7-Robin Boyle Laisur.. - Law School Academic Success Project

Exam Essays – Common Mistakes
Among At-Risk Students
Robin Boyle, St. John’s Law School
Assistant Dean for Academic Success & Professor of
Legal Writing
October 22, 2011
 LSAC Academic Assistance Topical Workshop
 “Finding a Way Through: Working With Students Who Have
Learning Disabilities”
My experience:
Teaching LRW for 18 years
Directing ASP for 6 years
Contracts I (Conditional Admissions Program) for 4 years
Legal Analysis Practicum (At-Risk 1L) 1 year
Agency Practicum (At-Risk 2L) in progress
Why Focus on At-Risk Populations?
 Prevalence of learning disabled students (although not all LD
students are on the lower end of GPA range).*
Not all at- risk students have diagnoses.
Not all students with diagnoses inform me.
Even if I’m informed, not all LD present the same way on
* See Leah Christensen, Legal Reading and Success in Law School:
The Reading Strategies of Law Students with ADD, 12 The
Scholar: St. Mary’s L. Rev. on Minority Issues 173 (2010).
About the LAP (1L course)
 36 students enrolled in total:
 17 students below 2.1 (Academic Probation) – mandatory
 10 students b/w 2.1 & 2.2 (Required to receive AS services)
– mandatory enrollment
 Offered to @ 30 students whose GPA were b/w 2.2 and
2.49 – of those students, 9 opted in
In 1st year/2nd semester LAP course
 Predominant problems
 Strategies to Remedy
 Not providing enough text
 Provided weekly writing
 Going off on tangents –
 Focused on IRAC
 Explained different
purposes (not just exams –
“If a memo, then . . . If a
brief, then . . . ”)
stream of consciousness
 Haven’t mastered IRAC (“I
didn’t get it 1st semester”)
 Need more careful case
reading & statutory reading
Course topics
 Close Case & Statutory Reading
 Outlining
 Rule Synthesis
 Application of Law to Fact – Analogy/Distinction
 Essay Exam Writing
 Learning Styles*
 See Robin A. Boyle, Law Students With ADD: How to Reach Them,
How to Teach Them, 39 John Marshall L. Rev. 349 (2006)
 Organization of Legal Analysis:
 Intro (thesis paras)
 Divide by sub-issues
 Rules – with and without statutes, synthesis of case holdings
 Application to facts with detail (not skipping steps)
 Stating counterarguments
 Stating conclusions without ambiguity
Writing Assignment Topics
 Assignment #1 Common law:
 Contracts case: Sidway v. Hamer – (uncle who promised
nephew not to drink/gamble until age 21 - $)
 produce case brief,
 summarize for a course outline,
 write essay on hypothetical fact pattern.
Statutory Analysis
 Assignment #2
 New York Vehicle & Traffic Law –
 Definition of Motor Vehicle in Sec. 125 (vehicle propelled by
any power other than muscular power, then exceptions . . .)
 Two fact questions – how would the court decide (actual
 In each question – was there a “motor vehicle”?
Practice Separating by Issue
 Assignment #3 -
 Restatement 2d Sec. 90 (Promise Reasonably Inducing
Action or Forbearance)
1) A promise which the promisor should reasonably expect to
induce action . . .
2) on part of the promisee . . .
3) does induce such action . . .
4) is binding if injustice can be avoided
Two hypo fact patterns given – essay answers required
Rule Synthesis
 Assignment #4
 Covenant not to Compete – two fictitious cases and a fact
 Goal was to divide by sub-issues
 Synthesize rules
 Apply in detail
More Rule Synthesis
 Assignment #5
 Topic: Emotional Distress
 Restatement 2d of Torts
 4 Summaries of cases
 Hypothetical facts
 Goal: Write an essay using IRAC
Course Materials
 Distributed Succeeding in Law School, by Herb Ramy
 Handouts
Results of First Year LAP course
 Students who attended class and turned in assignments
showed improvement in their Spring GPAs to a statistical
significance level in comparison to those in their GPA cohort
who did not participate.
 Suggestions – try to get buy-in from students (relevant
topics, offer course credit, offer course grade)
Improvements seen from 1L to 2L
 More text in their essay answers.
 Some students are using good organization to essays.
 Some students are reading cases and Restatement very well.
 Some 1Ls improved GPAs and are not required in 2L course.
Agency Practicum
 Course text: J. Dennis Hynes & Mark J. Loewenstein,
Lexis Nexis).
 Two sections – 9 in Day
 9 in evening
 Most of the students are required to take course (GPA’s
under 2.2).
Agency Practicum (2L’s)
 Common Problems with essays and exam answers
 Issue statements lack legal terms
 Rushes past the rule (reduced to bullet outline, parenthetical)
 Doesn’t delve into the next level of rule (repeats the general
 Lacks meaningful application of law to fact
 Brushes past counterargts
 Mentions cases that were not covered in class
HW for Agency 2Ls
 Writing short essays to hypothetical problems
 Submitting course outline of first two chapters (I spotted
over-inclusive and under-inclusive outlining)
 Drafting contract provisions from the point of view of 3
different parties
 Self-Assessment survey (what percentage of time last
semester did you spend on briefing cases? What did you
learn from meeting with your professors about exam-taking
In-class work
 Provided an open-book mid-term
 Reviewed in class the exam & assigned re-write as HW
 Because it was doctrinal course, spent more class time
discussing cases than in LAP course (1st year).
 Small class size allowed for students to spend time on their
questions about assigned readings and other topics
Integrating ASP skills
 Learning styles assessments (online Building Excellence)
 Time Management
 Test Anxiety discussed
 Individualized feedback – electronic commenting
 One-on-one conferences
Any Questions  Contact –
 [email protected]
 (718) 990-6609
 Thank you!!

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