Wednesday, May 6, 2020
The Bar Exam is in the front of everyone's mind right now. When will it happen? Should we change the exam? Does the exam actually measure competence as lawyers? Should we be using diploma privilege instead?
All of these are excellent questions, and handled in much more serious papers, usually by our very own Marsha Griggs!
However, I wanted to take a bit of a fun look at the history of the Bar Exam. I have been reading Robert M. Jarvis' An Anecdotal History of the Bar Exam (9 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 359 (1996)) and wanted to share some highlights.
- Massachusetts became the first state to offer a written exam in 1855. Prior to this, states would issue oral exams, often with a Judge in the district that the lawyer wished to be admitted, or with a lawyer already admitted to that bar. Massachusetts began the written portion for those that couldn't take the oral portion, but in 1876 Suffolk County (the county that Boston, MA sits in) began requiring lawyers to pass a written examination in order to be licensed. In 1877 New York introduced a written exam in addition to the oral exam.
- The oral exam seems like it was less stressful and rigorous than what applicants go through today. Huey P Long – former Gov of LA - passed his oral examination easily. When asked by George Terriberry, an admiralty practitioner, what he knew about admiralty, Long replied” Nothing." When further asked about how he would handle an admiralty matter, long answered “I’d associate Mr. Terriberry with me and divide the fee with him.” Long passed.
- Abraham Lincoln was a bar examiner, and judged to be a very lenient one. According to Len Y. Smith, in Abraham Lincoln as a Bar Examiner, B. Examiner, Aug. 1982 (An article I'm currently trying to find), Jonathan Birch of Bloomington relays his experience with Lincoln. Lincoln essentially asked him "how long have you been studying?" with Birch responding "Almost two years." According to Birch, Lincoln's response was "By this time, it seems to me," he laughed, "you ought to be able to determine whether you have the kind of stuff out of which a good lawyer can be made." Then Lincoln asked for a definition of a contract, and then sat on the edge of the bed and began to entertain Birch with stories. Then, took him to the clerk, and gave the clerk a note saying "My dear Judge:- The bearer of this is a young man who thinks he can be a lawyer. Examine him if you want to. I have done so and am satisfied. He's a good deal smarter than he looks to be. Yours, Lincoln." I am certain almost all of my students would pass either of these oral exams. I have also heard that Lincoln once examined an applicant from his bath tub. I love this story, but have yet to be able to find a reliable source, so take that with a grain of salt.
- Before you think that all oral examinations were easy, and most were just a mere formality, they were not easy for everyone. Clara Foltz, the first woman admitted to the CA bar, was administered a 3 hour oral exam. In addition, this "mere formality" was usually a way to find out the applicant was likable, or meshed well with the current bar. You can imagine how this created inequity at the bar.
7 states allow you to “read” the law – California, Maine, New York, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming – this means aspiring lawyers study to be a lawyer and take the bar without attending law school. This is what Kim Kardashian is currently aspiring to do. I can tell you, it isn't easy!
It used to be that 32 states allowed for diploma privilege. Currently only WI allows this. It was abolished in CA in 1917, and most recently, Mississippi in 1981, Montana and South Daktoa in 1983, and West Virginia in 1988.
New Hampshire was the first state to use a permanent board of law examiners. This occurred in 1872
KY and VA used to have strict dress codes of business attire. While they still have dress codes, they are not as strict as they once were, which required women to wear skirts and nylons.
In 1985 Laura Beth Lamb, a lawyer with the securities and exchange commission, dressed up like her husband, Morgan Lamb, to take the California Bar Exam for him. She was 7 months pregnant, and diabetic, and passed the bar with the 9th highest score on the exam. However, when she was found out she was disbarred, so please don’t try this one. (Also, on a sad note, she claimed he forced her to sit for him after he failed the bar, and threatened and abused her.)
In July 1985 hundreds of bar exams from the New York State bar disappeared without an explanation.
Prior to the 1980s, it was more common for states to use geographical exclusions to limit bar admissions, but a series of cases in 1980 struck down suck exclusions.
I hope this gives you a bit of a fun break from the craziness that is the current bar exam!
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
One thing that most of us probably don't full appreciate until we miss it is degree to which we rely on predictability. When things are going well, it is often largely because so many things are doing just what we expect them to do, without us having to think about it. When every paycheck is direct deposited, when every mocha latte tastes just like you like it, when your spouse kisses you every morning and your favorite TV show is on every evening, it's all part of one grand comfortable life. It is not simply or even primarily the easy and convenience that makes it comfortable. It's the reassurance that comes with knowing that, and understanding how, cause leads to effect. Things happen because we make them happen, or if not, at least we expected them to happen, and all that generates confidence and a sense of efficacy.
Suddenly we enter an alternative universe in which supermarkets run out of the most basic, boring staples, like flour; in which basic medical precautions like hand washing might be useless because you were unknowingly infected two weeks ago; in which jobs and income just disappear for even the most conscientious employees; in which graduating with a degree, even with honors, from a decent law school may not even be enough to permit you to take a bar examination, let alone begin earning a living. All of these are aggravating, and some have potentially dire consequences. But taken as a whole, their greatest effect on us may be that they are contradicting our assumptions about how the world reliably runs.
Trust is like a vitamin. When we haven't got a minimum daily requirement -- when there are too many things in our lives that we can't rely on -- it's like a psychic scurvy. Instead of bruising easily and losing our teeth, we panic easily and lose our self-confidence. The cortisol levels in our bloodstreams shoot up, because in an unpredictable world we always have to be prepared to fight or flee. We can't concentrate, we are easily rattled, we might even suffer illness because of it. It's hard. We need to be able to rely on some things to perform well.
This is one of the reasons that humans invented lawyers in the first place. We needed more people we could trust to rely on. We needed people who could develop frameworks of predictable rules so that we would not feel that conflicts were resolved arbitrarily. Lawyers are a testament to the human craving for reliability.
And in order to make lawyers that clients can rely on, we need to teach students to rely on themselves, on their own capabilities and judgment. And this does not happen overnight. First we teach them that they can rely on others -- on their professors to teach them how the law works and on mentors to show them the ropes -- then that they can rely on systems, like legislatures and administrative bodies, and then ultimately on themselves. You know these rules and how to apply them. You understand how to navigate bureaucracy, at least enough to find your way through any new one you encounter. You know how to come up with solutions, how to suggest them to other interested parties, how to negotiate a compromise. You're a cause that has effect, because you are a lawyer.
Even with everything going well in law school, though -- and it may not be, at least not for every student, given the range of burdens that they are shouldering -- when the rest of the world is telling you that you can't eat in your favorite restaurant, that the only available toilet paper is the Want Ads section of your local paper, and it may be more than a year before you can begin working, it can be really easy to spend all your time on edge, trembling at the unclear implications of every announcement from the school or your state bar examiners. And when it is easy to be that anxious, it is usually hard to study, focus, work efficiently, and present yourself to the world as a new lawyer.
So, lately, I've been thinking of how Academic Support professionals are kind of like psychic vitamin supplements. In a world in which everybody feels that so many things are less reliable now, we are telling our students, "Look, you can trust us. We'll explain the right answer; we'll send you feedback on your writing; we will find and share information you might not be able to access yourselves. But we will also teach you that you can trust yourselves. You're learning the rules you need to learn. You're developing the writing and analytical and persuasive skills you need as tools to cause the effects you want. You're going to develop the judgment that makes a good counselor, and some day other people will come to rely on you."
All of that messaging is what we do on a good day. Lately, I feel like I have had to up my game to extra strength multivitamin levels. Making myself available for conferences more frequently; responding to emails super-promptly, before students can feel ignored; finding additional resources for students in increasingly dire straits because of the current crisis. Maybe this is really the core of what Academic Support does best at times like these: by actions that show our students that they can rely on us, we help them see they can rely on their professors, on the law, on the system, so that they can better learn to rely on themselves.
Monday, May 4, 2020
Imbroglio: A complicated situation; a sequence of events so absurd, complicated, and uncommon as to be unbelievable.
Merriam-Webster might as well add a footnote to the July 2020 bar exam administration as an example of the term “imbroglio.” No other term can accurately describe the debacle that surrounds the upcoming bar exam. Blog, essays, and the exasperated cries of bar candidates—summed up in one word. One word with an applicability of meaning that has become self-evident.
A complicated situation – Our nation has become embattled by a contagion that shows no sign of relenting. Across the country, stay at home orders are in place to mitigate the spread of the deadly coronavirus. In states with large numbers of bar takers, there is no safe way to administer the bar exam in the traditional format. Yet, bar examiners and the American Bar Association insist on a bar exam as screening tool for entry into the practice of law.
A sequence of events so absurd – Some states postponed the July exam. Some states canceled it altogether. Some states propose to offer a bar exam in early September; others in late September; others have postponed the exam “indefinitely.” No matter what the states propose, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (“NCBE”) will let us know on May 5, 2020 whether there will be any multistate or uniform exams released in July. States that have adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (“UBE”) are powerless to administer any exam in July if the NCBE won’t provide the questions, because UBE states don’t write their own bar exams anymore.
Complicated – Epidemiologists tell us that the virus comes in waves. Even with proposed and announced dates for the bar exam, COVID-19 may make it impossible or unwise to administer it in the late summer or early fall. But bar takers cannot afford to wait until there is certainty to begin studying. Many will begin bar study this month, for an exam that may or may not take place. They will study in places that are not libraries or law schools, because those places are closed.
Uncommon – COVID-19 presents an unprecedented situation that will impact the flow of new attorneys into the profession at a time when there will be an increased need for legal services. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, like emergency diploma privilege. Utah adopted a sensible emergency diploma privilege, but the ABA and the NCBE discourage other states from following suit.
Unbelievable – Just when we thought things could not possibly get any worse, the New York Board of Law Examiners announced that it may not have enough room to allow bar applicants from out of state law schools to sit for the exam that it hopes to administer on September 30 – October 1. In that same announcement, and with hold-my-beer momentum, the New York bar officials strongly encouraged candidates “to consider sitting for the UBE in other jurisdictions.” That this advice was given without regard for the COVID precautions of other states, and at a time when very few other states were still accepting applications, defies comprehension.
I won’t ask, “what could happen next?”
 ABA STANDING COMMITEEE ON BAR ACTIVITIES AND SERVICES LAW STUDENT DIVISION RESOLUTION [sic] (04/07/020) “the Resolution does not . . . modify or limit the historic and longstanding policy of the ABA supporting the use of a bar examination as an important criterion for admission to the bar.”
Monday, April 27, 2020
For the times they are a-changin’. -Bob Dylan
The times certainly have changed. Almost overnight, every facet of daily life has transitioned to online delivery. Telehealth and telemedicine are becoming the primary source for doctor-patient interaction during the pandemic. Law school classes are online. College classes are online. K-12 primary education is online. Church and religious services have moved to online formats. My grocery and organic farm-to-table products —gone online. Court hearings, also online. I can buy a car, entirely online. I can have legal documents notarized online.
But I cannot take the bar exam online. At least not yet.
The COVID pandemic has tested our resolve and our ability to utilize available technology. Almost every aspect of the legal profession, from court proceedings and probate administration, to law enforcement and legal education, has mobilized for remote administration. Bar examiners at the state and national levels should hang their heads in shame for not harnessing the available technology to deliver the existing exam remotely. It is an embarrassment of epic proportions that those at the helm of legal licensure are so behind the times that the pipeline for entry to the legal profession could be closed until further notice.
Relentlessly tethered to tradition, those insistent that 2020 law grads take an exam that may not be offered until early 2021 have either dropped the ball or are hiding it. It is fundamentally unfair to require an exam for licensure and at the same time withhold that exam from licensure candidates. The cries for diploma privilege and supervised practice options have sounded around the world. To which bar examiners and high courts have responded with either feigned indifference or a proposed solution that is no more than a band-aid for a gaping wound.
To become attorneys, bar candidates should not have to risk their health or the health of their vulnerable loved ones to the spread of the coronavirus. Even today, there are still more unanswered questions than answers. The majority of U.S. jurisdictions have made no announcement as to whether they will offer an exam in July or not. A number of states have canceled the July exam, but still have not announced definitive information about the date or form of the replacement exam. Candidates across the country remain in the dark as the bar exam becomes an archaic qualifier for competence. If the bar examiners hold fast to the pencil and scantron method of testing, we can expect to see it go the way of the pay phone, the answering machine, and the 8-track tape.
Two states, California and Massachusetts, have alluded to an online exam, but with little detail. It remains unknown what role the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), who produces the multistate exams used in all states except Louisiana, will play in the online exam. If the NCBE can provide an online exam for two states, why not do so for all UBE jurisdictions? And why make candidates in other states suffer the risk of exposure to COVID or career delays by withholding the online exam?
If the NCBE has not developed an online exam, we must ask “why not” and "where has it been for the last two decades?" And we must not accept “test security concerns” as a viable response. Test security is no less of a concern to law school faculty, and to those who administer admissions exams. Yet all law school exams and the LSAT will be offered online in May 2020. The MPRE (another NCBE exam) and other professional licensing exams are already online.
Whether the bar exam effectively assesses one’s competency to practice law is a reoccurring question that will continue to resurface. At a time when virtually every state, except maybe Utah and Wisconsin, is under fire for indecisiveness and poor communication regarding the fate of would-be July 2020 bar takers, bar examiners are justifiably under scrutiny. As is the bar exam. The future of the exam is in the examiners’ hands. We’ve only to watch and see if they’ll respond like Blockbuster or Netflix.
(Marsha Griggs© 2020)
Thursday, April 23, 2020
There's a line in the book Moon Dust, regarding people who fervently believe that the Apollo moon landings did not take place, that reads: "The only thing I feel sure of [with respect to a moon landing skeptic] is that he wants to believe this story...." A. Smith, Moon Dust, Harper Perennial (2005). In other words, no matter the evidence, the unbeliever will not believe. Sometimes I feel like that with the bar exam uncertainties and postponements.
As Professor Marsha Griggs points out, law schools (and most of the rest of education) flipped on a dime to online learning. Let me tell you about online learning. I was a skeptic. And, I was afraid, mighty afraid, because I didn't think I could do it. But guess what? I just finished my last class of the semester, online, with smiles and in celebration with my online students. It's too early to tell, but it seems to have worked. I think I'm now a believer.
That brings me to my first point...
Prior to online teaching, I just didn't believe that it could be done, at least not well. I was like the moon landing skeptics. I had heard that some had succeeded in online environments but I didn't really believe the stories. Not at all. But I'm no longer a skeptic because I've experienced online learning for myself. It's not quite a moon landing, but somehow I navigated through the ether of the internet space to make contact with my students, for them to connect with me, for all of us to connect with each other. Here's what I've learned. I was stuck in the past due to confirmation bias. To put it plainly, I lived in the rut of traditional classroom teaching because that was all I knew. And, because that was all I knew, I couldn't see that there might be other ways to deliver high quality legal education. That is until I had to teach online.
So that brings me to my final point - the bar exam...
If law schools can successfully switch to online learning in just a few weeks or two, it sure seems like bar examiners can switch to online bar exams with a few months of lead time. Yes, that would mean open book bar exams. Yes, that might mean reducing the bar exam to a one-day multiple-choice MBE exam. Yes, that might mean some lack of security. But, is there any real reason to hold onto the past model in light of the future pressing down upon us with some much uncertainty? I think not.
It's time for the bar exam to move past tradition and into a future that might be much better for all of us - for bar examiners, bar exam takers, and the public too. I know. Sometimes it's hard to give up what we know. However, if we only ever keep our hands gripped tightly around the present, we'll miss the wonderful chances that are all around us to improve the future of our world. The choice is ours, all of ours. (Scott Johns).
Sunday, April 19, 2020
Law School Transparency has put out a new report on its Vision for 2025. LST is a nonprofit dedicated to making the legal profession more transparent, affordable, and fair. The report identifies LST’s priorities, recommendations, and efforts to create more accessible, affordable, and innovative law schools—all with an eye to creating a more diverse law student body and, by extension, a more diverse practicing bar. (The report was funded by the Iowa State Bar Association—kudos to that organization and its leaders for its financial support of LST and its advocacy!)
I’m on LST’s board of directors, so I knew this report was coming, but I’m blown away by its depth and thoroughness. There’s a useful executive summary on pages 5-11. Some highlights:
1. Taking on US News: David and Goliath
The first half of the report addresses the wrongheadedness of our national reliance on Goliath: the US News rankings. As LST’s Executive Director, Kyle McEntee, said to me recently, “Ordinal rankings—one, two, three—convey authority because of their simplicity. They convey that one is better than two, and two is better than twenty.” But of course law schools have many dimensions of strengths and weaknesses, and prospective law students have a diversity of priorities, so ordinal rankings don’t address prospective students’ actual interests.
In response, LST is in the process of developing its own, more nuanced, rating system for law schools. Called the LST Index, it will evaluate schools based on a better set of criteria than US News’s clunky proxies. The exact criteria are still in development—LST will draft a list of approximately 50 criteria for consideration, then refine those criteria through an extensive public engagement period. Each criterion will be measurable, document-able, and provable. (LST has already workshopped some proposed criteria with D&I experts, deans, law students, and practicing lawyers at University of South Carolina and Boston College.) Then, the entire system will be improved through an iterative review process—does the Index measure the things law schools and law students value? More information about the LST Index is available at pages 31-39 of the report.
Meanwhile, as LST is developing an alternative to the US News rankings, it’s also lobbying US News to modify its existing ranking algorithm. I think it’s really practical for LST to address the problem on both fronts—loading its slingshot with the LST Index while also working with Goliath to be smarter about things. LST’s specific suggestion here is that US News replace its current “expenditures” data point with an “efficiency” metric. That is, instead of taking into account how much a school spends per student, a figure that will always make private schools look better than public ones, LST is suggesting that US News give credit to schools who provide more bang for their buck. An efficiency metric would consist of the ratio of tuition revenue to high-quality jobs (e.g., long-term, full-time JD-required or JD-advantage jobs) after graduation. More information about the proposed efficiency metric is available on pages 40-50 of the report.
2. Adjustments to the Law School Accreditation Process
The second half of LST’s report addressed law schools’ accreditation. LST has specific critiques of which accreditation metrics the ABA should ease up on and which it should tighten. These are more interesting to law faculty than to prospective students, but they’ll still be important adjustments that can make a big cumulative difference. In particular, LST is lobbying the ABA to allow more flexibility in how law schools deliver learning outcomes, review what full-time faculty members do to provide high-quality legal education, liberalize distance education standards (oh, how timely!), examine the diversity of valuable ways in which libraries contribute to legal education, and refine the variance system. On the other hand, as a matter of consumer protection, LST argues that the ABA should ask tough questions about why different students—particularly students of color and women—in a law school class are paying different amounts of tuition, and frankly, why legal education is so freaking expensive in the first place. LST has always been a proponent of transparency (it’s right there in the organization’s name: Law School Transparency), and the report makes compelling arguments for law schools to make more disclosures about law student borrowing, tuition discounting, and diversity. More information about accreditation changes can be found in Part II of the report, pages 51-84.
Lastly, a plug for assistance. If you want to help LST develop the LST Index or lobby for different accreditation standards, check out ways to help here.
(Cassie Christopher - Guest Blogger)
Monday, April 13, 2020
Hat tip to Sara Berman who shared an op ed that made it to my inbox this morning. The article: When Will Life Be Normal Again? We Just Don’t Know, by Charlie Warzel, an opinion editor for the New York Times. Warzel’s article consists of 46, mostly single-sentence, paragraphs of pandemic related questions that we simply do not have answers to. Those unanswered questions are flanked by only and exactly eight sentences of text, that bring home the point that as we enter a month or more of shelter in place lockdown, “we have more questions than answers.”
Today, like so many days before, I ended the day with more questions than I started with. And not one of my questions has found a definitive answer. I’ve read and written articles, blogs, exposés, papers, and proposals, but I’ve found no catchall answers for those tasked to assist the incoming class of attorneys with bar readiness. As I ponder my own questions, my thoughts shift seamlessly to the meritorious and unanswered questions of law students and future bar takers:
If there is a bar exam, will masks be included on the list of permitted items? If not, will the examiners provide masks at the test sites?
How will bar examiners ensure the safety of examinees during the exam administration? Will there be on-site coronavirus testing?
What recourse do we have if we contract the virus during an exam administration?
Should we have to risk our health and the safety of our loved ones to take the bar exam?
If it's not safe to go to school, attend church services, or have dinner in a restaurant, how is it safe to sit in a room with others for six hours to take an exam?
What supervised practice options are available to students who plan to enter solo practice or practice in rural areas without other attorneys?
What arrangements will there be for students who receive test accommodations?
When did administration of the bar exam become tied to the number of people taking it?
If there is a bar exam given in July in State A, will students in State A also have the option to take the exam in September instead of July?
If a student who has registered to take the July exam does not feel safe taking the exam in July or September, can that student receive a refund of their examination fee?
Are you listening to the students in your state or are you listening to some outside entity tell you what is best for us?
Could you study [effectively] for a two-day bar exam under these conditions? Has anyone ever had to prepare for and take a bar exam under these conditions?
Do you wonder why the number of people interested in going to law school has dropped?
If an emergency is not a time to make a change, when is?
Why are folks in a diploma privilege state so opposed to diploma privilege?
What is it about diploma privilege that scares you?
Isn't diploma privilege a bigger threat to those who sell and profit from the exam than it is to the public?
What good is ABA approval if examiners and the ABA don’t trust our law schools to educate us and prepare us for practice?
What does the bar exam test that three years of law school did not teach us?
Why do you have more confidence in an exam than in us?
I claim no originality for this week’s blog. I credit a writer whom I’ve never met for the concept, and I credit the questions to the voices of law students that I have and will continue to listen to.
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
The last few weeks have been extraordinary in dizzying ways. A massive and abrupt shift to online teaching; a disruptive delay in administration of the bar examination; increased academic, professional, and/or personal responsibilities; fears for one's health or the health of loved ones; actual physical illness; loss of income; loss of planned employment or experiential opportunities; long-term economic uncertainty; social isolation and loneliness -- any one of these would be distractingly stressful to a student or teacher under ordinary circumstances, and many of us and our students are facing most of them simultaneously.
The saving grace has been the correspondingly extraordinary response -- demonstrations of grit, resourcefulness, generosity, and positivity -- that the situation has generated. Administrators and technicians working 16-hour days to keep classes and resources flowing. Educators implementing and sharing creative solutions to the problems of distance learning, and making special efforts to keep students engaged. Students accepting their changed circumstances with remarkable flexibility, increased effort, and gracious understanding. And, as a backdrop, millions of people, throughout the country and the world, working, sharing, and cooperating towards common goals.
But these last few weeks are really the first few weeks. To many they seem much longer already, but everyone -- law schools included -- faces an even more extended period of disruption and deprivation. That burst of energy and goodwill with which our students faced the initial transformation will have its limits. Even our own stockpiles of buoyancy and resilience are going to be threatened.
That is normal. It is really a form of culture shock, and as anyone who has experienced culture shock can tell you, there will be a cycle of highs and lows until we fully acclimate to our new world. We can all deal with these, one way or another, but the best way is with open eyes and thoughtful consideration. Expect at some point to feel exhaustion and discouragement in ourselves, and to recognize them in our students and colleagues.
Plan for it if you can -- be thinking ahead about when (soon!) you can take some time for yourself, and about how you can encourage your students to do the same. Classes will be over in a few weeks, exams a few weeks after that; a little downtime right about now, and then after exams are over, can help to stretch everyone's reserves.
Reaching out to others for support -- sharing or trading tasks, enjoying a little social time (like a virtual happy hour), or even just mutual commiseration about how tough it has been -- should be a little more manageable at this point, now that we have all familiarized ourselves with our new schedules, our formerly unfamiliar conferencing tools, and the proper guidelines for face-to-face-but-still-six-feet-away interactions.
And, most importantly, don't let the next plunge in spirits catch anyone by surprise. Let your students know -- gently, not with a sense of foreboding -- that it would be natural to start feeling low at some point, and that the feeling will not be permanent, and that you can be there for them while it lasts. Help them to focus on the tasks that will help them not only get through the next several months, but also accomplish things they will be proud to talk about years later. And remember that you will not be immune, and that taking care of yourself is another way to help you take care of your students.
Monday, April 6, 2020
For decades Wisconsin has stood alone in its court-adopted diploma privilege for graduates of law schools within its state borders. However, Wisconsin is not the first state to enact diploma privilege as a means of licensing attorneys. At one point, diploma privilege was the norm, not the exception. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia utilized diploma privilege as the principal means of licensing law school graduates until the early 1900’s. When the American Bar Association denounced diploma privilege, states began to move toward examination as the gateway to licensure. Many could have been left to believe that the time of diploma privilege was a bygone era. But maybe not so.
New Jersey has emerged as a leader by offering what most should consider a reasoned and compassionate compromise to address the frustratingly uncertain predicament that would-be July 2020 bar takers face. Today, the New Jersey Supreme Court entered an Order cancelling the July exam and postponing to a date uncertain in the fall. State courts in Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New York, had done the same thing days earlier. But unlike its northeast neighbors, New Jersey has granted an expanded ability to temporarily practice law under the supervision of an attorney to 2020 graduates of any ABA accredited law schools who have not previously taken a bar examination. The order temporarily authorizes 2020 graduates to enter appearances, draft legal documents and pleadings, provide legal services to clients, engage in negotiations and settlement discussions, and provide other counsel consistent with the practice of law. The temporary license terminates on the date the next bar exam is given in the state of New Jersey.
Critics may point to shortcomings of the Order. To such criticism bar admission policy reform advocates will likely respond today's order was not perfect, but it was an excellent start. “At this challenging time, the public has a continuing and growing need for legal services in many critical areas,” Chief Justice Rabner stated in the order. “Newly admitted lawyers can help meet that need. The Court also recognizes that, without a means to pass the bar and obtain a law license, qualified students who expect to graduate this spring may lose job offers, be unable to find legal work, and otherwise suffer financial hardship.” Thank you, New Jersey. Thank. You.
Who's got next?
 Beverly Moran, The Wisconsin Diploma Privilege: Try It, You'll Like It, 2000 Wis. L. Rev. 645, 646 (2000).
 Paul C. Huddle, Raising the Bar: How the Seventh Circuit Nearly Struck Down the Diploma Privilege Under the Dormant Commerce Clause, 5 Seventh Circuit Rev. 38, 40 (2009).
 The supervising attorney must be in good standing and have been licensed to practice law in New Jersey state courts or at least three years.
Saturday, March 28, 2020
There is so much that goes into the making of a bar exam. There are layers of research, accountability, and quality control involved in the drafting of the questions. There is beta testing of the exam content. There is scoring, rescoring, and equating. And there are levels of exam security that rival Area 51. The parties involved range from statisticians to politicians, who cautiously weigh input from the podium, the bar, and the bench. To top it all off, the job of bar examiner – at least at the state level – is a modestly compensated appointment that is held all the while keeping a day job of managing a law practice, or ruling from the bench. Too little appreciation is shown to our almost volunteer bar examiners in times of rest and high passage rates. So, I sincerely and thankfully shout out bar examiners everywhere who discharge an office of such societal importance. And I use the term bar examiners in the collective to include every role, from essay graders to the character and fitness investigators, from the licensure analysts to the admission administrators and honorable members of the board.
Bar examiners have to operate independently and make decisions about scoring and bar admissions that will be unpopular to some. But the examiners must make decisions, and it is the failure or delay in reaching a particularly important decision that has placed examiners under fire across the country. That decision: what about the July 2020 exam?
It is understandable to the legal and lay public that a law license is a privilege not to be indiscriminately awarded. It is equally clear that security protocols must be in place to maintain the integrity of the exam. What is not understandable is how some examiners can fail to make adjustments in the face of the extreme and dire circumstances of the COVID pandemic. In less than two weeks’ time, the nation’s ABA-accredited law schools went entirely online, trained faculty (many with limited technology skills) for online teaching, and adopted pass-fail grading. There is simply no excuse for bar examiners to not be just as creative and as willing to implement emergency protocols for the prospective July 2020 examinees.
This week 1,000+ students, representing all of New York’s law schools, petitioned the New York State Bar Association’s Task Force on the New York Bar Examination for an emergency diploma privilege. Days later, New York canceled the July exam. Adding ambiguity to injury, the exam has been rescheduled to the fall, but no date is provided to examinees who need to make study, travel, and lodging plans for the two-day exam. Are you kidding us? It’s almost like the examiners are not listening. At all.
A reasonably prudent person will interpret the New York decision as a signal for other states to follow. New York is considered highly influential, as its 2016 adoption of UBE was followed by Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and others. The 2020 bar takers are not asking the examiners to give away law licenses without merit. They —joined in large number by law faculty, deans and alumni— are asking for necessary emergency licensing measures. They are asking examiners to think outside of the traditional bar exam box. They are asking that fairness, humanity, and the chance to earn a living be prioritized over security worries. They are asking the examiners to listen.
Excerpted from An Epic Fail, Volume 64 Howard Law Journal _____ (2020)(forthcoming).
Monday, March 23, 2020
The Class of 2020 has suffered blows like no other graduating class. Domestic K-12, undergraduate, and graduate students alike have been informed that they are not allowed to return to their physical campuses, and must continue their school year online. Hardest hit are the presumptive graduates of the class of 2020. They must forego prom, senior skip day, all manner of internships and externships, competitions - from moot court to state basketball playoffs, science fairs, presentations, and call-back interviews. These students resume academic life, complete with homework and online class presentations, only to confront the added heartbreak of not being able to walk across the stage adorned in cap and gown or hood. My heart aches for the entire class of 2020 who will be unavoidably denied a great rite of passage: the commencement and hooding ceremony with all its pomp and circumstance.
But for law school graduates, the heartache may not end with foiled graduation plans. All medical and environmental indicators would suggest that the July bar exam cannot go forward as scheduled.1 But eleven law professors have said: Enough. While none of us can undo any of the devastating impact of COVID-19, state and national bar examiners can and should consider alternatives to licensure to maintain the influx of new lawyers into the legal profession. In a recently distributed policy paper, The Bar Exam and the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Need for Immediate Action, Professor Deborah Jones Merritt joined with ten other notable legal scholars to pose alternatives to licensure that would allow 2020 law graduates to enter the ranks of the legal profession without costly and undue delay.
According to the paper, the legal system depends on a yearly influx of new law graduates to maintain service to clients. The scholars, in a unified voice, reasonably predict that the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic will create an increased need for legal services. Says Merritt et al., “[o]ur 2020 graduates have knowledge and skills that will be particularly helpful in responding to the legal needs of a population stricken by COVID-19,” as “these graduates are fully equipped to function online, a skill that some senior lawyers lack.”
The paper poses six alternatives to the standard summer exam administration, and argues that postponing the exam for weeks or months is not a viable alternative with the uncertainty and medically likely resurgence of the COVID-19 virus. The paper’s authors urge the licensing jurisdictions, and most notably the NCBE that controls the Multistate exams, to consider an emergency diploma privilege, or supervised practice as an alternative in this limited and exigent circumstance that the pandemic presents.
Whether or not the bar examiners agree with the proposals, the time to act decisively is now. Keeping the class of 2020 in limbo about the administration of the July exam, piles onto the existing educational disruptions it has already suffered. Any substantial postponement of the exam will have harmful effects on the candidates who hope to join the legal profession this year.
According to Tammy King, Assistant Dean for Professional Development at Washburn School of Law, “the public service employers who need someone who can practice immediately are among those most likely to wait to make offers or to make offers and start dates contingent on bar passage.” According to reported NALP data, as many as 41.3% of 2017 graduates who were employed within 10 months after graduation secured their jobs after bar results were released. CUNY Law professor @allierobbins may speak for the class of 2020, in a March 23 tweet, "Dear Bar Examiners, Please Listen to these Women."
1 The National Conference of Bar Examiners’ website contains the following update regarding administration of the July 2020 exam: “The bar exam is administered by individual jurisdictions, not by NCBE. We are in close contact with jurisdiction bar admission agencies as they consider possible options for the July exam in the event that shutdowns and prohibitions against large gatherings remain in effect.”
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Currently, all ABA accredited law schools have moved online. This means many of us are in new territory when it comes to working with our students. Some schools already have online or hybrid programs, but for many, this is completely new!
I've been hosting bar workshops and classes on zoom for awhile now. I wanted to share some things that I have found to be useful when teaching on zoom, as well as lists of resources I've compiled from elsewhere. (Elsewhere being our listserv and twitter, or through colleagues)
My own tips:
- If possible, ask that students leave video on. I find this works better to foster community, and you get better participation.
- However, they should mute their microphone when not talking. This one might be obvious, but even the sound of typing gets picked up on the microphone, and can be distracting to other students.
- The chat feature can be wonderful, but probably only in small groups. I find it works well if I have a workshop of under 20, but it would likely be distracting in a larger class. Its a great way for students to participate, or to keep track of questions until the end.
- I have found the polling feature to be a great way to get people to participate. Obviously this is best used for multiple choice style questions, but I think it can be used creatively for all manner of things.
- Share screen to share essay prompts, sample answers, power points- great! However, the white board is great in theory, but I find it hard to use. Maybe it's me, or my lack or artistic ability. Instead, I pull up a blank word document, which I find easier to create charts and graphs on, like I would in a non virtual classroom.
CALI (Center for Computer Assisted Legal Instruction)
- Living up to their name, they have provided a great list of resources for computer assisted instruction: https://www.cali.org/corona
- Academic Support, or law school success, CALI Lessons - written by yours truly, our very own editor Steven Foster, Renee Nicole Allen, Courtney Abbott Hill, Allie Robbins, Laura Mott, and Nicole Lefton. https://www.cali.org/category/1l-first-year-topics/law-school-success
And online learning guide from Roger William's and LawTutors' Brittany Raposa:
Suffolk Law's Sarah Schendel compiled a great list of resources on twitter:
and finally, an article about better focus with online learning:
If you have your own tips, or I've left out any great resources, please leave them in the comments!
(Melissa A. Hale)
Monday, March 16, 2020
- Meditate. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Sitting or laying down and focusing on your breathing will work. Or stare at a candle for a few minutes or listen to calming music. Even 5 minutes of mindfulness helps. Try it a couple times a day, like in the morning and before bed. The effects last longer than you would think.
- Give your devices a break. Isolation sometimes makes us even more attached to our devices, especially when we’re trying to keep up with the fast changing news. Try planning a time during the day or evening when you will not be on any device for an hour if possible. If that seems too long start with 15 min and work your way up.
- Laugh. Find a funny movie, book, song — anything that makes you laugh. Laughing is good medicine.
- Read something uplifting. Give the news a break and pick up a book that makes you feel good.
- Move. The gym may not be a good idea right now, but you can work out, dance, do yoga or other
movement at home.
- Be kind. Just be kind to yourself and others.
- Sleep. Now is a great time to catch up.
Wednesday, March 11, 2020
This past Thursday and Friday, I was in Lubbock for the SWCASP2020, hosted by Cassie Christopher at Texas Tech. Both Cassie and Steven Foster (our editor and founder of SWCASP!) put on a fantastic event.
The morning started with a presentation by Preyal Shah and Meijken Westenskow from UNT Dallas College of Law, 'It Takes a Village: Establishing Working Relationships with Doctrinal Faculty", and that was followed by Zoe Niesel from St. Mary's University School of Law with "Using Academic Support Techniques in the Doctrinal Classroom: One Civil Procedure Professor’s Experience."
Both presentations gave attendees wonderful and concrete takeaways to implement at their schools. Preyal and Meijken took us through various models of working with doctrinal faculty, and the pros and cons that come along with each one. Zoe took us through her experience implementing academic support practices in her own civil procedure course. I have a literal pages of ideas from both presentations, and can't wait to implement them all.
This was followed by our keynote speaker, Raul Ruiz, from Florida International, discussing his work on spaced learning and bar passage.
In the afternoon Antonia Miceli, from Saint Louis University School of Law, presented on "Integrating the Multistate Performance Test from Day One" It gave us great ways to place the MPT in various settings, and she even had us do an exercise where we thought about where we could use practice MPTs, and potential benefits and challenges.
The conference ended with Jamie Kleppetsch from DePaul University College of Law, with "2L Curriculum Chasm: Creating the Skill Bridge Between 1L and 3L" In true ASP fashion, she gave us a syllabus and materials to start implementing a 2L course of our very own, along with a checklist of things to think about.
You might sense a theme - academic support conferences leave us all with concrete takeaways and lists of things to implement at our home schools. And to that end, I promise the member's only section of the AASE website will be making its debut soon, with many of these materials!
However, that's not the only takeaway. The best part of any of these conferences are the lunches and dinners, and shared conversations in hotels and shuttles, and walking during breaks. Most of us have a department of 1 or 2, maybe 3 or 4 if we are very lucky. But that sometimes makes it hard to find support for ourselves. These conferences help us build a community, and that community sustains us throughout the year.
Which is why it is breaking my heart that regional conferences in Chicago and NY are being canceled. It's necessary, but I will very much miss the community gathering.
Tuesday, March 3, 2020
Human beings -- of which law students are a subset -- are notoriously unreliable when trying to figure out what to worry about.
This is not to say that we cannot recognize potential threats in a general way; only that, because of the way we are hard-wired to process threats, we sometimes overestimate certain threats, which in turn can cause us to underestimate, or even overlook, other threats. An article in The Washington Post several weeks ago explained why the public and the media seemed to be more panicky about the new coronavirus than about other looming threats. The article did not suggest that the virus is not dangerous or shouldn't be taken seriously, but it did try to explain why it has been featured so prominently in public discourse, when other greater and more palpable threats to health, like influenza or poor nutrition, barely merited discussion. Among the reasons for this amplification of attention:
- "We instinctively worry more about new risks than familiar ones" -- perhaps in part because we worry more about things we cannot control, and things that seem new and mysterious also seem more out of our control.
- We worry more about things that remind us of other things that frighten us -- the way a new global pandemic might remind us of The Plague or any of a dozen science-fiction movies -- because that fear is more readily elicited.
- We tend to pay more attention to threats that other people are talking about, because we are social animals and we assume there is a reason that other people are anxious.
Again, the point of the article was not to suggest that the new virus did not merit any concern. It was merely trying to explain why, for example, people who were blasé about obtaining a flu shot might be terrified of a disease that (at the time) hadn't even reached their hemisphere yet.
In a similar way, law students can sometimes be hyperaware of the existence of a particular threat to their performance, but might devote so much attention to it that they neglect or even overlook other concerns that, in reality, might have a bigger impact on their grades and other outcomes. They might pay a lot of attention to the risks of failing at new tasks -- like writing case briefs or mastering IRAC format -- simply because they are new and mysterious, and perhaps at the expense of addressing more familiar and pervasive concerns like grammar or logical reasoning. Students who are afraid of, say, public speaking might devote inordinate attention to being prepared to recite case details if they are cold-called in class -- as if the professor were planning to determine that student's grade for the course based on one recitation -- and in the process those students may not have the time or energy to try to extrapolate deeper implications from the case or to fit it into a larger picture. And if it seems like the rest of the class is saying that a particular resource or exercise is the key to acing a certain class, how many students are going to be able to resist the call of that bandwagon, even if a different resource might be more effective for them?
The things our students worry about, they are probably justified in worrying about them. But sometimes the way they worry about them might draw their attention from other threats to their performance that deserve more emphasis, more consideration, and more action.
Monday, January 27, 2020
Last week, Steven Foster, Director of Academic Achievement for Oklahoma City University School of Law shared an interesting article about student perceptions of social media usage. The article caption: Social Media is Tearing Us Apart, caused me to reflect upon my evolving thoughts about academic use of social media.
In my early years of teaching, I was largely dismissive of student use of social media outlets. I viewed online social networking as inutile, with no academic or pedagogical purpose. Many of us, born avant the age of social media influence, worried that tools like Instagram and Facebook were counterproductive distractions during intense bar study periods. Yet, there were anecdotal (if not fully accurate) correlations between students who spent too much time surfing and socializing on social mediums and those who ultimately failed the bar exam. The sage advice of the day directed bar studiers to deactivate social media accounts and avoid screen time during bar study.
Fast forwarding to the present day, those in ASP and bar prep may be better served to use the litany of social media tools for programmatic good. Social media, at its best, is an ideal tool to connect with and aid students. To that end, I will use this weekly blog post as a Dolly Parton challenge — ASP style.*
Law students are likely groomed by career development administrators to create professional online profiles. LinkedIn is one of the go-to sources for online professional profiles. LinkedIn connections can also be wonderful resources for ABA data reporting. ASPers can and should accept connection requests from current and recent law students. Law grads who are seeking JD-employment, or those who are newly positioned, typically keep their LinkedIn profiles up to date. Another great use of LinkedIn, for ASP related purposes, is its searchability. Unlike other social mediums, students and young lawyers generally use their legal names and their profiles are easily searchable by name and location.
I set up a private group on Facebook for my students during bar study. I allow only current bar takers to join the group. Within the group, I share daily bar study affirmations, announcements, and bar study tips. I post Questions of the Day (“QOD”) to engage students. I create an environment where students can be comfortable posting answers, even wrong answers. They use the group forum to interact with peers and learn from each other. At the end of each day, I post the answer and explanation to the QOD which generates additional questions. Our students are going to be on social media anyway, why not use the tool to engage them in bar study, I say.
Although "the gram" does not provide the group interaction capabilities of of Facebook, it is a great tool to market program events. Using memes and graphically captioned announcements for, e.g. practice exams, meeting with bar examiners, deadlines, office hours, and free lunch, will easily capture student attention. Having an Instagram presence also aids in outreach to Gen Z and the later-born Millennials who are deliberately not present on Facebook.
Although excluded by Dolly Parton, #AcademicTwitter is not to be slept on. St. John’s University School of Law legal writing professor, Renee Allen is the reigning queen of law school Twitter. She has over 2,000 followers to her @profallentweets handle. She has written and presented on effective usage of social media in law school academic support. According to Professor Allen, "Twitter is great for networking, learning, and self-promotion . . . and it can humanize law profs, which is super important for students who follow [us]."
Well, I’ll leave to one of the other bloggers to find a fit for Tinder in Academic Support and Bar Prep. 😉
*The Dolly Parton challenge refers to a four-photo mosaic of potential profile photos for social media sites LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Tinder.
Friday, January 24, 2020
Social Media icons created an artificial environment to bring people together. We can connect with high school friends across the country, and families can post pictures for far away relatives. The connections can keep everyone updated and feeling connected. However, our attempts for connection may have gone too far.
Current middle and high school students understand social media better than many people much older. Common Sense Media and Kahoot! conducted a recent survey of over 400,000 middle and high school students. 56% of those surveyed believe social media is tearing us apart instead of bringing us together. Some could argue adolescence amplifies the discord of social media, and while that is plausible, law students have similar tendencies. Every semester includes a social media debacle at my school, and I am sure the same occurs across the country. I see discord regularly within our students.
Also included in the findings:
-31 percent said it was okay to share something on social media, even if it's not true, if it is funny and you like what it says.
-80 percent believe some people spend too much time making the posts perfect to impress others.
Younger students recognize the problems with social media. Their recognition may be able to change how people use social media in the future. You can read the short article on the findings at Education Week here.
Monday, January 13, 2020
The Uniform Bar Examination (“UBE”) has juggernauted from an idea to the primary gateway for entry into the practice of law. To the resounding support of law graduates and law schools, a supermajority of states has abandoned individual state law exams for a uniform exam written by a private entity. The UBE is the exam of the future and I anticipate that at least three more states will have adopted the UBE by year end. The UBE remedies many voiced complaints about varying degrees of exam quality and exam difficulty across states. Perhaps the most touted feature of the UBE is score portability.
UBE takers may "port" or transfer their scores into other UBE states, thus, relieving examinees from the arduous chore of having to sit anew for a bar exam. However, the promise of score portability is allusive at best. Transfer procedures vary by state. The fees to transfer one’s UBE score may be as high as $1700, possibly more than the cost of taking the bar exam in the transferring state. For a majority of students who exit law school burdened with student loan debt, these transfer costs will make the promise of portability unrealizable.
According to attorney and bar prep professional Ashley Heidemann, “the UBE is not as portable as law students are led to believe.” Heidemann feels that the promise of portability is highly deceptive to law students who believe that a widespread uniform exam means that once licensed, UBE attorneys will be able to transfer into other states at any time. “The biggest misconception students have,” says Heidemann, “is that UBE scores can be transferred to a different UBE jurisdiction at any time. In reality, UBE scores are only good for generally two to five years, meaning one cannot transfer a score from one state to a different UBE state after their specified time period is over.”
Even staunch supporters of the UBE seem to think that the UBE has not yet reached its greatest potential. UNLV Professor Joan Howarth advocates for a uniform cut score, citing that a six point score differential could effectively exclude hundreds of bar takers from the practice of law. Melissa Hale, Director of Academic Success and Bar Programs at Loyola University Chicago School of Law says, “I’d love to see a more uniform process [regarding admission and transfer policies].” Hale, who sees the UBE as an improvement over predecessor exams and self-identifies as pro-UBE, wants to make sure that students understand the score transfer process and that it is “not without hurdles.”
As more and more states adopt the UBE, academic support professionals will need to stay in the know and keep students informed about the true costs and limitations of score portability. That is — until or unless a uniform cut score becomes a reality. Stay tuned, we may be closer than we think!
 Marsha Griggs, Building a Better Bar Exam, 7 Tex. A&M L. Rev 1 (2019).
 Interview with Ashley Heidemann, President, JD ADVISING LLC (Mar. 25, 2019).
 Joan W. Howarth, The Case for a Uniform Cut Score, 42 J. LEGAL PROF. 69, 72 (2017).
Tuesday, November 26, 2019
It seems fitting that at my law school -- like most others, I presume -- the Thanksgiving holiday immediately precedes the fall semester final exam period. Thanksgiving dinner and final exams have so much in common.
Each of them seems far off as the golden days of summer begin their inexorable diminution. On Labor Day, we are all aware that [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] will be the next significant break in our routines, but in the hazy warm thrill of the start of the academic year, it is so difficult to even consider the coming cold, dark days.
However, by the equinox, people start to pay attention to the distant approach of [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams]. Conscientious people even realize that they should probably start making plans early, so they don't find themselves without options in a last-minute rush to prepare. But many folks, caught up in the rush of day-to-day life, might put off such measures, figuring they can address their reservations closer to the deadline.
Before you know it, though, here comes Halloween, and then suddenly it seems like reminders of [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] are everywhere! No matter how much dread they inspire, you have to admit they spark a bit of excitement, too, since [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] will mark the real start of the winter holidays. And, besides, no matter how onerous and monotonous the yearly ordeal might appear, it always carries with it at least the possibility of a pleasant surprise or two.
As time accelerates and the time for [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] lurches to mere days away, all at once it seems like life has gone a little haywire. You're still have to attend to all your ordinary quotidian responsibilities, but now you have to pile on top of that the preparations for [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams]. Schedules have to be coordinated, supplies have to be obtained. Participants will struggle to nail down time-honored formulae, so they can be ready (if and when necessary) to apply these recipes to whatever ingredients are provided to produce a satisfying result. Hopefully, even the most dilatory attendees will manage to eke out a little free time before [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] to focus on preparation and maybe even a few practice creations.
Finally, the big day arrives! It feels like you spend half the day in a frenetic rush, anxiously making sure you haven't forgotten anything. But then the actual event -- [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams]! -- begins, and you are totally engrossed. Confined in a room full of people, all of whom seem to be sitting a little too close, making a little bit too much noise. But this is something you are doing together. Sometimes one person just dives right in, and a bunch of people around him follow suit, not wanting to fall behind. They might well spend too much attention on one or two meaty choices, and entirely overlook other valuable tidbits. They could end up regretting not having given themselves enough time to digest things properly. Other people might approach [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] too cautiously, overly mindful that it will be a multi-course affair. Afraid to make a mess or to risk something disagreeable, they may find at the end that they barely made a dent in their undertaking. Hopefully, though, most of our students will pace themselves, knowing they are going to be there for a few hours, and will think carefully about how much they want to have on their plate at one time, so that they can get through the entire experience having indulged appropriately in every choice, and in a palatable way that leaves them drowsy and satisfied.
May this year's [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] be a cause of celebration for all of us!
Monday, November 25, 2019
We’re more connected through social media than ever before . . . [yet] we’re losing our ability to think and feel. It’s hurting our personal connections and making us more distant and lonely. – Dallas Morning News Editorial Board
This week I recount the sad story of the late Ronald Wayne White. Who was Ronald Wayne White? His name may not ring a bell. White was not a celebrity or public figure. If Ronald Wayne White is known for anything, it is for being unknown. According to published reports, White was found dead inside his apartment this month. Medical examiner reports confirmed that his death had been undiscovered for three years. There are indeed unanswered questions surrounding this late discovered death, but the sad fact is that a man “apparently went missing for three years and no one noticed he was gone.”1
White’s tragic story is an opportunity for us to examine our connections to others. Those who attend and work inside law schools are subject to a special kind of isolation that is par for the course. Based on the volumes of reading, outlining, researching, writing, editing, and memorizing that is required to succeed in law school, we expect students and faculty to work in isolation for long stretches of time. The top students regale in finding that isolated corner hidden deep in the stacks of the fourth floor of the library where no one comes near to make a sound or disturb the concentration necessary to maintain top student status. I too am guilty of lauding solitude. I have, with giddiness, told my colleagues how much I look forward to holiday breaks alone at home to make some headway on my writing project.
While a certain degree of do-not-disturb-mode is both necessary and beneficial for productivity, I worry that we have become desensitized to isolation. We are all at risk of transcending deep focus into dangerous seclusion. Our law students, especially those who are far from home, or those who have no stable home to claim, are not immune to the risk. Loneliness is not a state of friendlessness, it is a position of lacked connection. People who are married, students in study groups, and faculty who interact well with colleagues can still suffer from debilitating loneliness that can only be cured with meaningful connection.
Connectivity cannot be measured by “likes” and social media followers alone. Please check on your students, your colleagues, and yourselves. If you have students who are far from home or without family, why not invite them to Thanksgiving dinner? Likewise, if there are international students in your program who are removed from our culture, maybe treat them to a meal over break. Perhaps your need to develop a work in progress or meet an article submission deadline can be morphed into an opportunity to interact with your colleagues by planning a “write-in.” Faculty colleagues from all disciplines can find an agreed window of time just to get together to write. Sometimes the camaraderie of shared presence and singleness of purpose can act as a proxy for interaction. Maybe extend your shared driveway morning wave, by baking (or buying) cookies and delivering them to a neighbor or senior citizen on your block that you have not spoken words to in years. Real connections don’t have to be big to be meaningful, they just have to be made.
1 A man was found in his apartment three years after his death – and what it can teach us about loneliness (Dallas Morning News Editorial, November 21, 2019).