Friday, March 28, 2014
I'm a huge fan of Peter T. Wendel's illustration of the different "planes" of a case (from his book, Deconstructing Legal Analysis). The idea that there are three discrete levels of thought and analysis involved in cases seems to be helpful and rather mind-blowing for many students. I've also found it particularly helpful when I am trying to help students categorize and breakdown different rules and ideas (like breaking up the levels of scrutiny in a Con Law question, or splitting apart subject matter and personal jurisdiction on an essay). So, I drew a picture.
I'm not sure if it exactly inspires confidence, but it gives students something to look at during a lecture besides me.
Monday, March 17, 2014
If you have photos that you took in January 2014 at AALS in New York City during the Section on Academic Support business meeting, program, or lunch, please send them to Louis Schulze at Florida International University School of Law for inclusion in our next AALS newsletter. His e-mail address is email@example.com. Thank you!
Saturday, March 8, 2014
Our readers may be interested in a recent article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education that discusses being a good dean or a mediocre dean. Although it is written by a pair of former education deans, it is relevant to the lives of law school deans as well.
I noted the point about how important certain "dispositions" are for a good dean. Perhaps these dispositions explain in part why some of our own ASP'ers have gone on to being highly successful deans! The link is here: A Tale of 2 Deans. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
If you have not discovered it yet, I recommend taking a look at the Listen Like a Lawyer Blog. Jennifer Murphy Romig from Emory University School of Law has some postings that deal with law students specifically. Here are several to look at that deal with listening in the law school classroom:
- September 30, 2013: Listening check-up for first-semester law students
- October 11, 2013: The listening technique that worked for me in law school
- February 11, 2014: Listening in law school: second-semester update.
There are other law school related postings that deal with externships, interviews, and other topics. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Check out Lisa McElroy's post, which highlights the discrepancies in status and salary that legal writers (and ASPers) face. http://www.dorfonlaw.org/2014/02/are-legal-writing-professors-like-nurses.html
Thursday, January 9, 2014
The woman sat on the other side of the desk from me. She looked angry, and I was starting to get sick as I saw all the things within easy arm-reach that she could club or stab me with -- my 1983 Safety Patrol award (marble), my "Bonecrusher" nameplate (sharp-looking wood and brass), two pairs of scissors (why do I have two pairs?), a tape dispenser, and a stapler.
She was mad, she was failing, and she was pretty sure it was her professor's fault. "He doesn't tell us what the law is -- EVER -- we have to figure it out for ourselves! If he's not going to teach us or tell us anything, what is he doing up there?"
My initial gut reaction was that the student was simply looking to be spoonfed the information, and that she had to learn that law school was not going to work that way. Part of me (probably my right ankle) started to think that this was due to laziness or a lack of intellectual curiousity or training -- all things I was going to fix with weekly meetings to keep her on track. Probably lots of practice questions. Maybe some multiple choice. Maybe some sample outlines.
But then, another part of me (my index finger on my left hand) began to think that maybe her problem, deep down, is that we live in an amazing world where techology has made everything instantly available. And then another part of me (forehead, just above the bald spot), thought -- SHE MAY NEVER REMEMBER A WORLD ANY DIFFERENT AND THAT MAY HAVE WARPED EVERYTHING.
A few years ago I was teaching a class on copyright (mainly music sampling), and I was sitting in front of the class playing them songs and samples. Someone brought up the mashup artist Girl Talk, and someone brought up Danger Mouse's Grey Album, and then we were off, bouncing around the Internet, finding this song and that sample so we all understood exactly what the cases and parties were talking about, and exactly what artists were trying to create.
And every time it took the three seconds or so to bring up whatever thing we were looking for, you would have thought we were sentenced to 10 years in a penal colony. Eyes rolled up to the ceiling, pencils tapped -- even I, the guy running the show who still remembered "4-6 weeks delivery" for a Boba Fett action figure, was getting frustrated with these minimal holdups.
I think this amazing, techno, jet-pack world we live in is actually doing a number on thinking and education. Students are not getting more needy or less intelligent or less prepared. They just can't wait.
The amazingness of our world makes many of the basic tasks of law school incredibly difficult because those tasks take time -- reading long and dry opinions, sitting in one place, listening to someone in front of you explaining something, looking at a tax code -- when one's mind wants to wander and ...
BING BANG BOOM -- I CAN INSTANT MESSAGE! WORDS WITH FRIENDS! A DRONE JUST DELIVERED MY NEW SHOES! I CAN INSTANTLY FIND OUT WHO WAS IN MORRISSEY'S FIRST BAND! I HAVE 400 BIRTHDAY MESSAGES AND 9 FRIEND REQUESTS! MY BEST FRIEND IS LIVE-TWEETING AND INSTAGRAMMING THE BIRTH OF HER FIRST CHILD! THIS CAT CAN JUGGLE FLAMING TORCHES! I CAN SEE AND SPEAK TO THE ENTIRE WORLD, GET ALL THE KNOWLEDGE THAT IS OUT THERE, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW, QUICKER THAN IMMEDIATELY, FROM THIS VERY SEAT--I DON'T HAVE TO WAIT FOR ANYTHING!
We ask our students to swim deeply into the law -- we ask them to consider and calculate and ruminate -- all things that they will need in practice, but things they may have never had to practice in their lives.
"What should I do next semester? What do I need to know for the exam? Do you have an outline and practice questions I can do?" asked the woman, her fingers twitching just above Prosser and Keeton on Torts (oh no -- how'd that get there?)
"I think we need to work on waiting -- let's start with your daily schedule," I said, realizing we would need to start at the beginning, slowly. (Alex Ruskell)
Monday, December 23, 2013
All of us here at the Law School Academic Support Blog hope that you and yours enjoy the holiday season. The Blog will be taking a vacation while law schools are closed for the semester break. We will look forward to having our readers back in early January.
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Here are a few more study tips from students and others:
- Consider putting your outlines on your Kindle for ease in carrying them with you - especially if you are leaving for the Thanksgiving Break.
- For first-year courses, you might want to consider purchasing the maps at picjur.com: Torts, Contracts, Civil Procedure, and Criminal Law are all available in visual versions.
- If you rather listen to text rather than read it, you might want to consider two options: Dictation and Speech for Macs reads text that can be converted with iTunes for your iPhone; Outlines Outloud is an app that syncs your computer outlines with your iPhone for listening.
- Check out the website for the Board of Law Examiners in your state to see if they post old exam questions for your state-specific courses; practice questions are sometimes hard to find for state-specific topics, and old bar questions can be a plus.
- Remember to check your own law school's exam database for past exams in a course; even if they are for a different professor, the exams may provide good practice questions.
- Use a table to help you easily see the variations of the same rule (common law, restatement, uniform code, majority jurisdiction, minority jurisdiction, etc.) that you have to learn for an exam.
Exploring solutions that others have already found successful saves you time at a critical point in the semester. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, November 1, 2013
If you are interested in membership in AASE (Association of Academic Support Educators) please note that your inquiries should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. You should receive an email with an application within a week of your inquiry. AASE is moving the membership process from UNLV to a more permanent model, with one email address.
And just a reminder that AASE is planning a FABULOUS conference in Indianapolis, to be held May 30-June 1, 2014.
For more information about AASE, please see http://www.academicsupporteducators.org
Sunday, October 13, 2013
There are many things that we want our students to accomplish in law school. Each law school has a mission statement and various goals/objectives. All of us have been in on discussions as to what we want to have happen during three years of law school (or four or two depending on the model).
I made the following list for my students to ponder because some of them had not really thought about what they wanted to accomplish in law school and how it relates to future practice. The list is not all-inclusive nor is it in a perfect order. Instead it is a starting point for my students' reflection.
- Learn how to solve legal problems.
- Learn to use a legal vocabulary precisely.
- Learn the details of our U.S. legal system.
- Learn basic legal concepts and principles for a variety of courses.
- Learn how to use legal reasoning strategies to analyze any legal problem.
- Learn how to argue both sides of any legal problem.
- Learn how to use policy arguments appropriately.
- Learn how to research the law.
- Learn how to write objective and persuasive legal documents.
- Learn ethical principles that will promote success in practice.
- Learn professional skills to manage work assignments, time, and stress.
- Learn legal skills and a foundation in the law to facilitate passing the bar exam on the first attempt.
- Learn legal skills, a foundation in the law, and ethical behavior to facilitate being a respected lawyer among your colleagues and clients.
If students get too focused on the next reading assignment or the next exam question, they miss why they are here and what they can gain from the experience. ASPers work with faculty to help our students accomplish these items before they graduate. It is a team effort. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Law students, as well as recent graduates studying for the bar exam, often lament that family and friends do not understand why they are studying all the time and feel unable to participate in social events on a regular basis or spontaneously any more.
Law students find that others expect them to act the same way they did before law school. Whether they were in college, employed, or in another graduate program previously, the law student is expected to be ready, willing, and able to go out to dinner and the movies, to spend a weekend out of town, to attend every family event, and so forth.
Bar studiers have the difficulty of others thinking that now after three years of law school the bar exam should be a breeze. Their family and friends have waited three long years to have them back to normal! They did not expect the new graduates to turn around almost immediately and become hermits (in their minds) yet again.
The only people who readily understand the life of law school and bar study are those who have been in the midst of those commitments as law students and bar studiers. There are two resources for families and friends that may be useful to pass on to help these important people in life to understand:
- For law students: The Companion Text to Law School: Understanding and Surviving Life with a Law Student by Andrew J. McClurg (Thomson Reuters 2012).
- For bar studiers: "Chapter 4: Preparing Your Significant Others for the Bar Exam" in Pass the Bar! by Denise Riebe and Michael Hunter Schwartz (Carolina Academic Press 2006).
Each law student or bar studier has to determine realistic boundaries on their time - what can I do and what can I not do and still succeed on my goals. Then a heart-to-heart discussion with family and friends will hopefully help lead to understanding. Some law students or bar studiers have to rehearse their side of the discussions.
Ultimately, the law students or bar studiers have to honor their own goals and boundaries. Giving in or being consumed by guilt will not help. The best you can do is try to explain diplomatically and use one of the resources listed to provide an outside perspective if you think it will help. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, October 4, 2013
It is the point in the semester that students (especially 1Ls) remark that they are missing family, friends, pets, and other aspects of the environment that they had over the summer. Their sense of loss seems worse than earlier in the semester because the newness of the semester has worn off and the approach of exams is a reality.
Some students talk about missing younger siblings, nieces, and nephews. Some students talk about missing parents, grandparents, and aunts or uncles. Some students miss their dogs and cats - or horses since this is Texas after all. For others, it is members of the familiar community that are missed (pastors, staff at a place they volunteered, mentors, colleagues at a summer job). It may also be certain routines from home: the local basketball league, the local karate studio, the regulars at the coffe shop near home.
It helps if students feel at home in the new community that surrounds their law school. The temptation is to believe that law school allows no time for life. Here are some ways for students to feel more connected to the people that matter and were left behind and to build a new sense of community in the new location:
- Build time into your schedule to connect with friends and family back home by telephone. Perhaps the telephone call will be at the end of the evening as a reward for staying on track throughout the day. Or schedule a longer phone call for the weekend as something to look forward to when your time is more flexible.
- Schedule a time each week when you will write a letter or postcard (yes, receiving snail mail is special to folks!) to your younger sibling or grandmother or another person you are missing. You can also send e-mail, but it does not have the same special quality for the receiver.
- If you are missing being around children, hang out for an afternoon with a law student who has children and enjoy that family's little ones.
- If you are missing your pet, ask fellow law students if you can play fetch with the family dogs or love up on their cats.
- Volunteer once a week in your law school community to make a connection in your new town. You will meet new people and feel that you are contributing to your new environment.
- Join a church, synagogue, or other religious group in your new community to fill the void you feel because you no longer are near your home group.
- Set up a routine that mimics your home routine: go to the recreation center at your university, look for a karate studio in your new city, play a pick up basketball game with fellow law students.
You do not want to overextend yourself with too many activities. However, you also do not want to isolate yourself. Find ways to have reasonable outlets in your law school environment.
Setting up a routine time management schedule to use your time efficiently and effectively can help you see where you can become involved without feeling guilty. If you need help with time management, contact the academic success professional at your law school for assistance. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
As I imagine is the case in most law schools, our orientation at South Carolina is absolutely packed. This year, I only had 20 minutes to speak, where in years past I might have had an hour or two. I used to try to cram in as much as I could -- from time management to study groups to stress to exam writing -- but this year there was no way I could do so. Consequently, I took a different approach and focused on the Top Eight Regrets of Students Who Did Poorly in Their First Semester (I am a huge fan of listicles -- I'll read anything if the title has "Top" followed by some number -- considering the success of Buzzfeed and Cracked, I have the feeling many of our students feel the same way).
Over the years, I've asked poor-performing students what they wished they had done differently, and this is the list I got:
1. Didn't attend tutoring or Academic Success Workshops.
2. Didn't have or stick to a strict study schedule (treat law school like a job).
3. Didn't outline until the very end of the semester (or relied on other students' outlines).
4. Didn't meet with their professors.
5. Treated law school like undergrad.
6. Let Legal Research, Analysis, and Writing get away from them.
7. Spent all of their time reading and preparing for class -- did not do practice questions, work on oultines, or meet with study groups.
8. Let law school stress overwhelm them.
I focused on this list in Orientation, and as the semester has progressed, students have repeatedly mentioned one or another of the points (either in tutoring or Workshops or during individual meetings). A presentation structure and focus borne out of basic necessity seems to have lodged itself in the minds of the student body in a way that a broader presentation did not, and I think it has had a direct effect on the large amount of student traffic the Academic Success Program has had. Even though the semester has been going for several weeks now, I'm thinking about sending it around again, just to remind them. (Alex Ruskell)
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Today is National Punctuation Day! Any of us who work with students on the legal writing aspects of law school or lawyering skills know that many students struggle with correct punctuation. Commas show up in all sorts of places they are not needed. Semicolons are exotic for our students. Where the punctuation goes in relation to the final quotation mark in a sentence is a mystery for many. And apostrophes are appearing in amazing locations.
My praise, empathy, and heartfelt thanks to all ASP'ers and professors who join in the fight to train lawyers who will correctly place the punctuation in their drafted legislation, contracts, legal memoranda, and other documents. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, September 22, 2013
Thursday, September 19, 2013
In the last few weeks, I have had students commenting in sessions on their inability to hear professors. It is not because the students are hearing-impaired. Instead it seems to be from two sources: less than optimal classroom acoustics or professor characteristics. What has struck me about the problem is that the students (whether 1L or upper-division) are reluctant to mention the problem to the professors. The students in the back rows prefer to miss out on sections of class rather than take any risk to resolve the problem.
Now I can understand more readily when the hesitation is because of a soft-spoken or mumbling professor. After all, one wants to be diplomatic and not seem critical. But when acoustics are involved, there is no "personal failing" on the part of the professor that would make it awkward.
Here are some possible ways for students to handle the situation tactfully:
- For true acoustical problems, see if the AV/IT staff can approach the professor about wearing a microphone because they are aware of the poor acoustics and want to remedy the problem.
- Once a professor is aware of the problem and trying to remedy it, let the professor know if you can't hear: wave from the back of the room as an agreed-upon signal for example.
- If the problem is hearing fellow students when they are answering/asking questions, perhaps ask the professor to prompt students to speak up or to hand the students a hand-held microphone each time.
- If the room has other empty seats, move to a spot where it is easier to hear. If the professor uses a seating chart, ask permission to move to an empty seat before doing so.
- Blame it on acoustics - perhaps even when it is not the total cause of the problem. If people in the back two or three rows cannot hear the professor, then indicate that there is a dead spot and would the professor mind using a microphone or speaking louder.
- Have a group of students approach the faculty member together so that no one person feels embarrassed about bringing it up. Or write a diplomatically worded group note/e-mail to the professor.
- If it is a class with a teaching assistant (for example, a first-year doctrinal course), explain the problem to the TA and see if that person is willing to approach the professor so that the information can be passed on anonymously.
Most professors will be very glad to know if there is a problem. A diplomatic discussion between students and the professor would be ideal. After all, it shows that the students think what the professor is saying is important and they do not want to miss it! (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
People expect that all lawyers are good public speakers. Lawyers, and even law students, are frequently asked to be the spokesperson for a group in many different settings on the theory that since they are lawyers, they are quick on their feet. However, speaking in front of a group can be a very stressful and frightening experience for some people. Many law schools require students take a course which includes an oral advocacy component. Other students may choose to take a trial practice course or other class which requires a verbal presentation. What can a student do to conquer their fears and become an eloquent public speaker? As we know from the television show, Fear Factor, the best way to overcome a fear is to face it. The problem becomes finding the best opportunity to practice this skill. This can be difficult due to the lack of time and resources. Some possible strategies to practice include having a student start an oral argument study group. Students can gather at regular intervals and practice speaking in front of each other in one of the school’s moot court rooms. If students are reluctant to practice with each other, encourage a student to attend or start a Toastmasters group at your school. There is an excellent book called The Articulate Attorney by Brian Johnson and Marsha Hunter which breaks down the process of public speaking into the areas of body awareness, mind discipline and control of the voice. Help students really understand from where their fear arises. For many, the fear of being “judged” by their peers in class while speaking is the root cause. Students should know that as lawyers, they will be judged daily by clients, opposing counsel and judges. This is an opportunity for the student to see that practicing the skill of conversation in the form of client counseling, oral argument or giving a public speech is invaluable. Once the student is comfortable talking in front of a group, transition to the next level by arranging with your media center to record a student’s moot court argument. Debrief together in person. Examine what is happening on the tape and ask the student what they are thinking and feeling at each moment. They might be surprised to find that they do not appear as nervous as they feel. Finally, help the student to find strategies that make them prepared to speak by taking a written script down to an outline and finally to a memorized list of topics. Hopefully with time, the student will feel more comfortable speaking in front of a group and maybe even come to enjoy it. (Bonnie Stepleton)
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Thursday, August 8, 2013
Most law schools will hold orientation for new first-year students within the next couple of weeks. It is an exciting time - and a bit scary. Here is my top ten list of things 1L students should think about and do before arriving for the first day of law school:
- Move in a few days ahead of time to get unpacked and settled. You will feel less hassled if your apartment is ready, you have explored your new city, and you have taken care of cable, Internet, and errands before orientation begins.
- Take care of as many school-related tasks as you can beforehand: parking permit, school e-mail account, immunizations, payment of bills, and other items. Most law schools have ways for you to accomplish many tasks on-line ahead of your arrival.
- Make a list of the reasons why you want to go to law school and to be a lawyer. When you get tired during the semester, the list will remind you why all of the hard work is worth it.
- Make a list of the personal attributes that you have and the values that you hold dear. These things make you unique and worthwhile as a person. When you get overwhelmed and begin to wonder who you are, the list will ground you and remind you that you are still that unique and valuable person.
- Consider what you want to say to introduce yourself to the myriad of new people you will meet. Everyone who is a new first-year student is outstanding, so bragging and bravado will probably be less successful than you may think. You want to come across confident and genuine. Also think about the different audiences that you will be meeting: fellow 1L students; upper-division students; professors; decanal staff.
- Spend time with your family and friends now. You are going to enter a very busy phase in your life. You will not have the same amount of leisure time as you have been used to previously. Fill your last summer days with quality time spent with others.
- Participate in your favorite activities before you leave home. Go to the movies; play pool with friends; go hiking or camping; spend the evenings salsa dancing; read fluff novels. You can have regular down time in law school if you manage your time well. However, some activities may need to be saved for special occasions or vacations rather than being weekly events.
- Prepare your mind set for new experiences, different challenges, and the need to adopt new strategies. Law school will require new study methods, present new ways of writing, and require acceptance of "it depends" analysis. You will be less stressed if you can remain flexible and open to new ideas and methods. Most law students feel uncertain initially until they gain more expertise in this new environment.
- Get in touch with your spiritual side. Whatever your belief system is, you will feel less alone and overwhelmed if you are not carrying the weight of the world all by yourself.
- Get plenty of sleep and establish a routine now. For your brain to work well, you need at least 7-8 hours of sleep at regular times each night. Start going to bed and getting up now to match what your class schedule will be. If you do not know your classes yet, aim for 11 p.m. bed time and 7 a.m. wake up.
Safe travels to your new law school. Best wishes for your semester. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Summer is the season that non-bar prep ASPer's decide they are going to get caught up on everything. However, that is rarely the case. Although it can feel like eternity to be stuck in an office when the sun is shining and the beach is beckoning (especially for those of us in New England and the Midwest, where the sun only shines 5-6 months a year), the reality is that the summer flies by. UMass begins orientation next week. Classes start for all students in two weeks. My to-do list is still very long, and I have little time to finish everything that needs to get done. Despite the pit in my stomach when I look at my list, I know everything will get completed. Here are some tips for wrapping up the summer:
1) Make a two-column list:
In the first column, lists everything that has a concrete due date. In the second column, list all the amorphous, ambitious projects that have no end-date. Start with the projects that have a concrete deadline that is coming up soon, things like a lesson plan for orientation, or finishing a syllabus. At the end of the day, take 20-30 minutes to analyze your date-less projects; are these projects that need to be done? Are these projects actually many mini-projects, that can be tackled by task, over time?
2) If you have big projects on your list, break them down into manageable components:
I read some great advice in an Inc. magazine article; whenever you have a major goal that you can't seem to reach, work backwards. Break down everything that needs to get done, then group the tasks into categories. When you check off a category, you will feel a special excitement--you can see that you are getting closer to your goal.
3) Minimize distractions:
Don't multi-task. You just get a lot of things half-completed, usually poorly. If you need to compulsively read the news (me) or compulsively check email (many people), try one of the free software programs that de-activates you from the internet for a period of time (see Freedom, http://macfreedom.com/). This article gives basic information on ten other programs that help you focus on one project at a time http://99u.com/articles/6969/10-online-tools-for-better-attention-focus.
4) Schedule your projects, and move meetings around to accommodate project completion (not the other way around):
There is an excellent TED talk that discusses why meetings are a waste of time (see here: http://www.ted.com/talks/jason_fried_why_work_doesn_t_happen_at_work.html). Alas, I also find they are a necessary evil. But I find that when I put meetings first, and task-completion second, I never get anything accomplished, but I have acquired a new to-do list from all the meetings I've attended. When you really need to get things done, it's best to switch priorities. I schedule tasks into my calendar, and all meetings have to be scheduled around the tasks.
5) Schedule your email:
In nine years working in academia, if there is no constant refrain, it's that email is a massive time-suck. I've read a thousand different suggestions for minimizing that time-suck, from only reading email three time a day, to answering all emails immediately, first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. None of these worked for me. However, I learned to stop using email as an excuse. I let people know when I will be answering emails immediately, and when they should expect a wait before they receive a response. What I have found is that people respond quite well when I let them know ahead of time that I am in a busy period and they may have to wait for a response. Students, who are known for becoming angry when professors don't respond to their emails immediately, have been amongst the most understanding when I have let them know they may need to wait for a response. Students become angry when they feel like they are being ignored. If you let them know what is on your plate, and promise them a response within a certain time-frame, 95% of them will be great about the delay. When I know I have to get things accomplished, I set an auto-reply on my email that tells people what I am doing and when they should expect to hear from me (usually within two weeks). I also add a message that lets them know who they should contact in case of emergency.