Wednesday, April 26, 2017
“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)
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Over the years, I’ve seen many students struggle in preparing for final exams, particularly with uncertainty about how best to prepare.
Without exception, that leads to a question. In the past, how have you learned to solve problems? And, without exception, students say that they learn to solve problems…by practicing problems (usually with lots of ups and downs, turbulence, and bumps and bruises). That’s because we don’t learn how to solve problems by watching others solve problems.
And, that’s the rub about law school learning.
Simply put, much of our law school experience has been us watching others solve problems (whether observing a professor run through a hypothetical problem, listening to a student in Socratic dialogue, reading and briefing cases, or even in the midst of preparing massive outlines as study tools). Unfortunately, you are not tested on your case briefs, outlines or study tools. Rather, you are tested on your abilities to solve legal problems.
So, here’s the key. Change your focus from passive learning into active learning by grabbing hold of lots of practice problems, sweating over them, stretching yourself through them, and exercising your “brain muscles” in tackling complex legal issues. In short, take charge of your own learning by practicing lots of final exam problems.
To help you visualize what active learning for final exams might look like, here’s a short video animation of the Hudson River airplane crash, spliced with the pilot and aircraft controller communications.
First, as you watch the video, you’ll can see that all is calm. It’s a great smooth takeoff. The flight is well on its way to a far-away destination, and, then, suddenly, there’s flock of geese in the way. That’s how I always feel when I practice exams. All is relatively peaceful and then I turn to the first question and it looks like I’ve just flown into a flock of geese with my engines flaming out as a result. So, here’s lesson one – prepare for geese. You will have problems that are difficult on your final exams. But, you won’t learn how to tackle them until you start working through them first, well, right now, before you take your final exams.
Second, notice the pilot’s voice. Is it calm or ruffled? Yes, the engines have quit. Yes, the plane is not flying to a far-away place anymore. But, it is still an airplane. It still has wings and radios. It is still flying. It’s just not going to Chicago or Phoenix or Los Angeles today. So, here’s lesson two – don’t ever give up, even in the midst of your exam prep and final exams. Keep flying your airplane. Keep working on learning by doing.
Third, as you continue to watch the video, you’ll start hearing lots of air traffic controllers trying their best to help the pilot make a successful return, first to New York City’s LaGuardia Airport and then to Teterboro Airport across the Hudson River in New Jersey. The controllers are busily clearing runways and directing the pilot to turn to this heading and that course. But, the pilot stays in control. Finally, the controllers ask which runway the pilot would like to land on, and, instead, the pilot says – frankly and calmly – the Hudson River. So, here’s lesson three – fly your own airplane. Don’t let others control your destiny. You’re the one that is taking the exam (not those that are giving you lots of advice). And, only you know yourself. So, make your own decisions. Just like pilots do, practice solving legal problems through lots of "simulator flight" time.
Here's the secret about learning. You see, that wasn’t the first time that the pilot lost his engines in flight. The pilot had experienced dual engine failure lots of times…in the simulator. Yes, the pilot had read the horn books on how to land on a river, the cases of previous airplanes successfully ditching in the water, and the manuals on how to stay calm and collected in the midst of a flock of geese. But, reading is not sufficient to learn how to fly an airplane. That’s because no one learns to fly by reading about flying. You learn to fly…by flying. Similarly, you learn to solve legal problems…by solving legal problems. So, get flying today as you prepare for your final exams tomorrow. And, good luck on them all! (Scott Johns).
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
What could this old nursery rhyme have to do with law school?
It reminds us to take one step at a time to accomplish a task.
Huh? Well, think about it this way . . . .
Most law students right now are madly juggling a long list of tasks for multiple projects. They are preparing for class each day. They are finishing assignments or papers. They are keeping up with outlines. They are reviewing for exams. They are completing practice questions. And, they are doing all of these things for multiple courses at the same time.
Many of them are feeling scattered and a bit frantic. They dart from task to task and feel exhausted at the end of the day. They are losing sleep, eating junk food, and feeling overwhelmed.
And, they lament that there is no time to get everything done.
So, just as in the nursery rhyme, it is time to get organized, have a plan, and take one step at a time. Here is an approach that helps many students get control of exam review:
- For each exam course, list all topics with their subtopics that will be on the final exam. (Warning: The list will be long because it is subtopics, but they can be completed more quickly than whole topics.)
- Focus on learning and understanding the subtopics. (You will want some later time for practice questions, but understanding has to come first.)
- If you already understand any subtopics well enough that you could walk into the exam on those, highlight them on the list to show completion.
- For the remaining subtopics that you have already covered in class, estimate how much time you need to understand that subtopic well enough to walk into the exam. (Estimates may be minutes or hours depending on the subtopic's difficulty.)
- Total your subtopic estimates for the material already covered in class for each course. (You will complete estimates for additional subtopics as they are covered later in class.)
- Now compare your estimate totals for each course. You might have 12 hours for one, 15 hours for another, 20 hours for a third, etc.
- Your totals help you see proportionately how much time you should devote to each course to learn what you have already covered in the course.
- Schedule blocks of time each week to complete exam review to make progress on your estimated totals.
- There will be some subtopics that need little time and can be slipped in between classes, while you wait for dinner to cook, etc.
- As you complete each subtopic, remember to highlight it as completed.
- All progress is forward progress. Whatever you can get completed before the end of classes means less to learn during exam period.
What if you have a paper to write? You can make a similar list for specific tasks within larger categories: tasks for research, writing, editing, citations, grammar and punctuation, format OR by tasks for paper sections if you prefer.
Step back from the jumble that you feel your life represents right now. Organize small steps within the larger units. Then take it step by step: one, two . . . . (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, April 17, 2017
Eleanor Roosevelt stated, "Remember, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
Now is the time in the semester when many law students compare themselves to others in their classes and become discouraged.
- Mary got the highest grade on the midterm, and I was below the median.
- Bill aced the trial brief assignment, and mine was covered in comments.
- Annie gave a brilliant answer in class, and I could not even formulate a basic answer.
- Phil was amazing at the oral argument, and I fumbled every question.
And so it goes.
Why do law students make themselves miserable by comparisons?
- They may still be stuck mentally in undergraduate grading where 100% was always the achievable grading standard.
- They may be for the first time in a group of students who are as intelligent as they are - awesome, but scary.
- They may be struggling with how much work is required in law school after years of higher grades for less effort.
- They may base their self-worth on what others think of them instead of doing the best they can do.
Here's the thing to remember. You are you. You can only control yourself. You can only do the best work possible today under today's circumstances.
If today did not produce the results you wanted after doing your best, then let it go. Get up tomorrow and start again. Tomorrow you can implement strategies to improve your academics. You may not yet be where you want to be, but you can improve each day. You can reach your personal best.
Are you unsure how to improve on what you are doing? Visit the academic support professional at your law school and ask for assistance. Talk with your faculty member for help with a confusing topic. Ask a trusted classmate to discuss a case or a practice question with you.
Let's face it: law school is a fish bowl. You spend all day swimming in the same confined space with the same school of fish. It is too easy to focus on how well others are swimming. And, if the fish bowl has a couple of fish doing high dives off the lip of the bowl, it can be intimidating.
But rather than compare yourself to the other fish, practice your own strokes. Find a swim coach. There is still time to see improvement. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
This is the week our students’ appellate briefs are due therefore I assumed that they would be unprepared for the directed study group meeting scheduled for this week. Instead of cancelling the meeting, I developed several activities with the materials students had covered thus far in their doctrinal course. The students were engaged and appeared to enjoy the activities. We highlighted areas they were unfamiliar with, areas they needed to work on, and areas of strength. Students worked in groups and one of the groups was composed of mostly male students and one female student. The female student held her own but one situation gave me pause. Her group was consulting before they buzzed in their answer. I heard her say the correct answer but her male counterparts disagreed and tried to persuade her otherwise. The group spokesperson stated the answer the majority agreed on but it was an incorrect answer. When they realized she had the correct answer, they were dumbfounded. I told the male students: “you should have listened to her” and I saw her smile. I was glad to validate her “correct” contribution and thought about the experiences of other female students.
At times, the law school environment can be a challenging place for female students for a variety of reasons including the fact that their abilities are sometimes underestimated and undervalued. This can reduce confidence in even the most confident person. There are several articles, studies, and news reports on the topic. However, I found an eight minute TEDx Talk which illustrates some of the challenges females face and how they can help themselves and other females find “The Confidence Factor.” Here is the link to “The Confidence Factor” by Carol Sankar.
Sankar suggests three things all women must do enact their confidence factor, challenging them to students, particularly female students:
1. Know the power of negotiation. If you know your worth before you leave the house; you now have the power of negotiate. Know your worth.
2. Seek a balance of support and mentorship. Support is the praise and comfort but not the facts. Mentorship is when people tell us the truth regardless of how we feel about what we hear; someone with the courage to push us and tell us the truth.
3. Your inner circle. Create an inner circle which includes one who likes you, one who can’t stand you, one who will tell the truth, and one who will tell you a lie. Also consider individuals not known to you. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, March 30, 2017
Recently while teaching asylum law, we took some time in class to talk about justice. How do we know what is the right thing to do? What standard(s) should we use to decide whether a case result is just or not? I was just about to recap our discussion when a student asked, poignantly, "What does Justice have to do with the Law?"
In brief, the student commented that very few classes ever even talk about justice, and, the student also asked me directly if I have ever even talked about justice as a litigator before the court. Those were great questions. And, the student got me thinking...deeply...because if what we are doing is not just, then we should be doing something else. And, if we are not talking about justice, then, let's be frank, we are not engaging with our students in heart-felt learning because they came to law school - not to be mechanics robotically applying the law - but to make the world better, to make the world more just, in short, to restore and right and mend relationships.
As I reflected on my student's questions, I started to realize that implicit in much discourse concerning the outcome of cases are principles that manifest themselves in real impact on real people. So, my first step was to refocus on teaching about the people (and not just the mechanical facts, issues, holdings, and rationales). I try to find out what happened to the litigants. I sometimes call the attorneys that litigated the case. In short, I try to bring life to the cases that we read. Second, I try to keep my eye out for opportunities to talk about whether the decisions in the cases that we study are just (and why or why not). I try to make it explicit. Third, as we talk about representing people, I bring up opportunities to appeal to courts by using principles of justice.
So, that brings me back to learning. It seems like many law students are just plain tired, primarily it seems to me, because we have taught them that the law is lifeless. We've stripped the cases of all humanity. We talk about cases as if they are just impersonal scripts, and, in the process, our students begin to feel like the lawyer's job is just to keep the machine going. That they are a cog in a process that lacks life. That law school is not a place to learn about how to make the world better but rather just a place that keeps the world going, faltering along, without improvement, growth, or hope. Our students start to think that justice has very little to do with the law.
Perhaps that is true. But, it need not be so. That's because in a common law system the law grows out of relationships and arguments presented by real people to real people to resolve real disputes based on real appeals to the heart. So, as we teach our students, I need to help them empower themselves to speak boldly and think deeply about what the right thing to do is (and why). And, when I do that, my students start to sit up straight, they take notice, they start pondering, thinking, and, of course, learning...because they realize that they do have something to say, something that is important, something that might actually someday make a powerful impact in the lives of others when incorporated into the common law. In fact, our world needs their voices - all of their voices in order to realize justice for all.
If you're looking for a place to learn how to incorporate justice into your teaching, here's a great source. Professor Michael Sandel has a free web platform that focus on teaching justice with much of the discussion based on the law and litigation. And, in the process, you'll see a masterful teacher helping his students develop into learners. http://justiceharvard.org/justicecourse/ (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Yesterday, as I was leaving the supply room, heading towards the floor where my office is located, I overheard a conversation that stopped me in my tracks. I saw a student filling her water bottle as a professor approached her. The professor communicated how impressed she was with the student’s performance on an assignment, emphasized positive aspects of the assignment, touted the student’s abilities, and praised her for thinking outside the box. I was drawn to this exchange by an unmistakable display of enthusiasm which radiated on the student’s face. Although this student has excelled academically, she appeared excited, amazed, and touched by the professor’s positive words. The student indicated to the professor and me that this encounter made her day. As it is rare to witness positive affirmations in the law school environment, a few kind and genuine words can create a jolt of confidence that can carry students a long way.
Merriam-Webster defines affirmation as: “a positive assertion.” I understand that the word affirmation comes from the Latin “affirmare” which means “to make steady, strengthen.” Words are very powerful. When we verbally affirm another’s dreams and ambitions, we are instantly empowering them with a deep sense of reassurance that our wishful words will become reality. Law school can shake a student’s confidence regardless of how self-assured that student is. A law school community should always encourage and help strengthen students by reminding them of their aspirations and goals.
I find that affirmations are a way of helping students rewire their brains, thus creating a positive and supportive environment that helps with their overall well-being and academic improvement. I do not provide students with affirmations on a regular basis but whenever I do, I am genuine and strive to ensure I communicate positives that support and strengthen students when it appears they need it. Then I empower them to do what they need to do next. Some of the words I share include reminding students that they "possess the qualities necessary to be successful otherwise they would not be here at the law school"; they "have the ability to conquer challenges as their potential for success is infinite given the challenges they have already overcome to be here"; and "each obstacle in their way is carving their path towards greatness." Words are powerful, have impact, and can strengthen students by helping them believe in their potential to manifest their dreams. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
“It takes a village” or “it takes a village to raise a child” are sayings that we often hear. The origins of these sayings are unclear and there is much dispute about the origins. It is primarily thought that these sayings originate from an African proverb which states: “it takes a village to raise a child.” Some also believe the saying has Native American roots. Here, my discussion is centered on the relevance of these sayings in relation to the work of Academic Support professionals. In this context, I am highlighting the collective social responsibility our law school community shares for one another and particularly for the students we serve. We all have a concern for the morale and overall well-being of the community.
In our law school communities, there are individuals, visible and invisible, who contribute to the daily and overall functioning of our institutions. These individuals can, and often do, have a profound impact on students, providing them with support in a variety of ways. The individuals I am referring to are the administrative assistants, custodial and janitorial staff, librarians, teaching assistants, and general clerical or other support staff. These individuals interact with students in different ways than students do with faculty and administrators, probably because students view them as “regular and average” individuals rather than individuals in positions of authority. I have found that students often share more personal information with these individuals because they have regular interactions with them. As students typically stick to study spaces, they are more likely to run into a teaching assistant or a custodian. Also, students might communicate their stresses and fears as they drop-off or pick-up materials from administrative assistants. The best aspect of these interactions is that most of these visible and invisible individuals are familiar with campus and community resources because they are a part of both of those communities. Through their relationships with communities, they are often able to provide students with moral support, words of encouragement, and a piece of familial nurturing, something rarely found in the law school environment and something certain ethnic and cultural groups desire.
Why then are these individuals mentioned above an asset to Academic Support professionals? They are an asset because they not only provide valuable insights into the habits, culture, and concerns of students, but also alert Academic Support professionals to things they might want to implement. By interacting with the lady at the welcome desk, I was urged to become a notary to provide a free service to students who could not afford to pay to have bar application documents notarized. By speaking with a custodian, I learned about a student who slept on campus during the final exam period for fear of missing early morning exams, thus enabling us to find alternate options for the student. By overhearing a conversation between a student and a teaching assistant, I learned that some students were unable to afford food therefore a colleague and I jointly developed creative ways to inform students about the food bank on campus.
The best part of all of this is that interactions are mutually beneficial: students find the support they need and the visible and invisible members of our community share the enthusiasm of having students who look like them or hail from similar backgrounds attend a professional school and work towards becoming a lawyer.
It is noteworthy to mention here that regardless of a law student’s family name or place of origin, career growth or development, each student's academic success and degree completion metaphorically "belongs to the entire law school community." And for those of us who grew up in rural areas in Africa or as members of certain ethnic and cultural groups, ingrained in our experiences is the idea that we all share in our successes, achievements, and challenges. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, March 9, 2017
It's the middle of the academic semester for most of us.
That often means midterm exams or filling out bar exam applications or working on that summer job hunt. In the midst of so much to do with so much competition for achieving success, it's easy to feel out of place. To be overwhelmed. To sense that I don't really belong in law school or that I can't succeed.
When that sort of self-doubt starts in, it's time to step back and gain perspective about who you are, your strengths, your character, and your purpose. You see, too often I am comparing myself against the wrong benchmark (others!), and, in doing so, I'm trying to be someone who I am not. And, that's mighty stressful because it is awful hard (i.e., impossible) to be someone else! So, instead of trying to measure success based on what others are doing, step back and get some perspective about who you are.
Not quite sure about how to get some perspective?
Well, there's a great video clip that illustrates the point quite well. It involves a boy struggling to hit a baseball. When it seems that all is lost, that he just can't manage to connect the baseball bat to the ball, he takes a pause...and...in that moment of pause...he realizes something brilliantly radiant about what he is good at. So, if you happen to feel like you are not quite hitting the mark in law school, take a moment to enjoy this short video clip. I promise, it will warm your heart and bring a smile to your face. And, in the process of taking a pause, you'll be reminded of a great truth -- that success is a matter of perspective (and not at all a matter of competition). http://www.values.com/optimism
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
It is spring break at my law school and it is very quiet. Most of the students have left for the break but a few remain. Some students are anticipating getting ahead in their academic work, working on legal writing assignments, or hoping to improve overall academic performance by starting to prepare for exams early. Other students continue to maintain their individual meetings with my office so I continue to interact with students. Although it is spring break, I find myself with much to do such as: (1) planning for the remainder of the semester, (2) planning for a part of the summer, (3) checking-in with students who recently sat for the bar exam, and also (4) getting some rest. Additionally, I try to take a day or two off from work to laze around or simply take care of household responsibilities because I know that I will have to wait until July for the next lull.
Spring break is typically a time when I am able to make “small talk” with my colleagues when I take breaks away from my desk. It is also a time when I can leave the building for lunch because attempting to leave the building when school is in session is a challenge due to back to back meetings throughout the day. Even when I am able to leave the building for lunch, I encounter difficulties finding a parking space upon my return because parking is also a challenge. Today, in recognition of International Women’s Day, I had lunch with a female colleague I have been trying to meet-up with for several months. Happy International Women’s Day to all Academic Support Professionals who self-identify as female! (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
We have passed the midpoint in classes now at my law school. This coming week is our Spring Break. A number of students have told me that they have paper drafts, midterms, presentations, or other projects due the week after Spring Break. Now that we are on the downward slope of the semester, more and more students are looking stressed.
I live in West Texas. It is a semi-arid, agricultural area - noticeable once you get beyond the city limits with all the non-indigenous trees and green lawns. When the cotton is not planted and covering the fields, the South Plains can look pretty stark. Flying over this region now will confront you with almost a lunar landscape effect: irrigation circles in the unplanted fields, a land-grant grid, canyons, and scrawny mesquite trees and brush.
And March winds. Lots and lots of winds. And dust blown up by those winds on some days. And enormous tumbleweeds blocking my driveway (my garage off a paved alley skirts a mesquite pasture).
And today, smoke from the wildfires approximately two hours to our north. I live on the southwest edge of town. When I left for work, the smell of smoke was slight in my house, but hit me as soon as I opened the garage door. The sky was an odd gray; the sun was orange behind the smoke. As I drove into campus (a 15-minute drive northeast), the smell of smoke became much stronger. The sun was now a strange yellow with blurred edges.
My thoughts turned to the folks farther north. To the first responders fighting the wildfires. To the farmers and cattlemen concerned about their land and herds. To the small towns that are potentially in the way if the winds kick up more and shift the wrong way.
In short, the stress and anxiety of law school are manageable in light of what could be happening in our lives. It is often hard in the fish-bowl environment of law school to remember the cares of the world outside our doors - our very insular academic world.
I hope my students regained their perspectives today. There are stress situations that are unpredictable and life-threatening. Law school stress may be self-imposed and can often be successfully managed with scheduling, curbing procrastination, and seeking help from many resources. Law school is tough. But life can be tougher. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Microaggression. Merriam Webster initially noted this word as “a term to watch” but added this word to the dictionary in February 2017. Microaggression as defined by Merriam Webster is “a comment or action that is subtly and often unintentionally hostile or demeaning to a member of a minority or marginalized group.”
How do we, academic support professionals, support our students who deal with microaggressions and aggressions that impact their ability to focus on academic work and impact their academic performance? I pose this question not because I have an answer but because this is a question I have asked myself lately.
It is quite difficult to be mentally present, engage with doctrinal content, and focus on tasks at hand while being concerned about what covert or overt actions will occur next or be directed towards you. The idea that one might have to contend with a racial or ethnic land mine at any time in a law school classroom or hallway is very daunting. A microaggressive comment from a professor during exam review can be devastating particularly when we encourage students to meet with professors to review exams and obtain feedback. There are a few articles addressing the impact of microaggressions on the recipient which highlight serious psychological effects.
Oftentimes, just reminding students of why they are in law school and encouraging them to not give up on a future legal career while having honest discussions about how they will manage these situations is usually a starting point. I spend time encouraging students to view these encounters as strengthening their abilities to deal with difficult situations while making them realize they are not alone. We discuss their feelings, anticipated accomplishments and consequences of each situation, and management of similar situations. I fundamentally view this process as an unwritten part of my job mainly because I am a person of color who was once a student of color. Silencing the loud voices of negativity when a student already has a few layers of self-doubt, and awakening and reminding students of the infinite reach of their abilities to view the world as a better place can be a struggle and long term process.
Racial Battle Fatigue (RBF). A term coined by William Smith in the Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Society (2008) is “a theory attributed to the psychological attrition that People of Color experience from the daily battle of deflecting racialized insults, stereotypes, and discrimination.”i “RBF is the cumulative effect of being “on guard” and having to finesse responses to insults, both subtle and covert.”ii
How do we, academic support professionals, support our students who have been microaggressed when we are managing our own instances of microaggressions and aggressions but also contending with Racial Battle Fatigue? I pose this question because I am curious about how other academic support professionals manage such situations.
To make a very long story short, I had a week filled with incidents that would fit the classic definition of microaggressions and some I would characterize as aggressions coming from various aspects of life in the span of five days. I was anxious and somewhat distracted, which is out of character for me, unfocused, and unhappy but tried to be positive but all efforts failed. I faced each situation, responding in various ways I deemed appropriate, sought the support of my circle of trust, and moved on. I usually do a good job not showing my frustrations. In retrospect, I did not realize how much these encounters impacted me.
Something amazing happened the following week; I found joy, passion, and energy because of the students. I received a number of kind notes, nice words, positive feedback about programs and presentations, and other expressions of appreciation. For someone who is accustomed to problem-solving, affirming students, acknowledging wrong doings, validating feelings, empowering students, and checking-in to ensure that all is well, I did not quite know what to do with myself. It was like the universe suddenly said: “everything is great; this is just a step in your journey.”
I often believe that I am on an island even though there are so many people that surround me. No one knows the many battles fought and won within the confines of the four walls of my office, on the island. What often keeps me going are moments when students make comments to me such as; your words or actions made a difference and changed my outlook when I was on the precipice of giving up and filled with tears. This brings back memories of individuals who did the same for me during moments of immense pressure and self-doubt. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, February 23, 2017
It’s a great time for you - as this week’s bar takers - to reflect, appreciate, and take pride in your herculean work in accomplishing law school and tackling the bar exam.
Let's be direct! Bravo! Magnificent! Heroic! Those are just some of the words that come to mind…words that you should be rightly speaking to yourself…because…they are true of you to the core!
But, for most of us right now, we just don’t quite feel super-human about the bar exam. Such accolades of self-talk are, frankly, just difficult to do. Rather, most of us just feel relief – plain and simple relief – that the bar exam is finally over and we have somehow survived.
That’s because very few of us, upon completion of the bar exam, feel like we have passed the bar exam. Most of us just don’t know. So now, the long “waiting” period begins with results not due out for most of us for a number of months.
So, here’s the conundrum about the “waiting” period:
Lot’s of well-meaning people will tell you that you have nothing to worry about; that they are sure that you passed the bar exam; and that the bar exam wasn’t that hard…really.
Really? Not that hard?
Really? You know that I passed?
Really? There’s nothing for me to worry about?
Let me give you a concrete real life example. Like you, I took the bar exam. And, like most of you, I had no idea at all whether I passed the bar exam. I was just so glad that it was finally over.
But all of my friends, my legal employer (a judge), my former law professors, and my family kept telling me that I had absolutely nothing to be worried about; that I passed the bar exam; that I worked hard; that they knew that I could do it.
But, they didn’t know something secret about my bar exam. They didn’t know about my lunch on the first day of the bar exam.
At the risk of revealing a closely held secret, my first day of the bar exam actually started out on the right foot, so to speak. I was on time for the exam. In fact, I got to the convention center early enough that I got a prime parking spot. Moreover, in preparation for my next big break (lunch), I had already cased out the nearest handy-dandy fast food restaurants for grabbing a quick bite to eat before the afternoon portion of the bar exam so that I would not miss the start of the afternoon session of the bar exam.
So, when lunch came, I was so excited to eat that I went straight to Burger King. I really wanted that “crown,” perhaps because I really didn’t understand many of the essay problems from the morning exam. But as I approached Burger King, the line was far out of the door. Impossibly out of the door. And, it didn’t get any better at McDonalds next door. I then faced the same conundrum at Wendy’s and then at Taco Bell.
Finally, I had to face up to cold hard facts. I could either eat lunch or I could take the afternoon portion of the bar exam. But, I couldn’t do both. The lines were just too long. So, I was about to give up - as I had exhausted all of the local fast food outlets surrounding the convention center - when I luckily caught a glimpse of a possible solution to both lunch and making it back to the bar exam in time for the afternoon session – a liquor store. There was no line. Not a soul. I had the place to myself. So, I ran into the liquor store to grab my bar exam lunch: two Snicker’s bars. With plenty of time to now spare, I then leisurely made my way back to the bar exam on time for the start of the afternoon session.
But, here’s the rub:
All of my friends and family members (and even the judge that I was clerking for throughout the waiting period) were adamant that I had passed the bar exam. They just knew it! But, they didn’t know that I ate lunch at the liquor store.
So when several months later the bar results were publicly available on the Internet, I went to work for my judge wondering what the judge might do when the truth came out – that I didn’t pass the bar exam because I didn’t pack a lunch to eat at the bar exam.
To be honest, I was completely stick to my stomach. But, I was stuck; I was at work and everyone believed in me. Then, later that morning while still at work computer, the results came out. My heart raced, but my name just didn’t seem to be listed at all. No Scott Johns. And then, I realized that my official attorney name begins with William. I was looking at the wrong section of the Johns and Johnsons. My name was there! I had passed! I never told the judge my secret about my “snicker bar” lunch. I was just plain relieved that the bar exam “wait” was finally over.
That’s the problem with all of the helpful advice from our friends, employers, law professors, and family members during this waiting period. For all of us (or at least most of us), there was something unusual that happened during our bar exam. It didn’t seem to go perfectly. Quite frankly, we just don’t know if we indeed passed the bar exam.
So, here’s a suggestion for your time right now with your friends, employers, law professors, and family members.
1. First, just let them know how you are feeling. Be open and frank. Share your thoughts with them along with your hopes and fears.
2. Second, give them a hearty thank you for all of their enriching support, encouragement, and steadfast faithfulness that they have shared with you as walked your way through law school and through this week’s bar exam. Perhaps send them a personal notecard. Or, make a quick phone call of thanks. Or send a snap chat of thankful appreciation. Regardless of your particular method of communication, reach out to let them know out of the bottom of your heart that their support has been invaluable to you. That’s a great way to spend your time as you wait - over the course of the next several months - for the bar exam results.
3. Finally, celebrate yourself, your achievement, and your true grit....by taking time out - right now - to appreciate the momentous accomplishment of undertaking a legal education, graduating from law school, and tackling your bar exam. You've done something great, and, more importantly, something mightily significant. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
For first-time bar takers and repeat bar takers, this is the week they have prepared for the past two months. This preparatory period was particularly demanding for me as students responded to my advice and used the ASP office extensively. Between November and February, students from coast to coast engaged with me through emails and phone conversations. I heard the devastation of poor performance on mock exams and practice questions and read about the fear of failure and saw it spread to other bar takers. Current students expressed concern for bar takers and asked whether their former classmates were in touch with me. The most challenging aspect of this bar preparatory period was coaching students to manage the roller coaster of inevitable emotions. For some students, the “real talk” discussions to address frustrations, implosions, and physical tolls were insufficient. I had to find a creative way to re-energize bar takers.
Something I have always wanted to do but never had the opportunity to do came to mind. I always wanted to highlight the achievements of former students, mostly to inspire current students but I saw an opportunity to encourage my February bar takers as well. I contacted a select yet diverse group of alums who I believe would influence current students and requested pictures for display. With their permission, I would post pictures on a wall in my office and use them to motivate current students. Of course, not everyone responded but those who did were quite elated about the idea of sharing their pictures with others. This project provided me with the opportunity to speak with former students, some of whom I met for the first time almost eight years ago.
Today, about two thirds of my display board is filled with pictures from commencement and swearing-in ceremonies. So far, every day has been a wonderful walk down memory lane. I remember each student’s struggles and successes, laughter and excitement. I remember serious conversations we have had, new and unique things they taught me, and fears and concerns they harbored. I witnessed these students achieve their dreams.
For my February bar takers, I shared with them a photo of my wall with an inspirational message and it was a hit. I encouraged them to visualize their own successes and remember what they have already accomplished including the struggles of law school and all they overcame to make it to commencement. For my current students, when they come into my office, there are many unfamiliar faces, yet a few recognizable faces posted on my wall. This wall of pictures has been a great conversation starter particularly about the things students look forward to accomplishing. Reflection is imperative to rejuvenation. Every now and then, I look up at my wall and smile.
Congratulations to the February 2017 bar takers, you survived! Here’s to plenty of rest before your next endeavor. (Goldie Pritchard)
Sunday, February 19, 2017
For too many law students, law school becomes an endless slog. They get so bogged down in the daily grind that they lose enthusiasm for the law and the legal profession. If they do not rediscover their original sense of purpose, they will endure their legal studies rather than experience them fully.
Here are some suggestions for resuscitating your love of the law and finding your purpose again:
- Remind yourself why you came to law school. What were your goals as an aspiring lawyer? What areas of the law piqued your interest? What wrongs did you want to right? What legal causes were you passionate about?
- Remember who your legal role models were. Who were your inspirations for becoming a lawyer? Whether it was Atticus Finch, your mother the judge, your uncle the corporate lawyer, or the public defender who took your cousin's case, think about why you wanted to be like those individual lawyers.
- Take time to get involved with the "heart matters" of law school. Volunteer to help with intake at a pro bono clinic. Get trained to participate with VITA or CASA or another worthy cause. Join a law school organization that provides community service.
- Meet and talk to local lawyers. Attend a local bar luncheon as the guest of your professor or a local attorney. Attend lectures, CLE seminars open to students, and alumni events at your law school where you can meet the speakers and lawyers in attendance.
- Sign up for courses that help you get hands-on with the law: clinics, trial advocacy, client interviewing, alternative dispute resolution, drafting courses, and more.
- Talk with your professors and career services staff about your legal interests after graduation and ways to pursue those interests. Gather information about types of legal jobs and legal specialties that you are considering.
- Read biographies and other non-fiction books about the lawyers, legal cases, and legal movements that have impacted our world. Explore how the law and lawyers can change society for the good.
A sense of purpose makes any endeavor more meaningful. It gets us through the rough days. It inspires us to move toward our goals. It turns the slog into a stepping stone. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, February 9, 2017
I just came out of a great conference. However, it wasn't a great conference because it made me feeling better. In fact, I left the event realizing how far I often fall short of the mark as a teacher. But, it was great...in the sense that I learned (or perhaps re-learned) some key principles...that I can bank on in trying to BECOME a better teacher.
So, let me cut to the chase. Based on the principles shared by conference leader Dr. Maryellen Weimer, Professor Emeritus at Penn State University, I started to think that I might be trying too hard to teach my students. That's right. I might be trying so much to help my students learn that I leave very little for them to do, which is to say, that I leave them no room for learning.
You see, according to Dr. Weimer, I can't actually "learn anything for my students." Rather it's my students that are the learners. And, to be frank, learning is just plain hard work. It's messy. Its discomforting. It's even downright excruciating sometimes. But, I often don't want my students to feel that sort of uncomfortable frustration that is required to generate real learning. Or, as Dr. Weimer put it, "we are often doing a lot of the hard messy work of our students" by making decisions for them, which, if true, means that our students are not truly learning. In short, we are just teaching them to be dependent on us rather than coaching them to succeed as independent learners, to put it in my own words.
So, my sense is that my students need less of me as a teacher and more of me as a coach. They need me to step out of the limelight, to give them fresh air to try, to let them work hard and ponder mightily as they grapple with the course materials. That's because learning is personal. It therefore requires lots of practice. It requires deep engagement in the materials. It requires sometimes (or even often) failing.
But, as Dr. Weimer pointed out, my students often do not see me fail. Instead, they often see me demonstrating how to succeed (i.e. teaching!). But, I didn't learn the materials through success. Rather, I learned the materials through lots of rough 'n tumble practice (and that means through lots of trials, errors, and downright embarrassing mistakes).
So, Dr. Weimer encouraged me (us) to open up with our students, to admit our mistakes, to let our students have empowered agency to personally engage with the materials. In short, it's time for me to teach from the sidelines, and, that means that I am not "making the big plays for my students." Instead, I am their coach on the sidelines and they are the players moving the ball downfield as learners. That's a game that I am excited about watching. Oh, and by the way, taking Dr. Weimer's words to heart, I admitted to my students just today that I have made lots and lots of mistakes on the path to learning how to become a lawyer, and it was through walking through those experiences that I truly learned. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Most bar review programs include a simulated practice exam which might be a full MBE, a full written day, or a combination. First time bar takers might be apprehensive about completing the simulated exam under timed circumstances but they typically complete the task because they are fearful of not doing what they need to do to be successful on the bar exam. For repeat bar takers, it is a little more of a challenge. Repeat bar takers hold on to memories of all of the effort they previously put forth and the negative result it yielded. Often, these students might either start but never finish the simulated exam or complete the simulated exam but experience emotional trauma. For students who finish the task, the raw score is a verdict on how they will perform on the exam. When things seem to fall apart, this is the time to remain optimistic, not give up, and expect the best. Keeping the exam in perspective is imperative.
The bar exam is only a few weeks away so be realistic about what you can accomplish in the weeks and days to come, cater to your weaknesses because what you are afraid of will show up on your exam, visualize the exam taking process, and be positive. Good luck to all of the February bar takers. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Continuing from Professor Goldie Pritchard's excellent post yesterday regarding "Student Motivation and MLK Celebration Day," on April 13, 1963, Dr. King penned one of the most famous letters of all time: "The Letter from the Birmingham Jail."
In writing to fellow religious letters, Dr. King explained, in his words, that "I am in Birmingham because injustice is here." Then, turning to the question about whether it was proper to engage in direct action in the form of sit-ins and marches, Dr. King defends civil disobedience, arguing that the root question was whether the segregation laws were just or unjust. If unjust, then disobedience was justified.
That led Dr. King to explain why the law was unjust in a very famous paragraph: "Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong."
Wow! Impactful! Poignant! Straight to the heart of the issue! Take a close look at the paragraph above. Did Dr. King start with the issue? After stating the issue, did he next state a rule and then explain the rule to his fellow religious leaders? Moving on, didn't he next transition to an analysis of that principle by concretely applying the rule to the segregation laws? Finally, look closely as Dr. King finishes with a succinct conclusion. That's right...Dr. King's argument is structured in IRAC and yet Dr. King was not an attorney (rather, he earned a Ph.D. from Boston University).
When I first saw Dr. King's use of IRAC, I was shocked because I thought that IRAC was just a tool that lawyers used to analyze legal problems. In short, I was convinced that my legal writing professor invented IRAC. And, it felt SO unnatural to me...so mechanical...so impersonal...that I tried my utmost to avoid writing in IRAC.
Looking back, I see my folly. IRAC was not invented by attorneys. Rather, IRAC is the structural foundation for some of the most monumental moral arguments of all time. In short, IRAC (what the rest of the world calls deductive reasoning) is powerful because it is a common form of analysis to all of us, long before we ever came to law school. Simply put, we have been using IRAC for all of our lives, and yet, we just didn't know it. So, take time out to reflect on the power of IRAC as a tool for persuasive analysis. As demonstrated by Dr. King, IRAC can be the structural foundation for making moving moral arguments, arguments that in Dr. King's day led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. So, don't shy away from IRAC. Rather, embrace it, refine it, polish it, and always, with an eye on what's the right thing to do. In that way, paragraph by paragraph, you as a future attorney can make the world a better place for others. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
At various points in a given semester, students find themselves unmotivated for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons include managing financial pressures, dealing with academic challenges, feeling lonely, suffering from stress, and experiencing racism, sexism or some other “ism.” There are several articles and other sources that address intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and how to engage students. However, I am always seeking innovative ways to encourage and support students.
Monday marked the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2017, an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Most institutions of higher education commemorate this day with a variety of activities. Institutions have a variety of programs which include breakfasts, lunches, dinners, artistic expressions, marches, community service, and speeches. Students attend the various programs but for others this is simply a day off and an opportunity to either rest or get ahead academically.
This year, I am an advisor to a student group and based on my interactions with this group of students, it was imperative for me to find different ways to re-motivate these students. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was a great opportunity to encourage them by drawing examples from his life and encouraging students to partake in at least one activity. For students, there are a number of qualities and values they can draw from his life as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, an activist, a well-educated and accomplished man of color, his commitment to society, his ability to stay true to his convictions, and the ease with which he communicated, encouraged, and rallied those around him. Reflecting on all that he was able to accomplish with the challenges of his time, we should all be courageous in the face of adversity and preserve our hopes, dreams and aspirations. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Law students often become so caught up in surviving each class week that they forget the bigger picture. They are preparing for being lawyers! Their clients will depend on them to be great lawyers, not just mediocre lawyers.
Every skill learned and honed in law school assists the graduate to be a great lawyer.
- By learning and honing skills in reading and briefing cases, students prepare for being experts for reading thousands of cases during their legal careers.
- By learning and honing skills in understanding judges’ reasoning and the evolution of the law, students prepare for expert legal reasoning and possible policy arguments for necessary modifications in the law.
- By learning and honing listening and note-taking skills in class, students capture the nuances of the law and recognize the important information.
- By learning and honing skills at arguing both sides of a scenario, students prepare for being experts at arguing their clients’ positions and anticipating the arguments of opposing counsel.
- By learning and honing skills at legal research and writing, students prepare for being experts at locating the relevant law and clearly and concisely stating the law in a variety of legal formats.
- By learning and honing their skills through clinics, client interviewing, trial advocacy, law office management, and other skills courses, students prepare themselves for the daily rigors of legal practice.
There are more skills learned and honed during law school. These are just a few that law students need to become great lawyers. Academic support professionals and professors are there to assist in the process. Law students need to reach out for assistance when they are struggling with the skills needed as lawyers. (Amy Jarmon)