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Demonstrated Methods Of Studies To Ensure Success At Law School


By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left

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Examinations always bring in their share of apprehensions and worry. However, it needn't be so, if you prepare well in advance and know how to prepare. The goal of every student is to get good grades and to be better in comparison with his classmates. If students followed these methods, chances are that come examinations, the apprehensions would worry.

Demonstrated Methods Of Studies To Ensure Success At Law School

The most commonly used study technique is the case method. There are normally three colors of casebooks-red, blue, or brown, depending on the publishing company. Within the casebook, the cases are grouped by section, with a series of questions at the end of each section. Professors recommend not only reading and briefing cases, but also that students take about five to ten minutes immediately after each class period to write a short holding for each case.

Holdings involve an application of the correct rule(s) of law to the particular facts in a case-that is, the court's decision and why it reached that particular decision. Professors also recommend that outlines be maintained in each course and then rewritten and shortened for review prior to final exams. However, many students use commercial study aids rather than write their own outlines.

There are various study aids on the market to assist students in daily preparation and study for final exams. These range from the hornbooks, which are entire treatises covering particular areas of law, complete with many footnotes that are relevant only for research purposes, to the Nutshells, which are abbreviated versions of the hornbooks. One law professor highly recommends study aids, which are a combination of outlines with accompanying explanations. There are even flashcards and flowcharts, as well as cassette tapes for those having to commute long distances. In addition, bar exam summaries can provide excellent outlines for particular courses. The limiting factors in study aid accumulation are time (whether you will really have time to use them) and money.

There are also study aids, sometimes referred to as "canned briefs," that correspond to particular casebooks. These are not recommended due to occasional misstatements of facts, issues, and other related information. You frequently hear about students being "caught" using canned briefs. Using the word "caught" implies wrongdoing, or cheating, and some professors are quite hard on students who use such aids.

One word of caution in the use of study aids-do not make the mistake of asking another student which study aid he or she would recommend. If you ask five students, it is certain you will get five different responses. Many students feel that various study aids are best suited to different courses so they end up with a variety.

A further caveat regarding study aids-we do not recommend that students go on a shopping spree for study aids the moment they arrive at law school because information overload and confusion are certain end results. Whenever necessary and possible, purchase used study aids, paying careful heed to obtaining current works, not outdated prior editions. Law school bookstores often carry only new editions so you may have to shop around for used copies. Student bar associations at some law schools operate a bookstore for the benefit of student members wishing to purchase and/or sell used study aids.

The purchase of hornbooks is not recommended unless there is an area of the law you are having a particularly difficult time understanding. The law library has these available so take advantage of the opportunity and read them.

Daily Preparation:

It's a good idea (if students have time and are speed readers) to read through a case several times for comprehension before briefing it. If students are fortunate, they will be called on in class to simply read their prepared briefs to the class. However, this is seldom done. Instead, students are asked specific, sometimes detailed questions about cases. These questions are designed not only to test a student's knowledge and preparation of the case, but to teach students to think analytically as well-to see both sides of an issue. After all, the reason students attend law school is to learn to "think like lawyers." At least professors will tell students that's why they (the professors) are there-to teach students to "think like lawyers." So let them "think" they're doing a good job!

Class participation is strongly encouraged. In fact, your grade can depend on it. One thing that must be guarded against in class, however, is too much participation by students who talk just for the sake of talking or who question everything the professor says. Not only do fellow students tire of it, professors' tire of it as well. Another word of advice: avoid excessive note-taking during class. It can become a habit out of nervousness or fear of being called on. Avoid it because you will end up with tons of notes that make absolutely no sense. It's best to determine who won a case and why, and to leave it at that.

If there is something you don't understand, seek out the professor's help. There is a lot to be said for placing a face with a name when you are one student among so many. Just the fact that you act interested enough and care enough to stop by the professor's office may have an effect on your overall grade for the course. However, have your questions written out so you do not waste the professor's time.

Comprehensive Exams There is a story about an exceptionally bright law student who condensed an entire law course into a one-word mnemonic. He took the final exam and failed. The reason: He forgot the word!

In law school, totally unlike undergraduate school, there is usually only one exam per course-a comprehensive exam at the end of the semester. These exams are physically and mentally exhausting. Unfortunately, law schools generally do not offer courses on how to take final exams or the bar exam. However, there are cassette tapes on the market that help to a certain extent. The best source of information in this area is to look at prior exams that a professor places on reserve in the law library. Read the question, attempt to answer it in writing, utilizing appropriate time constraints, and then compare your answer with the sample answer. You can gain a lot of insight into accepted approaches this way.

There is a trade-off between taking courses in which you are interested or basing your course selection on the final exam schedule. Courses selected can affect how much time you have between final exams. You could be one of the unfortunate few to have a final exam on Tuesday, one on Wednesday, and one on Thursday, or even have two exams the same day. It can be a gauntlet to say the least.

Each professor determines how much time is to be allowed for exam purposes. Most are three- to four-hour essay exams that are to be written in blue books according to specific instructions issued by the professor. Some professors require a blank line between each line of writing; others require that answers be written only on the front side of each page.

Everything in law school is on the honor system. Therefore, one council which you hope you never have to appear before is the Honor Council. If found guilty, you could be dismissed from law school. Since everything is based on the honor system, professors are noticeably absent during exams. Proctors (normally staff) come in to hand out exams, scratch paper, and forms (if an objective exam). Once the exam starts, they leave the classroom.

The final exam really is unrelated to daily preparation. Throughout the course of the semester, you brief appellate cases from casebooks for discussion in class. However, the final exam is as if a client walked through your door with a lengthy (emphasis on the word "lengthy") set of facts, asking your advice about his or her legal problem(s). For exam purposes you are not allowed to change the facts; instead, you must work with the facts given. Changing facts can result in a lowering of your final grade.

On law school final exams, there are no right or wrong answers. There are only destinations (conclusions) with many possible avenues of reaching those destinations. If you can get there through using a shortcut (clear, concise analysis that fills up only one-half page in a bluebook), you are just as well off grade-wise (probably even better) than the person who ends up having to take several detours along the way (using two or three bluebook pages to arrive at the same conclusion). How well you plan your trip determines how quickly you will arrive. You are encouraged, therefore, to spend the first several minutes of exam time listing issues and outlining responses to those issues before ever writing out your responses in the blue-book.

Your grade is based, not on reaching a correct result (which as we've already stated does not exist) but on correctly identifying the issue(s), applying the correct rule(s) of law, and most importantly, analyzing both sides of each issue. The least important element is the conclusion, which can be in favor of either party depending on your interpretation of the facts.

There are many issues hidden in the fact pattern and you can pick up significant credit by identifying the major issues. However, most points are earned through excellent analysis of both sides of each issue. In certain instances, if you don't know the rule of law, you can get credit by making one up-although this is certainly a last resort.

If the professor can sense that you are clueless as to what the exam is about, your grade reflects it. It's okay for them to talk in circles and get nowhere in class, but it certainly is not okay for you to talk in circles for exam purposes. Somewhat of a paradigm, maybe, but guess who ultimately decides your grade? Your law professor, of course. In fact, it's somewhat of a joke that law professors stand at the bottom of a flight of stairs and toss the bluebooks up the stairs. Those that land at the top get As, those further down get Bs, and so forth. Therefore, each student should take appropriate action to ensure that his or her exam "lands at the top of the stairs."

At the end of the time allocated for the exam, proctors return to collect all exams and exam materials. Each exam contains a pledge that reads something to this effect, "I have neither received nor given assistance on this exam nor am I aware of anyone else having done so." You must write this pledge on your exam, then sign your name. That page is removed before being sent to the professor for grading. At least that's what students are told.


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Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

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