Thursday, August 25, 2016
Wow...For those of you as 1L students, perhaps you feel like I did when I started law school…alone.
But, here's some great news!
We are not alone; rather, we are "ALL"-alone!
You see, at least according to posters made by recent entering law school students, most of us feel out-of-place, a bit perplexed, unsure of ourselves, wondering how we will perhaps "fit" in, and, most of all, hoping that we can survive law school.
In my case, as a person that turned forty years old in my first year of law school, I was so scared. Downright frightened…and...intimated. But, as it turns out (and I didn't realize at the time), most of my entering colleagues (if not all) were feeling just like I did!
Don't believe me?
Well, here's a few posters with comments that some of recent entering law students - in the very first week - produced to depict what they were excited about in entering law school…and what they were concerned about in entering law school. Perhaps you'll find that you share some of the same excitements and concerns.
And, here's the key…Don't just focus on the negatives but also take time to reflect on the positives that you share with so many (if not all) of your law students. You see,most of us feel just like you do.
So, take time to encourage one another and share your own personal excitements and concerns. It's a bit scary at first, but, in the end, you'll be mighty happy that you did. And, good luck new 1L students. We wish you the best!
Thursday, August 4, 2016
"A great sports instructor or coach builds us up, but also teaches us important lessons of emotional management, such as confidence, perseverance, resilience and how to conquer fear and anxiety. Many times, these lessons have a permanent impact on our mind-set and attitude well beyond the playing field." So says columnist Elizabeth Bernstein in her article: "A Coach's Influence Off the Field." http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-coachs-influence-off-the-field-1470073923?tesla=y
That got me thinking about life…my life as an Academic Support Professional. With the start of a new academic year upon us, perhaps this is an opportunity - as Goldie Pritchard puts it - to try something new. So, I've been thinking and reflecting about my life as an ASP-er, and, in particular, that I might focus on something new--serving as a coach to our law students.
You see, and this is where the rub is, the most significant teachers in my life have, well, not just been teachers. Rather, they've been more than teachers; they've been coaches. And, not just sport coaches. More like life coaches. Whether they were teaching political science or trying to help me throw a ball, they all left indelible imprints, imprints that made me a better person and that went well beyond the classroom (or the baseball field)...because they taught me lessons that were much bigger than just about political science or baseball.
Let me give you an example from political science. I once had a professor by the name of Sandel. No offense, but I can't recall the principles of Kant's categorical imperative or Hannah Arndt's political theories. But, I can vividly remember something much more important that I learned, in particular, to call people by their name…to invite students to comment and participate…to let people speak…by truly listening to them. Those were lessons well given.
Or, in another context regarding life's many daily struggles, as Bernstein sums up in her column, coaches teach us lessons that help us when the going gets tough, for example, in Bernstein's words, "...when I’m on deadline or giving a speech to an intimidating crowd: You need to arrest a negative thought immediately, in midair. Remind yourself that you are competent and know what you’re doing. Slow your breath." Let me be frank. Those are the lessons that got me through law school. And, I learned them through teachers that were, really, coaches.
Thus, as we begin to embark on a new academic season, perhaps I should focus more on coaching. After all, our work brings us in contact with people that are really struggling over learning to be learners in a new learning environment…an environment that we call law school...with people that need us to coach. So, what does a coach do? According to Bernstein, a coach says things that change our lives for the better…and for ever, such as:
“Great job in difficult circumstances.”
“You should be really proud of yourself.”
But, in my own words, a coach, first and foremost, listens and observes others. That I can do, if only, I'd stop talking so much! (Scott Johns)
Saturday, January 16, 2016
Are you looking for ways to give back to the profession? Do you want to meet more colleagues? Do you want to have an impact at a national level? Now is the time to sign up for committees for the 2016 - 2017 AALS rotation.
To volunteer to be on a committee, you need to be a faculty member or professional at a AALS member school. Not sure if your law school is a member school? Check the membership list here: AALS Member Schools.
As soon as possible, please email the Section Chair to indicate your interest in participating on a specific committee: Lisa Young (Seattle) at email@example.com.
The following are brief descriptions of the committees:
Awards Committee: The Section on Academic Support has the choice to present an award at the annual meeting to a member of the profession who has made outstanding contributions to ASP. The Committee decides each year whether or not the award process should be undertaken that year. If the Committee plans to present an award, it follows the processes for nomination and selection in the Section's Bylaws. Both the Section's Executive Committee and AALS must concur with the selection for the award to be presented.
Bar Passage Committee: This committee considers a wide range of issues related to bar preparation and the bar exam itself.
Learning Curve Committee: This committee publishes two electronic issues of the Learning Curve each year. The committee determines issue themes (where appropriate), solicits articles, selects articles, acts as editorial staff, and undertakes oversight of the actual publication of the issues.
Nominations Committee: Each year the committee undertakes the nomination process to select a slate of officers/board members to be presented to the membership at the annual meeting. The nominations/selection process is covered by the Section's Bylaws as well as the Section's 2014 Executive Committee Recommendations.
Program Committee: This committee is responsible for deciding the program topic in line with the AALS annual meeting theme, advertising the calls for proposals for program sessions/papers, reading all submitted proposals, selecting the proposals to be included, holding teleconferences with the selected speakers, and handling the program tasks at the annual meeting.
Status Committee: This new committee grew out of a discussion at this year's business meeting. The committee will look at the status issues that ASP/bar prep professionals have within the legal academy. There will likely be contacts with our counterparts in the legal-writing/LWI/ALWD and clinical areas regarding their status history and strategies that they used to address status issues.
Website Committee: The Section is responsible for the Law School Academic Success Project website that is supported financially by LSAC and is under the AALS umbrella. The website has content for law school professionals interested in ASP and students. Work is needed to update the website: directory information, lessons in a box, other content.
Thursday, December 17, 2015
Mark Beese, President of Leadership for Lawyers, has an interesting article in the December 2015 online issue of Law Practice Today. He discusses briefly Carol Dweck's mindset theory as well as Learn or Die by Edward Hess. His article lists some ways that law firms can encourage learning. The link to the article is here: The Law Firm as a Learning Organization. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Yesterday evening I received a two sentence email from a student asking for advice on how to become a more detailed-oriented person because she is struggling in an internship, and she cites her big-picture orientation as a significant contributor to her struggle. As a member of the constantly connected gadget-net generation I read this email on my phone, and immediately began composing a list of free association ideas to help the student "fix" the problem while resisting the urge to comment further on the missing detail of a signature so that I would know who was asking the question. But I stopped myself from hitting send on that response, rationalizing the decision as "well, that's not what a detail-oriented person would do" and "do you really know what you're talking about because you're about to try to answer a really complicated question via smartphone email."
Today my time in the office has included internet searching for collective advice about becoming more detail-oriented. I also searched for inventories out there to assess comparative detail-orientation because maybe this student is generally sufficient at detail-orientation but is just working for a hyper-perfectionist. There have also been a few minutes where I'm wondering if maybe I am spending too much time attending to omitted details. And thinking that maybe I should be writing a post about productive-procrastination instead. But really, all of this has led me back to the free association list I drafted last night. While it lacked a certain amount of detail, it was probably a good starting place for this student if she is serious about changing her habits of thought and becoming a more detail-oriented person. The student is having a crisis moment and probably wants a list of concrete actions and just needs an immediate starting place to feel some relief as soon as possible. But, I personally would much rather provide the map of cognitive restructuring this student can follow to experience long term relief several months or years down the road.
Habit change requires sustained effort, particularly when we are seeking to change dominant preferences that have become entrenched through repeated practice. For the next few sentences, I'm going to assume that there is a documented and empirically validated scale of detail and big-picture orientation that exist on a continuum like extroversion and introversion on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. People who live at the extreme ends of the spectrum between detail and big-picture orientation are going to struggle during the first phases of new habit development because these new thought habits will start out as exercises of the imagination since there is limited personal experience with the non-preferred thought habits. Indeed, it may require finding someone who has the desired habits and is willing to demonstrate them to begin developing context of where change in the thought process needs to start. The closer to the middle of the spectrum someone is indicates fluency which allows them to adopt the set of habits that is most suited to the task at hand.
The concrete behaviors someone with strong big-picture preference can adopt to initiate change generally fall into a broad category of systems of accountability such as to-do lists, reminder programs on phone and computer, accountability partners, workflow checklists, create automatic detail inclusion when available (e.g. email signature blocks), etc. The concrete behaviors that someone who is strongly detail-oriented can implement is scheduled times for reflection on the big picture, a list of big picture assessment questions to use during those scheduled times, and assessment of the priority level of the project because perfectionism and detail-orientation are at least cousins, if not siblings or the same thing.
I will now reply to the student and provide the list I drafted last night, links to a couple of worthwhile online resources, and an invitation to meet and discuss in greater detail. In these circumstances that's probably the best approach for this student. But if I'm wrong, she'll know she can come back and help me find a better way to help her. (CMB)
Monday, December 15, 2014
The 2015 Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) Conference is set for May 26-28, at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, Illinois.
The conference presents a wonderful opportunity to expand and enhance your professional experience by sharing your skills and knowledge with an audience of peers from law schools across the country. The Call for Proposals is available at the new AASE website. Proposals to present at the 2015 conference are due on January, 12, 2015.
Monday, December 1, 2014
Across the country law students are studying for semester exams. This is not the first blog post about staying healthy, managing time, and staying organized and motivated during exam prep. There is a reason for that. Law students tend to get distracted by what you are doing for exams that you forget to understand why you are studying for exams. It’s because you want to be a lawyer. Well, I’m a lawyer, too. Yes, I went to law school a long time ago and but exam prep hasn’t changed much. Law students still consume way too much caffeine, don’t shower or shave often enough, and stay up until the wee hours of the morning and then crash until noon. I don’t recommend doing any of these things. Law school is the bridge to the profession of law so treat it as such and start studying like a professional. Get up at 7-7:30, shower, eat breakfast, and be ready to study by 8-8:30. Put in 4 good hours in the morning (with a short break) and then take an hour for lunch. Not only do you need to feed your body but you need to give your brain a break and a chance to re-charge. After lunch, it’s time for another 4 focused hours of studying. It’s now 5-5:30 but you aren’t starving because you ate a decent breakfast and lunch. You take a 30-minute break (have a snack, get some fresh air), and are good for another 2 hours. Now it is 7-7:30 and you are hungry and tired. You’ve put in 10+ hours and it’s time to call it a day. You prepare and eat dinner and catch up on email and social media. Before going to bed, you review all you’ve accomplished and make a plan for the next day so when you get to your study spot you are ready to go and don’t have to waste time figuring out what to do. If this sounds too easy to be true, it’s not. It just requires you to stop thinking like an undergrad and start thinking like a lawyer.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Due to the nature of our work and the lightning fast pace of the academic year, we are so busy that we often forget the many things that we do and various roles that we play. When asked about our jobs, it is easy to answer with a title, “I am the Director of the Bar Studies Program,” or “I am an Academic Support Professor.” Or, to answer with an important aspect of our work, “I help students prepare for the bar exam” or “I provide tools for academic success to 1Ls.” But, these statements do not nearly cover the many hats that we wear at our law schools.
Instead, listing the qualities that are fundamental to our work is more apropos. We educate, we advocate, we counsel, and we empathize. Interestingly, these attributes are strikingly similar to those of a good lawyer. We, like lawyers, balance our time listening, thinking and analyzing, instructing, and communicating with and for our clients or students. In a series of blog posts, I will explore the various responsibilities, tasks, and missions we have as ASP Professionals with the hope that others will better understand the work that we do and the essential needs that we fill.
Some of us see our main goal in ASP to be that of an educator. Simply put, we love teaching. And, as educators, we are constantly honing our craft. We research new teaching methodologies and strategies. We implement new techniques in the classroom and monitor student progress and their learning needs. We reflect on our own work and the impact it has on our students. We seek out curricular changes that will benefit the student body as a whole. We provide formative assessments so students can become self-regulated learners and remedy their weak areas. And, above all, we tirelessly work to help students achieve academic and bar success.
We educate our students in many ways with the work that we do. In ASP, we teach 1Ls the basics of reading and briefing cases, outlining and exam preparation, and school/life balance. We help 2Ls fine tune their legal writing, strengthen their legal analysis skills, and help them establish their professional persona. And, we usher 3Ls into the world of law practice by teaching them the fundamentals necessary to pass the bar examination.
Webster defines an educator as: “one skilled in teaching” and “a student of the theory and practice of education.” Academic Support Professionals are truly skilled in teaching and are the epitome of life-long learners. It is in our roles as educators that we engage students and help them utilize their strengths and improve their weaknesses. We constantly learn from these interactions with students and from our application of learning theory in our work. In ASP, we wear our "educator hat" most often, but we are also always perpetually being schooled by our students.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
There are many things that we want our students to accomplish in law school. Each law school has a mission statement and various goals/objectives. All of us have been in on discussions as to what we want to have happen during three years of law school (or four or two depending on the model).
I made the following list for my students to ponder because some of them had not really thought about what they wanted to accomplish in law school and how it relates to future practice. The list is not all-inclusive nor is it in a perfect order. Instead it is a starting point for my students' reflection.
- Learn how to solve legal problems.
- Learn to use a legal vocabulary precisely.
- Learn the details of our U.S. legal system.
- Learn basic legal concepts and principles for a variety of courses.
- Learn how to use legal reasoning strategies to analyze any legal problem.
- Learn how to argue both sides of any legal problem.
- Learn how to use policy arguments appropriately.
- Learn how to research the law.
- Learn how to write objective and persuasive legal documents.
- Learn ethical principles that will promote success in practice.
- Learn professional skills to manage work assignments, time, and stress.
- Learn legal skills and a foundation in the law to facilitate passing the bar exam on the first attempt.
- Learn legal skills, a foundation in the law, and ethical behavior to facilitate being a respected lawyer among your colleagues and clients.
If students get too focused on the next reading assignment or the next exam question, they miss why they are here and what they can gain from the experience. ASPers work with faculty to help our students accomplish these items before they graduate. It is a team effort. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, December 20, 2012
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.
Friday, August 3, 2012
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)
Friday, April 13, 2012
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.
Sunday, September 4, 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)
Saturday, August 6, 2011
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)
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
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.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
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)
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
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)
Friday, March 12, 2010
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)
Monday, August 17, 2009
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)
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
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.