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Messages - Thane Messinger

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Studying for the LSAT / Re: Question regarding LSAT class/tutor
« on: March 02, 2010, 08:18:05 PM »

i disagree with this bit here. i think a tutor isn't really worth it if you are acquiring a tutor through a major prep test company (like testmasters, kaplan, or something) since it will cost probably over 100 an hour, but if you find a tutor through craigslist (or a friend) then you can find a decent tutor in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 dollars an hour. at that cost, i believe it is silly to take a class, when you could probably get the entire class taught to you individually in significantly less time than a 20-30 person class.

What follows isn't exactly a disagreement, but points instead to one of the main problems in this area:  these are not either/or scenarios.  It's possible to avoid both tutors and prep classes.  It's possible to avoid both and get a 180, or something close to that.  Possible, but for most, not likely.  As a matter of mathematics, a 180 or close to it?  On one's own?  Realistically?  Improbable.  Moreover, while possible (even if unlikely), the real question is whether a given applicant might have gotten a higher score with a more structured approach.  Answer?  Probably yes.  If you've a 173 and were hoping for Yale, without something else those extra points would have come mighty handy.

As between a class or a tutor, again there are numerous variables.  If the "class" is something that's a haphazard outreach program offered by someone who couldn't know or care less about helping students, then that time is worse that wasted; it will set bad habits in motion, almost certainly hurting.  Likewise with a tutor.  I would assume most are not like this, but the challenge for anyone is to know the difference.

Thus, in seeking a program, you want something with a structure (and, unfortunately, cost) that rivals a graduate course.  A hard graduate course.  In seeking a tutor, if that's your wish and you have the money for it, even greater care is needed.

Honestly, I see this as a effort cascade of sorts:  

Everyone should spend a LOT of time with self-study, even if they take a course.

Everyone should take a course, even if it's a financial stretch.  If it helps even just a little, in most cases it's well worth it.  In most cases, it's well worth it.

Finally, even if one hires a tutor, one should also do a LOT of self-study, and ALSO take a course.  This might seem a bit over-the-top, but if there is strong advice in here, this is it:  there is no such thing as too much preparation for the LSAT.  Neither a class nor a tutor should be seen as the solution, but rather as one or two of three tools in the LSAT toolchest.  The most important tool: taking LSAC practice tests until you can see them in your sleep.

And you thought the LSAT would be no fun at all.


* * *

I will just make this final comment to anyone considering law school. If you are not going to an elite school Harvard, Northwestern, University of Chicago, Yale, just schools of that elk.  Do not get caught up in the rankings, go to a school in the location you want to live.  Do not go to the 89th best school in Timbuktu and turn down the 117th best school in the area you want to live in. If you go outside of the elite schools for the most part you are going to end up in the location you go to school.  Obviously, there are exceptions, but you are going to create some big hurdles for yourself and no employer is going to go out of their way to recruit across country from the 89th best law school if they have the 102nd best school in the same city.  

The rankings are not ridiculous.  Neither are they more than a substantially subjective assessment of quality/prestige/promise.  

In any event, Big offers good advice:  One should not make a determination of where to go to law school based solely on rank.  Nor should one put too much emphasis on this.  Nor should one put too much faith the farther below the top tier one is.  Nor should one think of rankings as a fine distinction; they're anything but.  (The point made above would have been stronger had the nominal comparison been between 94 and 112; 38 spaces is pushing the boundaries of the point.)

Rankings do reflect common perceptions, fair or otherwise, and these will make a difference, in ways large and small.  The key is to use rankings, rather than being used by them.  Consider your own situation, scores, and preferences.  Rankings are a part of the stew, and should be taken seriously . . . but not as "the answer" to any law school question.

One way to think of rankings is not to think of them as a linear scale.  Rather, they are three dimensional, above and across the nation.  In this way, it makes much more sense how to compare a variety of dissimilar schools.  

The rankings should include at least some factors that aren't directly tied to the intelligence of the incoming class and the student created "prestige" of the university.

Think about it, if you took the smartest kids in the Nation and put them in a school ranked around 80, eventually, more employers would start interviewing on that campus.  I guess it's a bit of a chicken/egg debate, but I think the intelligence of students creates future prestige, not vice versa.

The paradox now is that prestige is based, in large measure, not on faculty but on students.  Nearly all law faculty are now cut from the same cloth: Top 5 law school, top clerkship, perhaps a year or two in a national firm. 

As to employers, it's unclear why this is wrong.  Aren't employers entitled to select their employees? 

[The legal hiring game is horribly mis-done, but it makes sense if one looks at it from the employers' perspective.  The real problem is that, as law school is now "done," most law students simply do not learn the law in the way that employers need it, or, at the very least, they do not prove that they have learned the law in the way that employers need it.  As a result, legal employers are very much going to use rankings--but only coincidentally.  The real story is a bit more nuanced.  Employers will seek that which they need.  Among those needs are prestige (vis-a-vis clients) and raw talent.  Until law schools and law students alter the way they teach and learn, there is zero incentive for employers to change.]

Current Law Students / Re: Doesn't Anyone Take Pre-Law Prep Courses?
« on: March 02, 2010, 01:12:39 PM »

 Why do 0Ls not take Pre-Law Prep courses anymore!  Seems like everyone takes a prep course for the SAT and the LSAT.  But hardly

* * *

shut up. We can all see past your self advertising. What a stupid female private part.

To further a general interest in controversy, contrarianness, and because : )- and I are building such a strong rapport, this thread brings to mind (yet another) fun aspect of phychology that builds in law school . . .

I do not know HeatherTopTen, or Hillary McDonald, or whoever was behind the message.  Although this is clearly self-promotional (or at least rather self-servingly phrased), this does not make it incorrect.  One tendency among law students especially is to misconstrue "critique" as negative only.  (Truth be told, in many ways commercial advertising is more honest than much of free speech of the political variety.  The key as a thinking person is to challenge the right aspects of either.)  

Just because it's self-serving does not mean that it's wrong.  This is yet another trap in a law exam.

Her underlying message is quite correct (albeit poorly timed for anyone already in law school).  As part of our human nature, it is natural to accept advice that favors a lesser amount of discomfort--such as preparing for law school prior to law school--and of course once in law school, there is a strong and equally self-serving rationale for going along with the herd and then for justifying one's actions (or, more correctly, inaction).

So, for anyone out there not yet in law school, heed the underlying message.  (I'm not recommending a private tutor, as that might not be the optimal approach for the majority of impecunious students, is not strictly necessary, and is certainly not the most cost-effective means.)  It is good to find someone who has actually been to law school, and build a relationship in which the silliness that passes for the first year for most law students is avoided.  If one has money to burn, trust funds that are simply too much trouble to spend, and ample supplies of spendthriftiness, I'll not be one to say this is a bad idea.  Not necessary, but that doesn't make it wrong.

For anyone currently in law school as a 1L, there is a more important truth in the message, however construed, that applies with greater force, and is explored in a thread elsewhere.  There are just over two months to prepare for law exams, which ought to be THE focus as of now.  For a 1L, this isn't about pre-preparing, but about re-focusing in the right direction.  In a few years you'll look back and kick yourself, for a host of reasons.  The challenge now is to make that kicking unnecessary.

Good luck to all.

Current Law Students / Re: Taking a break number 2
« on: March 02, 2010, 12:45:03 PM »

Wow, great response.  First, yes I have looked into the "Art of the Law School Transfer" - I'm still kind of in the air, though, of whether I really want to transfer as would be happy staying in the school I am in.  But I will certainly look into it further as the end of the year approaches.

* * *

Allicat -

A number of thoughts, in no particular order:

Not having a significant background in one of the subjects you're interested in does pose an additional challenge, in that it will be harder for administrators to bend rules for a genuine interest, as that interest will be a bit more amorphous.  It might, however, be possible to eat your cake and have it, too.  Most law schools will allow up to six graduate credits outside the law school, as long as the connection is reasonably defensible.  You might check your law school's policy, and take at least one course each semester next year.  That would accomplish several things, and would keep you on track in terms of graduation.

In addition, if you focus in governmental positions that would coincide with a further education in psychology, chances are good that you could attend such a program later, at your employer's cost.  (*That* is a benefit.)

As to cost, it really is good to consider these costs up front, as they are significant.  They don't seem quite real now, but they become all too real upon graduation--and are one of the major reasons for discontent in one's chosen career.  Without scholarships or income from, say, a part-time law office, it's possible to encumber yourself under a mountain of debt.

As to transferring, just FYI, that's a process that's actually well underway now.  If it's at all a thought, don't delay.

And, as to Jayson's points, having a few decades in academia I'll abstain from too much editorializing . . . except to write that many programs, including law, have been so affected.  This might well be an issue that the current generation is left to clean up.  Sorry about that.  (It is fun to go to the Zen center and stare at the wall with Buddhist monks for 2 hours trying to find yourself, however.  = :  )

Current Law Students / Re: Overwhelmed - Seeking Advice
« on: March 01, 2010, 07:35:56 PM »

so dont read or brief cases, and when the prof calls you on it then what admit what a dumbass you are? Great advice!  :P

One might get worked up with a response such as this, but instead I'll respond thusly:  Careful readers will note that I recommended no such thing.  I certainly do not recommend not to read the cases.  Rather, I do strongly encourage all law students to refrain from spending . . . er, wasting . . . HOURS reading them, and certainly not to waste time briefing them in the way that most assume is the "right" way.  The only attribute one will get after such masochistic nonsense is a headache and, perhaps, a stronger optical prescription.  One certainly will not get a sense of how a law exam is to be handled after the fourteenth hour of cases.

As to being an ass in class, dumb or otherwise, that is of course up to the participant.  The irony is that an active participation in class (listening, not speaking) will net stronger in-class responses, with less effort.

Lest I get too feisty, I'll go further.  One should NEVER spend HOURS reading anything in the law.  That's not what the law is--either the practice or study thereof.  But, as certain minds are apparently made up, I'll refer anyone who is interested to another thread where I expanded on an approach that will work, better, in less time.

To all, please don't take my word for it.  Stop by the local courthouse and ask the nearest litigator (or judge).  See what they have to say.

Current Law Students / Re: Taking a break number 2
« on: March 01, 2010, 07:10:56 PM »
* * *

I am wondering if it would be worthwhile for me to take time off after my first year is finished to get a certificate in psychology so that I can then get a masters in forensic psychology - all before possibly returning to law school?  I realize this may sound ridiculous and I agree, but I still want to ask.  I've checked into certificate programs and they take roughly 16-18 months.  Would it be better for me to just continue on the track I'm on, get my law degree, and then see if I still want to go the psychology path (I mean, who is to say I can't just take some psychology courses after law school, right?).  

I just want some opinions and advice.  I honestly have no one with any real knowledge of these kind of things that I can talk to about this.  Maybe I'm just feeling this way because it's my first year and many of us are wondering "did I make the right decision?"  Who knows.  Just want some advice.  Thanks.

Allicat -

Not a bad question at all, and the fact that you're asking it is a good sign.

Rather than offer advice, I'd pose a few additional questions:  

What is the benefit to a certificate program rather than a graduate (Master's or PhD program)?  Would these be graduate courses that could later count toward a degree?

Have you spoken with the chair or professors at your school's graduate pyschology program?  (Assuming you would be comfortable with degrees from that school.)  If so, would they be open to a provisional admittance (for study next fall), pending the GRE (assuming you'd not taken that)?  With a careful approach, both the law dean and psychology chair might be quite amenable to special consideration, if, for example, you explain your unique interests and plan.  Even if not, they might be open to a provisional admission pending the summer GRE.  Too, this might tie in to other programs in psychology that are perhaps an even better fit for you.

You worked in a firm, which obviously gave you a sense of the law practice world.  Do you see yourself in a criminal defense or other field, particularly one likely to place you in a government agency?  Have you checked out any that might offer a year-long position, or internship, in the area you are interested in?  With the above point (requests to the dean and chair), the more you have by way of concrete experience and evidenced desire, the more they will be inclined to move mountains for you.

[Among other things, the above can be quite helpful in your transfer application, should you decide to go that route.  Also, if you are interested in an academic career or one in government, a JD/PhD program might be a good option, particularly if a government will pick up part of the tab.  By the way, if you are interested in transferring, you might check out The Art of the Law School Transfer for advice in that world.  The qualifier in your case is that the soft factors you mention might be a boost in your transfer application, outweighing--slightly--less-than-stellar numbers.  Grades are quite important in a transfer application, and among the few soft (i.e., non-grade) factors that can conceivably make the difference in an application are the ones you state.]

Please don't fret about choosing the "wrong" program.  Now is the time when this can be fixed.  = :  )


Studying for the LSAT / Re: Question regarding LSAT class/tutor
« on: March 01, 2010, 12:16:48 PM »
1.) Is it too difficult to study and work full-time?
2.) Am already planning on taking a Powerscore course, but was wondering if it would be worth the money to hire a tutor on top of the course?  I have saved the money needed, and in the past tutors have really seemed to help me personally (SAT, etc).

Seatown -

First, your thoughts are in exactly the right place.  You're thinking about how much you can do to prepare for the LSAT, rather than how little.  (This is not to be disparaging to anyone, as this certainly applies to me as well.  Human nature being what it is, "what needs to be done" often devolves to a code for doing the least possible.  The LSAT should be done eagerly, with a hearty insistence upon The Max rather than Good Enough.)  

This makes the specific advice almost superfluous.  That written, if I'm reading your post correctly you will have some three months in preparation for the bar.  The answer is that this is possible, of course, but with a full-time job you will truly need to focus much of your after-hours time toward the LSAT.

(It's possible, of course, to being practice exams now, giving an additional three months' time.  This will not "take away" from the effectiveness of the course, but will instead enhance it.  So, again if I'm reading your post correctly, the time to start preparing is now.)

An interesting thing about the LSAT books.  It's natural to think that we'll prepare by having done a question that will re-appear, which of course would give us the advantage.  Score!  While possible, it's unlikely--and less likely that we would remember the question, plus the right answer.  More to the point, it's beside the point.  The key for LSAT study is in going over, repeatedly, the logical patterns tested.  After all, there are only so many basic patterns that can be devised before we start seeing them repeated.  It's not the question but the pattern that's important.  THAT'S what will be helpful when the real LSAT comes.

So, taking a dozen exams is likely to have a significant impact.  Much of this is simply in the motivation and mental exercise to do well.  The next dozen, a more modest impact . . . but almost certain still a positive one.  The next dozen, and the dozen after that?  Still postive, even if only a point or two.  But we cherish each of those extra points, with reach schools especially.

To all:  As to a course, that's almost certainly a requirement.  I was too poor to afford one, way back when, but if you can at all swing it (again this is written for others), assume that this is a "cost of doing biz."  Expensive, true.  But even an extra half-dozen points will make a big difference.

As to a tutor, I'd be inclined toward the opposite.  Unless you have someone with significant credentials, and unless you've exhausted every practice LSAT there is . . . unlikely, of course . . . the added value of a tutor is probably marginal.  Still, I hesitate to recommend against it, so if you are so inclined, give that person a try.  But remember that the key is not some "inside secret," but rather the mental exercise that comes with practice test after practice test.

Best of luck . . .

Current Law Students / Re: How do you think like a lawyer?
« on: March 01, 2010, 11:45:57 AM »

I think this point needs emphasis. Ignoring one side of the issue at the preference of another is probably the most fatal mistake new law students make in their pursuit of a "right" answer. Lay people typically judge one side correct before they even begin analyzing the issue, and their prejudice misleads them. It's important to overcome that.

BTW, Thane, your replies are absolutely exceptional. I haven't read anything like them before.

Thank you, Soren.  As it happens I've had the, ah, luxury of thinking about this for some years now, in both the practice and teaching of law.  The writing and editing projects--which started as a hobby of sorts--have caused me to think about, and re-think, how students go about the study of law.  So, it's not so much me as it is this unusual circumstance, as most attorneys forget about their law school travails practically the day of the last law exam.  I started working literally the week after my last law exam, and the bar review course that same week.  So, if nothing else, as a pro bono matter of sorts I'd like to help the next generation, and perhaps correct some of the more egregious excesses of the law school and law practice worlds.

When I was in law school I was destitute.  I scrounged in the several Half-Price Books in Austin for whatever I could find.  So, I understand.  But I also cheated myself.  In many ways, I was penny-wise and pound-foolish.  If you can pick up even one good tip from any source, it's worth its time.  If money is tight, as it usually is as a student, then ask your library to buy a copy for you.  Chances are they might.

At the risk of getting into (more) trouble, I'd like to suggest resources depending upon where one is in the process.  I've had a role in many of these, so you'll know whom to blame.  

Here goes . . .

If you're still in college (or even before), I'd recommend Planet Law School and, in immodesty, my own book (Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold).  It's fine and expected to read the other pre-law books, but be wary about advice that sounds formulaic.  Law school is simply not the same as college and before.  Thus, an approach based on what worked before will, at best, not be the optimal approach.  (As I argue in the above book, the "formula" for successful college study wasn't actually even good, but it worked for you for a reason having nothing to do with its usefulness--or lack thereof.  You were smart, and so the tools . . . any tools . . . were useful.  That doesn't mean they were good.)

If you've not yet taken the LSAT, I suggest devoting a LOT of time to that.  It will be the most important exam you take.  Yes, more important than the bar exam, and, in some ways, all law exams put together.  Plan on spending AT LEAST six full weeks.  Twelve is a better target.  Plan on spending a mimumum of eight hours per day for six days of each of those weeks.  It's that important.  Plan on using multiple sources, starting with several commercial and the LSAC's test booklets, and going on down the line.  Two hundred dollars' worth here will be the best effort yet.  (And don't write in the books, for goodness' sake.)

If you're an older law student, or have spent even a year or so in a job (Peace Corps, military, etc.) after college, take a look at Later-in-Life Lawyers.  Non-traditional students face numerous differing obstacles, so it's good to hear from those who have gone before.

If you're too easily stressed, scan The Slacker's Guide to Law School.  While I wouldn't suggest his approach in total, his is a good antidote to the insanity that takes over many in law school.  His anecdotes are quite funny, and his personal story is an important one to hear, especially given how his story ends.

If you're a 1L now and are smack in the middle of that insanity, I would get Planet Law School and Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold . . . BUT read ONLY those parts that focus directly in study and exams.  Now is the time to focus.  The author of the former has a list of pages to study, while for my book, the middle sections will be most helpful.  In one sense there's not much time.  In another sense, wasting another five hours on case briefs is time much better spent figuring out how to spend time wisely.  A mid-course correction is among the most important functions in navigation.  And it's a skill every good lawyer learns to perfect.  Never cry over time wasted.  Dust yourself off and move on.  With equal force, insist of yourself that you re-focus and re-dedicate at any moment to that which is better.  This is much of what law practice is.

If you can, attend LEEWS or a similar exam seminar.  If you cannot, buy the LEEWS material, and take it seriously.  Again, I do not make a penny on LEEWS.

If you're struggling with finding a job, get The Insider's Guide to Getting a Big Firm Job.  Its information is helpful for all job-seekers.  (In a way, even moreso for those not in the OCI pageant.)

If you're seriously considering changing law schools and are following the above advice (and thus more likely to get top grades), read The Art of the Law School Transfer.

Before you start your clerkship, read Jagged Rocks of Wisdom: Professional Advice for the New Attorney and also Jagged Rocks of Wisdom--The Memo.  Especially read the Memo book.  But you MUST read both, really.  (These are the first two in a series of four books.)  They're like having a senior partner right next to you for your first year.

And when life is too dull (or you need help sleeping), try my original, The Young Lawyer's Jungle Book: A Survival Guide.

I hope these help.

With aloha,


Current Law Students / Re: Overwhelmed - Seeking Advice
« on: March 01, 2010, 11:01:07 AM »
Distilled: work smart, not hard. Nobody cares about your effort; they care about your results.

Indeed so.  To all, the danger in law school is that it's easy to fall into an extreme.  Either extreme is a trap.  On the one side is the sense that, because it's "hard," one has to slog through case after case.  In this view, law "study" is more like a grueling rite of passage akin to genital mutilation (but perhaps not so much fun as that).  Spending 80 hours a week reading cases will not lead to the desired result: Top grades.  (Not to mention: actually learning the law.)  If you're a 1L and you doubt this, don't take our word for it.  Ask a 2L.  Ask a 3L.  Ask a prof.  This is not a system where time in equals reward out.  The correlation is FAR below +1.0.  On the other side, when grades do come out, a substantial percentage of law students--burned out and, well, just burned--tune out, sometimes drop out, and all too often act out.

Both are bad outcomes.  Both are bad ways to "study."  There is a better way.  One must work hard.  One must put in the effort.  But that effort must be focused.  That focus must be in ways that help with learning the law, and learning how to use it.  As Soren writes, one must study smart.


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