Law Students

Today's Law Students Shun Human Interaction, Choose Convenience over Self-Denial, Prof Says

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Generation after generation is faced with same complaint: Your elders worked harder, faced more hardship and conquered greater obstacles.

Now the former academic dean at SUNY Buffalo Law School is airing his beefs about the younger generation in blog posts about how current law students differ from their predecessors. According to SUNY law professor James Gardner, today’s students tend to shun human interaction in favor of “self-service education,” and too often choose convenience over thoroughness.

Gardner sees the self-service trend as a reflection of changes in society. “When I was a kid, service station attendants pumped your gas,” he writes at the Faculty Lounge. “Bank tellers processed your withdrawals and handed you your money. Shoe salesmen put shoes on your feet and tied the laces. Purchases were made in stores, and every sale was rung up by a cashier.”

Today, shopping and information-gathering is done online without human contact, Gardner observes. Maybe that’s why students rarely seek advice from the academic dean, the dean of students, and their assigned alumnus mentor. “I also worry that many of our students not only would prefer to acquire as much of their legal education as possible without human interaction, but that many of them are flummoxed by in-person contact with other humans, especially ones they don’t know well,” he says.

In a different post at the Faculty Lounge, Gardner says law students too often resolve ambiguities in a way that makes life easier. He saw the problem when students got into trouble. When confronted with ambiguities—Should I cite this source? Should I ask for an extension on the paper?—the students decided against citation, or assumed they would automatically be granted extra time. “These students, in other words, chose the path that made life easier for themselves—and often only very marginally easier—over the one that would have required just a little bit of extra work and extra caution,” Gardner writes.

The same errors of judgment are playing out in other situations, Gardner adds. Students blow off a job interview rather than calling to cancel. They shoot off an email to the teacher rather than looking first to the syllabus to find an answer.

“Prior generations seemed to connect professional success to the need for a certain kind of personal self-denial,” Gardner writes. “Many of today’s students seem to assume that their professional success and personal convenience are unlikely ever to come into conflict.”

Gardner recently resigned his post as vice dean for academic affairs and will spend the next school year in Montreal on a Fulbright U.S. scholar grant. He is 53 years old. “If I was younger than that, I wouldn’t have picked up the phone to call you,” he tells the ABA Journal. “I would have replied by email.”

Gardner says he fears students who don’t interact with humans in law school will have difficulties forming relationships after graduation with clients, judges and colleagues. Or maybe interactions will take on less importance as the new generation assumes leadership, he tells the ABA Journal.

He also acknowledges that his time as an academic cop of sorts may have led to jaundiced views. Cops tend to generalize and assume the problem cases are the way everybody behaves, he says.

Gardner is unsure if his blog posts will affect his student relationships. “This is my first time blogging,” he says. “I have no idea what the fallout will be.”

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