Tag Archives: academic support

Asking for Help in Law School

Every year at this time, I meet with first-year law students seeking to do better than they did last semester. Those meetings may be required because of their academic performance. We usually start our discussion by exploring their approach to their studies in the Fall. There are often common themes to what they tell me. Many struggling students weren’t able to effectively manage their time, and in an attempt to get their work done they took shortcuts. Perhaps they relied on canned briefs rather than reading cases themselves, or they used a commercial outline to study for exams instead of synthesizing course material for themselves. They didn’t do practice exams in the weeks leading up to finals, perfecting their approach to essays and multiple choice questions before grades were attached to their work. All of those choices were important to their first-semester outcomes, but there is another common trait at the heart of those results: these students almost never sought help in the midst of their struggles.

So why is it so hard for law students to seek help when things aren’t going well? Some law students are embarrassed to admit to their professors that they don’t understand course material or don’t know how to complete a particular type of assignment. They believe that their professors will think less of them if they ask for too much help. Other students believe that they must “figure it out” on their own, and if they aren’t able to do that they just don’t belong in law school. There are some who don’t even realize that asking for help is an option. They may be first gen students, not knowing that their classmates who weren’t first gen already knew the process for asking for help. Or maybe their undergraduate institution didn’t really have an “office hour” culture, and so the idea that professors could be available to answer students’ questions outside of class didn’t even occur to them.

There may be a variety of reasons law students don’t seek help, but their choices end in common results. Rather than developing strategies and processes for long-term success, the struggling student reinforces bad habits that perpetuate the challenges they’re facing. Their first-semester grades come in, and they are in academic difficulty – often on academic probation, or not far from that line. They start off their second semester of law school discouraged, overwhelmed, and still not sure what they should be doing to improve their studies.

Does this post so far describe you? If so, you are not alone. And most importantly, there is an opportunity to change course. Help may already be on the way, if your law school has required you to meet with your academic support department. But there are also things that you can begin to do, on your own, to initiate those conversations and get the help you need for law school success.

What can you do to get help? Most law schools have at least one professional academic support person, and you may already know who that person is. If they haven’t reached out to you, take that first step and reach out to them. If you don’t know who provides academic support at your school, contact your Dean of Students to find out who can provide help. But don’t stop with academic support. Talk to your professors. Get feedback on your performance on your exams last semester. Ask questions about things you don’t understand. Go to office hours. Ask your classmates questions. Seek out a study group (as long as that group is actually productive). These are all things that successful law students do, and you should do it too. Seek help to break out of the old, unproductive habits from last semester, and use that help to develop new habits that build your confidence in your ability to be successful.

Finally, don’t delay. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you will be on the right path for your future academic and professional goals!

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Filed under Study Tips, General, Law School Exams, Grades, Stress and Mental Health

On Academic Probation?: Advice for Struggling Law Students

Now that the school year is over, grades are trickling in from those 1L classes. Hopefully, your hard work this past year has paid off, and you have successfully completed all of your classes. Sometimes students aren’t happy with their grades though, and they may find themselves on academic probation, or at least in the lower portion of their class, at the end of that first year. If you find yourself in this position, where do you go from here? It’s important to take law school grades seriously because they can be an important indicator of future success on the bar exam.

Law students may receive low grades for a number of reasons, as explained below. Many of these reasons may not apply to you, but it is important to honestly evaluate yourself and decide what you need to do moving forward.

First, you need to make sure that law school is where you want to be. For some students, lower grades are a sign of lack of passion. Maybe they went to law school because that’s what everyone told them they should do, or maybe they just didn’t know what else to do after they graduated from college. Others thought they wanted to be a lawyer, but the reality of law school wasn’t what they expected or wanted. Take stock of your own personal goals, and make sure that law school is really where you want to be. If you have decided that it really isn’t for you, then you should devote your energies to something that you can get excited about doing instead. If law school is really where you want to be, then consider the advice below.

Second, you need to honestly evaluate your efforts during your 1L year. Sometimes, when students are honest with themselves, they really didn’t put in the time and effort required to be successful in law school. Maybe they had other things distracting them during their first year, or they thought that their approach to college would be enough to get them by in law school as well. If you decide that you really want to be in law school but you fall into this camp, you will need to commit yourself to working harder next year. You may want to talk to a dean, academic support professional, or professor about how to create a study plan for next year that will improve your discipline and lead to greater academic success.

Third, you should evaluate whether a learning disability or other physical or mental condition is interfering with your success on exams. Some students figure out during their first year of law school that they have an undiagnosed learning disability such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). If you are concerned that you have a disability that may be affecting your ability to perform well on exams, you should talk to the academic support professionals at your law school. They may recommend that you see a medical professional for testing and diagnosis. Sometimes students who have disabilities need accommodations on exams, such as additional time or a distraction-free environment, so that they can fully show their understanding of the legal principles and skills being tested.

Finally, you may just need to work with the academic support professionals at your law school to develop your academic skills a little further. For many students, the transition to law school is just not a smooth experience. Maybe you’ve come from a degree program that has emphasized other types of skills, and you just need to work on your analytical skills or writing skills more. Maybe you have been out of school for a number of years, and you just need some help developing the type of study skills that will put you on the right track to academic success. Or maybe you are just the type of person that taken a little longer to have things click for you. There are people at your law school who can be tremendous resources in your efforts to improve your academic performance in your second year of law school, and I urge you to take advantage of their willingness to work with you.

The key to your ultimate success is to take control of your academic performance–honestly assess your position and seek help when necessary.

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Filed under General, Grades