Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, July 17, 2017

Some Thoughts on the NYT article "The Lawyer, The Addict"

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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)

July 17, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, News, Orientation, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Bar Review Visuals: Take A Look at These Colorful Law Cartoons!

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.

http://www.legaltechdesign.com/visualawlibrary/2014/11/23/pure-notice-system-land-ownership-disputes/

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).

 

July 13, 2017 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Game Plan: Last Minute Bar Preparation

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! 

Practice Run

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. 

Cheering Squad

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)

July 12, 2017 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Anxiety and Doubt Don’t Equal Failure

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.

Second guessing GIF

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.

Doubt picture

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)

July 10, 2017 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Music to the Ears? And to Calm Your Heart Too!

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.  

http://coloradolap.Surprising-Benefits-of-Music.pdf

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:

  1. Improved visual & verbal skills;

  2. Increased endorphins that improve mood;

  3. Improved cardiovascular system, including strengthening the heart, decreasing blood

    pressure, and reducing pulse rates;

  4. Better sleep patterns and more restful sleep;

  5. Boosted immune system and reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol;

  6. Reduction in anxiety and overall stress;

  7. Improved sound-processing ability, improved hearing.

  8. Increased levels of oxytocin, resulting in reduced pain and improved mood;

  9. Improved memory across lifespan; and

  10.  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)

July 6, 2017 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Opportunity Mindset: The Opportunity to…

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)

July 5, 2017 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Perseverance, Plans, and Passing the Bar Exam

   Pier pic


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:

Lighthouse pic with OJ

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)

July 3, 2017 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Learning by Living: July 4th Fireworks!

With just under a month to go for many bar takers (and after numerous weeks of intensive studying), let's face the facts:  

We are plain downright exhausted.  And, we should be.  But, given what seems like the insurmountable pressures to learn so much material for the bar exam, it just seems like we can't let up with our daily grinding regiment of bar studies.  There's no time for a day off.  There's too much to learn.

However, let me offer you a way to "let up" so that you can feel mighty good about taking a real day off.  A whole day.  A day of rest and relaxation to boot.  In fact, please feel free to live it up.  And, there's no better time to take a day off from your studies than on a national day of celebration - this upcoming July 4th holiday.  

Here's why...  

I find that Independence Day is one of the best days of the year to see bar exam problems in living color.  

For example...

That box of fireworks bought at a big top tent stand.  That was procured through negotiation by you (or one of your friends) of a UCC contract for the sale of goods (and the seller most certainly had a secured transaction agreement in order to bring the goods to sale to your area).

That box of fireworks that didn't work as advertised.  Well, that might just blossom into a breach of contracts claim or even a tort claim for misrepresentation.

That box of fireworks that were lit off in the city limits.  In most cities, that's a strict liability crime, plain and simple.

You see, even when we take a day off from studies, we live in a world of bar exam problems.  In fact, we are surrounded by bar exam problems because the bar exam tests legal situations that are constantly arising among us.  So, it's a good thing to get our heads of the books occasionally to see what's happening around.

That means that you can completely feel free to relax and celebrate on this upcoming national holiday.  Take the day off - the whole day off!  Go have some fun!  Celebrate...because even while taking a day off you will still be learning lots about the law from just living in the world.  You can't help yourself but to see legal problems everywhere...because...you have be trained as a professional problem-solving attorney.  

So, rest assured that in the midsts of your celebrations you'll be learning helpful legal principles that you can bank on preparation for success on your upcoming bar exam. And, as a bonus, you'll get some mighty needed rest to recharge your heart and mind too!  So, enjoy your day off; you've earned it!  (Scott Johns).

June 29, 2017 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Hello and Kudos!

Hello! I just accepted an invitation to contribute to this blog and this is my first post. In the future I hope to post on a wide range of topics, representing the varied duties common to academic support professors. But, for this debut post, I want to echo Betsy Six’s suggestion during the closing remarks at AASE to send a kudos email (my words, not hers) to a colleague. Did someone really impress you with their presentation? Did you have a conversation with a colleague in the hallway that changed the way you think about academic support? If so, let them—and their boss—know about it. Don’t worry; it’s not too late. Ask Emily Post. Don’t know what to say? Try putting your own spin on this template:

Dear Dean [X],

I write to tell you what a nice job [name] did on [his/her] presentation entitled “[title]” at the Association of Academic Support Educators Conference in Fort Worth, Texas in May. [Name’s] presentation was innovative, insightful, and engaging. The presentation laid out several concrete [descriptive noun] ideas which attendees (like myself) could implement at their own institutions. Kudos to [name], and to you and your institution for supporting [his/her] work. [Name] is a great asset to the academic support professors’ community!

In closing, just let me say congratulations to everyone who organized, presented at, and attended the annual AASE Conference! (Kirsha Trychta)

June 27, 2017 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Meetings, Miscellany, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Veteran ASP Spotlight: Jendayi D. Saada

Thank you for reading the May Veteran ASP Spotlight series! There are a few pending requests so you might see a few more spotlights but the Veteran ASP Spotlight will officially return next year. If you have beloved Veteran ASPers who were not featured this year, then kindly send me their names. A heartfelt thank you to all of the ASP Veterans who shared experiences and wisdom! My hope is that ASPers are reminded of why they do this work and re-energized for bar season and the new academic year. Please note that other members of the ASP community will also be featured here in the near future.

Today’s featured spotlight is Jendayi Saada. I met Jendayi at my first ever National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) Academic Support Conference when I was three months into the start of my ASP career. We both coincidentally sign-up for the same restaurant and our group walked, talked, and laughed that night. At that conference, I also met several other colleagues but Jendayi and I both realized that we had ties to Michigan. Jendayi has a wealth of knowledge, is always open to learn, and is deeply committed to the success of the students she works with. To reiterate what I have said before, when I grow up, I want to be as amazing as she is (Goldie Pritchard).

Saada Profile-1419

Q: Please indicate your full name, title and institution of employment. 

Jendayi D. Saada

Assistant Dean of Academic and Bar Readiness and Assistant Professor

La Verne College of Law

 

Q: Please briefly describe your ASP work including length of time associated with it and what initially stimulated your interest.

I began in ASP in 2004 as an instructor at Nova Southeastern University. As an instructor, I helped create a multiyear academic support and a post-graduation bar preparation program. Since 2009 I have developed ASP and Bar Preparation programs at three additional law schools in Florida, Arizona, and California. My teaching areas have included both skills and doctrine.

I have always had a passion for teaching and have taught in various fields for about 34 years. I fell into legal education because I was moving from Michigan to Florida. I had closed my law practice to chase the sun. I was just looking for a job until I could pass the FL Bar Exam and go back to practicing. I was hired at Nova and that was that.

 

Q: Which aspect(s) of ASP work do you enjoy the most?  What would you consider your greatest challenge thus far and how have you overcome the challenge?

The aspect of ASP I like the most is working with students to help them realize their dreams of becoming an attorney. I especially enjoy working with those students who, due to their race, ethnicity, disability, gender, first generation status, etc., question whether the dream is possible for them, and watching the transformation that occurs when they succeed.

My greatest challenge by far is the stubborn refusal of the faculties and administrators in legal education, to recognize the value that academic support and the professionals who are committed to student success.

 

Q: What do you want your professional legacy to be?

Students’ metamorphosis into amazing lawyers 

 

Q: What motivational advice or encouragement would you offer to new and/or mid-career ASPers or law students?

Let your moral compass be your guide and your passion, the engine that drives you to your destination. Don’t stop for hitchhikers!

 

Q: Is there anything else you deem necessary to share (quote, encouragement, inspiration, visual, etc.…)?

Keep learning, pushing, growing.

May 31, 2017 in Academic Support Spotlight, Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Veteran ASP Spotlight: Amy L. Jarmon

Amy Jarmon is among other things, Editor of the Law School Academic Support Blog. I cannot recall the circumstances surrounding my first encounter with Amy but she is a staple of the ASP community. I have seen her at practically every ASP conference I have attended and often see her name associated with various ASP committees and programs. I have enjoyed serving on committees with her and appreciate the wealth of knowledge she has to offer. I am thankful for her willingness to help whenever I have a question or reach out for assistance or advice. I am also grateful to her for my opportunity to join the Law School Academic Support Blog family. I am a little unconventional with my posts but she has put up with me all year long. I am glad to showcase Amy because she was not featured in the highlight of the Law School Academic Support Blog editors. Finally, it is coincidental that she is spotlighted the week of the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) annual conference in Texas. She has been spotted at the AASE conference so you can meet her in person. (Goldie Pritchard)

AmyJ

Q: Please indicate your full name, title and institution of employment. 

Amy L. Jarmon

Assistant Dean for Academic Success Programs and Lecturer

Texas Tech University School of Law

 

Q: Please briefly describe your ASP work including length of time associated with it and what initially stimulated your interest.

My initial interest in ASP work came from two sources. First, my previous career was in student affairs with undergraduates where I worked for many years in a bridge position between academic affairs and student affairs. Second, my Ed.D. and J.D. degrees with my teaching and law practice experiences allowed me to fit naturally into helping law students succeed academically and prepare for practice.     

I have been involved in ASP work at law schools for over 15 years. Thirteen of those years have been here at Texas Tech; previously I was at University of Akron School of Law.

 

Q: Which aspect(s) of ASP work do you enjoy the most?  What would you consider your greatest challenge thus far and how have you overcome the challenge?

I most enjoy working one-on-one with students. It is a joy to help students improve their study strategies and life skills and to see them reach their true academic potential in law school.

Greatest challenge: Many students want to do well in law school, but come into this environment with weaknesses in critical reading, thinking, and writing and in efficient, effective study strategies. Many prior educational experiences only asked them to memorize information rather than to grapple with understanding or applying that information.

Overcoming the challenge: Flexibility within a plan is important. I start with assessment and then use a repertoire of strategies to address succeeding in law school while gaining life skills for legal practice. Although I know the strategies that work for most law students, I always keep an open mind. I modify, discard, and brainstorm with each individual student to find out what works for that person. I regularly learn new “mental connections,” strategies, resources, and more as I work with students; those new ideas or techniques become tools to help future students. 

 

Q: What do you want your professional legacy to be?

For students: I want my legacy to be that I cared about students individually and was there to encourage and support them. I believe in their personal worth whether or not they flourish in law school or ultimately decide to practice law after graduation.

For colleagues: I want my legacy to be that I was a colleague who shared my knowledge and experiences freely to better the ASP profession and to support colleagues.

 

Q: What motivational advice or encouragement would you offer to new and/or mid-career ASPers or law students?

New ASP’ers: Reach out to others in the ASP profession for assistance. Unlike some professions, this one thrives on sharing ideas, materials, and advice. ASP’ers have a tradition of giving a hand-up to newcomers. Also, remember that you cannot implement everything overnight. Decide a small number of priorities to tackle first, and then shamelessly ask others for Power Points, syllabi, handouts, and more.

Mid-career ASP’ers: Beware of burnout! Most ASP’ers are “givers” and easily become over-involved, over-utilized by their law schools, and overtime-prone. If you are not careful, you will be overwhelmed. Remember to pace yourself, to say “no” or “not now” sometimes, and to set aside time away from the office to relax and revive.

Law students: Realize there are a zillion strategies that your ASP professional can show you for conquering law school. It is okay if you do not know how to do something, feel overwhelmed at times, or are unsure how to fix things. The important thing is that you commit to learning how to improve and ask for assistance early and often.  

 

Q: Is there anything else you deem necessary to share (quote, encouragement, inspiration, visual, etc.…)?

During my ASP career, I have been blessed with many opportunities. However, during challenges, I depend on my faith to get me through those dark times. I always remind myself that the most important words of praise to hear at some future date are: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

 

May 24, 2017 in Academic Support Spotlight, Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Veteran ASP Spotlight: Louis Schulze, Jr

Louis should be excited because he is featured here twice in two weeks (once for his scholarship here and now)! I first met Louis at one of the conferences I attended early on in my ASP career. He led a discussion surrounding an article he had written and at the time, was seeking feedback. The discussion included comments and questions about the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). I also had an opportunity to work with Louis briefly during my tenure as chair of the programming committee for the Academic Support Section of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS). Louis was reliable, kind, and very helpful. I seem to always remember positive words and feedback sent in my direction from anyone far and near, and Louis is one of those whose feedback was very kind and therefore remembered (Goldie Pritchard).

Q: Please indicate your full name, title and institution of employment.

Louis Schulze

Assistant Dean and Professor of Academic Support

Florida International University College of Law

Q: Please briefly describe your ASP work including length of time associated with it and what initially stimulated your interest.

I’ve been in the academic support field for about ten years, starting at New England Law | Boston for seven years and a bit over three years here at FIU Law. I started teaching in the legal writing field and found myself wanting to do more for students who underperformed. It frustrated me that many of these students weren’t struggling due to a lack of diligence or intelligence but because they had less training in critical thinking or effective learning skills. Because that lack of training seemed correlated with socio-economic status, I was particularly motivated to do what I could to help level the playing field to promote students’ success.

Q: Which aspect(s) of ASP work do you enjoy the most? What would you consider your greatest challenge thus far and how have you overcome the challenge?

Anyone who has seen me teach knows that I act like a fool in the classroom. I try to bring an energy that connotes genuine enthusiasm for the material. (This isn’t in any way fabricated; I’m a complete law nerd. If they sold trading cards of SCOTUS justices, I’d be one of those people who gets the whole set, including COA, etc.)

I try to keep things fairly light in the classroom and then all of a sudden get really intense, pushing the students to do more and give better answers. Because the levity precedes the intensity, students seem more comfortable when I push them harder – they know it’s coming from the right place.

Also, personally and professionally, I get immense joy from fostering students’ success. My favorite time of year is when grades come out and I hear from my students who got through the first year despite incredible odds. It’s always an awkward moment for my colleagues in my corridor when I start bellowing the chorus of “We Are the Champions” at the top of my lungs because I heard that a student made it above a 2.00 or passed the bar. But, because being in ASP means being half professor, half coach, we have the best of both worlds and, IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), the best job in the legal academy.

Q: What do you want your professional legacy to be?

That I made it through my whole career without anyone noticing that I’m a completely unqualified rube. (Ooops).

Q: What motivational advice or encouragement would you offer to new and/or mid-career ASPers or law students?

IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), one can serve students best by maintaining a balance between being emotionally invested in their success while at the same time remaining objective. Having a professor demonstrate a genuine personal investment in a student’s success can actually have a far more powerful impact on that student than I ever realized. On the other hand, for some students the best advice might be an austere and somewhat shocking message that is both difficult to give and difficult to receive. Academic support professors need to be empowered to give both types of advice based upon the needs of the particular student. If a law school does not provide that sort of empowerment, the academic support will be less effective.

Q: Is there anything else you deem necessary to share (quote, encouragement, inspiration, visual, etc.…)?

Bart

May 17, 2017 in Academic Support Spotlight, Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Part II: Learning & Justice: An Academic Achievement Necessity!

In a previous blog, I wrote about the question of justice, namely, that learning the law without learning to think about what is the right thing to do is, in short, to be learning aimlessly, to be learning without sprit, to be selling our students short.  It is an empty vain experience.  What Does Justice Have to Do with Learning the Law? Everything!

And, as a consequence of our (my) failure to so often talk about principles of justice throughout our (my) classes, we are often creating a toxically-damaging learning environment because our students came to law school not to just memorize cases but to learn to do justice.   Thus, without actively incorporating discussions of justice within our courses, our students JUSTIFIABLY feel like justice has very little to do with why they came to law school in the first place.  No wonder they struggle so often to feel like they fit in.  They don't.  

But, it's not because they don't fit in law school.  Rather, its because we don't fit in law school because we are so often not getting at the real root of the purpose of our legal education, namely, righting and healing and restoring relationships in a broken fragile world.  As a consequence, we should not be surprised when our students are not jazzed about our intricate discussions and hyperactive hypotheticals that are so often devoid of heartfelt life yearings.  

So, that brings me to a suggestion on how to incorporate principles of justice within the study of law.

First, be bold.  Name it.  Let your students know that justice is difficult, its edgy, its often amiss.

Second, provide a framework.

As a tool, it might be helpful to explore possible ways to think about what the right thing to do might be.  As set out by Dr. Michael J. Sandel in his wonderful book entitled "Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?," there are three major principles that we might look towards for guidance as to justice: (1) the welfare principle; (2) the freedom principle; and, (3) the virtue principle.  http://justiceharvard.org/justice-whats-the-right-thing-to-do/  Please note:  If you happen upon Amazon, you can browse the first chapter of his book to brilliantly capture the scope of the three approaches.  If not, here's my own simplistic version:

Justice

1.  The Welfare Principle might also be called the "Mostest-for-the-Greatest" principle (or, as philosophers call it, the utilitarian principle).  In brief, the right thing to do according to this principle is what would bring the greatest benefit to the greatest number in society.  We often see this play out in constitutional litigation concerning something like the "undue burden" test in dormant commerce clause cases.  It's a balancing test.  We balance the burden on interstate commerce against the benefit to local state interests in order to see which might maximize the greatest good or utility or benefit.  In another context, we see this principle called to duty - so to speak -  in tort law concerning what a reasonably prudent person might due under similar circumstances.  Finally, this principle is often discussed in the course of environmental litigation as to the benefits of environment regulation versus the societal costs.

2.  The Freedom Principle seems to be widely adored but rarely advocated, at least in my survey of government litigation concerning constitutional rights issues.  We might label this as the "Absolutist" principle, namely, that certain rights are absolutely off-limits from government coercion or usurpation or abolition.  Think of freedom speech or freedom of religion.  But, as we quickly learn in constitutional law, the First Amendment freedom of speech can be heavily regulated by the government provided the government provides a sufficiently "good" reason.  For example, when the government silences a particular subject, it generally must meet strict scrutiny analysis by demonstrating that the restriction is necessary to achieve a compelling government interest.  So much for absolute protection!  Thus, we most often see the freedom principle give way to other perhaps competing arguments as to justice, often based on the welfare principle or the virtue principle.

3.  So, that brings us to the Virtue Principle.  We might call this the "Honor" principle.  Think of the marriage cases.  The issue in the marriage cases, at its roots, centered upon what sorts of marital relationships ought to be honored, with the court holding that the purpose of marriage is fundamentally about society honoring committed loving relationships among consenting people.  In contrast to the arguments of many states, marriage is not fundamentally about children.  Thus, the court, seeing that states honored opposite sex marriages but not same sex marriages, reasoned that all marriages regardless of gender must be honored the same because gender is irrelevant to the issue of loving relationships.  In other words, the right thing to do is to honor consistently all marital relationships that share the same fundamental marital characteristics.  In short, the court found that it was unfair to honor only opposite sex marriage but not other marriages because the failure to do so is dishonorable and not virtuous.  Justice requires giving honor to what is deserving honor.

Now, as we see from many of the cases covered throughout law school, the courts are often bouncing haphazardly among these various conceptions of justice (and more) without saying what they are doing.  Shame on them!  That's where these principles of justice can come in mighty handily in law school classes.  Let's get them out in the open!  It's not that these principles will necessarily determine what is the right outcome in a particular case.  But, arguments about these principles are what is at root in most cases.  And, as complex people with many attachments and predispositions, we will start to see that we often favor one principle of justice at the expense of another (which is to say at the expense of others).  So, just reflecting on these principles with our students can help our students better understand and appreciate how they can participate - as future attorneys - in helping to make society a little bit more just for the next generation.  And, that's a great thing to learn in law school!  (Scott Johns).

 

May 11, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Veteran ASP Spotlight: Rodney O. Fong

You may consider this entry and future ones “self-serving” but please stay tuned. When my ASP mentor recently left the profession, I thought it might be a splendid idea to highlight a few “veteran ASPers” while they are still active in the profession. After conversations with a few colleagues, I decided to start highlighting a few individuals I view as “veteran ASPers.” I encountered these highly experienced individuals at certain points of my ASP journey which began almost ten years ago. Each contributed to my success by helping me in small or significant ways and shared their wisdom, experience, and advice. I deemed it expedient to streamline questions rather than ask them anything and everything I could have possibly wanted to know. It is impossible to highlight everyone so I am starting with a select few, Rodney O. Fong being the first.

Rodney O. Fong is an awesome individual. I was first introduced to him by my former law school Dean who suggested that I contact him for advice, direction, and possible mentoring. He responded to my email message which was followed by a great phone conversation. I admire his commitment to diversity, student success on the bar exam, and desire to help new professionals. Please learn about him below. (Goldie Pritchard)

Fong

Q: Please indicate your full name, title and institution of employment.

Rodney O. Fong

Co-Director of Law+Plus and Bar+Plus Programs & Assistant Professor of Law 

University of San Francisco School of Law

Q: Please briefly describe your ASP work including length of time associated with it and what initially stimulated your interest.

I switched from practice to teaching because I love teaching and counseling people. Also, I found that practicing law limited on the number of people I could help, namely my clients.  But by training more people to become lawyers, I could indirectly help more clients in our communities.

My law school had a formal academic support program and I was a student in the program as well as a tutor during my last two years of school. I started teaching in 1990, focusing on academic support and, in 2005, I formally added bar preparation.

Q: Which aspect(s) of ASP work do you enjoy the most? What would you consider your greatest challenge thus far and how have you overcome the challenge?

I love the challenge of figuring out how to better prepare our students. First it was putting together workshops and lesson plans focusing on IRAC and study skills. Then I delved into education and learning theory exploring ways to teach students more effectively. Next, it was figuring out how generational differences affected our Gen X and Gen Y students and that continues today with unraveling the effects of helicopter parenting. More recently, I have been working on applying socio-psychological theories and creating reduction and intervention strategies.

My greatest challenge has been helping law schools transition from input measures, like LSAT and UGPA, to output measures, such as graduation rates, bar passage, and employment. Law schools are now being evaluated on how well we teach our students and what they are learning, hence the ABA requirements for establishing student learning outcomes and formative and summative assessments. Unfortunately, changing the law school culture has been slow and painful. But schools that have been able to fully integrated academic support into their teaching and learning culture tend to be more successful.

Q: What do you want your professional legacy to be?

I have two things that I am equally proud of. First, I am proud of all the students that I have been able to help become lawyers, especially those from underrepresented groups and first generation students. They are now in the profession assisting clients and making an impact on our communities. I am also proud of helping the students who decided not to become lawyers. Law school and practicing law is not for everyone. But if I was able to help someone in their decision to leave law school and still maintain their dignity and confidence, then that is a success. Many of these students go on to become successful in other fields.

The other thing I am proud of is helping a law school overcome low bar performance to retain its ABA accreditation. It was not a matter of tutoring a few students to pass the exam, but changing the culture and attitude of an entire institution. When the bar results started to improve, you could feel the change in attitude and confidence within the school and that is something I will never forget. To hear students proclaim that they want to do better than the class before them was amazing, especially when a couple of year before, they doubted if they could even pass the exam.

Q: What motivational advice or encouragement would you offer to new and/or mid-career ASPers or law students?

For my ASP colleagues – Changing institutional cultures, attitudes, and behaviors is a process that takes lots of time and patience. Also, timing is critical. An institution may not be ready for change. But when it is, you have to be ready and prepared to lead.

Q: Is there anything else you deem necessary to share (quote, encouragement, inspiration, visual, etc.…)?

My favorite quote during this time of law school uncertainty is a Chinese proverb: “Chaos – where brilliant dreams are born.”

May 3, 2017 in Academic Support Spotlight, Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Dream That Changed A Life

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” Harriet Tubman.

Graduation is always a very exciting time for me and an even more exciting time for the students but this year is a particularly bittersweet one for me. Why? Well, this 2017 graduation ushers in the official end of my role as Director of the Legal Education Opportunity Program (LEOP). Of course, I will continue to work with students in my capacity as an academic support professional but my interactions with this very unique group of students I had the pleasure of working with over the past eight years comes to an end. LEOP was the conditional admission program offered at the law college which allowed some prospective students to participate in a summer program with the understanding that an achievement of minimum competency would allow them to gain admission to the law college. My participation in this performance based admission program entailed reviewing applications, co-coordinating the program, spending six weeks in the summer with these students, and monitoring their law school careers and bar exam performance. I saw these students manage stress, contend with new tasks, seek out help, and build community. I am grateful that students felt comfortable enough to reveal their fears and concerns, seek advice, and share successes and challenges. I recognize that it is very rare to be a part of the various aspects of a law student’s growth as a person and a student.

Monday was the end of the year celebration for the graduates of LEOP but also the celebration of the end of LEOP. In attendance were professors, staff, students, and alums who were brought together by this program. Suddenly, the atmosphere at the celebration quickly and surprisingly became highly emotional. The lunch gathering highlighted student accomplishments, contributions to the law college, and reflection on their journeys. It was quite amazing to note the impact one can have on a student simply by engaging with the student and choosing certain words to communicate with them. Students watch us, hear us, and make judgments about us based on what we say and do.

I am certain that my colleagues who work with alternative or conditional admissions programs share my sentiments about the students I work with in LEOP. While I may not remember the minute details about each student, I do remember each face, name, and a piece of information each one shared with me. These students dreamed impossible dreams and step by step are making their dreams become reality. They faced tremendous “I can’t” circumstances but stared them in the face and overcame those challenges. These LEOP students are about to place “J.D.” behind their names like many others before them and embark on the journey to becoming lawyers.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” Harriet Tubman. Changing the world begins with changing your immediate universe. (Goldie Pritchard)

April 26, 2017 in Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Final Exam Prep: Lessons from the Hudson River Crash – Pilot or Passenger?

Over the years, I’ve seen many students struggle in preparing for final exams, particularly with uncertainty about how best to prepare.

Without exception, that leads to a question.  In the past, how have you learned to solve problems?  And, without exception, students say that they learn to solve problems…by practicing problems (usually with lots of ups and downs, turbulence, and bumps and bruises).  That’s because we don’t learn how to solve problems by watching others solve problems.

And, that’s the rub about law school learning. 

Simply put, much of our law school experience has been us watching others solve problems (whether observing a professor run through a hypothetical problem, listening to a student in Socratic dialogue, reading and briefing cases, or even in the midst of preparing massive outlines as study tools).  Unfortunately, you are not tested on your case briefs, outlines or study tools.  Rather, you are tested on your abilities to solve legal problems. 

So, here’s the key.  Change your focus from passive learning into active learning by grabbing hold of lots of practice problems, sweating over them, stretching yourself through them, and exercising your “brain muscles” in tackling complex legal issues.  In short, take charge of your own learning by practicing lots of final exam problems. 

To help you visualize what active learning for final exams might look like, here’s a short video animation of the Hudson River airplane crash, spliced with the pilot and aircraft controller communications.  

First, as you watch the video, you’ll can see that all is calm.  It’s a great smooth takeoff.  The flight is well on its way to a far-away destination, and, then, suddenly, there’s flock of geese in the way.  That’s how I always feel when I practice exams. All is relatively peaceful and then I turn to the first question and it looks like I’ve just flown into a flock of geese with my engines flaming out as a result.  So, here’s lesson one – prepare for geese.  You will have problems that are difficult on your final exams.  But, you won’t learn how to tackle them until you start working through them first, well, right now, before you take your final exams.

Second, notice the pilot’s voice.  Is it calm or ruffled?  Yes, the engines have quit.  Yes, the plane is not flying to a far-away place anymore.  But, it is still an airplane. It still has wings and radios. It is still flying.  It’s just not going to Chicago or Phoenix or Los Angeles today. So, here’s lesson two – don’t ever give up, even in the midst of your exam prep and final exams.  Keep flying your airplane.  Keep working on learning by doing.

Third, as you continue to watch the video, you’ll start hearing lots of air traffic controllers trying their best to help the pilot make a successful return, first to New York City’s LaGuardia Airport and then to Teterboro Airport across the Hudson River in New Jersey.  The controllers are busily clearing runways and directing the pilot to turn to this heading and that course.  But, the pilot stays in control.  Finally, the controllers ask which runway the pilot would like to land on, and, instead, the pilot says – frankly and calmly – the Hudson River.  So, here’s lesson three – fly your own airplane.  Don’t let others control your destiny.  You’re the one that is taking the exam (not those that are giving you lots of advice).  And, only you know yourself.  So, make your own decisions.  Just like pilots do, practice solving legal problems through lots of "simulator flight" time.

Here's the secret about learning. You see, that wasn’t the first time that the pilot lost his engines in flight.  The pilot had experienced dual engine failure lots of times…in the simulator.  Yes, the pilot had read the horn books on how to land on a river, the cases of previous airplanes successfully ditching in the water, and the manuals on how to stay calm and collected in the midst of a flock of geese.  But, reading is not sufficient to learn how to fly an airplane.  That’s because no one learns to fly by reading about flying.  You learn to fly…by flying.  Similarly, you learn to solve legal problems…by solving legal problems.  So, get flying today as you prepare for your final exams tomorrow.  And, good luck on them all!   (Scott Johns).

 

 

 

April 20, 2017 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

What could this old nursery rhyme have to do with law school?

It reminds us to take one step at a time to accomplish a task.

Huh? Well, think about it this way . . . .

Most law students right now are madly juggling a long list of tasks for multiple projects. They are preparing for class each day. They are finishing assignments or papers. They are keeping up with outlines. They are reviewing for exams. They are completing practice questions. And, they are doing all of these things for multiple courses at the same time.

Many of them are feeling scattered and a bit frantic. They dart from task to task and feel exhausted at the end of the day. They are losing sleep, eating junk food, and feeling overwhelmed.

And, they lament that there is no time to get everything done.

So, just as in the nursery rhyme, it is time to get organized, have a plan, and take one step at a time. Here is an approach that helps many students get control of exam review:

  • For each exam course, list all topics with their subtopics that will be on the final exam. (Warning: The list will be long because it is subtopics, but they can be completed more quickly than whole topics.)
  • Focus on learning and understanding the subtopics. (You will want some later time for practice questions, but understanding has to come first.)
  • If you already understand any subtopics well enough that you could walk into the exam on those, highlight them on the list to show completion.
  • For the remaining subtopics that you have already covered in class, estimate how much time you need to understand that subtopic well enough to walk into the exam. (Estimates may be minutes or hours depending on the subtopic's difficulty.)
  • Total your subtopic estimates for the material already covered in class for each course. (You will complete estimates for additional subtopics as they are covered later in class.)
  • Now compare your estimate totals for each course. You might have 12 hours for one, 15 hours for another, 20 hours for a third, etc.
  • Your totals help you see proportionately how much time you should devote to each course to learn what you have already covered in the course.
  • Schedule blocks of time each week to complete exam review to make progress on your estimated totals.
  • There will be some subtopics that need little time and can be slipped in between classes, while you wait for dinner to cook, etc.
  • As you complete each subtopic, remember to highlight it as completed.
  • All progress is forward progress. Whatever you can get completed before the end of classes means less to learn during exam period.

What if you have a paper to write? You can make a similar list for specific tasks within larger categories: tasks for research, writing, editing, citations, grammar and punctuation, format OR by tasks for paper sections if you prefer.

Step back from the jumble that you feel your life represents right now. Organize small steps within the larger units. Then take it step by step: one, two . . . . (Amy Jarmon)

April 18, 2017 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Comparison Can Be A Downer

Eleanor Roosevelt stated, "Remember, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

Now is the time in the semester when many law students compare themselves to others in their classes and become discouraged.

  • Mary got the highest grade on the midterm, and I was below the median.
  • Bill aced the trial brief assignment, and mine was covered in comments.
  • Annie gave a brilliant answer in class, and I could not even formulate a basic answer.
  • Phil was amazing at the oral argument, and I fumbled every question.

And so it goes.

Why do law students make themselves miserable by comparisons?

  • They may still be stuck mentally in undergraduate grading where 100% was always the achievable grading standard.
  • They may be for the first time in a group of students who are as intelligent as they are - awesome, but scary.
  • They may be struggling with how much work is required in law school after years of higher grades for less effort.
  • They may base their self-worth on what others think of them instead of doing the best they can do.

Here's the thing to remember. You are you. You can only control yourself. You can only do the best work possible today under today's circumstances.

If today did not produce the results you wanted after doing your best, then let it go. Get up tomorrow and start again. Tomorrow you can implement strategies to improve your academics. You may not yet be where you want to be, but you can improve each day. You can reach your personal best.

Are you unsure how to improve on what you are doing? Visit the academic support professional at your law school and ask for assistance. Talk with your faculty member for help with a confusing topic. Ask a trusted classmate to discuss a case or a practice question with you.

Let's face it: law school is a fish bowl. You spend all day swimming in the same confined space with the same school of fish. It is too easy to focus on how well others are swimming. And, if the fish bowl has a couple of fish doing high dives off the lip of the bowl, it can be intimidating.

But rather than compare yourself to the other fish, practice your own strokes. Find a swim coach. There is still time to see improvement. (Amy Jarmon)

 

April 17, 2017 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Be Confident

This is the week our students’ appellate briefs are due therefore I assumed that they would be unprepared for the directed study group meeting scheduled for this week. Instead of cancelling the meeting, I developed several activities with the materials students had covered thus far in their doctrinal course. The students were engaged and appeared to enjoy the activities. We highlighted areas they were unfamiliar with, areas they needed to work on, and areas of strength. Students worked in groups and one of the groups was composed of mostly male students and one female student. The female student held her own but one situation gave me pause. Her group was consulting before they buzzed in their answer. I heard her say the correct answer but her male counterparts disagreed and tried to persuade her otherwise. The group spokesperson stated the answer the majority agreed on but it was an incorrect answer. When they realized she had the correct answer, they were dumbfounded. I told the male students: “you should have listened to her” and I saw her smile. I was glad to validate her “correct” contribution and thought about the experiences of other female students.

At times, the law school environment can be a challenging place for female students for a variety of reasons including the fact that their abilities are sometimes underestimated and undervalued. This can reduce confidence in even the most confident person. There are several articles, studies, and news reports on the topic. However, I found an eight minute TEDx Talk which illustrates some of the challenges females face and how they can help themselves and other females find “The Confidence Factor.” Here is the link to “The Confidence Factor” by Carol Sankar.

Sankar suggests three things all women must do enact their confidence factor, challenging them to students, particularly female students:

1. Know the power of negotiation. If you know your worth before you leave the house; you now have the power of negotiate. Know your worth.

2. Seek a balance of support and mentorship. Support is the praise and comfort but not the facts. Mentorship is when people tell us the truth regardless of how we feel about what we hear; someone with the courage to push us and tell us the truth.

3. Your inner circle. Create an inner circle which includes one who likes you, one who can’t stand you, one who will tell the truth, and one who will tell you a lie. Also consider individuals not known to you. (Goldie Pritchard)

April 5, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Teaching Law: What's Justice Have to Do With Law (and Learning)?

Recently while teaching asylum law, we took some time in class to talk about justice.  How do we know what is the right thing to do?  What standard(s) should we use to decide whether a case result is just or not?  I was just about to recap our discussion when a student asked, poignantly, "What does Justice have to do with the Law?"

In brief, the student commented that very few classes ever even talk about justice, and, the student also asked me directly if I have ever even talked about justice as a litigator before the court.  Those were great questions.  And, the student got me thinking...deeply...because if what we are doing is not just, then we should be doing something else.  And, if we are not talking about justice, then, let's be frank, we are not engaging with our students in heart-felt learning because they came to law school - not to be mechanics robotically applying the law - but to make the world better, to make the world more just, in short, to restore and right and mend relationships.

As I reflected on my student's questions, I started to realize that implicit in much discourse concerning the outcome of cases are principles that manifest themselves in real impact on real people.  So, my first step was to refocus on teaching about the people (and not just the mechanical facts, issues, holdings, and rationales).  I try to find out what happened to the litigants.  I sometimes call the attorneys that litigated the case.  In short, I try to bring life to the cases that we read.  Second, I try to keep my eye out for opportunities to talk about whether the decisions in the cases that we study are just (and why or why not).  I try to make it explicit.  Third, as we talk about representing people, I bring up opportunities to appeal to courts by using principles of justice.  

So, that brings me back to learning.  It seems like many law students are just plain tired, primarily it seems to me, because we have taught them that the law is lifeless.  We've stripped the cases of all humanity.  We talk about cases as if they are just impersonal scripts, and, in the process, our students begin to feel like the lawyer's job is just to keep the machine going.  That they are a cog in a process that lacks life.  That law school is not a place to learn about how to make the world better but rather just a place that keeps the world going, faltering along, without improvement, growth, or hope.  Our students start to think that justice has very little to do with the law.  

Perhaps that is true.  But, it need not be so.  That's because in a common law system the law grows out of relationships and arguments presented by real people to real people to resolve real disputes based on real appeals to the heart.  So, as we teach our students, I need to help them empower themselves to speak boldly and think deeply about what the right thing to do is (and why).   And, when I do that, my students start to sit up straight, they take notice, they start pondering, thinking, and, of course, learning...because they realize that they do have something to say, something that is important, something that might actually someday make a powerful impact in the lives of others when incorporated into the common law.  In fact, our world needs their voices - all of their voices in order to realize justice for all.  

If you're looking for a place to learn how to incorporate justice into your teaching, here's a great source.  Professor Michael Sandel has a free web platform that focus on teaching justice with much of the discussion based on the law and litigation. And, in the process, you'll see a masterful teacher helping his students develop into learners.  http://justiceharvard.org/justicecourse/   (Scott Johns).

March 30, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)