Thursday, August 22, 2019

The "Unexamined Case" Might Not Be Worth Reading

I hear voices.  Not all of the time, mind you.  But, definitely at the most inconvenient of times...like when I'm trying to read!  [I think this is called sub-vocalization.]  You see, I can only read as fast as I speak (and I don't tend to speak very fast unless I'm excited or nervous, which I often am, particularly when I'm trying to digest dense legal materials).  

Indeed, when a student asks me to work with them through any reading passage (whether a case, a statute, or a multiple-choice problem or essay prompt), I really want to go in hiding, into a "sound chamber" so to speak, so that I can read slowly and not so-silently, as I work out the meaning of the text through hearing - in my mind - the words as they become alive, the punctuation marks as they spring up from the page into my voice, and the paragraph breaks as they give me time to catch my breath.  

In short, if you haven't caught the gist of what I am saying, I feel like I am a poor reader because I am a slow reader.

Now, I suspect that most students don't sub-vocalize when they read, i.e., they don't hear voices when they read.  Nevertheless, I gather that most first-year law students (and perhaps most law students in general) feel like they read too slow.  If so, then you're exactly like me (and I'm supposed to be an expert at critical reading, particularly in reading legal texts, etc.).  

But, before I get too far, in my opinion, rushed reading is not reading.  To paraphrase Socrate's famous line that the "unexamined life is not worth living," an "unexamined case" is not worth reading.  In other words, in law school, it's not how fast you read but what your learning about the law and legal problem-solving as you read.  To cut to the chase, reading is about examining the cases and the statutes and the legal texts assigned in law school.  And that takes time, lots of time. Or, to put it more bluntly, reading is really about "cross-examining" those legal materials, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments and  analysis, and then forming your own opinion about the merits of those arguments (and how you might use those arguments in the future to solve hypothetical problems posed on mid-term exams and final exams).

That gets me to the next question.  How might I teach reading?  

When I first started in academic support, I taught case briefing but not case reading, most likely, because it seemed to me that by briefing a case I had read the case.  I'm not so sure now.  That's because most case briefs (at least most of my case briefs) are composed of just bits of quotes and paraphrases of what the court said...rather than my evaluation of what the court said (or didn't say).  Indeed, as Professor Jane Grisé writes, "critical reading is about 'learning to evaluate, draw inferences, and arrive at conclusions.'" J. Grisé, Critical Reading Instruction: The Road to Successful Legal Writing Skills, 18 W. Mich. Univ. Cooley J. of Prac. & Clinical L. (2017) (quoting L. Christensen, Legal Reading and Success in Law School: An Empirical Study, 30 Seattle U.L. Rev. 603, 603 (2007).  Thus, because critical reading is about learning, it is something that can be taught.  Id. Consequently, based on Professor Grisé research, let me offer the following suggestions on how one might teach critical reading, particularly reading cases that are jam-packed into the massive casebooks that comprise the bulk of reading in law school.

  1. First, confess.  Set the stage for learning by sharing the worries and frustrations that you had (and perhaps still have) as a legal reader.  Let students know that it wasn't a natural skill for you (or for anyone for that matter).  Rather, critical legal reading is a skill that is developed, like muscles through exercise, bit by bit, in which we can all learn.
  2. Second, model pre-reading strategies.   Share with students some of the ways that you engage in reading, even before you begin to read, by, for example, figuring out the purpose of the case by placing it in context with the prior and later assignments based on the case's position in table of contents and it's placement in the course syllabus.  Then, get to know the players.  Learn something about the case from the case caption, figure out the stage or setting for the case by talking through the information gleaned from the citation, etc., picture yourself as another judge or advocate for one of the parties, hypothesize how you might use this case in the future when it comes to exam time, skim through the case to capture the sorts of sections of the case and its organization (either by looking at headings or by skimming the paragraphs), and then poke around at the very end of the case to see what the court decided.  Indeed, that's my favorite pre-reading strategy: Peeking at the end before I begin. That gets my focus jumpstarted! 
  3. Third, read with gusto.  Reading takes energy and focus, so if the time doesn't feel quite right, wait.  But then, when you are reading to go, read the case facts - not as fiction - but recognizing rather that the facts involve real people and entities with real struggles.  After all, cases often come to the court because people couldn't resolve hard-felt (and heart-felt) disputes on their own. As you read, look up words that you don't know.  Write the meaning of those words, in your own words, in the margins of the text.  Rather than highlighting lots of phrases that you think are important, make a notation on the text as to why you think that phrase or sentence might be important.  Feel free to draw pictures or make paraphrases to help you capture the meanings of the words.  If something seems unclear, it probably is, to you and to most of us.  So, go back to those sections, in which the court often times doesn't explain its analysis, and make inferences (guesses) as to what is going on.  Realize that the most (and perhaps all) cases are subject to different interpretations.  Be creative to scope out connections with previous readings.  Look for patterns.  Dialogue with the materials.  Question them, indeed, interrogate the court.  Don't let the court baffle you.  Instead, be on the lookout for mistakes that the court might have made in its analysis.  In sum, talk back to the court and with the court as you read.
  4. Fourth, reading doesn't stop after you read.  Instead, after reading, be an explorer to construct your own meaning of the case.  As a suggestion, compile a list of questions that you would like to have asked the court or the advocates.  Summarize in your own words what you think the case stands for (and why it was assigned for your course).  Evaluate the case as to whether its reasoning was puzzling, or startling, or settling (and why).  Conjure up different facts to test how the decision might have been impacted in different circumstances.  Finally, synthesis a one sentence or phrase statement for what you've learned from the case, such as: "Vosburg (involving a schoolhouse kick) stands for the proposition that people are liable for battery even when they don't intend to harm anyone as long as they intended the contact because the purpose of battery is to protect people from - not just harmful contacts - but from all contacts that interfere with another's bodily integrity as a co-human being."

Now, before I let you go, just one more word about speed.  You don't get faster at reading cases by trying to read fast.  Rather, over time, much like water as it heats slowly on the oven range, using these strategies won't feel like an improvement...at all.  Instead, if  you're like me, you feel like its taking lots more of your time, energy, and perspiration to learn to be a critical legal reader.   And, it is!  But, by going slow, conversationally with the text, through practice in pre-reading strategies, then reading the text with robust gusto, and finally polishing off the reading by making sense and connections with the text for future use, you'll end up becoming a faster reader without even trying.  

Much like learning to ride a bike, if you are like me, you fall lots and get lots of bruises along the way.  That's because learning is hard difficult work.  But, just like learning to ride a bike, once you get the hang of it, you'll be well on your way to being a better legal reader (and a better advocate on behalf of your clients in the future).  (Scott Johns).

 

August 22, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 12, 2019

Practicing Self-Care

Be sure to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.Airline safety instructions

Academic support professionals are the first responders in law school. In many cases we guide entering students through new student orientation, provide critical skills workshops early in the semester, and offer practice exams and extra help later in the term when things begin to look bleak. First responders are professionals that we look to for help and comfort in times of crisis, be it related to health, safety, or law school survival. The start of a new academic year is a good time to remember, that by being there for others, first responders put themselves at risk, not just of physical harm, but of emotional burnout.

Heavy is the cape of those who play the role of professor, listener, solution provider, advocate, adviser, administrator, coordinator, counselor, collector and keeper of statistics (whether you like math or not), researcher, scholar, and more. Executive coach Donna Schilder says “if you don’t take care of yourself, you can experience burnout, stress, fatigue, reduced mental effectiveness, health problems, anxiety, frustration, and inability to sleep.” Sure, students may look to us for answers or coaching, but we sometimes will need to first coach ourselves to create a space for restoration.

Schilder recommends spending time each day on a renewal activity like sit quietly for at least 10 minutes before taking calls or responding to emails, listen to soothing or uplifting music throughout the day, set aside time to journal your thoughts or ideas, and infuse laughter into your daily routine to cut down on stress. When we practice self-care, we better position ourselves to be an effective resource for others.

(Marsha Griggs)

August 12, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Welcome to Law School!

A new journey begins the next couple weeks for many students around the country.  1Ls at my school start tomorrow.  The emotions range from excited to anxious.  Whatever your emotion, I want you to know that someone else is probably feeling the same thing.  They are probably only 2-3 seats away from you in class.  Your feelings are normal.  Embrace the new journey.

Some students walk into law school worrying that everyone will be ahead of them.  I understand the feeling.  I wasn't planning to attend law school until the summer before my last year of college.  None of my family were attorneys (until I married into a family of attorneys later).  No one in my family graduated college.  Torts were still yummy desserts until 9am Monday morning of my first day.  I had no idea what law school entailed, but I planned to work hard to do my best.  Even without the background, I succeeded and became an attorney.  All of you can do that too.

My suggestion for entering 1Ls boils down to 2 points.  Work hard and seek feedback.  I love the quote hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.  I am a firm believer that most of us can succeed with the right amount of quality work.  The second piece of the advice is quality work.  Quality work requires feedback.  Don't aimlessly go through law school.  Ask professors and ASPers for help.  Seek feedback on outlines and practice essays.  Feedback helps demonstrate where to improve, which leads to our growth.  The right kind of hard works makes a difference.  Worker smarter and harder.  Everyone can do that.

My background and experience illustrates that you don't need lawyers in your family to succeed.  If you haven't worked at a law office, that is alright.  Most students entering your classes will not have a significant background in law.  Law school will be a new and exciting journey for everyone.  Do everything you can to maximize your potential and enjoy the journey.  Have a great first semester!

(Steven Foster)

August 11, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Trying to Appreciate More

While driving home from my son's flag football practice today, he asked what else we were doing.  Most days we do have other things, because my kids play too many sports, but today, I told him nothing.  He responded with the sort of whine and attitude that only a 9-year-old possesses.  I proceeded to lecture him for far too long about appreciating what he gets to do instead of complaining about what he doesn't get to do.  As I went through my day though, I thought I may need that advice more than him.

The new semester is right around the corner, and no one has enough time.  I just finished helping students prepare for the bar exam, so I am exhausted.  However, I teach a 1 week intro class to our 1Ls, need to create syllabi for my upcoming bar prep classes, and still need to manage emails.  Being away from everything is overwhelming.  I complain when I am not at work about how much needs to get done and complain when I am at work that I need a break.  During the semester, it is easy to complain about needing more time for individual feedback but also needing to teach all the classes because no one else teaches like ASPers.  I am sure many of us want more leadership in the law school but also complain about the commitments if we had the role.  My inner 9-year-old probably (definitely) complains too much.

Many of our complaints are legitimate, and my guess is most of us don't have enough time.  We should be leaders of our respective schools.  However, the focus on what we don't have has an impact on our mental health.  All of us have a big impact on students' lives.  The type of impact that changes career's, and for some, helps students become lawyers.  I want to try to focus on the positive impact more.  I am not saying don't strive to get better status or role at schools.  I want to both appreciate my impact and strive to help more in every way I can.

John C. Maxwell wrote a piece recently for Success Magazine with 10 tips to stop complaining.  I plan to try to focus on 1 or 2 each week to enjoy work just a little more.  Every small improvement in my joy has the potential to help more students, and maybe I won't be as much of a hypocrite when I talk to my kids.  Well, maybe I won't be a hypocrite on this issue at least.  Enjoy the start of the semester.

(Steven Foster)

August 10, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Dealing with the In-Between Like a Lawyer

For thousands of bar takers, the waiting begins this afternoon; it will be weeks or months until they know the results of the hours and months they have spent preparing for the bar exam. Rebekah Cudé, a gifted trial lawyer and appellate lawyer now serving as Idaho Law's Director of Student Affairs, has shared her practical wisdom with our bar takers for years, and she has kindly given permission to share her post-bar exam advice (lightly edited for this blog) with a wider audience. Director Cudé tells bar takers: 

How do I prepare for the possibility that I might not pass the bar exam? I was asked this question a lot last year, and the year before. So, I am going to answer it now, to hopefully help you to stop contemplating this particular possibility as quickly as possible, and maybe recover from the past few weeks a little more quickly as well.  I truly hope it helps you navigate the next few weeks in a sane, healthy way.

How should you prepare? Like a lawyer.

A trial lawyer works their heart out getting ready for trial. Researching, writing, thinking. Preparing. Working. Lots of hours of reading. Time spent alone, and with colleagues, trying to come up with the best answers to the challenges posed by the case. And then the trial arrives, and it is hours, days, sometimes weeks of putting all that work to the test, laying it all out there for others to decide. And then the trial lawyer submits it to the jury or the judge. And waits.

An appellate lawyer works their heart out getting ready for argument. Researching, thinking, writing the briefs. Preparing. Working. Lots of hours of reading. Time spent alone, and with colleagues, trying to come up with the best answers to the questions the court might ask. And then the argument arrives, and it is a very intense (though mercifully brief) time of putting all that work to the test, laying it all out there for others to decide. And then the appellate lawyer submits it to the court. And waits.

The way that lawyers learn to survive the waiting is to learn to let it go.

Healthy lawyers realize that it is out of their hands now, and there is nothing more they can do. Once they get a decision, yes, there may be things to be done. But in the in-between, they let it go.

You are that lawyer now. You have done all of the work. You have laid it all out there for others to decide. You have submitted it to the examiners. You are in the in-between. You need to let it go.

You have the rest of a beautiful summer.  You have friends and family who have missed you. Some of you have jobs to get to, some of you have jobs to seek out.  All of you need to spend some serious time just taking care of yourselves.  So, let it go. And maybe enjoy life a bit.

Here's the deal:

If you spend the next 6-7 weeks worried, anxious, and distracted, and you pass, you will have wasted all that time, and you will have missed out on fully enjoying your life. For nothing.

If you spend the next 6-7 weeks worried, anxious, and distracted, and you do not pass, you will have wasted all that time, and you will have missed out on fully enjoying your life.  For nothing. AND you will be that much less prepared to rally your energy and resources to do it again.

You don't really know how you did.  Trust that it was enough.

Because life is far too short to not enjoy the in-between.

(Nancy Luebbert)

 

 

 

 

July 31, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 15, 2019

Shaking Off Self-Doubt

You can choose to listen to the skeptics or hit the ignore button. - Michael Peggs

Our students today have become adept at shunning criticism and negative input. When coaches or teachers prejudge students at any age, there is an army of protective advocates who will stand up for the wronged student and demonstrate that with the right accommodation a student may exceed the expectations of a perceived disability. We full-scale reject the haterist mindset that seeks to label learners with arbitrarily imposed limitations. Taylor Swift warned us that “haters gonna hate”. Yet, too often when the stakes are high, and especially during bar study, we stir up our own hater-aid. Over the years I've overheard students say things like: “I’ve never been good at standardized tests,” “I am never going to learn all these essay subjects,” “I’ve got too much going on to study the way I should,” and “I don’t expect to pass on the first time.”  

You may need to mute your inner monologue, if it is filling your mind with self-defeating prophecy. Each time a fear-based thought tries to creep in, hit the ignore button and block it like a call from a telemarketer. Follow Taylor’s lead and shake off the self-doubt. Use daily bar study affirmations as an exercise in mindfulness to allow you to meditate on your positive potential. For the next two weeks, the only attitude you can afford is a can-do attitude. Repeat these affirming words until they become your reality: I can and will pass the bar. I am worthy of a bar card, and right now I am making plans for my life as an attorney.

(Marsha Griggs)

July 15, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Disability Matters, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Creating Super-Short Bar Exam Study Tools (in 2 hours or less per subject!)

Bar Takers!  

It's time to create your own personal handy-dandy bar exam study tools.  But, you ask, how, with so many other things to do (and with just a few weeks before the bar exam).  Well, here's a suggestion for creating your study tools from scratch in just a few easy steps and in less than 2 hours flat.

But first, let's lay the groundwork.  Why should I create a study tool, especially with so many other tasks at hand that demand my attention in  preparation for the bar exam in a few weeks?  

There are at least three reasons.

First, the process of creating your own study tools creates a "mental harness" for your thoughts.  It serves to bring you back to the big picture of what you have been studying the past many weeks since graduation.

Second, the process of creating your own study tools cements your abilities to synthesize and distill the rules that you will be tested on this summer.  In short, we memorize (remember) what we create rather than what we read that others have created.

Third, your study tools are, in essence, an organized collection of pre-written, bar exam answers for tackling the hypothetical problems that you will face this summer on your bar exam.

So, let's set out the  steps:

1.  Grab Your Study Tool Support Team!  

That means grabbing hold of the shortest bar outline provided by your bar review company.  Shorter is better because less is often more!  And, you already have too much to remember.

2.  Create the Big Picture Skeleton for Your Study Tool!  

That means taking hold of the table of contents in your bar outline provided by your bar review company or the subject matter outlines provided by the bar examiners.  For example, the NCBE provides super-short two-page outlines for each subject on what issues are testable. http://www.ncbex.org/meeoutlines. Then, using that skeleton structure, create an overview of the testable issues in your own desired format, whether as flashcards, posters, or outlines, etc.

3.  Insert Rule Sound Bites!

Using your bar review lecture notes or subject matter outlines, insert rule "sound bites" for each item identified as testable subjects.  Move swiftly.  Don't dwell.  If you think you you need a rule, don't put it in...because...you can always add more rules later if you see that rule popping up in your practice during the course of the next two weeks.  Don't try to create perfect rule statements.  Instead, just insert the "buzz words."  Feel free to be bold, daring, and adventuresome in doodling or using abbreviations to remind you of the rule.  For example, for negligence per se (NPS), my study tool just reads: (1) P.C. and (2) P.H.  That stands for protected class and protected harm.  By writing out just a few tips to help me remember, I am actually enhancing my study tool (and developing my confidence in being able to recall, for example, the requirements for NPS).  Get your entire study tool completed in 2 hours or less!  How, you ask?  By leaving lots of stuff out because you can always add more later.  Here's a tip:  It's called "desirable difficulties."  You see, according to my arm chair understanding of the science behind learning, optimal learning requires us to push ourselves; it requires mental perspiration, it takes sweat.  So, the process of deciding what to put into your study tool (and what to leave out, and, indeed, leaving out lots) enhances are learning because we can't solely rely on our study tools for memorization.  Rather, our study tool because a prompt for our memory.  So, keep your study tools super-short and crisp.

6.  Take Your Study Tool for Lots of Test Flights During the Final Several Weeks of Bar Prep!

Yes, you might crash.  Yes, it might be ugly.  In fact, if you are like me, you will crash and it will be ugly!  But, just grab hold of lots and lots of past bar exam essays and see if you can outline and write out sample answers using your study tools 

Finally, let me make set the record straight.  

You don't have to make an outline as your study tool.  Your study tool can be an outline…or a flowchart…or a poster with lots of pictures...or a set of flashcards, etc.  

What's important is that it is YOUR study tool that YOU built from YOUR own handiwork and thoughts!  It's got to be personal to you because it's going to be you that sits for your bar exam.  So, have fun learning by creating super-short snappy study tools that serve as organized pre-written answers for this summer's bar exam.  (Scott Johns)

July 11, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Starting with Stories

Like my colleagues, I am thinking ahead to the new school year even as my attention is consumed by those preparing for the bar exam three weeks from now.  Last year at this time I was thinking mainly about scheduling and content and skills development, and how to tweak and rearrange my classes and workshops to make them more effective.  This year, I find myself thinking at least as much about stories as about skills.

Part of this cogitation is driven by my conversations of late with students dealing with varying degrees of anxiety about the bar exam.  I ask them how they are doing and what has led them to whatever position they currently find themselves in, and their narratives fall broadly into two categories.  Some students tell me kinetic stories about what work they have done, what challenges they have faced, and what strategies they have employed.  They may not have conquered every problem that has come up -- in fact, that's usually why they are talking to me -- but they still see themselves as the protagonists who are driving their stories and pursuing some kind of prize.  Other students, even some with objectively similar obstacles, tell their stories in a different way.  They are still the centers of their own stories, but things keep happening to them (poor performance on a practice test, illness, misunderstanding, etc.), and they are just doing what they can to cope.  These latter folks are not doomed, by any means; they are, in fact, often quite capable.  But they do seem to feel more anxiety and doubt than the more protagonistic students.  So part of what I am wondering is whether it might be possible to cultivate that sense of protagonism by using language that highlights one's sense of agency and potency, from the very start of law school.  Perhaps by using less language about "what will happen" and "what you will encounter", and more language about "what you will learn to do" and "how others have overcome difficulties", I can shift students' perspectives in a more empowering direction.

Another aspect of storytelling that has become clearly significant over the past year is how students perceive their stories in relation to their law school -- their fellow students, their class as an entity, their professors, their administration, and their alumni community.  At the start of my 3L pre-bar prep course this spring, I felt it was very important to intentionally and repeatedly talk about our class as a team.  We were there to support each other, I said, because we had common goals as individuals and as a group.  Each student wanted to pass the bar exam in July -- that much they knew going into the class -- but, I pointed out, each student should also want to see everyone else in the class pass, too.  Teamwork might mean going a little further to help our classmates in a pinch, but it also means we've got a bunch of other people in our corner, willing to do the same for us.  The faculty, the administration, and the alumni want to see them succeed, too, because their success makes everybody look better, and because we've invested so much energy and faith in them.  And if the class does notably well as a group on the bar exam, their pass rate becomes public information that makes them all look like part of a stellar crop of new lawyers.

At times I felt almost like a goofy cheerleader telling this story, and encouraging my students to tell that story about themselves as a team.  But it seems to have paid off.  This summer we are seeing notably higher rates of participation and completion of assignments in summer bar prep courses.  Recent graduates are spending more time together, on and off campus, and I've been talking to far more of them in my office and on the phone than last summer.  Just telling a story of teamwork isn't enough -- the school has also had to walk the walk, by providing additional resources and guidance to students -- but it is clear that intensifying our characterization of getting ready for the bar as a communal effort has had a positive effect.

This is another thing I am wondering about, as I move forward with plans to work with our new incoming students.  How can I tell that story of the law school as a team in a way that will stick with these new students for three intensive years?  Is there a way to cultivate that story in the face of the known competition for grades in the first year?  Is there a way to keep that story from becoming trite and from being tattered by cynicism?  I think there must be.  It's not just the telling of the story that makes it work; it's also acting the story out, and making it seem real because it could be real.

So, while I will be working on better ways to improve students' analytical and time management skills this fall, I will also be thinking about better ways to tell them stories -- about themselves as individuals and as part of this new community -- that they can believe in.  Stories that they will want to carry on telling themselves.

[Bill MacDonald]

July 9, 2019 in Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Orientation, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 1, 2019

Making a Comeback 30-Days Out

Don't fight [challenges]. Just find a new way to stand. - Oprah Winfrey

The bar exam is 30 days away. It may feel like you have been prepping for the bar exam all your life instead of six weeks. The 30-day mark is a great opportunity to acknowledge that not all bar takers enter bar study on the same footing. Students without strong academic records may be riddled with self-doubt about their ability to pass. For repeat takers, the mental and financial exhaustion of bar study can be all the more discouraging when experienced a second or third time. Past negative experiences are setbacks of which bar study brings daily reminders. These setbacks are short-term, but under the lens of today, they may seem to indelibly mark one’s chance for future success.

Whether your setback was a previous bar exam failure, or not finishing law school with the ranking or job opportunity that you hoped for, there is a comeback in your future. Maybe your setback is trying to juggle a full-time job and raise a family, while your peers bask in the seeming luxury of full-time bar study and an arsenal of supplemental study aids. Whatever the setback, use it as the gateway to an epic comeback. 

If we track the lives of great actors, athletes, political leaders, and other celebrities, we'll find some major comeback that catapulted their career success. Public figures who have mastered the art of the comeback transform their reputations and eradicate public recall of scandals, felonies, fraud, and political defeat. After a comeback, onlookers almost never remember the setback, that is because the setback is never as good or as lasting as the comeback.

Instead of allowing your setback-circumstances to shape your attitude or approach to bar study, let your setback elevate you to greater heights. Pledge today to reform your thoughts. You are not struggling through bar study. You are making your comeback.

(Marsha Griggs)

July 1, 2019 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | 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)

Monday, June 24, 2019

Following Our Own Advice

I have a hard time following my own advice. Alice Vuong

Imposter syndrome is a term coined in the late 1970’s by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. According to Psychology Today, the term is commonly known to describe a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. I’ve seen, and shared with my students, articles addressing imposter syndrome. You may have done the same.

We work to instill confidence into students who enter law school with modest credentials. Whether we categorize these students as “at-risk” or not at all, I insist that with a productive study routine and regular practice that they can perform as well as, or better than, students who enter law school with many more perceived advantages.

Those of us who work primarily or exclusively in academic support very likely entered the legal academy via a non-traditional path. And so much like the diverse student body that we support, our non-traditional entryway has no bearing on our competency, effectiveness, and right to be included in the law school academic community. Notwithstanding the rapid growth of ASP, we face status issues within the academy. Very few academic support professionals hold tenured or tenure-track positions. At a number of schools, our titles and contract-year terms vary substantially from those of our doctrinal colleagues. In some circles, we may fight an uphill battle to earn the recognition we deserve for scholarship that is categorized as pedagogical and often dismissed.

What a mistake it would be to create a self-perception based on external influences that we cannot control? We cannot afford to allow an imposter mindset to take root into our psyche. It matters not how we entered the legal academy. What matters is the impact of our presence. The student success, the improved or sustained bar passage rates, and the post-graduation thank you notes recognizing our contributions are both real and earned. We must heed our own advice about avoiding the perilous self-doubt of imposter syndrome. While we focus so much on the success of our students, we must also learn to internalize our own successes and acknowledge that we are where we genuinely belong.

(Marsha Griggs)

June 24, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

First Moves

If I recall correctly, the line went something like this:  "The world is filled with lonely people waiting for others to make the first move." At least, that's my recollection of the saying from the wonderful movie entitled "The Green Book," which I happened to have the opportunity to watch on my flight while traveling to the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) Conference a few weeks back.  Little did I know at the time the tremendous impact someone would make by reaching out to me at the AASE Conference in Seattle.  

You see, it was the final day of the three-day conference.  With just a few more presentations available, I thought it best to focus my remaining time on bar prep sessions because that's my primary job.  But, while mingling in the hallways of the law school building at Seattle University, I got a friendly tug in another direction.  A person - who I had only briefly talked with at the conference - came marching and smiling right up to me and encouraged me to go to her presentation, which was set to start in a matter of moments.  The warm-hearted invitation got me.  Oh my golly, am I ever glad that I went!  Her presentation was earth-shattering.  It was the sort of talk from the heart that brought tears and promise.

Here's a brief snapshot.  

The presentation was entitled "Academic Skills Invented by Necessity - the Untapped Potential and Creativity of Disabled Learning, and Inclusive Teaching." Professor Karen Wade Cavanagh's story was featured as part of a documentary by Oprah Winfrey in 2015 entitled "Belief:"   http://www.bu.edu/law/featured-in-oprah-winfreys.

In short, Karen suffered a traumatic brain injury in a boogie boarding accident.  In her talk, Karen showed photos of her rescue. Twice Karen was brought back from the brink.  Life for Karen has since necessitated numerous surgeries and rehabilitation.  Much was starting over from scratch.  But, that hasn't stopped her (or others either).

Here's as an example...

Post-accident, while moving on a sidewalk in a wheelchair on her way to school, Karen was at an impasse.  You see, due to crumbling infractures, many of the intersections at city crosswalks were no longer graded to allow rolling back up.  Karen went down to cross the street...but couldn't get back up due to curb.  Stopped in the roadway in the crosswalk, Karen noticed joggers and walkers run and walk past her, up the curb, and back onto the sidewalk.  So, what did Karen do?  She stuck her thumb out to the next passer by.  That jogger came alongside and pushed her up and over back onto the sidewalk.  Success.  She was soon at school.

Life has tough spots for all of us.  But, as Karen's story reminds us, it's sometimes difficult for us to see the tough spots that others are facing.  

The first lesson I learned is that when I am in a tough spot, I need to just go ahead and stick my thumb out.  

The second lesson I learned is to keep my eye out for others.  Try to look at life from their perspective, not mine.  And, be ready to reach out to others.  

Life is not meant to be lived alone but rather in community with others.  To be frank, as an ASP'er, I often tend to approach the issues that my students are having from my vantage point, usually with the idea that a particular academic study tip might be of help.  But, I am often too quick to the draw with suggestions such that I miss seeing what is really going on.  That's because I am too quick to talk instead of  listen.  But, in my experience, most of the time, so-called academic issues are not academic at all.  They are life issues instead.  And, life issues requires me to open up, to be vulnerable to others, and to live within the perspective of others (and not just myself).  In short, being an ASP'er requires me to live life in "being" with others. I think that is what it means to not just be an ASP'er but truly a human being too. (Scott Johns).

P.S. Thanks Karen for making a mark that will live with me forever!

June 13, 2019 in Advice, Disability Matters, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Time to Change Your World

It is June 11.  Recent law school graduates, separated from the exaltation of graduation by two weeks of breakneck lectures, rote memorization, and mystifying practice questions, are increasingly conscious of the brief (and increasingly briefer) interval between now and the administration of the bar examination.  Less than 50 days to learn all this new material, to recollect even more old material, and to master the skills needed for three different testing modes!  If your students are like mine, they are still displaying a lot of grit and energy, but are beginning, after experiencing the intensity of bar preparation, to wonder if they will be able to accomplish all they need to succeed in the end.

Seven weeks does not seem like enough time to accomplish much.  Or does it?  Consider:

It is June 11.  The Second Continental Congress has been considering the Lee Resolution, a proposal that the American colonies should formally declare their independence from the British Empire.  Unable to agree without the text of an actual declaration in hand, the Congress appoints the Committee of Five – Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston – to draft a statement that all the colonies might agree upon.  The Committee of Five presents their draft document less than three weeks later.  The document is considered by the Congress as a whole, after which some changes are made on July 3.  On the morning of July 4, the Declaration of Independence, in its final form, is adopted by the Second Continental Congress.

It is June 12.  A French army, led by Joan of Arc, wins its first offensive victory at the Battle of Jargeau.  After relieving the siege of Orleans earlier that spring, Joan had persuaded much of the French army to join her in opposing the English force that had occupied France and had prevented the coronation of the rightful French king, Charles VII.  After Jargeau, Joan leads this army as it takes town after town and turns the tide against the English.  After the army takes the city of Reims, the coronation of Charles VII takes place on July 17.

It is June 13.  Having received from Daniel Ellsberg copies of the top-secret Vietnam Study Task Force – a collection of original government documents supplemented with historical analysis created by the Department of Defense as a history of the Vietnam War – the New York Times begins publishing excerpts that revealed details of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam that were not previously known publicly.  These excerpts soon become known as "The Pentagon Papers."  The Nixon Administration, hoping to discourage future leaks of classified information, seeks an injunction against the Times to prevent further publication.  This action tests the limits of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of the press as bounded by claims of national security concerns, and it moves apace all the way to the Supreme Court.  On June 30, the Court, in a 6-3 decision, upholds the right of the New York Times to publish The Pentagon Papers.

This is a great week to begin to change the world.  Remind your students that, this summer, they have the time to change theirs.

June 11, 2019 in Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 10, 2019

Finding Rest in the Cycle

Take a rest. A field that has rested yields beautiful crops. – Ovid

In a profession where, by definition, we support and give so much to our students we face the risk of having not enough left to nourish ourselves. Those of us who, in addition to teaching and academic support roles, play a role in professional or supplemental bar prep programs see no end to the academic year. The graduation procession precedes exam grading and final grade submission, only to be followed immediately by a new order of coaching, providing practice essay feedback, and guiding students through the stress of bar study.  We are not immune to the stressors that we try to guide our students through. Our minds echo with resounding worry about whether our students have done enough, whether we’ve helped enough, and whether any one of our students will pass the bar. And while our student-graduates wait in angst for months to learn the results of the summer exam, those in ASP quickly progress to the next peak in the 12-month cycle with very few lulls.

The cycle is seemingly endless. After the arduous 10-week period of bar prep, we go almost immediately into orientation training, then to fall semester teaching, then again to exam grading followed by a feverish period of winter bar prep. Yet in this relentless cycle we must find time to rest and replenish ourselves. All the more so for those of us with scholarship or other additional responsibilities. Those in the throes of summer bar prep should remember that we alone cannot shoulder the weight of the bar results for our schools or for any one student. We must guiltlessly take the time off that is available to us with a sense of enjoyment and entitlement. By taking well-needed time for rest and restoration, we model balance to our students. When summer responsibilities do not allow for a full vacation, we can fit smaller periods of rest into our week by taking a three-day weekend, dedicating one day per week to work from home (if school policy permits), leaving early on a Friday or starting late on a Monday during the summers. We too are at risk of burnout and savoring a simple pleasure, like a long walk or a short drive, a call to a non-lawyer friend or a 15-minute sanity break, can rest our minds and lift our spirits.

(Marsha Griggs)

June 10, 2019 in Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Compliment of Criticism

Don't let compliments get to your head and don't let criticism get to your heart. -- Lysa TerKeurst

The other day we held a bar workshop at my school. At the end of the session we collected evaluation forms from the students. I could hardly wait until the students were all out of the room to look at their written comments. A colleague and I sat at the edges of our seats to read what the students wrote about “our” workshop. As we thumbed through the evaluation forms, we read an abundance of smile-generating comments like: Good, Good, Excellent, Learned something new, Would recommend this session to others, and Glad I came. But our smiles askewed when we reached the one comment that read this session was longer than I expected and the presentation was poor.

Of the many laudatory comments, only one offered anything other than praise. And yet that one evaluation form is all that we focused on for the rest of the afternoon. My colleague and I became defensive and responded to the anonymous feedback as if talking to the student who submitted it. I suspect that our reaction was not atypical in the academic support teaching profession. We probably reacted in the same manner that many professors do as we review our course evaluation forms, student emails, or other summative feedback. We focus almost blindly on what someone did not like at the expense of commentary reflecting the effectiveness of our teaching and service.

So many of us in academic support or other teaching professions may put too much weight on the criticism and not enough weight on the compliments. Perhaps it is because we invest so much in the success of our students and the excellency of our programs that we forget the role that criticism can play in our own professional development. As this summer’s bar prep gets rolling full throttle, I’ve made a promise to myself to not let my view of the forest be impeded by one tall tree. While I am providing my students with daily affirmations, I pledge to affirm and nurture myself and my wellbeing. In doing so, I will be better able to service my family and my students who depend on me.  As you read your course evaluations and performance reviews this summer, challenge yourselves to take criticism with a grain of salt (or a bottle of wine) and be thankful for the wonderful learning opportunity that the feedback provides.

(Marsha Griggs)

June 3, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Program Evaluation, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Muscle Learning & Bar Prep Success

Last week at the annual Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) Conference, Professor Paula Manning shared an analogy about learning that gripped my mind and heart.  

You see, as Professor Manning reminded us, working out to get in shape is tough work.  Building muscles, well, takes daily pain.  It requires us to push ourselves, to lift beyond what we think we can, to walk further than we think we can, and to run harder than we think we can.  And, it requires us to work out nearly everyday.  Moreover, as Professor Manning related, the next day after a heavy workout can feel just downright aching.  "Oh do those muscles hurt."  But, we don't say to ourselves: "Wow, that hurt; I'm not going to do that again."  No, instead, we say to ourselves: "That was a really great workout; I'm building muscle."  In short, we are thankful for the temporary pain because we know that it will benefit us in the future.

But, when it comes to learning, as Professor Manning reflected upon, we often tend to not view the agonizing daily work of learning as beneficial in the long term.  Rather, if you are like me, I tend to avoid the hard sort of learning tasks, such as retrieval practice and interleaving practice, for tasks which, to be frank, aren't really learning tasks at all...because they aren't hard at all (such as re-reading outlines or highlighting notes, etc.).  But, if you and I aren't engaged in difficult learning tasks, then we aren't really learning, just like we aren't really building muscles if we just walk through the motions of exercise.  

So, for those of you just beginning to embark on preparing for your bar exam this summer, just like building muscles, learning requires building your mind to be adept at legal problem-solving by practicing countless multiple-choice and essay problems on a daily basis.  In short, the key to passing your bar exam is not what you do on bar exam day; rather, it's in your daily practice today that makes all the difference for your tomorrows.  

As such, instead of focusing most of your energies on watching bar review lectures, reading outlines, and taking lecture notes, spend most of your learning in problem-solving because that's what you will be tested on this summer.  Big picture wise, for the next six weeks or so, half of your time should be spent in bar review lectures, etc., and the other half should be spent working through practice problems to learn the law.  So, good luck in working out this summer!  (Scott Johns). 

May 30, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | 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)

Friday, May 17, 2019

Congrats 1Ls!

Congratulations first-year students!  You made it through a grueling year.  Law school is a long and exhausting process.  The semesters are draining, and everyone feels burned out at the end of each year.  Many people could not make it through this intellectual, emotional, and sometimes even physical battle.  You should congratulate yourself because making it through is an accomplishment.  Optimism will help you successfully continue this journey through the next 2-3 years. 

For now, FORGET YOUR FINALS.  You turned in your answers, and at this point, you can’t change anything you wrote.  Talking to other students will only stress you out, and many times, your classmates are wrong.  No one writes perfect answers.  You can miss issues and still receive reasonable grades.  Even if you missed entire questions, you still can’t change it.  Don’t worry, your grades will be out soon enough.  Take this time to relax and hopefully gain experience.

The focus now should be on what to do during the summer.  My suggestions for the summer are:

1.  Gain Experience.  If you can't find a paid internship, volunteer somewhere.  No only do you gain valuable legal experience, you will also see the law in action.  Learning science indicates that we remember information better and longer if we understand context.  Helping litigate a personal injury case, working on a contract, and helping with a real estate transaction can provide context to solidify first year knowledge.

2.  Make connections.  I encourage everyone to make connections inside and outside the legal field.  Spend time with friends and family.  Make new friends, and enjoy time away from the law school.  Also, make connections with practitioners.  You should attend events with both new and experienced attorneys.  

3.  Read a book for pleasure.  You probably didn't get to read for pleasure the past year, so read something fun during the summer.

4.  Read a book for improvement.  You made it through the first year and understand what law school requires.  Spend a little time thinking about where you can improve.  Grab a good book to help improve in that area.  Your Academic Success professor at your law school can give you some ideas.  I also suggest reading books about how we learn, make habits, and persevere.  I love the books Grit, Make it Stick, and Atomic Habits.

5.  Take a break.  The most important piece of advice is to take a break and breath.  The academic calendar is packed.  August will be here fast, so take a moment to breathe.  Rest will be invaluable.

Law school is tough, and not everyone can do it.  Celebrate that you made it, and enjoy your summer.

(Steven Foster)

May 17, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Summer: Associate!

This week, most of my 3L students are taking their last final exams. On Sunday they will graduate, and within a week or so, they will begin preparing to take the bar examination. Twenty years ago, this meant a return to the lecture hall for eight weeks of intensive lectures, surrounded by my closest classmates and a couple hundred other recent graduates. Today, the rise of online courses and live streaming means it is possible to complete an entire bar preparation course without getting out of bed, or at least without leaving one's home. It may be hard in the face of such convenience, but it is important to remind out graduating 3Ls of the substantial benefits of human contact.

One of the first things I tell my incoming 1L students is, "The law is a social profession." Successful practitioners, I explain, know the value of hashing out ideas and strategies with colleagues, and they develop networks of other lawyers to whom they can turn to make (or receive) referrals or to ask for guidance outside of their own areas of expertise. I tell my students this partly to help them to see the benefits of conferring with their own classmates and of taking advantage of mentoring and networking opportunities. But I also tell them because I know that a significant portion of the students in each incoming class needs this kind of encouragement, because they do not reflexively reach out to others for support and information. This tendency is explained in part by their natural inclinations; according to Eva Wisnik, president of Wisnik Career Enterprises, about 60 percent of those who become lawyers are introverts. 

By their 3L year, many students, including some of those more introverted ones, have perceived the value of collaborative work, as in study groups and trial teams. Even so, the ten weeks or so between graduation and the bar exam pose new challenges. Some students, tired of the law school grind, envision a comparatively more manageable summer, one in which they can watch videos and undertake exercises online at their convenience instead of on a set schedule. Others may underestimate the time and attention demanded by the bar exam and conclude that the effort of traveling to campus, particularly on a set schedule, is not worth it. Under these circumstances, it may take extra persuasive effort to convince newly minted graduates that there are benefits to seeking out the company of other new graduates.

Still, there definitely are benefits. Full participation in bar preparation courses can be easier to achieve when the courses are seen as group activities in which groups of students commit to watching videos and working on exercises together (and to hold each other accountable for missed work). Group study and review provides additional opportunities for feedback and clarification.  And when bar preparation becomes a stressful, tedious, and/or exhausting chore, as it often does halfway through the summer, commiseration can inspire tenacity.

How do you get soon-to-be ex-students to take advantage of these benefits by making particular efforts to associate with their peers, even when the apparently easier route would be to go solo?  There are three things to keep in mind:

  • Start early. Don't wait until graduation day is within reach to begin encouraging students to think of ways to work together during bar preparation. Social activities are easier to accept when they are perceived as social norms -- that is, just the way people expect to do things. Pointing out the social aspects of legal practice from the first year is one way to begin. Another way of normalizing the expectation that students will make efforts to work together during bar preparation is to encourage recent alumni who have done this successfully to share their experiences with friends from later classes.
  • Make it easy. Bar study is difficult and consuming. Having to make special efforts to collaborate may seem like too much, to those overwhelmed by course expectations. Anything a school can do to lower the threshold of energy or attention required to collaborate can help. Provide dedicated space on campus so that bar studiers can easily find each other. Set up channels of communication early and keep students informed of resources and opportunities to gather, and look for ways to connect such opportunities to activities already on students' radar screens (such as live video programs sponsored by bar preparation companies).
  • Add value. Finding ways to provide additional benefits to your alumni can change their calculation of whether or not it is worth it to them to step away from solitude and join their classmates, even if only occasionally. Offering small incentives, like free coffee and snacks or access to classroom space, can make getting together more inviting. More ambitious incentives might include providing supplemental live workshops on particular test-taking skills or subject matter areas, which can simultaneously draw students from their isolation and prompt interaction and planning with other participants.

At the end of the day, success on the bar exam does depend on individual effort. But in the face of innate introversion and technological isolation, we can help our students to recognize, once again, that individual effort can be promoted by social cooperation.

[Bill MacDonald]

May 14, 2019 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 13, 2019

Keep Your Perspective on Grades

Few law students are able to ignore grades - especially if the final exam is the only grade for a course. Whether students have been successful or unsuccessful in the past with their grades, they become anxious about the current exam, the upcoming exam, and the just past exam.

How one feels coming out of the exam is really immaterial because the class as a whole is what determines the outcome. I remember coming out of a property exam hoping I did not fail. I knew property really well but had been unable to finish the exam. When grades were posted, I got a very high grade because I finished more than others and that professor wrote the exam so no one would be able to finish it.

Here are some things to consider as you go through exams and afterwards:

  • Ignore the rumor mill. It has little truth on it this time of year. Use your common sense to spot the ridiculous. Example: Our exams are graded by anonymous numbers, and professors assign final grades by anonymous numbers. The rumor mill had the 1Ls convinced that grades for the semester would now be assigned alphabetically by last name so the only people who would receive A grades were last names beginning with A or possibly a few students with last names beginning with B.
  • It is common to walk out of an exam and realize that you missed an issue, misunderstood a question, forgot an ancillary rule, and made other mistakes. It's okay. Do not beat yourself up about the errors. It happens to everyone. Put the exam behind you and move on.
  • You do not want to talk with classmates about the exam after it is over. Just smile, wish the person luck on the next exam, and walk away. Why? You will stress because someone will mention an issue you missed - but it wasn't there and that person was wrong. Someone will brag about how easy the exam was when you thought it was very hard. Someone will predict doom and gloom and cause you to worry and lose focus on the next task.
  • The days of having to get 90-100% on the exam to get an A grade in a course are over. You left that grading scale behind with college. It is not unusual for a law school A to equal just 70-75% of the possible points - and sometimes even fewer points.
  • A final exam measures your performance on one day on one particular set of questions. You may know that course at a deeper level than your grade will show. Maybe the curve was tight. Maybe there were very few questions on a topic you knew well. Maybe you blanked on a topic. Maybe you were ill.
  • You are not your grades. Good or bad grades, you are far more than your grades. You are the same capable, intelligent, funny, caring, amazing person who came to law school the first day you arrived.
  • If  you want to improve your future grades, the academic support professionals at your law school can assist you in learning new strategies that will boost your academic results. See them early and often next semester.

Take your exams in stride. Do the best you can each day under the circumstances. It is the daily work that pays off in better grades. If you have a bad day, get some rest; start over again the next morning. Best wishes for exams. (Amy Jarmon)

May 13, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)