Why Lawyers Procrastinate

Can the source of lawyer procrastination be traced to law school?  Joel Spolsky, in his always-insightful Joel on Software Blog, takes on colleges teaching computer science, and squarely blames them for turning out students poorly prepared to tackle time-based, collaborative projects. 

College students in their final year have about 16 years of experience doing short projects and leaving everything until the last minute. Until you’re a senior in college, you’re very unlikely to have ever encountered an assignment that can’t be done by staying up all night….

Students have exactly zero experience with long term, team-based schedules. Therefore, they almost always do crappy work when given a term-length project and told to manage their time themselves.

If anything productive is to come out of these kinds of projects, you have to have weekly deadlines, and you have to recognize that ALL the work for the project will be done the night before the weekly deadline. It appears to be a permanent part of the human condition that long term deadlines without short term milestones are rarely met.

Lawyers, does this sound familiar?  I’m doing some more thinking on this, but it seems to me that law students not required to meet deadlines (and work collaboratively) are ill-prepared to become good lawyers.  Your thoughts?

4 Responses to Why Lawyers Procrastinate
  1. John Infante
    October 27, 2009 | 9:11 am

    This might be the biggest benefit to practical courses like clinics, trial advocacy (done right), etc. There’s more assignments so students are forced to provide finished work on a schedule rather than just at the end of the semester.

    The big challenge though is getting students to do the work. In my international business transactions class, we had in-class group work to review after each section. I didn’t want to do group work and didn’t find it helpful so I just didn’t show up. Now if it was graded work? Different story.

  2. Alli Gerkman
    October 27, 2009 | 11:33 am

    I’m with John on the clinics. Just about anything I did that was deadline-driven or collaborative was in my clinic. It was also the most rewarding experience I had in law school–and I think that’s related.

    That said, I’m not sure schools should be managing the time for students (by setting up scheduled “check-ins”) just for the sake of it. I can’t decide whether that teaches or encourages disdain. To the extent students haven’t figured out how to manage their time, law schools might be wise to look at MBA programs, which tend to take students who have had some time as adults in the working world before heading back to school. I’m quite certain law schools will move to that model any day now…

    But in the [likely] event they don’t, I’ve always found the best way to force time management is to get really busy. My grades in law school got significantly better the more side jobs and projects I took on. Law schools (like my own) that discourage outside jobs in the first year (or beyond) are doing their students a great disservice.

  3. Loi Laing
    October 28, 2009 | 8:34 pm

    Wow! I never thought of it from that perspective. Preparing for the bar exam was probably the only time I recall long-term, time-based planning. I realized that I had to break up the work and diligently approach it on a schedule. Up until that point all the work and studying was the night before.

  4. Harry Styron
    October 29, 2009 | 8:35 pm

    With a dozen associates I’ve hired, half men, all but one of the men were procrastinators, but none of the women were.

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