Thursday, August 22, 2019

The "Unexamined Case" Might Not Be Worth Reading

I hear voices.  Not all of the time, mind you.  But, definitely at the most inconvenient of times...like when I'm trying to read!  [I think this is called sub-vocalization.]  You see, I can only read as fast as I speak (and I don't tend to speak very fast unless I'm excited or nervous, which I often am, particularly when I'm trying to digest dense legal materials).  

Indeed, when a student asks me to work with them through any reading passage (whether a case, a statute, or a multiple-choice problem or essay prompt), I really want to go in hiding, into a "sound chamber" so to speak, so that I can read slowly and not so-silently, as I work out the meaning of the text through hearing - in my mind - the words as they become alive, the punctuation marks as they spring up from the page into my voice, and the paragraph breaks as they give me time to catch my breath.  

In short, if you haven't caught the gist of what I am saying, I feel like I am a poor reader because I am a slow reader.

Now, I suspect that most students don't sub-vocalize when they read, i.e., they don't hear voices when they read.  Nevertheless, I gather that most first-year law students (and perhaps most law students in general) feel like they read too slow.  If so, then you're exactly like me (and I'm supposed to be an expert at critical reading, particularly in reading legal texts, etc.).  

But, before I get too far, in my opinion, rushed reading is not reading.  To paraphrase Socrate's famous line that the "unexamined life is not worth living," an "unexamined case" is not worth reading.  In other words, in law school, it's not how fast you read but what your learning about the law and legal problem-solving as you read.  To cut to the chase, reading is about examining the cases and the statutes and the legal texts assigned in law school.  And that takes time, lots of time. Or, to put it more bluntly, reading is really about "cross-examining" those legal materials, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments and  analysis, and then forming your own opinion about the merits of those arguments (and how you might use those arguments in the future to solve hypothetical problems posed on mid-term exams and final exams).

That gets me to the next question.  How might I teach reading?  

When I first started in academic support, I taught case briefing but not case reading, most likely, because it seemed to me that by briefing a case I had read the case.  I'm not so sure now.  That's because most case briefs (at least most of my case briefs) are composed of just bits of quotes and paraphrases of what the court said...rather than my evaluation of what the court said (or didn't say).  Indeed, as Professor Jane Grisé writes, "critical reading is about 'learning to evaluate, draw inferences, and arrive at conclusions.'" J. Grisé, Critical Reading Instruction: The Road to Successful Legal Writing Skills, 18 W. Mich. Univ. Cooley J. of Prac. & Clinical L. (2017) (quoting L. Christensen, Legal Reading and Success in Law School: An Empirical Study, 30 Seattle U.L. Rev. 603, 603 (2007).  Thus, because critical reading is about learning, it is something that can be taught.  Id. Consequently, based on Professor Grisé research, let me offer the following suggestions on how one might teach critical reading, particularly reading cases that are jam-packed into the massive casebooks that comprise the bulk of reading in law school.

  1. First, confess.  Set the stage for learning by sharing the worries and frustrations that you had (and perhaps still have) as a legal reader.  Let students know that it wasn't a natural skill for you (or for anyone for that matter).  Rather, critical legal reading is a skill that is developed, like muscles through exercise, bit by bit, in which we can all learn.
  2. Second, model pre-reading strategies.   Share with students some of the ways that you engage in reading, even before you begin to read, by, for example, figuring out the purpose of the case by placing it in context with the prior and later assignments based on the case's position in table of contents and it's placement in the course syllabus.  Then, get to know the players.  Learn something about the case from the case caption, figure out the stage or setting for the case by talking through the information gleaned from the citation, etc., picture yourself as another judge or advocate for one of the parties, hypothesize how you might use this case in the future when it comes to exam time, skim through the case to capture the sorts of sections of the case and its organization (either by looking at headings or by skimming the paragraphs), and then poke around at the very end of the case to see what the court decided.  Indeed, that's my favorite pre-reading strategy: Peeking at the end before I begin. That gets my focus jumpstarted! 
  3. Third, read with gusto.  Reading takes energy and focus, so if the time doesn't feel quite right, wait.  But then, when you are reading to go, read the case facts - not as fiction - but recognizing rather that the facts involve real people and entities with real struggles.  After all, cases often come to the court because people couldn't resolve hard-felt (and heart-felt) disputes on their own. As you read, look up words that you don't know.  Write the meaning of those words, in your own words, in the margins of the text.  Rather than highlighting lots of phrases that you think are important, make a notation on the text as to why you think that phrase or sentence might be important.  Feel free to draw pictures or make paraphrases to help you capture the meanings of the words.  If something seems unclear, it probably is, to you and to most of us.  So, go back to those sections, in which the court often times doesn't explain its analysis, and make inferences (guesses) as to what is going on.  Realize that the most (and perhaps all) cases are subject to different interpretations.  Be creative to scope out connections with previous readings.  Look for patterns.  Dialogue with the materials.  Question them, indeed, interrogate the court.  Don't let the court baffle you.  Instead, be on the lookout for mistakes that the court might have made in its analysis.  In sum, talk back to the court and with the court as you read.
  4. Fourth, reading doesn't stop after you read.  Instead, after reading, be an explorer to construct your own meaning of the case.  As a suggestion, compile a list of questions that you would like to have asked the court or the advocates.  Summarize in your own words what you think the case stands for (and why it was assigned for your course).  Evaluate the case as to whether its reasoning was puzzling, or startling, or settling (and why).  Conjure up different facts to test how the decision might have been impacted in different circumstances.  Finally, synthesis a one sentence or phrase statement for what you've learned from the case, such as: "Vosburg (involving a schoolhouse kick) stands for the proposition that people are liable for battery even when they don't intend to harm anyone as long as they intended the contact because the purpose of battery is to protect people from - not just harmful contacts - but from all contacts that interfere with another's bodily integrity as a co-human being."

Now, before I let you go, just one more word about speed.  You don't get faster at reading cases by trying to read fast.  Rather, over time, much like water as it heats slowly on the oven range, using these strategies won't feel like an improvement...at all.  Instead, if  you're like me, you feel like its taking lots more of your time, energy, and perspiration to learn to be a critical legal reader.   And, it is!  But, by going slow, conversationally with the text, through practice in pre-reading strategies, then reading the text with robust gusto, and finally polishing off the reading by making sense and connections with the text for future use, you'll end up becoming a faster reader without even trying.  

Much like learning to ride a bike, if you are like me, you fall lots and get lots of bruises along the way.  That's because learning is hard difficult work.  But, just like learning to ride a bike, once you get the hang of it, you'll be well on your way to being a better legal reader (and a better advocate on behalf of your clients in the future).  (Scott Johns).

 

August 22, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

An Act of Sustained Thinking

Writing across the curriculum guru (and now Vermont woodturner) Toby Fulwiler has written, "[A]ny act of sustained writing is an act of sustained thinking -- which is just plain hard work." Several years back, my National Writing Project cohort chose this quote as our watchword as we devoted ourselves to our own demanding writing projects and to learning how to inspire our students to do the same.  

Fulwiler's quote came back to me today during a student panel for Orientation. Speaking to our incoming class, one of our 2Ls contrasted the mental effort of law school with her former profession as a bank auditor. No stranger to long hours and sustained effort, she told the 1Ls she had been unprepared for the higher level of mental effort required by law school. 1L year, she told them, didn't offer the times she had experienced in her former position where exacting but repetitious tasks might not require full mental effort. Instead, she was "on" the whole time she did the work of a law student, putting out huge amounts of mental effort, which was just plain hard work -- harder work than she had done before, harder work than she expected, harder work that demanded she give her absolute best every day. And it was worth it. 

I love the promise of the beginning of a new academic year, infused with the excitement of those newly arrived and the passion of 2Ls and 3Ls enthused by their taste of lawyering work over summer externships and internships. The sustained thinking and just plain hard work involved in becoming a lawyer -- or being a lawyer, or being an academic success professional --is a cause for celebration, not shrinking, as long as that sustained work is accompanied with a passion for serving others and a commitment to living life as a whole, fulfilled person. 

(Nancy Luebbert)

August 21, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

As a Matter of Course

It is the start of the school year, and we are welcoming new classes of students to begin their courses of study in law school.  Each course of study will comprise a score or more individual courses in particular subjects, and we hope that in due course every student will consume and fully digest a rich multi-course legal banquet. Of course.

Our versatile word "course" is derived from the Latin word "currere", meaning "to run" or "to flow".  In all of its varied uses, it alludes to a sense of movement and progress, and this is particularly fitting when we think of the course of a law student's passage from matriculation to graduation.  They arrive at school, eager and perhaps a bit awed as they imagine themselves advancing, starting off slowly, developing the knowledge, skill, and judgment of an attorney as they make their ways along, and then racing to the finish line to collect their prizes.

To many incoming 1L students, law school may seem like a watercourse -- like a channel through which they will be carried, sometimes swept through dizzying rapids, other times dragged through muddy waters of confounding breadth, ultimately to squeeze past a perilous bar and then be deposited at the port of Career, where their next adventure begins.  In this view, all students need to do is learn to paddle, avoid rocking the boat, and make use of their brains and perseverance, and they will arrive at their destinations.

But there are better courses for comparison.  Law school is best considered like a racecourse or a golf course -- not because their structures are more precisely analogous, but because of the way successful performers approach them.  Sure, great sports performers make the most of their talents and training.  But before they begin a race or a tournament, they get to know the course.  A runner will trace out the course route, measuring the flats and the hills, and will plan out her pacing accordingly.  A golfer will play or at least walk the course, making note of obstacles, slopes, and doglegs, and getting to know the feel of the greens.  A skier will take practice runs down the course, developing a mental map so he can plan when to be cautious, when to be daring, when to push for speed.  Knowing the course means they can make the best use of their skills and strategies over the long term.

So it is in law school.  Week to week, month to month, semester to semester, knowing what it coming means students can expend their resources (time, attention, energy, etc.) more wisely.  It means they can allow sufficient time to prepare for opportunities, or for challenges.  It lessens the chances that they will wander out of bounds or run around in circles.  

This is one of the reasons I love the start of the new academic year.  It gives those of us in Academic Success a wonderful opportunity to provide something of immediate and long-term value to every new student we meet.  We can walk them through the course!  We can explain to them what a typical week will be like.  We can preview all the major tasks of their first semester -- reading, attending class, outlining, midterms, legal writing assignments, practice tests, and final exams -- and help the students develop their own mental maps of the course.  We can give them a bird's-eye of the entire tournament: the timing, value, and effort required of the opportunities and expectations they will encounter over the next few years.  And we can do all of this for them painlessly -- not in response to an individual's frustration or anxiety or poor performance.  It's the best part of the year, because we can give our students something they all can use, whether or not they have come into law school having learned the lesson that so many champions have learned: Successful performers don't see the course as running and carrying them along with it.  They see the course as something they themselves run.

[Bill MacDonald]

August 20, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Orientation, Sports, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 19, 2019

Unsung Heroes

A hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people. – Maya Angelou

The other day I emailed a colleague, that I won’t identify by name, seeking advice. The colleague, as expected, responded with very helpful information that I had not before considered. As I gushed my profuse thanks upon my colleague, my inner monologue said, “wow this person knows all the answers, I wish I could be like them!” My thoughts went immediately to a dream-like vision of them on some faraway campus with alphabetized, date-sorted, color-coded files of perfect teaching evaluations; an impeccably clean desktop; an email inbox that has been zeroed out; and a tickler with everything checked off. I fantasized that this person, my ASP hero, was respected and listened to by the faculty at their school and has well-behaved children at home to boot.

A phone call on my office line interrupted my fantasy daydream. It was a different colleague, this time calling me for help. I offered a suggestion to a problem presented, based on my experience. As the caller thankfully responded to me and then offered unsolicited extolment on something I’d published recently, it dawned on me that we are all, at some point, “heroes” to someone else.

I snort-laughed at the thought that someone outside of my building could be imagining me with the perfect office, the perfect classes, and the perfect life. My desk is cluttered, and my children are complex. There is far more in my to-do box, than in my outbox.

The point of my message is not about perceived perfection or praise. It is about our own reluctance to recognize how bad ass we really are. Sure, humility has its purpose, but too often ASPers are the unsung heroes of the law school. I champion my ASP colleagues who are teachers, leaders, and scholars. To all the adjuncts, instructors, lecturers, deans, directors, visitors, professors in residence, professors of practice, teaching professors, clinical professors, professors of academic support, and tenured professors, you may not have set out to be hero to anyone. But with every returned phone call and each answered email, with every listserv question and comment, with each textbook recommendation and syllabus share, you have become a hero to us all.

 (Marsha Griggs)

August 19, 2019 in Academic Support Spotlight, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 15, 2019

What I Wished I Had Known When I First Started in Academic Support...

I love to talk, yap, and chat.  The more the better.  And, that's a problem.  A very big problem, at least with respect to my work as an academic support professional (ASP).  I'll explain, but first, a bit of a story to set the stage...

As mentioned in a recent blog entitled Obstacles or Opportunities, I'm on the slow mend after an accident this summer, in which I fractured my back.  Since the accident, I am mostly using a walker to navigate the world upright, step by step, as the fractures heal.

Not long ago, my spouse took me to the public library (in addition to talking, I love to read!).  It started out as a perfect day, with me hobbling straight ahead, walker in action - right up to the newly released books.  I felt like I was in a heavenly garden, with rows and rows of new books.  

Now, before I move on, you've heard of the saying that "you can't judge a book but its cover." Well, as a bit of background, I'm not allowed to "BLT" right now (with my upper-body brace trying to restrain my back from further injury).  That means no bending, lifting, or twisting (not that I could twist at my age even if I wanted to).  

But, the books that were most shiny to me were "bottom shelvers." Nothing was in arm's reach without offending the entire medical community...by bending, lifting, and twisting, too.  Immobilized, I gave up on books that day because, even though the covers looked enticing on those bottom shelves, I couldn't be sure that the titles were indeed profitable since I couldn't poke around the table of contents, the forward, and a few pages in-between.  I left empty handed because I don't get books based solely on the covers.

That brings me back to the world of academic support.  You see, when I first began serving as an academic support person, I set out to read all of the books and the literature, or at least as much as I could, to figure out how to best teach our students the necessary skills to be successful as learners.  Things like reading, note-taking, participating in classroom discussions, time management, creating study tools or outlines, and exam reading, analysis, and writing.  But, to be frank, I didn't learn what I now consider the most important skill at all, until - unfortunately - many years (and students) had past.  In short, I didn't learn to be a listener first and foremost.  In fact, rather than really listening to my students, I was quick to the draw to provide suggestions for them to implement, assuming that I knew the source of the problems or issues that my students were facing.  I wanted to be a source of wisdom rather than what is really wise, listening first before speaking.  How did I realize the errors of my ways?  Well, it happened due to the fortuitous circumstance of getting to know and work a bit with Dr. Martha (Marty) Peters, Ph.D., Emerita Professor of Law from Elon University.  

Dr. Peters would meet - one by one - with students struggling with multiple-choice analysis.  Rather than handing out sage advice (after all, she has a Ph.D. in educational psychology!), Dr. Peters would instead ask students to work through each question that they missed -  slowly - reading and navigating and pondering the problem to see if there might be anything at all, any patterns or words or pauses that might have helped them reach the correct answer.  Then, Dr. Peters would move on to the next question missed.  And, the next question, and then...the next question, etc.  She remained completely silent.  Observing. Hearing. Listening. Watching.  Finally, towards the end of one hour counseling sessions, Dr. Peters simply asked students what suggestions they might have for themselves in order to more successfully analyze multiple-choice questions next time.  In short, she asks students to share what they had learned.  The anecdotal results were simply miraculous.

First, students felt empowered; sorrowful countenances started to be reshaped as possibilities of hope and a future in law.  I know that it sounds a little (okay...a lot) dramatic, but it was unbelievably apparent as students started to actually believe that they could be law school learners, that they could help shape their destinies, that they might actually belong in law school as part of the learning community and future attorneys.  That's because it was they themselves who came up with the answers and the solutions to their learning conundrums (rather than the experts).  In short, students started to become experts in their own learning.  

Second, most students quickly realized that their analytical problems were not with the multiple-choice problems themselves or with the law but rather related to reading.  For the most part, they were missing clues, often because they didn't think that they could actually successfully solve the problems.  Rather than misreading problems and legal materials, students started to develop both their confidence and their competence as critical legal readers.  For helpful critical reading tips, see Jane B. Grisé, Critical Reading for Success in Law School and Beyond (West Academic 2017); see also, Jane B. Grisé, Teaching First-Year Students to Read so Critical that They Discover a "Mistake" in the Judicial Opinion, The Learning Curve (Summer 2014) (available at: https://uknowledge.uky.edu).

Third, in the next batch of multiple-choice problems later that week, scores skyrocketed.  No exaggeration!  Here's why.  Before, many students were answering problems that were in their heads but those weren't really the problems on the practice sets or the exams.  In other words, students were often solving problems that didn't exist.  Now, they were poking and prodding and probing the fact problems and the issues carefully with confident "critical reading eyes," evaluating words and phrases and debating their meaning and possible legal import.  

After working with Dr. Peters for a few days, I realized the most important lesson of my ASP life.  It sort of leaped out of my heart and into my mind.  Scott: "Talk less; listen more!"  Now, before I start to hand out suggestions and advice, I try to ask my students first what suggestions they might have to improve their own learning.  In short, I try not to judge my students by what I think might be their problems and issues but I rather try to let my students co-create with me a learning atmosphere in which to  empower and liberate them...to be the true experts for their own learning.  So, next time you see me, please stop me from talking so much!  It's really quite a problem for me.  

(Scott Johns)

August 15, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

What I Wish I'd Known as a 1L

I entered the academic support field with the goal of keeping law students from making the mistakes I made in law school. In the yin and yang of my first year, I think I might have made every mistake possible. Here are some of the things I wish I'd  known as a 1L.

You can make it as well as anyone else. I don't care if you're 16 or 65, just got out of college or finished college three decades ago, are the first in your family to get past high school or come from five generations of lawyers, went to nationals in debate or fear speaking in public. You belong here just as much as the rest of the class. 

You're not better than anyone else. Congratulations if you graduated from an Ivy League school or worked 20 years as a top-level paralegal in a high-powered law firm or rose to prominence in the military or a corporation. Those experiences are enriching and will add depth to your understanding. Your classmates who attended community college or were river guides or worked the floor in a big box store bring equally valuable perspectives. If you have a tendency towards having a swelled head, ditch it now.

You don't have to study 100 hours a week to make it. Honestly, that's what our Dean of Students recommended at my convocation. I hope I was the only person stupid enough to follow his advice. Sufficient exercise, adequate sleep each night, and a day of rest each week, combined with a sustainable study schedule, will help you learn far more than putting in non-stop 15-hour days. 

What you did as an undergraduate isn't good enough. Skimming the reading, doing an assignment at the last minute, just doing what's assigned and no more, and cramming at the end of the semester were adequate for many folks as undergraduates. They don't cut it in law school. Even if you keep your head above water doing this in law school, you won't gain the deep understanding that good lawyers need.

If you don't understand a case, don't read it over and over without a strategy. One how-to-go-to-law-school book I read suggested reading cases six or eight times superficially to make the salient points sink in. Baloney. But don't read once and give up, either. Talk with your academic support professional about effective reading strategies. Previewing, talking back to the case, and asking questions might seem artificial and stilted, but they are some methods expert readers use to understand -- and as a lawyer you must be an expert reader.

Ask questions. Even if you're shy. Especially if you think your question is stupid. There's no shame in not understanding. Asking for help is something that good lawyers do, all the time. And chances are that your classmates will heave a sigh of relief when you ask something that they were afraid to ask, or when you expose a problem that they didn't even see.

Learn to seek and welcome criticism. Opposing counsel and judges will point out every weakness in your case and every place your argument doesn't hold water. So use your time in law school not only to develop a thick skin, but also to actively seek out oral and written feedback, positive and negative -- on your case briefs, on your outlines, on practice exams, and on legal writing assignments. Taking critiques seriously will make you a better lawyer.

Be open to learning in new ways. You're lucky to be going to school at a time when the ABA mandates that every law school offer academic support to its students. Taking advantage of your school's academic support (variously known as Academic Success, Skills, Excellence, Achievement, and similar terms) will help your first year's experience be more efficient, effective, and enjoyable.  

You're not here to learn the law. You're here to become a lawyer. Sure, you will be learning a lot of rules, just like a beginning medical student has to learn a lot of basic biochemistry and molecular biology. But just like a medical student is training to heal the human body, you are using the raw material of rules to learn how to use facts, words, and ideas to promote an orderly and just resolution of disputes. When you start to get bogged down and think all you're doing is memorizing, step back and think about how real people are affected by what you're learning. Use law school to practice becoming a great lawyer.

Be happy. Law professor Paula Franzese writes, "[L]ife will meet you at your level of expectation for it." If you expect to be miserable in law school, you will be. If you expect to be happy and fulfilled, you will be. Approach everything you do with a positive attitude, and 1L year will be a great stepping-stone not only to your life as a lawyer but to your life as a person living with purpose and joy.

(Nancy Luebbert)

August 14, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 12, 2019

Practicing Self-Care

Be sure to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.Airline safety instructions

Academic support professionals are the first responders in law school. In many cases we guide entering students through new student orientation, provide critical skills workshops early in the semester, and offer practice exams and extra help later in the term when things begin to look bleak. First responders are professionals that we look to for help and comfort in times of crisis, be it related to health, safety, or law school survival. The start of a new academic year is a good time to remember, that by being there for others, first responders put themselves at risk, not just of physical harm, but of emotional burnout.

Heavy is the cape of those who play the role of professor, listener, solution provider, advocate, adviser, administrator, coordinator, counselor, collector and keeper of statistics (whether you like math or not), researcher, scholar, and more. Executive coach Donna Schilder says “if you don’t take care of yourself, you can experience burnout, stress, fatigue, reduced mental effectiveness, health problems, anxiety, frustration, and inability to sleep.” Sure, students may look to us for answers or coaching, but we sometimes will need to first coach ourselves to create a space for restoration.

Schilder recommends spending time each day on a renewal activity like sit quietly for at least 10 minutes before taking calls or responding to emails, listen to soothing or uplifting music throughout the day, set aside time to journal your thoughts or ideas, and infuse laughter into your daily routine to cut down on stress. When we practice self-care, we better position ourselves to be an effective resource for others.

(Marsha Griggs)

August 12, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Welcome to Law School!

A new journey begins the next couple weeks for many students around the country.  1Ls at my school start tomorrow.  The emotions range from excited to anxious.  Whatever your emotion, I want you to know that someone else is probably feeling the same thing.  They are probably only 2-3 seats away from you in class.  Your feelings are normal.  Embrace the new journey.

Some students walk into law school worrying that everyone will be ahead of them.  I understand the feeling.  I wasn't planning to attend law school until the summer before my last year of college.  None of my family were attorneys (until I married into a family of attorneys later).  No one in my family graduated college.  Torts were still yummy desserts until 9am Monday morning of my first day.  I had no idea what law school entailed, but I planned to work hard to do my best.  Even without the background, I succeeded and became an attorney.  All of you can do that too.

My suggestion for entering 1Ls boils down to 2 points.  Work hard and seek feedback.  I love the quote hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.  I am a firm believer that most of us can succeed with the right amount of quality work.  The second piece of the advice is quality work.  Quality work requires feedback.  Don't aimlessly go through law school.  Ask professors and ASPers for help.  Seek feedback on outlines and practice essays.  Feedback helps demonstrate where to improve, which leads to our growth.  The right kind of hard works makes a difference.  Worker smarter and harder.  Everyone can do that.

My background and experience illustrates that you don't need lawyers in your family to succeed.  If you haven't worked at a law office, that is alright.  Most students entering your classes will not have a significant background in law.  Law school will be a new and exciting journey for everyone.  Do everything you can to maximize your potential and enjoy the journey.  Have a great first semester!

(Steven Foster)

August 11, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Trying to Appreciate More

While driving home from my son's flag football practice today, he asked what else we were doing.  Most days we do have other things, because my kids play too many sports, but today, I told him nothing.  He responded with the sort of whine and attitude that only a 9-year-old possesses.  I proceeded to lecture him for far too long about appreciating what he gets to do instead of complaining about what he doesn't get to do.  As I went through my day though, I thought I may need that advice more than him.

The new semester is right around the corner, and no one has enough time.  I just finished helping students prepare for the bar exam, so I am exhausted.  However, I teach a 1 week intro class to our 1Ls, need to create syllabi for my upcoming bar prep classes, and still need to manage emails.  Being away from everything is overwhelming.  I complain when I am not at work about how much needs to get done and complain when I am at work that I need a break.  During the semester, it is easy to complain about needing more time for individual feedback but also needing to teach all the classes because no one else teaches like ASPers.  I am sure many of us want more leadership in the law school but also complain about the commitments if we had the role.  My inner 9-year-old probably (definitely) complains too much.

Many of our complaints are legitimate, and my guess is most of us don't have enough time.  We should be leaders of our respective schools.  However, the focus on what we don't have has an impact on our mental health.  All of us have a big impact on students' lives.  The type of impact that changes career's, and for some, helps students become lawyers.  I want to try to focus on the positive impact more.  I am not saying don't strive to get better status or role at schools.  I want to both appreciate my impact and strive to help more in every way I can.

John C. Maxwell wrote a piece recently for Success Magazine with 10 tips to stop complaining.  I plan to try to focus on 1 or 2 each week to enjoy work just a little more.  Every small improvement in my joy has the potential to help more students, and maybe I won't be as much of a hypocrite when I talk to my kids.  Well, maybe I won't be a hypocrite on this issue at least.  Enjoy the start of the semester.

(Steven Foster)

August 10, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Maintaining Meaning in Law School

Many people have heard of the term "cognitive dissonance" -- the discomfort experienced by humans when they receive new information that contradicts an existing belief or system of beliefs.  Mild cognitive dissonance, caused by information that only diverges slightly from what was previously believed, might prompt people to adopt the new information and change their belief systems.  Paradoxically, though, intense cognitive dissonance, caused by information that emphatically contradicts previous beliefs, can cause people to cling more tightly to their existing beliefs, even if an objective observer might conclude that the new information invalidates the old belief.  This is because the human mind often values consistency and reliability more than it values objective "truth".  Thus, die-hard fans of a sports team that comes in dead last in its league might insist with renewed vigor that their team is great ("Wait 'til next year!"), or strong supporters of a political candidate embroiled in scandal might argue that there was a misunderstanding or that stories about the scandal were merely ersatz reporting.  This understanding of cognitive dissonance can help teachers understand why some students might rebel against some lessons -- it would simply be too wrenching to change one's worldview, when disbelief is so much easier.

I recently encountered a seemingly-related theory that addresses these reactions more holistically, and in a way that I think can help Academic Support professionals work with their students.  The Meaning Maintenance Model (or MMM) is described by Steven J. Heine, Travis Proulx, and Kathleen D. Vohs in Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2006, Vol. 10, No.2, 88-110.  This model proposes that people have a pervasive need to establish a sense of meaning in their lives -- "meaning" being broadly defined as the set of mental relationships that a person uses to organize their perceptions of the world.  This seems analogous to the belief system described above.  Meaning is how we understand the world to work.  MMM suggests that when the meaning that a person has built up over time is threatened by challenging new information, the person will seek to compensate by assigning or creating additional meaning to their lives, thus maintaining an overall sense of meaning.  For example, someone whose sense of meaning is based in part on a devout religious understanding of how the world works might respond to a threat to that understanding (like an unexpected and seemingly unfair death of a close relative that shakes their belief in a loving creator) by seeking more meaning, or more validation of the meaning that already exists for them, in their religious beliefs.  They might pray more often or look for new, previously hidden meaning in scripture.

So far, that kind of reaction sounds very much like a response described under the cognitive dissonance model.  Where MMM differs is in the suggestion that it is not so much the specific belief system that matters so much to an individual as it is the overall level of meaning the individual feels they have attained.  Thus, if one's belief system or sense of how the world works (e.g., meaning) is shaken in one realm (say, their sports team comes in dead last), another way that that person might compensate psychologically is by enhancing her sense of meaning in an entirely different realm (say, by mastering a new skill like baking bread).  In fact, suggests MMM, one might even pre-emptively mitigate the shock of encountering challenging information by developing a new sense of meaning in a different realm in advance of the shock.  In other words, someone who masters the art of baking bread from scratch might be less likely to be upset by seeing their favorite team come in last when that happens later, because they have already made new connections about how the world of baking works that will compensate for the recognized loss of understanding how their sports team performs.  

This can be directly relevant to helping law students navigate their first year, or their bar review period, or any time of transition during which the knowledge they had taken for granted is going to be challenged and perhaps even invalidated altogether.  Think of the confident English major who is told by his legal writing professor that his legal writing is not up to snuff, or the idealist forced to contend with the fact that the law sometimes compromises on justice or truth in order to promote goals like consistency and efficiency.  In each case, their sense of meaning, their understanding of how the world works, is diminished.  Cognitive dissonance theory tells us those students might be inclined to rebel against their new teachings, insisting that they are better writers without IRAC or that compromise is immoral. MMM suggests that this may happen, but also that there is a way to forestall it: by helping the student develop a stronger sense of meaning in other realms -- either while they are wrestling with the new contradictory information, or even in advance of this -- you may help them maintain a comfortable level of meaning overall, so that the student can afford to surrender some of the meaning they had previously built up surrounding their writing skills or the hazards of compromise.  Two ways to help a student develop a stronger sense of meaning are (1) help them to develop new skills or knowledge in a particular realm, while helping them to recognize this development through praise and specific feedback, and (2) get them to use previously developed skills or knowledge in a new context -- again, while helping them to see what they are doing -- so that they build new constructs of meaning around those skills and knowledge.

In other words, one way to inoculate students against the urge to fight against new teachings that threaten their senses of what they "know" or how they feel about themselves is to focus their attention on something else they are learning that is not so threatening, and to help them see what they have learned there.  A student who refuses to use their legal writing professor's required format -- or has trouble even recognizing that they are not doing so -- might be helped by urging them to see all that they have learned about tort law, for example.  If law students inherently want to maintain their perceived level of understanding of how the world works -- their sense of meaning -- even while their law professors are trying to tear down their layperson's sense of the meanings of fairness, analysis, persuasiveness, etc., then perhaps we should try to help them enhance the other components of their sense of meaning.

[Bill MacDonald]

August 6, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Science, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Obstacles or Opportunities

In an instant, my end-of-summer plans changed.  I was supposed to celebrate the end of the bar exam by backpacking with my spouse.  Instead, I'm learning to stand, hobble, and walk around a bit with the aid of a wheelchair and a walker by my side.  In the aftermath of an accident on the way to visit my mom in the hospital, of all places, I ended up in the hospital with multiple lower back fractures.  I'm told that I need to wear a back brace (sort of like a upper-body cast to immobilize my back) for the next three months.  It's given me a new appreciation for those with limited mobility or other challenges.  

Interestingly, while feeling sorry for myself, I told the physical therapist that I was sad that I couldn't go backpacking because I had worked so hard, throughout the winter, spring, and summer, to train for the grueling trek.  In response, the physical therapist stated matter of factly that had I not been exercising for all of those many previous months, I would not yet be standing or walking.  In other words, my training was not for naught.  Indeed, that training has been a big blessing in retrospect.

It seems like life - with its many unanticipated circumstances - seems to so often derail us.   I'm fortunate. I'm at home now resting and recovering.  It's not what I hoped for but the accident has given me a new appreciation for others.  Like the team of rescue workers.  I never saw them.  I couldn't open my eyes due to the pain.  But, they were there, and that's all that mattered.  Present.  Helping.  Encouraging.  And at the hospital, the emergency room staff and the nurses, and the CNA's and the transporters and the doctors.  Wow; they worked as a team.  As I regained my senses, I noticed that everywhere my stretcher bed was pushed in the hospital, from X-rays to CT scans to MRI's, people asked their coworkers - not if they could help - but rather, how they could help.  That's real teamwork.

Now that I am back home, I'm starting to realize that my world has gotten a lot smaller...and yet a lot bigger too.  It's become smaller in that I can't just hop a car or take a bus and go where I'd like to travel independently.  It takes teamwork to get my moving.  But, it's a lot bigger because I'm seeing things that I never noticed before.  Like the many obstacles that are so often in the way of those who live and move in wheelchairs.  In other words, I'm starting to notice the world, at least a bit, from the vantage point of others.  And, I'm starting to appreciate the small things in life, like a beautiful yellow butterfly that seems brush against the morning window greeting me with a hardy hello.  You see, obstacles can bring opportunities.

That brings me back to law school.  It's orientation week (or soon will be) for new 1L students.  As I think about how to relate to them, I wonder if too many years have passed such that I no longer know the excitement of the first day on campus, or the fear of whether I will fit in, or the uncertainty of whether I will even be up for the task of law school.  So, as I reflect on my accident, I think that the challenge for me as an academic support professional is to just be present to my students, to hear them out, to encourage them, to help them turn obstacles into opportunities for learning.  As I end this post, let me also say one more thing.  All of us are holding back something; we all have obstacles in our paths.  But most of the time, I don't take the time to get to know the others in my life, which means that I don't really let them become part of my life (nor let them become part of my life). As this new academic year begins, my aim is to be present; simply present.  To be listening to them; to hear them out.  To encourage them and to help them know that they belong.  Step by step.  Welcome to the new year!   (Scott Johns).

August 1, 2019 in Advice, Disability Matters, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Dealing with the In-Between Like a Lawyer

For thousands of bar takers, the waiting begins this afternoon; it will be weeks or months until they know the results of the hours and months they have spent preparing for the bar exam. Rebekah Cudé, a gifted trial lawyer and appellate lawyer now serving as Idaho Law's Director of Student Affairs, has shared her practical wisdom with our bar takers for years, and she has kindly given permission to share her post-bar exam advice (lightly edited for this blog) with a wider audience. Director Cudé tells bar takers: 

How do I prepare for the possibility that I might not pass the bar exam? I was asked this question a lot last year, and the year before. So, I am going to answer it now, to hopefully help you to stop contemplating this particular possibility as quickly as possible, and maybe recover from the past few weeks a little more quickly as well.  I truly hope it helps you navigate the next few weeks in a sane, healthy way.

How should you prepare? Like a lawyer.

A trial lawyer works their heart out getting ready for trial. Researching, writing, thinking. Preparing. Working. Lots of hours of reading. Time spent alone, and with colleagues, trying to come up with the best answers to the challenges posed by the case. And then the trial arrives, and it is hours, days, sometimes weeks of putting all that work to the test, laying it all out there for others to decide. And then the trial lawyer submits it to the jury or the judge. And waits.

An appellate lawyer works their heart out getting ready for argument. Researching, thinking, writing the briefs. Preparing. Working. Lots of hours of reading. Time spent alone, and with colleagues, trying to come up with the best answers to the questions the court might ask. And then the argument arrives, and it is a very intense (though mercifully brief) time of putting all that work to the test, laying it all out there for others to decide. And then the appellate lawyer submits it to the court. And waits.

The way that lawyers learn to survive the waiting is to learn to let it go.

Healthy lawyers realize that it is out of their hands now, and there is nothing more they can do. Once they get a decision, yes, there may be things to be done. But in the in-between, they let it go.

You are that lawyer now. You have done all of the work. You have laid it all out there for others to decide. You have submitted it to the examiners. You are in the in-between. You need to let it go.

You have the rest of a beautiful summer.  You have friends and family who have missed you. Some of you have jobs to get to, some of you have jobs to seek out.  All of you need to spend some serious time just taking care of yourselves.  So, let it go. And maybe enjoy life a bit.

Here's the deal:

If you spend the next 6-7 weeks worried, anxious, and distracted, and you pass, you will have wasted all that time, and you will have missed out on fully enjoying your life. For nothing.

If you spend the next 6-7 weeks worried, anxious, and distracted, and you do not pass, you will have wasted all that time, and you will have missed out on fully enjoying your life.  For nothing. AND you will be that much less prepared to rally your energy and resources to do it again.

You don't really know how you did.  Trust that it was enough.

Because life is far too short to not enjoy the in-between.

(Nancy Luebbert)

 

 

 

 

July 31, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Same Thing, Only Different

Next week, of course, is when the next bar examination will be administered.  But, for me, next week is also the first week of introductory classes for some of our incoming 1L students.  The semester does not officially begin until the end of August, but like many law schools, mine offers a special program to students who want to learn something about the American legal system and law school expectations before substantive classes begin.  So next week is going to be a little strange for me -- sort of like missing the wedding of one of my children because I will be busy attending the birth of another.

What strikes me now, as it did last year at this time, and as I suspect it will every year at this time, is how things feel simultaneously the same and different from years past.  There's an almost nostalgic sense of repetition. On Monday, I'll meet my first batch of eager, naive new students, enthusiastic to argue for justice, and perplexed by the density and obliquity of case law and lectures.  On Tuesday, I let go of the graduates I worked with all summer, and some for the previous two years, and they have to pass their most demanding test on their own.  These changes are as reliable as the seasons.  At the same time, when I look back to where I was last year, and consider what I thought I knew then about teaching and supporting all these students and alumni, I feel like I'm on a different planet entirely.  I'm questioning assumptions I once took for granted.  I'm noticing trends and relationships that were camouflaged before.  I am alternately worried and comforted by circumstances that previously had seemed either mundane or invisible to me -- things like students' financial situations or their relationships to other students.

It's a minor paradox of teaching: our goal, year in and year out, is to help make sure that our students learn a certain portion of a nearly fixed chunk of the universe. In law school, it's about reading a case, fashioning a sound legal argument, memorizing important rules, managing one's time and attention, and developing sound judgment.  The things we want our students to learn change glacially, and therefore imperceptibly.  What we wanted our students to learn this year is substantially identical to what we wanted them to learn last year, and to what we will want them to learn next year.  And this reliability is one of the anchors of both legal academia and legal practice.

But as individual teachers, the things we want to learn ourselves change substantially from year to year.  There are some things we wanted to understand -- say, the statistical relationships between first-year performance and eventual bar passage -- that we investigate, and we uncover, and we take that knowledge and run with it, because now it's not something to discover, it's something to use.  There are other things like new learning theories or suspicions about our students' law school experience that we thought might be important or useful, and we look into them, and they turn out to be negligible.  And there is always something new -- some fresh line of inquiry to follow, some previously overlooked problem to be solved, some new mountain to be climbed that we couldn't even see until we had gotten to the top of the previous mountain.  

It's always true, but to me it seems most true at this time of year.  We are always trying to learn different new skills and knowledge to help our students learn the same old skills and knowledge.  I see my 1L students coming in, and I want them to learn everything my most successful graduates have learned to achieve that success, and yet it seems like conveying those things in exactly the same way would be a dereliction of duty.  We want our students to be the fittest, so they have the best chance of survival, but in a way we are the ones doing the evolving.

[Bill MacDonald]

July 23, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 15, 2019

Shaking Off Self-Doubt

You can choose to listen to the skeptics or hit the ignore button. - Michael Peggs

Our students today have become adept at shunning criticism and negative input. When coaches or teachers prejudge students at any age, there is an army of protective advocates who will stand up for the wronged student and demonstrate that with the right accommodation a student may exceed the expectations of a perceived disability. We full-scale reject the haterist mindset that seeks to label learners with arbitrarily imposed limitations. Taylor Swift warned us that “haters gonna hate”. Yet, too often when the stakes are high, and especially during bar study, we stir up our own hater-aid. Over the years I've overheard students say things like: “I’ve never been good at standardized tests,” “I am never going to learn all these essay subjects,” “I’ve got too much going on to study the way I should,” and “I don’t expect to pass on the first time.”  

You may need to mute your inner monologue, if it is filling your mind with self-defeating prophecy. Each time a fear-based thought tries to creep in, hit the ignore button and block it like a call from a telemarketer. Follow Taylor’s lead and shake off the self-doubt. Use daily bar study affirmations as an exercise in mindfulness to allow you to meditate on your positive potential. For the next two weeks, the only attitude you can afford is a can-do attitude. Repeat these affirming words until they become your reality: I can and will pass the bar. I am worthy of a bar card, and right now I am making plans for my life as an attorney.

(Marsha Griggs)

July 15, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Disability Matters, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Starting with Stories

Like my colleagues, I am thinking ahead to the new school year even as my attention is consumed by those preparing for the bar exam three weeks from now.  Last year at this time I was thinking mainly about scheduling and content and skills development, and how to tweak and rearrange my classes and workshops to make them more effective.  This year, I find myself thinking at least as much about stories as about skills.

Part of this cogitation is driven by my conversations of late with students dealing with varying degrees of anxiety about the bar exam.  I ask them how they are doing and what has led them to whatever position they currently find themselves in, and their narratives fall broadly into two categories.  Some students tell me kinetic stories about what work they have done, what challenges they have faced, and what strategies they have employed.  They may not have conquered every problem that has come up -- in fact, that's usually why they are talking to me -- but they still see themselves as the protagonists who are driving their stories and pursuing some kind of prize.  Other students, even some with objectively similar obstacles, tell their stories in a different way.  They are still the centers of their own stories, but things keep happening to them (poor performance on a practice test, illness, misunderstanding, etc.), and they are just doing what they can to cope.  These latter folks are not doomed, by any means; they are, in fact, often quite capable.  But they do seem to feel more anxiety and doubt than the more protagonistic students.  So part of what I am wondering is whether it might be possible to cultivate that sense of protagonism by using language that highlights one's sense of agency and potency, from the very start of law school.  Perhaps by using less language about "what will happen" and "what you will encounter", and more language about "what you will learn to do" and "how others have overcome difficulties", I can shift students' perspectives in a more empowering direction.

Another aspect of storytelling that has become clearly significant over the past year is how students perceive their stories in relation to their law school -- their fellow students, their class as an entity, their professors, their administration, and their alumni community.  At the start of my 3L pre-bar prep course this spring, I felt it was very important to intentionally and repeatedly talk about our class as a team.  We were there to support each other, I said, because we had common goals as individuals and as a group.  Each student wanted to pass the bar exam in July -- that much they knew going into the class -- but, I pointed out, each student should also want to see everyone else in the class pass, too.  Teamwork might mean going a little further to help our classmates in a pinch, but it also means we've got a bunch of other people in our corner, willing to do the same for us.  The faculty, the administration, and the alumni want to see them succeed, too, because their success makes everybody look better, and because we've invested so much energy and faith in them.  And if the class does notably well as a group on the bar exam, their pass rate becomes public information that makes them all look like part of a stellar crop of new lawyers.

At times I felt almost like a goofy cheerleader telling this story, and encouraging my students to tell that story about themselves as a team.  But it seems to have paid off.  This summer we are seeing notably higher rates of participation and completion of assignments in summer bar prep courses.  Recent graduates are spending more time together, on and off campus, and I've been talking to far more of them in my office and on the phone than last summer.  Just telling a story of teamwork isn't enough -- the school has also had to walk the walk, by providing additional resources and guidance to students -- but it is clear that intensifying our characterization of getting ready for the bar as a communal effort has had a positive effect.

This is another thing I am wondering about, as I move forward with plans to work with our new incoming students.  How can I tell that story of the law school as a team in a way that will stick with these new students for three intensive years?  Is there a way to cultivate that story in the face of the known competition for grades in the first year?  Is there a way to keep that story from becoming trite and from being tattered by cynicism?  I think there must be.  It's not just the telling of the story that makes it work; it's also acting the story out, and making it seem real because it could be real.

So, while I will be working on better ways to improve students' analytical and time management skills this fall, I will also be thinking about better ways to tell them stories -- about themselves as individuals and as part of this new community -- that they can believe in.  Stories that they will want to carry on telling themselves.

[Bill MacDonald]

July 9, 2019 in Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Orientation, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 8, 2019

Time for Transition

And suddenly you just know it's time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings. – Meister Eckhart

This is the time of year when many ASPers transition from one position to the next. Career progressions in ASP are as varied as they come. Many who entered as an assistant director are now ready to direct programs at their own schools or another. This fall some will transition from administration to faculty or vice versa. Some are preparing to teach doctrinal courses for the first time, and others just received rank and tenure promotions. Whether your move will take you across the county or across the street to another institution in the same city, boxes must be packed and a world of newness awaits.

The newness can be the most exciting part of a new role in ASP. The newness also can be the most scary. Recent law school graduates newly entering ASP may face the challenge of being perpetually viewed as a student or former student. Those with new roles as faculty or with first-year core teaching responsibilities may have to abide additional layers of oversite not imposed upon other faculty members. A lateral move to a new school can deal the unsettling reminder that, even with years of pedagogical experience under your belt, you are a newbie to this institution, its policies, and its students. Perhaps the greatest hurdle of all is following another great ASP predecessor who left very big shoes to fill.

Whether your newness is a new position, a new course, or just additional responsibility at your current post – embrace the newness. You were recognized for your unique skills and qualifications. You bring amazingness with you. Savor the transition time as you learn your new role and your new students and create a course/program/system that will leave your own indelible footprint.

Congratulations and continued success to all who are making moves from one role to another. The next big shoes to fill will be yours!

(Marsha Griggs)

July 8, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Job Descriptions, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Living Learning (in Full Color Motion)!

On this July 4th holiday, with just under a month to go for this summer's bar takers, let's face the facts:  

Most of us are downright exhausted.  

And, we should be because we've been working pretty much non-stop since graduation  Moreover, given what seems like the insurmountable pressures to learn so much material for the bar exam, it seems like we can't let up with our daily regiment of bar studies.  There's just too much to learn.

However, let me offer you an encouraging way to "let up" so that you can feel mighty good about taking a real day off, whether today or this upcoming weekend.  

Here's how and why...  

Holidays, such as the Fourth of July, are some of the best days of the year to see bar exam problems in living color.  

For example...

That box of fireworks someone bought at a big-top fireworks tent stand.  That was procured through negotiation of a UCC contract for the sale of goods (and the seller most likely provided a secured transaction agreement in order to bring the goods to sale).

That box of fireworks that didn't work as advertised.  Well, that might just blossom into a breach of contracts claim or even a tort claim for misrepresentation.

That box of fireworks that were lit off in the city limits.  In most cities, that's a strict liability crime, plain and simple.

You see, even when we take a day off from studies, we are live in the midst of a world of bar exam problems.  In fact, we are surrounded by bar exam problems because the bar exam tests legal situations that are constantly arising among us.  So, it's a good thing to get our heads out of the books occasionally to see what's happening around.

That means that you can completely feel free to relax and take a whole day-off because even while taking a time-off, you will still be learning lots from just living in the world.  And, because you've been trained as a professional problem-solving attorney, you can't help but see legal problems in full color everywhere.  That's a sign that you are well underway in preparations for your bar exam this summer.

So, please rest assured - bar takers - that in the midsts of a day-off with family and friends, you'll be learning helpful legal principles that you can bank on preparation for success on your upcoming bar exam. And, as a bonus, you'll get some mighty needed rest to recharge your heart and mind too!  (Scott Johns).

July 4, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Law Finds a Way

In Michael Crichton's book The Lost World, his sequel to Jurassic Park, the scientist Ian Malcolm observes that the velociraptors -- pack-oriented hunting dinosaurs that have been brought back from extinction through genetic engineering -- behave unexpectedly viciously towards each other.  Ordinarily, pack animals would work under some kind of social structure, as, for example, when wolves are led by a single alpha male, disadvantaging other males but minimizing conflict and maximizing cooperation among the pack as a whole.  But in the book, the velociraptors are depicted as combative and treacherous, attacking each other at the slightest provocation or opportunity. 

Malcolm realizes that even though the DNA used to recreate these creatures captured perfectly the information needed to duplicate the originals physically, there had been no means by which the scientists could have reproduced the social structure that the original animals had developed and passed along over uncounted millennia.  Without that information inherited from previous generations, the cloned velociraptors could only work out their own "culture" by trial and error -- mostly maladaptive, destructive error.  They might well destroy themselves as a species all over again, just because they had had no chance to observe and learn from those who had come before them.

Every year, we are midwives to a new brood of legal hatchlings, law school graduates who must face the professional equivalent of nature red in tooth and claw: the bar examination.  In the majority of cases, this is not an iterative, developmental experience.  Most attorneys take the bar exam once and never have to apply its lessons again.  But the lessons are real and valuable.

Some of those lessons are relatively easily compiled and organized, so that they can be provided/sold to future graduates through various forms of mass marketing: bar review courses that offer exhaustive compendia of necessary legal rules and concepts, or books that provide tips about studying, memorizing, essay writing, or time management.  These can be quite helpful, and they provide a very large portion of the information that determines most applicant's behavior as they prepare for, and then take, the bar examination.   

Still, for the most part, this information goes only to the development of the individual's fitness for the exam.  Each individual applicant acquires certain needed components -- some knowledge, some judgment, some skills -- in the same way that an individual velociraptor can develop pointed teeth, sharp claws, and a muscular tail.  And these components may serve that applicant well on the exam.

What about the social aspect?  I see my students this summer gathering to watch lectures together.  I hear about them supporting each other when they are confused or frustrated.  I know they are pushing each other to stay on track in their study progress.  They tell me about meeting up off campus or trading thoughts by phone or online.  I know that, for my school at least, something is different this summer: the students are more communicative with me, they are completing more of their assigned work on time, and they are sharing more notes and resources with each other.  This isn't something they've read in a book or took down in a lecture.  It is the social structure of this class of legal hatchlings, developing in a healthy way.

It may only be an incremental change, increasing engagement or completion or quality by a few percentage points.  But such changes, over time, is the definition of evolution.  But it can only happen if we have some way of passing it along, some analogue of DNA that transmits the essence of this slightly modified social structure along to the next generation of hatchlings.

In a way, one aspect of our existence as Academic Success vectors is to carry this information, as best we can, from class to class, like plasmids shuttling genetic material from one bacterium to another.  We can tell next year's graduates what this year's graduates did, ask them to trust us and to try the same strategies.  To the extent they do trust us, and to the extent that we know and can articulate the changes to the social structure, this can be helpful.

We can also ask our alumni to transmit directly, inviting them to return to the classroom next year and to share their experiences with the following class.  I did this twice this past spring semester, and my students seemed very responsive, asking lots of questions to help them suss out what to expect in the summer.  Later this month, I plan to record some video of students engaged in studying, or willing to open up after a lecture or an exercise, so that my future students can get a better idea of how these students worked alongside each other.

It is great to seem some improvement in outcomes for our students, and often we can point to better development of individual skills as a contributor to this improvement.  But just because changes to the social component of performance might be more difficult to isolate and package doesn't mean we should let them slip away from year to year, with just the hope that they might be recreated from scratch each time.  Some information is transmitted via nucleotides; some information, via letters and numbers; but some can only be passed along, by explanation and example, from one society to its successor.

[Bill MacDonald]

July 2, 2019 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Science, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 1, 2019

Making a Comeback 30-Days Out

Don't fight [challenges]. Just find a new way to stand. - Oprah Winfrey

The bar exam is 30 days away. It may feel like you have been prepping for the bar exam all your life instead of six weeks. The 30-day mark is a great opportunity to acknowledge that not all bar takers enter bar study on the same footing. Students without strong academic records may be riddled with self-doubt about their ability to pass. For repeat takers, the mental and financial exhaustion of bar study can be all the more discouraging when experienced a second or third time. Past negative experiences are setbacks of which bar study brings daily reminders. These setbacks are short-term, but under the lens of today, they may seem to indelibly mark one’s chance for future success.

Whether your setback was a previous bar exam failure, or not finishing law school with the ranking or job opportunity that you hoped for, there is a comeback in your future. Maybe your setback is trying to juggle a full-time job and raise a family, while your peers bask in the seeming luxury of full-time bar study and an arsenal of supplemental study aids. Whatever the setback, use it as the gateway to an epic comeback. 

If we track the lives of great actors, athletes, political leaders, and other celebrities, we'll find some major comeback that catapulted their career success. Public figures who have mastered the art of the comeback transform their reputations and eradicate public recall of scandals, felonies, fraud, and political defeat. After a comeback, onlookers almost never remember the setback, that is because the setback is never as good or as lasting as the comeback.

Instead of allowing your setback-circumstances to shape your attitude or approach to bar study, let your setback elevate you to greater heights. Pledge today to reform your thoughts. You are not struggling through bar study. You are making your comeback.

(Marsha Griggs)

July 1, 2019 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The "Other" Academic Support Educators

Echoing what Amy Jarmon said in her farewell blog post, the ASP community is awesome. We encourage each other, share ideas and materials, and lift each other up. Sometimes, though, it can feel a little lonely just communicating by phone or e-mail and getting together at the occasional conference.  Although I am blessed to have two terrific ASP colleagues at my law school, they work 300 miles away from the campus where I'm located. And notwithstanding my wonderful local colleagues in this shared endeavor of legal education -- first-rate professionals in legal writing and career development and clinical education and building maintenance and library science and admissions and legal doctrine and every facet of administration -- sometimes an ASPer just wants to get together with other academic support educators who speak the same language and can give insights into common or novel problems. What's a solo ASPer to do?  

Maybe realize that law school academic support educators aren't the only ASPers around.

Today I had the pleasure of a long visit with an academic support educator for undergraduates at my university. After hearing first-hand stories from several friends about the rigors and stresses of law school, and being unaware that law schools offered academic support, he reached out to the law school to see if he could offer assistance to our law students and ultimately connected with me. As we shared our experiences of supporting undergraduate and law students, we realized how many issues we had in common -- helping students manage their time effectively, overcome the fear of stigma, learn critical reading skills, understand the efficacy and desirability of intellectual struggle, and appreciate that seeking assistance is not a sign of weakness but of professionalism.  Our discussion made me realize how much I could learn from (and maybe also contribute to) the University's many academic support professionals outside the law school -- educators helping first generation students, persons with disabilities, non-traditional students, underrepresented minorities, students with current or past trauma, and the economically disadvantaged, as well as those simply insightful enough to recognize they could better reach their potential if they learned how to learn more effectively. While legal education comes with a unique set of challenges, at least half my work involves issues that are not unique to law school. So my new (academic) year's resolution is to become more involved with academic support educators of all ilks, helping all types of students in higher education. I fully expect the "other" academic support educators will be as awesome as my AASE colleagues. (Nancy Luebbert)

 

June 26, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)