Law school classes will always be made up of both mature, self-sufficient, well-informed people on the one hand and maybe a few childish, coddled, clueless people on the other. I’m not saying there’s no in-between grey area, of course there is. However, I’ve seen some startling behavior from several law students over the past few years, and there are some things that just need to stop.
You’re in law school to learn. Bottom line. Your job is to figure out how to be a lawyer in the best way that you can. In the process, though, you also need to conduct yourself as a grown up adult human and keep track of your own responsibilities. Really, this should all go without saying, but for those of you out there who fall into any of these patterns, listen up:
1. Stop Blaming Your Professor
You know which kinds of law students blame their professors for their bad grades? The ones who didn’t cut it for one reason or another. The bottom line is that most of the time there is a curve and students in your class will be at the top, middle and bottom of that curve. If you’re at the bottom and other people are at the middle and top, the truth is that they did things you didn’t. They prepared better, wrote better, studied better—maybe all of the above. They got the grade and you didn’t and no one cares if you hated your professor. That’s beside the point.
Professor blaming doesn’t just happen with bad grades, I see this when a student doesn’t understand the material as well. They will say things like, “well, my professor is a horrible teacher, he never explains anything.” Sorry to break it to you, but as nice as it is when professors explain things well, their job is to present the material, it’s your responsibility to figure it out if you don’t understand something. More often than not you will need to teach yourself. If you’re expecting your prof. to hand you the answers or take the initiative to ensure that you personally comprehend something, good luck, it’s not going to happen most of the time.
Another thing I’ve heard several times is critiques from students on their professor’s personal lives or personalities, as if this somehow justifies the student’s lack of understanding or weak performance. For example, I’ve heard: “my professor is such a shut-in, he has no friends or family, so he takes it out on us with is incredibly high standards.” Here’s another one: “my professor is such a nerd about the details, he doesn’t understand that no one cares about these nuances.” This kind of thinking isn’t hurting anyone but you. Furthermore, and more importantly, none of this actually matters. Your professor is the one writing the test and grading the test, so his rules are what you follow. End of story.
2. Stop Assuming Things Will Get Easier on Their Own
Nothing just “clicks” in law school unless you put in the work. The hard part, though, is that it’s not just work that’s required, you have to be doing the right kinds of work.
If you are in the middle of your first semester and haven’t learned to critically read a case so you can predict what will come up in lecture the next day, or if you’re spending hours briefing or re-reading cases, you’re just making your life harder. Plus, if you spend too much time preparing for class, you won’t have time for the deep thinking tasks required to do well on the exams—this is where the material really starts to click. When you start synthesizing, reformulating and practicing with the rules you’ve been learning, that’s when you get better at them. No amount of just sitting there reading and briefing is going to get you there.
3. Stop Failing to Do the Basics and then Wondering Why You’re Confused
I’ve had students come to me for help when it’s clear they haven’t even read the assignment yet. It’s beyond me why a person would pay to have a tutor if they’re not even going to do the basics themselves. That makes no sense. I can’t and won’t do your work for you. Not only is this unethical, it doesn’t help you learn anything.
The same things applies to going to office hours, visiting a reference librarian—any time you’re asking someone else to spend their time assisting you. If you’re going to ask for help with something, you better give it your very best shot first. Otherwise, not only will people not want to help you, but also, you’re not even trying, which frankly, is the entire point. This is about you learning, not me, not your professor, and not the librarian.
4. Stop Relying Too Much on Your Study Group
Are you ever sitting in a study group with the distinct feeling that someone or everyone understands something you don’t? Do you then write down what they say and assume it will become clear later if you just give it time? Guess what? It won’t—not unless you take active steps to clarify. Anytime anything in law school is confusing (which happens pretty frequently for most people), it’s your job to go find the information that clears up that confusion.
Remember, your study group is made up of your peers. That means that if your study group understands something that you don’t, you are already behind in your class. It’s not their job to teach it to you either. Go find the answers yourself. Give it your best shot and then go ask for help if you need it. I’m not saying study groups always know what they’re talking about. Sometimes they’re wildly off-base. Either way, though, like I said, getting the right answer is your job, so if you’re confused, don’t just rely on what they’re telling you.
5. Stop Complaining
“Law school is hard.” “I’m missing the season premier of my favorite show.” “I don’t even dress up for Halloween anymore because I have too much homework.” “I hate my professor.” “I spent my whole Spring Break outlining…” I’ve heard all of these whiny excuses. And I get it, law school can be pretty terrible sometimes, and it can feel like your social life gets put on hold. But ultimately, you signed up for this.
You’re the one who wanted to be a lawyer. If you think your schedule is packed now, try being a first-year associate at a firm. In many ways, law school is actually the fun part (hard to believe, I know). This isn’t so much because law school is such a thrilling time (obviously it’s not), but think about it this way: right now, the consequences are all on you. You don’t have a boss or clients to disappoint. If you mess up, you’re the only person who will be affected. It won’t be like that forever. Once you’re practicing law, the stakes are much higher.
And really, as you sit there feeling sorry for yourself, take a look at the world. Most of what some law students complain about are actually privileges: getting an education—especially if you don’t also have to work at the same time, having an essentially flexible schedule with no real responsibilities except for your academics. Reevaluate your perspective on things. Focus on how much you have and enjoy your last few years as a student while they last.
6. Stop Expecting People to be Nice to You
If you’re expecting the legal world to be full of warm, fuzzy opportunities to make brand new best friends and have a wonderful time being polite to each other, you’re going to be sadly mistaken. I’m not saying all lawyers are ogres—of course they’re not. However, if you think your professor or classmate or study group is bad, just realize that you may also have a boss or judge that you hate, a co-worker you can’t stand, and opposing counsel may be a nightmare.
It’s important to treat every person you come across with dignity, decorum and respect, and you need to be professional no matter what your personal opinions are about someone. Use law school as a chance to cultivate that kind of behavior. Practice taking the high road. Practice staying calm when you want to snap at someone. Be the kind of person that has a reputation for being professional even in difficult situations with difficult people. You might as well start learning this stuff now because I promise you these skills will serve you well as a practicing attorney.
7. Enough Already with the Law School Classmate Drama
Finally, stop with the feuds, fights, and vendettas. There are probably people in your section that you don’t like. This happens to almost everyone. Sometimes there’s a general consensus about the one or two gunners everyone loves to hate, sometimes a person will shoot down his or her own reputation in some pivotally disastrous way and cause people to avoid them. Whatever the reason, don’t be that student with the drama, and don’t go out of your way to make people feel bad.
Case in point: As a 1L, I happened to see a group of women in front of me in class one time start instant messaging on their laptops about another girl who had just walked into the lecture hall with a new haircut—a really smart girl by the way who totally killed it that semester. “Omg, Jen’s bangs are awful,” one of them said. “Wow, I thought her forehead was bad, but the bangs are worse,” another one responded, etc. Is this junior high or law school? People’s lives are hard enough. Don’t make them worse. And stop taking out your own insecurities about Civil Procedure on other people’s hair. I bet Jen didn’t care what people thought of her bangs when she was kicking everyone’s butts in all her classes. But that’s beside the point, even if Jen happened to fall at the bottom of her class, she doesn’t deserve to be treated like that—no one does.
So, long story short, don’t pour spaghetti on your roommate’s bed during finals because she didn’t invite you to her party (true story), don’t scream at people in the halls, don’t gossip, backbite, spread rumors and act like this is some kind of reality show, it’s not. And if you’re making fun of other people’s clothes, hair, or anything else, just ask yourself: are you really trying to be a bully? You’re making yourself look ridiculous, immature, and totally unfit for the profession you’re about to enter into. Plus, the enemies you make in law school will still be there when you graduate.
You don’t know what will happen and the legal community in most cities is relatively small. I’ve said it before, but you don’t want that person you made fun of all 1L year for tabbing their bluebook to end up being your tutor when you fail the class and have to re-take it as a 2L (yes, I was this tutor, and it was beyond awkward). You don’t want to interview for a job and find out that your superior is going to be Jen with the terrible bangs and stellar GPA.
Even if you get through law school without enemies (which you should, there’s really no excuse not to), just think of the impression you’ve made on everyone else. I’ve been asked before for off-the-record personal references about people I went to law school with and unfortunately had to say, “you know, in all honesty, that person while totally qualified, is really difficult to be around and exhibited some highly concerning behavior in law school, so I’d have to say, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t hire them.”
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