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Topics - Thane Messinger

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1
Aloha, All -

It's been a while since I've had time to post anything here.  I thought I might post a note as to a new resource.  It's . . .

Con Law: Avoiding...or Beating...the Scam of the Century (A Real Student's Guide to Law School and the Legal Profession), by Charles Cooper and Thane Messinger

Given how outrageously expensive everything related to school is, my coauthor (Charles) and I were lucky to get this priced at $2.99, which we hope sticks.  And here's hoping this is a helpful boost to your otherwise precarious finances.  (I also got the price lowered for Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold, which, part three, I hope helps as well.)

In short, Con Law is about the realities of law school and the profession, by two law school graduates, practitioners, and academicians.  While we have ourselves led charmed lives, we have also seen the darker side of the profession, which, over time, has caused us to reflect on legal education.  Law School used to be an easy sale:  spend three years, and a modest sum of money, and you were pretty much set.  This is, of course, no longer true.  But not many students are fully aware of the degree to which is is blatantly false.  Thus, this book.

For those who are wavering about law school, these are crucial perspectives to consider.  For those who are about to enter, the stakes are high.  Very high.  It is, if anything, even more important to lay out your law school "career" with a serious plan as to both how you will approach law school and how you will connect with, and convince, a future employer.

If anyone is willing to read this and provide a critique, and is otherwise reasonably impecunious (a word at least one of your first-year profs will spring on you), please send me an email, to thane@post.harvard.edu, and I will buy you a copy myself.  [Legal disclaimer:  Limited time offer!]

Thane.

Here are the links:

http://www.amazon.com/Con-Law-Avoiding-Beating-ebook/dp/B00D2YJZM0/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1369886149&sr=1-1/theyounglawyersjA/

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/con-law-charles-cooper/1115443270?ean=2940016619569

2
General board for soon-to-be 1Ls / Malice in Wonderland
« on: June 09, 2012, 01:26:54 AM »
All -

There's a new book you might find useful and a bit stress-relieving.  It's Malice in Wonderland: What Every Law Student Should Have for the Trip.

[Disclaimer:  I edited and wrote an afterword for it.] 


http://www.amazon.com/Malice-Wonderland-Student-Should-ebook/dp/B00838L7O4/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&qid=1336972940&sr=8-1

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/malice-in-wonderland-thaddeus-hatter/1111318524?ean=9781888960914

Best of luck in your preparations,

Thane.

3
General Board / Free Books
« on: December 18, 2011, 01:46:15 AM »
All -

There is a new program on Amazon, where one can "borrow" a Kindle book, at no charge and with no time limit.  When getting the next book, you "return" the prior one.  (This is for "Prime" members, but, happy day, there's a special deal for students for Prime membership.)

There are two free books you might find useful:

http://www.amazon.com/Jagged-Rocks-Wisdom-Negotiation-Mastering-ebook/dp/B005DTS0R8/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&qid=1300938592&sr=1-3

http://www.amazon.com/Law-School-Getting-Good-ebook/dp/B003D7K0HK/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1324190883&sr=1-1

Thane.

4
When the Chief Justice gets into trouble, you know we're about to have some fun . . .

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/law_prof_responds_after_chief_justice_roberts_disses_legal_scholarship/?utm_source=maestro&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly_email

Enjoy,

Thane.

PS:  As to the subject line and for bigs especially, while it might take a few levels of inference, the seeds of rankings' true pervasive (and perverse) impact is seen in Roberts' remarks.  (Not as to Roberts, but as to law professors and the ever-more-irrelevant frenzy of the bulk of legal scholarship.)  What's interesting more than a professor's rebuttal are the comments from practitioners that follow the article.  Scroll down for more reading fun.

5
General Board / Getting Over It
« on: May 27, 2011, 04:16:13 PM »
All -

In case you've not seen this yet, here's a notable commencement speech by a law professor who offers either a healthy perspective or a tone-deaf (if not shockingly hypocritical) view:

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/in_commencement_speech_law_prof_tells_grads_coveting_big-money_jobs_to_get_/?utm_source=maestro&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly_email

[Scan through the comments below for an even more interesting take, including by a number of practicing attorneys.]

6
[This is the first post of three for "Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong.”  Unfortunately the book excerpt could not fit in one post.]

Aloha, All –

I’m going to do something that will likely cause trouble, and perhaps flames or worse. But it seems to me sufficiently important to counter misperceptions.

In other (heated) discussions, we seem to talk past each other.  I do not recommend what I think most responders assume I recommend, and so it occurred to me to lay out these truths from my perspective, as a long-ago (and rather successful) law student and as someone who, by odd coincidence, has over the past decade and a half been part of a network of practitioners and professors who deal with these issues directly, every day (well, as to the latter, when class is in). 

These are the first (and likely last) original posts I will make. These three posts combined are here (and will be duplicated in two other forums, concurrently), for a simple reason: to alert soon-to-be 1Ls that there is a different way, and--agree or disagree--to consider, deeply, their own path.  This is not in “argument” with others, necessarily, but instead to walk through these issues in a way that is unlikely to happen in any other way, for a group desperately in need of a heads-up.

If there’s interest and not too much vitriol, I’ll see if I can post a foreword for a new book, Law School Fast Track: Essential Habits for Law School Success.   [The foreword is morphing into a discussion of just this issue.  Had you asked me years ago, by the way, whether there could possibly be room for any more advice on law school I would have thought you crazy . . . yet I continue to get manuscripts that share remarkably good advice.  This is one of them, a fast read and inexpensive--because I think law students are already forced to spend way too much.  It should be available fairly soon, I think.]

With respect,

Thane.

PS:  Because of the character limit, I had to break this into three posts.  Whew.


From Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold):

[Yes, this is one very long paragraph, as is explained a bit later.]


Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

Here’s the scene: a group of eager new law students file into the front doors of a law school sometime late in August. Filled with nervous energy, they’re nearly bouncing off the walls with excitement. The halls bustle with this energy. Anything seems possible. Yet much of this energy is channeled negatively. To cover intense feelings of inadequacy and nervousness, nearly all seem to blurt their life résumé when meeting each other: “Hi!…I’m Chip!…Yale undergrad and Exeter!… Heard of it?” “Hey!…I’m Suzy…just got back from my second summer in [pick some Third World spot]…guess it helped me get in here…did I mention I went to Princeton?” It’s amazing more students don’t pass out; they’re so busy racing through their life accomplishments they don’t seem to have time to breathe. And so it goes. For anyone within earshot (which is nearly everyone, as voices rise to eardrum-piercing levels), each self-flattering declaration causes, simultaneously, even more self-conscious nervousness, pangs of inadequacy, and, more than occasionally, dry heaves. Like electrons, students bounce nervously from one to another, eager to electrify others with their impressive credentials. Like spastic, autistic caricatures of themselves, many morph into almost-unrecognizable, egocentric boors. “Me, me, me!” Someone then mentions that the assignments for the first day’s classes are posted, and more than a few students gasp. Huh? You mean we really were supposed to have prepared? Quickly they make their way to the poster (or web page), jot down (or download) the assignments. They grab their casebooks, and start reading. Ohmygod. This isn’t like any reading they’ve ever seen. They attend a presentation on how to brief a case, and of course are eager to get started. They already have a dozen to do! Okay, they buy the extra highlighters and start to brief cases. Dutifully. Painstakingly. Man it seems to take forever. Each case seems to take hours--and it’s sometimes hard to focus halfway through on what was just read. Their minds start to wander ninety seconds into the first “hereinafter.” A holding? Huh? Procedural history? Gah! In the first week it seems that they’re spending every second of free time reading and briefing cases--and they’re supposed to go to class too! In class they take notes. Lots and lots of notes. Surely this will help to make sense of the Greek (well, Latin) they’re reading in the cases and hearing from the profs and other students. Oddly, the notes don’t seem to help. At the end of the week, they look at their piles of notes and it’s hard to tell what they’re even about, much less to help understand the cases. If they forget to put the class name on the note, they can’t even tell what the subject is! If they get out of order, they’ve no idea which way they go. So they put them in a stack that grows ever more disheveled, and on and on it goes, week in and week out, as they bumble through their first week, second week, and then first month. Someone mentions another task--outlines!--and now they’re starting to panic. How can they possibly do more?! The cases are taking all of their time, and they’re struggling just to keep up. Class is getting to be a joke. It’s fine to pretend to know what’s going on, but they’re worried about getting called on and goodness that is a sure killer, right? Then they’re called on. Ohmygod. I’m dead, they’re thinking. If only I understood that case! The facts! The holding! What are they getting at?! The prof must think I’m a real moron, you fear silently. Everyone feels this way--even the cocksure gunners (who hide their fears by having their hands nearly constantly raised). Surely they know how lost we are and will help. Now it’s a real panic. It’s the middle of the semester, they’ve been attending classes like clockwork, the professors are certainly nice, but it’s just not making sense. Gosh it’s hard. Hmm, outlines have been forgotten…there’s no time! …but with exams just around the corner, they know they have to start doing something. They’ve also read they’re supposed to practice with exams, and gee-it-would-be-good to have a study group. No way!

*   *   *

[See Part 1b.]


Copyright Thane Messinger, Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold. All rights reserved.

7
[This is the second post of three for "Setting the Stage"]

Aloha, All –

I’m going to do something that will likely cause trouble, and perhaps flames or worse. But it seems to me sufficiently important to counter misperceptions.

In other (heated) discussions, we seem to talk past each other.  I do not recommend what I think most responders assume I recommend, and so it occurred to me to lay out these truths from my perspective, as a long-ago (and rather successful) law student and as someone who, by odd coincidence, has over the past decade and a half been part of a network of practitioners and professors who deal with these issues directly, every day (well, as to the latter, when class is in). 

These are the first (and likely last) original posts I will make. These three posts combined are here (and will be duplicated in two other forums, concurrently), for a simple reason: to alert soon-to-be 1Ls that there is a different way, and--agree or disagree--to consider, deeply, their own path.  This is not in “argument” with others, necessarily, but instead to walk through these issues in a way that is unlikely to happen in any other way, for a group desperately in need of a heads-up.

If there’s interest and not too much vitriol, I’ll see if I can post a foreword for a new book, Law School Fast Track: Essential Habits for Law School Success.   [The foreword is morphing into a discussion of just this issue.  Had you asked me years ago, by the way, whether there could possibly be room for any more advice on law school I would have thought you crazy . . . yet I continue to get manuscripts that share remarkably good advice.  This is one of them, a fast read and inexpensive--because I think law students are already forced to spend way too much.  It should be available fairly soon, I think.]

With respect,

Thane.

PS:  Because of the character limit, I had to break this into not two but three posts.




From Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold):

[Yes, this is one very long paragraph, as is explained a bit later.]


Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

*   *   *

[Continued from Part 1a.]

This is a madhouse. It’s hard enough to keep up with the readings, much less deal with others and their peculiarities. Especially not those a--holes! Didn’t you see how so-and-so looked at some other so-and-so? Exams! They’ve always done well. Surely these won’t be that bad. The semester is drawing to a close, and panic hangs in the air. Students are wide-eyed with fear. In just about every class something is said that brings utter dread: what are they talking about?! Some are like the undead…they’ve never come close to failing before. But will they pull this off? The law still isn’t making sense. It seems mysterious, even bizarre. All these phrases they’re supposed to know. What do they mean? Well, cramming worked before, and it doesn’t seem like there’s much choice now anyway. Exams are right around the corner! So, just like in a scene in The Paper Chase, cramming it is! “I’ll show them!” says nearly everyone to themselves, silently. More silently, they’re praying just to make Bs. Maybe one A, just to keep some dignity. Students huddle together and separately (this might seem an oxymoron, but that’s what will happen…like an academic fetal cry for comfort, students will almost hug themselves). Some will seem as if they’ll burst into tears at any moment. Others have distant looks, as if they see something important far, far away. Anywhere but here, they seem to say. Just let this be over. Taut faces and even shorter tempers give their fears away. Panic is contagious. Even those who were doing a good job and who do know the law succumb to a foreboding dread. Like cattle to the slaughter, they file into the exam rooms. Even with polite chatter, they can sense their impending doom, and the certain knowledge that they’re just not ready. If only a meteor hit, destroying the exam rooms and giving them even just 24 hours more! Perhaps ancillary fires will engulf the neighboring buildings, buying a week! Sadly, no meteor hits, and three and a half hours later they leave the exams knowing they could have done better. If only, if only…. Their thoughts trail off, and they pray that they’re not one of the ones in the bottom half, as by now they’ve seen and heard what happens to students in that dreaded statistical pool. Now starts the bargaining. Just give me this, Oh Lord, and I promise I will be good. Even committed atheists begin negotiating with deities great and small for their future lives. Like a bad science fiction movie, they stagger the hallways, putting on a show but knowing all the same that their dreams for a high-paying job are dead--along with how they feel. Many start acting out, and many of those go to the dark side--secretly planning to cheat, lie, or otherwise do whatever it takes to reverse the fate that’s been so unjustly handed them. Or they profess never to have cared at all. But they know better. Before, they’d been the best. Everyone had said so. Now they were a whole heap of nothing. Not just fighting for a good job--fighting for any job. With anyone! Pleeese? It’s so humiliating. The winter holiday is hardly worth enjoying as the stress of the semester never quite leaves--how can it with exam scores still hanging in the balance? Somehow, they eat the turkey and smile weakly through the family accolades. The new semester starts, and one by one grades start to come in. The reactions are painful, and predictable. A few positive surprises, but mostly very, very long faces. With the curve’s uncaring median, nearly everyone is seeing grades far below what they would ever have expected--or have ever gotten. For those hoping for an “A,” it’s a long, long way down. From undergraduate classes where nearly everyone gets an “A” or a “B,” in law school even a “B” seems shockingly rare. It’s as if hundreds of students are hearing the worst news they’ve ever heard--and for many, that’s exactly right. Classes are already a few weeks underway, and in a sort of post-traumatic shock, the whole process starts up again. Cases. Briefs. Notes. Panic. Frenetic worry. More notes. Panic. Cramming. More panic. Another, final set of exams. This time, however, the exams count. Spring fills with even more intense dread, if that’s possible, and for most, very little that’s remotely positive or productive. In less than a year, hundreds of the most intelligent, most decent individuals who’ve excelled in college have been reduced to a quivering mass of despondency--a surprising percentage of whom have suicidal thoughts. (But who won’t confide in a counselor for fear of an impact on bar examiners’ committees for fitness to practice law, which can investigate even intensely personal counseling.) Even the lucky few who actually did well--if you asked them privately--would find it hard to explain just how they did it. I would have, then. So the next year somehow starts with the undead wandering the halls, putting on their brave faces, and watching as an eager new crop of law students bounces off the walls with excited, expectant faces to class.

*   *   *

[See Part 1c.]


Copyright Thane Messinger, Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold. All rights reserved.

8
[This is part three of the posts “Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong.”  Unfortunately the book excerpt could not fit in one post.]


From Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold):

[Continued from Part 1b.]

*   *   *

The above, admittedly way-too-long paragraph might seem unbelievable. It is unbelievable. It certainly was to me, and to everyone I knew. Yet this is what happens, year in and year out, at every law school.

You’ve been at the very top of the academic heap. You’ve been praised for sixteen years for your intelligence, qualities, promise. Why should the next three years be any different? Although you read variations of this story in nearly every book about law school--each telling you that it is different--you still don’t believe.

That’s understandable. This is a reality that doesn’t quite hit…until it hits. And, for at least half of every law school class, the “hit” will be very much like a mental version of what we see after a train derailment. Tens of thousands of tons of metal, twisted at places beyond recognition, all because the wheels somehow jumped the track.

If it helps in the important process of understanding-- really understanding--just how true this reality is, I’ll recount my own experience. I attended the University of Texas Law School, which is generally regarded, give or take, as being in the middle of the Top 25. Within Texas it’s pretty much a Texas-sized Number One, and so “UT” strives mightily to compare itself not with any Texas school but rather with the dozen or so schools above it (naturally) in the rankings. In short, UT is the best law school for a thousand miles: you can pretty much drive to the coasts or Chicago before finding its equal. Why so much (more) ink about rank? Because of the experience I had graduating in 1991. The bottom had fallen out of the job market, and we students stood aghast as firm after firm cancelled their on-campus interviews, often just days before they were scheduled. To say that panic set in would be to report a mild version of events.

The national firms--which considered UT as very much a secondary school in their recruitment--required the standard Top 10%/law review standing, which of course few had. As mentioned, in 1989, when I entered, law school applications were at a peak, with intense competition pushing qualifications ever-higher at every school. The bust led to a steep drop-off, which took years to recover. There were a few firms, mostly regional or local, that would consider Top 25%, or perhaps even Top 33%. As the firms interviewing shrank, so too did job prospects. And this at one of the top law schools in the country! I write this not for self-flattery, but to reinforce that, in a bad market, even those in Tier 1 schools suffer. And, in a winner-take-all system, everyone lower down feels the crunch earlier and harder, in a steeply cascading tumble. As I had lined up a position in Honolulu, I was embarrassed even to repeat that among fellow students--half of whom had no job at all. To repeat, this was at a Tier 1 law school; the job market makes a big difference in the level of anxiety and near-psychosis among law students.

The atmosphere in those days was heart-wrenchingly depressing. The scenario above is a reflection not only of what exists now, but of what has existed for many decades, and is true at every law school. The only difference is where the drop-off starts. In a good market, Tier 1 students must still rank in the top 10-25%, usually, for a top job; the exception might be for students at a Top Five law school. But even there, the top jobs still go to the top students. Students at “lesser” schools must rank ever-higher for the same chance. In a poor market, the odds grow progressively (and steeply) worse. So, even if attending a Tier 1 or Tier 2 school, the job market has much to do with the level of success (and failure). At every law school, for a majority of students the scene described above plays out, exactly as above. Year in and year out.

It should not. Break the pattern for your play.

If you follow the above screenplay (and fall into even one of the above trapdoors), chances are high that you will fail. This is not mean that you will literally “fail” (usually), but you will be lucky to earn “B’s,” and will probably see more than you want of “C’s” and even “D’s.” And, believe it or not, you’ll have no idea why you earned each grade…but you will know, deep down, that you didn’t really deserve a better one. I suspect that, if you’re like me, a “C” is worse than failure. Even an “F” can be explained away a little less awkwardly--you were deathly ill, you were prescribed the wrong medication and being wheeled into the emergency room, the exam was held in the wrong city. Just try to explain away a “C.”

This is a crushing experience for a dismaying number of highly talented, intelligent, caring individuals. An “A” might be an expectation, but law schools strictly limit number of “A” grades. That means that just about nine out of ten of those highly talented, intelligent, caring individuals--you and your future colleagues--are about to experience one of the worse experiences in their lives: failure.

Break this pattern. If you sense any of the above happening, stop.

Stop! Something is wrong. This is not the way law school should be. It is especially not the way law school should be for you.

Copyright: Thane Messinger, Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold.  All rights reserved.

9
General board for soon-to-be 1Ls / To Prep or Not To Prep
« on: June 24, 2010, 05:45:27 PM »
This is the second of three posts (the other two being “Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong” and “To Prepare or Not To Prepare, Part II,” both in Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold).

Again, this is from the manuscript, so there might be slight changes in the book itself:

To Prep or Not To Prep

One debate of sorts that rages--well, simmers--among advice-givers is whether a student should prepare before starting law school, and, if so, how. One camp, which might be labeled the Don’t Worry, Be Happy school of jurisprudence, argues that it’s pointless to study and that it’s more important to be fresh and ready for the adventures to come. The other camp--filled with Type-A overachievers (which includes much of law school populations)--proclaims the opposite: “Goodness, you have to prepare! You’ll be lost!! Why aren’t you done yet!!! Where’s my Prozac!!!!”

The first camp is not the camp to be in. If you decide not to prepare you will be way, way behind and lost. It might be useful, however, to discuss why this is true, so that the importance of preparation will make sense, and so that you’ll know what and how to prepare, in a way that is manageable and beneficial. You should enjoy your summer before law school (as you should enjoy all summers). But you absolutely should not blow off preparing for what’s to come.

Advice-givers of this camp assert, often strenuously, that any pre-study is pointless. “You won’t know what to study!” “You’ll study the wrong things!” “Everything you need to know you’ll learn when you get there!”

Wrong on all counts.  First, you will know what to study. How? Because that is the way of the law. Any good attorney can tell you at least the main points of every first-year subject. Look at the table of contents of any commercial outline, hornbook, or casebook, and you will see…exactly the same major concepts, for every course. The law, to be the law, must be predictable. It must be structured. This is (or should be) the essence of the study of law too.

So, as to points one and two (“You won’t know what to study!” “You’ll study the wrong things!”), you will know exactly what to study, and you will not study the wrong things. If, for example, we look at Contracts, you will find that every single contract undergoes the same basic tests: formation, legality, breach, damages--leading to the insight that, gee, wouldn’t it be useful to begin thinking about these topics, at least in the most overarching of ways.

To those who say, “…But your profs might focus on different areas of the law!”  First, no they won’t. Law professors are not only uniformly trained at the top law schools, they are expected to cover the major areas of each discipline. Second, these major areas are “well-settled,” a term of art in the law meaning that everyone knows what’s what, and everyone also knows what is to be covered. They are the legal “canon,” or near-sacred text of what is accepted as basic among the profession. Third, might a professor deviate on one point or another? Sure. The answer? It doesn’t matter. Even if they do deviate, it’s not likely to be more than a minor difference of emphasis. Actually, even this doesn’t go far enough: especially if they deviate, “pre-study” becomes more, not less, valuable. The more you know about the general framework of that area of the law, the more you will recognize the differences--and deviations. It is the difference between a novice and intermediate player. Not yet expert, but a world of difference between the two.

So, in short, you should begin preparation in a careful way: you should begin laying out the major headings for your master outlines. You will have six: Contracts, Property, Torts, Civil Procedure, Criminal Law, and Constitutional Law. Even if there is a difference in your first-year courses, which is unlikely, it would be highly unlikely that any of these will go to waste. Even if your law school pushes one to the second year, let’s say, you’ve “wasted” perhaps a few dozen hours’ time. We’re not talking about a huge amount of work. It’s less time than you’ll spend on the LSAT, by far.

An example of a first-level heading for, say, Contracts is Formation. Once you have the first-level headings, you should being the process of delving into the second-level headings, which begin to flesh out the subject. So, under Formation you might have Offer, Acceptance, Consideration, and Legality. The third-level headings under Offer will run through a number of tests, such as (1) Commitment (2) communicated to an (3) Identified Offeree with (4) definite terms. Each of those terms will be fourth-level headings, so, for example, a commitment is an objective test in which the question is whether a reasonable person hearing words under similar circumstances would believe the sender intended a contract.

Notice what is happening. In just a few minutes you’re laying the groundwork for an understanding of black letter Contract Law. As you move forward in the course, you will add detail to explain each of those phrases and terms. Moreover, when you define the term objective test, for example, you will be defining a term that applies across legal disciplines. You will, to put it bluntly, be learning a foundational definition for dozens of exams.

Yeah. Preparation is important. And what you are learning in class will make far more sense because it will fit within a framework you have already built, and have re-chewed a few times. Before your very first class, you already know, for example, there’s a basic question in Contract Law of how a contract is formed. So, if your professor delves immediately into a discussion of, say, Texaco v. Pennzoil, you won’t be lost wondering what on Earth an oral contract has to do with a billion-dollar dispute. Instead, you’ll be saying (silently!) to yourself, “Of course! How could they have been so dumb?”

Indeed. A billion-dollar dispute (and a billion-dollar bankruptcy) because a roomful of bigwigs forgot a first-year law school lesson in what makes a contract. That is the level of comprehension you should aim for, and your outlines--which you should start before law school--are a key to getting there.

Also, isn’t this more fun? Isn’t it better to know what the professor is talking about, and to be able to appreciate it…rather than slinking from class to class in a fog? If you neglect your outlines for even a few days, a fog it will be.

Note from a Top 2 [Yale Law School] reviewer: “And a fog it was. Boy do I wish I had done this.”

Note #2: there is not a single right way to build your outline. You might, for example, have Consideration as a first-level heading, or another second-level heading Termination Before Acceptance?, or some such. That doesn’t matter. It’s on a computer. You can switch it around if you don’t like it. And your professor will appreciate the sophisticated structural question you’ll ask if you do need to ask.

How to get started? Follow the primers and commercial outlines. Note #3: Your job is not to simply copy it. Commercial texts will have lots of detail that won’t make sense (such as cases and tertiary rules). Skip that, for now. You need, instead, to build the framework, into which you will later add the wiring, walls, outlets, paint, and so on. This isn’t so much “getting a head start” as it is getting ready to start off right. Once law school starts, you’ll have very little time to backtrack. And, by definition, backtracking is a poor use of time.

I will recommend, again, that you read Planet Law School. In fact, I feel so strongly about it that this is one of two sources I will recommend you use multiple times. For your preliminary work, focus on chapter 16 (especially pp. 432-42; 452-56; and 458-468). Follow the advice there and read, or ignore, whichever parts of the book don’t apply (yet). This advice--to go to another book for advice--might be viewed as a bit odd (and, no, I’m not the author of Planet Law School), but that misses the point. This is part of a broader lesson of efficiency: take advantage of the best of what is already out there. The materials recommended in Planet Law School are the materials you should have--and read; it would be pointless to simply restate them and the points he makes, less well, here. (Not to mention unethical.) The broader point is that Planet Law School is correct: preparation is important. It need not and should not be extreme, but it should be substantial, and concerted.

One other source you might look at, and this one I did have a hand in, are the Great Law Books pages at www.fineprintpress.com. These include a number of references that you might find interesting or useful as to prepare for the LSAT, application process, or law school itself. In most cases, I suggest you borrow these books from the library--there’s no point to waste money better spent on future pizzas, yes?

Okay then. Ready for law school?


Copyright: Thane Messinger, Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold.  All rights reserved.

10
Following the earlier two posts (“Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong” and “To Prep or Not To Prep,” both in Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold), here is the third.

Again, this is offered for those who are persuadable; I shall not dispute that there are many opinions on this, but I shall herein offer my own.


To Prepare or Not to Prepare, Part II

There is, as they say, a “split of authority” among, well, authorities on this question. Nearly every law school guidebook has some take on this issue, and much the advice is some variation on the Don’t Worry, Be Happy tune. In other words, “There’s no need to ‘pre-study,’ for goodness sakes! Just relax and enjoy yourself before law school. You’ll learn everything you need to once law schools starts.”

This advice is so wrong it’s hard to approach this sufficiently carefully so that you get a sense of just how wrong this really is. Here goes: First, there’s more than a tinge of laziness to this advice. Even if couched in “rest up so you’re ready for the real battle” language, it’s hard to see this as other than, “Goodness, you’re going to be burning out soon, so save your strength!”

If you burn out, it will be because you are studying poorly. Usually, this is because you realize once you start law school just how far behind you already are. And if you burn out, it won’t make a bit of difference whether or not you were rested when you started. Burnout is burnout. The focused, intense approach I discuss is by design and necessity sustainable. It is hard, but it is less hard than what most students do now. And it is the way to avoid burnout. The path of bad-bad-bad study (which nearly everyone assumes is the “right” path) is a near-guarantee for burnout, emotional and spiritual as well as physical and pedagogical. What’s worse, bad study--and bad advice--seem to “fit” our preconceptions better: study hard, take notes, and so on. That sounds right, but…no, no, no.

Reading and color-coding case after case after case--and understanding none of it--and taking bucket-loads of notes in class and then cramming just before finals? Not only won’t it work, but of course you’ll burn out. And, if you do, it will serve your right. Or, knowing that there is an alternative--if you insist on studying badly, it will serve you right. Sorry to be so brusque, but if you want to get into the minds of veteran professors and hiring partners, that is how they will see it: If you don’t “get it”--in time for exams--then that’s just too bad. You don’t count. Literally. If you don’t get it, as measured by grades, you are invisible to these two groups. They’re looking to reward those who do get it, in time.

That is reason number two that you must prepare.

Here’s how the summer-preparation issue was written in another book for law students, Later-in-Life Lawyers: Tips for the Non-Traditional Law Student (which, notably, was a rebuttal to the conventional “wisdom”):

There are perhaps three points: First, if your preference is not to prepare, let it be for more noble reasons than laziness. Law school requires enormous dedication; if you’re not willing to dedicate time now, ask yourself, seriously, whether you’re really going to “make up for it” later. Second, understand that many students are preparing. As they will be your competition in the all-important first year of law school--where absorption of the material is most difficult--do you really want to risk a do-nothing-but-relax-and-be-merry approach? Too, even if advance preparation is not entirely helpful, what if it is partially so? What if, as is likely, it just takes a few times before a legal doctrine makes sense? What if that one extra time before finals would have been the just the right number, for you?

The last point is the third reason. Your goal should be to have a strategic pass under your belt as you get started. Note: this is strategic pass--a 40,000-foot view requiring just a few dozen hours for each subject--not the minutiae that everyone gets hung up on. This overview will help by being a first pass, and it will help by making the second pass “fit” better. The law you then learn during law school will make more sense.

Going into law school “cold” is a nearly certain path to sub-par performance. Is it possible to do well (and thus get the gold) without any preparation? Sure. As a matter of statistics and experience, this happens. But that’s not the way to bet. The odds are already 9-to-1 against you. And there’s something greater at stake: actually knowing the law. It’s one thing to memorize a bunch of stuff…it’s quite another to internalize six sets of hundreds of rules and many hundreds more sub-rules, exceptions, and exceptions-to-exceptions. That is the law. Moreover, to think like a lawyer (and thus do well on exams and in practice), you must know these in your bones, and you must know how to apply them to a new set of facts, cold.  The rules themselves are just the starting point; even if memorized in time, going in cold is still too late for most.

Law professors have a command of the law not just because they’re very, very smart (as indeed they are), but also because they’ve been spending their time on that subject for years, and sometimes decades. In a sense, it’s like the pro who is tossing a ball around with a novice. Because they are pros, it seems effortless. And when compared to the novice, it seems miraculous. In reality, it is neither; practice makes perfect.

A large part of this is the fact that law professors are not learning the law for the first time. You are. Moreover, your professor has the luxury of focusing on one or two areas of the law, while you’re expected to learn six, simultaneously. While obvious, this is more than a mere disadvantage. This is not intended, by the way, to be disparaging of law professors. Rather, it is intended to point a way that should be obvious to you: having studied the basics of the Big Six, you will be miles ahead--and you will be on your way to understanding the law. You still won’t be to the level of the professor (nor should you expect to be), but you’ll be able to hold an intelligent conversation that you simply will not be able to do the first time around. That is the key: knowing enough to be able to put it all into perspective.

You need not know every rule. You need not parse every source. This is a misconception that law students stubbornly cling to. No, no, no. You must know the framework, and you must know the basic rules, exceptions to those rules, and the highlighted exceptions-to-exceptions. And, more importantly than those, you must be able to apply them--which takes us back to the framework.

One frustration in the first year of law practice, by the way, is that most junior associates never seem to get the same type of assignment twice. They’re often bandied about from partner to partner, only adding stress to an already-stressful job. Paradoxically, this only adds to the importance of having that knowledge of the law in your bones, which will prove most helpful in having some sense of what on Earth the project is all about.

So, you should, in a concerted-but-not-overwhelming effort, undertake your first pass before law school; your second pass in law school; and your third pass for the bar exam. The first two passes will be crucial to Getting Good: your exams. Three passes will--as you look back--be just right for your success in your first position: Getting the Gold.

Copyright: Thane Messinger, Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold.  All rights reserved.


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