Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Around this time of year, I usually end up telling my 1L students something about my experience in law school. I inadvertently chose what, in retrospect, seemed like the best way to become an attorney: After working as a paralegal for a couple of years (to get a taste of the world of law), getting married and living in Japan for a couple of years (to get a taste of the world in general), I thought that Georgetown's evening program looked really appealing, because it would allow me to work and earn money during the day and not drag my wife with me into the penurious life of a student. I wasn't wrong about that, but that did not turn out to be the greatest benefit to the evening program, or even in the top three.
What hadn't occurred to me before I arrived in D.C. was what the rest of the evening program class would be like. Georgetown can support a substantial evening program because Washington is full of people who have done well in government, the military, business, or the arts and now want to take the next step in their career. If the informal reckoning of our evening cohort of 125 students was correct, there was only one of us who came directly from college. The day program, four times larger, had a more traditional proportion of recent undergraduates. Going to school with classmates who had essentially all achieved some measure of success already meant that our program felt different in three momentous ways:
1) Less stress and competition. Not that we were stress-free; this was, after all, law school. Most of my evening classmates had full-time jobs, like I did, and some were in demanding positions that took up more than 40 hours per week. Our law school commitments were lessened in the part-time evening program (so it took us all 4 years to graduate), but still, it could be a pretty heavy load. Nevertheless, there was almost no undercurrent of shared anxiety, and the kind of ruthless competition that I had expected in law school never materialized. (In my 2L year, when I became a Fellow in the legal writing program and worked directly with the school librarians, they told me how much they enjoyed working with the evening students because they never pilfered reserve books or sabotaged assigned reading the way that the day students did.) One of my classmates had a theory about this. He suggested that it was easier for us evening students not to stake our whole sense of self-worth on some grade on an exam, because most of us had proven ourselves in other arenas. This made sense to me; it meant it was easier for us to see grades as measures of our personal progress, rather than as a way of sorting us by value.
2) More organization and efficiency. I know that I was roughly one hundred times a better student, practically, in law school than when I was in college. Part of it was simply forced by necessity: If you work from 9 to 5, then attend classes from 5:45 to 9 or 10 each weeknight, you really don't have a lot of room in your schedule for futzing around. But some of it was the shared culture of the evening program, in which not only did we all face the same issue, but also nearly all of us had developed methods of calendaring and prioritizing in the workplace. Some of us had spouses or even children that had to be fit into our schedules. Knowing that it all could be done, because we had had to do much of it before in our jobs, made it more manageable in law school. Furthermore, we all understood how valuable each other's time was, so the time we spent together in study groups, on joint projects, or in student organizations was also spent efficiently (but also quite pleasantly -- see "less competition", above).
3) More collegiality. By which I do not mean "friendliness"; the day students that I met then, like the students I work with now, were at least as amiable and as good company as my evening companions. But time away from school, in many cases working with more seasoned co-workers on a first-name basis or even with equal status, had bestowed upon most evening students the realization that everyone in the law school -- classmates, professors, administrators, employees -- could be seen as colleagues: people with whom you are striving towards a common goal. Thus, evening students were often less reluctant, and more comfortable, than day students in seeking help or offering suggestions.
The reason I bring up my experience with my 1L class is to point out to them that you don't need to be an evening student to enjoy these beneficial distinctions. They might have come more naturally to those in my program -- certainly to the program as a whole -- because of our previous life experiences, but that doesn't mean that these benefits are only available to those of a certain age or background. What matters are attitude, awareness, and mindset. A student who is in touch with her previous accomplishments, and can ground her sense of self-worth on them, will find it easier to see grades as personal touchstones rather than signifiers of inherent worth. A student who accepts both that his available time is limited (which is merely a matter of thoughtful perception) and that he has the capacity to get done what needs to be done in that limited time (which is perhaps a bit more of a leap of faith) will find the ways he needs to be efficient. And by recognizing that they are attending a professional school whose common goals include each student's successful education, students can position themselves to take full advantage of all the human resources around them. Experience is a good teacher, but sometimes learning from other people's experience is even better.
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Monday’s post by Victoria McCoy Dunkley, on the harm of “perfect” resonated with me. So, I wanted to expand on that, because that’s what we do in Academic Support!
The concept of perfect IS harmful and subjective, meaning striving for perfection often feels like a losing battle, and it mostly is. However, it’s hardwired into most of us that are lawyers, law professors or law students that it’s ideal to be a perfectionist. In fact, I’m currently co-authoring a UBE book, and we find that we have said “practice makes perfect” at least once a chapter. After reading Victoria’s post, we decided that needed to be changed. It comes so naturally, that phrase, but is it helpful or true?
Does “Practice make Perfect?”
First, since I’m agreeing with Victoria that there is no perfect and that it’s unattainable and subjective, it makes me think that maybe I’ve been using an empty phrase. (Dunkley, 2020)
Since I’m using it in context of the bar exam, practice does NOT make perfect. If we are discussing the UBE, a “perfect” MEE score is a 6. However, those essays aren’t perfect! They might be better than average, but they are far from perfect. A passing score on the Bar Exam in general is far from perfection, so practice makes perfect doesn’t really work in that context.
What about law school? Again, even the best exam answers aren’t usually “perfect”, they are merely some of the best of the bunch. But by no means perfect.
What about legal practice? After all, that is what we are ultimately practicing for when we go to law school and study for the bar. Is there perfection in the legal practice? Of course not. Lawyers, many wiser and more practiced than I, will confirm that each time they submit a motion they find something they could have done better, something they could have improved. Litigators will also tell you that even after winning cases they reflect upon things and look for ways to improve. So, no, not even a winning case is “perfect.”
So, what can we say instead of ‘practice makes perfect?’ Well, my co-author, Toni Miceli, suggested that we use ‘Practice makes prepared’ and Victoria suggests in her post that ‘practice makes progress’. I love both of those phrases, mostly because they both capture the idea of growth mindset.
We can’t be perfect, but we can always improve. We can’t be perfect, but we can be prepared. We can’t be perfect, but we can make progress.
I can’t speak for her, but I feel like the author of “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”, Dr. Angela Duckworth, would agree that “practice makes progress” is better than “practice makes perfect.” Her book discusses practice at length, and how of course experts practice far more than non experts.??? She discusses Spelling Bee Champions, Olympians, and world renowned artisans – noting that the thing they all have in common is the frequency of their practice. However, she also notes something else. Even experts and champions strive to be better. They look for negative feedback and how they can improve. To quote Dr. Duckworth, “experts are more interested in what they did wrong – so they can fix it – than what they did right. The active processing of this feedback is as essential as its immediacy.” (Duckworth, 2016) So, even the champion doesn’t have a perfect performance!
I think this is incredibly important for law students, especially entering first years who are learning a new language and skill. But it’s also important for bar students, practitioners, and those of us that are educators. We can always improve. But to do that we need to reflect. We need to let go of the idea of perfection, and reflect immediately on areas of improvement. This reflection can be difficult, especially since it’s hard to admit that we are not perfect, nor should we be. So reflecting on our faults and on our mistakes can be daunting.
It’s also worth noting that deliberate practice is not easy, nor does it feel good. Since I’m a former dancer, I was especially taken with the quote by dancer Martha Graham that Dr. Duckworth used: “Dancing appears glamorous, easy, delightful. But the path to paradise of that achievement is not easier than any other. There is fatigue so great that the body cries in its sleep. There are times of complete frustration. There are daily small deaths.”. I can tell you she’s not exaggerating. I can also tell you that no professional dancer ever thinks their performance was perfect, and they always reflect to see how they can improve.
Dr. Duckworth explains that for practice to be deliberate, you need 4 main things:
- A clearly defined stretch goal
- Full concentration and effort
- Immediate and informative feedback
- Repetition and reflection and refinement
I think the part that we, as a profession, forget is the reflection and refinement. Or rather, we do it, but don’t talk about it. That leads us to believing that other students, other practitioners or other educators are “perfect” when they are not. We talk about our successes, and raise each other up, but let’s also talk about the failures, and how we can learn from them. It’s hard to practice if we don’t reflect on what we did wrong, and after all “practice makes progress” and progress is what we need instead of perfection.
Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York: Scribner.
Dunkley, V. M. (2020, September 14). Perfect Hurts. Retrieved from Law School Academic Support Blog: https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/
Monday, September 14, 2020
Merriam-Webster defines perfectionism as “a disposition to regard anything short of perfect as unacceptable.” Perfectionism and its status as something to which we should aspire is introduced early and often. We think that if we look perfect, act perfect, and are perfect then we can avoid or minimize shame, blame, and judgment.
In reality, perfectionism is an anchor that drags us down and keeps us from reaching our true potential. The quest for perfection is an exercise in futility. Perfection is a matter of opinion. Aspiring to be perfect means we are prioritizing the perceptions of others over our perception of self. Rather than aiming to be the best version of ourselves (OUR best), we are instead focused on making someone else believe we are THE best.
Many law students, as perpetual high achievers, have perfectionist tendencies that existed long before law school. However, the hyper-competitiveness of the law school environment and law students’ propensities to compare themselves to their peers make law students particularly susceptible to intensified perfectionist tendencies. These tendencies can have significant negative consequences that affect academic performance:
- Lower productivity: The quest for perfection makes every task seem more daunting and time intensive. The average law student spends in excess of 50 hours per week completing law-school related tasks. Students who have difficulty transitioning from one task to the next until a task is “perfect” will likely remain stalled. For instance, the desire to complete the “perfect” course outline may occupy so much of a student’s time that the student is left with little, if any, time left to complete a critical mass of practice exam questions.
- Procrastination: Much like Forrest Gump and Jenny, perfectionism and procrastination go together like peas and carrots. Exceptionally high standards can be difficult (perhaps even impossible) to meet which leaves students feeling so overwhelmed that they defer completing tasks.
- Reduced confidence: Perfectionism is a confidence killer. We are imperfect beings who make mistakes. Law students are imperfect human beings who are developing their skills. Mistakes will happen—as will growth. For perfectionist law students, making a mistake or receiving feedback that they need to further develop a skill can crush their self-esteem and confidence. It may keep them from trying new things or speaking up in class for fear that they won’t be perfect. Students may also base their self-worth on their academic achievements and see instances of perceived failure not as opportunities for growth but, instead, as evidence that they are a failure.
- Lethargy & Anxiety: The quest for perfection is exhausting! The vicious cycle of setting impossibly high standards, trying to meet them, feeling overwhelmed and procrastinating, not meeting those standards, and then trying to manage anxiety while dusting oneself off to try all over again is mentally, emotionally, and physically draining.
Fortunately, there are several helpful strategies for managing perfectionist tendencies. Here are some suggestions:
- Be kind to yourself. Rather than being your greatest critic, try being your greatest coach or ally. Record those negative thoughts and then reframe them in a kinder, more compassionate way. Replace negative thoughts and damaging self-talk with words of encouragement.
- Cultivate your authenticity. Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. We are all made of strength and struggle. You, imperfections and all, are enough. In fact, those imperfections are what make you uniquely and authentically you.
- Adopt a growth mindset. Your strengths and skills are not set in stone. You are a work in progress. Use feedback to improve your skills and identify the lessons to be learned from perceived setbacks. Focus on being YOUR best.
- Note triggers for and manifestations of your perfectionist tendencies and plan for how to manage those situations.
- Break larger projects into more discrete tasks to better manage your workload and stress.
- Set reasonable time limits for completing tasks and do your best to stick to those limits. Once that time is up, move on to the next task.
- Remember that the law is messy. Facts do not always align neatly with case law. Case law is not always clear. There often is no one “right” or “perfect” answer.
Managing perfectionist tendencies requires intentionality and practice. And, as we all know, practice makes progress.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection 49–76 (2010).
Jordana Alter Confino, Reining in Perfectionism, ABA Law Practice Today, Jan. 14, 2019, https://www.lawpracticetoday.org/article/reining-in-perfectionism/.
Keriann Stout, How Perfectionism Hurts Law Students, Above The Law, Feb. 26, 2018, https://abovethelaw.com/2018/02/how-perfectionism-hurts-law-students/.
Tuesday, September 8, 2020
Back in the day (2019 and earlier), the first few weeks of law school was a time of intense bonding among classmates. Shared feelings of excitement, tinged with fear of embarrassment and workload-motivated shock, served to turn strangers into friends in a matter of days. These friendships would last throughout law school and beyond, and to good effect: Students would always have at least a couple friends in each course from whom they could borrow notes if they missed class due to illness. Friends, and, okay, sometimes mere acquaintances, would form study groups to share and test ideas. Soon, 2L and 3L students would introduce themselves, visiting classes or tabling in the hallways for various organizations, broadening the new students' networks of connections to include those with similar interests or backgrounds. After law school, these connected students would be connected lawyers, and would do what lawyers do in the real world: provide referrals, share expertise, give moral support. Part of learning to be a lawyer is learning to be part of a legal community.
This year, to varying degrees across the country, the first few weeks of law school have a different texture. In my school, as in many others, only a portion of classes are being conducted live, in a classroom, and those usually the smaller classes. Larger classes are being conducted online, where commiseration over an awkward cold-call response is much more difficult, and where, with no one sitting next to you, idle introductory chit-chat is almost as hard. Representatives from student organizations will probably still visit Zoom classes to introduce themselves and their groups, but with mostly empty hallways, opportunities for getting to know new students in conversation will be less frequent.
In short: it is going to be harder, and in some ways less natural, to make the kinds and numbers of connections that twelve months ago we all would have taken for granted. If you have lecture classes that are entirely online, or even asynchronous, it would be all to easy to think of those classes as a kind of enhanced television program, something that grabs your attention but does not feature you in the cast. Resist this temptation! Instead, make developing your social network one of your goals this semester:
- Join and participate in GroupMe and Facebook groups when invited, or form them yourself.
- Speak up in class, whether orally or in the chat box, and when possible, respond directly to classmates whose views interest you.
- Ask your professors or student life directors to help connect people interested in forming study groups.
- Seek out and contact the leaders of student organizations that interest you.
- Visit your professor's office hours -- real or virtual -- and chat with the other students who attend.
- When you find other classmates who share something in common with you -- an alma mater, a hometown, a hobby, etc. -- use that as a reason to approach them and perhaps get to know them better.
Although all this will take some additional effort, at a time in which you may already feel you are working harder than you have ever done before, that effort is an excellent investment. Later in the semester, as you start preparing for final exams, you will find the community you have made will make your work easier. Your law school experience will be enriched by the support, perspective, and opportunities provided by your network. And that network, and the skills you will develop in forming relationships within the legal community even under trying circumstances, will benefit you throughout your career.
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
A sharp sense of time has always been a key attribute of successful modern law students and lawyers. Awareness of deadlines, efficient time management, careful accounting of time spent -- all of these contribute to law school performance, and are usually part of a practicing lawyer's quotidian world of minimum billable hours and filing periods.
How unsettling, then, that many of our incoming, current, and recent students find themselves adrift in the time stream. New 1L students in many jurisdictions, starting their legal educations under conditions that have limited orientation activities and warped customary fall semester schedules, are not falling as easily into the clockwork demands of law school as other students have every year before them. Second- and third-year students have already been through six months of time-shifted classes and unwinding employment and internship opportunities, and are beginning a new school year very different from what they had experienced before. And around the country, many recent graduates (such as mine) have grown simultaneously complacent and anxious as their planned bar examinations have been postponed multiple times. Many students and graduates appear to take this all in stride, but it seems a significant number are manifestly affected -- falling behind on long-term projects, working with a diminishing sense of urgency or an inflated sense of panic, or having difficulty juggling responsibilities.
It feels as if the unexpected loss of schedules and signposts that so many took for granted has left some people unmoored, warping their senses of time in the same way that isolation and darkness affects cave explorers. In 1993, for example, sociologist Maurizio Montalbini spent a full year alone in an underground cavern, but because the solitude and lack of natural light had stretched his sense of time, he believed that only a little more than 200 days had passed.
Human beings need cues to help keep our sense of time on track. In a new situation, or one that has changed drastically, we may not perceive sufficient cues to keep us oriented, and we may not even be aware that we are slipping. We can help our students and recent graduates maintain their crucial awareness of the time they have -- and of the time they need to achieve their goals -- by providing supplemental cues. Introducing students to their professors' expectations over the course of the (in some cases altered) new semester, and touching base with reminders of upcoming opportunities and deadlines, may help anchor them when classes are asynchronous and gatherings are infrequent. Weekly emails, frequent online group meetings, and providing and reviewing supplementary materials can help bar examinees feel less disconnected and more engaged in this interminable bar study period. And frequent communication with our colleagues in other departments and schools -- learning their plans for the semester, sharing ideas and insights, and organizing joint efforts -- can help us retain our own sharp senses of time -- especially important if we are going to serve as the touchstones to others.
Friday, August 28, 2020
Many of us tell our students about Growth Mindset and Grit. We want them to develop hard work and perseverance for both law school and the practice of law. I read an article this week with 6 mindset principles of successful people. It is a good short list to pass along to students to help them improve their mindset.
Thursday, August 27, 2020
Sunday, August 16, 2020
I enjoy describing the seasons changing and how it relates to where we are in law school. Normally, I would write about the hot summer days and getting back to work with new students. However, my description this year would be close to the cool breeze from my air conditioner permeates my home office setup, which is really a laptop at my kitchen counter. Not quite the same imagery as previous years.
The imagery is not the only thing different this year. Many schools are online, while others created numerous sections to stay in-person. Some schools are using so many sections non-class activities will not happen live. Not only that, ASPers are always the big draw. We couldn't possibly social distance with our crowds, or at least that is my optimism at the beginning of the year. Most of us will need to change our programming to reach students.
Everything seems different. The images, programs, students, and classes will be new experiences. Many of us will continue to try to make our program the perfect hybrid, online, asynchronous, etc. experience possible. I commend everyone for that. However, let's not forget a sound piece of advice we provide our students every year. Don't miss the forest for the trees. Fundamentally, we are trying to help students succeed to his/her best ability. To do that, most of them just need a guide with solid directions. Becoming a guide or coach comes from building relationships with our students. They understand the difficulties of the current crisis, and most of them appreciate what schools are doing to be both safe and provide quality education. We can build those relationships in classes, zooms, teams, and imperfect workshops. You will have amazing opportunities this year to empathize and be present for students. Embrace those opportunities.
Nearly all ASPers are building amazing workshops, and keep doing it so I can continue to borrow your ideas. Don't spend so much time on those workshops though and miss the chances to reach students. Embrace your new relationships!
Thursday, July 23, 2020
Here's a message from the AccessLex Team of gratitude & appreciation to all of the ASPers during this unprecedented time: https://www.accesslex.org/xblog/july-20-2020-salute-to-asp
Thursday, July 2, 2020
That's how Texas bar taker Claire Calhoun put it when describing what she and thousands like her face with the prospect of in-person bar exams in light of increasing incidences of COVID-19:
“We really, really hope and frankly need the bar examiners and the Texas Supreme Court to do something here to step in on our behalf, because it’s life versus licensure, and I don't think that's fair to make us pick." https://www.texastribune.org/2020/07/01/texas-bar-exam/.
It seems like Claire has been heard, at least in part. On July 2, 2020, the Texas Board of Law Examiners, in part due to calls from students such as Claire, has decided to recommend to the Texas Supreme Court that in-person bar exams be cancelled and replaced with an October 2020 remote online bar exam instead. Id. As of this writing, let's hope that the Texas Supreme Court has heeded Claire's warning too. Frankly, it's a choice that no law graduate ought be forced to make.
Now I know that some might say that that's a bit too dramatic. That Claire overstates the risk of harm. But as any bar taker can tell you, it's a real palpable foreseeable risk of harm, something that tort law might and ought to recognize. And, I don't think that Claire's concerns are that far fetched, because some states, seeming to recognize the tort risks at hand, are requiring bar takers to waive liability claims against bar examiners as a condition to sit for bar exams.
In my opinion, that's too much to ask of our future colleagues. Let me speak plainly. It's wrong, downright wrong, especially because the risk of harm is not just a risk that the bar takers and proctors are being asked to assume but it's a risk that bar takers will then be spreading to others who didn't assume that risk at all. That's just not fair or right.
But I'm not convinced that postponement to October 2020 for a remote online exam is right either. Here's why. At this point, with just over three weeks to the scheduled bar exam in July, most bar takers have been studying full-time since graduation in May. They've been planning and preparing for July bar exams. And, as cited in the Texas Tribune article, the financial impact of a 3-month postponement is not something to be taken lightly: “I specifically budgeted my whole summer to take this July bar,” [bar taker] Anastasia Bolshakov said. “None of us are working right now. We have no income. The money we had in May, that's been slowly depleting.” Id.
Listen again to the words of these two bar takers. Don't just read them. Listen to them. Take them to heart, or at least hear them out:
"Budgeted my whole summer."
"Life versus licensure."
Perhaps the risk of COVID-19 will not materialize such that the July and September 2020 bar exams can safely take place in person without putting bar takers, examiners, or the public at risk. If so, by all means have the bar exam.
But if not, let's not fail our most recent graduates by not being ready to immediately provide an alternative licensure path, without any delay at all. For some states, that might mean being ready to immediately transition to an online bar exam with materials and procedures ready to go, for the July 2020 bar exam. For other states, that might mean be ready to roll out a diploma licensure option for July 2020 bar takers.
As every pilot knows, no flight plan is complete if it doesn't plan for the possibility of a diversion to an alternate destination in case the weather turns sour or the destination airport closes.
But it seems like many states have no alternative bar exam plans at all. And, in my mind, postponement is not really a viable alternative plan because it's asking too much of those who have so little to give, especially when they've spent so much, over the course of the past three years, emotionally, mentally, and financially, to prepare for embarking on the profession of serving as attorneys. To not have a viable alternative plan for our most recent graduates, at this point of time in the summer, is to leave our bar takers suspended in the air, without any place to land.
Perhaps I am speaking out of turn. Perhaps states have alternative licensure mechanisms ready to go so that the July 2020 bar takers need not fear any delays whatsoever. If so, let them be known. Share them with your future colleagues.
But if not, reach out to them. Work with them, their law schools, and state bar associations and practitioners to develop and plan viable alternative licensure pathways that are ready to go if need be. After all, at this point, no one has been able to accurately predict that path of COVID-19, not even the scientific experts.
That suggests that the best laid plans must include ready-to-go alternatives, too. That's the only way to fly safely. And that's the only way to practice law wisely. So also, it's the only way to do justice to not only the public but also our most recent law school graduates. (Scott Johns).
P.S. Let me suggest two possible licensure alternatives.
• First, a remote online exam with law schools footing the bill to provide - as needed - stable internet and testing locations for individuals without such capabilities. I would envision a 3-hour open book written exam, composed of four (4) 30-minute essays and (one) 1 mini-performance test, drafted by local practitioners and courts and their law clerks. Such an exam could be easily prepared and logistically administered by state supreme courts with just under three weeks to go to the July bar exam.
• Second, a diploma licensure "plus" program. In the event that in-person exams must be postponed without an alternative remote exam, partner with jurists, practitioners, and faculty to host two-day online workshops, guided by these experts, in which bar applicants and attorneys join together to work through a number of legal problems. In shaping the online program, I would encourage state supreme courts to frame workshop problems around current events that raise issues from the bar tested-subjects, with the workshops implemented in lieu of the July bar exam, such that completion of the exam would result in the admittance to the bar.
Monday, June 29, 2020
As I sat down to put fingers to keyboard for my first blog post, I found myself overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of ideas swirling around in my head. Overwhelmed by my thinking that this post must be perfect, thoughtful, groundbreaking, and transcendent. I was convinced that this post must be rainbows and unicorns rolled into one, it must be as mellifluous and powerful as Aretha Franklin’s voice, it must be everything to everyone, and it must be nothing to no one.
It took me about 20 minutes to ask myself the obvious question (beyond the other obvious question of why I would set the bar anywhere near the otherworldliness of ‘Retha): “why, exactly, must your first blog post be all of these things?” In that moment, I realized the pressures I felt are traceable to a lifelong frenemy that, much like a phoenix, continues to rise from the ashes: imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is characterized by one’s persistent feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt about their abilities or achievements, coupled with a fear of being exposed as a fraud despite those achievements and ongoing success.
Thinking about my old frenemy brought to mind a conversation I once had with a student. For the last couple of years, I have served as a panelist during our 1L orientation diversity and inclusion program. At the end of last year’s program, a student approached me to, among other things, thank me for sharing my 1L experience with imposter syndrome.
I am a Black woman and first-generation college graduate who grew up with few socioeconomic advantages. To say law school was a culture shock would be an understatement. I spent most of my first year convinced the admissions office had erred in admitting me to the law school and much of my second and third years dismissing my achievements as “luck” and “waiting for the other shoe to drop” (i.e. for someone to realize that I was a fraud and did not belong at the law school).
At the end of my conversation with this student, they asked “when did you overcome imposter syndrome?” I do not recall what my answer was in that moment, but the question has triggered several deeply personal moments of introspection. When I think of that conversation, I know the honest answer to that student’s question would have been (and still is): “I’ll let you know.”
If I’m still trying to figure out how to consciously uncouple from vanquish my lifelong frenemy, it is incumbent upon me to be cognizant of similar challenges experienced by students and supportive in helping them work through—or past—those feelings of inadequacy. To this end, today I renew my commitment to: name my frenemy unapologetically, serve as a sounding board and source of support for students battling imposter syndrome, remind those students of their strength and accomplishments, and encourage them to be kind to themselves. I also commit to taking my own advice.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
Monday, June 15, 2020
One year ago this month, I wrote my first post for the ASP blog. And while it seems like only yesterday that I began my quest to bombard readers with my weekly musings, I have decided to step aside to make room for other voices to be heard through this forum. Today will be my last post as a regular contributing editor, and I will use this opportunity to reflect on the wonderful learning and growth experience that the year has brought.
I’ve learned that:
Education and advocacy are not parallel paths, but rather an important intersection at which the most effective teachers are found. I left a high stakes commercial litigation practice for a role in academic support. I naively believed that an effective teacher had to be dispassionate and objective and more focused on pedagogy than on legal advocacy or controversial topics. However, I grew to realize that the very skills that made me an effective lawyer still guided me in the classroom to teach my students and to open their minds to new perspectives. My realization was affirmed when ASP whiz, Kirsha Trychta, reminded us that the courtroom and the law school classroom are not that different.
Anger can have a productive place in legal education and scholarship. I don’t have to conceal or suppress my passion to be effective as a scholar. I am angry on behalf of every summer (or fall) 2020 bar taker. I am bothered by states that are so tethered to tradition that they refuse to consider the obstacles and challenges of preparing for a bar exam during a pandemic. It troubles me to see law schools close the doors to their libraries and study spaces, and yet expect 2020 bar takers to perform without the benefit of quiet study space and access to internet and printing. I am flat out disgusted by the notion of forcing law students to assume the risk of death to take the bar exam. And I waive my finger to shame the states that have abandoned exam repeaters and that waited or are still waiting to announce changes to the exam dates and format after the bar study period has begun. These states have essentially moved the finish line mid-race, and our future lawyers deserve better. But thanks to the vocal efforts of others who have channeled their righteous anger into productive advocacy and scholarship, I’ve seen states like Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, Utah, and Washington emerge as progressive bar exam leaders in response to a crisis.
Silence is debilitating. Like so many others, I was taught to make myself smaller, to nod in agreement, and avoid topics that would make others uncomfortable. The untenured should be seen, not heard. I am the person that I am because of my collective experiences. Stifling my stories and my diverse perspective would be a disservice to my calling and to the next generation of lawyers who need to be met with a disheartening dose of racial reality. As soon as I showed the courage to speak up and step out of other people’s comfort zones, I found that I was not alone. My ASP colleagues, like Scott Johns, Louis Schulze, and Beth Kaimowitz and others, were right there speaking out too.
Glass ceilings become sunroofs once you break through them. In the last few years, I have seen more and more of my ASP colleagues earn tenure or assume tenure track roles. And while a job title or classification, will never measure one’s competence or value, our communal pushes for equity are visibly evident. ASP authors continue to make meaningful contributions to scholarship in pedagogy and beyond. Thank you to Renee Allen, Cassie Christopher, DeShun Harris, Raul Ruiz, and the many, many, many others who I can’t name but whose work I’ve read and admired. With varied voices, we are paving the way to enhanced recognition and status in the academy, and with mentorship and writing support we are forming the next wave of formidable ASP bloggers, scholars, textbook authors, and full professors.
June 15, 2020 in About This Blog, Academic Support Spotlight, Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exams, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, News, Publishing, Weblogs, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, June 11, 2020
You've heard the quip: "Which comes first? The chicken or the egg?"
"Well," continues the pun, "I'll let you know. I just ordered one of each from Amazon."
With respect to memorization, I think that we can say that memorization comes last. But what comes before memorization then?
As Professor Melissa Hale indicates, the words "memory," "memorization," and "remember" all have - at their roots - stories, and the memories that then come out of those lived experiences is what we can "memories." Hale, M., "Memory Tips," Law School Academic Support Blog (Jun. 10, 2020). So, memorization is preceded by stories and stories are produced through experiences.
Consequently, for those preparing for bar exams, don't focus on memorization at all, at least for now. Rather, as Prof. Hale writes, focus on learning, experiencing, and sharing in the stories that are wrapped into the many essay and multiple-choice questions that you are practicing. Id.
Learn from them. Experience them. Talk to them. Wrestle with them, too.
Then, when it comes time to work on memorization, in the final two weeks of bar prep, you'll have something real to recall, something memorable and tangible, because you will have experienced those rules, not in the abstract, but in the context of experienced narratives. That way, when it comes time for your bar exam, you'll have more than just the law to talk about; you'll also be able to show how to apply the law to solve bar exam problems.
And, back to the pun shared at the beginning of this little blog, that's something to smile about. (Scott Johns)
Thursday, June 4, 2020
I've taken the title to this little blog from a phrase in the recent post of Prof. Marsha Griggs, calling us, all of us, to action and resolve to fight, work, and promote justice. Griggs, M., "Despicable Us," Law School Academic Support Blog (June 2, 2020). As Prof. Griggs reminds, it's our oath, and in that oath, we say that we are committed to safeguard justice for all. But what if there's little to safeguard? What then?
The horrific brutal torture and killing of another innocent person just last week makes one wonder. There have been so many others, not just in the U.S., but around the world. What is it that leads so many to blindly look away, to not care or empathize, to sit on laurels when, frankly, the laurels are all dried up?
I'm tired of calls to come together and talk. And, in light of the ongoing protests, it seems like I am not alone. But as Prof. Griggs points out, most are silent.
So often I'm that one - the silent one. I'm not sure what I can do or say but I know that I hold a position of great responsibility, which obligates me to spring to action to make the world as right as it can possibly be. That takes real work, not trite talk. I'm worried that so few really want to do that work, that so few are really eager to change, that so few are so wedded to the present that there's little promise or hope for a brighter future. I'm worried that I'm one of those, waiting for others to right an upside down world.
I didn't know what else to do. So I wrote letters. First to the mayor of Minneapolis. Then to the police chief. Next to the mayor of Denver and the police chief of Denver. Finally to my U.S. senators and local U.S. representative.
Everyday counts because every person counts. As I tried to explain to my students this summer, there are ways to move forward towards the pursuit of justice, right now.
First, take a look at how many municipal ordinances and state laws provide for incarceration. I think that many of those punishments are out-of-all proportion with the social harms for which criminal laws are supposed to countenance. And, the lack of proportionality is, I think, a violation of constitutional due process because it burdens people for no reason at all.
Second, take a look at the details of what happened in Minneapolis. A telephone call about a possible counterfeit $20 bill. Two police show up to investigate. One draws a gun and orders Mr. Floyd out of the car. $20 dollars. What happened to the investigation? It was like the police wanted to make an arrest. The alleged crime being investigated, I think, was a specific intent crime, requiring proof of both the act of using counterfeit currency to purchase goods or services along with the mental state of intent to use counterfeit currency. Under the due process requirement of the Constitution, that would seem to require a real investigation rather than drawing a weapon. It sure seems like a violation just to walk up to a car and threaten someone's life with lethal force without at least asking any questions. That's why I wrote to the city leaders and politicians admonishing them to reform criminal laws to require the issuance of citations rather than proceeding with arrests, which are by their nature acts of force and the escalation of force. Better to proceed with deescalation, issue a citation after a thorough investigation, and then bring the issue in front of an independent magistrate.
Third, I've read a lot of police reports. They talk a lot about probable cause but in general have little facts to show for it. And, because the Constitution requires both probable cause to issue a citation or to make an arrest, with reasonable trustworthy facts as support, its time to ensure that police reports, etc., list identifiable, particularized, concrete allegations of fact to support both the culpable criminal act of the crime alleged along with the culpable mental state. In my opinion, that's a requirement of not just the Fourth Amendment but also the Due Process Clause to provide meaningful notice of the specific grounds for criminal charges. What if police reports fail to identify such facts? It's defective and the citation, arrest, and/or indictment should be quashed, immediately. And, the police authorities who harmed a person by failing to provide constitutional notice ought to be liable under civil rights laws for acting under the color of law without constitutional authority in explicit derogation of due process protections. And prosecutors that pursue such defective charges ought to be held accountable by regulatory agencies, the public, and the legal system.
Fourth, according to news media, at least one of the police officers arrested and charged for the death of Mr. Floyd had previous disciplinary records, which, as far as I can tell, resulted in little action and were not available to the public at large. When political leaders, as our representatives, appoint police officers, as our agents, and when the political leaders then arm those police officers with lethal force, the HR records of those officers should be available to us all. Nothing should be secret; after all, the police are supposed to work for us. But, I hesitate to add, police unions are mighty powerful. Often times, it seems, more powerful than political leaders. But if a union protects someone who is engaged in unlawful acts, then we should hold unions accountable too.
Perhaps my suggestions to politically powerful leaders won't make any difference. So far I've not received any responses. But I'm not giving up. All of us only have one life to live. It's up to us to choose to live it fully, wisely, and for others. I fall short, so often, and all the time. But with each day, we get a new opportunity. The past need not hold us back, if only we have the courage to act. After all, that's the constitutional duty that we've pledged ourselves to embrace on the behalf of others. To act justly on the behalf of others. (Scott Johns).
P.S. As a starting point, please take a look at Attorney General Ellison's statement and the criminal charges filed against the 4 Minneapolis police officers:
I quote in part the words of Attorney General Ellison from the news release: "
"To the Floyd family, to our beloved community, and everyone that is watching, I say: George Floyd mattered. He was loved. His life was important. His life had value. We will seek justice for him and for you and we will find it. The very fact that we have filed these charges means that we believe in them. But what I do not believe is that one successful prosecution can rectify the hurt and loss that so many people feel. The solution to that pain will be in the slow and difficult work of constructing justice and fairness in our society.
That work is the work of all of us. We don’t need to wait for the resolution of the investigation and prosecution of the George Floyd case. We need citizens, neighbors, leaders in government and faith communities, civil- and human- rights activists to begin rewriting the rules for a just society. We need new policy and legislation and ways of thinking at municipal, state, and federal levels. The world of arts and entertainment can use their cultural influence to help inspire the change we need. There is a role for all who dream of a justice we haven’t had yet.
In the final analysis, a protest can shake the tree and make the fruit fall down. But after that fruit is in reach, collecting it and making the jam must follow. The demonstration is dramatic and necessary. But building just institutions is slower and more of a grind, and just as important. We need your energy there too. We need it now."
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
In a normal year, my students would all have begun their bar preparation yesterday, coasting on their post-graduation-ceremony momentum right into a seat in front of the first of many lecturers. But in New York, and more than a third of all U.S. jurisdictions (in which -- again, in a normal year -- more than half of all July examinees would be sitting for the exam), the date of the bar examination has been postponed for six weeks or more, leaving bar students in those jurisdictions with the gift they hate most of all: uncertainty.
What is to be done with all this extra time? Bar preparation companies cannot agree: some are simply administering their typical ten-week program, just starting it six weeks later than usual, while others have reworked their program schedule, starting it earlier and drawing it out over a longer period, but with shorter study days. Employers, many contending with their own virus-induced crises, have added variables to the new graduates' calculations, some allowing their new employees to start early and then take time off, others expecting hirees to adhere to their original early-August start dates, and still others unnervingly withdrawing their employment offers indefinitely. Even we bar support specialists can only make well-educated guesses about how to make use of six extra weeks. We have no data, no direct experience of how a delay like this will affect individual students or the testing cohort as a whole. How much more study can a student put in without burning out? Should the extra time be spread across all aspects of bar study, or should certain skills or subjects receive more attention? Will MBE scores increase overall for those who take the test in September? Decrease? Will the bell curve spread out? Will this hurt or help examinees?
Sensibly, 43 more days of prep time should be seen as a boon. In a normal year for bar study, isn't time the most precious resource of all? In my discussions with students, I have suggested they think of this extra time the way they might think of an unexpected financial windfall. You don't have to spend it all in one place. You might devote a large chunk of it to bar study -- that is, after all, the primary focus of the summer -- but how you specifically budget it depends on your own circumstances. An examinee facing financial pressures might choose to work for a few weeks, then begin studying a few weeks early. Someone eager to get started studying might begin this week, but set aside a week or two, at strategically placed spots on the calendar, to put study aside, connect with family and friends, or do whatever else helps them refill their gas tank. It's important not to let the time slip by unnoticed -- it would be bad to turn off the TV one night near the end of June and realize you had not done any bar study -- and that's why it's important to budget the time and actually create a schedule. And that, for some, is what seems to turn this temporal windfall into a vexation. In order to budget, you have to make choices.
No one wants their bar prep period to feel like playing endless rounds of "The Lady or the Tiger?" At every step: choose the right path, and you will be rewarded with contented knowledge and testing skills; choose the wrong path, and you will be mauled by a ravenous UBE with MPT fangs and MBE claws. In a normal year, examinees only have to be certain that the regimented bar study course they have chosen, which has worked for thousands of examinees before them, will continue to reliably work for them. This summer, though, because so much is unregimented, some examinees are anxious about being uncertain about so much more. Am I studying enough? Am I studying too much? Am I studying too early? Am I studying the right things, in the right way, for the right amount of time?
Two propositions can help people in such a tizzy of uncertainty. First, assure them that they are not feeling this uncertainty because of some character flaw that prevents them from making definitive choices. They are not losing their heads while all about them are keeping theirs. This is an inherently uncertain situation -- we can't even be assured the exam will actually be administered in September! -- and so there is no single "correct" choice. The best they can do is what they've been training to do for the past three years: exercise good judgment based on competent authority and relevant facts. As long as they are not just guessing, as long as they are talking to us and their mentors and their instructors and applying what they learn to what they already know about themselves and the task before them, they can at least make a good choice.
Second, help them subdue the perception that they are overwhelmed by uncertainty by reminding them of what is certain. The content and structure of the bar examination remains the same (well, except in Indiana), as do generally those of the reputable bar courses designed to prepare examinees for the test. They still have their law degrees, and the skill, intelligence, and diligence that helped them earn those degrees. They have a community of classmates, instructors, and mentors who they can rely on to share perspective and feedback on the decisions they do make. They have a certain task, they have certain abilities, and they have certain resources. In the face of uncertainty, those are best certainties to have.
Thursday, May 14, 2020
It's in the moments of fiery crises that heroism is revealed.
I think of our students, heroes everyone of them, finding within the resiliency and creativity to successfully adapt to online learning. I think of the academic support community and law school faculty and staff, springing into action, resolutely empowering novel ways to encourage vibrant learning despite the difficulties. I think of the many workers - across all walks of life - giving of themselves, in the front lines all of them.
It's in these hard spots of life, the difficulties and trials, in which our true beings are revealed, unmasked so to speak.
But there's more unmasking to be done. And quickly too. That's because many of our students have just finished their law school studies and are ready to graduate. Ready to move onto the next step. Ready to serve and contribute to the world.
Yet many states are postponing bar exams with no certainty that latter dates will be any better - health-wise - for holding in-person bar exams.
However that's not the situation that's just been decided by the Indiana Supreme Court. Indiana is moving forward this July 2020 with a one-day online bar exam. And it looks like Nevada might be joining the movement to an online exam too. And one state, Utah, has taken an even bolder approach in implementing an emergency diploma privilege. https://www.law.com/2020/05/08/in-a-first-indiana-will-hold-one-day-online-bar-exam-in-july/?slreturn=20200414232636; https://www.nvbar.org/nevada-supreme-court-seeks-comments-by-may-14-re-modification-to-july-bar-exam/
Nevertheless, back in April in a white paper, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) brushed aside the possibility of online exams or diploma privilege, arguing that online exams were unworkable and that the diploma privilege was not beneficial to the public good. http://www.ncbex.org/pdfviewer/?file=%2Fdmsdocument%2F239.
When I applied to law school (and for the bar exam), there were no online applications. It just couldn't be done. But oh how times change, if only we are willing, courageous, and creative. Now, I doubt one can apply for law school save through an online application. The same goes, I suspect, for most bar exam applications. It's all online now. Except for the bar exam itself.
The only thing that limits us to the present is us.
It's not too late for New York, or California, or any other jurisdiction to implement a one-day online bar exam this July.
But that takes removing the masks that so often keep us living in the present, forever failing to see the future. And, to be honest, living in the present, when the present of the past no longer exists due to COVID-19, is not really living in the present. It's living behind the mask of the past.
The next step is for you - state supreme courts and jurists. We would like join with you, and local and state bar associations and practitioners, to move forward thus summer, whether that's with an online bar exam or with diploma privilege. The choice is yours. (Scott Johns).
Monday, May 11, 2020
In response to the mounting uncertainty about the administration of the July 2020 bar exam, Indiana has moved its exam online.
By order of the Indiana Supreme Court published May 7, 2020, Indiana will offer a one-day online exam in late July. According to law.com “that makes Indiana the first jurisdiction to commit to an online July exam, and the first to say it is creating its own version of the licensing test.” Indiana was one of the last states to adopt the Multistate Bar Exam, and had, for years, given a purely “state-made” exam. Today, the Indiana exam includes multistate content and state specific essays, so the bar examiners likely have an arsenal of potential test content. Other states, like California and Massachusetts, have made nods towards an online exam, but have not publicly defined what their exam would look like or when it would be administered. Both California and Massachusetts have postponed their July exam until September.
Indiana may soon have company. The Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court filed a petition recommending a temporary modification of its July 2020 bar exam to an online format. The petition is based on a recommendation from the Nevada Board of Law Examiners (BLE). The Nevada BLE proposed to administer a two-day, fully online, exam consisting of eight essays and one Nevada performance test. The Nevada proposal excludes multiple-choice questions. If accepted, Nevada will join California and Pennsylvania in administering its own performance test. The Nevada proposal is open for public comment. Anyone wishing to support (or oppose) the proposal should email the Clerk of the Nevada Supreme Court. Like Indiana, Nevada uses both multistate content and administers a state law essay exam.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added new layers of stress to the already hectic workloads of the academic support community. ASPers are affected by the pandemic in ways that our doctrinal colleagues are not. Traditionally, we are the ones from whom students seek counsel and clarity about the bar exam and how to prepare for it. Our ability to respond to those questions has been upended by proposed delays and the looming threat that a face-to-face exam cannot be administered in either July or September. All we know now is that we really don't know what will happen or how our students should best prepare. Added to the worry about whether there can be a bar exam at all, is how our students will fare on the exam and what our pass rates will look like.
The Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) called for suspension of ABA Standard 316 mandating that law schools maintain a 75% bar passage rate to remain in compliance. We can reasonably anticipate that bar pass rates will be lower in 2020 than in recent prior years. Students are under extreme stress dealing with pandemic related adjustments, fear of contracting the virus, and fear of spreading it to loved ones. Summer bar takers lack of access to law schools, public libraries, and quiet coffee shops for bar study, because they are not open to the public. Some may be battling illness themselves. Moreover, the administration of three separate exams with comparative and wholistic grading will also likely skew the exam outcomes and lead to a higher number of bar failures than would have occurred had all candidates taken the exam in the same administration. The Bar Advocacy Committee supports the SALT position and will present a letter to the Executive Board of the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) for signature, delivery, and public posting.
In the past, New York has been the state to follow, in terms of bar exam policy and development. Not so, anymore, as the limited seating debacle has cast a cloud of embarrassment and incompetence over the empire state. Who knew that we would see such progressive and compassionate bar policy leadership coming from Utah, Indiana, and now, hopefully, Nevada! It just goes to show that good ideas aren’t tied to population or politics—good ideas stem from compassionate effective leadership. And there is still room for more leaders with regard to the July 2020 exam.
Thursday, May 7, 2020
I once had a teacher tell me to never read good books. Never ever. And why not?
Because if I spent my time reading good books (or doing good things), then I wouldn't have time left to read the really great books (or do the really great things of life).
That's a lesson that has never left my side.
In bar prep, I'm convinced that too many are trying to do too much, and, in the process of doing good tasks, they aren't doing the great things that are really important for success on the bar exam. Let me be frank. You don't have time in bar prep to do good things. But, you have plenty of time to do the really great things, the things that produce fruitful learning.
With that in mind, here's a few tips:
- Do less reading and more pondering the law, how it works or doesn't, and what it means to you as a person.
- Do less note-taking and more puzzling through problems to learn the law.
- Do less testing and more practicing, feeling free to work problems over slowly, reading them out loud if you'd like, as you develop confidence and competence in your own voice as an expert problem-solver.
That's just a few suggestions.
But, rather than hear it from me, a teacher, I thought I'd share the wisdom of a recent successful bar-taker in that person's own words. After all, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words (but the wise words from the heart & mind of a recent bar taker -- who wants to share with YOU what she/he learned through re-taking the bar exam -- is worth a priceless fortune).
Advice for First-Time Bar Takers:
- Practice way more than you think! If you are wondering whether you should watch a lecture or do a practice question, do the practice question.
- Let go of memorizing everything. It is impossible. Learn what your weak areas are and spend more time with those subjects.
- You will feel like you know nothing until approximately the last week of bar prep. Somehow, magically, it does come together. I promise.
- Do all the bar prep practice tests.
- Think really hard about who you want to study with. This is not the time to do something different from how you handled law school.
- Come up with a plan and stick to it. The bar prep calendar is really helpful for this. Decide how many practice questions you want to do everyday and do it. But if you are starting to burn out, be OK with taking breaks. It's a marathon!
Advice for Fresh Start Re-Takers:
- First, I am so sorry that you have been dealt this card. There is no question that it hurts. Take care of yourself and do things that make you happy.
- As you begin planning your next round of bar prep, make sure to work with the law school to identify the weak aspects of your exam answers. This will help define ways you can “work smarter” instead of “work harder.”
- Also work with the law school to identify new ways to study. It might be changing up your study tool or how you review your answers. For me, studying ALONE the second round vastly improved my scores. I think studying alone boosted my confidence because it required me to look up answers to my own mistakes. I also stopped comparing myself to friends.
- Ditch the bar prep lectures. Use that time to practice WAY MORE MBE and MEE practice questions. I probably tripled the amount of practice questions I did during my second round of bar prep.
- Log your progress. I was way more intentional about compiling lists of rules I kept missing on MBE questions. This helped me to keep track of weak areas so I could spend more time learning the law in specific subjects.
- Spend timing thinking about any testing anxiety you might have. Adding mindfulness meditations to my study plan helped a ton!
That brings me back to the start of this little essay. How do you know what are the really great books to read (or the great things to do)? That's were wisdom comes in. Reach out to a person you trust, on your faculty or staff or from a colleague or mentor who knows you as a person from head to toe. The advice that I've shared in this blog is from such a person, who, although he/she doesn't know you, knows you, because she/he has cared enough to share with you the lessons learned through the process. So, you have a friend who is rooting for you (and that includes me too!).
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
One thing that most of us probably don't full appreciate until we miss it is degree to which we rely on predictability. When things are going well, it is often largely because so many things are doing just what we expect them to do, without us having to think about it. When every paycheck is direct deposited, when every mocha latte tastes just like you like it, when your spouse kisses you every morning and your favorite TV show is on every evening, it's all part of one grand comfortable life. It is not simply or even primarily the easy and convenience that makes it comfortable. It's the reassurance that comes with knowing that, and understanding how, cause leads to effect. Things happen because we make them happen, or if not, at least we expected them to happen, and all that generates confidence and a sense of efficacy.
Suddenly we enter an alternative universe in which supermarkets run out of the most basic, boring staples, like flour; in which basic medical precautions like hand washing might be useless because you were unknowingly infected two weeks ago; in which jobs and income just disappear for even the most conscientious employees; in which graduating with a degree, even with honors, from a decent law school may not even be enough to permit you to take a bar examination, let alone begin earning a living. All of these are aggravating, and some have potentially dire consequences. But taken as a whole, their greatest effect on us may be that they are contradicting our assumptions about how the world reliably runs.
Trust is like a vitamin. When we haven't got a minimum daily requirement -- when there are too many things in our lives that we can't rely on -- it's like a psychic scurvy. Instead of bruising easily and losing our teeth, we panic easily and lose our self-confidence. The cortisol levels in our bloodstreams shoot up, because in an unpredictable world we always have to be prepared to fight or flee. We can't concentrate, we are easily rattled, we might even suffer illness because of it. It's hard. We need to be able to rely on some things to perform well.
This is one of the reasons that humans invented lawyers in the first place. We needed more people we could trust to rely on. We needed people who could develop frameworks of predictable rules so that we would not feel that conflicts were resolved arbitrarily. Lawyers are a testament to the human craving for reliability.
And in order to make lawyers that clients can rely on, we need to teach students to rely on themselves, on their own capabilities and judgment. And this does not happen overnight. First we teach them that they can rely on others -- on their professors to teach them how the law works and on mentors to show them the ropes -- then that they can rely on systems, like legislatures and administrative bodies, and then ultimately on themselves. You know these rules and how to apply them. You understand how to navigate bureaucracy, at least enough to find your way through any new one you encounter. You know how to come up with solutions, how to suggest them to other interested parties, how to negotiate a compromise. You're a cause that has effect, because you are a lawyer.
Even with everything going well in law school, though -- and it may not be, at least not for every student, given the range of burdens that they are shouldering -- when the rest of the world is telling you that you can't eat in your favorite restaurant, that the only available toilet paper is the Want Ads section of your local paper, and it may be more than a year before you can begin working, it can be really easy to spend all your time on edge, trembling at the unclear implications of every announcement from the school or your state bar examiners. And when it is easy to be that anxious, it is usually hard to study, focus, work efficiently, and present yourself to the world as a new lawyer.
So, lately, I've been thinking of how Academic Support professionals are kind of like psychic vitamin supplements. In a world in which everybody feels that so many things are less reliable now, we are telling our students, "Look, you can trust us. We'll explain the right answer; we'll send you feedback on your writing; we will find and share information you might not be able to access yourselves. But we will also teach you that you can trust yourselves. You're learning the rules you need to learn. You're developing the writing and analytical and persuasive skills you need as tools to cause the effects you want. You're going to develop the judgment that makes a good counselor, and some day other people will come to rely on you."
All of that messaging is what we do on a good day. Lately, I feel like I have had to up my game to extra strength multivitamin levels. Making myself available for conferences more frequently; responding to emails super-promptly, before students can feel ignored; finding additional resources for students in increasingly dire straits because of the current crisis. Maybe this is really the core of what Academic Support does best at times like these: by actions that show our students that they can rely on us, we help them see they can rely on their professors, on the law, on the system, so that they can better learn to rely on themselves.
Thursday, April 30, 2020
Often times I hear students suggest that what they are learning in law school seems so unmoored to the reality of the world, especially in the midst of this pandemic. I wonder. Could there be a way to connect law school learning to real life experiences? More to the point, to the extent that students feel that way, that might be our fault for failing to use the latest news events as tools to facilitate and enhance our students' learning.
So, here are a few examples of some rich possibilities to help bring the gap between academics and practice as students finish their online classes and prepare for their upcoming final exams:
I. Retrieval Practice - Fed Civil Procedure (Venue):
Perhaps this ongoing story caught your eye about the Cuban doctors suing the Pan American Health Organization, an agency of the United Nations in federal court in Miami, Florida. Cuban Doctors Who Worked in Brazil Sue International Organization Alleging Forced Labor, Miami Herald (Nov. 30, 2018).
According to recent press reports, this class action is pending a decision by the judge as to whether to transfer venue to Washington, DC, from Miami, Florida.
Here's some of the questions that I asked students: (1) What's the standard for a request to transfer venue? (2) What's the rule for the initial venue choice? (3) What are the basic requirements for a class action case?
II. Retrieval Practice - Property and Contract Law (Marketable Title & Contract Defenses):
Here's one for the 1L students preparing for final exams. It seems that a Chinese company is suing a South Korean company in State Court in Delaware to compel (i.e, for an order of specific performance) the defendant to close on a real estate deal to buy a portfolio of 15 luxury U.S. hotels. https://www.wsj.com/articles/former-anbang-unit-suing-south-korea-s-mirae-for-failure-to-close-on-5-8-billion-hotel-portfolio-purchase-11588006092?mod=searchresults.
According to the news article, the defendant asserted two grounds for its refusal to close the deal as justification for its breach of a property sales contract. First, the defendant argues that the COVID-19 pandemic serves as valid contract defense of impossibility to perform. Second, the defendant argues that the title for the hotel group was unmarketable at the time of closing earlier this month because a "California individual had secretly created fake deeds [that] purported to transfer ownership of at least six hotels in California [in the hotel group]. Id.
Here's some questions to ask of students? (1) What's marketable title mean? (2) Is the defendant entitled to a contract defense to prevent specific performance? (3) is this lawsuit a common law contract case or a UCC Article 2 case and why?
According to a recent media report, several individuals have filed suit against the California governor alleging that the governor ordered the state police to stop issuing permits for protests on the state capital grounds while "noting the Capital in Sacramento has hosted a variety of [other] demonstrations." https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/california-faces-civil-rights-lawsuit-after-highway-patrol-bans-rallies-at-state-capitol-over-coronavirus/ar-BB13lbI7.
The plaintiffs alleged violations of their First Amendment rights, presumably on grounds that the state capital park area is a public forum in which few restrictions of speech are permissible. There also seems to be lurking an equal protection issue based on allegations of differential treatment based on the content of protesters' messages.
Here's a few questions that come to mind? (1) What's a public forum? (2) What's the test for speech restrictions on a public forum? (3) What test would you use for equal protection analysis?
Here's one last suggestion...
With final exams soon to begin, the news is a great way to (a) mix up practice with a variety of different subject matters; (b) help students issue spot and analyze legal issues; (c) develop and strengthen student confidence as problem-solving subject matter experts; (d) encourage students that what they are learning today is valuable for their tomorrows; (e) energize students in practical ways to incorporate retrieval practice and analysis in their final exam preparations; and, (f) help students see how lawyers, the judicial system, and litigants interact in the public sphere to shape social and political policies. So, keep your eye out for the latest news. It almost always has a few legal issues or more buried in it. (Scott Johns).