Tuesday, May 22, 2018
What do a political candidate and a bar preppper have in common? Well, this past week, the answer is a lot!
On Tuesday, political candidates all around the country were vying for their respective party's nomination in the primary election. I attended an election results watch party where several of the candidates were successful in securing their nominations, allowing them to run on the party ticket in November. The feeling in the banquet room was a strange mix of having accomplished so much, yet having so far still to go. Each successful candidate worked hard for months to secure the primary nomination, besting other qualified candidates. So, Tuesday was surely a night for celebration. But, the excitement was quickly tempered for many by the realization that securing the primary nod is just the beginning. Each successful candidate now faces a grueling twenty-six week general election campaign schedule.
That odd sense of "unfinished accomplishments" was equally present a few days later at our law school graduation ceremony. While the students were thrilled to be receiving their diplomas on stage, most were also acutely aware that their work was not done. Rather, the hard work was just beginning. The graduates now face 10 weeks of (potentially grueling) bar preparation! Despite all that the students have accomplished during law school, most could only muster a qualified sense of achievement—contingent on the bar exam.
The parallel between political candidate and bar prepper got me thinking – perhaps the bar preppers could learn some study tips from the campaign trail. (The internet is replete with strategies and tips for managing a successful campaign. To remain party-neutral in this post, I’ve omitted citations to specific sources.) Here are a few campaign suggestions that are equally applicable to bar preppers:
Get on the ballot. Make sure that you’ve properly applied to sit for the bar exam in your desired jurisdiction. Also, don’t forget that if you move residences or start a new job between now and the date that you are sworn into the state bar, you’ll have to complete an update form. To access the correct update/amendment form, you can use this directory to lookup the contact information for the National Conference of Bar Examiners or a specific jurisdiction. Please be aware some jurisdictions require you to update both the NCBE and the specific jurisdiction directly.
Get to know your electorate. If you don’t already know exactly what is tested on the bar exam, now is the time to figure it out. You need to know what topics are tested, and how frequently each topic appears on the exam. For starters, most commercial bar preparation companies provide frequency charts and review this material during the first week of class. These detailed statistics will prove invaluable in July. See my Supermarket Sweep post for more details about how to maximize the usefulness of frequency charts.
Write your campaign plan. The commercial bar preparation courses give you a good time-management template, but be sure you’ve accounted for personal events (such as weddings or vacations) and personal preferences (such as watching the lecture videos in the morning or in the afternoon). According to most research, you want to aim for at least 600 hours of bar preparation studying. To help you track your hours, Download 600 Hours to Success, an interactive excel timesheet.
Gather a good team. You are going to need support. Talk with your friends and family about your expectations (and theirs) for the next 10 weeks. Is everyone on the same page? Are you expected to visit Great Aunt June? Who will do the grocery shopping and laundry? To start the discussion, I recommend writing a letter to your team members. For a good example, see the sample letter in “Pass the Bar Exam: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals” by Sara J. Berman. In addition to your friends and family, utilize the resources of your law school’s academic support or bar preparation center.
Prepare for long days. You will likely be working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, for the next 10 weeks. At first blush, you may be thinking: I worked 60 hours a week during law school, so what’s the big deal? The difference is what you did during those 60 hours. In law school, large sections of your day were planned and guided by professors. Plus the day was typically broken-up into varied chunks of class time, reading, clinic work, student organization events, co-curricular practices, and legal research/writing. During bar preparation, you alone are in charge of keeping everything on track, and the days can become repetitive and monotonous. In short, there is little variety and little oversight during bar preparation. Therefore, you need to create a detailed plan and rely on your team to keep you on track. (Re-read the tips above.)
If you follow these basic suggestions for navigating the campaign trail, you should be poised for bar exam success.
Thursday, May 10, 2018
I just had one of the best weekends of my life.
But, before I get into the details, here's a bit of background about law school life in general.
As summarized by the Colorado Supreme Court, a 2016 survey of 3300 law students at 15 law schools indicated that law school life is, simply put, brutal to one's well-being.
Here's the specifics:
- 23 percent of surveyed law students reported mild to moderate anxiety with another 14 percent reporting severe anxiety
- 17 percent of surveyed law students reported being depressed
- 43 percent of surveyed law students reported binge drinking at least once in the previous two weeks
In short, law school life can be really tough. I know. In my case, anxiety started to first take over my life...as a first-year law student in law school. There's so much to think about, which I translate into "there's so much to worry about." And, I was worried about everything, especially being called upon, in which, of course, I felt like I would finally be revealed as a fraud - an imposter not really belonging in law school. Ever since I have realized how powerful our thoughts can be to our well-being.
That brings me to my recent weekend adventure...
You see, it started just like any other weekend - busy. In fact, extra busy. So, busy that in my rush to wash my blue jeans, I forgot to check my pockets. Yep, my gleaming smartphone took a deep water plunge into the washing machine...for a good hour (my pants were really dirty). The good news is that my phone was really clean now. The great news...I actually felt relieved. I felt free. I no longer had this overarching, almost itching desire to constantly check my phone for messages, texts, and yes I'm old-fashioned, phone calls. Simply put, my phone was dead. Completely lifeless. Just a bunch of fancy sparkling metal and glass that couldn't speak to me, write to me, talk with me, or respond to me.
At first, to be honest, that left me speechless. But, oh what a weekend did I have! Or, to put it better, what a weekend did I experience!
Why, I started to connect to real things, real people, real situations, real life. And, in the course of connecting (or rather re-connecting), I started to feel less anxious. I wasn't worried about constantly checking email. It was almost gleeful.
Now, I don't recommend washing your phone. But, it was a lesson well-worth the price of admission. Even now, with a replacement phone at hand, I try to leave it behind. That's because the farther away my phone is from me, the better my own well-being.
So, with finals almost finished (or nearly so), take a weekend get-away that will be, simply put, priceless. Put that phone of yours away; bury it for the weekend; and go meet up with the world.
For more tips on developing well-being, please see the ABA's "Well-Being Took Kit for the Legal Profession," written by Anne Bradford, available at:
For the entire article regarding the survey results of law students, please see David B. Jaffe, et. al, "Suffering in Silence: The Survey of Law Student Well-Being," available at:
Thursday, April 26, 2018
Having just returned from a bar exam conference, I am struck by how little we know about what actually correlates to success on the bar exam. Nevertheless, for our students, it is common to jump to the conclusion that bar exam results are "preordained" based on a complex mathematical formula consisting of primarily (or indeed solely) LGPA and LSAT scores. In other words, those that pass have high numbers; those that don't, don't.
Interestingly, in our attempt to reduce the complexity of life experiences to numbers, there are always what we refer to as "outliers." People that pass (or fail) regardless of LGPA and LSAT scores. I sometimes wonder whether we are all outliers because even the best of statistical models fails to accurately predict bar passage results for our students. And, that brings me to the field of human performance.
You see, according to writer Alex Hutchinson, early on in the field of sports-based human performance, "[p]hysiologists pieced together an impressively detailed picture of the factors that - in theory - dictate our ultimate capacity [in terms of predicting athletic success]....There was one problem with this approach: It couldn't predict who would win an athletic contest....Clearly, something was missing from the 'human machine' picture of athletic limits." Alex Hutchison, The Mental Tricks of Athletic Endurance, Wall Street Journal (February 2, 2018), available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-mental-tricks-of-athletic-endurance. That something tends to be not easily reducible to biological measurement; it tends to be what some refer to colloquially as "head games."
In other words, in an athletic competition, your body is sending signals to your brain about the current physiological state of your body, i.e., whether you are running of out of energy, or dehydrated, or overheated, etc. As interpreted by your brain, those signals then become self-fulfilling; they can serve to limit our endurance and our perseverance such that they become a barrier to improving our athletic performance. However, psychologists have begun to explore the power of motivational self-talk to reinterpret those signals so that they do not in fact have such determinative power over athletic performance. According to Dr. Hutchinson, it seems that positive self-talk can boost performance beyond what we think is possible based merely on the internal signaling of our biological markers.
That raises an interesting question with respect to bar passage. We often hear people analogize that passing the bar requires preparation akin to preparing for a marathon. As such, there's a case to be made that it might not be true that LGPA and LSAT are the major determinant signals as to who passes the bar exam. Indeed, it is much more nuanced and complex; otherwise, why have a bar exam at all if results are preordained by past testing results in the form of LGPA and LSAT scores?
Well, to be frank, we have a bar exam precisely because we know that LGPA and LSAT scores do not determine bar pass results. And, as in athletic competitions, I have a hunch that one's self-talk has much to do with one's success in overcoming the nagging self-doubts that are common to most of us ("I don't fit in the law; I can't pass the bar exam; there's way too much to learn to pass the bar; I just don't have the time needed to pass the bar; I wasn't much of a success in law school so I'm not going to be successful on the bar exam; etc."). Although there is no "magic cure-all," and of course LGPA and LSAT scores indicate something, it is important to recall that "something" doesn't mean "everything."
And, that's where we come in. Our bar exam destiny is not predetermined. It is something that we can positively and concretely influence and improve by acting upon positive self-talk as we work - problem by problem and question by question - to train ourselves for success on the bar exam. Those two things go hand-in-hand - "practice and talk" and "talk and practice." So, whether you are preparing yourself for final exams or getting ready to study for the bar exam, pay attention to your self-talk. Indeed, ask yourself today "What am I telling myself and is it really true or not?" (Scott Johns).
Thursday, April 19, 2018
The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) has indicated that the national average MBE multiple-choice scaled score for the February 2018 bar exam declined once again. As illustrated in the chart below, the MBE score has declined from near-term highs of 138 to 132.8 in just the span of a few short years.
According to the NCBE, "[r]epeat test takers comprised about 70% of those who sat in February 2018 and had an average score of 132.0, a 1.7-point decrease compared to February 2017. This result drove the change in the overall February 2018 MBE mean." http://www.ncbex.org/news/repeat-test-taker-scores-drive-february-2018-average-mbe-score-decline/.
In contrast, the NCBE reports that the February 2018 average MBE score for first-time takers remained relatively flat, 135.0 for February 2018 first-time takers as compared to 135.3 for February 2017 first-time takers. There have been several changes to the MBE exam over the last few years. In February 2015, the NCBE added another subject to the scope of the multiple-choice exam with the addition of Federal Civil Procedure. And, in February 2017, the NCBE changed the number of pre-test (otherwise known as experimental) questions from 10 to 25, resulting in the 200 point scaled score calculated out of a total of 175 graded questions rather than previous MBE exams which graded 190 questions. In addition, for the February 2018 MBE exam, the scope of Property Law was expanded to include some new sub-topics.
For those of you taking the July 2018 exam, there are several take-aways. First, the MBE exam is a difficult exam. Second, you can't learn to pass the exam without practicing the exam. Third, statistics don't determine your destiny; rather, your destiny is in your hands, in short, it's in the reading, the analyzing, and the practicing of multiple-choice questions that can make a real positive difference for your own individual score. So, please don't fret. It's not impossible...at all.
Finally, let me be frank. In my own case, as I work through practice MBE questions, I am NEVER confident that I am getting the answers correct. And, that is REALLY frustrating. In fact, when I get a question right, I am glad but often surprised. So, I try to NOT be confident that I have chosen the correct answer but rather be CONFIDENT that I am reading CAREFULLY and that I am METHODICALLY puzzling through the answer choices to step-by-step eliminate incorrect choices to help me better get to the correct answers.
So, for those of you taking the bar exam this summer, take it slow and steady. Ponder over every multiple-choice question you can. Eliminate obviously wrong choices. And, you might even keep a daily journal of your multiple-choice progress, perhaps by simply creating a spreadsheet of the issues tested, the rules used, and a few helpful tips as reminders of what to be on the lookout for as you approach your bar exam this summer. In short, make it your aim to be a problem-solver learner. (Scott Johns).
Monday, April 16, 2018
Have you ever had a long, hard day and come home to eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream? I hope that isn’t just me. I will eat the entire pint despite the fact that I am trying to eat healthier and exercise more. Something about the end of the day makes eating grilled meat with green vegetables difficult. Five Guys Burgers is just more appealing, and the research gives me an excuse for why I keep stopping at the wrong place.
Willpower research helps us understand the best time to complete tasks and when we are more likely to succumb to temptation. Studies show that taxing intellectual endeavors requiring focus and willpower drain our energy to resist later temptations. Participants are more likely to eat a donut, cookie, or treat after a difficult task. Positive interactions during the difficult task can help retain some willpower. Understanding the research can help our students accomplishment more by using the right times of the day for studying.
The studies explain many student habits during law school. Law school classes are taxing endeavors. At the end of the day, most students are exhausted. The exhaustion leads to decreased willpower which makes it easy to stop studying, fail to complete readings, not complete practice questions, and focus more on electronics than law school. Students are behaving in predictable ways even though we continually tell them to add the extra work. Many students don’t have the willpower to complete what is already assigned, much less additional exercises.
My schedule during law school made completing tasks much easier. Before law school began, I made the choice to put studying as my top priority. I hadn’t made that choice in undergrad, so I knew I needed to make a change. My philosophy was to treat law school like a job. I arrived on campus for my first class and continued focusing on law school until I left. I read for the following days between classes and limited my lunch break to approximately 45 minutes. After my last class, I stayed on campus and read instead of going home. I left once I completed all my work. My routine and location made completing everything easier. I also completed all my assignments in a reasonable amount of time. I didn’t need tons of extra willpower because I created a good routine. Due to that plan, I can count on one hand the amount of class readings I missed in 3 years of law school. Good plans use willpower efficiently.
I urge students to follow a similar approach. Taking long breaks and saving reading to the end of the day makes completing work difficult. Class interactions are draining. The intellectual rigor of law school takes a toll. Being at home and exhausted makes it easy to go to the couch or surf the internet instead of finishing readings. Most people’s willpower in the evening is so low that failure to complete everything is inevitable. We all know that once you don’t complete an assignment, catching back up is difficult. Being behind leads to stress, and law school becomes unbearable. The stress decreases willpower leading to more uncompleted assignments. The cycle can be devastating. Creating a schedule is good, but being intentional with when tasks are scheduled can increase the likelihood of getting all the work done. Don’t merely create a plan. Create a good plan to efficiently use willpower to increase the chances of accomplishing all the tasks.
Willpower is a newly researched topic. The research can lay the foundation for how we schedule our day. We should encourage everyone to create schedules that are realistic and maximize study time when we are most motivated. Everyone will learn and retain more when studying at optimal times.
Thursday, April 12, 2018
I'm a clipper. That's right. I keep an assortment of articles that intrigue me and then I return to them periodically to reflect on what I have learned. One article caught my attention today...and...just in the nick of time. You see, I'm just plain tired out. Perhaps you are too, trying to do too much and to be too much. Just spread out too thin to make much of a difference in the world, it seems.
So with classes starting to come to a close for many of us and our law students, I thought I'd take a pause to reflect on some principles that might help me become better at being better. Here's what I mean by that. Rather than being better at doing things, perhaps I might become better at being, in short, at being human. I love that word "being" because it deals with the "hear and now" rather than the tomorrows. It's loaded with action...in the present moment. So, what action did I take that helped me get back to the present today?
Well, I've been carrying around an article that I clipped out dealing with New Year's Resolutions. With so much stress right now as I try to finish teaching my courses, preparing for finals, and getting ready for the summer bar passage season, I thought that now was the perfect time to reflect on what I had learned about being a better person from an article entitled "Set the Bar High for Your 2018 Resolutions" by Jason Zweig (Wall Street Journal dated December 30-31, 2017), available at: https://blogs.wsj.com/lessismore Here are some of the quotes:
- "Talk less; listen more." Unfortunately, much of the time, I'm talking but not listening. I love the advice here because it helps remind me to appreciate the other person, to value the other person, to embrace the other person. On a personal note, within the world of academic support, I find that I am often too quick to provide solutions before I've yet to even understand the problem. So, this is great advice when working with students too.
- "Learn something interesting every day." That's right; be curious. As I drove to school today, I was passed by a school bus. That's right - a school bus. Yes, I am a slow driver (at least usually when I'm headed to work; much faster when I'm headed home!). As the bus passed me by, I happened to notice something strange about the school bus. It was from a public school that was named something like "The School for Expeditionary Learning." That got me thinking. Perhaps that's the way that I might better describe the learning process with my students. Be courageous in your learning. Be daring in your learning. Be expeditionary in your learning.
- "Get home 15 minutes earlier. It will make you 15 minutes more efficient the next day." To be honest, I'm not quite sure I understand this advice. But, here's my take nonetheless. Much of my day is hurried and busy because I let it be that way. Take for instance email and messaging. Rather than disabling notifications, I just keep getting these pop-up alerts, right from the get-go of my day, taking me off message from what my first priorities ought to be. So, here's my take on this quote. Disable notifications. Only look at email in the middle of the day after I've already worked on the big tasks at hand. Don't let the little things get in the way of doing the great things each day.
- "Stop walking with your phone in your hand all of the time. Look up and see how beautiful and strange the world is." I did one better, at least I think so. I am practicing leaving my phone in my car while at work. That's because I find that even if I just carry my phone with me I feel drawn to it. So, I make it unavailable to me in order that I can't fall prey to its tantalizing alerts and beeps that so often distractingly beckon for my attention.
- "Introduce yourself to all the people at your job [school] whom you see every day but haven't met yet." As a corollary to no. 4 above (leaving your phone behind while at school), you'll have a lot more time to actually take note of the people around you. So, share a smile with them. Look one another in the eyes. Maybe even say a friendly word or two. You see, I suspect that one of the loneliest places in the world is right in the midst of the crowd, especially a law school crowd. If true, there are many people all around us that are yearning for a place of fellowship, a place of relational togetherness, a place to belong. That's definitely me. So, rather than wait for others to say hello, I thought I'd just take the initiative and extend a friendly greeting to those I know...and those I don't too. The more the merrier!
With all of the stresses and strains of our busy law school lives, I was so glad that I happened to clip this article. It reminded me that often its the little things of the here and now that are really the great things. Unfortunately, so often I have it backwards. I'm busy, so busy that I don't have time to do anything meaningful at all. So, I took a brief pause today to remind myself of what it means to be a human being in relationship with others. That sure looks much more exciting that staring yet again at my phone. So, have fun smiling...and being too! (Scott Johns).
Monday, April 9, 2018
Routines are critical for me to get anything done in a day. I wake up at the same time every morning. I hit snooze 1 time, read my daily devotional after the next alarm, then start my shower routine. I turn the coffee pot on at the same time, grab breakfast, and have “shoe race” with my kids before driving them to school on the same route. The days I follow a solid routine at work with to-do lists, I am more focused and accomplish more. Sound familiar?
My routine and habits help me get through law school and overcome struggles. I knew what I planned to accomplish and finished my tasks even when life was difficult. I tell students every semester that having a routine makes doing additional MBE questions in face of failure, navigating life circumstances, and accomplishing anything else much easier, especially when confronting obstacles during studying. However, I didn’t know much about the research on habit formation until recently. The research could help all of us working with students.
I started listening to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg recently while driving, and so far, I love the book. It is a great combination of explaining habit research and providing anecdotal stories of how the research worked in particular situations ranging from large corporations to individuals. I plan to purchase a desk copy to highlight and take notes.
Law students could benefit from the research. The early parts of the book discuss creating and modifying habits. People have cues and rewards for situations, and changing the routine or response to the cue while still receiving the reward helps habit formation or modification. I am already thinking about how I can teach specific responses to certain cues to help 1Ls build habits for law school and reinforce the habits right before the bar exam. Individual meetings may be the best way to inculcate routines, but I am also thinking about how I could integrate the information into my classes.
The section I am listening to right now is about willpower. Research indicates people can increase willpower, and small gains in willpower in one area of life can spillover to other areas. The willpower discussion overlaps with Angela Duckworth’s Grit research. The book indicates willpower can be built with pre-programmed responses to challenging circumstances, which creates routines. Starbucks receives high customer service reviews because they developed training programs for routine responses. Employees use a specific tactic when rude or angry customers come to the counter. Even if an employee is tired, upset, or life is going poorly, the pre-programmed response provides the willpower to help the customer in spite of the rudeness. Response routines can drastically improve willpower.
Students need pre-programmed responses to challenges. Many of us encounter students who dislike professor feedback on assignments, perform poorly on oral questions, or fail another set of MBE questions. Telling students to overcome the obstacle and not worry about the performance may be true but probably not specific enough to help. Helping students determine a clear roadmap for the response is what will help the next time. When faring poorly on the MBE, help them come up with a routine, which could include decompression, analysis, positive response, and another set of questions. We all know it is easy to continue when everything is going well. Responses planned before challenging events are more likely to help overcome those events. Just as lawyers do, plan for the worst.
I can’t wait to finish the book. I encourage everyone to listen or read it if you get a chance.
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Over the weekend there was a lot of talk in my house about Easter baskets, which got me thinking about law school survival baskets. If you know a law student who is about to start studying for spring exams or perhaps the bar exam, consider making them an Exam Survival Basket. Pre-assembled gift baskets are readily available online, but for a fraction of the cost you can create your own. You may want to include things from the list below—in no particular order:
Daytime cold or allergy medicine
Trail mix or granola bars
Beef jerky or peanut butter
Law student’s favorite snack
Coffee shop gift card or K-cups
Empty Ziploc bags
Ear plugs (cordless)
Stress ball or playdough
Poster board for mind-maps
Contact case and saline solution
Backup reading glasses
Good luck token, like a stuffed animal
University branded swag like a coffee mug or hooded sweatshirt
Business card of the law student’s bar preparation / academic support professor
Happy belated Easter! Happy Passover! Happy April!
(Kirsha & Roxy Trychta)
Saturday, March 31, 2018
This video highlight from The Chronicle of Higher Education focuses on a SXSWedu talk by Manoush Zomorodi and JP Connolly discussing the many students who are distracted by their smartphones, tablets, etc. Unfortunately it is just a clip; I have not yet found a link for the entire talk. It touches on the power of boredom, the endlessness of scrolling, streaks, and disruption of focus. The statistics (from research by Gloria Mark) regarding the impact of interruptions and self-interruptions on brain focus are useful for students to know (begins at 11:29 for those of you who want to scroll there without watching the entire clip). The link is: Digital Distractions. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, March 30, 2018
Hat tip to David Jaffe, Associate Dean for Student Affairs at American University Washington College of Law, for his listserv post regarding The Path to Law Student Well-Being. Part of the information from his post is included here:
". . . a new podcast series, The Path to Law Student Well-Being, sponsored by the Law School Assistance Committee to the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP).
The inaugural two-part episode is available here, just below the live Twitter Town Hall taking place this [past] Wednesday [March 28th].
This episode features two short conversations with Dean & Professor of Law Michael Hunter Schwartz of the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law and Professor Larry Krieger of the Florida State University College of Law and is moderated by Professor Susan Wawrose of the University of Dayton School of Law.
- In the first part of this episode, Dean Schwartz and Professor Krieger suggest ways individual faculty members can notice, engage with, and support students they suspect are in distress.
- The second part identifies steps faculty can take to promote student well-being through their teaching in the classroom and includes simple actions for law school administrators.
The podcast series is a response to the call for action in the 2017 National Task Force Report The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, which was sent to all law schools last fall and sets out specific action items for the legal community, including some specific steps for judges, regulators, employers, bar associations, lawyer assistance programs, and law schools."
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Please see yesterday’s post by my colleague Kirsha Trychta for great background information and resources here.
What is happening in cyberspace
The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the ABA Law Student Division are cosponsoring a Twitter Town Hall. The hope is to have a national conversation from coast to coast today. More information here:
Here’s what’s happening at our law school
- Students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to wear green to show support for mental health awareness.
- The Office of Student Engagement asked that students share what they do to manage stress in law school. Faculty and staff were asked to share stress and anxiety relief strategies, highlight stress-reduction techniques and healthy recipes.
- A student organization, the Mindfulness Society, in collaboration with the Office of Student Engagement is hosting a lunch segment providing tips on stress and anxiety management in anticipation of final exams. Fun activities and take home treats are planned for those who attend.
What are you doing today?
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
"The ABA Law Student Division has selected March 28 as the official National Mental Health Day at law schools across the country. Law schools are encouraged to sponsor educational programs and events that teach and foster breaking the stigma associated with severe depression and anxiety among law students and lawyers." To help law schools plan events, the ABA offers a 43-page downloadable Planning Toolkit, links to organizations like the Lawyer Assistance Programs and David Nee Foundation, and a robust list of internet resources (including this blog!).
Unfortunately, mental health issues are prevalent in law school. A 2014 survey of "law student well-being found that one quarter suffered from anxiety and 18 percent had been diagnosed with depression. More than half of the law students surveyed said they had gotten drunk at least once during the past 30 days." Moreover, a 2016 follow-up study "found that those problems don’t stop in law school. Fully one in five lawyers are problem drinkers and nearly half have experienced depression at some point during their careers."
In February 2018 at the ABA midyear meeting, in response to the research, the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates adopted a resolution urging law firms, law schools, bar associations, lawyer regulatory agencies and other legal employers to take concrete action to address the high rates of substance abuse and mental health issues. The report recommends that law schools deemphasize alcohol at social events, have professional counselors on campus, and have attendance policies that help schools detect when students may be in crisis. The 2018 resolution expands upon a 2017 recommendation that "approved changes to the Model Rule for Minimum Continuing Legal Education that require an hour of substance abuse and mental health CLE every three years." (Kirsha Trychta)
Sunday, March 25, 2018
The semester is rapidly coming to an end. Students are juggling paper deadlines, studies for finals, the banquet/ball season, applications for summer jobs, registration for next year's courses, and much more. Some students are also anxious over midterm exam grades that were not as high as they had hoped.
The level of tension in the building is on the rise. In conversations with students, I have been hearing sentences including phrases such as "I wish I had...," "if only I...," "time got away...," and other regrets. A few of the conversations also include phrases such as "everyone else...," "my classmates are better than me...," and "maybe I'm not good enough...," and other comparisons.
Here in West Texas, the weather has hit the mid-80's, and spring fever is compounding any motivational problems. Coming off Spring Break into such warm temperatures has made the same-old-same-old routine seem even less inviting.
Try these strategies for staying in control over the next weeks as the semester winds down:
- Put the past behind you. You can only control what you do in the present and future. Stow the regrets for later when rethinking your work strategies for next semester.
- Stop the comparisons to everyone else. You are you and need to focus on what you are able to accomplish.
- Decide where you can study most efficiently and effectively. Where can you focus best? Where can you find a less stressful environment? What environment offers the least distractions and interruptions?
- Plan your exam studying. Look at your weekly schedule and carve out times to devote regularly to exam studying for each course. Think you don't have any time? Look at unused time between classes, TV/video game time, social media time, wasted weekend time, etc.
- Divide each course up into the topics with subtopics that will be on the final exam. You can often find time to study a subtopic when finding time to study an entire topic seems impossible. Any progress, however small, is still progress!
- Use practice questions wisely. If you review material well before doing hard practice questions, it is more efficient and effective. You need real feedback on future exam performance, not squishy "well if I had studied I would have been okay on that question" excuses.
- Choose study partners carefully. Who is serious about doing well? Who is on top of the course? Whose schedule fits with yours? Whose group dynamics do you need to avoid?
- After you study a topic, list the areas of confusion/questions you still have. Go to your professor often to get clarification instead of storing up all your questions until the end of the course.
- Spend time with positive people! Your motivation will increase if you surround yourself with people with "can do" attitudes.
- Get into a healthy routine to benefit your brain and body. Sleep, nutritious meals, and moderate exercise will help your productivity, mental well-being, and energy.
If you are having trouble planning your work, stop in to see the academic support professionals at your school. They can help you prioritize your work and manage your time better. Expert learners ask for help when they need it. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
“Strive for Progress, Not Perfection” is the text on my laptop. Whenever I present a workshop or go before students using my laptop that is what they see. I selected this phrase because so many students are consumed with perfection at everything they do that they often lose sight of progress made. They forget about those obstacles they overcame which are fundamental to their knowledge base and ability. They are no longer novices because they have some experience. It is all about perspective.
Perfection may seem like a worthy goal to work towards or even try to achieve but in reality, it sometimes does more harm than good. Perfection is often an unattainable goal that can halt progress. Perfection for law students often means receiving “A” grades in all courses, achieving a perfect GPA, and involvement in coveted extracurricular activities. Whenever one or more of these is not achieved, students are left feeling less than adequate and feeling as though they do not belong in this environment. They focus on their mistakes and challenges which highlight negativity. In reality, very few students achieve the perfection they yearn. Not striving for perfection as a goal means that students can endeavor to improve their competencies and abilities, better themselves, become more effective and efficient with each task, and so much more.
Currently, several of my students have the “end of semester blues” as they grapple with project and paper deadlines, looming exams, and fear of not finding summer opportunities. This is usually when students express to me their overwhelming frustrations which may be summed up by one or more of the following statements:
“I have been told NO multiple times, I don’t know if I can fill out another application!”
“It appears that there is simply not enough time to complete everything I have to complete!”
“I am tired of having to work ten times harder than others and still fail to get opportunities that others seem to easily have access to with lesser credentials!”
“I feel like the environment is rejecting everything I care about right now. How do I realign my passions with what I am learning and doing?”
“I am rethinking whether I can make a difference.”
It is my opinion that mistakes are the best way to learn, improve, or progress and it is imperative that students make mistakes and experience some challenges. Mistakes and challenges are necessary for learning, as well as building courage, perseverance, and problem-solving skills. In life, mistakes will happen and challenges will occur. It is the memory of each challenge and mistake that reminds the student of what they have overcome and their ability to prevail. It is my ardent belief that if students can honestly attempt their very best at whatever they do, then at the end, they will feel fulfilled even if they have not fully achieved what they perceive as success.
It is important to repackage perfectionism. Perfectionism should be seen as incremental progress rather than a single ultimate goal. There is so much joy that comes with celebrating each achievement regardless of how small or big. Commit to honestly performing your best, slowly edging your life closer and closer to where you want to be. Celebrate each and every success, failure, challenge, and mistake along the way. You may sometimes fall but as long as you get up after each negative experience and keep trying, you will make progress. (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, March 19, 2018
Have you ever completed a task you didn’t want to do? Of course you have. We all do. Think about how you felt during the process. Were you encouraged about the accomplishment or were you just ready for it to be over? Did the feeling depend on your ultimate end goal? Grit researcher Dr. Angela Duckworth would suggest passion for the ultimate end goal makes a huge difference in perseverance and success.
Headlines and quick recitations of research indicate grit is a common denominator of successful people. Individuals, especially stressed and busy law students, can make assumptions about what grit entails based on a common understanding. Many people, myself included, heard small pieces of information and assumed grit meant hard work and perseverance in face of all obstacles. However, Dr. Duckworth suggests grit contains more than the common understanding. She argues perseverance is a major component, but perseverance combined with passion is critical for long-term grittiness.
Dr. Duckworth’s research into passion with perseverance resonates with me. I love playing golf. I am not uniquely good at golf, but I continue to play. After the glory of DST, I can go to the driving range once a week after my kids go to bed. I set goals and continually try to improve. However, I only improve about 1 shot a year on average, but I keep working hard on the process. Contrast golf with my low desire for running. Running is a great activity, but I tend to get bored and winded. Some OCU faculty and staff form relay teams to participate in the Oklahoma City Bombing Run to Remember in April. I participated last year and trained just enough to make it through the 5k leg. My desire to complete a run associated with the largest tragedy in my community keep me training and helped me complete the race. After April, I didn’t run again until November to start training for a 10k leg this year because I didn't have a larger reason to overcome my lack of desire to run. Even now, training is hard. My body hurts, so I keep making excuses to not follow my regimen. My desire is low, so I will not put in as much effort as I should. I also predict I won’t keep running after April again. Most of my running gains will be lost by next year.
Passion is a critical ingredient to get through law school. At orientation, I make first-year students write down why he/she wants to be an attorney. I tell them halfway through the semester they should read their why statement again. Any time they are stressed or finding classes difficult, I suggest going back to the why statement. Passion and the why can provide enough motivation to continue through struggles. No one will like every assignment. No one will like every class. Re-reading the reason for attending was to help unrepresented groups or provide a better life for family can be enough to complete the assignment in a way to learn the material to retain it for success on finals and the bar exam. Combining the why with perseverance can help overcome many of law school's challenges.
Learn how to tap into passion now because it will be critical in the practice of law. No one will like every deposition, client, case, discovery request, or contract. Trudging through it without passion won’t provide the best advocacy or work product, and that is not the grit that leads to success. Finding your passion for the end goal and persevering is what leads to long-term success.
Monday, March 5, 2018
The sun is breaking through the clouds. Rain and thunderstorms picked up the last couple weeks. Ice is melting away, and temperatures are steadily rising. Spring is right around the corner, which also means Spring Break for most schools will be in the next few weeks. Plan to have fun, relax, and spend time preparing for finals to maximize the effectiveness of Spring Break.
For most students, spring break starts on a Saturday and finishes the following Sunday. 9 glorious days not being in class. 9 amazing opportunities to get mentally fresh and ready for the stretch run into final exams. Plan your Spring Break now to utilize all the time effectively.
My suggestion is to spend 4 of the days doing non-law school fun activities. 4 days not thinking about classes, outlines, or exams. Play golf, watch bad movies, catch up on TV shows, watch an entire new series on Netflix, exercise, hang out with friends, or whatever will provide energy to make it through May. Rest and recharge is key.
The other 5 days, assuming a normal 5 class schedule, are preparation for final exams. My suggestion is to devote 1 day to each class. Spend the morning catching up on the outline. Make sure it is as up-to-date as reasonably possible. Spend 1-2 hours on practice questions in the afternoon. Outlining and practicing will begin critical finals preparation.
Spend the evenings of those 5 days having fun and getting ready for summer. A couple of those evenings, do nothing. More resting and relaxing. Spend 1 of the evenings updating your legal resume. Spend another evening deciding which employers you want to contact for potential summer internships. Lastly, don’t forget to spend at least 1 evening reading for the first day of class after Spring Break.
Planning now can make Spring Break both fun and effective. Take time to enjoy life. Recharging will have a huge impact on studying in April. Catching up on outlines and practicing now provides more focused time in late April to understand the nuances of each subject. Success requires a good plan.
Saturday, March 3, 2018
Midterms, paper drafts, quizzes, and more are coming fast and furious at law students right now. My students are looking exhausted, glazed, and numb this week. Next week is another heavy deadline week for many students.
Faculty and staff are also looking a bit frayed around the edges with grading, make-up classes, project deadlines, committee meetings, and paperwork. Next week is more of the same.
But then . . . IT WILL BE SPRING BREAK!!!! That week without classes is looking a lot like an oasis in the desert. Faculty are off for the entire break, of course; staff have the last two days of the week off.
Everyone is hanging on.
Here are some tips for all of us to keep motivation and productivity up for next week's final push:
- Avoid expecting perfection. Do the best you can under the circumstances each day and move on without regrets.
- If you cannot do it all juggling school, work, home - delegate. People who care about you are there to help.
- Prioritize your "to do" list so that your energies go to the most important tasks rather than being scattered and ineffective.
- If you need to, ask for help to stay positive and productive. Recruit a personal cheerleader as necessary.
- Make a list of two or three fun things to do over spring break with family or friends.
- At the end of each day, be thankful for three things - no matter how small.
- Rejuvenate yourself with some pampering to counterbalance low energy: a special meal, a massage, an early bedtime, chocolate - you get the idea.
- Take a few minutes each day for meditation, relaxation exercises, soothing music, or inspirational readings.
- Laugh: at yourself, at life, at law school. Instead of chuckles, go for belly laughs!
A respite is in sight. You may not be able to play throughout the entire Spring Break, but you will be able to have more flexibility in your time. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, February 22, 2018
As described by reporters Sara Germano and Ben Cohen, Norway might have a secret weapon in winning so many gold medals at the Winter Olympics in Korea this month, namely, being "super chill." https://www.wsj.com/mostchillnationiscrushingit
Surprisingly, even just a few hours before a big competition, the Norwegian athletes are still living life, speaking freely with reporters and chatting & laughing it up. Indeed, the Norwegians are even taking time off to, well, to play video games, have fun, and to socially relax with others. Yep, they watch TV, they play jigsaw puzzles, and they even have a day or two prior to their big events to be completely "100% free." You see, according to Norwegian coach Alex Stöckl: "It's important [in achieving success that the athletes] can turn off their minds."
There's an important message here for those of you taking the bar exam next week. It's A-okay for you to take Monday off before your big event next Tuesday and Wednesday in sitting for your bar exam.
It's REALLY hard to take anytime off, let alone all-day Monday. But, as illustrated by the success of Norway's athletes, rest strengthens us, rest empowers us, rest restores us. So, take a lesson from the Olympians and feel free to give your mind a day of rest before the bar exam. You've earned it...and...you've got golden proof that it works, especially in preparation for high stake events. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Every year, I am aware of the stress that bar studiers experience the week before the bar exam but I continue to be surprised by its various forms of manifestation. Some bar studiers are so fearful of the exam ahead that they consider sitting for the bar exam at a later date, some anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong, while others simply doubt their ability to pass after all the time and work they have invested. It is perfectly normal to have concerns and be nervous about the bar exam but when they ignore progress they have already made throughout the bar review process and when self-doubt, fear of failure, and a defeatist attitude dominate then momentum and progress made thus far could hinder the last few days of bar exam preparation. It is heartbreaking to be aware of the obstacles a bar studier has overcome to get to this point in bar preparation then see every bit of confidence they built up seemingly disappear. Worse of all is when the bar studier who served as the support system for other bar studiers breaks down. Fear is contagious and particularly when those who have relied on the strength of another become overwhelmed and scared when that person is overcome by fear and doubt.
If we are what we think then we must derive words that manifest our intentions and hopes. Even if we do not completely believe all that we say, we can at least state a desire we might like to see manifested and propel ourselves into making it a reality. Similarly, a change in attitude and a positive outlook on a situation may well become reality. I encourage bar studiers to have a few positive affirmations they can read out loud, say to themselves, or say with others. I ask them to think about something other than: “I will pass the bar exam.” I ask them to be specific with their choice of words to counter negative thoughts.
Below are some of the affirmations bar takers have shared with me over the years. Each is unique to individual bar taker’s state of mind and concern.
“I am capable of passing the bar exam because I have done everything necessary and in my power to ensure that result”
“I have been given endless talents which I can utilize to tackle unanticipated subjects on my essays and tasks on the MPT”
“I have a process for tackling MBE questions and when I panic, I will go back to my process”
“I have prepared for whatever comes my way (proctor failing to give 5-minute warning, others getting sick, others discussing issues I did not identify, etc..) on each exam day”
“I will stay away from people who create additional stress until the bar exam is over in order to surround myself with positivity”
“When I panic about my surroundings on exam day, I will remember that I have done this before (completed 200 MBEs in 6 hours) in bar review and get into my zone”
“I am capable, I made it through law school and can make it through this exam”
“I was very focused in my preparation for the bar exam so I am prepared”
“I will turn my nervous feelings into productive and positive energy to maximize my performance on this exam”
“I know most of what I need to know and what I don’t know I have a strategy for”
“Every day I got better at the tasks and will be my best on bar exam days”
“Passing the bar exam is not ACING the bar exam, it is achieving the passing score and I can do that. I reject the spirit of perfectionism”
“I succeed even in stressful situations”
“Today I release my fears and open my mind to new possibilities”
“Whatever I need to learn always comes my way at just the right moment”
Monday, February 5, 2018
While I don’t consider myself old, I am starting to tell stories about “the good ole’ days.” Days where I was taught to ride a bike by being pushed down the street and then my uncle let go. I crashed, got up, probably cried about not wanting to continue, and then was forced to get back on for the next attempt. My mom recalls that she was taught to swim by being thrown in a lake and told to swim back to survive. Those are terrible parenting strategies (and probably exaggerations), but I do find myself telling my kids “we don’t say I can’t in this house” right before a huge meltdown struggle. A key message was to overcome obstacles.
Now is the time in both bar prep and the semester where I see students psychologically disadvantaging themselves with the wrong perspective. Bar takers are struggling with recent simulated MBE results. My last semester 3Ls are struggling through their MBE homework. The pain of multiple choice is high right now. Many students will shy away from more work that illustrates they are not doing well.
Despite the current despair, my hope is everyone possesses a get back on the bike attitude, even if they are wailing. Unfortunately, I am concerned we (including myself) are not teaching perseverance as well at all levels of education. I fear our students aren't getting back on the bike due to their perspective of their own ability.
Students constantly receive messages from society, law school, and peers about their ability. If students don’t receive instruction on how to overcome those obstacles before law school, schools should start overtly teaching how to overcome very real obstacles. Some law schools’ demographics include students who constantly receive messages that they are not good at certain types of questions. Research is clear that girls at young ages are as capable, if not better, at math than boys. As kids grow up, societal messages and images tell young women they are not good at math. This results, along with many other factors, with less women in STEM fields. Many of our students experience the same phenomenon. Schools with lower credentials have a student body who were told by the LSAT that they aren’t good at multiple choice tests, and many of those students were subsequently told by some law schools, through rejection letters, that they weren’t good enough on multiple choice tests to attend. Limited options to unranked law schools sends messages of inferiority before students are even in chairs.
Students of historically marginalized groups attending those schools face even greater challenges. Stereotype threat, not seeing many peers like themselves, and discovering statistics about group performance sends additional messages of limited chances of success. The explosion of easily accessible information through social media and the internet only exacerbates this problem.
My anecdotal perspective is that some students receiving these messages are ill-equipped to navigate the negative environment, which in many ways is not students’ fault. Between helicopter parenting and YMCA sports (only half-joking), some law students haven't faced real challenges or losing before law school. They haven't been exposed to the need for a Growth Mindset. I always talk about improvement and the goal is to get better, but anecdotally, I have heard more students say they aren’t good at multiple choice questions over the last few years. I try to tell students about a growth mindset, but I don’t think it registers to them that saying they are bad at a certain type of question is a form of the fixed mindset. The confirmation of certain classes from law school make overcoming this idea difficult.
Overcoming failures is critical to success in law school, the bar exam, and the practice of law. Not only do we need students to acquire persistence for success now, we are doing a disservice to them if we let them practice law without the ability to handle defeat. I am committing to be more overt about my messaging on improvement and growth mindset. I specifically tell students the statement “I am bad at multiple choice questions” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and hurts their scores. I plan to continually talk about the obstacles in practice and how to learn to handle them now. I will show them how they improve and how improvement is the goal. I want my students to enter the profession with the ability to continue to advocate for their client in spite of continuously losing motions. Hopefully those skills will help them be more professional lawyers.