Category Archives: Law School today

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.

Preparing for Success on Final Exams: Sleep enough to read and think clearly!

Many of my students have been asking me how to best prepare for success on their final exams.  My advice differed when I spoke with those who asked a month or more before exams. With them we talked about slow and steady working through the material, outlining, completing many practice tests under timed conditions, etc.  To those who ask what they can do just days before their exam, we talked over the best strategic use of the remaining time.  One common thread emerged — go in to the exam in peak form –or, well, as close to peak as possible.

For law exams especially, and certainly in many other disciplines as well, you must be alert enough to read carefully, and critically, to do well.  I give the same advice to people who want to stay up all night the night before the bar exam: don’t.  (“The guy sitting next to you may know a bit more content than you but if cramming that into his head came at the price of being so bleary eyed that by the afternoon session, Ps and Ds all start to look alike, that extra knowledge won’t help at all.”)

For many exams, particularly essay exams, there is simply nothing more effective than walking in well rested,  calm and confident –enough to focus closely on every word.  Read the essay thoroughly before you begin writing. Read the question two or three times to make sure you understand it.  Then, outline your answer.  Only then, after reading carefully and organizing your thoughts should you begin writing and completely address the full question.

“I respectfully disagree.” Being Nice Pays Off.

Being nice pays off.  (Maslin Nir, NY Times 4/17/2017) .  When we disagree profoundly with others, especially about existential or deeply personal issues, it can be hard to be nice.  With college campus issues surrounding free speech swirling, complex issues albeit, how about we start by encouraging students (and all of us) to learn to disagree, politely and respectfully?  It is not easy or always intuitive to disagree politely, especially when issues run to the core of one’s values.  So we have to practice, in and outside of the classroom.

I have been thinking about this lately because I am considering adopting ground rules for classroom dialogue –wanting to encourage students to critique each other but at the same time insisting they do so thoughtfully and in a civil manner.  Can we all practice that?  Can we train ourselves and, professors, can we train our students, to re-phrase our words to “respectfully dispute” the other’s points?   The key is this –dispute the other’s points, while remaining respectful of the other him or herself.

Sometimes, having a stock phrase in our heads that we can call up in tense situations helps us to pause, take a breather from the temptation to overreact, and instead to choose a thoughtful reaction –in some instances, choosing to remain silent and just letting the other air his or her views without reply.  (Note: I was reminded of the importance of civil discourse and of sometimes just remaining silent in a recent and most thoughtful sermon given by Rabbi Andrew Jacobs.)

What do I mean by stock phrases?   Here are examples.  I know, they are a silly, but they are catchy on purpose, for easy recall.  And, remember, you can say them, or they can serve as internal tools to keep them in your own head to remind yourself to pause before reacting.

  • “You engage, you enrage.”  A wise lawyer gave this advice to certain clients involved in terribly tense litigation: “Keep this phrase in your back pocket so that we can work together to diffuse and resolve the situation.”  Essentially, she was saying “don’t add fuel to the fire.”  She urged her clients to simply say to themselves, “You engage you enrage” every time they were tempted to even speak directly to the opposing party, and thus to help them hold their tongues.  [Note: most litigants can still sit together to work out settlements, even in tense litigation, but occasionally, things have just gone too far and parties must let all “oxygen” out of the situation for the fire to subside.]
  • “I respectfully disagree.”  Just using that phrase as a preface, especially if you follow it with a deliberate pause, can disarm the person you are disagreeing with, and buy you a moment to reflect and choose your next words more carefully than had you simply blurted back a retort.
  • “That is a very interesting point.”  We all know this as the hedging comment that often means “You are way off.”  But it doesn’t have to be dismissive or rude.  And, remember, this post is about phrases you can say or keep in your own head.  If you say it aloud, mean it genuinely.  (Even blatantly offensive comments can be interesting.  ‘Why did this person just say that?  What is behind the remark?’)  Think about how just that one line can diffuse a situation. You can shorten this to simply nodding to acknowledge you have heard the other, saying nothing aloud, and murmuring “Interesting, interesting” to yourself in your own head while you decide what if anything to say in response.
  • “I need to think about that for a bit.”  This is a stock phrase to say aloud to buy yourself time.  (Of course this is not an appropriate apply to a blatantly immoral comment.  But in many situations that could otherwise escalate because of a reaction, it can be entirely appropriate and useful.)
  • “People are for hugging, not for hitting.”  OK, this last one is ridiculous right?  Let me put it in context.  This phrase was given to parents of toddlers who were in a stage where they hit, pulled hair, bit, etc.  To avoid getting angry and yelling at the child, or worse, parents who mechanically but calmly recited this refrain bought themselves a moment to gather their thoughts and decide upon an appropriate response or consequence.

The bottom line, respectful discourse as we see on a daily basis is not intuitive and perhaps it has ceased to be the norm.  All the more reason to train ourselves, our students, and our children to engage in thoughtful, civil dialogue, and to know how to disagree with someone’s views without attacking the person we disagree with.  Stock phrases can be useful tools in this endeavor to encourage civil discourse.

If you have “stock phrases” you use to create a “thought pause” in tense situations, please comment so I can share them with readers.

 

 

Time Management Tips for Law Students who are Parents

Many students who are parents say they feel guilty that law school is taking them “away” from their kids. If your children are in elementary, middle or high-school, know that your studying is positive role modeling. You are teaching them discipline and the value of hard work through your actions. (Teaching is much more effective than preaching!)  Do not be surprised if your children do better in school when you too are studying.

The following are a few practical pointers:

  • If you have dependent children or aging parents who must be able to reach you in an emergency, give them a code or special ring tone for an emergency call or text. You’ll know if it’s something you need to read or listen right away or if it can wait until when you decide to take the study break you have earned by completing whatever tasks were on your schedule.
  • Keep “office hours” so your family knows when you are studying and not to be interrupted, and when you are available. Even if it’s an hour a day at dinner every night, keep your commitment to them. It is even more important when you are gone a lot to be consistent and reliable. If they know when they can depend on you to give them your full attention, (and you truly follow through on that, at one certain time each day), they may be better able to leave you alone the rest of the day.
  • Be sure to include your family (children, significant other, parents) where you can productively do so. When you take “breaks,” ask them to test you with flashcards. (Just be prepared, your kids may have memorized the rules before you do!)
  • Play audio versions of your lectures while you are driving, cooking, cleaning, or playing with kids.
  • Bring flashcards (or better still have them on your smart phone) to test yourself if you are at the park or waiting in line at the market.
  • If you have young children, read your outlines or cases aloud. Infants and toddlers mostly just want to hear your voice and be close to you. Whether you are reading Dr. Seuss, Shakespeare or Farnsworth on Contracts may not matter so much!

Excerpted from Pass the Bar Exam –a must-read for all law students.

 

 

Failing law schools and failing the bar exam

Who should read Pass the Bar Exam and why?

  • Law students!!  If you are in law school, this book is written for you and to you. It is an interactive guide. Think of it as talking with a mentor or supportive professor who is sharing advice, stories, worksheets, quizzes, and other planning tools to help you pass the bar exam. The best part is that these very same professional, life, and study skills will help far beyond bar prep. They will help you achieve most any goal you invest this kind of effort in. Knowing that the effort you put into bar passage will pay success dividends for decades to come should make the study process a much more rewarding one.  Read Pass the Bar Exam and get ready for a virtuous cycle of success, on the bar exam and beyond.
  • Families, friends, spouses, and partners of law students. Many of you are or will be confused and sometimes even offended by the behavior of your son, daughter, mom, dad, husband, wife, partner or friend. He or she seems inordinately stressed out, or has virtually disappeared. You can’t help but think, ‘How hard could law school be?’  And, ‘isn’t the bar just another test?’  This book will help you “get it.” As a key player in the support network of someone taking the bar exam, your help at this stage is critical. Learn what bar takers go through and how you can lend a hand and/or back off, as needed.
  • Law school deans, professors and administrators, particularly Academic Support (ASP) and Bar Support Faculty designing and teaching both for credit and extra-curricular bar success courses, in live and distance learning settings. For you, there is also a special Teacher’s Edition Guide, with lesson plans, syllabi, and an updated section on online bar support.  For law school deans, there is no more important, indeed existential, concern to your students than bar passage.  There are deep fears among today’s law students that the deck is stacked against them.  Urge all your students to read and discuss this book and they will begin to view the entire bar preparation process as one of empowerment rather than the needlessly difficult hazing ritual that many see it as.  (How bar takers see the process often determines how engaged they are in it, and in turn how success they are in the end.) Following the many chapters filled with concrete advice such as strategies for avoiding distractions and how to enlist the support of family and friends (and knowing the difference between supporters and saboteurs) will help your students to deal with the many “life” challenges that prevent today’s students from doing the work that needs to be done to pass the exam.  The books focus on both traditional and non-traditional law students will also provide immense support, validation, and assistance to your diversity students, part-time or returning students, and students who have extensive family or work obligations outside of law school.
  • Prospective law students. This book should help balance some of the negatives you may hear about legal education so that you see that despite the great challenges there are enormous rewards. A legal education remains the standard bearer in forming minds that are capable of solving the complex problems facing society today.  When people or businesses face problems, they turn to lawyers.  In addition to practicing law, lawyers run businesses and government, they are entrepreneurs and innovators, they are called in to resolve crises (to arbitrate, mediate, and get people back on track), and they engage in countless sorts of strategic planning efforts that help avoid costly problems to begin with. Hopefully the book helps you   decide to go to law school. If you do, the text and tips will help you succeed in school as much as on the bar exam. The book will help you start good habits from day one.
  • Experienced attorneys who work with new lawyers. This book will help you understand some of the concerns facing prospective law clerks and new associates. It may assist you in becoming a stronger mentor and more effectively integrate new lawyers into law practice. Today’s attorneys face generational divides. There are challenges for Baby Boomers managing new graduates from the millennial generation. There are also more second and third career law students which means as experienced lawyers you may find yourselves supervising newbies who are older than you. The legal world is also more diverse than ever. Tolerance and the ability to see things from different perspectives will be an increasingly critical asset.
  • Students from high school to graduate schools of all varieties who are working to achieve any academic goal.  Much of the stress and many of the challenges described here are not unique to law or the bar exam. As you read, just replace the words, “passing the bar exam” with whatever your goal is and you will find useful success strategies for academic goals such as
    • Doing well on final exams or midterms,
    • Getting a high score on the SAT, LSAT, MCAT, medical boards, or other standardized test, or
    • Completing most any professional training.

Congratulations. Get Ready for Graduation!

This morning, I saw one of my students with his cap and gown, and we were both beaming.  I am so excited for all of you who are graduating.  It’s a huge milestone. Congratulations to you if you will soon have earned your J.D.

But as you well know, graduating from law school is uniquely anti-climactic.  Maybe you get to toss your mortar board in the air, have a few drinks and a nice meal or two with family and friends.  Then what?   Another test!   Crazy, right?  You accomplished perhaps the biggest goal you have ever achieved and you hardly have time for congratulations.  Would be nice in a way if you could take the Bar first and then have the big party and festivities. But, for most people it doesn’t work that way.

So, acknowledge this graduation with your one or two days of celebrating.  Then, gear up again, this time in the highest gear you’ve ever been in for your July bar exam.  Trust me, the joy you will feel when you learn that you that you pass this bar exam will more than outweigh the delayed gratification of waiting to really and fully celebrate your graduation.

In just a few weeks, you will walk into Bar Review classes.  You will deal with yet again with ridiculously heavy outlines. (You thought carrying casebooks would kill you!)  You will spend two months review more than a dozen subjects.  But you will do it.  And, in about July you will feel so strong, so empowered.  Everything that may have seemed vague in law school will come clearly into focus. You will be ready to answer any question the examiners throw at you.

So, after finals, clear your calendars of everything that is not essential between now and the exam.  No more distractions, no more errands, parties, etc.  Eliminate or reduce obligations unless they are absolutely essential.  Read Pass the Bar for success on the exam.

And, one more thing.  As soon as possible, if you haven’t done it yet,  plan the most fun thing you can think of for August!