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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Boyd’s Academic Success Program – Setting the Bar on Offering Students Tools for Success

Law school can be daunting. There are countless hours of lectures, studying, writing and preparing: all for the ultimate of tests – the bar exam. It’s the single most important test for aspiring lawyers, where passing is the only way to become a licensed attorney.

So, challenging? Yes. But the rewards can be immeasurable, and students have support each step of the way.

Developing relationships with students is one of the
many benefits of her job, according to Academic Success
Program Director Jennifer Carr, pictured above left.
One of the tools UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law students have at their disposal is the Academic Success Program (ASP). The ASP is a comprehensive lineup of presentations, activities, tutorials, workshops, counseling and more to help students succeed not only on the bar exam, but in law school. The goal of the program is to assist students in removing the barriers to success – whatever they may be.

“Some academic success programs limit themselves to students who are struggling,” said Jennifer Carr, director of the Boyd School of Law’s ASP. “Here, we have an open door policy – whatever a student’s definition of success is, we want to help them achieve that success.”

As director, Professor Carr provides individual counseling on academic matters, bar exam preparation, and group presentations on necessary legal analysis skills. She also works with students to help them manage the rigors of law school, bringing balance to their legal education.

Whatever the level of help required, the ASP offers varying degrees of participation and tailors programs based on individual needs. It’s not always one size fits all. First-year students can get help managing their classes or learn tips on time management and developing new study habits; upper-level students can receive guidance on perfecting their skills and preparing for the bar exam or even a job interview; and everyone can take advantage of the Center for Academic Success and Enrichment (CASE). CASE is a component of the ASP and offers peer-to-peer mentoring, advising or tutoring, and includes a resource area with sample examinations and materials on substantive subjects as well as on study skills, and learning theories.

Bar Prep 

The Nevada Bar Exam, offered in February and July each year, is one of the toughest in the country – a two-and-a-half-day exam compared to two days for most.

It consists of a multiple-choice format Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) and a written component. The MBE, which is a standardized test conducted on the same day throughout the country, tests a student’s knowledge of seven different areas of law (civil procedure, criminal law and procedure, evidence, torts, contracts, constitutional law and property). Essays are more all-encompassing and incorporate 17 different areas of law, from general principles to state-specific laws. The written component also includes two MPTs – Multistate Performance Tests – which require applicants to perform a hypothetical task of the sort expected of beginning attorneys.

Sound overwhelming? It can be, if a student doesn’t know how to prepare for it. This is where the ASP can help, according to Professor Carr, who encourages students to attend early bar prep sessions and recommends taking advantage of individual counseling with either herself or the ASP assistant director. Individual counseling allows for one-on-one mentoring and personal feedback.

“Our goal is to provide more than substantive knowledge,” Professor Carr said. “It’s not just about knowing the material, you have to be able to convey your response appropriately, and the early bar prep sessions we offer can help with that. It’s eight weeks of intensive study, but it’s worth it. Students will learn how to write essays and MPTs that score well and learn how to select the best answer on the MBE – several answers may be correct – it’s about choosing the best answer. It’s a test of your judgment. Perhaps the most valuable skill students learn is mental preparedness.”

Collaboration 

Helping students succeed is a partnership; one that Professor Carr says is an investment Boyd faculty and staff make to ensure students have access to a well-rounded, meaningful curriculum.

“Some professors will come to me at the start of the year when they’re planning their classes and ask how certain material shows up on the bar [exam] and I’ll tell them,” she said. “This helps them better prepare their courses for students.”

Also working collaboratively with Professor Carr is Frank Durand, associate dean for student affairs, who started Whaddup Wednesdays as a way for students to hear from guest speakers and learn about relevant legal topics, such as applying for the bar exam.

“The Academic Success Program offers group and individualized assistance with Nevada Bar Examination preparation,” explains Dean Durand. “The sessions I have offered through Whaddup Wednesday focus on the task of completing the Nevada Bar application. Our efforts complement one another, hopefully to the benefit of our prospective graduates who must first complete the Nevada Bar application and then pass the Nevada Bar Examination, two formidable tasks.

“Completing the bar application is a large, time-consuming task. Students seeking bar admission invariably have confusion and/or concerns as to how to respond to the many questions the bar application poses,” Dean Durand continues. “… For the last several years, and hopefully for many years to come, representatives from the State Bar of Nevada admissions department come to the law school in the fall and spring semesters to discuss the Nevada Bar application with our graduates-to-be.”

The Academic Success Program (ASP) can play an important role
in a student's journey toward academic success ... and graduation.
Professor Mary Berkheiser (Joyce Mack Professor of Law and
Director of the Juvenile Justice Clinic, left) and Professor Jennifer Carr
(Director of ASP, right) help to hood Boyd graduate Tanya Fraser at
UNLV's spring 2015 commencement ceremony held May 16.
Defining Success 

The ASP is an invaluable resource designed to enhance learning and help students reach their potential and succeed. Best of all, it’s available to students at no cost. How can students not take advantage of it, asks Dean Durand.

“Historical statistics demonstrate that Boyd students who avail themselves of ASP bar exam workshops and individualized assistance pass the bar at a higher rate than Boyd students who do not,” he said. “Why not take advantage of such effective resources?”

However a student defines success, the ASP is there to help them achieve it.

“I believe strongly in what we do. I invite students to meet regularly with me or the assistant director and take advantage of all of the opportunities available,” Professor Carr said. “From time to time, I’ll receive notes with messages like ‘thanks for your help,’ or ‘I couldn’t do it without you.’ The truth is they’re doing the hard work, but getting to be a small part of their success is nice.

“I love my job. For many people this is their dream. They go to school for this, and I get to develop relationships with them. Because this is one-on-one, I have the opportunity to see that light bulb go off for them. That’s exciting, that’s why I teach … to see that moment come alive.”

Boyd students can take advantage of the ASP by contacting:
Kelly Boan, Administrative Assistant
702-895-0490
kelly.boan@unlv.edu