On Advice to Students

Dave Hoffman

Dave Hoffman is the Murray Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple Law School. He specializes in law and psychology, contracts, and quantitative analysis of civil procedure. He currently teaches contracts, civil procedure, corporations, and law and economics.

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9 Responses

  1. May 06 grad says:

    I concur with the gist of your message, namely that first year students should focus on maximizing academic performance, but feel its delivery could use refinement. When I was a first year, I was often advised to study, stduy, study and everything would fall into place. This advice frustrated me because it was reminiscent of parental admonitions to do something “because I told you to.” What was more helpful for me was talking to upper level students about what to expect as law school progressed (journal membership, moot court, interviewing, etc.) and the role that grades played in those processes. Once I understood the “why,” I had no problem focusing on my studies.

    Also, while studying is the most important endeavor for first years, students shouldn’t close themseleves off to all extracurricular opportunities. Go here an interesting speaker.

    And spend some time (just not too much) thinking about why you came to law school and what you hope to get out of it. It is not unheard of for students who make good grades to become paralyzed by the options that present themselves second and third year. Law school has a way of warping students’ perceptions of the world and what they hope to accomplish in it. It will not derail one’s academic career to take a few minutes each week reminding yourself why you brought this misery on yourself in the first place.

  2. wheeler says:

    “Indeed, I doubt there are many practicing lawyers or professors who look back on their first year and say: ‘boy, I wish I had worked less hard.'”

    i said that after getting my grades for first semester first year. i did all you’re supposed to do – studied all the time, by myself, with others, gave up all non-law school activities – and barely squeazed into the top 15%. that result was not worth the cost, so the next semester i studied much less.

    lo and behold, though, i surged into the top 10, closer to 5 even. there i remained for the duration.

    how? i think it’s because i learned how to use my time more efficiently. i gave up the group work, which i realized wasted a huge amount of time. and i used the extra time to do things i enjoyed doing, returning to my pre-law school hobbies: running and cycling. i even began working during my first year and kept that job throughout law school.

    there were costs involved: i made law review, but made no attempt at a board position, nor did i participate in any organizations or extra curriculars. but it was worth it. life was good, i made better use of my time, enjoyed greater academic success, and even found a great job.

    first semester was my worst one academically. but my solution was definitely not to study more. after that, i can count on one hand the number of times i opened a book between 5:00 pm friday and 9:00 am monday. did i maybe cost myself some prestigious job or clerkship? sure. do i care? no. life is good.

  3. I doubt there are many practicing lawyers or professors who look back on their first year and say: “boy, I wish I had worked less hard.”

    Well, I’m not a practicing lawyer or professor, but I am a 3L, and I disagree with every word of advice you give to 1Ls in your post. I wish I had worked less hard in my first year.

  4. I doubt there are many practicing lawyers or professors who look back on their first year and say: “boy, I wish I had worked less hard.”

    Well, I’m not a practicing lawyer or professor, but I am a 3L, and I disagree with every word of advice you give to 1Ls in your post. I wish I had worked less hard in my first year.

  5. I doubt there are many practicing lawyers or professors who look back on their first year and say: “boy, I wish I had worked less hard.”

    Well, I’m not a practicing lawyer or professor, but I am a 3L, and I disagree with every word of advice you give to 1Ls in your post. I wish I had worked less hard in my first year.

  6. Gah! Sorry for the triple post. The comment functionality on your blog could use some work.

  7. Adam says:

    Speaking as a 1L, I agree with the advice, but probably only because that’s mostly what I do anyway — but I’m not like a lot of my peers, I think. I’ve done the job thing briefly, I know why I’m in law school and what I want to do, and I really enjoy the work. I already know plenty of successful lawyers, I have a set of friends I like, and while I sometimes feel like I “should” be um… getting out more, the status quo is really not bad.

    The crucial point is in what one of the above commenters said, which is that the central question is “why?” Most of my classmates are fresh out of undergrad, and are engaged in a whirlwind of socializing and gladhanding not because they enjoy it, but because that’s what they were *told to do* upon entering law school.

    I think that this will work out for some (the social counterparts to the law dorks like me), but many will look back and think that their time could have been better spent. However, as suggested, the opposite extreme of “study ’til you drop” isn’t great advice for most, either. And we hear that a lot, too.

    What might be a more useful question is: everyone is given advice to do all the things you’re admonishing against, but why?

    (I’d theorize that it’s because many students graduate and realize that their opportunities seem more limited by their contacts than their academic performance, and so they counsel new students to spend more time on the networking and such, but I don’t know.)

  8. Adam says:

    A more succint way of putting what I said is that most 1Ls, whether socializing like crazy or studying until they can’t see straight, are doing so because they’ve been told to and don’t have any reliable experience to the contrary. So overpursuit and regret is the common result.

    Excellent post, by the way.

  9. Ivan says:

    I think a very important piece of advice to 1L’s is to stay healthy and balanced. While not technically “professional development activit[y],” it’s crucial, in part because a person who works all the time will see their performance suffer relative to someone who works hard but stays healthy (and in part because few massive stress-balls interview well). A 1L should do every piece of reading, brief cases at least for the first semester, go to every class, and take notes. But she should also take mental health time, which would include general relaxation, exercise, and spending time with friends (though a surfeit isn’t necessary). A lot of studying is important, but you can easily reach a point of diminishing returns, beyond which your precious hours are better spent taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally than working.

    (Then again, as a 2L, I’m blatantly ignoring that advice, even though I followed it last year. But that’s what the second year is for.)