Monday, May 6, 2024

Who's Afraid of the Passive Voice?

“I used the passive voice. I am awaiting the legal writing police and will go peacefully.”

This is an actual text I sent a fellow Commissioner on a town-wide commission after sending an email expressing my disappointment that the recipients did not complete a task. Well, actually, I expressed disappointment in the task not being completed-which is, as we all know, different. I had originally written the email using the active voice, but I wanted to temper my statement by not appearing to attack the recipients. They are, after all, neither courts nor lawyers.

But here is a sacrilege I will unleash for the Academic Support audience only: sometimes, you can use the passive voice. In fact, sometimes, you should. As I await the ankle[1] bracelet that is surely coming for me, I will explain when and why you might be willing to be my partner in “crime.”

  1. Distance. Sometimes your client (or other actors in your facts) have done terrible things. Or maybe, terrible things have happened, and your clients may or may not have played a role in causing them. For example, the pedestrian was hit by a vehicle vs. my client hit the pedestrian who was walking with the light in a crosswalk on a bright sunny day (with no glare). You are going to need this distance. Because your client sucks-or the facts are not favorable to them.
  2. Tone: Sometimes, you would prefer not to assign blame as directly. For example,  this Court made the absolutely baffling decision to grant this this motion vs. Inexplicably, the decision was made to grant the motion. Courts don’t like being accused of misconduct.[2]
  3. You don’t know who did something: you cannot place an actor in the role, so you speak of the facts as happening without attributing them to anyone.
  4. You are trying to focus on the reaction to the circumstances and not the actor who created them: this comes in very handy during trials when you need to tell the Court and/or jury what a police officer knew when they stopped someone without having to say who told them that or even if it was true[3].
  5. You are stating a commonly known truth: for example: using the passive voice is frowned upon.

As someone who works with a wide range of international (mostly LL.M.) students, I have found that there are some languages that tend to veer towards the passive voice (like many romance languages) and teaching these students to identify and use the active voice is a struggle for all of us. But I do tell them that finding the passive voice is as simple as looking at bumper stickers because, as we all know, “Shit Happens.”

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] Maybe a wrist bracelet so I cannot no longer use the dreaded PV?

[2] And they are aware that the coded phrase, “with all due respect your honor,” means, “you are wrong here.” The first time a judge ever said, “I know what you mean by that,” I almost let excrement escape from my body (see, distance!).

[3] This is your hearsay “get out of jail free” card during suppression hearings. Works every time.

May 6, 2024 in Miscellany, Teaching Tips, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 15, 2024

The Call Came from Inside the Building

**I will issue the disclaimer (and warning?) here that this post has very little to with Academic Support and does talk about violent world circumstances. I have tried (feebly, I admit) to tie this into status issues, student self-advocacy, and the importance of belonging to student success, but again, it is extremely tangential. I promise that next week’s entry will be about exams and how you should register for the AASE Conference.**

About a week ago, I returned from Israel. I had been there to celebrate my nephew’s wedding[1].  It was surreal to be sitting in a lively European-style square next to a stunning sea having coffee[2] while also knowing that the white wispy looking lines over the water were patrol drone trails. It was similarly implausible to be at a wedding where we engaged in most of the usual marriage rituals[3] but also noting that one of the photographers had what appeared to be a semi-automatic handgun somewhat cavalierly tucked into the back waistband of his pants. There was no holster or covering; it was just positioned there for a right handed person to draw quickly. Sun, sea, joy, family, and yet an undercurrent that this was only a façade.

My brother-in-law is a faculty member at a law school in Israel. He told me how their semesters are completely off schedule due to the war. Students, faculty members, and administrators have all been called into military service and returned at times that are not in sync with the usual academic calendar. Even COVID didn’t do this. And yet, I would be entirely remiss if I did not also say that schools in Gaza are completely shut down due to the war and continued violence. Inconvenience is not the same as rubble. The destruction of schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure that assists civilians to live their lives is repugnant.

So, we went to the Saturday night anti-war protests in Tel Aviv. There were thousands and thousands of people there.[4] We were at least four teeming city streets away from the speakers, but we could see and hear everything on screens set up along the way. We stood in the shadow of IDF headquarters and loudly told them that they were doing terrible things. It was by far the most comfortable place I have sat with my feelings about this entire conflict. I could say what I thought about the egregious behavior of the Israeli government without ever having to engage my (now 24/7) filter to determine where and when some of the protests cross the line into abject anti-Semitism.  It was oddly freeing.

For context, about a  week before making this trip, I had been approached by a fellow faculty member to join a group of “like-minded” colleagues in a Faculty for Justice in Palestine group at my law school. This was not a public invitation to all the faculty; it was more of a recruiting whisper network, and I was invited because I had expressed my dismay to one colleague who fully knew about my family in Israel as well as my internal conflict. I had shared this with someone I respect and trusted. Part of me thought, “wow, they think I am cool enough to do this!,” and part of me said, “nope, I will not be their token Jewish person.”  A third part of me thought I would get listed on Canary Mission and get turned away at the border unable to attend the wedding. I am still not sure how I feel about the invitation or the people who sent it, but nonetheless, I politely declined. I can say that I felt almost completely comfortable in the space of my workplace until then and now that security has been frayed. I’m not saying that I was threatened in any way, I was not, nor am I now.  I just feel less like I belong there and, honestly, really sad about that. The folks who invited me vote on my contract.[5] The folks who did accept the invitation to attend their information session also vote on my contract.

Even as someone who always encourages students to advocate for themselves, I am at a loss as to how to repair this set of circumstances for myself. If I had tenure, I would have forwarded the email I received to everyone on the faculty and administration or asked to put it on the agenda at the next faculty meeting, but I do not feel that I can or should do that. And here’s another truth: I really do not want to know which of my colleagues did accept the invitation because I want to continue walking the halls feeling like I belong. We know, as ASP professionals, that belonging  begets community which in turn begets success.

This past Saturday night, far from the protests, we celebrated my mother-in-law’s birthday in Rhode Island while drone strikes from Iran targeted Israel. Luckily very few hit anything before being intercepted. And even luckier, my family is fine-not that anyone who asked me to join them weeks ago inquired.

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] And really, does anything make you feel older than that--short of grandchildren?

[2] And the most amazing pistachio croissants I have ever eaten-seriously, ask me about them at the AASE Conference and bring a paper towel for the drool.

[3] It was different than American style weddings, but most of the usual components were there: the aisle, the vows, the officiant, the dancing….

[4] Real thousands, not Trump thousands.

[5] Which luckily isn’t scheduled to happen again for another five years.

April 15, 2024 in Current Affairs, Miscellany, News, Religion, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Naked and Afraid

I’m being dramatic of course: I am fully clothed and just a bit rattled. I am writing this entry on Thursday, Feb. 1st for publication next Monday, Feb. 5th. Today is the day that the faculty votes on whether I will be offered an additional five year contract, or I will be out of a job on July 1st. To be crystal clear, I am not really expecting to be shown the curb today. I feel valued at my school, and I think they would feel a loss if they let me go. I believe this. Intellectually, I know this isn’t going to be an issue, but emotionally, I must say that it doesn’t feel great to have such an important decision seem so completely out of my control.

Part of this feeling of vulnerability may stem from my first gen background. My parents worked in the garment industry and my maternal grandparents worked as a milliner and a produce buyer. I am the first woman in my immediate family who knows how to drive, went to a four year college, and then on to law school. For me, having control of how I am perceived and discussed is therefore really important. I would never say I am self-made--my family was wildly supportive-- but I also do not want to be unmade by others.

I think one of hardest parts of this process is seeing the Committee memo that essentially lays me out bare circulated not once, but twice to everyone (including me). I am glad there will be no paper copies circulated both for the trees and the possibility of it moving beyond our faculty (which I know is also very possible, if not even easier, via email, but somehow paper seems like more of a security risk, which only goes to prove my addled state). Everyone gets to know about my course evaluations, syllabi, PowerPoint slides, and scholarship. And the folks who get to vote to keep me or not include:

  1. People who have known me since July 2023;
  2. People who have been here for a year or two but haven’t met me at all;
  3. People who are actually leaving at the end of the semester;
  4. People who have been unprofessionally rude to me in Committee meetings;
  5. People who have said no to a tenure track possibility for ASP; but then there are also:
  6. Amazing colleagues I have known for over 20 years;
  7. Amazing colleagues in my ASP department;
  8. Amazing colleagues I consider friends (these past three are not mutually exclusive categories);
  9. Fabulous colleagues who support changes in ASP status; and
  10. Wonderful administrators I am not sure can vote but have always been quite supportive.

In short, a lot of my jury may not consider themselves my peers. And they will get together in a big room (and I am not going to be there as per tradition) and talk about me and then they get to decide if I can continue doing this job even if some of them are uncertain what it is. The fact that I need to do this every five years (although when I started it was shorter intervals) is frustrating. If my position doesn't merit tenure-which I understand is a long investment in me by my school--then why so much repeated scrutiny for something that clearly isn't considered all that important? I know this lesser status is a construct, but a process that is a reminder of this status over and over can't be the best practice. I have been through this more than seven times already.

So, when quotes from my course evaluations are circulated far and wide, I feel particularly exposed (although they were all positive quotes). When someone comments (again, positively) on the quality of my slides, I feel invaded. And when I am told that my scholarship is nice but not tenure worthy, I am livid, because tenure is not even on the table.

The only thing on the table is me.

(Liz Stillman)

**UPDATE**:  My contract was in fact renewed by the faculty on Thursday and nice things were said about me during that meeting. I am, although still slightly salty about the process, very pleased with the result.

February 4, 2024 in Miscellany, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 11, 2023

A Visit from ASP (with apologies to Clement Moore)

‘Twas the night before finals, and all through the house, only a law student was stirring and clicking a mouse[1];

Casebooks were stacked by the monitor with care, in hopes that the answers were hidden in there;

Most people were already snug in beds, while law students crammed adverse possession into their heads;

Professors and TAs were in for the night, knowing that grading was surely in sight;

The morning of exams would soon appear, and students would file into the test rooms with fear;

One last look at a study aid and search for a sign, perhaps one last perusal of their outline;

They’d sit and pray to the study aid masters, and hope to avoid essay question disasters;

Now Glannon, now Dressler, now Prosser and Keaton, On Erwin[2], on Crunchtime, on Answers and Questions[3]

To the top of the class! to the top of the curve!
Now write away! Write away! Write it with verve!;

On the first question, the students would start, to prove what they learned and that they are smart[4]

Working to IRAC each issue they spotted, students strived not to exceed the time they’re allotted;

After the essays they moved on to the multiple choice, reading the calls of the question and remembering their voice;[5]

The questions were tough from the facts to the answers, but they carefully read the qualifiers[6] and enhancers;

After weeks of studying, with no sleep or gym sessions, they were pale, tired, and lacking expression;

They said not a word as the proctors would scold, and worked hard until all of the test time had tolled;

When told to put their pens down, the students complied, they packed up their highlighters and other supplies;

But I heard them exclaim as they fled down the hall,

“So glad that’s it over, I gave it my all.”

Happy whatever-if anything-you celebrate in this season! I hope that your smaller and greater worlds are filled with peace and joy in the new year.

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] Touchpad really doesn’t rhyme with anything…..

[2] With all due respect to Professor Chemerinsky, I could not find anything that rhymed with Chemerinsky either.

[3] Yes, I know I reversed it, but let’s call it artistic license….

[4] Remember, exams do not actually assess intelligence!!! Poetry is a harsh taskmaster.

[5] Remember, you can be a judge, an advocate, or a scholar on MCQs!!!

[6] With thanks to Ashley Cetnar for her MCQ tips last week!

December 11, 2023 in Exams - Studying, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

All Shiny and New

Last week we bought a new car. It had been 13 years since the last time we had done this, and it was both exciting and terrifying. On the one hand, the old car made funny noises that seemed to say, “you may think I’ll stop when you hit the brakes, but I might not…..” but on the other hand, the car also said, “at one time you had three car seats in me.” Sigh. It was a leap--most likely absolutely one we needed to take--and it was hard. Cleaning out the car and finding the original upholstery color (dark gray, who knew?) under the years of sand and fur was bittersweet.

Last week, I took my son to the dentist and had to drive the new car into a parking garage. This is a garage I never liked, but it was nerve wracking to drive into it with a car that I feel should not yet be scratched and dented. Today I parked at Trader Joe’s and needed a drink, a shower, and a nap afterwards. It is going to take some time to understand the nuances and become skilled, but the bottom line is that this is a car, and while it does things I haven’t yet discovered, it is still at its core a big machine to move from place to place. I know how to drive a car (some might argue otherwise, but I live in Massachusetts, and I am better at this than a lot of folks). My skills are translatable from car to car.

I think this is like being a 1L. Next week at orientation, law school will be all new and shiny for students. And like the 700 page owner’s manual that came with the car (with a 300 page abridged version), there is going to be a lot of reading and information coming at students. I think part of what I need to tell students at orientation is that they have learning and study skills, and while the vehicle they will be using these skills on is not the one they are accustomed to, the skills are still there. These skills will need a little tweaking to capture the nuance and quirks of law school, but they will get the job done until those finer skills emerge.

(Liz Stillman)

August 16, 2023 in Miscellany, Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 3, 2023

Have I Mentioned the Survey(s)?

You and I both know that I have mentioned it (a number of times). Last week, we sent out an email with the individual and institutional survey links to all AASE members. If you didn't receive it, please email me at: [email protected] and I'll get it to you!

The data that we amass as a result of this survey will help our profession know a number of things:

  1. Who we are: who are the ASP professionals in our nation's law schools
  2. What we do: so, so much, but more specifically we will have information on what classes we teach, workshops we offer, bar prep (during and after law school), orientation programs...really everything we offer to our students.
  3. How we are valued, classified, and compensated. This cannot change if we do not know the baseline.
  4. How we spend our time in these roles, doing all this work.

 I have even composed a Haiku to inspire you to respond (I think we forgot to add poetry as a category of ASP work on the surveys, but nonetheless):

Please take the survey,

the data will help us all,

as professionals.

The deadline to answer (APRIL 14TH!!!)is coming sooner than you think. Please do not make me resort to limericks.

(Liz Stillman)

 

April 3, 2023 in Miscellany, Professionalism, Program Evaluation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 20, 2023

Spring!? Break

Why was last week called spring break when it wasn’t spring yet? Technically, it was a late winter’s folly or perhaps a mid-semester break, but spring, not so much. Before we took our week off, I met with numerous students and asked them about their plans for their time away from school. They mainly responded with the following:

  1. Outlining: “I am going to catch up and make sure they are all up to date.”
  2. Reading: “I am going to get ahead in my reading so that the week we return isn’t stressful.”
  3. Practice questions: “both multiple choice and essay!”

To which I said, “fabulous, and?” They scrambled a bit to find the one aspect of studying they had not mentioned that would be what I wanted to hear. They asked, “what else should I be doing?”

I was worried that these students wouldn’t take some time to do something fun, do something restorative, or disengage from being a law student for at least a few hours. We all know that after the break, the semester has turned a corner and started running downhill to finals. There are no other breaks (except here in Massachusetts, we have one long weekend for the marathon) until exams.

Yes, outlining, reading, and practicing are exactly what students should be doing at this time in the semester, but not taking care of body and soul for at least some of this time seemed like a lost opportunity to be in the right space to start the downhill run. I prescribed some discrete fun: walk down to the aquarium and watch the harbor seals for a few minutes, take the commuter rail somewhere new for an afternoon, cook a meal/dessert or better yet, a pie for Pi day, look at the ocean, really anything. It didn’t have to be an all-day event, and there is a lot of free fun to be had in Boston if you are a student. I stopped short of making them swear an oath to loaf a bit, but I did stress the importance of a little downtime. 

Sure, I will encounter students who come in for their meetings this week tan, or on crutches from ski-related injuries, who will say they did nothing but have fun over the break. I wish them well. Me? I did class prep, grading, laundry, and baked the most heavenly fluffy peanut butter and chocolate pie[1] for Pi day. And I wore sweat pants. Every. Single. Day.

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] https://www.instagram.com/p/CpvthKMp4XS/

March 20, 2023 in Exams - Theory, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Jury Duty is a Joy

I recently had the opportunity to respond to a jury summons. After driving to an unfamiliar part of town, and parking and walking in, waiting in line to walk through the metal detector (that required me to take off all jewelry including my earrings!), and then waiting in line to check in for jury service, and then sitting with strangers on a hard bench for 30 minutes waiting for things to get started, all during a very busy time in the semester when I had other things I needed to be doing, I was primed to be grumpy.

The county clerk, and then a sheriff's deputy, and then the judge on the single case that needed a jury, each spoke to us, saying the same things about the importance of jury service. (OK.) The county clerk even requested that we all stand up and applaud ourselves for reporting. (Ugh.) 

But then we were reduced from about 200 people to 65 people, and we 65 were led to the courtroom for voir dire, where we learned it was a criminal matter with an accusation of driving under the influence with a minor passenger. I was impressed by the professionalism of the attorneys, the way they made this process of finding out who we were seem so natural and personable. I was shocked and impressed by the frankness of individuals who shared their personal stories of being arrested for DUI, or their escape from an abusive, alcoholic  ex-spouse, and how it might impact their participation in this matter. The defendant was in the courtroom through it all, knowing this system and the people participating, would decide his future in just a few days' time.

I was not at all surprised when I was one of the 51 who were dismissed at 2 PM, leaving 14 to sit in the jury box. Not only did the odds favor it, the defense attorney was an alumna of my law school. But I am thankful for being the experience, in a way I could not have foreseen before I went. It has been a long time since I have been in a courtroom. It was an excellent reminder of why I love this work, and what an awesome responsibility it is to be a member of the legal profession, and to be a part of educating and training future lawyers.

(Lisa DeLaTorre)

February 2, 2023 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 9, 2023

Academic Support Programs Should be Included in U.S. News Rankings...maybe

Happy New Year ASP Blog Readers! We are back!

Earlier today I was in a meeting with colleagues who told me that several publishers had not brought ASP/Bar Prep publications to the AALS meetings because, (and keep in mind that this probably hearsay squared), “AALS is for doctrinal faculty.” AALS abolished the distinction years ago, but perhaps that message has not reached all sectors. And while I could easily lament another occasion where academic support is overlooked and excluded, today I have another proposition.

I have written in the past about how U.S. News Rankings count the work of academic support and bar prep professionals (bar pass rate!!!), but they do not evaluate the programs themselves. This is, I have argued, essentially taxation without representation.

Recently a few schools that probably do not sweat the bar pass rate (let’s be honest here, it is always going to be in the over 90% area for them), have decided not to engage in rankings. These schools just don’t need the credential to boost their marketability or community standing. They already have all the name and prestige recognition they need. They just shuffle among the top tier like a tableau of rich invitees at a Gatsby event. But, as I tell students fairly often, 90% of the class in not in the top 10%. So too for law schools -- as a vast majority of schools are not invited to the West Egg shindigs.

After attending an amazing conference organized by the New England Consortium of Academic Support Professionals where we discussed job security, equity, and even reached for the brass ring of tenure, I am convinced that having academic support programs ranked by U.S. News might be a step in the right direction.

Here are my top three reasons:

  1. This would be another metric for schools looking to gain status, meaning that schools that really do need a boost can get one, and
  2. It might shift a power dynamic to a successful (and therefore ranked) academic support program’s professionals to seek better job security (contracts where they are at-will employees, presumptively renewable contracts for those on a year-to-year contract, and tenure down the road.) A school that gains prestige because of a ranked ASP program would want to protect that asset.
  3. ASP professionals work extremely hard-we teach more, we meet more, we write as much (if not more), and we are often asked to take on responsibilities that are similar to doctrinal, legal writing, and clinical faculty. We deserve the recognition-beyond the amazing way we honor each other in our community.

But there are some downsides:

  1. More scrutiny doesn’t always reveal only good things. We might put folks with very little job security in a more precarious position and introduce metrics that are not necessarily indicative of quality academic support. This might turn out to be another area where BIPOC professionals are not fairly evaluated.
  2. ASP will now be tethered to raising or maintaining a ranking--which is not the point of ASP. This might distract us from our students, who are the reason we do what we do.
  3. Being tied to the bar pass rate more directly may not be fair since some of the variables that control bar pass rate are not within the control of ASP. We cannot overcome a poorly admitted class, or a pandemic, for example.

I invite debate on this idea. I would also happily invite the beginning of a national movement of ASP professionals to work together toward more equity and job security. If we take any page from legal writing, the one I believe is foundational would be that we gather our data and work together.

(Liz Stillman)

January 9, 2023 in Miscellany, Professionalism, Program Evaluation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 21, 2022

The Playground

Isn’t it the way of the fall semester that September seems like it lasted for 8 weeks, October was about 2.5 weeks, and November 1st is when are standing at the top of a giant slide that ends in finals? I wandered into this playground in mid-August, and while it seemed to come both too fast and too slow, I am happy to see the ground come into view.

This semester has been wild.

Overwhelming.

Intense.

Busy.

Frustrating.

Joyful.

Fulfilling.

Fast.

I am grateful for the chance to hit stop for a few days later this week. I need the time to gather whatever resources I have left (or can conjure) before the building smells like stress in the upcoming weeks. I am thankful that I get to see more family than usual this year. I remain in awe of the ASP community and its generosity, kindness, and warmth.

I wish you all the best of times. May the ground beneath the end of your slide be soft when you land.

(Liz Stillman)

November 21, 2022 in Games, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

The New England Consortium of Academic Support Professionals Request for Proposals

NECASP IS HAVING THEIR ANNUAL ONE DAY CONFERENCE  (VIA ZOOM) ON DECEMBER 9TH, 2022. Below is their request for proposals:

RFP Deadline Extended to November 8

Request for Proposals: Presentations and Scholarly “Works in Progress” New England Consortium of Academic Support Professionals (NECASP) Conference Friday, December 9, 2022, 10am-3pm ET via Zoom Hosted by the Suffolk University Law School (Zoom link to follow)

NECASP will be holding its annual one-day conference online this December. Our topic this year is “Strengthening Our Core: Attaining Equity for Academic Support and Bar Professionals.” We will gather online to share and explore ideas with ASP colleagues on issues surrounding the attempts towards attaining parity in status in academia for ASP and Bar Professionals.

We welcome a broad range of proposals –from presenters in the New England Region and beyond –and at various stages of completion –from idea to fruition. Please note that we may ask you to co-present with other ASP colleagues depending on the number of proposals selected.

If you wish to present, the proposal process is as follows:

  1. Submit your proposal by 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 8, 2022, via email to Philip Kaplan at [email protected]
  2. Proposals may be submitted as a Word document or as a PDF 3. Proposals must include the following:    

            a. Name and title of presenter

            b. Law School

            c. Address, email address, and telephone number for presenter

            d. Title

            e. If a scholarly work in progress, an abstract no more than 500 words

            f. Media or computer presentation needs

4. As noted above, proposals are due on November 8, 2022. The NECASP Board will review the proposals and reply to each by November 17, 2022.

If you have any questions about your proposal, please do not hesitate to contact one of us, and we look forward to seeing you at our conference!

2022-23 NECASP Board Members:

Chair: Phil Kaplan, Associate Professor of Academic Support Suffolk University, [email protected]

Vice-Chair: Brittany Raposa, Associate Director & Professor of Bar Support Roger Williams School of Law, [email protected]

Treasurer: Danielle Kocal, Director of Academic Success The Elizabeth Haub School of Law / Pace University, [email protected]

Secretary: Erica Sylvia, Assistant Director of Bar Success & Adjunct Professor of Law University of Massachusetts School of Law, [email protected]

(Liz Stillman)

November 2, 2022 in Meetings, Miscellany, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 12, 2022

Grief that is old enough to drink....

The attacks of 9/11/2001 were twenty-one years ago.

I probably have students who were born in 2001. I probably also have students (my undergraduates) who were not yet born when the events of 9/11 unfolded. I can tell you that I was standing in the hallway of my law school building looking up at multiple TV screens, watching planes crash into buildings over and over on a seemingly endless and tragic loop, some slightly out of sync-all against the backdrop of the bluest September sky. Thousands died that day, and what was most terrifying about it was that we didn’t think it could ever happen. It never dawned on us that we would be targeted this way. Were we blindsided because of optimism, privilege, pride? Possibly all, or none, of these things. Nonetheless, we were stunned.

Twenty-one years later, where are we? Sure, there are new buildings where the World Trade Center stood, but we have never been the same: we do not fly on airplanes or trust people as we did on 9/10/2001. But 9/11 also sent the fight against racial profiling back at least 30 years. We might be almost back to our 9/10 senses at this point, but that wasn’t a great place either. The Patriot Act seemed to allow law enforcement to do things that had been, at least on 9/10, held illegal. The immigration implications of 9/11 are still clearly visible in calls for bans and walls. Fear and anger are never good starting points for sweeping legislation. The desire to return to when things seemed “better” isn’t actually a plan for governance.

I look at the recent decision in Dobbs[1], and I wonder, is this also a sentimental journey back to when we, as Americans, thought we had more control?  In 21 years, will we be getting close to recapturing the rights we held in 1973?

Or will we have another moment where we realize that the grief is now old enough to drink?

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf

September 12, 2022 in Current Affairs, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 25, 2022

Lost Opportunities

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.[1] 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”.[2] 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[3]. The schools that the parents want to send their children to have not agreed to follow Maine's other requirements either[4]. 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.”"[5] 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.[6] 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.

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] Carson v. Makin, 979 F.3d 21 (1st. Cir. 2020)

[2] Me. Stat. tit. 20–A, § 2(1) (2022).

[3] Carson, 979 F.3d at 26.

[4] Id.

[5] 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.

[6] Is this ideal for bar passage? Perhaps not.

April 25, 2022 in Learning Styles, Miscellany, Program Evaluation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 21, 2022

Back to the Grind

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

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

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

(Liz Stillman)

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

Monday, March 14, 2022

Spring Broken

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[1]. 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[2]? 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…

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] I can’t even with the timing on this one.

[2] You can do this too! https://youtu.be/H_LQeYUHm4M

March 14, 2022 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 7, 2022

Capital T

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.

(Liz Stillman)

March 7, 2022 in Miscellany, Professionalism, Publishing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 14, 2022

Love Letter

 

Heart

 

 

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.

(Liz Stillman)

February 14, 2022 in Bar Exams, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 22, 2021

Outlining for Thanksgiving

 

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)

    C. Potatoes:

        i. Can be candied, or

        ii. Mashed, or

        iii. Baked, or

        iv. All of the above

        v. (Marshmallows on a case-by-case basis),

    D. Gravy,

    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. Family

            i. Actually related, or

            ii. Chosen, or

            iii. Others

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,

    D. Cook,

    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.

(Liz Stillman)

November 22, 2021 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 8, 2021

Articulation

Today is International Tongue Twister Day (I am not making this up just for blog content, I promise).[1] A tongue twister is defined as, “a word, phrase, or sentence difficult to articulate because of a succession of similar consonantal sounds.” [2] 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!

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] https://www.punchbowl.com/holidays/international-tongue-twister-day

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tongue%20twister

November 8, 2021 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)