Monday, July 15, 2019
You can choose to listen to the skeptics or hit the ignore button. - Michael Peggs
Our students today have become adept at shunning criticism and negative input. When coaches or teachers prejudge students at any age, there is an army of protective advocates who will stand up for the wronged student and demonstrate that with the right accommodation a student may exceed the expectations of a perceived disability. We full-scale reject the haterist mindset that seeks to label learners with arbitrarily imposed limitations. Taylor Swift warned us that “haters gonna hate”. Yet, too often when the stakes are high, and especially during bar study, we stir up our own hater-aid. Over the years I've overheard students say things like: “I’ve never been good at standardized tests,” “I am never going to learn all these essay subjects,” “I’ve got too much going on to study the way I should,” and “I don’t expect to pass on the first time.”
You may need to mute your inner monologue, if it is filling your mind with self-defeating prophecy. Each time a fear-based thought tries to creep in, hit the ignore button and block it like a call from a telemarketer. Follow Taylor’s lead and shake off the self-doubt. Use daily bar study affirmations as an exercise in mindfulness to allow you to meditate on your positive potential. For the next two weeks, the only attitude you can afford is a can-do attitude. Repeat these affirming words until they become your reality: I can and will pass the bar. I am worthy of a bar card, and right now I am making plans for my life as an attorney.
Thursday, June 13, 2019
If I recall correctly, the line went something like this: "The world is filled with lonely people waiting for others to make the first move." At least, that's my recollection of the saying from the wonderful movie entitled "The Green Book," which I happened to have the opportunity to watch on my flight while traveling to the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) Conference a few weeks back. Little did I know at the time the tremendous impact someone would make by reaching out to me at the AASE Conference in Seattle.
You see, it was the final day of the three-day conference. With just a few more presentations available, I thought it best to focus my remaining time on bar prep sessions because that's my primary job. But, while mingling in the hallways of the law school building at Seattle University, I got a friendly tug in another direction. A person - who I had only briefly talked with at the conference - came marching and smiling right up to me and encouraged me to go to her presentation, which was set to start in a matter of moments. The warm-hearted invitation got me. Oh my golly, am I ever glad that I went! Her presentation was earth-shattering. It was the sort of talk from the heart that brought tears and promise.
Here's a brief snapshot.
The presentation was entitled "Academic Skills Invented by Necessity - the Untapped Potential and Creativity of Disabled Learning, and Inclusive Teaching." Professor Karen Wade Cavanagh's story was featured as part of a documentary by Oprah Winfrey in 2015 entitled "Belief:" http://www.bu.edu/law/featured-in-oprah-winfreys.
In short, Karen suffered a traumatic brain injury in a boogie boarding accident. In her talk, Karen showed photos of her rescue. Twice Karen was brought back from the brink. Life for Karen has since necessitated numerous surgeries and rehabilitation. Much was starting over from scratch. But, that hasn't stopped her (or others either).
Here's as an example...
Post-accident, while moving on a sidewalk in a wheelchair on her way to school, Karen was at an impasse. You see, due to crumbling infractures, many of the intersections at city crosswalks were no longer graded to allow rolling back up. Karen went down to cross the street...but couldn't get back up due to curb. Stopped in the roadway in the crosswalk, Karen noticed joggers and walkers run and walk past her, up the curb, and back onto the sidewalk. So, what did Karen do? She stuck her thumb out to the next passer by. That jogger came alongside and pushed her up and over back onto the sidewalk. Success. She was soon at school.
Life has tough spots for all of us. But, as Karen's story reminds us, it's sometimes difficult for us to see the tough spots that others are facing.
The first lesson I learned is that when I am in a tough spot, I need to just go ahead and stick my thumb out.
The second lesson I learned is to keep my eye out for others. Try to look at life from their perspective, not mine. And, be ready to reach out to others.
Life is not meant to be lived alone but rather in community with others. To be frank, as an ASP'er, I often tend to approach the issues that my students are having from my vantage point, usually with the idea that a particular academic study tip might be of help. But, I am often too quick to the draw with suggestions such that I miss seeing what is really going on. That's because I am too quick to talk instead of listen. But, in my experience, most of the time, so-called academic issues are not academic at all. They are life issues instead. And, life issues requires me to open up, to be vulnerable to others, and to live within the perspective of others (and not just myself). In short, being an ASP'er requires me to live life in "being" with others. I think that is what it means to not just be an ASP'er but truly a human being too. (Scott Johns).
P.S. Thanks Karen for making a mark that will live with me forever!
Saturday, September 22, 2018
EdWeek Update recently ran a quiz that readers could take to test their knowledge about dyslexia. After taking the quiz you can review your answers with explanations for the correct answers. To get your answers and explanations, you will need to register. It was worth it to find out some interesting things about dyslexia and what is going on with K-12 education in this regard. The link to the quiz is Knowledge on Dyslexia Quiz. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, August 4, 2018
It is a commonly held student belief among many non-ADHD undergraduate and graduate students that ADHD drugs will help them improve focus as well as their performance and neuro-cognition. Illegally obtained ADHD medications are used by non-ADHD students to get a competitive edge. Inside Higher Ed recently posted about a new study that suggests that this student myth about performance is inaccurate.
The pilot study was small and needs to be replicated. Increased focus and attention from the medications did not translate into better reading comprehension or fluency and actually negatively influenced working memory. Elevation of mood and physiological effects were what would be expected with these drugs. The hyperlink to the post (which includes a link to the study itself) is New Study. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
In April, Virginia Public Radio aired a news story entitled "Law Students Challenge Need for Mental Health Question" on the character and fitness application. The law students contend that the mental health questions on Virginia's character and fitness application have perversely incentivized law students to forego mental health treatment as a means of ensuring that they do not have to affirmatively disclose any mental health treatment on their character and fitness application. (Read the full story here.)
The law students' challenge comes in the wake of the American Bar Association's 2015 resolution to eliminate "any questions that ask about mental health history, diagnoses, or treatment and instead use questions that focus on conduct or behavior that impairs an applicant’s ability to practice law in a competent, ethical, and professional manner."
Despite the ABA's recommendation, the Virginia character and fitness application asks three broad mental health related questions:
- Within the past five (5) years, have you exhibited any conduct or behavior that could call into question your ability to practice law in a competent, ethical, and professional manner?
- Do you currently have any condition or impairment, including, but not limited to, (1) any related to substance or alcohol abuse, or (2) a mental, emotional, or nervous disorder or condition, which in any way affects your ability to perform any of the obligations and responsibilities of a practicing lawyer in a competent, ethical and professional manner? “Currently” means recently enough so that the condition could reasonably have an impact on your ability to function as a practicing lawyer.
- Within the past five (5) years, have you ever raised the issue of consumption of drugs or alcohol or the issue of a mental, emotional, nervous or behavioral disorder/condition as a defense, mitigation, or explanation for your actions in the course of any of the following [proceedings...]?
If the applicant answers "yes" to any of these questions, they are then prompted to supply detailed supplemental information including dates and contact information for any treating physicians. The applicant must also obtain a verification from the treating physician indicating that in the physician's opinion the applicant possesses the requisite character and fitness to practice law. Notably, Virginia's application questions are almost identical to the National Conference of Bar Examiner's sample application.
It appears that the first question aligns squarely with the ABA's resolution, but the other two questions go well beyond the narrow sphere recommended by the ABA. It will be interesting to see how the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners (and, perhaps other jurisdictions who have adopted the same application) respond to the law students' challenge. Stay tuned. (Kirsha Trychta)
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
"The ABA Law Student Division has selected March 28 as the official National Mental Health Day at law schools across the country. Law schools are encouraged to sponsor educational programs and events that teach and foster breaking the stigma associated with severe depression and anxiety among law students and lawyers." To help law schools plan events, the ABA offers a 43-page downloadable Planning Toolkit, links to organizations like the Lawyer Assistance Programs and David Nee Foundation, and a robust list of internet resources (including this blog!).
Unfortunately, mental health issues are prevalent in law school. A 2014 survey of "law student well-being found that one quarter suffered from anxiety and 18 percent had been diagnosed with depression. More than half of the law students surveyed said they had gotten drunk at least once during the past 30 days." Moreover, a 2016 follow-up study "found that those problems don’t stop in law school. Fully one in five lawyers are problem drinkers and nearly half have experienced depression at some point during their careers."
In February 2018 at the ABA midyear meeting, in response to the research, the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates adopted a resolution urging law firms, law schools, bar associations, lawyer regulatory agencies and other legal employers to take concrete action to address the high rates of substance abuse and mental health issues. The report recommends that law schools deemphasize alcohol at social events, have professional counselors on campus, and have attendance policies that help schools detect when students may be in crisis. The 2018 resolution expands upon a 2017 recommendation that "approved changes to the Model Rule for Minimum Continuing Legal Education that require an hour of substance abuse and mental health CLE every three years." (Kirsha Trychta)
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Over at Inside Higher Ed, a doctoral student named Alyssa has started blogging about what it is like to attend graduate school with a disability, namely autism. The author's posts highlight the problems disabled students encounter, how students deal with them, and what we as professors can do to make things easier for graduate students with disabilities. Interestingly, as a graduate student with substantial teaching responsibilities, the author is able to talk about testing accommodations from two perspectives simultaneously: that of a student and that of a professor.
The author's first post back in October 2017 explained how disabled students feel "When [Professors] Tell  a Disability Story" or announce their personal feelings about whether certain accommodations are appropriate, generally. Unsurprisingly, the author's not a fan.
The following month the author revealed that "[They], Too, Dread the Accommodations Talk" because, as a student, they never know how a professor or administrator is going to respond. Will the professor be accepting, skeptical, or downright antagonistic?
In "Mentoring," the author discusses the importance of having a disability-specific mentoring network.
Last month, the author contemplated (How) Do I Tell My Students? The post supports the argument that disabled students benefit when they see "someone like them" at the front of the classroom.
Most recently, "How 'Out' Do I Need to Be" explored how certain classroom policies can force a student to "out" themselves regarding their disability (e.g. laptop bans). The author explained how some disabled students will purposely avoid certain courses or professors whose classroom policies are at odds with their accommodations, instead of taking the class with an approved accommodation.
Unfortunately, each post seemed to reveal a new flaw in the university's accommodation procedure. I'm not sure what the procedure is at each law school, but I'd like to think that it is fair and less offensive than what the blogger has been exposed to during their graduate program.
At my law school, accommodation requests are all handled by the registrar (who is trained to deal with ADA requests), which limits the opportunity for individual faculty to "tell a disability story" or inadvertently "out" a student. But, I also know at the undergraduate level of the same university, the disabled student must have the "accommodations talk" with each professor, every semester. Fearing the talk, some undergraduates will forego using the accommodations altogether. Unfortunately, skipping out on accommodations during their undergraduate education may make it harder to establish a need later, such as on the LSAT, during law school, or on the bar exam. (Kirsha Trychta)
Monday, October 23, 2017
It’s hard to believe that we are already heading towards the end of October. It seems like the Fall semester just started.
As the end of October approaches, many students are trying to figure out what they plan to wear for their Halloween parties. They are also trying to figure out what they need to do for the rest of the semester as well.
By now, 1Ls have heard of this “outlining” word. But, they may not fully understand what it means. They have read and briefed most of their cases, but they may not have a good grasp of how these cases link up with one another in their doctrinal classes. They may have been so focused on writing down and remembering each miniscule detail from their cases that they have neglected to see how each case from their individual doctrinal classes ties in with every other case in those classes. They may not be ready to attack a large final exam question that assesses their ability to analyze the various legal issues that they have covered throughout the semester.
As law school academic support professionals, we should be ready to assist 1L students as they negotiate the latter part of their first semester. Let’s remember that most 1Ls may not, at this point, fully understand the big picture law for each of their doctrinal subjects. Let’s remember that many 1Ls may not have fully practiced issue spotting and exam writing. Let’s be ready with a non-judgmental and empathic listening ear so that we can best serve each individual student. (OJ Salinas)
October 23, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Professionalism, Reading, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, October 9, 2017
The counseling field has often highlighted the benefits of some personal disclosure from therapists to their clients. Some cited benefits include increased trust and rapport, as well validation of the clients’ experiences.
Join me this week at the Inaugural Diversity Conference for the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) in Baltimore, Maryland, for a moderated discussion on the benefits of academic support professionals sharing personal stories and struggles with their students.
Participants will be encouraged to share their experiences (i.e., their stories or struggles) relating to diversity and inclusion or their law school experience in general. These experiences may either be personal stories or struggles or stories related to students that the participants may have worked with in their capacity as academic support professionals. As presenters and participants share their stories, the “listening” participants will be modeling and reviewing some of the same active listening skills and nonverbal behaviors that academic support professionals should be engaging in when they work with students in either individual or group conferences.
Hope to see you in Maryland! (OJ Salinas)
October 9, 2017 in Advice, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, News, Professionalism, Program Evaluation, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, September 8, 2017
A summer article posted on Inside Higher Ed looked at whether groups work for everyone and how to improve the experiences. The post by Margaret Finnegan, Department of Criminal Justice at California State University, Los Angeles, is here. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, August 21, 2017
I mentioned in last week’s blog about my inability to remain focused on our law school's voluntary pre-orientation program for incoming 1Ls due to events related Charlottesville. As I continue my efforts to remain focused, I’ll try to spend a few minutes talking about a topic that many of you likely discuss with your students, either during a similar orientation or pre-orientation program or in workshops or individual conferences: whether students should handwrite their notes or take them on a laptop.
The use of laptops in class rightfully generates much discussion on faculty and ASP mailing lists, particularly at the start of the semester. The discussion has even entered the Twitter realm (for example, here and here; H/T Prof. Ellie Margolis and Prof. Katherine Kelly).
I know there is a lot research and concerns out there relating to laptop use and taking notes. For instance: (1) students may often find it difficult to follow classroom dialogue while trying to type everything down that is discussed in class; and (2) there are potential distractions related to laptop use in class—both for the student doing something that he/she should not be doing on the laptop and for those students sitting near this student.
I don’t necessarily disagree with the research and concerns. I understand that laptops can create tempting distractions for our students. And I agree that we don’t want students “zoned out” from using laptops in our classes. But, we should also not want to “zone out” students who may need to use a laptop in class as a critical learning tool for them.
So, I want to caution folks before they decide to ban laptops entirely in the classroom. I want folks to remember that banning laptops may create a situation where students with an accommodation for a learning disability are forced to disclose that they have a learning disability. This forced disclosure may not be an issue for some students—they may not complain or make much of the ban, or they might not care that they are the only student in a 70+ class who has his/her laptop out in a no-laptop use classroom. So, a complete laptop ban may not be that much of an issue for some students. But, it could still be an issue.
If you are a strong proponent for absolutely no laptop use in class, perhaps your student affairs office might be able to not place students who have laptop use as an accommodation in your class. Of course, this recommendation may only work if you happen to teach a course that is also offered during the same semester by a faculty member who does not have a laptop ban.
Perhaps, someone like a student affairs or ASP professional may have a chat with those students who are disengaged in the classroom to see what may be contributing to the disengagement. Is it solely the laptop? Or, as those of us in the law school ASP world know, are there other academic or non-academic factors that may be impacting the student’s ability to “follow along in class”? Are the students distracted by a laptop disengaged because the laptop is in front of them? Or, is something happening outside of the classroom that may be motivating the student to disengage on the laptop? Could it be easier for a student who is having a challenging time in law school to disengage, rather than continuing to try and fail?
One more recommendation if you are a strong proponent for absolutely no laptop use in class: maybe, reconsider why you have the no laptop policy in the first place.
Do we assume that students who handwrite their notes never disengage? Or, can a student on a social media account be just as "zoned out" as someone daydreaming or drawing an elaborate doodle on his/her notebook paper?
Do we assume that someone who has a laptop will automatically be programmed to type everything down verbatim in class and, thus, not follow along in the classroom dialogue? Do we assume that someone who is handwriting his/her notes will not automatically try to write everything (or as much) down in class and, thus, will follow along in the classroom dialogue? I suspect we have had many students in our classrooms who prove and disprove both assumptions.
Do we assume that those students who are using a laptop are naturally worse note-takers—that they have not developed or cannot develop with guidance (from great ASP folks, like us!) effective methods for taking notes in a law school class? Do we assume that those students who handwrite their notes all have developed the proper method for effective and efficient ways to take notes in a law school class? Again, I suspect we have had many students in our classrooms who prove and disprove both assumptions.
And, finally, are we even aware of, or do we automatically discount, the various computer applications out there that might be geared for diverse learning styles or that might help keep our students’ notes better organized?
We often try to train our law students on flexible thinking—that there may often not just be a black or white answer to things in the law; that there, frustratingly, is often a large shade of gray in the law; that the answer to many questions in the law may often be “It depends.”
Perhaps, we can practice a little of what we preach. Just because we may not be able to take effective notes using a laptop in a law school classroom doesn’t mean our students are unable to take effective notes on a laptop in class. And just because we may not have needed a laptop to succeed in law school doesn’t necessarily mean that someone else could not succeed in law school by using one. Some students may actually need the laptop to help them succeed. And a “black" or "white" law might actually say that they are entitled to use a laptop in class. (OJ Salinas)
August 21, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Orientation, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, August 7, 2017
I have been thinking about the wonderful, varied, and interesting lives our students bring to law school.
Each student comes to our law schools with a unique and authentic experience. Unfortunately, some of these experiences are sometimes deemed insignificant. The person who has lived the experience may be too anxious or ashamed to share it. Or, others around this person may be too afraid to acknowledge that their individual experiences may not be the only way to have experienced some “thing.”
Each student comes to our law schools with an individual story that can enrich our learning environment and augment the law school experience for other students. For example, how one student responds to the facts of a particular case or identifies with the rationale or policy supporting some legal authority may provide a different insight and promote more critical thinking than the most qualified professor alone. This insight and critical thinking begins to grow, encouraging others to be more willing to take their blinders off and expand their narrow view of an issue, or better yet, of the world.
As we prepare to start a new law school semester, let’s remember what makes each of us unique and authentic. Let’s embrace, not obscure, our differences. And let’s try to foster our students’ abilities to recognize and appreciate differences. Being different doesn’t mean being weak. Being different doesn’t mean being irrelevant. Being different doesn’t mean being unworthy of success. (OJ Salinas)
Monday, July 17, 2017
The New York Times recently published “The Lawyer, The Addict”—a very compelling article about a tragic event. The story describes the death of an influential Silicon Valley attorney. The interplay between (1) addiction, stress, and mental health and (2) law school and the legal profession is referenced in an honest and, for many, eye-opening manner. The article has rightfully generated much discussion on the Internet, including a fascinating conversation on my colleague Rachel Gurvich’s Twitter feed. If you are looking for further insight about the article from a variety of faculty, practitioners, and students, I encourage you to check out Rachel's Twitter feed (@RachelGurvich). Much of the conversation can be found here.
There are many interesting points one can focus on from the NYT article. Perhaps, I’ll explore some other points in the future in the blog. For now, I’ll focus today’s blog on two points: (1) Larry Krieger’s work on subjective well-being; and (2) how hard it is for students to acknowledge that they may be suffering from a problem.
- Larry Krieger’s Work on Subjective Well-Being.
The NYT article interviewed Professor Larry Krieger and referenced his work "What Makes Lawyers Happy". As many of you know, Krieger’s work was an empirical study on “attorney emotional health” and “subjective well-being.” Part of Krieger’s findings and recommendations focused on shifting the definition of “success” for law students away from extrinsic rewards, like grades, journals, and high-paying jobs to more personal and intrinsic values and motivations.
I remember Larry Krieger's work was one of the first things that Ruth McKinney discussed with me when I arrived at UNC. Since her retirement, we have tried to continue to incorporate the message of Krieger’s work into our pre-orientation program for incoming 1Ls. We try to remind our students to remember the intrinsic reasons why they decided to come to law school—particularly during those times when they may feel overwhelmed, defeated, or unworthy. We also try to remind our students that “success” can mean many different things to different people and that there are many ways to “succeed” in law school. We often talk about these topics while disclosing some of our personal struggles and experiences from law school. This personal disclosure often helps build a foundation where we are better able to assist with the problem discussed in part two below.
- Acknowledging a Problem is often a Problem.
For those of us who work closely with students, the article’s story on how law school and the legal profession can change you—physically and mentally—is not a surprising tale. We know that the combination of stress, anxiety, and the competition for external rewards can create a very challenging and intimidating environment for our students. The environment can feel crushing and insurmountable when you add difficult finances, family issues, health concerns, implicit bias, or stereotype threat to the mix.
It is not uncommon for academic success folks to work with students who are facing some significant non-academic issues that impact their academic performance. But, these non-academic issues are often not easily identifiable. Let’s try to remember that it is often difficult for our students to acknowledge to themselves that they may be going through a very problematic time. Like anyone, they have pride. They have all been successful undergrads or had elite careers prior to law school. They don’t want to think of themselves as “failures” or “unworthy” of being a law student.
Since our students don’t want to think of themselves as “failures” or “unworthy” of being a law student, they will likely hesitate before seeking help because they don’t want others to see them as “failures” or “unworthy” of being a law student (and the mental health questions on the bar exam applications don't help either, but that's a topic for another day [if you are interested, my former colleague, Katie Rose Guest Pryal has a great piece here]).
Disclosing some personal vulnerability to someone else is an added challenge to an already stressful time in our students' lives. Think about it: if it’s hard for you to acknowledge some potential weakness or flaw to yourself, do you think it will be easier for you to acknowledge that weakness or flaw to someone else? Now think about that someone else as a law professor or administrator. I know; it’s pretty scary. That’s why we, as academic support professionals (and others who work closely with law students), should try to practice good active listening skills and remain nonjudgmental, empathetic, and encouraging when we work with our students. It’s a difficult job. But, we are lucky to be able to do it. (OJ Salinas)
Monday, June 5, 2017
Louis Sirico has had a recent post on the Legal Skills Prof Blog about a former law student whose vision problem caused reading difficulties. The happy ending includes a correct diagnosis years later and a new type of corrective glasses. The post can be found here.
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Hat tip to Katherine M. Bender at The Dave Nee Foundation for sending a link to a video yesterday (Law Student Mental Health Day) that the State Bar of Washington has launched to openly discuss the mental health questions on many bar applications. The video can be found here: Questions of Discrimination. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, August 14, 2015
The ABA (finally) adopted a resolution that encourages state bar licensing entities to eliminate questions about mental health on bar applications. Many of us have advocated for such elimination for years due to the potential damaging effects that these types of questions may have on law students. The stigma that these questions produce may discourage law students from seeking much needed mental health treatment or therapy while they are in law school. By eliminating these questions, law students do not need to fear the character and fitness/bar application process if they do decide to seek mental health treatment.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
This week, the Justice Department filed a landmark consent decree to settle claims that the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) practices violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Many of us work with students who may have been affected by LSAC’s “flagging” practice, which identifies applicants who received extra time on the LSAT. This decision not only helps to remedy past discrimination, but also helps ensure that applicants with disabilities are protected in the future. This excerpt taken from the Department of Justice webpage lists the details of the agreement.
Under the consent decree, LSAC has agreed to:
- put a permanent end to the practice of flagging the LSAT score reports of individuals with disabilities who take the LSAT with the common testing accommodation of extended time;
- pay $7.73 million to be allocated for a civil penalty, compensation to individuals named in the United States’ and other plaintiffs’ complaints, and a nationwide victims’ compensation fund;
- streamline its evaluation of requests for testing accommodations by automatically granting most testing accommodations that a candidate can show s/he has previously received for a standardized exam related to post-secondary admissions (such as the SAT, ACT or GED, among others); and
- implement additional best practices for reviewing and evaluating testing accommodation requests as recommended by a panel of experts (to be created by the parties).
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
This will be a short post today; I just want to alert readers to an New York Times article about the difficulties facing law students with mental health issues and the bar exam. I think the article brings up a lot of issues we need to think about in ASP and as a profession.
I don't know if I completely agree with the author. I have worked with many, many students with mental health issues and disabilities over my nine years in legal academia. I do believe most law students with mental health issues should be allowed to practice (if they meet all the other qualifications for the bar). I think the question posed on many character and fitness evaluations discourages law students from receiving the mental health assistance they need, and I think the question should be removed. I am troubled by the tiny, tiny minority of students (I can count them on one hand) who do not have their issues under control, and then threaten to sue under the ADA when their "deeds" (to use the same term as the author) lead to their removal from law school. Their "deeds" are a function of their mental illness, and they argue they should be allowed to continue because they are being persecuted based on the label, not the deed. The threat to sue stops law schools from acting in the best interest of the student and their peers. The threat stops some law schools from notifying the bar that the student may need assistance before they are fit to practice. This tiny minority of students use their diagnosis as a defense and a weapon. It is unfair that a fraction of law students with mental health issues cause disproportionate harm, but the bar needs to consider the threat lawyers can pose to the public.
I know that I will receive a number of angry comments because of this post. However, I am not discussing the students who have their issues under control, and I do think that the vast majority of students have their issues under control; I think we need a better way to help and support students with mental illness. I am questioning a blanket ban on inquiries stemming from mental health issues.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Leah Christensen, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, has recently published a book entitled, Learning Outside the Box: A Handbook for Law Students Who Learn Differently. The book covers specific strategies for law students with learning disabilities, reading disabilities, ADHD, Asperger's, or other learning differences. The author notes in her introduction that other law students can also benefit from the strategies. I just received my copy in the mail today and am looking forward to learning additional ways that I can help my students who learn differently. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, April 4, 2011
Each year I have a few law students who work with me as they adapt to disabilities that are either new or newly discovered. A new disability might occur when a student has lost an arm in a car accident. A newly discovered disability might occur when a student is diagnosed with ADHD or learning disabilities after successfully compensating in earlier education but under-performing with the overwhelming amount of work and one-exam system in law school.
Depending on the timing of the new or newly discovered disability, some students will be adjusting to the diagnosis itself still as well as trying to determine different strategies for their studies. They may have some hurdles to get over before they are comfortable with their circumstances.
Some students are shaken by the fear that they are "no longer just like everyone else." They are not certain how to proceed. As time progresses, I see them grow more comfortable in their new circumstances. They learn to manage the disability, whatever it is, through physical therapy, medication, accommodations, and other appropriate methods. Some turn to our university counseling center for assistance in their adjustment. Later in the year, they will often tell me that they have accepted the circumstances and moved on from the initial uncertainties. They also comment that they have rediscovered themselves and realize that they are just like everyone else, but have a unique circumstance to manage.
Some students worry about using accommodations because they fear accommodations mean "having an unfair advantage" rather than "levelling the playing field." They do not want others to resent them because they get extra time on exams, laptop use in classes where they are banned for others, or note-takers in class. It is sometimes hard for them to realize that the accommodations are very fair - after all, that is why they are given. Even if some other students' reactions are negative, those reactions merely indicate the immaturity of those other students. After all, none of those other students would opt for the disability; none of them would give up accommodations if they had the same circumstances.
Some students are concerned that accepting accommodations will mean that "everyone will know" when the disability is otherwise invisible. This concern is often harder for students because it resurfaces the concerns about not being like everyone else and being open to criticism from students who react negatively about accommodations for disabled students. Most students realize, however, that achieving their true academic potential is ultimately more desirable than hiding their disability. (An added aspect is that many boards of law examiners will look at accommodations in law school to determine accommodations on the bar exam.)
Each student adapts differently to a new or newly discovered disability. For some, the adaptation occurs rapidly. For others, it takes a bit longer. And, for others, it is an on-going process.
How can we help as ASP'ers?
- Listen carefully. There is often a sub-text if we are alert to it.
- Provide a safe environment. Allow the student to talk about concerns and fears as well as study habits.
- Work with the student on specific study strategies tailored to the disability. Often the doctor or testing report will suggest specific strategies. Brainstorming can assist the student in selecting possible strategies.
- Make referrals. Support from your university's student disability services, counseling center, or doctors can be valuable to the student.
- Turn to the experts on your campus if you need more information about a disability or suggestions on how to work with a student on study strategies.
All law students have adjustments to make during 1L year and throughout law school. And they make the adjustments at different speeds. By layering on a new or newly discovered disability, the students may need some additional time and assistance. (Amy Jarmon)