I’m the first to admit I didn’t take enough advantage of professors’ office hours in law school. I didn’t like to study at the law school, instead preferring to commute back and forth (fortunately, an easy 10 minute bike ride) between home and school for class. Working in a visit to office hours felt like an insurmountable hurdle, but I was only hurting myself with this philosophy. Fortunately, I was able to build strong relationships with professors through other means: clinic, research assistantship, and directed readings, but I still regret not taking more advantage of office hours.
Why? Big picture, I wish I’d taken more opportunities to use office hours to identify professors whose values I felt resonated with my own, and whose advice and perspective I might be able to reach out for as I weighed career choices, moves, and research ideas. When I faced hard professional choices, I wish I’d had a broader network of experience to reach out to for advice. But on a smaller scale, I think I would have been able to approach studying for exams with less frustration if I’d taken more advantage of office hours (I remember a particularly harrowing semester of property that did not need to be harrowing at all!).
For anyone trying to take better advantage of office hours, here are six ideas:
1. Go with a Specific Question
If you are struggling or confused about something in class, go with a specific question in mind. More specific than “Can you explain personal jurisdiction to me?” Try to articulate what you don’t understand, and enough of what you do understand of the related material for the professor to be able to know where to start the discussion. For example, explaining that you understand that International Shoe established the modern test for personal jurisdiction, requiring a court find “minimum contacts.” However, you are having trouble understanding what that means in practice — could your professor walk you through some examples?
2. Still go even if you can’t Articulate a Specific Question
It is preferable to go to office hours with a specific question — it is easier for your professor, and you’ll probably get more out of it. But if you are struggling in the class and, even after sitting down with your notes and outline, you can’t articulate a specific question, don’t let that stop you from visiting office hours! Professors generally prefer you to visit them with general confusion earlier in the semester rather than later (it’s much easier for them to help identify the issues as well as strategies to help you early on).
3. Go to Talk about Research (yours or your Professor’s)
If you are interested in conducting legal research on a specific topic, or if you learn a professor is working on something you find particularly fascinating, use office hours to talk about the topic (How did you get interested in the topic? What did you find particularly interesting, and can they recommend books or classes that would allow you to explore that further?). Depending on the outcome of the meeting, it could lead to working as a research assistant in the future, doing a directed reading, or it may give you an idea you develop into a law review article. But even if it doesn’t lead to any of those, it could just be an interesting conversation that keeps you excited to be studying law, and that’s valuable on its own!
4. Go to talk about Careers
The old joke that law school is like an escalator is funny (and painful) because there’s truth to it. Law schools direct students towards OCI and law firms, and jumping off that career path can be daunting (and difficult). But some professors, especially those who have had careers outside of academia can be great resources to help you understand career options. They can also be helpful in weighing the pros and cons of clerkships.
5. Set up a Meeting to Incentivize Yourself
For professors who schedule individual meetings, and even those who have drop-in hours, you can schedule a meeting or send an email saying you’ll be dropping by at a specific time to impose an artificial deadline on yourself. Commit to outlining a certain portion of material before a meeting so that you can bring questions about it to your meeting. Or commit to completing a practice problem or exam to ask questions from.
6. Go to Establish Relationships
Visiting office hours is a great way to help professors know who you are, but it is also an opportunity for you to better know your professors. Might this be someone you want to take a clinic with at some point? Someone you want to work for as a research assistant? A few conversations at office hours can be helpful in making these decisions. Building relationships with professors can also be helpful when it comes time for requesting letters of recommendation, referrals for jobs, suggestions for article topics and more.
Your interactions with professors should not be thought of in purely utilitarian terms, but it can nonetheless be helpful to be a reminder of the benefits when trying to prioritize visits to office hours. The time can certainly be worth it!
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.