Monday, August 18, 2008

Ten Tips for Incoming 1Ls on How to Succeed in Law School

In the "The Paper Chase", the TV series that ran from 1978 to 1986, the fictional curmudgeon and Contracts Professor Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr. famously said “You come in here with a skull full of mush and you leave thinking like a lawyer.” Law school does in fact change the way you read, the way you think, and the way you analyze; it's designed to remake you into something much different than you were before. Here are some things to do to ease the grueling journey:

1. Get advice from successful upper class members.

One key to success is to learn from students who are already successful in the areas where you want to excel. All law students want to make good grades, since they, more than anything else, are rewarded upon graduation. Seek out students who are at the top of their class and find what worked for them, how they managed their time, and how they prepared for their finals. Find students who’ve had professors you are taking to learn what to expect and what the professor expects of you. If you want to learn litigation skills, look for a mentor on the national mock trial or moot court team. If you want to become an editor of a law review or a law journal or want to improve your writing skills, find someone who’s already on a journal to learn about what it’s like and get tips on effective time management.

2. How you do on the final is more important than how you answer a question in class.

Most 1Ls are terrified of the Socratic Method and it’s easy to be caught up in reading for class to make sure you can answer the question when a professor calls on you. But knowing the details of every case won’t get you the best grades. Instead, step back and see the big picture. Don’t panic if you get an answer wrong in class. Make sure you understand why you missed it. Focus on preparing for the final exam because that’s what really counts.

3. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Every year, 1Ls start their outlines from scratch. Creating your own outlines is useful, especially when you first start studying the law. But the time you have is limited. Make the best use of your time by using existing outlines as a starting point, which you can then edit and make your own. Of course, don’t rely solely on someone else’s outline. Make sure you agree with their conclusions and summary of the law. When in doubt, ask a professor.

4. Get to know your professors.

Law schools pride themselves on low student to professor ratios so that professors have the opportunity to get to know their students. But, it’s up to you to take advantage of this opportunity. Take the time to meet with professors with questions during the semester, rather than waiting till the end of the semester. Some students never set foot in a professor’s office and do very well on their exams. Just because they haven’t been in the professor’s office doesn’t mean they haven’t spent the semester getting to know the professor. Seek out prior exams or model exams that the professor has made available, so you know what to expect on test day. The Registrar maintains Exams on File which you can access with your BLS username and password.

5. Get to know your law librarians.

Law librarians are a great resource. They know how to use online resources like Westlaw and Lexis, as well as print resources better than probably anyone else in the law school. They are also there to help you find what you are looking for. Law librarians are familiar with many databases and resources often overlooked by experienced researchers or lawyers. They can also help you form good searches, give you search tips and point to the best starting point for your topic.

6. Find time for yourself.

Law school will be the most challenging undertaking in your life. So maintain a healthy lifestyle with regular sleep patterns and exercise. It may be hard to fit these into your busy schedule but they're more crucial to a balanced life for 1Ls.

7. Use technology wisely.

The smaller the laptop, the better. You law school books too big and heavy to lug a 17 inch laptop around every day. Back up your work or email yourself documents that you are working on at the end of each day. On the weekends, back your laptop up to external drives or to a thumb drive.

8. Master the law school exam.

Your entire grade for a law school class is often based on a single final exam. Master the law school exam process: read the paperback Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams (Call No. KF283 .F47 1999)and see Law school exams consist of a long fact pattern followed by a series of questions. There are often no right or wrong answers. You're graded on spotting issues and analyzing potential outcomes. The prediction isn’t what you are graded on; it's the analysis of the facts and law that leads to your prediction that's graded. If you don’t correctly spot the issue, you lose the opportunity to get points for either the analysis. A very simple way to think of a law school answer is set forth by the IRAC Method: Issue, Rule of Law, Analysis, and Conclusion.

9. Join a study group.

Going over the material with another person or a small group of people will help you hash out concepts, and ensure a thorough overview of the subject. Study groups sessions should be secondary to extensive individual study, so as a group you can focus on practice questions, clarifying issues, and making sure you have hit all the main concepts.

10. Don’t underestimate the value of after-class review or overestimate the value of reading for class.

After-class review is as important, if not more important than reading for class. Reviewing after class ensures that you completely understand the material. It should be the third time you are covering the material, the first being when you read before class, and the second being when you went over it in class. After-class review also allows you the opportunity to take any questions you still have on a topic to your professor for clarification. After class review sessions are also the perfect time to review and make notes to your outline.

Good luck to all 1Ls as you start class here at BLS.

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