Thursday, October 21, 2021
Poet Robert Frost writes:
Monday, October 18, 2021
In the musical Hamilton, Eliza tries to persuade her husband, Alexander, to take a break, “Take a break…Run away with us for the summer. Let's go upstate…There's a lake I know…In a nearby park. I'd love to go.” Alexander refuses to go and, no spoilers beyond this, it doesn’t end well.
Two weeks ago, on the first Monday in October, I asked my undergraduates why this time of year was so important, and one student said, “It’s spooky season.” I was trying to get at the Supreme Court getting back to work (on what very well may a spooky season of cases), but it is also, as ASP folks know, that scary time of year when our 1Ls hit a wall. I’ve stockpiled candy (easy this time of year), tissues, and some advice.
We all know that 1Ls have a moment of crisis when they lose their altruism about helping the world with their law degree and become caught up in a smaller world of grades, midterms, legal writing assignments, outlining, and the overwhelmingness of just showing up for class. Students lose sight of why they even came to law school to begin with. Surely, masochism wasn’t the reason mentioned in their application personal statements. Sometimes, students need to be reminded of their initial reasons for being a lawyer. A gentle reminder might be enough for some students. It never hurts to tell them that no one really comes to law school to be a law student, they come to become a lawyer. Being a law student is temporary. And while it seems counterintuitive to advise taking a break, that is the advice I often give them at this point in the semester.
This may be a perfect time for a student to take a small break (hours, not days). Midterms are over, legal writing is less intense (for the moment) and they have been doing the reading, briefing, and outlining for long enough that it isn’t all consuming. Honestly, if Boston was a drag queen, this time of year would be its death drop in terms of the weather and natural beauty. Soon enough, everything will ramp up again and often with larger consequences, but at this very moment, a few hours spent away from law school is doable.
To that end, I have “prescribed” a drive to a beach town about 40 minutes north of here with saltwater taffy, a giant rocky sea wall that is both walkable and climbable, and just sitting at the edge of the ocean and getting perspective. Need something closer? Walk down to the aquarium, smell the ocean, and watch the harbor seals frolic in the outdoor (free!) exhibit. Even closer? Walk the Freedom Trail (it is right outside the doors to our law school). Really, anything can be a break; the only rules are no books, no laptop, and no regrets. Time spent rebuilding yourself is priming the pump for students (and faculty). The investment will pay off.
So be on the lookout for students hitting the wall. Be their Eliza. I would always prefer my students took a break than get broken.
 © Lin-Manuel Miranda
Thursday, October 14, 2021
It's the aftermath of the first day of the AASE (Association of Academic Support Educators) Third Bi-Annual Diversity Conference, hosted by CUNY Law. Unfortunately, my notes are a mess, much like life I suppose.
But I managed to jot down some key thoughts from speakers and participants that pierced my heart today, leading me to reflect deeply on what I, personally and professionally, must do next, must be next.
So here's some of what grabbed my heart from today's conference. It's just one person's view. And I realize I left out much. But, in case you weren't able to participate today, I share with the hope that what we learn together in community might truly be life-changing for so many of our students, left behind and hidden.
- Be willing to and make the invisible visible.
- Generosity of spirit.
- Ask questions about the learning environment, culture, the institution.
- Who's here? Who's not here? Who's rules? Who created them?
- Be a sponge - absorb.
- Be curious, especially about who's uncomfortable.
- Reach out to student groups. Don't wait for them to reach out to you. Be the instigator.
- Build rapport and relationships.
- Grow in humility.
- Social Identify Mapping: A Tool - Use it! Share it! Practice it! Live it!
- Humble ourselves.
- Be willing to lose control so the others might grow and learn.
- What's your definition of academic freedom? Who is it for? What does it serve? How does it help or hinder our students and their learning?
- Are you living mission statements or mission? Truly? Really?
- Why so hard to talk about race? What are you waiting for?
- Crown Act - creating and crafting successful curricular ways to teach learning, build DEI, and grow in respect and appreciation for others.
- A few possible communication principles for living, learning, and growing, together: "Vegas---Wall Street---weather.com"
- There's more to academics than academics - much more.
- Pandemic Education - What worked? What didn't? What will you continue? Who did it work for? Who didn't it work for? How were you changed by it? How will you let what you learn positively impact your teaching and your students?
- Don't be afraid to let your students see you, know you.
- Create space for expression, for belonging.
- Ask more questions.
- Make Good Trouble--Yes, Be a Trouble-Maker!
Finally, thank you to the organizers and leaders of this conference - Professors Yolonda Sewell and Haley Meade - and all of the participants, speakers, and sponsors for giving so much of themselves to us for others. And thank you to Dean Hayat (CUNY Law) for your opening remarks and Dr. Spates (Kent State) for your keynote address. Truly inspirational. (S. Johns).
Monday, October 4, 2021
When you Google “magic formula,” you get a series of articles all referring to the “Magic Formula of Investing” which is based on a book written by Columbia University Professor Joel Greenblatt. That formula is often defined on websites as, “… a simple, rules-based system designed to bring high returns within reach of the average investor.”
The first set of 1L legal writing memos were due over the weekend. For our students, it was a closed objective memo involving essentially two issues, three cases, and one overarching statutory rule. I must have discussed and drawn the chart that accompanies my magic formula for legal writing easily twenty times in just the past week, in person on a 3x5 post-it note, or over Zoom. I have shared my formula possibly thousands of times over the years. I would describe it as a rules-based system designed to bring good analysis within the reach of the average legal writer.
This is the “magic formula” that I share with my students:
- Start with a Rule. A well-synthesized, complete rule is the key to everything. Everything unspools from your rule. It shapes and orders your discussion of the cases and your analysis of the facts. The rule divides your small legal world into essentially yes and no. Some cases will fall on the yes side of the rule while others will be nos.
- Your rule may come from more than one source. Cases, statutes, regulations etc. may all be relevant.
- Do your research. You need to use cases on both sides of the rule divide.
- Talk about cases in the past tense-they have no value but historical value. Precedent is about the past and how it shapes the decisions that will be made in the future (stare decisis).
- Use the Facts, Holding, Reasoning (FHR) method of using cases in your writing. For example: In Claus, where a senior citizen was struck by a reindeer, the court held that the sleigh driver was not liable because plaintiff’s decedent was walking on the reindeer path. The court reasoned that "grandma" assumed the risk of walking on the path, and while the driver had less than ideal lighting conditions, a pedestrian on the path was not a foreseeable event. I know-I haven’t even decorated for Halloween yet and here I am putting a winter earworm in your head. I’m almost sorry.
- While this is somewhat formulaic writing, you can control your narrative. We all teach this, but possibly in different ways. Here is where the chart below comes in handy. In paragraphs where you are explaining the law in your writing, think of this as the space where you place cases on a spectrum created by dividing your world by the rule (this would be E paragraphs in CREAC, and the first part of the A in IRAC). You should place your cases (using the FHR format) on this “spectrum” and then when doing your analysis later on (or soon thereafter in IRAC), put the facts of your current “case” on the spectrum as well. The place where I put the circle is where the facts in front of you go-this is the sweet spot-the facts are not a slam dunk “yes” like case 1, but better than case 2--while still staying on the side of the rule you want to be on. The court cases closer to yours are your positive analogies because the facts are more similar, and you distinguish the cases on the far side of the rule. You only create this “distance” by having a full spectrum. The key here is that you, as the writer, get to lay out the spectrum.
Honestly, this is probably old news to most of you. But on the off chance that this rules-based system brings good analysis within reach of the students you are working with, I feel it was worth putting out there. Some might say there is no magic in legal writing, but as for me and grandpa, we believe.
Thursday, September 30, 2021
Often times I see but I don't. Perhaps an analogy will explain.
It's bear season where I live. But the bears are awful hard to spot, despite their large size. It seems that their big paws tend to distribute weight so that they move with stealth-like grace as they forage among the mountain berries, shrubs and trees. They tend to make not much more noise than a trifling breeze or a bird at work building a nest.
But I have a secret weapon to spot the bears - my dog.
You see, a few weeks back, while hiking, Maisey came to a screeching halt, sat perfectly still, and sniffed the mountain breeze. A sniff here and a sniff there. I was like, "Come on Maisey, let's get going." But she sat, still.
After about 5 minutes of waiting silently, I finally noticed a slight rustle down the hillside from the trail. Not much of anything. But then another rustle and another and another, all ever so silent. Suddenly, I saw what Maisey had sensed all along before. A bear, foraging in the scrub oaks. For the next twenty minutes or so, I watched the bear slowly eat its way down the hillside before I finally lost sight. But the lesson wasn't lost on me. I would not have seen that bear by myself. I needed the sense of another, one with keener senses than me.
I think law school is bit like that.
As law students, we can re-read our papers or our notes or our midterm answers and not really see what we really wrote. It's sort of like we are blinded by our own senses, by our own sight.
However, much like my experience on the trail scouting for bears, as law students, we have available to us, just for the asking, people who have keener senses than us, finely tuned, who can take a look at our work and thus open us up to a whole other way of seeing and experiencing things. In short, we can turn to our faculty and academic support teams to help us - as learners - see what's really in our answers (and what isn't).
So, as law students, don't feel like you need to go it alone in law school, at all. Freely reach out to others for help. Let experts review your work. Get feedback from your professors and your ASP team at your law school. You'll be surprised at what you'll see. It probably won't be a bear, but I can guarantee that it will help you become a better attorney. And that's what we are here for -- for you. (Scott Johns).
Someone once said, "no one is an island," or something like that.
But, I fear, many of our students live island experiences. In some ways, we all fear vulnerability. We are all, often times, afraid to ask for help or counsel. However, as has become especially acute in midst of this ongoing pandemic, we truly weren't meant to live alone but rather in community with others.
So, in follow-up to Prof. Steven Foster's post on "Making Connections," providing practical ways to bridge the oft-experienced gap between academic support professionals and faculty-at-large, Professor Charles Calleros offers the following well-aimed advice to help us better connect to our most struggling students while there's still plenty of time to make a difference.
"One way to foster connection with 1L faculty: Ask Legal Writing faculty in late September whether any of their students look like they are headed for a D (or worse) based on preliminary writing assignments. By mid-October, ask faculty in casebook courses whether any midterm exams look like total disasters. If my experience is any indication, many of them will be grateful for the query and eager to identify students who could use some ASP assistance....I also like...[the] idea of connecting with students in a way that allows them to show that their identities and accomplishments are not limited to their not-yet-impressive success in law school." - C. Calleros, Prof. of Law, Arizona State University.
Great suggestions from both!
So, for you law students, be brave. Reach out to your faculty or your ASP or student services teams with any questions or concerns that you might have or to just talk about life, together. And, for those of you in ASP, the two professors remind us that we work as a team, to proactively reach out to those I serve with, and to make connections with both our colleagues and students.
It might just be the "cure that the doctor ordered," for all of us, in community with and for each other. After all, we're in this together. (Scott Johns).
Sunday, September 26, 2021
A few years ago, our new Dean brought the leaders of each department together for a retreat to prepare for the upcoming year. The Dean planned the retreat with activities to both get to know each other and create goals for the upcoming year. The retreat was a resounding success. One of the biggest successes from the event was the connections we made with each other. Every business deals with interpersonal dynamics and requests for the limited resources. I feel like coming together for a couple days helped the leaders of our school understand each other more and helped us work with each other for common goals even though resources are limited.
I believe the same type of connections could help ASPers in 2 ways. We could use similar activities to connect with faculty. The divide between tenure-track and contract faculty/staff seems pervasive throughout law school discourse. ASPers complain at every turn that doctrinal faculty aren't using the most up-to-date teaching methods. Doctrinal faculty think ASPers just hand-hold a new generation of entitled students. ASPers respond that some hand-holding is necessary when jobs are tied to bar results. The non-stop complaining creates a layer of animosity throughout law schools.
The animosity isn't inevitable. We can break the cycle. Other than a few outliers, I believe most faculty (doctrinal and ASP) and staff want students to succeed. Schools probably can't hold large gatherings safely, but we can all have a small meal or zoom meeting with another member of the law school. The meal or meeting doesn't need to be about work. Connections related to interests and family can begin a conversation that leads to discussing helping students inside and outside the classroom. The discussions can lay the interpersonal foundation to then create dialogue on how to help students.
We can use the same strategy with students. In smaller classes, I begin every semester with an introduction and one unique thing about myself. Students introduce themselves and give their unique thing. I try to include anecdotes and stories in all my lectures that relate to my interests. Someone after each of my classes will ask about my kids sports or the recent football games. I use the information to ask students questions when in the hallway. When students know we care about them as people, they are more likely to follow our studying advice. We can go to student organization meetings, take class time, or attend campus events to make connections. The connections may be as valuable as one of the lessons in class.
Working with faculty and students requires navigating many interpersonal and campus dynamic issues. We can't solve all of them with a meal, but genuine conversation can go a long way to helping everyone achieve success.
Thursday, September 23, 2021
My mind is a chatterbox, running constantly, whether at work, at home, in the car, or walking. There seems to be no escape from the clamor of attention that my mind asks of me.
Often, I'm brainstorming ways to improve what I do for my job. But more often, it's just worry, plain and simple.
To be frank, that's because I just feel a lot like an imposter. What do I really know? How can I really contribute? So I stay ultra-busy. However, I can guarantee you, I am not being paid to work 24/7.
Yet it seems like I do. Perhaps you do too. Work-life is out of control. Worry-life too.
Let me ask you a question that I'm asking myself.
Why do I have this constant itch to check my phone, my email, my messages?
In order to answer this, I thought I'd have a mythical conversation with Socrates, returning to our modern world today, who crosses our paths today.
Worry Wart: Wow. That is a strange costume. It almost looks like something straight out of ancient Athens and you too.
Socrates: That's because I am.
Worry Wart: You are what?
Socrates: I am Socrates.
Worry Wart: Come on. I admit that you look like the genuine article but what is you gig?
Socrates: What do you mean gig?
Worry Wart: You know, what's your deal?
Worry Wart: Your stick?
Socrates: Oh, that's my walking stick. You know I am getting a bit old.
Worry Wart: No, I mean what are you doing here, at our law school?
Socrates: I'm doing what I always do, observe, question, and learn.
Worry Wart: Okay. I'll play your little game.
Socrates: Games have very little to do it.
Worry Wart: What's the it?
Socrates: Thinking. So shall we begin?
Worry Wart: Fine. Let the "games" begin. Oh, I"m sorry, let the "thinking" begin.
Socrates: May I ask you about the slim box in your hand? You seem to keep rubbing it or something. Is it your good luck charm?
Worry Wart: Oh no. It's my phone, a pocket phone. It lets me communicate with others and, as you say, to observe, question, and think.
Socrates: What are you thinking about?
Worry Wart: Oh I'm just checking my email?
Worry Wart: Just a phrase of speech. It's just a fancy way to say checking letters that are sent to me straight to my phone, sort of like an old parchment back in your day, without the delay.
Socrates: I see. But you keep checking it quite frequently? Are you expecting a letter?
Worry Wart: You never know.
Socrates: That's what we are here to fine out. What we know.
Worry Wart: Ok, I'll answer your question. I'm a professor, perhaps like you, and I've got a lot of students that I work with, and you just never know when they might need my help. And, I work in a big organization, a school, with lots of communications from the administrators and supervisors and my colleagues too. You just never know when someone might write an email, I mean a "letter," that will need a quick response from me.
Socrates: Seems tedious and tiring to me, to always be alert, waiting for what might never come.
Worry Wart: That's the way that we do it in this modern age. No time to waste.
Socrates: But aren't you wasting time, constantly touching your phone to check your, what do you call it, emails?
Worry Wart: I hadn't thought about that. I didn't even realize that I was checking my phone constantly.
Socrates: Now we are getting somewhere. The path to learning begins when we realize that we know so little, about ourselves and especially about others.
Worry Wart: Excellent point, Socrates. But what do you suggest I do? You never know. There could be an urgent message at just this moment and I will miss out.
Socrates: What do you suggest? Are you missing out on other tasks, perhaps even more important, why you wait on a letter that might never come?
Worry Wart: I hadn't thought about that too. Let's see. But I am so busy.
Socrates: Why are you so busy?
Worry Wart: That's easy. Because I have so much to do.
Socrates: And, why do you have so much to do?
Worry Wart: That's easy. Because I am so busy.
Socrates: It seems like we've gone in a big circle. I'm beginning to wonder whether your phone is a device that makes you go in a circle, wandering aimlessly from task to task, worried that you might miss something important. Why don't you try being "un-busy?"
Worry Wart: If it were only that easy. But you are a person of ancient ways. The modern world is the way of bustle and hustle. If I don't stay busy, I am at risk of missing something, or worse, being replaced.
Socrates: By another phone?
Worry Wart: Oh no, by another person with a phone.
Socrates: So is you're real worry that you are replaceable? Just a cog in a big machine that can easily be switched out for a new version?
Worry Wart: I suppose so. But I wonder if it's something else, this strange tendency that I haven't noticed before, this constant itching, to always be touching and looking at my phone. I wonder if it's fear.
Socrates: If so, we can find out. What might you be afraid of?
Worry Wart: Hmm. This is a bit embarrassingly and humbling.
Socrates: The truth often is.
Worry Wart: I might just be afraid of myself, to be alone, to be quiet, to be present with myself. In short, to be real.
Socrates: So what might you do about that?
Worry Wart: I might just have to switch off this phone, or put it away, or even better yet, remove the emails from my phone so that I am just not so tempted to always be looking at my phone for the latest messages and news.
Socrates: Hmm. Go on, please.
Worry Wart: Well, that seems like it might just be a concrete start out of this maddening electronic circle that seems to have me roped into tangles.
Socrates: Indeed it does seem so. But I'm not sure what concrete is, though I've heard of Crete.
Notes to Reader:
(1) And that's what I just did. I just removed my work email from my smartphone. It's not my work phone after all, anyhow.
(2) I got this idea of a hypothetical conversation with ancient Socrates when I stumbled onto a book at my local bookstore by philosopher Peter Kraft, entitled "The Best Things in Life," which involves the tale of a mythical Socrates visiting a college campus asking people about their lives. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, September 16, 2021
Recently, Professor Liz Stillman (Suffolk Law) provided excellent guidance and encouragement on creating study tools. Stillman, L, "Seasons of Law," Law School ASP Blog (Sep. 12, 2021).
If you are wondering what that might look like, take a quick dash over to Suffolk's Law's academic support materials. https://www.suffolk.edu/-/media/suffolk/documents/law/academics/academic-support/acadsupport-creating-an-outline_pdftxt.pdf?la=en&hash=2678C2FDA2AAF306EDC4BF80613AD174A77679B0
In just a flash, you'll be able to get the big picture view along with concrete guidance on how to best create your own study tools in preparation for upcoming midterm exams. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, September 9, 2021
My daughter gave me a book entitled Renovation of the Heart by theologian Dallas Willard. One section caught my eye in particular when the author talked about learning. He used the acronym VIM, stating for vision, intent, and method. Willard asks about how to learn a language, say French or Arabic or Tagalog.
Now that got my attention because I took French (got a D) and Spanish (mostly A's). But I can't speak either language.
In realty I failed.
Willard says that to learn a language you've first got to have a vision for it. That means reflecting on how learning a language will enhance your life and the lives of those around you. It means visualizing how by learning that language you'll be able to understand and relate to others in ways that you never could but for learning that language.
Second, Willard says that you've got to be intentional about learning the language. That means that you've got to do more than just want to learn the language. You've got to make up your mind to purposefully pursue learning the language. Intent is acting upon your vision to learn.
Finally, Willard suggest that you've got to engage in the method of learning language. Just having an intent and a vision isn't enough. Learning a language takes lots of practice with lots of mistakes and growing pains along the way. To be frank, it takes courage because it feels so unnatural. It's risky. It's humbling. And yet it can also be delightful because you're growing into a different person because of the experiences that you are having in learning. But you've got to approach learning methodically.
Now I know why I failed at learning French and Spanish. I had the vision. And, I had the methods. But I didn't really intend to really speak those languages. I just wanted to learn enough to get by, which means - at the end of the day - that I didn't really learn.
For those of you just embarking on law school, the law has its own language so to speak. On those days were you find yourself struggling motivationally, you might take a few moments to ponder how the subjects that you are taking can enhance your future service as an attorney. You might reflect on how to be more intentional in your learning. And lastly, take some to think about the methods that you are using to learn. Are you practicing the law as a learner or are you really just going through the motions of learning? It's hard work but rewarding work because what you are learning today will someday be life changing for others. And that's an important lesson to lean into. (Scott Johns).
I've read a lot of articles and books about teaching and learning. But, as others have pointed out, reading is not really learning. So, if I'm honest, they've not tended to lead to better teaching. However, I recently joined a small class as a student. That's when the lessons, principles, and methods that I've read so much about began to take root in me. In particular, I started to notice something special about how to teach because I was no longer the teacher but the student who was learning and growing.
I loved this teacher's method because the teacher would read a portion of text and then asks us what we saw. In other words, it was learner-centered teaching. The star of the action was not the teacher but us as our teacher guided us by asking us to see, learn, think, create, reflect, interpret, explain, test, hypothesize, analogize, critique, extrapolate, and create meaning. And, the best part of this class has been that we've been doing all of this as a group in community with each other. Not in competition but in cooperation in which each voice adds to the whole of what we learn. And, one of my favorite moments is seeing my teacher takes notes as we converse about what we see in the text. That suggests to me that if I am not learning from my students, they aren't learning either. It's absolutely thrilling to be a student guided by such wonderful teaching.
So, if you feel stymied in your role as a teacher, you might see what you can learn by joining a class as a student. It's a lesson that is guaranteed to produce results.
Oh, and as a side note, some of my worst classes as a teacher have been when I over-prepared so much that I left no room for my students to learn. I'm not saying don't prepare, but teaching requires us to listen, to reflect, and to learn with our students. It's a conversation in relationship with each other. And, that's risky because it means that, if we are honest, we don't have all of the answers or even all of the questions. And that's okay. We don't have to be perfect as teachers - being present in learning with our students is more than enough. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, August 26, 2021
I hesitate to admit this: I've used this phrase so many times that it just sort of swims to the surface and color almost all that I do to include how I approach my work as an academic support educator. However, as Professors Kris Franklin and Rory Bahadur remind us in a recent publication, this phrase is relatively meaningless as to the real purposes behind legal education. Directed Questions: A Non-Socratic Dialogue about Non-Socratic Teaching (Aug. 16, 2021).
And, I might add a bit dangerous in the sense of destructive of learning...
First, notice the word "a".
That doesn't seem to leave much room for differences among our future lawyers. Rather, it seems to suggest that there is only one type of lawyer. Exclusive. Not part of broader society. One type of which I must be trained to think like. It leaves out the "me" in lawyering. In short, it suggests that unless I give up what is really me and become someone else, this mythical lawyer, I will not succeed; I will not belong; I will not think like a lawyer.
Second, notice the word "think".
I do a lot of thinking, well, mostly day dreaming. Much of my thinking is not productive. Why not? Because I don't act upon it. It just remains hidden from action, in my mind, silently powerless. In fact, by suggesting that we are going to train our students to "think" like a lawyer, we are really leading them astray, because law is much more than just thinking. It also requires communication, it requires action, it requires practice, it requires leaning in and giving up of yourself for representation and betterment of others. And, if truth be told, it requires a lot of writing, too.
Third, sticking with the word "think".
Of course, learning requires thinking, much thinking, deep thinking. But learning takes much more than thinking because we learn through what we experience, what we try, what we fail in and what we succeed in, and how we learn to overcome and improve through and with our learning experiences. In short, the phrase sells learning short. It suggests that we can think our ways into being lawyers. Like the practice of law, learning requires lots of practice too, lots of action too.
I'm not sure what should replace this phrase. But maybe it's a lot more showing what it is like to be and serve and work and counsel and act as lawyers. As a starting point, I just wrote our faculty and staff and suggested that they bring some of their former students, who just graduated and took the bar exam recently, back to their classrooms, their programs, and their offices to talk about how they learned in law school and what they are learning now. In other words, there's lots of room for lots of different lawyers with lots of different ways to practice. Letting our students know that they are allowed to be who they are and that there's room for them just as they are might just go along way to helping our students thrive as they begin the fall studies.
Two ASP Professors Marsha Griggs (Washburn Law) and Melissa Hale (Loyola University Chicago School of Law) are cited in an American Bar Association article detailing technical difficulties experienced by some remote bar exam takers with the July 2021 bar exam.
In my opinion, these sorts of problems demonstrate - for far too long - that regulators and courts are too reluctant, insular, and wedded to a one-sized fits all approach as the only method to determine whether law school graduates are competent to practice law. It's like trying to fly an airplane regardless of the storm clouds and turbulence ahead. Our future graduates and our future communities deserve better.
For the article, please see the following link. :https://www.abajournal.com/web/article/technical-problems-again-plague-remote-bar-examinees-who-blame-software-provider.
Thursday, August 19, 2021
In follow-up to Professor Victoria McCoy Dunkley's outstanding blog post entitled "Be in Your Bag (of Questions) as a 1L Reader," here's some thoughts about how you might use your senses to help make sense of the cases that you are assigned for class reading: https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2021/08/be-in-your-bag-of-questions-as-a-1l-reader.html
But first a story...
I've been doing a lot of walking. In fact, I've walked about 380 miles from Denver to Durango on the Colorado Trail (I still have about 120 miles to go of high altitude terrain). As a person who fractured my back two summers ago in a car accident, I'm a slow mover and that's okay.
You see, as Professor Denise DeForest at Colorado Law quips, when you find yourself lost, "slow down, stop, and sit on a log." I love logs, rocks, and boulders. My favorite time on the trail is resting. But, as I sit on a log recuperating, my senses come alive. I start to hear buzzing. I spot all kinds and manners of activity that I missed while hiking, like the scurry of ants preparing for the fall mountaintop snow storms. My hands feel the bark of the downed log that has become my lounging spot. In short, just because I stopped doesn't mean that I stopped learning and experiencing. Rather, by slowing down and stopping, I saw more than I did while moving.
There's a lot to be gleaned from these sorts of experiences. Most of our lives, let's be honest, are lived in haste. As though there's no time to waste. But critical reading takes pondering time; it takes using your senses to experience what the parties might have felt like when they litigated the case that you are reading, what they might have exclaimed or cursed when the decision came out, how the court might have explored and explained how they viewed the case and the facts.
So, in follow-up to yesterday's excellent blog post on 1L reading, feel free to journey through and with the cases. Situation yourself in them. Be expressive, feel free to be combatant and skeptical, let yourself run wild, so to speak, as you give voice to what you are seeing, as you learn and question and interpret what you are reading. That's learning. In other words, it's going to take time. But it is not wasted time at all.
That being said, I spent all of first-year of law school super-afraid (really most of law school) because I'm not good speaker or a reader (I was a mathematician in college). And, the gold lettering on most of the case books - with lots of red and black - psyched me out.
But not all that is gold glitters. Much of what you read is, well, not very well-written or good or even just. So take aim at it. Don't let the cases fool you. You belong in law school, which means that your voice and life counts. Share it with others. And, as you journey through reading, let me know what you are learning. I'd love to hear from you! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, August 12, 2021
Congratulations as you begin to embark on your legal education as entering first year law students! It's an exciting time!
But, as others have pointed out, amidst the buzz, there can also be a lot of anxiety. Stress especially seems to mount at the most inopportune times, like when we've been assigned lots of stiff reading in preparation for our first law school classes.
So, here's a few suggestions about how to read for classes.
But first, I have a confession...
I hear voices. Not all of the time, mind you. But, definitely at the most inconvenient of times...like when I'm trying to read! [I think this is called sub-vocalization.] You see, I can only read as fast as I speak (and I don't tend to speak very fast unless I'm excited or nervous, which I often am, particularly when I'm trying to digest dense legal materials).
Indeed, I'm not a very good reader. To be frank, when someone asks me to work with them through a reading passage (whether a case, a statute, a multiple-choice problem or an essay prompt), I really want to go in hiding, into a "sound chamber" so to speak, so that I can read slowly and not so-silently, as I work out the meaning of the text through hearing. That's because as I hear the words the words become alive, the punctuation marks spring up from the page into my voice, and the paragraph breaks give me a chance to catch my breath and digest what I've just vocalized. But that takes time.
In short, if you haven't caught the gist of what I am saying, I feel like I am a poor reader because I am a slow reader.
So here's my first tip: Rushed reading is not reading. To paraphrase Socrate's famous line that the "unexamined life is not worth living," an "unexamined case" is not worth reading. In other words, in law school, it's not how fast you read but what your learn about the law and legal problem-solving as you read. To cut to the chase, reading is about examining the cases and the statutes and the legal texts assigned in law school. It takes lots of time so plan on it. To put it bluntly, it means "cross-examine" the cases, asking questions, evaluating the arguments and analysis, and then forming your own opinion about those arguments.
Second, don't let the "gold" bindings on the fancy case books and the big name judges that signed the cases intimidate you. In my opinion, many of the cases in the casebook are just wrong because, to be honest, there's no perfect opinion. There are always weaknesses. So be bold and give it your best shot and challenge the opinion.
Third, realize that reading is a skill; it's not something that comes natural to us, especially critical legal reading. But that's great news because, as a skill, it is something that we can learn to do and learn to do well. In other words, believe in yourself.
Fourth, don't just dive into the cases. Instead, model what expert readers do prior to reading by engaging in pre-reading strategies. Take a look at where the case is located in the syllabus and in the casebook table of contents. Based on that placement, try to predict the purpose behind being assigned to read that case. Then, get to know the players. Learn something about the case from the case caption, which might be as simple as the jurisdiction (state or location) in which the dispute took place. Then skim the case to capture the sorts of sections of the case and how it looks organizationally. Finally, here's my favorite pre-reading strategy: Peek at the end of the case to see how it comes out.
Fifth, read with your heart. Recognize that behind each case lies real individuals and organizations with heart-felt disputes that they couldn't resolve without going to court. Put yourself in the shoes of the parties. Let the facts as related by the court speak to you. As you read, look up words that you don't know. Write the meaning of those words in your own words. Then feel free to draw lots of pictures and diagrams to help you visualize what is happening. Realize that each case is subject to multiple interpretations so you have much more freedom than you might think at first to really dialogue with the text. Indeed, try to catch mistakes by the court. Talk back to the court and with the court as you read the opinions.
Finally, realize that reading doesn't stop after you read. Instead, after reading, be an explorer to construct your own meaning of the case. As a suggestion, compile a list of questions that you would like to have asked the court or the advocates. Or, summarize in your own words what you think the case stands for (and why it was assigned for your course). Or, evaluate the case as to whether its reasoning was puzzling, or startling, or settling (and why). Or, conjure up different facts to test how the decision might have been impacted in different circumstances. Then, to wrap up, synthesis a one sentence statement or phrase for what you've learned from the case, such as: "Vosburg (involving a schoolhouse kick) stands for the proposition that people are liable for battery even when they don't intend to harm anyone as long as they intended the contact because the purpose of battery is to protect people from - not just harmful contacts - but from all contacts that interfere with another's bodily integrity as a co-human being."
Before I let you go, let me say a word about speed.
You don't get faster at reading cases by trying to read fast.
Rather, over time, much like water as it heats slowly on the oven range, using these strategies won't feel like much of an improvement...at all. Instead, if you're like me, you'll feel like it's taking a lot more time, energy, and perspiration to learn to be a critical legal reader. And, it is!
But, by going slow, conversationally with the text, through practice in pre-reading strategies, then reading the text with robust gusto, and finally polishing off the reading by making sense and connections with the text for future use, you'll end up becoming a faster reader without even trying. Indeed, much like learning to ride a bike, you'll surely fall lots and get bruises along the way. That's okay because learning is difficult work. But, just like learning to ride a bike, once you get the hang of it, you'll be well on your way to being a better legal reader (and a better advocate on behalf of your future clients too). (Scott Johns).
Thursday, July 8, 2021
Right now, many of our bar takers are feeling overwhelmed and inadequate, despite many weeks of laboring studies, as to whether they have what it really takes to successfully pass their bar exams later this month.
In my own life, self-chatter takes up so much of my thought-time and mental efforts.
Self-doubt, lack of confidence, deep rooted feelings of not fitting in, of not having, the "right stuff," so to speak.
In short, we start to wonder if we really do belong, if we really do measure up, if we somehow didn't just happen to make it through law school but someday, we will be found out to be a fraud, to be faking it all along.
For our bar takers, let me say at the outset that, if you feel gripped by worries and fear, you are not alone, at all.
Most of us, when we took our bar exams, were worried out of our minds.
That's because - to be frank - taking bar exams is really not a natural part of life (and really has no place in the practice of law because it's totally unlike the practice of law with its over-reliance on recall and quick identification and resolution of issues). Who practices law like that? So, it's okay to be concerned, stressed, and worried.
But let me also say that the next few weeks, while important, don't have to be lived out perfectly, as perfectly studious and perfectly performed. Rather, as you prepare for your bar exam later this month, focus on just two tasks.
First, work through lots of essays and multiple-choice problems with the goal of discovering and learning and growing. That means, when you miss things, don't give up. Rather, use those opportunities as springboards to figure out how to get that sort of problem correct next time.
Second, spend time rehearing your lines, like an actor on stage, walking through, talking out, and practicing your study tools, issue spotters, and big picture problem-solving rules. Focus on the major rules. Forget the minor details. People pass based on majoring on the major rules not on those pesky minor details.
But often times we, as human beings, think we have to know it all to pass the bar exam. We don't. You don't. Rather, be confident in taking these next few weeks as opportunities to experience more practice problems and to practice rehearing the rules. That's it. Just two tasks.
That's still a lot - and that's were perspective comes in. I'm in my sixties. Just two years ago, I fractured my back in five places in a car accident, leaving me unable to walk without assistance and without a walker for a number of weeks and into several months. In fact, as I took my first steps, I recall thinking that I would never ever again be able to hike, or walk, or bike. That's because I was so focused on what I couldn't do, at present. At best, with lots of help from both sides and a walker to balance myself too, I could only muster a handful of steps. And painful steps to boot.
Last weekend, my wife and I took two days to trek about a little over thirty miles in the local mountains. In other words, although I wouldn't have believed it two years ago, I'm back on the trail. At the time, two years ago, I never saw any progress, or at least not much at all.
Bar prep is a bit like that. It just doesn't seem like we are progressing much at all, especially because we keep on missing so many issues and questions. But, in the last week, things come together, exponentially so to speak, because we've planted and watered so many seeds of learning and discovering throughout this summer that they all start to bloom, like a beautiful flower bed, all at once.
As we hiked through the mountains this week, headed uphill to a 11,700 foot plateau, I realized that I had actually grown quite a bit, as a hiker, over the past two years, so much so that I actually passed a few people, all much younger that I. Of course, I was going uphill. The hikers I passed were going downhill. But I still take good cheer that I'm hiking on my own trail.
That's all we ask of you and all that you should ask of yourself in the course of these next few weeks of bar prep. Be yourself, walk at your own pace, keep going uphill, step by step. But just like I do often on the trail, feel free to take lots of breaks throughout the day. Those breaks help you see how far you have come uphill and how much you're progressed in your learning. So trust yourself. You can do this, one step at a time. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, July 1, 2021
Ah, just about the middle of the summer. It's sort of like the 7th inning stretch in baseball, a time to stand, sing, and refocus a bit. Especially with so many of us working with so many of our recent graduates as they prepare for remote and in-person bar exams. It's an opportunity for a quick breather before the final three weeks of bar prep polish and work.
Personally, this weekend is an opportunity for me to step back a bit, to take a look at what I ought to really be focused on, to ask how would others view the programs that I am responsible for delivering to our students and graduates.
Well, to be honest, I'm a bit afraid to ask others. But, as I think about preparing for the upcoming academic year, I thought I'd share the follow as food for thought about "ASP Best Practices." I'd love to hear your suggestions and comments too. P.S. Thanks to Visiting Prof. Chris Newman (DU Law) for development of this slide and his insights too. (Scott Johns).
They say that a picture is worth a 1000 words. Well, here's a picture of what I call the so-called "Learning Triangle," put together with a few words to boot, thanks to Prof. Chris Newman, Visiting Asst. Professor of Practice at the University of Denver. Let us know what you think! (Scott Johns).
According to author Jesse Singal: "Power posing, grit and other trendy concepts are scientifically unproven but have become enormously popular by offering simple solutions to deeply rooted social problems."
In particular, Singal suggests "[b]ecause they promise so much reward for so little effort, social psychology fads often win attention and resources long before there is any evidence of their effectiveness." As evidence, Singal writes "only about half of all published experimental psychological findings are successfully replicated by other researchers." Singal, J., "The False Promise of Quick-Fix Psychology," WSJ (April 10, 2021).
While I haven't yet had a chance to dive into Singal's book, as a trained mathematician, I have my doubts regarding any research results making make singular claims about human nature because human nature, it seems to me, is just too complex to nail down to one variable of influence. Singal, J., The Quick Fix, Macmillian (2021).
That being said, I do share with my students research about growth mindset and grit, for instance, and the empirical claims about associations with learning effectiveness.
Nevertheless, I'm not sure that growth mindset and grit is something that you can just call upon on command. Rather, I see our roles as educators to come along side our students, in community with them and with others, to help them see themselves as valuable members of our educational community. In sum, I sense that growth mindset development is more the result of a sense of well-being and belonging within the academic community, which for many of our students, is often felt lacking.
So, rather than focus on pep talks about growth mindset and the power of grit, I think that it might be more valuable for our faculty and staff to get to know our students, to hear them out, to let them express themselves. With summer well in swing, one possibility for beginning that project is to form a one-evening book or movie club this summer with a handful of staff and faculty members and a few entering law students, current law students, and alumni members too.
Closer to home, with bar prep in full swing, this past week, I've been hosting a number of zoom chats focused on reviewing mock bar questions with them. My first questions, almost without exception, are about their passions for the law and about how they are doing. With close to 200 students this summer, I sometime feel like I just don't have time for the so-called "niceties," But without the "niceties" of life, there really is not much to life because it's the "niceties" of life, the opportunities to learn, grow, and discovery together, that really make life well-lived. And, I'm not so sure that my role as as an educator is to fix people but rather to live with them in community, something that has seemed to be particular difficult in the midst of this pandemic.
So, as we appear to be turning a page on the pandemic, I am looking forward to meeting and working with students, faculty, and staff together again, and in person, too! And, I look forward to seeing you again at a conference or other event! Cheers! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, June 17, 2021
According to a recent article, research suggests that changing the way curriculum is presented and taught can improve retention of underrepresented minorities in STEM programs. Berman, Jillian, How to Get More Women Into Technology: A Number of Programs Have Tried to Steer Women Into Step--Here's What Works, WSJ (Jun 1, 2021)
The article focused on a number of programs within the STEM fields in trying to increase representation and graduation in STEM majors of women and underrepresented minorities. The overall trends are not promising. For example, the percentage of women earning computer science degrees has decreased in the 20 year period from 1998 to 2018, and the percentage of Black women earning computer science or engineering degreee has likewise decreased during the same time period 1998 to 2018. Nevertheless, one comment in particular caught my eye and it has nothing to do with programs but with a person - a person making a difference.
In the article, Dr. Cara Gomally laments that courses, particularly introductory biology courses, are often taught as a "march through content with no connection of why you should care." Id. Sounds a bit like some introductory law school courses to me.
That lack of connection, of a nexus to purpose, the article suggests, leaves some people behind, particularly in the STEM fields. To remedy the deficit, Dr. Gomally is designing curriculum to focus not just on content but on the broader connections and uses one can make with the content, such as exploring questions with students as to how antidepressants work or whether students should participate in genetic testing. Id.
Those sorts of "why-questions" are filled with life; they create space for people to see how what they are learning can make an impact for them and for their communities and the world at large. It's in those opportunities in exploring the why of what we are learning that we start to see ourselves, as I understand the article, as valuable participants in the enterprise of, in this case, science. Id.
This summer, we are working with a number of recent law school graduates preparing for next month's bar exams who, for the most part, will not practice constitutional litigation or contract law or the law of future interests or defensible fees. Consequently, much of bar prep seems like rote memory and regurgitation, without making connections or exploring meanings to something greater than the mere content and skills in which they are tested by bar examiners.
To the extent that our graduates fail to make such connections with what they are learning to their future lives as legal practitioners, I think we are doing a disservice to them. Because many of our graduates want to practice immigration law, I like to explore connections to the word of immigration law within the midst of the bar exam content and skills. Let me share a few examples.
First, take the definition of a refugee - one who has a well-founded fear of persecution based on a protected characteristic with the government unable or unwilling to protect them.
That sounds a lot like a type of tort, perhaps both an intention tort and also a bit like negligence with the state unable or unwilling to protect the person fleeing persecution.
Second, take an article this week from the southern border about the U.S. government's decision to ask non-governmental organizations (NGO's) to designate some asylum applicants as especially vulnerable and therefore eligible to enter the U.S. to proceed with their asylum claims while leaving others behind.
That raises at least two constitutional issues, both of which are tested by bar examiners. First, there's a question as to whether vulnerability determinations by the NGO's constitute state action. Second, there's a question as to whether vulnerability classifications used by individual NGO's violate the equal protection principle. That's just getting started. What about procedural due process and substantive due process considerations?
Recently, I talked with a graduate, heading into criminal defense work as a public defender, who shared that they were not doing very well on contracts multiple-choice questions. As to why, the content just didn't excite the person; it seemed irrelevant - totally unconnected - to their future practice as criminal defense counsel.
In reflection, I asked whether there might be any connections b between contracts and the person's future work as a public defender. It's just a hunch, we surmised, but we suspected that guilty pleas are contracts, which would ostensibly be governed by common law contract principles, such that if a government withheld exculpatory evidence, that would not only be a constitutional violation but also a contract defense of unconscionability.
To cut to the chase, the graduate said that in some ways contract law might actually reinforce the person's future clients' constitutional protections.
In short, there can sometimes be more to the content than just mere rote learning. Perhaps one day, somehow and someway, something from bar prep will lead to a new way of looking at how the law applies, really applies, to best protect rights and freedoms. And, in the course of exploring those possible connections with our students and graduates today, we might just be able to help them see that they belong in the legal field, that their experiences count, that they have more than what it takes to be attorneys. (Scott Johns).