Law School Discussion

Overwhelmed - Seeking Advice

Re: Overwhelmed - Seeking Advice
« Reply #10 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.


cooleylawstudent

Re: Overwhelmed - Seeking Advice
« Reply #11 on: February 21, 2010, 07:58:11 PM »
I agree with you in part, that part being that the participation itself isnt graded but remember

1) Teachers can make your life HELL if they know you dont come to class prepared, and thats a bittch enough in itself to avoid it.

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

3) Most people find notes and hightlighting helpfull, if it dosnt help you then skip that part, but at least at my school the Profs call on briefs like clockwork and mostly random in the class.

Re: Overwhelmed - Seeking Advice
« Reply #12 on: February 21, 2010, 08:24:40 PM »

"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.

Re: Overwhelmed - Seeking Advice
« Reply #13 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.

Re: Overwhelmed - Seeking Advice
« Reply #14 on: February 22, 2010, 07:56:17 AM »
A good resource for people wanting some elaboration on your exam advice is the Fischl & Paul book "Getting to Maybe" book.  THAT would be an efficient use of your time.

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.


Re: Overwhelmed - Seeking Advice
« Reply #15 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 . . .   = :  )

Soren

Re: Overwhelmed - Seeking Advice
« Reply #16 on: February 28, 2010, 04:52:13 AM »
Excellent advice, Thane. Among the best I've read.

Distilled: work smart, not hard. Nobody cares about your effort; they care about your results.

Re: Overwhelmed - Seeking Advice
« Reply #17 on: March 01, 2010, 12:01:07 PM »
Distilled: work smart, not hard. Nobody cares about your effort; they care about your results.


Indeed so.  To all, the danger in law school is that it's easy to fall into an extreme.  Either extreme is a trap.  On the one side is the sense that, because it's "hard," one has to slog through case after case.  In this view, law "study" is more like a grueling rite of passage akin to genital mutilation (but perhaps not so much fun as that).  Spending 80 hours a week reading cases will not lead to the desired result: Top grades.  (Not to mention: actually learning the law.)  If you're a 1L and you doubt this, don't take our word for it.  Ask a 2L.  Ask a 3L.  Ask a prof.  This is not a system where time in equals reward out.  The correlation is FAR below +1.0.  On the other side, when grades do come out, a substantial percentage of law students--burned out and, well, just burned--tune out, sometimes drop out, and all too often act out.

Both are bad outcomes.  Both are bad ways to "study."  There is a better way.  One must work hard.  One must put in the effort.  But that effort must be focused.  That focus must be in ways that help with learning the law, and learning how to use it.  As Soren writes, one must study smart.

Thane.

cooleylawstudent

Re: Overwhelmed - Seeking Advice
« Reply #18 on: March 01, 2010, 06:48:52 PM »
so dont read or brief cases, and when the prof calls you on it then what admit what a dumbass you are? Great advice!  :P

Re: Overwhelmed - Seeking Advice
« Reply #19 on: March 01, 2010, 08:35:56 PM »

so dont read or brief cases, and when the prof calls you on it then what admit what a dumbass you are? Great advice!  :P


One might get worked up with a response such as this, but instead I'll respond thusly:  Careful readers will note that I recommended no such thing.  I certainly do not recommend not to read the cases.  Rather, I do strongly encourage all law students to refrain from spending . . . er, wasting . . . HOURS reading them, and certainly not to waste time briefing them in the way that most assume is the "right" way.  The only attribute one will get after such masochistic nonsense is a headache and, perhaps, a stronger optical prescription.  One certainly will not get a sense of how a law exam is to be handled after the fourteenth hour of cases.

As to being an ass in class, dumb or otherwise, that is of course up to the participant.  The irony is that an active participation in class (listening, not speaking) will net stronger in-class responses, with less effort.

Lest I get too feisty, I'll go further.  One should NEVER spend HOURS reading anything in the law.  That's not what the law is--either the practice or study thereof.  But, as certain minds are apparently made up, I'll refer anyone who is interested to another thread where I expanded on an approach that will work, better, in less time.

To all, please don't take my word for it.  Stop by the local courthouse and ask the nearest litigator (or judge).  See what they have to say.