Law School Discussion

The whole "forest for the trees" thing...


  • ***
  • 74
  • Please. Just. Don't.
    • View Profile
    • Email
The whole "forest for the trees" thing...
« on: September 11, 2008, 06:31:40 PM »
This is mainly geared to upper-level peeps, but if you are a "super 1L" who can already confidently (and of course ACCURATELY) answer, then please do....

I am understanding most things in most classes thus far (said with the caveat that I haven't gotten any assessment and won't until I either make or break it on exams).  What I worry about is putting the small pieces into the bigger picture.  Are there any suggestions.  Of course any blatant statements about what the larger picture is for each subject would be nice, too, if that is even possible to do.  ;)

Here are some ideas I have had to bring it together-
1) Of course outlining each course
2) Reading commercial outlines against my own to compare
3) Reading the professors' recommended supplements

Anything else?  Oh, and to be clear- is the "forest" just understanding the framework/outline of each subject, or are we talking more policy oriented ideas?

Thanks for the help.

Re: The whole "forest for the trees" thing...
« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2008, 09:06:14 PM »
There are two issues here:

1.  If the material is easy and lucid to you, it's probably easy and lucid to everyone else, raising the curve for everyone.  People are often shocked when they don't do as well on "easy" tests because they forget that the test was as easy for everyone else.

2.  Policy is important, but most important when dealing with SCOTUS and issues that could go for either party.  That's when policy arguments are most relevant.  Your goal is to be able to take general concepts and understand them in an exam sense.  I would start taking exams now.

Re: The whole "forest for the trees" thing...
« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2008, 09:33:33 PM »
The above poster is technically correct, but I will explain this in a much easier way that doesn't seem like magic:

1) Do all your own outlines from book/class examples
2) Memorize everything (skeletal outline)
3) memorize everything   (flash cards)
4) memorize everything   (more flash cards)
5) take practice exams using IRAC (this is where you hone your own creative/unique ideas that will differentiate your exam from everyone elses)
6) On test day, drop a well-written treatise on the professor
7) A in class

The whole "forest for the trees" metaphor, which i assume you mention to illustrate your need to see how "everything fits together" will come through the memorizing/practice test process - if you do it right, you'll know the information so well come test day that the sight of your study materials will make you want to throw up - and you will throw up, on your keyboard, and you will get an "A" for it.

Re: The whole "forest for the trees" thing...
« Reply #3 on: September 12, 2008, 04:03:21 AM »
The whole forest for the trees thing is simpler than some people make it out to be.  Remember, the general rule is the general rule.  Too many law students focus on the exceptions and forget they are just that, exceptions.  For instance, a search of something by police without a warrant.  People in my class immediately would think of all the exceptions to warrant requirements.  The first thing they should have done was run it through a Katz analysis to see if it was even a "search" under the 4th amendment.  Did they have a reasonable expectation of privacy?  The example is rudimentary and simple, but it shows there are steps to take.  This is what I mean by seeing the forest.  The law can be complicated, but most things can be broken down into a step-by-step analysis.  Remember the general rules, and know the exceptions.  But, remember to apply the general rule first then discuss the exceptions.   

But as the immediate poster above me said, you will see the forest once you start putting things together.  It will take a while.  You are just a 1L.


  • *****
  • 6642
    • View Profile
Re: The whole "forest for the trees" thing...
« Reply #4 on: September 12, 2008, 05:45:43 AM »
kilroy is closest to the mark I think here.

I'll give another example, since it's possible/likely you haven't done any crim procedure yet.  Let's take contracts.  Some people might dive right in to a contracts question rambling on about consideration, and then jump to breach, etc.  Just applying the random rules they know and spot as they spot them.

But as kilroy said, there are steps that you have to go through before you should even address consideration.  Was there an offer?  Was there acceptance?  THEN was there consideration?  Only after you've addressed whether there's a K should you address breach, remedy, etc.  Another important point, as kilroy said, is to make sure you give the general rule FIRST, say whether or not it works here, and if not, then go to exceptions.  Showing you know the general rule is important.

How do you make sure to do this?  In addition to outlining, I'd make checklists for each class. You could also call them plans of attack.  For example, my civil procedure outline started with personal jurisdiction, and had a short list of steps/rules for statutory and constitutional personal jurisdiction.  It's ultimately a mini outline.

The second is to start doing practice exams.  I'm not in the camp that suggests you do them now.  I usually used all of October to get up to date on all of my outlines, and then started doing practice exams sometime in November.  I was able to do more than enough.

Finally, one thing to think about when you start writing practice exams.  Remember to address both sides of an argument. Don't just say there was a valid offer.  Say "Party A will argue there is no valid offer because... and Party B will assert there is an offer because...."  And then conclude when you/the court/whatever the question asks thinks would win. ("Party A will likely prevail because...").  In the real world, that's the end.  If there's no offer, there's no K, right?  If you did that in an exam, you're going to lose 75894759843 points.  So cover your bases.  "However, if the court finds there was a valid offer, the court will next consider whether there was a valid acceptance. Party A will argue..."

Get in the habit of doing this, and you'll be less likely to accidentally skip part of the analysis, AND you're more likely to clean up more points as you go.  And definitely practice this, so you know how to go about it, and you get sense of your pacing.  You don't want to do this on the real exam, and find you've spent too much time on one question.

Re: The whole "forest for the trees" thing...
« Reply #5 on: September 12, 2008, 05:57:56 AM »
I couldn't agree with Jacy more.  The key to every exam I've taken (with the exception of a multiple choice  ::) exam in one class) is to fork your answers.  Pretty much every issue will have two possibilities.  One will be a dead end and one will allow you to continue writing.  You address both possibilities.  While you should NEVER make assumpitions on an exam, you do want to say if X you do not have an offer (the dead end) but if Y you do.  Then you move on to the next step in your checklist and do the same thing.

For me outlining and writing practice exams was where I saw the forest.  I do this pretty late in the semester, but it seemed to work for me.  The problem with doing practice exams early (I think) is twofold:  First, you might get trapped into a certain way of thinking before you really see the forest.  Second, you burn though the professor's exam archive early on, when they are most useful in the time leading up to the actual exam.  If you have a commercial book with exam questions that's probably a better source for early practice exams.

Just my two cents...


  • ****
  • 3677
    • View Profile
Re: The whole "forest for the trees" thing...
« Reply #6 on: September 12, 2008, 08:37:04 AM »
OldCraig would fail out of my T14.  I have never needed to memorize a damn thing.  And flash cards???  This isn't the first grade spelling bee.

One of my good friends in a flash card fiend. He makes flash cards for everything and memorizes everything, he does not do outlines at all. I canít study with him because he knows every rule word for word. Me, Iím a big picture guy, I make huge outlines and never memorize anything, put all the rules in my own words and think of things as checklists. He writes every word the prof says down in his notes, I don't pay attention in class at all. We have roughly the same ranking. Moral of the story, do whatever works best for you. If in UG flashcards were your thing and they help you do well on law schools exams, then go to it. If you have never made a flash card in your life, then I say donít start now. Whatever works for you is all that matters, figuring out what that is, is part of the law school game.

As to failing out of your T14, with you guys curve you get a B+ if you just spell your name right in exam4. :P

Re: The whole "forest for the trees" thing...
« Reply #7 on: September 12, 2008, 10:40:31 AM »
As to failing out of your T14, with you guys curve you get a B+ if you just spell your name right in exam4. :P

It's true.

On topic:  My method is to simply ignore the trees (that is, the day to day stuff).  Sure, I read.  I don't brief.  I take some notes in class just to stay awake.  Then I try to condense everything I should have gotten out of that class into a few short sentences.  I type those sentences into a thing.  Then I take that thing to the final at the end of the semester.


  • ****
  • 1310
    • View Profile
Re: The whole "forest for the trees" thing...
« Reply #8 on: September 12, 2008, 12:51:15 PM »
I'll tag for the hell of it.


  • ****
  • 1041
    • View Profile
Re: The whole "forest for the trees" thing...
« Reply #9 on: September 12, 2008, 01:10:26 PM »
I'm a 1L
I know that grades are pretty personal, but can you 2Ls and 3Ls give us an idea of how well you did?  A little credibility would be nice.

Also, I've heard a students who did well say that the commercial flash cards are great for torts, but they are useless for the other traditional 1L classes.
I've been in law school for a whopping 3 weeks, but that kind of makes sense to me.

I imagine it is important to remember that each course is different, each teacher is different, and each student is certainly different.