Each semester my students must meet with me to discuss their research, and each semester I put a great deal of thought into how to arrange these meetings. I love the individual attention I can give each student in these meetings, and yet, scheduling these meetings always feels like a nightmare. Sometimes I think I have not properly explained the parameters of our scheduling system, but more often it is their lack of attention to detail that leads to my students showing up late, scheduling meetings when they are already scheduled to be in other classes, or otherwise failing to follow the proscribed method of scheduling and attendance.
The issues are not simply a result of the online scheduling system, though my colleagues and I have an annual debate about the best technology to use: should we choose one that all of the students can use without logging in, or one that is more sophisticated but more complicated? This year I am coming to the conclusion that the issue of choosing the ideal scheduling program is moot. The real issue is that the ability to schedule and then attend a meeting at a particular time is a skill which law students should have. In their future careers it will be a necessity that they be reliable, both for their colleagues and their clients. Is it too much to ask that a lawyer must be able to arrive on time to their obligations?
I am sympathetic to the student experience. In some ways it is freeing to be a student, and in some ways deeply overwhelming. A student must attend classes and devote hours to reading and preparing, but most of the negative consequences involved in the law school curriculum center around exams. They are preparing for a carefully scheduled life, but their school time is not terribly structured. Some law students keep to a 9-5 schedule and eat dinner at home every evening. Many stay up late and can be found asleep in the library at odd hours.
So how do we teach professionalism? We cannot force each student to color-code their calendar(s) as I do. We must accept that each person’s method may be different, and that it is overly paternalistic to assume we can teach a group of adults how to be organized and timely when so many factors may contribute to a lack of timeliness. This issue is particularly fraught because of the economic factors: is my student late because she lacks reliable transportation, or because her childcare obligations are interfering with her optimal time management, or because she is in need of tips about organization and calendar management?
How can law schools assess this need and manage this lesson? I wish we could offer a workshop on time management, but the cruel irony is that the only students who attend optional workshops are the ones who do not need help with time management. So how do we catch the students who need help and don’t attend optional meetings? Each time we schedule one-on-one meetings with students (and I would suggest that we require more of these) there is an opportunity to identify students who need assistance with strategies for timeliness or time management. Perhaps every student who misses a meeting could be referred to the student services team (and signed up for a mandatory workshop)? Maybe the Career Services department would want to get involved, to avert potential career issues while the students are still in school? Everyone working in a law school wants their graduates to be career-ready, and that includes being able to manage a busy schedule with professionalism.