Tuesday, August 14, 2012
I have spent the past three weeks teaching gifted 10, 11, and 12 year olds in Palo Alto, CA. I do this every summer, and I learn a lot from the kids. I teach college-level Model United Nations and Advanced Geography, and all the students are required to formally address the class about their nation's position on the issue involved in the simulation. This year, the class had a student who was terrified of public speaking. Her terror mirrored what I see in 1L's approaching moot court. I learned a great deal from this student as she overcame her fear and went on to be on the the class's strongest advocates.
1) Trust rules of procedure.
The student, who I will call A, learned that rules of parliamentary procedure were her friend. All students needed to follow the rules, so she knew what to expect when she was asked to speak. No one could yell out or distract her, or they would be violating the rules. While moot court doesn't use rules of parliamentary procedure, there are rules that protect the speaker. Many students with a fear of public speaking are afraid of public ridicule, and the rules associated with moot court prevent the heckling they fear.
2) Preparation will make you feel better.
A knew her position on the issues. She could answer any question. She knew she had done the research. Her paper was approved by two different teachers. These steps helped allay some of her fears that she would be asked a question that she could not answer. Some of her fear of public speaking was a fear of being caught off-guard. Preparation, and guidance, make a huge difference when a student fears public speaking.
3) Everyone makes mistakes.
A was not the first speaker, which allowed her to listen to her classmates before she had to speak. We asked her to listen for mistakes, because even the best, most fluid speakers make mistakes. When she saw that the mistakes did not mar the substance of most speeches, she was able to relax.
4) If you feel the ideas flying out of your head, stop talking. Take a deep breath. Start again.
When A realized that no one would heckle her if she forgot part of her speech, it calmed her nerves. But we still needed to reassure her that she could forget her speech, and she could take a second to regain her composure and resume speaking. She had a 60-second time limit on her speech (far less than most appellate arguments in moot court) but she still had enough time to take a deep breath and start again if she felt like she was losing control. Just the knowledge that she could take a second helped keep her calm during her first few speeches to the class.
For those of you who are thinking "but the stakes are SO much higher in law school," take a minute to recall being in middle school. This class was filled with super-competitive, ambitious, and gifted middle school students who have never failed at anything in their short lives. These students choose to take a college-level class during their summer vacation. The thought of making a mistake feels life-altering to them. Because they live in dorms while they take the class, they cannot escape from their peers. The fear that A felt is not much different from the fear felt by 1L's. (RCF)
Monday, July 30, 2012
My feet are wet. In fact, my jeans are wet all the way up above my knees. I have been standing in the surf of the Atlantic Ocean watching lightning off in the distance.
I called my wife while I stood there. She isn't here, but she should've been. I had to come to a conference to speak, and we thought we should not spend the money it would take for her to come down with me.
You see, we just spent a couple of weeks in the Colorado Rockies on vacation. We figured that we should be a little more careful with our money after that trip, so we thought it better that she not join me this time, given how expensive flights to Florida from Kansas are.
It sounded wise and responsible at the time. She was originally going to come with me because our 35th anniversary takes place while I am in Florida. We had thought it would be romantic to spend it together on the beach, even if I had to take some time out to attend sessions and present a talk.
But money considerations won out, and she stayed home. We decided to celebrate our anniversary when I return.
Sometimes wisdom is not all that wise. Looking out over the ocean as it crashed against my feet, I realized that my wife should have been standing next to me, whether we could afford it or not. I called her from the surf and asked her to get on a plane tomorrow and fly down here –whether we could afford it or not.
Flights and other arrangements may not work out on such short notice. I wish I had gotten my feet wet three weeks ago and arranged for her to come with me.
I don't tell you this story to say that you should waste money. You know the saying by now, no doubt, "Live like a lawyer while you are in law school, and you will live like a law student when you get out."
On the other hand, when you look back at your life, you will realize that some things just mattered more than good money management. Or maybe, good money management includes making stupid decisions for wise reasons sometimes.
I don't really know. But after 35 years of raising kids, dealing with life, and falling asleep in each others arms, we should not have worried about the cost of a plane ticket on the eve of our anniversary.
Sometimes, you ought to get your feet wet when the opportunity arises, rather than stay dry and in miss something important. (Dan Weddle)
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
It is the time of year when various student organizations run additional projects to help other people. In the last few weeks, there have been collections of warm coats for the homeless, non-perishable food for those without enough in their pantries, care package items for our soldiers, gifts for Salvation Army Angel Tree, and more.
I know that our law students are not alone in these types of efforts. Law student organizations throughout our nation have undertaken similar efforts and many more acts of kindness. Even with the upcoming stress of exams, law students remember the needs of those in their communities.
I think it is a tribute to our students that they care - not only at this time of year but throughout the academic year - to make the lives of others better. Whether it is through donations, fund-raisers, in-kind giving, pro bono clinics, or other ways, law students have a positive impact in the community.
It is a shame that these future lawyers do not always get the credit that they deserve for their generosity of spirit. It is also a shame that countless practicing lawyers who also give back to their communities in so many ways do not get recognized. The next time someone tells you a lawyer joke, tell them about a contribution made by a law student or a lawyer to make the world a better place.
Thank you to all of the future lawyers and current lawyers who make a difference each and every day for our communities. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, November 21, 2011
Quotes can often give us a change in perspective when we need it. Here are a few that seem appropriate to the time in the semester. (Amy Jarmon)
Chinese proverb: Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself.
John Searle: If you can't say it clearly, you don't understand it.
Dennis Tonsing: "Learn" is an active verb.
Thomas Edison: Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
Abigail Adams: Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought with ardor and attended to with diligence.
Kim Lyons: Yesterday is a cancelled check. Tomorrow is a promissory note. Today is the only cash you have, so spend it wisely.
Unknown: If you study to remember, you will forget; but, if you study to understand, you will remember.
Brian Chargualaf: Every step you take is a step away from where you used to be.
Doc Childre and Howard Martin: Stress is an untransformed opportunity for empowerment.
Yiddish proverb: Borrowed brains have no value.
Irish proverb: You'll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind.
Chinese proverb: You can eat an elephant one bite at a time.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
ASP'ers are a caring group. They are often the ones students turn to in their darkest moments. It is not unusual for us to be privy to students' struggles and hardships outside the classroom.
Students tell us about illnesses in their families, scary medical diagnoses, deaths of friends, personal embarrassments, relationship problems, disappointments, and more. They need someone who will encourage them, support them, listen, and make referrals where appropriate. At the end of a day with 8 or 9 appointments, at least 2 of those typically are more than just a discussion about academic issues.
But what about when we have had a personal tragedy, illness, family issue, or other unexpected speed bump in our own lives? How do we keep caring when it hurts inside? We need to remember that we need solace as well. We need to put on our "brave face" and do our jobs, but need to take care of ourselves.
So here are some tips to help you focus on your students even when you are feeling depleted, tired, emotionally wrought, and distracted by your life outside the walls of the law school:
- Take some personal time off if possible. Even a long weekend can make a difference in your ability to focus. Give yourself lots of rest, permission to do nothing, and access to emotional or medical support. Talk to trusted family or friends to get support.
- Prioritize your work. What must get done? What can be put off for a few days or weeks? What can be forgotten about for this semester and added to the "do next semester" list?Do not try to soldier on when you do not have the strength temporarily to be "Super-ASP'er."
- Just say "no" or "not right now" to new projects if you do not have the stamina or concentration to do them well. Realize that this is probably not the time to chair a new committee, agree to design a new web site, or implement a new program.
- Balance your day. Give yourself at least one block of project time so that you can focus without interruptions. Decide how many one-on-one appointments you can do without being emotionally drained. Schedule appointments so that purely academic assistance is mixed with students whom you know need emotional support so that you do not become exhausted with the need to be "giving" when you really need to protect yourself emotionally.
- Stay patient with your students. Some law students become overwrought about things that those of us with more life experience know are not crises. They see add/drop period and course decisions as earth-shattering. They feel outraged when a professor leaves them to struggle with processing a sub-topic instead of spoon-feeding them. They are devastated by their first low grade in 16 or more years of education.
- Tell some trusted colleagues what is going on. Your boss may need to know so that you can re-negotiate project deadlines, agree to some days off, or explain some changes you have made in priorities. A few colleagues who can task share or just be supportive will be a plus.
- Follow our own advice to students. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Go to the doctor. Get help from a religious leader, professional counselor, or others if needed.
- Realize some students may notice something is wrong. Some of us are able to look stunningly pulled together even on stressful days and through personal crises. However, most of us look at least somewhat haggard, tired, and stressed - just like we feel. We can still smile, appear superficially cheerful, and pretend to be energetic. However, a few students who work with us a lot are likely to realize that something is wrong. If asked, beg off with "a bad night's sleep," "busy and a little distracted," or "a touch of a bug."
ASP'ers are folks with big hearts for their students. Life hurts sometimes. Be there for your students, but take care of yourself when you need to do so. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, September 23, 2011
I recently asked some of my former undergraduate students who are now 2L's if they could give me a short blurb on what they wish they knew before they started law school. My students have gone on to schools across the country, from schools ranked in the top 10 to lesser-known and regional law schools. I received some wonderful responses, but one stands out for me. The response was from a student who did well, but not outstanding, his 1L year, goes to a very good but not elite law school, and attends a law school that was his second choice. Doesn't sound like a recipe for happiness and success? Well, his response to my question is a good reminder that attitude makes an enormous difference in what is defined as “success.”
(I have edited his response to remove identifying details , but my changes are not substantive.)
On being ready for law school
"I honestly think the mental aspect of law school is harder than the academics.You need to be able to remain calm and collected and that is tough to do when you have hundreds of pages of reading, on concepts you won't immediately understand....Just remember, keep calm, and just try your best, try not to freak out, think big picture (you will be a lawyer), then think how foolish it seems to be worrying yourself sick over a reading assignment. Don't get me wrong, reading assignments do matter, but don't beat yourself up over it."
On not feeling guilty about taking time for yourself
"...don't stop doing the things you love to do. You need to do this stuff to keep a somewhat balanced life. Don't feel guilty about putting studies away for a bit to do stuff for yourself. It's important to keep your sanity. Don't feel guilty when your friends or classmates mention how much time they spent reading last night when you spent the night enjoying the [baseball] doubleheader. If you need a break, you need a break. As long as you get the work done, it doesn't matter when or how you do it."
Law School in the Bigger Picture
"Have fun, don't be afraid, push back--don't let your thoughts be completely dominated by other students, or even professors for that matter. I enjoy law school because I know I want to be a lawyer, and law school is training to be a lawyer."
I plan on sharing his response with both my undergraduates preparing for law school and my students in law school who feel demoralized by the process. The student reminds himself why he goes to law school--to be a lawyer--and has found a way to enjoy the process without getting sucked into the grind. Law school makes it easy to get frustrated by the day-to-day pressures. Taking a step back can remind students of the importance of a longer-term perspective. (RCF)
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Do you have to address the question, "NOW what am I going to do? I have $100,000 in debt, and law jobs are drying up?" This is not just a Career Services question ... it definitely affects law school performance, and esprit de corps on campus in general. So, NOW what?
According to Alan Scher Zagier, writing for the Associated Press, "The days of top law school graduates having their pick of six-figure jobs at boutique firms — or at least being assured of putting their degrees to use — are over. Post-graduate employment rates are at their lowest levels in 15 years."
The article continues, explaining that because the employment rates have declined, so have the law school application rates. "New student enrollment at UCLA law school is down 16 percent, while the University of Michigan reports a 14 percent decrease in applicants."
Now here's the good news (or maybe it's just speculation) for our students ... those who apply may be more committed, more sure of their career choice. While a few years ago, very bright people with an aptitude for doing well in law school - but not necessarily with the desire and commitment you'd want to see in a lawyer representing you - were attracted to law school seeing it as "...a cakewalk to get a big salary," according to Sarah Zearfoss, the assistant law dean and admissions director at the University of Michigan.
According to the AP article, Larry Lambert, a 28-year-old U.S. Navy veteran struggled with the question of whether there were just too many lawyers before deciding to enroll in law school this semester. He told the reporter that a candid conversation with a burned-out lawyer had "stopped me cold in my tracks." He began law school nevertheless, hoping to work as a federal prosecutor or in another position where he can "be a part of something bigger," and sees this diminishing application trend as "...one of the best things to happen to the profession in a long time. People don't go into social work thinking they want to get rich. They want to help people. The law should be like that."
Now THAT's the spirit! Could it be that this trend - if that's what it is - will lead to more satisfaction among law students and then (am I the eternal optimist?) in the profession itself? Click here to read the article. (djt)
Friday, August 26, 2011
There is no doubt that you have been caught up in the flurry of activity that accompanies the beginning of the academic year. Heavy meddlesome casebooks; jam packed orientation; a throng of new faces; and the cacophony of perplexing terminology bombarding you in each lecture- Welcome to Law School! Although the first days and weeks (or even your entire first year) of law school may seem overwhelming, there are ways to ease your transition and maintain a positive outlook.
Here is one way to get started on the right track with your law school journey. Grab a sheet of paper and a pen (yes, this requires a little work). Do this when you have about 30+ minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time to devote to it. Now, open your mind and focus on yourself…
First, take a few minutes to reflect on your personal strengths. These could be anything from having a friendly smile to being a great basketball player. Create a list of as many positive attributes about yourself that you can think of. Do not shy away from being excessive or even exaggeratedly vain. This list is for your eyes only- so go for it!
Next, write down your fears related to law school. Is it hard for you to meet new people? Are you nervous about the infamous Socratic Method? Are you scared that you do not have what it takes to succeed? Do you think the workload will be too challenging? Again, write it all down. This too is for your eyes only- so try not to limit your list.
Finally, take the remaining time to think of how you can put your strengths to work on your most dreaded fears. This may take some work. Connecting your exquisite knitting ability with your debilitating fear of being called on in class may not seem feasible. However, with a little creativity anything is possible. Such as: if you could knit while being called on in class or while in a study group (possibly with other stitchers), you may find that your anxiety has decreased.
Use your strengths to overcome your fears. If you are a great communicator one-on-one but fear speaking in large groups, try sitting in the front row and pretend you are conversing with only the professor. This may help you in more ways than you can imagine. Grab a seat in the front row and you will likely be more actively engaged and less intimidated or distracted by other classmates.
Acknowledging your strengths and your fears will help you determine your best personal strategy for success in law school. Putting your strengths at the forefront and focusing on them (instead of being destroyed by your fears), will lead to more productivity, less stress, and better mental and physical health (and likely a higher GPA).
Therefore, above all, remain optimistic even on your darkest day. If you need a reminder of how great you are, ask your significant other, best friend, or a close relative. They will help you see through the self doubting haze that many law students acquire their first year. Of course if you need to hear it from an unbiased, trustworthy source, I suggest that you read your list.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
I am an Anglophile. I lived and practiced in England for 5 1/2 years. I love everything British.
Plymouth, England was one of the most heavily bombed cities during WWII because of the naval facilities there. When I lived in Plymouth during the time period leading up to the 50th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, my elderly friends told me stories about life during the bombings and the destruction left behind. They also told me about the visit that George VI and his wife made to the city to bolster the morale of the residents during WWII.
Consequently, going to the cinema to see The King's Speech was significant for me. In the ensuing weeks, I have reflected on Bertie's struggle to overcome his speech impediment and his fear of being king. I realized that his story has parallels with some of my law students' struggles in law school.
Bertie had to overcome his pride to ask for help. He wanted to depend on his special status as royalty. He wanted to hold himself out as better than others. Some law students have to overcome pride to ask for help as well. They were treated like royalty in high school and college because they received high grades with seemingly little effort. They were told that they were special and their fellow students were less capable.
Bertie did not want to trust that someone had a better way than what he thought should be done. He balked at Lionel's methods. He wanted to depend on the familiar rather than confront the painfulness of the unknown and untried. Some law students balk at suggested study techniques for law school. They want to continue doing what worked in undergraduate school rather than struggle with new methods that seem suspect. They rather listen to the bad advice of upper-division students than trust the expertise of someone who is "administration."
Bertie wanted instant success. He wanted results without the heartache, embarrassment, and frustration. Some law students are overwhelmed when reading cases is difficult. They want professors to spoon-feed them rules rather than have to discover the law buried within the material. They become frustrated when things are hard or they make errors when called on in class.
Bertie triumphed both in self-esteem and in reputation as the king that Britain needed. He achieved his success through his willingness to change, to confront his fears, and to persevere. Law students who learn new ways of doing things, take on the challenges, and do not give up also have success. Their self-esteem increases as they do well the very things they feared they could not do. Their reputation as law students and future lawyers is gained as they are recognized as being serious about becoming the best they can be.
Bertie became the successful king that was always hidden within him. My law students can become the successful studiers hidden within them. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, April 9, 2011
This point in the semester is always difficult for me as an ASP'er.
I have so many student appointments that my calendar looks like a major airport with circling planes waiting to land. Not only do my regulars come in, but now is also the time for triage appointments. It is when I do crash consultations in the hallways, at the coffee pot, and in the parking lot. I regularly expand my slots by coming in early, eating lunch at my desk between appointments, and staying late.
Group workshops are still on the schedule. Hmmm, those handouts for next week need to be revised.
There are three application and interview processes that I am involved with in some way for student positions for ASP. It is great working with students who want to be Tutors, TAs, or Dean's Community Teaching Fellows - but the paperwork end is a drag.
Several major project deadlines are on the horizon. It seems that after 5 p.m. and on weekends are the most ideal times for those to get done. Ahhh, more administrative support would help - is anyone out there listening?
Of course, there is committee work. It is crunch time for those duties as every committee tries to wind down for the academic year.
And, I am teaching EU law: juggling student presentation appointments with finishing Power Points, writing my exam, grading assignments, and planning review sessions. I really enjoy my seminar students, but often shake my head at the extra hours needed in my day.
It is the time of the semester when I have so many coughing, sneezing, flu-carrying students sitting in my office that I inevitably fall deathly ill at least once. Ah, that puts me behind on an already crammed schedule!
There, I have that off my chest (literally and figuratively). So, I manage this time of the semester by doing what I tell students to do:
- Use windfall time during the day when a student shows up late for an appointment or the appointment ends earlier than I expected.
- Match small tasks to small time slots. Even 5 or 10 minutes can be useful for an e-mail or phone call or administrative task.
- Evaluate five or six times a day what my priorities are and how to re-organize my time.
- Work on major projects in small increments to get forward progress.
- Let no one task consume my entire day so that I do not get hopelessly behind on all other tasks.
- Negotiate deadlines to remain as realistic as possible in what can get done when.
- Cut out the non-essentials: what is mere frills, what provides little payback, what can wait until the summer.
To all of you getting tired at this point of the semester, I understand your plight. May your time and stress managment skills conquer! (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, February 7, 2011
This is a call to everyone in ASP who has something to say, but is afraid to write. Most of us don't need to write for our job. However, if you don't write, it's almost impossible to move past "staff" status. There aren't as many writing mentors in ASP as there are doctrinal folks who can help junior faculty while they are writing. So I am writing about my writing process to let new ASPer's know that it is not them; writing is tough. But it's worth it.
I have been working on a major writing project for the last couple of months. I finally finished this weekend; I had to do the bulk of the writing on days off and weekends because my workload was too heavy to allow much writing 9-5. Finishing a writing project is both a relief and filled with anxiety. It is incredibly satisfying to be done, but then comes the intense worry that it's not good enough, a citation is missing, or that I forgot a topic essential to the discussion. One of the reasons I don't write as much as I should (outside of this blog) is due to the anxiety it provokes when I finish. Unless I have a deadline, I will never stop second-guessing my work.
Writing is a lot like running. I am a long-time distance runner (almost 20 years!). Even for the best writers, it's sometimes a grind. In both writing and running, it's hardest when you are out-of-shape. We generally don't think of needing to be "in shape" to write, but writing makes writing easier and more fluid. This does feel a little unfair, because when you most need to feel good about writing (or running) is when you are getting back after a long break. But that is when it is hardest and most painful.
For nearly two months I resorted to exhaustive, probably unnecessary, research because writing was too painful. I could not get more than a paragraph or two on a page, and I knew I needed 10,000-15,000 words. It seemed insurmountable because I had not written that much in years. I knew I could do it, but I could not remember how I did it, what my process was, what I did in terms of a timeline. But after two months, I found that my one-two paragraphs while researching out came to about 3000 words, and suddenly I had about 20% of the project done. And it didn't seem like I could never do it. When I would come back to running after taking time off due to illness or injury, it would seem like I could never get over the 1-3 mile range. And then, after a couple of months, I could hit 5 miles without stopping. And at five miles, a half marathon doesn't seem so unreasonable after all.
The second hardest time is when you get writer's block, or in running, when you plateau. This usually happens when you have been at it for a while. You become acclimated to the process and you stop responding. Nothing you do seems to make it better. This tends to happen at the worst possible time; when you need to get a project finished, but your mind is empty, or when you are training for a major race, and your legs don't want to cooperate. The experts say beware of overtraining, but work through it. It will break. This was were I was at about two weeks ago. I desperately needed to get past the 5000 word mark, but everything I wrote was terrible. None of it fit with the theme. I couldn't transition between topics. Every word was painful. But I knew I had two weeks, so I worked through it, and it did come together. But during that period, I probably erased more than I wrote. Through erasing and rethinking, I came out with a much stronger theme.
The last painful period for me is finishing up. As I said at the start, I never want to finish because I am afraid it's not good enough or dreadfully flawed. The easiest way for me to get over this is to send it out to be proofread. As soon as I hit "send" I think of five topics I needed to cover but forgot while I was writing. I would never remember what I needed to add if I didn't hit send. The anxiety of someone else reading my work, and finding it lacking, produces the adrenaline to put it all together. Quite honestly, what I send out to be proofread usually is lacking. It's not my best work, and it's not even very good work. In running, this is usually the period when I need training partners to keep going. I am in a pretty bad state about two-three weeks before a race, and I need companions to keep me going. I will not walk unless injured, so even when I hate running, I keep going because I am too proud to be the person who slows down the group.
In that last rush of adrenaline, I can usually knock out a substantial portion of the paper. The fear won't go away until it's published. In this way writing is still like running...you cross the finish line, and you immediately start planning your next race. In my case, I wrote three pages of a law review article while finishing my last work. Writing and researching made me realize how much more there is to say on the topic. So I started with just a heading. Then I jotted some notes about where I wanted to go with the topic. The I took a break from the major project and put in several more topic headings. There was no fear, no anxiety, as there is when I start writing after a long break. It was smooth. (RCF)
Friday, January 7, 2011
Do you make resolutions each year for changed behaviors that you wish to implement during the coming year? Most of us do. And statistically, most of us are not successful at those resolutions. Why is that?
Well, we may set too many goals. We include a long list of behaviors that we want to change that would overwhelm any one human being. Suddenly we expect ourselves to improve in ten or twelve areas at once - usually areas that we have always struggled with during our lives. We resolve to lose 75 pounds, get rid of all debt, stop smoking, never procrastinate, eat more fruits and vegetables, do a major cleaning every week, be nice to everyone in the world who isn't nice to us, go to church every Sunday and Wednesday, save the whales, and .... You get the picture.
Our students often set too many goals at once as well. They tell themselves that they will get all A's, turn in every paper 3 weeks early, be President of six clubs, volunteer ten hours per week, work at the most prestigious law firm twenty hours a week, and do it all with full scholarships.
When we set too many goals that are all major changes or accomplishments at once, we become overwhelmed quickly. First, we feel pulled in a thousand directions and do not know where to focus. Second, we quickly realize our progress is minuscule or at least slow. Third, the moment we fail at one of the goals we are tempted to give up on that goal. Fourth, when we fail on one goal, we may assume we will inevitably fail at them all and become discouraged.
We also often set unrealistic goals. We want to make huge leaps in our lives instead of taking manageable steps that eventually will lead to that huge leap. We want to lose that 75 pounds NOW, instead of losing 1-2 pounds per week for however long it will take. We want to get rid of all debt NOW, instead of paying off one credit card balance at a time after we have cut up the cards.
Again our students set unrealistic goals. It is inevitable that my students on probation will announce that they will get only A's the next semester. Instead, they should focus on doing the best they can each day because it is consistent, hard work that produces good grades. Instead of declaring that every paper will be turned in three weeks early, they should focus on meeting each deadline for each stage of the paper on time or perhaps several days early. They should resolve to be a committee member or officer in one club and do an excellent job for that club.
We often fail to ask for help with our goals. We are more likely to succeed if we have help. Think about going to the gym - if you have to meet a friend there for a spinning class, you are more likely to attend. If a friend helps us stay accountable by pulling us out of the store when we get tempted by the $300 pair of shoes, we are more likely to avoid extra debt.
Some students feel ashamed of their weaknesses and avoid asking for help. But going it alone can be - well, lonely. If students align themselves with friends and family who will help them meet their goals, they will be more likely to succeed. A friend who encourages the student to read for class is far better than the friend who encourages one not to read or to go out for a drink. A sister who calls and asks for a list of what the student got done that day is trying to help the student stay accountable. Academic success professionals often help students with accountability by setting up regular appointments and asking the hard questions about the student's progress on academic tasks. Professors are happy to work individually with students who are sincerely working to improve.
Here are some tips for those New Year's resolutions that law students are contemplating:
- Limit the list to no more than 3-5 items that are truly achievable. Pick goals that one has a good probability of meeting rather than "pie in the sky" goals. For example, outlining every week in a course is achievable while making the world's best Commercial Law outline is not.
- For each goal, break it down into the small steps or tasks within the larger goal. As each small step gets crossed off, progress is made which serves as encouragement for more progress. For example, a paper can be broken down into all of the research, writing, and editing tasks.
- When back-sliding occurs, do not give up. Accept that everyone is human and get up and start again. For example, when one oversleeps and misses class, get the notes from a friend and move on - go to bed earlier, set two alarms, and get up when the first alarm goes off.
- Set up a support system that will help you achieve your goals. Ask family and friends to telephone regularly to discuss your progress, encourage you when you are having trouble, and praise you when you make progress. Find a mentor (professor, administrator, staff member, local attorney, or upper-division law student) who will actively support you in your goals. Ask fellow law students who are equally serious about changes in their grades/lives to team up as accountability and study partners.
Change can be daunting. Behaviors are learned. As a result, they can be unlearned. The longer a bad habit has existed, the longer it will take to replace it with a good habit. But, it can be conquered. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Fifteen weeks certainly flew by this semester! West Texas is always windy, but this time there was a veritable whirlwind that passed through the law school.
My students are hunkered down in the second week of exams. The first-year students finished yesterday, so the student numbers in the building have dropped today. By tomorrow afternoon when all of the finals for the big required courses are over, the ranks will thin down to just a few students with elective exams to take before the week ends. Saturday is hooding ceremony. Next week it will be a ghost town.
So this is project time. I am slowly checking off my list of things for which there is never time during classes. As a one-person office, I always have a "wish list" that needs extra pairs of hands to complete. Now in the brief lull is when I can turn to those items. Prioritizing is necessary once again. I know that some items will remain on my "wish list" for another semester, but that is okay. There will be another lull in May.
As I look back over my appointment calendar for the past semester, I am heartened by the progress that many students made in their study skills. It has been rewarding to hear them talk of being better prepared for finals this time around, getting their first good result on a midterm or paper, or feeling less anxious about the semester's outcomes. The thank you e-mails that have begun to show up in my inbox cause me to forget how tired I am.
During the lull and the days while the university is closed, I'll recharge and begin to look forward to another semester. Then, I'll rejoin the whirlwind. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Over the 9 years that I have been doing academic support with law students, I have become more and more convinced that a positive attitude is a must for this period in the semester. When law students begin to focus on the negative and lose their self-esteem, they handicap themselves in their studying.
Consequently, I give a lot of pep talks. But, I cannot be with them 24 hours a day to keep that positive attitude going. So, here are some of the things that I suggest they can do to stay focused on the positive:
- Post positive messages around the apartment. For one student, these messages might be famous quotes. For another student, they may be scriptures. For another, inspirational pictures rather than words may be more helpful. (Personally, I watch Susan Boyle's first appearance on Britain's Got Talent on You-Tube whenever I want inspiration for beating the odds - talk about a positive attitude when everyone is snickering before you open your mouth to sing!)
- Ask an encourager to phone or e-mail every day. A family member or friend whose job is to keep you focused on the positive can be a valuable asset. Having someone who cares enough to believe in your abilities is priceless.
- Visualize your own success. Athletes often visualize themselves succeeding in whatever they are trying to accomplish: a new height for a pole vaulter, a difficult jump for a figure skater, a faster flip turn for a swimmer. Law students can use visualization to picture themselves walking into an exam, being confident in every question's answer, and completing the exam on time.
- Remember that people learn differently. You are the same intelligent, successful person as when you arrived at your law school. You may learn at a different pace than others. You may have different learning styles. Determine how you need to learn and work for understanding rather than measure yourself against what others do. If they have a technique that will work for you, adopt it. But do not try to become someone that you are not.
- Forget about grades. Grades will not come out until January, and there is no way of knowing now what your grades will be. Focus on today. Finish today what needs to be done. It is the daily accumulation of knowledge that gets the grades. Focusing now on January grades takes one's eye off the ball.
- Avoid people who are toxic. There are always a few law students who want to make others feel stupid and who play games to panic those who are less confident. You do not have to agree to be the victim. Walk away. Do not listen to their ploys.
- Study somewhere different than the law school. Law students often tell me that they feel they have to study non-stop at the law school during the last weeks. Then they tell me how stressed the law school makes them feel. My response? Go somewhere else to study: the main university library, another academic building, the student union meeting rooms, a coffeehouse.
- Keep your perspective about law school in the scheme of life. As bad as your day may seem, it is really a blessing. Lots of people would love to have the opportunity you have. Each day millions of people in our world are without food, water, health care, shelter, and education. Law school is not so difficult in comparison.
- Up your number of hours of sleep. If you are well-rested, you will be more likely to stay positive. Things look much brighter when you have enough sleep. And you absorb more, retain more, and are more productive. Get a minimum of 7 hours and try for 8 hours.
- Add exercise as a break from studying. Exercise is a valuable stress-buster. Whether you just walk around your apartment complex, run a mile, or do 25 sit-ups it will help you expend stress. Instead of skipping exercise, add in at least 1/2 hour three times a week.
- List three nice things you did during the day. Before you go to bed, think of three things you did that were acts of kindness. It may be holding a door, giving change for the vending machine, or lending your notes to a classmate. No matter how small, the acts of kindness will make you feel good about yourself. And before you know it, you will be able to count more times than three when you were a blessing to someone else.
When you are in the thick of law school, it is hard to realize that there are simple ways to get your perspective back. Practicing even just one or two of these methods can make a difference in your attitude. And the more of these steps you follow, the more positive you will feel. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
I spent the last three weeks on the Stanford campus, working for the Center for Talented Youth. This is a long-time labor of love for me; it brings me back to my roots as an elementary school teacher. It also takes me far away from my daily life; I teach a subject completely unrelated to what I do throughout the year. This summer, I was working with 6th graders in Model United Nations simulations.
At the end of the session, some of the students had decided they wanted to be lawyers. These are not typical 12 year olds; they are in the top fraction of 1% in IQ. Many have been exposed to the type of travel and experiences few can enjoy, even as an adult. What impressed me most were the reasons why some of them wanted to be lawyers; they wanted to be lawyers because they liked to learn, they wanted to help people, and liked that lawyers saw the world from a variety of angles, not just one perspective. I was inspired by my students reasoning; they wanted to become lawyers because of what lawyers do, not because of what lawyers get (in compensation, authority, etc.) None of them said that lawyers are rich or powerful.
I had an in-depth conversation during lunch with one of my students. Both of his parents are attorneys. He was well aware of the time commitments and sacrifices lawyers make for their clients. However, he still saw a law degree as a possibility on his way to working in foreign relations. He was able to isolate the sort of thinking skills lawyers need, and match them to the thinking skills needed when working with people from diverse perspectives from around the world. Another student said that she thought law school would give her negotiation skills, so she could solve problems "without yelling."
I was inspired by my students. Over and over, they expressed the desire to learn the law because it can be a tool, not a weapon, during disputes. Due to their life experiences, most students had lawyers in their family or knew lawyers through their parents. Notably absent was the role of television and movies in their decision to be lawyers. Most watched a limited amount of television, and had not been seduced by the idea that law is all fun, money, and courtroom drama. They knew the struggles, and the challenges, of law school and a legal career by getting to know lawyers. They saw the power of learning how to think like a lawyer. These students put a high value on the power of thinking. They were metacognitively sophisticated at a young age. It inspired me to see the next generation of lawyers with a realistic view of the profession, its rewards and its pitfalls. (RCF)
Monday, July 12, 2010
Alas, it is conference season. I know many ASPer's are just getting back from Elon Law School and LSAC's conference on counseling. I wish I could have joined everyone, but sadly, I am still in a travel freeze. After 5 years, and countless conferences, here are some tips for making the most of the experience:
1) Be social, even if you are an introvert
Yes, sadly, ASP can be sort of clique-y. It's not intentional; many of us have known each other for many years, and some of us worked together for years before we switched schools, moved, etc. However, it is worth remembering that 90% of us where the uncool kids in school growing up (we were way too smart) so we welcome everyone as adults. We are not mean girls (and boys), I promise. Say hi. If you are shy and uncomfortable, let us know. Most of us were uncomfortable at our first conferences as well. The only way to get the advice and help you want is to break into the cliques and start talking to people. Really, we are like a congregation of kindergarten teachers once you know us.
2) Be a joiner, even if you are not a joiner.
You need exposure. To get exposure for your program, school, etc, you need to join things. AALS, LSAC, Institute for Law School Teaching and Learning, Humanizing Legal Education. When you are at those conferences, be a joiner. Go to the (sometimes stupid and quirky) social functions. Join subcommittees. When you join things, be social and let people get to know you and what is great about your program. The legal academy is a tiny place, so everyone knows someone at your school. This is instrumental for your career. You never know when you may need a phone call placed on your behalf to your boss/dean, letting her/him know what a great job you are doing. the only way to for that to happen is to be social, and be a joiner.
3) Ask questions
We tell our students there are no stupid questions, and then we are afraid to ask questions as conferences for fear of sounding stupid. As someone who has presented a ton, I don't think I have ever heard a stupid question. We completely understand that people new to the profession need to ask basic questions. We want to help. Conferences are places where you should be asking questions.
4) Toot your own horn. No one else will.
While being social, be sure to mention your accomplishments. If you feel like you don't have any accomplishments, then just tell people what you are doing. No one else is going to let others know the great things you are doing at your school. ASPer's are the modest, non-competitive ones in the legal academy, which is self-defeating at times.
5) If you are would like to present at a conference in the future, tell somebody
The powers-that-be (that change from year to year, conference to conference) don't know if you would like to present unless you let people know. ASP is unlike other areas of the legal academy, in that you don't necessarily have to write a paper in order to present something that you are doing. While we are a many-talented group, I haven't encountered any mind readers among ASPer's as of yet.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Each year around April 1st, I seem to hit a wall. My energy starts to run out. I inevitably succumb to a spring cold. My appointment calendar goes from packed to overflow with early evening appointments to fit everyone in who needs a session. On top comes a round of deadlines. My students start to talk about survival, and I begin to feel that I know what they mean.
Just in time the two weeks of exams arrive. My calendar becomes mostly quiet except for appointments for students requiring pep talks and reassurance following panic attacks. I work on projects, interview students for various student positions, monitor the hiring of Tutors, and try to sort out the piles that have built for 12 months on my credenza. I also begin to process the year and list the accomplishments.
However, what really makes me take notice that all the hard work was worthwhile is the stream of students stopping by to chat. They want to share how their exams went. We reflect together on their academic and personal growth during the year. They come to say thank you for the hours we spent working on study skills. They bring me cards and notes. Some come to share good news - a clerkship, an engagement, a journal position for fall. Others come to say goodbye before graduation.
It may sound corny, but at this time of year more than any other I realize that many of my students are like family. I know their hopes and dreams. I know their struggles and obstacles. They have voiced their fears and worries. We have celebrated their triumphs. I have spoken hard truths to them. I have voiced encouragement. I have offered a quiet place to cry.
The value of ASP work goes beyond a salary or office budget or other monetary price tag. It goes beyond low probation rates or high bar passage rates. Those things are important, but do not measure alone the value of ASP. Our jobs are value-added because much of what we do each day is not measured by dollars and cents. The support we offer our students is beyond measure.
I am privileged to have the opportunity to be a blessing to others. And those others are a blessing to me. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Having just attended a dinner reception for newly admitted students, I happily reminisced upon my first year as a 1L. For understandable reasons, the members of my dining table were more interested in my experience as a law student rather than my experience as the Bar Studies Program Director.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Do you ever have weeks that seem extra long? Or days that have been so hectic you don't know where the time went? Or times when you wonder if you are making a difference?
ASP work takes a lot of emotional and intellectual capital if it is going to be done well. We have to invest major energy into our appointments, meetings, classes, and presentations. Our students need to know that we care about their success. We need to listen to, sometimes console, and often encourage our students.
When I find myself worn-out at the end of the week (not the same as burned-out, please note), I remind myself to count my blessings. So, here I go with a list:
- Students who are hard workers with solid values.
- Students who say "thank you" often enough to let me know ASP matters.
- Support staff who magnanimously pitch in even though they are not ASP staff members.
- Faculty colleagues who share articles and books.
- Law library staff who make the study aids library possible.
- Excellent second- and third-year students as Tutors for the 1Ls.
- Excellent second- and third-year students who are Dean's Community Teaching Fellows for our pipeline partnership with a local high school's Law and Justice Magnet Program.
- ASP facilities that let me do so much more for my students than the old ASP offices.
- Wonderful ASP colleagues at other schools who share strategies.
- Lots of great ASP authors who inspire us with their books.
- Wonderful ASP regional and national conferences sponsored by LSAC.
- The new Law School Academic Success Project website.
Gosh, I feel more energized already! Now to the next item on my "to do" list. . . . (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
It is the heartbreaking time of the semester for some of my 1L students. Until now they have been telling themselves that "everything is new" and "just work a little harder" to assuage their feelings of being overwhelmed. But now, it is Week 5; they are still feeling inept. The hardest part is that they look around and see other students settled into the routine and apparently doing well.
What is holding some students back from "getting it" when others seem to be so at ease? Unfortunately, there is no one answer. I cannot offer a "magic bullet" to students who are struggling. However, I can explore several topics with them to look for potential causes and suggest possible solutions. For most students, working on some or all of the following areas will help them get re-oriented and start to have success:
- Reading: Active reading provides far greater benefits than "doing time" over the pages. Some students have had undergraduate professors who lectured on everything they needed to know so they would skim read the textbook. For law school, they need to read critically and process before class. If law students do not have access to an ASP professional to help with their critical reading skills, they can turn to Ruth Ann McKinney's book, Reading Like a Lawyer.
- Briefing: Students who skip briefing entirely are unlikely to gain depth of understanding. Students who overbrief by including everything become lost in the details and are inefficient with their time. Students who depend on canned briefs will not learn the skills they need for reading critically and briefing. Students need to balance the essentials with the details in their briefs. They need to use their briefs to help synthesize cases.
- Outlines: Undergraduate students may have merely regurgitated lectured material for A grades on exams. Multiple tests with no comprehensive final exam encouraged them to use a "cram and forget" cycle of studying. Outlines in law school allow students to cope with massive amounts of material and one final exam. By condensing their briefs and class notes into a master document with the essentials for applying the law to new fact situations, outlines focus on the bigger picture with enough depth for accurate analysis.
- Review strategies: Many law students do not realize that review each week is crucial in law school because of the amount of material to condense, consolidate, and learn with depth so that long-term memory is cultivated. Reading outlines cover to cover each week keeps all the material fresh. Intensely reviewing sub-topics or a topic as if the exam were next week allows the student to gain depth of understanding of specific material. Undertaking memory drills helps to transfer precise rule statements, definitions of elements, or methodologies into long-term memory. Completing practice questions for material that has been intensely reviewed previously allows the student to see what she really did understand and to practice exam-taking strategies.
- Analysis of fact patterns: Some law students do not understand that legal analysis is very structured. Opinion is not equivalent to legal reasoning. Kowing the gist of the law is not enough. A conclusion without sufficient analysis is inadequate. Practice questions allow students to apply IRAC (or whatever structure the professor prefers) until they become adept at it.
- Analysis of multiple-choice questions: Law school multiple-choice questions usually look for the "best" answer. Careful analysis of each answer choice is needed rather than picking by gut. Again practice questions allow students to apply strategies and analyze any patterns in wrong choices.
- Time management: National statistics tell us that most college students study per week less than half the hours that law students can expect to study. For some law students, a substantial increase in study time will increase their understanding. A structured time managment routine will allow them to get all of the necessary study tasks done each week: reading, briefing, reviewing before class, reviewing class notes, outlining, writing memos/papers, and reviewing for exams.
- Procrastination: Procrastination is a common problem for law students. Their procrastination may have had little impact previously because the workload was "doable" and the competition was not intense. Procrastinating students often have motivational problems. Breaking tasks into small steps and creating rewards for completing tasks are just two possible strategies.
- Learning styles: Law students may not understand how to use their absorption learning styles to advantage and how to compensate for their shadow styles. In addition, they may not realize that all four processing styles (global, intuitive, sequential, and sensing) are needed for competent legal analysis. Each student has two processing styles that are preferences and two that need to be cultivated. A variety of strategies can assist learners to use both their preferences and non-preferences well.
When all of the standard techniques and strategies to help students result in little improvement, one may need to consider whether an undiagnosed learning disability exists. A few 1L students each year are confronted with problems because they can no longer compensate for undiagnosed ADHD/learning disabilities in their academics. Unfortunately, only testing can resolve whether or not a student has learning disabilities/ADHD. One should not jump to the conclusion that every student having difficulties in law school has a learning disability, but in some cases it might be worthwhile for the student to be tested. (Amy Jarmon)