Wednesday, December 1, 2021
Not perfect, progress. Because there is no such thing as perfect - only progress towards your goal.
Having said that, exam season is around the corner. If you are a first year student, this will be your first set of exams, and it's daunting and stressful. It's tempting to try to memorize every piece of your outline or re-read cases. Don't. Practice is what makes progress.
Do as many practice exams as possible. Redo your midterm if you had one. Do as many practice exams or hypotheticals as your professors have passed out. Ask for more if you don't have many. If your professor doesn't have, or won't distribute, past exams, look for other sources of practice exams. Typically your Academic Support person might have some, or there might be some in supplements. The point is to practice your writing. Yes, you need to know the law when you are taking an exam, but the most important thing you can do is put forth a thoughtful analysis, and that takes PRACTICE.
It will also be tempting to to make sure you have everything memorized, or organized, and then practice. Don't fall for this. Practicing hypos and exams will help you learn where your gaps are, and it will help you determine whether your notes and outline are working for you. I'd even suggesting doing practice hypos with notes, to help you better remember the law.
It is not enough to just read through a practice hypo, thinking about what you might write. It's also not enough to just read sample answers or rubrics and go "oh i would have written that." You have to practice actually writing it out! More than once!
I'm fairly excitable about this topic because every January I meet with students who didn't do so well in their first semester. And lo and behold, when discussing how they study, all of them confess that they either failed to do any practice hypos or exams, only did one, maybe two, or only outlined them, or looked at the answer.
This is the biggest piece of advice that I can give you right now; practice makes progress, and the more practice the better!
Good luck, and happy practicing!
Monday, November 29, 2021
Every summer, our family rents a (dog friendly) house out on Cape Cod. Recently, we have been renting bicycles when we get there at a bike rental place called Idle Times. It isn’t fancy, but it is friendly--the name is welcoming and seems to be assuring us that we need not race or even labor much to get around on the bicycles. It is the kind of place where an old black lab lies in the overgrown seagrass and seems to will the kids trying out bicycles to go around him rather than move from his shady spot. It is idyllic-no false advertising involved. This past weekend (that started on a Wednesday-shouldn’t they all?) was also gloriously idle (aside from the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and latkes). I removed my laptop from the table (yes, the new one for those of you who have been following these posts) and didn’t return it to its spot until yesterday. And here I am on a Monday morning trying to jump start my professional brain after this lovely idleness.
Today is the last day of classes for us. While many might think that this is the beginning of a nice break for all academics, it is absolutely crunch time for ASP folks. There are students panicked about finals. They seem shocked that exams are almost upon us despite all the warning signs. I agree that by the time we develop our fall mojo, it is already Veteran’s Day-which was less than three weeks ago. Fall seems like a slow walk uphill to a sudden cliff, while spring semester seems like a cold, dark walk through a cave into the light.
Nonetheless, we are about to begin our "reading days." I’m not sure how much time between classes ending and exams beginning is just right; I don’t think there is a one size fits all time period, but our 1L students have around 2.5 days.
Here is (some of) what I advise students to do now and during these days and the exam period:
- Get out of the law school building (we are all in one building here). The air is thick with stress and every little whisper will make you think someone knows something you don’t about a class you are in. I point out to our students that we are (in the fall at least) out of sync with our undergraduate and business schools, so their libraries might be a better place to study if a library is your preferred spot. At least the din there won’t make you feel unnecessarily inadequate. In pre-COVID times I would also recommend a coffee place (away from school) or even my favorite, the café at the Museum of Fine Arts (excellent place to study and wonderful place to be when you need a break from it).
- Make an exam plan. Work backwards from your last exam and plan reasonable study schedules for each day. Remember to add a teaser of the exam after the immediate one into your plan-so if Civ. Pro is on Thursday, you can take an hour and review a little Crim because that is next and so on.
- Attend to your hygiene and health! Seriously, this is going to be a marathon, pace yourself and be sure to stay hydrated. Don’t take unnecessary pandemic risks right now. Showering is important even if the alternative can help with social distancing.
- Practice writing answers and doing multiple choice questions: while reading carefully will be an important part of your exams, you will still need to produce an answer. You should practice essays often enough that IRAC is a muscle memory. Do enough multiple-choice questions that you are not confused by slight changes in terminology (because…gasp…sometimes doctrinal professors do not write their own questions). Remember, a good way to be prepared for exams is to be a PERP: Prepared for class, Engaged in class, Reviewing after class and Practicing. Ok, now I can see why this didn’t catch on, PERP is just not going to happen. But there is still hope for fetch.
- Handle different subjects with different strategic approaches: Civil Procedure is linear and chronological; Contracts is transactional; Torts and Criminal law just beg for making a chart with all the people and causes of action involved and so on…
- Just get started: if you are lost on the exam, start with something you can answer to get the brain engaged and then go back. However, do not go back and change any multiple-choice answers if you have already made a choice-it will not end well.
- Get out again-after the exam, leave the building. Do not discuss it with other people. I know that talking about a shared trauma can be therapeutic, but this will not be. I promise. Think about what you have done well on this exam and then move on with your plan. As Timon famously says in The Lion King, “You gotta put your past behind you.”
- When all the exams are over, enjoy the idle time.
Wednesday, November 24, 2021
Every November I do a "Month of Gratitude." I started it around 2014 or so, with an aim to reflect on the good in my life. Scientists who are much smarter than I am say that writing down what you are grateful for boosts things like serotonin. I always feel like I can use a free boost of serotonin, so can't hurt to try!
This year, one of my days of gratitude was dedicated to AASE, or the Association of Academic Support Educators. The organization itself, and the work it does. But also the people. These are people I can genuinely call my friends.
Tuesday, November 23, 2021
I was honored and surprised and thrilled to find out that I was the recipient of the 2022 Trailblazer Award. I truly feel that I have the best job in the world, and part of that is because I get to be a member of the broader academic support community.
While I take pride in and ownership of my accomplishments, it also is not lost on me that they would be much more difficult for many other academic support professionals to achieve because of the inconsistency and inequity among how we are treated at our schools. I wanted to highlight the ways in which my institution – Suffolk University Law School (SULS) – has supported me, in the hopes it will encourage other law schools to do the same.
- Financial and logistical support for research and writing: SULS provides summer funding for professors who wish to take on scholarly projects, and they extend this funding to academic support professors. I’ve written four articles and have received funding for two of those. The funding is both a financial help, as well as – importantly - an incentive and a vote of confidence. I wasn’t sure that I would ever write an article, but getting funding made me feel like the school believed I could. In addition to the funding, the law school has an active and robust Scholarship Committee and does not require me to teach a full course load over the summer.
- Faculty status: I'm faculty and therefore involved in faculty committees and meetings, which allows me to form relationships with other faculty, get ideas, exchange ideas, and feel more invested in the school.
- Conference funding: SULS provides me with conference funding, which allows me to meet other academic support colleagues, build community, and gain skills.
- Long-term contracts: Those of us in the Academic Support Program have 1-, 3- and 5-year contracts, which allow us greater stability than others who face yearly renewal and review.
- Parental leave: I received maternity leave (it is sad that this even needs to be said, yet it does).
- A significant academic support program: There are four full-time academic support professors at Suffolk (names familiar to and beloved by anyone working in the field: Herb Ramy, Liz Stillman, Phil Kaplan, and Jen Ciarimboli). This is not only crucial because we have a very large student body, but also benefits me immensely because I have generous, wise, and hardworking colleagues with whom to exchange ideas and resources.
- Teaching opportunities: Finally, in recent years, SULS has allowed me to teach non-ASP classes like Professional Responsibility and Negotiation. Doing so has helped me gain experience and confidence, generated ideas for scholarship, provided me with additional pay, and helps students and faculty see that ASP professors are part of the broader curriculum.
Of course, we are not perfect at SULS. In short: I would love to have tenure. When I joined legal academia, tenure seemed primarily like a matter of ego to me. But now, I value it more. I’d like financial equity with my colleagues; to feel fully respected and valued; to have full academic freedom; and to be able to have a greater impact on my community through voting on matters of appointments and tenure. Perhaps this award will be a step towards these goals.
And perhaps I am sharing too much, being too transparent. I’ve come to learn that a certain amount of gamesmanship is expected in academia. But I believe part of the success of many of us in academic support is our authenticity and transparency.
If you are a tenured faculty member or administrator reading this - thank you, and I hope this has given you some ideas.
If you are academic support staff or faculty, please feel free to reach out if I can be of support - I know how much you do for students, how unquantifiable the majority of it is, and I believe in and value you.
 I don’t mean at all to prioritize faculty over staff, and I think staff should receive these benefits as well. I intend instead to acknowledge what I gain from being a faculty member.
 Another note: my title is not Associate Professor, but Associate Professor of Academic Support, and many wonderful scholars have noted the way that titles perpetuate hierarchy. See, e.g., Rachel Lopez, Unentitled: The Power of Designation in the Legal Academy, 73 Rutgers L. Rev. 923 (2021).
(Sarah Schendel - Guest Post, Associate Professor of Academic Support, Suffolk Law School)
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.
Saturday, November 20, 2021
- Touro Law Center seeks an enthusiastic candidate with superior academic credentials to join our Academic Excellence and Bar Success Department. The ideal candidate will be a highly organized, detail-oriented, and intellectually curious team player who is committed to the Touro Law Center mission, law teaching and learning excellence, and is eager to engage with students throughout law school and bar exam preparation.
- This is a full-time professional staff position. The candidate who is selected will report to the Asst. Dean of Academic Excellence & Bar Success Programs and will work collaboratively within the Department and with other law school faculty and staff to promote student success in law school and on the bar exam. Work will include but is not limited to: teaching in-person and online courses and workshops, counseling and mentoring students regarding academic excellence and bar success developing, updating content, creating and tracking assessments within an online learning management system, gathering and analyzing data and other work to advance academic excellence and bar exam success. Evening and sometimes weekend availability is necessary.
- Counsel, teach, and mentor law students individually and in groups
- Work with others in the department to develop and implement workshops and course content
- Assist in the gathering and analysis of data relevant to academic and bar success outcomes
- Become knowledgeable and stay current with all aspects of the bar exam and all other requirements for licensure in NY
- Assist in maintaining records associated with the law school’s academic and bar success programs
- Grade and provide extensive feedback on numerous formative and summative assessments
- Communicate professionally and effectively to students, faculty, staff, and alumni
- Other duties related to academic and bar success as assigned by the Asst. Dean of Academic Excellence & Bar Success Programs.
- Juris Doctor degree with a record of high academic achievement from an ABA-accredited law school
- Must be admitted to the bar in at least one United States jurisdiction.
Knowledge/ Skills/ Abilities
- Committed to excellence and continuous improvement in law school teaching and learning
- Demonstrate a commitment to the Touro Law Center mission and to legal education
- Team player who can work collaboratively with others
- Self-starter who can demonstrate initiative and work well independently.
- Ability to work both in person and online and sometimes during evenings and weekends.
- Excellent writing, speaking, and interpersonal communication
- Excellent organizational skills are essential
- Technology fluency; knowledge and experience working with Microsoft Office, Zoom, or other distance communications tools, Canvas or a similar online learning management systems, social media,and other technology experience
- Experience working with statistics and data is not required but will be an asset to the position as will experience with video and audio recording and editing
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
So You Failed the Bar? I write this literally 2 times a year, because students that fail the bar need to hear it.
First and foremost, this does not define you. Trust me, we have all heard stories of prominent lawyers, judges, and politicians that have failed the bar, sometimes multiple times. I could make you a list of all of the successful lawyers that were unsuccessful on the bar exam their first time. But I won’t, because failing the bar does not define them. If you try to make a list, you won’t find “failed the bar” on Wikipedia pages, or official biographies, or resumes. It’s not because it’s some secret shame, but because no one cares. In 5-10 years, no one will care how many times it took you to pass the bar. In fact, they won’t care in 6 months or a year. It seems like a defining moment right now, but it isn’t. Your defining moments come from the way you treat clients, the way you treat colleagues, and what you choose to do with your license once you have it.
I write this twice a year, every time results come out, because I think the message is that important. So let me repeat, this does NOT define you.
Especially this past year. Pass rates are down all over, and I firmly believe that is due to significant pandemic stress, burnout, and anxiety, coupled with significant tech issues. I realize this doesn't help things, but know that you are not alone, and this is NOT a reflection of you, your skills, or your ability to practice law.
Having said that, it’s ok to take a few days to be upset. Do what you need to do. But then dust yourself off, and start looking towards the next bar. Also, remember that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s a part of success. Every successful lawyer has failed – on the bar, at trial, in a negotiation, not getting a job. Every failed politician has lost a race. Every failed Olympian has lost a game or a match. That failure is a normal way to achieves success in the future. However, for that to be true, you have to learn from failure.
So how to learn from this?
Step 1: Request your essays back. Many states allow you to request, or view, your essays. There are often deadlines for this, so make sure you do it right away.
Once you have your essays, I want you to do a couple things. Review your answers. Now that you are removed from the day of writing, what do you notice? Then, if possible, compare them to the sample answers. See if you can pick out patterns. Don’t just focus on the conclusions, or the issues spotted. Did the sample answers use more facts? Or have a more in depth analysis? Be honest with yourself. Also, if you have a varied set of scores (one essay is a 1, while another is a 5) compare the 2. What is the difference? Don’t just shrug it off as you know one subject better. Pay attention to the writing in both.
In addition, here is a CALI lesson on assessing your own work. It may seem geared towards law students, but it can help you assess your essays: https://www.cali.org/lesson/18101
Assessing your essays is the really important first step. I have seen so many students that know the law, and know it well. But they don’t put enough explanation in their essays, and that costs them. So really take that time to be critical, and see what you need to work on.
Step 2: Analyze your score How close or far away are you from passing? Did you do better on a certain subject? Is your written score considerably better than your MBE score? This is an excellent place to start. Some things to keep in mind:
- If your essay score is higher than your MBE, it may be tempting to place most of your energy into MBE practice, and forget about essays. This will only result in your score “swapping.” So, while it is good to note that you might need more work on the MBE, don’t forget that you aren’t carrying the score with you so you still need to practice essays. The reverse is true if you did better on MBE than the essays.
- Perhaps you did really well on the torts MBE, but your lowest score was civil procedure. Again, do not just focus on civil procedure, and forget other subjects. Your scores will just swap places, and not improve overall.
- You might be only 2 points away from passing. Great! However, your score is still starting from scratch. Meaning, in one sense, you only need 2 more points, but that’s not how the bar works, obviously. You have to still work to get the points you already got AGAIN, and it is likely you forgot things, and are out of practice.
Step 3: Think about external things Did something unrelated to the bar impact your studying? Perhaps a health issue, physical or mental? Perhaps a family emergency, or ongoing family issues?
Have you suffered from anxiety in general or related to exams? If you do, are you being treated for the anxiety?
These things can and will impact your studying. Not matter how much time and effort you put in, if you are not physically and mentally healthy, you won’t process the information correctly.
Not to mention, if there is something in your life that is distracting you, that will also impact how you process information.
And again, we were in a pandemic. This likely impacted your ability to study and focus. That’s ok, and that’s normal.
Step 4: Accommodations If you were entitled to accommodations in law school, did you use them on the bar exam? If not, make sure you apply for them this time around. If you were denied accommodations, still try again. They likely need more recent testing, or paperwork.
Step 5: Think about your Study Habits. The most important thing you can do is practice. Many bar students get caught up in trying to memorize every sing law, or master every subject. While this is admirable, and takes quite a bit of time and effort, it's not a surefire way to find success. This is because mastering the bar is a SKILL. You need to practice. When I work with repeat takers, I often find that they knew the law, and they studied hard, but didn’t practice enough essays or enough timed MBE.
This matters for a few reasons. One is timing. You can know all the law in the world, but if you can’t write an essay in 30 minutes, you will struggle to get the scores you need. Similarly, doing 100 MBE questions in 3 hours is not easy, even if you DO know the law. You need to practice the timing, and practice for the stamina.
Secondly, the skill being tested on the bar is applying the law to the unique set of facts. Yes, you need to know the law to do this, but knowing the law is not enough. You need to practice the application. The application is typically where you will get most points.
This means that writing essays, fully out, not just passively reading sample answers or issue spotting, is key. It has to be a priority in studying.
In fact, all of your studying should be active. Don’t focus on rewriting, or reviewing, outline after outline. Again, yes, you need to know the law, but you are also more likely to remember the law if you apply it – in MBE questions, writing essays, and so forth.
Step 6: Change it Up. Different study habits work for different people. If you studied at home and found that you were easily distracted, find a space at the library or nearby coffee shop to study. If you did go the library/school/coffee shop every day, maybe try studying at home.
Finally, if you can, reach out to your school's bar prep person!
And good luck!
Tuesday, November 16, 2021
Melissa Shultz, Professor, Please Help Me Pass the Bar Exam: #NEXTGENBAR2025/26, 69 J. Legal Educ. (forthcoming 2021).
From the abstract:
For students who begin law school in 2022, the final hurdle that they must clear to use their hard-earned degrees—the bar exam—will be substantively and structurally distinct from all bar exams previously administered. Although (with rousing support from law school graduates) this so-called NextGen bar exam reduces the breadth of legal knowledge examinees must memorize, it is novel in its breadth of skills testing and its requirement that examinees engage in practice-skills not previously tested on the bar exam, including client counseling, negotiation, and legal research. Moreover, the NextGen bar exam will no longer be anchored by 200-multiple-choice questions, but it will require students to grapple with various subjects in multiple ways moving from multiple-choice questions to short answer questions to essay questions to task-based performance exercises.
These monumental changes to the bar exam do not allow for the legal academy to take a tempered “wait-and-see” approach before taking action. Instead, law schools must—working together—understand the changes adopted by the National Conference of Bar Examiners in January of 2021 and begin to meaningfully adjust their curricular and assessment practices to ensure students graduating in 2025 or 2026 (when the NextGen exam will first be administered) have the skills necessary to clear the new, final hurdle of the NextGen bar exam.
L. Schulze (FIU Law).
Monday, November 15, 2021
Remember in Harry Potter when Professor Lupin praised Harry for not being afraid of Voldemort, but rather being afraid of fear itself? Don’t even get me started on the psychological symbolism of dementors if you do not have a few minutes hours days to discuss all the good and bad symbolism in the series. But there is something in that particular moment that resonates with me. At this time of year, when everyone thinks about what they are grateful for, I think I most grateful for gratefulness.
I have a friend who writes a blog that is entirely about gratitude. I love that it has been going on for 2054 days even though it started as a 30 day project. There was just too much to be thankful for in this world to be confined to one month. But in the Academic Support world, I think sometimes ASP faculty do not make the list for students, schools, or even as relevant enough to be considered in the U.S. News rankings. Our data on thankfulness is almost entirely anecdotal. So here is my list of what I am thankful for in Academic Support:
- The amazing academic writing produced by ASP people-wow, just wow,
- That this is most warm, generous, and kind assembly of colleagues in all the academic realm (seriously, I mean every seemingly over-the-top word here),
- Students who are essentially groupies. I love students who come by regularly without being asked or told to do so for all three or four years of law school,
- Not being the person who grades all the exams or papers-just helping with prep and other issues is highly liberating especially when you add the disclaimer, “of course, I am not grading this, so be sure to check with your [insert legal writing or doctrinal] professor also…,”
- Students who take my advice. I offer a lot of advice-some solicited and some not, but all well-meaning and with some evidence/experience/inside knowledge to back it up,
- When a plan comes together-it could be a study plan, a paper plan, a bar plan, or even a registration plan-when it works out for a student and they are successful, my heart grows three sizes (premature holiday reference, sorry).
- The beginning of the tenure conversation for ASP faculty. We may need a Patronus charm to get there, but we are in the room of requirement getting our wands ready for the battle.
There is more-there is always more. I am thankful for (among many other things) students who send me grading playlists, texts about successes from graduates, and being able to resume having an open-door policy this semester. But most of all, I am thankful for thankfulness. Gratitude is self-perpetuating.
 I am extremely lucky that my school has truly valued ASP work and faculty.
Sunday, November 14, 2021
The semester is almost over, which means final exams are right around the corner. I wanted to pass along a handful of mistakes to avoid when preparing for finals.
- Don't ignore the last couple weeks of class. Some students think professors won't put material from the last couple weeks on the exam. That is not the case in most classes, and some professors will intentionally test that material if they perceive the class is showing up ill prepared.
- Don't wait until after Thanksgiving to update, start, edit, etc. outlines. This advice would apply to early in the semester as well, but don't wait until the last minute to update outlines. Keep adding in material to maximize study and practice time later.
- Don't stay up all night studying. I engaged in this conversation a few times already this past week. Staying up all night studying is not ideal. Sleep is critical for the brain to rest and retain information. Losing sleep equals losing information. One student responded saying some students like to study at night and sleep during the day. I understand that happens, but your body needs to be ready to take the exam during the actual exam time. Learning and performance is impacted by the time you do it. This is one reason why West Coast NFL teams play worse when traveling to the East Coast for games.
- Don't Constantly re-read outlines. The most common study mistake is repetitive reading of an outline. Re-reading passively attempts to learn the material and is inefficient. Most people feel more comfortable reading when studies show it doesn't work as well. The best way to study is retrieval practice. After reviewing your outline, try to write your outline down from memory. Issue spot and outline practice questions. Complete multiple choice questions. Try to talk through your outline out loud. The key is to add in attempts at recalling the information.
- Don't try to memorize every case name at the expense of understanding the big picture doctrine. Final exams include stories of individual's actions. The goal is to determine whether the individual action resulted in a Tort, Contract, etc. Cases help in the process, but not the way most students think they help. Professors may give bonus points for case names, but name dropping cases while not understanding how the rules fit together will not lead to high scores.
Finals induce significant stress. My advice is to work both hard and smart. Use the most efficient study techniques, especially practice. The end of the race is near. Good luck!
Saturday, November 13, 2021
November is here, and the weather still hits 70. The cost of living is one of the best in the country, and OKC is constantly ranked as a top city to live in. Many reasons to either apply to work in OKC or recommend it to someone you know.
OCU is recruiting the Assistant Director of Academic Achievement position. The start date can be flexible. You can apply for the position here. The actual announcement is below.
Oklahoma City University School of Law seeks experienced, diverse, and innovative candidates for an Assistant Director of Academic Achievement.
The Assistant Director of Academic Achievement will help train a diverse population of law students for the rigor of law school, the bar exam, and the practice of law with academic workshops and individual coaching. The Assistant Director will primarily provide one-on-one instruction for first and second-year students and will assist in the bar preparation program. This is a staff position. Candidates must have a J.D. degree, a law license in the United States, and a minimum of six months of experience in the areas of academic advising, academic support, teaching (adjunct instruction accepted), and/or one-on-one instruction in an ABA accredited law school. A suitable combination of education and experience may be substituted for minimum requirements.
Friday, November 12, 2021
Thursday, November 11, 2021
The next weeks are fast paced for our students, as they finish projects, create and condense study tools, and practice problems in preparation for final exams. But one thing often goes missing - reading. And not just any sort of reading, reading curiously, carefully, and courageously. I call these the "3-sees of reading."
That's especially apparent when doing exam reviews.
Often times, exams miss the point because, well, students miss the questions asked.
Because students are often so worried about time or memorization that they don't train themselves to take care to read carefully, curiously, and courageously. That takes lots of practice with problems - using study tools as tools - and then reflecting and learning from what one produced through reflective practice. That includes practice in reading curiously, carefully, and courageously.
I like what one person said:
"Practice makes possible." Turner, C., "Practice Makes Possible: What We Learn by Studying Amazing Kids," NPR (Jun. 1, 2016).
In that article, the author in interviewing scholars Anders Ericcson and Robert Pool discovers that studies show that experts are not born but grown through deliberate practice. Practice that makes possible.
That's true with reading, too. But not just any sort of practice. It's practice with purpose. That's where we in ASP come in mighty handily. We can help our students help themselves grow as readers, learners, and problem-solvers.
For a few thoughts on what that might look like, take a look at the article cited above. Or, to borrow the words of Prof. Liz Stillman, reflect on this thought: "Academic Support professors profess to assist pre-professionals become professionals using practices that produce prosperity." Stillman, L, Articulation (Nov. 8, 2021). That makes me wonder, what sorts of practices do I use to improve the reading of my students? (Scott Johns).
I'm constantly on the lookout for signs of bears, especially this time of the year when I hike. That said, signs are often hard to spot for bears. Despite their lumbering sizes, bears are grazers, quietly hiding in brush, often within in plain sight, if only we could see the signs.
I think that also might be true of us, especially as to how we are doing as persons in community with others. As a recent blog post pointed out, teacher burn-out, including in the ASP community, threatens to undo the work that we do for others. Foster, S., Semester Nearing an End, so Exhaustion is Increasing (Nov. 7, 2021).
What to do about it?
Take care of yourself, take care of others, be caring of others, be caring of yourself.
And, feel free when you see the signs, in yourself or others, to unplug. We don't have to be all things to all people. Frankly, we can't. And, if your law school is asking that of you, then they really aren't respecting you as a person either or your students either. So feel free to unplug. That's part of the human experience.
That's when this sign caught my attention, placed in our law school's student affairs office by Amber Davis, assistant director of student affairs. I especially like this sign because, notice carefully, it is sitting in a chair, resting and yet speaking.
Sometimes it is in our moments of quiet that we can do the best for others and for ourselves.
So give yourself a break (and a big hug), even if for just a few minutes. (Scott Johns).
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!
Sunday, November 7, 2021
The end of the semester is near. Many of us are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. The meetings, classes, feedback, and other help we provide pushes us to our limits each semester. I want everyone in ASP and law schools in general to know, you are not alone. That feeling is normal. 2 of the top 7 articles from Education Week last week related to teacher exhaustion and the need for mental health resources for teachers. I agree and believe the same is true for ASP. We see colleagues every year go back into law practice or take jobs at commercial education companies (bar review, etc.). As we continue to promote mental health awareness for students, we should consider how we can promote similar programs for each other.
I especially like the program discussed in the second article. A school district provided mental health services for teachers because they thought teacher well being would help them serve students. Of the teachers responding to a survey after the program, 100 percent said the services improved both their own and their students' well-being. Law schools should consider this approach. The two articles from last week are linked below.
I hope everyone's semester ends well and you get the break you need.
Saturday, November 6, 2021
The University of St. Thomas invites qualified candidates to apply for a/an Director of Academic Achievement and Bar Success position within the School of Law.
The University of St. Thomas embraces diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity for all. Our convictions of dignity, diversity and personal attention call us to embody and champion a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment. We welcome applicants of diverse races, ethnicities, geographic origins, gender identities, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations, religions, work experience, physical and intellectual abilities, and financial means. We are committed to building a team that represents a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, and skills. This commitment is consistent with our mission: Inspired by Catholic intellectual tradition, the University of St. Thomas educates students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, work skillfully, and act wisely to advance the common good. A successful candidate will possess a commitment to the ideals of this mission.
JOIN OUR COMMUNITY
The University of St. Thomas offers a competitive and comprehensive benefits program, which includes:
- Up to 100% tuition remission for employees, spouses, and dependents upon eligibility
- A generous Employer retirement contribution of 9.4% of annual salary upon eligibility
- Medical, dental, and vision options
- Employer-paid disability, life, and AD&D benefits
The Director will further develop and implement St. Thomas Law’s programming to support students’ academic development, to equip all JD graduates for success on the bar exam, and to assist candidates with the bar application process.
The Director will work closely with faculty and staff (particularly the Registrar, the Career and Professional Development Office (CPD), and the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs) to: develop and present programming for all JD students concerning academic success and bar readiness; provide tailored assistance for at-risk students including advising, coaching, instruction, and referrals to resources; offer bar-related advising and support to individual students on matters such as character and fitness concerns or course selection; teach/oversee law school courses in support of law student academic success and bar passage; and track and analyze relevant data related to bar passage and other academic success metrics. The Director is invited to participate as appropriate in workshops, faculty meetings, and Law School events.
- Tailored Support for Individual Students (40%)
- Coordinate with faculty, the registrar, CPD, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and others to systematically identify at-risk students and develop strategies for providing individualized support from these sources.
- Deliver advising, assessment, and coaching support to JD students, especially for those near or below thresholds for academic probation, or who present risk factors correlated to lower bar passage rates.
- Develop and implement individualized Bar Success Plans to address barriers, refer students to appropriate support resources, and assist students to develop core study, legal analysis, and exam-writing skills.
- Provide strategic advising to individual JD students about bar application, including but not limited to: character and fitness concerns; professional considerations with respect to the location and timing of bar application; and advance planning for the financial and time commitments required for bar success.
- Conduct direct outreach to recent graduates to promote completion of bar preparation courses and provide assistance addressing barriers interfering with bar preparation.
- Hold regular office hours for students with questions about the bar exam and application process.
- Bar-Related Programming (15%)
- Develop and present programming, both live and online, to inform all JD students, at appropriate times in their law school career, about important bar-related issues such as bar exam elements, knowledge and skills necessary for exam success, character and fitness issues, and strategic considerations around bar application and preparation.
- Co-direct, with the Director of CPD, the JD Compass Program; hire, train and supervise JD Compass Strategists, assist in the assignment of students to a cohort, and provide content and direction for the individualized and programmatic support the strategists offer to each student taking the bar exam.
- Develop and present workshops in the months before each bar exam administration date to supplement graduates’ bar study with commercial providers.
- Advise the faculty and the administration on relevant matters including bar preparation initiatives and state bar examination and admission policies.
- Establish and maintain relationships with bar examiners in Minnesota and other jurisdictions to propose improvements in the bar application process and the bar exam.
- Establish and maintain relationships with commercial bar exam providers, manage the providers presence on campus and become familiar with commercial products.
- Be attentive to best practices and scholarship regarding academic support and bar preparation.
- Academic Success Programming (15%)
- Develop and present programming, both live and online, to provide academic success guidance and resources to JD students, especially at the entry point to the first year.
- Promote strategies to address potential barriers to academic success in diverse populations, including first-generation students, minority groups, and those with identified learning challenges.
- Teaching (20%)
- Teach academic support and/or bar prep related courses and possibly oversee others who might be teaching such courses. Update course materials to reflect bar exam content when necessary, integrate best practices into the curriculum and refine pedagogical approach to maximize learning, retention and application.
- Data Tracking, Analysis, and Follow-up (10%)
- Coordinate with the Registrar to maintain bar passage records for institutional reporting and analysis, including annual ABA accreditation-related survey.
- Analyze JD student data to identify risk factors and review risk factors with students.
- Coordinate with commercial bar preparation vendors to track graduates’ registration with and progress through commercial bar preparation courses; ensure each student has retained a commercial provider.
- Coordinate with faculty, administration, and commercial bar preparation to collect and analyze data on graduates’ success on the bar exam and its specific components, to provide a feedback loop to strengths and opportunities for growth in the law school curriculum and preparation for the bar.
- Juris Doctor Degree from an ABA-accredited law school plus three years of relevant experience
- Bar membership in a US jurisdiction (may be inactive)
- Demonstrated effective oral and written communication with both individuals and large groups
- Interpersonal skills relevant to individualized academic counseling and coaching
- Knowledge of learning and teaching strategies for law students and other adult learners
- Experience working with, and demonstrated commitment to supporting, diverse population.
- Commitment to the School of Law’s mission.
- At least three years of experience in law practice
- Strong academic achievement, particularly in law school
- Employment in a law school or with a commercial bar preparation vendor, particularly in connection with academic and bar success
- Higher education teaching experience
- Advising, counseling, or tutoring experience
- Experience working with students with disabilities, including non-apparent disabilities
HOW TO APPLY
All interested candidates must apply online at https://www.stthomas.edu/jobs/. Follow the instructions to complete an online application which includes creating or updating an applicant profile, uploading a resume, and completing a job specific application.
In light of its commitment to create and maintain a safe learning and working environment, employment with the University of St. Thomas requires consent and successful completion of a background screening and requires COVID-19 vaccination or an approved exemption.
The University of St. Thomas, Minnesota Human Resources Department advertises the official job listing on its website at www.stthomas.edu/jobs.
The University of St. Thomas is an Equal Opportunity Employer
Friday, November 5, 2021
I've been meeting with unsuccessful bar takers, and I'm finding that it is increasingly difficult to explain holistic relative-rank scoring, in which what appears to meet competency standards is judged incompetent.
I realize that the NCBE and jurisdictions say "trust us" because we use statistical equating and scoring methods to standardize written scores based on MBE distribution data including median and mean MBE scores and standard deviations.
But, frankly, it seems unfair to toss some written exam answers, especially legal writing performance test answers, into the 1 or 2 out of 6 "buckets" when the pool of applicants have already undoubtedly proven their merit through earning doctoral juris degrees.
So, fancy this, a dean speaks out, suggesting that the bar exam as a rite of passage is not moored to its stated goal of measuring entering level attorney competency but rather tied to 1920-era exclusionary politics.
I'll let the dean speak for himself:
"When we started seeing diversity increase or people from underrepresented communities — mostly people of color and recent immigrants, trying to become lawyers — then all of a sudden the ABA (The American Bar Association) and other bar organizations were doing whatever they can to keep them from being lawyers," Niedwiecki explained. "The written bar exam became a requirement of the ABA at that time. So that's when we started seeing all these written bar exams. Before that there were oral exams... apprenticeships, there were other ways to become licensed. I think we have to go back to those days knowing that the bar exam really kind of was back in the '20s rooted in exclusion." Niedwiecki, A, "Why a Mitchell Hamlin's Dean is Calling for an End to the Bar Exam," KARE-11 TV (Sep. 30, 2021). (S. Johns).
Wednesday, November 3, 2021
Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending LexCon2021 - or LexCon Home! It's a disappointment we aren't all in Nashville together - I believe we could have been at the Grand Ole Opry last night - but it's still lovely to gather virtually and share ideas.
The conference kicked off with a great introduction by Christopher Chapman. He talked about many things that AccessLex is currently working on, including lobbying for student debt reduction. The first keynote speaker was Sally Hogshead of "Fascinate", to talk about why "Different is Better Than Better", or why your unique personality is your greatest advantage, and how to lean into that. Essentially "It's good to be better, but it's better to be different."
The day was lovely, but I want to focus on one particular breakout session on test taking anxiety. I think all of us constantly help our students try to overcome test taking anxiety, or anxiety in general, so this was a particularly exciting panel! It was led by Christine Zellar Church of Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University. (Side note - I'm Michigan born and raised, and went to Central Michigan University for undergrad. Western is our biggest rival - but despite that, she was a great presenter!)
Christine first mentioned that law students had a higher rate of anxiety than medical school students and other graduate students. This doesn't shock me, but it's a depressing and sobering thought. She reported that 96% of law students experience significant stress, compared to 70% of med students and 43% of graduate students. Again, sobering but not shocking. This is mostly attributed to "doing things the way we always have", such as cold calling and one final exam.
Christine also stated that a significant cause of test taking anxiety is fear, but also identity. Grades are a large part of identity, if grades define who you are or your worth, of COURSE you will have test taking anxiety. Students also receive the message that being a law student means being concerned about grades. So, the first question, as law professor and administrators, is how do we change that narrative? Sure, those of us in ASP can say that grades don't define you, but we also know they do matter for things like law review, internships, and first jobs. So we end up being just one person saying "Grades don't matter or define you", but the entire system is telling them otherwise. So, that needs to change.
In the meantime, what are some strategies to combat this anxiety? Again, it seems to me that Christine is of the opinion that most of these things need to be institutionalized, and i don't disagree.
1) Self Care is not Selfish: And again, this needs to be messaged from the institution. Students need sleep, and they need nutrition. One suggestion from Christine was being aware of what food and snacks we give to students, and how nutritious they are. She also gave a great example - if a lumberjack is constantly chopping, and never stops to sharpen their axe, they become less effective at chopping. The same goes for our students - if they don't stop to sharpen their axe, so to speak, they are not studying effectively. Students need to take breaks and find balance. Again, this needs to be messaged from the top down.
2) She also suggests asking students to write down one thing that brings them joy, one thing that they find comforting, and one thing the find relaxing. Sadly, when she asked us to complete this exercise, I couldn't think of anything quickly - which is very telling. Christine said that it's good to ask students to complete this exercise, and then ask them "When is the last time you've done any of these things?" Have them look at their calendar - are they scheduling time for these things? Are they overscheduled?
3) This is one of my favorites. Christine described a study done at the University of Chicago with two groups of test takers. In all aspects the demographics were the same. One group was asked to take 5 minutes and write down every negative thought, crumple it up, throw it away – when they did that – that group test scores went UP – between half and a full grade. Why, because the negative thoughts take up part of your working memory- when you put it on paper, it doesn’t have to stay in working memory. Then you have the physical effect (throwing it away) of getting rid of those negative thoughts. This frees up working memory. I would love to implement this.
4) Celebrate successes
5) Mindfulness and mindfulness apps, such as headspace. Students can get discounts on headspace, and the calm app.
5) Last but not lease, one of my favorites. Ayurvedic Breathing, or 5-2-8 breathing. Essentially breath in while slowly counting to 5, hold it for 2, breath out while counting to 8, longer than you breathed in. Have students do this 3 times. I plan to encourage my students to do this during exams!
I'm excited to learn more from LexCon at Home today, and hope this helps some of our students!
Tuesday, November 2, 2021
Jane Bloom Grisé, Question #1: Is there a Gender Gap in Performance on Multiple Choice Exams, Women's Rights L. Rptr. (forthcoming, 2021).
From the abstract:
There is a growing trend among law professors to assess students using multiple-choice tests. However, women do not perform as well as men on multiple-choice tests. Despite the overwhelming evidence that the multiple-choice format underpredicts women’s academic performance, there is no comprehensive analysis of this problem in legal education. This article provides advice to a law professor who is trying to decide on an appropriate testing format. The professor wants to grade fairly, efficiently, and prepare students for the bar exam. The article first reviews basic testing principles and the historical development of multiple-choice tests. The article then examines how women consistently score lower than men on all types of multiple-choice exams, how these tests underpredict women’s true academic potential, and how this gender disparity has a continuing impact on women’s employment opportunities. After examining legal requirements surrounding testing, the article recommends wider use of Title IX compliance reviews and self-assessments to decrease barriers for women. The article concludes by discussing the significance of gender performance differences for law school assessment and recommends that professors avoid multiple-choice only formats.
(Louis Schulze, FIU Law)