Getting ready to start law school? We talk a lot about personas here, and the type of people that you’re likely to meet in your classes. What about who you’re going to be? Or, more precisely, who you’re not going to be? There are many common personalities that you really might want to avoid adopting. Unless, of course, you want to be greeted with death stares every time you walk into the classroom!
The Attention Hog
Also known as a gunner. I don’t feel that gunner really covers it all though. Gunners raise their hands for every question and never really give the professor the chance to call on anyone else. Some gunners take it further, however. They raise their hands even when the professor hasn’t asked a question in order to propose wildly out there hypos of their own. So while a regular gunner is irritating, an attention hog is worse. Not only do they make it impossible for anyone else to ask a sensible question, but they also get the professor so far off track that you never actually cover the material for the day? Every student’s dream, right? Wrong. Just because the professor doesn’t cover the material doesn’t mean it won’t turn up on exams.
For many professors, you’re responsible for any material that they intended to cover. And anything in the readings. So, let the class proceed, answer questions a reasonable amount, and ask them only when the answers will add clarity to the situation. If you’re fascinated by crazy hypothetical versions of the cases you’re covering, go to the professor during office hours. You get higher quality face time with the professor, and you don’t have classmates picturing you as the star of some of those wacky hypotheticals you’ve been proposing.
The Late One…Who Sits in Front…and Asks Questions
One of my most despised former classmates was this person (actually nice once I got to know them a little, and we weren’t in any of the same classes). This one person was always late to class. Not just a little late. At least ten minutes late for almost every single class. Usually with a dramatic entrance. Tons of stuff to carry (and drop), lots of noise…and always heading straight for the front of the room. Now, this is distracting enough. Don’t be this person. Try not to be late to class. But, if you are late, make a discreet entrance. Try for a back seat, and if you can’t manage it, then at least arrange your things so that you can come in as quietly as possible. If you are this person, then at least don’t take the next step. This former classmate of mine would proceed to ask question after question about the day’s topic. This wasn’t the same as attention hog behavior, because they were actually very good questions, designed to clarify matters. Here’s the problem. The professor had already covered the answers. Very nice man, this professor, but he was easily led astray, and answered the questions straightforwardly. Somehow he hadn’t realized that this person didn’t know the answers because they hadn’t been in class on time. So, don’t be late. If you must be late, enter discreetly. If you can’t enter discreetly, act as though you were in class from the beginning. Take notes as well as you can. But don’t ask any questions until after class. Then approach trusted classmates (who won’t hate you as long as you didn’t take up class time going over material that was already covered) or the professor in office hours. If you’re late this much, you’ll need the goodwill of classmates. So earn it!
The Procrastinator…Who Expects an Easy Out
There are so many things to stall out on in law school. But right now I’m talking about outlines and exam prep. You should start working on these pretty early – probably earlier than you realize. If you wait too long, you may find yourself in a panic. At this point, you need to talk to TAs, academic support, professors, anyone you can, and really get yourself moving. What you shouldn’t do is expect an easy answer. There are some shortcuts to outlining, but outlining is really only effective if you do the bulk of the work yourself. Scenario from my law school days: Student A is on top of the work. Student B has procrastinated. B asks A for outlines. A refuses. B then complains that A isn’t being a team player, and that our law school isn’t supposed to be so cutthroat. Here’s the thing. A was right. B hadn’t done the work. B didn’t deserve a copy of the outline. Not only that, but A’s outline may not have even been comprehensible to B. So don’t be B. If you find yourself in a panic, use the resources at hand. Ask for help, certainly, but plan to put in lots of work.
Some students just can’t finish an exam without reviewing every detail with their peers. And as much as I love Hermione Granger, that is not a character trait that I admire. It’s annoying in high school and undergrad, but in law school, it can be absolutely devastating. Most law professors write exams in such a way that it’s all but impossible to catch everything in the time allotted. So if you’re chatting away about all of the levels of homicide that you discussed, the only thing you’re doing is making your friend feel bad that she only caught one. Meanwhile, she found at least five crimes that you didn’t even notice in your zeal for catching murderers. Who’s right? Who cares? The test is over. Unless it’s a midterm, you probably aren’t getting another crack at this subject and professor. I get it. Some people need to talk it over in order to leave it behind. If you must, make sure that you find like-minded peers and an out-of-the-way place for your discussion. Let everyone else relax…at least until they have to start studying for the next one!
In spite of the cutthroat nature of many law schools, you actually do need some goodwill from your peers. If nothing else, you don’t want to put a giant target on your back for any ill will. So think before you act. Are you actually benefiting from any of the above behaviors? Can you achieve the same effect without incurring the wrath of your classmates? For everyone’s sake, please try!
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There are a lot of interest characters in law school. I wish more people took the advice in this post!
But seriously, I think common courtesy goes a long way. Treat others how you want to be treated!
Thanks – we agree!