Monday, October 28, 2019
Even the greatest was once a beginner. Don’t be afraid to take that first step. – Muhammad Ali
While academic support programs are commonly recognized today in legal education, such prevalence has not for long existed. What was once a concept for increasing access to the legal profession, is now a construct mandated by the American Bar Association (“ABA”). ABA Standard 309 (b) requires law schools to provide academic support designed to afford students a reasonable opportunity to complete its program, graduate, and become members of the legal profession. Compliance with this standard is not measured by bar passage alone. Many schools who, for decades, have not had a distinct program or department devoted to academic support now seek to hire ASP professionals to build a specific program of academic support.
While it is wonderful news to incoming and existing law students that more elite schools are subscribing to academic support as we know it today, it can be equally redoubtable for those new to academic support to direct or build programs for which they have no blueprint. A substantial number of faculty and administrators hired to lead academic support programs, do so without ever having experienced an academic support program themselves. This is so largely because academic support programming is a comparatively new phenomenon that was not prevalent in the legal academy when the Boomers and Gen-Xers, who now predominate deanships and search committees studied law.
Goldie Pritchard, Adjunct Professor and Director of Academic Success at Michigan State University College of Law, is the founding director who built from scratch her school’s law school academic support program. She describes the role and duties of ASP work:
Academic support professionals are problem solvers who are willing to put in the time and effort to help guide students as they navigate their law school learning and bar exam preparation process. We are simultaneously juggling interactions with several different students, each with several different needs, and at a variety of points in their individual progression. We help students manage emotions and address non-academic needs. Doing this type of work is what gets us up in the morning and keeps us going.
Those of us who’ve made a career of our calling understand Pritchard’s words all too well. If you are tasked with creating ground level academic support programming, you can take comfort in knowing that there is a myriad of experienced human resources to turn to for guidance and example. There is not one member of the ASP community that I would hesitate to call upon for help or suggestions. To those who are newly minted program directors without the benefit of in-school predecessors, you can afford to be confidently assertive. Your law school has selected you to create programming because of great confidence in your capabilities, professional judgment, and career experience. Don't deny yourselves or your students the benefit of your instincts.
Fears and professional hesitancy associated with being first or building from scratch are understandable. Remember that prototype program design is, by definition, imperfect and subject to enhancement and improvement. The first iteration of your program is already a marked improvement over the nonexistent or prior patchy programming promulgated by a cache of volunteer or voluntold faculty and other departmental administrators. My advice to you: don’t hold back your suggestions, input, and well-vetted requests for financial expenditures to support your creative vision to improve academic outcomes for the students and graduates whom your position was implemented to serve.