Friday, September 9, 2011

How to succeed as a 1L - more study tips via the Lawyerist

The actual title is "3 Tips to Avoid Law School Fail." I forwarded it to my own students this morning. It's unfortunate that for many 1L's, their senior classmates have more credibility when it comes to study advice than their profs.  So it's good for them to hear from a disinterested observer, in this case the Lawyerist blog, advice about the need to write one's own outlines, try to get the most of class, etc.  Maybe you'll decide to pass it along to your students too.

1. Keep it simple, stupid

Law school is an all-in endeavor, and for three years, law school will likely be the biggest part of your life. If there are other distractions in your world, your grades will suffer without question. In my first year of law school, I almost got deployed to the middle east, my wife and I had the worst landlord in the history of landlords, and we had a baby. My grades absolutely suffered (“B-” is for baby… minus). With everything that I had to worry about outside of law school, I wasn’t able to dedicate my finite amount of stress management efforts to everything that was going on inside the law school.

To the greatest extent possible, you need to make sure that your home life stays static. There is a reason why the American Bar Association limits the ability of law students to work; and it’s not because the ABA cares about your free time. Your 1L year takes every ounce of effort that you can spare, and the ABA is well aware of that fact. The more you are distracted with doctor’s visits, family/relationship problems, thinking of ways to vandalize your landlord’s garden gnomes, or money issues, the more your GPA will look like an ace pitcher’s ERA.

2. Show Your Work

At the moment, commercial law school outlines are big business, but Gilbert’s and Emanuel aren’t the only ones doling out study aids.  Without much effort, you can find old law school outlines on certain databases, on eBay, or even with the help of a generous 2L. Avoid these things like hipsters avoid the suburbs.

Outlining—which you will come to love so, so much—has two purposes: 1) it consolidates your lecture and casenotes into an easy to use exam aid, and 2) the actual practice of “outlining” cements in your overloaded brain the key concepts that you need for the exam. This second aspect of outlining is the most underrated and most important part of your semester-end studying. When you buy or borrow an outline, you are only getting the first benefit of the outline. When you create your own, you are getting a better exam aid that isn’t generically designed for every law student in the country (looking at you, Gilbert’s), and you are walking in to the exam in much better shape.

3. Stay Classy

Law school isn’t undergrad; in fact, it’s your new job. If you attach the same negative connotation of calling in sick to work to the prospect of skipping class, the thought of dodging class will seem much less enticing. The biggest reason students skip a class is that they didn’t read the material and are afraid of getting called on. Don’t do this. Missing class means you miss the following: you miss an explanation of the insanely confusing contracts case you read, you miss out on indications from the professor on what he thinks is important, and you miss an opportunity to contribute in class. If you didn’t read the materials, then you can still go to class but just give the professor a heads up so that she doesn’t make you look stupid in front of everyone. If you are avoiding reading enough to the point that you are afraid of alerting the professor repeatedly, then you are doing something wrong.

Lots of people make lots of mistakes in law school… too many to cover here. But the above three screw-ups were the ones that doomed me on occasion and have doomed others over the years. Go to your classes, lock-down your home life and do your own outlines. Do those three things and you will get through the toughest three years of your life with a GPA that is hopefully somewhere above Pi.


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Writing one's own outline is time better spent applying a trusted upper-classmate's outline to practice exams. Students are not tested on their ability to outline, and "cementing" knowledge in outline form is less useful than practicing, over and over, applying the law & policy in your outline to hypotheticals. But I do agree that commercial outlines (unless written by your professor) are less valuable than homegrown outlines.

Posted by: Jerry | Sep 10, 2011 8:43:26 AM

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