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Law School Experience: Class Attendance and Participation

published September 07, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
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( 52 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
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Because the skills taught by the Socratic Method cannot be learned from a casebook, class attendance is crucially important. In fact, research on law students indicates that a positive correlation exists between class attendance and grades. When you go to class, take your casebook, any assigned supplementary materials, such as a statute book, your case briefs, and your class notes. If you must miss a class, be sure to borrow one of your colleague's class notes. If your professor requires class attendance, get an excused absence before missing class, if possible.

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Class discussions can provide an important indicator of how well you are grasping the assigned materials. Other students' case descriptions and the related discussions will help you determine whether your assessments of the cases were accurate. The class discussion may go in a direction that you had not anticipated. This does not necessarily indicate that your assessment was incorrect but only that the professor chose to focus on a different aspect of the case. If you had not been in class, you would have missed that perspective, which could hinder your understanding of future class discussions and your exam performance.

Although you will learn a great deal by listening to others and by thinking about their questions and answers, you will learn other important skills by actively participating in class discussions. Even if you do not become a trial lawyer, you will have to speak in public when you are in practice. For example, you will have to speak before neighborhood groups, corporate boards, and governmental bodies, such as legislative committees and zoning boards. Those should not be your first public speaking experiences. Instead, use the time in law school to learn to control the butterflies in your stomach and to speak effectively. Virtually everyone feels nervous when speaking in public, including your professors. Learning to speak effectively is just a matter of practice.

Even if you already feel comfortable speaking in public, you should participate in class for a variety of other reasons. The class will be much more interesting and issues will be presented from a variety of perspectives if all class members contribute their observations and experiences. By speaking in class, you give your professors a better basis for evaluating your understanding of the materials. In the typical law school class, your professor will have only the final exam on which to base your grade. If you regularly have spoken in class, however, your professor will have a broader basis for evaluating your performance. In fact, some professors may increase your grade based on the quality of your class participation. Additionally, you will need references and letters of recommendation from your professors for job and scholarship applications. You are far more likely to get a strong letter if the professor knows something about you other than your final exam grade.

Speaking in class early in the semester is particularly important. The longer you wait to speak for the first time, the harder it will be. During the first week of class, you may decide to sit back and check out your professor and' colleagues. During the second week, you may not speak because you are waiting for a question that you would feel comfortable answering. By the third week, you may think that you have to wait for a question on which you are particularly strong because you want to make a good first impression. In the fourth week, if you have not yet spoken, you may feel pressure to make a very good impression the first time you speak. The burden you feel to perform well the first time you speak will become heavier with each week that passes. Break the ice early and get past that first time.

What if you answer incorrectly or say something that is strongly challenged? So what? Everyone makes mistakes, even your professors, and your challengers may be the ones who are wrong. Of course, everyone would prefer to make unimpeachable proclamations and to be honored for their wisdom, but that is not likely to happen in your first year of law school. In fact, if you are mistaken about something, it is better to find out about it and correct it now, rather than in practice or on your final exam.

On the other hand, do not talk unless you think that your comments will advance the class discussion. If your remarks would be tangential to the discussion or would raise a very minor point, wait to talk with your professor after class. Otherwise, you risk irritating your colleagues and professor, because class time is too valuable to waste and because everyone in class should have the opportunity to speak. Unless your professor has said otherwise, you should not speak until you have raised your hand and been recognized. This is the means by which the professor can direct the flow of the class discussion.

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Unfortunately, some people are socialized to be particularly reticent about speaking in class. They may believe that they have nothing to contribute to the class discussion or that they already have taken too much of the class' time when, in fact, they have spoken less than their colleagues. Research has shown that these feelings are particularly strong for members of groups who traditionally have been under-represented in law schools. The professor unintentionally may reinforce these feelings by treating class members differently from a misplaced concern about embarrassing someone who appears to be less assertive than other students.

Another common reason students avoid speaking in class is their belief that everyone else is smarter and more articulate. These students are sure that speaking in class will reveal their ignorance to their professors and colleagues. This common fear is understandable. After enjoying years of academic success, law students are thrown into a difficult new field and are beginners again. Professors who are experts in the law challenge their thinking and, to make matters worse, do so in the public forum of the classroom. But the fear is as wrong as it is common.

Do not let yourself fall into these traps. Lawyers are called "mouthpieces" for a reason. Clients hire you to represent their interests, including in public. In fact, the client may have hired you because the client is afraid to speak in public. Therefore, even if you do not want to speak in class and can slide by without doing it, resist the temptation. You are entitled to the same opportunities as every other student, and you have a responsibility to take advantage of those opportunities. It will get easier with practice. By the end of the term, you will have come a long way in overcoming your fear.

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Alternative Summary

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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LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit

published September 07, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 52 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.