- Your professors are there to help if you’re challenged by the material in their course, and they prefer that you ask for help rather than struggle on your own. Here’s how to get the most out of your professor-student relationship.
If you’re like many law students, your undergraduate studies weren’t extremely difficult. So you may not have had much experience in approaching professors to ask for help when you were having difficulty with your course work. And like many law students, you’re finding that has changed in law school.
Your professors are there to help if you’re challenged by the material in their course. In fact, they prefer that you ask for help rather than struggling on your own or waiting until finals roll around to try to cram a semester’s worth of work into a week or two. Here’s how to get the most out of your professor-student relationship.
Hugh Spitzer has been teaching constitutional law at the University of Washington School of Law for the past 35 years. What would he tell his students?
“Just ask!” he replied. “Don’t worry about judgment from your professors. They can usually tell who’s struggling, and they’d much prefer you ask for help rather than doing poorly in the course.”
Spitzer said asking for help is as easy as sending an email. He recommended you email your professor with details about the problems you’re having with the course. He added that professors will nearly always be willing to set up a time to meet with you.
Check out the academic support services available through your law school, Spitzer suggested. Take advantage of those services early and as often as you need. Whatever you do, don’t just show up unannounced, he advised.
Kimberly Boone has been a legal writing professor at the University of Alabama School of Law since the early 2000s. She also runs the moot court program for 2L students and supervises moot court overall at the law school. She suggested you first self-diagnose your problems. Reflect on the cause of the issue you’re experiencing before you meet with a professor, she recommended, adding that it can be difficult for a professor to provide support without knowing the underlying cause of a student’s problem.
If you believe your problem is minor, Boone suggested that you just show up during the professor’s regularly scheduled office hours. For major issues, she advised emailing your professor to set up a specific time to meet to do a more in-depth review of the issue. Before your meeting, prepare a list of questions to ask the professor during the meeting to ensure you get all the information you need.
While professors are generally willing to make time for students outside of their regular office hours, Boone recommended you work within the professor’s availability and avoid demanding a specific time for a meeting.
Providing one-on-one help to students is often a fun part of the job for professors, according to Boone. Be forthcoming when asking for help, and avoid falling behind whenever possible, she added. By self-diagnosing your problem and asking for help before your problem becomes unmanageable, you’re less likely to fall behind.
Adam Davidson is a professor of criminal procedure and race and the law at the University of Chicago Law School. He said students often feel nervousness or self-doubt resulting from tough cold calls and a difficult course load, but there’s no need to worry. Davidson said you should feel comfortable approaching professors with substantive questions about your course material.
Take full advantage of office hours, Davidson advised, adding that many students don’t do that. When office hours aren’t available, or they’re insufficient to meet your needs, he suggested you email your professor to set up a meeting. He also recommended against dropping in on professors without an appointment or during office hours, especially when the professor’s office door is closed.
Louise Hill has been teaching contracts, wills and trusts, and professional responsibility at Widener University Delaware Law School for 35 of her 40 years as a law professor. She was perplexed by the idea of students being nervous about approaching professors for help. “We’re here to help!” she exclaimed.
When students have a problem they need to discuss, face-to-face contact is the best method, stated Hill, adding that emailing is the second-best option. Unlike the professors who may not appreciate a student dropping in unannounced, Hill doesn’t mind drop-ins at all, whether they occur during office hours or otherwise. However, she said an appointment ensures the professor won’t be busy when you need assistance.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” said Hill. It’s a professor’s job to ensure that their students succeed in their courses, she noted. And they’re there, added Hill, to answer your questions or to direct you to study guides or other materials that may assist you.