Monday, September 16, 2019
The University of Memphis Law Review invites manuscripts for publication in Volume 50, Number 4 and presentation at its March 2020 Symposium, “Closing the Gap: Solutions to Educational Inequality.”
Education is the bedrock of a nation’s development, yet more than sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, America remains a country with significant barriers to equal education for all. This is true despite the fact that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. per-student spending is 29% higher for elementary and secondary education and 81% higher for post-secondary education than the average for thirty-five developed countries. What are the best paths forward in achieving greater educational equality?
The Symposium welcomes a wide array of scholarly views addressing current legal and policy issues, including but not limited to, school vouchers and school choice, ongoing racial, ethnic, and class segregation, school funding and its role in promoting equity or perpetuating inequity, the impact of school disciplinary policies, and access to public schools for immigrants and refugees.
If interested in participating, please submit a manuscript or abstract to Symposium Editor Colin Donoghue at email@example.com with “Closing the Gap: Solutions to Educational Inequality” in the subject line. The deadline for submission of a manuscript or abstract is October 1, 2019.
Sunday, September 15, 2019
The NCBE is close to ending phase 2 of their bar exam analysis. While I know many are skeptical, I do encourage everyone to participate in the process. Our best hope, and maybe only hope, of lasting change to the bar exam is in this process.
The practice analysis survey will be live through the end of September. We should pass this along to our recent alumni. They may be the best people to provide feedback on whether the bar examines what first-year attorneys do daily. Here is the link: https://www.testingtaskforce.org/2019pasurvey/
The NCBE posted on the testing task force blog earlier this week. The recent post explains the completion of phase 2 and what to expect in phase 3. You can read it here: https://www.testingtaskforce.org/2019/09/10/from-practice-analysis-to-test-redesign-looking-ahead-to-phase-three/
We may be at a turning point on the bar exam. Let's do our best to provide the most information possible to help fundamentally change the admission process.
Saturday, September 14, 2019
Request for Proposals: Presentation and Scholarly “Works in Progress”
New England Consortium of Academic Support Professionals (NECASP) Conference
Friday December 13, 2019
Vermont Law School
South Royalton, VT
NECASP will be holding its annual one-day conference and has designated time for presentations. Our
topic this year is “Admission to Admission: Getting students the tools they need to build the bridge
from day 1 to swearing-in.” We will gather in Vermont to share and explore ideas with ASP colleagues
on how to prepare students for admission to the bar and all that entails (academics, bar passage,
character and fitness, and professionalism) beginning from their admission to law school. We welcome
a broad range of proposals – from presenters in the New England Region and beyond – and at various
stages of completion – from idea to fruition. If you wish to present, the proposal process is as follows:
- Submit your proposal by October 14, 2019 , via email to Joe Brennan at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Proposals may be submitted as a Word document or as a PDF
- Proposals must include the following:
- Name and title of presenter
- Law School
- Address, email address, and telephone number for presenter
- If a scholarly work in progress, an abstract no more than 500 words
- Media or computer presentation needs
- As noted above, proposals are due on Monday, October 14, 2019.
The NECASP Board will review the proposals and reply to each by Monday, November 4, 2019.
2019-2020 NECASP Board members:
Chair: Joe Brennan
Director of Academic Success and Professor of Law
Vermont Law School
Vice Chair: Liz Stillman
Associate Professor of Academic Support
Suffolk University Law School
Secretary: Amy Vaughan-Thomas
Director of Academic Success
University of Massachusetts School of Law
Friday, September 13, 2019
California Western School of Law (CWSL) in San Diego seeks applicants for a full-time Assistant Director of Academic Achievement. Under the general direction of the Assistant Dean for Academic Achievement, the Assistant Director of Academic Achievement provides academic and bar support to help students develop the analytical and study skills necessary to succeed in law school and on the bar exam. We are seeking an experienced team member to administer our integrated and robust academic support and bar preparation program for current students and graduates. Duties include: administering the teaching fellows tutoring program, in coordination with assigned faculty; collaborating to design, coordinate and deliver bar support programming; providing one-on-one and small group tutoring; developing and teaching legal analysis and skills workshops; providing support and guidance to the student teaching fellows; and completing other tasks as assigned. Teaching responsibilities include first year and upper division academic support, legal skills, and/or bar preparation course(s). The successful candidate will be invited to start as soon as January 2020, but no later than June 2020.
The primary responsibilities (include but are not limited to):
Supervise teaching fellows in the CWSL tutoring programs in coordination with assigned faculty.
Present legal analysis and skills workshops.
Work with first-year and upper division students facing academic difficulty, including course planning.
Teach the Academic Skills and Analysis Program (ASAP) for first-year students and other skills courses as assigned.
Assist alumni who are studying for the California bar exam.
Juris Doctor from an ABA accredited law school required.
Successful passage of the California Bar Exam required.
At least one year of law teaching experience in an academic support or bar preparation program required; two or more years preferred.
Experience in learning theories and effective pedagogy, including formative and summative assessment required.
Experience in course planning, classroom presentations, and one-on-one tutoring preferred.
Two years of supervisory experience preferred.
Knowledge of California Civil Procedures and California bar exam topics preferred.
An equivalent combination of education and experience may be substituted.
More Information at https://www.cwsl.edu/community/current-job-openings
Thursday, September 12, 2019
I have to make a confession. Last week, I admitted that - as a law student - I was a proverbial "deer-in-the-headlights" when it came my time to face an ambush of socratic questioning. Confessions of a Socratic Deer (Sep 5, 2019). In retrospect, I think that some of that was due to my method of class preparation, namely, I tried to memorize as much of the case materials as I could so that I could regurgitate the cases when called upon (an impossible task, mind you!).
Now, looking back, I think I should have focused, as indicated in the final point of last week's blog, on preparing for classes by preparing my own questions about the cases assigned as reading, writing:
"As you read cases, puzzle over them, asking questions, evaluating arguments, voicing your own concerns, dialoguing and debating with the courts. In other words, don't read to memorize the cases. Instead, read to learn to have conversations with courts, to voice your own opinions and insights, in short, to prepare for a life in the law as a creative thoughtful attorney." Id.
That's when I got super-excited about the super-short case preparation checklist from the Royal Court of Justice for the Kingdom of Bhutan. Royal Bhutan Case Preparation Checklist (2018).
It's just two pages long but jam-packed with informative tips and questions that, in retrospect, would have made a mountain of difference in my law school learning, not to mention my confidence in the face of potential socratic questioning.
As the Royal Court explains in its document entitled "Briefing a Case," case briefing in preparation for court [and classes of course] is critically important for lawyers [and law students] because the process of case briefing "...organizes ones thinking and forces one, point by point, to consider all the important elements of the decision. Id.
To paraphrase, the Royal Court's checklist focuses one's mind on 8 steps:
- State the parties of the case and what they want.
- Provide a brief synopsis of essential facts.
- Briefly describe the procedural history of what happened.
- Find out the issue or issues.
- Figure out the holding/decisions of the judges.
- Explain the court's chain of reasoning using IRAC analysis.
- State the ultimate order of the court in disposition of the case.
- Voice your analysis. Id.
In my opinion, the first 7 steps are the means to an end with the end lying in step 8 - voicing your analysis.
As the Royal Court indicates its checklist, in the last step about voicing your analysis, explore the significance of the case, figure out how the case relates to others that you have read, identify the case's place in history, ponder what the case shows you about judges, courts, and society in general (to include its impact on litigants, both now and in the future), unpack both the explicit and implicit assumptions of the court, and engage in a thoughtful debate the "rightness" of the decision to include its persuasiveness and logic. Id.
I know that that sounds like a lot to take in. But, learning the law requires learning legal analysis and learning legal analysis requires digging in deeply into the cases assigned for each of your classes. Unfortunately, I spent way too much time in law school re-reading cases, trying to memorize them, rather than trying to see the patterns in legal thought and persuasion and, best yet, voicing my own analysis of them.
In short, as I reflect on my own law school experience, the key to case briefing and class preparation, it seems to me, is to take on the role of Socrates yourself, prior to class, in which you probe and ponder the cases assigned. As a bonus I can promise you, you'll learn to think like a lawyer and, more importantly, you'll be the sort of attorney to which your clients will be mighty grateful because you honed your skills and sharpened your analysis in law school (rather than with them).
Wednesday, September 11, 2019
I knew what I was getting into when I decided to get a puppy. Or so I thought.
It took two years from deciding I wanted a dog until I got my puppy. I had done my homework. I reread the classic works on raising, socializing, and training dogs, searched for updated information about my breed, carefully researched breeders in a three-state area, reviewed the genetic tests they conducted and the background of their dogs, asked dozens of questions and evaluated breeders by the questions they asked me, examined their reputations and their planned litters, and finally made a careful selection.
Moreover, I had appropriate experiential background. Having raised eight dogs of this rather headstrong breed over the past four decades, I was confident in my ability to excel in handling a puppy this time around. I budgeted for the expense of visiting the breeder several times, purchasing the puppy, and paying veterinary bills. I restructured my schedule so I could feed, walk, train, and socialize the pup. And I was lucky to have a partner willing to cover during the times I couldn't be there. I was as ready as ready could be.
And then the puppy came home. While I had lots of experience with willful dogs, it had been a dozen years since I'd had a puppy, and I wasn't as prepared as I thought. Sure, I anticipated housetraining accidents and chewed furniture and midnight whining, but there was more. Because she had been the alpha in her litter, my pup was far more dominant, aggressive, and demanding than any dog I'd previously had. She didn't respond to the gentle but firm corrections I had successfully used on four previous generations. At 12 weeks old, she developed a condition I'd never seen or heard of, urinating every minute for hours on end: the emergency visits to the vet hospital weren't in my budget, let alone my schedule. Feeding and walking her at lunchtime took more time than I'd planned. My vision of long bonding walks and romps in the dog park fell victim to the reality of a local threat of parvovirus. Bringing this puppy into my life disrupted everything. I fell behind at work, missed meals, and grew cranky because I couldn't go out for a movie or jump on the treadmill for a good workout. A dozen years ago, interrupted sleep didn't bother me much -- now it did. I'd thought of myself as a competent dog parent, but now I was just exhausted and teary. I wondered if I'd made the right choice in getting a puppy at this time in my life.
About this time of year, 1Ls who thought they'd done everything right start wondering if they made the right choice in coming to law school. For those facing this self-doubt, coming to law school wasn't a last-minute whim. Most put a year or more into the decision to pursue the study of law, researching and visiting schools, evaluating programs, comparing costs of tuition and fees and housing, enlisting the support of family and allies, and often working at law firms to get an idea of their future. They faithfully did the assigned summer reading and participated actively in orientation activities. They anticipated the disruption of the first few weeks and the stress of public speaking and the Socratic method. They knew what they were getting into.
And yet -- even given their careful preparation, the reality of even the most supportive law school throws a wrench into their lives. Persons who always considered themselves competent students are shocked to find how long it takes to read only a few pages and how difficult it can be to plumb the complexities of what seems to be a straightforward case. Students who as undergraduates reveled in reading Supreme Court decisions can be unnerved by the complexities of personal jurisdiction or the seemingly arbitrary nature of what is the offer and what is the acceptance in a contract. Minor writing or hearing or vision issues, heretofore largely ignored, suddenly become consequential. Heretofore strong relationships can be strained as students put long hours and most of their energy into a new way of perceiving the world. All this disruption can make 1Ls doubt the wisdom of choosing law school.
The good news for students who doubt the wisdom of their decision to attend law school is that they almost certainly made the right choice. In my experience, those for whom law school is wrong know it immediately. That's not to say that personal, financial, medical, and family circumstances don't sometimes require students to set new priorities and leave law school. But when students bring up existential doubt about their ability to do the work of a law student, it usually means they care deeply, that they are doing all they can to be good at something that is meaningful and precious to them. It can be a struggle, a time of huge disruption and occasional sleepless nights. The Honorable Michael Oths, president of our state bar commission, has said "Struggle should be embraced in recognition of the reality that navigating law school is difficult. The same is true for the practice of law." But it's worthwhile. Just like helping your puppy become a wonderful companion for years, after a few months of struggle.
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
I was in my office, polishing that day's lecture for my 1L class, when the alien appeared soundlessly outside my door, as tall and dazzling as the ones I had seen on the news. They had been on Earth for two weeks now, appearing one by one or in small groups -- at the United Nations, in research laboratories, in churches and legislatures and boardrooms and newsrooms -- each time sharing a book, or a piece of art, or a technological contraption, describing briefly the gift they were giving, and then disappearing has suddenly as they had come. The world's armies and scientists had confirmed that a huge spacecraft was parked at the L4 point in the moon's orbit, and it was presumed that was the aliens' home base. But no one knew how they were coming down to the planet. Or why, precisely.
My alien was huge -- as he stepped into my office, he had to bend forward stiffly to fit through the door frame, and even then his broad shoulders brushed the door jambs on each side. It was like watching a rockslide. But once inside, he lifted his craggy head and smiled. With his chalky skin, and an enormous row of teeth that shimmered like the effervescent material of his robes, he looked like a James Bond villain who had repented and joined a Las Vegas monastery.
"You teach," he said, in a deep stony voice that seemed to simultaneously ask and answer the question. I nodded dumbly. He then pulled from a fold of his robes what looked like a dark packet of some kind, and held it out to me. As I took it, I realized it was a book, hand bound in rich Corinthian leather, with words embossed in silver across the front: TO SERVE LAW STUDENTS.
"What is this?" I said aloud, not to the alien but to myself. I looked up at him, and with a nod he let me know that it was permissible to open the book. I ran my hand over the cover -- I had never felt a volume so warm, so soothing, like a puppy's belly -- and I lifted the book to look at the words inside. Then I felt the strangest sensation. The characters on the page made no sense at all to me; they might have been Cyrillic or katakana or Ge'ez jumbled together for all I knew. But somehow, touching that warm cover, I knew what the text meant. I knew what I was meant to do -- that afternoon, in class, with the entire 1L class before me. I would --
A sudden high-pitched gasp interrupted my reverie, and I reflexively slammed the book shut. In the hallway, eyes agape, stood my student assistant, Patty. She looked from my alien to me and back again, not sure what she should do next. Before I could say either "Run!" or "Come in!", the alien resolved the situation. He growled, "Teach, you," and then vanished. It was like a light bulb burning out -- a brief flare, and then instantly the room seemed darkened by his absence. But he left the book.
Patty ran in. "Professor MacDonald, was that an alien? What did it leave you?" She came around to my side of the desk, like a referee repositioning herself, so she could read the cover.
"It says, 'TO SERVE LAW STUDENTS,'" I pointed out. "That's what I do. I think it's a gift to help me do more for my students." I flipped open the book, turning the pages without touching the cover. "The language -- well, it all looks like gibberish to me. But the book . . . spoke to me somehow. I'm taking it with me to class this afternoon."
Patty's brow wrinkled. "I can't read any of this, but it looks like it might be some kind of code." She pulled out her phone. "Can I scan the pages? Maybe I can figure out what it says."
I nodded, and Patty snapped images of the two visible pages. I turned the rest of the pages slowly, giving her time to capture the entire text. It didn't take long. The pages were large and the font small, so there were only about forty pages total. Patty never touched the cover, so I don't think she "felt" the meaning of the book the way I did. But I thought that might be better -- perhaps, uninfluenced by that perception, she might be able to come up with a more precise, more literal translation of the text. I told her of my intention to bring the text to my 1L class that afternoon, and Patty, who enjoyed British crossword puzzles, happily left to try to crack the code.
Two hours later, I was standing at the podium at the front of our largest classroom, getting ready to teach the entire class of first-year law students. Since the start of the school year, I had been introducing them to the particular challenges and expectations of law school, with the goal of making sure that each of them would be fully prepared by the end of the semester for the final exams that would determine their GPAs, and perhaps their fates. Mine was the only class in which every 1L student was enrolled. This was a boon, because it gave me the chance to introduce Academic Success and the resources available there to all of our students. It gave me an opportunity to lay for every student the groundwork for successful performance, no matter how much familiarity they had had upon matriculation with the practice of law, law school, or even just basic sound study habits. But it was also a challenge, because it meant holding the attention of, and delivering value to, 150+ students with different aptitudes, different levels of familiarity or experience, and different degrees of confidence in their abilities. I would lose some of those students if I moved too quickly, and I would lose some of those students if I moved too slowly, and I wasn't sure there was a pace that would keep everyone engaged.
But today! Today I had the book, and it was telling me how TO SERVE LAW STUDENTS, and as the second hand swept around the face of the clock at the back of the room, bringing us closer and closer to the official start of class, I began to salivate with anticipation. I knew this would be . . . delicious.
The hand crossed the 11, and as it neared the 12, I opened my mouth and took a full breath. Gripping the book, I prepared to begin. But just as the red hand reached its zenith, a door at the back of the room slammed open, and Patty stumbled in, breathless and wild-eyed, clutching a batch of paper in one hand. Every head in the room swiveled to look at her, but she looked past them all. Her eyes found me at the podium, where I had instinctively pulled the book to my chest, and she called out. "Professor MacDonald, put it down! You can't use that book! IT'S A COOKBOOK!"
There was a jittery fluttering, like the sound of 150 startled sparrows, as the students all turned their heads back to me.
"Um, not exactly," I said. "It's more like a menu."
The sparrows rustled uneasily, as if they were about to fly.
"But look," I continued, turning to the students, "you're not on the menu. It's a menu for you. Look, all teachers know a bunch of recipes that we can use to help this student construct a useful case brief or to help that student learn to support her analysis with facts. And if I'm working one-on-one with a student, or working with a small group of students who are all craving the same helping, it's great to be able to focus on a particular recipe. But with a big group like this, I have to do more than just work through one recipe at a time. The students who have already mastered that recipe, who've had their fill of that dish, will stop paying attention. Sure, there are some basic recipes I have to make sure everyone knows, because maybe there are some students who thought they had learned it already, but they are actually missing some ingredients. Or maybe they just never learned it. But to keep everyone else in the class engaged, I have to put those recipes in the context of the wider menu. Are there variations that people can try once they've mastered the basic recipe? Maybe variations for particular occasions or circumstances? Are there more advanced recipes that build on the basic recipe? I can't teach these all in this class, but I can let you all know they exist."
The students relaxed, nestling in their seats.
"In a big class like this, it helps to move back and forth between the recipes and the menu. To make sure everyone knows how to do certain things, but also to remind people that there are always more recipes to learn if they feel they've already mastered the basics."
"Ohhhhh." It was Patty, in the back of the room, examining the papers in her hand. "I see where I went wrong. A menu, not a cookbook! And yet--"
There was a flash, and then the alien was there in the back of the room, standing next to Patty. Over the excited murmuring of the class, I heard his gravelly voice say to Patty, "You clever. Only human to decode Kanamit script. Come to our ship. We would like to toast you." He offered her his hand. She reached up to take it.
Before I could warn her, there was a flash, and they were both gone.
Monday, September 9, 2019
What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. – William Shakespeare
Academic and employment titles vary greatly by school. Recent research, according to fastcompany.com, indicates that your job title can affect everything from your identity to your level of significance within your institution and your marketability for future positions. Law school monikers are widely varied and yet almost universally understood to denote status. Instructor, lecturer, adjunct, assistant, associate, executive, coordinator, director, dean, manager, professor – regardless of the job description, the job title suggests a hierarchical significance. But what may matter much more than our varied titles, is when students (and perhaps our faculty colleagues) fail to use them.
I have seen more professors than I can count turn to social media to vent about students not referring to them by their titles. Faculty who teach in law, medicine, humanities, and social sciences have recounted stories of students who refer to them e.g. as “Ms. Clarence”, or “Mr. Stacey”, or worse yet, by first name alone. The responses to this phenomenon of first name or titleless reference are as diverse as the individuals who experience it. I am aware that some faculty members allow, insist, or prefer that their students address them by first name. I fully respect professors’ right to dictate how they wish to be addressed. But barring an express invitation to do otherwise, a student’s refusal to address a professor by title signals (conscious or subconscious) disregard.
Consider the redacted text from an actual email I received from a law student last month:
I am [Name Withheld] a 2L. I was referred to you after speaking with Professor [Omitted] (who is copied on this message). . . . I would like to meet with the both of you to work on my writing.
Please let me know when we can meet.
To which I replied:
Hello [Name Withheld],
Thank you for reaching out to me and welcome back! I can meet with you on [date and time] in my office, which is located in the dean’s suite.
Please use my title and surname in your communications with me, just as you have with my colleague Professor [Omitted].
Thank you and I look forward to working with you.
I did not react to this email —or the countless other messages with similar salutation— with anger or frustration. I genuinely believe that the student was unaware of the status disparity conveyed by the lines of text in the email message. The student later apologized to me and we both carried on as nothing had happened. But this email is not an isolated incident. I hear students, and sometimes other faculty, refer to professors (most often female or minority faculty members) by first name.
Unfortunately, sometimes the titleless reference is intentional and, whether overt or in passive-aggressive stance, must be addressed. It must be addressed not for the sake of title, or even for the sake of the years of education and struggle it took to acquire said title. It must be addressed because status issues resound throughout the institution of higher education. The way we are addressed by our students and our peers is a reflection of perceptions about our status and our positional significance. After all, how can we teach our students the importance of developing professionalism skills, if we cannot insist on having our own professional identities recognized and respected?
Sunday, September 8, 2019
Learning the law is a skill, and for some reason this isn’t obvious to most law students, or many practitioners. It’s viewed as a lofty intellectual pursuit, where people can have very robust intellectual conversations about various aspects of the law. And sometimes it is, I suppose. But mostly, it’s a skill. And in your first year of law school, and sometimes second and third, you have to remember you are learning a NEW skill and learning to master something you’ve never done before.
So, I present to you, how I learned to roll a cake.
See, I’ve been baking since I was a little girl. I started baking with my grandpa, learning to make banana bread, and brownies, and cakes. My mother also loved to bake, and mostly learned from her father. And she loved to decorate. My birthday cakes were the envy of the neighborhood. She also taught me to work with chocolate. I bring all of this up because I don’t consider myself a baking novice. I’m not an expert, but I thought I had skills. So, when my British husband declared that he really missed yule logs (which can be purchased in the US, but the store bought is never the same I guess) I leapt at the challenge to master a new baking skill.
So, I first watched about 3 videos on “how to roll a cake.” I learned that you 1) use a jelly roll pan (thinner pan, like a cookie sheet), 2) put the cake RIGHT away on a towel, and 3) roll, and then 4) unroll and frost, 5) roll the cake again. I watched the video for tips, and soaked it in. I paid attention to what kind of towel to use, whether to use parchment paper, how warm the cake should be, and I felt ready. I used my normal chocolate cake recipe, and got to work. You see, I’ve baked cakes so many times before, and I really like my recipe. I’m comfortable with it too. I was excited, and got to work. Baked the cake, put it on the towel, started to roll, all seemed to be going well. I set the roll aside to let it cool. I felt pretty pleased, and was excited to unroll it and frost. But, it came unrolled in pieces. Delicious pieces that I ate, I’m not a fool, but it wasn’t supposed to unroll in pieces. (There is also a note here on how failure CAN be delicious, so long as you learn form it).
So, the next day I decided to try again, after all, it’s what one does. I asked the internet for more advice, watched a few different videos to see if I could learn anything new. The only thing I picked up was that I may have rolled it while it was TOO hot. So I did everything the same, but waited until it was warm, instead of hot. Rolled it again. This time it came out in LESS pieces, but pieces just the same. My husband and I were delighted to eat the mess, but I kept pondering what I needed to do to roll this cake.
I’m not going to lie, this was frustrating. True, I was enjoying the delicious cake, but it was still frustrating to not get the results I wanted.
So, instead of just watching videos on the actual rolling of the cake, I opted to go look at some yule log, swiss roll, or roulade (all rolled cakes) recipes. I noticed something strange; the recipes were not like my recipe at all. The ingredients were vastly different. So, I picked a yule log cake recipe, and tried again. This time it worked! The different recipe meant a different cake consistency, so a better roll!
So, why does this matter? Why is this like studying the law? Well, first and foremost, I went with a preconceived notion of what I knew, or what I could do. It took two attempts before looking back and thinking that I might need to change my initial recipe. But that made all the difference. Often, students come in with a preconceived notion of what they know, or how to study, or even how to write. They are often shocked to find out that the writing is vastly different from what they knew prior to law school, or even what they considered good. Remember, my sheet cake recipe is delicious, and undisputedly so, but it didn’t work for what I wanted to do, which is to roll the cake. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make a great sheet cake, it just doesn’t work in THIS context. This is similar to your writing; your prior writing skills may be great, and work for some things, just not law school essays. You might also think you know how to do certain things very well, maybe you even took a constitutional law or business law class in your undergraduate years, or worked as a paralegal. But that information might not work in THIS context.
The second thing to take away from this is timing. I wanted to make the cake for Christmas. But, as I’d never rolled a cake before, I started practicing in September. Plenty of time to practice, as it wouldn’t make sense to roll a cake for the very first time the day I needed it to count! In a similar way, you would never write a law school essay the very first time on test day! You practice, and probably starting in September as well!
Lastly, you should take away the importance of tenacity. I finally perfected the cake in time for Christmas eve, but much to the delight of my husband, it took about 8 cakes total to perfect. You should be practicing roughly the same amount of essays, sadly, they are just less delicious. But the idea is the same, you practice an essay, look for ways to improve it, write another. Work on mastering more law, work on perfecting your writing technique, and keep doing that until you are certain you can do it in timed conditions for an exam.
This Autumn I’m working on chocolate collars, and chocolate flourishes. Remember I said my mother taught me to make chocolates? Well, that was using molds, which means you essentially pour chocolate into, well, molds, and let them sit. There is a skill, but it’s fairly basic. A chocolate collar, or flourish, requires what is essentially freehand drawing with chocolate. I tried my first “collar” today, and it’s far from perfect. However, I’m already planning on altering my technique next time. I initially tried with a piping bag, and didn’t have the control I wanted. So, I used a bottle, but it was too large and had too much air. So, my takeaway is perhaps a smaller bottle. The point is that you shouldn’t be afraid to mix up what you use. Even with different classes, you might use a different style of outline, or a different way of taking notes. That’s ok, and I encourage you to keep altering things until you find the tools and style that work for you.
If you don’t like my baking analogy, I could have written the same thing about ballet, running, football, knitting, or any number of skills you need to master. Practice DOES make perfect, so does learning from your mistakes. And I promise, failure is delicious if you use it as a learning experience.
(Melissa Hale - Guest Blogger)
Saturday, September 7, 2019
Friday, September 6, 2019
Assistant Director, Academic Resource Center & Bar Studies
FLSA Status: Exempt
Months Per Year: 12
Hours Per Week: 37.5
Information and Application procedures can be found here.
Seattle University has an exciting, dynamic opportunity for an Assistant Director, Academic Resource Center & Bar Studies to join our community.
Under the direction of the Faculty Director of the Academic Resource Center (ARC), the Assistant Director participates in the development and implementation of a comprehensive academic success program that partners with students from admission through bar passage.
Seattle University School of Law educates ethical lawyers who distinguish themselves through their outstanding professional skills and their dedication to the law in the service of justice. Faculty, students and staff form a vibrant, diverse, and collaborative community that promotes leadership for a just and humane world. The Law School’s commitment to academic distinction is grounded in its Jesuit Catholic tradition, one that encourages open inquiry, thoughtful reflection and concern for personal growth. Innovation, creativity and technological sophistication characterize our rigorous educational program, which prepares lawyers for a wide range of successful and rewarding careers in law, business and public service.
* Develop and refine programs designed to assist students experiencing academic difficulty.
* Provide students with individual and small group academic counseling on topics such as critical reading, legal synthesis, legal argument, class preparation, and exam preparation and performance.
* Review student academic work and provide analysis and feedback to assist students in the improvement of their exam writing skills.
* Provide information and advice for course selection, including helping students select the courses that will best prepare them for the bar exam.
* Provide bar preparation counseling to students and recent graduates.
* Address general questions about the bar process, the bar application and the support programs provided by ARC and Bar Studies Program (BSP).
* Meet with individuals preparing for the bar exam and review sample bar exam essays and performance tests and provide analysis and feedback for the improvement of bar writing skills.
* Develop and execute customized individual study plans and strategies for passing the bar exam.
* Aid in the development and presentation of the Bar Studies Supplemental Bar Preparation Program.
* As a member of the ARC Team, actively participate in the development and implementation of events and programs that provide a comprehensive and meaningful academic experience for students.
* Develop and maintain the ARC and BSP websites, making sure all content is current and accurately reflects the programs that are being provided.
* Collaborate with School of Law departments on joint programming opportunities.
Perform other duties as assigned.
Juris Doctorate from an accredited institution. Must be a member in good standing with a state bar association.
Must have the ability to build rapport with students in individual counseling situations and maintain student and student record confidentiality.
A high level of self-motivation, organization, flexibility, and solid judgment and interpersonal skills.
Must have outstanding communication skills, both verbal and written legal writing skills, with the ability to use these skills in individual and group presentation situations.
Proficiency with Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and social media platforms.
All candidates must show a demonstrated commitment to diversity and the university’s mission, vision, and values.
All positions at Seattle University require a criminal history background check
One to three years’ experience in academic support or other teaching experience.
Ability to conduct statistical analysis and review.
Experience with SU’s bar preparation program.
Thursday, September 5, 2019
I'm a deer in the headlights. Throughout law school, I lived in what I'll call a perpetual state of "socratic fear." I muddled through classes for the first weeks of law school, never called on but ever so fearful. But, my day finally came. I was called to state the facts of the case and the issue at hand. What case? I couldn't recall. What issues? I didn't have any notion. Frozen and stuck, I stumbled badly. It's as though my mind went wildly bank despite my over preparation.
I never did get over my fear of the socratic method. Throughout all three years of law school, I was the quiet one. Indeed, I felt like I was the only one who was afraid to be called on by a professor. And, as you might have guessed, I definitely didn't voluntarily to speak in class. It was just too risky. Instead, I piled up as much fodder as I could in an attempt to barricade myself from making the dreaded "eye-to-eye" contact with my professors. That was a surefire way, it seemed to me, to be called on. So, I lived with my head buried throughout most of law school, looking down, not up.
But, there's great news for me (and for you!).
You see, we are not the only ones...at all...with "socratic fear." Indeed, according to survey research out of Europe based on language-learning courses in which students are called on to to speak on the "fly" as they learn foreign languages (much like law students are often put on the spot to answer questions in front of peers about cases), many students are just like us - they feel anxious when put in the spotlight to speak in class with the teacher. Alessia Occhipinti, Foreign Language Anxiety in In-Class Speaking Activities, University of Norway (2009) (published student research thesis). Not surprisingly, the survey results suggest that the level of anxiety increases, like a hot autumn day with the noontime sun directly overhead, as the level of personal interaction increases from individual work silently alone at one's desk without being called upon...to group activities and presentations in front of the class...to individual spotlight activities interacting directly with professors. Id.
That got me thinking because, prior to law school, I had no fears of speaking in class, whether language classes or even military pilot training (where students are called in "stand-ups" to explain how they would handle an unanticipated emergency situation to a safe conclusion).
In other words, there seemed to be something lurking in the law school educational experience that poked holes in my once courageous voice.
As I scan back to the past, it wasn't due to a lack of preparation but perhaps to a lack of knowing what was coming (which I suspect is the root of much of our anxieties and fears). And, to be honest, we (or at least I!) also fear being found out to be a fraud, to have been wrongly admitted to law school (or so we feel), that we don't belong at all in law school (and soon everyone will know the truth when they witness us self-destruct...right in front of the class of our peers as the professor interrogates us).
But, as I think about my own law school experience, and in talking with scores and scores of law students, here's what I've gleaned as suggestions about how to handle the stresses and strains of the socratic method. I just wish I had known them when I was a law student.
- Everyone (or most of us) are afraid of speaking in class.
- Just because you have trouble speaking in class, doesn't mean that you don't belong in class. In fact, it might really mean the opposite. That you, like the rest of your classmates, are human beings with shared worries and concerns.
- Talk with someone. Be open with classmates in particular. Be the first to break the ice with trusted friends. Reach out to student affairs, academic success professions, and even your professors. As a suggestion, ask your law school faculty about their own experiences with socratic questioning when they were students (and what suggestions they might have for you to overcome your concerns).
- Realize something extremely important. As far as I can tell, there's absolutely no association between speaking in class and serving as a first-rate attorney. Indeed, although I was overcome (gripped) by fear throughout my law school moot court experiences, I loved speaking in courts as an attorney. Here's why. I knew that the judges wanted to have conversations with me. Simply put, judges were asking me questions because they wanted to learn what I was thinking, they wanted to see things from multiple perspectives that they might have missed in their own preparations for oral arguments, etc., they were dependent on me (us) as attorneys to educate them about our clients, our cases, and the governing law. In short, based on my own experiences, oral argument in court is much more about having a conversation with the judge(s) rather than a battle with professors who, most likely, have already pre-determined most of the answers to their questions.
- Prepare for class with questions. As you read cases, puzzle over them, asking questions, evaluating arguments, voicing your own concerns, dialoguing and debating with the courts. In other words, don't read to memorize the cases. Instead, read to learn to have conversations with courts, to voice your own opinions and insights, in short, to prepare for a life in the law as a creative thoughtful attorney.
- Repeat no. 4. There's no relationship between socratic success and legal success, so far as I can tell. Rather, great attorneys think before they speak, often times rephrasing the questions, and sharing with courts what's on their mind and how that relates to the cases at hand.
Wednesday, September 4, 2019
I've spent an inordinate amount of time in the past week creating files on all our 1Ls. One by one, I open a document, type in the student's name (always with the preferred name taking precedence over the legal name), paste in two or more means of contact, crop a copy of the official photograph (and some casual photographs if those are available) to best show the face, then add information I garner from Admissions spreadsheets, Orientation, and chats with the students or information gleaned from other professors.
It's not an efficient process, and I often wonder if my time might be better spent. But I always go back to this process because it helps me know our students better. For several years, my assistant created these files; I could pull a file up at any time, familiarize myself with the basic information it contained, meet with the student, then add notes from the meeting for my later use. On the surface, it seemed like a far better system. But I found that having ready-made files, with standard information inserted by someone else and myself a passive consumer, meant that I really didn't have any insight into the students I was trying to assist. So I returned to the old process that allows me to build up a picture like putting together a mosaic, tiny piece by tiny piece, each jagged little piece chosen to contribute to the whole. Once I've created a file in this way, I feel like I know the student. While my prosopagnosia means I may not be able to recognize them until they introduce themselves, I can work with them because of the time I've spent building a picture of their backgrounds and interests and passions.
Since effective time management is a key to thriving in law school, it's common for students to feel that reducing effort creates efficiencies. So after creating case briefs in Word or in OneNote (or copying case briefs from another source), they paste the briefs into larger catch-all "outlines." Unsophisticated students will create an "outline" consisting of case brief after case brief, while students who've heard they should organize outlines by rules instead of cases put in the effort to rearrange the case brief so the rule comes first, one rule per case. When time comes to consolidate outlines, they cut out the paragraphs containing case facts and reasoning, efficiently leaving only scores of rules and case names. It's all done as speedily as possible, with the verbiage from the initial case brief remaining unexamined and unchanged since the words were first written down, although moved from document to document.
It's rare for such "efficiency" to result in deep learning. Indeed, deep learning is messy, involving cross-outs, deletions, insertions, rewording, struggle, rewriting synthesized rules that encompass multiple cases, rethinking structure, and often starting from scratch multiple times. Independently writing multiple documents from scratch -- case briefs, case charts, summaries, hypos, and outlines -- can seem like a colossal waste of time. But the messy, inefficient process of forcing yourself to think through and re-examine a matter multiple times from multiple angles usually results in much greater understanding and an ability to use rather than merely regurgitate law. Sometimes being inefficient is the most efficient way to learn.
Monday, September 2, 2019
Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. — Louis L’Amour
Scholarly writing is the professional currency of academia that buys the respect and recognition that is needed to advance. In some career tracts, writing and publication are required. In others, optional writing can be easily pushed to the back burner of an otherwise busy day, week, year . . . career.
It is a challenge, to say the least, to find time to write when you have skills courses to teach that require multiple formative assessments over the span of the semester. On top of a course load with more grading and feedback expectations than other faculty may experience, ASPers typically have endless days with a steady stream of student appointments and walk-ins. But then there’s summer. NB: In ASP world, “summer” can be that eight to 17-day period between the bar exam and new student orientation where we: build our new class preps, learn about changes to the bar and prepare presentations to our faculty and administration re the same, or possibly squeeze in a week to tend to a home project or health condition that we’ve neglected all year.
Great idea, but who has time for it really? Honestly, we don’t have time to write with all the pressing demands on our time; but we can make time to write on topics about which we are passionate and knowledgeable. Joining a writing group, whether through AASE or on your university campus, is a great first step. As a member of a writing group, you will find opportunities to receive supportive guidance and feedback on your writing.
A possible second step is to use your own appointment/calendaring protocol to carve out one hour per day or a 3-hour weekly block for writing and self-expression. ASP writing can also be intimidating to those of us without a doctrinal area of expertise. But it does not have to be. There is no Blue Book rule that says ASPers must write about pedagogy, testing, or learning. We all have general levels of doctrinal expertise or we could not help students to succeed in law school and on the bar exam. It would not be a huge leap to expand on a favorite doctrinal area and research and write on ambiguous rules or inappropriate application of policy.
I’ve never done this before; I’m not sure how to. ASP writing might be most daunting to first-generation lawyers and law professors. It is important to not self-exclude oneself by concluding that you don’t know where to being or to question whether anyone would be interested in what you have to say. If you are not yet ready to submit a journal article, please consider the array of other outlets for your writing including, but certainly not limited to, The Learning Curve (published by the AALS section on Academic Support), Raising the Bar (published by AccessLex), the Law Teaching Blog (hosted by the Institution for Law Teaching and Learning), and your local bar journal newsletters and state bar publications. You can present your work-in-progress at conferences to get ideas to improve your work before submission. Pan this Blog and the ASP listserv for calls.
You do not have to know today what you will write, when you’ll make time to do it, or where you will be published. First things, first. Pick up a pen and notepad or blank journal that you’ve squirreled away in a dresser drawer. Pull out that laptop and create a new folder in your drive called “Writing”. And write. Just write. If you are an outliner, build an outline. If you don’t know where to begin write journal-style entries about a topic that you disagree with or strongly advocate for. Write about something that you’ve been trying to convince your faculty to adopt. Brag about something that your law school does better than everyone else. Write about something entirely non-legal (your kids’ learning process, your journey to patience, struggles with emotional well-being, etc.) and then make analogous parallels into law teaching and the needs of our students. Your first draft writing need not be perfect, polished, or persuasive. It can be deficient, descriptive, and underdeveloped. But it must be written to be improved and shared with the world.
Sunday, September 1, 2019
Yet another empirical study has produced compelling evidence that student evaluations of teaching are biased against women. A multitude of earlier studies demonstrated evidence of bias against people of color. At this point, there are so many studies supporting these points that the notion of bias in evals is about as scientifically validated as gravity, the heliocentric model of the solar system, and the phenomenon of at least one student per exam forgetting their Exam ID number. Given that, I remain absolutely befuddled at how university general counsel across the land apparently remain comfortable allowing faculties to use student evaluations as a primary means to assess hiring, retention, promotion, and tenure.
This is a particularly relevant issue for the field of academic/ bar support (and legal writing and clinical, for that matter). Although decisions on doctrinal faculty hiring, retention, promotion, and tenure focus to a great degree on the quality and quantity of scholarly output, that is not generally true in our field. To the contrary, student evaluations of teaching are often the primary (or sole) basis for employment decisions. Given that our field can boast of the fact that women and people of color make up a strong majority of our number, the demonstrable bias in student evaluations creates a high likelihood of leaving the pernicious mark of institutionalized racism and sexism.
A cynic might say that the academy’s abject failure to address this issue stems from the consumerization of higher education. Student evaluations are the primary means by which to assess whether the “customer” is happy. Moreover, ending student evaluations would no doubt lead students to decry the unfairness of having no say in their education, for which they pay dearly.
But, those factors, even if credited, should not result in the complete absence of remedies. As yet unheeded studies suggest that the language of survey instruments can mitigate bias in student evaluations. Moreover, simply enacting faculty bylaws prohibiting student evaluations from being the dispositive factor in employment decisions would go a long way to ensuring fairer retention analyses. It would also allow students to continue to have a voice. And, dare I suggest the radical notion of peer teaching evaluations?
At some point, a woman of color will again suffer an adverse employment decision predicated solely or substantially on student teaching evaluations and will cite these studies as the basis for demanding court intervention. I suspect that university general counsel at that point will be hard-pressed to articulate a credible argument that the primary use of student evaluations is anything less than prima facie evidence of unlawful discrimination.
- Louis Schulze, FIU Law
The air conditioners blow at full blast, but the intensity still heats the room. Outlines are furiously shuffled and read at breakneck speed. Some people are chanting to themselves or closing their eyes trying to recall information. Other individuals are pacing around the room. The moments before a law school exam appear to be pure chaos. Students are trying to cram just a few more rules before the exam starts. Is this last second memorizing, or memorizing in general, critical for law school exams? I believe the answer is yes, and our students can approach memorizing the material better.
Most law professors emphasize analysis. They will reiterate the importance of analyzing the facts ad nauseam. Many even say all their points on the final will be analysis of facts. Unfortunately, the message students receive is much different than the intended message. Too many of my students believe only a basic understanding of the rules is what matters. They believe fact discussions, which don't tend to be fact applications, will score well on finals. In turn, they don't spend as much time memorizing the rules in the depth necessary to do a thorough fact application.
An in-depth knowledge of the rules is the foundation for quality legal analysis. The in-depth knowledge requires both knowing the rule and understanding how it operates. I know many people argue that understanding the rule is the most important because understanding is precondition to knowing what facts to apply. I generally agree with that statement. Students should definitely understand rules and how they operate. However, students sometimes misinterpret understanding rules as they just need to know the gist of what the rule is. That is a mistake. I believe a prerequisite to understanding the rules is knowing what they are. Analyzing a battery is difficult if a student just understands the gist of needing an intentional contact and the intent can be a little less than purpose. Students should memorize that a battery has 4 elements: intent; harmful or offensive contact; to the person of another; and causation. Knowing the elements helps students integrate specific rules for each element into a schema that translates better to fact applications. Some students are misunderstanding some of the messages from law school, so they may not be memorizing specific rules.
We can combat these misunderstandings with some tips on how to memorize and teach them how to apply facts to rules. A book I recently listened to titled Remember It! by Nelson Dellis provides great tips for creating images to remember large amounts of information. Nelson is a former memory champion and wrote about specific techniques he used that are practical for everyday activities. The biggest takeaway I pulled from the book was engaging all the senses through vivid imagery can dramatically increase memory. Instead of trying to memorize the 4 elements of battery, create an image that specifically included all the elements. In our mind, we could conjure an image of the Hulk full of rage with veins popping out of his head walking up to a small pedestrian with pale skin and glasses at the intersection of International St. and Harvard Blvd (2 streets easy for me with the first letters of the next 2 elements). Hulk yells to Pedestrian, "I want to break every one of your bones!" while making a breaking motion with his hands (intent element). Hulk's eyes are bulging out while he reaches back and swings at pedestrian with all his might. He hits the book pedestrian is holding hard enough to send pedestrian flying backwards (touching to the person). You hear bones breaking as pedestrian falls limp to the ground (harmful contact). Hulk then spits on pedestrian while he is down (offensive contact). Hulk then laughs, gives himself a high five, and struts down the street.
The last image is imperfect because I am not as good as Nelson at creating memorable images. However, you can see how using all the senses makes it more memorable. The image also includes all the elements for the cause of action. The difficulty arises when dealing with harder subjects or trying to remember more information. The book is great because it provides specific tips for large amounts of information and remembering sequences. He details how to use the memory palace (or journey method) for recalling order. Some of his tips just use the first letter of something or other shortcuts. He uses images of famous people or areas he already knows well. The idea though is to use images to retain information. I encourage listening to the book to understand exactly how he creates lasting memories.
I generally agree with people who say law school requires more than rote memorization. However, I do believe remembering information is critical to understanding, and understanding is critical to application. Hopefully we can pass along resources to our students to improve their retention.
Saturday, August 31, 2019
Everyone knows the saying the early bird gets the worm. I remember hearing it throughout my childhood. I understand the idea that getting an early start to the day. However, does getting up early really matter? I think I can spend just as much time, or more, than anyone else while still starting later? Are worms really a finite commodity where the second, third, or 10am riser won't get breakfast? I firmly believe the saying is pure propaganda by corporate elites to squeeze even more out of workers (firmly may be a stretch).
Robin Sharma advocates that everyone should wake up at 5am. His newest book is The 5am Club, and he argues the first hour of the day using his 20/20/20 formula will dramatically increase productivity. The formula includes 20 minutes of exercise, 20 minutes of reflecting, and 20 minutes of learning. Sounds great, but I think I can do the same thing at 8am. Scott Bedgood at Success Magazine tends to agree with me. He was skeptical, but as a journalist, he was willing to put the formula to the test. Read Scott's article about his experience.
In the end, Scott does think the 5am hour leads to more productivity. 2 people may not be enough to convince me. I think I will do more research before my 5am start, but the idea of more productivity is appealing. I will pass it along to my students though.
Thursday, August 29, 2019
Much of the time, it seems to me, I am occupied with trying to reach the minds of our law students. But, perhaps that's putting the proverbial "cart before the horse." The cart, so to speak, is metacognition, or the process of learning to learn (practices such as spaced repetition and the implement of desirable difficulties throughout the course of one's learning). But, what might be the horse?
Well, a number of possibilities come to mind. There's been much research of late on the relationship between growth mindsets in predicting academic achievement. But, I think that there's another horse at play, a factor that might even serve as a necessary precondition for the development of such mindsets as grit, resiliency, and a growth mindset. In my opinion, that prerequisite is a well-formed sense of belonging...as empowered members of a vibrant learning community.
I love that word "belonging." It's chocked full of action with its "ing" begging us to be fully embraced (and to embrace others), despite all our blemishes and surprises. And, it starts with the prefix "be," which resonates and comes only alive within the present ongoing moments of community with others, indicating that this is something that we enjoy in the here and now rather than later. And, it's all-encompassing of the person, with its incorporation of the word "long," reminding me of arms outstretched, to be overtaken in the presence of others, to be accepted as we are...fully and completely (and to stretch our hearts around others within our midsts). In other words, the word "belonging" is full of action.
So, that brings up a few questions.
First, is belonging even much of a problem in law schools?
Second, what sort of spark might lead to the type actions that can then develop into a well-spring of belonging for our law students as members within learning communities?
Well, with respect to the first question, as Prof. Victor Quintanilla documents according to research at the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE): "[W]orries about belonging are endemic to law school." http://lssse.indiana.edu/tag/belonging/ That's the bad news. And, in my opinion, that's why many fall to the wayside. It's not because of LSAT scores or a lack of motivation. It's just darn difficult to succeed when you don't feel like you are a part of something, that you belong within the community, that you are welcome and embraced as vital law school participants.
But, there's great news to be had. Indeed, as Prof. Quintanilla further explains, the quality of one's relationships with students, faculty, and administrators significantly predicts one's sense of belonging in law school...and the strength of one's sense of belonging significantly predict's one's academic performance even controlling for traditional academic predicators such as LSAT scores. Id. In other words, "law school belonging is a critical predictor of social and academic success among law students." Id. (Quintanilla, et. al, in prep). And, that's great news because - as educational leaders in academic support - we can serve in the frontline of developing, strengthening, and securing our students in positive relationships with others throughout our law school's learning communities.
That brings me to our final quandary. How might we actually empower our students to be in vibrant relationship with others in law school?
In my own case, it means that I need to listen to my students. That I need to frequently pause to take in and hear and observe what's happening to my students, not as students, but as people. It means that I need to step up to the plate, so to speak, to proactively engage with my students. Nevertheless, with so much on our ASP plates, that sure sounds hard to implement.
So, here's an easy way that we might share with our students in order to help spark relationships that can then lead to a sense of belonging. It's called the "10/5 rule." Next time you're at your law school, when you come within 10 feet of another person, break out a brief smile. It doesn't have to be much, but it does have to be sincere. Then, when you're within about 5 feet of that other person, briefly recognize them with a short "howdy" or "hi." That's it.
You see, according to social science research, such actions of a brief smile lead to a sense of belonging, a feeling of inclusion, even, amazingly, if the other person doesn't even recall seeing your smile. See The Surprising Benefits of Chit Chat, Eye Contact, and a Hello for Law Students & ASP (and the 10/5 Rule)!
So, please join me in sharing a smile. It's a great way to not just brighten your day but brighten the lives of those around you. Indeed, who knows? Perhaps that brief smile that you just shared today (or will share in just a bit) will lead another to smile, and then another, and then a whole circles of smiles. And, isn't a circle of smiles the sort of spark that can create relationships that can lead to belonging and therefore might even help to empower successful learning? (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, August 28, 2019
My inbox is crammed with pictures of pangolins. Pangolins with claws turned under walking on the ground, pangolins scaling trees, pangolin babies clinging to their mothers' backs and tails, pangolins held in the palm of a human hand, even pangolin skeletons in natural history displays.
For those of you quite as ignorant of this fascinating mammal as I was last week, the pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters, are the only mammals covered with sharp, protective keratin scales. The family consists of eight remaining species, four in Africa and four in Asia, some burrowing and some tree-dwelling. When threatened, they typically spray a foul substance (think of skunks) and roll into a tight protective ball like an oversized pine cone. Because pangolins typically produce only one offspring per year, don't fare well in captivity, and are extensively poached for their distinctive scales, they are among the most endangered species in the world.
So why is my inbox crammed with pangolin pictures? Because in my Academic Skills class, I want an early indication of who might need early intervention and who is already engaging in the practices of successful law students. Among my first assignments is explicitly requiring students to carefully read the syllabus. Stealing an idea from my colleague Rebekah Cudé, I embed into my syllabus a sentence telling students to send me a specific kind of picture. (Last year's platypuses were equally adorable.) When students don't send pictures in, it usually means: (a) they are not careful readers; (b) they aren't linked into a social network of information-sharing; or (c) they resist engaging in activities they feel are beneath them. Because careful, critical reading is so instrumental to success in law school and the practice of law, students who miss important information immediately garner my attention. Likewise, social isolation often foreshadows academic difficulty. Since I expect there will be some "buzz" and explicit sharing about the picture assignment, not sending a picture can be an early indication that certain students aren't linked into peer networks. Finally, I've found a correspondence between weak analysis and those who read but don't comply with directions; not complying can presage a student who easily identifies issues and spits out rules but considers the step-by-step process of careful legal analysis to be an unnecessary bother on the way to a foregone conclusion.
I also use the first weeks of the semester to give private feedback solely on the importance of following directions. Complying with directions, of course, pays dividends whether one is answering the exact call of an exam question or following the local rules in court proceedings. Especially when students go well beyond what my directions call for, they can feel somewhat aggrieved when I point out, for example, that the directions asked for a one-sentence answer but their answer was four sentences, or that the directions asked for the number of elements and their answer named the elements instead. Nevertheless, by continually tying the importance of following directions to exams and practice, the message usually gets through.
The best thing about careful reading and following directions as predictors of success is that these are factors totally within a student's control. Undergraduate GPAs and LSAT scores certainly have some predictive value, but from my experience, careful reading and following explicit directions are far more powerful indicators of future success as a law student.