Category Archives: Companion Text

Book Recommendation for Family & Friends of Law Students

Cover-of-Companion-Text

For new readers who came to this blog because a friend or family member is about to start law school, let me renew a book recommendation that I make each year–for YOU, not the new law student!

Professor Andrew McClurg from the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis authored a book titled, “The ‘Companion Text’ to Law School: Understanding and Surviving Life with a Law Student.”  If you are interested in a thorough book that will be helpful from “your” perspective, then I definitely recommend this book.

Here is a description of the book from the back cover:

“Law school, as you are about to discover, is an adventure for the entire family.  It’s a life-changing experience that affects everyone involved.  The ‘Companion Text’ is designed to equip loved ones of law students – parents, partners, and other friends and relatives – with all the information and tools needed to understand and survive their student’s intrepid journey through the highs, lows, and sometimes crazy world of legal education.”

HERE is a link to the book if you are interested in purchasing it.

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Things to Never Say to a Law Student

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.

Yours,

Al Sturgeon

Assistant Dean for Student Life

The Good & the Bad

Our spring break ends today, and the final stretch run begins on Monday.  The last couple of months will pass quickly.

It is overly dramatic to use a “war zone” metaphor for law school, but the frenetic pace of the first year allows the analogy to be useful for an occasional point.  In my experience, the summer after the first year was so interesting because “after the bullets stopped flying” I found the opportunity for reflection, both on the experience and how it affected me.  Today, in anticipation of such reflection, I thought I would reach back to Professor McClurg’s book and share his lists of “the good parts of law school” (Chapter 13) and “student stressors” (Chapter 11):

THE GOOD PARTS OF LAW SCHOOL (based on surveys of Professor McClurg’s students):

  1. Friends/Camaraderie
  2. Sense of Accomplishment, Pride, and Empowerment
  3. Intellectual Stimulation and Challenge
  4. Intellectual Freedom
  5. Increased Awareness / Deeper Understanding of the World
  6. Increased Knowledge / Intellectual Transformation
  7. Socratic Method
  8. The Law is Interesting
  9. The Material is Relevant
  10. Rigor and Structure
  11. Caliber of Students and Faculty
  12. Flexible Schedule

THE BAD = STUDENT STRESSORS

  1. Uncertainty
  2. The Socratic Method
  3. Fear of Failure / Not Meeting Personal Expectations
  4. Fear of Not Understanding the Material
  5. Competitive Atmosphere
  6. The Workload
  7. Lack of Feedback
  8. Exams
  9. High Student-Teacher Ratios
  10. Debt-Load
  11. Worries About Finding a Good Job
  12. Trouble in Outside Relationships

Tips for Successful Relationships with Law Students

From Chapter 17 of Professor McClurg’s book:

  1. Be Patient (the #1 tip!)
  2. Prepare for What to Expect (not too late — reading this blog is a good way to keep preparing yourself for what is to come)
  3. Do It Together: Get Involved in Your Law Student’s Experience (another plug for this blog!)
  4. Listen to Your Student (combine with the #1 tip!)
  5. Be Supportive and Lend a Hand (your role shifts away from adviser and more toward supporter)
  6. Stay Busy / Pursue Your Own Interests (they will need space and time)
  7. Remember, This Too Shall Pass (aka, it gets better!)

What Law Students Want You To Know: “Law School Is an All-Consuming ‘Way of Life'”

Another entry from Professor McClurg‘s chapter on “What Law Students Want You To Know” emphasizes the unique nature of law school.  Here is one of the bullet excerpts from this section:

Non-law school loved ones need to understand that law school is a totally unique educational experience unlike any other undergraduate or graduate level program, and success in any other program does not necessarily mean that the student will succeed in law school.  They should understand that it is an enormous time commitment that must take priority if one is to succeed.  The loved one should understand that there is tremendous pressure that comes with an entire grade riding on one final exam.  Work cannot be delayed or done later.  A law student cannot get behind.

What Law Students Want You To Know: “Law School Makes People Competitive”

Another entry from Professor McClurg‘s chapter on “What Law Students Want You To Know” emphasizes the competitive nature of law school.  Allow me to share a well-worded excerpt from this section:

“The most important thing for loved ones to know is that law school is about competition.  It is no longer sufficient, as it might have been in undergrad, for a student to simply be prepared, she must be more prepared than all the other students.  In undergraduate school, all of the students in a course could be rewarded with As if they did the work.  This was reassuring because the requirements for success were fixed and clearly delineated.  In law school, on the other hand, students are graded against each other on the curve.  Unless she is naturally more gifted, this means that the student must work harder, more efficiently, and longer than all the other students to earn one of the few As available in a course.  When all of the students are neurotic perfectionists accustomed to getting top grades, this environment creates the perfect storm for academic brinksmanship.  This level of pressure is difficult for non-law students to understand.”

One of the concepts I hope you have heard is that Pepperdine Law claims to be different in many respects from the typical law school.  When it comes to the competitive nature of law school, that holds true in one very significant respect — instead of a cutthroat environment, Pepperdine has cultivated a collegial atmosphere where classmates tend to help one another along the way as opposed to attempting to sabotage one another’s efforts to succeed.  I am proud that this is true.  However, do not be misled into thinking that this removes the inner competitive drive that law school breeds by its very nature.  Practically every student — the naturally competitive as well as those who are not — feel this pressure to compete and to “win.”

My intent today is not to debate whether this is good or bad, healthy or unhealthy.  Instead, I simply want you  to know that the pressure is strong, and it is real.

What Law Students Want You To Know

Chapter 14 of Professor McClurg’s book is titled, “What Law Students Want You to Know.”  There are seven topics included in this chapter, and I may hit several of them with a blog post over the course of the semester.  Today, I will mention one: Law School Classes and Class Preparation Are a Different World.

To me, the most telling quote in Professor McClurg’s description of this concept is, “Going to class is like taking a test every day.”  I would add that, because students go to class multiple times in a given day, it feels like taking several tests every day.

Now, truth be told, you rarely are put “on the spot” in a law school class, but the possibility is always there, so you are constantly aware that you have to be ready.  The undergraduate experience consists of several (if not, most) classes where you can successfully hide.  Not law school.  It is a different world that requires constant, thorough preparation.

I encourage law students to take time for exercise and things unrelated to law school.  You would think this is an easy sell, but for many, it is not at all.  The ever-present need to prepare means that students often have to literally carve time out of their schedule to relax!  I hope you catch the irony — it takes work for many to relax!

I think Professor McClurg is right — that students want you to know that their new educational experience is different than anything else they have done in the past.  When your student seems consumed with law school, realize that this is a natural phenomenon.  Resist the urge to advise them to take time off (although you are on to something, they will simply think: You don’t understand!).  Instead, maybe suggest they go visit with Dean Sturgeon sometime.

Things to Never Say to a Law Student (Part 2)

Again, with credit to Professor McClurg:

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 five days “off” so close to finals is a precarious situation.  In fact, taking five 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!!!

Oh, more on this later, but if your student is not a native Southern Californian and is planning on staying in Malibu for Thanksgiving Break, he/she is welcome to come to Thanksgiving Dinner with my family.  Professor Jim Gash will be out of town for Thanksgiving, but he has graciously donated his spacious home (compared to our condo) to my family so we can host as many students as need a place to enjoy some food, football, and fellowship!

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.

Things to NEVER Say to a Law Student (Part 1)

Chapter 9 of Professor McClurg’s book is titled, “Eight Things to NEVER Say to a Law Student.”  Excellent, excellent advice there!  I’ll share half of them today 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!

Book Recommendation

When I decided to go to law school, I went to Barnes & Noble and picked up a book on the subject.  It turned out that there were many.  I probably should have done a little research to discover what was considered the best book on law school, but as my wife will confirm, I am a cheapskate, so I just snagged the most affordable (aka: cheapest) book on the shelf.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a book existed just for the family and friends of law students?  Surprisingly, there is one.  Professor Andrew McClurg from the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis authored a book titled, “The ‘Companion Text’ to Law School: Understanding and Surviving Life with a Law Student.”

I told Professor McClurg about my idea to have a blog for the family and friends of our law students, and he graciously granted permission to use excerpts from his book from time to time.  If you are interested in a thorough book that will be helpful from “your” perspective, then I definitely recommend this book.

Here is a description of the book from the back cover:

“Law school, as you are about to discover, is an adventure for the entire family.  It’s a life-changing experience that affects everyone involved.  The ‘Companion Text’ is designed to equip loved ones of law students – parents, partners, and other friends and relatives – with all the information and tools needed to understand and survive their student’s intrepid journey through the highs, lows, and sometimes crazy world of legal education.”

HERE is a link to the book if you are interested in purchasing it.  Up to you, of course – I will be highlighting parts of the book on this blog here and there.

 

 

NEWS & NOTES:

1. Our faculty, deans, and directors will be at a retreat in Westlake, California, today in anticipation of the new school year!  We are excited!

2. I hope your students enjoy this last day of freedom (although the prison metaphor is a bit much!).  Maybe they will go to the beach or do a little sightseeing – or maybe just relax!  The fun starts tomorrow, and we will keep them rather busy for quite some time.