Thursday, August 10, 2017
All across law school campuses, newly-entering law school students are beginning to embark on their first steps in legal education. Often times, the initial week is filled with orientation lectures. Unfortunately, in some cases, the first educational experiences that new law students receive are spent mostly on the "recipient end" as passive classroom listeners. There's nothing wrong with listening but listening for hours on end is just not that productive because we learn best through active participatory engagement. So, here's a thought that might help inspire a bit of redirection in the orientation week.
Rather than focus on "orientation," why not turn the goal into "orienteering" our new learners to law school learning. In short, that means turning the noun "orientation" into the verb "orienteering"...by doing very little talking to students...and much more working with students in the midst of law school learning experiences. For those of you that like to hike with map and compass, the process of orienteering means that we take out our map, we use our compass to get our bearings, and we look around us at the landscape of our surroundings to figure out where we might be located on the map, and then we find a path to hike to our intended awe-inspiring destination. Law school is similar. That first week experience with newly-arrived law students should be spent on activities that get them "hitting the legal trail," so to speak, as soon as possible, and from the get-go. In general, they don't need lectures about library services, or how to navigate the law school website, or how to locate their mailboxes. Instead, they came to learn to be lawyers. So, get them started on learning to be lawyers.
Practically speaking and as many law schools do, it's a grand week to have them engaged in reading and briefing cases, participating in mock classroom discussions, practicing taking class notes, reviewing class notes and materials, creating mini-study tools, practicing mini-final exam scenarios, and assess what one learned throughout the week. Simply put, that means that our new law school students are actually taking responsibility for starting to learn how to learn in the very first week of their legal education. And, with so much to learn, there's no time to waste. Most importantly, people remember very little about what we say. They remember much about what they do. So, keep the focus on the law students orienteering themselves to law school learning. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
News flash, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) is this Saturday, August 12th. This exam is perfectly nestled between the end of summer classes and the start of a new academic year. It also occurs shortly after the bar exam for those who sat for the July Bar Exam. While students and graduates have good intentions, the summer MPRE is sometimes forgotten, overlooked, or simply ignored for a number of reasons. Some assume at the start of the summer that they have all summer long to think about and start studying for the MPRE while others are plagued by other concerns. Students who only recently finished summer classes are stressed and tired so the need to refocus their energies on preparing for yet another exam is daunting. Individuals who recently sat for the bar exam and either relegated taking the MPRE or failed to previously attain the necessary score for their jurisdictions have only had the opportunity to take one deep breath before returning to study mode. Hopefully it was not too hard in comparison to preparing for the bar exam. For those rising 2Ls and 3Ls who simply ignored messages from their Academic Support Program or forgot to sign-up for the MPRE; you still have opportunities to take this exam so take a deep breath but come up with a plan. Below are a few myths and last minute tips for individuals anticipating the Saturday MPRE:
(1) You only need to study for two weeks, one week, or the day before the MPRE
Based on my experience, students who provide such advice to other students are individuals who were probably unsuccessful in attaining the requisite score on their first attempt at the MPRE. Very few of my students, even those who completed a Professional Responsibility course and are at the top of the class, are able to study in this limited amount of time and be successful on the MPRE. You know how long it takes you to learn, retain, and apply information; you know your process so plan accordingly. You also know how differently you manage “code” and “rule intensive” materials. Most MPRE programs give you about a month to prepare for the exam so why would you spend less time preparing?
(2) You do not need to complete practice questions just learn the rules
If you have recognized that you need to consider how rules are applied to hypothetical situations as you studied for law school exams, then why would your approach change for the MPRE? If you realized that completing essays and multiple questions allowed you to hone the nuances of specific concepts then why wouldn’t you do the same here? True understanding of the rules and how they apply is another way of learning the information.
(3) You do not need to complete a timed exam
If you had exam time management challenges in the past then you may want to assess how you access, retrieve, process, and answer questions under timed circumstances. Even if you have never experienced exam time management challenges in the past, wouldn’t you want to know how you manage this subject area, in this testing format, with these time constraints so that the day of the exam is not the first time you attempt this?
Last Minute Tips
(1) Do not simply rely on what you covered in your law school Professional Responsibility course. There may be topics you did not cover; therefore, survey your materials and review topics not covered if you have not already done so.
(2) Practice! There is still time to complete timed MPRE questions prior to the day of the exam. If you have not already practiced, please close the books and learn from the questions. You have time to complete at least two full exams, in addition to all the questions you have already completed.
(3) Read the instructions carefully as some of this information might surprise you and plan for what you can and cannot bring into the testing room.
(4) Commit to your strategy or approach and do not change it mid-exam.
Good luck to everyone taking the MPRE! (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Before the start of each new semester, I send an email to each colleague who will be teaching a bar exam tested subject that semester. I offer some general information about the bar exam and some targeted information about how their particular subject matter is tested on the bar exam—based on a compilation of details gleaned from NCBE outlines and a comprehensive MEE indexing project (Download MEE Pathfinder) performed by our dedicated library staff. Although the list is far from perfect, my colleagues have reported that they find the information useful as they prepare syllabi and select topics to cover within the course. Below is my email template. Feel free to use it, if you find it helpful.
Your subject matter [is / is not] tested on the multiple-choice section of the bar exam.
Generally speaking, the multiple-choice section consists of 200 multiple-choice questions: 175 scored questions and 25 unscored pretest questions. The 175 scored questions on the MBE are distributed evenly, with 25 questions from each of the seven subject areas: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts. Students have 6 hours to complete this section of the exam (i.e. about 1.8 minutes per question).
With regard to your course, [add the specifics for the multiple-choice topic from the master list below.]
Your subject matter [is / is not] tested on the essay section of the bar exam.
Generally speaking, the essay section consists of six 30-minute questions. Areas of law that may be covered on the essay section include the following: Business Associations, Civil Procedure, Conflict of Laws, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Family Law, Real Property, Torts, Trusts and Estates, and Sales & Secured Transactions. Some questions may include issues in more than one area of law, and the particular areas covered vary from exam to exam. The [local jurisdiction does / does not] test state-specific rules on the essays.
With regard to your course, [add the specifics for the essay topic from the master list below.]
Master Subject List
The five most commonly tested subtopics on Business Association essays are: identifying which business association would suit the client’s needs, the requirements for formation of a partnership, liability to third parties, the fiduciary duties of officers/directors within a corporations, and agency issues.
Conflict of Laws
Conflict of Laws issues are embedded in the other essay topic areas. They do not appear as stand-alone questions. Historically, conflict of laws questions are most frequently paired with family law issues, especially child custody issues.
Approximately two-thirds of the civil procedure multiple-choice questions are based on jurisdiction, venue, pretrial procedures, and motions practice. Other subtopics— such as conflict of laws, jury trials, verdicts, judgements, and the appeals process—account for the remaining one-third of questions.
With regard to Federal Civil Procedure essays, the examiners ask questions about jurisdiction substantially more than they ask questions about the actual rules. The four most common Civil Procedure topics are personal jurisdiction long arm / minimum contacts statutes, federal question jurisdiction, diversity jurisdiction (especially the amount in controversy), and joinder of parties.
Approximately half of the constitutional law multiple-choice questions are based on individual rights. The other half are based on judicial review, separation of powers, and federalism.
The most commonly tested subtopic on the Constitutional Law essays is freedom of speech, followed closely by the equal protection clause.
Contracts & Sales
Approximately half of the contracts questions are based on contract formation and performance / breach. The other half of the questions are based on defenses, parol evidence, remedies, and third party rights. Of the 25 total questions, one-quarter are based on Article 2.
The four most commonly tested subtopics on Contracts / Sales essays are: offer and acceptance, statute of frauds, accord and satisfaction, and anticipatory repudiation.
Criminal Law & Procedure
Approximately half of the questions will be based on criminal procedure and half will be based on criminal law. Within criminal law, the examiners tend to distribute the questions equally across four categories: homicide, all other crimes, inchoate offenses, and general principles.
The examiners rarely ask criminal law essay questions and only occasionally ask criminal procedure questions. The five most common topics are inchoate offenses, homicide, fourth amendment, Miranda, and the exclusionary rule.
Evidence multiple-choice questions are typically divided up as follows:
Presentation of the evidence: 25%
Privileges & Writings: 9%
The three most commonly tested subtopics on the Evidence essays are: relevance, character evidence, and use of prior inconsistent statements.
The four most commonly tested subtopics on Family Law essays are: how to get divorced, property division, “best interests of the child” standard, and child support obligations.
The examiners divide the questions up equally among five categories: ownership interests, rights in real property, real estate contracts, mortgages, and titles.
The four most commonly tested suptopics on the Real Property essays are: recording statutes (race, race-notice), easements, deed warranties, and landlord-tenant leases.
The five most common subtopics on the Secured Transactions essays are: collateral classification, purchase money security interests, debtor/creditor rights of attachment, perfection, and priorities.
Half of the multiple-choice questions will be based on negligence. Intentional torts, strict liability, and “other” torts account for the other half of the questions.
The most common subtopic on the Torts essays is negligence (duty, breach, and causation), followed by the doctrine of respondeat superior / vicarious liability.
Trusts & Estates
The six most commonly tested subtopics on the Trusts & Estates essays are: benefits of creating a trust/will, how to create a trust, modification of a trust, future interests / remainders in trusts, validity of a will, and intestate distribution.
Monday, August 7, 2017
I have been thinking about the wonderful, varied, and interesting lives our students bring to law school.
Each student comes to our law schools with a unique and authentic experience. Unfortunately, some of these experiences are sometimes deemed insignificant. The person who has lived the experience may be too anxious or ashamed to share it. Or, others around this person may be too afraid to acknowledge that their individual experiences may not be the only way to have experienced some “thing.”
Each student comes to our law schools with an individual story that can enrich our learning environment and augment the law school experience for other students. For example, how one student responds to the facts of a particular case or identifies with the rationale or policy supporting some legal authority may provide a different insight and promote more critical thinking than the most qualified professor alone. This insight and critical thinking begins to grow, encouraging others to be more willing to take their blinders off and expand their narrow view of an issue, or better yet, of the world.
As we prepare to start a new law school semester, let’s remember what makes each of us unique and authentic. Let’s embrace, not obscure, our differences. And let’s try to foster our students’ abilities to recognize and appreciate differences. Being different doesn’t mean being weak. Being different doesn’t mean being irrelevant. Being different doesn’t mean being unworthy of success. (OJ Salinas)
Sunday, August 6, 2017
The Law School Academic Support Blog is one of a variety of blogs that make up the Law Professor Blogs Network. Over 100 law professors serve as editors of the various topical blogs within the network. The Legal Writing Prof Blog and The Legal Skills Prof Blog are just two of the specialty blogs that might appeal to ASP/bar prep professionals. Many of the blogs in the network are on specific legal topics: appellate advocacy, contracts, environmental law, M&A to name just a few. You can check out the entire list of blogs within the network at: Law Professor Blogs.
Saturday, August 5, 2017
Can you believe it is already August?! In just a few short weeks, our law schools will be welcoming our new 1L students and welcoming back our 2L and 3L students.
Where did the summer go? When graduation passes, the summer seems to stretch before us. Weeks of bar preparation for folks with those duties. Weeks of closing out the prior academic year and projects for the next year for others. In either case though, the summer seems so full of possibilities and time.
For those who have just finished bar prep duties, there seems too little time to pull things together plus find some time to relax. For those who are focused on academic support, the "to do list" that looked so attainable in May now seems too long still to accomplish in time.
So take a deep breath! Finish off those PowerPoint slides and handouts for Orientation. Send final instructions to your fall law student staff members. Prioritize those last items on your list. Coordinate those final dates and rooms for workshops. Finalize your syllabus for your courses. Send reminders to faculty to coordinate last-minute details.
In August it always seems too close for comfort as well as so exciting. I love the anticipation of a new academic year! It is so nice to see the familiar faces of our returning students and hear about their summers. It is a pleasure to meet the new 1Ls and see their mix of eagerness and nervousness. After all, this is what being an ASPer is all about! (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, August 4, 2017
For those of you who are new professionals in ASP/bar prep at your law schools, signing up for the ASP Listserv is done in the following manner. If you run into problems after you have tried to subscribe following the instructions, I would suggest that you contact Stephen Sowle (he runs the listserv) for assistance at email@example.com. (Amy Jarmon)
To sign up for the ASP listserv, follow these steps:
Address email to firstname.lastname@example.org
In the body of the message enter: subscribe ASP-L your_first_name your_last_name title school_name
your_first_name is your first name,
your_last_name is your last name
title and school_name are optional
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
When the final day of the bar exam has come and gone, I breathe a sigh of relief and panic, all at the same time. First, it means what it means, the bar exam is over so our recent graduates have truly left the building and I no longer need to worry about them until bar exam results are released. Second, it means that the summer is almost over and the start of the new academic year is fast approaching. Third, it means I have likely failed at achieving a majority of the lofty goals I set for myself at the start of the summer. Finally, it means that I may not have an opportunity to take a break as I will have a long list of to-dos that I need to get through because the first two to three weeks of the semester are not the most productive. How do one person Academic Support offices that manage academic and bar support do it all? I am sincerely interested in knowing how you do it all and when you take breaks particularly if you are also involved in summer programs, orientation, teaching, working with target populations, and addressing diversity matters. I will be happy to share some of your ideas with others here if I receive enough feedback.
After being a one person Academic Support and Bar Support office for a year, I was fortunate to have a colleague for almost seven years. The duo created a great balance and allowed me to feel comfortable about taking my annual one week vacation sometime during bar review because I knew someone was here in the office and I could completely remove myself from the office. It was also great to have someone to talk to who understood the day to day challenges of academic support life. Even though I have contemplated and worked towards this transition, I probably was not strategic enough because when the bar exam ended last week, the reality of my situation hit me suddenly. As I saw my Academic Support colleagues leave for one to two week vacations, I pitied myself as I sat in my office Thursday morning.
Thursday, the building was very quiet both because summer classes had ended and the bar exam was over. I was exhausted by the marathon that was bar exam preparation even though I was not preparing to sit for the bar exam. However, I was productive but not as productive as I could be so I left the building. After lunch with one of our fellows who is moving out of state, I got home, collapsed on the couch, did not wake up until late in the evening, and went to bed early that night. I realized that I was exhausted. This is when all of the things I tell students about wellness and self-care came to mind. I recognized that I needed to practice what I preached. An exhausted supporter is inefficient, ineffective, and not operating at their optimum level and I owe my students the best of me.
Friday was amazing; I was very productive and completed a significant portion of a large project I had difficulty completing throughout the summer. I also decided that I needed to take some time off to rest. I cannot afford to take a full week but I can definitely take a few days here and there. I saw the post “Be Good to Yourself” by Amy Jarmon which only confirmed my decision and underscored additional things I will consider in the near future. I am starting off with the first bullet point, I am “squeezing in a holiday” this week. I took a day and a half off the first part of this week, am in the office Wednesday and will take the following few days off with the goal of hitting the ground running next week. It has been my experience that all things come together but it is also very important to take a break. I was fearful of taking a break, dreading all the work that would accumulate and await my return but a short break for rest and recuperation is necessary. I hope that you do the same, for once the semester starts, there is no turning back. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
I have read multiple articles (including Goldie Pritchard’s 2016 blog post) that the best way to remind yourself what it is like to be a first-year law student it to try something totally new. That sounded like a good suggestion, so earlier this year I intentionally set out to be a novice at a difficult task and mindfully soak in the experience. I decided to grow a giant pumpkin. I have never grown anything myself, let alone something “giant.” My husband, however, has been growing everything and anything—including big pumpkins—competitively for several years. He is an expert. Over the last few months, I’ve learned a lot about what it is like to be a novice. Here is lesson number one.
Novices are blissfully unaware of the extensive criteria an expert takes into consideration when making an important decision in their field, and if confronted with all of the available options the novice may become overwhelmed.
Step one in giant pumpkin growing is seed selection. As a newbie, my plan was to simply use something from my husband’s seed collection. He has hundreds in a large bin, after all. I looked at a couple of packages, spotted an attractive looking specimen, and made my decision. The whole process took less than 5 minutes. My husband sat there stunned, horrified. “You’re done already?” he wondered aloud. You see, there are dozens of factors an expert grower takes into consideration in seed selection: parent plants, color versus size, history of known genetic defects, and the prestige associated with the original grower, just to name a few. As my husband began to explain all of my options, I quickly did not care for the seed selection process anymore. It was too much information and too many decisions at a time when I still was not convinced that there was any real difference between a 1912 Carter and a 2106 Schmit. I went from happy and confident in my ability to quickly select a seed to second-guessing everything about my choice. I changed my mind several times and shut down emotionally. I wanted to quit. I eventually took the easy choice: I would grow a seed from my husband’s own pumpkin. There was absolutely no sophistication to my analysis, but that was the best I could do under the weight of the endless choices.
This got me thinking about hierarchy of authority in legal writing. Students must look at the vast array of cases and statutes on Westlaw (or, dare I say, Google) the same way I looked at my husband’s bin of seeds—as a collection of seemingly equal options from which to choose, with little regard for the finer distinctions. Our students are likely overwhelmed by basic case information that to us experts seems straightforward. First semester students likely see little difference between the judicial opinion of a court of last resort in a neighboring jurisdiction and the intermediate appellate court decision of the controlling jurisdiction. In fact, the former might prove to be a more attractive option to the student than the latter.
This novice’s recommendation: Provide less information initially, and then dole out additional information in small strategic chunks over a period of time, even if it means the novice might risk making a poor initial choice. Let the novice make a small, perhaps less sophisticated choice confidently and then learn from their mistakes. The novice would appreciate less information, not more. Rather than being overwhelmed with all the options, let the novice decide a few basic decisions. Once they understand the fundamental decision making process, layer on the additional choices. Repeat the process until all the expert factors are imported into the decision making process.
Monday, July 31, 2017
I wrote in last week’s post of my trip to the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) conference in Minnesota. The conference theme focused on diversity and inclusion, which we know will also be the focus of our upcoming Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) conference in October.
My colleague, Alexa Chew, and I lead a discussion at ALWD on ways to make law schools more welcoming for everyone. We spoke about our experiences participating on our Diversity and Inclusion Task Force at UNC Law. We spoke about how allowing students to share their stories and listening to their stories can create more awareness and understanding of the diversity and inclusion problems that may be wounding your law school.
Alexa and I wrote a blog post in advance of our ALWD presentation in Jennifer Romig’s Listen Like a Lawyer blog. We wrote that most of us working at law schools want a more diverse and inclusive environment. However, many folks working in our law schools are often unaware of what our students are experiencing during their law school tenure. So, schools get into a situation where they are trying to fix or work on a "problem" that they have not identified or know little about--or worse, that they may be inadvertently contributing to.
Alexa and I provided a few suggestions that could help more folks “get in the know.” The suggestions are relatively simple and inexpensive, but they may still have a huge impact on how students feel when they walk through the doors of your law schools. I suspect many of you in the ASP world are likely already doing many of the suggestions quite well! Keep it up!!! And encourage others in your law school to follow your lead!
Sunday, July 30, 2017
Many of our law students are immersed in legal work this summer. The variety of their experiences will be as wide as the universe of legal work. Some will be buried in library research and memo writing. Some will be drafting documents. Some will be busy with intake interviews. Some will be compiling trial notebooks. And everything in between will align with someone's summer job.
It is not unusual for a rising 2L to exclaim, "Now I understand Civil Procedure!" It is the aha moment when what seemed to just be dry cases and procedural mumbo-jumbo becomes alive in a real case with a real client. All the innovative books based on real cases and role plays during 1L year were just not the same as the real thing.
The aha moment can happen with any course material and at whatever point the student is in the study of law. Life is breathed into the concepts now applied in a summer clerking experience. The client scenarios they deal with can enrich their understanding: formerly compartmentalized concepts become interrelated; separate courses become integrated through a series of case issues; procedural steps take on significance within litigation; strategic pros and cons develop as a case unfolds.
Ideally we hope that the summer experience will not only solidify prior learning, but will also trigger more active learning in future semesters. After a taste of practice, law students can enhance their learning by asking how the material would be used with clients, how the material relates to other material, how procedures affect outcomes, what analysis would each party use, and more. If future courses become relevant in their minds to working with clients, then they go beyond dusty words on pages and requirements for graduation.
Many law students this summer will also realize at a gut level for the first time how much responsibility they owe in their work to a real person. What they and the lawyers on a case say and do directly impacts someone's life. Professionalism takes on an entirely new dimension when one deals with a client and not a mere hypothetical. It can be a very sobering realization.
Hopefully students return to their studies with new motivation to be the best lawyers they can be. Courses and skill sets are no longer just for grades. Those courses and skills are essential to being a competent and professional lawyer. Their clients will depend on how diligently they approached their legal studies as the foundation for their career. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, July 29, 2017
Many ASP and bar prep professionals are tired right now. They are either finishing up summer programs that they run or have just surfaced from the long run up to the bar exam. No doubt they are feeling done in.
So here are some suggestions as you catch your breath:
- If possible, squeeze in a holiday. Whether it is a long weekend or a week or two, it is time to recharge.
- List five fun things you will do before the 1Ls arrive and the new semester starts. Then schedule them on your calendar so they actually happen.
- List three accomplishments this past year of which you can be proud. Enjoy the feeling of a job well done.
- List three things that you want to learn about this coming year to make you better at your job.
- List two new programs or ideas that you want to try this coming year.
- List one professional person in ASP/bar prep, at your law school, or in your legal community you would like to get to know better this year.
Now, go relax and revive before it gets hectic again. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, July 28, 2017
Congratulations to everyone who just finished the bar exam this week. Well done! You put in a lot of time preparing and did your best during the exam.
- Take a few days to relax and rest. Many of you will sleep almost non-stop for a couple of days.
- Spend time with family and friends. Ask that it be a bar-free zone without discussion and questions about how it was, when the scores are known, etc.
- Treat yourself to something special in celebration of your hard work: a few days at the beach; a hike in the countryside; meals at favourite restaurants; a marathon session of your favourite TV program.
- Get back into a routine of sleep, good meals, and exercise. Being healthy will help your mood as you await the results.
- Stay positive and do not dwell on the bar exam. It is done and dusted. Remember that you do not need 100%. Give yourself credit for your hard work, and let it go.
- Make a plan for the time before results come out. If your employer lets you begin work before results, then plan what skills you want to focus on in your new job. If you are without employment, then keep yourself busy with part-time work, volunteering, a hobby, or other endeavour.
You have completed a very challenging step. Acknowledge your achievement. Believe in yourself. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, July 27, 2017
For those of you that just tackled the bar exam this week, here's a few words of congratulations and a couple of tips as you wait for results from this summer's bar exam.
First, let me speak to you straight from the heart!
Bravo! Magnificent! Herculean!
Those are just some of the words that come to mind…words that you should be rightly speaking to yourself…because…they are true of you to the core!
But, for most of us right now, we just don’t quite feel super-human about the bar exam. Such accolades of self-talk are, frankly, just difficult to do. Rather, most of us just feel relief – plain and simple relief – that the bar exam is finally over and we have somehow survived.
That’s because very few of us, upon completion of the bar exam, feel like we have passed the bar exam. Most of us just don’t know. So now, the long “waiting” period begins with results not due out for most of us for a number of months.
So, here’s the conundrum about the “waiting” period:
Lot’s of well-meaning people will tell you that you have nothing to worry about; that they are sure that you passed the bar exam; and that the bar exam wasn’t that hard…really.
Not that hard?
You know that I passed?
There’s nothing for me to worry about?
Let me give you a concrete real life example. Like you, I took the bar exam. And, like most of you, I had no idea at all whether I passed the bar exam. I was just so glad that it was finally over.
But all of my friends, my legal employer (a judge), my former law professors, and my family kept telling me that I had absolutely nothing to be worried about; that I passed the bar exam; that I worked hard; that they knew that I could do it.
But, they didn’t know something secret about my bar exam. They didn’t know about my lunch on the first day of the bar exam.
At the risk of revealing a closely held secret, my first day of the bar exam actually started out on the right foot, so to speak. I was on time for the exam. In fact, I got to the convention center early enough that I got a prime parking spot. Moreover, in preparation for my next big break (lunch), I had already cased out the nearest handy-dandy fast food restaurants for grabbing a quick bite to eat before the afternoon portion of the bar exam so that I would not miss the start of the afternoon session of the bar exam.
So, when lunch came, I was so excited to eat that I went straight to Burger King. I really wanted that “crown,” perhaps because I really didn’t understand many of the essay problems from the morning exam. But as I approached Burger King, the line was far out of the door. Impossibly out of the door. And, it didn’t get any better at McDonalds next door. I then faced the same conundrum at Wendy’s and then at Taco Bell.
Finally, I had to face up to cold hard facts. I could either eat lunch or I could take the afternoon portion of the bar exam. But, I couldn’t do both. The lines were just too long. So, I was about to give up - as I had exhausted all of the local fast food outlets surrounding the convention center - when I luckily caught a glimpse of a possible solution to both lunch and making it back to the bar exam in time for the afternoon session – a liquor store. There was no line. Not a soul. I had the place to myself. So, I ran into the liquor store to grab my bar exam lunch: two Snicker’s bars. With plenty of time to now spare, I then leisurely made my way back to the bar exam on time for the start of the afternoon session.
But, here’s the rub:
All of my friends and family members (and even the judge that I was clerking for throughout the waiting period) were adamant that I had passed the bar exam. They just knew it!
But, they didn’t know that I ate lunch at the liquor store.
So when several months later the bar results were publicly available on the Internet, I went to work for my judge wondering what the judge might do when the truth came out – that I didn’t pass the bar exam because I didn’t pack a lunch to eat at the bar exam.
To be honest, I was completely stick to my stomach. But, I was stuck; I was at work and everyone believed in me. Then, later that morning while still at my work computer, the results came out. My heart raced, but my name just didn’t seem to be listed at all. No Scott Johns. And then, I realized that my official attorney name begins with William. I was looking at the wrong section of the Johns and Johnsons. My name was there! I had passed! I never told the judge my secret about my “snicker bar” lunch. I was just plain relieved that the bar exam “wait” was finally over.
That’s the problem with all of the helpful advice from our friends, employers, law professors, and family members during this waiting period. For all of us (or at least most of us), there was something unusual that happened during our bar exam. It didn’t seem to go perfectly. Quite frankly, we just don’t know if we indeed passed the bar exam.
So, here’s a few suggestions for your time right now with your friends, employers, law professors, and family members.
1. First, just let them know how you are feeling. Be open and frank. Share your thoughts with them along with your hopes and fears.
2. Second, give them a hearty thank you for all of their enriching support, encouragement, and steadfast faithfulness that they have shared with you as walked your way through law school and through this week’s bar exam. Perhaps send them a personal notecard. Or, make a quick phone call of thanks. Or send a snap chat of thankful appreciation. Regardless of your particular method of communication, reach out to let them know out of the bottom of your heart that their support has been invaluable to you. That’s a great way to spend your time as you wait - over the course of the next several months - for the bar exam results.
3. Finally, celebrate yourself, your achievement, and your true grit....by taking time out - right now - to appreciate the momentous accomplishment of undertaking a legal education, graduating from law school, and tackling your bar exam. You've done something great, and, more importantly, something mightily significant. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
It is Wednesday, day two of bar exam testing. There is not much bar exam takers can do at this time but tell themselves that they have control over the here and now. They did all they possibly could to successfully pass the bar exam (hopefully). This is the Multistate Bar Exam Day! As a bar exam taker, your mantra should be that this will be your best day, you prepared for this, and if worse comes to worst, you can make an educated guess with a 25% chance of getting it right. You will also answer all of the questions. Think about what you get to do when you are done. You can rediscover what it means to be human being, eat, sleep, and be “normal.” Applaud the fact that you survived bar review. You survived the first day of testing so it is inevitable that you will survive the second day as well. You’ve got this! All the very best to bar takers everywhere and to all the Academic Support Professionals cheering their students along! (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
The short period after the bar exam ends, but before Orientation begins is a good time for a much needed recharge. If you are responsible for bar preparation at your school, then you are likely exhausted right now—and for good reason. I work at a school with roughly 100 graduating students. Between January and today (day 1 of the bar exam), those 100 students resulted in:
- 500+ bar exam related emails;
- 28 bar preparation classes;
- 360ish practice essays;
- 1 Bar Examiner’s presentation;
- 49 individual student appointments;
- 7 spring semester faculty lectures;
- 4 summer workshops, and
- countless drop-ins and phone calls.
I suspect that most bar support professors' schedules look quite similar. Needless to say, we have all earned a break. Much like our students plan post-bar exam adventures, we too should plan time to relax. Take a trip, finish that novel, spend a few computer free days on the couch with a furry friend, or—as in my case—go to a conference on the beach in Florida.
After the mental batteries are recharged, use the remaining time to eliminate a potential long-term stressor before the school year begins. Start by identifying one specific thing that sucks up more time or energy than it should during the school year. Then devise a plan to fix it. The time spent now removing the annoyance will pay dividends indefinitely into the future.
For example, I used to complain about how much time it would take to establish a mutually convenient time to meet a student or a colleague … all the back-and-forth emailing. So, last summer I committed a whole day to eliminating this one problem. I started my quest like any good scholar: by watching a You Tube video. I learned how to make my Outlook calendar visible, in real time, to anyone. After a few simple key strokes, I successfully published my very own calendar webpage. I then posted a hyperlink to the webpage calendar on my TWEN page, in all my course syllabi, and in my formal email signature line. I also drafted a special second “signature” in Outlook that read: “You can view my calendar here. Just let me know what day/time works for you.” Between the widely available calendar links and the quick-insert response language, I rarely engage in the tedious scheduling-based-email-exchange anymore. This one simple fix not only saved me time during the year, but also reduced my inbox clutter.
When I get back from my conference in a few days, I plan to find a way to reliably track long-term bar passage data that does not involve a bunch of Excel spreadsheets, a filing cabinet stuffed full of state bar examiners’ letters, random LinkedIn searches, and a pot of coffee. If anyone has any suggestions, please send me an email. I’d love to hear it! (Kirsha Trychta)
Monday, July 24, 2017
This last week, I attended and participated in a diversity and inclusion conference hosted by the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The three-day conference was engaging and timely. And it included a thought provoking and informative plenary presentation on stereotype threat and implicit bias by fellow-ASPer, Russell McClain. Having seen Russell present before at various ASP conferences, I knew he would be a charming and enlightening presenter—and he certainly was! Congratulations, Russell! I know the ALWD attendees were impressed by your interactive presentation, and I am sure many of them will be reaching out to you in the future for additional ways to address stereotype threat and implicit bias.
I plan to write some more about the ALWD conference and its theme “Acknowledging Lines: Talking About What Unites and Divides Us” at a later date. But, for now, I wanted to spend a little time talking about what is likely on the minds of most academic success professionals and all the recent law school graduates—the bar exam.
Exam takers: We all know you have been working hard, and we believe in you. The next few days will be beyond tough and tiring. But, you have trained your mind and body for it.
Yes. You will likely second-guess yourself. Yes. You will likely face questions that you might not feel good about. But, you are also going to see and work with a lot of information that you do understand and have encountered many times during your bar preparation. Trust yourself. Read the questions carefully. Organize your essays. And don’t let those few questions that you might not know the answers to bring you down. You don’t need to get that A+ to pass. If you spend too much time focusing on the information that you don’t know or can’t remember, you may not leave yourself enough time or energy to show the bar graders what you do know. And you do know. A lot.
A few more things . . . remember to breathe and it’ll be over soon.
We look forward to welcoming you into the profession. (OJ Salinas)
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Yearly, I ask former students who successfully passed the bar exam to share last minute advice with bar exam studiers gearing-up to sit for the bar exam. I look to individuals who have recently successfully passed the bar exam because I know that at this point, my current bar studiers “listen to me but do not hear me.” I know however that they will “listen to” and “hear” individuals who are closer to the bar exam experience than me. This is a great opportunity for me to seek out alums who are excited to share advice because they know I value their opinions and will share their opinions with others. Alums also add tidbits about their own challenges and triumphs throughout this preparatory process. Below are a few of the suggestions from my alums that a bar exam taker can implement at their own risk.
Pause from studying
“Stop studying by 12(noon) the day before the exam. 3 PM max. There is nothing that you can cram into your head past 3 PM the day before the bar exam.”
“Get your full hours sleep the night before the bar exam.”
“You should not be cramming the evening before day 2 either… light review only.”
Know your surroundings
“Get to know the area where the bar exam is scheduled to be taken, if you have time, so you’ll know where you need to be and about how long it’s going to take to get there”
“Eat a good breakfast that day.”
“Eat! But don’t eat too heavy for lunch- a good salad will do. We don’t want to be sleepy during the test.”
“You can’t do your best tired and hungry.”
“Ear plugs… [Writing day] can be pretty noisy with everyone typing.”
“Trust your instincts! Do not second-guess yourself. Move on if you’re unsure and come back to it later. Don’t waste time!”
“I started with the question I felt I knew well- it helped to build my confidence as I progressed to more challenging questions. What I couldn’t remember eventually came back to me (weird lol).”
“Sometimes you have to warm up to the exam. Meaning, if you are not sure about on the first essay topic, move on and start with one you know. For me, I got better and more confident as I answered more essays. So, do not get stumped on the first essay if you are not sure about it.”
“[After each session], don’t discuss your responses with anyone.”
“Monitor your fluid intake before and during the exam or you might make several trips to the bathroom…Please stay hydrated of course.”
“For questions you are not sure about, eliminate the choices you know are wrong and then come back later and choose between the close calls- or choose one and put a star next to it and come back later to review.”
“If you are unsure about a question, make your best guess and keep moving. This is to ensure that you have a response that can be graded and you are not losing time or points. The correct answer might come to you later on in the exam or you might have made the correct guess.”
Regroup & focus
“If you mess up or something happens, take 30 seconds to be upset, and then move on. (My first essay was deleted by [the exam software] and I had to redo it within the time between essays. I started to cry but realized crying was taking too much time.)”
“Relax- nothing good happens when you are nervous.”
“Don’t panic. However, if you do panic- stop, take 5 seconds to recompose and get your bearings and get back to the task.”
“… Trust yourself and be confident. You got this!”
See the light at the end of the tunnel
“Smile because that terrible summer will be over in about 16 hours!”
“Be confident! You made it through undergrad, LSAT, Law School, exams, etc.….”
“Pray, and don’t panic. You know what you know.”
In sum, everyone has an opinion and advice but your voice and your needs should be paramount. You know what you need, you studied hard, and you know how to take tests. You can do it! Cheers! (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
This blog post is the second in a two-part series detailing my takeaways from the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning’s “Teaching Cultural Competency and Other Professional Skills” conference which was held in Little Rock, Arkansas on July 7-8, 2017. For part one of the series, click here.
Professor Andrew Henderson from the University of Canberra in Australia discussed “The Importance of Teaching Self-Evaluation and Reflection in Law School,” especially in an ethics course. One study revealed that when presented with an ethical dilemma, law students tend to resolve the dilemma consistent with their personal beliefs and without regard for the professional rule of conduct. The students answered the same question the same way before taking an ethics course, while taking the course, and after successfully completing the course. In other words, professional responsibility courses do little to teach ethical judgment makings skills. Knowing this, Professor Henderson sought to design a course that would reframe the discussion entirely He required students to identify their internal motivations, such as what makes them get up in the morning, what keeps them awake at night, why do they want to be a lawyer. He then used the students’ responses as a means to jumpstart a conversation and to identify the intersection between the students’ self-identified motivations and the ethical rules. He reported that students have become more engaged in the ethics course and that the student responses have also helped to provide more targeted academic advising and job placement advice. At the end of the discussion, a few attendees discussed how a similar exercise could be added to the start of the 1L year to assist academic support professors in providing more tailored advice to at risk students.
Professor Benjamin Madison of Regent University School of Law and his colleagues developed a course to “Help Millennials Develop Self-Reflection.” The mandatory 1L class focuses on the development of problem solving skills, emotional intelligence, responsibility, and “other” ABA mandated skills. To begin, students get to request a specific faculty coach. The school makes every effort, but does not guarantee, to match students with their top choice. Next, students meet with their designated faculty coach to complete an intake self-assessment or “roadmap.” After the student self-assesses him/herself, the student is assessed on those same skills by two of their peers. Professor Madison has already noted several trends at his school. First, 1L students frequently rate themselves quite high (i.e. mastery level) despite having little to no professional development training, and students rate their peers even higher. Essentially students “don’t know what they don’t know.” This phenomenon is commonly referred to as the Kruger-Dunning effect in psychological circles. Second, students gravitate toward those peers who unequivocally support them, rather than peers who challenge them and hold them accountable. Lastly, students are more concerned about obtaining meaningful employment than making a sufficient income, which is especially intriguing when you consider internal motivation as a component of self-refection. (As an aside, their research concluded that the primary professional goal for 1L students is to pass the bar exam – whew!). Professor Madison said that if other schools are interested in adopting a similar program, they should reach out to the St. Thomas School of Law Holloran Center, which “continues to focus on its mission to help the next generation form professional identifies with a moral core of responsibility and strive to others.”
Professor Christine Church of Western Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School Immerses Students in Lawyering Skills. Her nine credit program is centered on all-day classes that simulate a law practice environment. During the 14-week semester, four distinct four-person law firms handle three cases: (1) a custody battle requiring intense interviewing, counseling, and negotiation skills, (2) a personal injury suit involving pretrial litigation skills, and (3) a DUI criminal trial. The clients are actually other law students who are completing a 1-credit directed study, relying on the principles discussed in the book “Through the Client’s Eyes” for guidance. The “attorneys” within each firm exchange documents throughout the week using Google Docs and then meet on Saturdays to engage in simulation exercises. Professor Church commented that the unique course schedule—which is ABA Standard 310 compliant—has helped students to develop the stamina needed to study for the bar exam and actually practice law on a daily basis. The program now has a waitlist; students love it! She concluded the session by sharing a plethora of fact patterns, grading rubrics, and syllabi to assist participants in establishing their own litigation skills immersion program.
After Professor Church’s session, I enjoyed a tasty Greek salad lunch. In my view, a good indicator of the quality of a conference is the quality of the breaks. ILTL did not disappoint. Not only was the host school welcoming and attentive, but all the attendees were more than willing to offer helpful suggestions at every turn—well beyond the theme of the conference. Many thanks to those who shared teaching tips, performance review and tenure advice, and general support to this junior faculty member. And, let me extend a special shout out to one colleague’s pet squirrel!
Before I wrap-up, let me share the most bizarre tidbit I heard while in Little Rock. One professor explained that one of her students genuinely believes that some version of the following conversation occurs routinely at her law school—Professor A to Professor B: “When Mary comes to your office to discuss her exam, tell her that her poor grade is due to an underdeveloped rule block. And, when you meet with John, tell him that he needs to work on his application. That’s what we’re all going with this semester.” The student came to this epiphany after every single one of her professors targeted the same exact exam skill for improvement. Feel free to insert the emoji of your choice here.
I wish I could tell you about all the concurrent sessions, but unfortunately my J.K. Rowling approved Time-Turner is not TSA approved. I heard chatter in the hallway suggesting that I missed several good sessions, but as author Ashim Shanker has noted, “freedom brings with it the burden of choice and of its consequences.” For those who are interested in learning more about the other sessions or about the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning’s larger mission, checkout the Institute’s webpage. (Kirsha Trychta)
Monday, July 17, 2017
The New York Times recently published “The Lawyer, The Addict”—a very compelling article about a tragic event. The story describes the death of an influential Silicon Valley attorney. The interplay between (1) addiction, stress, and mental health and (2) law school and the legal profession is referenced in an honest and, for many, eye-opening manner. The article has rightfully generated much discussion on the Internet, including a fascinating conversation on my colleague Rachel Gurvich’s Twitter feed. If you are looking for further insight about the article from a variety of faculty, practitioners, and students, I encourage you to check out Rachel's Twitter feed (@RachelGurvich). Much of the conversation can be found here.
There are many interesting points one can focus on from the NYT article. Perhaps, I’ll explore some other points in the future in the blog. For now, I’ll focus today’s blog on two points: (1) Larry Krieger’s work on subjective well-being; and (2) how hard it is for students to acknowledge that they may be suffering from a problem.
- Larry Krieger’s Work on Subjective Well-Being.
The NYT article interviewed Professor Larry Krieger and referenced his work "What Makes Lawyers Happy". As many of you know, Krieger’s work was an empirical study on “attorney emotional health” and “subjective well-being.” Part of Krieger’s findings and recommendations focused on shifting the definition of “success” for law students away from extrinsic rewards, like grades, journals, and high-paying jobs to more personal and intrinsic values and motivations.
I remember Larry Krieger's work was one of the first things that Ruth McKinney discussed with me when I arrived at UNC. Since her retirement, we have tried to continue to incorporate the message of Krieger’s work into our pre-orientation program for incoming 1Ls. We try to remind our students to remember the intrinsic reasons why they decided to come to law school—particularly during those times when they may feel overwhelmed, defeated, or unworthy. We also try to remind our students that “success” can mean many different things to different people and that there are many ways to “succeed” in law school. We often talk about these topics while disclosing some of our personal struggles and experiences from law school. This personal disclosure often helps build a foundation where we are better able to assist with the problem discussed in part two below.
- Acknowledging a Problem is often a Problem.
For those of us who work closely with students, the article’s story on how law school and the legal profession can change you—physically and mentally—is not a surprising tale. We know that the combination of stress, anxiety, and the competition for external rewards can create a very challenging and intimidating environment for our students. The environment can feel crushing and insurmountable when you add difficult finances, family issues, health concerns, implicit bias, or stereotype threat to the mix.
It is not uncommon for academic success folks to work with students who are facing some significant non-academic issues that impact their academic performance. But, these non-academic issues are often not easily identifiable. Let’s try to remember that it is often difficult for our students to acknowledge to themselves that they may be going through a very problematic time. Like anyone, they have pride. They have all been successful undergrads or had elite careers prior to law school. They don’t want to think of themselves as “failures” or “unworthy” of being a law student.
Since our students don’t want to think of themselves as “failures” or “unworthy” of being a law student, they will likely hesitate before seeking help because they don’t want others to see them as “failures” or “unworthy” of being a law student (and the mental health questions on the bar exam applications don't help either, but that's a topic for another day [if you are interested, my former colleague, Katie Rose Guest Pryal has a great piece here]).
Disclosing some personal vulnerability to someone else is an added challenge to an already stressful time in our students' lives. Think about it: if it’s hard for you to acknowledge some potential weakness or flaw to yourself, do you think it will be easier for you to acknowledge that weakness or flaw to someone else? Now think about that someone else as a law professor or administrator. I know; it’s pretty scary. That’s why we, as academic support professionals (and others who work closely with law students), should try to practice good active listening skills and remain nonjudgmental, empathetic, and encouraging when we work with our students. It’s a difficult job. But, we are lucky to be able to do it. (OJ Salinas)