Thursday, April 15, 2010
Posted by John S. Wilson at 4:45 PM
III. 0L Prep (Summer before 1L)
IV. Location Matters
V. Focus on the Exam
VI. Case Briefing?
VII. Case Reading
IX. Analyzing the Professors
XI. Legal Thinking/Thinking Like a Lawyer
XII. Getting through Class and the Socratic Method
XIV. Study Groups
XV. The Final Stretch (What to do like 1 month before the exam)
XVI. Practice Exams
XVII. Final Exam
XIX. Work/Life Balance
XX. Some Advice for Upperclassmen / Common Errors and Mistakes
XXI. My Files
XXII. Recommendations for Other Helpful/Similar Threads
I am writing this thread in hopes of helping out all 0L’s out there, as a thanks for all the people who originally posted spectacular advice, and upon request (a few people have PM’ed me asking me to do this). Yes, this is long, but more importantly, I am going to try to be as specific and comprehensive as I can.
This is not an thread on the best method of studying (if there is such a thing); it is simply what I did. Most of the "how to do well threads" come from people at T14's, so this thread is perhaps geared more geared towards non-T14's (since I am not in the T14). Much of the advice I am posting has been previously said in many different threads by many different people, but hopefully this will be useful as well.
Good luck to everyone in overcoming this unique challenge. My first year in law school was the most fun I have ever had that I never want to do again.
As some of you may know, I just finished 1L at Loyola Law School (Los Angeles). I was ranked top 1% with the highest GPA in my section in both semesters. Also, I went to an Ivy undergrad, but had a dismal ~3.4/159 (decided to go to law school too late + science/engineering background). Hopefully, this also means even if you have a bad LSAT or did not write a ton of papers in undergrad, you can do fine in law school as well.
III. 0L Prep (Summer before 1L)
I realized I had performed poorly in undergrad and on the LSAT (relatively speaking) and decided to dedicate my summer before school started to prep. I went the typical gunner route and read all 6 Examples and Explanations (E&E’s) books, Getting to Maybe, Law School Confidential, Planet Law School, did LEEWS, and Delaney’s "Learning Legal Reasoning" and "How to do Your Best on Law School Exams". I took a simple front desk job at my summer dorm, where I would have tons of time (during work) to read this stuff, since all I had to do was give people their keys if they forgot.
0L prepping is highly controversial and it is hard to tell whether it truly helps. The E&E’s took the longest time to read, but gave me a solid background and introduction to thinking about the typical questions that come up. The number 1 ranked student at my school last year read all 6 hornbooks as a 0L, but I personally felt reading the E&E’s were a better introduction. Law School Confidential (LSC) is a great introduction to law school with a lot of good but conventional wisdom. I read this book first and while it does not offer much helpful information, it does provide a general background of what law school is all about and what people generally do. Getting to Maybe (GTM) is a great introduction to legal thinking (i.e., through its forks analogy) and has a great policy section. Planet Law School (PLS) is not the most positive book, but has much truth to it. The book perhaps describes a darker side to law school, but provided useful and unique advice to overcome it. I also checked out the yahoo groups for Planet Law School and read some of the chats on the website in my spare time (the chats discussed and analyzed hypotheticals). LEEWS probably costs the most (since it is not a book), but it was the most helpful in my opinion. Delaney’s book was short, but equally great on legal thinking.
I also took time to read about how to do well in law school online. I googled “how to do well in law school, how to score in the top 10% in law school, etc.” (I can’t remember what I googled exactly), but I read just about every websites/blogs/threads on TLS on how to do well as well.
I read every word in every book listed above from beginning to end. I read Law School Confidential first, then Planet Law School, then did 3 E&E’s (started with the Glannons Torts/Civ Pro, which were the best of the series), then read Getting to Maybe, then another 3 E&E’s, followed by Delaneys, and finally LEEWS right before school started.
If you choose not to do all this prep (and I assume many will not), I would recommend LEEWS, Getting to Maybe, and Delaney's (in that order of importance). The reading order I recommend is GTM first (it is a great intro), then Delaney's, then LEEWS all about a week or two before law school starts.
Did I enjoy my summer? Totally. The material was generally super interesting, and I spent about 6-10 hours reading it everyday, planning it out to make sure I would be able to finish everything. Okay I am lying, I wasted my entire summer since I did not travel the world and party every night (like some of you claimed to have done).
IV. Location Matters
It shouldn't but it does. I strongly suggest you live near the school (within walking distance). Loyola is a commuter school, but I chose to live about 1-2 blocks away. It takes me literally 3-5 minutes to walk to school, and I felt like this provided a bit of an advantage. I know grad students like to live off campus and away from undergrads and I hear many people wasting hours in traffic or spending 30+ minutes a day in travel time. This may not seem like much, but this (along with many other time-saving techniques) adds up over time.
Living near the school gives you better motivation to attend classes as well. I have found that people who live farther lack motivation to drive to campus if they wake up a bit late, or are less in the mood to go to school. Needless to say, out of the people I knew, people who lived within walking distance of the school were far more likely to end up in the top 15%. Actually, the 4 people that I knew personally who lived within 3-4 blocks of the school were all in the top 10% (just by coincidence obviously).
The only downside is we lived in the ghetto.
V. Focus on the Exam
This is the one thing you must do from the first day of class. You must realize that the exam at the end of the semester counts for 100% of the grade and if it is not on the exam then you must not waste time studying it. Do not simply do something just because others are doing it. Thus, when I say focus, I mean only study it and take notes on it if it is going to be on the exam. I will emphasize this point again and again.
If you did your 0L prep, then you should have an idea what exams look like. My 0L prep greatly helped me focus on the law, since I kind of knew what to look for. I looked up my professors old exams when school started just to make sure they were the typical fact pattern issue spotting exams, and focused on them from day one.
You need to have this focused mindset in deciding what to study. There are tons and tons of materials out there, and people will tell you again and again that you have to study smart (and not just study a lot). If you are not sure if you need to study something, think about whether it is something that you would write down on the exam.
VI. Case Briefing?
The answer is no. I did not brief the way people normally do (with facts, procedure, rule, holding, etc). In fact, I followed the LEEWS method. I would have two columns in my word document. On the left column, I would have the name of the case, with one sentence stating the rule, and one sentence stating the facts in each box. I usually just pulled this information from online briefs or briefing books (usually online since I could copy and paste). It gives me enough information to get through class and for reference later on. In the right column, I would take notes on any important information that the professor gives during class.
This is all the “briefing” I ever did. However, I would always do this before I read the actual case. There were a few times where I could not find a case summary/brief summary online, and had to do the mini-brief after I read the case (note that Lexis and Westlaw generally have mini-briefs of all the cases).
I also did these 2-3 sentence briefs when doing memos for my legal writing class.
You must understand that the typical case briefing method (with the facts, procedure, rule, holding, etc) is likely useless and an enormous time sink. This is very hard realization, but do not get sucked in. Other students will talk about it and lecturers will emphasize it during orientation. Case briefing is an antiquated concept that mystifies law school. Case briefing is a matter of tradition, but more importantly, it is a trap that lures the generic masses to mediocrity so that you can do well. The cases do not really teach the law (though they do teach “parts of it”) and the notes that come after the cases confuse more than educate.
I will acknowledge that a small percentage of people will read cases, see all the twists and turns, and naturally know the law. These are probably the naturally talented, and I personally did not bank on myself being one of these. In fact, out of the many classmates that appear to take the traditional (conventional wisdom) route to law school, some are bound to do well due to genetic variations in the gene pool. However, even if you know/think you are smart, I seriously recommend you do not take that chance (1L is just too darn important).
VII. Case Reading
Did I read the cases? Yes. I read just about every case assigned. I still highlighted as I read the cases in order to "actively" read, looking usually for rule statements/explanations. However, I did not read the cases with a meticulous level of detail. I “fast read” every case, and skimmed cases that were unnecessarily long. Remember, the cases are nearly NEVER tested on the exam. Only one professor wanted me to cite cases. In the other 5 substantive classes, I never cited a single case and received A's (other than landmark cases, or cases which have rules named after them).
Since cases are generally not specifically tested, do not waste too much time reading the casebook. I only used the casebook for the relevant black letter law it sometimes held. I almost always skipped reading the notes that came after the cases (unless there was black letter law in the notes section).
I usually would read the assigned reading 1-2 weeks in advance during the weekends, and occasionally during the week if I could not finish. It would usually take me about 1-2 hours to read each an assigned reading per class + do the mini-briefs (and that was it).
Outlining is probably overrated. Everyone tells you to outline, but really it is just like in undergrad, you take notes on what is important and study from it. The process of making an outline from every class takes an enormous amount of time, but I still highly recommend you make your own (sort of).
First, put ONLY what is tested on the outline. This generally means only the black letter law and its nuances go on the outline. I did not insert cases summaries on the outline, because they were never tested. I did not even put the names of the cases on there unless I felt the professor wanted us to mention it or the case name was also the name of a rule.
Second, outline early. Everyone knows to do this, but nobody does it. You will run out of time in the end, and I would recommend outlining it near the beginning of the semester. Seriously, outlining a class takes forever.
Third, try to save time by using old outlines, and just copy and pasting from them. I was able to obtain access to every club’s outlines on campus. I was in two clubs, and had passwords to those 2 outline banks. From there, I exchanged the passwords with others so we all were able to access every outline bank in the entire school. I also asked certain upper classmen friends of mine for outlines (most of them said yes, so don’t be shy).
These old outlines are a gem. Some were very useful for following along in class (and provided answers for me when called on). I even used some of the old outlines to learn the material, since past brilliant students may have figured it all out already and put it in their outline. Some of the outlines had case briefs (which I used to do my mini-briefs). Some had exam tips, which were infinitely helpful. I pasted parts of these old outlines into my own outline and continued updating and rewording them into my own version throughout the semester. My school actually has an honor society for the upperclassmen in the top 15%, and the society shares its outlines for free to 1L’s, which was great.
Finally, keep your outlines short. Otherwise, they take too long to make and read. All of my outlines were under 20 pages (most were around 10-15) single spaced, 12 font.
Oh and in case anyone was wondering, for every class I had three word documents. One was for the minibriefs + case notes, one for the outline, and one for exam prep/hypothetical practice. That is it (see XXI. My Files below for examples).
IX. Analyzing the Professors
You must get inside your professor’s head. I would say this made the difference between an A- and an A+ (like one to two grade differences). The professor grades your final exam and has a final say on your grade, so you must figure out what he or she wants. The nature of law school exams means there is a certain amount of subjectivity, but you must play the game and overcome the obstacle.
The best way to do this is by going to class, going to office hours, and looking at old exams.
The problem with going to class is that some (maybe all) of the professors do not always test what they teach. This is obvious enough. You talk about cases in class and what do you see on the exam? A big long fact pattern that often does not mention cases at all.
However, pay attention to how they phrase things during class. If your professor uses powerpoints or words the law in a certain manner, USE THAT WORDING (not the supplement’s wording) by putting it on your outline and later on the exam.
I used office hours as a place to both bond with the professors (by talking about non-law things, usually by asking them about career/their backgrounds) and to get my questions answered. I would usually come in with a list of questions. Basically I would run into questions and concepts from reading the supplements/reviewing notes (that I was confused by or go beyond what was taught). Then I would write the questions down, and ask them during office hours. Other times, I would just ask the questions via email, but I felt that going there in person created a bonding experience that would greatly help if I needed recommendations. Also, pay attention during office hours to how the professor phrases and words things, take note of it and be sure adjust accordingly.
More importantly, office hours allowed me to further probe their brilliance. It would help me analyze their style and personality to figure out how they like to test students. Were they a hide the ball type? Did they like to trick students? Were they straightforward? Do they only test what they teach or do the opposite? Do they like to write long fact patterns or were they lazier/busier and like to give shorter ones? Do they want you to cover non-issues and make arguments that are more "stretches"? Did they want you to cite cases? Does he want you to make policy arguments? These were all common questions I asked. Simply put, your goal during office hours is to figure out what to put on the exam and how to put it in the way that your professor wants it.
I was surprised that most of my professors were super helpful during office hours, and nearly all of them loved hanging out with students. I even discovered some that were a little strict/boring/mean in class turned out to be nice/super exciting/fun/lax.
Supplements constituted the bulk of my reading. The number 1 rule is always use your professors’ supplements IF THEY wrote it (though this only applied to one of my classes).
Generally I used the E&E’s. Sometimes I used the hornbooks if the professor was more policy oriented. The E&E's are generally amazing since they give the law and then give practice questions to go with it. I read the hornbooks just because they were so well written, clear and very comprehensive in covering an area of law. E&E’s and horn books were definitely the main supplements, for they teach the law and its nuances (which is what is tested). The E&E’s were the only supplements I read more than once, as the problems and hypotheticals they have are very helpful (and help probe legal thinking).
Of course, I only read the relevant sections once school has started. I would usually read these to go along with the course. Basically I followed along with the syllabus and read the relevant sections either before or after a class on the same subject. I felt like these books are the actual texts of the course and what you should be reading.
I also used CALI lessons as supplements, but used them exclusively for test prep (I did the problems right before the exams). I think this is an underrated supplement. The questions quiz you on much of the nuances of the law, but only if you already know it pretty well (which is why I saved it for exams). The problems allow you to think (like the E&E’s), and gives you answers with great explanations. Some of the lessons are very helpful for clarifying some of the more difficult legal doctrines (Rule against Perpetuities, Proximate Cause, Offer/Acceptance).
As for other supplements, I also read them as well, but not as much. The next most used were the Emmanuels and Gilberts commercial outlines. These were definitely helpful, as they basically outline all of the black letter law. I only used them in 3-4 of my classes (Property definitely, Contracts, Civil Pro), since the other classes had better supplements. I would also pull much of the law/nuances from these two series and put them on my outline.
I also never bought any supplements other than the E&E’s (which I bought for 0L study). The rest I borrowed from the library. I also checked out and read the relevant portions of many other supplements (Roadmap Series, Q&A series, BarBri’s 1L review). I read these only when I was unclear after reading the hornbooks or as a review for test prep.
By the way, I am sure most people realize that different professors and different supplements say different things. This is true, and you should always use the wording/approach used by your professor. However, these are supplements, and they “supplement” your understanding of the field of law. You will realize that after reading about 5-6 supplements on one subject, it all kind of sounds the same. Yes, each supplement will word the exact elements of “battery” a little differently, but the concept behind it will be the same. Moreover, even if your professor takes the majority view of a subject, he will likely be impressed if you say something like “in a minority of courts, judges have adopted the Andrews standard for proximate cause because….” I also feel that reading the law in different words/formats from different supplements will greatly enhance your understanding of some difficult legal doctrines. People take different interpretations of the law, but overall, it is still the same everywhere.
Also, be sure to adjust which supplements you read. There is no one supplement for every class. Remember to focus on the exam. So, if your professor uses multiple choice questions, use the multiple choice supplements (Q&A series, and Glannon Multiple Choice guides). If your professor doesn’t do multiple choice, then by all means, skip those supplements.
Some of the best supplements in my opinion are Glannons E&Es on Torts and Civil Procedure, Chemerinsky’s Constitutional Law, Chirelstein’s Contracts, Prosser’s Hornbook on Torts, Farnsworth’s Hornbook on Contracts, Dressler’s Criminal Law books, and of course various CALI lessons.
XI. Legal Thinking/Thinking Like a Lawyer
Legal thinking and analysis is the key to success. This idea of “thinking like a lawyer” is so important and yet so enigmatic that many law students just do not get it. It took me about over a semester to truly master it, and if anything, this one skill makes the BIGGEST difference on exam grades. In fact, I think mastering this skill sets out the “A” grades from the rest. It will greatly help in your legal writing class, and likely in your legal career.
Basically, legal thinking is defined in different ways. Delaney calls it an interweaving of facts and law. A Southwestern professor calls it using creative arguments to tie the facts to relevant laws. LEEWS calls it nitpicking the facts and arguing both sides. Getting to Maybe describes it as forks in a road. I think that legal thinking encompasses all of these. Perhaps it is just attention to details regarding non-obvious ambiguities. Some smart people get this naturally, but the rest of us have to practice.
In addition, legal reasoning is explaining the "why". People are often conclusory because they do not explain the "why". For example, when if you say M had an intent to harm B because M punched him, it does not say anything and the professor will mark it as a conclusory statement. There is no legal analysis here. You have failed to answer why there is intent for a battery charge. What you need to say is M had the intent because he raised his arm, clenched his fist, moved it with his muscles towards B's face, a small and vulnerable spot in relation to the rest of B’s large body, while facing B (thus able to see his target), not stopping his arm during the duration of the punch and not verbally warning B that his punch was coming. All of this PROVES why M had the desire or purpose (and thus intent) to punch B. These are reasonable inferences you can make from the facts. This is nitpicking the facts.
Also, legal reasoning is thinking in terms of elements. For example, if you have a set of facts where M punched B, and you ask a normal person if there is battery, he/she will say yes. However, if you are a lawyer, and a law student, you cannot just think "yes" there is battery (battery being defined as an 1) intentional act 2) causing 3) harmful or offensive 4) contact). If you are thinking well "DUH" it is obvious that there is battery, then you are not thinking like a lawyer. You need to think in terms of elements. So, when someone asks you if there is battery when M punched B, you need to think well is there intent, is there causation, would that punch be harmful, and was contact actually made? In addition, you need to think if there are any defenses (was there any damages, was M acting in self defense, was there consent of some sort like if they were boxing or something). Only after you have thought about all of these elements in your head, then the idea of "yes there is battery" can pop into your head.
LEEWS is, in my opinion, the best method to learn legal thinking. The LEEWS Ugly But Effective method plus a ton of other tips really give you a backbone for transforming legal thinking into words. For that reason, I think LEEWS is the best and single most important supplement (and do the audio program before law school). I would also read Delaney, Getting to Maybe, and any other sources on it that you can find (some internet blogs/websites had some great advice for learning legal reasoning which I found just by googling).
LEEWS recommends you practice hypotheticals every week, and this is exactly what I did. I did any hypothetical I could find (provided they had answers to learn from). It takes time to be able to analyze the law and nitpick the facts while recognizing all the legal nuances. I realize you can only do this after you have learned some law, so I started doing this a lot one month in, after I had learned some laws and written some rules in my outlines. Make sure the hypos that you are practicing on have answers so you can learn and compare. It was actually hard to find too many hypos to practice in, so I often used old exams (usually midterms) from other schools (like Pepperdine has a nice bank) that tested the subjects we already learned.
Legal thinking is what every professor wants to see, and after you master the skill, all you really need to know is the law, and I honestly think you will be set. After 1st semester, I stopped practicing extra non-class related hypotheticals, and I received the same grades 2nd semester. Basically, once you have mastered legal reasoning, you should see similar grades in all your classes (assuming you spend the same amount of time on each). I noticed that people who get A's will often consistently get A/A- grades in nearly all their classes.
XII. Getting through Class and the Socratic Method
This is another unwary trap for the wayward law student. You will get called in class, and you will mess up, but let it go. Do not let this fear drive you into reading cases. Yes, I got ripped apart when reciting the facts, but since I read the supplements and knew legal thinking, it usually sounded impressive (according to my classmates at least, I always thought I sounded terrible).
I also developed a habit of outright guessing wildly relevant answers, or even funny answers. For example, my professor asked me “what is the difference between the first son and the second son?” I had no idea, in fact, that was just another fact that was not going to be tested. I am pretty sure I just blurted out, “I think the first son was a genetic son and the second one was a bastard child from when the mom had an affair.”
Anyhow, the takeway is do not let the Socratic Method scare you into losing your focus (a la final exam). Do not let it change your study habits. Most upperclassmen learn this the hard way. Just think of it as a guessing game, and have fun with it.
Now, during class, you should be thinking, not writing down everything. Yes, when other students around you take a ton of notes, it gets to you (but trust me, it will pass). Every once in a while, the professor will give you the law, or something useful for the exam (like she’ll go over felony murder and say you need to cover a certain aspect of felony murder). WRITE THIS DOWN. These gems of information are few, so you should be taking very little notes every class. I wrote all of this "in class" stuff down in the right hand column of my notes document (remember that the left hand column was my mini-briefs).
Also, make good use of class time. When your professor is going over the law, or going over something exam related, pay attention. The rest of the time, try to figure out if it is important. If it is not, do something productive. Sometimes I would skim a case or review it in “case” I was called on. Other times, I would usually just work on the outlines. If the professor says something super important, you do not need to put it in your notes, and later transfer that into your outlines. SKIP that step, and just put the law (as your professor says) into the outline.
Also, when the professor is going on a tangent or going over facts of the case (generally not useful information), go work on your outlines. I usually spend this time reading over old outlines and pasting relevant portions into my own outline.
Other times I would read Wikipedia entries on the relevant law during class, and edit them because I am an epic nerd (shhh).
Finally, do not worry too much about class participation. Our professors can give +/- 3 points for participation, but apparently this barely mattered, since I sucked at it and did okay. Also, I noticed that people who raise their hands too often did not generally fall towards the top of the class. It was usually the quiet ones in the back that tended to hog the A's.
My mindset was that basically I was going to spend every waking moment on law school. This obviously was not true, but it was the general idea. I would study 8-12 hours a day, which was actually not that bad. If you have this mindset, I do not think you will have trouble doing all that 0L reading, or reading all those supplements during the school year.
Now, a huge obstacle is motivation/inspiration. I imagine that many students may get burned out after studying so much. After all, at some point, you will get tired of studying and suffer from long-term exhaustion with diminished interest. You need to overcome this burnout in order to succeed. The law is very interesting, but there are boring parts as well (Cough*ConLaw*Cough).
One great motivational fact is that the first year means EVERYTHING. It literally determines your life (or at least you should think this way). Your job depends on first year grades, and grades alone (plus a good interview). Your grades alone determine if you can transfer, if you can make it onto law review, if you can go to big law, or if you get a scholarship the next semester. One way to think about it is that if you get a full scholarship after your 1L year (often worth 80k+), they are basically paying you hundreds of dollars to study NOW. Most people seem to realize that grades are important, but it just does not seem to hit them (which might not if they already have money or connections and are set for life, etc).
I tried to motivate myself in so many ways. I got these techniques from these random self help books back in the day. Basically I would think of things that motivate me, like how my family depended on me, how others ridiculed me (for not going to HYS). I have also pretended I was a brilliant legal scholar unraveling the mystery of the law. Sometimes, I would envision law school as a game, whether I am sparring with the scary professors in class or solving the puzzle of the rule against perpetuities. By thinking of law school as a game, I was able to view it as a fun activity, rather than a tedious repetitive drudgery.
Another method (I have no idea if this works) is to see the goals you have in mind. I posted a big 4.0 sign (It was a blank page with the number 4.0 in large font) on my wall. I would see it every day and every night, and it reminded me of my goal. In fact, my user name ("Arrow") is partially a reminder to aim for my goal. The book I read (it might have been Think and Grow Rich) said that doing this stuff brainwashes yourself to work hard towards your goals.
I also drove myself to study through fear, by thinking about how screwed I would be if I did not end up at the top of my class. This was not hard (especially in this economy), since I literally did not have money or connections like many of my classmates. This was all or nothing for me. Heck, reading Above the Law or other blogs/threads about non-T14 prospects motivated me. I even vilified my own law school (I love Loyola btw), but at that time, I repeated to myself in my mind that I would not get a job out of Loyola unless I did well (all in the name of motivation).
Other times I motivated myself by appealing to my love for science fiction/fantasy. I remember times where I pretended I was Harry Potter or Raistlin Majere, and that I was studying tomes of magic. I analogized studying law to magic, and thought about all the cool power and intellectual satisfaction it would bring. Silly perhaps, but hey it worked and I continued studying.
Sometimes I would sit near good looking members of the opposite sex in the library to motivate me (actually I am not sure if this motivated me or distracted me). Occasionally, I would listen to different music to study. I am sure everyone has their own way of studying, but whatever it is, you do need to find proper motivation to get past the laziness and burnout.
Remember, when you are drowsy, your competitors study hard.
XIV. Study Groups
If you ask me about study groups, the answer is a resounding no. Study groups are a huge time sink, but I will admit I tried them out and it is much more fun and makes studying enjoyable.
However, I did sometimes use my own version of study groups. Basically I studied with 2-3 people NOT from my section. In fact, we all just sat in a room and studied quietly. Maybe every couple hours we would all stop and chat for about 5-10 minutes. I really liked this "silent" study group and used this quite often since it is just nice to do things with people.
I also found that it was hard to explain to others my method of studying. I told people to not study the cases and it was often met with disbelief. Thus, I strayed away from the traditional study groups where you sit and discuss stuff. I would not even recommend groups for discussing practice exams/hypothetical (it is just too slow). You read a lot faster than you can talk (or listen). In addition, if the practice exams did not have answers, I went to the professor, not to my fellow students (who may or may not know the answer).
If I knew who was going to do well on exams, I might have considered studying with them, but no one knows this until after grades come out.
XV. The Final Stretch (what to do like 1 month before the exam)
About a month before finals, you should formulate a plan and stop partying. I pretty much stopped going to social events, because this is a time where you solidify all information.
By this time, I usually have finished reading all assigned cases in nearly all of my classes. Sometimes, this was not possible because the professor did not give us a syllabus or would make last minute changes, so I had to adjust accordingly. Also, by this time, I have generally finished most of my outlines or was close to it.
I think formulating a plan is important. I assigned like 3-4 days just to one subject, and then another few days to the next, and so on and made sure I had plenty of time for each class. Basically during these days, I would review materials and start going over all the supplements, practice exams, and Cali lessons.
Next, the best thing I think I did that made the biggest difference was put the black letter law from my outline into an “exam paragraph format.” Basically I put the black letter law into short simple sentences, along with any nuances, into paragraphs and practiced memorizing it by typing it out.
Basically I would have a heading and then the next paragraph would be the law as if I would type it on the exam when the issue came out. It would look something like:
Battery is an 1) intentional act 2) causing 3) harmful or offensive 4) contact (the rule).
Intent is purpose or desire. Intent can be transferred or established by substantial certainty (further defining the rule/nuance).
Causation can be direct or indirect.
Contact can be without physical contact of the skin. No awareness necessary.
… and so on
Note that this is EXACTLY what I wrote on the exams. I practiced writing these rules out before the exam, over and over again, so that on the exam, when an issue for battery came out, I wrote this first paragraph EXACTLY, then proceeded to analyze the issue. For example, on an exam I would then write something like this (note how I added analysis here):
Blueberry (B) v. Cherry (C)
Battery is an 1) intentional act 2) causing 3) harmful or offensive 4) contact.
Intent is purpose or desire. Intent can be transferred or established by substantial certainty. B had purpose to harm C because C punched B, C tickled him, and B stated that he “hated” C. In addition B targeted C’s face, which is a vulnerable but small spot on C’s body. Alternatively, B claims that he did not feel the tickle or even see C was around. He was telling a story and waving his arms crazily to describe the story. However this is a weak argument because waving your arms around and punching someone are two distinct motions. On balance, B had intent.
Causation can be direct or indirect. B caused C’s black eye because his fist came into contact with C’s eye. This is direct (but for) causation.
Contact can be without physical contact of the skin. No awareness necessary. Contact is established even though B was wearing a glove because skin on skin contact is not required. The surface of the glove physically touched the skin of C, which is sufficient.
Thus, B likely committed battery.
… and so on (I made this hypo up)
Loyola’s first year classes all require memorizing (because the tests were closed-book), so this was an ACTIVE method of memorizing the law by writing it out over and over again (a passive method would be simply just reading your own outline). I practiced writing out the law in my “Exam Prep/Hypo” document, and I would basically type the black letter law + nuances in every class about 10+ times until I had it memorized cold.
If you have a closed-book exam, I highly recommend doing this (as non-top law schools generally do have closed book tests anyways). It helps you memorize exactly what you will write on the exam, and gives you A TON of extra time on the exam. In fact, this was the difference between an A- on one of my midterms and an A+ on the final in the same class (my epiphany on how do all this came after the A-).
If I sent you a copy of my “exam prep” document for each class (see link below), you will see that I have the black letter down written down (in non-outline format) about 10+ times each. Each class had a black letter law in exam paragraph format of about 2000-3000 words, and while this took a bit of time to memorize, it was well worth it. Therefore, when exam came, and I had to state a rule, I could recite it instantly and clearly, as well as recognize any nuances of the law.
Everyone knows you have to know the black letter law cold. I think if you practice typing out the black letter law over and over again, you will have it down cold. I cannot think any way to know it "colder" than to be able to type it down instantly at your max typing speed. It is not enough to simply stare at your outline and read it. You need to actively think in order to know it well.
During the final 3-5 days before the exam, I would write out the entire black letter law for a class about 2-3 times a day, do maybe 1 written practice a day if I had any left, issue spot more practice exams, read a review of the black letter law (usually the BarBri one because it was short), and do the CALI lessons.
XVI. Practice Exams
You should have already looked at these at the beginning of the semester to “focus” on the exams, but you will definitely go through them when exam time rolls around.
Everyone knows you have to look at and do practice exams, and so you should. However, make sure they have answers, or they can become a huge waste of time. I usually wrote out only about 4-5 practice exams so I get the general idea and feel comfortable with a professor. Many people recommend doing 10-20 practice exams per class. I think this is helpful, but unnecessary. Once you understand how to think like a lawyer and nitpick the facts, you do not NEED to do that many practice exams.
The majority of the students end up using practice exams during the last few weeks to learn their legal reasoning/analysis (and they are not really “practicing). You should have already done this throughout the semester so now when you do practice exams to prepare for the final, there is no more learning, just “real” practicing. What you write on the practice exams must be exactly what you end up writing on the exam.
A few of my professors were new, so I basically found other professors with similar syllabuses (generally from my law school on TWEN) and did their exams instead. Sometimes, I just kept on looking at old exams from other law schools. In addition, feel free to ask your professor (who is new) to recommend other professor's exams to practice on.
Once you have practiced writing out a few exams, you should practice issue spotting past exams. What I did was, I would take old exams and just practice writing the “basic outline of issues,” as recommended by LEEWS (this is the mini outline you make after you read the exam fact pattern and before you start writing). This practice of just issue spotting is a lot less time consuming, and I would just make sure I recognized all the nuances and issues. I would generally just do this for 10-20 exams. No writing, just issue spotting. I would compare the answer with my basic issue outline to make sure I covered everything. By the way, this practice of issue spotting actual exams is basically what I was doing all semester long with the random hypotheticals, but now I specifically do it for the professor's past exams.
XVII. Final Exam
I just wanted to make a few points about writing the exam itself. It may be obvious, but basically, the exam requires:
1) memorizing the law
2) legal analysis/application
3) organization, format, and clarity
4) adjusting for the professor
I believe these are the four pillars of success for every law school exam (or well for the typical issue spotting fact patterns) and ultimately in law school. Pretty much all of the things I recommend above ultimately focus on mastering these 4 things.
For format/organization, use headings and use new paragraphs (LEEWS teaches this). I actually did not italicize or underline key words (like LEEWS recommended) to save time. I always spell checked (this was quick), and I usually had more time since I type fast + I could recite the law quickly + analyze quickly due to practice. Half of my professors denied the importance of organization/format, but I believe it subconsciously affects how they view the exam.
By the way, when I was going over a midterm with one of my professors, he openly admitted that I had discussed an issue but he (the professor) failed to see it and give me points for it. Though it would have made no difference (since I got an A on the exam), he said that he did not recognize it because it was buried in a longer paragraph. The lesson here is, make a new paragraph every time you have a new issue or law (like LEEWS says, new law, new paragraph). I am guessing this is true for all professors. They will miss issues if it is buried in a long paragraph, so use a lot of headings and new paragraphs.
Another thing I did is make a list of issues and wrote it down quickly when the exam started. It was the first thing I did on every exam. I used simple abbreviations and was able to write out the entire issue list in about 1 minute at the start of every exam. This list of issues lists everything covered in every course along with some easily missed issues. As LEEWS recommended, I would scan the list and double check to see if I missed any issues as I read the exam and at the end. Sometimes, if there was a weird fact and I could not tie it to an issue instantly, I would check this issue list as well.
There was only one issue that I think I missed but should not have, and guess what, I forgot to put it on this issue list (it was the Rule of Infectious Invalidity). I thought I could have spotted the issue because it was so obvious and that I would remember it (which is what students normally hope they do). Silly me. It came up in my exam, was not on this mini-list that I had prepared, and I missed the issue.
One other thing, I think typing fast is super important. Most exams have more issues than you can spot or write. Now, if you could type down the black letter law super fast and you typed fast, then imagine if you had an extra 20 minutes on every 3 hour essay exam. I felt like that was huge advantage. People say that writing more is not always better, but if you are writing on topic, within the call of the question, and writing more sound legal analysis, then you are on the right track. On average, I would shell out 8000-9000 words for every 3 hour exam, and averaged about 700-800 words every 15 minutes (I would take like 10-20 minutes to read/outline the issues). I went over exams with some classmates, and I noticed a trend that if you generally wrote more, you generally received better grades (I am sure exceptions exist, as always). I never had to practice typing, but I noticed that a few other hardcore people did. Thus, if you type slow, you should consider practicing typing.
As you all know, there is luck in grading exams (OMG NO WAY). However, you do maintain a range of grades. I received nearly all A’s with a couple of B+’s. I use the same general approach described above (adjusting properly for each class), but sometimes it comes out as an A- and other times an A+. There is no doubt that some luck is involved, but I nearly always stay in the A range.
A lot of this stuff is really focused on "minimizing" luck. For example, you can totally get by without using headings and labels and write a great exam without good organization. However, you RISK the professor missing an issue that you have identified or not understanding something you have written. Thus, some of this small stuff matters. Another example is spell checking. It should not matter but it probably does. Take the 2-3 minutes to spell check and make you paper look slightly better, which will cause any subjectivity (regarding writing ability) to lean in your favor. One last example, you do not have to use your professor's wording. But if you do, doesn't that sound better and subconsciously make the professor think you paid more attention in class or something as he is grading your exam? These are all tiny (and theoretically irrelevant) things you can do to affect your luck. Even my recommendation about living near the school is just another small thing to help increase your chances of success. You can be a high-roller and gamble for the "A," but I recommend you be more risk adverse with your crucial first year.
I realize that some things are just out of your control, but do not worry about it and let it go. Remember back in high school or undergrad where your English professor grades your semester long paper? The subjectivity here is no different. In fact, I think there is less luck here than in grading an English essay. Most of my professors (probably all, but I really cannot confirm) used rubrics and an issue identification chart of some sort to make sure you have spotted the issues. Thus, if you do the right things, you will still end up near the top of your class.
Sometimes, you just get screwed by the curve. My B+ was in legal writing, and had a class of 20 people. When I went to see the professor, she told me I had the 3rd highest grade in the class, and the two people above me got A-’s. What else are you going to do when the curve gives out no A's (other than be jealous of the other sections that are giving out A+'s)?
My other B+ was from a new professor. She had no past exams, gave us no problems, and I assumed she would give us a typical fact pattern on the exam, but apparently not. She gave us an exam that asked us for “our opinions” on a topic, and I guessed she graded more on writing ability instead of analytical ability. You might get a crazy professor that gives you a hard or unique exam that strays from tradition, but if you do the LEEWS method (which I did, apply legal analysis), you should still come out okay (as I did, as a B+ is still top 15%-25% here).
Seriously though, always blame your bad grades on luck. No need to damage your ego.
XIX. Work/Life Balance
Go to social events! It will be fun. There are a few things I always did not matter what. I would always go to the gym and work out. I would also play pick up basketball games on campus or go bboying once a week. I think being physically fit is essential for being mentally fit.
In addition, I would go to various social events on Friday/Saturday nights once or twice every few weeks (“Bar” review, Turb Club, Club meetings). Networking is important, and you still have to do it even with epic studying going on. Plus, the free food was nice. We all have to eat, so socialize while eating. Having a good work/life balance is important in keeping you sane. Also, having human interaction is an important skill as a lawyer (and totally fun), so be sure to meet your amazing classmates. Upperclassmen also hold a plethora of tips when it comes to specific professors and their exam tendencies. Ask them (in person or by email) what professors they had in the last few years and if they had any advice or tips.
On a side note, and not to disparage people who do not get as lucky, but beware of advice from certain people. While I still recommend you talk to upperclassmen and your own classmates for advice, just know that students in general are epically confused (heck even I was lost). Thus, I would seek out people on law review or people who have big firm jobs and ask them how they did well. What I also have noticed is that average students give average advice, which leads the average student to follow it (resulting in an average grade). Often, this advice is "comfort" advice (i.e., advice that allows you to make it through law school comfortably, like doing study groups or something). It is good to listen to their advice, which may contain a grain of truth, but try to seek out the many brilliant minds in the student body as well. On the flip side, some naturally intelligent legal eagles may encourage less studying and tell you to chill. If you are more of a hard worker rather than one gifted with brilliance, I would be wary of their advice as well.
Your social life may have nothing to do with your grades, but I am including this section here as a reminder that your people skills are ALSO a key to success in life. If you want to make partner one day and do some serious rainmaking, networking is essential.
XX. Some Advice for Upperclassmen / Common Errors and Mistakes
Several people have messaged me regarding a prevailing post 1L predicament. You study hard, you put in a lot of hours, you dedicate your life to studying during finals week, but you get average grades and just cannot seem to figure out what went wrong. In addition, there may be some extra blaming on luck and subjectivity. This certainly sounds a bit unfair. After all, people who work hard should be rewarded. There are so many reasons why someone gets the grades they do, but here are perhaps some things to consider.
First, are you really putting in the hours? Most people study for about 4-6 hours outside of class, and treat law school like a job. This feels like "working hard," since it is more studying than undergrad. However, there are a few people who consistently do 8-12 hours EVERY day outside of class and several who do 8+ hours outside of class. If the professor only gives out four "A"s, it will probably be hogged by those who are studying 8+ hours every day. Did you really sacrifice everything and dedicate your life to law school? Do you stop working at 6pm or 7pm and watch TV/play computer games? Are you getting distracted by facebook, TLS, emails, blogs? Did you really read every relevant chapter in the E&E or just the two chapters on a confusing topic? You may not have to do 12 hours a day outside of class to get "As" (you may not even respect those who are uber hardcore like that), but do not be surprised if they are hogging the good grades.
Second, are you also putting in the hours during the earlier days of the semester? Do you feel like you do not need to study early in the semester because there is only one final and you still have 3 months to learn things? Everyone studies like crazy during finals, so when you study a ton during that time (which causes you to feel like you are working hard), you will not stand out. Instead, you need to have prepared for everything ahead of time and finished your readings and outlining early so you can do excess practice tests during the last month before the final and solidify your understanding and memorization of the black letter law.
Third, are you doing a ton of things that are time consuming? Are you doing things that make you feel productive when you probably are not? For example, are you doing a 6 hour study group where you guys went over only 2 exams? Are you spending more than 2 hours on reading cases per assignment? Did you just spend 5 days making your outline about 2 weeks before your final? Do you passively read your own outlines and try to study it when you should be actively memorizing it? Are you writing down too much in class and spending too much time reviewing your class notes? This is even worse considering how class notes are often about caselaw which may not be tested. Another thing to think about is, are you following too much conventional wisdom? Unless you are naturally smart, you cannot expect to excel (enough to consistently get "A"s) unless you are doing something different.
Fourth, do you really have the black letter law down cold? Students study their outlines and think they know it, but can you recall every law you have learned for the class down immediately (and type it out instantly at your max typing speed)? Do you have to think about a proper way to word the black letter law? You should have figured this all out before the exam. Basically, if you have to think about what you wrote on your outline, and transform that into a sentence during the exam, then you may waste some precious time.
Fifth, do you understand what legal analysis is and how it works? Are you making an issue list to make sure you do not miss issues? Are you thinking in terms of elements? By the way, thinking in terms of elements also helps to spot issues/sub-issues and not miss them. Are you using EVERY single fact that may be relevant and also coming up with creative arguments? This is hard to do, but not with practice. In addition, did you really try to make a read on your professor? Did you even ask him whether he wanted you to address non-issues or write long analysis? Finally, have you taken LEEWS? I would give this program a try if you honestly are working hard and doing the long hours but not getting the grades you want.
Finally, do note that the advice above is not just for 0L's and 1L's (hence this is a guide for doing well in law school and not just the first year). The exams generally remain the same, though as an upperclassmen you can do more clinics/journals/externships/papers and you can choose your classes. Either way, you will still have to apply similar study skills and legal reasoning skills as a 2L/3L and likely in your career as well.
In the end, do remember though that grades do not mean everything (though you may want to think that they do during your 1L year to motivate yourself). If you have great connections, grades probably do not matter at all. Remember that tons of lawyers do great despite the evil enigmatic exams.
XXI. My Files
Courtesy of Gatorade, who asked me to do this, here are my notes, outline, and exam prep document for Criminal Law. This is all of the study materials I had made for this one class. Hopefully, it will give you an idea of what I am talking about above, and what I did this last year.
A few things to notice:
My notes file: This is the two column thing I was talking about. At the bottom of the file, I have big long lists of questions. These are things that confused me when I was studying and reading. I wrote them down and asked them to the professor during office hours.
My outline: At the top, I wrote small reminders to myself on things that were easily missed. I bold + italicize + used red font on certain things I tended to forget (basically I used them to emphasize things). At the bottom of my outline, I have the list of issues (in non-abbreviated form) that I would write down first thing on the exam.
My exam prep: Yes, it is a whopping 200 pages, as most of my exam prep documents range from 50-200 pages. This is the type of focus I think you should have for exam preparation. This professor had a ton of hypotheticals and practice exams for me to play with, which was perfect. In addition, her exam was especially a hard one racehorse style. You will also notice I have typed the black letter law quite a few times throughout the document, and no they were not copied. I also bolded the parts I forget and would review it now and then. Finally, you will notice that the font changes at some point in this document. That is because I started practicing my exams and stuff in ExamSoft from that point on instead of simply in Microsoft word (I copied the text back into this document so I could edit it/learn from it). One last thing, this one document was extra long because I did a lot of hypo practice first semester. I pretty much stopped 2nd semester since I had "learned" legal reasoning/analysis by then. Thus, all of my second semester exam prep documents were about 50-100 pages.
http://www.scribd.com/full/17016160?acc ... 4ooip8n7e2
http://www.scribd.com/full/17016161?acc ... rx2qf2r3p6
http://www.scribd.com/full/17310170?acc ... 0ydjp9yd51
XXII. Recommendations For Other Helpful/Similar Threads
I also recommend reading the following threads, which have been very helpful.
Xeoh85's Advice on Success in Law School
A TLS Article on Success in Law School
http://www.top-law-schools.com/success- ... chool.html
An Example of practicing hypotheticals
Advice From Students After Receiving Grades
"If you could ONLY buy one Commercial Supplement"
"Things I'd do over"
Common 0L Questions
Wahoo1L's 0L Guide
JayCutler'sCombover's 0L Guide
Scribe's Amazing Guide (at a top law school)