Author Archives: Sara J. Berman

About Sara J. Berman

Sara Berman, a graduate of the UCLA School of Law, is a pioneer in distance learning in legal education. Berman has been a law professor since 1998 and currently serves as the Director of Academic and Bar Success Programs for the AccessLex Institute Center for Legal Education Excellence. Berman has prepared students for the substantive and skills portions of bar exams nationwide for decades and is the author of the ABA's acclaimed titles: "Bar Exam Success: A Comprehensive Guide," "Pass the Bar Exam: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic and Professional Goals" and Bar Exam MPT Preparation & Experiential Learning For Law Students: Interactive Performance Test Training. With UCLA Law Professor Paul Bergman, Berman also co-authored "The Criminal Law Handbook: Know Your Rights, Survive the System," and "Represent Yourself in Court: How to Prepare and Try a Winning Case." These primers on the civil and criminal justice systems, written initially for lay people, help prospective and current law students to fill in legal terminology, fluency, and civics knowledge gaps; the books also help law students develop practical skills necessary for employment readiness and for success on the performance test portion of the bar exam. NOTE: What is posted on this blog is the opinion of the author and does not represent the views of her employer.

Distance Learning in Legal Education

Hats off to LSAC for its important webinar yesterday featuring Berkeley Law Dean, Erwin Chemerinsky.  As LSAC President Kellye Testy said at the close of the session, I too felt a longing to return to the richness of law school learning while listening to Dean Chemerinsky’s review of recent Supreme Court decisions.

The session yesterday also provided a hopeful counterpart to Dean Paul Caron’s post yesterday, “Is A Law School Meltdown Coming?”  (Thank you, Dean Caron for this warning that I hope we all heed, and for the rays of light in between the cautionary notes.)  Dean Chemerinksy showed every prospective law student —via a distance learning delivery system I might add — why the law and legal education are critically important —indeed vital to the future of our democracy.  And, to all who watched and listened or will do so when the video link is posted, yesterday’s Constitutional Law session provides irrefutable evidence that great teaching is great teaching, in any delivery mode.  

Distance learning is not new.  We have long been engaged in deep learning without being in the same room through books, movies, and educational television. How many Americans learned just recently about the history of the founding of our nation through singing the lyrics of Hamilton (from a distance, not “in the room where it happened”)—and how many more will learn our history when the play comes out this week on television?  Thank you, Lin-Manuel Miranda, @Lin_Manuel, one of today’s greatest distance educators!  How many of us know about how a bill becomes a law or proper use of conjunctions because of watching Schoolhouse Rock? And, history is replete with people who have fallen in love, sustained relationships, started revolutions, and changed the world through letter writing.  

I am a legal ed distance learning pioneer.  When people question me about online learning in legal education, I often point to Professor Arthur Miller, who in addition to teaching in person for more than fifty years at Harvard Law School and now at NYU, has taught more American lawyers, judges, and everyday citizens about civil procedure and the American legal system than anyone could possibly ever count, in multiple distance formats—through his treatise, casebooks, and hornbooks, his decades of bar review, the PBS Fred Friendly series for which he won an Emmy, his Good Morning American legal commentating, not to mention the incomparable civil procedures lectures he recorded for the first online law school, where I served for some fifteen years as a faculty member and assistant dean.  

Quite simply, anyone who categorically dismisses “distance learning” in legal education as some sort of inferior substitute has never heard, watched, or read the teachings of Arthur Miller or Erwin Chemerinksy, or any of the thousands of other brilliant law professors across this country who are right now preparing to teach superb online courses this fall.  And, this is what we should be doing —preparing for the fall.  In a June 30, 2020 brilliant post, former Northwestern Dean Dan Rodriguez rightly lauds Professor Deborah Merritt as follows, “What Prof. Merritt captures well, and what I and others have tried hard to capture as we have discussed this issue privately and publicly is this:  We can and should put on a full-court-press to develop and refine our remote/online teaching abilities so as to commit to giving our students an excellent educational experience — excellent in curricular content, excellent in experiential/skill-building opportunities, and excellent in the community-building that technology can assist us with, if we are diligent and strategic, energetic and empathetic.” 

Coincidentally published today is the Summer 2020 issue of the AccessLex publication, Raising the Bar, which I founded and am so proud to serve as managing editor of. This issue is dedicated to distance learning in legal education, and features among other content, important wisdom from four visionary law school deans who are at the helm of hybrid JD programs that were educating for the 21st century prior to the pandemic.  I hope that readers will feel inspired to continue working to develop the kind of excellent educational experience in learning that Professor Merritt and others envision. 

As legal education continues in part or fully online in the new academic year and until this virus is eradicated, and perhaps beyond, let’s work together with the same fervor depicted in Alexander Hamilton’s writing “like he’s running out of time,” to see the virtual halls of our nation’s law schools filled this fall with the brightest, most engaged minds —students from all backgrounds who are ready to learn to protect the Constitution and to ensure that our nation remains a thriving democracy, governed by the rule of law.  

In the Age of Corona: online skills lessons –a dream come true

AALS 2016, after CALI’s early morning breakfast meeting, I found myself in the elevator with Deb Quentel.  CALI’s newly released set of skills lessons trace back to that elevator!  Deb and I talked then and then at length when I returned to South Florida.  I shared how excited I was about the lessons, tracking and assessment opportunities. I incorporated CALI lessons right away into 2L and 3L courses in the ASP department I directed at NSU, and I spoke with Deb about ideas to create skills lessons –for all law students including 1Ls. I did not have the bandwidth then to develop them, but I held on tightly to the ideas.

Fast forward to the CALI annual conference in 2018. I sat  with John Mayer and we talked at length.  I suggested CALI consider developing law school ASP skills lessons, and encouraged CALI to apply for an AccessLex Grant to fund the effort. The rest, as they say, is history. The Law School Academic and Skills Lessons are live! Thank you, CALI. And, thank you, AccessLex!

These lessons will allow ASPers nationwide to expand their reach and their offerings to students. As all of us who are or have been in the ASP trenches know just how important it is to have quality resources for our students. These are also all online so perfectly adaptable to the shift to online learning that the pandemic forced on us and that you all have embraced heroically. And, as if all of that were not enough, what I am most proud of is that these are not only the highest quality (and editable by faculty who use them), they are free to law students in CALI member schools. This project thus serves the invaluable purpose of democratizing reliable supplements. Already stretched financially to intolerable levels, with the negative economic ripple of this pandemic, the importance of free quality study and skills resources simply cannot be overstated.

So again, thank you John, Deb, Sara, and everyone at CALI. Thank you Allie, Laura, Nicole, Courtney, Renee, Melissa, and Steven — the faculty authors.  Thank you to all the peer reviewers. And, thank you AccessLex for supporting this project.

And, thanks to legal educators across the country. Our collective support of law students is vital, now more than ever, to maintain our nation as one governed by the rule of law.

In the Age of Coronavirus: Online Teaching Resources –a growing list

All posts on this blog are my own; they do not represent any institution.

Compiling list below with resources for online teaching and learning, from messages exchanged by faculty as the nation’s law schools have gone online, overnight. Recalling a 2008 interview in the California Bar Journal, December 2008: “The curriculum includes live classes, assigned reading, video lectures, essays and tests in 11-day modules. “Other than eye contact and body language, the discussion is, in many ways, quite similar to that of a traditional law school classroom,” said Concord professor Sara Berman. And Berman, a UCLA School of Law graduate herself, sees advantages to a virtual classroom: The interaction is based solely on the discussion’s content, not on the student’s gender, race or looks, for example. Students don’t have to commute. They can review archived classes. And they gain extra experience in written communication.”  

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Miscellaneous Resources on Online Teaching and Learning*

*Not endorsing any of the resources below; just listing them.

https://www.cali.org/books/distance-learning-legal-education-design-delivery-and-recommended-practices (published guide.)

https://www.law.du.edu/online-learning-conference/conference-schedule  (Videos embedded in conference schedule)

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2020/03/assessment-in-online-law-school-classes.html

 

Thoughts for Law Professors Contemplating Moving to Virtual Classes, By Allie Robbins, March 10, 2020, https://passingthebar.blog/author/smashthebar/

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2020/03/online-learning-resources-and-tips.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+typepad%2Fxoma+%28Law+School+Academic+Support+Blog%29

 

 

https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/advice-online-teaching

Will update list, and again, not endorsing any of the above resources.

All posts on this blog are my own; they do not represent any institution.

In the Age of Corona: Pandemic Playlist

All posts on this blog are my own; they do not represent any institution.

     The present state of the world, in pandemic, reminds us that we are all connected, and we are all in this together.  For that reason, my current playlist includes a set of recordings by many different artists the world over called, “Playing for Change” –songs around the world. Here are just some of many Playing for Change songs:

  • One Love/Playing for Change
  • A Change is Gonna Come/Playing for Change
  • The Weight/Playing for Change
  • La Bamba/Playing for Change
  • Clandestino/Playing for Change
  • Redemption Song/Playing for Change
  • Lean on Me/Playing for Change
  • What’s Going On/Playing for Change
  • Ripple/Playing for Change
  • Down By the Riverside/Playing for Change
  • Sitting on the Dock of the Bay/Playing for Change
  • Higher Ground/Playing for Change
  • Imagine/Playing for Change
  • Gimme Shelter/Playing for Change
  • Take me Home Country Roads/Playing for Change
  • Stand By Me/Playing for Change
  • Words of Wonder/Get Up Stand Up/Playing for Change
  • Rivers of Babylon/Playing for Change
  • Pata Pata/Playing for Change
  • Listen to the Music/Playing for Chane
  • Everyday People/Playing for Change

For more info, from Wikipedia: “Playing For Change was founded in 2002 by Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke.[1][2] Producers Johnson and Enzo Buono traveled around the world to places including New OrleansBarcelonaSouth AfricaIndiaNepal, the Middle East and Ireland. Using mobile recording equipment, the duo recorded local musicians performing the same song, interpreted in their own style.  Among the artists participating or openly involved in the project are Vusi MahlaselaLouis Mhlanga,Clarence BekkerDavid Guido PietroniTal Ben Ari (Tula), BonoKeb’ Mo’David BrozaManu ChaoGrandpa ElliottKeith RichardsToots Hibbert from Toots & the MaytalsTaj Mahal and Stephen Marley.[3][4][5]  This resulted in the documentary A Cinematic Discovery of Street Musicians that won the Audience Award at theWoodstock Film Festival in September 2008.[6][7]Mark Johnson was walking in Santa Monica, California, when he heard the voice of Roger Ridley (deceased in 2005)[8]singing “Stand By Me“; it was this experience that sent Playing For Change on its mission to connect the world through music.[9] The founders of Playing For Change created the Playing For Change Foundation, a separate 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.”

The Age of Corona Virus: July Bar Exam??

All posts on this blog are my own; they do not represent any institution.

A group of us who have been involved in lawyer licensing and legal education for many years lay out options for bar admission in the current context at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3559060.

 

The Age of Corona Virus –Gratitude

All posts on this blog are my own; they do not represent any institution.

In tough times, people sometimes show the brightest colors.  It has been great connecting with all sorts of people who are struggling, and fearful –many of whom are entirely alone.  A while back, I shared a gratitude pact with a new friend, texting at least three things each day that unexpected made us smile.  Here are some things I am grateful for today:

  • The smiles on the faces of the local shopkeepers who are staying open to feed the community, despite risks to themselves;
  • A notice that volunteers are ready to help those who cannot leave with groceries and urgent errands;
  • Succulent smells from windows of those who are cooking in instead of Sunday brunching out;
  • Cherry blossoms and springtime weather;
  • Colleagues banding together in “free” time to offer thoughtful researched solutions to the toughest of challenges;
  • Listening to the voices of those who seek to reassure;
  • The way so many of us can remain virtually connected and are doing so creatively;
  • The resourcefulness of loved ones doing without, yet finding ways to make do.

The Age of Corona Virus –One Week In and the World has Gone Online

Blog post is my own and does not represent any institution.

I began blogging a decade ago when I was a senior faculty member and assistant dean at the nation’s first fully online law school, founded with legal education pioneers just before the turn of the 21st century. I taught law school online and online bar review for two decades before migrating to more traditional law schools and to the nonprofit world.

My early blog posts centered around helping law students to form and maintain positive growth mindsets, preparing for and achieving success during law school and while studying for and passing the bar exam.  Eventually, they became the foundation for what is now Bar Exam Success: A Comprehensive Guide, (Bar Exam Success: A Comprehensive Guide (for law students with audio book) –a book I hope will continue to infuse optimism and a host of practical tools to help students succeed in the face of the today’s many great and unforeseen challenges.

This past week, thousands of law professors began a crash course in online teaching.  I have never been more proud of legal education –and I have been an unapologetic advocate for legal education my entire career.

Law faculty nationwide have joined teachers the world over, adapting overnight, bringing content, energy, wisdom, and collaborative spirit to shaken students. In many instances, faculty are teaching much more about survival, connectedness, and how to stick together during times of crisis than they are even about their individual subjects.  Learning is hampered (understatement) when students are consumed by fear; thus, professors stepping up to provide reassurance will continue to be an essential part of teaching in our new world.

And, how law faculty have united in supporting one another!  Last week, law faculty were posting detailed instructions on Zoom, voice-over power points, and even how to conduct moot court and oral arguments online.  They answered each other’s questions at all hours of the day and night, freely sharing tips and strategics for success. They were each other’s moral support and tech support –on top of the extraordinary work being done by actual law school and university IT departments and law librarians (often tech experts in their own right).  Everyone pitched in.

The word “heartwarming” doesn’t begin to express the depths of my admiration and appreciation.  Law schools are essential to a nation governed by the rule of law.  We will need new lawyers more than even in the months and years to come. Lawyers will need to step in to help individuals, small and large businesses, and government agencies to rebuild.

As we move through this crisis, into entirely uncharted waters, let us strive to continue full support for one another, and pledge an unwavering commitment to education and the arts (more on that in future posts), which have persisted even in the most heavily war-torn societies.

We need education more than ever in our time of crisis.  Let us do whatever is necessary to continue supporting those who are teaching our future workforce.  We will need today’s students (tomorrow’s leaders) to be as informed as possible –and we will need them to be nimble and ethical critical thinkers.

All posts on this blog are my own; they do not represent any institution.

Took a simulated exam and feeling like $%$##@@!$

Have you taken any simulated exams yet?  Did you score way below what you think you need to pass? Did you take a simulated bar exam and walk out of the room with that “Huh???” look all over your face?  Do you feel like the last thing in the world you are ready for now is the real exam?
Take a big, deep breath, hang on, and hang in there! Many have been right where you are –dazed and scared, taking the scores on a simulated exam like a cannon to the gut, and yet on they went to PASS the Bar Exam just a week later. You CAN too.
1. You don’t have to take the real thing until the end of this month. You have a 17 days more days to study. Think of all you were able to learn in one day before certain finals! There is so much you can still get clear in these last weeks.
2. Your simulated exam may have been harder than the real exam.
3. The real thing is a PASS -FAIL test; you don’t have to get an “A.”
4. Use the simulated exams to help with strategies on how to pass the real thing.
  • Did you budget your time well? If not, watch the clock more carefully and limit your time per question.
  • Were you tired after lunch? Perhaps you can eat a bit less and take some of that lunch hour to walk a bit and burn off some stress or listen to some motivating music.
  • Did you “blank out” on any questions? If so, get a plan ready to work through a temporary “brain freeze” should one occur during the exam!
  • Most important, do not get psyched out. Simulated exams help you by providing an opportunity to make necessary adjustments before the real thing.  Simulated exams  are not necessarily a referendum on how you will actually perform next week. They are, however, an opportunity to get lots of useful information. Use that data wisely, and use these two weeks to improve!

July is here: your bar exam is just a few weeks away!

It’s here. This month that you looked forward to from the first day of law school is finally here. You may be feeling dread or fear or fatigue.  Likely you are not yet excited.

Notice the word “yet.”  Trust that you will be.  Give bar prep your full attention, focus fully for the next three weeks, and you will most likely come to the point when you feel if not downright excited then certainly empowered by all the knowledge in your head.

Picture yourself as a runner finishing those final laps.  You will be ready to cross that “finish line.”

You will be ready to write intelligently on any topic they throw at you.  You will be ready to say, “Bring it on, Examiners. Bring any topic and I have something to say.  I can break the issues down, recite the main rules, and, based on a careful reading of the facts determine a logical outcome to each issue presented.”

You will be ready to read each multiple choice question carefully, with curiosity, delving in to the call to figure out precisely what the question is, then seeking the facts to match up to law that is in your head so that you can rule out the wrong answers and bubble in the best one.

You will have more law memorized than at any other time in your life.  And, if you let it, that feels good.  Threads of legal rules that seemed to be picky irrational details finally make sense. You see how it all fits together. You see parallels between legal rules and policies in numerous areas of law that previously had been “siloed” in your brain in only own course, associated with only one professor.

Stay focused these next three weeks, though.  This is not the time to let up.  Today is.  Take today, July 4th, off.  Recharge your batteries.  Then, get in and soak up every bit of knowledge you are now ready to learn.  You are primed.  The rules have context now, so they will stick.  Memorize.  Know key rules just as well as you know your favorite passwords.  (Say them out loud, sing them, write them out 20 or 50 times.)

Think of how much you learned in three days before certain final exams.  These three weeks are the bar exam parallel to those three days.  Embrace them and enjoy this process.  You are strong and getting stronger.  You will go in there and be prepared to do your best.  And, that is a great feeling.