Having been out of law school now for a number of years, I think I can look at the educational experience in a pretty objective way. Before law school, I had always sort of held it in awe. I never really considered myself as smart enough to get in, much less make it through law school. And even when I did well on the LSAT and was accepted into a top school, I secretly suspected that somehow, they had made a mistake. For the first few months after acceptance, I half-believed I would receive a letter stating: "Dear Mr. Sedberrry: We regret to inform you that your acceptance has been rescinded. We've decided that you were simply lucky on the LSAT and believe that there is no way you will make it through this prestigious institution. We wish you much success in your fast-food career."
Of course, it never happened. But my point is that many law students tend to be high achievers. And perhaps a bit paranoid. It simply comes with the territory. We are always looking over our shoulder and ahead to the next treacherous curve, at the same time. It's what makes us good at what we do. We worry, so that our clients don't have to. We anticipate unintended consequences. We plan for the worst.
As I think back about some of the misconceptions I had about law school, I realize now that law students who have a sober view of the process will probably do better than those who don't. This is because, the mature law student can focus on the real "money" activities- those that deliver the most bang for the buck, grade-wise. And no matter what anyone tells you, make no mistake about it, grades are critically important in law school. Grades are curved among a bunch of the best and brightest and most competitive students around. And grades determine who gets jobs.
So, here are some of these misconceptions, or "law school mythology" as I like to call them:
1. "We're All in This Together." This attitude, although true on one level, is dangerously misleading on another. Some students tend to huddle together, in study groups and social cliques, in the hopes that no one can drown, if they all simply hang on to each other. And having a social network in law school can be comforting. But, here's the problem with this myth. If you hang with the pack and do the same things as the pack, then your grade will be a result of the pack's actions. And as I said, law school grades are rendered on a curve. This means that of the 10 people in your group, one or two might get "A's", two or three will get "B's" and the rest will get "C's" or lower. In other words, although you may think of your group as compadres, some will succeed and others won't. The curve takes very close grades and forcibly distinguishes among them. Someone in your group will get an "A". And it might as well be you. The trick is to figure out methods and a process to make it happen.
2. "Professors Know Everything." Well, you might not absolutely buy into this myth, especially if you are a young, cynical rebel. But even if you are, you may mistakenly believe that your professor is a subject-matter expert. In fairness, she might be. But then again, she might not be. It's just that someone had to teach the Partnership Tax course. So, you should certainly listen to your professors. And learn from them. But make sure that you have a basic, and broader understanding of the material. You do this through outside reading- treatises, hornbooks, whatever. You need to understand the general picture of the course but also enough detail to spot issues and analyze them.
3. "Legal Recruiters Pick the Best Candidates." I've just told you that grades are curved. I've also told you that grades mean everything to prospective employers. Are you starting to get the picture? There are plenty of "A" students who can't lawyer their way out of a wet paper bag. Granted, there are also "A" students who are geniuses, destined for the Supreme Court. But, what about the students who simply had a bad break- a bad professor, a bad exam, or simply that they were a little slow out of the starter blocks that first year. These students may ultimately become brilliant lawyers. But they have a very hard time finding a job because of the foregoing. It's not fair. But it is the way it is. And your strategy from the day you start law school, if not before, is to do everything you can to avoid unfair circumstances. As they say, "you make your own luck." If you are thinking about law school, or planning to enter in the near future, now is the time to begin planning your law school strategy.
4. "Good Lawyers Are Born and Not Made." You see symptoms of this every semester, just after grades come out. Students who killed themselves on studies, end up with "B's". They see others who worked half as hard as they did, and yet pulled "A's". They get depressed and dejected. They begin to believe that they just weren't born smart enough. But as Edison said, "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." There are countless lawyers who graduated in the middle of their class, or worse, and have won some of the biggest cases in history. Law school is about excellent performance over a very short period of time. Law practice is about excellence over a sustained period of time. Simply, you can make up for that self-perceived lack of genius by outworking the other guy.
If you are a law student or a recent law graduate, I would love to hear about your own law school myths. I know that mine have just scratched the surface.
Finally, if you are in law school, stay the course. Try not to get discouraged. Don't give up. It will be well worth it someday. I wish you much success in your legal career.
If you're just starting law school, 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.
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.
At the outset, let me say that although law school was stimulating and arguably the biggest intellectual stretch of my life, there is no way I would want to do it again. Part of it is because it was simply very stressful. And part of it is because I got the tools I needed to practice law; today, I build my intellectual capital through the use of those tools.
Another way of saying it is: I enjoyed law school to some extent, but I love the practice of law.
That said, looking back now, there are some things I would definitely do differently:
1. Get to Know More of My Fellow Students: I spent so much time hitting the books in law school that I missed out on the opportunity to make some lasting friendships. Part of it, I suppose, was also due to the age difference between me any my peers. But if I've learned anything from Facebook, is that people are important to us. I consider myself very fortunate today to have reconnected with some of my classmates through Facebook. And I wish now that I had spent more time getting to know them then. It would have made law school infinitely more enjoyable.
2. More Exercise: When faced with time constraints and the accompanying stress of law school, exercise is usually the first thing to go. This is unfortunate because it is probably the best thing in the world to deal with both. Exercise can reduce stress, but studies have also shown that it can increase brain power.
3. Prayer and Bible Study: I wish I had spent more time with my Maker during this period. I somehow convinced myself that I simply didn't have enough time. The truth is that if I had just slowed down and thought about it, I would have realized that more than anything else, He was ready to help me get through all of it.
4. Look More Deeply Into Practice Areas: About the only introduction into practice areas many students receive is through their clerkships. Understanding my own interests and capabilities and trying to fit that with a suitable practice area would have probably saved me some heartburn after law school.
5. More Play: While in law school, I never took a day off. I was so consumed with my studies and so worried that I wasn't working hard enough that I simply overdid it. Life and the practice of law are about balance. And the truth is that law school is about working smarter and not harder. And it's all a marathon, rather than a sprint.
Some of you are starting law school this fall. This post may seem inconsistent with my previous post, advising you to plan for law school. However, planning now will actually mean that you will waste less time getting your bearings and be able to focus more on the high-return activities once school starts.
So, I wish you much success in your law school career. Stay at it. You will become a lawyer. I know it. You just will.
I suppose I caused a minor stir on Twitter recently when I posted that "Anyone who tells you to take the summer off before law school instead of preparing, either made "B"s or has a very short memory." My post caused a lot of twittering in the ethernet (okay, I intended that pun). Could it be that I was creating a panic among rising 1Ls, in order to sell books? Coincidentally, I also noticed a bookseller customer review that wondered whether law school prep book authors like me were compensated for recommending certain commercial outlines.
A couple of comments and I'll let you get back to Facebook. I wrote Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education (Kaplan Publishing, March 31, 2009) because the entire time I was in law school I suspected that some students had an advantage. They just seemed to understand what was going on and what they needed to do to graduate on top. These students weren't any more intelligent than anyone else. But they were definitely more savvy. They understood the game. They knew that first-year law school grades were critically important. And they knew that knowing the law cold and being able to spot issues and apply the law to facts is critical, as is being able to construct a well-written essay, all in a few short hours. Perhaps mom was a lawyer or they were dating a 3L. I don't know. But they knew that they had to "hit the ground running" from the day they set foot law school.
While many poor 1Ls were scrambling around trying to figure out what an outline was, these savvy students were busy assimilating the law and learning to spot issues. While the uninformed 1Ls were reading and re-reading cases, these soon-to-be Law Reviewers were investing their precious study time in "money" activities- creating meaningful outlines that helped them to assimilate the law and writing practice exams.
"Law School Labyrinth" was my attempt to level the playing field a bit. Its purpose is to provide you with an attack plan for your legal studies. It describes at least one method, the Pyramid Outline method, that you can use to focus your studies. My book also gives you an orientation to the entire law school process to help you operate more efficiently and avoid the kind of stuff that will suck up a huge amount of time with little payback where it counts- at exam time.
And although I touch on outlines in my book, anyone who has read it or this blog knows that I believe that in outlining, the process is infinitely more important than the output. Simply, outlining is the method that burns into your memory the black letter law that you need to do well. Certainly, commercial outlines can help ensure that you get all of the black letter law in first-year subjects. The can also give you a bit of a "blueprint" for the course. But no commercial outline is going to substitute for your own sweat and engagement in the materials.
And students who think there is a "holy grail" outline out there misunderstand the entire point of the Socratic Method and reading cases. It's to teach how to "think like a lawyer." Otherwise, a bar exam (and law practice, for that matter) would be simply a memorization exercise. Anyone who has every practiced law knows that effective lawyering requires the kinds of skills that your legal education should at least begin to impart. This is also why I disagree with those who say you should quit briefing cases, or even purchasing casebooks for that matter, after your first year. But reading cases alone will greatly limit your understanding of the "big picture" of the subject.
So, I stand by my Tweet. And I stand by my book. By the way, for anyone wondering whether I was compensated for the overview I included in my book about the most popular commercial outlines, I wasn't. And th book isn't making me rich- or even close to rich. Finally, the one skill in law school necessary above all others is the ability to read carefully. The pullout quote from my book (at about five times the normal font size), on page 123 concerning commerial outlines says, verbatim: "If you look carefully, you will be amazed at the number and quality of study aids that your law library offers. These materials are all free." In "Law School Labyrinth" I also recommend reading the Westlaw or Lexis version of the case- the headnotes can be incredibly useful. Both are included as part of your tuition.
And if you are starting law school this fall, get busy. Read about the law school process- I don't care if it's my book; there are several good ones out there. Or read my blog; it's free. But don't walk into your law school expecting it to be like college. No one is going to tell you what to do. There may or may not be a syllabus. There are no pop quizes. And there is no warm-up. You will simply have about three months or so to get ready to be able to excel on your exams through excellence in issue-spotting, knowledge of black letter law (which is critical to issue-spotting), applying law to the relevant facts and doing all of it in a readable, meaningful essay, under extremely tight timed conditions.
If you've read my book, "Law School Labyrinth" you know that the law school model places an inordinate emphasis on first-year exam grades. Unsuspecting 1Ls arrive at law school, expecting that the same ground rules that led to their 4.2 undergraduate GPAs will apply in their legal education. Do the assigned reading, listen to the professor's every word, take copious notes, and memorize everything and you are virtually assured of an "A."
Unfortunately, the assumption that undergraduate study methods will serve you well in law school is just one more false turn in the Labyrinth. The reality is that the law school pedagogy- featuring the Socratic method, appellate opinions (called "cases"), and the concept of "precedent"- are designed to teach you to "think like a lawyer." Learning the legal reasoning process is more akin to learning a trade- you learn by doing.
Regardless, some students "get it" early on- they ace exams and finish the year with top grades. Generally, these are also the students that receive the fruits of this success- invitations to Law Review and coveted law firm clerkships. What about the others, you might ask? (especially if you happen to be one of the others). What happens to them? Can they still have satisfying careers as lawyers? Hold that thought- I'll answer that question in a minute.
It is axiomatic in college that your GPA is really only as important as your first job. Good grades get you in the door and help you land a job. After that, your real intelligence, work ethic and initiative take over, in terms of your career success. My own experience in an almost twenty-year business career was that my work ethic, above most everything else, determined my ability to climb the corporate ladder. After that first job, one's GPA rarely, if ever, comes up. Simply, your actual results speak much more loudly that an arcane artifact from college.
However, in my legal career, I have found that my academic credentials have remained with me substantially longer. It's interesting to review lawyer bios on websites and the various listings, such as Martindale-Hubbell. Lawyers who have been practicing for twenty years trumpet the fact that they were on Law Review or Moot Court. Candidly, I'm not sure I fully understand the reason behind this, because in my opinion, results are every bit as important in law practice as they are in a business career. Good lawyers who achieve the results their clients want tend to thrive.
Which brings me to the answer to the question. Can the less-than-stellar law student have a rewarding career? I think the answer to this question lies in part with the old fable, "The Tortoise and the Hare." The analogy deviates in that "Hare" law students aren't necessarily those who favor speed over results; similarly "Tortoise" law students aren't necessarily those who are always "slow and steady" but win. However, the analogy holds in that many law students who started off in law school without the proverbial clue, had rocky academic success and weren't on Law Review, can still have spectacular careers. (a parallel question is whether someone who graduates from a non-top 10 law school can enjoy a rewarding legal career).
The simply answer is "absolutely yes." One of the first lawyers I worked with was a senior partner in the firm. He was a bit of a curmdgeon, but one of the smartest lawyers I have ever met. More importantly, he understood human nature. In fact, he was a student of it. He could anticipate what the other side would do, what a client would say and what a judge might rule with incredible precision.
He confessed to me one night as we worked on a deal together that as a student, his performance had been mediocre. "I wasn't one of those bright hotshots who made Law Review," he said. " I had a 'C' average. But I was determined to make it as a lawyer. So I worked harder than anyone else." He may have underestimated his own intelligence (which I think we all tend to do); I viewed him as pretty close to brilliant. But his law school grades did not reflect his brilliance. And in my practice, I have run into many "mediocre" law students who were brilliant lawyers.
We all know the stories- Albert Einstein flunked math (well this one is actually not true- Einstein was in reality a math prodigy. But he did have poor grades early in school). Bill Gates did drop out of college to start Microsoft. Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade. Abraham Lincoln lost in a number of elections. And so on.
So, your grades in law school are important. But if you don't make top grades, it doesn't mean your career is over. The reality is that the practice of law is exactly that, a practice. And practice makes perfect. One of the greatest benefits of practicing law is that the opportunity is always there to learn more. I work periodically with one of the leading antitrust law experts in the country. And yet, occasionally when I call him, I "stump" the expert. What happens next is sheer joy. I have the opportunity to observe first hand his brilliance as he reviews facts and law, performs analyses, argues scenarios and the like. This is his "practice" in action.
If you are a "hare" and have made great grades and Law Review, I congratulate you. But don't confuse your short-term success with long-term career satisfaction.
If you have not done as well as you would have liked in law school, don't give up; don't evenbecome discouraged. View it instead as a challenge. Rise to the occasion. Keep working, keep pushing. If you do, you will prevail. You will have a rewarding and satisfying career. Remember that there are countless others who have gone before you. They made it and you can too.
As I looked around me after that first class on the first day of law school, I wondered "What in the world have I gotten myself into?" Some poor 1L had just gotten clobbered by the professor in a Socratic inquest, and for a moment I thought that law school was going to be everything I feared and then some. The student, still red-faced with embarrasment, made his way out of the classroom, as some of his friends cracked a few jokes, both to diffuse his embarrassment, and perhaps to also have a bit of fun at his expense.
And yet as I watched his exit, something inside me was also exhilarated. The intellectual horsepower and intensity in that room made me very proud to just be there. Some of the best and brightest college students in the country sat all around me. And the professor was certainly one of the most articulate and intelligent people I had encountered in recent memory. The student, although beaten, had clearly survived it and appeared to have shaken most of the trauma off.
And that, in a nutshell, is the dichotomy that is law school. On the one hand, you may suspect that you may actually not be the smartest person in the room. But on the other hand, the intellectual challenge, and in particular, your first glimpse into what the practice of law is all about, will often enthuse and excite you in a way that you have never been before.
Law school will, if you let it, teach you an entirely new way of thinking. Unlike many other disciplines, lawyers must think and reason analytically and logically, communicate clearly with assertions always factually supported, and do all of this in an efficient and effective manner. The practice of law may very well be one of the most challenging and yet rewarding careers.
But in law school, the professor can make feel stupid. Smart people who feel stupid are usually more willing to learn. And for the first time in your academic career, things may not come so easily to you. You have to work through dense passages of indecipherable reading material. You take notes and even your own notes don't make sense. The ever-present threat of exams looms in the not-to-distant future. Coupled with the headlines about lawyer layoffs and law student debt, you may find yourself discouraged and questioning your own capabilities.
My message to you, the new 1L is this: don't be discouraged. Instead, enjoy the experience. Think of law school the way you think of any other necessary but painful development activity; for example, exercise and/or training for a competition. The pain is worth the gain. In law school, I assure you that you will learn more than at any other time in your life. You are only a few short years away from a law license and a legal career and the ability to have a hugely positive effect on people and our society as a whole.
You may be asking yourself, "But how do I deal with the immediate threat- the Socratic method, exams, and the like." If you have read my blog before or followed me on Twitter, chances are, you know that I unabashedly recommend my book to help you deal with that threat and traverse the Law School Labyrinth. The book will give you a solid study methodology, which will help you reduce the "flailing about" that many 1Ls do, and often well into their second year. Read the book. Adopt the methodology, or adapt it to your own style. But have a plan of attack for law school. It will ultimately enable you to enjoy the law school experience that much more.
But the bottom line is this- law school is difficult, but you will survive it. If you stick with it, you will graduate and obtain your license to practice law. You will become a lawyer. You just will.
As an initial matter, most 1Ls waste a huge amount of time getting their intellectual bearings; which would likely not be the case, assuming you have read “Law School Labyrinth-A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education”.One other caveat:before you commit to employment, check with your law school to see whether they have a policy or prohibition regarding employment your first year.
That said, assuming that your ultimate goal is to work in a law firm, then grades are a fairly serious matter (I make this assumption because the vast majority of new law graduates aspire to law firm jobs).Law firms look at first year grades and not much else, in deciding who gets those precious clerkships that second summer of law school.Everything rides on that final exam and the difference between an "A" and a "B" is often practically impossible to discern.This is why I emphasize hitting the ground running that first year in “Law School Labyrinth”.It's also why I try and arm the reader with a proven methodology to help them learn the law and legal reasoning, in the chaos that is the first year of law school. On the other hand, if you don't plan to work in a firm, grades simply aren't as important (although, as a matter of pride, they may be extremely important to you anyway).Either way, I wouldn't worry too much about failing (the "look to your left; look to your right; one of you won't be here next semester" is largely law school mythology).But the bottom line is pretty much what you would expect:all things being equal, working means you will have less time for studies, which could have a negative effect on your grades.
The hardest part of that first year of law school is simply figuring out the game.You are left to your own devices to figure it out.And the sooner you do, the more likely that you will do well."Figuring it out" means learning legal reasoning ("thinking like a lawyer"), which is largely about analytical and syllogistic reasoning; learning the black letter law; learning to identify legal issues presented by a chaotic law school exam fact patter; and being able to apply the law to those facts in an analytical way, thus resolving the issue(s) presented.
If you don’t waste a lot of time pointlessly reading cases to no apparent end, writing huge outlines without really learning anything, and generally spending a lot of time on little or no return study activities, then it is likely you can work a reasonable amount of hours in addition to your legal studies.
One other issue.I absolutely loved law school.I had worked my way through college and was determined to totally immersed myself in the law school process without working. I tried to take advantage of everything my tuition dollars were paying for.So, there is a part of me that hates to see you work because I suppose I am imposing my own biases on you.But everyone is different.And based upon your career goals and financial constraints, "immersing yourself" in law school may not be that big of a deal.You may merely want to get through it and get your JD.Which, after all, is the real point of law school.
Regardless, assuming you have broken the Labyrinth "code" (and if you are reading my book, I think this is a reasonable assumption), the time investment actually required in your legal studies will likely not be as big of a burden as you might think.If you have a job during that first year in addition to your legal studies, you will certainly have a busy year, but if you focus on the right study activities (as described in my book), it will be doable.
It's the summer before law school. You are on the verge of signing away a substantial portion of your free time for the foreseeable future. As a result, you have made the conscious decision to invest your remaining free time in "NCIS" and reruns of old Springer episodes.
Despite my frequent exhortations, you still haven't read "Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education". You scoff at law school preparation, in an almost Dirty Harry-esque "make my day" sort of way. "After all", you reason, "law school is going to be difficult enough; why get myself all worked up before I have to?"
Then one evening, you get the call from one of your friends (not a close friend, and in fact someone who was always a bit of a brown-noser to the profs in college). He is almost giddy with excitement as he describes the week-long "law school prep" course he just finished. "They had professors from UVa and Michigan on staff," he effuses, "and students taking the course typically graduate cum laude!" You punch "Off" on the remote, silently cursing your "friend", who has just interrupted a Springer confrontation involving four generations of Iowa hog farmers. Nonetheless, you have to hand it to him; he certainly has your attention. Your throat suddenly feels a bit dry and a small swarm of butterflies just commandeered your stomach.
If you find yourself in this unfortunate position today, it's not too late to read my book. And even if you don't read my book, then at least read the following last-minute tips, designed to help you quickly focus on your legal studies. "Quickly" is the operative word, the pace in law school is so fact, especially that first year, that you absolutely must "hit the ground running", in order to do well.
You probably understand that the law school pedagogy is dramatically different than that used in your undergraduate studies. The Socratic method and the casebook prevail (in law school, "textbooks" become "casebooks") and you learn the law by dissecting many arcane judicial opinions, called "cases". If you rely on your old undergraduate study methods in law school, you will likely find yourself behind the pack early on, thus reducing your chances of making decent grades.
Anyway, on with the tips . . .
Pay Attention to the Casebook's Table of Contents
In their zeal to quickly dive into voluminous and often indecipherable cases, law students frequently overlook a basic component- the casebook's table of contents. Before you read your first case, carefully peruse the casebook's table of contents. The table of contents is generally the road map to the entire course and is a wealth of information regarding where the case fits into the body of law, as well as the various components of the subject. By carefully developing an understanding of the table of contents, you will be able to read the cases more efficiently and with more purpose, thus saving time down the road.
Review Old Exams
As early in the semester as possible, begin to review old exams. Most likely, your professor has them on file in the law school library. Begin to develop a feel for the structure of a law school exam, the kinds of issues tested, and how an effective answer is developed. If you do this early in the semester, it will provide huge focus to your studies.
And now for the plug.
"Law School Labyrinth" is filled with tips and techniques like these to help make you successful in that critical first year of law school. More importantly, my Pyramid Outline Method, as described in the book, is a proven, comprehensive strategy that you can use to maximize your legal studies. ThePyramid Outline Method is a step-by-step, easy to understand law school study method, which will enable you to maximize the return on your studies investment.
Even if you're reading this blog well into your first semester, I encourage you to read my book. The sooner the better, but it's never too late to begin using the methods described in the book.
Whatever you do, don't assume that the professors will tell you what to do in law school. They won't. You are your own guide through the Labyrinth. And candidly, law is taught this way because it works. In practice, for the most part you will be on your own. You simply have to figure things out for yourself.
In a nutshell, "yes" (no pun intended- Thompson-West publishes an excellent series called "Nutshells", which cover all of the first-year subjects).
Let's face it; in any grading curve system, there will be winners and losers. By definition, a grading curve forces the "curver" to award grades which are lower than if awarded by a strictly objective measure. A grading curve takes a series of "A" papers and requires that some of them become "B+" papers.
Because first-year law students are graded on a curve, and because first-year grades determine which students ultimately receive the best job offers (for a discussion on how law firms recruit law students, see "Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education"), that first year of law school is extremely competitive. Students who would otherwise shun bald competition with their peers, suddenly find themselves caught up in the intrigue of law school- the rumors of law school success "formulas" and outlines that guarantee the student an "A".
Law school is competitive, but like many solo sports the truth is that your greatest competition is really you. In order to succeed in law school, you need a plan of attack long before you ever walk through the door. This requires discipline and strategy, as well as an objective view of the payback of the various activities that law students do- reading and briefing cases, preparing for the Socratic onslaught that first year, study groups, and the like.
Read "Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education" in order to develop your plan of attack for law school. It will give you an edge on the competition, and it will also help you to develop the discipline and focus you need to succeed that first year.
As with almost everything else in law school, the answer is "it depends".
A repeated theme in my new book "Law School Labyrinth" is that, unlike your undergraduate studies, there are almost never entirely right or wrong answers. This is true on exams and it's true in determining your study methodology. In college, your studies are pretty straightforward- you go to class, do the work, take good notes, pay attention to what the professor is saying, regurgitate it all back on exams, and it is likely that you will do well.
In law school, it's all about learning the legal reasoning process (what so many people call "thinking like a lawyer"), and learning the law. At exam time, it's about being able to effectively identify legal issues presented in exam fact patterns, apply the law to those facts and articulate legal conclusions. And because the approach of first-year exams is so relentless (and generally, your entire class grade rests with that single exam), you have no time to waste, engaging in pointless dialogue with fellow neophytes.
So the question you have to ask yourself before investing a great deal of time in a study group is whether that investment will yield a good ROI (return on investment) at exam time.
Study groups can simulate law practice, in that students can offer competing views on the facts and law (similar to what occurs when several lawyers work on a legal problem). However, you should also understand that much of what occurs in law practice is "solo"- grinding through cases, statutes and regulations, in order to determine the current state of the law.
In other words, if a study group results in a lot of dialogue with a lot of people who don't understand the law, you will waste a lot of time. My suggestion is that if you do participate in a study group, it is only after you have invested enough solo time thinking through the issues and learning the law. You can then use the study group as a "check" on your thinking. Also, I suggest that your study group lay out ground rules for the process- what work is required individually before the group meets, how long can debates continue, assertions should be supported by facts or the cases read, and other rules intended to reduce time wasting. If you will follow these ground rules, many law students will find study groups an invaluable component of their study methodologies.
Steve Sedberry's new book The Reasonable Person- Due Process of Law, Logic and Faith is available on Amazon. He also has a blog at www.reasonable-person.com
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No information contained in this blog is intended as legal advice nor a solicitation for legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should consult an attorney.
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