Thursday, September 29, 2016
As mentioned in a previous blog, most of my law school outlines were - simply put - not outlines…and not useful at all in law school. Rather, my outlines were just my regurgitated notes with my case briefs and class notes filling out the details.
And, there was a good reason that I didn't know how to outline or create another organization tool (such as a flowchart, a map, an audio file, a poster, etc.). That's because I didn't have a framework in mind to organize my notes, briefs, and casebook materials. And, I suspect that many of our students find themselves in similar straits.
So, here's a thought…just a thought. Perhaps Academic Support Professionals might lend a hand in providing the organizational template for outlining.
Here's why. First, the casebook and the class syllabus already provide our students with a rough guide as to methods to organize a law school subject. So, we don't mind giving our students some sort of start in the process. But, the rough guide from a casebook and syllabus are not enough.
That's because the rough outlines in those materials do not provide students with sufficient details to organize the subject. The tables of contents, for example, usually just provide legal terms of art. That's it. No so-called "black letter" law at all.
So, here's the rub. We expect our students to craft the rules for themselves. But, in the practice of law, we don't do that at all. Rather, at least speaking for myself, when I work on a novel legal problem, I don't ever start with a casebook. Instead, I start with a mini-hornbook to provide me an overview of the black letter law, including the big picture "umbrella" rules, such as: A refugee is "one who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion…" Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 101(a)(42)(A).
Then, I start digging into the cases to figure out, assuming that the law does not define the various terms, what persecution means or membership in a particular social group, etc. In short, as an attorney, I have never had to create an umbrella rule from scratch based on reading a bunch of cases. Instead, I use the cases to determine how to apply (or distinguish) the rule to (or from) the situations that my clients are facing.
If that is how most of us practice law, then maybe that is how we should study law too. If so (and this is just a hunch of mine), maybe we should be giving our students a template of the black letter law. Then, our students can proactively use that template to flesh out the meanings of the rules, the limits of the rules, and the particular applications of the rules…by inserting within that template their case blurbs, class notes, class hypotheticals, policy rationales, etc.
One of my best professors in law school (and also one of my most difficult in terms of grading) was not afraid at all to set out the black letter law for us, both as a preview of the coming class and as a review of the previous class. With the law set out, we were much better able to dig into the heart of the law…what do the words mean, what are the policy implications behind the rules, should the rules be changed, etc.
In short, we learned to think like a lawyer…even without having to craft our own umbrella rules. And, amazingly, that's one of the few law school classes that I can still recall many of the things that I learned. The others - just like most of my law school outlines - are just faded memories. (Scott Johns).
Sunday, September 18, 2016
Much has been said about the positives of banning laptops in the classroom. Proponents of the ban position have pointed to studies that support handwriting over typing notes.
The Chronicle of Higher Education contained an article this week that does not buy in to the studies and takes a more moderate approach: No, Banning Laptops Is Not the Answer.
In that article is a link to a May blog post on The Tatooed Prof that also supports a different approach to classroom technology: Let's Ban the Classroom Technology Ban.
Monday, September 12, 2016
Thursday, September 8, 2016
First Year Law Students:
It's not too early (or too late) to start creating your own personal handy-dandy study tools. But, you ask, how?
Well, here's a suggestion for creating your study tools from scratch in just 6 easy steps!
But first, let's lay the groundwork.
Why should I create a study tool especially with so many other tasks at hand that demand my attention in law school?
There are at least two reasons.
First, the process of creating your own study tool creates a sort of "mental harness" for your thoughts. It serves to bring you back to the big picture of what you have been studying the past few weeks or so. And, that's important because your final exams are going to ask you to ponder through and problem-solve hypothetical legal problems based on the readings, conversations, and your own post-class thoughts that you can bring to bear on the subject.
Second, the process of creating your own study tool develops your abilities to synthesize, analogize, and solve problems….skills that YOU will be demonstrating on your final exams (and in your future practice of law too). In essence, your study tools are an organized collection of pre-written, organized answers in preparation for tackling the hypothetical problems that your professor might ask on your final exam.
So, let's set out the 6 steps:
1. Grab Your Personal Study Tool Kit Support Team!
That means surrounding yourself with your casebook, your class syllabus, and your class notes. They are your "team members" to work with you to help you create your own personal study tool. Here's a tip: Pay particular attention to the topics in the table of contents and your syllabus. The casebook authors and your professors are giving you an organizational tool that you can use to build your own study tool. And, in a pinch, which I have often found myself in, I make a copy of the table of contents, blow it up a bit, and then annotate it with the steps below. Voila!
2. Create the Big Picture Skeleton for Your Study Tool!
That's right. It might look like a skeleton. Not pretty at all. That's okay. Remember, it's in the process of creating your study tool that leads to learning. So, relax and enjoy the mess. My outlines were always, well, miserable, at least from the point of view of others. But, because I created them, they were just perfect for my own personal use. Here's a tip: Use the table of contents and class syllabus to insert the big picture topics and sub-topics into your study tool.
3. Insert the Rules!
Be bold. Be daring. Be adventuresome. If you see something that looks like a rule, whether from a statute or from a common law principle, for example, such as "all contracts require an offer, acceptance, and consideration," just put it into your study tool. Bravo!
4. Break-up the Rules into Elements (i.e., Sections).
Most rules have multiple-parts. So, for example, using the rule stated above for the three requirements to create a contract, there are three (3) requirements! (1) Offer; (2) Acceptance; and, (3) Consideration. Over the course of the term, you will have read plenty of cases about each of those three requirements, so give the requirements "breathing room" by giving each requirement its own "holding" place in your study tool or outlines.
5. Insert Case Blurbs, Hypos, and Public Policy Reasons!
Within each section for a legal element or requirement, make a brief insertion of the cases, then next the hypothetical problems that were posed in your classes, and finally, any public policy reasons that might support (or defeat) the purpose of the legal element or requirement. Here's a tip: A "case blurb" is just that…a quick blurb containing a brief phrase about the material facts (to help you recall the case) and a short sentence or two that summarizes that holding (decision) of the court and it's rationale or motive in reaching that decision. Try to use the word "because" in your case blurb…because….that forces you to get to the heart of the principle behind that particular case that you are inserting into your study tool.
6. Take Your Study Tool for a Test Flight!
Yes, you might crash. Yes, it might be ugly. In fact, if you are like me, you will crash and it will be ugly! But, just grab hold of some old hypothetical problems or final exam questions and - this is important - see if you can outline and write out a sample answer using your study tool. Then, just refine your study tool based on what your learned by using your study tool to test fly another old practice exam question or two. Not sure where to find practice problems. Well, first check with your professor and library for copies of old final exams. Second, check out this site containing old bar exam questions organized by subject matter: http://www.law.du.edu/index.php/barprep/resources/colorado-exam-essays
Finally, let me make set the record straight. You don't have to make an outline. Your study tool can be an outline…or a flowchart…or a set of flashcards. What's important is that it is YOUR study tool that YOU built from YOUR own handiwork and thoughts! It's got to be personal to you because it's going to be you that sits for your final exams. In short, people don't do well on exams because of what they did on exam day. Rather, people do well on exams because of what they did in preparation for exams! Still unsure of yourself? I sure was in law school. So, have at it with my own personal example of a study tool (using a visual mind map) that I created on a family law topic concerning when a court can permit a parent to move to another state with a child.
Thursday, September 1, 2016
"A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Improves Academic and Health Outcomes of Minority Students" Say Researchers Walton and Cohen
Big hat tip to Professor Rodney Fong at the University of San Francisco School of Law for his alert to this research article!
It's not too late to make a difference…a real difference…a measurable difference…to improve academic performance and health outcomes for minority students, as demonstrated by the published research findings of Dr. Gregory M. Walton and Dr. Geoffrey L. Cohen at Stanford University in their article "A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Improves Academic and Health Outcomes of Minority Students."
Here's the scoop:
The researchers surmised that a brief intervention in the first week of undergraduate studies - to directly tackle the issue of belonging in college - might make a measurable impact with respect to academic performance and health outcomes for African-American students. As background, previous research had suggested that a lack of a sense of belonging was particularly detrimental for success in collegiate studies. In its most basic form, the intervention was threefold.
First, the university shared survey results with research participating students, substanting that most college students "had worried about whether they belonged in college during the difficult first year but [they] grew confident in their belonging with time."
Second, the participating students were encouraged to internalize the survey messages by writing an essay to describe "how their own experiences in college [in the first week] echoed the experiences summarized in the survey."
Third, the participating students created videos of their written essays for the express purpose of sharing their feelings with future generations of incoming students, so that participating students would not feel like they were stigmatized by the intervention (but rather that they were beneficially involved in making the collegiate world better for future generations of incoming students).
According to the researchers, surveys in the week following the intervention suggested that participating students sensed that the intervention buttressed their abilities to overcome adversities and enhanced their achievement of a sense of belonging. And, the impact was long-lasting, even when participating students couldn't recall much at all about the intervention.
The researches then used the statistical method of multiple regression to control for various other possible influences and to test for the impact of race. As revealed in the research article, the intervention was particularly beneficial for African-American students in terms of both improvements in GPA and improvements in well-being. In short, a brief intervention led to demonstrable benefits.
That brings us back to us ASPers!
With the start of the school year for ASPers, we have a wonderful opportunity to engage in meaningful interventions...by sharing the great news about social belonging. But, there's more involved than just sharing the news. Based on the research findings, to make a real difference for our students, our students must not see themselves - in the words of the Stanford researchers - as just "beneficiaries" of the intervention...but rather as "benefactors" of the intervention.
In short, our entering students must be empowered with tools to share with future generations what they learned about adversity, belonging, and overcoming…and how to thrive in law school.
Wow! What a spectacular opportunity…and a challenge…for all of us! (Scott Johns).
P.S. Here's the abstract to provide you with a precise overview of the research findings: "A brief intervention aimed at buttressing college freshmen’s sense of social belonging in school was tested in a randomized controlled trial (N = 92), and its academic and health-related consequences over 3 years are reported. The intervention aimed to lessen psychological perceptions of threat on campus by framing social adversity as common and transient. It used subtle attitude-change strategies to lead participants to self-generate the intervention message. The intervention was expected to be particularly beneficial to African-American students (N = 49), a stereotyped and socially marginalized group in academics, and less so to European-American students (N = 43). Consistent with these expectations, over the 3-year observation period the intervention raised African Americans’ grade-point average (GPA) relative to multiple control groups and halved the minority achievement gap. This performance boost was mediated by the effect of the intervention on subjective construal: It prevented students from seeing adversity on campus as an indictment of their belonging. Additionally, the intervention improved African Americans’ self-reported health and well-being and reduced their reported number of doctor visits 3 years postintervention. Senior-year surveys indicated no awareness among participants of the intervention’s impact. The results suggest that social belonging is a psychological lever where targeted intervention can have broad consequences that lessen inequalities in achievement and health." Gregory M. Walton, et al, Science Magazine, 18 Mar 2011: Vol. 331, Issue 6023, pp. 1447-1451
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Last week marked the arrival of all of our first year law students for a week of orientation. There were fun activities, a series of welcomes, some serious academic activities, and a lot of new information to absorb. Our Academic Success Program is involved in various aspects of orientation but I also like to hear what some of my colleagues have to say to the students. One statement by our Associate Dean of Student Engagement caught my attention. He said to the 1Ls: “Make sure that you are teachable” and then he went on to make his various remarks. This is great advice that encourages students to be open to the information that is presented and open to learning. Ego often gets in the way of being teachable and so does competition. We do not always recognize our resistance to learning and sometimes that resistance is detrimental. Merriam-Webster defines “teachable” as “able and willing to learn, capable of being taught.” We should all be willing to learn and in turn be capable of being taught.
I think that being teachable should be paired with being open to constructive criticism and getting comfortable with being vulnerable. Law students typically receive very limited feedback and one exam at the end of the semester determines their performance in individual courses. A legal writing course is usually the course in which students receive more regular feedback because they have regular assignments with hard deadlines. I encourage students to take the feedback that they receive, determine what changes they need to make, and make those changes. I encourage them not to take constructive criticism as an affront on their intelligence or ability to be a successful law student. They should look at criticism as an opportunity to learn, develop a skill, and become a better student and lawyer. I know that it is easier said than done. Even for individuals who are accustom to managing criticism, receiving criticism in law school can be a challenge at first. It might be helpful for students to put themselves in situations where they have to manage scrutiny or constructive criticism regularly. Maybe develop public speaking skills, audition for a play, write and have their writing critiqued, or engage in any activity they feel uncomfortable engaging in but that includes an element of critique. Participating in any of these activities might put students under enough scrutiny and encourage them to determine how to best manage extensive critique. The added benefit is that hopefully these experiences empower students to seek out feedback and be more receptive of constructive criticism as a law student. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, August 25, 2016
Wow...For those of you as 1L students, perhaps you feel like I did when I started law school…alone.
But, here's some great news!
We are not alone; rather, we are "ALL"-alone!
You see, at least according to posters made by recent entering law school students, most of us feel out-of-place, a bit perplexed, unsure of ourselves, wondering how we will perhaps "fit" in, and, most of all, hoping that we can survive law school.
In my case, as a person that turned forty years old in my first year of law school, I was so scared. Downright frightened…and...intimated. But, as it turns out (and I didn't realize at the time), most of my entering colleagues (if not all) were feeling just like I did!
Don't believe me?
Well, here's a few posters with comments that some of recent entering law students - in the very first week - produced to depict what they were excited about in entering law school…and what they were concerned about in entering law school. Perhaps you'll find that you share some of the same excitements and concerns.
And, here's the key…Don't just focus on the negatives but also take time to reflect on the positives that you share with so many (if not all) of your law students. You see,most of us feel just like you do.
So, take time to encourage one another and share your own personal excitements and concerns. It's a bit scary at first, but, in the end, you'll be mighty happy that you did. And, good luck new 1L students. We wish you the best!
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Here are some online resources/apps that students have recommended to me:
- Headspace - learn meditation so that mindfulness can ease your stress (https://www.headspace.com/)
- Kahoot! - make your own practice questions (https://getkahoot.com/)
- LearnLeo - tutorials for those learning how to read and brief cases (www.learnleo.com)
- One Note - an organizational tool through your Microsoft package for briefs, notes, and outlines
- Picjur - legal graphics for concepts (www.picjur.com)
- Pomidoro apps - 12 apps that use the pomidoro method to increase focus (https://zapier.com/blog/best-pomodoro-apps/)
- Quimbee - legal videos and practice questions (https://www.quimbee.com/courses)
- SeRiouS (SRS) - spaced repetition for legal concepts (http://www.spacedrepetition.com/)
What are your favorite resources and apps? Send me an email or leave a comment to let me know. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, August 18, 2016
As reported in "Above the Law," there is one thing that we can do to improve our students' grades in all their courses this academic term.
In her post about the article "The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law Student Performance," Kathryn Rubio summarizes the research of Daniel Schwarcz and Dion Farganis that demonstrates that law students that have just one teacher...in just one course...who provide individualized feedback within that course...improve grades for their students...across all courses, even controlling for LSAT and UGPA: http://abovethelaw.com/2016/05/one-thing-can-improve-all-your-law-school-grades/
Here's the proof (or, for those of you that are trial attorneys, the empirical evidence): The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law Student Performance.
For us, this is incredible news…because…we can make that difference for our students - across all their courses - by integrating individualized feedback through our own courses and programs.
Wow…that's the power of one! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, August 11, 2016
Stress. Oh my!
Just the thought of it hits me in the stomach. But, there's more than just stomach aches at stake.
According to law professor Debra Austin, Ph.D., excessive law school stress also harms the mind too. That's the bad news. But, here's the great news! In fact, it is really terrific news! And, it is news that we can all use…today!
But first, some background.
As the American Bar Association (ABA) reports with respect to Prof. Austin's research, in general stress weakens brain cognition. But, exercise (along with other pro-active measures) actually creates more brain cells…brain cells that we can all use (whether students or ASP'ers) to perform better and without debilitating stress: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/stress_may_be_killing_law_students_brain_cells_law_prof_says
So, as many of us begin a new year of legal studies as students and ASP'ers, it's time to take charge over stress rather than having stress take charge over us. But how, you might ask?
Here's a list of three (3) possible "anti-stress"countermeasures straight out of the research from Prof. Austin:
- Be an exerciser…because neuroscience shows that exercise provides us with "cognitive restoration."
- Get slumber time…because sleep plays "the key role...in consolidating memories." So, sleep on your studies rather than staying up all night to study!
- Engage in contemplative practices…such as mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, and focusing on the positive in gratitude…because such practices increase "the gray matter in the thinking brain," improve "psychological functions such as attention, compassion, and empathy," and "decrease stress-related cortisol," among other positives.
For all the details, please see Prof. Austin's research article Killing Them Softly: Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die From Law School Stress and How Neural Self-Hacking Can Optimize Cognitive Performance, 59 Loyola L. Rev. 791 (2013), available at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2227155
To sum up, learning - real learning - means that we all must take time…counter-intuitively...away from learning…so that we can really experience learning. So, be kind to yourself today...by resting and relaxing and exercising. You'll be mighty happy that you did! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
If finances permitted or your law school offered an “early or summer start program,” hopefully you took advantage of these summer pre-law school opportunities. Early start programs range in mission, goal, structure, depth, and breath. The purpose of these programs is to provide students with a preview or general exposure to the law school environment, both the academic culture and social experience. They primarily serve to assist students in engaging with and developing some of the skills necessary to ensure academic success. Some programs cater to certain underrepresented populations, others cater to students with certain credentials, and yet others are available to the law student population at large. Most first year law students have been exposed to very limited, if any, information about the practical aspects of learning in law school. The presumption is that past academic success evidenced by GPA and current LSAT predictors are sufficient for law success. This is true for some but not for all. Attending such a program might be a good way to learn about a few things you can use before classes start and maybe even cultivate relationships with other law students. If you took advantage of such a program, hopefully, it met your expectations.
Once you have completed such a program, I would caution you to guard against being overly confident. Confidence is good but overconfidence can be an obstacle to success. Students look for and tend to think that there is a checklist for how to succeed in law school and that “one size fits all.” You will likely have to make some overall adjustments to the systems and processes you have adopted. You will also have to make adjustments to meet specific professor expectations and to acclimate to the culture at your law school. A willingness to adapt and make changes is imperative. Don’t get frustrated when you do not yield the results you expect immediately. The law school experience will challenge you academically, leave you frustrated at times, and may lead you to question your knowledge and abilities. This is the nature of the law school experience which builds up your resilience.
If attending an “early or summer start program” was unavailable to you for whatever reason, do not fret. You still have opportunities to build a sense of community and ease some of the fears and concerns you have about law school. You will likely have an orientation which will give you an opportunity to meet peers. You will also likely have an academic support program which will provide programming, workshops, and other opportunities tailored to help you develop the skills necessary for academic success.
Be confident but not too confident. All the best to first year law students. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
For many academic support educators, we move from bar support to preparing to welcome the incoming class. The law school cycle never quite stops but simply slows down or picks up. Returning students are preparing for their new journey as a 2L or a 3L and incoming students are excited about a new academic adventure. There is something we can all do, students and those who work with students, to prepare for the new academic year. This is a brilliant idea that as an educator, I kick myself for not thinking about: consider how you reconnect with the learning process.
I definitely cannot take credit for this one but when I heard it, I thought that this was the best thing I heard about preparing for law school. A student, a 3L at the time, told me that in anticipation of starting law school, she spent the summer learning how to use a planner. She never used a planner in the past but she recognized that she would have to plan her life a little bit more in law school even though she had juggled school, activities, religious observances, and a business prior to law school. Using a planner over the summer allowed her to get in the habit of writing things down, crossing things off, sticking to a schedule, being flexible in making adjustments, accounting for buffer times, determining whether paper and pen or electronic planners worked best, and the like. She worked on her time management skills before law school so she had a plan while in law school. Isn’t that awesome?!
This is yet another suggestion I cannot take credit for and that was shared with me in a conversation with a colleague at a conference in 2015. Because the beginning of the academic year is upon us, I encourage you to learn a new skill or start a new activity in the days and weeks to come. I would encourage you to try something you are fearful of or would find particularly challenging. The process of facing your fear or challenge is what you should focus on. What steps did you take? Where did you start? How did you start? What was the best process for you? Were you able to follow written instructions or did you need to see a picture or demonstration? Did you revisit the task to ensure you had mastered it? When did you feel comfortable? When did you feel frustrated? First year law students, you should consider your process and your steps because you might find some aspects of law school just as challenging. For the rest of us, it is a reminder of the process. In law school, we typically learn how to learn all over again so it is helpful to be reminded of the slow, methodical, and sometimes frustrating process.
We often forget about the struggle experienced when mastering a skill that is now second nature. Regardless of how in tune we feel, we occasionally need to revisit that process. This can only make us better educators and “meet students where they are” but also move them along to where they should or need to be. I love this idea because it is applicable to all, teaching assistants/teaching fellows, upper level law students, ASP professionals, and professors.
For me, this blog is a new experience that is both exciting and somewhat intimidating but I look forward to the mistakes I will make and the things I will learn along the way. (Goldie Pritchard)
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 28, 2016
Academic support professionals at law schools have noticed that new law students are often coming in to the study of law without the same basic study habits and critical reading and thinking skills that we would have seen previously. Although the knee-jerk reaction would be to blame it on the falling number of applicants and those applicants' credential erosion, I think that would be a mistake. The lack of study habits and skills is not just limited to those with the lowest credentials. It is prevalent across entering classes and cannot be explained just by LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs.
A number of factors in undergraduate education (and no doubt earlier education) seem to be linked to students coming into law school without the background study habits and skills that we have long expected entering law students to have. Here are some of the things that students who did very well in college commonly tell me about their undergraduate experiences:
- Most students studied only 15-20 hours per week at the most. Many will tell me that they made As and Bs with even less studying.
- The course examinations often required them to memorize information and merely regurgitate it onto the paper to get high grades.
- Examinations were not comprehensive over the semester's entire course material; exams typically covered no more than 2-4 weeks of material.
- Because examinations covered limited material, cramming was the successful study method for high grades. Students did not study to retain information for long-term memory and later use, but rather to dump it and forget it.
- Students often took courses and had majors that they never planned to use the information from in the future. Thus, cramming for high grades had few or no long-term effects for many of them.
- Students often were allowed to drop the lowest grade among the 4 or 5 tests they took for a course.
- Students often commented that professors rarely graded papers for punctuation, grammar, word choice, or style. "They just wanted to know my ideas."
- Many students mention they had never written a paper longer than 5 pages in college. Some had never written anything longer than 2 pages.
- Students delayed any work on papers until a few days before they were due because they could get high grades on first drafts.
Although students are warned throughout orientation programs about the differences in law school, students who end up in academic difficulty often state that "I thought they were talking to everyone else." It is often difficult for students who have been successful on little studying and cramming to change their habits.
The students who listen to the warnings that law school is different and "up their game" with more study hours often choose study habits that focus only on class survival and required papers. They do not always realize the importance of regular review and long-term memory for comprehensive semester exams, the future bar exam, and practice. They do not realize the importance of practice questions to apply concepts. They may miss the importance of building skills across classes that will be used every day in practice.
Professional practice as a lawyer requires a different approach toward education by law students. Our dilemma is to determine how to provide the study habits and skills not attained in lower education so that law students can be successful in law school and ultimately in practice. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, June 9, 2016
Congratulations to all of the new 1Ls who will be arriving on our campuses this August! We look forward to your joining us in your journey to being attorneys.
What should you be doing this summer to prepare for law school? Here are some suggestions:
- Spend time with family and friends. Your time as a law student will be very busy, so you want to have quality relaxation time this summer. Take advantage of this time to have family trips, lots of conversations, and companionship with the people who are special in your life.
- Get your finances in place as soon as possible. Make a budget that you can stick to during the semester so that you will not run out of money or run up credit card debt. Working during your first year of law school as a full-time student is not doable.
- Use the summer to get yourself in shape: regular exercise, good nutrition, a regular sleep schedule of 7-8 hours. Your brain will be doing heavy lifting for the next 3 years. You need to be healthy to have optimal learning. Many law students run into trouble because they do not take care of themselves, and their academics suffer. Undertake solid routines this summer to prepare yourself for a rigorous academic year, and then continue good routines during the year.
- If at all possible, move into your law school apartment at least two weeks before orientation begins. Get all of the boxes unpacked, the cable hooked up, the pictures hung, and the refrigerator stocked with nutritious foods. Explore your new city. Locate the pharmacy, dry cleaners, grocery store, and other necessities. You will have first-day reading assignments for your classes, and the work will not let up until the end of exams. You want your living situation completely settled before you start orientation and classes.
- Realize that law school is not the same as undergraduate school. You need to learn new study strategies to succeed in law school. Although you study cases on a daily basis, you need to synthesize material through outlines. Law school exams test differently than other disciplines; you are asked to apply the law to analyze new fact scenarios. Pay careful attention in orientation to study skill sessions and attend fall workshops provided by the academic support professionals at your law school.
- Realize also that you need to study more hours per week than you have ever had to study. You need to be organized, efficient, and effective in your studies. To achieve the best grades, you need to do more each week than just daily class preparation. You need to synthesize the material into outlines and review regularly to prepare for exams. You also need to complete practice questions throughout the semester to monitor your learning. Cramming does not work in law school. There is too much material to learn in the last few weeks. The rule of thumb to get all tasks done every week (class prep, outlines, review, practice questions, legal research and writing) is 50-55 hours per week.
- Analyze what your main distractions are and how they cause you to procrastinate. For many law students, the distractions are electronic: cell phone calls, email, texting, gaming. Law students cannot afford to waste hours a day on distractions. Weaning yourself from your electronic handcuffs over the summer will help you use time more effectively during the semester.
- Read as much as possible. Read a mix of fiction and non-fiction books. You need to get into training for reading 30-60 pages per night for each course. You will not be as shocked by the workload if you spend lots of time reading over the summer and practice reading for comprehension.
- I do not recommend trying to read torts, contracts, civil procedure, or other legal course materials over the summer. For the most part, you will get little out of it without the classroom experience. Plus, most law courses will not cover all of the topics that you are reading about on your own.
- There are some very good books on law school written by academic support professionals. I would recommend starting with Herb Ramy's Succeeding in Law School as summer reading. Ruth McKinney's Reading Like a Lawyer would be another good summer choice. During the school year, Alex Ruskell's A Weekly Guide to Being a Model Law Student can keep you on schedule. Carolina Academic Press has a wide variety of good books on law school, legal reasoning, and other law school topics.
- Non-lawyer family members will not fully understand what your future 3 years will be like - unless you go to law school, it is hard to understand the demands. You may want to share Andrew McClurg's book entitled A Companion Text to Law School with them to help them to understand what your three years will be like.
Have enjoyable and battery-charging summers. You want to hit the ground running when you arrive in the fall. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Ah, summer is finally here. Congratulations to all of you for completing a year of your law degree! For rising 2L students: Isn't it fabulous not to be 1Ls any longer! You are now seasoned (and let's hope, not too battle-scarred) law students. For rising 3L students: Wow! You will soon be sitting the bar exam and begin your professional lives as lawyers.
So what should you be doing with your summers?
First of all, you should get some relaxation and rest and have some fun. Recharge your batteries. Spend time with family and friends. Play with your pets. Laugh with your children, nieces, and nephews. Catch up on all of the movies you missed. Read fluff novels. And enjoy.
If you are working in a legal job, make the most of the experience. Learn as much as you can in whatever type of position you are in for the summer. If you are observing, ask questions. If you are researching, learn how to hone your skills. If you are writing/drafting, concentrate on improving your word choice, punctuation, grammar, and conciseness. Pay attention not only to the legal content of your work, but also how to be effective and efficient in that work. Watch attorneys to see how they organize their work and approach legal problems. No matter how small the task, you can learn something about lawyering.
If you are in summer courses, take the opportunity to improve your study habits. Summer courses speed by, so stay on top of each class in preparation and review. Build your outlines each day, if possible, but at least each week. Prepare well for class so that you will increase your learning and have a better idea of what is important in class discussion. Review subtopics and topics regularly so that you can start practice questions early. Summer courses are often a way to improve your grade point average if you stay on top of the material.
If you are in a study abroad program, work hard in your courses so that you get good grades and expand your global knowledge. If financially possible, take the opportunity to travel in the region. Expand your language skills. Meet local residents so that you can learn about the culture from those who live there. A study abroad program is often a good line on your resume to start an interview conversation. And, for some of us, study abroad programs lead to later international employment or LLM opportunities.
If you are in a non-law job, enjoy the break that you are having from the law. Save up your money to help with costs during the school year. Enjoy being around people who do not want to discuss cases every minute! Get the most out of the opportunity to show your versatility when you job hunt.
But, most of all, enjoy your summers! All of us in ASP will look forward to seeing you back on campus in August. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, March 27, 2016
Many law students have problems with sleep. Students typically tell me that they get six or less hours of sleep on a regular basis. The ones who get less than six hours sleep often tell me that they know they are too tired to focus in class or in their studies. The students who get six hours usually tell me they function just fine and have not had more hours of sleep since they left home to attend college.
Sleep research for many years has recommended 7 - 8 hours of sleep on a consistent schedule as optimal for productivity, focus, retention, etc. When I can convince students to get on a regular sleep routine with 7 - 8 hours per night, they are initially skeptical. But after their body clocks adjust and they get on that regular schedule (it takes a week or two depending on how sleep-deprived the student is already), they are amazed at how much more they get done with improved focus and understanding.
So, I was interested to read Jill Duffy's post on a recent sleep study that explained the 6-hour phenomenon of thinking one has had enough sleep to perform well. The link to the posting is here: Why Six Hours of Sleep Is As Bad As None At All . (Amy Jarmon)
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)
Thursday, March 10, 2016
Many law students are focused on drills and practice questions right now as they see exams looming in the not too distant future. Here are some favorite tools that students are recommending:
Quimbee.com: Watch the short video demonstration. A variety of resources are available depending on the level of package chosen. Bronze, Silver, and Gold options with a 7-day trial for each level. Given the time of the semester, many students would opt for the gold level to get the practice questions
Spacedrepetition.com: SeRiouS is a flashcard software. Depending on the version you choose, you can create/share your own flashcards with progress reports (and have access to other users' flashcards), use flashcards developed by law professors in various MBE/1L subjects, or use the MPRE flashcards (free).
Quizlet.com: Choose to make your own flashcards or use law school flashcards developed by others at a variety of law schools. Also available as a mobile app.
CALI.org: Do not forget Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction for practice questions. CALI has expanded its lessons beyond 1L courses to a number of upper-division courses. If you do not know your sign-in, contact one of the librarians at your law school. Most law schools are members of CALI.
There are many other software products available. Let me know through a comment if you have a favorite and why you recommend it. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
We are in the stretch when most law schools are having or about to have Spring Break. Remember the good old undergraduate days when every student headed out for fun in the sun or ski slope heaven depending on interests? Most law students are unable to be that carefree for the entire break from classes.
Here are some thoughts on having both free time and productive study time during the Spring Break:
- Make a list of all the study tasks that you must accomplish during Spring Break. These are the tasks that have deadlines after the break (midterms, paper drafts, etc.).
- Make a list of the study tasks that you should accomplish during Spring Break. These are the tasks that will make your life so much easier on the downward slope of the semester if they are finished (catching up on reading/briefing, finishing outlines up to this point in the semester, reading study aids for difficult topics, etc.).
- Make a list of three things you want to do for yourself during Spring Break. These may be personal (sleep, workout), relational (spend time with parents, siblings, significant other), or fun (see a movie, go dancing, work on a tan).
- Now take a calendar and map out a plan for yourself. If you plan ahead, you are more likely to be productive.
- Be realistic in your planning. Do not under- or over-schedule yourself. Look for a balance.
- On your plan you want to include all of your must-accomplish tasks, most (if not all) of your should-accomplish tasks, and all of your things-for-me tasks.
- To fit everything in, consider that each day has three parts: morning (8 a.m. - noon), afternoon (1 - 5 p.m.), and evening (6 - 10 p.m.) Divide each calendar day into thirds.
- If you are traveling, you need to designate the parts of days as "travel" when you will be able to accomplish no studying - or just a little (flashcards, listening to law CDs).
- Next fill in any parts when you have family obligations that are definite (Auntie Em's birthday party, promise to take your little brother to see Zootopia on the Wednesday).
- Now think about the rhythm of each day as you fill in other parts with productive study tasks. Consider when family will be at work, when you are most focused, the difficulty of the task, and when you want some down time.
- The proportion of study parts to fun parts that you will need during the break will depend on your task lists and your goals for overall exam studying. A head start on exam review during the days off can make a huge difference in how stressed you are for the remainder of the semester.
If you are going to be with family and friends, you may want to share your study plan with them. If they understand how important it is for you to have productive time, they can be more supportive. And, when they see that you have built in time for them as well, they can be more patient in waiting for you to surface from your books.
Have safe, productive, and fun days off from law school. Get some rest. Laugh a lot. And make progress on your studies, so you return less overwhelmed. (Amy Jarmon)