Wednesday, March 20, 2019
A wide range of advising formats satisfy ABA Standard 309 requirements that a law school provide academic advising that "communicates effectively the school’s academic standards and graduation requirements, and  provides guidance on course selection." In some schools every faculty member has assigned advisees and guides them through all their choices for three years, minutely checking that they have met degree requirements and are prepared for the bar exam and their chosen area of practice. Other schools have a more laissez-faire system: after a few informational meetings students are given the tools they need to meet degree requirements and set loose on their own to seek guidance. Student Services or Academic Support offices sometimes handle the degree requirements portion of advising, drawing in clinical, writing, and doctrinal faculty primarily in a mentoring role. As a person who has coordinated a relatively formal 1L advising program for the past few years, I've heard considerable angst about advising. "I don't know what to do!" is a common refrain from senior and junior faculty alike. These suggestions are applicable to faculty performing the wide range of advising functions.
Understand your advising function. Ask the person who gave you the advising assignment and insist on clarity. Some advisors assigned at Orientation are meant primarily to be a human face and contact for new, bewildered 1Ls. Advisors assigned midway through 1L year may serve mostly as mentors for advisees who have expressed an interest in a particular area of law. Do you advise students only during 1L year, or throughout their three or four years of law school? Are you expected to lift registration holds? To advise students holistically about careers, bar passage, courses, and degree requirements? To focus on your areas of experience and subject-matter expertise? Are there unspoken expectations such as inviting advisees to your home for dinner? Once you know the expectations, you can work more effectively with your advisees.
Do your homework. Your advisees are expected to be familiar with a wide variety of materials such as graduation worksheets, catalogs, course selection guides, and student handbooks. You should be, too, even if your advising role is limited to mentorship. At least once a year, review the print and web materials relevant to your school's requirements and curriculum. For instance, while you need not know the details of all the certificate programs your school offers, you should have some knowledge of what programs exist and where to find more information. Likewise, familiarize yourself with key people within your school and their areas of expertise. The expert on the bar admissions process, for example, might be the registrar at one school and the academic support director at another. It goes without saying, but don't overlook the expertise of staff as well as faculty and administration.
Start by connecting to your advisee as a person, not by plunging into course offerings, doctrinal law, or career goals. Ask about what's important to them. Many students think they must immediately express an interest in a particular area of law, and they may be embarrassed if they haven't settled on one. Reassure them that they don't have to make those choices immediately. Some students already have a good idea of the practice they want after law school (prosecutor? family firm? general counsel?); when they do, advising is admittedly easier. But if not, ask questions to unearth what is most meaningful for them. For example, some students might want to focus their law school experience on ways they can help immigrant communities. Others may be looking for any position with enough flexibility that they can always attend their kid's soccer games. Others may be place-bound, whether from desire or necessity.
Encourage students to focus on intrinsic motivations. As Lawrence Krieger writes in The Hidden Sources of Law School Stress,
[A] primary focus on external rewards and results, including affluence, fame, and power, is unfulfilling. These values are seductive -- they create a nice picture of life but they are actually correlated with relative unhappiness. Instead, people who have a more "intrinsic," personal/interpersonal focus -- on personal growth, close relationships, helping others, or improving their community -- turn out to be significantly happier and more satisfied with their lives.
Suggesting possibilities and alternatives, while tying these possibilities to their values and goals, is the single most important service you can provide as an advisor. A good phrase is "Have you ever thought about . . . ?"
For example, the student who is place-bound in a small-town area might lean towards a typical small firm practice specializing in a few areas like family law and estate planning. But with the great strides in technology, a boutique practice might be in order, or acting as a contract attorney, or half a dozen other alternatives. Students whose impetus is to help immigrant communities may initially think only of practicing immigration law; you can broaden their horizons by suggesting that small business practice, bankruptcy, criminal law, or elder law could be equally valuable practices in helping these communities. Once students understand the multiplicity of options, they are more receptive to suggestions about the variety of courses, externships, clinics, and other experiences that can help them flourish.
When you discuss academic and practice alternatives (such as certificate programs, externships, clinics, moot court, and law journals), do so in the context of possibilities and alternatives. Be enthusiastic and informative, certainly, about your own courses and field -- if not you, who? -- but your primary advising purpose is not to be a shill for your own interests, but a mentor helping the student start the practice of law on a solid foundation.
Emphasize the long view. Extraordinary opportunities often carry short-term costs: a life-changing externship might require separating from loved ones for some weeks; an apposite course by a demanding professor could carry the risk of a dip in GPA. Here's where the credibility you have built with advisees can really pay off. Acknowledge their concerns, but point out what will have the greatest payoff over the long term.
Never undermine students' choices. Students value your opinions, so it hits them hard if your explicit and implicit messages that "real lawyers" follow a particular path (judicial clerkships, BigLaw, litigation, etc.) suggest that their own choices are second-best or even illegitimate. No field of law and no career path is beneath even the most talented student. While top students have a wealth of opportunities, they should not be browbeat into thinking certain fields are beneath them.
Connect. You have a valuable web of connections inside and outside the law school. Help your advisees tap into this network by referring them to others with knowledge and experience. As a practical matter, don't count on memory -- before advisees leave your office, make sure either you or they have written down not only the names of your referrals but also why you are referring them.
Respect the validity of other advising viewpoints. Students will discuss their future plans with many lawyers, both in and out of the law school. Because we as lawyers have different backgrounds, experiences, values, and areas of expertise, we as advisors will have different viewpoints, and inevitably some of these will clash. Students will notice the areas of disagreement, so it's vital for us to acknowledge the validity of other viewpoints even as we advocate our own. This is a great way to model the professionalism and civility we espouse.
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
In the mid-1950s, my father entered the heady field of computing. The astounding MOBIDIC, a mobile computer so small it could fit into the trailer of a semi, was his first major project; over the next three decades, he went on to teach computing to generations of West Point cadets and to write What's Where in the Apple, a book some called the "Bible" for the powerful (64K!) personal computer, the Apple II. Immersed as he was in computing, though, he struggled in teaching its fundamentals to his daughter. Patiently he would teach me what it meant to "boot" and the difference between ROM and RAM. Then just when I was congratulating myself on having achieved the intellectual equivalent of a breakneck 5 mph, he would accelerate up to Warp Factor 2 into ASCII and BASIC and FORTRAN and COBOL. Alas, this felt to me like being asked to do differential calculus right after mastering the times tables. Ironically, because his subject was so familiar to him, the skilled educator who introduced me to the old chestnut "When you assume you make an ass out of "u" and "me" himself assumed that any bright person could make the same intellectual leaps he had made.
Much of the time, we take the knowledge or experience of others for granted. In yesterday's blog post "Consider the Inconceivable," Bill MacDonald talked about the prevalence of the incredulous response of How can people not know that? When we're steeped in the midst of a culture (whether something as specific as a particular government office or university department, or something as diffuse as upper-middle class culture), matters that are opaque to others seem obvious to us. Administrators assume that faculty and students will know unwritten procedures like which committee to go to for different types of appeals. Instructors assume that students will know how to upload assignments on course management software, or even more fundamentally, that they understand that if they need help they can ask for it. But with all the differences between people -- cultural, generational, educational, social -- it's vital for us to continually test our assumptions and to modify our spoken and unspoken messages as needed.
Here's a wee, out-of-the-classroom example of how even minor assumptions can impinge on law student success. Last semester I had practically identical conversations with two different students several weeks apart. Both told me they were having difficulty finding a time to meet with me. I was surprised, not in the least because one of them regularly walked by my office several times a day. Not only was I scrupulous about keeping office hours, but my door (opening onto the main faculty hallway) was literally wide open most hours of the day. In fact, because my new office seemed so accessible, I had reduced the number of fixed appointment times on the somewhat cumbersome appointment system to accommodate more drop-in opportunities. It turned out, however, that the students and I had conflicting assumptions about my availability: I assumed the open door would make them feel free to walk in; these deferential students, on the other hand, assumed instructors would not want to be bothered outside of fixed office hours and appointment times. The first conversation I thought was a fluke, but after the second conversation I realized my assumption that "wide open door means students are welcome" was not shared by all my students. I had to move past thinking something was obvious to bridge the communication gap. Only by stopping and really listening could I discover the problem and take steps to communicate my availability in additional ways, both implicit and explicit.
The longer I'm an educator, the more my empathy has increased for my dad's attempts to teach me about his life's passion. Even for an ASPer, it's not easy to restrain myself from accelerating to Warp Factor 2 when teaching intelligent, motivated students. To best help them, though, every day I need to mindfully practice slowing down, listening, testing the verbal and non-verbal messages I convey, and correcting those messages that indicate I'm straying in the direction of becoming a long-eared equine.
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Two stories that I heard recently have been echoing off of each other in my mind, because of what they say about the human reaction to things that we, personally, would never consider doing.
The first was told to me by a fellow professor at my law school. She said she had been talking with two of her teaching fellows -- conscientious and diligent 3L students with excellent grades -- about the upcoming July 2019 bar exam. She conveyed to them a recent conversation she had had with me, in which I had told her about the data that showed that many students who were not passing the bar on their first attempt had also not been fully participating in their summer bar prep courses. She had expected that these top students would share in her incredulity that anyone would not commit themselves 100 percent to their summer bar prep . . . but was astonished when their actual incredulity was prompted by the suggestion that fresh law graduates really ought to do just that. Each of them had just assumed that, being newly-minted lawyers with excellent academic credentials, they were already mostly well-prepared for the bar exam. They told her they'd figured they'd watch maybe half the summer classes, in the subjects they had never studied before, and do some of the practice exercises, and that would be enough to bring them up to speed. Flabbergasted, the professor explained to them why it was important to sit through every lecture in every subject and to participate in as many practice exercises as possible, because the bar exam would be so very different from everything they had done before it.
Fortunately, these students respected this professor so much that they took her word as gospel, thanked her profusely for telling them what they needed to know, and promised to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their summer bar preparation. She told me this story partly to make the point: We think it's the struggling students, the ones who already have problems juggling all their assignments, who are the ones who flake out over the summer, but even top students can have the wrong impression about what is required for their success on the bar. Even as she was telling the story, though, she was still clearly shocked: How can people not know this?
I read the second story this week, when it was widely reported that a woman in Arizona was attacked by a jaguar when she tried to take a selfie in front of the creature. The beautiful black feline was pressed against the side of its cage, and the woman decided she wanted a photo of herself with the cat in the background. There was a metal barrier, designed to keep people a minimum distance from the side of the cage, but the woman stepped over it so she could get a closer shot. When she was within reach, the jaguar stuck its front leg between the bars of the cage and sank its claws into the woman's arm.
This story has been widely reported, and those reports usually feature two snarky points. One is a criticism of the ubiquitous modern urge to take selfies, even in dangerous situations. The other is a disdainful incredulity that anyone would blithely cross a safety barrier to put themselves in range of a pawful of tiny daggers. How can people not know this is a bad idea? Why, as several news outlets pointed out, the same jaguar did the same thing only last summer, clawing a man who had stuck his arm behind the barrier reaching towards the animal! Doesn't that just prove what a bad idea it was?
This last part is why the stories have been resonating for me. I'm only human, so I enjoy news stories like this, and tweets and memes like Florida Man and Darwin Awards, that purport to showcase just what poor decision makers humans can be. Can you believe these people? [shakes head and rolls eyes] But the fact that the same animal made the same kind of attack less than a year ago doesn't make the story funnier. It turns the story sour. Because the woman who was attacked didn't know about the previous attack. If, outside the jaguar's cage, there had been a photo display of the man attacked the previous summer, showing the eight stitches he had received just by reaching over the barrier, maybe the woman would have thought twice about cozying up to Panthera onca. Was not sharing this information with her justified simply because the man's behavior was simply inconceivable to most people? Because it was not inconceivable to her.
My colleague told me her story essentially for that reason -- she knows how many 3L students I work with, and she wanted to alert me to the need to tell all of them, not just the obviously struggling, about the consequences if they step too close to the jaguar cage by not fully participating in their summer bar courses. I am grateful to her for that. Sometimes when you tell people about some of the reasons students do not succeed at school or on the bar -- not participating in a bar prep course, say, or trying to work full-time and study full-time simultaneously -- their dismissive reactions are more along the lines of Can you believe these people? [shakes head and rolls eyes] Sometimes I find those reactions hard to believe in an educational setting, but I feel it is my job to find a way to help those people see that incredulity does not have to forestall empathy, kindness, and instruction.
Tuesday, March 5, 2019
As the school comes out of the dark and chill of winter -- not that that's happening all that quickly here in Buffalo -- and over the next couple of months, before we reach the crescendo of crunch time going into final exams, our students find themselves presented with a plethora of networking opportunities. There are dinners and events hosted by student organizations to bring current students and alumni together. There are panel discussions featuring practitioners in different fields. There are alumni and alumni groups inviting the students to come meet potential mentors or even employers.
I believe that networking is not just good for career advancement. It can also enhance one's academic experience. At any given event, a student might meet someone who inspires them, someone who can help them grasp a particular subject, or someone who helps them envision a path through school and beyond that might otherwise have eluded them. And I frequently tell my students, "The law is a social profession." So I encourage all my students -- and especially my 1L students -- to participate in these events, even if they don't see what they might get out of it. Sometimes what grows out of a new acquaintance is entirely unpredictable. And if students are still a little dubious or hesitant, I have a story to tell them.
In the 1920s and ’30s, Arthur Murray became the most famous dance instructor in history, first through his mail-order business –- he invented a system of teaching dance by means of footprint diagrams, an idea that was sparked by a conversation he had had with perennial populist presidential candidate and anti-evolutionist Scopes Monkey Trial counsel William Jennings Bryan, of all people –- and then through the “Arthur Murray Dance Studio”, a chain that still exists today. Through the 1950s, Murray and his wife hosted a TV show, The Arthur Murray Party, which consisted in part of dance competitions between celebrity guests.
One such competition pitted the smoldering Latin actor Ricardo Montalban against the well-known ventriloquist Paul Winchell. Montalban was a star in his native Mexico and had had some success in Hollywood, though nothing like the fame he would achieve some two decades later as Captain Kirk's enemy Khan Noonian Singh in the Star Trek franchise and the mysterious Mr. Rourke on the series Fantasy Island.
Winchell, like Edgar Bergen, had inexplicably found national renown as a ventriloquist on a radio show, and later hosted TV series with his dummies Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff. From the 1960s onward, Winchell would be better known for his voiceover work: he gave life to chronic Smurf-hater Gargamel, to the leader of the Scrubbing Bubbles, and, most memorably, to Winnie-the-Pooh's elastically hyperactive friend Tigger. Perhaps his latent inner Tigger gave him an edge in the dance competition, because he defeated Montalban and took home the Buick (which sounds like a euphemism, but the car really was the grand prize).
Talented as he was as a performer, Winchell’s earliest career ambition was to become a doctor; but, when he was a youth, his family could not afford medical school. He retained a lifelong interest in medicine, though, even earning a degree and working in acupuncture in the 1970s. It was therefore quite natural that Winchell should form a connection with Arthur Murray’s son-in-law, a man named Dr. Henry Heimlich, when they met during the taping of the Winchell/Montalban dance-off. Around the time Winchell was going to acupuncture school, Heimlich would be lauded by some (including himself) as the most well-known physician in America, after his article in Emergency Medicine introduced the life-saving technique he termed “the Heimlich maneuver”. But in the 1950s, he was a more-or-less ordinary practicing surgeon, and Winchell was delighted to make his acquaintance.
Over the next several years, Winchell and Heimlich stayed in touch, and Heimlich even invited Winchell to join him several times in the operating room as an observer. It was during one of these operations that Winchell came up with an idea for a functional, implantable mechanical heart, one that could theoretically be used to replace a diseased human heart. He drew up the plans, consulting with Heimlich on the medical details, and in 1956 applied for a patent on the device he had invented. By 1963 he had been granted the first patent in the United States on a fully implantable artificial heart. Eventually, Winchell would contribute this patent to the University of Utah for use in its artificial organ design program — the same program from which Dr. Robert Jarvik produced the first successfully implanted artificial heart. That device, the Jarvik-7, formed the basis of the Syncardia temporary Total Artificial Heart, which has been used in more than 800 patients.
So. Tigger faced the wrath of Khan on the dance floor and, as a result, met The Most Famous Doctor in America, who helped him invent and patent the world’s first bionic heart, contributing at least in a small way, to saving the lives of 800+ people.
Could Winchell have predicted this when he agreed to participate in The Arthur Murray Party, or when he made the acquaintance of strangers like Heimlich backstage? Of course not. Nor can our students predict who they will meet, and what they may take away from those meetings, when they put themselves out there among alumni, practitioners, judges, and clients. And that's the beauty of being open to such experiences. You literally cannot imagine all the good things that may come of them.
Wednesday, January 9, 2019
Act I, Scene I
It was the era of back-to-the-land, and I was not immune to the lure of the times. After years of practicing public history, I decided to take a new direction by moving to a cabin in the woods, living a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity, and picking up odd jobs to pay for my groceries and chainsaw.
Eager to establish ties in my new community, I was thrilled to accept a dinner invitation from my college's regional alumni association. Shedding my sawdust-covered jeans for a dark suit, I joined fellow alumni (mostly doctors and lawyers, as it turned out) to reminisce about professors, teams, Winter Carnival, and dormitory pranks. I felt at home at the swank gathering until a 40-ish lawyer asked, "And what do you do?" Happy to share my journey, I replied, "Right now I'm working as a janitor to . . . ." My sentence died in my mouth as the lawyer turned away, along with everyone else within earshot, as though my lowly position tainted me irreparably.
Act I, Scene II
Ten years later, when I worked temp jobs at a university between fire seasons, everyone in the Plant Sciences department gushed about their custodian. She was the consummate professional, efficiently finishing her long list of assigned duties before the end of each shift. With the remainder of her time, she talked with students, staff, and faculty about how she could help them improve their work spaces, and she worked on these extra projects as time allowed. The laboratories, offices, and hallways gleamed under her care. She befriended anxious freshmen, guided befuddled visitors, and shared good cheer with all. When she was reassigned to a different building on campus, the entire department mourned her departure and turned out to wish her bon voyage.
As a freshly-minted academic support professional, I noticed a curious phenomenon. During fall semester, when 1Ls were nervous about their ability to master the demands of law school, they were, by and large, respectful to those they encountered during the course of the day. But a few weeks into second semester, with grades out and the confidence of actually becoming future lawyers, behaviors began to change for a significant portion of the class. While full professors were treated with deference, instructor-level faculty received lesser courtesy and staff were sometimes addressed with a brusqueness that crossed the line to rudeness. The cleanliness of the building suffered: restrooms were littered with paper towels thoughtlessly tossed, spills remained on floors, and dishes piled up in lounge areas, as if it was the duty of the custodians to serve as vassals to self-important students who were superior to them.
The Moral of the Story
"Every calling is great when greatly pursued," declared Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. The beginning of the second semester, when grades are released, is a particularly critical time for students. Most gain the confidence that they will become lawyers. Others bravely face the reality that they should contemplate a different future, either because law does not feed their soul, or because legal reasoning is such a struggle that it is better to pursue a different vocation. Whatever their path, every person involved in legal education needs to remember that it is not financial success, or academic degrees, or career status that defines a professional. Rather, it is respectfully and ethically using one's talents in the service of others, whether in the courtroom or as the janitor. Professionalism always involves treating others with the respect that acknowledges their inherent dignity and value. As we help our students take the lessons they need to from what they have been through, and to prepare for the tasks they lie ahead of them, an important part of our task as gatekeepers is to remind our students of the dignity of every person and the greatness of every calling.
Monday, October 8, 2018
Sputnik changed teaching forever. Falling behind the Soviet Union in the race to space caused people throughout the US to evaluate how we were teaching science and math. Numerous theories ignited thought, and many individuals wanted the US to be the world leader in technology. Unfortunately, we never fully realized our potential. The US continually lags behind on the international math exams, and we are at fault.
Japan is widely seen as the technology innovator. They continually score higher than all the other counties on the international math exam. They use a unique form of teaching focusing on one problem, but the hardest aspect to swallow is Japan’s success is primarily built on the US theories developed after Sputnik. The US failed to deploy the new theories throughout the country. Japan capitalized on Americans’ work to produce a technologically advanced society. Sputnik changed teaching, but unfortunately, the changes happened in Japan. Now, we need to look to them to train our teachers.
Elizabeth Green describes the American failure and Japanese success in an article in the New York Times Magazine. The Japanese practice of jugyokenkyu, translated lesson study, could help law schools improve. Jugyokenkyu is when “[a] teacher first plans lessons, then teaches in front of an audience of students and other teachers along with at least one university observer. Then the observers talk with the teacher about what has just taken place. Each public lesson poses a hypothesis, a new idea about how to help children learn. And each discussion offers a chance to determine whether it worked.” Jugyokenkyu approaches teaching as a collaborative effort with feedback.
Obviously, law schools don’t need specifics for teaching math. However, numerous reports, recommendations, and standards haven’t changed legal education. Maybe it is time for law schools to embrace jugyokenkyu.
The foundation for jugyokenkyu is deliberate preparation with goals; performance for students and colleagues; and feedback from experts. In ASP, we know that process works. We tell students to take practice exams, seek feedback, and make changes for the next exam. In LRW, professors tell students to put down papers for a few days because individuals tend to read over errors in his/her own work. If those are true for our students, then those statements are true for us. We need feedback from someone who understands teaching law students to know whether our methods are working. We will miss our own mistakes just like reading over an error in a brief. We need deliberate practice with feedback as much as students.
The amazing transformation of Japanese math teaching is the anomaly, but we should attempt to follow that trend in legal education. Theories, ideas, and published articles didn’t change America after Sputnik, so continuing that failed practice won’t change legal education. I know I am saying this in a blog. However, let’s consider how we can take steps to make lasting improvements to help our students.
My first suggestion is work within our own law schools. Find a group of individual professors who are determined to help students learn better. Start small with each person in the group deliberately planning a lesson. The rest of the group observes the lesson, or someone can record the class for observation. Everyone should then meet and talk about the lesson. If each person in the group does that twice during a semester, the evaluation and critiques would help everyone.
My next suggestion is to work with ASPers at other schools. I know the quickest response to the last suggestion is “no one at my school would do that.” While I believe there are at least a couple professors who want to improve teaching at every school, inter-school feedback can work. We could create a TWEN page or page on the AASE site where we post videos of our teaching. Others within the community could then watch and provide feedback.
ASPers posting lectures would provide an additional benefit for the annual conference. We could see others’ lectures we hear about at AASE. Some of the presentations always talk about how he/she teaches students a particular concept. If that lecture was already posted, we could watch the lecture prior to the presentation and have a deeper discussion of teaching. We could also have round table feedback sessions on teaching from lectures posted. As we change our area, we could talk about it in our law schools to get other professors on board. We can spread jugyokenkyu throughout law schools.
We continually hear that legal education needs to change. Similar to k-12 education, entities demand we use better practices. Demands generally don’t lead to widespread change. Feedback from experts, who are our colleagues, is how Japan became the best country for math in the world. We should try a model that works instead of continually following the same failed practice.
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
One thing that distinguishes law school culture from that of many other professional schools is the high percentage of people in student services who already possess the degree most of their students are trying to obtain. I have never done an exhaustive analysis (but woo hoo! Research opportunity!), but in my personal experience the majority of people working in law schools in the areas of Academic Support or Career Services are law school graduates, and so are a fair number of people working in areas like Admissions and Libraries. A quick dive into the Internet suggests that medical schools and business schools do not hire their own graduates for student services at nearly the same frequency. In fact, when I checked out the staff of five med school Academic Support units and five law school Academic Support units, no one in the med school units possessed an M.D., but each member of the law school units possessed a J.D.
There are no doubt many forces pushing towards this odd result for law schools. One that is practically taken for granted is the idea that someone who already possesses a J.D. is far better positioned than anyone else to really understand what new J.D. students are actually going through. Part of this assumption is perfectly practical: people who already have their law degree have presumably already learned all the elements unique to the practice of law. We can “think like a lawyer”; we can wield IRAC without effort; we understand federalism and common law and stare decisis and all the idiosyncrasies that our students have to contend with while navigating the rigors of study, time management, and exams. This is not to say that non-lawyers couldn’t provide wonderful support to law students. There is just a general belief that lawyers have a head start on understanding the context into which everything fits.
At the same time, law school alumni are apt to think that they can understand what law students are going through because the alumni were students once, too. We remember the dread of our first cold call in class; we remember plodding through civil procedure and constitutional law; we remember trying to juggle classes and law review and OCI all at the same time. Like military veterans of different eras, maybe we didn’t fight on the same battlefield, but our students don’t have to tell us what it’s like, man. We know.
Except . . . we don’t always know. We know a lot of things, to be sure; for me, not a day goes by that I don’t relate some student’s challenge to one of my experiences in law school. Education is always a boon. But the longer I do this work, the more I find that I have to work to find out what my students’ present experience is really like. This is in part because law school is always changing and evolving. Each class’s relationship to electronic research, for example, is just a little bit different from that of the previous class. Economics change, student populations change, hot button issues change. But these big changes, I think we do a fairly good job of staying on top of. In fact, sometimes it seems Academic Support is ahead of the curve, and can help bring other members of the law school community – for example, those whose specialties do not change much from year to year – up to speed on them.
What I really find myself having to pay more attention to each semester is my students’ day-to-day realities. Some of the mistakes I made when I first started providing academic support came about because I was taking a “one-size-fits-all” approach, and only with experience did I realize that it was really more like “one-size-fits-me”. I was teaching to my experience in law school.
Now, I am no longer satisfied knowing what classes my 1L students are taking each semester – I need to ask their individual professors for their syllabi, so I can know what topics they are hearing about each week, so I don’t assume that their Torts professor started off, like mine, with intentional torts, and therefore so I don’t pose a hypothetical that half my class can’t answer. I try to participate in student club events, like fundraisers or dinners, so I can hear about mundane practical issues – things like parking and child care and the timing of holidays – that I never thought about in school, but some of my students have to. I talk to other faculty and staff to find out the schedule of moot court and mediation competitions, visits from employers, and off-campus learning opportunities – stuff I was not particularly interested in myself when I was in law school – so I can better understand why a particular student might be coming to talk to me about a certain writing or time management issue. I seek opportunities to listen to students who come from different locations, cultures, and economic circumstances, so I can be aware of what going to law school now is like for them.
Being a lawyer means having been a law student, and having been a law student can be a tremendous advantage when your job is to help other law students. But having been a law student does not mean you have been all law students.
Monday, August 6, 2018
Excitement is mounting. A magical experience begins in the coming days. Joy and the nerves of the unknown rise. I could be describing a 6 year old’s feelings the day before seeing Magic Kingdom or the emotions of someone starting law school. Law school has the potential to be just as magical as Mickey pancakes.
The adrenaline will be high the first few days, but try to soak it all in. You only get to start law school once. If you embrace the new journey, it can be eye opening. Disney World is hot, muggy, expensive, and crowded the vast majority of the time, but it is still the happiest place on earth. Law school can be hard, time consuming, and draining, or it can be a thought provoking and transformative experience. Enjoying law school is about the perspective during the mundane of daily activities.
Law school magic is all around. Learning how to "think like a lawyer" is similar to seeing all your childhood movies come to life. Hearing numerous different people try to explain IRAC, CIRAC, CRAC, or any other legal analysis method is just like A Small World. The song is the same just using different languages. Some professors are larger than life like Mickey. Some classes will be exhilarating like Space Mountain, while others will be the Jungle Cruise, predictable and full of bad jokes. Every class will provide pieces to the larger puzzle that lays the foundation for the practice of law.
As you embrace the magic, understand you are joining a new profession. My biggest suggestion for law school is to treat this unique opportunity as your new career. You will make an impression on both colleagues and professors starting now. References and referrals many years down the road are impacted by what you do starting day 1.
Treating law school as a career includes preparation. Start your day early. Attend every class unless an emergency or sickness arises. Adequately prepare for each class. Everyone is different, but my adequate preparation required slowly reading each major case while briefing it. Some students will skim the case and then read it again to make the brief. The key is to prepare as if this is your job. You wouldn’t, or at least you shouldn’t, show up to work unprepared or ignore your bosses instructions, so don’t show up to class without doing the assignments from professors. Finals are much easier to prepare for when you do the work throughout the semester.
Joining the profession also requires passing the bar exam in a few years. No one wants to think about the bar now, but your actions on the first day will impact bar preparation. I can virtually guarantee the material from the first week of law school will be on the bar. The more effort you put in right now, the less stress during bar prep.
This is an exciting journey and will be as magical as you make it. Treat this as your new profession and have fun.
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
As my students transition into exam study mode and I start to close out all of the activities of this academic year, I have started to reflect on my accomplishments and goals. Reflection of this depth does not happen very often but I have a present awareness as I prepare for my series highlighting veteran members of our Academic Support (ASP) community. Last May, I sent a number of individuals who I consider veterans (10 years or more doing ASP work) a list of questions to guide what I wanted to know about them. I did provide some flexibility but most answered all of the questions. As I approach the ten-year mark as an academic support professional and about the thirteenth year if we count law school and graduate school, I am even more curious about what everyone has to share.
I never understood what people meant when they would say they looked up and ten years had flown by. Now I do because it is happening to me. I believe that this is a great time to reflect on where I am, whether it is what I envisioned for myself, what things are working well, what things are not working so well, and where I see myself in the years to come. It is a great time to have new or modified aspirations. This is certainly something everyone should consider whether a few months into ASP work or several years in. I have decided to borrow from my student affairs and career services colleagues, specifically what they tell students to consider as they try to navigate a professional career. It is unlikely that I will share all of my personal reflections but I will list some of the questions they tell students to consider but I will also list some of the questions I would ask students in my past life as a diversity and academic advising professional.
• What do I need from my career? (what role it plays in my life)
• What makes me feel truly fulfilled? (how do I measure success)
• What do I know about myself that helps me make good career decisions?
• What is important to me based on my personal values and beliefs?
• What do I know about my personality and style?
B. Skills Assessment
• What skills, experiences, and knowledge have I acquired?
• What skills, experiences, and knowledge would I like to acquire?
• What responsibilities do I have/have I had?
• What have I achieved?
• What are my strengths?
• What have been the highlights of my career and life to date?
C. Set Goals & Plan
• Are my talents being used and developed? If not, look for opportunities that allow you to use or develop the talents you have.
• Identify and exploit opportunities that address gaps in knowledge, ability, and growth.
• Select worthwhile but realistic goals.
• Consider steps you need to follow to accomplish my goals.
• Be flexible.
• Consider what will keep me motivated to achieve my goals.
I am certain that there are more sophisticated assessments and questions available but this is somewhere to start and verbalizing or writing these things down can be powerful. Also, if you have a person who helped you along the way as an ASP professional and who you trust, use them as a sounding board. Moreover, if you know of an ASP veteran that you would like to see spotlighted, please email me their name and school and I might be able to highlight them. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, April 12, 2018
I'm a clipper. That's right. I keep an assortment of articles that intrigue me and then I return to them periodically to reflect on what I have learned. One article caught my attention today...and...just in the nick of time. You see, I'm just plain tired out. Perhaps you are too, trying to do too much and to be too much. Just spread out too thin to make much of a difference in the world, it seems.
So with classes starting to come to a close for many of us and our law students, I thought I'd take a pause to reflect on some principles that might help me become better at being better. Here's what I mean by that. Rather than being better at doing things, perhaps I might become better at being, in short, at being human. I love that word "being" because it deals with the "hear and now" rather than the tomorrows. It's loaded with action...in the present moment. So, what action did I take that helped me get back to the present today?
Well, I've been carrying around an article that I clipped out dealing with New Year's Resolutions. With so much stress right now as I try to finish teaching my courses, preparing for finals, and getting ready for the summer bar passage season, I thought that now was the perfect time to reflect on what I had learned about being a better person from an article entitled "Set the Bar High for Your 2018 Resolutions" by Jason Zweig (Wall Street Journal dated December 30-31, 2017), available at: https://blogs.wsj.com/lessismore Here are some of the quotes:
- "Talk less; listen more." Unfortunately, much of the time, I'm talking but not listening. I love the advice here because it helps remind me to appreciate the other person, to value the other person, to embrace the other person. On a personal note, within the world of academic support, I find that I am often too quick to provide solutions before I've yet to even understand the problem. So, this is great advice when working with students too.
- "Learn something interesting every day." That's right; be curious. As I drove to school today, I was passed by a school bus. That's right - a school bus. Yes, I am a slow driver (at least usually when I'm headed to work; much faster when I'm headed home!). As the bus passed me by, I happened to notice something strange about the school bus. It was from a public school that was named something like "The School for Expeditionary Learning." That got me thinking. Perhaps that's the way that I might better describe the learning process with my students. Be courageous in your learning. Be daring in your learning. Be expeditionary in your learning.
- "Get home 15 minutes earlier. It will make you 15 minutes more efficient the next day." To be honest, I'm not quite sure I understand this advice. But, here's my take nonetheless. Much of my day is hurried and busy because I let it be that way. Take for instance email and messaging. Rather than disabling notifications, I just keep getting these pop-up alerts, right from the get-go of my day, taking me off message from what my first priorities ought to be. So, here's my take on this quote. Disable notifications. Only look at email in the middle of the day after I've already worked on the big tasks at hand. Don't let the little things get in the way of doing the great things each day.
- "Stop walking with your phone in your hand all of the time. Look up and see how beautiful and strange the world is." I did one better, at least I think so. I am practicing leaving my phone in my car while at work. That's because I find that even if I just carry my phone with me I feel drawn to it. So, I make it unavailable to me in order that I can't fall prey to its tantalizing alerts and beeps that so often distractingly beckon for my attention.
- "Introduce yourself to all the people at your job [school] whom you see every day but haven't met yet." As a corollary to no. 4 above (leaving your phone behind while at school), you'll have a lot more time to actually take note of the people around you. So, share a smile with them. Look one another in the eyes. Maybe even say a friendly word or two. You see, I suspect that one of the loneliest places in the world is right in the midst of the crowd, especially a law school crowd. If true, there are many people all around us that are yearning for a place of fellowship, a place of relational togetherness, a place to belong. That's definitely me. So, rather than wait for others to say hello, I thought I'd just take the initiative and extend a friendly greeting to those I know...and those I don't too. The more the merrier!
With all of the stresses and strains of our busy law school lives, I was so glad that I happened to clip this article. It reminded me that often its the little things of the here and now that are really the great things. Unfortunately, so often I have it backwards. I'm busy, so busy that I don't have time to do anything meaningful at all. So, I took a brief pause today to remind myself of what it means to be a human being in relationship with others. That sure looks much more exciting that staring yet again at my phone. So, have fun smiling...and being too! (Scott Johns).
Sunday, January 21, 2018
We are finishing our second week of classes. As part of the start up, I have been meeting one-one-one with probation students. We will have weekly appointments during the semester to assess strengths and problems, implement strategies, and monitor progress. The first appointments with students always give me a great deal of insight into their mindsets on success.
Here are some of the characteristics of the students on probation who are ready to succeed this semester:
- They arrive on time or ahead of time for their appointments.
- They take out a pen and paper or laptop to take notes during the meeting without prompting from me.
- When asked to fill out an information sheet, they can list fall courses/professors/grades and their spring courses/professors without having to look them up.
- They have reflected on last semester's grades and study strategies and can articulate some ideas for improvement.
- They ask questions throughout our discussion to clarify points or inquire about areas we will cover this semester.
- They have started the exam review process with emails to some of their fall professors before seeing me.
- They use a daily planner or electronic calendar to record assignments and the date/time of our next meeting.
And then there are students on probation who do not seem ready to succeed yet (fortunately a small group). Hopefully that will change after grade shock/anger/angst has passed.
- They have not scheduled an appointment with me before the end of the second week of classes as required by the law school
- They "no show" the first appointment or arrive late to the appointment.
- They come to the appointment without anything - no pen and paper, no laptop, no knapsack, nothing.
- When asked to fill out an information sheet, they do not follow clear instructions or cannot remember the information to complete a section.
- They have not given any thought to the last semester's grades beyond "if I had been in the easy section" or "Professor X's exam was too hard" or "I wouldn't have been on probation if I just got a D+ in Y course instead of a D" or other answers that are basically non-reflection.
- They scowl, slouch in their chairs, sigh deeply in boredom, or exhibit other signs of frustration and animosity for having to meet.
- They make no notes on assigned tasks or the date/time for the next meeting.
Past semesters reassure me that the second group of students will come around. It may be several weeks before they are ready to take advantage of new strategies, but they come around at least 95% of the time. Unfortunately, if it takes too long to do so, they will have lost valuable time.
But I live in hope. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, October 23, 2017
It’s hard to believe that we are already heading towards the end of October. It seems like the Fall semester just started.
As the end of October approaches, many students are trying to figure out what they plan to wear for their Halloween parties. They are also trying to figure out what they need to do for the rest of the semester as well.
By now, 1Ls have heard of this “outlining” word. But, they may not fully understand what it means. They have read and briefed most of their cases, but they may not have a good grasp of how these cases link up with one another in their doctrinal classes. They may have been so focused on writing down and remembering each miniscule detail from their cases that they have neglected to see how each case from their individual doctrinal classes ties in with every other case in those classes. They may not be ready to attack a large final exam question that assesses their ability to analyze the various legal issues that they have covered throughout the semester.
As law school academic support professionals, we should be ready to assist 1L students as they negotiate the latter part of their first semester. Let’s remember that most 1Ls may not, at this point, fully understand the big picture law for each of their doctrinal subjects. Let’s remember that many 1Ls may not have fully practiced issue spotting and exam writing. Let’s be ready with a non-judgmental and empathic listening ear so that we can best serve each individual student. (OJ Salinas)
October 23, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Professionalism, Reading, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, October 9, 2017
The counseling field has often highlighted the benefits of some personal disclosure from therapists to their clients. Some cited benefits include increased trust and rapport, as well validation of the clients’ experiences.
Join me this week at the Inaugural Diversity Conference for the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) in Baltimore, Maryland, for a moderated discussion on the benefits of academic support professionals sharing personal stories and struggles with their students.
Participants will be encouraged to share their experiences (i.e., their stories or struggles) relating to diversity and inclusion or their law school experience in general. These experiences may either be personal stories or struggles or stories related to students that the participants may have worked with in their capacity as academic support professionals. As presenters and participants share their stories, the “listening” participants will be modeling and reviewing some of the same active listening skills and nonverbal behaviors that academic support professionals should be engaging in when they work with students in either individual or group conferences.
Hope to see you in Maryland! (OJ Salinas)
October 9, 2017 in Advice, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, News, Professionalism, Program Evaluation, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Does academic support extend beyond the law school environment and the time students are at an institution? Does it take on a different form? Is it even academic support anymore? We have a general idea of what academic support offices do and the nature and purpose of our interactions with students. Most of our interactions revolve around helping students develop skills to be academically successful and successful on the bar exam. Certain interactions permit us to get to know some of our students as more than just an individual who has difficulty outlining or organizing answers to essay questions. We get to know about where the student hails from, their interests, their life’s challenges, their journey to law school, and sometimes, rare information about their families. Do those relationships stop there?
My answer is no. Post-graduation interactions initially begin as pure focus on taking and passing the bar exam. Later, conversations shift to career opportunities, careers, people management, and life management. In sum, the interactions are less academic support related and more “human” focused. This indicates that academic support is an institutional community building tool that may not be visible to many. Once conversations shift to career development, they typically relate to job search successes and wows, strategic job searching, and career challenges. I am by no means a career services expert; therefore, I direct my students to that office for support and assistance. Most of my conversations pertain to what I know about alums, their interests, the truth about their strategies and approaches, and considering worse case scenarios and options. We have “real talk sessions” that culminate into unique holistic conversations.
When I am not speaking with first career or first “real job” alums, I speak with former students who have worked for one to five years and have decided to make a career change or are sorting through how to navigate office politics. Included in our discussions are debates about what it means to be a woman and/or a person of color in legal and non-legal environments and the nature of their interactions with men, other people of color, and people not of color. Alums often share personal stories and all of sudden, we have created an impromptu professional development session for all of us. While interactions with alums might not be specifically “ASP” related, they often provide me with information that I can then use to encourage and help current students. I have also built a network of alums that I can call on and know will be responsive if I need help with bar preparation advice or individuals I can connect with a current student from a similar background in need of support and direction that I know I am unable to provide them with. Alums are also a good source of assessment of various programs offered by my office because they will tell me the truth. They know that I will not take offense as I am simply trying to improve what I do to help students like them (Goldie Pritchard).
Monday, September 25, 2017
We are several weeks into the Fall semester. 1L students are starting to get a little better handle on what law school is all about. If they didn’t know this already, they are starting to realize that law school is much different than college.
There are no boldface words and glossaries in the law school casebooks. The Socratic class is not filled with a professor lecturing at passive students for the duration of class. And there are few, if any, written “chapter tests” during the semester so that students can assess their understanding of the material.
But, there are many opportunities throughout the semester where students can assess whether they are picking up what they should pick up in the course. These opportunities happen every day in class as a result of the often-dreaded Socratic method (and I dreaded it when I was a 1L--but, that story is for another blog post).
The professors’ many “what ifs” and “how abouts” give students opportunities to test their understanding of the relevant law; they are given chances to apply this law to many factual scenarios—which, in turn, help the students become better issue-spotters and legal analysts. And, as we all know in the ASP world, the more issues a student is able to spot and analyze on a law school final exam, the more likely that student will gain more points on the professor’s final exam rubric.
So, students: Try to engage with the professors’ hypotheticals in class—even when you have not been cold called in class to verbally answer the questions. Try to answer the questions to yourself in your own head. If you can’t come up with an answer to a hypothetical, write the question down on your notes and revisit that question after class or on the weekend when you review what you have covered in class for the week. You may not have come up with the answer in class. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with the answer on the final exam--when it really counts!
One of the many differences from college and law school is that you don’t have several formal written tests throughout the semester; you often only have one exam at the end of the semester per course that often dictates your entire semester course grade. Try to prepare for that final exam every day in class when you engage with the professors’ hypotheticals, and practice the legal analysis skills that will help make you a better law school test-taker and, eventually, lawyer. (OJ Salinas)
September 25, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, August 7, 2017
I have been thinking about the wonderful, varied, and interesting lives our students bring to law school.
Each student comes to our law schools with a unique and authentic experience. Unfortunately, some of these experiences are sometimes deemed insignificant. The person who has lived the experience may be too anxious or ashamed to share it. Or, others around this person may be too afraid to acknowledge that their individual experiences may not be the only way to have experienced some “thing.”
Each student comes to our law schools with an individual story that can enrich our learning environment and augment the law school experience for other students. For example, how one student responds to the facts of a particular case or identifies with the rationale or policy supporting some legal authority may provide a different insight and promote more critical thinking than the most qualified professor alone. This insight and critical thinking begins to grow, encouraging others to be more willing to take their blinders off and expand their narrow view of an issue, or better yet, of the world.
As we prepare to start a new law school semester, let’s remember what makes each of us unique and authentic. Let’s embrace, not obscure, our differences. And let’s try to foster our students’ abilities to recognize and appreciate differences. Being different doesn’t mean being weak. Being different doesn’t mean being irrelevant. Being different doesn’t mean being unworthy of success. (OJ Salinas)
Monday, July 31, 2017
I wrote in last week’s post of my trip to the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) conference in Minnesota. The conference theme focused on diversity and inclusion, which we know will also be the focus of our upcoming Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) conference in October.
My colleague, Alexa Chew, and I lead a discussion at ALWD on ways to make law schools more welcoming for everyone. We spoke about our experiences participating on our Diversity and Inclusion Task Force at UNC Law. We spoke about how allowing students to share their stories and listening to their stories can create more awareness and understanding of the diversity and inclusion problems that may be wounding your law school.
Alexa and I wrote a blog post in advance of our ALWD presentation in Jennifer Romig’s Listen Like a Lawyer blog. We wrote that most of us working at law schools want a more diverse and inclusive environment. However, many folks working in our law schools are often unaware of what our students are experiencing during their law school tenure. So, schools get into a situation where they are trying to fix or work on a "problem" that they have not identified or know little about--or worse, that they may be inadvertently contributing to.
Alexa and I provided a few suggestions that could help more folks “get in the know.” The suggestions are relatively simple and inexpensive, but they may still have a huge impact on how students feel when they walk through the doors of your law schools. I suspect many of you in the ASP world are likely already doing many of the suggestions quite well! Keep it up!!! And encourage others in your law school to follow your lead!
Sunday, July 30, 2017
Many of our law students are immersed in legal work this summer. The variety of their experiences will be as wide as the universe of legal work. Some will be buried in library research and memo writing. Some will be drafting documents. Some will be busy with intake interviews. Some will be compiling trial notebooks. And everything in between will align with someone's summer job.
It is not unusual for a rising 2L to exclaim, "Now I understand Civil Procedure!" It is the aha moment when what seemed to just be dry cases and procedural mumbo-jumbo becomes alive in a real case with a real client. All the innovative books based on real cases and role plays during 1L year were just not the same as the real thing.
The aha moment can happen with any course material and at whatever point the student is in the study of law. Life is breathed into the concepts now applied in a summer clerking experience. The client scenarios they deal with can enrich their understanding: formerly compartmentalized concepts become interrelated; separate courses become integrated through a series of case issues; procedural steps take on significance within litigation; strategic pros and cons develop as a case unfolds.
Ideally we hope that the summer experience will not only solidify prior learning, but will also trigger more active learning in future semesters. After a taste of practice, law students can enhance their learning by asking how the material would be used with clients, how the material relates to other material, how procedures affect outcomes, what analysis would each party use, and more. If future courses become relevant in their minds to working with clients, then they go beyond dusty words on pages and requirements for graduation.
Many law students this summer will also realize at a gut level for the first time how much responsibility they owe in their work to a real person. What they and the lawyers on a case say and do directly impacts someone's life. Professionalism takes on an entirely new dimension when one deals with a client and not a mere hypothetical. It can be a very sobering realization.
Hopefully students return to their studies with new motivation to be the best lawyers they can be. Courses and skill sets are no longer just for grades. Those courses and skills are essential to being a competent and professional lawyer. Their clients will depend on how diligently they approached their legal studies as the foundation for their career. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Hello! I just accepted an invitation to contribute to this blog and this is my first post. In the future I hope to post on a wide range of topics, representing the varied duties common to academic support professors. But, for this debut post, I want to echo Betsy Six’s suggestion during the closing remarks at AASE to send a kudos email (my words, not hers) to a colleague. Did someone really impress you with their presentation? Did you have a conversation with a colleague in the hallway that changed the way you think about academic support? If so, let them—and their boss—know about it. Don’t worry; it’s not too late. Ask Emily Post. Don’t know what to say? Try putting your own spin on this template:
Dear Dean [X],
I write to tell you what a nice job [name] did on [his/her] presentation entitled “[title]” at the Association of Academic Support Educators Conference in Fort Worth, Texas in May. [Name’s] presentation was innovative, insightful, and engaging. The presentation laid out several concrete [descriptive noun] ideas which attendees (like myself) could implement at their own institutions. Kudos to [name], and to you and your institution for supporting [his/her] work. [Name] is a great asset to the academic support professors’ community!
In closing, just let me say congratulations to everyone who organized, presented at, and attended the annual AASE Conference! (Kirsha Trychta)
Monday, May 15, 2017