Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.  

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.

Where are you Studying for the Bar Exam? The Power of Simulated Exam Conditions.

Bar takers who have completed all their studying in ideal (quiet) conditions are often thrown at the actual exam when there are hundreds of other people around them making noise and emitting the collective emotions surrounding bar exams.  (Ask any practicing attorney and she or he will tell you about an experience during the bar exam where someone in the room made strange and disconcerting noises midway through an essay, PT, or set of multiple choice questions.(

If you are studying for the bar exam, do understand the power of taking at least some simulated exams under exam conditions.  The experience of writing and analyzing multiple choice answers under test-like conditions provides special and important training in combatting the anxiety, fatigue, and other pressures attendant to the bar exam.

It’s not all about how much law you know –though learning and memorizing all the heavily tested rules (and many of the less heavily tested rules) as well as possible.  Bar success is also about mental preparation and being ready for “battle.” Simulated exams help prepare you for the psychological and strategic pieces of the success puzzle (timing, combatting distractions, etc.).  Simulated exams provide an additional important tool on top of all the individualized studying and practice exams you are completing on your own.

Keep up the hard work!  This July’s bar exam is yours to pass!!

PS. Additional success strategies for passing the bar exam in Pass the Bar Exam.

The Virtuous Cycle of Bar Exam Success: Are you regularly writing practice essays & PTS and completing daily sets of practice MBEs?

Bar review is in full swing.  I lectured this past week for bar review in Virginia, Illinois, and Colorado.  Working with my students in Florida.  Will lecture shortly in California.

The common theme?  Everyone is listening to bar review lectures (though I do see some still on social media during bar review lectures), but not everyone has cemented the habits of routine practice tests.  It’s harder.  It’s active learning.  And, it is perfectly normal to feel like you don’t know enough law yet to take practice tests.  But take and learn from practice tests you must.

The “power trio” of a) taking regular practice tests, b) studying sample or explanatory answers, and c) seeing where you need to improve and making improvements accordingly with each subsequent power trio is the virtuous cycle of success.

Note: The vicious cycle of bar failure arrives all too often when bar applicants learn everything so it’s all their in the heads but don’t complete enough practice tests so they are not able to give the examiners what they want in the format and timely fashion they want it.  Still others don’t learn the material with the kind of precision necessary for the quick and accurate recall required for bar success. Others get distracted by well-meaning friends and family who just don’t get it.  But failing the bar exam can be prevented!  Tips, and success strategies for virtually every part of passing the bar exam detailed in Pass the Bar Exam.

Active studying, practice testing, and learning from each practice opportunity is what bar exam success is all about. (Yes, getting to take practice tests is an opportunity, a gift!  If you complete enough practice tests and learn from them, many of the questions on the bar exam will seem familiar.  Unlike many law professors, bar examiners tend not to hide the ball.  It’s all there for you.)

With every practice bar exam essay or PT you write, ask yourself how you can improve.

  • Can you read more critically?  Missing even one word can derail success on an MBE.
  • Can you organize your answer more clearly?  Well-organized bar exam essays stand out as passing quality.  Rambling disorganized treatises will not impress bar graders.
  • Don’t know or don’t understand a particular legal rule?  Now is the opportunity to learn it, memorize it (maybe using a mnemonic).
  • Didn’t finish the exam within the allotted time?  Use a more strategic process of reading and outlining, hitting obvious issues, and completing your answer, then filling in detail if time permits.

More self-assessment and other success tools for PTs, essays, and MBES detailed in Pass the Bar Exam.

 

 

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….

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!

 

“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.

 

 

Academic success requires focus; focus entails combatting e-distractions.

Combating e-Distractions

So I won’t start in with how online distractions are worse than any others.  Before computers, people doodled or otherwise drifted off while trying to study.  (That said, if you know that having a machine in front of you renders you incapable of listening to your professor, don’t bring it to class.  And, embrace it when a professor tells you “No electronics” or limits their use in class.)

I will say that because most of us study online, at least to some extent, we have to reduce or at least control, e–distractions.  It is tough!  You must go onto that website for study materials –and sometimes to listen to lectures.  It is so easy to pop open another window and just check for a minute.  That very same machine that houses our learning lures us away from studying.

Unless you have positive peer pressure or support online, most social media will not move you toward exam success.  At best, it is a distraction.  Sometimes the effects of what you read online are blatantly destructive. You freak out when blowhards say they have been studying 16 hours that day, implying you are a loser if you have not put in as many hours.  (You are not a loser, by the way.  Burnout is very real, as is the concept of “diminishing returns.”)   Some people share too generously, for example pouring out their anxiety. You likely have enough of your own! You don’t need to hear about everyone else’s.  And, social media is a haven for misinformation. (Uh, does that need any further explanation.  As Monty Python would say, “Say no more.”)

We all need study breaks.  And, of course, exercising, sleeping, and taking time to prepare and eat nutritious foods are among the most effective study breaks.

But, what if you just want to wander online a bit.  Is that so bad?  No.   Go head, let yourself a little, but a) control how much time you spend on breaks, and b) make sure your break involves a helpful  e-distraction.  For example:

-Favorite some reliable sites.  For law students taking the bar exam, that might be your state bar website and the NCBE’s website (ncbex.org).  Now, I realize that does not sound quite as relaxing as say an episode of the Simpson’s.  But, when you are studying for the bar exam, trust me, looking at anything but your bar review stuff is a break.  And, you want to see the latest info that is posted, review what you can and cannot bring into the exam, etc.

-Watch some educational video(s) on your subjects.  This gives you a “break” from your assigned materials, but keep you focused on and immersed in the world you need to master for your exam(s). The Khan Academy for example has free reliable videos on hundreds of subjects. There are Ted Talks that may dovetail with what you are studying.  And, there are numerous professors and schools who have recorded videos on nearly everything under the sun.

-View a mindfulness, yoga, meditation, or motivational video.  OK, I am from California and I know to some of you this sounds goofy.  But, I believe to my core that the attitude with which you approach your studies affects your outcomes.  (And, given that I’ve helped thousands of students to pass bar exams nationwide, I’m a pretty reliable source on that.)  The more calm and confident you are, the better you are likely to perform on exams.  

-When you absolutely need it, or, better still, as a reward for a good day’s studying, watch something funny that will take you out of your world.   (If you aren’t familiar with Monty Python reference above, check out one of those skits online.)

Now, I am not saying with respect to electronics, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.  I am saying, let’s all be realistic.  Our phones, tablets, and laptops are here to stay.  Banning them generally is like, well –how did Prohibition work out?

But we must control our machines; our machines must not control us.  Saying you didn’t have time to study because you were too busy on social media is not a valid excuse to deprive yourself of the success you deserve.  (Studying is not punishment.  It’s a gift.  And, you are depriving yourself of the opportunity to learn when you make up ridiculous excuses for now having time to study.)

You cannot click your heels or sprinkle magic dust on your laptop or books and expect the information you need to embed itself in your mind.  Studying requires active learning.  But, even the most effective active learner can allow for a few passive study breaks now and then!