Thursday, July 2, 2020
That's how Texas bar taker Claire Calhoun put it when describing what she and thousands like her face with the prospect of in-person bar exams in light of increasing incidences of COVID-19:
“We really, really hope and frankly need the bar examiners and the Texas Supreme Court to do something here to step in on our behalf, because it’s life versus licensure, and I don't think that's fair to make us pick." https://www.texastribune.org/2020/07/01/texas-bar-exam/.
It seems like Claire has been heard, at least in part. On July 2, 2020, the Texas Board of Law Examiners, in part due to calls from students such as Claire, has decided to recommend to the Texas Supreme Court that in-person bar exams be cancelled and replaced with an October 2020 remote online bar exam instead. Id. As of this writing, let's hope that the Texas Supreme Court has heeded Claire's warning too. Frankly, it's a choice that no law graduate ought be forced to make.
Now I know that some might say that that's a bit too dramatic. That Claire overstates the risk of harm. But as any bar taker can tell you, it's a real palpable foreseeable risk of harm, something that tort law might and ought to recognize. And, I don't think that Claire's concerns are that far fetched, because some states, seeming to recognize the tort risks at hand, are requiring bar takers to waive liability claims against bar examiners as a condition to sit for bar exams.
In my opinion, that's too much to ask of our future colleagues. Let me speak plainly. It's wrong, downright wrong, especially because the risk of harm is not just a risk that the bar takers and proctors are being asked to assume but it's a risk that bar takers will then be spreading to others who didn't assume that risk at all. That's just not fair or right.
But I'm not convinced that postponement to October 2020 for a remote online exam is right either. Here's why. At this point, with just over three weeks to the scheduled bar exam in July, most bar takers have been studying full-time since graduation in May. They've been planning and preparing for July bar exams. And, as cited in the Texas Tribune article, the financial impact of a 3-month postponement is not something to be taken lightly: “I specifically budgeted my whole summer to take this July bar,” [bar taker] Anastasia Bolshakov said. “None of us are working right now. We have no income. The money we had in May, that's been slowly depleting.” Id.
Listen again to the words of these two bar takers. Don't just read them. Listen to them. Take them to heart, or at least hear them out:
"Budgeted my whole summer."
"Life versus licensure."
Perhaps the risk of COVID-19 will not materialize such that the July and September 2020 bar exams can safely take place in person without putting bar takers, examiners, or the public at risk. If so, by all means have the bar exam.
But if not, let's not fail our most recent graduates by not being ready to immediately provide an alternative licensure path, without any delay at all. For some states, that might mean being ready to immediately transition to an online bar exam with materials and procedures ready to go, for the July 2020 bar exam. For other states, that might mean be ready to roll out a diploma licensure option for July 2020 bar takers.
As every pilot knows, no flight plan is complete if it doesn't plan for the possibility of a diversion to an alternate destination in case the weather turns sour or the destination airport closes.
But it seems like many states have no alternative bar exam plans at all. And, in my mind, postponement is not really a viable alternative plan because it's asking too much of those who have so little to give, especially when they've spent so much, over the course of the past three years, emotionally, mentally, and financially, to prepare for embarking on the profession of serving as attorneys. To not have a viable alternative plan for our most recent graduates, at this point of time in the summer, is to leave our bar takers suspended in the air, without any place to land.
Perhaps I am speaking out of turn. Perhaps states have alternative licensure mechanisms ready to go so that the July 2020 bar takers need not fear any delays whatsoever. If so, let them be known. Share them with your future colleagues.
But if not, reach out to them. Work with them, their law schools, and state bar associations and practitioners to develop and plan viable alternative licensure pathways that are ready to go if need be. After all, at this point, no one has been able to accurately predict that path of COVID-19, not even the scientific experts.
That suggests that the best laid plans must include ready-to-go alternatives, too. That's the only way to fly safely. And that's the only way to practice law wisely. So also, it's the only way to do justice to not only the public but also our most recent law school graduates. (Scott Johns).
P.S. Let me suggest two possible licensure alternatives.
• First, a remote online exam with law schools footing the bill to provide - as needed - stable internet and testing locations for individuals without such capabilities. I would envision a 3-hour open book written exam, composed of four (4) 30-minute essays and (one) 1 mini-performance test, drafted by local practitioners and courts and their law clerks. Such an exam could be easily prepared and logistically administered by state supreme courts with just under three weeks to go to the July bar exam.
• Second, a diploma licensure "plus" program. In the event that in-person exams must be postponed without an alternative remote exam, partner with jurists, practitioners, and faculty to host two-day online workshops, guided by these experts, in which bar applicants and attorneys join together to work through a number of legal problems. In shaping the online program, I would encourage state supreme courts to frame workshop problems around current events that raise issues from the bar tested-subjects, with the workshops implemented in lieu of the July bar exam, such that completion of the exam would result in the admittance to the bar.
Monday, June 29, 2020
As I sat down to put fingers to keyboard for my first blog post, I found myself overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of ideas swirling around in my head. Overwhelmed by my thinking that this post must be perfect, thoughtful, groundbreaking, and transcendent. I was convinced that this post must be rainbows and unicorns rolled into one, it must be as mellifluous and powerful as Aretha Franklin’s voice, it must be everything to everyone, and it must be nothing to no one.
It took me about 20 minutes to ask myself the obvious question (beyond the other obvious question of why I would set the bar anywhere near the otherworldliness of ‘Retha): “why, exactly, must your first blog post be all of these things?” In that moment, I realized the pressures I felt are traceable to a lifelong frenemy that, much like a phoenix, continues to rise from the ashes: imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is characterized by one’s persistent feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt about their abilities or achievements, coupled with a fear of being exposed as a fraud despite those achievements and ongoing success.
Thinking about my old frenemy brought to mind a conversation I once had with a student. For the last couple of years, I have served as a panelist during our 1L orientation diversity and inclusion program. At the end of last year’s program, a student approached me to, among other things, thank me for sharing my 1L experience with imposter syndrome.
I am a Black woman and first-generation college graduate who grew up with few socioeconomic advantages. To say law school was a culture shock would be an understatement. I spent most of my first year convinced the admissions office had erred in admitting me to the law school and much of my second and third years dismissing my achievements as “luck” and “waiting for the other shoe to drop” (i.e. for someone to realize that I was a fraud and did not belong at the law school).
At the end of my conversation with this student, they asked “when did you overcome imposter syndrome?” I do not recall what my answer was in that moment, but the question has triggered several deeply personal moments of introspection. When I think of that conversation, I know the honest answer to that student’s question would have been (and still is): “I’ll let you know.”
If I’m still trying to figure out how to consciously uncouple from vanquish my lifelong frenemy, it is incumbent upon me to be cognizant of similar challenges experienced by students and supportive in helping them work through—or past—those feelings of inadequacy. To this end, today I renew my commitment to: name my frenemy unapologetically, serve as a sounding board and source of support for students battling imposter syndrome, remind those students of their strength and accomplishments, and encourage them to be kind to themselves. I also commit to taking my own advice.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
Monday, June 15, 2020
One year ago this month, I wrote my first post for the ASP blog. And while it seems like only yesterday that I began my quest to bombard readers with my weekly musings, I have decided to step aside to make room for other voices to be heard through this forum. Today will be my last post as a regular contributing editor, and I will use this opportunity to reflect on the wonderful learning and growth experience that the year has brought.
I’ve learned that:
Education and advocacy are not parallel paths, but rather an important intersection at which the most effective teachers are found. I left a high stakes commercial litigation practice for a role in academic support. I naively believed that an effective teacher had to be dispassionate and objective and more focused on pedagogy than on legal advocacy or controversial topics. However, I grew to realize that the very skills that made me an effective lawyer still guided me in the classroom to teach my students and to open their minds to new perspectives. My realization was affirmed when ASP whiz, Kirsha Trychta, reminded us that the courtroom and the law school classroom are not that different.
Anger can have a productive place in legal education and scholarship. I don’t have to conceal or suppress my passion to be effective as a scholar. I am angry on behalf of every summer (or fall) 2020 bar taker. I am bothered by states that are so tethered to tradition that they refuse to consider the obstacles and challenges of preparing for a bar exam during a pandemic. It troubles me to see law schools close the doors to their libraries and study spaces, and yet expect 2020 bar takers to perform without the benefit of quiet study space and access to internet and printing. I am flat out disgusted by the notion of forcing law students to assume the risk of death to take the bar exam. And I waive my finger to shame the states that have abandoned exam repeaters and that waited or are still waiting to announce changes to the exam dates and format after the bar study period has begun. These states have essentially moved the finish line mid-race, and our future lawyers deserve better. But thanks to the vocal efforts of others who have channeled their righteous anger into productive advocacy and scholarship, I’ve seen states like Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, Utah, and Washington emerge as progressive bar exam leaders in response to a crisis.
Silence is debilitating. Like so many others, I was taught to make myself smaller, to nod in agreement, and avoid topics that would make others uncomfortable. The untenured should be seen, not heard. I am the person that I am because of my collective experiences. Stifling my stories and my diverse perspective would be a disservice to my calling and to the next generation of lawyers who need to be met with a disheartening dose of racial reality. As soon as I showed the courage to speak up and step out of other people’s comfort zones, I found that I was not alone. My ASP colleagues, like Scott Johns, Louis Schulze, and Beth Kaimowitz and others, were right there speaking out too.
Glass ceilings become sunroofs once you break through them. In the last few years, I have seen more and more of my ASP colleagues earn tenure or assume tenure track roles. And while a job title or classification, will never measure one’s competence or value, our communal pushes for equity are visibly evident. ASP authors continue to make meaningful contributions to scholarship in pedagogy and beyond. Thank you to Renee Allen, Cassie Christopher, DeShun Harris, Raul Ruiz, and the many, many, many others who I can’t name but whose work I’ve read and admired. With varied voices, we are paving the way to enhanced recognition and status in the academy, and with mentorship and writing support we are forming the next wave of formidable ASP bloggers, scholars, textbook authors, and full professors.
June 15, 2020 in About This Blog, Academic Support Spotlight, Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exams, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, News, Publishing, Weblogs, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, June 11, 2020
You've heard the quip: "Which comes first? The chicken or the egg?"
"Well," continues the pun, "I'll let you know. I just ordered one of each from Amazon."
With respect to memorization, I think that we can say that memorization comes last. But what comes before memorization then?
As Professor Melissa Hale indicates, the words "memory," "memorization," and "remember" all have - at their roots - stories, and the memories that then come out of those lived experiences is what we can "memories." Hale, M., "Memory Tips," Law School Academic Support Blog (Jun. 10, 2020). So, memorization is preceded by stories and stories are produced through experiences.
Consequently, for those preparing for bar exams, don't focus on memorization at all, at least for now. Rather, as Prof. Hale writes, focus on learning, experiencing, and sharing in the stories that are wrapped into the many essay and multiple-choice questions that you are practicing. Id.
Learn from them. Experience them. Talk to them. Wrestle with them, too.
Then, when it comes time to work on memorization, in the final two weeks of bar prep, you'll have something real to recall, something memorable and tangible, because you will have experienced those rules, not in the abstract, but in the context of experienced narratives. That way, when it comes time for your bar exam, you'll have more than just the law to talk about; you'll also be able to show how to apply the law to solve bar exam problems.
And, back to the pun shared at the beginning of this little blog, that's something to smile about. (Scott Johns)
Thursday, June 4, 2020
I've taken the title to this little blog from a phrase in the recent post of Prof. Marsha Griggs, calling us, all of us, to action and resolve to fight, work, and promote justice. Griggs, M., "Despicable Us," Law School Academic Support Blog (June 2, 2020). As Prof. Griggs reminds, it's our oath, and in that oath, we say that we are committed to safeguard justice for all. But what if there's little to safeguard? What then?
The horrific brutal torture and killing of another innocent person just last week makes one wonder. There have been so many others, not just in the U.S., but around the world. What is it that leads so many to blindly look away, to not care or empathize, to sit on laurels when, frankly, the laurels are all dried up?
I'm tired of calls to come together and talk. And, in light of the ongoing protests, it seems like I am not alone. But as Prof. Griggs points out, most are silent.
So often I'm that one - the silent one. I'm not sure what I can do or say but I know that I hold a position of great responsibility, which obligates me to spring to action to make the world as right as it can possibly be. That takes real work, not trite talk. I'm worried that so few really want to do that work, that so few are really eager to change, that so few are so wedded to the present that there's little promise or hope for a brighter future. I'm worried that I'm one of those, waiting for others to right an upside down world.
I didn't know what else to do. So I wrote letters. First to the mayor of Minneapolis. Then to the police chief. Next to the mayor of Denver and the police chief of Denver. Finally to my U.S. senators and local U.S. representative.
Everyday counts because every person counts. As I tried to explain to my students this summer, there are ways to move forward towards the pursuit of justice, right now.
First, take a look at how many municipal ordinances and state laws provide for incarceration. I think that many of those punishments are out-of-all proportion with the social harms for which criminal laws are supposed to countenance. And, the lack of proportionality is, I think, a violation of constitutional due process because it burdens people for no reason at all.
Second, take a look at the details of what happened in Minneapolis. A telephone call about a possible counterfeit $20 bill. Two police show up to investigate. One draws a gun and orders Mr. Floyd out of the car. $20 dollars. What happened to the investigation? It was like the police wanted to make an arrest. The alleged crime being investigated, I think, was a specific intent crime, requiring proof of both the act of using counterfeit currency to purchase goods or services along with the mental state of intent to use counterfeit currency. Under the due process requirement of the Constitution, that would seem to require a real investigation rather than drawing a weapon. It sure seems like a violation just to walk up to a car and threaten someone's life with lethal force without at least asking any questions. That's why I wrote to the city leaders and politicians admonishing them to reform criminal laws to require the issuance of citations rather than proceeding with arrests, which are by their nature acts of force and the escalation of force. Better to proceed with deescalation, issue a citation after a thorough investigation, and then bring the issue in front of an independent magistrate.
Third, I've read a lot of police reports. They talk a lot about probable cause but in general have little facts to show for it. And, because the Constitution requires both probable cause to issue a citation or to make an arrest, with reasonable trustworthy facts as support, its time to ensure that police reports, etc., list identifiable, particularized, concrete allegations of fact to support both the culpable criminal act of the crime alleged along with the culpable mental state. In my opinion, that's a requirement of not just the Fourth Amendment but also the Due Process Clause to provide meaningful notice of the specific grounds for criminal charges. What if police reports fail to identify such facts? It's defective and the citation, arrest, and/or indictment should be quashed, immediately. And, the police authorities who harmed a person by failing to provide constitutional notice ought to be liable under civil rights laws for acting under the color of law without constitutional authority in explicit derogation of due process protections. And prosecutors that pursue such defective charges ought to be held accountable by regulatory agencies, the public, and the legal system.
Fourth, according to news media, at least one of the police officers arrested and charged for the death of Mr. Floyd had previous disciplinary records, which, as far as I can tell, resulted in little action and were not available to the public at large. When political leaders, as our representatives, appoint police officers, as our agents, and when the political leaders then arm those police officers with lethal force, the HR records of those officers should be available to us all. Nothing should be secret; after all, the police are supposed to work for us. But, I hesitate to add, police unions are mighty powerful. Often times, it seems, more powerful than political leaders. But if a union protects someone who is engaged in unlawful acts, then we should hold unions accountable too.
Perhaps my suggestions to politically powerful leaders won't make any difference. So far I've not received any responses. But I'm not giving up. All of us only have one life to live. It's up to us to choose to live it fully, wisely, and for others. I fall short, so often, and all the time. But with each day, we get a new opportunity. The past need not hold us back, if only we have the courage to act. After all, that's the constitutional duty that we've pledged ourselves to embrace on the behalf of others. To act justly on the behalf of others. (Scott Johns).
P.S. As a starting point, please take a look at Attorney General Ellison's statement and the criminal charges filed against the 4 Minneapolis police officers:
I quote in part the words of Attorney General Ellison from the news release: "
"To the Floyd family, to our beloved community, and everyone that is watching, I say: George Floyd mattered. He was loved. His life was important. His life had value. We will seek justice for him and for you and we will find it. The very fact that we have filed these charges means that we believe in them. But what I do not believe is that one successful prosecution can rectify the hurt and loss that so many people feel. The solution to that pain will be in the slow and difficult work of constructing justice and fairness in our society.
That work is the work of all of us. We don’t need to wait for the resolution of the investigation and prosecution of the George Floyd case. We need citizens, neighbors, leaders in government and faith communities, civil- and human- rights activists to begin rewriting the rules for a just society. We need new policy and legislation and ways of thinking at municipal, state, and federal levels. The world of arts and entertainment can use their cultural influence to help inspire the change we need. There is a role for all who dream of a justice we haven’t had yet.
In the final analysis, a protest can shake the tree and make the fruit fall down. But after that fruit is in reach, collecting it and making the jam must follow. The demonstration is dramatic and necessary. But building just institutions is slower and more of a grind, and just as important. We need your energy there too. We need it now."
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
In a normal year, my students would all have begun their bar preparation yesterday, coasting on their post-graduation-ceremony momentum right into a seat in front of the first of many lecturers. But in New York, and more than a third of all U.S. jurisdictions (in which -- again, in a normal year -- more than half of all July examinees would be sitting for the exam), the date of the bar examination has been postponed for six weeks or more, leaving bar students in those jurisdictions with the gift they hate most of all: uncertainty.
What is to be done with all this extra time? Bar preparation companies cannot agree: some are simply administering their typical ten-week program, just starting it six weeks later than usual, while others have reworked their program schedule, starting it earlier and drawing it out over a longer period, but with shorter study days. Employers, many contending with their own virus-induced crises, have added variables to the new graduates' calculations, some allowing their new employees to start early and then take time off, others expecting hirees to adhere to their original early-August start dates, and still others unnervingly withdrawing their employment offers indefinitely. Even we bar support specialists can only make well-educated guesses about how to make use of six extra weeks. We have no data, no direct experience of how a delay like this will affect individual students or the testing cohort as a whole. How much more study can a student put in without burning out? Should the extra time be spread across all aspects of bar study, or should certain skills or subjects receive more attention? Will MBE scores increase overall for those who take the test in September? Decrease? Will the bell curve spread out? Will this hurt or help examinees?
Sensibly, 43 more days of prep time should be seen as a boon. In a normal year for bar study, isn't time the most precious resource of all? In my discussions with students, I have suggested they think of this extra time the way they might think of an unexpected financial windfall. You don't have to spend it all in one place. You might devote a large chunk of it to bar study -- that is, after all, the primary focus of the summer -- but how you specifically budget it depends on your own circumstances. An examinee facing financial pressures might choose to work for a few weeks, then begin studying a few weeks early. Someone eager to get started studying might begin this week, but set aside a week or two, at strategically placed spots on the calendar, to put study aside, connect with family and friends, or do whatever else helps them refill their gas tank. It's important not to let the time slip by unnoticed -- it would be bad to turn off the TV one night near the end of June and realize you had not done any bar study -- and that's why it's important to budget the time and actually create a schedule. And that, for some, is what seems to turn this temporal windfall into a vexation. In order to budget, you have to make choices.
No one wants their bar prep period to feel like playing endless rounds of "The Lady or the Tiger?" At every step: choose the right path, and you will be rewarded with contented knowledge and testing skills; choose the wrong path, and you will be mauled by a ravenous UBE with MPT fangs and MBE claws. In a normal year, examinees only have to be certain that the regimented bar study course they have chosen, which has worked for thousands of examinees before them, will continue to reliably work for them. This summer, though, because so much is unregimented, some examinees are anxious about being uncertain about so much more. Am I studying enough? Am I studying too much? Am I studying too early? Am I studying the right things, in the right way, for the right amount of time?
Two propositions can help people in such a tizzy of uncertainty. First, assure them that they are not feeling this uncertainty because of some character flaw that prevents them from making definitive choices. They are not losing their heads while all about them are keeping theirs. This is an inherently uncertain situation -- we can't even be assured the exam will actually be administered in September! -- and so there is no single "correct" choice. The best they can do is what they've been training to do for the past three years: exercise good judgment based on competent authority and relevant facts. As long as they are not just guessing, as long as they are talking to us and their mentors and their instructors and applying what they learn to what they already know about themselves and the task before them, they can at least make a good choice.
Second, help them subdue the perception that they are overwhelmed by uncertainty by reminding them of what is certain. The content and structure of the bar examination remains the same (well, except in Indiana), as do generally those of the reputable bar courses designed to prepare examinees for the test. They still have their law degrees, and the skill, intelligence, and diligence that helped them earn those degrees. They have a community of classmates, instructors, and mentors who they can rely on to share perspective and feedback on the decisions they do make. They have a certain task, they have certain abilities, and they have certain resources. In the face of uncertainty, those are best certainties to have.
Thursday, May 14, 2020
It's in the moments of fiery crises that heroism is revealed.
I think of our students, heroes everyone of them, finding within the resiliency and creativity to successfully adapt to online learning. I think of the academic support community and law school faculty and staff, springing into action, resolutely empowering novel ways to encourage vibrant learning despite the difficulties. I think of the many workers - across all walks of life - giving of themselves, in the front lines all of them.
It's in these hard spots of life, the difficulties and trials, in which our true beings are revealed, unmasked so to speak.
But there's more unmasking to be done. And quickly too. That's because many of our students have just finished their law school studies and are ready to graduate. Ready to move onto the next step. Ready to serve and contribute to the world.
Yet many states are postponing bar exams with no certainty that latter dates will be any better - health-wise - for holding in-person bar exams.
However that's not the situation that's just been decided by the Indiana Supreme Court. Indiana is moving forward this July 2020 with a one-day online bar exam. And it looks like Nevada might be joining the movement to an online exam too. And one state, Utah, has taken an even bolder approach in implementing an emergency diploma privilege. https://www.law.com/2020/05/08/in-a-first-indiana-will-hold-one-day-online-bar-exam-in-july/?slreturn=20200414232636; https://www.nvbar.org/nevada-supreme-court-seeks-comments-by-may-14-re-modification-to-july-bar-exam/
Nevertheless, back in April in a white paper, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) brushed aside the possibility of online exams or diploma privilege, arguing that online exams were unworkable and that the diploma privilege was not beneficial to the public good. http://www.ncbex.org/pdfviewer/?file=%2Fdmsdocument%2F239.
When I applied to law school (and for the bar exam), there were no online applications. It just couldn't be done. But oh how times change, if only we are willing, courageous, and creative. Now, I doubt one can apply for law school save through an online application. The same goes, I suspect, for most bar exam applications. It's all online now. Except for the bar exam itself.
The only thing that limits us to the present is us.
It's not too late for New York, or California, or any other jurisdiction to implement a one-day online bar exam this July.
But that takes removing the masks that so often keep us living in the present, forever failing to see the future. And, to be honest, living in the present, when the present of the past no longer exists due to COVID-19, is not really living in the present. It's living behind the mask of the past.
The next step is for you - state supreme courts and jurists. We would like join with you, and local and state bar associations and practitioners, to move forward thus summer, whether that's with an online bar exam or with diploma privilege. The choice is yours. (Scott Johns).
Monday, May 11, 2020
In response to the mounting uncertainty about the administration of the July 2020 bar exam, Indiana has moved its exam online.
By order of the Indiana Supreme Court published May 7, 2020, Indiana will offer a one-day online exam in late July. According to law.com “that makes Indiana the first jurisdiction to commit to an online July exam, and the first to say it is creating its own version of the licensing test.” Indiana was one of the last states to adopt the Multistate Bar Exam, and had, for years, given a purely “state-made” exam. Today, the Indiana exam includes multistate content and state specific essays, so the bar examiners likely have an arsenal of potential test content. Other states, like California and Massachusetts, have made nods towards an online exam, but have not publicly defined what their exam would look like or when it would be administered. Both California and Massachusetts have postponed their July exam until September.
Indiana may soon have company. The Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court filed a petition recommending a temporary modification of its July 2020 bar exam to an online format. The petition is based on a recommendation from the Nevada Board of Law Examiners (BLE). The Nevada BLE proposed to administer a two-day, fully online, exam consisting of eight essays and one Nevada performance test. The Nevada proposal excludes multiple-choice questions. If accepted, Nevada will join California and Pennsylvania in administering its own performance test. The Nevada proposal is open for public comment. Anyone wishing to support (or oppose) the proposal should email the Clerk of the Nevada Supreme Court. Like Indiana, Nevada uses both multistate content and administers a state law essay exam.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added new layers of stress to the already hectic workloads of the academic support community. ASPers are affected by the pandemic in ways that our doctrinal colleagues are not. Traditionally, we are the ones from whom students seek counsel and clarity about the bar exam and how to prepare for it. Our ability to respond to those questions has been upended by proposed delays and the looming threat that a face-to-face exam cannot be administered in either July or September. All we know now is that we really don't know what will happen or how our students should best prepare. Added to the worry about whether there can be a bar exam at all, is how our students will fare on the exam and what our pass rates will look like.
The Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) called for suspension of ABA Standard 316 mandating that law schools maintain a 75% bar passage rate to remain in compliance. We can reasonably anticipate that bar pass rates will be lower in 2020 than in recent prior years. Students are under extreme stress dealing with pandemic related adjustments, fear of contracting the virus, and fear of spreading it to loved ones. Summer bar takers lack of access to law schools, public libraries, and quiet coffee shops for bar study, because they are not open to the public. Some may be battling illness themselves. Moreover, the administration of three separate exams with comparative and wholistic grading will also likely skew the exam outcomes and lead to a higher number of bar failures than would have occurred had all candidates taken the exam in the same administration. The Bar Advocacy Committee supports the SALT position and will present a letter to the Executive Board of the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) for signature, delivery, and public posting.
In the past, New York has been the state to follow, in terms of bar exam policy and development. Not so, anymore, as the limited seating debacle has cast a cloud of embarrassment and incompetence over the empire state. Who knew that we would see such progressive and compassionate bar policy leadership coming from Utah, Indiana, and now, hopefully, Nevada! It just goes to show that good ideas aren’t tied to population or politics—good ideas stem from compassionate effective leadership. And there is still room for more leaders with regard to the July 2020 exam.
Thursday, May 7, 2020
I once had a teacher tell me to never read good books. Never ever. And why not?
Because if I spent my time reading good books (or doing good things), then I wouldn't have time left to read the really great books (or do the really great things of life).
That's a lesson that has never left my side.
In bar prep, I'm convinced that too many are trying to do too much, and, in the process of doing good tasks, they aren't doing the great things that are really important for success on the bar exam. Let me be frank. You don't have time in bar prep to do good things. But, you have plenty of time to do the really great things, the things that produce fruitful learning.
With that in mind, here's a few tips:
- Do less reading and more pondering the law, how it works or doesn't, and what it means to you as a person.
- Do less note-taking and more puzzling through problems to learn the law.
- Do less testing and more practicing, feeling free to work problems over slowly, reading them out loud if you'd like, as you develop confidence and competence in your own voice as an expert problem-solver.
That's just a few suggestions.
But, rather than hear it from me, a teacher, I thought I'd share the wisdom of a recent successful bar-taker in that person's own words. After all, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words (but the wise words from the heart & mind of a recent bar taker -- who wants to share with YOU what she/he learned through re-taking the bar exam -- is worth a priceless fortune).
Advice for First-Time Bar Takers:
- Practice way more than you think! If you are wondering whether you should watch a lecture or do a practice question, do the practice question.
- Let go of memorizing everything. It is impossible. Learn what your weak areas are and spend more time with those subjects.
- You will feel like you know nothing until approximately the last week of bar prep. Somehow, magically, it does come together. I promise.
- Do all the bar prep practice tests.
- Think really hard about who you want to study with. This is not the time to do something different from how you handled law school.
- Come up with a plan and stick to it. The bar prep calendar is really helpful for this. Decide how many practice questions you want to do everyday and do it. But if you are starting to burn out, be OK with taking breaks. It's a marathon!
Advice for Fresh Start Re-Takers:
- First, I am so sorry that you have been dealt this card. There is no question that it hurts. Take care of yourself and do things that make you happy.
- As you begin planning your next round of bar prep, make sure to work with the law school to identify the weak aspects of your exam answers. This will help define ways you can “work smarter” instead of “work harder.”
- Also work with the law school to identify new ways to study. It might be changing up your study tool or how you review your answers. For me, studying ALONE the second round vastly improved my scores. I think studying alone boosted my confidence because it required me to look up answers to my own mistakes. I also stopped comparing myself to friends.
- Ditch the bar prep lectures. Use that time to practice WAY MORE MBE and MEE practice questions. I probably tripled the amount of practice questions I did during my second round of bar prep.
- Log your progress. I was way more intentional about compiling lists of rules I kept missing on MBE questions. This helped me to keep track of weak areas so I could spend more time learning the law in specific subjects.
- Spend timing thinking about any testing anxiety you might have. Adding mindfulness meditations to my study plan helped a ton!
That brings me back to the start of this little essay. How do you know what are the really great books to read (or the great things to do)? That's were wisdom comes in. Reach out to a person you trust, on your faculty or staff or from a colleague or mentor who knows you as a person from head to toe. The advice that I've shared in this blog is from such a person, who, although he/she doesn't know you, knows you, because she/he has cared enough to share with you the lessons learned through the process. So, you have a friend who is rooting for you (and that includes me too!).
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
One thing that most of us probably don't full appreciate until we miss it is degree to which we rely on predictability. When things are going well, it is often largely because so many things are doing just what we expect them to do, without us having to think about it. When every paycheck is direct deposited, when every mocha latte tastes just like you like it, when your spouse kisses you every morning and your favorite TV show is on every evening, it's all part of one grand comfortable life. It is not simply or even primarily the easy and convenience that makes it comfortable. It's the reassurance that comes with knowing that, and understanding how, cause leads to effect. Things happen because we make them happen, or if not, at least we expected them to happen, and all that generates confidence and a sense of efficacy.
Suddenly we enter an alternative universe in which supermarkets run out of the most basic, boring staples, like flour; in which basic medical precautions like hand washing might be useless because you were unknowingly infected two weeks ago; in which jobs and income just disappear for even the most conscientious employees; in which graduating with a degree, even with honors, from a decent law school may not even be enough to permit you to take a bar examination, let alone begin earning a living. All of these are aggravating, and some have potentially dire consequences. But taken as a whole, their greatest effect on us may be that they are contradicting our assumptions about how the world reliably runs.
Trust is like a vitamin. When we haven't got a minimum daily requirement -- when there are too many things in our lives that we can't rely on -- it's like a psychic scurvy. Instead of bruising easily and losing our teeth, we panic easily and lose our self-confidence. The cortisol levels in our bloodstreams shoot up, because in an unpredictable world we always have to be prepared to fight or flee. We can't concentrate, we are easily rattled, we might even suffer illness because of it. It's hard. We need to be able to rely on some things to perform well.
This is one of the reasons that humans invented lawyers in the first place. We needed more people we could trust to rely on. We needed people who could develop frameworks of predictable rules so that we would not feel that conflicts were resolved arbitrarily. Lawyers are a testament to the human craving for reliability.
And in order to make lawyers that clients can rely on, we need to teach students to rely on themselves, on their own capabilities and judgment. And this does not happen overnight. First we teach them that they can rely on others -- on their professors to teach them how the law works and on mentors to show them the ropes -- then that they can rely on systems, like legislatures and administrative bodies, and then ultimately on themselves. You know these rules and how to apply them. You understand how to navigate bureaucracy, at least enough to find your way through any new one you encounter. You know how to come up with solutions, how to suggest them to other interested parties, how to negotiate a compromise. You're a cause that has effect, because you are a lawyer.
Even with everything going well in law school, though -- and it may not be, at least not for every student, given the range of burdens that they are shouldering -- when the rest of the world is telling you that you can't eat in your favorite restaurant, that the only available toilet paper is the Want Ads section of your local paper, and it may be more than a year before you can begin working, it can be really easy to spend all your time on edge, trembling at the unclear implications of every announcement from the school or your state bar examiners. And when it is easy to be that anxious, it is usually hard to study, focus, work efficiently, and present yourself to the world as a new lawyer.
So, lately, I've been thinking of how Academic Support professionals are kind of like psychic vitamin supplements. In a world in which everybody feels that so many things are less reliable now, we are telling our students, "Look, you can trust us. We'll explain the right answer; we'll send you feedback on your writing; we will find and share information you might not be able to access yourselves. But we will also teach you that you can trust yourselves. You're learning the rules you need to learn. You're developing the writing and analytical and persuasive skills you need as tools to cause the effects you want. You're going to develop the judgment that makes a good counselor, and some day other people will come to rely on you."
All of that messaging is what we do on a good day. Lately, I feel like I have had to up my game to extra strength multivitamin levels. Making myself available for conferences more frequently; responding to emails super-promptly, before students can feel ignored; finding additional resources for students in increasingly dire straits because of the current crisis. Maybe this is really the core of what Academic Support does best at times like these: by actions that show our students that they can rely on us, we help them see they can rely on their professors, on the law, on the system, so that they can better learn to rely on themselves.
Thursday, April 30, 2020
Often times I hear students suggest that what they are learning in law school seems so unmoored to the reality of the world, especially in the midst of this pandemic. I wonder. Could there be a way to connect law school learning to real life experiences? More to the point, to the extent that students feel that way, that might be our fault for failing to use the latest news events as tools to facilitate and enhance our students' learning.
So, here are a few examples of some rich possibilities to help bring the gap between academics and practice as students finish their online classes and prepare for their upcoming final exams:
I. Retrieval Practice - Fed Civil Procedure (Venue):
Perhaps this ongoing story caught your eye about the Cuban doctors suing the Pan American Health Organization, an agency of the United Nations in federal court in Miami, Florida. Cuban Doctors Who Worked in Brazil Sue International Organization Alleging Forced Labor, Miami Herald (Nov. 30, 2018).
According to recent press reports, this class action is pending a decision by the judge as to whether to transfer venue to Washington, DC, from Miami, Florida.
Here's some of the questions that I asked students: (1) What's the standard for a request to transfer venue? (2) What's the rule for the initial venue choice? (3) What are the basic requirements for a class action case?
II. Retrieval Practice - Property and Contract Law (Marketable Title & Contract Defenses):
Here's one for the 1L students preparing for final exams. It seems that a Chinese company is suing a South Korean company in State Court in Delaware to compel (i.e, for an order of specific performance) the defendant to close on a real estate deal to buy a portfolio of 15 luxury U.S. hotels. https://www.wsj.com/articles/former-anbang-unit-suing-south-korea-s-mirae-for-failure-to-close-on-5-8-billion-hotel-portfolio-purchase-11588006092?mod=searchresults.
According to the news article, the defendant asserted two grounds for its refusal to close the deal as justification for its breach of a property sales contract. First, the defendant argues that the COVID-19 pandemic serves as valid contract defense of impossibility to perform. Second, the defendant argues that the title for the hotel group was unmarketable at the time of closing earlier this month because a "California individual had secretly created fake deeds [that] purported to transfer ownership of at least six hotels in California [in the hotel group]. Id.
Here's some questions to ask of students? (1) What's marketable title mean? (2) Is the defendant entitled to a contract defense to prevent specific performance? (3) is this lawsuit a common law contract case or a UCC Article 2 case and why?
According to a recent media report, several individuals have filed suit against the California governor alleging that the governor ordered the state police to stop issuing permits for protests on the state capital grounds while "noting the Capital in Sacramento has hosted a variety of [other] demonstrations." https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/california-faces-civil-rights-lawsuit-after-highway-patrol-bans-rallies-at-state-capitol-over-coronavirus/ar-BB13lbI7.
The plaintiffs alleged violations of their First Amendment rights, presumably on grounds that the state capital park area is a public forum in which few restrictions of speech are permissible. There also seems to be lurking an equal protection issue based on allegations of differential treatment based on the content of protesters' messages.
Here's a few questions that come to mind? (1) What's a public forum? (2) What's the test for speech restrictions on a public forum? (3) What test would you use for equal protection analysis?
Here's one last suggestion...
With final exams soon to begin, the news is a great way to (a) mix up practice with a variety of different subject matters; (b) help students issue spot and analyze legal issues; (c) develop and strengthen student confidence as problem-solving subject matter experts; (d) encourage students that what they are learning today is valuable for their tomorrows; (e) energize students in practical ways to incorporate retrieval practice and analysis in their final exam preparations; and, (f) help students see how lawyers, the judicial system, and litigants interact in the public sphere to shape social and political policies. So, keep your eye out for the latest news. It almost always has a few legal issues or more buried in it. (Scott Johns).
Friday, April 24, 2020
I’ve thought a lot about educational resilience in recent years, and the health, economic, and social crisis we find ourselves in today has made the topic seem all the more important and relevant.
Educational resilience is distinct from concepts like grit or educational buoyancy that describe how students respond to the everyday challenges of academic life: getting started, staying focused, and putting in the effort necessary to complete difficult tasks. Resilience refers to how our students (or any of us) respond to extraordinary adversity. The type of adversity that disrupts our normal patterns and throws us out of equilibrium. Resilience theory looks at how people adjust after adversity: whether the experience permanently impacts their functionality and diminishes their potential; whether they return to something like the previous status quo; or whether they integrate the experience of overcoming adversity into a narrative of empowerment, leaving them more resilient and successful going forward.
As we communicate with students over the next weeks and months, we are, wittingly or not, co authoring their narratives of adversities and resilience and how it relates to their educational story. Research and experience have led me to believe that educationally resilient students share certain characteristics. None of these characteristics will be particularly surprising or ground-breaking to anyone in this community, but I think they still bear repeating.
Resilient students are realistic about challenges, but they emphasize the positive over the negative. They are unwilling to perceive themselves as victims and instead characterize themselves as powerful agents with influence over their world. They accept responsibility and learn from their mistakes, but they also focus on the future and on specific, tangible goals. And they respond to the challenges they face with transformative energy or, if you will, love. (My apologies if my hippie side is showing.)
I find myself reflecting on these characteristics of resilient narratives not only as it relates to how I’m communicating with my students, but also with respect to the story I’m telling myself about the world today and my place in it. I know others have said it before me, but in this time of crisis, I’ve never been more aware of the role I play as a supporter and advocate for my students, providing a measure of predictability and consistency in unsettling times.
One thing on which all literature on resilience agrees is the enormous impact that having one consistent, engaged supporter can have on success. This is especially true when the supporter is advocating for and promoting the student’s success in a particular field of endeavor or in terms of meeting a particular goal. In many cases the supporter may not even realize the profound impact they have had or the fact that they have become a pivotal character in a student’s story of educational resilience.
I have had my moments, these last few months, when I can’t tell if what I’m doing is making any difference; when it seems like nothing I do could possibly be equal to what my students are going through, anyway. Perhaps you have felt the same.
I encourage you all to be positive, empowered, future-focused, and loving, both with your students and yourselves. Because, what we are doing matters, enormously, whether or not we can always see the impact we are having.
(Liam Skilling - Guest Blogger)
Thursday, April 23, 2020
There's a line in the book Moon Dust, regarding people who fervently believe that the Apollo moon landings did not take place, that reads: "The only thing I feel sure of [with respect to a moon landing skeptic] is that he wants to believe this story...." A. Smith, Moon Dust, Harper Perennial (2005). In other words, no matter the evidence, the unbeliever will not believe. Sometimes I feel like that with the bar exam uncertainties and postponements.
As Professor Marsha Griggs points out, law schools (and most of the rest of education) flipped on a dime to online learning. Let me tell you about online learning. I was a skeptic. And, I was afraid, mighty afraid, because I didn't think I could do it. But guess what? I just finished my last class of the semester, online, with smiles and in celebration with my online students. It's too early to tell, but it seems to have worked. I think I'm now a believer.
That brings me to my first point...
Prior to online teaching, I just didn't believe that it could be done, at least not well. I was like the moon landing skeptics. I had heard that some had succeeded in online environments but I didn't really believe the stories. Not at all. But I'm no longer a skeptic because I've experienced online learning for myself. It's not quite a moon landing, but somehow I navigated through the ether of the internet space to make contact with my students, for them to connect with me, for all of us to connect with each other. Here's what I've learned. I was stuck in the past due to confirmation bias. To put it plainly, I lived in the rut of traditional classroom teaching because that was all I knew. And, because that was all I knew, I couldn't see that there might be other ways to deliver high quality legal education. That is until I had to teach online.
So that brings me to my final point - the bar exam...
If law schools can successfully switch to online learning in just a few weeks or two, it sure seems like bar examiners can switch to online bar exams with a few months of lead time. Yes, that would mean open book bar exams. Yes, that might mean reducing the bar exam to a one-day multiple-choice MBE exam. Yes, that might mean some lack of security. But, is there any real reason to hold onto the past model in light of the future pressing down upon us with some much uncertainty? I think not.
It's time for the bar exam to move past tradition and into a future that might be much better for all of us - for bar examiners, bar exam takers, and the public too. I know. Sometimes it's hard to give up what we know. However, if we only ever keep our hands gripped tightly around the present, we'll miss the wonderful chances that are all around us to improve the future of our world. The choice is ours, all of ours. (Scott Johns).
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
The last few weeks have been extraordinary in dizzying ways. A massive and abrupt shift to online teaching; a disruptive delay in administration of the bar examination; increased academic, professional, and/or personal responsibilities; fears for one's health or the health of loved ones; actual physical illness; loss of income; loss of planned employment or experiential opportunities; long-term economic uncertainty; social isolation and loneliness -- any one of these would be distractingly stressful to a student or teacher under ordinary circumstances, and many of us and our students are facing most of them simultaneously.
The saving grace has been the correspondingly extraordinary response -- demonstrations of grit, resourcefulness, generosity, and positivity -- that the situation has generated. Administrators and technicians working 16-hour days to keep classes and resources flowing. Educators implementing and sharing creative solutions to the problems of distance learning, and making special efforts to keep students engaged. Students accepting their changed circumstances with remarkable flexibility, increased effort, and gracious understanding. And, as a backdrop, millions of people, throughout the country and the world, working, sharing, and cooperating towards common goals.
But these last few weeks are really the first few weeks. To many they seem much longer already, but everyone -- law schools included -- faces an even more extended period of disruption and deprivation. That burst of energy and goodwill with which our students faced the initial transformation will have its limits. Even our own stockpiles of buoyancy and resilience are going to be threatened.
That is normal. It is really a form of culture shock, and as anyone who has experienced culture shock can tell you, there will be a cycle of highs and lows until we fully acclimate to our new world. We can all deal with these, one way or another, but the best way is with open eyes and thoughtful consideration. Expect at some point to feel exhaustion and discouragement in ourselves, and to recognize them in our students and colleagues.
Plan for it if you can -- be thinking ahead about when (soon!) you can take some time for yourself, and about how you can encourage your students to do the same. Classes will be over in a few weeks, exams a few weeks after that; a little downtime right about now, and then after exams are over, can help to stretch everyone's reserves.
Reaching out to others for support -- sharing or trading tasks, enjoying a little social time (like a virtual happy hour), or even just mutual commiseration about how tough it has been -- should be a little more manageable at this point, now that we have all familiarized ourselves with our new schedules, our formerly unfamiliar conferencing tools, and the proper guidelines for face-to-face-but-still-six-feet-away interactions.
And, most importantly, don't let the next plunge in spirits catch anyone by surprise. Let your students know -- gently, not with a sense of foreboding -- that it would be natural to start feeling low at some point, and that the feeling will not be permanent, and that you can be there for them while it lasts. Help them to focus on the tasks that will help them not only get through the next several months, but also accomplish things they will be proud to talk about years later. And remember that you will not be immune, and that taking care of yourself is another way to help you take care of your students.
Monday, March 30, 2020
Lamb Chop started singing "this is a song that never ends. Yes, it goes on and on, my friends. Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was. And they'll continue singing it forever just because . . ."
For some, that brought back childhood memories. For others, it describes the new daily routine. Students need help transitioning to online learning, and they have legitimate questions about upcoming bar exams, grading, academic standing, finals, etc. The listservs buzz with non-stop information. Law school faculties are debating different options for student questions, and most of us still have our normal teaching load along with administrative tasks. Not to mention, some of us are also parents and newly homeschooling, with varying degrees of success and marker damage. Shelter in place orders combined with the flood of obligations have created the never ending workday.
Everyone has a different home setup. I assume that some people cannot sequester to an office and let freedom reign in the rest of the house. To solve that problem, my "office" is the kitchen counter where I can see a large area of my house. My laptops and binders are on the counter. The easy accessibility and non-stop problems means when I go to get the 8 o'clock snack, I can answer a handful of emails. Answering emails is easy on my laptop. I don't have the excuse that long emails are hard on my phone, so just a few quick emails. I also need to record a quick video for class, so that is right at my fingertips. Midnight snack and clear email. Seems efficient and is probably common now. Those actions will also drain us of both our physical and emotional energy right before the summer, which may or may not include the bar exam. Now is the time to conserve energy, not over-expend it.
Weight loss experts tell people to get snacks out of sight because out of sight, out of mind. James Clear in Atomic Habits says we can create habits by placing reminder items near an already existing habit. Need to workout? Put workout gear near where you change after work. Need to take medicine? Put the bottle near the coffee pot. The psychology of habits is creating part of my problem. I see my laptop and know I can send emails fast. I answer a few. I know recording an answer analysis takes 10 minutes, so I do it. And I will continue working forever, just because . . .
We all know breaks are necessary. We tell students to take breaks while studying. Most of us can spout off the mental health benefits of only studying in certain locations. If anything in the post describes you (it does me), then we also need to take our own advice. This is a unique time, and our family, students, and friends need us fully charged. We can't do that by working non-stop. Let's try to put away work objects to end our workday when it is supposed to end.
Thursday, March 19, 2020
Some people wonder if "e-learning" is real. I poked around the internet and it looks like there are plenty of studies on both sides of the coin.
But I have to say from firsthand personal experience that I know that e-learning is real...and that it works. Here's the details (but please don't tell anyone because I'm embarrassed to tell the story):
Prior to my start in academic support, as a practicing attorney, I had a video-conference hearing in a courtroom in Colorado. I liked to be in the courtroom early, so, as I sat in the courtroom awaiting the judge, I noticed that the opposing party and her counsel were not present.
At that point, the judge came in, and, with the hearing set to momentarily start, the judge asked the courtroom clerk on the video-conference to go out and look for the opposing party and counsel. Before waiting for the clerk's response, I bolted upright and blurted out loud, "I'll go look for them. They might just be in the waiting room."
At that, the judge remarked: "Mr. Johns, you do know that Salt Lake City is a good 500 miles away from Denver, and that, while appreciating your willingness to help today, it might just be a touch too much to drive to the courthouse in Utah before the close of today's court session."
We all had a good chuckle, and I was mighty glad that no one but the judge (and the courtroom clerks in Denver and Salt Lake City) knew about my impulsive offer to leap to help.
Here's what I learned.
You see, even though we were having a video-conference courtroom hearing, it was as real as life to me. So real that I completely forgot about the geographical expanse - not to mention the massive Rocky Mountain ranges - that separated me from the opposing party and counsel on the other side of the case.
So is "e-learning" real learning?
Well, it sure can be. But it all depends on our willingness to perceive it as such, to make it work as well or even better than in-person learning, to actually be in the moment relating with our students in order to reach them wherever they are.
In my opinion, learning is a relational social experience. But, that doesn't mean that we need to be physically present in the same classroom with our students. Indeed, as I learned through my experience in "online" litigation, what happens online can be just as powerful as what happens in the presence of each other.
P.S. Please keep this story just between you and me!
P.S.S. Still doubting the efficacy of e-learning? Here's a quick blurb from a Penn State blog about one student's perspective on using zoom this week:
"Someone in my bio class with more than 300 students accidentally started talking about the professor, not realizing her microphone was on, so that made things a bit awkward. The chat feature is enjoyable. I have seen conversations ranging from Jesus to nicotine. I also received an email from my English professor reminding us to wear clothes. Of course Zoom isn’t ideal, but it is pretty effective given the circumstances." C. Nersten, Reviews: Zoom Classes, Onward State Blog, https://onwardstate.com/2020/03/17/os-reviews-zoom-classes/
...Reading between the lines, e-learning can be very effective, but it takes careful planning and curating by us, just like regular classes do...
Monday, March 16, 2020
- Meditate. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Sitting or laying down and focusing on your breathing will work. Or stare at a candle for a few minutes or listen to calming music. Even 5 minutes of mindfulness helps. Try it a couple times a day, like in the morning and before bed. The effects last longer than you would think.
- Give your devices a break. Isolation sometimes makes us even more attached to our devices, especially when we’re trying to keep up with the fast changing news. Try planning a time during the day or evening when you will not be on any device for an hour if possible. If that seems too long start with 15 min and work your way up.
- Laugh. Find a funny movie, book, song — anything that makes you laugh. Laughing is good medicine.
- Read something uplifting. Give the news a break and pick up a book that makes you feel good.
- Move. The gym may not be a good idea right now, but you can work out, dance, do yoga or other
movement at home.
- Be kind. Just be kind to yourself and others.
- Sleep. Now is a great time to catch up.
Thursday, March 12, 2020
I brought my dog Maisey to school today. I know. That's not allowed. But sometimes rules are meant to be broken. I think today was that sort of day.
Today was my final in-person class, at least for several weeks due to COVID-19. And, because I had so many students prior to class email me that they were not going to make it to class because of COVID-19, I just had to act for those who came. And for me too, because I was feeling stressed too. So I did. I brought Maisey with me to her first law school class ever!
As I walked towards the school, I sort of felt like I had to sneak her in. But there's no sneaking around when it comes to a large, tail-waving dog. I was caught right away, and, to my surprise, with smiles everywhere we went. We still hid for a few minutes in my office until it was time for class. But then we walked into the classroom, in stride together, for Maisey's first college class ever. Oh the joy, when my students saw Maisey. The class lit up.
Here's what I learned from today's experience:
In moments like these, with more than 100 law schools switching to online learning midstream due to COVID-19, the most important things I can do for my students is to care with them, to show them that we will work through this together, to let them know that I will listen to them and learn with them as we move into online teaching, and to acknowledge that I am going to make mistakes along the way (but that's okay because, after all, it's in our mistakes in which the most important lessons are often learned).
After class, I had more students than usual stay late...to talk, to share, and to listen together. Maisey, on the other hand, just sat quietly on the classroom floor next to us - patient and happy just to be with us.
As many of us transition into online learning for the remainder of the term, take time to listen to your students, to talk with your colleagues, and to share your worries and concerns because law school is more than just a school; it's a community. It's our students' community. And, it's the community in which we are privileged to share in too. (Scott Johns).
P.S. Here's Maisey in her studious mode on her first day in college (but mostly she slept soundly!).
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Just to be clear, law students are not dogs. Law students are people, full of humanity, volition, self-awareness, and agency. Dogs, in contrast, are full of caninity, impulsiveness, incomprehension, and opportunism. If a dog sees you after a one-week absence, she will yelp and leap excitedly, as if witnessing your literal resurrection from the dead. A law student, on the other hand, will just shrug, or perhaps nod, understanding that class only meets once a week, and that you are not killed and eaten by bears in between meetings.
Nevertheless, learning to be a better dog owner had helped me learn to be a better law student teacher, too. This is *not* because law students and dogs are similar. Law students have never bitten, drooled upon, or shed on me, and they do not think of squirrels as morsel-toys. No, what has helped has been the realization that I make some of the same mistakes with my puppy that I sometimes make with law students, but with dogs the consequences are more readily noticeable. Tula provides me with an immediate feedback loop that helps me realize the errors of my ways more quickly:
- Using inconsistent language. When I am walking my dog and she pulls ahead of me, I invariably find a variety of ways to show my disapproval. "Tula, come here." "Tula, back it up!" "Tula, no pulling." These all mean essentially the same thing to me, and, in a sense, they mean the same thing to Tula, as well, except from her perspective what they mean is nothing. Why? Because when I taught her to walk next to me, I told her to "Heel!". When I say "Heel!", she knows to walk alongside me. When I say "Back it up!", I might as well be speaking Orcish, and she merrily ignores me. Students are not so obvious when they are puzzled by a change in vocabulary, so I might not notice that I have confused them if I switch spontaneously from "meeting of the minds" to "mutual assent" without explanation. But an overeager German shepherd quickly promotes consistent terminology.
- Failing to spot trouble coming. A peaceful walk around the neighborhood can become a nerve-jangling melee of barking, yanking, and tangled leash if I do not notice the squirrel that my pooch has fixed her gaze upon or the approaching tween walking her poodle. Tula means well, but her fervent enthusiasm would lead her into trouble if I had not quickly learned to watch out for temptation. Law students, too, face hazards to their success -- substantive misunderstandings, time management issues, overconfidence, etc. --- but these dangers can smolder, unaddressed, for weeks or even months before finally leading to very visible, and sometimes catastrophic, misadventures. Having to learn to control a fanged furry beastie has impressed upon me the importance of spotting and dealing with trouble before it generates an emergency.
- Ignoring personality and mood. Every dog owner dreams of having the perfectly-behaved pet that responds instantly and consistently to every command, like a fuzzy predictable robot. I have seen a few of these animals -- they are really scary, like police K-9 dogs, trained through thousands of hours of repetition to such automaticity you can practically hear them barking, "I'll be back!" The rest of us all have to contend with real dogs. They mean well, really they do; but if your dog (like mine) is just a quivering bundle of excitement, then you have to accept that you cannot always turn your back on them after commanding them to sit. And if they are tired, or hungry, or frightened, then you have to adjust your expectations and adjust your guidance accordingly if you want to see the behavior you are used to seeing. If you don't, then you will see things go awry very quickly. Law students are not dogs, which have no control over the expressions of their moods or personalities; people, sometimes with very good reasons, can subdue their reactions. But those reactions matter -- they affect perception, motivation, and intention -- and their effects might show immediately, or might not make themselves clear until much later. A good teacher will attend to each individual student's personality and mood and adapt their teaching strategies to take them into account.
Dogs are terrible models for law students -- they do not read books, once one of them starts yapping they all have to jump in, and they would probably sleep through every class. But dog owners might have something useful to teach law professors.
Thursday, March 5, 2020
Every once in awhile I have a "aha" moment. I stumbled into this one, and I'm not the same because of it.
As background, a student reached after having failed the MPRE on multiple tries despite having watched commercial bar review lectures, creating personal study tools, and working lots and lots of practice questions.
I was so impressed with the student's preparatory efforts. The student had created spectacular blackletter study tools. The student knew the law backwards and forwards and could retrieve rules in a flash. And yet, the student missed question after question despite lots of practice in working through and analyzing problems.
That's when it came to me.
My student had learned the law - cold - but was still missing questions because the student had not learned the culture of how the law was tested. Based on my student's prior experiences as an attorney, I asked how my student had learned to solve legal problems as an attorney. My student explained that the key was in learning the culture of how the law applied to client problems.
Likewise, I suggested that perhaps the key to success on the MPRE lies in learning the legal culture of the MPRE. With this thought in mind, my student focused preparation efforts anew on learning MPRE culture rather than MPRE law. And guess what? The student passed the MPRE with flying colors!
Based on this admittedly anecdotal experience, my sense is that many students do not pass the MPRE because they focus on learning the wrong thing. They try to learn the law without learning the socio-legal context of how the law applies - the culture of the law.
With this thought in mind, I now suggest to students that they work through practice problems as armchair legal sociologists to learn the culture of what is being tested. In short, in my opinion, the MPRE doesn't really test the law as much as it tests the legal culture of the law. (Scott Johns).