1L Guide: What is a “Gunner”, and How Can I Stop Being One?

As we creep ever further into the month of September, new students are coming up on the one-month mark of their first semesters at BC Law. Remember back in August when no one was pestering you about what the district court ruled, or whether there really was a breach of duty? Alas, syllabus week is over, add/drop has expired, and now there is nothing but the next deadline, the next reading. 1Ls have gotten a sense of law school’s rhythm and flow – what the workload is like, where the classrooms are, how cold calling works, and so on.

They’ve also got a sense of who the gunners are.

Let’s define terms (this is law school, after all): a “gunner” is someone who takes up too many class resources for themselves – in particular, too much class time. A gunner goes beyond the scope of ordinary academic or competitive behavior in order to succeed in law school (or simply appear to be succeeding in law school), all while violating the most important rule in the unwritten student code: probably don’t behave in a way that makes all of your peers think you’re a bit annoying.

A gunner asks a lot of their own questions, volunteers answers to a lot of the professor’s questions, and offers a lot of tangential commentary about course content. In a class of, say, 80 students, the gunner takes advantage of the discussion-style format to dominate far more than their proportional 1/80th of class time. Gunner means “over-participator” more than it means, for example, “try-hard” or “teacher’s pet.” Note the difference: working hard or being a sycophant don’t usually come at the expense of other students. Status as a gunner is not about wasting time, but rather about wasting your classmates’ time. 

Perhaps you, dear reader, are a 1L wondering whether or not you qualify as a gunner. You’ve found yourself asking, “why does everyone roll their eyes each of the 5-10 times per class that I raise my hand?” Sure, you participate more than anyone else in your section, but you have some important questions about the course material that need answering. You have a contribution to make that is undoubtedly relevant and worthwhile. You have a hypothetical for the professor that you are confident will aid in everyone’s understanding of the law. And if no one else is going to answer the professor’s questions, then why shouldn’t you?!

The answer to that question relates to the most fundamental characteristic of the gunner: the inability to perceive of themself as a gunner.*

“Sure, a gunner is someone who wastes everyone’s time, but my contributions aren’t a waste of time. They can’t be a waste if they’re coming from ME. Have you even seen my LSAT score!?”

If that sounds like it applies to you, then you might be a gunner. Fortunately, it’s early in the semester. You can still avoid winding up as “that guy” in your section. Sharing is caring – apply that principle to class time. Participate, but be generous in allowing your peers space to participate as well. Give someone else the five extra seconds they need to digest the professor’s question so they can give answering a shot. Raise your hand when necessary, but bear in mind that everyone else is paying their tuition to attend lectures too, and your professor has office hours for a reason. Class participation is usually a good thing, just don’t take it too far.

Of course, it’s important to talk about grades when we’re talking about gunners. As previously noted, “gunner” ≠ “try-hard.” That guy you know who is 3 weeks ahead on the readings, and making sure everyone knows about it, is also a bit annoying early on a monday morning. But, he’s not necessarily a gunner. I would concede that there’s room for substantial overlap – it’s an ‘all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares’ type of situation for gunners and try-hards. Some gunners may be trying hard in the pragmatic pursuit of a reward at the end of the semester: a higher grade.

It is common for law school courses to be graded entirely from a final exam, with a potential one-step increase for excellent participation (for example, A- to A) or a decrease for poor participation (for example, A to A-). Take it from a 3L: the proper way to understand this grading style is as some light coercion to do the readings on time so you don’t botch a cold call and get your grade lowered. It’s not a call to action to derail the professor’s teaching plan for 15 minutes every day so you can hit them with hypothetical after hypothetical about a topic that will never in a million years be tested on the exam. It hasn’t been my experience that forcing class discussion about hypotheticals results in superior academic success, when compared to, say, studying.

One final note: I don’t mean to overstate the problem here. At absolute worst, there might be 2 or 3 gunners per 1L section. Still, for those 2-3 people, I would advise that the best part of my time at BC Law, by far, has been the friendships I’ve formed here. I want the same for you, reader, but that will be harder if everyone in your section thinks you’re a bit annoying. If anything in this blog post applied to you, then please respectfully knock it off.

*Some of these ideas about gunners are borrowed from “Welcome to Law School,” 15:30-20:50, 5-4, 31 August 2021.

Dan Riley is a third-year student at BC Law. Contact him at rileydh@bc.edu.

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