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Messages - Thane Messinger

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Current Law Students / Re: case briefs
« on: February 17, 2010, 11:22:53 AM »
You only need to brief cases for the first few weeks of law school or for however long it takes for you to be able to recognize how to read a case, dissect it into its components (procedural history, facts, issue, rule, reasoning), and take from it whatever it is you are looking for.  Once you are able to do that STOP BRIEFING!!! Get a case brief supplement or look up the cases on lexis or westlaw or whatever and call it a day.

Absolutely right.  Case briefing was designed in a simpler age for a simpler purpose:  to put all the law student ducklings in a row behind the mama prof duck.  (Who was then the papa prof duck, come to think of it, although I'm not sure papa ducks spend all that much time worrying about whether their ducklings are in a row, behind them or elsewhere.)  

In law school, cases exist for one purpose and one purpose only: to highlight a point of law.  It could be a rule.  An exception.  An exception to an exception.

So, focus first and primarily on that point of law.  USE the case, sure.  Know the case and know why it's there.  But don't spend more than five minutes scanning it.  Then and only then do you read it--and only the parts that are relevant to the point of law.  Absolutely don't spend more than five seconds on procedural history, etc., unless that is the point of law at issue.  (If, for example, it's in Civ Pro.)

Reverse the process:  know WHY you're reading the case before you do.  In law school it's easy to think of cases as the donut.  Nope.  They're a hole, or more specifically a black hole, into which an entire semester can be sucked--with absolutely no benefit.  Focus instead on what is important:  learning the rules of law (just one or two per class, usually) and on how to apply those rules to new facts.

If you get called on and don't know the procedural history, etc.--and I'm trying to think of any time this ever happened outside of The Paper Chase--just say you don't know.  Don't worry about it.  It WON'T affect your grade (as long as you're not obnoxious about it).  Don't worry about being embarrassed.  Really.  Who cares?  Focus on the rule of law, instead.

Current Law Students / Re: Overwhelmed - Seeking Advice
« on: February 17, 2010, 11:09:31 AM »
Many reading this might be saying "just drop the damn class," but for me this is really difficult because I feel like that is admitting failure.  On the other hand, I may literally fail if I stay in all of my classes.  But still, it is very hard for me to swallow that other people seem to be able to handle much more than me.  Any suggestions about what I should do would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks again

404 -

To add to the points EarlCat and BikePilot make, it is very true that what you're describing is a common feeling among all, or nearly all, law students. 

Maybe this will help:

We hear repeated again and again words like "drudgery," workload," "overwhelming," and so on.  If this is the approach, it would be extraordinary not to feel as you do.  What's worse, none of these will help.  There's no extra credit in law school for time served.

There might be a different solution: Learn more and better, with less work. 

One of the problems, if not *the* problem, is not law school.  It's us.  The study habits and "techniques" that were successful in college and before simply won't work, or won't work well, in law school.  Why?  Because law school is not college.  That sounds obvious, yet how many law students look at how they are supposed to learn the material?  No, instead most simply plow through, hoping against hope (and against advice of nearly everyone who has gone before), that the prof will *somehow* see through their exam to see all the work they've put in.  That's not how it works.

BikePilot has just the right advice in his take on reading law review articles.  Namely, don't.  Or, more correctly, don't "read" them.  Slogging through an 80-page law review article is not just an incredible waste of time, it won't help.  Will you know what you need to know after reading it that you didn't know before.  I can almost guarantee you that you won't get what you're looking for in this way.  The real challenge is to stop racing, and start learning in a much more efficient way.

Let's start from the beginning.  Why do profs assign reading.  Sadism?  Well, okay, maybe a little.  The main reason, however, is right there.  They assign materials to convey a handful of points.  That's it.  The objective as a student is not to READ.  The objective is to LEARN.  The challenge is to learn with the least amount of wasted effort.  So, reading ANYTHING that doesn't help in that understanding is wasted.

Don't read everything.  You can't.  You shouldn't.  And no attorney does that.  What to do?  First, confirm every scrap of paper for one thing: its relevance.  Figure out why you're reading it.  If you cannot state, in a simple sentence, why you're reading it, then don't. 

Never, never spend hours reading cases, or anything else for that matter.  Instead, try this:  Five minutes confirming the rule at issue.  Ten seconds confirming the relevance of the document before you.  IF it's relevant, five minutes scanning for the essential facts.  If it's relevant and valuable, twenty minutes reading--really reading--through what is relevant and valuable.  (If it takes longer, fine, but it shouldn't take much longer.  This is exactly the same standard in practice.)  Now for the important part:  You're not done.  Spend five minutes updating your outline, and another five minutes pondering a hypothetical or two with the rule you've just learned and facts you've just sifted.

If you're spending time briefing cases, stop.  Waste of time.  (Do profs check?  No?  Waste of time.)

If you're highlighting, stop.  Waste of time.  (Will this be graded?  No?  Waste of time.)

If you're taking notes, stop.  Waste of time.  (Do they help?  No?  Waste of time.)

Brown-nosing?  Gunning?  Subterfuge?  Stop, stop, stop.

The study of law can be truly engaging, and can be done, well, in less time than most now take, slogging about frantically from one source to the next, understanding almost none of it and getting more and more confused with each new stack.  Rely on those who've gone before to re-confirm what will actually make a difference, and focus ONLY on those aspects that will make a difference.  Unfortunately, this means challenging what has worked for 16 years . . . because it WILL NOT work for law school.

For all, law school is about learning the law, backwards, forwards, and sideways . . . and, just as importantly, learning how to apply those rules to a new set of facts, cold.  It is not about brown-nosing, all-nighters, highlighting, note-taking, or any of that nonsense.  Re-focusing can lead to much better results, with much less wasted effort.  And, of course, to just the right amount of stress.  No more feelings of being overwhelmed.

I hope this helps,


Current Law Students / Re: How do you think like a lawyer?
« on: February 16, 2010, 02:02:18 PM »
After a semester of being a law student, I'm still very confused about law school classes and what they demand from me. Is reading case after case going to help me think in such way? I understand that on an exam, you need to issue spot and IRAC each issue, but then again, the things we had on our exams were so much different from what we covered in class...How do professor separate students who get A's from others who don't do as well? I wish someone could just teach me what I should do...

LovelyJJ -

You are not alone.  Nearly everyone feels this way, and unfortunately the results are disappointing (or devastating) for most law students.  This is why grades *appear* to be random.  (They are not.  Or, at least, they're not random in the way most would think they are.  They *are* random if the measurement is the amount of time one spends "studying."  That is a dead end, and one that many students persistently take.)

To answer the question, no, reading case after case will not help.  Neither will briefing case after case, which is a massive waste of time.  The key is in being able to put the fact at issue (or, sometimes, a set of facts at issue) into a framework.  That framework is "the law."  That might sound odd, or just insulting, but it's actually THE key to this, and it's how a good lawyer thinks.  (And it's why exam grades appear to be random.)

The Catch-22 of law school is that law school is not designed to teach us the law.  Rather, law school is designed to provide a way to test whether we know the law.  This in turn requires that we internalize--not memorize--what that law is.  This is in much the same way that a chemist internalizes--not memorizes--the periodic chart.  Why?  Because simply memorizing x prongs of a defense won't be good enough on an exam.  The facts must be interwoven so that the right rules (which, ah ha, have been internalized) are placed into context, highlighted in just the right way.  In short, an "A" exam is something a lawyer would write.

Circular definition?  To a degree.  Yet the truth is that most exams deserve not a B or a C, but an F.  In the practitioner's (and professor's) mind, this is more binary than it is a forced curve:  There is legal reasoning.  And there is everything else.  And firms do not care to (re)train anyone who has not proved they have mastered this skill.  This is why firms are so hypersensitive, especially now, about grades.  

There's still time.  Forget briefing (at least in the 1-2 page format most are bullied into thinking is the way to brief).  NO lawyer briefs that way; neither should you.  Forget color-coding.  Forget notes.  (Absolutely STOP writing notes.)  That is all a grand waste of time.

Instead, craft and fine-tune a master outline of 30-50 pages per subject.  Then reduce that to 1-2 pages, per subject.  And spend the rest of the semester taking practice exams.  Dozens and even a hundred of them.  It doesn't matter whose exams.  (Although it's good to take your profs', of course.  But save them for the end.)  It helps but is not essential to practice them in teams.  (With the right team, it *really* helps.  Why?  Because a team can force better analysis.)  A dozen practice exams, per subject, will make a 1-2 letter-grade difference.

Take these seriously.  No cheating.  Time yourself.  And time yourself short.  (2 3/4, then 2 1/2 hours, for a 3-hour exam.) Then spend an equal amount of time dissecting what you did right . . . and, more importantly, what you missed.

Why exams?  Because that's what the law is.  The ability to dispassionately sift through bits of facts and law and produce a cojent LEGAL analysis.  That is "thinking like a lawyer."  

[John is correct in the need to lay out ALL the various facts and rules on an exam--unlike in practice--to show that you know why something must be discounted . . . but it's thus even more important to understand how to build the proper framework, with the most important aspects highlighted and the less-important and irrelevant ones properly discounted.]

See?  You've gotten the middle of a certain book for free.  = :  )

Hang in there.  It *will* make sense.  The challenge is for it to make sense prior to the exam.


This applies to practicing attorneys as well as to law students.  It might seem cagey or just downright unfair, but there are simply too many variables that can make the difference in your case.  Even if an experienced criminal law attorney were to post a response, the ways in which that "answer" might not be helpful to your husband's case are numerous.  Thus, you really should seek an attorney licensed in your state and familiar with the courts and procedures you're writing about.

I agree with the advice to check with your local public defenders' office.  That's a good place to start.  At the very least, they should be able to give you the names of other offices that might be able to help, such as the right court clerk to ask to confirm your husband's status.

Best of luck to you both,


Choosing the Right Law School / Re: Deciding amongTier 3/4 Schools
« on: February 14, 2010, 11:40:49 PM »
Please weigh in, but also consider i'm aware of the issues at the schools (ex: golden gate previously on probation), and the prospects of coming out of a tier 3/4 school. Thanks in advance.

Greengirl -

This might be out-of-place, but have you considered Vermont?  With a background such as yours, that might be the perfect fit.  And, uniquely, in that area and with your expertise, the school's ranking becomes relatively less important.  (This is true both going in and coming out.  If one is applying with a genuine expertise and interest that meshes with the faculty's, that will often make the difference in a marginal--and sometimes less-than-marginal--application on the numbers.  Likewise, in a job hunt a school with a known expertise will draw nationally, even if it's not otherwise a national school.  Beware, however, many of those jobs are going to the defense side.)  Vermont is known nationally for its environmental programs, and almost certainly punches above weight. 

There are others, but I'm afraid that exhausts my knowledge in that area.  (And the specialty lists can be only marginally helpful there too.  To have this sort of pull, a law school needs to have devoted a LOT of time and money to a specific area.  At least a decade and several endowed chairs, plus several more brilliant newcomers, adjuncts, and extra staff and clinics.  Few law schools can do or have done this, so avoid being pulled in by a "flash in the pan" with just a handful of specialists.) 

If you've already deferred a year and are on the fence, it might be worth a visit to South Royalton, conversations with the dean and as many faculty as you can find, and another year.


Choosing the Right Law School / Re: T1 non T20 Law Schools - Worth it?
« on: February 14, 2010, 11:26:17 PM »

I understand what you are saying.  I do want to go to law school and become a lawyer.  I have expensive options in T10-T30 range and much less expensive options in T70s.  The bottoms line is that I am looking to get a good legal job upon graduation.  In case I do not get a good legal job I  would like to work in accounting for a while to be able to pay my mortgage and save for my kids' college.  If I go for an average accounting job with JD on my resume, they wil lquestion my commitment for industry and qualification level (they might feel I am hard up for cash and will quit any chance I get).  That is the summary of my dillemma.  I understand that is not easy and might have many alternative solutions.

Stonewall -

Indeed it is a dilemma, as there's no easy calculus.  While some will protest that there's no question but to go to the best law school one can get into, the very real issue of cost makes that a dicey proposition, depending upon other factors and especially depending upon personal factors.

Disclaimer:  what follows ia a bit of heresy, as what most think of as a ranking system (in the form of a linear assginment of prestige, value, job-getting-ability, etc.) is that only in the most superficial sense.  If that's the way ranking is used in a personal decision, it's likely to lead to a bad decision if that's all that's used and if other factors should be of significant importance.

Among those factors is a consideration of where one wants to live.  (As in live for the rest of one's life, or at least for most of one's life.)  If one is certain to want to live in, say, the mid-Atlantic, then what is nominally a difference between a West Coast #20 and a mid-Atlantic #50 is almost a wash.  Indeed, it can be easier in some ways from the lower-ranked school, especially if one is a top-placed student there as compared to the higher-ranked school.  (While hardly a certainty, there is a modest chance that that's what will happen.)  If, conversely, one wants to "get outta' Dodge," then numbers take on a greater importance--but are *still* likely to determine one's initial (and final) resting place, except at the top schools.

Grades are, without question, a prime determinant.  A top-5%'er is likely to have opportunities anywhere, while a top-15%'er will likely have *far* more opportunities at the higher-ranked school.  The dropoff, especially now, can be dizzying.

Also to money:  the higher the school, the better the chances to recoup money in school and after.  This ties directly with grades, of course, but the key is twofold: the grade requirements rise *steeply* with each notch lower in ranking.  And they disappear pretty quickly except for the top handful of students (in numbers, not percentages) at all but the top schools.

State schools are, as a whole, a much better deal, although state schools have become rather more expensive of late.  (When I write "better deal," this means as between public/private schools within a few notches of each other.  Do NOT believe that a private school is "better" just because it's private.)  Also, while Duke and Cornell are certainly schools to consider, they're not schools to consider because of their names (or at least not just because of their names).  Any school in the top 14 or thereabouts is going to provide a significant boost to a larger percentage of its student body, and one Hell of a morale boost when getting that Yes letter.  So, don't look at School #11 as different from School #14--or at least not based on ranking.  That's not the way it works.  Within a half-dozen places, other factors are more important.

I hope this helps,


Choosing the Right Law School / Re: T1 non T20 Law Schools - Worth it?
« on: February 14, 2010, 04:14:47 PM »
You really think so? For regular people who graduated from Bumfack State with BS in BS a JD degree is like an MD degree.  If they see a guy with JD applying for a job with a 4-year college degree requirement for them it will be like a famous neurosurgeon walking in and applying for a receptionist position.  They will be confused and likely decide it is a joke a mistake or an act of desperation from on overqualified person who will likely scram at first opportunity.  A lot of people from T2 and T3 come to realize that JD might be a huge liability when you cant find a good legal job and try to land a regular business world position.  That is why so many people actually take JD off their resume to assure a successful job search...

The responses are quite right.  As you state, the issue of "overqualification" applies when one seeks a position that wouldn't require the law license (which of course requires the law degree).   But unless that's the plan (in which case one might ask why they're going to law school in the first place), it's not likely to be a significant issue. 

The instances I've seen tend to involve JDs who cannot get law jobs, and who thus branch out to areas (often *any* area) where there's hiring.  Focusing in, say, offices dealing with contracts, etc., is likely to be a reasonably good fit, and thus there's not likely to be a major issue with overqualification.  Many seek governmental positions, which tend to accept all comers, and tend to have positions requiring a wider variety of graduate degree.  Another possibility I've seen is in academics, usually in staff positions in which a professional degree is a general plus.  Even so, the issue is often supply/demand more than qualification.

The more important question might be one that seems simplistic:  What is the *real* desire?  If it's to become an attorney, then there's the answer.  Clearly the ranking of school and performance in exams will make a big difference, especially in this market, but those are really not the right questions.  If one truly wants to go to law school, then law school is the answer.  If one is going for reasons other than a true desire, even if they hit top 5% grades in a Top 5 school, they're almost certain to be miserable.  Miserable and well-paid, perhaps, but miserable nonetheless.  If one does want to learn the law, then a far wider range of options opens up, and any number of positions can be quite comfortable.  The happiest lawyers I've known tend not to be in the jobs we lust after in law school.

The issue of debt is, for many, a deciding point, but even in your case, with an antipated nearly-debt-free graduation, that really shouldn't be the deciding factor.  After all, if one could get a degree with a full scholarship in basket-weaving, what good is that unless one really wants to weave baskets?

Likewise, trying to time markets is notoriously chancy.  Yes, it's likely that the markets will recover, but in the nearest real historical parallel (the early 1990s, into which I graduated), it took many years for hiring to correct.  Graduates in the mid-1990s still felt the effects, and the overall result was an even higher tightening of the rank/grade requirements.  (One came from a Yalie graduating in 1995, some three years after the official recession had ended.)  Also, the comment about firms' changing hiring is quite right, as the hiring model has been all-but-unsustainable for some time.  We might well thus be seeing a permanent change in the patterns employed by firms, which is likely to increase, not decrease, the pressure for grads, at least in the near term. 

In short, the question (and answers) are good--one should go into this process with eyes wide open--but the question of which school/should I go/etc. are subsidiary to the one true question of whether one absolutely, positively wants to become a lawyer.

I went back to school when I was at 43 and received my undergraduate degree at 45. I am now a 48 years old CPA working full-time. I am also in grad school, three classes shy of the MS Tax. Would law school be a waste of time? Am I too old? What is the potential for merging my CPA credential with a JD, especially with the MS Taxation? One of the reasons I became a CPA was to start my own firm what is the potential out there for a law/tax practice? What effect would my age have on my employment prospects after graduating (Jan 2011 is my planned start date)?

I should add that I have always wanted to be a lawyer, I am single, no kids and I dont plan to retire.

The answer likely lies in your second statement.  (The part about a lifelong goal of wanting to be a lawyer.)  As a rule, don't go to law school for the money . . . or at least not just for the money.  Where one has an active career already, the calculus is even further removed from the traditional realm of law-school-as-a-prerequisite-to-a-new-career.

As to age:  One friend, an anethesiologist, was 52 when he entered law school.  He was a great addition to the class, and he enjoyed a strong second career in IP law thereafter.  There were two other physicians in our group (one of five sections), and both did *very* well out of law school.

So, the focus, in my opinion, should be on whether one really, truly WANTS to become an attorney.  The reasons are many, and it's entirely fine to have visions from grade school of fame in a courtroom.  (As long as we know that that's the motive.) 

So, in general, disregard the issue of age, current career, combinations of careers, etc., and ask the simple question that should be the same for all future law students:  do you truly, absolutely, positively want to go to law school? 

If, as a test for one day, you say, "Nah, not really." and you realize that you're miserable in contemplating not fulfilling that dream, then go!  Don't worry about the career (there are lots of opportunities for all combinations of xxx/JDs out there--although many will be in smaller firms or government), and don't worry too much about everything else.  The same dynamics will apply as apply to all other law students (grades, etc.), but you will have the advantage of a better focus in your path...which, of course, need not be the same as all other paths.

And best of luck,


Minority and Non-Traditional Law Students / Re: Military
« on: February 13, 2010, 11:26:57 PM »
let's wish good luck to the soldiers , they are nearing the end in Afghanistan.

Absolutely yes.  And thank you to all for your service.

As to law school, service will help considerably in areas of focus and a steady, disciplined pace.  That is one of the keys to productive law study.  Avoid a frenetic, panicked approach that is so often the (bad) norm.  You'll also likely find a good deal of respect from faculty, most students, and, even moreso, from employers.

Again, thank you, and good luck,


It's rather unlikely that it will hurt you too much. They really don't look to hard at graduate school grades (unless you failed or something).

At the same time, I question the point of getting a CPA before law school. Do you plan on practicing law or accounting?

Vonska -

I agree with nealric on both points.  Where it might need some explaining is for your reach school, and there you'll need to address the second point: namely, the accounting angle and law school.  The admissions committee won't look at it negatively, but they will wonder.  (The same is true for the MBA, by the way.)  The main risk, which *would* cause harm, is either a stars-in-eyes assumption that these credentials belong together, or a lack of real focus in how they might and should fit together, for you.  (For example, an interest in forensic accounting with an agency investigating securities violations, based on earlier work or a *real* interest, sufficiently explained.)

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