Thursday, October 24, 2013
We are in the ninth week of class here at our law school. It is dawning on mamy students that exams are getting much closer and that they are not where they want to be in their studying. I am beginning to see more negative ways of handling stress emerge. In the midst of their stress, students often seem unable to see more positive fixes for their problems.
Some of the negative responses to stress that I see (or hear students talking about) are:
- Staying up until the wee hours of the morning to get everything done.
- Skipping classes to have more study or paper time.
- Skipping meals and exercise to have more study or paper time.
- Procrastinating on tasks because you do not feel like doing them.
- Losing your temper with others who are in the fallout zone (classmates, spouses, children, friends, pets).
- Blaming others for your study predicament (the professor assigns too much reading, the casebook is awful, the Tutor/teaching assistant is not any help, my study group is clueless).
- Assuming that everyone else is getting the material and you must be stupid.
- Wasting time on bemoaning what you should have done earlier in the semester.
- Giving up and allowing yourself to accept failure.
- Avoiding going to professors, academic support professionals, and deans for assistance.
- Using drugs or alcohol to mask the stress and gain a temporary high.
Here are some positive responses to stress that work for students:
- Start immediately to get 7 - 8 hours of sleep each night and go to bed and get up at the same time. Brain cells need energy to absorb, understand, and retain information. Sleep allows you to get more done with greater focus in less time. It often takes a week for your body to recharge, but after that period you will start to get much more done.
- Attend classes regularly unless you are sick. By skipping class you become even more confused about the material. It is the point in the semester when professors begin to talk about the exam and pull information together across the course. You do not want to depend on a classmate's notes for these important aspects.
- Meals and exercise like sleep are essential to how your brain works. Eat nutritious meals rather than depend on junk food, caffeine, and sugar. Exercise at least 150 minutes per week - walking is fine. Exercise is a great stress buster and will also help you to sleep better.
- How you feel is not important quite honestly. Sure, it is more fun doing other things than reading and briefing or outlining or reviewing for exams; but no one told you to come to law school to have fun. Break down tasks into smaller pieces to help you get motivated: a 40-page reading into 8 chunks of 5 pages; a paper assignment into small sections; practice questions into fewer questions at a time. If you are really unmotivated, tell yourself you will just read 1 page, write 1 sentence, or do 1 problem. Getting started is the trick.
- Being irritated and grumpy with others will not make you feel better. You will just have guilt for being a jerk. If you cannot say something nice, do not say anything at all - grandmother was right when she told you that. Tell people that you need some alone time. Or do random acts of kindness for others to help you feel better about yourself. Go for a run or walk to burn off the stress.
- Blaming others means you are giving up control over what you can do. Break down the reading assignment into smaller chunks so it seems more manageable. Read a study aid to clarify the casebook material. See the professor or teaching assistant on office hours to ask questions one-on-one if a larger group setting is unhelpful. Restructure your study group to make it more effective (an agenda for meetings so everyone comes prepared) or take responsibility to explain material to the others (you can learn by teaching).
- You are not dumb - you would not have been admitted if the law school did not think you could succeed. Stop comparing yourself to others and instead start doing the best you can do each day. Persistence means a lot in law school. There is a lot of bluff among law students - you cannot know whether others are really spending more hours studying or wasting time while in the library, whether those speaking in class can talk a good game but not get it on paper, whether someone else really understands the material or just says she does.
- Forget about what you should have done. Focus on what you can do today and tomorrow and the next day. Decide on your priorities and then get started. Use a to do list each day and each week to stay on track. Get help from the academic success professional at your school if you have trouble deciding what to do and how to get it done.
- If you give up and allow yourself to fail, it does not get you any place you want to be. Make a plan as to how to get the most results from the time you have remaining in the semester. Get help if you need it.
- Every law school has people who can help you. Use their assistance. Swallow your pride if that is what is getting in the way of asking for help. Decide what help you need and go to the source that is appropriate. Find out who at your law school can help with a particular problem. Do not overlook sources at the wider university: counseling center, health services, etc.
- Do not get caught up in a cycle of drugs or alcohol to deal with your stress. You may feel as though you get temporary relief, but you are not dealing with the problems that cause the stress. If you can step back from this cycle on your own, use exercise and other techniques to deal with the stress. If you need help in getting back to healthy ways of stress reduction, see the counseling center or health services for assistance.
Stress in law school is something that everyone has to learn to cope with effectively. If stress is getting out of hand, seek assistance. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Law students, as well as recent graduates studying for the bar exam, often lament that family and friends do not understand why they are studying all the time and feel unable to participate in social events on a regular basis or spontaneously any more.
Law students find that others expect them to act the same way they did before law school. Whether they were in college, employed, or in another graduate program previously, the law student is expected to be ready, willing, and able to go out to dinner and the movies, to spend a weekend out of town, to attend every family event, and so forth.
Bar studiers have the difficulty of others thinking that now after three years of law school the bar exam should be a breeze. Their family and friends have waited three long years to have them back to normal! They did not expect the new graduates to turn around almost immediately and become hermits (in their minds) yet again.
The only people who readily understand the life of law school and bar study are those who have been in the midst of those commitments as law students and bar studiers. There are two resources for families and friends that may be useful to pass on to help these important people in life to understand:
- For law students: The Companion Text to Law School: Understanding and Surviving Life with a Law Student by Andrew J. McClurg (Thomson Reuters 2012).
- For bar studiers: "Chapter 4: Preparing Your Significant Others for the Bar Exam" in Pass the Bar! by Denise Riebe and Michael Hunter Schwartz (Carolina Academic Press 2006).
Each law student or bar studier has to determine realistic boundaries on their time - what can I do and what can I not do and still succeed on my goals. Then a heart-to-heart discussion with family and friends will hopefully help lead to understanding. Some law students or bar studiers have to rehearse their side of the discussions.
Ultimately, the law students or bar studiers have to honor their own goals and boundaries. Giving in or being consumed by guilt will not help. The best you can do is try to explain diplomatically and use one of the resources listed to provide an outside perspective if you think it will help. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, October 4, 2013
It is the point in the semester that students (especially 1Ls) remark that they are missing family, friends, pets, and other aspects of the environment that they had over the summer. Their sense of loss seems worse than earlier in the semester because the newness of the semester has worn off and the approach of exams is a reality.
Some students talk about missing younger siblings, nieces, and nephews. Some students talk about missing parents, grandparents, and aunts or uncles. Some students miss their dogs and cats - or horses since this is Texas after all. For others, it is members of the familiar community that are missed (pastors, staff at a place they volunteered, mentors, colleagues at a summer job). It may also be certain routines from home: the local basketball league, the local karate studio, the regulars at the coffe shop near home.
It helps if students feel at home in the new community that surrounds their law school. The temptation is to believe that law school allows no time for life. Here are some ways for students to feel more connected to the people that matter and were left behind and to build a new sense of community in the new location:
- Build time into your schedule to connect with friends and family back home by telephone. Perhaps the telephone call will be at the end of the evening as a reward for staying on track throughout the day. Or schedule a longer phone call for the weekend as something to look forward to when your time is more flexible.
- Schedule a time each week when you will write a letter or postcard (yes, receiving snail mail is special to folks!) to your younger sibling or grandmother or another person you are missing. You can also send e-mail, but it does not have the same special quality for the receiver.
- If you are missing being around children, hang out for an afternoon with a law student who has children and enjoy that family's little ones.
- If you are missing your pet, ask fellow law students if you can play fetch with the family dogs or love up on their cats.
- Volunteer once a week in your law school community to make a connection in your new town. You will meet new people and feel that you are contributing to your new environment.
- Join a church, synagogue, or other religious group in your new community to fill the void you feel because you no longer are near your home group.
- Set up a routine that mimics your home routine: go to the recreation center at your university, look for a karate studio in your new city, play a pick up basketball game with fellow law students.
You do not want to overextend yourself with too many activities. However, you also do not want to isolate yourself. Find ways to have reasonable outlets in your law school environment.
Setting up a routine time management schedule to use your time efficiently and effectively can help you see where you can become involved without feeling guilty. If you need help with time management, contact the academic success professional at your law school for assistance. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Every year, I have a handful of first-year students who do not utilize ASP because they believe that it is only intended for students for whom "something is wrong." They think (or, more precisely, fear that others think) that ASP is for students who don't understand the law, or haven't slept in a week, or have a recurring dream where they are naked in class and the professor is beaning them with copies of the Restatement.
They are not wrong to think that ASP is primarily targeted at struggling students. ASP is usually built around specific programs targeted at students who have already "failed" at one indicator or another (low LSAT, low GPA, failed exams).
The problem is that the perception of ASP as a program for students who can't quite make it means that some students who could greatly benefit from ASP services are not taking advantage of them. They believe either that they "get it well enough" (a common feeling for weak first-year students in the fall) or they are embarrassed to come. In the past, some struggling students have told me that they feel there's something shameful about using ASP. One of the ways I've tried to fight against this problem is to work on "de-pathologizing" struggle in the first year.
The first year of law school should be a struggle. It should stretch students' minds. Law school asks them to think deeply and critically, forces them to analyze all that they think they know, and requires them to participate in class in an utterly new pedagogical style. The question that law school thrusts upon first year students is: How do you know what you think you know? This is not just a matter of learning to think like a lawyer. For some students, it can call into crisis their entire worldview. Of course they struggle. They must struggle, because it's in the struggle itself that thoughtful, critical thinking is born.
We tell them that law school is difficult and that they will think in new ways, study more hours, and do more work than they might have done before in their educational careers. Despite this, some students still seem to get the message that there is something wrong in needing help in that struggle. Perhaps it comes from their peers, or perhaps it's a result of the ease and success they had in undergraduate school. Perhaps it's a message from the larger culture and the image of what a "smart and successful" lawyer should look like. But wherever they are getting it from, the belief that struggling with law school is a sign of weakness is compounding their difficulty.
This year, I have made a great effort to not say things along the lines of "If you're not getting this for some reason..." or "If you need my help..." I have also tried to present coming to workshops, going to tutoring, and seeing me individually simply as something that successful law students do as part of their routine. I think it's worked -- I've had over 100 students at every workshop, and I've had to switch rooms for tutoring because of overflow issues. I've also been emailing as many students as I can to ask them to meet me individually to look over outlines or do sample questions. I've let them know in that email that they aren't being targeted for any other reason than that they were the next name on my list. Finally, I employ 18 tutors, all of whom are in the very top of the class. In hiring the tutors this year, I made sure that as first-year students each of them came to every ASP workshop and went to all of the tutoring sessions available. That way, I can simply point at the very successful tutors and say, "They came to everything -- they utilized services -- nothing was 'wrong' with how they were doing in law school -- they just realized ASP was a good idea -- and look how things turned out."
Luckily, I don't think this perception affects a majority of students. However, year after year, a majority of first-year students who get in serious trouble didn't use ASP when it could have helped them. Consequently, whatever small things I can do to reach students who might not have used ASP are worthwhile. [Alex Ruskell]
Sunday, September 15, 2013
The Socratic Method is probably the most feared and most maligned aspect of law school. Fortunately, most professors sincerely use the Socratic Method to improve learning. Unfortunately, a very few professors purposely misuse Socratic Method to humiliate or terrorize students and to make themselves feel superior.
A professor can make the questioning more effective as a learning tool by keeping the following points in mind:
- Students have different reactions to Socratic Method dependent on their learning styles. Students who are talking learners or active thinkers may feel less intimidated because they learn by discussion and asking questions. Students who are listening learners or reflective thinkers may be more nervous because they prefer to not speak in class and think about material without interaction with others. Also the students who process with the opposite styles from the professor will at times get flustered because they may not understand the professor's approach to questions; they are well-prepared but organize their thoughts differently.
- Building a series of questions that a particular student answers by beginning with relatively easy questions before proceeding to harder questions will allow the student to gain confidence with some on-target answers before the challenging steps.
- Rephrasing a question if a student seems stumped rather than merely repeating the question again will allow a student who found the phrasing of the question to be confusing to realize what the professor is asking. Merely repeating the same words is often unhelpful in moving the conversation forward.
- Realizing that your multiple questions to a student who is having trouble may be misperceived by the student can suggest another approach. You may be trying to help that student sort out the material and to guide the student to understanding. However, the student may feel that the experience is akin to being turned on a spit over an open fire. By using positive prompts, you can make the experience less stressful. "Good first step, but let's look again at the next step." "Good argument, but let's back up and see how you got there." "You are on the right track, but broaden your issue statement beyond the very specific facts in this case." "That is a paraphrase of the rule, give me a more precise in the rule statement."
- Introduce your series of questions to give more context to the students before you start calling on people. They will understand better how the questions fit into the discussion and the level of analysis you are looking for in the series. "We have talked about each of the separate cases for today, but now let's try to synthesize the cases and see how they relate to one another and to today's topic."
Part of the problem with Socratic Method is that students do not know how to prepare effectively for the experience. Here are some hints for students to get ready for the Socratic Method:
- Recognize what questions the professor almost always asks about each case during class. Think about the answers to those standard questions during your class preparation.
- When reading for a continuing topic, think about the topic-specific questions that the professor has been asking and be prepared to answer those topic-specific questions.
- Before the class, consider the case from 360 degrees. In addition to understanding the case deeply (its separate case brief parts and details), consider the case more broadly (how does it fit with the other cases read for that day and into the larger topic).
- Practice explaining the case and answering your professor's standard and topic-specific questions aloud. Talk to an empty chair, your dog, or a very understanding friend. You will have more confidence when called on if you have rehearsed your answers. If you cannot explain the case to an empty chair, then you do not understand it well enough to explain it to your professor in front of others. Re-read the case sections that you did not understand or reflect more deeply on the case and try your explanation and question answers again.
- When the professor calls on other students, answer the question silently in your head. Compare your answer to what the other student says and what the professor indicates. As you realize you are usually right, it will give you greater confidence for when the professor calls on you.
- When called on, think about the question asked and take a deep breath before answering. Many mistakes are made because students blurt out something they immediately realize is wrong or answer a different question than actually asked.
- If you do not understand the question, ask the professor to rephrase it. If you do not hear the question, ask the professor to repeat it.
- Remember that many questions in law school do not have right answers. There are many questions that seasoned attorneys disagree on about the answers. You need to approach the questions with the realization that "it depends" may be the reality and make the best arguments possible.
- View Socratic Method as a learning opportunity: how to think on your feet; how to improve your analysis; how to find out what you overlooked and need to notice in the next case; how to get over your fear of speaking in front of others.
- Remember that most people in class are not judging you when you are the student called on for Socratic Method. About a third are relieved it was not them. About a third are looking ahead frantically because they realize their turns are coming up. About a third are busy taking notes and looking for the answers.
- Every lawyer I know has at least one or more stories to tell about their own experiences with Socratic Method. You are highly unlikely to get every question right. You will likely blank out once or twice even when prepared. You will misunderstand the question at times. It is all part of the learning experience. Do not dwell on your mistakes. Instead learn from them and move on.
- If your professor uses expert panels on assigned days or only calls on you once per semester, do not stop reading and preparing for class because you will not be called on that day. Always read and prepare for class because your deeper understanding of the material depends on it. Slacking off will only get you lower grades.
- Be courteous regarding your professor's and classmates' time. If you are unprepared because your child went to the emergency room or you became ill, let the professor know before class so time is not wasted calling on you. If you pass, realize that you are probably going to be called on the next class and be prepared.
Accept the challenge of Socratic Method and do your best. Law school will be far less stressful if you can get into the spirit of learning from the technique rather than seeing the experience as an illustration of your success or failure. Intelligence is not a fixed commodity - a mistake leads to improvement and later success. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, July 22, 2013
Sunday, July 21, 2013
It rained steadily in West Texas for three different days last week! Hooray - a dent in the drought for our gardeners and cotton growers. Lubbock even made the national Weather Channel coverage - usually only happens when we deal with sky-reddening massive dust storms. Lots of folks had forgotten the routines to deal with rain and left their umbrellas, rain hats, or raincoats home on the first day.
Why this title and mention of rain? I am talking to a fair number of bar studiers and summer school students who are feeling as though it is stormy weather for them under a deluge of material. Here are some of the reasons:
- The bar exam dates are drawing perilously close.
- Bar studiers are concerned about their scores on practice questions.
- For many bar studiers, there is still too much to learn in what seems too little time.
- Summer school students are beginning to realize how fast a 5-week summer session goes by.
- Many summer school students are juggling part-time jobs with studies and feeling stretched too thin.
- Students with spouses, children, significant others, elderly parents, or other responsibilities beyond school are pulled in multiple directions.
When summer school students and bar studiers get focused on the negative deluge instead of grabbing their umbrellas, they can stress themselves out and become overwhelmed. Here are some tips to remember that the apparent deluge is really just a bunch of individual raindrops:
- Prioritize the tasks that need to be done instead of considering everything as equal.
- Decide how each task can be completed for the wisest use of time and the most results.
- Focus on one small task at a time and then move on to the next rather than getting caught up in the overview of everything.
- Remember that the goal is to learn from one's mistakes on practice questions - the learning avoids a mindless repetition of mistakes.
- Give credit for what has been learned well, is going right, and has pulled together to balance out one's negativity.
- Stop obsessing over the "should haves" or "could haves" - what is done (or not done) cannot be changed; focus on what can still be controlled now.
- Ask family and friends for patience, encouragement, and help with non-study tasks that would usually be shared (cooking, cleaning, child care).
- Get on a regular sleep schedule of at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night - life looks a lot less stormy when one is well-rested.
- If work is also being juggled, consider whether hours can be reduced for the rest of the summer session.
Whether the bar exam is the stressor or summer school, realize that perfection is not needed. One needs to do the best one can under one's circumstances. Persevere and do not get psyched out and defeated. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Remember the awkwardness of middle-school and high school dances if you weren't attending as half of a couple? Males stood on one side while the females hung out on the opposite side of the gym. To walk across the divide to ask for a dance was intimidating. And mortifying if you got turned down flat under the watchful eyes of everyone else.
Some students had the herd instinct and stuck with a group of other unattached attendees. At best they would get out on the dance floor en masse. At worst they would chat with friends while being among the non-selected.
I was thinking today about how so many things in law school echo back to those days of social uncertainty. (For some, college was no better; however, most felt a bit more daring and socially adept by then.)
For example, you are herded into an auditorium during Orientation with hundreds of other new 1Ls and expected to get acquainted or at least fit in somehow. There may have been a major welcome luncheon on the first day. If seats were not assigned by section, then the undergraduate friends who are now attending law school together clumped into little groups at the tables, secure in having "dance partners." Everyone else felt as though a flashing, neon sign with an arrow exclaimed "unpaired." If seating was by sections, then at least the unfamiliar 1Ls at the table knew they had something vague in common and could swap rumors about their professors and courses.
Socratic Method is a bit like a dance invitation - except you really shouldn't take the option of turning down the professor (pass is not any more exceptable than no thanks). And at times students feel they are trying to follow their professor dance partner without any idea of the dance, let alone the actual steps. Some professors are strong leaders - question by question as they show students the steps and lead them through the analysis. Others seem to whip you around the dance floor until you are dizzy. A few others even step on your toes so to speak as they point your errors out to the class. Only a few students are brave enough to venture out on the dance floor by volunteering.
Then there is the legal research and writing dance. One is supposed to learn the steps to an alien type of analysis and writing by doing it. For those with two left feet in legal analysis and legal writing style, learning by doing seems totally unhelpful. Research paths are supposed to be dance lessons for research, but some students are improvising too much to end up with the correct moves. Arguing both sides of the issue seems a lot like not being able to decide who should lead. And then second semester appellate briefs feel a lot like doing choreography before one knows all of the dance steps and appropriate rhythms.
Sections help with the herd instinct because you are all in it together. Then with 2L and 3L years, everyone scatters to different courses, certificate programs, dual degrees, and student organizations. Many law students find themselves in new courses with new professors and law students from other sectioins or upper-division students that they don't know except as vague faces in the halls. They have to decide whether to stay alone in the experience or turn to other students and ask "Do you wanna dance?" (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
With the stress at the end of the semester, I am seeing more students make poor decisions because they have misplaced their common sense. Here are some things that students all know but tend to overlook when overwhelmed:
- Attend classes and prepare for them. Skipping class to gain more study time may mean that you miss important information about the exam or the wrap-up of major topics for the course. Not reading and briefing in order to save time only mean that you have the gist of the course without real understanding.
- Avoid spending lots of time organizing to study rather than actually studying. If a clean desk, organized bookshelves, and a code book with a thousand colored tabs do not increase your actual learning, you have been inefficient (used time unwisely) and ineffective (gotten minimal or no results).
- If you are sick, go to the doctor and follow the doctor's advice. Multiple negative repercussions follow from coming to school sick and refusing to get medical attention: you infect others with your illness; your illness becomes more debilitating than it should; you ultimately lose more class and study time than you would have with prompt treatment.
- Get enough sleep; do not get less sleep during the remaining weeks of the semester. Without sleep, your body and brain do not work well. You absorb less material, retain less material, zone out in class or while studying, and are generally less alert.
- Eat regular and nutritious meals; do not skip meals to save time. Your body and brain need fuel to do the studying you have to do. Dr. Pepper and Snickers bars are not a balanced diet. Neither are pizza and soda.
- If you have an emergency during the exam period, tell the academic dean or registrar. You may be eligible for delayed exams because of the circumstances (medical illness, family illness, death in the family). Most law schools have procedures/policies dealing with emergencies and will work with students who have exceptional circumstances.
Take time to use your common sense to help you make wise study and personal decisions during these last few weeks of the semester. Do not put yourself at a disadvantage by blindly taking action fueled by panic - think about the consequences of your choices. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, April 7, 2013
The end of the semester is approaching at break-neck speed right now for most students. A common lament is that there is not enough time to get everything done before exams. Students are frantically working on papers and assignments while trying to find time for extra final exam studying.
Here are some ways to carve out time when you feel that you have none:
- Look for time that you waste during each day and corral that time for exam studying or writing papers: Facebook or YouTube or Twitter time; e-mail reading and writing; cell phone time; chatting with friends in the student lounge. Most people fritter away hours on these tasks.
- Become more efficient at your daily life tasks: prepare dinners in a slow cooker on the weekend to heat up single servings during the week; wear easy maintenance clothes to save ironing/dry cleaning tasks; pack your lunch/dinner to take to school instead of commuting time to eat at home; clean the house thoroughly once and then merely spot clean and pick up. You can garner ample study time if you cut down on these types of daily tasks.
- Curb excessive exercise time, but do not give up exercise time entirely. Your normal gym workout of two hours five times a week is most likely a luxuary at this point in the semester. Cut it back to two times a week or make it one hour three times a week. The guideline for exercise is 150 minutes per week. You need to focus on strengthing your brain cells rather than your abs right now.
- Consider getting up earlier each day, but do not get less than 7 hours of sleep per night. If you tend to sleep in on weekends and days when you do not have early classes, you are losing productive study time. Go to bed at the same time Sunday through Thursday nights and get up at the same time Monday through Friday mornings; do not vary the schedule more than 2 hours on the weekends. You will be more alert and better rested if you have a routine.
- Decide whether you could study an hour or two longer on a Friday or Saturday night if you currently end at 5 or 6 p.m. You want some down time, but may be able to go a bit longer than previously in order to gain more study time.
- Set up a schedule so that you delineate for each day when you will read/brief or outline for each of your courses. Then repeat the tasks at the same days/times each week. You will waste less time asking yourself what to do next.
- Break tasks down into small pieces. Small pockets of time (under an hour) can then be used effectively to complete tasks. You may be able to study a subtopic for a course in 20 minutes but would take 3 hours for the whole topic. Any forward movement is progress!
- Use windfall time when you gain unexpected time: a class is cancelled, your friend is late picking you up, a meeting ends early.
Instead of getting overwhelmed by everything you have to do, take control of your time. Conquer each course one task at a time. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Several law students have recently bemoaned the pettiness and spitefulness of other law students. It is not uncommon in the midst of the competition and the quest for superiority that some law students denigrate others' intelligence or abilities or accomplishments. They think the put-downs show their own competence and lessen the other person's worth. They want to sabotage their competition with mean remarks.
In truth, the inferior ones are the law students who feel compelled to make such remarks, to taunt other law students, and to tout their own superiority. They are simply not nice people. And if it were not for the self-contained environment of the law school, everyone could easily avoid them.
Too often law students react to these toxic people in ways that encourage them rather than short-circuit their venom. Onlookers will snicker to feel accepted by these toxic students or to cover up their own insecurities. The fawning snickerers should beware; toxic law students don't have loyalty to anyone except themselves. One slip and the fawner today can be the target next week.
Other law students stand by silently and say nothing even though they know the behavior is unacceptable. They don't want to get involved. They don't want to tell the toxic law student to apologize or to leave the other person alone. They could counter the snide remark with a positive one to the student who has just been put down. Or they could even befriend the student who is the target.
How sad that the people who are some day going to be officers of the court and supposedly uphold justice and protect the vulnerable are so unwilling to act professionally during law school. The toxic ones will probably turn into the arrogant partners who bully new associates and paralegals. The fawners will continue to be spineless ingratiators in practice. The silent onlookers will continue to not take a stand once they are admitted to the bar.
Fortunately, there are some law students who know the difference between right and wrong and will come to the defense of others. Instead of fuming later, they will intervene at the time. They will be polite, even diplomatic, but stand up for what is appropriate behavior among professionals.
Some law students will likely comment that nothing can be done and that it is just the way law school is. However, each law student's individual actions can impact the atmosphere of a law school. If each person who does not like the toxic behavior that develops in law schools were to oppose that behavior, law schools would be less stressful places for everyone. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
It is hard for law students to realize sometimes that they are privileged. When the reading becomes overwhelming, the outlines are not going well, mid-term grades are lower than desired, and job prospects for summer or after graduation look bleak, it is easy to become discouraged and negative.
At the times of discouragement, students need to remember that they are studying for a profession that has a long history of making a difference in people's lives every day. Law school can be overwhelming and frustrating and challenging. It is not a perfect environment by any means. The job market is not as robust as it used to be, and job hunts take more initiative and diligence. But if one does persevere in law school, bar study, and the job hunt, the legal profession provides the opportunity to impact individuals and society.
When law students lose perspective on why they came to law school and what they hope to accomplish with a law degree, they need to look at the world outside the law school fishbowl. There are thousands of people in every part of this country who would love to have the opportunity to have an education - let alone a graduate education, to focus on learning , and to enter a profession some day. They are too busy with daily survival, however, to have those luxuries. They are worried about the next meal, a roof over their heads, or protecting their children from violence. They are wondering how to get access to justice for themselves and their families.
The study of law is not for everyone. The legal profession is not a good match for everyone. It is okay if a law student would prefer to pursue another degree in business or music or anthropology or some other discipline. It is equally okay if a law student would prefer not to be in school at all and instead work full-time.
If the decision is to stay in law school and pursue the law degree, then it is important to realize the privilege of that choice. When it gets tough, remember the impact a lawyer can have. Persevere through the hard courses; study with purpose; prepare to be the best lawyer possible. There are people out there who need help in their daily survival, and they need each law student to be focused on being the lawyer who will have that impact in their lives.
Have an attitude of gratitude for the opportunity to pursue a law degree, for the chance to make a difference through our profession, and for the people who will allow each new lawyer to touch their lives. When discouraged, look beyond the moment to the future that awaits. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, December 27, 2012
I spent seventeen years in my first career working with undergraduate and graduate students. Then after graduating law school as a non-traditional student and practicing for some years, I decided to return to higher education and combine my education and law backgrounds. Those earlier years in my student affairs career have certainly held me in good stead in my current ASP work.
For most of the years in my first career, I was involved not only with academic dismissals but also with disciplinary cases and, towards the end, with Honor Council cases. I was the one who investigated cases, presented at administrative hearings, and counseled dismissed students.
Part of my discussions with students focused on their behaviors (actions or lack of actions), consequences, rules, integrity, maturity, self-discipline, etc. I always wanted students to learn from the situations so they could avoid future problems. This aspect of my work was really more about the head - how to think through situations, how to see alternative courses of action, how to understand societal norms, how to implement different study strategies for success, how to behave differently, or whatever matched the circumstances.
No matter how difficult the student had been during the process of an academic dismissal or a discipline/Honor case, I always tried to add a second part to the discussion. I switched to the heart by focusing the end of a discussion on how the student was coping with the results (suspension, possible readmission later, permanent dismissal), how the student was dealing with the legal process if there was one when disciplinary actions applied (we took administrative actions first because too many lawyers had played around with court continuances in order to go beyond a graduation date or a transfer when we previously waited), whether the student had told their parents/spouse/others, and what the student's plan of action was for the future.
Why did I spend the time switching from head to heart matters? Because no matter what a student had done, the student was still a human being. Once we had dealt with the head matters, the student was still often dealing with the heart matters all alone. Most students had not told family or friends that they were in academic or disciplinary or Honor Council trouble. Most students had hoped to the last moment (often unrealistically) that a suspension or dismissal would not happen. Most students were without a game plan to deal with the worst outcome.
One thing I learned early on was that if I could look beyond the failures/behaviors to the person, the student left with a different attitude than if I stayed merely aloof and clinical. The student was more willing to take responsibility for the situation rather than blame the school, the administration, the student witnesses, the faculty member, or others involved. The student was more willing to look at the life lessons and consider change. The student was less likely to bad mouth the school to others later on in life.
By taking the time to treat the student as a person, to help the student decide the next steps, to listen to the fears, or to even role play how the student would tell family and friends, I allowed the healing to begin. I allowed the student to learn that one can recognize bad decisions the student made or disapprove of/censure behaviors but still treat the person with dignity. I let students know that someone cared about them even in unpleasant circumstances when many might say they got themselves into the situations.
At law schools, I think the head part of the process is sometimes focused on totally, and the heart process is ignored. Students from various law schools around the country have told me about getting only an academic dismissal letter and not being given an appointment to discuss it. Students have told me about being told they are "not good enough" or do not have "the right stuff" to be in law school. They have told me about comments suggesting they will be failures in life because they could not meet law school academic standards. The stories have come from students at both public and private law schools, at law schools in every tier, and law schools in different parts of the country.
Our profession has begun to recognize that there are "soft skills" that attorneys need and that the human element does have merit in the legal process. I hope that we can regularly recognize the same need for the human element at our law schools when we deal with the multitude of conduct and academic problems that students are involved in during law school.
As professional schools, we definitely need to maintain standards of conduct, integrity, and academics. But we also need to maintain those standards while treating others as human beings during the processes.
Few of our students are dismissed under circumstances so egregious that they are incapable of being productive and worthy members of society. If we model combining head and heart in unpleasant circumstances, we treat students with dignity and provide a lesson that will resonate throughout their lives about how to treat others. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Sleep is essential. Most law students short themselves on enough sleep. Rather than allowing them to get more done, less sleep actually decreases their learning.
Here are sleep facts:
- If a person gets less than 7 hours of sleep consistently, the medical diagnosis is chronic sleep deprivation.
- The average person needs 7-8 hours of sleep per night to function optimally.
- Some people need more than 8 hours of sleep for medical reasons or other circumstances.
- The body and brain work best with a consistent sleep routine - going to bed (Sunday through Thursday nights) and getting up (Monday through Friday mornings) at the same time.
- On the weekends, you can vary the sleep schedule 2-2 1/2 hours without whacking out your body clock for the rest of the week (go to bed at 1 a.m. instead of 11 p.m. and get up at 9:30 a.m. instead of 7:00 a.m., for example).
- Having a consistent sleep schedule will cause you to get sleepy as bedtime approaches and to wake up a few minutes before the alarm goes off.
- The average person needs 3 hours to complete a full sleep cycle.
- If you wake up with less than 90 minutes before your alarm will go off, you are probably better to get up than go back to sleep because your sleep cycle was interrupted at an inopportune point and result in grogginess if you go back to sleep.
- Sleep inducers before bed: warm milk, a lavendar bubble bath, at least 1/2 hour of wind down time.
- Sleep inducers once in bed: a dark room, a quiet room, lack of electronic gadgets in the bedroom (television, computer, etc.).
- Sleep inhibitors: alcohol, caffeine, a large meal near bedtime, exercise too close to bedtime, electronic stimulation right before bed (television, computer, etc.).
- Realize that if you wake up during the night that it is not unusual to take 15 minutes to fall back to sleep - do not stare at the digital alarm clock waiting to go back to sleep.
- If you wake up during the night with worries that you will forget something, keep a pad and pen on the nightstand and capture your thoughts - it will be easier to go back to sleep.
- If you toss and turn for a long period and cannot get back to sleep, get up and go to another room and read something boring before you try to go back to bed.
- A consistent sleep routine will eliminate the need for excessive napping.
- Power napping of 5-30 minutes can refresh some people.
- Naps of more than 20-30 minutes actually make you more groggy.
- Sufficient sleep has the following benefits:
- Increased focus when studying.
- Increased retention of material.
- Greater productivity within the time spent studying.
- Decreased irritability and stress.
- Weight loss.
Getting the proper number of ZZZZ's is very important. Do not skimp here if you want to be alert, focused, and learning-ready. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, October 18, 2012
We are on the downward slope of our semester now. The midpoint in classes for our law school passed last week. The level of stress among students has increased as has the level of negativity. It takes a stout constitution to stay focused on the postive instead of getting mired down in the negative.
Here are some suggestions to help students accentuate the postive:
- Remember why you came to law school and keep those reasons in mind. Law school was the pathway for meeting a goal. If that goal is still valid, then law school is still valid.
- Realize that you can only control yourself and your time. You cannot control other law students who are super-competitive, moaning and groaning, irritable, or stressed.
- Realize that you are not going to like every other law student any more than if you chose 700 (or however many law students are at your school) random people and put them together. Some people will be unlikeable, gossipy, childish, lazy, mean or have some other negative trait. That is life. Do not paint the other nice people with a broad brush that condemns everyone.
- Remove yourself from negative situations. Avoid people who stress you out, focus on doom and gloom, and complain constantly. Refuse to become engaged in conversation with someone who wants to boost his own ego at your expense by attempting to make you feel less capable.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Seek out law students who are supportive of fellow students, who have a balanced approach to law school, and who are focused on doing well while still being nice people. Talk on the phone each day with supportive family and friends.
- Avoid "should of" statements. You cannot change the choices you made earlier in the semester about outlines, study habits, and more. You can change how you move forward with your studying. Focus on positive changes rather than past bad decisions.
- Break down assignments into smaller tasks so that the work becomes less overwhelming. You can cross off small tasks more quickly and feel a sense of accomplishment.
- Make a list of the questions that you have about the material for each course. Get the questions answered now rather than later. You will feel better if you are not as worried about things you do not understand. Get help from a classmate or your professor.
- Avoid exaggerating your concerns about a course or task. "I am clueless about Federal Income Tax" is much more negative than "I do not understand depreciation." "I'll never get my outlines done" is much more damaging to your confidence than "I will get two outlines done this weekend and two by the following weekend."
- Make sure you have some down time from studying and take care of yourself. Take a dinner break. Exercise at least three times a week. Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Take a couple of nights off on the weekend.
A full-time law student should be able to get all study tasks (reading, briefing, outlining, finishing assignments/papers, reviewing for exams) done in 50-55 hours per week. That still leaves time to have a life outside of law school. If you use your time wisely, you will feel more positive about law school because you will see that you are getting everything done and having guilt-free time for yourself. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, September 24, 2012
Too much to do. Too little time. Too few resources. These phrases are often familiar to ASP'ers who juggle a wide range of duties under their job descriptions.
So, if your week has been extremely hectic and you are wishing that the weekend started today:
- Close your eyes. Breathe in deeply and exhale deeply. Count each time you exhale. Breathe in, Exhale, 1, etc. Repeat to a count of 10.
- Close your eyes. Concentrate on breathing deeply. Repeat a positive word over and over to yourself. Repeat until you feel relaxed.
- Close your eyes. Breathe in deeply to the count of 6. Exhale deeply to the count of 6. Repeat until you feel relaxed.
- Sit up straight. Scrunch your shoulders up towards your ears and hold. Release. Repeat until you feel your muscles relax.
- Rotate your neck gently and slowly to the right, back, left, forward. Repeat until you feel your neck muscles relax.
- Stretch your legs out in front of you and held several inches off the ground. Gently rotate your feet together in a circle to the right. Stop. Gently rotate your feet together in a circle to the left.
- Close your eyes. Picture a favorite place in your mind (beach, forest, country lane). Slowly "walk around" in the scene and savor the sounds, sights, and sounds. Relax and enjoy being in that scene.
Savor your few minutes break. Finish out your day and enjoy the weekend. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, September 21, 2012
This week on the Balance in Legal Education listser, Larry Krieger at Florida State University School of Law provided a link to a website that may be of interest to ASP'ers. I have included Larry's listserv post below. Thank you, Larry, for the resource. (Amy Jarmon)
"FSU (main university, not the law school) just distributed this link, which connects to many, many fascinating people and topics regarding ‘contemplative practices’ (and education). The scope is broad, depending on the links selected – broad in the sense of practices included (meditation, contemplation, reflection, mindfulness, dance, writing, etc.) and ways of integrating such into a course or program for students. These are all eminently qualified educators and professionals, with quite different (but not inconsistent) approaches and perspectives. Enjoy. Larry
Thursday, September 6, 2012
A number of the 1L questions that I posted earlier are at least in part related to time management. Initially reading and briefing take so much time that 1Ls cannot comprehend how they will get done everything that they hear about: outline, review for exams, do practice questions, complete legal research and writing assignments, and more.
The answer is to have a routine that is repeated every week - do the same thing on the same day at the same time as much as possible. By having a standard schedule with study blocks for each task for each course, a law student can make sure that everything is getting done. A standard routine takes the guess work out of "What should I do next?"
Most new law students have never had to manage their time. They were able to get excellent grades with little effort. We know from national surveys that most of them did not study more than 20 hours per week in college and many of them studied far less. They could decide most days as they went along what they felt like doing. They could write papers at the last minute and get good grades. They rarely (if ever) studied on the weekends. And they got good grades while working and participating in leadership positions in numerous organizations.
Here are the basic steps for students who want to set up a study routine for the first time:
- Plan to spend 50-55 hours per week beyond class time for full-time studies and 35-40 hours per week for part-time studies.
- Initially set up a weekly schedule template with one-hour blocks from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. The final schedule may not use all of these time slots, but the extra slots help when first building a schedule. Eliminate any hours in the template that are not used. in your final schedule.
- Label all task blocks in the schedule with the what the time is alloted for in the block (examples: read torts; read contracts; writing assignments; meal; sleep).
- Build a time management schedule in layers so that you can make conscious decisions as you put in each layer.
- Layer One: put in your classes and any weekly review sessions that your law school provides for 1L students.
- Layer Two: include 1/2 hour review either before your class or before bed the night before the class so you have seen the material twice; back-to-back classes would mean 1/2 hour for each class.
- Layer Three: decide when you will get up (at minimum so you can get to school for your first 1/2 hour review and class); get up at the same time Monday through Friday even if your class times change.
- Layer Four: decide when you will go to bed Sunday through Thursday nights to get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep (less and you are chronically sleep-deprived according to the medical research).
- Layer Five: include true commitments that are the same every week (dinner with Auntie Em on Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m.; religious service at 5:00 p.m. Saturdays; study group 2-4 p.m. on Fridays); do not include things that you want to do but have time flexibility for (exercise that is not an actual class time).
- Layer Six: estimate for each class how long it takes you to prepare for class for one day (reading, briefing, problem sets, etc.) for the longest or hardest assignments; if necessary, keep a log for a week so you can make more realistic estimates regarding the time blocks; schedule in your class preparation time - if possible, prepare for Monday and Tuesday classes over the weekend.
- Layer Seven: schedule 6-8 hours per week for any paper/project course; you decide which number and the increments (for example, 7 hours: 2 + 2 + 3).
- Layer Eight: add weekly time to outline for each doctrinal class; 1 - 1 1/2 hours depending on the difficulty of the course.
- Layer Nine: add exercise time, meals, down time, chores, and other miscellaneous tasks as they seem to fit logically in the schedule.
- Layer Ten: after you live with the schedule for 7-10 days, make any adjustments; allow more or less time for estimated blocks; move any task blocks to other days/times that work better.
- Layer Eleven: add time to review for exams (weekly read through of your entire outline; intense study of specific outline topics as though you had to walk into the exam; practice question time; memory drills).
Task blocks in the schedule can be moved up and down during the day if a task is completed earlier than expected. Task blocks can also be flipped between days if necessary. The task blocks are place markers to make sure that all study tasks are completed within the week. As long as all task blocks are completed, the student is on target and can have guilt-free down time. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Here are the most common questions that I have been getting from my first-year students during the opening weeks of the semester:
- Will it always take me so long to read and brief cases?
- What is the best way to remember all of the legal terms and definitions?
- How do I choose the critical facts from the many facts that are in the case?
- Why is it that my issue statement does not match the issue my professor wanted?
- Why is it that some professors do not seem to care much about procedure?
- What is the difference between a holding and a judgment/disposition?
- What do they mean when they talk about policy?
- Why do we read such old cases that are not even still good law?
- Do I need to know all this history and background stuff for the exam?
- What are these outlines that everyone is talking about all the time?
- Can I just use someone else's outline rather make my own?
- When do I need to start outlining for a course?
- How do I find time to outline when I barely have enough time to read and brief cases?
- What is an IRAC and how do we learn to do it?
- When should I start doing practice questions and how do I find them?
- How do I decide what study aids to use for a course?
- Why do we have to do legal research and writing when we already have enough to do with our other courses?
- Will I be able to have some down time when I do not have to study?
- When am I going to take naps?
- When am I going to watch my favorite television shows?
As you can see, the questions have covered the waterfront. I'll spend several upcoming posts answering some of these questions. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
I have spent the past three weeks teaching gifted 10, 11, and 12 year olds in Palo Alto, CA. I do this every summer, and I learn a lot from the kids. I teach college-level Model United Nations and Advanced Geography, and all the students are required to formally address the class about their nation's position on the issue involved in the simulation. This year, the class had a student who was terrified of public speaking. Her terror mirrored what I see in 1L's approaching moot court. I learned a great deal from this student as she overcame her fear and went on to be on the the class's strongest advocates.
1) Trust rules of procedure.
The student, who I will call A, learned that rules of parliamentary procedure were her friend. All students needed to follow the rules, so she knew what to expect when she was asked to speak. No one could yell out or distract her, or they would be violating the rules. While moot court doesn't use rules of parliamentary procedure, there are rules that protect the speaker. Many students with a fear of public speaking are afraid of public ridicule, and the rules associated with moot court prevent the heckling they fear.
2) Preparation will make you feel better.
A knew her position on the issues. She could answer any question. She knew she had done the research. Her paper was approved by two different teachers. These steps helped allay some of her fears that she would be asked a question that she could not answer. Some of her fear of public speaking was a fear of being caught off-guard. Preparation, and guidance, make a huge difference when a student fears public speaking.
3) Everyone makes mistakes.
A was not the first speaker, which allowed her to listen to her classmates before she had to speak. We asked her to listen for mistakes, because even the best, most fluid speakers make mistakes. When she saw that the mistakes did not mar the substance of most speeches, she was able to relax.
4) If you feel the ideas flying out of your head, stop talking. Take a deep breath. Start again.
When A realized that no one would heckle her if she forgot part of her speech, it calmed her nerves. But we still needed to reassure her that she could forget her speech, and she could take a second to regain her composure and resume speaking. She had a 60-second time limit on her speech (far less than most appellate arguments in moot court) but she still had enough time to take a deep breath and start again if she felt like she was losing control. Just the knowledge that she could take a second helped keep her calm during her first few speeches to the class.
For those of you who are thinking "but the stakes are SO much higher in law school," take a minute to recall being in middle school. This class was filled with super-competitive, ambitious, and gifted middle school students who have never failed at anything in their short lives. These students choose to take a college-level class during their summer vacation. The thought of making a mistake feels life-altering to them. Because they live in dorms while they take the class, they cannot escape from their peers. The fear that A felt is not much different from the fear felt by 1L's. (RCF)