There are days in law practice where you may feel as though the circus has come to town and you're told to follow the elephant with a shovel. Despite your advice and everyone's best intentions, messes happen. And when they do, people turn to lawyers to help clean them up.
Television shows and movies have stereotyped the practice of law as drama. At the last minute in a courtroom scene, the defense attorney asks the witness a question, causing the witness to confess to the crime. The zealous public defender rescues her client from execution at the last possible minute. Lawyers fight for truth, justice and the American way.
The truth is that much of what you will do as a lawyer is not glamorous. Poring through a fifty-page contract to figure out exactly what the parties intended (or at least memorialized), can be tedious. Reviewing box after box of documents can become mind-numbing. Cleaning up a mess that could have been avoided to begin with can be frustrating. But here's the point.
A wise lawyer I worked with once said: "We worry, so that our clients don't have to." And that statement sums up the essence of a large part of your professional responsibilities. Lawyers focus on the details to make sure that their clients don't inadvertently get into trouble. But you don't get any awards for minding the details. And preventative advice, even if followed, can be forgotten unless a problem arises. So, much of what you will be doing as a lawyer, is at its core about helping people.
And that is what lawyers really do. They help people. It is often not glamorous and may even not be appreciated, but the object of the profession is to help people. And so, my message is this. As you contemplate law school in these turbulent economic times, check your motives for going to law school. If they involve riches, success and fame, you might want to consider another career. IAlthough many lawyers achieve these, I doubt that any of them were the original motive. Instead, they were a by-product. But there are also many fulfilled lawyers who never achieve the trappings of success. And students who enter law school dreaming of this kind of success and incur huge debt can find themselves bitter and disaffected five years later.
On the other hand, I see lawyers every day who find themselves behind the elephant, smiling and just glad to be there. They know that what they are doing, although perhaps unappreciated and definitely not glamorous, is worthwhile and meaningful. These folks don't do it for the glory or money. They do it because they are committed to the practice of law and to their fellow citizens. And if you are fortunate enough to be able to practice law, never forget that it is a privilege. And serving others is the primary objective.
As you consider your future as a lawyer, be sure and read my book, Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education. (Kaplan Publishing, March 31, 2009)
Best wishes in your legal career.
A cynic would argue that the personal statement is a waste of time and that only your LSAT and undergraduate GPA matter in your law school application. However, many of the top law schools use the personal statement as the tiebreaker between applicants with similar academic and LSAT credentials. In addition, your personal statement should not be that difficult to write. Further, a well-written essay is insurance at a very low cost, in the event that your school of choice’s admission officer or committee does actually look at it.
I would suggest that you avoid writing a lofty, esoteric personal statement. Instead focus on who you are. The purpose of the personal statement is to give the law school insight into you as a person, in a way that your numbers alone cannot reveal. Schools frequently impose word limits on the personal statement. Even if the school does not have a limit on length, you should limit your personal statement to two pages.
Using anecdotes and even allegory can be useful literary devices. You should write a personal statement that you would want to read, and stories are often the most interesting reading. Humor can also be appropriate, however, be careful not to sound silly or immature. Tell the admissions decision makers about you. Everyone has an interesting anecdote about himself or herself. However, it is difficult for many of us to see the interest value in our own stories. It might be of benefit to consult with your friends and family, who may be an objective source of anecdotal ideas. Now is not the time to be shy and self-effacing. However, it is equally not the time to boast indiscriminately.
Stories about overcoming hardship and adversity are interesting because they give admissions committees insight into your character. Stories which describe lessons learned are equally interesting because they provide a glimpse into how you think and grow. By the same token, a snapshot into your personality may also stand out and be an effective antidote to thousands of personal statements, written by students who take themselves too seriously. Be creative, be different, and be interesting.
Review and revise your personal statement until it is an interesting, tight read. Open with an attention-grabbing premise and keep the reader interested with insight into your personality. As you draft and redraft the statement, eliminate redundancy and excess verbiage. Use short sentences to add “punch” to your prose.
Remember that although a good personal statement may not get you into law school, a bad one will certainly keep you out. Simply write something interesting and informative, in a respectful and appropriate tone.
Finally, your personal statement should be perfect. There should be no grammatical errors, punctuation errors or typographical errors. And if you're thinking about law school, you need to pick up a copy of my book, Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education (Kaplan Publishing, March 31, 2009).
You have prepared extensively. You have worked numerous practice problems. Your test scores have improved substantially since you took your first diagnostic test. There are also some things you can do to optimize your performance on test day. The following are tips which may be helpful:
Be Physically Ready on Test Day.
Assuming that you have worked diligently and are as prepared as you can be, I would suggest that beginning the afternoon before the test, you try to relax. Do something fun, see a movie, have a nice dinner and get some rest.
On test day, wake up with plenty of time to spare. Eat a decent breakfast. Avoid caffeine. Get in a brief workout, especially something aerobic. Go for a run or get on the treadmill. Getting your blood circulating and oxygen to the brain will have a very positive effect on your exam performance.
Allow yourself plenty of time to get to the test center.
If you are not sure where the test center is, I suggest you drive there a day or two before the exam. This will allow you to avoid any potential stress of finding the location, parking and other unnecessary hassles on test day.
Enjoy the experience. This is your first step toward your goal. You have prepared and your efforts will be rewarded.
Work at a Measured Pace.
With approximately 25-28 questions and 35 minutes per section, you have approximately 1 minutes and 20 seconds to read the question , answer each question, and” bubbling” your answer sheet. There is no penalty for guessing on the LSAT. Approximately five minutes prior to time is called for each section, you should begin to bubble in any blanks left on your answer sheet.
Some people think that “C” is the favored answer choice among the test writers; others have their own personal favorite. It doesn’t matter which letter you choose. Just don’t leave any blanks on your answer sheet.
Use Process of Elimination.
This is one of the biggest payoff techniques you can use. After you read the string of answer choices, there will likely be one or two obviously incorrect answers. Get these out of your way—eliminate them by drawing a line through them or crossing them out. However, make sure you have read the passage carefully before you eliminate any possible answers.
Occasionally, the test writers are clever enough to come up with an answer choice that looks obviously incorrect at first glance, but upon deeper investigation turns out to be the correct answer. This is a rare event, however, most of the time obviously incorrect answers are just that.
After you are comfortable with the question, try and to eliminate the obviously incorrect answers and get them out of your way. Sometimes this simple process will cause the correct answer to immediately stand out.
The random probability of getting any answer correct is one in five, or 20%. If you can eliminate incorrect answers, your probability of guessing the correct answer increases exponentially. For example, if you can eliminate two incorrect answers, your probability increases to one in three. If you eliminate three incorrect answers, your probability of guessing the correct answer is one in two, or 50%.
Budget Your Time and Stick to Your Budget.
All questions, no matter how difficult, are valued equally. The temptation for most students when faced with a difficult question is to struggle with it. Resist the temptation. Remind yourself that the question is only worth one point. Move on to questions you can answer.
Similarly, allocate equal time to each question. Allow yourself sufficient time to bubble in the answer sheet. Work smoothly and steadily.
Remember that you can miss 20 questions and still score approximately a 165, which is above the 90th percentile. If you are faced with a difficult question, either bubble in a guess or move on and come back to it. My advice is to go ahead and bubble in an answer, in order to avoid incorrect bubbling on other questions.
Answer Every Question.
There is absolutely no penalty for guessing on the LSAT. Each question has five answer choices. Thus, a complete guess has a 20% chance of being correct. An educated guess improves your odds exponentially.
Answer every question, and you will improve your chances of a good score.
Bubble Your Answer Sheet Periodically.
One of the quickest ways to create problems for yourself is to forget to bubble in your answer sheet. I would advise bubbling every five or ten questions. This will reduce the risk that you will lose your place or incorrectly bubble. The actual increment is unimportant. What is important is that you bubble regularly and that your bubbling correctly aligns your intended answers with those on your answer sheet.
Don’t Be Afraid to Cancel Your Test Score.
If something happens to you on test day—you are ill or some other catastrophic event and you do not want your test score reported, you can cancel the score. The LSAC advises that you must send them a signed fax or overnight letter with your request within nine calendar days of the test. You can also cancel your score at the test center. However, you should be absolutely certain you want to cancel your score.
You should be aware, however, that ordinarily you may not take the LSAT more than three times in any two-year period.
If You Perform Poorly, Take the LSAT Again.
If you perform substantially worse than you have done on practice tests, consider taking the test again. Be aware that the LSAC will report all test scores to schools that you apply to. LSAC will automatically report the results of all LSATs you have taken, including cancellations, since June 1, 2000. The LSAC averages the scores and also reports each separately. Most schools will average your scores for use with their admissions criteria.
And if you're thinking about law school, be sure and pick up a copy of my book, Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education
There are over 200 law schools presently operating in the United States. Most of those are accredited by the American Bar Association. Some law schools are approved only by the state bar examining authorities, which means that graduates from those schools can practice only in that state.
There are a variety of criteria that can affect your choice of schools. School reputation, curriculum, location, tuition rates and faculty-student ratios all can play a part in your decision. Probably the biggest is the simple fact of whether you have the requisite grades and LSAT score to get admitted to a particular school.
Law School Reputation
The popular weekly magazine, U.S. News and World Report publishes annually a ranking of every accredited law school in the country. The rankings are based on a variety of objective criteria such as class size, library size and other variables. The so-called “Top Twenty Schools” in this ranking are the most sought-after law schools by students and law firm recruiters.
Naturally, many law schools disdain these rankings. The deans of a number of law schools got together a few years back and published an open letter regarding therankings. The letter essentially said that the student’s choice of law school should be about much more than rankings. I certainly agree with the premise.
However, generally speaking, students from the highest-ranked schools will have an easier time finding employment following graduation. That said, there are numerous jobs out there, which can be found in a variety of ways. Many of these employers are happy to employ lawyers from mid or even lower-ranked law schools.
Students who either do not have the requisite LSAT/GPA numbers, or who do not want to incur substantial debt may choose a lesser-ranked school and have extremely rewarding careers. In addition, as discussed below, these students frequently are able to commence their careers free of burdensome student debt and are therefore relieved of the pressure of having to take a job they won’t really enjoy.
You Don’t Necessarily Get What You Pay For
There are many good regional schools in the United States. Most of these are state schools, with reasonably tuition for in-state residents. Other schools are nationally recognized. These are the so-called “prestige” schools.
You can get a good idea of which law schools are viewed as the most desirable schools from these rankings. Many law school representatives disdain these rankings on the basis that they are not comprehensive and do not consider all of the factors that make a law school. Regardless, these rankings are generally accepted in the legal community and law firms. Most prospective law students consider these rankings as gospel.
The statement I am about to make will be considered by many to be heresy. Having known and worked with numerous lawyers who have graduated from a variety of law schools, I have become convinced that the quality of legal education among schools is actually pretty similar, regardless of which law school you choose.
Let’s face it. There are only so many variations program. Even Socrates himself could only vary the Socratic teaching method in just a few ways. Class outlines and subject matter are so universal that a veritable cottage industry has emerged selling commercial outlines. Your legal education is less about the school itself and more about what you make of it. Some of the most successful lawyers come from the worst schools, and vice-versa.
And as far as bottom lines go, the bottom line to your legal education is your bar card. Without it, you cannot practice law. So, the ultimate goal of law school is to pass the bar. This is so, despite the conventional wisdom that the purpose of law school is to teach you how to “think like a lawyer”.
I overheard my first year Contracts professor talking to a group of students after class one day. He frequently held court after class and students ostensibly to would ask questions about a finer point of law. In reality, they were hoping to earn a few brownie points with the professor.
One student asked the professor whether a particular area of law would be tested on the bar exam. The professor responded, “We don’t worry about your passing the bar. You take BARBRI for that. We teach you to think.” As an aside, BARBRI is the commercial bar exam preparation course that the majority of bar examinees take, in order to prepare for the exam.
With all respect due that professor, my response to that comment is that law professors don’t worry about the bar exam, because they don’t have to take the test. By the time students are faced with the bar exam, they are but a distant memory to the law school professor. In other words, there is no real accountability to help law students pass their bar exams.
This attitude is prevalent among the top law schools: “we teach you to think.” In my opinion, this is an overstatement. I would argue that law schools, especially the top schools, are overplaying their role in the development of students. Instead, the typical “Type A,” overachieving, 165-170 LSAT, 4.10 GPA entering law student has already demonstrated the ability to “think” long before they entered law school.
I would further argue that law schools are taking credit for the intelligence of a group of incredibly bright people, who were that way long before they ever thought about law school.
Certainly, while in law school, you will hone your deductive and analytical reasoning skills. You will learn how to sift through facts, apply those facts to legal principles and develop analyses to predict how a rationally thinking judge will rule on an issue. But your law school will not teach you this process. You must understand it, both from a macro and micro perspective, and master it. And by the way, you still have to pass the bar exam.
The lower-ranked schools, on the other hand, focus substantial energy on equipping their students to pass the bar exam. Bar passage rates are a source of huge pride for these schools. Many of these schools have much higher passage rates than the nationally ranked prestige schools. They provide strict curricula, with bar exam subjects being the primary focus. These schools offer few esoteric legal subjects, but instead require students to take the tough courses, such as secured transactions, commercial paper and the like. And their students pass the bar.
Finally, the declaration that BARBRI alone will enable you to pass the bar exam is a reckless assertion. To rely solely on BARBRI as your bar preparation guarantees that you will have ten of the most stressful weeks of your life following law school graduation. As is discussed throughout this book, regardless of where you are in your legal studies, you need to know the law. This is true for bar exam purposes and it is true for law school exam purposes.
Learning legal reasoning is important. However, as is discussed in my book, "Law School Labyrinth", knowing the law is critical to your developing legal reasoning skills.
A “name” law school may be a great career ticket; however, if the school is unwilling to teach you the law, perhaps your tuition dollars are better served at a lower-ranked school with a rigorous curriculum. And if you're thinking about law school, you need to pick up a copy of my book: Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education (Kaplan Publishing, March 31, 2009.
As purely an investment decision, picking the right law school is one of the most important investment decisions you will make. Certainly, buying a home is a big investment. However, if dissatisfied, you can always sell your home. Law school tuition, on the other hand, is non-refundable. And once you have graduated from law school, to a certain extent, your future career path is predetermined.
Despite everything you may hear from your school, the rankings are important. A law degree from a so-called “name” school is a virtual guarantee of a good job following graduation. However, the rankings are also a good predictor of law school tuition. Therefore, it is important that you select a school that meets your career needs, but no more so than necessary.
For example, many good law firms recruit primarily local candidates. If you grew up in a city, have lived there all of your life, and plan to stay there forever, it maymake good sense to graduate from your local law school. Even if the school does not make the top 100 by any list’s standards, it may be a wise economic choice nonetheless.
Tuition for in-state residents at their local law school is often substantially less than private schools. If you do well, graduate near the top of your class, or are on Law Review, you will be able to land a good job with a good firm.
In addition, you should spend some time in introspection regarding your career plans. For example, if you are absolutely certain that you will spend your entire career in public interest work, it may make sense to attend a lower-ranked (and less expensive) law school. You should also be aware that some law schools will forgive a portion or all of your debt if you choose to practice in an area of public interest. Further, if your long-term plans contemplate a non-legal career, you may not need the credential of so-called “name” school. A mere J.D. will more than suffice for your needs.
On the other hand, if you are bound for the large, prestigious law firm life, you may need a “name” school degree. Many of the large, behemoth “national” firms recruit exclusively from the select pool of the top candidates from only the top schools. Further, a “B” student from Duke Law School will generally be more sought after than a “B” student from Local Law School. However, with tuition of private schools typically three or four times that of state schools, most students graduating from private schools will be forced to work for a large law firm, which pays a large salary.
The point of the foregoing discussion is to encourage you to carefully think through this important expenditure. As with any major purchase decision, you should carefully decide how much law school tuition you can afford and are willing to spend, in light of your career interests. You should assess the value you will receive for those tuition dollars.
For example, in Nashville, Tennessee, which is a mid-sized legal market, there are certainly a large number of Vanderbilt graduates practicing law. However, there are also a large number of graduates from the Nashville School of Law, which is approved by the Tennessee Board of Board of Law Examiners, but not accredited by the American Bar Association. This means that graduates may only practice law in Tennessee. However, the tuition at Nashville School of Law is approximately $4500 per semester, while tuition at Vanderbilt is approximately $16,000 per semester.
If your career plans don’t require a degree from a top-tier school, it may not make sense to spend top dollar for a law degree. As an investment, you may be better served with a lower-cost mid-ranged school. And while you're at it, to get the most out of law school, be sure and pick up a copy of my book, Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education (Kaplan Publishing, March 31, 2009).
As an intitial caveat, what I am about to tell you runs counter to pretty much all conventional wisdom about law schools. It is almost axiomatic that "you go to the best law school you can get into." The primary reason for the axiom is that historically, it has always been easier for students from higher-ranked schools to find jobs upon graduation.
However, in my opinion and especially given today's legal employment economy, this axiom may not always hold true. And when you factor in the continuing escalation of law school costs, especially at the so-called "Ivy League" schools, it is definitely "caveat emptor" (buyer beware) for prospective law students.
A good way to think about it is this. There are arguably two basic types of law students. First, there are students who go to law school because they really want to become lawyers. They love reading, debate, analysis supported with facts (as opposed to opinion), they may want to "change the world" or at least, to help people. In short, they are pretty much wired to practice law. Money is secondary to these people; their first priority is the work itself. Most of these people end up practicing law for their entire careers; in some cases well past conventional retirement age.
The other basic type of law student (and please understand, I am in no way passing judgment on these folks) seeks to go to law school for more complicated reasons. They may not be exactly sure of what they want to do for the rest of their lives. The idea of business school doesn't appeal to them. Maybe their undergraduate degree didn't exactly pan out as they had planned. Or, perhaps they simply are intrigued by the power, money and prestige that can come with a legal education. Some of these people see a law degree as a means to an end- perhaps as a business person, Wall Streeter, or academic. Many of these people practice law for a short period before moving on to their real career interests.
Which brings me to law school choice. "Local U" may be the most economically efficient choice, depending upon your career plans. Further, it may make sense if you are either of the above-mentioned two "types." For example, if you are the first type, love the law and plan to practice in your hometown, "Local U" may serve you perfectly. It will cost less and thus result in less pressure to seek a high-paying big firm job when you graduate (unfortunately, law student debt often is the primary factor in students' post-graduation employment decisions). Further, "Local U" graduates are just as qualified to sit for the bar exam as are Ivy Leaguers
As far as the quality of legal education goes, that's a pretty subjective area. One way of looking at it is to look at a school's bar exam pass rates. Arguably, there should be a correlation between pass rates and the competency of that school's graduates. Interestingly, top schools do not always have the highest pass rates (in fact, I knew of a grad from a top, top law school who worked at my first firm, who failed the Texas bar exam twice). On the other hand, top schools generally have professors with the highest academic credentials, namely that they graduated from top schools. However, the cynic in me notes that in law school, we call this a "circular proposition"- top schools are "top" because they have professors who went to the "top" schools. It kind of makes you dizzy,doesn't it?
Certainly, with a highly-ranked law school on your resume, you will likely have a broader range of career options. However, depending upon your career plans, you may not need a broad range of options (big caveat here: many twenty-somethings simply don't have career plans; I know I certainly did not.). It's sort of like using a bazooka when a .22 caliber will do.
Regardless, the point is this. Do not go into gigantic debt without at least thinking about it. Instead, give your career and future plans deep thought. Talk with a lot of people about your plans. Seek advice from a broad cross section of knowledgeable folks- your parents (stop groaning) and other relatives (even if they haven't been to law school, they are likely a bit wiser than you and their opinion is valuable), lawyers, law students, law professors and others. Most people would be more than willing to help you as you make this huge financial decision.
By the way, this analysis is the first, and arguably the most important of many analyses that you will do throughout your legal career. Good lawyers pay attention to the details. Good lawyers analyze with facts. Good lawyers seek advice when they are outside their expertise. Good lawyers prepare and prepare, in order to avoid unpleasant surprises. Your law school decision is your first opportunity to begin to "think like a lawyer."
I know it all seems pretty intimidating right now. But you can do this. It won't necessarily be easy. But then again, much of life isn't easy. That's what makes the end game worthwhile. You will become a lawyer, if you want it bad enough. I just know it.
Best wishes in your law school decision and your legal career. And while you're at it, to maximize your law school experience, pick up a copy of my book, Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education (March 31, 2009).
In previous blog posts and my book, Law School Labyrinth
, I advise caution with regard to participation in study groups. This is because (1) some students blindly join study groups because everyone else is doing it; and (2) in many cases, the investment of time does not yield a payback. As with the rest of your study methods in law school, you should endeavor to understand the "whys" behind the activity, in order to optimize it. For example, the purpose of outlining is to help you to digest and memorize a broad range of disparate information. Instead, some students waste a lot of time searching for the "holy grail" commercial outline. Commercial outlines have their function, but there is no substitute for engaging in the digestion and memorization that your own constructed outline provides.
Similarly, my advice to participate in study groups carefully is due to the frequent disfunction that can occur in them. Some students dominate the discussion; others are not prepared and instead hope to "free ride". So spending a lot of time in a study group that does not have a plan and ground rules can be a waste of time.
However, there is huge benefit to be gained from cosulting your colleagues in law school. This is because there is no substitute for the synergy of creative thinking that goes on among law students. Simply, two (or three or four) heads are better than one. And in law practice, I have found that while treatises have their place, there is no substitue with kicking legal doctrine around with your colleagues. The practice of law is a craft, perfected by craftsmen (or women). And the art of the craft is the winnowing and distilling of ideas and doctrine through consultation with one's peers.
And in law school, smart and creative people are all around you. Seek them out. Bounce ideas off of them. Check your thinking. And the advantage of doing it ad hoc and on your on is that you can control the schedule and timing of this consultation. In a study group, you are often constrained by the activities of the group itself.
So, when I caution against engagement in study groups, please do not consider this as a prohibition. Instead, think of it like you would in the same way that you would all of your study activities- an investment of time. Engage in that free-form creative analysis unique to law school on your terms, with people who are willing to work with you in a collegial way. Don't simply succumb to a study group because everyone else is.
Most writers tackling this subject write about specific offerings, such as the "Nutshell" series (Thomson-West) or the "Examples and Explanations" series (Aspen). Some, like fine wine connoisuers even make subtle distinctions among the various materials, claiming that one publisher is has a better offering for Contracts, while another product is optimal for your Securities Law course. Worse, some even appear to suggest that commercial outlines are a substitute for self-created outlines.
I am going to tackle the subject from a slightly different angle. As I explain repeatedly in my book, "Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education" (Kaplan Publishing, 2009
), in law school the process is infinitely more important than the output, at least as far as outlining is concerned. This means that outlining is nothing more than a means to an end- the end being comprehensive memorization of the "black letter" law. The term "black letter" refers to the actual law of a subject, especially the common law; something law professors will generally not declare. As with most things law school, you figure it out for yourself.
Certainly, outlining serves other purposes, such as helping students begin to organize their thinking about a particular subject in a lawyerly manner. However, I would like to limit this blog post to the memorization aspect because it is simply so important when things really count in law school- at exam time.
So, which commercial outlines are best suited to help law students memorize the law? The answer is (again, as with most things law school) "it depends." It depends on where you are in terms of the breadth of your knowledge on a particular subject. If you have been following the Socratic dialogue, keeping up with the reading (and following the casebook's table of contents carefully- another suggestion from my book), regularly digesting the material and recording your digestion in the form of an outline, you may not need much, if anything, in the way of a commercial outline.
On the other hand, if you simply aren't following, a good commercial outline may be exactly the roadmap you need, in order to begin to own the material. A commercial outline can also fill in the gaps that the casebook or the professor inadvertently (or intentionally) create. Finally, a commercial outline can serve the useful purpose of helping you to check your thinking and progress. So, in some cases, a very simply and high-level outline may do the trick. In other cases, a detailed outline, complete with annotations may be in order. Or, a series that is a bit more "interactive" that includes questions and practice exams may be that extra edge that enables you to "own" the material.
In any event, despite law school lore, there are no "holy grail" commercial outlines. More importantly, in law school no amount of money invested in outlines can replace the basic grinding required, in order for the student to learn and be able to work with the material in such an effective way that they write those critical "A" exams. And by the way, that's often what we lawyers do- we conduct research, we read and reread, we grind until we have sufficiently mastered a subject in order to render effective legal advice.
In "Law School Labyrinth" I describe the Pyramid Outline Method, which is a study method for law students that enables them to work effectively throughout the semester, avoid classic law student time-wasting dead ends and increase their chances of success. I truly began to understand this method only after I had successfully completed two bar exams.
So, a simple answer to a complicated question. The use and choice of commercial outlines is a very personal decision to law students, that depends upon a variety of factors. But again, a commercial outline alone will not earn you an "A". You are going to have to work extremely hard and smart, in order to master the material. A commercial outline can help. But a commercial outline can never replace good, old-fashion hard work.
A lot of students spend a great deal of time practicing and stressing about Analytical Reasoning quesions, also called "logic games". Human nature is such that we tend to focus on our weaknesses, rather than our strengths. As a result, when students take that first diagnostic exam and miss, say, half of the Logic Games questions they freak out and are determined to master these question types. This is exacerbated by the typcial Type "A" law student personality, that has succeeded in their undergraduate studies and has pretty much never failed at anything.
Prep courses often unknowingly add to the problem, because in their zeal to add value, they also focus on logic games, sometimes to the exclusion of the other question types- Reading Comprehension and Logical Reasoning. Once you have figured out a particular logic game, as with any puzzle, it seems easy and more significantly, can be apparently easily explained to others. The problem with this is that there really is no "pattern" to logic games (however, there is a pattern to the other question types- Reading Comprehension ("RC") and Logical Reasoning ("LR"), which I will discuss below), other than the basic question setup, which lends itself to some sort of diagram. As a result, logic games preparation generally has a lower return on study investment than the other question types.
On the other hand, RC and LR questions are almost pattern-like in their consistency. With RC questions, anyone who has taken the LSAT can recognize the pattern- a dense reading passage, followed by questions about the passage. LR questions are almost always syllogistic (meaning, "if this, then that", requiring the test-taker to logically solve the problem. As a result, both of these question types can be "drilled" through intensive preparation, and the skills required to solve these questions can be increased over time with that practice.
This is not to say that you cannot increase your skill in solving logic games problems. I'm simply saying that you can more easily get better at RC and LR questions, and more quickly, than you can with logic games. And because all LSAT questions count easily, depending upon how much prep time you have before the test, you may experience a greater "bang for the buck" with RC and LR question practice than with logic games practice.
The other thing you should keep in mind is that the LSAT is a "head game" of sorts. If you freak out during the test, for any reason, it is likely that you will not do as well as you could have. Logic games tend to freak people out, especially people who have spend a great deal of time in LSAT logic games preparation, who suddenly encounter a logic games problem that seems unsolveable. If you encounter one of those problems early in the LSAT on test day, it could potentially unnerve you to the point of affecting your overall performance.
So, logic games preparation to the exclusion of practicing the other question types is a bad strategy. A better strategy is to prepare equally for all question types, carefully monitor your progress early in your preparation, then adjust the ratio of prep time, depending upon your level of improvement. If you experience good improvement on RC, but still aren't where you need to be, for example, it may make sense to invest more time in RC prep than logic games prep.
Finally, and arguably most importantly, remember that there is no penalty for guessing on the LSAT. So, narrowing down the probable answers and then guessing between a couple of equally probable answers may statistically increase your chances of a correct guess. And a guess counts the same as if you spend ten minutes sweating through an intense logic games question.
Everyone is different. Different strategies work better for different people. But don't fall for the "logic games trap" in your LSAT preparation- spending most of your time trying to master this question type, to the exclusion of the other question types. And if you are planning on going to law school, you need to pick up a copy of my book: Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education (Kaplan Publishing, March 31, 2009
Political Science. Philosphy. Any liberal arts undergraduate major.
These are the best undergraduate majors for prelaws, right? As with anything law school (and the practice of law), the answer is "it depends." But the truth is that there are all kinds of equally good paths to help you get into and succeed in law school.
At the outset, you should understand that the ABA, which accredits law schools doesn't really care. If you doubt me, read the ABA article "Preparing for Law School" at http://www.abanet.org/legaled/prelaw/prep.html. Instead, the ABA suggests a core skill-building approach to your education that includes eight basic areas: Analytic / Problem Solving Skills, Critical Reading, Writing Skills, Oral Communication / Listening Abilities, General Research Skills, and Task Organization / Management Skills. The last area, Public Service and Promotion of Justice, in my opinion, are really closer to personal character and values, which one develops as a result of life experiences and maturation.
But the point is this: the ABA believes (and what they think about this subject is pretty important) that the student should focus on skills that prepares him/her for law school and law practice. And clearly, the core skills involve your ability to read, analyze, communicate (both orally and in writing), listen and manage your workload. And as a practicing lawyer who has been out of law school for a while, I absolutely agree that these skills are critical to the practice of law. Further, I continue to develop and hone these skills every day I go to work.
So, instead of defining yourself as a prelaw by the major you choose, I suggest that you choose an academic curriculum that will help you to develop the above core skills. Certainly, political science, philosophy and other liberal arts majors can do this. But so can engineering, accounting, marketing and many other undergraduate majors. It all depends on what you do with the major. More importantly, it depends on what you do with your available time during your four years or so of undergraduate education
Most undergraduate majors have a fairly large percentage of electives in terms of the overall curriculum. After you finish your basic required courses, you have all kinds of opportunities to select courses that will help you develop the core skills necessary to succeed in law school and law practice.
You probably already know that most law schools begin their acceptance decision with a student's grades and LSAT score. These two criteria are simply the most important when it comes to getting into law school. So, any undergraduate major that helps you get the highest GPA and LSAT score would probably be your best bet. At the same time, before you jump into that degree in "Basketweaving", you should also understand that law school admissions committees tend to equalize the "easier" majors with the "harder" majors. In other words, a 3.2 GPA in Mechanical Engineering may be just as acceptable as a 4.0 in English.
As I have written in other blog posts, you should also consider the possiblity that you won't actually end up going to law school. Therefore, you would probably be better served with an undergraduate major that can help you find a job, just in case. Further, there are certain majors that are extremely complimentary to a law degree. For example, an accounting degree can be a great compliment to a law degree if you want to practice corporate law. An engineering degree can be very useful to future patent attorneys.
But the bottom line is that instead of focusing on the major, focus on the above core skills. The following are some suggestions to help you do just that (I've organized them a bit differently than than the ABA has, because I see the skills more along the lines of a continuum than as discrete skills):
Reading, Writing and Researching: As part of your law school preparation, you should read, read and read some more. Read the most dense, incomprehensible books that you can find. Practice reading until you can navigate almost anything. I suggest that you add the ABA website to your browser favorites. It includes great information on current events in the practice of law.
I also suggest that you periodically visit a law school library and browse (you will need to get permission to do that, but I found that most law school librarians are more than willing to help). Begin to read cases, in order to both learn to navigate them, and to get a feel for how legal writing is organized. It will also help you see some of the available research materials.
Read op-ed pieces and read legal articles, such as those found in law journals. This will help you to begin to understand the substantive information but will also help you see how and what lawyers write.
Reading a great deal will also help you to begin to develop your writing skills. Simply, most writers learn to write by reading voluminously. Start writing every day; a journal is a great way to accomplish this. Or, consider blogging. It doesn't have to be about the law, it only needs to be about something you are interested in and that requires some thought and analysis. It may also help you to develop your research skills.
Analytical, Logical and Problem Solving Skills: Analysis is simply the skill of skill of rationally and logically thinking your way through a problem. Certainly, there are formal logic courses available- consider taking one. But reading through a book on logic ("Logic for Lawyers" is a good one) can give you the basic foundation. And chances are, you probably already understand intuitively a great deal about how to logically analyze something or construct a logical argument (most of us learn about logic when dealing with an illogical opponent in an argument). A key skill in logic is the ability to identify hidden assumptions.
In my book "Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education (Kaplan Publishing, April 2009),
I describe how assumptions work in arguments and how to analyze the basic structure of logical arguments. Another good book, which may help you understand the process is "Getting to Maybe". I suggest you read a number of different "law school" books well before you start law school. They will help you get an overview of the often labyrinthian maze that law school can become, especially because in most cases, no one really explains the process to you.
Finally, exercise your logical skills through recreation. Do crossword puzzles and other puzzles in order to sharpen your mind. Engage in friendly debate (you might want to preface it by explaining that it's law school prep- but get used to the idea that many people won't get it or you, especially after you become a law student; if the process works on you, you will begin to think and analyze in a dramatically different way that most people won't understand). Consider visiting a courtroom to see lawyers in action. If your school has a debate team, consider joining it.
This is also a great time to consider giving something back to your community. Volunteer in one or more of the many outstanding public service organizations, including your church. Don't do something because it will look good on your law school application; do it because you believe in it.
I wish you the very best in your legal studies and career.