Everything seemed fine coming into law school. 3.4 GPA, 90th percentile LSAT, accepted into a Mid-Tier 1, Midwest law school. I did well before law: coming in with a year of legal experience at a large corporation and decent experience in public finance. I love the real world practice of law.
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I am short on time: I need to pick a path.
Please help. All advice is appreciated.
To start, please know that what you've experienced is not unique. Your circumstances are serious, of course, and the disappointment and seeming lack of correlation to effort only adds to the stress. Yet most law students are perplexed about the grades relative to their sense of how well they know the material.
Part of the reason is that a law exam is not about "law." [!] Rather, it is about thinking a problem through in much the way a lawyer would. I suspect (but of course your profs can confirm) that you are reciting law but not working that into a synthesized legal analysis. It is a skill, and one that is quite different from undergraduate school or, of course, a non-law job. This is also, by the way, much of what goes into the bar exam.
The good news. Your self-awareness at this point is a huge step. Confronting exams with the realization you have is a large part of improving. Once you get past this, you should be able to select combinations of seminars and project-based courses that will minimize further risk. Also, your initial statements seem to answer the question of whether you should continue. But this is a serious question. Reflect on it deeply before deciding either way. (As part of this and as a thought experiment, for twenty-four hours “determine” that you will withdraw. How do you feel? Okay, switch and determine that you will stay in. How about now?)
So, on to doing better:
I encourage you to take LEEWS. It should be quite helpful. There are other exam-writing programs, so I wouldn't discount others. Among them, LEEWS is an excellent start. Importantly, however, it’s not about “reading” or “listening,” but about DOING.
Now is your chance to excel. All of this will be a bad memory. For full-year courses, absolutely no one will care about your fall grades after the spring ones are in. And once you have those “A” grades, the earlier ones are explainable.
For that purpose and also your own self-interest and self-esteem, a serious focus on how you've been studying and how you've been preparing for exams is important. So, ask yourself how you been spending class time? (Notes, highlighting...?) Non-class time? (Outlines, flash cards...) Exam prep? The more specific the better.
A test: work on your outline before each class, and try to minimize the notes you take. When you take notes, take them either directly into the outline, or try to limit them to just 1/2-page. Then, incorporate them directly into your outline. The outline is not a “thing”; it is the embodiment of your knowledge.
Everything is directed toward one goal: understanding how to address each and every legal issue.
And . . . have fun! Seriously. Think of how interesting each legal issue you address is. What happens if you change fact x, or fact y, or circumstance z?
If you've not yet done so you might make appointments with each (all) of your profs to go over your exams. Make it clear that you're *not* there to protest; you want to know which connections you failed to make, with regard to each and every legal point.
Exams are graded in this way: In some combination profs create a bizarre fact pattern (usually) and spell out a variety of legal issues. Clearly, these are the issues they want to test, and they're a majority of the issues in the course. Each issue will have a number of parts, and each part will get some number of points--usually a fairly modest number.
Point 1: From this, what is needed is not literature. This is where many of the smartest, best students from undergraduate and (especially) graduate school go wrong. The writing for the best papers is choppy; almost staccato.
Point 2: Points are gained from a targeted, rapid, comprehensive approach. Conflicting adjectives, true, but this does mirror legal thinking.
Point 3: If you happen to think of a legal issue the prof did not, you'll get brownie points.
Point 4: The brownie points are nice, but they make up for exactly one or two of the other, minor points missed. Thus, the meat of law exams is in racking up points, NOT in brilliance. (Or at least not brilliance as most think of it. You want to be brilliant in a methodical, rapid, concise way.)
As to teams, what you're looking for are two things: Someone who's precise and methodical and follows through, and someone who knows what they're doing, and thus won't waste time (their own or yours). As to the latter, the best indication is a student who's from a family with a lawyer or two in it.
Hang in there. It will work out.