Sunday, September 15, 2013
The Socratic Method is probably the most feared and most maligned aspect of law school. Fortunately, most professors sincerely use the Socratic Method to improve learning. Unfortunately, a very few professors purposely misuse Socratic Method to humiliate or terrorize students and to make themselves feel superior.
A professor can make the questioning more effective as a learning tool by keeping the following points in mind:
- Students have different reactions to Socratic Method dependent on their learning styles. Students who are talking learners or active thinkers may feel less intimidated because they learn by discussion and asking questions. Students who are listening learners or reflective thinkers may be more nervous because they prefer to not speak in class and think about material without interaction with others. Also the students who process with the opposite styles from the professor will at times get flustered because they may not understand the professor's approach to questions; they are well-prepared but organize their thoughts differently.
- Building a series of questions that a particular student answers by beginning with relatively easy questions before proceeding to harder questions will allow the student to gain confidence with some on-target answers before the challenging steps.
- Rephrasing a question if a student seems stumped rather than merely repeating the question again will allow a student who found the phrasing of the question to be confusing to realize what the professor is asking. Merely repeating the same words is often unhelpful in moving the conversation forward.
- Realizing that your multiple questions to a student who is having trouble may be misperceived by the student can suggest another approach. You may be trying to help that student sort out the material and to guide the student to understanding. However, the student may feel that the experience is akin to being turned on a spit over an open fire. By using positive prompts, you can make the experience less stressful. "Good first step, but let's look again at the next step." "Good argument, but let's back up and see how you got there." "You are on the right track, but broaden your issue statement beyond the very specific facts in this case." "That is a paraphrase of the rule, give me a more precise in the rule statement."
- Introduce your series of questions to give more context to the students before you start calling on people. They will understand better how the questions fit into the discussion and the level of analysis you are looking for in the series. "We have talked about each of the separate cases for today, but now let's try to synthesize the cases and see how they relate to one another and to today's topic."
Part of the problem with Socratic Method is that students do not know how to prepare effectively for the experience. Here are some hints for students to get ready for the Socratic Method:
- Recognize what questions the professor almost always asks about each case during class. Think about the answers to those standard questions during your class preparation.
- When reading for a continuing topic, think about the topic-specific questions that the professor has been asking and be prepared to answer those topic-specific questions.
- Before the class, consider the case from 360 degrees. In addition to understanding the case deeply (its separate case brief parts and details), consider the case more broadly (how does it fit with the other cases read for that day and into the larger topic).
- Practice explaining the case and answering your professor's standard and topic-specific questions aloud. Talk to an empty chair, your dog, or a very understanding friend. You will have more confidence when called on if you have rehearsed your answers. If you cannot explain the case to an empty chair, then you do not understand it well enough to explain it to your professor in front of others. Re-read the case sections that you did not understand or reflect more deeply on the case and try your explanation and question answers again.
- When the professor calls on other students, answer the question silently in your head. Compare your answer to what the other student says and what the professor indicates. As you realize you are usually right, it will give you greater confidence for when the professor calls on you.
- When called on, think about the question asked and take a deep breath before answering. Many mistakes are made because students blurt out something they immediately realize is wrong or answer a different question than actually asked.
- If you do not understand the question, ask the professor to rephrase it. If you do not hear the question, ask the professor to repeat it.
- Remember that many questions in law school do not have right answers. There are many questions that seasoned attorneys disagree on about the answers. You need to approach the questions with the realization that "it depends" may be the reality and make the best arguments possible.
- View Socratic Method as a learning opportunity: how to think on your feet; how to improve your analysis; how to find out what you overlooked and need to notice in the next case; how to get over your fear of speaking in front of others.
- Remember that most people in class are not judging you when you are the student called on for Socratic Method. About a third are relieved it was not them. About a third are looking ahead frantically because they realize their turns are coming up. About a third are busy taking notes and looking for the answers.
- Every lawyer I know has at least one or more stories to tell about their own experiences with Socratic Method. You are highly unlikely to get every question right. You will likely blank out once or twice even when prepared. You will misunderstand the question at times. It is all part of the learning experience. Do not dwell on your mistakes. Instead learn from them and move on.
- If your professor uses expert panels on assigned days or only calls on you once per semester, do not stop reading and preparing for class because you will not be called on that day. Always read and prepare for class because your deeper understanding of the material depends on it. Slacking off will only get you lower grades.
- Be courteous regarding your professor's and classmates' time. If you are unprepared because your child went to the emergency room or you became ill, let the professor know before class so time is not wasted calling on you. If you pass, realize that you are probably going to be called on the next class and be prepared.
Accept the challenge of Socratic Method and do your best. Law school will be far less stressful if you can get into the spirit of learning from the technique rather than seeing the experience as an illustration of your success or failure. Intelligence is not a fixed commodity - a mistake leads to improvement and later success. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, September 12, 2013
I have been collecting tips from my students and others to pass on to our readers. Here are a few items you might find interesting:
- Check out the Flash Card Machine app for Android and iPhone http://www.flashcardmachine.com: there are free and paid versions; the website allows you to create flashcards on your computer that you then can sync with your phone; the app can sort the flashcards by categories or randomly and can modify how often you see certain flashcards.
- For international students who are trying to assimilate differences between United States law and the law in their own nations: draw a bracket to encompass the class notes that show the U.S. difference and then note in the margin what the law would be under your own country's legal system.
- Add to your outline pages for a topic a checklist that helps you remember the steps of analysis: what questions do you need to always ask to complete the proper analysis?
- If you are tired of highlighters that have dried out because the cap was not on tightly enough, try the new retractable highlighter that clicks open and close like an ink pen.
- Students who have trouble staying on task because they waste time on the Internet may want to check out two technology helpers: Stay Focused is available for Google Chrome and Self-Control is available for Mac users.
- The Blotter application allows Mac users to set up a routine weekly schedule that will then appear each day on the desktop with space for a "to do" list and a "right now" window.
- If gentle movement helps you focus and learn, try studying in a rocking chair.
- Ask your teenagers to quiz you on your flashcards: they become part of your law school success, and you provide a role model for serious studying and for persevering when you make mistakes.
- For parents who study at home behind a closed office/den door and have younger children: put a construction paper traffic light on the hallway side of your door; hang out the red circle for do not disturb, the yellow circle for come in if important need, and the green circle for okay to interrupt for any purpose.
- Take a walk around your neighborhood with another law student to get some exercise and discuss your classes while you walk: you get exercise and review at the same time.
Do you have some good tips to share with other law students? Send your study tips to me for inclusion in a future posting. My e-mail is listed under the "About" tab; put Blog Study Tips in the subject heading. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Students often ask how to determine which concepts in a case should end up as part of the case brief’s reasoning section. Because judges do not simply ramble in their opinions, every sentence is an important part of the reasoning that drives the opinion. Therefore, what should students capture in their case briefs?
The answer lies in one of the key purposes of briefing cases: identifying the legal principles and the logical steps that will be necessary for resolving similar issues on an exam. In other words, students should learn to brief cases the way lawyers brief them – to draw out the analytical templates courts use when addressing particular issues. In doing so, students will not only begin preparing themselves for their exams, they will accomplish the most important purpose of briefing cases: training themselves to think like lawyers and judges.
They should focus the reasoning portion of their briefs on the future. They should ask themselves which concepts will be useful to them when they are answering an exam question; those are the ones they want to capture and later put into an outline that will guide their analyses on the exams.
Below is a list of the types of concepts students should watch for, not only in the cases but also in class discussions. In fact, if they print off this list and keep it next to them when they are in class and when they are reading and briefing for class, they may find it easier to separate the important concepts from the background and case-specific concepts that will not likely drive a future analysis.
WHAT SHOULD YOU BE GETTING FROM READINGS AND CLASS DISCUSSIONS?
Key themes running through the course
Accurately stated rules
Precise understanding of the logic underlying the rules, tests, definitions, and their
corollaries and exceptions
Key policy aims underlying each rule, etc.
Essential steps in the logic of applying each rule, etc.
Critical similarities and differences among rules, among tests, etc.
Critical attributes of facts that satisfy or do not satisfy the rules, definitions, etc.
Archetypal fact patterns that implicate each rule
i.e., what dynamics are always present when a particular rule is implicated?
E.g., transferred intent in battery: one person always propels something toward another and hits a third person instead. The means could be throwing, driving, mailing, pushing, or any of a thousand other means. The dynamics always boil down to the same thing.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
During the final week of bar prep, memorization is paramount. Overlearning the law is the best way to conquer the bar exam. MBE success requires quick recollection and MEE success requires depth of knowledge- both of which rely on memorization.
When studying this week, above all, try to understand your learning preference(s). Listening to your inner voice and sticking with what works best for you is the best way to be successful with your memorization. However, if you are still looking for other ways to memorize, here are a few ideas:
- Find creative ways to interact with the material and keep it fresh.
- Use a study partner or significant other to test you on your knowledge with flashcards or just talk out a subject together.
- Create tables, flowcharts, or diagrams to illustrate difficult rules or concepts. Even drawing pictures can help you create a memorable visual.
- Use other memory devices such as: flash cards, sticky notes, white boards, or a tape recorder.
- Create mnemonics that have meaning to you or use ones that have been created by your bar prep.
- Explain the main points of a subject or essay to someone else (a family member, friend, or roommate). Or, talk to yourself- it's ok, you are studying for the bar!
- Color code, use different fonts, or hand-write rules over and over in order to individualize the material and make it more memorable.
- Read your lecture notes or outline/study-aid aloud, record it, play it back and listen to it.
- Study while you move- walk, ride a bike, bounce on an exercise ball, or use an elliptical.
Good luck on your memorization this week!
Sunday, July 21, 2013
It rained steadily in West Texas for three different days last week! Hooray - a dent in the drought for our gardeners and cotton growers. Lubbock even made the national Weather Channel coverage - usually only happens when we deal with sky-reddening massive dust storms. Lots of folks had forgotten the routines to deal with rain and left their umbrellas, rain hats, or raincoats home on the first day.
Why this title and mention of rain? I am talking to a fair number of bar studiers and summer school students who are feeling as though it is stormy weather for them under a deluge of material. Here are some of the reasons:
- The bar exam dates are drawing perilously close.
- Bar studiers are concerned about their scores on practice questions.
- For many bar studiers, there is still too much to learn in what seems too little time.
- Summer school students are beginning to realize how fast a 5-week summer session goes by.
- Many summer school students are juggling part-time jobs with studies and feeling stretched too thin.
- Students with spouses, children, significant others, elderly parents, or other responsibilities beyond school are pulled in multiple directions.
When summer school students and bar studiers get focused on the negative deluge instead of grabbing their umbrellas, they can stress themselves out and become overwhelmed. Here are some tips to remember that the apparent deluge is really just a bunch of individual raindrops:
- Prioritize the tasks that need to be done instead of considering everything as equal.
- Decide how each task can be completed for the wisest use of time and the most results.
- Focus on one small task at a time and then move on to the next rather than getting caught up in the overview of everything.
- Remember that the goal is to learn from one's mistakes on practice questions - the learning avoids a mindless repetition of mistakes.
- Give credit for what has been learned well, is going right, and has pulled together to balance out one's negativity.
- Stop obsessing over the "should haves" or "could haves" - what is done (or not done) cannot be changed; focus on what can still be controlled now.
- Ask family and friends for patience, encouragement, and help with non-study tasks that would usually be shared (cooking, cleaning, child care).
- Get on a regular sleep schedule of at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night - life looks a lot less stormy when one is well-rested.
- If work is also being juggled, consider whether hours can be reduced for the rest of the summer session.
Whether the bar exam is the stressor or summer school, realize that perfection is not needed. One needs to do the best one can under one's circumstances. Persevere and do not get psyched out and defeated. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Remember the awkwardness of middle-school and high school dances if you weren't attending as half of a couple? Males stood on one side while the females hung out on the opposite side of the gym. To walk across the divide to ask for a dance was intimidating. And mortifying if you got turned down flat under the watchful eyes of everyone else.
Some students had the herd instinct and stuck with a group of other unattached attendees. At best they would get out on the dance floor en masse. At worst they would chat with friends while being among the non-selected.
I was thinking today about how so many things in law school echo back to those days of social uncertainty. (For some, college was no better; however, most felt a bit more daring and socially adept by then.)
For example, you are herded into an auditorium during Orientation with hundreds of other new 1Ls and expected to get acquainted or at least fit in somehow. There may have been a major welcome luncheon on the first day. If seats were not assigned by section, then the undergraduate friends who are now attending law school together clumped into little groups at the tables, secure in having "dance partners." Everyone else felt as though a flashing, neon sign with an arrow exclaimed "unpaired." If seating was by sections, then at least the unfamiliar 1Ls at the table knew they had something vague in common and could swap rumors about their professors and courses.
Socratic Method is a bit like a dance invitation - except you really shouldn't take the option of turning down the professor (pass is not any more exceptable than no thanks). And at times students feel they are trying to follow their professor dance partner without any idea of the dance, let alone the actual steps. Some professors are strong leaders - question by question as they show students the steps and lead them through the analysis. Others seem to whip you around the dance floor until you are dizzy. A few others even step on your toes so to speak as they point your errors out to the class. Only a few students are brave enough to venture out on the dance floor by volunteering.
Then there is the legal research and writing dance. One is supposed to learn the steps to an alien type of analysis and writing by doing it. For those with two left feet in legal analysis and legal writing style, learning by doing seems totally unhelpful. Research paths are supposed to be dance lessons for research, but some students are improvising too much to end up with the correct moves. Arguing both sides of the issue seems a lot like not being able to decide who should lead. And then second semester appellate briefs feel a lot like doing choreography before one knows all of the dance steps and appropriate rhythms.
Sections help with the herd instinct because you are all in it together. Then with 2L and 3L years, everyone scatters to different courses, certificate programs, dual degrees, and student organizations. Many law students find themselves in new courses with new professors and law students from other sectioins or upper-division students that they don't know except as vague faces in the halls. They have to decide whether to stay alone in the experience or turn to other students and ask "Do you wanna dance?" (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
With the stress at the end of the semester, I am seeing more students make poor decisions because they have misplaced their common sense. Here are some things that students all know but tend to overlook when overwhelmed:
- Attend classes and prepare for them. Skipping class to gain more study time may mean that you miss important information about the exam or the wrap-up of major topics for the course. Not reading and briefing in order to save time only mean that you have the gist of the course without real understanding.
- Avoid spending lots of time organizing to study rather than actually studying. If a clean desk, organized bookshelves, and a code book with a thousand colored tabs do not increase your actual learning, you have been inefficient (used time unwisely) and ineffective (gotten minimal or no results).
- If you are sick, go to the doctor and follow the doctor's advice. Multiple negative repercussions follow from coming to school sick and refusing to get medical attention: you infect others with your illness; your illness becomes more debilitating than it should; you ultimately lose more class and study time than you would have with prompt treatment.
- Get enough sleep; do not get less sleep during the remaining weeks of the semester. Without sleep, your body and brain do not work well. You absorb less material, retain less material, zone out in class or while studying, and are generally less alert.
- Eat regular and nutritious meals; do not skip meals to save time. Your body and brain need fuel to do the studying you have to do. Dr. Pepper and Snickers bars are not a balanced diet. Neither are pizza and soda.
- If you have an emergency during the exam period, tell the academic dean or registrar. You may be eligible for delayed exams because of the circumstances (medical illness, family illness, death in the family). Most law schools have procedures/policies dealing with emergencies and will work with students who have exceptional circumstances.
Take time to use your common sense to help you make wise study and personal decisions during these last few weeks of the semester. Do not put yourself at a disadvantage by blindly taking action fueled by panic - think about the consequences of your choices. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, April 7, 2013
The end of the semester is approaching at break-neck speed right now for most students. A common lament is that there is not enough time to get everything done before exams. Students are frantically working on papers and assignments while trying to find time for extra final exam studying.
Here are some ways to carve out time when you feel that you have none:
- Look for time that you waste during each day and corral that time for exam studying or writing papers: Facebook or YouTube or Twitter time; e-mail reading and writing; cell phone time; chatting with friends in the student lounge. Most people fritter away hours on these tasks.
- Become more efficient at your daily life tasks: prepare dinners in a slow cooker on the weekend to heat up single servings during the week; wear easy maintenance clothes to save ironing/dry cleaning tasks; pack your lunch/dinner to take to school instead of commuting time to eat at home; clean the house thoroughly once and then merely spot clean and pick up. You can garner ample study time if you cut down on these types of daily tasks.
- Curb excessive exercise time, but do not give up exercise time entirely. Your normal gym workout of two hours five times a week is most likely a luxuary at this point in the semester. Cut it back to two times a week or make it one hour three times a week. The guideline for exercise is 150 minutes per week. You need to focus on strengthing your brain cells rather than your abs right now.
- Consider getting up earlier each day, but do not get less than 7 hours of sleep per night. If you tend to sleep in on weekends and days when you do not have early classes, you are losing productive study time. Go to bed at the same time Sunday through Thursday nights and get up at the same time Monday through Friday mornings; do not vary the schedule more than 2 hours on the weekends. You will be more alert and better rested if you have a routine.
- Decide whether you could study an hour or two longer on a Friday or Saturday night if you currently end at 5 or 6 p.m. You want some down time, but may be able to go a bit longer than previously in order to gain more study time.
- Set up a schedule so that you delineate for each day when you will read/brief or outline for each of your courses. Then repeat the tasks at the same days/times each week. You will waste less time asking yourself what to do next.
- Break tasks down into small pieces. Small pockets of time (under an hour) can then be used effectively to complete tasks. You may be able to study a subtopic for a course in 20 minutes but would take 3 hours for the whole topic. Any forward movement is progress!
- Use windfall time when you gain unexpected time: a class is cancelled, your friend is late picking you up, a meeting ends early.
Instead of getting overwhelmed by everything you have to do, take control of your time. Conquer each course one task at a time. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Global processors are always looking for the big picture, the overview, or the roadmap in learning - they want to know the essentials and the end result. Intuitive processors are curioius about concepts, abstractions, theories, and policies and seek out relationships among ideas - they are synthesis peole. When these two breadth-processing styles combine as strong preferences, the learners can sometimes assume they know a course when they only know the gist of a course.
These processors are more tempted to take shortcuts in learning: skim a case, read the canned brief, produce a cursory outline, and write conclusory memos. They often come out of exams with comments like "I guess I didn't know Torts as well as I thought." They are shocked when reviewing an exam to see that they never analyzed element three even though they knew the analysis. The analysis stayed in their heads instead of making it to the paper for the professor to grade.
Global-intuitive students tend to make mistakes on exams that stem from their breadth of learning without sufficient depth of learning, thinking, and organizing. For example, on fact-pattern essay exams, they leave out the steps of their analysis because they think the professor will know how they got from point A to point D without having to lay it out. It is true that the professor knows how to get there, but the professor needs to know that the student knows how to get there (rather than a lucky guess) to give points on the exam. On multiple-choice exams, they tend to pick by gut rather than carefully consider every answer option. Consequently, they look at the options that match their conclusion (guilty, admissible, liable) and miss the best answer that is not guilty unless, inadmissible unless, or liable only if. Alternatively, they may not know which of two better answers is best because they do not know the nuances of the law on which the question turns.
There are several ways that global-intuitive students can help themselves to develop more in-depth understanding of the law and gain more points on exams:
- Avoid shortcuts that tempt one to only know the gist of a course: canned briefs, scripts, outlines of other students.
- Spend time memorizing the precise wording of the rules, definitions of elements, and other law so that one is not fuzzy on elements, factors, variations. or other items.
- For essay exams: Write out fact-pattern essay answers instead of just thinking about them; get feedback from professors, teaching assistants, or classmates on the depth of analysis.
- For multiple-choice exams: Complete lots of practice questions and read the answer explanations in the book to learn the nuances of the law rather than just the gist of the law.
- Take the time to read, analyze, and organize an essay answer. The rule of thumb is to use 1/3 of the time for a question to do these steps and then 2/3 of the time to write the answer.
- Use a chart to organize the essay answer rather than hold information in one's head. Rows can indicate the parties to the dispute. Columns can indicate the elements or factors that need to be discussed. One can enter facts, cases to be mentioned, and policy arguments in the appropriate cells as a careful read of the fact pattern is completed.
- When writing the essay answer, change the audience one writes to - instead of writing to the professor, write the answer as though explaining the law to a non-lawyer (your cousin, grandmother, little brother). Connecting the dots is easier when writing to a lay audience.
- When writing the essay answer, ask "why?" at the end of each sentence. If an explanation for the statement is not there, keep writing and add the "because" to the sentence.
- Carefully weigh each answer choice on multiple-choice tests; look for the best answer rather than the superficially right answer.
- Slow down in exams and use all of the time given. Global-intuitives tend to finish early which often indicates that they missed smaller issues, did not fully analyze the arguments, or did not read the questions carefully enough.
Monday, April 1, 2013
Sequential processors focus on the individual units before them (cases, subtopics, topics) rather than look at the bigger picture (how these units combine into a whole). Sensing processors focus on details, facts, and practicalities rather than look at ideas or synthesis (the inter-relationships of concepts, subtopics, etc.). When these two depth-processing styles are combined in a student as strong preferences, the students can become too focused on pieces and detail and miss the broader view, inter-relationships, and policy arguments.
Several strong sequential-sensing learners have mentioned to me in the last few weeks that they feel that the only time they are focused on what really matters is when they are reading and briefing for class. When they are outlining, reviewing their outlines, or doing practice questions (all of these steps are in their weekly schedules), they fear that they are not expending their energies on what really counts.
After several of these comments came close together, I decided to step back and analyze why these issues were surfacing after I thought we had discussed what one is trying to accomplish in law school courses. I realized that for these individuals we had not yet fully formulated what one does in law school versus what one will do in one's specialty in practice.
These students saw their job in law school as learning all the law in a course so that they were ready to practice that legal area later. They had missed the fact that they are learning topics for a course (but not all of the law for that specialty) to gain critical thinking and writing skills and general knowledge to solve new legal problems (for exams). Once they are in practice, they will focus on learning all they can about their own practice area(s). However, law school does not expect that level of in-depth study; it expects familarity with a variety of areas of law and application of the concepts to new legal scenarios.
Sequential-sensing students feel more secure in preparing for class because they mistakenly think that memorizing everything about individual cases is the most important task. Because synthesis and big-picture thinking are more uncomfortable for them (especially if policy is involved), they feel less convinced that outlines, review, and practice questions are full-fledged studying.
Once these students realize that class preparation is important but not the be-all and end-all, the light-bulb comes on for them. They are still less comfortable with the synthesis and big-picture thinking that lead to application, but they can see those broader study tasks as legitimate. By releasing themselves mentally from having to know every minute detail in each case and each sub-topic and each legal area, they begin to make the transition to the additional levels of learning that will allow them to succeed on exams. They push themselves to synthsize the material and fit it into the bigger picture. They realize that practice questions assist them in this process and help them to apply the law on exams. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
For most law schools, the semester is on the downward slope to exams - the midpoint for classes has passed. Students who have been putting things off are waking up to the fact that time is not on their side any longer.
Many law students whose Spring Breaks are over used the recent time away from class to catch up: outlines were started or completed, paper research was started or completed, and paper drafts were begun. Law students with Spring Break this week are planning the same machinations.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of the time left in the semester:
- Add to course outlines weekly so that new material is pulled together while it is still fresh.
- Write down all of your questions for each course and get them answered now: by classmates, by professors, or through study aids.
- List all of the topics and subtopics that must be learned for each exam course to get a realistic view of the amount of material.
- Estimate the amount of time needed to learn each topic already covered in class to the level needed to walk into the exam.
- Schedule learning that same older material for no more than two-thirds of the remaining class period; reserve the other weeks for learning the new material that has not yet been covered. For example, if there are six weeks left, try to learn the first eight or nine weeks of material in four weeks and reserve the remaining two weeks to learn brand new material. During the exam period, focus on the last one to two weeks of new material and review everything else.
- Do as many practice questions as possible for each exam course. However, it is ineffective to do practice questions on a topic before you have intensely studied it. Wait a few days after intensely studying a topic before you do practice questions - you want to see if you retained the information well enough to get the answers correct.
- Do not skip classes because professors will begin to give information about the final exams and pull material together.
- Also do not skip classes because the last few weeks are often heavily tested when the course builds over the semester.
- Expect every step for researching and writing a paper to take longer than you think it will. Plan your work accordingly.
- Leave ample time to edit your paper in stages for specific aspects rather than edit for everything at once. Stages might be for logic, grammar, punctuation, style, accurate quotations, citations, tables/exhibits, or other appropriate categories.
The last part of the semester will be more productive if there is a plan for using the time. Do not waste time just thinking about study tasks; start studying in earnest. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
The title of this post is actually a Yiddish proverb. It applies to law school in multiple ways:
- Reading canned briefs or headnotes instead of the actual cases will not teach you how to analyze cases as an attorney. You need to know how to spot the issues, pull out the legally significant facts, understand the court's reasoning, and distill the legal essentials from the opinions. Then you need to synthsize everything you have read.
- Using scripts instead of taking class notes will not help you think about the law. Scripts are merely verbatim transcripts without true understanding. A court reporter can make a transcript; an attorney needs to process the law to know how to use it correctly.
- Relying on other people's outlines instead of making your own outline focuses on memorization rather than understanding. Attorneys need to be able to struggle with the law and know how it works; they need to use the law rather than parrot the law.
- Reading the model answer in a practice question book instead of writing out your own answer will short-circuit learning. You cannot learn the nuances of thinking by reading another's work. You cannot learn how to organize a tight analysis without doing it yourself.
Studying the law well takes effort. Thinking about the law is very different than memorizing the law. Understanding how to apply the law to legal problems goes beyond borrowed brains. Clients want to hire lawyers who excel at using their own brains. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, November 24, 2012
I did not cook for Thanksgiving this year. My best friend and I decided to go out to dinner instead. I realized in the days after Thanksgiving that I basically was content not to have leftovers crowded in my refrigerator. Except maybe the from-scratch cranberry sauce. And the stuffing. But the turkey, green beans, succotash, gravy, potato au gratin, sweet potato casserole, crescent rolls, pumpkin pie, pecan pie - well you get the picture - were not missed.
I realized for many of my students, the last week of classes (at our law school immediately after the holiday break) is a lot like leftovers. More reading, briefing, and new class material up to the last minute are now no longer appealing. One is already sated with those items and ready for something else. The professors who wrap up or review material are like the favorite leftovers that one is happy to have servings of for the next 5 days after the holiday.
Like all of us who ate too much and sat overstuffed on the couch after the holiday meal, our students are lethargic when it comes to more class sessions. They are focused on exams and want the leftover classes to be over. Wrap-up and reviews make sense because they go along with the exam purposefulness that students have. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
I have watched this classic law school film multiple times over the years and vividly remember seeing it in the cinema when it first came out (long before I ever ventured across a law school threshold as a 1L student). Recently I decided to watch it once more because it had been several years since my last viewing.
The film has always seemed to me to be the perfect commentary on how not to have a study group. I was reminded of those points once again. Here are some of the things we learn from the movie:
- A study group needs to have members with the same goals and purposes to avoid logistical and group dynamic problems.
- A study group needs to have some ground rules so that each member knows the responsibilities and etiquette of the group.
- A study group will falter if each person is assigned one course to specialize in because only that one person learns the course well and the others suffer if the expert drops out of the group.
- A study group will have conflict if its members become overly competitive, are argumentative, refuse to negotiate on tasks, or hold others hostage by refusing to share information.
- A study group does not belong to the person who invites others to join; it belongs to everyone and should be cooperative.
- A study group will be disrupted by members who become overwhelmed and are unable to pull their weight in the group.
- If one does not study outlines all semester long and distribute learning the material, it may require holing up for days with no sleep at the end in order to cram.
- Learning styles within a group vary; one person will consider an 800-page outline a treasure while the others will view it as a curse.
- Always have a back up copy of your outline in case your computer crashes (or your outline is accidentally tossed out a window).
My wish for all law students would be to have supportive, cooperative, hard-working study groups without drama and negativity. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, November 15, 2012
When reviewing 1L's first drafts of practice exams, there is one problem that always comes up: writing in law is not creative writing. 1L's get confused by this statement, especially when their professors tell them that creativity is an important part of lawyering. However, the creativity that law professors are referring to, and the creativity that law students try to demonstrate on exams, are two different things. This is a particular challenge for students who majored in English in undergrad, and for law students who previously worked in creative fields, such as PR or marketing. Students need to understand that the purpose of writing for a legal audience is different from the purpose of writing in those fields. Lawyers need to be understood. A creatively written contract, that uses terms of art in new or novel ways, is likely to be misunderstood by the parties, and wind up in court. This is NOT what a lawyer wants when they write a contract. Therefore, lawyers use terms of art carefully; in fact, lawyers use words carefully. The goal of writing for a legal audience is not to show them how many 25 cent SAT words you know; the goal is to be understood.
Here are some other basic rules of writing for a legal audience that 1L's frequently misunderstand:
1) Using the same words throughout an exam is smart. Don't try to change your vocabulary so you don't overuse a word. That rule is true for creative writing, but it undermines the coherence of your essay when writing in law.
2) Keep your sentences short. Long sentences frequently contain too many ideas that need to be discussed separately.
3) Use linking words, like because. Although your sentences should be short, you need to be sure that you make explicit connections between law and fact. You are not a fiction writer; you do not want to make the reader make inferences. Spell it out for them.
4) A paragraph should focus on one idea. If you have a new idea, start a new paragraph. If you reread your work, and find that you have multiple ideas in one paragraph, chances are you are not discussing any one idea completely.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Have you noticed your 3L students struggling a bit? They stop to chat and tell me that they are lacking motivation, have the blahs, cannot focus, or other descriptions of their malaise when it comes to law school.
For some, it is that they are focusing on their job hunt and have taken their focus off courses. For some, it is a focus on December graduation and chomping at the bit to be done. For some it is a focus on taking the bar in February before their final spring semester is over and thinking about bar review now. For many it is just being sick and tired of law school with this semester and another one left to go.
For many of our 3L students, the third year seems like more of the same. The study tasks are just like the first two years. Unless they have elective courses that really grab their attention and introduce them to or re-immerse them in an area of law that they have a passion for, the courses seem uninspiring.
Some exceptions to the 3L boredom problem are our externship and clinic students. They seem to be energized by the change of pace they have during the semester. Other exceptions are those students who are in Trial Advocacy or other practice-oriented classroom experiences. Students who have traditional classes with even some component that breaks the mold (one drafting assignment, one client interaction, etc.) also seem more engaged in those classes.
What can 3L students with the blahs do to increase their motivation and focus if they do not have any of these types of classroom experiences? Here are some thoughts:
- Employ more active study techniques. Ask questions while reading. Read aloud instead of silently. Discuss cases and concepts with others. Switch up the facts and consider how the court would have responded to that new fact situation. Answer all of the questions at the ends of cases even if not required.
- Imagine that the client in the case had walked into one's own office with the legal problem. What questions would be asked of the client? What additional arguments could have been made by each side that were not made? What would be the strengths and weaknesses of those arguments? Are there any policy considerations? What ethical problems could have surfaced in the situation?
- Consider after each class how the information could be used in practice. Create hypothetical scenarios to delve into how the basics learned in the course would relate to a variety of legal situations.
- Discuss those hypotheticals with classmates. If you are uncertain how the concepts would work in the scenario, talk with the professor about the scenario.
- Volunteer for pro bono opportunities to see the law in action instead of feeling on the sidelines.
- Find part-time legal work in the community - even if it is an unpaid internship - to increase one's interaction with lawyers and involvement in the practice of law.
- Remind oneself of one's original goals for coming to law school and how courses will help one in passing the bar and practicing after graduation.
Even when 3L students feel that they just want to be done with their degrees, they still have the ultimate goal of becoming the best possible attorneys. Each bit of knowledge, each fact-scenario analysis, each probing question can lead to that goal - even when one is tempted to consider all of it just same old-same old.
Hang in there and take one day at a time. Learn as much as you can because for most future attorneys this will be the last time that they have the luxury to focus on learning. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Students who are just now realizing how close exams are and how much they have to do are looking for ways to be more efficient and effective. The trick is to continue the daily work for classes but still find time for exam review. A good time management schedule can help a student see where everything can be completed. (See my Thursday, September 6th post "When will I have time for . . . " for advice on time management.)
When looking specifically at exam study tasks, a student should ask the following questions:
- What is the payoff for exams of this exam study task?
- Is this exam study task the most efficient use of time?
- Is this exam study task the most effective way of doing the task?
Question One: This question is focusing on whether the exam study task is really going to help one do well on exams. If not, then the task should be dropped (or modified) for a task that will have more payoff.
- Example 1: Re-reading cases to study for exams rarely has much payoff because the exam will not ask you questions about the specific cases and instead will want you to use what you learned from the cases to solve new legal problems.
- Example 2: Reading sections in a study aid that do not correspond to topics covered by your professor in the course will have little payoff on your exam. If your professor did not cover defamation, reading about it in a study aid "just because it is there" in the book is a waste of time.
In example 1, you would get more payoff by spending time on learning your outline and doing practice questions. In example 2, you would get more payoff by reading only those sections of the study aid that are covered by your professor's course and about which you are confused.
Question Two: This question focuses on whether the task that you have determined has payoff is a wise use of your time. If you do a task with payoff inefficiently, you can still be making a study mistake.
- Example 1: You have not bothered reviewing and learning a particular topic for the exam yet. You decide to complete a set of 15 multiple-choice questions on the topic. You get 8 of them wrong and guessed at 3 of the ones you got right.
- Example 2: After outlining, you have lots of questions about the first three topics that your professor has covered in the course. You decide to worry about them later and continue on through the course with more questions surfacing each day.
In example 1, practice questions have payoff, but you wasted time because the questions would have more accurately gauged your depth of understanding and preparedness for the exam if you had done them after review. In example 2, listing the questions you have on material has payoff, but you wasted time by not getting all questions for the first three topics answered while you had the context before moving on with new material.
Question Three: This question focuses on whether the task that you determined has payoff is getting you the maximum results. If you do a task that has payoff ineffectively, you can also be making a study mistake.
- Example 1: You are reviewing your outline which is a high-payoff task. However, you choose to review your outline in the student lounge while talking to friends and watching the news on the television.
- Example 2: You join a study group which meets every week and has an agenda of topics and practice questions that will be covered. You attend regularly but never go over the material or practice questions before the meetings.
In example 1, your outline review was ineffective because you were not focused fully on that exam study task. You may say you spent two hours reviewing, but your results will be far less than the time you pretend to have spent. In example 2, your exan study was ineffective because you got minimal results compared to what would have been possible if you had prepared before the meeting.
Spending time on exam studying must have payoff, be efficient, and be effective to deserve being called exam study. Otherwise, you only fool yourself. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, October 18, 2012
We are on the downward slope of our semester now. The midpoint in classes for our law school passed last week. The level of stress among students has increased as has the level of negativity. It takes a stout constitution to stay focused on the postive instead of getting mired down in the negative.
Here are some suggestions to help students accentuate the postive:
- Remember why you came to law school and keep those reasons in mind. Law school was the pathway for meeting a goal. If that goal is still valid, then law school is still valid.
- Realize that you can only control yourself and your time. You cannot control other law students who are super-competitive, moaning and groaning, irritable, or stressed.
- Realize that you are not going to like every other law student any more than if you chose 700 (or however many law students are at your school) random people and put them together. Some people will be unlikeable, gossipy, childish, lazy, mean or have some other negative trait. That is life. Do not paint the other nice people with a broad brush that condemns everyone.
- Remove yourself from negative situations. Avoid people who stress you out, focus on doom and gloom, and complain constantly. Refuse to become engaged in conversation with someone who wants to boost his own ego at your expense by attempting to make you feel less capable.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Seek out law students who are supportive of fellow students, who have a balanced approach to law school, and who are focused on doing well while still being nice people. Talk on the phone each day with supportive family and friends.
- Avoid "should of" statements. You cannot change the choices you made earlier in the semester about outlines, study habits, and more. You can change how you move forward with your studying. Focus on positive changes rather than past bad decisions.
- Break down assignments into smaller tasks so that the work becomes less overwhelming. You can cross off small tasks more quickly and feel a sense of accomplishment.
- Make a list of the questions that you have about the material for each course. Get the questions answered now rather than later. You will feel better if you are not as worried about things you do not understand. Get help from a classmate or your professor.
- Avoid exaggerating your concerns about a course or task. "I am clueless about Federal Income Tax" is much more negative than "I do not understand depreciation." "I'll never get my outlines done" is much more damaging to your confidence than "I will get two outlines done this weekend and two by the following weekend."
- Make sure you have some down time from studying and take care of yourself. Take a dinner break. Exercise at least three times a week. Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Take a couple of nights off on the weekend.
A full-time law student should be able to get all study tasks (reading, briefing, outlining, finishing assignments/papers, reviewing for exams) done in 50-55 hours per week. That still leaves time to have a life outside of law school. If you use your time wisely, you will feel more positive about law school because you will see that you are getting everything done and having guilt-free time for yourself. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Law students have a large number of items to memorize so that they can state the law precisely, know the exact definitions, use the correct steps of analysis, ask the right questions to analyze a topic, or connect the right policy arguments to a topic. At times the volume of information to remember can be daunting.
Here are some things that can be helpful when students are considering how they want to do memory drills:
Memory drills usually work best in shorter bursts of 30 minutes or less.
The number of memory drill time blocks per week will depend on the number of rules or other items that must be memorized. A course with lots of rules will need more drill blocks than one with fewer rules.
Because the brain can only memorize a few chunks of information at a time, memory work should be distributed throughout the semester rather than crammed in at the end of the semester.
Memory techniques should be matched to what works for an individual student - how did one successfully memorize material in the past, for example.
A combination of memory techniques may be needed by one student while another student has one memory technique that always works.
Possible ways to memorize material include:
- Flashcards: some students learn more by handwriting their own than using software
- Writing a rule out multiple times
- Reciting a rule aloud multiple times
- Drawing a spider web, mind map, or other visual of the rule
- Acronyms: taking the first letter of each word (for example the elements) and remembering them with a silly sentence (duty, breach, causation, harm becomes DBCH and then becomes Debbie's boa constrictor hid).
- Rhymes or sayings: assault and battery are like ham and eggs.
- Storytelling: coming up with a story that weaves together the words (for example, the soldier was on DUTY when a tank BREACHed the wall of the fort, etc.)
- Peg method: combining a numbered list with rhyming words (one bun, two shoe, three tree, four door, etc.) and then a visual image combining the item (bun, shoe, etc.) with the word that needs to be remembered (example: one bun duty is a sticky bun with a soldier saluting it; two shoe breach is a man's business shoe with a tank tearing apart the toe as it drives out, etc.)
Every student has to put in the time memorizing the material. However, remember that memorization alone will not garner a high grade. It is the beginning of learning. One has to understand what is being memorized and be able to apply the material to new legal scenarios on the exam with a thorough analysis. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Law students spend a great deal of time on their case briefs while preparing for class. They then listen carefully in class and take copious notes. But sometimes in the hurry to get on to the next reading and briefing assignment, they forget to take time after class and compare their briefs to the professor's class discussion. By critiquing afterwards, the briefs can become tools to see how one can do a better job of analysis for the next case.
One professor may go into great detail on all aspects of a case while another professor will just hit the highlights of the same case. Each professor is different, so a student's brief may include more or less detail depending on how the professor teaches and what questions typically come up in class. Students' briefs will also differ in length and format because of their learning styles.
Despite these factors, students still should to use their case briefs as a learning tool for how to become more adept at analyzing and briefing cases. Student want to learn how to select all of the correct essentials for a brief rather than including too much that is extraneous or too little that ignores important points. Critiquing ones briefs increases one's ability to find the balance needed.
Take the facts section, for example. One wants to be able to differentiate between the legally significant facts and the storytelling facts in the case. The court usually includes both types of facts because the reader needs to know the facts that relate to the court's holding as well as enough facts to understand the scenario of the case.
If a brief includes all of the facts given, then it is not making the distinction about what is important. If a brief includes too few facts, then it may miss the legal significance of some facts.
By analyzing why one missed some facts that the professor emphasized as important to the outcome, one gains greater understanding on how to spot legally significant facts among the overall facts. By asking oneself why the professor left out some facts that the student thought were important, one begins to see why some facts are merely storytelling facts and not necessary to the legal analysis.
Next think about the issue in the brief. Student issue statements are often too narrow or too broad rather than in line with the professor's version. Issue statements that are too narrow restrict the court's question to fewer legal scenarios than are meant to be included. Issue statements that are too broad apply the question to more situations than are meant to be encompassed. Because the holding is the answer to the issue, an incorrect issue statement will then be mirrored in an incorrect statement of the holding of the case.
By evaluating why one's statement is too broad or too narrow, the student learns how to understand the court's specific purview and the reach of the law. One learns how to analyze the impact the case will actually have.
Because casebooks edit cases for a specific teaching purpose, students may not realize initially that cases are often far more complex than what is being assigned for the reading. They may not be aware that there are multiple issues in a case.
Also consider the reasoning section in the brief. Students sometimes miss the logic of the case because they skip steps in their briefs rather than delineate the entire reasoning process of the court. They mistakenly focus on just getting to the holding rather than learning how courts reason so they know how one would argue a client's position.
By evaluating whether one left out steps in the reasoning or misunderstood the importance of various aspects of the discussion, the student learns to work through the analysis logically and to weigh the importance of arguments. One's ability to reason persuasively increases as one gains knowledge in how courts make their decisions.
A student may find that critiquing her briefs indicates where the problem is but then the student is unsure how to fix it. For example, the issue statements may be frequently wrong, but the student may not see why and what to do differently. I would suggest that the student visit with the professor during office hours and show the professor a selection of briefs with issue problems. The professor is likely to see the pattern of error and be able to make suggestions to correct it. (Amy Jarmon)