On Advice to Students
Recent, evergreen*, discussions of the unique characteristics of law school pedagogy have been illuminating of different professors’ perspectives on student-faculty relationships. But they have suggested, I think, that professors only need one hammer to confront all of the nails that come before them. This is wrong, generally, and in a specific application: first-year law students demand special pedagogical treatment.
The issue was brought home to me today by a group of first-year students with whom I had lunch. One said, more or less, the following: “I’ve heard that you are much different, and friendlier, to upper-division students who come to office hours, than to us. Why is that?”
My response, more or less (and shorn of verbal tics) was:
“Because the message I give them is one they like to hear. First, I congratulate them on the fruits of their labor: new and exciting professional opportunities. Or second, I commiserate with them about the bitter dregs, and talk to them about how to strategize in pursuing a fulfilling career. In either case, the subject is usually personal and tailored to the student. While the message I give first years is always the same: work harder.”
That is, in my view the dominant solution to all professional questions asked by first years is to study. No networking opportunities reasonable available to first year students are worth giving up study time. Nor is job hunting worth a lick’s worth of time before February. Nor, in the final analysis, is developing a surfeit of new friends in the first semester. Indeed, I doubt there are many practicing lawyers or professors who look back on their first year and say: “boy, I wish I had worked less hard.” (I heard a contrary tale once from Roberto Unger, but his exceptions prove many rules.)
But perhaps this approach is too hard core for some. What do you think? If you were advising first-year, first-semester law students, are any professional development activities worth the opportunity cost in study time?
* Evergreen: Blawg posts that will continue to generate hits into the foreseeable future, based on long-tail demand. For an article about evergreen music albums, the industry that first exposed me to the term, see here.
* * FYI, the image on the left is of Ann Althouse, studying for her last law school exam.