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)
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Please excuse the delay in some postings. I have been travelling in the UK and ran into technical glitches. I think they are sorted perhaps and will catch up on some requested posts at the end of the week if all goes well. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, July 15, 2017
Thursday, July 13, 2017
With a big hat tip to one of our bar takers this summer, here's a website -- The Visual Law Library -- that has some cool colorful cartoons to help brighten up your daily memorization studies.
On the website, cartoonist and attorney Margaret Hagan has created cartoons for the following subjects that are tested on most bar exams: Civil Procedure, Con Law, Contracts, Corporations, Criminal Law, Evidence, Family Law, Property Law, and Torts.
It's a rich resource to allow you to "see" some of the major rules in a colorful way. So, feel free to take a break by scoping out a few cartoons that might help you better remember some of the major rules for upcoming bar exam. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
July is in full swing, the bar exam is fast approaching, and panic has set in yet again for some bar exam studiers. Others are ready to face the beast that is the bar exam so they can become "human beings" again. What do you do with the time you have remaining to maximize your preparation? Below are a few last minute suggestions from former bar exam studiers.
Last Two Weeks
Create a plan; make a schedule for the days leading up to the exam. What, specifically, are you going to do on each day? What materials do you need to put together for test days? What materials are not permitted in the exam room? Plan to be awake and study during the times you need to be awake and alert on exam day. Consider whether you need to regulate your fluid intake. Adopt a plan and stick to it.
Inspirational Music, Movies, or Videos
Music, movies, or videos that “pick you up” or “pump you up” can motivate you to dig up that last bit of energy you know is within you when you feel depleted. These can also create a positive mindset about your ability to tackle the exam or to reenergize after perceived poor performance. You can create a playlist leading up to the exam, for each morning of the exam, or after the exam. Alex Ruskell, one of our former contributors, wrote an entry last year with musical selections for various tastes. Click here: Get Pumped for the Bar Exam!
As a bar exam studier, you want to mentally prepare for the exam ahead and the best way to do this is to mimic the circumstances surrounding the bar exam. Practicing on the days and at the time of your exam a week before your bar exam is ideal. You may have only practiced one session (3 hours) of essays, performance tests, or MBE. You may have practiced a full day (6 hours) of MBE or a writing day practice but you may not have done it in the same sequence as the bar exam. The goal of this exercise is to see how you maintain your stamina, how you engage with the material at the times you need to, and how you manage two or three days of consecutive testing. It will likely be an exhausting process so plan to be unable to do anything else each night. The focus of this exercise is not on assessing whether you will pass the exam based on your performance. Bar exam studiers focus on the score rather than on time management, energy, and the like. Adrenaline keeps you going on exam day but you are fighting fatigue from the past few months and you want to train your brain to engage when you need it to. This is also an opportunity to practice following the policies of your testing center and jurisdiction.
Create a list of individuals who will cheer you on at various points and support you in different ways. Ensure that you have a mix of individuals who understand the bar exam process and some who are completely removed. You can have a call schedule or ask them to check-in with you on various days and at various times. There are some individuals who are great at getting you pumped up for a day of testing and others to whom you can confide all of your fears prior to or after the exam. There are also individuals who can run errands for you, cook for you, bring you lunch in between test sessions and keep your company. It is vital to consider what you need and the people who can cater to those needs in the days to come.
All the very best July 2017 bar takers! (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
I attended the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning’s “Teaching Cultural Competency and Other Professional Skills” conference on July 7-8, 2017 at the William H. Bowen School of Law in Little Rock, Arkansas. The conference opened with a quick sticky dot poll of the attendees. The dots revealed that while most professors felt comfortable teaching skills like trial practice, negotiations, and document drafting, only a few were confident in their ability to teach cultural competencies in the classroom. In an attempt to ameliorate this (real or perceived) deficiency, the approximately fifty attendees—a surprisingly even mix of doctrinal, clinical, legal writing, and academic support professors—worked collaboratively for two days to develop a portfolio of concrete exercises to satisfy ABA Standard 302. What follows are some of my major takeaways:
The first suggestion was to “[Bring] Marginalized Populations into the [Legal Writing] Classroom.” Elon Law Professors Thomas Noble, Patricia Perkins, and Catherine Wasson explained how they each drafted a legal writing factual scenario involving a potentially unsympathetic and culturally diverse plaintiff: an Egyptian immigrant, a convicted felon, and a mentally ill survivalist, respectively. These plaintiffs’ legal claims were then further complicated by the intentional inclusion of gender neutral names, ethnic sounding names, ambiguous facts, and words with strong connotations (think: “fetus” versus “the child”). These professors crafted case files that not only required students to learn the mechanics of legal writing, but also forced students to confront their biases in a thoughtful and controlled way. Occasionally students made unwarranted assumptions which allowed the class to discuss the importance of understanding cultural sensitivity and implicit bias. Other students wanted to “help” by taking action contrary to the client’s expressed desires creating a great opportunity to talk about the ethical complexities of being a counselor-at-law. The presenters reported that many students came to realize that there might not always be a “right” answer, especially when dealing with legal issues that intersect with human dignity and diverse cultural norms.
Next we discussed the importance of “Building [a] Student[’s] Capacity for Self-Evaluation” with the use of a robust “soft skills” rubric. Before the presenters shared their rubric, Professors Lauren Onkeles-Klein and Robert Dinerstein used Mentimeter’s in-class polling software to highlight that professors view self-assessment as an opportunity for student “reflection,” but students view self-assessment exercises as “painful busywork”—regardless of whether the assessment process occurs in a doctrinal class, legal writing course, or the clinical setting. The question then became: how do we shift student mindset about self-assessment? Their response was to create a rubric that establishes expectations early and often, introduces a common language around measuring skill, and reframes the connection between self-assessment and grades. Professor Dinerstein discussed the rubric’s evolution from a one-page outline to an unwieldy 15+ page document, before he finally settled on a streamlined 10-page student self-assessment form, which borrows heavily from assessments commonly used in medical residency training. Throughout the academic year, supervising professors repeatedly remind students that the goal is “competence” not “mastery” during law school. The current form also highlights long-term patterns within the individual student’s self-assessment, clarifies conflicts between student partners, and frequently invites a dialogue about the importance of teamwork in a law firm setting. The presenters reported that students do, in fact, get better at self-assessment over time through the interactive and frequent assessment process. Anyone interested in reviewing, or possibly adopting, the presenters’ rubric handouts are invited to reach out to the authors directly for permission. (Sorry about the sideways picture below; I am still learning the blog-posting ropes.)
After a delicious taco lunch break, we went back to work “Grow[ing] Future Lawyers in the Image of ABA Standard 302…”. Three professors from West Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School explained how they successfully embedded the same acquaintance rape fact pattern in all three years of law school. In Professor Tonya Krause-Phelan’s 1L criminal law course students learned the elements of rape before conducting an in class jury trial. In Professor Victoria Vuletich’s 2L evidence course students reexamined their 1L trial with fresh eyes, having now learned the Rape Shield Laws. Then, as a 3L in the public defender’s clinic, Professor Tracey Brame set aside time to talk about the unique cultural sensitivities required to competently represent a defendant or victim in a sexual assault case. Reusing the same factual scenario in each year enabled the same students to see the same story from a variety of different legal angles. In addition to reusing the same hypothetical, the three professors created a long-term structure of evolving course rules to better reflect the students’ growth from year-to-year. During the first year, Professor “K-P” drafted and enforced detailed courses rules, with no input from the students. She was careful, however, to relate the classroom rules to the real practice of law, such as why it is critical to be able to take handwritten notes. Then in the second year, the students were allowed to establish the classroom rules, including the sanctions for rule violation. For example, students opted to impose a “must bring treats” penalty to anyone who was late to class without good cause. Then in the final year, the same cohort had to compare and contrast the rule-following required in 1L year with the rule making privileges of 2L year.
CUNY School of Law Professors Deborah Zalesne and David Nadvorney offered suggestions on how to help “underprepared law students” acquire the “other” skills mentioned in ABA Standard 302(d). Session attendees read a few pages of a Contracts case and quickly identified legal terms that could be troublesome for any first-year student. The presenters then pointed out numerous non-legal terms (e.g. “paradigm” or “doctrine”) which also have the potential to hinder an underprepared student. To combat this problem in their own classrooms, the presenters have made a conscious effort to introduce a new concept in the students’ first language, before layering on the more professional vocabulary. Avoiding the lawyer dominant language at the outset enables students to focus on the larger legal framework (i.e. to think big) without getting bogged down in the line-by-line details of the case. Then they systematically work through the case with the students, helping them to understand each line and each new term. The presenters also stressed the importance of being sensitive to students’ wrong answers. In short, taking the time to mentor these students at the start will allow the students to make larger long-term gains during the semester.
I attended several other sessions. I’ll give you the details of those sessions in part two of this two-part series. Coming soon!
Monday, July 10, 2017
We are just a few weeks away from the bar exam. And for many students studying for the bar, that means questions. No. I don’t mean the hundreds, if not thousands, of MBE questions that the students have taken and, perhaps, retaken. And I don’t mean questions on any practice exams. I mean questions running through our students’ heads: questions of doubt, commitment, and normalcy.
Most students studying for the bar have had to live in somewhat of a “Bar Exam Prep Bubble” for the last few months. They celebrated law school graduation in May. But, it wasn’t really a full-on celebration because they knew there was still something more to do. It’s something huge and overwhelming. And it’s something that dictates one’s true entrance into the legal profession.
The bar exam is huge and overwhelming and, in many respects, it does dictate one’s true entrance into the legal profession. This monumental exam has a way of playing mind games with our students—especially at this point in the bar prep season.
We are at a point in the bar prep season where students will start second-guessing themselves. Will I pass? Have I really done all that I should have done over the last few months? What if I freak out and can’t remember anything? Why have I put myself through this?
Despite all the work that our students have put into preparing for the exam, they will think they still have more work to do. Despite the objective results that their bar companies provide to them of their performance so far in the bar prep season, they will wonder and worry about how well they will perform on the ‘big day(s).’
As we prepare ourselves for the last few weeks of bar prep season, let’s remember that anxiety and doubt are normal for this big event. But, they don’t equal failure. Anxiety and doubt don’t mean that our students are unable to succeed. And they don’t mean that our students have not put in the necessary work to succeed.
If we get an anxious and doubting student in our offices, let’s remember our anxieties and doubts about our bar exams. Let’s remember how we may have felt overwhelmed with the amount of material. And let’s remember that we, and every other licensed attorney out there, passed the exam.
The bar exam is challenging. But, it is doable. We are all proof that it is doable. With the right frame of mind and support from family, friends, and ASP professionals, we were all able to overcome the mind games. Our students can, too. (OJ Salinas)
Sunday, July 9, 2017
Excuse a somewhat off-topic post. Just before the fourth of July, I visited Lincoln in the United Kingdom. At the castle, the Magna Carta was on exhibit. Of course, as the person who teaches Comparative Law: The English Legal System at my law school, I had to see the exhibition.
As most of you know, the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta was in 2015. For those of you a bit rusty on your English history, here is a thumbnail sketch. The landowning barons were angry at King John because he was throwing them in jail for no reason, taxing them for his wars continuously, and denying their rights as freemen. After joining together against the king, the barons forced him to sign the Magna Carta to put limits on the king's powers and reassert the rights of freemen. (Note that freemen did not include John and Jane Public; it was all about the rights of the powerful landed class.)
There are four remaining copies of the document. Four? Copies had to be made for the king, the barons, some officials, and every bishop's city throughout the land. The Magna Carta had to be meticulously copied onto parchment by monks so that it could be couriered to all regions of the kingdom to provide notice of the agreement. In fact that copying would have taken weeks or longer to accomplish.
It turns out that King John reneged on the agreement three weeks after he signed, so all of the copies may have never been delivered. However, Lincoln Cathedral had received its copy. After John's death (within the year as I recall), his young son reaffirmed the agreement, upon the encouragement of his close advisors, to appease the barons. Thus, began the limitations on monarchical powers that came to a head (pun intended) with the execution of Charles I.
Ultimately the American colonies refused to be taxed without representation and fought for freedom. Our own documents of founding reflect the earlier struggles for the rights of freemen. Hopefully in the aftermath of the July 4th holiday, we remember the importance of the rule of law in protecting those rights. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, July 8, 2017
Do you have time to do housekeeping in your office? By that I mean culling out old files, deleting old emails, donating old editions of books to the library, throwing out old notes no longer needed, etc.
I would love to say that I regularly do all of these things - but that would be a bald-faced lie. Instead, I settle for spurts of housekeeping fit into the projects, student appointments, and more. Semester break and summer are my most productive times for housekeeping.
My most consistent housekeeping was email. I emptied my trash and send files several times a week. At least once a month I tried to clean out my inbox and my article feeds and some of the archived files. Certain archived files could be pared at the end of each semester. (My how easy it is for archive files to proliferate like bunny rabbits.)
Then I got a new computer (three cheers!) and later my software was upgraded twice (three cheers?). In the process of these changes, my archive with all of its folders mysteriously triplicated; and within each separate archive file folder, the individual email copied itself 3-6 times. No amount of work with IT has found an easy fix.
Why not just delete two archives and keep one, you ask? Every file needs to be carefully looked at because none of the triplicated archives are entirely identical. And there is thus far no pattern that I can discern to speed up the process of eliminating emails and files. What had been a bit of a headache for housekeeping has become a nightmare.
So, I have turned to other housekeeping that allows for more visible progress. I recently cleared out about 3 feet from a file cabinet by chucking duplicates, notes no longer needed, and consolidating files. Progress! Only about 8 more feet of files to go through in my next go round!
I delivered a book cart of various international law and ASP volumes to the law library to add to the collection or recycle as they saw fit. Then I unpacked newer international law volumes for my courses into the empty space. I am eyeing a hardback journal series as the most likely victim for the next go round.
Right before school starts I will turn to the thrice yearly cleaning of the stacks on my desk that are reference: ABA journals, publisher catalogs, notes from seminars, etc. I'll begin the school year with a sense of accomplishment - at least in some areas. Hope your housekeeping goes well this summer! (Amy Jarmon)