In Defense of Mr. and Ms. So-and-So

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18 Responses

  1. Marty Lederman says:

    “There is real value in carving off the class room as a social space where students are encouraged to see themselves as playing a certain role. . . . Addressing students by their last names with a Mr. or Ms. attached encourages them to think of themselves as adults engaged in an adult enterprise. More importantly, it is part of how I signal to them that I think of them as grown-ups embarked upon a profession.”

    OK, but in the “adult enterprise” upon which they are to embark following law school, virtually everyone — fellow associates, partners, paralegals, clients, opposing counsel, etc. — will call them by their first names, and not as “Ms. Smith” (the primary exception, of course, being judges in a courtroom, a setting that most students will confront only rarely, if at all, and probably not for a long while). The “role” they are about to play, in other words, does not include this particular formality.

    If your aim is truly to prepare them for the “adult” enterprise” that most students are about to join, perhaps it would be better to require them to wear a standard costume (at least in “business casual”), and to record what they learn in class every six minutes. 😉

  2. Edward Swaine says:

    Marty, I’m not sure whether I agree with you as to the default norm in the real world. If I’m dealing with opposing counsel, for example, I wouldn’t use their first names without having first been invited to do so; likewise if I’m addressing another academic (in print, I use the last name, even if I know them). Then again, I tend to bow or curtsy after meeting someone.

    You recognize that the courtroom is different, and perhaps that’s what some of the more formal professors have in mind — casting themselves as judges. That’s defensible, but my own rationale for using last names is somewhat the opposite. It’s my experience that many students are reluctant to use my first name, preferring to use my title or last name or some combo, even when I have invited them to do otherwise. I think it has to do with the prevailing default in the classroom. Anyway, given that — and the fact that I don’t feel strongly about it, and actually see some arguments in favor of formality — I then feel strange using their first names (too much like elementary school), and simply can’t handle a situation in which I call some by the first name and some by the last.

    P.S. Read nothing into the fact that I use your first name. You can continue to use “hey you” or “sonny” for me.

  3. Nate Oman says:

    I could behind a revival of the bow and the curtsey. Indeed, when I lived in Korea I got into the habit of bowing and I felt a real sense of loss when I forced myself to abandon the instinctive bend at the waist when I returned to America.

    Of course, on some days I could probably find something good to say about the code duello as well.

  4. Matt says:

    I feel your pain on the not remembering names things. When I was teaching in Russia I had two groups of students, each w/ about 10 students. Only one was male. I was saved from constant trouble in not remembering people’s names by the fact that each group had, I think, 3 Olgas, 2 Katyas, and two Natashas. I always knew I could call on one of those names and get someone I’d not just called on.

  5. Sean M. says:

    I think the best argument for using last names is that it encourages students to get used to themselves getting called by their last name. It’s something that will happen to the real world, and it’d be good not to have them react like deer in headlights when it happens.

    I admit that I have to think a minute who is being spoken to when someone refers to me as “Mr. M.”

    Personally, I think your style of using last names works well for the style of your classes: A lot more formal and Socratic than some of your colleagues.

    As for the 1L: He was probably horrified because hr realized you have a one in three chance of being his Contracts professor next semester.

  6. Dissent says:

    Here’s another reason to use — or at least know — your students’ last names:

    My daughter came home from one of her graduate seminars a few nights ago. A professor who did not know the students was the guest lecturer. At one point, he referred to a federal court case and its impact on schools in our area.

    After the lecture, my daughter introduced herself to him. As soon as he heard her very unusual last name, he gasped, “Oh my God!” The case he had been talking about was my federal court action against my son’s district.

    Fortunately, he had not said anything bad or demeaning about the plaintiffs. :)

  7. Jason Wojciechowski says:

    I’d be curious to know how Nate feels about the schools where, as a matter of culture, everyone is addressed by first name: professors, students, deans, presidents, trustees, whoever.

    I find the account given here highly conventional. Since we’re working entirely at the level of conjecture and theory anyway, is it not possible that breaking down the traditional hierarchy of the classroom will result in greater comfort for students, thus resulting in an environment where they are better able to participate and engage meaningfully in the class?

    Edward challenges Marty’s account of the real-world norm being first names by bringing up dealings with opposing counsel. But how much of one’s time is spent doing this? I would submit “not much compared to the time spent talking to colleagues, paralegals, etc.”

    I do think it’s too bad that Edward’s students don’t call him by his first name even after being invited. I never did receive such an invitation in law school after having gone to one of those colleges I refer to in the first paragraph (and having taken classes at two more schools nearby with the same ethos, at least in the department I was in). There was certainly a bit of culture shock.

  8. Edward Swaine says:

    Who you calling Edward?

    To briefly respond to Mr. Wojciechowski — whose name reminds me of a sitcom character nicknamed “Wojo,” including I’d bet to his professors . . . I don’t experiment with this much, so perhaps I have just fallen behind. For me it is mainly a point of mutual comfort. If there is a community norm running decidedly the other way, that’s fine with me.

    That said, I don’t think the preferences are entirely arbitrary, and doubt that the traditional formalism and hierarchy of the large lecture classroom will be much broken down by any naming convention. Students could use any name they wish (and undoubtedly think of a great many interesting ones), but there’s still one person trying to lead the class; I could use first or last names, but they still outnumber me and could block the exits . . . A minor point, but it’s perhaps revealing that the question on the table seems to be what naming convention the professor chooses to establish, rather than something the community elects.

  9. Nate Oman says:

    Needless to say, Mr. Wojciechowski, I am not entirely in favor of “breaking down traditional hierarchy in the classroom.” Indeed, I think that hierarchy, deference, and authority all have important roles to play in education, although they are by no means that only ingredients.

  10. David! says:

    On Marty’s joke about requiring students to make notations every six minutes: Have you ever noticed what is wholly, completely, shockingly lacking in every law school’s curriculum: a course on billing! That’s something that most students will have to do all the time, yet they learn nothing about it in law school. Curricular reform anyone? I bet a billing-based curriculum would really (1) make a splash in the media and (2) attract students.

    Just my two cents (or six mintues).

  11. Jason Wojciechowski says:

    Well, now it’s been done — I used first names and you used last names, so I feel awkward. (Speaking of last names, mine probably reminds Professor Swaine of a sitcom name because it’s the very same. It’s actually a rather common name, as lengthy Polish names go.)

    Anyway, Professor Swaine’s point about naming conventions likely not having much effect in the large lecture hall is well taken. At my undergraduate institution(s), I never had classes larger than about 20 students. While many of these classes were not really seminars in any meaningful sense, they still contained more interaction than a 120-person class (even a Socratic 120-person class) does. This allowed the lack of formality to be much more meaningful than in the lecture setting.

    Where this becomes weird in the law school setting is in small seminars. I found it odd to be in classes where the professor encouraged the idea that we were to all consider each other colleagues having discussions while a gap remained in the name-calling convention.

  12. Liz Glazer says:

    It is shocking to me that in neither this thread nor on the Prawfs thread has the issue of gender been at all discussed. I am currently working on a short essay about a section in my syllabi that follows the header, “Name-calling.” The essay bears the same title. The section reads as follows:

    I will address you by your first names. I will do this despite the prevailing practice on the part of law school faculty members to address students by a gendered title, “Mr.” or “Ms.,” followed by a student’s surname. I feel strongly that each individual should be able to choose a gendered title, rather than feel compelled to respond to a gendered title chosen by someone else. Because I call on individuals during class without prior notice, I will not have the opportunity to determine in advance whether an individual prefers to be addressed by a particular gendered title. If you would like for me to address you by a name other than the first name by which you are identified in Hofstra’s online portal system, please just let me know and I will happily address you by your preferred name. To be sure, because the title, “Professor,” is gender-neutral, I ask that you please abide by law school conventions in addressing me as “Professor Glazer” even though I address you by your first names.

    I wonder if anyone has given thought to the gendered aspect of name-calling in the law school classroom. Having witnessed (as a law student) professors call on women as “Mr.” so-and-so, this was a policy I resolved to implement as a law teacher.


  13. david says:

    Well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man. I insist that my students address me as The Dude, The Dudester, or El Duderino.

  14. paul Horwitz says:

    If I may blow our horn, Jay’s post over at Prawfs has spawned an interesting and civil discussion in the comments section, building on the same comment that Liz posted here.

  15. Jimmy says:


    I think it is the best way to encourage the students call them by their last name.Mrs So- and-so’s chemotherapy is going, how Mr X died. the amount of mental energy that is invested in maintaining defence mechanisms.


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  16. Jimmy says:


    I think it is the best way to encourage the students call them by their last name.Mrs So- and-so’s chemotherapy is going, how Mr X died. the amount of mental energy that is invested in maintaining defence mechanisms.


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  17. Jimmy says:


    I think it is the best way to encourage the students call them by their last name.Mrs So- and-so’s chemotherapy is going, how Mr X died. the amount of mental energy that is invested in maintaining defence mechanisms.


    connecticut drug rehab

  18. Jimmy says:


    I think it is the best way to encourage the students call them by their last name.Mrs So- and-so’s chemotherapy is going, how Mr X died. the amount of mental energy that is invested in maintaining defence mechanisms.


    connecticut drug rehab