Thursday, November 19, 2015
With the increase in stress over exams right now for many law students, it is a good time to remind our readers about a website project sponsored by the Jed Foundation and the David Nee Foundation. The website is LawLifeline which contains articles and resources addressing law student stress. The link is: LawLifeline. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, November 9, 2015
The stress levels are rising each day as the end of the semester's classes and the exam period fast approach. Here are some suggestions for coping positively with that stress:
- Stay on top of your class preparation, but be efficient and effective about it. Go for understanding and not minutia. You will be more stressed if you cannot follow discussion in class because you stopped preparing. Remember also that the new class material will be on the exam.
- Focus on what you need to accomplish to prepare for your exams. You need to consider the difficulty of each course for you, the amount of material covered, how much review you have already completed, and your exam schedule. Listen to other people's strategies if you want ideas, but you need to decide your own strategies and time management.
- Focus on what you need to accomplish to finish any papers/projects that are due. Consider the length of the paper, amount of research left, writing tasks, editing tasks, etc. Talk to your professor if you are having difficulties and get any questions answered. Make a time management schedule specifically for paper/project tasks to keep you on target.
- Make a time management schedule for which course(s) you want to complete exam review for each day. If you have a plan, you will feel less stressed. Re-evaluate three times a day: at lunch time, at dinner time, and when you end a day's studying. Make a task list at the end of the day for the next day's exam review so you do not waste time deciding what to do with that time.
- If you know you have questions about material, meet with your professor to get answers as soon as possible. Avoid storing up all of your questions until the very end of classes; you will lower your stress by having confusion cleared up earlier rather than later.
- Balance your individual study time with study group time. Study partners/groups can be an awesome resource. But you still need to take the exam on your own. Make sure you understand the material and can answer practice questions by yourself as well. You will be less stressed if you are confident about your abilities.
- If studying at the law school is too stressful, find another place to study that will not increase your stress level. Try the main university library, another academic building on campus, an empty meeting room at the student union building, or the business center at your apartment complex.
- Curb your distractions. Wasting time whether with Facebook, Twitter, web surfing, texting, phone calls, games, TV, or chatting with friends in the student lounge is still wasting time. You will be stressed at the end of the day because you did not accomplish much. Use timers, employ apps that block websites, lock your TV in a closet and give the key to your neighbor, or whatever will work for you.
- Ignore the rumors that abound this time of year. Some law students start negative rumors to psych out their classmates. Others rumors are get passed down each year by upper-division students. Examples of crazy rumors I have heard in the past: A grades in Professor Whosits class are assigned alphabetically by last name so only A and B last names will get them; Section 2 is the easy section; Professor Whatsit always gives F grades to the bottom five people in the class.
- Stay away from people who stress you. Whether they stress you because they are freaking out or because they make remarks to cause you to doubt your abilities does not matter. Avoid them. Be polite, but do not get into discussions with them because you will only harm yourself by increasing your stress.
- Surround yourself with encouraging and positive people to lower your stress. If you cannot find some at your law school, then ask spouses, parents, non-law-school friends, other relatives, mentors, etc. to play that role for you. Phone one of your cheerleaders each day for an encouraging word.
- Choose 3-5 things that you can look forward to over the semester break. When you get stressed, remind yourself that it is just a few more weeks until you get those rewards for working hard now.
- Take care of yourself. Law school and life will be less stressful if you get proper sleep, eat healthy meals, and get 30 minutes of exercise at least 3-5 times a week.
You can do this! Manage the stress rather than letting it overwhelm you. Take one task at a time. Take one day at a time. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
It is the time of the semester when law students are getting tired. However, now is the time that focus and seriousness of purpose are even more important. Here are some tips for persevering in your studies:
- Vary your study tasks to break the monotony. Switch between tasks for the same course: read for class; update your outline; memorize some flashcards; complete a practice question. Or switch between courses every hour.
- Become more actively engaged in your study tasks. Ask questions about what you are reading. Read aloud to use inflection and tone to stay focused. Explain aloud what you just read to quiz yourself.
- Break your study tasks on your to-do list into small pieces to prevent being overwhelmed. Thirty pages of reading becomes six five-page chunks or the separate cases that are more manageable. Writing a paper becomes writing separate sections or two-page chunks. An hour of practice questions becomes separate questions to complete.
- Cross off each small task on your to-do list when it is completed. You will see progress more quickly which will motivate you more.
- If the small piece you have broken a task into still seems too overwhelming on a particular day, break it down even more: one page to read; one paragraph to write. It is getting started that is the hardest; once you start you will usually be able to keep going.
- Take short breaks to regain your focus. After 90 minutes, take a 10-15 minute break to give your brain a rest. Our brains continue to work in the background even as we take a break - think of it as their catching up on filing things away.
- Move around during your breaks: walk to the water fountain and back; walk around outside; stand up and stretch. Sitting and texting does not get your blood flowing.
- Give your brain a boost by eating an energy snack on your break if you are starting to slump. Think healthy snacks rather than sugar or caffeine: fruit, nuts, celery and carrot sticks, yogurt, granola bars.
- If you hit a wall mentally and cannot absorb anything else, take 2-3 hours off and do something that will give yourself a total break during which you cannot think about law school: go to the cinema; play racquetball; play with your children. Afterwards return to your studies with a fresh start.
- Agree with another law student to be an accountability partner. Help each other stay on track and make good decisions about priorities and time management. Support each other in positive study and life habits.
- Exercise 30 minutes for 3-5 times a week. It does not have to be a long gym workout to benefit you: walk, jump rope, run in place. By combining exercise with a meal break afterwards, you give your body and brain some extra time to revive.
- Watch your sleep routine. The temptation is to cut back on sleep to get more studying in. But when you are tired, you absorb less material, retain less material, and are overall less productive. Get 7-8 hours of sleep regularly.
- Avoid loading up on junk food. Your brain and body need healthy meals. Buy prepared foods in your grocery store. Use a slow cooker on the weekends to make entrees for multiple meals. Prepare a week's worth of mixed fresh fruit and other healthy snacks on the weekend.
Take one day at a time. Do the best you can with the circumstances that you have each day. Once the day is over, let it go. Do not dwell on "should haves," "could haves," and the like. Move on to the next day. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, September 10, 2015
Hat tip to my Texas Tech Law colleague, Natalie Tarenko, for forwarding the link for a WSJ article about understanding procrastination. You can find the article here: To Stop Procrastinating, Start by Understanding the Emotions Involved. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
We are now in our fourth week of classes. Professors have gone beyond introductions and have picked up the pace. When talking with my students, I find that those who have not become savvy about their individual courses and professors are much more anxious about the semester than their colleagues.
Each professor and course needs to be evaluated for information that can help the student prepare for class and approach the course with more confidence. Here are some tips for students who want to become "experts" on their professors' courses:
1. Read your syllabus again for more information about the course than you may have noticed on the first reading. The information gleaned can help you construct a framework for your learning. Your professor may not include all of these items, but many of them will likely be there:
- Does the professor indicate a particular approach or perspective that will be taken on the material?
- What are the learning outcomes or objectives for the course?
- What does the grading rubric tell you about emphases if there are multiple assignments or tests?
- What information is provided about specific assignments or tests you may have in the course so you can anticipate methods of preparation, time commitments, and expectations?
- What study aids or supplements are recommended by the professor for the course?
2. Consider your professor's classroom format carefully. Understanding how the class will unfold each time will help you prepare better for the classes.
- Does your professor format the class the same each time so that you can anticipate the coverage?: Example, starts with context from the last class, proceeds through each case separately, asks policy questions, discusses how the cases work together, asks hypotheticals.
- Does your professor have a template of questions used for each case discussion?
- Does your professor have other types of questions that are always asked? Example, policy, trends in the law, tracking justices' votes.
- Does the professor emphasize common law, restatements, codes, model rules, your own jurisdiction's law, or a combination of these?
- Does your professor emphasize notes and comments, questions at the end of cases/chapters, hypotheticals or problem sets in the casebook?
- Does your professor use Socratic Method, take volunteers, or some combination?
3. Consider your professor's teaching style carefully. Understanding the teaching style will assist you in preparing for class and using your learning styles appropriately for what you are responsible to learn outside of class.
- Does your professor preview material when you begin a new topic or summarize material at the end of topic - neither or both?
- Does your professor focus on individual cases at depth or discuss cases more broadly?
- Does your professor provide clear statements of law for you or expect you to extract them from the cases?
- Does your professor synthesize material across cases or subtopics or expect you to do so?
- Does your professor want you to understand the policies behind cases/statutes and the evolution of the law?
- Does your professor use PowerPoint slides, handouts, worksheets, visual organizers, video/audio clips, or other techniques to supplement the class?
- Is your professor willing to give feedback on your course outline or several practice questions?
You will be able to take more control over your studying as you gain greater understanding of your course and your professor's expectations. By being an expert on the professor's course, you build a framework within which to learn the material. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, August 31, 2015
This is the third and final installment of how to succeed in law school, advice from students. Below is advice compiled from my 1Ls from last year.
Filter Your Listening But Don’t Be Afraid to Talk:
Do not listen to other 1Ls. This will not be an easy task, many 1Ls think they are qualified to give advice to other 1Ls. They do not have any more experience than you, no matter how much they think they know. It will be very hard to tune out other 1Ls, but it is worth it. Instead, seek out 2 or 3L and professors. They literally have the roadmaps to success.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people when you’re stressing out ;) they will be able to help, and sometimes you can’t do it all on your own. Talk to the people sitting next to you in class, they may become your best friends. Talk to 2Ls about professors, test-taking, law school life, anything. They are a great resource!
Be willing to put in the work:
There are a lot of new concepts, which can be overwhelming, but try to stay on top of it all. If you don't understand something, ask your professors. And do this throughout the course, rather than waiting to the end. But the tricky part is that knowing the material is really only the first step. Knowing a rule isn't enough, you have to be able to apply the rules to tough fact patterns.
Everyone will walk out, mostly, knowing the material. Because of the curve (yes, the dreaded law school curve - yes, it is as horrible as it sounds) you need to be able to articulate the material and apply it better than your classmates. The only way to make that happen is through time. Realistically, the individuals who sink the most time into law school are going to be the ones with the best grades. Of course there are other considerations, work life balance, general test taking ability, etc. These also play a role, however the general trend is the more time, the better the results. You have to be the most dedicated and committed to come out on top.
Be Prepared for Class and Pay Attention:
Course supplements aren’t nearly as important to your performance on the final as is your ability to pay attention in class. Each professor teaches the material a bit differently, so it’s important to figure out the certain areas that your specific professor emphasizes.
If you really want to get good grades, do all of the reading, go to all of the classes, and pay attention in those classes. It seems like these things are so obvious, but I was really surprised last year by the number of my colleagues who didn't consistently do them.
I think if students are able to find the discipline to really make sure they always do what they're supposed to do, there's a good chance they'll do very well. Personally, I tried to think about law school as if it were a job. Showing up and doing the work was something I had to do, not something I could just blow off.
Do What Works for YOU:
There are a lot of extremely smart and well-spoken people in law school. During the first semester, I spent way too much time stressing myself about other peoples’ study habits and progress. I also wasted a lot of time trying to imitate some of their study habits, such as study groups and listening to audio recordings. I had never studied in this manner before, and it simply did not work with my learning style. Once I tuned out the other students, I was able to make more productive use of my time. Everyone learns differently! Find what works for you and stick with it.
At the end of spring semester one professor reminded us we are all incredibly special people who have rare and highly sought-after skills. For me this stood out because it's easy to forget this when you are constantly surrounded by other law students with similar skills. We are all incredibly gifted and we need to remember that.
Just because someone says to do something doesn't mean you should do it. Follow your gut and always do what is right for you. It is incredibly difficult to not feel obligated to do the traditional 1L activities like moot court competition journal write-on, but do your best to ignore these nagging feelings. Everyone is different and different approaches and experiences benefit different people in unique ways. Do not be afraid to go against the flow, but also don't be afraid to follow it.
Law school is demanding, and sometimes I found it difficult to maintain a healthy school-life balance. Although it is important to dedicate adequate time to learning the material, I think it is equally important to step away and allow yourself time to recharge! When I neglected to do this, I found I was much more stress and retained less information. There is no need to pull extreme hours in as long as you keep a consistent schedule throughout the semester and plan ahead. Do not feel guilty about taking a day off to catch up with your old friends or going home to visit your family for the weekend!
Take necessary breaks. Law school is extremely manageable, if you just use your time efficiently. With that being said, if you aren't focusing while doing work, take a break and do something fun. It is more efficient to work when you are focused than to half-work/half-text/facebook/browse online/shop online, etc. Taking breaks is important (as long as they aren't too often).
Your physical health helps your mental and emotional health. Pack your lunch more often with healthy things and eat the pizza in moderation. Bring your workout clothes to school and schedule time for exercise. Working out is usually the first thing to go because you think you don’t have time for it. That is just an excuse. Yoga pants are really stretchy and you don’t realize how much weight you gained until you can’t fit into any of your real clothes. 30 minutes at the gym or a run through campus was a great stress relief and helped me get back into my suit in time for interviews.
Monday, August 24, 2015
Last week was the first installment on how to succeed in law school, advice from students. Here is the second: You Belong. Be Yourself. Have Fun.
First off: Congratulations. Deciding to pursue law school is difficult; getting accepted even more so. You've successfully done both, and are finally ready to begin. So naturally the next question is: Now what? You've read the online blogs, you've talked to friends, family, and attorneys, and you may have even skimmed a few books in preparation of your first year. I did the same. I quickly realized that it's not as terrifying as they make it in the Paper Chase, nor as easy as in Legally Blonde. It is challenging though, especially that first semester. I want share with you three things I think helped me most to survive that first semester.
1. You belong here.
During orientation and throughout the first few months you will meet and get to know so many great and successful people that will leave you in awe. Your classmates will be decorated servicemen and women, others were valedictorians and college athletes, attended Ivy League schools, some even had illustrious careers before law school. All of this will be overwhelming, you may even think there is nothing you bring to the table, and there is no way you can possibly compete with these people. It is important that you remind yourself that you are here for a reason. Law schools undertake the rigorous selection process that it does to ensure that those who attend here, belong here. You've had just as successful of a journey here as they have. What's more, despite their impressive resumes you all have one thing in common: zero days of law school experience. It's a fresh start for all, nobody has an advantage over you in that regard. You belong here.
2. Be yourself.
I don't mean to sound clichéd but the second most helpful thing for me was to continue being myself, especially when it came to studying. Everywhere you look you will see student's working on some law school related thing: running to the library in between classes to get in a few extra pages of reading, answering every question under the sun that's asked in class, going to office hours; some will even work on their outlines from day one, constantly adding and editing. You will also see the opposite almost everywhere you look: students using class time to make that last second eBay bid, doing a Buzz Feed quiz to see which Disney character they are; some will leave after ten minutes and others won't even show. That doesn't mean that one group is doing significantly better than the other; it means they're doing what works for them, and you need to do the same. Don't feel pressure to be in the library in between every class just because you see others doing it. They might have gone out the night before and didn't get the day's readings done. Don't feel compelled to go to a professor's office hours, maybe you just get the material. Along the same lines, don't stream the latest PGA event in class because others are doing it. They might not find lecture a particularly helpful way of learning, are just there to get the attendance points, but will stay up burning the midnight oil later. You and you alone understand your study habits best, how far along in your readings you are, and what you need to do and when you need to do it. Don't pay attention to what anybody else is doing. Be yourself when it comes to study methods and study time.
3. Have fun.
Yes it's possible to have fun in law school. You can go to bar reviews, football games, and trivia nights without your academics suffering. It's important that you don't ignore your hobbies and do non-law related things, whatever that may be. It's easy to get sucked in to the law school world and lose sight of the outside world. Don't. Doing the things I mentioned above will take your mind off studying, give you a nice break so you can keep going, plus you'll have fun doing it. Getting to know your classmates outside of the law school halls was also one of the most rewarding things I did in my first year.
So keep these three things in mind: You belong, be yourself, and have fun. You will also be surrounded by a most supportive group of professors and students to help you along the way, so never hesitate to ask for advice or support. Congratulations, welcome, and good luck!
Friday, August 7, 2015
Across our nation, new 1Ls are concluding their preparations for the start of school. By the end of August, almost every new 1L will have crossed the threshold of a law school to begin the journey to a J.D. In these last days, there are a number of things that these 1Ls-to-be can do as final preparations:
- Read your emails and announcements from your law school every day. Read them carefully. You will be responsible for any instructions, first-day assignments, and other announcements that your law school sends out.
- Complete as many law school tasks and details as early as possible. Stay on top of instructions from your law school about computer access, email addresses, parking decals, billing accounts, and more. By completing as many steps on-line or on-campus before the first day, you can avoid a lot of last-minute hassles.
- Get moved in and unpacked as soon as possible. You need to hit the ground running from the first day of your orientation. By settling into your new space beforehand, you will have time to focus on law school instead of waiting for the cable guy, searching through boxes for necessities, and wasting time shopping for room decor.
- Complete a dry-run. At least the weekend before orientation starts, decide the best route to school by driving the options, check out where the correct parking lot is, give yourself another tour of your law school building, and scope out the neighborhood surrounding your law school for restaurants and other services. You will be more comfortable if you are familiar with the terrain.
- Prepare your elevator speech. You will be asked to introduce yourself a thousand times. Be able to do it in a minute or less. Avoid bragging, boasting, and self-adulation. You are now one in the impressive echelon of high achievers who enter law school. Stay confident, but be humble.
- Realize that you begin your professional career the first day you enter law school. Your classmates are your future professional colleagues. How you act and how you treat others during law school will determine your reputation as a lawyer for those classmates. Negative character traits and behaviors in law school can haunt you for years to come. Consider how you want to be remembered in the future.
- Spend some quality time with family and friends. Have fun with the significant people in your life in these last weeks. Law school will keep you very busy. Most full-time law students need to study 50 - 55 hours per week to get their best grades and gain an in-depth legal foundation for the bar exam and legal practice.
- Start a good sleep routine. Proper sleep will give your brain cells the boost they need. The study of law is heavy lifting. If you get 7 - 8 hours of sleep each night, you will be more alert, absorb information more quickly, be more productive with your time, and retain more information. And research tells us that a nice bonus of sleep is that you are less likely to gain weight compared to the sleep-deprived.
All of us in legal education look forward to your arrival at our law schools. Enjoy the last part of your summer as you prepare to become a 1L. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, July 2, 2015
The bar exam is the last test you will ever take. You’ve been preparing for it since the first day of law school. The foundation is built and these weeks of focused study help solidify what you’ve learned over the past 3-4 years. You will pass if you put in the time to learn the material and master the skills. Friends and family believe you will pass. Professors believe you will pass. Your employer believes you will pass. So, why do you doubt your ability to pass? One reason is that you don’t really know what to expect: Will you get an essay on intentional torts or premises liability? How many future interest questions will be on the MBE? Will you remember all the rules for all the subjects? Did you write enough? Too much?
Human beings seek stability. We like rules, routines, and goals. However, the bar exam does not fit nicely into what we’ve always done. You cover a semester a day and even though you spend 8, 10, 12 hours learning material, it doesn’t quite stick. If you could just hold things still, you’d be able to remember the material. Since everything is always changing, this doesn’t work. This is why you worry you won’t be able to learn everything in time and why you doubt your ability to pass. You are trying so hard to control things that you actually lose control.
It is July and the bar exam is at the end of the month. It’s time to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Accept that you cannot learn everything and that you don’t need to in order to pass. At the end of each day, reflect on what you did and know that it is enough. It is not about whether you checked off every task assigned by the commercial bar prep company. It is about working solidly and steadily and moving forward. Focus on yourself and stop worrying about everyone else. Stop discussing what you’ve done (or didn’t do) with your friends and family. If they are studying for the bar exam, it will just be a stressor for both of you. If they aren’t studying for the bar exam, they don’t care.
Instead of looking at all those unchecked boxes, make a list of everything you have done over the past 7 weeks. Look at all you’ve accomplished and give yourself a pat on the back. Add to the list every day and look through it a few days before the bar exam. This is proof that you have done enough. This is why your friends, family, professors, and co-workers know you will pass. It is why you should believe it, too.
Need a little motivation? Check out my all-time favorite inspirational speech (it will be the best 60 seconds of your day): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c47otcg13Z8
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Many of our students have always been the top of the heap in public education and later college and graduate education. In law school, they find themselves with a group of colleagues who are equally bright and equally successful. Add to that the differences in the law classroom, new forms of analysis and writing, and the most common one-grade-per-course testing method. The result is that some first-semester students can get overwhelmed pretty quickly if they have not spent some reflection time before arriving at law school..
Preparing for your first semester (and reminding yourself if you are an upper-division law student) is essential to your well-being. The preparation you need to do is to spend some time thinking about you and your choices.
Take out a sheet of paper and divide it into columns: values, abilities, areas for improvement, resources.
In the values column, list things that you value about yourself, life, and others. Include values also that caused you to choose law as a profession. Your values will keep you centered as you study the law. There will be people's opinions, case outcomes, methods of legal analysis, etc. that may not mesh with your values. When confronted with those different views, you have a better chance of evaluating those other perspective while staying grounded in your own values if you already know what you value and why those values are important to you.
In the abilities column, list the things that you know you are talented at in all areas of your life - academic, relationships, spiritual, hobbies, etc. Do not expect perfection in yourself or pretend to be perfect. Make an honest appraisal of what you do well. You will want to build on those abilities while you adapt to the study of law and interact with colleagues who may seem to "get it" faster than you do. Education is about developing our abilities further and meeting any challenges with adaptability. Recognize you talent base that will be your starting point and foundation.
In the room for improvement column, list the things that you know you can do better if you allow yourself to increase your knowledge and skills and take constructive criticism. Your abilities may overlap on this list, but it may also indicate improvement for other aspects. For example, you may write well for traditional writing but need to learn how to write legally; you may need to improve your listening skills rather than automatically debating everything; you may work quickly but need to slow down to catch details; you may be a procrastinator and need to use your time more effectively. Law school will challenge you to improve on what you can already do, learn new ways of doing things, and stretch yourself academically and personally.
In the fourth column, list the resources in your life that help you when you become unsure of yourself or discouraged. These resources are family and friends who are your cheerleaders, mentors you go to for advice, the religious mentors for your spiritual beliefs, positive lifestyle choices (sleep, nutrition, exercise), and other positive resources that help you tackle problems and relieve stress and anxiety. Then add to your list the resources that your law school has available for you when you have questions and concerns: professors with office hours, perhaps 1L teaching assistants, the office of academic support programs, librarians, student affairs staff, available counselors, and more. By adding your resources to the list, you are reminded that you are not in law school without support. You are not going it alone.
Keep your list handy throughout your three years. Add, modify, and delete items as appropriate over time. You will grow as a person, a student, a citizen, and a professional lawyer during the three years. Be ready to embrace experiences and become the very best new lawyer you can be for your clients when you graduate. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, May 15, 2015
Congratulations on finishing your academic year! Now you have the summer stretching before you. Here are some thoughts on how to get the most from your summer:
- If at all possible, take some time to decompress before you plunge into a job, summer school, or other obligations. You need some time to relax after your academic year.
- Reconnect with family and friends over the summer months. Socialize with the people you are close to and spend some quality time enjoying their company. They have missed you.
- Laugh aloud as much as possible. Do silly things with your younger siblings or nieces/nephews or children; share the joy of childhood with them. Hang out with friends and family members who see the positive and funny side of things. Let your pet's antics delight you.
- Take up a new hobby or return to an old one. Fill your spare time with things you love but told yourself you did not have time for during the academic year. Then decide how you can carve out some time for your favorite outlet once the school year begins.
- Spend some time volunteering. If you help those who are less fortunate than you, it reorients your perspective and helps you realize that law school is a privilege even if it is hard work.
- Get back into a healthy routine this summer. If you are like most law students, you have become sleep-deprived, junk-food-sustained, and exercise-avoiding. Return to healthy habits so that you become your personal best this summer. Then continue your routine when the semester begins.
- Evaluate your year. What legal or academic skills did you learn this year? What legal or academic skills do you want to improve during next year? What resources at your law school can assist you with those improvements? Make some plans for those improvements.
- Make some non-academic plans for next year. What are your extracurricular goals for the next academic year: student organizations, pro bono work, part-time job, resume building, pursuit of career opportunities? What are your personal goals: stress management, curbing procrastination, better health, spiritual growth, strengthening friendships? What are some positive steps you can take next year to meet those goals.
- Take some time at the end of the summer to recharge your batteries before you return to the classroom in the fall. You want to be refreshed when you return to campus to start another semester.
Have safe and happy summers. We look forward to your return in August. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Have you ever noticed when you are working with students that some law students seem to encounter more than their fair share of life's hardships? The student with academic difficulties is often the same person with financial issues, marital or family issues, personal health issues, and more. It seems for some of my law students that life difficulties come in more than the commonly espoused three in a row.
It often occurs to me that these students persevere against huge odds that would confound most people. The fact that these students with so many obstacles graduate, pass the bar, and become lawyers is really a tribute to their courage. They may not have the highest grade point averages, but they are heads above the crowd in backbone.
Unfortunately, students in the midst of life's obstacles often struggle through them without seeking support. They may not know that assistance exists. They may misjudge the collateral damage to their academics. Or they may let pride get in their way.
Each law school varies in its policies and procedures, but I encourage law students to ask for help when they are dealing with issues that interfere with their academic focus. At least find out your options so that you can make informed decisions.
Some possible resources for students are:
- Meetings with the academic support professional to help with more efficient and effective study skills and time management decisions while the student is juggling the personal circumstances.
- Meetings with an academic or student affairs staff member in the law school to support the student and provide advice on options and referrals.
- Appointments at the university's counseling center for an objective listener during the stressful circumstances that the student is facing.
- Appointments with the university's student health services to provide medical attention and referrals to outside doctors as appropriate.
- Discussion of academic procedures that allow students to postpone exams or papers, take an incomplete grade for additional time to complete coursework, take a course underload for a semester, file a leave of absence for a semester or year, or other options.
Students do not have to handle life's obstacles on their own. As ASP'ers we need to be as familiar as possible with the policies and procedures of our law schools and to make referrals to other law school or university staff and services as appropriate. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, May 3, 2015
Those of us in ASP are finishing up our semesters. All of us are about to dive into the next big project: some ASP'ers begin bar prep; others begin leg-up summer programs for entering 1L students; yet others begin pre-law programs for college or high school students.
All of us have been racing through the academic year and juggling dozens of balls above our heads and behind our backs. The break between fall and spring semesters gave us little respite because we were planning, revising, and preparing for that spring semester. Spring Break was another work week rather than a week off for nearly all of us.
If your last month has been typical, you feel a bit like an emergency room doctor - exhausted and overworked. You have tried to staunch the academic bloodletting and save as many academic futures as possible for students who have shown up for last-minute advice. These latecomers to the process of studying only have time for prioritizing and implementing some quick changes. You do what you can in minimal time. Some students will miraculously do okay. Others will see their law school futures expire on the exam room floors.
I now have two weeks of exams in front of me when the pace falls off because students are hunkered down. A few walking wounded will come my way, but most students will just self-treat and study for the next exam. They just want to survive, go home, and heal.
I know as an ASP'er that now is the only chance that I have to breathe. Not that I will be relaxing, mind you. I will be working my way through a massive list of projects and deadlines.
By breathing, I mean that I can look up and not see the next student waiting in line. By breathing, I mean I will not be finishing one meeting only to rush to another obligation. By breathing, I mean that instead of answering an avalanche of e-mails and handling last-minute crises, I can focus on completing a task and spending quality time with that task.
But you know the best part of being able to breathe for a few days? I get to step back and remember why I love ASP work. I can re-focus on what really matters: the many successes, the many thank yous, the academic and life changes that I have had the honor to be part of, the student tears that have led to smiles on those faces as skills were honed, and the reality that some students would have given up without my help .
So, my dear colleagues, take time to breathe. Remind yourself of why you love ASP work. Remember the little and big miracles you have witnessed and been part of this year. You are a blessing to your students and a blessing to your ASP colleagues. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, April 17, 2015
Law school is tough but so is life. Now is the time to develop your toolbox for dealing with stress. You would not use a hammer to cut a piece of wood but you won’t be able to get that nail in if you don’t learn how to use a hammer effectively. The same thing goes for stress. If you don’t develop tools for dealing with stress now, chances are you won’t handle it well later in life. Avoid- you might be able to avoid stress if you plan ahead and take control of your surroundings. Leave 10 minutes early and avoid traffic, study in a quiet area of the library where you won’t be bothered by annoying people, or say no to leading that committee or planning that event. You can say yes to some things, but you don’t have to say yes to everything. Alter- you might not be able to avoid stress but you can change the situation. Manage your time and organize your day so that you stay on task, set limits for yourself whether it’s studying or social media. Cope- if you have no choice but to accept certain things then talk to someone. Your feelings are legitimate so even if the situation can’t change, talking about it will make it less frustrating. Believing that you can’t cope is itself a stressor so changing your expectations is very helpful. You may need to redefine success or adjust your standards, especially if perfection is your goal. Oftentimes something as simple as adopting a mantra (I can do it) can help you work through that feeling of helplessness. Stress is a part of life so what matters is how you deal with it. Start applying techniques now to balance the stressors. With a little practice you’ll not only know what tools you have but how to use them.
Friday, January 23, 2015
Law school is a challenging endeavor. The LSAT, application process, and transition to law school are hurdles that arise before students are even asked to write their first legal memo, participate in their first round of Socratic torture, or face the fierce competition exhibited by their new peer group. These are daily challenges for new law students. Why then would I suggest that they (and we) seek out more challenges?
When we are challenged, we sometimes feel deflated or weaker. We are out of our comfort zone; we are troubled, worried, stressed; and we are overwhelmed. This does not seem like a state of mind to encourage. However, I firmly believe that it is when are challenged, that we are able to grow, transcend our self-doubts, and establish mechanisms to better prepare for future challenges. Unfortunately, challenges, obstacles, naysayers, and competitors exist. They exist in law school, in life; and, they certainly exist in legal practice. Therefore, we need to face them head-on and become better at overcoming them.
The more often we are challenged, the more empowered we become. Thus, take on an extra project, or register for an intensive course on a complex topic, run a race or climb a peak, participate in moot court, apply for a competitive job, or do something really scary (caveat: do not break the law, remember to wear safety glasses, and always read the fine print).
Undoubtedly, there will be failures, mistakes, and defeats; but, the learning and self-growth is an incredible silver lining. Whether success is elusive or easily achieved, the experience builds resilience and a new level of self-confidence. As the FM dial frequently reminds us, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
The semester is over and you've spent the last week either sleeping or catching up on everything you put off during exams. You've still got a few weeks until next semester starts so it is time to find a balance between rest and relaxation, and reenergizing so you can start the new year off right.
The first goal is to stay healthy:
- Drink plenty of water: we often eat when what our body really needs is hydration. Drink a glass of water the next time you feel sluggish or have the munchies. Odds are this will do the trick.
- Get moving: in addition to physical benefits, regular exercise gives you more energy, improves your mood and lowers stress.
Next, do something each day:
- Plan your day: even if you are on vacation, identify two or three things to accomplish each day. This prevents the stress of scrambling at the last minute.
- Use your brain: you don’t have to read legal tomes or memorize statutes but you should learn something new every day. Increasing your knowledge keeps you inspired and motivated.
- Reflect daily: end each day with a few minutes of reflection of what you’ve accomplished (not what you haven’t done).
Last, focus on what makes you happy:
- Express gratitude: identifying things you are grateful for promotes happiness and increases self-worth.
- Clean your desk/room: doing this might not make you happy but the end result will. A clean space allows you to focus on your work instead of the clutter.
- Indulge yourself: set aside time to indulge yourself (just a little) so that you don’t resent having to work or study.
Too much of any one thing is never good so use these next few weeks to find a balance. It will be both enjoyable and productive and you’ll have a good foundation for next semester.
Friday, December 19, 2014
Law students breathe a sigh of relief once all of their exams are over and the last papers turned in. It is such a good feeling to have the semester over! No more studying for the time being!
Alas, the relief is short-lived for some students. They begin almost immediately to worry about the final grades for their courses. For some students, the worry is caused by being too close to the GPA needed to meet academic standards. For other students, the worry is caused by wanting a certain GPA for qualifying for a certain law firm's job application cut-off or retaining scholarship aid or achieving some other standard for a law-school honor.
Whatever the reason for the worry, it can cause sleepless nights and self-doubt until the grades are finally posted. It is the lack of control over the grades that makes students anxious. Not only do they need to do their personal best, but they need to achieve a high enough score to "beat the curve" for the class.
The recommended percentages for each grade bracket of most law schools' curves mean that the overall class performance determines the grades given. Students know that if everyone in the class knew the material and performed well on the exam then just 2 or 3 points can be the difference between a higher or lower letter grade. They realize that some folks will get low grades no matter how large the break between the lowest C and the next grouping. No wonder students sign up for seminars that often do not have to conform to the recommended curve.
It is important to put grades into perspective while waiting for the outcomes:
- You cannot change anything about the exam that is already completed or the paper that is already turned in. Stewing about the misread fact pattern, the forgotten rule, the missed issue, the skimpy case analysis, and more will not change anything. We are not perfect, so it is inevitable in law exams and assignments that perfection will not be reached. All of us remember "the ones that got away" in our law school experiences.
- A final exam grade reflects one's performance on one set of questions on one day at one time. Any student who was sick, tired, stressed, or unfocused during the exam can know that the grade reflects those less than optimal circumstances and not just knowledge/application.
- Over the full spectrum of a law degree, students benefit from the curve as often as they get hurt by the curve. It evens out over time. The break in the curve gives you a higher grade on one exam but may catch you with a lower grade on another.
- A low grade does not mean you are less intelligent, less worthy, or less talented than the day you walked across the threshold of your law school for the first time your 1L year. It merely means that you need to implement some new strategies and forge ahead. Do not allow grades to undermine your self-worth.
- Grades indicate opportunities for improvement rather than just measures of performance. There are lots of ways to improve on test-taking whether the exams are true-false, multiple choice, short answer, fact-pattern essay, or some other variation. ASP professionals can assist students in evaluating their problem areas and work on strategies with them.
After the initial angst of grades that are less than you hoped for, pull yourself together. You can do this with assistance. Review your exams or papers with your faculty members to get feedback on what you did well and what you need to improve. Then make an appointment with your academic success professional to implement a plan for that improvement. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
“The first rule of Fight Club is, ‘don’t talk about Fight Club.’ The second rule of Fight Club is, ‘don’t talk about Fight Club.’”
Brad Pitt uttered these words 15 years ago in the iconic movie Fight Club (a movie about a fight club). Even today when I ask my class, “What is the first rule of Fight Club?” every single guy responds, “Don’t talk about Fight Club.” You may wonder why I would ever ask such a question and the answer is, the same holds true for exams. Don’t talk about exams. Talking about exams is like asking a woman how much she weighs or asking anyone how much he or she makes. First, outside very specific situations (like your doctor’s office), there is absolutely no reason to ask these questions. Second, you wouldn’t ask your friends these questions because you know that no matter the response, someone walks away from the conversation feeling bad. Talking about the exams is exactly the same: there is no reason to talk about it and someone always walks away feeling bad. I’ve had students challenge me and ask, “what if you have to talk about an exam?” and “what if there really is a reason?” I throw it right back and say, “give me an example.” In all the years I've been doing this, I’ve yet to hear a legitimate reason to talk about exams. As you continue through exams, keep in mind the first rule of law school exams, “Don’t talk about exams.”
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Address the Stress with Mindfulness
Lawyers have a higher rate of depression, anxiety, substance-abuse, and suicide than the rest of the population. The practice of law can be stressful but aren’t most jobs? Why are lawyers having so much trouble dealing with stress? Stress is a mental (and sometimes physical) reaction to a perceived threat or change. In law school, stress manifests early in the 1L year: our past perfection drives our desire to do well and it joins forces with the realization that everyone else is striving for the same level of success. It then crashes into the curved grade system which means that no matter how hard you work, your grade ultimately depends on how well others do. Regardless of the grade, the uncertainty and lack of control lingers throughout your law school career. Then you enter the practice of law and these feelings collide with the emotional intensity of dealing with clients’ problems day after day and working with other lawyers who are often adversarial. It’s a recipe for anxiety, depression, and substance-abuse.
The reality is, life itself is a constant flow of change so we will always have stress. However, stress is not so much the event itself but our perception and reaction to that event. There will always be deadlines and performance expectations. We can’t change that but we can change the way we perceive stress.
Oftentimes, we react to negative situations without thinking. Instead of intentionally focusing on the present moment, we immediately judge it as good/bad, right/wrong, fair/unfair. This habit is not necessarily a positive one because it is reacting without thinking. It leads to stress, anxiety, depression. Instead, we need to develop a new habit: mindfulness. Mindfulness is a powerful tool for addressing emotional challenges because it helps develop meta-cognition, focuses attention, and strengthens the ability to make deliberate choices. Mindfulness addresses the stress. It allows us to be in control of our own mind instead of our mind controlling us. In practicing mindfulness we learn to become aware of our thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behavior so we can interrupt stress cycles before they take over.
Janice Marturano, author of Finding the Space to Lead, and Executive Director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership recommends something called the Purposeful Pause. The Purposeful Pause is more than just stopping. It is about redirecting and focusing attention so you can make conscious choices. Try incorporating one of these Purposeful Pauses into your day:
- Choose to start your day rather than letting the day start you. Start the day by just breathing and before getting out of bed, take a few seconds to notice the sensations of your breathing.
- Use transitions wisely. Pick a day to drive to (or from) work/school without the radio or phone. When you arrive, allow yourself a few moments to sit in the car, noticing the breath.
- Just walk between meetings/classes. No emails, texts, or social media. Think about each step you take and the possibility of greeting colleagues you pass rather than bumping into them while you text!
Mindfulness is an opportunity to create new, healthy habits. Let’s make the intentional choice to be mindful and let’s change those statistics.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
It’s still early in the semester so you might be wondering why I’m writing about motivation. The reason is simple: it’s easier to maintain something than to lose it and get it back.
A few years ago I was in the best shape of my life. I worked out regularly, ate a healthy balanced diet, and even ran a half marathon. I felt great. Then I moved to a new job in a new city and I used that as an excuse to push exercise and healthy eating to the side. Fast forward several months: my clothes were tight and walking from my car to the office was the most exercise I got. I did not feel great. I came up with a plan to get back in shape and went to the gym for the first time in a long time. It was awful. I was out of breath within minutes, moved slower than molasses, and the next day could barely move. It was ugly but I kept going until I got myself to a healthier place. I liked how I felt and decided it was a lot better to maintain than to have to start all over again. When I catch myself being lazy, I just think of that first day back at the gym and get moving. Even if it’s just something small like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or eating only half a bag of chips, I feel better because I know I’m still moving forward.
I share this story because we’ve all been there and it’s something we can all relate to. The same holds true for motivation in law school. You start the semester off excited and ready to go but somewhere along the way you realize you’ve lost some of that drive. Instead of waiting until that happens, here are some tips on how to maintain your motivation throughout the semester:
Know there will be setbacks- you know you’ll have a bad day (or week) but don’t let it sidetrack you. Being prepared for a setback makes it easier to overcome.
Believe in yourself- if you don’t think you can succeed, then why would anyone else? Make a list of your strengths and focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t.
Be realistic- Setting a standard that is impossible to meet guarantees failure. Instead, set small goals that allow you see your achievements along the way.
Challenge yourself- be realistic but not complacent. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake or step out of your comfort zone. It is easy to fall into old habits unless you challenge yourself in new and different ways.
Have a support system- Whether its friends, family, professors, classmates, there are people who sincerely want you to succeed and you will need them when your motivation falters. They will give you that little boost and keep you going.
Take advantage of the opportunities this new semester presents. Maintain your motivation so you have to work extra hard to get it back.