Tuesday, May 17, 2022
Ever since I listened to the first season of Serial, I have thought it would be great to do a podcast called 1L. It would track the experience of a group of law students through their first year of law school. Not Harvard. Not Yale. Ordinary law students at an ordinary law school, experiencing what all law students experience, but not stepping into the same river twice.
The podcast exists! And it has been shockingly close for the past two years. Two recent graduates of my law school, the Oklahoma City University School of Law, started podcasting about their experiences in January 2020. The podcast is called Ladies Who Law School (LWLS), and it is even better than I imagined it would be. I have yet to meet the two hosts, Samantha Lemke (left) and Haylie Davis (below, right). I only learned of the podcast at their graduation, but I have started listening, and there is so much of value here! I am five episodes in, and I want to share some of what I have learned. I will post occasionally as I come across more content of interest to followers of this blog.
I want to stress is that this blog is so very useful:
- for students considering law school;
- for students just starting law school;
- for students who are in law school but want to hear from people who are sharing some of their experiences; and
- for law professors, who so rarely get to hear honest conversations about what law school is like for our students
They launched the podcast just after having received their first-year grades. They relate some experiences that, I have to admit, highlight some problematic features of legal education. They amaze me with their complete lack of bitterness. In the first episode, we learn that neither of them had any graded assessments in any of their doctrinal courses before the final exams. In addition, they report that one of their exams had a skills component that caught them by surprise. Their take-away: anything covered in the course is fair game for the final. We as law professors should be grateful for students like Samantha and Haylie who accept that challenges we throw at them.
I am not a fan of winner-take-all final exams, especially not in the first semester of law school. That said, I also know that there are a lot of different ways to be an effective law professor. I just think it is unfortunate if students are only exposed to one approach, and I feel like we let down our first-year students if none of them got any graded, substantive feedback in their first semester of law school until they got their grades back in January. I commend Haylie and Samantha for the maturity with which they responded to a pedagogical experience that they might have thought less than ideal.
In Episode 2, they come to terms a little bit more with their first-semester grades. The reality of their grades begins to sink in, and they are a bit more deflated. Fortunately, they already know what I think I have to tell my students: their law school grades do not define them, and they will find plenty of ways to distinguish themselves and find suitable careers regardless of their class rank. They also address the stress of cold calling and the Socratic method. Once again, LWLS demonstrates that my students often understand law school pedagogy better than I give them credit for doing. They really understand why we teach the way we do, and they buy into it, which really helps them get the most out of their legal education. They know that the pressure of cold calling keeps them on top of the material, and they know that they have to keep on top of the material, because law school requires that students step up their game compared to their previous educational experiences.
Episode 3 has useful tips about how to apply and prepare for law school. Along the way, once again the LWLS hosts understand things that students need to know: law school is not like college. It's like a really demanding, full-time job. Your family and loved-ones need to know that and know that you cannot be available for them as you were before. "This is something I'm doing for me," they repeat, and I hope their classmates and peers hear it! Episode 4 addresses the pros and cons of transferring after your first year. I have never before heard how this calculus looks from the student perspective, other than conversations with individual students contemplating transfer. Those conversations focus on the individual student's reasons for transferring, which are sui generis. LWLS provides a macro perspective on transferring that I had never heard before.
I'll admit that I skipped a lot of Episode 5, which was a Valentine's Day episode dedicated to dating while in law school, but what I heard was pretty enlightening. I was already married when I went to law school, so dating was not an issue. But the LWLS hosts have interesting insights and experiences to share. One is in a long-distance relationship; the other is dating a classmate. You can imagine the challenges.
I approached the podcast with some trepidation. Do I really want to hear law students talking about their experiences? Do I want to hear commentary on my colleagues' professional performances? So far, I have been pleasantly surprised. LWLS refrains from picking the low-hanging fruit. They are extremely reluctant to say anything negative about the classroom experience. The farthest they will go is to say something like, "Let's just say, it's not my favorite course." And as to particular professors, they recognize that an ineffective professor might just be ineffective for you. They give us the benefit of the doubt, whether or not we deserve it.
It's not that I don't think the legal academy would benefit from a more jaundiced perspective on our methods. I'm just glad this podcast is not the vehicle for that. It nevertheless manages to convey a very clear-eyed, realistic perspective on the life of law students, told as it is experienced, in something approaching real time.
I recommend this podcast to my colleagues who want to hear what this experience looks like from the other side of the lectern. I look forward to listening to the remaining episodes, and I will share highlights as I come across them over the summer.