There’s a lot that’s new during the first year of law school. You’re adjusting to a new city, new friends, a new school, a new field, and a new way of studying. Many students feel that they’re the only ones having trouble balancing all of these changes while trying to ace their courses. But this isn’t true. The first year of law school is tough for everybody, even for the gunniest gunner in your section. The best way to defeat the gunner’s Jedi mind tricks is to ignore him and focus on what you need to do to learn the material.
Gunner, noun: “A person who is competitive, overly-ambitious and substantially exceeds minimum requirements. A gunner will compromise his/her peer relationships and/or reputation among peers in order to obtain recognition and praise from his/her superiors.” Urban Dictionary.
Gunners are the first to raise their hands in class. Gunners always have a lot to say when called on. Gunners use big words. Gunners seem like they know what they’re doing. But Gunners are struggling too. Gunners spend all day trying to understand a rule, just to realize that the Supreme Court has abrogated it with a more recent decision. Gunners go to sleep anxious. Gunners have nightmares haunted by Pennoyer, Shady Grove, Tarasoff, and the hearsay exceptions. Gunners worry about not doing well on the exam. Gunners are just like you.
The first year of law school is set up to create this sense of inadequacy and panic in all students, gunners, and non-gunners alike.
Nobody Knows All of the Answers in Class
No matter what you do, you will frequently answer questions in class incorrectly. The best thing you can do to settle your mind is to accept this fact of life and learn from your mistakes. Suppose you prepare for your toughest class for hours, scouring your assigned cases for the important details. When you show up to class, the professor calls on everybody in your row, one student after the other. You can answer all the other questions that the other students are getting, perhaps even better than those students. Once the professor reaches you, however, she asks the only hypothetical that you didn’t prepare the night before. You’re frustrated and feel that all of that preparation was for naught. You’re stumped and fumble your words, trying to apply what you know to this new set of facts.
You look around the room to see if anyone noticed this mishap. It’s Cyber Monday, and everybody is catching up on their online shopping. One student has forgotten his credit card number and must surreptitiously remove his card from his pocket without attracting the professor’s attention. Your professor realizes that you’re struggling with your answer, but is pleased that you stayed on point and managed some response to this difficult question. You see, she didn’t ask the gunner sitting to your left because he would have gotten nervous and droned on about something complex, but irrelevant, to make himself look smart. She wanted to see you, to struggle with the question, so that the class could learn from your mistakes. This is her job as a professor.
Everybody Is Confused by the Law
Things aren’t different for the gunner when he sits down to review the law. Once he gets his hands on a practice exam, he quickly realizes that showing off in class is not the only thing that he’s going to have to do to get a good grade in the course. The exam asks about a plaintiff named Polly and a defendant named Diana, and the professor has never mentioned Polly or Diana in class. The gunner has never even met anyone named Polly or Diana! If the gunner is diligent, he’ll spend hours with the reading, trying to wrap his head around the rules, the exceptions, the exceptions to the exceptions, the exceptions to the exceptions to the exceptions, etc. His political science degree didn’t prepare him for this. This feels more like word math.
I’m sure you feel many of the same frustrations and anxieties as our ostentatious gunner. Reviewing the law takes a lot of courage and is equally tough for all students. In order to get your summary of a rule just right, you have to refine it repeatedly. This means acknowledging over and over that what you wrote before wasn’t quite right. Nobody can be wrong too many times without getting a little upset. It’s normal and perfectly understandable to feel this way. This is just part of the law school struggle.
So, don’t let gunners get you down. They’re having a tough time just like you. They just express themselves in way that we’ll call unique. If you feel alone in law school, feel free to contact us. And if you need help preparing for law school, we’d be glad to help!
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