give up the laptop because of poor law school performance.
There is another issue hidden in laptop use that extends beyond exam performance; if students knew it had an impact on grades, would they care? I think this brings up issues about how we teach and student engagement in class. It also implies issues with motivation and depression. I know most of the pre-law students I work with are excited about law school, and motivated to do their best. If those same students become apathetic about their own performance, choosing to use a laptop even if it hurts their grades, we need a more serious examination of student mental and emotional health during their 1L year. Thanks to the amazing work of Larry Kriegar and Ken Sheldon, we know law school has a deleterious effect on law student mental health. But does depression extend to self-defeating behaviors, or is the effect limited to personal and professional outlook?
I wish we had more people doing empirical work on the behavior, motivation, and learning occuring in law schools. Larry and Ken are prolific, but we need more people doing more of this work. I think this is a problem resulting, in part, from the lack of research time and funds that go to law school professionals that work in legal writing and academic services. The people with the most time in the trenches with students, who would be best able to perform a large-scale empirical study, are the same people who are non-tenure track, and have least access to research funding. I am hoping some intrepid souls take on this challenge and produce more scholarship that relates directly to student academic success and health.
Friday, January 21, 2011
By now, most ASP professionals have read the New York Times article on law school as a losing game. The article was the subject of much discussion in my department. The timing of the article coincided with the AALS annual meeting, where ASP, Student Services, and Balance in Legal Education focused on the question of whether we should be graduating happier law students. The contrast between the article and the AALS section program was stark; as we are looking to graduate happier students, more and more of them are unhappy because of the lack of job prospects, which is one thing that is out of our control in Academic Success.
A colleague on mine with a background in psychology noted the similarity between the student profiled in the NYT's article and the mentality of hazing victims. Victims of hazing often demonstrate undue veneration for the organization, because they have to justify their suffering. Hazing victims have to believe that their suffering was justified by the value and prestige of the organization. Students aren't just suffering because of a lack of jobs; students suffer throughout law school by the system of grading and sorting that prevents them from fixing their errors in thinking before final exams. When law schools operated as a sorting mechanism, where the best suffered in order to be chosen by Big Law and rewarded for their suffering with a high six-figure salary, the hazing of law students was justified by "winners" of the race. However, with BigLaw jobs disappearing, and six-figure starting salaries becoming more and more rare, the concept of law school as a sorting mechanism breaks down. If law school no longer acts as sorting mechanism, is there a reason to continue with a system that causes students to behave like victims of hazing?
The breakdown of law schools as a sorting mechanism makes the focus of this year's AALS program even more timely. While some students will continue to value a law degree despite the low salaries, disappearing job prospects, and rising debt, many more students will reject the notion that a law degree must come with three years of suffering. Breaking law school of the elements of hazing will mean graduating happier law students, and the possibility that they will venerate their law school experience for the value of the education, not as a defense mechanism. A legal education is still incredibly valuable, but it doesn't need to come with undue suffering.
ASP has a critical role in helping graduate happier law students. We can't force professors to give formative assessments, or goose the legal market so graduates have jobs, but we can help students learn the coping skills that make law school easier to digest. We can teach the academic skills earlier in the year and help students design their own formative assessments so that grades are not complete shock in January. ASP can direct students towards the skills classes and clinics that will make them more appealing to employers, despite less-than-stellar first semester or first year grades. (RCF)
(Thank you to Lucy Sweetman of UConn, who made the comparison between victims of hazing and the student profiled in the article.)
Monday, January 17, 2011
There will be additional posts on AALS, but this is a brief overview of the program and the new AALS ASP section officers (Congrats to my co-editor, Dr. Amy Jarmon!)
The program, co-sponsored by Student Services and Balance in Legal Education sections, was a huge success with great turnout. It was a packed house, with every seat filled.
The program started with a brief memorial to Prof. Bruce Winick, who passed away this year. Prof. Winick was a giant in the legal academy, therapeutic justice, and the humanizing legal education movement. He will be deeply missed.
The first panel was Deborah Rhode, Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado, and Nancy Levit, discussing the current state of emotional well-being for law students. The statistics were sobering, but it was wonderful to hear so many folks so concerned about the happiness and well-being of law students and actually working to do something about the challenges to law students and recent grads.
The next panel was Paula Manning, Corie Rosen, Russell McClain, Rebecca Flanagan (me), joined after by Andrew Faltin. Paula et al got the program rocking with a song and dance (no joke) on how optimism, feedback, and programming can enhance law student well-bring. Andrew closed the section with information on how to use student self-evaluatuations to create happier law students.
The last panel, Laurie Zimet and Paula Lustbader, showed the audience how to get to know their students in"3D". Laurie and Paula provided some excellent tools to help professors get past their pre-conceived ideas about their students and help see them for who they are, not just a face in a seat. We closed out the day with Larry Krieger, the guru of law student balance and happiness, discussing his latest research on autonomy support and student success.
At the close of the program, the ASP business meeting announced the section officers for the 2011-2012 year:
Chair: Michael Hunter Schwartz
Chair Elect: Paula Manning
Immediate Past Chair: Robin Boyle
Secretary: Rebecca Flanagan
Treasurer: Herb Ramy
LaRasz Moody, Emily Scivoletto, Louis Schulz, and Dr. Amy Jarmon
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Some interesting science to report...at least one presenter at every ASP conference mentions that students feel that red pen makes it look as if the paper is "bleeding" negative comments. A new spin: teachers actually grade more harshly when using red pen. Another reason why green, pink, purple might be better bets when giving student feedback.
(I realize this link doesn't look like it fits with my post...it does.)
And a link to the full study is here:
The pen is mightier than the word: Object priming of evaluative standards
by Rutchick, Slepian, and Ferris
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
It looks like New England will have another public law school in a few years. Franklin Pierce announced they will become affiliated with the University of New Hampshire, leading to a full merger over the next few years. This is wonderful news for students looking at affordable law schools in the Northeast. UNH Law will become the 3rd accredited public law school in New England, with a 4th closely following, when UMass Law opens and gets accreditation.
Congrats to Sunny Mulligan and Alice Briggs, FPLC's amazing ASP team, as the school transitions to UNH Law School.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
It was another successful year at AALS. Here are some of the highlights of our section and the section program:
1) The section program featured:
Barbara McFarland (NKU), Sophie Sparrow (Franklin Pierce), and on team-based learning
Susan Keller (Western State) and Hillary Burgess (Hofstra) on peer feedback
Pavel Wonsowicz (UCLA) on engaging students in class*
Tanya Washington (Georgia State) on using bar questions in doctrinal classes
*Please see the Chronicle of Higher Education piece on Pavel's presentation
2) New Section Board:
Chair: Robin Boyle (St. Johns)
Chair Elect: Michael Hunter Schwartz (Washburn)
Secretary: Paula Manning (Whittier)
Treasurer: Rebecca Flanagan (UConn)
Executive Board: Jeff Minetti (Stetson), LaRasz Moody (Villanova), Emily Randon (UC-Davis)
Herb Ramy (Suffolk)
3) New Section Committees:
The section added these new committees:
Exploratory Committee on a Mid-Year AALS Meeting for ASP
4) Hillary Burgess and Corie Rosen (editors) distributed copies of the newest edition of The Learning Curve, the AALS ASP section newsletter. Please look in your inboxes for electronic distribution of the newsletter in the near future.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
It is with a sad heart I heard this morning that Charles Whitebread of USC Law passed away recently. Although he was a doctrinal professor, he was dear to the hearts of many of us in ASP; his book The Eight Secrets of Top Exam Performance is excellent, and anyone who has taken Bar/Bri will never forget his worderful, humerous take on Criminal Procedure and Criminal Law. He was one of the few people who could add levity to normally dry bar material.
Charles Whitebread, we will miss you.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Okay, seems like a simple proposition. It has a significant impact on us, especially those in ASP and Legal Writing, that deal with writing everyday. I have yet to attend a conference where someone, either at lunch, or in a formal program, decries student's inability to write. Their inability to write is often conflated with an inability to be logical or formulate a coherent analysis of an issue. To me, that is a different, albeit equally challenging, problem. Another problem that is conflated with the inability to write is the idea that this is a part of a generational war; "back in the day, when I was a student..." everyone was a great writer and...so on and so forth. Maybe, maybe not. Do students lack the ability to write? My completely anecdotal, unscientific polling would suggest that yes, most of us believe many of our students don't know how to write when they get to law school, and it's not a skill we should have to teach while teaching doctrinal material. (I believe Legal Writing is doctrinal and skills-based, and I am framing the argument from that perspective).
There is an argument that writing, or composition, in it's purest form, is not taught in college. At the undergrad level, writing is taught in "writing-intensive" courses that focus on content, not style, grammar, or clarity.
Stanley Fish from the New York Times (and a fellow law professor) wrote a wonderful piece on the problem of writing instruction at the college level. The piece discusses other problems of a political nature, but it provides a thought-provoking argument about the lack of writing instruction at the undergraduate level. Should we, as part of the legal academy, make certain writing skills, or composition, classes a requirement for admission to law school? Should we be a part of this discussion? If we complain enough and feel this brings down the level of our instruction, do we have a duty to insist that students come to law school knowing basic composition? I admit, I never had a composition class in college--I tested out of them--and I feel my writing reflects my lack of instruction in the area. I don't have any answers to these questions, just lots of thoughts. (RCF)
Friday, July 31, 2009
Valerie accepted the position of Assistant Dean for Student Affairs at the Univ. of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law.
Her education includes a Juris Doctor with honors received from the Univ. of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law in May 2008, and two undergraduate degrees (magna cum laude) in Criminal Justice and Professional and Technical Writing received from the Univ. of Arkansas at Little Rock in December 2003.
Valerie's professional experience includes 16 years in the legal field, including 15 years as a paralegal and 1 year as an attorney primarily in the area of commercial litigation, bankruptcy, collection, and employment discrimination. I have been heavily involved in alumni activities and recruitment at Bowen.
Let's welcome Valerie to our ASP community! (RCF)