Payback Time: The Worst Things Law Students Say About Their Professors

by Jeff Schmitt on

John Houseman as Professor Charles Kingsfield

John Houseman as Professor Charles Kingsfield

Have you ever been taught by a Professor Charles Kingsfield? A fictional Harvard contracts professor popularized in The Paper Chase, Kingsfield embodied the archetypal law professor: imperious, demanding, and caustic. He never cracked a smile – or suffered fools for that matter. Like everyone, you felt this bizarre mix of curiosity, fear, admiration, and resentment towards him.

To allay our egos, we dismiss such professors as refugees from the real world. We caricature them as embittered runners-up who wait on appointments that will never come. As we’re haunted by their Socratic snares, we’re also awed by their analysis and seduced by their stories. And our love-hate towards these professors is as ambiguous and dynamic as the law itself.

In the Paper Chase, Hart earns Kingsfield’s respect by calling him a “son of a bitch.” In the real world, you’d probably be expelled for such insolence or candor (depending on your perspective). That’s one reason why websites like Rate My Professors were created. Here, students can express their unfiltered sentiments about those professors whose curves dinged their GPAs or reading lists hastened their nervous breakdowns. Think of Rate My Professors as the end-of-semester review that you were too tired (or afraid) to write. Whether you want to offer helpful advice, issue warnings, or simply rant – you can do it here anonymous (provided you haven’t forgotten what constitutes libel from your media law course).

SEVEN TYPES OF LAW PROFESSORS TO AVOID

As you’d expect, law students are particularly active (and critical) on Rate My Professors. Based on their complaints, you can break law professors into seven categories:

devil 2

The Sadist: Seemingly a descendent from the Marquis de Sade, these professors apply the Socratic Method to publicly humiliate their prey. Playing the devil’s advocate, they’ll grill you relentlessly, picking apart your arguments by introducing hypotheticals, honing in on specifics, and altering facts and frameworks. And they’ll leave you wondering why you ever thought you could become a lawyer.

The Victim: To them, law school would be the perfect gig…if they just didn’t have to teach 1Ls. They loathe holding office hours. And any student questions obviously stem from their lack of preparation, resolve, or intellect. Alas, students are their cross to bear – and they’re always reminding everyone just what a burden they are.

The Activist: They wear their social agenda like a cheap accessory. For some reason, every legal concept ties back to their support for Roe or dismay at Kelo. Self-righteous and closed-minded, expect to be coerced and browbeaten all semester. Whatever you do, don’t think for yourself. Just rattle the facts – their facts – and you’ll do fine.

The Egomaniac: Predictably pompous, these professors are always reminding everyone how important they are – and how lucky you are to be in their class. Chances are, they will regularly cite their own scholarship. Take it seriously: You’ll find plenty of it on the final – guaranteed!l

The Early Retiree: Normally, splitting hairs and stressing minutiae works in a court room. In an auditorium packed with 1Ls, it confuses more than enlightens. Ah, these are the professors who can’t pull themselves away. They haven’t practiced since you drove a big wheel – and they’ve been phoning in the same lecture for nearly as long. You’re not sure how their lessons apply. But their jargon-ridden, scholarly missives are great training…for becoming a law professor.

The Rambler: No one expects Torts to be entertaining. But it doesn’t need to be a painful Adam Sandler flick either. We’ve all been there. The professor speaks in convoluted or disjoined sentences, talking in circles as they digress and drone on. You almost wonder if this professor was the inspiration behind 5 Hour Energy (or mind maps). In these situations, lean on your classmates. If you have 20 students, you’re bound to come up with a viable outline…right?

Godfather

The Power Broker: They relish in intimidating 1Ls. They change expectations and toss out surprises. They rattle off concepts, cases, and applications like a firehouse. And they pick their favorites, catering to the gunners and grovelers who play to them. Power brokers may not be consistent or fair, but neither is the take-no-prisoners world of law. Think of them as your wake up to the real world.

Alas, these sketches are tame compared to what real law students say about their professors on Rate My Professors. Alongside character assassination, you’ll also find witty quips and blunt statements that reveal an inimitable truth. Despite tenure, law professors aren’t untouchable. Like any service povider they too answer to the consumer – the student.  For many students, the delivery hasn’t measured up to the promise. With sites like Rate My Professors, students have a platform to call out and embarrass instructors. Consider it academic freedom for the other 99%.

Do critical comments on Rate My Professors reflect reality? To borrow a law school adage, “that depends.”  In essence, comments are a perception of experience and value, right-or-wrong. But perception is no different than reality in the eyes of consumers.  In an era of amped up completion in response to declining enrollments, law schools can ignore such feedback at their peril.

Recently, Tipping the Scales collected the funniest and most insightful feedback on L14 schools from Rate My Professors. Wondering where professors are falling short? Check out these entertaining and devastating critiques leveled by law students over the past ten years at (mostly) active professors:

(Go to the next page for the worst things that students say about their law professors)

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