Category Archives: Law School today

Bar Review begins this week; Seize this moment as a Opportunity

So proud of all my students. It’s hard to dig in, after graduation, and get ready for yet another exam. But, this is the last one. And, it’s so worth all the effort.

You CAN do this. You can pass the bar exam. Dig in and embrace bar review. It is an opportunity to get to do this kind of intense learning.

Don’t view it as torture or hazing.  Throw yourself in.  Think of the bar exam as a photo that right now is blurry and out of focus.  But each week as you get closer to the exam, you learn more and more, you refine your knowledge and your command of each subject, and that blurry photo comes more and more into focus.  By July it will be crystal clear.

July is your exam to pass!

PS. I know I wrote about this days ago, but I just learned of a dear friend — a beautiful, vibrant, smart, and talented college grad whose life was taken from her at age 22.  If there is a lesson in this loss it is to make the most of every moment we have.  Don’t view study as torture.  Don’t waste a moment feeling bitter, or angry, or sad.  Embrace the studies.  Learn all that you can. And, know that you are on a road to not only do well but do good.  Your future is bright. Embrace it!

Graduates: look to the hard work ahead with gratitude.

I attended a lovely graduation ceremony this past week, as I’m sure many of you did.  Huge smiles from graduates, their families, faculty, and administrators.  It’s all seems worth it on this big day. And, it is.  Do not be put off by the fact that there is more work ahead.  (For law students, your biggest test (the #barexam) is yet to come. Embrace that as good news –as an opportunity to learn more and rise to the challenges ahead.)

Do not let the idea of further effort diminish all that you have done to get to this point.  Those of us who have work to do are lucky!  Incredibly lucky.

I just learned about a college graduate who walked this past week and will never walk again. She died in an accident  –while her family was visiting for graduation festivities.  She was and will remain a shining star in the hearts of all who knew her.  I cannot believe that I will never have the chance to hug her again, to follow her career and see her shine.  She will never have the chance to work. Her career was taken from her, as was her life, at 22.

I don’t have the right words.  I doubt there are any.  My heart goes out to her family and friends. She will be missed dearly.

So, to all my students and readers, to anyone facing a bar exam this summer, to those studying in summer school, to the many engaged in summer jobs or internships, to all who just graduated and are looking for jobs –let us collectively be thankful that we face work ahead.  The fact that we get to work means we are alive.  And let us support one another in the process.

Tragedies remind us that the road ahead may be cut short at any moment; let’s make sure that each step we take is filled with purpose and gratitude.  And, let none of us be discouraged by the fact that some of those steps will be challenging.  How lucky we are to be here to face challenges….

Five Powerful Ways to Engage with Law School Learning without losing yourself

New law students often raise their hands in class to share their personal opinions about cases.   I’ve heard professors respond ruthlessly, “I don’t care what you think.”  I will sometimes explain,  “What matters, for class discussion and exams, is what the court decided and why, and not what your personal views are.”  (I frequently tell my law students that I don’t want see anything written in the first person –not on law school exams and not on bar exams.)

So how to stay engaged when your opinion doesn’t matter?

  1. Your opinion does matter, just not for class or exams.  My classmates and I argued outside of class for hours every day, about what we thought about cases, about how we might have decided them if we’d been the judges –you name it.  So, talk with classmates –before and/or after class!
  2. Go to office hours.  Ask your professor his or her opinion of the court’s decision in a particular case, and discuss yours.
  3. Teach what you are learning to a friend or family member who is not in law school and share your feelings about what you are learning.
  4. Write in the margins of your casebook what you think of a case.  Don’t just “book brief” in the margins.  Add your reactions, in your own words.  (Read a fabulous case tonight with students about the foreseeability of a particular injury. One of the court’s splendid lines reasoned that simply because an injury had not previously resulted from the particular action in question did not mean the injury was not foreseeable.  I told the students that I wrote in my margins something like, “Yup.  Makes sense to me.  Just like when we tell kids not to play with matches.  They may not have gotten hurt before, but it’s totally foreseeable that they’ll get burned one of these days.”  My students who were parents especially appreciated the editorial.
  5. Read newspaper and law review articles that critique the area you are studying.  You will find this stretches your brain and helps you see even beyond the thoughts or reactions you had.  You may find support for your own views.  You may find arguments that oppose your opinions. You may find you see things in an entirely new light altogether.  Whatever you discover content-wise, the process itself will help train your critical reading and analysis skills.

Bottom line, your opinions and your feelings may have no place on law exams, but they are vital to your humanity. Keep them alive.  Just keep them in context!

Starting Law School this Fall? Get ready to arrive at well-reasoned, factually supported conclusions!

Gave an Intro to Law School of sorts recently.  I illustrated the difference in credibility of a baseless “feel-good” statement and an analysis that explicitly shows how provable facts support each part of a rule leading to a logical conclusion.

Think about these examples.  You don’t need to be a lawyer or law student to see the differences.  They don’t purport to prove elements of rules; they simply help demonstrate how using facts as opposed to fluff helps support credible logical conclusions:

Friend A says, “You are great! ”

Friend B  says, “You are great because you are loyal, reliable, and funny.”  First, I say you are loyal when I recall the many times you defended me even when lots of others did not.  You have never once doubted me.  Second, your reliability is clear; you are always on time.  When you say you will do something; you follow through on your promises.  And, I can always count on you to answer my calls or texts.  Third, you are funny.  You tell jokes that make me laugh out loud. You make silly puns that bring smiles to my face. You have  a quick and clever wit.  Everyone enjoys your sense of humor.  To sum up, as I said before, you are, “GREAT!”

OK –aside from the fact that Friend B is a bit long-winded, isn’t Friend B more credible??  Don’t you feel like Friend B is not just blowing hot air but actually means what he or she is saying?

Restaurant Critic A writes: “Nouveau Resto that just opened on Main Street is fantastic.  I am the best restaurant critic in town and I say New Resto rocks. Go eat there.”

Restaurant Critic B writes: “Nouveau Resto that just opened on Main Street is fantastic.  I rated the restaurant on 1) the taste of the food, 2) food presentation and decor in the restaurant, and 3) on service. On all counts, I gave Nouveau Resto 5 stars, the highest rating on my newspaper’s restaurant rating scale.  I gave the taste of the food a 5 because every dish was made with fresh ingredients, seasoned well, and cooked to the correct temperature.  Myself and the five people dining with me all ordered different dishes and each of us found our selections to be delicious. No one had any leftovers.  As to food presentation and decor in the restaurant, both were clean and inviting.  There is no clutter at Nouveau Resto –not on its plates, nor in its dining room. The plates are all solid white with the colors of each dish creating a work of art on each plate. The napkins and table cloths –mostly a crisp white, with a minimalist border of beautiful blue accents that match a lovely blue theme in stylish artwork on the walls. The lighting is modern and bright.  Last but not least, the service is impeccable.  The waiters did not hover, but they were there to answer every question, refill drinks, and check in to see if we were satisfied and/or needed anything more after every course was served.  The were polite and knowledgable about the ingredients in every dish and about the wines on the wine list.  As I said, Nouveau Resto is fantastic –an excellent addition to the cuisine in our city.

Again, a bit longer to read, but isn’t the review of Restaurant Critic B more believable?

These are two simple illustrations, but I hope they make a point: conclusions that are well grounded in fact are typically more credible than baseless or unfounded claims.  And, credibility counts –especially for new lawyers-to-be!

 

Juggling Work and Finals: a few practical tips to rise to this tough challenge

Many college and graduate school students must work while studying.  A couple of thoughts.

  1. When you get your syllabus, calendar midterms and finals, and ask your employer if it’s possible to work fewer hours (or take off entirely) during the weeks prior to those exams in exchange for working additional hours once exams are over.
  2. Don’t wait until after work when you might be too tired to study.  If you have to work while in intense study mode, put in an hour or two in the morning before work, an hour at a lunch break, and an hour or two after work.  You will get 5 hours a day in this way, without having them all crunched in when you are perhaps too burned out to focus.
  3. Use “work” as time off from studying and studying as time off from work –at least during finals.  During those high gear weeks before finals (or months if studying for the bar, boards, or a big standardized test), eliminate or reduce if possible any responsibilities other than work and studying. Obviously if you are the sole caretaker of young children or elderly parents you cannot “eliminate” those responsibilities –but try if possible to get someone or hire someone to help out or act as your “relief pitcher.”
  4. Though work and studying will (and should) take nearly all your focus, continue if at all possible to exercise, sleep, and eat well.  Brain work takes a great deal of energy.  Your focus, your ability to learn and retain information and to think clearly will all be enhanced by effective self care.

These simple few suggestions in no way imply that juggling work and studies is easy, especially if you also have familial responsibilities.  But hopefully these tips will help make the trying task a bit easier.  Keep up the good work and hard work, and draw on your internal motivations to rise to this admittedly very tough challenge.

How to Ask for an Extension

So around finals time, we frequently find students asking for extensions, make-up exams, or other special circumstances.  I don’t know about others, but I have four criteria for what I consider a legitimate excuse:

  1. a reasonable excuse,
  2. supported by evidence,
  3. delivered politely,
  4. in a timely manner.

Let’s look at these.

  1. What is reasonable?  A medical emergency, a death in the family, that sort of thing.  A leisure tip is not a reasonable excuse in my book, nor is being tired or overwhelmed.  Read the syllabus on day one and calendar everything that is due well ahead of time. (Note: some professors are OK with other excuses; different people have different rules
  2. Supported by evidence?  Bring a doctor’s note or other document that backs up your excuse.  Not that we don’t trust you, but we may have to support our decision to grant you some exception to a rule that others have to follow.  It’s much easier for us to answer administrative concerns if you provide a doctor’s note, documents to prove the death, etc.
  3.  Delivered politely?  When I shared my list of four recently with school administrators, they were surprised.  Why?  So many people are rude and/or demanding.  But, this is an essential element of a valid request.  Say “Please.”  Address your professor as “Professor” –not “Hey” or “Dude” or “Mr.” or “Ms.”  And, ask, do not demand.
  4. Timely?  The earlier in advance the better.  Students who come in as soon as something happens, or in advance if it’s something that can be planned, are well served.  A student who comes in weeks or even months after a midterm, let’s say, and only then asks for a make up exam, loses all credibility.

When I shared my list of four recently with certain school administrators, they were surprised, especially by my insistence on respect.  But, asking politely to me seems the minimum when speaking to or writing to a professor.

The best plan, as always, is to calendar all deadlines at the beginning of the semester and comply with them.  But, sometimes things happen that are beyond your control.  What is within your control is how you handle them.

Follow these rules and you are on the road toward a successful request for an exception to the rules.

#Finals! What stands between you and all As on your final exams?

Interesting piece in the NY Times that made me think about the sorts of fears and other road blocks that get in between students and exam success. (“Time to Be Honest about the Fear that’s Getting in Your Way” by Carl Richards, April 17, 2017)

Let’s look at some possibilities:

  • I really do not love what I am studying and would rather spend time doing ________ [FILL IN THE BLANK] than studying.

Fear?  [For college students]: Maybe there is no major for me.  [For graduate students: Maybe I’ve chosen the wrong field. But what then?  I’ve put in so much time and money, how do I turn back or change things now?  I will incur more costs, more time, I’ll disappoint others….]   This is an issue, no doubt.  A couple of thoughts.  What do you love?  Can you articulate it?  Is there training to get a job that would involve doing what you love?  Also, remember, even work one “loves” is often hard.  If you are well into a course of study, think carefully before deciding something “isn’t for you” solely because you may be struggling.  If you are now just first deciding what to study, research what people do professionally with the degree you are seeking and see if any of it sounds appealing.  Go on informational interviews.  Talk with people.  Research.  You might find you were on a good path all along, or you might conclude that you do need to make a change. Bottom line here, the more strongly you believe you are on a positive path, the more likely you are to succeed in the various steps along that path.

  • I do not believe that the price I’d have to pay to get the best grades possible is worth it. Everyone says that no one in my generation will get jobs unless they are in STEM, so why bother.

Fear?  I won’t get a job.  True may of today’s college grads, and even law school grads, are having a harder time than in previous generations finding good jobs.  But there are still jobs.  And, the better your grades are the you are more likely to get one of them.  Instead of deliberately putting your head in the sand, or sabotaging yourself, make yourself the best possible stand-out graduate you can be. (Make an appointment with someone in your university’s career services center.)

  • If I really put in every ounce of energy and an immense amount of time and I still don’t do as well as I’d like, the “truth” will come out that I’m just not as smart as people think I am.  If I don’t put in that much, I can blame B’s, C’s, or D’s on something other than my own intelligence.

Fear?  I am not smart enough. OK, this is a layered and nuanced concern.  Some people are not suited for certain studies.  But being admitted to a degree program is at least one objective measure that you are capable.  Your grades are another measure.  But, sometimes grades are an indicator that you have to try a different approach or seek a different explanation.  Haven’t you ever had something just not make sense at all until that one moment when someone explained it in a different way, and “click,” -you got it?

Don’t let the fact that you haven’t yet figured something out push you into an imposter syndrome –where you fear you are not cut out for whatever you are seeking to accomplish. Instead of fearing you are not smart enough and falling into a self-fulfilling prophecy, try believing you are smart enough and find ways to live up to your high expectations.  Seek help. Try different ways to studying.  Experiment with different places to study.  Research learning science techniques.  Harness all the tools out there to help you become and stay your absolute best.  Look for articles, books, videos, professors, TA’s, tutors, academic support or writing centers to see if any of them can help you get it –maybe with a different approach.  There is a really good chance that persistence will pay off!

  • If I put in my all, I will do better than [FILL IN THE BLANK – perhaps this might include friends, siblings, or even parents.]  My success will make them jealous.

Fear?  I won’t be as well liked or loved if I show how smart I really am. OK, if the last point was nuanced, this one is even more complex –but oh so real for many people.  There are jealous people and those who are not supportive.  We could spend hours, days really, strategizing about how to handle this.  For now, think about it this way –no one has the right to diminish your potential.  And, certainly don’t let anyone into your head to keep you down before you’ve even given yourself the chance to soar.

Put this fear on hold. (Hit the pause button.) Do your best, succeed to the best of your ability, then deal with the fallout afterward.  What’s the worst that can happen?  You might lose friends. (If you lose a friend because he or she is jealous of your success, decide if you were best served by keeping such a person in your life anyway.)  You might alienate family.  (Ok, maybe. Sometimes people close to you are jealous or resent the time that your success takes you away from them.  But you can find tools to repair such relationships, especially if they are truly grounded in love.  Sometimes people need time and reassurance to know that your success will not diminish them or your relationship.)  And, you may be surprised and find some or all of those you thought would not be supportive are.  You may find people you thought would be jealous are immensely proud of you.

—–

Is there something standing between you and doing your best?  What is it?  Break it down. Look closely to see if there are underlying fears, and if so, can you work through them without sabotaging yourself.   Bottom line, struggling to do the best you can, in whatever you are studying at the moment, will give you more choices –even if you end up making a change.