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Messages - Thane Messinger

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Current Law Students / Re: Poor 1L Grades
« on: January 28, 2011, 09:45:37 PM »
Everything seemed fine coming into law school. 3.4 GPA, 90th percentile LSAT, accepted into a Mid-Tier 1, Midwest law school. I did well before law: coming in with a year of legal experience at a large corporation and decent experience in public finance. I love the real world practice of law.

*  *  *

I am short on time: I need to pick a path.
Please help. All advice is appreciated.

T –

To start, please know that what you've experienced is not unique.  Your circumstances are serious, of course, and the disappointment and seeming lack of correlation to effort only adds to the stress.  Yet most law students are perplexed about the grades relative to their sense of how well they know the material.

Part of the reason is that a law exam is not about "law."  [!]  Rather, it is about thinking a problem through in much the way a lawyer would.  I suspect (but of course your profs can confirm) that you are reciting law but not working that into a synthesized legal analysis.  It is a skill, and one that is quite different from undergraduate school or, of course, a non-law job.  This is also, by the way, much of what goes into the bar exam.

The good news.  Your self-awareness at this point is a huge step.  Confronting exams with the realization you have is a large part of improving.  Once you get past this, you should be able to select combinations of seminars and project-based courses that will minimize further risk.  Also, your initial statements seem to answer the question of whether you should continue.  But this is a serious question.  Reflect on it deeply before deciding either way.  (As part of this and as a thought experiment, for twenty-four hours “determine” that you will withdraw.  How do you feel?  Okay, switch and determine that you will stay in.  How about now?)

So, on to doing better: 

I encourage you to take LEEWS.  It should be quite helpful.  There are other exam-writing programs, so I wouldn't discount others.  Among them, LEEWS is an excellent start.  Importantly, however, it’s not about “reading” or “listening,” but about DOING.

Now is your chance to excel.  All of this will be a bad memory.  For full-year courses, absolutely no one will care about your fall grades after the spring ones are in.  And once you have those “A” grades, the earlier ones are explainable.

For that purpose and also your own self-interest and self-esteem, a serious focus on how you've been studying and how you've been preparing for exams is important.  So, ask yourself how you been spending class time?  (Notes, highlighting...?)  Non-class time?  (Outlines, flash cards...)  Exam prep?  The more specific the better.

A test:  work on your outline before each class, and try to minimize the notes you take.  When you take notes, take them either directly into the outline, or try to limit them to just 1/2-page.  Then, incorporate them directly into your outline.  The outline is not a “thing”; it is the embodiment of your knowledge.

Everything is directed toward one goal:  understanding how to address each and every legal issue.

And . . . have fun!  Seriously.  Think of how interesting each legal issue you address is.  What happens if you change fact x, or fact y, or circumstance z?

If you've not yet done so you might make appointments with each (all) of your profs to go over your exams. Make it clear that you're *not* there to protest; you want to know which connections you failed to make, with regard to each and every legal point.

Exams are graded in this way: In some combination profs create a bizarre fact pattern (usually) and spell out a variety of legal issues. Clearly, these are the issues they want to test, and they're a majority of the issues in the course. Each issue will have a number of parts, and each part will get some number of points--usually a fairly modest number.

Point 1: From this, what is needed is not literature. This is where many of the smartest, best students from undergraduate and (especially) graduate school go wrong. The writing for the best papers is choppy; almost staccato.

Point 2: Points are gained from a targeted, rapid, comprehensive approach. Conflicting adjectives, true, but this does mirror legal thinking.

Point 3: If you happen to think of a legal issue the prof did not, you'll get brownie points.

Point 4: The brownie points are nice, but they make up for exactly one or two of the other, minor points missed. Thus, the meat of law exams is in racking up points, NOT in brilliance. (Or at least not brilliance as most think of it. You want to be brilliant in a methodical, rapid, concise way.)

As to teams, what you're looking for are two things: Someone who's precise and methodical and follows through, and someone who knows what they're doing, and thus won't waste time (their own or yours). As to the latter, the best indication is a student who's from a family with a lawyer or two in it.

Hang in there. It will work out.


Current Law Students / Re: Is law review really worth it?
« on: January 25, 2011, 02:23:56 PM »
That makes sense. Honestly, I do not fully understand how law review works. I know I missed being automatically put on by 1%  :'(, but that is how it goes. I know it is good, but in reality I don't actually know what it does. Do you essentially choose a topic on anything you want and write on it? That is what I understand it to be and that would probably be good training. I just was not actually sure what it entailed. Probably a stupid question, but I truthfully don't know.

Bigs -

Sorry to read that. 

Law is unique in that it is the only field in which professional papers are edited by students.  This approach provides a ready source of eager minions, as well as cheap labor.

There are three (not just two) ways to get on.  [Some schools do combine elements of the first two.]  First is the "grade on," second is the "write on," and third is an open secret: write a publishable paper that is accepted.  (Some editors don't even know about this third option.  Check at your school.)

What is actually done?  The student note is supposedly the culmination, but in fact, for most, is a sidebar.

New law reviewers are given sections (usually) of draft articles.  Their task is to cite check.  That is, they spend hours confirming that every citation in the draft is correct.  Sometimes or, depending upon the author, there are a lot of "F/As," or "Find Authority."  In essence, you're to do the professor's job of finding authority for what it is they're asserting.  This is both interesting and frustrating, as you might imagine.  It's also heady stuff.  One of the articles I was responsible for was by Posner; he was, as with most true greats, better about editing than the lesser faculty demigods.

This is, in short, a job as a copy editor . . . but an OCD copy-editor.  You're not just checking cites, you're checking EVERY CHARACTER of every word of every sentence of every cite.  Fun?  (Hint:  This is what you'll do on the job too, unless your uncle is name partner.)

In second year, you either continue as a cite-checker, at a modest time investment, or you are elected/appointed/beauty-contested to an editorial position.  If so, you'll essentially be reviewing articles for inclusion, then for all those F/As.  Depending upon the school, editors can get some credit for this work, reducing their class load.

In sum, it's a few hundred hours additional work, putting most back up to something like a first year.  (Not quite, but closer than other 2-3Ls.)  Most do not then have part-time employment, or if they do it's modest--but in the summers they make up for it, big time.

About that sidebar, for most it's a big research paper.  Most will take a course and, essentially, get double credit for a bigger and cite-filled (but not always insightful) paper.  For those in the Top 5 interested in teaching, this IS a major start.  Choose your topic carefully.

Does this help?


My school just hired this professor that is setting up a bunch of practical classes. I am taking evidence in the courtroom with him right now and it is really enjoyable. We have to write motions in limine argue them etc every week. It is almost exactly what I was doing when working during the summer, but the professor obviously gives us more feedback.


Out of curiosity, is he an assistant/assoc. professor, instructor/lecturer, or adjunct?


Are there any schools that you are aware of that are focusing more towards practical application of law?

BikePilot is quite right:  the ABA's requirements (libraries and faculty salaries), along with US News standing and general prestige requirements, are driving the cost . . . plus human nature, which says that high cost must mean high quality.  Also, most law schools are cash cows, providing lots of money for their home schools (if they have one), or foundations, for more books, programs, and salaries.

As to your question, the school I'm aware of is Massachusetts School of Law, the bad boy of non-ABA law schools.  Last I checked, their tuition was rather reasonable.  As their faculty includes real practitioners and their DNA built around practical pedagogy, they're very much the exception among law schools.

There's a fellow on (?) that has applied to the Florida bar and described its torturous processes.  You might search "backbencher" and read his posts.  Perhaps send him a note.


Current Law Students / Re: Is law review really worth it?
« on: January 25, 2011, 12:13:34 AM »
Do you think it would be better to get work experience instead of choosing law review? If two people interviewed and one person had done a lot of substantive legal work during school and had solid grades. While the other was on law review, but obtained little work experience during school, which would be more impressive? I don't know the answer, but I was just wondering what your thoughts were?

Bigs -

A fair question.  The answer, like it or not, is . . . law review.  Why?  Because legal employers know that law graduates must be trained. 

Wouldn't that favor experience over a credential such as law review?  It should, but in general no.  Top firms will generally only respect other top firms' training.  Top firms' standards are, of course, top 10/law review, for the reasons mentioned above.  As might be apparent, having law review is extremely helpful in lining up the summer clerkship that is in turn extremely helpful--if not a prerequisite--to lining up that biglaw job.

Mid- and smaller firms will be more receptive, but they too are focused on their own needs, and assume that the "real" training will begin with them.  They too are generally looking for top student/law review credentials.  For litigators, moot court or the like is a quasi-substitute for law review, but don't kill yourself with the zillion contests in law school  Focus on grades, law review, and staying a good person. (Seriously.)

This is why discussions about law review are generally such as to miss the point.  One ought darned well to push for law review, even if big law is not your destination.  (Psst . . . biglaw is the right destination for a tiny percentage of graduates willing to essentially put their lives on hold for those of their clients.  It's exciting, and of course it pays well, but it is consuming.)

That written, if one is not on law review, that is not the end of the world.   But . . . and here's the reverse of the question . . . everyone should seek employment.  (I assume your question was asking about legal or quasi-legal employment.)  At any level it is invaluable, and it will provide both practical help and emotional balance--not to mention a financial boost.  For those struggling, which is many, a job (part-time or even volunteer) will provide exposure and contacts, and possibly enough to move up.  Give it your all, and impress not with brilliance but with integrity, thoroughness, and dedication.  (Partners are brilliant too.)

Does this help?


PS:  For the record, I have long argued that law review should be mandatory for all law students.

Current Law Students / Re: Is law review really worth it?
« on: January 24, 2011, 10:29:22 PM »
I think you're missing the point about writing a note.

But first, if someone didn't want to be on law review because that person didn't want to do the work, who would hire that person?

As for the note - the note is not the reason that law review or law journals are so unrewarding.  It's the the citation and review of other articles, written by professors who you will never meet, that's tedious and uninspiring.  But the note is your own.  It's the best thing you can get out of a law review/journal, and one of the rewarding things you can do in law school.

Law review as the couth way to say you were at the top of your class?  That's probably true.  You can aim for a cum laude - you can put that on your bio forever, although I suppose it would not be couth to drop in conversation.

Quite right.  This is an old question, but a perennial one. 

Here's an undiplomatic perspective from the other side: 

If we're in an interview room and I see "law review" on your resume, I'm not impressed.  Or, more correctly, I'm not impressed just 'cause you're on law review . . . so was I, and just about every other partner (and associate).  Big deal. 

What will impress us about "law review" is what it represents:  Law review represents both achievement and validation.  It's achievement because it means that you understood what professors needed to see, and you were disciplined enough not to get trapped and side-tracked as most first-year law students do.  That's impressive.  It's validation because law review is law work.  It's tedious, nit-picky, and interesting--for just the right people.

So, if law review is just "too much work," consider very seriously what it is you want.


I currently work as a college librarian, but I'm considering law school. In terms of salary, this career change would be a big step up. However, I have good but not stellar grades and test scores, which makes a third or fourth tier law school a distinct possibility. In light of the debt and extreme competition for jobs, would these be worth attending? Or barring one of my "reach" schools, should I stick with my current profession?

Would you be interested in being a law librarian, or a practitioner?  If the former, talk with a few law librarians to get a feel for the likely prospects with your combination of background and third- or fourth-tier law school.  (A friend who had an MLS as well as the state's flagship JDF--not UT--was unable to get a position with a law library.)  If your interest is as a practitioner, talk with local practitioners.  You can usually go to local ABA meetings in a variety of topics, or contact a local group in a field of interest.  Most will be happy to chat.


Choosing the Right Law School / Re: Engineering UG
« on: January 22, 2011, 11:13:15 PM »
Hey.  I'm an Energy Engineering UG (effectively ChemE, but focused on energy systems) who is contemplating law school.  I plan on taking the LSAT in the fall, but wanted to know if I was wasting my time before I began a few months of intense studying.

* * *

I am contemplating Energy Policy, Environmental Policy, Patent Law, IP Law, etc.  Does anyone have any insight on whether or not I'm somewhat qualified and what LSAT score I should be looking for to get into a top law school?  I'd like to stay in New York, or maybe go to Boston.

Ido -

You are indeed within the realm, assuming your pull a good LSAT, which with your background and sufficient prep is likely.

The more important question might be to look at this from the opposite perspective, as your LSAT and GPA and other factors might get you in, but the more important question is whether you'll look back and want to have been in.

This is not an easy question for anyone. Perhaps for you the question is to ask what you like about engineering.  Is it to get in the guts of the project, technologies, etc., or is it to think about how that technology relates to others, and how businesses might take advantage of that.  The more you like the actual aspects of engineering, the more you should consider where a JD will take you . . . which is, generally, away from the actual guts of technology and toward the connections of that technology to business and other interests.  IP law does draw on technology, of course, but the world of the IP attorney is a different world that that of the engineer.
For all, there are many flavors of law practice, even within IP.  If you might be interested in the area, call a local practitioner (or meet one in a local meeting), and ask to chat.  They'll give you a good idea of the possibilities, and realities.  (Your interest is a good one, and a friend in that area enjoys his work tremendously.)


Studying for the LSAT / Re: Should I take LSAT again after scoring 167?
« on: January 14, 2011, 03:21:51 PM »
I scored 167 in December.  It was better than I expected because when took LSAT back in June 05 I only scored 161.  I got 167 only after one month of full time preparation.  I did not do any prep work since my 05 test until about one month before the test.  This score will definitely get into the school that I was planning to apply in the first place.  But I'm a greedy person.  Annoying thing is that my GPA is 3.87.  LSAT 167 and GPA 3.87 are putting me in "reach" of many schools with single digit rankings.  Should I take it again and try to go for 170+ in June '11 so I can have a definite shot of the top 10?

Dear Stuck -

Greed isn't quite the main ingredient.  What would you like to do to unstick your life?  (i.e., are you prepared to spend three months studying full time, which is pretty much one-third what you'll need to do to compete at a top law school?)  And, perhaps more importantly, what are you looking for after law school?


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