Friday, June 30, 2006

Reducing Stigma

One of the problems that often plagues ASP programs is the stigma that can attend students' participation in academic support efforts.  Because academic support at the undergraduate level is usually directed at those students who are struggling in their studies, law students often perceive ASP programs as remedial in nature, reserved for those who cannot perform adequately in law school without special help. 

As a result, those students who participate in the programs, often at the urging of the school, find it tough to shake the perception that they are not as smart or as qualified as their peers.  That perception does double damage: it lowers the ASP participants' confidence in their own abilities, and it leads to the fear that others will regard them as less capable than typical law students.  The effect is magnified for minority students who must already face the mentality among some students and faculty that most minorities ride into school on the backs of affirmative action programs rather than their own abilities.

One way to lessen the stigma so often associated with ASP programs is to widen the target group from "at-risk students" to the entire student body.  In other words, the program can be based on the proposition that all students can use help transferring their existing academic skills into the peculiar demands of law school. 

Few students arrive at law school knowing how to read and brief cases effectively, create useful outlines and flowcharts, etc.  Most are forced to develop those skills through a kind of "accidental curriculum" made up of unpredictable relationships.  A few are fortunate enough to have family and friends who have been through law school to help them uncover the best approaches.  A few others arrive having had the good fortune to have been trained through earlier pursuits in the art of text-based analysis and reasoning. 

Most just have to wing it until they stumble across model outlines or other study helps that may be floating out there in the law school ether.  Whether what they stumble across is actually helpful is mostly a matter of luck.  As result, the average law student is a much less efficient and effective learner than he could be.

Given those realities, an ASP program can be promoted as relevant to all students' law school efforts and can become accepted as merely another piece of the academic life of the typical law student.  I like to tell my students that law professors rightly "hide the ball" when it comes to what the law means, because learning to find what the law means is the primary skill lawyers must possess.  There are no tutors out in the practice.  As for how one learns to find what the law means, however, I see nothing useful in hiding the ball.  While every student must learn to outline her courses for herself, she needn't develop the skill out of thin air.  While every student must learn to answer law school exam questions for himself, he needn't discover the best approaches by trial and error on real exams.

So I aim my program at all students on the theory that all students could learn the law more deeply and effectively and develop their analytical skills more efficiently if they did not have to spin their wheels trying to discover effective learning techniques with no guidance.  In my estimation, an ASP program should serve to deepen the legal discourse among the entire student body by moving all students as rapidly as possible down the road of effective class preparation and review.  To the extent that the program causes all students to engage the material in their classes more effectively and efficiently, it shifts the focus of the entire enterprise to deeper and more meaningful discourse about the law itself.

To further that goal, I have decided to send a letter this summer to every incoming first-year student, introducing them to the school's ASP program and telling them that I expect them to come to school having already read a text I use extensively in the program.  I have also told them that I will be emailing each of them early in the semester to talk about how they are implementing the techniques and principles I will be presenting in ASP lectures.  By taking the attitude that participation in ASP programming is normal and expected, I hope to eliminate the perception that only some students need instruction in the skills the program presents.

My goal is that every student will take advantage of ASP instruction so that their energies can be expended more effectively and efficiently from the outset.  I hope that all students will more rapidly clear the elementary hurdles of learning how to prepare for class, examine and organize what they have begun to learn, and identify their gaps in learning.  In doing so, they will be freed to enter into a level of legal discourse often missing among the majority of law students not only in their first semesters but through much of their law school careers. (dbw)

June 30, 2006 in Diversity Issues, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 26, 2006

How About the West Coast?

Sunny California sounds nice.  Santa Clara University School of Law is looking for an Academic Success and Legal Writing Specialist.  Below is a short description of the program.

This newly-created academic position at Santa Clara University School of Law functions within the Student Academic & Professional Development Department in conjunction with its Academic Success Program and in coordination with Santa Clara’s Legal Research & Writing Program. The specialist is responsible for teaching second-year classes in fundamentals of legal method and analysis, for providing writing assistance and counseling to individual students in our full- and part-time programs, and for helping shape academic services in the long-term.

The position is a full-time academic staff position on an initial 11-month contract, which may be renewed for sequential three year periods. It is not a tenure-track position and carries no voting privileges. The specialist reports to the Assistant Dean for Student Academic & Professional Development.

Send letter of interest and current resume to Marina Hsieh, Assistant Dean for Academic & Professional Development, Santa Clara University School of Law, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95053-0448.  We will accept applications until the position is filled. Interviews will not begin before the last week of July 2006. A start date during the fall of 2006 is preferred, with first classes starting in January 2007. (dbw)

June 26, 2006 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Check Out Herb Ramy's New Book

Hramy_1 As a longtime director of Academic Support, Herb Ramy begins receiving phone calls from our new 1Ls as early as May.  Their common question? “What do I need to do to succeed in law school.”  To help answer this question, Herb has written Succeeding in Law School – Becoming Your Own Best Teacher .  His book contains some basic information that prospective law students can use to better prepare for those first rigorous days as a 1L.  Just as importantly, he has written this book with the Academic Support Professional in mind.

Herb explains what inspired the book:

"When I first entered the ASP field, I had a general sense of the ideas I wanted to communicate to my students.  I knew that I wanted to cover topics like course outlining, note taking, and time management, but teaching these topics in a way that spoke to a large segment of the law school population was no easy task.  Through a process of trial and error, I learned how to communicate these and other important ideas to my students.

"I have written this book mindful of the rigorous learning environment law students face.  The book fully addresses each important topic, but each chapter and the accompanying exercises can be completed in a modest amount of time. The book incorporates examples, a few cases, hypotheticals, and exercises so that students can practice their new skills and measure their progress."

In addition to students receiving the feedback they crave, the exercises allow ASP professionals to assess the students' progress throughout the semester.  It promises to be an important new tool for those of us working in academic support and for our students as well. Check it out.  (dbw)


June 22, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

My New Co-editor

Estillman_1 As we begin looking toward the new semester, I want to take a moment to welcome Liz Stillman as my new co-editor.  Liz took on the role of contributing editor this last school year as I was coming on as co-editor with Dennis Tonsing.  Liz's posts have been a delight to read, and she is an exceptionally charming person with whom to work, so I am thrilled to have her join me in handling the primary responsibilities for the ASP blog.

Dtonsing I also want to thank Dennis Tonsing for his exemplary service as co-editor of the blog and for asking me to join him a year ago.  Dennis is taking a well-deserved rest from the duties of co-editor, but he'll still be around as a contributing editor; so we'll all continue to enjoy his musings, advice, and insights. 

So thanks, Dennis, and welcome, Liz. I'm looking forward to another year working with both of you. (dbw)

June 21, 2006 in About This Blog | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Back in the Saddle

Having just returned from the Northeast Regional Academic Assistance Workshop in Bristol, Rhode Island, we blog editors are excited and reinvigorated as we look toward the new school year.  The sessions at the workshop provided insights and advice that veterans and newcomers alike found inspiring and practical.  We are grateful for the wonderful support of LSAC and the tireless efforts of the folks at Roger Williams University School of Law, especially Dennis Tonsing and Lorraine Lalli, as well as the contributions of all of the presenters.  It was a wonderful couple of days.  (dbw)

June 20, 2006 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 9, 2006


After a week of rain, I am actually looking out the window and seeing the sun.  OK, not really the sun, but the dry ground at least.  So, of course, here I am in my office on this gloriously cloudy day (after two solid weeks of rain with three kids to drop off and pick up at various locales, my standards are getting mighty low) putting together a presentation for the Northeast Regional Academic Support Conference, and my topic is:  whom do we serve?  I've thought about this quite a bit.   There are some specific categories of students we see here in ASP:

1.  Students who are required to see us:  academic probation and/or warning students.  These students have performed poorly on exams and their grades don't quite merit dismissal but we would be negligent if we did mot monitor their progress.  These students roughly divide into two sub-categories:  those who come willingly and those who wish you got stuck in the elevator and then lost their e-mail address.  I prefer the former as they seem to have a better attitude about improving their study methods.  I see these students for a year or so based on their progress and then they never darken my doorstop again, although they are always welcome.

2.  Students who have the opportunity to meet with us:  or, as I see it, the lucky ones.  These students may have been given the opportunity of a lifetime based on their LSAT scores, ESL status or a recommendation from their legal writing professor.  These students also roughly divide into two subcategories:  those who agree with me about this being a great thing and those who stumble into my office because they can't find a classroom on the third floor.  Either way, no one leaves without chocolate or directions.  These students stop in periodically during their three/four years depending on how hungry they are.

3.  Students who come because they need to speak to someone:  and here I am.  Actually there are more subcategories here:  students who have always achieved good grades who are frantic about law school (and are still achieving good grades but don't know why); students who are passing all of their classes but are ashamed of their grades nonetheless;  students who just need someone to help them think about managing their time better now that actual studying is really necessary; and students who just need to talk.  These students do not make appointments, but I see them more often than anyone else on my roster.  I see them regularly for the three or four years they are here.  I have some that stop in daily.   I get e-mails from them when they are studying for the bar.  They send holiday cards and wedding and birth announcements.

The truth is that when graduation rolls around and all of these students do the cap and gown thing, I am sorry to see them leave and I hope I have, in fact, served them effectively and, gulp, lovingly while they were here.  And I sincerely hope they take the rain with them when they go. (ezs).

June 9, 2006 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)