Tuesday, August 22, 2017
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,
Friday, August 18, 2017
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)
Thursday, August 17, 2017
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
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)!
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)
Thursday, August 10, 2017
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).
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
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:
(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)
Monday, August 7, 2017
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)
Saturday, August 5, 2017
Can you believe it is already August?! In just a few short weeks, our law schools will be welcoming our new 1L students and welcoming back our 2L and 3L students.
Where did the summer go? When graduation passes, the summer seems to stretch before us. Weeks of bar preparation for folks with those duties. Weeks of closing out the prior academic year and projects for the next year for others. In either case though, the summer seems so full of possibilities and time.
For those who have just finished bar prep duties, there seems too little time to pull things together plus find some time to relax. For those who are focused on academic support, the "to do list" that looked so attainable in May now seems too long still to accomplish in time.
So take a deep breath! Finish off those PowerPoint slides and handouts for Orientation. Send final instructions to your fall law student staff members. Prioritize those last items on your list. Coordinate those final dates and rooms for workshops. Finalize your syllabus for your courses. Send reminders to faculty to coordinate last-minute details.
In August it always seems too close for comfort as well as so exciting. I love the anticipation of a new academic year! It is so nice to see the familiar faces of our returning students and hear about their summers. It is a pleasure to meet the new 1Ls and see their mix of eagerness and nervousness. After all, this is what being an ASPer is all about! (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
When the final day of the bar exam has come and gone, I breathe a sigh of relief and panic, all at the same time. First, it means what it means, the bar exam is over so our recent graduates have truly left the building and I no longer need to worry about them until bar exam results are released. Second, it means that the summer is almost over and the start of the new academic year is fast approaching. Third, it means I have likely failed at achieving a majority of the lofty goals I set for myself at the start of the summer. Finally, it means that I may not have an opportunity to take a break as I will have a long list of to-dos that I need to get through because the first two to three weeks of the semester are not the most productive. How do one person Academic Support offices that manage academic and bar support do it all? I am sincerely interested in knowing how you do it all and when you take breaks particularly if you are also involved in summer programs, orientation, teaching, working with target populations, and addressing diversity matters. I will be happy to share some of your ideas with others here if I receive enough feedback.
After being a one person Academic Support and Bar Support office for a year, I was fortunate to have a colleague for almost seven years. The duo created a great balance and allowed me to feel comfortable about taking my annual one week vacation sometime during bar review because I knew someone was here in the office and I could completely remove myself from the office. It was also great to have someone to talk to who understood the day to day challenges of academic support life. Even though I have contemplated and worked towards this transition, I probably was not strategic enough because when the bar exam ended last week, the reality of my situation hit me suddenly. As I saw my Academic Support colleagues leave for one to two week vacations, I pitied myself as I sat in my office Thursday morning.
Thursday, the building was very quiet both because summer classes had ended and the bar exam was over. I was exhausted by the marathon that was bar exam preparation even though I was not preparing to sit for the bar exam. However, I was productive but not as productive as I could be so I left the building. After lunch with one of our fellows who is moving out of state, I got home, collapsed on the couch, did not wake up until late in the evening, and went to bed early that night. I realized that I was exhausted. This is when all of the things I tell students about wellness and self-care came to mind. I recognized that I needed to practice what I preached. An exhausted supporter is inefficient, ineffective, and not operating at their optimum level and I owe my students the best of me.
Friday was amazing; I was very productive and completed a significant portion of a large project I had difficulty completing throughout the summer. I also decided that I needed to take some time off to rest. I cannot afford to take a full week but I can definitely take a few days here and there. I saw the post “Be Good to Yourself” by Amy Jarmon which only confirmed my decision and underscored additional things I will consider in the near future. I am starting off with the first bullet point, I am “squeezing in a holiday” this week. I took a day and a half off the first part of this week, am in the office Wednesday and will take the following few days off with the goal of hitting the ground running next week. It has been my experience that all things come together but it is also very important to take a break. I was fearful of taking a break, dreading all the work that would accumulate and await my return but a short break for rest and recuperation is necessary. I hope that you do the same, for once the semester starts, there is no turning back. (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, July 31, 2017
I wrote in last week’s post of my trip to the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) conference in Minnesota. The conference theme focused on diversity and inclusion, which we know will also be the focus of our upcoming Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) conference in October.
My colleague, Alexa Chew, and I lead a discussion at ALWD on ways to make law schools more welcoming for everyone. We spoke about our experiences participating on our Diversity and Inclusion Task Force at UNC Law. We spoke about how allowing students to share their stories and listening to their stories can create more awareness and understanding of the diversity and inclusion problems that may be wounding your law school.
Alexa and I wrote a blog post in advance of our ALWD presentation in Jennifer Romig’s Listen Like a Lawyer blog. We wrote that most of us working at law schools want a more diverse and inclusive environment. However, many folks working in our law schools are often unaware of what our students are experiencing during their law school tenure. So, schools get into a situation where they are trying to fix or work on a "problem" that they have not identified or know little about--or worse, that they may be inadvertently contributing to.
Alexa and I provided a few suggestions that could help more folks “get in the know.” The suggestions are relatively simple and inexpensive, but they may still have a huge impact on how students feel when they walk through the doors of your law schools. I suspect many of you in the ASP world are likely already doing many of the suggestions quite well! Keep it up!!! And encourage others in your law school to follow your lead!
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
The short period after the bar exam ends, but before Orientation begins is a good time for a much needed recharge. If you are responsible for bar preparation at your school, then you are likely exhausted right now—and for good reason. I work at a school with roughly 100 graduating students. Between January and today (day 1 of the bar exam), those 100 students resulted in:
- 500+ bar exam related emails;
- 28 bar preparation classes;
- 360ish practice essays;
- 1 Bar Examiner’s presentation;
- 49 individual student appointments;
- 7 spring semester faculty lectures;
- 4 summer workshops, and
- countless drop-ins and phone calls.
I suspect that most bar support professors' schedules look quite similar. Needless to say, we have all earned a break. Much like our students plan post-bar exam adventures, we too should plan time to relax. Take a trip, finish that novel, spend a few computer free days on the couch with a furry friend, or—as in my case—go to a conference on the beach in Florida.
After the mental batteries are recharged, use the remaining time to eliminate a potential long-term stressor before the school year begins. Start by identifying one specific thing that sucks up more time or energy than it should during the school year. Then devise a plan to fix it. The time spent now removing the annoyance will pay dividends indefinitely into the future.
For example, I used to complain about how much time it would take to establish a mutually convenient time to meet a student or a colleague … all the back-and-forth emailing. So, last summer I committed a whole day to eliminating this one problem. I started my quest like any good scholar: by watching a You Tube video. I learned how to make my Outlook calendar visible, in real time, to anyone. After a few simple key strokes, I successfully published my very own calendar webpage. I then posted a hyperlink to the webpage calendar on my TWEN page, in all my course syllabi, and in my formal email signature line. I also drafted a special second “signature” in Outlook that read: “You can view my calendar here. Just let me know what day/time works for you.” Between the widely available calendar links and the quick-insert response language, I rarely engage in the tedious scheduling-based-email-exchange anymore. This one simple fix not only saved me time during the year, but also reduced my inbox clutter.
When I get back from my conference in a few days, I plan to find a way to reliably track long-term bar passage data that does not involve a bunch of Excel spreadsheets, a filing cabinet stuffed full of state bar examiners’ letters, random LinkedIn searches, and a pot of coffee. If anyone has any suggestions, please send me an email. I’d love to hear it! (Kirsha Trychta)
Monday, July 24, 2017
This last week, I attended and participated in a diversity and inclusion conference hosted by the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The three-day conference was engaging and timely. And it included a thought provoking and informative plenary presentation on stereotype threat and implicit bias by fellow-ASPer, Russell McClain. Having seen Russell present before at various ASP conferences, I knew he would be a charming and enlightening presenter—and he certainly was! Congratulations, Russell! I know the ALWD attendees were impressed by your interactive presentation, and I am sure many of them will be reaching out to you in the future for additional ways to address stereotype threat and implicit bias.
I plan to write some more about the ALWD conference and its theme “Acknowledging Lines: Talking About What Unites and Divides Us” at a later date. But, for now, I wanted to spend a little time talking about what is likely on the minds of most academic success professionals and all the recent law school graduates—the bar exam.
Exam takers: We all know you have been working hard, and we believe in you. The next few days will be beyond tough and tiring. But, you have trained your mind and body for it.
Yes. You will likely second-guess yourself. Yes. You will likely face questions that you might not feel good about. But, you are also going to see and work with a lot of information that you do understand and have encountered many times during your bar preparation. Trust yourself. Read the questions carefully. Organize your essays. And don’t let those few questions that you might not know the answers to bring you down. You don’t need to get that A+ to pass. If you spend too much time focusing on the information that you don’t know or can’t remember, you may not leave yourself enough time or energy to show the bar graders what you do know. And you do know. A lot.
A few more things . . . remember to breathe and it’ll be over soon.
We look forward to welcoming you into the profession. (OJ Salinas)
Monday, July 17, 2017
The New York Times recently published “The Lawyer, The Addict”—a very compelling article about a tragic event. The story describes the death of an influential Silicon Valley attorney. The interplay between (1) addiction, stress, and mental health and (2) law school and the legal profession is referenced in an honest and, for many, eye-opening manner. The article has rightfully generated much discussion on the Internet, including a fascinating conversation on my colleague Rachel Gurvich’s Twitter feed. If you are looking for further insight about the article from a variety of faculty, practitioners, and students, I encourage you to check out Rachel's Twitter feed (@RachelGurvich). Much of the conversation can be found here.
There are many interesting points one can focus on from the NYT article. Perhaps, I’ll explore some other points in the future in the blog. For now, I’ll focus today’s blog on two points: (1) Larry Krieger’s work on subjective well-being; and (2) how hard it is for students to acknowledge that they may be suffering from a problem.
- Larry Krieger’s Work on Subjective Well-Being.
The NYT article interviewed Professor Larry Krieger and referenced his work "What Makes Lawyers Happy". As many of you know, Krieger’s work was an empirical study on “attorney emotional health” and “subjective well-being.” Part of Krieger’s findings and recommendations focused on shifting the definition of “success” for law students away from extrinsic rewards, like grades, journals, and high-paying jobs to more personal and intrinsic values and motivations.
I remember Larry Krieger's work was one of the first things that Ruth McKinney discussed with me when I arrived at UNC. Since her retirement, we have tried to continue to incorporate the message of Krieger’s work into our pre-orientation program for incoming 1Ls. We try to remind our students to remember the intrinsic reasons why they decided to come to law school—particularly during those times when they may feel overwhelmed, defeated, or unworthy. We also try to remind our students that “success” can mean many different things to different people and that there are many ways to “succeed” in law school. We often talk about these topics while disclosing some of our personal struggles and experiences from law school. This personal disclosure often helps build a foundation where we are better able to assist with the problem discussed in part two below.
- Acknowledging a Problem is often a Problem.
For those of us who work closely with students, the article’s story on how law school and the legal profession can change you—physically and mentally—is not a surprising tale. We know that the combination of stress, anxiety, and the competition for external rewards can create a very challenging and intimidating environment for our students. The environment can feel crushing and insurmountable when you add difficult finances, family issues, health concerns, implicit bias, or stereotype threat to the mix.
It is not uncommon for academic success folks to work with students who are facing some significant non-academic issues that impact their academic performance. But, these non-academic issues are often not easily identifiable. Let’s try to remember that it is often difficult for our students to acknowledge to themselves that they may be going through a very problematic time. Like anyone, they have pride. They have all been successful undergrads or had elite careers prior to law school. They don’t want to think of themselves as “failures” or “unworthy” of being a law student.
Since our students don’t want to think of themselves as “failures” or “unworthy” of being a law student, they will likely hesitate before seeking help because they don’t want others to see them as “failures” or “unworthy” of being a law student (and the mental health questions on the bar exam applications don't help either, but that's a topic for another day [if you are interested, my former colleague, Katie Rose Guest Pryal has a great piece here]).
Disclosing some personal vulnerability to someone else is an added challenge to an already stressful time in our students' lives. Think about it: if it’s hard for you to acknowledge some potential weakness or flaw to yourself, do you think it will be easier for you to acknowledge that weakness or flaw to someone else? Now think about that someone else as a law professor or administrator. I know; it’s pretty scary. That’s why we, as academic support professionals (and others who work closely with law students), should try to practice good active listening skills and remain nonjudgmental, empathetic, and encouraging when we work with our students. It’s a difficult job. But, we are lucky to be able to do it. (OJ Salinas)
Thursday, July 13, 2017
With a big hat tip to one of our bar takers this summer, here's a website -- The Visual Law Library -- that has some cool colorful cartoons to help brighten up your daily memorization studies.
On the website, cartoonist and attorney Margaret Hagan has created cartoons for the following subjects that are tested on most bar exams: Civil Procedure, Con Law, Contracts, Corporations, Criminal Law, Evidence, Family Law, Property Law, and Torts.
It's a rich resource to allow you to "see" some of the major rules in a colorful way. So, feel free to take a break by scoping out a few cartoons that might help you better remember some of the major rules for upcoming bar exam. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
July is in full swing, the bar exam is fast approaching, and panic has set in yet again for some bar exam studiers. Others are ready to face the beast that is the bar exam so they can become "human beings" again. What do you do with the time you have remaining to maximize your preparation? Below are a few last minute suggestions from former bar exam studiers.
Last Two Weeks
Create a plan; make a schedule for the days leading up to the exam. What, specifically, are you going to do on each day? What materials do you need to put together for test days? What materials are not permitted in the exam room? Plan to be awake and study during the times you need to be awake and alert on exam day. Consider whether you need to regulate your fluid intake. Adopt a plan and stick to it.
Inspirational Music, Movies, or Videos
Music, movies, or videos that “pick you up” or “pump you up” can motivate you to dig up that last bit of energy you know is within you when you feel depleted. These can also create a positive mindset about your ability to tackle the exam or to reenergize after perceived poor performance. You can create a playlist leading up to the exam, for each morning of the exam, or after the exam. Alex Ruskell, one of our former contributors, wrote an entry last year with musical selections for various tastes. Click here: Get Pumped for the Bar Exam!
As a bar exam studier, you want to mentally prepare for the exam ahead and the best way to do this is to mimic the circumstances surrounding the bar exam. Practicing on the days and at the time of your exam a week before your bar exam is ideal. You may have only practiced one session (3 hours) of essays, performance tests, or MBE. You may have practiced a full day (6 hours) of MBE or a writing day practice but you may not have done it in the same sequence as the bar exam. The goal of this exercise is to see how you maintain your stamina, how you engage with the material at the times you need to, and how you manage two or three days of consecutive testing. It will likely be an exhausting process so plan to be unable to do anything else each night. The focus of this exercise is not on assessing whether you will pass the exam based on your performance. Bar exam studiers focus on the score rather than on time management, energy, and the like. Adrenaline keeps you going on exam day but you are fighting fatigue from the past few months and you want to train your brain to engage when you need it to. This is also an opportunity to practice following the policies of your testing center and jurisdiction.
Create a list of individuals who will cheer you on at various points and support you in different ways. Ensure that you have a mix of individuals who understand the bar exam process and some who are completely removed. You can have a call schedule or ask them to check-in with you on various days and at various times. There are some individuals who are great at getting you pumped up for a day of testing and others to whom you can confide all of your fears prior to or after the exam. There are also individuals who can run errands for you, cook for you, bring you lunch in between test sessions and keep your company. It is vital to consider what you need and the people who can cater to those needs in the days to come.
All the very best July 2017 bar takers! (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, July 10, 2017
We are just a few weeks away from the bar exam. And for many students studying for the bar, that means questions. No. I don’t mean the hundreds, if not thousands, of MBE questions that the students have taken and, perhaps, retaken. And I don’t mean questions on any practice exams. I mean questions running through our students’ heads: questions of doubt, commitment, and normalcy.
Most students studying for the bar have had to live in somewhat of a “Bar Exam Prep Bubble” for the last few months. They celebrated law school graduation in May. But, it wasn’t really a full-on celebration because they knew there was still something more to do. It’s something huge and overwhelming. And it’s something that dictates one’s true entrance into the legal profession.
The bar exam is huge and overwhelming and, in many respects, it does dictate one’s true entrance into the legal profession. This monumental exam has a way of playing mind games with our students—especially at this point in the bar prep season.
We are at a point in the bar prep season where students will start second-guessing themselves. Will I pass? Have I really done all that I should have done over the last few months? What if I freak out and can’t remember anything? Why have I put myself through this?
Despite all the work that our students have put into preparing for the exam, they will think they still have more work to do. Despite the objective results that their bar companies provide to them of their performance so far in the bar prep season, they will wonder and worry about how well they will perform on the ‘big day(s).’
As we prepare ourselves for the last few weeks of bar prep season, let’s remember that anxiety and doubt are normal for this big event. But, they don’t equal failure. Anxiety and doubt don’t mean that our students are unable to succeed. And they don’t mean that our students have not put in the necessary work to succeed.
If we get an anxious and doubting student in our offices, let’s remember our anxieties and doubts about our bar exams. Let’s remember how we may have felt overwhelmed with the amount of material. And let’s remember that we, and every other licensed attorney out there, passed the exam.
The bar exam is challenging. But, it is doable. We are all proof that it is doable. With the right frame of mind and support from family, friends, and ASP professionals, we were all able to overcome the mind games. Our students can, too. (OJ Salinas)
Thursday, July 6, 2017
Straight from a recent law graduate and licensed attorney Sarah Myers, here's some exciting news that you can "sing" about as you prepare for your bar exam this summer. But first, a bit of background....
Ms. Myers serves as the clinical director of the Colorado Lawyer's Assistance Program, a confidential program for law students and practitioners alike implemented by the Colorado Supreme Court. As the clinical director, Ms. Myers successful passed the bar exam in February 2016, holds a master's degree in somatic counseling education, and is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a licensed addiction counselor.
In other words, Ms. Myers knows all about the stress and strains of life, particularly in relationship to the study of law and preparing for the bar exam.
So, Ms. Myers put together a very handy survey of the research on the surprising benefits of music -- benefits that you can put to good use this summer as you prepare for the bar exam.
To cut to the chase, here's key language from Ms. Myer's summary:
"Research shows that the many benefits of listening to music, playing an instrument, dancing, or singing include:
Improved visual & verbal skills;
Increased endorphins that improve mood;
Improved cardiovascular system, including strengthening the heart, decreasing blood
pressure, and reducing pulse rates;
Better sleep patterns and more restful sleep;
Boosted immune system and reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol;
Reduction in anxiety and overall stress;
Improved sound-processing ability, improved hearing.
Increased levels of oxytocin, resulting in reduced pain and improved mood;
Improved memory across lifespan; and
Increased serotonin levels that reduce depression."
So, take heart and lift up your voices, your instruments, and your heels and start singing, humming, whistling, jamming, and just overall having fun making music. And, the best music to make is that which is made with others. So, why not get a group jam session going, especially this week, to help you start getting the benefits of music within your life. And, if you just can't help yourself by taking a singing break, don't worry. You can always just make up a song or two for some of your most difficult bar exam rules. That way you'll reduce your stress and learn something valuable too! (Scott Johns)
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
We often find individuals thanking others for the opportunity to do this or that but does it mean anything for a person who will sit for the bar exam in a few weeks? Maybe or maybe not. Current bar exam studiers are focused on the tasks at hand and rarely consider that they were of the few selected to attend law school and that they completed their degrees while some others were academically dismissed or otherwise forced to end their law school journey. All of the bar exam studiers' hard work, perseverance, efforts, and abilities granted them “the opportunity” to sit for the bar exam.
This blog entry was inspired by a small cohort of recent graduates who are serving as support for one another during this bar exam preparation period. I have worked with these students most of their law school career but this bar exam study period was very revealing about their character. I understand that one member of the cohort shared a bar meditation book with each member of the group, one makes motivational videos, and they collectively support each other with regular check-ins and sharing resources. This may not be unique as cohorts of friends typically do the same. What stood out for me was what a member of this cohort said to another. She said that it was “an opportunity” to sit for the bar exam so they should all treat it as such and not squander any opportunity to put forth their best effort. This “opportunity mindset” helps motivate some. An awareness and recognition of basic things that we have taken for granted create that opportunity mindset. If you are able to move and are of sound mind (just to list a few), you are able to accomplish quite a bit in a shorter amount of time to succeed in your bar studies than someone who does not possess those abilities. Even through her own struggles and challenges; this bar exam studier was able to recognize her opportunity to achieve her dream and has used it to encourage others.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “opportunity” as:
1. “a favorable juncture of circumstances”
2. “a good chance for advancement or progress”
I like both definitions for different reasons. In the first, I see all conditions being right leading to positive possibilities for success. For bar exam studiers, it simply means that everything they achieved thus far, led them to this point in time which allows them to sit for the bar exam. They would have never been afforded the opportunity to sit for the bar exam had every requirement not been met. In the second definition, given everything they have accomplished thus far, there are positive odds on their side for this next endeavor. Current bar exam studiers have good odds of successfully passing the bar exam.
As Academic Support professionals, it is our job to remind students of their achievements and ability. Defeatist attitudes and perceived inability to complete all tasks and to be successful on the bar exam are inevitable during bar study. Bar exam studiers forget all of the challenges they have overcome since May and are focused on the immediate feedback, the number (the number of MBEs and Essays they have completed and more importantly their scores on each). The number has different significance for each bar exam studier; it might show progress, achievement, or probability of success. While some are not meeting all their goals, bar exam studiers may have improved their speed and are getting more answers correct. The real question is how close are they to the target goal of putting themselves in a position to pass the bar exam on the first try and whether there is enough time to reach that goal?
The 4 min inspirational video found here aligns well with some of what was discussed above. Be excited about the opportunity bar exam studiers! (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, July 3, 2017
We are less than a month away from the bar exam. Law graduates throughout the country have been working long hours trying to digest a huge amount of information. They try to stay focused and positive so that they can overcome this enormous hurdle that is only offered twice a year. But what happens when unexpected life events happen that impact a student’s focus and positivity? What happens when our students face a rough patch of water as they are sailing through their bar preparation?
I was on a vacation with my family in the Outer Banks of North Carolina a few weeks ago. After six years of living in North Carolina, we still had not made it out to this beautiful and most Eastern part of the state. The beaches, food, and lighthouses were all great. Here's a pic of one of the lighthouses:
So, we were at a seafood restaurant getting ready to drive back to Chapel Hill after a wonderful time in the Outer Banks. I was about to pay our bill when I got a short and unexpected text message. A close family member had been in a car accident.
Many of us have likely received similar messages. You feel like you should do something, but you are so far away that you cannot do much. So, you try calling family members. But, no one answers. The text message did not include much detail. So, you call again. You text. And you wait. And the anxiety and the unknown take over until someone responds to your text or answers your phone call. And you hope so mightily that the response or phone call is a positive one.
Fortunately, despite a pretty scary car accident, no one was seriously hurt. My family member, who took the brunt of the accident, was able to thankfully walk away. Thoughts start circulating through your head. Soreness and bruises will subside. Vehicles can be repaired or replaced. Life is precious.
Things soon began to settle down as best they could. But, as many folks have likely experienced, it was difficult not to think about how things could have been worse. This got me thinking about what our students experience if a similar, or even worse, unexpected life event happens while they are preparing for the bar exam. How do we help them? Can we help them?
The answers to these questions are difficult, and they should be. Law school and passing the bar exam are large parts of our students’ lives. But, they are not the only parts of our students’ lives. How a student deals with an unexpected life event obviously depends on what this life event is. It may also depend on what type of support system this student has in place or can put into place. It may also depend on how much time a student has left to prepare—physically and mentally—for the exam, and whether or not the student wishes to try to persevere through this life event or wait until the next test date for the bar exam.
As academic success professionals, we know that we are likely part of the support system for our students. We know that we can offer a listening ear to our students and refer our students to additional resources when needed. Our listening ears are particularly helpful and appreciated during difficult times for our students. Sometimes, just talking about a challenge can be therapeutic and provide some assistance. We can also try to empathize and understand what our students may be going through. And we can, in a nonjudgmental way, try to have honest conversations with our students about their goals, bar preparation, and ability to maintain focus and some positivity.
Bar prep companies often place some extra time in their planning calendars for our students. But, this extra time may or may not be enough for our students. Are they on schedule with the suggested bar preparation calendar? How are their practice results so far? Can they afford another several months before they are licensed attorneys? How are they simply feeling right now? And how do they think they will be feeling in a week or two?
These are all questions that we might have with any of our students. These questions become even more significant for students who have experienced some unexpected life event. I lost some focus and positivity during that short time that I was unable to find out what was happening with my family member. As we enter the last stretch of bar preparation, let’s try to remember that unexpected life events often happen, and we may need to be there to help our students plan and persevere. (OJ Salinas)