Tuesday, January 28, 2020
It is an oddly resonant time of year.
This has been happening for the past week or so:
- A student comes to my office to talk. It's a 1L student, wrestling with a mix of shock and panic after receiving first-semester grades. They did not do as well as they had expected, and they are not sure what that means. Are they really smart enough for law school? Will they even make it through the first year? They are willing to work hard to improve, but they don't even know where to begin, and they are not sure that they will improve enough to make it. I explain that of course they need to take their grades seriously, and that they do have a good deal of progress to make, preferably as quickly as possible. However, I note, it is not unusual for students not to reach their fully potential right away, especially when transitioning into new types of tasks, and that they do have time to get themselves where they want to be, as long as they are diligent and thoughtful and make every effort to learn useful lessons from the disappointing evaluations they have received so far.
- Next, a recent graduate comes to my office to talk. It's someone preparing to take the bar exam in February, wrestling with a mix of shock and panic after receiving the results of their first simulated MBE exam. They did not do as well as they had expected, and they are not sure what that means. Are they really smart enough for the bar exam? Will they even pass? They are willing to work hard to improve, but they don't even know where to begin, and they are not sure that they will improve enough to make it. I explain that of course they need to take their score seriously, and that they do have a good deal of progress to make, preferably as quickly as possible. However, I note, it is not unusual for examinees not to reach their fully potential right away, especially when transitioning into new types of tasks, and that they do have time to get themselves where they want to be, as long as they are diligent and thoughtful and make every effort to learn useful lessons from the disappointing evaluations they have received so far.
- Next, another 1L student comes to my office to talk . . .
It is the nature of our jobs that we sometimes find ourselves trying to convey multiple messages -- sometimes contradictory -- at the same time. In January, this messaging consists of finding the right balance of intensity and perspective, of patience and urgency, of recognizing the effects of circumstance and shouldering the burden of personal responsibility. It can be tough in part because the people we counsel can be so different -- words that barely allay the anxiety of one person might be enough to lull another person into a false sense of self-confidence. Better to calm our advisees down just enough for them to be able to hear and take in our more practical suggestions about focusing on step-by-step goals, specific tasks, and formative assessments, which provide them not only with routes to get to where they want to be, but also help them strengthen their abilities to more accurately judge their performance and progress.
For those preparing for the February bar, it might also be worthwhile reminding them that they may have had similar moments of uncertainty when they first entered law school. They figured out enough to get obtain their J.D.s. Why should they doubt that they have the capacity to figure out how to clear that final hurdle?
Monday, January 27, 2020
Last week, Steven Foster, Director of Academic Achievement for Oklahoma City University School of Law shared an interesting article about student perceptions of social media usage. The article caption: Social Media is Tearing Us Apart, caused me to reflect upon my evolving thoughts about academic use of social media.
In my early years of teaching, I was largely dismissive of student use of social media outlets. I viewed online social networking as inutile, with no academic or pedagogical purpose. Many of us, born avant the age of social media influence, worried that tools like Instagram and Facebook were counterproductive distractions during intense bar study periods. Yet, there were anecdotal (if not fully accurate) correlations between students who spent too much time surfing and socializing on social mediums and those who ultimately failed the bar exam. The sage advice of the day directed bar studiers to deactivate social media accounts and avoid screen time during bar study.
Fast forwarding to the present day, those in ASP and bar prep may be better served to use the litany of social media tools for programmatic good. Social media, at its best, is an ideal tool to connect with and aid students. To that end, I will use this weekly blog post as a Dolly Parton challenge — ASP style.*
Law students are likely groomed by career development administrators to create professional online profiles. LinkedIn is one of the go-to sources for online professional profiles. LinkedIn connections can also be wonderful resources for ABA data reporting. ASPers can and should accept connection requests from current and recent law students. Law grads who are seeking JD-employment, or those who are newly positioned, typically keep their LinkedIn profiles up to date. Another great use of LinkedIn, for ASP related purposes, is its searchability. Unlike other social mediums, students and young lawyers generally use their legal names and their profiles are easily searchable by name and location.
I set up a private group on Facebook for my students during bar study. I allow only current bar takers to join the group. Within the group, I share daily bar study affirmations, announcements, and bar study tips. I post Questions of the Day (“QOD”) to engage students. I create an environment where students can be comfortable posting answers, even wrong answers. They use the group forum to interact with peers and learn from each other. At the end of each day, I post the answer and explanation to the QOD which generates additional questions. Our students are going to be on social media anyway, why not use the tool to engage them in bar study, I say.
Although "the gram" does not provide the group interaction capabilities of of Facebook, it is a great tool to market program events. Using memes and graphically captioned announcements for, e.g. practice exams, meeting with bar examiners, deadlines, office hours, and free lunch, will easily capture student attention. Having an Instagram presence also aids in outreach to Gen Z and the later-born Millennials who are deliberately not present on Facebook.
Although excluded by Dolly Parton, #AcademicTwitter is not to be slept on. St. John’s University School of Law legal writing professor, Renee Allen is the reigning queen of law school Twitter. She has over 2,000 followers to her @profallentweets handle. She has written and presented on effective usage of social media in law school academic support. According to Professor Allen, "Twitter is great for networking, learning, and self-promotion . . . and it can humanize law profs, which is super important for students who follow [us]."
Well, I’ll leave to one of the other bloggers to find a fit for Tinder in Academic Support and Bar Prep. 😉
*The Dolly Parton challenge refers to a four-photo mosaic of potential profile photos for social media sites LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Tinder.
Sunday, January 26, 2020
I sat anxiously in the stands watching a nail-biter. Adrenaline pumping as the score narrowed to a one possession game, then the lead slipped away. I watched as the shots stopped dropping, and the defense became more porous than it had been all season. As the clock hit zero, the team lost. While I am describing a 4th grade basketball game, the dejection on the team's face was immediate. My son's team was undefeated and just lost to a team with a worse record. It wasn't the 2004 Pistons beating the Lakers, but the kids felt it. The coach talked to them for 5-10 minutes after the game. My son told me in the car that the theme of the talk was to learn from the mistakes. There are still enough regular season games left to have the best record, and there is a tournament at the end of the season. Their goals are still attainable.
Many alumni around the country felt defeated last week. The midterm simulated MBE happened for most February bar takers. The results were probably not what most students wanted. While the stakes are much higher, the theme is the same for February bar takers as it is for the 4th grade basketball team. The simulated test is a learning experience to determine where to improve. The goal of passing the bar is still achievable with the right amount of effort.
I encourage everyone to increase effort, but the effort must be efficient. Make sure to complete the required assignments in your course. I also encourage sitting down with your academic support professional to create a customized plan for the rest of bar prep. ASPers at your school can give advice on how to use an extra 10-20 minutes or where to maximize your effort. The exam is in 4 weeks, so efficiency will be critical.
The simulated test is deflating. Don't let it be demotivating. The test is a checkpoint on the journey to a license. Keep up the hard work for 4 more weeks.
Saturday, January 25, 2020
Friday, January 24, 2020
Social Media icons created an artificial environment to bring people together. We can connect with high school friends across the country, and families can post pictures for far away relatives. The connections can keep everyone updated and feeling connected. However, our attempts for connection may have gone too far.
Current middle and high school students understand social media better than many people much older. Common Sense Media and Kahoot! conducted a recent survey of over 400,000 middle and high school students. 56% of those surveyed believe social media is tearing us apart instead of bringing us together. Some could argue adolescence amplifies the discord of social media, and while that is plausible, law students have similar tendencies. Every semester includes a social media debacle at my school, and I am sure the same occurs across the country. I see discord regularly within our students.
Also included in the findings:
-31 percent said it was okay to share something on social media, even if it's not true, if it is funny and you like what it says.
-80 percent believe some people spend too much time making the posts perfect to impress others.
Younger students recognize the problems with social media. Their recognition may be able to change how people use social media in the future. You can read the short article on the findings at Education Week here.
Thursday, January 23, 2020
Research suggests a relationship between a positive growth mindset mindset and improved learning. C. Dweck, G. Walton, G. Cohen, Academic Tenacity: Mindsets and Skills that Promote Long-Term Learning (2014). Consequently, I've been trying to "read" the minds of my students (and they often seem to look sullen, downtrodden, and burdened).
To be frank, that might well be my fault because I don't always accentuate the positives about the difficulties involved in learning. Yet for most of us, we realize that it's in the midst of the hard spots of our lives that our character was shaped. In short, we grew into the people we are today because of how we pulled through the difficulties of yesterday. And that's why learning is...growing our minds. So, why not see learning in similar light?
Here's a couple of suggestions that might help your students approach learning with a more positive growth mindset:
First, my best classes are when I leave room at the end of the class, well, for learning (or at least reflecting on learning). Here's how: I ask students to mingle about what they learned today. Instantly faces are transformed into beams of sunlight; frowns are replaced by the warmth of smiles; and, most significantly, the class becomes alive with criss-crossing conversations. Then, I open up the floor...and the floor fills up oh so quickly. Hand over there, another over here. Three over there. More that away. In short, as students open up, they come to appreciate that they have learned a great deal (and that most of their learning came through courageously probing mistakes made).
Second, I toss out a statement - in my best vocal rendition of Eeyore as possible - gloomily saying: "Oh my...oh me. Woe is me. I missed...another...problem." We then contrast that mindset with Winnie the Pooh: "Oh, look, there's honey over there, up in the tree, and back over there, why, there's even more honey; there's honey everywhere!" Suddenly students recognize that law school life is not really as gloomy as they think it is, that there's plenty of "honey" to be gathered from every problem that we miss; that it's in "climbing up the trees" and putting our hands in the thick of the "bee hives" that leads us to even more honey...because, well, "where's there's bees--there's got to be honey."
In short, it's in the midsts of mistakes that we learn best. So, to sum up what I've gleaned about learning from Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore it's this: "The best learning is like honey; it's a sticky mess of a problem (but a mighty good treat!)."
P.S. To learn more about Winnie the Pooh and friends, visit: https://winniethepooh.disney.com/winnie-the-pooh
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
If you are taking the Feb Bar Exam (or even if you are looking ahead to July), you might be wondering about the best ways to study. You might also be wondering about how to increase your studying without increasing your study hours. Remember, self care is important!
To this end, I present to you....."Mini Essays". Mini essays are a very simple, yet effective, way to multitask while you study.
Step 1: Choose an MBE question that you got wrong. Or even one you got right, but are a bit uncertain as to WHY you got it right. Maybe you guessed, or were unsure of the answer. (On a side note, any MBE you get right, but feel like it was a lucky guess, or anything short of feeling 100% confident that you know why you were right, you should STILL review).
Step 2: Eliminate the answer choices.
Step 3: Write an IRAC answer to the question.
This should not take longer than 5-10 minutes, and your essay should not be more than half a page or so. Ideally, it's a paragraph.
This is effective because you are doing multiple things at once. First and foremost, you are mastering the law. If you are struggling with an MBE question because you don't remember the law, or you were unsure about how to apply it, writing it out (with your notes) is a great way to help remember and master that law. This is far more effective than simply reviewing or rewriting an outline.
Next, you are practicing your essay writing skills in a timed setting. This should feel less daunting than writing out full 30 minute essays. You can do these in 5 minutes! But, you are practicing writing out an analysis, as well as your time management and general writing skills. It's a win all around!
Finally, if you can write out an answer, and do it well, to a multiple choice question, chances are you going to get the answer right next time you see a similar question.
Remember that you don't always need huge blocks of time to study. Many students get frustrated because they are working, or have family commitments, that prevent them from carving out hours at a time. Mini Essays are a great way to fill those 5-10 minute blocks.
Finally, as you are almost halfway through bar review, keep in mind that it is a marathon, not a spring. Take care of yourself physically and mentally, and go into the exam with confidence!
Monday, January 20, 2020
Across the country this week, bar candidates will take a full-length practice exam. Your first simulated MBE scores may not be exactly what you expected. I took my first bar exam years ago, but I still remember the shock of my first practice test score. I could not believe my eyes. Never before had I seen a percentage so low. My practice test results triggered a fight or flight instinct in me. For others, this week's results may yield any one of a host of emotions: fear, devastation, sadness, indifference, or overconfidence. Bar passers must develop the coping mechanisms to rebuff these counterproductive, yet understandable, emotions.
The first step in your battle for resilience must be to reflect on your pre-bar journey. Approximately three years ago, you were wondering if you would get into your first-choice law school — or any law school for that matter. Once admitted, those first-year exams made you question your ability to make it through law school. Yet somehow by grace and sporadic unhealthy doses of caffeine, you are here with a law degree and one test that stands between you and the practice of law. What began as a quest both shaky and unsure, is now a dream realized. How you started is NOT how you will finish.
The second step is self-assessment. You may have learned that while you love e.g. Torts or Contracts, they do not reciprocate your sentiments. You may be equally shocked to discover that you excelled in a dreaded subject area, proving that you know the doctrine of equitable conversion and standards of review far better than you previously led yourself to believe. Analyze your practice exam results to identify your areas of strength and weakness.
The third step is to slow your roll. Before looking to new sets of practice questions, revisit questions that you have already answered and missed. Don't reread the answer explanations. Instead reread the question facts. It is highly likely that you may know the tested rule of law, but missed some key detail in the fact pattern or misread the call of the question. It is unwise to do more practice questions until you fully understand how to analyze and answer the ones you've already answered.
The fourth and final step is to execute a plan of attack. Once you come to terms with your weaknesses, develop an effective plan to combat them. The tools and assignments from your commercial bar review provider can only take you so far. If you need drastic improvement, consider reaching out to your law school academic and bar support team or a professional bar tutor. Sometimes the best bar therapy comes in the form of a volunteer bar coach or the supportive words of a recent bar passer.
Sunday, January 19, 2020
Comparison is the thief of Joy. - President Theodore Roosevelt
The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel. - Pastor Steven Furtick
Unfortunately, now is the season of comparison. Grades came out recently, and I hear 2 questions from many of my students. The first question is, "am I still in law school?" For the vast majority of law students, the answer is yes. The next question I hear is some version of how do I compared to everyone else. The joy of passing or completing a semester of law school isn't most students' reaction. The near immediate reaction is to start comparing to others. The immediate comparison furthers the demoralizing effect law school has on many students.
Depression in law school is four times higher than society. I believe one of the reasons is our natural tendency to compare ourselves to others. Not only do people like to compare, society has furthered the comparison mindset. Pastor Furtick's quote from above is specific to social media. He is 100% correct. One study indicates over 69% of adults use social media. Social media is a constant comparison. Individuals see friends' vacations, clothes, habits, food, etc. and start feeling bad about life. The perception is the pictures and stories on facebook are the constant, and our own daily constant can't compare.
Current students grew up on social media, so they are even more entrenched in comparisons. Our job is to find a way to help students fight the immediate need to compare to others' grades. When students come in, I always start with acknowledging students' feeling'. Many are upset with grades, and feeling disappointed is understandable. From there, I talk about what they accomplished. I tell them not everyone can make it into law school, and not everyone graduates. Making it through a semester is impressive. Here are a few additional strategies for decreasing comparisons:
1. Turn off social media as much as possible, but definitely during the week after grades are released. Disappointment from grades can be compounded by comparing to others on facebook.
2. Write down why you came to law school. Ask yourself, can you still complete your career goals? The answer is most likely yes. With a few exceptions, you can still accomplish your goals no matter what your grades were. Many jobs are found through networking.
3. Don't listen to others' stories. Too many people talk about their "great" grades or how well they did. Don't listen. I hear more people talk about how well they did than is statistically probable.
4. Focus on what matters, which is this semester. Last semester's grades are finished. The only thing that can change are current and future semester grades. Now is the time to focus on how to improve.
Grade comparison is a thief of the joy of law school. Intellectual attainment should be rigorous but fulfilling. Constant comparison can ruin it. Let's strive to help students stop comparing to each other.
Saturday, January 18, 2020
Many of us are trying to make changes for the new year. Success insider published 20 motivation quotes for the new year. Here they are:
Let today be the day you give up who you've been for who you can become. - Hal Elrod
The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul. - G.K. Chersterton
When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. - Lao Tzu
The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. - Melody Beattie
If you don't like the road you're walking, start paving another one. - Dolly Parton
Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us. - Hal Borland
Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one. - Braid Paisley
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. - Dr. Seuss
For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice. - T.S. Elliott
The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. - Eleanor Roosevelt
Only you have the power to determine whether your future mimics your past. - Skip Prichard
Your life journey is about learning to become more of who you are and fulfilling the highest, truest expression of yourself as a human being. - Oprah Winfrey
There is no passion to be found in playing small - in settling for a life that is less than what you are capable of living. - Nelson Mandela
Don't count the days. Make the days count. - Muhammad Ali
Twenty years from now you'll be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. - H. Jackson Brown Jr.
You are never too old to set a goal or to dream a new dream. - C.S. Lewis
And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that never were. - Rainer Maria Rilke
It is never too late to be what you might have been. - George Elliot
Ring out the old, ring in the new, ring, happy bells, across the snow: the year is going, let him go; ring out the false, ring in the true. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. - Thomas Jefferson
Friday, January 17, 2020
8th Annual Southwestern Consortium of Academic Support Professionals Workshop on March 6th, 2020
ASP Across the Curriculum
Texas Tech University School of Law
in Lubbock, Texas
The Southwestern Consortium of Academic Support Professionals will host a one day conference focused on developing Academic Support programs throughout the curriculum. ASPers are amazing at the work we do, but we have limited interactions with students. Students need skills work reinforced throughout every year of law school. ASP skills range from metacognition to specific test taking skills. The goal of the conference is to provide ideas for participants to take back to law schools that will encourage everyone at the school to help students improve.
Registration will be open to anyone interested in academic support. You can register by filling out the form at this link.
Texas Tech secured rooms at:
Country Inn & Suites by Radisson
6225 62nd Street
Lubbock, TX 79424
You should be able to mention Texas Tech and SWCASP to get the conference rate.
Conference Dinner and Presenters
Thursday, March 5th
6:30pm – Shuttle from Hotel to Funky Door Restaurant
Friday, March 6th
8-9 – Shuttle to Texas Tech School of Law with Breakfast
9-12 – Presentations:
It Takes a Village: Establishing Working Relationships with Doctrinal Faculty
Reynaldo Valencia, Preyal Shah, & Meijken Westenskow; UNT Dallas – College of Law
Using Academic Support Techniques in the Doctrinal Classroom: One Civil Procedure Professor’s Experience
Zoe Niesel; St. Mary’s University School of Law
Theory, Design, and Implementation of Effective Bar Exam Preparation Programs
Raul Ruiz, Director of Bar Preparation & Assistant Professor of Academic Support; Florida International University College of Law
12-1 – Lunch
1-3 – Presentations:
Integrating the Multistate Performance Test from Day One
Antonia Miceli; Saint Louis University School of Law
Why I Lifted the Laptop Ban in My Classroom
Yolanda Ingram; Drexel Kline School of Law
2L Curriculum Chasm: Creating the Skill Bridge Between 1L and 3L
Jamie Kleppetsch; DePaul University College of Law
6pm – Optional Dinner, Drinks, and Socializing at La Sirena Restaurant
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact:
Steven Foster (email@example.com)
Director of Academic Achievement at Oklahoma City University
Cassie Christopher (Catherine.firstname.lastname@example.org)
Professor of Law, Associate Dean for Bar Success
Chelsea Baldwin (Chelsea.email@example.com)
Director, Academic Success Programs
Thursday, January 16, 2020
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So picture a triangle: One way to think about learning is to contemplate the three "angles" of learning.
At the apex of the triangle - from the viewpoint of most students - law school education is all about learning to think, act, and communicate like an attorney.
But that begs the question. What is learning?
Well, in my opinion there are two others corners to the triangle, and those - I believe - are the wellsprings or foundations for successful learning. And, as many have suggested, they often go overlooked in our haste to teach students to "think like attorneys."
Let me explain what I see as the other two corners that make a "well-rounded" triangle so that our students can effectively learn to think, act, and communicate like attorneys.
One of the corners involves applying the science of learning - the lessons learned from educational psychologists as how best to learn. And, as the scientists suggest, its often counter-intuitive to our own notions of how we best learn: To cut to the chase, less talk and more action, by having our students engage in pre-testing, practice testing, distributed practice, retrieval practice, and interleaving practice throughout the semester, is foundational to long-term meaningful learning.
The other corner, it seems to me, involves the interplay of the heart, the soul, and the mind. It's the psychological-social dimensions of what best equips us and our students to engage in optimal learning practices. Some emphasize academic tenacity or grit. But, in my opinion, this corner of the triangle rises (or falls) on whether we are developing within our students a sense of place, of belonging, as valuable members of our learning communities. You see, it's very difficult to have grit when we feel out of place, like we don't belong. But focus on equipping our students to belong...and tenacity will soon follow suit.
Lately, thanks to the work of many in the academic support field in teaching me about the interrelationships among (1) the skills of lawyering, (2) the science of learning, and (3) the psychological-social dimensions of learning, I've been regularly integrating, emphasizing, and sharing research about learning straight from the "scientists" mouths.
Here's two of my favorite articles, filled with colorful and vibrant charts and tables, which I flash onto the classroom screens (and then have my students ponder, decipher, and explain as to how they can best learn to "think like lawyers" based on the latest research):
And, if you want to make the most of this little blog, grab a piece of paper, close your computer, and draw a nifty picture of a triangle (with annotations as you try to recall as much as you can about what you learned).
Happy Learning to you and your students!
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
It's that time of year, where you might start to feel overwhelmed by the amount of bar review tasks in front of you. First all, this is not at all unusual, and you are not alone.
Second, a brutally honest fact - statistics show that the more bar prep course a student completes, the higher their chances of passing. For every single percentage point of your commercial bar course that you complete, your chances of passing the bar also increase.
However, whilst it is true on a general level that you need to be working hard to cover as much of that course as possible, it is also worth remembering that you are not a statistic. Students are unique individuals, not numbers. Most importantly, whilst working hard, you need to ensure that you keep your health and sanity for the end of Feb.
So, all that being said, here are a few tips if you find yourself getting overwhelmed:
- One thing at a time.The best thing to do when feeling overwhelmed is to take one step at a time, and DO one thing at a time. Yes, it’s good to have a big picture idea of what you need to accomplish between now and the end of Feb, that’s what will keep you on target. But, on a day to day basis, you need to focus on what you can do in the next 5 minutes, the next hour, the afternoon. Make lists for yourself, or use the ones given to you by the commercial prep companies (which are usually online) and tick one thing off at a time, even if it’s a small thing.
- Prioritize active learning. Don’t get bogged down in reviewing outlines, making outlines, making flashcards, etc. Your priority should always be practice essays (especially if you will get feedback) and practice MBE questions, not to mention, practice MPT. As for the law, of course you need to know it, and remember it, but you will remember it better by writing about it, with a unique fact pattern, then you will simply by reading the law, or even putting it on a flashcard. Succeeding on the bar exam is a SKILL, so you need practice. You wouldn’t prepare for a hockey game simply by reading about hockey; you’d get on the ice and run skating drills, you’d have practice games. The bar isn’t really any different.
- Extra Questions. I often get questions about whether students should be doing MORE, or a good source of extra questions. The right answer to this is going to vary from student to student. I always think more questions are better, in general, and varying the types of questions you are doing can be beneficial. However, you don’t need to pile on extra books and questions for the sake of doing so. Focus on getting through your normal schedule first, if you get through that, and you are not completely exhausted, then consider extra sources of questions.
- Don’t pay attention to what everyone else is doing.Remember, you are not a statistic, and there is no cookie cutter bar student. Comparing notes with others on what works, or what doesn’t, is fine, but don’t judge yourself by how many hours someone else is in the library, or how many sample questions they are doing, or whether they’ve bought 10 extra books. This is like the first year of law school; everyone is different, and you might be working at a different pace, or in a different way, from someone else. That’s ok!
Remember you still have over 5 weeks left, this is not a sprint, it’s an endurance race. That means pacing yourself. Working hard, yes, but also remember that working smarter is more important than just working harder.
Good luck, you got this!
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
I had a minor enlightening encounter this week that I thought worth sharing. I was going over the responses to some previous bar exam essay questions that a former student had wanted to review with me. One of the first questions we went over had a moderately long fact pattern involving a will of uncertain validity, and then asked simply, "Who will inherit the decedent's property?" The student properly recognized that there were several issues that had to be addressed in order to answer that question, and identified and fairly discussed most (but not all) of them.
Another question had been written in such a way that it clearly indicated that there were three specific issues to discuss: at the end of the page-long fact pattern, three separate questions were asked, in separate sentences, formatted into three separate enumerated paragraphs, as in*:
- Do you really want to hurt me?
- How can you mend a broken heart?
- Should I stay or should I go?
*Questions selected for illustration only. Not actual bar exam questions.
The student had done a fair job of answering these questions, creating a separate header for each one that incorporated the language of the question and then earnestly examining each question presented. A rule or two was misstated, some relevant facts were overlooked, but essentially the student had properly identified the relevant issues and had done some creditable analysis for each one.
A few questions later, we were looking at another question that seemed to wrap up in a similar way, with three enumerated statements. In this case, however, the question explained that one of the parties in the question had filed suit against another, and that the complaint had three allegations**:
- You think love is to pray, but I'm sorry I don't pray that way.
- You don't have to prove to me that you're beautiful to strangers; I've got lovin' eyes of my own.
- Now that I've surrendered so tenderly, you now want to leave, oooo you want to leave me.
**Valid only in jurisdictions that permit bar examination responses to be produced via karaoke.
After listing these allegations, the question asked, "Is the plaintiff likely to succeed on these issues? Explain."
As with the previous enumerated question, the student took cues from the formatting in the text to format the answer, again creating a separate header incorporating the language of each issue and then examining each issue separately. In doing so, however, the student implicitly assumed that the assertions made by the plaintiff were as sound and valid as the questions asked by the constructor of the question. In other words, the student took the precedent statements in the plaintiff's assertions -- "You think love is to pray", "I've got lovin' eyes of my own", and "I've surrendered so tenderly" -- as givens that could be employed to prove the asserted conclusions, rather than as unproven premises that needed to be demonstrated or disproved with reference to specific facts and legal rules. Thus, the analysis in this question was abbreviated and circular: "Because the plaintiff has lovin' eyes of his own, defendant does not have to prove that she is beautiful to strangers."
I pointed out to the student that, ordinarily, a decision maker would not simply take the plaintiff's assertions at face value, but would likely seek proof by citing facts and legal standards. The student acknowledged that it had not appeared, in the heat of the exam, that the implications of the two questions were very different -- the first providing three issues for analysis, and the second requiring the examinee to determine the real issues themselves. The student had not had any trouble recognizing this need to figure out the relevant issues in the first question, so it wasn't an inability to dig deeper that had prevented her from doing so in the last question. Instead, we agreed, it had been a reflexive reaction to the form of the question -- "1,2,3 means take those words as your givens". Making this explicit seemed to prepare the student to avoid doing the same thing in the future.
Just a neat little example of how the shortcuts we take, or make for ourselves, can sometimes take us places we don't want to go.
Monday, January 13, 2020
The Uniform Bar Examination (“UBE”) has juggernauted from an idea to the primary gateway for entry into the practice of law. To the resounding support of law graduates and law schools, a supermajority of states has abandoned individual state law exams for a uniform exam written by a private entity. The UBE is the exam of the future and I anticipate that at least three more states will have adopted the UBE by year end. The UBE remedies many voiced complaints about varying degrees of exam quality and exam difficulty across states. Perhaps the most touted feature of the UBE is score portability.
UBE takers may "port" or transfer their scores into other UBE states, thus, relieving examinees from the arduous chore of having to sit anew for a bar exam. However, the promise of score portability is allusive at best. Transfer procedures vary by state. The fees to transfer one’s UBE score may be as high as $1700, possibly more than the cost of taking the bar exam in the transferring state. For a majority of students who exit law school burdened with student loan debt, these transfer costs will make the promise of portability unrealizable.
According to attorney and bar prep professional Ashley Heidemann, “the UBE is not as portable as law students are led to believe.” Heidemann feels that the promise of portability is highly deceptive to law students who believe that a widespread uniform exam means that once licensed, UBE attorneys will be able to transfer into other states at any time. “The biggest misconception students have,” says Heidemann, “is that UBE scores can be transferred to a different UBE jurisdiction at any time. In reality, UBE scores are only good for generally two to five years, meaning one cannot transfer a score from one state to a different UBE state after their specified time period is over.”
Even staunch supporters of the UBE seem to think that the UBE has not yet reached its greatest potential. UNLV Professor Joan Howarth advocates for a uniform cut score, citing that a six point score differential could effectively exclude hundreds of bar takers from the practice of law. Melissa Hale, Director of Academic Success and Bar Programs at Loyola University Chicago School of Law says, “I’d love to see a more uniform process [regarding admission and transfer policies].” Hale, who sees the UBE as an improvement over predecessor exams and self-identifies as pro-UBE, wants to make sure that students understand the score transfer process and that it is “not without hurdles.”
As more and more states adopt the UBE, academic support professionals will need to stay in the know and keep students informed about the true costs and limitations of score portability. That is — until or unless a uniform cut score becomes a reality. Stay tuned, we may be closer than we think!
 Marsha Griggs, Building a Better Bar Exam, 7 Tex. A&M L. Rev 1 (2019).
 Interview with Ashley Heidemann, President, JD ADVISING LLC (Mar. 25, 2019).
 Joan W. Howarth, The Case for a Uniform Cut Score, 42 J. LEGAL PROF. 69, 72 (2017).
Sunday, January 12, 2020
BASIC FUNCTION AND SCOPE OF JOB:
Under the supervision of the Faculty Director of Bar Services, the Associate Director will design and implement a comprehensive communications and monitoring system to annually track student preparation and performance on the bar exam by graduating class in all jurisdictions, and assume primary responsibility for collecting and analyzing a wide range of bar performance data for reporting to the law school faculty, university senior leadership and accrediting agencies. The Associate Director will also oversee the delivery of the law school’s 3L/4L and post-graduation bar exam preparation curriculum and programming, including but not limited to the alumni bar mentoring program, essay feedback program and simulated exams.
- Create and implement a comprehensive program for communicating with students about bar exam requirements in order to assess their preparedness and predict success;
- Design and implement a case management and monitoring system for students in each graduating class, to track exam performance in all jurisdictions, with particular focus on the California Bar Exam;
- Collect, compile, manage and secure a wide-range of data that relates student demographics, participation and academic achievement to bar performance outcomes;
- Conduct statistical analysis and prepare reports for the law school faculty and the university senior leadership following each exam administration;
- In collaboration with the law school dean’s office, compile statistics for the ABA’s annual bar passage questionnaire; recommend strategies to maintain compliance with accreditation standards;
- Oversee and provide individualized counseling to GGU students preparing for the bar exam as well as repeat bar takers;
- Review student practice essays, provide detailed feedback and oversee the law school’s alumni bar mentoring program;
- Formulate and revise as needed the curriculum for bar preparation workshops, courses and orientation sessions;
- Provide training for adjunct instructors and supervise teaching assistants;
- In collaboration with the Faculty Director of Academic Achievement, administer all Themis programs and services throughout the student lifecycle; and,
- Provide support for Academic Achievement programming and teach academic skills courses as needed.
JD from an ABA-accredited law school and member of the State Bar of California;
- Minimum two years’ experience in preparing students for the bar exam, with prior experience grading the California bar exam preferred;
- Experience with standard practices of data collection, management and analysis; familiarity working with relational database systems and statistical program software packages preferred;
- Proficiency in using Excel and the MS Office suite;
- Superior organizational, written, oral, and interpersonal communication skills;
- Ability to provide motivation and encouragement to students; think creatively and critically around strategies to assess student preparedness and improve bar exam performance;
- Ability to work independently, managing multiple projects and deadlines under minimal supervision; set priorities, demonstrate initiative and assume leadership while working as a member of a professional team;
- Ability to handle confidential information, collaborate with colleagues, and exhibit good judgment when interfacing with students, staff and faculty; and
- Ability to establish and maintain positive and professional working relationships with all law school constituents, bar examination officials and the legal community.
Saturday, January 11, 2020
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas invites applications for Assistant Director, Academic Success Program, UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law [R0119668]
PROFILE of the UNIVERSITY
Founded in 1957, UNLV is a doctoral-degree-granting institution comprised of approximately 31,000 students and more than 3,900 faculty and staff. To date, UNLV has conferred more than 136,000 degrees, producing more than 120,000 alumni around the world. UNLV is classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as an R1 research university with very high research activity. The university is committed to recruiting and retaining top students and faculty, educating the region's diversifying population and workforce, driving economic activity through increased research and community partnerships, and creating an academic health center for Southern Nevada that includes the launch of a new UNLV School of Medicine. UNLV is located on a 332-acre main campus and two satellite campuses in Southern Nevada. For more information, visit us online at: http://www.unlv.edu
COMMITMENT to DIVERSITY
The successful candidate will demonstrate support for diversity, equity, and inclusiveness as well as participate in maintaining a respectful, positive work environment.
ROLE of the POSITION
The position exists to provide support for the Academic Success Program. Reporting to the Director of the Academic Success Program, the Assistant Director meets weekly with current students to assist them with their legal studies, monitors and trains student mentors, assists in curriculum and program development for the bar passage and first-year programs, counsels current students and alumni on bar passage issues, and conducts seminars and workshops. Evening and weekend work is sometimes required.
This position requires a Juris Doctor from an ABA-approved law school and membership in a state bar and 1 ~ 3 years of related professional experience. Membership in the state bar of Nevada is preferred. Credentials must be obtained prior to the start of employment.
The Assistant Director of the Academic Success Program must have excellent oral and written communication skills with strong attention to detail, excellent writing and editing abilities, sound legal skills and knowledge, an affinity for counseling and mentoring students, interpersonal skills, public speaking skills, critical reasoning skills, and excellent time management and organization skills. Solid working knowledge of computer systems and software applications such as PeopleSoft, word processing, spreadsheets, and database management is also desired. This position requires the ability to establish and maintain cooperative working relationships within a diverse environment and the ability to work well as a member of a team and independently. Prior academic support experience or teaching experience (i.e. Legal writing or comparable teaching experience in writing and analytical skills training) is preferred.
Salary competitive with those at similarly situated institutions. Position is contingent upon funding.
Submit a letter of interest, a detailed resume listing qualifications and experience, and the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of at least three professional references who may be contacted. Applicants should fully describe their qualifications and experience, with specific reference to each of the minimum and preferred qualifications because this is the information on which the initial review of materials will be based.
Although this position will remain open until filled, review of candidates’ materials will begin on March 2, 2020, and best consideration will be gained for materials submitted prior to that date. Materials should be addressed to Sydney Lisy, Search Committee Chair, and are to be submitted online as we do not accept emailed materials. For assistance with the application process, please contact UNLV Human Resources at (702) 895-3504 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, January 10, 2020
The Section on Academic Support hosted a panel presentation on Friday, January 3, 2020 entitled Access to the Legal Profession as a Pillar of Democracy: Bar Exam Scores and the Future of Diversity at this year’s annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools. The afternoon was expertly moderated by Melissa Hale of Loyola University Chicago, and the four invited speakers each offered a unique perspective on law student success.
Catherine “Cassie” Christopher of Texas Tech discussed her forthcoming article Normalizing Struggle. Steven Foster previously highlighted her article in his July 5 blog post, and the great article deserves a second mention here. Professor Christopher smartly observes that students who understand that struggling while learning is a normal part of the learning process are more likely to be successful in law school. She then offers concrete suggestions on how students, faculty, and law schools can help students not only normalize the struggle process, bust also more expressly differentiate struggle from failure.
Marsha Griggs of Washburn previewed her work-in-progress regarding law school student archetypes. Borrowing from social science literature, Professor Griggs posits that underperforming students typically fall into one of a handful of archetypes—that is a category with common characteristics. For example, “the student leader” may struggle because they have set unhelpfully low academic goals for themselves and few professors challenge these students to place a higher emphasis on their academics, incorrectly believing that because the student is so successful outside the classroom they will also naturally be successful in the classroom. For more on Professor Grigg’s work-in-progress and her experience as a first-time presenter, read her related blog post here.
Jane Grise of Kentucky has been busy crunching bar passage data with surprising results. She has observed that men consistently perform better on the MBE than women, and women perform better on the MEE/MPT that men. When the multiple-choice and writing scores are combined, some studies in Texas and California have found that the pass rates cancel each other out so that the scores do not differ substantially. An Ohio study did find that men passed at a higher rate than women. Professor Grise hopes to unravel the cause of the disparity in performance on the MBE and propose solutions to remedy the inequity.
Joan Howarth of Nevada Las Vegas also sees inequity in bar exam scoring, especially regarding UBE cut scores. She suggests that the UBE move to a uniform cut score of 260 (currently the lowest adopted cut score) arguing that there is no data to suggest the attorneys licensed with a passing score of 260 are less competent than attorneys licensed in jurisdictions with a higher cut score. If a uniform cut score of 260 were adopted a disproportionately higher number of minority applicants would be eligible for admittance to the bar, as the higher cut scores adversely impact minority applicants at a higher rate than white applicants.
The four speakers attracted an impressively large crowd. The 80-chair room was packed to capacity with additional folks electing to stand in the rear for the entire 1.5-hour (90 minute) presentation. Notably, when the presentations ended and the room was restricted to Section Members only for the business meeting, approximately three-quarters of the attendees left the room, indicating that most of the attendees were not members of ASP community—a pleasant and welcomed surprise to the ASP section members!
At the conclusion of the panel presentation, section members held their official business meeting. During the meeting, Jamie Kleppetsch of DePaul presented Laurie Zimet of UC Hastings with the Section Award, which is commonly viewed as the equivalent of a “lifetime achievement” award in the ASP community. Melissa Hale’s related blog post has more details on the award and Professor Zimet’s accomplishments.
(Kirsha Trychta, guest blogger)
Thursday, January 9, 2020
In my experience, very few law students take advantage of exam reviews...and, when they do (or must because of law school requirements), they often leave my office unchanged, defensive, and feeling as though grades are mostly arbitrary.
That got me thinking...
I'm convinced that there must be a better way - a much better way - for students to meaningfully review exams.
So, with that in mind, here's my 3-step suggestion for conducting exam reviews.
1. First, ask students to mark up their exam answers as if they are grading their answers, using the exam keys or model answers provided by their professors.
2. Second, for each point in which a student misses an issue, a rule, or a fact analysis, etc., have the student go back to the exam question and highlight to identify where there were clues in the question that that issue was at play, or that rule was applicable, or those facts were meaningful to analyze.
3. Finally (and this is the hardest part for me), say nothing. Make no declarative statements at all. And, definitely make no suggestions at all.
Instead, ask the student open-ended questions, such as: "Looking back at the exam question now, what might have helped you realize at the time that you were taking the exam that that was an issue, etc." Then wait. Again say absolutely nothing. Let the student investigate, reflect, and ponder what the student saw and didn't see in the exam problem and what was missing from the student's rule statements or fact analysis, etc.
Then, put them in the pilot's seat by asking them questions such as: "Why do you think that you missed that issue or didn't have that rule in your answer or missed analyzing those facts, etc.?" As they talk, let the students be the experts. In fact, treat them as the expert by carefully jotting down notes as I listen to them.
At last, once they stop talking, I ask them this simple question: "Based on what you've now observed about your answer and the question, what are your recommendations as to how to improve your future learning, your exam preparations, and your exam problem-solving for the next time." Once they come up with one suggestion, ask them for another suggestion or tip that they can give to themselves...and then another one I like to see them come up with at least three concrete suggestions for ways that they can implement to improve their learning (and why they think those action items will be beneficial for their future learning).
In short, if I had to sum the best exam reviews that I've had with my students, its when I speak little and instead listen much.
(Many thanks goes to retired ASP professor and educational psychologist Dr. Marty Peters for sharing these insights with me).
Wednesday, January 8, 2020
This year, I ended my holiday travels with a trip to AALS in Washington, DC. Now that I'm back to normalcy post travel, or at least what passes as normal in academic support, I thought I'd share a bit about our section's AALS Leadership, and our award recipient!
First and foremost, I'd like to officially welcome Jamie Kleppetsch, Director of Bar Passage at DePaul College of Law in Chicago, as the AALS Academic Support Section Chair. Jamie has been doing bar passage work since 2008, and I know she will lead our section to amazing things. I am looking forward to working with her, as I am the new chair-elect! In our leadership, we also have Kirsha Trychta, the Director of the Academic Excellence Center at West Virginia University as our Secretary, and Joe Buffington, Director of Bar Success at Albany Law School as our treasurer. I'm excited to work with this amazing group of people!
Most importantly, the section recognized Academic Support leader and trailblazer, Laurie Zimet. Laurie is the Director of Academic Support at UC Hastings, and is regarded as an expert and founder in the field of academic support. She even coined the term "Asp-ish!". In fact, Laurie was a founding member of the AALS section on Academic Support, so it is more than fitting that the section pay their respects!
While anyone that has met Laurie, or seen her present, knows exactly why she was deserving of this award, I wanted to include some quotes from some members that nominated her.
"She is a resource of incredible wisdom and insight, and she always makes time to check in with other professionals to track their career development. Whether it focuses on professional concerns, program development, and/or enhancing individual skills, Laurie has served our community tirelessly. Her thoughtful guidance has improved academic support programs across the country. She has also been a staunch advocate of academic support professionals by educating countless members of the academy of the importance of our field and the necessity of job security for those in our field." And "In addition, her expertise in teaching is known nationwide. She was an early proponent of active learning in the classroom, which has had a ripple effect on countless professors." Both of these descriptions from Pavel Wonsowicz at UCLA. I think Pavel sums up what those of us that know Laurie think.
In addition, from Kris Franklin, at New York Law School, Laurie is one of the true originators of our discipline, a mentor and foremother to uncountable past and present academic support professionals, and a widely-admired leading voice in legal education. Recognition of her unique contributions to the profession is fitting and probably overdue." Kris is not wrong, and continues to say "Laurie is a recognized expert in active learning and in ASP program design. She has frequently consulted with law schools that were seeking to open or expand academic support programming. In so doing, she helped create jobs in the field, and she directly or indirectly opened the door for many of those working in ASP positions today.
Laurie has always been seen as an unusually vibrant speaker and educator. She has given hundreds of talks at law schools and academic support conferences around the country, all of which helped further the field and inspire those working in it. As just one example, together with Paula Lustbader she was a frequent and early presenter at the AALS Workshop for New Law Professors. Those talks brought the student-centered learning so central to ASP work to a generation of entering law teachers nationwide.
Perhaps most endearingly, as the invited keynote speaker at an LSAC-sponsored ASP conference in Miami, Laurie coined the immediately-recognizable term “ASPish.” We may not be able to fully capture in words the many qualities that the term includes, but… we know ASPish when we see it. Laurie embodies it."
She really does. Congrats to Laurie!