Excerpts from My Upcoming Book, The Law Student’s Guide to Being on Call (Part I of II)

Chapter One: A Field Guide to the American Law Professor

Success while “on call” requires, as a threshold matter, an understanding of the different types of American law professors you may encounter in the field. . . .  There exist five principal species.  Each can be identified by the distinctive manner in which it calls on students, if at all.  The first three species fall within the Socratus genus; the last two occupy genera of their own . . .

The Alphabetical-Order Professor (Socratus Abcdelis): As its Latin name connotes, this species of law professor calls on students in alphabetical order.  (There also have been unconfirmed sightings of a subspecies of Socratus Abcdelis that calls on students in reverse alphabetical order.) Members of this species are relatively harmless, since their call order is simple to predict. Furthermore, once a member of this species has interacted with a student, it rarely initiates a repeat contact. WARNING: These creatures tend to grow dangerous when they encounter unprepared students. Also, if a member of this species forgets to bring its enrollment roster to class, it may mutate into the far more unpredictable Socratus Chaotis, discussed below.

The Panel Professor (Socratus Panelis): This species of professor prefers to divide its classes into several “panels,” of which only one will be on call at a given time. Like Socratus Abcdelis, there exist few reports of fatal injuries due to contacts with this species, since students can anticipate these encounters and prepare accordingly.  As with Socratus Abcdelis, the greatest danger associated with this species involves the efforts of other students to avoid them. Cases have been reported where seemingly “safe” students have been placed on call due to the sudden, unanticipated absences of several peers situated alphabetically ahead of them, or the entire remainder of a large on-call panel. For advice on how to handle an emergency situation of this type, see Chapter Eight, “Threading the Needle: Reconciling ‘Passing’ with Getting a Recommendation,” and Chapter Eleven, “How to Exit a Classroom Silently.”

The Random-Order Professor (Socratus Chaotis): Whereas Socratus Abcdelis and Socratus Panelis tend to seek out and cultivate orderly habitats, Socratus Chaotis thrives on the uncertainty created by a random calling scheme. The unpredictable behavior of this species forces students to choose among three unpalatable options: (1) full preparation for each and every class; (2) skipping all classes until the semester is at an end (a.k.a. “playing dead”); or (3) initiating preemptive contacts with Socratus Chaotis at instances of the student’s choosing, with the hope that the professor will tire of these encounters and move on to other students. Unfortunately, this last strategy fails to recognize that members of Socratus Chaotis often possess poor memories, and have been known to call on the same student at several different junctures across a semester, even as they seem to entirely forget about other students in a class.  This last point also represents this species’ saving grace; it is far more likely that a student will not be called on at all in a class taught by a Socratus Chaotis, than in a class taught by either a Socratus Abcdelis or a Socratus Panelis.

The Occasional-Question Professor (Semisocratus Spontaneosis): This species of professor does not fit neatly into either the Socratus genus discussed above, or the Verbosis genus related below. Members of Semisocratus Spontaneosis gravitate toward pure lecturing (the defining characteristic of Verbosis Oxfordis), but, in rare instances, also initiate contact with students. Typically, this interaction takes the form of spontaneous, open-ended questions that invite the careful evaluation of a complex hypothesis that the specimen has painstakingly laid out over the preceding half-hour. While these questions appear daunting, recently, scientists have developed a number of potential responses capable of application to virtually any such inquiry. Among them, “I agree with what you said earlier,” and “I agree with what you wrote on this topic” show special promise for even the most unprepared student.

The Lecturing Professor (Verbosis Oxfordis): Members of this genus fall outside of the scope of this Guide. For those of you who nevertheless wish to contribute to lectures given by this species of professor, we suggest that you check out our companion volumes, The Law Student’s Guide To Brownnosing and The Law Student’s Guide To Unpopularity.

Next: Excerpts from Chapter Four, “Stalling.”

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5 Responses

  1. Perhaps asub-speciies of Socratus Chaotis is Socratus Terroratus. I am a proud member

  2. Trudy R. says:

    I took a class from a Socratis Chaotis who called on me every class period for 9 weeks in a row. It was really annoying at the time, but it forced me to be extremely prepared for class. I could probably still tell people anything they want to know about International Shoe or the Erie doctrine.

  3. Kyle says:

    @Bill: Identifying all of the professorial subspecies would tax even Linnaeus

  4. Howard Wasserman says:

    Two more:

    1) Volunteer Professor: No cold-calling and only takes volunteers, but participation is marked as a portion of the grade, so there’s a big incentive to participate. Functionally, you’re always on call, so it may be a cousin of Random-Order Professor, but you also have a chance to pick your spots.

    2) Around-the-Room Professor: Calls on students by following the seating chart. Can get tricky by moving around different parts of the room and changing the order in which the room moves.

  5. Kyle says:

    @Howard: Thank you for providing me with additional material for the paperback edition, which will no doubt boost its sales. I promise, as one professorial paleontologist to another, to give you due credit for your discoveries.