Thursday, August 4, 2016
"A great sports instructor or coach builds us up, but also teaches us important lessons of emotional management, such as confidence, perseverance, resilience and how to conquer fear and anxiety. Many times, these lessons have a permanent impact on our mind-set and attitude well beyond the playing field." So says columnist Elizabeth Bernstein in her article: "A Coach's Influence Off the Field." http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-coachs-influence-off-the-field-1470073923?tesla=y
That got me thinking about life…my life as an Academic Support Professional. With the start of a new academic year upon us, perhaps this is an opportunity - as Goldie Pritchard puts it - to try something new. So, I've been thinking and reflecting about my life as an ASP-er, and, in particular, that I might focus on something new--serving as a coach to our law students.
You see, and this is where the rub is, the most significant teachers in my life have, well, not just been teachers. Rather, they've been more than teachers; they've been coaches. And, not just sport coaches. More like life coaches. Whether they were teaching political science or trying to help me throw a ball, they all left indelible imprints, imprints that made me a better person and that went well beyond the classroom (or the baseball field)...because they taught me lessons that were much bigger than just about political science or baseball.
Let me give you an example from political science. I once had a professor by the name of Sandel. No offense, but I can't recall the principles of Kant's categorical imperative or Hannah Arndt's political theories. But, I can vividly remember something much more important that I learned, in particular, to call people by their name…to invite students to comment and participate…to let people speak…by truly listening to them. Those were lessons well given.
Or, in another context regarding life's many daily struggles, as Bernstein sums up in her column, coaches teach us lessons that help us when the going gets tough, for example, in Bernstein's words, "...when I’m on deadline or giving a speech to an intimidating crowd: You need to arrest a negative thought immediately, in midair. Remind yourself that you are competent and know what you’re doing. Slow your breath." Let me be frank. Those are the lessons that got me through law school. And, I learned them through teachers that were, really, coaches.
Thus, as we begin to embark on a new academic season, perhaps I should focus more on coaching. After all, our work brings us in contact with people that are really struggling over learning to be learners in a new learning environment…an environment that we call law school...with people that need us to coach. So, what does a coach do? According to Bernstein, a coach says things that change our lives for the better…and for ever, such as:
“Great job in difficult circumstances.”
“You should be really proud of yourself.”
But, in my own words, a coach, first and foremost, listens and observes others. That I can do, if only, I'd stop talking so much! (Scott Johns)
Thursday, June 9, 2016
Congratulations to all of the new 1Ls who will be arriving on our campuses this August! We look forward to your joining us in your journey to being attorneys.
What should you be doing this summer to prepare for law school? Here are some suggestions:
- Spend time with family and friends. Your time as a law student will be very busy, so you want to have quality relaxation time this summer. Take advantage of this time to have family trips, lots of conversations, and companionship with the people who are special in your life.
- Get your finances in place as soon as possible. Make a budget that you can stick to during the semester so that you will not run out of money or run up credit card debt. Working during your first year of law school as a full-time student is not doable.
- Use the summer to get yourself in shape: regular exercise, good nutrition, a regular sleep schedule of 7-8 hours. Your brain will be doing heavy lifting for the next 3 years. You need to be healthy to have optimal learning. Many law students run into trouble because they do not take care of themselves, and their academics suffer. Undertake solid routines this summer to prepare yourself for a rigorous academic year, and then continue good routines during the year.
- If at all possible, move into your law school apartment at least two weeks before orientation begins. Get all of the boxes unpacked, the cable hooked up, the pictures hung, and the refrigerator stocked with nutritious foods. Explore your new city. Locate the pharmacy, dry cleaners, grocery store, and other necessities. You will have first-day reading assignments for your classes, and the work will not let up until the end of exams. You want your living situation completely settled before you start orientation and classes.
- Realize that law school is not the same as undergraduate school. You need to learn new study strategies to succeed in law school. Although you study cases on a daily basis, you need to synthesize material through outlines. Law school exams test differently than other disciplines; you are asked to apply the law to analyze new fact scenarios. Pay careful attention in orientation to study skill sessions and attend fall workshops provided by the academic support professionals at your law school.
- Realize also that you need to study more hours per week than you have ever had to study. You need to be organized, efficient, and effective in your studies. To achieve the best grades, you need to do more each week than just daily class preparation. You need to synthesize the material into outlines and review regularly to prepare for exams. You also need to complete practice questions throughout the semester to monitor your learning. Cramming does not work in law school. There is too much material to learn in the last few weeks. The rule of thumb to get all tasks done every week (class prep, outlines, review, practice questions, legal research and writing) is 50-55 hours per week.
- Analyze what your main distractions are and how they cause you to procrastinate. For many law students, the distractions are electronic: cell phone calls, email, texting, gaming. Law students cannot afford to waste hours a day on distractions. Weaning yourself from your electronic handcuffs over the summer will help you use time more effectively during the semester.
- Read as much as possible. Read a mix of fiction and non-fiction books. You need to get into training for reading 30-60 pages per night for each course. You will not be as shocked by the workload if you spend lots of time reading over the summer and practice reading for comprehension.
- I do not recommend trying to read torts, contracts, civil procedure, or other legal course materials over the summer. For the most part, you will get little out of it without the classroom experience. Plus, most law courses will not cover all of the topics that you are reading about on your own.
- There are some very good books on law school written by academic support professionals. I would recommend starting with Herb Ramy's Succeeding in Law School as summer reading. Ruth McKinney's Reading Like a Lawyer would be another good summer choice. During the school year, Alex Ruskell's A Weekly Guide to Being a Model Law Student can keep you on schedule. Carolina Academic Press has a wide variety of good books on law school, legal reasoning, and other law school topics.
- Non-lawyer family members will not fully understand what your future 3 years will be like - unless you go to law school, it is hard to understand the demands. You may want to share Andrew McClurg's book entitled A Companion Text to Law School with them to help them to understand what your three years will be like.
Have enjoyable and battery-charging summers. You want to hit the ground running when you arrive in the fall. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, September 14, 2014
This fall, I completed my eleventh orientation at my law school. It hardly seems possible. This year, our keynote speaker was a person named Maureen Sanders. She was chosen because she embodies all the qualities one would want in a law school orientation speaker. She is a graduate of our school. She was a tenured professor and currently teaches as an adjunct professor. She has a thriving private practice specializing in civil rights and constitutional law. Finally, she is an eloquent and entertaining speaker. With her permission, I am sharing her “tips” from her talk. It strikes me that many orientation speakers give similar advice to incoming first year students. I hope that as students settle in to their schedules and routines they will not forget the advice that Professor Sanders shares and that is likely similar to advice given at many other law schools at their orientations.
Tip #1: Remember that how you act here over the next three years will be remembered by your classmates, your professors and the law school community staff.
Tip #2: Keep your life. Remain human. Remember how to talk about something other than the law so your “people” will still like you and so you won’t forget how to talk to “real” people because one of the most important skills you need as a lawyer is the ability to listen, really listen to people from all walks of life…no matter what kind of law you end up doing.
Tip #3 Spend some time while you are in law school figuring out what you can do to contribute to your communities…what do you care about?….animals, education, wilderness, mental illness, homeless, open government, less government, more government, --be a part of the community dialogue and action as a law student and later as a lawyer.
Tip #4: Don’t become a lawyer whose reputation is that your opposing counsel must put everything in writing because you can’t be trusted. So back to my point….which if I haven’t been clear is-----be a professional law student.
Tip #5 Don’t think, ”I don’t really need to know this, because I’m going to do this other kind of law”….well you just never know. And even if you stay the course you anticipate, in order to do one kind of law, you need to know the other areas to do the job for your clients.
Finally, as a colleague of Professor Sanders advised her when she asked them what she should say at orientation, “Tell them that law is an incredible profession—endlessly interesting and you can do some real good for people and impact how we, as a society, structure our communities. Also, that law school, with all its pressures, offers an opportunity to be working on how to work hard and give your best attention to the work while at the same time learning how to make sure all the other aspects of yourself as a person don’t get lost.” (Bonnie Stepleton)
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Orientation is a time of exuberance and great excitement. It is the first step in a three year journey which will take students on a roller coaster ride of hard work, emotion, exhaustion, confusion, hope and discovery. Orientation presents an opportunity to help students understand that law school is more than just learning the law. Students should seek to obtain a whole range of skills. As described in Best Practices for Legal Education, “Rogelio Lasso concluded that good lawyers possess four competencies: 1. Knowledge which includes technical and general knowledge. This competency involves the cognitive and analytical skills that have been the principal focus of legal education since the advent of law schools. 2. Skill which includes two types of lawyering skills: ‘those needed to obtain and process information and those which enable the lawyer to transform existing situations into those that are preferred.’ 3. Perspective which is the ability to consider the historical, political, ethical and moral aspects of a legal problem and its possible solutions. 4. Personal attributes which refers to qualities of character that pertain to the way lawyers go about their professional activities and relate to others.” Rogelio Lasso, From the Paper Chase to the Digital Chase: Technology and the Challenge of Teaching 21st Century Law Students, 43 Santa Clara L. Rev. 1, 12-13 (2002). Invite your new students to be active participants in their education. Have them think carefully about the classes they choose. Encourage them to participate in extracurricular activities to enhance their learning and to obtain skills not taught in the classroom. Urge them to develop relationships with their classmates and to take risks. Most of all, make students aware of the “Third Apprenticeship” as described in the Carnegie Foundation report. “The third apprenticeship, which we call the ethical-social apprenticeship, introduces students to the purposes and attitudes that are guided by the values for which the professional community is responsible…” Best Practices for Legal Education, p. 62. Helping students to develop the competencies to effectively represent clients includes developing behaviors and integrity in situations. Ask them to be mindful of their conduct in their interactions inside as well as outside of law school. Tell them you expect them to display civility, honesty, integrity, character, fairness, competence, ethical conduct, public service and respect for the rule of law, the courts, clients, other lawyers, witnesses and unrepresented clients. As adopted by the New Mexico Commission on Professionalism, 2000. Law schools can have a lasting impact on legal education right now by taking these simple steps. (Bonnie Stepleton)
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
There are only a few weeks left before orientation. Students are understandably anxious about what they can do to “get ready” for law school. One thing for students to think about is to take care of all the things they can which would be an inconvenience or a distraction once school starts. Here are some activities to consider:
• Get your oil changed. Make sure you have reliable transportation. Get that bus pass. Have your car in good working condition.
• Get your teeth cleaned. Make sure you are in good health and that your health insurance is in order. Law school literally makes some people sick. Get your check-ups. Fill your prescriptions. Have a supply of a good multivitamin.
• Make sure you have a good study space prepared in your house. Nothing is more distracting than trying to study in the TV room while your spouse and kids are watching America’s Got Talent. Have a place that you can retreat to which is quiet and private. Have a space for your books and study materials.
• Buy a thumb drive that is exclusively dedicated to law school use. Set up files and folders for each class. Calendar a weekly backup. Students have suffered a poor grade in class because of some IT disaster, and had no back up of important paper drafts or assignments.
• Activate your university net id account. Get your email account set up if possible.
• Get your student photo id if possible.
• Make sure your FASFA is in order. Have your finances in order.
• Read a book for pleasure.
• See a movie.
• Take some time to talk to your loved ones about what your life in law school will be like. Negotiate household chores. Stay connected to your family by contributing but have a plan for when you are extra busy with studying or a deadline.
• Read a book about law school study tips and success such as Herb Ramy’s book, Succeeding in Law School.
• Look up your school’s honor code online and read it.
• Buy your school supplies.
• Have lunch with a close friend. Ask them to promise to email or call you every two weeks to check in and see how you are doing once school starts.
• Make sure your laptop is in good shape. If you don’t have one, buy one now and get it set up before school starts. Run the antivirus program. Buy an extra ream of copy paper and printer ink jet cartridge.
• Update your resume.
• Find a mentor.
• Call your Mom.
• Evaluate your distractors and eliminate them now– Facebook is not your friend.
• Meet the librarians in your law library.
• Connect with your classmates.
• Make a plan for self-care. What will be your exercise plan? What are your meal plans? Will you cook for yourself or do you negotiate with your partner about healthy meals?
• Buy your books, if possible.
• Know your learning style. Take the VARK.
• Meet your Academic Support Professional. Introduce yourself. Pledge that you will attend their workshops and visit during office hours.
Hopefully, taking care of some of these items will enable students to get off to the best start possible. (Bonnie Stepleton)
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)
Friday, August 16, 2013
We are wrapping up orientation here at UMass, and here are some thoughts about what can go right and wrong during orientation:
1) Orientation is the time to set the tone for law school.
Orientation sets the tone, and too often, the tone is "let's scare you out of your wits." It's hard to come back from that. Let them know it's hard work, but you are their for them, and they can succeed. If students start the year feeling like their faculty and administration are unapproachable, they will not approach. I know some crotchety professors think that is a good idea--they are wrong. If a student can't talk to you before a small issue becomes a major catastrophe, you will be dealing with that major catastrophe for a long time.
2) Orientation is not the time to practice "hide the ball" with new students.
Most law schools have a practice class during orientation (ours is tonight). Too many times, I have seen professors try to prove how clever they are by starting with "hide the ball." It's a very bad idea. "Hide the ball" is a bad idea, but it's a very bad idea during orientation because the students have no context. They have no idea that "hide the ball" is a method of teaching word clarification, examining ambiguity, or eliciting student opinions. It's a technique that alienates and confuses students when they already feel overwhelmed.
3) They don't need to know everything right now...so follow up!
I am guilty of the belief that I need to teach them everything up to outlining in orientation. But too much information too soon just confuses new students. They need the essentials; how to read, how to brief, and where to go for more information. Save the advanced lessons for workshops later in the semester. This also saves you a major headache; if you overwhelm students during orientation, you will just need to re-teach the lessons at a later date anyway.
4) Orientation should be a whole-school event.
Orientation should not be an ASP-and-legal writing affair; the whole school should be a part of orientation. Let students meet the amazing night staff in the library. Introduce them to the maintenance staff who will save them when they lock themselves out of the building, their car, or get trapped in an elevator or bathroom. Let them meet ALL the professors; show them that the entire school is behind their success.
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)
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.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Yesterday was the start of our pre-orientation program at VLS, which we are calling Jump Start. This is our first year of Jump Start, and we are learning alongside our students. I feel truly lucky; I have an amazing group of students who are taking advantage of opportunities and giving me plenty to think about for the upcoming year.
Some pieces of advice about the upcoming year I have passed on to students so far this week:
1) Hold off reading Getting to Maybe until Christmas break. Some of my students have already purchased exam prep books based on how well they are ranked on Amazon. I love Getting to Maybe, but I think it overwhelms and confuses students if they read it during their first semester. The examples in the books are fantastic, but students need to understand a little about the law before they can understand how to learn from the examples in the book, not just copy them.
2) Getting your life in order is your #1 priority during this period of time. If you need to visit the doctor, take an animal to the vet, or get the oil changed, do it now. Life is about to change in many ways, and you will be grateful you don't have these errands hanging over your head.
3) Build relationships with your classmates now. This is the time to see your classmates at their best, before everyone becomes stressed out, cranky, or depressed. Be aware that everyone is at their best, but they are also putting on a show. Everyone is nervous and overwhelmed the first couple weeks of school, no matter what they say.
4) If you have a disability, see your ADA compliance officer now. It's too late to decide you need an accommodation a week or two before exams (temporary disabilities excluded). Even if you are on the fence about whether you will use the accommodation during exams, take care of those issues early. Locating paperwork and reports can be a nightmare, and that is another thing you don't want to be worried about while you are preparing for exams.
5) If you are not certain of what note taking method (handwriting v. typing) you want to use, try both during orientation. There is no one "correct" method of taking notes. There are dangers to either method. See what fits your learning style best. Chose the method the produces the most useful (not the most voluminous) notes.
Friday, January 11, 2008
Bar Passage Counselor
CharlotteLaw is the first law school in North Carolina's most populous city located in one of the fastest growing regions in the country on the border with South Carolina. Charlotte is a dynamic, rapidly growing, international city which offers a rich array of family, educational, sports/recreational, cultural, and other opportunities. We are currently seeking dynamic, creative, team oriented and student-centered individuals to join our fast growing Team.
The school is a member of The InfiLaw System, a consortium of independent law schools committed to making legal education more responsive to the realities of new career dynamics. Its mission is to establish student-centered, American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law schools in underserved markets that graduate students with practice-ready skills, and achieve true diversity programs aimed at student academic and career success.
The Bar Passage Counselor will develop and implement a support program designed to improve skills relating to bar passage; will counsel students regarding options for bar study and will monitor bar passage rates. The Bar Passage Counselor will have principle responsibility of developing bar passage workshops and a bar passage course.
Primary Duties & Responsibilities:
- Teach a North Carolina Bar studies course, incorporating South Carolina bar studies to extent appropriate. • Review and provide feedback to students regarding the bar exam.
- Create and maintain statistical information on each examinee, including UGPA, LGPA, LSAT, and other predictors use to forecast probability of bar passage.
- Prepare and present various Bar Prep Workshops.
- Arrange for speakers to present at the school’s bar prep workshop series.
- Attend each North Carolina Bar Exam administration and South Carolina bar exam administrations to extent appropriate.
- Prepare and oversee the Bar Prep budget.
- Performs other academic support functions essential to promoting students’ success in law school and to the success and growth of the institution.
- Teaches other related courses as assigned by the Associate Dean.
- Juris Doctor Degree from an approve ABA accredited law school.
- Successful passage of the North Carolina Bar Exam required; passage also of the South Carolina Bar Exam a plus, but not required.
- Must be highly motivated and possess personal initiative and drive.
- Strong oral and written communication skills required due to high level of interaction with students, employers and other professionals
- A strong commitment to CharlotteLaw’s mission pillars of student centeredness, practice ready and serving the underserved.
- Bar related experience preferred.
- Post-secondary teaching experience preferred.
This position is a full-time academic staff position. The Counselor will report to the Associate Dean for Students. CharlotteLaw offers a professional and pleasant work environment for all employees in addition to offering a competitive and comprehensive compensation and benefits package. Please visit www.charlottelaw.org to learn more about our institution.
To apply for this opportunity, please send a letter of interest, a resume, the names of three current professional references (including addresses and phone numbers) to firstname.lastname@example.org or via mail to: Charlotte School of Law, Human Resources, 1211 E. Morehead St., Charlotte, NC 28204
CharlotteLaw is an equal employment opportunity employer. Inquiries welcome from qualified candidates.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
I am pleased to welcome our newest contributing editor, Herb Ramy, to the blog. Herb has just assumed the role of Director of the Academic Excellence Program at New England School of Law after having designed and, for several years, served as Director of the Academic Support Program at Suffolk University Law School. He is the author of Succeeding in Law School (2006) and Navigating the Internet: Legal Research on the World Wide Web (2000); he has also published several scholarly articles. Below is his first posting for the blog, and I think you will find it thought provoking and insightful. (dbw)
Is Orientation Worth It?
I have just taken part in my first orientation at New England School of Law (NESL), although I have been a part of a law school orientation for the past nine years at Suffolk University Law School. I thought the orientation went quite well, and it has been interesting to see what another law school does during those first fretful days of the semester.
On one level, I was happy to learn that NESL’s orientation was not all that different from Suffolk’s. Both programs are 3-4 days long, utilize faculty/students panels to convey certain law school truisms, and address the topic of case briefing. Initially, the similarities suggested that I must have been doing something right for the past nine years. Then, a not so pleasant thought occurred to me . . . maybe both schools have been handling orientation incorrectly! I don’t think that is really the case, but it got me wondering as to what we are trying to accomplish during an orientation program. I say “we” because ASP offices often play an important role in these programs.
What are we trying to accomplish during orientation? If the answer is “we want to teach students the skills necessary for success in law school,” then I’m afraid our efforts may be doomed to failure. In many (possibly most) law schools, orientation is a 3-5 day affair during which we program 3-5 hours per day. If we subtract from that time hours devoted to panel discussions, assigning lockers, welcoming speeches, and social functions, we are left with only a handful of hours for skills instruction. I’m not sure that I can teach case synthesis in an hour, particularly where my students have read the grand total of two cases prior to coming to class!
You may think that I’m advocating for much longer orientation periods, but I’m not. At one time, I strongly believed in the need for longer and more in depth orientation programs that lasted 3-4 weeks. Then, reality started to creep into the conversation. Sure, we can accomplish a great deal if orientation lasts 3 or 4 weeks, but most administrations won’t be willing to do this, and with good reason. Having students arrive 3-4 weeks before the traditional start of classes can be a logistical nightmare. Where will they live, eat, and sleep? What about students who have summer plans that overlap with orientation? Will other faculty and administrators be willing to participate in an orientation program that begins at the end of July or beginning of August? Before you say yes, keep in mind that most of these folks don’t take vacations from September through May because of the academic calendar. (By the way, I am purposely excluding CLEO programs or targeted orientation programs from this discussion due to the much smaller number of student participants.) And, if your school has an evening division, then the above concerns are twice as big a problem.
So, where does that leave us? Maybe back at the beginning. Maybe relatively short orientation programs aren’t such a bad thing if we modify our expectations. Instead of using orientation to teach all the skills necessary to succeed in law school, maybe we should focus on 1 or 2 ideas and hammer them home. If we do a good job, then orientation can serve a public relations purpose. Students pleased with our work during orientation are more likely to attend our ASP classes or meet with us one on one. Then, the real work can begin.
Just my two cents . . . (hnr)
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Well, I have oriented all my students, and now I can sit back and bask in the pleasure of knowing that they are all perfectly prepared for whatever will come in the next few weeks. Right? Well, maybe not, but I certainly tried. I did my usual spiel: you know, "we call them briefs because they are supposed to be short and private." (In case you wanted to incorporate this joke into your orientation lecture, you should know that the students did not laugh as loudly as I did, but feel free to give it a try.)
I think that I have finally, after many years of doing ASP orientation, come up with a "theme" for my talk. My theme this year (and perhaps for many years to come) is the triumvirate of learning. Not a group of three classes, but rather the three stages of getting the most from your classes. The first stage (before class) is preparation: reading and briefing all the assigned cases. The second stage is coming to class, religiously, and taking comprehensive notes. I do warn students to avoid what I call, "court reporter syndrome" and not take notes as if they were merely recording the class without pausing to let the material sink in. And finally: (I wish I could put some musical emphasis here, but in your mind I want you to think aah-ah with golden light and all that) outlining (very soon) after class to bring the first two components together.
That's it. I know I haven't broken down law school into three simple and easy steps, but I tried to make sure my students understand what was expected of them. In law school, I often felt that I had not only missed the boat, but also that I didn't know there was a boat, when it might be sailing or that I was supposed to be on it. Often, I could have done what was expected of me if I had only known what that was. Granted, sometimes I wasn't as diligent about finding out the boat schedule as I should have been, but a little guidance would have helped. Therefore, since the LSAT does not measure psychic ability, I attempted to give my students this information before the pier sits empty again.
Oh, and one last case briefing joke (that I enjoy more than the students, of course) is: for the first couple of weeks, your briefs may actually be longer than the case itself; those are called boxers. Bah-dum-bum. (ezs)
Monday, August 14, 2006
Well, summer seems to be over. I am sitting here in my office (alone) trying to wrap my brain around orientation which will begin later this week. On the one hand, it is a time filled with all sorts of promise: new students with their fresh, sunny new faces and on the other hand, students returning under the cloud cover of academic probation (or as we call it, "Academic Warning"). It is an interesting balance as we go forward.
Balance is the word I use to describe our orientation strategy. We spend a good deal of time scaring the poop out of students by reminding them (endlessly) that this is NOT college, you CANNOT get away with studying only before exams, you CANNOT miss classes, etc. Also, we tell them they are entering a foreign country where the locals appear to speaking English, but they aren't. Instead, we are all speaking "law" which is a different language altogether and the first few weeks of law school are more like immersion in a foreign country to learn the language than anything else. We do temper this with the revelation that we do not expect students to "get it" at first, but then we crush their shiny fresh spirits by explaining that they should "get it" really soon or else.
I think if I delivered my orientation lecture while wearing a blindfold and holding the scales of justice, I might get the point across more clearly. Or, perhaps the students would think they got caught in one of those tourist walks that are led by folks in costume all around Boston (ask me sometime about how my nine-year-old heckled Ben Franklin).
But then, just to complete the scene, I tell the students that I am here to help; that they should feel free to come and see me for anything during those first hard weeks. In a way, it is a cruel manipulation. First, I tell students to be scared; really scared. But then I tell them not to be because I can help. It's like if Superman hung you on the edge of a cliff and then flew by (about two hours later) to rescue you (minus the tights and cape, after all it is still pretty hot here).
I sincerely mean everything I tell the students, I am not running a scam here but I often feel like I have placed the image of the monster in the students' heads only to then offer to help slay it. But the bottom line is this: I am offering an accurate warning and then offering to help the students arm themselves for the onslaught. My only "profit" from student attentiveness to my orientation lecture is perhaps a slight lack of business down the road (but really, with three kids and three cats at home, I am just excited anyone would listen to me at all). (ezs)
Sunday, March 26, 2006
My friend Ellen Swain (Vermont Law School Academic Success Program Director) recently directed me to an interesting ABA Journal article.
In Discontented in the Law, author Jill Schachner Chanen explains: "It’s no secret that law and job satisfaction don’t always go hand in hand, but a recent survey shows just how miserable some lawyers really are, especially those newer to the practice. ... The reason boils down to work-life balance, according to a survey by the National Association for Law Placement Foundation. The struggle to find that balance is especially pronounced among lawyers in supervised or nonmanagerial positions, the survey found."
Consider this: what do students learn in law school?
If they don't learn to "balance," then their learning of legal concepts, analytical processes, preferred methods of citation, and tax regulations is for naught.
Excellent law students become excellent lawyers. Miserable law students (even those—or maybe especially those—with high GPAs) become miserable lawyers.
Ms. Chanen writes that Milwaukee lawyer Christina Plum, chair of the ABA’s Young Lawyers Division, also is not surprised by findings in the survey (mentioned above). "It’s hard for me to imagine a lawyer not having to struggle to balance work with all of the other choices in their lives," she says.
Yes, it is a struggle. But it would be far less of a struggle if students spent their (pardon me, please) 1000 days in law school practicing how to achieve this balance.
This, I believe, is the most critical message of academic support. Yes, students, you need to learn how to read casebooks. Follow the exercises in Ruth Ann McKinney's book. You need to learn how to brief cases. Check out the examples in Bridging the Gap. You need to learn rules, strategies, and so much more. But if you don't learn "balance," it is all for naught. Spend three hours outside of class for every hour in class. That's 60 hours each week, right? Sleep eight hours each night. 56? That gives you 52 (awake) hours each week for the other stuff of life. Use it. Or lose it.
If we don't make this message explicit to our students, we are doing them a disservice. (djt)