Friday, October 9, 2020
Mental Health is an important topic for everyone, especially law students. The statistics about the severity of mental health issues in the legal profession are astounding. You can check those out at daveneefoundation.org. A great resource offered by Nina Farber at Boston College is Wakeful Wednesdays. I encourage everyone to attend her sessions.
Here's the information on Wakeful Wednesdays:
Please join the Academic and Student Divisions of the Mindfulness in Law Society for Wakeful Wednesdays:
- Who: Law students from any law school in the United States are welcome. No need to join MILS, although why not? Membership is free to law students!
- What: A 15 minute meditation, led by Academic Division Co-chair, Nina Farber, followed by 15 minutes to share wellness tips and ask questions.
- When: Every Wednesday from 5:00 - 5:30 p.m. (eastern time), beginning Wednesday, October 21, 2020
- Where: On Zoom, please use the link on the MILS Website to join.
Monday, October 5, 2020
Trauma is defined as “an event, series of events, or set of circumstances . . . experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening[,] and that has long-lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” With the pandemic, resulting recession, and ongoing social unrest stemming from racial injustice, if the year 2020 doesn’t fit this definition, I’m not sure what does. I am navigating a lot right now. We are all navigating a lot right now. There is so much uncertainty in the world and many of us have been socially isolated for more than six years months. Though trauma is centered in an individual’s experience, I think it’s safe to say that current circumstances represent trauma for many folks.
Many of my students seem to be faking it until they can make it taking the current situation in stride (at least on the outside). However, I have found myself wondering how well they are really doing with focus, learning, and managing any stress, fear, and anxiety they may be feeling. I also keep thinking about what else I can do to help them. In seeking resources responsive to this moment in history, I stumbled upon several articles about trauma-informed teaching and learning.
Trauma-informed teaching prioritizes helping students feel safe, seen, empowered, and connected. This approach recognizes that, because of the current convergence of crises, students may have more difficulty: completing tasks; finding the motivation to complete reading assignments, “show up” to class, and participate in class discussions; completing writing assignments; effectively managing their time; and, more generally, staying engaged with their legal education. If you’re looking for ways to provide additional support for students during these difficult times, consider the following trauma-informed teaching practices:
- Work to create safety for your students. Think about what makes you feel safe when you feel most vulnerable or are facing uncertainty, and consider sharing your vulnerability. Be honest with students about how you have been affected by current circumstances and tell them how you are doing. By naming your emotions in this way, you are modeling for students that it is healthy to share and process emotions in a community setting. Accordingly, ask your students how they are doing and solicit their thoughts on how you can create a feeling of safety for them in your course. Suggest that they journal as an outlet to express their feelings and create/offer a space for students to share if they feel comfortable doing so.
- Foster relationships and facilitate peer support. Relationships are a key to resilience. Encourage students to check on one another, if they are comfortable doing so, and promote storytelling. The act of sharing their stories with their peers can help students better cope because it creates a feeling of shared experience and fosters a sense of community.
- Create a sense of trustworthiness and transparency. Be clear, transparent, and reliable in interacting with students. Creating and maintaining trust can help lessen stress and anxiety. Adopt and adhere to routines to create some level of predictability for students.
- Empower voice and choice. Validate and normalize student concerns by talking to students about fear, anxiety, stress, and trauma. Empower students who may feel a diminished sense of control to advocate for themselves. Ask their opinions, survey them about how you can help them learn during these difficult times, and brainstorm ways for students to play a role in creating or structuring assignments.
- Understand that students are not a monolith. View student challenges through the lens of intersectionality. We are all trying to navigate the trauma of 2020. However, not all of our students are experiencing this trauma in the same way or to the same degree. Many BIPOC students, for example, may be experiencing trauma much more severely because of intergenerational trauma, ongoing oppression, and structural inequities exacerbated by the pandemic.
- Interrupt microaggressions in the classroom. Microaggressions are a daily source of traumatic stress for students with marginalized identities. Commit to learning more about how to identify and respond to microaggressions in your classroom. Navigating multiple crises and online learning as a law student is traumatic enough.
- Emphasize the importance of maintaining a sense of purpose. Share your passion for teaching, learning, etc. with students and invite them to reconnect with their sense of purpose.
- Re-emphasize concepts and scaffold. Trauma can affect law students’ self-regulation and executive functioning skills, which means they may have a more difficult time planning, remembering, and focusing. Consider providing more reminders about dates and deadlines, what was covered in prior classes, and how it connects to what students are learning next. Build these additional guideposts into your syllabus, learning management system, class meetings, etc.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the need for us to also prioritize care for ourselves. Doing this work, in addition to everything else we’re trying to navigate in 2020, is not for the weary. In addition to adapting and adopting trauma-informed practices to better support students, we must also carve out time to unplug, unwind, and de-stress. We and our students will be better for it.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
Mays Imad, Seven Recommendations for Helping Students Thrive in Times of Trauma, Inside HigherEd, June 3, 2020, https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/06/03/seven-recommendations-helping-students-thrive-times-trauma.
Natalie B. Milman, Yes, You Can Do Trauma-Informed Teaching Remotely (and You Really, Really Should), Educ. Week, Apr. 3, 2020, https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/04/03/yes-you-can-do-trauma-informed-teaching-remotely.html.
Beth McMurtie, What Does Trauma-Informed Teaching Look Like?, Chron. Higher Educ., June 4, 2020, https://www.chronicle.com/newsletter/teaching/2020-06-04.
Kara Newhouse, Four Core Priorities for Trauma-Informed Distance Learning, KQED, Apr. 6, 2020, https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/55679/four-core-priorities-for-trauma-informed-distance-learning.
 BIPOC means Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Around this time of year, I usually end up telling my 1L students something about my experience in law school. I inadvertently chose what, in retrospect, seemed like the best way to become an attorney: After working as a paralegal for a couple of years (to get a taste of the world of law), getting married and living in Japan for a couple of years (to get a taste of the world in general), I thought that Georgetown's evening program looked really appealing, because it would allow me to work and earn money during the day and not drag my wife with me into the penurious life of a student. I wasn't wrong about that, but that did not turn out to be the greatest benefit to the evening program, or even in the top three.
What hadn't occurred to me before I arrived in D.C. was what the rest of the evening program class would be like. Georgetown can support a substantial evening program because Washington is full of people who have done well in government, the military, business, or the arts and now want to take the next step in their career. If the informal reckoning of our evening cohort of 125 students was correct, there was only one of us who came directly from college. The day program, four times larger, had a more traditional proportion of recent undergraduates. Going to school with classmates who had essentially all achieved some measure of success already meant that our program felt different in three momentous ways:
1) Less stress and competition. Not that we were stress-free; this was, after all, law school. Most of my evening classmates had full-time jobs, like I did, and some were in demanding positions that took up more than 40 hours per week. Our law school commitments were lessened in the part-time evening program (so it took us all 4 years to graduate), but still, it could be a pretty heavy load. Nevertheless, there was almost no undercurrent of shared anxiety, and the kind of ruthless competition that I had expected in law school never materialized. (In my 2L year, when I became a Fellow in the legal writing program and worked directly with the school librarians, they told me how much they enjoyed working with the evening students because they never pilfered reserve books or sabotaged assigned reading the way that the day students did.) One of my classmates had a theory about this. He suggested that it was easier for us evening students not to stake our whole sense of self-worth on some grade on an exam, because most of us had proven ourselves in other arenas. This made sense to me; it meant it was easier for us to see grades as measures of our personal progress, rather than as a way of sorting us by value.
2) More organization and efficiency. I know that I was roughly one hundred times a better student, practically, in law school than when I was in college. Part of it was simply forced by necessity: If you work from 9 to 5, then attend classes from 5:45 to 9 or 10 each weeknight, you really don't have a lot of room in your schedule for futzing around. But some of it was the shared culture of the evening program, in which not only did we all face the same issue, but also nearly all of us had developed methods of calendaring and prioritizing in the workplace. Some of us had spouses or even children that had to be fit into our schedules. Knowing that it all could be done, because we had had to do much of it before in our jobs, made it more manageable in law school. Furthermore, we all understood how valuable each other's time was, so the time we spent together in study groups, on joint projects, or in student organizations was also spent efficiently (but also quite pleasantly -- see "less competition", above).
3) More collegiality. By which I do not mean "friendliness"; the day students that I met then, like the students I work with now, were at least as amiable and as good company as my evening companions. But time away from school, in many cases working with more seasoned co-workers on a first-name basis or even with equal status, had bestowed upon most evening students the realization that everyone in the law school -- classmates, professors, administrators, employees -- could be seen as colleagues: people with whom you are striving towards a common goal. Thus, evening students were often less reluctant, and more comfortable, than day students in seeking help or offering suggestions.
The reason I bring up my experience with my 1L class is to point out to them that you don't need to be an evening student to enjoy these beneficial distinctions. They might have come more naturally to those in my program -- certainly to the program as a whole -- because of our previous life experiences, but that doesn't mean that these benefits are only available to those of a certain age or background. What matters are attitude, awareness, and mindset. A student who is in touch with her previous accomplishments, and can ground her sense of self-worth on them, will find it easier to see grades as personal touchstones rather than signifiers of inherent worth. A student who accepts both that his available time is limited (which is merely a matter of thoughtful perception) and that he has the capacity to get done what needs to be done in that limited time (which is perhaps a bit more of a leap of faith) will find the ways he needs to be efficient. And by recognizing that they are attending a professional school whose common goals include each student's successful education, students can position themselves to take full advantage of all the human resources around them. Experience is a good teacher, but sometimes learning from other people's experience is even better.
Monday, September 21, 2020
Tomorrow. Tomorrow is the mythical land where the vast majority of your productivity resides. Tomorrow is when you fully unlock and harness all of your motivation and efficiency. Tomorrow you will get everything done. In truth, tomorrow will come but the enhanced productivity, efficiency, and motivation you anticipate may not.
Putting off tasks until tomorrow is a common form of procrastination and procrastination hinders one’s ability to allocate work and manage time effectively. One of the most challenging aspects of law school (and one of the most important skills for law students) is time management. At any given time, law students may be juggling class preparation, writing assignments, extracurricular activities, networking events, interviews, personal commitments, etc. Effective time management is essential to keeping each of those balls in the air.
Here are a few strategies to avoid procrastination and make the hypothetical productivity, motivation, and efficiency of tomorrow a reality today:
- Commit to timeliness. Commit to being on time to class, work, events, etc. Commit to timely completion of assignments. Set deadlines and keep them.
- Start today. Starting is often the hardest part. If you find yourself waiting or searching for the “perfect” time to start, remember that there is no perfect time. Since procrastination involves delaying doing something, the most direct way to stop procrastinating is to start. By starting today, you will put the most difficult part of the task behind you.
- Find your motivation. If you’re searching for motivation to complete a task, try reminding yourself why the task is important and how it connects to your goals.
- Break large projects into smaller pieces. This practice enables you to better allocate your workload and makes those larger projects seem less intimidating. Think of these as mini-goals and create deadlines for completing each smaller task. The feeling you get from accomplishing these smaller tasks can motivate you to keep going.
- Convert items on your to-do list that are likely to induce procrastination into blocks of time on your calendar. Blocking time for these tasks on your calendar transforms them from the indefinite to the definite and represents a commitment to yourself that you will “show up” to work on those tasks. It also serves as a visual cue and a reminder of your priorities as you navigate your daily schedule.
- Make the tasks you need to complete more fun. For instance, if you need to clean and only have 20 minutes, set a timer for 20 minutes and see how much you can get done before the timer sounds. You may not get it all done, but the process becomes more fun and you will probably come away with ideas about how to be more efficient the next time you clean.
- Reward yourself for creating and meeting your deadlines. Reward yourself when you resist the urge to procrastinate, complete one of your mini-goals, complete a task on your calendar, etc. Rewards help reinforce the behavior you want to repeat.
- Find an accountability partner. Choose someone you like and trust (and who likes and trusts you) to fill this role. Share your goals with that person, discuss the specifics of your partnership, and plan accountability check-ins.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
Monday, September 14, 2020
Merriam-Webster defines perfectionism as “a disposition to regard anything short of perfect as unacceptable.” Perfectionism and its status as something to which we should aspire is introduced early and often. We think that if we look perfect, act perfect, and are perfect then we can avoid or minimize shame, blame, and judgment.
In reality, perfectionism is an anchor that drags us down and keeps us from reaching our true potential. The quest for perfection is an exercise in futility. Perfection is a matter of opinion. Aspiring to be perfect means we are prioritizing the perceptions of others over our perception of self. Rather than aiming to be the best version of ourselves (OUR best), we are instead focused on making someone else believe we are THE best.
Many law students, as perpetual high achievers, have perfectionist tendencies that existed long before law school. However, the hyper-competitiveness of the law school environment and law students’ propensities to compare themselves to their peers make law students particularly susceptible to intensified perfectionist tendencies. These tendencies can have significant negative consequences that affect academic performance:
- Lower productivity: The quest for perfection makes every task seem more daunting and time intensive. The average law student spends in excess of 50 hours per week completing law-school related tasks. Students who have difficulty transitioning from one task to the next until a task is “perfect” will likely remain stalled. For instance, the desire to complete the “perfect” course outline may occupy so much of a student’s time that the student is left with little, if any, time left to complete a critical mass of practice exam questions.
- Procrastination: Much like Forrest Gump and Jenny, perfectionism and procrastination go together like peas and carrots. Exceptionally high standards can be difficult (perhaps even impossible) to meet which leaves students feeling so overwhelmed that they defer completing tasks.
- Reduced confidence: Perfectionism is a confidence killer. We are imperfect beings who make mistakes. Law students are imperfect human beings who are developing their skills. Mistakes will happen—as will growth. For perfectionist law students, making a mistake or receiving feedback that they need to further develop a skill can crush their self-esteem and confidence. It may keep them from trying new things or speaking up in class for fear that they won’t be perfect. Students may also base their self-worth on their academic achievements and see instances of perceived failure not as opportunities for growth but, instead, as evidence that they are a failure.
- Lethargy & Anxiety: The quest for perfection is exhausting! The vicious cycle of setting impossibly high standards, trying to meet them, feeling overwhelmed and procrastinating, not meeting those standards, and then trying to manage anxiety while dusting oneself off to try all over again is mentally, emotionally, and physically draining.
Fortunately, there are several helpful strategies for managing perfectionist tendencies. Here are some suggestions:
- Be kind to yourself. Rather than being your greatest critic, try being your greatest coach or ally. Record those negative thoughts and then reframe them in a kinder, more compassionate way. Replace negative thoughts and damaging self-talk with words of encouragement.
- Cultivate your authenticity. Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. We are all made of strength and struggle. You, imperfections and all, are enough. In fact, those imperfections are what make you uniquely and authentically you.
- Adopt a growth mindset. Your strengths and skills are not set in stone. You are a work in progress. Use feedback to improve your skills and identify the lessons to be learned from perceived setbacks. Focus on being YOUR best.
- Note triggers for and manifestations of your perfectionist tendencies and plan for how to manage those situations.
- Break larger projects into more discrete tasks to better manage your workload and stress.
- Set reasonable time limits for completing tasks and do your best to stick to those limits. Once that time is up, move on to the next task.
- Remember that the law is messy. Facts do not always align neatly with case law. Case law is not always clear. There often is no one “right” or “perfect” answer.
Managing perfectionist tendencies requires intentionality and practice. And, as we all know, practice makes progress.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection 49–76 (2010).
Jordana Alter Confino, Reining in Perfectionism, ABA Law Practice Today, Jan. 14, 2019, https://www.lawpracticetoday.org/article/reining-in-perfectionism/.
Keriann Stout, How Perfectionism Hurts Law Students, Above The Law, Feb. 26, 2018, https://abovethelaw.com/2018/02/how-perfectionism-hurts-law-students/.
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
A sharp sense of time has always been a key attribute of successful modern law students and lawyers. Awareness of deadlines, efficient time management, careful accounting of time spent -- all of these contribute to law school performance, and are usually part of a practicing lawyer's quotidian world of minimum billable hours and filing periods.
How unsettling, then, that many of our incoming, current, and recent students find themselves adrift in the time stream. New 1L students in many jurisdictions, starting their legal educations under conditions that have limited orientation activities and warped customary fall semester schedules, are not falling as easily into the clockwork demands of law school as other students have every year before them. Second- and third-year students have already been through six months of time-shifted classes and unwinding employment and internship opportunities, and are beginning a new school year very different from what they had experienced before. And around the country, many recent graduates (such as mine) have grown simultaneously complacent and anxious as their planned bar examinations have been postponed multiple times. Many students and graduates appear to take this all in stride, but it seems a significant number are manifestly affected -- falling behind on long-term projects, working with a diminishing sense of urgency or an inflated sense of panic, or having difficulty juggling responsibilities.
It feels as if the unexpected loss of schedules and signposts that so many took for granted has left some people unmoored, warping their senses of time in the same way that isolation and darkness affects cave explorers. In 1993, for example, sociologist Maurizio Montalbini spent a full year alone in an underground cavern, but because the solitude and lack of natural light had stretched his sense of time, he believed that only a little more than 200 days had passed.
Human beings need cues to help keep our sense of time on track. In a new situation, or one that has changed drastically, we may not perceive sufficient cues to keep us oriented, and we may not even be aware that we are slipping. We can help our students and recent graduates maintain their crucial awareness of the time they have -- and of the time they need to achieve their goals -- by providing supplemental cues. Introducing students to their professors' expectations over the course of the (in some cases altered) new semester, and touching base with reminders of upcoming opportunities and deadlines, may help anchor them when classes are asynchronous and gatherings are infrequent. Weekly emails, frequent online group meetings, and providing and reviewing supplementary materials can help bar examinees feel less disconnected and more engaged in this interminable bar study period. And frequent communication with our colleagues in other departments and schools -- learning their plans for the semester, sharing ideas and insights, and organizing joint efforts -- can help us retain our own sharp senses of time -- especially important if we are going to serve as the touchstones to others.
Monday, August 31, 2020
By now, many first-year law students have experienced the thrill (and, perhaps, terror) of being called on to speak during class. Some professors cold call, while others announce which row or group will be on call next. In either case, remaining calm and alert during class is essential. For those students who are subject to cold calling, randomly being called on in class can cause anxiety. Rather than anticipating the classroom discussion, students worry about hearing their name and not knowing “the answer” to the question(s) posed by their professor.
Here are a few strategies to reduce the anxiety associated with being called on in class:
- Review: Brief your assigned cases and spend 15-20 minutes before class reviewing each case brief to refresh your recollection of the cases assigned that day. The more prepared you are for class, the more confident (and less anxious) you will be if/when you are called on by your professor.
- Practice: If you are in a study group, practice being “on call” with each other. This practice benefits the student who will be called on in class as well as the other group members who must know enough about the topic to ask questions and follow up questions. If you do not yet have a study group, practice with yourself. Try answering questions about key details of each case and think about the questions your professor may ask in class, particularly about the court’s reasoning and the holding. You may find it helpful to wear different advocacy hats during this process. Think about the case from the perspective of an advocate for the plaintiff, an advocate for the defendant, and as the decisionmaker.
- Be Present: Before it is your turn to be “on,” or before you decide to volunteer in class, listen closely to what your professor is asking. Pay attention to your classmates’ comments and the follow-up questions your professor asks in response to those comments. Try to answer your professor’s questions silently in your mind and compare your answer to the answer given by your classmate.
- Enunciate: Even if you do not feel prepared to speak, if you are called on, speak clearly and loudly enough for the class to hear what you are saying.
- Breathe: If you freeze when you are called on, take a deep breath in and out through your nose. What may seem like an eternity to you will actually only be a few seconds. Take those few seconds to gather your thoughts and gain control of your voice and your nerves.
The ability to think on your feet is a professional competency that you will develop over time, in part by the experience of being called on in class. Even if cold calling makes you feel very anxious or scared, take advantage of the opportunity presented by being called on in class. No one, including your professor, expects you to be perfect. You will make mistakes. You will also get better (and more comfortable) with practice.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
Thursday, June 4, 2020
I've taken the title to this little blog from a phrase in the recent post of Prof. Marsha Griggs, calling us, all of us, to action and resolve to fight, work, and promote justice. Griggs, M., "Despicable Us," Law School Academic Support Blog (June 2, 2020). As Prof. Griggs reminds, it's our oath, and in that oath, we say that we are committed to safeguard justice for all. But what if there's little to safeguard? What then?
The horrific brutal torture and killing of another innocent person just last week makes one wonder. There have been so many others, not just in the U.S., but around the world. What is it that leads so many to blindly look away, to not care or empathize, to sit on laurels when, frankly, the laurels are all dried up?
I'm tired of calls to come together and talk. And, in light of the ongoing protests, it seems like I am not alone. But as Prof. Griggs points out, most are silent.
So often I'm that one - the silent one. I'm not sure what I can do or say but I know that I hold a position of great responsibility, which obligates me to spring to action to make the world as right as it can possibly be. That takes real work, not trite talk. I'm worried that so few really want to do that work, that so few are really eager to change, that so few are so wedded to the present that there's little promise or hope for a brighter future. I'm worried that I'm one of those, waiting for others to right an upside down world.
I didn't know what else to do. So I wrote letters. First to the mayor of Minneapolis. Then to the police chief. Next to the mayor of Denver and the police chief of Denver. Finally to my U.S. senators and local U.S. representative.
Everyday counts because every person counts. As I tried to explain to my students this summer, there are ways to move forward towards the pursuit of justice, right now.
First, take a look at how many municipal ordinances and state laws provide for incarceration. I think that many of those punishments are out-of-all proportion with the social harms for which criminal laws are supposed to countenance. And, the lack of proportionality is, I think, a violation of constitutional due process because it burdens people for no reason at all.
Second, take a look at the details of what happened in Minneapolis. A telephone call about a possible counterfeit $20 bill. Two police show up to investigate. One draws a gun and orders Mr. Floyd out of the car. $20 dollars. What happened to the investigation? It was like the police wanted to make an arrest. The alleged crime being investigated, I think, was a specific intent crime, requiring proof of both the act of using counterfeit currency to purchase goods or services along with the mental state of intent to use counterfeit currency. Under the due process requirement of the Constitution, that would seem to require a real investigation rather than drawing a weapon. It sure seems like a violation just to walk up to a car and threaten someone's life with lethal force without at least asking any questions. That's why I wrote to the city leaders and politicians admonishing them to reform criminal laws to require the issuance of citations rather than proceeding with arrests, which are by their nature acts of force and the escalation of force. Better to proceed with deescalation, issue a citation after a thorough investigation, and then bring the issue in front of an independent magistrate.
Third, I've read a lot of police reports. They talk a lot about probable cause but in general have little facts to show for it. And, because the Constitution requires both probable cause to issue a citation or to make an arrest, with reasonable trustworthy facts as support, its time to ensure that police reports, etc., list identifiable, particularized, concrete allegations of fact to support both the culpable criminal act of the crime alleged along with the culpable mental state. In my opinion, that's a requirement of not just the Fourth Amendment but also the Due Process Clause to provide meaningful notice of the specific grounds for criminal charges. What if police reports fail to identify such facts? It's defective and the citation, arrest, and/or indictment should be quashed, immediately. And, the police authorities who harmed a person by failing to provide constitutional notice ought to be liable under civil rights laws for acting under the color of law without constitutional authority in explicit derogation of due process protections. And prosecutors that pursue such defective charges ought to be held accountable by regulatory agencies, the public, and the legal system.
Fourth, according to news media, at least one of the police officers arrested and charged for the death of Mr. Floyd had previous disciplinary records, which, as far as I can tell, resulted in little action and were not available to the public at large. When political leaders, as our representatives, appoint police officers, as our agents, and when the political leaders then arm those police officers with lethal force, the HR records of those officers should be available to us all. Nothing should be secret; after all, the police are supposed to work for us. But, I hesitate to add, police unions are mighty powerful. Often times, it seems, more powerful than political leaders. But if a union protects someone who is engaged in unlawful acts, then we should hold unions accountable too.
Perhaps my suggestions to politically powerful leaders won't make any difference. So far I've not received any responses. But I'm not giving up. All of us only have one life to live. It's up to us to choose to live it fully, wisely, and for others. I fall short, so often, and all the time. But with each day, we get a new opportunity. The past need not hold us back, if only we have the courage to act. After all, that's the constitutional duty that we've pledged ourselves to embrace on the behalf of others. To act justly on the behalf of others. (Scott Johns).
P.S. As a starting point, please take a look at Attorney General Ellison's statement and the criminal charges filed against the 4 Minneapolis police officers:
I quote in part the words of Attorney General Ellison from the news release: "
"To the Floyd family, to our beloved community, and everyone that is watching, I say: George Floyd mattered. He was loved. His life was important. His life had value. We will seek justice for him and for you and we will find it. The very fact that we have filed these charges means that we believe in them. But what I do not believe is that one successful prosecution can rectify the hurt and loss that so many people feel. The solution to that pain will be in the slow and difficult work of constructing justice and fairness in our society.
That work is the work of all of us. We don’t need to wait for the resolution of the investigation and prosecution of the George Floyd case. We need citizens, neighbors, leaders in government and faith communities, civil- and human- rights activists to begin rewriting the rules for a just society. We need new policy and legislation and ways of thinking at municipal, state, and federal levels. The world of arts and entertainment can use their cultural influence to help inspire the change we need. There is a role for all who dream of a justice we haven’t had yet.
In the final analysis, a protest can shake the tree and make the fruit fall down. But after that fruit is in reach, collecting it and making the jam must follow. The demonstration is dramatic and necessary. But building just institutions is slower and more of a grind, and just as important. We need your energy there too. We need it now."
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
In a normal year, my students would all have begun their bar preparation yesterday, coasting on their post-graduation-ceremony momentum right into a seat in front of the first of many lecturers. But in New York, and more than a third of all U.S. jurisdictions (in which -- again, in a normal year -- more than half of all July examinees would be sitting for the exam), the date of the bar examination has been postponed for six weeks or more, leaving bar students in those jurisdictions with the gift they hate most of all: uncertainty.
What is to be done with all this extra time? Bar preparation companies cannot agree: some are simply administering their typical ten-week program, just starting it six weeks later than usual, while others have reworked their program schedule, starting it earlier and drawing it out over a longer period, but with shorter study days. Employers, many contending with their own virus-induced crises, have added variables to the new graduates' calculations, some allowing their new employees to start early and then take time off, others expecting hirees to adhere to their original early-August start dates, and still others unnervingly withdrawing their employment offers indefinitely. Even we bar support specialists can only make well-educated guesses about how to make use of six extra weeks. We have no data, no direct experience of how a delay like this will affect individual students or the testing cohort as a whole. How much more study can a student put in without burning out? Should the extra time be spread across all aspects of bar study, or should certain skills or subjects receive more attention? Will MBE scores increase overall for those who take the test in September? Decrease? Will the bell curve spread out? Will this hurt or help examinees?
Sensibly, 43 more days of prep time should be seen as a boon. In a normal year for bar study, isn't time the most precious resource of all? In my discussions with students, I have suggested they think of this extra time the way they might think of an unexpected financial windfall. You don't have to spend it all in one place. You might devote a large chunk of it to bar study -- that is, after all, the primary focus of the summer -- but how you specifically budget it depends on your own circumstances. An examinee facing financial pressures might choose to work for a few weeks, then begin studying a few weeks early. Someone eager to get started studying might begin this week, but set aside a week or two, at strategically placed spots on the calendar, to put study aside, connect with family and friends, or do whatever else helps them refill their gas tank. It's important not to let the time slip by unnoticed -- it would be bad to turn off the TV one night near the end of June and realize you had not done any bar study -- and that's why it's important to budget the time and actually create a schedule. And that, for some, is what seems to turn this temporal windfall into a vexation. In order to budget, you have to make choices.
No one wants their bar prep period to feel like playing endless rounds of "The Lady or the Tiger?" At every step: choose the right path, and you will be rewarded with contented knowledge and testing skills; choose the wrong path, and you will be mauled by a ravenous UBE with MPT fangs and MBE claws. In a normal year, examinees only have to be certain that the regimented bar study course they have chosen, which has worked for thousands of examinees before them, will continue to reliably work for them. This summer, though, because so much is unregimented, some examinees are anxious about being uncertain about so much more. Am I studying enough? Am I studying too much? Am I studying too early? Am I studying the right things, in the right way, for the right amount of time?
Two propositions can help people in such a tizzy of uncertainty. First, assure them that they are not feeling this uncertainty because of some character flaw that prevents them from making definitive choices. They are not losing their heads while all about them are keeping theirs. This is an inherently uncertain situation -- we can't even be assured the exam will actually be administered in September! -- and so there is no single "correct" choice. The best they can do is what they've been training to do for the past three years: exercise good judgment based on competent authority and relevant facts. As long as they are not just guessing, as long as they are talking to us and their mentors and their instructors and applying what they learn to what they already know about themselves and the task before them, they can at least make a good choice.
Second, help them subdue the perception that they are overwhelmed by uncertainty by reminding them of what is certain. The content and structure of the bar examination remains the same (well, except in Indiana), as do generally those of the reputable bar courses designed to prepare examinees for the test. They still have their law degrees, and the skill, intelligence, and diligence that helped them earn those degrees. They have a community of classmates, instructors, and mentors who they can rely on to share perspective and feedback on the decisions they do make. They have a certain task, they have certain abilities, and they have certain resources. In the face of uncertainty, those are best certainties to have.
Thursday, May 7, 2020
I once had a teacher tell me to never read good books. Never ever. And why not?
Because if I spent my time reading good books (or doing good things), then I wouldn't have time left to read the really great books (or do the really great things of life).
That's a lesson that has never left my side.
In bar prep, I'm convinced that too many are trying to do too much, and, in the process of doing good tasks, they aren't doing the great things that are really important for success on the bar exam. Let me be frank. You don't have time in bar prep to do good things. But, you have plenty of time to do the really great things, the things that produce fruitful learning.
With that in mind, here's a few tips:
- Do less reading and more pondering the law, how it works or doesn't, and what it means to you as a person.
- Do less note-taking and more puzzling through problems to learn the law.
- Do less testing and more practicing, feeling free to work problems over slowly, reading them out loud if you'd like, as you develop confidence and competence in your own voice as an expert problem-solver.
That's just a few suggestions.
But, rather than hear it from me, a teacher, I thought I'd share the wisdom of a recent successful bar-taker in that person's own words. After all, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words (but the wise words from the heart & mind of a recent bar taker -- who wants to share with YOU what she/he learned through re-taking the bar exam -- is worth a priceless fortune).
Advice for First-Time Bar Takers:
- Practice way more than you think! If you are wondering whether you should watch a lecture or do a practice question, do the practice question.
- Let go of memorizing everything. It is impossible. Learn what your weak areas are and spend more time with those subjects.
- You will feel like you know nothing until approximately the last week of bar prep. Somehow, magically, it does come together. I promise.
- Do all the bar prep practice tests.
- Think really hard about who you want to study with. This is not the time to do something different from how you handled law school.
- Come up with a plan and stick to it. The bar prep calendar is really helpful for this. Decide how many practice questions you want to do everyday and do it. But if you are starting to burn out, be OK with taking breaks. It's a marathon!
Advice for Fresh Start Re-Takers:
- First, I am so sorry that you have been dealt this card. There is no question that it hurts. Take care of yourself and do things that make you happy.
- As you begin planning your next round of bar prep, make sure to work with the law school to identify the weak aspects of your exam answers. This will help define ways you can “work smarter” instead of “work harder.”
- Also work with the law school to identify new ways to study. It might be changing up your study tool or how you review your answers. For me, studying ALONE the second round vastly improved my scores. I think studying alone boosted my confidence because it required me to look up answers to my own mistakes. I also stopped comparing myself to friends.
- Ditch the bar prep lectures. Use that time to practice WAY MORE MBE and MEE practice questions. I probably tripled the amount of practice questions I did during my second round of bar prep.
- Log your progress. I was way more intentional about compiling lists of rules I kept missing on MBE questions. This helped me to keep track of weak areas so I could spend more time learning the law in specific subjects.
- Spend timing thinking about any testing anxiety you might have. Adding mindfulness meditations to my study plan helped a ton!
That brings me back to the start of this little essay. How do you know what are the really great books to read (or the great things to do)? That's were wisdom comes in. Reach out to a person you trust, on your faculty or staff or from a colleague or mentor who knows you as a person from head to toe. The advice that I've shared in this blog is from such a person, who, although he/she doesn't know you, knows you, because she/he has cared enough to share with you the lessons learned through the process. So, you have a friend who is rooting for you (and that includes me too!).
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
One thing that most of us probably don't full appreciate until we miss it is degree to which we rely on predictability. When things are going well, it is often largely because so many things are doing just what we expect them to do, without us having to think about it. When every paycheck is direct deposited, when every mocha latte tastes just like you like it, when your spouse kisses you every morning and your favorite TV show is on every evening, it's all part of one grand comfortable life. It is not simply or even primarily the easy and convenience that makes it comfortable. It's the reassurance that comes with knowing that, and understanding how, cause leads to effect. Things happen because we make them happen, or if not, at least we expected them to happen, and all that generates confidence and a sense of efficacy.
Suddenly we enter an alternative universe in which supermarkets run out of the most basic, boring staples, like flour; in which basic medical precautions like hand washing might be useless because you were unknowingly infected two weeks ago; in which jobs and income just disappear for even the most conscientious employees; in which graduating with a degree, even with honors, from a decent law school may not even be enough to permit you to take a bar examination, let alone begin earning a living. All of these are aggravating, and some have potentially dire consequences. But taken as a whole, their greatest effect on us may be that they are contradicting our assumptions about how the world reliably runs.
Trust is like a vitamin. When we haven't got a minimum daily requirement -- when there are too many things in our lives that we can't rely on -- it's like a psychic scurvy. Instead of bruising easily and losing our teeth, we panic easily and lose our self-confidence. The cortisol levels in our bloodstreams shoot up, because in an unpredictable world we always have to be prepared to fight or flee. We can't concentrate, we are easily rattled, we might even suffer illness because of it. It's hard. We need to be able to rely on some things to perform well.
This is one of the reasons that humans invented lawyers in the first place. We needed more people we could trust to rely on. We needed people who could develop frameworks of predictable rules so that we would not feel that conflicts were resolved arbitrarily. Lawyers are a testament to the human craving for reliability.
And in order to make lawyers that clients can rely on, we need to teach students to rely on themselves, on their own capabilities and judgment. And this does not happen overnight. First we teach them that they can rely on others -- on their professors to teach them how the law works and on mentors to show them the ropes -- then that they can rely on systems, like legislatures and administrative bodies, and then ultimately on themselves. You know these rules and how to apply them. You understand how to navigate bureaucracy, at least enough to find your way through any new one you encounter. You know how to come up with solutions, how to suggest them to other interested parties, how to negotiate a compromise. You're a cause that has effect, because you are a lawyer.
Even with everything going well in law school, though -- and it may not be, at least not for every student, given the range of burdens that they are shouldering -- when the rest of the world is telling you that you can't eat in your favorite restaurant, that the only available toilet paper is the Want Ads section of your local paper, and it may be more than a year before you can begin working, it can be really easy to spend all your time on edge, trembling at the unclear implications of every announcement from the school or your state bar examiners. And when it is easy to be that anxious, it is usually hard to study, focus, work efficiently, and present yourself to the world as a new lawyer.
So, lately, I've been thinking of how Academic Support professionals are kind of like psychic vitamin supplements. In a world in which everybody feels that so many things are less reliable now, we are telling our students, "Look, you can trust us. We'll explain the right answer; we'll send you feedback on your writing; we will find and share information you might not be able to access yourselves. But we will also teach you that you can trust yourselves. You're learning the rules you need to learn. You're developing the writing and analytical and persuasive skills you need as tools to cause the effects you want. You're going to develop the judgment that makes a good counselor, and some day other people will come to rely on you."
All of that messaging is what we do on a good day. Lately, I feel like I have had to up my game to extra strength multivitamin levels. Making myself available for conferences more frequently; responding to emails super-promptly, before students can feel ignored; finding additional resources for students in increasingly dire straits because of the current crisis. Maybe this is really the core of what Academic Support does best at times like these: by actions that show our students that they can rely on us, we help them see they can rely on their professors, on the law, on the system, so that they can better learn to rely on themselves.
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
Has there ever been a U.S. law school class subject to more stress and uncertainty than the class of 2020? Okay, not every student across the country has suffered equally, but here in New York our students were told all of their classes would abruptly be online, that they would not get to see their classmates for the rest of the year, that their bar examination would be postponed indefinitely, that a bizarrely deadly disease racing across the state, that their bar examination would be rescheduled for September but that there was no guarantee there would be space for them to take it, that the economy was collapsing and some of the jobs they were counting on could disappear, and that they would probably get to take the exam in September if there were an exam in September but nobody can really tell them how it's going to work yet anyway. All of this in less than six weeks. Plus now they have to do all of their classes and meetings via Zoom, which fosters so much lack of eye contact and awkward silence it reminds me of a sixth-grade dance. No wonder our soon-to-be graduates are so weary.
Like a lot of us, I am weary, too, trying to be there for my 3L students, putting new resources in place, thinking ahead about how to contend with the changes to the bar exam. But when things slow down (later and later in the evening) and I have a moment to stop thinking about my bar prep class and the latest news from the Board of Law Examiners, that's when I think about next year, when maybe things will be "back to normal". And that's when I get really anxious.
Our current 3L students are stressed, but also super motivated. They were 92% of the way through law school when things went whack, and they are not about to let that last 8% stand in their way. Everyone with an interest in this summer's bar exam -- law schools, the state, employers -- wants to see these students get through the disruption and get into the workplace, and if that means relaxing some rules or changing some procedures well then so be it. Sure, it's going to be an unusual summer, but there's a potential for six additional weeks of prep time for the bar exam. It's possible that some students will be better prepared for the test. It's my job not to assume that, but it could happen.
The students I actually worry about -- when I can, because our imminent graduates require so much immediate attention -- are the current 2Ls. Many of them have seen their summer job or internship plans interrupted, and I know our careers services office is hearing from them about those issues. But I am barely hearing from them at all about academic concerns, and my attempts at general outreach have generated very little response. I do not doubt that most 2L students have simply made a successful transition to online classes -- a transition made easier in many schools by a move to mandatory pass/fail grading and by a general and humane understanding that this change has been fast and novel for all of us and that, considering the background stresses of illness, isolation, and finances, it is appropriate to give students a little slack.
But I also fear that there is a portion of the class of 2021 that is not handling the transition as well. There could be some -- hopefully a small number -- directly affected by this crisis, dealing with their own illness or that of a loved one, or with financial difficulties, any of which could in turn affect their performance in school. Others might just not be doing as well academically as they would be in a live classroom, with the opportunity to study with classmates every week. Those students just might not be getting everything they otherwise might have from their classes, even though they feel like they are making the same effort. And then there are sometimes a few students whose inclination is to do less work, when possible, and this is in many ways a situation in which that is possible.
All of these subsets of 2L students might learn, understand, and be able to correctly apply less of what they are learning in their spring classes now than they would have if the world had not shifted so radically. And we might not know it now, because it is so hard to make contact with them under these new conditions. What's worse, without thinking ahead about this, we may not even find out who these students are and where they have developed gaps (Evidence? Criminal Procedure? Wills and Trusts?) until the start of next year's spring semester, if they just get "Passes" in all their classes this semester. And by that time, I am sure we are all hoping, things will be "back to normal" -- classes back in the building, bar exam scheduled for ten weeks after graduation, employers expecting practice-ready students on August 1. They won't be the beneficiaries of relaxed procedures or of extra study time, or of any other kind of leeway.
So this is what I think about when I can. How can I reach people who seem perfectly comfortable not being reached at this moment? How can I, sooner rather than later, identify and help these students who might otherwise not manifest the effects of the spring of discontent until the glorious summer of 2021?
I think the fall of 2020 is going to be incredibly consequential to those students, and I think we need to be prepared for it.
Friday, April 24, 2020
I’ve thought a lot about educational resilience in recent years, and the health, economic, and social crisis we find ourselves in today has made the topic seem all the more important and relevant.
Educational resilience is distinct from concepts like grit or educational buoyancy that describe how students respond to the everyday challenges of academic life: getting started, staying focused, and putting in the effort necessary to complete difficult tasks. Resilience refers to how our students (or any of us) respond to extraordinary adversity. The type of adversity that disrupts our normal patterns and throws us out of equilibrium. Resilience theory looks at how people adjust after adversity: whether the experience permanently impacts their functionality and diminishes their potential; whether they return to something like the previous status quo; or whether they integrate the experience of overcoming adversity into a narrative of empowerment, leaving them more resilient and successful going forward.
As we communicate with students over the next weeks and months, we are, wittingly or not, co authoring their narratives of adversities and resilience and how it relates to their educational story. Research and experience have led me to believe that educationally resilient students share certain characteristics. None of these characteristics will be particularly surprising or ground-breaking to anyone in this community, but I think they still bear repeating.
Resilient students are realistic about challenges, but they emphasize the positive over the negative. They are unwilling to perceive themselves as victims and instead characterize themselves as powerful agents with influence over their world. They accept responsibility and learn from their mistakes, but they also focus on the future and on specific, tangible goals. And they respond to the challenges they face with transformative energy or, if you will, love. (My apologies if my hippie side is showing.)
I find myself reflecting on these characteristics of resilient narratives not only as it relates to how I’m communicating with my students, but also with respect to the story I’m telling myself about the world today and my place in it. I know others have said it before me, but in this time of crisis, I’ve never been more aware of the role I play as a supporter and advocate for my students, providing a measure of predictability and consistency in unsettling times.
One thing on which all literature on resilience agrees is the enormous impact that having one consistent, engaged supporter can have on success. This is especially true when the supporter is advocating for and promoting the student’s success in a particular field of endeavor or in terms of meeting a particular goal. In many cases the supporter may not even realize the profound impact they have had or the fact that they have become a pivotal character in a student’s story of educational resilience.
I have had my moments, these last few months, when I can’t tell if what I’m doing is making any difference; when it seems like nothing I do could possibly be equal to what my students are going through, anyway. Perhaps you have felt the same.
I encourage you all to be positive, empowered, future-focused, and loving, both with your students and yourselves. Because, what we are doing matters, enormously, whether or not we can always see the impact we are having.
(Liam Skilling - Guest Blogger)
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
The last few weeks have been extraordinary in dizzying ways. A massive and abrupt shift to online teaching; a disruptive delay in administration of the bar examination; increased academic, professional, and/or personal responsibilities; fears for one's health or the health of loved ones; actual physical illness; loss of income; loss of planned employment or experiential opportunities; long-term economic uncertainty; social isolation and loneliness -- any one of these would be distractingly stressful to a student or teacher under ordinary circumstances, and many of us and our students are facing most of them simultaneously.
The saving grace has been the correspondingly extraordinary response -- demonstrations of grit, resourcefulness, generosity, and positivity -- that the situation has generated. Administrators and technicians working 16-hour days to keep classes and resources flowing. Educators implementing and sharing creative solutions to the problems of distance learning, and making special efforts to keep students engaged. Students accepting their changed circumstances with remarkable flexibility, increased effort, and gracious understanding. And, as a backdrop, millions of people, throughout the country and the world, working, sharing, and cooperating towards common goals.
But these last few weeks are really the first few weeks. To many they seem much longer already, but everyone -- law schools included -- faces an even more extended period of disruption and deprivation. That burst of energy and goodwill with which our students faced the initial transformation will have its limits. Even our own stockpiles of buoyancy and resilience are going to be threatened.
That is normal. It is really a form of culture shock, and as anyone who has experienced culture shock can tell you, there will be a cycle of highs and lows until we fully acclimate to our new world. We can all deal with these, one way or another, but the best way is with open eyes and thoughtful consideration. Expect at some point to feel exhaustion and discouragement in ourselves, and to recognize them in our students and colleagues.
Plan for it if you can -- be thinking ahead about when (soon!) you can take some time for yourself, and about how you can encourage your students to do the same. Classes will be over in a few weeks, exams a few weeks after that; a little downtime right about now, and then after exams are over, can help to stretch everyone's reserves.
Reaching out to others for support -- sharing or trading tasks, enjoying a little social time (like a virtual happy hour), or even just mutual commiseration about how tough it has been -- should be a little more manageable at this point, now that we have all familiarized ourselves with our new schedules, our formerly unfamiliar conferencing tools, and the proper guidelines for face-to-face-but-still-six-feet-away interactions.
And, most importantly, don't let the next plunge in spirits catch anyone by surprise. Let your students know -- gently, not with a sense of foreboding -- that it would be natural to start feeling low at some point, and that the feeling will not be permanent, and that you can be there for them while it lasts. Help them to focus on the tasks that will help them not only get through the next several months, but also accomplish things they will be proud to talk about years later. And remember that you will not be immune, and that taking care of yourself is another way to help you take care of your students.
Sunday, April 5, 2020
Law school and the bar exam require immense mental toughness during regular preparation periods. Online learning combined with the stress from uncertainty magnifies that difficulty. Dr. Travis Bradberry wrote an article for Success magazine in 2016 describing 15 qualities mentally tough people exhibit. The list includes:
- Emotional Intelligence
- Neutralizing toxic people
- Embracing change
- Saying no
- Fear leads to regret
- Embracing failure
- Not dwelling on mistakes
- Others won't limit joy
- Won't limit the joy of others
- Get enough sleep
- Limit caffeine
- Relentlessly positive
All those qualities may not apply to law school or the current situation, but many of us could benefit from doing more of a few of them. Most of us should be more confident, say no more, embrace failure, not dwell on mistakes, exercise, get sleep, forgive, and stay positive. Check out the article for advice in each one of these areas. Most of us are trying to do much more now than a couple months ago. Be reasonable and take steps to stay mentally fresh.
Monday, March 16, 2020
- Meditate. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Sitting or laying down and focusing on your breathing will work. Or stare at a candle for a few minutes or listen to calming music. Even 5 minutes of mindfulness helps. Try it a couple times a day, like in the morning and before bed. The effects last longer than you would think.
- Give your devices a break. Isolation sometimes makes us even more attached to our devices, especially when we’re trying to keep up with the fast changing news. Try planning a time during the day or evening when you will not be on any device for an hour if possible. If that seems too long start with 15 min and work your way up.
- Laugh. Find a funny movie, book, song — anything that makes you laugh. Laughing is good medicine.
- Read something uplifting. Give the news a break and pick up a book that makes you feel good.
- Move. The gym may not be a good idea right now, but you can work out, dance, do yoga or other
movement at home.
- Be kind. Just be kind to yourself and others.
- Sleep. Now is a great time to catch up.
Monday, February 24, 2020
The bar exam is so much more than a test. It is an arduous all-encompassing journey that begins with months of study and practice. Today, the journey comes to an end for the February bar takers. As we send positive thoughts and well-wishes to our students taking the bar exam, we should consciously acknowledge the individuality of the journey for each student, the diversity of experiences, and the sacrifices that were made to reach this point.
Bar takers of all ages and backgrounds have sacrificed, surrendered, lost, ignored, delayed, and missed so much while studying for the bar. Yet, life circumstances would not pause during bar study. Some wed, or welcomed a new child; others dealt with the loss of a pet or family member; some faced separation or divorce; while others moved in, moved away, or moved back home. There are bar takers who made the necessary decision to leave young children in the temporary care of family or friends, while others had to find ways to incorporate parenting and family time, or perhaps elder care, into the bar study routine.
For so many, there were financial struggles. Students took out loans to pay for a bar course, to eat, to live. Some quit their jobs for full-time bar study; others lost their jobs because they could not keep up with the hours and the demands of study. Repeat takers managed the stigma and financial distress of a second, or third, bar prep period. No dollar amount can truly capture the real cost of studying for the bar. There is a toll on your body, your back, your hands, and your eyesight.
Bar takers everywhere, we see you. We acknowledge your struggle. We affirm your efforts and we cannot wait to celebrate your success!
Thursday, February 20, 2020
We've been told that seeing is believing but I suspect that most of us don't really think that's quite true, at least when it comes to our own cognitive biases.
After all, we are trained attorneys, steeped in expertise in evaluating evidence carefully and thoughtfully. We don't rush into conclusions. We sort, we deduce, we reflect. At least that's what I used to think...until I got caught by one of my own students.
Here's what happened.
We were talking about cognition, and one of my students - a former teacher - asked me if I wouldn't mind taking part in a little experiment about thinking - a mathematics experiment. I was so excited because I'm a mathematician by professional training. I was ready for the test, or so I thought.
Step by step, my student became my teacher, asking me the following questions in front of about 90 of my students:
Prof. Johns, what's 1000 + 1000? Good.
Now, add 50. Good.
Now, add 40. Perfect.
Now, add 10.
What's that give you? ______.
I blurted out, as proudly and as loudly as I could...3000...and I was completely wrong and utterly embarrassed (since the correct answer is 2100).
Here's what happened: My thinking got in my way because I wasn't really thinking but acting like I was thinking, which is what I think cognitive bias might come down to.
Try this out with your own students. Ask them to work through this little math problem, out loud, one calculation at a time, as a class.
[Note: At first, few will participate by calculating answers, after all, because most are scared of math, so start the whole problem over until all are participating by speaking - out loud - the answers to each step of the math problem.]
What's 1000 plus 1000? _____
Plut 50? ______
Plus 40? ______
Plus 10? ______
Most, just like me, will blurt out 3000. And that's a problem - as attorneys and as law students - because that means that the first impulses of our minds are often wrong, whether we are working through multiple-choice questions, sketching out possible issues as we read through an essay question, or probing problems that we might need to address to help our clients.
So if you have a chance to try out this little experiment with your students, please let me know what you learn. And, let me know what your students say that they've learned from this experiment. If your students are at all like me, this little experiment will not just open up their minds but also their eyes too. And that's something worth seeing.
Monday, February 17, 2020
Bar takers, you have seven study days remaining to prepare, to take one last look at your bare bones outlines, to try to crack the code for recognizing recording statutes, and to improve your speed at performance testing. Adding to the angst of sitting for an exam that will determine entry into your chosen profession, is the foreboding fact that national bar passage rates have declined and not returned to prior years heights. News from bad to scary, logically, can lead to doubt and self-debasing thoughts like who am I to pass if as few as four of every 10 bar takers pass the bar in some states?
The negative thoughts creep in and resound even louder to those who entered law school against the odds. Those with LSAT scores below 150; those who juggled working to provide for a family by day, and the competitive rigors of law study by night; those who managed the anxiety of chronic illness and attendance requirements; those who faced implicit biases that created a presumption of lower competence and precluded their appointment to prestigious posts; those whose humble social or financial backgrounds placed them in a daily battle with imposter syndrome; those whose law schools don't rank elite; and those who’ve found a home in the bottom quartile of the law school class are left to silently question who am I to pass?
Let these words be the fight song for the academic underdog. You entered law school, wind at your front, and made it. You fed your family and persevered. You commuted two hours to and from school and made the 8:00 AM lectures. You tutored yourself. You feared failure, but kept going. You ignored the rankings, and focused on your exams. When things got hard, you got harder. So to those who still question, who are you to pass . . . ?
I ask the better question: who are you not to?
 The Louisiana Bar Examination is administered February 17 – 21, 2020, eight days before the administration of the Uniform Bar Exam and other state bar exams.
 Mark Hansen, Multistate Bar Exam Average Score Falls to 33-Year Low, A.B.A. J. (Mar. 31, 2016). See also Jeffrey Kinsler, Law Schools, Bar Passage, and Under and Over-Performing Expectations, 36 QUINNIPIAC L. REV. 183, 187 (“Between 2009 and 2013, nationwide firsttime bar passage rates remained in the high seventy percentile range with three years at 79%, one year (2013) at 78%, and one year (2012) at 77%. Those nationwide bar passage numbers slid from 78% in 2013 to 74% in 2014, 70% in 2015, and 69% in 2016.”).
 Joshua Crave, Bar Exam Pass Rate by State, LAWSCHOOLI (Jan. 29, 2019), https://lawschooli.com/bar-exam-pass-rate-by-state.
*adapted from BarCzar Blog originally published April 2018.
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Let me ask you a couple of questions posed by a recent article (illustrating how easily our minds can mislead us). M. Statman, Mental Mistakes, WSJ (Feb 9, 2020).
First, do you consider yourself an above average driver?
Second, do you consider yourself an above average juggler?
Most of us answer the first question: "Yes, of course I'm an above average driver." In contrast, most of us answer the second question: "No, absolutely not. Why, I can't even juggle so I'm definitely below average." But context matters in determining whether our answers to these questions are accurate. Id.
Let me explain.
Take driving. Most of us think that we are at least average drivers (and most likely above average) because we drove today and didn't (hopefully) have an accident. But most drivers are just like us. They didn't have accidents either. Id. Consequently, at least half of us have to be below average and the other half above average. And, because we haven't yet explored any factual evidence in order to accurately gauge our driving abilities (such as accident records, traffic tickets, etc), we are often mistaken about our driving abilities.
Now let's take juggling. Most of us can't juggle at all, and, because that includes virtually all people, we are probably at least average jugglers (and maybe even better than average jugglers!). Id. You see, evidence matters in judging accurately. Id.
Likewise, with respect to learning, most of us think that we are at least above average with respect to easy tasks (like driving) but below average with respect to the hard tasks of learning (like juggling). However, without concrete facts to evaluate our learning, we are likely wrong. And that's a problem because if we don't know what we know and what we need to know we can't improve our learning...at all. Indeed, that's why learning can be so difficult. We tend to get stuck within our minds, our own framework, seeing what we want to see rather than what is really true about our learning.
So, as you evaluate your own learning, step back. Ask yourself how do I know what I think I know. Challenge yourself to see from the perspective of others so that you don't miss out on wonderful opportunities to improve your learning. Be honest but not harsh. Focus on identifying ways to improve.
If you're not sure how to go about self-reflective learning, here's a quick suggestion:
Take for example an essay answer that you've written.
First, find, identify, and explain one thing that in your writing that is outstanding (and why).
Second, find, identify, and explain one way to improve your writing (and why that would be beneficial).
Indeed, towards the end of most meetings with students, rather than telling my students to do "this or that," I ask them to tell me what they've learned about themselves from talking together and what can they do to improve their own learning. And, I don't stop with just one answer. I keep on asking until we have at last three concrete action items, all of which sprung out from them rather than me. That's because the most memorable learning happens in "aha" moments, when we see what we didn't see before. And, after all, isn't that the essence of learning...seeing anew with free eyes to boot.