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)
Saturday, August 12, 2017
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)
Friday, August 11, 2017
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)
Monday, July 31, 2017
I wrote in last week’s post of my trip to the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) conference in Minnesota. The conference theme focused on diversity and inclusion, which we know will also be the focus of our upcoming Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) conference in October.
My colleague, Alexa Chew, and I lead a discussion at ALWD on ways to make law schools more welcoming for everyone. We spoke about our experiences participating on our Diversity and Inclusion Task Force at UNC Law. We spoke about how allowing students to share their stories and listening to their stories can create more awareness and understanding of the diversity and inclusion problems that may be wounding your law school.
Alexa and I wrote a blog post in advance of our ALWD presentation in Jennifer Romig’s Listen Like a Lawyer blog. We wrote that most of us working at law schools want a more diverse and inclusive environment. However, many folks working in our law schools are often unaware of what our students are experiencing during their law school tenure. So, schools get into a situation where they are trying to fix or work on a "problem" that they have not identified or know little about--or worse, that they may be inadvertently contributing to.
Alexa and I provided a few suggestions that could help more folks “get in the know.” The suggestions are relatively simple and inexpensive, but they may still have a huge impact on how students feel when they walk through the doors of your law schools. I suspect many of you in the ASP world are likely already doing many of the suggestions quite well! Keep it up!!! And encourage others in your law school to follow your lead!
Thursday, July 27, 2017
For those of you that just tackled the bar exam this week, here's a few words of congratulations and a couple of tips as you wait for results from this summer's bar exam.
First, let me speak to you straight from the heart!
Bravo! Magnificent! Herculean!
Those are just some of the words that come to mind…words that you should be rightly speaking to yourself…because…they are true of you to the core!
But, for most of us right now, we just don’t quite feel super-human about the bar exam. Such accolades of self-talk are, frankly, just difficult to do. Rather, most of us just feel relief – plain and simple relief – that the bar exam is finally over and we have somehow survived.
That’s because very few of us, upon completion of the bar exam, feel like we have passed the bar exam. Most of us just don’t know. So now, the long “waiting” period begins with results not due out for most of us for a number of months.
So, here’s the conundrum about the “waiting” period:
Lot’s of well-meaning people will tell you that you have nothing to worry about; that they are sure that you passed the bar exam; and that the bar exam wasn’t that hard…really.
Not that hard?
You know that I passed?
There’s nothing for me to worry about?
Let me give you a concrete real life example. Like you, I took the bar exam. And, like most of you, I had no idea at all whether I passed the bar exam. I was just so glad that it was finally over.
But all of my friends, my legal employer (a judge), my former law professors, and my family kept telling me that I had absolutely nothing to be worried about; that I passed the bar exam; that I worked hard; that they knew that I could do it.
But, they didn’t know something secret about my bar exam. They didn’t know about my lunch on the first day of the bar exam.
At the risk of revealing a closely held secret, my first day of the bar exam actually started out on the right foot, so to speak. I was on time for the exam. In fact, I got to the convention center early enough that I got a prime parking spot. Moreover, in preparation for my next big break (lunch), I had already cased out the nearest handy-dandy fast food restaurants for grabbing a quick bite to eat before the afternoon portion of the bar exam so that I would not miss the start of the afternoon session of the bar exam.
So, when lunch came, I was so excited to eat that I went straight to Burger King. I really wanted that “crown,” perhaps because I really didn’t understand many of the essay problems from the morning exam. But as I approached Burger King, the line was far out of the door. Impossibly out of the door. And, it didn’t get any better at McDonalds next door. I then faced the same conundrum at Wendy’s and then at Taco Bell.
Finally, I had to face up to cold hard facts. I could either eat lunch or I could take the afternoon portion of the bar exam. But, I couldn’t do both. The lines were just too long. So, I was about to give up - as I had exhausted all of the local fast food outlets surrounding the convention center - when I luckily caught a glimpse of a possible solution to both lunch and making it back to the bar exam in time for the afternoon session – a liquor store. There was no line. Not a soul. I had the place to myself. So, I ran into the liquor store to grab my bar exam lunch: two Snicker’s bars. With plenty of time to now spare, I then leisurely made my way back to the bar exam on time for the start of the afternoon session.
But, here’s the rub:
All of my friends and family members (and even the judge that I was clerking for throughout the waiting period) were adamant that I had passed the bar exam. They just knew it!
But, they didn’t know that I ate lunch at the liquor store.
So when several months later the bar results were publicly available on the Internet, I went to work for my judge wondering what the judge might do when the truth came out – that I didn’t pass the bar exam because I didn’t pack a lunch to eat at the bar exam.
To be honest, I was completely stick to my stomach. But, I was stuck; I was at work and everyone believed in me. Then, later that morning while still at my work computer, the results came out. My heart raced, but my name just didn’t seem to be listed at all. No Scott Johns. And then, I realized that my official attorney name begins with William. I was looking at the wrong section of the Johns and Johnsons. My name was there! I had passed! I never told the judge my secret about my “snicker bar” lunch. I was just plain relieved that the bar exam “wait” was finally over.
That’s the problem with all of the helpful advice from our friends, employers, law professors, and family members during this waiting period. For all of us (or at least most of us), there was something unusual that happened during our bar exam. It didn’t seem to go perfectly. Quite frankly, we just don’t know if we indeed passed the bar exam.
So, here’s a few suggestions for your time right now with your friends, employers, law professors, and family members.
1. First, just let them know how you are feeling. Be open and frank. Share your thoughts with them along with your hopes and fears.
2. Second, give them a hearty thank you for all of their enriching support, encouragement, and steadfast faithfulness that they have shared with you as walked your way through law school and through this week’s bar exam. Perhaps send them a personal notecard. Or, make a quick phone call of thanks. Or send a snap chat of thankful appreciation. Regardless of your particular method of communication, reach out to let them know out of the bottom of your heart that their support has been invaluable to you. That’s a great way to spend your time as you wait - over the course of the next several months - for the bar exam results.
3. Finally, celebrate yourself, your achievement, and your true grit....by taking time out - right now - to appreciate the momentous accomplishment of undertaking a legal education, graduating from law school, and tackling your bar exam. You've done something great, and, more importantly, something mightily significant. (Scott Johns).
Monday, July 24, 2017
This last week, I attended and participated in a diversity and inclusion conference hosted by the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The three-day conference was engaging and timely. And it included a thought provoking and informative plenary presentation on stereotype threat and implicit bias by fellow-ASPer, Russell McClain. Having seen Russell present before at various ASP conferences, I knew he would be a charming and enlightening presenter—and he certainly was! Congratulations, Russell! I know the ALWD attendees were impressed by your interactive presentation, and I am sure many of them will be reaching out to you in the future for additional ways to address stereotype threat and implicit bias.
I plan to write some more about the ALWD conference and its theme “Acknowledging Lines: Talking About What Unites and Divides Us” at a later date. But, for now, I wanted to spend a little time talking about what is likely on the minds of most academic success professionals and all the recent law school graduates—the bar exam.
Exam takers: We all know you have been working hard, and we believe in you. The next few days will be beyond tough and tiring. But, you have trained your mind and body for it.
Yes. You will likely second-guess yourself. Yes. You will likely face questions that you might not feel good about. But, you are also going to see and work with a lot of information that you do understand and have encountered many times during your bar preparation. Trust yourself. Read the questions carefully. Organize your essays. And don’t let those few questions that you might not know the answers to bring you down. You don’t need to get that A+ to pass. If you spend too much time focusing on the information that you don’t know or can’t remember, you may not leave yourself enough time or energy to show the bar graders what you do know. And you do know. A lot.
A few more things . . . remember to breathe and it’ll be over soon.
We look forward to welcoming you into the profession. (OJ Salinas)
Monday, July 17, 2017
The New York Times recently published “The Lawyer, The Addict”—a very compelling article about a tragic event. The story describes the death of an influential Silicon Valley attorney. The interplay between (1) addiction, stress, and mental health and (2) law school and the legal profession is referenced in an honest and, for many, eye-opening manner. The article has rightfully generated much discussion on the Internet, including a fascinating conversation on my colleague Rachel Gurvich’s Twitter feed. If you are looking for further insight about the article from a variety of faculty, practitioners, and students, I encourage you to check out Rachel's Twitter feed (@RachelGurvich). Much of the conversation can be found here.
There are many interesting points one can focus on from the NYT article. Perhaps, I’ll explore some other points in the future in the blog. For now, I’ll focus today’s blog on two points: (1) Larry Krieger’s work on subjective well-being; and (2) how hard it is for students to acknowledge that they may be suffering from a problem.
- Larry Krieger’s Work on Subjective Well-Being.
The NYT article interviewed Professor Larry Krieger and referenced his work "What Makes Lawyers Happy". As many of you know, Krieger’s work was an empirical study on “attorney emotional health” and “subjective well-being.” Part of Krieger’s findings and recommendations focused on shifting the definition of “success” for law students away from extrinsic rewards, like grades, journals, and high-paying jobs to more personal and intrinsic values and motivations.
I remember Larry Krieger's work was one of the first things that Ruth McKinney discussed with me when I arrived at UNC. Since her retirement, we have tried to continue to incorporate the message of Krieger’s work into our pre-orientation program for incoming 1Ls. We try to remind our students to remember the intrinsic reasons why they decided to come to law school—particularly during those times when they may feel overwhelmed, defeated, or unworthy. We also try to remind our students that “success” can mean many different things to different people and that there are many ways to “succeed” in law school. We often talk about these topics while disclosing some of our personal struggles and experiences from law school. This personal disclosure often helps build a foundation where we are better able to assist with the problem discussed in part two below.
- Acknowledging a Problem is often a Problem.
For those of us who work closely with students, the article’s story on how law school and the legal profession can change you—physically and mentally—is not a surprising tale. We know that the combination of stress, anxiety, and the competition for external rewards can create a very challenging and intimidating environment for our students. The environment can feel crushing and insurmountable when you add difficult finances, family issues, health concerns, implicit bias, or stereotype threat to the mix.
It is not uncommon for academic success folks to work with students who are facing some significant non-academic issues that impact their academic performance. But, these non-academic issues are often not easily identifiable. Let’s try to remember that it is often difficult for our students to acknowledge to themselves that they may be going through a very problematic time. Like anyone, they have pride. They have all been successful undergrads or had elite careers prior to law school. They don’t want to think of themselves as “failures” or “unworthy” of being a law student.
Since our students don’t want to think of themselves as “failures” or “unworthy” of being a law student, they will likely hesitate before seeking help because they don’t want others to see them as “failures” or “unworthy” of being a law student (and the mental health questions on the bar exam applications don't help either, but that's a topic for another day [if you are interested, my former colleague, Katie Rose Guest Pryal has a great piece here]).
Disclosing some personal vulnerability to someone else is an added challenge to an already stressful time in our students' lives. Think about it: if it’s hard for you to acknowledge some potential weakness or flaw to yourself, do you think it will be easier for you to acknowledge that weakness or flaw to someone else? Now think about that someone else as a law professor or administrator. I know; it’s pretty scary. That’s why we, as academic support professionals (and others who work closely with law students), should try to practice good active listening skills and remain nonjudgmental, empathetic, and encouraging when we work with our students. It’s a difficult job. But, we are lucky to be able to do it. (OJ Salinas)
Thursday, July 13, 2017
With a big hat tip to one of our bar takers this summer, here's a website -- The Visual Law Library -- that has some cool colorful cartoons to help brighten up your daily memorization studies.
On the website, cartoonist and attorney Margaret Hagan has created cartoons for the following subjects that are tested on most bar exams: Civil Procedure, Con Law, Contracts, Corporations, Criminal Law, Evidence, Family Law, Property Law, and Torts.
It's a rich resource to allow you to "see" some of the major rules in a colorful way. So, feel free to take a break by scoping out a few cartoons that might help you better remember some of the major rules for upcoming bar exam. (Scott Johns).
Monday, July 10, 2017
We are just a few weeks away from the bar exam. And for many students studying for the bar, that means questions. No. I don’t mean the hundreds, if not thousands, of MBE questions that the students have taken and, perhaps, retaken. And I don’t mean questions on any practice exams. I mean questions running through our students’ heads: questions of doubt, commitment, and normalcy.
Most students studying for the bar have had to live in somewhat of a “Bar Exam Prep Bubble” for the last few months. They celebrated law school graduation in May. But, it wasn’t really a full-on celebration because they knew there was still something more to do. It’s something huge and overwhelming. And it’s something that dictates one’s true entrance into the legal profession.
The bar exam is huge and overwhelming and, in many respects, it does dictate one’s true entrance into the legal profession. This monumental exam has a way of playing mind games with our students—especially at this point in the bar prep season.
We are at a point in the bar prep season where students will start second-guessing themselves. Will I pass? Have I really done all that I should have done over the last few months? What if I freak out and can’t remember anything? Why have I put myself through this?
Despite all the work that our students have put into preparing for the exam, they will think they still have more work to do. Despite the objective results that their bar companies provide to them of their performance so far in the bar prep season, they will wonder and worry about how well they will perform on the ‘big day(s).’
As we prepare ourselves for the last few weeks of bar prep season, let’s remember that anxiety and doubt are normal for this big event. But, they don’t equal failure. Anxiety and doubt don’t mean that our students are unable to succeed. And they don’t mean that our students have not put in the necessary work to succeed.
If we get an anxious and doubting student in our offices, let’s remember our anxieties and doubts about our bar exams. Let’s remember how we may have felt overwhelmed with the amount of material. And let’s remember that we, and every other licensed attorney out there, passed the exam.
The bar exam is challenging. But, it is doable. We are all proof that it is doable. With the right frame of mind and support from family, friends, and ASP professionals, we were all able to overcome the mind games. Our students can, too. (OJ Salinas)
Thursday, July 6, 2017
Straight from a recent law graduate and licensed attorney Sarah Myers, here's some exciting news that you can "sing" about as you prepare for your bar exam this summer. But first, a bit of background....
Ms. Myers serves as the clinical director of the Colorado Lawyer's Assistance Program, a confidential program for law students and practitioners alike implemented by the Colorado Supreme Court. As the clinical director, Ms. Myers successful passed the bar exam in February 2016, holds a master's degree in somatic counseling education, and is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a licensed addiction counselor.
In other words, Ms. Myers knows all about the stress and strains of life, particularly in relationship to the study of law and preparing for the bar exam.
So, Ms. Myers put together a very handy survey of the research on the surprising benefits of music -- benefits that you can put to good use this summer as you prepare for the bar exam.
To cut to the chase, here's key language from Ms. Myer's summary:
"Research shows that the many benefits of listening to music, playing an instrument, dancing, or singing include:
Improved visual & verbal skills;
Increased endorphins that improve mood;
Improved cardiovascular system, including strengthening the heart, decreasing blood
pressure, and reducing pulse rates;
Better sleep patterns and more restful sleep;
Boosted immune system and reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol;
Reduction in anxiety and overall stress;
Improved sound-processing ability, improved hearing.
Increased levels of oxytocin, resulting in reduced pain and improved mood;
Improved memory across lifespan; and
Increased serotonin levels that reduce depression."
So, take heart and lift up your voices, your instruments, and your heels and start singing, humming, whistling, jamming, and just overall having fun making music. And, the best music to make is that which is made with others. So, why not get a group jam session going, especially this week, to help you start getting the benefits of music within your life. And, if you just can't help yourself by taking a singing break, don't worry. You can always just make up a song or two for some of your most difficult bar exam rules. That way you'll reduce your stress and learn something valuable too! (Scott Johns)
Monday, July 3, 2017
We are less than a month away from the bar exam. Law graduates throughout the country have been working long hours trying to digest a huge amount of information. They try to stay focused and positive so that they can overcome this enormous hurdle that is only offered twice a year. But what happens when unexpected life events happen that impact a student’s focus and positivity? What happens when our students face a rough patch of water as they are sailing through their bar preparation?
I was on a vacation with my family in the Outer Banks of North Carolina a few weeks ago. After six years of living in North Carolina, we still had not made it out to this beautiful and most Eastern part of the state. The beaches, food, and lighthouses were all great. Here's a pic of one of the lighthouses:
So, we were at a seafood restaurant getting ready to drive back to Chapel Hill after a wonderful time in the Outer Banks. I was about to pay our bill when I got a short and unexpected text message. A close family member had been in a car accident.
Many of us have likely received similar messages. You feel like you should do something, but you are so far away that you cannot do much. So, you try calling family members. But, no one answers. The text message did not include much detail. So, you call again. You text. And you wait. And the anxiety and the unknown take over until someone responds to your text or answers your phone call. And you hope so mightily that the response or phone call is a positive one.
Fortunately, despite a pretty scary car accident, no one was seriously hurt. My family member, who took the brunt of the accident, was able to thankfully walk away. Thoughts start circulating through your head. Soreness and bruises will subside. Vehicles can be repaired or replaced. Life is precious.
Things soon began to settle down as best they could. But, as many folks have likely experienced, it was difficult not to think about how things could have been worse. This got me thinking about what our students experience if a similar, or even worse, unexpected life event happens while they are preparing for the bar exam. How do we help them? Can we help them?
The answers to these questions are difficult, and they should be. Law school and passing the bar exam are large parts of our students’ lives. But, they are not the only parts of our students’ lives. How a student deals with an unexpected life event obviously depends on what this life event is. It may also depend on what type of support system this student has in place or can put into place. It may also depend on how much time a student has left to prepare—physically and mentally—for the exam, and whether or not the student wishes to try to persevere through this life event or wait until the next test date for the bar exam.
As academic success professionals, we know that we are likely part of the support system for our students. We know that we can offer a listening ear to our students and refer our students to additional resources when needed. Our listening ears are particularly helpful and appreciated during difficult times for our students. Sometimes, just talking about a challenge can be therapeutic and provide some assistance. We can also try to empathize and understand what our students may be going through. And we can, in a nonjudgmental way, try to have honest conversations with our students about their goals, bar preparation, and ability to maintain focus and some positivity.
Bar prep companies often place some extra time in their planning calendars for our students. But, this extra time may or may not be enough for our students. Are they on schedule with the suggested bar preparation calendar? How are their practice results so far? Can they afford another several months before they are licensed attorneys? How are they simply feeling right now? And how do they think they will be feeling in a week or two?
These are all questions that we might have with any of our students. These questions become even more significant for students who have experienced some unexpected life event. I lost some focus and positivity during that short time that I was unable to find out what was happening with my family member. As we enter the last stretch of bar preparation, let’s try to remember that unexpected life events often happen, and we may need to be there to help our students plan and persevere. (OJ Salinas)
Thursday, June 29, 2017
With just under a month to go for many bar takers (and after numerous weeks of intensive studying), let's face the facts:
We are plain downright exhausted. And, we should be. But, given what seems like the insurmountable pressures to learn so much material for the bar exam, it just seems like we can't let up with our daily grinding regiment of bar studies. There's no time for a day off. There's too much to learn.
However, let me offer you a way to "let up" so that you can feel mighty good about taking a real day off. A whole day. A day of rest and relaxation to boot. In fact, please feel free to live it up. And, there's no better time to take a day off from your studies than on a national day of celebration - this upcoming July 4th holiday.
I find that Independence Day is one of the best days of the year to see bar exam problems in living color.
That box of fireworks bought at a big top tent stand. That was procured through negotiation by you (or one of your friends) of a UCC contract for the sale of goods (and the seller most certainly had a secured transaction agreement in order to bring the goods to sale to your area).
That box of fireworks that didn't work as advertised. Well, that might just blossom into a breach of contracts claim or even a tort claim for misrepresentation.
That box of fireworks that were lit off in the city limits. In most cities, that's a strict liability crime, plain and simple.
You see, even when we take a day off from studies, we live in a world of bar exam problems. In fact, we are surrounded by bar exam problems because the bar exam tests legal situations that are constantly arising among us. So, it's a good thing to get our heads of the books occasionally to see what's happening around.
That means that you can completely feel free to relax and celebrate on this upcoming national holiday. Take the day off - the whole day off! Go have some fun! Celebrate...because even while taking a day off you will still be learning lots about the law from just living in the world. You can't help yourself but to see legal problems everywhere...because...you have be trained as a professional problem-solving attorney.
So, rest assured that in the midsts of your celebrations you'll be learning helpful legal principles that you can bank on preparation for success on your upcoming bar exam. And, as a bonus, you'll get some mighty needed rest to recharge your heart and mind too! So, enjoy your day off; you've earned it! (Scott Johns).
We are all familiar with the issues of law student debt and the stress caused by financial burdens. Inside Higher Education provided a short post last week (found here) that referred to a National Bureau of Economic Research report on marriage differences for female lawyers with high student debt from law school. The abstract of the NBER report is found here.
Sunday, June 25, 2017
Law students often comment about how stressed they are, how little sleep they get, how they survive on pizza and energy drinks, how they never have time to exercise, and more. It is easy for them during the academic year to become overwhelmed and forget to take care of themselves.
The summer is a perfect time to focus on getting healthy before the next academic year. By setting good wellness routines during the summer months, students are more likely to continue those routines once school starts. Here are some tips for the summer to prepare to be a healthy law student this coming year:
Set up and maintain a routine sleep schedule. Medical research shows that sleep is one of the most important prerequisites for your brain to be focused and productive!
- Research shows that we need 7-8 hours of sleep each night. If you get less than that amount consistently, you will be chronically sleep-deprived.
- Sunday night through Friday morning should have the same routine - same time to bed and same time getting up.
- Research shows that a set sleep routine has more benefits than getting the same hours of sleep per night, but at varying times for bed and rising.
- Varying the sleep routine 2 hours or less during the weekend makes it easier to get back on the weekly routine on Sunday night.
- Obesity and chronic health problems are linked to lack of sleep. So use some preventative medicine by getting your ZZZZZs!
- Naps do not substitute for a good sleep routine and may actually disrupt your sleep schedule.
Exercise is one of the best stress reducers available to us. You do not have to become obsessed with exercise to benefit from it!
- Research shows that we need 150 minutes of exercise each week to get the benefits. That is just five 30-minute sessions!
- Exercise does not have to be a rigorous gym workout - walking is also good.
- Pick an exercise routine that suits your interests and lifestyle.
- An exercise routine with set days, times, and activities helps you remember to make time for your exercise plan.
- Exercising with a friend can often increase accountability to stick to the routine and make exercise more fun.
Nutrition is another key to brain and body health. Your brain needs fuel for all the heavy legal thinking you do!
- Increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables this summer while they are plentiful.
- Limit your intake of sugar, salt, and caffeine to benefit your health.
- Stay hydrated and drink water regularly throughout the day.
- Limit your caffeine intake and especially watch those energy drinks which can have negative health effects.
Build positive activities into your week to balance work or study.
- Spend time with family and friends during the summer months - especially if you go to law school in another town or state away from them.
- Learn to take short breaks every 90 minutes during periods of focused tasks to allow your brain to re-focus and your body to de-stress.
- Practice mindfulness techniques to become more aware of the present. Many apps and websites exist to teach you simple techniques that can improve focus.
- Become more aware of tasks, body positions, situations, etc. that cause you to tense up and stress. Learn to avoid or manage those items and events more effectively.
When you walk through the law school doors in August, do not abandon your routines that focus on wellness. With time management techniques and effective study strategies, you can continue your wellness efforts throughout law school semesters. If you need assistance to find that balance in your life, contact your law school's academic support professionals for help in managing your life-study schedule. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, June 19, 2017
We encourage our students to get regular exercise to relieve stress, improve sleep, and stay healthy. Most experts recommend 150 minutes of exercise a week - usually in five 30-minute increments. Inside Higher Education had a recent post focused on tips for graduate students on prioritizing fitness as part of their schedules. Even more important perhaps for law students! The blog post is here.
Sunday, June 18, 2017
BBC News has posted an article that suggests that deep work and deep scheduling which create more focus through downtime are key to productivity. We are used to helping students schedule their serious study time with short breaks, longer meal breaks, exercise time, etc. In fact, we often see students who cram studying into every minute without breaks have worse grades than students who use their time more productively with breaks. The BBC article is here.
Thursday, June 15, 2017
Just the title of this blog might seem sacrilegious. But, in the midst of the daily work in bar exam preparations this summer, I've come across an interesting trend. It seems like no one preparing for the bar is convinced that they can write a passing essay answer, particularly when comparing practice answers to the multi-page point sheet or the line-by-line perfect answers often provided by commercial bar review companies.
In short, bar exam studiers often feel like they missed the mark (and aren't even close to earning a passing score). That can lead to a frustrating cycle of trying the next time to write an answer that resembles the massive point sheet, only to learn once again that one didn't quite get all of the points (or even half of the points). Unfortunately, over time, essay answers start to look like point sheets rather than the written work of professional attorneys, and, no wonder.
But, in most states in which graders assess answers based on holistic relative grading, point sheets miss the mark, too. That's because in holistic grading the Supreme Court graders are not looking for points but rather are reading answers for the substantive quality of your writing and legal problem-solving. So, here's a tip.
Instead of practicing to write for points on your bar exam this summer, try to write to substantively impress your reader with the qualities of your professional writing and the substance of your well-thought out argument. In other words, write to impress...because...in holistic grading, that's exactly what the graders are looking for. Of course, the impressions must have substance, i.e., demonstrating the work of an attorney. So, with that in mind, here's a technique to assess and perfect your essay writing. Instead of calculating whether your practice answer got all of the points, take a look at the much-shorter outline rubric provided by many bar review companies. Then, glance through your answer to see if you hit the major issues and if your writing professionally flows. In holistic grading jurisdictions, that's really meeting the mark, and meeting it well. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, May 18, 2017
It's that time of year. In the midst of many celebrations over bar passage, let's be frank. There are many that are not celebrating. Their names were not on the list of bar exam passers. It's especially rough this time of year because it's also graduation season. And, for some, it's not the first time that they've found themselves in this situation; it's a repeat of the last time around.
For aspiring attorneys that did not pass the bar exam, most don't know where to turn. Often embarrassed, many with significant debt loads, most feel abandoned by their schools, their friends, and their colleagues. All alone.
I'm not expert in helping with turnarounds. But, I'd like to offer a few tips that have seemed to be quite helpful in helping repeaters change history to become "fresh start" bar passers.
First, as academic support professionals, reach out to each one. Make yourself available on their terms. Let them know that you care. Let them know that you are mighty proud of them, success or not. Support them, one and all.
Second, give them breathing room, lot's of time and space to grieve. Don't push them into diving back into the books. Don't lecture them. Rather, assure them that they don't need to get cranking on their studies. Help them to be kind to themselves. It's not a matter of just hitting the books again, and this time, doubly-hard. Instead, they need to take time out to just be themselves.
Third, when they are ready, set up a "one-with-one." Notice: I did not call it a "one-to-one". Rather, set up an appointment or meeting in a place of their choosing at a time that works for them in which you sit side by side, on the same side of the table or desk or cafe. They are not bar exam failures; they are real law school graduates. They earned their parchments. So, listen to them as colleagues on the same side of doing battle on the bar exam. Let them talk and express themselves as they'd like. Hear them out. How are they feeling? What went right? What's their passion? What saddens their hearts?
Finally, whey they are ready, make a copy of one of the essay problems that didn't go so well. Better yet, make two copies, one for each of you! That's because you are on the same team. Set aside 15 or 20 minutes and just ask them to mark up the question, brainstorm what they are thinking, and jot down the issues that they see. But...and this is important...tell them that you don't expect them to remember any law at all. Period. And, you do the same. Exactly the same. Don't peek at an answer key or even their answer. Instead, try your hand too; wrestle with the same question that they are wrestling with.
Then, come back together to listen, ponder, and share what you both see as the plot of the essay question, the issues raised by the storylines, and the potential rules that might be in play. Once you've done all this prep work together, now, look at their answer. This is important, just look. Ask them what do they see? What do they observe? What went great for them? Where might they improve? In short, let them see that they have "inside information" about themselves based on their own personal bar exam experience and answers that they can capitalize to their advantage. Most often in the midst of working together, graduates tell me that they realize that they knew plenty of law to pass the bar exam. In fact, most are amazed at how well they memorized the law. And, that's great news because it means that they don't need to redo the bar review lectures at all. They know plenty of law. That frees up lots of time during the bar prep season to instead concentrate on just two active learning tasks.
First, they should daily work through loads of practice problems (essays and MBE questions). Every one that they can get their hands on.
Second, they should keep a daily "journal" of the issues and rules that they missed when working over problems (to include tips about the analysis of those rules).
Just two steps. That's it. There's no magic. But, in not redoing the lectures, they will find that they have plenty of time to concentrate on what is really important - learning by doing through active reflective daily practice. Countless times, it's through this process of a "one-with-one" meeting that we have seen repeaters turn themselves into "fresh start" bar passers. Now, that's something to celebrate! (Scott Johns).
Sunday, May 14, 2017
Saturday, May 6, 2017
As exams unfold and the bar exam looms, I find that I have to remind students that they may hit a wall in their studying at some point. By that I mean, getting to a point when your brain cannot absorb one more rule, comprehend one more practice question, or focus on one more sentence. No amount of switching tasks, switching courses, or mental pep talks will budge that mental wall. It cannot be climbed over, gone around, or blasted through no matter what is tried.
So many students keep studying any way because they fear taking a break and walking away. Time is of the essence! But, the only result they will get is hitting their heads against that same wall. Frustration, stress, and anxiety all build as they soldier on.
Hitting a wall is a major stopping point - a 10-minute break or 10 jumping jacks will not budge it. Hitting a wall is our brain's way of saying, "STOP!!! There is no door in this wall for you to walk through. Go away and come back later after a big break."
The problem with this kind of major mental block is that a complete break is needed for the student to come back refreshed. One needs to find an environment or pastime that allows no thoughts about law school or law courses or law exams.
When I was in exam period or in bar studying and hit a wall, it did not help for me to sit in my apartment and read or watch a TV show. Those books and outlines were still over in the corner, worrying me. I was surprised that as a runner and swimmer that those pursuits also did not allow me a total break. I could still worry about law while I ran or swam.
So I chose two activities that meant I would completely relax, get away from the law, and let my brain recover for a couple of hours:
- Going to a movie theater. Once the lights went down, I would become absorbed in the movie and forget all about law school. Comedies were especially good for those laugh endorphins. Besides, I adore popcorn.
- Playing racquetball. That hard little blue ball really hurts if you do not stay focused on the game. Whacking that little ball also got rid of lots of frustration and stress.
Students need to consider what would absorb them to the point of total relaxation. One student told me recently that she would choose playing a difficult piece of music on the piano. Another student chose playing tennis. Another prior student was a woodworker and had to concentrate totally around circular saws.
Listen to your brain. When it is telling you that it cannot do any more, take that longer break. Let your brain recuperate from all the heavy lifting for a couple of hours. Then go back refreshed and begin again. The wall will have come tumbling down by then. (Amy Jarmon)