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1L Instruction: a Criticism from Someone Who Doesn’t Know Better

Posted by dmjstephens on November 26, 2008

I know that my professors are brilliant.  I receive instruction on a daily basis from amazing legal minds that will likely accomplish more professionally and academically than I ever will.  Their pedagogical strategies have trained thousands of competent attorneys, yet still occasionally make me uneasy.

My most accomplished professor is a genius, one of the foremost experts on the subject in the world, and a relatively nice and funny person.  Her teaching strategy, however, is extremely harsh.  Any answer even remotely deviating from what this professor is looking for is met with immediate dismissal.  Often the correct answers are being given by students, many times quite skillfully, but are not heard over the professor’s interruption because they didn’t start with the right three words.  I understand that the purpose of this is simulate the demands of a courtroom and intimidation factor of a judge.  I also get that your 1L year is sort of a mental boot camp to get you to think like a lawyer.  In this light, the strategy is quite effective.  However, I question whether the purpose of the 1L year is to teach a student the law, not how to be a lawyer.  

As a professional, I know I will look back on this class and be grateful that I was subjected to the harsh realities of the legal world so early.  As a student though, it is not so useful.  It doesn’t take a social psychologist to tell you that people are not going to participate as much in or pay as much attention to a lecture in which their earnest (and often correct) contributions are met with exasperated breaths, facepalms, and looks to the ceiling as if the instructor is praying for God himself to make these dense 20somethings understand.  So his answer was a little different than what the absolute truth.  Take him from where he is and put him on the correct path with questions and encouragement.

We’re all serious here. We’re going to pay attention and take our notes regardless of how warm and fuzzy our professors make us feel.  That’s not all there is to it though.  If a student is engaged and happy in a class, he isn’t going to dread studying.  He is going to come to office hours with questions.  He is potentially going to have a passion for the subject.  There is no passion in unhappy classrooms.  Passion is what students and lawyers need to work the hours they do and not burn out by 30.  Most great people are self motivated, but some need a spark.  No sparks are emitted in the blunt collision of 1L enthusiasm and harsh faculty.


One Response to “1L Instruction: a Criticism from Someone Who Doesn’t Know Better”

  1. Z. said

    I agree that the behavior and attitude you describe are toxic–I once came very close to failing a high school math class because the teacher’s sarcasm and disdain were so great that I just ended up getting more and more nervous throughout the year. By the end, I was having little panic episodes during every test, with my heart thumping and my whole body going into flight-or-fight mode.

    Thing is, I really don’t feel that atmosphere in the class you’re talking about. That’s certainly not the class that makes me slump in my seat out of utter hopelessness.

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