Law School Alphabet Soup

This is the third in a series of weekly blog posts this semester concerning the Office of Student Affairs (past entries can be found here and here).Photo of alphabet soup

As soon as one walks through the doors of Eckstein Hall, she is likely to hear any number of initialisms and acronyms: ASP, AWA, CPC, CREAC, FGP, IRAC, LGL, MLM, MVLC, NSLI, OTI, SBA, and SSP, just to name a few. Some may already be conversant with Washington, D.C.’s “alphabet soup” (primarily made up of federal-agency abbreviations). Here at Marquette Law School, we have our own version.

For those new to our community, I’ve included at the bottom of this post a glossary of the above terms. Perhaps it might help ease the transition. But I’ll focus especially on the first and last of the list: ASP and SSP.

The Academic Success Program or ASP—where a pair of upper-level students lead weekly review and skill-building sessions for each first-year doctrinal course—is a core feature of the 1L experience here. I say “here” because you won’t find a program like ASP at every law school. In fact, some preliminary research, looking at supplementary academic programs across 199 U.S. law schools, yielded only about 20 other law schools that hold sessions akin to those of our ASP program.*

Each Marquette ASP session lasts 45 minutes—often over the lunch hour, but sometimes necessitating an even earlier start to the day than the course schedule requires. With three sessions per week (one for each doctrinal 1L course each semester), that amounts to two hours and 15 minutes of time that students might otherwise spend reading, talking, sleeping, networking, applying to jobs, or doing any number of other worthy and valuable things. Time is a precious commodity in law school, and we suggest to our 1Ls that they spend 135 minutes of their week attending ASP.

And they do so—with roughly 79% of the entering class of 2023, for example, attending 10 or more sessions in their first semester. Neither the Law School nor individual faculty members require 1Ls to attend ASP. Rather, first-year students are self-motivated to do so because of the opportunity to review, clarify, and—critically—apply the material taught in the prior calendar week’s classes.

As you might surmise, though, it’s not the numbers that make the program special. It’s the people. (If you’ve read the prior two posts in this series, you might also begin to sense a theme.) Our ASP student leaders are selected not merely based on their successful performance in the course during their own first year. Their selection is guided by their desire to be a resource to first-year students, their intellectual humility and professionalism, and their willingness to sacrifice some of their own upper-level course preferences to be able to sit in on every class meeting of the doctrinal course. The upper-level ASP student leaders observe the classes, work with faculty members, prepare for the sessions, present, and self-assess. These impressive student leaders receive credit for their time and work, but, if I had to guess, I think most would do it even without that. Such is the pride that ASP leaders take in their work, having remembered the benefit they reaped from the program when they were 1Ls.

On the other end of the alphabet, we find the Student Success Program or SSP. We regard ASP and SSP as an integrated series, with each intended to complement the other.

SSP features regular fall-semester workshops that aim to provide a foundational understanding of how to “do” law school. SSP starts with videos in our online Pre-Orientation program. The videos walk a student through how (and why) to read a case in law school. Unfortunately for our students, I’m the star of those initial sessions. But things quickly take a turn for the better, as—for the remainder of the semester—our upper-level SSP student leaders take the helm to plan, rehearse, and present as many as eight workshops on topics ranging from synthesizing notes to outlining to exam writing.

SSP, too, is an entirely voluntary program, and yet, this past fall, attendance at the sessions averaged over 75% of the first-year class. It might not hurt that we offer participating students a free lunch, but I prefer to think of that as simply an added bonus.

ASP and SSP are not the only paths to academic enrichment; classes are, of course, at the heart of the law-school experience, and faculty and staff routinely work one-on-one with students to discuss content and individualized learning strategies. But ASP and SSP provide students with another important and informal setting for learning, not to mention built-in mentorship from leaders eager to help. Thus, for Marquette law students, ASP and SSP really are key terms.


ASPAcademic Success Program: Weekly skill-building sessions, led by upper-level student leaders, for each first-year doctrinal course

AWA – Appellate Writing and Advocacy: Upper-level workshop course offered annually in the fall semester; a prerequisite for participation in the Law School’s Moot Court Program

CPC Career Planning Center: Located in suite 240, the CPC provides programming, resources, and one-on-one advising to Marquette law students as they pursue their professional goals—from internships to post-graduate employment.

CREAC – Conclusion, Rule, Explanation, Application, Conclusion: A common organizational structure used for writing legal briefs and memoranda; typically taught in the Law School’s first-year Legal Analysis, Writing, and Research courses

FGPFirst Generation Professionals: Student-run organization that brings together students of all backgrounds who are the first in their families to attend law school; one of the largest student-run organizations at Marquette Law School

IRAC – Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion: A common organizational structure used when writing law-school exam answers; explained and discussed in depth at SSP sessions

LGL – Law Governing Lawyers: Marquette Law School’s required course in professional responsibility and lawyer ethics

MLM Marquette Law Mentorship: Marquette Law School’s official mentorship program, which pairs new law students with volunteer upper-level mentors

MVLCMarquette Volunteer Legal Clinics: Legal-advice clinics organized by the Law School, serving especially the Milwaukee community, and staffed by volunteer attorneys and Marquette law students; law students can start volunteering with the MVLCs and other pro bono opportunities as early as the summer before their first year of law school

NSLINational Sports Law Institute: Affiliated with the Marquette Sports Law Program, the NSLI awards the Sports Law Certificate to graduating Marquette law students who complete the associated curricular requirements.

OTIOn the Issues: As one of a series of events hosted by Marquette Law School’s Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education, OTIs bring leading community voices to Eckstein Hall to discuss important and timely policy matters.

SBAStudent Bar Association; With its entire membership elected by the student body, SBA sponsors important law school initiatives as well as annual events, including Barristers’ Ball.

SSPStudent Success Program:  A series of fall-semester workshops that cover the basics of how to “do” law school; led by upper-level student leaders and offered annually to first-year students; shamelessly proudly serves lunch

* My sincere thanks to Abigail Nilsson for her exhaustive (and likely exhausting) research on this topic.

Continue ReadingLaw School Alphabet Soup

What We Hear

This is the second in a series of weekly blog posts this semester concerning the Office of Student Affairs.

I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that here in the Law School’s Office of Student Affairs cura personalis guides and informs our work.

To the uninitiated, cura personalis is a credo of sorts at Jesuit schools. The Latin can be translated as “care for the whole person.” In other words, this thing we’re doing here is more than a transactional relationship wherein the institution provides an education and the student pays a fee in exchange for said education. The school—but really, to call upon the dean’s frequent message, what that means is the people who work at the school—cares about developing our students into value-guided professionals. It also means when things get hard, you don’t have to figure it all out on your own.

It can be easy to miss that message when everything is exciting, new, and going great. Every law school, surely, holds a new student orientation. Marquette University Law School is no exception. Throughout an online Pre-Orientation program and a two-day in-person program, students get to hear from faculty, staff, and upper-level students about all manner of things—from professional identity to how to read and brief a case to how to get around Eckstein Hall and our larger Marquette campus. We also talk about resources pertaining to mental health and where students might turn when “life happens.” We say this because it’s important, and we say it in a variety of ways and places.

I have to admit that I’m quite proud of our New Student Orientation programming. With the help of far too many people to list here (but come ask me if you’re curious!), we aim to hold a balanced and informative program that sets up our new law students nicely for the semester to come. And yet, let’s be real: How much does anyone really retain from orientation? We’re too busy trying to make friends, conquer our nerves, and just figure out where the bathrooms are. We take in what is immediately relevant to allow us to do these things and leave the rest for another day.

That other day, in an important sense, comes on the first Thursday of the spring semester, when our office hosts “Spring Orientation” for our 1Ls. Another orientation? What could we possibly have left to say, and after a full semester no less? It’s not so much what we have left to say as what we might try to say again, in a different way. The start of spring semester of 1L year is often when the sheen of law school wears off. Students have ridden the wave of anxiety/fear/relief/joy/exhaustion (in no particular order) that comes with finals’ period and receiving one’s grades. They are starting to think about summer jobs and also have lives outside of Eckstein Hall that continue to move forward, for better and for worse—engagements to funerals. It’s all happening.

So Spring Orientation is an opportunity to focus on the resources available to students—such resources including faculty and staff, peers and mentors, the Marquette University Counseling Center, and the Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP). Spring Orientation also allows us to focus on the opportunities available at this particular moment—to reflect, dig in, reach out, and try, try, try.

We hold Spring Orientation at the start of the spring semester because this is the time when our ears might be primed to hear it. When it’s relevant. When it might stick.

This year, for the presentation, we brought together a faculty member who discussed academic growth, representatives from the Counseling Center and WisLAP to discuss their services, and a recent alumna who spoke beautifully and unabashedly to her 1L experience and beyond. When I closed Spring Orientation, I let all of our 1Ls know that they will soon receive an invitation from me to meet one-on-one. No pressure and nothing formal or particularly novel; just an opportunity to catch up if we’ve already met or get to know each other if we haven’t.

I’ve extended this invitation to 1Ls for a number of years now, and I always feel a little vulnerable when I press “send” on the emails. Will anyone take me up on the offer? Once the appointment confirmations roll in, I breathe a sigh of relief. And once the meetings begin, I find myself utterly reinvigorated (just in time for spring).

Our students teach me a lot during these meetings. I learn, at a most basic level, where they’re from and what practice areas they want to explore. I learn (and am always reminded) that what works for some does not work for all. But I also get to learn about their interests—many of which converge with my own (looking at you, student, who reads romance novels and all the students who sheepishly admit to enjoying Civ Pro). I learn about their very real anxieties and concerns, their families, and their worlds. They learn where my office is and maybe an embarrassing story or two from my past.

Whether this little slice of what we get to do in student affairs counts as cura personalis or not, I can’t say for sure. You will have to ask our students that. I can say it’s a privilege to speak at a time when things need to be heard and to listen when our students want and need to speak.

Continue ReadingWhat We Hear

What’s Luck Got to Do with It?

It’s December 2012. I’m a 2L. I’m on my way to take my Federal Jurisdiction exam and meet what I think to be my fate, when I run into a well-intentioned faculty member. He asks me where I’m heading. “To my Fed. Jur. exam,” I manage to get out. His response? “Yikes. Tough class. Well . . . good luck!”

If there’s an inauspicious way to kick off an exam, I’m pretty sure that’s it. 

Fast forward two summers: I had graduated from law school, and my entire life had become about (1) studying for the bar exam, (2) not overdrawing my checking account, and (3) Chipotle burritos. Left and right, people were wishing me good luck on the bar. Every time they did so, the pressure mounted, as did my conviction that my professional future rode entirely on either luck or some God-given ability—neither of which I felt particularly flush with at the time. From these experiences, I began to think “good luck”—even when offered with utmost sincerity—might not the best way to send someone into a high-pressure moment.[i]

But we all do it. We say “good luck” to friends before they start a trial or to students before they take an exam because we wish them well. Behind the two simple words, though, seems the implication that we are mere pawns, our fate left to the caprice of the gods. Luck’s sister concepts are, after all, fortune and chance.[ii] Expounding on the etymology of luck, University of Cambridge Professor Robert S. C. Gordon has written that the word’s etymological roots imply that “[l]uck, good luck at least, brings happiness . . . , and this much seems uncontroversial. But conversely, there is already a more sombre . . . implicitly secular philosophy embedded in this lexical chain . . . : happiness is a matter of pure luck, and the path from one to the other is steeped in doubt.”[iii] In other words, the notion of good luck—or the wish of it—might just imply that our happiness, our success is out of our hands.

Continue ReadingWhat’s Luck Got to Do with It?