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Dispatches from Law School: Meeting the “Gunner”

law school gunner

Despite the warnings I heard before law school, the great majority of law students I’ve met are thoughtful, interesting and supportive people. The “gunner” stereotype of a law student is essentially the opposite: a self-important student who sits at the front of every class, takes up class time with their own philosophizing on the law, and ensures that everybody knows just how much they’re studying. My experience has been that the “gunner” rarely exists in its full form, but you do see different pieces of the gunner personality in people you meet in law school. This is how they (generally) break down:

The One with Hypotheticals: Hypotheticals most often refer to the legal fact patterns on law school exams. For instance, you might get a criminal law exam hypothetical about a killing that may arguably be categorized as voluntary manslaughter, second-degree murder, or felony murder. You also have professors in law school who present hypotheticals in their class to get the class thinking about the ambiguities in the law and the scenarios to which the law could be applied. The problem comes in when students in those classes raise their hands to present their own “hypotheticals” to the professor which are inevitably off-topic and absurdly specific. To go back to the criminal law context, the professor could be talking about intoxication as a possible defense, and this student will ask: “But what would happen if someone was shot, but they survived, and there were multiple shooters, but only one of them was intoxicated? And what if it happened in Canada?” The real problem with these hypotheticals is not the silliness of the questions, but that some professors will indulge these questions at the expense of the class time.

The One Who Worked “On The Hill”: You might meet someone in law school who tells you they “served in Congress,” but don’t worry. This person isn’t a former Congressperson turned law student. Chances are that they had a great experience in their unpaid internship in D.C. over the summer, and they will probably tell you about it at every opportunity.

The reluctant gunner: Gunner means you are always prepared for class. You are engaged and if a person who gets called on does not know the answer, the reluctant gunner waits a polite yet decent amount of time to answer the question. Everyone loves a reluctant gunner because they are a savior for the class. They are always willing to take the hit when no one else has read or prepared for the material.

The One with Outlines: Outlines are the study guides of law school, but some students will start working on their outlines on what seems like the first week of classes. You’ll know about their outlines because they’ll ask you if you’re outlining, just so they can tell you about their progress.

The One Who “Doesn’t Want To Be a Lawyer”: This person doesn’t fit the mold of a “gunner” in a typical sense. Law students who say they don’t want to be lawyers seem to fall into groups of people who have very specific, elaborate plans outside of a future in a law firm, and those who are utterly confused about why they’re in law school. It’s the former group in particular who come across as driven without necessarily having to point it out to everyone else. They might speak six languages or maybe they just sold a successful business that’s paying for their law school. You might label them gunners based on their resumes alone, but they’re not likely to seek validation by showing off to their classmates.


The good news is, though there are people in law school who could be labelled as gunners, even those people seem to relax as the semester goes on. Your law school peers could be your friends and colleagues for years to come, so as time passes, you’ll hopefully see a deeper side to the people you meet in law school.