In recent posts we have explored some of the important academic skills students need for success in law school, such as reading and briefing cases, taking effective class notes, and outlining. As important as those skills are, law students can easily undermine their study efforts by missing too many of their law school classes. In fact, many students who struggle academically in law school also have a significant number of class absences—it is difficult to do well if you aren’t consistently in class.
Let’s explore some of the reasons law students give for missing class:
- “The syllabus says that I can miss four classes before my grade will be penalized, and I haven’t used all of my absences yet.”
- “My parents booked this family vacation six months ago, and they didn’t realize at that time that law students do not get the entire week of Thanksgiving off.”
- “I have a midterm in Torts tomorrow that I want to study more for, and Property doesn’t have a midterm.”
- “I stayed up really late last night finishing an assignment that is due for Legal Writing, and I just couldn’t get myself out of bed early enough this morning to go to Contracts class.”
- “I was going to be five minutes late to class, so I decided it was better if I didn’t go at all.”
- “I didn’t go to class because I didn’t get the reading done.”
In reality, these types of reasons are rarely an adequate justification for missing class in law school. Here are some explanations for why this is the case:
“The syllabus says that I can miss four classes before my grade will be penalized, and I haven’t used all of my absences yet.”: Your syllabus may list a maximum number of absences, but that doesn’t mean that you have that many “free” passes to miss class. Each time that you miss class, it puts you further behind in the course. In some cases, you may never recover the information you lost from not being in class. Students commonly skip too many classes early in the semester, and then if something happens later in the semester, such as a family emergency or major illness, they end up penalized for too many absences.
Sometimes students decide they can skip classes late in the semester because they still have absences available. This is a bad choice for two additional reasons: (1) in the last few weeks of the semester, your professor may provide specific guidance about the final exam, and you will miss that information; and (2) you may not have enough time to make up what you missed, especially if the professor is playing catch-up and covering a lot of material in each class.
“My parents booked this family vacation six months ago, and they didn’t realize at that time that law students do not get the entire week of Thanksgiving off.”: Vacations are really never a good reason for missing classes in law school, for the same reasons that I explained above. Put your family and friends on notice that any vacations will have to be scheduled around your law school schedule. You are investing a lot of time and money into becoming a lawyer; keep your priorities in focus.
“I have a midterm in Torts tomorrow that I want to study more for, and Property doesn’t have a midterm.”: You should never “steal” time from one class to do something for another. Keep in mind that each of your classes is important—you will earn grades in all of them. It takes much more time to make up what you have missed from a class than to go to class in the first place, and you will end up taking that time from yet another class or another priority if you aren’t careful.
“I stayed up really late last night finishing an assignment that is due for Legal Writing, and I just couldn’t get myself out of bed early enough this morning to go to Contracts class.”: This excuse is usually just about poor scheduling, poor prioritization, or procrastination. As I explained above, “stealing” time from one class to do something for another is never the way to go. Work on creating a study schedule that builds in time to complete Legal Writing assignments and other assignments that will take a lot of time, and stick with it—don’t wait until the last minute!
“I was going to be five minutes late to class, so I decided it was better if I didn’t go at all.”: Unless your professor has a clearly stated policy that you should never to go into class if you are tardy, you should still go to class. It will be easier to make up the five minutes that you missed than it will be to make up an entire class. Just make sure that you are careful about how you come into the classroom so that you reduce the amount of distraction you create for your professor and fellow students.
“I didn’t go to class because I didn’t get the reading done.”: Like the previous excuse, you should go to class unless your professor has a clearly stated policy that prohibits attendance in this circumstance. You won’t get as much out of class if you haven’t done the reading, but it is still a better choice than missing class entirely.
The alternative: Treat Law School Like an Important Job. Here’s the thing. Law school is your job right now—a very important job. So treat it like one. People who have important jobs don’t “skip” work. There can be really good reasons for missing work or class (such as serious personal or family illnesses, emergencies, child care issues, job interviews, etc.), and it’s ok to be absent for those reasons. But don’t let “skipped” classes become an impediment to academic success.