Monday, September 18, 2023
It is gray and rainy here in Boston at the beginning of week three of law school classes. This weather seems appropriate for the shift in student mood judging from the meetings I have had with students so far today. They have many questions....
So, in keeping with my success syllabus, I have compiled a week by week list of answers to frequently asked questions:
- Week One:
- Yes, it is going to be a lot, but you can do it!
- My advice? Do your reading! Brief your cases! And don’t forget to do something fun every now and then.
- Week Two:
- Yes, the reading does seem to increase exponentially.
- No, I am not really using that word in the math sense, this is a math free zone.
- Yes, I know case briefing takes a while early on, but you will winnow it down from boxers to a thong shortly…and if not, come see me.
- Yes, that was an underwear reference.
- Week Three:
- No, the model penal code is not the law anywhere.
- Yes, I’ve heard of Pierson v. Post.
- Yes, you should start outlining now, oh, but you are only through half of mens rea and that is the only thing you have discussed in Crim? Hmm. Maybe wait until you finish.
- Yes, we have a whole website devoted to videos and other resources on how to outline, and,
- Yes, we are sending you about 1.3 million emails a week about that, so you should know about it, but here is the link if you haven’t seen our billboard…
- Week Four:
- No, we can not set up weekly two-hour meetings. Why? Um, because I have reached an age where I cannot commit to that much time for anything!?
- Yes, you should be outlining.
- Yes, we have a whole library full of study aids (on line and in person).
- Yes, you can still borrow mine (I finished law school, so I am not currently using it).
- Yes, I know that that class only has a final and no graded midterm.
- No, I don’t think that is a good idea.
- Week Five:
- Yes, all questions about homicide will involve someone being dead.
- Yes, there are many crimes under the umbrella term of homicide.
- No, I don’t find that dark and creepy.
- Yes, this is hard and I know you have more legal writing assignments due soon as well.
This is just a start. In the next installment, we will provide answers to questions about midterms, hitting the wall, and why they are called number 2 pencils.
 But, interestingly, have never read it. My property professor started with INS v. AP and didn’t look back….
Thursday, January 26, 2023
For February bar takers, this is your periodic reminder that your bar prep program (or the study plan you designed for yourself, if you are not using a company) is enough, and, as long as you actively engage with your program or study plan, you are enough.
After many exam cycles of working with bar studiers, I have learned that during bar review, studiers commonly hit a point where they start to know just enough to feel like they will never learn it all. This is normal, and it happens to many people. When you hit that point, when you feel like it is too much for you to possibly learn, a common reaction is for the learner to think one of two things must be true. Either 1) the bar review course they purchased is flawed or 2) they themselves are flawed in such a way that they are unable to learn the material.
You may be hitting that point and feeling those things. Don't get fooled, because neither one is true. The best response to those feelings is to take a deep breath and remember a few things before getting back to your program:
- Your bar review program is enough. If you bought one of the programs from one of the big names in bar preparation, it was designed by experts. These companies have subject matter experts and learning experts who understand the science of adult learning. They also have insight into bar exam drafting and grading. If you did not enroll in a program, you likely created a study plan and program for yourself, focusing on all the areas you know will be tested. Trust the process, trust your program, trust your plan. You bought the ticket, now take the ride.
- You are enough. You got through law school, during a challenging time in the world from every aspect. You can do this. Bar review is hard but I promise you, you can do hard things. You have already accomplished graduating from law school. Passing the bar is the next logical step. You can do it, and the path to success is to work your program or study plan. Don't give up, don't switch strategies. Just settle into your program every morning, and do what they tell you to do, when they tell you to do it. It is normal if you feel like you can't. Just because it's hard doesn't mean it's not working. This is a normal part of the learning process. Put another way (and said in the kindest and best-intentioned way): you are not special, you are normal just like the rest of us. You are struggling, just like the rest of us, and you can come out successful, if you keep doing what you're supposed to be doing.
- A word about well-meaning lawyers: There are lots of well-meaning lawyers out there who will offer advice. Many think that because they have passed one bar exam (and in some cases a long time ago), they are qualified to tell others how to pass a bar exam. I promise you, no friend or acquaintance or alumni knows better how to pass a bar exam than your bar prep program. Passing one bar exam, or even a couple of bar exams, does not make an individual an expert on how to pass bar exams. Put your trust in the experts and in your own abilities.
Bottom line: you can do this because you are enough. The way to get it done is to trust your program, whether that is commercially prepared or one you thoughtfully designed for yourself; do what you have scheduled, when it is scheduled. Email your academic support office or your favorite professor if you need a pep talk or a reminder to get back on schedule. You can do this. Stay on course. Trust the process. Trust yourself.
Thursday, December 8, 2022
I recently came across an article by an 83-year old history professor talking about a method of teaching that I had never heard - the Harkness Method. Martindale, Jr., Wigt, "This Old Man, He Teaches History, WSJ (Nov. 17, 2022). In the article, he suggests that our curriculum should be centered around two "rules." First, that survey courses are the most important courses for high school and college education because they present the opportunity for students to learn the context of what will follow in their educational pursuits. Second, and the point I'd like to share in this blog, is that we cannot teach today's students using outdated methods.
That's when, in a passing comment, I first heard of the Harkness Method - "an oval table discussion format that encourages a class to explore an idea as a group." Id. I recall after law school when I spent a passing year working half-time while engaging in a full-time doctoral program that the entire graduate school experience was built around this so-called Harkness Method. In law schools, we might call it the seminar class.
That got me thinking, especially with bar exam rates downhill for most jurisdictions, that maybe we in law schools are violating the professor's rule no. 2. We might be teaching using outdated quasi-socratic lecture methods when perhaps we should instead by devoting the resources and the time to teach in oval-table discussions with lots of small group settings. Of course, that would be quite expensive because factory-like 1L curriculum is much more efficient, at least from the viewpoint of costs. But cost efficiency in itself is not necessarily promoting better learning, learning that sticks, as a book title suggests. https://www.amazon.com/Learning-That-Sticks-Brain-Based-Instructional/dp/1416629106.
In my impromptu attempt to learn more about the Harkness Method, I came across some brief introductions about some other possible ways to reach today's students deeply and meaningfully. They include the Harkness Method, the so-called flipped classroom experience, and problem-based learning (PBL). https://discussion.miami.edu/teaching-methods/index.html
I have to admit that I sort of skipped the Harkness Method because my class enrollments are not likely to be reduced from 50-75 students, at least at anytime in the near future. But I really appreciated the information about flipped learning and the PBL methods. One thing caught my attention in particular. Flipped learning need not involve video cameo appearances, something I struggle with, and, to be honest, as a sometimes student myself, often find mind numbing.
As the internet explorations often do, that lead me to a buried link outlining 5 ways to embrace flipped learning without the video camera.That's something I can get on board with. Here's the link for 5 suggestions that might actually work out better for you and your students. https://rtalbert.org/flipped-learning-without-video/
Regardless of what you choose, you need not chose alone. Too often, however, in my own case, I'm stuck in the past because I'm comfortable with the past. But a good life is not necessarily the comfortable life and good teaching is not necessarily comfortable either. As Prof. Martindale writes: "Teaching is hard. Good teachers still have to know how to make contact with students and recognize a change in the climate of a classroom." Id. But the hard things are often the best things in life. And we are called to serve in one of the best pursuits of all - helping others become their dreams of service too as future attorneys. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, December 7, 2022
That's my summary of a wonderful article sharing a helpful learning practice and the reasons behind it. In the article, Prof. Dawn Young at the University of Idaho shares that "working a hypo a day can help you grow a gigantic analytical muscle" because the daily practice helps organize thoughts, see patterns, and learn exam analysis skills. I wholeheartedly agree. Here's the link for the details: Brunette, J, "3 Reasons a Hypo a Day will Keep Bad Grades Away," National Jurist (Nov. 30, 2022) (quoting and referencing Prof. Dawn Young). (Scott Johns).
P.S. And, if you're in the midst of final exams, as many of you are at present, there's still ample time to start the habit, today. In fact, starring at your outlines, trying to memorize them, is not near as useful as using your outlines to solve hypes and past final exam problems. So take charge of your learning by courageously tackling and experiencing problems before you take on your remaining final exams.
Monday, November 21, 2022
In this continuing series (please send me your thoughts about the ups and downs and best practices for academic support programming), here's the latest installment from Prof. Jackie Rodgers, detailing strategies that one school faced in overcoming bar exam obstacles in 2015.
As the article suggests, the law school focused on incorporating the cognitive science that serves as the foundation for meaningful and effective learning with holistic programming throughout the law school experience flowing into early bar prep opportunities. I particularly found the appendices helpful with a snapshot chart of assignments for a 1L foundations course and an example of applied legal analysis in criminal law.
In addition, here are the links for the previous posts:
Please let me know if you'd like to contribute a post in this continuing series. I'd love to hear from you and I can be reached at: [email protected]. (Scott Johns)
Friday, October 28, 2022
In late August, ASU Law Professor Charles Calleros wrote a guest post calling for essay submissions describing different law schools’ academic support programs.
As described before, the purpose of this project is to assemble a number of those descriptions to demonstrate the many ways law schools can commit to their students’ success by investing genuinely and substantially in a robust academic support program. A Short Series of Blogs. He noted that future contributions to this project would include guest posts by Jacquelyn Rogers (Southwestern) and Louis Schulze (FIU), and he invited others to contribute towards a larger piece. Those interested in contributing to the project should send a draft to me at [email protected].
In the meantime, Louis Schulze’s description essay can be found HERE.
Wednesday, October 5, 2022
Thursday, September 15, 2022
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.
- 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).
Thursday, September 8, 2022
"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: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2960192
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: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4205899
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).
Thursday, September 1, 2022
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).
http://pixabay.com (free photo download)
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: https://ssrn.com/abstract=563923
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. https://papers.ssrn.com/ 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: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4018386
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).
Thursday, August 25, 2022
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 [email protected]. 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
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.
Thursday, August 18, 2022
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
Thursday, June 30, 2022
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).
Thursday, June 2, 2022
"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).
Thursday, May 19, 2022
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).
Thursday, April 21, 2022
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).
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).
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).