Adventures in 2L Land – OCI and Callbacks

September 14, 2012 at 4:22 pm (2L, Legal Professional Tips, Summer Associate Job Search)

Greetings fellow law students, soon-to-be law students, and all other dreamers. Its meeeee – I’m still heeeeere! And now as a 2L.

So I’m 3 weeks into 2L year. And let me just make one observation. I – Have – Been – Misled – to – Think – 2L – Was – “EASIER.”

Photo Courtesy: Vivo, Inc.

It’s a conspiracy. The 2Ls and 3Ls told me last year – don’t worry, 1L is tough, but 2L is way easier. Bull. The only difference thus far is that instead of having just classes to worry about, I now have “OCI” (on-campus interviewing) and all other things related to the job search AND in addition to taking 5 classes (yes, I was delusional when I registered for classes), I also have commitments related to the journal that I worked so hard to be on (as though it was a badge of honor horror to become intimately familiar with the BlueBook and editing “scholarly” works consisting of citations to newspaper articles dating back to the 70′s).

But in all seriousness, I’m really happy to be back at school. My summer was intense and I learned a lot but I found some comfort in getting back into the grind of law school. Granted, I felt that 1L taught me all I needed to know to become an attorney (and I still feel that way), but quite frankly, I like getting “out of” having to do the dishes, laundry, etc. because I can use “I’m studying” as an excuse (even if the excuse is only to myself). Now – let me clear one thing up here – I am not a gunner. But I do enjoy the intellectual rigors of law school. Plus, the best thing about 2L year is I’m taking the classes I want to take – and therefore only can blame myself (not the ABA) for any developing disdain for any particular subject – say, Ambulance Chasing 101.

I’ve had a few rambling thoughts jumbling around in my head that I wanted to share – none of which are fully developed enough to create stand alone blog posts – so while the following may seem random, well, just take it for what it is:

Random Thought #1

Photo Courtesy: TumblrOCI is fun. It’s like speed dating. As long as you have more than 3-4 interviews scheduled, otherwise, you don’t have the luxury of chilling-out because every interview must matter. Not that some don’t, but it’s nice to have a few backups. Some of the interviews I’ve had are actually a lot of fun – the interviewers are extremely personable and like to throw a few jokes around to lighten the mood (and of course test the personality of the interviewee as well). On the other hand, I’ve had interviewers that are so shy, they seemed more nervous than I – in which case, I had to learn to really sell myself without being prompted to and take charge of the interview. Lastly, I had an interviewer who talked about himself for 20 mins – everything from his kid, to his dog, to his passion for rock collecting – seriously. 10 minutes-in, I had already mentally declared I would never want to work with this person even if it was my only offer. Which leads me to this important point – you are interviewing the firm/agency/whatever just as much as they are interviewing you.

Random Thought #2

Photo Courtesy: Ehow StyleWhy, why, why are my classmate wearing really dark nail polish colors during interviews, half of which has chipped off? Puhl-eeze. I know that we are all very busy bees but either don’t wear polish at all (or just wear clear) or actually make sure you’re wearing an appropriate shade (nude or pale pink) with the lacquer fully intact. Granted, most interviewers tend to be male (and I won’t even get into my long rant about the need for more women on the hiring committee) but even though they are male – they still notice your appearance and are still aware of what is considered appropriate. And in case its not obvious, black polish = not appropriate.

Random Thought #3

Photo Courtesy: The Undercover RecruiterSell yourself. Sell. Your. Self. I am naturally a very modest non-braggy person. Perhaps this comes from the fact I’m unapologetically feminine. But this is something I have to get over. It’s an interview – you have permission to (tactfully) share your accomplishments and the many reasons why you are best suited for the job. I’m beating myself up because I’ve been given many opportunities to elaborate on something in my resume or something that the interviewer may not even otherwise know about me and yet I tend to diminish my accomplishments or prior experiences. I’ve literally said, “Oh, I was just a secretary for five years.” Doh! Not “JUST” – no no no – I was a “legal assistant to three busy partners in x areas of law, which allowed me to develop a good understanding of the inner workings and business side of private practice.” Work it!

Random Thought #4

Similar to #3, when a firm offers to pay you to come back for a second interview – don’t be sheepish in allowing the firms to cover your expenses. In my case, the cost of gas for me driving to a callback was around $45, but because the firm paid $.050 per mile, I was entitled to nearly $150. Because I tend to be financially conservative and am not oblivious to the fact the economy is rough and firms are cutting costs, I insisted that I be reimbursed only for my actual expenses. The response I received wasn’t at all what I had expected. Instead of appreciating my gesture, it was (inadvertently) assumed that I had become less interested in the position after my callback and that my offer was in guilt for feeling that I would not accept – which isn’t true at all. Perhaps someone with more expertise could weigh in here – but I had clearly not contemplated this type of reaction.

Random Thought #5

Photo Courtesy: Guardian.co.ukCallbacks that include a meal (lunch or dinner – or heck, maybe breakfast too) involve alcohol. It’s part of the culture – but it’s also a way to gauge how you can handle yourself in situations where your maturity and business savvy is tested. My top – one glass of wine, and sip slooooowly. Make it last the entire evening. My less fortunate peers who consumed their first glass too early encountered a particularly unique problem (ie their glasses refilled before they could even object) – three glasses in, they were feeling pretty good – all (I mean ALL) inhibitions went to the wayside. And now we see what drunken 2Ls look like at a callback interview. Not. pretty.

That’s all I have for now – I hope to check back in as time permits. And please keep the comments and emails coming – I love hearing from you and since law school is no walk in the park, I love the encouragement!

Warmest regards,

LawSchoolDreamer

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Summer Clerking/Associating/Interning/Volunteering – Where the Real Education Begins!

June 20, 2012 at 11:49 pm (1L Summer (a/k/a "Rising" 2L))

I’m 6 weeks-in at my summer internship and I am absolutely amazed at how much I’ve learned! I’m convinced that I haven’t used any knowledge acquired from my entire first year of law school. I didn’t expect to be able to think back to Pennoyer v. Neff or International Shoe or that-crazy-quail-hunting case (the name of which has totally escaped me). But I figured that I would at least be throwing around words like “collateral estoppel” or “adverse possession.” So far, nada. And believe me, it’s not due to lack of work or experiences at my summer job! I have done A LOT.

I’m spending my summer at the Legal Aid Clinic and I am so grateful that I’ve chosen to work in an environment where summer associates are handed a stack of files and told to “have at it.” From the very first day, I was given an enormous amount of responsibility with very little oversight. I have guidance available to me when needed, but only after I’ve exhausted my own abilities and have run out of avenues to search. The idea is that we are responsible for the clients so we ought to do everything we can to effectively advocate on their behalf. The Clinic’s philosophy (for which I’m utterly thankful) is that if we throw you in the water, you’ll learn to swim on your own. There’s no hand-holding – these clients are my responsibility. I’ve drafted mediation memos, attended settlement conferences, worked on discovery requests, and have met with my clients to discuss their concerns and goals. Thank God I had some preliminary exposure to the various documents I’m working with as a legal secretary and then later as a paralegal.

In all seriousness, law school is solely academic – as a law student, we aren’t really learning the law per se, but rather, we are pushed to develop the skill of “thinking like a lawyer.” Yes – the cliche´actually has some merit. The 1L skills I’ve put to use are all about critical thinking, analysis, reasoning, etc. I’m ascertaining the legal question at issue, figuring out what has to be answered before I can move forward, researching the law to resolve my issue, etc. This is all really important stuff. But even more than this, I am constantly amazed how much my prior paralegal experiences has played a role in my success (and comfort) this summer. For example, as a paralegal I’ve sat-in on numerous client meetings, have gotten a feel for how my supervising attorneys handle difficult or tense situations, how one of my former boss/attorneys would track down a form they’ve never used before, or how to contact the court (and treat the staff). I find myself frequently asking myself “How would Attorney Rockstar handle this situation?” or “What would Mr. Micromanager say?” I would say 75% of my job has been all about contacting and dealing with opposing counsel, the court staff, my clients, etc. I am so thankful to my prior experiences which have made me feel more comfortable doing these things, now, in an attorney capacity. The other 1L intern does not have any experience working in the legal profession and while he is doing an amazing job this summer, I do sense a lack of confidence and sureness about his work. He is often asking me to read his letters or he seems more apt to second guess his intuition. I think that’s to be expected for anyone who has not yet been exposed to this crazy world. But it’s far less painless to have had that introduction as a secretary or paralegal, when no one is judging or expecting you to know what to do.

Notably – I’ve been granted a wide array of discretion and responsibility because I’m working in a resource-constrained environment. I ran into a few classmates this summer who snickered at my decision to work at the Clinic (as they accepted “prestigious” firm jobs) and they have informed me that so far they’ve learned how to copy, scan, and google. While I am really fortunate to earn a paycheck this summer, I know it’s about 50% of what my firm-working classmates are earning (I know this because I was also offered a position with the same firm). And I’m happy with the trade off – it was really important to me that this summer represent a clear transition from paralegal to advocate and I’m happy that my goals are certainly being achieved. Best of all, my clients are so grateful for the smallest of things. It’s been really eye-opening and I’ve developed a keen sense of awareness for the needs of the underserved. I really feel that we all have a moral obligation as advocates to open our eyes to those in need and lend assistance to those in need.

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Key to Law School Exam Success – Organization

February 19, 2012 at 9:44 pm (Exam Prep, Success in Law School)

In this post I will share some of my tips for organizing the ridiculous amount of information you are learning as a law student so that it may be easily reviewed throughout the semester, for exam prep, and quickly accessed under pressure during an exam. 

I feel that I can say, with confidence, that I was THE most organized law student at my school last semester. Some of my classmates poked fun, but on exam day, when I knew exactly how and where to find the information I needed, I was the object of envy.

Prior to law school, I hadn’t thought much about my organization skills and how they would help me achieve success as a law student. I had the benefit of developing these skills as a professional (paralegal to three very unorganized lawyers) and though organization impacts many aspects of our lives, I certainly didn’t expect it would give me much of an advantage in law school. Wrong! It made a huge difference come exam time.

I previously wrote about my “course summary” that I prepare as a handbook throughout the semester. It’s essentially my pre-class/reading notes combined with my in-class notes, with a light sprinkling of any supplement/hornbook/commercial outline tips. For criminal law, I spent a lot of time creating comparison charts between the common law and the MPC and that sort of thing was also included in my course summary. Any other helpful graphs or “mind maps” that helped me process the information was also included in my course summary – it was my how-to manual. As I said before, it becomes quite lengthy but contains every bit of information that one would need to Ace their exams. How devastating it would be, however, if that information is somewhere in your hands, but not at your fingertips? That information is not helpful at all unless you know how to find it and can quickly access it . . . under the stress of exam pressure.

What you need:

  1. A 1 inch binder.
  2. Note Tabs (those versatile tabs that you can write on to label things but go on paper to serve as dividers).
  3. Knowledge of creating a Table of Contents and/or an Index and a Table of Authorities in whatever word processing program you use (I use Word for Mac).
  4. Ability to print out your course summary in duplex (using both sides of the sheet of paper) and in color (I found it was cheaper to do it at home, but sometimes Staples or Office Max will run deals where it costs $0.25 per page).

Preparation Time: a few extra minutes while taking pre-class reading notes and 1-2 hours at the end of the semester.

Step 1 – Preparing the Table of Contents

During the semester, I combined my pre-class/reading notes with my class notes. Once I did this all semester long, the finished product was my “course summary.” In other words, rather than having three documents to work with all semester (the reading notes, class notes, and then course summary) I used my reading notes as the base of the course summary and supplemented/added in my class notes. It’s easier to do it this way instead of creating a new document because a lot of the required formatting can be done as you go along. The formatting I’m talking about is the use of “headings” to create a Table of Contents. For every topic, subtopic, case, list of elements to a particular area of law (ex. for torts it’s duty, breach, causation, harm), for every rule (like in Civ Pro, a Rule 59), I would format the case name, rule name, topic, subtopic, whatever as a “heading” in Word. You can essentially create your own by formatting the text the way you like it, and then under styles, click “new style.” Then, when you create a Table of Contents (Insert > Table of Contents) you can select the hierarchy each heading that you have used will appear in the Table of Contents.

The Table of Contents is clickable, which is extremely convenient for reviewing a course summary electronically. However, most schools utilize a special exam taking software that locks the hard drive on your computer, thereby preventing you from accessing anything other than the exam software – so the course summary has to be printed and taken in paper-form. Although some of the convenience in the Table of Contents is lost, you still have the page numbers to use, plus the benefit of tabbing each topic and subtopic.

Here are a few YouTube videos on creating a Table of Contents in both Word for Mac and Word for PC.

Here is a copy of what my Table of Contents looked like for Contracts:

Your notes should be organized around topics (or rules) – not around case names. In fact, the name of a case is rarely relevant. Most of my professors said it didn’t matter at all if we knew the names of cases and we certainly did not have to cite them on the exam. It’s important to keep in perspective the role of the case in learning the law. Accordingly, your course summary and all other notes will be organized and structured in a way that sort of hides the cases (because it’s the rules that really matter). However, in the unlikely event that you would need to refer to a specific case by name (rather than by topic), it’s helpful to have the case listed in a Table of Authorities, which would list the cases alphabetically and like the Table of Contents, provide a page number for where that case can be found. This is a little more tricky than creating a Table of Contents, but it is still very worthwhile to know – not only for notes organization, but also for the “1L brief” that most law students have to submit for their legal writing classes. There are tutorials available on YouTube that can be helpful if you need guidance in doing this.

Step 2 – Color Coding

So, all semester long, you’ve been combining your in-class notes with your reading notes – a comprehensive “course summary” of all that you have learned throughout the semester and everything that you may need to know for the exam. While creating this throughout the semester, you have worked on entries that will go into the Table of Contents and Table of Authorities. Another key organizational tool is to color-code some of the important parts of the course summary. For example, the names of cases are in purple and I include the page number from the casebook in the unlikely event I have to crack my book open during an exam. For each case, I have the rules in red. My one or two sentence of facts are in green. If there are elements that must be satisfied for this particular rule to apply, I put those in blue. If the court’s opinion nicely runs through the step by step analysis, I also have that in blue. If the court talks about public policy, that goes in pink.

Here are a few examples:

Step 3 – Print 

Once you have the Table of Contents and Table of Authorities completed and everything is color-coded to highlight the most important items, then it is time to color print the course summary (and I prefer duplex printing).

Step 4 – Three-Hole Punch and Place in Binder

A 1″ binder should be sufficient. Also, I placed my page numbers on the “outside” corners of the pages because I thought it would be a little more convenient when flipping through.

 

Step 5 – Tabs

Either use the traditional divider-style tabs or use the “Note Tabs” that are essentially sticky-flags but more durable. You want to flag/divide each main topic (ex. negligence) and then each subtopic (ex. duty, breach, causation, harm). I like to use larger tabs for the main topics and then smaller tabs for the subtopics. If there were a few items that the professor seemed to refer to a lot during the semester (ex. Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad) then I would put a small flag on that case. You have to find the right balance between flagging what is important and cluttering up the document with too many flags.

And Voila! You’ve organized everything you’ve learned into one handy manual. An added bonus: bring this to exam day and your classmates will freak! (Just kidding, sort of).

- BUT – in terms of exam preparation you are not done! The course summary is everything you learned. Half of which you won’t even use on the exam. You can’t flip through all of it, no matter how organized it is, when you are issue spotting – there is a more efficient way! (Two, actually!). In addition to the course summary, you need to create 1: an Attack Outline; and 2) an Issue Spotter Checklist.

The Attack Outline

It sounds aggressive, right? Well, it will help you “attack” the exam in a way more efficient than your lengthy course summary. Basically, the attack outline is a skeletal, bare-bones outline (yes! This is the “real” outline you’ve heard so much about) that contains only the topic, subtopic, and rule. Rarely would you include a case (unless the professor always brought up a particular case when referring to a specific subtopic or rule). While your course summary would be 200-250 pages, this quick and dirty lifeline is less than 20. It’s extremely useful for reviewing in the days up to the exam and provides a little more information than just the one page issue spotter/checklist while still being a quick/usable document.

To make the attack outline:

  1. Begin the attack outline using an outline form (either bullet points or number/letters) and note only the topics and subtopics you learned this semester. Ideally, the professor’s syllabus will list the topics and subtopics covered – use the same ones, in the same order, to create a “shell” for the attack outline.
  2. Next, turn to your course summary and usually, just by looking at the Table of Contents, you can get the page numbers for each topic and subtopic that you have included as the shell of your attack outline. So basically, you are cross referencing to your long course summary (see example from mine, below).
  3. Read through the lengthy course summary and extract only the rules. The idea is to have enough information to alert you to a particular possible issue on the exam, but not so much that you are slowed down by too much information.
  4. Once you have identified a short, concise, rule from the course summary copy only the rule and paste it into the attack outline.
  5. If there are elements that must be satisfied, or other tests that serve as a guide, those should be included as well. I made elements and tests blue. However, I didn’t put the rules in red for the attack outline like I did the course summary because the attack outline is essentially all rules.

Here is my example:

The Issue Spotter/Checklist

Lastly, you need a one-page issue spotter. All on this one page, you will list every theory of recovery/tort/crime/etc. you learned this semester and list the page number for which it appears in your course summary. While taking your final exam, you will place a check mark by every issue you have found. Once you have actually written about that issue on your exam, then cross out the entire issue that you checked. While reviewing your exam at the end, go over the checklist one last time – what’s left? Should any of that have been mentioned? Even if not all the elements would be satisfied, are enough elements satisfied that you should at least address it on the exam? For example, if duty, breach, and harm are satisfied, but causation isn’t – you better still spot the “negligence” issue on the exam. If you’re just one issue short, that’s close enough to merit your attention. Furthermore, you can rack up points by arguing why an element is or isn’t satisfied. If you disregard it altogether then you’ve lost a lot of points. (As a side note, if you are taking a torts exam and haven’t mentioned negligence, then something is wrong – negligence is always an issue on a torts exam).

Here’s my example:

In sum, I know this seems like a lot of work. Perhaps work that would be better spent simply reviewing your notes – but while doing this, you are reviewing your notes. And I have found that it didn’t matter how much time I spent committing this stuff to memory, the stress of taking a law school exam completely wiped my memory. Having the ability to quickly run through the available issues and find any additional information was calming and helped build my confidence.

Last Step – Practice Using Your Material

It isn’t enough to now have this material – now you have to practice using it. Do this by taking practice exams. Most law schools have old practice exams available online or in paper form at the library. Practice exams are important, perhaps even more important than organizing all of this material. All semester long you have been inputing this information – now you have to take what you know and apply it. Don’t take a law school exam without first practicing the skill of taking a law school exam. It’s unlike any other exam, I assure you. Taking the practice exam with your newly organized material will also help acquaint you with where to find what you want.

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Efficient v. Thorough Notes – Whether to Take Pre-Class/Reading Notes

February 19, 2012 at 8:17 pm (Success in Law School)

In this post, I discuss my method of “pre-class” notetaking, as well as the pros and cons and whether this is something that might be helpful for you.

Most of what you learn in law school is first encountered while reading and studying the material assigned before class. Law school is sort of a guided, but self-directed study. In a lot of ways, the law student is independently responsible for learning the law. You are expected to come to class with already having been introduced to the topic and have a fairly good understanding of it. The role of the lecture is then, to supplement your understanding, expand upon it, and either confirm your understanding or expose your misunderstanding.

Given the emphasis on pre-class preparations, it always made sense to me to devout a lot of time to my pre-class preparation: reading and note-taking. Though not an exhaustive list, I believe there are four ways in which a law student can spend their pre-class time working through the material:

  1. Read the material and take pre-class notes based on the assigned reading. Flag anything in the pre-class notes that is not understood. Then supplement the pre-class notes with in-class notes. If what was not understood before is still sketchy or my questions were not answered in-class, then consult a supplement (hornbook or commercial outline) and/or see the professor. (This is what I do, and though it is the most thorough option, it is time consuming and may not be the most efficient). 
  2. Read, but don’t take pre-class notes. At the least, mark-up the book (i.e., “book brief” and write notes in the margin). Take notes while in-class. Then, either go with the mindset that if the professor didnt mention it, then it wasn’t important, or (probably the more sound decision) go back through the reading material and supplement the class notes.(This is probably a decent balance between efficient and thorough note taking). 
  3. Read, but only take class notes, never again looking at the book. (Not ideal).
  4. Don’t read before class, take what you think are really good in-class notes, then, and only then, would you go back to the book and try to make sense of something that you didn’t understand. (This is a bad idea).

I will openly admit, I am not the best “processor” when it comes to extremely dense, difficult, and boring reading material. I have to try to stay engaged, make sense of difficult material, and understand the structure of what is being said in the material (ex. in a torts case, involving breach, duty, causation, and harm, maybe breach and duty are satisfied, causation “might” be satisfied, and harm is definitely satisfied, what is the implication for this party/client/case? What would help me determine whether causation is satisfied or not? and so on).

One thing that has helped me through some of these difficult problems and has improved my reading comprehension is to take “reading notes” a/k/a “pre-class” notes from the reading material (as I described in Option 1, above). This is SO time consuming. BUT not only does it help me understand the material, it also dramatically decreases the amount of notetaking I have to take during class (thereby allowing me to sit back and “process” some more by just taking it all in), it also helps me easily and quickly review prior to class, and it makes end-of-semester outlining a breeze (because rather than inserting the information into my outline, I’m condensing what I already have which is so much faster than hunting down info, typing it, etc.)

Having to first read the material, highlight or use different colors of pen (see blog post on technicolor reading soon), then type the important stuff into my word document keeps me engaged in the reading material and also strengthens reading comprehension (especially the typing part – because I have to really look at each word and then type it – rather than just skim and inadvertently walk away from the reading with only a “gist” of what it said).

Law school reading is like having a ton of information thrown at you without a lot of context for how to sort the information and how the information relates to this specific reading material or other material previously read. Since it naturally comes from a book, there’s little structure to it – and I find this problematic. For me to process it, I basically extract the important points from the reading, insert it into my own word processing document (last semester I used Circus Ponies, this semester I’m just using Microsoft Word), and convert it into a format that makes more sense. Most commonly, that “format” is an outline. Don’t confuse this for the “outline” that is used for exam prep and exam taking. Rather, this version (which I tend to call a “course summary”) is much more lengthy. It contains all of my briefs for every case that I read and includes any notes from sections of the casebook that are explanatory in nature (usually appearing before or after the cases).

This is all organized in either bullet-point or numbered and lettered format (thus forming an “outline” style of organization). I prefer bullet-points because the numbers and letters tend to get distracting, especially if you are also referring to a statute that has numbers (common in civil procedure). For example, I would hate to have a numbered/lettered bullet point “b.” describing Rule 60(a). But I’m a little OCD, so do whatever you like and what fits you best.

Here is an example to more thoroughly illustrate what I’m talking about, and again, remember this is all just for my pre-class/reading notes:

  • Topic (usually the chapter title from the book or the topic provided by the professor in the syllabus).
    • Subtopic (usually the section of the chapter or a subtopic provided by the professor in the syllabus).
      • Introductory notes for this particular topic which the casebook editor provided prior to a case or at the beginning of the chapter.
      • John Smith v. Doe Smith (2000) – p. 232 (notice that I’ve listed the case name, the year the case was decided, and the page number for which it appears in the book).
        • Facts:
        • Issue:
        • Holding/Disposition: (very short statement of what this means for the parties in this case – I don’t spend a lot of time on this because it is not very meaningful in terms of knowledge of this particular rule).
        • Rationale: (this is the important one – you have to know why the court chose this particular result – why the rule applied in this particular situation given the facts of this case – this is vital to understanding the rule and to applying it in the future).
        • Dissent/Concurrence: (if applicable)
        • Rule: (a short, few sentence summary of the rule).
        • Analysis: - this won’t work for every case, but when the opinion clearly lays out a step by step process for analyzing this particular issue, I always include it – it can work as a boilerplate to sort through a similar issue in the future on an exam!
      • Susie Q v. John Q (2005) – p. 349
      • Any notes which follow the case (casebook editors will often follow an opinion/case with “Notes and Questions” which provide the majority/minor rule or even better, summarize the rule in a neat one or two sentence format that is super convenient and can be placed into the brief, above under the “rule” bullet point).

In doing this, I have provided a structure for which to analyze the material. For example, two cases might illustrate two different outcomes of the same rule. In the casebook, the two cases might be 20 pages a part, but in my notes, I have them together (often on the same page).

Again, this can be extremely time consuming, but I am convinced this is the best method for me. It’s heavily “front-loaded” but when it comes time to outline at the end of the semester, most of the heavy lifting is already done. Plus, as you go along, you get much more skilled at the process and it becomes faster and like second nature.

5-10 minutes prior to class, rather than skimming through the book for the important points of the reading (which could mean flipping through 30+ pages) I can just read through my condensed notes in a few minutes.

During class, I have one side of my screen taken up with my pre-class/reading notes and the other side with my document for class notes. Most professors tend to follow the flow of book/assigned reading without jumping around too much. Since I re-read through my condensed reading notes, everything is fresh in mind; so while the professor is lecturing, I can listen intently without scurrying to write every word. Most of what he is telling me is already in my notes. Usually, the only time that I type anything at all is when we are going through an assigned case. Though I already have the “basics” (facts, issue, holding, rule, rationale, analysis, etc.) the professor almost always expands on the case by posing several “hypotheticals” that stretch the rule – it defines the rule – whether it encompasses this new set of facts set forth in the hypo, or whether the rule falls just shy of applying to this new set of facts. This is so important because it allows me to see the rule “in action,” being applied to new facts – it increases my understanding of the rule, it’s purpose, and why/why not it works in other situations. This is just like what I have to do on the exam!

Ideally, while in-class, I am able to easily annotate my reading notes with the professor’s lecture. However, if the professor has gone off on a tangent (which is valuable material, of course) or if he has skipped around and I am not able to quickly find where to insert this new in-class information into my reading notes, then I refer to the other document I have on my screen that is dedicated entirely to in-class notes.

Ideally, at the end of every class, I would spend a few minutes incorporating whatever is in my class notes, into my reading notes. But for me, this has been rarely possible because I have classes back-to-back. So, I reserve Friday afternoons specifically for reviewing and reconciling my in-class notes with my reading notes. In doing this, I am seeing the material again (good for memory) and getting feedback (yes, my pre-class understanding was correct per the lecture – or – crap, I’m confused, get help).

Once I have integrated/reconciled my class-notes into my pre-class/reading notes, I have what I call a “course summary.” This is essentially all of the information that I found important in the course – it’s way too long for use on an exam (though I have it with me just in case). Last semester, these “course summaries” were 200-250 pages for each subject. It’s important to organize it in such a way that it can serve as a useful “how-to manual” for the exam. I share share my tips on organizing the course summary, creating an “attack outline,” and a one-page issuer spotter for the exam in this post. 

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Booya (a/k/a I Kicked-Butt 1st Semester and I’m breathing a sigh of relief)

February 9, 2012 at 12:20 am (Law School Grades) ()

Sorry for leaving everybody hanging. My break completely dissipated in front of my eyes and the first three weeks of law school have completely consumed my life (plus, I’ve been suffering from total exhaustion – it’s all I can do to keep up with the bare minimum requirements of my life).

Anyway  . . . I wanted to wait to post the results of my first semester hard work (or, slavery) until I had all of my grades. One professor kept us all in suspense and I ended up starting the semester not completely knowing where I stood. In other words, it wasn’t until just last week that I got my last/final grade!

So, without further delay . . . I’m quite happy with my above-the-curve 3.5 GPA. Not too shabby. Sure, given the amount of work and effort I put in my first semester, I personally think I deserve a 4.0, but hey, that’s just not how law school works. Plus, I am competing with a ton of extremely brilliant people!

In all seriousness, this was extremely validating. Just two years ago I was questioning whether I was capable of even getting in to law school, much less succeeding (and thriving). Granted, I had to work harder (maybe harder than most of my classmates) than the average law student to earn my reward, but it was worth it – even though I have to do it for another 5 semesters. A friend of mine told me that law school is like a pie eating contest. The reward is . . .more pie. Sadly, this is a pretty good analogy for what law school is like.

Now that I have my results and have a better idea of whether my approach to law school was worthwhile, I feel qualified to reflect on what I did and share some advice. . . . soon.

I know, I know, I’ve already been slacking.

But please understand that law school is the busiest time in anyone’s life and it is already hard enough just to find time to eat and shower every day (well, sort of every day).

I promise I will write a stupendous post on exam prep and success in law school very soon. In fact, I have a draft started now and I will slooooowly work on it over the next several days (weeks?)

But it’s back to 1800′s property cases for now.

Thanks for your patience and support!

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Grades . . . where are you!?

January 7, 2012 at 7:16 pm (Law School Grades, Law School Life)

It’s been 3 weeks since my last final exam and I’m a little over a week away from starting my spring semester – so where the heck are my grades!?

I was warned the wait for grades would be even more painful than waiting for my LSAT results and for the first 2 weeks of waiting, I was patient and kept my mind occupied.

I’m done waiting.

Give me my grades!!!

I get that this isn’t like undergrad where professors enter in their own grades as soon as they are available. What is the hold up? I assume it is because all law school exams are graded anonymously – the professor only has access to a code for each student (the student, in lieu of using their name, used a code given to them by the school’s registrar). Then, the professors have to turn in the exam grades which correspond only to the anonymous codes and another person matches up the codes with the law student’s true identity and then plugs them in to whatever arcane system they use. At my law school, only one person matches up the codes and inputs grades – and it takes FOREVER.

Meanwhile, I’m passing the time cleaning my house, getting organized for next semester, and checking legalryangosling.tumblr.com – yum.

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1 semester down, 5 more to go!

December 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm (Law School Life) ()

I’ve just completed my first semester of law school – that makes me 1/6th of a lawyer, right?  Or 5/6th a normal person?

 

Wow – I’ve really come a long way. It seems not that long ago I was dreaming of being a law student, questioning whether I was capable to even get in. I had to make giant leaps of faith along the way.

Grades won’t be in for 3-4 weeks but even without knowing the “real” result of my hard work, I would say this semester has been a huge success. I worked harder than I ever have in my life and have grown not only intellectually, but emotionally (by learning to trust myself, believing I could do this).

I wish I had updated this blog more regularly throughout the semester but over the next 4 weeks of winter break I hope to update more regularly on my thoughts of the first semester. I have lots of advice I hope to share as well.

In the mean time, please let me know what you would like to hear! Either comment to this post, send me a message on the blog, or email me at lawschooldreamer [at] gmail dot com and I will address your inquiries in a post.

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You know you are a 1L when . . .

November 10, 2011 at 3:09 pm (Law School Life)

1. Assuming you didn’t, you now wish you had taken advantage of the “opportunity” to slack off in undergrad. How nice it would’ve been to push back a reading assignment or two with little repercussions.

2. You read an “article” (which is now a “fact pattern”) about a fun opportunity to have wild animals come to your home (sort of like a petting zoo coming to you) and instead of thinking about how great it would be, all you can think about is the various legal issues.

3. When someone babbles-on, taking forever to get to the point, your first instinct is to “brief” the dialogue into a short, concise, compartmentalized document in your head. Your second instinct is to calculate the time wasted which could have been better spent studying.

4. Your non-law family and friends avoid you and you realize you have nothing interesting to tell them. You aren’t just alienated, you are literally, an alien.

5. When someone talks about an “unconscionable” act you try to figure out what part of the “contract” they are talking about . . . only to find they meant someone did something really heinous.

6. You LUST over sleep. And feel guilty for giving-in.

7. Everything you thought you knew before . . . is now questionable.

8. Everything has now the potential suddenly to become tortious conduct.

9. When class is cancelled your first thought is “Yes, I have time to shower today!”

10. You either love what you are doing or you hate it. There’s no in between. . .

. . . . and FYI – I still LOVE it. Every-minute-of-it.

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My Favorite Things: Law Student Edition

November 3, 2011 at 1:48 am (Law School Gear)

Writing this, I’m reminded of Oprah’s infamous “Favorite Things” episodes in which she surprises her audience with announcing (and gifting) her favorite things . . . sorry, no giveaways here – but I am announcing my favorite law school gear/swag/tools, without which, my life would be slightly less organized/sane/happy.

  1. Gel Highlighters by Sharpie. Law school casebook pages are super thin and even the dullest, most dried-out highlighters bleed through. I am too OCD to handle that anxiety-inducing ickiness. These highlighters are amaaazing! Because they aren’t liquid, they don’t bleed through the page. Two drawbacks: 1) They aren’t super accurate and they take some getting used to and though they have a chiseled-tip, it dulls (which makes it even less accurate); and 2) They are gel, so its sort of like laying a residue on the page, which feels kind of funky.
  2. Pens by Sharpie. Okay, Sharpie is in no way a sponsor of this post nor am I a paid spokesperson (BTW, you will likely find cheaper prices at your local office supply store – the Sharpie website sells these items outrageously overpriced!). BUT it just so happens my second favorite thing are these amaaaaazing pens which do not bleed through thin pages, come in a variety of colors (good for book-briefing in technicolor which makes it easier to type up briefs later), the pens are retractable so I can extend the life and not keep track of a cap, and the tip is super fine! Also, I’m a lefty so I have to be careful about the “wetness” of ink pens because they tend to smear – but never fear! The ink dries fast enough it doesn’t smear. Hey! A Rhyme!
  3. A Sturdy Adjustable Bookstand. Seriously. I even have a friend that brings a collapsable/travel one to class and props her book up next to her laptop. Mine (which I’ve linked to) is not as portable, but it is super sturdy and since I do most of my studying at home, it is perfect for me. Just make sure it is wide-enough for ginormous casebooks.
  4. Hall’s Mocha-Flavored Cough Drops. Okay, I admit, this is random, but I’m getting over a cold and happened to come across these (my husband actually found them!) They are delicious and I am convinced the mocha-flavoring (which is my favorite coffee flavor) creates a placebo effect for me; so I trick myself into thinking I’m getting some much needed caffeine!
  5. Crunchtime Outlines. I am preparing my outlines for my classes now (yikes!) and am absolutely amazed by the usefulness of the Crunchtime books. Not only do they provide the black letter law, but they also provide flow charts (which I love, because I’m a visual learner) AND exam tips with a few sample questions and answers! I’ve linked to the publisher’s website but I strongly recommend looking at Amazon.com or another online bookstore to purchase them much more cheaply.
  6. General on-the-go essentials like instant coffee packets, granola bars, etc. Time is limited and when I’m in study mode between classes and don’t want to spend time running down sustenance, it is super handy to just grab what I need out of my backpack. GASP! Yes, I said backpack.
  7. My backpack. Seriously, I’m so glad I opted to go with a backpack rather than my usual mode of book-transportation which consisted of a) oversized handbags; b) professional-looking laptop totes; c) messenger bags. Honestly, I’m carrying 20+ pounds everywhere I go every day. Had I opted for a one-sided option I think my back would be totally out of wack. Plus, I really appreciate being able to navigate the stairs and halls of my law school without worrying about swinging a bag into something, etc. A backpack really is super convenient, even though it isn’t my usual style.
  8. Halloween Candy. Hey, it is not my fault I’m a stress eater.
  9. Law Students who are even crazier than me. It makes me feel more normal, seriously. Okay so the article I linked to (about an anxious 1L seeking advice from his/her upperclassmen peers) isn’t maybe that crazy. But this one (Mercer law student who heinously murders another classmate) is seriously insane (and NOT one of my favorite things).
  10. Law Students requesting therapy dogs to lighten spirits. Additional law schools are following Yale’s “Lead” (get it? “lead” haha) by incorporating therapy dogs as stress relievers for students. I am fortunate enough to have my own but believe all should be so lucky to have this benefit!

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Midsemester Reflection on my 0L Prep

October 19, 2011 at 6:54 pm (0L Summer Prep, Law School Life)

I promised to follow-up to my 0L prep post once I could discern whether any of it was useful. Over the last several weeks, I have been thinking about what I would say/recommend/advise. Part of my delay in this penultimate follow-up post (expect another one after first semester grades are back) is of course the lack of time I have. Law school forces you to really think about time efficiency. For those who take this journey seriously, every time spent not studying must be justifiable. I seem to only have two justifications: 1) Spending time with my dogs, cats, and  . . . oh yeah, my husband; and 2) Mental refreshers which recharge me and make me more productive for when I do study.

Blogging definitely falls under the second category – I enjoy it immensely. It is a stress reliever and I feel good knowing others are benefiting from (and/or enjoying) my posts.  So when Legal Rabbit messaged me, I was inspired to write this post. With her permission, I am sharing her kind email with you:

Hello,

I’ve been a longtime fan of your blog! Since the LSAT is finished and I’m finishing up my apps, I was wondering what kind of prep I could do before law school starts. I think you are one of the most informative and honest law bloggers out there, so I was hoping you could share some tips. I guess I’m wondering what kind of books would be a waste of time and what kind of prep would be helpful? I’m working during my gap year before law school, but have plenty of time to read in my free time.

Thanks so much for your time,

LR

www.downthelegalrabbithole.wordpress.com  

As many of you will recall, I had BIG plans for my 0L summer. My to-do list was good-intentioned, but in the end, not getting all of it done (and really booking-it to try to complete even half of it) made me feel that I was unprepared or that my future classmates would be more prepared than I! Turns out, the fact I read even one book and had given any thought to what was coming meant I was more prepared than most. But did it pay off? That’s the important question.

To answer this, I am forced to think about what was important for me to know in order to be successful these last few weeks. This list sums it up:

  • Know how to read a legal opinion. For the most part, the opinions that are in casebooks are edited (ie. shortened, containing only the relevant info in order to demonstrate that rule/exception/point). However, I’ve already had to read 3 “real” (unedited) opinions, which were 10+ pages. 3-4 of which were “fluff” that I was quite tempted to skip. For the most part, almost any 0L prep book will have a few pages on reading a legal opinion. However, this FREE PDF (“How to Read a Legal Opinion”) is one of the best guides, in fact, our legal writing instructor gave us a copy the first day of class. It is 10 pages and very to-the-point. Even better, it goes beyond what simply what an opinion is and discusses what to look for and familiarity with the structure of opinions. Also, force yourself to read every word in the opinion. In undergrad, and just pleasure reading, even the strongest of readers have a tendency to skip words, lines, or even paragraphs to get to the “good stuff.” It isn’t possible to do that here. Also, if there is a word you dont’ know (legal or otherwise) you have to look it up. Checkout NOLO’s free dictionary!
  • Know how to brief cases/opinions, how to use the brief to prepare for class and how to use the brief again for your course outline. Upperclassmen both in real life and on law school forums will say that briefing is a waste of time. Why not just “book brief” (ie., highlighting in the book in different colors or writing in the margins “Issue,” “Holding,” etc. There are several reasons. First, briefing forces you to compartmentalize the parts of the case and actively engage in the material (yeah, and highlighting in technicolor does the same thing). Well, true. But, when you are cold-called and 80 of your peers plus your professor are staring at you for the answer, what are the odds you are going to forget what the orange-color marker means, or suddenly what you wrote as “Issue” in the margin, does not exactly pinpoint the part of the case which refers to the issue – which you have now forgotten. It is better to have a brief with the Procedural History, Facts, Issue, Holding, Rule, and Analysis (really just any dicta/notes) separated-out plainly (and when possible, in your own words, but concisely). So that in a panic, when my professor says “Ms. Dreamer, how did we get here, what did the lower court’s say?” I can quickly look to the part of my brief which says “Procedural History,” skim the 1-2 sentences I have typed, and respond. (But class participation/performance doesn’t matter and exams are graded blindly, so who cares if you look stupid). Well, I care.  I want my classmates and professors to respect me, but also, I don’t want to waste their time. The more accurately and concisely I can respond, the quicker we can move through the material and the more material we can cover. Further, I will get far more out of a class when I am calm, focused, “on-it” than if I’m fumbling around like an idiot, embarrassed and clueless. Secondly, opinions are not always neatly organized where one could simply write “Issue” next to a line and that line represents the issue. In fact, most opinions do not explicitly write out, “The issue in this case is . . .” Rather, the issue is inferred based on the text of the opinion.  In fact, that is part of the students job in analyzing the opinion – to figure out what the heck is in dispute, and how this particular case fits in to the overall picture of the subject (more on this later).  Which brings me to the other purpose of the brief – using it for my outline – which is my current task-at-hand since I am now on fall break. Every case represents a rule or an exception to the main rule. That is why we are reading these cases (rather than just learning the rules alone in a boring list). So your course outline is made up primarily of the rules from the cases – each case is referenced by a “one liner” of the important facts with the rule. Outlining is quite time consuming and when you are outlining half the course, as I am this week, you will appreciate having already typed the facts and rule so all that is needed is a copy and paste. If you didn’t brief, then you have to go back to the case you read 40+ cases ago and try to figure out which facts were pertinent and what the rule is. Important point about briefs: briefing is done before class, and as I have just demonstrated, the brief is examined again for outlining. But don’t forget, between pre-class and outlining, you must go back to your brief and add-in any class notes, make any corrections, additions, etc. You don’t want to rely on your pre-class brief that could be incorrect or incomplete.
  • How to analyze the cases and understand the nuances. Probably the one skill I wish I was better at before starting law school was really analyzing the cases. Thinkingly deeply. Actively learning – being engaged in the material. The first several weeks, I realized I could easily point out the issue, holding, etc. but I didn’t always know why and I didn’t always know how to answer a professor’s follow up questions (ex. Hypos, “Assume the same facts as in the X case, minus this one thing the person did, and instead let’s assume that person instead acted differently – do we still have assault?”). There was a lot to do and I found I would often read, brief, next, repeat, etc. It was survival – get everything done, as quickly as possible. But by doing this, I was missing out on developing the essential skill of legal analysis. Legal analysis requires looking at the specifics of the case (go deep into the details) but also to look at the broad picture.  In looking at the specifics, by understanding the arguments that the judge is presented with, you get a better understanding for why the judge ruled a certain way. Which argument was more compelling? If the prevailing party’s argument was different, would they have still won the case? What exactly made the judge find that the prevailing party’s argument was more strong? Where/how did the losing party’s argument fail – was there something missing? How did the parties’ argument fit within the rule of law that the judge applied? When the judge took the argument and compared it to the rule, did the judge have to broaden the rule to make it fit or did this narrow the rule in some way? What does this mean in terms of precedent – how will the next litigant in the next case be impacted? – This brings me to the “big picture” or the “forrest.”You have to actually know the case so intimately that you understand what it represents in terms of the “big picture.” Part of this means asking: “Why was this case assigned and why is it in this part of the book?” “Is what I am being shown here the rule for X topic, is it an exception to that topic?” “Does this case demonstrate the same thing the last case did, but in a very different context?” “How does this fit into what I’ve already learned thus far?” – These are the sort of questions that are essential in understanding the “big picture.” Don’t lose the forrest for the trees. I was told this 10+ times during orientation, by upperclassmen, by professors, etc. But I didn’t know what it meant until a month-in. The big picture is important in shaping your understanding of the topic but also looking at cases in more abstract terms makes it easier to apply the rule to a new (somewhat different) fact pattern. And that skills is what is tested on the final exam.
  • Accept ambiguity/arbitrariness/conflict. I will never forget – I read Case A and thought to myself “wow, easy enough, I see what the rule is – not hard at all.” Then, I read Case B and thought “crap, the court ruled completely differently than Case A yet these cases are so similar – am I an idiot, let me read this again . . . same thing, I don’t get it.” This happens, and no, I wasn’t an idiot – I had read and understood both cases. But together, the cases conflicted. Why? After much frustration, I realized that when this happens, there are several reasons. First, it is important to analyze the facts of each case, which facts are present in Case A that are not present in Case B. Perhaps the fact omitted was a triggering fact quite essential to the court’s reasoning. Second, the courts may be in different jurisdictions and therefore, they aren’t required to rule a certain way (and have just demonstrated this by their rulings). Third, the time period could be different (was Case A decided 50+ years earlier and Case B represents the new, “modern” view, in which Case B overturns the precedent of Case A), or Fourth, nobody knows – and that is okay! (What!? – yep, seriously. Just accept it, and move-on).
  • Have a broad understanding of the American legal system, court structure, and the role of the judiciary. 0L prep books and law school casebooks don’t really get into this yet it is so important to have this background information (pretty much what used to be taught in high school civics courses) to shape your understanding of the process and the system. This (again) FREE! PDF is a real gem. It is long, so don’t spend too much time reading word-for-word, but at least get acquainted with the legal system.
  • Time management – creating and sticking t0 a schedule. This is huge. Take a lot of stock in time management. It can give you even more of an edge than just being “naturally” intelligent. Become extremely aware of how your time is spent. 20 minutes here and there throughout the day scoping out Facebook, etc. can add up to hours each day. In law school, it is a struggle to get everything done. At my law school, the question isn’t so much about getting the reading (the bare minimum) done, but how much more you did than the next guy (there’s always something more that can be done). Don’t waste time – it is the law student’s (and lawyer’s) most valuable asset. As a 0L, become more efficient, practice good time management. Also, pay attention to your most productive hours – are you most productive in the morning, evening, etc. As a law student, take your class schedule and at the beginning of every week, schedule-in ample time designated for reading the assignments for each class. Then at the end of every week, schedule time for reconciling reading notes and briefs and class notes (harmonize any conflicts, including any additions, etc.) Schedule in your breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Stick to it.
  • Discipline. Having worked in the “real” world for many years, even while completing an undergraduate degree took a great deal of discipline. I would say discipline is one of my strongest points. Having maturity and purpose in my life makes discipline a little easier for me than some of my much younger cohorts. However, I too have had to increase my level of discipline – we all do to varying degrees. A good chunk of my younger classmates are having to discipline themselves from going out and partying (even drinking until complete drunkenness). Thankfully, that is not my issue. However, disciplining myself to turn down an episode of The Good Wife (gasp!) in order to read 10 more pages of put-you-to-sleep contracts reading has been a challenge. There is always more work than there is time. So in addition to time management, 0L’s would serve themselves well to become more disciplined, controlled, and have purpose. When I say purpose, what I mean is, what are you aiming to do with yourself today, this week, three years, five years – is what you are doing right now going to accomplish that purpose? Don’t lose sight of your purpose. That said – DVRing The Good Wife and watching it when time permitted was a great refresher! So don’t push yourself when you are burnt out. Take a break (a reasonable one) – it will likely make you more productive when you get back to work.
  • Focus. Can you read a bunch of boring gibberish that you have no idea what it is saying and do it in a sufficient time (not getting on Facebook between every page – or paragraph). Focus takes practice. It is a skill and a tool which you will need to constantly use – so it better be in tip-top shape. If you suspect you may have legitimate medical issues preventing you from being able to focus, see a medical doctor. Would a better diet improve your mental stamina? Some believe that exercise is good for the brain too. But really, it takes practice. Try reading something complicated and mundane (most legal opinions fit this bill) and set a timer for 5 minutes. This isn’t an exercise in speed-reading (quite the contrary). When 5 minutes is up, do you know how many times you thought about something else, or even how many times you actually did do something else. How good is your comprehension of what you just read? A good case to try this with is Marbury v. Madison, which is a common Constitutional Law class (hey, you’ll probably have to read this 1L year anyway, so why not try now – I’ve even provided a link to the case).
  • Get your affairs in order.  I won’t spend a lot of time on this, it is pretty self-explanatory. I mention it only because a fellow classmate turned good friend had sharp pains in her stomach all summer but ignored them – only to have to have gallbladder surgery 3 weeks into law school. This sort of thing is not-fun but it is even more awful when it rears its ugly head when your a law student! As much as possible, try to anticipate things by seeing your regular medical doctor, renewing driver’s licenses, etc. Also, if you have to relocate for law school, move-in as early as possible. In law school, you hit the ground running from the first day. Many of my classmates were unpacking and just getting acquainted (having moved-in 1-2 days before orientation). Needless to say, they were pretty distracted.
  • Know how to type – accurately and fast. I suspect this is less of an issue for most of you are reading my blog. But even if you don’t plan to type your notes, you will likely want to type your outlines and perhaps your final exam – being a less-than-stellar typist is going to slow you down and frustrate you. If you do plan to type your class notes, then this point is even more important. You don’t want to miss an important point because you were too busy finding the “s” key or correcting your indecipherable mis-typed words.
  • Have a game plan – typing notes v. writing – and your approach/system. There is something to be said about not bring a laptop to class. Obviously, it keeps you focused and off of Facebook. But even if temptation isn’t the issue, be aware of the “court reporter” syndrome – you are so focused that you type every word, verbatim! Class time is supposed to be spent analyzing what was said. It is a time to confirm that what you understood the case to mean (which you read before class, on your own) is in fact as it is (or isn’t). This is also when the professor takes you beyond the assigned reading and pushes your understanding above the casebook. You want to be able to take it all in, not frantically type everything assuming you will have time to re-view later. Plus, professors (at least mine talk in circles and repeat what they say several times – how frustrating it would be to type an entire paragraph realizing it doesn’t even encompass the main point (which is the few words that should’ve been typed). In terms of your approach, if you are typing will you use Microsoft Word, OneNote, Circus Ponies’ Notebook, etc? Are you very proficient in each and do you have a system for organizing your information regardless which method you use? If you will be writing your notes, do you plan to type them after class (build this in to your schedule!).
  • Think philosophically – not just about how things are, but why. Some law schools (mine included) stress policy. Don’t worry about learning policy before law school, but at least thing critically about your own policies. Not just that you are pro-choice or pro-life, but why. The why is what matters. Map it out if you have to – you may find that the reason you agree with something is based on something else, and another, etc. What are all of the premises. Get used to thinking this way.
  • Build Confidence and Trust in Yourself.  The first semester of law school breaks you down. You begin to think you know less now than what you did before law school. It’s pretty scary when you start to feel like what you thought was right is now wrong and that nothing is certain. It is psychological warfare! Don’t let it get to you (easier said than done). But remember that you knew enough and were smart enough to get into law school and that what you knew to be true pre-law is still true now, but perhaps your understanding has deepened. Have a portion of your desk or study area that show off your pre-law school accomplishments. Certificates, thank you cards, pictures, whatever. Make a mini-shrine to remind yourself how awesome you really are.

It is important to prepare, but it is more important to be wise in preparation.

 

Sorry Legal Rabbit – this was probably way more than what you bargained for! In sum, I would say don’t read multiple 0L prep books – read one. If you want very specific tips that create a clear “game plan” I recommend 1,000 Days to the Bar. If you want the important stuff feel comfortable in creating your own “game plan” on your own, read Hard Nosed Advice from a Cranky Law Professor. In addition to reading one book, watch the DVD “All About Law School” to give you a genuine idea of what to expect in law school – this will help calm your nerves about the “unknown” and give you a few tips. If you don’t want to shell out the money to purchase the DVD, watch a few of the clips on youtube and search for a few others there while you are at it. Just search “life of a law student” or “law school.” Or . . .there’s always the Paper Chase.

So why just one book? For the most part, if you’ve read one, you read them all. Further, I wish I had spent less time reading about what to do once I started law school because most of the advice wasn’t all that mind-blowing and everyone is naturally going to do what works for them anyway. Rather, I wish I had practiced reading dense, complicated material (specifically, legal opinions) and developed some of the skills I mentioned before. That’s what affects the learning curve. It is really about who catches on to this new, foreign method of learning the fastest. My advice is truly to focus more on honing the skills and less about the other stuff. That said, I have heard, though I have not read (shame on me, I have a copy) that Getting to Maybe is really good at teaching legal analysis. It may be worth reading it, but I do not know personally. Some folks (mainly on online forums) have indicated a desire to prep substantively for law school by looking at law school supplements, etc. This is not a good idea for two reasons. For one, it could be a complete waste of time because your professor will most likely emphasis different things and few topics than the supplement books. Second, this will lead to burnout even before law school. But, if you really must, and are really that eager, check out Emory University’s “Mini Law School” podcasts. They are law-related but more from a citizen’s point of view. I feel like law school expects a certain degree of baseline non-lawyer knowledge, so it would be helpful to make sure that you are at least aware of certain legal issues that exist (but not necessarily the law, legal ramifications, etc. of such issues).

But above all, spend the summer before law school relaxing and doing anything that you have wanted to get to or think you won’t have time to do once law school begins (because you likely will not have time once law school begins). It could be something as simple as reading for pleasure (a very good idea since reading is such a big part of law school, even non-legal reading is beneficial practice of this essential skill).

On a personal note, I am loving law school – it is everything I hoped it would be and more. I am very happy that I chose to attend Dreamer School of Law and despite the craziness that is 1L year, I am really enjoying being a law student. I think I have grown tremendously, not just intellectually, but as a person. Though law school has a tendency to break people down (they tell us it is just part of the “process” as though that’s any better) I do feel that my confidence has grown. I am more trusting in myself and my abilities and feel I now have more purpose in my life than ever before. I will try to update more frequently, and in the mean time, if there are any specific questions, please let me know! Sometimes, I just don’t know what to write. Feel free to contact me via the “Contact Me” page or at lawschooldreamer [at] gmail [dot] com.

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