Visiting a law school and talking to a number of professors can be a good idea or it can be a big waste of time. If you are prepared to ask questions that professors can answer, you may be satisfied although not necessarily happy with the answers that you get.
What do you really want to know?
Begin by asking yourself what you really want to know, and then consider whether the professor with his or her experience is in a position to answer your questions. You might be curious about:
- Curriculum: read the on-line course catalog thoroughly. Don’t ask a question that is covered in the website.
- The writing requirement: If it isn’t covered on the website, ask about how you might fulfill it. First year will be a required class. What about second year? And third year? If there isn’t a three-year writing requirement, you should ask why not?
- Journals and Moot Courts: If is isn’t clear from the website, ask about how members are chosen. Some schools require participation in one or the other.
- Time requirement for clinical programs: Ask clinic professors and clinic students direct questions about this, and then do not be frightened away by their answers. Most law students will say that their time spent in clinic was the most important and valuable in their law school careers. You will have to look long and hard to find someone who will discourage you from clinic participation.
- Working during school: This is a question that is best addressed by career services professionals and you may want to meet with a staff member now. There is an ABA restriction on 1Ls in three-year programs that precludes career offices from providing individual career counseling to 1Ls before November 1, and from posting jobs that 1Ls might apply for until after December 1. Whether you work will depend on your available time, your desire for experience (paid or un-paid), the local employment market, and your need for extra cash.
Questions for Law Professors
There are a range of questions that you can/should ask, based on the professor’s experience, which you can learn about from the school’s bio page. You will learn whether he or she:
1. has public or private practice experience? how long?
2. did a clerkship? at what level?
3. teaches core courses, a series of upper level courses/seminars, clinic/practicum/ or legal writing.
You may be curious about the professor’s career path and how he or she made choices. Understand, though, that law professors’ career paths are paths for a minuscule teeny tiny number of lawyers. If “law professor” is your sole reason for going to law school, please consider developing a Plan B.
What do you want to know from THIS particular professor?
About his/her teaching philosophy? About the school’s mission and how it controls or effects individual teaching goals or styles? How professors interact with one another in support of students’ learning? About his/her actual research? How he/she recruits and uses student research assistants? Why he or she teaches particular courses?
If you have selected a professor because you are interested in his/her area of expertise because it represents a career goal of yours, be frank. Ask specific questions. What work did you do in this area? How did you begin? Did your academic interest flow from your experience? Or did your experience act as the springboard for your academic interest? Please speculate on the future of your academic interest as an employment opportunity for me.
Compare and contrast law schools?
You will be tempted to ask the professor to compare and contrast the law school with with other institutions. I suggest that you refrain from that. Law professors know at lot about where they work, a lot about where they went to school, something about where their lawyer-spouses or pals went to school, and not much else that is either useful or correct about other schools. This is one of the Great Flaws in the USNews & World Report ranking scheme, which asks professors and deans to give a reputational ranking for all law schools.
You may be tempted to ask the professor about employment-related issues. I would suggest that you keep those questions in reserve until you know how much (if any) interaction the professor has had with career services. There are primarily three kinds of faculty: those who are deeply engaged with career services on behalf of their students; those who admit that they have no knowledge of if or how their students get jobs, and those who believe that career services is inefficient, inept, and utterly useless, which they have discerned by never having had a conversation with a career services professional.