About the Author: When xeoh85 was a 1L at UCLA Law School, he was at the top of his class with a 1L cumulative GPA of 4.091; he was later accepted as a transfer student at Yale, Harvard, and Stanford for his 2L year, and he eventually chose to attend Stanford. He hasn't posted on the forums in a while (too busy rocking at life, no doubt), so I wouldn't expect him to post on this thread - and certainly don't think I have much to contribute (I have never interacted with xeoh85 even on the forums, and all I did was compile his posts into one convenient place. It's xeoh85 who deserves all the credit for this amazing guide).
Advice for Doing Well in Law School, originally posted in segments at memberlist.php?mode=viewprofile&u=8824 by xeoh85
There are four basic pillars to doing well in law school. Ignore any one of them, and you will surely land in the middle of the pack:
1) Time Management - both within and across subjects.
You must frontload your study time early in the semester so that you are not overwhelmed in the late semester when you are trying to finish up your course outlines and turn in papers for your legal writing class all at the same time.
2) Comprehension and Synthesis of Material - you MUST make your own outlines.
You should use any materials at your disposal to do this, including hornbooks and other student's past outlines. However, you must make your own outline. Using another student's will be of little use. Your outline must also be tailored to the specific class and exam type that your professor will be giving. Shoot for under 20 pages per class, so that it will be easy to memorize. You should focus on legal concepts, not cases. Even if your test is open notes, you MUST memorize all the material in your outline. You should not ever look at notes during a test, unless you are looking for some specific wording of a rule or case name.
3) An Understanding of the Essay-Based Exam - read the book "Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams."
This book is pure gold. I would suggest reading it one time before starting 1L, and then again about half way through every semester. It will provide you with much insight into what professors are looking for, and what you should be building your outline around.
4) Familiarity with the Specific Professor's Testing Style - you should read past exams early.
I would say that 75% of the battle is handling the test itself. Everyone will know the law. It is the test format and the complex fact patterns that are the problem. Timing is a huge issue. You must pre-outline your answers. The only way you will be prepared to handle all this is with practice taking the specific tests your professor gives. I would suggest reading through an exam for each class about 3-4 weeks in, and then starting practice tests about 2-3 weeks before finals.
Other than these 4 pillars, each person has their own style. Personally, I would take almost all of my notes while doing the reading in the library. This would make my notes much cleaner, and would free me up in class to participate in discussion, and also to fill in the gaps in my notes where I was a bit confused. On the downside, this strategy prolonged my study hours significantly.
Also, always remember that 1L is really all that matters. You will interview for jobs long before you ever get your 2L grades. The winner is he who figures out the law school education system first. Most will not figure it out until 3L.
From my understanding of law schools in general, most professors will readily make available select examples of their past exams. They don't like grading gibberish crap, so they want you to be familiar with their format.
If your professor does not offer enough past exams, there are preparation books you can buy with mock exams. They won't be your professor's specific format, but they are a good second choice or supplement. For this, I like the "Siegel's" series. Or, if all else fails, you can just use exams from one of the other professors teaching the same subject.
As for how to get an A+? You typically have to actually impress your professor. Usually this will only happen if you spot a significant number of issues that your professor himself did not see on his own exam.
How much free time did you end up having per week? And if possible, what was a typical daily routine for you?
Hehe. What is this "free time" you speak of?
Before you go into law school, you should mentally prepare yourself for one basic truth:
1L is the most important year of your legal career.
You will interview with firms (or other employers) and receive offers long before they ever see the grades from your first 2L semester.
If you truly want to be successful and distinguish yourself from the pack, you need to go in with the mentality that you are going to absolutely devote your life to your legal studies for that first year. Everything else must come second. Period.
Sure, some students find lots of free time. They are not likely getting A's. If you are studying correctly, there is more to do than there are hours in the day. For me, I would go as long as I could while maintaining my sanity.
That being said, my average day would go something like this:
- Wake up at 6:30am, leave house at 7:30 am (I live in Long Beach, it's a 1.5 hr commute).
- Class at 9:30 - 10:50am
- Library 11:00 - 12:20 (try to finish up the reading for whichever class had the smallest assignment that night)
- Class at 12:30 - 1:50pm
- Late lunch at 2:00pm - on campus
- Class at 2:30 - 3:50pm
- Library from 4:00 - 7:00 pm
- Dinner at 7:15 pm - on campus
- Library from 8:00 - 11:30 pm
- Drive home, watch TV for an hour, sleep...
* I would do this schedule Mon-Thurs.
* On Fridays, I would typically finish my reading for Monday early, and I would then host a group outlining session in a library room during the evening.
* On Saturdays, I would usually be in the library, or hosting a second outlining session.
* I would usually work from home on Sundays, or take Sunday off.
I would also suggest doing most of your work from the library, even if you live close. It forces efficiency. I would also suggest finishing 100% of your reading for the next day's class before you leave campus each day (even on Fridays).
I would further suggest doing the reading slow, and taking most of your notes during your library hours rather than in class. Use class time to participate in discussion, and to fill in the gaps from the notes from your library hours. This will make your notes much cleaner and more complete, and you will get a lot more out of discussions in class.
You should also be strategic in your time management - frontload your work early in the semester:
You will have a first year legal writing class. You will probably find that it takes up a disproportionate amount of time with respect to its units. You will probably have several ungraded assignments, then one graded assignment near the end of each semester. What you want to avoid is being overwhelmed later on in the semester when your graded writing assignment is nearing its due date and you are still trying to finish your outlines in time for finals.
Thus, what you need to do is, frontload your work early in the semester. If you are working hard, you may find that you could easily take weekends off during the first half of the semester. DON'T! Use this time to get ahead on your course outlines.
You should aim to get your outlines for all classes completely up to date each weekend up until your graded writing assignment is assigned. Then you will not fall too far behind on outlining while working on the assignment. That should afford you enough time after you turn in the writing assignment to quickly complete all of your outlines by the last day of classes. This will give you the entire "review period" (which, if your school has one, is a window of about a week after the last day of class and before your first exam) to simply focus on memorizing your outlines and taking practice exams (while most of the other poor students will be frantically trying to get their outlines finished).
This is law school, not summer camp. In law school, you should be doing the amount of work in one day that you did during a week in undergrad.
Then again, the above mentality is not for all students. Most will go to the Thursday night "Bar Reviews" at the local pubs. Most will take a relaxed and carefree attitude merely because they got into a T20 school. Most will think that they can skate by like they did in their undergraduate poly sci classes while still receiving "good" grades.
But remember.. Most students in law school never receive an A grade during their entire legal education.
If you do what everyone else does, expect the same grades.RexAllDay wrote:
The question I have is how did you prevent yourself from burning out? I mean you have a pretty full schedule and you even worked hard on weekends. Towards the end of the semester did it catch up to you?
Each person will have to find their own way to cope with the workload and avoid burnouts. The following are a few things that helped me:
1) I have a loving girlfriend whom I live with who takes good care of me (she must love me if she stayed with me through a 1L like this, lol).
2) I always set small goals that fit into the big picture, and attempted to focus on the near term goal if I was feeling a burnout setting in.
3) I always would try to remember that it was only a semester. I would attempt to focus on purely the semester at hand. 15 weeks. Remember the payout at the end. You can do anything for 15 weeks if you are determined enough. After that, enjoy your winter break, and mentally prepare yourself for the next 15 weeks.
4) But more importantly, a competitive spirit is what kept me from burning out. I have always been motivated to be the best.
When I would be the last person to leave the library at midnight, it would re-fuel my motivation and energy.
I was not the last poor sap to finish his work and return home for the day. No no no.
On those late nights when I was the last to leave the law school... I was the last man standing.
As for the sleep issue . . . I would sleep about 12 hours on Sundays. =)
As for the commute . . . I actually enjoyed it. Sirius satellite radio gave me the necessary "down time" I needed to relax my mind a bit.snotrocket wrote:
If you had to guess, where would you say you ranked relative to all your classmates in terms of quality and total hours of effort put into 1L? I would have to agree that more work beats less from the standpoint of assuring (not just making possible) a very good outcome. But would you say that you and like twenty other people all worked just as hard, and you just managed to get lucky and edge them all out for the #1 spot? Or do you figure that you were way up in the 99th percentile of total effort, with those trailing you still doing a shit ton of work, but noticeably less than you?
While I would say that I was probably one of the hardest workers, it was not by a large margin. I would say that maybe 20% of the class about matched my workload in terms of total study hours. Since many people worked from home, I can never be 100% sure.
I will say this...
Working tons of hours will not alone get you good grades.
There were plenty of people who matched my effort and landed squarely in the middle of the class. This is because hard work is a prerequisite, but merely a factor in 1L success.
You must work hard, but you must also work intelligently.
Many people feel that they will be ok if they are able to learn all of the information relevant to the class. As we have been discussing, this is necessary, but is definitely not enough. Refer to my four pillars. You will notice that "tons of library hours" would only really apply to Pillar 2: Comprehension and Synthesis of Material.
Achieving a successful law school semester is like building a pyramid of cards.
The base of the pyramid is the knowledge you accumulate that is relevant to the course. Without a strong knowledge base, you will get nowhere. However, a base by itself makes for an unimpressive pyramid. You must not ignore any of the above pillars. You must build the entire pyramid, with that 3-8 hour exam at its peak. Like any structure built of cards, fail on any one of the pillars and your pyramid will likely fall.
Think of it logically. Your entire grade depends on this one exam. 3 hours. It goes by in a blink. It is incredibly stressful for most people. You could know everything that one could possibly know about the subject, and you would still flub the exam if you ignored pillars 3 (understanding the law school essay exam) or 4 (familiarity with your professor's specific exam style). Likewise, if you ignored pillar 1 (time management), even a solid understanding and familiarity with the exam will not save you, because you likely were unable to finish, polish, and memorize your outlines in time. Or perhaps you finished your outlines too late and were unable to take enough practice exams, causing you to flub pillar 4... and the circle continues. The point is, these pillars are all interconnected. On a law school exam, I dare say it is nearly impossible to get an A if you mess up on any one of the 4 pillars.
Knowing this, you should rejoice! The vast majority of students will neglect most if not all of the pillars...
1) Study Groups: When you hosted the outlining sessions, I assume you had as good or better command of most of the material compared to whoever else was involved with them. Did you find that the sessions helped you much, or did you feel that you helped your group mates more? Did others bring things up that you had not thought of but that seemed important not to miss? Or did you find that explaining or discussing made things more clear for you?
My study groups ranged from 3-4 people to just myself and a friend. I tried to keep them small. I believe that too many people can be inefficient.
I found that the outlining sessions helped me a lot, even if there were days when I may have been pulling a bit more weight than others. No matter how much you think you know, the perspectives of other people always offer valuable insight.
Personally, I was always happy to answer questions students had at any time in general, because I feel that explaining things to others forces you to expose holes in your own knowledge and address them. It also enhances your memory of the material.snotrocket wrote:
2) If you have read the article on here called Success in Law School, I wonder how congruent you found that person's approach with yours as far as the things you read and how you put together your outlines.
After your post, I read the article Success in Law School.
I would NOT recommend following the writer's system to the letter, especially for 1L.
I agree that 99% of what the writer said in this article was true. However, I believe that his approach was not enough, and is therefore risky.
Allow me to elaborate:
In the article, the writer described the difference between his approach and a classmate's:
1) The writer describes a portion of his approach as follows:
"I will go home and take out my Case Summary book keyed to my class. I will also read the corresponding sections of the Examples and Explanations book for the class that explains and then applies the material. I will also read the sections of the hornbook, which is a treatise on that subject, relevant to the material. I will then read the assigned reading very quickly. I will only carefully read the heart of the court’s analysis, which I can easily spot because the case summary book, hornbook, and Examples and Explanations book have all pointed me toward it. The rest of the material will only get a quick read. My time is spent thinking about how this case will be tested on an exam and how it will fit on my dense outline. I see where the case fits in the scheme of things because my system is big-picture focused."
The writer spent moderate time studying, and went out to socialize 5 nights a week.
He got a 3.7 GPA.
2) The writer described his classmate's approach as follows:
"Her system was completely opposite mine, and she did very well (a bit better than me). . . Her basic idea was to explore fully 100% of every corner and turn of the material presented in class and in the assignments. While I tried to use external guides to look at the big maze from an aerial view, she decided instead to actually work through every possible turn of the maze. She had an acute eye for detail that the reader must not discount. She literally worked through every possible branch of the complex tree of possibilities presented by the class."
The classmate got a 3.8 GPA.
Now, you may be thinking: If I can do less work and still do as well as the person who spent 24/7 in the library, why not take the easy approach?
You should not, because adopting the writer's approach alone is a huge gamble for 1L.
I am not saying that you cannot do what the writer did and score within the top 10%. What I am saying is, it is clear that the writer is a very smart person. While his system worked for him, it will not work for everyone. Furthermore, given that he was a smart person, he might have been able to get a 4.0 or better if he had done more work.
Now you may be thinking: I have a 4.0 from an Ivy undergrad. I'm smart. I can pull off this guy's method no problem while partying it up.
This might be true. However, are you so sure of your own genius that you are willing to stake your 1L grades on it? Believe it or not, there are a lot of smart people in law school. Given that 1L is the single most important year of your future career, are you really willing to roll the dice and hope that you are smarter than the rest? Or would you rather go the extra mile, doing perhaps a little more work than is necessary, to give yourself every chance within your power to do your absolute best?
Given all that is at stake during 1L, I chose to leave nothing to chance. While the writer's method may be well suited for a 2L or 3L student, I would strongly recommend doing significantly more during 1L. By 2L, you will have had time to assess your own aptitude, and will be more aware of where you can cut corners.
Thus, I adopted a method that was a mixture of the writer's and his classmate's approaches:
1) I would first do the assigned readings from the casebooks.
While doing this, I would make short case briefs (only what would refresh my memory for class discussion, and perhaps the key language from the legal rule the case emphasized). I would then add to my notes in the library. 95% of my Notes were taken in the library, making them much cleaner and allowing me to simply fill in the gaps during class. I would make every effort to understand the concept being put forward from the assigned readings before I would turn to other study sources. This portion of my method is most analogous to the classmate's approach described above.
2) After I had a decent grasp of some material from the casebook, I would THEN turn to the hornbooks, Examples & Explanations, etc.
I would proceed to do almost everything that the writer listed in his approach. The key difference is that I had already made an attempt to grasp the material on my own before being spoon-fed it by a professional supplement.
I believe that my approach has some solid advantages:
a) By making an attempt to learn the material on your own from the casebooks, you will have a "light bulb" moment go off in your head when you later go through the professional supplements and it makes even clearer what you already thought you knew. Thus, both your memory retention and grasp of the material should be significantly greater.
b) Reading the assigned materials first will give you a much better idea of what stuff in the professional supplements is relevant. It is true that you want to end up knowing more than what was assigned. However, this does not mean that you want to know more topics. Rather, you need to know the topics from your assigned readings, simply with more nuances and greater detail. Thus, doing all of the assigned reading first will save you from wasting valuable study time reading something from a professional outline that might never be relevant to an answer on your exam.
c) The law varies greatly. You will find that it is rarely clear, and can be stated differently in many different publications. Your professor's interpretation of the law is KING! If your casebook conflicts with a hornbook, the CASEBOOK WINS. Thus, purely relying off of outside sources to get your black letter law right for your outline can be a huge gamble.
So, in conclusion. I actually do recommend doing most of the things the writer of suggests, as long as you do more. Make that real attempt to first learn all you can from the assigned readings. Then go to the professional outlines and refine your knowledge with an eye on the exam.
After all, this is 1L. Even if the extra mile only gets you a slight increase in your grades, it was likely worth it. You had no way of knowing your own aptitude and how much effort you would have to give. Play it safe. Do all that you possibly can.
A few other things...
Use redundancy - Backup your work:
Having your laptop stolen or destroyed near finals can ruin your life. Don't let this happen to you. I would suggest either:
1) Buying an external hard drive and backing up your files every night; or
2) Using a service like http://www.carbonite.com, where your files are automatically uploaded every day to a remote server for safe keeping. (I did this. It only costs $50 a year.)
Learning to be highly organized is a must:
I used Microsoft OneNote for almost all of my notes, briefs, outlines, etc. I would highly recommend this program, as it will make your life much easier.
1) Instead of having endless files that pile up and are hard to keep track of, I had everything clearly available in organized folders.
2) No need to ever remember to save your work - each keystroke modifies the file. Take your notes, close your laptop, and go on to the next thing.
3) The bullet tabbing in this program is vastly superior to Microsoft Word's, and makes taking notes much faster.
4) There are no page breaks.
5) You can easily use hyperlinks between different sections of your notes, such as if you wanted a hyperlink to a case brief within your notes or outline.
Click on the thumbnails for screenshots:
--ImageRemoved-- Image --ImageRemoved-- --ImageRemoved--
Case Briefs, Notes, & Outlines:
Case briefs build notes --> Notes build outlines --> Outlines build exams
There are all sorts of opinions out there about briefing cases. Personally, I would not stress over it too much. Case briefs should be nothing more than a tool to a) aid you during in-class discussions, and b) help you extract valuable language and/or concepts to your notes, and eventually your outline. Once a brief has served these purposes, you can generally forget about it. It is not a good study tool. Your outline is the tool.
Thus, if you decide to brief your cases, you should not focus on the specific facts of the case too much. They will be relatively unimportant in the long run for most topics (there are of course exceptions to this, such as Constitutional Law, Personal Jurisdiction in Civil Procedure, and the Takings Clause in Property (or Con Law)).
As I have stated before many times, I preferred to take 95% of my notes during library hours. I would make my notes as clean as possible, and I would highlight anything that needed to be clarified. Then, in class, I would simply make sure that I asked all the questions necessary to get rid of my highlighted text.
I generally agree with the writer of the Success in Law School article, but with a few minor adjustments:
1) I agree that you should shoot for a short final outline that is focused on legal concepts. I would work on my outlines on a weekly basis, and would usually end up with each being about 35 pages by the end. I would then go through and edit the outlines for style and to trim the fat. I could usually get the final revisions down to 10-20 pages.
2) MEMORIZE YOUR FINAL OUTLINE! The author of the Success in Law School article did not stress this enough. You should only look at an outline during a test if you are seeking the specific name of a case, or you are looking for some brilliantly worded language of a specific rule. The final outline I would walk into the test with would be tabbed on the sides, so that I could quickly flip to these specific sections (though I rarely did so). Memorizing your outline will a) save you time during the test, and b) allow you to spot far more issues (since you are unlikely to spot an issue if you would have to first look in your outline to remember the material that brings it to light).
3) I do not like the flow-chart approach. Some do, but my personal preference is for the bullet-tabbed approach as shown in the 4th screenshot above. The concepts follow the same logic as in a flow chart, but I believed that bullet-tabbed outlines are much less cluttered and easier to read, making them easier to memorize.
4) One unusual thing that I would do was to build in "forks" into my outlines. (If you read "Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams," you will understand that all legal issues basically break down to either forks in the facts or forks in the law - places where there are two different roads that can be explored and arguments can be made for either side.) Thus, I would build the really awesome forks into my outline directly, and note how I would handle them if they appeared. You can see this under my Parol Evidence section in the 4th screenshot.
Where did I found these so-called "forks"? Occasionally they would come from my own creativity, but most often I would extract them from professional supplements (Examples & Explanations is great for this).
5) Like with my notes, I would always highlight any sections of my outline where I was unsure about the black letter law. By the end of the semester, I made sure to go to the professor's office hours and clarify all of the yellow on my outline.
6) In addition to my outline, I would always build a ONE PAGE CHECKLIST. On this checklist, I would simply list (in logical manner) the topics and issues which would be relevant to run through during an exam. After taking practice exams, I would often add and highlight the specific issues that I found myself missing the most.
On the exam, after I got through the outlining phase of an answer, I would run through this checklist before I started typing. Usually, it would bring to light 2-3 issues that I had missed.
Quite a few people have also been asking for my opinion on what one should do during the summer before their 1L year.
Personally, all I did was read Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams. (Actually, I also read several other similar books, all of which were crap. Save your time. Read this one.) I then took the rest of the summer off to relax, have fun, and mentally prepare myself for the 1L grind.
Since I never took a professional prep course, I cannot truly comment on their merit. However, I can sure speculate:
In my view, any pre-law prep that is geared toward learning substantive law will probably not help very much, and may even be detrimental. This is because all law school courses and professors are different. The law varies greatly. Courses will only cover a small portion of the substantive law (whatever the professor finds most interesting), so it will be unlikely that you will learn what is necessary during the summer. If you learn something that is later contradicted in your class, it may serve to confuse you. Learning contradictory or extraneous material will harm your memory retention. This goes to the same reason why it is imperative that you make your own outlines during the semester.
There is also the burn-out factor to consider. While I'm sure you are pumped right now because you are about to go to law school, you might be yearning for summer before you know it. Don't regret not enjoying your last one.
Thus, it is my opinion that you should only prepare by reading articles on strategies for success. Don't try to get a head start on your substantive classes.
But that's all just my opinion...
Law school is formal and final and full of all sorts of pressure, so trying to stuff yourself into some sort of a box is bound to engender frustration and, for me, poor results. There is no archetypical "law school ace."
I completely agree. Take everything you read (including my advice) with a grain of salt. Always remember that what worked for me is but one of many ways to get top law school grades. I'm sure that there are others who took a completely opposite approach and did just as well.
Edit: For quick reference, here are the supplements that Xeoh recommends using in the above posts, along with his reasons why and links to them on Amazon.com:
1. "Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams"
This book is pure gold. I would suggest reading it one time before starting 1L, and then again about half way through every semester. It will provide you with much insight into what professors are looking for, and what you should be building your outline around.
(See supplement #2 below for more info on "forks")One unusual thing that I would do was to build in "forks" into my outlines. (If you read "Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams," you will understand that all legal issues basically break down to either forks in the facts or forks in the law - places where there are two different roads that can be explored and arguments can be made for either side.) Thus, I would build the really awesome forks into my outline directly, and note how I would handle them if they appeared.
2. "Examples & Explanations" series
---Where did I found these so-called "forks"? Occasionally they would come from my own creativity, but most often I would extract them from professional supplements (Examples & Explanations is great for this).
3. "Siegel's Essay and Multiple-Choice Questions & Answers" series
---If your professor does not offer enough past exams [for you to practice with], there are preparation books you can buy with mock exams. They won't be your professor's specific format, but they are a good second choice or supplement. For this, I like the "Siegel's" series. Or, if all else fails, you can just use exams from one of the other professors teaching the same subject.
[Y]ou MUST make your own outlines. You should use any materials at your disposal to do this, including hornbooks and other student's past outlines.
If your casebook conflicts with a [supplement], the CASEBOOK WINS.