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Evolution of the Professor/Student Relationship

3L at Temple Law

As a first year law student I was incredibly intimidated by most of my professors. While I was lucky to have professors who were more brilliant than terrifying, it’s hard to not be reduced to a ball of anxiety when faced with rapid fire cold call questions about the Rule of Perpetuities. As a third year student, I am now able to look back fondly at how my relationship has evolved with a number of professors. I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from these individuals, first in the classroom, and now as a mentee/ advisee.

In my first semester I sought out advice on how to improve my writing from my Legal Research and Writing Professor. A graduate of Temple Law, this professor clerked and worked as legal director for a public interest organization prior to returning to the law school to teach. My initial questions about the CRExAC format (or CREAC depending on your professor) turned into questions about how to pursue a career in public interest and what it was like to clerk. During my second and third years, I continued to regularly meet with this professor and discuss the ups and downs of law school, as well as how to work towards my ultimate goal of a career as a public interest lawyer.

When I decided to apply for clerkships, this professor, and another for whom I had worked as a research assistant (the same professor with the daunting questions about the Rule Against Perpetuities), wrote me letters of recommendation. Both professors had clerked and provided invaluable advice for my writing sample, cover letter and interviews. When I told the professors I received a clerkship, we celebrated the news together. The accomplishment was ostensibly mine, but was achieved in large part thanks to their generously donated time and support.

As a second and third year student I have relied on professors I know and respect for advice in a wide variety of areas. We have discussed networking, selecting classes, clinical opportunities, working with authors as an editor on law review, and the ongoing struggle of life-work balance. In the first year and a half of law school I was so focused on understanding the class material and grades that I did not realize how incredibly helpful my professors could be in conquering areas of law school beyond their respective classes.

In my last semester I am working as a research assistant for a professor whose class I took and thoroughly enjoyed in the fall. I now feel far more confident speaking to a respected expert in their field than I ever would have thought possible as a first year student. It’s evident how significant the evolution is in the student-professor relationship when I realize I am now comfortable casually talking about my career goals and life after law school with a professor whose scholarship I previously admired from afar. The evolution of the student-professor relationship doesn’t just make it easier to talk to brilliant and/ or intimidating professors, it makes you appreciate how far you’ve come and how much you’ve learned. I may never be a professor with a CV like most of theirs, but in a few short months I will (hopefully!) join their ranks as a barred attorney, thanks in large part to their guidance and encouragement.

Every law professor was once a law student.  They know what it’s like to be in our shoes. The vast majority of professors are happy to pass on their hard won knowledge to the next generation of lawyers.

Comments

I think this is such an important post for 1Ls to read - it notes the importance of relationships with seemingly intimidating professors. But those professors can help shape your law school experience and the internships/jobs that you seek both during and after school. I think the relationships especially depend on a student's willingness to reach out to those professors - while some may seem "untouchable," many are more than willing to sit and chat if you take the initiative to stop by their office with questions or even just to say hi. And in my experience, professors can tell when you're stopping by just in hopes that they will remember your name and boost your grade as opposed to stopping by because you're genuinely interested in their advice and insights - so make a genuine effort - it will pay off!

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I really enjoyed your advice about cultivating these kinds of relationships! Great blog post!

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Kate, I really think you nailed the garden variety law student experience. The law school experience is seriously like none other, the help and guidance given by a law professor is so genuine. I can truly say that most of my professors know me by name, my history, and what I want to do when I graduate. Law school faculty truly go out of their way for their students to make sure they have every opportunity, and you really nailed it!

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Very often I feel like students tend to take for granted how important it is to cultivate their relationships with professors. Other than the simple need for recommendations and such, I feel like they have great access to great insights to jobs, school, etc., as a lot of them have gone through the exam same things as you have. Also, most of them are already on the top of their fields, so it is like having a distinguished mentor in your back yard! I think the best way to approach is like a job, in that students should make a concerted efforts to meet regularly with their professors during their office times - think of it like another class and religiously go!

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