In law school, there are tons of resources at your disposal. Most schools have career services offices and career counselors to help you find the right career path. There are classes in just about every field of law. Libraries chock full of books on every legal subject. Classmates with diverse backgrounds and professional experiences, internship opportunities, career fairs, alumni networks. The list goes on and on.
One resource in particular, however, is often overlooked: professors!
Your professors have likely either researched an area of law extensively or have significant experience practicing law. They can be an incredibly valuable resource not only to excel in your classes and understand the subject matter well but also to help you gain employment in your desired field.
Professors can also be mentors even after you’ve gotten a job in your field.
But, how do you build a meaningful relationship with your professor? Here are some tips on how to begin that relationship and to cultivate it.
Learn About Your Professor’s Background
All of your professors come from unique backgrounds. Rarely these days do they not have some kind of experience practicing law.
Professors at my law school have directed nonprofit organizations, worked in BigLaw, held their own law practices, served as law clerks, fought for international human rights in the UN, tried cases before the United States Supreme Court, and more.
Further, professors at my law school have worked in numerous states, attended other schools in numerous states, and have published articles, books, and other publications in various states.
That’s just my law school. The point is that your professors have a lot of value to add not just in the classroom.
If you absolutely know the area of law in which you want to practice, then research the faculty at your school and see if any of them share your interests. Keep in mind that professors have interests that may differ from what they teach.
And, if you don’t know what area of law you want to practice or whether you want to hang your own shingle or work for a corporation or nonprofit, reach out to professors in various areas and interview them on their experiences to get a better sense of what might be right for you.
Professors can provide more than classroom instruction. Find one who may be a great mentor for you, and build that relationship.
Ask For Feedback
One of the best ways to build a relationship with a professor is to ask for feedback on your assignments.
I can clearly remember being a college student and even a law student and complaining to my mom about grades on my assignments. The conversation would usually go something like this:
“I thought I did everything the professor asked,” I would say. “I don’t know what else I could have done.”
“Well, have you asked your professor what else you could have done?” my mom would ask.
“I don’t know.”
Ah, that age old teenage response, ‘I don’t know.’ I probably shrugged every time I said it, too.
Now it’s my turn to dish out some maternal advice. Here goes…
Ask your professor for the darn feedback! You don’t know what you don’t know. Now that I’ve served as a mentor to freshmen students at a local university and helped grade papers or review their thank-you letters to scholarship donors, I can say that there are specific criteria I’m looking for but also other issues that influence the way I grade.
But, it’s not all just about your grades. By asking for feedback, you are showing that you are invested in your education and your career, that you want to be the best you possibly can be.
When your professors see that you care that much, they will invest that much more in you.
Take Advantage Of Office Hours
Did you know that your professors purposely set aside time every single week just for the benefit of their students? That your professors are actually sitting in their offices waiting for students to stop by and talk to them, ask them questions, challenge their position on a legal point, or just say hello.
I’ll be honest, I rarely took advantage of office hours when I was a student. I feel a little hypocritical advocating for it now. But, the truth is, looking back, I really wish I had taken advantage of that time. I now know several professors who are constantly talking about the missed opportunities of students not utilizing office hours.
What I’ve learned is most professors truly want to engage with their students. They want to help. They want to see their students succeed.
Visit those office hours and get to know your professors!
Your Professors Are There To Help
Getting to know your professors can not only make you a better law student, but it can also make you a better lawyer.
Make the most of these relationships by learning about your professors and their backgrounds, ask them for feedback on your assignments, and visit their office hours.
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.