Friday, November 1, 2013

I Just Got Hammered by Mid-terms

So you just got hammered by mid-terms.  Or legal writing grades. Now you wonder if working hard is worth it and whether you have what it takes to succeed in law school.  Let me offer a couple of thoughts.

First, you are trying something for which you had little or no real training when you began, so setbacks are a given.  Most students enrolled in a doctoral program entered with substantial training in the field and could settle easily into the thought processes that govern that field.  Generally, they have done extensive undergraduate and graduate work in the field itself.  You entered law with little or none of that training and are aspiring to a doctorate in the ways lawyers and judges think.  A hiccup or two should not surprise you if you step back and look at what you are asking of yourself.

Second, whenever you truly stretch yourself, you will stumble at times. The study of law is a stretch for all of us.  It takes guts because you are reaching beyond your capabilities in order to grow.  You know you are reaching when you sometimes find things temporarily beyond your reach.  You know you are growing when you stretch until you reach them.

Third, "failure" is an inaccurate term during growth.  Failure comes only when you throw in the towel. When you get back up and step back into the fight, failure has not occurred.

Fourth, getting into the fight means you are going to take some punches.  Ask any prize fighter.  Is it realistic to get into the ring and think the other guy will never land a punch?  Taking punches is part of the enterprise.  Sometimes getting knocked to the canvas is part of the job.  The fighter has not lost until he cannot get back up.  Very few champions have never hit the canvas.

So, what should you do?  Go back to your corner and ask your trainer what you need to do in the next round. 

You are surrounded by trainers.  Your professors have a pretty good idea what you can do to get back into the fight.  Some may be lousy in the corner, but every law school has some who are great trainers. Find them.  They may be academic support professionals, deans of students, insightful professors.  They are in your law school.  Find them.

Begin with the academic support professional if your school as one.  She thinks about training all the time and can diagnose a bad round pretty well and tell you what to change in how you are approaching the fight.  My own experience as a trainer is that most students who get knocked down have the intellectual horse power and the motivation to win the fight; they just need to adjust a little to win the next round.

Go over your mid-terms with your professors.  They may surprise you with their insights into how you are writing your exams.  Much of the time I find that first-year students do not really understand what they are being asked to do on exams, so they spend the answer focusing on the wrong thing -- usually, they spend too much time telling what they know about the law and too little time applying it to the facts in the question.  The mistake is understandable.  All their lives they have been asked to regurgitate what they have learned.  We are asking them to demonstrate what they know by applying it.  It is a different task.

GET BACK UP. Do not lie on the canvas.  You can go the distance if you get back up and figure out how to fight the next round.  In this business, going the distance is a win.

Dan Weddle

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