Mandatory Attendance: The Red-Hot Debate Continues

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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28 Responses

  1. akatsuki says:

    Sadly I found attending class usually detracted from my grade. Professors typically focused on esoteric and more “academic” areas of their subject matter, creating an expectation or, at least impression, that this material would be on the exam, which it rarely was.

    I usually found class to be an adjunct to the actual reading and frankly commercial outlines of basic law that were often actually tested. Many times the reading and the class lost complete synchronicity as we would explore an issue in depth while the reading continued on unabated. So while class might be interesting, it sometimes was distracting from academic success. In fact, I would arguably say the more I participated in class, the worse I would do on the exam, being caught up in the depth of an issue rather than the breadth of the subject matter.

  2. John says:

    “Law STUdents

    are STUdents!

    May they excercise

    due PRUdence.”

  3. Sarah says:

    It depends on the law school — I think most Cooley students, for example, benefit from attending every class. It’s hard to compare results, though, since the school already requires them to. And I doubt any of them get the impression that the teachers are off on esoteric rants.

    For slogans, how about “Law Schools Know Better than the Bar Association How to Educate Students, You Self-Absorbed Egotistical Control Freaks”? Too long? Well, I was once marked down half a grade for delivering a paper 75% longer than the requested length (though the grader said it was the best paper she’d ever graded… I loved college.)

    Umm… “MYOB, ABA” is probably a little too short (and chatspeakish) for the purpose of effective communication. “H*** No, We Won’t Go” has been done before. “And You People Wonder Why You’re About To Lose Your Accreditation Powers” is too all-purpose. “We’ve Got Degrees, We’ve Done What You Please, Us Not Going to Class Might Just Save Some Trees” does rhyme but it doesn’t make sense and is more of a chant than a slogan. “ABA Go Away” is awfully confrontational…

    I’ve got nothing. Sorry. ^_^

  4. Jeff says:

    I had the opposite experience: I was really able to draw on professors’ lectures to better understand the subject and, consequently, do better on the test. But I think compulsory attendance policies are paternalistic and silly.

  5. Denny F. Crane! says:

    I agree with akatsuki 100 percent.

    Watching profs wank off in front of the class was a boring sideshow to the real education in law, and it detracted too much from reading time and real life. I did better reading at home than trying to stay awake while profs tried to show off. And today, those navel-gazing ivory tower geeks could not hold a candle to their students, who make a business of the practice of law in the real world. Legal academia is so out of touch with the realities of law practice that the classroom lessons must be taken with many grains of salt.

    This comes from a good student at a top school, with an exemplary law practice. No sour grapes here.

  6. Michael E. Lopez says:

    “If we don’t wanna see the chalk,

    We’re old enough to choose to walk!”

  7. Orin Kerr says:

    It’s all about Freedom to Choose.

  8. Orin Kerr says:

    Or how about this:

    Everyone’s a winner at Law Schools Where You Choose.

    Oh

    Whooo!

    Aye

    Yeah, yeah, yeaah

    Oh

    Hey

    Ooh, ooh, yeah

    It’s all about the choice.

    It’s all about respect.

    It all revolves about freedom.

    We strive for excellence.

    We strive for satisfaction.

    There’s no confusion, it’s the student’s call.

    The best to go to.

    The best to be from.

    That’s all it ever, every want ‘o be.

    We’re not just talkin’. (No)

    There’s no disputin’.

    Don’t wanna grandmother me.

    Everyone’s a winner at Law Schools Where You Choose.

    (Everyone’s a winner. Oh yeah. Hey hey.)

    When It’s Your Choice You Really Cannot Loose.

    (All right. All right.)

    The word is out. They’ve already paid their dies.

    (We’re a happenin’ place. Oooh yeah.)

    Everyone’s a winner at Law Schools Where You Choose.

    Okay, it’s pretty bad. But that song is still stuck in my head sometimes.

  9. Orin Kerr says:

    Oh, rats, sorry for the formatting problems and the typos. Argh.

  10. EvilDave says:

    I found attendance a huge distraction.

    Frequency the professors were WEEKS behind on their syllabus (if they ever handed one out). Often they just let the class discussion ramble with no point or desire to reign the class in.

    In 1st year Torts I realized that I had read too far ahead of the professor (half way between where he was and where his syllabus said he should be) and that I had no clue what the case was about. I had done the work and felt penalized for it. I left during the break (2hr class). I spent th rest of the semester in the library reading Torts (outlines, flash card, restatements) on my own.

    I pretty much did the same thing for the other classes once I started in Torts. At the end of 1L I was 4th in my class. I never looked back.

    Although there were 5 professors who I considered it worth my valuable time to attend. They made it worth attending. So, I attended their classes.

    Law school is graduate school. While most of the my fellow students may have acted like children, by the time you reach grad school it is really time to treat people like adults.

    In conclusion, I felt that the level of instruction in my law school was so lacking that I felt ripped off. My company paid $100k to send me to law school. I paid nothing, and yet I feel I paid too much for the instruction I was provided.

  11. TRE says:

    I think I would do better if I didn’t have to attend class and instead spent the time studying on my own as EvilDave did. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to find out.

  12. Larry in San Francisco says:

    I was a no-show for most of my undergrad work. But I found law school far too interesting to miss. From what I’m reading in the comments section, things have changed radically. We were there to learn how to “think like lawyers.” Most of the classes used the Socratic method, and the esoteric points of law and debate emerged as we listened and participated. If all the instructors are doing now is lecturing, I don’t blame the students for staying away. Most of the instructors I’ve encountered over the past few years wouldn’t recognize the law if it jumped up and bit them in the arse. Having said that, my law school (Boalt Hall) had a simple philosophy on attendance. One-third of you will be gone after the first year, and another third after second year. We don’t care if it’s because you’re unqualified, or because you didn’t attend classes. But 80-90% of those of you who make it through third year will pass the California Bar on your first attempt. At the time, the general pass rate was 60-65%.

  13. iDOlog says:

    I’m suprised that no one has yet noted the payment aspect of this. I’m the customer. I’ll choose for myself when and whether I’ll attend, thank you very much.

    That said, I agree with DF Crane. Indeed, I’ll go one farther. I sometimes didn’t buy the case books, and I never actually read them, because the authors, too, were too absorbed in their own musings to actually focus on the basics. Profs tended toward the other extreme, laboring with dopes who shouldn’t have been admitted in the first place while the rest of us dreamed of lunch.

    Perhaps my view is jaded, however, as I actually practiced law as an associate all through–and even before–law school.

  14. a**hole 3L says:

    You want me to show up? Teach better.

  15. Who decided that the ABA should be boss? The ABA is an interset group. It doesn’t logically follow from that fact that it’s evil, but it’s not disintersted, either.

  16. RubberGoose says:

    OT, but, the Amazon ad on the sidebar on the right is for Solove’s book…seeing it out of the corner of my eye, I would have sworn that was a picture of Cthulhu on the cover.

  17. GeeGuy says:

    It was simple. If I read the material and didn’t quite understand it, I would go to class and try to flesh it out in my head. (Usually this was best done with the professor after class)

    After the first half year or so, though, once I started to understand the analysis of issues, I found that more and more I could grasp the material simply by studying it on my own.

    Most of what we learned in law school and what we do as lawyers is not really that complex. I think that, for the most part, success is based not on the rules, but our ability to think our way through them and analyze the issues they create. I suppose that could be taught, but it was not, for the most part, taught by the classes I attended.

  18. Spartee says:

    I’m amazed people still care enough about law school or the ABA to form an opinion about this issue.

  19. Aloy says:

    “I’m the customer. I’ll choose for myself when and whether I’ll attend, thank you very much.”

    Customer is somewhat more complex in this context, isn’t it? Can you also buy the grades you desire? Can you actually buy a degree or do you have to pay cash and also perform according to stated requirements?

  20. Aloy says:

    “I’m the customer. I’ll choose for myself when and whether I’ll attend, thank you very much.”

    Customer is somewhat more complex in this context, isn’t it? Can you also buy the grades you desire? Can you actually buy a degree or do you have to pay cash and also perform according to stated requirements?

  21. New Teach says:

    I am conflicted about attendance policies. I came to teaching a year and a half ago against them, because they are paternalistic, and students are adults paying for a service.

    BUT. For four reasons, I am on the way to changing my mind. First, law students are adults, but they are entering a field that makes certain demands on them. It isn’t unreasonable for law school to teach something about professionalism. In their jobs, they will have to attend meetings they don’t want to attend and do things they don’t want to do. Law school is a great place to start for that.

    Second, for professors who cold-call (I do not), students who choose to attend are penalized by those who do–if you don’t attend, the prof can’t call on you.

    Third, students in their first semester do not have the information necessary to determine whether class is worth their time.

    Finally, there are additional externalities here. More students in class fosters better class discussion.

    I am still on the fence, but these are the pro- arguments.

  22. ashley says:

    I don’t know where all of the class-haters went to law school, but I almost always got something out of going to class. My professors didn’t drone on, we were expected to participate and answer when called on (I graudated three years ago). Maybe it is ridiculous to REQUIRE attendance, but there is something to be said for getting used to showing up for class even if you would rather do something else. Most judges (and clients) I know couldn’t care less where you’d rather be if they’ve set a time and date for you to be in court.

  23. Stash says:

    As someone who skipped class frequently as both an undergraduate and law student, I think much of the issue has to do with learning style of the particular student, rather than a truly objective benefit of class versus no class. Something that one learns oneself, and insights that one experiences, compared to those that are passed on, are more effective, lasting and valuable. My favorite college class: independent study. Further, I was never, at any time, a member of a study group.

    I went to a “top five” law school. After my first semester I rarely went to class. (This is because I fell in love with moot court.) While I did not graduate at the “top of my class” (no rank published), if the reported curve was correct (who knows), I was in the top 25% based on my average grade.

    Now, it does seem to me that class is invaluable for the first semester. But after that, much of it is same tune, different words, as GeeGuy points out.

    The only reason not to allow a student who has missed “too many” classes to sit for the exam is the fear that he will pass anyway, or worse, do well. But such a result would conclusively disprove that strict class attendance was necessary in the first place.

    I think professors who demand attendance are exhibiting self-importance that smacks of insecurity. That is, they desperately need to believe that their teaching is more than merely valuable to mastering the material. To prop up their egos, they need to believe it is indispensable. They cannot demonstrate this through the exam itself, so they do it by fiat. Alas for them, they will still be self-important and insecure.

    Finally, I think compulsory attendence will do a disservice to those who do attend classes perfectly, and get good grades by dint of their rapt attention, careful notes and hard work. Coercing those with lesser dedication to attend class at the same rate will lessen the high-attendance students’ competitive advantage by forcing the curve upwards–unless, of course, compulsory attendance rules provide zero benefit. So, at best, an attendence policy either benefits the unworthy at the expense of the worthy, or has no academic benefit whatever.

  24. Katie says:

    I’m not in favor of mandatory attendance, per se, but I have no problem with participation or attendance being taken into account in grading in classes where student participation is expected. A lot of commentors are assuming that good performance on the exam is demonstrative that a student has gotten everything necessary out of the class. I don’t think this is the case – the skills required to write a good exam are different than those required to intelligently discuss and consider an issue in class, and it’s completely reasonable to expect students to develop both.

    That said, I think attendance policies get harder to justify in pure lecture courses, where I feel it really is up to the student to determine how they, as an individual, can best devote their time to learning the material.

  25. State Law Rules says:

    Apart from ABA attendance rules, each state’s judiciary laws should be consulted for similar requirements. New York Court of Appeals rules, for example, state a mandatory minimum number of “hours of classroom study” to be eligible to apply for admission to the New York bar.

  26. Stash says:

    A few more comments. I don’t quite buy the “professionalism” argument. Why not also teach hygiene and etiquette, and “dressing for success?” Shirt-tail hanging out? Hair a mess? Still dressing like a college student? Well the kids have to learn to be professional sometime. One demerit, etc..

    If they want to teach law students how be professional, they ought to have a “legal marketing” class. Because if you can make enough rain, you sure as hell don’t need to be at most of those early am firm meetings, though you should be prompt for tee off.

    As for being unfair to students in class, either going to class is a plus or it is not. If cold calling is good academics, greater frequency should be even better. Also, every other academic institution says the smaller the class the better. Why are bigger classes for law school suddenly desirable? Those going to class are the beneficiaries of a higher faculty-student ratio courtesy of the no-shows.

    While I overstated the case earlier, when students do not come to a class, professors might very well take it personally as a reflection on their teaching. And, from the comments, it seems that at least some of them should. Deeming the students “unprofessional” is a lot easier psychologically than facing the possibility that their pedagogical skills are deficient or superfluous.

    The one good point is that class participation may demonstrate skills not measured by the exam. But attendance is hardly a stand-in for participation, much less the quality of any participation that takes place. What if the offending student engages in stellar participation on the occasions he/she is in class? The silent backbencher is still valued more highly. If one seriously wanted to pick up an oral skills dimension, it could be done more formally and with greater accuracy by having the panel grade moot court performance. This is far more objective, and allows the reticent equal time with the loquacious.

    Finally, the idea that making it to class promptly and without fail is a requirement for the legal profession can only come from people who have not been out there for a while. Lawyers are perennially and famously running late, rescheduling appointments, seeking to extend filing deadlines etc. Sit in court one day for status hearings. Statuses are frequently missed, and judges will then reschedule without blinking an eye.

    The notion that sleeping through constitutional law means that one will not show up for jury selection or an important meeting is extremely far-fetched. How many don’t show for the exam? Show me the studies that show that students who missed more than X classes are late for more meetings or miss more court calls than other lawyers. How many of them are fired for non-professionalism? Come on. This is a non-problem driven by professorial hurt pride. They should learn that in the professional world, you need a thicker skin.

  27. Cynic says:

    The only relevant consideration should be whether the student does well on the final exam. If the student can get an “A” even after cutting 20%. 30% or even 50% of classes, clearly, he learned the material. Conversely, if he gets a “C”, “D” or “F” then he cut class at his own peril. The real problem – which the academics don’t like to admit – is that much of what transpires in the classroom is academic rot. It is the professoriate’s egos which are on the line – students cutting class are telling the instructor your presentation is boring and irrelevant. What is sad about these “mandatory” policies is that some law school professors use it as a means to play “gotcha” on the final exam. Case in point: When I took Corporations at Chicgo-Kent, the instructor was BORING – he thought he was witty and erudite – and the final exam’s major essay question was based on a second footnote on page three hundred something in the text. Pimpy, pimpy, pimpy – and of course, that far into the course, the bulk of the class was no longer attending. The bulk of the class also got a “C” in Corporations.

  28. Legal Nut says:

    Compulsory attendance is pure malarkey. Yes, we are the adult customers paying an obscene amount of money for a product. I used to panic when I had to miss class because
    of health issues. In the end I graduated from a 1st Tier ABA accredited school in 2003; never really missed more than 10% of all my classes and only passed the bar on my third attempt. As for my wife she did not attend a brick and mortar law school and never attended one second of “live class” really! She graduated in 2005 from Concord Law School (a non-ABA-accredited law school offering JD – 100% online). She did not have the traditional face-to-face interaction with classmates & professors, but nailed the CBX on her very first attempt. She has chosen to earn a LLM in taxation from a top tier school. Although she is not a rain maker, thus far she has had an amazing career practicing tax law. By the way, no one has ever questioned her professionalism, character and/or educational background in or out of court.. With that said I will side with Cynic, Daniel F. Crane, Stash, Spartee, Katie and Aloy, but also see Ashley’s point.