Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Many of our students have always been the top of the heap in public education and later college and graduate education. In law school, they find themselves with a group of colleagues who are equally bright and equally successful. Add to that the differences in the law classroom, new forms of analysis and writing, and the most common one-grade-per-course testing method. The result is that some first-semester students can get overwhelmed pretty quickly if they have not spent some reflection time before arriving at law school..
Preparing for your first semester (and reminding yourself if you are an upper-division law student) is essential to your well-being. The preparation you need to do is to spend some time thinking about you and your choices.
Take out a sheet of paper and divide it into columns: values, abilities, areas for improvement, resources.
In the values column, list things that you value about yourself, life, and others. Include values also that caused you to choose law as a profession. Your values will keep you centered as you study the law. There will be people's opinions, case outcomes, methods of legal analysis, etc. that may not mesh with your values. When confronted with those different views, you have a better chance of evaluating those other perspective while staying grounded in your own values if you already know what you value and why those values are important to you.
In the abilities column, list the things that you know you are talented at in all areas of your life - academic, relationships, spiritual, hobbies, etc. Do not expect perfection in yourself or pretend to be perfect. Make an honest appraisal of what you do well. You will want to build on those abilities while you adapt to the study of law and interact with colleagues who may seem to "get it" faster than you do. Education is about developing our abilities further and meeting any challenges with adaptability. Recognize you talent base that will be your starting point and foundation.
In the room for improvement column, list the things that you know you can do better if you allow yourself to increase your knowledge and skills and take constructive criticism. Your abilities may overlap on this list, but it may also indicate improvement for other aspects. For example, you may write well for traditional writing but need to learn how to write legally; you may need to improve your listening skills rather than automatically debating everything; you may work quickly but need to slow down to catch details; you may be a procrastinator and need to use your time more effectively. Law school will challenge you to improve on what you can already do, learn new ways of doing things, and stretch yourself academically and personally.
In the fourth column, list the resources in your life that help you when you become unsure of yourself or discouraged. These resources are family and friends who are your cheerleaders, mentors you go to for advice, the religious mentors for your spiritual beliefs, positive lifestyle choices (sleep, nutrition, exercise), and other positive resources that help you tackle problems and relieve stress and anxiety. Then add to your list the resources that your law school has available for you when you have questions and concerns: professors with office hours, perhaps 1L teaching assistants, the office of academic support programs, librarians, student affairs staff, available counselors, and more. By adding your resources to the list, you are reminded that you are not in law school without support. You are not going it alone.
Keep your list handy throughout your three years. Add, modify, and delete items as appropriate over time. You will grow as a person, a student, a citizen, and a professional lawyer during the three years. Be ready to embrace experiences and become the very best new lawyer you can be for your clients when you graduate. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Please welcome Cyrah Khan as Associate Director of Academic Support at Seattle University School of Law where she assumed ASP duties this winter. She grew up in New York and became interested in education during high school when she started tutoring at-risk kids in NYC public schools. After moving to Seattle to pursue a Criminal Justice degree at Seattle University, she attended Seattle University School of Law and started doing work in education equity and access to education. She has worked for the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and the ACLU Education Equity Program. Most recently, she clerked at Division Two of the Washington Court of Appeals. While clerking she earned her Master's Degree in Education with a focus on differentiated instruction and program assessment.
Please welcome Cyrah to ASP!
Saturday, May 23, 2015
When I worked with undergraduates in my first career in higher education, I was heavily involved with academic advising for ten years. In fact, my doctoral dissertation was on an academic advising topic. As a result, I have always been interested in academic advising for law students. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, the lack of academic advising for law students.
Many of the students with whom I have worked on other ASP'ish topics approach me for academic advising as well. This past year, my editor for the ABA's magazine, Student Lawyer, had me focus many of my articles on topics within the purview of academic advising.
By academic advising, I do not mean the mechanics of registration or the specific academic regulations. Instead I am referring to advice to law students on aspects that help them apply the mechanics and regulations to meet their academic and career goals and optimize their success. Academic advising goes beyond the procedures, policies, and printed words to consider the individual student as a learner.
For example, a graduation audit to see how an upper-division student is progressing on the requirements for graduation is very important. (I know because I once had co-duties with the Registrar for the graduation audit at a law school.) But the audit is about regulations and mechanics rather than which courses would be the best selections in the ensuing semesters for academic and career goals and learning.
Law schools tend to provide lots of assistance with and information on the mechanics of registration and the academic regulations. There are law schools that undertake true academic advising for special groups: dual-degree students; students in specialized certificate programs, clinic students, or others. But for the majority of law students, academic advising is a hit-or-miss or non-existent experience.
At many law schools academic advising is fragmented. Academic decanal staff, registrar staff, academic support staff, and others may all be involved in some tasks. But a coordinated academic advising program is often non-existent or not effectively implemented among the varied efforts.
Consequently, many students depend on the upper-division student grapevine for their main academic advising. They may get a bit of advice here or there from an approachable faculty member. However, they are more likely to ask faculty members for advice if they know specific career plans that mesh with that faculty member's field of expertise: I want to go JAG; I want to practice oil & gas; I want to be an in-house lawyer. Career services may assist with hot job opportunities and suggested courses that mesh with those specialties in the marketplace.
But putting together a curriculum with all of the relevant nuances for anindividual is very different from this hodgepodge of sources. Academic advising needs the human interaction element of thoughtful communications about academic goals, career goals, short-term and long-term goals, course combinations, academic strengths and weaknesses, learning and cognitive processing styles, individual circumstances outside law school, and much more.
Law schools try to put together options that might help, but often miss the mark. Expensive software is available that will do the graduation audit function and allow students to play with course scenarios, but it is not academic advising. Academic advising handbooks (whether for faculty or students or both) are helpful if they have value added beyond regulations and mechanics, but these tools still miss the interaction if stand alone documents. Making every faculty member advise a certain number of assigned law students is often unhelpful because of individual faculty being overloaded with other duties, untrained, or disinterested. Mandatory advising once or twice a year with an assigned, willing, and trained academic adviser is a start on interaction; but even this option can become merely an "inoculation" process rather than an ongoing dialogue.
With the increasing number of law students who have lower admission credentials, the need for individual academic advising is more critical now than ever. Increasing numbers of non-traditional and first-generation law students also increase the pressure for academic advising. One positive of smaller entering class numbers is that with fewer law students there is greater opportunity to implement individual discussions for true academic advising. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, May 15, 2015
Congratulations on finishing your academic year! Now you have the summer stretching before you. Here are some thoughts on how to get the most from your summer:
- If at all possible, take some time to decompress before you plunge into a job, summer school, or other obligations. You need some time to relax after your academic year.
- Reconnect with family and friends over the summer months. Socialize with the people you are close to and spend some quality time enjoying their company. They have missed you.
- Laugh aloud as much as possible. Do silly things with your younger siblings or nieces/nephews or children; share the joy of childhood with them. Hang out with friends and family members who see the positive and funny side of things. Let your pet's antics delight you.
- Take up a new hobby or return to an old one. Fill your spare time with things you love but told yourself you did not have time for during the academic year. Then decide how you can carve out some time for your favorite outlet once the school year begins.
- Spend some time volunteering. If you help those who are less fortunate than you, it reorients your perspective and helps you realize that law school is a privilege even if it is hard work.
- Get back into a healthy routine this summer. If you are like most law students, you have become sleep-deprived, junk-food-sustained, and exercise-avoiding. Return to healthy habits so that you become your personal best this summer. Then continue your routine when the semester begins.
- Evaluate your year. What legal or academic skills did you learn this year? What legal or academic skills do you want to improve during next year? What resources at your law school can assist you with those improvements? Make some plans for those improvements.
- Make some non-academic plans for next year. What are your extracurricular goals for the next academic year: student organizations, pro bono work, part-time job, resume building, pursuit of career opportunities? What are your personal goals: stress management, curbing procrastination, better health, spiritual growth, strengthening friendships? What are some positive steps you can take next year to meet those goals.
- Take some time at the end of the summer to recharge your batteries before you return to the classroom in the fall. You want to be refreshed when you return to campus to start another semester.
Have safe and happy summers. We look forward to your return in August. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Have you ever noticed when you are working with students that some law students seem to encounter more than their fair share of life's hardships? The student with academic difficulties is often the same person with financial issues, marital or family issues, personal health issues, and more. It seems for some of my law students that life difficulties come in more than the commonly espoused three in a row.
It often occurs to me that these students persevere against huge odds that would confound most people. The fact that these students with so many obstacles graduate, pass the bar, and become lawyers is really a tribute to their courage. They may not have the highest grade point averages, but they are heads above the crowd in backbone.
Unfortunately, students in the midst of life's obstacles often struggle through them without seeking support. They may not know that assistance exists. They may misjudge the collateral damage to their academics. Or they may let pride get in their way.
Each law school varies in its policies and procedures, but I encourage law students to ask for help when they are dealing with issues that interfere with their academic focus. At least find out your options so that you can make informed decisions.
Some possible resources for students are:
- Meetings with the academic support professional to help with more efficient and effective study skills and time management decisions while the student is juggling the personal circumstances.
- Meetings with an academic or student affairs staff member in the law school to support the student and provide advice on options and referrals.
- Appointments at the university's counseling center for an objective listener during the stressful circumstances that the student is facing.
- Appointments with the university's student health services to provide medical attention and referrals to outside doctors as appropriate.
- Discussion of academic procedures that allow students to postpone exams or papers, take an incomplete grade for additional time to complete coursework, take a course underload for a semester, file a leave of absence for a semester or year, or other options.
Students do not have to handle life's obstacles on their own. As ASP'ers we need to be as familiar as possible with the policies and procedures of our law schools and to make referrals to other law school or university staff and services as appropriate. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Monday, March 9, 2015
USC Professor Ned Snow has released two Property Law apps you might find helpful for your students:
The first app is called Property Law Made Simple. It provides the black-letter rules of Property, with examples and explanations to illustrate each concept. The app also provides 50 MBE-style practice problems, with detailed explanations for each problem. Perfect for learning, reviewing, or mastering 1L Property. Covers most topics (except future interests). It's available on iTunes and Google Play for$0.99.
The second app is called Future Interests Made Simple. It teaches Estates, Future Interests, and the Rule Against Perpetuities. Many examples and explanations illustrate each estate and interest. This app provides 60 practice problems with detailed explanations. It's available on iTunes and Google Play for $2.99.
Friday, March 6, 2015
We are pleased to announce this year’s full-day NY Academic Support Workshop, to be held from 9:30 to 5:30 at New York Law School on Friday, April 17. As usual, this will be a small and rather-intimate gathering of academic support professionals and colleagues actively working to learn from one another.
As is our usual practice, the afternoon sessions of the workshop will have an open agenda and room to include any subject of interest to those in attendance, while the morning sessions will be centered on a specific topic. For this year’s morning session we would like to concentrate on working with law students who have recently been placed on academic supervision or probation. How do we best help these students? What unique problems do they face? What sorts of pedagogies help them become motivated and effective learners? Any and all insights, discussions, ideas or presentations will be welcome.
One thing that makes all ASP gatherings exciting has always been our unique emphasis on interaction – ASP folks DO things together so that we can learn together. NY Workshop participants work with one another to develop or enhance our individual lessons, materials, presentations, or any other part of our professional endeavors. No one who comes is allowed to be a back-bencher. If you would like to attend, please let us know whether you want to share one of your own issues, ideas, etc., comment on ones brought by other participants, or both. And please let us know whether you think your topic/question/issue/material/presentation lends itself to our morning’s theme or to the more open-ended part of our agenda. When we confirm who will attend and what specific questions the participants plan to address, we will send out a finalized workshop agenda.
RSVP to Kris at email@example.com.
Since this is not a formal conference there is no fee to attend. We hope to see many of you soon!
Searchin' in the sun for another overload
I hear you singin' in the wire, I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line
And if it snows that stretch down south won't ever stand the strain
And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line" -- Wichita Lineman, written by Jimmy Webb
Monday, February 23, 2015
The Legal Skills Prof Blog recently posted this reference to a short piece on acronyms. I agree that acronyms and other abbreviations can cause confusion, ruin the flow of an essay, and cause the reader frustration. The article suggests a few useful guidelines on when to use them and when to avoid them. I have even had one bar examiner tell me to instruct students that their bar exam essays should not read like a text message. In an acronym, twitter/text, abbreviation heavy culture, this is a good reminder. Thus, I advise my students that when they are in doubt, they should write it out.
Thursday, February 19, 2015
In a lot of respects, Legal Writers have struggled with (and sometimes overcome) the professional challenges many ASPers face. Professor Ralph Brill brings some of these to light in his response to a University's President's Frank Look at Law Schools. Professor Brill's response also briefly touches on the disparate impact to women when Legal Writing, and I submit ASP, is undervalued. Similarly, Professor Flanagan highlighted sexism in a blog post early this year. It is hard to believe that these are issues we are still grappling with in 2015.
Monday, February 9, 2015
Monday, February 2, 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015
Saturday, January 17, 2015
ASP conferences and presentations frequently extol the virtues of group work. Books and articles suggest that group work would enhance legal education, make students better prepared for law practice, and make law school less isolating. Business schools rely on group projects. Despite the evidence, law schools hew to the familiar, and few 1L courses include group work, although some upper-division seminar and clinical courses include group exercises. For women, there may be some benefit to this arrangement.
Women are subject to the "secretary effect," where they are the secretary, the recorder, or the stenographer in group projects. The spit-balling, the creative thinking, and the leadership roles are taken by the men of the group. Women are expected to play supporting roles, while men take the lead, when they work in groups. This arrangement extends into adulthood.
I never liked group work, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed law school. In group projects, I felt like my contributions were never valued, I did more work than other members of the group, and I was stuck in ill-fitting roles where I could not demonstrate my competance. On the rare occasion I had to work in a group during law school, I sought out all-female groups, where I knew I would feel more comfortable.
Professionally, I see the same pattern. ASP is dominated by women, who rarely rise to leadership roles outside of our small community. ASP is designed to support students, but is frequently expected to support the (predominately) male tenured and tenure-track faculty. ASP, as a field, keeps the students in school, helps them achieve career success through bar support, yet rarely receives the credit for helping law schools meet accreditation standards. In ASP, we are still the unsung secretaries, the essential member of the group who is undervalued and overlooked.
Group Projects and the Secretary Effect
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Saturday, January 3, 2015
This semester has been eye-opening for me. I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about sexism in ASP. Although I am a dyed-in-the-wool, true-blue feminist, I've been lucky that I haven't faced much individual sexism (as opposed to institutional or systemic sexism, which are think are endemic to the academy). In the past, it's been one-off incidents, nothing that made me really question whether ASP fosters sexism. ASPs are predominantly run by untenured women, teaching in second-class rolls. While more men have joined our ranks, many of the (admittedly talented, committed) men that have been in ASP for more than 5 years have moved into tenured or high-level administrative positions, while I see equally talented, committed women stuck in the same second-class positions, without promotions or recognition, year after year.
I don't think this is solely due to institutional sexism. Studies have shown that women receive lower course evaluations than men. A tiny, needs-to-be-replicated study out of North Carolina State demonstrated that students will give higher course evaluations if they believe their instructor is a man--whether to not the instructor actually is a man or a woman. (See study here)
This semester I co-taught an ASP course with a fantastic, very talented male (tenured) professor. Mid-semester, we asked students to fill out qualitative evals, asking them to tell us what we should do and how to improve. While the majority of the surveys were helpful and fair, a disconcerting minority used the evaluations to make personal, sexist comments that had nothing to do with the substance of the course. Not one evaluation made personal comments about my male co-teacher.
I spoke with several experienced female professors after I read the evaluations. Everyone had a similar story; students feel it's okay to attack a female professor's attire, posture, hair style, or tone of voice in evaluations meant to measure teaching.
These attacks on female professors are damaging careers. Students evaluations are regularly used to renew contracts and earn tenure. The best administrators know to ignore these damaging comments in evaluations. But many evaluations are on a 1-5 scale, with female professors losing valuable points for things that have nothing to do with their ability to teach. And administrators can't distinguish between someone who needs help in the classroom, and someone who is receiving low scores because "their voice hurts my ears" or "their clothes are too bright for my taste."
ASP is integral to the success of the legal academy. It is time we started looking at the reasons why we are still second-class citizens.
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
The semester is over and you've spent the last week either sleeping or catching up on everything you put off during exams. You've still got a few weeks until next semester starts so it is time to find a balance between rest and relaxation, and reenergizing so you can start the new year off right.
The first goal is to stay healthy:
- Drink plenty of water: we often eat when what our body really needs is hydration. Drink a glass of water the next time you feel sluggish or have the munchies. Odds are this will do the trick.
- Get moving: in addition to physical benefits, regular exercise gives you more energy, improves your mood and lowers stress.
Next, do something each day:
- Plan your day: even if you are on vacation, identify two or three things to accomplish each day. This prevents the stress of scrambling at the last minute.
- Use your brain: you don’t have to read legal tomes or memorize statutes but you should learn something new every day. Increasing your knowledge keeps you inspired and motivated.
- Reflect daily: end each day with a few minutes of reflection of what you’ve accomplished (not what you haven’t done).
Last, focus on what makes you happy:
- Express gratitude: identifying things you are grateful for promotes happiness and increases self-worth.
- Clean your desk/room: doing this might not make you happy but the end result will. A clean space allows you to focus on your work instead of the clutter.
- Indulge yourself: set aside time to indulge yourself (just a little) so that you don’t resent having to work or study.
Too much of any one thing is never good so use these next few weeks to find a balance. It will be both enjoyable and productive and you’ll have a good foundation for next semester.
Friday, December 19, 2014
Law students breathe a sigh of relief once all of their exams are over and the last papers turned in. It is such a good feeling to have the semester over! No more studying for the time being!
Alas, the relief is short-lived for some students. They begin almost immediately to worry about the final grades for their courses. For some students, the worry is caused by being too close to the GPA needed to meet academic standards. For other students, the worry is caused by wanting a certain GPA for qualifying for a certain law firm's job application cut-off or retaining scholarship aid or achieving some other standard for a law-school honor.
Whatever the reason for the worry, it can cause sleepless nights and self-doubt until the grades are finally posted. It is the lack of control over the grades that makes students anxious. Not only do they need to do their personal best, but they need to achieve a high enough score to "beat the curve" for the class.
The recommended percentages for each grade bracket of most law schools' curves mean that the overall class performance determines the grades given. Students know that if everyone in the class knew the material and performed well on the exam then just 2 or 3 points can be the difference between a higher or lower letter grade. They realize that some folks will get low grades no matter how large the break between the lowest C and the next grouping. No wonder students sign up for seminars that often do not have to conform to the recommended curve.
It is important to put grades into perspective while waiting for the outcomes:
- You cannot change anything about the exam that is already completed or the paper that is already turned in. Stewing about the misread fact pattern, the forgotten rule, the missed issue, the skimpy case analysis, and more will not change anything. We are not perfect, so it is inevitable in law exams and assignments that perfection will not be reached. All of us remember "the ones that got away" in our law school experiences.
- A final exam grade reflects one's performance on one set of questions on one day at one time. Any student who was sick, tired, stressed, or unfocused during the exam can know that the grade reflects those less than optimal circumstances and not just knowledge/application.
- Over the full spectrum of a law degree, students benefit from the curve as often as they get hurt by the curve. It evens out over time. The break in the curve gives you a higher grade on one exam but may catch you with a lower grade on another.
- A low grade does not mean you are less intelligent, less worthy, or less talented than the day you walked across the threshold of your law school for the first time your 1L year. It merely means that you need to implement some new strategies and forge ahead. Do not allow grades to undermine your self-worth.
- Grades indicate opportunities for improvement rather than just measures of performance. There are lots of ways to improve on test-taking whether the exams are true-false, multiple choice, short answer, fact-pattern essay, or some other variation. ASP professionals can assist students in evaluating their problem areas and work on strategies with them.
After the initial angst of grades that are less than you hoped for, pull yourself together. You can do this with assistance. Review your exams or papers with your faculty members to get feedback on what you did well and what you need to improve. Then make an appointment with your academic success professional to implement a plan for that improvement. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Yesterday, my wife and I were having lunch in a restaurant when someone suddenly shouted, "Alex Ruskell!" The shout wasn't directed at me or anyone else. I noticed a group of law students sitting a few tables away, and I assumed they were the source.
I had no idea what the shout meant. My wife thought the shout's tone sounded a lot like Adventure Time's James Baxter, the horse who repeatedly says his name while balancing on a beachball to make people happy. In case you haven't seen it:
I'd like to think my students think of me as a horse who repeatedly says his name while balancing on a beachball to make people happy, but I started worrying that maybe it was somthing negative.
My wife and I spent the majority of the rest of lunch trying to decide what the shout meant. Was it good? (my wife). Was it bad? (me). Was it what ladies say when they envision the perfect man? (my wife). Were they saying I owed them money? (me). Were they just being weird and wanted to see if I would hear them, because people get totally weird in law school? (my wife). Were they planning who they would eat first if they were stranded on a deserted island? (me). Was it what students say when they need help? (my wife). Was it a reference to the fact I didn't introduce myself at my last student presentation until I'd already finished it? (me). Clearly, I could've walked over and asked them, but that probably would have been pretty creepy.
The whole experience got me thinking about student evaluations. I do student evaluations for my tutors, and although they are 99 percent fantastic, there is always some crank with an axe to grind. This year, one of my female tutors was called a couple names in an evaluation, apparently from a student who was mad she wouldn't give him handouts without his attendance in tutoring (which I tell my tutors to do). She wasn't upset exactly, but she was worried it had lowered my opinion of her tutoring.
In my experience, people spend a lot more time worrying about a negative (or seemingly negative) evaluation than they do feeling good about the good evaluations. But how much value does a negative evaluation really have, and how much weight should be put into them? Is a "negative" evaluation always negative? For example, a student called one of my colleagues "feisty" once -- was that an actual bad evaluation, some kind of weird praise, or was it just sexist (we spent some time together trying to figure out that one)? Are the negative evaluations somehow more "true," while the positive evaluations are merely students being nice? Are negative evaluations ever about the teaching? For women, are "negative" evaluations more likely (as recent studies suggest they are)? For schools that advertise themselves as "student-centered," is this really the best way to decide what the students actually need? Are evaluations basically a popularity contest?
When someone asks me who my favorite teacher of all time was, I always say one of my junior high teachers -- mainly because he taught us how to do "The Bird" for the Valentine's Dance and referred to me as his "number one jellyhead." I can't really say whether I learned anything, but I do remember how often he threw me out of class, his sartorial choices, and his claims that certain STDs could be cured with hefty wallops from a rubber hammer. That kind of stuff is what made him my favorite. It also led my wife to believe I had made the guy up until she met someone else that had gone to my junior high.
I am sure I didn't like or praise many worthy teachers because they didn't know who Morris Day and the Time were or demonstrated how things would go with the rubber hammer if I wasn't careful.
I am also sure that my tutor did a great job and that whatever mental real estate she had ceded over to that one poor evaluation was wasted.
But, unfortunately, that seems to be how the mind works, whether justified or not.