Updated August 9th!
Disclaimer: I hope that my 0L summer prep suggestions are beneficial despite the fact I am making these recommendations before actually experiencing law school. This post should be taken as what one 0L plans to do based on a compilation of advice given to her.
These suggestions are a compilation of tips provided by current practicing attorneys, law students, and even law professors. Additionally, I plan to review several books (noted below) and highlight the main points of each. I will be updating this post over the next several months with my reflections on the material and again many months from now to reflect on whether I thought my 0L summer prep paid off and which items were the most useful. I do not plan to read substantive law-related material (no hornbooks, law books, etc. for me). Rather, my focus is on study tips and information on thriving (not just surviving) in law school. I would love to hear from you on your tips for law school success! Please feel free to comment to this post or use the “contact me” page.
Below are the materials I will be reading over the summer (my reviews and notes of each will be posted and updated here):
Hard-Nosed Advice from a Cranky Law Professor I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which is written from the view of a “Cranky” law professor (“Professor Lawrence”). I felt this text was unique because the perspective isn’t from a practicing lawyer who did well on law school exams decades ago; rather, the perspective I found in this book is based on that of the authors, Austen L. Parrish (a seasoned law prof and associate dean) and Cristina C. Knolton (an associate professor of legal writing, analysis, and skills). Points are made while being comical (for example, the fictional law prof, Professor Lawrence at Prynceton Law School, describes a red blotch of “paint” on the wall which he is convinced is the leftover blood of his predecessor from banging his head against the wall). Professor Lawrence describes the frustration and lack of respect he feels when entering a room full of law students who are obsessively IMing, Facebook status updating, etc. and are too busy to notice class has begun. The end-of-chapter checklists are very helpful to both confirm my understanding of the chapter objectives as well as to quickly go back and recall what I should remember. Some of the best advice that I thought was very helpful and had not necessarily learned elsewhere include:
- Take selective notes during class; to do so may even require leaving the laptop at home and forcing myself to jot notes by hand (which would further ensure I am notetaking selectively for fear of major end-of-class writer’s cramp). This would also alleviate the potential for computer-related distractions.
- Professor Lawrence thoroughly went through how to brief a case and that the brief must include at a minimum: 1) a statement of issues; 2) facts; 3) procedure; 4) rules; 5) holding; and 6) reasoning. However, the brief should be short (one page or less).
- Don’t simply “book brief” or highlight in technicolor. It is the actual transferring of information from the book to my own document that aids in the understanding and analysis of the case.
- The process of outlining is the study aid, not the finished product. This is why using someone else’s outline or commercial outlines in lieu of making my own will deprive me of an essential learning opportunity. Moreover, don’t begin on the outline until 4-5 weeks into class (otherwise, there isn’t enough information to outline).
- Use supplements as supplements, not as primary material. In other words, struggle with the material first (this is the process that solidifies understanding and prepares one to “think like a lawyer). Then use supplements to supplement your outline and check for any blanks. There is also danger in relying on external sources; information overload. At the end of the semester, the prof will test on what he/she discussed and found important, not what is on an external supplement. Supplements can divert focus elsewhere.
- Professor Lawrence (or any other law professor, for that matter) doesn’t want to receive an email from you that requires a lengthy response. If a discussion is in order, arrange to meet with the professor in-person.
All About Law School (DVD) This DVD was a fun law school prep guide but it was by no means a “how-to” guide. It definitely got me excited (and anxious) about starting law school but was more of an overview of what life as a law school student is like. Most of he DVD consists of interviews from law students sharing their opinions on various topics. I appreciated the prospective and it was very entertaining to hear anecdotal stories of their experiences. Some of the take-away points include:
- Law review. No one “wants” to do law review, but all law students try for it (even if they aren’t willing to admit it). One student described it as a “necessary evil with no tangible learning involved.”
- Verbal efficiency. You learn to speak and write less.
- Law school is designed to make you more analytical, but this can be in a cynical way – it can break your idealism. You have to play “Devil’s Advocate” and argue in support of things you don’t really believe in. But this is all about the skill of persuasion. Resist the urge to critique and correct all of your friends – this is a common danger. Always stay in touch with the “human side” of things.
- Take time off before law school, even if your 100% sure you want to go. Live according to your passion first – you won’t have a lot of time for this after you graduate. Law school will always be there later. If anything, life and work experience will make you a more desirable law school candidate and a stronger student.
- Study groups. One student indicated they were a waste of time and that one member of the group typically does all the work while the other members feed off of him/her. The other students indicated study groups were a huge part of their success. Some ways study groups have been successful for them include having one person throw out an idea, the next throwing out another, etc. and analyzing each as it pertains to the case/issue; using study groups to strengthen and complete your outlines. The entire group goes through their outlines filling in each other’s holes and making them more complete; different perspectives help find additional issues you may not have otherwise thought about/spot and this is an essential exam skill, so taking practice exams together and grading each other’s exams can be particularly beneficial.
- Exams. No one sleeps the night before, some students will desperately drink red wine/warm milk/take sleeping pills. Do not do this. At best, you will wake up groggy, at worst you won’t wake up. Everyone drinks way too much coffee – so then everyone has to pee and has shaky hands. The typing from everyone’s laptops is a distraction. For one it’s loud, but second, it makes you feel pressured to begin typing before you are even ready just for the sake of keeping up (“oh no, my neighbor is typing, I should be too”). After the exam – do. not. discus. the. exam. Never. Get your stuff and leave – immediately.
- Law school is like high school. Right down to the lockers, the scheduling, the drama queens, the gossip, the rumors, the crankyness, etc. It’s impossible to e anonymous and everyone knows who is doing what (or who – seriously).
- Gunners. They feel obliged to answer every question their professor asks. At the end of the day, they should save the arguments for after class – no one wants to hear from them. Every class has one, and in every class, everyone else hates them. If by Week 3 you haven’t figured out who the gunner is – it might be you! Just be careful when asking questions that you frame them in such a way that you don’t sound like a know-it-all. Be genuine.
- Professors. Utilize office hours. Read their law review articles. Get into their head. This will pay dividends come exam time. You don’t have to adopt their viewpoints, but at least understand what they think is important.
- Practice exams. You would be crazy not to prepare for an exam using old exams to practice with. Look at several, you will likely discover a lot of common topics and styles and this can help anticipate what might be on your final exam.
- One law school, generally. Law school doesn’t have to scare you to death, work you to death, or bore you to death. Be comfortable being wrong once in a while, you may not be at the top like you’re used to. It’s never as bad as people say it is. It’s a life changing process. You get to take great classes and meet some wonderful friends.
1000 Days to the Bar but the Practice of Law Begins Now This book was recommended to me by a good friend of mine who was well aware of my past work experience and work ethic. He recommended it because it encourages students to approach law school like a full-time, 60-hour per week job – something that I have grown quite familiar and comfortable with. Because I crave consistency and a set-schedule, much like my life as a working paralegal and full-time student, I am quite fond of the advice provided in this book. I strongly feel this book contains a wealth of no-nonsense knowledge that I can relate to. There is just too much good stuff in this book to detail everything here, but some of my favorite/most valued tips include:
- From the first day of law school, be in control. This includes writing out a schedule and sticking to it. I have already made my schedule which includes my 15 hours for classes (I sneakily figured out what my schedule will be by digging through the website and finding out that all sections have their respective courses at the same time and days) plus my 45 hours for study time and 30 hours for personal/family/friends time. Having done this, I feel that I have time to do everything I want to do. Moreover, designating time also makes me feel in control. The best part is, while I’m scheduled to study – that is not the time to Facebook/Email/Blog/Etc. It is about making said designated time the most productive time as possible. I like this because it is a lot like my work schedule. It is all about efficiency.
- Being in control also means maintaining calm and de-stressing as needed by prayer/meditation/exercise/whatever.
- Take personal responsibility for your legal education. Learn it even if you research it yourself. Don’t be afraid to work independently and never rely on someone else (professor/colleague/etc) to provide information and understanding to you. It is your responsibility – you get out what you put in.
- The author, Dennis J. Tonsing has developed a “CATS” system, which stands for Components of Assessment Targeted Study. This includes: 1) Reading and briefing every case; 2) Actively attending every class and taking notes; 3) Transforming class notes (adjusting as needed and using them to create outlines and flow charts); 4) Preparing course summaries (a/k/a outlines); 5) Developing flow charts; 5) Internalizing (memorizing and becoming fluent in the language of law; 6) Answering practice hypotheticals in writing. Obviously, the book goes into greater detail on how to implement and work the CATS system, but this is the gist of it.
- Always review previous class notes/briefs/supplements 10-15 minutes before class (which helps internalize the material and aid in understanding the next class) and always spend 10 minutes after class confirming understanding of the material discussed and filling-in any blanks in your notes. This is also the time to make sure anything jotted down makes sense (because if you look at it two days from now, some scribblings may be gobbledygook).
- Tonsing’s speaks at length on making flow charts (many other books typically mention it as a potential tool worth considering but not actually how to create one). I like the idea of making flow charts because I know that I am a visual learner. I also think the act of taking a course summary (outline) and putting it into a spatial/hierarchical format serves as an additional check of understanding. I am sure we have all been in situations where we thought we had all the pieces of the puzzle until we rearranged the pieces – then gaps appeared.
- Unlike other books, Tonsing focuses on internalizing (memorizing the information). It is all about commitment of the rules, definitions, exceptions, and other essential material to memory so that these words, phrases, maxims, and even templates for persuasive arguments become an integral part of your legal vocabulary. It is more than just memorization, it is about instant automaticity. Becoming fluid, and having complete command of the information. Tonsing suggests using mnemonic devices like acronyms, but only when absolutely necessary.
- Like many other books, this book shows you how to brief, outline, and study for exams. The advice is very good, but on-par with other material on the topic. What makes this book stand out is really the advice that is relatable to working professionals and non-traditional students.