Monday, May 26, 2014
We have all experienced many firsts: our first day of school, first car, first date, first victory, first defeat, first kiss, first heartbreak, and first day of law school (maybe not in that order). Today, you will experience another common first…the first day of bar review (cue Beethoven’s 5th).
No matter which bar review course you are taking, the first day of bar review is overwhelming. There are new books, new terms and acronyms, and so much new information. To say that this first day of bar prep is overwhelming is truly an understatement. Instead of going under-prepared and leaving in a catatonic state, here are a few suggestions to make this monumental first not only tolerable, but also productive and meaningful:
- If you have received a box of books or binders, envelopes filled with paperwork, or links via email, open them and read them PRIOR to attending your first bar review class.
- Start your bar review routine off right: Get a good night’s sleep before your first day, chose a wake-up time that will get you to your class with time to spare, and eat a nutritious breakfast.
- Be comfortable, but look presentable. You do not want someone to think you raided Barry Manilow’s wardrobe.
- Pack energy boosting snacks: pick your protein (nuts, yogurt, cheese, hummus, freeze dried ice cream, hardboiled egg…). You need to stay awake and feel energized.
- Bring a notebook to take notes and a hardcopy calendar or planner. You do not need your computer.
- Pray, meditate, practice yoga, or adopt another ritual that will help keep you centered. You must find a way to stay motivated, focused, and positive. Bar prep will wear on your psyche; thus, you must approach it with a clear plan and an open mind.
Above all, take your first day of bar prep seriously. If you underestimate the importance of this first day, you may miss valuable information and set yourself on a path toward failure. Instead, approach the first day in earnest. Show up physically and mentally and set yourself up for bar exam success.
Friday, May 23, 2014
Some students have engaged in early bar preparation prior to law school graduation, while others have chosen to focus their efforts on other tasks during their last year of law school. While I strongly advocate for the notion of “the earlier the better” for bar prep, many decide to live solely in the present and avoid the bar exam until it is imminent. "Ignorance is bliss"after all.
This sentiment brings to mind Thomas Gray’s poem Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, a personal reflection on the bliss of youth and the worries and trials that lie ahead in adulthood. Law school is by no means paradise, but it invokes “wild wit, invention ever-new” much more than preparing for the bar exam. Unfortunately, preparing for the bar exam feels much more like "comfortless despair."
Thus, I encourage students to take time now at the close of their legal education to reflect on their successes, their challenges, and the fun times that they had as a law student. This provides closure to their law school experience and helps invigorate their ambition to succeed on the bar exam. And, since the "folly" of bar review will be upon them next week, I hope they have one last weekend of pure, unrestrained bliss.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
This week, the Justice Department filed a landmark consent decree to settle claims that the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) practices violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Many of us work with students who may have been affected by LSAC’s “flagging” practice, which identifies applicants who received extra time on the LSAT. This decision not only helps to remedy past discrimination, but also helps ensure that applicants with disabilities are protected in the future. This excerpt taken from the Department of Justice webpage lists the details of the agreement.
Under the consent decree, LSAC has agreed to:
- put a permanent end to the practice of flagging the LSAT score reports of individuals with disabilities who take the LSAT with the common testing accommodation of extended time;
- pay $7.73 million to be allocated for a civil penalty, compensation to individuals named in the United States’ and other plaintiffs’ complaints, and a nationwide victims’ compensation fund;
- streamline its evaluation of requests for testing accommodations by automatically granting most testing accommodations that a candidate can show s/he has previously received for a standardized exam related to post-secondary admissions (such as the SAT, ACT or GED, among others); and
- implement additional best practices for reviewing and evaluating testing accommodation requests as recommended by a panel of experts (to be created by the parties).
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Could a horrifying February Bar pass rate actually signal an effective Bar Prep Program?
Imagine having roughly 100 students each year in a law school class. Let's say 50 students pass the July Bar for a 50 percent bar pass rate. The school decides to hire an ASP person to start a bar pass program.
The ASP person starts some type of Bar Prep. The following February (this school has no Feb grads), the 50 past failers take the exam and 30 pass for a 60 percent pass rate -- so things are improving. Importantly, those 30 new passers were students who only failed by a small margin, so the Bar Prep program's help was the real turning point. The remaing 20 failers plan to take July. In my imaginary jurisdiction, people can and will take the bar exam as many times as it takes to pass.
The next July 85 out of 120 pass -- a 71 percent pass rate. The following February 25 out of the remaining 35 pass -- again 71.
The ASP person is getting more experienced, receiving more faculty and student buy-in with the higher rates, and getting more comfortable with that state's exam, so the next July 90 of 110 pass (80 percent!) -- but only 10 out of 20 pass in February -- with a 50 percent February pass rate, things seem to be moving in the wrong direction . Notably, with the new and improved program, there are very few close failers left in February and the returning failers seem to be getting deeper and deeper in a test-taking hole. The school runs some statistics, and it seems that 10 of these students cannot pass the bar no matter what the school tries to do to help them. In fact, being burned out on the entire law school thing, these 10 fail to ever respond to offers of help.
The next July 92 out of 110 pass -- but only 8 out of 18 in February-- a pass rate of 44 percent.
The next July 95 out of 110 pass -- but only 5 out of 15 in February--a pass rate of 33 percent ... and so on and so forth.
At the end of the day, I don't think a school's bar pass rate is particularly useful in evaluating either the school or its ASP Program -- but, as a thought experiment, I thought it was interesting to note that July success may actually correlate with February failure. (Alex Ruskell)
Monday, May 19, 2014
As you plan your summer writing, remember the call of papers by the Section on Academic Support for our fourth speaker at the AALS Annual Meeting in January 2015. The call for papers deadline for submission of your paper is 5:00 p.m. Friday, August 15, 2014. The full announcement is below.
Call for Papers
AALS Section on Academic Support
January 2015 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.
ASP a Roadmap at the Crossroad: How Academic Support Will Meet Today’s Varied Challenges
This year, the Academic Support Program Committee opted to have a call for papers and one speaker will be selected from the call. From isolated academic support efforts to more formalized multifaceted programs, academic support has fundamentally changed itself and legal education over the years. In light of shrinking budgets, disappearing positions, smaller applicant pools, changing profiles of incoming students, and media attacks on legal education, academic support programs face newer and varied challenges. We seek papers highlighting innovative methods, programs, or ideas related to these challenges.
Topics might include, but are not limited to, efficient and effective ways to: collaborate with faculty; manage limited human and financial resources; attract and retain students; provide resources for students with learning and other disabilities; and create programming for diverse populations to address any social isolation and/or bridge any skills deficiencies.
As the deadline for program proposals was April 1, 2014, our list of program proposal speakers will be forthcoming. The selected paper speaker will join those speakers as one of the presenters. There is no formal requirement as to length of the abstract and paper submission. Preference will be given to papers that offer novel scholarly insights on the panel topic. A paper may have already been accepted for publication as long as it will not be published prior to the Annual Meeting. The Section does not have plans to publish the papers, so individual presenters are free to seek their own publishing opportunities.
Papers must include the following information:
1. A title for your paper.
2. An abstract of your paper.
3. A final draft of your paper.
4. The amount of time requested for your presentation. No single presenter should exceed 30 minutes in total. [Deleted statement about shorter presentations because paper speaker should be given at least 30 minutes.]
5. A detailed description of both the substantive content and the techniques to be employed, if any, to engage the audience.
6. Whether you plan to distribute handouts, use PowerPoint, or employother technology.
7. A list of the conferences at which you have presented within the last three years, such as AALS, national or regional ASP or writing conferences, or other academic conferences.
8. A list of your published scholarly articles or books within the last three years.
9. Your school affiliation, title, courses taught, and contact information (please include email address and telephone number).
10. Any other information you think will help the Committee appreciate the value your paper presentation will provide.
Please submit your paper by Friday, August 15, 2014 at 5pm to Goldie Pritchard, Michigan State University College of Law, email@example.com. If you have questions, please email Goldie Pritchard or call at 517.432.6881.
The Section on Academic Support Program Committee:
Goldie Pritchard, Chair
Robin Boyle Laisure
ASP Section Chair: Amy Jarmon
Sunday, May 18, 2014
The following post to the ASP listserv is from O. J. Salinas requesting your help in updating our directory information on the Law School Academic Success Project Website:
Good morning, fellow ASP-ers! We hope you have had a great semester.
As the academic year comes to a close, we were hoping to ask for a little favor to assist us in continuing to streamline the Law School Academic Success Project website (http://lawschoolasp.org/index.php). Often times, some of us change schools or our professional titles change. We would like to make sure that the information that we have listed in our directory is correct. If your information needs updating or your law school’s information needs updating, please forward that information to O.J. Salinas (firstname.lastname@example.org). We will work on making the appropriate corrections.
Here are a few suggestions that can help us update our directory:
1. For those of you who have access to the website and have your contact information listed in the website directory, please review your information in the directory for any corrections. If your information needs updating, please forward that information to O.J. Salinas (email@example.com).
2. While you are reviewing your information to ensure that it is correct, please also review the information for your law school (you can search the directory by your name or your school). If the directory lists individuals who are no longer affiliated with your school, please let us know. When colleagues leave their schools, we often do not get notification. Likewise, if you have a new ASP colleague who has joined your school (and this colleague wants access to the website), please let us know as well. You can forward changes to the directory information for your law school to O.J. Salinas (firstname.lastname@example.org).
3. Finally, remember that gaining access to the LSASP website does not automatically mean that you will be included in the directory. Some of you may have access to the website, but your contact information is not listed in the website directory. If you want to be listed in our directory, please email O.J. Salinas (email@example.com). In your email, include what information you want listed with your name for the directory. Generally, this information includes your law school, your title, and your contact information. If you want your picture included, please include a headshot photograph as well.
Thank you all for helping us continue to update the website. We think that the website has some wonderful resources for the ASP community. We hope to be able to make further enhancements in the future. Enjoy the rest of the day, and have a great weekend!
- O.J. Salinas
On behalf of the LSASP Website Committee
Oscar J. Salinas, J.D., M.A. (Counseling)
Clinical Assistant Professor of Law
University of North Carolina School of Law
4090 Van Hecke-Wettach Hall
Saturday, May 17, 2014
Although not an ASP position, I thought the following position may be of interest to some of our colleagues since it has ASPish dimensions:
The Assistant Dean of Graduate Legal Studies is responsible for providing overall leadership for the Law School's Graduate Legal Studies Program, and for the ongoing development, planning, management and assessment of the program. The Assistant Dean reports to and coordinates with the Associate Dean for International Affairs. In addition, he or she works closely with the Graduate and International Faculty Committee and the faculty Director of Graduate Legal Studies. The Assistant Dean serves as the primary career counsellor and academic advisor for the graduate students. In addition, he or she is responsible for overseeing the following matters related to the Law School's graduate students: immigration and visas; fellowship awards; the university's graduate school program; and the New York Bar. Finally, the new Assistant Dean will be responsible for transitioning LL.M and J.S.D. admissions into the Graduate Legal Studies Program office. As a part of this transition, and going forward, the position will require domestic and international travel for meetings and recruitment.
JOB QUALIFICATIONS: A JD (or equivalent degree) is required and further graduate degree in law is preferred. In addition, the successful applicant must have at least 3 - 5 years of relevant experience. The successful applicant will also have a demonstrated aptitude for working well with a diverse and engaged international student body, as well as with staff and faculty; strong communication and leadership skills; be self-motivated and seek opportunities for learning; be flexible, open and receptive to new ideas and approaches to the program; and show initiative in his or her approach to leadership and program development.
PREFERRED QUALIFICATIONS: LLM or other graduate degree in law; at least 5-7 years of previous experience in law school administration or student services, plus previous experience with international students and programs; fluency in a second language; and membership in the New York Bar.
For a full description and to apply on line, please see: https://cornellu.taleo.net/careersection/10164/jobdetail.ftl?job=23747. Cornell University is an innovative Ivy League university and a great place to work. Our inclusive community of scholars, students and staff impart an uncommon sense of larger purpose and contribute creative ideas to further the university's mission of teaching, discovery and engagement. Located in Ithaca, NY, Cornell's far-flung global presence includes the medical college's campuses on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and Doha, Qatar, as well as the new Cornell Tech campus to be built on Roosevelt Island in the heart of New York City. Diversity and Inclusion are a part of Cornell University's heritage. We're an employer and educator recognized for valuing AA/EEO, Protected Veterans, and Individuals with Disabilities.
Friday, May 16, 2014
Assistant Director of Bar Programs and Academic Development
Touro College, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center is accepting applications for the position of Assistant Director of Bar Programs and Academic Development. This position is a 12-month position and reports to the Director of Academic Development and Bar Programs.
The Assistant Director of Bar Programs and Academic Development assists the Director of Academic Development and Bar Programs in all aspects of Touro’s Academic Support Programs and bar preparation programs with a specific concentration on bar programs.
ALS Practicum: teach a fall section and one or more spring sections of Touro’s bar preparation seminar course.
Legal Foundations: teach two sections of this first-semester, first year course.
One-on-one tutoring for at-risk students: Weekly one-on-one bar tutoring sessions in the seven weeks before the bar exam for eligible February and July bar takers. In addition, work with approximately 10 students to prepare for the July bar from May-July; work with approximately 5 students for the February bar.
Teach MPT component for Legal Analysis I and/or II classes
Supplemental bar counseling: One-on-one counseling for “at risk” students in the semester before graduation.
· Provide supplementary bar prep workshops:
o Informational workshops on bar review courses
o Getting a “jump start” on bar prep
o What to expect in bar review and how to prepare financially, emotionally, and scholastically
o Substantive bar preparation sessions --- targeted subjects
Individual bar assistance:Provide individual assistance to all students who seek bar services, including re-takers as well as first-time takers, and LL.M. students.
· Administrative functions:
o For bar tutoring programs: identify eligible students; invite and sign-up students; in consultation with the Director, assign students to tutors; provide materials and oversight to tutors; follow-up with surveys to tutors and students
o Provide administrative oversight for bar workshops and programs
o Provide administrative oversight for bar diagnostic programs
Future programs. Provide assistance in preparing students for bar passage as programs are implemented.
Applicants must possess a J.D. degree with a record of high academic achievement from an ABA-accredited law school for this full-time position. The ideal candidate should possess excellent writing, speaking, and organizational skills as well as a demonstrated commitment to bar passage and academic support. Strong interpersonal communications skills are essential. Experience in bar preparation and academic support at the law school level is required. Evening and some weekend work is required.
Please send a cover letter and your resume to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The subject line of your email should read: Assistant Director of Bar Programs and Academic Development.
Application Deadline: June 15 with rolling application review.
Touro Law Center is located in Central Islip, on the south shore of Long Island, an hour from New York City. Fifty full-time law faculty members provide a practice-oriented educational curriculum to approximately 700 students in both full-time day and part-time evening programs. Visit http://www.tourolaw.edufor more information about Touro Law Center.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Valparaiso University Law School invites applicants for the position of Academic Success Counselor.
Valparaiso University Law School is located in northwest Indiana and is part of a residential community with excellent public schools and other resources. It is approximately ten miles from Lake Michigan and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as well as one hour from downtown Chicago.
The law school is an integral part of Valparaiso University, a Lutheran affiliated institution founded in 1859 and known for its outstanding liberal arts education and professional programs. For more information about Valparaiso University Law School, see .
Valparaiso University is looking for an Academic Success Counselor. The duties of the position include, but are not limited to, teaching academic study skills to currently enrolled Valparaiso University law students, counseling students on academic and bar exam success skills and attorney licensing requirements, and advising graduates studying for the bar examination.
· Assists in counseling and advising new students, students on academic probation, students "at risk", and any other student seeking to improve academic performance and/or other academic issues including course scheduling, social influences, etc. Assist students in developing individualized learning plans and monitor progress throughout the semester.
· Tracks the academic progress of "at-risk" and academic probation students through detailed note taking.
· Designs lesson plans and present workshops, tutorials, and programs on topics such as analytical skills, learning styles, time management skills, case briefing, note taking, outlining, exam preparation, and exam taking. Evaluate the success of these programs through student evaluations and other means.
· In conjunction with the Directors of Academic Success, directs the Dean's Fellow's program. Recruits, trains, and supervises the Dean's fellows. Evaluates the success of the program through student evaluations and other means.
· Assists students in reviewing answers to practice exams and provides advice regarding exam strategy, including bar exam essays and strategies.
· Assists the Directors in maintaining the Academic Success website.
· Assist in bar exam coaching.
· Perform all other duties assigned by the Directors of Academic Success.
· Cover letter
· List of 3 professional references
· Answer all the application questions
Deondra Devitt, Assistant Director, Human Resource Generalist
Valparaiso University, School of Law
Valparaiso, IN 46383
· Excellent verbal, written, and interpersonal communication skills
· Ability to establish and maintain positive working relationships with faculty, staff, law school affiliates and guests
· Ability to use initiative and independent judgment withing established policy and procedural guidelines
· Ability to handle and keep confidential a variety of different student questions and concerns
· J.D. degree from an ABA accredited law school with a strong academic record is required
· 1 to 3 years of legal experience is preferred
· At least one (1) year of academic experience in either law school teaching, counseling, or bar exam tutoring is preferred
· Must be a member of a state bar who has successfully completed a bar examination
· Strong academic and professional qualifications, as well as a demonstrated interest in teaching students with diverse backgrounds
Valparaiso, Indiana, United States
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
California Western School of Law
Director of Bar Programs
California Western School of Law seeks applicants for the Director of Bar Programs. In conjunction with the Assistant Dean for Academic Achievement, the Director of Bar Programs is responsible for the California Western bar review program, which includes 2L, 3L and graduate components. The Director staffs and teaches in bar preparation programs for second and third year law students, coordinates the post-graduate program, and assists students studying for the California bar examination. To be effective, the Director must stay abreast of developments in the California bar exam; develop and maintain a high level of knowledge about academic support and bar preparation programs; measure the effectiveness of the bar programs, and supervise small group instructors. The Director also advises the faculty and administration as to all bar preparation matters and makes periodic reports about bar passage.
Qualifications: (1) a J.D. degree from an ABA-accredited law school with a record of academic success; (2) at least five years of law teaching experience, preferably in a bar preparation program; (3) strong skills in course planning, classroom presentation, formative and summative assessment, as well as the ability to counsel and tutor individual students; (4) superior written, oral, and interpersonal communication skills; (5) the ability to think imaginatively and critically about how to measurably improve law student bar performance and to design, implement, and manage programs to promote that development; (6) good organization, judgment, and flexibility; and (7) a demonstrated ability and interest in working collaboratively with a diverse population of students, faculty and staff. Experience working with SPSS or similar statistical analysis software is preferred.
Applicants must submit: (1) a cover letter describing their qualifications and salary requirements; and (2) a resume to Human Resources (email@example.com). Salary will be commensurate with experience, and the position includes a competitive benefits package. Applications will be accepted through June 13, 2014. The preferred start date is July 1, 2014.
California Western is an equal opportunity employer and values diversity. Founded in 1924, California Western (www.cwsl.edu) is a private, independent law school located in downtown San Diego, California that is celebrating 90 years of excellence. It is accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
I find that a lot of students have motivation and tiredness problems during the second week of exams. They are almost done, but their energy is flagging. Here are some tips for making the last week of exams less stressful:
It is not unusual to feel your motivation slipping if you have already had several exams or turned in several papers. Try some of the following if you are feeling unmotivated:
- Break large tasks down into smaller pieces that can be focused on one step at a time. Getting started is the hard part usually. Examples would be:
- It is easier to get motivated to study one sub-topic in your outline than to study the entire topic.
- It is easier to agree to do 5 multiple-choice questions than to complete 15 of them.
- It is easier to spend 10 minutes on flashcards than 30 minutes.
- It is easier to decide to write 1 page of a paper than to complete it in one go.
- Give yourself rewards for staying on task. Each person has different rewards that appeal; find the ones that work for you.
- For a small task, take a 10-minute break or get a cup of tea or walk around the law school a few times.
- For a medium-sized task, take a 30-minute break or make a phone call to a friend or get a snack.
- For a large task, take 1-2 hours off or read several chapters in a fluff novel or watch a movie.
It is not unusual to be getting tired if you have already had several exams. Try some of the following if that is how you feel:
- Take short breaks every 60 - 90 minutes if you are having trouble staying focused.
- Eat breakfast to give your body fuel in the morning; even a piece of fruit, yoghurt, or toast can make a difference.
- Take time for a healthy lunch so that you can refuel; try to avoid junk food if you can.
- Carry some healthy energy snacks in your backpack to boost your energy when it drops in the afternoon: apples, nuts, small boxes of raisins, granola bars.
- If you nap, make it for ½ hour or less; long naps tend to make you groggy and disrupt your sleep cycle when you go to bed at night.
- Get 8 hours of sleep per night to recharge your batteries for this week.
Feeling stressed or sluggish? Add exercise back into your week if you have let your usual routine slip. Exercise is one of the best ways to defuse stress, raise your sagging spirits, and sleep better at night. Even 30 minutes will help you feel more energized and calm.
Lift your spirits by looking ahead. Plan two or three fun things for after exams are over. If you have some things to look forward to, it is easier to grit your teeth and get on with what you have to do right now.
Get a pep talk to keep yourself going. Phone your friends or family for encouragement. Talk to someone who believes in you. Shamelessly ask for affirmation! (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, May 12, 2014
Saturday, May 10, 2014
In light of the upcoming AASE conference in Indianapolis, members of the planning committees and e-board have been circling a number of latent questions. As a member of the e-board, I thought I would put some of these questions on the blog (however, I want to stress that I am speaking solely for myself, and NOT the e-board or AASE.) I think it is valuable to think about who we are, where we are going, and what we want, as a profession.
1) Do we want to be more like "regular" (tenure-track) faculty? What are the benefits to "achieving" this status? Are there drawbacks that we have not considered? Do we want the pressure of "publish or perish" when our jobs include so many year-round responsibilities? Do non-tenure track ASPer's feel the pressure to publish? Have ASPer's found it difficult to be placed in law reviews? Do ASPer's get support (mentoring, guidance, as well as financial support) from their institutions when they choose to write? How can ASPer's receive more support for writing and publishing?
2) Do we want to be more like legal writing or clinical, faculty? How many of us are ASP/legal writing already? How many of us switched from legal writing to ASP (or vice versa)? How are we like legal writing? Are we like legal writing?
3) As an organization, do we want to be more like LWI? Or do we want our focus to be smaller, more intimate? LWI is a huge organization because most law school have several legal writing instructors, but only one or two ASP professionals. Are there benefits to growing our organization? Are there specific challenges if we grow too fast?
4) In light of the financial problems facing many, if not most, law schools, should we spend more time discussing the realities of job loss, pay cuts, and declining enrollment? Should we spend more time discussing the pressures facing ASP?
5) The "average" incoming law student now has a lower LSAT than the "average" student in prior incoming classes. Should ASP be in conversation about the trends in admission? How can be be more engaged in the conversation about trends in admission? Implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, we are held responsible for student outcomes, so our livelihoods are connected to these trends. How should we address these trends if we are not responsible for admissions?
6) Is bar prep a natural part of academic success? Or is bar prep a unique partner with ASP, a partnership that shares some similarities, but also differences? How many ASPer's have bar prep responsibilities? Is bar prep combined with ASP out of convenience, necessity, or is it an accident of institutional planning?
7) How do we constrain "job creep" at a time of institutional downsizing? How amny ASPer's feel like their job is on the line if they say no to additional repsonsibilities without additional compensation? Is it fair to expect additional compensation when so many law school graduates cannot find jobs in law?
(Again, I want to stress that I am speaking solely for myself, and NOT the e-board or AASE.)
Friday, May 9, 2014
For those of you who have been following the casebook controversy about Aspen's Casebook Connect, here is a link to an article today in The Chronicle of Higher Education: Law Professors Defend Students' Right to Sell Used Textbooks.
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Have you registered for AASE yet?
The conference registration is still open through May 9th at AASE Registration.
The room reservation block is still available at the Westin Hotel through Friday, May 9th as well. The registration page will give you a link for the hotel.
It is going to be a great conference, and we hope to see you there!
Saturday, May 3, 2014
The Fourth "Colonial Frontier" Legal Writing Conference — Saturday, December 6, 2014
Hosted by: The Duquesne University School of Law, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Conference Theme: Teaching the Academically Underprepared Law Student
For generations, college and law school educators have often voiced the belief that their students are not as prepared as they used to be. Although some educators may disagree about whether there really has been a change in students since the apocryphal “good old days,” there is a growing body of scholarship suggesting that 21st Century college graduates and law students lack the critical thinking skills necessary for law study and that as educators we are facing new challenges in teaching these students. See e.g. Richard Arum & Josipa Roksa, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning On College Campuses (2011); Susan Stuart & Ruth Vance, Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight: The Academically Underprepared Law Student & Legal Education Reform, 48 Val. L. Rev. 1 (forthcoming 2013), available at http://works.bepress.com/ruth_vance/1 (the theme of this conference is based on this article’s title). Scholars and other commentators have pointed to many causes for the real (and perhaps perceived) problems that new law students have coping with the demands of academic and professional training. These causes include the declining quality of pre-college schooling and a focus on standardized testing, lowered expectations at the undergraduate level, a decrease in the numbers and “quality” of incoming law students, the generational characteristics of current law students, the effects on student learning from psychological problems such as anxiety disorders, the deleterious influence of the Internet and computer technology, and more. This conference will offer attendees an opportunity to hear from others who are interested in these questions, and, hopefully, learn how to better teach current law students or change the current educational environment.
We invite proposals from educators who want to speak to these issues. The Duquesne Law Review, which has published papers from two previous Colonial Frontier conferences, plans to devote space in its Spring 2015 symposium issue to papers from the conference.
We welcome proposals for 30-minute and 50-minute presentations on these topics, by individuals or panels. Proposals for presentations should be sent as an e-mail file attachment in MS Word to Professor Jan Levine at firstname.lastname@example.org by June 2, 2014. He will confirm receipt of all submissions. Proposals for presentations should be 1000 to 2000 words long, and should denote the topic to be addressed, the amount of time sought for the presentation, any special technological needs for the session, the presenter’s background and institutional affiliation, and contact information. Proposals should note whether the presenter intends to submit an article to the Duquesne Law Review, based on the presentation. Proposals by co-presenters are welcome. Proposals will be reviewed by Professors Julia Glencer, Jan Levine, Ann Schiavone, and Tara Willke of the Duquesne University School of Law, and by the editorial staff of the Duquesne Law Review.
Proposals for presentations will be accepted by June 15, 2014. Full drafts of related articles will be due by September 5, 2014; within a month of that date the Duquesne Law Review will determine which of those articles it wishes to publish; and final versions of articles will be due by January 12, 2015.
The attendance fee for the conference will be $50 for non-presenters. Duquesne will provide free on-site parking to conference attendees. The conference will begin 9:00 a.m. with a welcoming breakfast and reception at the Duquesne University School of Law, followed by two hours of presentations. We will provide a catered, on-campus lunch, followed by 90 additional minutes of presentations, ending at approximately 3:00 p.m. We will then host a closing reception in the “Bridget and Alfred Pelaez Legal Writing Center,” the home of Duquesne’s LRW program.
Pittsburgh is an easy drive or short flight from many cities. To accommodate persons wishing to stay over in Pittsburgh on Friday or Saturday evenings, Duquesne will arrange for a block of discounted rooms at a downtown hotel adjacent to campus, within walking distance of the law school and downtown Pittsburgh. We will also provide attendees with information about the Pittsburgh area’s attractions, including our architectural treasures, museums, art collections, shopping, and world-championship sports teams.
Friday, May 2, 2014
A few weeks ago, a student approached me regarding a new app for law school. His idea sounded interesting, and I hope it goes far and makes him enough money to breed rainbow-colored unicorns, but the use of tech in law school has been something I've been unsure about for years.
At heart, I am a Neo Luddist (I unironically own a VCR and a turntable). I have no data to back myself up, but I am not a fan of tech in law school education for a few reasons:
1. Tech in general makes research much faster -- consequently, a lot of research is fairly shallow.
2. Tech in general makes struggling for the answer to something an alien concept. The answer to any question in the world is sitting in your pocket (unless you left your phone on your dresser).
3. Tech is widening the divide between haves and have-nots -- at least prior to their entry to law school.
4. Word processing makes writing voluminous assignments much easier, when brevity is the soul of ..
5. Got distracted. Tech is distracting. Hey, look, a cat wearing a crown!
5. Spellcheck is the Devil.
6. Education sometimes seems to praise tech for tech's sake.
7. For Bar Prep stuff, I think having a live instructer makes students more beholden to the class -- it's a lot harder to walk out on a live person or to blow off lectures that you know you can't watch later.
8. Tech is ridiculously fun -- students can do a bazillion other things on a laptop rather than listen to a lecture -- 9 times out of 10, they probably are.
9. Cat wearing pajamas! Sorry, got distracted again.
10. Powerpoint trains people to think in Powerpoint.
That being said, tech was invaluable in teaching my class on Art and Copyright because I could immediately play music samples and show paintings to illustrate points. And clickers and in-class polls are pretty fun (although I don't know if they necessarily teach concepts any better than practice questions on paper).
I continue to struggle with the issue -- and it's clearly the wave of the future (much like kickboxing) -- but sometimes I think it might be something that actually makes current law study harder than it might have been in the past.
Look! Cat wearing a bathing suit! (Alex Ruskell)
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
One of the most persistent problems for new law students is understanding exactly what it is that professors are looking for in good essay answers. Students read the fact pattern and the call of the question and then dutifully regurgitate what they learned about the law, gaining few or no points for their efforts.
I like to tell them that a typical law exam question is like a performance test in a wood working class, where the student is asked to make a spindle-back chair out of wood provided by the instructor. Describing the wood (the facts) gains no points. The professor already knows that she has given the student various pieces of wood made of pine. Describing the machines (rules) and the tools (reasoning from the cases, corollary rules, exceptions, etc.) gains few or no points; the semester was spent discussing those things.
The professor is standing by with a clipboard to evaluate how well the student uses the appropriate machinery and tools on the wood provided in order to produce a chair. Until the cutting tools touch the wood in the lathe, for example, nothing is written on the clipboard. When the tool starts shaping the right piece of wood into a chair leg, the professor starts putting points down for effective use of the lathe and the associated tools as the student makes the cuts.
On a law school exam, that cutting begins when a sentence explains why a fact does or does not satisfy the rule, using the reasoning courts or lawyers would use. I give them this formula for crafting such a sentence:
Fact + law + why.
In other words, each sentence should contain specific facts from the fact pattern, plus specific law (ideally critical legal language from cases or statutes), plus how those facts arguably do or do not satisfy that language. The formula is not a gramatical structure but rather a content guide. The points lie mostly in the "why." An example might sound like this (I have italicized the critical legal language to make the illustration clear here):
"Johnson's throwing the ball hard into the stands and hitting Smith would be a battery because Johnson had to know that the ball would hit someone, despite Johnson's claim that he did not intentionally aim the throw at Smith."
I then tell the students to develop the habit of asking two questions after every period: Why is that true? and why does that matter? That habit tends to ensure that all the steps in the reasoning are explicit. The follow-up sentences to the statement above might look something like this:
"Johnson's throwing the ball into a crowded section of seats satisfies the intent element of battery because he acted knowing the ball was substantially certain to result in a harmful physical contact with a fan, regardless of whether he knew which fan would be hit. Therefore, Johnson would be liable for the injuries Smith incurred when the ball hit him in the side of his face."
While the approach may seem formulaic, it is actually the approach all lawyers use when applying law to fact. The sentences might have been preceded with a statement of the issue and a one-sentence definition of intent in a battery. The focus, however, would be on how the rule applies rather than a lengthy explanation of the rule itself.
I usually abhor things like Upworthy and Buzzfeed, but I do like the message of this video by Alan Watts and the South Park folks:
It points out that education trains us into thinking that a good and successful life means living it as a bone-rattling rush to some sort of electrifying conclusion that will once-and-for-all make us happy. Law students, who by-and-large have been successful in doing what school tells them to do, are particularly susceptible to this sort of thing. For myself, I went to law school wanting to save the squirrels and came out on the other side thinking that I had to go to big law or I was a total loser.
Although it might be hard to "dance" while learning the Rule Against Perpetuities, it's not a bad attitude for students (and their teachers) to develop. (Alex Ruskell)
Monday, April 28, 2014
This time of year, all ASP professionals are challenged by students in crisis. I define crisis objectively; death in the family, major illness, catastrophic personal loss. It's difficult to know what to say to these students, andeven more difficult to know how to help them. Here is some simple advice for working with students in crisis during exams.
1) Listen. It's hard to just listen, but it's the most important thing you can do for a student in crisis. They may have a lot to tell you, or they may not want to overshare. It's their call, not yours, how much they want to open up. You will often find that a student who says little to you on their first visit to your office has a lot more to say on the next visit. It's awkward to open up to a stranger, and if this is a student you have not worked with regularly throughout the year, they may need time before they share their story. Don't push them to open up.
2) Be authentic. When working with a student in crisis, you need to be your authentic self. It's okay to tell the student that you don't know what to say, but your heart hurts for them. It's okay to let someone in crisis know that what they are going through just sucks. Because death, illness, and catastrophe DO suck. Too many people shift into tired platitudes when they are speaking with someone in crisis. They don't know what to say, so they say what they think they should tell someone in crisis. There is nothing more grating than hearing "It's for the best," or "They are in a better place" (how do you know? have YOU died before?) Don't be afraid to just be yourself, to hurt with the student, and to let them know you care about them.
3) Give them a range of options. This is critically important: do not make decisions for your students. When you have to shift into ASP mode, and discuss accommodations and schedule modifications, give them a range of options. Do not assume you know what is best for the student, no matter how well you know them. Let them decide what is the best path for them at this time. One of the awful parts of a personal crisis is that is narrows choices. It helps the student in crisis to have choices in their academic career. You should feel free to give advice based on your knowledge of the student, but don't make choices for them.
4) Remind them that law school is short, and life is long. Self-care is critical. Sometimes, students in crisis will become obsessed with small details. They MUST finish the semester, or they MUST take a full course load. If everything they are telling you says that they would rather take a leave of absence or a reduced course load, let them know that it is okay to take care of themselves first, and worry about law school second. Students in crisis who MUST MUST MUST (their emphasis, not mine) focus on law school can be self-defeating. It is okay to remind them that law school will be there for them when they are ready to come back. Life is much longer than law school, and self-care is more important than the JD.
5) Don't take it personally if they are angry, frustrated, or dismissive of you. Some students in crisis lash out. Their anger is not rational or fair. They file complaints against you because you didn't do something they wanted you to do for them. They ignore you or behave inappropriately when they see you. It is important that you do not take their words or actions personally. It is not about you. We are human, and it hurts when someone goes out of their way to be mean or spiteful. Often, students in crisis who choose to lash out don't know how to express their feelings. Students who were brought up in dysfunctional or abusive households often understand anger, but do not know how to express soften, more fragile emotions. They cope with their pain by lashing out at you.