Thursday, July 19, 2018

General Advice for Academically Motivated 1Ls

This summer, I have met with a few of my pre-law advisees who will start their 1L years in a few weeks. 

While I have blogged on general advice for students before, I decide to memorialize some of my specific advice for 1Ls.

Of course, every student is different, and this advice may be amended a bit, depending on the student's situation and goals. This advice, for example, assumes a desire to perform well academically. I encourage my co-bloggers to chime in through the comments or in separate posts. My co-blogger Josh Fershee (West Virginia) has already authored two 1L advice posts, which are worth consulting, here and here. It should go without saying that I did not follow all of my own advice, but I wish I had. 

  • Move into your house or apartment a few weeks early. Moving in early may not be possible for every student, but it is worth doing if you can. Getting settled before the work starts to pile up can help you avoid getting behind early.  
  • Live alone or with friends with similar schedules. I had some law school friends who lived with non-law students, usually people they knew from college who moved to the same town for a job. In many of these situations, the law school students were distracted from their studies and did not do particularly well in their 1L classes. I had the good fortune of living with an incredibly studious fellow 1L during my first year, and we provided each other with some positive peer pressure. Roommates don't have to be law students, but I would choose someone, like a medical resident, who is likely to be focused on work more than social outings (and is unlikely to throw a Tuesday night party at your place). 
  • Ask for advice and outlines from 2Ls and 3Ls. Early in the semester seek out the 2L and 3Ls who did well in your professors' classes. You can use law review membership as a proxy, and there may be a list of the students who got the highest grade in each class (usually called "booking" or "CALI-ing" the class). Ask those good students (politely) for their outlines and for tips about taking exams from your professors. Use those outlines--I suggest you get at least 3 for each class--as models and to check your own outlines, but not as an excuse to avoid producing your own outlines. The courses are likely to change a bit each semester, esp. if there is a new edition of the casebook, or if the professor switches casebooks, and much of the value of an outline comes from constructing it yourself. That said, having those other outlines to reference can be quite valuable. 
  • Consider the pros and cons of study groups. I decided against traditional study groups in law school because the two groups I briefly tried seemed to be (1) wasting a lot of time on law school gossip and (2) sharing their understudied ignorance. There were probably some better study groups, but I did not get invites to those, including one we called "the cult." My roommate and a few other fellow students did, however, form a hybrid group of sorts. We did not meet regularly, as many groups did, but we did share our outlines, and we analyzed practice exams together, which proved extremely helpful.
  • Make contacts and be professional. Both the student and professor contacts you make in law school can be invaluable in your career. Also explore the mentor programs through your law school to meet some practicing lawyers. Know that your reputation from law school may follow you into practice, so be professional even if some of your fellow classmates are not (and don't jump off a ferry boat at law prom).
  • Meet with your professors. I suggest meeting with each of your professors, in person, in the middle of the semester (and also after finals (and any midterms) to review your exams). The start of the school year is busy and you won't be ready to ask good, substantive questions yet. A month or more into the semester, however, you should meet with your professors, ask for general advice, and pose some questions about your outline. You can also ask your professors to review a practice test answer,though I would limit the review to a single issue (or maybe two). 
  • Do practice tests. Answering a lot of practice tests (and analyzing the answers with smart friends to see what I missed) helped me immensely in law school. If your professor provides practice tests, those are the best ones to use, but you can also find practice tests from other schools posted online (or through your friends at other law schools). For some of the practice exams we would just issue spot, but I think it is important to fully write out, and time, at least one full practice exam per class.  
  • Start your outlines early and start actively studying 6 weeks out. Start your outlines very early, in the first week or two of school. Outlining is much more important than briefing the cases, in my opinion, though I would attempt to brief cases for a while too, so you learn that skill. I quickly learned I preferred book briefing to briefing on a Word document. About 6 weeks before finals started, my friends any I started actively studying for finals. Obviously, we had been outlining and reading all along, but at 6 weeks until the first exam we really started studying. We would devote a week to each subject--flushing out our outlines and doing practice exams. We still kept up with our other classes, but we devoted 1-2 hours per day to the subject of that week. In the week before finals, we spent one day on each class, finalizing the outlines and writing out practice exams under the time limits of that class. 
  • Have a life outside of law school, but try to minimize additional responsibilities. Some law students only focus on academics during law school, especially in the first year, and I think this is a mistake. But it is also a mistake, in my book, to overcommit yourself, given that your 1L grades will be the focus of employers looking to hire summer associates in the fall of your 2L year. Intramural flag football, for example, helped keep me sane. Also, I typically did no law school related work from Friday evenings until Saturday evenings (though this practice was mostly abandoned close to finals). While it is important to have one or two non-law outlets, I also know law students who got overextended with extracurriculars and regret that choice during interview season.  
  • Eat well, exercise regularly, and get consistent, sufficient sleep. It is difficult to do all three of these in law school, but well worth it if you can. Packing some healthy food the night before can help you from living out of the snack machine. Most law schools are attached to universities that have nice gyms. And if you do not get consistent, sufficient sleep you will quickly see diminishing returns on your studying. 

Good luck and enjoy the process!

Haskell Murray, Law School, Pre-Law | Permalink


Great post, Haskell. Between this post and Josh’s two posts (to which you link), there’s not much else I would advise. But I will offer a few more general things here. They relate to what to do to prepare in advance for the first year of law school.

Read. Read a lot. Read for content, with purpose. But do not read law stuff unless you are passionate about and engaged by it. Read things you really want to read.

Also, write. Write consciously and in a structured way. Use email. Hand-write thank-you notes for graduation gifts or birthday presents. Consider why each sentence is there and whether the order of the sentences makes sense. Would the message be more efficient or effective if conveyed differently?

Finally, engage in good oral communication. Listen and speak. Convey information, make arguments, and respond to the information and arguments of others. Consider how others react to your participation in conversations.

Imv, all of these things help prepare pre-law folks for the law school tournament, which involves writing, listening, speaking, and (as both of you note) consistent, close reading, if done right.

Posted by: joanheminway | Jul 19, 2018 2:11:51 PM

I'm curious about your advice to start outlining almost immediately. I usually tell people to wait substantially longer than that. In my experience, a lot of students don't yet have good context for what matters. And so I've always expected that they'll just end up tossing most of what they've done instead of just revising. But your experience suggests otherwise?

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | Jul 20, 2018 11:34:21 AM

Thanks for these helpful comments.

Joan - this is excellent advice, and I give that advice to my pre-law students (though usually in a much earlier meeting than the one before they leave for law school).

Matthew - to me, the downside of starting early is just what you suggest (tossing or revising early work), but the downside of starting late is never catching up; I prefer the former. That said, I don't think it is that bad to start a bit later, if you can stay on top of your work. Also, having the outlines of a number of good, previous students can help alert you to what matters from the beginning.

Posted by: Haskell Murray | Jul 23, 2018 11:25:55 AM

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