What Should You Take Notes on When Your Professor Won’t Discuss the Law?

Note taking in law schoolAt some point in your law school experience, you’re likely to encounter a professor who — brilliant though he or she may be — just isn’t that interested in discussing “the law.” Sure, they’ll go on for hours about their pet theory of justice, or an esoteric research problem they’re working on, but good luck getting them to explain how Rule 4(k)(2) works.

This can be a frustrating scenario. (After all, you are paying for LAW school.)

Chances are good they’re not going to change their teaching style (hooray, tenure), but you can develop some coping mechanisms.

Handling Professors Who Don’t Teach “The Law”

With the right mindset, all is not lost.

  • First things first — don’t assume that your exam won’t be a classic issue spotter. Students often think that professors who don’t like to talk about the black-letter law don’t like to test the black-letter law. Bad assumption! Even the most esoteric law professors tend to give issue spotter exams. Why? Because they’re easier to grade on a curve. Before you decide you don’t need to learn the black-letter law in a course, look at some old exams from this professor. You’ll probably be surprised what you find.
  • Try to follow what your professor is saying, and write down the key points. Let’s operate on the assumption you’re going to have to teach yourself the black-letter law. Does that mean you can stop going to class, or stop listening? No, because there’s a good chance what your professor’s talking about has something to do with the course material. If the professor spends an entire semester discussing different theories of justice, do you think you might want to work some of these into your exam answer? I’m gonna go with yes. Even if you think class is a pointless waste of time, go and take notes on what’s discussed. You can figure out how to use it later.
  • Pretend you’re interested in what your professor is talking about. When class gets really frustrating, consciously pretend to be interested in the topics your professor is going on about. You can even say to yourself, “My, what an interesting question to discuss.” This sounds silly, but it can put you in a better mindset for really listening to what’s going on. Developing your legal curiosity is important (after all, most questions you’ll research in your career aren’t inherently all that exciting). So think of this class as a good place to practice!
  • When all else fails, just start reading a commercial supplement or old outline before class. Much of the frustration from this type of professor stems from feeling like you just don’t get it. You did the reading, but now you’re not even talking about it in class, so who knows if you really understood it. You can alleviate some of this frustration by reading a good hornbook, old outline, or commercial supplement before class. You’re probably going to have to teach yourself “the law” anyway, so you might as well get started!

And, one final tip: Go to office hours! You’ll sometimes find that the professors who are most esoteric in class are actually happy to discuss “the law” during office hours. Maybe it’s some weird reward for students who go visit them in office hours. Take advantage! Go talk to your professor and get something out of it!

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