Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Lawyers in Academic Support: Part I

One thing that distinguishes law school culture from that of many other professional schools is the high percentage of people in student services who already possess the degree most of their students are trying to obtain.  I have never done an exhaustive analysis (but woo hoo! Research opportunity!), but in my personal experience the majority of people working in law schools in the areas of Academic Support or Career Services are law school graduates, and so are a fair number of people working in areas like Admissions and Libraries.  A quick dive into the Internet suggests that medical schools and business schools do not hire their own graduates for student services at nearly the same frequency.  In fact, when I checked out the staff of five med school Academic Support units and five law school Academic Support units, no one in the med school units possessed an M.D., but each member of the law school units possessed a J.D.

There are no doubt many forces pushing towards this odd result for law schools.  One that is practically taken for granted is the idea that someone who already possesses a J.D. is far better positioned than anyone else to really understand what new J.D. students are actually going through.  Part of this assumption is perfectly practical: people who already have their law degree have presumably already learned all the elements unique to the practice of law.  We can “think like a lawyer”; we can wield IRAC without effort; we understand federalism and common law and stare decisis and all the idiosyncrasies that our students have to contend with while navigating the rigors of study, time management, and exams.  This is not to say that non-lawyers couldn’t provide wonderful support to law students.  There is just a general belief that lawyers have a head start on understanding the context into which everything fits.

At the same time, law school alumni are apt to think that they can understand what law students are going through because the alumni were students once, too.  We remember the dread of our first cold call in class; we remember plodding through civil procedure and constitutional law; we remember trying to juggle classes and law review and OCI all at the same time.  Like military veterans of different eras, maybe we didn’t fight on the same battlefield, but our students don’t have to tell us what it’s like, man.  We know.

Except . . . we don’t always know.  We know a lot of things, to be sure; for me, not a day goes by that I don’t relate some student’s challenge to one of my experiences in law school.  Education is always a boon.  But the longer I do this work, the more I find that I have to work to find out what my students’ present experience is really like.  This is in part because law school is always changing and evolving.  Each class’s relationship to electronic research, for example, is just a little bit different from that of the previous class.  Economics change, student populations change, hot button issues change.  But these big changes, I think we do a fairly good job of staying on top of.  In fact, sometimes it seems Academic Support is ahead of the curve, and can help bring other members of the law school community – for example, those whose specialties do not change much from year to year – up to speed on them.

What I really find myself having to pay more attention to each semester is my students’ day-to-day realities.  Some of the mistakes I made when I first started providing academic support came about because I was taking a “one-size-fits-all” approach, and only with experience did I realize that it was really more like “one-size-fits-me”.  I was teaching to my experience in law school.  

Now, I am no longer satisfied knowing what classes my 1L students are taking each semester – I need to ask their individual professors for their syllabi, so I can know what topics they are hearing about each week, so I don’t assume that their Torts professor started off, like mine, with intentional torts, and therefore so I don’t pose a hypothetical that half my class can’t answer.  I try to participate in student club events, like fundraisers or dinners, so I can hear about mundane practical issues – things like parking and child care and the timing of holidays – that I never thought about in school, but some of my students have to.  I talk to other faculty and staff to find out the schedule of moot court and mediation competitions, visits from employers, and off-campus learning opportunities – stuff I was not particularly interested in myself when I was in law school – so I can better understand why a particular student might be coming to talk to me about a certain writing or time management issue.  I seek opportunities to listen to students who come from different locations, cultures, and economic circumstances, so I can be aware of what going to law school now is like for them.

Being a lawyer means having been a law student, and having been a law student can be a tremendous advantage when your job is to help other law students.  But having been a law student does not mean you have been all law students. 

(Bill MacDonald)

October 2, 2018 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Miscellany, Professionalism, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Can Older Non-Traditional Students Fit In? Absolutely!

Most of our law schools are seeing more non-traditional students arriving in our first-year classes. For many law schools, non-traditional students are still in a minority within the classroom when only a full-time program is available.

Those who are in their late 20's or early 30's tell me that they "feel different" and worry whether they have forgotten how to study and whether they will be accepted by those straight out of undergraduate education. And, because they have had jobs through which they were recognized for leadership and competence, they often state they feel a bit incompetent initially as they grapple with different law school study strategies. They may also have spouses and children to consider as they balance law school and life which makes their experience different from most younger students.

But even with these differences, many of the non-traditional students in these age groups will not "stand out" to their classmates as particularly older once they don the casual law student dress. They will blend pretty seamlessly into the whole. (And even when they show up with children in tow, many law students who are missing their own younger siblings, nieces, and nephews will delight at the chance to babysit while mom/dad goes to class or attends a meeting.)

The over-40 non-traditional students are the ones who most often have conversations with me about whether they will "fit in" and whether they will be "outsiders" among their much younger classmates. Today it is not unusual for law students to start in their 40's, 50's, or 60's after first careers. Most of them look older physically - they have earned those wrinkles or gray hairs. Even donning casual garb will not hide the fact that they are older. Their concerns about remembering how to study and feelings of initial incompetence are usually double or triple compared to their non-traditional colleagues in their 20's and 30's. After all, most of these older students have been out of a classroom for 20 years or more and were the supervisors and managers who "knew how to do it all" in past careers.

The good news is that older non-traditional students do fit in and are welcomed by members of their first-year class. Older non-traditional students often remark that "it is all about attitude." Here are some tips for transitioning from older non-traditional students with whom I have worked:

  • Make the first move to be friendly. Law students who are much younger may not know how to start the conversation because they see you as more accomplished and worldly.
  • Be humble about your accomplishments. You have garnered lots of accolades, titles, and professional recognition in your prior non-law life. Unless you are put on the spot with a pointed question, understatement is probably best initially to put others at ease.
  • Use your experience to be a role model for collegiality, not competition. Be supportive, encouraging, and helpful when you can. Ask for help when you need it. Let others know that you consider yourself one of their colleagues and value collegiality.
  • Participate in class with relevant examples from your experiences when those comments can add to the discussion or move the class forward. Be careful not to gratuitously tout your expeiences, however.
  • Volunteer in class when others do not, but do not become the "crutch" allowing your fellow students not to prepare because they know you will always be prepared. You may indeed know the answers most days, but they need to be challenged to participate as well.
  • Join law school organizations and participate in some of the events of your 1L class. You may have less free time because of family commitments, but devote some time to law school life outside the classroom.
  • Your main cadre of friends may be other older non-traditional students, but stay open to friendships with a variety of students. Law school organizations, study groups, and other opportunities will be available to expand your friendships.
  • Realize that, depending on your actual age, you may become a "big brother/sister, mom/dad" figure for some of your classmates. That is actually a compliment. Your experience and advice are being recognized. You may be just the mentor that someone younger needs.
  • Be yourself. If jeans and a T-shirt are not your style, dress as you are comfortable - even if it is dressier than your colleagues. If loud parties are not your thing, avoid them and join in at other times. If family outings are your relaxation, ask others to meet your family and join in the fun.
  • Be sensitive to your law school's etiquette. Some professors call everyone "Mr" and "Ms" and want to be addressed as "Professor" no matter the student's age category. Other professors use first names freely with older students (or all students). Let the professor/administrator indicate the desired form of address to avoid an unintentional faux pas.
  • Be patient with yourself as you master legal study. Do not compare yourself to "quick, young minds" or lament "I wish I did this years ago." You are learning a new language, a new way to think, a new way to write, and a new way to be tested. You are reviving academic skills that might be rusty and learning new study strategies.

Law school over-40 can be a wonderful ride. Many legal concepts link to your practical life experiences: apartment leases, real estate purchases, car loans, employment contracts, income tax returns, drafting wills, and more. You challenge yourself to new ways of seeing the world around you. You discover specialty legal areas and possible legal career paths you never knew existed. You have a break of sorts between careers. You meet classmates who will be life-long friends and professional colleagues. (Amy Jarmon)

August 12, 2018 in Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Unique Spring Break Experience

On Monday, March 5, the first day of the week-long spring break, the campus of Michigan State University welcomed several different visitors. You most certainly may have heard about the event through various news outlets but if you did not, then here is a link to a local news outlet in case you missed it.

During spring break, most of our students are out of the building but a few stick around to work on projects, outlines, prepare for competitions, and/or simply hope to get ahead before the semester recommences. All students cannot afford to go home or on a trip several times a semester or year, few stay local by choice. For those who stick around for whatever reason and who may have lost focus due to the events on campus, a number of alternative events were planned by various entities at the university. However, it was equally as important to the law students that they have something specific to support the law student constituency group. The Black Law Student Association with the support of Diversity and Equity Services Office created an alternative event titled “MSU Law BLSA Unity Space.” The program was intended to serve as an individual or group study time with inclusive conversation and food.

I showed up at  the law school event because I am the student organization adviser and was in the building. As expected, there were few students in attendance and the event was free-flowing. It was a great community building event, with not much studying. First-year students met upper-level students from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Students ate and connected with other students from their state of origin. At this event, I realized that I interact, on an individual basis, with students from different social groups who do not typically interact with one another. Students shared advice about courses, law school experiences, summer opportunities, feelings of isolation and alienation, and negative classroom experiences. We also engaged in more serious conversations about protests, history, voices, law school citizenship, and empowerment. The event was more than what the organizers and participants anticipated. Some students were curious about what was occurring on campus and followed the protests and speech on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. The event went beyond the anticipation of both organizers and participants.

The comfortable setting enabled students to ask administrators about their experiences in law school which lead to candid conversations. Students appeared elated, realizing that administrators were human beings with conflicts and challenges. It humanized us all. Administrators for student engagement, career services, and the Dean stopped by to interact with students. I had the opportunity to meet and speak with students I have never previously interacted with. Our students are so talented and it was great to learn about their talents, knowledge, and interests. (Goldie Pritchard)

March 7, 2018 in Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Black Law Student Association Celebrates 50 Years

The National Black Law Student Association (NBLSA) was "formed to articulate and promote the needs and goals of Black law students to effectuate change in the legal community."  Founded in 1968 at the New York University Law School, NBLSA can trace its roots back to Algernon Johnson (“AJ”) Cooper--the former mayor of Prichard, Alabama--who sought "to increase the number of culturally responsible Black and minority attorneys who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community."  Now in its 50th year, NBLSA has grown to one the largest student-run organizations in the country.   

Although NBLSA has made huge progress in advancing its mission, African Americans still remain underrepresented in the legal community.  Today, African Americans account for approximately 13% of our nation's population.  Yet, according to the American Bar Association, less than 10% of law students and just 5% of the nation's licensed attorneys are African Americans.  Hopefully, with a continued emphasis on diversity, inclusion, and cultural competencies both in legal education and the legal employment field, we can begin to close the representation gap.  (Kirsha Trychta)

February 13, 2018 in Current Affairs, Diversity Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 5, 2018

Overcomers Needed to Combat Negative Messaging

While I don’t consider myself old, I am starting to tell stories about “the good ole’ days.”  Days where I was taught to ride a bike by being pushed down the street and then my uncle let go.  I crashed, got up, probably cried about not wanting to continue, and then was forced to get back on for the next attempt.  My mom recalls that she was taught to swim by being thrown in a lake and told to swim back to survive.  Those are terrible parenting strategies (and probably exaggerations), but I do find myself telling my kids “we don’t say I can’t in this house” right before a huge meltdown struggle.  A key message was to overcome obstacles.

Now is the time in both bar prep and the semester where I see students psychologically disadvantaging themselves with the wrong perspective.  Bar takers are struggling with recent simulated MBE results.  My last semester 3Ls are struggling through their MBE homework.  The pain of multiple choice is high right now.  Many students will shy away from more work that illustrates they are not doing well.

Despite the current despair, my hope is everyone possesses a get back on the bike attitude, even if they are wailing.  Unfortunately, I am concerned we (including myself) are not teaching perseverance as well at all levels of education.  I fear our students aren't getting back on the bike due to their perspective of their own ability.

Students constantly receive messages from society, law school, and peers about their ability.  If students don’t receive instruction on how to overcome those obstacles before law school, schools should start overtly teaching how to overcome very real obstacles.  Some law schools’ demographics include students who constantly receive messages that they are not good at certain types of questions.  Research is clear that girls at young ages are as capable, if not better, at math than boys.  As kids grow up, societal messages and images tell young women they are not good at math.  This results, along with many other factors, with less women in STEM fields.  Many of our students experience the same phenomenon.  Schools with lower credentials have a student body who were told by the LSAT that they aren’t good at multiple choice tests, and many of those students were subsequently told by some law schools, through rejection letters, that they weren’t good enough on multiple choice tests to attend.  Limited options to unranked law schools sends messages of inferiority before students are even in chairs.

Students of historically marginalized groups attending those schools face even greater challenges.  Stereotype threat, not seeing many peers like themselves, and discovering statistics about group performance sends additional messages of limited chances of success.  The explosion of easily accessible information through social media and the internet only exacerbates this problem.

My anecdotal perspective is that some students receiving these messages are ill-equipped to navigate the negative environment, which in many ways is not students’ fault.  Between helicopter parenting and YMCA sports (only half-joking), some law students haven't faced real challenges or losing before law school.  They haven't been exposed to the need for a Growth Mindset.  I always talk about improvement and the goal is to get better, but anecdotally, I have heard more students say they aren’t good at multiple choice questions over the last few years.  I try to tell students about a growth mindset, but I don’t think it registers to them that saying they are bad at a certain type of question is a form of the fixed mindset.  The confirmation of certain classes from law school make overcoming this idea difficult.

Overcoming failures is critical to success in law school, the bar exam, and the practice of law.  Not only do we need students to acquire persistence for success now, we are doing a disservice to them if we let them practice law without the ability to handle defeat.  I am committing to be more overt about my messaging on improvement and growth mindset.  I specifically tell students the statement “I am bad at multiple choice questions” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and hurts their scores.  I plan to continually talk about the obstacles in practice and how to learn to handle them now.  I will show them how they improve and how improvement is the goal.  I want my students to enter the profession with the ability to continue to advocate for their client in spite of continuously losing motions.  Hopefully those skills will help them be more professional lawyers.

(Steven Foster)

February 5, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Diversity Issues, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Section on Academic Support at the AALS 2018 Conference

“Equal Access to Justice: Supporting Law Students from Diverse Backgrounds from Admission through the Bar Exam” was the title of the Section on Academic Support program at the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) 2018 Annual Meeting. The line-up included five presenters and was moderated by Jamie A. Kleppetsch who also served as chair of the programming committee. The program highlighted available support mechanisms for law students from diverse racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds from admissions through passing the bar exam. The papers from this program will be published in the University of Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender and Class.

Russell A. McClain presented on the history of academic support and proposed a way forward that brings academic support back, in part, to a focus on improving minority performance.

Renee Nicole Allen and DeShun Harris emphasized promoting social justice by combating implicit bias. The general assumption is that Millennials are a colorblind generation but they are equally susceptible to biases and microaggressions so how do we help them?

Jeffrey Minneti discussed how we diversify the legal profession through commitment to access admissions and support of these students as they prepare for and sit for the bar exam.

Leslie Y. Garfield Tenzer described success with an on-line academic support class aimed at fostering learning, overall academic improvement, and removing sigma associated with receiving assistance.

The presenters all had interesting tidbits that can help us all support our diverse students from the beginning of their law school career and through their preparation for the bar exam.

The ASP program committee this year included chair Jamie A Kleppetsch, Danielle Bifulci Kocal, Robert Coulthard, Marsha Griggs, Goldie Pritchard, Natalie Rodriguez, Stacie Rucker, and Laurie Zimet. (Goldie Pritchard)

January 17, 2018 in Academic Support Spotlight, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Imposter Syndrome Podcast

Hat tip to my colleague, Atiba Ellis, who forwarded me a link to the BBC World Service podcast series "The Why Factor," which recently explored the concept of Imposter SyndromeThe podcast smartly outlines the causes of Imposter Syndrome and then highlights the syndrome's prevalence in the workplace and higher education--especially among diverse or minority employees and students.

The 23-minute episode explains: "Have you ever felt like a fraud? You think that one day your mask will be uncovered and everyone will know your secret. According to psychologists, this is a common feeling that many of us suffer from and it has a name; Imposter Syndrome. The term was coined by two American psychologists, Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes, in 1978. Dr Clance and Dr Imes first thought the feeling was only experienced by high achieving women, but quickly found that men experienced it too. According to subject expert, Dr Valerie Young, women are more susceptible to imposter feelings because they internalise failure and mistakes- whereas men are more likely to attribute failure and mistakes to outside factors. However, those who belong to minority groups of whom there are stereotypes about competence also commonly experience imposter feelings.  If you suffer from imposter syndrome, don’t worry you’re in good company; Maya Angelou, Robert Pattinson, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis and many more successful people have expressed feeling like imposters."

(Kirsha Trychta)

November 7, 2017 in Diversity Issues, Stress & Anxiety, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 23, 2017

The End of October is Approaching

It’s hard to believe that we are already heading towards the end of October. It seems like the Fall semester just started.

As the end of October approaches, many students are trying to figure out what they plan to wear for their Halloween parties. They are also trying to figure out what they need to do for the rest of the semester as well.

By now, 1Ls have heard of this “outlining” word. But, they may not fully understand what it means. They have read and briefed most of their cases, but they may not have a good grasp of how these cases link up with one another in their doctrinal classes. They may have been so focused on writing down and remembering each miniscule detail from their cases that they have neglected to see how each case from their individual doctrinal classes ties in with every other case in those classes. They may not be ready to attack a large final exam question that assesses their ability to analyze the various legal issues that they have covered throughout the semester.

As law school academic support professionals, we should be ready to assist 1L students as they negotiate the latter part of their first semester. Let’s remember that most 1Ls may not, at this point, fully understand the big picture law for each of their doctrinal subjects. Let’s remember that many 1Ls may not have fully practiced issue spotting and exam writing. Let’s be ready with a non-judgmental and empathic listening ear so that we can best serve each individual student. (OJ Salinas)

October 23, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Professionalism, Reading, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)