December 20, 2012
Team-Teaching: Constant Conversations about Teaching
If you have the opportunity to team-teach a course at your law school, jump at the opportunity.
With the close of this semester, I've had a chance to think about how team-teaching has worked in one of the new courses a colleague and I teach. Two advantages to the team approach were obvious: the broadening of the students' learning experience, and the broadening of the teaching experience for those of us at the front of the room (yes, I know, asp-ers, you are all over the room!).
This new course, “Practical Lawyering Skills,” was created to fill a gap in our academic support offerings. While we had plenty of academic support offerings in the first year, and a newly introduced third-year “just-before-you-take-the-bar” course for graduating students, the second year (or third year for our part-time students) was empty of academic support opportunities. Intervention in the second year seemed a natural extension of academic support offerings.
It also seemed natural to me to design the course as a team-taught enterprise in order to bring as much diverse experience to the class as possible, both in teaching style as well as in legal experience. My co-teacher in the fall semester is a senior faculty member, highly respected by faculty and students alike. As well as having impressive criminal law experience, she is also an experienced doctrinal professor having won “best teacher” awards several times. The two of us, having team-taught in other courses over many years, are comfortable together in the classroom.
In the spring I teach with a newer professor, but one with plenty of civil practice experience. While our experience teaching together is not as deep as that with my fall colleague, the teaching relationship is quickly maturing after just one semester together. I think students enjoy this ”double treat,” something we carry over into the grading of their assignments so that students get a broad spectrum of evaluation.
The "carry-over" effect of team-teaching reaches outside the classroom as well. My colleagues often ask about the "how" of our team-teaching, about the logistics of how we do it—the choreography. (More about that at another time.)
What I tell my colleagues, however, is that the strength of our team-teaching is more about what happens outside the classroom--in our preparation, debriefing, and shared evaluation of students--more so than in our dual presence in the classroom. While many of us have had someone observe our classes to receive feedback on our approach, the team-teaching model creates a constant stream of observation and evaluation, as well as a constant conversation about how we approach the course and, on any given day, how we approach and deliver specific, daily classroom goals.
That conversation provides endless opportunities for evaluating global teaching approaches as well as the individual components of a class session. So you can have a continual discussion and evaluation from the creator's point of view, and you don't have to wait for the student reviews some time after the final exam to make some navigation corrections. What I have learned from this experience has given me greater confidence in the classroom and a greater willingness to take risks.
August 03, 2012
The Art of Reading Carefully
A persistent problem with some of my law students is that they do not read carefully. It troubles me that this problem seems to cut across class years and class ranks and appears to be getting more wide-spread.
So much of our lives as attorneys revolves around tasks that call for precision. If our students do not learn to be more precise during law school, how are they going to excell in their work?
I am not talking about common first-year mistakes in understanding cases. I am talking about students who simply never learned to read with care. Here are some examples:
- Students regularly ask professors questions that were covered in detail in class syllabi.
- Students do not follow instructions on an assignment or exam even when clearly provided.
- Students are asked to read a document carefully, but come to class with only a gist of that document.
- Students do not read a complete e-mail or the attachments provided - even when they know that deadlines and task completions are required.
- Students fail to read law school announcements, Orientation packets, registration instructions, Student Handbooks, and other items that they told are important.
When I have talked to colleagues about this problem, the following thoughts have been shared:
- The Internet, e-mail, and text messages have turned students into grazers who never read for depth.
- The parents of this generation of students kept track of everything for them so they are unaccustomed to being responsible for reading carefully and retaining information.
- Students these days do not know how to read because they do not read books in their leisure time; they watch video clips on YouTube, watch TV, play video games, but rarely sit down to read books that are not assigned.
- Undergraduate professors told them exactly what they needed for the exams so they did not have to read carefully - in some cases did not read at all for most classes.
- They think they can look everything up on the Internet later, so why worry about boring text.
- They got As and Bs without having to work very hard because of grade inflation in lower education, so they do not know that precision might be important for graduate-level academics (and life).
So, what can we do to get our students ready for the careful reading, thinking, and writing that they will have to accomplish successfully in law practice? Below are a few things that I have become more conscious about doing with my students. I am sure that my colleagues can provide other thoughts and techniques.
- Discuss professionalism in one's work as a law student and how that becomes professionalism in one's work product as an attorney.
- Go over a case or fact pattern in great detail so they begin to see the information that they missed with only a cursory reading.
- Parse a complex statute so that they see why every word and punctuation mark matters.
- Ask questions that go to the legal nuances of the material they have read so that they begin to see the depth of understanding needed.
- Resist telling them the answer. At times I have to bite my tongue and reply along the lines of "turn to page 3 in your syllabus and read point 8 on the format for your presentation" or "read the facts paragraph again and tell me what the court said about the defendant's acts."
- Encourage them to review exams with C+ or lower grades with their professors to see how they could have improved the grade (more careful reading of the fact pattern, more care in the organization, more precise rule statements, more depth in analysis).
- Give examples of where a lack of careful reading or precision would cause problems for an attorney in practice - real-life examples are best.
- Allow them to experience consequences for missed assignment deadlines, incorrect format, lack of proof-reading, or misread instructions. Consequences learned in the law school environment will usually be less dire than than consequences learned later in practice. (Of course, there are times when a student's circumstances warrant an exception to this suggestion.)
Part of being a professional is being conscious of one's responsibility for a high quality work product. By mastering care in their everyday reading and class work, our students will learn to turn out work products that are professional. (Amy Jarmon)
April 13, 2012
Vinyl thoughts in a digital age: laptops, classrooms and beyond
About five or six years ago, messages about laptop use in the classroom hit both the ASP list-serve and the Teaching Methods list-serve within a few weeks of one another. Even though the distress signals have calmed, “laptops-in-the-classroom,” as a usual suspect for student disengagement and distraction, still pops up at my law school. Responses vary from embracing, to tolerating, to banning the machines. How to manage the machines is the challenge. And it's going to be a challenge for our graduates as well. What is a diversion for students while in law school can become a monster of a taskmaster in law practice.
Law school classrooms have changed dramatically in the last twenty years or so. Up until about 1980, the biggest observable change was from black boards to white boards. Since then, the changes have been rapid, often with little attention to pedagogical detail, but more to being able to brag that a school was the most wired. Even just fifteen years ago, only a few students brought a lap top to class, and it certainly wasn't an Apple. Now the view from the podium is a sea of laptop lids, and eyes down.
The problem is not so much that students and lawyers are bathed in technology. The challenge is to determine how best to use that technology. Various practitioners’ journals include reviews and advice about the latest in software and hardware that make the lawyer’s workday efficient. The reviews are tempting, but each new machine and program has to be managed, requiring time and effort. Those who write about the virtual world have coined some interesting buzz words in the last several months: cognitive surplus, neural plasticity, digital alarmists—that last term might apply to me.
However, even those whose professional lives have embraced the technical world wonder about the effects of the machines and the Internet on our daily lives. Chip-maker Intel felt the pressure a few years ago. In 2007, Intel gave its employees the option of “email-free Fridays” in an effort to promote more direct communication within the company. Just last year, Caitlin Roper, managing editor of the Paris Review, in reviewing two books about the tech world for the Los Angeles Times, wrote that she felt “faster, but more distracted than I used to be. I don't know anyone who doesn't struggle . . . with the issue of how much to let technology aid, or encroach, on daily life.”
Roper's words define that daily effect: the demon that technology and the Internet can become unless it's leashed. A few years ago, a GPSolo article told the story of the young associate's attempts at a vacation with her family, while leashed to her office via her smart phone. It wasn't a pretty picture. It's the classic concern about whether the owner is leashed to the dog, or whether it's the other way around.
I've noticed a subtle unleashing trend at my law school. Southwestern's Bullocks Wilshire is a wonderful marriage of the building's Art Deco style with an LA coolness. In the open spaces you get a Michael-Jackson-Billy-Jean-MTV effect when the ceiling lights fire up as you pass by. It's lively but subdued. Faculty offices have light sensors, but several of us turn off the sensor so that the office is illuminated by window light only. Subdued.
I occasionally go one step further: my computer is off as well. Deep thought. And the notebook I'm using is yellow, with horizontal lines. My office is quiet in spite of the hubbub of Wilshire Boulevard outside my window, perfect for thinking and as close as I can get to an imaginary walk in the wilderness while in the heart of Los Angeles. Nothing to distract me from my distraction.
Is this a lesson for my wired students? As academic support professionals we can develop strategies for effective and efficient use of the new beast, and learn to cage it when we need to. I know I need help with this.
September 04, 2011
As you may know, I'm a proponent of approaching law school as "practicing" law ... preparing for the professional practice by doing each day in law school many of the things laywers ought to be doing. Example: attend every class. There are hundreds of excuses ... even reasons for missing a class now and then. But how many excuses or reasons stand up to the scrutiny of a client or a judge when a lawyer blows off a deposition or fails to show up for the second day of trial? (Answer: zero.)
Now here's a real-life example. In law school, students ought to be encouraged to learn to solve problems through dialogue, discussion, and respectful negotiation. As Academic Support Professionals, many of us are the "go-to" folks for students who have "issues" with other students, faculty, or administrators. That role doubles when we have dual capacities (like also serving as Dean of Students) as part of our responsibilities.
When students approach the office in tears, or in a heated rage, explaining how they have been wronged, think about how to counsel them with the "practice" idea in mind. Law school can be a wonderful training ground for civil behavior under stress ... or the opposite.
Consider an order recently made by United States District Judge Sam Sparks in the case of Morris v. Coker. "You are invited," wrote Judge Sparks, "to a kindergarten party on ... September 1, 2011 ... in courtroom 2 of the United States Courthouse, 200 W. Eighth Street, Austin, Texas." His Honor includes a list of exciting topics to be addressed at the party, including, "How to telephone and communicate with a lawyer ... How to enter into reasonable agreements about deposition dates ... [and] an advanced seminar on not wasting the time of a busy federal judge and his staff because you are unable to practice law at the level of a first-year law student." Later in the order, the Court encourages the invitees to bring their toothbrushes. (Read the Court Order here.)
According to Above the Law, a web site for lawyers and law students, Judge Sparks is "...a colorful judge with a robust sense of humor, as well as a low tolerance for lawyer shenanigans and quarrels."
Judge Sparks has campaigned for civility for years. Another example of his impatience with purile behavior is his order of April 25, 2007, which includes several rhymed couplets. Excerpts:
Babies learn to walk by scooting and falling;
These lawyers practice law by simply mauling
Each other and the judge, but this must end soon
(Maybe facing off with six-shooters at noon?)
... There will be a hearing with pablum to eat,
And a very cool cell where you can meet
And work out your infantile problem with the deposition.
(Read the whole "poem" here.) Law school is a great place to learn to deal with difficulties. After three years of practicing this skill, lawyers ought to be able to live up to the expectations of (even) Judge Sparks! (djt)
August 06, 2011
The Road to Success
Warning: this post is too long. Can we blame it on Amy? Thanks. Writing about stress a few days ago, Amy Jarmon suggested that our law students need to learn how to manage stress early in their careers. Hoorah, Amy! Yes, “…early in their careers…” is now.
If there is one universal and outstanding surprise to the new academic support professional it is this: it’s not all about showing students how to brief cases, read like lawyers, or handle study groups. There’s SO much more to academic support than that. I have had colleagues who (sort of) complained that they didn’t have enough time to get to the core skills (reading, briefing, note-taking, etc.) because they were inundated with requests – overt or subtle – to help cope with the meta-skills of handling time and stress.
Even more surprising (and here, I certainly include me as a surprisee in the first few years of academic supporting) is the fact that so many students honestly believe the road to success in law school is paved with formats for briefing, IRAC structures for exam writing, speed-reading techniques, quick and efficient course outline production methods, and fail-safe study strategies. Yup, those are important topics to cover. But they’re worthless if one does not (borrowing from Amy’s list) . . .
- Manage time carefully. Every student in this incoming first-year class has exactly one thing in common: 168 hours to use to his or her best advantage each week. If a student spends 8 hours each night sleeping – almost essential for most, and the first time rule to be broken by nearly every first-year student – that leaves 112 for studying law and handling the “other parts” of life. If one were to work a 65-hour week at law (not unlike many lawyers), that would leave 47 hours for exercise, church, shopping, cooking, eating, entertainment, _____, _____, and friends & family time. (Two blanks is enough, don’t you think?) Not bad. When you break the individual tasks associated with being a great law student down into their chunks, you can usually show students how 65 (okay, 70?) hours ought to be more than enough time to get the job done very well. More than forty hours completely away from the law is essential each week to maintain recognizable sanity. If students can learn to work within a framework similar to that, many of the time management issues will resolve.
- Recognize and minimize procrastination. I advise students to put off thinking about procrastination.
- Follow optimal sleep, exercise, and nutrition routines. Can you imagine hiring a lawyer who never slept a full night’s sleep, seldom left the office chair, and (remember: you are what you eat) lived on a diet of beer and junk food? Good luck I hope your lawyer isn’t representing you for anything important.
- Keep in touch with friends and family. Duh. Those who have loved you and supported you much or all of your life … uh, let’s see … could contact with them possibly help keep your head screwed on straight? But there’s more to it than that. The non-law-oriented spouse or significant other of a law student is in for some tough times. And the last one to notice the “change” in the law student’s behavior is (guess who) the law student. So all law students who have many hours of contact per week with someone who loves them but does not necessarily love the law need to receive some pretty strong advice about how to relate … and the non-student half of that equation needs a support group of some type as well (“No,” I have told some unfortunate adults in that position, “it’s not just you, and it’s not just her … it’s … it’s … well, it’s bigger than both of you – but you can handle it. You just need to know what to expect and how to get the job done. Love works.” (Sorry, I sometimes get carried away.)
- Talk to someone about the stress. Too many students find that most qualified people to talk to about stress is (either or both) their bartender or their equally stressed law student friends. Too few visit their Dean of Students, Academic Support professionals, law-school savvy psychologists, or other professionals who can support them and/or refer them. They need the way to these offices highlighted … like those little lights that the flight attendant promises will come on in case of an emergency to show you the way to the emergency exists. (Unfortunately, taping those yellow paper footprints to the corridor carpets is frowned upon by the Dean, and seldom works anyway.)
Help students realize that the “practice” of law begins near Orientation day. Help them (perhaps through a guest speaker or two at Orientation or soon after) realize that the pressures and stresses of law school (generally) pale when compared with those of the professional practice. “What you are practicing, students,” they need to know, “is less about how to revise a contract, and more about how to balance/juggle thirty things that need to be done during a day – with no possibility of ‘forgiveness’ if they are not all completed, and completed at your highest level of capability.” Would you hire a lawyer who settled for less?
Does this suggest that a trip to the gym for a 30-minute swim or a one-hour yoga class is more important than an hour in the library briefing a couple of torts cases? Not really … but it sure is meant to suggest that either one without the other will not lead to a student’s performance at his or her highest level of competence.
Teaching time and stress management ought to be a high priority in every academic support program. If the professionals in the department can’t teach it … by talk, by counseling, and most of all, by example … they ought to bring in those who can as guests. But … as you well know … he/she who is most stressed has no time to attend that guest presentation. And if you don’t believe that, stop by the cafeteria or the local pub later in the day and he or she will tell you.
We are not obliged to make every law student the best law student that person can be. But I think we are obliged to try as hard as we can to do just that. Your thoughts? (djt)
February 23, 2011
Bar Applications: Deadlines, Disclosures, and Determinations
Even though I teach a two credit class to 3Ls for early bar preparation, as Director of the Bar Studies Program at Seattle U, I also need to make sure that students unable (or unwilling) to take my class get the same important information regarding the bar exam before they graduate. Therefore, I provide several workshops during spring semester introducing them to the bar exam and the bar application process.
As weknow, the bar exam application process is time consuming and can pose significant challenges for some students. However, without our prodding, some students do not realize this until the eleventh hour. In light of the AALS presentation “Character and Fitness: To Disclose or Not to Disclose, That is the Question” and the ensuing discussion regarding our role as academic support professionals and the counseling we give to students, it seems necessary for all schools to adopt a similar workshop revolving exclusively around the bar application process.
While meeting with every 3L to discuss their bar application is nearly impossible, holding a short workshop for all 3Ls is easily doable and accomplishes the same goal. Providing accurate information regarding the application process and deadlines and conveying the importance of full disclosure, serve several objectives. Students will be more apt to meet the application deadlines (and not line up outside your office the day they are due), feel supported by their law school during this somewhat tedious process (a good way to end their law school career), and to understand that professional ethics is not just a class they took their second or third year of law school (instead they are standards by which they will be called to live by…starting now). Above all, students in attendance with additional questions or past indiscretions will know whether to schedule a one on one appointment to discuss their application further.
Essentially, the best advice we can give our students is to be open and honest when completing their bar application. During the AALS presentation, Margaret Fuller Corneille, Director of the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners, stated that successful applicants are candid, show no malice when mistakes are made on their law school/bar exam applications, accept responsibility for their past conduct, and show that they have made positive social contributions. Bar Associations act at as “Gate Keepers” to the legal profession. In this capacity, they are determining whether an applicant has the ability to handle the responsibilities of being a lawyer. Instilling the notion that candor on their applications reflects on their present moral character is crucial.
Our role as educators in this process is significant. However, this role may vary depending on how you define your purpose and what your institution determines to be their responsibility. Questions presented by Susan Saab Fortney, Interim Dean and Professor of Law at Texas Tech University School of Law, at the AALS presentation are good starting points as you (and your institution) consider how to characterize this role. I have paraphrased some of Professor Fortney’s thoughtful questions below.
- Are we partners with the bar associations when it comes to character and fitness determinations?
- Should law schools be “Gate Keepers” to the profession?
- Should we be concerned with our law school’s reputation regarding the character and fitness of our students?
- Should law schools take the “ostrich approach” with the character and fitness issues of their students?
While all valid and though provoking, some of us may have differing opinions as to whether we should squarely align ourselves with the bar associations or whether our main goal is to be a “gate keeper” to the profession. David Baum, Assistant Dean in the Office of Student Affairs at Michigan Law School and a member of the State Bar of Michigan’s Standing Committee on Character and Fitness, raised equally compelling issues at AALS that uniquely influence our perspective regarding these bar application disclosures. He acknowledged that in our roles as educators, it would be difficult to engage in open conversations with our students if we were required to disclose every detail discussed within said conversations. He further stated, that these conversations are the vehicles by which we deliver sound advice and help shape the personal and professional development of our students. In turn, as Dean Baum points out, if we are obligated to disclose these details, a negative chilling effect could result and students in need of support, advice, and possibly further professional help may not reach out for it.
Contemplating the questions posed and viewpoints presented during the AALS presentation, as well as, considering your state bar’s requirements and your institution’s policies, should help you create a helpful and informative bar application workshop for your students. During the workshop, I walk through the application and instructions while pointing out areas where students typically have detailed questions or concerns. For example: how to request an accommodation; how to list past traffic infractions/citations/criminal charges or convictions, and how to disclose treatment for mental impairment or alcohol or drug dependency.
Although carrying this out in a group setting can be challenging, I have found that the group dynamic diffuses the potential stigma that a student may feel as a result of an affirmative answer to one of these questions listed on the bar application. Once again, this workshop opens up the opportunity for students to see me as a trustworthy resource and to understand the importance of taking this step seriously. I believe there is a way to be a dedicated advocate and guide for our students while maintaining the integrity of the legal profession…finding that middle ground is up to you or your institution to determine.
March 24, 2010
Are you thinking about getting into ASP work?
I talk several times a year to practicing lawyers or others who are considering academic support work as a career change. I have also through the years talked with new ASP'ers at both ends of the spectrum - those who love working in ASP and those who are looking for a change because ASP was not a good match.
I am listing below some aspects to consider when thinking about becoming an Academic Support Professional:
- Do you sincerely enjoy working with law students on their academics regardless of their academic standing? In ASP, you need to work with a wide range of students: students who have good GPA's but want to discuss one or two areas of concern; students who are hovering near the academic standard but not on probation; students who are on probation. You may well have contact with the "best and the brightest" at your school, but those students will not be your main focus. You need to assess your patience level while working with students who are struggling to learn basic study skills.
- Are you willing to do "catch all" counseling with your students on areas that are not strictly ASP? Academic problems often have medical, personal, family, or financial dimensions to them. Consequently, ASP'ers become privy to information that they normally would not know as they help students improve their academics. ASP'ers act as a referral point to help students sort out these other problems. Academic probation or dismissal is stressful for students used to being successful. ASP'ers may just need to listen and provide a tissue box. For some, these every day conversations and interactions would be "too much information" and not a desireable work environment.
- Are you willing to work more than a 40-hour week? Some people have the misconception that ASP must be easy 8 to 5 work. In fact it is a labor of love for most ASP'ers because of the heavy demands of the position. In ASP, your days are filled with individual appointments, workshops, meetings, and possibly ASP classes. Unless you have sufficient colleagues and administrative staff, the reality is that you complete many basic administrative tasks after 5:00 p.m. Workshop and class prep may also have to happen after 5 o'clock.
- Are you happy working on your own or do you prefer being part of a large staff? Although some law schools now have 2 or more full-time professionals doing ASP work, many schools still have one-person ASP offices. Depending on your school, you may find colleagues in other areas with similar interests in learning, teaching, and study skills.
- Do you have expectations about your status that will match the position? Although things are starting to change at some law schools, most ASP folks are administrators rather than full-time faculty. Consequently, not all things may be equal to faculty positions. Salary, vacation time, type of contract, service on committees, eligibility for research or teaching assistants, travel funds, professional development funds, and voting rights are just some of the areas to consider.
- Do you have a legal specialty area that you want to teach as well as any ASP duties? Some law schools combine an ASP class with a doctrinal course (example, Agency). Other law schools allow their ASP staff to teach substantive law courses as part of their full-time ASP load. Yet other schools allow ASP staff to teach such courses above and beyond their normal job duties. And at some law schools, there is no option for an ASP'er to teach doctrinal courses. Where teaching is an option, one has to consider the workload in ASP and how it can be balanced with teaching. Once again, after 5 o'clock and weekends may be the only class prep and grading time available.
- Do you have a passion for research and writing? Or involvement in professional associations? With the exception of the schools having tenure-track ASP staffing, ASP positions generally do not require research, publications, or professional association involvement. Most schools are delighted if their ASP'ers do these things, but it normally will be above and beyond the basic job description. Consequently, ASP'ers often have to do their research, writing, and professional service activities during evening and weekend hours.
- Do you want to make a real difference in the lives of law students? Teaching students the skills they need to be successful in law school (and ultimately in the profession) is very rewarding. It is a delight to have a former probation student come in to share the news of her first "A" or 3.0 GPA semester. Law students need someone to believe in them. ASP'ers are often those encouragers.
Being in ASP'er is a blessing for me. I enjoy working with law students. Combining my education and law backgrounds is a plus. However, each person has to decide if ASP work would be a good fit for a career.
Good luck if you are searching for an ASP position. We try to post positions here on the Blog whenever we know about them. (Amy Jarmon)
March 16, 2010
When organization is a weakness
All of us who practiced before entering ASP work remember colleagues who were disasters at organization. If they were fortunate, they had a paralegal, secretary, or junior associate who "kept track" of them and their work. If not, they misplaced files, had near misses on filing deadlines, forgot to log billable time, and rushed everywhere because they were late.
Our law students will benefit from learning solid organizational skills while in law school. By learning how to organize their studies, their class materials, and their appointments/meetings, they will be better prepared for a legal work environment. On-the-job-training as summer law clerks or on their first jobs could prove disastrous to their careers.
Here are some tips for law students who need to improve their organizational skills:
- Have a study area in your apartment where you keep all of your casebooks, study aids, binders, highlighters, and pens. If everything is kept in one area, you can minimize having to search your apartment for items that you need before you can study.
- As a corollary, always return an item to its place in your study area after using it. Have a designated spot for books and binders for each course, office supplies, and your laptop.
- Have a binder/folder for each course that will include all papers for that course: handouts, articles assigned, practice questions distributed, and other "extras" from your professor. The same binder may include your syllabus/assignment sheet for the course. Alternatively, some students prefer a separate binder just for syllabi and assignment sheets for all courses.
- Consider using computer software to organize your own class notes, outlines, graphic organizers, and other course materials. Choose a product that has capabilities that match your study preferences, is easy to learn, and has flexibility within its categories. However, make sure that you have sufficient backup of these materials so that you do not lose everything if your computer crashes.
- If you respond to color, consider having hard copy materials for each course in a different color. If you know that PR has a green binder and folders while Evidence is blue for each, you can quickly pick out the necessary materials for the day.
- Determine the best "vehicle" for your materials for school. Get organized whether you prefer wheeled luggage, a backpack, separate computer and book bags, or some other method. Make sure that your method includes pockets and compartments for everything that you need.
- If your law school provides carrel space or locker space, determine how to use it effectively in conjunction with your "vehicle" of choice. Some students prefer to store everything at home and take things to school as needed. Other students prefer to store everything at school and take things home as needed. The main thing is making sure you have what you need at any time at each location.
- If the trunk of your car is your storage space, then get it organized. Consider collapsible crates or partitioned trunk dividers that can be used to sort items by course or by items (example, binders versus casebooks). Avoid leaving items exposed on the back seat that might tempt someone to break into your car.
- Have a designated spot in your apartment where you always place daily items that you need/use. Put your keys, wallet, cell phone, eyeglasses, and other essentials in the same place every time you walk in your apartment door. Stack bills to be paid in one place where they will not get mixed up with junk mail or other unimportant papers.
- Calendar all appointments and meetings. Whether you use Outlook, a hard copy appointment book, or your iPhone for calendaring, it will do you no good if you do not look at it! Regularly check your calendar and update it with new appointments as soon as possible.
- Use "alert" systems on your computer or phone to remind you of meetings and appointments. Alternatively at home, set your oven timer or alarm clock to alert you when to end a task or leave the house.
- Set an artificial deadline two days before a real deadline for a paper, exam, project, or other task. By working to the artificial deadline, you will have spare time if needed for a final edit, review of the one exam topic still confusing you, or finding another printer if your own printer jams.
- Whenever you have a "glitch" in your organization, determine what went wrong. Then correct the problem or choose a new strategy that will work better to keep you organized. Avoid excusing your error as "just one of those things." Take action to make sure it does not happen again.
Some folks are naturally organized. Other folks need to practice organization. All of us can become better organized if we continue to work at it. (Amy Jarmon)
March 12, 2010
Teaching social skills in the age of the internet
Another essential professional skill set that contributes to law school success are the social skills necessary to engage others. Just five years ago when I started in ASP, I would not have thought this was something that ASP could or should be involved in teaching. I thought it was something that students either had by the time they reached law school or could never acquire. In the past two years, my thinking has evolved along with the students. There are two developments that I believe changed the skill set of incoming students; use of the internet as the primary means of communication, and the increasing number of students with Asperger's or autism-spectrum disorders enrolling in law school.
I do not believe use of the internet and the concurrent loss of face-to-face social skills are generational; I see them in older students who have years of work experience as well as young students weaned on the internet. This is the product of the internet age; if you spend most of your time working on a machine with limited face-to-face human interaction, your social skills will suffer. However, I have started to weave lessons in professionalism and communication skills into my ASP courses. Students who do not have the ability to make small talk need that skill to develop relationships with their peers and need to know how to make professional or academic small talk to get to know their professors. Law school is the time to hone those skills; it is essential for a lawyer to know how to communicate. Including peer-to-peer activities in ASP classes and workshops forces students to get out from behind their screen and learn to work with others. Scheduling joint programs with Career Services that focus on etiquette and business skills can help teach these skills explicitly. Why does teaching social skills fall into ASP? Students who struggle in law school are sometimes the most isolated socially as well as academically, leading to emotional and mental health issues that compound their suffering. Students learn better from peers than from lectures. Study groups can be an incredibly effective means of testing understanding of the material.
It was two years ago when I first encountered students with autism-spectrum disorders in law school. Working with undergraduates as well as law students, I see that this is going to be more common as services for these students expand and they reach their academic potential earlier in life. Law schools, in their present state, are not ready to handle the challenges or provide the services necessary for these students. These students know they have a challenge, and seek out help. ASP is usually where they land. They struggle academically because they do not follow some of the informal banter between professor and student that shapes so much of class time; they struggle in the hyper-competitive environment that fosters a "say one thing, do another" style of communication; they struggle because disabilities are still seen as weakness by many of their peers and professors. Many of these students need explicit instruction in how to behave during office hours with their professors. They may need additional support after meeting with professors to decode conversations that include sarcasm and facial expressions that these students cannot read. They may need to be placed in a study group facilitated by someone in ASP because their peers find them a little strange and they are hesitant to disclose a disability as the source of their uniqueness. Many of these students do very, very well in the courses that use formal logic (future estates) or value procedural fairness instead of theoretical, abstract notions of justice. They have a great deal to contribute to the field, and to their classmates.
Lessons in social skills and communication, interwoven into the fabric of lessons on academic skills, or taught explicitly, are becoming necessary. (RCF)
August 17, 2009
Negotiating beyond salary once you get an ASP job offer
I wanted to follow up on Rebecca's excellent posting this summer about job hunting in ASP. A number of positions have been posted over the summer. Some of those positions may still be "in the works." There may be a domino effect during the next few weeks as people are selected for those positions and give notice at their current law schools. The domino effect may also bring about postings for positions to start in January.
Rebecca talked about the reality that many schools do not have a great deal of latitude when it comes to salary. I have certainly found that statement to be true. A few thousand dollars may be the maximum room for negotiation. Some schools with budgetary constraints may have zero room to negotiate on salary.
However, you want to consider other items that are not salary exactly but can add up to additional money or other pluses. Each law school differs as to flexibility depending on its status or procedures (public or private, geographic location, size of law school, budget system, and other traits). Even if some of these ideas are not relevant to your negotiations, there may be other creative approaches that would be.
Obviously, you will have the most opportunity to garner additional funding, time,or title resources if you have a strong resume and some experience in ASP. However, if a law school really wants you to become their ASP professional, it will give you more bargaining power in all circumstances. A mentor told me years ago that negotiating power is greatest when you have not yet accepted the postion; after that, you lose a great deal of your clout.
- Explore whether there are additional ways that you can be paid for duties that are related but not currently in the salary:
- Inclusion as a paid faculty member or administrator for a summer program for 1L students who are enrolled in a conditional/unconditional summer law school course required for their admission.
- Bar preparation workshops if none exist at your school.
- Ability to teach a section of a 1L or elective course in your field of expertise as an instructor or adjunct professor in future semesters/summers.
- This request is especially effective if they want you there quickly for the start of a semester or before too many weeks go by in the semester.
- Ask for a larger dollar allowance if a set amount is given and explain why the allowance is inadequate (distance of move, turn around allowing less selection of movers, or other matters).
- Ask for the law school to pay to have your belongings packed by the movers as well as moved so that you can arrive more quickly and begin work sooner.
- Ask the law school to pick up the storage tab in your new city if you will not have time to buy/rent a house and will be in temporary quarters for several months.
- Ask the law school to pick up additional costs that may result from your having to break a lease without sufficient notice.
- Moving expense allowances are sometimes calculated for the young professional without family responsibilities or many belongings. If you own a house full of furniture and/or have family to move, ask for your differing circumstances to be recognized.
You will need to decide which of these negotiation strategies will work in your favor in your particular circumstances. One or two additional items can help financially or improve your workload within the law school or status for future job hunts. (Amy Jarmon)
September 02, 2008
We don't serve customers, we educate students
I have been seeing, and hearing, much about "customer service" lately. Customer service is important; it is what keeps people coming back to purchase products and services from retailers. What really concerns me is the move towards "customer service" in law school. We don't serve customers, we serve students. We don't sell a product or a service, we educate people. Law school isn't like a pair of shoes; you can't return it if it doesn't fit right or doesn't match a dress. You can't "return" law school if it's not right. Our duty is just-in-time critical. We only have one shot to get legal education right for each student, and sometimes that may produce discomfort. We are not retailers; we do not mass-produce a product that can sit idly on store shelves until it it is purchased or thrown away. Nor is education strictly a service; we build relationships, and if we do it right, we help people become a more actualized professional. There isn't a metaphor that can accurately capture what education is, and customer service is certainly not the way to describe what we do.
By focusing on "customer service", law schools are demeaning the students. Our students are more than customers. I don't want them to come out of my office happy with their experience; I want them to come out of my office with the help they need to become better students and better people. Sometimes that is one visit, but more often than not, it is a process that requires several visits. We work together to find ways to solve their problems. Sometimes students should come out of my office less happy; fixing a problem is hard work, and that is not always what they want to hear. But I am not dispensing advice to make people happy, I am a support to help them through their law school career.
"Customer service" also demeans the institution and the process. I am not a telemarketer or a retail clerk. Education is a calling. If legal educators wanted to be in retail, they would not be working in law schools. We are in the "business" of the public good. We are not doing our jobs if we produce a static product that does not change or grow with the needs of the community. If we were just in it to keep our "customers" happy, we would all need to be paid a lot more. But our satisfaction doesn't come from the money, but comes from knowing we help people, dynamic and ever changing, meet the needs of people in the community.
The "customer service" model contributes to the dehumanization of law students. This is what we should be working to ameliorate and end, not encourage. People are not products. Viewing them as a product we send out to be "sold" after three years of manufacture ignores their humanity, their individuality, and their unique gifts and talents.
Customer service certainly doesn't help us promote professionalism. If we are just retailers, than it doesn't matter how they turn out, because we sold our product and we are done (unless they want to give us more money, of course). But I do care how may students turn out. I care deeply about their lives and careers after they exit law school. My focus may be on their time as students, but as people, I want them to know education never ends. As lawyers, we have a duty to promote professionalism before, during, and after their time in our hallowed halls. Professional quandaries aren't limited to exercises in a textbook. We are teaching people to answer tough questions that will challenge them throughout their careers. If students are just customers, we are failing to fulfill our responsibilities to our students and to the greater community.
I am hoping this "customer service" movement dies a quick death, soon. I educate students, not customers. I serve the community, not just my students. I have a duty higher, and more precious, than just producing a product for the marketplace.
February 05, 2008
Grammar is my Achilles Heel
What do you do when…?
This is a challenge I face every time a student comes to me
with questions about grammar. I am awful
at grammar. I can still see the bright
red “30%” written on the top of my grammar tests in the eighth grade (if that
wasn’t reason enough to retire the red grading pens!) Somehow, I managed to pass eighth grade
English Composition, and I have lived in terror of grammar ever since. Logically, I know I must know something. I
couldn’t have fooled everyone on the way to my BA (in English!), MA, and
JD. But that doesn’t help the nagging
fear that I am a fraud, just one question about dangling participles away from
Everyone has that one thing that still scares them, that area of law they never understood, that critical skill they never grasped. Yet we all managed to graduate and become successful ASP professionals despite our failures and misapprehensions. But an Achilles heel also has the ability to turn a seasoned professional into a defensive amateur. If you are not secure about your skills, it’s easy to allow an angry student to make you feel as if you are not qualified to help them.
I have turned my Achilles heel into a teaching exercise. I own up to my weakness; my office is filled with books on grammar, style, and legal writing. I have the hardcover, illustrated edition of Strunk and White on my desk. I help the student research the answer to their grammar problem.
I may not have the answer to their grammar problem, but I feel I am teaching them a far greater lesson in admitting when to seek help.
*After I wrote this entry, I noticed an article in the New York Times on feeling like a fraud...very interesting stuff! "Feeling Like Fraud? Sometimes, Maybe You Should" by Benedict Carey, Feb. 5, 2007
August 24, 2007
Our Skills 5: Integrating into Our Institutions
As the semester begins, my calendar is filled with appointments with anxious 1L students. My probation students are beginning to sign up for their regular weekly appointments. And, there is the flurry of meetings and beginning-of-the-year events. It is also the time of year when I weigh my commitments for my full-time ASP duties with possible opportunities to become more integrated into my law school and my university.
Each law school has its own culture. However, in every law school, there are opportunities for ASP professionals to become more visible at the law school. By becoming more involved outside our own offices, we can provide our skills in service, become better known to our colleagues, and be seen as "team players." Here are some possible ways that you can get involved:
- If you are not already assigned to committees, offer to be an ex officio member of appropriate groups. For example: student affairs committee; admissions committee; orientation committee; bar preparation committee.
- If you have a doctrinal expertise and your curriculum process provides the opportunity, offer to teach a course one semester per year or in the summer.
- If there is a passion that you have, offer to take on a special project that relates to the law school. Examples: pipeline efforts with local schools; work with the campus pre-law advisors; a summer institute for pre-law students.
- If there is a law student organization that interests you, offer to be the faculty co-advisor for the group. Alternatively, help students start a new student organization.
- If you like to write, offer to write feature articles for the law alumni association magazine or law school newsletter.
- If you are interested in career services, offer to collaborate on workshops on time management, organizational skills, or other topics of interest to students working for the first time in the summer or entering their first job after graduation. Alternatively, you might be able to assist with mock interviews or with advising students interested in the practice area that you had as a lawyer.
- If fund-raising interests you, offer to help the law school alumni and development office or your student organization for public service.
- If the teams are soliciting judges for competition practices, offer to participate.
- If the law school hosts pro bono clinics for which you are eligible, offer to take part.
- If the law school is soliciting people to attend community or local bar functions, offer to take one of the spots.
If your law school is part of a larger university, also look for ways that you can use your expertise to benefit the university as a whole. In addition, become familiar to the resource people on the main campus. Again, here are some ideas:
- Meet the professionals in the counseling center, student health services, pre-law advising center, writing center, and other offices that have overlapping concerns for and expertise with students.
- Offer to assist on university-wide task force groups that match your expertise; many times the law school needs a representative for such groups. Examples: mental health task force; student assessment task force; alcohol education task force.
- Participate in teaching and learning workshops held on main campus and offer to present a workshop on a topic in which you have expertise.
- Become an advisor for an undergraduate student organization on campus.
- Offer to be a mentor in one of the campus programs for diverse students, pre-law students, or other groups.
- If there is a freshman seminar program for undergraduates, offer to teach a section of the course if it is open to faculty across campus to teach.
- Participate in university-wide groups that match your interests. Examples: faculty book discussion groups; university ski club; Faculty Women's Caucus; Christian Faculty and Staff; Hispanic Faculty and Staff.
Obviously, you need to make sure that you can cover your job duties before you become involved. And, you need your dean or associate dean to approve any participation. But, by broadening your experiences and contacts, you will enrich your own life, increase the visibility of ASP and the law school, and benefit your own students through your new knowledge and expertise. (Amy Jarmon)
August 07, 2007
Our Skills 4: Working with Faculty Colleagues
Whatever our position status in our law school, we work regularly with the faculty to help our students succeed. The relationship can be a "two-way street" if we consider both 1) how faculty can help us in our work with students and 2) how we can help faculty in their work with students. Sometimes, we focus only on the first of these relationships and forget the second.
Faculty members can help us more if they know about the specific ways that we work with students. Faculty members can also help us more if they know what assistance they can provide. So, our relationship becomes part publicity and part solicitation!
There are a number of ways that we can provide faculty members with more information on how we can help students:
- Send an e-mail to all faculty members each year explaining the services ASP offers to students: the population served; the workshops or classes provided; the individual assistance offered; any assessments provided; library facilities; or other services.
- Add a page to the Faculty Handbook and/or the Advisor's Handbook regarding ASP services.
- Provide faculty with the ASP workshop schedule for students.
- Provide faculty for 1L students with the schedule for tutoring, supplemental study groups, mentoring, etc..
- Schedule meetings with new faculty to introduce yourself and explain in more depth how ASP can help students.
- Provide faculty with the opportunity to get copies of study tip e-mails that you send your students throughout the semester.
- Make announcements at faculty meetings during the semester about particular programs, concerns, or other items that they need to know.
- Develop a brochure that outlines the ASP services and give copies to faculty as a reminder as well as a handout for students to facilitate referrals.
There are a number of ways in which we can ask faculty for assistance so that we can do our jobs better:
- Meet with individual faculty members for required courses to find out more about their courses and exams: what are common problems that students have in the course; what study tips would they give for their course; what are their study tips for their exam; what are the most common "point losers" on their exams.
- Meet with 1L faculty to learn their impressions of the new class and any concerns that they have about the skill levels.
- Ask faculty whether they would be willing to write hypotheticals with answer keys for you to use in your skills workshops with students. (They may have archives of old ones you can have without their having to produce something new.)
- Ask a faculty member if you can see the exam, answer key, and student's exam answers for the past semester when you are working with a student who did poorly in that class and needs exam-writing help.
- Ask 1L faculty members to talk about their teaching and exam styles at a training session for your tutors, study group leaders, or mentors.
- Ask 1L faculty members to be part of a panel on exam-taking skills for a workshop with the 1L students.
- Ask faculty members for required courses to recommend study aids that they particularly favor for their courses (you may want to purchase them for your own ASP library).
Now, to the second relationship of what you can do to assist faculty members:
- Encourage faculty members to refer students who have problems with study skills and/or life skills (time management, stress management, etc.) after the faculty member has worked with the student on the substantive material.
- Offer to meet with the faculty member's 1L class section to discuss reading and briefing cases, note-taking, outlining, exam-writing techniques or other study or life skills.
- Be available to faculty for consulting on using learning styles in classroom teaching, test construction review, or other specialty areas in which you may have training.
- Offer to assist with training on study skills and learning styles for teaching assistants, tutors, or other upper-division students who work with faculty in "teaching" functions.
- Offer to meet with students whose performance was poor on mid-term exams in addition to the time that the faculty member and/or tutor is working with the students.
- Offer to consult with a faculty member who is concerned about a student's performance or other indicators that the student is struggling.
Our faculty colleagues are valuable resources for us. And, we are equally valuable resources for them. (Amy Jarmon)
November 17, 2006
Our Colleagues in the Profession
Hosting the LSAC Southwest Regional was a rewarding experience. It was great to have the opportunity to work on the planning committee with such top-notch people as David Nadvorney, Marty Peters, Michael Hunter Schwartz, and Nancy Soonpaa. It was invigorating to hear great presentations and panels with people like Michael Hunter Schwartz, Marty Peters, Ellen Swain, David Nadvorney, Vernellia Randall, Dennis Honabach, Walt Huffman, Nancy Soonpaa, Vinita Bali, Alfred Mathewson, Joe Dhillon, Rory Bahadur, Everett Chambers, and Robert Coulthard. The learning that took place in just 1 1/2 days was amazing.
But most of all, it was the sense of collegiality and caring among the 30 registrants from 23 schools that reminded me how much I love what I do each day for my students and how proud I am of my colleagues in academic support. I was so excited to meet the newcomers to our field. What a fabulous group of new professionals to ASP! And, to see the "old timers" reach out with advice, encouragement, suggestions, and warm welcomes was equally impressive. I love the fact that we care not only about our students but also about our colleagues.
Most of us have had previous professional experiences where people guarded their turf, got puffed up with their own self-importance, and refused to be colleagues in the finest sense of the term. Most of us have watched in other experiences while people waited eagerly for others to fail so that they themselves could climb the ladder of success faster. And, in some cases we have watched others intentionally set traps for newcomers so that they would fail.
I feel blessed to be in a profession that sets high standards for performance and is concerned about best practices, but still believes in mentoring others, sharing ideas, offering help, and exploring together ways to improve. I hope that as we become more recognized by law schools as a profession with merit that we will not give up what makes us so special as academic support professionals. May we receive the recognition we deserve without losing our soul.
Thank you to all of my colleagues for your professionalism, but most of all for your warm hearts. (alj)
April 21, 2006
Lori Shaw, Dean of Students and Professor of Lawyering Skills at University of Dayton School of Law, has done it again. In her latest ¨Professionalism¨ column for Student Lawyer Magazine (April, 2006), Dean Shaw explains how several guidelines will lead students to ¨...personal fulfillment and professional success.¨
The personal fulfillment begins today ... but so does the professional success. How so?
¨Start practicing now,¨ I tell students, ¨to be the kind of lawyer you would hire if you needed one.¨ Dean Shaw´s recommendations? (Each comes with an explanation. You need to read the article.)
Be . . .
- passionate and compassionate.
Academic support includes more than study tips. (djt)
April 11, 2006
ASP were not a safe place for students to reveal information? Could we be effective Academic Support professionals if our students could not confide in us? I doubt it. Part of the function of any ASP office is being able to support students who are having personal issues.
After all, the ASP office is often the place where students feel that they can reveal highly personal information to a faculty member who will be supportive. Is there any better safe haven in a law school for the student who is ready to “come out” or has experienced a birth control failure? I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of all of this information as an ASP professional.
But then again, sometimes we cannot, and probably should not, guarantee complete confidentiality. When do we reveal our students' secrets to the law school administration? What happens if a student tells you that they have engaged in behavior that is a blatant violation of school rules? Like cheating, plagiarism, or in some religious-affiliated schools extramarital or homosexual relations?
Like most cafeteria-style ethicists (and most lawyers), I suppose it would depend. I think I would report cheating and plagiarism because I find these things very offensive in potential lawyers. I would probably keep personal events that occur outside of school under my hat. If a student were being threatened or bullied by other students, I would probably report the incident to our Dean of Students even if the student reporting it to me asked me not to. I am happy to relieve a student of the burden of tattling, and actually, I feel that it may be my obligation to do so under some circumstances, particularly where the student is in danger.
For example, I once had student tell me that she was being ridiculed during class by other students in an "invitation only chat-room." Her clothing, comments and appearance were all fodder for the students who were dishing out the gossip. As a result, she had stopped attending the class regularly and did not participate unless called on (where she been happy to raise her hand prior to this incident). She was mortified and hurt. She begged me to do nothing, but I could not, mainly because I felt that her academics were being out in jeopardy by students who were behaving as if this were Junior High School and not Law School. She was angry at me for some time, but thanked me before she graduated a year later. Did I do the right thing? I don't know, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
So, the ultimate question is this: can you be an effective ASP professional in an atmosphere that not only prohibits certain behaviors but also prohibits encouraging those behaviors? What does it mean to encourage? Is a failure to report a rule-breaker to the law school administration tantamount to encouraging the student to do it again in every circumstance? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I know this: I am happy to be working at a school that doesn't require me to figure it out. (ezs).
April 07, 2006
Something Wicked This Way Comes . . . Nevermind, It's Already Here
An ugliness is creeping -- in fact, I am increasingly convinced, has already crept -- into law school culture. Given new power by the Internet, it is infecting law schools and inflicting real damage on our students, much as it has done in lower schools. That ugliness is peer-on-peer bullying.
Some weeks ago (Feb. 10, 2006), I suggested in this space that ASP professionals read Darby Dickerson's article, "Cyberbullies on Campus," 37 U. Tol. L. Rev. 51 (2005). I made that suggestion because I suspected that law schools have a problem they do not see and that the problem has serious implications for our students. Let me renew that suggestion.
In the weeks since that posting, I have become convinced that the phenomenon of bullying has made its way up from the lower schools and is now well established in law schools. Much of the activity is occurring on-line in student blogs seldom visited by faculty, so the torment goes on well out of the the sight of faculty; but its effects among students are widespread. Much of it rises to the level of serious intimidation or worse, is often startlingly defamatory, and is frequently rife with epithets directed at various minority groups.
I suggest that we alert our faculties to the possibility that students are being targeted and tormented by their peers and begin educating ourselves about the bullying phenomenon. Most of the empirical research has been conducted in the contexts of the lower schools and the workplace, but the findings and advice translate fairly easily into the law school context.
You would think adult students would be beyond such behavior; and you would think that deliberate, orchestrated torment of colleagues would never happen among those studying to serve as professionals in the justice system. You would also be wrong, I fear; and being wrong, you would be leaving to the mercy of very bright and very effective adult bullies the students you otherwise work so hard to help. (dbw)
February 21, 2006
Yadda Yadda Yadda, Lawyer Style...
Here in our neck of the woods (that is the cold and wintry northeast), we are all abuzz in the legal community about an e-mail scandal. Basically, a young, new attorney decided to decline a job offer (after possibly accepting it) at the very last minute and did so in a fairly bratty e-mail to her future (and more experienced) employer. She told him that she was opening her own practice so that she could essentially "reap what I sew." (She was not, by the way, opening a tailor shop). He responded that although he did not take issue with her decision, he did have a problem with her delivery method. She told him that real lawyers put contracts in writing-and he told her (in a fairly restrained way) that this was not a "bar exam question" and that her behavior would certainly not bode well for her in our fairly insular bar network. She responded, "bla bla bla." Which demonstrated a complete lack of H's and an overabundance of chutzpah if you ask me.
So why do we all know about it? Well, like those old shampoo ads, the potential employer told two friends, and they told two friends and so on and so on. Within three days some forwarded version of this exchange was probably found in every attorney in Boston's in box, complete with commentary from the folks who had read it along the way. In my version, it appears that someone actually sent it back to our bratty seamstress along with a really long list of cc's. I know that I then sent it to, among others, my husband (an environmental lawyer) and a former colleague serving over in Iraq with JAG.
The next day, it was on the front page of the Boston Globe and last night I saw it on Fox news (please don't form any political judgments based on the fact we were watching Fox news; we don't have cable, CSI: Miami was a repeat and I find the Olympics kind of nerve-wracking). Another faculty member here saw it on a national news broadcast also.
So, (and here is where I finally link this to ASP), what is the role of an academic support program in fostering professionalism among students? Last week, before the whole "bla bla bla" thing, coincidentally, I had to deal with a student who sent me an e-mail with the subject line, "MY SWEET-ASS MEMO." Yes, it was all in caps. This was quite shocking as I sat at home checking my e-mail on the laptop with my nine-year-old looking over my shoulder. I knew I could not let this slip past without pointing out that this lacked appropriate professionalism on the part of the student.
But then I wondered. Isn't ASP, by far, one of the least formal places in the law school? Shouldn't we try to create the kind of rapport that makes students feel comfortable coming to us for help? How can I point out this student's error without sounding prudish? I ended up scolding the student in a return e-mail (I deleted the offending language from the subject line). I told him that while we are essentially a safe haven and more relaxed part of the law school, that his correspondence with our office still had to be professional. I asked him to refrain from using such language in the future.
I felt like I had put on my traditional lawyer garb, put my hair in a tight bun and perched my glasses on the tip of my nose for a moment, but I know I did the right thing because his response was, "I'm sorry" and not "bla bla bla." Maybe I have prevented the big e-mail scandal of 2008, and maybe not. It remains to be seen.
In a note of disclaimer, or perhaps even just an ethical honesty issue, I should point out that our seamstress is a graduate of the school I teach at-and no, I have never seen her before. (ezs)
December 10, 2005
Give It a Rest
As exams wind down, I think we would do our students a great favor if we reminded them to rest over the holiday break. The first-year students are especially worn out, physically and emotionally; and the upper-division students often take on more than is realistic as journal opportunities, moot court competitions, clerking positions, and clinical experiences become available.
All of that hard work is fine if it is kept in perspective, but it is easy to lose perspective both in law school and in the practice of law. Too many lawyers are workaholics, and their personal lives suffer for it in ways that are often unfair to their families and unfair to the lawyers themselves.
Whether that tendency to overwork is created in law school or is inherent in the types of people who enroll in law school, it behooves us to counter its pull on our students. We are the first examples of legal professionals many students have ever seen up close. They look to us for guidance as to the right way to practice law; and they take our words to heart, probably more than we realize. So we should be circumspect about the messages we send.
One of the great professional skills, I have always thought, is the ability to pursue excellence without unnecessarily sacrificing life's other important concerns. If our students are going to master that balance, they need to begin doing so in law school. The profession is not particularly forgiving, and pressures always exist to do more and do it better. Those who enter the profession unprepared to manage those pressures in healthy ways are very likely to be molded by those pressures in ways they will later regret.
The concern always exists, I suppose, that we will encourage the slackers to slack or fail to prepare our students for the hard work of practice; but that concern is probably overblown. The hard workers needn't be sacrificed to make certain the less motivated step up their efforts. In fact, between the two, I'd rather spend my energy taking care of the dedicated, hard working student.
So let's tell our students to give it a rest over the holidays. Let's tell them to take a few days and pretend they are not law students, or clerks, or journal editors, or whatever else wants to take them away from their personal lives.
Let's remind them that, as someone once famously remarked, no one on his deathbed ever wished he had spent more time at the office. Better to figure that out now, before it's too late to do anything about it.
And while we're at it, let's remember it for ourselves. Let's step back from the incessant demands of our profession and, for a few days, say, "Oh, give it a rest." (dbw)