Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, October 16, 2017

October Slump and Shout-Outs

I first want to provide a special shout-out to Russell McClain, the University of Baltimore School of Law, and everyone involved with the planning and running of the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) Diversity Conference. The presentations and accompanying dialogue were informative and thought provoking. And, as always, the camaraderie among the law school academic support community and the community’s genuine interest in law student success were inspiring and helped serve as continued motivation to push us through the rest of the academic semester.

I also want to provide a separate shout-out to my colleague, Rachel Gurvich. I have mentioned Rachel’s name and Twitter handle (@RachelGurvich) on several occasions at law school conferences and on this blog. Rachel recently wrote an ASP-ish post on The #Practice Tuesday blog. The post, entitled, “It’s not so shiny anymore: 1Ls and the October slump”, provides seven tips on how 1Ls can push through the rest of the academic semester. I encourage you and your students to take a look at the post and follow Rachel on Twitter. She’s a great colleague and resource at Carolina and beyond—her Tweets have reached and supported law students throughout the country, including this one and this one.

Rachel and Sean Marotta (@smmarotta) started The #Practice Tuesday blog as an opportunity to expand their #Practice Tuesday discussions on Twitter. On Tuesday afternoons, Rachel and Sean lead great discussions on “advice and musings on legal practice and the profession.” Participants in the discussions include practitioners, judges, and law school faculty and students throughout the country. Feel free to join in on the conversations!

Again, thanks to Russell McClain and everyone involved with the AASE Diversity Conference! And, thanks, to my amazing colleague Rachel Gurvich! (OJ Salinas)

October 16, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Smart-Phone Dilemna: "Blood Pressure Spikes, Pulse Quickens, Problem-Solving Skills Decline," says Columnist

 As recently reported by columnist Nicholas Carr, if you have a smart phone, you'll likely be "consulting the glossy little rectangle nearly 30,000 times over the coming year." 

Most of us don't think that's too awful.  I certainly depend on mine...and all the time.  It's become my phone, my mailbox, my knowledge bank, my companion, my navigator, my weather channel, to name just a few of the wonderful conveniences of this remarkable nano-technology.  But, here's the rub.  Accordingly to Mr. Carr, there are numerous research studies that, as the headline above suggests, indicate that smart phone access is harmful, well, to one's intellectual, emotional, and perhaps even bodily health.  

Let me just share a few of the cited studies from Mr. Carr's article on "How Smart-phones Hijack Our Minds."  https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-smartphones-hijack-our-minds-1507307811?mod=e2tw

First, as reported by Mr. Carr, there's a California study that suggests that the mere presence of smart phones hampers our intellectual problem-solving abilities.  In the study of 520 undergraduate students, the researches - using a TED lecture talk - tested students on their exam performance based on their understanding of the lecture with the students divided into three separate groups.  In one classroom, the students placed their cellphones in front of them during the lecture and the subsequent exam.  In another classroom the students had to stow their cellphones so that they didn't have immediate access (i.e., sort of an "out-of-sight--out-of-mind" approach).  In the last classroom situation, the students had to leave their cellphones in a different room from the lecture hall.  Almost all of the students reported that the placement or access of their cell phones did not compromise their exam performance in anyway.  But, the test results shockingly indicated otherwise.  The students with cellphones on their desks performed the worst on the exam. In addition, even the students with the cellphones stowed performed not nearly as good as the students who were not permitted to bring cellphones to the lecture.  Apparently, just the knowledge that one's cellphone is ready and standing by negatively impacts learning.

Second, also as reported by Mr. Carr, there's a Arkansas study that suggests that students can improve their exam performance by a whole letter grade merely by leaving one's cellphone behind when headed to classes.  In that study of 160 students, the researchers found that those students who had their phones with them in a lecture class, even if they did not access or use them, performed substantially worse than those students that abandoned their cellphones prior to class, based on test results on cognitive understanding of the lecture material.  In other words, regardless of whether one uses one's cellphone during class, classroom learning appears to be compromised just with the presence of one's cellphone.

Third, as again reported by Mr. Carr, cellphone access or proximity not only hinders learning but also harms social communication and interpersonal skills.  In this United Kingdom study, researches divided people into pairs and asked them to have a 10-minute conversation.  Some pairs of conversationalists were placed into a room in which there was a cellphone present.  The other pairs were placed in rooms in which there were no cell phones available.  The participants were then given tests to measure the depth of the conversation that the subjects experienced based on measures of affinity, trust, and empathy.  The researches found that the mere presence of cellphones in the conversational setting harmed interpersonal skills such as empathy, closeness, and trust, and the results were most harmful when the topics discussed were "personally meaningful topic[s]."  In sum, two-way conversations aren't necessary two-way when a cellphone is involved, even if it is not used.

Finally, Mr. Carr shares research out of Columbia University that suggests that our trust in smartphones and indeed the internet compromises our memorization abilities.  In that study, the researches had participants type out the facts surrounding a noteworthy news event with one set of participants being told that what they typed would be captured by the computer while the other set of subjects were told that the facts would be immediately erased from the computer.  The researchers then tested the participants abilities to accurately recall the factual events.  Those that trusted in the computer for recall had much more difficulty recalling the facts than those who were told that they couldn't rely on the computer to retain the information.  In other words, just the thought that our computers will accurately record our notes for later use, might harm our abilities to recall and access information.  And, as Mr. Carr suggests, "only by encoding information in our biological memory can we weave the rich intellectual associations that form the essence of personal knowledge and give rise to critical and conceptual thinking.  No matter how much information swirls around us, the less well-stocked our memory, the less we have to think with."

Plainly, that's a lot to think about.  And, with all of the conversations swirling about as to whether teachers should ban laptops from classrooms, it might just add "fuel to the fire."  On that question, this article does not opine.  But, regardless of whether you take notes on a computer or not, according to the research, there's an easy way to raise your letter grade by one grade.  Just leave your smartphone at home, at your apartment, or in your locker...whenever you go to classes.  (Scott Johns).

 

 

October 12, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Dare to Disclose?

The counseling field has often highlighted the benefits of some personal disclosure from therapists to their clients. Some cited benefits include increased trust and rapport, as well validation of the clients’ experiences.

Join me this week at the Inaugural Diversity Conference for the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) in Baltimore, Maryland, for a moderated discussion on the benefits of academic support professionals sharing personal stories and struggles with their students.

Participants will be encouraged to share their experiences (i.e., their stories or struggles) relating to diversity and inclusion or their law school experience in general. These experiences may either be personal stories or struggles or stories related to students that the participants may have worked with in their capacity as academic support professionals. As presenters and participants share their stories, the “listening” participants will be modeling and reviewing some of the same active listening skills and nonverbal behaviors that academic support professionals should be engaging in when they work with students in either individual or group conferences.

Hope to see you in Maryland! (OJ Salinas)

October 9, 2017 in Advice, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, News, Professionalism, Program Evaluation, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Giant Pumpkin Growing Lesson #4: Remember Your Goal

For my fourth and penultimate pumpkin post, I recommend that novices regularly remind themselves of their original goal.

In Lesson #2 I explained how I came to establish my personal goal for the growing season, namely to get a single healthy pumpkin to the weigh-off scale.  Now that the weigh-off is less than two weeks away, I'm starting to secretly hope I win the Rookie of the Year award.  Consciously I know that I have not done as much work as some other new growers, but that fact hasn't stopped me from wanting to win the award.  My original goal was to grow a pumpkin, and I've done just that.  Yet, I have the distinct feeling that I'm going to be (irrationally) disappointed with my ranking on the leaderboard at the weigh-off event.

All this ranking-focused-thinking got me wondering about my students and their first-year grades.  At the beginning of the semester, I asked my criminal law class (which, by design, also includes my AEP students) to tell me what they most wanted out of the fall semester.  The top two responses: "to survive" and "to pass."  Only a handful of students offered more specific aspirations, like learning about murder, gaining confidence, performing pro bono work, or learning "how to write."  It seems that most of my rookie students and I had the same mindset at the outset of our respective endeavors: to survive the new experience.  So, does that mean that most of my students will start dreaming of sitting at the top of the leaderboard in December, even though that wasn't their original goal, and even though they may not have put forth the amount of effort needed to achieve a high ranking?

Admittedly, I don't have an answer; rather I'm making an observation about novices.  Nonetheless, I do plan to discuss the theory with my students. I suspect that a candid discussion about my own illogical (and last minute) desire to be "the best" may help reframe my students' thoughts and expectations with regard to their own fall grades.  In a school with a mandatory grade curve, there can only be handful of "A"s in each class.  But, a law school "B" can be equally worthy of celebration--especially if the original goal was just "to survive." (Kirsha Trychta)

  IMG_1804 2

Here is "Presley" in mid-September, weighing an estimated 400 pounds.

October 3, 2017 in Exams - Theory, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 2, 2017

Hypothetically Speaking . . . .

I mentioned last week that students don’t have to wait until final exams at the end of the semester to find out whether they have a good understanding of what their doctrinal professors are teaching. Since most law school classes don’t have traditional periodic tests, I encouraged students to use their professors’ various “what ifs” and “how abouts” to test their understanding of key rules and concepts that the professors are covering in class.

Students: If you are able to answer the professors’ hypotheticals—whether out loud or in your head—you are positioning yourself well to answer the professors’ hypotheticals on their final exams.

A final exam is often just a mixture of a bunch of hypotheticals in one or two large stories. The hypotheticals test your recollection and understanding of key rules that you have covered throughout the semester. The hypotheticals also test your ability to identify and apply significant facts within the hypotheticals to your key rules. This application of law to facts is legal analysis. The better your legal analysis is on a final exam, the more likely you will get a better grade.

But, I know the Socratic class can often be an intimidating and difficult experience, particularly for many 1L students. I know it is not easy sitting in a Socratic class worrying about getting called on—I’ve been there, and I didn’t particularly like it. I disliked the Socratic class so much that I wanted to quit law school after my first year (That story is for another blog post; but you can read a little more about my law school experience here.)

I feared speaking up in the Socratic class because I didn’t want to be seen as incompetent. I worried too much about what my professors or my peers might have thought about me during that moment right after the professor called my name in class. I worried about getting the professor's question wrong. I worried about appearing nervous. I worried.

It took me a long while to adjust to the type of teaching in the Socratic class. It took me a long while to realize that it didn't matter if I was nervous or got a question wrong--what mattered was how I did on the final exams. 

So, I wanted to do what I could to prepare for the final exams. I tried to do a lot of preparation outside of class. I read my cases. But, I also used study aids to help give me context for what I was reading. The study aids also provided me with a bunch of hypotheticals where I could practice my legal analysis.

I practiced my legal analysis within the confines of my safe apartment where I didn’t have to worry about others “judging” me if my voice cracked or was shaky or when I didn’t answer a question correctly. I trained myself on issue spotting and applying law to facts so that I could feel more confident not only in the Socratic class, but on the final exams as well. And things turned out okay for me. The guy who wanted to quit law school after his 1L year is now teaching in a law school.

It’s funny how things turn out. And things can turn out well for you, too. Try to engage with your professors’ hypotheticals. If you are not fully able to engage with the hypotheticals in class, look for ways to engage with hypotheticals outside of the potentially intimidating classroom. Like anything in life, the more you practice, the better you will get. And you have an entire semester to practice for your big day (and it won't matter on that big day whether your voiced ever cracked in class or whether you got a question wrong when the professor called on you). (OJ Salinas)

October 2, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 25, 2017

We Are Not in College Anymore

We are several weeks into the Fall semester. 1L students are starting to get a little better handle on what law school is all about. If they didn’t know this already, they are starting to realize that law school is much different than college.

There are no boldface words and glossaries in the law school casebooks. The Socratic class is not filled with a professor lecturing at passive students for the duration of class. And there are few, if any, written “chapter tests” during the semester so that students can assess their understanding of the material.

But, there are many opportunities throughout the semester where students can assess whether they are picking up what they should pick up in the course. These opportunities happen every day in class as a result of the often-dreaded Socratic method (and I dreaded it when I was a 1L--but, that story is for another blog post).

The professors’ many “what ifs” and “how abouts” give students opportunities to test their understanding of the relevant law; they are given chances to apply this law to many factual scenarios—which, in turn, help the students become better issue-spotters and legal analysts. And, as we all know in the ASP world, the more issues a student is able to spot and analyze on a law school final exam, the more likely that student will gain more points on the professor’s final exam rubric.

So, students: Try to engage with the professors’ hypotheticals in class—even when you have not been cold called in class to verbally answer the questions. Try to answer the questions to yourself in your own head. If you can’t come up with an answer to a hypothetical, write the question down on your notes and revisit that question after class or on the weekend when you review what you have covered in class for the week. You may not have come up with the answer in class. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with the answer on the final exam--when it really counts!

One of the many differences from college and law school is that you don’t have several formal written tests throughout the semester; you often only have one exam at the end of the semester per course that often dictates your entire semester course grade. Try to prepare for that final exam every day in class when you engage with the professors’ hypotheticals, and practice the legal analysis skills that will help make you a better law school test-taker and, eventually, lawyer. (OJ Salinas)

September 25, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 18, 2017

1L Enrichment Groups

I am having an Enrichment Group Leaders training meeting today at noon. So, I have enrichment groups on my mind (hence, the blog post!). Perhaps, many of you are also working with enrichment groups or are thinking about developing enrichment groups. I am sure many of us would love to chat and learn more about our various programs and how we can continue to best serve our students. We can continue the conversation via email or on Twitter (tweet me @ojsalinas, and use #lawschoolASP).

Like many law school academic success programs throughout the country, we provide an opportunity for our 1L students to get additional training and support from upper level students. One way that we provide this opportunity to our 1Ls is through participation in Enrichment Groups.

Every 1L student at Carolina Law is invited to participate in our Academic Excellence Program Enrichment Groups. These groups are run by upper level law students who have done well in school and have shown the ability to do well in mentoring and meeting with students. 1Ls are assigned to their groups based on their 1L professors, and the groups are “tied” to two of the 1L casebook classes—with one upper level student “Enrichment Group Leader” often taking the lead on one of the two casebook classes.

The groups typically meet once a week for about 50 minutes starting late September. The groups alternate discussing ASP topics related to one of their two casebook classes during the group meetings. These topics change as the 1Ls advance during the semester. So, the initial group meeting may simply focus on developing rapport within the group and identifying group member goals for choosing to participate in the group. The next groups may focus on taking notes and case reading for the particular casebook classes. Later group meetings may introduce outlining and the use of study aids to help review practice questions related to the casebook classes. And, finally, we try to end our semester with a practice exam for each of the two casebook classes.

We generally have strong positive feedback from our 1Ls on our Enrichment Groups. Students typically feel that the groups are great ways to provide additional support and guidance in their classes. They also like the idea that these study groups are voluntary and that the groups are already formed for them—the students don’t have to worry about not getting “chosen” or “asked” to join a particular study group.

As I mentioned, I am having a training session for our Enrichment Group Leaders this afternoon. One thing that we try to emphasize with our leaders and their group participants is that the leaders are not “tutors.” They are not there to teach the 1Ls the substantive law, and they certainly don’t replace their law school professors. While the leaders have done well in the casebook class that they are “leading” (and, many of them actually had the same professor for that particular casebook class during their 1L year), our Enrichment Group Leaders are there to help facilitate learning. They are there to provide further support for our students. They are there to “enrich” the students’ 1L academic experience. And we believe a more enriched 1L experience is a better 1L experience. (OJ Salinas)

September 18, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, Program Evaluation, Reading, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sleep Procrastination

Many law students (as well as the rest of us) are sleep-deprived. Research shows that our digital age is interfering with our sleep patterns. A BBC News article discusses the problem and how our smartphones and tablets are causing us to delay good sleep habits as well as interfering with our sleep cycles. The link is  Are you a sleep procrastinator?. (Amy Jarmon)

September 17, 2017 in Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Disaster Stress

My thirty-something sister lives in Naples, Florida, approximately two blocks from Naples Bay and eight blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. Needless to say, the last few days have been stressful for her. Unsurprisingly, my parents and I have also been stressed, mostly because we could not do anything to help her and felt utterly useless. For me, this weekend’s stress felt different than the garden variety work-stress to which I have grown accustomed. So, I decided to dig a little deeper and learned that a hurricane or other natural disaster presents a unique type of stress known as “disaster stress” or “trauma stress.”

Disaster stress differs from acute stress (e.g. car accident or roller coaster) and chronic stress (e.g. hassles of daily life) because disaster stress tends to impact a large number of people simultaneously. In fact, “[m]ild to moderate stress reactions in the emergency and early post-impact phases of disaster are highly prevalent because survivors (and their families, community members and rescue workers) accurately recognize the grave danger in disaster.” Moreover, as Dr. Susanne Babbel explains, disaster stress “victims do not need to have experienced the disaster firsthand in order to be psychologically affected. For example, someone living in [Morgantown] with relatives in [Naples] at the time of the [hurricane] could have been subjected to countless hours of television coverage, coupled with an inability to get information about their own family. This type of situation can take an emotional impact on someone even from afar.”

Truthfully, as I write this post, I’m watching news channels alternate between footage of the September 11 memorial, Harvey recovery efforts, the Mexico earthquake, and Hurricane Irma. It has been a rough week for a lot of the country. The good news is that many governmental agencies and professional mental health organizations offer free resources for those who might be experiencing disaster stress.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ National Center for PTSD maintains a comprehensive webpage on disaster stress and publishes fact sheets to help both sufferers and medical providers identify and treat disaster-related stress. (As I am sure you can imagine, military personnel are exposed to natural disaster situations more frequently than the regular population.) The Center suggests that all individuals should try to avoid extensive media coverage, but acknowledges that certain people are at a higher risk of experiencing disaster stress dependent upon the person's severity of exposure, gender, age, social support, and resilience. 

Similarly, the American Psychological Association offers online suggestions to help people "cope effectively with [their] feelings, thoughts and behaviors” following a natural disaster. The APA explains that "most people are resilient and over time are able to bounce back from tragedy. It is common for people to experience stress in the immediate aftermath, but within a few months most people are able to resume functioning as they did prior to the disaster. It is important to remember that resilience and recovery are the norm, not prolonged distress."  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages individuals in distress to contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) disaster distress hotline by calling 1-800-985-5990 or by texting TalkWithUs to 66746.

I wish everyone a safe and speedy recovery and encourage you to share these resource links with anyone who might be experiencing disaster stress. (Kirsha Trychta)

Naples Canal is Dry

(Photo courtesy of one of my sister's friends. You can see how Hurricane Irma sucked the Naples canal water out toward the Gulf during the storm. The water has since returned.)

Tiki bar

(Photo courtesy of another friend's Facebook page.  This used to be a popular open-air Tiki restaurant.)

September 12, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 11, 2017

ASP During Challenging Times

It’s been a potentially challenging time for many law students throughout the country. But, I am not necessarily talking about the challenges directly related to the study of law.

Yes. Case readings can be quite lengthy. There may be anxiety related to getting called on in class. And students may sometimes feel like there is not enough time in the day to complete everything that seems to be needed to be completed to succeed in law school. These are all potential challenges that our students may currently be experiencing. But, the last month or so may have seemingly added an entire new set of challenges to our students.

While many students have tried to remain engaged in their studies, events outside of the law school building may have continued to place additional burdens on them. Between Charlottesville, Hurricane Harvey, DACA, and Hurricane Irma, many of our students have had to face or worry about things that they would not have initially had on their radar going into the start of law school (no hurricane pun intended).

It’s difficult to stay motivated and engaged to read for class or write that LRW memo when you are worried about your safety and security or the safety and security of your families and friends. It’s hard to turn away from the news of devastation and despair when you are either living in that devastation and despair or know someone who is.

Law school is a challenging time for our students. And events outside of the law school building may have continued to place additional challenges on our students. It’s during these challenging times that it is especially important to have a friendly, supportive, and understanding ASP professional in the law school building. While we may not immediately have all or any of the answers related to some of these challenging events, we surely can welcome our students into our offices. We can sit down with them and actively listen to their stories. We can empathetically try to help them find some answers or refer them to those who may more appropriately serve them during these challenging and unfortunate times. (OJ Salinas)

Support pic earth

 

September 11, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Meetings, Miscellany, News, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

National Grandparents Day

Yes, today is National Grandparents Day. I would not have known that fact except I am staring at my larger-than-life planner at work that proclaims the celebration below the date.

I grew up with only one living grandparent, my grandmother on my mother's side. That precious lady taught me much about integrity, hard work, forgiveness, and kindness. We were blessed to have her with us until she was 102 years young. I still miss her. Photographs of her on my bookshelf always bring a smile to my lips and warm memories.

Each year, we have a number of our law students lose a precious grandparent during the academic year. Some students are too far from home to be by the grandparent's side to say goodbye. Many are fortunate to travel home to be at a bedside. For some, their grandparents were in ill health for a long time. Others have had no warning prior to their deaths.

For some law students, that grandparent was the parent because of family circumstances. Many of our law students grew up with strong extended families living nearby. Small-town Texas often means that grandparents are next door or down the street. The ties are strong and lasting. The heart is deeply involved in that relationship.

Of course, the law school works administratively with each student in the individual circumstances when a student tells us of a grandparent's death: notifications to professors of absences, moved assignment deadlines, moved exams. In addition, if appropriate to the individual student circumstances, referrals for counseling are also made: university wellness center, grief counselors, pastoral counseling.

Because of our individual contacts with students, we as ASP'ers are often aware of the student's grief and its impact on their academics. A certain number of students reveal that a death in the family is one reason they have lost focus at critical points in the semester.

I am not a clinical psychologist. I know my limits and expertise. But I can be there for the student by listening and expressing that I care. I can understand the lack of focus, inability to organize well, and possible need to travel home for more frequent family support. I can help students find study strategies that realistically work to improve their academics while recognizing that their hearts may override their heads at times. I consider it a privilege to assist students through their studies while they process their grief.

On this National Grandparents Day, may we all take a few minutes to give our grandparents who are still with us a phone call or hug. May we all take a few minutes to remember the special memories about our grandparents who have left us. (Amy Jarmon) 

September 10, 2017 in Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

3L Senioritis and Panic

“This is my last first day of school ever!” This statement sums up the comments made by many of my 3L students as they stopped by to say hello and told me about their summer adventures. They are so elated and their excitement is infectious. We reminisce about their journeys, how far they have come, all they have overcome, and their current achievements and growth. It is important to keep things in perspective so I remind them that they are equipped to face the next challenge that lies ahead; they made it this far.

“I never thought this day would come when I was a 1L and a 2L!” This also sums up statements made by my 3L students who struggled a little more than others throughout their law school career. This is usually a perfect point in time to remind them of how they overcame challenges they deemed insurmountable and felt defeated by the law school process but somehow persevered. Many of these students accessed opportunities, that on paper they did not qualify for, but they were afforded these opportunities through their work ethic and personality. I do not want them to forget challenges they have overcome because I know the bar exam lies ahead and I want them to conquer this seemingly impossible beast.

“I can’t wait until my picture is on your wall next year!” In February, I wrote about a “Wall of Inspiration” which is a display board filled with pictures from commencement and swearing-in ceremonies to inspire current students and remind them of why they are in the building. Most individuals who enter my office take some time to admire the pictures and comment, especially when they notice someone they know. I had no idea that it was a goal of my students to get their commencement and/or swearing-in pictures on my board. While I hoped that I would inspire them, I had no idea that I actually did.

While students expressed many positive things about their 3L year, they also expressed the fact that they are mentally checked-out, unmotivated, ready to be done, and simply over the law school experience. My most studious students have difficulty reading for classes and even attending classes. They do not want to own the fact that they have senioritis although everything seems to indicate it. I recognize the telltale sign of indifference that has overshadowed the usual excitement some of my students have for classes. Investment in established law school friendships has weaned and students are generally grumpy. I am concerned! However, I know that some students are burnt-out and exhausted from being in school, some for almost their entire lives. Also, the stress of finding a job, the anxiety of preparing for and taking the bar exam, and the realities of “adulting” for the first time weigh heavy on them. Therefore, I am working on how to actively re-energize and re-engage these students.

"I cannot fail the bar exam!" On the other extreme of the spectrum are 3Ls in panic mode. These students are excited and embrace the fast approaching end to their law school career but are equally terrified about the bar exam, to the point of paralysis. They are paranoid about failing the bar exam and adamant about starting to study for the bar exam now, forgetting vital things they need to accomplish prior to studying such as completing the bar application. Additionally, they are concerned with preserving their GPAs, finding a fulfilling job, and managing their finances. I encourage this group to develop a plan, take one thing at a time, and move forward.

Whether our 3Ls are checked-out or in a complete panic, our main goal is to bring them somewhere in the middle, remind them of what they must do and what they have yet to do, all while underscoring the fact that they still have time. (Goldie Pritchard)

September 6, 2017 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Ready. Set. Go, 1Ls--You are in Training Camp Now!

Dog Glasses books

We just completed our first week of school at Carolina Law. Like many law students throughout the country, our 1Ls experienced their first week of Socratic classes. They read and briefed their cases. They’ve been introduced to legal citations and the hierarchy of authority. They’ve taken advantage of the free lunches provided at the various student organization meetings.

After a week of law school, many 1Ls may wonder whether they will have enough time during the day to stay afloat. They may worry that they are spending way too much time reading their cases. And despite the large amount of time that they are devoting to reading their cases, they may mistakenly fear that they are the only ones in their classroom who are not able to fully follow the various hypotheticals that their professors ask in class. They may question whether they are fit for law school.

1Ls: If you are feeling this way, remember that law school is a marathon. There may be times during the year when you feel like you have to run a little faster than normal. But, the sprint for the finish line is really not until the end of the semester when you have to answer the final exam hypotheticals.

Training3

Consider a lot of what is happening during the semester as your training for that sprint. Yes. You might falter every now and then as you train. But, don’t get discouraged. Try to learn from the misstep, and fine-tune your next step so that you continue to progress. You are just starting to develop your critical thinking muscles. You are beginning to strengthen your ability to perform legal analysis. You are establishing a foundation of stamina that will help push you through the marathon—including the sprint to the end.

Like many athletes who start a new sport season, you are in a training camp right now. And this training camp is unlike any other training camp you have experienced before. Learning how to learn the law takes time. It takes practice. It takes repetition. Keep putting in the time, because the more you practice, the better you will get. But, make sure that you are active and engaged when you are reading and studying. You can’t passively learn the law; you have to be present and in the moment. And make sure to leave some time for you to do the kinds of things that make you “You.” Law school is a big part of who you are right now. But, it is not all of you.

You will find that it will take you less time to read and brief your cases in the next few weeks. You will find that your critical thinking skills will begin to improve. You will find that your ability to synthesize rules and apply those rules to different factual scenarios will become easier and, dare I say . . . fun!

Best of luck as you continue your training! And remember you have great ASP folks at your schools to help coach you and cheer you on! (OJ Salinas)

September 4, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Orientation, Reading, Sports, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

What the “Support” in Academic Support Program Could Stand For

The first day and as a matter of fact, the first week of classes is typically a joyous occasion. Students stop by my office to say hello and some might even give me a hug. They are excited to tell me about all they did over the summer in their externships or jobs. They want to share information about the trips they took. They want to impress me with their summer academic achievements and life challenges and I am always thrilled to hear from them. The building was lifeless without the students and they are the very reason we are all here. I see beaming smiles on the faces of students I encounter in the hallways. I say “welcome back” to my returning students and “welcome” to the incoming 1L students who appear timid, yet in search of a friendly face and someone who can answer all of their questions. I am then reminded of why I do this work and reenergized for the semester.

The difficulty this year as compared to others is that students have more sad and challenging events to share which is very much out of the norm. Some students have had several deaths in their families, are facing health, familial, financial, and other challenges. Other students are concerned about family members impacted by recent natural disasters. Students are coping with the stress and fear of being unable to navigate the semester academically. I am not a counselor and my students know that I am not shy about reminding them to access the professional counseling services available on campus, yet I feel privileged that they are comfortable enough to share certain experiences with me. Non-academic experiences impact academic experiences and the sooner students can address these the better academic journey they can have. Life experiences make the students who they are as individuals and likely form their identity as lawyers. The information students share with me allows me to help them have perspective when they experience challenges throughout the academic year. Although this task is not listed in my job description, it is implied because engaging with students in this way helps build relationships with them and helps them achieve their academic goals.

Some might disagree and say this level of interaction goes beyond what one should do as an academic support professional. I would argue that we are in the business of building relationships to more effectively impact the academic success of our students. Having some information beyond their grade in a class, law school grade point average, LSAT, and/or undergraduate grade point average assists us as we determine the best approach for supporting students, the examples we might use or avoid, and strategies we might use with one student but not with another student. It also helps explain students’ attitudes about learning, engagement in their academic journey, and persistence to graduation. Based on my past experience, I found that for some students poor academic performance is related to financial inability to purchase books for classes, food, and /or appropriate attire for professional events which affected the student emotionally and mentally. If I cannot find some way of connecting on a human level with the students then I am ineffective when I challenge my students to challenge themselves and when I tell them that I believe they have the ability to overcome whatever challenge they have before them. Sometimes I am the only positive or encouraging voice they encounter in the building but they also know that I am honest and will call them out and redirect them when they are not moving in the right direction. I garner respect by telling them when I do not know a piece of information but suggest that we can strategically work through steps together and problem solve. I also make it my business to be aware of various resources on campus where students can find assistance with various non-academic challenges.

What happens to the helper though? As Academic Support Professionals, we go from student to student and from crisis to crisis. We are problem solvers all day long but what do we do to ensure that we are okay? Where, when, and with whom do we debrief? What does that look like? If we are a solo academic support person, do we have someone at work who we can check-in with? Do we have someone who understands what we do? Do we have a life outside of the building like we tell students to have? Do we have energizing things to do? Take care of yourselves Academic Support Professionals (Goldie Pritchard).

August 30, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Energized After Pre-Orientation

I have returned to some normalcy after the conclusion of our two pre-orientation programs.

Our Legal Education Advancement Program (“LEAP”) is a voluntary pre-orientation program available to every incoming 1L student at Carolina Law. Faculty members participating in LEAP help students transition to the study of law by introducing them to a variety of topics, including jurisprudence, case briefing, exam writing, and the Socratic class. We had 56 incoming 1Ls who chose to participate in our first LEAP session a week and a half ago. We had another 47 incoming 1Ls who chose to participate in our second LEAP session last week. The total was nearly half of our incoming 1L class!

I am sure many ASP folks will agree that it can be an interesting feeling running these pre-orientation programs: it’s weirdly both draining and energizing. You can feel really drained from the immense amount of work that goes into preparing for and delivering the program. Yet, you can also feel energized when a new set of students enters your law school building. You feel a certain thrill and special motivation knowing that you get to be a part of the start of the students’ successful transition into the study of law. You know that your students are going to do great things during and after law school, and you are lucky to help train them on this wonderful marathon. Seeing light bulbs start to go off in your students’ minds during your programming, and receiving positive responses from faculty, staff, students, and administrators are icing on the cake.

Like many of you, I had a great group of folks who helped out during our pre-orientation programs (many of whom I thanked and tweeted about @ojsalinas). I also appreciated how many faculty, staff, and administrators came out to meet and have lunch with our LEAP students.

Wishing everyone a great start to another academic year!

-OJ Salinas

Ready to Go pic

August 28, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Orientation, Program Evaluation, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Possible ASP Motto: CHANGE LIVES

There's a place amidst the mighty Sangre de Cristo Range of New Mexico where college students lead high school teens across the rugged mountains on 10-day backpacking trips.  

As the backpacking guides race from their office to the meet their new crews hailing from around the nation (and the world too), the guides reach high to tap a sign as they exit the office door that reads simply:  

"CHANGE LIVES."  

I love that phrase.  

It's not that the camp is about "changing" lives...but that individual guides reach up to signify their commitment to "change" lives today.  The first is about others (i.e., the camp) having an impact on the backpackers.  The second, in contrast, is about me individually making an impact on people that I am charged with serving.

Photo by Kevin Boucher, PhilNews photographer

Photo by Kevin Boucher, PhilNews photographer

As I thought about our work in ASP, I wonder if that might be a great motto for me.  Why not install that sign above my office door?  I could then tap it when I go to classes as a reminder of my purpose...in the present...to teach for the betterment of my students.  And, I could reach out and touch it when I go to meetings.  That might really make a big impact on my motivation.  I could tag it when I meet with other faculty and staff as a reminder of my purpose to work among my colleagues as an ASP professional to change lives.  

You see, it's often the little things that can make a mighty difference, like committing ourselves daily to be on the lookout for any and all opportunities to change the lives of our students for the better.  So, today, feel free to reach high in a symbolic tap of the sign!  (Scott Johns).

August 24, 2017 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

We Made the Right Decision

Last week, the hallways of our institution were bustling with incoming students, their family members, and returning students. It was the week prior to orientation and incoming students and their families were getting the lay of the land. The departments at our institution have an open-door policy so it is not unusual for individuals to wander in and strike up a conversation. What was very unique about this year was the unusually high number of parents I spoke with. My favorite conversation was with a parent who said that after speaking with my colleague and me, he felt: “we made the right decision.” We all laughed when his daughter made a face because he had previously said that he was uncomfortable with her moving this far away from their home state.

Orientation week is an exciting yet trying week for the academic support office. Some amazing things I get to do, include but are not limited to, introducing my office and the services offered, coordinating a few skills activities, and meeting new students. Other challenging aspects of this week include coordinating the logistics for teaching assistant training and programs, coordinating programming for returning students, trying to identify an office assistant for the year, and getting semester programming started. Each year, things neatly fall into place. I am convinced that I secretly anticipate the start of each new academic year because the presence of students energizes me and reminds me of the “why.”

Throughout orientation week, there are several opportunities to chat with students during coffee breaks and lunch. My primary question for incoming students this academic year focuses on how they feel about the decision they made to attend this law school. It is quite interesting to observe their body language while listening to the many justifications they offer in response. As the days progress and students meet other students, faculty, and staff, they seem to confirm their “why.” I also seize this opportunity to encourage students to reflect on and write down why they decided to come to law school, what their career and personal goals are, and what activities they look forward to during their law school experience. They can write this information in the form of a letter, checklist, or brief note. They can keep the writing and revisit it during trying times. They can also entrust it to someone who would mail it to them around mid-semester or remind them of their aspirations at key times of stress. As the semester progresses and students focus on getting through each day and each week, it is very easy to lose sight of the “why.” We often need to remember or be reminded of our optimism, aspirations, and positivity in the face of law school challenges and adversities (Goldie Pritchard).

Pexels-photo-207658

August 23, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Focusing When You’re Frustrated and, Potentially, Frightened: Some ASP Thoughts Following Charlottesville

Like many individuals throughout the country, I was saddened to see and hear what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am not sure I have the words to describe my thoughts and feelings related to this weekend. Or, maybe, I do. But, they are likely not suitable for this blog.

I’ll try to focus the rest of this post on a topic related to law school academic success. Surely, this weekend’s events don’t relate to our students’ academic success. Right? It’s not like this weekend’s events could impact our students’ abilities to focus on their law school studies. Right?

Let me refocus.  

Surely, I have other things that I should be thinking and worrying about . . . like, law school pre-orientation programs. I am running the first of our two voluntary pre-orientation programs for incoming 1Ls later this week. I will have worked with over 40% of our incoming 1L class before the start of orientation. These students are incoming 1Ls who have volunteered to participate in our Legal Education Advancement Program (“LEAP”). This program helps 1Ls transition to the study of law in a welcoming and supportive environment. Yet, these are also students who have likely been impacted in one way or another by the events in Charlottesville. After all, it doesn’t take much to see what happened on the news or to read something on the Internet. It doesn’t take much to see where the events took place and wonder whether a similar event could take place near you.

I am sure there are many other law school academic success professionals who should also have other things to be thinking and worrying about. They, too, may be getting reading for their pre-orientation programs. They, too, may be finalizing their syllabi, organizing conferences, and meeting with students. They, too, may be looking for ways to make the law school experience a positive and productive one for their students.

Surely, there are many things that should be preoccupying our minds. But, it’s often difficult to focus on what we should be focusing on when events like this weekend’s event in Virginia take place.

Surely, there are many things that our students should be thinking and worrying about as they prepare to start a new school year. For example, our 1Ls may be worrying about finding a place to stay, locating the bookstore, or figuring out how to brief a case. Our 2Ls and 3Ls may be finishing up summer work, finalizing resumes, or scheduling on-campus and callback interviews.

But, yes. It is difficult to focus on what we should and want to be focusing on when frustrating and, potentially, frightening events like the one in Charlottesville try to suck out all our energy, positivity, and goodwill. It is likely no different for our students—particularly our students of color. They may, similarly, find it difficult to focus on what they need and should be focusing on to be successful law students. Law school is hard. It is going to be even harder over the next few weeks.

Give your students some time to digest this weekend’s events. Be supportive and lend a listening ear. Yet, try to be realistic about the work that needs to be done in law school. If you find it difficult to engage students to change their approach to law school work because they are too worried or preoccupied with external events, like Charlottesville, you might try to reframe law school work in such a way that your students may be more motivated to read, study, and improve . . . to act.

For instance, despite my strong restlessness about this weekend’s events, I am going to try to attack this week’s pre-orientation program with vigor and hope—hope that the students that I will be working with will become successful lawyers who will help make this country a better place for all of us. Surely, that relates to law school academic success. (OJ Salinas)

August 14, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, News, Orientation, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Essentials for 1L Students to Consider - Part 2

In my post yesterday on this topic, I covered three aspects important to 1Ls understanding the law school environment and succeeding in their studies: professional education, long-term memory, and active learning. This post considers two more aspects: comprehensive final exams in doctrinal courses and time management.

Comprehensive final exams in doctrinal courses. Most incoming students are used to courses that have multiple tests and assignments that make up the final grade. Each test or assignment covered a segment of the course. No course or assignment covered the entire material for the 15-week course. The non-cumulative nature of the tests and assignments encouraged students to learn the material in a compartmentalized fashion with no incentive to remember or understand the material in a more comprehensive manner.

Students have told me that professors often let them drop the lowest grade among the tests or assignments. If you didn't understand the content (or didn't bother studying enough), you would get rid of that low grade as if it never happened. Other students have told me that they could opt out of the final test for the semester if they exceeded a certain score for prior work or were happy with the grade they already had. And a few students told me that a good cry or tale of woe for the professor would always get them a grade change so that the preparation for a test or assignment wasn't crucial.

In legal education, many doctrinal courses (doctrinal examples: contracts, torts, constitutional law, criminal procedure) end with a comprehensive exam covering all 15 weeks of material - even if there have been practice exams or some writing assignments. Active learning and long-term memory (see Part 1 of this blog topic) are essential to the best grades on these exams. By actively learning the material during class preparation, class attendance, and note review, there is less effort required later. By striving for understanding and not just memorization through outlining and reviewing outlines, the depth of knowledge improves, awareness of nuances develops, and long-term memory is built. By applying the concepts in practice questions throughout the semester, law students can self-monitor their understanding and improve their test-taking skills. 

Think of it in practical terms: we forget 80% of what we learn within 2 weeks if we do not review the material. If you wait too long to revisit material, you have massive amounts to relearn because it has become vague or completely forgotten. Students who wait until late in the semester to outline confide that they can no longer decipher their class notes or remember the context of sentences that meant something many weeks ago. The myth at my law school is that you begin to study for exams 6 weeks out. But that means a law student is trying to relearn 9 weeks of mostly forgotten material while trying to learn 6 weeks of new material at the same time. Exhausting and stressful to say the least!

The best plan: spread review and practice throughout the semester. By scheduling their outlining, reviewing of outlines, and practice questions throughout the semester, law students can have memory work for them rather than against them. Regular review means that 12 or 13 of the 15 weeks of the course can be ready for the exam before the end of classes! Only the newer material will have to be pulled together; the other already mastered material can be more generally reviewed and refreshed through additional practice questions. Being able to accomplish exam studying throughout the semester, leads us to the next aspect of law school.

Time management. We know from national data that diligent undergraduate students study a maximum of 19-20 hours per week; and most undergraduate students report studying far less - some less than 10 hours per week. Students filled all their free time with student organizations, sports, part-time work, social activities, social media, and other leisure aspects. Most students tell me that they wrote papers a day or two before the due date and studied for tests only a few days (or hours) unless it was a really hard course. Many students tell me that they had a weekly routine for student organization activities/meetings, exercise or intramurals, part-time work, and some social activities. Rarely did they have a routine study schedule; at most they had a calendar of due dates. They studied when they felt like it.

Law school requires students to master time management if they want to get the grades they have the potential to earn. A full-time law student needs to study 50-55 hours per week if the active learning, long-term memory, and regular review are to occur as well as thorough class preparation and completion of assignments. A part-time law student needs 35-40 hours per week for the same results usually. We know statistically that most new law students have probably never studied that much in their lives! If new students have worked full-time before law school, then they are used to 40 or more hours of employment each week.

New law students will need 2-3 weeks of settling in to law school before they can set up a regular routine for all tasks. They need to learn how to read and brief cases, develop an understanding of what their professors teaching styles and emphases are, learn the legal vocabulary, and begin to experience legal writing. But by the end of 2-3 weeks, it is time to set out a routine time management schedule to provide for class preparation, outlining, review, practice questions, and legal writing assignments. That schedule should also include sleep, meals, exercise, and down time.

The idea is to know when you will get things done rather than wondering what you should do next. We tend to fritter away time when we don't have structure. And today it is easier to fritter away massive amounts of time with electronic distractions! You can flip tasks up and down during the day as tasks take less or more time. But you try each day to complete your daily tasks. You can build in several blocks of undesignated study time during the week for unexpected study tasks or especially lengthy tasks that occur - this allows you to easily see where to move or add tasks to your schedule rather than panic. Realize that you will become more efficient and effective at all of your study tasks with practice and will likely be able to decrease time blocks in your schedule for some tasks or for a particular course. 

Schedules will need tweaking; but with realistic time blocks and better organization of life tasks (errands, laundry, meal prep, etc.), it is possible to have a routine that works most weeks. So Tuesday during 3-5 p.m. you read for Civil Procedure; you go to bed at 11 p.m. and get up at 6 p.m.; you outline the week's contracts material on Friday 10-11 a.m.; you work on your legal writing assignment on Wednesday 1-3 p.m.; you go for a run Monday, Wednesday, Thursday  3-4 p.m. and then eat dinner 4-5 p.m.; you review part of your contracts outline 2-3:30 p.m. on Saturday; you complete practice questions for Torts on Sunday 3-4 p.m.; and so forth.

By structuring your weeks, you will feel less overwhelmed because you can literally see when you will get things done. By including appropriate times for sleep, meals, exercise, and down time, you gain school-work balance. By gaining expertise in time management while you are in law school, you will be able to carry that skill over to practice. Many new attorneys are stressed by the demands of practice if they are not skilled at time management already.

Once again I encourage you to use the academic support resources at your law school. If comprehensive final exams and time management are not part of your educational experiences already, ASP staff can assist you in learning strategies to prepare for final exams and assist in setting up a routine time management schedule. You can learn these new skills and strategies with the assistance available to you. (Amy Jarmon)

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 12, 2017 in Learning Styles, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Essentials for 1L Students to Consider - Part 1

New law students can improve their adjustment to law school if they consider several aspects of their educational background, study habits, learning styles, and lifestyles before they enter law school. By being more intentional in considering these aspects, law students can be more aware of their strengths and preferences. They will be less shocked by some of the differences between legal education and prior education. They can be aware of changes they will need in their approach for a successful legal education.

Three aspects to consider are included in this post; a follow-up post will consider two more aspects.

A professional school education. Many undergraduates take a variety of courses which they perceive as merely fulfilling requirements and not useful in real life. Courses are frequently one-off content rather than building a foundation of concepts for future courses or life tasks. One may take the history of fine arts, calculus, or physics to fulfill general education requirements without any thought of needing the knowledge again - and often with the hope of never using the information again.

Some undergraduates choose majors based on whim, reputation for easy grades, or popular trends as a means to get the degree without any expectation of having a job in those fields. Education seems less important if it has no relevance to one's future. For example, a survey several years ago showed that engineering students preparing for a career path studied nearly twice as many more hours per week as their liberal arts counterparts.  

Law school curricula contain courses that are designed to improve skills that lawyers need every day (critical reading, critical thinking, critical writing). Many 1Ls consider their legal research and writing courses the bane of their existence. Those skills are essential to success in the legal profession where research and writing are daily tasks. Also, law students who regularly skimp on reading and briefing for doctrinal classes, find they are ill-prepared for efficiently and effectively analysing hundreds of cases in practice. For some students, the first summer clerking position can be a nightmare and hopefully a wake-up call for more diligence.

In addition, many courses contain legal content that is foundational to the bar exam and basic legal knowledge for practice. Most law school curricula require a number of the courses that appear on the bar exam. For example, even though a 1L vehemently declares he will never practice criminal law, that content is going to show up on the bar exam. (I also know from experience that some corporate litigation CEO client will walk in and want you to talk intelligently about what to expect after his son's drug arrest even though you obviously will refer him to a criminal defense colleague.) 

The importance of long-term memory. Working memory (previously called short-term memory) is premised on the fact that the information is only needed for a short period: until the presentation is over, until the test ends, until the paper is handed in, until the course ends. After the deadline, concepts and information are immediately forgotten. The educational trash can is filled to the brim. Cramming promotes this short memory span because the brain is expected to retain the information for a use-by-date close at hand. There is no intention to retain the knowledge for reuse. The grade, and not the future, matters.

Long-term memory builds a foundation of concepts and information that are reinforced and applied over a period of time. Law school, the bar exam, and legal practice all go more smoothly with a focus on long-term memory. Briefing cases, note-taking, reviewing class notes, outlining, reviewing outlines, and applying the information to new scenarios throughout the semester build long-term memory. Long-term memory is like a filing cabinet of organized and readily accessible information in your brain.

When a third-year course refers to concepts from first-year contracts, law-term memory allows the concepts to come back with little or no review. When one's summer clerkship assignment focuses on a search-and-seizure issue, the concepts from criminal procedure are there as a base of knowledge on which to begin. When the bar exam course rapidly covers dozens of courses in six-eight weeks, long-term memory promotes review of those courses rather than the total re-learning of massive amounts of material that was lost if only working memory was used.

In practice a lawyer depends on long-term memory for building expertise in specialty areas of law. Lawyers want to recall similar client facts, prior cases read, statutory language, and more. Although they will constantly update their knowledge and research new twists on prior issues, they depend on a depth of knowledge and understanding of the law to gain competence and confidence. Even remembering the basics from law school courses can save time in interviewing a client or researching. 

Active learning as a way of life. Active learning requires engagement on the part of the learner and self-monitoring. An active learner in law school does more than read the large number of cases to say that the assignment is done. The active learner asks questions while reading the cases, considers how the cases are similar and different, relates the legal concepts to the subtopic and topic, and considers how those legal concepts would be used in different scenarios. The active learner has thought about the material and tried to synthesize the different cases before going to class.

Although law professors will go over the cases at least somewhat in class, they will not tell the students everything they need to know. They will expect law students to prepare well and understand the basics from the cases and consider inter-relationships among cases. The class discussion will often focus on more nuanced concepts, policy arguments, and application of concepts to new scenarios. Professors may use the Socratic Method of questioning to get students to think about these aspects that springboard off of the cases. Professors may throw out hypothetical facts to get students to consider twists on facts and how the law will (or won't) apply. Students are asked to argue both sides of the scenario for plaintiff and defendant.

Memorization of the black letter law is important; however, it is only a beginning. Law students need to continue to review the legal concepts and inter-relate them to better understand how the law applies to the topics and subtopics through outlining. They need to actively engage in applying the concepts to new fact scenarios through practice questions so they know how to use the law to solve legal problems. 

Passive learning promotes little engagement with the material and an attitude of just doing the assignment rather than critically thinking about the material. It is this type of learning that many students tell me they have most often experienced in prior educational experiences. The textbooks laid out the concepts without any need to think about them or ferret them out of the text. One just needed to read and memorize what the texts said. The professors often lectured to tell them exactly what they needed to know for the tests. Knowledge was clearly laid out to be learned in a rote way in many courses. The A grades went to those who could spout the most dates, facts, definitions, etc.  

Some students relate that even in courses where they had to discuss themes or apply concepts across works of various authors, they were often expected to espouse the professor's stated views rather than apply the themes or concepts more critically or innovatively. If creativity was allowed, then some tell me that everything written was accepted as good ideas without having to carefully support arguments or consider counter-arguments.

These law school aspects of professional education, long-term memory, and active learning may be alien to some law students. As a result students might initially make learning choices that will cause them to falter. They will approach legal learning with strategies that worked in prior education but do not work in law school. They will not see each course as building skills and knowledge needed to pass the bar and become a competent professional. They will approach class preparation as a passive task to be completed rather than an active learning exercise. They will become frustrated by the law school classroom because professors do not tell them what they need to know for an A grade and instead expect them to make leaps in thinking through questions and hypotheticals they do not understand. They will mistakenly believe that a good grade will be produced by cramming and mere memorization of the law because that worked in the past. 

If you are a new 1L student, consider what your background has been like in past education. If any of these aspects of legal education are different from your prior education, the good news is that there are academic support professionals who can show you new strategies tailored to learning in law school. You can succeed and not just survive in the different learning environment. Seek out the ASP resources available at your law school. (Amy Jarmon)   

August 11, 2017 in Learning Styles, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)