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Ten Steps to Law Students in surviving the challenges of Law School

published September 17, 2007

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( 118 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
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<<Survival Suggestion 1: Anticipation, It's Making Me Wait.
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Great news! You have been accepted to law school, and you are going to start your first-year classes. You are thinking, "What am I supposed to do now? Am I supposed to read all 4,000 pages of all of the casebooks and hornbooks before classes start?"

I'd suggest that you skim the table of contents to get an idea of the concepts that will be covered in the various courses. Don't be surprised or worried if the tables of contents make no sense right now. Eventually, you will become familiar with the legal theories covered in the texts.

Also, spend some time reading the early chapters of the legal methods text. This will expose you to the way that judges (and you) analyze cases.

Survival Suggestion 2: You Can Start Me Up.

Well, here we are, and your first classes are about to start. What should you expect?

The most important thing is to come to class prepared. This means that you have done two things: first, you have really read the material; second, you have had a really strong cup of coffee.

What does it mean to be prepared for class? The answer is that you have engaged in active reading. It's reading with a purpose--that is, with an understanding of why the editors have put the information in that part of the text. What we are talking about here is reading in context. Ask yourself, "Why is this case here, and what does it have to do with the course generally?"

Survival Suggestion 3: If I Could Put Time in a Bottle...

So you've started law school, and you've looked at the syllabus. It says that you have to read something like 200 pages per week. Who has time for that?
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Law school is all about (1) committing a tremendous amount of information to long-term memory and (2) having the time for (1). You have to do this while, perhaps, working and raising a family. The secret is to have a study plan done before you begin law school. To use the old bromide, "plan your work, and work your plan."

Survival Suggestion 4: But It's a Sacrifice, a Sacrifice, It's a Sacrifice After All.

School has started, and you have made your study plan. Great! There's only one problem: you may have forgotten to say thanks.

You've embarked on a long journey. You are going to need lots of time to study. Please take the time now to thank (in advance) those around you who are giving you the needed "time and space" to devote to your studies.

Survival Suggestion 5: What's the Frequency, Kenneth?

So, you are knee deep in the cases, and you keep coming across bizarre words and phrases like "res ipsa loquitur," "quantum meruit," and "oncology recapitulates phylogeny."

One of your best friends in law school may be caffeine, but even more important is a good law dictionary. Buy one and have it handy whenever you are studying. It will help with the inevitable teeth-gnashing when you come across unusual and sometimes archaic terms.

Survival Suggestion 6: Memory, Like the Corners of My Mind...

It's hard enough to deal with the volume of reading, but a law student has to remember the key concepts covered in the cases, hornbook, and class lectures.

The challenge is to commit learned material from short- to long-term memory, as you will need to draw upon the rules days, weeks, months, and sometimes years after you have initially learned them.

Make course outlines, flashcards, flowcharts, or whatever else helps you to remember the course materials. Be sure to go back and review previously learned materials over and over. When you get sick of seeing the flashcards and you know the rules written on them by heart, then you have done your job.

Survival Suggestion 7: I'm Looking at the Man in the Mirror.

Okay, you are doing the outlines, writing out the flashcards, and reading up a storm. Still, though, you are wondering how you know if you really understand the material.

Here's a device that I've passed on to many law students: try to "talk the course"--that is, explain the material to a layperson without reference to notes. Say, for example, it's S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night, and the Bay City Rollers are on the radio. Turn off the radio, and tell your significant other that you want to explain murder to him or her. (Do this with care so that he or she understands it's only a law school learning device.) In five or 10 minutes, can you tell that person the definition of murder? If you can "talk the course," then you likely will be able to "write the course" in a law school essay or during a bar exam.

Survival Suggestion 8: Test? Who Said Anything About a Test?

You are now well into the first year. How do you prepare for the exams?

First, remember that law school exams do not test you on everything you know. Rather, the exams require you to discuss only discreet areas of the law. Know that each essay question will have approximately five to 10 issues presented in a fact pattern. You will not be required to list case names, dates, or other such material. Rather, the exams aim to test your ability to spot and analyze issues and to provide a reasoned conclusion as to how a court should decide these issues.

Survival Suggestion 9: Write Rightly.

Law school writing is different from other types of writing you may have done. On most exams, you only have an hour per essay, so it's important to write as concisely and effectively as possible.

It's important to cut to the chase. Once you have read the case or exam fact pattern, list the first issue (for example, "Is Able guilty of embezzlement?"). Next, list the rule (that is, define "embezzlement"). After that, test the rule against the facts. (In other words, do the facts support the charge of embezzlement? Why or why not?). Lastly, come to a conclusion.

Survival Suggestion 10: 26 Miles, 385 Yards.

Law school lasts three or four years. Just when you have mastered legal doctrines, others await your review. The first year lays the foundation for learning. The next years build on that basic knowledge. Law school is more of a marathon than a sprint. Some subjects and concepts will take more time to learn than others.

You should understand from the beginning that there are going to be bumps in the road. Remember to pace yourself, and be sure to have plenty of "carrots" ready. For example, assure yourself that once you have mastered a certain area of tort law, you will have that scoop of your favorite ice cream.

Above all, remember that it's a marathon. You don't have to run all of the time, but you do have to keep moving. Oh, and one more thing: remember Gloria Gaynor's lyrics from 1979:

I've got all my life to live,
I've got all my love to give,
and I'll survive,
I will survive.

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Read, digest the information, commit the material to long-term memory, hone your legal writing skills, leave time for "carrots," and, above all, keep moving forward. Do all that, and you, too, will survive law school.

published September 17, 2007

( 118 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.