How to Succeed in Law School – Student Guide #1
The following article was adapted from a fantastic series of TLS Blog posts by user “JayCutler’sCombover”. This student achieved immense success during 1L at a Tier 2 school; in turn, he was able to transfer to UC Berkeley Law. He generously took the time to detail his successful strategies below. Published February 2010, last updated September 2010.
Table of Contents
Should you prep this summer? Yes. An emphatic yes. I did, and it helped. However, they key is that you should focus on test-taking prep rather than substantive law prep. No one in law school will ever teach you how to take a law school exam (at least in my experience), so it is up to you to figure that out on your own. Since you will be inundated with substantive material during the semester, it is best to get test-prep done during the summer (at least as much as you can). Once you understand the types of tests you will be taking, this can help you structure your studying during the semester.
I had a friend who applied for a summer internship (a nonpaying legal job). My friend was bright and ended up in the top 25% at my school. This friend told me about how he ended up getting his summer job. It seems that the employer collected resumés until a certain deadline and then organized the resumés in order of GPA (from highest to lowest, with the highest GPA's on top of the stack). Then, the employer called the first 3 people off the top of the stack and offered them summer positions. Grades are all that matters to employers (most of them anyway), and this is why I am advocating summer test prep. Additionally, I would not have been able to secure my current job, which pays more than $1K per week, had I not prepped.
Here is a list of books you should get this summer for test prep:
Getting to Maybe: http://www.amazon.com/Getting-Maybe-Exc ... 0890897603
How to do Your Best on Law School Exams: http://www.amazon.com/How-Your-Best-Sch ... 0960851453
The important thing in the "0L Prep" debate is to distinguish between substantive prep (e.g., Examples and Explanations) and exam prep (the three books I listed -- Getting to Maybe, LEEWS, and John Delaney's examsmanship book). I did the 6 week substantive prep program as outlined in Planet Law School before 1L started (at least most of it anyway) and was convinced that I was going to get ahead. It ended up generally being a waste of time, and here's why: my teachers didn't go over half the stuff I prepped. For example, in property, I read all of the E&E sections on personal property (mislaid property, bona fide purchasers, etc.). All told, I spent about twelve summer hours on prep for personal property. Then I got to my property class, and the entire class focused on real property. We didn't spend one second on personal property [As a side note, I'll address the E&E's later and why they are useful once you are actually in law school]. Biggest waste of time ever.
As a caveat, I will say that, if as a 0L you are totally clueless about the law and the legal system in general (like me prior to law school), there is one "substantive" book that *might* be useful for you: John Delaney's Learning Legal Reasoning (http://www.amazon.com/Learning-Legal-Re ... 0960851445). It is basically an introduction on how to brief and provides great background on the common law, the court system, policy, and other general legal knowledge that no one will ever discuss with you in law school. If you are like me and could neither pronounce nor define "appellate court" before law school, you will probably find this book useful. Others will think it is the stupidest book ever. I will add that I briefed all the cases in Delaney's book and compared them to the model answers, and that was the last time I formally briefed a case. Once school started, I used the LEEWS briefing method, which is an abbreviated method that I will get into when I talk about LEEWS more in depth.
Getting to Maybe by Fischl and Paul
WHY GETTING TO MAYBE ROCKS: First, the book is written by law professors Fischl (https://www.law.uconn.edu/people/110) and Paul (https://www.law.uconn.edu/people/133), both of whom graduated from Harvard. If nothing else, getting the exam-taking perspective from professors is beneficial, since most other pre-law books (Law School Confidential, PLS) are written by former law students rather than law professors. The book also gives a good overview and breakdown of the types of exam questions you will encounter on a 1L exam (issue spotters and policy essays). Perhaps most importantly, this book was helpful in drilling home the point that in law school, you will need to get comfortable with ambiguities. On exams, there are no "right" answers, and two "A" exams might end up having different (and sound) reasoning and end up reaching different conclusions.
WHAT GETTING TO MAYBE MAY LACK: The authors spend about half the book talking about forks, twin forks, pitchforks and all kinds of stupid forks, which I never understood. The authors also get a bit preachy at points, and the book drags at multiple points. Also, the exam taking tips are a little too general, as I felt that LEEWS (which I will discuss next) gave a better system for attacking law school exams.
Overall: I took about a week to get through this book and really didn't understand what the authors were taking about until I got through a couple weeks of law school. My advice would be to get through the book, and if you have time at fall break/thanksgiving, thumb through it again briefly to touch up on the main points. It is a pretty easy read and a good introduction to law school exams, and since your entire grade depends on one exam, it is never too early to start thinking about ways to attack your law school exams. Get this book used somewhere (half.com, amazon.com), as it can probably be had for under 10 bucks.
Also, as a companion to this book, if you can somehow get access to Jeremy Paul's article "A Bedtime Story," 74 Virginia Law Review 915, read that before school starts or sometime after school starts. I read it in one of my classes, and it was a great introduction to legal reasoning that cleared up some of the stuff Getting To Maybe had discussed.
On to LEEWS (http://leews.com/). I like to think of LEEWS as analogous to an LSAT prep class because it gives you a systematic approach for law school classes and law school exams. In my experience, I only had one class in which a professor actually went over the best way to write a law school exam. Most professors I had would merely go over one exam in class and then tell you that on the real thing, you would need to spot the issues and argue both sides. Most professors never touched on any of the material the Miller talks about in LEEWS (i.e. read the call of the question first, set up conflict pairs, outline your answers before typing, flip through the entire exam before starting, use headings and small paragraphs to make essay answers easy to read, and so on and so forth). Like an LSAT prep class, LEEWS will be the priciest supplement you will purchase ($100+ brand new for the CD and book set), but I guarantee you that it is a worthwhile investment. [side note: please check out this thread on LEEWS for a two-sided argument about LEEWS; there is a bunch of good stuff in the thread - viewtopic.php?f=3&t=77646].
There is no difference between attending the live session and purchasing the CD's, but I would recommend purchasing the CD's and doing LEEWS before 1L if it is feasible. Frankly, once you get into 1L you will soon realize that you won't have 8 hours of free time to listen to LEEWS and learn the system. Moreover, if you purchase the CD's before school starts, you can work at your own pace. I would recommend taking about 1-2 hours a day over the course of a few weeks to work through LEEWS. There is A LOT of information to digest, and most of it is rock solid advice.
In addition to the exam prep, the LEEWS briefing method was one of the most beneficial things I learned during law school. I read every case that was assigned and used the LEEWS briefing method for each case. The gist of the LEEWS briefing method is that you should pull out the black letter law and only write down the facts needed to jog your memory about the case if you are called on in class. Class participation (in my experience) DOES NOT MATTER AT ALL! I never once volunteered to speak during the semester when I wasn't cold called, and I generally made a good faith effort when I was cold called (if you were to ask my peers, I would bet they would say I was a median student based on what I said in class). Don't waste your time doing one-page briefs just because it will help you look better in class. Keep your eye on the prize and only do what will help you on an exam.
Here is an example of a LEEWS brief that I did for Torts. It is pretty simple, but it helps you get the idea. When I would go back and outline, I could then just insert the "Tools" section into my outline (since it was the BLL that I needed for the exam) and delete the fact summary:
Vosburg v. Putney (Battery)
Tools: A wrong-doer is liable for all injuries resulting directly from a wrongful act/battery whether they could or could not have been foreseen by the wrong-doer. [Note: Children are treated differently under intentional torts versus negligence.]
Fact Summary: D held liable for kick of P’s shin during normal class hours (not during playground hours, and therefore an unlawful act), which ultimately led to the non-use of his limb.
WHY LEEWS ROCKS: Aside from the briefing method, LEEWS gives you a comprehensive exam-taking strategy that you can implement on any type of law school exam. As I said before, it is up to you to figure out the best way to take a law school exam, and this system (in my opinion) is the best one out there. You might be a natural born genius of the law and be able to kill your law school exams without this system; however, I was not that person. Having an organized system for breaking down and analyzing an issue-spotting exam was a gigantic help for me throughout the year. In my experience, most of my classmates, even after 1st semester exams, still were not sure the best way to approach a law school exam. This system gets you on the right foot from Day One.
WHAT LEEWS MAY LACK: LEEWS is great system for the "racehorse" exams in which your professor asks you to "Discuss all the issues raised by the fact pattern." However, I found that some of its recommendations were only marginally useful when an exam had a word limit. Only 2 of my 8 exams had a word limit, so this system was generally useful in 3/4 of my classes. Many of its recommendations can be modified for word-limit exams, and the organizational system is still useful on any exam. Additionally, LEEWS uses a Torts hypo to demonstrate the exam taking system. While this helped me book torts (highest grade in the class), I found that I did have some trouble applying the LEEWS method in Contracts. Realize that you will need to be flexible with this system depending on the subject matter, the type of exam (issue spotter vs. policy), and if there is a word limit on the exam.
LEEWS will take a lot of time to get through, but I can't tell you how helpful it is to go over before 1L. There is a bunch of information, but if you stretch it out over a few weeks, you can break it down into more manageable parts.
How to do Your Best on Law School Exams by Delaney
As for a review of John Delaney's "How to Do Your Best on Law School Exams," I think this book is good to thumb through simply because it provides you with another professor's test-taking perspective. Planet Law School praises Delaney a lot, and while I think Delaney's book would rank third behind LEEWS and GTM, it is still a quick, easy, and informative read. LEEWS and GTM's strategies might not click for some people, and you might find that some of the techniques in Delaney's book suit you well. One of his best pieces of advice is his notecard outlining method, which you might find beneficial. As I've said before, my strategy was to collect as many data points as possible and then make a decision based on the data that I gathered; because of this, I think Delaney's book is another solid 0L prep book.
I will admit that I found the LEEWS system better (overall) for exam-taking, but Delaney's book is still solid.
Summary: 0L Prep
The first step is finding the right material to prepare yourself (I think LEEWS, GTM and Delaney's book are the right materials for test prep). The next step is to actually get your hands on the supplements (total cost less than $150 if your purchase all 3 used, or less than the cost of a new torts casebook). Once you've got them, you need to read through the material and understand the challenges you will face while taking a law school exam (which, like losing weight, can be daunting but not impossible to overcome). Then, it is up to you to implement the system (whether it is LEEWS, GTM, or some other system).
Just like avoiding work-outs and healthy eating won't help you lose weight, it will be more difficult to earn top grades if you avoid taking the extra time to utilize the methods in these books. And just like there are some people who can drink a 24 pack of Natty Light and eat 2 large pizzas and lose weight, there will be people who are natural born geniuses of the law who can kill law school exams without these books; generally, however, those lucky people are the minority.
One more tangentially related thing about law school exams. It is important to self-assess and think about whether you can really write (organization, grammar, thesis sentences, etc.). Your entire grade is based on how well you WRITE, not how well you can handle the socratic method in class. Literally, the only work product the professor will see from you all year is your 4-hour written/typed exam. Unless you are able to compose exam answers quickly, concisely, and in a well organized manner, your exam will be difficult for the professor to grade and you will be more likely to end up at the median. As you are doing exam prep, think about this: "What is the best way I can present this exam and make my professor's job easy?" I used to teach, and let me tell you – it is awful to grade a stack of 80 papers. You will be more likely to get a higher grade if your writing is clear and easy to read and doesn't force the professor to work hard. Just something to think about as you focus on exam taking strategies.
MYTH #1: STUDY GROUPS ARE NECESSARY TO SUCCEED IN LAW SCHOOL
There is already an interesting thread about this in the TLS Law School Forum (viewtopic.php?f=3&t=76375&start=25), but I thought I would expand on this a bit. There seems to be this myth floating around that if you don't form a study group in the first week of class, you are doomed to finish in the bottom of the class, and, upon graduation, work as a public defender in Smalltown, USA, making 25K per year. I think this is patently false.
There are basically two questions you need to ask yourself with regards to study groups: (1) How is this going to help me on the final exam? and (2) What type of learner am I?
With regards to question #1, this should and needs to be your focus throughout the semester. You should always be asking yourself whether the effort you are expanding is going to pay some dividends on the final exam. Frankly, for me, I thought study groups were only useful around final exams, and I refused to study in groups up until maybe the last 3 weeks before finals. Even when I did get together with a group, it was ONLY to go over old exams and never to argue about some stupid case or Scalia's reasoning in the dissent of some random case. For me, getting together with a study group to talk about the class was not going to help me on the final exam, as my time could be better spent reading supplements and working on hypotheticals/E&E's/Cali lessons (see supplements section for explanations of these).
With question #2, I know that I work better by myself (I am more productive working alone), and I hate having my time wasted. In law school, you don't have enough hours in the day to waste even one hour, and throughout my academic career, I've found that more often than not, it takes 10 times as long to accomplish something in a group that it would for me to just sit down and figure it out on my own. However, this might be different for some people. If you liked group work and excelled at in undergrad, by all means, get a group together and go at it. If you are a loner, there is no problem in this. You shouldn't change what has worked for you up until this point simply because you are in law school. It is still learning, and you should do whatever you think best fits your learning style.
WHAT WORKED FOR ME WITH STUDY GROUPS: For me, the following approach worked for study groups:
keep them small if you use them (3-5 people, anything larger than that was too difficult to organize and the larger the group, the more difficult it became to work efficiently);
use them only to go over old exams (you can learn a lot from others and the way they spot issues and attack an exam);
when you get together with a study group, make everyone in the group finish their work ahead of time (i.e., if you are getting together to go over an old exam, make sure everyone in the group does the test beforehand so you don't have free-riders in the group or people who slow the group down with constant questioning on simple topics);
(4) if you use study groups, a lot of the time you can each visit individually with a professor to discuss part of an old exam (i.e., if an exam had 3 questions, each person would go over 1 question with the professor) and then get together and compare notes and have a complete answer for an old exam.
WHY STUDY GROUPS ARE POTENTIALLY USELESS: It is tough to gauge potential group members, which is also why I think it is stupid to try and get people in a study group early in the semester. At that point, it is the blind leading the blind and the chances of a study group being beneficial seem slim to none. If you wait until the end of the semester, at least by that point you should have a good idea of your friends/acquaintances who are lazy/hard workers/genuinely interested in doing well, and then you can pick and choose people to work with based on your impressions. Granted, no one really knows who is smart and who isn't until grades come back (if you consider doing well on a 3 hour exam "smart", which is a dubious proposition), so it is somewhat of a crapshoot. As I mentioned earlier, study groups have the potential to be a big time-waster, as it is difficult to get everyone to (1) show up on time and (2) stay on task during the study sessions. This is another reason why it is good to wait until the end of the semester to do study groups. Everyone will realize that they can't be messing around, so the potential that people will waste your time decreases exponentially because of the looming prospect of finals.
My recommendation is to keep the study groups small, use them only around finals to go over old exams, and if you are lucky enough (like I was) to find a good core group of people to work with, a study group can be a great way to prep for exams. It is tempting to form study groups because working with people can at least give you some feedback on how you are grasping the material (since you will get ZERO feedback from professors during the semester), but I think that time would be better spent on supplements and going over hypos.
MYTH #2: YOUR 1L GRADES AREN'T ALL THAT IMPORTANT
If you've done any research prior to applying to law school, you are probably thinking there is no way that anyone would say 1L grades aren’t important. However, I swear to you, I've heard multiple people say "Well even if I don't do well, I can always make it up 2L and 3L years," or "I'm not trying to work at a big firm and only want to do (insert random non-firm job here) and grades don't really matter for that."
I think it is important to lay out what is at stake with your 1L grades. I'm not sure many people grasp how you can set yourself up for 2L and 3L years with good grades or torpedo your chances at your dream job with a poor 1L performance. So here is what is at stake for your 1L year:
(1) Possible paying gig during 1L summer: Yes, these are few and far between, but finishing at the top of your class will give you a chance for a 1L firm gig. I'm not sure that the 1L big law firm gig will exist in any shape or form next summer, but let's say you are someone like me who has a connection to a secondary market (I'm not even sure if where I work can be called a secondary market, but it is not someplace that typical law school graduates from T14's flock to) and networked with an alum. Because of my grades (and a bit of networking), I was able to secure a 1L firm gig that pays more than 1K per week. When you are staring down the type of loans that most law students take on, the extra cash can be a HUGE help. Moreover, even if you don't want to work in a firm, most summer employers simply screen by grades because it is the easiest thing to do. 1L summer jobs don't really seem to matter that much in the grand scheme of things, but the chance to make extra cash is one motivation to do well during 1L.
(2) Law Review: The one credential that all employers seem to love is Law Review. At most schools, law review is a combination of 1L grades and a journal writing competition. At my school, the top 10% automatically were invited to law review, and there were another dozen spots for write-ons (but 1L grades were weighed heavily when deciding who would be invited based on the combination of their writing score and grades). At other schools, it is completely a combination of grades and the write on score, but from anecdotal evidence I have seen on this board and others, 1L grades usually are weighed more (typically 2/3) and the write on competition is weighted less (usually 1/3 or so). However, the point is that only your 1L grades are considered for law review status. There are some schools that allow you to submit a journal note to the law review as a 2L, and if it is published, you are invited to law review (I think Chicago does this, but I am not certain), but that seems to be the exception. By all accounts, the actual work that you have to do with law review seems awful at first, but the credential will open numerous doors for you. And, yep, it is mostly based on 1L grades.
(3) 2L OCI is Based Entirely on 1L Grades: Assuming that 2L OCI/OGI/EIP (or whatever acronym your school uses) will continue to exist, all the bidding and interviewing will be done based on 1L grades. Unless you are at a T14 (and sometimes at T14’s as well), most firms have GPA and/or class rank cutoffs that you need to hit. Even if you have a lottery interview system (i.e. bids are assigned by lottery system), I would imagine that if your grades are low and you get an interview at a good firm, it will probably be a waste of 20 minutes for both you and the interviewer. But, if you think about it, it is entirely possible to get a job after you graduate based SOLELY on your 1L grades. Let's say you finish in the top 10%, get a summer associate position, and the knock the firm's socks off and get an offer after the summer. You will have done that entirely based on your 1L grades and can now spend your 3L year beer drinking and playing softball. (Of course, this is assuming that firms will even be hiring SA's to begin work sometime before 2050 with all the employment deferrals the legal world has seen recently.) Either way, the GPA cutoffs at my school seemed to go up to the top 10% mark for the major legal markets, and in this economy, you will want to keep that GPA as high as you can. Even if you are someone that wants to do non-firm work (PI, etc.), there sure will be a lot of deferred Big Law people who will be competing with your for those jobs.
(4) It is Difficult to Have Major Movement in GPA/Rank as a 2L and 3L: From lurking on the Law Students Forum here on TLS, most 2L's and 3L's have indicated that the grading curve as a 2L and 3L is not as harsh. There is the opportunity to clinics and seminars that are not curved, which means that you will have a chance to rack up some A's and raise the GPA. The only problem is that everyone else in those classes will be getting high grades too, which means that what matters (your class rank), won't be making any major movements. Additionally, you will already have 28-32 credits under your belt from 1L, and with only 60 or so credits left in law school, it will be tough (although not impossible) to move up in rank. The bottom line, as I said earlier, is that 1L grades can go a long way to opening doors for you.
(5) The Opportunity to Trade Up and Transfer: You can only transfer after 1L, and if you can finish in the top 10%, it is possible to trade up into a T14, T10, or T3 school depending on where your school ranks and what your individual class rank is. I will write an article about transferring later, but unless you kill 1L, you won't have the opportunity to transfer.
Which kinds of brings it all full circle in why I advocate prepping during the summer and doing LEEWS/GTM/Delaney's books. There is so much riding on the line with you 1L grades, why wouldn't you work to put yourself in the best position possible?
MYTH #3: IF YOUR PROFESSOR TELLS YOU NOT TO USE SUPPLEMENTS, DON'T USE THEM
I had multiple professors at the beginning of each semester explicitly tell the class that using supplements would be a waste of time and that everything we needed to do well in the class was in the casebook. I didn't listen to my professors and I ended up doing quite well. Here are some quick reasons why you shouldn't listen to your professors if they tell you this:
(1) Your professors are probably a lot smarter than you and didn't need supplements while they were in law school, so of course they are going to tell you that. Most of your professors were probably top of their class at T14 schools and probably all-around natural-born geniuses of the law. I'm sure they mean well, but I think a blanket "don't use supplements" statement is bad advice. I only recall one professor during 1L who recommended a specific supplement. While not all of the rest of my professors explicitly said I shouldn't use supplements, at least half said supplements were not worthwhile.
(2) Supplements are the only way to get feedback and gauge your progress. As I've said many times before, in law school you will receive ZERO feedback on your progress before exams. Personally, I would rather find out in November that I don't know what I am doing rather than get my exam grade back and THEN find out that I was clueless. Supplements are a great way to test your knowledge of the black letter law and your ability to analyze different fact patterns. I was a terrible issue-spotter when I started law school, but it was skill I learned through practicing with hypotheticals in supplements.
I seemingly sampled every supplement known to man and found that they varied from great to mediocre. I used Law in a Flash, E&E's, and Cali Lessons, and while I am not sure everything I used was helpful, I do know that if I had tried to learn things straight from the casebook, I definitely wouldn't have done as well.
Here is a list of the supplements I used for each class. Check out the supplement section below for more in-depth information on the main supplements.
Cali Lessons (get password from your law school librarian). IMHO, best supplement other than LEEWS that I used during the year (http://cali.org/)
Crunchtime: I hated the gigantic Emmanuel's commercial outlines, and I loved the shorter versions that had charts, multiple choice questions, and short answers sample questions. They also had short outlines with exam tips that I read through the night before the exams (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_b?url ... me&x=0&y=0)
Blum E&E: Sample answers are really in depth but overall a solid book (http://www.amazon.com/Contracts-Example ... 1567066348)
Chirelstein: Didn't like it all that much but seemed like everyone had this book (http://www.amazon.com/Concepts-Case-Ana ... 819&sr=1-1)
Siegel's: Essay and multiple choice questions coded by area of law. Useful in every class I took except Crim Law and Con Law (http://www.amazon.com/Siegels-Contracts ... 424&sr=1-2).
E&E: Has both model penal code and common law examples. Mediocre at best but still marginally useful because I couldn't find any supplements that focused specifically on the Model Penal Code, and that is what my entire exam was on (http://www.amazon.com/Criminal-Law-Exam ... 173&sr=1-1)
Delaney: Didn't use all that much since class focused on MPC, but if you like his other books, you will find this one useful too (http://www.amazon.com/Learning-Criminal ... 026&sr=1-1)
E&E: Glannon kicks major ass. Indispensible supplement (http://www.amazon.com/Procedure-Example ... 333&sr=1-1)
Glannon Guide: Another great Glannon supplement. Civ pro exam was MC so this was a great book (http://www.amazon.com/Glannon-Guide-Civ ... 509&sr=1-1)
Siegel's: see discussion, supra (http://www.amazon.com/Siegels-Civil-Pro ... 544&sr=1-1)
E&E: Another great Glannon book. Weak on intentional torts but all the sections on negligence are great (http://www.amazon.com/Law-Torts-Example ... 596&sr=1-1)
Property: [Note that I hated property and therefore tried every supplement in the world because I just wasn't getting it. Somehow got an "A." Not sure how that happened.]
E&E: Could be better, could be worse. About on par with the Crim Law E&E (http://www.amazon.com/Property-Examples ... 688&sr=1-1)
Understanding Property: Some people said this series of books was also useful during Crim Law. More hornbook than a supplement as it does not contain questions and answers (http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Pro ... 815&sr=1-1)
Glannon Guide to Property: Another useful Glannon book, although it is not written by him (http://www.amazon.com/Glannon-Guide-Pro ... 856&sr=1-1)
Law in a Flash: Needed more hypos in order to "get" property. These are organized by area of law and were pretty good for quizzing myself on the application of the BLL. There are two sets, one for real property (http://www.amazon.com/Law-Flash-Real-Pr ... 913&sr=1-1) and one for future interests (http://www.amazon.com/Law-Flash-Interes ... 913&sr=1-2)
Chemerinsky: I could have used this book instead of buying my casebook. The BEST Con Law supplement. Everyone will have it, but it breaks down the confusing SCOTUS cases that have like 8 different parts with a different set of judges concurring and dissenting with all the different parts. Bonus in that you can keep it and use it in Con Law II if you take that as a 2L or 3L (http://www.amazon.com/Constitutional-La ... 169&sr=1-1)
E&E: Meh, not the best. There is one on individual rights (http://www.amazon.com/Constitutional-In ... 216&sr=1-1) and another for federalism (http://www.amazon.com/Constitutional-La ... 216&sr=1-2)
Lexis Q&A: Didn't get a chance to try these out in other classes, but I loved this book. Had multiple choice with really detailed explanations (like 3 pages worth for one question), and also short answer/mini-essay questions. Great supplement IMHO. Randomly bought in the bookstore in a late semester panic and ended up being a solid purchase. (http://www.lexisnexis.com/store/catalog ... odId=46673 ).
MYTH #4: GRADES ARE ENTIRELY BASED ON LUCK
I will agree with this myth to some extent, because when you are graded on a curve, your grade is in part based on the performance of your peers. However, I am a true believer in the following saying: Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
I have only felt good walking out of one law school exam, and it was the one I did my best on. The rest of the exams, I usually felt somewhere between "thank God that is over" and "that wasn't that bad, and everyone else probably thought the same thing."
The one thing I did have going for me was that I always walked into an exam prepared. My motto was that when a law school exam was over, I wanted to be able to look myself in the mirror and say "I did everything I could this semester to do well in the class, and whatever the grade comes out as, I can live with it."
I read the cases, worked with supplements, implemented LEEWS, attended every class, worked with study groups to go over exams, and lived and breathed law school. Was it the most healthy approach? Not necessarily. Have people done better by doing less work? Without a doubt. But at the end of the day, I wanted to be able to say that I gave it my best, and if my best wasn't good enough, then so be it. At least I had given it my all.
So what message should you get out of this? Do the best of your ability because that is all you can reasonably expect from yourself. You can learn about law school exams this summer by going over LEEWS, GTM, and Delaney's book. You can show up to class every day and "take your professors frequency" by learning about what you prof is stressing and any exam information they give. You can pick up your professors exams from the exam bank at the beginning of the semester and spend the entire semester figuring out what the heck your professors is looking for on test day. What you shouldn't do is worry about what anyone else is doing.
Were my grades "lucky”? To some extent, yes. In torts, I focused heavily on intentional torts and got lucky when one 90 minute essay was dedicated exclusively to intentional torts. In property, I guessed right that one policy essay would be about 3 certain theories of property (but I guessed right because I looked at all the professor’s old exams and noticed that certain types of essay questions kept popping up every other year). Realize there is inherently some luck involved in law school exams (and grading in general). “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity,” so make the most of your opportunity to show your professor how much you know on your law school exams.
It is tough for me to put an exact figure on the number of hours I studied, but I will say that I was an ultimate grinder. You can, no doubt, do well with doing a lot less studying. For whatever reason, I felt guilty when I wasn't studying, and I was always under the impression that someone was working harder than me. It was unhealthy, but I got good grades, so I guess it is up to you to determine to what extreme you are willing to take things. As I said, you can do well with doing a lot less, but considering that I read and briefed all the cases in every single class (using the LEEWS briefing method) and worked through multiple supplements, this was something that simply couldn't be done in a short amount of time.
On a week to week basis, I always did my reading for the upcoming week during the weekend. This means that I spent probably around 8 hours per day each Saturday and Sunday reading my casebook for the upcoming week. If the class met 4 times a week, I read 3 days ahead (leaving one day of reading for the week). If it was a 3 meetings a week class, I read the entire weeks assigned reading over the weekend. I had four classes in the fall and three in the spring, but I didn't break them up in any particular order. Yes, that is a boring weekend full of homework, but it worked for me. Because of this schedule, I somehow managed to attend a “Big Ten” school and not make it to a single home football game. I still kick myself for that, but that grades I received made up for it.
There are a couple reasons I did this. First, there is nothing worse than spending 8 hours at school Monday through Thursday and then coming home to 3+ hours of reading. After sitting in class and shuttling back and forth between the library, I had zero motivation to read my casebook during the week. Any reading I didn't get done on the weekend I did in between classes during the rest of the week (which usually was only 1 day worth of reading for 2 classes, which would take about a total of 3-4 hours). Second, I am a big picture guy. I liked to see where the class was going, and doing reading in 3 or 4 day chunks gave me a good "big picture" view of whatever topic we were working with. Lastly, I wanted to work with supplements during the week and I knew that class participation didn't matter, so it wasn't life or death if I didn't remember all of the little facts of each case.
During the week, I attended every class (only missing two classes all year for callback interviews for 1L summer positions). You will usually have a break in between your 1L classes (my breaks ranged from 45 minutes to 90 minutes), and always try to do something law-related (supplements, Cali lessons) during those breaks (save for your lunch break). Treat it like a job where you put in your time during the day. You would be surprised how many people play grab ass and waste time during the day and then are up all night reading and doing other stuff. Also, once my last class was over, I would head to the gym for a workout, go home and eat dinner, and then spend the night working with supplements for about 1-2 hours, outline, or work on Legal Writing assignments (when they were due). Overall, I thought it was a solid schedule.
I believe the schedule I followed on a week-to-week basis really set me up for success over the long term. Because I put in my time every day and on the weekends, I never had to press to fit in everything at the end of the semester (in terms of outlining, taking practice exams, etc.). There are a couple big-picture things to keep in mind:
First, figure out when your big Legal Research assignments are due. You will have 2 (most likely) memos/briefs due at some point during the fall and spring semesters, and things get pretty hectic around that time. If I had a big LRW project due, I would usually spend my nights working on it (instead of working with supplements) and cut out some of the casebook reading on the weekend (still doing at least 2 days ahead and bumping the rest to in between classes or maybe 1 night of reading per week, if necessary).
Second, I would recommend using any breaks (fall break, spring break, Thanksgiving break) to outline. I took weekends off for any week long breaks that I had during the year (i.e., spring break) and usually spent the rest of the time outlining. I would try to spend about 6-7 hours per day outlining and working through supplements over fall break and spring break. I also did not go home on Thanksgiving and spent the entire weekend from Wednesday to Sunday holed up in my apartment outlining. I did take Thanksgiving night off to eat dinner with some friends who also stayed around campus, but that was about it for breaks. Typically, these school-sponsored breaks also coincided with natural breaks in the material (i.e., you will be finished with a major section of K's or Con Law), and it is a great way to synthesize the material and get a handle on what you do and do not know. Not having a 5 day break before finals in the spring (like you have for Thanksgiving in Fall) sucks in terms of having free days to outline and get stuff done, so plan accordingly.
Third, make a study schedule and stick to it. The semester is a grind, and if you have get in the habit of good study techniques, these habits will be hard to break. I have always said that both good and bad habits are hard to break, and if you get in the habit of making the most of the time that you have, things will work out more smoothly towards the end of the semester.
First, I'll tackle what I think were the two most helpful supplements for me during law school: (1) Cali lessons and (2) E&E's.
#1 CALI LESSONS: To me, the Cali lessons are on par with LEEWS as a supplement that I feel was critical to my success in law school. And the best part: IT'S FREE! (I can't overestimate how clutch this is when you are dropping 60K per year for law school). (http://cali.org/)
Your school librarian can provide you with the user password to access Cali, and, at least at my school, they also handed out CD's with all the lessons on them. There will be a lesson for most of the material you will go over in all your foundational classes, and the lessons usually range in length from 15 minutes to 2 hours. Most lessons are about 30 minutes long and are perfect to do when you have that pesky 45 minute break between classes.
WHY CALI ROCKS: I know I sound like a broken record, but when you get ZERO feedback on your progress in law school, the Cali lessons are a great way to figure out if you are learning the black letter law and are able to apply it to hypotheticals. Every question not only tells you whether you got it right or wrong, but it also provides an explanation (varying in detail) on why you got the question right or wrong. Cali cites numerous cases that you will read in class, and it also cites the Restatements for torts and K's. It is mostly comprised of multiple choice and true/false questions, but there are some short essay questions to practice for exams. I only had two classes where I had multiple choice on the final, but I used Cali lessons in all my classes. I have also lifted entire paragraphs out of the Cali lessons and dropped them into my final exam outlines.
WHY CALI MIGHT NOT WORK FOR YOU: The only downside to Cali lessons is that the lessons almost always cover more material on a topic than your professor will in class (and that you would be expected to know on an exam). Every teacher approaches subjects in a different manner, but, in my own experience, I was able to recognize what we did and did not go over in class and adjust accordingly. The other drawback is that your professor and the professors who write the Cali lessons will often use different terminology (for example, this happened in my property class for the estates and future interests portion of the class). When there is any conflict, ALWAYS USE THE TERMINOLOGY THAT YOUR PROFESSOR USES! This can't be stressed enough.
VERDICT: Go through these as the semester progresses to test yourself on the topics. Don't leave them all until the end (although they are great for exam review). Two enthusiastic thumbs up from me.
#2 EXAMPLES AND EXPLANATIONS: Everyone will lug these around in law school, and maybe half will crack them at some point. Most people make the mistake of waiting until the end of the year to buy supplements as "exam cram," but I found them more useful to read through as the semester went on. Buy used copies, except for Con Law (which weren't all that great and you might not even need to buy them if you have the Chemerinsky text) and Civ Pro (at least 2007/08 version since I think the FRCP were modified in Dec. 2007, but you might want to check that).
WHY E&E'S ROCK: Similar to the Cali lessons, E&E's are great because they have hypos and detailed explanations of the correct answers. Again, you will need to rely on yourself throughout 1L to gauge your own progress, and the E&E's were great for doing this. I found that it was best to at least outline a rough answer to each hypothetical presented, but I will admit that with the time crunch, I rarely wrote out complete answers to the questions. If I had to rank the E&E's from most useful to least useful, I would go (1a) Torts; (1b) Civ Pro; (2) Contracts; (3) Property; (4) Crim Law; (5) Con Law. I liked to read through them before doing my assigned casebook readings and then try and do the problems once I finished reading the supplement and my assigned reading (not always possible to do but at least it was an aspirational goal). Also, there is usually a table to cases in the index of the book, so if you focused on one major case, look it up in the index and find the corresponding section in the E&E so you hit on what is covered in class.
WHY E&E'S MIGHT NOT WORK FOR YOU: The answers to the hypos range from treatises (See Blum's Contracts E&E) to only marginally useful (See Property & Crim Law). Blum's E&E took forever to read through since he usually provided ridiculously detailed explanations of his answers, while the Property and Crim Law were succinct and to the point (which was good and bad). I really didn't have many qualms with the E&E's other than the fact that I bought Con Law ones new, setting me back about 80 bucks for both books. Also, as with the Cali lessons, be aware of different terminology that your professors might use.
VERDICT: I've heard anecdotally of people reading the E&E for Civ Pro, working through all the examples, never cracking a case book and acing the class. These are pretty standard supplements for most law students, but most people fail to actually go through the Q&A at the end of each section. If you can get them for cheap online (Half.com, Amazon.com), they are well worth the price.
I found that the most helpful supplements were Cali and E&E's because you could get instant feedback on your grasp of the material. Keep in mind that law school exam success requires you to go through a 2 step process:
Learn the black letter law
Apply it to a fact pattern.
Most people stop at (1) and don't learn how to apply it to new situations, and that is why these supplements worked for me. They challenged me to apply the BLL to new fact situations and figure out what was applicable and why.
WHY CRUNCHTIME ROCKS: I used the Crunchtime outlines by Emmanuels in nearly every class, and I found them superior to the larger commercial outlines. The larger Gilbert's/Emmanuels outlines were too cumbersome, and it was difficult to find information that I needed. The larger commercial outlines go way more in depth than what you will cover in the foundational 1L classes, and the Crunchtime outlines present a more concise and easier to navigate supplement (at least in terms of commercial outlines). I also loved the charts in each Crunchtime that walked you through the best way to analyze certain exam questions that you are certain to see (parol evidence in K's, equal protection in Con Law, etc.). There were also short hypos in the book and "exam tips" (which are also in the larger outlines) that I always went over the night before exams. They were helpful in refreshing your memory about the entire body of law that you will have crammed in your head.
WHAT CRUNCHTIME MAY LACK: The book skims on some areas of law and sacrifices some of the depth of the larger commercial outline. However, I think that coverage (or lack thereof) was not detrimental, at least in the classes that I took. The book still covered pretty much everything that I covered in my classes (with a few exceptions of course)
VERDICT: Buy them used since they are too expensive to purchase new. Solid supplement all around.
#2 GLANNON GUIDES
I used the Glannon guides in both Civ Pro (thumbs up) and in Property (another thumbs up, although it was not written by Glannon). I believe these books are also available for Criminal Law, Torts, Secured Transactions, and Bankruptcy.
WHY GLANNON ROCKS: The format is similar to an E&E in that each chapter presents a summary of the body of law in a certain area (i.e., Easements, Future Interests, Joinder) and tests your knowledge with multiple choice questions. There are no essay questions in this book, as they are all multiple choice. It is a great way to test your knowledge of the body of law, and each multiple choice questions contains a detailed description of why each answer was right or wrong. I used this book in Civ Pro (where I had multiple choice on my final) and in Property (which was all essay) and found the books helpful in each class.
WHAT GLANNON MAY LACK: If you don't have multiple choice questions on your final exam, you might not find these as useful. They can be somewhat overkill if you already have the E&E's and work through the Cali lessons (since the Cali lessons are similar with testing your BLL knowledge via multiple choice).
VERDICT: I found these books useful, but they might be overkill. Not indispensable, but definitely not worthless. You'll need to get a post-2007 version for Glannon (FRCP rule change), but the old property one will do just fine.
#3: UNDERSTANDING SERIES
I only used this book in Property but found that it was a good hornbook (if you can call it that).
WHY UNDERSTANDING ROCKS: The book addresses most of the major cases for the different areas of property law (I found it helpful for the Con Law cases on takings, which really confused me). It also gave a concise treatment to the different theories of property (helpful if you have a policy question on the final exam). It was a pretty easy read, too.
WHAT “UNDERSTANDING SERIES” MAY LACK: There are no questions to test yourself on the doctrine (and feedback is key when you use supplements). Thus, there was no way to test yourself on the black letter law. However, if you already do the CALI lessons and some of the other supplements, this might be a non-issue. I also purchased this book for Civ Pro, but gave up because I didn't like the length and preferred Glannon.
VERDICT: Good way to brush up on some of the doctrine, good for property, not sure about any other class. I got my book for around 3 dollars on half.com, so it is a cheap supplement to track down.
#4 THE REST OF THE SUPPLEMENTS
Q&A: Only purchased for Con Law but LOVED this supplement. It gave great explanations for the questions, but I didn't use them in any other class. It cost only about $25 new and was a panic purchase toward the ends of the semester. Verdict - useful in Con Law, jury is out on the other classes.
Chemerinsky [CON LAW]: If you don't have this book for Con Law, you are making a terrible life choice. Everyone seems to know this book is solid and has it. I could have not purchased my casebook and I would have been fine reading this book. Use the table of cases in the back of the book to find the corresponding cases you are covering in class. Verdict - You MUST by this book, in my opinion. It’s great at breaking down all the confusing SCOTUS opinions and laying out the doctrine for each area of law.
Chirelstein [K's]: Many people had it, but I didn’t find it too helpful. I gave up on it halfway through the semester. Verdict - Other people swear by this book, but purchase it at your own risk. I liked the Blum E&E better.
Law in a Flash: I only bought these in property, and they were great for testing myself on the BLL. They are broken down by subject area (easements, takings, adverse possession, etc.), so you can set out each one and go through it as you tackle the subject in class. I can't speak to the usefulness in other classes, but for me, they were great to go over in between classes (when I had 30-45 minute breaks). Verdict - Get them used for cheap if you feel that the Cali lessons aren't making things clear for you.
(1) FIND TIME TO WORK OUT/PARTICIPATE IN AN ATHLETIC ACTIVITY
It is no secret that 1L takes up a huge chunk of time (at least for me it did). And it's no secret that generally, when things get crunched for time, working out is usually the first thing to go. But I would urge everyone to schedule time during each week to workout/run/play hoops or just do something to stay in shape.
The first year of law school is a grind. It will wear you down physically and mentally. But staying in shape and working out can actually pay dividends during finals week. When other classmates you have might be fading, you might be able to keep up your work level and maintain a high level of focus. Personally. I tried to work out 4 times per week leading up to finals, and then when finals week rolled around, I would try to fit in workouts after my finals to relieve the stress. It is an approach that I think worked well for me. It doesn't matter if it is lifting weights, running, or just walking around campus, but do something physical. I've found that even if I am tired, working out will actually give me more energy than I would have had if I had not worked out.
I had multiple classmates who put on 15-20 pounds during 1L, generally looked and felt awful, and (at least from my view) were tired and unable to function at their best once finals rolled around. It sounds like something simple and stupid, but I truly think that working out regularly can give you a slight edge over the entire course of the 1L year. Like I've said before, habits (whether good or bad) are tough to break, and if you get in the habit of working out, it can, and will, pay off.
(2) WRITE DOWN YOUR GOALS FOR 1L AND POST THEM SOMEWHERE THAT YOU CAN READ THEM EVERYDAY
So this suggestion might sound stupid/hokey/ridiculous, but it is something that I did when I played sports in college. Before each season, I would sit down and write out 5-10 personal goals that I wanted to achieve and then post them in my locker. Seeing those goals each day kept me focused and motivated, particularly on the days that I didn't feel like giving my best effort.
Moreover, I think writing down your goals forces you to articulate what it is you want to accomplish during 1L. Do you want to make law review? Put it down on the list. Do you want to be above the curve in each class? Put it on the list. Do you want to be prepared for each class? Put it on the list. Putting something in writing and forcing yourself to look at everyday is a reminder of why you are in law school and what you need to do in order to get to where you want to be.
There are a couple caveats with writing down your goals. First, you need a mixture of goals that can be somewhat easily accomplished (such as being prepared for each class), some medium goals (having outlining done before the last week of class), and difficult goals (making law review or transferring). If you choose goals that are too difficult to achieve (such as getting the highest grade in every 1L class or finishing at the top of you 1L class), it will only cause stress and anxiety. I did this once in college and it hurt my performance. I set an individual goal that was much too difficult to reach, and everyday I had to read that goal, it made me think about how hard it was to do. In turn, I preformed at a much lower level. On the other hand, make sure that your goals are not too easy to achieve. You need to have the goal list as a reminder to push yourself everyday, and if you make your goals too easy, it will defeat the purpose of writing them down in the first place.
Truthfully, I can't tell you what you goals you want to achieve during 1L. It might be something like getting on law review, or it might be something like getting elected as SBA rep. Both are great goals. Both are somewhat difficult to achieve. Different people have different goals. Whatever your goals might be, I think it is important to take some time before the school year starts and write them down. It will force you yo think about why the heck you are about to put yourself through 1L.
And who knows, you might end up like me and totally exceed your goals. It is a good feeling. Trust me.
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