When I meet with a student who is having academic difficulties (or just not happy with their grades) one of the first questions I ask him/her is, “Do you go to office hours?” Guess what the answer typically is? You guessed it, “No.”
Should you be going to law school office hours? Well, yes! But you shouldn’t just go to office hours — you should go with a plan to get the most out of it. Just going without questions or comments is pretty worthless and likely won’t give you an opportunity to engage the professor.
What Are Office Hours Good For?
In office hours, you can ask your professor for clarification on a given topic covered in class. For instance, say you were covering the duty owed to plaintiffs by common carriers in class last week. After reviewing your notes and trying to outline it, you realize you don’t fully understand the two jurisdictional approaches to this legal issue that were covered in class.
So you go to your Torts professor. Do you walk in and say,
Hey Professor, I don’t understand the common carrier rule?
Well, you can, but I am going to guess you are not going to get a great answer from the professor.
What if instead you brought your outline with you (the outline you made after reviewing the class material)? You point to the outline and say,
Professor, I was reviewing the law relating to the duty of a common carrier and I am not sure about the two jurisdictional approaches here and when to apply them. Could you please help me clarify?
What is different about the way you went to office hours in this situation? Well first, you have already studied the law and you are showing this to the professor. They are much more likely to help you if they already think you have put in some work.
Don’t Expect Your Professor To Do All the Work For You
How do I know this? Well, I am an adjunct law professor and this is how I feel about students asking me questions in office hours! If a student says, “Could you give me the attack plan for negligence,” I am likely to say no. But if the student says, “This is my attack plan for negligence, could you let me know if it is complete?” Then typically I will say yes!
Okay, it is important to be prepared to get the most out of office hours. What about writing. Can you take a hypo to a professor to review?
Depends on the professor, but why wouldn’t you try. For instance, what if you wrote out an answer in IRAC form to a hypothetical that a professor gave in class and then took that written hypo to the professor and asked, “May I review this answer with you to make sure I approached the hypo correctly?” And again, most professors will say “sure” and give you all sorts of great feedback. And why is their feedback so important? They are the people drafting and grading your exams.
One mistake that students make, however, is bringing the professor a fact pattern that is not from class or one of their past exams. I wouldn’t recommend this. Save those for discussions with your friends or study group. Instead discuss the professor’s own hypos or fact patterns with them. It is generally just a better approach.
Most Professors Aren’t So Scary!
Most law professors actually like students — that is why they wanted to teach. So don’t be afraid to approach a professor in office hours.
You never know what you can learn — and sometimes what you learn by talking with the professor can make a difference on exam day!
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