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Thane Messinger

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Advice For Success in Law School
« on: August 01, 2009, 10:26:05 PM »
Aloha, All -

A friend suggested this site to me, and after scanning a few of the threads I could see the same types of questions that were raised by my fellow students and me, way back when.  There are, moreover, so many resources out there, and it's difficult for someone new to law school to know which is which (much less, which is better).

What follows will be, to a large extent, biased.  It is clearly my own opinion . . . and my opinion formed out of decades and numerous exchanges with all manner of law students and lawyers, including more than a few radical ones.  So, please take this with whatever size grain of salt you feel appropriate.  I'll try to state my reasoning behind each recommendation.  I'll also state that I am involved, in varying degrees, with each of the books I recommend (except the last one); so please take that into consideration as well.  To perhaps address the question of reliabilty and authority:

Says who . . . ?   I graduated in 1991 (aka The Dark Ages) from the University of Texas, where we had about one-fourth the number of resources and about one-twentieth the level of debt.  When I wrote the most recent book (which I'd not in a million years contemplated doing until practically forced to), I went to the local bookstore and took a peek.  I was shocked.  Shocked, I tell you.  No wonder law students were (still!) facing so much trouble.  Much of what was in the dozen-odd titles was fairly harmless.  Not terribly helfpul, in my opinion, but not really bad.  There was, however, a significant percentage that *was* bad, and rather than go into details in flame-retardant clothing as to why, I'll defer to myself (below).

First to all the books *not* listed here: 

There is one book that has become the "standard-bearer" for seemingly all law students.  I'll not name it.  My take is this book is one of the "mostly harmless" ones.  Buy a good bed.  'kay.  Get a passport in case a Vault firm needs you in Budapest?  Sure, why not?  We can dream.  Brown-nose professors?  Take good notes?  Color-code cases?!  This is going to seem wildly odd to read, perhaps, but this is bad, bad advice.  Why?  Suffice it to say that this is simply not the way to learn the law, as a lawyer, in law school, or anywhere.  It is certainly not the way to learn the law well, and learn it efficiently--two essential qualities of the "A" law student.

My recommendation?  Read or at least scan all of these books, and decide for yourself.  I would suggest, however, that you read them from a library.  (This is good advice for each of the books that follow, actually, even--gasp--my own. Even if your local library don't stock it, you can ask the lead librarian to order a copy, and chances are they will.  It doesn't hurt to ask.)

Okay, here are the recommendations, and the reasons why:

For Non-Traditional Students:

There's not much question, as there's just one.  "Later-in-Life Lawyers: Tips for the Non-Traditional Law Student," by Charles Cooper, is it.  Even if you don't agree with everything in it, if your life circumstances put you in law school sometime after your 22nd birthday, you should read this. 

For Students about to enter law school:

I'll have to start with self-interest here.  I recommend the following, which is a book I recently finished for pre-law and law students.  (You're shocked, right?)

"Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold" (for which I use "GGG" as shorthand).

Without getting into too much self-interested puffery, I do think GGG will enable a student to achieve above-average results, at least, with less effort and much less wasted effort than is currently assumed is "law study."  In this, GGG strikes the balance, I think, between the strictures of Planet Law School and, well, everything else. 

It should come as no surprise that I don't agree with the usefulness or effectiveness of the bulk of advice on law school, which is why I wrote GGG and which would, on its face, be borne out by how perennially frantic most law students end up being (with a near-zero or even negative correlation between that and success in exams and in their careers).

This leads to the second book, "Planet Law School" (commonly "PLS"), by "Atticus Falcon".  Yes, it's over the top.  As I recount in GGG, the author of PLS and I have had a falling out of sorts.  We corresponded over the years, and one reason I finally wrote GGG was due to our growing disagreements.  Nonetheless, PLS serves as an essential check on the silliness that passes for "study" "advice," and also as a base from which one can adapt a study plan that is both useful and maintainable.  Among other reasons to read PLS are the hundreds of pointers as to various study aids.  I was embarrassed that I learned about some of these--years after having been in practice. 

So, yes, PLS (and, if you'll permit me the vanity, GGG) are essential.

For 1Ls-2Ls, a third is:  "The Insider's Guide to Getting a Big Firm Job: What Every Law Student Should Know About Interviewing."  While this would seem to be a book for just the Top 10%/law review crowd, it's actually *more* important for everyone else.  After all, if you've a line-up of "A" grades and a law review editorship under your belt, yes, you really shouldn't throw up on your interviewer's shoes (or on anything else) in an interview, and good for you if you can keep your lunch down . . . but it's everyone else who *really* needs this advice.  So much of doing well in life is simply paying attention; so much of that is opening your eyes; so much of that is someone who knows what to look for there to guide you.  So, I would recommend this book, whether you'll have OCI or self-generated interviews.

Another book I'll mention, but with not quite the same reasoning, is "The Slacker's Guide to Law School."  To be honest, I was conflicted about this, and agreed in the end to edit and write a foreword .  The author is rather different from me, and, most likely, many law students.  But I'm not so vain as to think everyone is as Type-A/Bookish as I, and so I suspect that he speaks to a significant population.  Moreover, the book has two redeeming qualities.  It is the first book I'm aware of that honestly deals with the "should I go" question, in detail.  And it's really, really funny.  It's almost a stand-up routine in parts, and so if you can get it in the library or at a discount on Amazon, it's worth it.  (Yet another take:  It's not as if reading a book will damage you.  A better thought is that if you pick up just a handful of useful tidbits from each book, the time spent is well worth it.)

There's yet another book, this for students who dream dreams of teaching, or of high-powered practice, or of the satisfaction of a certain diploma on their wall.  It's "Art of the Law School Transfer," which should be out in a few weeks, I'm told.  Useful if that's at all a thought for you.

Thane.

Thane Messinger

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Re: Advice For Success in Law School
« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2009, 10:30:25 PM »
All -

My apologies for the newbie mistake (and from a former techie, no less) in posting before I was done.

Here's the site for more information:  www.fineprintpress.com

There's also a series of links in that site for many other resources that might be helpful.

Best of luck,

Thane.