Thursday, August 4, 2016
"A great sports instructor or coach builds us up, but also teaches us important lessons of emotional management, such as confidence, perseverance, resilience and how to conquer fear and anxiety. Many times, these lessons have a permanent impact on our mind-set and attitude well beyond the playing field." So says columnist Elizabeth Bernstein in her article: "A Coach's Influence Off the Field." http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-coachs-influence-off-the-field-1470073923?tesla=y
That got me thinking about life…my life as an Academic Support Professional. With the start of a new academic year upon us, perhaps this is an opportunity - as Goldie Pritchard puts it - to try something new. So, I've been thinking and reflecting about my life as an ASP-er, and, in particular, that I might focus on something new--serving as a coach to our law students.
You see, and this is where the rub is, the most significant teachers in my life have, well, not just been teachers. Rather, they've been more than teachers; they've been coaches. And, not just sport coaches. More like life coaches. Whether they were teaching political science or trying to help me throw a ball, they all left indelible imprints, imprints that made me a better person and that went well beyond the classroom (or the baseball field)...because they taught me lessons that were much bigger than just about political science or baseball.
Let me give you an example from political science. I once had a professor by the name of Sandel. No offense, but I can't recall the principles of Kant's categorical imperative or Hannah Arndt's political theories. But, I can vividly remember something much more important that I learned, in particular, to call people by their name…to invite students to comment and participate…to let people speak…by truly listening to them. Those were lessons well given.
Or, in another context regarding life's many daily struggles, as Bernstein sums up in her column, coaches teach us lessons that help us when the going gets tough, for example, in Bernstein's words, "...when I’m on deadline or giving a speech to an intimidating crowd: You need to arrest a negative thought immediately, in midair. Remind yourself that you are competent and know what you’re doing. Slow your breath." Let me be frank. Those are the lessons that got me through law school. And, I learned them through teachers that were, really, coaches.
Thus, as we begin to embark on a new academic season, perhaps I should focus more on coaching. After all, our work brings us in contact with people that are really struggling over learning to be learners in a new learning environment…an environment that we call law school...with people that need us to coach. So, what does a coach do? According to Bernstein, a coach says things that change our lives for the better…and for ever, such as:
“Great job in difficult circumstances.”
“You should be really proud of yourself.”
But, in my own words, a coach, first and foremost, listens and observes others. That I can do, if only, I'd stop talking so much! (Scott Johns)
Thursday, July 28, 2016
Part II: The “Now What” of the Bar Exam: The Waiting Period Begins – A Great Time to Thank Your Supporters!
As Goldie Pritchard pointed out in yesterday’s blog, 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 until mid to late fall.
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 keep 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 late summer and early fall) 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 in late October 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 with your friends, employers, law professors, and family members.
First, just let them know how you are feeling. Be open and frank. Share your thoughts with them along with your hopes and fears. 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. Finally, don’t give up your hopes and aspirations for your legal work. We need you, all of you, as officers of the court. And, don’t forget, as Goldie Pritchard mentioned in yesterday’s blog, to take time out today to “appreciate and enjoy your accomplishments” as law school graduates and bar exam takers! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, July 21, 2016
There's been a lot of talk about "growth mindset" and for good reasons.
As the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Dr. Carol Dweck relates in a June 21, 2016 commentary on the website Education Week, "...my colleagues and I learned things we thought people needed to know. We found that students’ mindsets—how they perceive their abilities—played a key role in their motivation and achievement, and we found that if we changed students’ mindsets, we could boost their achievement. More precisely, students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset)." http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html
But, with the bar exam looming next week for many law school graduates, as the saying goes, "sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words" to hep you and your graduates "catch" hold of a growth mindset in the midst of bar exam stressors. So, at the risk of minimizing the science behind the growth mindset, here's a quick video clip that just might spark some positive vibes of optimism as you and your graduates focus on final tune-ups in preparation for the bar exam next week: http://www.values.com/inspirational-stories-tv-spots/99-the-greatest
In particular, just like the baseball player, we don't all have to be great hitters…or runners…or pitchers…to be successful on the bar exam. But, right now, most of us working through bar exam problems feel like we don't even know enough to play the game, to run the bases, to hit the ball, in short, to pass the bar exam. However, it is not about knowing enough that is key to passing the bar exam. Specifically, I try to place my confidence NOT in getting right answers on bar exam problems but rather in learning and demonstrating solid legal problem-solving abilities. It's just not an exam in which one can always be correct. So, don't worry about what you missed. Instead, focus on just being the best possible problem-solver player that you can. (Scott Johns).
You Can Do This!
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Does that voice in your head ever cause you to feel anxious or defeated? Negative self-talk is something that many people have to combat.
What do I mean by negative self-talk? It is when you think: "I have never been any good at math, so Income Tax is going to be impossible." OR "The bar exam is so hard to pass, there is no way I can pass on the first attempt." OR "Law school is so hard. I just can't do this." OR "What if I get the format wrong on this memo - I'll fail for sure."
Negative self-talk is destructive. It causes us anxiety, lack of motivation to try harder, and defeats us before we have a chance to prove what we can do. It underestimates our abilities and considers us unable to improve.
It is important to learn how to rebut negative self-talk and replace it with positive self-talk. When that negative voice in your head starts carping at you, you want to stop it in its tracks. After all, lawyers practice rebuttal on a regular basis in their jobs. It is time to learn to do it in your private realm.
So, when the voice tells you that you will be hopeless at Income Tax, think positively to rebut: "Income Tax may use numbers, but I mainly am learning steps to analyze the scenarios. I can follow the steps to succeed." OR "I may not like math, but that is what a calculator is for." OR "If I study hard, I can learn how to succeed in Income Tax as a subject."
What about the bar exam negative talk? Rebut it with the following types of thinking: "The bar exam is hard, but I can pass it on the first attempt if I don't psych myself out." OR "I know lots of people who pass on the first attempt because they worked hard each day and completed lots of practice questions; I can do this." OR "I have a study plan and am doing all the things I need to do, so I will pass on the first attempt."
The law school challenge: "I was accepted to law school because I am able to do this; I need to believe in myself." OR "I need to learn new strategies; the Office of Academic Support can help me." OR "I can do this; I just need to go talk to my professor about the questions I have rather than stay confused."
The memo format: "I need to stop worrying about the format, and go to the professor for guidance." OR "I need to refer back to my assignment instructions and re-read about the format required." OR "I need to view the Power Point slides from class again, so I get the right format."
You see the difference? You don't want to let discouragement become your mantra. Often you can take a more positive stance and even think of actions to resolve a situation.
Can you think of the negative things that you commonly tell yourself when you get discouraged, find something overly hard, are tired, or are feeling low? Take a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. On the left column put the heading "Negative Self-Talk" and on the right column put the heading "Positive Self-Talk." Now list the negative things your voice in your head tells you in the left column. In the right column, write the rebuttal to that negative statement. In fact, write several rebuttals if they come to mind.
Next time you hear that negative self-talk, rebut it immediately. You may find a new negative self-talk phrase pops up or one that you forgot about. Write it on your list and add the rebuttal. As you practice rebuttal, your negative self-talk should become less frequent. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
It seems that the closer students get to crunch time and deadlines, the more problems, errors, and mishaps that occur. Here are some end-of-the semester laments students have told me over recent years:
- My laptop crashed, so I lost all of my briefs, class notes, and outlines.
- My laptop crashed during the exam, and IT could only retrieve part of the exam answers.
- My backpack was stolen with my completed assignment in it.
- I lost the thumb drive with my paper on it.
- We are puppy-sitting for my roommate's friend, and the puppy ate my outline.
- My three-year-old spilled my morning coffee over my final paper.
- The printer jammed and ate my paper.
- I was packing up my backpack to leave work and temporarily rested my research binder on top of the trash can. Then I left without it. The custodian threw the binder away.
- My neighborhood lost electricity during a storm, so I couldn't email my paper by the deadline.
- The copier store closed early, and I couldn't get my appellate brief bound.
- My professor didn't talk about those reading assignments in class, so I didn't study that material for the exam.
- I entered the appointment in my phone, but forgot to look at the calendar.
- The professor never reminded us about the required on-line workshop.
- I set my cell phone alarm for p.m. instead of a.m. by mistake and overslept.
- I didn't read the syllabus so I used the wrong format/missed the deadline/didn't know the assignment was graded.
Organization, planning, and time management are critical skills for lawyers. Setting earlier, artificial deadlines for tasks allows extra time in case of a mishap. Reading documents carefully and calendaring deadlines are essential steps. Computer back-up needs to be an automatic reflex. Care with details can save the day. We may not be able to avoid every mishap, but we can certainly narrow the odds with some thought. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
The April edition of the Texas Tech Today newsletter had a brief article on research done by several Texas Tech Department of Psychological Services researchers on a possible link between action video games and capability for a suicide attempt. There are some caveats to the research, but it is interesting for those of us working with a generation of students who are active in the video-game culture. The link is here: Playing Action Video Games May Increase the Cability for a Suicide Attempt.
Thursday, April 7, 2016
Mindfulness and the often-used meditation techniques that accompany it have become increasingly popular with the legal profession. Law schools, law firms, state bars, and legal associations have endorsed these aspects as helpful in dealing with the stress and anxiety that are prevalent in the legal environment. Many legal professionals have personally commented on the benefits that they have received through their embracing mindfulness. An interesting article in The Chronicle of Higher Education asks whether the popular use of meditation may cause us to overlook inequities or injustices. The link is here: The Dangers of McMindfulness.
Monday, March 14, 2016
Are you a procrastinator? Do you know someone who is?
Most people procrastinate sometimes. And, some people procrastinate all of the time.
Some people only procrastinate in certain areas of their lives: just school, just chores, just financial decisions. Some people procrastinate in all areas of their lives: personal, academic, work-related, and more.
Most of my law students have at least occasional problems with procrastination. Some of them admit that procrastination has taken over every aspect of their lives. Often, students know they procrastinate and feel helpless to change their ways.
Procrastinating in law school can mean lower grades and increased stress. Procrastinating during bar exam study can mean a failure on the first attempt at the exam. Procrastinating in practice can mean tremendous stress, loss of reputation, or even disciplinary actions if it includes missed filing deadlines or lack of preparation for a trial.
Here are some things to keep in mind if procrastination is a problem for you:
Procrastination is learned behavior that can be unlearned with conscious effort and strategies.
A good habit, according to research, takes 21 days of consistent implementation to become natural.
Procrastination is really part of a "habit pair" - ending a bad habit and replacing it with a good habit. Thus, change may take longer.
By making changes in small increments over time, it is easier to curb procrastination than trying to "change everything at once."
Procrastinators may "fall off the wagon" and should not give up. Instead immediately start again on your strategies.
A time management routine that gets repeated at least in part every week can often help procrastinators to finish regular tasks at their regular times.
Curbing procrastination becomes more realistic if you become aware of your procrastination patterns:
- What aspects of your life do you procrastinate in? Examples: academics, employment, finances.
- How often do you procrastinate in these aspects of your life? Examples: daily, weekly, monthly, rarely, sometimes, frequently.
- What types of tasks trigger your procrastination? Examples: writing papers, studying for exams, project deadlines, balancing the checkbook, housecleaning.
- How do you '"act out" your procrastination? Examples: delay starting tasks, delay finishing tasks, refuse to follow instructions, stew about making a mistake, daydream, play video games.
- How do you justify to yourself that it is okay to procrastinate? Examples: too much to do, stupid assignment, work better under pressure, task is too hard.
- How do you justify your procrastination to others? Examples: brag about your finishing right before the deadline, tell team members they worry too much, pretend you got a better grade than you did.
- What emotional toll does procrastination take on you - or others? Examples: your increased stress, your guilt over bad habits, others get stressed out by your procrastination, others have to nag you on tasks.
- What other consequences does your procrastination have on you - or others? Examples: all-nighters before deadlines, lower grades than could have been achieved, run out of time to do everything, frustration of others during a group project, reputation for being unreliable, lost friends.
- Who do you trust to tell about your plan to stop procrastinating and ask to be an accountability partner to help you curb your procrastination? Examples: roommate, study group member, spouse.
Consider one aspect or task that you procrastinate on and choose one or two small strategies that you could implement to prevent procrastination. Here are some examples:
- Aspect: Lose track of deadlines for classes. Strategy: Use a hard copy daily planner to track all assignments and deadlines. (You can also use a phone calendar - but you have to actually look at it for it to be useful.)
- Aspect: Not good at prioritizing tasks so leave important ones until last. Strategy: Make a to-do-list that has tasks prioritized by most important, important, and least important.
- Aspect: Finish tasks right before the deadline. Strategy: Set a deadline two days earlier than the real deadline. Work to meet that new deadline. Use the extra time to edit or rewrite as needed.
- Aspect: Waste time with my electronic devices. Strategy: Install one of the apps that blocks Facebook, games, or other electronic distractions for set time periods.
- Aspect: Worry constantly about all sorts of things. Strategy: Schedule a worry time slot at the end of the day. Tell yourself when you start to worry that you have to wait until that time and must get back on task. (This sounds strange, but it works for many people.)
- Aspect: Spend hours on chores or cleaning to avoid other tasks. Strategy: Once a month schedule a serious chore/cleaning half-day. The rest of the month spot clean, pick up, and do only urgent chores.
There are many good books on procrastination and how to avoid it. Take control of your procrastination now - don't wait until tomorrow. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, March 13, 2016
Most law schools are at the midpoint in their semesters. The downward slope is upon students, and they are beginning to see finals looming ahead of them. It is not unusual for students to feel more stressed at this time of the semester.
The Jed Foundation and David Nee Foundation launched a website several years ago to help law students deal with stress and anxiety. The website is LawLifeline; it includes articles, assessment tools, and resources. Law students can even enter the name of their law schools to get campus-specific resource information. The link is here: LawLifeline
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
The Section on Student Services had microagressions as the topic for its second panel at the January 2016 AALS Annual Meeting. In addition, one of the Hot Topic programs was on trigger warnings. (If you missed these sessions, AALS members can go to the AALS website and log in to view podcasts. On the members page, click events and conferences; go down to 2016 Annual Meeting which should take you to the program; click on podcasts at the top to get that viewing list.)
Both of these issues are much discussed currently in law schools. Here is an article discussing the issues from a broader higher education perspective in today's The Chronicle of Higher Education: Speaker-Beware. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, February 29, 2016
Below is a press release from Aaron Taylor, Director of LSSE, regarding the upcoming report release:
Saturday, December 19, 2015
In case you missed the recent email from the AALS Section on Balance in Legal Education, there are special activities planned for the NYC annual meeting. These activities are a great idea, and kudos to the Balance Section for implementing this series. Below is the information provided by Nathalie Martin in that email:
Hello balance members!
I am excited to announce that we have a total of six meditation teachers offering their services during the group activities planned for our contemplative space at AALS. Thanks so much to all those teachers. There is also a little yoga.
The AALS brochure will tell you where the space is, and hopefully many or most of you can swing by for one of these groups sessions. The room is available for quiet individual contemplation at all other times.
The group times and classes are as follows:
Thursday Jan 7
8:00-8:30 am, Guided mindfulness meditation: Richard Rueben
9:00-10:00 am, Chair yoga: Nathalie Martin
12:00-1:00 pm, Chair yoga: Nathalie Martin
2:30 to 3:00pm, Guided mindfulness meditation: Shari Motro
5:00-5:30 pm, Guided mindfulness meditation: Rebecca Simon
Friday Jan 8
8:00-8:30 am, Guided mindfulness meditation: Charity Scott
9:00-10:00 am, Chair yoga: Nathalie Martin
12:00-1:00 pm, Chair yoga: Nathalie Martin
2:30-3:00 pm, Guided mindfulness meditation: Shari Motro
5:00-5:30 pm, Guided mindfulness meditation: Valena Beety
Saturday Jan 9
8:00-8:30 am, Guided mindfulness meditation: Charity Scott
2:30-3:00 pm, Guided mindfulness meditation: Rhonda Magee
5:00-5:30 pm, Guided mindfulness meditation: TBA
Thanks so much to all who can come and participate with us.
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Many of our students have completed all of their exams. Some are relaxed, happy, laughing, and looking forward to a 5 1/2-week break from school. Others are glad the exams are over, but now are anxious about the long wait for grades. Some are anxious because they want to be the people who get the As instead of the B+s or Bs. But more students are concerned about "the great middle" or about the low end of the grading spectrum. These students perhaps found one or more exams particularly difficult or were unable to complete an exam because of time management.
Whatever the situation, spending the entire semester break stressing about grades is counter-productive. The exams are over. No amount of anxiety is going to change the outcomes. And at most law schools, grades will not be due until after the holidays, so there is no quick remedy to the wait.
Here are some general thoughts on exams that may help our law student readers while waiting for grades to be posted:
- An exam tests the student on one set of questions, on one day, and during one testing time period. A student's grade may not reflect the depth of understanding across an entire course or how that day/time period was a bit "off" for the student.
- Avoid beating yourself up about specifics of an exam. Whether you are annoyed that you missed several issues, ran out of time, or misstated a rule, realize that you did the best you could under the time constraints and on the questions asked.
- Ignore what other students' said after the exam. Some will claim it was easy or that they aced it in order to make others nervous. Some will have written about issues that were not on the exam despite their certainty that you missed an important issue. Drama comes with the territory; do not let it increase your stress.
- Remember that law school exams are not of the undergraduate variety where 95 - 100% is an A grade. Law school exams are difficult, and it is not uncommon for the A grades to go to students who received 70 - 75% of the possible points.
- Obviously you want to manage your time well enough to finish an exam whenever possible. However, some professors write exams that take more time to complete than the time allotted. Why? Sometimes they misjudge what students can finish in the allotted time (after all, they are experts on the material). Sometimes they purposely write a longer exam than the allotted time because it makes it easier for the students who really understood the material to stand out in their application of the concepts. Remember that you may not be alone in not completing the entire exam.
- A bad grade on an exam is one event in a longer academic career in law school. Assuming your law school program is around 90 credits, you might have 20 - 30 exams over that time. One course is just a small portion of that academic career.
It is very important that you keep your perspective about your value as a law student and a person:
- You are not the sum total of your grades. Whether your grades are high, average, or low, you are so much more than those letters. You are the same bright and talented person as when you walked across the law school threshold for the first time.
- You are part of a group of very intelligent people, so your competition for grades may be different than in your past experiences. You may have to work harder or study differently to meet the challenges of being in a very bright cohort of law students. Take time to evaluate your study habits and exam-taking strategies. Note what worked and what needs improvement during the next semester.
- Do not underestimate your worth if you receive lower grades than you expected. You can improve your grades by implementing new study and exam-taking strategies. The academic support professionals at your law school can assist you in learning those strategies.
- But also do not overestimate your brilliance if you did well; students learn from their studying and exam-taking errors and often improve the next semester - especially first-year students. So do not become complacent about your success and slack off while others will be making changes to improve their grades.
- If you decide that law school is not for you, that is okay. However, make that decision based on pursuing another career passion rather than on emotion over grades. If you love the law and realize that different strategies will improve your learning, then law school may still be for you. But if you know you really want to be an artist, get an MBA, open your own business, or attend nursing school, then go after your dream. Law school is not for everyone.
- Should your grades end up so weak that you are not allowed to continue in law school, you are not a failure. You did not do well in law school, but that does not equate with being a bad person or a failure in life. I know a number of people who left law school for academic reasons and enjoyed successful careers in other fields. They found their niches; it just was not a good match in law.
Fill your wait time for grades productively. Spend time with family and friends. Pet a dog. Laugh with a child. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or charity event to refocus on life's values. Catch up on sleep and exercise. Enjoy some home cooking. Value what you may have missed while immersed in legal studies. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, November 23, 2015
Stress and anxiety have come up as topics in a number of my recent conversations with students. One of my students mentioned that she has been using an app to help her deal with the tensions caused by the end of classes and upcoming exams. The website/application is called Headspace and can be used on your phone or computer. Headspace provides guided meditation exercises in a 10-day trial you can use before you decide whether to subscribe. The subscription options provide both guided and unguided meditation exercises, focused categories of meditations, and even SOS quick meditation fixes. The link is here: Headspace. (Amy Jarmon)
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.