Professor Andrew McClurg has written an excellent book for the family and friends of law students and granted me permission to share excerpts with you from time to time. If you are interested, I would recommend purchasing this book. Chapter Nine is one of my favorites, and it is titled, “Eight Things to NEVER Say to a Law Student.” Excellent, excellent advice in that chapter! (By the way, if you have already said most of them, don’t worry – it happens every year. Better to get them out of the way earlier rather than later!) Today, I share these statements with my own super brief synopsis (Professor McClurg’s in-depth descriptions are much better, of course).
1. “Don’t Worry, You’ll Do Fine”
* This one is a killer! Everyone in law school made great grades prior to law school, and due to the forced curve, many law students will not make great grades in law school. If “fine” has been defined as great grades, many students will simply not “do fine.” That’s okay, of course, but saying this to a law student simply adds more pressure, which is a bad thing. If you feel the urge to say something along these lines, let me suggest a simple “I’m proud of you.”
2. “Maybe You Weren’t Meant to Be in Law School”
* This is the flip side of #1. Don’t say this either! When a student starts freaking out (notice I went with “when” and not “if” here!), don’t say #1 (more pressure!) or #2 (more freaking out!). Just love them, say you are proud of them no matter what — and gently suggest, “Why don’t you go have a talk with Dean Sturgeon?” 🙂
3. “Remember, It’s Only a Test”
* It will be frustrating for you to censor this statement because it is true, but it doesn’t “feel” like it is only a test. Therefore, saying that it is makes you seem like you do not understand and therefore are not able to be helpful. Instead (again), simply offer your support.
4. “Is That the Best You Could Do?”
* You don’t have to ask this question because I will go ahead and answer it for you. The answer is most probably yes. So, be proud of your student! Getting a B in law school is like getting an A in college. Don’t worry about letters or ranks or any other ways of understanding your student’s previous academic achievements. Let the student set the reaction to grades — if they are down, hug them and say you are proud of them (in your sad voice), and if they are excited, hug them and say you are proud of them (in your happy voice)!
And let me repeat — suggesting a little visit to Dean Sturgeon or Director Oliver is always a good option!
5. “Do You Really Have to Work on That Tonight?”
Probably the answer is Yes. On the rare occasion when the opposite may be true, from the student’s perspective, the question contributes to a sense of guilt — i.e., not only am I struggling in law school, but now I’m failing my family/friends, too! Instead, just keep up the support and look forward to winter break. Oh, speaking of breaks, a word on Thanksgiving Break. Having several days “off” so close to finals is a precarious situation. In fact, taking several days “off” so close to finals is a bad thing for academic success. Here is my advice to family and friends: Do not advise students either way on how to spend Thanksgiving Break. Instead, support whatever decision they make. If they choose to miss the family holiday, if they choose to come home but only take a day off, or if they choose to take several days off — simply lend support to their decision. And remember that winter break will come very soon. That is a real break!!!
6. “What Kind of Lawyer Do You Want to Be?”
The correct answer from students is: I don’t know. Even if students think they know, their answer is most often wrong. The problem with asking the question is twofold: (i) students grow weary from hearing the question over and over; and (ii) after a while, students begin to believe maybe they are supposed to know.
7. “Do You Have a Job Yet?”
This will mostly come later, but when it does, don’t ask it. When they do land a job, you will know. If they do not have a job secured yet, they could do without the added pressure.
8. “Have You Heard the One About the Lawyer, the Shark, and the Pornographer?”
Like most every profession, the legal profession consists of amazing people making a positive difference in the world, along with some dirty, rotten scoundrels. The general public likes to emphasize the latter, and the jokes perpetuate that perception. The jokes don’t bother everyone (including me), but they do some, and as a result, feeding your student a steady stream of the funniest lawyer jokes is generally a bad idea.
Assistant Dean for Student Life