February 15, 2012
Andrew J. McClurg holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis. He recently answered some questions about his latest book, The Companion Text to Law School: Understanding and Surviving Life With a Law Student.
What prompted you to write The Companion Text?
I wrote the book to prepare parents, partners and other loved ones of law students for what to expect and how to make sense of not only law school, but their stressed-out and rapidly transforming student. The idea came to me while reading Amazon.com customer reviews of my law school prep book, 1L of a Ride (West, 2009). Several of the reviews recommended the book for family members and other loved ones of students. My surveys of law students also showed an almost desperate desire to be understood by their loved ones.
You received over 200 responses to your survey of law students and their significant others. Did any of their responses surprise you?
Most of the comments confirmed what I already believed. The comments on both sides raised themes that were remarkably consistent. For example, students uniformly lamented how their loved ones just “don’t get it.” There were a few surprises, however. The biggest one was how many students named the Socratic Method when asked to list the one thing they love most about law school!
Much of your book is spent demystifying law school for those that have never experienced it. What is it about law school that makes it so opaque to outsiders?
Loved ones who attended college or other graduate programs naturally tend to associate law school with their own experiences. But law school is completely unique. Only law school uses the intimidating Socratic method of teaching. Only law school requires students to learn from casebooks that make little effort to actually explain the subject matter. Only law students are deprived of performance feedback until a single pressure-packed final exam at the end of the semester. Only law school places such extreme importance on grades and class rank, especially early grades, in obtaining both internal and external rewards.
What’s the most important thing that law students can do to maintain strong relationships with their significant other while in law school?
Most of the advice I end up giving are elementary tips that would occur to any person with emotional intelligence; things like be patient, communicate, manage debt and money wisely, and find ways to spend time together while leaving law school behind. But hopefully, hearing this advice from people who are actually walking the law school-walk will drive it home.
Work-life balance can be an issue not just for law students but also for practicing attorneys. What resources do you suggest for students that are about to graduate and begin their legal practice?
One of the best resources is a book called The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law, by Professors Nancy Levit and Douglas Linder. They delve into mountains of research as to what makes people happy and offer a lot of solid suggestions for finding and maintaining a proper work-life balance as a lawyer.