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.