Monday, June 17, 2024

The Importance of Being AASE

I love Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. I mean who doesn’t love a fast talking piece that is entirely a play on words from beginning to end? It was an oasis in an otherwise uninspired year of high school English reading for me.[1] As one would guess, it is convoluted and hard to wrap your brain around. It all seems a bit unknowable-almost the same way the breadth and depth of academic support work can get lost in translation. We all know how exhausting it is to tell people what we do over and over.

I also think most people I have met in law school academia find it “interesting” that there is a national organization of academic support educators.[2] But as we move towards more status equity, having this resource will prove imperative. We need to find a way to get to a critical mass of tenured and tenure track positions (like Legal Writing faculty have done) in order to gain better equity footing across the board. This is where having a national organization is key. As a national organization, we can collect and share voluminous data about how ASP faculty (and non-faculty!) are treated, paid, supported, unsupported, and fit into the law school community. In short, we can, if we work together, make long overdue progress. Here are some things we can do to move the needle forward:

  1. Amplify each other. Tell another AASE member’s Deans or other significant administrators about our colleagues. Did you like a presentation, article, book, helpful tip from them? Great. Send an email. I know a lot of people do this, but ASP folks, let it rain!
  1. Use the AASE website as a place where we:
    1. Share resources;
    2. Post jobs;
    3. Post scholarship;
    4. Post teaching resources;
    5. And (copying entirely from the Legal Writing folks) accumulate resources to further this advocacy.[3]
  1. We will be doing the AASE Survey again this year. Fill. It. Out. Data is everything in this fight. If we have better participation, we can use the data for salary and status benchmarking in a much more credible way. And then we need to disseminate the data widely-so that even the fancy schmancy consultants who do salary benchmarking can find it without much effort.[4]
  1. Consider advocating for a place at the rankings table. I’ve written about this before and I stand by it: if we are an asset to our school then they are going to want to put a ring on it.[5]
  1. Finally, consider advocating for a place at all the tables that have not had a seat for us before. We know what we do and how well we do it, but we need to shout about that from the rooftops. We need to showcase our brand. It is not something that comes easily for us, but we really need to be a bit more braggy about our accomplishments-because they are abundant, and people ought to know.

One great quote from The Importance of Being Earnest is, “[e]ven before I met you I was far from indifferent to you.” Let’s make this the new narrative about Academic Support.

(Liz Stillman)


[1] That kind of word choked, fast moving dialogue was something I loved about Gilmore Girls as well. 

[2] Although there are many specialized groups in law school academia that seem even more narrowly focused.

[3] Comme ça (as the French would say):

[4] Yes, I’m still a little salty about not having any salary benchmark when it was reviewed last year at my school despite having the AASE survey results in the freaking building.

[5] Apologies to Beyoncé.

June 17, 2024 in Current Affairs, Professionalism, Program Evaluation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

An Experiment in Using ChatGPT-4 to Draft ASP Practice Problems

These days, many (most?) ASPs use course-based support measures.  In the "contextualized model," the doctrinal instructor teaches the doctrinal course, while the ASP instructor teaches a skills/ ASP course with problems from the doctrinal course.  In the "embedded model," the ASP instructor teaches the doctrinal course but embeds ASP training into that course.  In both types, practice problems, model answers, and feedback are key elements of training students on the skills they must build.

A perennial challenge is sourcing those problems.  While some doctrinal instructors may write or edit such materials for the contextualized ASP course, time constraints often make this impossible.  And drafting problems in the embedded model is no easier.  As such, those of us in this field find ourselves writing practice problems and spending much time doing so.  

I then read a post on the Faculty Lounge by Rick Bales of Ohio Northern called "Using AI to Help Flip the Law School Classroom."  Building on Bridget Crawford's recent helpful series of posts, Rick described specific steps in using ChatGPT-4 to draft effective practice materials. 

Based on his recommendations, I decided to experiment.  We are moving one of our ASP courses to the embedded model I described above.  The new course in the program will be Criminal Procedure (Investigations), which I have not taught since the dawn of time (or at least back when Mapp v. Ohio was still a thing).  Suffice it to say that I have a lot of drafting to do.

But using ChatGPT-4 to accomplish this seems promising.  I entered a command (... is that what the kids call it these days?) similar to Rick's but using a Crim Pro fact pattern I have been dying to use.  (Yes, it is Chief Quimby conducting a search of Moe's Tavern for illegal substances in the "Flaming Moe" cocktail and later interrogating Moe in a Rhode Island v. Innis sort of way.)  I specified that I wanted ChatGPT to create an essay question with a model answer, five MBE-like multiple-choice questions, and a thorough explanation of the correct answers and analysis involved in the MCQs.

In thirty seconds, ChatGPT created materials that would take me hours to write.  The questions were strong, and the essay model answer and MCQ explanations were good but imperfect.  I will edit a few substantive points and change the materials to gender-neutral language, but the answers' use of CREAC/ IRAC was quite strong, the rule sections were good, and the analysis was solid.  

I am fairly optimistic about using ChatGPT-4 to create practice problems.  I plan to be cautious, especially because ChatGPT-4 does not have the most recent cases, but those details are tweakable in the days before releasing the assignment.
Happy drafting ... sort of.
Louis Schulze 

June 11, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 9, 2024

More things change, the more they stay the same

The NCBE released results of the NextGen pilot testing last week.  You can read their report here.

Amazing ASPers throughout the country already started the discussion within our Listserv and on conference calls.  I don't want to reiterate (and/or plagiarize) their wonderful insights.  If some of my arguments sound familiar to someone else's, I sincerely apologize.  I will also provide my shameless plug for joining the bar advocacy committee.  Our complaints are being heard by bar associations, so you are making a difference.

My initial thought turned into the title to this post.  NextGen was supposed to be revolutionary and assess what lawyers do on a daily basis.  The test purported to require less memorization and focus more on practical skills.  The vision was grand, but the result seems to be a lackluster assessment in a slightly different format.

First, and probably most important, the report does not provide transparent data for performance differences among groups of participants.  The report vaguely states that the test narrowed the performance gap with some of the new questions.  The report does not fully say how much narrowing or which groups saw improved scores (it gave a few small examples).  The report also doesn't indicate the baseline for determining "examinee competency".  If the NCBE still uses prior standardized tests (LSAT mainly) to create the baseline for what performance difference is acceptable, then even small narrowing makes the new test seem better.  Most of us argue LSAT/standardized test differences are not based on competency.  Without knowing their baseline of what gaps are expected, I don't trust their argument the new test doesn't continue patterns of discrimination.  Slightly less discrimination isn't persuasive.  I want to be completely wrong here, but the impact is too great to not demand more transparency. 

Second, they aren't following their goal.  Attorneys don't memorize mountains of rules, so proponents of NextGen said it would move away from memorization.  I will concede that a slight decrease happened (no Secured Transactions, yay!).  However, NextGen continually adds back more material to memorize.  Family Law is back on the exam.  The starred vs. non-starred debate rages where we all know students will need to deeply know/memorize material even though the outline says to have a general understanding.  General understanding is too vague to create a good plan, and any reasonable person would over-prepare for the bar exam.  Wills, Trusts, and Estates keeps inching closer to fully back on the exam.  The report says that providing the Federal Rules of Evidence didn't help students/they didn't use them.  Of course students who already studied or engaged in some form of studying (either in bar prep or a for-credit bar class) didn't use the rules.  They already committed them to memory, or possibly, the stakes weren't high enough for them to pull up the rules because missing the questions had no impact on individually passing the exam.  

My last statement is about technology.  I believe the report makes clear the NCBE cares more about efficiency than true assessment.  The report discussed technological efficiency and ability to administer on computer.  The report (and all pilot tests to my knowledge) ignore the cognitive requirements of a 100% online exam (with multiple page PTs).  Why didn't the NCBE give a large number of participants the test on paper and the rest on computer?  My guess, because the answer would be clear.  Hard copies are better for active reading, notes, etc.  Students would most likely perform better with paper exams.

I sincerely hope I am wrong about my assessment of NextGen.  I hope it is a completely different and fair assessment.  My fear is that we are getting a different format of a test that will continue to determine who can reach their dream of practicing law based on screen reading, memorization, fast toggling, standardized testing, and a slew of other irrelevant skills.

(Steven Foster)

June 9, 2024 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Congrats AASE Award Winners!!

Congrats to these amazing ASPers who won AASE awards this year, including our very own Liz Stillman.


Photo here:

AASE Impact Award- this award is given to someone who dedicates their time (we know that as ASP/Bar Studies professionals, we wear a lot of hats, and it takes time, focus, dedication, and even sacrifice to support AASE) and energy to AASE and our amazing profession. We’ve always been an important part of every law school, and now is our time to shine as skills becomes embedded in every part of legal education. This award is not limited to members who have been here for a long time either. It’s for anyone and everyone making a real difference in ASP/Bar Studies.

This year’s AASE Impact Award goes to Elizabeth Stillman. Liz Stillman is an associate professor in Suffolk University Law School’s Academic Support Program. She also teaches in the Political Science and Legal Studies Department for the Suffolk University College of Arts and Sciences as well as in the accelerated and LL.M. programs at the Law School. She received her BA from Tufts University, and her JD from Northeastern University. Liz was previously an Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of New York where she prosecuted juvenile delinquency cases in Queens and Manhattan Family Courts. She is a Suffolk University Ambassador for Inclusion and certified in English as a Method of Instruction (EMI). Liz is also a past president of the New England Consortium of Academic Support Professionals.

Liz receives this award in recognition of her decades of dedicated support of students and of the ASP community. She is not afraid to speak out in support of equity for ASP faculty and staff; she is generous with her time on national committees; and she is always there for anyone who needs support, guidance, or encouragement as they navigate the ASP field. Liz has a particular gift for working with neuro-diverse students and those who require accommodations. She embodies the humor, compassion, warmth, intelligence, dedication, and passion that make the academic support field a great place to work. Liz is also a frequent blogger on the Law School Academic Support Blog. Thank you for your continued service, energy, and steadfast commitment to this incredibly important pillar of legal education, Liz! You are always an inspiration!



Photo here:

  • AASE Outstanding Scholar Award- this award is for an outstanding scholar whose work is promoting our field. We talk a lot about equity and increasing our status in the legal academy, and scholarship is one of the ways we can accomplish this goal. Scholarship is the currency recognized across the academy, and it is something AASE is working hard to promote and encourage. We want to celebrate our community’s scholarly successes!

This year’s AASE Outstanding Scholar Award goes to Nachman Gutowski. Nachman Gutowski is an Assistant Professor-in-Residence and Director of Academic Success Program for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law. He received his JD from the University of Miami School of Law, and his MM from the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami.  Prior to joining the William S. Boyd School of Law, he served as Director of Accreditation and Associate Professor of Academic Success and Bar Preparation at St. Thomas University, Benjamin L. Crump College of Law. He previously spent 8 years in the legal education-focused, corporate, national bar review industry supporting law schools from Puerto Rico through the southeast United States.

Nachman’s scholarly efforts, spanning critical analyses of discriminatory practices in legal licensure to the ethical considerations of artificial intelligence in legal education, have been driven by a commitment to challenge existing paradigms and advocate for systemic changes that enhance inclusivity and adaptability within legal education. His writing shows his dedication to the principles and mission that AASE champions, and focus on the pressing challenges and opportunities in legal education today. Congratulations, Nachman!

A selection of his scholarly works includes:

  • NextGen Licensure & Accreditation, 22 U.N.H. L. Rev. 2 (Forthcoming 2024): This article explores the evolving landscape of legal licensure and accreditation, emphasizing the need for adaptability in standards that reflect contemporary legal practices.
  • Navigating the AI Revolution: Challenges and Opportunities in Legal Practice and Education, Virginia Lawyers Weekly & Michigan Lawyers Weekly (2024): Addresses the seismic shifts AI technologies are creating in legal practice and education, offering insights into effective adaptation strategies.
  • STOP THE COUNT; The Historically Discriminatory Nature of the Bar Exam Requires Adjustments in How Bar Passage Rates are Reported, If at All, 21 SEATTLE J. SOC. JUST. 589 (2023): This article has been downloaded from the Seattle University repository nearly 900 times in the less than 1 year since its publication. It covers many compelling arguments for reevaluating the reporting schemes nationally for the bar exam results, particularly focused on acknowledging and responding as a way to mitigate historical inequalities.
  • How Are Bar Exam Results Reported? Research Summary; Raising the Bar (2023) and A National Guide (2023): Two pieces offering comprehensive insights into the reporting of bar exam results, highlighting variability and its implications for equity. The long-labored process of identifying, labeling, and directing where, how, and the impact of how each jurisdiction reports bar results is organized in a simple and easy-to-use format, made available for free to everyone.
  • AI in Legal Education: Drafting Policies for Balancing Innovation and Integrity (2023): Provides guidelines for integrating AI into legal education in ways that promote ethical use and innovation.




Photo here:

  • AASE Outstanding Debut in ASP/Bar Studies Award- this award is for our newest members and colleagues in the academic success world. Those who are just getting their feet wet and doing amazing things with their students, faculty, and law school. We want to celebrate them and welcome them into AASE and our inclusive and supportive community.

This year’s AASE Outstanding Debut in ASP/Bar Studies Award goes to Maria Florencia Cornu Laport. M. Florencia Cornu Laport is the Director and Associate Professor of Academic Success and Bar Preparation at the St. Thomas University College of Law in Miami Gardens, FL. She received her JD first from the University of the Republic, Uruguay, and a U.S. JD at the St. Thomas University School of Law where she also received her LLM. Prior to joining the ASP world, Florencia worked as an attorney in Uruguay, also serving as a law clerk to the late Justice Hipolito Rodriguez Caorsi at the Supreme Court of Justice.

At St. Thomas University, she found the ideal environment to develop her biggest passions: law education as a mechanism of personal development for the students, an opportunity to provide inspiring and transformative experiences for the students; and the legal profession conceived as a tool to protect the vulnerable, to serve the underserved, and to work for social justice.

Florencia has stormed onto the ASP scene and was elected to be a part of the Executive Committee of the Academic Support Section of the American Association of Law Schools (AALS), where she will be joining professors and administrators from across the country aligned in the interest of improving academic support and bar preparation offerings for future lawyers. She has been incredibly active in AASE and her energy and enthusiasm for the field is contagious. We look forward to all of her future contributions!

June 6, 2024 in Academic Support Spotlight | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Academic and Bar Support Scholarship Spotlight

Nachman N. Gutowski, NextGen Licensure & Accreditation, 22 U.N.H. L. Rev. 311 (2024).

From the abstract:

The Bar Exam is changing. The National Conference of Bar Examiners is pushing full steam ahead with a replacement for the current elements that make up the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). This new exam, called the NextGen Bar Exam (NextGen), is scheduled to launch in Summer 2026. Current American Bar Association (ABA) accreditation standards do not consider the coming changes. A full picture of what the adjustments will look like is hazy and very much in the trial stages still. These shifts impact current law students, the legal education practices of law schools, and accreditation standards. There is a near-universal agreement that changes are overdue to the current legal licensure format. Simultaneously, alternatives to the NextGen, and even to the “need” for any summative licensure exam, are being actively explored.

Performance on the Bar Exam is used as a measurement tool by the American Bar Association for law schools to maintain accreditation. Standard 316, commonly referred to as Ultimate Bar Passage, has undergone several changes over its short life; yet, even in its current iteration, it fails to meaningfully consider what is just around the corner. There is no question that the Bar Exam continues to have racially discriminatory, disparate outcomes and impacts. Making matters worse, the use of aggregate limited durational performance data on post-graduation individual licensure exams as a meaningful metric by which accreditation is affected is inconsistent with accepted practices in similarly situated professions. Rectifying some baseline injustices can start with acknowledging how changes starting in 2026 are unaccounted for in the current standard. Adjusting or removing current prelicensure requirements and standards, either in ABA accreditation requirements for law schools or in educational prerequisites on examinees placed before the exam itself, would go a long way to align stated accreditation goals with licensure outcomes.

[Posted by Louis Schulze, FIU Law]

June 4, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 27, 2024

Animal Farm (and the 11th Annual AASE Conference).

I am just now coming down from the high of attending the 11th Annual AASE Conference last week, hosted --in the most gracious way-- by the University of Idaho College of Law in Boise. As one might expect, it was an incredibly collegial and informative academic conference. I know I have mentioned how academic support folks are by the far the kindest, most generous, and scholarly academicians. It is refreshing to be in room after room with colleagues who just get “it.”   “It” is how to get students to: attend workshops, participate in bar review, pay attention to how they learn, and create processes that are efficient and effective. But “it” also is: how to get doctrinal faculty to: attend workshops, keep an eye on students who are falling behind, keep an eye on students who may learn differently. “It” is finally the collective[1] search for information about the NextGen bar exam and whether your jurisdiction will adopt it (and if so, when).

One of the social events at the conference was a dinner and drinks at the Zoo. I mean, who doesn’t love a Zoo?[2] There were giraffes, zebras, lions, and a red panda who I think should have their own Instagram account. It was Tuesday, so there were tacos. It was a different and fun way to build community and enjoy a lovely evening in Boise.

However, I have to wonder if our monkeying[3] around trying to get a handle on a test that we do not know a lot about-including whether it will actually be a thing in many of our jurisdictions- is just caging up the academic support predator that would love to set its sights on this prey by getting to know it (and actually figuring out if knowing it is necessary).

We spent a lot of time talking about the NextGen bar exam together. There were wonderful sessions about how to get ready, or adapt, or prepare students for the NextGen bar exam. In fact, every presentation about bar readiness (and some that were not) discussed the NextGen bar exam. One example was a great presentation about how to use Professional Responsibility as a golden ticket for teaching skills for both the UBE and NextGen bar exams. Another talked about teaching IRAC from a NextGen perspective. We had amazing presentations about how to use AI to Draft Next Gen practice questions, how to prepare students for the new legal research components of the NextGen exam, creating rubrics and learning objectives based on NextGen foundational skills, and more.

But what if after all this careful planning and preparing for NextGen, we, like Columbus, do not find ourselves in the destination we had planned to reach? What if the unknowns we are so carefully trying to infer[4] have been calculated incorrectly? We may already have, or are about to welcome, students who could be taking this bar exam and we have been left with penumbras and emanations.  We have become like Academic Support Ninja Warriors[5] who are trying to get to the goal without knowing exactly what challenges lie ahead. Some of this is the NCBE not being entirely forthcoming about the exam, and another piece of it resides in jurisdictions who have not shown their hands either. Together, that leaves us no better off than the animals in the Zoo: we are at their mercy in terms of getting fed the information we need, and then we wonder if all our hard work to know more than we have been currently told is going to end up being merely entertaining -- but not freeing in any way.

A very special thank you to Karen Wellman and her amazing team at U. of Idaho and the AASE Executive and Programming teams for making this another memorable conference. We are lucky to have each other on this quest. AASE will be posting all the materials and slides from the conference-look in your emails and on the website for more information.

And finally, I am crazy excited that all these amazing people will come to me next year. We will see you in Boston for the 12th Annual AASE Conference-Suffolk University Law School, May 2025!

(Liz Stillman)


[1] But not universal, some jurisdictions have committed with clear timelines in place.

[2] Yes, the animals there may not love it, but bear (get it?) with me for a moment.

[3] The puns will be fast and furious-please feel free to groan-or just shoot me an email that says, “UGH!,” I deserve it.

[4] And asking ChatGPT to help us infer as well.

[5] Which will be the name of my second ASP themed band.

May 27, 2024 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Meetings, Professionalism, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Categorizing Law School Underperformance, Part 400-and-Something

I have written previously about trying to categorize the reasons why students underperform in law school.  If we understand the root causes of underperformance, and especially how multiple causes can interact, we can better develop remedies.  One cause of underperformance stands out to me, and I struggle with it:  Sometimes students underperform because they just feel like the cases are wrong.  The legal rule to which they tacitly agree by “enacting” it into their outline does not comport with their own sense of justice.  This struggle then leads to difficulty in integrating the knowledge into a cogent cognitive schema of what the law IS

After many sleepless nights trying to figure this out, here is my approach.

When a student struggles with this issue, I explain that there is a great big, foundational question about what law IS.  Is a law “right” because it is God-given (Aquinas/ Natural Law)?  Because it is the product of rational analysis (Langdellian Formalism)?  Because it was enacted or recognized by a proper legal authority (Positivism)?  Or just because those in power say it is right (Crit Theory)?  Unfortunately, legal education rarely introduces students to this idea, and they get the impression that what they read in the cases is the only valid outcome.  Because important judges have concluded that a legal rule ought to be a rule, students interpret this as an implicit statement that the rule is irrefutably valid.  How can it possibly be law if it is not “right”?

I try to help students reconcile this by discussing three lenses for conceptualizing the question of “what is law?”  The first lens is Formalism, the idea that judges apply neutral and objective logic to discern in a scientific fashion what legal rule is rationally correct.  The second is Legal Realism, which pushed back on Formalism in the early 20th century by holding that judges are not neutral and logical arbiters of validity but instead are influenced by personal beliefs and other external factors.  This idea negates the “seamless web” of Formalism because different judges with different beliefs and biases render different outcomes, thus creating inconsistencies.  The next group is the Crits.[1]  Starting in the '60s and extending into the '90s and beyond, this group held that law is neither science nor the product of idiosyncratic but good faith adoption of external influences, but instead is simply a façade to mask the reality that law is a tool of oppression.

I suggest to students that what they are feeling might be because they are Legal Realists or Crits at heart. When they read cases that purport to state what the law is, neutrally and logically, legal education implies that these rules are right as a matter of rationality and, tacitly, that they are morally right.  As Realists or Crits, some students internally reject this, but that rejection feels like confusion. 

The problem for many students is that legal education does not explain any of this.  Instead, we silently put forth a Formalist framework and ignore the fact that students may struggle with the implication that these rules with which they fundamentally disagree are nonetheless morally right.  By denying them even an opportunity to appreciate the contradictions inherently exposed by a Realist or Crit analysis, we create a mental and moral crisis in the student that acts as a block to the integration of knowledge into memory.

For instance, take the Torts case book standard of Volunteers of America v. Hughes.  There, the court held that an impoverished immigrant woman consented to inoculation to which she objected.  The court took this position even though government officials coerced her into that consent by refusing to admit her to the United States and pointing out that she did not have funds to return to her native country. 

To justify this conclusion, the Formalist points to the fact that the plaintiff ostensibly consented by staying aboard for the shot so as to achieve her goal of entering the counry.  But the Crit recognizes that consent is not genuine if it is coerced and that the plaintiff being an immigrant woman instantiates the notion that law treats people differently based upon race, nationality, sex, and other identities.  When the professor moves on from Hughes without noting the dilemma, the student connects the dots to how the case implicates a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body.  “How can this case possibly be ‘right’?  Did I understand it wrong?  Everybody else seems to get this case.  Why am I not getting it?  Am I even cut out for law school?”

So, what can academic support faculty do?  First, I tell the student about Formalism, Realism, and Crit Theory and ask them whether this rings a bell.  It often does, so I explain that, no, you are not alone.  Hundreds of law review articles take up your exact argument.  Super smart law professors have written entire Crit casebooks, which shows that you are thinking at an advanced level.  You are not misunderstanding this; you are recognizing the same contradictions others have noticed.  You are far from alone.

But the last step is the one with which I struggle.  How can students perform well in law school if they fundamentally disagree with what they are taught?  “Am I sacrificing my moral compass to get a law degree?”  To answer these questions, I suggest that the student pretend to be a Formalist for the sole purpose of exams.  Go ahead and use your IRAC.  Go ahead and write the rule as if it is valid and analyze it as such.  Fit your Crit ideas somewhere in the essay, particularly with professors who might seem open to them, but otherwise, fake it ‘til you make it (and can later break it).  Pretend to be a Formalist for now so that you can get access to the profession and fight against the Formalist rules.  

I have seen some success with this approach.  Having knowledge of the Matrix helps students perform better in it and later break it.  So, in a consequentialist way, my approach seems justifiable.  I see a lot of “ah ha” moments when the student realizes that their struggle is not because they cannot understand law but because legal education cannot move past its Formalist foundations.  We can write all the law review articles we want, but if we keep teaching our students solely from a Formalist lens without even acknowledging the dilemma, we fortify the façade Crit Theory seeks to dismantle.

With all that said, my last step with the student is perhaps the most important one.  That is, I insist that whatever you do, do not jettison your internal sense of justice because you think you must do so.  You do not and should not.

Louis Schulze (FIU Law)

[1]  I hesitate to type that word because, as an employee of the State of Florida, writing the word “Crit,” I’m sure, is verboten.  Just for the irony, I will say that those legal rules are not “right” just because they passed through the allegedly proper legal authoritarians authorities (Positivism), but are in fact wrong under just about any other jurisprudential lens. 

May 14, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 13, 2024


My grading is almost 100% done (the only thing left is one rescheduled exam that will get to me in about a week). I am generally happy that it is over. It was a large undertaking with two undergraduate classes and two law classes this semester-over 100 students to grade in total. But, while I am glad I did the work, I am also ambivalent about it.

Why am I not sipping a drink with an umbrella and congratulating myself on meeting the grading deadlines? This semester I failed two students-one in each of my undergraduate sections. To clarify: they received Fs, and I failed them. These are two different things. I also gave some lower passing grades that included parts of the alphabet I don’t often use in these and my other classes. I think I now know what it means when someone says, “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” This hurts. Let me be very clear, I am not angry at the students, nor do I think they weren’t interested in the class or didn’t care-I think they just couldn’t do it. I am not taking it personally-it isn’t about me. Yet, I have to wonder how I missed such large cracks forming before the students fell through.

One of these students had perfect attendance and regularly participated in class, they just didn’t submit any work during the semester[1]-absolutely none, except they showed up (after rescheduling) for their oral argument (which was only worth 15% of a grade). Out of a total of 100 possible points, they had 40. I asked them in person (privately) after the oral argument, when I should expect their work and they nodded and said, “soon.” The other student got a perfect score on the first quiz, did an amazing oral argument, and then turned nothing else in and barely showed up for the rest of the semester. This student had 41 points. I was generous in awarding points for both. I am only allowed to give a grade of incomplete if they had turned in over 2/3 of the work. I begged them to turn in a few more assignments so I could give them an  “I”: no answer.

I emailed these students (often), contacted their Dean of Students, and also their faculty advisors. Academic Support me tried all the tricks to get their attention-and received no answers anywhere I turned. I also looked on our student tracking and found that they both had done poorly in their other classes as well.[2] Was this a relief? No. Did it take a little sting out of the process? Yes[3].

And then there were the law students. They also had some issues turning in assignments. I had one student who copied an MPT point sheet basically verbatim and turned it in as their own work[4]. When confronted, they only asked if they could take the class next intersession instead[5]. I suppose on an interrogatory that would be a “neither admit nor deny” type of answer. I emailed another student asking if they wanted an Incomplete since they had not turned in any assignments (but had done the quizzes and shown up -more or less-frequently) and the response was to submit most of the assignment a few days past my deadline without answering that email or communicating that they planned to do that in any way.

They will both pass the class. Will it be a grade that lifts their GPAs? I doubt it, but it is a one credit class, so it really wouldn’t have had a profound effect either way. Perhaps this was their calculation as well. Again, I tried not to be hurt or angry.[6]

I am pretty certain that all of these students are overwhelmed. I am not sure why this semester was the most overwhelming of all the semesters since the pandemic. Perhaps our collective trauma and grief has come home to roost- a bit of academic long COVID. I know that our collective mental health has been fraught-and world events and responses to them have been a lot. Please do not think that I am fishing for “you did everything you could for them.”  I am not looking for that, I am just wondering where they were that I couldn’t see or hear them-and more importantly how did they get there? And also, are there more students hiding in that spot?

I’ll be checking those nooks and crannies more carefully during the bar prep months as well as next semester, and I am suggesting that we all do (because, goodness knows, we don't already have enough to do...).

(Liz Stillman)


[1] They added the class about a week in, so I thought they were catching up for a bit.

[2] One had actually failed every class this semester.

[3] But then I felt that this kind of validation is not helpful to students either. A group failure is still a failure, just not as lonely.

[4] When your explanation of a changed provision in an MPT includes the words, “an examinee might…,” you’re busted.

[5] No, they cannot because they already took the final exam.

[6] Although the cheating did tip me over into anger. I am flexible about most things, but dishonesty isn’t on that list.

May 13, 2024 in Bar Exam Preparation, Current Affairs, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Congratulations to Everyone

In thinking about this post, I originally planned to congratulate students finishing the JD, then I thought about 1Ls making it past the first year.  I couldn't then forget about the middle-child 2Ls, and of course, ASP staff and faculty help students in those journeys.  So instead of focusing on one group, I want to congratulate everyone for making it through another year.

3Ls/Graduates - Great job completing 3-4 years of extremely difficult work.  Completing your JD is an amazing accomplishment and puts you in elite company.  Celebrate safely, but also, get right back to studying for the opportunity to take the bar exam.

1Ls - You made it.  I know some of you didn't believe you could keep going, but you did it.  Now is the time to take a slight break and get some legal experience.  Some of your professors will probably tell you that experience will help you contextualize what you learned and help you understand it better.  They are right, and working in a law firm is fun.

2Ls - We didn't forget about you.  You are over halfway finished, and we are proud of everything you accomplished.  Your law school is ready to help you cross your last hurdle next year.

Last, but certainly not least, ASPers - Thousands of students will reach their dreams at the end of July because of you.  The sleepless nights, constant feedback, and worrying will be worth it when you see your students take the oath of attorneys in your state.  Keep up the good work.

(Steven Foster)

May 12, 2024 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Academic and Bar Support Scholarship Spotlight

Note (A. Cibellis), Taking Back the Bar: The need for State Legislation Directed at Addressing the Disparate Impact of the Bar Exam and Holding the NCBE Accountable, 52 Hofstra L. Rev. 445 (2024).

From the introduction:

This Note will begin by describing the bar exam’s discriminatory history and its roots as an intentionally exclusionary tool to the legal profession. Part II will first examine the concept of disparate impact and the role disparate impact analysis has played in targeting practices that are facially neutral but have an adverse effect on minorities. It will then examine the historically rooted disparate impact of the bar exam on minorities. Part III will examine the failed attempts to challenge the disparate impact of the bar exam and address the need for legislative intervention in regard to the NextGen bar exam.16 Part IV will propose a legislative solution where the states will more closely examine the effects of the NextGen bar exam to ensure that targeted efforts to lessen the disparate impact are being implemented. It will go on to discuss that state legislation allowing disparate impact claims against the bar exam to be heard will help put pressure on the NCBE to fix the deep-rooted problems, as well as hold it accountable for the problems that have persisted for decades. Lastly, Part IV will examine a workable alternative pathway to lawyer licensing that can help achieve a more diverse legal profession that does not work to exclude capable candidates, and will conclude by addressing counterarguments from supporters of the exam who contend that the bar exam is necessary to ensure minimum competency for practice.

[Posted by Louis Schulze, FIU Law]


May 7, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)

More on "Determinants of Success."

I recently posted in the Academic and Bar Support Scholarship Spotlight a new article out of UC Law SF, entitled Determinants of Success on the Bar Exam: One Law School's Experience 2010-2023In that post, I introduced the article by saying:  "In this study, UC Law SF faculty and outside researchers collected and analyzed data to assess the impact of multiple factors on bar passage. "  Some preliminary thoughts:  

One factor the study found successful in increasing bar passage was shifting the focus of interventions from at-risk students to entire class cohorts.  Does this suggest that law schools should jettison programs aimed solely at at-risk students?  I am inclined to say "no" for several reasons.  First, it is important for schools to assess whether bar passage pervades all (or most) quintiles of their class or whether there is a sharp decrease at, say the penultimate quintile.  If the latter, targeted support might be a better choice.  Second, one should note that the purpose of the shift at UC Law SF was to increase bar passage.  Academic support aimed solely towards at-risk students has additional purposes, however, such as preventing academic dismissal and building the lawyerly skills of those most needing to improve.  In addition, many commentators remind us that academic support is a worthwhile measure to support the success of minority students.  As a result, wholly eliminating targeted academic support would undermine those goals.1  

Another factor positively correlated with bar passage was "requiring and encouraging students to take upper-division bar subject classes."  This is an eye-popping result.  Previous studies have been mixed, at best, in terms of supporting the notion of requiring these classes.  While most studies have found that such requirements do increase the passage of students at the bottom of the class, I am unaware of any that found a passage increase for all students.

The study also found that "offering for-credit bar skills classes in the 3L year focused on improving MBE performance ...  and on overall bar test-taking..." was positively associated with passage.  Several studies have found similar results, leaving us at a place where we can start to accept the proposition that these courses help students pass the bar.  So understood, decision-makers at schools struggling with bar passage who oppose such courses because they are "not the sort of thing we do here" should be prepared to offer less amorphous justifications for artificially deflating students' chances of becoming licensed attorneys. 

Other notable interventions positively correlated with passage included a post-graduation tracking program that encouraged certain students to complete a percentage of their bar preparation course.  Advising students to practice MBE questions (and not just reread outlines constantly) also improved bar passage.  Both these measures are considered best practices in academic and bar support, so these results help justify that status.

In sum, Determinants of Success is an important addition to the recent scholarship on effective bar preparation initiatives.  As with all empirical studies, the usual caveats of generalizability and other limitations apply. Nonetheless, I suspect that deans and faculty (particularly academic/ bar support faculty) will find the piece helpful. 

Louis Schulze (FIU Law)


  1. Note that UC Law SF did not do away with such programming.  The researchers merely analyzed the impact on bar passage.  To the contrary, the article made it clear that the "pervasive model" of intervention was "additive," i.e., on top of academic support focused on at-risk students.
  2.  On the bar pass rate topic, law schools have a notable tendency to look for singular causes and magic bullets.  This article offers a starting point for schools to think about ways to support student success.  But those schools must contextualize these findings and analyze whether the various factors might be relevant at their own schools.  

May 7, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 6, 2024

Who's Afraid of the Passive Voice?

“I used the passive voice. I am awaiting the legal writing police and will go peacefully.”

This is an actual text I sent a fellow Commissioner on a town-wide commission after sending an email expressing my disappointment that the recipients did not complete a task. Well, actually, I expressed disappointment in the task not being completed-which is, as we all know, different. I had originally written the email using the active voice, but I wanted to temper my statement by not appearing to attack the recipients. They are, after all, neither courts nor lawyers.

But here is a sacrilege I will unleash for the Academic Support audience only: sometimes, you can use the passive voice. In fact, sometimes, you should. As I await the ankle[1] bracelet that is surely coming for me, I will explain when and why you might be willing to be my partner in “crime.”

  1. Distance. Sometimes your client (or other actors in your facts) have done terrible things. Or maybe, terrible things have happened, and your clients may or may not have played a role in causing them. For example, the pedestrian was hit by a vehicle vs. my client hit the pedestrian who was walking with the light in a crosswalk on a bright sunny day (with no glare). You are going to need this distance. Because your client sucks-or the facts are not favorable to them.
  2. Tone: Sometimes, you would prefer not to assign blame as directly. For example,  this Court made the absolutely baffling decision to grant this this motion vs. Inexplicably, the decision was made to grant the motion. Courts don’t like being accused of misconduct.[2]
  3. You don’t know who did something: you cannot place an actor in the role, so you speak of the facts as happening without attributing them to anyone.
  4. You are trying to focus on the reaction to the circumstances and not the actor who created them: this comes in very handy during trials when you need to tell the Court and/or jury what a police officer knew when they stopped someone without having to say who told them that or even if it was true[3].
  5. You are stating a commonly known truth: for example: using the passive voice is frowned upon.

As someone who works with a wide range of international (mostly LL.M.) students, I have found that there are some languages that tend to veer towards the passive voice (like many romance languages) and teaching these students to identify and use the active voice is a struggle for all of us. But I do tell them that finding the passive voice is as simple as looking at bumper stickers because, as we all know, “Shit Happens.”

(Liz Stillman)


[1] Maybe a wrist bracelet so I cannot no longer use the dreaded PV?

[2] And they are aware that the coded phrase, “with all due respect your honor,” means, “you are wrong here.” The first time a judge ever said, “I know what you mean by that,” I almost let excrement escape from my body (see, distance!).

[3] This is your hearsay “get out of jail free” card during suppression hearings. Works every time.

May 6, 2024 in Miscellany, Teaching Tips, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Associate Professor of Academic Success and Bar Preparation at Southwestern

SOUTHWESTERN LAW SCHOOL in Los Angeles invites applications for full-time entry-level or experienced Visiting Associate Professor of Academic Success and Bar Preparation. The successful candidate will be eligible to apply for any future openings and may have the opportunity for additional renewals as a Visiting Associate Professor or Associate Professor of Academic Success and Bar Preparation.

AS/BP faculty work with students from pre-matriculation through the bar-study period. They teach our summer Bison Bootcamp program and serve as bar-study coaches for graduates. They teach the 1L Foundations of Law & Practice course, which instructs students about core law school skills, like reading cases and statutes, note-taking and classroom engagement, rule synthesis, outlining, and exam-taking techniques. They also teach upper-level courses, including Remedies, Multistate Bar Exam, and Cal Bar Writing. As we learn what will be covered on the new California Bar Examination, courses or course content may change.

We seek candidates who are passionate about teaching and can demonstrate success in the classroom, love working with students outside the classroom, and are willing to contribute to the campus community through committee and related service.

Students may earn their J.D. through various pathways, including two-, three-, and four-year programs and residential and a mostly asynchronous online program that starts in August 2024. The visiting faculty member will not be teaching in the online program during 2024–2025.

Founded in 1911, Southwestern is an ABA-accredited, independent law school located in the center of Los Angeles. Our mission includes educating lawyers ready to serve clients, the profession, and our society with excellence, empowering students to reach their potential, cultivating inclusion and belonging, and shaping the law and public policy through teaching, scholarship, and service.

Salary: The successful candidate will be offered a salary no less than $130,000. The salary may be adjusted for a successful candidate who has multiple years of full-time teaching experience at an ABA-approved law school.

To apply, please send your CV, professional references, research agenda, and teaching evaluations from the past five years (if applicable) via email to [email protected] and put “Faculty Application” in the email subject line. Review of applications begins immediately. Initial interviews will be held via Zoom, and callback interviews will be held in person. The ideal candidate should be available to start between June 1 and July 16, 2024.

May 5, 2024 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 3, 2024

Let's Talk About Test Anxiety

Test anxiety is a term used to describe stress experienced before an exam that rises to a heightened level of anxiousness and self-doubt. Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety that can feel overwhelming and is serious enough to impact your performance on the exam. Stress before an exam is normal. In fact, normal stress before an exam is triggering your sympathetic nervous system and preparing you to act. This can improve brain function in the short-term, keep you focused on the task, and help you perform at your best.

If your parasympathetic nervous system doesn’t kick in, you can remain in a heightened state of stress too long, or even experience a panic attack. Sensations experienced during panic attacks include trouble breathing normally, shaking hands, feeling faint or nauseous, feeling like you are having a heart attack or that you are choking. These sensations can make it impossible to focus on the exam.

Even if your stress is not rising to the level of panic attack, you may still find your stress is difficult to manage before an exam. You might feel like you’ve entered a freeze, flight, or fight state. I find freezing to be the most common defensive reaction in the exam setting. I think we’ve all experienced reading an exam question and feeling our minds go completely blank.

If this happens to you frequently, I encourage you to talk to a professional counselor. Not only will they be able to provide strategies for managing the anxiety, but they may also be able to identify an underlying cause of the anxiety. If this is happening to you for the first time in law school, please know you are not alone. The higher-stakes testing environment, pressure placed on law school final exams for overall course grades, and breadth of subject matter make law school exams different than other exams. It is incredibly common for law students to feel exam stress or test anxiety for the first time in their academic history.

What should you do if you are feeling extreme stress during an exam?

Breathe. First, try closing your eyes and taking some long, deep breaths. If this helps, focus on your senses. Identify five things you can see, hear, and touch at your seat. Instead of trying to focus on the exam questions, think of one major concept you remember from the course generally. Take a moment to write down a few rules you remember related to that concept. This is often enough to get out of the freeze and move forward with the exam.

If this does not work, you can’t breathe normally, or taking deep breaths is adding to the stress, try leaving the testing room for a few minutes. Take a short walk. If this is not helping, and you begin to experience symptoms of a panic attack, ask for help. Go to the appropriate person on your campus who assists with exam emergencies. According to Scientific American, panic attacks “usually begin abruptly, reach their peak within 10 minutes and end within half an hour.” You may be able to work through the episode and still complete your exam successfully. Suffering in the exam room usually does not help the situation. So, get the support you need.

Good luck on exams and remember that taking care of your health during the finals period is critical to exam performance.

(Ashley Cetnar)

May 3, 2024 in Advice, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Academic and Bar Support Scholarship Spotlight

1.  Ratner, Morris A. and Goggin, Stephen and Moscato, Stefano and Greer, Margaret and McGriff, Elizabeth, Determinants of Success on the Bar Exam: One Law School's Experience 2010-2023, __ J. of Legal Educ. __ (forthcoming, 2024).

In this study, UC Law SF faculty and outside researchers collected and analyzed data to assess the impact of multiple factors on bar passage.  It is not a stretch to infer from the article that robust, well-supported, and strategic academic support initiatives can foster students' bar success.  

From the Introduction:

The most effective pre-graduation interventions we studied resulted from a paradigm shift: UC Law SF improved bar outcomes after it moved from an academic skills development model focused on the most at-risk students based on entering metrics or law school GPA (LGPA) to a model of pervasive, integrated, and iterative skills instruction aimed at all students. Examples include: (1) requiring and encouraging students to take upper-division bar subject classes, with each additional bar subject class taken associated with a 3% increase in the probability of first-time bar passage in the post-2016 period; and (2) offering for-credit bar skills classes in the 3L year focused on improving MBE performance (Critical Studies 2) and on overall bar test taking (Critical Studies 3). The impact of these interventions varied by law school GPA band.

UC Law SF’s post-graduation bar success interventions proved to be particularly positively impactful given the strong connection between the percentage of commercial bar preparation courses that graduates complete and first-time pass rates. The most effective of these interventions included the following: (1) tracking individual student performance in post-graduation commercial bar preparation courses and advising and coaching individual students to complete a greater percentage of the classes; (2) offering supplemental law school-administered practice bar essay feedback during bar study; and (3) advising students to effectively practice MBE test taking. Combined with LGPA, the percentage of completion of post-graduation commercial bar course and regular postgraduation practice on bar essays and MBE questions turned out to be powerful predictors of first-time bar passage.

2.  Baldwin, Chelsea (Washburn), Bad Therapy: Conceptualizing the Teaching of "Thinking Like A Lawyer" as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, 55 St. Mary' L. J. __ (forthcoming, 2024).

From the abstract:

Law students and lawyers experience mental illness and substance abuse at higher rates than the general population and other learned professions. This is bad for an individual’s wellbeing as well as their clients and society because mental illness and substance abuse increases stress which in turn decreases effective decision-making and judgment, and in worst case scenarios leads to attrition as individuals choose death by suicide which has cascading social and economic impacts. This Article identifies practices in legal education that likely combine in a causal mechanism, although not a sole cause, to the higher rates of mental illness and substance abuse experienced by students and lawyers and proposes a series of alternatives and mitigations to lessen impact. This work builds upon that done by Lawrence Krieger and Kennon Sheldon, as well as Jeremy Organ, David Jaffe, and Janet Stearns et al. on the subject of law student well-being. This is a multi-factor and multi-causal problem, and where prior work focused on students’ self-determination and subjective well-being, this Article looks at the educational practices that results in administering cognitive behavioral therapy en masse to law students without the protective mechanisms that surround intended therapy with a professional.

After providing a brief primer on the regulatory system that applies to counselors and therapists, the A-B-C model underlying human psyche and the various orientations that help individual’s change their psyche, this Article examines how legal education administers a course of cognitive behavioral therapy to law students without the surrounding protections that exist when a trained therapist administers CBT. The Article concludes with a number of ways to introduce protective mechanisms to legal education, reduce the harmful applications of cognitive behavioral techniques in the course of education, and suggestions for future research.

[Posted by Louis Schulze, FIU Law]

April 30, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 29, 2024




My neighbor (and fellow ASP'er) in our faculty suite leaves for his classes by clapping his own face and announcing, “Showtime!”  He is quoting a drug-addled playboy from the movie All That Jazz, and we are all old enough to get that reference and find it funny[1]. I think as we move into exams, students are also contemplating these weeks as their “showtime”, but they are more likely channeling the movie Beetlejuice. Why?

  1. They may feel like they are haunting us for information. They aren’t-this is information they need, and we should be able to share it with them. They should not have to channel superpowers to be able to move forward on their journey.
  2. They are looking to feel powerful in a system intended to render them somewhat powerless. Right about now, I am fielding more questions about the structure of exams than the material they contain. Attempting to game (or find the patterns in) the system is honestly a way of procrastinating while continuing to think you are being productive. Yes, knowing the “enemy” is a strategic tool; knowing the law is better.
  3. Students are attempting to help each other through a new situation. And unlike our favorite freelance bio-exorcist who has his own agenda, students are not using their “knowledge” for their own gain. They are truly attempting to guide others. This is heartening in these times.
  4. Exam time is chaotic. There isn’t a lot of structure imposed on students’ schedules, but there is a lot to do (see my prior posts on exam plans).  And finally,
  5. Fatigue and a lapse in personal hygiene might lead to hair and wardrobe choices similar to those seen above. Exams are exhausting and stress about exams is exhausting. 

The good news is that if you say, “Academic Support” three times, we will come and help you. Well, okay, you would need to be in our direct vicinity to actually summon us this way, but you could email, text, stop by, call-and you would only have to do it once.

(Liz Stillman)


[1] Since law professors are so not any of these things really….

April 29, 2024 in Exams - Studying, Film | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The Outline Test

Exam prep is nearly upon us.  Now is the time when the academic support world is finishing up the semester-long project of convincing students to use effective study methods instead of traditional but flawed ones.  I wager that most academic support faculty urge students not to spend their study time endlessly re-reading outlines.  There is plenty of scientific evidence showing that this passive learning method is suboptimal.[1] 

But we face obstacles.  First, students have heard from everyone who has ever gone to law school – aunts, uncles, parents, friends, random passers-by – that re-reading outlines is the best way to study.[2]  Those folks are wrong,[3] but coupled with the fact that students have been wrongly taught since grade school that re-reading constitutes “memorizing,”[4] this reinforcement from well-meaning supporters is powerful.

Also, instructors sometimes tell students to focus on re-reading outlines repeatedly.  Plenty of legal educators fall for the post-hoc, ergo prop[5] and anecdote[6] fallacies and believe that because they were successful using certain methods, those methods are optimal.  The advice of a well-meaning professor is particularly compelling.  After all, when the person doing the grading tells you to do something a certain way, going against that grain feels awfully risky. 

So, you have a student who is on the verge of academic dismissal who is dead set on re-reading outlines.  What can you do?

Enter what I call, “Outlines Tests.”  An Outline Test converts passive learning to active learning.  It moves students away from the “illusion of mastery,” and pivots them towards “uncued recall practice.”  The illusion of mastery is a byproduct of re-reading.  When a student reads a torts outline twice on Monday and then again on Tuesday, their perception on Tuesday is that they know the material.  However, this perception arises out of recognition, not cognition, meaning that although they feel like they have memorized the rules, the reality is that they merely recognized the material from Monday.  If forced to write out the rule without looking at the outline, the student would quickly realize that their perception of mastery was an illusion.    

Uncued recall practice has the opposite effect.  Also called “The Testing Effect,” this method uses testing as learning.  If a learner takes a test, unaided by external materials, they are forcing themselves to recall information without cueing.  Educational psychologists agree that uncued recall practice is superior to cued practice (e.g., re-reading outlines) even though it feels harder.[7]

Here is how Outline Testing works.  First, the learner reads a heading in their outline and stops.  They then look away from the outline and try to recall everything they know on that single topic.  So, if they hit the heading in their Civil Procedure outline on joinder (God help them), they should read that heading and mentally recite every nook and cranny of their present knowledge.  When they are done, they read the joinder portion of the outline to observe which parts of the outline they forgot or misstated.  Employing metacognition, they then circle back to those newly discovered weaknesses and reformulate them.[8] 

Thus, instead of Zombie reading through a 50-page outline, Outline Testing evokes engagement by leveraging every human’s ego-driven desire to get questions right.  The added bonus is that this method plays into the student’s desire to listen to supporters and instructors.  By conducting the post-testing outline read, the student is complying with the advice of friends, family, and faculty, thus easing their anxiety about breaking rules. 

That is not to say that this is the optimal method.  I would like to see students also taking closed-book practice exams.  These force students not only to recall the rules but apply them in the context of a problem.  This would result in practice on issue-spotting, rule knowledge, application of law to fact and, if timed, exam time management.  But if a sufficient amount of practice materials are not available, or they are entirely banned, Outline Testing at least fosters some form of active learning, via uncued practice, and pulls students away from focusing solely on re-reading. 

Louis Schulze, FIU Law

[1]  See Brown, et al., Make it Stick (2014); Roediger HL 3rd, Karpicke JD, The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice, Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 181–210 (2006).  See generally Jennifer M. Cooper & Regan Gurung, Smarter Law Study Habits: An Empirical Analysis of Law Learning Strategies and Relationship with Law GPA, 62 St. Louis U. L.J. (2018) (finding evidence that the use of practice problems in law exam preparation is positively associated with performance).

[2]   “A majority of students repeatedly read their notes or textbook (despite the limited benefits of this strategy), but relatively few engage in self-testing or retrieval practice while studying.”  Karpicke, J. D., Butler, A. C., & Roediger III, H. L., Metacognitive strategies in student learning: Do students practice retrieval when they study on their own? Memory, 17(4), 471–479c (2009)

[3]  Many scientific publications demonstrate that re-reading is less effective.  See e.g., Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T., Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58 (2013) (investigating the efficacy of ten different study methods and concluding that passive learning techniques, such as re-reading, highlighting, and summarizing notes, were all low-utility methods).

[4]  “A significant body of research demonstrates that compared to simply rereading or even elaborative study techniques such as concept-mapping, free recall during study increases memory of various types of information."  C.L. Bae, D.J. Therriault, J.L. Redifer, Investigating the testing effect: Retrieval as a characteristic of effective study strategies, 60 Learning and Instruction 206-14 (2019); see also Jeffrey D. Karpicke, Janell R. Blunt, Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping, Science, 331,772-775 (2011). 

[5]  This logical fallacy occurs when the speaker reasons that the concurrence of two events proves causation.  Thus:  “I used this method in my 1L exams, I succeeded in those exams, therefore this method caused the success.”

[6]  This logical fallacy occurs when the speaker relies on a personal and/or singular example to support a proposition.  Thus:  “I used this method in my 1L exams, so this method must be effective.”

[7]. See Butler, A. C., Repeated testing produces superior transfer of learning relative to repeated studying. J. of Experimental Psych: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 36(5), 1118–1133 (2010); Bruchok, Christiana; Mar, Christopher; Craig, Scotty D.  Is Free recall active: The testing effect through the ICAP lens, J. of Interactive Learning Research (2017) 28(2), 127-148 (2017) (stating:  “A robust positive effect of repeatedly testing target information as compared to spending extra time studying the same information, a phenomenon commonly referred to as the testing effect or retrieval practice, has been reported in a wealth of literature.”)

[8]  This method is similar to one discussed in the Karpicke and Blunt paper, supra, note 4.  There, the authors suggested that creating a “mind map” (i.e., flowcharts) in an uncued fashion would further enhance an already effective learning method. 

April 23, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Marathon Tuesday

Classes end here later this week[1] and while this date was on the academic calendar for well over a year at this point, this is news to some students. To be fully honest, I was taken by surprise as well. In fact, I was taken by surprise that yesterday was Monday and I should have written and posted this blog entry then. To be fair, there have been many distractions in the past week: protests, Passover, and here in Boston, a marathon coupled with some sports teams getting to the play-offs. It has been a lot.

I have to wonder (because if you know me, you are fully aware that I have never run a marathon and would have no direct experience), if the Boston marathon feels the same way the spring semester does: slow and steady at first, a bit of energy depletion at the 1/3 mark, regained momentum at the half to 2/3 mark, and then a feeling of going uphill[2] with no reserved resources left until you crest that hill and then have even more running to do before it all ends somewhat abruptly. The giant slope slightly after mile 20 of the Boston Marathon is literally called Heartbreak Hill.

Our students are closing in on the foot of Heartbreak Hill today. Exams loom over them and look huge and insurmountable from where they stand. Their race strategy has to change at this point because classes will end and then they need to approach, climb, and get over the exam hill to get to finish line. If there were only one exam our students needed to take, then this would be the point where we distribute the shiny blankets and medals and send them on their sweaty way, but they often have still more exams to take. Too often students prepare for exams as if the one hill were the end of the race, or worse yet as if it were an entire series of Heartbreak Hills. In Boston, there are more than 5 miles to go once you have survived Heartbreak Hill.

I think approaching exams the same way you would approach a marathon might be helpful, so here is what I suggest to students:

  1. Have the right equipment: do the case briefing and outlining. Go to class, take notes, go the TA review sessions. Gather your materials and synthesize them. Test some different strategies out early in the semester to see if they can withstand the task.
  2. Start training early: do hypos, practice exams, and multiple choice questions early and often. But don’t over train by trying questions that you haven’t covered in class yet, you will strain and panic. Study what you have learned.[3]
  3. Be organized in your training: plan out your studying. It may seem like there is a lot of time for studying (hopefully), but unplanned time can be easily squandered. Make to-do lists (not too long), and enjoy the satisfaction of crossing things off of them.
  4. Build stamina: by starting to time yourself on answering the training questions about ½ through the semester.
  5. Know your route: make an exam plan that is a calendar of what exams you have when and how you plan to prepare for them.
  6. Take care of your body and mind; before, during, and after exams. This is not a good time to not feel your best. Eat, sleep, exercise, and breathe.
  7. Warm up before you start, and cool down after you finish: otherwise you will be very, very sore the next day. I’ve seen some Boston runners on the Tuesday morning after the marathon wearing their medals but unable to walk down the stairs to the subway. For students this means taking some mental space to enter and exit the exam zone.

Reminding students that exams are not a series of sprints but rather a cohesive marathon of tasks is one way of making sure they look at the big picture and plan ahead. Planning is everything.

(Liz Stillman)


[1] Well, law school classes end, but my undergraduate classes go for a week longer. The lack of sync amongst academic calendars just baffles me.

[2] The Boston Marathon Route:

[3] Or think you should have learned but didn’t quite get in class. Not ideal, but it could be foundational material you need to move forward.

April 23, 2024 in Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Sports, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 19, 2024

If You Failed the February 2024 Bar Exam…

As results trickle in from the February administration of the bar exam, there are moments of joy and sorrow happening around the nation. If you passed the exam, CONGRATULATIONS! If you failed the exam, please know:

You are not a failure. You are a successful human being.

You know this. I’m just reminding you of the facts.

There are people you can lean on.

It can feel hard to share the disappointment, stress, and even shame you might be feeling. There are people in your life who can’t believe you did something as hard as graduating from law school. There are people in your life who look up to you – who think you are the smartest person they know. There are people in your life who are so proud of you, and they are even more proud of you now for trying. Let them in.

Your school is behind you.

With all the national attention on the bar exam and pass rates, it can feel like you are a statistic. You are not. I graduated from a big undergraduate institution and a large law school. As a student, it felt comfortable to blend into a crowd. I didn’t understand how my faculty members felt about their law school community. Now, as a faculty member, I can tell you, a student’s success is my joy, and their disappointment is my sorrow. I deeply care about my students passing the bar because I care about my students. And I have yet to meet a colleague who doesn’t share this sentiment. Ask for our help and support. We want to give it.

Your February results do not dictate how you will do in July.

It takes over 400 hours of studying, thousands of multiple-choice questions, hundreds of essays, and multiple, timed MPTs to pass the UBE. It also takes stress management. If there were things outside of your control that prevented you from hitting these targets, acknowledge that. Failing the bar exam doesn’t come down to a lack of intelligence or ability; it comes down to dedicating the right amount of time to the right activities for ten weeks.

The work you did studying this past winter is not a waste. It will only ease the burden as you prepare for July.

You will feel surprised at how much you remember when you crack open those books open again.

You are in good company.

Check out this list from JD Advising of impressive people who failed the bar exam.

Try again.

No one will ever ask how many times you took the bar exam, or what you scored. Even if you feel defeated, try again. Being an attorney will define your life. Taking the bar again will not.

(Ashley Cetnar)

April 19, 2024 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 15, 2024

The Call Came from Inside the Building

**I will issue the disclaimer (and warning?) here that this post has very little to with Academic Support and does talk about violent world circumstances. I have tried (feebly, I admit) to tie this into status issues, student self-advocacy, and the importance of belonging to student success, but again, it is extremely tangential. I promise that next week’s entry will be about exams and how you should register for the AASE Conference.**

About a week ago, I returned from Israel. I had been there to celebrate my nephew’s wedding[1].  It was surreal to be sitting in a lively European-style square next to a stunning sea having coffee[2] while also knowing that the white wispy looking lines over the water were patrol drone trails. It was similarly implausible to be at a wedding where we engaged in most of the usual marriage rituals[3] but also noting that one of the photographers had what appeared to be a semi-automatic handgun somewhat cavalierly tucked into the back waistband of his pants. There was no holster or covering; it was just positioned there for a right handed person to draw quickly. Sun, sea, joy, family, and yet an undercurrent that this was only a façade.

My brother-in-law is a faculty member at a law school in Israel. He told me how their semesters are completely off schedule due to the war. Students, faculty members, and administrators have all been called into military service and returned at times that are not in sync with the usual academic calendar. Even COVID didn’t do this. And yet, I would be entirely remiss if I did not also say that schools in Gaza are completely shut down due to the war and continued violence. Inconvenience is not the same as rubble. The destruction of schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure that assists civilians to live their lives is repugnant.

So, we went to the Saturday night anti-war protests in Tel Aviv. There were thousands and thousands of people there.[4] We were at least four teeming city streets away from the speakers, but we could see and hear everything on screens set up along the way. We stood in the shadow of IDF headquarters and loudly told them that they were doing terrible things. It was by far the most comfortable place I have sat with my feelings about this entire conflict. I could say what I thought about the egregious behavior of the Israeli government without ever having to engage my (now 24/7) filter to determine where and when some of the protests cross the line into abject anti-Semitism.  It was oddly freeing.

For context, about a  week before making this trip, I had been approached by a fellow faculty member to join a group of “like-minded” colleagues in a Faculty for Justice in Palestine group at my law school. This was not a public invitation to all the faculty; it was more of a recruiting whisper network, and I was invited because I had expressed my dismay to one colleague who fully knew about my family in Israel as well as my internal conflict. I had shared this with someone I respect and trusted. Part of me thought, “wow, they think I am cool enough to do this!,” and part of me said, “nope, I will not be their token Jewish person.”  A third part of me thought I would get listed on Canary Mission and get turned away at the border unable to attend the wedding. I am still not sure how I feel about the invitation or the people who sent it, but nonetheless, I politely declined. I can say that I felt almost completely comfortable in the space of my workplace until then and now that security has been frayed. I’m not saying that I was threatened in any way, I was not, nor am I now.  I just feel less like I belong there and, honestly, really sad about that. The folks who invited me vote on my contract.[5] The folks who did accept the invitation to attend their information session also vote on my contract.

Even as someone who always encourages students to advocate for themselves, I am at a loss as to how to repair this set of circumstances for myself. If I had tenure, I would have forwarded the email I received to everyone on the faculty and administration or asked to put it on the agenda at the next faculty meeting, but I do not feel that I can or should do that. And here’s another truth: I really do not want to know which of my colleagues did accept the invitation because I want to continue walking the halls feeling like I belong. We know, as ASP professionals, that belonging  begets community which in turn begets success.

This past Saturday night, far from the protests, we celebrated my mother-in-law’s birthday in Rhode Island while drone strikes from Iran targeted Israel. Luckily very few hit anything before being intercepted. And even luckier, my family is fine-not that anyone who asked me to join them weeks ago inquired.

(Liz Stillman)


[1] And really, does anything make you feel older than that--short of grandchildren?

[2] And the most amazing pistachio croissants I have ever eaten-seriously, ask me about them at the AASE Conference and bring a paper towel for the drool.

[3] It was different than American style weddings, but most of the usual components were there: the aisle, the vows, the officiant, the dancing….

[4] Real thousands, not Trump thousands.

[5] Which luckily isn’t scheduled to happen again for another five years.

April 15, 2024 in Current Affairs, Miscellany, News, Religion, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)