The four kinds of professors and how to do well in their classes

By Alexandra Sumner

I once complimented a girl in an elevator, telling her that her handbag was “super cute”  and that it matched her outfit very well. As it turns out, that “girl” was my Criminal Law professor. Oops.

Going into to law school, I had a lot of preconceptions about what the professors were like. I thought they all wore tweed, smoked pipes and wanted to be Supreme Court justices when they “grew up.” Turns out, like a good bag of Chex-Mix there’s a bit more variety than that. To help you avoid similar elevator mixups, here are four types of professors you can spot in the wild.

The Stereotype. This professor shows up to class barely on-time, flinging open the classroom door and wearing a jacket that looks like it belongs to a Super Bowl linebacker. He’ll talk about nothing but scotch, cigars and his own brilliance. By finals, you’ll be able to recite his resume from heart — where he’s worked, who he’s represented and papers he’s authored. Chances are, you’ll even know what kind of car he drives — because he’ll tell you every other class period. (“So I was driving my Audi the other day…”)

I’m amazed these professors last so long. You think their arm would hurt from patting themselves on the back all day. Don’t get me wrong — some of my professors have accomplished great things, but I signed up for Real Estate, not your autobiography.

(Practice tip: The best way to deal with this kind of professor is to mirror his/her own opinions back to them. If cold called, just give the answer you think the professor would. Even if it’s not right, you’ll earn some valuable brownie points.)


The Nerd. I once had a professor who was both a doctor and a lawyer. (Boy did I feel dumb.) Professors like this look great on a school’s tenure page but may not be as good for bar passage. They often ask a lot of theoretical questions yet don’t call on students for an answer. I remember being very overwhelmed in my doctor/lawyer/professor’s class, and I wasn’t the only one. As another student put it, “I don’t even understand what I don’t understand.”

It can be hard to keep up with the reading and workload in a class where you’re completely lost — whether it be Con Law, Admin, or Tax you’ll need to find a supplementary instructional method that works for you. For me it’s watching lecture videos on Barbri or Quimbee; for others it’s leafing through hornbooks and Q&A sets. You might have a professor, but you’re the one who’s really going to teach yourself. The plus side? Classes taught by these professors can be great networking opportunities — you can create a study group with several other students and learn the material together; building relationships along the way.


The “Fun” One. For me, this was my Litigation Drafting professor. Unlike most instructors, she actually took the time to explain basic legal filing requirements to us to get us “practice ready.”  She took time to teach us little things most people would sweep under the rug: font size, margin usage and general court docket filing requirements. She taught us how to look up oral argument dockets and how to determine what a judge’s filing number is.

Whenever the class looked confused or out of place, she would remind us that the law is its own world and that she hadn’t learned these things until she was a first-year associate — so we were ahead of schedule. What I most appreciated about her was her honesty and her respect for our time. She never assigned busy work and only gave us assignments that would truly make us better writers; I never felt like she belittled us or treated us as anything other than future lawyers. She even tried to make class fun. One day we took “depositions” for an assignment and she came in wearing a wig (pretending to be our client).

Another time she played a clip from “The Office” for us to analyze and use to improve our questioning skills. In an environment where you often are lectured at for hours on end, it can be fun to do something different — and as they say, time flies when you’re having fun. If you find yourself lucky enough to have one of these professors, be sure to say so in their evaluations. Professors like this need to be recognized for the blessing they are.


The Bar Disciple. This professor teaches to the test, and only to the test. Don’t get me wrong — it’s very helpful, but not necessarily practical for everyday life. A lot of time they’ll answer your question with, “It won’t be on the bar so it doesn’t matter” or “You don’t need to know that anyway.”  For areas you don’t plan on practicing in, this is fine.  But if you plan on being a criminal defense attorney maybe take someone a bit more “involved” for Criminal Procedure. You need to be able to ask any questions you want, rather than just test questions. Not every class is life-changing; sometimes you just need the information.     

Alexandra Sumner is a 3L at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianpolis.