Many law students I know are obsessed with some level of perfectionism.
They have never struggled with a legal concept, a legal theory, or a thought. They scoff, whether openly or secretly, at a fellow student who may ask a "stupid" question, or simply want to maintain a facade of law school superiority.
Fun Fact: When you enter the 'real world' of law, the majority of work you will do involves collaboration. A large majority of legal research is handed down the chain of command, because a lawyer doesn't have the time to dedicate to scoping out an area he or she may not entirely know the "ins and outs" for for hours on end.
If you're working at a "BigLaw" firm, this life skill is even more important. In "BigLaw," you will be involved in one small part of a larger file. Teamwork is needed. People won't know things. It's up to you to learn them and teach them to others, then prepare those materials for your clients.
Medium-sized to boutique firms, or even working for solo practitioners? Your responsibility arguably grows the more hats you wear in a given firm.
My point is: Perfectionism is a fantasy in law, in life in general, and one of the most important aspects as a student is to realise when you may need help. Ten out of ten lawyers, legal professionals, and clients would rather have you ask for help, than stumble through a file on your own and make a mistake that leads to everyone else cleaning up your mess because a student was too afraid to ask for help.
Which leads me to how this translates to student's reluctance to access tutorial services or additional academic support in law school. This can be at services offered by law school societies at the law school proper, the writing centre, or external, paid private tutoring (which corresponds with school policy and is endorsed by the law school).
Most law students I know have a strong aversion to admitting to using tutorial services or additional academic support. It's yet another aspect of what I've heard referred to as "Law Robots."
These are the students who like to act as the human repository of law knowledge (mostly to further their own personal image and "superiority" over other students), but honestly, have neither the interpersonal skills nor the modesty to admit when they don't know something.
It's insecure, it's unwarranted, and it's alright if you don't know something. You'll realise you know less and less the deeper you dive into the wonderful world of law, so to quote The Princess Bride, "Get used to disappointment."
The reason why I wanted to make this blog post is because of this 'stigma' against receiving academic help in law school.
I should preface this by saying, no matter what anyone says, unless they're an amalgamation of every great judge in the last two hundred years, they have gotten academic help through law school. They just don't want to admit it.
Which leads me to my own academic support story.
Garnering academic support throughout law school was never a question for me: It was really a question of simply recognising when I needed it.
Coming from a family of teachers, and having taught myself, it just seemed really a common sense aspect of attending higher education and learning about an area of law I had never been exposed to.
What was my alternate option? Maintain my pride, and end up with a sub-par law grade? (You'll be surprised at how many law students I've heard of who choose that option).
However, having never used a tutor before, I had difficulty initially recognising the warning signs of needing additional support in terms of learning. I figured I'd lean into what I had done previously when I had struggled with concepts in class; namely, taking out additional materials at the library, and working harder, longer.
Several weeks into attending tutorial services, I made the excuse to a classmate that I needed to attend a tutorial, which was why I couldn't hang out with them.
They openly scoffed.
This dismissive attitude only grew throughout my first year of law school, which only led to how much this attitude was both widespread and insidious. Students who were previously thought of as perfectly capable, as soon as they let it slip that they were attending additional services, suddenly were treated as though they had the brain functions of a potato. While receiving additional academic help was never something you'd particularly shout from the rooftops, I was still struck with how immature this attitude was, especially when students were receiving (myself included) additional materials on how to properly format writing (an important aspect of actual practice and a beast to tackle in and of itself), and help with more difficult, complex areas of law that even Constitutional Law scholars debate.
By halfway through my law school journey, not until I was able to take a step back with a tutor and sort aspects of Public Law in my head to a simplified, structured format (my biggest struggle), I left each session with the concept from the class before clarified. This allowed each aspect of the law to build upon the other. I felt confident and not like I was simply walking to my doom every week at 11:30am in the morning. Whereas Public Law terrified me, Constitutional Law was- dare I say it- manageable.
By the time I made it to Administrative Law (which Constitutional Law and Public Law are treated as a prerequisite to), I had moved from "manageable" to outright "interesting" and downright "fun," where others who had coasted on their previous classes groaned at the intricacies of Administrative appeals.
I base that progression mostly on the fact that Administrative Law naturally feels more grounded and practical to me as an individual (You can actually trace the pathway of an appeal or claim up the legal chain for a client, however complex that appeal process may be), and also that due to developing that strong academic basis. By the end of my law school career, I actually had a highly competitive grade in what was initially my "worst' area of law.
It was only near the end of my second year that I realised this particular school tutor was an open secret within the law school, and everybody (literally, everybody) saw him (Yes, even my classmate who openly scoffed when I mentioned I was attending a tutorial).
So what are some tips I can provide you with today based on my little spiel and story?
Everyone takes additional help throughout law school in some way, shape, or form. And those who don't are either liars, or undeniable human brains (Everyone is not an undeniable human brain- even though they'd like to be perceived as one).
Tutorial services can help you create a strong basis, especially in mandatory classes that will build upon one another. By the end of your law school career, if you are working with your tutor or writing centre effectively, you should be entering academic sessions with some questions beforehand, rather than being a human stump and have them simply reiterating the information back at you. That shows you are actually engaging with the material, even if you don't entirely understand it.
Only use school-endorsed or vetted tutorial services: Some tutors care less about the students that come through their door and more about bleeding them dry for every crumpled dollar they have. The best way to find out about tutorial services is asking your career services office or law student society.
Financially plan if you plan on taking up private tutorial services: If you are paying for tutorial services vetted through your law school, make sure to cut additional expenses where you need to. Having a cheap dollar coffee for six weeks and packing your own lunch to afford paid tutorial services beats beating your mind out about a course you might fail.
One-on-one tutoring for more difficult concepts could be helpful (especially considering COVID-19). I met my endorsed tutor either weekly or biweekly early Saturday morning (depending on how much I was struggling) until the end of a given semester. That way, if there was a concept I didn't understand, I could nip it in the bud, have someone explain it, and move forward with more challenging concepts, rather than just stew on concepts that build upon each other until the end of term. That way, you avoid the "I have one week to clarify all my notes" panic that many who ironically scoff at tutorial services end up in.
(Note: If I was attending law school during COVID-19, this would be pencilled in immediately at the beginning of term. The fact that group study dates are much more challenging now that you physically can't be close with others showing textbooks and concepts would undoubtedly drag group study dates down more than they even can be when you organise a study group with particularly unfocused yet smart individuals. With one-on-one tutoring, you can at least dedicate your entire hour on Zoom besides some pleasantries here and there to the concept at hand).
Be wary of how the law changes: Law obviously changes in practice, and if you don't pay attention to that change or just think you can coast on old case law, you're not setting up to be a very good lawyer. Make sure that even if your tutor is endorsed, they may be a year or two out of taking that course you previously took. If they are working in an area of law or have chosen electives that are completely separate from the course they tutored you in, they are most likely are not up to date with the latest legal case law.
Make sure you follow up your tutorial sessions with your own study, understand how you will be applying what you have had clarified on exams, and triple-check your class syllabus to make sure you're not missing any pressing dissenting opinions or updates in terms of recent case law.