September 8, 2012
Some basic tips for reading cases
Reading cases takes up major blocks of time in a student's schedule. Students want to become more efficient and effective in their reading, but often do not know how because they are missing some important bits of information about the task. Here are some things that I try to point out:
- Initially as 1Ls, students will take forever to read cases - even relatively short ones - because they do not have legal context, vocabulary, and awareness of what is important. By the end of the first month of law school, however, they should see their reading times begin to come down. By second semester, they should be faster still.
- There are two reasons for reading cases. One reason is to gain an in-depth understanding of the case itself. The second is to understand how the case relates to the topic and to other cases within the topic. Both aspects need to be completed if the reading time is going to be worthwhile.
- Cases are often edited for a specific use in a casebook. At times what is edited out may cause confusion for the student reader because they do not readily understand the remaining material because of a lack of context and legal experience. Consequently, three good reads should be the limit. Then put a question mark in the margin next to the confusing section and continue reading.
- Cases are written for legal professionals and not for law students. Attorneys have experience and legal context that make cases easier to understand. Some things will not make sense to the student reader until class discussion.
- Not all cases are equal in density or importance. One case may contain multiple rules plus definitions of elements plus policy arguments. Another case may contain an exception to a rule. Yet another case may contain a definition of an element. Although length often relates to complexity, even short cases can contain a great deal of law.
- Older cases may still be good law. Some older cases are assigned - even if the law is now outdated - to show how the law evolves over time. A law student has to learn how courts reason over time, how policy may change the law over time, and how the law today may be different in a few years.
Paying attention to class discussion and the professor's observations about cases helps the student learn what that professor considers important about cases. By being patient with themselves and not expecting competence immediately, new law students can improve their case understanding and decrease reading time over several weeks. (Amy Jarmon)
September 6, 2012
When will I have time for . . .
A number of the 1L questions that I posted earlier are at least in part related to time management. Initially reading and briefing take so much time that 1Ls cannot comprehend how they will get done everything that they hear about: outline, review for exams, do practice questions, complete legal research and writing assignments, and more.
The answer is to have a routine that is repeated every week - do the same thing on the same day at the same time as much as possible. By having a standard schedule with study blocks for each task for each course, a law student can make sure that everything is getting done. A standard routine takes the guess work out of "What should I do next?"
Most new law students have never had to manage their time. They were able to get excellent grades with little effort. We know from national surveys that most of them did not study more than 20 hours per week in college and many of them studied far less. They could decide most days as they went along what they felt like doing. They could write papers at the last minute and get good grades. They rarely (if ever) studied on the weekends. And they got good grades while working and participating in leadership positions in numerous organizations.
Here are the basic steps for students who want to set up a study routine for the first time:
- Plan to spend 50-55 hours per week beyond class time for full-time studies and 35-40 hours per week for part-time studies.
- Initially set up a weekly schedule template with one-hour blocks from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. The final schedule may not use all of these time slots, but the extra slots help when first building a schedule. Eliminate any hours in the template that are not used. in your final schedule.
- Label all task blocks in the schedule with the what the time is alloted for in the block (examples: read torts; read contracts; writing assignments; meal; sleep).
- Build a time management schedule in layers so that you can make conscious decisions as you put in each layer.
- Layer One: put in your classes and any weekly review sessions that your law school provides for 1L students.
- Layer Two: include 1/2 hour review either before your class or before bed the night before the class so you have seen the material twice; back-to-back classes would mean 1/2 hour for each class.
- Layer Three: decide when you will get up (at minimum so you can get to school for your first 1/2 hour review and class); get up at the same time Monday through Friday even if your class times change.
- Layer Four: decide when you will go to bed Sunday through Thursday nights to get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep (less and you are chronically sleep-deprived according to the medical research).
- Layer Five: include true commitments that are the same every week (dinner with Auntie Em on Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m.; religious service at 5:00 p.m. Saturdays; study group 2-4 p.m. on Fridays); do not include things that you want to do but have time flexibility for (exercise that is not an actual class time).
- Layer Six: estimate for each class how long it takes you to prepare for class for one day (reading, briefing, problem sets, etc.) for the longest or hardest assignments; if necessary, keep a log for a week so you can make more realistic estimates regarding the time blocks; schedule in your class preparation time - if possible, prepare for Monday and Tuesday classes over the weekend.
- Layer Seven: schedule 6-8 hours per week for any paper/project course; you decide which number and the increments (for example, 7 hours: 2 + 2 + 3).
- Layer Eight: add weekly time to outline for each doctrinal class; 1 - 1 1/2 hours depending on the difficulty of the course.
- Layer Nine: add exercise time, meals, down time, chores, and other miscellaneous tasks as they seem to fit logically in the schedule.
- Layer Ten: after you live with the schedule for 7-10 days, make any adjustments; allow more or less time for estimated blocks; move any task blocks to other days/times that work better.
- Layer Eleven: add time to review for exams (weekly read through of your entire outline; intense study of specific outline topics as though you had to walk into the exam; practice question time; memory drills).
Task blocks in the schedule can be moved up and down during the day if a task is completed earlier than expected. Task blocks can also be flipped between days if necessary. The task blocks are place markers to make sure that all study tasks are completed within the week. As long as all task blocks are completed, the student is on target and can have guilt-free down time. (Amy Jarmon)
September 5, 2012
The 20 Top Questions 1Ls Are Asking
Here are the most common questions that I have been getting from my first-year students during the opening weeks of the semester:
- Will it always take me so long to read and brief cases?
- What is the best way to remember all of the legal terms and definitions?
- How do I choose the critical facts from the many facts that are in the case?
- Why is it that my issue statement does not match the issue my professor wanted?
- Why is it that some professors do not seem to care much about procedure?
- What is the difference between a holding and a judgment/disposition?
- What do they mean when they talk about policy?
- Why do we read such old cases that are not even still good law?
- Do I need to know all this history and background stuff for the exam?
- What are these outlines that everyone is talking about all the time?
- Can I just use someone else's outline rather make my own?
- When do I need to start outlining for a course?
- How do I find time to outline when I barely have enough time to read and brief cases?
- What is an IRAC and how do we learn to do it?
- When should I start doing practice questions and how do I find them?
- How do I decide what study aids to use for a course?
- Why do we have to do legal research and writing when we already have enough to do with our other courses?
- Will I be able to have some down time when I do not have to study?
- When am I going to take naps?
- When am I going to watch my favorite television shows?
As you can see, the questions have covered the waterfront. I'll spend several upcoming posts answering some of these questions. (Amy Jarmon)
September 4, 2012
Calling all new ASP staff members and ASP job changers
Are you a new academic support professional? Have you been an ASP'er for some time but have switched schools? Did you get promoted within ASP this summer? Please let us know your news!
We would like to do an academic support spotlight posting to introduce you if you are new. If you have switched schools or were promoted, we would like to use the same postings to update colleagues on your new position.For us to include you in a spotlight posting, just send me the following information:
- If new: One paragraph that can be posted with information on your position, law school, and you (education, past work experience, and interests).
- If job changing or promotion: Similar but with a focus on your new position and duties and where you moved from/title you held before.
- Everyone: A link to your law school's faculty profile on the website if one exists for you.
- Everyone: A link to your picture on your law school's website if one exists. (If not, you can send a small jpeg file.)
We welcome all of you who are new to the profession! Congratulations to those of you who have switched jobs or received promotions! We look forward to spotlighting you later this month. (Amy Jarmon)