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Guide to surviving law school

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
Because there seems to be a great interest in law school among members of this Forum, I thought I would start a thread on a guide to surviving law school, more specifically, first year.  These are things beyond the obvious (work hard, do all your reading, etc.) that you won't find in any book that I wish I had known my first year.  (They are primarily based on my mistakes.)  I'm sure GQ Lawyer, GatorStyle, and other lawyers and law students that frequent this forum will have many things to add, but here, in my opinion, are the five most important things to remember during your first year: 1. Start outlining your courses right away.  This is exactly what it sounds like -- summarizing the course material in an easy-to-read outline format.  Commercial outlines that you will find in the campus bookstore are helpful, but homemade outlines are best because they track the course itself.  By outlining from the beginning of class, you will not only save yourself a lot of cramming at the end of the semester, you will also be able to review and remember material you learned weeks ago as you add to the outline.  This will allow you to see the "big picture" for the final exam, which will usually constitute your entire grade for the course. 2. What you know is less important than how you say it.  You can know a topic backward and forward, but that knowledge won't help you a bit unless you can apply that knowledge on the final exam in a way that the professor likes.  Sad, but true.  Your law school will probably have model student exams on file in the library.  These are very helpful, particularly if they were from exams given by the same professor.  Keep the format of these model answers in mind when you take the exam. 3. Don't fall for the fool's gold of the open book exam.  Open book is a safety net if you have a total brain lock on the exam.  It is not meant for you to flip through your materials after you read the exam questions.  Study for an open book exam exactly like you would study for a closed bood exam.  Flag relevant sections of your textbook so that you do not have to memorize statutes verbatim. 4. Get to know your professors.  This does not mean raising your hand every ten minutes to ask/answer a question.  The most certain thing in life after death and taxes is that there will be at least 1 or 2 individuals in every law school class that will take every opportunity to show their classmates how intelligent they are.  These people are known as "gunners" and are not very well liked.  Fortunately, most of them shut up after first semester grades come back.  But I digress.  This may mean asking a question after class about something that was said in class or going to a professor's office hours occasionally to talk about an interesting legal topic.  The important point is that the professor knows you from Adam.  You never know when you'll need a good word from someone for a job application. 5. Finally, develop a life outside of law school.  This does not mean treating first year like 5th year of college, because it's not that.  It does mean doing things to get your mind away from the law.  This could mean anything from getting involved in the local community to playing in a weekly pickup basketball game to going out every Saturday night (after doing all your reading, of course).  Remember, law school will not consume you unless you allow it to. I hope that was helpful.
post #2 of 8
I have to agree with Ambulance Chaser about the first year of law school. It is tough but with work anything is workable. I would just add some pointers: for outlines: do what AC said make your own, because your prof. may have a different angle on a case or theory that Emanules(sp) will not cover or may lack further depth on. I would also use supplements with your notes from class to make outlines with such as Hornbooks, nutshells, other treatises that reflect on the subject, I have found by combining a variety of different supplements along with my class notes it has helped in forming and understanding the subject area. -Test taking: This is probably the most hardest thing to do while in law school, you may know the law as AC said back and forth but it's how you say it on the test that counts. What I suggest, if you start taking practice tests nearly a 3-4 weeks before finals you are taking out on a great investment that will help you understand and see how the law works in everyday encouters. Practice tests should be what they are practice, take an exam that a prof. had a semester or so ago, or try to use some current bar-bri other prof's tests that are on your subject area get the key or the answers to the test, and practice, practice, practice writing these exams over again, everytime you write an exam over again your exercising theories and rules of law that you learned in class, and your able to issue spot more easily. This is probably the biggest thing to do when preparing for an exam if you practice the tests, look at the answer keys, and keep improving you should do well come exam time. -Have all your reading done(for the course) by 3-4 weeks before the final, even though some profs. don't like that, the only reason being you read the cases, breifed them, now your just studying and getting ready for finals. Also, you can re-fresh your selves by going over the finsihed cases before class, I did this, and for me it works nicely because I have time to study and re-work on my outlines. -Oh, as AC said you control law school don't let it control you, because in the real world, your going to have to control your client, the judge, and the other side, and you don't want any of those above elements to take over you case. Work hard but also make time to relax and go out. Law school is intense but with anything if you put time into it you should do fine.
post #3 of 8
Thanks a lot for sitting down and sharing that knowledge with us all...I for one really appreciate it. Anyone with anything else to add, please, bring it on ;-) Oh, and if any of you are ever in the San Diego area, let me know, you have a free beer or six coming your way.
post #4 of 8
If for no other reason than to avail myself of that free beer offer, Max, allow me to punctuate the advice given in the 2 posts above.  I really have nothing more to add, as the aforementioned posts nicely capture what I agree to be the keys to surviving the first year of law school (note:  these are likely to change significantly in your 2nd and 3rd years, as the emphasis shifts to finding gainful employment). I suppose, for what it's worth, I could reemphasize certain elements of what was stated above.  You should absolutely look at prior examples of what your professor thought was a well-written exam.  This is because you need to begin thinking and writing the way lawyers do, which is generally quite different from what you are accustomed to.  Issue-spotting, as mentioned, is key; in fact, most law school professors care little about what your final answer is (in real life, juries do that anyway) as compared to your identifying issues and analyzing them as a lawyer would, even if you only guess as to the ultimate resolution (trust me, this will make sense when you get there). Don't neglect the rest of your life, but do keep up and stay diligent.  The temptation to slack off until the end of the semester - when your one exam is given - may still linger from your lazy days as an undergrad.  Resist that, and keep up.  You won't regret it. Lastly, with respect to those in class who constantly raise their hands and volunteer answers that have you doubting your own knowledge and ability: ignore them.  With rare exceptions, they'll be bringing up the rear come grade time (and grading is usually blind, so excessive ass-kissing during class rarely gets you anywhere).
post #5 of 8
I'm first year law and wish to thank you guys for the great input. But - it appears that there are no sample exams in our library. There are exam questions, but there are no answers, so I have no idea what does the good-written exam look like. Where can one get these exam samples other than in the library?
post #6 of 8
Thread Starter 
I'm first year law and wish to thank you guys for the great input. But - it appears that there are no sample exams in our library. There are exam questions, but there are no answers, so I have no idea what does the good-written exam look like. Where can one get these exam samples other than in the library?  
Join various law school organizations (Federalist Society, Law School Democrats, softball team, etc.).  These organizations often will have copies of model exams and outlines to give to new members.  Second years are usually more than happy to share their wisdom with 1Ls with whom they share a common interest.  If the organization is large enough, and not entirely composed of the bottom dwellers of the class, there should be at least one or two good model exams for each subject.  Sometimes the organization has a formal system for distributing model exams.  If it doesn't, it is easy enough for you to ask a member with whom you have developed a good rapport for help in locating good model exams. I also suggest that you network as much as possible.  Go to your law school's Thursday night Bar Review.  (Every law school has this outing.  It's so cliched.)  Get to know as many second years as possible.  It's generally common knowledge who the highest ranking students in the second year are, so hopefully you will befriend one of them.  I don't recommend that you get chummy with someone solely for his/her model exams, but the more people you meet, the more likely it is that one of your acquaintances will have what you're looking for. Good luck.
post #7 of 8
I teach law school (criminal law, criminal procedure and civil procedure) so I thought I'd throw my $0.02 into this topic. I agree with most of what others have said, especially in the emphasis on exam-taking skills. In that connection, here are a couple of tips: 1. In answering essay questions, make sure to find the "call of the question." That is, make sure you understand the question that the professor is trying to get you to answer. It sounds obvious, but here's an example: If the question has to do with whether minimum contacts exist for personal jurisdiction in a diversity case, you'd be amazed how often students think they have to tell me everything they know about jurisdiction. They then waste valuable time talking about things like in rem and quasi-in-rem jurisdiction that have nothing to do with the question. Sometimes this is a consequence of poorly constructed exam questions (yes, law professors are fallible.), but more often it comes from a misconception that students have to regurgitate everything they learned in class on an exam. Be sure to answer the question that is being asked. 2.
post #8 of 8
Continuing my last post (keystroke error). . . . 2. Within the parameters of the question, be sure to show the professor what you know. One of the biggest mistakes in exam-writing is to state conclusions without explaining how you drew those conclusions. ALWAYS use specific facts to illustrate your legal conclusions. If you have time, explain away alternative conclusions to show that you know the difference and to further illustrate the depth of your understanding. For instance, if the question involves minimum contacts, an answer that says no more than, "yes, minimum contacts exist" will earn a failing grade even if I agree with the conclusion, because I have no idea whether the student understands what he is talking about. Don't lard your answer with unnecessary or irrelevant concepts, but within the time you have, do as much as you can to illustrate your mastery of the concepts involved. 3. One note on outlines: commercial outlines can be helpful, but they can also be dangerous. Some of them are simplistic or inaccurate. Even if they are substantively OK, making your own outline forces you to engage the material much more deeply, which will make it stick in your mind and help you to understand it. There's just no substitute for wrestling with the material on your own. Study groups can be helpful, but make sure everyone in the group shares the same level of commitment to getting it right. 4. "Gunners" are a pain in the ass for students and law professors alike. Don't give them a second thought. I ignore them when I can. 5. I agree wholeheartedly that you should set aside a space in your life for things unrelated to law school (and later, for things unrelated to law practice). I and probably others on this forum have made the mistake of not doing so, and it can cause you a lot of trouble. 6. Good luck, and don't let all this scare you. If you're smart enough to get in, you're smart enough to succeed, and once you get over the initial shocks, law and law school can be a lot of fun. Please post any other questions you might have.
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