I just finished my first semester as a 1L...so this is my limited experience that I am going to share....
I got two grades so far. 4.0 in Legal Writing and 4.0 in Torts! I am still waiting on my Contracts grade. I am a part-time student because I have to work full-time. I am a single mom of seven kids at home (9 in total) - 4 bio and 5 adopted.
Thanks to Atticus Falcon's Planet Law School 2
and thanks to Fleming's Exam Writing Workshop
! Without those two tools, I would have not done as well.
Before starting law school, I got some of the books Atticus recommended, like E&E, Concepts & Insight Series, etc. and read them. I also really liked "Understanding Contracts" and "Understanding Torts", there is an entire series of the "Understanding _____" from Lexis. (Also, I found the "A Concise Restatement of _____" series very useful. It give the Restatements but it gives a good overview of examples of how that particular restatement applies to senarios. It is published by The American Law Institute - Atticus recommended them as well.)
I only had 2 months to prepare, but it was great to get a general overview of the topic. I am not somebody who can read and memorize. I have to have repeated exposure through different contexts (reading, discussion, writing, etc.) However, one of the very important things to concentrate on is to get a good general overview of the topic (i.e contracts) of what will be taught that semester.
So, before starting classes, I knew about offer-acceptance-consideration, etc. Of course, our class started with consideration and promissory estoppel without ever having touched on offer and acceptance. The course was taught completely out of sequence! Most students were lost, they saw individual trees but did not see the forest.
I was able to start my outline very early on. Since I had a basic understanding of the main topics and compared them to the syllabus and the sequence the casebook took, I was able to work on my outline with ease. It all made sense to me.
Additionally, very early into the semester, I took Fleming's Exam Writing Workshop. It does not matter if you know the law if you do not know how to write about it. Fleming's workshop took one weekend (12 hours) of which 4 hours was spent on the basics, like issue spotting, setting up an outline, etc. and the rest of the 8 hours was spent actually issue spotting/debriefing and exam writing/debriefing. It was the bootcamp for exam writing! We went home on Saturday evening with an exam to write that we had to bring back on Sunday. It was almost painful to do, but with practice, I got better.
That course really helped me with my legal writing class. I got really good at writing the "A" part of the IRAC.
Additionally, I made use of the exam writing workbooks and the course outlines that are accompanied with CD lectures that Fleming has.
I actually used the outline from Fleming to guide my outline. It was a great overview to listen to the course overview lecture that is based on the outline. They are a bit pricey, but worth it.
(To prepare for next semester, Torts 2, Contracts 2 and Property I, I am already listening to the CDs and reading the outlines, in addition to the books that Atticus is recommending.)
Additionally, I used canned casebriefs. I bought the online versions and cut & pasted them into a word document. This way, I was able to edit it to fit what I needed. I have already done the ones for this coming semester. I also read cases, but at times I did not have the time. Reading cases is important because of the legal reasoning that you get exposed to (some are better than others). But the main thing to focus on is that you are supposed to get a rule out of that case or an example of an exception to the rule. I always asked myself where the case fits into the main outline in terms of the rule.
I think that most students spend too much time on trying to make it through the cases and thus did not have time to get to the Outline or to take practice exams.
One other tip is to look at lexis to get the headnotes from a case in the casebook. The headnotes give you the main issues of the case. I used them to brief cases. When I got called on, I had all the issues listed and my professor said that he could not think of any questions to ask me because I had listed all the important points of the case. Not because I am soooo smart...LOL...but because I knew how to prepare using the headnotes. (In class does not count toward the final grade, but it was a nice feeling to not be torn apart in front of the class --- though this particular professor is a nice person and does not embarrass students, nonetheless, he asks a lot of questions usually.)
If you are still with me...one other IMPORTANT tip is to write lots and lots of practice exams! When I first took the Fleming's course, I focused on writing his practice exams because they come with a sample issue outline and a sample answer. Once I felt more comfortable with the sample answer and got the IRAC down, especially the "A" part, then I started focusing on the previous exams that my professor had given. I would do an issue outline, like I had been taught by Fleming (and got really fast at it). Then I would compare the prof's answer (he had an issue checklist) to make sure that I spotted all the issues. I got pretty good at it.
Once I checked on the issues, then I would write the exam. I noted certain patterns on what the professor focused on. For example, in the contracts mid-terms, I noticed that all mid-terms had a certain pattern of examining offer, acceptance (which were always non-issues) and then there was lack of consideration. Then there was a discussion of "past consideration", "gratuitous promise", "moral consideration" even if these were really not at issue, these mid-terms still had them in the model answer. Then the exam would go onto "quasi contract" and "promissory estoppel". I noted this pattern and practised accordingly. When the mid-term came along, it was exactly that same pattern. I got an "A-" in the mid-term, there were no "A's" given. So, I had one of the highest grades.
I did the same for the finals. I started right after mid-terms in my preparation for finals. Of course there are some areas that you cannot write on because you do not quite understand. However, you can write on what you already know. For example for torts, I was able to write the "duty" and "breach" portion of exams, then I would go back to that exam and write the "causation" and "damages" portion.
Again, I looked for patterns. I found some and noticed some areas that the professor liked testing, like landowner duty for negligence. I made sure that I could write on that fast and with ease. I practiced and practiced writing.
Also, I would also rewrite exams that I had already written to make sure that I learned how to express myself better. There was phrasing that I noticed the professor used in his sample answers. I memorized that phrasing to use in my writing. It seems to have worked because of my 4.0's.
One more thing, our exams also have multiple choice questions (which I do not like). I bought several books to practice them. Emmanuels, Siegels and Q&A from Lexis. Emmanuel and Siegels were the easier type of questions. I started with them. If I noticed that a question was something that we had not covered yet, I marked it to do later. Then I moved onto the Q&A series. There the questions are categorized. The questions in Q&A are a bit trickier than the Emmanels and Siegels. I made sure to review the answers in the back because the explanations were good.
I also bought a Multistate book for multiple choice, but for a new student these are not so good because they combine subject matter even if the question is under "Torts" it may contain elements of procedure which I had not taken.
Hope this helps somebody. I am not an expert, just finished my first semester as a part-time student, but I thought that I could share.
Happy New Year ~ Vera