Sunday, November 24, 2019
Please welcome Melissa Hale as a contributing editor of the blog. Melissa will be posting her perspectives on Wednesdays. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of meeting Melissa at a conference, I copied her bio below.
Melissa is currently the Director of Academic Success and Bar Programs at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Prior to joining Loyola University Chicago School of Law, Professor Hale (Gill) served as a member of the faculty at the University of District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law, and the University of Massachusetts School of Law, Dartmouth. She focuses her teaching and research on the best techniques to prepare students for law school and the bar exam.
Professor Hale has served as vice president of LawTutors, LLC, where she provided individual and group bar exam tutoring, trained other instructors, and created and edited bar preparation materials, including Aspen Publisher’s What Not to Write series, and Blond's Multistate Bar Exam. She has also served as an instructor for Emanuel Bar Review and Themis Bar Review. Before becoming a teacher, she worked in private practice in Massachusetts, specializing in small businesses and workers’ compensation.
I look forward to reading her insights each week.
Saturday, November 23, 2019
If you missed it, Nancy Luebbert announced her retirement in her post on Wednesday. I cannot adequately express my gratitude to Nancy for her time on the blog. My transition to editor last April was seamless, and one reason is the great contributing editors I inherited. Nancy always brought a great insight and perspective. Her posts about the outdoors and different books expanded my thinking about how to reach students. I can make analogies within my areas of comfort (sports), but she gave me ideas to reach students in different ways. I always enjoyed reading her posts and am confident her students benefited immensely from her teaching.
Thank you Nancy for spending time helping all of us broaden our horizons. Enjoy being "retired, but not retiring."
Friday, November 22, 2019
I usually only post Academic Support Positions on the blog. However, I saw 2 Dean searches recently, and I wanted to point everyone to those positions. Over the past couple years, we have seen more ASPers get Dean jobs, so I encourage anyone interested to apply for one of these positions.
Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law
Lincoln Memorial University is currently conducting a law school Dean search. Located in Knoxville, Tennessee, LMU Law has a rigorous, practice-focused curriculum that is designed to emphasize student learning outcomes, maintain high bar passage rates, and ensure that its students have the knowledge and skills needed to make a positive contribution to their communities as lawyers and leaders. LMU Law is fully accredited by the American Bar Association.
All applications must be received by the end of January 2020, and interviews will commence shortly thereafter.
If you or someone you know is or may be interested in this position, please contact Akram Faizer, Professor of Law and Chair, Dean Search Committee, at email@example.com.
Charleston School of Law
For the first time in thirteen years, the Charleston School of Law invites inquiries, nominations, and applications from experienced leaders and accomplished legal educators for the position of its Dean.
The next Dean of the Charleston School of Law will serve as its chief academic officer and will successfully lead the school and its stakeholders through its 2020-2021 ABA site visit, provide steady guidance towards permanent non-profit status, and initiate a robust program of capital development. This individual will readily assimilate to the school’s unique student-centric culture. Doing so, the new Dean will advance strategic partnerships and relationships with students, faculty, alumni, practitioners, judges, community leaders, regional colleges, and prospective students to promote the school’s growing brand and reputation to the broad legal community and prospective students. Through vision and tenacity, the successful candidate will be dedicated to service and community involvement to accelerate the school’s ongoing upward trajectory in admission criteria, enhanced selectivity, and increased bar passage. Working alongside the faculty and administration, Charleston Law’s next Dean will enhance the school’s prominence and distinctive character through continuation of the collaborative and successful relationships established and promoted by the school’s current Dean who will be returning to the faculty. In embracing such relationships, the new Dean will develop, organize, and oversee ongoing programs and implement new initiatives to meet the compelling opportunities of a law school on the rise in the changing legal profession.
The law school has charged a search committee to recruit and vet candidates for the dean’s
position. Applications and nominations for the position should be submitted electronically in
PDF format to the Dean’s Search Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions
regarding the position may also be sent to that email address.
Materials should include:
• A letter of interest in the position; or, a letter nominating a candidate;
• A current CV or resume;
• Names and contact information (telephone and email) for at least three references, none
of whom will be contacted without the written permission of the candidate.
Thursday, November 21, 2019
I don't usually keep up with the world of royalty. But a recent article caught my attention.
You see, it seems that the one of the legal duties of Queen Elizabeth II is to meet weekly with the Prime Minister for counseling. Sam Walker, "The World's Top Executive Coach: It's Queen Elizabeth," Wall Street Journal, Nov. 16, 2019.
That takes time, energy, and commitment. And, the queen's been meeting with prime ministers weekly since 1952. Id. So, it might be worthwhile to see what she says about counseling and why prime ministers, despite vast differences from one another, continue to seek her advice.
First, the queen provides a safe place for leaders to speak out without "fear or reprisal." In the queen's words: "They unburden themselves. They tell me what's going on, or if they've got any problems." Id. Second, the queen by law is not allow to give orders or publicly takes sides on issues. Id. Third, the meetings focus on seeking impartial common ground. In other words, it's not about the queen's desires but about how to determine what's best for the common good of the people. Id. Fourth, the queen likens her role in meetings to that of a sponge, which I take to mean being a sounding board for prime ministers rather than offering advice. Id.
In summarizing the queen's coaching, author Sam Walker suggests the following:
That great coaches, even though they "often have a better grasp on a tricky situation than the person that they're advising, ...resist the urge to be a helicopter coach. [Instead,] [t]he only way to help leaders [and students] learn and grow is to allow them to make their own mistakes. [And,] [t]he only responsible method [to do this] is to let them speak openly, guard their secrets, and, once in a while try to incrementally redirect their thinking. Doing that requires humility--and lots of practice." Id.
That's not a role all that different from the world of academic support professionals.
Like the queen, we are granted access to some of the deepest secrets and most difficult struggles that our students face.
Like the queen, we must studiously guard our students' confidences.
Like the queen, we are called to listen lots and speak little.
Like the queen, our students learn and grow the most when we walk alongside them, helping them incrementally adjust their thinking, so that our students develop expertise in assessing their own learning with solutions that come forth out of the wellsprings of their own hearts and minds.
To sum up, in the course of most of our work, the truly royal moments of learning are the results of what our students come to experience for themselves under the confidential mentorship of us. As the queen suggests, speaking less can indeed mean speaking more (and in the end lead to better results for our students). So "hears" to better hearing for the betterment of our students!
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving is probably my favorite. Not for the feast (although I adore cranberries and turkey, and more importantly, turkey leftovers). Not for the football games (I've never even owned a television). Not for the anticipation of seasonal shopping (it took me years to realize "Black Friday" was meant to be a positive appellation rather than a sardonic judgment on American consumerism). Not for the opportunity to gather with family (the time off has always been too short to realistically gather the far-flung branches of my family into one location). Not even for the annual opportunity to wander through the woods with a dog or two or three, light filtering through branches weighted with a dusting of early season snow (although this is a special delight). Rather, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because, at its core, it is a day set aside to consciously practice gratitude. And wherever we are in the cycle of life, gratitude enriches our lives, the lives of those around us, and the lives of all our communities.
As I wind up my time as a contributing editor to the Academic Support blog, I want to express my gratitude to the incomparable Amy Jarmon for inviting me to be a part of this blogging community and to Steven Foster, who succeeded Amy as editor, for continuing to support me in this endeavor. I learn every day from the insights of my fellow contributing editors -- currently Marsha Griggs, Scott Johns, and Bill MacDonald, as well as from Steven -- someday, with lots of practice, I hope to write half as well as they do. My students as well as my law school colleagues can attest that every week I've brought their insights into the classroom, the conference room, and the hallways. Thanks also to those of you who have sent comments and suggestions on my posts. All too often, my replies to you have fallen victim to the press of a student emergency or the amnesia resulting from an overflowing inbox, but I've read and appreciated all you've written.
In September, I participated in the first annual local gathering of Nancys. Really! The one common denominator was our first name, but the demographics of baby name popularity being what they are (and if you've never checked out Social Security's "Popular baby names by decade" site, it's fascinating), almost all the Nancys had left the world of remunerative employment. And with the possible exception of AASE conferences, I've never been surrounded by more vibrant, involved, and caring people. If I had any doubts about retirement, they disappeared as I listened to my fellow Nancys' stories. I'm looking forward to fully joining the ranks of these "retired but not retiring" Nancys, and to a host of new adventures (many of which will involve wandering through the woods with the aforesaid one or two or three dogs, unless I'm wielding my trusty chainsaw) as I enter a new phase of my life.
I am grateful to have been a part of the law school academic support community for the last eighteen years. Through our many fora -- the LSAC and later AASE conferences, the blog, our several websites, and the listserv -- even those of us who are far-flung could participate in this caring, sharing community dedicated to the bringing out the very best in our students. You, my colleagues, have advised me, inspired me, lifted me up when I was down, and occasionally given me the tough love I needed to get up and do what needed to be done -- the same things you offer our students every day, every week, year after year, with patience, good will, and compassion. It has been a privilege being your colleague, and I thank you with all my heart.
Tuesday, November 19, 2019
Sometimes students think they are painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, when they are really inventing the light bulb.
Michelangelo famously worked from 1508 to 1512 to decorate the ceiling of the Chapel with biblical scenes comprising more than 300 figures. Contrary to popular belief, he did not do the work lying on his back; the scaffolding he designed and put in place left him room to stand. Try this right now: for one minute, stand up, look up at the ceiling above you, and hold your hand high over your head, grasping a pen, or a paintbrush if you have one handy. Now imagine doing that for four years, and creating an historical masterpiece. Amazing. If I had painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling under those conditions, it would have ended up taped to my parents’ refrigerator for a month, then discreetly recycled.
Still, the process did have one advantage: every evening, while Michelangelo was washing the paint off his brushes, he could look up and see a few more square feet of masterpiece. If his boss, Pope Julius II, swung by just to see how things were going, he would notice some prophet or angel that hadn’t been there the week before, and say something like, “Good work, Micky. I like the wrath there – very Old Testament. Keep it up.”
In contrast we have Thomas Edison and his invention of the light bulb. To be fair, it wasn't just the light bulb that made his electrical system so successful. He had a much broader vision, encompassing power generation and transmission facilities as well, so that once he had created a working light bulb, he had also designed an entire system capable of lighting it practically in every citizen’s home. But still, success did depend on finding that reliable, long-lasting bulb, and to do this, Edison tested thousands of different materials – varieties of animal hair, plant fiber, metal wire, etc. – to find a filament that would work.
But Edison’s work was not incremental the way Michelangelo’s work was. Over time, his experiments did provide some clues that guided him to the material (carbonized bamboo) that eventually worked, so his progress was not entirely random. Still, it was unpredictable. Edison could go through periods in which he’d test 100 filaments and not one of them would work any better than what he’d had at the start. While Michelangelo could work for a month and at least complete 2% of a ceiling -- and 100% of, say, Adam and Eve -- a month of work for Edison would not leave him with 2% of a working light bulb. He had no light bulb, until the day he found the right material; then he had the light bulb.
A lot of what our students do is Michelangelo work. They do a chunk of reading, or memorize a set of rules, or practice a certain writing format, and it may take them a while to reach their ultimate goal, but at least they can see measurable progress along the way: this many pages covered, or that many rules learned by heart, or some incrementally improved conformity with a norm. It can still be a grind, especially with a heavy workload and weighty syllabus, but at least the students can be sure of improvement and can project a likely date of completion.
It’s inevitable, though, that some of our students' work will be Edison work. They put in the time and the effort, but there’s not necessarily any obvious correlation to results. They could be working on a legal research project, looking for a needle and ending each day with a notebook full of hay. Or they might be practicing some skill that, for them, seems to resist improvement, at least until a certain critical mass of practice has been reached. (Performance on multiple-choice tests, for example, can sometimes plateau for weeks for soem students.) If the students don't realize that they are not doing Michelangelo work here -- if they are expecting incremental success and not seeing it -- then they can grow discouraged and self-doubtful, and may even abandon the effort, believing it is not doing any good.
It is crucial. before that happens, to explain to students (and to remind them, sometimes frequently) that there are two kinds of progress in work, and to get them to focus not on results but on well-directed effort. Help them to recognize, as Edison did, that some jobs simply require effort that won’t be directly rewarded, but that “every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” As long as students are actually doing the right work -- and for that, too, they may need your guidance -- then, even if they are not seeing daily results, they are doing something useful -- ruling out fruitless lines of inquiry, or gradually building context and understanding to reach the critical mass needed. In the moment, such progress may not feel as satisfying as a tangible result, but with support, they can keep going, even in the face of doubt. And once they have completed the task successfully, they can look back and realize not just how the effort they made led to the result, but also that they are capable of making similar efforts -- and hopefully with a little more faith -- in the future.
Monday, November 18, 2019
You must not know ‘bout me. – Beyonce
Popular or “pop” culture is the aggregate of people’s beliefs and attitudes. More narrowly, pop culture” refers to the media of popular culture—movies and television shows as well as music, computer games, stage plays, novels, and the like. Pop culture influences all walks of daily life from social interactions and religious expression, to legal trends and classroom teaching. In a discussion of legal ethics in popular culture, one author suggests that the effectiveness of pop cultural works depends strongly on the imaginative identification of the audience with their heroes.1
When law students engage with pop culture products, the result is quite different from what occurs in other undergraduate or graduate courses.2 Since the early years of my teaching career, I have used pop culture references in my classroom to enhance my teaching and to make learning relatable to my students. To keep my references current and effective, I’ve had to add social media, hashtags, Insta®, Finsta, Netflix, shipping, shaming, and an uncountable number of terms to use and avoid, to my lexicon. In an attempt to connect with my students, I never hesitate to ask for explanation, demonstration, or example, when they use or present new terms or make what appears to be generally accepted reference to a pop figure. Each year in the classroom, I’ve learned – without judgment – something new that has served the greater purpose of understanding the mindset and frame of reference of the students whom we prepare to enter the legal profession.
Open mind notwithstanding, even I was not prepared for what happened in class last week. Brace yourselves. This news will not be easy to digest. A student did not know who Beyonce was. I found myself responding with an audible gasp when the student, commenting on a PowerPoint slide with an inserted photo of Queen Bey, said is that a picture of someone we are supposed to know?
I had long since replaced my references to 8-track tapes, the Sony Walkman®, Peyton Place, public pay phones, and phone numbers like Davis 8-4476 in my lectures. But this? How could anyone walking the earth today not know who Beyonce is? I feared that the utter lack of recognition could stir the Beyhive, and possibly devalue my communicative currency.
As I came to my senses from the sheer shock of it all, I remembered these wise words: the most important focus is on how students are experiencing learning and perceiving the teacher’s actions. As a corrective measure, I’ll get myself in formation and add this experience as another installment to my post about knowing your audience, as a reminder that an example, a visual aid, a personal or pop culture reference is only as effective as the perception of the audience.
1William H. Simon, Moral Pluck: Legal Ethics in Popular Culture, 101 Col. L. Rev. 421, 440 (2001).
2Michael Asimow, The Mirror and the Lamp: The Law and Popular Culture Seminar, 68 Journal of Legal Education 115-116 (2018).
Sunday, November 17, 2019
Pay for play is a big topic in college sports right now. The NCAA vaguely capitulated to some form of monetizing likeness for college athletes, but they haven't established the rules governing the situation. Very few people believe the new rules will be much better than the current encyclopedia of regulations. However, performance incentives seem to be right around the corner. Players are about to have an incentive to perform better to sale more jerseys and get advertising deals. Will the incentives work?
This post will not be about the NCAA proclamation, even though I could write a law review article on my views of college athlete compensation. The incentive discussion is interesting to me for bar prep. All bar review companies provide a fundamental statistic about bar preparation that we already knew. The more students study, the more likely they pass the exam. The question then becomes, what is the best way to encourage them to study. One thought is to pay them. Would it work?
I don't have a definitive answer to whether that strategy will work. I understand the logic that if doing the homework is what matters, then paying someone to do the homework should lead to passing. Many parents pay kids to take out the trash or for good grades, so why not pay bar takers to do homework. Unfortunately, my anecdotal experience runs counter to what seems logical. I offered incentives, bar review scholarships, iPads, etc., to attend a bar prep program. Over a few years, prize winners had the worst pass rate of any demographic at the law school. The statistic was so bad, I stopped incentivizing attendance. I still didn't have the science based answer though.
Recently during a discussion about improving bar pass rates, Mike Sims of BARBRI told me to watch Daniel Pink's Ted Talk. You can watch it here. Pink collected numerous research studies and wrote a book about motivation. His argument is individuals must have internal motivation to do creative tasks. If/then rewards are a terrible way to motivate someone for these creative tasks. The research he cites indicates if/then rewards not only demotivate people for continued hard work after the incentive expires, the reward also leads to worse performance. The talk is about 20 minutes. I then downloaded and listened to his audiobook Drive. He expands on that topic, and my experience tends to follow his findings. Incentives and rewards haven't worked for me.
The even better news is that Pink gives the solution to building internal motivation. He argues individuals should get autonomy. The autonomy concept seems to compliment self-regulated learning practices. The book is interesting. I highly recommend it.
As we embark on the February bar prep season (yes it is really here), I encourage everyone to work with students to help him/her establish their own purpose for passing the bar. Internal motivation is the hardest to build, but it is also the foundation for the resiliency needed for success.
Saturday, November 16, 2019
The University of Minnesota Law School seeks an energetic, innovative, and experienced Director of Academic and Bar Success. The Director will further develop and implement Minnesota 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 Office of Student Affairs, the Career Center, 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 1-2 law school courses selected based on the Director’s expertise; and track 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. Scholarly writing, especially on topics related to teaching and learning, is welcome but not required.
Duties will include:
Tailored Support for Individual Students (40%)
Coordinate with faculty, Office of Student Affairs, Career Center, 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, including those near or below thresholds for academic probation or academic watch, 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.
Coordinate with colleagues in the Office of Student Affairs concerning student support needs such as reasonable accommodations, counseling, and other outside referrals.
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 (20%)
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.
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.
Attend regional and national academic support conferences.
Academic Success Programming (15%)
Develop and present programming, both live and online, to provide academic success guidance and resources to JD students, especially in their first year.
Oversee the Law School’s longstanding peer academic support program (known as “Structured Study Group”).
Work with faculty, including the Director of Legal Writing, to ensure students are receiving robust training in vital skills such as legal analysis, written communication, and preparation and completion of exams, consistent with the Law School’s identified “Learning Outcomes” objectives.
Promote strategies to address potential barriers to academic success in diverse populations, including first-generation students, minority groups, and those with identified learning challenges.
Teach 1-2 courses at the Law School, potentially including general curriculum courses or seminars (possibly a core first-year course) or sections of Legal Writing or Law in Practice. Courses will be assigned by the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs based on the Director’s expertise and preference and institutional needs.
Data Tracking, Analysis, and Follow-up (10%)
Coordinate with Office of Student Affairs to maintain bar passage records for institutional reporting and analysis, including annual ABA accreditation-related survey.
Analyze JD student data to identify risk factors.
Coordinate with commercial bar preparation vendors to track graduates’ registration with and progress through commercial bar preparation courses.
- 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 populations
- Ability to work collaboratively and independently
- At least three years of experience in law practice
- Strong academic achievement, particularly in law school
- Employment in a law school, 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
This position is open until filled. Priority deadline for applications is December 6, 2019. People of color, women, and LGBTQA+ persons are strongly encouraged to apply. Applications will only be accepted through the University of Minnesota online employment system and only complete applications will be considered. A complete application consists of a cover letter, a resume, and a list of three references who will not be contacted without prior notice. To apply, go to https://hr.myu.umn.edu/jobs/ext/334270.
The University of Minnesota is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to its programs, facilities, and employment without regard to race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, disability, public assistance status, veteran status, or sexual orientation.
Friday, November 15, 2019
Thursday, November 14, 2019
Picture a "lollipop." Unfortunately, that was me as a law school student preparing for my first final exams. You see, in preparation for final exams, I spent most of my time re-reading my notes, trying to master my outlines, and cramming as much information as possible into my head...with the hope that I might somehow be able to regurgitate as much as possible back to my professors.
In short, I looked much like a lollipop - stuffed with head knowledge but without much of a body or a heart to make it work.
That's because I had learned the law...but...I hadn't let the rest of my body, in particular my heart and my hands, share in the learning process. As such, I had much to say when it at came time for final exams but, unfortunately, little of anything practical or valuable because I had merely learned to parrot back my notes and outlines. I was as hard-headed as the candy on top of a lollipop; I couldn't dance with the final exam problems because I hadn't trained to work final exam problems. In retrospect, I should have fed my heart and hands as much as I engaged my mind in order to prepare for my final exams.
Let me be concrete. As you prepare for final exams, take it from me. Work your heart and body too as you learn the law. Here's what I mean. Rather than just learning the law, learn to problem-solve the law ... using the law that you are learning. That's because, in most law school courses, you won't be tested on what you've stuffed into your mind but rather on what you can personally do with what's in your mind by demonstrating how to solve hypothetical legal problems.
So, as you prepare for final exams, please feel free to re-read your notes (but only briefly because that's one of the weakest ways to learn) and make outlines (because the process of making your outlines is essential to learning the law)...but...then take your outlines and use them to solve batches of simulated final exam problems (and lots of them). And, when you miss an issue or a problem, rejoice...because missing that issue now means that you'll get that issue right in the midst of your final exams. In short, focus on learning the law by working through problems.
As a rule of thumb, about one-third of your time should be spent on reviewing your notes and creating outlines, one-third of your time spent on working through simulated exam problems, and one-third of your time spent on assessing what you did well (and why) along with what you can improve for the next time (and how).
In other words, just like a balanced diet with a lifestyle of exercise, let all of you (your mind, your heart, and your body) share in learning by learning the law through legal problem-solving. And, if you don't have a quick source of simulated exam problems, here's a batch below that can serve you well in a dash. Good luck on your final exams! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, November 13, 2019
We were sitting in my office dissecting a practice contracts answer the student had written, working on transforming a rambling paragraph into an answer that showed mastery of the law and an intelligible understanding of how the law applied to the facts of the problem. The initial answer suggested the student had worked hard at understanding the law and had an instinctive response to the obvious issues; the finished product exhibited a coherent, lawyerly approach to most of the issues suggested by the fact pattern. The puzzle pieces were finally coming into place. Near the end of our session, the student looked at me quizzically. "Did we cover this in class?" she asked. "I was flailing away, but now it seems simple." "Yes," I replied out loud. Inwardly, I added, "Many times." But it was worth revisiting, because this time it clicked.
Far too many times, despite my profession, I grow impatient when I must repeat or re-teach something that seems "obvious" to me. Sometimes I feel like the Bellman in Lewis Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark," declaring "What I tell you three times is true." When I catch myself in such a crotchety mood, I consciously offer up the negativity to the Academic Support deities so it will drift away. Sometimes, students simply tune out: they are human, after all; like me, they have sleepless nights and nagging worries and obsessions over an impending events, both personal and professional. More often, the need for repetition is inherent in the very nature of learning a new practice. While I might hope that a preview followed by an in-depth discussion followed by practice followed by a review will cement a concept or a practice, it's usually not that simple. Even teaching the process of learning, I need to remember that a huge part of what they are learning is to go past "obvious," to go deep, and to go slow. Experiment with learning and writing and speaking. Embrace the difficulty. Try it over and over. And if you forget that you learned it once, that's all right, too.
Contrary to what I believed when I started in academic success work, it is rare for my students to run out of time, whether in day-to-day learning, the consolidation that happens near the end of the semester, or even on final exams. Indeed, it staggers me to see how many leave a final exam 30, 40, or even 60 minutes before time is called. The larger challenge is to spend enough time, to slow down, to lay aside the knee-jerk reactions to plumb the legal problems not only in depth but with the simplicity that comes from and leads to mastery.
Monday, November 11, 2019
The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an essay by Pamela Newkirk. The article, Why Diversity Initiatives Fail, addresses the measurable lack of progress at elite U.S. universities in creating sustained diversity. The article cites that African Americans and Hispanics, who account for about 31% of the national population, are just 4% and 3%, respectively, of full-time professors. I would add to that statistic the fact that women and people classified as minorities disproportionately hold untenured and non-tenure track positions in law schools, which feeds status issues within the legal academy.
Newkirk references the millions of dollars spent on in-school diversity initiatives, but says “there is little indication that they have resulted in more diversity or less bias.” A disheartening reality, finds Newkirk, “there’s some evidence that some of the anti-bias strategies can actually make matters worse.” I am pained at the notion that many educational institutions that profess inclusive and non-discriminatory policies have not effectively confronted the systemic and implicit biases that stunt the academic, professional, and career development of their students, faculty, and administrative leaders.
“Strategies for controlling bias — which drive most diversity efforts — have failed spectacularly,” said sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev in their study, Why Diversity Programs Fail, (Harvard Bus. Rev. 2016). For me, reading articles like Newkirk’s, and studies like Dobbin and Kalev’s, are like amening a sermon from the choir stand. Their published works simply add discourse to the reality of my existence. Too often, I have witnessed or experienced the dismissive nature of privilege and its righteous indignation when it dares be challenged. Inside and outside of the classroom, I have been mansplained, prof-splained, and most recently student-splained. I struggle to describe the simultaneous disbelief and frightening foreseeability that I experienced when I distinguished two legal principles in response to a student question, only to have another student repeat my explanation verbatim, but in a tone that would suggest that the student had added, expanded, or corrected my explanation in some way. The resultant outcome was a head nod and an audible “thank you” from the questioning student, and an internal eye roll from me.
Diversity, as we have come to use the term, is a disruptor of the presumption and perpetuation of privilege. To the extent that diversity promises, or threatens, to disrupt the status quo in higher education, we are all affected. Lawyers and affirmative action opponents must be confronted with the hypocrisy of their fight against race-based denials for entry into competitive graduate programs and prestigious positions. Law professors, academic support professionals, and student affairs administrators must continue to promote diversity, inclusion, and opportunity for our students even when our own statuses are minimized and disregarded.
Sunday, November 10, 2019
The regular readers know my love for sports, but the following confession will probably remove any doubt of my sports geekdom. An annual golf hole design contest is held every year since 1998 to honor Dr. Alister MacKenzie, world famous golf architect. I discovered the contest a few years ago, and of course, I submitted my very rudimentary drawing. My 9-year old even participated this year with his own submission. Following the MacKenzie Society's lead, the Perry Maxwell Society (slightly less famous designer) held a 9-hole course design contest through last week. My son and I participated again. The interesting part of the contest was all the different ways to route the holes. I completed my design and compared with my son's drawing. Using the same terrain, he envisioned a completely different use of the land in numerous different directions. Looking at his, I rethought my design. I started seeing even better possibilities. I wanted to submit multiple entries, which is against the rules. The possibilities were endless, and perfection was in the eye of the beholder. The process was the fun part.
Outlines for finals are similar. While I will concede there are more correct ways to structure the law than golf holes, perfect outlines are in the eye of the beholder. The vision of one person with flow charts and bubbles will be completely different than a classmate. The linear outline that follows all the correct design rules may not work for everyone. Mike Strantz was an eccentric golf course designer. I played Tobacco Road, one of his courses in North Carolina, and it was one of the most visually exciting courses I have played. My dad played with me that day and hated the course. He couldn't comprehend why the valleys and sandhills flowed the way they did. He commented that the course got in his heard early. Don't worry about what someone else thinks of your outline. Your outline is intended to help you prepare.
As we all know, the process is what matters. I sat with my son drawing our courses last week. We talked about the possibilities and why we chose our routing. Neither of us was right, but we enjoyed the process. Outlining is the same way. The process of making the outline and looking through the material develops understanding. The repetition improves retention. The outlining process is what matters.
Outlining and preparing for finals is in full swing. Remember to focus on the process to produce what will work best for you.
Saturday, November 9, 2019
Congrats to Scott Johns for being recognized by the Texas Bar Today. His post A Bountiful Harvest of Practice Problems – Just in Time for Final Exam Season was recognized as one of the top 10 legal blog posts last week.
Keep up the good work!
Friday, November 8, 2019
The Awards Committee for the AALS Section on Academic Support is soliciting nominations for our annual section award winner. The AALS Section Award will be presented to an outstanding member of the ASP community at our section meeting on January 3, 2020 at the AALS Annual Meeting. The committee members are: Jamie Kleppetsch (chair), Susan Landrum, Haley Meade, and Laura Mott. Please review the eligibility and criteria information below and send nominations directly to me, at email@example.com.
The deadline to submit nominations is Monday, November 11 at 5:00 p.m. CST. For a nomination to be considered, it must include (at a minimum) a one to two paragraph explanation of why the nominee is deserving of the award. Only AALS ASP Section members may make nominations, but all those within the ASP community may be nominated. Membership in the section is free and can be processed by e-mailing a membership request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eligibility and Criteria for Selection. The eligible nominees for the award are individuals who have made significant and/or long-term contributions to the development of the field of law student academic support. All legal educators, regardless of the nature or longevity of their appointment or position, who have at some point in their careers worked part-time or full-time in academic support are eligible for the award. The award will be granted to recognize those who have made such contributions through any combination of the following activities:
- service to the profession and to professional institutions—e.g., advocacy with the NCBE or assumption of leadership roles in the ASP community;
- support to and mentoring of ASP colleagues;
- support to and mentoring of students;
- promoting diversity in the profession and expanding access to the legal profession; and
- developing ideas or innovations—whether disseminated through academic writing, newsletters, conference presentations, or over the listserv.
Law schools, institutions, or organizations cannot receive an award. Prior year or current year Section officers are excluded from being selected as an award winner.
Thursday, November 7, 2019
It's quite common for most of us learn to prepare for final exams...by, unfortunately, not actually preparing for final exams.
If you're like me, I just never quite feel like I know enough law to start practicing problems.
But if we wait until we feel like we know enough, we'll run smack out of time to practice exams because most of our time will be spent instead on creating and reviewing our study tools (rather than using our study tools to help us navigate through "test flights" of practice final exam problems).
And that's a problem because professors don't test on the quality of your outlines but rather on whether you can use the law in your study tools to solve legal problems.
But that's great news because...
Solving legal problems is a skill that you can learn through practice! [Like any skill, it just takes pondering, puzzling, and practicing through lots of simulated exam problems to develop expertise as a legal problem-solver.] So, this harvest season as you turn towards final exam preparations, focus much of your learning on working through practice final exam problems.
As such, the best source of practice exam problems is to ask your professor for sample exam problems. If none (or only a few available), feel free to ask your professor and academic support department if they can suggest additional practice problems. Finally, if you still can't find practice problems, feel free to work through past bar exam essays. To get started, here's some links for some nifty old bar exam essays, organized by subject, complete with hypothetical scenarios and analysis:
Tuesday, November 5, 2019
A couple of years ago, there was a meme making its way across the internet encouraging people to describe themselves as a combination of three fictional characters. In a rare moment of lucid self-awareness, I described myself as part Encyclopedia Brown, part Johnny from the movie Airplane! ("I can make a hat, or a brooch, or a pterodactyl . . ."), and part Dewey Finn, Jack Black's character in School of Rock. It was a fun exercise, because it made folks think about what they considered their defining characteristics, and it gave us the giftie of finding out if others saw us the same way we see ourselves.
I thought about that game this week, when it randomly occurred to me that all Academic and Bar Support teachers must feel a bit like -- wait, spoilers; I'm going to save that character for last. But it led me to consider: Is there a combination of three fictional characters that would constitute the archetypal A&B Support provider? What are, or should be, our defining characteristics? And will everyone agree with me? And so, I submit for your approval my proposed set of three characters (though I am open to criticism and to suggestions for alternatives) that define Academic Support:
- Jubal Harshaw -- Harshaw is one of the main characters of Robert Heinlein's novel Stranger in a Stranger Land, a nifty, influential, and slightly heretical book from the 1960s that probably is not read now as much as it ought to be. Harshaw, who ends up protecting and teaching the naive but powerful protagonist of the book, is a notable polymath: a lawyer, a physician, and a popular writer -- among other things, but those three are the most relevant to our work. Basically, we have to know a lot about a lot of things. We have to be comfortably familiar with every subject that is tested on the bar, and at least know enough about other legal subjects to be able to support students struggling in those areas. A knowledge of the practice of medicine is not usually required -- thank goodness -- but, like a physician, we do have to care for our charges, to recognize symptoms of unease (of both mind and body), and to provide comfort, advice, and referrals when appropriate. And naturally we have to be communicators skilled enough not just to see and address the communication flaws in others, but also to capture the attention of the sometimes jaded, reluctant, or resentful. Take it from me: being a tax lawyer was hard, but at least you only had to know the entire Internal Revenue Code and all associated regulations. To be an Academic Support professional, you have to know something about practically everything.
- Mickey Goldmill -- There are a lot of great sports movies anchored by wise, inspiring coaches, but can any of them compare for our purposes with Mick, the man who coached Rocky Balboa to the heavyweight championship of the world? Because when it comes right down to it, no matter how much we encourage our students to support each other and learn together, no one takes a final or a bar exam as a team. The people we work with have to step into the ring alone. Like Mickey, we have to help our students find out just what they are capable, then help them find ways to make themselves capable of even more, and then help them to see that they carry that capacity within themselves. And, like so many Academic Support providers, Mickey was a great improviser: when he didn't have the latest hi-tech sports equipment, he got Rocky into shape by having him chase chickens and pound on sides of beef. Who else in law school but Academic Support has to squeeze so many results out of so few resources? And one last thing: remember, Rocky lost in the first film. He gave it his all, and he lost, and he thought, I guess I'm done with boxing. It was Mickey who convinced Rocky that he could step into the ring again, against the champ that had beat him the first time, and that he had what it took to pull out the win. Mickey Goldmill knew that just because you were down, that didn't mean you were out.
- Jiminy Cricket -- In the original Disney movie Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket actually played two roles. He started off as the narrator, explaining to the audience that they are about to see the story of a wish coming true. Then, after the Blue Fairy visits the puppeteer Geppetto, and brings his creation Pinocchio to life, she tasks Jiminy with the job of being Pinocchio's conscience. If, with Jiminy's help, Pinocchio can prove himself worthy, then he will become a real boy. I feel we have a lot of Jiminy Cricket in us. We often start by explaining to our audience -- during orientation, or as part of a class or workshop -- what they are going to see and experience while they are in law school. But then, inevitably, we get involved with our students as individuals, trying to help guide them into making good choices. They still have to make the choices themselves -- how they spend their time, what they choose to focus on, how they plan and prepare -- and sometimes we can only watch as they make poor ones. Sometimes they ignore our counsel, and it feels like you really are just an insect buzzing around a wooden-headed ne'er-do-well. But we stick with our students, like Jiminy stuck with Pinocchio, because we want to give them the best chances to prove themselves worthy, so each can become a real . . . well, not boy, but lawyer, which practically rhymes.
As an Academic Support professional, I'd be gloriously content if I possessed the know-how of Jubal, the inspiration of Mickey, and the compassion of Jiminy. But that's just me. What three characters compose your AS ideal?
Monday, November 4, 2019
Logically it makes no sense that, in today’s world, failing at something because you tried will tarnish you with a negative social label. . . . [T]o continue evolving, the stigma associated with failure has to be shaken off and be replaced with positive personal development. When you fail at something, hopefully you can recogni[z]e why and where you failed, so that next time you can move forward accordingly. – C. Montcrieff
Bar takers in all but one state have received results from the July 2019 bar exam. Although California examinees may have to wait another week for results, with increased MBE scores reported nationally, bar passage rates (overall) are deliciously higher than recent past exams. What better way to transition to the semester wind down than with news of newly licensed attorneys joining the ranks of your alumni rosters!
I am elated and overjoyed for my students who find their names on the bar pass list. I understand the sacrifice, the grit, the fear, the pressure, the exhaustion, and the anxiety that are necessary conditions precedent to bar passage. I actually get teary-eyed as I scroll through the social media feeds of newly minted attorneys that contain expressions of joy and gratitude for the obstacles they overcame and support they received.
My joy is tempered by the heartache I feel for those who fought so valiantly and fell short of the state cut score. It never ceases to amaze me how a day that brings elation can, at the same time, end in devastation. Those of us doing ASP work must manage that range of emotions altogether in the same day. We collect data and publish articles on interventions that lead to bar success in licensure candidates with known failure indicators. We are experientially trained to manage bad news and to earnestly encourage unsuccessful students to try anew. But how does the reality of our calling square with the purpose of our profession?
We must examine the role and reality of stigma in bar exam failure and determine where, how, and if, it fits into the notion that diversity in the legal profession is not solely about racial and socio-economic inclusion. The diversity promoted by effective academic support programs includes intellectual disparities, physical and emotional disabilities, linguistic variations, and learning differences.
The definition of academic and bar success is changing. Success for some may be sitting through a two-day exam without the testing accommodations relied upon during law school. For others, it can be completing an exam scribed in a language other than the test-taker's native tongue. For many bar takers who graduated in the bottom quartile of their law school classes and/or with low entering LSAT scores, success may be coming within 5-10 points of a passing score, that all published statistics said that they could not achieve.
I dare not suggest that legal educators dismiss or ignore bar failure, but I challenge the status quo about how we frame bar failure as part of professional identity formation. Moved by the MacCrate Report, law teachers have become more intentional about teaching, and have begun to support law students’ professional identity formation inside and outside of the classroom.1 I see no reason for that support to end with the bar examination. As we normalize struggle2, we must communicate bar failure as a temporary status and not as an indelible component of one’s professional identity.
1 Susan L. Brooks, Fostering Wholehearted Lawyers: Practical Guidance for Supporting Law Students' Professional Identity Formation 14 U. ST. THOMAS L.J. 377 (2018).
2 Catherine Martin Christopher, Normalizing Struggle, ___ Arkansas L. Rev. ___ (2019).
Sunday, November 3, 2019
November barged in completely changing our weather. November also brings the last leg of the semester marathon. I encourage preparing for finals throughout the semester, a few activities should be highlighted the last month. The activities should be integrated into a comprehensive finals study plan. Here are a few ideas:
1. Work on and finish outlines early. If you worked on outlines throughout the semester, this is an easy task. If not, plan significant time to get outlines done as early as possible. Integrate new material from November into the outline as you go. Having everything in the outline up to November allows for the activities below.
2. Complete practice questions. I encourage completing 2 types of practice questions. First, go through multiple choice questions that test broad areas within each course. Multiple choice questions test more material in a shorter amount of time. If the question does not follow exactly what your professor said, don't worry. Knowing that fact illustrates an understanding of the material. Also integrate simulated essays. Look at old exams from your professor or find hypos from online, bar review companies, etc. Think about the most likely tested sub-topics and do questions on those. Time yourself and fully write out an answer. Writing out the answer is important because what someone thinks about a question and what they tend to write is 2 different things.
3. Seek feedback. Take the practice essays to your professor or academic support person. Feedback is what improves scores.
4. Rotate subjects. One of the most uncomfortable ways to study is to rotate subjects throughout a session or few days. Studies show that rotating subjects throughout studying will lead to longer term retention. For example, don't study 1 subject (ie - Torts) for 3 straight days, then Contracts, etc. Switch subjects frequently during November. As you get to the end of November and the few days before the exam, you may focus primary on the upcoming test. Only do that close to the exams, not before Thanksgiving.
5. Don't forget to complete your regular course activities. Nearly every professor will put material from November on the final exam.
6. Lastly, plan your breaks. You cannot study non-stop from now until mid-December. Take breaks to stay mentally fresh.
Good luck on the last leg of the semester!