Saturday, May 23, 2015
When I worked with undergraduates in my first career in higher education, I was heavily involved with academic advising for ten years. In fact, my doctoral dissertation was on an academic advising topic. As a result, I have always been interested in academic advising for law students. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, the lack of academic advising for law students.
Many of the students with whom I have worked on other ASP'ish topics approach me for academic advising as well. This past year, my editor for the ABA's magazine, Student Lawyer, had me focus many of my articles on topics within the purview of academic advising.
By academic advising, I do not mean the mechanics of registration or the specific academic regulations. Instead I am referring to advice to law students on aspects that help them apply the mechanics and regulations to meet their academic and career goals and optimize their success. Academic advising goes beyond the procedures, policies, and printed words to consider the individual student as a learner.
For example, a graduation audit to see how an upper-division student is progressing on the requirements for graduation is very important. (I know because I once had co-duties with the Registrar for the graduation audit at a law school.) But the audit is about regulations and mechanics rather than which courses would be the best selections in the ensuing semesters for academic and career goals and learning.
Law schools tend to provide lots of assistance with and information on the mechanics of registration and the academic regulations. There are law schools that undertake true academic advising for special groups: dual-degree students; students in specialized certificate programs, clinic students, or others. But for the majority of law students, academic advising is a hit-or-miss or non-existent experience.
At many law schools academic advising is fragmented. Academic decanal staff, registrar staff, academic support staff, and others may all be involved in some tasks. But a coordinated academic advising program is often non-existent or not effectively implemented among the varied efforts.
Consequently, many students depend on the upper-division student grapevine for their main academic advising. They may get a bit of advice here or there from an approachable faculty member. However, they are more likely to ask faculty members for advice if they know specific career plans that mesh with that faculty member's field of expertise: I want to go JAG; I want to practice oil & gas; I want to be an in-house lawyer. Career services may assist with hot job opportunities and suggested courses that mesh with those specialties in the marketplace.
But putting together a curriculum with all of the relevant nuances for anindividual is very different from this hodgepodge of sources. Academic advising needs the human interaction element of thoughtful communications about academic goals, career goals, short-term and long-term goals, course combinations, academic strengths and weaknesses, learning and cognitive processing styles, individual circumstances outside law school, and much more.
Law schools try to put together options that might help, but often miss the mark. Expensive software is available that will do the graduation audit function and allow students to play with course scenarios, but it is not academic advising. Academic advising handbooks (whether for faculty or students or both) are helpful if they have value added beyond regulations and mechanics, but these tools still miss the interaction if stand alone documents. Making every faculty member advise a certain number of assigned law students is often unhelpful because of individual faculty being overloaded with other duties, untrained, or disinterested. Mandatory advising once or twice a year with an assigned, willing, and trained academic adviser is a start on interaction; but even this option can become merely an "inoculation" process rather than an ongoing dialogue.
With the increasing number of law students who have lower admission credentials, the need for individual academic advising is more critical now than ever. Increasing numbers of non-traditional and first-generation law students also increase the pressure for academic advising. One positive of smaller entering class numbers is that with fewer law students there is greater opportunity to implement individual discussions for true academic advising. (Amy Jarmon)