The Legal Beat
10 Things That Will Absolutely Piss Off Your Law Professor
Posted on Monday August 21, 2017
- Being unprepared for class
There is a difference between being unprepared for class and being prepared but confused. Your professor knows the difference, trust me. This is one of the fastest ways to aggravate your professor. Not only are you wasting your money, but you are also wasting everyone’s time. A student reminded me the other day that “no one remembers if you get a question wrong, but everyone remembers when you are unprepared.”
- Monopolizing the class
Participating in class is great. I highly recommend it. As a professor, there is nothing worse than asking a question and then staring out at a sea of blank faces. Class time is a give and take of information, and we value your responses. However, you want to be careful that you are not completely taking over the class. This can create an uncomfortable situation where your professor may have to call you out on the behavior and your classmates will start to resent you. It is wonderful that you are eager and prepared, but make sure you are not making it difficult for other students to participate as well.
- Arguing with them
Note, I didn’t title this tip “don’t have your own thoughts” or “don’t disagree.” It is expected that you will form your own thoughts and opinions on the cases you read and the law that you learn. However, I strongly suggest you avoid getting into an argument with your professor during class. The fact is you aren’t taking “torts” or “contracts.” You are taking “torts according to Professor Smith” and “contracts according to Professor Jones.” This means that, ultimately, what your professor says is the law, IS the law.
Telling your professor that he or she is wrong in front of the entire class, won’t garner you much favor (with your professor or your classmates) and won’t accomplish much by way of changing their mind. If you truly think your professor said something incorrect, the better way to approach it is to go to their office hours and tell them that you are confused on a particular point and ask for clarification.
It pains me that this is something that I have to address. But, it happens more often than it should in law school. Since I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, I believe this generally happens when people don’t budget their time well and get themselves backed into a corner with deadlines. That is when emails magically don’t get sent, files get corrupted, and dogs eat homework. When something comes up and you are unprepared or can’t meet a deadline, it is always better to be honest with your professor and accept the consequences than to lie. When you are honest, most of the time, things can be fixed. Once you lie to a professor, you have completely ruined your professional relationship with them and potentially your entire reputation.
In case you needed another reason not to lie, it also can impact your ability to get admitted and practice law. You see, if you want to practice law, not only do you have to pass the bar exam, but you also have get admitted to the bar in the jurisdiction you wish to practice. That requires you to go through the process of a character and fitness review. If you have an honor code or ethics violation on your school record for lying, you will have to report it, and it could prevent you from becoming a lawyer.
- Not following directions
This is a personal pet peeve that I know many of my colleagues share. When we give you an assignment or an exam, we spend time crafting the instructions we want you to follow. When you don’t follow them, you make it more difficult for us to grade your assignment. It also benefits you to follow the instructions; if you don’t, you almost surely will not receive full credit.
- Being disrespectful to your classmates
Aside from being rude, it is unprofessional. Your classmates are your future colleagues. They may work at the same firm, be opposing counsel, or even the judge presiding over your case. From the professor’s perspective, it is distracting to the entire class when students get into an argument and it puts us in the uncomfortable position of playing referee.
- Using your laptop for non-class-related activities
Unless you have a level of willpower that I can’t comprehend, you will be tempted to use the internet during class to check Facebook, place a Prime order on Amazon, or scroll through some cat memes. However, you must resist the urge. I am hilarious, I know, but when you are laughing and I have not said something funny, it is obvious that you are not paying attention. This is another rude behavior, and it also hurts you. If you are distracted in class, you will miss important things that may show up on the final exam.
- Not reading the syllabus
I spend weeks writing and editing my syllabus to make it just right. I think of all the various situations that may occur or questions I may get and try to address them up front. I look at the flow of the course, the workload, and the calendar. When it is finished, my masterpiece is a clear document that sets expectations and gives a roadmap for the course. Nothing, absolutely nothing, makes my blood boil faster than a student asking me a question that can be answered by reading the syllabus.
- Eating full meals during class
To illustrate this point, I am going to share a story with you. I wish it were made up. But, it is not. One semester, I was assigned to teach a class from 6-9 p.m. I didn’t have a strict “no eating” policy as it was a long class and it met during dinner. Many of my students brought in quiet snacks or sandwiches and most ate them during the break.
One evening, however, one student rolled in 15 minutes late, carrying one of those plastic cafeteria to-go containers. He sat down, opened the container, and — I shit you not — proceeded to begin eating a full lobster meal (bib and all).
Now, because I’m simply the coolest professor ever, I diffused the situation with humor, made him stop eating, and moved on. However, on the inside, I was secretly seething with rage. A LOBSTER. It was disrespectful. If your professor has a policy about eating in class, respect it. If they don’t, use some common sense.
- Not taking advantage of office hours
This is particularly important if you are going to come to my office to complain about your grade after the semester is over. Office hours are your opportunity to get your questions answered and form a relationship with your professor. Believe it or not, we want to answer your questions! We truly don’t want you to walk the halls confused all the time (just 90% of it). It is incredibly frustrating when a student comes to see me to review a final exam and argue their grade when I haven’t seen them during office hours once all semester. Take advantage of office hours to avoid this situation and possibly avoid a less-than-stellar grade.
This list is non-exhaustive, but it is a good start to staying in your professor’s good graces. Law school is stressful, but if you make sure to keep your cool and use your common sense, you can avoid a lot of these unpleasant situations.
Kerriann Stout is a millennial law school professor and founder of Vinco (a bar exam coaching company) who is generationally trapped between her students and colleagues. Kerriann has helped hundreds of students survive law school and the bar exam with less stress and more confidence. She lives, works, and writes in the northeast. You can reach her by email at [email protected].