Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, October 16, 2017

October Slump and Shout-Outs

I first want to provide a special shout-out to Russell McClain, the University of Baltimore School of Law, and everyone involved with the planning and running of the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) Diversity Conference. The presentations and accompanying dialogue were informative and thought provoking. And, as always, the camaraderie among the law school academic support community and the community’s genuine interest in law student success were inspiring and helped serve as continued motivation to push us through the rest of the academic semester.

I also want to provide a separate shout-out to my colleague, Rachel Gurvich. I have mentioned Rachel’s name and Twitter handle (@RachelGurvich) on several occasions at law school conferences and on this blog. Rachel recently wrote an ASP-ish post on The #Practice Tuesday blog. The post, entitled, “It’s not so shiny anymore: 1Ls and the October slump”, provides seven tips on how 1Ls can push through the rest of the academic semester. I encourage you and your students to take a look at the post and follow Rachel on Twitter. She’s a great colleague and resource at Carolina and beyond—her Tweets have reached and supported law students throughout the country, including this one and this one.

Rachel and Sean Marotta (@smmarotta) started The #Practice Tuesday blog as an opportunity to expand their #Practice Tuesday discussions on Twitter. On Tuesday afternoons, Rachel and Sean lead great discussions on “advice and musings on legal practice and the profession.” Participants in the discussions include practitioners, judges, and law school faculty and students throughout the country. Feel free to join in on the conversations!

Again, thanks to Russell McClain and everyone involved with the AASE Diversity Conference! And, thanks, to my amazing colleague Rachel Gurvich! (OJ Salinas)

October 16, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

National Diversity Week 2017

Typically, the first full week of October marks National Diversity Week, founded in 1998 to raise awareness about the diversity which has shaped, and continues to shape, the United States. Numerous cities, companies, and schools, including mine, will participate in this weeklong, nationwide event. 

Roughly ten years after the founding of National Diversity Week, the American Bar Association also decided to make diversity and inclusion a top priority. That year the House of Delegates adopted just four goals for the Association:

  1. Serve Our Members,
  2. Improve Our Profession,
  3. Eliminate Bias and Enhance Diversity, and
  4. Advance the Rule of Law.

The Association then charged the Office of Diversity and Inclusion with advancing “Goal III,” namely to “promote full and equal participation in the Association, our profession, and the justice system by all persons” and to “eliminate bias in the legal profession and the Justice System.”  The office now serves as a hub, coordinating the activities of seven other ABA entities:

The ABA has also created an online portal to centralize information concerning the Association’s various diversity and inclusion initiatives.  The portal contains videos and toolkits to enable law firms and law schools to easily offer diversity and inclusion focused presentations throughout the year, such as an implicit bias training or a discussion on the concept of “grit” in women lawyers.  (If you haven’t planned a Diversity Week event yet or want to beef up your existing plans, you can quickly download a lesson-in-the-box from the portal.)

In addition to the ABA resources, the National Diversity Council and the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity have both made lasting impacts on the legal profession in the past decade.

The National Diversity Council is a non-partisan organization dedicated to being both a resource for and an advocate for the value of diversity and inclusion. “The National Diversity Council is the first non-profit organization to bring together the private, public and non-profit sectors to discuss the many dimensions and benefits of a multicultural environment. The success of the Texas Diversity Council (established in 2004) served as a catalyst for the National Diversity Council, launched in the fall of 2008." 

The Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, founded in 2009, “is an organization of more than 265 corporate chief legal officers and law firm managing partners—the leadership of the profession—who have dedicated themselves to creating a truly diverse U.S. legal profession.”  The organization hopes “to attract, inspire, and nurture the talent in society and within [legal] organizations, thereby helping a new and more diverse generation of attorneys ascend to positions of leadership.” 

Lastly, for even more concrete ideas about how you—as an academic support professor—can best contribute to the legal profession’s goals of eliminating bias and promoting diversity, join us at the Inaugural AASE Diversity Conference, Fulfilling Promises: Providing Effective Academic and Bar Exam Support to Diverse Students on October 12-13, 2017, hosted by the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law in Baltimore, Maryland.

(Kirsha Trychta)

October 10, 2017 in Diversity Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Dare to Disclose?

The counseling field has often highlighted the benefits of some personal disclosure from therapists to their clients. Some cited benefits include increased trust and rapport, as well validation of the clients’ experiences.

Join me this week at the Inaugural Diversity Conference for the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) in Baltimore, Maryland, for a moderated discussion on the benefits of academic support professionals sharing personal stories and struggles with their students.

Participants will be encouraged to share their experiences (i.e., their stories or struggles) relating to diversity and inclusion or their law school experience in general. These experiences may either be personal stories or struggles or stories related to students that the participants may have worked with in their capacity as academic support professionals. As presenters and participants share their stories, the “listening” participants will be modeling and reviewing some of the same active listening skills and nonverbal behaviors that academic support professionals should be engaging in when they work with students in either individual or group conferences.

Hope to see you in Maryland! (OJ Salinas)

October 9, 2017 in Advice, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, News, Professionalism, Program Evaluation, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Generations X, Y, and Z Affect Academia in a Myriad of Ways

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education looks at ways the academy will change with Generations X, Y, and Z as students, faculty, and administrators. We tend to consider these generations as learners and lawyers, but we may not fully appreciate how our law school environments will change when they become faculty and administrators later. The link is Generations Article .

October 7, 2017 in Diversity Issues, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Letter from a Bar Coach to Her Goal Achievers

The hustle and bustle of day to day academic support life does not always allow for me to say all that I would like to say to the countless students who contact me to let me know that they passed the bar exam. In the moment, I am excited, I might scream, my heart and my soul are filled with joy, and I might even shed a tear as the bar passer and I recall the challenges they overcame to make it to this point. While addressed to one individual, this letter addresses most of what I would have liked to say but may not have. I am certain that I missed something so please forgive me in advance.

Dear Achiever,

I am so very proud of you!!! You passed the bar exam and did it on the first try! You should be very proud of yourself and your accomplishments. I am certain that your family is very excited for you. Many of your former law school colleagues have stopped by to ask whether I heard about your success and expressed their joy, excitement, and pride. You are an inspiration, a role model, and mentor to others who will walk in your shoes very soon so please do not take that role lightly. I also look to you for support of soon to be bar takers so please do not forget to provide me with any advice you have for those who will soon sit for your state bar exam.

At this time, passing the bar might be a surreal experience but I am here to remind you that you did it. I also want to remind you of what it took for you to get here because the journey was not a simple walk in the park. You sacrificed a lot in the past three years. Was it worth it to you? I want you to take some time prior to your swearing-in ceremony, prior to the start of your job, prior to your journey to finding a job, or prior to the official start of your legal journey to reflect on your legal education journey so that you never forget what it took to achieve this success.

Remember the community you come from and what lead you to consider pursuing a law degree. Maybe you are a first-generation college student, first-generation graduate, or first-generation professional school student so you had to sort through how to navigate the necessary steps to attend law school. Maybe everyone around you said you could not make it to or through law school or maybe you had a supportive family who believed that you could achieve anything and you were slated for success. Maybe you were the only one in your community to graduate from high school and/or college. But you did it and that in itself is an achievement you should be proud of.

Remember all that you sacrificed to attend law school and how much of a toll it took on you, your children, your marriage, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your family, and all those around you. Maybe you moved from across the country to attend law school. Maybe you gave up a well- paying job to live like a college student to pursue your dream of obtaining a legal education. Maybe you left an environment you felt comfortable in to move to one where you stuck out like a sore thumb and never really understood or felt a part of. Maybe you had to leave significant others behind or become a different type of parent, husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, son, daughter, brother, or sister to achieve your dream. Maybe you were not as “present” as you used to be, missed holiday celebrations, and other significant life events to obtain your law degree.

Remember the countless hours you devoted to law school studies and bar exam studies. Maybe you were admitted through a conditional admission program, alternative admission program, or simply opted to participate in a pre-law school program, early start program or jump start program. Maybe reading cases, understanding concepts, briefing, outlining, and drafting memoranda took you longer than the next person to master or at least get comfortable with. Maybe law school studies posed the first academic challenge you have ever experienced in life. Maybe you sacrificed hours on course preparation, did not yield the expected results but you kept going. Maybe you experienced many challenges during your summer bar studies. You had no idea how you would manage all of the subject matter and apply it when necessary. Maybe your scores and feedback on essays, Multistate Bar Exams (MBE), Multistate Performance Tests (MPT) and mock bar exams were subpar and you were unsure about whether you would pass the bar exam. Maybe your entry credentials did not “guarantee” law school or bar exam success but you nevertheless dispelled every single one of those myths - you PASSED!

Remember when you said that you were “over law school”, law school was not for you, and you wanted to and also planned to go back home and never return. Maybe you felt like an impostor, alienated, alone, pushed to your limit. What would have happened had you given up on your dream? Would you have experienced the success you now have? The world would have lost an amazing attorney, YOU!

Remember when you ran out of funds and had no food to eat, no means to buy books, and thought you might become homeless. You became resourceful, learned about the options available to you, and overcame each and every one of those obstacles. Your classmates, professors, friends, and family may not have known about your needs and thought you were doing alright. Remember when your grandmother passed away, when your classmate passed away, when your mother or your father told you they had cancer, and when you faced countless other tragedies. Those experiences may make you relatable to some of the clients you will encounter or at the very least will motivate you to support causes that impact various indigent, disenfranchised, and struggling communities and individuals. You are also a stronger person because of what you have experienced.

You did that! No one else! You stared fear and challenges in the eye and emerged stronger, wiser, and capable. Someone once told me: “what is meant for you is yours, and no one can ever take it away.” This statement holds true for you.

You are an amazing person! You inspire me every day and by sharing your story with me, many others will benefit. You persisted in the face of challenges when some others gave up.

My only advice is that you remember the positive things others did for you and do it for someone else if and whenever you are able to. That is the biggest reward you will ever experience. My role as your coach was to push you so that you would see your endless potential and to propel you beyond your own limited dreams and aspirations because hopefully, I saw more in you than you saw in yourself. Remember all that you are, all that you experienced, all that you accomplished and did not accomplish, and where you have been. Never be so important as to deny your ability to lift someone else up. You are done with one challenge and I am certain that you will experience countless others in the months and years to come but you are equipped for it all. Believe it!

All of the very best,

 

Your ASP and Bar Coach (Goldie Pritchard)

October 4, 2017 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 2, 2017

Hypothetically Speaking . . . .

I mentioned last week that students don’t have to wait until final exams at the end of the semester to find out whether they have a good understanding of what their doctrinal professors are teaching. Since most law school classes don’t have traditional periodic tests, I encouraged students to use their professors’ various “what ifs” and “how abouts” to test their understanding of key rules and concepts that the professors are covering in class.

Students: If you are able to answer the professors’ hypotheticals—whether out loud or in your head—you are positioning yourself well to answer the professors’ hypotheticals on their final exams.

A final exam is often just a mixture of a bunch of hypotheticals in one or two large stories. The hypotheticals test your recollection and understanding of key rules that you have covered throughout the semester. The hypotheticals also test your ability to identify and apply significant facts within the hypotheticals to your key rules. This application of law to facts is legal analysis. The better your legal analysis is on a final exam, the more likely you will get a better grade.

But, I know the Socratic class can often be an intimidating and difficult experience, particularly for many 1L students. I know it is not easy sitting in a Socratic class worrying about getting called on—I’ve been there, and I didn’t particularly like it. I disliked the Socratic class so much that I wanted to quit law school after my first year (That story is for another blog post; but you can read a little more about my law school experience here.)

I feared speaking up in the Socratic class because I didn’t want to be seen as incompetent. I worried too much about what my professors or my peers might have thought about me during that moment right after the professor called my name in class. I worried about getting the professor's question wrong. I worried about appearing nervous. I worried.

It took me a long while to adjust to the type of teaching in the Socratic class. It took me a long while to realize that it didn't matter if I was nervous or got a question wrong--what mattered was how I did on the final exams. 

So, I wanted to do what I could to prepare for the final exams. I tried to do a lot of preparation outside of class. I read my cases. But, I also used study aids to help give me context for what I was reading. The study aids also provided me with a bunch of hypotheticals where I could practice my legal analysis.

I practiced my legal analysis within the confines of my safe apartment where I didn’t have to worry about others “judging” me if my voice cracked or was shaky or when I didn’t answer a question correctly. I trained myself on issue spotting and applying law to facts so that I could feel more confident not only in the Socratic class, but on the final exams as well. And things turned out okay for me. The guy who wanted to quit law school after his 1L year is now teaching in a law school.

It’s funny how things turn out. And things can turn out well for you, too. Try to engage with your professors’ hypotheticals. If you are not fully able to engage with the hypotheticals in class, look for ways to engage with hypotheticals outside of the potentially intimidating classroom. Like anything in life, the more you practice, the better you will get. And you have an entire semester to practice for your big day (and it won't matter on that big day whether your voiced ever cracked in class or whether you got a question wrong when the professor called on you). (OJ Salinas)

October 2, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Post-Graduation Interaction with Academic Support

Does academic support extend beyond the law school environment and the time students are at an institution?  Does it take on a different form?  Is it even academic support anymore?  We have a general idea of what academic support offices do and the nature and purpose of our interactions with students.  Most of our interactions revolve around helping students develop skills to be academically successful and successful on the bar exam.  Certain interactions permit us to get to know some of our students as more than just an individual who has difficulty outlining or organizing answers to essay questions.  We get to know about where the student hails from, their interests, their life’s challenges, their journey to law school, and sometimes, rare information about their families.  Do those relationships stop there?

My answer is no.  Post-graduation interactions initially begin as pure focus on taking and passing the bar exam.  Later, conversations shift to career opportunities, careers, people management, and life management.  In sum, the interactions are less academic support related and more “human” focused.  This indicates that academic support is an institutional community building tool that may not be visible to many.  Once conversations shift to career development, they typically relate to job search successes and wows, strategic job searching, and career challenges.  I am by no means a career services expert; therefore, I direct my students to that office for support and assistance.  Most of my conversations pertain to what I know about alums, their interests, the truth about their strategies and approaches, and considering worse case scenarios and options.  We have “real talk sessions” that culminate into unique holistic conversations. 

When I am not speaking with first career or first “real job” alums, I speak with former students who have worked for one to five years and have decided to make a career change or are sorting through how to navigate office politics.  Included in our discussions are debates about what it means to be a woman and/or a person of color in legal and non-legal environments and the nature of their interactions with men, other people of color, and people not of color.  Alums often share personal stories and all of sudden, we have created an impromptu professional development session for all of us.  While interactions with alums might not be specifically “ASP” related, they often provide me with information that I can then use to encourage and help current students.  I have also built a network of alums that I can call on and know will be responsive if I need help with bar preparation advice or individuals I can connect with a current student from a similar background in need of support and direction that I know I am unable to provide them with.  Alums are also a good source of assessment of various programs offered by my office because they will tell me the truth.  They know that I will not take offense as I am simply trying to improve what I do to help students like them (Goldie Pritchard).

September 27, 2017 in Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 18, 2017

1L Enrichment Groups

I am having an Enrichment Group Leaders training meeting today at noon. So, I have enrichment groups on my mind (hence, the blog post!). Perhaps, many of you are also working with enrichment groups or are thinking about developing enrichment groups. I am sure many of us would love to chat and learn more about our various programs and how we can continue to best serve our students. We can continue the conversation via email or on Twitter (tweet me @ojsalinas, and use #lawschoolASP).

Like many law school academic success programs throughout the country, we provide an opportunity for our 1L students to get additional training and support from upper level students. One way that we provide this opportunity to our 1Ls is through participation in Enrichment Groups.

Every 1L student at Carolina Law is invited to participate in our Academic Excellence Program Enrichment Groups. These groups are run by upper level law students who have done well in school and have shown the ability to do well in mentoring and meeting with students. 1Ls are assigned to their groups based on their 1L professors, and the groups are “tied” to two of the 1L casebook classes—with one upper level student “Enrichment Group Leader” often taking the lead on one of the two casebook classes.

The groups typically meet once a week for about 50 minutes starting late September. The groups alternate discussing ASP topics related to one of their two casebook classes during the group meetings. These topics change as the 1Ls advance during the semester. So, the initial group meeting may simply focus on developing rapport within the group and identifying group member goals for choosing to participate in the group. The next groups may focus on taking notes and case reading for the particular casebook classes. Later group meetings may introduce outlining and the use of study aids to help review practice questions related to the casebook classes. And, finally, we try to end our semester with a practice exam for each of the two casebook classes.

We generally have strong positive feedback from our 1Ls on our Enrichment Groups. Students typically feel that the groups are great ways to provide additional support and guidance in their classes. They also like the idea that these study groups are voluntary and that the groups are already formed for them—the students don’t have to worry about not getting “chosen” or “asked” to join a particular study group.

As I mentioned, I am having a training session for our Enrichment Group Leaders this afternoon. One thing that we try to emphasize with our leaders and their group participants is that the leaders are not “tutors.” They are not there to teach the 1Ls the substantive law, and they certainly don’t replace their law school professors. While the leaders have done well in the casebook class that they are “leading” (and, many of them actually had the same professor for that particular casebook class during their 1L year), our Enrichment Group Leaders are there to help facilitate learning. They are there to provide further support for our students. They are there to “enrich” the students’ 1L academic experience. And we believe a more enriched 1L experience is a better 1L experience. (OJ Salinas)

September 18, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, Program Evaluation, Reading, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Diverse Learners and Group Work

A summer article posted on Inside Higher Ed looked at whether groups work for everyone and how to improve the experiences. The post by Margaret Finnegan, Department of Criminal Justice at California State University, Los Angeles, is here. (Amy Jarmon)

September 8, 2017 in Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Ready. Set. Go, 1Ls--You are in Training Camp Now!

Dog Glasses books

We just completed our first week of school at Carolina Law. Like many law students throughout the country, our 1Ls experienced their first week of Socratic classes. They read and briefed their cases. They’ve been introduced to legal citations and the hierarchy of authority. They’ve taken advantage of the free lunches provided at the various student organization meetings.

After a week of law school, many 1Ls may wonder whether they will have enough time during the day to stay afloat. They may worry that they are spending way too much time reading their cases. And despite the large amount of time that they are devoting to reading their cases, they may mistakenly fear that they are the only ones in their classroom who are not able to fully follow the various hypotheticals that their professors ask in class. They may question whether they are fit for law school.

1Ls: If you are feeling this way, remember that law school is a marathon. There may be times during the year when you feel like you have to run a little faster than normal. But, the sprint for the finish line is really not until the end of the semester when you have to answer the final exam hypotheticals.

Training3

Consider a lot of what is happening during the semester as your training for that sprint. Yes. You might falter every now and then as you train. But, don’t get discouraged. Try to learn from the misstep, and fine-tune your next step so that you continue to progress. You are just starting to develop your critical thinking muscles. You are beginning to strengthen your ability to perform legal analysis. You are establishing a foundation of stamina that will help push you through the marathon—including the sprint to the end.

Like many athletes who start a new sport season, you are in a training camp right now. And this training camp is unlike any other training camp you have experienced before. Learning how to learn the law takes time. It takes practice. It takes repetition. Keep putting in the time, because the more you practice, the better you will get. But, make sure that you are active and engaged when you are reading and studying. You can’t passively learn the law; you have to be present and in the moment. And make sure to leave some time for you to do the kinds of things that make you “You.” Law school is a big part of who you are right now. But, it is not all of you.

You will find that it will take you less time to read and brief your cases in the next few weeks. You will find that your critical thinking skills will begin to improve. You will find that your ability to synthesize rules and apply those rules to different factual scenarios will become easier and, dare I say . . . fun!

Best of luck as you continue your training! And remember you have great ASP folks at your schools to help coach you and cheer you on! (OJ Salinas)

September 4, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Orientation, Reading, Sports, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

What the “Support” in Academic Support Program Could Stand For

The first day and as a matter of fact, the first week of classes is typically a joyous occasion. Students stop by my office to say hello and some might even give me a hug. They are excited to tell me about all they did over the summer in their externships or jobs. They want to share information about the trips they took. They want to impress me with their summer academic achievements and life challenges and I am always thrilled to hear from them. The building was lifeless without the students and they are the very reason we are all here. I see beaming smiles on the faces of students I encounter in the hallways. I say “welcome back” to my returning students and “welcome” to the incoming 1L students who appear timid, yet in search of a friendly face and someone who can answer all of their questions. I am then reminded of why I do this work and reenergized for the semester.

The difficulty this year as compared to others is that students have more sad and challenging events to share which is very much out of the norm. Some students have had several deaths in their families, are facing health, familial, financial, and other challenges. Other students are concerned about family members impacted by recent natural disasters. Students are coping with the stress and fear of being unable to navigate the semester academically. I am not a counselor and my students know that I am not shy about reminding them to access the professional counseling services available on campus, yet I feel privileged that they are comfortable enough to share certain experiences with me. Non-academic experiences impact academic experiences and the sooner students can address these the better academic journey they can have. Life experiences make the students who they are as individuals and likely form their identity as lawyers. The information students share with me allows me to help them have perspective when they experience challenges throughout the academic year. Although this task is not listed in my job description, it is implied because engaging with students in this way helps build relationships with them and helps them achieve their academic goals.

Some might disagree and say this level of interaction goes beyond what one should do as an academic support professional. I would argue that we are in the business of building relationships to more effectively impact the academic success of our students. Having some information beyond their grade in a class, law school grade point average, LSAT, and/or undergraduate grade point average assists us as we determine the best approach for supporting students, the examples we might use or avoid, and strategies we might use with one student but not with another student. It also helps explain students’ attitudes about learning, engagement in their academic journey, and persistence to graduation. Based on my past experience, I found that for some students poor academic performance is related to financial inability to purchase books for classes, food, and /or appropriate attire for professional events which affected the student emotionally and mentally. If I cannot find some way of connecting on a human level with the students then I am ineffective when I challenge my students to challenge themselves and when I tell them that I believe they have the ability to overcome whatever challenge they have before them. Sometimes I am the only positive or encouraging voice they encounter in the building but they also know that I am honest and will call them out and redirect them when they are not moving in the right direction. I garner respect by telling them when I do not know a piece of information but suggest that we can strategically work through steps together and problem solve. I also make it my business to be aware of various resources on campus where students can find assistance with various non-academic challenges.

What happens to the helper though? As Academic Support Professionals, we go from student to student and from crisis to crisis. We are problem solvers all day long but what do we do to ensure that we are okay? Where, when, and with whom do we debrief? What does that look like? If we are a solo academic support person, do we have someone at work who we can check-in with? Do we have someone who understands what we do? Do we have a life outside of the building like we tell students to have? Do we have energizing things to do? Take care of yourselves Academic Support Professionals (Goldie Pritchard).

August 30, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Energized After Pre-Orientation

I have returned to some normalcy after the conclusion of our two pre-orientation programs.

Our Legal Education Advancement Program (“LEAP”) is a voluntary pre-orientation program available to every incoming 1L student at Carolina Law. Faculty members participating in LEAP help students transition to the study of law by introducing them to a variety of topics, including jurisprudence, case briefing, exam writing, and the Socratic class. We had 56 incoming 1Ls who chose to participate in our first LEAP session a week and a half ago. We had another 47 incoming 1Ls who chose to participate in our second LEAP session last week. The total was nearly half of our incoming 1L class!

I am sure many ASP folks will agree that it can be an interesting feeling running these pre-orientation programs: it’s weirdly both draining and energizing. You can feel really drained from the immense amount of work that goes into preparing for and delivering the program. Yet, you can also feel energized when a new set of students enters your law school building. You feel a certain thrill and special motivation knowing that you get to be a part of the start of the students’ successful transition into the study of law. You know that your students are going to do great things during and after law school, and you are lucky to help train them on this wonderful marathon. Seeing light bulbs start to go off in your students’ minds during your programming, and receiving positive responses from faculty, staff, students, and administrators are icing on the cake.

Like many of you, I had a great group of folks who helped out during our pre-orientation programs (many of whom I thanked and tweeted about @ojsalinas). I also appreciated how many faculty, staff, and administrators came out to meet and have lunch with our LEAP students.

Wishing everyone a great start to another academic year!

-OJ Salinas

Ready to Go pic

August 28, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Orientation, Program Evaluation, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 21, 2017

Think Twice Before Banning Laptops: A Note on Accommodations and Diverse Thinking and Learning

Pause keyboard

I mentioned in last week’s blog about my inability to remain focused on our law school's voluntary pre-orientation program for incoming 1Ls due to events related Charlottesville. As I continue my efforts to remain focused, I’ll try to spend a few minutes talking about a topic that many of you likely discuss with your students, either during a similar orientation or pre-orientation program or in workshops or individual conferences: whether students should handwrite their notes or take them on a laptop.

The use of laptops in class rightfully generates much discussion on faculty and ASP mailing lists, particularly at the start of the semester. The discussion has even entered the Twitter realm (for example, here and here; H/T Prof. Ellie Margolis and Prof. Katherine Kelly).

I know there is a lot research and concerns out there relating to laptop use and taking notes. For instance: (1) students may often find it difficult to follow classroom dialogue while trying to type everything down that is discussed in class; and (2) there are potential distractions related to laptop use in class—both for the student doing something that he/she should not be doing on the laptop and for those students sitting near this student.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the research and concerns. I understand that laptops can create tempting distractions for our students.  And I agree that we don’t want students “zoned out” from using laptops in our classes.  But, we should also not want to “zone out” students who may need to use a laptop in class as a critical learning tool for them.

So, I want to caution folks before they decide to ban laptops entirely in the classroom. I want folks to remember that banning laptops may create a situation where students with an accommodation for a learning disability are forced to disclose that they have a learning disability.  This forced disclosure may not be an issue for some students—they may not complain or make much of the ban, or they might not care that they are the only student in a 70+ class who has his/her laptop out in a no-laptop use classroom. So, a complete laptop ban may not be that much of an issue for some students.  But, it could still be an issue. 

If you are a strong proponent for absolutely no laptop use in class, perhaps your student affairs office might be able to not place students who have laptop use as an accommodation in your class. Of course, this recommendation may only work if you happen to teach a course that is also offered during the same semester by a faculty member who does not have a laptop ban.

Perhaps, someone like a student affairs or ASP professional may have a chat with those students who are disengaged in the classroom to see what may be contributing to the disengagement. Is it solely the laptop? Or, as those of us in the law school ASP world know, are there other academic or non-academic factors that may be impacting the student’s ability to “follow along in class”? Are the students distracted by a laptop disengaged because the laptop is in front of them? Or, is something happening outside of the classroom that may be motivating the student to disengage on the laptop? Could it be easier for a student who is having a challenging time in law school to disengage, rather than continuing to try and fail?

One more recommendation if you are a strong proponent for absolutely no laptop use in class: maybe, reconsider why you have the no laptop policy in the first place.

Do we assume that students who handwrite their notes never disengage? Or, can a student on a social media account be just as "zoned out" as someone daydreaming or drawing an elaborate doodle on his/her notebook paper?

Do we assume that someone who has a laptop will automatically be programmed to type everything down verbatim in class and, thus, not follow along in the classroom dialogue? Do we assume that someone who is handwriting his/her notes will not automatically try to write everything (or as much) down in class and, thus, will follow along in the classroom dialogue?  I suspect we have had many students in our classrooms who prove and disprove both assumptions.

Do we assume that those students who are using a laptop are naturally worse note-takers—that they have not developed or cannot develop with guidance (from great ASP folks, like us!) effective methods for taking notes in a law school class? Do we assume that those students who handwrite their notes all have developed the proper method for effective and efficient ways to take notes in a law school class? Again, I suspect we have had many students in our classrooms who prove and disprove both assumptions. 

And, finally, are we even aware of, or do we automatically discount, the various computer applications out there that might be geared for diverse learning styles or that might help keep our students’ notes better organized?

We often try to train our law students on flexible thinking—that there may often not just be a black or white answer to things in the law; that there, frustratingly, is often a large shade of gray in the law; that the answer to many questions in the law may often be “It depends.”

Perhaps, we can practice a little of what we preach. Just because we may not be able to take effective notes using a laptop in a law school classroom doesn’t mean our students are unable to take effective notes on a laptop in class. And just because we may not have needed a laptop to succeed in law school doesn’t necessarily mean that someone else could not succeed in law school by using one. Some students may actually need the laptop to help them succeed. And a “black" or "white" law might actually say that they are entitled to use a laptop in class. (OJ Salinas)

August 21, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Orientation, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Law School Is Not For You

First, I would like to acknowledge the entry by my colleague OJ Salinas titled “Focusing When You’re Frustrated and, Potentially, Frightened: Some ASP Thoughts Following Charlottesville.” He expresses a part of my inability to be optimally productive and focused this Monday. I did not realize that my inability to focus was related to all the news I listened to and watched throughout the weekend. I hope that we can all take time to gather our thoughts and feelings, sit with our emotions, determine how we will manage our emotions and function effectively for our students.

Now, on to address what the title states. As students throughout the country prepare to and attend orientation programs, they are enthusiastic and anticipate the start of something they may have dreamt about their entire life or that grew out of an experience or an acquired passion. As I observe new students make their way through the building, stop by to say hi, and ask upper level students a number of questions, I smile because this marks the start of a new academic year. It also reminds me of the excitement I felt at the beginning of my law school career more than a decade ago. However, my journey to law school was not as smooth and exciting.

As a college student, I recall deciding that I wanted to attend law school and visiting the academic advisor responsible for students with a pre-law interest. This advisor was not very kind to me neither did she appear enthusiastic while engaging in conversation with me. She tried to deter me from pursuing my aspiration while providing several justifications, many of which were unfounded, as to why law school was not for me. I would later learn that this advisor also attempted to discourage several other young women of color from attending law school. How unfortunate! Without a strong support system which included each other, and our motivation to attain our dreams, we (young women of color and me) could have given up on our law school aspirations. But instead, we remained determined, asked questions, shared information, got involved with various pre-law organizations, and forged our own paths to our dreams. We would have never made it to law school otherwise. Words are powerful and can impact one’s journey in life in both positive and negative ways. If I did not know the person I am or had accepted the advisor’s perception of me, then my potential in life would have been significantly limited.

As Academic Support Professionals prepare for or start the new academic year, it is important that each of us considers what we utter to our students or how we communicate with them. We cannot put all students in a box simply because they exhibit similar behavior or characteristics. Every individual student is their own person with their own strengths, weaknesses, and life experiences which might dictate how they react to certain situations. We should encourage students but this does not mean providing them with a false sense of hope or confidence. We should be open to the differences in approach and process of all students as we might learn something along the way. We are partners with our students as they determine their path, build skills, and reach their goals. Even with the most confident student, negative words uttered to them or about them cloud their positive outlook, motivation, and determination. This is not to say that we should be silent about negative things but we should be strategic.

All the best to students embarking on their law school career! I would encourage you to listen to advice but also keep the advice in perspective. You are in law school because your institution believes that you are capable of being successful in law school but don’t let that go to your head because you still have to work hard. All the best to Academic Support Professionals as well (Goldie Pritchard)!

August 16, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Focusing When You’re Frustrated and, Potentially, Frightened: Some ASP Thoughts Following Charlottesville

Like many individuals throughout the country, I was saddened to see and hear what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am not sure I have the words to describe my thoughts and feelings related to this weekend. Or, maybe, I do. But, they are likely not suitable for this blog.

I’ll try to focus the rest of this post on a topic related to law school academic success. Surely, this weekend’s events don’t relate to our students’ academic success. Right? It’s not like this weekend’s events could impact our students’ abilities to focus on their law school studies. Right?

Let me refocus.  

Surely, I have other things that I should be thinking and worrying about . . . like, law school pre-orientation programs. I am running the first of our two voluntary pre-orientation programs for incoming 1Ls later this week. I will have worked with over 40% of our incoming 1L class before the start of orientation. These students are incoming 1Ls who have volunteered to participate in our Legal Education Advancement Program (“LEAP”). This program helps 1Ls transition to the study of law in a welcoming and supportive environment. Yet, these are also students who have likely been impacted in one way or another by the events in Charlottesville. After all, it doesn’t take much to see what happened on the news or to read something on the Internet. It doesn’t take much to see where the events took place and wonder whether a similar event could take place near you.

I am sure there are many other law school academic success professionals who should also have other things to be thinking and worrying about. They, too, may be getting reading for their pre-orientation programs. They, too, may be finalizing their syllabi, organizing conferences, and meeting with students. They, too, may be looking for ways to make the law school experience a positive and productive one for their students.

Surely, there are many things that should be preoccupying our minds. But, it’s often difficult to focus on what we should be focusing on when events like this weekend’s event in Virginia take place.

Surely, there are many things that our students should be thinking and worrying about as they prepare to start a new school year. For example, our 1Ls may be worrying about finding a place to stay, locating the bookstore, or figuring out how to brief a case. Our 2Ls and 3Ls may be finishing up summer work, finalizing resumes, or scheduling on-campus and callback interviews.

But, yes. It is difficult to focus on what we should and want to be focusing on when frustrating and, potentially, frightening events like the one in Charlottesville try to suck out all our energy, positivity, and goodwill. It is likely no different for our students—particularly our students of color. They may, similarly, find it difficult to focus on what they need and should be focusing on to be successful law students. Law school is hard. It is going to be even harder over the next few weeks.

Give your students some time to digest this weekend’s events. Be supportive and lend a listening ear. Yet, try to be realistic about the work that needs to be done in law school. If you find it difficult to engage students to change their approach to law school work because they are too worried or preoccupied with external events, like Charlottesville, you might try to reframe law school work in such a way that your students may be more motivated to read, study, and improve . . . to act.

For instance, despite my strong restlessness about this weekend’s events, I am going to try to attack this week’s pre-orientation program with vigor and hope—hope that the students that I will be working with will become successful lawyers who will help make this country a better place for all of us. Surely, that relates to law school academic success. (OJ Salinas)

August 14, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, News, Orientation, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Being Different Doesn't Mean Being Irrelevant

I have been thinking about the wonderful, varied, and interesting lives our students bring to law school.

Each student comes to our law schools with a unique and authentic experience. Unfortunately, some of these experiences are sometimes deemed insignificant. The person who has lived the experience may be too anxious or ashamed to share it. Or, others around this person may be too afraid to acknowledge that their individual experiences may not be the only way to have experienced some “thing.”

Each student comes to our law schools with an individual story that can enrich our learning environment and augment the law school experience for other students. For example, how one student responds to the facts of a particular case or identifies with the rationale or policy supporting some legal authority may provide a different insight and promote more critical thinking than the most qualified professor alone. This insight and critical thinking begins to grow, encouraging others to be more willing to take their blinders off and expand their narrow view of an issue, or better yet, of the world.

As we prepare to start a new law school semester, let’s remember what makes each of us unique and authentic. Let’s embrace, not obscure, our differences. And let’s try to foster our students’ abilities to recognize and appreciate differences. Being different doesn’t mean being weak. Being different doesn’t mean being irrelevant. Being different doesn’t mean being unworthy of success. (OJ Salinas)

August 7, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Power of Listening

Listen-understand-act

I wrote in last week’s post of my trip to the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) conference in Minnesota. The conference theme focused on diversity and inclusion, which we know will also be the focus of our upcoming Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) conference in October.

My colleague, Alexa Chew, and I lead a discussion at ALWD on ways to make law schools more welcoming for everyone. We spoke about our experiences participating on our Diversity and Inclusion Task Force at UNC Law. We spoke about how allowing students to share their stories and listening to their stories can create more awareness and understanding of the diversity and inclusion problems that may be wounding your law school.

Alexa and I wrote a blog post in advance of our ALWD presentation in Jennifer Romig’s Listen Like a Lawyer blog. We wrote that most of us working at law schools want a more diverse and inclusive environment.  However, many folks working in our law schools are often unaware of what our students are experiencing during their law school tenure. So, schools get into a situation where they are trying to fix or work on a "problem" that they have not identified or know little about--or worse, that they may be inadvertently contributing to.

Alexa and I provided a few suggestions that could help more folks “get in the know.” The suggestions are relatively simple and inexpensive, but they may still have a huge impact on how students feel when they walk through the doors of your law schools. I suspect many of you in the ASP world are likely already doing many of the suggestions quite well! Keep it up!!! And encourage others in your law school to follow your lead!

The blog was circulated on Twitter last week here. You can also find the Listen Like a Lawyer blog here. (OJ Salinas)

Thank you for listening pic

July 31, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 24, 2017

ALWD Intro and Bar Exam Encouragement

This last week, I attended and participated in a diversity and inclusion conference hosted by the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The three-day conference was engaging and timely. And it included a thought provoking and informative plenary presentation on stereotype threat and implicit bias by fellow-ASPer, Russell McClain. Having seen Russell present before at various ASP conferences, I knew he would be a charming and enlightening presenter—and he certainly was! Congratulations, Russell! I know the ALWD attendees were impressed by your interactive presentation, and I am sure many of them will be reaching out to you in the future for additional ways to address stereotype threat and implicit bias.

I plan to write some more about the ALWD conference and its theme “Acknowledging Lines: Talking About What Unites and Divides Us” at a later date. But, for now, I wanted to spend a little time talking about what is likely on the minds of most academic success professionals and all the recent law school graduates—the bar exam.

Exam takers: We all know you have been working hard, and we believe in you. The next few days will be beyond tough and tiring. But, you have trained your mind and body for it.

Yes. You will likely second-guess yourself. Yes. You will likely face questions that you might not feel good about. But, you are also going to see and work with a lot of information that you do understand and have encountered many times during your bar preparation. Trust yourself. Read the questions carefully. Organize your essays. And don’t let those few questions that you might not know the answers to bring you down. You don’t need to get that A+ to pass. If you spend too much time focusing on the information that you don’t know or can’t remember, you may not leave yourself enough time or energy to show the bar graders what you do know. And you do know. A lot.

A few more things . . . remember to breathe and it’ll be over soon.

We look forward to welcoming you into the profession. (OJ Salinas)

Good Luck (2)

 

July 24, 2017 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Meetings, News, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Some Thoughts on the NYT article "The Lawyer, The Addict"

The New York Times recently published “The Lawyer, The Addict”—a very compelling article about a tragic event. The story describes the death of an influential Silicon Valley attorney. The interplay between (1) addiction, stress, and mental health and (2) law school and the legal profession is referenced in an honest and, for many, eye-opening manner. The article has rightfully generated much discussion on the Internet, including a fascinating conversation on my colleague Rachel Gurvich’s Twitter feed. If you are looking for further insight about the article from a variety of faculty, practitioners, and students, I encourage you to check out Rachel's Twitter feed (@RachelGurvich). Much of the conversation can be found here.

There are many interesting points one can focus on from the NYT article. Perhaps, I’ll explore some other points in the future in the blog. For now, I’ll focus today’s blog on two points: (1) Larry Krieger’s work on subjective well-being; and (2) how hard it is for students to acknowledge that they may be suffering from a problem.

  1. Larry Krieger’s Work on Subjective Well-Being.

The NYT article interviewed Professor Larry Krieger and referenced his work "What Makes Lawyers Happy". As many of you know, Krieger’s work was an empirical study on “attorney emotional health” and “subjective well-being.” Part of Krieger’s findings and recommendations focused on shifting the definition of “success” for law students away from extrinsic rewards, like grades, journals, and high-paying jobs to more personal and intrinsic values and motivations.

I remember Larry Krieger's work was one of the first things that Ruth McKinney discussed with me when I arrived at UNC.  Since her retirement, we have tried to continue to incorporate the message of Krieger’s work into our pre-orientation program for incoming 1Ls.  We try to remind our students to remember the intrinsic reasons why they decided to come to law school—particularly during those times when they may feel overwhelmed, defeated, or unworthy. We also try to remind our students that “success” can mean many different things to different people and that there are many ways to “succeed” in law school. We often talk about these topics while disclosing some of our personal struggles and experiences from law school. This personal disclosure often helps build a foundation where we are better able to assist with the problem discussed in part two below.

  1. Acknowledging a Problem is often a Problem.

For those of us who work closely with students, the article’s story on how law school and the legal profession can change you—physically and mentally—is not a surprising tale. We know that the combination of stress, anxiety, and the competition for external rewards can create a very challenging and intimidating environment for our students. The environment can feel crushing and insurmountable when you add difficult finances, family issues, health concerns, implicit bias, or stereotype threat to the mix.

It is not uncommon for academic success folks to work with students who are facing some significant non-academic issues that impact their academic performance. But, these non-academic issues are often not easily identifiable. Let’s try to remember that it is often difficult for our students to acknowledge to themselves that they may be going through a very problematic time. Like anyone, they have pride. They have all been successful undergrads or had elite careers prior to law school. They don’t want to think of themselves as “failures” or “unworthy” of being a law student.

Since our students don’t want to think of themselves as “failures” or “unworthy” of being a law student, they will likely hesitate before seeking help because they don’t want others to see them as “failures” or “unworthy” of being a law student (and the mental health questions on the bar exam applications don't help either, but that's a topic for another day [if you are interested, my former colleague, Katie Rose Guest Pryal has a great piece here]).

Disclosing some personal vulnerability to someone else is an added challenge to an already stressful time in our students' lives.  Think about it: if it’s hard for you to acknowledge some potential weakness or flaw to yourself, do you think it will be easier for you to acknowledge that weakness or flaw to someone else? Now think about that someone else as a law professor or administrator. I know; it’s pretty scary. That’s why we, as academic support professionals (and others who work closely with law students), should try to practice good active listening skills and remain nonjudgmental, empathetic, and encouraging when we work with our students. It’s a difficult job. But, we are lucky to be able to do it. (OJ Salinas)

July 17, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, News, Orientation, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Dream That Changed A Life

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” Harriet Tubman.

Graduation is always a very exciting time for me and an even more exciting time for the students but this year is a particularly bittersweet one for me. Why? Well, this 2017 graduation ushers in the official end of my role as Director of the Legal Education Opportunity Program (LEOP). Of course, I will continue to work with students in my capacity as an academic support professional but my interactions with this very unique group of students I had the pleasure of working with over the past eight years comes to an end. LEOP was the conditional admission program offered at the law college which allowed some prospective students to participate in a summer program with the understanding that an achievement of minimum competency would allow them to gain admission to the law college. My participation in this performance based admission program entailed reviewing applications, co-coordinating the program, spending six weeks in the summer with these students, and monitoring their law school careers and bar exam performance. I saw these students manage stress, contend with new tasks, seek out help, and build community. I am grateful that students felt comfortable enough to reveal their fears and concerns, seek advice, and share successes and challenges. I recognize that it is very rare to be a part of the various aspects of a law student’s growth as a person and a student.

Monday was the end of the year celebration for the graduates of LEOP but also the celebration of the end of LEOP. In attendance were professors, staff, students, and alums who were brought together by this program. Suddenly, the atmosphere at the celebration quickly and surprisingly became highly emotional. The lunch gathering highlighted student accomplishments, contributions to the law college, and reflection on their journeys. It was quite amazing to note the impact one can have on a student simply by engaging with the student and choosing certain words to communicate with them. Students watch us, hear us, and make judgments about us based on what we say and do.

I am certain that my colleagues who work with alternative or conditional admissions programs share my sentiments about the students I work with in LEOP. While I may not remember the minute details about each student, I do remember each face, name, and a piece of information each one shared with me. These students dreamed impossible dreams and step by step are making their dreams become reality. They faced tremendous “I can’t” circumstances but stared them in the face and overcame those challenges. These LEOP students are about to place “J.D.” behind their names like many others before them and embark on the journey to becoming lawyers.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” Harriet Tubman. Changing the world begins with changing your immediate universe. (Goldie Pritchard)

April 26, 2017 in Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)