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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What Should Students Call Professors?

A decision that many of us make early on (or sometimes change later) in teaching is what to have students call us: “Professor X,” or our first name, or by some sort of nickname. Or this may organically evolve. I’ve gone from being called Professor Baradaran to most often, “Shima” in the last 6 years, but not by choice. I introduce myself every year in class as “Professor Baughman” pronounce it and sign all of my emails “Prof. B”, but still somehow, I am referred to as “Shima” by a large number of students. I understand that I went from one hard to pronounce last name (Baradaran) to another (Baughman) when I got married, but I don’t think that’s the problem here. I’ve spoken to several colleagues and they have experienced frustration with this nonconsensual first-name calling as well. I believe that students call me by my first name because there is a growing movement by professors to allow students to call them by their first name, both in undergrad and in law school.

I wonder what percentage of law professors encourage or allow students to call them by their first name and whether this is a good move. I tend to think that it is not a good development. Here are a couple reasons why:

  1. Call one professor “Frank”, call them all “Frank.” Some of us prawfs want to keep work life separate from casual life and having a title at work, helps us do that. Some of us feel like we have earned the title of Professor, and feel cool when our students call us that. Others are young (or look young), and the title of Professor may be the only separation they have to distinguish them from their students. Whatever it is, I think that this should be an individual choice that the professor makes. Maybe this can be avoided if professors who like to be called by their first names, warn students that they should not assume that other professors like this and to always ask in advance.
  1. The Classic Slippery Slope Argument. As far as I understand it, some law firms and definitely judicial chambers are places where judges or partners may not like to assume that interns or new associates or clerks treat them casually. I worry that calling professors by their first name in law school, may lead to false expectation that this is how it is in the legal profession. I actually think the legal profession is one of the few remaining professions where there is a sense of formality in our practice of law. We have to address judges by a certain title (or they will correct you at oral argument), we have to carefully include exact language, color, and formatting on briefs or they are rejected, addressing of opposing counsel and often clients often has to do this by their full name and title. And I believe an awkward situation may arise where a student may call his judge by her first name and it may be seen as a sign of disrespect (And unfortunately, serving on the Judicial Clerkship Committee I have heard these horror stories actually happening). Are we communicating these norms to our students? I worry about this given the growing casual nature of law teaching.
  1. Casual Nature of Law School. I have noticed in my time teaching that students are getting more casual at law school every year. Where in my first year of teaching, hardly anyone entered the classroom late, brought snacks to eat during class, or wore sweatpants or pajamas to class, these are now regular occurrences. Students have called me on my cell phone regularly (I’m not sure how they have obtained this number) and two students asked me if I could Skype their study group before one of my finals since they had a few extra questions and email responses just didn’t suffice. I regularly am asked if I can review a student’s 40+ page outline to see if there are any mistakes. These are requests I would never have made in law school even if I was paid a large amount of money. I worry that students have an extremely casual view of their professors and calling them by their first names may be exacerbating what I think is an already bigger issue of casual Millennials and respect.

But, trying to see this from the other side, the argument for having students call prawfs by their first name, I can understand. Prawfs want students to feel comfortable (especially possibly some nervous 1Ls) and feel that being on a first name basis provides that. This is also on trend with law schools having more mixers between students and professors and inviting students over to professors’ homes for social events to allow more natural interaction. For some it may be an equity thing—I call you by your first name to call on you, so you can call me by my first name. Finally, I totally understand the argument that these are professional students who have often worked in the business world and professors don’t need to artificially place themselves in a superior position to them.

Still, though, I believe the arguments against what I see as a new development among prawfs are stronger. What do you all think? Also, do you think this is a bigger problem for female professors? Minorities? Or younger professors? Or is it pretty universal?

Posted by Shima Baradaran Baughman on August 16, 2016 at 04:18 PM | Permalink


I ran into this on the Wall Street Journal's blog and followed the link here to read this post. Quite an interesting item.

I'm not a law professor, but a practicing lawyer, and this seems to reflect an overall recent decline in formality. Indeed, I took this item and blogged on it myself no my blog in this post ( http://lexanteinternet.blogspot.com/2016/08/the-decline-in-formal-address.html ).

A person can argue on this either way, obviously, but as I expanded on in the entry above, some recognition of formality is required in some settings, including the law. This is definitely in decline and at some point we're a bit worse off, or perhaps, confused because of it. The law isn't the only setting where this is the case, of course, but it's one of them.

Posted by: Lex_A | Aug 25, 2016 9:11:25 AM

Definitely a gender component. When I started my first year of teaching, I was told by several female faculty members to tell the students to call me "Professor," because otherwise I'd have students in my office complaining about their love life, treating me in general as a mother / older sister. I insisted on Professor and cut down on a lot of the shenanigans. Still, even 1Ls (1Ls!) will get introduced to me over email as "Professor" and write back using my first name, with no prompting from me to do so. I find it too informal, and can see a slippery slope between using my first name and wanting to gab about their roommate issues. Male professors don't run the same risk - they can be their first names and still be a professor in the students' eyes.

Posted by: Professor Mom | Aug 24, 2016 2:58:06 PM

I think a need to have a title in front of your name is a sign of insecurity.

I also think that this whole topic is a total waste of time. Do something important.

Posted by: David | Aug 22, 2016 11:29:42 PM

I just graduated in May (University of Maryland; I'm a little older than most law students) and I can't think of a single instance where I heard anyone speak with a professor using their first name.

Posted by: Michael Schearer | Aug 22, 2016 2:37:37 PM

Is the better analogy parent-child? Most folks don't call their parents by their first names. And that's also a teaching relationship of sorts.

Posted by: Adam Levitin | Aug 22, 2016 8:03:24 AM

Part of the issue is that many students--and many faculty--do not see law school as professional training in which professional norms are to be inculcated. It's not just form of address. It's also attire (it's hard to insist on "Professor" when wearing jeans and a fleece). And it's things like letting students "pass" when they aren't prepared (clients don't let you "pass"--they fire you). Most of us don't want tobe Kingsfield, but he did his students a service by having and adhering to certain standards.

Posted by: Adam Levitin | Aug 22, 2016 7:59:47 AM

The convention in the better colleges and universities, including law schools, was for faculty to address students by their surnames with the honorific "Mr., Mrs., or Miss" (as the case might be), and for students to address faculty similarly, although in the case of full or emeritus professors, one sometimes heard "professor". Professor was unheard of for more junior faculty, and "doctor" was considered a faux pas. Made sense to treat each other as adults and accord each other respect without undue familiarity.

Posted by: CatoRenasci | Aug 21, 2016 4:34:57 PM

I come from the field of Computer Science, which might have a different culture than law, and it was my experience that students and professors would be on a first-name basis if they were in an advisor-advisee relationship. I also spent some time in Germany, where the similar question would arise as to whether students and professors should address each other with the familiar "du" versus the more formal "Sie". The consensus seemed to be that a professor and his Ph.D. students would address each other as "du", and others in the department as "Sie".

Posted by: Douglas Appelt | Aug 21, 2016 4:14:54 PM

We should always remember that "Your Eminence" is also a perfectly valid option.

Posted by: YesterdayIKilledAMammoth | Aug 19, 2016 2:20:23 PM

For a long time I thought William Allen's first name was "Chancellor" and people called him by his first and last name, "Chancellor Allen," because if you had a rad first name like that of course you'd insist on getting to use it.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Aug 19, 2016 8:55:15 AM

I did not go to seven years of evil medical school to be called "Mister", thank you very much.

Posted by: Dr. Evil | Aug 18, 2016 3:23:20 PM

I've been interested in these posts in the last few days, but they all look anecdotal to me Sometimes perhaps there's classism, sexism, agism, or racism involved and sometimes the use of title has nothing to do with it. Much of it probably has to do with institutional norms, perhaps geographic home of the student, experiences as an undergrad or graduate student, respect or disrespect for the professor, the professor's attitude, notoriety of the professor, student's personal sense of comfort, upbringing, etc. One can only really tell what's at play by deconstructing the specific power dynamic of unique situations, not by offering some overgeneralized conclusion.

I call my students by Mr./Ms. Name in class and by first name (if I can remember it) out of class. I sign my emails with first name; on the first day of class I give my first and last name without ever mentioning my title, although that is on my syllabus; when I meet students at law school functions (e.g. those sponsored by student organizations) I shake their hands and introduce myself by first name and then add my first and last name so they can identify me and perhaps later look me up on the school website. Ninety-five percent of the time students call me "Professor" plus name or simply "Professor," in and out of class as well as in emails.

My submission letters to law review editors contain my full name. I sign all subsequent emails to law review editors with my first name, periodically I leave my signature block below the first name, which contains my full title. In about 85% to 95% of the correspondences student editors call me "Professor" plus name or simply "Professor".

Posted by: Anon Prof1 | Aug 18, 2016 11:36:05 AM

Dalie, it may be somewhat gendered, but male professors, especially younger ones, get called by their first name without inviting it all the time. I do. My male colleagues do. Even when we ask them to call us professor.

Posted by: BA | Aug 18, 2016 7:17:29 AM

I call my students by their first names for a few reasons. Perhaps my biggest reason, however, is that Mr./Ms./Mrs. rely on a gender binary that is presumptuous and that some students now openly reject.

Posted by: academicrealness | Aug 18, 2016 2:27:56 AM

I think there is definitely a gendered/racial component to this matter because I am not, e.g., asleep.

Nonetheless, I am one of those apparently-able white male persons, and I have adopted the following practice:

1. I introduce myself as "Professor Stephen Nayak-Young."
2. I encourage students to address me as any of (i) the above; (ii) "Dr. Nayak-Young"; or (iii) if they prefer, "Stephen."
3. Almost nobody ever takes me up on (iii). Occasionally, a student will address me as "Professor Stephen."

I also look plausibly uncasual when I wear a button-up shirt with no jacket or tie, or even -- at least in the summer months -- a decent-looking polo shirt. The foregoing practices are conveniences I have done nothing to deserve and which may not be open to many of my colleagues.

I'm genuinely curious and hope some person(s) will share thoughts:

Would my abandoning the above-described practices either (a) show meaningful solidarity with my female and/or non-white colleagues; or (b) be helpful in establishing norms that would make it more likely for all faculty members to be treated with equal respect?

(NB: By "genuinely curious," I mean that I am *not* being asshole-ishly rhetorical. I'm quite willing to be convinced to change my practices in order to show solidarity and/or normalize equal respect.)

Posted by: Stephen N.Y. | Aug 18, 2016 12:47:25 AM

I'll just raise an eyebrow at this discussion; but then, I'm old, and went into law to do something less confrontational than my first career.

In my first career, it was easy. Contemporaries and subordinates would/could be addressed by forename, superiors as "sir/ma'am" or by grade. The reason this wasn't a problem was that there was a shared sense of mission. There may have been (and often were!) disagreements about it, but the mission itself was shared. I maintained that in law school afterward, despite being older than half of my instructors: They were always "Professor" (or, in the case of the non-tenure-track legal writing instructor, "Mr/Ms") to me. No problem at all.

Titles are not about worthiness as a human being or warrior, but about one's present function. And if anyone thinks that's irrelevant to law students, consider this: How many judges get routinely referred to by forenames in professional settings? If handled with respectful intent, respect runs both ways; if not handled with respectful intent, the title doesn't matter, and neither does its absence.

Posted by: C.E. Petit | Aug 17, 2016 7:55:29 PM

Either the first name / first name or the professor x / mr x norm seems fine to me. The professor x / first name norm looks like a power trip.

Posted by: anon | Aug 17, 2016 2:41:54 PM

Orin, that's a very charitable interpretation. How could they not see the difference between asking specific questions and asking someone to review a 100+ page document? I suppose it's plausible, but I definitely lose respect for the students that ask.

Posted by: anon | Aug 17, 2016 2:32:13 PM

When I started out as a young lawyer in the late 1970s, pretty much everybody - partners, associates, summer clerks, staff - called everybody by their first names, except for a couple of the very, very senior partners (mainly the ones who would give you an assignment by sending you a memo). I recall being VERY uncomfortable as a 25 year old calling one of my partner-mentors "Bob" but also realizing that calling him "Mr. Cutler" would have sounded weird. For many years I didn't call him anything.

We used to do a lot of business in Germany. Businessmen who had occupied offices next door to each other for 35 years would still address each other as "Herr Kaufmann" and "Herr Lutz." Even when they got used to us calling them "Joachim" or "Bernhard," they'd still use "Herr" with each other.

In other words, nothing is writ in stone. I have never had a student call me by my first name, and I suspect most would be uncomfortable with anything but "Professor."

It is reciprocal, however. If you are going to insist on forms of address as a matter of courtesy and respect to you, you have to extend it back to students. Nowadays that is often in the form of respecting gender neutrality, something that has recently intruded on my otherwise obliviousness. Being corrected about things like the very common spoken use of the singular "they" helps keep the blood vessels in the brain from hardening.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Aug 17, 2016 1:04:55 PM

Anon, I get the "can you review my outline" question, too. I don't think it's a lack of EQ as much as it is a a seeking out of where the boundary is for help. A student can go through his outline and ask lots of questions about what is right in it; I can understand why it might not seem such a leap for students to just turn over the outline and get comments back. It seems intuitive to us that there's a sharp line there, but I can see why students might not see that from their perspective.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Aug 17, 2016 12:38:06 PM

I've had students ask me (female prof) to review their outlines too. It was unbelievable. Evidence of a lack of EQ.

Posted by: anon | Aug 17, 2016 12:29:00 PM

"A decision that many of us make early on (or sometimes change later) in teaching is what to have students call us: “Professor X,”"

Professor X is pretty cool and all, but I've found it more fun to have my students call me "Wolverine".

Posted by: Matt | Aug 17, 2016 11:39:54 AM

You're right. Different author but based on the same discussion. Slooowwww "news" day for the blog, I think.

Posted by: Reallawyer | Aug 17, 2016 11:11:59 AM

@RealLawwyer The author of that article isn't Professor Baughman. It appears her information was taken from this blog post for the article. Good point about the article not necessarily reflecting the paper's position, but apparently they think this topic is newsworthy.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 17, 2016 9:10:56 AM

I'm not sure the WSJ letting someone (same author as this thread) blog about a topic signifies that the WSJ thinks the topic is "important." That's like saying if a paper publishes an op ed, the op ed reflects that paper's position.

Posted by: Reallawyer | Aug 17, 2016 6:43:47 AM

The drawback is that any unthinking accompanying use of "Mr." and "Ms." may pose complications for transgendered students or others rejecting traditional gendered terms.

It's not a drawback. The world doesn't revolve around their rear ends or their addled heads. They live in a world of male and female and are, in fact, male or female. That they wish to contract with peverted endocrinologists and gynecologists &c. in a gruesome effort to appear to be something else is immaterial, and you do them no favors by encouraging them.

Posted by: Art Deco | Aug 16, 2016 11:41:52 PM

Apparently the Wall Street Journal also thinks this is an important topic...


Posted by: Anon | Aug 16, 2016 10:01:18 PM

I introduce myself as Professor X to my students. It doesn't really matter to me if students call me Professor X or my first name. The longer I teach, however, the less often students address me by my first name. It used to be common; now it's rare.

Posted by: Anonymous | Aug 16, 2016 8:31:35 PM

I think the name choice can signal an important pedagogic difference: Is the professor working with the students to learn and solve hypotheticals, or is the professor leading the students to knowledge? I try to cultivate the former attitude, even in large classes, so I use first names for students and encourage them to address me the same way. I think that sets the tone for us to be colleagues working on problems together.

That said, I used "Professor" when I was a new female professor in the 1980s. Doing otherwise would have set me too far apart from my older and predominantly male colleagues. Demographics are a little different today, but biases remain; I would advise any young professor to use the title "professor"--and for women and minorities to hold onto that title a little longer than white men. But at some point we have more options--one of the perks of age!

Students wearing pajamas to class, eating in class, and asking professors to do preposterous things? I remember all of them happening in the 1980s. The biggest difference is that now I'm not always sure when an outfit is pajamas and when it's meant to be street attire.

Posted by: Deborah Merritt | Aug 16, 2016 5:36:56 PM

I use last names. I do not tell them what to call me (most just choose "Professor," period), but they have never been inclined to call me by my first, and I find it more appealing to treat them likewise . . . as opposed to the "Mister Mackey?"/"Yes, Eric?" scheme from elementary school. For me, this is an aesthetic or classroom-specific preference; I find claims that we are in this respect modeling a judge/attorney relationship, or a partner/associate relationship, pretty attenuated. It is useful, I grant, that they go out into the world knowing that others will insist on particular titles and particular forms of deference, but I just don't think we simulate any other positions very well.

The drawback is that any unthinking accompanying use of "Mr." and "Ms." may pose complications for transgendered students or others rejecting traditional gendered terms. I've come to understand that index cards or something similar are very helpful for avoiding problems (and they are also useful for avoiding using the wrong first name for students who differ with what the registrar would dictate). I do wish I could adopt "Agent" or "Citizen" or something similar instead.

Posted by: Ed | Aug 16, 2016 4:28:33 PM

Whether there's a correlation between a professor's sex and the prevalence of students using first names is irrelevant to the question of which rule the professor should choose at the outset. Such slippage may indicate that there's enough uncertainty and error that a professor should state the rule expressly at the beginning of the term, but that slippage doesn't mean that one rule is superior to the other.

Professor Jimenez, do you base any other aspect of your student-professor interactions on the attorney-judge model, or is it just in the use of names? The ordinary interactions and relationship between a lawyer and a judge do not resemble interactions between a student and professor in most classrooms. I don't doubt that a professor could design a classroom environment that mimicked the attorney-judge dynamic in some way--e.g., a trial-advocacy class in which the students and professor regularly playact as lawyers and judge, or another structure in which students are assigned primarily to advocacy roles--but relying on the judge-attorney model rings hollow the way most courses are run and most classrooms are managed.

Posted by: Jordan | Aug 16, 2016 3:47:09 PM

What a relief that newly minter graduates are coming out of law school "practice ready." It is so important that new lawyers know to call people Professor/Dr./Ms./Ms./Miss/Mrs. instead of by their first time and I could NEVER expect to teach them THAT out in practice. I mean, thank goodness law schools are focusing on what's IMPORTANT out here in the trenches.

Posted by: saidnopractitionerever | Aug 16, 2016 2:44:43 PM

It is definitely gendered. I've never heard of a male professor being called by his first name if he didn't invite it.

I think I have escaped it some because my last name is easier to pronounce than my first. Nonetheless, I had a potential RA email me multiple times addressing me by first name only, then in person in one conversation found reason to say my first name incorrectly three different times/ways. It was my first year of teaching and I'll admit I regret that I didn't correct him in person.

I do call my students by their last name and ask that they call each other by their last name in class. I tell them that I do so because I'm modeling the Judge/Attorney relationship in our class.

Posted by: Dalie Jimenez | Aug 16, 2016 1:48:04 PM

I'd be more concerned that a law professor doesn't know the difference between the words exasperating and exacerbating.

Regardless, my Contracts professor insisted on being called by his first name. His argument was that in a law firm setting, you don't refer to your superiors as "Mr." or "Ms." It took getting used to, but I called him Richard. And, he was right; I call my boss by his first name.

However, if a prof asked to be called "Prof. Lastname," then that is what I would call her. It's inconsiderate to do otherwise.

Posted by: Matthew Guerra | Aug 16, 2016 1:37:08 PM

Does it impact your analysis at all to know that women are more likely to be called by first name while their male colleagues are called "professor," so that in asking students to call us by our chosen title, we are basically just asking to be afforded the same level of respect that our male colleagues get automatically?

Posted by: twix | Aug 15, 2016 9:16:50 PM

Even if you accept the factual premise behind the slippery slope argument--that using first names in class will lead to students assuming that first names are appropriate in the legal profession--the argument is still unconvincing for at least two reasons.

First, mitigation is easy and probably far more effective than this subtle behavior modification, and even a school with a rigid culture of using titles will undertake those low-cost mitigation efforts because not all casual slippage can be traced to using first names in class. For example, your clerkship office should already be telling students to address judges using their title and last name--especially if you've witnessed these horror stories firsthand. And I haven't seen any evidence that there is a rash of practicing attorneys referring to judges by their first names. I'm sure it has happened, but you'd have to be a rare dim bulb to have standup time in front of a judge without having learned the proper way to address a judge.

Second, there's an empirical question whether using titles under your assumptions would overcorrect for formality. There are many situations in the law in which you address people by their first name--you might address coworkers, cocounsel, your clients, and even opposing counsel by their first name outside of the courtroom, depending on the culture of your office, the legal market in which you work, and your preexisting relationships with those people. It's possible that maintaining rigid formality between the student and the professor trains a student to favor retaining such rigid formality in her future professional interactions as well, which could have her less prepared than someone who knows how to transition from formal beginnings to a first-name basis.

It's possible that the student-professor relationship justifies using formal titles to match the attorney-judge dynamic that the student may face in the future, but that justification has some shortcomings. As with many analogies, the fit is imperfect and leads to some unusual consequences. Should office hours be banned to match common rules against ex parte communications? And professor-student interactions in class don't otherwise match the judge-lawyer dynamic in any meaningful way, as judges do not use the Socratic method and students are not frequently called upon to frame their answers as advocacy. It's not clear that treating the professor-student relationship as analogous to the judge-attorney relationship is pedagogically superior. And it may not be the best training for the majority of an attorney's face-to-face professional interactions. If most of the time an attorney spends talking about the law is outside the courtroom--as I suspect it is for most new attorneys--then she might be better served by a classroom environment that mimics, say, the partner-associate dynamic.

Posted by: Jordan | Aug 15, 2016 4:23:20 PM

The "Professor Lastname" convention must rank very, very low among the things that distinguish practice from law school. Erasing that particular distinction does not seem like it would yield much value.

There is a neat symmetry in everyone using everyone else's last name. The very affectedness of it sets it apart. When I was a law student, I remembered how differently that made class seem, how much more serious. Of course that cuts both ways—it may increase the sense of intimidation some students feel in response to even a modified socratic method. I am going to think some more about whether to try calling students by their first name. But the idea that they should call the professor by her first name because that's how real lawyers speak to their colleagues and superiors is facially unpersuasive.

Posted by: anon | Aug 14, 2016 10:48:26 PM

Guarantee you partners aren't off blogging about how to handle the indignity of being called the wrong name

Posted by: Reallawyer | Aug 14, 2016 7:12:53 PM

@real lawyer: right! Because law partners are never dismissive of subordinates.

Oh wait

Posted by: Anon | Aug 14, 2016 5:40:02 PM

@Brian I am very happy that you've taken such a keen interest in my teaching strategy. First, the *vastly vast of the vastness* of students simply raise their hands. On the rare occasion one of them uses my name, our little exercise lasts about 3 seconds.

If Prof. Kingsfield and Mr. Keating can do it, so can we!

Posted by: YesterdayIKilledAMammoth | Aug 14, 2016 1:47:04 PM

If this is on your list of things you prawfs genuinely worry about... Out in the real world if someone calls you by a name you don't prefer you politely correct them. If they nonetheless repeatedly do it you make a note on their behavior and carry on. You don't ignore them or create an issue disruptive to others or nitpick about it. Too many bigger things to focus on in actual practice.

Posted by: Reallawyer | Aug 14, 2016 12:33:54 PM

What I said was gross - and what does detract from what you're supposed to be doing in the classroom - is what you referred to above: that someone calls for your attention in class and you ignore them because they have used the wrong title.

The student might be confused because a point has been unclear, so calling on them would help; the student might be trying to add something to the conversation; and even if neither of those is true, by your not recognizing someone that everyone else in the room can hear, you're essentially creating an uncomfortable tension and for basically no point. Certainly you could as easily just recognize the person and then remind them privately of the importance of formality or respect or whatever it is you think you're trying to achieve by ignoring the people that fund your salary.

Posted by: Brian | Aug 14, 2016 12:19:01 PM

@Brian. Ah, you're talking about me. I fail to see how insisting I be addressed a certain way detracts from what I'm supposed to be doing in the classroom (which is teaching). And let's not overstate what I said. I didn't say they had to use the correct title. I said they could not use my first name. "Sir," "Professor," "Instructor," "Mr.," and several other variations are all acceptable.

Why do I do this? Go into a new job, and call a senior person by his/her first name who (like the original poster) doesn't like it. Immediate bad impression that can be hard overcome. In an interview situation it is a killer. Call that senior person by an honorific and they say, "Please, call me Firstname." Good, respectful impression made at absolutely no cost. The whole principle of sit at the foot of the table and be invited to the head rather than sit at the head and be asked to move to the foot.

It may be a surprise, but it's usually the other students who correct a new student who calls me by my first name. I've yet to have a student complain. And judging by the number of students who electively take second or third classes from me, they don't find it an unbearable crucible. They certainly don't find it "gross".

Posted by: YesterdayIKilledAMammoth | Aug 14, 2016 1:14:47 AM

What to call someone is ultimately a social convention with a meaning defined by norms of a particular group. Given that, I think it's wrong to try to identify the true meaning of calling someone by their first name vs. last name or calling someone by a title like Professor. It just depends on the meaning that the convention has in your particular social group.

With that said, I think the big question is whether a marginally more or marginally less hierarchical law school environment is helpful or harmful for student learning. It's hard to say in the abstract, I think. Hierarchy can be helpful, as professors needs to run the class effectively to make the most of class time. On the other hand, hierarchy can be harmful, as it can create an overly formal environment in which students don't feel comfortable seeking out what they need to learn best. How those work out in a particular class may depend on the professor and the students.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Aug 14, 2016 12:55:40 AM

I am a practicing lawyer and I teach on an adjunct basis.

I would never consider asking a law clerk/summer associate to call me anything other than my first name. I ask them to do important, meaningful work, and I think making sure there are not title distinctions helps empower them, making clear that I/we (the firm) respect them and trust them with the assignment.

In the classroom, I specifically tell them that they don't have to call me Mr. or Professor or any title. I tell them on the first day that I want any respect they ultimately have for me to be earned by me in my instruction and handling of the class, not because of some difference in title or position. Indeed I think it's bizarre that any person cares so much of the issue that he or she requires use of a specific title or to be called a specific way. I mean, up the thread is a post where a law professor knows a student is calling upon the professor and the professor ignores him/her solely because the student used the wrong title. How far away is that person from doing in the classroom what is supposed to be done. That's gross.

Posted by: Brian | Aug 13, 2016 11:05:16 PM

I don't see a wrong answer here. If anything, the meta-lesson for real-world practice is that students need to learn that different lawyers/clients will have different preferences for formality/title/etc. They need to be cognizant of that. For example, I've seen judges correct lawyers who say "Yes, Judge" instead of "Yes, Your Honor." I'm not sure if that's right or wrong for all judges, but I sure know it'd be wrong to keep calling that judge "Judge."

I teach a skills class and I like to think of my class as a law firm with the partner/associate dynamic. I always called all the other lawyers at my firm by their first names (clients too) and they always did the same to me. So that's how I like to run my class. I expressly tell the students this. I also tell them that other professors do things differently for different reasons and that they need to navigate those other relationships.

Posted by: David Ziff | Aug 13, 2016 6:36:02 PM

The bottom line is, are you wanting to be called Professor because empirically it makes you a more effective teacher, or because subjectively it makes you feel good? I was not aware administrative assistants were inferior forms of life, not to be mistaken for.

The best way to achieve respect is the old-fashioned way, to conduct yourself in a way that is worthy of respect. Isn't that the lesson we should be teaching students? This idea that we should kiss rings in the legal profession is part of the problem with the legal profession. Civility, absolutely; merit, absolutely; professionalism, absolutely. But making adults call you professor while you call them Firstnsme is a form of bullying, it seems to me.

Posted by: T | Aug 13, 2016 2:24:14 PM

The comments about how people who insist on being called professor are "status-obsessed" have got to be coming from men. Women (and many POCs and some younger men) recognize that title can help students acknowledge important boundaries and enable professors to maintain an appropriate distance and professional authority. And if you're not a law professor who regularly gets mistaken for an administrative assistant, maybe don't be so quick to judge.

As Howard mentions, I don't see a problem with "lack of reciprocity" when professors are called "Professor" and students are called by first name, like in college and in other graduate school programs.

Posted by: ladyprof | Aug 13, 2016 11:58:21 AM

The comments about how people who insist on being called professor are "status-obsessed" have got to be coming from men. Women (and many POCs and some younger men) recognize that title can help students acknowledge important boundaries and enable professors to maintain an appropriate distance and professional authority. And if you're not a law professor who regularly gets mistaken for an administrative assistant, maybe don't be so quick to judge.

As Howard mentions, I don't see a problem with "lack of reciprocity" when professors are called "Professor" and students are called by first name, like in college and in other graduate school programs.

Posted by: ladyprof | Aug 13, 2016 11:58:20 AM

As far as the problem of student's calling profs by their first names without the prof wanting them to, whenever a student calls me by my first name I just don't respond. I keep lecturing or doing whatever I'm doing. That has seemed to work.

They are, after all, students. I have knowledge that they do not and which they want me to share with them. The relationship is not an equitable one. No need to treat it as such.

Posted by: YesterdayIKilledAMammoth | Aug 13, 2016 1:41:59 AM

I have also never had a student call me by my first name, despite using their first names in class (which is what I remember most of my law school professors doing as well). I was interested to read the comments about how people think reciprocity is necessary. I can think of numerous examples of non-reciprocity in my own life. In addition to the judge/law clerk situation, for instance, I call my doctor and dentist "Dr. [X]" in email and oral communications with them, even though I sign them "Emily" and they refer to me that way. Frankly, I'd feel very awkward if they wanted me to call them by their first names, or if they referred to me as "Ms. Waldman." I know it's not a perfect analogy, but it supports my sense that reciprocity isn't always necessary--that sometimes non-reciprocity feels most natural and comfortable, just because of the different roles in a particular situation.

Posted by: Emily Waldman | Aug 13, 2016 12:11:21 AM

I've never understood the desire for more informality between faculty and students. I absolutely could not imagine having students in my home.

Posted by: YesterdayIKilledAMammoth | Aug 12, 2016 10:35:11 PM

If your students have trouble pronouncing "Baughman," I submit that they have such trouble with standard American English that they should reevaluate whether law school is for them.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 12, 2016 7:38:54 PM

What happens with undergrads? I called all of my college professors Prof. ____ and all of them called me by my first name (the Mr/Ms thing was new to me when I began law school). My wife teaches undergrads--they call her Prof. and she calls them by their first name. And it sounds as if that is the norm throughout her college.

What guidance should we draw from that? Is that a less collegial/even relationship?

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Aug 12, 2016 6:28:52 PM

artificial formality with law professors

'Artificial' in that it is an artifact. As is a fine piece of furniture. My parents's contemporaries practiced formality. Forms regulate conflict and establish strata of human relations. Aggressive informality obliterates true intimacy.

Posted by: Art Deco | Aug 12, 2016 6:05:54 PM

They should be keeping a civil distance from you, and you from them. Sir, ma'am, &c. Leon Kass and his wife made it a point not to address students by their first name. Youngsters generally have a mess of friends (albeit superficial ones). They don't need another one in you. (I've found generally that undergraduates take not the slightest interest in the adults in their vicinity as persons. Not sure about professional school students). Be sour and mean to your nose-pickers if they're too familiar.

Posted by: Art Deco | Aug 12, 2016 6:00:43 PM

My policy has been to say nothing about how they address me. I don't want to be in the position of policing my title. For the most part, all of my students have called me Professor Edwards. I refer to students as Ms. Smith or Mr. Smith to show respect when I interact with them. I also sign my emails with my initials because it seems like the best option. The only time I've ever told someone what to call me was after graduation. I insist that they call me Ben because we've become colleagues.

Posted by: Ben Edwards | Aug 12, 2016 5:10:30 PM

I agree with Howard that it is useful to ask: "What is the analogue for the in-class relationship between professor and student: Is it judge/lawyer or is it partner/associate?" In the legal profession, persons who regard themselves as colleagues tend to refer to each other by their first names. There are some rare instances of non-reciprocity, like judge/clerk, but this is far from the norm. If you regard your students as your colleagues, then you should refer to them by their first names. If so, however, don't be surprised if they reciprocate. Not many will realize that you are so consumed with hierarchy that you expect to receive the deference that a judge receives from a clerk.

Posted by: Larry Rosenthal | Aug 12, 2016 4:30:05 PM

Howard, I don't use the sig file on my emails to students, colleagues, or friends. It feels like status-signaling to me. Just like a last name, or a suit, if it's necessary to command respect, then something else is wrong.

Posted by: F | Aug 12, 2016 3:16:34 PM

As others said above, this is a matter of reciprocity among adults. If you want to be called Professor X, you need to call the students Mr/Ms/Mrs Y. From the faculty point of view the students may be neophytes, but from the students' point of view they are paying customers.

Also, while I get the desire to not be on a first-name basis, I don't get the need to have the title "Professor," which is a mouthful. This seems a little bit of unnecessary pomp, like Ph.Ds who insist on being called Doctor. I'm pretty sure if I were a professor I'd be content to be Mr. Lastname. But being called Firstname doesn't offend me at all.

Posted by: T | Aug 12, 2016 3:03:56 PM

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