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...
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.