Monday, October 11, 2021

Baseball is a Rules Based System

Have I mentioned that I live in walking distance of Boston's Fenway Park? I live in the town just slightly west of Boston. Last night there was a baseball game at Fenway. It was an important one to Red Sox fans. Have I mentioned that I am not, proximity aside, a member of Red Sox nation? However, the Red Sox beat my team to get to this game, so since I am an adult, I decided that I am now a fan…of the team the Red Sox are playing (there are no adults in baseball, or was that crying? Either way). Yet, I live with Red Sox fans, so we were watching the game. For a very, very long time. Because it ended in the 13th inning. I guess folks with tickets got their money worth, but they do close the beer stands after the 7th inning which means that when this game finally became interesting to me most people down the street were either happily sober or wishing they weren’t.

You are wondering, what is the legal teaching connection? Glad you asked. Here is our fact pattern: it was the top of the 13th inning and the Tampa Bay (not devil anymore) Rays were batting. There was a player on first base and one out, when Kevin Kiermayer came to bat and Kiermayer hit a “rocket” to the wall. Then, “[t]he ball hit the wall, struck Red Sox outfielder Hunter Renfroe in the right thigh and hopped into the Boston bullpen.”[1]The runner on first ran; Kiermayer ran. The runner on first crossed homeplate and the Red Sox fans in attendance, now long cut off from beer, were despondent. For a moment. The umpires conferred and ruled it was a double, so the runner on first could only get to third base and the run the Rays had “scored” was erased. This is the run that would have broken the 4-4 tie in the 13th inning. Red Sox nation rejoiced. I glowered a bit.

This is where the rules of baseball come in-as they do in every game-but since there are fewer playoff games occurring than on usual nights -we were paying attention. The rule and its application were explained by Major League Baseball umpires this way: “It's item 20 in the manual, which is, balls deflected out of play, which is in reference to official baseball Rule 5.06(b)(4)(H) [which] says, ‘If a fair ball not in flight is deflected by a fielder and goes out of play, the award is two bases from the time of the pitch. Once that ball hit the wall, it was no longer in flight. Now the ball bounces off the wall and is deflected out of play off of a fielder. That’s just a ground-rule double.”[2]

The legal education angle here is that this seems to be a strict liability rule-it doesn’t matter if the ball accidentally or intentionally got put out of play. The way I plan to use this in class this week is to ask students to go through all the possible intents: willful, reckless, negligent, etc. and ask how each could have been proven in that moment. I'll poke at the idea of whether Renfroe had intentionally pushed the ball out of play to save the game knowing that his intent didn’t actually matter and wouldn’t be examined. Would he be a hero or a scofflaw for engaging the rules that way? I’ll tap the professional responsibility issue of whether the rules act as a shield or a weapon when you are player. I’ll ask why Major League Baseball tends to use strict liability rules. You can’t stop the game to have a trial, but they do have so many camera angles at every position on the field that they send off multiple videos to a third party for confirmation. I’ll also show the video of the 2013 World Series where a call by an umpire awarded the St. Louis Cardinals a run, and therefore the game, and ultimately the series, against the Red Sox for contrast…and laugh.[3]

Go Yankees!

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] https://www.mlb.com/news/rays-ground-rule-double-in-13th-inning-explained

[2] Id.

[3] https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1826398-was-obstruction-the-right-call-to-make-on-wild-last-play-of-game-3

October 11, 2021 in Games, Miscellany, News, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 27, 2021

We've Come a Long Way

Our law school building was shut down as of 2:00 p.m. Wednesday. An email went out at 1:47 p.m. letting us know that we were going to be taking all classes online until, they then said, Monday at 7:00 a.m. Now, if I were reading this as someone who didn’t know more, I’d be reaching for the hand sanitizer (despite the fact we know that the internet transmits all kinds of virulent things, but not actually human viruses). I’ll wait a moment for your hands to dry before I go on.

Here’s the thing: it wasn’t COVID-19 that shut us down (but your hands are now clean and that’s never a bad thing). Our building had been having air conditioning problems for weeks. The classrooms I taught in last Monday afternoon and evening felt like, to add to your Yiddish vocabulary, a schvitz[1]. The classroom I taught in that Wednesday morning felt like a rainforest. It was easily close to, if not above, 90 degrees in the classrooms and getting up there in my office as well. When I finally was able to get out of the building much later that afternoon, the subway station was refreshing (it was Park Street for you Boston familiar folks and you know if it was refreshing there, the building was bad). The air-conditioned train was my night in shiny greenish armor. Not many people say “aaah” when getting on a green line trolley, but there I was perking up as we meandered through the Back Bay. It turns out that the building will actually be closed until this Wednesday (we think) because the “chillers” have failed (and yes, I am imagining “chillers” as those folks in high school wearing a lot of flannel and playing hacky-sack).

But this blog entry is not about my escape from schvitz mountain-it is more about the fact that I realized that I wasn’t concerned about moving to remote teaching for a week. 2019 me would have been trying to remember how to record a Panopto video and reconfiguring all my slides for the small screen. 2019 me would probably have taught the classes wearing work pants and shoes. 2019 me would have tried to position myself somewhere the dog barking wouldn’t be audible (which, by the way, it turns out is nowhere in my house). In short, 2019 me would have panicked.

But 2021 me immediately created a Zoom link on the class BlackBoard site and emailed everyone to find it there. 2021 me already had the slides on my laptop (which 2019 me would have said was a crazy expensive investment-but 2019 me was wrong about that). 2021 me really enjoyed seeing my student’s faces for the first time this semester, and hoped they enjoyed seeing mine. And so, 2021 me started the class, shared the screen, and carried on. The only thing that made me sweat about the whole thing was that I was still stuck in my office because 13 minutes wasn’t enough time to get to a cooler place. 2021 me would have chuckled at the state of 2019 me (and, in all fairness, 2019 me would have been horrified to see my frizzing hair take up almost all of my 2021 Zoom rectangle).

COVID was certainly not the ideal way to learn how to quickly pivot and conduct classes even when we do not have access to a school building, but those skills are now honed.

We’ve come a long way.

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] A schvitz (noun) is a steam bath, but used as verb, it means to sweat. https://bestlifeonline.com/yiddish-words/

September 27, 2021 in Current Affairs, Miscellany, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Seasons of Law

A supermarket I go to occasionally has a little maze of seasonal items right at the entrance. This is a tricky way to entice you to purchase these colorful things at the beginning of your shopping trip when your cart is empty and/or perhaps a way to mollify any small child you have brought with you with something small to play with on the journey. Yesterday, when I arrived, I saw a sea of orange and black: candy as far as the eye could see. There were also some decorative scarecrows and rust colored “hardy mums,” (which I consider a challenge, but more on my lack of gardening skills in another post). In the middle of the maze, I saw a single display of popsicle shaped window clings, Whiffle bats, sunscreen, some mismatched kickboards, and s’mores skewers-all 50-75% off. Summer was on sale-despite the fact that there is at least another week of it on the calendar. I sighed and realized that we had actually already been in school for almost four weeks and the time had come for the seasonal shift from merely briefing cases to…(please read each of those periods as dun, dun, dunnn respectively): OUTLINING.

Now that students have covered at least one full topic in each class, the time has come for them to take those case briefs and carefully written class notes and knit them into a nice cozy outline for December exams or, more urgently, upcoming midterms. This is also a good time to start because it intersects with students learning how we use and talk about cases in their legal writing courses. The magic formula of how we use cases in memos and briefs: FHR (facts, holding, reasoning) is how they can incorporate the components of their case briefs into their outlines. This is really a win-win because they are practicing using the FHR formula for outlining in legal writing and vice versa. 

Now, I know you have probably discussed outlining at least twice already with students. We do it in a pre-orientation module, during orientation itself and have a class on it planned for the coming week. The number of times I say, “your outline should be rules based rather than case based” could be a drinking game at this point (not that I condone drinking while outlining as either effective or efficient).

How can we best communicate the message that it is currently prime outlining season to our students? I thought of the buzzer at the beginning of a swim meet heat, a ribbon cutting or even a giant banner, “START OUTLINING NOW!!!!” Maybe I should stand in front of the law school with a sandwich board that says, “Ask me about outlining-I’m not just an ASP professional, I’m a client!” Maybe we should perform, “Outlining the Musical,” with such tunes as:

“525,600 pages,

525,000 pages more,

525,600 pages

How do you make sense of a course in the law?”

Or even,

“Oh, it is time to start ‘lining,

Time to take a little of the briefs we’re writing,

Time to take time,

Because it’s already fall--exams are in just no time at all….”

(sincere apologies to Rent and Pippin).

Yet, we all know that no matter how or how often we sound the alarm at this point in the semester, we will still be talking with students who are just getting started in November. And while we will silently groan and do an internal face palm, we will advise those students to move as quickly as they can to ideally finish their hastily organized (but nonetheless helpful) outlines when classes end.

I expect that the next time I will need to think about getting students to begin outlining, the supermarket entrance will be aglow in red, pink and white: candy as far as the eye can see -- except for the candy canes in the center on sale.

(Liz Stillman)

September 12, 2021 in Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 6, 2021

A Proclamation on Labor Day

Labor Day is a holiday where we celebrate workers, an off-shoot of the industrial revolution and the labor unions that formed to help workers get fair treatment and to prevent child labor in the  19th Century. It started as a bit of a grassroots idea that caught on in some industrial centers, but it only became a Federal holiday in June, 1894 when Grover Cleveland signed it into law after hugely bungling his response to the Pullman Strike earlier that year. Before that, only Oregon, Colorado, New York and Massachusetts had their own versions of the holiday. We owe those labor unions a lot: weekends, paid holidays etc.  

But what about the labor of academic support and bar prep folks? Sometimes it seems that our status is unclear. Are we labor or management? We tend to operate at the junction of faculty and staff.  Sometimes we are faculty adjacent (as the Gen Z folks would put it). Sometimes, the people we work with have absolutely no idea what we do and seem pleasantly surprised that the school has people who “do that.” Bar prep folks work all summer and finish up just in time for a few scant days of rest before orientation kicks in. By this time, academic support folks have already planned and possibly conducted orientation classes. For people who do both, there is no break. Except, perhaps, for today.

So, in that spirit, I am calling for a celebration of Academic Support and Bar Prep folks, so:

A Proclamation:

Whereas, Academic Support/Bar Prep (“AS/BP”) folks are the first and last people students will know in law school, and;

AS/BP folks teach students to be successful by teaching (among other things) case briefing, outlining, study skills, exam skills, exam IRAC, legal writing templates like IRAC and CREAC, the MBE, MPTs, and  MEEs, and;

AS/BP folks will track students down or be tracked down for all of the above and many other questions, issues, crises and panics, and;

AS/BP folks relish student success and suffer student failure at a deep, deep level, and;

AS/BP folks may not be faculty or tenured faculty, and may not have job security for more than a year at a time, and;

AS/BP folks are the people that will meet a student at a rest stop on the Mass. Pike (or insert your favorite Interstate here) at 2:45 a.m. to turn over a form that needed a non-electronic signature;

It is therefore ordered that on this and every following Labor Day we shall celebrate the labor of these individuals.

To my colleagues in this venture: I hope this is indeed a day of rest, and for those who will be celebrating later today and tomorrow: Shana Tovah.

Now we just need to fill up the tank, head out to the rest stop, and get this baby signed.

(Liz Stillman)

September 6, 2021 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 22, 2021

Online & Hybrid Learning: Toward Defining Best Practices in Legal Education (Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 2021)

Building on the overwhelming success of the 2019 conference, the biannual Online & Hybrid Learning Conference returns in 2021. The COVID-19 crisis proved a powerful accelerant of the trends that were identified at the 2019 conference, and much has been learned in the process. This conference seeks to bring together research derived from the Emergency Remote Teaching phase (Mid-March to June, 2020) and the more measured and planned Academic Year 2020-21, and use the data to identify emerging best practices.

Distance education and other modern learning tools are at work in legal education and have now been applied across a broad sampling of schools. Outcomes-oriented design, integrated formative and summative assessment, online simulations, asynchronous learning, and other hallmarks of distance education have demonstrated efficacy in law teaching for 20 years (though a robust empirical research agenda has yet to develop). The interesting questions continue to center around how and where these modern learning tools and disciplines can be used to best advantage in the law school curriculum. Expertise now abounds among the academy, and this conference aims to collect and share it.

Suggested topics include (but are not limited to):

  • Evidence-Based Pedagogy in Online or Hybrid Teaching Environments
  • Pedagogy in Practice
  • Instructional Design – What We’ve Learned by Working with ID
  • Achieving Professional Identity Formation Outcomes via Online and Hybrid Teaching
  • Using Assessment Data in Evolving Online and Hybrid Teaching Environments
  • Making our Hybrid and Online learning Environments Inclusive and Supportive of all Students
  • Which Parts Go Where: Design Thinking Applied to Hybrid Legal Education
  • Micro-credentials and Stacking of Credentials - Developing Program Outcomes
  • Permeability of the Bricks and Mortar Building; Beyond Traditional Thinking
  • What Student Can Tell Us -- Now

If you’re interested in presenting, please send a one-to-two-page proposal to David Thomson, John C. Dwan Professor for Online Learning, University of Denver, 2255 E. Evans Avenue, Denver, Colorado 80208 (David.Thomson@du.edu) in Microsoft Word (or the equivalent). The deadline for proposals is Monday, March 22, 2021.

February 22, 2021 in Miscellany, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Thinksgiving

A quick etymology lesson to take us all into the holiday:

The words "thank" and "think" are both ultimately derived from the same Latin root word, "tongere", which means "to know".  It appears that when our ancient forebears wanted to express appreciation for another person's action or contribution, they did not originally convey gratitude overtly.  Instead, they conveyed understanding -- "I know what you did."  "I am thinking about what you have given me." -- and that expression of awareness was meaningful.  A mindful comprehension of a deed or a relationship or even an object implied that you recognized its worth.  Over time, "think" and "thank" developed separate spellings, pronunciations, and nuances.  "Think" focuses on the mental processes that enable us to better "know" something.  "Thank" focuses on the recognition of something's value to you.

The link is the ancestral human insight that when you know something well, you naturally develop an appreciation for it.  So when you take time this Thanksgiving to acknowledge your family and your friends, your comforts and luxuries, the good fortune you've enjoyed and the bad fortune you've avoided, spare a few moments to consider your legal education.  It might seem odd to suggest you should be grateful for knowing the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or how to write a legal brief or the different classifications of collateral in secured transactions, but if you stop to think about the value of these tools to you -- tools that most people cannot grasp, let alone wield -- don't you feel richer?  And grateful, not just to the people who helped you acquire these tools (including, I hope, yourself), but also for the existence and quality and usefulness of them?  

Cicero wrote, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”  He knew that gratitude is not just a soppy sense of obligation for having received a boon.  It is a deep and honest perception of meaning and value -- the starting point from which wonder, possibility, humility, generosity, and creativity can spring.  This week, once you've recovered a bit from the sometimes exhausting, sometimes tedious, sometimes terrifying grind that this semester has been, give yourself the gift of earnestly contemplating all that you have learned and all the good that will come of it.  

[Bill MacDonald]

November 24, 2020 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 29, 2020

My Lifelong Frenemy

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)

June 29, 2020 in Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 8, 2020

What If . . . ?

But opportunity is real, and life is free, equality is in the air we breathe. – Langston Hughes

Today I see my country, my life, my career, and my future through the convoluted lens of multiple opinions. My aspirations, both professional and private, are crowded by polarized expressions of rage, shock, and dissatisfaction. As I fight the soul soothing desire to escape the madness that for me is today, yesterday, and tomorrow, I retreat into a self-denying sense of duty that is my temporal high calling – to help others. To help others pass the bar exam and to succeed in law school is the calling of academic support. I am one of a wonderful community of academic support professionals who work tirelessly to help law students and law graduates develop the skills for academic success and bar readiness. As I ponder this special calling, I ask myself, what if countries were like ASP?

What if we had ASP-like programs and opportunities that were available to all members of society? What if coaching, and other resources were made equally available to every and any person who wanted or needed them? What if governments sought out the weakest and most vulnerable members of society to make sure that those most in need of extra help were aware of the resources available? What if national communities were organized in the most ASP-ish of manners, so that support resources could be shared freely, and various cities and states could benefit from this system of open-access without costs or competition? What if all members had the benefit of practice exams and test drives that carried no lasting consequence other than early exposure and preparation for the true tests of life?

For those unfamiliar with the term ASP, Cornell Law School provides some guidance. ASP, or “Academic Support Programs, are available to help all students develop the skills necessary to succeed in law school.” Law schools are purposely, and rightly, inclusive in the scope and description of their academic support services. CUNY School of Law is “committed to providing academic support services to all students who need them.” These descriptions are both accurate and aspirational. ASP is for everyone and anyone who wants or needs it.

Yet, those of us who lead and direct institutional academic support programs know that, although available to all, not all students take advantage of ASP. In fact, the students who we serve most commonly, or rather those who are most often targeted for inclusion in our programs, are the ones most in need of the supplemental opportunities provided by ASP. We willingly make resources available to all, but the success of our programs will be measured, inter alia, by the degree to which we mitigate the “failure-risks” presented by some students based on admissions indicators or law school performance.

As I again consider my precious and special calling and my wonderful ASP colleagues and the many students in whose lives we make real differences, I ask – what if ASP were like countries? What if we could not single out the students for whom our programs were created? What if we were not permitted to tailor the focus of our programs for those with the greatest academic need and those with socioeconomic disadvantages? What if we were forced to dilute the quality and quantity of remediation for the ones at risk of academic dismissal, to prevent the appearance of non-inclusiveness? What is ASP “for all” was interpreted to mean that ASP “for some” was exclusionary and an affront to the importance of the entire student body? The notion of academic support available to all is not cheapened or compromised by the calculated and deliberate act of making sure that the reach of our services extends to, and includes, those for whom denial of such services would make legal education far less likely. After all, ASP exists to level the playing field and make a diverse and inclusive legal profession more likely, not less.

In the end, I guess I am glad that ASP is not like the countries that I know of, and I am left to wish that countries could be more like ASP.

(Marsha Griggs)

June 8, 2020 in Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Miscellany, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 25, 2020

Ask an Expert

Ordinary greatness. You’ll find it in places you never imagined and, when you do, higher performance and increased productivity are not far away. – Barbara Pagano

Last fall, a presenter at a workshop that I attended referred to the audience members as SMEs (pronounced smēz). She readily explained that SME = subject matter expert, and that those in attendance, based on our training and experience, were SMEs. As you can tell, I was tickled by the title. Before that workshop, I had not yet recognized my experience as expertise. During the workshop, and many times since, I told my imposter syndrome to kick rocks, and came to realize that the presenter was right.

Weekly, I write to and about the subject matter experts in every law school, whose expertise is designing and delivering academic enhancement and bar support programming. As my thoughts turn to this group of specialized experts, I ponder the number of meetings held, decisions made, funding resolutions, and curricular adjustments approved without any input or involvement from an ASP expert. Too often ASP expertise is overlooked, or called upon only in reaction to a problem that could have been proactively addressed, like fluctuating bar pass rates, and serving at-risk students.

In the turmoil of a global pandemic, plans for the fall semester are uncertain. The July bar exam is a hot mess topic right now. Deans, students, faculty members, examiners, and bar administrators are not sure of what the summer and fall will bring or what their next move will be. While ASP professors can’t solve any of the problems that COVID-19 has wrought, we most likely have greater insight into the learning needs of law students. Implementing decisions that affect the delivery of the program of legal education without consulting those with subject matter expertise in educational delivery, is like buying a house without a realtor. It can be done, but rarely without regret.

If we were to survey U.S. law schools, I wonder which would have ASP professors serving on or consulting with admissions committees that screen applicants to identify those most likely to successfully complete the academic program and pass a bar exam. How many law schools have a member of the ASP team on the curriculum committee where decisions that affect bar preparedness are made?

While student success is the primary concern of academic support programs, a well-structured ASP team will also complement a faculty of doctrinal experts and provide helpful teaching resources and opportunities for collaboration. It might surprise those outside of ASP to learn that experts in ASP are typically the first to know which students are struggling academically. Many students will seek out academic support assistance when they feel lost. Some, but certainly not all, professors may not become aware of a struggling student until after the one summative assessment is graded. Deans, directors, chairs, and coordinators who want to identify areas and sources of underperformance in the first-year and required curriculum could save time and resources by asking their in-house ASP experts first.

(Marsha Griggs)

May 25, 2020 in Miscellany, Program Evaluation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 11, 2020

Bar Exams CAN Be Administered Online

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.

(Marsha Griggs)

May 11, 2020 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 4, 2020

Imbroglio

Imbroglio: A complicated situation; a sequence of events so absurd, complicated, and uncommon as to be unbelievable.

Merriam-Webster might as well add a footnote to the July 2020 bar exam administration as an example of the term “imbroglio.” No other term can accurately describe the debacle that surrounds the upcoming bar exam. Blog, essays, and the exasperated cries of bar candidates—summed up in one word. One word with an applicability of meaning that has become self-evident.

A complicated situation – Our nation has become embattled by a contagion that shows no sign of relenting. Across the country, stay at home orders are in place to mitigate the spread of the deadly coronavirus. In states with large numbers of bar takers, there is no safe way to administer the bar exam in the traditional format. Yet, bar examiners and the American Bar Association insist on a bar exam as screening tool for entry into the practice of law.[1]

A sequence of events so absurd Some states postponed the July exam. Some states canceled it altogether. Some states propose to offer a bar exam in early September; others in late September; others have postponed the exam “indefinitely.” No matter what the states propose, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (“NCBE”) will let us know on May 5, 2020 whether there will be any multistate or uniform exams released in July. States that have adopted the Uniform Bar Exam  (“UBE”) are powerless to administer any exam in July if the NCBE won’t provide the questions, because UBE states don’t write their own bar exams anymore.

Complicated – Epidemiologists tell us that the virus comes in waves. Even with proposed and announced dates for the bar exam, COVID-19 may make it impossible or unwise to administer it in the late summer or early fall. But bar takers cannot afford to wait until there is certainty to begin studying. Many will begin bar study this month, for an exam that may or may not take place. They will study in places that are not libraries or law schools, because those places are closed.

Uncommon – COVID-19 presents an unprecedented situation that will impact the flow of new attorneys into the profession at a time when there will be an increased need for legal services. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, like emergency diploma privilege. Utah adopted a sensible emergency diploma privilege, but the ABA and the NCBE discourage other states from following suit.

Unbelievable – Just when we thought things could not possibly get any worse, the New York Board of Law Examiners announced that it may not have enough room to allow bar applicants from out of state law schools to sit for the exam that it hopes to administer on September 30 – October 1. In that same announcement, and with hold-my-beer momentum, the New York bar officials strongly encouraged candidates “to consider sitting for the UBE in other jurisdictions.” That this advice was given without regard for the COVID precautions of other states, and at a time when very few other states were still accepting applications, defies comprehension.

I won’t ask, “what could happen next?”

(©Marsha Griggs)  

 

[1] ABA STANDING COMMITEEE ON BAR ACTIVITIES AND SERVICES LAW STUDENT DIVISION RESOLUTION [sic] (04/07/020) “the Resolution does not . . . modify or limit the historic and longstanding policy of the ABA supporting the use of a bar examination as an important criterion for admission to the bar.”

May 4, 2020 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Current Affairs, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 3, 2020

LSAC Researching Pre-Matriculation Writing Assessment

The LSAC Research team is developing a pre-matriculation writing assessment.  They want feedback from our community when developing it.  Their email invitation to take part in the survey is below.  This has the potential to be a great tool for us to identify at-risk students earlier.

From LSAC: 

"I am writing to ask for your help with an exciting new project at LSAC. We are developing a writing diagnostic assessment to be administered to law school students after admission to law school but before matriculation. The goal of this testing program is to provide academic support professionals timely, actionable data about the writing skills of their incoming classes. It is NOT intended to be used as part of the admission process. . . .

We want to tailor this product to your needs as a legal educator. Any feedback you or your colleagues provide will be used to steer development and improve the final product.

Please use the links below to view the list of diagnostic categories and the sample writing prompt.

Click here to view the list of diagnostic categories.

Click here to view the sample writing prompt.

Please use this link to respond to the survey (The link is reusable): Click Here to Start the Survey

If you experience any problems completing the survey, please reply to LSACResearch@LSAC.org. Thank you in advance for your participation."

(Steven Foster)

May 3, 2020 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Next Year's Graduates

Has there ever been a U.S. law school class subject to more stress and uncertainty than the class of 2020?  Okay, not every student across the country has suffered equally, but here in New York our students were told all of their classes would abruptly be online, that they would not get to see their classmates for the rest of the year, that their bar examination would be postponed indefinitely, that a bizarrely deadly disease racing across the state, that their bar examination would be rescheduled for September but that there was no guarantee there would be space for them to take it, that the economy was collapsing and some of the jobs they were counting on could disappear, and that they would probably get to take the exam in September if there were an exam in September but nobody can really tell them how it's going to work yet anyway.  All of this in less than six weeks.  Plus now they have to do all of their classes and meetings via Zoom, which fosters so much lack of eye contact and awkward silence it reminds me of a sixth-grade dance.  No wonder our soon-to-be graduates are so weary.

Like a lot of us, I am weary, too, trying to be there for my 3L students, putting new resources in place, thinking ahead about how to contend with the changes to the bar exam.  But when things slow down (later and later in the evening) and I have a moment to stop thinking about my bar prep class and the latest news from the Board of Law Examiners, that's when I think about next year, when maybe things will be "back to normal".  And that's when I get really anxious.

Our current 3L students are stressed, but also super motivated.  They were 92% of the way through law school when things went whack, and they are not about to let that last 8% stand in their way.  Everyone with an interest in this summer's bar exam -- law schools, the state, employers -- wants to see these students get through the disruption and get into the workplace, and if that means relaxing some rules or changing some procedures well then so be it.  Sure, it's going to be an unusual summer, but there's a potential for six additional weeks of prep time for the bar exam.  It's possible that some students will be better prepared for the test.  It's my job not to assume that, but it could happen.

The students I actually worry about -- when I can, because our imminent graduates require so much immediate attention -- are the current 2Ls.  Many of them have seen their summer job or internship plans interrupted, and I know our careers services office is hearing from them about those issues.  But I am barely hearing from them at all about academic concerns, and my attempts at general outreach have generated very little response.  I do not doubt that most 2L students have simply made a successful transition to online classes -- a transition made easier in many schools by a move to mandatory pass/fail grading and by a general and humane understanding that this change has been fast and novel for all of us and that, considering the background stresses of illness, isolation, and finances, it is appropriate to give students a little slack.

But I also fear that there is a portion of the class of 2021 that is not handling the transition as well.  There could be some -- hopefully a small number -- directly affected by this crisis, dealing with their own illness or that of a loved one, or with financial difficulties, any of which could in turn affect their performance in school.  Others might just not be doing as well academically as they would be in a live classroom, with the opportunity to study with classmates every week.  Those students just might not be getting everything they otherwise might have from their classes, even though they feel like they are making the same effort.  And then there are sometimes a few students whose inclination is to do less work, when possible, and this is in many ways a situation in which that is possible.  

All of these subsets of 2L students might learn, understand, and be able to correctly apply less of what they are learning in their spring classes now than they would have if the world had not shifted so radically.  And we might not know it now, because it is so hard to make contact with them under these new conditions.  What's worse, without thinking ahead about this, we may not even find out who these students are and where they have developed gaps (Evidence? Criminal Procedure? Wills and Trusts?) until the start of next year's spring semester, if they just get "Passes" in all their classes this semester.   And by that time, I am sure we are all hoping, things will be "back to normal" -- classes back in the building, bar exam scheduled for ten weeks after graduation, employers expecting practice-ready students on August 1.  They won't be the beneficiaries of relaxed procedures or of extra study time, or of any other kind of leeway.

So this is what I think about when I can. How can I reach people who seem perfectly comfortable not being reached at this moment?  How can I, sooner rather than later, identify and help these students who might otherwise not manifest the effects of the spring of discontent until the glorious summer of 2021?

I think the fall of 2020 is going to be incredibly consequential to those students, and I think we need to be prepared for it.

[Bill MacDonald]

April 28, 2020 in Bar Exam Preparation, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 16, 2020

A Message for Unchartered Territory

I'm sharing a message from Professor Janet Thompson Jackson of Washburn School of Law for all of us in this period of social distancing. Feel free to share it with your students or incorporate it into your own mindfulness meditation.
 
This is a very stressful and uncertain time.  None of us has lived through anything like this before.  You may be feeling scared or you may be unconcerned or you may be somewhere in the middle. However you are feeling is okay. I suggest you sit with your feelings for a bit and then ask yourself if where you are emotionally is serving you and others in a helpful way.
 
If you find yourself in a constant state of panic or worry, that is likely lowering your immune system, which is not what you want right now. Feeling some anxiety in a time of uncertainty is normal, but it’s good to make an effort to move out of that state. Try making a daily list of good things that happened during the day, even small things like laughing at a movie or show. Keeping a gratitude list helps us to shift perspective.
 
Or, you may be unconcerned and think that everyone is overreacting. That, too, is a legitimate feeling. It's good to realize, though, that your reaction may be your own response to stress. This might be a good time to extend some grace and compassion to others, including yourself.  Everyone is pretty much doing the best they can under the circumstances. Maybe demonstrating a sense of calm without any criticism is just what someone else needs right now.  You also may want to take some time to donate to an organization that is working to help people who are living in the margins and are particularly challenged at this time.
 
You may find yourself somewhere in between. You may vacillate between the extremes, but are able to come back to the middle most of the time. A good way to keep your equilibrium is to look for ways you can be of service. Is there someone you know who doesn’t do well with social isolation who could use a call or text (or even better, FaceTime or other video chat)? 
 
Here are some other ideas to help stay emotionally and physically healthy in uncertain times:
  1.  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.

  2. 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.

  3. Laugh. Find a funny movie, book, song — anything that makes you laugh. Laughing is good medicine.

  4. Read something uplifting. Give the news a break and pick up a book that makes you feel good.

  5. Move. The gym may not be a good idea right now, but you can work out, dance, do yoga or other
    movement at home.

  6. Be kind. Just be kind to yourself and others. 

  7. Sleep. Now is a great time to catch up.

March 16, 2020 in Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 9, 2020

Academic Archetypes: The Overconfident Student*

Overconfidence has become a new norm in legal education. More and more students are entering and graduating from law schools with self-perceptions that exceed their proven competencies. We cannot know whether law school attracts overconfidence or breeds it, but studies show that overconfident personality types abound in law schools.[1] Productive overconfidence can yield high rewards through the generation of a “can-do” mindset. This type of benign overconfidence prompts a scholar to submit a paper proposal and commit to presenting at a conference or symposium before completing a substantial draft of the work. This rather common phenomenon allows us to believe, based on past successes or purely aspirational hopes, that the commitment to deliver by a stated deadline will force our hand to keyboard to produce the committed work.

However, it is the malignant overconfidence that has seemingly become pandemic in the law school environment. The overconfident student archetype personifies a counterproductive level of self-assuredness that presents a challenge to law school faculty, those manning academic intervention programs, and the professional development and career services teams. The overconfident student has a distorted self-perception that internalizes affirmation, from any source, and dismisses constructive criticism. If ever forced to reckon with a shortcoming, the overconfident student code shifts it to an endearing quirk.

The risk to students in this archetype is that their overconfidence prevents them from seeing anything inconsistent with their self-perceptions. The overconfident student views success as any score above rock bottom. Because failure and poor performance will be attributed to teacher error or incompetence and to hyper-competitive student peers, low formative grades and below-mean performance will not register as warning signs for potential failure.

We all face overconfidence in the law school environment. And we can all play a role to combat the failure risks that it carries. First, we can and should set degree advising goals for students who exhibit counterproductive overconfidence. From ASP to Career Services to doctrinal office hours, we can identify GPA means for internships or clerkships in the student’s field of interest. We can present statistics that show bar passage results based on LGPA and class quartile ranking, and comparatively identify where the student is trending. We can demonstrate through alumni testimonials or raw data (if collected and maintained) the added difficulty of learning bar tested content through self-study or bar review instead of taking bar subjects while in law school. This type of blunt force mathematical trauma may be the only thing that resonates with the overconfident student type, because it presents facts and raw data that cannot be dismissed as assumption or overcome with misplaced self-assuredness.

(Marsha Griggs)

*Excerpted from Academic Archetypes, a work in progress by Marsha Griggs, Associate Professor, Washburn School of Law.

[1] Jonathan F. Schulz,  and Christian Thoni, Overconfidence and Career Choice, PLoS ONE 11(1): e0145126. doi:10.1371 (2016). 

March 9, 2020 in Learning Styles, Miscellany, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Dolly Parton Challenge for ASP

Last week, Steven Foster, Director of Academic Achievement for Oklahoma City University School of Law shared an interesting article about student perceptions of social media usage. The article caption: Social Media is Tearing Us Apart, caused me to reflect upon my evolving thoughts about academic use of social media.

In my early years of teaching, I was largely dismissive of student use of social media outlets. I viewed online social networking as inutile, with no academic or pedagogical purpose. Many of us, born avant the age of social media influence, worried that tools like Instagram and Facebook were counterproductive distractions during intense bar study periods. Yet, there were anecdotal (if not fully accurate) correlations between students who spent too much time surfing and socializing on social mediums and those who ultimately failed the bar exam. The sage advice of the day directed bar studiers to deactivate social media accounts and avoid screen time during bar study.

Fast forwarding to the present day, those in ASP and bar prep may be better served to use the litany of social media tools for programmatic good. Social media, at its best, is an ideal tool to connect with and aid students. To that end, I will use this weekly blog post as a Dolly Parton challenge — ASP style.*  

LinkedIn

Law students are likely groomed by career development administrators to create professional online profiles. LinkedIn is one of the go-to sources for online professional profiles. LinkedIn connections can also be wonderful resources for ABA data reporting. ASPers can and should accept connection requests from current and recent law students. Law grads who are seeking JD-employment, or those who are newly positioned, typically keep their LinkedIn profiles up to date. Another great use of LinkedIn, for ASP related purposes, is its searchability. Unlike other social mediums, students and young lawyers generally use their legal names and their profiles are easily searchable by name and location.

Facebook

I set up a private group on Facebook for my students during bar study.  I allow only current bar takers to join the group. Within the group, I share daily bar study affirmations, announcements, and bar study tips. I post Questions of the Day (“QOD”) to engage students. I create an environment where students can be comfortable posting answers, even wrong answers. They use the group forum to interact with peers and learn from each other. At the end of each day, I post the answer and explanation to the QOD which generates additional questions. Our students are going to be on social media anyway, why not use the tool to engage them in bar study, I say.

Instagram

Although "the gram" does not provide the group interaction capabilities of  of Facebook, it is a great tool to market program events. Using memes and graphically captioned announcements for, e.g. practice exams, meeting with bar examiners, deadlines, office hours, and free lunch, will easily capture student attention. Having an Instagram presence also aids in outreach to Gen Z and the later-born Millennials who are deliberately not present on  Facebook. 

Twitter

Although excluded by Dolly Parton, #AcademicTwitter is not to be slept on. St. John’s University School of Law legal writing professor, Renee Allen is the reigning queen of law school Twitter. She has over 2,000 followers to her @profallentweets handle. She has written and presented on effective usage of social media in law school academic support. According to Professor Allen, "Twitter is great for networking, learning, and self-promotion . . . and it can humanize law profs, which is super important for students who follow [us]." 

Tinder

Well, I’ll leave to one of the other bloggers to find a fit for Tinder in Academic Support and Bar Prep. 😉

(Marsha Griggs)

*The Dolly Parton challenge refers to a four-photo mosaic of potential profile photos for social media sites LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Tinder.     

  •                    
  • Washburn Dolly Parton Challenge

January 27, 2020 in Advice, Current Affairs, Miscellany, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Preparing to Dig In

It seems fitting that at my law school -- like most others, I presume -- the Thanksgiving holiday immediately precedes the fall semester final exam period.  Thanksgiving dinner and final exams have so much in common.

Each of them seems far off as the golden days of summer begin their inexorable diminution.  On Labor Day, we are all aware that [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] will be the next significant break in our routines, but in the hazy warm thrill of the start of the academic year, it is so difficult to even consider the coming cold, dark days.

However, by the equinox, people start to pay attention to the distant approach of [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams].  Conscientious people even realize that they should probably start making plans early, so they don't find themselves without options in a last-minute rush to prepare.  But many folks, caught up in the rush of day-to-day life, might put off such measures, figuring they can address their reservations closer to the deadline.

Before you know it, though, here comes Halloween, and then suddenly it seems like reminders of [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] are everywhere!  No matter how much dread they inspire, you have to admit they spark a bit of excitement, too, since [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] will mark the real start of the winter holidays.  And, besides, no matter how onerous and monotonous the yearly ordeal might appear, it always carries with it at least the possibility of a pleasant surprise or two.

As time accelerates and the time for [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] lurches to mere days away, all at once it seems like life has gone a little haywire.  You're still have to attend to all your ordinary quotidian responsibilities, but now you have to pile on top of that the preparations for [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams].  Schedules have to be coordinated, supplies have to be obtained.  Participants will struggle to nail down time-honored formulae, so they can be ready (if and when necessary) to apply these recipes to whatever ingredients are provided to produce a satisfying result.  Hopefully, even the most dilatory attendees will manage to eke out a little free time before [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] to focus on preparation and maybe even a few practice creations.

Finally, the big day arrives!  It feels like you spend half the day in a frenetic rush, anxiously making sure you haven't forgotten anything.  But then the actual event -- [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams]! -- begins, and you are totally engrossed.  Confined in a room full of people, all of whom seem to be sitting a little too close, making a little bit too much noise.  But this is something you are doing together.   Sometimes one person just dives right in, and a bunch of people around him follow suit, not wanting to fall behind.  They might well spend too much attention on one or two meaty choices, and entirely overlook other valuable tidbits.  They could end up regretting not having given themselves enough time to digest things properly.  Other people might approach [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] too cautiously, overly mindful that it will be a multi-course affair.  Afraid to make a mess or to risk something disagreeable, they may find at the end that they barely made a dent in their undertaking.  Hopefully, though, most of our students will pace themselves, knowing they are going to be there for a few hours, and will think carefully about how much they want to have on their plate at one time, so that they can get through the entire experience having indulged appropriately in every choice, and in a palatable way that leaves them drowsy and satisfied.

May this year's [Thanksgiving dinner/final exams] be a cause of celebration for all of us!

[Bill MacDonald]

 

November 26, 2019 in Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Food and Drink, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 25, 2019

Making Real Connections

We’re more connected through social media than ever before . . . [yet] we’re losing our ability to think and feel. It’s hurting our personal connections and making us more distant and lonely.  – Dallas Morning News Editorial Board

This week I recount the sad story of the late Ronald Wayne White. Who was Ronald Wayne White? His name may not ring a bell. White was not a celebrity or public figure. If Ronald Wayne White is known for anything, it is for being unknown. According to published reports, White was found dead inside his apartment this month. Medical examiner reports confirmed that his death had been undiscovered for three years. There are indeed unanswered questions surrounding this late discovered death, but the sad fact is that a man “apparently went missing for three years and no one noticed he was gone.”1

White’s tragic story is an opportunity for us to examine our connections to others. Those who attend and work inside law schools are subject to a special kind of isolation that is par for the course. Based on the volumes of reading, outlining, researching, writing, editing, and memorizing that is required to succeed in law school, we expect students and faculty to work in isolation for long stretches of time. The top students regale in finding that isolated corner hidden deep in the stacks of the fourth floor of the library where no one comes near to make a sound or disturb the concentration necessary to maintain top student status. I too am guilty of lauding solitude. I have, with giddiness, told my colleagues how much I look forward to holiday breaks alone at home to make some headway on my writing project.

While a certain degree of do-not-disturb-mode is both necessary and beneficial for productivity, I worry that we have become desensitized to isolation. We are all at risk of transcending deep focus into dangerous seclusion. Our law students, especially those who are far from home, or those who have no stable home to claim, are not immune to the risk. Loneliness is not a state of friendlessness, it is a position of lacked connection. People who are married, students in study groups, and faculty who interact well with colleagues can still suffer from debilitating loneliness that can only be cured with meaningful connection.

Connectivity cannot be measured by “likes” and social media followers alone. Please check on your students, your colleagues, and yourselves. If you have students who are far from home or without family, why not invite them to Thanksgiving dinner? Likewise, if there are international students in your program who are removed from our culture, maybe treat them to a meal over break. Perhaps your need to develop a work in progress or meet an article submission deadline can be morphed into an opportunity to interact with your colleagues by planning a “write-in.” Faculty colleagues from all disciplines can find an agreed window of time just to get together to write. Sometimes the camaraderie of shared presence and singleness of purpose can act as a proxy for interaction. Maybe extend your shared driveway morning wave, by baking (or buying) cookies and delivering them to a neighbor or senior citizen on your block that you have not spoken words to in years. Real connections don’t have to be big to be meaningful, they just have to be made.

(Marsha Griggs)

1 A man was found in his apartment three years after his death – and what it can teach us about loneliness (Dallas Morning News Editorial, November 21, 2019).

November 25, 2019 in Advice, Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Food and Drink, Miscellany, News, Stress & Anxiety, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Building an Archetype

A couple of years ago, there was a meme making its way across the internet encouraging people to describe themselves as a combination of three fictional characters.  In a rare moment of lucid self-awareness, I described myself as part Encyclopedia Brown, part Johnny from the movie Airplane! ("I can make a hat, or a brooch, or a pterodactyl . . ."), and part Dewey Finn, Jack Black's character in School of Rock.  It was a fun exercise, because it made folks think about what they considered their defining characteristics, and it gave us the giftie of finding out if others saw us the same way we see ourselves.

I thought about that game this week, when it randomly occurred to me that all Academic and Bar Support teachers must feel a bit like -- wait, spoilers; I'm going to save that character for last.  But it led me to consider: Is there a combination of three fictional characters that would constitute the archetypal A&B Support provider?  What are, or should be, our defining characteristics?  And will everyone agree with me?  And so, I submit for your approval my proposed set of three characters (though I am open to criticism and to suggestions for alternatives) that define Academic Support:

  1. Jubal Harshaw -- Harshaw is one of the main characters of Robert Heinlein's novel Stranger in a Stranger Land, a nifty, influential, and slightly heretical book from the 1960s that probably is not read now as much as it ought to be.  Harshaw, who ends up protecting and teaching the naive but powerful protagonist of the book, is a notable polymath: a lawyer, a physician, and a popular writer -- among other things, but those three are the most relevant to our work.  Basically, we have to know a lot about a lot of things.  We have to be comfortably familiar with every subject that is tested on the bar, and at least know enough about other legal subjects to be able to support students struggling in those areas.  A knowledge of the practice of medicine is not usually required -- thank goodness -- but, like a physician, we do have to care for our charges, to recognize symptoms of unease (of both mind and body), and to provide comfort, advice, and referrals when appropriate.  And naturally we have to be communicators skilled enough not just to see and address the communication flaws in others, but also to capture the attention of the sometimes jaded, reluctant, or resentful.  Take it from me: being a tax lawyer was hard, but at least you only had to know the entire Internal Revenue Code and all associated regulations.  To be an Academic Support professional, you have to know something about practically everything.
  2. Mickey Goldmill -- There are a lot of great sports movies anchored by wise, inspiring coaches, but can any of them compare for our purposes with Mick, the man who coached Rocky Balboa to the heavyweight championship of the world?  Because when it comes right down to it, no matter how much we encourage our students to support each other and learn together, no one takes a final or a bar exam as a team.  The people we work with have to step into the ring alone.  Like Mickey, we have to help our students find out just what they are capable, then help them find ways to make themselves capable of even more, and then help them to see that they carry that capacity within themselves.  And, like so many Academic Support providers, Mickey was a great improviser: when he didn't have the latest hi-tech sports equipment, he got Rocky into shape by having him chase chickens and pound on sides of beef.  Who else in law school but Academic Support has to squeeze so many results out of so few resources?  And one last thing: remember, Rocky lost in the first film.  He gave it his all, and he lost, and he thought, I guess I'm done with boxing.  It was Mickey who convinced Rocky that he could step into the ring again, against the champ that had beat him the first time, and that he had what it took to pull out the win.  Mickey Goldmill knew that just because you were down, that didn't mean you were out.
  3. Jiminy Cricket -- In the original Disney movie Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket actually played two roles.  He started off as the narrator, explaining to the audience that they are about to see the story of a wish coming true.  Then, after the Blue Fairy visits the puppeteer Geppetto, and brings his creation Pinocchio to life, she tasks Jiminy with the job of being Pinocchio's conscience.  If, with Jiminy's help, Pinocchio can prove himself worthy, then he will become a real boy.  I feel we have a lot of Jiminy Cricket in us.  We often start by explaining to our audience -- during orientation, or as part of a class or workshop -- what they are going to see and experience while they are in law school.  But then, inevitably, we get involved with our students as individuals, trying to help guide them into making good choices.  They still have to make the choices themselves -- how they spend their time, what they choose to focus on, how they plan and prepare -- and sometimes we can only watch as they make poor ones.  Sometimes they ignore our counsel, and it feels like you really are just an insect buzzing around a wooden-headed ne'er-do-well.  But we stick with our students, like Jiminy stuck with Pinocchio, because we want to give them the best chances to prove themselves worthy, so each can become a real . . . well, not boy, but lawyer, which practically rhymes.  

As an Academic Support professional, I'd be gloriously content if I possessed the know-how of Jubal, the inspiration of Mickey, and the compassion of Jiminy.  But that's just me.  What three characters compose your AS ideal?

[Bill MacDonald]

November 5, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 21, 2019

Productive Procrastination

My constant battle is putting aside time wasters, and I have to watch out for procrastination. Staying on the path of something you’re trying to create has much to do with having confidence in yourself and in your capacity to realize the things you want out of life. – Ruby Dee

Anyone in the dissertation process or in any stage of researching or writing a scholarly article knows that procrastination, not perfection, is the enemy of completion. Even the most well-intended scholars struggle with finding the will and motivation to write. Caring professors fall into the lure of putting off grading until the last possible moment – often to the disappointment of students eagerly awaiting grades. Students, in all fields, and at all levels, will wait until the last conceivable second to complete or even begin a task. We all fall prey to procrastination in one form or another.

Ironically, procrastination is a natural occurrence in the lives of highly productive individuals. Procrastination, as a form of managed delay, can generate productive and invigorating levels of adrenaline.  According to Dr. Adam Gonzalez, “[w]hen you experience anxiety, it is often in response to an actual or perceived threat.” At low or moderate levels, anxiety can help increase productivity. Productive levels of anxiety may lead to hyper-focus and allows adaptive response to external demands like a challenging job or a tight deadline. However, this productive procrastination, while effective in the short term, can have negative long-term consequences, like over-commitment, disorganization, and unhealthy stress levels .

Procrastination can be both a contributor to, and a consequence of, cognitive distortions. One survey found that procrastination was a top reason that Ph.D. candidates failed to complete their dissertations. Another study identified four major cognitive distortions that lead to academic procrastination.*

  1. Overestimating how much time is left to perform a task;
  2. Overestimating future motivation for a task;
  3. Underestimating how long certain activities will take to complete; and
  4. Mistakenly assuming that a “right” frame of mind is needed to work on a project.

Although the study focused on student procrastination, each of the listed distortions can be equally applied to academics. The year-round deadlines for submissions, edits, proposals, evaluations and feedback can necessitate some degree of procrastination as a means of self-preservation. We engage in managed delay to strategically decide which tasks must be immediately completed, and which tasks can be put off or allotted comparatively less time and attention. We want our students to be well-prepared for class and professional life. Yet, there is no future in legal education wherein some students do not come to class unprepared. No scholarly psychological study will prevent the eleventh-hour email seeking an extension of a deadline imposed weeks, if not months, earlier. Perhaps self-reflection about our own effectively managed tendencies toward procrastination will cause us to be more compassionate when left to respond to the self-delayed outcomes of our students, family, and coworkers.  

*Ferrari, J. R., Johnson, J. L., & McCown, W. G. (1995). The Plenum series in social/clinical psychology. Procrastination and task avoidance: Theory, research, and treatment. New York, NY, US: Plenum Press.

(Marsha Griggs)

October 21, 2019 in Miscellany, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)