Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, September 25, 2017

We Are Not in College Anymore

We are several weeks into the Fall semester. 1L students are starting to get a little better handle on what law school is all about. If they didn’t know this already, they are starting to realize that law school is much different than college.

There are no boldface words and glossaries in the law school casebooks. The Socratic class is not filled with a professor lecturing at passive students for the duration of class. And there are few, if any, written “chapter tests” during the semester so that students can assess their understanding of the material.

But, there are many opportunities throughout the semester where students can assess whether they are picking up what they should pick up in the course. These opportunities happen every day in class as a result of the often-dreaded Socratic method (and I dreaded it when I was a 1L--but, that story is for another blog post).

The professors’ many “what ifs” and “how abouts” give students opportunities to test their understanding of the relevant law; they are given chances to apply this law to many factual scenarios—which, in turn, help the students become better issue-spotters and legal analysts. And, as we all know in the ASP world, the more issues a student is able to spot and analyze on a law school final exam, the more likely that student will gain more points on the professor’s final exam rubric.

So, students: Try to engage with the professors’ hypotheticals in class—even when you have not been cold called in class to verbally answer the questions. Try to answer the questions to yourself in your own head. If you can’t come up with an answer to a hypothetical, write the question down on your notes and revisit that question after class or on the weekend when you review what you have covered in class for the week. You may not have come up with the answer in class. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with the answer on the final exam--when it really counts!

One of the many differences from college and law school is that you don’t have several formal written tests throughout the semester; you often only have one exam at the end of the semester per course that often dictates your entire semester course grade. Try to prepare for that final exam every day in class when you engage with the professors’ hypotheticals, and practice the legal analysis skills that will help make you a better law school test-taker and, eventually, lawyer. (OJ Salinas)

September 25, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I Understand Everything…

“I understand everything we have covered thus far and I am able to follow along in class!” This statement summarizes what I have heard thus far this academic year from several first year law students and I have to say that I am a little concerned. In the past, very few first year students verbalized such sentiments. Some students have an acumen for law school learning and do in fact understand and know what they need to do. Others think they “understand everything” but when pressed, realize there might be a little more that they could work on. I am always apprehensive when students display such confidence so early in the semester. What further concerns me is that several of my upper level students have also heard the same from first year students and expressed their concern to me. Could this be a new phenomenon? Is this a rare group of first year students? Do more students have an acumen for law school learning or am I simply hyperaware of first year law students I interact with?

There is often a very thin line between confidence and overconfidence.  It is my opinion that some confidence about law school ability is good, particularly with courses that employ the Socratic Method.  The faster a student understands why the course is lead using the Socratic Method and overcomes the fear and embarrassment of providing an incorrect answer or simply being on the spot, the more meaningful the learning experience becomes.   Students who recognize that the Socratic Method is not an affront on their intelligence, ability, knowledge, and/or understanding are apt to have a very positive learning experience.  However, the danger of getting too comfortable with the in-class dynamics and forgetting that their exams require written responses demanding them to tap into their ability to communicate their understanding in writing.  Some students bypass arriving at this point because early on, they were significantly disarmed by the teaching technique that they never regained their confidence and sense of self as they were distracted by the emotions generated by the Socratic exchange.

Belief in one’s ability is always good as it allows students to reach heights of academic performance but overconfidence, an excessive sense of assurance in one’s ability, can be counterproductive. Overconfidence often prevents students from taking advantage of opportunities and programs destined to develop and challenge them to the next level of excellence. Often, overly confident students do not take advantage of Teaching Assistant lead directed study groups, skills workshops, review sessions, and other programming intended to help students excel. They may also have a group of a few upper level students they listen to and hang on to each word they utter. However, some of the advice might be misleading because often time upper level students forget their journey and process. They focus on end techniques they deem effective, forgetting that trial and error allowed the development of such effective processes. Overconfident students are individuals who may or may not stop by my office in the spring semester to solicit assistance only to realize that several of their requests and concerns were addressed in programming in the fall semester. They missed an opportunity and have to visit these skills for the first time in the spring.

I sincerely hope that my concerns about my first year law students are misplaced; nevertheless, I anticipate a busy spring semester. (Goldie Pritchard)

September 20, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | 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)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Activist Learning Practice Hypos: Yours for the Taking!

Attention First-Year (and Upper-Level Law Students)!

Here's a handy link for super-short & super-helpful hypothetical essay prompts (complete with discussion guides and point sheets)...yours for the taking (no pun intended!): 

http://www.law.du.edu/pastbarexamessays

And, the best news is that it is totally free!

Oh, and there's more great news. The essays are organized into the following subjects:

  • Administrative Law
  • Agency Law
  • Civil Procedure
  • Constitutional Law
  • Contracts
  • Corporations
  • Criminal Law
  • Criminal Procedure
  • Evidence
  • Family Law
  • Partnership
  • Property Law
  • Torts
  • Sales (UCC Article 2)
  • Commercial Paper (UCC Article 3)
  • Secured Transactions (UCC Article 9)
  • Wills & Trusts

So, as you're working your way through the casebooks, feel free to dabble in a handful of practice problems to put you in the pilot's seat of your learning, i.e., taking control of your "learning travels" this semester through "learning by doing")!   (Scott Johns)

P.S. This is THE LINK that I wish I had as a law student...BECAUSE...the best way to prepare for midterms is to see and work through examples of midterms!

 

 

 

 

 

September 14, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Getting into a Routine

We are in the third week of classes, a time when many first-year law students start to feel overwhelmed and upper-level students recognize it is time for them to follow a routine. This is, therefore, an ideal time for me to discuss time management with both groups of students. The upper-level students have experience in the law school environment so they are more likely to know exactly what they need to do to get on task, stay on task, and complete tasks. First-year law students are still adjusting to the environment and sorting through what will be most effective for them to do, often unlearning some habits such as procrastination that previously made them successful.

A routine is very helpful to first-year law students for a few primary reasons. First, it limits the agony of lacking time; second, it takes the decision making out of the process of accomplishing tasks; third, it saves time. A routine removes concern and internal conversation about what to do and when to do it because the decision is already made and the plan is established; thus, only implementation is required. Having no plan can be quite overwhelming for first-year law students, leaving them lost and confused. They usually simply complete tasks that have immediate deadlines, spend an exorbitant amount of time on minute inconsequential details and tasks, and take longer than necessary on other tasks. Even students who are accustom to planning and organizing their lives struggle with this.

Of course, classic organizational tools, processes, and workshops are available through academic support programs at various law schools to assist students. Some of the typical time management steps include:

(1) Brain dumping - gathering information one needs to complete a task in a day or on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis

(2) Ranking or compartmentalizing tasks – distinguishing between tasks that take ample time and those that take less; those that you dread or would avoid at all costs and those that you prefer, assessing the time factor of each task

(3) Creating a time table for completion of each task - morning, afternoon, or evening, but also remembering to include buffer times for tasks that might consume more time than projected and for emergencies. Most importantly, pretest the pan and be open to making adjustments

Issues to consider are whether or not students attend such programming, heed the advice, and/or are open to testing new strategies.  For a few consecutive years, we held an in-person time management workshop but it was very poorly attended even though students consistently complained about struggling with time management.  So we spent a lot of time working with students on an individual basis.  Nowadays, we post a video of the time management workshop and direct students to it at various points during the semester as well as work with students individually.  Most first-year law students wonder why things they did in other academic environments are not effective nor efficient for them in law school.  Their concern is typically a cue to change habits but are they simply resistant to giving up the familiar?

Develop a plan, get into a routine, and implement it. You can manage all you have to do but you need to first understand your goals, available time, and how to put it all together. Many before you have successfully sorted through this; therefore, you too can do the same but it might take a few different tries so be patient. (Goldie Pritchard)

September 13, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 11, 2017

ASP During Challenging Times

It’s been a potentially challenging time for many law students throughout the country. But, I am not necessarily talking about the challenges directly related to the study of law.

Yes. Case readings can be quite lengthy. There may be anxiety related to getting called on in class. And students may sometimes feel like there is not enough time in the day to complete everything that seems to be needed to be completed to succeed in law school. These are all potential challenges that our students may currently be experiencing. But, the last month or so may have seemingly added an entire new set of challenges to our students.

While many students have tried to remain engaged in their studies, events outside of the law school building may have continued to place additional burdens on them. Between Charlottesville, Hurricane Harvey, DACA, and Hurricane Irma, many of our students have had to face or worry about things that they would not have initially had on their radar going into the start of law school (no hurricane pun intended).

It’s difficult to stay motivated and engaged to read for class or write that LRW memo when you are worried about your safety and security or the safety and security of your families and friends. It’s hard to turn away from the news of devastation and despair when you are either living in that devastation and despair or know someone who is.

Law school is a challenging time for our students. And events outside of the law school building may have continued to place additional challenges on our students. It’s during these challenging times that it is especially important to have a friendly, supportive, and understanding ASP professional in the law school building. While we may not immediately have all or any of the answers related to some of these challenging events, we surely can welcome our students into our offices. We can sit down with them and actively listen to their stories. We can empathetically try to help them find some answers or refer them to those who may more appropriately serve them during these challenging and unfortunate times. (OJ Salinas)

Support pic earth

 

September 11, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Meetings, Miscellany, News, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Better Teaching: Could it Actually Mean "Less" Teaching?

Last term I went for the lunch and came away hungry...hungry to learn more about learning!  

That's right, our campus "Office for Teaching & Learning" brought in a special speaker to share with us her tips on best practices for teaching our students to learn.  Her name - Dr. Maryellen Weimer.  

Wow; she was an amazing speaker because, for the most part, she spoke very little but got us thinking and working collaboratively with others on how it is that we learn, how our students are doing in their learning, and what sorts of things we are seeing within our classrooms that might best encourage learning.  

In short, we were working harder than Dr. Weimer in thinking about learning.  It was no "free lunch," at all.  But, it was one of the few lunch presentations that I can still recall, and better yet, find invaluable to my teaching.

That brings me to the issue of what might be the so-called "best practices" for engaging ourselves in learning-centered teaching with our students.   Fortunately, Dr. Weimer has written a brief article entitled "The Five Characteristics of Lerning-Centered Teaching," which summarizes her  work in helping faculty become better teachers.

 https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/five-characteristics-of-learner-centered-teaching

As academic support professionals, this is an excellent link to share with your faculty.  

In the interim, let me briefly summarize the list of five characteristics by asking a series of short questions that you might ask of your faculty:

First, are you working harder at learning than your students?  If so, then you might be working too hard at teaching your students, so much so, that you are doing the learning for them.  That is to say, they might not be learning because they aren't really challenged to learn and don't really have to learn since you are doing most of the learning for them.

Second, are you teaching your students the content by embedding skills within your instruction?  If not, then, you are - again - doing the learning for your students because learning requires active engagement in critical thinking, evaluation of the evidence, analysis of the arguments, and the generation of hypotheses, hypotheticals, and examples.

Third, are you asking your students what they are learning and how they are learning?  If not, take time both in casual conversations with your students and in more formalized classroom exercises for reflection on how it is that we (ourselves and our students) learn.

Fourth, are you sharing the learning responsibilities with your students by giving them some measure of control over how they learn?  If not, try working collaboratively with your students, for example, to create assessment criteria for assignments or even establish due dates for some assignments within a window of available dates.

Fifth, are you promoting collaborative learning in engagement with other students within rich learning communities?   If not, look back at that word "rich."  Too often, our students are not learning deeply and well because they treat learning as a "solo" experience - an experience not to be shared with others.  But, as any teacher will tell you, the best way to know something is to teach it to others.  That means that we should devote part of our classroom learning exercises to teaching our students how to learn collaboratively with others, i.e., how to learn from and with others.   

Perhaps by the best way to summarize the article might be in quoting Confucius:  

"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest."

I take the first - reflection - to be the at the heart and soul of great experiences in learning.  I take the second - imitation - to be going to classes, taking notes, and receptively re-reading them in the hope that some of what the professor said might rub off on me.  I take the third - experience - as the "trial by fire" method of learning in which students spend most of the term reading cases, creating case briefs, observing lectures, and developing massive course outlines without ever tackling actual final exam problems until it is too late (i.e., on the actual final exam).

With this list in mind, feel free to join me as I try to step back from the podium and the front of the classroom to better engage with students in the actual process of learning-centered teaching.  (Scott Johns).

September 7, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

3L Senioritis and Panic

“This is my last first day of school ever!” This statement sums up the comments made by many of my 3L students as they stopped by to say hello and told me about their summer adventures. They are so elated and their excitement is infectious. We reminisce about their journeys, how far they have come, all they have overcome, and their current achievements and growth. It is important to keep things in perspective so I remind them that they are equipped to face the next challenge that lies ahead; they made it this far.

“I never thought this day would come when I was a 1L and a 2L!” This also sums up statements made by my 3L students who struggled a little more than others throughout their law school career. This is usually a perfect point in time to remind them of how they overcame challenges they deemed insurmountable and felt defeated by the law school process but somehow persevered. Many of these students accessed opportunities, that on paper they did not qualify for, but they were afforded these opportunities through their work ethic and personality. I do not want them to forget challenges they have overcome because I know the bar exam lies ahead and I want them to conquer this seemingly impossible beast.

“I can’t wait until my picture is on your wall next year!” In February, I wrote about a “Wall of Inspiration” which is a display board filled with pictures from commencement and swearing-in ceremonies to inspire current students and remind them of why they are in the building. Most individuals who enter my office take some time to admire the pictures and comment, especially when they notice someone they know. I had no idea that it was a goal of my students to get their commencement and/or swearing-in pictures on my board. While I hoped that I would inspire them, I had no idea that I actually did.

While students expressed many positive things about their 3L year, they also expressed the fact that they are mentally checked-out, unmotivated, ready to be done, and simply over the law school experience. My most studious students have difficulty reading for classes and even attending classes. They do not want to own the fact that they have senioritis although everything seems to indicate it. I recognize the telltale sign of indifference that has overshadowed the usual excitement some of my students have for classes. Investment in established law school friendships has weaned and students are generally grumpy. I am concerned! However, I know that some students are burnt-out and exhausted from being in school, some for almost their entire lives. Also, the stress of finding a job, the anxiety of preparing for and taking the bar exam, and the realities of “adulting” for the first time weigh heavy on them. Therefore, I am working on how to actively re-energize and re-engage these students.

"I cannot fail the bar exam!" On the other extreme of the spectrum are 3Ls in panic mode. These students are excited and embrace the fast approaching end to their law school career but are equally terrified about the bar exam, to the point of paralysis. They are paranoid about failing the bar exam and adamant about starting to study for the bar exam now, forgetting vital things they need to accomplish prior to studying such as completing the bar application. Additionally, they are concerned with preserving their GPAs, finding a fulfilling job, and managing their finances. I encourage this group to develop a plan, take one thing at a time, and move forward.

Whether our 3Ls are checked-out or in a complete panic, our main goal is to bring them somewhere in the middle, remind them of what they must do and what they have yet to do, all while underscoring the fact that they still have time. (Goldie Pritchard)

September 6, 2017 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | 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)

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)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Possible ASP Motto: CHANGE LIVES

There's a place amidst the mighty Sangre de Cristo Range of New Mexico where college students lead high school teens across the rugged mountains on 10-day backpacking trips.  

As the backpacking guides race from their office to the meet their new crews hailing from around the nation (and the world too), the guides reach high to tap a sign as they exit the office door that reads simply:  

"CHANGE LIVES."  

I love that phrase.  

It's not that the camp is about "changing" lives...but that individual guides reach up to signify their commitment to "change" lives today.  The first is about others (i.e., the camp) having an impact on the backpackers.  The second, in contrast, is about me individually making an impact on people that I am charged with serving.

Photo by Kevin Boucher, PhilNews photographer

Photo by Kevin Boucher, PhilNews photographer

As I thought about our work in ASP, I wonder if that might be a great motto for me.  Why not install that sign above my office door?  I could then tap it when I go to classes as a reminder of my purpose...in the present...to teach for the betterment of my students.  And, I could reach out and touch it when I go to meetings.  That might really make a big impact on my motivation.  I could tag it when I meet with other faculty and staff as a reminder of my purpose to work among my colleagues as an ASP professional to change lives.  

You see, it's often the little things that can make a mighty difference, like committing ourselves daily to be on the lookout for any and all opportunities to change the lives of our students for the better.  So, today, feel free to reach high in a symbolic tap of the sign!  (Scott Johns).

August 24, 2017 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

We Made the Right Decision

Last week, the hallways of our institution were bustling with incoming students, their family members, and returning students. It was the week prior to orientation and incoming students and their families were getting the lay of the land. The departments at our institution have an open-door policy so it is not unusual for individuals to wander in and strike up a conversation. What was very unique about this year was the unusually high number of parents I spoke with. My favorite conversation was with a parent who said that after speaking with my colleague and me, he felt: “we made the right decision.” We all laughed when his daughter made a face because he had previously said that he was uncomfortable with her moving this far away from their home state.

Orientation week is an exciting yet trying week for the academic support office. Some amazing things I get to do, include but are not limited to, introducing my office and the services offered, coordinating a few skills activities, and meeting new students. Other challenging aspects of this week include coordinating the logistics for teaching assistant training and programs, coordinating programming for returning students, trying to identify an office assistant for the year, and getting semester programming started. Each year, things neatly fall into place. I am convinced that I secretly anticipate the start of each new academic year because the presence of students energizes me and reminds me of the “why.”

Throughout orientation week, there are several opportunities to chat with students during coffee breaks and lunch. My primary question for incoming students this academic year focuses on how they feel about the decision they made to attend this law school. It is quite interesting to observe their body language while listening to the many justifications they offer in response. As the days progress and students meet other students, faculty, and staff, they seem to confirm their “why.” I also seize this opportunity to encourage students to reflect on and write down why they decided to come to law school, what their career and personal goals are, and what activities they look forward to during their law school experience. They can write this information in the form of a letter, checklist, or brief note. They can keep the writing and revisit it during trying times. They can also entrust it to someone who would mail it to them around mid-semester or remind them of their aspirations at key times of stress. As the semester progresses and students focus on getting through each day and each week, it is very easy to lose sight of the “why.” We often need to remember or be reminded of our optimism, aspirations, and positivity in the face of law school challenges and adversities (Goldie Pritchard).

Pexels-photo-207658

August 23, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Dear July 2017 Bar Exam Applicant

Dear July 2017 Bar Exam Applicant,

As the bar-exam induced fog lifts from your brain, I expect that you will have a few questions about what to do now.

It will be several more weeks--or even months--until the official results are released, so you should try to return to life-as-usual.  Go to work or start looking for a job.  (And, if you find a job, don't forget to tell the Career Services Office.)  Get caught up on all the errands that you put off this summer.  Reconnect with friends and family.  In short, keep yourself busy. 

Your only real bar-exam-related responsibility during the next few weeks is to keep your character and fitness file up to date.  If you change residences, get a new job, or make any other life changes, you must notify the Board of Law Examiners.  The Board likely has an "update form" available for download on its website.  The NCBE's update form can be found by logging into your online NCBE account.  The Board will mail your exam results and other time-sensitive documents to the address that you currently have on file, so make sure that everything is updated. 

For the glass half-empty crowd: Let me start by stating that immediately after the exam almost everyone I talk to feels like they failed the exam.  But, only a small percentage of those folks actually do fail the exam.  The reality is that the vast majority of applicants pass the exam on their first attempt.  If you do fail, you should check with your jurisdiction to see if you are allowed to review your essay answers after the exam; you can learn a lot about your game day performance by looking at your answers.  If you decide to retake the exam, you should contact the bar exam professor at your school to help you in determining your individual strengths and weaknesses, so that you may better prepare for the February exam.

For the glass half-full folks: Once you officially pass the exam, you’ll need to get sworn-in. Every state differs, but generally that requires a currently licensed attorney within the state to “vouch for you” by moving for your admission.  For example, in West Virginia you and the person vouching for you must attend a formal swearing-in ceremony together.  Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania the formal ceremony is optional. You still need a licensed attorney to vouch for you by signing your paperwork, but you can have a notary or local judge administer the oath at any time. 

Finally, you should be very proud of yourself for all that you've accomplished so far. (Did you know that only 1% of Americans go to law school?) I encourage you to take some time for yourself right now to reflect on your successes and to relax with your friends and family. You've earned it!

Waiting With You,

Kirsha Trychta

August 22, 2017 in Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 18, 2017

What did you just say?

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was one of the most renowned U.S. Supreme Court Justices in American legal history. He wrote a letter home to his father after his first day as a law student at Harvard stating, "I did not make sense of one single word spoken today."

For all of you beginning law school, there is hope! Don't be discouraged if you feel that your professors and the judges who wrote the cases you are reading all speak a foreign language.

Legal language includes many terms taken from Latin and French. Terms that have a common meaning in everyday English will often have specialized meanings in the law. You will hear lawyers refer to "terms of art." There will be procedural terms, policy terms, doctrinal conceptual terms, and many more. A term in one legal specialty may have a more nuanced meaning in another legal specialty.

Be patient with yourself. And become best friends with your legal dictionary.

You will need to look up multiple terms in every paragraph in a case. After you read the definition, write a short version in the margin of your casebook and highlight the term. Law professors will call on students to define those terms. So do not blithely read over them. They are important.

You will be amazed at the end of the first year how many terms you have mastered. Your family and friends will comment throughout the first year that you speak a foreign language. (Amy Jarmon)

 

 

August 18, 2017 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

What Type of Learner Are You? A "Passive" or an "Activist" Learner?

Perhaps you've heard the term "self-regulated learner."  
 
To be honest, I'm not very good at regulating myself (or anyone else at all).  So, the phrase "self-regulated learner" tends to fall flat on my ears because I just don't think I've got the gumption, the fortitude, and the heart to be all that disciplined and focused.  And, it sounds so downright mechanical that just saying the term sort of disheartens me; it leaves me feeling like I just don't have what it takes to be a learner (self-regulated or otherwise, i.e., unregulated I suppose). 
 
So, that brings me back to the term "self-regulated learner" that sounds so burdensome to me.  
 
Excitedly, there’s an article in this week's Wall Street Journal providing “five tips for honing sharper skills” that cites to a handful of academic studies concerning best learning practices, what the WSJ -- joyfully in my mind --calls the "activist approach" to learning.  
 
 
As journalist Sue Shellenbarger confirms in the article, the activist approach to learning is what academics most often label as self-regulated learning.   Wow!  I was thrilled to learn of a term that made sense to me because, after all, that's something that I can do (and I don't have to be perfect to do it well--I've just got to work at it).
 
In particular, I love the phrase “the activist approach to learning" because it suggests that learning really is all about creative reflective work both individually and with others in producing, improving, and refining one’s understanding of the world.  So, as you begin to embark on your legal studies as a entering 1L student (or continue your studies as a rising upper-level law student), focus your learning energies this week on active learning.  
 
Here's a few tips as gleaned from the WSJ article, re-focused a bit for the context of law school learning:
 
1.  Plan ahead.  Schedule your midterm exams, final exams, and papers in one big calendar.  That's because studies show that such scheduling preparation helps you set the stage for understanding what's going to be required of you as you progress through the academic term.
 
2.  Actively seek out help.  When you don't understand, go see the professor. Talk to your academic support professionals.  Meet with student affairs.  That's because studies show that those who went to office hours were more likely to earn higher grades all things considered.  I know.  It's tough to go meet with your professor.  But, your professors are more than eager, they are downright excited, to meet with you.
 
3.  Quiz Yourself.  Lots of times.  Cover up your notes and ask what are the big concepts.  Pick out the main points in your case briefs.  In some ways, be your own mentor, your own teacher, by asking yourself what you've learned today.  Engage in lots of so-called retrieval practice.  Unfortunately, too many of us (me included) re-read and highlight, which mistakenly results in us being familiar with the materials...to the point that we have a false sense of security that we understand what we are reading or highlighting (when we don't).  Avoid that trap at all costs.  Push yourself.  Question yourself.  Quiz yourself.
 
4.  Limit study sessions to 45 minutes at a time.  Concentrate boldly...and then take a walk, a break, or just sit there staring out the window at beautiful view.  That's because there are studies that show that the best learning happens when we mix focused learning with diffuse big picture reflection (even on things not even relevant to what we have been studying).  That's great news for me because I am a big day dreamer!  But, just remember to turn off the social media and email and notifications during your focused study sessions.  Then, relax and soak in the atmosphere.  Get lost in your thoughts.  Work your learning back and forth between focused concentration and diffuse relaxation.  It's A-okay!
 
5.  Find out what the test covers (and looks like).  Do it now! Don't wait until a few days before the midterm or the final exams.  Grab hold of your professors' previous exam questions. Get a sense of what is required of you, how you will be assessed in the course, what sorts of tasks you'll be required to perform on your exams (and papers too).  Most entering students are surprised that they will be rarely asked to recite the facts of a case (or any cases at all).  Rather, most law school exams look quite different than the case briefing exercises and Socratic dialogue that seems so all-important during the many weeks of regular class meetings.  So, help yourself out in a big way and get hold of practice exam questions for each of your courses.
 
 Now, that's the sort of activist learning that we can ALL engage in!  So, be bold and be active in your learning!  (Scott Johns).
 
 
 

August 17, 2017 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Law School Is Not For You

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

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

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

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

Let me refocus.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Orientation Week or Orienteering Week: It's a Matter of Perspective

All across law school campuses, newly-entering law school students are beginning to embark on their first steps in legal education.  Often times, the initial week is filled with orientation lectures. Unfortunately, in some cases, the first educational experiences that new law students receive are spent mostly on the "recipient end" as passive classroom listeners.  There's nothing wrong with listening but listening for hours on end is just not that productive because we learn best through active participatory engagement.  So, here's a thought that might help inspire a bit of redirection in the orientation week.   

Rather than focus on "orientation," why not turn the goal into "orienteering" our new learners to law school learning.  In short, that means turning the noun "orientation" into the verb "orienteering"...by doing very little talking to students...and much more working with students in the midst of law school learning experiences.  For those of you that like to hike with map and compass, the process of orienteering means that we take out our map, we use our compass to get our bearings, and we look around us at the landscape of our surroundings to figure out where we might be located on the map, and then we find a path to hike to our intended awe-inspiring destination.  Law school is similar.  That first week experience with newly-arrived law students should be spent on activities that get them "hitting the legal trail," so to speak, as soon as possible, and from the get-go.  In general, they don't need lectures about library services, or how to navigate the law school website, or how to locate their mailboxes.  Instead, they came to learn to be lawyers.  So, get them started on learning to be lawyers. 

Practically speaking and as many law schools do, it's a grand week to have them engaged in reading and briefing cases, participating in mock classroom discussions, practicing taking class notes, reviewing class notes and materials, creating mini-study tools, practicing mini-final exam scenarios, and assess what one learned throughout the week.  Simply put, that means that our new law school students are actually taking responsibility for starting to learn how to learn in the very first week of their legal education.  And, with so much to learn, there's no time to waste.  Most importantly, people remember very little about what we say.  They remember much about what they do.  So, keep the focus on the law students orienteering themselves to law school learning.  (Scott Johns).

August 10, 2017 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Did You Forget About the MPRE?

News flash, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) is this Saturday, August 12th. This exam is perfectly nestled between the end of summer classes and the start of a new academic year. It also occurs shortly after the bar exam for those who sat for the July Bar Exam. While students and graduates have good intentions, the summer MPRE is sometimes forgotten, overlooked, or simply ignored for a number of reasons. Some assume at the start of the summer that they have all summer long to think about and start studying for the MPRE while others are plagued by other concerns. Students who only recently finished summer classes are stressed and tired so the need to refocus their energies on preparing for yet another exam is daunting. Individuals who recently sat for the bar exam and either relegated taking the MPRE or failed to previously attain the necessary score for their jurisdictions have only had the opportunity to take one deep breath before returning to study mode. Hopefully it was not too hard in comparison to preparing for the bar exam. For those rising 2Ls and 3Ls who simply ignored messages from their Academic Support Program or forgot to sign-up for the MPRE; you still have opportunities to take this exam so take a deep breath but come up with a plan. Below are a few myths and last minute tips for individuals anticipating the Saturday MPRE:

Myths

(1) You only need to study for two weeks, one week, or the day before the MPRE

Based on my experience, students who provide such advice to other students are individuals who were probably unsuccessful in attaining the requisite score on their first attempt at the MPRE. Very few of my students, even those who completed a Professional Responsibility course and are at the top of the class, are able to study in this limited amount of time and be successful on the MPRE. You know how long it takes you to learn, retain, and apply information; you know your process so plan accordingly. You also know how differently you manage “code” and “rule intensive” materials. Most MPRE programs give you about a month to prepare for the exam so why would you spend less time preparing?

(2) You do not need to complete practice questions just learn the rules

If you have recognized that you need to consider how rules are applied to hypothetical situations as you studied for law school exams, then why would your approach change for the MPRE? If you realized that completing essays and multiple questions allowed you to hone the nuances of specific concepts then why wouldn’t you do the same here? True understanding of the rules and how they apply is another way of learning the information.

(3) You do not need to complete a timed exam

If you had exam time management challenges in the past then you may want to assess how you access, retrieve, process, and answer questions under timed circumstances. Even if you have never experienced exam time management challenges in the past, wouldn’t you want to know how you manage this subject area, in this testing format, with these time constraints so that the day of the exam is not the first time you attempt this?

Last Minute Tips

(1) Do not simply rely on what you covered in your law school Professional Responsibility course. There may be topics you did not cover; therefore, survey your materials and review topics not covered if you have not already done so.

(2) Practice! There is still time to complete timed MPRE questions prior to the day of the exam. If you have not already practiced, please close the books and learn from the questions. You have time to complete at least two full exams, in addition to all the questions you have already completed.

(3) Read the instructions carefully as some of this information might surprise you and plan for what you can and cannot bring into the testing room.

(4) Commit to your strategy or approach and do not change it mid-exam.

Good luck to everyone taking the MPRE! (Goldie Pritchard)

August 9, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Being Different Doesn't Mean Being Irrelevant

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

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

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

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

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