Tuesday, August 20, 2019
It is the start of the school year, and we are welcoming new classes of students to begin their courses of study in law school. Each course of study will comprise a score or more individual courses in particular subjects, and we hope that in due course every student will consume and fully digest a rich multi-course legal banquet. Of course.
Our versatile word "course" is derived from the Latin word "currere", meaning "to run" or "to flow". In all of its varied uses, it alludes to a sense of movement and progress, and this is particularly fitting when we think of the course of a law student's passage from matriculation to graduation. They arrive at school, eager and perhaps a bit awed as they imagine themselves advancing, starting off slowly, developing the knowledge, skill, and judgment of an attorney as they make their ways along, and then racing to the finish line to collect their prizes.
To many incoming 1L students, law school may seem like a watercourse -- like a channel through which they will be carried, sometimes swept through dizzying rapids, other times dragged through muddy waters of confounding breadth, ultimately to squeeze past a perilous bar and then be deposited at the port of Career, where their next adventure begins. In this view, all students need to do is learn to paddle, avoid rocking the boat, and make use of their brains and perseverance, and they will arrive at their destinations.
But there are better courses for comparison. Law school is best considered like a racecourse or a golf course -- not because their structures are more precisely analogous, but because of the way successful performers approach them. Sure, great sports performers make the most of their talents and training. But before they begin a race or a tournament, they get to know the course. A runner will trace out the course route, measuring the flats and the hills, and will plan out her pacing accordingly. A golfer will play or at least walk the course, making note of obstacles, slopes, and doglegs, and getting to know the feel of the greens. A skier will take practice runs down the course, developing a mental map so he can plan when to be cautious, when to be daring, when to push for speed. Knowing the course means they can make the best use of their skills and strategies over the long term.
So it is in law school. Week to week, month to month, semester to semester, knowing what it coming means students can expend their resources (time, attention, energy, etc.) more wisely. It means they can allow sufficient time to prepare for opportunities, or for challenges. It lessens the chances that they will wander out of bounds or run around in circles.
This is one of the reasons I love the start of the new academic year. It gives those of us in Academic Success a wonderful opportunity to provide something of immediate and long-term value to every new student we meet. We can walk them through the course! We can explain to them what a typical week will be like. We can preview all the major tasks of their first semester -- reading, attending class, outlining, midterms, legal writing assignments, practice tests, and final exams -- and help the students develop their own mental maps of the course. We can give them a bird's-eye of the entire tournament: the timing, value, and effort required of the opportunities and expectations they will encounter over the next few years. And we can do all of this for them painlessly -- not in response to an individual's frustration or anxiety or poor performance. It's the best part of the year, because we can give our students something they all can use, whether or not they have come into law school having learned the lesson that so many champions have learned: Successful performers don't see the course as running and carrying them along with it. They see the course as something they themselves run.
Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Watching the Super Bowl on Sunday made me think of my students. By no means am I implying any similarity between football and the legal profession. After all, one is a grueling slugfest, featuring breathlessly intense clashes between aggressive competitors on behalf of highly partisan, sometimes even fanatically tribal, stakeholders, with pride and sometimes lots of money at stake. The other is just an athletic contest.
No, the reason I thought of my students was the sudden shift in the game in the fourth quarter. Through the first 50 minutes or so of play, the scores remained unusually low and very close. Neither team could gain a clear advantage, and with less than ten minutes remaining, the score was still only 3 to 3. Across the country, spectators were complaining about how stagnant and boring the game seemed.
Suddenly, within a minute or so of game time, everything changed. The Patriots called a play in which a receiver wound up open in the middle of the field, just beyond the Rams' defensive line, and Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady deftly passed the ball to him and gained several yards. By itself, the play was only mildly exciting, and then only because it provided comparatively more action than most of the preceding gameplay. But the Patriots realized right away that the Rams' defense, which up until that time had been pretty successful at confining the Patriots' forward motion, had not had anything in place to keep that lone receiver from appearing unguarded behind the defensive line. So for the next few plays, the Patriots ran essentially the same play, except for choosing a different receiver to run up the field each time. In the space of four plays, the team moved all the way down the field and set up the winning touchdown run.
From the Rams' point of view, everything was fine, until suddenly it wasn't. They were basically evenly matched with their opponents, in a game that looked like it might go into overtime -- and then, in less than a minute, everything fell apart. One weakness was exposed -- one play that they had no planned defense for -- and before they could adjust to it, the other side had taken advantage of that weakness and taken a significant lead. And the fact that they were in that distressing position left the team vulnerable to more trouble. They rushed and ran riskier plays, hoping to score their own tying touchdown in the short time they had left, and under this pressure the Rams' quarterback Jared Goff accidentally threw the ball into the hands of a Patriots defender, leading the Patriots to score an additional three points. The Rams went from having an even chance of winning to having no chance, all because of one weakness that wasn't addressed quickly enough.
In his fascinating book How We Die, the physician Sherwin B. Nuland explained that human death often follows a similar trajectory. Laypeople often imagine that those suffering from serious injury or illness usually experience a long but steady decline until they pass away. However, Nuland pointed out that at least as often, if not more so, the afflicted person manages the illness (or injury, if it is not so catastrophic that it simply kills them right away) fairly handily, with only slight decline or sometimes even with improvement, for days or even weeks. If nothing bad happens, then they might even make a full recovery. But if one thing goes wrong and isn't corrected quickly enough, it can cause significant damage, which itself leads to additional life-threatening complications, and in a short time the patient may spiral down past the point where any medical intervention will be enough to save him. An infected wound, for example, if not treated quickly enough, can lead to a generalized blood infection, which can cause a patient's kidneys, liver, and other organs to stop working properly, and the patient, who otherwise might have almost completely recovered from his initial injury, will die of multiple organ failure.
We see the same phenomenon in other realms than just sports and medicine, such as business and politics. In any complicated system, there can be long, steady declines, but the sudden drastic reversal, attributable to one or a small number of neglected infirmities, is often more likely.
And the life of a law student is pretty complicated. New information to learn, new ways to think about it, new tasks to perform, all while juggling stress and ambition and self-doubt and mountains of practicalities like housing and relationships and (painfully often) finances. We all know that a few students struggle right from the start, but very often students will be managing -- holding their own, even if not excelling -- and then they run into one tribulation they can't fix, and they can't handle. A course they can't wrap their head around. A romantic breakup. Lack of funds to buy textbooks. A death in the family. An extracurricular activity that takes up too much time.
It almost doesn't matter what the problem is, because it's just the trigger. It starts the landslide that could pull the student down. Struggling in one course, for example, could pull the student's attention away from his other courses, leading to anxiety about not maintaining his GPA . . . and what started as one problem spirals into multiple problems.
The response, from an Academic Success perspective, has to be twofold. First, we need to be able to detect these kinds of issues as early as possible, before they turn into the equivalent of a touchdown by the other team or a raging blood infection. We need to have direct interaction with the students most at risk (incoming students, first-generation students, those in danger of financial difficulty, etc.), so we get to know them and encourage them to be forthcoming. We also need to develop strong networks among those in the faculty and student services who might pass along observations of possible distress.
Second, we need to have systems in place to help these students address these issues quickly, before they do become intractable. We are expected, of course, to handle purely academic issues on a moment's notice. But we should also be familiar with other means of support on campus and in the community, to be able to quickly refer students who need help in financial, psychological, spiritual, and other realms.
Time sometimes really is of the essence. None of us want to end up being Monday-morning quarterbacks, lamenting that if we had just changed our defense one play sooner, we could have saved the game.
Tuesday, March 6, 2018
It's March! Time to create tournament brackets for everything, including law school. This bracket focuses on four key features of law school: podium courses, skills courses, student organizations, and study skills. What's your favorite part of law school? Want to make some changes to the bracket? If so, Download Tournament bracket here. Have fun and may the best bracket win! (Kirsha Trychta)
Wednesday, November 8, 2017
It can be quite difficult to adopt and maintain a positive outlook when everything around you seems to be falling apart. You may not find yourself in a position to have a positive attitude when time seems to evade you and you simply cannot find ample time to complete each and every task. This is a particularly stressful period of time for various populations I interact with; therefore, why not address positive thinking? 1Ls have possibly received feedback from a midterm and now have to change everything about the way they study, all while balancing their final writing assignment for the legal writing course. 2Ls and some 3Ls completed the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) and some are now questioning whether or not they adequately prepared for the exam to obtain the desired score. Others are hoping to have successfully passed the MPRE so they do not have to take it again or take it for the third time if this is their second go at it. 3Ls are starting to panic as they realize that this is the last set of exams and all that stands between them and a law license are bar applications, final grades, and the bar exam. For all these groups, there are a few short weeks prior to final exams and each day gets them even closer.
With the above-mentioned concerns and the semester progressively nearing a close, students are tense and quite stressed. I try to keep all of this in perspective as I interact with these students individually and collectively. A positive attitude is infectious and with each interaction, my intent is to highlight positivity thus enabling students to focus on the “big picture” while remaining positive in each challenge they face along the way. A positive disposition can lead to success when obstacles are no longer viewed as obstacles but rather seen as opportunities. Individuals are more disposed to help others with a positive attitude and more likely to avoid those with a negative attitude. Negative thoughts, words, and attitudes generate negative feelings, moods, and behaviors. Negativity can forge a pathway to failure, frustration, and disappointment. I have witnessed students talk themselves out of opportunities and successes simply because of fear which generated negative attitudes.
How then does one address the inevitable occasional negative feelings? Creating a vision board with a list of things you aspire to have and are working towards. Stating weekly affirmations that uplift, encourage, and empower you. Adopting positive words in your inner dialogue or when interacting with others. Being cognizant of your negative internal dialogue and quickly changing it to positives can work wonders. All the best with the final stretch. (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, September 4, 2017
We just completed our first week of school at Carolina Law. Like many law students throughout the country, our 1Ls experienced their first week of Socratic classes. They read and briefed their cases. They’ve been introduced to legal citations and the hierarchy of authority. They’ve taken advantage of the free lunches provided at the various student organization meetings.
After a week of law school, many 1Ls may wonder whether they will have enough time during the day to stay afloat. They may worry that they are spending way too much time reading their cases. And despite the large amount of time that they are devoting to reading their cases, they may mistakenly fear that they are the only ones in their classroom who are not able to fully follow the various hypotheticals that their professors ask in class. They may question whether they are fit for law school.
1Ls: If you are feeling this way, remember that law school is a marathon. There may be times during the year when you feel like you have to run a little faster than normal. But, the sprint for the finish line is really not until the end of the semester when you have to answer the final exam hypotheticals.
Consider a lot of what is happening during the semester as your training for that sprint. Yes. You might falter every now and then as you train. But, don’t get discouraged. Try to learn from the misstep, and fine-tune your next step so that you continue to progress. You are just starting to develop your critical thinking muscles. You are beginning to strengthen your ability to perform legal analysis. You are establishing a foundation of stamina that will help push you through the marathon—including the sprint to the end.
Like many athletes who start a new sport season, you are in a training camp right now. And this training camp is unlike any other training camp you have experienced before. Learning how to learn the law takes time. It takes practice. It takes repetition. Keep putting in the time, because the more you practice, the better you will get. But, make sure that you are active and engaged when you are reading and studying. You can’t passively learn the law; you have to be present and in the moment. And make sure to leave some time for you to do the kinds of things that make you “You.” Law school is a big part of who you are right now. But, it is not all of you.
You will find that it will take you less time to read and brief your cases in the next few weeks. You will find that your critical thinking skills will begin to improve. You will find that your ability to synthesize rules and apply those rules to different factual scenarios will become easier and, dare I say . . . fun!
Best of luck as you continue your training! And remember you have great ASP folks at your schools to help coach you and cheer you on! (OJ Salinas)
September 4, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Orientation, Reading, Sports, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, June 19, 2017
We encourage our students to get regular exercise to relieve stress, improve sleep, and stay healthy. Most experts recommend 150 minutes of exercise a week - usually in five 30-minute increments. Inside Higher Education had a recent post focused on tips for graduate students on prioritizing fitness as part of their schedules. Even more important perhaps for law students! The blog post is here.
Saturday, June 28, 2014
I am in the middle (or actually, the middle of the end) of writing my first law review article in 7 years. It has been a monumental task, starting with the fact that I am terribly out of practice. The Bluebook has changed since the last time I published in a law review (and I wasn't great at Bluebooking to begin with!) I have only had a month of solid writing time, although I have been researching and writing piecemeal for almost a year. To get inspired this morning, because I am so tantalizingly close to the end, but just so burnt out and exhausted, I read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed comparing writing to running. I am a long distance runner, primarily at the 10k to half-marathon length, so I thought the article could help inspire me. And she did have some good advice.
Done is better than perfect. As I write, I think about all the connections I should be making. However, I don't have the time to write the article of my dreams, I have to finish. And done is better than perfect. I think this also applies to bar takers. So many high-achieving students get stuck during bar prep because they have trained themselves to be perfect. On law school exams, aiming for perfect is important if you want to be in the top of your class. But for bar prep, just getting the work done is more important than perfect. You can't be perfect when you have so many subjects to cover, and so little time.
Writing and running each require one small step. An article doesn't come out whole in a day or a week. Neither does bar prep. Each are about taking one small step, then another, and so on. Because if you look at the project, the race, or the bar exam, as one giant monolith, you will never get started. And you have to get started. And you have to keep going when you only have 4 pages of a 30 page article, or you have only read one subject in a 15 subject outline, or you have run one mile, and have 12.1 more to go.
So with that, I need to get back to writing. I am working on one of my last sections, a section that is dear to my heart--ASP. And then I need to write my conclusions. Wish me luck. And to all of you working on the bar exam, good luck to you, too. I hope to see fellow ASPers at LWI next week.