Saturday, December 18, 2010

What will you do with all your free time now that exams are over?

Our law school upper-division students have apparently been telling the 1L's to spend the semester break reading study aid supplements for their spring courses.  Now I have a great deal of respect for go-getters who want to receive good grades.  But, I am not so sure that this advice to the 1L's is very good.

Here is why I am concerned about their reading up on their doctrinal 1L courses:

  • The syllabi for 1L courses have not been posted yet.  Consequently, they will be reading in the dark without knowing what topics and subtopics will be included in the course.  Study aids typically include material for a national audience with all topics that might be taught by some professor.  Rarely does a professor have time to cover all of that material.
  • Each professor has his or her own slant on course material.  Some professors have specific analysis frameworks that they want students to learn.  Some professors are more policy oriented to the material.  Some professors cover both state-specific codes as well as model codes.  Without more information on the professor (by attending class and tutoring sessions), 1L students will read out of context and absorb the study aid's point of view which may not be the professor's slant.
  • 1L students still have additional analysis skills and foundational areas of law to learn.  They will be encountering concepts, terms, and new ways of thinking in their spring courses that are foreign to them.  They may be working extensively with statutes for the first time.  Trying to learn these new areas without class discussion and case readings may leave them more confused than grounded in a new subject area.
  • Most 1L students are exhausted.  They have been through a grueling first semester with constantly demanding concepts, formats of testing, legal jargon, and new study techniques.  Many have not only lost sleep, but also eaten junk food and not exercised.  For some, they have been stressed from day one of fall semester.  Now they should relax, catch up on sleep, eat right, get on an exercise regime, and spend time with family and friends.  For most, learning more law will not be a therapeutic endeavor.

It would be more helpful for them to read one or two books on academic success, legal reasoning, or exam-taking strategies if they are determined to do something law related.  Books of these types will help them evaluate their study techniques and fill in gaps in their foundation of how to think about the law.  Here are some books that they may want to consider:

  • Charles R. Calleros, Law School Exams: Preparing and Writing to Win.
  • John Delaney, How to Do Your Best on Law School Exams.
  • John Delaney, Learning Legal Reasoning.
  • Richard Michael Fischl and Jeremy Paul. Getting to Maybe.
  • Wilson Huhn, The Five Types of Legal Argument.
  • Michael Hunter Schwartz, Expert Learning for Law Students (with workbook).
  • Andrew J. McClurg, 1L of a Ride: A Well-Traveled Professor's Roadmap to Success in the First Year of Law School.
  • Ruth Ann McKinney, Reading Like a Lawyer.
  • Herbert N. Ramy, Succeeding in Law School.
  • Dennis J. Tonsing, 1000 Days to the Bar: But the Practice of Law Begins Now!.

I think it is very important for law students (whether 1L or upper-division) to return in January well-rested, happy, healthy, and energized.  Spring semester will be just as long as fall - though hopefully a bit less overwhelming for the 1L's.  (Amy Jarmon) 

     

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