For those of you unfamiliar with the term “gunning,” it is when a person volunteers a lot during class. They are the first ones to raise their hand when a person is struggling with a case and are the ones who love to change the facts of hypotheticals and say “Well what if this…” They don’t always stay on topic and can waste so much time in a class that you begin to think you are paying to listen to them ramble.
I once figured out that a law student pays about $1.50 for every minute in class. So, in a class of about 70 people, every minute is worth about $105. You are so aware of how much money you spend that you begin to get annoyed at people that you perceive are wasting your time and therefore money.
On the other side, gunners are most of the time just trying to get the most for the money that they are spending. I am not about to say that every time someone raises their hand that they are merely trying to learn. I have been in too many classes where the comments being made are too irrelevant to the discussion to make that argument. But I will say that after the first semester, the majority of comments made in class are in an attempt to contribute to the conversation and learn.
So why are gunners important in law school? How can someone dominating class-time be good for you as a law student? I agree, it can be hard to see sometimes, but I do believe that they have their purpose in law school and should be there.
- You aren’t getting called on. Classes can be intimidating, even when you are prepared. Getting cold called is never fun. Sometimes you just get a feeling that you are going to get called on and sure enough the professor asks you to explain the importance of a certain case. Now you read the case, briefed it, and have your notes right there in front of you. But for some inexplicable reason, you lose everything the moment that professor says your name. Sometimes you lost track of the discussion in class and got called on and have no clue what she is talking about. This happens a lot, and more than likely will happen to every law student at some point. For these reasons, cold calling may not be as effective as taking volunteers, leading many professors from using less cold calling and relying on open discussion during the class. So as long as there are volunteers talking, you don’t have to. You can volunteer to make a point that you feel is relevant on your own terms now. This relaxes the mood in the class because people are no longer fearing being called on and are instead able to focus on the material and learn.
- You learn from others mistakes. You think you will go through law school and never make a mistake? Think again. You will, you will make several. You will say something in class, ask a question, or do something that will be embarrassing. This is a good thing, we learn from mistakes. The most effective way is to learn from our own mistakes, but if you can learn from the mistakes of others then you are in great shape. The more a person talks, the more likely that person will make some mistake. The best professors are able to make a point of that mistake so that everyone knows that this is a common trap. This means that you will recognize it in the future and can avoid it, and didn’t have to go through the painful process yourself.
- It will motivate you to participate. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve been in a class and listened to someone go on and on about something that I felt was completely wrong. There is nothing that will get my hand up in the air quicker than listening to someone that I think is wrong. Sometimes professors count on this. They will throw out a topic meant to incite an argument. Remember, you are not the only smart person in law school and you do not know everything. This means that the way we learn to be a lawyer is to disagree and argue. I remember a Business Associations class where the issue was whether a partner should be given some slack if he was having some personal problems or should be let go since it would be a distraction. This particular class seemed to split right in half and the discussion carried on for 30 minutes. People were upset feeling that the conversation was unproductive and a waste of time, and maybe 30 minutes was too much time to spend on the subject. But it is the professor’s job to control the discussion and cut it off when it is time. This means that the professors and not the students should be blamed if gunners control the class. Professors are all different in how they run their class, and students will have their preferences. Professors that are in control of the class discussion will encourage that person who is off point and wasting time to come back after class and will drive the discussion effectively.
So how should law students feel about gunners? In the beginning it is important to remember that they are trying to learn the best way they can. You will get frustrated with them sometimes and with the professor for not moving things along. But with most professors, you can believe that they are smarter than you and know what they are doing. You may not understand it at the time and may even spend time to calculate how much of your money is going towards hearing them talk, but you can still learn from them if you choose to do so. Law school is like most things in life, you get out of it what you put into it.