How to Not Impress a Law School Professor

As an adjunct instructor at a local law school, I am constantly telling law students two things: (1) what happens in law school does not stay there and (2) networking in law school is extremely important.

I’m adding a new element to my stump speech: how not to impress a professor—tenured, adjunct, or otherwise.

Complaining about deadlines

Deadlines are provided well in advance, which allows students to plan accordingly. In addition, the unfortunate reality is that courts also set deadlines, so law students need to become accustomed to important deadlines. The old excuse of “I know it’s on the syllabus, but you didn’t remind me” is generally not going to get you very far.

There is a difference between complaining about a deadline because you just don’t like it and an unexpected family emergency. For example, if an assignment is due on Arbor Day, and you celebrate Arbor Day like nobody’s business, suck it up. On the other hand, if you need your appendix removed, the interwebs fall apart in your state, or you have a family emergency, then ask for an extension. Most professors are fairly understanding about those issues. Otherwise, put the deadline on your calendar and get it done with no complaints.

Asking for ridiculous things

Professors are there to help you learn, help you develop analytical skills, and help you become a lawyer. Professors are not there to provide you a free copy of a text book, scan you pages from a text book, or send reminder e-mails the night before every assignment is due.

Yes, I have actually been asked those questions. At least one of them may have caused me to laugh out loud. If any of my students want to meet, I’m happy to meet with them. If they want to talk over the phone or shoot me an e-mail, I will respond very quickly. But I’m not a bookstore, a Kinkos that violates copyright laws, or a secretary.

Most law school professors will bend over backwards to help law students in their job search, develop their legal skills, or write a letter of recommendation. But that is not an excuse to take them for advantage. If you are asking them to do something you can do on your own, think again.

Explaining how much smarter you are

Law students and lawyers are very intelligent people. They are also very competitive and surprise, surprise, like to argue. That is not a good reason or justification to run around your school proving to your professors that one thing they said that one time was not right.

I have seen it happen, both as a student and as a teacher at local law schools. There’s a big difference between having an informed discussion and going out of your way to prove how smart you are. Most professors are impressed by students with the motivation and wits to come with an alternate theory or alternative interpretation. But that is a much different than trying to show your professor that you think they are an idiot.

Again, the issue is not whether you should never disagree with your professor, it’s about how you present your side. Remember to show your due deference and remember that law school professors have accomplished lots in order to get their job. Treating them with some level of respect will create a positive impression, rather than a negative one.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mistergesl/6086515804/)

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  • http://blog.simplejustice.us shg

    “Listen here, Mr. Adjunct who needs the pittance of a stipend you get from this 4th tier law school to cover your nut in your drowning law practice in this dump of an economy. I’m paying for your services, and the customer is always right. Enough with you complaining about my demands, and a little more with some decent service to the paying customer. Between what Mom and Dad pony up and the debt I’ll have to pay back someday, you’re lucky I don’t demand you bring me coffee before class and a good foot rub while I’m reading cases I’ll never need to know. Cash and carry, baby, and I got the cash and you better learn how to carry me.

    Now, about the B- you gave me…”

    Ah, the new normal at law school.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      In fairness, it’s a first-tier law school. Not that it matters.

      • http://consumerlawyer.mn/cgi-sys/suspendedpage.cgi Randall Ryder

        And it’s a B+ curve…and usually I bring candy too.

        • http://blog.simplejustice.us shg

          Good candy or that ratty no-name crap that mean people give away on Halloween?

          • http://consumerlawyer.mn/cgi-sys/suspendedpage.cgi Randall Ryder

            Always good candy, because I eat the leftovers.

      • http://www.constitutionaldaily.com BL1Y

        Minnesota is “first tier” the same way that making $80,000 at Vault 10′s tertiary market satellite office is “Big Law.”

  • Sean

    Well said. Lack of perspective is one unfortunate consequence of the reality that most law students have little or no work experience.

    Are you going to complain to the judge presiding over your case about a deadine? I’ve watched it happen in chambers — amusing for the judge, not for the complaining attorney.

    Are you going to demand that clients re-scan documents for you, provide you extra copies, and call you the night before every major deadline in your case? If so, good luck finding paying clients.

    Are you going to treat your professors with respect and try to tend to your personal needs while contributing to the overall success of the professor and the class? Then you sound like a law student who might interview well with big law firms.

  • http://www.passthebaton.biz/ Susan Gainen

    Bravo Randall and Sean for saying what needs to be said. Not that it hasn’t been said before, and won’t need to be repeated again.

    The Career Services Corollary: Career Services professionals sit at the corner of Enforcer Avenue and Enabler Street. They have programs and job postings with deadlines which they know in their hearts should be enforced for the reasons described above. Yet, the students who come in half an hour late, the next day, or the next (yes, indeedy, month) tear at our heartstrings, because we don’t want to get in the way of a student connecting with a potential employer.

    Depending on who controls the deadline and what relationship a CSO professional might have with the prospective employer or event organizer, there may be some elasticity in the “deadline.” Not always, of course. Never, ever count on it.

    Sometimes this failure to pay attention becomes a teachable moment when:

    1. The student has to write and request an extension; or
    2. The student finally understands that “deadline” has the same effect as “statute of limitations.” When it’s over, it’s over.

    • http://blog.simplejustice.us shg

      Now that you point it out, you are absolutely right that the concerns of a lawprof in trying to teach students to become lawyers pales in comparison to the lax ways in which students deal with Career Services Professionals. After all, career services is the heart of the law school, and a legal education is just something to while away the hours until they comply with the rules of career services and find out if they’re that one in a hundred who will get a job.

  • Christopher Wheaton

    This is possible the best post I’ve read on lawyerist since the ScanSnap S1550 review. Nice job.

    • http://consumerlawyer.mn/cgi-sys/suspendedpage.cgi Randall Ryder

      Thanks!

    • http://phillylawblog.wordpress.com/ Jordan

      That was probably the best backhanded compliment I’ve read all month.

  • http://phillylawblog.wordpress.com/ Jordan

    “if an assignment is due on Arbor Day, and you celebrate Arbor Day like nobody’s business, suck it up. On the other hand, if you need your appendix removed, the interwebs fall apart in your state, or you have a family emergency, then ask for an extension.”

    How do you think this will go over in court for me this week: “Brah, err, Your Honor. I’m not gonna have time to get that brief in this week. I know you said it’s due on Friday the 16th, but that’s like, the day before St. Patrick’s Day. I was gonna be wasted, like so wasted, and I mean wasted like it’s nobody’s business starting as soon as I wake up on Friday. Then I plan to continue drinking heavily all weekend. I’ll probably need Monday and most of Tuesday to sleep it all off… at least. So why don’t we push back the briefing schedule for at least another couple of weeks? Otherwise it will just be just so unfair, and totally uncool. All my buddies will be wasted this week, and you know I can’t miss that… and besides, my brief writing skills suuuck when I’m drunk. Okay, well, they’re not that bad but it’s had to write a brief when you’re going from bar to bar, ya know?”

    • Wannabe Lawyer

      If the judge was in the same fraternity as you on another campus, it might actually make him laugh. *troll*

  • michael

    yes but on the other hand, considering the local culture of an area and how that may affect things like deadlines is always important. One of my favorite stories from a law school prof. was an out of town lawyer who was complaining to a judge in OK that the other lawyer did not want a hearing to be scheduled on the friday before the first weekend of hunting season. before he got to the reason given by the other lawyer, the judge interrupted “we can’t have a hearing then, thats the first friday of hunting season.”

    • http://consumerlawyer.mn/cgi-sys/suspendedpage.cgi Randall Ryder

      Is it bad that I would not be as lenient as a judge in that same scenario?

      • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

        You mean by not sanctioning a lawyer for forcing a hearing on the issue of when to schedule a hearing? I think I would make him pay attorney fees for that crap, unless he had a damn good reason.