Law School Discussion

My take on the first year of law school

My take on the first year of law school
« on: June 19, 2008, 08:42:09 PM »
Some people have PMed me about advice on how to do well in first year of LS. So i decided to just post a general thread where i share my own study methods. Be forwarned that this is what has worked for me, but it's not necessarily what will work for you. But it's worth a try.

First, to establish some credibility my first year LS grades were: A+,A,A,A,A,A-,A-,B+. Maybe it was all luck. Maybe it was the way i studied- but most likely it was a combination of both. You hear a lot about how grades are really random and you can't really prepare- but I'm not quite sure if it's true. If that were the case, then some students would just be  really "lucky" because if it is truly random, then you'd get an A in one class, and a B in another and so on... Since there are students that consistently do well, there has to be something more than random luck involved.

Pre-LS summer studying: I personally read the Plant Law School 2, and tried to follow some of the advice in that book last summer. A lot of people say don't study before LS, but I dont think it's such a bad idea. There was some value in it for me. 
What I felt i got out of my pre-LS studying is that I had some mental confidence that I know about the stuff we were going to study and that I was already ahead of my classmates in some respect. It's a good mental bonus when you're stressed out and helps you keep you calm. For example, in Civ Pro I already knew what personal jurisdiction, subject matter jurisdiction, and venue were and all of those things already clicked for me before I even started. So when we were studying PJ our first few weeks I already knew where we were going to go, and had no trouble following (incidently, I realized that learning about infamous Pennoyer case-probably the first case in every casebook- was a waste of time, because the current Black Law has changed).

But by no means is it necessary though to prep during the summer. Most of the stuff you did you'll forget. Some of it your prof won't even cover- or if he/she does, then it may be taught in a unique fashion. But there is some value to it in my view, and if you dont have anything better to do then I'd suggest one of the following materials.

I think Examples & Explanations are an excellent summer studying material. Not only will you get a basic idea of what your law school classes will be about, but you'll also get a glimse of what law school exams entail. After all, your grade will be pretty much 100% based on your final exam- so it's important to understand what exactly you'll be tested on. The Examples in the series tend to be pretty good and look a like the issues you'd get on a big final exam.

Also, another important thing is that if you do the examples, you see your weaknesses. I often found myself thinking "oh, i understand that" and then when i would do an exercise i would be lost, and only later would i truly understand the subject matter at hand. I think lots of students wait too late to realize this- until the final exam.

Another material that you may look into is getting the Sum & Substances Audio lectures. I personally saved my money and bought the tape version of Civ Pro, Torts, Crim, and Con Law. Some are better than others, but i think it's another good way to get a bird's eye-view of some of your future classes. And it's pretty easy to listen to them...

Note: The absolute best S&S for me was Arthur Miller's Civ Pro tapes. I really think I got an A in that class in part because of those lectures. They were just awesome. Another good one is the Torts one- the prof there is pretty funny and easy to listen to. Con Law one is pretty decent too. Crim did not fit my class that well, but it wasn't bad. If anything, I'd get the Civ Pro one. Never tried Contracts or Property, so i cant comment on those...
Things I didn’t like: PLS 2- it’s ok because you get the general idea of what is important and what is not, but I don’t think you need a whole book for it. Any “how to book”, including “Getting to Maybe” and some other ones. I never read them fully just skimmed them, and none of the advice seemed to be that great. I think the biggest point of say Getting to Maybe is that argue both sides- but I don’t think you need a whole book on the topic.
The books that I absolutely hated were the Delaney series. Just terrible in my view. The crim book was god awful. The legal reasoning one was also terrible- no one cares about briefing cases. I’d not buy them again, and have no idea why they are so popular.

When you're in Law School
I think there are several things that you should understand when you're taking classes. First, your grade will be determined by your final exam. This means that cold-calling and class participation means almost nothing. All profs say things like "i'll give points for good participation" or even say "10% of your grade is based on participation", but I think all of those things are not really true. I think this could only negatively impact you- like if you're an ass in class and piss off your prof, he/she may get angry enough to duck you points. But the flip side is that if you're humble and try, you'll be in the same boat as someone who is a gunner. So the point here is don't stress out about looking good in class- don't worry about cold calls. Chances of them impacting your grade are quite low (unless you have a very unusualy prof).

Another thing you should keep in mind is that there are certain things that can be tested on the exam, and certain things that just won't be. This should influence your note taking and your home studying. For example, no one will care about the facts of Pennoyer or some other case. These things are too specific and too easy- all that you're required to do is memorize some facts. But most of the time LS tests your analytical abilities and not your memory per se. So at least when i was in class, i heard lots of questions like "What did Scalia say about this... why did he argue this... bla bla bla". These all sounded like fact questions, and so i blew them off as not very important.

Which leads me to anther point: most of what you do in class will not be very useful. Now, granted there are some great profs that lecture really well and so just by paying attention you'll get all you need. But most are lazy and stick to the Socratic method and talk alout of irrelevant nonesense that won't be tested.

I took notes in class, but to be honest, I have never ever re-read them or looked over them again. Even in good lecture classes. Still taking notes may help you memorize the important stuff so i wouldn't advise you to blow class off.


Re: My take on first year of law school
« Reply #1 on: June 19, 2008, 08:42:53 PM »
How to study out of class
I think the real work is performed out of class. Personally, I would spend maybe 10% of my time doing the assignments that our profs gave- like reading cases and etc. My casebooks were indeed the least useful materials for me. Instead, I relied heavily on outside material. I'm just going to list some good books that i liked.

Emanuel Outlines: I'm a big fan of Emanuel Outlines. I had one for Torts and Contracts. I'd get one for Civ Pro and Crim as well. I think it has a lot of black letter law and it's not as dense as your typical hornbook.
Examples and Explanations: This is a great series because of the examples it has. The best one is the famous Civ Pro one by Glennon. I'd definitely get it. I also had one for Torts and for Contracts. They were decent, but the Contracts one was a little worse. I’d still get both. The Crim one did not bide well with my class because I had a random prof that liked his own approach to Crim, so I didn’t find it useful. But maybe it’s good, I don’t know.
Sum & Substances Audio Lectures: as mentioned above, I found these to be an excellent supplement to my reading. Especially if you go on a long trip, you can just listen to these lectures and get a lot out of them. I think reading and listening to LS stuff helps you memorize the rules better and generally understand the subject matter. They are expensive- but I got the tape version off Amazon, and they were great for the price.
Later in the semester:
Siegel’s on Torts, Contracts, Civ Pro etc… This is an excellent test taking tool. This book has about 25 questions that resemble exam questions and answers to them. It also has multiple choice stuff, but since I never had a multiple choice test, I didn’t use that part. Although some of the questions cover materials you probably won’t study- so about 10 to 15 questions will be useful. Still if you get it used its worth the price.
Questions and Answers: I found this lexis serious very useful my second semester. I personally tought the Q&A on Constitutional Law was really great. Basically, this book has questions- fact patterns on different issues, and answers. Unfortunately the answers come in a multiple choice form, but this doesn’t mean that you should do the multiple choice part. What I did was read the question, write out a full answer, and then compare to the sample answer.
Note: I think I should mention that if you want to buy any of these books, I’d buy them used and get an older edition. For instance, things like Civ Pro or Torts don’t really change all that much. So if there is a version that’s only 2 years older than it’s not too bad to buy it. But check for yourself- I was actually surprised by how fast Con Law study aids would get outdated.
Things I didn’t like: Hornbooks- they are both too broad and too narrow. They are too broad in a sense that they cover too many cases- and too narrow in that they will dedicate like a paragraph or much less to a case, so I wouldn’t waste my time getting hornbooks (oh and by “hornbooks” I mean those thick books like ‘Dobbs on Torts’) ; Gilbert’s outlines (although some people swear by them).

Personally I would outline every week along with my classes. So I’d go through Emanuel Outlines and pretty much copy all the important stuff down- like stuff about the cases we have to read. I’d go through E&E and get some important things jotted down.
To be honest, this big outline was just a way to organize my thoughts and follow my day-to-day classes. I think the whole exercise is nothing more than a memorization technique because you force yourself to concentrate and understand the stuff you’re outlining. I never used these outlines on exams, or even for studying.
That’s because few weeks before the exams I’d create “short outlines”- essentially outlines with the most important stuff. In these outlines I would think about how I would answer certain issues. Think of this as your cheat sheet- or something that is useful on the exam. You don’t need case facts or any other nonsense- but straight to the point rules that you can apply to a fact pattern. To really write a good short outline you need to practice taking exam questions.
Also, get your hands on some other outlines. What I would do is read other people’s outlines and find things I felt seemed important (I think you start knowing what’s important after you’ve taken a lot of practice questions in E&Es and practice exams). Heck, on some of my exams I didn’t even use my outlines, but used other people’s outlines because they were so good. But, to me outlining was not something you use on exams- it’s just a memorization exercise that helps you organize all the material and understand it. But don’t shy away from using other people’s outlines.

*Practice, practice, practice *
Later in the semester: Probably the most important thing you can do in LS is to practice taking exams. Get your hands on all the old exams you can from your prof. For me, this was a problem because most profs didn’t have any old exams. But still, I would take other profs’ exams- I’d just go online and look for exam banks from other schools.
This is the most important thing to do. Take full timed exams, and see how well you can argue. Most issues are recycled anyway and so you’ll know how to answer them.
Also, do the Examples in E&E again and Siegal’s. Find your weaknesses and areas that you don’t know, and figure them out.
Personally, I think I took about 10 old Civ Pro exams before taking the actual exam. But guess what, a lot of the issues were very similar, and I knew exactly how to address them.

General Exam Taking Tips
One thing that seems important is to argue both sides. What I would do is this: I’d try to come up with the best argument there is for one side, and then turn around and try to completely destroy that argument. Then I’d go back and respond to the counterargument and show its flows. “X would argue this, but Y would argue that… to which X could respond this, but Y would then say that.” So do the whole “on the one hand, and on the other hand”. Just of course try to stay on topic and answer what is being asked. Some issues of course are more straightforward, and there is not much you can say in a counter-argument. But you should try and be creative.
Also, all of my answers were really long. I would completely outwrite all of my classmates. This is not always a good thing- if you talk about something that is not an issue then obviously your prof will get mad. I would never stray off point. What took up a lot of time is all this “x would say this, y would respond this”. Basically, I’d created lots of arguments for both sides and would try to bolster them as much as I could. You should also discuss big cases and analogize them to the fact pattern.
Another important thing is to break your thoughts into paragraphs and use headings. For example, in Civ Pro I divided everything into say: Personal Jurisdiction: blab la bla; Subject Matter Jurisdiction: …. This makes it easier for profs to read your answer and give you points. One student said that you should always start a new paragraph when you’re discussing a new issue. Basically ,these are tools for making it easy for your prof to give you points.

Policy Questions
Lots of profs ask some policy questions on exams now, and I think it’s probably the easiest one to prepare. What I would do is prepare a list of all big policy questions that were addressed in class, and would try to formulate my answers to them- mostly by reading in different books what they say about the issue. I actually managed to predict 2 questions on my Crim Law Exam, and 2 on my Con Law Exam.

Final Thoughts
Law school is not as bad as some say it is. I’d prefer studying anytime over working. I think that I would maybe study 20-30 hours a week, if that. Of course by the end of the semester you should study more and start taking lots of practice exams. But still, I just don’t see how you could spend more than say 40 hours a week. I personally studied on the weekends and this spread my load and it was not too bad. I think it’s just important to manage your time well- study for the exam, and not to look good in class. So don't stress out and try your best!

If you have any questions, feel free to ask and I will try to answer them to the best of my ability.

Re: My take on the first year of law school
« Reply #2 on: June 19, 2008, 11:16:10 PM »
Did you join a study group?

Re: My take on the first year of law school
« Reply #3 on: June 20, 2008, 12:47:43 AM »
I'm a tag hag

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Re: My take on the first year of law school
« Reply #4 on: June 20, 2008, 03:13:29 AM »
That was beautiful. Congrats on your success. I do have a few questions though.

1) Why the hate for Delaney? I agree that Learning Legal Reasoning emphasizes briefing too much, but I actually think his Crim Law book seems good since he phrases his discussions in the 'argue both sides' way you need on exams.

2) Did you use LEEWS or read Delaney's How to do well on Exams book?

Once again, congrats, and that's a really nice gesture that you wrote that nice long post  :)

Re: My take on the first year of law school
« Reply #5 on: June 20, 2008, 04:00:29 AM »
Very nice.  Obviously we were disappointed to have lost you to UVA, but I'm glad that decision worked out for you.  Any idea what market you're shooting for next summer?

Re: My take on the first year of law school
« Reply #6 on: June 20, 2008, 05:51:44 AM »

Re: My take on first year of law school
« Reply #7 on: June 20, 2008, 05:58:39 AM »
You. Are. A. Champ.

Congratulations.  This was awesome.  I can't thank you enough.

My only question is: how'd you manage to look at all of these materials?  It's a ton of stuff.  What was your weekly schedule like?  First casebook, then E&E, then practice exam, then drinking at the Ped Mall?  It would be nice to hear about how much time was left for looking up hornbooks and deciding that, hey, they aren't useful for you.
It does sound like a lot of material, but I don't think it took that much time. I didn't take any practice exams until a few weeks before my exams. So the first couple of month all I did was something like this: 1. prepare for class- first i'd read about the assigned cases in Emanuel's or somewhere else, then i'd actually read the case and it would make a lot more sense after I knew what it held; 2. I would usually write notes about the essential stuff  about the cases, but to be honest this was more to prepare for class and cold calling than anything else; 3. At the end of the week I'd try to keep up with my outlines and maybe do a few practice questions at the end of E&Es.

4 weeks or so before exams is when the "real" studying started. What i did was look at my exam schedule, and study for the last 2 exams the first 2 weeks and the last two exams the last two weeks. So for example, I'd spend two weeks on Contracts and Torts. At that time, i would take tons of practice exams, and would re-do the E&E examples (without reading the chapters). Work on my short outlines... stuff like that. I'm barely prepared for class at that time.

I guess as i said before, I studied 7 days a week, and so this made my schedule manageable. I didnt mind it so much, because sure it was a drag, but I figured the investment would be worth it later on.

Re: My take on the first year of law school
« Reply #8 on: June 20, 2008, 06:01:50 AM »
Did you join a study group?
No I am actually not sure if study groups are useful. The only time they may be useful is to discuss old exams- so that you can get a different perspective from your fellow students on different issues. Other than that, I found study groups to be somewhat wasteful- you end up chatting about random things most of the time. And sometimes i felt like i was actually lecturing people or correcting their misconceptions. But some say study groups work- especially if you join an "elite" study group. For me they didn't...

Re: My take on the first year of law school
« Reply #9 on: June 20, 2008, 06:07:23 AM »
And sometimes i felt like i was actually lecturing people or correcting their misconceptions.

Teaching can be a good way to learn.