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Law School Professors And How To Deal With Them

published March 01, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left

( 138 votes, average: 4.8 out of 5)

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Are law school professors tough? There is a saying that reads as follows: "Law school is probably the only place where students pay good money to have professors intimidate them to death." It is a known fact that law students sit cowered in their seats with heads down. One professor alluded to this practice when he retorted, "Okay, the first person to look up gets called on!" Let's say you are crazy (brave) enough to look up. How does it feel waiting to be called on? Sheer terror! It could be analogized to standing before a firing squad waiting to be shot and hoping against hope that you're not the one hit. If you're not the one called on, you breathe a silent prayer of relief and try to concentrate on what the professor is asking the poor soul who was called on to see if you can silently answer the professor's questions.

Law School Professors And How To Deal With Them

You also feel extremely fortunate not to be in that poor student's shoes at that moment. Since it's unadvisable to go into class unprepared, you need to know what constitutes being "prepared." It is probably one of those legal questions that has no answer. You may feel quite confident upon entering the classroom, only to be called on and then quickly forget your name. If all else fails and you need to buy a few minutes of time, just ask the professor to repeat the question. Professors absolutely hate this tactic, but at least by then maybe you can think of a halfway coherent response.

Some students have been known to get sick to their stomachs before having to enter some professors' classrooms, while others have been known to faint when called on. Most law students become especially terrified of at least one law professor. One memorable professor told a class, "Never, ever come to this class unprepared. If you do, I'll kick you out!" When class started, the professor looked over and called on an unsuspecting student. All the student could muster was a weak, "Yes?" The professor's only question: "Would you close the door, please?"

Another professor decided he would call on all those wearing red shirts to class. Needless to say, nobody in that course wore red shirts for the remainder of the semester. Why are law professors so tough? They are tough because your career demands that you be an advocate of your client's rights. You must be able to speak out for your client and face opposition firmly. You are selling your time and your education and you must firmly believe in what you say. You must also be able to think, reason, and speak extemporaneously.

Most professors use the Socratic Method and this causes considerable trepidation amongst the students, as not only the cross-examination exposes them, they don't want to be made to look like blundering fools in front of their classmates.

An example of a class discussion using the Socratic Method might be as follows:

Professor: "On T.V. there is a commercial that encourages us to 'Buy American'. What is American?"

Student: (very confidently): "It's something made in the U.S.A."

Professor: "Does 'Made in the U.S.A.' really mean 'Made in the U.S.A.'? One U.S. company was shipping parts in from Japan, taking them out of the original crates and placing them in crates marked 'Made in the U.S.A.' So I ask you again. Does 'Made in the U.S.A.' really mean 'Made in the U.S.A.'?"

Student: (No response)

Professor: Back to my original question. What is 'American'? There are U.S. companies using U.S. labor to place foreign parts into U.S. cars. Is that 'American'? There are U.S. companies overseas and in Mexico using foreign labor to manufacture goods for shipment into the U.S. Is that 'American'? What is 'American'?"

By this time a student who thought he or she knew the correct response is totally overwhelmed.

During the course of your studies you will find that many professors will, during Socratic dialogue, respond to your answers with an abrasive, "so what?" or "who cares?" or many a time, the advice that you should return to your parents and not waste your time here as you don't have it in you to become a lawyer, which will accompanied by the derisive laughter from the classroom benches. Of course this could seem rather extreme but this tough as nails, blatant approach does serve to inspire and goad the student into proving his worth and being determined to show the professor that you are going to prove your worth - when you get good grades, you will find that the professor's tough exterior was only a façade, a camouflage to ensure that you succeeded and he will be happy to concede the fight to you.

But then there will also be professors who will use a panel of students and not grill one student at a time and gently ask questions from the students on the panel one at a time, giving them time to ponder and respond. Such professors will not chide you for the wrong answers and gently guide you to the appropriate conclusions. There is merit in both the approaches and one will work better on some students, whereas the other will work better on some - it's only a matter of perception and choice.
Get advice from law students, prelaw students and others at: Top Law Schools

This is one of the challenges of law school that you have to face - there will be professors who will make your life at law school hell, who will be difficult to deal with and who will try to make you as uncomfortable as possible in front of your classmates and leave no opportunity to tell you that you are a useless nut and that the legal profession will be better off without you. On the other side, there will be the warm hearted wonderful professors, who will share their knowledge with you with a concern and in a manner that does not belittle you. You will be saddled with both types, so it is in your interest to know how to tackle them.

It is good to understand that a person, your professor, has spent years studying, researching and publishing his efforts and will have an huge lack of empathy and concern for those students who lack in his skills or aptitude for learning, not because they are rude but because they are so preoccupied with their own knowledge and levels of understand that they just cannot comprehend that others may not have similar knowledge. To him everything seems easy and logical. However, his intentions are not necessarily bad, it is just that his expectations are high and expects others to follow the high standards he has set.

If a professor critics your work, or belittles you in front of the class rather harshly take it as justified and ignore it. Swallow your anger and try to prove your professor wrong by doing better next time around. By retaliating or questioning him you will insult his ego and honor and which will not be perhaps the right things to do.

Never argue with your professor. If he has forged an opinion, come what may he will stick with it and could even result in disciplinary action against you. However, if your concerns are impacting your studies and have made you seriously consider discontinuing your studies than schedule an appointment with the concerned professor and in the privacy of his office, never in an open forum, discuss your problem one-to-one and seek redress in a polite and dignified manner.

Students dread their professors very much, but that is because their professions demands that of them. Most professors apart from teaching also do a lot of research and publish articles in law reviews and edit casebooks as well. Many law professors have authored books, so rest assured that you are in capable hands and the professor knows what he or she is doing and that all the hard work and grind that you are being made to pass through is to ensure that the end product is worthy of a good law school education.

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Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

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