Monday, April 25, 2022
This semester I changed up my assessments for my undergraduate law class. In the past, I had done oral arguments as a final assessment, but after witnessing paralyzing anxiety from more than a couple of students last semester, I decided that I was assessing mental health rather than legal argumentation skills. No one should be graded that way. So, this semester, students are writing a judicial opinion (pretending to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice) in the case of Carson v. Makin. This is a fun case for my undergraduates because it took place here in the First Circuit (nearby in Maine) and it is about high school (also temporally nearby for undergrads). The case is about Maine’s program for students in very rural areas that do not have a local public high school. Maine’s law allows parents to choose another public school in a different district, or a private school so long as the private school meets certain criteria in terms of state required curriculum, attendance, and our sticking point: that the school is “non-sectarian”. The case is a great example of free exercise clause litigation and students are really getting into it, but the very complicated issue of standing is one I have had to take off their plate because it is a bit too much for students who have not taken a course in Federal Courts. Essentially, the plaintiffs are parents who would like to send their kids to sectarian schools but because of the Maine law, they haven’t even tried to use the tuition assistance program. The schools that the parents want to send their children to have not agreed to follow Maine's other requirements either. So, you may be asking, how have they been injured? The attorneys for Maine asked this as well, in more than one case, and each time the District Court and First Circuit found that there was standing because, “[T]he plaintiffs’ injury in fact inheres in their having lost the “opportunity.”" It seems a little like tap dancing in the rain to find standing here, but there it is: a lost opportunity is sufficient injury to get the case before a court.
This decision made me think that we may be injuring our students who are on Academic Warning, Probation, guided curriculum, or whatever your school might call it. We do, of course, intend to help these students in terms of bar readiness and supervision to prevent further academic mishaps. We have a compelling academic interest in having students take this path. Our studies and experience show that it works. I really have no doubt that our process does improve our students’ chances overall. To that end, we have students take bar tested courses like Evidence, Commercial Law, Family Law, and Trusts and Estates once they have a GPA below a certain threshold.
But…these students are required to take another set of large, grade-curved classes that tend to have one high-stakes summative assessment at the end. This might be where things initially went wrong for them, so more of it may just dig the hole deeper for some. We also occupy their schedules with required courses that monopolize their time and credits each semester. Students in academic difficulty do not often get the green light to take a credit overload. There is less space, after satisfying the requirements, for courses that are not bar tested and may have alternate assessment schemes. Students who do well in their first year can then go on to choose courses that allow them to keep up or substantially improve their already good GPAs. Students flagged for warning or probation after the first year have a much harder time moving up in class rankings in subsequent years. Students in academic difficulty know that on-campus recruiting is not going to even consider them. Clinical opportunities may also be lost because of scheduling or because of academic status or both. Some students really need to take the engine apart and put it back together to understand how it works-and some students need to see what lawyering really is to reignite their underlying enthusiasm for continuing in law school. There is a hopelessness we are creating because these opportunities are lost.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating that we abandon this process altogether. We do students a grave disservice if they are misled throughout law school to believe that they are on track for bar passage only to fail. We similarly do students no favors by continuing to take their tuition money when law school is clearly not for them. Perhaps, though, we can re-evaluate our methods. There are no easy answers here-just a request to be mindful of students who feel that they are drifting further away even as we are throwing them a lifesaver. They don’t want to just survive; they want the opportunity to get back on the ship.
 Carson v. Makin, 979 F.3d 21 (1st. Cir. 2020)
 Me. Stat. tit. 20–A, § 2(1) (2022).
 Carson, 979 F.3d at 26.
 Id. at 30 (citing Eulitt v. Me. Dept. of Educ., 386 F.3d 344 (1st. Cir. 2004)).
How’s my citation? Call 1-800-Bluebook to report it.
 Is this ideal for bar passage? Perhaps not.
Monday, March 21, 2022
And we are back. Spring break is over just like that. The thing about the time after spring break is that it goes by so quickly. You look up and there are 4 weeks of class left and 8 weeks of things you wanted to get to. It is like the facebook posts I put up around my kids' birthdays, "I must have blinked." When the end of semester is looming, I always wonder if I have squandered the time with my students, but I know that I didn’t because I spent at least some of our time together doing the following:
- Making sure they are okay. I have asked my class for their “triumphs and tribulations“ each week. Did this take us off-topic? Yes. Did we need to go there? Also, yes.
- Asking about the loads they are carrying in other classes. We a took a detour into exam prep (ahead of schedule) to make sure everyone felt ready for all the types of exams they might encounter. I’ll also go back and review it on the day it was originally listed on the syllabus.
- Meeting one-on-one outside of class. Some triumphs and tribulations are not for public consumption.
- Talking about the law in current events. It is always good to bring reality into the picture and ground the concepts in something present and concrete. I am very excited about Congress and the CROWN Act today. In a shameless plug for my newly released piece in the CUNY Law Review Blog about teaching using the CROWN Act, you can read about that here: http://www.cunylawreview.org/category/blog/
- Reinforcing already learned skills. I preface a lot of what I am saying with, “I know you already know this, but bear with me…” It isn’t always a review, but there is no need to out students who are first learning anything.
- Talking about their interests outside of school. Sometimes we all need a reminder that we don’t live in this building and this is not our only context.
- Becoming a community. Laughing. Complaining about the elevator that has been broken since December (although the changing signage about that fact is really kind of funny). Sharing some brownies.
I hope your short, fast ride to the end of the semester has more triumphs than tribulations.
Monday, March 14, 2022
I was so excited to get to this Spring Break. I need this break. I feel like I have not taken a deep breath since mid-January. This semester has been cold and snowy and relentless. My shoulders are currently hovering at ear level. And, I have a million little aspirations for this break: baking, learning to crochet, enjoying daylight, not teaching at night, etc. But here I am at noon on day one thinking about catching up on grading and reading the rough draft an independent-study student sent me this past Saturday night. Sigh. I am also contemplating laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning out closets. When did I forget how to relax and do nothing?
Ironically, I offered my high school junior the chance to take a mental health day this week. I used to let his sisters do this once every quarter in high school-they didn’t always use it the chance, but it was there if they wanted it. With advance warning, they could just take a day off-I’d call school to excuse the absence and we would have a day of yes. You want to go to IHOP? Yes. You want to see the ocean? Yes. You want to learn the choreography to “We’re All in This together” from High School Musical? Yes, just let me close the shutters if you want me to join you. This week, my son has two big tests on Tuesday and an orthodontist appointment on Wednesday at a time that makes it awkward to go to school before and strange to go after, so I offered him the rest of the day. Everyone needs to unload their burdens every now and then.
In academic support, we tend to worry about everyone but ourselves. I see you nodding. If you are on spring break this week, please let the sun warm your face every day and only do those things that give you joy (and keep your family alive). Relish the time that is normally spoken for by other responsibilities. And then email me with exactly how you did it. I’m going to need some major help developing a spring break plan…
 I can’t even with the timing on this one.
 You can do this too! https://youtu.be/H_LQeYUHm4M
Monday, March 7, 2022
Tenure. For the most part, tenure is not even a consideration for Academic Support folks. A vast majority of us are not eligible for tenure-or as one person in a committee meeting once said, we are “untenurable.” Ouch. Taking this in the light most favorable to the colleague, perhaps they meant that under current University rules, there was a not a track for ASP folks to get there-which is true. Where I work, this leaves ASP faculty in a strange place: we could apply for presumptively renewable contracts, but we would essentially have to fulfill the requirements of tenure to get them. So, we can aspire to a form of “tenure light” which is about one-third as filling as real tenure. We were left (almost) alone in this place when legal writing and clinical faculty joined the tenure track. Other than the head of our library, we are the only faculty members who have contracts voted on periodically by the entire faculty. We are the exception now-not the rule. We are invited but also basically encouraged not to attend meetings about appointments (we cannot vote on those). We are (happily) placed on committees and even have positions of leadership on them (quite happily), but we are also always aware that everyone we encounter will be voting on our contract the next time it comes before the faculty. That can be scary sometimes. I am lucky that I feel supported by the administration at my school and that my roles are valued-but sometimes I have to wonder, why not? Why not have tenure for ASP?
What would ASP tenure take away from any other person on the faculty? If we can fulfill the requirements, it honestly does not dilute the importance or status of tenure. Certainly, the folks who have tenure should not be arguing that it would reduce our work ethic or load, because after all, they would not want anyone to think tenure has done that for them. It would not reduce our commitment to the Institution because, again, tenure didn’t do that to them, right? So where is the harm? Is the hierarchy--and it is a thin one since we are basically alone in this tier--that important?
What would ASP tenure give a law school? Having ASP faculty who feel valued, appreciated, and secure could bring a myriad of benefits to any law school. First, it tells students that their success is a priority for the school from admission to the school through admission to the bar. Second, our availability to form tighter relationships with students is also instrumental to their success. Students are more engaged when they are seen and heard by faculty members. Finally, tenure would recognize that ASP faculty are scholars and writers. Sure, we have tissues, coloring pages, and candy in our offices, but we write and engage in the same level of scholarly pursuits as anyone with or hoping to get tenure (for example, I am actually writing as we speak). There are many more advantages to tenured ASP faculty--too many to list.
Legal writing and clinical faculty got access to tenure because a wave of schools across the country agreed. It is time to get the national ASP tenure wave started-with a capital T that rhymes with P and that stands for Progress.
Monday, February 14, 2022
Dear ASP and Bar Prep colleagues:
I am writing this very quick post to send all the love to you today. I know that you are putting your own life on the back burner to help students prepare for the February bar. It is truly a labor of love to help students tackle an exam that does not always measure what it purports to assess.
If your students are not showing you the love today, then please hear it from me: You are seen, valued, appreciated, and instrumental-so thank you. And I know that in 3 short months, you will gear up to start this all over again with new students who will hopefully know how amazing you are.
Monday, November 22, 2021
I. This is a tradition-based argument, so be sure to analyze questions in that context. Note: historical reasons for celebration are morally and legally troubling and clean hands analysis should be undertaken. More current traditional rationales are easier to support but not corrective.
II. Elements of T-day dinner (may vary by jurisdiction, this is the model T-Day Dinner rule in the Restatement and on the Bar):
A. Turkey, note that in some jurisdictions, Tofurkey or other non-meat alternatives can substitute here (Restatement on Thanksgiving, §143(a)(3))
B. Stuffing (any variety)
i. Can be candied, or
ii. Mashed, or
iii. Baked, or
iv. All of the above
v. (Marshmallows on a case-by-case basis),
E. Something green, (must be edible-ex. green napkins are insufficient)
F. Beverages (be sure to look at (I) below in selecting),
G. Pies, (plural intended)
H. Other food items are allowed but not required, and
i. Actually related, or
ii. Chosen, or
III. To have a complete answer, be sure to engage in the “what goes in the oven when” analysis: THIS MAY INVOLVE MATH-bring a calculator to exam if allowed.
A. NOTE: The turkey, like federal law, may occupy the field
B. If this is the case, be sure to do the temporal analysis and seek additional heat sources (Restatement §350).
IV. To finish the exam question:
A. Invite family,
B. Gather foodstuffs,
C. Set the table,
E. Enjoy everyone’s company while eating, and
F. Do not forget remedies:
i. Take a walk,
ii. Take a nap,
iii. Watch football (or be football adjacent)
V. Have a great holiday.
Monday, November 8, 2021
Today is International Tongue Twister Day (I am not making this up just for blog content, I promise). A tongue twister is defined as, “a word, phrase, or sentence difficult to articulate because of a succession of similar consonantal sounds.”  I would submit that all the different roles we play in academic support are difficult to articulate as well.
Like many codified rules in the United States, the term “Academic Support” is vague. How can we define what we do? We help students access the curriculum in law school but that is still vague. We conduct orientation classes. We teach students how to prepare and study in their doctrinal classes. We help students prepare for midterm and final exams-and then the Bar exam. We help students with legal writing projects. We offer counseling that borders on therapy. We listen, we plan, we give feedback, we lend books and shoulders and pens. We offer candy and tissues and respite. We also learn from and help one another as professionals. I once helped a student pick out bridesmaid dresses. We are something different to every student we work with (a friend, a mentor, a nag, a chocolate supplier….).
Our support is seamless mainly because there is no clear beginning or end to what we do that can be stitched together. And, sometimes, what we do is both important and invisible. We are not quite the same as other faculty members in ways that are obvious and some that slip below the radar.
So, on this Monday of the week that Bar results will be released here in Massachusetts and other states nearby, I offer this tongue twister to remember what the folks in Academic Support do:
Academic Support professors profess to assist pre-professionals become professionals using practices that produce prosperity.
Say it 5 times fast and have a particularly pleasant day!
Monday, October 11, 2021
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.”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.”
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.
Monday, September 27, 2021
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. 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.
Sunday, September 12, 2021
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:
525,000 pages more,
How do you make sense of a course in the law?”
“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.
Monday, September 6, 2021
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:
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.
Monday, February 22, 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.
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
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.
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 8, 2020
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.
Monday, May 25, 2020
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.
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.
Monday, May 4, 2020
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.
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?”
 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.”
Sunday, May 3, 2020
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.
"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."
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
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.