Law School Discussion

Law Students => Current Law Students => Topic started by: KoalaTamer on August 29, 2009, 12:58:50 PM

Title: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: KoalaTamer on August 29, 2009, 12:58:50 PM
I just started law school last week, and I'm already freaking out about how I'm going to set myself apart from my classmates well enough to get one of the 30-40% of A-range grades that professors are required to give in each class. It seems like if most everyone is reading the assigned material, briefing all the cases, attending class, outlining, and going to professors' office hours if they have questions, all of the exam answers will be of approximately equal quality. Would anyone here mind sharing what they did throughout the semester and near exam time to earn A's in their classes?

Also, how in the world do I know that I'm studying enough? I keep reading about people spending tons of time every day of the week "studying." Are you all doing something besides reading the assigned material, briefing cases, and looking back over your class notes (and, later, outlining)?

Thank you for your insights!

--A 1L who is determined to get straight A's
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: RobWreck on August 29, 2009, 02:25:38 PM
Want to distinguish yourself? Keep at it for the whole semester. Everyone is hot out of the gate when the race starts, but it's the ones that can keep the pace for the longest that come out on top. You'll see people fade off as the time goes on...
Good luck.

PS: What school gives 30-40% A- grades? That's really extreme grade inflation and demonstrates why class rank is the only really important measure.
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: UnbiasedObserver on August 29, 2009, 03:49:54 PM
Want to distinguish yourself? Keep at it for the whole semester. Everyone is hot out of the gate when the race starts, but it's the ones that can keep the pace for the longest that come out on top. You'll see people fade off as the time goes on...
Good luck.


Agreed.  Law school is a marathon, not a sprint. 
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: EarlCat on August 29, 2009, 04:25:32 PM
Start your outlining early.  Lots of your classmates will be scrambling during the reading period, which is when you should be studying your outline, not making it.

Also, don't just focus on knowing the blackletter.  Focus on how to challenge the blackletter.  Blackletter appears to say so-and-so loses.  How does so-and-so argue against that?
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: KoalaTamer on August 29, 2009, 04:52:22 PM
Thanks for the replies, Rob, Observer, and EC!

I had been planning to start outlining in each class once an entire unit has been covered (so probably after another 1.5 weeks or so). Is that what you would recommend?
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: EarlCat on August 29, 2009, 05:23:20 PM
That's probably good, although you can map out the skeleton of the outline from you syllabus, so you know what things will end up going where.
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: UnbiasedObserver on August 29, 2009, 08:40:54 PM
That's probably good, although you can map out the skeleton of the outline from you syllabus, so you know what things will end up going where.


Word. 
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: RobWreck on August 29, 2009, 09:56:26 PM
While I agree with EarlCat about using the syllabus to give you guidance in forming your outline, I'll buck the grain here and admit that I do all my outlining at the end of the semester... starting about 2 weeks before classes end. I use that time to assemble all the material and form a comprehensive picture of the material covered. The process of building the outline reinforces it all for me in a way that I don't think I'd get if I assembled it going along. It's the act of assembling the outline that really ties all the material together for me.
But that's only what works for me, and many of law students (ranked both higher and lower) preach the 'outline-as-you-go' gospel...
Good luck.
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: one4theteam on August 29, 2009, 10:37:52 PM
I'd also add to do as many practice exams from the professor as possible AND go over them against a model answer, even better with your prof.

At my school, Professors started giving first years practice exams around very early November.  At first they are overwhelming.  At first you will think you have no idea where to begin.  At first you will miss a lot of the key points and minor details.

BUT, what I have found is that getting through these initial hurdles is the biggest challenge.  Once you are familiar with the kind of information dump you will get, you will have an idea of how your outline fits in with everything. 

Keep an eye out for some of the different styles your professors will have.  They will all want IRAC, but some will want a very methodical approach.  Others will want a brush pass on the I, R and C and a definite emphasis on the A.  You will be able to get a sense of what to give each professor on the final exam.

Last thing, you will see trends in what your professors generally test on.  Its almost too good to be true.  However, you will have to go through a few exams first to identify certain themes. 
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: KoalaTamer on August 30, 2009, 08:05:44 AM
My main problem right now is knowing how to know that I've studied enough. I hate not having quizzes or anything to gauge how sufficiently I'm preparing myself for finals right now. So, say I finish my readings and case briefs for the week. Is there something else I should be doing besides reviewing before each class?
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: EarlCat on August 30, 2009, 08:14:33 AM
My main problem right now is knowing how to know that I've studied enough. I hate not having quizzes or anything to gauge how sufficiently I'm preparing myself for finals right now. So, say I finish my readings and case briefs for the week. Is there something else I should be doing besides reviewing before each class?

Review your class notes as soon as class is over and clarify anything vague.  This is one thing I really wish I had done, but never did, then I'd look at my notes at some later date and think, "WTF was that part about?"

You could also read the relevant sections in whatever supplements you've bought just for reinforcement.
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: one4theteam on August 30, 2009, 03:52:53 PM
Its still very early in the game, at most you're probably at the end of Week 2.  You can always be studying, as you have already found.  Law school (for the most part) does not require you work 24 hours a day.  That being said, I agree with the above posters with outlining early and reinforcing what you've already learned early.  It is way too early to get any sense of an idea that you know what you should be knowing.   

If you are on top of your daily work, here are my suggestions for "above and beyond" work which you seem to be looking for and which I do believe makes a difference.

1)  I love the Examples & Explanations series, especially for the core 1L classes.  Do the practice questions at the end of each topic.  You will find subtleties that are not rocket science but are also not readily apparent in legal thinking.

2)  Talk to your professors.  You will find some things that you think are important they don't think are important.  More importantly, you will find things they think are important that you did not.

3)  Let go of the need to be doing something all the time.  As the semester wears on, you will see that you will have just the right amount of time to do everything you need to be doing and then some. 

Honestly, I wasn't overwhelmed my first weeks of class.  A lot of that had to do with the fact that we didn't have hard core socratic professors for my section and that is probably the most anxiety-inducing factor of being a 1L.  However, as we approached finals the pace did pick up and I learned that my staying on top of things was beginning to pay off.  You will be working on LRW, career services will be knocking, etc. 
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: haulin_oats on August 30, 2009, 08:20:34 PM
One of the most valuable things you can do is review model answers from past exams, if your professor provides model answers. Otherwise, figure out what the professor wants on the exam and give them what they want.
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: KoalaTamer on September 06, 2009, 04:17:35 PM
Wow, I can't tell you all how grateful I am for your advice.

I have yet another question. I never know how far we'll get in class, so I don't know exactly how many cases to brief. Is it possible to prepare too far in advance (i.e. if I do a brief today, Sunday, we might not discuss the case until next Monday)? How far in advance do you usually prepare? Thanks!
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: gzl on September 07, 2009, 02:33:21 PM
I just started law school last week, and I'm already freaking out about how I'm going to set myself apart from my classmates well enough to get one of the 30-40% of A-range grades that professors are required to give in each class. It seems like if most everyone is reading the assigned material, briefing all the cases, attending class, outlining, and going to professors' office hours if they have questions, all of the exam answers will be of approximately equal quality. Would anyone here mind sharing what they did throughout the semester and near exam time to earn A's in their classes?

Also, how in the world do I know that I'm studying enough? I keep reading about people spending tons of time every day of the week "studying." Are you all doing something besides reading the assigned material, briefing cases, and looking back over your class notes (and, later, outlining)?

Thank you for your insights!

--A 1L who is determined to get straight A's

Well, here's my input for what it's worth.  Unlike most, it seems, I do brief all my cases.  I think it's important in the beginning to do that, but I could probably do fine now without it.  I just do it because I find it's a good way to keep my thinking sharp in re: dealing with facts, finding issues and organizing my thoughts.  Outlining is vital, the people who do badly are the ones who are studying from either a canned outline or from the casebook by the end of the semester instead of from their own outline.  Everyone says to ignore your profs and use canned briefs and outlines, that they're helpful.  I've found the opposite to be true.  I generally do better than my classmates who use such.  I think that's because I don't use them.  Every brief and every outline bullet I study is a trace of a thought process I've gone through to get the words onto paper.  I know everything on that outline inside and out because of that, and that process is what the exams really test.  Granted, I might be able to do nearly as well now studying from a canned outline, but that's only because I didn't rely on such earlier.

In other words, I think just doing what the profs recommend that you do will prolly set you apart from those who are getting that "little extra" by memorizing horn books, looking at 3 different canned outlines, etc etc and dispersing their focus.

As for how far to be prepared: A) don't fall behind, I made that mistake me 2nd semester and catching up was a nightmare.  A couple of your classes will likely fall behind the syllabus.  I find that just keeping up with the syllabus in all of my classes means that I'm a week or two ahead of the actual lectures by the end of the semester in a couple classes.  That's enough of a cushion to consolidate and finalize outline to prep for finals, etc.

Edited to add:  Don't spend time set aside for studying on this board writing long-winded replies of little interest to anyone as an avoidance mechanism.
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: gzl on September 07, 2009, 02:49:02 PM
Start your outlining early.  Lots of your classmates will be scrambling during the reading period, which is when you should be studying your outline, not making it.

Also, don't just focus on knowing the blackletter.  Focus on how to challenge the blackletter.  Blackletter appears to say so-and-so loses.  How does so-and-so argue against that?

Totally agreed.  Knowing the black letter law is like knowing the basic functions of addition subtraction multiplication and division for a calculus class.  Every bonehead in class is expected to know it.
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: jzaylia on November 18, 2009, 09:31:24 PM
Distinguish yourself on the exam by using the rationale, NOT JUST THE RULE and simple application.  I wrote an article about this.  it's coming out in the ABA Student/Lawyer Magazine this December, but I'm sure you need the advice now.  So, please see my blog about this very subject: http://jessie-zaylia.blogspot.com/2009_09_01_archive.html

I've also posted something another blog on "the legal question," but I don't know if that is something that concerns you.

Good luck!
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: KoalaTamer on November 19, 2009, 08:47:54 AM
Thank you so much for taking the time to write that blog entry for law students. It really provides valuable insight and advice!
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: jzaylia on December 07, 2009, 06:50:57 AM
Do not freak out.  You are going to be ok.  Go here:

Jessie Zaylía's Law (and Law School) Blog, which can be found at: http://jessie-zaylia.blogspot.com/

I started this blog with 1Ls in mind because most 1Ls don't have access to very much useful guidance. However, this blog is NOT exclusively for 1Ls. 2Ls, 3Ls, and even practicing attorneys should find these entries helpful. Often, people will tell you "what" you need to do or include, but you'll be left hanging as to "how" to accomplish that. So, essentially, I try to focus on the latter.

My first blog just appeared on the cover of the ABA Student Lawyer magazine: "Why Ask Why Twice?"  Just breathe...
Title: Re: How do I set myself apart?
Post by: zackie on December 07, 2009, 09:40:11 AM
Focus focus focus this is what you need to survive in this course but don't forget too have a little bit social life