It can be very intimidating being a law student and trying to talk to your law professors. I know many of you have seen the movie Paper Chase. You will develop a fascination with some of your professors and want to get to know them better- it’s part of the law school culture. However, the Paper Chase approach, sleeping with the professor’s daughter, can lead to unnecessary complications. Here, we tell you how to approach law professors in non-harassing ways.
What Not To Do
Let’s start off with the discussing wrong approach: law professors are not big game animals. You are not on safari trying to find them. Chasing them down the hall to make the elevator at the same time they do is going to scare them away (okay, maybe they are roughly as skittish as big game animals).
The thing to remember is that a professors work in the law school. When you see one making his or her way through the parking lot in the morning, they often have to get up to the office and prepare a million things before class. Generally, when they are on there way somewhere it’s best to just nod and let them carry on. Gunner types break this rule a lot and I’m sure it’s fine some of the time, but I recommend against the hallway ambush.
When It’s Okay to Approach A Professor
In the student lounge/cafe/what have you
Almost every law school has a social area where you can chill out and talk without worrying that you are bothering anyone who is studying. At my school, U Chicago, it was called the Green Lounge. You could study there, but that really isn’t the primary purpose of these types of areas in a law school. These rooms are designed to be social spaces, so if you see a professor pondering the cosmos over coffee in this kind of area, they are fair game. In fact, it’s likely they came here just to talk to people.
Law professoring is a lonely profession. I recently went sailing with a former prof the other day, and he said that sometimes whole days go by where he sits in his office and no one, colleagues or students, come by. They go down to the lounge to take a breather and speak to another human.
Find some pretense or just say hello and start talking.
During Office Hours
This is obviously the best time to find a prof if you are looking for a particular one. Here is the thing about office hours: THEY HOLD THEM JUST SO STUDENTS CAN COME AND TALK TO THEM. Every professor I’ve talked to on this subject complains that students don’t come enough. You don’t have to stick to the topic of class either (unless someone else is waiting to speak to the professor, then it’s best not to go overboard).
Right After Class
Professors are academics. They care about the stuff they are teaching and will be fine with talking about the details if you go up to them as class ends. That said, I never liked talking to profs right after class. There is always someone else waiting and you should confine your discussion to class topics. My girlfriend was a huge talk-to-the-prof-after-class kind of person. She swears it was helpful. I always just saved any question pressing enough to ask for office hours (and really, that was like once or twice per professor per class). Still, if you feel the urge, it is fine to talk to at this time, even if you have to wait in line.
Whether it’s a lunch talk, a student charity auction, a wine mess, etc. don’t be shy, talk to your professors. I know you might not believe this as a 1L, but by the time you are a 3L, you will come to think of professors more as your peers than your superiors. They think of you this way too, trust me. I find that as a rule professors like to talk a lot more than the average person. Yes they can be a little awkward about it- often times it feels more like they are holding court than having a conversation- but still they are typically very bright and a big part of the law school experience is hearing what they have to say.
Take this advice and go out and make friends with your professors!