Coda to ONE HELL:
At the end of nine long months
at Catholic University's law school,

some advice for others
- by
Alice Marie Beard
(Ms. Beard went on to earn her J.D. from George Mason U.)

Advice for the returning homemaker

Before you decide which offer of admission to accept, find out how the law school handles returning homemakers. If you have been a homemaker away from both the academic world and the employment market for any length of time, you will be a minority in law school. Find out EXACTLY how the law school with the seat to sell for from ten to twenty-five thousand dollars a year intends to meet YOUR needs.

Ask for names and contact information of current students who began law school after several years as "only" homemakers. Ask for names of such students who left the program without degrees. Ask WHY? Realize that you will be part of a tiny minority. Get the law school to put in writing a guarantee that you will not be placed in a section where you are the only dramatically older student unless there is NO other older student in the incoming class. If your requests are refused or met with confusion and disbelief that you would make such demands, take your money elsewhere.

For ONE HELL minus the sugarcoating,
CLICK HERE: 'Dear Alice'

Advice for law schools

The information in #1 and #2 below -- the first from a law journal article, the second from a policy statement -- should be mandatory reading for every law school that willingly admits older students, but then forgets that they are a unique population with their own needs. One cannot treat a 50-year-old like a 23-year-old and pretend that the treatment was "equal." If the treatment helps the 23-year-old student but hurts the 50-year-old, the older student was not treated equally.

[#1] The Best and the Brightest?
It is a law journal article by U. of British Columbia law professor W. Wesley Pue and Dawna Tong, a lawyer working on a Ph.D. in Anthropology/Sociology at the U. of British Columbia. The article was published in the 1999 Osgoode Hall Law Journal (37 Osgoode Hall L.J. 843-876).

The authors quote a 1977 study that found that older law students did less well than younger ones, and that students who applied to law school with the minimum education required seemed to perform the best. Pue and Tong write,

"These troubling findings imply that the most immature, least educated, least experienced students do best at law school even though -- one presumes -- they are least able to assume the responsibilities of a lawyer."

They write, "The first year of law school requires adjustment to a peculiar academic culture (e.g., teaching style, evaluation methods, and 'case law' method of thinking) and to the law school's social environment (e.g., 'fitting in,' proto-professional ethos, intensity of student interactions, density and narrowness of culture). For many students -- especially, perhaps, those from non-traditional backgrounds -- intellectual ability and professional skills may not be accurately reflected in their first, 'settling in,' year."

On the topic of "uninspired pedagogy," they say, "Students who are pre-adapted to immediate success in programs as currently constructed are, of course, exactly what educational institutions (and, let it be admitted, the teachers who staff them) want. Undemanding and largely self-educating, such students are a delight to teach. Admissions policies that serve teachers' convenience so well relieve [law professors] of responsibility to think more creatively about such matters as curriculum, pedagogy, and modes of course delivery."

The authors quote U. of Dayton law professor Vernellia R. Randall commenting on legal education in America: "[The] one-size-fits-all approach to student learning has historically disadvantaged nontraditional groups." Randall argues that, since law schools "admit a student population that is diverse in its learning styles," law schools "have an ethical, if not a legal, responsibility to those students right now to today provide them with a pedagogically-sound legal education."

Pue and Tong argue, "First-year performance may not be the most accurate test of professional abilities. It would be an odd legal practice that approached professional services in the way first-year law implies -- oriented exclusively to appellate litigation, restricted to common law fields entirely unsullied by statute, employing doctrinal analysis and examinable knowledge as the key work skills, with little use for deep thought, sharp human perception, sound judgment, or writing ability! Not surprisingly, many practitioners look back on first-year law (or even all three years of law school) as 'irrelevant' to their day-to-day practice and often criticize their legal education for failing to adequately prepare them for their professional work. All told, continued reliance on first-year law average as the sole indicator of academic success and as a predictor of future professional success seems absurd."

[#2] Policy on Mature Age Postgraduates
The quotes below are from a group at the University of Melbourne, a university where mature age students are classified as a special needs group. It is not related specifically to law students, but it deals with a reality: Older law students can find themselves dealing with a hostile campus climate. When that happens, the student can think, "Is it just me? WHY am I feeling this way?" The quotes below, from the other side of the world, indicate that such feelings are not unique:

"Students who take on postgraduate studies in their more senior years are sometimes faced with discriminatory behaviour."

"Mature age students are often isolated in postgraduate environments where their student peer group is significantly younger and cannot relate to their difficulties and where the academic group even though comparable to their age group are reticent to support the mature age students."

"Supervisors are uncomfortable with students who are of comparable age or older. Mature age students present different challenges for supervisors by virtue that older students have skills and experiences or difficulties in settling into postgraduate studies because of flagging confidence or other issues."

"[We] support mentoring for mature age students by academic staff/students of a similar age to support the students concerns which relate to being mature age and a student."

[The quotes are from a policy statement developed by the 1998 Postgraduate Women's Committee of the University of Melbourne Postgraduate Association. The statement was adopted by the University of Melbourne Postgraduate Association Council, Sept. 1998.]

Advice for older law school grads

Dealing with age discrimination does not end once the mature law student becomes the mature new lawyer. A study by Boston attorney Linda Evans was published in Massachusetts Bar Association Section Review, April 2001. Evans' study found age discrimination against older, recent law school graduates. ("Age discrimination and the legal profession")

Advice from other law students

Below are links to words of others who have written about their law school experiences. Most are of more value than what I've written. All links will open in a new window:

  • Diary of Daniel Richardson Bigelow, Harvard Law, 1849. This man saw the funeral procession of John Quincy Adams and heard a speech by Daniel Webster:
    July 7th (1848): The term closes. I have not accomplished so much as I intended this term, but I think I have made some progress in the law, in the knowledge of the world and of human nature. I can now only be thankful for what advancement I have been enabled to make, regret that I have not employed my time better, and by the light of past experience endeavor to do better for the future."
  • Passing judgment on the grading system, an article by Aaron Lamb and Lena Salaymeh, published in Harvard Law's student newspaper, says this:
    "The Law School's grading system is so demonstrably arbitrary and discriminatory that its products are only relevant not as evaluative tools but as social-psychological weapons."
  • Sua Sponte, a "blog" by a married woman law student who began her law school odyssey in 2002.
  • Law School - Part II, by Josh Carden, a lifelong homeschooler and a 2002 graduate of Regent Law School.
  • Justgal's journal, by Kelly Rogers, law student, Detroit College of Law. [Three early entries on one page; student switched to MBA program.]
  • Bangalore Diary, by Anubhav Sinha, while at National Law School of India.
  • For $20,000 a year, why can't the law school ..., by Michael Tita, law student, U. of Richmond [one page]

Advice for the 'in between year'
  • Bar Exam Primer, by Travis A. Wise, lawyer. Advice for passing the bar exam.

Advice by lawyers & law professors
  • Law school and stress, by Barbara Glesner Fines, professor, U. of Missouri - Kansas City School of Law:
    "[T]he major reason many students do not succeed in law school is that they started at the wrong time: Don't start law school on the same day you are also beginning major medical treatment, a divorce, or have just had a new baby."
  • Pragmatic Reform of Legal Education, by Stephen R. Marsh, a Texas lawyer.
    Marsh quoting David Barber, professor:
    "Law school is a very hostile experience. Studies have shown that it takes the average law school graduate seven years before they are willing to participate in Alumni related activities (such as fund raising, etc.)."
    Marsh quoting one who prefers no attribution:
    "[Law] profs know, or should know, that the methods they use to teach actually make it harder to learn the material. That is, law professors provide a net negative input into the learning process."
  • Thinking of Law School? American Legal Education: Buyer Beware, by David Dieteman, a lawyer working on a Ph.D. in philosophy:
    "[L]aw students are expected to teach themselves."
    That is the simple truth: One does not buy teaching for one's law school tuition dollars: One buys the right to sit for a set of exams.
  • Rethinking "Thinking Like a Lawyer".
    Excerpt below is from "Abstract of Preliminary Findings of the Study of Legal Education," Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, byy Judith W. Wegner,
    Senior Scholar with the foundation, and former dean of U. of NC at Chapel Hill School of Law:
    "Elaborate law school assessment systems have been created, which rely primarily on essay examinations to sort students and assure quality, yet form a 'hidden curriculum' whose fundamental strengths and weaknesses are cloaked in long-standing conventions and should be reexamined and reformed in fundamental respects. Problem-based examinations are suitable tools for assessing expertise in law-related problem solving, but this function is not appreciated or explained, their use may unfairly advantage some and disadvantage other students, and their potential is significantly compromised by grading systems in common use. Norm-based grading systems that 'sort' students run substantial risks of undercutting learning, perpetuating pre-existing patterns of performance, and wasting faculty and student time that could be better spent. More attention needs to be paid to the close interplay of learning and assessment, evident from schools' approaches to thorny issues of academic disqualification and new lessons about assessment born out by the experience of academic support programs. Law school assessment systems could be redesigned to foster learning if greater attention were paid to key design principles that shape assessment to the imperatives of learning rather than the other way round, more transparent expertise-based evaluation were employed during the first year, [and] other uses of assessment to document and guide learning were introduced. ..."
    [Wegner's work was presented in June of 2001 at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, U. of London. Publication is expected in 2003, by Jossey-Bass Publishers.]

Advice for the 'grade wounded'
  • For those who ran into academic troubles in law school, stop beating up on yourself and consider this list of people who were academically dismissed from law school yet went on to do well in life:
    Vince Lombardi,
    Seymour Hersh,
    Bob Newhart, and
    Adlai Stevenson (dismissed from Harvard after two years, ultimately graduated from Northwestern).
  • According to former Vice-President Al Gore who left Vanderbilt Law School minus a law degree,
    "President Franklin Roosevelt failed two of his courses during his first year at Columbia Law School – and then never actually graduated. As [FDR] later pointed out, in words that may comfort us all:
    'It certainly shows the uncertainty of marks.'"

UPDATE, 2004>

the other parts of
Alice's place:
I. dead people stories
II. live people stories
III. letters home
IV. not a law journal
V. Camp Fire

email Alice