Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What to do when you don't know what to do

In mulling over various problems that students have told me about this semester after the fact, it struck me how often students have stated as part of the story, "I didn't know what to do." 

Some situations take place in the dead of night when no one at the law school would be monitoring e-mail or answering phones.  Other situations arise during the day. 

Here are some examples of problems that students have told me about and remarked that they did not know what to do:

  • A student wakes up seriously ill on the day of a mid-term or final exam.
  • A student realizes that she inadvertently forgot to turn in a study aid book within the deadlines.
  • A student is uncertain about allowed assistance on a paper.
  • A student is uncertain of the professor's definition of "open book" for an exam two days from now.
  • A student spills coffee on a library book and tries to minimize the damage.
  • A student's laptop crashes right before a paper is to be turned in to a professor.
  • A student tries to submit a paper electronically as required without success.
  • A student's car breaks down, and she does not have the $200 to get it fixed.
  • A student's car breaks down, and she needs to get to an exam.
  • A student's whose grandmother has been admitted to hospital has to miss classes for a week.

These are all classic situations that we see over and over again in law schol.  However, students often seem to think they are alone with the problem.  

When you do not know what to do, it is usually a sign that you need to ask someone for help.  E-mail, phone, or stop by to get advice and find out the correct protocol.  If it is the middle of the night, there is still voicemail and e-mail to notify someone of the problem and indicate the steps one is taking.  If the Honor Code requires anonymity so that a professor cannot be contacted, there are still faculty secretaries, administrators, IT/library personnel, and others who can help.

Often the student can get assistance or at least ameliorate the consequences by contacting someone or seeking an alternative.  For the examples above, the possibilities will vary by law school.  However, here are some examples of problem-solving that may work:

  • If ill, go to the student health services or another doctor as soon as possible as well as leaving a voicemail for or sending an e-mail to the Registrar/Associate Dean to inquire about postponing the mid-term or final exam.
  • For a late study aid, contact the law library circulation desk to explain the situation and request permission to turn it in late.
  • Read the assignment instructions or contact the professor for clarification as to the assistance that is allowed on an assignment.
  • Read the syllabus, contact the professor for clarification on the definition of "open book," or ask the Registrar's Office if the exam paperwork might have the professor's instructions as to what students can bring in to an exam.
  • For damage to a library book, take the item to the circulation desk and explain what happened; depending on the amount of damage, the student may or may not need to pay for a replacement.
  • For a laptop crash, contact the law school or university IT folks for assistance. 
  • Electronic submission can again be assisted by the IT folks.  If all else fails, submission by the deadline may be possible to a faculty secretary or administrator if anonymity is an issue.
  • Most law schools have emergency loan programs to help students with unexpected expenses when other financial options are not available.
  • If a student has allowed ample time to get to the exam without rushing, a telephone call to a classmate or request for help from a neighbor or calling a taxi may all be options.
  • A quick e-mail or voicemail to the Registrar when a student has to leave unexpectedly provides the law school with the information that can then be relayed to professors as appropriate.

Some crises can be averted by simple planning.  Considering the parameters of assignments or of exams early can forestall problems (asking ahead about what assistance is allowed or what is "open book").  Completing work ahead of schedule rather than at the last minute can also lessen snafus (extra time to sort electronic submission or printer problems).  Any computer-related assignment should have a back-up copy external to the student's computer (flashdrive or external hard drive) to provide an alternate copy.  Allowing extra time to get to an exam can give the cushion needed for car problems or traffic jams.

Student Handbooks and professors' syllabi normally include procedures and information that relate to some of these problems.  Students often mention that they never thought to look at those resources in the heat of the moment.  It is a shame that panicky feelings and stress often exacerbate the situations so that students choose to go it alone or make less beneficial decisions.  (Amy Jarmon)

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