Monday, February 28, 2011
21 – Why Some Students Fail to Succeed in Law School
Why Some Students Fail to Succeed in Law School
I often hear from students who are not or who have not “made grades” in law school and who will be or have been academically dismissed. I understand the devastation and the heartbreak that most students feel – and the embarrassment. I was not always the best law student, but I used a lot of what follows, and it worked out pretty well.
For some students, law school is easy. For many students, law school is “doable.” For some students, law school is just not for them. It is not where they should be.
Faced with being academically dismissed, it is difficult to sort through these categories. One’s ego or poor self-perception often will take over and lead to the wrong conclusion. I want to encourage you, if you are in this position, not to, too quickly arrive at a wrong conclusion. Take some time before you judge yourself. Look at your options for the future and prepare to move on. One never knows what the future holds. I believe that things happen for a reason, and that years later, one can see what he has and who he is that is positive – see things that he would never give up now, even IF she could change the past. Sure there is a nagging sense of loss or failure. Most everyone feels that way over something. Don’t let that rule your life.
Maybe you will decide that law school just wasn’t for you, but I believe most students fit in the category that law school was doable, but for whatever reason, “I just didn’t get it done.”
The purpose of this article is not to bemoan what has happened and try to analyze all of that, but rather to catch “I’m not getting it done” before you reach the point of academic dismissal looms in your future or reached the point of no return. For those of you who are too far down that road though, please accept my encouragement to move on in life’s great adventure. There are many alternate pathways to take that will lead to a life well-fulfilled.
Now, for those of you who are early enough in your law school life, let’s try to figure out what to do. If law school is easy for you and/or you are doing well, you can still read on. The following may help you, too.
1. See if you can honestly place yourself in one of my first two of three categories. I don’t think my categories are magical or profound. There are certainly other ways to categorize and there may be a number of steps between my categories that many people can see. What I would like to express to you is that for most people, law school is doable. So, don’t give up. The key is being honest and to set appropriate expectations. Most people don’t ace law school. In fact, in my judgment, law schools who allow many students to ace law school may be “dumbing down.” There is a lot of financial pressure on law schools and law professors to keep students matriculating from IL to 2L to 3L to 4L. There may be social and political pressure as well. I don’t want to castigate those schools. That pressure exists everywhere. I feel it myself, from time to time, though I am fortunate that my law school has never pressured me to raise my grades. Our approach is always “How can we get students to perform better? What can WE do to get students to perform better?” I don’t condone the dumbing down due to financial, social or political pressure. I’m just saying that I understand it and sympathize with it. But, first steps first: Can you conclude that law school is doable or that law school may not be easy, but you are doing well and want to do better? If so, set appropriate and reasonable expectations.
2. Determining appropriate and reasonable expectations is not necessarily establishing how smart you are. Determining appropriate and reasonable expectations is being practical, logical and wise. Do some investigation. Has anyone in the history of your school every received a grade of 100? If so, how often does that happen? If not, you are being impractical, illogical and unwise to expect that you will be the lone exception. If a grade of 100 is given all of the time, personally, I would be skeptical of the school. If it is given sparingly, to the most exceptional students, then you will have to ask yourself “Am I this most exceptional student?” If not, receiving a grade of 100, or at least most grades of 100, is not an appropriate and reasonable expectation. Of course, this line of appropriate/reasonable expectations’ thinking does NOT mean you should not do your very best – you SHOULD do your very best. The point is, if you set appropriate and reasonable expectations and if you exceed those expectations, you can be proud. If you meet those expectations, you can be pleased. Under these circumstances, if you do not meet those appropriate and reasonable expectations, the issue is not that you are stupid. The logical conclusion is that you did not apply yourself well enough or you have not been successful at learning and/or applying the proper techniques and patterns to legal studies. If this is the case, then you can focus on techniques and study habits for improvement.
3. Let’s assume that you have established appropriate and reasonable expectations and you have not met those expectations. If you have followed the first two steps, above, then you will need to work on techniques and study habits. Of course, you may need to go back and modify steps one and/or two and try again. You may need to give yourself a swift kick and quit messing around.
I would like to refer you back to the beginning of my blog under the topic of “Succeeding in Law School.” There are some suggestions there for improving techniques and study habits. If that is confusing, drop me an email and we’ll see what we can work out.
Most students have high aspirations for law school and the career that would follow. I don’t doubt that. Most students, in my opinion, can make it in law school, even if they never come close to the Dean’s List or Law Review. There are many things that get in the way of a legal education. You may have family, social or employment obligations. You may have medical challenges. You may have a whole host of these issues and you may have to make some difficult decisions.
I think you should sit down right now and list all of the obligations and challenges that you have – all of those things that take your time and energy (except don’t put law school on the list and don’t make any judgments – yet). In fact, talk with family and friends and ask them what THEY think are your obligations and challenges. Include all of these things to your list. Then, you should prioritize everything on your list. Take some time with this. Review it every day for a brief time until you are comfortable with the list. If you are having trouble with the list, make a copy of a professional calendar or make one yourself from scratch. Use something that has fifteen minute (or shorter) intervals. Keep track of everything you do. Do that for a week and then you will be able to sit down and see on what it is that you spend your time. You should be able to use that calendar to help form your list.
I used to do this for myself, though I don’t think I have to at this point. I could see very clearly where I was losing valuable time on unimportant matters. I have advised a lot of people over time to do this. They have all told me how valuable was this exercise, and they were amazed at their wasted time.
Don’t confuse rest time or time playing with the kids or talking with your spouse or friends with waste. These things are perfectly valid use of time. On the other hand, some or all of these things may be excessive. For instance, I like watching TV. It allows me to “veg out.” I can shut down my mind for awhile, laugh or think about “who done it.” I like to sleep a little more now days than I used to sleep. But, if my time is limited, these are areas where I can save time. You’ll have to use your best judgment to know where you can save some time. Be careful with this. Kids and spouses can be irrevocably broken if neglected. Watching TV or talking on the phone tends not to hurt people. However, keep in mind “moderation in all things.”
At any rate, once you have determined your priorities from your list, now – not before this – you can place law school in the appropriate spot on your list. Once you have done this, it is time to face the music. The question is, “Based upon my priorities and the time involved for the main priorities, do I realistically have the time to make law school doable?” If so, then “get crackin.” If not, it may be time to bail.
Let me know where I am wrong and why. Let me know what you would add or delete. Perhaps I can use that to further help law students.
© 2011. Douglas S. Holden. All Rights Reserved.