Pre-Law Preparation: An Unconventional Approach
The best preparation for law school has nothing at all to do with law itself. Indeed - studying the law before you go to law school is a largely futile gesture. All of the law which is necessary for you to know will be taught to you in class, and most books that you could read about the law are about rules which may or may not be taught by your professor. The uselessness of studying the law before entering law school is exacerbated by the fact that the "law" which we study in law school is really not a full picture of the law in any jurisdiction in the United States - we study an idealized body of law which is designed to teach us specific principles, concepts and methods so that, when we actually begin to practice, we can look up and understand the governing law in a specific jursidiction.
This is not to say, however, that it is impossible to prepare before law school - it simply means that the conventional modes of preparation are useless. Remember: in law school, we are learning a mode of thought and not a body of facts. Anything that can attune our mind towards this mode of thought is beneficial. In order to figure out what will best serve this end, we need to first consider the qualities of the resulting modes of thought that we want to achieve. Legal thought is rational, based on common-sense, strategic, ordered and empathetic (when dealing with policy arguments). Legal work also requires several skills and knowledge sets: a strong command of the English language, a large body of general knowledge, a knowledge of American history, the ability to focus on the important bits of information amidst a sea of irrelevant facts and the ability to read quickly. By breaking our task down into these parts, we see that it is not an insurmountable one.
The first and most obvious matter that we need to examine is logic. Without logic, legal thought is disorganized and doomed to failure. Logic is a learned skill that can be developed and honed through several means. Reading books on symbolic logic and argument is one excellent way. Playing puzzles and strategic video games is another. One of the more obscure ways to help this is to simply sit down in a darkened room for an hour and think hard about something, without distraction or interruption. Regardless of the way that we develop this skill, it should be the primary focus of our work.
The second-most important thing to work on is our writing. Specifically, we need to work on non-fiction, argumentative writing. Legal writing should be clear and concise, using precise words to establish a specific point. Reading some books on argumentative writing can be beneficial. Improving your grammar is also crucial - a grammatically poor document will lose you points both in law school and in practice. A good way to improve on both of these is to sign on to some debate forums and start debating away at points. The game of Mafia can also be a great way to engage yourself in debate and have some fun with it at the same time. These both have the added benefit of improving your logic while you work on your writing.
Third, we can focus on our knowledge. A strong basis of general knoweldge can be helpful in law as no problem is solely about the law - every legal problem has facts behind it which may implicate a specialized field. American history and philosophy are also important to study because both are relied upon in judicial opinions. While a major study of every single field of knoweldge isn't necessary, reading a few books on these subjects wouldn't hurt. Better yet - take some extra general education classes in undergrad. Regardless of how you study it, though, this can be surprisingly helpful, especially in Constitutional Law.
Fourth, we should focus on our emotional intelligence and empathy. While it is tempting to put this on the back burner, it should not be ignored. All legal problems will affect someone's livelihood, and judges take this into account by incorporating policy into their decisions. More importantly, if you want to survive law school, you need to be able to be emotionally and mentally stable enough to handle long hours of being alone with books leading up to a high-stress 4-hour marathon of a final exam. This is not an easy thing to learn, though - travel abroad always helps, but that isn't a cure-all, nor is it accessible to everybody. You might try volunteering or simply trying to put yourself in new and unique social situations that you may not be familiar with.
One last note that is of special interest to litigators is public speaking. Anyone who wishes to do well in a courtroom must feel comfortable speaking in front of large crowds of people. More importantly, they need to be able to do it well. Learning the skills of projecting your voice and speaking confidently and clearly takes practice. For me, this practice came in undergraduate theatre, where I took on several roles in various college productions. For you, it might be speech classes or even student government.
To sum this all up, here is what I would recommend for each of these subjects:
Logic: Read books on logic and argument, play puzzles and strategic games, engage in debate
Writing: Engage in debate on forums, hone your grammar and spelling, practice precision in writing (You might even consider writing up brief essays on what you learn as you do this preparation)
Knowledge: Take general education classes or read books in the sciences, arts, philosophy and American history
Emotional intelligence: Travel, put yourself in new social settings
Public speaking: Try acting, debate, student government or speech classes
I hope that this article has helped you with your summer preparations. Above all, remember to have some fun before you start law school - while law school is not the horrifying experience that many seem to think that it is, it is by no means a cakewalk either and any pleasant memories to which you can cling will help you through the tougher study sessions.
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