April 24, 2013
Do You Wanna Dance?
Remember the awkwardness of middle-school and high school dances if you weren't attending as half of a couple? Males stood on one side while the females hung out on the opposite side of the gym. To walk across the divide to ask for a dance was intimidating. And mortifying if you got turned down flat under the watchful eyes of everyone else.
Some students had the herd instinct and stuck with a group of other unattached attendees. At best they would get out on the dance floor en masse. At worst they would chat with friends while being among the non-selected.
I was thinking today about how so many things in law school echo back to those days of social uncertainty. (For some, college was no better; however, most felt a bit more daring and socially adept by then.)
For example, you are herded into an auditorium during Orientation with hundreds of other new 1Ls and expected to get acquainted or at least fit in somehow. There may have been a major welcome luncheon on the first day. If seats were not assigned by section, then the undergraduate friends who are now attending law school together clumped into little groups at the tables, secure in having "dance partners." Everyone else felt as though a flashing, neon sign with an arrow exclaimed "unpaired." If seating was by sections, then at least the unfamiliar 1Ls at the table knew they had something vague in common and could swap rumors about their professors and courses.
Socratic Method is a bit like a dance invitation - except you really shouldn't take the option of turning down the professor (pass is not any more exceptable than no thanks). And at times students feel they are trying to follow their professor dance partner without any idea of the dance, let alone the actual steps. Some professors are strong leaders - question by question as they show students the steps and lead them through the analysis. Others seem to whip you around the dance floor until you are dizzy. A few others even step on your toes so to speak as they point your errors out to the class. Only a few students are brave enough to venture out on the dance floor by volunteering.
Then there is the legal research and writing dance. One is supposed to learn the steps to an alien type of analysis and writing by doing it. For those with two left feet in legal analysis and legal writing style, learning by doing seems totally unhelpful. Research paths are supposed to be dance lessons for research, but some students are improvising too much to end up with the correct moves. Arguing both sides of the issue seems a lot like not being able to decide who should lead. And then second semester appellate briefs feel a lot like doing choreography before one knows all of the dance steps and appropriate rhythms.
Sections help with the herd instinct because you are all in it together. Then with 2L and 3L years, everyone scatters to different courses, certificate programs, dual degrees, and student organizations. Many law students find themselves in new courses with new professors and law students from other sectioins or upper-division students that they don't know except as vague faces in the halls. They have to decide whether to stay alone in the experience or turn to other students and ask "Do you wanna dance?" (Amy Jarmon)
April 10, 2013
Do Not Jettison Your Common Sense
With the stress at the end of the semester, I am seeing more students make poor decisions because they have misplaced their common sense. Here are some things that students all know but tend to overlook when overwhelmed:
- Attend classes and prepare for them. Skipping class to gain more study time may mean that you miss important information about the exam or the wrap-up of major topics for the course. Not reading and briefing in order to save time only mean that you have the gist of the course without real understanding.
- Avoid spending lots of time organizing to study rather than actually studying. If a clean desk, organized bookshelves, and a code book with a thousand colored tabs do not increase your actual learning, you have been inefficient (used time unwisely) and ineffective (gotten minimal or no results).
- If you are sick, go to the doctor and follow the doctor's advice. Multiple negative repercussions follow from coming to school sick and refusing to get medical attention: you infect others with your illness; your illness becomes more debilitating than it should; you ultimately lose more class and study time than you would have with prompt treatment.
- Get enough sleep; do not get less sleep during the remaining weeks of the semester. Without sleep, your body and brain do not work well. You absorb less material, retain less material, zone out in class or while studying, and are generally less alert.
- Eat regular and nutritious meals; do not skip meals to save time. Your body and brain need fuel to do the studying you have to do. Dr. Pepper and Snickers bars are not a balanced diet. Neither are pizza and soda.
- If you have an emergency during the exam period, tell the academic dean or registrar. You may be eligible for delayed exams because of the circumstances (medical illness, family illness, death in the family). Most law schools have procedures/policies dealing with emergencies and will work with students who have exceptional circumstances.
Take time to use your common sense to help you make wise study and personal decisions during these last few weeks of the semester. Do not put yourself at a disadvantage by blindly taking action fueled by panic - think about the consequences of your choices. (Amy Jarmon)
April 07, 2013
So Many Tasks, So Little Time
The end of the semester is approaching at break-neck speed right now for most students. A common lament is that there is not enough time to get everything done before exams. Students are frantically working on papers and assignments while trying to find time for extra final exam studying.
Here are some ways to carve out time when you feel that you have none:
- Look for time that you waste during each day and corral that time for exam studying or writing papers: Facebook or YouTube or Twitter time; e-mail reading and writing; cell phone time; chatting with friends in the student lounge. Most people fritter away hours on these tasks.
- Become more efficient at your daily life tasks: prepare dinners in a slow cooker on the weekend to heat up single servings during the week; wear easy maintenance clothes to save ironing/dry cleaning tasks; pack your lunch/dinner to take to school instead of commuting time to eat at home; clean the house thoroughly once and then merely spot clean and pick up. You can garner ample study time if you cut down on these types of daily tasks.
- Curb excessive exercise time, but do not give up exercise time entirely. Your normal gym workout of two hours five times a week is most likely a luxuary at this point in the semester. Cut it back to two times a week or make it one hour three times a week. The guideline for exercise is 150 minutes per week. You need to focus on strengthing your brain cells rather than your abs right now.
- Consider getting up earlier each day, but do not get less than 7 hours of sleep per night. If you tend to sleep in on weekends and days when you do not have early classes, you are losing productive study time. Go to bed at the same time Sunday through Thursday nights and get up at the same time Monday through Friday mornings; do not vary the schedule more than 2 hours on the weekends. You will be more alert and better rested if you have a routine.
- Decide whether you could study an hour or two longer on a Friday or Saturday night if you currently end at 5 or 6 p.m. You want some down time, but may be able to go a bit longer than previously in order to gain more study time.
- Set up a schedule so that you delineate for each day when you will read/brief or outline for each of your courses. Then repeat the tasks at the same days/times each week. You will waste less time asking yourself what to do next.
- Break tasks down into small pieces. Small pockets of time (under an hour) can then be used effectively to complete tasks. You may be able to study a subtopic for a course in 20 minutes but would take 3 hours for the whole topic. Any forward movement is progress!
- Use windfall time when you gain unexpected time: a class is cancelled, your friend is late picking you up, a meeting ends early.
Instead of getting overwhelmed by everything you have to do, take control of your time. Conquer each course one task at a time. (Amy Jarmon)
March 19, 2013
Several law students have recently bemoaned the pettiness and spitefulness of other law students. It is not uncommon in the midst of the competition and the quest for superiority that some law students denigrate others' intelligence or abilities or accomplishments. They think the put-downs show their own competence and lessen the other person's worth. They want to sabotage their competition with mean remarks.
In truth, the inferior ones are the law students who feel compelled to make such remarks, to taunt other law students, and to tout their own superiority. They are simply not nice people. And if it were not for the self-contained environment of the law school, everyone could easily avoid them.
Too often law students react to these toxic people in ways that encourage them rather than short-circuit their venom. Onlookers will snicker to feel accepted by these toxic students or to cover up their own insecurities. The fawning snickerers should beware; toxic law students don't have loyalty to anyone except themselves. One slip and the fawner today can be the target next week.
Other law students stand by silently and say nothing even though they know the behavior is unacceptable. They don't want to get involved. They don't want to tell the toxic law student to apologize or to leave the other person alone. They could counter the snide remark with a positive one to the student who has just been put down. Or they could even befriend the student who is the target.
How sad that the people who are some day going to be officers of the court and supposedly uphold justice and protect the vulnerable are so unwilling to act professionally during law school. The toxic ones will probably turn into the arrogant partners who bully new associates and paralegals. The fawners will continue to be spineless ingratiators in practice. The silent onlookers will continue to not take a stand once they are admitted to the bar.
Fortunately, there are some law students who know the difference between right and wrong and will come to the defense of others. Instead of fuming later, they will intervene at the time. They will be polite, even diplomatic, but stand up for what is appropriate behavior among professionals.
Some law students will likely comment that nothing can be done and that it is just the way law school is. However, each law student's individual actions can impact the atmosphere of a law school. If each person who does not like the toxic behavior that develops in law schools were to oppose that behavior, law schools would be less stressful places for everyone. (Amy Jarmon)
March 12, 2013
An Attitude of Gratitude
It is hard for law students to realize sometimes that they are privileged. When the reading becomes overwhelming, the outlines are not going well, mid-term grades are lower than desired, and job prospects for summer or after graduation look bleak, it is easy to become discouraged and negative.
At the times of discouragement, students need to remember that they are studying for a profession that has a long history of making a difference in people's lives every day. Law school can be overwhelming and frustrating and challenging. It is not a perfect environment by any means. The job market is not as robust as it used to be, and job hunts take more initiative and diligence. But if one does persevere in law school, bar study, and the job hunt, the legal profession provides the opportunity to impact individuals and society.
When law students lose perspective on why they came to law school and what they hope to accomplish with a law degree, they need to look at the world outside the law school fishbowl. There are thousands of people in every part of this country who would love to have the opportunity to have an education - let alone a graduate education, to focus on learning , and to enter a profession some day. They are too busy with daily survival, however, to have those luxuries. They are worried about the next meal, a roof over their heads, or protecting their children from violence. They are wondering how to get access to justice for themselves and their families.
The study of law is not for everyone. The legal profession is not a good match for everyone. It is okay if a law student would prefer to pursue another degree in business or music or anthropology or some other discipline. It is equally okay if a law student would prefer not to be in school at all and instead work full-time.
If the decision is to stay in law school and pursue the law degree, then it is important to realize the privilege of that choice. When it gets tough, remember the impact a lawyer can have. Persevere through the hard courses; study with purpose; prepare to be the best lawyer possible. There are people out there who need help in their daily survival, and they need each law student to be focused on being the lawyer who will have that impact in their lives.
Have an attitude of gratitude for the opportunity to pursue a law degree, for the chance to make a difference through our profession, and for the people who will allow each new lawyer to touch their lives. When discouraged, look beyond the moment to the future that awaits. (Amy Jarmon)
December 27, 2012
As Administrators We Need to Model Head and Heart for Students
I spent seventeen years in my first career working with undergraduate and graduate students. Then after graduating law school as a non-traditional student and practicing for some years, I decided to return to higher education and combine my education and law backgrounds. Those earlier years in my student affairs career have certainly held me in good stead in my current ASP work.
For most of the years in my first career, I was involved not only with academic dismissals but also with disciplinary cases and, towards the end, with Honor Council cases. I was the one who investigated cases, presented at administrative hearings, and counseled dismissed students.
Part of my discussions with students focused on their behaviors (actions or lack of actions), consequences, rules, integrity, maturity, self-discipline, etc. I always wanted students to learn from the situations so they could avoid future problems. This aspect of my work was really more about the head - how to think through situations, how to see alternative courses of action, how to understand societal norms, how to implement different study strategies for success, how to behave differently, or whatever matched the circumstances.
No matter how difficult the student had been during the process of an academic dismissal or a discipline/Honor case, I always tried to add a second part to the discussion. I switched to the heart by focusing the end of a discussion on how the student was coping with the results (suspension, possible readmission later, permanent dismissal), how the student was dealing with the legal process if there was one when disciplinary actions applied (we took administrative actions first because too many lawyers had played around with court continuances in order to go beyond a graduation date or a transfer when we previously waited), whether the student had told their parents/spouse/others, and what the student's plan of action was for the future.
Why did I spend the time switching from head to heart matters? Because no matter what a student had done, the student was still a human being. Once we had dealt with the head matters, the student was still often dealing with the heart matters all alone. Most students had not told family or friends that they were in academic or disciplinary or Honor Council trouble. Most students had hoped to the last moment (often unrealistically) that a suspension or dismissal would not happen. Most students were without a game plan to deal with the worst outcome.
One thing I learned early on was that if I could look beyond the failures/behaviors to the person, the student left with a different attitude than if I stayed merely aloof and clinical. The student was more willing to take responsibility for the situation rather than blame the school, the administration, the student witnesses, the faculty member, or others involved. The student was more willing to look at the life lessons and consider change. The student was less likely to bad mouth the school to others later on in life.
By taking the time to treat the student as a person, to help the student decide the next steps, to listen to the fears, or to even role play how the student would tell family and friends, I allowed the healing to begin. I allowed the student to learn that one can recognize bad decisions the student made or disapprove of/censure behaviors but still treat the person with dignity. I let students know that someone cared about them even in unpleasant circumstances when many might say they got themselves into the situations.
At law schools, I think the head part of the process is sometimes focused on totally, and the heart process is ignored. Students from various law schools around the country have told me about getting only an academic dismissal letter and not being given an appointment to discuss it. Students have told me about being told they are "not good enough" or do not have "the right stuff" to be in law school. They have told me about comments suggesting they will be failures in life because they could not meet law school academic standards. The stories have come from students at both public and private law schools, at law schools in every tier, and law schools in different parts of the country.
Our profession has begun to recognize that there are "soft skills" that attorneys need and that the human element does have merit in the legal process. I hope that we can regularly recognize the same need for the human element at our law schools when we deal with the multitude of conduct and academic problems that students are involved in during law school.
As professional schools, we definitely need to maintain standards of conduct, integrity, and academics. But we also need to maintain those standards while treating others as human beings during the processes.
Few of our students are dismissed under circumstances so egregious that they are incapable of being productive and worthy members of society. If we model combining head and heart in unpleasant circumstances, we treat students with dignity and provide a lesson that will resonate throughout their lives about how to treat others. (Amy Jarmon)
October 28, 2012
Sleep is essential. Most law students short themselves on enough sleep. Rather than allowing them to get more done, less sleep actually decreases their learning.
Here are sleep facts:
- If a person gets less than 7 hours of sleep consistently, the medical diagnosis is chronic sleep deprivation.
- The average person needs 7-8 hours of sleep per night to function optimally.
- Some people need more than 8 hours of sleep for medical reasons or other circumstances.
- The body and brain work best with a consistent sleep routine - going to bed (Sunday through Thursday nights) and getting up (Monday through Friday mornings) at the same time.
- On the weekends, you can vary the sleep schedule 2-2 1/2 hours without whacking out your body clock for the rest of the week (go to bed at 1 a.m. instead of 11 p.m. and get up at 9:30 a.m. instead of 7:00 a.m., for example).
- Having a consistent sleep schedule will cause you to get sleepy as bedtime approaches and to wake up a few minutes before the alarm goes off.
- The average person needs 3 hours to complete a full sleep cycle.
- If you wake up with less than 90 minutes before your alarm will go off, you are probably better to get up than go back to sleep because your sleep cycle was interrupted at an inopportune point and result in grogginess if you go back to sleep.
- Sleep inducers before bed: warm milk, a lavendar bubble bath, at least 1/2 hour of wind down time.
- Sleep inducers once in bed: a dark room, a quiet room, lack of electronic gadgets in the bedroom (television, computer, etc.).
- Sleep inhibitors: alcohol, caffeine, a large meal near bedtime, exercise too close to bedtime, electronic stimulation right before bed (television, computer, etc.).
- Realize that if you wake up during the night that it is not unusual to take 15 minutes to fall back to sleep - do not stare at the digital alarm clock waiting to go back to sleep.
- If you wake up during the night with worries that you will forget something, keep a pad and pen on the nightstand and capture your thoughts - it will be easier to go back to sleep.
- If you toss and turn for a long period and cannot get back to sleep, get up and go to another room and read something boring before you try to go back to bed.
- A consistent sleep routine will eliminate the need for excessive napping.
- Power napping of 5-30 minutes can refresh some people.
- Naps of more than 20-30 minutes actually make you more groggy.
- Sufficient sleep has the following benefits:
- Increased focus when studying.
- Increased retention of material.
- Greater productivity within the time spent studying.
- Decreased irritability and stress.
- Weight loss.
Getting the proper number of ZZZZ's is very important. Do not skimp here if you want to be alert, focused, and learning-ready. (Amy Jarmon)
October 18, 2012
Accentuate the Positive
We are on the downward slope of our semester now. The midpoint in classes for our law school passed last week. The level of stress among students has increased as has the level of negativity. It takes a stout constitution to stay focused on the postive instead of getting mired down in the negative.
Here are some suggestions to help students accentuate the postive:
- Remember why you came to law school and keep those reasons in mind. Law school was the pathway for meeting a goal. If that goal is still valid, then law school is still valid.
- Realize that you can only control yourself and your time. You cannot control other law students who are super-competitive, moaning and groaning, irritable, or stressed.
- Realize that you are not going to like every other law student any more than if you chose 700 (or however many law students are at your school) random people and put them together. Some people will be unlikeable, gossipy, childish, lazy, mean or have some other negative trait. That is life. Do not paint the other nice people with a broad brush that condemns everyone.
- Remove yourself from negative situations. Avoid people who stress you out, focus on doom and gloom, and complain constantly. Refuse to become engaged in conversation with someone who wants to boost his own ego at your expense by attempting to make you feel less capable.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Seek out law students who are supportive of fellow students, who have a balanced approach to law school, and who are focused on doing well while still being nice people. Talk on the phone each day with supportive family and friends.
- Avoid "should of" statements. You cannot change the choices you made earlier in the semester about outlines, study habits, and more. You can change how you move forward with your studying. Focus on positive changes rather than past bad decisions.
- Break down assignments into smaller tasks so that the work becomes less overwhelming. You can cross off small tasks more quickly and feel a sense of accomplishment.
- Make a list of the questions that you have about the material for each course. Get the questions answered now rather than later. You will feel better if you are not as worried about things you do not understand. Get help from a classmate or your professor.
- Avoid exaggerating your concerns about a course or task. "I am clueless about Federal Income Tax" is much more negative than "I do not understand depreciation." "I'll never get my outlines done" is much more damaging to your confidence than "I will get two outlines done this weekend and two by the following weekend."
- Make sure you have some down time from studying and take care of yourself. Take a dinner break. Exercise at least three times a week. Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Take a couple of nights off on the weekend.
A full-time law student should be able to get all study tasks (reading, briefing, outlining, finishing assignments/papers, reviewing for exams) done in 50-55 hours per week. That still leaves time to have a life outside of law school. If you use your time wisely, you will feel more positive about law school because you will see that you are getting everything done and having guilt-free time for yourself. (Amy Jarmon)
September 24, 2012
Take a Deep Breath
Too much to do. Too little time. Too few resources. These phrases are often familiar to ASP'ers who juggle a wide range of duties under their job descriptions.
So, if your week has been extremely hectic and you are wishing that the weekend started today:
- Close your eyes. Breathe in deeply and exhale deeply. Count each time you exhale. Breathe in, Exhale, 1, etc. Repeat to a count of 10.
- Close your eyes. Concentrate on breathing deeply. Repeat a positive word over and over to yourself. Repeat until you feel relaxed.
- Close your eyes. Breathe in deeply to the count of 6. Exhale deeply to the count of 6. Repeat until you feel relaxed.
- Sit up straight. Scrunch your shoulders up towards your ears and hold. Release. Repeat until you feel your muscles relax.
- Rotate your neck gently and slowly to the right, back, left, forward. Repeat until you feel your neck muscles relax.
- Stretch your legs out in front of you and held several inches off the ground. Gently rotate your feet together in a circle to the right. Stop. Gently rotate your feet together in a circle to the left.
- Close your eyes. Picture a favorite place in your mind (beach, forest, country lane). Slowly "walk around" in the scene and savor the sounds, sights, and sounds. Relax and enjoy being in that scene.
Savor your few minutes break. Finish out your day and enjoy the weekend. (Amy Jarmon)
September 21, 2012
Link to Contemplative Practices and Education Website
This week on the Balance in Legal Education listser, Larry Krieger at Florida State University School of Law provided a link to a website that may be of interest to ASP'ers. I have included Larry's listserv post below. Thank you, Larry, for the resource. (Amy Jarmon)
"FSU (main university, not the law school) just distributed this link, which connects to many, many fascinating people and topics regarding ‘contemplative practices’ (and education). The scope is broad, depending on the links selected – broad in the sense of practices included (meditation, contemplation, reflection, mindfulness, dance, writing, etc.) and ways of integrating such into a course or program for students. These are all eminently qualified educators and professionals, with quite different (but not inconsistent) approaches and perspectives. Enjoy. Larry
September 06, 2012
When will I have time for . . .
A number of the 1L questions that I posted earlier are at least in part related to time management. Initially reading and briefing take so much time that 1Ls cannot comprehend how they will get done everything that they hear about: outline, review for exams, do practice questions, complete legal research and writing assignments, and more.
The answer is to have a routine that is repeated every week - do the same thing on the same day at the same time as much as possible. By having a standard schedule with study blocks for each task for each course, a law student can make sure that everything is getting done. A standard routine takes the guess work out of "What should I do next?"
Most new law students have never had to manage their time. They were able to get excellent grades with little effort. We know from national surveys that most of them did not study more than 20 hours per week in college and many of them studied far less. They could decide most days as they went along what they felt like doing. They could write papers at the last minute and get good grades. They rarely (if ever) studied on the weekends. And they got good grades while working and participating in leadership positions in numerous organizations.
Here are the basic steps for students who want to set up a study routine for the first time:
- Plan to spend 50-55 hours per week beyond class time for full-time studies and 35-40 hours per week for part-time studies.
- Initially set up a weekly schedule template with one-hour blocks from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. The final schedule may not use all of these time slots, but the extra slots help when first building a schedule. Eliminate any hours in the template that are not used. in your final schedule.
- Label all task blocks in the schedule with the what the time is alloted for in the block (examples: read torts; read contracts; writing assignments; meal; sleep).
- Build a time management schedule in layers so that you can make conscious decisions as you put in each layer.
- Layer One: put in your classes and any weekly review sessions that your law school provides for 1L students.
- Layer Two: include 1/2 hour review either before your class or before bed the night before the class so you have seen the material twice; back-to-back classes would mean 1/2 hour for each class.
- Layer Three: decide when you will get up (at minimum so you can get to school for your first 1/2 hour review and class); get up at the same time Monday through Friday even if your class times change.
- Layer Four: decide when you will go to bed Sunday through Thursday nights to get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep (less and you are chronically sleep-deprived according to the medical research).
- Layer Five: include true commitments that are the same every week (dinner with Auntie Em on Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m.; religious service at 5:00 p.m. Saturdays; study group 2-4 p.m. on Fridays); do not include things that you want to do but have time flexibility for (exercise that is not an actual class time).
- Layer Six: estimate for each class how long it takes you to prepare for class for one day (reading, briefing, problem sets, etc.) for the longest or hardest assignments; if necessary, keep a log for a week so you can make more realistic estimates regarding the time blocks; schedule in your class preparation time - if possible, prepare for Monday and Tuesday classes over the weekend.
- Layer Seven: schedule 6-8 hours per week for any paper/project course; you decide which number and the increments (for example, 7 hours: 2 + 2 + 3).
- Layer Eight: add weekly time to outline for each doctrinal class; 1 - 1 1/2 hours depending on the difficulty of the course.
- Layer Nine: add exercise time, meals, down time, chores, and other miscellaneous tasks as they seem to fit logically in the schedule.
- Layer Ten: after you live with the schedule for 7-10 days, make any adjustments; allow more or less time for estimated blocks; move any task blocks to other days/times that work better.
- Layer Eleven: add time to review for exams (weekly read through of your entire outline; intense study of specific outline topics as though you had to walk into the exam; practice question time; memory drills).
Task blocks in the schedule can be moved up and down during the day if a task is completed earlier than expected. Task blocks can also be flipped between days if necessary. The task blocks are place markers to make sure that all study tasks are completed within the week. As long as all task blocks are completed, the student is on target and can have guilt-free down time. (Amy Jarmon)
September 05, 2012
The 20 Top Questions 1Ls Are Asking
Here are the most common questions that I have been getting from my first-year students during the opening weeks of the semester:
- Will it always take me so long to read and brief cases?
- What is the best way to remember all of the legal terms and definitions?
- How do I choose the critical facts from the many facts that are in the case?
- Why is it that my issue statement does not match the issue my professor wanted?
- Why is it that some professors do not seem to care much about procedure?
- What is the difference between a holding and a judgment/disposition?
- What do they mean when they talk about policy?
- Why do we read such old cases that are not even still good law?
- Do I need to know all this history and background stuff for the exam?
- What are these outlines that everyone is talking about all the time?
- Can I just use someone else's outline rather make my own?
- When do I need to start outlining for a course?
- How do I find time to outline when I barely have enough time to read and brief cases?
- What is an IRAC and how do we learn to do it?
- When should I start doing practice questions and how do I find them?
- How do I decide what study aids to use for a course?
- Why do we have to do legal research and writing when we already have enough to do with our other courses?
- Will I be able to have some down time when I do not have to study?
- When am I going to take naps?
- When am I going to watch my favorite television shows?
As you can see, the questions have covered the waterfront. I'll spend several upcoming posts answering some of these questions. (Amy Jarmon)
August 14, 2012
Overcoming a fear of public speaking
I have spent the past three weeks teaching gifted 10, 11, and 12 year olds in Palo Alto, CA. I do this every summer, and I learn a lot from the kids. I teach college-level Model United Nations and Advanced Geography, and all the students are required to formally address the class about their nation's position on the issue involved in the simulation. This year, the class had a student who was terrified of public speaking. Her terror mirrored what I see in 1L's approaching moot court. I learned a great deal from this student as she overcame her fear and went on to be on the the class's strongest advocates.
1) Trust rules of procedure.
The student, who I will call A, learned that rules of parliamentary procedure were her friend. All students needed to follow the rules, so she knew what to expect when she was asked to speak. No one could yell out or distract her, or they would be violating the rules. While moot court doesn't use rules of parliamentary procedure, there are rules that protect the speaker. Many students with a fear of public speaking are afraid of public ridicule, and the rules associated with moot court prevent the heckling they fear.
2) Preparation will make you feel better.
A knew her position on the issues. She could answer any question. She knew she had done the research. Her paper was approved by two different teachers. These steps helped allay some of her fears that she would be asked a question that she could not answer. Some of her fear of public speaking was a fear of being caught off-guard. Preparation, and guidance, make a huge difference when a student fears public speaking.
3) Everyone makes mistakes.
A was not the first speaker, which allowed her to listen to her classmates before she had to speak. We asked her to listen for mistakes, because even the best, most fluid speakers make mistakes. When she saw that the mistakes did not mar the substance of most speeches, she was able to relax.
4) If you feel the ideas flying out of your head, stop talking. Take a deep breath. Start again.
When A realized that no one would heckle her if she forgot part of her speech, it calmed her nerves. But we still needed to reassure her that she could forget her speech, and she could take a second to regain her composure and resume speaking. She had a 60-second time limit on her speech (far less than most appellate arguments in moot court) but she still had enough time to take a deep breath and start again if she felt like she was losing control. Just the knowledge that she could take a second helped keep her calm during her first few speeches to the class.
For those of you who are thinking "but the stakes are SO much higher in law school," take a minute to recall being in middle school. This class was filled with super-competitive, ambitious, and gifted middle school students who have never failed at anything in their short lives. These students choose to take a college-level class during their summer vacation. The thought of making a mistake feels life-altering to them. Because they live in dorms while they take the class, they cannot escape from their peers. The fear that A felt is not much different from the fear felt by 1L's. (RCF)
July 20, 2012
Don’t “Choke” on the Bar Exam
Recently I had the opportunity to attend a lecture given by Sian Beilock, Associate Professor of Psychology at The University of Chicago and author of Choke: What The Secrets of the Brain Reveals About Getting It Right When You Have To. The lecture focused on the science of why individuals choke under pressure and how to best avoid performance anxiety. While the lecture did not focus on the stress applicants feel taking the bar exam, it was wholly applicable.
When pressure and anxiety to perform is high (like the bar exam), the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for our working memory, focuses on the anxiety instead of recollecting essential information for successful performance. When a student is filled with too much anxiety, regardless of their aptitude, the anxiety interferes with their thought process and almost turns off their working memory to anything other than the stress of the event. This is why we often see highly intelligent and capable students perform below expectations in testing situations.
There are several ways to help students avoid this prefrontal cortex reaction. One, which is often employed by commercial bar reviews, is taking practice tests under timed conditions. These simulations help the brain overcome stress and will likely prevent students from “choking” during their actual test because they have established coping mechanisms to deal with their stress. Therefore, during the real test, they can practically operate on autopilot without stress interfering with their working memory.
Additionally, positive self-talk is an important aspect of testing success. Professor Beilock suggests that writing about your stress for ten minutes before an exam will free working memory. This cognitive function can instead be applied to performing well on the exam.
The simple act of acknowledging fear and stress prior to taking the bar exam could make the difference between passing and failing. I have told each of my students, especially those struggling with intense testing anxiety, to try the writing exercise each morning of the bar exam. I am hopeful that it will calm their fears and help them reach their highest potential next week.
May 10, 2012
Mind Over Matter
Many law students are now in exams. It is sometimes hard to keep one's perspective in the midst of hard exams. Here are some pointers you can give students to help them stay focused and not be thrown by an exam that seemed too difficult:
- Help students realize that the grade in a course is just one grade on one set of questions on one day.
- A student has 90 credit hours (more or less at different law schools) in the degree, and one course is just a small part of that degree.
- It is not uncommon to know more information than a set of questions on an exam could ask in a limited time period.
- Lots of attorneys today are practicing in areas that were not their strong courses in law school – students can have another chance.
- Remind students that other students also thought a particular exam was hard.
- Students need to realize that they are like their fellow classmates in regard to an exam.
- A student needs to resist the temptation of feeling that s/he was the only one who found the exam difficult.
- Encourage students to forget about the exams they just had.
- The exam is over and done with, and the student cannot change anything about it.
- Have the student re-focus on the next exam because s/he can make decisions that will impact studying for that exam.
- Students can just do their best on each exam under their own particular circumstances. That is all they can ask of themselves.
- Remind them to avoid talking with others about an exam when it is over.
- They will only get more stressed about the exam.
- They will keep thinking about that exam instead of moving on to the next one.
- They should smile at the person who wants to talk and diplomatically say that they don’t talk about exams. Then they should walk away.
A student who is upset by an exam needs to take several hours off and do something unrelated to law school. If the student's exam schedule allows it, the student will probably benefit from taking the rest of the day off and getting a good night's sleep. A fresh start in the morning will be more beneficial than studies that are unproductive because of a lack of focus. (Amy Jarmon)
February 05, 2012
Is law school right for you?
I have had a number of appointments lately with students who wanted to talk about the pros and cons of staying in law school. Some of them were disappointed with their grades. Some had outside family, medical, or financial issues that were weighing on their minds.
If you are asking yourself whether or not law school is right for you, here are some things to consider:
- Why did you originally want to attend law school? Are those reasons still as important to you? Reminding yourself of why you originally enrolled can help to refocus your thinking about law school.
- Were your reasons tied to internal or external motivations? You may well have a mix of motivations. However, when the going gets tough and doubts arise, internal motivations are often more deeply supportive of your chosen path. (Internal motivation examples: I want to help immigrant families with legal problems. I loved working as a paralegal before law school. External motivation examples: My parents told me I should be a lawyer. I got turned down for medical school.).
- Have you changed your mind about what you want to do with a law degree? Some students have doubts because they decide they don't like the original type of law they thought they wanted to practice. That is okay - law includes a multitude of different legal specialties. Some students decide they don't want to work in BigLaw. That is okay - there are many different practice experiences: different sized firms, government work, non-profit agencies, public service. Some students decide that they do not want to practice at all. That is okay - there are a number of alternative careers for law graduates. Explore practice areas and career options with your career services office. Talk to professors and other lawyers about their careers and areas of expertise. If you decide that another graduate degree or work experience matches your career goals better than a law degree, that is the decision you need to make
- Do you enjoy cases, legal concepts, and legal analysis? If you enjoy the daily study of law, that may be a positive indicator to remain. However, if you hate what you are doing, you may be happier in another field of study. Note that enjoying the law is not the same statement as enjoying law school.
- Do you enjoy being in law school most days? Law school is not an easy environment for many reasons. If you are miserable every day, then that is not healthy for you. However, if most of the time you deal positively with the workload and environment and keep your perspective, then you may decide that the issues you have with law school can be handled. Most law schools have academic support professionals who can help you learn ways to study smarter rather than harder and to manage your time well. They can also refer you to other professionals who can help you evaluate any remaining issues.
- Are there family or medical or other priorities that mean you need to leave law school right now? All law students have responsibilities and circumstances that are outside the law school. If those priorities need your focus right now to the exclusion of law school, then you need to do what is necessary to meet those obligations. Consider the best way to meet any personal responsibilities within the options your law school provides.
- What are the options that you have at your law school? You may be able to take a leave of absence, go to part-time status, or have other options at your school. If you decide to leave at this point, make sure you follow proper procedures. If you have financial aid, make sure you understand the ramifications of your choice. If you can keep your options open (for example, a leave of absence), do so.
- Who are the people who can help you with your decision? Talk to faculty, deans, your academic advisor, parents, mentors. Do not try to make the decision by yourself. Find objective people who can help you see the pros and cons. Get as much information as possible from your law school's administration before making a decision. Consider what you will do next if you decide to leave law school - better to have a game plan if at all possible.
Law school may be the very best match for your goals and circumstances. However, law school may be a good match later, but the timing is off now. Finally, if law school is not a good match for you, there is no shame in choosing a different path and walking away from this choice. (Amy Jarmon)
January 24, 2012
Sadness vs. Depression, and Learning the Law
One of the more depressing statistics I have come across is the rate of depression among lawyers and law students. I am further depressed when I see the random studies linking depression with heightened analytical ability. The theory (and it is only a theory) is that there is a connection between high-achieving lawyers and depression, because a good lawyer will see the flaw, the catch, or the error in any argument, and thereby save his or her client dollars. Someone who is depressed is more likely to see the downside, and therefore, be a better lawyer or law student. This theory ignores the enormous social and emotional toll of depression. It impacts not just the person suffering, but the people who care about the person suffering from depression.
I don't like this theory. I think it gives another excuse for maintaining the status quo. Depression should not be a way of life, for any reason. There is an excellent piece in the NYT's this week on sadness and depression, and the drive to find evolutionary justifications for depression. I found the arguments for an evolutionary explanation for depression similar to the rationalizations explaining why lawyers tend to be more depressed than people in other careers. And like the author, I am disheartened when the drive for explanations leads to a justification for an unhealthy way of life.
Larry Krieger has done amazing work on law students and depression; most of us in ASP are quite familiar with his work. In ASP, we need to recognize the difference between sadness and depression. Sadness is a temporary state all of us experience; depression should not be a common experience. Due to the populations so many of us work with in ASP, we should be trained to see the differences between ordinary sadness over an unfortunate event, and depression, which as Dr. Friedman explains in the NYT article, "a failure to adapt to stress or loss, because it impairs a person’s ability to solve the very dilemmas that triggered it." Depression, unlike sadness, causes memory problems and issues with learning, which cause additional academic problems, and causes depression to snowball. (RCF)
More information on lawyers and law students and depression:
WSJ: Why are so many lawyers depressed? http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2007/12/13/why-are-so-many-lawyers-so-depressed/
Lawyers With Depression: http://www.lawyerswithdepression.com/depressionstatistics.asp
Psychology Today: The Depressed Lawyer: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/therapy-matters/201105/the-depressed-lawyer?page=2
New York Times: Depression Defies the Rush to Find an Evolutionary Upside: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/17/health/depression-defies-rush-to-find-evolutionary-upside.html
January 13, 2012
Hope and Higher Grades
Hat tip to the Legal Writing Prof Blog for the following link to a recent article on research about law students and hope.
Go to The National Law Journal to read the article summarizing research published in the Journal of Research in Personality and previously reported in the Duquesne Law Review. Allison Martin, a clinical professor at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, is one of the researchers. (Amy Jarmon)
November 28, 2011
Let's Talk about Stress
You can feel the negative stress level when you walk into the doors of a law school during this time of year. Negative stress is a problem for some law students all year long, but it tends to be prevalent for many more as the exam period approaches. It helps to understand the good, the bad, and the ugly about stress to deal with it.
There is such a thing as positive stress. This type of stress helps us respond in an emergency, helps us perform well under pressure, encourages us to reach our potential, and gets us moving and being productive in our lives. This positive stress is sometimes called eustress. When demands on us result in our brains responding neutrally to a situation, it is termed by some researchers as neutral stress or neustress.
When we talk about stress in law school, most people think of the negative stress which is also termed distress in the literature. The symptoms of distress are warning signs to us that something is wrong and we need to deal with the situation.
Some of the common distress symptoms are:
- Poor concentration
- Short temper
- Trembling hands
- Churning stomach
- Tight neck and shoulder muscles
- Sore lower back
- Confused thinking
- Accelerated speech
- Sleep disruption
Distress can lead to decreased productivity when studying, physical illness, fatigue, loss of interest, and decreased satisfaction. If high levels of distress are experienced for prolonged periods, physical and psychological disorders can result including, migraine headaches, ulcers, colitis, high blood pressure, panic attacks, psoriasis, and more. In addition, a law student's distress can affect their relationships with others.
What are some positive ways you can manage your stress:
- Avoid being a perfectionist. Work towards an excellent result rather than a perfect result. Rarely does a law student get every possible point on an exam question. Rarely does a law student write the perfect paper.
- Break down large projects into smaller tasks so that you are not overwhelmed. Break every topic into subtopics so that you can make progress in smaller time blocks and focus on manageable pieces. Break down a paper into small research, writing, and editing tasks. For example, editing can be divided into looking for spelling errors, punctuation errors, grammar errors, logic of the material, flow and style of the writing, citation, or other categories.
- Avoid people and situations that add to your stress. Steer clear of certain classmates who cause you more stress because of their attitudes, hyperactivity, panic, or competitiveness; end conversations diplomatically and go on your way. Find locations to study that do not add to your stress. If the law school is too stress-laden, go to other academic buildings, a coffeehouse, the university library, or the business center of your apartment complex.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep makes an enormous difference in our being able to manage stressful situations. It gives our body the defenses to fight disease. Getting sick during exams will only cause you to have more stress.
- Practice stress release. Get a massage. Do relaxation exercises. Learn biofeedback. Practice yoga. Go for a run or swim.
- Lower your alcohol, sugar, and caffeine intake. All of these ingredients can cause your stress to increase even though you may initially think they are relaxing you or giving you energy.
- Seek help if the stress is interfering with your life. See a doctor or counselor if the stress has become more than what you can manage on your own.
Take action to keep negative stress from getting the best of you. It is far better to do something about it than wish you had later. (Amy Jarmon)
November 19, 2011
Pretty Please with Sugar on Top
It is time to call in the reinforcements. For most law schools, exams are approximately 2 or 3 weeks away. That means that law students need to focus on studying and ask for help from family and friends on life's more mundane issues.
You may want to consider the following:
- Relay to friends and family that you are going into hibernation mode and will not be available until semester break to paint the living room, clean out the attic, plan your sister's June wedding, or shop 'til you drop. Tell them you love them, and promise a celebration after exams.
- Warn friends and family that you will be returning phone calls and replying to e-mail less regularly and to be patient if you do not get back to them right away for non-emergencies. (If you are really gutsy, ask them not to send you funny e-mails, chain poems, and You Tube video clips so that you can spend less time sorting e-mails.)
- Alert those who are fashionistas in your life that you are swapping high style for comfort, low-maintenance duds until the end of exams - less laundry, less ironing, less dry cleaning - unless they want to provide you with "wardrobe mistress" assistance.
- If you live with someone who is not a law student, see if you can negotiate that your (roommate, spouse, partner) take on extra chores until exams are over in return for your doing more chores throughout the semester break.
- If you live with a law student, negotiate swapping off days for chores so that each of you can have some uninterrupted study time without dishes, vacuuming, dusting, and more. Alternatively, do a "whirling dervish" cleaning together now and then settle for the bare minimum of picking up clutter and washing dishes.
- If you own a dog, ask your parents if you can bring their "grand-dog" with you at Thanksgiving for an "autumn camp" experience until your exams are over. You love Fluffy or Fido, but now is not the time to be rushing home constantly for walks, feedings, and play-time.
- If Auntie Em loves to cook and lives nearby (or you will see her at Thanksgiving), ask if she would be willing to let you pay her for the ingredients and her time in order to make you several large casseroles for your freezer - law students need nourishment during studying.
- Consider paying the neighbor's teenager to rake leaves, shovel snow, or do other outside work that can be time-consuming.
- Ask friends who are already running errands in that part of town if they would mind picking up a few groceries, a prescription, or other items for you if you give them the money and a list.
- If you have children, ask friends and family to babysit, set up play dates, have sleep overs, and generally provide some face time with your children so you can get some blocks of uninterrupted study time. Offer to reciprocate over the semester break.
If there are other areas of your life that you need help with during your study crunch, speak up. In fact, beg, plead, cajole, and get on your knees if you have to do so. You can and will make it up to them over the semester break. (Amy Jarmon)