Monday, September 11, 2023
I would be remiss if I did not start this entry by taking a moment to remember 9/11/2001 and everyone and everything we lost on that day. It was a day where the sky was impossibly blue. We lost so much: loved ones, security, peace, and years of reform on police profiling. We have tucked some of the new normal of the aftermath into our everyday jeans, but it changed us, and I am not sure I can even accurately remember some aspects of life before it as well as I can remember parts of that day that are as clear in my mind as the sky was that morning.
I spent some time over the last weekend on various sized boats that carried passengers and cars. On the larger ferry, we drove the car onto the boat and left it there--we put it in park, turned off the engine, locked it, and took a seat on the boat itself. It was clear to me that someone else was in charge of moving us along and that was fine. On the smaller ferry, we just drove onto the boat and sat in the car. To be very clear, I am not a great boat person (I start feeling a bit queasy standing on a dock…), but I preferred the large ferry even though the ride was longer.
What I didn’t like about the small ferry, despite it being a much shorter journey, was the sense that everything about controlling the car was right there-the steering wheel, gas pedal, brakes-but I had no choice but to sit there while it seemed that the roadway was moving without any input from me. It freaked me out a bit to be in a car that was being moved when I had all the indicia of power to move it but could not engage them. Driving off the boat was also a strange feeling: now I did have control, but I wasn’t sure I knew the route once we hit land.
I wonder if our 1Ls feel this way. I remember in my first year of law school often feeling like classes were moving forward but that I was not in charge of where they went, or how fast they’d go, and even when they would stop. And yet, at the end of the class, I’d have to immediately know where to go next or I’d cause a back-up.
First year classes seem to start so abruptly that even what is intended to be a gradual entry can seem like a full immersion that occurs before students are even aware that it is happening. As ASP faculty, we need to remember to tell students that this weird feeling of both being in and out of control is normal. Yes, they have done the reading and come to class ready to take great notes, but sometimes it is going to feel like you are just sitting there being moved along until you reach the shore and then, before you know it, you have to know where to go next with what you learned along the way. We need to acknowledge and reassure students that it (justifiably!) feels strange at the beginning--because it is.
We also need to assure students that they are not alone in feeling this way—and that after a few trips, they will feel like regular commuters. They will see the rhythm of classes and have a muscle memory of getting ready to enter and then leave the vessel. But, most importantly, we also need to tell students that if this unsettled feeling lingers for too long, ASP is a lifeline and that we will help them try to catch up rather than be left in the wake of a boat that is going to continue its set journey.
And yes, they may feel queasy for a bit, but that too will pass.
Sunday, April 16, 2023
This year’s topic is a broad one – Transitions. (Logistically, yes, it means the names on this call are a wee bit different than what you’ve seen in past years.)
Broadly, colleagues may view this call as an invitation to think about macro-level transitions. What should academic and bar support programs do at this current moment, where transitions abound: (1) a transition out of COVID-impaired and back to largely in-person legal education and academic and bar support (and what we resolve to take from it), especially for the Class of 2023; (2) the critical transition from the current Uniform Bar Exam to the NextGen bar exam, and its implications for pre-equipping the Class of 2026 and subsequent classes now; or (3) a transition for legal education into a period of applicant downturn and larger economic headwinds.
Others may view this call as an invitation to think about smaller-scale transitions. Specifically, how can we help this generation of platform-native students transition between or within academic and bar tasks: absorption to resource creation; exam reading to outlining to writing; legal reading, writing, and synthesis in law school to exam-speed counterparts; virtual connection to in-person community support and accountability? Between law school world and their external obligations, especially for first-generation students who often bear the weight of both their own individual worlds and family or household responsibilities?
Still others may view this call as an invitation to transition our expectations for the viability, status, and balance of our profession. How can we ease the transition for new ASPers from their previous professional success to full-time ASP work? Facilitate a transition from our current levels of status (or lack thereof) to better ones? From the trenches with students towards strategic planning and implementation? From an existence that more than occasionally exploits our trademark help-the-students-at-all-costs, can-do attitude to one that is more equitable and more respective of our boundaries as healers and human beings?
The workshop will take place virtually on Friday, May 5, from 1:00 to 4:00 PM Eastern.
We’ll divide the afternoon into three sessions (with short breaks in between):
- The first session will address transitions most closely related to academic success;
- The second session will address transitions most closely related to bar success;
- The third session will address potentially broader cultural, institutional, or status-related transitions.
We hope to feature two or three discussion topics (or “vignettes”) during each session. Proposals from those interested in leading a discussion should summarize, in one or two paragraphs, the nature of the transition, and then pose two or three questions for the group’s consideration as we collectively grapple with the subject matter. We hope, in this way, to bring to bear the breadth of our experiences, viewpoints, insights, and abilities to find a way forward through the transition.
Please RSVP to attend the workshop—and submit proposed discussion topics—using this form, by Tuesday, April 25, at 5:00 PM Eastern. Because this is not a formal conference and will take place virtually, there’s no fee to attend. We’ll send out a finalized workshop agenda and Zoom details when we confirm who will attend and what specific topics our discussion leaders will present.
Monday, March 13, 2023
Academic Support and Bar Prep educators are among the hardest working people I know. We are selfless student supporters. We are scholars. We are generous with our work, praise, and time. As a group, we would probably be voted “Most Likely to go Above and Beyond” in a fictional law school yearbook. However, one accolade we are not going to get in this fictional yearbook (at least at this moment) is “Most Likely to get Tenure.”
We need to go above and beyond on our own behalf to gain the job equity, security, and salary that recognizes the work we do. We need to take a small fraction of our focus and use it for ourselves and each other.
In about two weeks, you will get two surveys from AASE. One is for you individually, and the other for your institution. If you are the director of your program, you should fill out one of each, if not, please only fill out the individual survey and nag your director to fill out the institutional survey for your school. If you don’t see the survey by April 1st, please contact AASE at: [email protected] and we will send you the surveys.
Here’s the thing, we all need this data. We need to know who we are and how we are doing as a group. We need to know what job security looks like for us --or if there is any at all. We need to know how much we are being underpaid compared to other groups of law school faculty. Knowing what we all do both in and outside of the ASP realm is important. Knowing what we teach, how often, and when we teach it, is incredibly valuable information. I know it seems intrusive, and my mother would often say that asking about salary is just “tacky,” but our institutions will be looking for this information when we propose a change.
Data is how the legal writing community successfully waged their tenure battles. Numbers seem like unlikely armaments, but at the moment, they are the tools we need. When the results of the survey are presented at the AASE conference in May, please do not be the person listening and thinking, “they haven’t captured my situation.” We want to capture you (not in a kidnapping or any other creepy way, you know what I mean….hopefully…). We want the team photo of "ASP educators with tenure" to be big enough to need a full page spread in future yearbooks.
Getting the appropriate and earned equity, security, and pay for our community will be a numbers game. Please play.
Monday, February 13, 2023
I have spent the last few months helping to draft an internal document for my law school that is supposed to evaluate the current state of the entire upper-level curriculum and make some recommendations based on those assessments. I will preface my list below by stating that my school has been amazingly cognizant of the issues we’ve raised, but my little committee also did some outside research that identified these general issues. Writing this report has been both an overwhelming and incredibly nebulous task, but here are some things I’ve learned on the way to dropping off those 37 pages of love off to the higher powers:
- Some of our recommendations aren’t going to matter much if the NextGen bar exam is adopted by our state bar. No one will need to take Secured Transactions anymore….
- Students in academic distress will tend to stay there (Newton’s Law of Academic Warning?) because while we are (understandably) concerned about them passing the bar, we are sending them to classes that are quite similar to the ones that caused the initial distress. More big classes where the curve is required are not the answer to doing poorly in big classes where the curve is required. It is like giving students who are stuck in a ditch a shovel rather than a ladder.
- We should try to ensure that every student, and especially those in academic distress, has as many different types of legal instruction as possible: doctrinal, skills-based, experiential, transactional, etc. Students who are limited will not see themselves as lawyers, just mediocre law students. This isn’t good for their confidence while still in law school and it could honestly exacerbate mental health issues. If a large class, with a curved exam, that employs lectures doesn’t work for a student, why make that a big chunk of what they need to take to continue in law school?
- Smaller classes would most likely benefit both students and faculty. I think this is particularly true of classes required for students in academic difficulty, but I do not want my report to be the reason our Dean is sneaking out of the building to buy lottery tickets. Sure, more funding for all of this would be great, but then law school tuition would be out of reach for most and that is exactly what we are trying to avoid.
- While writing this report was time-consuming and sometimes frustrating, it is worthwhile to take the time to see where we are and make recommendations (big and small) that can take us to a better place. Sure, some of what we recommended was purely aspirational, but if the Dean gets the Powerball jackpot, you never know what is possible….
Wednesday, December 7, 2022
That's my summary of a wonderful article sharing a helpful learning practice and the reasons behind it. In the article, Prof. Dawn Young at the University of Idaho shares that "working a hypo a day can help you grow a gigantic analytical muscle" because the daily practice helps organize thoughts, see patterns, and learn exam analysis skills. I wholeheartedly agree. Here's the link for the details: Brunette, J, "3 Reasons a Hypo a Day will Keep Bad Grades Away," National Jurist (Nov. 30, 2022) (quoting and referencing Prof. Dawn Young). (Scott Johns).
P.S. And, if you're in the midst of final exams, as many of you are at present, there's still ample time to start the habit, today. In fact, starring at your outlines, trying to memorize them, is not near as useful as using your outlines to solve hypes and past final exam problems. So take charge of your learning by courageously tackling and experiencing problems before you take on your remaining final exams.
Friday, October 28, 2022
In late August, ASU Law Professor Charles Calleros wrote a guest post calling for essay submissions describing different law schools’ academic support programs.
As described before, the purpose of this project is to assemble a number of those descriptions to demonstrate the many ways law schools can commit to their students’ success by investing genuinely and substantially in a robust academic support program. A Short Series of Blogs. He noted that future contributions to this project would include guest posts by Jacquelyn Rogers (Southwestern) and Louis Schulze (FIU), and he invited others to contribute towards a larger piece. Those interested in contributing to the project should send a draft to me at [email protected].
In the meantime, Louis Schulze’s description essay can be found HERE.
Monday, October 24, 2022
Here are some reasons why this is, in fact, the scariest time of year for all the folks haunting the hall at a Law School:
- Bar results- have come out (or are coming out soon). Sigh. It is usually a roller coaster of: “wow, I am so happy for you,” followed by a dip into, “let’s get organized for February….” For some ASP folks, this is an annual employment evaluation. I have written about how unfair this is in the past. It is still terrifying.
- Midterms -both the elections and the exams. This is likely the first exam our students will encounter and it will blow them away regardless of the warning and advice we have given them. The exams will be, despite our spoilers about them, truly unexpected. Like the elections, I guess we need to wait and see where the blame will fall on those…
- The loss of focus/motivation- first year students have forgotten why they wanted to be lawyers and have hit a wall in terms of their ability to focus on the material or the light at the end of this tunnel.
- The loss of sunlight- I did remind myself in late June to relish the days where the sun seemed to set after 9:00 p.m., and then, of course, didn’t. I miss it now though-and the darkness early in the morning doesn’t help either. Also, this is going to get worse before it gets better. And colder. And snowy….(if you are from a place where the cold/wet/snow thing does not happen, you may sit there smugly, but I don’t want to hear about it.)
- The way time speeds up- Thanksgiving is in a month. A month. How was the month of September over 3 years long and October is just a blink?
- Bugs- COVID, flu, malaise, colds. My personal favorite is when a maskless student comes right up to me before, during, or after class and tells me they are not feeling well. If I could back up and disappear into the whiteboard, or even scale the walls like Spiderman, I would….
- Mental Health- see numbers 3, 4 (ok, all of them) above as contributing factors. This is the time of year when already existing (and new) symptoms of mental health ailments surface. No one currently in law school has had a smooth course of education over the past years, and a return to normal-ish processes is a lot for everyone, but we should be taking strong precautions to preserve mental health similar to the way we protect ourselves from item 6 above.
- Everything everywhere all at once- (not the movie) see items 1-7 above and add: commuting, family stuff, over-extension (I see you my ASP friends), exhaustion, grading, etc. etc. etc.
I’d love to say that candy is our salvation here, but alas my primary care physician says that is not true. But what does she know-she’s only a doctor…
Thursday, September 8, 2022
"Too often facts around me change, but my mind doesn't. Impervious to new information, I function like a navigation system that has missed a turn but won't re-route," writes attorney Mike Kerrigan in a story about "A Sweet Lesson From Pie," WSJ (Sep. 8, 2022).
I suspect that is true of most of us. But why? In my own case, my stubborn mind clings to the facts as I know them because, to admit that facts have changed and a new course of "navigation" is required is in someways to admit that I'm a human being, frail in more ways that I wish to admit.
I think that is especially a challenge in legal education and for bar exam authorities. We cling to the past because that's all we know and, to be frank, sometimes all we want to know.
Take legal education. We know that learning requires much from our students and from us. But many of our classes go on despite the new facts that have emerged from the learning sciences. Louis N. Jr. Schulze, Using Science to Build Better Learners: One School's Successful Efforts to Raise Its Bar Passage Rates in an Era of Decline, 68 J. Legal Educ. 230 (2019)., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2960192
Take the bar exam. The best available data suggests that there is a dearth of evidence to support a relationship between bar exam scores and competency to practice law. Yet we cling to the past. Putting the Bar Exam on Constitutional Notice: Cut Scores, Race & Ethnicity, and the Public Good (August 31, 2022). Forthcoming, Seattle University Law Review, Vol. 45, No. 1, 2022, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4205899
I've made lots of wrong turns in my career, my work, and in my life. To keep on going in the wrong way gets me no closer to where I should be going. So let's give ourselves and each other the freedom to be changed, the freedom to travel a new path, the freedom to, in short, be curious, creative, and courageous about our work in legal education, on the bar exam, and in life in general. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, September 1, 2022
I sometimes look through SSRN for articles from the past to help me better see the present and what might work best for the future for our students. That being said, I am often troubled in pursuing past research because so little action has tended to take place in consequence of the revelation that people shared so publicly and wisely with us in the past. I think that's true in academic support and bar passage. A not-so-long-ago article from 2004 makes the point, I think. Day, Christian C., Law Schools Can Defeat Our Bar Pass Problem - Do the Work!. California Western Law Review, Vol. 40, p. 321, 2004, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=563923
In brief, Prof. Day's thesis is that it's largely up to us, as legal educators, to think, strategize, organize, and implement educational experiences that best help our students enter the professor as attorneys. And, if I may add, I think it is up to see as legal educators to challenge the status quo story about the bar exam as a neutral non-biased arbiter of competency to practice law.
First, let me start with Prof. Day's suggestions as to how law school educators might better tackle bar issues (and I quote):
- The dean and the faculty should lead the battle.
- Recognize and support students who learn differently.
- Recognize that the law does not come easily for most. Professors must teach students to see what professors may have seen almost intuitively.
- Law schools can prepare students for the bar by teaching them the law.
- Law schools should encourage students to take "bar courses" for a grade and be prepared to counsel them if their work is poor in these courses.
- Law professors should concentrate on creating relevant essay exams and not create multiple choice questions too prepare students for the bar.
- Law schools should identify and assist students who come to law school with bad study habits learned in hight school an d college.
- Law schools must produce better legal writers by improving essay exam writing.
- Law schools must give students better feedback regarding their performance.
- Law schools should stress the importance of the bar exam to students.
- Law schools should advise students to get their financial and personal lives in order to pass the bar.
- Law schools should counsel graduates who failed the bar and offer recommendations to improve their chances.
- Law schools should keep detailed statistics to pinpoint students at risk.
- Law schools must "bit the bullet" with their retention policies.
- Law schools should create and maintain strong academic support offices.
- Law schools can offer special, non-credit, bar prep courses.
- Law schools should limit or phase-out take-home and open-book exams.
- Schools might consider grading on the curve.
- Law schools should crate more small sections in basic courses.
- Law schools may have to reduce some of their offerings in order to make certain their students are grasping the basis.
- Schools should eliminate "Pass/Fail" grades except in the most limited circumstances.
- Last, but not the least reinstate and enforce attendance policies. Id.
I'm sure that there's not agreement as to all of these suggestions; they are, after all, just suggestions. But from the high altitude view it seems to me that Prof. Day challenges us as legal educators to take seriously our role in training students for holding licenses as legal practitioners. That's a high calling.
Second, as legal educators, I believe that we have an obligation to understand, analyze, and to improve the educational experiences of our students and to challenge the status quo. I'm sort of a radical, as some of my prior writing might suggestion. https://papers.ssrn.com/ When authorities make claims, I doubt. That's why I appreciated a very recent article challenging the story that the bar exam is a neutral instrument. DeVito, Scott and Hample, Kelsey and Lain, Erin, Examining the Bar Exam: An Empirical Analysis of Racial Bias in the Uniform Bar Examination (January 26, 2022). University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4018386
I'll let you dig into the details but pay particular attention to the appendix because that's a particularly glaring spotlight on the lack of transparency about the relationship between the bar exam and race & ethnicity. In brief, the appendix surveys publicly available data from 56 jurisdictions (the 50 states plus the District of Columbia and the 5 territories) and only one jurisdiction routinely provides data regarding bar exam results and race. That state is California. That seems revealing to me. It's as though there's no problem because we don't report a problem. Yet, the thrust of the article, convincingly to me, is that the authors took the time to put in the "elbow grease" to analyze the limited data available and what they learned is not good at all. Take a close read at that article. It too is well worth your time.
All in all, these two articles, among many others, suggest that we ought not be silent. That we have obligations to question, to speak up, to debate, to analyze, to understand, and to advocate. In short, we have a high calling as academic support professions. A very high calling indeed. And one in which all of our voices are needed. (Scott Johns, Denver Law).
Monday, August 15, 2022
Welcome back to the Law School Academic Support Blog! I hope you have had (or are still having) a wonderful summer. I feel like the waves of fall are starting to crash on my shore at this time of year, but it is, like the ocean, also familiar and soothing.
There is this great catchy tune, “Bang!,” that one of my kids introduced me to by a band called AJR. It sounds very ‘80’s which is probably why it appeals to me so much-but my absolute favorite part of it is that they had the guy who does the NYC Subway announcements do some voice work in it-and that, to me, sounds like home. No, he doesn’t say, “stand clear of the closing doors,” but his voice is utterly unmistakable when he says, “here we go.”
As we gear up for another fall (I can hear it approaching like a train into the station), we should remember that our voice as Academic Support professionals is unique in the law school setting. We may be the first voice students hear as they begin their journey, or a voice they hear when they are struggling later, or, hopefully, the voice on the stage cheering the loudest when they graduate. They will also hear us when they are studying for, taking, passing, or re-taking bar. Some students will never even know we were here-and that’s fine-but not due to any lack of trying to be seen and heard on our part. We are, in short, the center of the known universe for law students in it for the long haul with each new class that comes our way.
After a summer of blissful academic productivity-eh, who am I kidding? After a summer of having more downtime and slightly fewer students, I am printing out academic calendars, migrating materials on BlackBoard, and updating syllabi. I have found a great pending U.S. Supreme Court case that will be argued in October for my undergraduates to concentrate on for our final assessment (it has pictures, and Prince!!). I guess I am ready… -ish.
I know I feel both the dread and the excitement of a new academic year coming at me. I’ll miss the flexible schedule-and my ratty everyday sandals-tremendously, but I am also excited to meet new students and get into the rhythm of the school year. So, let’s be sure to end our summers with a bang and get ready for what’s coming.
To quote Bang!,
“So put your best face on, everybody
Pretend you know this song
Everybody come hang
Let's go out with a bang
Bang! Bang! Bang!
(Here we go)”
And, as always, stand clear of the closing doors.
 He also says the word “metronome,” but that is inconvenient for this blog post.
 Which we seem to be abandoning shortly, most likely because I have finally mastered it.
 Andy Warhol Found. for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith, 11 F.4th 26 (2nd Cir. 2021). So much for my joke that the F.3d was a pop-up version-I suppose we have moved on to smell?
Thursday, June 2, 2022
"As it turns out, there's a way to improve student learning that even sullen teenagers won't complain about: Give them financial incentives to study hard:" so says Harvard economist Roland Fryer based on research in about 290 schools with about 36, 000 students. Fryer, R., "How to Make Up the Covid Learning Loss: Paying Students for Attendance, Behavior, and Homework Can Boost Achievement, WSJ (May 31, 2022).
In the article describing the research team's results, the author suggests that the key was targeting inputs (reading assignments, being in class, completing homework) rather than outputs (exam scores or results) because many students don't feel like they can control results but that inputs are within their control. Id. All told, to put such an incentive to work in public schools would cost about $700 per year, which the author suggests (in my words) is small change compared to the roughly $13,000 on average spent per student per year for education.
I'm not so sure that paying students to read, practice, and learn makes sense because it feels like it's devaluing to the learning experience. However, "the research team found that students' achievements remained elevated even after our incentives were removed." Id. And, as the author suggests, we pay people to work so why not pay students to learn?
It's an interesting question. But truth be told, regardless of the daily incentives to learn, the key determinate for success in this large scale experiment was engaged learning on a daily basis. So, I think that the lesson for us in legal education is to incentivize learning to learn - not through cash incentives - but through making the learning experience challenging joyful and productively meaningful. That's hard work but that's our job.
As a suggestion on how to help incentivize learning, try building within your curriculum learning exercises using news events that relate to the subjects that students are studying. So, for example, in a tort class, one might explore possible product liability claims against companies manufacturing pulse oximeters because research indicates that the widespread use of these devices to determine whether one needed critical covid-19 care is racially biased, leading to under diagnosis of significant populations and likely premature deaths. Mosbergen, D., " Pulse Oximeters are Less Accurate Among Black, Hispanic, and Asian Covid Patients, WSJ (May 31, 2022). Oh, and there's another legal issue lurking in this article: "The Food and Drug Administration last year warned of potential pulse oximeter inaccuracies when used on people with dark skin pigmentation, but didn’t change the way it regulates the devices." Id. In other words, are there any constitutional issues against the regulatory authority?In other words, tie what we learn in the books to how we can use it to help others, now.
That's an incentive that I can buy in to. (Scott Johns).
Sunday, May 29, 2022
Did you know that the collective noun for a group of magicians is an “illusion?” I believe that Academic Support Professionals are the magicians of law school academics, not because we engage in sorcery, but because we do so much hard work behind the scenes that it seems like things just happen.
Last week, I was lucky to be able to share the tricks of the trade (with the best community of colleagues ever!) at the 9th Annual AASE Conference at the lovely St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas and on Zoom! I already knew that ASP folks are the hardest-working, kindest, and most generous people. I was also aware that we are supreme innovators. In short, the brain power in the sessions at our conference could have provided enough energy for the entire state of Texas. And it would have been a clean, renewable source of power!
It was amazing to be in the company of people who truly understand the work—and the flip side of doing so much important work often without having job security or recognition. I know that I am extremely fortunate that my law school is supportive and offers long-term contracts with options for more security, as well as funding for scholarship and conferences. Yet, academic support and bar prep are often seen as—oh wait, actually, we are often not seen at all…
At a faculty meeting last week, after what I consider a big win that added a DEI course graduation requirement, we moved on to an agenda item that tangentially dealt with tenure policy. During this discussion, a tenured, doctrinal faculty member referred to people who had our (ASP and other non-tenure track) faculty status as “faculty with a small f.” As in, essentially, lower case “f” faculty should very clearly not be allowed to vote on tenure policy changes. Yes, I had a big F reaction to that. That was more than just rain on my parade, it was a full-on blizzard: cold and windy. Following my glorious moment in the sun, I was returned to my cubby crumpled and dirty like a kindergartener’s lunchbox after recess.
It is moments like this that make a national conference of all the law school thaumaturges even more imperative for the survival of our profession. We need to work together to collectively ask that the curtain be pulled back so that our doctrinal colleagues can see the work that is often going on out of their sight. There is no magic in what we do, just a lot of hard work that should be transparently visible.
A huge thank you to Afton Cavanaugh and the team at St. Mary’s for solving the huge logistical puzzle that this hybrid conference must have presented!! It was glorious and I am truly enriched by the endless magnificence of this community. I am already looking forward to next year’s 10th annual AASE conference at Santa Clara Law.
And finally, did you know that the collective noun for a group of doctrinal professors is known as a “pomposity?”
 Texas is huge! I knew it was big before, but I really had not understood it until I was there.
 A presumptively renewable contract-but not tenure.
 I was the leader on this effort, and I am crazy excited that it really happened!
 Silently-but I am originally from the Bronx. I’ll just leave it at that.
 Those who don’t already know-there are always going to be allies in every school!!
 May 23-25, 2023-save the dates!
Monday, May 9, 2022
Two out of my three children are “adults.” One lives on her own in another city, one comes home for college breaks, and the third is a junior in high school. People ask me how I feel about having an empty nest in a year or so, and I tell them this: I am not done parenting, we are just moving into a new phase. I field texts about how to do laundry, or whether to purchase a t-shirt, or even with pictures of dogs in New York that look like our dog here in Massachusetts. I get a lot of cooking and baking questions. There is still a lot of parenting happening, it is just different (and sometimes long-distance). This is where we are with our students after they cross the stage at Commencement.
I love the way graduation is titled in a way that suggests both an ending and a beginning. For our students, it is the end of law school and the beginning of their life….as bar applicants. And hopefully, after that, the beginning of their life as licensed lawyers. While we will all wear our uncomfortable garb and silly hats later this month (or maybe you already have?) to celebrate our students’ achievements thus far, it isn’t the end of the relationship we will have with them.
For our colleagues who are engaged in bar prep, very late July will be when the nest is temporarily empty. The rest of us are hopeful that students will still e-mail, ask for recommendations, or even stop by-although there has been less stopping by lately because of the pandemic. There is still a lot of supporting happening, it is just different (and sometimes long-distance).
So, for anyone feeling like their law school nest is empty, you will be happy to know that there are approximately 105 days until orientation (that is just one more day than Phineas and Ferb got for their summer vacation). And then we commence once again...
Monday, March 21, 2022
And we are back. Spring break is over just like that. The thing about the time after spring break is that it goes by so quickly. You look up and there are 4 weeks of class left and 8 weeks of things you wanted to get to. It is like the facebook posts I put up around my kids' birthdays, "I must have blinked." When the end of semester is looming, I always wonder if I have squandered the time with my students, but I know that I didn’t because I spent at least some of our time together doing the following:
- Making sure they are okay. I have asked my class for their “triumphs and tribulations“ each week. Did this take us off-topic? Yes. Did we need to go there? Also, yes.
- Asking about the loads they are carrying in other classes. We a took a detour into exam prep (ahead of schedule) to make sure everyone felt ready for all the types of exams they might encounter. I’ll also go back and review it on the day it was originally listed on the syllabus.
- Meeting one-on-one outside of class. Some triumphs and tribulations are not for public consumption.
- Talking about the law in current events. It is always good to bring reality into the picture and ground the concepts in something present and concrete. I am very excited about Congress and the CROWN Act today. In a shameless plug for my newly released piece in the CUNY Law Review Blog about teaching using the CROWN Act, you can read about that here: http://www.cunylawreview.org/category/blog/
- Reinforcing already learned skills. I preface a lot of what I am saying with, “I know you already know this, but bear with me…” It isn’t always a review, but there is no need to out students who are first learning anything.
- Talking about their interests outside of school. Sometimes we all need a reminder that we don’t live in this building and this is not our only context.
- Becoming a community. Laughing. Complaining about the elevator that has been broken since December (although the changing signage about that fact is really kind of funny). Sharing some brownies.
I hope your short, fast ride to the end of the semester has more triumphs than tribulations.
Monday, March 14, 2022
I was so excited to get to this Spring Break. I need this break. I feel like I have not taken a deep breath since mid-January. This semester has been cold and snowy and relentless. My shoulders are currently hovering at ear level. And, I have a million little aspirations for this break: baking, learning to crochet, enjoying daylight, not teaching at night, etc. But here I am at noon on day one thinking about catching up on grading and reading the rough draft an independent-study student sent me this past Saturday night. Sigh. I am also contemplating laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning out closets. When did I forget how to relax and do nothing?
Ironically, I offered my high school junior the chance to take a mental health day this week. I used to let his sisters do this once every quarter in high school-they didn’t always use it the chance, but it was there if they wanted it. With advance warning, they could just take a day off-I’d call school to excuse the absence and we would have a day of yes. You want to go to IHOP? Yes. You want to see the ocean? Yes. You want to learn the choreography to “We’re All in This together” from High School Musical? Yes, just let me close the shutters if you want me to join you. This week, my son has two big tests on Tuesday and an orthodontist appointment on Wednesday at a time that makes it awkward to go to school before and strange to go after, so I offered him the rest of the day. Everyone needs to unload their burdens every now and then.
In academic support, we tend to worry about everyone but ourselves. I see you nodding. If you are on spring break this week, please let the sun warm your face every day and only do those things that give you joy (and keep your family alive). Relish the time that is normally spoken for by other responsibilities. And then email me with exactly how you did it. I’m going to need some major help developing a spring break plan…
 I can’t even with the timing on this one.
 You can do this too! https://youtu.be/H_LQeYUHm4M
Monday, January 17, 2022
On this (very rainy in Massachusetts) Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we as law educators need to remember that every fight for civil rights was only a fight because there were lawyers on the side of denying civil rights. The people advocating for denying rights were trained lawyers who had been to law school (or the equivalent in some states) and were admitted to the bar to practice law. They had been taught basically the same subjects we teach students today. As we educate this new generation of lawyers, we need to be sure to remind them that lawyers, above all, should seek justice (which is not the same as law) and truth (again, not the same as law). Law is just a tool we can use to walk these paths.
Martin Luther King noted that, “[t]he function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” Nelson Mandela added that, “[e]ducation is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
The same way a construction worker, a surgeon, or a Jedi knight would be carefully trained to use equipment safely, we need to make sure our students know the consequences of unsafely operating the tools we are giving them -- as much as they know how to use the power.
As we start our new semester tomorrow, and while I am still reeling about the events in a Texas Synagogue this weekend, I renew my vow to engage in true education. Lawyers have an almost sacred relationship with truth and justice that should not be dismissed or forsaken. We need to teach our children well that, “[i]njustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." (Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963).
Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Boston Common in 1965-also in the rain.
Monday, December 13, 2021
Last Friday’s NECASP Conference on Fostering and Maintaining Inclusive Communities was amazing. It was well organized and carefully curated. I left with some amazing ideas of how I can make my ASP welcome mat larger and make students who cross that threshold feel that we are a caring community. Community=success! A special thank you to the NECASP executive team: Amy Vaughan-Thomas, Brittany Raposa, Phil Kaplan and Danielle Kocal for a wonderful conference. I have often said, and I stand by it, that the ASP community is the kindest community in law school academics: to our students, our schools, and to each other. The sheer talent and intellect of my colleagues is breathtaking.
This morning I walked my dog, Leo, super early because we were escorting my son to before school physical therapy (he hurt his arm when he and his bicycle encountered a curb back in the summer and wrestling practice made it hurt more). My husband is also away on business in (what looks like heavenly) Portugal and he had previously been doing this walk. I will add that I also spent the night with this dog who would not go downstairs, takes up as much space as a human (he weighs 40 pounds, so that was surprising), and doesn’t smell as wonderful as you would hope. The ultimate chutzpah was when he barked at me to pick him up and put him on the bed because he is too short. And judging from the sentence before that, you can imagine how much resistance he got from me, and besides, the cats were unwilling to help. In any event, there I was: tired, cold, and entirely not in Lisbon when Leo and I saw this:
Leo and I continued on our walk under this cotton candy sky until we were almost home. As we passed the post office, we saw this bit of pink sharpied advice:
There is no greater ASP hook here except maybe we all need to be reminded to look around and make connections as we make our way through this season of grading and early darkness.
Monday, December 6, 2021
Last night was the eighth and final night of Hanukkah (or Chanukkah, or even Hannukah). This year we had two different types of candles for our two menorahs. We had one box of artisanal long and graceful white to blue ombre candles. We also had a standard 99¢ little blue box of shorter, more colorful candles from the supermarket (or maybe a leftover box that one of our three kids brought home from Sunday school). We lit both menorahs each night: one with the pretty candles and one with the garish little blue box candles. The pretty candles burned and melted. The plain candles did as well. The bottom line was this: it was meaningful regardless of which candles we used.
Here comes the (possibly heavy handed) link to law school exams. If students have an exam answer where they spotted the issues, used the correct the rule, did both sides of analysis, and weighed the options before concluding, then it is meaningful even if it isn’t graceful (or long). There are all sorts of other holiday analogies I could make here…like remember to go one at a time when lighting your candles; remember that you need to light the helper candle first (that being the student’s knowledge and wellbeing); do not re-spin your answer to multiple choice questions, and, of course, the miracle of being asked eight multiple choice questions about one thing you know really, really well. Surely, miracles and light are what many students are asking for this time of year.
It is also important to remember, though, that like any ritual, exams have their traditions and practices. We should be sure to remind students that after each exam, they should scrape off the remnants of the last one and reload with one more point of light before moving on to the next one. Make this a tradition. Lamenting over what went wrong on the last exam is always going create a barrier to going forward-and moving on to the next exam is part of the ritual. Remembering what went well (this year, none of our cats lit themselves on fire!) will be more productive. Make this a practice. Afterall, you cannot light fewer candles as Hanukkah progresses because you cannot travel through time (yet).
Finally, when exams are all over, students should be sure to clean up before putting their exam self away. No one wants to deal with a December mess in May. And for what it is worth, the fancy candles were a bear to clean up.
Happy Holidays to all!
Monday, November 29, 2021
Every summer, our family rents a (dog friendly) house out on Cape Cod. Recently, we have been renting bicycles when we get there at a bike rental place called Idle Times. It isn’t fancy, but it is friendly--the name is welcoming and seems to be assuring us that we need not race or even labor much to get around on the bicycles. It is the kind of place where an old black lab lies in the overgrown seagrass and seems to will the kids trying out bicycles to go around him rather than move from his shady spot. It is idyllic-no false advertising involved. This past weekend (that started on a Wednesday-shouldn’t they all?) was also gloriously idle (aside from the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and latkes). I removed my laptop from the table (yes, the new one for those of you who have been following these posts) and didn’t return it to its spot until yesterday. And here I am on a Monday morning trying to jump start my professional brain after this lovely idleness.
Today is the last day of classes for us. While many might think that this is the beginning of a nice break for all academics, it is absolutely crunch time for ASP folks. There are students panicked about finals. They seem shocked that exams are almost upon us despite all the warning signs. I agree that by the time we develop our fall mojo, it is already Veteran’s Day-which was less than three weeks ago. Fall seems like a slow walk uphill to a sudden cliff, while spring semester seems like a cold, dark walk through a cave into the light.
Nonetheless, we are about to begin our "reading days." I’m not sure how much time between classes ending and exams beginning is just right; I don’t think there is a one size fits all time period, but our 1L students have around 2.5 days.
Here is (some of) what I advise students to do now and during these days and the exam period:
- Get out of the law school building (we are all in one building here). The air is thick with stress and every little whisper will make you think someone knows something you don’t about a class you are in. I point out to our students that we are (in the fall at least) out of sync with our undergraduate and business schools, so their libraries might be a better place to study if a library is your preferred spot. At least the din there won’t make you feel unnecessarily inadequate. In pre-COVID times I would also recommend a coffee place (away from school) or even my favorite, the café at the Museum of Fine Arts (excellent place to study and wonderful place to be when you need a break from it).
- Make an exam plan. Work backwards from your last exam and plan reasonable study schedules for each day. Remember to add a teaser of the exam after the immediate one into your plan-so if Civ. Pro is on Thursday, you can take an hour and review a little Crim because that is next and so on.
- Attend to your hygiene and health! Seriously, this is going to be a marathon, pace yourself and be sure to stay hydrated. Don’t take unnecessary pandemic risks right now. Showering is important even if the alternative can help with social distancing.
- Practice writing answers and doing multiple choice questions: while reading carefully will be an important part of your exams, you will still need to produce an answer. You should practice essays often enough that IRAC is a muscle memory. Do enough multiple-choice questions that you are not confused by slight changes in terminology (because…gasp…sometimes doctrinal professors do not write their own questions). Remember, a good way to be prepared for exams is to be a PERP: Prepared for class, Engaged in class, Reviewing after class and Practicing. Ok, now I can see why this didn’t catch on, PERP is just not going to happen. But there is still hope for fetch.
- Handle different subjects with different strategic approaches: Civil Procedure is linear and chronological; Contracts is transactional; Torts and Criminal law just beg for making a chart with all the people and causes of action involved and so on…
- Just get started: if you are lost on the exam, start with something you can answer to get the brain engaged and then go back. However, do not go back and change any multiple-choice answers if you have already made a choice-it will not end well.
- Get out again-after the exam, leave the building. Do not discuss it with other people. I know that talking about a shared trauma can be therapeutic, but this will not be. I promise. Think about what you have done well on this exam and then move on with your plan. As Timon famously says in The Lion King, “You gotta put your past behind you.”
- When all the exams are over, enjoy the idle time.
Tuesday, November 23, 2021
I was honored and surprised and thrilled to find out that I was the recipient of the 2022 Trailblazer Award. I truly feel that I have the best job in the world, and part of that is because I get to be a member of the broader academic support community.
While I take pride in and ownership of my accomplishments, it also is not lost on me that they would be much more difficult for many other academic support professionals to achieve because of the inconsistency and inequity among how we are treated at our schools. I wanted to highlight the ways in which my institution – Suffolk University Law School (SULS) – has supported me, in the hopes it will encourage other law schools to do the same.
- Financial and logistical support for research and writing: SULS provides summer funding for professors who wish to take on scholarly projects, and they extend this funding to academic support professors. I’ve written four articles and have received funding for two of those. The funding is both a financial help, as well as – importantly - an incentive and a vote of confidence. I wasn’t sure that I would ever write an article, but getting funding made me feel like the school believed I could. In addition to the funding, the law school has an active and robust Scholarship Committee and does not require me to teach a full course load over the summer.
- Faculty status: I'm faculty and therefore involved in faculty committees and meetings, which allows me to form relationships with other faculty, get ideas, exchange ideas, and feel more invested in the school.
- Conference funding: SULS provides me with conference funding, which allows me to meet other academic support colleagues, build community, and gain skills.
- Long-term contracts: Those of us in the Academic Support Program have 1-, 3- and 5-year contracts, which allow us greater stability than others who face yearly renewal and review.
- Parental leave: I received maternity leave (it is sad that this even needs to be said, yet it does).
- A significant academic support program: There are four full-time academic support professors at Suffolk (names familiar to and beloved by anyone working in the field: Herb Ramy, Liz Stillman, Phil Kaplan, and Jen Ciarimboli). This is not only crucial because we have a very large student body, but also benefits me immensely because I have generous, wise, and hardworking colleagues with whom to exchange ideas and resources.
- Teaching opportunities: Finally, in recent years, SULS has allowed me to teach non-ASP classes like Professional Responsibility and Negotiation. Doing so has helped me gain experience and confidence, generated ideas for scholarship, provided me with additional pay, and helps students and faculty see that ASP professors are part of the broader curriculum.
Of course, we are not perfect at SULS. In short: I would love to have tenure. When I joined legal academia, tenure seemed primarily like a matter of ego to me. But now, I value it more. I’d like financial equity with my colleagues; to feel fully respected and valued; to have full academic freedom; and to be able to have a greater impact on my community through voting on matters of appointments and tenure. Perhaps this award will be a step towards these goals.
And perhaps I am sharing too much, being too transparent. I’ve come to learn that a certain amount of gamesmanship is expected in academia. But I believe part of the success of many of us in academic support is our authenticity and transparency.
If you are a tenured faculty member or administrator reading this - thank you, and I hope this has given you some ideas.
If you are academic support staff or faculty, please feel free to reach out if I can be of support - I know how much you do for students, how unquantifiable the majority of it is, and I believe in and value you.
 I don’t mean at all to prioritize faculty over staff, and I think staff should receive these benefits as well. I intend instead to acknowledge what I gain from being a faculty member.
 Another note: my title is not Associate Professor, but Associate Professor of Academic Support, and many wonderful scholars have noted the way that titles perpetuate hierarchy. See, e.g., Rachel Lopez, Unentitled: The Power of Designation in the Legal Academy, 73 Rutgers L. Rev. 923 (2021).
(Sarah Schendel - Guest Post, Associate Professor of Academic Support, Suffolk Law School)