‘Too cowardly to trust your own conclusions’: Sheffield Uni law students hit out at harsh essay feedback

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Russell Group institution provides guidance to lecturer concerned

First-year law students at the University of Sheffield have hit out against a lecturer’s harsh essay feedback and marking.

In one student’s feedback, a lecturer reportedly wrote:

“Either you’re too ignorant to know this for certain or you’re too cowardly to trust your own conclusions. These are not traits a client finds appealing in a lawyer.”

The lecturer is said to have also compared another student’s work to that of someone “learning English as a second language”.

Sheffield Uni said it was sorry to hear some students were unhappy with their feedback but that it had conducted an internal review which found the marks to be in line with previous years. The Russell Group institution also provided additional support and guidance to the lecturer concerned.

Speaking to student website The Tab, one law student said:

“When I first read the comments, I felt so bad and suddenly had a rush of low self-esteem. The marking was strict and this was particularly confusing as I have been marked for my formatives and the feedback was much more constructive than this.”

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The students who raised concerns have chosen not to name the lecturer over fears for his job, and said they’d rather the focus be on the law school’s handling of the situation, according to the report. It’s unclear which module the students received the feedback and marks for.

A spokesperson for the Sheffield University said: “We were sorry to hear that a small number of students were unhappy with some of the feedback and marks received as part of a module.

“We listened to the students’ concerns and conducted a thorough review which found the marks to be sound and in line with previous years. Additional support and guidance has been provided to the lecturer concerned.

“The marks from the module have been reviewed internally and will also be reviewed by the School’s exam board, which includes external academics, in the summer.”

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Poor little things. Did reality hit you too hard? “When I first read the comments, I felt so bad and suddenly had a rush of low self-esteem.” Oh, your precious little self-esteem.

I had comments like this in my first term at uni. It bucked me up and gave me a great degree and great career.

I’d tell these moaning snowflakes to grow a pair, but that might trigger the poor souls.

I’ve marked first year law essays. So many were truly awful.



With such attitude you will not have many friends or a happy life. Compassion can go a long way man.



Bet Jane is the sort of person who tells people to “follow their dreams” or “listen to their heart”. That is the route to 50k of debt and a job flipping burgers.



These students who are complaining have some serious soul searching to do. They are more suited to cleaning toilets at McDonald’s than being a lawyer. The lecturer concerned has done them a big favour. The workplace is far more un-forgiving. The court room is not unlike a colosseum where the modern day gladiatorial contests take place. It is an extremely brutal arena where contests of intellect and personal characters are played out, thankfully minus the physical element.



I’m sorry, but this doesn’t sound as if you’ve ever been inside a courtroom… It’s people in suits (and sometimes wigs and gowns) arguing. You need to know what you’re talking about and of course it can be stressful, but I’d compare it to an oral exam at most.


you should be ashamed of yourself

If they are all truly exceptional, then they would not have had the need to go to law school?


Snowy the Snowflake of Snowland

Boohoo! Someone gave me some feedback I didn’t like!

Mummy told me I am special and am going to be a top lawyer!

This person shattered all my dreams and has caused me no end of stress!

I’m going to go and change my Drynites and when I have I’m going to complain in the hope that this mean person loses their job.



A Nony Mouse

If you had truly bucked up and had a great career and degree you would not have signed “anonymous”.

As you reference marking first year law essays, are you one of these Sheffield lecturers who shares kinship with the article?



Bold of you to criticise anyone’s work when you write in nothing but boring clichés.



How is putting personal insults in writing going for you in the “real world”?



If you’re going to run an article criticising excerpts of feedback, then you should also post the content which is being criticised – until then this is one-sided BS



The tutor is right to expect better, it is Sheffield University after all.



These students are in for a big shock when they enter the real world of work.



They’re at Sheffield. I don’t think many of them will end up anywhere requiring hard work and brains.


Chippy Northerner

Sheffield is an original Redbrick and is in the Russell Group.

It’s more than respected.



Everything is relative, I suppose. You have to slide a long way down from the top to end up there. But some are looking up from far far below.



Fascinating that the person who criticizes Sheffield has posted as anon.


This is not America

It is “criticises”. No “z”. That would get your TC application straight in the rubbish bin, or as you may say, “trash can”.


Why did it not like my name?

It is “criticises”. No “z”. That would get your TC application straight in the rubbish bin, or as you may say, “trash can”.


6 year PQE

What an absolute shocker it’ll be when they get their first draft of work sent back from a partner, red-lined and full of amendments. I wonder how their self esteem will fare then.


Take it on the chin

These are the same crybabies that complain that they don’t get feedback on their rejected TC applications….

Bring back this kind of honest feedback, would certainly have kicked my arse into gear in 1st year!



My first effort came back with a “Try reading the question next time” and a delta double minus. Best feedback I ever received.



There’s always at least one **** at every university who loves marking harshly because they don’t want anyone else to surpass their miserable careers.



Presumably just repeating the comments they’ve received on their own work from superior academics.



Pathetic to see the mindset of some. Just because a marker is direct, this pseudo-psychologist thinks it is because of past criticisms they have received. It is an intellectually lazy way to try to minimise the criticism and undermine the person making the comment at the same time. A clichéd internet device, and therefore not unexpected from FlourPour.


A Marker

One of colleagues was amazed at how “cheeky” my feedback was…

I’d say the same to their faces, and have done during classes. I’m quite open about it and welcome challenges – but, by the stage I get them the focus is on the practical rather than the academic.



Sounds as if the uni aren’t too happy with the people complaining.



When I was at university, only about 15 years ago, we’d have just had a good laugh at the lecturer in question and he’d have got a bit of a reputation. No chance this would have made the news anywhere.



It’s Sheffield. The marker is probably just upset at the fact there are no decent restaurants and that flat, warm beer with an awful pork pie is still in vogue.



Your jealousy and inferiority complex are showing.



I would rather receive such feedback from a lecturer than a partner


What The Fudge

It is whining like this by a weak minded minority that gives the generation a bad reputation, which is not deserved. Anyone who reacts to this by saying “I felt so bad and suddenly had a rush of low self-esteem” really ought to give up now.


1PE Associate

People of course shouldn’t complain about any negative feedback. But the extracts here are completely unnecessary and say more about the marker than the markee. You can certainly make the point that the student should draw firm conclusions and would be expected to in the workplace, without using words like “ignorant” or “cowardly”.

Now, maybe there’s a wider context, so perhaps we can reserve some judgement. I had a tutorial where a rich Chilean student wandered into our human rights tutorial half-way through with his cap on backwards, clearly hadn’t touched the reading, and proceeded to give a half-baked defence of Augusto Pinochet. I was very much in favour of the tutor ripping him a new one in that particular case.



Still, no-one with a modicum of grit would ever say “I felt so bad and suddenly had a rush of low self-esteem” after receiving these comments. THAT says much more about the student that the marker.


Cactus club

This second bit made me laugh, and yes, I quite agree that context is important. That being said, it sounds like the feedback in this case could have been less personal and more constructive. I am all for harsh feedback, and certainly that makes us all better lawyers, and we need to be able to accept critique. We should also have learned long before stepping into the profession how to accept and utilise criticism. But I do not believe any personal attributes should be included in this. Saying one is “cowardly” or “ignorant” is not helpful. Also, these are first year students. Be kind and at least ease them in a bit with constructive yet respectful feedback.


Anonymously Yours

Students want a degree that prepares them for the real world. A lecturer provides students with feedback to prepare them for the real world. Students don’t like it.



As a first year at the university all of feedback was critical but fair. It gave me good pointers. Uni lecturers aren’t there to hold your hand like at A-Level.


Forever Associate

Man, those commenting above really don’t get it…

Yes, work should be critiqued thoroughly and in a law firm hell hath no fury like a partner’s red pen.

However, there’s giving critical feedback, then there’s being insulting. If I had sent an email to any one of my firm’s paralegals or trainees whom I was supervising with some of the comments quoted above, there is no doubt in my mind I would be before HR. I know a partner who was encouraged to exit the firm a number of years ago because they were insulting in their feedback and it got the point no one would work for them. It won’t get you far in a law firm. My experience for critical comments so far has been “this needs more work, including X, Y and Z. Plz fix”. Had anyone called me ignorant or cowardly, there would have been trouble. Fortunately, I work with people who understand the value of being decent human beings as well as the value of providing concise and useable feedback.

Also, why is a uni lecturer talking about client expectations? Most uni law lecturers are either failed/burnout practicing lawyers that couldn’t hack it or pure academics that have no real (or at least substantive) experience in being a fee earner. The students should of named the individual with hopes they would lose their job – the uni would be a better place without them.


fix your typos

“should of”

the calibre of those backing the student is highly telling

and yes, please go on a long rant about how much you’ve achieved in life, we totally want to hear another success story on legal cheek



Imagine wanting someone to lose their job because of a slightly mean comment in one student’s essay.


The Court of Pie Poudre

The problem here is not the student (they have been moaning for generations). Its that the university actually listens to them instead of telling them to go away and grow up. universities are now scared of their students having a difficult time getting good grades. That is a mockery of the institution.

One area I actually agree with the Corbynistas on is that the marketisation of higher education in this country is a bad thing. I don’t think tuition fees from UK students is what drives that however. Its an issue of creating massive oversupply of university places which drives down standards.



Yeah I’m guessing you’re the kind that “turned out fine”



You mean someone with a backbone who had what it takes? We now live in an age where if someone does not “turn out fine” they usually blame others. The good enough all turn out fine.



There is a very big difference between “this is really very poor” and “you are too cowardly”. Being aggrieved at feedback of the former type is a bit pathetic but you are well within your rights to feel angry at someone who calls you “cowardly” for substandard work.


Archibald Pomp O'City

The “snowflake” stuff is an obvious answer but the marker’s feedback is more insult than assistance. They’re lucky they weren’t publicly shamed and then cancelled.



Come on.

Sheffield is a Redbrick.

They are traditional in teaching and look for high standards.



Redbrick is like state grammar. It seems good if your starting expectations are low.



If you start calling people “cowardly” and “ignorant” in private practice you’ll be shown the door pretty quickly. It’s unprofessional…



These comments are worse than the actual article…

Faith in humanity, demolished.



As a past lecturer at degree and diploma level (although not law) the comments were not helpful to the student.

When you are a lecturer you will have some students that will sail through with little input from yourself. Some will achieve with help from you and hard work. Others will need a lot of hand holding.



Tbh I think that most Sheffield students need a lot of hand holding

I don’t blame the lecturer for losing their patience and resenting them



The lecturer could easily have given the same feedback without being disrespectful and rude. Callousness does not equal better standards.


Scouser of Counsel

I have news for these kids….

Complaining about frank and harsh (and true) feedback won’t help you in practice.

The F word seems to be a dirty word now.

I’m going to say it, so please don’t moderate me – FAIL.

On the Bar Course, in the first time, I was told that I had FAILED some exercises in a certain module.

Did I cry? No.

Did I blame my tutor? No.

Did I moan about what a harsh course it was? No.

Did I complain about my tutor for failing me? No.

Did I acknowledge my failure and show willing to learn? Yes.

Did I ask my tutor for extra work? Yes.

Did I spend long evenings doing that extra work? Yes.

Did I get a pupillage whilst still on the BVC and still have an enjoyable career at the Bar now? Yes.

There must be a lesson here somewhere…



But did the tutor call you ignorant and/or cowardly? And would you say that to your pupils?



I think the uni has focused on the wrong thing. Based off of the information in the article I’d say there was more of a concern towards how the student’s were addressed in their feedback rather than their grades. Giving a student feedback which is insulting isn’t okay, not because these students are “snowflakes”, but because it’s simple human decency. If a senior lawyer spoke that way to a a more junior lawyer at a firm, HR would have a field day.



Depends a lot on which law firm it is. At many City and US firms, HR would just tell you to keep quiet.






I see a lot of comments saying “the real world will not be kind”. That’s not entirely acccurate: After 15 years in big law, I noted one thing: you only get positive feedback, until you’re shown the door (and that happened to be too – was told to leave an mc firm after years of stellar reviews with “your reviews were looking at past work, this is about your future here” lol). Now I see that happening to associates all the time. The problem is reviewers are afraid to provide negative feedback. My advice is to be thankful for honest negative feedback, because most supervisors will not give it to you until you’re sacked.



I recently purchased a beautiful Mercedes for £45,000 (coincidentally just about the same price as a law degree). The steering wasn’t working correctly and when I went back to the vendor, they told me it was because of my rubbish driving. A degree is like a Mercedes, if it is not working right, I want to know what’s wrong and how it can be fixed. I don’t need smart arses!



In any business you are only as good as your last years performance. It’s a bit like football managers. Lose a few games and your out.

Academic qualifications do not equate to success in business either. They are just the means to get there. They don’t keep you there.


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