Wednesday, April 4, 2018
This year, I became a teaching assistant (TA) once again. This was not planned and what started as just another responsibility on my list of responsibilities resulted in an amazing experience. For our TA program, we try to select students who have performed well in a particular course with a particular professor and students who have performed well across the board academically. However, this fall I was faced with a dilemma. I tried to recruit TAs for a professor who did not teach the previous academic year so my pool was smaller and furthermore, the class time conflicted with an elective course that almost every 3L was enrolled in. I presented the professor with three options, one of which was to have me as the TA, just for this year. She chose the latter.
I was well aware of the challenges I would face so I approached this new task with some trepidation but saw all the amazing rewards and value I would reap from this experience. The primary challenges I anticipated included student discomfort because I am the Director of the academic support program and not their peer. I also anticipated discomfort with my presence in the classroom as students might perceive me as a person who was monitoring their every move. I anticipated low attendance at the bi-weekly TA sessions because I did not have the professor as a student, I did not attend this law school and thus students believed that I did not have much to offer them. This particular situation intrigued me the most as TAs who have worked with new professors in the past, have had similar experiences. However, these TAs have been successful and usually work closely with the professor to provide even more helpful material to the students. Moreover, students are more independent spring semester and take less advantage of various resources. Finally, I found it interesting that students could feel uncomfortable with me particularly because I train the TAs and work with students studying this topic for the bar exam.
The positives I looked forward to were opportunities to evaluate the structure of the current teaching assistant program, to get to know or become familiar with about one- third of our 1L class, to work collaboratively with one of our professors and to expand the offerings of my office. Sometimes as ASP’ers, we are so removed from the law school experience that we forget certain aspects of what it means to be a student even when we try to remind ourselves every year. I looked forward to coming away from this experience with new ideas and avenues to be effective with students and maximize how to effectively utilize my TAs in the future.
Within the TA responsibilities, TAs attend each scheduled meeting of the doctrinal course they are assigned to. They prepare lesson plans and materials for every teaching assistant lab session. They are generally available for questions during office hours. They also work closely with the professor and complete additional tasks the professor might request such as tracking class participation, passing out papers, etc…. The materials produced for the lab sessions are either reviewed by me or the senior TA. I submitted to all of these expectations and requirements. My senior TA reviews my materials; I try to put everyone at ease so I tried to create a safe environment for my senior TA to enjoy reviewing my materials. I mentioned this to the students at the first lab session and they laughed.
What was most informative about student behavior within the classroom was sitting through the course lectures and observing students. Initially, students were uncomfortable, particularly, the ones who decided to sit near me but that discomfort subsided over time. In my opinion, students became too relaxed. I ensured that I came to class prepared with casebook, laptop, pen, and paper. I sat next to a talkative student who was by no means uncomfortable with my presence. I was conscientious about being mentally present, free from distraction, and focused. It is amazing how many clues professors provide and how much advice about preparing for exams this professor dispensed. It appeared that students were not always paying attention though. I saw students on Facebook, instant messenger (apparently speaking with students in the class and others outside of the class), shopping, buying concert tickets, working on legal writing assignments, scrolling through pictures, texting, stepping out the room to take phone calls, drawing, researching topics (associated and unassociated with the class), laughing at and with one another, engaging in side conversations, asking me what was just said (trying to read my notes), falling asleep, passing physical notes, playing video games, watching movies, and watching sports. It is amazing what happens in a law school classroom in the span of one hour and forty minutes. Students got more and more comfortable as the weeks progressed so I saw more and more on computer screens. Some privacy screens work very well, I could see nothing while seated in the back of the class.
When I am in front of a class, presenting, I notice that some students are distracted but I never imagined the extent. I understand that some students need to be accessible for work, children, and emergencies. I also understand that some students doodle to focus and listen. I had no idea of the volume of distractions available in class. I can certainly understand why some professors ban computers in the classroom.
I wonder if this is the new student norm, all these stimuli competing for their attention. When I was in law school, the early years of laptops, I do not recall all this going on but maybe I was focused because I was fearful of appearing unprepared when called on. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Over the weekend there was a lot of talk in my house about Easter baskets, which got me thinking about law school survival baskets. If you know a law student who is about to start studying for spring exams or perhaps the bar exam, consider making them an Exam Survival Basket. Pre-assembled gift baskets are readily available online, but for a fraction of the cost you can create your own. You may want to include things from the list below—in no particular order:
Daytime cold or allergy medicine
Trail mix or granola bars
Beef jerky or peanut butter
Law student’s favorite snack
Coffee shop gift card or K-cups
Empty Ziploc bags
Ear plugs (cordless)
Stress ball or playdough
Poster board for mind-maps
Contact case and saline solution
Backup reading glasses
Good luck token, like a stuffed animal
University branded swag like a coffee mug or hooded sweatshirt
Business card of the law student’s bar preparation / academic support professor
Happy belated Easter! Happy Passover! Happy April!
(Kirsha & Roxy Trychta)
Monday, April 2, 2018
Law school and the practice of law require constant progress and improvement. Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset infiltrated many law schools, and many in ASP continually promote Dweck’s theories. I definitely fall into the category of advocates. Anecdotally, I interact with students who clearly believe improvement can happen with hard work. Unfortunately, I also see students who don’t believe he/she can get better. The former group tends to work harder and achieve better results than the latter group.
I work in all my classes to promote the growth mindset to encourage success. However, a recent article in Education Week recounted more recent research indicating some efforts to promote growth mindset may not actually help. Read the article here. The newer research looked at whether only effort praise promoted a growth mindset. In middle and high school students, effort praise alone didn’t work. The students were skeptical of the praise and even believed the teacher didn’t possess a growth mindset. The article called this praise a "False Growth Mindset."
The article does say effort praise combined with self-reflection of what worked in the process promoted growth mindsets. Academic Support Professionals continually promote feedback and self-reflection in classes. This further supports our advocacy for more assessment with feedback and self-reflection exercises. Praise alone doesn’t provide the necessary reflection or feedback to help students grow. More specific feedback is necessary to promote the growth mindset.
I try to keep my praise focused on what students did correctly as a feedback tool. However, I am sure I have given solely effort based praise without feedback. Growth Mindset is my goal, so as the new research comes out, I plan to try to keep modifying my approach to help students.
Sunday, April 1, 2018
On April 1, 2014, Alex Ruskell, former contributing editor to this blog and current Director of Academic Success at the University of South Carolina School of Law, wrote a hilarious post entitled "New Bar Exam Section -- Interpretive Dance." The post is so funny that I thought it was worth re-posting today. Happy April Fool's Day! (Kirsha Trychta)
Full-time Assistant Director / Lecturer: We are hiring a full-time professor to teach in both our Legal Writing Department and Office of Academic and Bar Success. This hybrid position is an 11-month contract with the possibility to renewal, full benefits.
In the Legal Writing Department, you will teach one section of the year-long Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing course to about 25 first-year students.
As an Assistant Director in the Office of Academic and Bar Success, you will teach one semester-long course that helps students hone their legal analysis and writing skills, with an emphasis on preparing for the California Bar Exam. You will directly counsel students and carry out programming aimed at improving academic performance.
Please review the application here, and please forward to interested colleagues. If you have any questions, please email Professor Devin Kinyon <firstname.lastname@example.org>, the Director of the Academic and Bar Success for the 2018-2019 year.
- The position advertised:
__ a. is a tenure-track appointment.
__ b. may lead to successive long-term contracts of five or more years.
X_ c. may lead only to successive short-term contracts of one to four years.
__ d. has an upper-limit on the number of years a teacher may be appointed.
__ e. is part of a fellowship program for one or two years.
__ f. is a part-time appointment, or a year-to-year adjunct appointment.
Additional information about job security or terms of employment, any applicable term limits, and whether the position complies with ABA Standard 405(c):
After a one-year initial contract, the position may lead to rolling, renewable contracts of three years.
- The professor hired:
___ a. will be permitted to vote in faculty meetings*
__X_ b. will not be permitted to vote in faculty meetings.
Additional information about the extent of the professor’s voting rights:
The professor may serve on committees, and vote on committee matters.
- The school anticipates paying an annual academic year base salary in the range checked below. (A base salary does not include stipends for coaching moot court teams, teaching other courses, or teaching in summer school; a base salary does not include conference travel or other professional development funds.)
___ over $120,000
___ $110,000 - $119,999
___ $100,000 - $109,999
_X__$90,000 - $99,999
_X_$80,000 - $89,999
_X_ $70,000 - $79,999
___ $60,000 - $69,999
___ $50,000 - $59,999
___ less than $50,000
___ this is a part-time appointment paying less than $30,000
___this is an adjunct appointment paying less than $10,000
- The number of students enrolled in each semester of the courses taught by the legal research & writing professor will be:
_X_ a. 30 or fewer
__ b. 31 - 35
__ c. 36 - 40
__ d. 41 - 45
__ e. 46 - 50
__ f. 51 - 55
__ g. 56 - 60
__ h. more than 60
Saturday, March 31, 2018
This video highlight from The Chronicle of Higher Education focuses on a SXSWedu talk by Manoush Zomorodi and JP Connolly discussing the many students who are distracted by their smartphones, tablets, etc. Unfortunately it is just a clip; I have not yet found a link for the entire talk. It touches on the power of boredom, the endlessness of scrolling, streaks, and disruption of focus. The statistics (from research by Gloria Mark) regarding the impact of interruptions and self-interruptions on brain focus are useful for students to know (begins at 11:29 for those of you who want to scroll there without watching the entire clip). The link is: Digital Distractions. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, March 30, 2018
Hat tip to David Jaffe, Associate Dean for Student Affairs at American University Washington College of Law, for his listserv post regarding The Path to Law Student Well-Being. Part of the information from his post is included here:
". . . a new podcast series, The Path to Law Student Well-Being, sponsored by the Law School Assistance Committee to the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP).
The inaugural two-part episode is available here, just below the live Twitter Town Hall taking place this [past] Wednesday [March 28th].
This episode features two short conversations with Dean & Professor of Law Michael Hunter Schwartz of the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law and Professor Larry Krieger of the Florida State University College of Law and is moderated by Professor Susan Wawrose of the University of Dayton School of Law.
- In the first part of this episode, Dean Schwartz and Professor Krieger suggest ways individual faculty members can notice, engage with, and support students they suspect are in distress.
- The second part identifies steps faculty can take to promote student well-being through their teaching in the classroom and includes simple actions for law school administrators.
The podcast series is a response to the call for action in the 2017 National Task Force Report The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, which was sent to all law schools last fall and sets out specific action items for the legal community, including some specific steps for judges, regulators, employers, bar associations, lawyer assistance programs, and law schools."
Thursday, March 29, 2018
Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending the Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Conference. Being exhausted from grading numerous writing assignments into the wee hours of the morning, Prof. Katherine Lyons and Prof. Aimee Dudovitz (Loyola Law School - Los Angeles) caught my attention with the title of their talk: "Integrating Quick Classroom Exercises that Connect Doctrine and Skills and Still Allow You (and Your Students) to Sleep at Night."
Frankly, this was a presentation that spoke directly to me. It was medicine for my tired heart and my hurried mind. I needed sleep (and lots of it)!
My favorite tip was what I'll paraphrase as the "one-moment question."
Just pop on the screen a one-moment research question and ask your students to get to work researching, drafting, and writing a quick 5-10 minute email answer. That's right. Start with researching. As the professors made clear, don't let them blurt out an answer. Instead, make them work. Tell them to start looking on the internet, digging into the legal research engines for their answers. Then, based on their own research discoveries, direct your students to write out short emails to provide you with precise answers to that particular question. Once submitted, now you can open up the classroom for a well-researched and informed conversation about the answer to the one-moment question. And, because the answers are super-short, it shouldn't take much time to at least make a mark or two on each answer as follow-up feedback.
As an example, Professors Lyons and Dudovitz suggested that one might ask - in the midst of a civil procedure class discussing the propriety of "tag" jurisdiction for instance - whether a plaintiff could properly serve a corporate defendant by serving the summons and complaint on an out-of-state corporate officer just passing through the local airport of the plaintiff's forum state. As a tip, the professors suggested that you pick out a question that has a bright-line answer based on jurisdictional precedent (and one that can be easily researched). And, as they suggested, as a bonus have the students keep track of their research trails in arriving at their answers.
That got me thinking. In my own teaching this semester, perhaps I should ask my students - in the midst of our studies of constitutional law - whether a state such as Colorado could hypothetically prohibit out-of-state residents from being licensed as Colorado attorneys and, if not, why not. To confess, I'm pretty sure about the answer but not exactly certain of the reason. But, I think it has to do with the Article IV Privileges and Immunities Clause. So, I better take heed of the professors' advice and start researching for myself. In the process, I think that I might just become a better learner (and teacher too)! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Please see yesterday’s post by my colleague Kirsha Trychta for great background information and resources here.
What is happening in cyberspace
The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the ABA Law Student Division are cosponsoring a Twitter Town Hall. The hope is to have a national conversation from coast to coast today. More information here:
Here’s what’s happening at our law school
- Students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to wear green to show support for mental health awareness.
- The Office of Student Engagement asked that students share what they do to manage stress in law school. Faculty and staff were asked to share stress and anxiety relief strategies, highlight stress-reduction techniques and healthy recipes.
- A student organization, the Mindfulness Society, in collaboration with the Office of Student Engagement is hosting a lunch segment providing tips on stress and anxiety management in anticipation of final exams. Fun activities and take home treats are planned for those who attend.
What are you doing today?
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
"The ABA Law Student Division has selected March 28 as the official National Mental Health Day at law schools across the country. Law schools are encouraged to sponsor educational programs and events that teach and foster breaking the stigma associated with severe depression and anxiety among law students and lawyers." To help law schools plan events, the ABA offers a 43-page downloadable Planning Toolkit, links to organizations like the Lawyer Assistance Programs and David Nee Foundation, and a robust list of internet resources (including this blog!).
Unfortunately, mental health issues are prevalent in law school. A 2014 survey of "law student well-being found that one quarter suffered from anxiety and 18 percent had been diagnosed with depression. More than half of the law students surveyed said they had gotten drunk at least once during the past 30 days." Moreover, a 2016 follow-up study "found that those problems don’t stop in law school. Fully one in five lawyers are problem drinkers and nearly half have experienced depression at some point during their careers."
In February 2018 at the ABA midyear meeting, in response to the research, the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates adopted a resolution urging law firms, law schools, bar associations, lawyer regulatory agencies and other legal employers to take concrete action to address the high rates of substance abuse and mental health issues. The report recommends that law schools deemphasize alcohol at social events, have professional counselors on campus, and have attendance policies that help schools detect when students may be in crisis. The 2018 resolution expands upon a 2017 recommendation that "approved changes to the Model Rule for Minimum Continuing Legal Education that require an hour of substance abuse and mental health CLE every three years." (Kirsha Trychta)
Monday, March 26, 2018
Most of us have seen a variation of the quote attributed to Ben Franklin, “Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail.” Professors, mentors, and motivational speakers espouse the quote whenever possible. I say it at least a few times a year to students. Planning is critical, but haphazard planning is only marginally better than no plan at all.
I meet with many students who tell me they plan to study and work on outlines when they have free time in April. Unfortunately, many of those students will meet with me at the beginning of next semester to work on planning because they didn’t have enough time at the end to study effectively. Remember, law school is constantly busy, and life never slows down. Waiting for free time inevitably means not finishing outlines or studying before reading week. Plan to finish outlines early and study more with reverse planning.
Reverse planning is ideal when a particular task has a hard deadline. Reverse planning advocates starting at the end date and working backwards to allocate time for each step to complete the task on time. The setup makes it easy to see exactly how much time is necessary to be prepared by the deadline.
Reverse planning works great for finals preparation. Exam dates for each class set the hard deadline. Print out a calendar of April and May. Handwrite the dates for each final on the Calendar. I know it may sound low tech. However, research on the benefits of handwriting seems to be published daily. Psychologically, individuals tend to be more committed to a plan he/she writes down by hand and places somewhere he/she can see it regularly. I then suggest writing down all class times to show when studying isn’t possible. The free space is when studying is possible. You can also check out Amy Jarmon's recent post for tips on using a calendaring system.
Start with practicing and memorizing right before exams. Set out when to complete practice questions, when to send them to Professors for feedback, when to learn outlines, and what the few days before each test will look like. From there, start working backwards on how to get all your outlines complete. Attempt to schedule enough time in April to complete outlines prior to reading week. Also, try to allocate both practice and learning time throughout April, not just at the end.
While I advocate for studying as much as reasonable, make sure to keep reasonable in mind. Be realistic with the plan. Don’t plan during times you know you will be tired or won’t study. Make sure to leave ample relaxing and sleep time. Put breaks and relaxing time on the schedule. Post the schedule on your refrigerator or a bulletin board you always read. Check off tasks as you complete them. Celebrate long study days with bad TV and a scoop (or pint) of ice cream at night.
Studying for finals is stressful and difficult. Setting a good plan can alleviate some stress and ensure being well prepared for finals.
Sunday, March 25, 2018
The semester is rapidly coming to an end. Students are juggling paper deadlines, studies for finals, the banquet/ball season, applications for summer jobs, registration for next year's courses, and much more. Some students are also anxious over midterm exam grades that were not as high as they had hoped.
The level of tension in the building is on the rise. In conversations with students, I have been hearing sentences including phrases such as "I wish I had...," "if only I...," "time got away...," and other regrets. A few of the conversations also include phrases such as "everyone else...," "my classmates are better than me...," and "maybe I'm not good enough...," and other comparisons.
Here in West Texas, the weather has hit the mid-80's, and spring fever is compounding any motivational problems. Coming off Spring Break into such warm temperatures has made the same-old-same-old routine seem even less inviting.
Try these strategies for staying in control over the next weeks as the semester winds down:
- Put the past behind you. You can only control what you do in the present and future. Stow the regrets for later when rethinking your work strategies for next semester.
- Stop the comparisons to everyone else. You are you and need to focus on what you are able to accomplish.
- Decide where you can study most efficiently and effectively. Where can you focus best? Where can you find a less stressful environment? What environment offers the least distractions and interruptions?
- Plan your exam studying. Look at your weekly schedule and carve out times to devote regularly to exam studying for each course. Think you don't have any time? Look at unused time between classes, TV/video game time, social media time, wasted weekend time, etc.
- Divide each course up into the topics with subtopics that will be on the final exam. You can often find time to study a subtopic when finding time to study an entire topic seems impossible. Any progress, however small, is still progress!
- Use practice questions wisely. If you review material well before doing hard practice questions, it is more efficient and effective. You need real feedback on future exam performance, not squishy "well if I had studied I would have been okay on that question" excuses.
- Choose study partners carefully. Who is serious about doing well? Who is on top of the course? Whose schedule fits with yours? Whose group dynamics do you need to avoid?
- After you study a topic, list the areas of confusion/questions you still have. Go to your professor often to get clarification instead of storing up all your questions until the end of the course.
- Spend time with positive people! Your motivation will increase if you surround yourself with people with "can do" attitudes.
- Get into a healthy routine to benefit your brain and body. Sleep, nutritious meals, and moderate exercise will help your productivity, mental well-being, and energy.
If you are having trouble planning your work, stop in to see the academic support professionals at your school. They can help you prioritize your work and manage your time better. Expert learners ask for help when they need it. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, March 24, 2018
The AASE annual meeting is a great opportunity to gain new ideas for future programming, meet with fellow ASP/bar professionals, and renew your enthusiasm for your job! Whether you are new to ASP/bar work or have been doing it for years, there is always something to gain from attending the conference.
This year's conference is May 22-24 at the St. Louis University School of Law. Registration information is available here: AASE Conference Registration. Hotel reservations can be made at the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark at this link: Hotel information. The room block closes on April 23, 2018.
Hope to see you there!
Friday, March 23, 2018
Thursday, March 22, 2018
It's not too late, at all.
With most law students facing final exams in a month or so, this is the perfect time for your law students to reflect on their learning...with the goal of making concrete beneficial improvements right now, i.e., with plenty of time to prepare for their final exams.
There are many such self-evaluation learning techniques, but I especially like the questions that adjunct professor Lori Reynolds (Asst. Dean of Graduate Legal Studies at the Univ. of Denver) asks each of her students because the questions are open-ended, allowing students to reflect, interact, and communicate about their own learning with their teacher.
In fact, just prior to spring break, I asked these questions of my own law students, and I am taking stock of their responses by making changes where needed in my own content and instructional methods too. You see, learning is a team effort, so it is important to get concrete information from all of your team members (your students) to identify what is helping your students learning, what might be hindering their learning, and what goals have yet to be achieved for the course thus far.
In my own course this semester, there were two questions that tended to be most valuable. First, with respect to what might be most hindering learning, I received a number of responses questioning the value of the "think-pair-share" method as a tool to help activate meaningful classroom engagement. Based on those responses, I am hard at work doing research and re-evaluating my own use of "think-pair-share" to confirm whether in fact the method is an effective learning tool for my classrooms this term.
The final question also seemed to provide valuable information about my students' learning, namely, in asking them what they might do differently to improve their overall course grade. To paraphrase their general responses, most students acknowledged that: "It's time to put some more elbow grease into my learning because learning takes curious, engaging, and enterprising hard work on my part." I was glad to see so many take ownership over their learning.
But, as a word of caution, I was quite afraid to ask these questions. You see, I have 123 students; that means that I was bound to receive news that I just didn't want to hear because, frankly, I like to be liked. But, my job as a teacher is not to be liked but to be good at what I have been hired to do. That's my responsibility to my students. It's my obligation to them. So, rather than fretting and worrying about what my students might say, I found out. Yes, some of the comments were a bit painful for me to read. But, read them I did. And, more importantly, I stepped back to take them to heart to see whether there might be things that I ought to change to improve my students' learning for the remainder of the semester.
Looking back, I'm mighty glad I asked because it's already helping me to become a better teacher to my students this semester, while I still have time to make a positive difference in the learning. So, feel free to use these questions with your students this semester. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
“Strive for Progress, Not Perfection” is the text on my laptop. Whenever I present a workshop or go before students using my laptop that is what they see. I selected this phrase because so many students are consumed with perfection at everything they do that they often lose sight of progress made. They forget about those obstacles they overcame which are fundamental to their knowledge base and ability. They are no longer novices because they have some experience. It is all about perspective.
Perfection may seem like a worthy goal to work towards or even try to achieve but in reality, it sometimes does more harm than good. Perfection is often an unattainable goal that can halt progress. Perfection for law students often means receiving “A” grades in all courses, achieving a perfect GPA, and involvement in coveted extracurricular activities. Whenever one or more of these is not achieved, students are left feeling less than adequate and feeling as though they do not belong in this environment. They focus on their mistakes and challenges which highlight negativity. In reality, very few students achieve the perfection they yearn. Not striving for perfection as a goal means that students can endeavor to improve their competencies and abilities, better themselves, become more effective and efficient with each task, and so much more.
Currently, several of my students have the “end of semester blues” as they grapple with project and paper deadlines, looming exams, and fear of not finding summer opportunities. This is usually when students express to me their overwhelming frustrations which may be summed up by one or more of the following statements:
“I have been told NO multiple times, I don’t know if I can fill out another application!”
“It appears that there is simply not enough time to complete everything I have to complete!”
“I am tired of having to work ten times harder than others and still fail to get opportunities that others seem to easily have access to with lesser credentials!”
“I feel like the environment is rejecting everything I care about right now. How do I realign my passions with what I am learning and doing?”
“I am rethinking whether I can make a difference.”
It is my opinion that mistakes are the best way to learn, improve, or progress and it is imperative that students make mistakes and experience some challenges. Mistakes and challenges are necessary for learning, as well as building courage, perseverance, and problem-solving skills. In life, mistakes will happen and challenges will occur. It is the memory of each challenge and mistake that reminds the student of what they have overcome and their ability to prevail. It is my ardent belief that if students can honestly attempt their very best at whatever they do, then at the end, they will feel fulfilled even if they have not fully achieved what they perceive as success.
It is important to repackage perfectionism. Perfectionism should be seen as incremental progress rather than a single ultimate goal. There is so much joy that comes with celebrating each achievement regardless of how small or big. Commit to honestly performing your best, slowly edging your life closer and closer to where you want to be. Celebrate each and every success, failure, challenge, and mistake along the way. You may sometimes fall but as long as you get up after each negative experience and keep trying, you will make progress. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Many of us are intimately familiar with ABA Standard 309(b), which requires a law school to "provide academic support designed to afford students a reasonable opportunity to complete the program of legal education, graduate, and become members of the legal profession." But, today, I'd like to focus on subsection "(a)." Standard 309(a) states that a "law school shall provide academic advising for students that communicates effectively the school’s academic standards and graduation requirements, and that provides guidance on course selection."
Typically, first-year students have little (or no) say in what courses they will take. Upper-level students, on the other hand, have many different--and sometimes competing--options available to them. The vast number of different course combinations can be overwhelming to even the most organized law students. Here are a few tips to help rising 2Ls and 3Ls register for upper-level courses.
Step one: check the law school's website or academic handbook for advising information. Virtually every law school's website boasts an academic advising section. For example, the University of California at Irvine's academic advising website offers some good suggestions for course selection:
- Take the classes that interest you the most.
- Take classes from professors you would like to study with, even if the subject matter is not one you think will appeal to you. There are practice fields you have not considered that will actually capture your interest.
- Take classes from professors you enjoyed and whose teaching style matches your learning style.
- Take classes that will give you a strong foundation in the practice field you intend to enter.
- Take a class in an area of law that interests you, even if you never intend to practice in that field.
- Takes classes with a mix of different methods of evaluation (e.g., exams, papers, in-class exercises).
- Take a mix of skills and doctrinal courses.
- Take a broad range of classes. Life is unpredictable. You may discover you do not enjoy the work you do, or business in your practice area may dry up. Choose courses that will expose you to various methodological approaches to the law and that prepare you to be a well-rounded lawyer able to take advantage of opportunities as they appear.
Step two: make a list of all the academic requirements needed for graduation. Check for specific course requirements, minimum/maximum credit limitations both at the semester level and cumulatively, writing or seminar requirements, and concentration requirements. Put all of that information on a single sheet of paper. You are welcome to Download Graduation Requirements Checklist that I use at my school and then make adjustments to the document to reflect your school's requirements.
Step three: create a two-year plan. Frequently, elective courses are offered during either the fall semester or the spring semester, but not both. And, some specialty elective courses are only taught once every two years, meaning students will only have one opportunity during their upper-level to enroll in the course. Therefore, it is critical to know when, and how often a course will be offered. Once you know which courses are offered when, chart them out. It may feel like a complicated LSAT logic game (e.g. you can't take Wealth Transfers the same semester you that take Family Law), but it's worth the effort. Again, you are invited to Download 3-Year Course Sequence Planning Worksheet to get the process started.
Step four: take draft versions of your worksheets to your academic advisor and academic support professor for approval. Once you get the thumbs-up from your academic advisor about the mechanics, turn your attention to the bigger picture - goal setting. For more information on what that conversation should look like, read Professor Jarmon's 2015 blogpost entitled "The Missing Piece: Academic Advising." Finally, stop by your Academic Support Professor's Office for some deeper insights. They are always full of helpful information, especially as it relates to your current academic achievement and future academic goals. After all, there is a reason that ABA Standard 309 includes academic advising in part (a) and academic support in part (b) of the same rule! (Kirsha Trychta)
Monday, March 19, 2018
Have you ever completed a task you didn’t want to do? Of course you have. We all do. Think about how you felt during the process. Were you encouraged about the accomplishment or were you just ready for it to be over? Did the feeling depend on your ultimate end goal? Grit researcher Dr. Angela Duckworth would suggest passion for the ultimate end goal makes a huge difference in perseverance and success.
Headlines and quick recitations of research indicate grit is a common denominator of successful people. Individuals, especially stressed and busy law students, can make assumptions about what grit entails based on a common understanding. Many people, myself included, heard small pieces of information and assumed grit meant hard work and perseverance in face of all obstacles. However, Dr. Duckworth suggests grit contains more than the common understanding. She argues perseverance is a major component, but perseverance combined with passion is critical for long-term grittiness.
Dr. Duckworth’s research into passion with perseverance resonates with me. I love playing golf. I am not uniquely good at golf, but I continue to play. After the glory of DST, I can go to the driving range once a week after my kids go to bed. I set goals and continually try to improve. However, I only improve about 1 shot a year on average, but I keep working hard on the process. Contrast golf with my low desire for running. Running is a great activity, but I tend to get bored and winded. Some OCU faculty and staff form relay teams to participate in the Oklahoma City Bombing Run to Remember in April. I participated last year and trained just enough to make it through the 5k leg. My desire to complete a run associated with the largest tragedy in my community keep me training and helped me complete the race. After April, I didn’t run again until November to start training for a 10k leg this year because I didn't have a larger reason to overcome my lack of desire to run. Even now, training is hard. My body hurts, so I keep making excuses to not follow my regimen. My desire is low, so I will not put in as much effort as I should. I also predict I won’t keep running after April again. Most of my running gains will be lost by next year.
Passion is a critical ingredient to get through law school. At orientation, I make first-year students write down why he/she wants to be an attorney. I tell them halfway through the semester they should read their why statement again. Any time they are stressed or finding classes difficult, I suggest going back to the why statement. Passion and the why can provide enough motivation to continue through struggles. No one will like every assignment. No one will like every class. Re-reading the reason for attending was to help unrepresented groups or provide a better life for family can be enough to complete the assignment in a way to learn the material to retain it for success on finals and the bar exam. Combining the why with perseverance can help overcome many of law school's challenges.
Learn how to tap into passion now because it will be critical in the practice of law. No one will like every deposition, client, case, discovery request, or contract. Trudging through it without passion won’t provide the best advocacy or work product, and that is not the grit that leads to success. Finding your passion for the end goal and persevering is what leads to long-term success.
Sunday, March 18, 2018
People previously carried paper daily planners with them everywhere. They had deadlines, tasks, and more carefully penciled into the planners. No meeting was set or deadline agreed without a check of the person’s hard-copy calendar.
Theoretically, in this digital age, our computer or phone calendaring systems should be serving the same functions. However, so many law students admit they do not calendar anything or, if they do input deadlines/events, they never look at the calendar later.
Here are some tips on using a calendaring system:
- An old-fashioned daily planner may be the best choice. It physically reminds you of the day’s events, tasks, and deadlines. Most planners have daily and monthly calendars in them as well as task lists.
- If you are some type of digital calendaring system, take the time to learn its bells and whistles. What features does it have for repeating events, color coding events, reminder notifications, alarms, and more?
- No calendaring system works if you do not use it/look at it. Start a habit of checking your calendar multiple times each day.
- Check all of your law school course syllabi and enter all deadlines for the semester to avoid surprises.
- Consider setting artificial deadlines to work toward at least two days before the actual deadlines. You then can use the final two days for editing or completing minor tasks.
- For a large project, make a “to do” list of all the tasks needed for completion. Then schedule those tasks throughout the days before the deadline. By spreading the work throughout the time available, it will be less stressful and allow for more reflection time.
Learning how to manage time, organize work, and meet deadlines are all skills that are essential for practicing lawyers. By developing these skills in law school, our students will have less culture shock when they move into the legal workplace. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, March 17, 2018
Some law students who chat with me about discouraging grades take the view that this "failure" is permanent and unprecedented among others. Because many of them experienced only good grades before law school, they erroneously think that successful people never fail. They also worry that they cannot bounce back from this "black mark" on the academic record.
Here are some quotes that may help law students get perspective back on their discouraging grades:
- All things good to know are difficult to learn. Greek proverb
- The expert in anything was once a beginner. Helen Hayes
- You measure the size of the accomplishment by the obstacles you had to overcome to reach your goals. Booker T. Washington
- If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time. Steve Jobs
- Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th. Julie Andrews
- It always seems impossible until it's done. Nelson Mandela
- Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors. African proverb
- Tough times never last. But tough people do. Dr. Robert Schuller
- Nothing in the universe can stop you from letting go and starting over. Guy Finley
- The beginning is always today. Mary Wollstonecraft
Getting a discouraging grade can lead to evaluating our errors and making permanent improvements that lead to positive future outcomes. (Amy Jarmon)