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)
Sunday, April 30, 2017
Periodically I have discussions with law students about their struggles to cut back on or cut off entirely from the hold that social media has on their lives. They realize that they are spending inordinate amounts of time and damaging their productivity in law school. A post on Inside Higher Ed by a graduate student addresses this same issue and offers some insights on the difficulties and successes: Breaking Up With Social Media. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, April 27, 2017
"What I am going to tell you about is what we teach our physics students...It is my task to convince you to not turn away because you don't understand it. You see my physics students don't understand it...That's because I don't understand it. Nobody does."
- Dr. Richard P. Feynman, QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (Princeton : 1985)
Recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics - 1965
Students and teachers, let me ask a question:
Is it hard to learn, I mean really difficult, so much so that you aren't sure that you are getting it?
I went through law school thinking that I didn't learn anything because I didn't understand anything. And, it's true! I didn't understand anything! But, I did learn.
So, here's the truth. We don't have to understand it all to learn the law. Rather, true learning comes through realizing that we don't understand it all; that we have lots of unanswered questions; that we are puzzled and perplexed beyond belief. That's downright uncomfortable but that's learning for you!
However, that makes me worried, as a teacher, because I've started to think that I understand the law, that I understand legal analysis, that I understand how to carefully craft a persuasive legal argument.
But no one really understands the law. How could one?
When I start to think that I understand the law, I end up making it all so simple that what I am teaching or studying or reviewing no longer has any correspondence at all to reality. So, let's face the music. That's a grave error because life is not simple (and the law is all about disputes among real actual complicated live people).
So, as you prepare for your finals (and teachers as you reflect on your teaching), do yourself a big favor and be comfortable with uncertainty. Don't feel like you need to understand it all. Rather, jump into the materials; they are full of suspense and conflicts with puzzles abounding in all directions. And, that's a good thing because that's the life of the law. So, feel free to be honest with yourself and say that you don't understand it all. And, in the process, you'll have taken one mighty big step on the path to true learning! (Scott Johns).
Sunday, April 23, 2017
Multiple students this past week have told me about their symptoms of stress. We are nearing the end of classes and entry into exams at our law school. Here are some tips that may help students manage stress better:
- Put all exam dates/times, paper due dates, and other assignment due dates into a monthly planner so that you will not forget anything. If you are visual, use one of the whiteboard wall calendars at home. All those deadlines may look scary; but once you have nailed them down, you are ready to plan your priorities. You are gaining control!
- Decide what environment is most stress-free and productive for your study. If the law library makes you crazy because of others' stress or interruptions, do not study there. If you fall asleep on your bed or spend hours playing video games at home, do not study there. Consider new options: other academic buildings on campus, a coffeehouse or fast-food restaurant at non-busy hours, the business center at your apartment, a friend's house while the friend is at work.
- Avoid law students who want to moan and groan, complain about the work, make you feel insecure, etc. Their negative energy will drain you fast. Wish them good luck and walk away.
- Surround yourself with law students who are focused, productive, positive, and calm. Their can-do attitude and positive energy will help you stay focused, productive, and calm.
- Keep a running list for each course of any questions you have or areas of confusion. If a study aid or classmates cannot resolve the problem areas, take time each day to visit those professors to ask questions. You will be less anxious if you ask questions a few at a time, instead of storing them up for ten days.
- Mix up study activities to help you stay engaged. If you zone out and become passive, you are more likely to stress about what you just read but do not remember. You may want to switch courses every couple hours so you do not overdose on one subject. Or you may prefer to mix up tasks for the same course: outline review, discussion with a classmate, flashcards, more review, some practice questions, etc.
- Take planned breaks of 5-15 minutes every couple of hours. Your brain will keep filing information in the background while you take a walk outside, get a drink of water, etc.
- Listen to your body for clues: hungry, thirsty, cold, backache, etc. Take the 10 minutes to get a snack, walk to the water fountain, get your sweater out of the car, or complete a few stretches. If you ignore the signals, you will not be as focused because of the niggling distraction.
- Get enough sleep. Eat nutritious meals and exercise at least 150 minutes per week. Sounds counter-intuitive because you have too much to do in too little time? Your body and brain need rest and fuel to be productive in studying. Exercise is a great stress buster. You will need to have energy and focus when you walk into each exam.
- Ask someone to be your cheerleader until exams are over. It may be a spouse, friend, or parent. Each day spend 5 minutes on the phone or in person with that cheerleader giving you a pep talk.
- At the end of each day, write down 3 things you accomplished. Give yourself credit for those accomplishments.
- Think of two or three activities that you will do for fun after exams are over. Having some things to look forward to will help you stay motivated and positive.
You can do this! Just take it one minute, one hour, one day at a time. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
What could this old nursery rhyme have to do with law school?
It reminds us to take one step at a time to accomplish a task.
Huh? Well, think about it this way . . . .
Most law students right now are madly juggling a long list of tasks for multiple projects. They are preparing for class each day. They are finishing assignments or papers. They are keeping up with outlines. They are reviewing for exams. They are completing practice questions. And, they are doing all of these things for multiple courses at the same time.
Many of them are feeling scattered and a bit frantic. They dart from task to task and feel exhausted at the end of the day. They are losing sleep, eating junk food, and feeling overwhelmed.
And, they lament that there is no time to get everything done.
So, just as in the nursery rhyme, it is time to get organized, have a plan, and take one step at a time. Here is an approach that helps many students get control of exam review:
- For each exam course, list all topics with their subtopics that will be on the final exam. (Warning: The list will be long because it is subtopics, but they can be completed more quickly than whole topics.)
- Focus on learning and understanding the subtopics. (You will want some later time for practice questions, but understanding has to come first.)
- If you already understand any subtopics well enough that you could walk into the exam on those, highlight them on the list to show completion.
- For the remaining subtopics that you have already covered in class, estimate how much time you need to understand that subtopic well enough to walk into the exam. (Estimates may be minutes or hours depending on the subtopic's difficulty.)
- Total your subtopic estimates for the material already covered in class for each course. (You will complete estimates for additional subtopics as they are covered later in class.)
- Now compare your estimate totals for each course. You might have 12 hours for one, 15 hours for another, 20 hours for a third, etc.
- Your totals help you see proportionately how much time you should devote to each course to learn what you have already covered in the course.
- Schedule blocks of time each week to complete exam review to make progress on your estimated totals.
- There will be some subtopics that need little time and can be slipped in between classes, while you wait for dinner to cook, etc.
- As you complete each subtopic, remember to highlight it as completed.
- All progress is forward progress. Whatever you can get completed before the end of classes means less to learn during exam period.
What if you have a paper to write? You can make a similar list for specific tasks within larger categories: tasks for research, writing, editing, citations, grammar and punctuation, format OR by tasks for paper sections if you prefer.
Step back from the jumble that you feel your life represents right now. Organize small steps within the larger units. Then take it step by step: one, two . . . . (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, April 17, 2017
Eleanor Roosevelt stated, "Remember, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
Now is the time in the semester when many law students compare themselves to others in their classes and become discouraged.
- Mary got the highest grade on the midterm, and I was below the median.
- Bill aced the trial brief assignment, and mine was covered in comments.
- Annie gave a brilliant answer in class, and I could not even formulate a basic answer.
- Phil was amazing at the oral argument, and I fumbled every question.
And so it goes.
Why do law students make themselves miserable by comparisons?
- They may still be stuck mentally in undergraduate grading where 100% was always the achievable grading standard.
- They may be for the first time in a group of students who are as intelligent as they are - awesome, but scary.
- They may be struggling with how much work is required in law school after years of higher grades for less effort.
- They may base their self-worth on what others think of them instead of doing the best they can do.
Here's the thing to remember. You are you. You can only control yourself. You can only do the best work possible today under today's circumstances.
If today did not produce the results you wanted after doing your best, then let it go. Get up tomorrow and start again. Tomorrow you can implement strategies to improve your academics. You may not yet be where you want to be, but you can improve each day. You can reach your personal best.
Are you unsure how to improve on what you are doing? Visit the academic support professional at your law school and ask for assistance. Talk with your faculty member for help with a confusing topic. Ask a trusted classmate to discuss a case or a practice question with you.
Let's face it: law school is a fish bowl. You spend all day swimming in the same confined space with the same school of fish. It is too easy to focus on how well others are swimming. And, if the fish bowl has a couple of fish doing high dives off the lip of the bowl, it can be intimidating.
But rather than compare yourself to the other fish, practice your own strokes. Find a swim coach. There is still time to see improvement. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, April 6, 2017
It's gone "viral." Apparently it's the most watched graduation speech...ever. That's great news for our world because the subject was about changing the world for the better. So, here's the kicker, according to graduation speaker Admiral William McRaven (now chancellor at the University of Texas), it starts in the morning.
That' right. Start in the morning...with making your bed. You see, according to McRaven, it's the little things that matter because the little things add up to bigger things, and the bigger things add up to big things, and the big things, well, add up to great things (at least that's my paraphrase of his speech). So, when you make your bed in the morning, you've already taken one mighty little step to taking charge over the issues that you are about to confront that day. In short, even before you've reached school, you've demonstrated a success. And, success begets success.
That's particularly important in the study (and in the practice) of law. I heard a speaker today say that the issue with lawyers is that lawyers overthink. That made me think, of course, because I am a lawyer. I overthink everything. And, in my overthinking, I tend not to get moving because I don't know where to start. So, instead of concrete positive action in trying to change the world, I'm often stalled in my thoughts, which leads to worry. In short, I'm stymied, perplexed, and overstressed. But, it doesn't have to be that way, according to Adm. McRaven. If I just start each day with tackling a simple problem, I'll see progress. And, as I start to make progress, I start to feel more confident, to believe in myself, in tackling even more problems on the way to changing the world.
Let's bring this back to the classroom. In the study of law, we are so often afraid to "make our bed." What do I mean by that? Well, we spend way too much time overthinking the cases in our reading for classes that we never start using the cases to practice solving legal problems. We stay in bed. We hide under the covers. We don't move into the morning by working through hypotheticals, testing ourselves, seeing if we can figure out how to solve legal problems.
So, here's my suggestion:
Just start working on the little problems, the short hypotheticals. It doesn't have to be big gnarly essay questions. In fact, start small. But, start. Grab pen and paper along with your notes and take a stab at solving a practice problem. That will lead to solving bigger practice problems, which will increase your confidence to solve even more difficult problems. And then, before you know it, you'll be witnessing your own graduation...as a brand new problem-solving lawyer...and well-prepared to change the world for the better too! (Scott Johns)
P.S. Here's a video clip from part of the University of Texas speech: Step 1: If You Want to Change the World...
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
The Inside Higher Ed daily news update last week had a post that I thought might interest our readers: Trigger Warning: Academic Standards Apply. The author looks at the therapeutic and consumer models of higher education in response to a student's comment that academic standards cause stress and anxiety for students. The post resonated with me not only because of my observations about student perspectives on work, but also because of the observations made by Alex Ruskell, one of our Contributing Editors, in his post on March 3rd: Work Is a Four-Letter Word. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, March 9, 2017
It's the middle of the academic semester for most of us.
That often means midterm exams or filling out bar exam applications or working on that summer job hunt. In the midst of so much to do with so much competition for achieving success, it's easy to feel out of place. To be overwhelmed. To sense that I don't really belong in law school or that I can't succeed.
When that sort of self-doubt starts in, it's time to step back and gain perspective about who you are, your strengths, your character, and your purpose. You see, too often I am comparing myself against the wrong benchmark (others!), and, in doing so, I'm trying to be someone who I am not. And, that's mighty stressful because it is awful hard (i.e., impossible) to be someone else! So, instead of trying to measure success based on what others are doing, step back and get some perspective about who you are.
Not quite sure about how to get some perspective?
Well, there's a great video clip that illustrates the point quite well. It involves a boy struggling to hit a baseball. When it seems that all is lost, that he just can't manage to connect the baseball bat to the ball, he takes a pause...and...in that moment of pause...he realizes something brilliantly radiant about what he is good at. So, if you happen to feel like you are not quite hitting the mark in law school, take a moment to enjoy this short video clip. I promise, it will warm your heart and bring a smile to your face. And, in the process of taking a pause, you'll be reminded of a great truth -- that success is a matter of perspective (and not at all a matter of competition). http://www.values.com/optimism
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
We have passed the midpoint in classes now at my law school. This coming week is our Spring Break. A number of students have told me that they have paper drafts, midterms, presentations, or other projects due the week after Spring Break. Now that we are on the downward slope of the semester, more and more students are looking stressed.
I live in West Texas. It is a semi-arid, agricultural area - noticeable once you get beyond the city limits with all the non-indigenous trees and green lawns. When the cotton is not planted and covering the fields, the South Plains can look pretty stark. Flying over this region now will confront you with almost a lunar landscape effect: irrigation circles in the unplanted fields, a land-grant grid, canyons, and scrawny mesquite trees and brush.
And March winds. Lots and lots of winds. And dust blown up by those winds on some days. And enormous tumbleweeds blocking my driveway (my garage off a paved alley skirts a mesquite pasture).
And today, smoke from the wildfires approximately two hours to our north. I live on the southwest edge of town. When I left for work, the smell of smoke was slight in my house, but hit me as soon as I opened the garage door. The sky was an odd gray; the sun was orange behind the smoke. As I drove into campus (a 15-minute drive northeast), the smell of smoke became much stronger. The sun was now a strange yellow with blurred edges.
My thoughts turned to the folks farther north. To the first responders fighting the wildfires. To the farmers and cattlemen concerned about their land and herds. To the small towns that are potentially in the way if the winds kick up more and shift the wrong way.
In short, the stress and anxiety of law school are manageable in light of what could be happening in our lives. It is often hard in the fish-bowl environment of law school to remember the cares of the world outside our doors - our very insular academic world.
I hope my students regained their perspectives today. There are stress situations that are unpredictable and life-threatening. Law school stress may be self-imposed and can often be successfully managed with scheduling, curbing procrastination, and seeking help from many resources. Law school is tough. But life can be tougher. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, February 23, 2017
It’s a great time for you - as this week’s bar takers - to reflect, appreciate, and take pride in your herculean work in accomplishing law school and tackling the bar exam.
Let's be direct! Bravo! Magnificent! Heroic! 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.
Really? Not that hard?
Really? You know that I passed?
Really? 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 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 suggestion 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).