Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Building an Archetype

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

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

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

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

[Bill MacDonald]

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

Monday, November 4, 2019

Stigma and Professional Identity

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).

(Marsha Griggs)

November 4, 2019 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exams, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Exams - Theory, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Last Call for Proposals for SWCASP

Last Call for Proposals for the

8th Annual Southwestern Consortium of Academic Support Professionals Workshop on March 6th, 2020 

ASP Across the Curriculum

at

Texas Tech University School of Law

in Lubbock, Texas 

The Southwestern Consortium of Academic Support Professionals will host a one day conference focused on developing Academic Support programs throughout the curriculum.  ASPers are amazing at the work we do, but we have limited interactions with students.  Students need skills work reinforced throughout every year of law school.  ASP skills range from metacognition to specific test taking skills.  The goal of the conference is to provide ideas for participants to take back to law schools that will encourage everyone at the school to help students improve. 

Registration will be open to anyone interested in academic support.  Registration forms, hotel information, and additional details will be provided in early January. 

We are encouraging those interested in presenting to submit a proposal to Steven Foster at sfoster@okcu.edu by November 3rd, 2019.

 

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact:

Steven Foster (sfoster@okcu.edu)

Director of Academic Achievement at Oklahoma City University

 

Cassie Christopher (Catherine.christopher@ttu.edu)

Professor of Law, Associate Dean for Bar Success

 

Chelsea Baldwin (Chelsea.baldwin@ttu.edu)

Director, Academic Success Programs

November 2, 2019 in Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 28, 2019

Starting from Scratch

Even the greatest was once a beginner. Don’t be afraid to take that first step.  – Muhammad Ali

While academic support programs are commonly recognized today in legal education, such prevalence has not for long existed. What was once a concept for increasing access to the legal profession, is now a construct mandated by the American Bar Association (“ABA”).  ABA Standard 309 (b) requires law schools to provide academic support designed to afford students a reasonable opportunity to complete its program, graduate, and become members of the legal profession. Compliance with this standard is not measured by bar passage alone. Many schools who, for decades, have not had a distinct program or department devoted to academic support now seek to hire ASP professionals to build a specific program of academic support.

While it is wonderful news to incoming and existing law students that more elite schools are subscribing to academic support as we know it today, it can be equally redoubtable for those new to academic support to direct or build programs for which they have no blueprint. A substantial number of faculty and administrators hired to lead academic support programs, do so without ever having experienced an academic support program themselves. This is so largely because academic support programming is a comparatively new phenomenon that was not prevalent in the legal academy when the Boomers and Gen-Xers, who now predominate deanships and search committees studied law.

Goldie Pritchard, Adjunct Professor and Director of Academic Success at Michigan State University College of Law, is the founding director who built from scratch her school’s law school academic support program. She describes the role and duties of ASP work:

Academic support professionals are problem solvers who are willing to put in the time and effort to help guide students as they navigate their law school learning and bar exam preparation process. We are simultaneously juggling interactions with several different students, each with several different needs, and at a variety of points in their individual progression. We help students manage emotions and address non-academic needs. Doing this type of work is what gets us up in the morning and keeps us going.

Those of us who’ve made a career of our calling understand Pritchard’s words all too well. If you are tasked with creating ground level academic support programming, you can take comfort in knowing that there is a myriad of experienced human resources to turn to for guidance and example. There is not one member of the ASP community that I would hesitate to call upon for help or suggestions. To those who are newly minted program directors without the benefit of in-school predecessors, you can afford to be confidently assertive. Your law school has selected you to create programming because of great confidence in your capabilities, professional judgment, and career experience. Don't deny yourselves or your students the benefit of your instincts.

Fears and professional hesitancy associated with being first or building from scratch are understandable. Remember that prototype program design is, by definition, imperfect and subject to enhancement and improvement. The first iteration of your program is already a marked improvement over the nonexistent or prior patchy programming promulgated by a cache of volunteer or voluntold faculty and other departmental administrators. My advice to you: don’t hold back your suggestions, input, and well-vetted requests for financial expenditures to support your creative vision to improve academic outcomes for the students and graduates whom your position was implemented to serve.

(Marsha Griggs)

October 28, 2019 in Academic Support Spotlight, Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 21, 2019

Productive Procrastination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Marsha Griggs)

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

Friday, October 18, 2019

SWCASP Save the Date and Call for Proposals

Save the Date and Call for Proposals for the

8th Annual Southwestern Consortium of Academic Support Professionals Workshop on March 6th, 2020 

ASP Across the Curriculum

at

Texas Tech University School of Law

in Lubbock, Texas 

The Southwestern Consortium of Academic Support Professionals will host a one day conference focused on developing Academic Support programs throughout the curriculum.  ASPers are amazing at the work we do, but we have limited interactions with students.  Students need skills work reinforced throughout every year of law school.  ASP skills range from metacognition to specific test taking skills.  The goal of the conference is to provide ideas for participants to take back to law schools that will encourage everyone at the school to help students improve. 

Registration will be open to anyone interested in academic support.  Registration forms, hotel information, and additional details will be provided in early January. 

We are encouraging those interested in presenting to submit a proposal to Steven Foster at sfoster@okcu.edu by November 1st, 2019.

 

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact:

Steven Foster (sfoster@okcu.edu)

Director of Academic Achievement at Oklahoma City University

 

Cassie Christopher (Catherine.christopher@ttu.edu)

Professor of Law, Associate Dean for Bar Success

 

Chelsea Baldwin (Chelsea.baldwin@ttu.edu)

Director, Academic Success Programs

October 18, 2019 in Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 12, 2019

NECASP Call for Proposals Deadline

Request for Proposals: Presentation and Scholarly “Works in Progress”

New England Consortium of Academic Support Professionals (NECASP) Conference

Friday December 13, 2019
Vermont Law School
South Royalton, VT

NECASP will be holding its annual one-day conference and has designated time for presentations. Our
topic this year is “Admission to Admission: Getting students the tools they need to build the bridge
from day 1 to swearing-in.” We will gather in Vermont to share and explore ideas with ASP colleagues
on how to prepare students for admission to the bar and all that entails (academics, bar passage,
character and fitness, and professionalism) beginning from their admission to law school. We welcome
a broad range of proposals – from presenters in the New England Region and beyond – and at various
stages of completion – from idea to fruition.

If you wish to present, the proposal process is as follows:
1. Submit your proposal by October 14, 2019 , via email to Joe Brennan at
jbrennan@vermontlaw.edu
2. Proposals may be submitted as a Word document or as a PDF
3. Proposals must include the following:
    a. Name and title of presenter
    b. Law School
    c. Address, email address, and telephone number for presenter
    d. Title
    e. Short description of the presentation including time requested
    f. Bio of the presenter
    g. If a scholarly work in progress, an abstract no more than 500 words
    h. Media or computer presentation needs
4. As noted above, proposals are due on Monday, October 14, 2019.

The NECASP Board will review the proposals and reply to each by Monday, November 4, 2019.

If you have any questions about your proposal, please do not hesitate to contact one of us, and we hope
to see many of you in Vermont later this year!

2019-2020 NECASP Board members:
Chair: Joe Brennan
Director of Academic Success and Professor of Law
Vermont Law School
jbrennan@vermontlaw.edu

Vice Chair: Liz Stillman
Associate Professor of Academic Support
Suffolk University Law School
estillman@suffolk.edu

Secretary: Amy Vaughan-Thomas
Director of Academic Success
University of Massachusetts School of Law
avaughanthomas@umassd.edu

October 12, 2019 in Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 11, 2019

Midwestern Academic Support Conference

MWASP

October 11, 2019 in Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Success Beyond the Bar

July 2019 bar exam results are not due to be released in New York for a few more weeks, but already here in Buffalo we have glad tidings, for one of our students took the Florida bar exam and has learned that she has passed.  What a thrill!  One that will soon be experienced by many others across the land.

Is there anything else that prompts the same surreal combination of pride and relief?  In an instant, a person’s very definition changes.  They go from not possessing a certain authority to possessing it (at least after other formalities are met).  Is it any wonder that the storied Jonathan Harker, wandering alone in a foreign land and distracted by the strangeness of it all, forgot for a moment his own momentous achievement?:

What sort of place had I come to, and among what kind of people? What sort of grim adventure was it on which I had embarked? Was this a customary incident in the life of a solicitor’s clerk sent out to explain the purchase of a London estate to a foreigner? Solicitor’s clerk! Mina would not like that. Solicitor—for just before leaving London I got word that my examination was successful; and I am now a full-blown solicitor!

Harker’s momentary pleasure at the memory of his bar passage is soon dampened, however, by the cold foreboding of the great estate he stands before – and no wonder, for only a few minutes later he meets the master of that castle, who greets him with the words, “Welcome to my house! Enter freely and of your own will! . . . I am Dracula. . .”

Whatever horrors Harker had to face next, at least he had made it past the doubt and anxiety that many people feel while waiting for their bar results to be revealed.  Consider the unfortunate Mitch McDeere, the latest Harvard Law graduate to be hired by the high-end Memphis law firm of Bendini, Lambert and Locke.  One autumn afternoon, Mitch is called unexpectedly into an urgent meeting:

Lambert, Avery, and what appeared to be most of the partners sat around the conference table.  All of the associates were present, standing behind the partners. . . . The room was quiet, almost solemn.  There were no smiles. . .

“Sit down, Mitch,” Mr. Lambert said gravely. “We have something to discuss with you.” . . . He frowned sincerely, as if this would be painful. “We’ve just received a call from Nashville, Mitch, and we wanted to talk with you about it.”

Poor Mitch immediately guesses what this is all about:

The bar exam. The bar exam. The bar exam. History had been made. An associate of the great Bendini firm had finally flunked the bar exam. . . . He wanted to speak, to explain that he deserved just one more chance, that the exam would be given again in six months and he would ace it, that he would not embarrass them again. A thick pain hit below the belt.

“Yes, sir,” he said humbly, in defeat.

Lambert moved in for the kill. “We aren’t supposed to know these things, but the folks in Nashville told us that you made the highest score on the bar exam. Congratulations, Counselor.”

The room exploded with laughter and cheers.

Surprise!  Not what Mitch was expecting.  Unfortunately, Mitch’s satisfaction is nearly as short-lived as was Harker’s, for less than two pages later, in John Grisham’s The Firm, Mitch McDeere meets an FBI agent who explains that the Bendini firm is mostly a front for the criminal activities of the Chicago Mob, and that attorneys who try to leave the firm always end up dead.

Dracula and The Firm were both sensationally popular novels, which suggests that there is something highly resonant about the notion of passing the ultimate test of professional ability, only to be led directly into a world of evil and mortal danger.  I suspect some people enjoy the irony – He’s supposed to be so smart, but he wasn’t smart enough to avoid the King of the Undead or the Capo di Tutti Capi – and other people appreciate the moral question – Does mere intellectual knowledge even matter when a person is faced with a threat to his life and soul?

But law graduates might see yet another layer to these tales: After all this hard work to pass the bar, over three crushing years in law school and ten blistering weeks of bar preparation, is my “success” just going to take the form of an indenture to forces that seek only to exhaust my vitality to feed their own appetites?  True, most attorneys do not end up working for vampires or gangsters, but even a wholesome job for a decent employer can feel like purgatory to someone whose interests and aptitudes lie elsewhere.  When our students are no longer our students, when they have taken and passed the bar and are out there gainfully employed, is that the end of their stories?

There might be a brief frisson in thinking so.  Isn’t that why people read suspense stories?  But if there are two last messages we can leave our students with, they are that passing the bar is both an ending and a beginning, and that the skills they’ve learned in meeting that particular challenge will be skills they can use in meeting future challenges as well.  If they can pass the bar exam, they can overcome anything – a misfit job, a toxic employer, even a threat to their lives and souls.

And Jonathan Harker and Mitch McDeere are evidence of this, because they each survive their ordeals.  In both Dracula and The Firm, the heroes triumph by relying on three core competences – the same three competencies we emphasize in preparing our own students to pass the bar and to perform well in practice: knowledge of the law, application of sound personal judgment, and reliance on a network of support.  Harker escapes from Dracula's castle by finding an unconventional route to freedom and judging that the risks of flight are smaller than those of remaining in place.  Once he makes it back to England, he uses his legal skills to locate Dracula's hidden lairs, documented in a tangle of deeds and conveyances, and then he teams up with a band of friends to track down and eliminate the fiend and his minions.  McDeere has the good sense to realize that neither the firm nor the FBI has his safety or best interests at heart, and, turning to a small group of family members of those previously hurt by the mob's activities, devises his own plan to use the legal tools he has learned to escape from the gangsters while passing along the evidence needed to bring down the Bendini firm.  Sure, this is all fiction and fantasy, but fiction is often popular because it provides another way of telling a truth.

To everyone who finds out in the next few weeks that they have passed the bar examination: Congratulations, and may the rest of your life be just as successful.  Know that you have the ability to make it so.

[Bill MacDonald]

October 1, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Books, Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism, Reading, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 30, 2019

Back to Basics - Part II

Titles are granted, positions are given, but it’s respect that earns you credibility. - Lolly Daskal

This is the second in a series of weekly blog posts addressing the basics of effective teaching. Last week, I addressed the importance of knowing your audience, whether from the podium of a classroom or on a larger stage. It is equally important to establish your credibility in the classroom in a manner that fosters learning and builds student rapport.

A teacher is viewed as the subject matter expert in the classroom, whether the audience is a class of third-graders, or third-year law students battling Secured Transactions. But, deference to one’s subject matter expertise can be extinguished with the speed of a hand raise.  How we answer questions, or if we answer them at all, matters. Authority is not credibility. While authority may be bestowed or presumed, credibility is earned - one interaction after another. True expertise is evidenced by our ability to field and answer questions, and it can be wholly undermined by our failure or refusal to do the same.

Recent experiences have, for me, sounded the call for a return to the basics of quality teaching. To ensure that our students are well-prepared to pass state bar exams, academic support professors try to develop and maintain subject matter expertise in legal licensure exams. Yet, to my great shock and frustration, the well-reasoned questions of scholars soldiering in the trenches of bar prep have been dismissed and derided by those at the helm of bar examination. When questioned about exam scaling and essay equating, I’ve heard psychometric experts say you’ll just have to trust us. Which begs my point: expertise without earned credibility hobbles the vital relationship between those who have information and those with whom the information needs to be shared.

In legal analysis and bar essay writing, we tell students to use the facts. We teach them to not assume that the grader knows the facts. Effective teachers and presenters, likewise, do not assume that the audience has the facts. Under no circumstance will good teachers be dismissive of student questions. Strong teachers are not afraid to be questioned about the factual basis for their research and conclusions. In fact, they welcome a circumstance for intellectual challenge; they are fulfilled by the opportunity to teach, explain, and enlighten.

As law professors we are shepherding the next generation into the legal profession. Just as we would never silence the earnest question of a student in our class, we must speak persistence to power and not allow our own questions to go unanswered. When laws, policies, Restatements, changes to testing protocols, and impediments to educational access are proposed, we must take audience with those empowered to enact change. We must seek clarity and reason, because we cannot effectively teach that which we do not ourselves understand.

(Marsha Griggs)

September 30, 2019 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Professionalism, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Let Me Use Words You Can Understand

Last year, one of my international students brought to me a response she had written to a mid-tern exam question.  She was wholly perplexed, because the professor had given her a low score on this particular response, and yet, even in looking at the notes the professor had written on her paper, she could not fathom where she had gone wrong.  Bizarrely, the more the two of us discussed her essay, the more confused I became about why she had written what she had written.  Finally, and wholly by accident, I stumbled across the source of the trouble.  At one point the exam question referred to someone being "served", and my student had not recognized this usage as being connected with "service of process".  The latter term she understood, but she read the off-hand and abbreviated statement that "X was served" as some form of hospitality, not legal action. ("Have some tea!") This was partly because English was her second language, and undoubtedly also partly because she did not grow up watching movie and TV shows in which frumpy anonymous operatives walk up to the protagonists, slap envelopes against their chests, and say, "You've been served!"  For much of our discussion, it had not even occurred to me that this could be a source of confusion, and of course there was no way the student could have known it herself.  

I thought about this episode last week, when I was attending a conference hosted by the NCBE, in which some of the presenters were discussing the ongoing evolution of the development of MBE and MEE questions.  Part of that evolution includes the elimination, or at least minimization, of the use of terms whose meaning was not tied to the practice of law and might not be recognized by all of the examinees.  An example given involved a torts question involving a car that had been damaged in a collision.  In the original question, the defendant was identified as "Union Pacific", and it was apparent that the rest of the question was written with the assumption that examinees would recognize Union Pacific as a company that operated railroads, and that therefore the collision under consideration was between a car and a locomotive.  The newer, improved version of the question simply referred to the defendant as "a railroad company", thus providing the information needed for proper analysis to all examinees.

Discussion at that point livened up a bit, as presenters and participants brainstormed about other terminology that question writers should considered changing in order to make their questions more accessible.  These tended to fall into a few categories:

  • References to people, businesses, locations -- generally, things that could be identified with proper nouns -- that might be recognized by some people (but not all people) as possessing some characteristic relevant to the legal analysis.  For example, a question that named Gregory Hines as a plaintiff in a case in which his feet were injured might reflect the expectation that examinees would recognize Hines was famously a dancer, and that therefore a foot injury might generate greater damages to him than to an average person.  A question that mentions "Reno" might rest on the assumption that everyone knows Reno is in Nevada and gambling is legal there.  
  • References to technology, fads, or news items from two or more decades ago that most of us who were alive and adult at that time would instantly recognize, but the significance of which might be totally lost on people currently in their 20s.  A question that depends on the operation of an answering machine or the effect of a slap bracelet may only be accessible to a portion of the testing population.
  • Specialized terms for everyday objects that nevertheless are not commonly used in conversation.  A question that depends on knowing the difference between a banister and a balustrade, or between a lintel and a gable, is probably going to lose a portion of the examinees.  

It can be hard, when writing exam questions or practice questions, to resist the temptation to make a clever reference or to give examinees the chance for a moment of recognition.  But our tests are not supposed to be tests of any vocabulary but legal vocabulary.  If an examinee misses the opportunity to demonstrate that he knows the appropriate rule, and can apply it skillful to relevant facts, because he did not have access to the full meaning of the fact pattern so that he could recognize the issue that leads to that rule, then the examinee has been unfairly denied a chance to shine.

[Bill MacDonald]

September 24, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Diversity Issues, Exams - Theory, Professionalism, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 14, 2019

NECASP Call for Proposals

Request for Proposals: Presentation and Scholarly “Works in Progress”

New England Consortium of Academic Support Professionals (NECASP) Conference

Friday December 13, 2019

Vermont Law School

South Royalton, VT

NECASP will be holding its annual one-day conference and has designated time for presentations. Our

topic this year is “Admission to Admission: Getting students the tools they need to build the bridge

from day 1 to swearing-in.” We will gather in Vermont to share and explore ideas with ASP colleagues

on how to prepare students for admission to the bar and all that entails (academics, bar passage,

character and fitness, and professionalism) beginning from their admission to law school. We welcome

a broad range of proposals – from presenters in the New England Region and beyond – and at various

stages of completion – from idea to fruition. If you wish to present, the proposal process is as follows:

  1. Submit your proposal by October 14, 2019 , via email to Joe Brennan at jbrennan@vermontlaw.edu
  2. Proposals may be submitted as a Word document or as a PDF
  3. Proposals must include the following:
    1. Name and title of presenter
    2. Law School
    3. Address, email address, and telephone number for presenter
    4. Title
    5. If a scholarly work in progress, an abstract no more than 500 words
    6. Media or computer presentation needs
  4. As noted above, proposals are due on Monday, October 14, 2019.

The NECASP Board will review the proposals and reply to each by Monday, November 4, 2019.

 

2019-2020 NECASP Board members:

Chair: Joe Brennan

Director of Academic Success and Professor of Law

Vermont Law School

jbrennan@vermontlaw.edu

 

Vice Chair: Liz Stillman

Associate Professor of Academic Support

Suffolk University Law School

estillman@suffolk.edu

 

Secretary: Amy Vaughan-Thomas

Director of Academic Success

University of Massachusetts School of Law

avaughanthomas@umassd.edu

September 14, 2019 in Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 9, 2019

Call Me Professor

What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. – William Shakespeare

Academic and employment titles vary greatly by school. Recent research, according to fastcompany.com, indicates that your job title can affect everything from your identity to your level of significance within your institution and your marketability for future positions. Law school monikers are widely varied and yet almost universally understood to denote status. Instructor, lecturer, adjunct, assistant, associate, executive, coordinator, director, dean, manager, professor – regardless of the job description, the job title suggests a hierarchical significance. But what may matter much more than our varied titles, is when students (and perhaps our faculty colleagues) fail to use them.

I have seen more professors than I can count turn to social media to vent about students not referring to them by their titles. Faculty who teach in law, medicine, humanities, and social sciences have recounted stories of students who refer to them e.g. as “Ms. Clarence”, or “Mr. Stacey”, or worse yet, by first name alone. The responses to this phenomenon of first name or titleless reference are as diverse as the individuals who experience it. I am aware that some faculty members allow, insist, or prefer that their students address them by first name. I fully respect professors’ right to dictate how they wish to be addressed. But barring an express invitation to do otherwise, a student’s refusal to address a professor by title signals (conscious or subconscious) disregard.

Consider the redacted text from an actual email I received from a law student last month:

Hello Marsha,

I am [Name Withheld] a 2L. I was referred to you after speaking with Professor [Omitted] (who is copied on this message).  . . . I would like to meet with the both of you to work on my writing.

Please let me know when we can meet.

Thank you,

[Name Withheld].

To which I replied:

Hello [Name Withheld],

Thank you for reaching out to me and welcome back! I can meet with you on [date and time] in my office, which is located in the dean’s suite.

Please use my title and surname in your communications with me, just as you have with my colleague Professor [Omitted].

Thank you and I look forward to working with you.

Professor Griggs.

I did not react to this email —or the countless other messages with similar salutation— with anger or frustration. I genuinely believe that the student was unaware of the status disparity conveyed by the lines of text in the email message. The student later apologized to me and we both carried on as nothing had happened. But this email is not an isolated incident. I hear students, and sometimes other faculty, refer to professors (most often female or minority faculty members) by first name.

Unfortunately, sometimes the titleless reference is intentional and, whether overt or in passive-aggressive stance, must be addressed. It must be addressed not for the sake of title, or even for the sake of the years of education and struggle it took to acquire said title. It must be addressed because status issues resound throughout the institution of higher education. The way we are addressed by our students and our peers is a reflection of perceptions about our status and our positional significance. After all, how can we teach our students the importance of developing professionalism skills, if we cannot insist on having our own professional identities recognized and respected?

(Marsha Griggs)

September 9, 2019 in Diversity Issues, Miscellany, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Growth Mindset of John Paul Stevens

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, one of the most distinguished jurists of modern times, died on Tuesday. The author of more than 400 decisions as well as notable dissents in cases including Bush v. Gore and Citizens United, Justice Stevens was considered a "judge's judge," intensely patriotic without being partisan, free of ideological baggage, and devoted to the rule of law. Former President Gerald Ford praised Stevens in 2005, saying "I am prepared to allow history's judgment of my term in office to rest (if necessarily exclusively) on my nomination thirty years ago of Justice John Paul Stevens."  Chief Justice John Roberts noted that Stephens, in addition to his "unrelenting commitment to justice," served with "an inimitable blend of kindness, humility, wisdom, and independence." 

As I explored more about his life today, I was struck by how  Stevens was not content to rest on his laurels, but rather continually pushed himself out of his comfort zone. His graduate study in English was interrupted by World War II, where he put his analytical skills to work as a code-breaker for the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater. He originally made his mark as an antitrust lawyer, first in as an associate in private practice, then as associate counsel to a U.S. House committee investigating antitrust activities, then, only three years after admission to the bar, as an antitrust litigator and partner in a firm he co-founded. Widely respected for his expertise, he wrote influential articles and taught at the University of Chicago and Northwestern law schools while remaining active as a litigator.

Stevens could have remained a respected antitrust scholar and practitioner, but in 1969 he took on the thankless task of serving as counsel to a commission formed to investigate corruption allegations against two sitting members of the Illinois Supreme Court. The commission was evidently expected to perform only a perfunctory investigation, for the person bringing the charges was a well-known conspiracy theorist with little credibility. Nevertheless, Stevens conducted a vigorous investigation which verified the allegations and ultimately led to in the resignation of both the current and a former chief justice. His refusal to take half measures led to considerable acclaim, an appointment to the Seventh Circuit by President Nixon, and ultimately to his appointment in 1975 to the U.S. Supreme Court where he served with distinction for 35 years.

It's not unusual for law students or lawyers to form a narrow view of their own abilities. Knowing they are competent in one area of doctrine or in one application, they allow that expertise to bind them into a narrow view of what they can and should do, rather than exploring how their expertise in one arena could translate into competence and even brilliance in another or a wider field. John Paul Stevens could have made his mark only as an English scholar, or only as a Bronze Star code-breaker, or only as a litigator, or only as a law professor. But he continually stretched to do more, developing expertise in constitutional law and new skills on the Court like coalition-building. And even after retirement at age 90, he stretched himself more, writing three books over the next nine years. His belief in constantly stretching himself to do more and better work can be an inspiration to all of us to not content ourselves in one narrow path.  (Nancy Luebbert)

 

 

 

 

July 17, 2019 in Advice, Current Affairs, News, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Technology and Legal Education Webinars

This summer, the AALS Section on Technology, Law & Legal Education is presenting a series of webinars on technology and legal education. Now I look forward to every Wednesday, wondering what I will learn each week. Sessions range widely, from  hackathons and biotech to formative assessment and access to justice using technology.  You can watch past webinars on demand and sign up for forthcoming live webinars by visiting the Section's web page. While I have learned fascinating things from each webinar, I found two webinars touching on IT security and law students to be especially compelling.

As a population our law students are far less technologically savvy than we would expect, according to Cumberland Law's Grace Simms, in an a wide-ranging presentation on "Teaching Tech to Law Students." Two of the most obvious shortfalls are failing to appreciate how social media can affect their personal marketing & job prospects, and failing to grasp the importance of security measures and backups. The back-up problem rings especially true in my experience. For example, although our students have free access to OneDrive and receive back-up reminders from a variety of media, invariably every semester at least one student experiences a major meltdown when upon realizing, only after their computer self-destructs (whether from a hard drive crash, an unfortunate drop in the parking lot, or simply wearing out from obsolescence), that they have not backed up their legal writing projects, case briefs, and outlines. Far less critical, but a time-waster day after day, is the fact that many students have only the most superficial understanding of the capabilities of word processing programs: this not only makes day-by-day writing a more laborious process but also can cause many finished pieces to look amateurish. Inspired by Professor Simms's presentation, I'll be tweaking lesson plans in my fall Skills Lab to include micro-practice sessions on doing backups, creating quick access toolbars, assigning keystrokes in Word, and other simple technology to enhance the daily tasks of law student life. 

Lincoln Memorial's Sydney Beckham, himself a former hacker, delved deeper into security threats and safety measures in "Hacked! An Examination of Cyber-Threats and Techniques to Thwart Them." The bad news is one out of every three Americans is affected by a cyber-threat every year. The good news, since 95% of security breaches are caused or exacerbated by human error, is that most cyber-threats can be prevented or mitigated by taking prudent, and often amazingly simple, security measures. While many institutions must take sophisticated measures like two-factor authentication, most individuals can protect themselves with relatively simple practices such as:

  • Backing up important data using thumb drives, external hard drives, or cloud storage
  • Setting antivirus protection for automatic updates
  • Updating operating systems frequently
  • Covering the webcam when not needed for active use 
  • Using a microphone lock on phones and computer when not needed for active use 
  • Using strong passwords and usernames, and not sharing them between accounts 
  • Using the cellular hotspot provided by a personal cell phone rather than public wifi when sending personal information in a public place
  • Limiting social media posting of information that might be used for security questions

A compelling point was the need to constantly reinforce IT security messages through live interaction with law students. Like Professor Simms, Professor Beckham stressed that many law students are not aware of IT security issues and solutions. Information sent through e-mails and video sources, he suggested, is overwhelmingly ignored. To be effective, information should be conveyed live and in person. Moreover, to pack the most punch, it shouldn't be conveyed only during Orientation: rather, repeated live messaging by different faculty and staff is the best way of helping law students to become security aware. It sounds like a good idea to add a question about backups and security to my checklist for meeting individually with students.  (Nancy Luebbert)

July 3, 2019 in Professionalism, Teaching Tips, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The "Other" Academic Support Educators

Echoing what Amy Jarmon said in her farewell blog post, the ASP community is awesome. We encourage each other, share ideas and materials, and lift each other up. Sometimes, though, it can feel a little lonely just communicating by phone or e-mail and getting together at the occasional conference.  Although I am blessed to have two terrific ASP colleagues at my law school, they work 300 miles away from the campus where I'm located. And notwithstanding my wonderful local colleagues in this shared endeavor of legal education -- first-rate professionals in legal writing and career development and clinical education and building maintenance and library science and admissions and legal doctrine and every facet of administration -- sometimes an ASPer just wants to get together with other academic support educators who speak the same language and can give insights into common or novel problems. What's a solo ASPer to do?  

Maybe realize that law school academic support educators aren't the only ASPers around.

Today I had the pleasure of a long visit with an academic support educator for undergraduates at my university. After hearing first-hand stories from several friends about the rigors and stresses of law school, and being unaware that law schools offered academic support, he reached out to the law school to see if he could offer assistance to our law students and ultimately connected with me. As we shared our experiences of supporting undergraduate and law students, we realized how many issues we had in common -- helping students manage their time effectively, overcome the fear of stigma, learn critical reading skills, understand the efficacy and desirability of intellectual struggle, and appreciate that seeking assistance is not a sign of weakness but of professionalism.  Our discussion made me realize how much I could learn from (and maybe also contribute to) the University's many academic support professionals outside the law school -- educators helping first generation students, persons with disabilities, non-traditional students, underrepresented minorities, students with current or past trauma, and the economically disadvantaged, as well as those simply insightful enough to recognize they could better reach their potential if they learned how to learn more effectively. While legal education comes with a unique set of challenges, at least half my work involves issues that are not unique to law school. So my new (academic) year's resolution is to become more involved with academic support educators of all ilks, helping all types of students in higher education. I fully expect the "other" academic support educators will be as awesome as my AASE colleagues. (Nancy Luebbert)

 

June 26, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Strength in Numbers

Today is the first day of the 7th Annual Association of Academic Support Educators [AASE] National Conference.  This year well over 200 law school academic support educators are gathering in Seattle, Washington, to share what we have learned about how to help our students succeed in law school and on the bar examination.  For me, it is an enlightening pleasure every year to swap stories and strategies with my brilliant colleagues.

Today's lead-off plenary session, presented by Michael Barry and Zoe Niesel of St. Mary's University School of Law and Isabel F. Peres of Seattle University School of Law, discussed the use of robust data analysis to create predictive models to help identify and calibrate the guidance provided to specific students in preparation for the bar exam.  Several other sessions on the agenda this week address the need to use specific, articulable information throughout the process of providing academic support: from laying out detailed strategic plans to assessing student development to predicting bar passage rates.  Certainly, like any mature field of study in which reliable and reproducible outcomes are valued, academic success recognizes the importance of definition, measurement, recording, and scrutiny.

Part of me feels there is an irony in this, in that the AASE Conference is also an opportunity to work with and learn from some of the most accomplished veterans in the field, people whose spontaneous intuition often appears to be more perceptive and accurate than a detailed mathematical data analysis.  Not only that, there is also a pervasive insistence throughout the Conference on recognizing the ineluctable humanity of each student -- of seeing every one not just as a set of numbers, but as an unpredictable human with immeasurable potential.  The numbers might tell us that student X has a 64% chance of passing the bar, but we might nevertheless work with X as if we sense he really has a 90% chance -- and in doing so, might even help X move from 64% to 90%.

The reality, of course, is that there is no contradiction.  Experienced and gifted professionals are observant; they work with data they may not even be consciously aware of when they assess a student's strengths and weaknesses.  In that context, rigorous scientific analysis can be just as much about confirming the deep knowledge of the veteran as about uncovering previously unsuspected truths.  It can also be about articulating facts and relationships observed by others through long experience in ways that make those facts and truths easier to explain to those new to the field.

Thus, our annual conferences are a double celebration of strength in numbers, recognizing not only the value of sharing the wisdom and lore of our most experienced professionals in a group setting, but also the importance of capturing and confirming this wisdom through data that can back up our intuition, guide our choices, and persuade skeptical students and colleagues.

[Bill MacDonald]

May 21, 2019 in Academic Support Spotlight, Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Meetings, Professionalism, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Strength in Numbers

Today is the first day of the 7th Annual Association of Academic Support Educators [AASE] National Conference.  This year well over 200 law school academic support educators are gathering in Seattle, Washington, to share what we have learned about how to help our students succeed in law school and on the bar examination.  For me, it is an enlightening pleasure every year to swap stories and strategies with my brilliant colleagues.

Today's lead-off plenary session, presented by Michael Barry and Zoe Niesel of St. Mary's University School of Law and Isabel F. Peres of Seattle University School of Law, discussed the use of robust data analysis to create predictive models to help identify and calibrate the guidance provided to specific students in preparation for the bar exam.  Several other sessions on the agenda this week address the need to use specific, articulable information throughout the process of providing academic support: from laying out detailed strategic plans to assessing student development to predicting bar passage rates.  Certainly, like any mature field of study in which reliable and reproducible outcomes are valued, academic success recognizes the importance of definition, measurement, recording, and scrutiny.

Part of me feels there is an irony in this, in that the AASE Conference is also an opportunity to work with and learn from some of the most accomplished veterans in the field, people whose spontaneous intuition often appears to be more perceptive and accurate than a detailed mathematical data analysis.  Not only that, there is also a pervasive insistence throughout the Conference on recognizing the ineluctable humanity of each student -- of seeing every one not just as a set of numbers, but as an unpredictable human with immeasurable potential.  The numbers might tell us that student X has a 64% chance of passing the bar, but we might nevertheless work with X as if we sense he really has a 90% chance -- and in doing so, might even help X move from 64% to 90%.

The reality, of course, is that there is no contradiction.  Experienced and gifted professionals are observant; they work with data they may not even be consciously aware of when they assess a student's strengths and weaknesses.  In that context, rigorous scientific analysis can be just as much about confirming the deep knowledge of the veteran as about uncovering previously unsuspected truths.  It can also be about articulating facts and relationships observed by others through long experience in ways that make those facts and truths easier to explain to those new to the field.

Thus, our annual conferences are a double celebration of strength in numbers, recognizing not only the value of sharing the wisdom and lore of our most experienced professionals in a group setting, but also the importance of capturing and confirming this wisdom through data that can back up our intuition, guide our choices, and persuade skeptical students and colleagues.

[Bill MacDonald]

May 21, 2019 in Academic Support Spotlight, Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Meetings, Professionalism, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 20, 2019

Some Things I Have Learned from Colleagues, Observation, and Experience

As my career in ASP winds down, I have reflected on what I have learned over the years. Here are a few things that strike me as important lessons learned from discussions with my ASP/bar prep colleagues, observations of our profession over time, and my own experiences:

  • ASP and bar prep work have gained more recognition through the years. LSAC supported us early on. AALS recognized our efforts with a section designation. Changes to ABA standards brought more attention to our roles. More law schools now have programs, but there is still work to be done if all law students are to have access to full-time, funded services.
  • ASP/bar prep started its work to increase academic and bar success for minority students. With the pressures of stigma and backlash, many ASP programs opened services to all law students. Although programs may still have minority components within the services, the broader law school population has now become the focus. Declining admissions (and the resulting decline in applicant credentials in some cases) and ABA emphasis on bar passage rates have continued the pressure for services to be available to all law students.  Let us not forget our original purpose of supporting diversity as our roles expand.
  • The work we do is not just about grades or bar passage. We teach skills that impact our graduates throughout their lives. We teach skills resulting in better lawyering and more satisfying living. Among the skills we teach are learning strategies, legal reasoning, problem solving, organizing work, managing time, managing stress, and avoiding procrastination.
  • We need to be careful that we do not just jump from the "hot topic or solution of the month" to the next hot topic. It is tempting, but ultimately shallow. There is no magic wand available for ASP or bar prep. Learning, memory, and legal reasoning are complex topics with layers of nuance. To those three, we must add the topics of diversity, motivation, procrastination, learning disabilities, time management, work management, stress management, resilience, grit, mindset, and mental health - also very complex and nuanced. I could easily list another dozen topics that relate to our work. We need to investigate deeply to understand the nuances, remain open to intertwined concepts, and build successful strategies over time.
  • The numbers game is not all that matters. It is nice if large numbers enroll in courses or attend workshops, but numbers alone do not tell the story. Our work regularly impacts on an individual level. We need to remember that assisting one student at a time is valuable. Let us not forget the merit of one-on-one assistance during our law schools' demand for numbers to tout.
  • We need to provide alternative methods for students to access our services. Some services may involve mandatory appointments, workshops, or courses. However, even mandatory offerings may not reach all students who need help or may fail to reach them at the time when they are most receptive. We need to continue to explore different ways to reach students where they are and when they are receptive to services. The possibilities are endless, but include appointments, workshops, packets, handouts, email tips, podcasts, blog posts, YouTube videos, Facebook, Twitter, intranet pages, pop-up events, and walk-abouts.
  • We need to remember that each student is unique. One size does not fit all, no matter what theory suggests. Each student comes with individual strengths, weaknesses, challenges, motivations, educational backgrounds, and experiences. We cannot forget the individual when we consider our repertoire of theories, generalities, and strategies.
  • We need to ask questions and listen to the answers. I learn some of the best strategies from students explaining what they have discovered. In the search for the combination of strategies for each student, we need to explore with the student what works, does not work, needs to be modified, or needs to be tossed.
  • We want students to succeed and are personally involved in their learning. However, ultimately the student must implement the strategies, eschew bad habits, and work to achieve success. Despite our best efforts, some students will not reach their full academic potential and may even fail academically or fail the bar repeatedly. It exemplifies the old adage of leading a horse to water.
  • Working 60-70 hours per week (and often more) is the temptation in ASP/bar prep because we want to implement new programs, stay up with professional development, be available to students, show up at events to support them, and answer emails at all times of the day and night. However, working at such a pace leads to burnout and ultimately does not help us or our students. We need to model the work-life balance that we regularly recommend to our students.
  • Have faith in your own expertise and the" best practices" that match your law school's culture. The variety of law schools means that one size does not fit all. Be open to ideas and weigh their value for your law school situation. ASP/bar prep colleagues are willing to share ideas and expertise - usually for free. Read the Law School Academic Support Blog, post queries on the Law School Academic Support listserv, attend AASE and AALS conferences or other regional workshops, and reach out to experienced colleagues. However, be wary of anyone who tells you there is one and only one (that is, the individual's own) path to "best practices" in ASP/bar prep; that viewpoint is just not accurate.
  • No matter how dedicated and expert we are in our work, our law schools have to provide the facilities and resources for us to do our work well. Without commitments for space, budget, staffing, support services, and equal status, we will be limited in achieving the greatest results for our students. Talk is cheap. It takes actions from each and every law school in support of our ASP and bar professionals to make a difference.

ASP/bar prep work is challenging, impactful, rewarding, and gratifying. We can be proud of what we do each day. What we accomplish is important. We need all law schools to recognize how important our work is for our students' academic success and for their futures. (Amy Jarmon)

 

May 20, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Professionalism, Program Evaluation, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Voice Matters

There are some weeks when I'm pretty sure that no one else at my law school talks more than I do.  Given that law schools are full of lawyers, this is a pretty audacious claim.  But two or three times each semester, I encounter a perfect storm of ASP responsibilities -- I have classes to teach, I meet with the students from those classes for one-on-one discussions, I participate in administrative meetings, and I have drop-in visits from or appointments with other students seeking individual counseling -- and my entire work week, from morning to night, is chockablock with lectures and chats and debates and advising.  Usually, by Tuesday afternoon, I can feel my vocal cords growing fatigued and irritated.  I have discovered that if I just try to soldier on, then before the week is out, those little laryngeal muscles will seize up like an old pick-up truck engine, and suddenly I will be flapping my jaw uselessly, with nothing but a breathy wheeze coming out.

It is very hard to explain to a student how to think like a lawyer when you sound like a strangled serpent.

The fact is that teachers of all kinds are among those most at risk for developing voice problems.  This might in part be because they work in schools, which are really just giant Petri dishes for the cultivation of upper respiratory infections.  But the biggest threat to our voices could merely be overuse.  Vocal cords are really just small, thin muscles, and we make them work to produce sound by forcing air between them until they vibrate audibly.  Every syllable we utter arises from a bit of violence we do to our selves.  Too much violence can damage the vocal cords, sometimes even permanently.

So it makes sense to try to find ways to treat our vocal cords more kindly.  There are many things you can do to ease the strain you impose on your voice box.  Some might become permanent habits; others you can use when you start to feel a little raspy, or maybe even just before a garrulously busy week starts:

  • Keep your vocal cords moist. When vocal cords become dehydrated, they are more easily irritated.  So drink plenty of water -- keep a cup or bottle on hand in the office or wherever you might expect to have to speak at any length.  Also, certain chemicals, like alcohol, caffeine, and some cold medicines, can dry out your vocal cords.  All things in moderation, generally, of course, but when you know you've got a talk-heavy week coming up, you might want to take a pass on coffee in the morning and wine in the evening.  (Or vice versa, for that matter.)
  • Avoid irritants. The effects of too much talking can be intensified by agents that make the vocal cords more sensitive. Cigarette smoke, both first- and second-hand, is an obvious example.  But in addition to thinking about what you breathe, you should also consider what you eat.  Aromatic and spicy foods carry the risks not only of irritating the throat on the way down, but also causing stomach upset and reflux that might also irritate the throat on the way out.  Of course, food is not supposed to go down the windpipe, so direct irritation of the vocal cords is less common (though possible). A bigger issue is irritation of the throat above the larynx, which can lead to coughing, which directly assaults the vocal cords.  Similarly, it is a good idea to avoid milk and dairy products, not because they are directly harmful, but because they can coat the throat, prompting you to try to clear it, which can also irritate the vocal cords.  (If you ever feel the urge to clear your throat with a rumbling bark, hold off, and instead see if you can clear the irritation by opening your mouth wide and alternately breathing deeply through your nose and then exhaling, steadily and forcefully but not explosively, through your mouth, making the "h" sound as you do.)  Of course, try not to get sick, too, because illness can be an irritant.
  • Rest your vocal cords. It is often right to remain silent, but during busy times, it may not always be possible. Still, what you do outside the office can help rest your voice as well. When work is vocally busy, try to avoid scheduling other responsibilities that might require extensive speaking. Get rest at home -- minimize conversation and get good sleep.  In the long term, regular exercise can help develop stamina, even in the vocal cords, so that you can talk longer before your throat starts to feel irritated.
  • Soothe your throat. Along with having water at hand, keep some cough drops, mints, or even certain fruits at hand.  Eating or sucking on these will stimulate the production of saliva, which keeps the vocal cords moist. Also, consider drinking herbal teas with soothing ingredients like chamomile or slippery elm bark.  Traditional Medicinals "Throat Coat" is a pleasant choice.
  • Use healthy speaking techniques. Since in many cases we are not going to be able to avoid frequent speaking, it's a good idea to learn how to speak in the least irritating way for your vocal cords.  Sit up straight and don't slouch; good posture opens up the airway and relieves pressure on the larynx.  Avoid yelling, and avoid whispering -- both put unnecessary stress on your vocal cords.  Instead, try always to speak in a conversational tone of voice, but try to take deep breaths and to exhale using your diaphragm and your chest to produce sound, not just your throat.  This takes some of the strain off your vocal cords. Finally, if you do lecture, don't eschew the use of a microphone, when available. Yes, your stentorian voice can reach the back of the lecture hall, but you may pay for it later when you are trying to reach to person seated across the desk.  

[Bill MacDonald]

April 30, 2019 in Advice, Miscellany, Professionalism, Science, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)