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

by Jeff Schmitt on

Happy Woman

Based on these comments, you’d almost think there is a teaching crisis on most L14 campuses. In reality, there is a big reason why these programs produce 90% placement rates where students land six figure starting salaries: Their faculty knows how to teach! In fact, law school professors are often among the highest ranked instructors on Rate My Professors.

So what makes a great teacher? Some may argue that great teaching lies in the ability to make concepts understandable, memorable, and applicable. Others would take it a step back, where teachers create an openness that frees students to test their ideas (and those of others). And you’ll always find those who believe teaching is the process of passing along your passion – and nudging students to push themselves beyond where they would take themselves. Really, it is all of these – and so much more. And these are some of the practices that the best law professors have been doing to reach their students according to Rate My Professors reviewers:

The Kindest Comments:

Daniel Mulhert, California-Berkeley (2013): “Dan is an AWESOME teacher! His class on leadership has been the most worthwhile class I have taken here at Cal. I have recommended his class to many friends, all of whom have loved it as well. He is willing to help with any problem you might have (be it in his class, professionally, personally, etc) because he genuinely cares about his students.”

Michael Gold, Northwestern University (2014): “Professor Gold is the professor who lets you challenge him and doesn’t dismiss your ideas when they’re different. My class with Professor Gold is the highlight of my semester. His comments on your papers are longer than the papers themselves; I learn so much about my writing style, my strengths, and my weaknesses. It’s such a pleasure.”

Florina Altshiler, Columbia (2014): “Ms. Altshiler provides an insight into the legal profession that makes even the most skeptical students look forward to her daily lectures. Her lectures are compelling, captivating and easy to follow along. She is that rare professor that is equally as brilliant as she is approachable and down to earth. I wish she offered more courses.”

Bernard Harcourt, University of Chicago (2011): “A fascinating class! Prof. Harcourt is a wonderful lecturer and his class on Punishment and Social theory is one of the best classes I have ever taken. He is tremendously helpful and nice if approached; he is also very passionate about his topics, yet respectful of other opinions. It was great.”

John Setear, University of Virginia (2015): “Professor Setear is wonderful. He really cares for the students and really likes his job. Students can tell when a professor sees them as an “inconvenience” or a pleasure . Setear loves his students. He has a great sense of humor, very kind , and extremely smart. I would take all my classes with him if I could. Go Professor Setear!!!”

Paul Goldstein, Stanford (2008): “Wow! An outlook and approach that synthesizes east coast intensity with west coast cool. One of my favorites in law school and an inspiration for my career. Made class a pleasure and made the profession of being law professor look like the challenge and joy that it is.”

Bill Miller, University of Michigan (2012): “Outstanding professor with great breadth and depth of knowledge. A deep thinker with innovative ideas to share about the subject matter. Wholeheartedly agree with the reviewer who said Miller changed the way he/she looked at the world – he changed my views on many subjects and led me to think about things I’d never considered. Tough but fair.”

Amy Chua, Yale (2012): “completely and utterly awesome. tough love resulted in amazing improvements from every student.”

Jennifer Arlen, New York University (2009): “Fantastic prof. Really cares about students and teaching. Has a great (geeky) sense of humor. Strives to make things as clear as possible, using PPT and distributing class notes. Is accessible in and out of class. Smart, friendly, and clear – what’s not to like; Her passion for the subject is contagious!”

Shanin Specter, University of Pennsylvania (2010): “Very skilled and confident lawyer. If you aren’t used to real litigation and just a tv watcher, you may not like this class. Real World only here. Students are invited to see him in trial if one is going and if you take advantage of that… It is awesome. If you can try a case… You will always have work as a lawyer. Thanks.”

Michael Heise, Cornell (2012): “Prof. Heise is Da-Bomb! Best I’ve had at CLS. Too much reading and the pace is quick, but the guy brings energy to class and clarity to torts.”

Leo Katz, University of Pennsylvania (2009): “Professor Katz made me think more than any other professor so far at Penn. He’s a very nice and accessible guy, though somewhat intimidating. His abundant use of hypos, while sometimes confusing, gave me a much deeper grasp of the underlying reasoning behind and conflicts within the law than I got in other classes. His exam was very reasonable.”

Faust Rossi, Cornell (2012): “Had him 20 years ago. Best professor I had in law school. Crystal clear. Extremely helpful. A model professor. If you get him for Civ Pro, thank your lucky stars . . . then take him for Evidence.”

Lester Lawrence Lessig, Stanford (2006): “I disagree with the others; I think they should consider the whole package, and walk a mile in his shoes. His contributions to law, policy and society are unparalleled. He cares deeply about his students. He cares deeply about the subjects. His lack of slickness (ala Grundfest) or pomposity (ala Brest) are attributes, not limitations.” (Editor’s Note: Lessig has since joined the Harvard Law faculty.)

John Palfrey, Harvard (2011): “He’s sincere, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and deeply devoted to teaching. His classroom style (at least in the Problem Solving Workshop) revolves around group discussion and guest speakers rather than lecture, which is fun but sometimes leads to unfocused lessons. He loves student participation, teamwork, feedback and improvement. Recommended.”

Janet Alexander, Stanford (2005): “Best professor I’ve ever had. Great insights into the material. Really enjoys talking to students outside of class. Definitely one of the law school’s greatest assets.”

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