<![CDATA[ <br />Law School Labyrinth<br /><br />Hedging Law School - Blog]]>Mon, 04 Jan 2016 05:37:43 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Socrates and Freddy Krueger]]>Fri, 21 Aug 2015 12:47:28 GMThttp://www.lawschoollabyrinth.com/blog/socrates-and-freddy-krueger

I’ll never forget the first time I was called on in class.

        “Mr. Sedberry, do you think that a party who has sent a purchase order for goods to another party should be required to purchase those goods under the following circumstances?”
        I was startled from my brief pre-class notes review to realize that class had begun and Professor Reed had called upon me. It was late in my first semester of law school, and I had begun to think that I had somehow avoided the professor’s seating chart and his scrutiny.
        Professor Reed finished his now indecipherable question, “ . . . which was responded to with a form acknowledgement with different terms should be bound to the terms of the purchase order or the form acknowledgement?”
        Struggling to recall the facts of the three cases which were assigned for reading, and then to decide which case he was talking about, I sputtered out: “Well, uh, the court held that, uh . . .”
        Certainly, this was not one of my more articulate moments.
        Professor Reed responded (actually, in a rather compassionate way): “Not what the court held, Mr. Sedberry, what do you think?”
        “Uh . . . uh . . . ,” I parried skillfully.  The classroom had become so quiet that I thought I actually heard the proverbial pin dropping.  My mind went completely and utterly blank.
         “Uh . . . well . . .er . . .” I continued, driving home my point and proving to everyone within earshot that I was brilliant. Or not. Professor Reed looked genuinely concerned that I might pass out.  Students on either side of me stared intently down at their casebooks, clearly not wanting to get drawn into what was quickly becoming an irreversibly humiliating situation.
        The year before I started law school, I had given an address to a state legislature at the invitation of the governor of that state. I have made presentations to dozens of business groups and industry associations, involving thousands of people. I have been interviewed by television and newspaper journalists. I have conversed with senators, former United States Vice Presidents, CEOs, prominent sports figures, celebrities, and other extremely intimidating people. At this point in my life, I was rarely intimidated, or speechless.
        And yet, as Professor Reed asked me a couple of simple questions, in what was pretty much a non-confrontational and conversational way, I babbled as if I were under a powerful anesthetic. My face flushed a deep red. Freddy Krueger ran his talon-like fingernails across the blackboard.  I began to perspire and my breathing became shallow. I reverted to that scared ten-year old inside all of us who becomes speechless when asked to explain the homework problem to the class.
        Simply put, the Socratic method does something to your head.

<![CDATA[The Secret That's Not A Secret]]>Sat, 15 Aug 2015 23:10:48 GMThttp://www.lawschoollabyrinth.com/blog/the-secret-thats-not-a-secret
If you are a freshman or sophomore in college, then close your browser and immediately get back to your studies.  Invest every minute of your available time in achieving the highest possible GPA before worrying about the law school admissions test It is a critical piece of the acceptance decision. 

On the other hand, if you are further along in your undergraduate career, then read on.  

The law school admissions test is the great equalizer among a variety of undergraduate institutions and majors.  What’s the single most important thing you can do to get into your dream law school?  In six words, “practice law school admissions test questions.”   

Doing well on the law school admissions test can help to pay for law school.  Schools make scholarship decisions based upon your admissions test performance.  Scholarship money entices high-scoring examinees to schools.   The school increases its overall entering student scores.  Scores are an important factor in the rankings.  Time invested in test preparation will pay for itself many times over.  It has a huge return on investment. 

Is it as bad as everyone says?  No.  You simply have to figure out how to navigate it.   You have to practice many, many questions.  

The Law School Admission Council is the organization that develops and administers the test.  Their website ought to be the first stop in your law school admissions quest. 

Review the information carefully.  You’ll get a good overview of the law school admissions process.  Learn as much as possible about the admissions test procedures and protocols.   

They offer numerous resources as you plan and prepare for law school.  You can purchase practice exams and materials.  They host conventions in major cities.  Admission is free.  Law school admissions personnel and student representatives will provide you with information about their schools and answer your questions.  They also present seminars on topics such as the law school application process, financing your legal education and an overview of the practice of law. 

You will get a condensed overview into issues regarding law school admissions and a sense of the various law schools you are interested in.  You will have the opportunity to interact with other prospective law students and law school admissions personnel.   

And there’s more good news.   

With enough practice, you can do well on the test.  It is not a knowledge test.  It is a skills test.  The skills it tests are the ability to read quickly and efficiently, the ability to reason logically, and the ability to analyze complicated problems.   

With this test, time is everything.  With unlimited time, you could probably ace the test.  With limited time, you have to learn how to allocate time, prioritize questions, and use tools such as process of elimination.   

To start, take a test under timed conditions.  It will help you understand how much preparation you need.  Decide what an acceptable score range is, to get you into your desired schools.  Practice until you are consistently scoring in that range.  Do not take the exam until then.   

This isn’t like college tests.  It isn’t a multiple guess test.  You can’t fake it.    You have to be able to work the problems and choose between answers that look equally acceptable.   

Work actual questions from previous examinations.  The test questions are written to certain specifications so it is important to practice with actual authentic questions.  Purchase materials with actual questions from previous test administrations.  They contain explanations and are a must for your test preparation.   

Early in your preparation you can take your time working through the questions.  It will help you to understand the question types and their structure.  As soon as you feel confident, begin to practice under timed conditions.   It is the only way to do well on the test. 

Like an athlete using progressive resistance training to get stronger, you start slowly and carefully, working problems methodically, and checking your right and wrong answers.   Over time, you will increase your skill and determine your weaknesses.  You must work hundreds, if not thousands of authentic test question.  It is very important that you analyze your correct and incorrect answers.  Do not blow past correct answers.  The explanations provided by the Law School Admission Council are extremely useful and will help you to improve over time.   

Should you take a prep course?  If you are undisciplined in your preparation, then yes.  These courses will give you a preparation plan for the test.  They will provide practice materials.  But many of these courses purport to give you an inside track.  You should be skeptical.  Consider investing your money instead in more practice exams.  Again, these are available from the Law School Admissions Council.   

If you give yourself plenty of time to prepare solidly for the test, you will do well.  There are no real tricks or shortcuts; the simple secret to success is good, old-fashioned hard work and dedication. If you are a freshman or sophomore in college, then put this book down and immediately get back to your studies.  Invest every minute of your available time in achieving the highest possible GPA before worrying about the law school admissions test It is a critical piece of the acceptance decision. 

<![CDATA[1L Exam Prep]]>Thu, 13 Aug 2015 20:50:11 GMThttp://www.lawschoollabyrinth.com/blog/1l-exam-prep
As early in the semester as possible, when you feel like you have at least a grasp of the material, begin to write practice answers to questions. Of course, you will not be substantively equipped to analyze exam fact patterns until well into the semester because you will not have covered all of the black letter law. Regardless, I would advise you at least to familiarize yourself with the form and substance of exam questions and answers as soon as possible. This awareness will in turn drive your studying and make much of the reading that you are doing more relevant.

Repeated practice exam reading and writing, under timed conditions, will greatly speed up and improve your exam writing skills, and enable you to focus on the more subtle issues presented in exam fact patterns. Grade your practice exam, or have someone else do it. Scrutinize the exam answer for organization, analysis and readability. This is the territory where A and A+ answers are usually found.

At the same time, keep memorizing and working with the black letter law.  Use a commercial outline to do this.

Ultimately, at exam time, you will know the law and be able to apply it to the exam fact patterm.

<![CDATA[Law School:  The Hype and The Reality]]>Fri, 07 Aug 2015 19:55:15 GMThttp://www.lawschoollabyrinth.com/blog/law-school-the-hype-and-the-reality  

            It is the summer before law school.  You are on the verge of signing away a substantial portion of your free time for the foreseeable future. 
            You scoff at law school preparation. 
            “After all,” you think, “law school is going to be difficult enough.  Why get myself all worked up before I have to?”  You have made the conscious decision to invest any remaining free time before law school in nonproductive activities. 
            Then one evening, you get a call from a friend. 
            He is not a close friend and was always a bit of a sycophant to the professors in college.  His voice is giddy with excitement. Your friend describes the week-long law school prep course he just finished. 
            “They had professors from Virginia and Michigan on staff,” he effuses.  “They lectured for a week.  They taught us how to study, outline and take exams,”  he continues. 
            Almost conspiratorially, he whispers: “Students taking the course make Law Review.” 
            “They graduate cum laude!”
            You can hear him breathing hard over the phone.
            You punch “Off” on the television remote, silently cursing your friend, who has just interrupted a reality show confrontation involving four generations of Iowa hog farmers. 
            Nonetheless, you have to hand it to him.  He certainly got your attention.  Your throat suddenly feels a bit dry and a small swarm of butterflies just commandeered your stomach. 
            You listen carefully.  He gushes on.
            Every word brings a new wave of the winged insects, fluttering into your belly.

The Hype and the Reality.  
            Fear of the unknown, more than anything else, dominates the thinking of pre-laws and first-year law students.  You can see it on a daily basis in social media, just before the law school admissions test.  It begins the summer before law school and intensifies as the first day of school approaches.  
            The buzz. 
            The hype. 
            The rumors. 
        And then, just as suddenly as it began, it comes to a screeching halt right after school begins.  It starts all over again the next year, like clockwork. 
            Most 1Ls struggle with fear that entire first year.   Fear can be an excellent motivator and cause you to work hard.  This is important in law school and law practice.  But unmanaged fear can paralyze you and actually worsen your performance. 
            Given the amount of energy, time, and stress involved in law school, the last thing anyone really wants to do is spend a time the summer before reading and thinking about it.
            Some students avoid the fear.  They simply don’t think about anything until the first reading assignments are posted.  In college, summer was for fun.  They figure that if they don’t think about it, they can avoid it. 
            This is a bad idea.
            The reality.  Law school is a different kind of learning.  In law school, you learn by doing.  It’s akin to on-the-job training.  This is very different than the reading and regurgitation common to most undergraduate studies.  Rather than regurgitating information as you do in college, law school exams require you to take what you’ve learned and extend it into new areas. 
            If you rely on your old undergraduate study methods in law school, you will likely find yourself behind the pack early on.  It will be hard to catch up and make good grades. 
            Law school is hard.  The grading curve makes it very competitive. You learn to think and speak on your feet.  You learn to read dense, indecipherable materials.  You learn to always see the other side of an issue. 
            The Socratic Method and the casebook prevail.  In law school, textbooks become casebooks.  You learn the law by dissecting many arcane judicial opinions.  You learn the law and how to apply it to factual situations. 
            Most of us simply don’t have these skills when we enter law school.  We have to pick them up quickly.  Our grades depend upon it.
            This is why you should spend a part of your summer preparing for law school.  You’ll hit the ground running.  You won’t get left behind.

<![CDATA[Buying a Law Degree]]>Thu, 06 Aug 2015 19:39:32 GMThttp://www.lawschoollabyrinth.com/blog/buying-a-law-degree
    The law school decision is the first and most important of many analyses 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.

    This is a major purchase.  At today's tuition rates, it's about equivalent to buying your first house.  Most people spend a long time planning for that purchase.  You may not have a career plan.  You may not need a broad range of options.  Regardless, you should start thinking about your career now, and fitting your law school decision into it.  Otherwise, you risk buying much more law school than you actually need.  It’s sort of like using a bazooka when a .22 caliber will do. 
    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.
    A top law school is a great credential.  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 more rigorous curriculum. 
    Law students have used leverage wisely for years.  They have borrowed money to finance law school.  It is a bet that borrowing money will result in income growth down the road.  Law school tuition has steadily and substantially increased every year since World War II.  First-year lawyer salaries increased at an even greater rate.  Leverage was a successful strategy.  Leverage works, but only if it means more money down the road.  Things have changed.  Tuition has continued to increase.  But incomes have decreased.  The legal profession is currently in a state of contraction  There are fewer jobs for law graduates, and certainly fewer high-paying big firm jobs.  
Do not go into debt without thinking about it.  Give your career and future plans deep thought.  Think of yourself as a buyer and consumer of educational services.  Make sure that you will get what you pay for.  Talk with a lot of people about your plans.  Seek advice from a broad cross section of knowledgeable folks.  Your parents, your banker (assuming that your parents aren’t your banker), other relatives, lawyers, law students, law professors and others can help you navigate these waters.  Even if they haven’t been to law school, they are likely a bit wiser than you and their opinion is valuable.   They will be more than willing to help you with this important financial decision.
<![CDATA[Is Law School Worth It Anymore?]]>Tue, 04 Aug 2015 12:35:13 GMThttp://www.lawschoollabyrinth.com/blog/is-law-school-worth-it-anymore
A lot of water has passed under the proverbial bridge since “Law School Labyrinth” was originally published in 2009.  In those days, the economy was cruising along and all of us passengers were largely oblivious to what lay just around the corner.  The big law firm hiring frenzy was insanity.   New graduates who had likely never earned much more than minimum wage were making big six figures. 

And then the bottom fell out.

Students who had suffered through three years of law school, and incurred mountainous debt in the process could not find jobs.  The doomsayers and naysayers pounced.  Time to look for big bucks somewhere else.   Suddenly the “disaffected lawyer” was in vogue.   People who loved to hate lawyers loved the fact that big firms had stopped hiring.   Books and blogs were dedicated to eviscerating legal education and the profession.  The question became “Is law school is worth it anymore?”

It’s the wrong question.

The real question to anyone facing the law school decision is simple:  “Do you really want to be a lawyer?”  

Why would anyone want to become a lawyer?  At its core, the legal profession is a helping profession.  It's a service business.  That means we serve others.  We help people to solve problems.

Now would be a great time to introspect a bit.  Rather than worrying about whether you'll find a job after you graduate, ask yourself whether you are looking at law for the right reasons.

The law school labyrinth has always been a crucible of sorts. It’s tough, demanding and will probably change you in a profound way. But if you aren’t going into it for the right reasons, it’s going to be a very long, frustrating haul.

<![CDATA[Taking Notes In Class]]>Wed, 29 Jul 2015 13:07:58 GMThttp://www.lawschoollabyrinth.com/blog/taking-notes-in-class
Your note-taking should focus on the reasoning and insight gained in the class, instead of every detail that arises during class, especially unproductive details of the Socratic dialogue. Spend more of your time trying to understand where the professor is trying to take you, especially how it all fits into the big picture of the law.

In particular, you should understand where the assigned cases fit into the overall body of law. Like any good journalist, remember always to ask “Who, What, and Why?” Asking “why” is a particularly useful skill in law school and law practice. As you read each case, you should always ask questions such as:  
  • Why is this case important?
  • Why are the parties before the court?
  • What is the issue in dispute?
  • Why did the court reach the conclusion it did?
  • Is the case about the interpretation of a particular element of a rule?
  • Is the case included to show how the common law has changed over time?
  • Why did the professor assign this case? What was the point or points he was trying to illustrate?
<![CDATA[No Shortcuts]]>Tue, 28 Jul 2015 13:29:07 GMThttp://www.lawschoollabyrinth.com/blog/no-shortcuts The first trap in the labyrinth is that there are simply no shortcuts involved in learning to “think like a lawyer.”  You simply must do the work in order to develop the skills.  There are numerous gimmicks out there—like the prep programs—that purport to give students a leg up on the competition. There are law student self-help books that will supposedly help you do just that. A particularly popular approach taken by writers in this genre, as well as a lot of social media commentators is that of the cynic. Law school is a game and the game is rigged. Law professors are arrogant idiots. Law firms and law practice will ultimately lead to career dissatisfaction.

The appeal of this approach is understandable. Law school is stressful and difficult. Many students, for the first time in their academic careers, find themselves somewhere other than at the top of their classes. Life makes more sense to these students if they accept the view that there is some inherent flaw in the system or that the game is rigged. Unfortunately, the law-school phenomenon is not that simple. There are good reasons for the law school pedagogy. As I will explain, the study of law is the way it is because it imitates the practice of law.

There are other books written by law professors who, at least on the surface, should be able to give you an inside view into law school. These books appeal to Type-A law students who just know that there is inside information out there that will help them graduate at the top of their classes.  And they believe that these professor/ authors will give it to them.  However, these unwitting students have fallen for the second trap in the labyrinth (and in the interest of full disclosure, I fell for it myself).  This trap is that there is inside information, short cuts, and “holy grail” outlines that will teach students how to succeed.  These students waste a great deal of time and energy searching for the holy grail, which distracts them from doing the real work involved in learning to think, reason and write like a lawyer. 

The truth is that there are no shortcuts and most of these books were written primarily to provide templates and checklists for the various tasks typically associated with law school and the study of law.   Further, in my opinion, many law professors are so removed from the law student’s struggle that they really can’t offer solid practical advice. Simply, most law professors attended law school a long time ago. And although most professors were very likely successful in law school, most cannot articulate why they were successful.

Law school is all about the journey itself. You learn to practice law by the lessons imparted along the journey, and you develop your legal skills as a result of that journey. You will learn to think like a lawyer through your intellectual bumps and bruises, a veritable trial and error cornucopia.]]>
<![CDATA[Law School: Two Years or Three?]]>Fri, 19 Apr 2013 22:46:33 GMThttp://www.lawschoollabyrinth.com/blog/law-school-two-years-or-threeI was recently interviewed by U.S. News and World Report for an article regarding a recent law school trend:  two year programs  (you can find the article at http://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/articles/2013/04/18/determine-if-a-two-year-law-school-program-is-a-good-fit).  It's a really interesting subject and the reporter asked a number of throught-provoking questions.  Candidly, before the interview I hadn't thought a great deal about the subject.

The bottom line for me is that in most cases, I don't think it's a good idea.  Some law schools sell the program on the basis of the opportunity cost avoidance.  However, I think that sacrificing that extra year in many cases will result in a  less enriching experience.  I returned to law school after an almost twenty year educational hiatus, so I will acknowledge that my experience and perspective may be different than those of a typical law student.  At the same time, I enjoyed the experience and even at my ripe old age grew hugely, in terms of my analytical and logical skills.  Further, there were so many subjects  that interested me.  I actually graduated with a significant number of hours more than I needed, just because I wanted to learn more about the subject.

There is something about the luxury of the academic environment that causes us to grow and flourish.  Cutting the law school experience short means less time to soak in this environment, perhaps less opportunity to spend with colleagues, and maybe even fewer clerkship opportunities.  In law school, a big part of what we learn is how to think in a very different way.  It's that ability that differentiates us from MBAs and other post-graduates.  It's learning by osmosis, almost a teaching oneself kind of experience.  Navigating it is half of the educational experience.  I simply find it hard to understand why anyone would want to reduce that experience.

I know my argument isn't exactly sound from a logical perspective.  After all, students in two year programs complete essentially the same number of classroom hours.  But for me, the classroom hours were the mere iceberg tip of my legal education.  It was the hours I spent wrestling with cases; the debates with my colleagues and the conferences with my professors that truly conributed the most to my legal education.

For some, a two  year program may be a great idea.  But for me, if I had it to do all over again, I would do it exactly the way that I did it- in three years.  If money is an issue for you, then consider going to a lower cost law school.  I've previously blogged about this subject.  You should not overpay for your legal education.  In many cases, "Local U" at tuition cost of thousands of dollars less than "Ivy League U" may be a great alternative.  If you have a good idea of what you want to do with your law degree and "Local U" will get you there, then you may be able to save a bundle with this decision.  I see that as a preferred alternative to reducing the time spent in law school. 

Whatever decision  you make, I wish you much success in your legal education and career.

<![CDATA[Baking Bread]]>Mon, 19 Mar 2012 00:35:14 GMThttp://www.lawschoollabyrinth.com/blog/baking-breadI bought one of those automated breadmakers recently.  They're amazingly easy to use.   It came with a recipe book, which included all kinds of recipes for different breads- rye, oat brand, pesto bread and a bunch of other fancy breads.  The first time I used it, I was a bit hesitant.  I loaded in the ingredients, exactly according to the recipe (the order of ingredients is important) set the program and pushed the start button.  There is a little window that allows you to check the progress of the bread.

I watched it work and thought that there was no way I would actually end up with a loaf of bread.  It mixed and kneaded, then kneaded and mixed.  Then, it would just sit there for a while, as the yeast worked its magic.  Eventually, I got tired of watching nothing and left the kitchen.  But every once in a while I would peek in, just to see if anything dramatic had happened.  The entire cycle took about two hours.  Since it was late, however, I finally just went to bed.

The next morning, when I woke up, I walked into the kitchen to check on the bread machine's progress.  To my amazement, a full, beautiful, browned loaf of bread was in the place, where the night before a bunch of flour and other ingredients sat in what appeared to be a useless state.    While it worked, I couldn't see much happening.  But lo and behold, eventually I ended up with incredibly fresh and tastybread.

Your legal education is like that.  If you are familiar with the John Jay Osborne book and movie, "The Paper Chase," you probably know the line.  On the first day of class, Professor Kingsfield tells the class that their brains are mush.  But he also promises to turn them into lawyers.  Their intellects will be honed.  Their minds will become razor-sharp.  It's the law school process.

At times, you might not think that much is going on.  You may worry that you aren't learning anything, or worse, not getting it.  But you are learning much.  You are learning a new way to think.  You are learning the art (and science) of argument.  You are learning to identify assumptions contained within those arguments.   Your skills of analysis and logic are growing in a way unlike anything you have ever done, other than perhaps when you went from a babbling infant to a thinking and speaking being.  Your mind is growing at an incredible rate and your thinking skills, so necessary to effective law practice are improving dramatically.

It may not seem like it right now.  But you are learning to "think like a lawyer."  And you are gaining skills that you will likely use for the rest of your career, whether you always practice law, become a CEO or simply serve your fellow man.

I wish you the best in your legal education.