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What Your “Unprepared” Note Says About You


By Otto Stockmeyer, Emeritus Professor, Thomas M. Cooley Law School

Creating good impressions is important for professionals. Students entering law school need to know that they are beginning to create impressions that may stick with them for their entire professional life.

It’s important to create good impressions among fellow students, of course, because you may be practicing law with them, or against them, in future years. Creating a good impression with your professors can be important too, when it comes time to ask for a letter of recommendation, for instance.

In addition to your performance in class, your professors may pick up an impression of you from something as simple as an “unprepared” note. Let me illustrate.

In Equity & Remedies, my unprepared policy is simple. The syllabus says, “If you are unprepared, give me a signed note before class begins and you will be excused from class participation.”

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the notes that I received last term and the impressions they created.


Impression:  Where’s the signature? This student’s lack of attention to detail could spell trouble in his law practice.

Note:  “I am not prepare for class today, I request that I am excused.  (signed) Richard Roe”

Impression: This individual’s command of written English (or poor proofreading skill) is unworthy of a third-year law student.

Note:  “I would like to use my pass today. (signed)  Martha Moe”

Impression:  This student seems to feel that the privilege of coming to class unprepared is equivalent to a “Get Out of Jail Free” card that must be used by the end of the game. It’s not the right attitude to display to your professor.

Note:  “I’m unprepared today, March 27, 2013. Please don’t call on me. (signed) Paula Poe”

Impression:  Now here’s a student who follows the rules, writes clearly, and reflects the proper attitude. Unprepared or not, I’m glad she made it to class.

Of course, the best impression is created by those students who never have to resort to handing in an “unprepared” note. And overall, they are most likely to perform the best. A recent survey of 5,612 students in their final year at 76 U.S. law schools found a significant relationship between class participation and high academic achievement (

So the moral is this: Make every effort to be prepared for class. But if you can’t, at least be mindful of what your “unprepared” note says about you.