If you've just finished your first round of law school exams, you may feel a bit confused right now. After all, no one really tells you what to do. Unlike your undergraduate studies, there isn't a lot of direction or guidance. This is true especially with regard to what you are supposed to be doing and why you are supposed to be doing it.
The good news is that most everyone in your class is probably in the same boat. The bad news, however, is that law school is graded on a curve. And someone has to get the "A"s. So, as we speak, there is a process occurring that effects everyone, but not everyone may be aware of it. That process is the light bulb going off for some students, who figure out what they need to do to get the "A"s.
If you've read my book, "Law School Labyrinth",
you probably already have a pretty good idea of what you need to do. My book provides a study methodology- I call it the Pyramid Outline method. The idea is that, in order to fully assimilate what you need to know in order to succeed on law school exams, you must attack the material in a disciplined, orderly fashion.
But before you accuse me of simply trying to sell books, I'll admit that there are many ways to skin this cat. Further, your study method has to work for you. But you need a method. However you begin to figure things out, I suggest that you keep the following in the back of your mind:
1. You should be learning to "think like a lawyer." This is the real reason you read cases. By studying the analytical process described in the opinions, you begin to learn how lawyers think and reason. You learn how to spot legal issues.
2. You should be learning the black letter law. Cases can teach you this, but it's a very inefficient way to learn the law. A good commercial outline will teach you the law. It's how you will learn it for your bar exam. You need to know the black letter law, because it makes issue spotting much easier. You also need to know it in order to analyze and reason like a lawyer would.
3. You should be learning how to show that you can think like a lawyer. This means practicing exam writing. I suggest you dedicate at least a portion of your study time to doing this. If you know how to think like a lawyer, and know the black letter law, but can't showcase it, you won't do well on exams.
The thing about law school is that it all comes at you in a mad rush. You spend a bunch of time memorizing case details because you think it's what the professor wants. And you think it will make things go easier in a Socratic grilling. But the truth is you should be spending more time thinking about the analytical process, learning the law and learning to write exams like a lawyer.
And that's the bottom line to law school.
Best wishes in your legal studies.
I apologize in advance to my law students and pre-laws reading this post. It has nothing to do with law school. But it has everything to do with this country, the principles upon which it was founded and what we've done with them since.
It's ironic that a country that finds itself uncomofrtable wishing each other "Merry Christmas" eagerly awaits "holiday" retail sales figures, in order to determine whether there is some light at the end of this recession's tunnel.
It's ironic that a country that places the phrase "In God We Trust" on its currency, doesn't.
It's ironic that those in a country demanding tolerance, are the least likely to offer it.
In case you are wondering, I'm not one of those "Religious Right" types. However, I do believe that the Bible is reliable, and tells us the story of God's ongoing effort to engage in a relationship with mankind. I believe that Jesus, as described in that Bible, was the Son of God. I believe that His unimaginable death on a cross was for the propitiation for the sins of everyone, everywhere, for all time. And I believe that all we have to do for that salavation is to claim it. We do that through a simple prayer of repentance and confession of faith in Jesus.
The evidence I rely on is twofold. I rely on the documentary evidence of the Bible. I read it regularly and it always comes through for me. It has never failed me. The guidance it provides me has never steered me wrong. And I believe on the evidence of my changed life. I know what I was like before I accepted Jesus as my savior, and I know what I'm like now. It's as simple as that. In the law, we call it "direct evidence"; it's the most persuasive evidence. It's not hearsay, it's something I have personally witnessed myself.
And so, I wish my Christian friends and non-Christian friends a Merry Christmas. I'm honoring the birth of Jesus. I don't know whether He was born on December 25th. But I'm just thankful that we, as a country, take some time each year to honor Him. Despite the current interpretation of the Establishment Clause, we honor Him. Despite the folks who hate Christians and what they stand for, we honor Him.
I think it's just as silly to be offended by "Christmas" as it is for Christians who are offended, for example, by Halloween. Satan is real; demons are real, and I take them very seriously. But my children go "trick or treating" every year. It's just part of the landscape.
I have dear Jewish friends. I have celebrated the Passover, on occasion, with them. I admire their faithfulness to the principles and tradition of the Passover. I have Hindu friends, who have alters in their homes honoring multiple divine beings. I admire their faithfulness. Obviously, I subscribe to a different set of beliefs. I might share these beliefs with my friends, if the opportunity presents itself. I would share the "Good News" about Jesus (as it's referred to in the Bible), just as I would share anything good with my friends. But I would never, ever be offended because they happen to believe something different.
At the same time, because I follow Jesus, I believe that everything He said was true. Certainly, words are subject to interpretation. And Jesus spoke frequently in parables, that require interpretation. But certain of Jesus' words are pretty much subject to only one interpretation. For example, Jesus' said: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6). This is pretty absolute, as were many of Jesus' words. So, when I say that I believe Jesus was (and is, because he was resurrected and ascended into Heaven) God, by definition, I believe he is "one God". And that definition excludes other gods.
But this isn't a case of "my God is better than your god." I absolutely believe that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. And I believe that everyone is entitled to share those beliefs. That's what the First Amendment is about. And perhaps that's where we as a country have taken a wrong turn. Some Christians, rather than sharing the Good News about Jesus out of love, have done so in a way that appears to pass judgment. I'm not passing judgment; only God can do that. I just want to share what I know with you.
So, when I wish you "Merry Christmas", I certainly don't intend to offend you. Instead, I am celebrating the birth of a Man that I believe came to this planet for a very special purpose. But even if you believe that Jesus was merely "a great teacher", he has a birthday nonetheless. So celebrate it with me.
Merry Christmas to all my readers, friends and colleagues. I hope this season brings you much joy and peace.
In an earlier blog post, I asked a similar question regarding the LSAT. I answered that question with "relax and forget it." My advice regarding your first law school exams is substantially different. I'll discuss it in greater detail later, but now is the time to begin your post-mortem of exams. You've basically got one more semester to establish your GPA and postion yourself for a job and Law Review. So, you need to begin to try and understand what happened with your exams and how you can improve upon them.
Chances are pretty good that you were surprised by your exams. I would suspect this surprise was manifested in at least some of the following ways:
1. The three-hour "blink of an eye": I'm betting that your feeling like this was the shortest three-hour time span of your life. You were probably shocked at how fast it went by and how much more time you would liked to have had, in order to create a winning exam answer.
2. Fact pattern chaos. You were probably surprised at how little guidance the exam writer provided. You were probably expecting something closer to undergraduate exams, which lay out what the grader expects to see in your answer. Instead, you may have gotten a jumbled fact pattern that required intense and swift sifting, simply to get a basic idea of what was going on.
3. Open book bait and switch. If the exam was "open book" you were probably fooled into thinking you would actually have any time to look things up.
4. Substantive bait and switch. You may have been tested on something that was never discussed in class. You're thinking that this was clearly unfair.
5. Organization chaos. You've always thought of yourself as analytical, logical and organized. And yet in all of the chaos of exams, you found yourself rambling where you intended to be succinct and jumping from point to point, in the vain hope that it would all somehow make sense.
Now for the advice. As soon as practicable after grades come out, schedule an appoint with your professor to discuss your exam. Ask for (and don't take an implied "no" for an answer) comprehensive feedback on you exam. Seek to understand how you did, in terms of writing style, organization, persuasiveness, analysis and demonstration of a general ability to write in a lawyerly fashion. Attempt to break down your exam into these components and evaluate where you need to improve. Be courteous but relentless until your professor has provided you with candid feedback.
Next, I'm guessing that some of the chaos you experienced may have been due to the fact that you didn't know the "black letter" law as well as you think you did. As a result, it was more difficult for you to spot legal issues than you realize. The way to prove my theory is to ask your professor specifically for issues that you missed. If you missed them, it was probably because you didn't have sufficient command of the various subsets of the law you learned, especially the nuanced areas like minority rules.
If after you have done a comprehensive and objective exam post-mortem, you find that my suspicions are correct, then take heart. All of these can be overcome. The Pyramid Outline method is a good start. Next semester, start outlining and boiling down the material as soon into the semester as possible. Then, start working with it as eary as you can by writing practice exams. The sooner you do both of these, the more quickly you will begin to master the material. It will also enable you to attack exam fact patterns as a real lawyer would- sifting through the nuances of the facts, identifying the legal issues they present, discussing both sides of the law and the issues.
The bottom line is that with the LSAT, you take it once and you're done. With law school exams, you're just getting started and will, in effect, be taking exams for the remainder of your legal career. Perfect your craft and become the best lawyer that you can be. Your future clients deserve it.
And while you're at it, pick up a copy of my book, Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education (