Wednesday, April 19, 2006

How to avoid being cold-called in class.

Category: Humor, Law School.
This article was originally published in the Georgetown Law Weekly on April 11, 2006.

This is Georgetown, and Georgetown has a lot of professors. By “a lot”, I mean like Wu-Tang Clan size numbers. There are so many professors here that, as a demographic, associate professors lag behind only Ethiopians and Salvadorans in the District of Columbia. Interestingly, Amharic and Spanish are easier to understand than Legalese, and allow you to order tasty food, to boot.

Given the number of professors here, there is an equivalent amount of styles when it comes to cold-calling. Some professors assign specific people to specific days, thus guaranteeing a minimum amount of delinquency per class. If you are a professor and you worry about class size, just assign specific people to be on call. The classroom will empty out. Other professors assign students to specific subjects, which is the reason I know all about fee tails but absolutely nothing about anything else about porperty, including spelling. Finally, there are those professors who continue to just cold-call in an old-fashion way. These professors are normally fall into one or two categories. One, they are old. Like, Magna-Carta old. These are the professors that actually studied under Charles Langdell, and still remember how Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. used to tip. These guys still cold-call because that is how they’re wired, and believe that absolute terror is the proper condition for a law student. These are the guys that have someone else check their email. I use the term guys because they are all men. The grim specter of the “emeritus” label is breathing down their throats. The second group of professors who cold call are what I will label “turtles”, because they are hard. They tend to be adjunct professors or newly-minted full time professors freshly released into academia. The student surveys about them typically have the terms “hard-ass”, “mean”, “tough”, and “knows their stuff”. You hate taking this professor, but you love asking him or her for a recommendation.

At any rate, there are going to be times in law school when you will be cold-called. I therefore present to you the following:

Avoiding a cold-calling is easy to do if you do it right. The most important thing about any of these methods is to act with confidence. Professors can smell weakness, and so can gunners. If either detects a lack of confidence in you, you will be demolished. Try supplementing your confidence with whiskey ahead of time.

1) DON’T ANSWER - This method is the simplest, but only works early in the semester or with a befuddled prof. Simply wait when your name is called, and pretend that nothing is happening. The prof will call your name again, then move on. Caveats: Make sure you only do this for a class that actually cold-calls, and NEVER for a class where the readings are assigned. Also, warn your friends ahead of time that you will be doing this, because otherwise they will all turn and look at you, or, ever worse, visibly elbow you thinking that you’re not paying attention.

2) ESTABLISH A REPUTATION FOR UNHELPFUL, POSSIBLY UPSETTING COMMENTS. This one requires some preparation. First, volunteer often early in the semester with stunted, profanity-laden comments. Through in some low-level racism or accusations of racism. Use the word “disestablishmentarianism” as often as possible. Spit when you talk. After, say, a half-dozen of these in the first few weeks, you should be relatively cold-call free the rest of the semester. It helps to establish a particular nutty persona, so that you are not only unhelpful but also repetitive. In International Law I related everything I said early on to the injustice of the lack of full U.N. recognition of the Knights of the Order of Malta. Caveat: Make sure ahead of time that you pick a persona of craziness that is NOT in line with your professor’s own views. For example, do not be the right wing psychopath if your professor is a right-wing psychopath, and do not be the crazy left-wing radical if you are in Section 3.

3) FEIGN ILLNESS. Carry a box of tissues into class, then blow your nose often. Make hacking throat noises while the professor is trying to lecture. Moan and pretend like you can’t tell you’re moaning. Close you eyes and sign during the class break. This should prevent the prof from wanting to hear any noises that come out of your mouth at all. Caveat: Do not just pretend to be hung over. Professors like to call on drunks, as it reminds them of their own law school days.


A friend of mine here in law school recently started dating a medical student. My buddy tells me that he is dating her because she is brilliant, gorgeous, and is willing to date him. This was a dumb idea on her part for the following reasons:

(1) As a medical student, she will, eventually, blame him for the horrendous malpractice insurance costs she will be paying.
(2) The relationship leaves them open to Cosby Show/Huxtables jokes, and those are never funny. Unless you’re Bill Cosby, and even then they’re funny only before the introduction of Olivia.
(3) My friend is really ugly.

No, I’m just kidding. My friend (hereafter referred to as “Chuck”) is a guy, and, as far as I know, just fine attractiveness-wise. I’m not sure, though, because thus far in my life I am a heterosexual male, and as such am physically unable to correctly evaluate the attractiveness of men in general and my friends in particular. Is this because there is anything wrong with being able to say another man is attractive? Of course not. I am just incapable of doing so. I would love to be able to tell if other men are attractive; it really impresses the ladies. It’s like a party trick, and you guys should try it sometime. Just frankly pretend to have an opinion about how handsome and/or hot some other dude is at a party and watch all your lady friends gasp in surprise. Soon, they will ask you to evaluate the other men there, and you can bask in the glory of female attention for at least 20 or 25 minutes.

Ostensibly platonic female friend: “Mark! Mark! Would guys think that the guy in the corner is hot?”

Me: “Uh… yes. Lean in closer and I will tell you why.”

Basically, I assume that Chuck is somewhat attractive, or is at the very least not grotesquely squid-hideous, because the med student, “Diane”, is dating him. Good on him. I cannot tell when other men are attractive, but I’m happy for them when they find a woman they can trick into dating them. That said, I want to show support for my fellow males who ARE able to evaluate honestly other men’s attractiveness, and you should too. On Wednesday the 12th there will be an Anti-Discrimination keg on the Quad (is there one every dang week?) sponsored by Outlaw and other groups. It is not just a gay-lesbian-bi-trans event, but that’s how I heard about it. I told them they should call it “Queer Beer: The Queg on the Quad” but nobody seemed to want my suggestion. Anyway, come out and have a beer.

Editor’s Note: We looked up “Order of Malta” in Wikipedia, and would not call on the author, either.


Blogger Matt said...

Your first suggestion is very bad if the professor makes marks on his seating chart if you don't answer. You could get docked in participation points at the end of the semester because he thinks you were skipping class.

The best way I have found to avoid a cold call is very simple: Volunteer to describe a case that you actually DID read. After you speak, the prof will usually direct his cold calling at other students for the rest of the class.

A couple caveats: 1) Make sure you've read the next case after the one you're describing. If you did well on the first case, profs often like to ask you to just keep going and do the next one or two as well, if they're small or related. 2) Sometimes, in a really dead class, the prof will be ecstatic to find someone who has actually done any reading and is interested in the material. IF this is the case, he might call on you for the rest of class, just because he thinks you're knowledgeable. Watch out.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Paleobiology said...

That solution seems to be saying:

1) Do the reading.
2) Volunteer to prevent cold-calling.

That is like avoided the clap by getting leprosy. You become unattractive, reducing the chance of getting the clap.

8:37 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

Well, yes, my "solution" requires a little bit of work... but FAR LESS work than is normally required. :-) For all readers interested in an NoWork Workaround, your tips are far better.

8:42 PM  
Anonymous Maddie said...

You forgot my favorite tip: if the professor passes around a seating chart for you to sign, write your name really illegibly. They usually glance down and try to find a name quickly, so M--smudgie doesn't look appealing.

5:45 AM  

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