Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, 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)

March 12, 2010 in Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, 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.
  • Consider requesting a title change or the addition of a teaching status (instructor or adjunct) to the administrative title.  There may not be the ability for an official title change because of structured personnel grades.  However, a title change might be possible for both internal and external use.  Although no money will follow, it may affect your status now and in future job hunts. 
  • Explore whether you will be provided with a travel/professional development allowance so that you can attend conferences and purchase professional books for your own use.  Some law schools do this for all faculty and administrators.  Other law schools are more restrictive in their inclusion, but may be willing to negotiate. 
  • Explore whether you are eligible for budget funds for Research Assistants, Teaching Assistants, work study students, or others who can assist in your workload even when you have no official secretary or other staff.
  • Discuss whether you can receive an additional moving expense allowance:
    •  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. 
  • Discuss whether there are any special mortgage or other benefits provided by the university or law school that may be helpful to you.  For example, a local bank had extended to our law faculty a lower mortgage interest rate the semester prior to my negotiations.  A telephone call from my dean meant that I was allowed to be considered belatedly which has saved significantly on my mortgage.
  • Keep in mind healthcare costs.  Some law schools have university-wide plans that do not start immediately upon arrival.  You may be able to negotiate having your interim COBRA payments reimbursed.
  • Consider negotiating research leave that will be salaried but will not count as vacation time if you have a legal field expertise that you want to continue (whether or not you will be able to teach those courses).  The semester break or summer may be the best times to agree to take this type of allowance.
  • Ask for assistance in introducing your spouse/partner to contacts in the community for his/her job hunting. Law schools are often well-connected in the local community beyond just law. 

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)

August 17, 2009 in Job Descriptions, Miscellany, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 2, 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. 
(RCF)

 

September 2, 2008 in Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Grammar is my Achilles Heel

What do you do when…?

 What do you do when a student needs help with something you are awful at?

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 being exposed.*
 

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.

Rebecca Flanagan

*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

February 5, 2008 in Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. If you like to write, offer to write feature articles for the law alumni association magazine or law school newsletter.
  6. 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.
  7. If fund-raising interests you, offer to help the law school alumni and development office or your student organization for public service.
  8. If the teams are soliciting judges for competition practices, offer to participate.
  9. If the law school hosts pro bono clinics for which you are eligible, offer to take part.
  10. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Participate in teaching and learning workshops held on main campus and offer to present a workshop on a topic in which you have expertise.
  4. Become an advisor for an undergraduate student organization on campus.
  5. Offer to be a mentor in one of the campus programs for diverse students, pre-law students, or other groups.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 24, 2007 in Miscellany, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 7, 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: 

  1. 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.
  2. Add a page to the Faculty Handbook and/or the Advisor's Handbook regarding ASP services.
  3. Provide faculty with the ASP workshop schedule for students.
  4. Provide faculty for 1L students with the schedule for tutoring, supplemental study groups, mentoring, etc..
  5. Schedule meetings with new faculty to introduce yourself and explain in more depth how ASP can help students.
  6. Provide faculty with the opportunity to get copies of study tip e-mails that you send your students throughout the semester.
  7. Make announcements at faculty meetings during the semester about particular programs, concerns, or other items that they need to know.
  8. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Meet with 1L faculty to learn their impressions of the new class and any concerns that they have about the skill levels.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.
  5. Ask 1L faculty members to talk about their teaching and exam styles at a training session for your tutors, study group leaders, or mentors.
  6. Ask 1L faculty members to be part of a panel on exam-taking skills for a workshop with the 1L students.
  7. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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)

August 7, 2007 in Advice, Miscellany, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, 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) 

 

November 17, 2006 in Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Professionalism

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.¨ Shaw

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 . . .

  • discreet.
  • civil.
  • responsible.
  • forthright.
  • positive.
  • passionate and compassionate.

Academic support includes more than study tips.  (djt)

April 21, 2006 in Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What if.....

What if...

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 11, 2006 in Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 7, 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)

April 7, 2006 in Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, 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)

February 21, 2006 in Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, 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)

December 10, 2005 in Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Predicting Success or Failure

Some students just aren't going to make it.  Either they are not going to make it through law school; or if they do, they will not be able to pass a bar in any state.  Sometimes the admissions office has made an error; sometimes the student has.  But who am I to say?

In today's economy, many college graduates are opting for more school rather than a full-out job search.  Law school applications are going up, and while that trend may give each school a better crop of applicants overall, sometimes students are just here because they didn't know what else to do.

Not knowing what else to do isn't a good reason to be in law school.  Often students forget their altruistic reasons for wanting to be lawyers (right about this time of year according to the studies), but students who never had one find all the work crushing and not a means to any end.

As ASP professionals, we often encounter these students.  They did well as undergraduates; and, pushed by parental or other pressure, they applied and came to law school.  But law school is not nearly as much fun as college; in fact, it requires some work every day, not just before exams. 

I think students who find themselves in law school for no apparent reason are more likely to be in academic distress.  Not only that, but once they are in academic distress, they are more likely to stay in distress or be dismissed.

Sometimes just doing poorly on exams is impetus for students to want to improve their grades because, after all, they did do well academically before law school and they think of themselves as academic achievers.  But this reaction doesn't always work.  If it doesn't, can we help these students manufacture a law-related goal that will be the light at the end of their tunnel?  Or can we admit to them (and ourselves) that they don't belong in law school and save them the time and money a few more years of school will entail? 

Are we really doing students a favor when we tell them to pack up their toys and go home?  I thought so until I worked with one particular student. This student came to me and said she was going to give up law school.  She already had a bunch of advanced graduate degrees, a full time job and a young child at home.  She was going to school at night.  She was extremely intelligent and told me that law school was more of a hobby, an extra degree for her resume.  She had no intention of changing her job or life after law school.  I agreed with her decision; but in the end, she spoke with another faculty member who talked her out of leaving.  She will be graduating in December.  She still stops by, and I am still embarrassed that I thought she should leave. 

On the other hand, I worked with  another student who was told by other faculty members that he did not belong in law school.  I told him to use those professors' comments in his graduation speech, and he did.

So here's the bottom line:  I am averaging about .500, which is great for baseball but not for predicting another person's future.  And sadly, I am sometimes grateful for the academic standing rules that dismiss students automatically when their GPAs and/or accumulation of unsatisfactory grades reach a certain, numeric level.  I wish I had some quantifiable, or at least reliable, way to figure out who wears the cap and gown and who doesn't.  I can make an educated guess or I can flip the ASP coin--the odds seem to be the same. (ezs)

November 2, 2005 in Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Reason to Sacrifice

Mario suggests that we not shy away from the word “sacrifice,” and I think he is right.  But to make that word ring true, our students must understand what makes the sacrifices worthwhile:  the reality that clients will soon entrust to them some of life’s most precious concerns.  That same reality should drive our academic support efforts.

Those who criticize the notion of academic support often do so because they perceive academic support as a “bag of tricks” for getting incompetent students through law school when flunking them out would be better for the profession and the public.  Whether we need to answer those critics is a topic for another posting; but it is imperative that, at the least, we strive never to deserve the criticism. 

As academic support professionals, we should be about the business of preparing our students to handle the serious, real-world problems of their clients.  Our students should realize from the first day of law school that they have but three years to prepare themselves to deserve their clients’ trust and competently handle their clients’ affairs. 

Like doctors, our students will spend their days diagnosing, treating, and preventing legal “illnesses.”  Like patients, their clients must not encounter shallow diagnoses, superficial treatments, or ineffective prevention. 

Our efforts, therefore, should ensure that our students are learning as deeply, completely, and accurately as possible.  Grades and ranks will take care of themselves.

Law school exams, legal writing assignments, upper-level research and writing requirements, and even bar exams are nothing more than the proving grounds for things much more important than grades or class ranks, interviews or first jobs. All of the ASP strategies for briefing, outlining, preparing for exams, using study groups effectively, and the like are really just exercises in deep, complete, and accurate learning. 

Certainly, grades provide powerful short-term motivation (and often short-term learning), but mature law students are motivated by the fact that people will soon depend upon them for thoughtful, accurate advice.  We can foster that maturity at the very time we are helping them prepare for exams – if we ourselves remember that the exam is just a means to an end and that the end is not better grades but deeper learning.

I am admittedly the new kid on the block in academic support – I am in my first year as an ASP director.  But I already know that if all I am doing is helping students find tricks to study faster and get better grades, I’ll be bored by Thanksgiving and working on an exit strategy by Christmas. 

If, on the other hand, what I am doing is helping students engage the law more deeply and effectively, ASP probably has its hooks in me for the long term.  Then my own sacrifices will be worthwhile.  (Dan Weddle)

October 12, 2005 in Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Sacrifice

Sometimes, the common (though rarely overtly stated) thread running through much of what Academic Support professionals do is a critique of law school pedagogy and the legal profession itself, because of the tremendous demands it places on time, family, and life in general.

Dennis Tonsing’s writings remind students of the need for both conscientious, active planning of their time and balance in their lives. But perhaps what we all need to focus on more is an acceptance of the reality of the practice of law. We all recognize it, certainly.

Dennis and I, as members of the legal academe who have also spent considerable time in private practice, certainly caution students that, to be a professional practitioner of law, you must begin the practice of law as law students from the first day of law school. But we all seem to avoid a word that encompasses what we all know is necessary, but are afraid to voice, because it has a pejorative connotation in today’s society: sacrifice.

The professional practice of law requires sacrifice: sacrifice primarily of time, but also of other needs, wants, and desires. As lawyers, we, and our students, cannot talk freely about our clients and cases—there is a duty of confidentiality—so we must sacrifice some predilection toward gossip. As lawyers, we have limits placed on us with regard to trial publicity, so, despite the way some celebrity lawyers seem to behave, we must sacrifice a natural penchant for the spotlight. As lawyers, we must be willing to represent unpopular people and unpopular groups, so we must sacrifice the natural desire for approval of our actions. As lawyers, we must be willing to provide services pro bono, and often to forego seeking payment even when a client who can pay refuses to do so, so we must sacrifice financially. But above all, as I noted in the beginning of this paragraph, we must sacrifice time.

We must learn to say no to people we love, and situations that are more tempting and more enjoyable than sitting in a cubicle or at a desk writing a memorandum or a brief, or doing research. Modern American society eschews the need for this kind of sacrifice. Certainly, when disaster strikes, we are all willing to reach into our wallets to contribute. But how many of us are willing to spend a week or two building houses for those who lost their homes to a hurricane, as one of our recent graduates did? Too often, modern society suggests we live for the moment, seek out whatever is pleasant and pleasurable, and shun that which requires sacrifice.

So, when we try to communicate how law school is not school—as Dennis points out in his book—we still do not say, “Law school is not school in part because you have to sacrifice. It takes a tremendous amount of sacrifice of time to exercise the mental muscle needed to self-learn.” It seems as if the word, “sacrifice,” has become a dirty word.

Sacrifice is not a dirty word. The founders of this nation sacrificed. A number of generations of Americans have sacrificed far more than time to preserve the freedoms represented by the very legal system our students seek to enter. I know this sounds controversial. I know it may sound insensitive to students’ needs and pressures. But it is also realistic. We aren’t going to change the nature of the profession to make it more “lawyer-friendly.” Clients are not going to care that the lawyer has to miss a loved one’s birthday party.

Dennis himself uses a vignette of a lawyer who arrives unprepared for court because he was celebrating his wedding anniversary. Our students rely on us to prepare them for this oft-times unforgiving and difficult profession. But preparation is more than learning to read and brief cases. Preparation is more than learning how to take active notes and make good course summaries. Preparation is more than taking a number of practice exams. Preparation is committing to sacrifice—both now, and in the professional practice of law.

Shouldn’t we be honest with our students and use the word we all know we mean—sacrifice, and tell them that we, and their future clients, expect it of them as much as we expect it of ourselves? (Mario Mainero)

October 11, 2005 in Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Practicing Now

Marrapese In "What Did I Do Wrong," an article by Jennifer J. Marrapese, Esq. (a law firm coach and consultant), the author offers "outrageous" examples of attorney behaviors that drive clients away.

When I encourage students to "practice" law in law school, professionalism is the watchword.  This article, written for attorneys, highlights ten no-no's ... many of which our students can practice avoiding now.

How about this as an example of professionalism directly applicable to the academic enterprise: "Prepare ahead for a ... meeting with a client by anticipating his questions and having the answers ready...." 

Several of Ms. Marrapese's examples deal with timeliness.  "I received five frantic-sounding voice mails from my client today.  He wanted my immediate help ... Unfortunately, I was tied up ... and didn't have time to call him back."  Here's another: "I didn't do my homework today.  I received a message from the client about a matter he had asked me to research a week ago."

Suggestion: encourage your students to practice professionalism, preparedness and timeliness as they work their way through law school, with this objective: entering the professional practice with excellent professional skills and habits.  Guess what: their grades may reflect their professionalism.  (djt)

October 10, 2005 in Advice, Miscellany, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)