Want to Impress Your Law School Professor? Don’t Do This.

As an adjunct instructor at my law school, I have the privilege of imparting practical advice to law students. Many of my students heed my advice on how to succeed in law school (and beyond).

On the flip side, I also witness behavior that leaves me less than impressed.

Here are three ways to create a bad impression with a law school professor.

Obsess over grades

Wanting to get good grades is a good thing. Obsessing over it to your professor or instructor is not. Like every other lawyer, I went to law school. I was immersed in the ultra-competitive bubble where grades are the beginning and end of the universe.

Even then, however, I understood that getting good grades is just part of law school success. I even pushed myself to work during law school (gasp!) to acquire practical skills.

In hindsight, I wish I had taken more skills-based classes. In the ones I did take, I was focused on the exercises and learning from them—because those were the building blocks of actual lawyering skills. In other words: I focused on my mistakes and correcting them. I’m sure I thought about grades, but I rarely asked “so, what grade did I get on that assignment?”

There’s nothing wrong about asking for feedback. That is completely distinct and different from asking about your grade(s). In my humble opinion, asking “what grade did I get” is the equivalent of going to an interview and asking “so, did I get the job?”

Here’s a little tip: students who put forth a strong effort on a regular basis and actively engage to improve their legal skills will usually end up ok in the grade department. Most importantly, they will end up light years ahead in the skills department.

Putting forth less than 100% effort

For practical skill classes, effort is critical. Throwing yourself into a simulation at 100% and hitting some bumps in the road is not only desirable—it is expected. Simulations are not designed to make law students cry, but they are designed to make them learn. That usually means unpredictable roadblocks.

It’s impressive to see law students recognize roadblocks and step to the challenge. It’s incredibly impressive to see students reflect on it afterwards and say: “I didn’t handle that as well as I wanted to, but now I know what to look for/how to handle it next time.” News flash: that’s what happens in the world of lawyering.

It’s not impressive to see a student throw in the towel. Even worse: complain about how the roadblock was unfair because they were not prepared for it. Again: random explosions and unpredictably are common in the practice of law. Complaining is never a solution to those situations.

Side note: when you are playing the role of an attorney you should dress like one. Showing up hungover and in sweatpants is a bad idea in law school, and career altering in real-life.

Don’t listen/don’t pay attention/feign interest

It’s ok to screw up when you encounter a tough situation in law school (see above). It’s a bad idea to do something that was discussed as “please, please, don’t do this: ______” and then immediately do it during the next class or exercise. Unless you think it’s impressive to demonstrate that you were not paying attention. I’m not talking about something tricky, I’m talking about something basic, simple, and intuitive.

I’m always amazed that relatively few students take notes during evaluations or discussions. I would suspect it is rather difficult to make changes when you can’t remember what you did right and wrong. Now that I think about it, these tend to be the students who continuously make the same mistakes.

Last but not least, stay away from brown-nosing questions. You are smart enough to know the difference between actual interest and feigned interest. Feigned interest just comes across as “hi, I’m trying to make sure you know I’m talking in class” rather than “I have an actual question and I am generally interested in understanding ________ better.”

Law school is not easy—but following this advice is. Focus on developing your skills, give a strong effort, and pay attention. You may be impressed at the results.

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  1. Avatar David says:

    Hard work and honest effort are great grade-school lessons. In the real world, a high class rank and finely honed brown-nosing abilities are infinitely more valuable than work ethic and knowledge. Not only should students feign interest and obsess over their grades, they should pick the easy classes from easy grading professors to pad their GPAs. Nobody cares about the practical courses you took. Nobody cares about the skills you developed. They might care AFTER they have sorted out which candidates finished in the top 10 percent. Perpetuating this kind of ridiculous, idealized version of reality is not helping good people succeed. It only helps the filth who are naturally inclined to kiss ass and cultivate the appearance of ability over actual ability.

    • Avatar Randall Ryder says:

      I’d agree that strategically choosing classes is a good idea. Other than that, I cannot think of one other lawyer I know that would hire someone because of their high rank and brown-nosing ability over work ethic, skills, and knowledge.

  2. Avatar m.l. says:

    I have a dream. I stand up in a law school class right as the gunner is in full stride and shout “objection, relevance” …


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