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Messages - Thane Messinger

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471
Current Law Students / Re: Taking a break from school.
« on: February 26, 2010, 01:01:12 PM »
I'm sure I'm just like many law students - we get humanties degrees, don't know what to do, our lawyer-filled families suggest we go to law school, we say 'what the hell?' and do it.

I'm in the second semester of my first year. I don't like it; I dislike most of my classmates, find much of the material mind-numbing, and .. just don't really want to be a lawyer at this point. Then again, I've still got the same problem I had when I walked out of the auditorium with my philosophy and english BAs in that I have no earthly idea what sort of career I could go into other than law.

I've been itching to get out of the country for a while, perhaps with some foreign aid work - peace corps, etc - or maybe teaching english as a secondary language (TESL).

Let's say I went with either after this semester and spent 2-3 years overseas.
If I felt like coming back to law school, how would potential employers view a 2-3 year break between the first and second years?

I assume it would be with skepticism and they might think it shows a lack of dedication, comittment, seriousness (and it probably does).

I realize most of yall will say that I really should drop out anyway, and that's probably true, but I am curious anyway. I don't have any other idea what to do. I had some hopes of being a philosophy professor once, but the job market in academia is shakier than even that of lawyering.

Thanks.


Aloha, Stylee -

First, congratulations.  Really.  We often think that "finding ourselves" means justifying a path we've already taken, but the fact that you've expressed serious reservations (albeit in the heat of the semester) is important.  You're quite right that many law students fall into law school as much as they choose it.  Paradoxically, this isn't always bad.  But it's certainly cause for the sort of circumspection your question exemplifies.  So, thus the congratulations are genuine.  (I'd bet 92% of your classmates are thinking exactly the same thing.)

To your question:  employers won't care (usually), as they WILL care about two things: (1) school + grades; and (2) personability.

Believe it or not, taking a year or two off will not usually be determinative.  Clearly it presents logistical challenges (depending upon the school and OCI process), but again, legal employers are looking at the world rather differently than law students.

However . . . it seems that your perspective is not likely to be conducive to a big firm job (to which the above is generally directed).  Anyone seeking a stint in the Peace Corps is likely to find more comfort taking a job as counsel in the Peace Corps (or like organization) after the stint, rather than an 80-hour-a-week highly paid legal sweatshop. 

(Note:  I am NOT commenting on the wisdom of this, as that's really the question for each of us.  It's easy . . . too easy . . . to assume that the six-figure job is the way to go.  The truth?  It is, but only for some . . . and not based just on grades, but more importantly on the soft factors you mention.  Some people are happy in a big firm; most are not.  Will YOU be?)

A thought:  whether you decide to teach English abroad, join the Peace Corps, VISTA, or some such, there's really no impact in terms of your current options.  In other words, completing your first year or not is unlikely to make a difference.  It IS, however, likely to make a difference in terms of your asking the nagging "What ifs" years later.

My suggestion?  Complete your first year.  If you plan to take a break thereafter--perhaps a permanent one--you'll have a different perspective on law school.  Chances are, you'll have a healthier perspective, and chances are almost as good that you'll actually perform better than had you stayed in your (dis)stressed mode.  Why?  Because the way most law students study and act is inefficient and, usually, counterproductive.  This is because the world of the law student is viewed as a student, not as a future professional.   Etch this in your mind: while you might find discomfort in how law school makes certain people act out in hypercompetitive and negative ways, ALL of that will be irrelevant.  The ONLY thing that is relevant (to employers especially) is how one learns the law.  For employers, this is viewed through the prism of the law exam.  So, as much as you can, ignore the bad and do NOT succumb to this.  It is absolutely essential, regardless of what you decide (and, if you do continue, how you place) to stay true.  Presumably, this means staying honest and cheerful--or at least honest and pleasant.  I know this sounds outrageously chipper, but it really, really will make a difference.  For all, remember that you will be WORKING with these people for decades.  Even if you move elsewhere, you'll be surprised at how many times your colleagues' names come up.

I hope this helps,

Thane.

PS:  For thoughts on what employers will care about, there's a book I read that might be helpful.  It's "The Insider's Guide to Getting a Big Firm Job: What Every Law Student Should Know About Interviewing."  Your question reminded me of the foreword to that book, by Morten Lund, who wrote the two "Jagged Rocks of Wisdom" books.  His books are excellent.  (Better than mine!)  Morten is a partner in a big firm, and he tells it straight.  I highly recommend all three, regardless of what you do.  (Seriously, even if you decide to join an ashram, Lund's two books will be invaluable.  Okay, maybe not an ashram.  But an MBA and nearly everything in between, yes.)

472
Ok, would English being my second language give me any edge in admissions? (Like schools considering my LSAT score)


There's a saying that "There's no such thing as a stupid question."  Actually, that's not quite right, but . . .

This is not one of them.  It's a fair question.  = :  )

The answer is that a second language CAN be an important soft factor in an application, especially if it's worked positively and convincingly into your reasons for wanting to attend.  (For example, parents experiencing difficulties navigating through a foreign culture or bureaucracy, or hoping to bridge a gap between two cultures, etc.)  Don't make something up, and don't stretch the boundaries, and don't make it appear to be more than it is.  But don't neglect it either.  Knowledge of a second language IS a powerful advantage.

English as the second language is likely to be a reasonably strong (soft) plus, because that means that the LSAT score and GPA are, if anything, under-reflective of your potential; while English as a first language plus fluency in another language is a somewhat less strong (still soft) plus.

Such a factor won't make a huge difference, but it often will make a difference.  This can be the crucial difference in an application to a reach school.

I hope you hear good news, in any language.

473
Current Law Students / Re: Michigan FEB 2010 Bar EXAM Essays
« on: February 24, 2010, 12:17:25 PM »
I am transferring my 153 MBE score to Michigan for this February 2010 exam. I just took the essay portion yesterday and was wondering what I need on the essays to pass. Anyone familiar with the curve/formula?

Aloha, SuziQ & All -

First, congratulations.  That's quite a process, yes?

Don't worry.  You did great.

For all and at the risk of creating a firestorm, I'd like to offer a glimpse into something a friend did, once upon a time.  I had taken (and passed) the bar the prior year.  Later, I continued to get a lonnnngg series of messages along the above lines, with fantstical caculations of just how low he could score on each section and still pass.  I mostly ignored these, as they seemed quite irrelevant.  Just take the *&%$! bar, was my thought.  Why the story?  Because that was the first of FOUR times he sat for the bar.  (One of those times he was mad . . . mad! . . . at the bar.  No.  The bar exam is not to be railed against.  Nothing in law school, or after, is to be railed against, at least not seriously.  When you're Chief Justice, that's the time to change it.  Until then . . . )  

The answer is not to "min run" it.  (A military term, meaning to do the absolute minimum required in a task.)  With bar exams, as with law exams, there is no such thing as a minimum.  Yes, it's pass/fail.  But as to the individual . . . it's PASS/fail, or pass/FAIL.  

The ONLY way to think of the bar exam is to think of it exactly like your law exams, times fourteen.  You need to ace it.  If so, you'll never need to worry about merely passing.

If it's already done, then there's no point in thinking about it.  Yes, we obsess.  But once it's over, it's over.  Is there anything else you might find to obsess over?  (This no doubt seems more than a little flippant, but, humor aside, this is serious.  If working, THAT'S something to obsess over.  If not, then finding that job is.  Seriously.  It's a much, much better way to spend the weeks after the bar.  This is an important time.  If your efforts and thoughts are not directed positively, ask whether they are helping or hurting.)

For all, don't even THINK about minimums.

And, for good karma, fingers crossed for you.  Don't worry.  You did great.  = :  )

Thane.

474
Current Law Students / Re: How do you think like a lawyer?
« on: February 23, 2010, 07:37:32 PM »
Thank you so much Thane. It is amazing how I, just by taking couple minutes to read what you wrote here, learned more than by talking to so many different people at school for an entire semester. I really think you should get paid for providing such excellent advice (I already ordered your book btw  ;) I just have few more questions regarding what you said...

1)What exactly is Rule of Law? Is it just a trend created by compilation of statutes and case decisions? and how do I learn them? by reading books like E & E? Wouldn't study aids ever give conflicting information regarding the rules?



Aloha, Lovelyjj, and thank you.  

[If you'd be willing to share your comments (after the year is over), I would be happy to send you the other book.  I would be most interested in areas that were unclear or might use revision, correction, or wholesale shredding.]

The Rule of Law, like law itself, is both majestic and minute.  Broadly, the rule of law is the idea that society has organized itself so that its affairs will be handled by a commonly-accepted set of, yes, rules.  Whether these are constitutional, criminal, civil, or commercial, these rules are the road signs for civic life.  We rarely stop to think about these, and we more rarely stop to appreciate them.  We tend to ignore them until, as the saying goes, they're no longer there.  So, life in a slum in a Third World country (sorry to be stereotypical, but in this case, it's true) is life without the rule of law.  In such a world (think "Slumdog Millionaire") there are no rules that apply, other than the rules of survival and power.  This is what Hobbes writes about in the "state of nature"--an apocalyptic, nightmarish landscape in which life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."  This is why the law is important.  Without it, that apocalyptic nightmare is our future.

Okay.  Enough philosophy?  The practical end of the rule of law is the body of actual rules, from constitutions through statutes and cases and on down to regulations, ordinances, and letters of interpretation.  These are all part of the rule of law.  The irony in practice is that the *lower* one is in the hierarchy, the better.  In law school, however, we spend our time on the "big picture" rules.  This too is misleading, especially come exam time, because the rule of law is more than just what a judge said, or many judges said.  It is everything.

Among this "everything" that will be useful in the exam is a framework: just how do these rules fit together?  (Much of the section on "Getting Good" in the book is about this framework.)  

This is, broadly, the outline of the law.  (Sound familiar?)  So, if were were to look at a commercial outline in, say, Torts, we would see the very same topics in every one.  When we drill down to, say, negligence law, we will see something interesting.  Old outlines will have a "majority rule" for contributory negligence, for example, plus all the ancillary doctrines (assumption of risk, last clear chance...), and also the "minority rule" for comparative negligence.  We fast forward to a modern outline and what do we see?  The very same doctrines . . . except they're now reversed.  As a society, we didn't like the old rule; it was too strict.  So, we developed a new rule.  Over time, the minority rule became the majority rule, and the old majority rule became the exception.  But the specific rules within that structure remain steadfastly consistent.  This is why it really doesn't matter what source you use; they're all pretty much the same.  It is absolutely crucial, however, to understand that framework.  Without that understanding, it's all gibberish.

This is why the law exam is the law exam is the law exam.  It seem crazy (and scary), and it is.  But every exam is going to test the basic concepts, because it has to.  (The "basic concepts" includes ALL of the rules, exceptions, and exceptions-to-exceptions.  Thus, it's a combination of general and highly technical . . . just like the law.)  

It also thus draws upon all the skills of crafting your own outline and working through hypotheticals (including practice exam after practice exam).  This is why the conventional means of "study" in law school are inefficient at best, and often counterproductive.  They're certainly exhausting and highly frustrating and quite likely to lead to burnout and excruciatingly unlikely to lead to that "A" grade.



2) What is legal reasoning? I know this sounds awefully general, but I did not really understand what you meant by what you said regarding my last question in the answer you gave me.

I have nothing against the school or traditions. But it is really frustrating if I think about it because I believe many students, like me, are confused about what is true and what is not. We hear so many different things that conflict with each other, sometimes these things we are confused about are the very basic studying method or how to approach class discussions. Yet, when I discuss these problems with others, many tell me some strange things, even the academic advisor at my school. (Like I may not be for law school or I might have some learning deficiencies or whatever). I know this sounds very emotional and not logical, but really, people who are not doing so good now may improve if they are given proper directions. (After all, how can you judge whether someone is for law school or not after only 1 semester of studying the law? assuming that person never studied law in her life?)

It is general, but in fact this is an excellent question and concern.  This is one reason law students are so miserable, and misled.  Hour upon hour without a real sense of what it is they're supposed to be doing, and never quite sure if what they are doing is in fact right.

Okay.  "Legal reasoning" is the process of thinking through a fact pattern in light of the law.  

Alternatively, "legal reasoning" is the process of thinking through the law in light of a fact pattern.

If you like the details of life, try the former; if the big picture, try the latter.  See?  We can too have fun in law school.  

We can go about this in two ways.  We tend to think that law school is about the law.  Not exactly.  Clearly there is law in law school.  One would be shocked otherwise, yes?  But that's not all it is.  In reality, law school is about the law in light of fact patterns.  So, simply knowing a rule is nice ("in the majority of jurisdictions a plaintiff's recovery is limited under comparative negligence to the net of its non-negligence") . . . but that's not enough.  To simply write that on an exam does nothing.  (Or, more precisely, it's a "C" response.)  What is needed is to understand how that rule affects a claim for a person in a set of facts, and defenses for the other side.  So, if Plaintiff P does a, b, and c, and Defendants D, E, and F have done x, y, and z, you'll reason through (i.e., conduct a lawyerlike analysis) what happens with that claim.  Or, more correctly, those claims (and defenses, and counterclaims, and counter-defenses...).  Legal analysis is the process of separating all of those potential claims and counterclaims and sifting them through the sieve of the rules.  

The funny thing is that, for legal analysis, it doesn't matter if it's a real case or a made up one.  [!]  The process of thinking through the law in light of facts requires, well, facts to look at.  They can be real or fanciful.  But, like numbers to an accountant, they're just grist for the legal mill.  They're what we need to actually "do" legal analysis.  To a practitioner, that's called a client.  To a law student, it's a hypo . . . or an exam.

If we want to look at it in the reverse, Client P has a problem.  Something happened.  Defendants D, E, and F have done x, y, and z.  Okay.  What do we do?  Exactly the same.  We look at those facts and ask "What law applies here"?  (The difference in law school being that your prof will be kind enough to give you the facts, whereas in practice you have to find them out for yourself.)  In most cases, it's obvious.  After we think about it a while, we'll think of more possibilities.  From there, we're doing exactly the same:  evaluating those facts in light of the law.

That is legal reasoning.  And it really is fun.

 . . . And I hope that that has been helpful.

With aloha,

Thane.

475
Studying for the LSAT / Re: LSAT for transfer students
« on: February 23, 2010, 02:27:07 AM »
They do, UVA Admissions Dean literally says - "we discount LSAT score in favor of first year law school performance".

Quite right.  Grades, first year law school, and soft factors such as letters of recommendation by law profs are 90+% of the transfer application.  And, yes, they are quite difficult.  Except for lateral transfers, grades are *extremely* important.  Check out Art of the Law School Transfer for more.

476
Current Law Students / Re: How do you think like a lawyer?
« on: February 22, 2010, 12:52:42 PM »
Thank you Thane for sharing your insight. Reading your comment clears much doubt, but it still leaves me with questions. For instance,

You are most welcome.  I hope the following helps . . .


1) if law school isn't there to teach you the law, then how do you learn the law? By reading supplements? case briefs? Why do law schools then require students to read casebooks if this isn't going to help them to learn the law?


Excellent.  This is exactly the right question to be asking.  

If you ask them, law professors will be the first to say that they're not there to "teach" the law.  What they are there to do is to hone students' skills in reasoning through the law.

To learn the law, first, don't flutter about.  When we talk about "the law," we're really talking about a whole bunch of rules.  But that's a mistake right there.  Each class is not there to cover "the law."  Each class is devoted to a NARROW area of ONE subject.  Usually, it's one or two rules or a handful of rules (including exceptions and exceptions-to-exceptions).  Sometimes, such as in Criminal Law where you might spend a week or more on mens rea, it will be just one rule.  That's it.

Thus, before you walk into each and every class, know what that rule (or those rules) are.  If you don't know why you're walking into that class, stop and think about that.  What rule is the professor talking about?  This should never be an unknown.  In a sense, this makes your job MUCH easier.  If you know the rule, you can then discuss the case with knowledge about why that case is important.  And the discussions will make sense.  More precisely, the discussions will make sense from the professor's side.  What you're in class to do is to spar, mentally, with the professor.  Joust with, around, and against your prof.  Prove every statement until it makes sense.  (If you were to go back to a freshman class and listen to a professor, it would be like elementary school, yes?  That's what you're shooting for here.  If you know the rule, it WILL make sense.  It will be like law elementary school. = :  )

How to learn the rule?  This is where your supplements come in handy.  Yes, you'll rely on commercial outlines (mostly) to focus.  You'll pay close attention to the syllabus (to the extent that the prof follows it) and anything else that provides the answer to the above question.  NOT briefs.  Those are not to learn the law, but to play with it.  They're a form of a hypothetical--that happens to be true--but their primary value in law school is expository, not normative.  

You'll also need to have drafted and gone over a few times that section of your outline.  BEFORE class.  This is absolutely essential.  You must prepare before class.  Not a week.  Not a month.  One day.  The discipline part of this is in a sense very hard:  you must stay on track, by one day ahead.

THAT is "participation."


2) What is the law? I understand knowing the statutes and 'important cases' are essential, but how do you draw the big picture? After all, isn't it just knowing the rules in detail and applying it when a particular situation arises?



One reason this is frustrating is that the law is everything.  It is the grand philosophical debates.  (How do we acquire an interest in property; should we relieve someone of criminal liablility for insanity; why should a party be held to a contract; etc.)

It is about social norms and transformations.  (Did we REALLY think it was okay to . . . ?)

It is also about the minutiae.  (What does Statute X say about that?)

And of course it's about the grand morass (which in law school is the bulk of how law is "studied"):  What are the collective opinions of the following ten thousand judges?

This is why outlines are so important:  you can have both.  The structure and main sections are the forest, and the lower-level structure can include any number and manner of details and philosophical nuance.  This is also why it's so important to build your own outline (twice): only then will the forest and trees (and leaves and silkworms) be clear to you.



3)According to what you say, lawyers are people who have mastered these skills of seeing the big picture. Does that mean a lawyer would always end up getting the highest grade if she re-took the first year law school class? even without listening to the lecture(because she KNOWS THE LAW?) Isn't grading subjective to a certain degree? Don't professors issue spot when they grade exams? Doesn't that mean lawyers who do not know what the professor thinks important wouldn't do so well even if she knows the law?

I had to chuckle, as I just finished a response (it's good to play hookey) . . . before I read yours . . .  on what happens if an attorney takes a law exam.

Yes, there is a subjective component to grading.  But it's not the crapshoot that many assume it to be.  Moreover, when reading an "A" paper and comparing it to a "B" paper, it might not be immediately apparent just why it's so different . . . until one has mastered the law.  That's when the essence of legal reasoning is clear.

First, there is zero room for the mushy, emotional thinking that is part of everyone's life.  Just listen to the talking heads sometime.  If we could have an electric shock for every unsubstantiated, misleading, or outlandish statement, we'd have a shortage of electricity (and, likely, a more civil society).  On a law exam, this is a trap.  If the prof sets up a sweet, innocent party, chances are many students are going to miss point after point because they WANT that person to win.  And so, they'll shade the analysis, thinking that they're getting to the "right" answer.  Nope.  Likewise, the bad guy will cause students to miss legitimate claims, and thus points.  

(Does this help explain why a lawyer would not miss issues, regardless of whether he had spent ten minutes in class?)

Second, a lawyerlike analysis requires structure.  A "B" paper (or worse) will meander.  An "A" paper will run through the tests with seeming mechanical precision.

Third, proper English can be a hindrance.  This is a hugely unfortunate side effect of law exams.  But it's important to condition oneself *in a law exam* not to write in full, flowery sentences.  An "A" exam is almost choppy, because it is precise.


I hope the above helps.  Law school is important.  Class is important.  Friends are important.  The key is to make sure each is given the proper weight and treatment.  Don't assume you're in class to "learn" the law; you're there to master what you've already learned (via your outline the night before).  Don't rail against law school, the system, professors, (me?), or anyone or anything else.  At least not yet.  It is what it is.  And enjoy the positive reinforcements and good karma of being nice.  (As you no doubt are by your posts.)  Take care of your friends, respond courteously and with genuine compassion, and know that everyone is experiencing what you are.

With aloha,

Thane.



477
Current Law Students / Re: Overwhelmed - Seeking Advice
« on: February 22, 2010, 12:14:32 PM »
I depart with you a bit on the practice exams & hypos.  I took one practice exam in fall of 1L year and haven't touched one since.  I still find it inefficient (chances of running into the same fact pattern relatively low) and I think it can even be harmful (I think some people have a tendency to say "Oh, I've seen this before!" when they recognize something rather than looking at the nuances of that particular question, doesn't help you get in tune with the particular professor, and some of the books--E&Es, especially--are so simplistic that they'd help you rock a below median GPA at best at some schools). Plus, they in no way prepare you for significant policy/theory questions that are popular at top law schools.

I still read over the professor's previous exams, if available, but only because they tell me something about the professor rather than the law.  I've had a pretty successful run, but I also don't want to suggest that everyone should do what I did.  The biggest piece of advice is to FIGURE OUT YOUR PROFESSOR, then figure out the law and how to study.  Think about the endgame (the exam or paper) on Day 1 and everything else should be the means to the end.



Aloha, Nose & All -

I very nearly deleted my post (several times).  Not because it's not true, but because it raises a rather difficult psychological specter for many.  Most have read one or more pre-law books with the generic advice (notes, color-coding, etc.) that comports with what feels comfortable, based on years and years of it having worked.  Yet it worked not because it was a good way to study, but because it was the only way teachers had to reach the vast middle.  You did well because you were smart.  Here I come, saying that in law school that's all nonsense.  It is nonsense, but it's likely that few will actually break those habits.  And, rather than get mad at themselves for having ignored advice (which, of course, will only be clear once it's too late), they'll lash out, at nearly everyone.  Very sad.

As to study aids, to a large degree I agree.  "Study aids" are exactly that.  They're a supplement.  They're not the main course.  The main course is anything that ties into learning black letter law and learning how to use it.  It's like studying how to hit a ball.  At some point, you need to just hit it.  And to get good, you need to hit it many, many times.

Practice exams are useful not because they'll give some secret into the prof's mind.  Truth is, it really doesn't matter what the prof's mind is.  (Yes, one should certainly pay attention to a professor's biases and thoughts.  But be VERY careful how you incorporate these into an exam.)   Why do I write yet another heresy?  . . . Pick any reasonably good attorney, give them an exam, and they're going to do very, very well.  Not because they're smart--they're no smarter than you.  And not because they're experienced.  Well, not exactly.  They'll do well because the fact pattern simply touches upon basic concepts that are part of that subject.  They had to study it in first year.  They had to study for the bar exam.  And they live it nearly every day.  Yes, there are differences and nuances and subtleties and so on.  All true, and all irrelevant.  Actually, those differences make the underlying truth all the more important: those games in law school are a grand distraction.  The basics are true, and are needed, in EVERY exam.  It has to be.

Think about it.  You're drafting a Contracts exam for your students.  What are you going to go over?  Idaho potato futures?  

Every Contracts exam is going to deal, in some way, with some combination of formation, breach, remedies, etc., and perhaps a fun diversion into unconscionability.  It's no secret.  The only secret is what will be the specific fact pattern (including odd facts, irrelevant facts, and red herrings).  Those won't change the answer.  They'll dictate just what each sentence says.  But the structure of the essay is going to be remarkably the same.  (Yes, unlike law practice in an exam one also needs to specify and then discount everything that does NOT apply, to show that you know what it is and why it doesn't apply.)  

The "secret" to hypos (i.e., practice exams) isn't that they'll give you an inside track.  It's that they'll etch that track into your mind:  the ways of thinking through a fact pattern in Subject X.  New fact pattern?  Big deal.  It's pretty much the same set of analyses.  You're going to run through the same set of tests regardless of the actual exam.

To all, I hope I've not completely stopped up the works.  Well, that's not entirely true.  I hope I have . . . and that you are able to take whichever pieces of the above can help you to ace those exams, and thus law school.  In the meantime, please don't waste your time on busy makework just because everyone else seems to think that's the way it has to be.

(Just to be clear, were it me I would completely restructure law school so that 90% would be getting "A's" . . . by producing real lawyerly work.  The system as it is composed now is horribly unfair to the majority of students.  Don't get me started . . .   = :  )

478
Current Law Students / Re: Overwhelmed - Seeking Advice
« on: February 22, 2010, 01:44:19 AM »

"2) Teachers can go to the dean to get your ass booted out if they notice your not doing what they ask and require"

Seriously?  Pretty sure Thane wasn't advising folks to flip their professor the bird when asked a question in class.... and if you even skimmed the cases, you should be able to give a competent answer without having read each case three times, highlighted in 7 different colors, taken notes, and practiced your questions in front of the mirror.  Thane doesn't advise people NOT to participate in class, but just says that if it takes you that much effort to be prepared to say something in class, then you're putting your effort into the wrong activities.  If you like to waste your time, have fun. But the advice was for a OP who is overwhelmed, so clearly this method isn't working for them.  

"but at least at my school the Profs call on briefs like clockwork and mostly random in the class."

Maybe that's at your school, but most people I know quit briefing after week 2 of 1L year.  Briefing is to help you learn to identify the important parts of a case; if you can already do that, there's no point in writing a brief or using crazy highlighters and sticky tabs.  You don't need a photographic memory, just basic reading comprehension.


Many thanks, S.Y.N, and indeed so.  

(Excellent interpolation of my statements.  One reason law exams are disorienting is that there is little either/or thinking in the law.  The facts are, individually, usually either/or, and the result is often either/or, but the reasoning?  Almost never.  And S.Y.N.'s post gets to the meat of why law students struggle so.  (No, I don't know S.Y.N., but I do like his (or her) handle.))

To all, this thread had me thinking.  Dangerous, I know.  

Here goes . . .

It's now late February.  That means, what?  Ten weeks or so before exams?  Ten weeks.  Most are stressed even thinking about this . . . a stress that is bound to get worse.  This stress is normal, and there's not much that can be done to alleviate it.  What can be done is to use this stress, and one's time, more effectively.

If you're doing the following . . .

1.  briefing cases with more than 2-4 lines about the holding, facts, and rationale;
2.  taking extensive notes;
3.  color coding;
4.  asking lots and lots of "clarifying" questions;
5.  asking *any* questions designed to impress the professor or, well, anyone else;
6.  sabotaging the efforts of any of your classmates, including attempting to psyche anyone out; or
7.  playing just about any other type of game

 . . . you will almost certainly fail.

Sorry to be brusque, but, as the saying goes, mark my words.  This is the truth from the prof's (and hiring partner's) perspective.  

"Fail" doesn't necessarily mean "F" . . . but it does mean your dreams of a big law job (or the type of job you would like, or the choice of a job you would like) go bye-bye.  In this market, that's what, a "B" or even an "B+"?

So, what to do?  First, think about what the prof needs to ascertain.  They must test students' ability to reason through a complex fact pattern.  A hypothetical.  Note: not "test knowledge."  Not award points for brown-nosers.  Not anything we have grown used to for 16 years.  THE reason this is so stressful and disorienting (and even worse in the summer when grades come in), is that everything we learned about how to please a prof is tossed out the window in law school.  Moreover, everything we learned about how to learn was downright sloppy.  It only worked because . . . sorry . . . your competition was so relatively light.  Not any more.

Truth be told, law professors love blind grading . . . because it insulates them from these traps, and because it's a chance to safely separate the attorneys from, well, everyone else.  In a nutshell, your final exam should read as if written by a practicing attorney.  These are surprisingly easy to spot.

Alright.  What to do?  After you have stopped doing any of the above, you need to re-focus on what will help with what it is that profs are testing for.   An ability to reason through a hypothetical.  Hint:  This is EXACTLY the skill that a lawyer needs; thus law firms are happy to go with profs' assessments.

Okay.  How to build a lawyerlike analysis?  Learn black letter law.  Not just "learn" it, but LEARN it.  That means that when someone is talking about x, in your mind you can practically waltz through the various prongs of the outline in that area.  This is not something you will gain through memorization.  It is not something you will gain through notes.  Nor color-coding, nor any of that nonsense.  You will gain it ONLY through internalizing it, which in turn requires that you WORK THROUGH what it is that jurists past have worked through.  You must re-create the law.  An outline.  You must then cement that internalized knowledge by USING it.  Hypotheticals.  

Everything else is bunk.  (Note:  Nowhere does this imply that one is rude, or disrespectful, or slovenly, or any other negative descriptor.)

Participation in class?  That's not talking, or at least not talking much.  What it is doing is ACTIVE listening.  This is listening so intense that you're nearly falling out of your chair.  You're hanging on to each word, and are in a blazing contest with each statement.  True?  Not true?  You will challenge everything.  And in so doing you will do FAR better than anyone who has actually briefed the case.  Why?  Because that's how the law is really lived.  You will be *tired* after each class . . . but you will immediately update your outline to reflect what you have learned.

Never borrow an outline.  (In first year.)  That is work YOU must do.  Once you've done your outline (no later than, say, mid-March), you need to create a second, condensed outline, of no more than 1-2 pages.  (This will come in handy for the bar exam.)

Then you need to spend as much of the remaining weeks working hypotheticals.  Many, many hypos.  

Dozens and dozens of exams.  Every one of these hypos and exams will cause you to go over and over and over your outline, again and again and again and again and again.  You will KNOW it as well as you know 2 + 2.  The law?  And how.

Take LEEWS if you can.  But don't just take it.  Live it.  (And, no, I don't receive a penny for this endorsement.)

Take more practice exams.  Be strict.  Time yourself short.  Take more practice exams.  Eat, breathe, and sleep hypos.  Eat, breathe, and sleep hypos with your team.  Eat, breathe, and sleep hypos with your dreams.  THAT is law school.  (And, believe it or not, the law becomes fun.)

Be courteous to everyone.  No one wants to share clients with an a**hole.  No one WILL share clients with an a**hole.

* * *

To all, this really can be done.  And it can be done with less work.  And it can be done with less stress.

Be well, hang in there, and study wisely, not spastically.  Don't be overwhelmed.  Be just the right amount of whelmed.

479
Current Law Students / Re: Overwhelmed - Seeking Advice
« on: February 21, 2010, 06:40:51 PM »
HORRIBLE advice! Teachers call on briefs all the f-ing time, thats why they use the socriatic method. The only way that skipping notes and highlighting makes sense is if you have 100% photographic memory, otherwise you wont be able to study for the actual test. WTF?!  :-X

What's horrible is the common "wisdom" in law school.  This is understandable, but terribly misleading.  And it's the reason so many law students are so miserable, and so shocked, when they get their grades back.

Mere effort is irrelevant.  Classroom "participation" (as most think of this) is irrelevant.  What is relevant is focused effort that will make a difference.  This is anything that will help in one of two ways:  (1) a mastery of black letter law; and (2) a mastery of how to apply that black letter law to a new and complex set of facts.

Everything else is a waste of time.  Unfortunately, most law students spend more than half their time in ways that do *nothing* to help with either of the above two objectives.

Do notes actually help?  Really?  What is said in class that might possibly help with a case to be discussed in a class to follow?  The only notes worth taking are those directly related to one's understanding of black letter law, or to a wrinkle in the law (see "black letter law," above) or to the professor's thoughts on any of this.  All else is utterly meaningless.  NEVER write down anything a fellow student says.  EVER.  One shouldn't even write down half of what a prof says.  (Have you ever been in class where there is no conlusion--no definitive statement as to what the preceding question was about?  If so, what on Earth is that doing in your mind, much less your notes?)  If it cannot be incorporated *immediately* into an outline, it's worse that worthless, it's a distraction.  No more than 1/2-page of notes per class.  If you're writing more, beware.

Highlighting?  Again, what's the benefit?  If it does not help DIRECTLY with an understanding of the black letter law or of its application with a new fact pattern, its benefit is primarily the high with all those fumes.

Photographic memory?  Not only not helpful, but possibly counterproductive.  

The key . . . and the ONLY key . . . to doing well in law school is to do well on exams.  Classroom "performance" is irrelevant.  It thus makes sense to focus on what will be helpful to the exam.  No notes (unless incorporated immediately into a master outline).  No highlighting.  No gunning.  No nonsense.  

This does not mean that one is passive in class.  Quite the opposite.  But "participation" is nothing as easy as a highligher or pen or laptop.


480
Choosing the Right Law School / Re: Top schools that offer full rides?
« on: February 21, 2010, 06:21:00 PM »
Yale and Harvard both say that they do not offer merit scholarships.  I'm wondering which of the top tier law schools offer full ride scholarships.  I know NYU does, but the rest are not so public about it and a little unclear.  Anyone know of others?

The key is fairly basic:  if you're a student that law school would be happy to have (because it makes that law school more competitive vis-a-vis HYS), then all bets are off.  The more you would make them look good--which of course applies to a vanishingly small percentage of applicants--the more inclined they are to make a deal.

The lower one goes in the official hierarchy, the easier it is to make that deal . . . but the less that deal means.

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