November 5, 2018

Visiting Law School Professors Office Hours

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Well, well, well. If it isn't finals, sneaking up right after you thought you were safe from midterms. Sucks, right? Yeah, in case you haven't noticed, "this sucks" is a general theme of law school and like you've probably noticed, it won't get easier from here but you're just going to get used to it now. If you're stressing about the idea of finals looming in, take this moment to take a breath and calm down but then resist the urge to run away from your responsibilities and finish this post. For my sake at least so I don't feel like a loser who makes blog posts that no one reads lol :) 

Anyways, let's talk about midterms real quick (and not the elections haha). Let me first acknowledge that most of you did worse than you were expecting. That's okay! It's rare to do well on your first law school test, and it's even rarer that anyone actually thought they did well and also happened to do well on it. It's just part of the fun, self-esteeming boosting method of law school 🙃 

So, when I was a 1L the ABA was just starting to recommend midterms because as you might've heard in the news, law school performances are all over the place and the ABA thought it might be nice for schools to realize that all of their students are struggling hard core before they're one final grade. I know midterms suck, but be grateful for them!!! Yeah you probably did bad. Remember how I failed one of mine? It's better to find out you were failing before the big test than in January when you find out you're on academic probation! This is a scrimmage game to help you see where you're killing it and where to improve. How do you know these things? Well, my friend, please refer to the title of this post!

Related: The time I almost dropped out of law school

Call ahead

Not literally, but do give your professor a heads up. It's not a great plan to just show up willy nilly at office hours expecting to get anything out of it. First off, there's a whole class full of people with the same intentions as you. You're not going to get to talk with your professors about their personal suggestions on how you could be an A student if there's 10 other people in their office trying to do the same. Second off, professors have a life and job outside of office hours so you don't want to be rushed trying to review the answer key before your professor kicks you out because he has another class in 10 minutes.

This is a very critical step in beating law school, so don't rush through this. Email your prof ahead of time and schedule a time to meet with them. You're an important ray of sunshine and you deserve a full hour (or however much they schedule it for) and deserve their full, undivided attention. I know that some professors will just be like just stop on by during office hours and if that's the case then fine, but don't just assume that and at least first try to get the solo VIP treatment that you deserve.

No matter the grade, GO

Luckily for the purposes of this blog, I've been through it all— from surprising myself with better-than-expected grades to embarrassing myself with WTFFFFF went wrong grades. Even if you got an A+ you still need to hop off your high horse and go see the professor about your test. Why? Because they is always room for improvement in the legal field. That's why it's called practicing law. Be a learner, not a knower! Trust me, even the top scorer from a T14 school has tons of room for improvement because you are far from being a qualified attorney. 

On the flip side, yep it's embarrassing as hell to participate in class and put forth all your effort and get a disappointing grade. Lick your wounds because I know it hurts. But, my dear, that is the way of the law. Every single person in this profession has thought they killed a cold call, exam, motion, trial, and ended up looking like an idiot. Anyone who says otherwise is a damn liar. So have a little comfort knowing you're not the only one who has messed up and take it from me that you can turn this semester around. Your mission (that you have no option of "should you choose to accept" because it's your future on the line, nbd) is to figure out your strengths to keep those up for next time, and figure out your weaknesses to strengthen up for next time.

Approach it with a game plan

Don't just come in and expect your professor to do all the work. Remember, this is law school so the hand holding pretty much ended at orientation. Take a notebook with you and find out these answers while you're there:

What was a model answer? Either from last year's final or a sample of one of your classmates of what they like to see.
Where was I the weakest at? Most 1Ls have a problem of stating a conclusion without backing it up (using "because" in their analysis). But some have a problem of missing the issue completely so their whole response is off. Some have problems articulating their arguments. And sometimes you just flat out didn't know the rule. 
What is one of my strengths? Find out the best one or two things you did on that paper, and learn how to improve them. This can help you go from getting 2 points on the conclusion to 3 points and all these 1 extra points can help you when it comes to the curve. Remember, no matter how great you are there's still room for improvement!

Multiple Choice
What areas of the law am I missing the most? (example, for Torts I somehow forgot that intentional torts existed and answered all of my questions based off negligence)
What type of questions am I missing the most? (do you know the rule but are missing the issue, spotting the issue but missing the rule, getting confused in the facts, missing double negatives in answers)
Are there any old tests I can review? What supplements do you recommend?
Why am I missing these questions? This is more for you to consider because a professor probably won't know. (were you rushing through it and will need to work on timing, are you misapplying rules because you don't know them well, are there similar rules that you're getting confused) 

Related: How to prepare for different law school test questions

Shoot your shot

This will not work for most professors, but like the heading says, shoot your shot. Come in with your outline (or schedule this later for time concerns) and ask your professor to look over it. Are you being too broad with the concepts and missing points by leaving out the details? Are you too hyper-focused on minute details that you're slowing yourself down? Don't ask them to edit your outline for you, but just ask if they think you're adequately studying the material.

This can actually be a major help for you if your professor is willing to do this. If you're zoomed too much out or in and they can help you with this, then you can improve your studying for the final. If your professor isn't up for this, try to have them steer you in the right direction for help, like to a tutor. And if you don't get this, still reach out to an upperclassmen who did reasonably well in this class with this professor and knows what they're looking for. Making your own outline is super helpful when studying, but also nerve-wrecking because you never know if you're doing enough or too much, and this is how you find out that answer. Remember, you never get what you don't ask for! 

Be professional nice

Hi do I sound like your mom yet? But for real, take this piece of advice seriously. I've felt and seen everything from walking in all hot because you just aced the test to wanting to cry because you're sucking it up to wanted to yell because you just can't believe you did that poorly. Resist all these urges. Go out with your classmates for drinks and get your emotions out before you even email your professor about your test.

This person in front of you has a lot of power, but it's easy to forget that. If you want a job next summer or a scholarship next semester, the person you're going to right now might be just the person to help you out through a little thing called a rec letter. And if you show up prepared and work with them on improving yourself, then maybe you'll be in a prime position to take them semester after semester and go from getting a B to a B+ to an A- and wow hello good GPA. Beyond that, remember that your professors are still remembers of the legal community and likely have a million lawyer friends (because no one else will put up with our lame law jokes) and can recommend you for a job or hook you up with a mentor later on. Basically, just remember to be strategic with your moves in law school because you're building up your reputation and career opportunities right meow.

Look, I know that visiting professor's office hours seems like one of those things that everyone says to do but you don't actually do it... but DO IT!! It's one of those things that feels like it'll be really awkward and embarrassing at first but then once you do it, you're sooo glad you did! Oh and once you go, make it a personal mission to go again at least once more and no later than 2 weeks before the final.

What's the most helpful question you've asked (or wish you would've asked) during office hours? And how often do you actually go to office hours? Let me and all your fellow law students know in the comments! 

let's be friends!

October 8, 2018

How to Ask a Professor for a Law School Application Recommendation Letter

How to ask for law school letters of recommendation. When to ask for law school letters of recommendation. How to ask a professor for a recommendation letter. How to ask for a recommendation letter for law school. Mistakes to avoid when asking for law school recommendaiton letters. When to ask for a law school rec letter as a freshman. When to ask for a law school rec letter as a sophomore. When to ask for a law school rec letter as a junior. When to ask for a law school rec letter as a senior. How to choose a professor to write a rec letter for you. How to ask a professor to write a rec letter for you. What goes in a law school rec letter. Is a recommendation letter required for law school? Do law schools require letters of recommendation? law school advice. law school tips. |

Hellooooo! To all you 0L's out there, application time is coming up! I have actually had to ask for application rec letters twice since I had to get some for when I originally applied and then again when I transferred and I know they can be a pain, but you have to do them for your application. Today I'm walking you through a step-by-step process of how to get a great rec letter.

Related: Law school admissions timeline

Freshman - Junior year

Ideally you'll start on this sooner rather than later because it just makes it easier on yourself. I wouldn't really worry too much about this your freshman year because you're still adjusting from high school and usually end up taking lots of basics your first year of college, but if the opportunity presents itself definitely take it! If you're like me and like to overthink and have a game plan, here's what I would do. Obviously you want to be aiming for B's and A's in all of your college classes because you're going to want a good GPA when you apply to law school so step one would be the obvious of plan on doing great in all of your classes. 

About once a month, visit your professors office hours so he/she can get to know you. A head's up email to them is always polite but you definitely can just drop by during their office hours. If you have class or our busy during their office hours, you can instead email them and set up a time. This is a great time to make sure you're fully caught up and understanding what's going on in class to help you get those good grades, but it doesn't have to be a full-on study session. A quick 10-minute drop by just to ask a question or get clarification is enough to get a rapport going with your professor. During these office hour times, it is great to casually mention something like how you especially want to do good in their class because you hope to go to law school or somehow find a way to plug in law school.

As the semester progresses, you might notice that some professors are just not a perfect fit for you that probably wouldn't be your best bet to ask for a rec letter, and that's okay. Hopefully you'll find at least one professor who you really click with, are doing great in their class, and you think they would have the time eventually to write you a fabulous rec letter. At the end of the semester you could sign up to take another one of their classes so you can continue on building this relationship (if it works with your schedule) or if you don't think you'll be seeing them in class again then you can go ahead and ask them if in a year or two they'd be willing to write you a letter.

Keep repeating every semester until you graduate! Number 1 this will help you have great grades because you're putting in more-than-average effort into this class. And number 2 it's always great to have a stash of available professors for rec letters! Some may be willing to now but then get busy or move before you need them (or even say no) so it's best to have more than you need. Plus you can always use these recommenders for things like scholarships or program applications too!

Senior year

If you waited until the last minute to ask for rec letters, don't worry you're not totally screwed!  Sit down with a copy of your transcript and look back on what classes you did the best in. Remember that law school is a graduate school so ideally your rec letter will sing your praises as a law student, and someone can't exactly do that if you barely got a C in their class. Then go through this list and think back to your relationship with your professors and pick the top 6 (remember it's always better to have more for backups) that you really got along with and schedule a time to come visit their office hours. Some people to look at our professors from classes where you participated in a lot (for me these tended to be smaller classes) or people who were a faculty advisor for something that you were involved in.

One important thing for finding a recommender no matter what year of college you ask for it— choose the person not the class! I mean obviously if you did well in business law or any college class that was taught by a lawyer then they will really be able to know if you're law school material or not and talk on that. But seriously, if you got along way better with your Anthropology professor than you did with your PoliSci professor, pick the Anthropology one! Law schools won't weight one professor over another just because of what class it was. They're looking for some reassurance that you're a great learner who will be able to survive a studious workload, and they don't really care which professor is saying so. 

Anyways, stop by as soon as possible for a little reunion. Since some professors have literally hundreds of students each semester, you're probably going to have to remind them of who you are. Remind them what class you took with them and in what year, and what grade you got. It would be helpful if you had a graded paper or test by them to bring with you to help jog their memory or at least show how you performed in their class so they don't feel like you want them to make up parts of their letter. Ask them if they'd be okay with writing a letter and then schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss the rec letter if you're running out of time or go in to your request right then and there.

Asking for the rec letter

First off, make an appointment with your professor for when you ask them to write a rec letter for you. I think it's much more polite and professional to ask for a rec in person rather than in email. Do this ideally at least a month before you need the letter because you don't want to be cut-off halfway because they already had plans with another student or professor. Take this time to make sure that they understand 1) that they're writing this rec letter for law school; 2) why you want to go to law school; 3) why you want them in particular to write a letter for you; 4) how they will have to go to LSAC and upload their rec letter; and 5) a due date 2 weeks before you actually want to have the letter in (because they get busy).

On the day you go to ask your professor with a rec letter, make sure you bring a copy of your law school application resumé with you! It'll help your recommender know even more about you and why you would make a great law student so they can mention some of that in their letter. This can be longer than your law school resumé if you have even more involvement, accomplishments, or anything else that you think might be helpful for them to think about as they're writing your rec letter. Oh, and definitely make sure you have your GPA on it because at first I didn't have that but then had a professor ask for it.

If you have good grades and feel comfortable showing these to your professor, it's okay to print off a copy of your transcript. This way you can talk to your professor and point out some of your other strong areas. So if in my example above you're asking your Anthropology professor to write a rec letter but all your work in that class was multiple choice quizzes and tests, you could point out if you've been getting good grades in writing classes so that they know you're also a good writer. They might not end up needing/using this information, but it's nice to have a little packet all ready for them to make it easier on them to write a great and compelling letter for you.

Last tips

One tip I have for all law school applicants is choose quality over status! I know this post has been all about professors, but really you can ask a wider variety of people for rec letters. But I have heard over and over again about how political figures in your community or who you have interned for tend to have a rec letter template that is completely generic and used for you and the 3 people who also asked for a rec letter that same day. And partners at a big law firm that you interned for over the summer are usually just as busy and sometimes have a member of their staff write something about you for them, which again will probably a little generic. If this person did not get to personally know you, don't waste your time. The ideal rec letter would be enough that it could convince the ad com committee that they just have to admit you to their school. Sure, they probably won't based off only this one letter, but it definitely won't help.

Don't procrastinate and stay on top of your due dates! Remember that these people have full-time jobs and most likely a family, too. They're busy and have papers to grade, conferences to attend... you get the point. You want to be able to give them enough time to write the rec letter because it's just really rude to ask them to do you a favor, but then be demanding that they set aside their entire life to do you this favor right now since you waited until the last minute. If you haven't heard back from them for a few weeks after you asked, you might want to send a follow-up email reminding them of your highlight points and due dates. Basically enough information that they could quickly type something out on their phone right then before they go to bed.

Do as much work for them as possible! After you leave their office, go to LSAC and register them as a recommender (here's how to do that). Fill out as much as you can and have it all ready for them just in case they decided to upload your letter that day. You probably still can't navigate around LSAC that easily, so imagine how confusing and frustrating it would be for someone who has maybe never even heard of LSAC. Remember that you're the one asking them for the favor, so try to make to make it as easy as possible for them so they don't end up regretting it. Especially because you never know if you'll need them to write you another rec letter in the future.

let's be friends!