Thursday, September 15, 2022

A Possible Exercise in Interpretation

I heard a recent joke that goes something like this, in a conversation between an insurance agent and the insured homeowner:

  • Agent: Hello.
  • Insured: Hi.  I'd like to report a theft from my house.
  • Agent: I'm so sorry to hear the news.  Let me take a look at your policy.
  • [pause]
  • Agent: Okay, tell me more.  Did your house also catch on fire?
  • Insured: Oh, no.  Just a theft.
  • Agent: Well, in that case, I'm so sorry.  You're not covered.
  • Insured: What do you mean I'm not covered? My policy says right here that it is fire and theft protection.
  • Agent: Well, that's precisely right.  You see, you bought fire and theft protection, not fire or theft protection.  So, since you didn't also have a fire, you aren't covered.  It's as clear as day.

All kidding aside, contracts are often like that, as is much of law.  

So, as you study cases, statutes, and other legal materials, pay attention to the writing, the terms, and the connectors.  Be curious.  Think outside the box.  Be on the lookout for ambiguities in the text because that's the heart of lawyering, precision.  Parse the words, particularly criminal statutes.  And, if you seen ambiguities, try to clear them up.  And, don't forget to do the same on midterm exams and practice exams.  That's because it's in the ambiguities in which the points are most heavily concentrated.  And if you'd like more advice and exercise in how to become better at reading, check on Prof. Jane Griese's book on Critical Reading for Law School Success.  It's the book that I wished I had had in law school. (SJ).

September 15, 2022 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Reading | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Impervious to Facts

"Too often facts around me change, but my mind doesn't.  Impervious to new information, I function like a navigation system that has missed a turn but won't re-route,"  writes attorney Mike Kerrigan in a story about "A Sweet Lesson From Pie," WSJ (Sep. 8, 2022).

I suspect that is true of most of us.  But why?  In my own case, my stubborn mind clings to the facts as I know them because, to admit that facts have changed and a new course of "navigation" is required is in someways to admit that I'm a human being, frail in more ways that I wish to admit.

I think that is especially a challenge in legal education and for bar exam authorities.  We cling to the past because that's all we know and, to be frank, sometimes all we want to know.

Take legal education.  We know that learning requires much from our students and from us.  But many of our classes go on despite the new facts that have emerged from the learning sciences. Louis N. Jr. Schulze, Using Science to Build Better Learners: One School's Successful Efforts to Raise Its Bar Passage Rates in an Era of Decline, 68 J. Legal Educ. 230 (2019)., Available at SSRN:

Take the bar exam.  The best available data suggests that there is a dearth of evidence to support a relationship between bar exam scores and competency to practice law.  Yet we cling to the past. Putting the Bar Exam on Constitutional Notice: Cut Scores, Race & Ethnicity, and the Public Good (August 31, 2022). Forthcoming, Seattle University Law Review, Vol. 45, No. 1, 2022, Available at SSRN:

I've made lots of wrong turns in my career, my work, and in my life.  To keep on going in the wrong way gets me no closer to where I should be going.  So let's give ourselves and each other the freedom to be changed, the freedom to travel a new path, the freedom to, in short, be curious, creative, and courageous about our work in legal education, on the bar exam, and in life in general.  (Scott Johns).


September 8, 2022 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 1, 2022

A Soothing Approach to Calming the Nerves

Many law schools have been at it for a few weeks and, at our law school, some of our student are having their first midterms exams, right after Labor Day. What a shock!  

If you find one of your students (or yourself) already fatigued and stressed by the many tugs and pulls that constitute the first few weeks of law school, you are not alone.  I too can't seem to find a quite space for my mind, which seems to ramble and ruminate all day long.  

That's why I am personally excited to share this little article:   Elizabeth Berstein, "The Underrated Therapy for Anxiety and Stress: Water It gives our brain a break from the intense, focused attention that much of daily life requires." WSJ (8.23.22).      If I understand the research correctly, just a little bit of going often, sitting by even a trickle of a stream or perhaps a campus water fountain or pond, and listening and watching, can quiet our minds, calm our spirits, and help us appreciate a little bit of the awe of the experience of being present in something that seems to move so effortlessly.  That's a richness that money cannot buy.  

So feel free to put away the headphones and go out and experience nature's wonders, wherever they lie.  Right now, as I write, I see snow-glaciated mountains in the distant despite this hot close-to-ninety degree day.  They tower so high and yet seem to float so majestically on the horizon.  Well, it's time for me to stop writing and to start staring out the window, appreciating the beauty that abounds.  Oh, and I almost forgot.  I think it is A-okay to let your mind wander a bit, to let your students take a moment in the midst of class to look out the windows to see something that's always been there but never been seen, to be still and quiet and present.  That's a true gift.  (Scott Johns).

Water Photo (free photo download)



September 1, 2022 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thoughts from the Recent Past

I sometimes look through SSRN for articles from the past to help me better see the present and what might work best for the future for our students.  That being said, I am often troubled in pursuing past research because so little action has tended to take place in consequence of the revelation that people shared so publicly and wisely with us in the past.  I think that's true in academic support and bar passage.  A not-so-long-ago article from 2004 makes the point, I think. Day, Christian C., Law Schools Can Defeat Our Bar Pass Problem - Do the Work!. California Western Law Review, Vol. 40, p. 321, 2004, Available at SSRN:

In brief, Prof. Day's thesis is that it's largely up to us, as legal educators, to think, strategize, organize, and implement educational experiences that best help our students enter the professor as attorneys.  And, if I may add, I think it is up to see as legal educators to challenge the status quo story about the bar exam as a neutral non-biased arbiter of competency to practice law.  

First, let me start with Prof. Day's suggestions as to how law school educators might better tackle bar issues (and I quote):

  • The dean and the faculty should lead the battle.
  • Recognize and support students who learn differently.
  • Recognize that the law does not come easily for most. Professors must teach students to see what professors may have seen almost intuitively.
  • Law schools can prepare students for the bar by teaching them the law.
  • Law schools should encourage students to take "bar courses" for a grade and be prepared to counsel them if their work is poor in these courses.
  • Law professors should concentrate on creating relevant essay exams and not create multiple choice questions too prepare students for the bar.
  • Law schools should identify and assist students who come to law school with bad study habits learned in hight school an d college.
  • Law schools must produce better legal writers by improving essay exam writing.
  • Law schools must give students better feedback regarding their performance.
  • Law schools should stress the importance of the bar exam to students.
  • Law schools should advise students to get their financial and personal lives in order to pass the bar.
  • Law schools should counsel graduates who failed the bar and offer recommendations to improve their chances.
  • Law schools should keep detailed statistics to pinpoint students at risk.
  • Law schools must "bit the bullet" with their retention policies.
  • Law schools should create and maintain strong academic support offices.
  • Law schools can offer special, non-credit, bar prep courses.
  • Law schools should limit or phase-out take-home and open-book exams.
  • Schools might consider grading on the curve.
  • Law schools should crate more small sections in basic courses.
  • Law schools may have to reduce some of their offerings in order to make certain their students are grasping the basis.
  • Schools should eliminate "Pass/Fail" grades except in the most limited circumstances.
  • Last, but not the least reinstate and enforce attendance policies.  Id.

I'm sure that there's not agreement as to all of these suggestions; they are, after all, just suggestions.  But from the high altitude view it seems to me that Prof. Day challenges us as legal educators to take seriously our role in training students for holding licenses as legal practitioners.  That's a high calling.

Second, as legal educators, I believe that we have an obligation to understand, analyze, and to improve the educational experiences of our students and to challenge the status quo.  I'm sort of a radical, as some of my prior writing might suggestion.  When authorities make claims, I doubt.  That's why I appreciated a very recent article challenging the story that the bar exam is a neutral instrument. DeVito, Scott and Hample, Kelsey and Lain, Erin, Examining the Bar Exam: An Empirical Analysis of Racial Bias in the Uniform Bar Examination (January 26, 2022). University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

I'll let you dig into the details but pay particular attention to the appendix because that's a particularly glaring spotlight on the lack of transparency about the relationship between the bar exam and race & ethnicity.  In brief, the appendix surveys publicly available data from 56 jurisdictions (the 50 states plus the District of Columbia and the 5 territories) and only one jurisdiction routinely provides data regarding bar exam results and race.  That state is California.  That seems revealing to me.  It's as though there's no problem because we don't report a problem.  Yet, the thrust of the article, convincingly to me, is that the authors took the time to put in the "elbow grease" to analyze the limited data available and what they learned is not good at all.  Take a close read at that article.  It too is well worth your time.

All in all, these two articles, among many others, suggest that we ought not be silent.  That we have obligations to question, to speak up, to debate, to analyze, to understand, and to advocate.  In short, we have a high calling as academic support professions.  A very high calling indeed.  And one in which all of our voices are needed.  (Scott Johns, Denver Law).

September 1, 2022 in Advice, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Investing in Academic Success: Diverse Approaches - a Blog Post by Prof. Charles Calleros (ASU)

French universities allow any student who graduates from their equivalent of high school to pursue higher education, but only those who survive the exams will graduate. Legal studies commence during the equivalent of our undergraduate studies, and a very large proportion of law students fail or drop out within the first two years, steering them to other disciplines.

In contrast, law schools in the United States use the admission process as the main gatekeeper. Having worked assiduously to admit the best possible entering class, they seek to promote the success of every admitted student. Most students who initially struggle can succeed in the study and practice of law, but law schools can minimize attrition by investing in robust support services. Even those students who depart to pursue other studies and careers can do so knowing that their law school gave them every opportunity to succeed.

While presenting on panels at the January 2022 AALS Annual Meeting, I was impressed with the diversity in designs of several academic success programs. They all represented serious investment in academic success, but approached it in very different ways. It struck me that all those working in ASP would benefit if we shared program designs, perhaps leading to borrowing good ideas from othrs. To promote these goals, I join with several fellow ASP Directors to issue the following calls to action:

  • To illustrate diversity in approaches to academic success programs, we call for descriptions of successful programs, all reflecting substantial investment in academic success, but employing resources in different ways, thus illustrating diversity in design.
  • To start the ball rolling, Charles Calleros describes the ASP program at ASU, which he directed for four years, Spring 2019 through Summer 2022. His essay is posted on the ASU Dropbox here. In future weeks, look for descriptions of ASP programs at other schools from Jacquelyn Rogers (Southwestern), Dena Sonbol (Mitchell Hamline), and Louis Schulz (FIU). Please share descriptions of your programs, either in comments to one of these posts or in blog posts submitted to Scott Johns at Indeed, if your school falls short of adequate investment in ASP, feel free to share the obstacles you face and to elicit advice for overcoming those obstacles.

- Charles Calleros (ASU) - Guest Post


August 25, 2022 in Advice, Guest Column | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Short Series of Guest Blogs - The Manifold Ways of Reaching Students

Over the course of the next several months, several guest bloggers will survey a handful of ASP programs to consider the myriad ways that law schools invest in and promote the success of their students.  The impetus behind this series took shape at last year's AALS conference in which several people served on a panel discussing ASP programming.  

We start with Prof. Charles Calleros (ASU), who has most recently lead the effort to expand ASU's ASP programs. Biography.  Then, over the next weeks, we will consider other programs.  Personally, I am very excited about this series because it gives me an opportunity to look beyond my horizons to consider what I might learn from others in relationship to colleagues around the country.  

The purpose of this series is not to highlight programs but rather to help us as a community consider the manifold unique perspectives that we in ASP use in reaching our students.  Just like there is no right way to travel between Denver and San Francisco (train, bus, car, bike, walk, or even hike to the Colorado River, float down the river to the Gulf of California, and then boat around the peninsula to the Pacific Ocean to travel along the California coastline), we can learn much from the adventurous travels of others about how we reach our students as a community.  And, as one who recently hitchhiked last week (twice) in the San Juan mountains, I learned so much from meeting others who were willing to share their "rides" with me.  So we begin.  

(Scott Johns).

- Investing in Academic Support - Diverse Perspectives (Charles Calleros)

August 25, 2022 in Advice, Guest Column | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Watching the Weather

I take many things for granted.  Perhaps one of the biggest is hourly weather and even daily weather.  For those without shelter though, the weather is constantly in mind because it influences where one moves and lives and even survives.  Blessed with shelter, I take weather as a non-issue on most days except for a few brutally hot Colorado summers and a few windy days of storms in the winter.  But not this week.  

As I write, I am sitting looking at a mountain side trying to decide whether to get back on the Colorado Trail, a 485 mile route from Denver to Durango.  We've done most of it but still have some 80 miles to go in some of the harshest high altitude trail conditions.  And it's monsoon season.  For those unfamiliar with the Southwest, that means moisture moving in, mixing with solar heat, propelling massive thunderstorms and showers with frequent lightning and flash flood conditions.  So whether to stay on the trail, after bailing a few days ago, requires lots of information about the weather.

It seems to me as academic support professionals that we are often called to be the weather forecasters and even observers at our law schools because our role is not merely intellectually.  Rather, it involves listening and learning and coming alongside those who are struggling and helping them navigate the often-time stormy conditions of law school life.  Law school is not an easy path for many.  It's our job, it seems to me, not necessarily to help make the journey easier but more rewarding, valuable, and beneficial.  Indeed, I have to say that's not just our job; it's an honor.   SJ


August 18, 2022 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 30, 2022

No isn't No Until You Ask - And It Might Even Be a Big Yes!

I bumped into an article today suggesting that there's no time better than the present for asking for a pay raise.  That especially seemed to hit hard when I slid by Wendy's tonight for a $12.96 combo on my way home. Ouch.

In the article, if I recall correctly, the author indicated that too often we don't give our employers the opportunity to say "no" because we say "no" by not even asking for a raise. Inflation Devouring Your Pay Check: How to Ask for a Raise (Jun. 29, 2022).

As I read that, I wonder if that might also be true for many of us with respect to our programs and resources in academic support.   We don't ask so we don't give our administration, faculty, alumni, and the community a chance to partner up with us.  

So, as you reflect on how you might improve your program for next fall, take some time to think about whether it might be time to ask for what you really need, or to put it more accurately, what your students really deserve.  After all, they are counting on us, all of us, and that includes the entire law school community.  (Scott Johns).

June 30, 2022 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Counter-Intuitive Research To Boost Learning

"As it turns out, there's a way to improve student learning that even sullen teenagers  won't complain about: Give them financial incentives to study hard:" so says Harvard economist Roland Fryer based on research in about 290 schools with about 36, 000 students. Fryer, R., "How to Make Up the Covid Learning Loss: Paying Students for Attendance, Behavior, and Homework Can Boost Achievement, WSJ (May 31, 2022). 

In the article describing the research team's results, the author suggests that the key was targeting inputs (reading assignments, being in class, completing homework) rather than outputs (exam scores or results) because many students don't feel like they can control results but that inputs are within their control.  Id. All told, to put such an incentive to work in public schools would cost about $700 per year, which the author suggests (in my words) is small change compared to the roughly $13,000 on average spent per student per year for education.

I'm not so sure that paying students to read, practice, and learn makes sense because it feels like it's devaluing to the learning experience.  However, "the research team found that students' achievements remained elevated even after our incentives were removed."  Id.  And, as the author suggests, we pay people to work so why not pay students to learn?

It's an interesting question.  But truth be told, regardless of the daily incentives to learn, the key determinate for success in this large scale experiment was engaged learning on a daily basis.  So, I think that the lesson for us in legal education is to incentivize learning to learn - not through cash incentives - but through making the learning experience challenging joyful and productively meaningful.  That's hard work but that's our job.  

As a suggestion on how to help incentivize learning, try building within your curriculum learning exercises using news events that relate to the subjects that students are studying.  So, for example, in a tort class, one might explore possible product liability claims against companies manufacturing pulse oximeters because research indicates that the widespread use of these devices to determine whether one needed critical covid-19 care is racially biased, leading to under diagnosis of significant populations and likely premature deaths. Mosbergen, D., " Pulse Oximeters are Less Accurate Among Black, Hispanic, and Asian Covid Patients, WSJ (May 31, 2022).  Oh, and there's another legal issue lurking in this article:  "The Food and Drug Administration last year warned of potential pulse oximeter inaccuracies when used on people with dark skin pigmentation, but didn’t change the way it regulates the devices."  Id. In other words, are there any constitutional issues against the regulatory authority?In other words, tie what we learn in the books to how we can use it to help others, now. 

That's an incentive that I can buy in to.  (Scott Johns).


June 2, 2022 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Living Courageously

After a couple of very difficult years for our students, ourselves, and the world, author Elizabeth Bernstein writes: "Now, it's time to push ourselves outside our comfort zone."   Bernstein, E., "It's Time to Restore Excitement to Your Life," Wall Street Journal (May 18, 2022).    But how?

Well, Bernstein suggests taking a few chances in your life to be, well, different, challenged, growing, or, to put it in my own words, a bit quirky.  That doesn't mean that you have to quit your job and go tackle Mount Everest but it does mean that change requires, well, change.  It requires us to take a courageous step to try something new. And, because that something is new, it will be uncomfortable.  But living a life of comfort is not necessarily the best life of all, for us or our students, because living in comfort means that we are not being challenged and growing.

As a start, Bernstein suggest picking out some small adventures.  Perhaps having a conversation with someone that you're uncomfortable with (for me its bosses).  Or perhaps it's saying hello to the person behind the counter at the coffee shop and asking them about how they are doing.  Maybe its just a smile (because a smile is never, frankly, just a smile).  Those little things, you'll never know for sure, might be just what the "doctor ordered" to help someone else have a bit of a brighter day.  

You see, adventures are not meant to be lived alone.  Or, as someone from church recently told me, love without relationship is no love at all. So, love boldly.  Live courageous.  And, if you see me at the upcoming AASE conference, feel free to invite me to share in an adventure with you.  I could use a helping hand. We call could, I suspect.  (Scott Johns).

May 19, 2022 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Out of Place But Not Really Out of Place?

Sometimes, if truth be told, we often feel out of place. That was never truer than when - a few years back - I interviewed for my first law school academic job, hoping to earnestly pursue a career as a legal writing professor.  As those who know me know, that didn't pan out. But for perhaps not the reasons that you might image.

The interview trip started off uneventful.  I flew across the country and the law school put me up in a very nice hotel just a block from campus.  All seemed well, that is, until the next morning - the day of the interview.

With an early start, I had a nice breakfast and went back to the room to suit up, so to speak, for the interview, dressed in my finest linens (not really that fine but the best I had).  Shirt, socks, pants, etc.  With just shoes to go, I sat down on the bed and grabbed my two black shoes. The first one went on smoothly but not the second.  You see, I had mistakenly grabbed two black shoes...for two left feet.  

Panicked, I tried my best to take a few steps around the room, most uncomfortably. But the show had to go on.  So I tumbled out the hotel, hailed a taxi for what was supposed to be a quick walk to campus to try to save my feet as best as possible, and made it to the law school on time for my all-day interview, as you might imagine, a bit tussled.

Frankly, the interview went much better than I expected, that is, until the library tour.  

You see, libraries, at least to me, are like big canyons of exploration, with shelves upon shelves of books.  With normal shoes, navigating such canyons ought not be too cumbersome. But with two left feet, I wasn't sure I could maneuver. I might just find myself boxed in by an apparently impenetrably canyon. That's because left shoes point right, making right turns quick tame. But if forced to turn left, I thought, I might just have to put myself in reverse and back out.  Well, to cut to the chase, I survived the library tour no worse for the wear. All right turns as had it.

Then came lunch.  

Now, for those of you not in academics, the lunch talk is whether one gathers before the faculty, with the faculty munching while you are talking, presently some fabulously creative and elucidate lecture on some astonishing topic of interest to legal educators.  I gathered my balance and took off full steam ahead with my topic, but I couldn't help notice the stares.  Lots of them.  And not quite at me at all. Rather, the faculty seemed entranced at staring at my feet. 

Not one to be stared at, I just didn't quite know what to say, so I just finally blurted out that, "yes, I have two left feet."  Needless to say, in a crowd of academics, that didn't seem to even get a nibble of laughs.

I ended up, to my surprise, getting a job offer but needless to say went elsewhere.  But I did learn something important about myself.  Not to take myself too seriously.  That's it's okay to not be perfectly put together (I never am). That I've sort of made peace with myself that I am just, well, quirky, as one person recently told me.

And I think that is quite good to know because, if the truth be told, there are no ordinary people.  There are no normal people. We are all, in some ways and in marvelous ways, out of place but right in place where we belong.  As CS Lewis put it, we are all extraordinary.

So as I share this story, I hope it helps you to be at home wherever you find yourself, and that it helps you help others be at home too in your presence and in your communities too. That's something extraordinary wonderful to share with each other. (Scott Johns).

April 21, 2022 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 7, 2022


I read a recent article about memorization. What caught my attention was the headline: "Why We're All Forgetting More Things Right Now."  

According to the article, "[o]ur brains are like computers with so many tabs open right now....This slows down our pressing power, and memory is one of the areas that falters." (Quoting neuroscientist Sara C. Mednick).  As I look at my computer screen right now, that's not only my brain but my computer too.  It might just be that the reason that we have difficulty creating and retrieving memories is that we aren't focusing our attention on the tasks at hand.

In summary of the article, here are four tips to improve memorization and memory:

  • First, don't force memorization because frustrations then creep in and "override the parts of our brains that retrieve memories." Id. Instead, "take some deep breaths to calm your brain down and try again." Id.
  • Second, don't multi-task.  Id. In my own words, if a task is important, it deserves all of us, not just part of us. So practice paying attention and put yourself in a position to remove distractions.
  • Third, develop brain calmness.  Id. That means taking breaks, meaningful breaks, with others, with yourself, in nature, and get sleep because sleep "clears out the toxins that can clog [our] mental processing." Id.
  • Fourth, "be socially present." Id. The article talks about approaching "conversation intentionally." Id. That requires a lot out of us, but those around us deserve our attention - completely and fully. And, I'd add, approach reading and learning and problem-solving in law school intentionally conversational.  Take with the cases as though the judges are present before you. Speak out your study tools and outlines.  Challenge yourself with flashcards or other problems.

So, take pauses, be kind to yourself and others, when present be really present, and put away the distractions.  

Sometimes I think that is why writing is so beneficial for me.  It takes focus, attention, and being truly present with the task at hand. It's also why I run from writing so often.  I suppose, like many, I like to go from experience to experience, never really seeing, or really experiencing at all.  That's not exactly the right path for a rewarding memory or life.  (Scott Johns).

April 7, 2022 in Advice, Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Great Things

I just blurted it out in class yesterday, not quite knowing what I was saying: "To do great things you must do great things."  You see, I think many of us - me especially - think that I can do great things without really doing great things.  That they just sort of happen, so to speak.  That blurt got me musing about legal education.

Take bar prep. Preparing for the bar exam takes great effort.  But it takes more than effort. It takes focusing attention, work, and learning on those activities that are most optimal for growth and leaving behind those activities that merely feel like learning but are not. And, it takes relying on others who have gone before us, for materials, lessons learned, and advice.

Take law school. Many of us - at least for me when I was in law school - checked all the boxes but didn't really understand what I was doing nor even why.  Great education leaves us changed for the better.  It doesn't settle in like a comfortable pillow.  Rather, a remarkable educational experience challenges us, makes us uncomfortable about what we think we know because, the more we learn, the more we come to know that we have so much more to learn.  As my mom used to tell me in response to what she suggested I teach my students, she said to "teach them to see things from the other persons' shoes." Sound advice but not necessarily easy to do.

Take academic support and bar passage programs.  For many institutions, ASP and bar passage work is compartmentalized.  It's something of a side show.  A box checked, or, as recent post described it, non-contextualized.  That's like trying to build something great without demanding something out of all of us.

One of my colleagues suggested to me that our role as legal educators should focus on three objectives:

  • Developing professionally competent attorneys.
  • Preparing our students to successfully pass bar exams.
  • Ensuring that our students have meaningful employment in their chosen fields.

If we do those three things well, in community with each other and our students, we will have done great things...together.  But, that takes the entire community cooperatively engaged in great things, little or big, to ensure that the great things happen for our students.  It's a big job for all of us but it's a job that ought not be on the shoulders of solely any of us because we all have a role to play regardless of our job titles, program responsibilities, or rank. 

That's something that plays out in military aviation.  The pilots, so to speak, are the faces of aviation. But the planes don't fly without all of the other participants fully committed and fully engaged, fueling the airplanes, maintaining the airplanes, paving the runways, controlling the skies, etc.

There's a saying that comes to mind. There are no solo pilots, even in military jets.  We all fly together or we don't fly at all. Let's fly together so that we can fly higher than ever.  (Scott Johns).



April 7, 2022 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 24, 2022


A couple of years ago, my mom's doctor took me politely aside to give me a little bit of advice about memory loss with my mom struggling with dementia.  That counsel was worth more than the doctor could ever know. The neurologist shared that in some ways my mom's world was getting smaller, day by day and bit by bit, losing memory of the past and not thinking about the future.  But, rather than fret, the doctor told me that the present is what is always with my mom.  Make it the best for her.  The doctor told me to celebrate the little things, the daily things, the smiles of the present as the past fades and the future loses enticement for my mom.  

As I look back, that was some of the best advice I had ever received.  It was a gift because most of the time, I ignore the present, letting my past failures hold me back from the here and now and my future worries taking away the enjoyment of the moment at hand.  In some ways, my mom's view of life shrunk but in other ways, it expanded dramatically because she was fully alive in the present, much more so that I am (and I suspect many of us are).  So many of us are so worried about the future that we can't live fully in the present, and so held back by the past, that we don't let the present free us to be more than who we were yesterday.  

It's a lesson that I am trying to live.  Take more time in the moment, to smile, to enjoy one another, to laugh a bit and to cry a bit, to share in relationship with others.  Put simply, we only have the present.  But oh what a gift! Let's make the present full of life - for our students, our communities, and ourselves too. It's a wonderful present to give to ourselves and to share fully with each other. (Scott Johns).


March 24, 2022 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 3, 2022

The Secret Sauce - Not So Secret

As author Kathryn Rubino poses: "What if I told you there was one thing you could do in your 1L year that would improve your grades in all your classes?" Rubino, K., One Thing Can Improve All Your Law School Grades, Above the Law (May 2, 2016). Frankly, that sounds too good to be true.  

"Well," as Rubino writes: "it isn't science fiction. There is...research from Dan Schwarcz and Dion Farganis at University of Minnesota Law School suggesting that law students who get individualized feedback from their professor in one subject are more likely to do better in ALL their classes (emphasis in original)."  Id. Still have doubts about the power of individualized feedback to really change lives? Well here's a link to the research so that you can make up your own mind:

In my own case, I sometimes forget the power that one can have in the individual moments.  As an academic support professional, sometimes I fear that I am looking in all of the wrong places, aiming for some momentous program that will change lives for the better. But sometimes the key to change is right in front of us, if we only look.  Just one 1L faculty member, providing individualized feedback to just their students in that one class, can have life-changing impact for that professor's students - across the board.  That's something to cheer about, and to get on board with too. (Scott Johns).


March 3, 2022 in Advice, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Divide to Conquer

I've been asking my students - a lot - to share with me what they are learning this semester.  Sometimes it takes the form of a few questions asked at the end of the class with one minute reflections submitted as "exit" passes. More often its a few days later via reflection exercises with answers submitted online.

One of my students recently boiled down what the student has been learning about learning to this: "Divide and conquer."  In explanation, the student shared that learning is most productive when it comes learning in "chunks."  I couldn't have said it better.  

Divide your learning into chunks, space learning out, practice lots, especially if you are getting ready for midterm exams, and avoid the all-night cramming sessions at all costs.

In short, take control of your learning by doing a little bit for each course every few days, in chunks.  

At first it won't feel very comfortable because, having taken a day or two off from the subject to work on other subjects, it will take lots of mental perspiration to bring it back to mind.

But, just like strengthening muscles, the learning happens because of the hard work and perspiration.  And, just like muscle building, it takes constant practice and work, day by day and bit by bit.  As one of our colleagues Professor Paula Manning put it, train your brain like you train your muscles for an athletic event.  That's a great way to think about it.  (Scott Johns).


February 17, 2022 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Big Plays - Small Steps

It's just a week and a half before the February 2022 bar exam.  For some of our bar takers, probably most, they are not sure, despite weeks of laboring studies, that they are ready, at all.  That's completely understandable, even natural.  So I have thought experiment.

I recently heard a speaker say that no one on the football field knows whether the next play will be the big one - the proverbial game changer.  Rather, each player lines up and gives it the utmost best, no knowing whether the next play will be the big one.

You see, big plays start just like small plays, step by step, push by push, and motion by motion.

I think it's a bit like that with the bar exam.  

For those of you taking the Feb bar exam, don't give up, on yourself, on your learning, and on your purpose.

Regardless of how you feel, step up each day, with courage, conviction, and curiosity, making it your aim to "move the ball forward" a little bit more, with each opportunity you take to practice another essay or a batch of multiple-choice questions. Stick with it.  And, when you fumble something, don't consider that as a step backward but rather as an opportunity to learn something that you didn't understand a few moments prior to that problem.  Keep growing; keep learning; keep on at it.

In short, don't stop learning.  Far too many people, I fear, with a week to go before the bar exam, start to huddle in the locker room so to speak, taking exams to see if they have a passing score yet.  

But your scores today do not determine your destiny tomorrow, unless you let them. So don't take practice questions as opportunities to test yourself, to prove yourself, but rather to learn.  Otherwise, in essence, you are giving up a week before the bar exam.  You are still in the game, the game of learning. Learn big. Live big, as if every opportunity is an opportunity to grow and learn, because it is.  You never know which question on your bar exam is going to be the game changer but, by preparing through lots of practicing with the purpose of learning, you're well-prepared to take the little steps that will be the game changer for you. Best of luck on your bar exam!  (Scott Johns).

February 10, 2022 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 7, 2022

Let's Face the Music

I have spent the last few weeks working with students who did not perform as well as they (or their doctrinal professors) thought they should on exams. While information on what went wrong on multiple choice exams is scarce (other than not choosing the correct answer), determining where things went awry on essay questions is diagnostic gold. So, like I am sure we all do, I tell students to go talk to the professors about their exams. This isn’t a novel idea to the students, but often the reaction I get is abject fear.  Here are some things you can tell students about the necessary post-mortem conversation:

  1. The Professor isn’t going to lower your grade. There is a lot of paperwork and sometimes even a faculty vote involved, so it is extremely difficult to change a grade in any direction. You are more likely to have the U.S. Supreme Court grant certiorari on an appeal than for a professor to change your grade based on this conversation.
  2. The Professor is very, very unlikely to raise your grade unless there is a clear mathematical error. See above (less paperwork and no votes when it is math).
  3. There may be some fiery hoops to jump through to get to this conversation. There are no three-headed dogs guarding the gates, but you may need to pick up your exam, check the class-wide comment sheets, check your individual grading rubric, and read any posted sample answers before you even attempt to sign up for an appointment.
  4. Jump through the aforementioned hoops and then make the appointment.
  5. Keep the appointment. Trust me, there is someone who could have used this appointment and by making it and monopolizing this time, you have an obligation (unless it is an emergency) to not waste it.
  6. Prepare concrete questions for the appointment-not, “what did I do wrong?” but more, “I see the rubric indicated that you were looking for a different restatement section here, can you explain why that one was more applicable than the one I mentioned?” Write these questions down because you will get flustered. Also, write down the answers because your relief that this meeting is over will erase the answers from your memory.
  7. This is going to be hard. There is no way (and no need) to sugarcoat it. Facing the reality that you did not do well is really hard and hearing the details is even harder.
  8. It is worthwhile-because the information from this meeting will form the basis of the plan that we will work on together to prevent the issues from reoccurring. The emphasis is on “we,” because you are not alone in this journey. ASP is with you.
  9. It is also worth noting that while the Professor is very unlikely to yell at you, belittle you, mock you, or tell you to leave law school altogether, you may see it that way in the heat of the meeting. Try to distinguish your inner voice from the comments and critique they are giving you. If you have done this and realize that the call is not coming from inside the house, please come tell me and we will make a plan to address it.
  10. Someday you will laugh about the fear you had going into this meeting. I recognize that today is not that day.

So, as Irving Berlin said in 1936[1], “Before the fiddlers have fled; Before they ask us to pay the bill; And while we still have the chance, Let’s face the music and dance.”

(Liz Stillman)


February 7, 2022 in Advice, Exams - Theory, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Swallowed Up

I have a confession.  I realized today that I've spent most of the day letting the little things swallow up my day such that I let the big things lay waste.  I suspect that many students share similar experiences.  

Why is it that I lose such focus?  That email prompts capture my immediate attention?  That I can't seem to prioritize the important from the mundane?

Part of it has to do with me. I'm impulsive.  The other reason is that I haven't reminded myself of who I am and what I am supposed to do.

As one of my old Sunday school teachers used to say, don't read good books. Only read great books because if you waste your time on the good then the great never gets done.  

So I am writing to encourage us, me and you, to say no.  To take control over our time.  To prioritize the great.  To remember our purposes as we choose the activities of importance.  It's okay to let things go. But the things that we let go should be because we have chosen - wisely - to let them go rather than because, as happened to me today, I just let the day control me rather than me controlling the day.

Be of good cheer.  Tomorrow is almost here and by the time you read this tomorrow will be here.  Then, you might try what I try to do prior to every class. I remind myself of the there things that I hope my students will learn together with me because of our experience in the classroom.  That's a good day, a mighty fine day.  (Scott Johns).

January 20, 2022 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 10, 2022

Rebuttable Presumptions

When I was in high school, and college and law school, I would tell my parents when I was nervous about exams like SATs, midterms, finals... And they would always answer, “you’ll be fine.” I’m not complaining about the faith they had in me, but even after I explained the reason for my extra concern, the answer remained the same. I was dismissed. It didn’t help me feel better in any way and certainly didn’t help me prepare for what was ahead.

Grades were released last week at my law school, and it has been…a lot. I can hear a lot of you nodding in agreement right now. In between extremely interesting AALS sessions, I spent hours speaking with students towards the end of the week. And like most of you, I met with students at all positions on the grade spectrum from, “I don’t know how I got an A-“ to “Am I going to get dismissed?”

Our list-serv has also been full of amazing emails and messages we [1]send students to get them through this time-all starting with the basic idea that “your grades do not define you.” I wholeheartedly agree that students are more than their grades and that their grades do not define them. Collectively, in the next few weeks, we will help students make study plans, assure them that they have more exam experience going forward, and remind them that we are here to help. We will give advice to talk to professors about exam performance, diagnose the issues or types of questions that plagued their exam, and offer practice materials. We will take action.

Yet, there is an elephant in the room: how can I tell students that they are not their grades and at the same time fail to acknowledge the reality that until they have some legal work experience, they may, in fact, be defined by their grades. I am telling them to transcend the grades at the same time I am helping them make plans to get better ones. They know, and they know that I know, that potential employers do care about class rank even I don’t agree with that as a bright line rule for granting interviews (and trust me, “don’t agree” is an extremely diluted way to express how I feel about that)[2]. I worry that I am being dismissive if I say it shouldn’t matter-or even worse-misleading some students to blame circumstances (or people) they cannot control for the grades they received. I absolutely know that some students are laid low by circumstances outside of their control (I had a student whose house burned down last year), but frequently students need to own (or adversely possess) the bad grades to make positive changes.

I think some of the hardest work I have done these past few days (and I assure you, my dance card is full today as well) is speaking to students who need to plead their case to a committee to be allowed to stay in law school (after one seemingly catastrophic semester). There is, per our academic rules, a presumption of dismissal (albeit rebuttable). We advise our students to share all the distractions, traumas, and circumstances that led to this situation. No doubt, this pandemic will be the underlying cause of trauma and academic distress long after we box up our masks and hope they get moldy in the basement from non-use.  More importantly, students need to tell the committee about the plans they have made to deal with these issues. I remind them to tell the committee that they are taking control over what is in their power to control and talk about their plans to ask for help when what is uncontrollable becomes too much. I assure them that asking for, and receiving, help is a sign of maturity and resilience-not weakness. And we should not forget that the next time these students take an exam, they will have an extra layer of stress added because they need to do better and are still frightened by how things went last time.

I will definitely tell students that things are going to be okay (and more often than not, they will be)-but it cannot be the only thing I tell them. I know students need to hear those words in my voice, but I also need to be certain that they will benefit from hearing it more than I will.

(Liz Stillman)


[1] Thank you to Melissa Hale, Susan Landrum, and Kirsha Trychta!

[2] I don’t even agree with ranking them, but that will be another post.

January 10, 2022 in Advice, Exams - Theory, Meetings, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)