Do you appreciate constructive criticism? Does it make your angry? Do you feel hurt? All of the above? Constructive feedback is essential for learning. Feedback is a scarce commodity in law school. Students often don’t know how well they are doing until they see their grades. There is no homework to turn in so that the professor could evaluate your progress. There is very little team work in law school. In real life, you are going to hear criticism from partners, other associates, clients, opposing counsels, judges. Not so in law school. You need to be proactive in seeking feedback from your professors. The sooner you learn how to receive and act on the constructive feedback, the better off you are going to be. Here are ten tips for receiving feedback:
- Develop the right mindset. Law School Academic Support Blog has a great post on The First Year Five-Step Grade Acceptance Plan. Feedback is information, and your brain must be receptive to take in the ideas that are offered. If you are angry, emotional, defensive, you can’t think clearly. Use stress-management techniques, such as taking deep breaths, to control your emotions.
- Schedule appropriate time and place for receiving feedback. You don’t want to be rushed or disrupted. It is probably not a good idea to seek feedback right after you see your grade even if you feel the urge to deal with it right away.
- Prepare for your feedback session. Think of the questions you may want to ask your professor. It should be a two-way conversation. Focus on the solutions of the future rather than the mistakes of the past.
- When you listen to your professor, your goal should be to understand, and not to judge what you hear. You will have time later to decide if you agree or disagree with the professor’s opinions and recommendations.
- Repeat back what your professor has said to avoid misunderstandings. You can offer your summary of the main points at the end of the session: “Let me see, Professor, if I understood you correctly. In your opinion, I should focus on …”.
- Ask clarifying questions, but don’t get into an argument. Keep it professional.
- Take notes so that you can review them later when you decide what to do about the feedback.
- Don’t feel that you have to accept each piece of advice. You can sort the recommendations you received into three categories: “cash,” “stash,“ and “trash.” “Cash” is the “golden” advice that you should definitely follow. “Trash” is the advice you choose to ignore. “Stash” is the advice that you need to think about in the future.
- Turn your feedback into a set of goals and actions to implement. There is no use in feedback if you don’t plan to do anything about it.
- Acknowledge your professor’s time and expertise and thank him or her for the feedback.
You are in law school to learn, and your professor is there to teach you. A feedback session can make the process easier for both of you.