Tuesday, December 3, 2019
I recently attended a meeting of our law school alumni to talk with them about being mentors. We have a very energetic alumni community, many of whom participate in our school's formal mentoring programs -- one for our 1L students, to help introduce them to law school and the legal profession, and one for our 3L students, to provide guides for their transition into the working world. Like most mentors, these alumni are eager to provide guidance and support. Still, those of us who run the mentoring programs know that there are every year a small number of mentors whose experience in the program turns out to be awkward or even unpleasant. Sometimes their students fail to demonstrate the zeal or professionalism the mentor had expected, and other times the student and the mentor just do not seem to hit it off. Because our alumni mentors are such a valuable resource to our students, and therefore I don't want to lose any mentors due to a single unpleasant interaction, I offered the following thoughts:
All of our students possess varied interests, strengths and weaknesses, and past experiences, each across a broad spectrum. Broadly speaking, though, we can divide the students who participate in our mentoring programs -- our "mentees", as we say -- into four groups, based on the extent to which they possess each of two characteristics key to any sort of networking relationship: enthusiasm and know-how.
The first group are the students who possess both. They understand what goes into developing a professional relationship, and they are genuinely interested in working with their mentors to develop such relationships. These are the dream mentees -- they ask lots of thoughtful questions, and they listen to your answers; they participate appropriately, whether invited to a one-on-one lunch or to a busy firm event; they know how to make eye contact, what to wear, and when and how it is appropriate to change or cancel planned meetings. To mentors who are lucky enough to have one of these mentees, I say: Congratulations! This is a great opportunity for you to help someone make the most of what you have to offer. Challenge them a bit, and they will likely rise to the occasion.
The second group of mentees are enthusiastic, but they do not quite know what they are doing in a professional relationship. In the moment, face to face, they may come across as quite interested, perhaps even charismatic. But they are also capable of making striking faux pas -- wearing torn jeans to a business-casual luncheon, for example, or failing to show up for a scheduled meeting without calling or email to let the mentor know. These folks are often achievers in an academic context, but have had little experience in practice. They may want to reap the benefits of a mentoring relationship, but simply not realize that they are missing opportunities, and perhaps even causing offense, along the way. But . . . that is one of the main reasons we introduce students to mentors -- to help them learn this kind of professional behavior that they may never have encountered before. And even if they can be somewhat clueless, at least the members of this group do possess that enthusiastic motivation, That is something that a mentor can leverage, by inviting participation, in the knowledge that such invitations will usually be accepted, and they by pointing out that the behaviors they are failing to demonstrate are some of the very skills they were hoping to develop. So this group of mentees may sometimes elicit eyerolls, but by playing off of their enthusiasm, mentors can help them to overcome their deficiencies.
The third group of mentees are those in the opposite position. They have the know-how -- for whatever reason, perhaps a previous job or perhaps just a supportive upbringing, they have a proper sense of professionalism, and in fact may come across as very worldly. But they act as if they do not see any value in a mentoring relationship. They do not display any particular enthusiasm, and may even seem to treat the mentoring relationship as a chore. They may see a mentoring program as a kind of remedial finishing school for emerging professionals -- one they do not need, because they know which fork to use -- and not recognize the rich possibilities for connection and experience that a mentoring relationship holds. But, as with the second group, at least this group does possess one asset that can be leveraged -- in this case, their ordered sense of professionalism. A mentor could take advantage of that by inviting their mentee to participate in gatherings and events, by introducing them to colleagues, by prompting them to talk about their interests and plans. The mentee's own worldliness will prevent them from totally ignoring all of these opportunities, and each meeting and conversation can be a wedge, opening up their minds to the realization that a mentoring relationship can be much more than a series of ritualistic interactions.
But this brings up to the fourth and final group, the most difficult group for mentors to contend with -- students who are neither enthusiastic nor knowledgeable. These are the students who don't know how to be a mentee, and don't see why they should. They might not even participate in a mentor program if it is not required. These are usually students without any role models in the legal community, or perhaps in any professional community. They can be tough on mentors, because they are the type who might miss a scheduled meeting, without warning or explanation, and then not see any reason to feel bad about that afterwards. Sometimes mentors, seeing apparent futility in trying to encourage these mentees to participate, simply give up after a few attempts. And this is a terrible loss to both the student and the mentor, because these are the students who need this mentorship the most, and theirs are the mentors who would justly feel the greatest satisfaction if they were able to teach these students how to be great mentees. It can be hard to get these relationships to catch, because there is neither enthusiasm nor know-how there to leverage. But because these mentoring relationships are, in a sense, the most valuable, these are the ones we, in student services, want to do the most to help nurture and preserve. So I encourage our mentors to turn to us for support -- to ask us to approach these mentees from our side, so that we can nudge them into at least testing the mentorship waters, and so that, by explaining plainly what is expected of them, and what to expect from their mentors, we can lower the barriers of self-consciousness and dubiousness that might be keeping them from committing to the process.
Mentoring is, after all, only one facet of the larger construct of the legal community, and those who support our students in school can also support those who support our students out of school.
Monday, November 11, 2019
The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an essay by Pamela Newkirk. The article, Why Diversity Initiatives Fail, addresses the measurable lack of progress at elite U.S. universities in creating sustained diversity. The article cites that African Americans and Hispanics, who account for about 31% of the national population, are just 4% and 3%, respectively, of full-time professors. I would add to that statistic the fact that women and people classified as minorities disproportionately hold untenured and non-tenure track positions in law schools, which feeds status issues within the legal academy.
Newkirk references the millions of dollars spent on in-school diversity initiatives, but says “there is little indication that they have resulted in more diversity or less bias.” A disheartening reality, finds Newkirk, “there’s some evidence that some of the anti-bias strategies can actually make matters worse.” I am pained at the notion that many educational institutions that profess inclusive and non-discriminatory policies have not effectively confronted the systemic and implicit biases that stunt the academic, professional, and career development of their students, faculty, and administrative leaders.
“Strategies for controlling bias — which drive most diversity efforts — have failed spectacularly,” said sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev in their study, Why Diversity Programs Fail, (Harvard Bus. Rev. 2016). For me, reading articles like Newkirk’s, and studies like Dobbin and Kalev’s, are like amening a sermon from the choir stand. Their published works simply add discourse to the reality of my existence. Too often, I have witnessed or experienced the dismissive nature of privilege and its righteous indignation when it dares be challenged. Inside and outside of the classroom, I have been mansplained, prof-splained, and most recently student-splained. I struggle to describe the simultaneous disbelief and frightening foreseeability that I experienced when I distinguished two legal principles in response to a student question, only to have another student repeat my explanation verbatim, but in a tone that would suggest that the student had added, expanded, or corrected my explanation in some way. The resultant outcome was a head nod and an audible “thank you” from the questioning student, and an internal eye roll from me.
Diversity, as we have come to use the term, is a disruptor of the presumption and perpetuation of privilege. To the extent that diversity promises, or threatens, to disrupt the status quo in higher education, we are all affected. Lawyers and affirmative action opponents must be confronted with the hypocrisy of their fight against race-based denials for entry into competitive graduate programs and prestigious positions. Law professors, academic support professionals, and student affairs administrators must continue to promote diversity, inclusion, and opportunity for our students even when our own statuses are minimized and disregarded.
Monday, November 4, 2019
Logically it makes no sense that, in today’s world, failing at something because you tried will tarnish you with a negative social label. . . . [T]o continue evolving, the stigma associated with failure has to be shaken off and be replaced with positive personal development. When you fail at something, hopefully you can recogni[z]e why and where you failed, so that next time you can move forward accordingly. – C. Montcrieff
Bar takers in all but one state have received results from the July 2019 bar exam. Although California examinees may have to wait another week for results, with increased MBE scores reported nationally, bar passage rates (overall) are deliciously higher than recent past exams. What better way to transition to the semester wind down than with news of newly licensed attorneys joining the ranks of your alumni rosters!
I am elated and overjoyed for my students who find their names on the bar pass list. I understand the sacrifice, the grit, the fear, the pressure, the exhaustion, and the anxiety that are necessary conditions precedent to bar passage. I actually get teary-eyed as I scroll through the social media feeds of newly minted attorneys that contain expressions of joy and gratitude for the obstacles they overcame and support they received.
My joy is tempered by the heartache I feel for those who fought so valiantly and fell short of the state cut score. It never ceases to amaze me how a day that brings elation can, at the same time, end in devastation. Those of us doing ASP work must manage that range of emotions altogether in the same day. We collect data and publish articles on interventions that lead to bar success in licensure candidates with known failure indicators. We are experientially trained to manage bad news and to earnestly encourage unsuccessful students to try anew. But how does the reality of our calling square with the purpose of our profession?
We must examine the role and reality of stigma in bar exam failure and determine where, how, and if, it fits into the notion that diversity in the legal profession is not solely about racial and socio-economic inclusion. The diversity promoted by effective academic support programs includes intellectual disparities, physical and emotional disabilities, linguistic variations, and learning differences.
The definition of academic and bar success is changing. Success for some may be sitting through a two-day exam without the testing accommodations relied upon during law school. For others, it can be completing an exam scribed in a language other than the test-taker's native tongue. For many bar takers who graduated in the bottom quartile of their law school classes and/or with low entering LSAT scores, success may be coming within 5-10 points of a passing score, that all published statistics said that they could not achieve.
I dare not suggest that legal educators dismiss or ignore bar failure, but I challenge the status quo about how we frame bar failure as part of professional identity formation. Moved by the MacCrate Report, law teachers have become more intentional about teaching, and have begun to support law students’ professional identity formation inside and outside of the classroom.1 I see no reason for that support to end with the bar examination. As we normalize struggle2, we must communicate bar failure as a temporary status and not as an indelible component of one’s professional identity.
1 Susan L. Brooks, Fostering Wholehearted Lawyers: Practical Guidance for Supporting Law Students' Professional Identity Formation 14 U. ST. THOMAS L.J. 377 (2018).
2 Catherine Martin Christopher, Normalizing Struggle, ___ Arkansas L. Rev. ___ (2019).
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
Today's Washington Post has a fascinating and disturbing article about the company HireVue and its signature product, an artificial intelligence hiring system through which employers can set up automated "interviews" with prospective employees. The system "uses candidates’ computer or cellphone cameras to analyze their facial movements, word choice and speaking voice before ranking them against other applicants based on an automatically generated 'employability' score." Based on these scores, HireVue's clients -- which include large organizations like Unilever and Goldman Sachs -- can choose which candidates they would like to bring in for actual human interaction.
The growing reliance of employers on HireVue and its competitors suggests several issues of interest to law students. Can we expect that someday soon, they too will be forced to welcome their new computer overlords by developing another set of skills -- namely, the art of using just the right expressions and intonations to appeal to the interviewing algorithm? How do we even know what appeals to that algorithm, and whether the appealing features actually bear any relationship to job performance, if HireVue releases no information about what it is measuring, what it assigns value to, or, indeed, even what a candidate did wrong? (The mystery and validity issues echo some complaints about the UBE, but at least bar examinees are told their scores.) Like it or not, this Pandora's boxing ring is now open, and it's only a matter of time until young attorneys are sent in to altercate.
To get some perspective on the rigor of the HireVue system, the Post reporter spoke to researchers in applicable fields, including Luke Stark, an AI researcher who was
The charisma of numbers is something I feel I run up against over and over again. And I say this as a person who values data and statistics! I believe it is difficult to make consistently effective decisions or to take wise action without obtaining and evaluating relevant numerical information. And, true, in a field in which our success is largely measured numerically (GPAs, retention rates, bar passage rates), numbers can possess either star power or infamy.
But, notwithstanding their dazzle and clout, numbers should only be powerful if they are attached to something meaningful. If they are being misused or misunderstood, that can mean mistaking the sizzle for the steak. Figures can be seductive when they seem rounded, or extravagant, or provocative, or revealing. It's easy to jump on the conspicuously appealing numbers -- the highest GPA, the apparently significant pattern in MBE scores, the increase in median starting salaries -- just as it's easy to be attracted to the confident, well-spoken cutie who walks into the party. But the GPA might be based on a disproportionate number of generously graded courses; the MBE pattern might be statistically insignificant; the median salary increase might represent slippage, not advancement, if similar schools are seeing an even larger increase. Causes, reliability, and context all matter.
The danger of the charisma of numbers is that sometimes, even when a person is only looking at the surface, they don't feel like they are being shallow, because numbers are supposed to be scientific and rational. We need to remember, and teach our students and colleagues, that, even with the most alluring numbers, you should really spend some time with them first, get to know their flaws and idiosyncrasies, before you commit to them.
Wednesday, October 9, 2019
As Bill MacDonald reminded us in yesterday's post, this is the time of academic potential and progress. It's also the time of raw nerves. While there's no panacea, there's a good starting place -- and that's talking it out. (And a little patience and humility help, too.)
In the first flush of excitement at the beginning of fall semester, we all tend to be on our best behavior. Faculty and staff want to show 1Ls that they chose the right law school; 1Ls and transfer students want to show the law school that its faith in admitting them was justified. Every person -- whether faculty, staff, upper-division student, or incoming student -- wants to put her or his best foot forward. It is the honeymoon phase of law school. At the end of the semester, as final projects wind up and exams loom, and as we have come to understand each others' foibles, we are too engaged in the big stuff to pay much attention to minor shortcomings. Like a long marriage, there is a sense of understanding and acceptance, even when we acknowledge that the relationship may not be not perfect.
But the middle of the semester? That's when mannerisms which at first seemed charmingly awkward now grate on your nerves. That's when the workload, initially so manageable, now seems to loom over every hour of the day and night, weekday and weekend. That's when instructors, instead of praising every good-faith effort, now critique openly or press for more concise and precise answers in the classroom and for more tightly-reasoned, well-constructed written work product. That's when the e-mail deluge threatens to overwhelm every person in the law school, with every message being urgent and needing immediate attention, even while you must attend more mandatory meetings and respond to more. So the stress level goes up, and up, and up, and tolerance for others can plummet.
In A Short & Happy Guide to Being a Law Student (which I'd submit is also a pretty good guide to being an ASPer), Paula Franzese suggests, "Give everyone and everything the benefit of the doubt. . . . People will rise or fall to your level of expectancy about them. When someone disappoints you, simply say to yourself, 'She wasn't in her right mind just then. She'll get back to good.'"
To Professor Franzese's wise words, I'd add a second piece of advice, which is to go to the source. Did the professor (or student) say something which seemed inappropriate? Are they doing something that is making it hard for you to do your best? If it feels safe, try talking with them directly.
If you don't feel safe, the conversation cannot be direct. For example, if a person screams in your face and punches a fist through the wall, or invades your personal space and growls, "I know where you live, and I'm watching you" (both happened to me in my law school career), you cannot have a safe direct conversation.
Notice I didn't say "If it feels comfortable." Because hard conversations are often uncomfortable, but having the direct conversation often makes matters better. So if a person made an insensitive remark, or someone is wearing so much body spray you can't be in the same room, or if an instructor is piling on what seems to be an excessive amount of homework, or -- well, you can fill in scores of other examples -- then the best way to address the problem is usually the direct approach. Go talk with them, and listen to them. Assertive speech and active listening aren't just skills for the classroom -- they are skills for life, and for the practice of law. Act on the assumption that most people are of good will and don't want to offend you or sabotage your work. Moreover, the folks who have (usually inadvertently) caused you discomfort will appreciate hearing from you first-hand rather than hearing of your disgruntlement from others. They can apologize or explain directly to you, rather than involving others or going through layers of bureaucracy. So respect yourself and respect others by talking with them. You'll probably be pleasantly surprised.
Thursday, October 3, 2019
It's never too late to make a difference…a positively meaningful difference...to improve academic performance for students, and, in particular, for underrepresented students.
You see, as demonstrated by social science research from psychologists Gregory Walton and Geoffrey Cohen, a sense of belonging - as a valued participant within a cooperative learning community - is critical to academic success.
Indeed, belonging changes lives.
And, there's more great news.
According to the research, just a "brief social-belonging intervention" can make all the difference. A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Improves Academic and Health Outcomes of Minority Students. And, that brief intervention is especially valuable for African-American students. Id.
So, here are the details, at least as I paraphrase the research findings.
Preliminarily, the researchers hypothesized that a brief intervention in the first week of undergraduate studies - to directly tackle the issue of belonging in college - might make a measurable impact with respect to academic performance and health outcomes. As background, previous research had suggested that a lack of a sense of belonging was particularly detrimental for academic success in college.
The research intervention was threefold.
First, the researchers directly shared survey information with students, showing that most college students "had worried about whether they belonged in college during the difficult first year but [they] grew confident in their belonging with time." Id.
Second, the students were encouraged to internalize the survey messages about belonging by writing a brief essay to describe "how their own experiences in college [in the first week] echoed the experiences summarized in the survey." Id.
Third, the students then created short videos of their essays...for the express purpose of sharing their feelings with future generations of incoming students, so that participating students would not feel like they were stigmatized by the intervention (but rather that they were beneficially involved in making the world better for future generations of incoming students - just like them). Id.
According to the research results, surveys in the week following the intervention indicated that participating students sensed that the intervention buttressed their abilities to overcome adversities and enhanced their achievement of a sense of belonging.
And, the impact was long-lasting, even when participating students couldn't recall much at all about the intervention.
The researchers then used the statistical method of multiple regression to control for various other possible influences.
As documented by their research findings, the intervention was particularly beneficial for African-American students - both in terms of improving GPA and also for improving well-being. In short, a brief intervention led to demonstrable benefits with students outperforming such traditional academic predicators such as standardized admission test scores. That's big news.
That brings us back to us ASPers!
As ASPers, we have a wonderful opportunity to engage in meaningful interventions...by sharing the great news about social belonging.
But, there's more involved than just sharing the news.
Based on the research findings, to make a real difference for our students, our students must not just see themselves - in the words of the research psychologists - as just "beneficiaries" of the intervention...but rather as "benefactors" of the intervention. Id.
In short, the key is to empower our law students with tools to share with future generations of students what they learned about adversity, belonging, and overcoming…and how to thrive in law school.
Wow! What a spectacular opportunity…and a challenge too!
P.S. Here's the research abstract to provide a precise overview of the research findings:
"A brief intervention aimed at buttressing college freshmen’s sense of social belonging in school was tested in a randomized controlled trial (N = 92), and its academic and health-related consequences over 3 years are reported. The intervention aimed to lessen psychological perceptions of threat on campus by framing social adversity as common and transient. It used subtle attitude-change strategies to lead participants to self-generate the intervention message. The intervention was expected to be particularly beneficial to African-American students (N = 49), a stereotyped and socially marginalized group in academics, and less so to European-American students (N = 43). Consistent with these expectations, over the 3-year observation period the intervention raised African Americans’ grade-point average (GPA) relative to multiple control groups and halved the minority achievement gap. This performance boost was mediated by the effect of the intervention on subjective construal: It prevented students from seeing adversity on campus as an indictment of their belonging. Additionally, the intervention improved African Americans’ self-reported health and well-being and reduced their reported number of doctor visits 3 years postintervention. Senior-year surveys indicated no awareness among participants of the intervention’s impact. The results suggest that social belonging is a psychological lever where targeted intervention can have broad consequences that lessen inequalities in achievement and health."
Tuesday, September 24, 2019
Last year, one of my international students brought to me a response she had written to a mid-tern exam question. She was wholly perplexed, because the professor had given her a low score on this particular response, and yet, even in looking at the notes the professor had written on her paper, she could not fathom where she had gone wrong. Bizarrely, the more the two of us discussed her essay, the more confused I became about why she had written what she had written. Finally, and wholly by accident, I stumbled across the source of the trouble. At one point the exam question referred to someone being "served", and my student had not recognized this usage as being connected with "service of process". The latter term she understood, but she read the off-hand and abbreviated statement that "X was served" as some form of hospitality, not legal action. ("Have some tea!") This was partly because English was her second language, and undoubtedly also partly because she did not grow up watching movie and TV shows in which frumpy anonymous operatives walk up to the protagonists, slap envelopes against their chests, and say, "You've been served!" For much of our discussion, it had not even occurred to me that this could be a source of confusion, and of course there was no way the student could have known it herself.
I thought about this episode last week, when I was attending a conference hosted by the NCBE, in which some of the presenters were discussing the ongoing evolution of the development of MBE and MEE questions. Part of that evolution includes the elimination, or at least minimization, of the use of terms whose meaning was not tied to the practice of law and might not be recognized by all of the examinees. An example given involved a torts question involving a car that had been damaged in a collision. In the original question, the defendant was identified as "Union Pacific", and it was apparent that the rest of the question was written with the assumption that examinees would recognize Union Pacific as a company that operated railroads, and that therefore the collision under consideration was between a car and a locomotive. The newer, improved version of the question simply referred to the defendant as "a railroad company", thus providing the information needed for proper analysis to all examinees.
Discussion at that point livened up a bit, as presenters and participants brainstormed about other terminology that question writers should considered changing in order to make their questions more accessible. These tended to fall into a few categories:
- References to people, businesses, locations -- generally, things that could be identified with proper nouns -- that might be recognized by some people (but not all people) as possessing some characteristic relevant to the legal analysis. For example, a question that named Gregory Hines as a plaintiff in a case in which his feet were injured might reflect the expectation that examinees would recognize Hines was famously a dancer, and that therefore a foot injury might generate greater damages to him than to an average person. A question that mentions "Reno" might rest on the assumption that everyone knows Reno is in Nevada and gambling is legal there.
- References to technology, fads, or news items from two or more decades ago that most of us who were alive and adult at that time would instantly recognize, but the significance of which might be totally lost on people currently in their 20s. A question that depends on the operation of an answering machine or the effect of a slap bracelet may only be accessible to a portion of the testing population.
- Specialized terms for everyday objects that nevertheless are not commonly used in conversation. A question that depends on knowing the difference between a banister and a balustrade, or between a lintel and a gable, is probably going to lose a portion of the examinees.
It can be hard, when writing exam questions or practice questions, to resist the temptation to make a clever reference or to give examinees the chance for a moment of recognition. But our tests are not supposed to be tests of any vocabulary but legal vocabulary. If an examinee misses the opportunity to demonstrate that he knows the appropriate rule, and can apply it skillful to relevant facts, because he did not have access to the full meaning of the fact pattern so that he could recognize the issue that leads to that rule, then the examinee has been unfairly denied a chance to shine.
Thursday, September 19, 2019
With a hat tip to Prof. Chris Lasch...
This week, a federal judge issued an order, finding that the New York State Board of Law Examiners is not immune under the Eleventh Amendment in a civil action by a bar exam applicant who was twice denied testing accommodations, alleging violations of federal disability law. T.W. v New York State Board of Law Examiners, Memorandum and Order, September 18, 2019, U.S. District Court E.D New York, Case 16-CV-3029 (J. Dearie).
According to the brief facts as stated in the court's memorandum of its order, the plaintiff failed the New York Bar Exam in her "first two tries, causing her to lose a lucrative job...and undermining her job prospects to date," although the plaintiff subsequently passed the New York bar exam when she was finally provided testing accommodations.
The plaintiff raises two federal statutes in support of her claim that the New York bar examiners violated her rights in failing to twice provide bar exam accommodations. First, the plaintiff asserts violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which, roughly speaking, prohibits discrimination by any program or activity that receives federal final assistance. Second, the plaintiff asserts violation of the Americans with Disability Act ("ADA"), which, broadly speaking and in relevant parts, prohibits discrimination by programs and activities by any public entity.
The New York bar examiners filed a motion to dismiss, contending that the federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over both of the plaintiff's federal statutory claims in that the State contends that the plaintiff's claims are barred by sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment, which, in general, prohibits suits in federal court against states absent an exception (two of which were raised by the plaintiff in response to the defendant's motion to dismiss).
First, with respect to the ADA statutory claim, the plaintiff asserted that Congress properly abrogated (or removed) state sovereign immunity when Congress adopted the ADA statute.
As indicated by the Court (and as tested in law school exams and bar exams too), Congress can remove sovereign immunity provided that Congress uses unmistakably clear language and provided that Congress adopted the statute at issue pursuant to congressional power to remedy and deter constitutional violations under Congress's post-Civil War 14th Amendment Section 5 power.
With respect to this issue, the New York bar examiners argued that Title II of the ADA was not enacted pursuant to a valid grant of constitutional authority as the commerce clause power, in and of itself, is constitutionally insufficient for Congress to abrogate state sovereign immunity. Despite the interesting constitutional arguments over this issue, the Court did not reach the constitutional issue with respect to the ADA, explaining that the plaintiff's claim under the Rehabilitation Act was sufficient to resolve this case because the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA have the "same legal standards and remedies." Thus, the Court focused only on whether to dismiss the plaintiff's claim under the Rehabilitation Act for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on Eleventh Amendment immunity.
Second, with respect to the Rehabilitation Act claim, the plaintiff asserted that the State waived its constitutional right under the Eleventh Amendment to not be sued in federal court when the State accepted federal funding for some of its state court programs.
As the Court stated in its decision, the Rehabilitation Act requires states to waive sovereign immunity as a condition of receiving federal funds for state programs for lawsuits brought in federal courts for violations of the Rehabilitation Act. Consequently, the Court next focused on whether the state waived its constitutional rights when the New York court system received, in part, federal funding.
In brief, the Court held that the New York bar examiners had waived sovereign immunity protections from lawsuit in federal court under the Rehabilitation Act because the New York bar examiners were organized as a sub-entity of the New York court system, which did receive federal funding, and therefore, the plaintiff's claim of violation of the Rehabilitation Act by the New York bar examiners could proceed to the next stage of litigation as the court has federal question subject matter over the plaintiff's claim.
With respect to this issue, the decision is a bit complicated and is fact intensive, as illustrated by the Court's citations out of Wisconsin, which indicate that the Wisconsin bar examiners are distant separate entities from the Wisconsin court system. In such cases, the particular government entity must intentional waive its sovereign immunity rights by receiving federal funding, which, apparently, the Wisconsin bar examiners did not.
Nevertheless, with respect to New York, the Court ruled that the New York bar examiners were a sub-compnent agency of the larger state court system such that the New York bar examiners are subject to lawsuit in federal court based on the Rehabilitation Act. As such, the Court denied the New York bar examiners motion to dismiss. Consequently, the plaintiff can proceed with a claim against the New York bar examiners in federal court for violation of the Rehabilitation Act.
For those of us in the academic support field, that raises an interesting question because, anecdotally, even in states using the identical Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), it seems as though there are wide differences with respect to granting disability testing accommodations. But, before you counsel students to sue state bar examiners in federal court for potential violations of the Rehabilitation Act, its important to underscore that that a case in federal court might well turn on a deep analysis of the organizational and legal structure of the bar examiners, specifically, whether they are a sub-entity of a state agency that is the recipient of federal funding. Many or some state bar examiners might not receive any federal funding and might well be independent of a state agency that does receive federal funding such that federal litigation might be precluded against state bar examiners.
Finally, for those of you working with law students (or bar exam applicants), this is a great case to raise with them because it interweaves federal civil procedure and constitutional law. Indeed, this is a problem ripe for a bar exam question. And, for those law students preparing for midterms in civil procedure or constitutional law, this is a great practice problem to test one's analysis.
Monday, September 9, 2019
What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. – William Shakespeare
Academic and employment titles vary greatly by school. Recent research, according to fastcompany.com, indicates that your job title can affect everything from your identity to your level of significance within your institution and your marketability for future positions. Law school monikers are widely varied and yet almost universally understood to denote status. Instructor, lecturer, adjunct, assistant, associate, executive, coordinator, director, dean, manager, professor – regardless of the job description, the job title suggests a hierarchical significance. But what may matter much more than our varied titles, is when students (and perhaps our faculty colleagues) fail to use them.
I have seen more professors than I can count turn to social media to vent about students not referring to them by their titles. Faculty who teach in law, medicine, humanities, and social sciences have recounted stories of students who refer to them e.g. as “Ms. Clarence”, or “Mr. Stacey”, or worse yet, by first name alone. The responses to this phenomenon of first name or titleless reference are as diverse as the individuals who experience it. I am aware that some faculty members allow, insist, or prefer that their students address them by first name. I fully respect professors’ right to dictate how they wish to be addressed. But barring an express invitation to do otherwise, a student’s refusal to address a professor by title signals (conscious or subconscious) disregard.
Consider the redacted text from an actual email I received from a law student last month:
I am [Name Withheld] a 2L. I was referred to you after speaking with Professor [Omitted] (who is copied on this message). . . . I would like to meet with the both of you to work on my writing.
Please let me know when we can meet.
To which I replied:
Hello [Name Withheld],
Thank you for reaching out to me and welcome back! I can meet with you on [date and time] in my office, which is located in the dean’s suite.
Please use my title and surname in your communications with me, just as you have with my colleague Professor [Omitted].
Thank you and I look forward to working with you.
I did not react to this email —or the countless other messages with similar salutation— with anger or frustration. I genuinely believe that the student was unaware of the status disparity conveyed by the lines of text in the email message. The student later apologized to me and we both carried on as nothing had happened. But this email is not an isolated incident. I hear students, and sometimes other faculty, refer to professors (most often female or minority faculty members) by first name.
Unfortunately, sometimes the titleless reference is intentional and, whether overt or in passive-aggressive stance, must be addressed. It must be addressed not for the sake of title, or even for the sake of the years of education and struggle it took to acquire said title. It must be addressed because status issues resound throughout the institution of higher education. The way we are addressed by our students and our peers is a reflection of perceptions about our status and our positional significance. After all, how can we teach our students the importance of developing professionalism skills, if we cannot insist on having our own professional identities recognized and respected?
Thursday, August 29, 2019
Much of the time, it seems to me, I am occupied with trying to reach the minds of our law students. But, perhaps that's putting the proverbial "cart before the horse." The cart, so to speak, is metacognition, or the process of learning to learn (practices such as spaced repetition and the implement of desirable difficulties throughout the course of one's learning). But, what might be the horse?
Well, a number of possibilities come to mind. There's been much research of late on the relationship between growth mindsets in predicting academic achievement. But, I think that there's another horse at play, a factor that might even serve as a necessary precondition for the development of such mindsets as grit, resiliency, and a growth mindset. In my opinion, that prerequisite is a well-formed sense of belonging...as empowered members of a vibrant learning community.
I love that word "belonging." It's chocked full of action with its "ing" begging us to be fully embraced (and to embrace others), despite all our blemishes and surprises. And, it starts with the prefix "be," which resonates and comes only alive within the present ongoing moments of community with others, indicating that this is something that we enjoy in the here and now rather than later. And, it's all-encompassing of the person, with its incorporation of the word "long," reminding me of arms outstretched, to be overtaken in the presence of others, to be accepted as we are...fully and completely (and to stretch our hearts around others within our midsts). In other words, the word "belonging" is full of action.
So, that brings up a few questions.
First, is belonging even much of a problem in law schools?
Second, what sort of spark might lead to the type actions that can then develop into a well-spring of belonging for our law students as members within learning communities?
Well, with respect to the first question, as Prof. Victor Quintanilla documents according to research at the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE): "[W]orries about belonging are endemic to law school." http://lssse.indiana.edu/tag/belonging/ That's the bad news. And, in my opinion, that's why many fall to the wayside. It's not because of LSAT scores or a lack of motivation. It's just darn difficult to succeed when you don't feel like you are a part of something, that you belong within the community, that you are welcome and embraced as vital law school participants.
But, there's great news to be had. Indeed, as Prof. Quintanilla further explains, the quality of one's relationships with students, faculty, and administrators significantly predicts one's sense of belonging in law school...and the strength of one's sense of belonging significantly predict's one's academic performance even controlling for traditional academic predicators such as LSAT scores. Id. In other words, "law school belonging is a critical predictor of social and academic success among law students." Id. (Quintanilla, et. al, in prep). And, that's great news because - as educational leaders in academic support - we can serve in the frontline of developing, strengthening, and securing our students in positive relationships with others throughout our law school's learning communities.
That brings me to our final quandary. How might we actually empower our students to be in vibrant relationship with others in law school?
In my own case, it means that I need to listen to my students. That I need to frequently pause to take in and hear and observe what's happening to my students, not as students, but as people. It means that I need to step up to the plate, so to speak, to proactively engage with my students. Nevertheless, with so much on our ASP plates, that sure sounds hard to implement.
So, here's an easy way that we might share with our students in order to help spark relationships that can then lead to a sense of belonging. It's called the "10/5 rule." Next time you're at your law school, when you come within 10 feet of another person, break out a brief smile. It doesn't have to be much, but it does have to be sincere. Then, when you're within about 5 feet of that other person, briefly recognize them with a short "howdy" or "hi." That's it.
You see, according to social science research, such actions of a brief smile lead to a sense of belonging, a feeling of inclusion, even, amazingly, if the other person doesn't even recall seeing your smile. See The Surprising Benefits of Chit Chat, Eye Contact, and a Hello for Law Students & ASP (and the 10/5 Rule)!
So, please join me in sharing a smile. It's a great way to not just brighten your day but brighten the lives of those around you. Indeed, who knows? Perhaps that brief smile that you just shared today (or will share in just a bit) will lead another to smile, and then another, and then a whole circles of smiles. And, isn't a circle of smiles the sort of spark that can create relationships that can lead to belonging and therefore might even help to empower successful learning? (Scott Johns).
Friday, August 16, 2019
2019 AASE Bi-Annual Diversity Conference
DePaul University College of Law, Chicago, Illinois
Thursday, October 3, 2019 through Friday, October 4, 2019
To register for the conference, please use this link: https://associationofacademicsupporteducators.wufoo.com/forms/z8he2cx03wfewy/.
Registration fee: $50
Registration Deadline: Wednesday, September 11, 2019 at 11:59 PM
There are 2 hotel choices. They are listed below with instructions for reserving your room. The room rates are available for October 2 – 5. The hotels are 1 ½ blocks from the conference.
Palmer House Hilton
Below is the hotel booking information for the Palmer House Hilton. Reservations can be made today online at the Palmer House Hilton booking website link below or guests can call referencing the conference hotel block code “DLU” . Reservations can be made until September 11th, 2019 at 4:00pm CT. The rate is 199.00 per night excluding tax. After September 11th the room block will be released and regular room rates will be apply.
Palmer House Hilton
Union League Club of Chicago
All participants in this year’s Academic Support Conference will also be housed at the Union League Club of Chicago. All reservations must be made by calling the Union League Club's reservation line: 800-443-0578. They will need to refer to the code, DePaul University College of Law: Annual Academic Support Conference. The room rate at the ULCC is 179.00 per night excluding surcharge. Reservations must be made no later than Monday September 2, 2019 after this date regular room rates will apply. The reservation line is open today.
Union League Club of Chicago
If you have any issues reserving a hotel room before the rate cut-off date, please contact Jamie Kleppetsch at email@example.com.
AASE is pleased to announce that we will be awarding a limited number of scholarships up to $800.00 per award recipient to attend the AASE Bi-Annual Diversity Conference on Thursday, October 3, 2019 through Friday, October 4, 2019, at DePaul University College of Law, Chicago, Illinois to cover the costs of airfare to the conference and hotel for two nights.
If awarded a travel scholarship, upon the presentation of travel cost receipts within thirty days of the end of the conference, ASSE will reimburse travel costs up to the amount awarded. Reimbursement will be paid via check or Paypal deposit, at the discretion of the scholarship recipient
Further information about the conference can be found at www.associationofacademicsupporteducators.org/conferencesevents.html.
AASE is aware that law school travel budgets are shrinking. In some cases, academic support professionals may not even have a travel budget at all. The purpose of the AASE Bi-Annual Diversity Conference is to further the professional development of the academic support community. To do this we need “you” at the conference.
To help subsidize some of the costs of attending the AASE Bi-Annual Diversity Conference, we will be awarding need-based travel scholarships. AASE members will be given preference when awarding travel scholarships. To become an AASE member, please go to www.associationofacademicsupportproessionals.org.
If you wish to apply for a travel scholarship, please submit the following information to firstname.lastname@example.org by September 3, 2019:
Email and phone number;
Describe your academic support responsibilities at your school;
State whether you are an AASE member;
Describe the circumstances evidencing a need for a travel scholarship;
State the amount of financial assistance being requested (please provide actual estimates [as close as possible] for airfare and hotesl; and
Provide any additional information you feel is relevant to your application.
If you have any questions regarding the above information, please contact:
Marla Dickerson, M.S., J.D.
Director of Prelaw, Academic Counselor, Instructor of Law, & ADA Coordinator
Office of Academic Support, Counseling, and Bar Preparations
Southern University Law Center
PO Box 9294
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70813
Phone: (225) 771-4913
Monday, July 1, 2019
Don't fight [challenges]. Just find a new way to stand. - Oprah Winfrey
The bar exam is 30 days away. It may feel like you have been prepping for the bar exam all your life instead of six weeks. The 30-day mark is a great opportunity to acknowledge that not all bar takers enter bar study on the same footing. Students without strong academic records may be riddled with self-doubt about their ability to pass. For repeat takers, the mental and financial exhaustion of bar study can be all the more discouraging when experienced a second or third time. Past negative experiences are setbacks of which bar study brings daily reminders. These setbacks are short-term, but under the lens of today, they may seem to indelibly mark one’s chance for future success.
Whether your setback was a previous bar exam failure, or not finishing law school with the ranking or job opportunity that you hoped for, there is a comeback in your future. Maybe your setback is trying to juggle a full-time job and raise a family, while your peers bask in the seeming luxury of full-time bar study and an arsenal of supplemental study aids. Whatever the setback, use it as the gateway to an epic comeback.
If we track the lives of great actors, athletes, political leaders, and other celebrities, we'll find some major comeback that catapulted their career success. Public figures who have mastered the art of the comeback transform their reputations and eradicate public recall of scandals, felonies, fraud, and political defeat. After a comeback, onlookers almost never remember the setback, that is because the setback is never as good or as lasting as the comeback.
Instead of allowing your setback-circumstances to shape your attitude or approach to bar study, let your setback elevate you to greater heights. Pledge today to reform your thoughts. You are not struggling through bar study. You are making your comeback.
Sunday, June 23, 2019
The phrase “diversity and inclusion” has become a societal and aspirational maxim. I fear the day that these words are said in such rote repetition that their mission and meaning will have become lost on society. I applaud the AASE Diversity Committee’s broad definition of diversity that includes, without limitation, race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religion, national origin, ethnicity, physical or mental disability, and socio-economic status. Today’s law faculty, administrators, and certainly academic support professionals, are committed to the mission of diversity and inclusion in legal education and in the practice of law.
Our law schools and our communities are filled with students who use household terms without recognizing their pejorative origins; professors who unknowingly misgender their students by using limiting pronouns; administrators who mistakenly call one person of color by the name of another. The list goes on and on and does not ever stop. These mistakes are not born of malintent, but of misunderstanding and misperception. Yet, it is not the mistakes or misjudgments that color us. Rather, it is how we deal with them when they inevitably arise that will shape us in our professional lives.
Although I consider myself to be particularly “woke” and egalitarian, an experience this week reminded me that in order to be truly diverse and inclusive, we must also expand our thinking and self-perceptions. Expansive thinking allows us to welcome viewpoints and historical realities of others of which we would not be otherwise aware. An involved and respected colleague shared, “it is important for us to assume that we will all miss stuff or get it wrong sometimes, but we want to learn to limit that as much as we can.”
The true nature of inclusive and expansive thinking frees us to live and work in an environment where we can readily share our perspectives to call out these human errors in others, and thoughtfully acknowledge and work to eliminate the same errors in our own acts and expressions. I am looking forward to the AASE Diversity Conference this fall to expand the limits of my own thinking and to learn from others who will purposefully address matters of diversity and barriers to inclusion.
I hope to see you all there!
Sunday, March 3, 2019
I attended the Houston session of the 2019 AccessLex Institute Regional Workshops for Law School Administrators. The workshop title was "The More You Know: Delivering Student Success." The one-day workshop was very interesting and worth attending.
This workshop topic is being repeated three more times in different locations: March 19 (Boston), March 21 (New York City), March 26 (Chicago). You can find out more about these events at the AccessLex website under the events tab: www.accesslex.org.
The workshop covered a variety of topics - some directly related to academic support and bar while others gave interesting information that provided institutional and higher education context. The workshop was attended by a diverse group of law school administrators from academic affairs, admissions, financial aid, academic support, bar preparation, career services, and more. The speakers from AccessLex Institute were very knowledgeable and well-prepared. There was plenty of time to ask questions and for members of the audience to comment and share.
The first session presented by Keinan Thompson updated us on the political landscape and legislative proposals. It gave a big picture context to our discussions for the remainder of the day. I had not been following the Prosper and Aim proposals at all closely, so this session gave an interesting background on the Congressional hot spots.
Laura McGhee then discussed the diversity pipeline and its impact on legal education. As the coordinator for my law school's pipeline program with a local high school, some of the data in this session was familiar, but the LSAT and merit scholarship information was particularly interesting. Also some of the resources on the AccessLex website may be helpful to readers: Roadmap to Enrolling Diverse Law School Classes; Diversity Pipeline Research Grant information.
The third session led by Tiffane Cochran was on the importance of data (even for non-data persons) was good information on sources. The Technology Tour over the lunch period also provided addition information on websites that could be helpful for data. AccessLex's Analytix is just one of the databases discussed.
Rob Hunter's session on Raising the Bar was a good reminder for those of us in academic support and bar preparation and a good primer on the challenges for others in attendance. Remember that AccessLex is now providing the Raising the Bar newsletter that is a good resource for ASP/bar professionals.
The financial aid session that Lyssa Thaden presented was informative for context regarding our students' financial challenges. Although I had worked in financial aid a number of years ago, the landscape has changed greatly. I benefited from the information about the student loan ins and outs. You may want to visit the website to learn about the Max financial education program and its resources if you are unfamiliar with that extensive information and partnership.
If you have a chance, make sure you check out resources and events from AccessLex. Many of you will remember Sara Berman, our ASP/bar prep colleague for many years, who is now the Director for Programs for Academic and Bar Success at AccessLex. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, January 17, 2019
As educators, we hold enormous power in our hands; power to change destinations and shape destinies.
Last fall, at the AccessLex Legal Education Research Symposium, Dr. Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio - Chair of the Executive Leadership Research Initiative for Women and Minority Attorneys at Harvard Law School - changed the way that I think when giving "performance reviews" to my students, whether in formal feedback, informally during class discussions, or during individual student meetings.
The best way to express what I learned is to hear directly from Dr. Checchi-Dimeglio as she describes her research on the power of performance reviews to shape career destinies: "Let me give you an example: the annual performance review. We’ve all been through it, either as a reviewer or as a reviewee. It can be dreadful because it's time-consuming and nerve-racking. What I found is women and minorities overall, were more likely to receive different types of feedback–more critical. Their successes were oftentimes attributed to luck. Based off of that, working with an organization, we came out with a new system that required more frequent performance reviews that would take less than fifteen minutes, where four to six people could be reviewed at the same time. The result was amazing." https://mgte.thefemalequotient.com
As I recall from her keynote address (with apologies if I don't remember precisely), Dr. Checchi-Dimeglio explained that she observed the interactions between supervisors (partners) and employees (junior associates) during performance reviews. Overall, Dr. Checchi-Dimeglio observed that performance review comments differed between male and females associates. In general, partners provided women with feedback focused on the past (leaving recipients with the message that this law firm wasn't the place for them); while, in contrast, partners provided men with feedback that was forward-looking (suggesting to recipients that there was work to do to improve performance but that the firm was in it for the long-haul with them, as exemplified by supervisory comments such as "you might try this to better persuade the court next time," etc). Based on these findings, Dr. Checchi-Dimeglio empowered supervisors with ways to retool their comments for all associates by focusing on the future rather than the past, regardless of gender. The results...retention significantly improved for women associates.
That brings me back to my role (our roles) as educators. Our comments can make a difference; our feedback can change paths. I often recall that I had a law professor who told me, point blank, that I would never be a litigator. I just didn't have what it took. That feedback stuck (and still sticks) to the heart. But, I had others who encouraged me, believed in me, and supported me. In short, their constructive feedback - focused on improving my performance with an eye to the future - won the day. I became a litigator. As a result of those experiences and in light of Dr. Checchi-Dimeglio's research as a behavioral scientist, my comments can make a truly positive difference for my students. Do I do it well? Not yet. But, I'm learning, one comment at a time...with an eye on my students' futures. (Scott Johns).
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
One thing that distinguishes law school culture from that of many other professional schools is the high percentage of people in student services who already possess the degree most of their students are trying to obtain. I have never done an exhaustive analysis (but woo hoo! Research opportunity!), but in my personal experience the majority of people working in law schools in the areas of Academic Support or Career Services are law school graduates, and so are a fair number of people working in areas like Admissions and Libraries. A quick dive into the Internet suggests that medical schools and business schools do not hire their own graduates for student services at nearly the same frequency. In fact, when I checked out the staff of five med school Academic Support units and five law school Academic Support units, no one in the med school units possessed an M.D., but each member of the law school units possessed a J.D.
There are no doubt many forces pushing towards this odd result for law schools. One that is practically taken for granted is the idea that someone who already possesses a J.D. is far better positioned than anyone else to really understand what new J.D. students are actually going through. Part of this assumption is perfectly practical: people who already have their law degree have presumably already learned all the elements unique to the practice of law. We can “think like a lawyer”; we can wield IRAC without effort; we understand federalism and common law and stare decisis and all the idiosyncrasies that our students have to contend with while navigating the rigors of study, time management, and exams. This is not to say that non-lawyers couldn’t provide wonderful support to law students. There is just a general belief that lawyers have a head start on understanding the context into which everything fits.
At the same time, law school alumni are apt to think that they can understand what law students are going through because the alumni were students once, too. We remember the dread of our first cold call in class; we remember plodding through civil procedure and constitutional law; we remember trying to juggle classes and law review and OCI all at the same time. Like military veterans of different eras, maybe we didn’t fight on the same battlefield, but our students don’t have to tell us what it’s like, man. We know.
Except . . . we don’t always know. We know a lot of things, to be sure; for me, not a day goes by that I don’t relate some student’s challenge to one of my experiences in law school. Education is always a boon. But the longer I do this work, the more I find that I have to work to find out what my students’ present experience is really like. This is in part because law school is always changing and evolving. Each class’s relationship to electronic research, for example, is just a little bit different from that of the previous class. Economics change, student populations change, hot button issues change. But these big changes, I think we do a fairly good job of staying on top of. In fact, sometimes it seems Academic Support is ahead of the curve, and can help bring other members of the law school community – for example, those whose specialties do not change much from year to year – up to speed on them.
What I really find myself having to pay more attention to each semester is my students’ day-to-day realities. Some of the mistakes I made when I first started providing academic support came about because I was taking a “one-size-fits-all” approach, and only with experience did I realize that it was really more like “one-size-fits-me”. I was teaching to my experience in law school.
Now, I am no longer satisfied knowing what classes my 1L students are taking each semester – I need to ask their individual professors for their syllabi, so I can know what topics they are hearing about each week, so I don’t assume that their Torts professor started off, like mine, with intentional torts, and therefore so I don’t pose a hypothetical that half my class can’t answer. I try to participate in student club events, like fundraisers or dinners, so I can hear about mundane practical issues – things like parking and child care and the timing of holidays – that I never thought about in school, but some of my students have to. I talk to other faculty and staff to find out the schedule of moot court and mediation competitions, visits from employers, and off-campus learning opportunities – stuff I was not particularly interested in myself when I was in law school – so I can better understand why a particular student might be coming to talk to me about a certain writing or time management issue. I seek opportunities to listen to students who come from different locations, cultures, and economic circumstances, so I can be aware of what going to law school now is like for them.
Being a lawyer means having been a law student, and having been a law student can be a tremendous advantage when your job is to help other law students. But having been a law student does not mean you have been all law students.
Sunday, August 12, 2018
Most of our law schools are seeing more non-traditional students arriving in our first-year classes. For many law schools, non-traditional students are still in a minority within the classroom when only a full-time program is available.
Those who are in their late 20's or early 30's tell me that they "feel different" and worry whether they have forgotten how to study and whether they will be accepted by those straight out of undergraduate education. And, because they have had jobs through which they were recognized for leadership and competence, they often state they feel a bit incompetent initially as they grapple with different law school study strategies. They may also have spouses and children to consider as they balance law school and life which makes their experience different from most younger students.
But even with these differences, many of the non-traditional students in these age groups will not "stand out" to their classmates as particularly older once they don the casual law student dress. They will blend pretty seamlessly into the whole. (And even when they show up with children in tow, many law students who are missing their own younger siblings, nieces, and nephews will delight at the chance to babysit while mom/dad goes to class or attends a meeting.)
The over-40 non-traditional students are the ones who most often have conversations with me about whether they will "fit in" and whether they will be "outsiders" among their much younger classmates. Today it is not unusual for law students to start in their 40's, 50's, or 60's after first careers. Most of them look older physically - they have earned those wrinkles or gray hairs. Even donning casual garb will not hide the fact that they are older. Their concerns about remembering how to study and feelings of initial incompetence are usually double or triple compared to their non-traditional colleagues in their 20's and 30's. After all, most of these older students have been out of a classroom for 20 years or more and were the supervisors and managers who "knew how to do it all" in past careers.
The good news is that older non-traditional students do fit in and are welcomed by members of their first-year class. Older non-traditional students often remark that "it is all about attitude." Here are some tips for transitioning from older non-traditional students with whom I have worked:
- Make the first move to be friendly. Law students who are much younger may not know how to start the conversation because they see you as more accomplished and worldly.
- Be humble about your accomplishments. You have garnered lots of accolades, titles, and professional recognition in your prior non-law life. Unless you are put on the spot with a pointed question, understatement is probably best initially to put others at ease.
- Use your experience to be a role model for collegiality, not competition. Be supportive, encouraging, and helpful when you can. Ask for help when you need it. Let others know that you consider yourself one of their colleagues and value collegiality.
- Participate in class with relevant examples from your experiences when those comments can add to the discussion or move the class forward. Be careful not to gratuitously tout your expeiences, however.
- Volunteer in class when others do not, but do not become the "crutch" allowing your fellow students not to prepare because they know you will always be prepared. You may indeed know the answers most days, but they need to be challenged to participate as well.
- Join law school organizations and participate in some of the events of your 1L class. You may have less free time because of family commitments, but devote some time to law school life outside the classroom.
- Your main cadre of friends may be other older non-traditional students, but stay open to friendships with a variety of students. Law school organizations, study groups, and other opportunities will be available to expand your friendships.
- Realize that, depending on your actual age, you may become a "big brother/sister, mom/dad" figure for some of your classmates. That is actually a compliment. Your experience and advice are being recognized. You may be just the mentor that someone younger needs.
- Be yourself. If jeans and a T-shirt are not your style, dress as you are comfortable - even if it is dressier than your colleagues. If loud parties are not your thing, avoid them and join in at other times. If family outings are your relaxation, ask others to meet your family and join in the fun.
- Be sensitive to your law school's etiquette. Some professors call everyone "Mr" and "Ms" and want to be addressed as "Professor" no matter the student's age category. Other professors use first names freely with older students (or all students). Let the professor/administrator indicate the desired form of address to avoid an unintentional faux pas.
- Be patient with yourself as you master legal study. Do not compare yourself to "quick, young minds" or lament "I wish I did this years ago." You are learning a new language, a new way to think, a new way to write, and a new way to be tested. You are reviving academic skills that might be rusty and learning new study strategies.
Law school over-40 can be a wonderful ride. Many legal concepts link to your practical life experiences: apartment leases, real estate purchases, car loans, employment contracts, income tax returns, drafting wills, and more. You challenge yourself to new ways of seeing the world around you. You discover specialty legal areas and possible legal career paths you never knew existed. You have a break of sorts between careers. You meet classmates who will be life-long friends and professional colleagues. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
On Monday, March 5, the first day of the week-long spring break, the campus of Michigan State University welcomed several different visitors. You most certainly may have heard about the event through various news outlets but if you did not, then here is a link to a local news outlet in case you missed it.
During spring break, most of our students are out of the building but a few stick around to work on projects, outlines, prepare for competitions, and/or simply hope to get ahead before the semester recommences. All students cannot afford to go home or on a trip several times a semester or year, few stay local by choice. For those who stick around for whatever reason and who may have lost focus due to the events on campus, a number of alternative events were planned by various entities at the university. However, it was equally as important to the law students that they have something specific to support the law student constituency group. The Black Law Student Association with the support of Diversity and Equity Services Office created an alternative event titled “MSU Law BLSA Unity Space.” The program was intended to serve as an individual or group study time with inclusive conversation and food.
I showed up at the law school event because I am the student organization adviser and was in the building. As expected, there were few students in attendance and the event was free-flowing. It was a great community building event, with not much studying. First-year students met upper-level students from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Students ate and connected with other students from their state of origin. At this event, I realized that I interact, on an individual basis, with students from different social groups who do not typically interact with one another. Students shared advice about courses, law school experiences, summer opportunities, feelings of isolation and alienation, and negative classroom experiences. We also engaged in more serious conversations about protests, history, voices, law school citizenship, and empowerment. The event was more than what the organizers and participants anticipated. Some students were curious about what was occurring on campus and followed the protests and speech on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. The event went beyond the anticipation of both organizers and participants.
The comfortable setting enabled students to ask administrators about their experiences in law school which lead to candid conversations. Students appeared elated, realizing that administrators were human beings with conflicts and challenges. It humanized us all. Administrators for student engagement, career services, and the Dean stopped by to interact with students. I had the opportunity to meet and speak with students I have never previously interacted with. Our students are so talented and it was great to learn about their talents, knowledge, and interests. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
The National Black Law Student Association (NBLSA) was "formed to articulate and promote the needs and goals of Black law students to effectuate change in the legal community." Founded in 1968 at the New York University Law School, NBLSA can trace its roots back to Algernon Johnson (“AJ”) Cooper--the former mayor of Prichard, Alabama--who sought "to increase the number of culturally responsible Black and minority attorneys who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community." Now in its 50th year, NBLSA has grown to one the largest student-run organizations in the country.
Although NBLSA has made huge progress in advancing its mission, African Americans still remain underrepresented in the legal community. Today, African Americans account for approximately 13% of our nation's population. Yet, according to the American Bar Association, less than 10% of law students and just 5% of the nation's licensed attorneys are African Americans. Hopefully, with a continued emphasis on diversity, inclusion, and cultural competencies both in legal education and the legal employment field, we can begin to close the representation gap. (Kirsha Trychta)
Monday, February 5, 2018
While I don’t consider myself old, I am starting to tell stories about “the good ole’ days.” Days where I was taught to ride a bike by being pushed down the street and then my uncle let go. I crashed, got up, probably cried about not wanting to continue, and then was forced to get back on for the next attempt. My mom recalls that she was taught to swim by being thrown in a lake and told to swim back to survive. Those are terrible parenting strategies (and probably exaggerations), but I do find myself telling my kids “we don’t say I can’t in this house” right before a huge meltdown struggle. A key message was to overcome obstacles.
Now is the time in both bar prep and the semester where I see students psychologically disadvantaging themselves with the wrong perspective. Bar takers are struggling with recent simulated MBE results. My last semester 3Ls are struggling through their MBE homework. The pain of multiple choice is high right now. Many students will shy away from more work that illustrates they are not doing well.
Despite the current despair, my hope is everyone possesses a get back on the bike attitude, even if they are wailing. Unfortunately, I am concerned we (including myself) are not teaching perseverance as well at all levels of education. I fear our students aren't getting back on the bike due to their perspective of their own ability.
Students constantly receive messages from society, law school, and peers about their ability. If students don’t receive instruction on how to overcome those obstacles before law school, schools should start overtly teaching how to overcome very real obstacles. Some law schools’ demographics include students who constantly receive messages that they are not good at certain types of questions. Research is clear that girls at young ages are as capable, if not better, at math than boys. As kids grow up, societal messages and images tell young women they are not good at math. This results, along with many other factors, with less women in STEM fields. Many of our students experience the same phenomenon. Schools with lower credentials have a student body who were told by the LSAT that they aren’t good at multiple choice tests, and many of those students were subsequently told by some law schools, through rejection letters, that they weren’t good enough on multiple choice tests to attend. Limited options to unranked law schools sends messages of inferiority before students are even in chairs.
Students of historically marginalized groups attending those schools face even greater challenges. Stereotype threat, not seeing many peers like themselves, and discovering statistics about group performance sends additional messages of limited chances of success. The explosion of easily accessible information through social media and the internet only exacerbates this problem.
My anecdotal perspective is that some students receiving these messages are ill-equipped to navigate the negative environment, which in many ways is not students’ fault. Between helicopter parenting and YMCA sports (only half-joking), some law students haven't faced real challenges or losing before law school. They haven't been exposed to the need for a Growth Mindset. I always talk about improvement and the goal is to get better, but anecdotally, I have heard more students say they aren’t good at multiple choice questions over the last few years. I try to tell students about a growth mindset, but I don’t think it registers to them that saying they are bad at a certain type of question is a form of the fixed mindset. The confirmation of certain classes from law school make overcoming this idea difficult.
Overcoming failures is critical to success in law school, the bar exam, and the practice of law. Not only do we need students to acquire persistence for success now, we are doing a disservice to them if we let them practice law without the ability to handle defeat. I am committing to be more overt about my messaging on improvement and growth mindset. I specifically tell students the statement “I am bad at multiple choice questions” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and hurts their scores. I plan to continually talk about the obstacles in practice and how to learn to handle them now. I will show them how they improve and how improvement is the goal. I want my students to enter the profession with the ability to continue to advocate for their client in spite of continuously losing motions. Hopefully those skills will help them be more professional lawyers.