Friday, February 27, 2009

Which kind of motor vehicle is this case?

The typical law school class is heavily focused on cases.  Consequently, to 1L law students, the cases often seem to be the essentials rather than mere vehicles for bringing them the essentials they will need for developing a bigger picture of the course.  Part of their misunderstanding of how to use cases is caused by our teaching methods and part may be because of their learning styles. 

Some law professors expect their students to know every detail of every case for class recitation.  Others just touch on a few points from the case.  The former style suggests to some students that they need to know every detail for the exam.  The latter style may leave some students wondering which details tie to those points or which details were important.

Professors will often throw out a series of hypotheticals to get their students to understand nuances of the application of a legal rule.    And, professors may give no answers to those hypotheticals and leave the ultimate task of getting from the cases to the big picture for students to discover in their studying outside of class.  Some students will walk away not knowing how the class discussion of cases related to the hypotheticals and what they were supposed to learn.

Does this mean that these professors are bad teachers or bad people?  No.  It does mean that some 1L students struggle with determining what is ultimately important in the course.

Because of their learning styles, some students will struggle more than other students in making sense of law school classes and cases.  Global-intuitive learners will tend to have less problem than the sequential-sensing learners in the class.

Global-intuitive learners naturally process everything looking for the bigger picture and the inter-relationship of ideas.  They prefer essentials because details are not particularly attrative to them.  The highly detailed professor will have them wondering why they have to sit through all of the trivia.  The professor who touches on a few points, throws out unanswered hypotheticals, and expects the students to pull it all together is more understandable to these learners.  However, if these learners are high scorers on their learning styles, they may miss important details, organization, and nuances of analysis. 

Sequential-sensing learners naturally process each case and each sub-topic as discrete individual parts.  They think about units and the facts and details of those units.  They naturally gain security from knowing everything there is to know about a case.  They only look for the bigger picture later.  The stronger their preference for "bottom up" learning, the harder it will be for them to see the bigger picture.  It is these learners who sometimes get "left in the dust" of our typical law school case approach.  Without help, they may get to the bigger picture too late to do well on the exam.  (By the way, these students actually know more law usually than any of their global-intuitive friends.)

(In the "old days" of law school teaching, global-intutitive professors probably predominated and may have thought that the sequential-sensing student was not made of the "right stuff" to be a good lawyer.  Fortunately, more awareness of learning styles means that both processing types are seen to have advantages and disadvantages in the study of law because all four processing steps are needed for the best essay answers or memos.  And, in practice, the client benefits most if both types of learners are on a team for the case.)

My sequential-sensing learners struggle in deciding what can be discarded for their outlines.  They are concerned that they will leave out something important.  They are concerned that they need to know it all - every minute detail and every tiny fact.

Over the years, I have tried to find ways to help these sequential-sensing learners get a different perspective on cases.  They will still read in more detail and still have separate units initially, but they can get to the bigger picture more quickly with some help.  I talk a great deal with them about synthesis of cases, of sub-topics, etc.

By chance I came up with a basic analogy to help sequential-sensors understand the relevance of cases to the overall course.  We talk about cases being like motor vehicles that may drive into your driveway but are ultimately owned by someone else and just "visiting." 

The shiny little sports car:  These zippy little cases pull into your driveway with little cargo capacity.  As a result, there is less of importance to unload.  Perhaps, you will find a definition of an element or an exception to a rule.

The family sedan:  These sedate cases pull into your driveway with large trunks of essentials.  One may find a substantial rule discussion, a sizeable interpretation of a statute, and/or a well-reasoned opinion with steps of analysis.

The family station wagon:  These workhorse cases will be loaded down with many essentials (using even the roof rack).  In addition to the type of cargo found in a family sedan, they often come loaded with extra policy discussion, additional variations on rules (minority and majority rules, restatement rules, model code rules), discussions of ambiguous or vague statutes, and/or discussion of multliple issues.

The U-Haul rental truck:  These vehicles are the really major cases driving into your driveway.  Think U.S. Supreme Court and state court of last resort.  These major cases are packed with important essentials: doctrines of epic proportion, significant policy discussion perhaps, methodologies or bright-line tests, involved discussions of multiple precedents, complex issues and points of law, and/or possibly dissents and concurrences. 

Whatever the motor vehicle size of a case, however, you let it drive away.  You do not park it permanently in your driveway.  You unload the essentials for your outline and wave goodbye to the driver with a thank you.

My sequential-sensing learners suddenly understand that it is okay to let go of the myriad of details once the essentials are spotted for their outlines.  They begin to see that their task is to find only the most important cargo.  They begin to see how cases are mere vehicles that fit together into a bigger picture of sub-topics and topics and applying that law to new fact scenarios.  (Amy Jarmon)   


February 27, 2009 in Learning Styles, Reading | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Job Posting for Dean of Students Widener - Harrisburg

The Harrisburg campus of Widener University School of Law is accepting applications for the Dean of Students position.  Located in the state capital, the Law School is in close proximity to the State Legislature, numerous government agencies and state and federal courts.  The School’s Law and Government Institute and Environmental Law Center provide opportunities for students to be actively engaged in preparation for the practice of law in the government as well as in the public interest and private sectors.  The law school, with its day and evening divisions, provides flexible scheduling opportunities for students.

The Dean of Students is responsible for developing and implementing programs designed to help students develop personally and professionally.  She/He is available to provide personal and academic support for all students through individual counseling and programs.  Personal support includes counseling students facing difficult personal issues and, when appropriate, facilitating referrals for professional treatment.  Academic support includes advising related to course selection, scheduling and graduation requirements.  The Dean of Students has significant responsibility for counseling students with low grade point averages and responsibility for various matters related to academic dismissal.  She/He also advises and counsels students on issues related to the Law School’s Honor Code.  In addition to advising and counseling, the Dean of Students plans programs supportive of student development and events related to graduation. 

The Dean of Students must also work closely with other offices that provide student services.  She/He works with the Registrar’s office in overseeing various aspects of the examination process; with the Financial Aid and Business offices on scholarship and other financial matters; and with the Supervisor of Student Organizations, who is responsible for oversight of student organizations and activities.  The Dean of Students sits on various faculty committees and is occasionally asked to participate in University-wide committees.  She/He also assists in maintaining the law school’s ties to the legal community by attending various local, state, national bar association and other professional meetings.

Minimum Requirements: J.D. and admission to practice in any U.S jurisdiction.
Deadline: April 1, 2009

Letters of interest, resumes, salary requirements and a list of references should be sent to:

Vice Dean John L. Gedid
Widener University School of Law
P.O. Box 69381
3800 Vartan Way
Harrisburg, PA  17106-9381

Widener University is an equal opportunity employer that encourages excellence through diversity.  Women and minority candidates are encouraged to apply.

February 26, 2009 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Space in the Sculpture"

I'd like to thank Ruth Ann McKinney of Carolina Law and give her credit for conceptualizing this metaphor and introducing me to it while I was a law student.

One of the concepts my students have struggled with this semester is the importance of what is left out of the court's opinion.  For students with a background in the arts, an apt metaphor is to space in a sculpture.  When looking at a great sculpture, it's not just what the artist does with the clay, steel, or marble that is significant. The beauty and meaning of the sculpture is also shaped by the space in and around the sculpture, where the artist has chosen to remove, carve, or shape the sculpture.  Similarly, the court's opinion is shaped not just by what facts they choose to include in their rationale, but the facts they choose to ignore, the facts they find irrelevant, and the thinking they choose not to explain in the holding. What is left out of an opinion is the space in the sculpture; it is what shapes the decision as much as the material used to create the sculpture. 

My favorite example is Robert Indiana's Love sculpture. It is ubiquitous, so most students know  it if I reference it as an example.  Without space in the sculpture, the places where the artist choose to remove steel, it would be a giant block of metal, not one of the most important pieces of pop art of our time.  An opinion that includes all facts, policy, and thinking about the case would be a giant stack of paper without any direction or meaning. (RCF)


February 25, 2009 in Reading | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Call for Proposals from the AALS Section on Academic Support

Call for Proposals by the Workshop Program Committee for the AALS Section on Academic Support
2010 AALS Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana
Annual Meeting Dates:  January 6-10, 2010

The theme of our 2010 AALS workshop will be:

“Transforming Learning in the Classroom: the 21st Century Law Professor”

The AALS Section on Academic Support will showcase how professors are transforming the learning environment of their classrooms through innovative and creative methods.  Many of these methods  have their roots in traditional academic support tenets of varying lesson plans to reach different learning styles, providing feedback throughout the semester, assessing students in creative ways, engaging students both in and out of the classroom, and encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning.   The committee requests proposals that demonstrate modern classroom and teaching techniques including but not limited to: active learning activities, teaching assessment procedures, exam drafting, skills development in doctrinal courses, and innovative lesson plans.  Show us what’s new and different in legal education in the 21st century! 

The Program Committee will give preference to presentations designed to engage the workshop audience, so proposals should contain a detailed explanation of both the substance of the presentation and the interactive methods to be employed.  In addition, we would like to highlight talent across a spectrum of law schools and will look for variety in presentations and presenters.  If you do not have a proposal to submit, but are interested in participating in a presentation, please contact Emily Randon (see below), as assistance with the overall workshop is always welcome.

Based on participant numbers for the last several years, we anticipate over 100 people attending the program.  To assist the presenters in the interactive piece, the program committee members and other volunteers will be on hand to act as facilitators with audience members.

Proposals must include the following information:
1.  A title for your presentation
2.  A brief description of the objectives or outcomes of your presentation.
3.  A brief description of how your presentation will support your stated objectives or outcomes.
4.  The amount of time allocated for your presentation and for the interactive exercise.  No single presenter should exceed 45 minutes in total time allowed.  Presentations as short as 15 minutes will be acceptable.
5.  A detailed description of how the presentation will be interactive.
6.  Whether you plan to distribute handouts, use PowerPoint, or employ other technology.
7.  A list of the conferences at which you have presented within the last three years, such as AALS, national or regional ASP or writing conferences, or other academic conferences.  (The committee is interested in this information because we wish to select and showcase seasoned, as well as fresh, talent.)
8.  Your school affiliation, title, courses taught, and contact information (include email address and telephone number).
9.  Any articles or books that you have published describing the lesson you will be demonstrating.

Send proposals by Monday, March 9, 2009 to Prof. Emily Randon, University of California, Davis School of Law, at the email address of [email protected].  If you have questions, feel free to contact Emily Randon directly at 530-752-3434.

If you know of colleagues who are true innovators in techniques that achieve the objectives of the academic support community, please encourage them to submit proposals!

We look forward to seeing you in New Orleans!

The ASP Section Program Committee:
Emily Randon, Chair
Robin Boyle Laisure
Hillary Burgess
Barbara McFarland
Kathy Garcia
ASP Section Chair:  Pavel Wonsowicz

February 23, 2009 in Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Reminder: Institute for Law Teaching and Learning Conference Proposals due TODAY

A reminder for anyone who may have let this fall off their radar in the chaos of the start of the semester:

The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning Summer Conference in Spokane, WA is soliciting proposals for workshops. The last day to submit a proposal is TODAY, February 20, 2009. The conference will be June 23-24, 2009, and focus on "Implementing Best Practices and Educating Lawyers: Teaching Skills and Professionalism Across the Curriculum".

Guidelines for proposals:

Limited to one-page, single-spaced, and include:
-Title of workshop
-Name, address, phone number, and email of presenter(s)
-A summary of the contents of the workshop, including goals and methods

Submit proposals via email to Professor Gerry Hess, Co-Director
Institute for Teaching and Learning
[email protected]


February 20, 2009 in Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 16, 2009

What should be happening at this time in the semester

Many 1L's are confused about the time line for the spring semester. What should be due when? When should I get started?  How often do I have to update my outlines? Here is my very brief, flexible time line for the spring semester of 1L year for a full-time student.  Adjust the time lines according to the specific schedule at your school. 

1) Outlines should already be underway for all classes. 
2) I suggest  updating outlines on rotating two-week cycle. Therefore, if your spring semester includes four classes--Civ Pro, Con Law, Criminal Law, and Property--I suggest updating two outlines a week, and rotating which two you update.  A two-week cycle keeps you on track to finish outlines before the reading period, which should be devoted to practice exams and review.  If you have six full-year courses, work on a three-outline-per-week rotating schedule and spend less time per week on each outline.  (Time per outline should reflect credit hours per course per semester.)
3) Practice tests should start roughly after spring break.  I do encourage students to take mini-assessments to gauge their understanding and progress throughout the semester.  CALI lessons, questions from Examples and Explanations or the Lexis Nexis Q and A series, or Siegals are great ways to gauge your understanding before you are ready for "real" practice tests. 
4) Create a semester schedule for completing Legal Writing projects.  If your professor has not broken the projects into pieces, do that yourself and give yourself deadlines for each piece of the project.  Despite advice to the contrary, no one writes better under pressure and without adequate time to proof read.
5) Ask for help NOW if you are struggling with the material or a life issue. It is much easier to take care of any challenges now, before the exam crunch.  Professors want to help, but many are less pleased when they are bombarded with substantive questions from the entire semester during reading week. 

On another note, many of you have asked if I am moving on to another position. Indeed, I am moving on from Vermont Law School.  I have chosen to delay the announcement to my students in order to keep the focus on them and their progress over the semester, and not on my plans.  But a big thank you to everyone who has emailed me; as the semester draws to a close, I promise to update everyone on my new home. (Rebecca Flanagan)

February 16, 2009 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

From Blame Game to Blessing

It is the time in the semester when blame seems to be going around at the same speedy rate as colds and flu.  Students are feeling hassled because our weather is ping-ponging regularly between sunny 70s and freezing temperatures.  (At your school, it may be ice and snow and torrential rains.)  Stress is up because mid-term exams are either in progress or approaching within a few weeks.

We all blame other people or other things for our problems at times.  After all, last time I checked, we are all human.  And, because we are human, we sometimes get stuck in the blame cycle.  It is far better if we can get beyond venting to implementing a plan of action to resolve the difficulty.  (Even better, if we can also go the next step to a proactive plan to avoid the same problem in the future.) 

Below are some of the common blame game statements that seem to be circulating right now.  Each is coupled with an attitude switch to end the blaming and move on to finding the blessing in disguise:

  • Blame:  My professor has cancelled class so many times because of (fill in: illness, conference travel, special events) that it is impossible for me to understand the course.  Blessing: Take advantage of the extra time to review the material and pull it together before class picks up again.  Work with a classmate or Tutor/Teaching Assistant if necessary.
  • Blame:  My professor is so far behind in the syllabus that it is a waste of time to read.  Blessing:  Review your prior reading before going into class so that you understand it at a deeper level.  Use the time you do not need for reading to complete other study tasks: outline the course, review your outline, make flashcards, undertake practice questions.
  • Blame:  My professor has assigned a mid-term the day after my other mid-term and just before Spring Break because students want to leave early.  Blessing:  You still have enough weeks before the two mid-terms to schedule your studying to prepare for both mid-terms without sacrificing one grade for the other.  Attorneys often have multiple deadlines and cope better if they have previously learned how to juggle multiple projects.
  • Blame:  My mid-term exam was impossible to (fill in: understand, complete in the time, know what to expect) because the professor did not (fill in: give us practice questions, teach the material, warn us it would be so hard).  Blessing:  You now have realistic expectations about the exams for this professor and how you need to study.  You have time to review your mid-term exam, get suggestions on how to improve from the professor, take proactive measures, and bring your grade up on the final exam.
  • Blame: Its nof fair that my professors are speeding up in class when I am busy with (fill in: job hunt for the summer, mock trial try-outs, legal writing projects).  Blessing:  Again, whether you are busy with personal or other academic tasks at this point in the semester, you are learning how to juggle multiple projects and deadlines.  You are also learning about priorities.  Attorneys need these skills.  Learn it well now, and you will be more successful in the future.

So, I let my students vent a bit.  Then, we get on with reality and a game plan to turn lemons into lemonade.  (Amy Jarmon)

February 11, 2009 in Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 9, 2009

When concentration is an issue...there is not a magic solution

About this time of year, I hear a lot of students complain that they can not get through the reading each night. They drift off, they are distracted, they can't follow the arguments. This is not an unusual phenomena; law school reading is difficult, requires intense mental effort, and sometimes, it's just boring. Not every case is going to be personally interesting to all students; literature majors don't expect every book they are assigned to be spellbinding, and law students should not expect every case to be compelling. One of the toughest messages for students to hear is that lack of concentration has no magic solution.  There is no fairy dusk I can sprinkle on their case books to make the cases more exciting, nor do I have a potion that will help them concentrate when they are studying late at night.  I do, however, have a set of behavioral changes that I suggest to increase concentration and retention of the material:
1) Reading: Start with your least favorite subject when you are most alert.  If you find Civ Pro (or Torts, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Property, etc etc etc) to be the dullest subject, read it first; otherwise, you will put it off and it will be even more dreadful when you are reading it while you are only 1/2 awake. 
2) Schedule breaks into your reading. Even if you get into a "flow" state, you need to take a break to get the blood pumping and to give your brain a rest. Break does not mean two hours of video games; a break is a trip to the bathroom, a snack, or one game of spider solitaire. 
3) Find your optimal studying environment. Everyone has a different optimal study environment; for some people it is a quiet coral in the library silent study area, but for others, it is in their bedroom at home with classical music playing. 
4) Your parents were right: save the fun and games until after the homework is done, or you will never get to it.  That doesn't mean don't take a break after a day of classes; a break is good for you if you have been thinking all day. Go running, take a short nap.  But if you start watching hours of television, playing video games, or finding other methods of procrastination in the name of "break time" you are going to find it very hard to switch gears and read. 
5) If you absolutely can not read a word on the page, take a break and come back to it after you have napped, eaten, or done whatever you need to do in order to focus. 

None of my suggestions are groundbreaking; all the student have heard them before at different points in their life.  But they are suggestions that are easy to hear and hard to implement; they require the discipline and commitment that many students are lacking now that grades have come out and they are burnt out of the law school experience.  It is only in very rare cases that the lack of concentration signals a bigger problem, like a learning disability or ADHD.  As a mentioned in my post last week, students need to forgive themselves and give themselves extra time.  They are exhausted, and that is to be expected at this time of the year.  But there is a line between exhaustion and lack of effort that is easy to cross and hard to come back from.  But concentration doesn't come in a magic potion.

February 9, 2009 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Position Opening at Vermont Law School


The Director of the Academic Success Program designs, implements, and oversees the academic support program at Vermont Law School. The Director will assist all students, including those in the J.D. program, the M.E.L.P. program and the L.L.M. program to succeed in their legal studies.

The Director is responsible for:

• designing and implementing strategies to assist all students, particularly high risk students, students in academic difficulty, and those for whom English is a second language;
• designing and implementing the academic component of the orientation programs;
• implementing, in consultation with the Vice Dean for Academic Affairs, the institution’s policies for providing reasonable accommodation for students with disabilities to ensure compliance with the ADA and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act;
• providing individual tutoring and counseling as well as leading group study sessions and teaching workshops;
• designing and implementing strategies to assist students with preparation for the bar examination including working with members of the administration and faculty to evaluation curriculum and academic standards to maximize bar passage;
• along with other members of the administration, evaluating and creating reports on statistical data regarding students’ academic performance, course enrollment, entrance scores and bar passage results;
• hiring, training, and supervising academic success program staff, including the Assistant Director, Program Coordinator and Student Mentors, and managing the general operations of the department including the budget, short and long-term goals and strategies, coordination of offerings within the department and with other departments on campus, and establishing and monitoring department metrics;

The Director will assess the existing academic success program and recommend additions and modifications to the program.  The Director may have other responsibilities as assigned from time to time by the Vice Dean for Academic Affairs.

The Director reports to the Vice Dean for Academic Affairs and works closely with other constituencies within the law school, particularly the Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Diversity, the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs, the Director of Legal Writing & Research Program, the writing tutor, members of the faculty, and student organizations. The Director will typically hold a non-tenure track appointment as Assistant Professor of Law.

The position of Director of Academic Success Program requires knowledge of legal theory as well as analytic, writing and other skills necessary to succeed in law school. Applicants must have a J.D. degree, strong law school credentials, and excellent interpersonal skills.  Preference will be given for experience in academic support, law school teaching, administration, disability accommodation, multi-cultural issues, and English as a second language.

Vermont Law School is an independent law school located in a historic New England village.  It offers the J.D., L.L.M. in Environmental Law and Master of Studies in Environmental Law & Policy degrees.  Vermont Law School emphasizes public interest law, environmental law and experiential learning.  Vermont Law School has a student body of about 600 and a full-time faculty of 45.

Applicants should send a resume, references (at least 3) and a writing sample to:
Director, Human Resources
Vermont Law School
PO Box 96, Chelsea Street
South Royalton, VT  05068
[email protected]

February 5, 2009 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Second Semester Exhaustion

If there is one complaint I hear everyday, it is second-semester exhaustion amongst 1L's. 

It doesn't matter where they fell on the curve at their school, or where they are ranked, second semester exhaustion happens across the spectrum. Students who did well are scared that they can't keep up their grades and any drop in their GPA will reflect on them poorly during summer OCI; students who did not do well are exhausted because they worked very hard during the fall, and they are demoralized by their performance; and students in the middle of the curve are still mystified by the process and don't know what they can do to bring up their grades.  1L's spend their very brief (sometimes just two-week) break between fall and spring semester rushing through the holidays and fretting over their grades, so they don't really get a chance to unwind and regroup. The start of the semester at the same time grades are coming out packs another punch to 1L's; they don't have a chance to digest and evaluate their performance because they are already overwhelmed with the work they need to complete.  To add to the stress, many law schools have a more rigorous second-semester  legal writing course that requires 15 credit hours worth of work for a 3 credit class, and are looking for jobs for the summer. When you think about all that 1L's are trying to carry during the start of the semester, it's really not a surprise they are exhausted and many feel unmotivated. 

I try to reassure the students that they will be fine, that it is okay to feel less excited and more tired during the second semester than they felt during the first. As long as they are doing the reading, briefing and outlining, as well as turning in their legal writing assignments on time, they will be fine.  I only start to worry when the exhaustion overwhelms them and the basic law school necessities (reading, studying) start to slide. Those students need immediate intervention; it's very difficult to catch back up once a student falls behind.

But most students do stick to the minimum, and start to feel better by spring break. They have had a chance to regroup and digest their grades, and they feel they are on more solid ground. (RCF)

February 4, 2009 in Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)