ProfReader

Ask a prof?

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I have benefitted from this forum over the years in getting ready to article/work at a firm, picking law grad schools, getting the student perspective on different schools when applying for jobs, etc., so I would be happy to give back with some of my "expertise" (such that it is) and answer questions that incoming/prospective/current law students may have for law professors. 

 

Three caveats.  First, I have never sat on the admissions committee, so I have no idea about chances.  I actually avoid these threads because given how competitive law schools are nowadays, I don't want to find out that I would even get into law schools that I have taught/teach at :)  Second, I will not say negative things about any schools/particular professors.  Third, although I will not say anything to identify which school I currently work at, I can say some general things about a variety of schools, having attended (for JD or grad degrees) and worked at a total of five law schools.

 

Ask away!

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if you could give a future law student one piece of advice/teach them one lesson to bring into the class room for 1L, what would it be?

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Do not let yourself get behind because there is a huge snowball effect.  You miss one week's readings (or, if you do not do readings you fail to read over the summaries or do whatever you usually do to prep for class) and you are then behind a week.  Then, if you get sick or something during the semester, you get behind another week.  Perhaps the next week you feel that you are overwhelmed because you are already behind two weeks and so you have a few beers instead of trying to catch up and then you are three weeks behind.  Etc.  I see it happen all the time and those people are always scrambling at the end of the semester while their colleagues are able to prepare for exams. 

 

A bonus piece of advice for exam studying...although you should have a detailed set of notes to take into the exam, for certain types of exams (issue spotters with little time for in-depth analysis), you may not have a lot of time for flipping around in your long notes.  So you should also prepare a very short summary (maybe 2 pages) that sets out the key legal tests from the class. 

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Would it be possible to give your take on the whole Osgoode vs UofT debate?

 

Are there any areas where osgoode is stronger then uoft? Are there any circumstances where it is justified to pick Osgoode over uoft? 

 

I ask because although I have gotten into Osgoode, I have yet to hear back from uoft and just want to know what exactly I would be missing out on if I ended up at Osgoode.

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I lived in Toronto for much of my life, but I will spare you the obvious comments regarding the relative geographic appeal of the two areas of the city.  I think that both schools have some very well regarded academics, although I would argue that the UofT probably has more (and this is likely where some of its prestige factor comes from).  However, the most well regarded academics do not always make the best professors--you can often have a far superior learning experience from someone who is not famous at all.  I would argue that a professor who clearly lays out the legal concepts and is encouraging and approachable will serve you far better than someone who is famous on the basis of journal articles and grant funding.  And I think you will get just as many of these good professors at Osgoode as the UofT. 

 

One of the benefits of Osgoode may be that it has several electives in an area of the law that corresponds to what you are interested in (neither school is lacking options in this area).  Indeed, I did not go to the most prestigious law school that I got into, but rather the one that had numemrous electives in my area.  There are two reasons this is important.  First, it is useful to take courses relevant to an area that you see yourself practicing in.  Second, when I was able to pick my own courses in second and third year and only take things that interested me, my grades were much better. 

 

Another reason that you might pick Osgoode is financial, although I am not sure what the difference in tuition is these days and I am not sure if Osgoode is offering any sort of funding to you.

 

In sum, if you are completely sure that you want to work on Bay Street, aren't offered any funding from Osgoode/your family is paying, and arean't interested in a niche area of the law that the UofT's curriculum doesn't cover, you should probably go to the UofT.  However, if you chosoe to go to Osgoode or don't get in to the UofT, you would not be missing anything whatsoever (geographic and other lifestyle considerations aisde).

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How would you describe the overall difficulty level of the readings/exams in law school? We all know its a lot of work, but how difficult is the actual material?

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I think there is a fair bit of variation in the difficulty of the readings.  If you are more of a big picture person, the detail-oriented nature of something like tax law would seem difficult and painful to you (or at least that's my opinion, having never taken tax law), while you might love constitutional law.  However, if you are a detail-oriented person, the broad and contextual nature of constitutional law might frustrate you.  I would say that the readings in law school are a bit more difficult than what you would have encountered during your undergrad, but you will generally be able to understand the readings, especially with the aid of an upper year student's notes (which they are always very generous about sharing).  The students who seem confused about the readings usually come and ask me a question along the lines of "but case A seems to say X and case B seems to say the opposite, what is the law?"  Once you accept this uncertainty inherent in the law, I think that the readings will also make more sense.

 

In terms of the difficulty of the exams, again there is a lot of variation.  However, if there is a very difficult to spot or obscure issue, most other people will have missed it too.  Because everything is on a curve (or within a permitted grade distribution), this will mean that missing that issue doesn't automatically mean that you receive a poor grade.  For example, there were a few such issues on my final exam last semester and probably only 2 students picked them up.  However, most students picked up most of the issues and few people actually stated things about the law that were completely incorrect (as opposed to just failing to discuss issues in as much detail as they could have or picking out the nuances in the issue). 

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These answers have been great, and thank you for doing this.

 

I have a simple question of pedagogical preference: open- or closed-book exams, and why?

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Thanks for offering some thoughtful answers here. As a 0L starting law school this September (in at my 2nd choice, still waiting on my 1st), I'm hoping to develop strong relationships with at least a few faculty members in 1L. I understand that this is important for a number of reasons (careers, apps. etc.)

 

During my undergrad this was fairly easy to do because 1) upper year courses were small, and allowed me to develop relationships with professors and 2) competition wasn't very fierce for earning favour (i.e., not many students were proactive enough to develop relationships with Profs, so those of us who were shone comparatively).

 

From what I understand first year courses (with a few exceptions) are fairly large, which makes 1) above  a problem. And 2) above is unlikely because (I predict) that everyone will be trying to develop these kinds of relations ships with faculty members.

 

From your experience, how difficult is it for students to 'earn' referees in first year? Perhaps a better question:  What suggestions do you have for students who are hoping to develop relationships with faculty that would warrant a reference letter?

 

Thanks again for doing this!

 

A

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Kenoshakid

 

For the most part, law schools use open book exams.  One advantage to this is that it better reflects reality...you will generally be able to dig around your materials to find the case that you are ferrerring to.  Also, I think the exam answers are better when it is open book and people don't spend tons of time staring at the ceiling trying to remember the name of some obscure case or step of a legal test.  A third reason relates to the difference between merely reciting the law and applying it to the facts.  You will hear your professors say over and over again that the former is not sufficient, but that you need to do the latter.  I think open book exams better facilitate this.  Here is a link to another professor who shares my views and adds that open book exams are less conducive to cheating/some people having an unfair advantage: http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2009/04/before-teaching-my-first-class-i-knew-that-the-first-question-i-had-to-answer-before-even-choosing-the-casebook-or-deciding.html

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Anwalt.

 

At most law schools, one of your classes will be with a small group.  It varies by school, but it seems to be in the range of 20 students.  Over the course of a full year class, a professor can easily get to know 20 students and this will be your best source for a reference letter.  Some professors will attend a social event or two with their small group and that is a good way to get to know them.  You might also pop by at some point while they are having office hours to chat.  Chances are that you will have a substantive question come up during the semester that you can stop by to ask.  You should definitely get to know your small group professor well because even if you do not list him or her as a reference, if you apply to positions within the law school (research assistant positions or internships that faculty choose candidates for), your small group professor will often be contacted anyway.  In terms of obtaining a reference from a large class professor, there are generally two routes.  First, if you received a very high grade in the class, the professor will often write you a reference letter on that basis (unless, of course, you never came to class at all or clearly never read anything).  Second, if you did not obtain a very good grade a professor will often write you a reference letter on the basis that you came to class prepared, participated in discussions, and showed a desire to improve over the semester.  Of course, after first year you will have some smaller seminar courses or trial advocacy courses where you can get to know the professor much better for the purpose of obtaining a reference letter.

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What advice would you offer for someone considering becoming a law professor?

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Justfish....I posted something on this very question today:

 

http://lawstudents.ca/forums/topic/31654-top-canadian-schools-vs-t14-for-academia/#entry366003

 

I am not sure what stage of your career you are in, but you should pick an area of the law that you are very passionate about (preferrably one that isn't already saturated with other professors or, at the very least, one in which you can make an original, interesting contribution to the existing literature).  Second, make sure that you have a Plan B (since the academic route is time consuming and uncertain). 

 

A career in academia is extremely rewarding.  I get to write about anything that interests me, although I work long hours I have a lot of flexibility in when/where I work from, and working with students (especially first year students who are enthusiastic and eager) is great.  I really can't say enough good things about the job, but it is a very difficult market to break into.

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Thanks for offering some thoughtful answers here. As a 0L starting law school this September (in at my 2nd choice, still waiting on my 1st), I'm hoping to develop strong relationships with at least a few faculty members in 1L. I understand that this is important for a number of reasons (careers, apps. etc.)

 

During my undergrad this was fairly easy to do because 1) upper year courses were small, and allowed me to develop relationships with professors and 2) competition wasn't very fierce for earning favour (i.e., not many students were proactive enough to develop relationships with Profs, so those of us who were shone comparatively).

 

From what I understand first year courses (with a few exceptions) are fairly large, which makes 1) above  a problem. And 2) above is unlikely because (I predict) that everyone will be trying to develop these kinds of relations ships with faculty members.

 

From your experience, how difficult is it for students to 'earn' referees in first year? Perhaps a better question:  What suggestions do you have for students who are hoping to develop relationships with faculty that would warrant a reference letter?

 

Thanks again for doing this!

 

A

Not to hijack the thread, but you are both overstating the importance of a prof-written reference letter, and overthinking the process of obtaining one. Just do well in your small group class and you'll get one. A prof's reference letter is neither required nor valuable for most job applications.

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Wakawaka is generally correct in that you won't need a prof's reference letter for most jobs and students with good grades can usually easily get one.  However, my advice also pertained to a situation where the student did not do well.  In addition, there are situations where you do not normally need a reference letter but the prof's impression of you might make a difference.  For example, for jobs that you might do between first and second year (like do research for other profs or certain internships), I often have other faculty members approach me and ask me about my students (even where there was no reference letter requirement).  It helps if I actually have something good to say (I have definitely been forced to say "he/she usually comes to class but I have no idea what his/her grades are like and he/she has never spoken in class"). 

 

Second, a little bit of getting to know your professors is certainly helpful if you want them to proactively reach out on your behalf.  For example, on a few occasions, I have proactively reached out to friends of mine on law firm hiring committees/government hiring committee to mention how great I think a particular student is.  In addition, if I get to know a student and their interests, I often pass on summer job postings or things of that nature that come across my desk, but which the career development office might not be aware of.  I have also put students in touch with organizations that do not ordinarily hire summer students but who will consider it if the right student comes along (but again, I would have to know that a particular student is interested in a particular area to do this).  I'm not certain if other professors do this, or if I go above and beyond by helping students in this way, but I can say that it has certainly helped at least a few students.

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This is a great thread, thank you. Can you possibly identify the area of law you teach in specifically, so that we can gauge our law-practice related questions accordingly? I'd like to ask you about practicing in certain fields and feel as though your expertise would be heavily beneficial.

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Jenkz.  I'm trying to keep this anonymous, so I'm not going to identify my specific area of law.  However, I teach in the first year curriculum (in the area of private law, i.e. contracts, torts, property) and I teach in a fairly specialized area of the upper year curriculum.  I have also taught legal research and writing.  However, I think I can probably answer your questions about practicing in certain fields, as I teach/research in both a generally and a fairly specific area, my partner works in completely different areas, and my best friend works in other completely different areas (either of whom I could easily ask if I didn't know the answer to your question).  

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Hi ProfReader,

 

I'm a first year and I've been told by two profs now that I am properly analyzing the law and I'm properly picking out the issues, but the problem is that I'm having a diffcult time applying the law to the facts of the case. They've told me that I'm not properly interweaving them, and that I need to work on that. I was grateful for the feedback, but I have no idea how I'm supposed work on it. Can you give me any insight on how to properly apply the law to the facts? It seems like a pretty fundamental thing that I'm missing, but I don't know how to rectify it. Please help.

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A career in academia is extremely rewarding.  I get to write about anything that interests me, although I work long hours I have a lot of flexibility in when/where I work from, and working with students (especially first year students who are enthusiastic and eager) is great.  I really can't say enough good things about the job, but it is a very difficult market to break into.

 

I've always pictured myself teaching, although now I'm much more of the mind that I'd be happier as an adjunct practitioner with a single course than trying out for a tenured position and going back to school until I'm 36.  So I'll ask two questions: one for myself, and one for aspiring full-time academics out there.

 

1) For aspiring full-timers: My understanding from panels on the subject and friends on the faculty is that generally Canadian law schools are requiring a doctorate --- and specifially a doctorate from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Chicago or possibly Oxford if you're an internationalist --- before they'll even consider you for a full-time position.  I was looking into it after graduation and although I had a reasonable expectation of being accepted for a Yale LL.M., it didn't appear that would be remotely enough in terms of credentials to get my foot in the door anywhere in Canada.

 

So, the question: Is an LL.D. or S.J.D, or a Ph.D. in something like stats, economics, or politics the bare minimum qualification these days?  Is the career path of a legal academic really B.A. --> M.A. --> J.D. --> LL.M. --> S.J.D.?  (Or B.Sc. --> M.Sc. --> Ph.D. --> J.D.?)  And if so, isn't that stupid?

 

Supplementary: Does it help if you have a rare subject area / area of interest?  That is, if you're an expert in a high-demand, low-supply field like tax, civil procedure or evidence?  Conversely, is it tougher to get a position concerning international or constitutional law even if you do have a Ph.D. or S.J.D.?

 

Supersupplementary: No clerkship, no job.  True?

 

2) For adjuncts: What kind of qualification are schools typically looking for in an adjunct instructor?  How does one go about applying for such a position, and when and how are they advertised?  All things being equal, do schools prefer someone with twenty years of experience or the word "Justice" before their names, or someone with an LL.M. in a relevant field?  And what are the subjects that you most often have trouble staffing?  (Not that I'm really hoping you say "civil procedure" and then send me an application form via PM.)

 

Thanks very much for helping out!

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