Student Journal

Purpose of the Journal Entries

Every excellent lawyer is a self-reflective practitioner. A self-reflective practitioner is one who develops techniques for consciously learning from his or her experiences. A self-reflective practitioner plans each task to be performed prior to acting, and then reflects upon the execution of the task after the task is performed to consider what worked best, what did not work as well as expected, and what he or she would do differently the next time. As one tool to aid you in developing into a self-reflective practitioner, you will be keeping a journal of your experiences in the Criminal Justice Clinic. Writing about your work will encourage deeper and more detailed reflections.

The journal you keep in this course will serve a number of different functions:

  1. It will be a tool for you to record your assignments and to reflect upon what you have learned from the work in a concrete form; 
  2. It will provide you with a systematic way to reflect on and analyze your experiences by pushing you to examine critically and in depth your performance, thoughts, and feelings;
  3. It will provide you and me with data for discussion of topics central to the course; 
  4. It will relieve stress; and 
  5. It will enhance your development into a reflective practitioner.

Your journal should not be primarily an account of your activities- the time sheets you will be preparing will adequately capture this type of information. Rather, you should record what you are thinking and feeling about your experiences with clients, the criminal justice system, the lawyers you work with in the Public Defender Office, opposing counsel, reading assignments for the seminars, concepts, and skills under study in the course. There are a few requirements for the content of your journal entries designed to help the entries assist your learning over the course of the semester.

The journals will be confidential between you and the supervising faculty member. Occasionally, the supervising faculty member may ask a student’s permission to refer to a journal entry in one of the seminar classes or permission from several students to compile some entries for a class discussion on a shared topic.  If reference is made to a journal entry, it will only be done after permission is sought and granted in advance and privately, and each student will always have the absolute authority to decline.

Number of Journal Entries Required and Due Dates

Over the course of the semester, you are required to submit at least thirteen (13) journal entries. You should complete at least one (1) journal entry per week for the first twelve (12) weeks of the class, and you will do a final wrap-up journal entry reflecting on the prior entries for the last week of classes.  Each journal entry should be the equivalent of at least two double-spaced, typed written pages in length. Journal entries for each week are due on or before Sunday noon, and each entry will be returned to you with comments within one week of my receipt of the journal entry. You may send the journal entry to your faculty member via e-mail, joy@wulaw.wustl.edu or clollar@wulaw.wustl.edu, or leave a copy of it under the faculty member’s office door at the law school.

The point of the journal entries is to think on paper. Therefore, do not worry too much about spelling, punctuation, or grammar. You should use language that feels natural and expresses your personal voice and style. Do not try to write as you think a lawyer might.  Please Turn in Your Journals On or Before the Weekly Deadline, and Do Not Fall Behind In Turning In Your Journals.  

Content of the Journal Entries and Format

Throughout the semester you will submit journal entries concerning your reflections on your work, interactions with others, experiences, and what you are learning. While most of your entries will be about whatever you choose to write about concerning your experiences, by the end of the thirteenth week of the semester you must have completed a separate entry on each of the following subjects. A suggested completion date for each topic is included:

  1. Critique a performance by a lawyer, either a defense lawyer, prosecutor, or judge, stating what you observed that was good, what needs improvement, and why. (End of third week.)
  2. Discuss what you are learning about how to learn from experience. How do you learn best? What facilitates your learning? What inhibits your learning? (End of fourth week.)
  3. What are your perceptions or feelings about the criminal justice system? (End of sixth week.)
  4. How does your work in the Criminal Justice Clinic fit into your future plans? What have you learned that will help you to make decisions about future employment? How do you see applying what you are learning to your future endeavors? Is your learning transferable to other settings? How might this best be accomplished? (End of the eighth week.)
  5. Identify an ethical quandary or decision that occurred during the semester, explain the issue, how it was resolved, and whether you think the resolution was proper and why. (End of the tenth week.)
  6. Critique a performance of yourself. Discuss your planning and execution of the task. What do you think was good, what do you think needs improvement, and what would you do differently? (End of twelfth week.)

The format of each entry has to include at least four (4) paragraphs of at least five (5) sentences each.

Paragraph 1:  Identify the topic.  This should include the “who, what, when, where, why, and how’ part of the entry.  If you are selecting one of the above topics for the entry, such as a critique of another’s performance, identify who you are critiquing, what you are critiquing, when you observed the activity, where the activating took place, how the activity proceeded, and why a certain course of action was taken.

Paragraph 2:  Discuss what you were thinking about the activity or topic at the time, and any thoughts you have about the activity upon further reflection. 

Paragraph 3:  Discuss what you were feeling about the activity and why.  For example, if you are discussing an activity you engaged in, discuss how you felt.  Remember not to confuse your thoughts with your feelings.  For example, the sentence “I felt it was useful” describes your thoughts and not your feelings.  Feelings include: fear, anxiety, nervousness, confidence, being relaxed, unhappy, happy, dissatisfied, etc.

Paragraph 4:  This paragraph is the analytical discussion, and will often include how you plan to apply what you learned from the experience.  If the subject of the entry is a critique, this paragraph would describe the strengths and weaknesses, why you think the aspects were strong or weak, and what you would do if confronted with a similar situation in the future.  Be sure not to generalize, such as “Next time I would be better prepared.”  Instead, describe how you would prepare yourself better, such as what research you would do, practice you would engage in, etc.

Your final journal entry for the course should be a self-evaluation of your accumulated journal entries. To complete the self-evaluation, read through all your entries, then write an evaluation using the following topics as a guide: the quantity of entries (the minimum number is fourteen prior to this final entry), variety (you must have included at least six entries on the previously mentioned subjects), depth of discussion, interest (reflected in the tone and substance of the entries), and value to you the student.

If you have any questions about this requirement, please discuss them with the faculty member in class or privately.

Good luck!