Sunday, May 12, 2024

Congratulations to Everyone

In thinking about this post, I originally planned to congratulate students finishing the JD, then I thought about 1Ls making it past the first year.  I couldn't then forget about the middle-child 2Ls, and of course, ASP staff and faculty help students in those journeys.  So instead of focusing on one group, I want to congratulate everyone for making it through another year.

3Ls/Graduates - Great job completing 3-4 years of extremely difficult work.  Completing your JD is an amazing accomplishment and puts you in elite company.  Celebrate safely, but also, get right back to studying for the opportunity to take the bar exam.

1Ls - You made it.  I know some of you didn't believe you could keep going, but you did it.  Now is the time to take a slight break and get some legal experience.  Some of your professors will probably tell you that experience will help you contextualize what you learned and help you understand it better.  They are right, and working in a law firm is fun.

2Ls - We didn't forget about you.  You are over halfway finished, and we are proud of everything you accomplished.  Your law school is ready to help you cross your last hurdle next year.

Last, but certainly not least, ASPers - Thousands of students will reach their dreams at the end of July because of you.  The sleepless nights, constant feedback, and worrying will be worth it when you see your students take the oath of attorneys in your state.  Keep up the good work.

(Steven Foster)

May 12, 2024 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 11, 2024

Getting to No

Can we stop for a minute and discuss how much fun, “I’m Just Ken” was last night on the Oscars? It was pink, sparkly, and joyful. And, like my scholarship (as noted in a prior blog post), delightful, but insufficient for the win.[1]

I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted (and maybe, therefore, a bit cranky). I am teaching four classes this semester, have a regular load of one-on-one students, am enmeshed in both writing and presenting topics, and have other committee, university, and non-university tasks waiting. Not to mention writing for this blog.[2] This spring “break” will be full of obligations, but also some much needed downtime.

As much as I love the book, “Getting to Maybe[3],” being successful in law school is a matter of doing smart, efficient things to get others to say “yes” to you: yes to an A, yes to a clerkship, yes to a job.

I need a book that teaches me how to say no.[4]

One of the downsides of the job security status most academic support folks find themselves in is the unspoken but real subtext of not being able to say no to requests from supervisors and colleagues. This, coupled with my desire to do some of the things ordinarily not available to academic support folks (like chairing committees and participating in leadership institutes) makes us (me, at least) very busy.  It is like begging to sit at the grown-up table, but your feet can’t reach the floor in the big chairs. You are grateful to be there, so you cope and insist you do not want the chicken nuggets the kids are having.

But let’s be clear: since we are sitting at the grown-up table, we are often then asked to do things that tenured, doctrinal faculty would not be asked --or would never agree-- to do. I need a way (besides retirement) to get myself off (or pushed closer to the bottom of) the “usual suspects” list of folks who can be relied on to do various jobs.  

Yet, I have a hard time thinking of myself as someone who wouldn’t be reliable or diligent. I would argue that academic support folks are constantly proving their worth by showcasing these attributes. We are also kind and generous people (I see you!) who wouldn’t want to let someone down even if it is above and beyond our bandwidth and paygrade. I think the pandemic has also made some formerly solid boundaries much more permeable.

Therefore, I propose we start finding a “no buddy.” This can be someone we see at work, a colleague we know through our ASP community, friends, partner/spouse, or really anyone. We can text that person, “I said no!!!” and they will respond, “I am proud of you!!!”[5]

I’ll start: last Friday, a student asked me my next availability for a meeting since they were unprepared for our late Friday afternoon before spring break meeting, and I said, “after the break.” Essentially, saying I wouldn’t meet with them during the break. Y’all: I said no!!!![6]

(Liz Stillman)


[1] Which is not to say Billie Eilish and her lovely brother did not deserve the win-they truly did.

[2] Which actually gives me great joy! Really!

[3] It really can be a game changer for students!

[4] I am not advocating for a book that teaches others how to say “no” to me. I don’t think there is a need for that text. See, Tenure, not happening.

[5] Yes, the exclamation points are required.

[6] And I am proud of myself. And I still feel a little guilty….

March 11, 2024 in Advice, Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 26, 2024

Lost and Found

Today, I will have two former members of the United States House of Representatives come and speak to my undergraduate class as part of an amazing program called Congress to Campus. I am always incredibly excited to have these gentlemen (and so far, they have only sent me white men) come and speak to the class. More importantly, I am fervently hoping my students have questions for them[1]. I have provided their biographies; we have discussed checks and balances and separation of powers, and they should know what Congress does (and cannot do) well enough to be curious about what differs between the textbook and the reality in terms of the Federal Legislature. I think I have done my job (we’ll see, of course) of piquing their curiosity.

But that leads me to a broader question in teaching: how do we nurture curiosity in all of our students? I am not sure the first year of law school, in general, does that. Where is the adventure in the Commerce Clause? The cliff-hanger in Adverse Possession?[2] What happens when students lose their sense of wonder about law? And notice, I say when and not if, because I think the vast majority of students do (at least temporarily) lose their sense of wonder about six weeks in to the first semester, and again just about now in the second.

Part of the issue is that 1L students do not get choices. They cannot choose their classes, professors, or schedules. I don’t think that changing this entirely would be a great plan since (among other things) 1L subjects are bar tested and finding doctrinal faculty to teach 1L classes is hard enough without a popularity contest built in.[3]

I once read in a parenting book that offering your toddler choices-where you, as the adult, control all the options-prevents meltdowns. For example, offering a blue cup or a red cup (you have both ready) is easier than giving a blue cup and then trying to explain that all cups are the same in the end. You still control the options, but they get to make a choice. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying our students are toddlers, but they may similarly feel that they have very little control over their education in the first year (and beyond depending on your law school’s policies and requirements).

We are currently planning to offer an optional 1 credit Pass/Fail elective to students in their 1L spring after we freed a credit when we semesterized[4] all of our 1L classes. We have discussed this at length and even had our faculty vote (in favor) of making it happen. I am thinking the classes we offer need be something interesting enough to combat the idea of just enjoying the semester without that extra credit. It needs to feed and restore curiosity. Granted, at the moment the only times available for such classes are late on Thursday evening or early Friday morning, so not primetime, therefore I am not certain our first foray will be representative of what we could do with this credit. But we shall see. One member of committee suggested we try Accounting for Lawyers. Since I wonder if that will attract any students, my curiosity is already piqued.

(Liz Stillman)


[1] God knows I have questions about the governance of the country recently, but this isn’t about me.

[2] Although an elemental test in 1L Property is always nice to see….

[3] And the logistics would be difficult. We have an incoming 1L class at or near 400 students, so that would be chaos for us.

[4] It turns out this is not a word-but indulge me here.

February 26, 2024 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 26, 2024

Go have a little fun!

It’s the third week of spring classes here in Idaho. Grades from the fall term were released and exam reviews are underway. A few students are feeling elated with their fall performance. The majority (even those who did well) are experiencing disappointment. Emails are going out to students from all directions with words of encouragement and tips for what to do next.

When I think back to my best and worst semesters of law school, I can’t remember the grades earned. I can remember the key ingredient that made the difference: fun. I worked hard, yes. I remained diligent and met all deadlines. But when my head was swimming with legal theory, or I had simply finished my workday in the library, I went and had fun. That’s right, I actually spent time doing things I enjoy with the people I love – as a law student!

The bad semesters, the ones full of stress and anxiety, were full of wasted time and wasted opportunities for fun. I should get ahead on my reading. I don’t have time for the things I like to do. I can’t meet you for dinner because I’m sitting here looking at my books (not reading, looking at). When I gave myself permission to create more balance in my life and schedule, my work was more efficient, I felt happier, and I learned more.

We spend a lot of time talking about wellness in law school. I love meditating. I love thinking about ways to optimize my wellness. I also think we forget that having fun is a big part of being well. So, let’s all commit to blocking off some time for hobbies, time with family and friends, and doing something for the sake of fun. It’s good for us.

(Ashley Cetnar)

January 26, 2024 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Diving into Spring...

I spent yesterday at a collegiate swim meet. It was indoors for those of you wondering just how crazy we are in Massachusetts (not quite there yet). I sat with an alum of my son’s team, and as a relative newbie (he’s a freshman), I asked a lot of questions about the etiquette and process of this kind of competition. My son is a walk-on to the team (maybe a dive-in?), and he didn’t swim in high school, so my knowledge of swim meet procedure fossilized somewhere in late middle school. My alum guide was very patient with me (she is planning a demeanor-appropriate career in clinical psychology).

As much as I was excited to see my son (he’s my youngest and college has hit me hard), swim meets are not the most pleasant spectator sport. First of all, it is hot-and humid--I could hear my hair frizzing, the “seats” in the viewing gallery are hard (and without backs), and it is incredibly loud in a space that seems intended to warp and amplify sound. Having spent time underwater in my lifetime, I was surprised at the way coaches were cheering for their swimmers although it seemed like the swimmers would be unable to hear them (as their ears were mostly in the water) or see them (as they had to look straight ahead or at the ceiling for the back strokers). I asked my kind college swim meet guru who was in that position just a few years back if the swimmers could even hear the cheering. She confirmed that you really couldn’t hear it, nor could you really see the folks on the side of the pool jumping up and down and urging you to go faster.

But, every single person on the side or end of the pool was either a current swimmer or coach (who has no doubt had competitive swimming experience) and thus must have known that the swimmers couldn’t hear or see them. To me, this is almost the team sport definition of altruism: cheering for someone who couldn’t see or hear you just because they are your teammate. It is true that everyone wanted to win the swim meet, but each individual swim was neither victory nor loss defining.

In a way, Academic Support folks are the coaches on the side of the pool. As students start to come see us (or are asked to see us) with their fall grades, we will review their performance and coach them on their form, their entry, their turns, their methods between exams (meets), and their finishes.  We will tell them that grades are not defining (and they might not believe us, and they are, sadly, somewhat right about that).

First, we will consider entry. We will go back to beginning of how students handled the competing tasks of the semester and look for cleaner and more efficient ways for them to get into the material. Then we will look at the course of the semester in terms of study methods, outlining, juggling responsibilities, and time (and resource) management. Finally, we will discuss how to push to the finish. We will work towards personal records rather than pure wins.

Getting students to understand that you are on their team in helping them succeed is pivotal in this process. Like college athletes, our students may have had other coaches who taught them differently; or may have been told that they have natural talents that will propel them through challenges. Some students will blame outside circumstances for poor grades-and while this may be true in some circumstances[1]- it is often not  a helpful mindset. Students need to see that there are things that they can control that can be tweaked (or entirely overhauled) in order to perform better. Pools may have warmer or colder water than where you practice, but you can be ready for these issues if you prepare. The issues students have can be input issues like reading, outlining, engagement in class; or output issues like exam writing or multiple choice methods. And we need to remind them that they valuable members of our community/team. Everyone in law school belongs on the team and (this one is not easy to see) we all win when we do our personal best.

In the meantime, I’ll be sweaty and frizzy and yelling my support to all the students who were hoping for better grades whether they see me or not. 

(Liz Stillman)


[1] Family emergencies, medical emergencies, mental health, financial issues, disruptions during the exam, and many other things happen-and they can change exam outcomes. However, it is very unlikely, especially in a school (like ours) that uses blind exam grading, that personal animus or even annoyance on the part of faculty is a factor in a final grade.

January 16, 2024 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 27, 2023

We Are the Champions, My Friends

Lately, a list-serv I have subscribed to has been a hotbed of political group-wide emails. It is not a political list-serv, so this volley is something of a surprise. The emails are about the war between Israel and Hamas-and they have been ugly. Am I a coward for not engaging in the group email chain but rather writing about it in a blog entry? Perhaps, but I contend that the professionals (that I suppose I can call colleagues) on this list-serv are engaging in behavior that they are absolutely free to engage in but is also demeaning and chilling. One thing some posters on the list do is launch personal attacks.  Others basically argue that if you do not agree with them, it is because you are ignorant and uneducated about the subject area, so they offer a lot of links--some from questionable sources-and one, in a total twist of fate, written by my sister-in-law (a reputable source!). The same email accusing people of being essentially unintelligent is signed, “Yours in Solidarity…” Um, I am not going to actually agree with you that I am an imbecile because I don’t see things exactly as you do, so that’s a big nope on the solidarity.

Some of these posters could learn a lot from Academic Support folks about how to be collegial. That is why I am thankful this year for the amazing community of ASP folks who are the champions:

  1. We share well. ASP conferences are the best because we share everything. We share materials, techniques, statistics, joy, triumph, frustrations, and passion.
  2. We care about each other. I have had more people in this community inquire about my family in Israel than I ever anticipated. It actually brought me to tears.
  3. We care about our students. We always use the possessive when we talk about them-they belong to us and while we cannot help every single student, we would if we could (and they came to office hours, just saying).
  4. We celebrate and uplift each other’s work. Think of the work Louis does on this blog every Tuesday to announce recent scholarship-and that is just one example of how we amplify the community.
  5. We respect each other. We would never call each other names or require acquiescence to be deserving of solidarity.
  6. We are family. We know each other. We welcome newcomers with offers of help and materials.
  7. And even if you don’t agree with the above points, I still think the world of you and your intelligence and accomplishments.

Happy end of classes!

(Liz Stillman)

November 27, 2023 in Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Meetings, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 11, 2023

Being Moved

I would be remiss if I did not start this entry by taking a moment to remember 9/11/2001 and everyone and everything we lost on that day. It was a day where the sky was impossibly blue. We lost so much: loved ones, security, peace, and years of reform on police profiling. We have tucked some of the new normal of the aftermath into our everyday jeans, but it changed us, and I am not sure I can even accurately remember some aspects of life before it as well as I can remember parts of that day that are as clear in my mind as the sky was that morning.

I spent some time over the last weekend on various sized boats that carried passengers and cars. On the larger ferry, we drove the car onto the boat and left it there--we put it in park, turned off the engine, locked it, and took a seat on the boat itself. It was clear to me that someone else was in charge of  moving us along and that was fine. On the smaller ferry, we just drove onto the boat and sat in the car. To be very clear, I am not a great boat person (I start feeling a bit queasy standing on a dock…), but I preferred the large ferry even though the ride was longer.

What I didn’t like about the small ferry, despite it being a much shorter journey, was the sense that everything about controlling the car was right there-the steering wheel, gas pedal, brakes-but I had no choice but to sit there while it seemed that the roadway was moving without any input from me. It freaked me out a bit to be in a car that was being moved when I had all the indicia of power to move it but could not engage them. Driving off the boat was also a strange feeling: now I did have control, but I wasn’t sure I knew the route once we hit land.

I wonder if our 1Ls feel this way.  I remember in my first year of law school often feeling like classes were moving forward but that I was not in charge of where they went, or how fast they’d go, and even when they would stop. And yet, at the end of the class, I’d have to immediately know where to go next or I’d cause a back-up.

First year classes seem to start so abruptly that even what is intended to be a gradual entry can seem like a full immersion that occurs before students are even aware that it is happening. As ASP faculty, we need to remember to tell students that this weird feeling of both being in and out of control is normal. Yes, they have done the reading and come to class ready to take great notes, but sometimes it is going to feel like you are just sitting there being moved along until you reach the shore and then, before you know it, you have to know where to go next with what you learned along the way. We need to acknowledge and reassure students that it (justifiably!) feels strange at the beginning--because it is.

We also need to assure students that they are not alone in feeling this way—and that after a few trips, they will feel like regular commuters. They will see the rhythm of classes and have a muscle memory of getting ready to enter and then leave the vessel. But, most importantly, we also need to tell students that if this unsettled feeling lingers for too long, ASP is a lifeline and that we will help them try to catch up rather than be left in the wake of a boat that is going to continue its set journey.

And yes, they may feel queasy for a bit, but that too will pass.

(Liz Stillman)

September 11, 2023 in Encouragement & Inspiration, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 16, 2023

New York Academic Support Workshop on May 5th

This year’s topic is a broad one – Transitions. (Logistically, yes, it means the names on this call are a wee bit different than what you’ve seen in past years.)

Broadly, colleagues may view this call as an invitation to think about macro-level transitions. What should academic and bar support programs do at this current moment, where transitions abound: (1) a transition out of COVID-impaired and back to largely in-person legal education and academic and bar support (and what we resolve to take from it), especially for the Class of 2023; (2) the critical transition from the current Uniform Bar Exam to the NextGen bar exam, and its implications for pre-equipping the Class of 2026 and subsequent classes now; or (3) a transition for legal education into a period of applicant downturn and larger economic headwinds.

Others may view this call as an invitation to think about smaller-scale transitions. Specifically, how can we help this generation of platform-native students transition between or within academic and bar tasks: absorption to resource creation; exam reading to outlining to writing; legal reading, writing, and synthesis in law school to exam-speed counterparts; virtual connection to in-person community support and accountability? Between law school world and their external obligations, especially for first-generation students who often bear the weight of both their own individual worlds and family or household responsibilities?

Still others may view this call as an invitation to transition our expectations for the viability, status, and balance of our profession. How can we ease the transition for new ASPers from their previous professional success to full-time ASP work? Facilitate a transition from our current levels of status (or lack thereof) to better ones? From the trenches with students towards strategic planning and implementation? From an existence that more than occasionally exploits our trademark help-the-students-at-all-costs, can-do attitude to one that is more equitable and more respective of our boundaries as healers and human beings?

The workshop will take place virtually on Friday, May 5, from 1:00 to 4:00 PM Eastern.

We’ll divide the afternoon into three sessions (with short breaks in between):

  • The first session will address transitions most closely related to academic success;
  • The second session will address transitions most closely related to bar success;
  • The third session will address potentially broader cultural, institutional, or status-related transitions.    

We hope to feature two or three discussion topics (or “vignettes”) during each session. Proposals from those interested in leading a discussion should summarize, in one or two paragraphs, the nature of the transition, and then pose two or three questions for the group’s consideration as we collectively grapple with the subject matter. We hope, in this way, to bring to bear the breadth of our experiences, viewpoints, insights, and abilities to find a way forward through the transition.

Please RSVP to attend the workshop—and submit proposed discussion topics—using this form, by Tuesday, April 25, at 5:00 PM Eastern. Because this is not a formal conference and will take place virtually, there’s no fee to attend. We’ll send out a finalized workshop agenda and Zoom details when we confirm who will attend and what specific topics our discussion leaders will present.

April 16, 2023 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 13, 2023

Numbers Game

Academic Support and Bar Prep educators are among the hardest working people I know. We are selfless student supporters. We are scholars. We are generous with our work, praise, and time. As a group, we would probably be voted “Most Likely to go Above and Beyond” in a fictional law school yearbook. However, one accolade we are not going to get in this fictional yearbook (at least at this moment) is “Most Likely to get Tenure.”

We need to go above and beyond on our own behalf to gain the job equity, security, and salary that recognizes the work we do.  We need to take a small fraction of our focus and use it for ourselves and each other.

In about two weeks, you will get two surveys from AASE. One is for you individually, and the other for your institution. If you are the director of your program, you should fill out one of each, if not, please only fill out the individual survey and nag your director to fill out the institutional survey for your school. If you don’t see the survey by April 1st, please contact AASE at: [email protected] and we will send you the surveys.

Here’s the thing, we all need this data. We need to know who we are and how we are doing as a group. We need to know what job security looks like for us --or if there is any at all. We need to know how much we are being underpaid compared to other groups of law school faculty. Knowing what we all do both in and outside of the ASP realm is important. Knowing what we teach, how often, and when we teach it, is incredibly valuable information. I know it seems intrusive, and my mother would often say that asking about salary is just “tacky,” but our institutions will be looking for this information when we propose a change.

Data is how the legal writing community successfully waged their tenure battles. Numbers seem like unlikely armaments, but at the moment, they are the tools we need. When the results of the survey are presented at the AASE conference in May, please do not be the person listening and thinking, “they haven’t captured my situation.” We want to capture you (not in a kidnapping or any other creepy way, you know what I mean….hopefully…).  We want the team photo of "ASP educators with tenure" to be big enough to need a full page spread in future yearbooks.

Getting the appropriate and earned equity, security, and pay for our community will be a numbers game. Please play.

(Liz Stillman)

March 13, 2023 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism, Program Evaluation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 13, 2023

37 Pages of Love

I have spent the last few months helping to draft an internal document for my law school that is supposed to evaluate the current state of the entire upper-level curriculum and make some recommendations based on those assessments. I will preface my list below by stating that my school has been amazingly cognizant of the issues we’ve raised, but my little committee also did some outside research that identified these general issues. Writing this report has been both an overwhelming and incredibly nebulous task, but here are some things I’ve learned on the way to dropping off those 37 pages of love off to the higher powers:

  1. Some of our recommendations aren’t going to matter much if the NextGen bar exam is adopted by our state bar. No one will need to take Secured Transactions anymore….
  2. Students in academic distress will tend to stay there (Newton’s Law of Academic Warning?) because while we are (understandably) concerned about them passing the bar, we are sending them to classes that are quite similar to the ones that caused the initial distress. More big classes where the curve is required are not the answer to doing poorly in big classes where the curve is required. It is like giving students who are stuck in a ditch a shovel rather than a ladder.
  3. We should try to ensure that every student, and especially those in academic distress, has as many different types of legal instruction as possible: doctrinal, skills-based, experiential, transactional, etc. Students who are limited will not see themselves as lawyers, just mediocre law students. This isn’t good for their confidence while still in law school and it could honestly exacerbate mental health issues. If a large class, with a curved exam, that employs lectures doesn’t work for a student, why make that a big chunk of what they need to take to continue in law school?
  4. Smaller classes would most likely benefit both students and faculty. I think this is particularly true of classes required for students in academic difficulty, but I do not want my report to be the reason our Dean is sneaking out of the building to buy lottery tickets. Sure, more funding for all of this would be great, but then law school tuition would be out of reach for most and that is exactly what we are trying to avoid.
  5. While writing this report was time-consuming and sometimes frustrating, it is worthwhile to take the time to see where we are and make recommendations (big and small) that can take us to a better place. Sure, some of what we recommended was purely aspirational, but if the Dean gets the Powerball jackpot, you never know what is possible….

(Liz Stillman)

February 13, 2023 in Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Program Evaluation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Muscle Learning: A Hypo a Day

That's my summary of a wonderful article sharing a helpful learning practice and the reasons behind it.  In the article, Prof. Dawn Young at the University of Idaho shares that "working a hypo a day can help you grow a gigantic analytical muscle" because the daily practice helps organize thoughts, see patterns, and learn exam analysis skills.  I wholeheartedly agree.  Here's the link for the details: Brunette, J, "3 Reasons a Hypo a Day will Keep Bad Grades Away," National Jurist (Nov. 30, 2022) (quoting and referencing Prof. Dawn Young).  (Scott Johns).

P.S. And, if you're in the midst of final exams, as many of you are at present, there's still ample time to start the habit, today.  In fact, starring at your outlines, trying to memorize them, is not near as useful as using your outlines to solve hypes and past final exam problems.  So take charge of your learning by courageously tackling and experiencing problems before you take on your remaining final exams.

December 7, 2022 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 28, 2022

The Manifold Ways of Reaching Law Students - A Blog Post by Louis Schulze (FIU)

In late August, ASU Law Professor Charles Calleros wrote a guest post calling for essay submissions describing different law schools’ academic support programs.

As described before, the purpose of this project is to assemble a number of those descriptions to demonstrate the many ways law schools can commit to their students’ success by investing genuinely and substantially in a robust academic support program. A Short Series of Blogs.  He noted that future contributions to this project would include guest posts by Jacquelyn Rogers (Southwestern) and Louis Schulze (FIU), and he invited others to contribute towards a larger piece. Those interested in contributing to the project should send a draft to me at [email protected]

In the meantime, Louis Schulze’s description essay can be found HERE.

October 28, 2022 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 24, 2022

Spooky Season

Here are some reasons why this is, in fact, the scariest time of year for all the folks haunting the hall at a Law School:

  1. Bar results- have come out (or are coming out soon). Sigh. It is usually a roller coaster of: “wow, I am so happy for you,” followed by a dip into, “let’s get organized for February….” For some ASP folks, this is an annual employment evaluation. I have written about how unfair this is in the past. It is still terrifying. 
  2. Midterms -both the elections and the exams. This is likely the first exam our students will encounter and it will blow them away regardless of the warning and advice we have given them. The exams will be, despite our spoilers about them, truly unexpected. Like the elections, I guess we need to wait and see where the blame will fall on those…
  3. The loss of focus/motivation- first year students have forgotten why they wanted to be lawyers and have hit a wall in terms of their ability to focus on the material or the light at the end of this tunnel.
  4. The loss of sunlight- I did remind myself in late June to relish the days where the sun seemed to set after 9:00 p.m., and then, of course, didn’t. I miss it now though-and the darkness early in the morning doesn’t help either. Also, this is going to get worse before it gets better. And colder. And snowy….(if you are from a place where the cold/wet/snow thing does not happen, you may sit there smugly, but I don’t want to hear about it.)
  5. The way time speeds up- Thanksgiving is in a month. A month. How was the month of September over 3 years long and October is just a blink?
  6. Bugs- COVID, flu, malaise, colds. My personal favorite is when a maskless student comes right up to me before, during, or after class and tells me they are not feeling well. If I could back up and disappear into the whiteboard, or even scale the walls like Spiderman, I would….
  7. Mental Health- see numbers 3, 4 (ok, all of them) above as contributing factors. This is the time of year when already existing (and new) symptoms of mental health ailments surface. No one currently in law school has had a smooth course of education over the past years, and a return to normal-ish processes is a lot for everyone, but we should be taking strong precautions to preserve mental health similar to the way we protect ourselves from item 6 above.
  8. Everything everywhere all at once- (not the movie) see items 1-7 above and add: commuting, family stuff, over-extension (I see you my ASP friends), exhaustion, grading, etc. etc. etc.

I’d love to say that candy is our salvation here, but alas my primary care physician says that is not true. But what does she know-she’s only a doctor…

(Liz Stillman)

October 24, 2022 in Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Theory, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Impervious to Facts

"Too often facts around me change, but my mind doesn't.  Impervious to new information, I function like a navigation system that has missed a turn but won't re-route,"  writes attorney Mike Kerrigan in a story about "A Sweet Lesson From Pie," WSJ (Sep. 8, 2022).

I suspect that is true of most of us.  But why?  In my own case, my stubborn mind clings to the facts as I know them because, to admit that facts have changed and a new course of "navigation" is required is in someways to admit that I'm a human being, frail in more ways that I wish to admit.

I think that is especially a challenge in legal education and for bar exam authorities.  We cling to the past because that's all we know and, to be frank, sometimes all we want to know.

Take legal education.  We know that learning requires much from our students and from us.  But many of our classes go on despite the new facts that have emerged from the learning sciences. Louis N. Jr. Schulze, Using Science to Build Better Learners: One School's Successful Efforts to Raise Its Bar Passage Rates in an Era of Decline, 68 J. Legal Educ. 230 (2019)., Available at SSRN:

Take the bar exam.  The best available data suggests that there is a dearth of evidence to support a relationship between bar exam scores and competency to practice law.  Yet we cling to the past. Putting the Bar Exam on Constitutional Notice: Cut Scores, Race & Ethnicity, and the Public Good (August 31, 2022). Forthcoming, Seattle University Law Review, Vol. 45, No. 1, 2022, Available at SSRN:

I've made lots of wrong turns in my career, my work, and in my life.  To keep on going in the wrong way gets me no closer to where I should be going.  So let's give ourselves and each other the freedom to be changed, the freedom to travel a new path, the freedom to, in short, be curious, creative, and courageous about our work in legal education, on the bar exam, and in life in general.  (Scott Johns).


September 8, 2022 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Thoughts from the Recent Past

I sometimes look through SSRN for articles from the past to help me better see the present and what might work best for the future for our students.  That being said, I am often troubled in pursuing past research because so little action has tended to take place in consequence of the revelation that people shared so publicly and wisely with us in the past.  I think that's true in academic support and bar passage.  A not-so-long-ago article from 2004 makes the point, I think. Day, Christian C., Law Schools Can Defeat Our Bar Pass Problem - Do the Work!. California Western Law Review, Vol. 40, p. 321, 2004, Available at SSRN:

In brief, Prof. Day's thesis is that it's largely up to us, as legal educators, to think, strategize, organize, and implement educational experiences that best help our students enter the professor as attorneys.  And, if I may add, I think it is up to see as legal educators to challenge the status quo story about the bar exam as a neutral non-biased arbiter of competency to practice law.  

First, let me start with Prof. Day's suggestions as to how law school educators might better tackle bar issues (and I quote):

  • The dean and the faculty should lead the battle.
  • Recognize and support students who learn differently.
  • Recognize that the law does not come easily for most. Professors must teach students to see what professors may have seen almost intuitively.
  • Law schools can prepare students for the bar by teaching them the law.
  • Law schools should encourage students to take "bar courses" for a grade and be prepared to counsel them if their work is poor in these courses.
  • Law professors should concentrate on creating relevant essay exams and not create multiple choice questions too prepare students for the bar.
  • Law schools should identify and assist students who come to law school with bad study habits learned in hight school an d college.
  • Law schools must produce better legal writers by improving essay exam writing.
  • Law schools must give students better feedback regarding their performance.
  • Law schools should stress the importance of the bar exam to students.
  • Law schools should advise students to get their financial and personal lives in order to pass the bar.
  • Law schools should counsel graduates who failed the bar and offer recommendations to improve their chances.
  • Law schools should keep detailed statistics to pinpoint students at risk.
  • Law schools must "bit the bullet" with their retention policies.
  • Law schools should create and maintain strong academic support offices.
  • Law schools can offer special, non-credit, bar prep courses.
  • Law schools should limit or phase-out take-home and open-book exams.
  • Schools might consider grading on the curve.
  • Law schools should crate more small sections in basic courses.
  • Law schools may have to reduce some of their offerings in order to make certain their students are grasping the basis.
  • Schools should eliminate "Pass/Fail" grades except in the most limited circumstances.
  • Last, but not the least reinstate and enforce attendance policies.  Id.

I'm sure that there's not agreement as to all of these suggestions; they are, after all, just suggestions.  But from the high altitude view it seems to me that Prof. Day challenges us as legal educators to take seriously our role in training students for holding licenses as legal practitioners.  That's a high calling.

Second, as legal educators, I believe that we have an obligation to understand, analyze, and to improve the educational experiences of our students and to challenge the status quo.  I'm sort of a radical, as some of my prior writing might suggestion.  When authorities make claims, I doubt.  That's why I appreciated a very recent article challenging the story that the bar exam is a neutral instrument. DeVito, Scott and Hample, Kelsey and Lain, Erin, Examining the Bar Exam: An Empirical Analysis of Racial Bias in the Uniform Bar Examination (January 26, 2022). University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

I'll let you dig into the details but pay particular attention to the appendix because that's a particularly glaring spotlight on the lack of transparency about the relationship between the bar exam and race & ethnicity.  In brief, the appendix surveys publicly available data from 56 jurisdictions (the 50 states plus the District of Columbia and the 5 territories) and only one jurisdiction routinely provides data regarding bar exam results and race.  That state is California.  That seems revealing to me.  It's as though there's no problem because we don't report a problem.  Yet, the thrust of the article, convincingly to me, is that the authors took the time to put in the "elbow grease" to analyze the limited data available and what they learned is not good at all.  Take a close read at that article.  It too is well worth your time.

All in all, these two articles, among many others, suggest that we ought not be silent.  That we have obligations to question, to speak up, to debate, to analyze, to understand, and to advocate.  In short, we have a high calling as academic support professions.  A very high calling indeed.  And one in which all of our voices are needed.  (Scott Johns, Denver Law).

September 1, 2022 in Advice, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 15, 2022


Welcome back to the Law School Academic Support Blog! I hope you have had (or are still having) a wonderful summer. I feel like the waves of fall are starting to crash on my shore at this time of year, but it is, like the ocean, also familiar and soothing.

There is this great catchy tune, “Bang!,”[1] that one of my kids introduced me to by a band called AJR. It sounds very ‘80’s which is probably why it appeals to me so much-but my absolute favorite part of it is that they had the guy who does the NYC Subway announcements do some voice work in it-and that, to me, sounds like home. No, he doesn’t say, “stand clear of the closing doors,” but his voice is utterly unmistakable when he says, “here we go.”[2]

As we gear up for another fall (I can hear it approaching like a train into the station), we should remember that our voice as Academic Support professionals is unique in the law school setting. We may be the first voice students hear as they begin their journey, or a voice they hear when they are struggling later, or, hopefully, the voice on the stage cheering the loudest when they graduate. They will also hear us when they are studying for, taking, passing, or re-taking bar. Some students will never even know we were here-and that’s fine-but not due to any lack of trying to be seen and heard on our part. We are, in short, the center of the known universe for law students in it for the long haul with each new class that comes our way.

After a summer of blissful academic productivity-eh, who am I kidding? After a summer of having more downtime and slightly fewer students, I am printing out academic calendars, migrating materials on BlackBoard,[3] and updating syllabi. I have found a great pending U.S. Supreme Court case that will be argued in October for my undergraduates to concentrate on for our final assessment (it has pictures, and Prince!!).[4]  I guess I am ready… -ish.

I know I feel both the dread and the excitement of a new academic year coming at me. I’ll miss the flexible schedule-and my ratty everyday sandals-tremendously, but I am also excited to meet new students and get into the rhythm of the school year. So, let’s be sure to end our summers with a bang and get ready for what’s coming.

To quote Bang!,

“So put your best face on, everybody
Pretend you know this song
Everybody come hang
Let's go out with a bang
Bang! Bang! Bang!
(Here we go)”[5]

And, as always, stand clear of the closing doors.

(Liz Stillman)



[2] He also says the word “metronome,” but that is inconvenient for this blog post.

[3] Which we seem to be abandoning shortly, most likely because I have finally mastered it.

[4] Andy Warhol Found. for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith, 11 F.4th 26 (2nd Cir. 2021). So much for my joke that the F.3d was a pop-up version-I suppose we have moved on to smell?


August 15, 2022 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Counter-Intuitive Research To Boost Learning

"As it turns out, there's a way to improve student learning that even sullen teenagers  won't complain about: Give them financial incentives to study hard:" so says Harvard economist Roland Fryer based on research in about 290 schools with about 36, 000 students. Fryer, R., "How to Make Up the Covid Learning Loss: Paying Students for Attendance, Behavior, and Homework Can Boost Achievement, WSJ (May 31, 2022). 

In the article describing the research team's results, the author suggests that the key was targeting inputs (reading assignments, being in class, completing homework) rather than outputs (exam scores or results) because many students don't feel like they can control results but that inputs are within their control.  Id. All told, to put such an incentive to work in public schools would cost about $700 per year, which the author suggests (in my words) is small change compared to the roughly $13,000 on average spent per student per year for education.

I'm not so sure that paying students to read, practice, and learn makes sense because it feels like it's devaluing to the learning experience.  However, "the research team found that students' achievements remained elevated even after our incentives were removed."  Id.  And, as the author suggests, we pay people to work so why not pay students to learn?

It's an interesting question.  But truth be told, regardless of the daily incentives to learn, the key determinate for success in this large scale experiment was engaged learning on a daily basis.  So, I think that the lesson for us in legal education is to incentivize learning to learn - not through cash incentives - but through making the learning experience challenging joyful and productively meaningful.  That's hard work but that's our job.  

As a suggestion on how to help incentivize learning, try building within your curriculum learning exercises using news events that relate to the subjects that students are studying.  So, for example, in a tort class, one might explore possible product liability claims against companies manufacturing pulse oximeters because research indicates that the widespread use of these devices to determine whether one needed critical covid-19 care is racially biased, leading to under diagnosis of significant populations and likely premature deaths. Mosbergen, D., " Pulse Oximeters are Less Accurate Among Black, Hispanic, and Asian Covid Patients, WSJ (May 31, 2022).  Oh, and there's another legal issue lurking in this article:  "The Food and Drug Administration last year warned of potential pulse oximeter inaccuracies when used on people with dark skin pigmentation, but didn’t change the way it regulates the devices."  Id. In other words, are there any constitutional issues against the regulatory authority?In other words, tie what we learn in the books to how we can use it to help others, now. 

That's an incentive that I can buy in to.  (Scott Johns).


June 2, 2022 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 29, 2022

An Illusion

Did you know that the collective noun for a group of magicians is an “illusion?”[1] I believe that Academic Support Professionals are the magicians of law school academics, not because we engage in sorcery, but because we do so much hard work behind the scenes that it seems like things just happen.

Last week, I was lucky to be able to share the tricks of the trade (with the best community of colleagues ever!) at the 9th Annual AASE Conference at the lovely St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas and on Zoom!  I already knew that ASP folks are the hardest-working, kindest, and most generous people. I was also aware that we are supreme innovators. In short, the brain power in the sessions at our conference could have provided enough energy for the entire state of Texas.[2] And it would have been a clean, renewable source of power!

It was amazing to be in the company of people who truly understand the work—and the flip side of doing so much important work often without having job security or recognition. I know that I am extremely fortunate that my law school is supportive and offers long-term contracts with options for more security,[3] as well as funding for scholarship and conferences. Yet, academic support and bar prep are often seen as—oh wait, actually, we are often not seen at all…

At a faculty meeting last week, after what I consider a big win that added a DEI course graduation requirement,[4] we moved on to an agenda item that tangentially dealt with tenure policy. During this discussion, a tenured, doctrinal faculty member referred to people who had our (ASP and other non-tenure track) faculty status as “faculty with a small f.” As in, essentially, lower case “f” faculty should very clearly not be allowed to vote on tenure policy changes. Yes, I had a big F reaction to that.[5] That was more than just rain on my parade, it was a full-on blizzard: cold and windy. Following my glorious moment in the sun, I was returned to my cubby crumpled and dirty like a kindergartener’s lunchbox after recess.

It is moments like this that make a national conference of all the law school thaumaturges[6] even more imperative for the survival of our profession. We need to work together to collectively ask that the curtain be pulled back so that our doctrinal colleagues[7] can see the work that is often going on out of their sight. There is no magic in what we do, just a lot of hard work that should be transparently visible.

A huge thank you to Afton Cavanaugh and the team at St. Mary’s for solving the huge logistical puzzle that this hybrid conference must have presented!! It was glorious and I am truly enriched by the endless magnificence of this community. I am already looking forward to next year’s 10th annual AASE conference at Santa Clara Law.[8]

And finally, did you know that the collective noun for a group of doctrinal professors is known as a “pomposity?[9]” 

(Liz Stillman)



[2] Texas is huge! I knew it was big before, but I really had not understood it until I was there.

[3] A presumptively renewable contract-but not tenure.

[4] I was the leader on this effort, and I am crazy excited that it really happened!

[5] Silently-but I am originally from the Bronx. I’ll just leave it at that.

[6] (I had a little fun with google on this…)

[7] Those who don’t already know-there are always going to be allies in every school!!

[8] May 23-25, 2023-save the dates!


May 29, 2022 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Meetings, Professionalism, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 9, 2022

Empty Nesters

Two out of my three children are “adults.” One lives on her own in another city, one comes home for college breaks, and the third is a junior in high school. People ask me how I feel about having an empty nest in a year or so, and I tell them this: I am not done parenting, we are just moving into a new phase. I field texts about how to do laundry, or whether to purchase a t-shirt, or even with pictures of dogs in New York that look like our dog here in Massachusetts. I get a lot of cooking and baking questions. There is still a lot of parenting happening, it is just different (and sometimes long-distance). This is where we are with our students after they cross the stage at Commencement.

I love the way graduation is titled in a way that suggests both an ending and a beginning. For our students, it is the end of law school and the beginning of their life….as bar applicants. And hopefully, after that, the beginning of their life as licensed lawyers. While we will all wear our uncomfortable garb and silly hats later this month (or maybe you already have?) to celebrate our students’ achievements thus far, it isn’t the end of the relationship we will have with them.

For our colleagues who are engaged in bar prep, very late July will be when the nest is temporarily empty. The rest of us are hopeful that students will still e-mail, ask for recommendations, or even stop by-although there has been less stopping by lately because of the pandemic. There is still a lot of supporting happening, it is just different (and sometimes long-distance).

So, for anyone feeling like their law school nest is empty, you will be happy to know that there are approximately 105 days until orientation (that is just one more day than Phineas and Ferb got for their summer vacation[1]). And then we commence once again...

(Liz Stillman)


May 9, 2022 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 21, 2022

Back to the Grind

And we are back. Spring break is over just like that. The thing about the time after spring break is that it goes by so quickly. You look up and there are 4 weeks of class left and 8 weeks of things you wanted to get to. It is like the facebook posts I put up around my kids' birthdays, "I must have blinked." When the end of semester is looming, I always wonder if I have squandered the time with my students, but I know that I didn’t because I spent at least some of our time together doing the following:

  1. Making sure they are okay. I have asked my class for their “triumphs and tribulations“ each week. Did this take us off-topic? Yes. Did we need to go there? Also, yes.
  2. Asking about the loads they are carrying in other classes. We a took a detour into exam prep (ahead of schedule) to make sure everyone felt ready for all the types of exams they might encounter. I’ll also go back and review it on the day it was originally listed on the syllabus.
  3. Meeting one-on-one outside of class. Some triumphs and tribulations are not for public consumption.
  4. Talking about the law in current events. It is always good to bring reality into the picture and ground the concepts in something present and concrete. I am very excited about Congress and the CROWN Act today. In a shameless plug for my newly released piece in the CUNY Law Review Blog about teaching using the CROWN Act, you can read about that here:
  5. Reinforcing already learned skills. I preface a lot of what I am saying with, “I know you already know this, but bear with me…” It isn’t always a review, but there is no need to out students who are first learning anything.
  6. Talking about their interests outside of school. Sometimes we all need a reminder that we don’t live in this building and this is not our only context.
  7. Becoming a community. Laughing. Complaining about the elevator that has been broken since December (although the changing signage about that fact is really kind of funny). Sharing some brownies.

I hope your short, fast ride to the end of the semester has more triumphs than tribulations.

(Liz Stillman)

March 21, 2022 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)