Thursday, September 26, 2013
Every year, I have a handful of first-year students who do not utilize ASP because they believe that it is only intended for students for whom "something is wrong." They think (or, more precisely, fear that others think) that ASP is for students who don't understand the law, or haven't slept in a week, or have a recurring dream where they are naked in class and the professor is beaning them with copies of the Restatement.
They are not wrong to think that ASP is primarily targeted at struggling students. ASP is usually built around specific programs targeted at students who have already "failed" at one indicator or another (low LSAT, low GPA, failed exams).
The problem is that the perception of ASP as a program for students who can't quite make it means that some students who could greatly benefit from ASP services are not taking advantage of them. They believe either that they "get it well enough" (a common feeling for weak first-year students in the fall) or they are embarrassed to come. In the past, some struggling students have told me that they feel there's something shameful about using ASP. One of the ways I've tried to fight against this problem is to work on "de-pathologizing" struggle in the first year.
The first year of law school should be a struggle. It should stretch students' minds. Law school asks them to think deeply and critically, forces them to analyze all that they think they know, and requires them to participate in class in an utterly new pedagogical style. The question that law school thrusts upon first year students is: How do you know what you think you know? This is not just a matter of learning to think like a lawyer. For some students, it can call into crisis their entire worldview. Of course they struggle. They must struggle, because it's in the struggle itself that thoughtful, critical thinking is born.
We tell them that law school is difficult and that they will think in new ways, study more hours, and do more work than they might have done before in their educational careers. Despite this, some students still seem to get the message that there is something wrong in needing help in that struggle. Perhaps it comes from their peers, or perhaps it's a result of the ease and success they had in undergraduate school. Perhaps it's a message from the larger culture and the image of what a "smart and successful" lawyer should look like. But wherever they are getting it from, the belief that struggling with law school is a sign of weakness is compounding their difficulty.
This year, I have made a great effort to not say things along the lines of "If you're not getting this for some reason..." or "If you need my help..." I have also tried to present coming to workshops, going to tutoring, and seeing me individually simply as something that successful law students do as part of their routine. I think it's worked -- I've had over 100 students at every workshop, and I've had to switch rooms for tutoring because of overflow issues. I've also been emailing as many students as I can to ask them to meet me individually to look over outlines or do sample questions. I've let them know in that email that they aren't being targeted for any other reason than that they were the next name on my list. Finally, I employ 18 tutors, all of whom are in the very top of the class. In hiring the tutors this year, I made sure that as first-year students each of them came to every ASP workshop and went to all of the tutoring sessions available. That way, I can simply point at the very successful tutors and say, "They came to everything -- they utilized services -- nothing was 'wrong' with how they were doing in law school -- they just realized ASP was a good idea -- and look how things turned out."
Luckily, I don't think this perception affects a majority of students. However, year after year, a majority of first-year students who get in serious trouble didn't use ASP when it could have helped them. Consequently, whatever small things I can do to reach students who might not have used ASP are worthwhile. [Alex Ruskell]
Monday, June 10, 2013
It’s summer now. All of the exams are scored, grades assigned. It’s time for a little reflection….
It occurred to me at the recent inaugural AASE conference (which was great, by the way!) that
this last year was really busy for me. Not in a “Wow, I surely did accomplish a lot this year” way, but in a “Man,this year was so busy that I feel like I got very little accomplished” way.
If you are like me, then any given day during the semester could look something like this:
9:00 a.m.: Eat breakfast while returning yesterday’s e-mails.
9:45 a.m.: Make a to-do list of the things I want to accomplish today.
10:00 a.m.: 1-on-1 meeting with struggling 2L.
10:30 a.m.: 1-on-1 meeting with 1L.
11:00 a.m.: Prep for 1:00 class.
11:15 a.m.: Interrupt prep to meet with a walk-in student.
11:30 a.m.: Return to class prep.
11:45 a.m.: Another drop-in.
12:00 p.m.: Skip lunch to complete class prep.
1:00 p.m.: Teach class.
3:00 p.m.: Return to office for office hours.
4:00 p.m.: Grab lunch.
4:15 p.m.: Eat lunch at desk while reviewing a past exam for the next student meeting.
4:30 p.m.: Place partially eaten lunch on credenza and meet with struggling 1L.
5:00 p.m.: Ask 5:00 appointment to be patient, because the 4:30 meeting is going long.
5:10 p.m.: Begin 5:00 appointment.
5:30 p.m.: Ask 5:30 appointment to wait about 10 minutes.
5:50 p.m.: Apologize to 5:30 appointment for the late start.
6:55 p.m.: End 5:50 appointment, which went over an hour due to my “late start guilt.”
6:56 p.m.: Look at partially eaten lunch on credenza. Decide to take a bite.
6:57 p.m.: Throw partially eaten lunch away. It has turned.
7:00 p.m.: Call my wife, and tell her that I’m working late tonight.
7:05 p.m.: Work on faculty committee work.
8:30 p.m.: Begin reviewing today’s e-mails.
8:45 p.m.: Begin reviewing student work sent in today’s e-mail.
9:30 p.m.: Look at the list of things I meant to accomplish today.
9:35 p.m.: Choose to leave work notwithstanding 90% of my to do list is not done.
9:36 p.m.: Promise to do better tomorrow.
10:15 p.m.: Grab dinner at a drive through to eat at home.
11:00 p.m.: Go to bed.
1:00 a.m.: Wake up with indigestion.
1:05 a.m.: Check e-mail before going back to sleep.
1:10 a.m.: Return e-mail from a troubled student.
1:11 a.m.: Troubled student responds.
1:13 a.m.: Respond to troubled student.
1:15 a.m.: Troubled student responds.
1:17 a.m.: Respond to troubled student with a very clear, “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
1:20 a.m.: Troubled student responds with “just one last question.”
1:22 a.m.: Respond to troubled student.
1:25 a.m.: Troubled student responds.
1:30 a.m.: Turn off my phone and promise to e-mail troubled student tomorrow.
Does this seem at all familiar to you? Am I crazy? Because I have to be honest with you, I originally was trying to be funny when drafting the sample day above. But it occurred to me by the time that I finished that it was all too realistic. I absolutely have days like this. A lot of them. And please note that as I string days like these together, there’s nothing on that list that says “spend six uninterrupted hours working on scholarly writing” or “go off-campus for a weekly afternoon of community service at local high school” or “work out” or “read for fun” or “eat lunch at a reasonable hour” or “write that blog post that you promised Amy Jarmon months ago.”
As I think about this, I wonder how I get anything done. I’m so busy, and there’s always so much to do. I’m not complaining, mind you. I like to be busy. But I realize, looking at the schedule above, that my days are so full that a lot is getting missed. I realize now, in my head, that my thoughts sound a lot like a law student’s:
“I don’t have time to do everything.”
“Where am I supposed to find the time?”
“I’m working really hard, but I always feel behind.”
“I have so much to read. I can’t get anything else done.”
“I can’t think beyond tomorrow.”
“I’m not sure how I’m going to get everything finished.”
“I’m not getting enough sleep.”
“I don’t have much personal time.”
“I’m not procrastinating. I just can’t get to things until just before they are due.”
“I don’t know where I’m going to find the time to get all of my work done.”
“I guess I’ll just do the best I can.”
I hear these complaints from law students every day. And I genuinely believe that I give them really good advice. So, I wonder, how might I advise myself? Here is some simple, familiar advice that I now offer to myself, and possibly to those of you who are like me:
1. Make a schedule.
Plan out what you want to accomplish each day. Don’t just put “write” or “work” on your calendar. Plan days with detail. For example, set aside reasonable stretches of time to work on
individual tasks. Keep in mind all that you must accomplish in a given day. Set aside time in your schedule to accomplish each task and to complete the tasks overall.
In addition, engage in long-term planning. Look weeks (even months) ahead to see what deadlines exists or what longer projects must be completed. Estimate the amount of total time that you need to complete those projects and then spread the bigger tasks out, working on a little bit at a time, rather than trying to accomplish all of it at once. All nighters are often a reflection of poor planning. If you plan better, hopefully you won’t be spending the last day or two before a deadline working insanely to finish your project.2. Focus on one thing at a time.
Even though we all think we can multitask pretty well, you might find it helpful to isolate certain tasks. When writing, find an environment that is free of distractions – though you should know yourself and avoid an environment that is too quiet, if you know you won’t be productive there. An hour spent meaningfully on one task is probably more efficient than three hours spent on that one task while simultaneously trying to accomplish other goals or spending those hours in a state of distraction.3. Build in time to care for yourself.
It is important to eat and work out and spend time with family. Don’t just expect that time to appear. Plan it out. Put “Lunch” in your schedule, and put “Work Out” in your schedule at specific times. Then, respect those times. From now on, you are unavailable to do work during those times. You’re going to feel better if you eat and exercise regularly, and the remaining hours in the day will be more energized and productive.
4. Prioritize tasks.
On busy days, figure out what must be done and what can wait. Reschedule a meeting if you must; ask for extra time on a task when you can. Then spend your day focusing on the most important things but avoiding the guilt about the other, less important things.
5. Do not allow one task to dominate your time.
It is all too easy to get sucked into working on one task to the exclusion of all others. Don’t let this happen. Even though you have prioritized tasks, and one seems (or is) more important than the others, do not let that one task allow you to fail on all the others. I see this all the time with my students who are working on writing assignments. The writing assignment is due this week. It will get a grade. It seemingly is the most important thing on the schedule. Students work all day and night on the writing, simultaneously falling behind in reading, outlining, class attendance, and other obligations they have. While working on the paper with extreme multi-day focus is actually an understandable decision when one is taking a snapshot view of a student’s life, less so when looking at the “movie” version. Decisions have consequences, even the well-intended decision to focus on only one thing that happens to be due this week.
Sometimes, you will find yourself in a position where you will have to grind. By that I mean that you will be busy, tired, working late, irritable (is that allowed in ASP?), hungry, and overwhelmed, among other things. But you have to press forward; keep working and check things off of that to do list. Things will settle down, especially if you plan ahead a little better, and you’ll be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
7. Just start working.
If you’re feeling paralyzed about work, sometimes the best thing you can do is start working. Overwhelmed by the amount of research you need to accomplish in order to write a scholarly article? Just sit down at your computer and start writing the article, figuring out the finer points of research focus as you go. Need to grade exams, just pick one up and start reading it. Need to give Paula Manning-type feedback on a paper, just get started. Need to write a blog post, just tap into your thoughts and get started. Don’t worry about perfection, just do some work.
One of my favorite pieces of advice for students who are having trouble outlining is the advice to just get started. The task seems so overwhelming to them, so I say this: Imagine riding a bicycle on flat ground, or maybe even a little uphill. When you first get started, you have to stand up, shifting your weight on the pedals, rocking the bike side-to-side, in order to build momentum slowly. But, after you have momentum, you find that the pedaling is easier, you can sit down on the seat, and you can still keep up your pace with less intense effort. So, dig down and spend a little extra energy to just get started. You’ll find that once you do, the going forward is much easier, as is forming the belief that you are able to keep moving forward.
I am going to follow my own advice. Starting today. (Well, maybe tomorrow, because today is almost over.) Ask me at the end of the summer if I finished my article and book. If I don’t give you the right answer, point me back to this blog post. Please. Because it’s going to be busy in the fall. Really busy. So the time for productivity and accomplishment is now.
Happy and productive summer months, one and all!
Friday, May 10, 2013
My law students are looking a bit ragged these days. Exams have started here, and many look tired, worried, or discouraged. Smiles and laughter have seemed to die out amid the seriousness of exams and final papers. The graduating 3L students are ambivalent about any elation over graduating because they know bar review will be immediately on the heels of that ceremony. For those who desire employment that requires bar passage prior to application and those still waiting to hear about jobs, additional tension is felt.
It is easy to get discouraged when under stress. My advice to my students is that they stay focused on their goals. Rather than get mired in the enormity of a difficult exam, future bar review study, or uncertainty about jobs, they need to remember why they came to law school in the first place.
Most of our students came because they were passionate about helping others and being of service. A few may have been motivated by future high salaries, but not that many in reality. We pride ourselves on graduating students who are ready to practice. Because of the large number of rural areas and small towns in the huge geographic expanse of Texas, we enroll many students who want to go back home to small or mid-sized firms and make a difference in their local communities.
Despite all of the current animosity generated about law school, the legal profession is still very necessary to the lives of ordinary citizens. There is still a nobility in helping others find justice and in solving legal problems for those who cannot be their own advocates. If students can focus on these purposes and the intrinsic values that brought them to law school, they can respond with greater resiliency during exams, bar review, and job hunts.
I hope that all of our students will be able to keep the faith in their goals and their chosen profession during the difficult times and when obstacles seem so great. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, December 20, 2012
If you have the opportunity to team-teach a course at your law school, jump at the opportunity.
With the close of this semester, I've had a chance to think about how team-teaching has worked in one of the new courses a colleague and I teach. Two advantages to the team approach were obvious: the broadening of the students' learning experience, and the broadening of the teaching experience for those of us at the front of the room (yes, I know, asp-ers, you are all over the room!).
This new course, “Practical Lawyering Skills,” was created to fill a gap in our academic support offerings. While we had plenty of academic support offerings in the first year, and a newly introduced third-year “just-before-you-take-the-bar” course for graduating students, the second year (or third year for our part-time students) was empty of academic support opportunities. Intervention in the second year seemed a natural extension of academic support offerings.
It also seemed natural to me to design the course as a team-taught enterprise in order to bring as much diverse experience to the class as possible, both in teaching style as well as in legal experience. My co-teacher in the fall semester is a senior faculty member, highly respected by faculty and students alike. As well as having impressive criminal law experience, she is also an experienced doctrinal professor having won “best teacher” awards several times. The two of us, having team-taught in other courses over many years, are comfortable together in the classroom.
In the spring I teach with a newer professor, but one with plenty of civil practice experience. While our experience teaching together is not as deep as that with my fall colleague, the teaching relationship is quickly maturing after just one semester together. I think students enjoy this ”double treat,” something we carry over into the grading of their assignments so that students get a broad spectrum of evaluation.
The "carry-over" effect of team-teaching reaches outside the classroom as well. My colleagues often ask about the "how" of our team-teaching, about the logistics of how we do it—the choreography. (More about that at another time.)
What I tell my colleagues, however, is that the strength of our team-teaching is more about what happens outside the classroom--in our preparation, debriefing, and shared evaluation of students--more so than in our dual presence in the classroom. While many of us have had someone observe our classes to receive feedback on our approach, the team-teaching model creates a constant stream of observation and evaluation, as well as a constant conversation about how we approach the course and, on any given day, how we approach and deliver specific, daily classroom goals.
That conversation provides endless opportunities for evaluating global teaching approaches as well as the individual components of a class session. So you can have a continual discussion and evaluation from the creator's point of view, and you don't have to wait for the student reviews some time after the final exam to make some navigation corrections. What I have learned from this experience has given me greater confidence in the classroom and a greater willingness to take risks.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
I know this title sounds like a new Hollywood apocalyptic action film; but, it is not. Instead, this is the next step that I suggest repeat bar examinees take in their journey to passing the bar exam. Once these grads have processed their emotions regarding their bar results, they are ready to look toward the future.
Diagnosing weaknesses from their past exam is helpful so that they know how to effectively structure their study schedule for the upcoming exam. I read through their essays and look for accurate and complete issue identification, errors or law, and their use of key facts in their analysis. (The WA bar exam is currently essay-only.) I also pay close attention to their organizational framework and approach to each essay. I find that students with weak organization likely did not write enough practice essays. Or, they wrote practice essays during bar review; but, they either did not write the essays under testing conditions (closed-book and timed) or they did not evaluate their essays after writing them. I ask them to assess how they studied for the bar the first time and to think about ways they could improve their routine.
Delivering tough love is also a necessary part of this process. Sometimes delivering tough love along with pointing out their imperfections is too much for them to take in one sitting. One must tread lightly and gauge emotional stability when dealing with repeat bar exam takers. While you may hear Aaron Neville crooning the song “Tell it Like It Is” in the back of your mind, these repeat exam takers may not be prepared mentally to hear what you have to say. If you recognize that they have not already reached a level of acceptance with their results, they may not be ready to move forward with the rest of the meeting.
However, it is counterproductive to merely tell these grads what they want to hear. They are in my office for my honest opinion about what they did wrong and how they can remedy those defects. Thus, I offer constructive criticism and try to deliver it with a spoonful of sugar (…it helps the medicine go down). As mentioned in my earlier post, I always have a basket full of chocolate nearby and that seems to help.
Likely, there are high points in their exam file. I focus first on a good example or concentrate on a higher scored essay. Then, I move to an essay that may need more work. By evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, they have a better understanding of which features to maintain and which to change. In recognizing their strengths; they build confidence. In understanding their weaknesses, they build up their determination and resilience, which they will need in order to move forward.
Together, once we have diagnosed the flaws in their past exam and identified their strengths, I instruct them to put that exam away and stop thinking about it. They can no longer change what happened during that 2 day exam. It was a snapshot in their life, which will be filled with a million more. In order to move forward, one must let go of the past. It is time for them to destroy their self-doubt. It is time for them to destroy the negativity around their past experience. They cannot make a new plan without first destroying any uncertainty that they have in their ability to pass.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
I would like to do a series of posts featuring my amazing ASP colleagues. ASP'ers are so dedicated to improving not only student academics but also student lives! Whether you have worked in ASP for just 2 months or over 20 years, your thoughts will encourage and inspire others.
Please send me 50 words or less on why you work in academic success work (this description includes bar preparation and pre-law work that you might do in addition to other academic success tasks).
With your submission include:
- either a link to your faculty profile on your law school website and/or a small jpeg picture
- your job title
- how long you have been in ASP work.
I look forward to receiving your thoughts. (Amy Jarmon)
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)