Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Law School Advice- what I wish I knew

I've been meaning to compile the things I wish I'd known when I started law school to share with those starting this fall or other falls to come. They worked for me, they might work for you! I hope you find it helpful.
  1. Book buying: Law school books are expensive ranging from $90-$180 each. It gets even costlier when professors have multiple required books. My recommendation is to get our book list as early as possible (like now) and take a visit to half.com or amazon.com. You can get books for literally half the price. Also, I found that I rarely used the supplements to the casebooks they asked us to buy which cost between $20-$40 each. I would wait on the supplements to the text until you see how much they're relied on. Often you can get the cases that are in the thin 20 page supplement and get it off the legal search engines provided to you when you start law school.
  2. Consider older editions: Books that are just one edition older than the current edition are often sold for nothing but a few dollars even though the content from one edition to the next rarely varies. If you can get your hands on an older edition from the library take it with you to the bookstore and compare. It may be worth your while to save $100 and buy the $10 older version. Ofcourse if the variations are enough to really throw your reading assignments totally off this option is not worth it.
  3. Beware of supplements. Supplements are extra study aides students get to help them with courses. Some are treatises providing black letter law, some provide practice questions, and some a little of each. This is a huge book selling market and you will likely FREAK OUT at how complicated everything sounds and buy tons of supplements to assuage your fears. Take a deep breath before you do and research which supplements are best before you buy. If you can find a friend to share supplements with and share the cost. Just be careful because many supplements are crap and cost a LOT. Also, some supplements are outdated and therefore contain incorrect data. Be careful to check the copyright dates and steer clear of the extremely outdated editions. I'd advise that if you're considering a supplement first check it out from the library and use it for a day or two to see if you'll actually find it helpful before investing.
  4. Supplements I recommend: Despite my warnings on supplements the following are live savors and I highly recommend them: Glannon's Examples and Explanation Series: Civil Procedure and Torts are the best. For Constitutional Law invest in a Chimerinsky and you'll be thankful you did.
  5. Don't overlook Cali: Cali is great. Sometimes schools dont tell you about it but its an online system with free tutorials! Particularly useful is the Property one on future estates that will save your life. You might not know what that is now, but when you're in Property and the word future interest comes up, go to the Cali 2+ hour future interest tutorial. It saved my grade.
  6. Easy on the briefing. You'll hear a lot about briefing your cases which means with each assigned case you write outs its rule, issue, analysis, etc. Though this is a good thing to do a few times for the most part its cumbersome and time consuming and not very helpful in your final grades. The truth is you have one grade for each class and class participation does not count. Ofcourse you should prepare for class but not to the point that your studying for the exams is hindered. Lexis Nexis and Westlaw have search engines where you can look up your cases and summaries with the rules, procedural posture and issues stated clearly and concisely. Skim the actual case after that. And in class pay attention to discussion. That's what worked best for me. If you must brief...
  7. Use the highlighting method. If you brief (which I don't blame you if you do in the start) I recommend the highlighting method. Invest in a pack of highlighters of different colors. When reading cases, highlight the rule in yellow, the procedural posture in pink, the issue in green, the holding in blue, and so on and so forth for all the different aspects of the brief. Obviously it doesn't matter what color you use for what, it just matters to be consistent on them but it makes it easier to refer to the different portions without spending too much time preparing the briefs.
  8. Chill about getting called on. I used to panic if I was called on in class. There is something so intimidating and ominous to be the one called on in a 100 person class where the teacher doesn't ask you "yes" or "no" questions but instead challenges each response and often times makes you feel as insignificant and unintelligent as a baby porcupine. (for baby porcupines who may perchance be reading this, don't fret, age and wisdom will give ye maturity). This can be an overwhelming feeling and can cause many 1Ls to freak out and brief like mad for each assignment. First of all, there are a lot of people in class and you will not get called on as much as you fear. Second, your being called on and the quality of your response will not improve or harm your grade which is how your professor will truly remember you- your grade.
  9. OUTLINE. Outline. Outline. There are a ton of commercial outlines out there. Make your own. If you listen to nothing else I say, please take my advice here. Outline yourself. I used to take the table of contents of the text and type that out as my shell outline and then fill it in with first my notes on each topic, and then with any other supplement I was using including commercial outlines. But never use a commercial outline or a friend's outline in lieu of making your own. The experience of compiling the information and organizing it on your own is the single best study method out there. I used to make two outlines for each class. One large one with almost everything I learned, and then a much smaller one, maybe 5-12 pages with the most important things to take from each topic. I found this useful.
  10. Read 'Getting to Maybe'. I found this book my second year and wished I'd found it earlier. Its advice from professors on how to take exams and worth reading before starting law school. Law school exams are very different from any other and because you only get once chance to get it right they can be very intimidating. This book helps you understand how exams work and take away the fear of the unknown.
  11. Try for moot court and/or law review. If you score very high in your 1L oral argument you'll automatically make moot court. If you're one of the highest ranked after your 1L grades come out you will automatically make law review. But for the rest of you, try out and do your best to get on these. Though extra curricular activities are important, these two in particular are very important to set you apart and get the most job opportunities. It can seem overwhelming or intimidating to try out for either but its worth it to give it a go.
  12. Don't forget to network. Law school is more than just about grades, don't forget to make connections with your peers at seminars and lectures and workshops. I would not have gotten my fellowship if I hadn't networked and tried to get to know people. The legal community is a tightly knit one.
  13. Don't burn bridges. In law school you are judged against your peers which can lead to a very competitive environment. This was new for me and it can be disheartening to interact with people constantly trying to psych you out and make you feel insecure. Don't be one of those people. Law school is very short and you can burn bridges with people you may need help from some day. Like I said in #12, the legal community is a tightly knit one.
  14. Don't let people psych you out. Because of the competitive environment just be careful and watch your back. I have seen people hide books that others need, and omit items when e-mailing notes from a class people missed. I have had people tell me "oh X assignment was easy" when you know you struggled and you begin feeling stupid and dumb. Don't let this happen to you. When you hear this kind of talk try to tune it out and know that such a person is not someone you should be interacting with.
  15. Study groups are good to a degree. They're okay but be careful who you pick and be careful how you utilize them. Some people just want to hang out and use it a socializing method. That is just a waste of time, its good to make friends but studying time is to study and time is limited. There are others who just use it to further psyche each other out. For me once I found a good study group, I found it most useful to meet a month or so before exams just once to go over outlines and make sure we were on the same page, and then meet closer to exams to review practice exams and quiz each other. It helps to do the practice exams on your own and then meet with the group to compare answers. For me, that is the most useful a study group will be.
  16. Beware of the sophomore slump. People who don't get on law review or aren't ranked in the top 10% of their class, the second year of law school can feel like a tough time to be and you question why you are even there in the first place. The sexiness of law school has worn off and you wonder what you'll do with this degree because its not as easy to get jobs and do what you want as you may have thought. Though this may be a legitimate question, just know you're not alone. This may seem obvious, but for me, I really sincerely thought I was the only one who felt so alone and confused about why I came to law school in the first place.
  17. You're not stupid. Many times I felt I harbored a great secret: I was the biggest moron and the admissions people had goofed up letting me in. I thought this because law school was at times soooo incredibly difficult. You are not the only one who feels this way. Law school involves an entirely different way to think and reason and learn and its okay. I've heard many say that it takes towards the end of the first year to feel like you're getting the hang of it. They didn't make a mistake letting you in. You took the LSAT, you wrote the application and you were chosen. Don't lose faith. They made the right decision.
  18. The house might get dirty and food might be sparse. When its six weeks and counting to exams my house begins resembling less a home and more the dwelling home of Hurricane Loopy. Its normal, you're busy and there are not enough minutes in the day. Learn to love left overs and hire a maid if the messiness gets to you. But it will likely get messy and you will likely eat cereal for dinner on many a night. Its okay.
  19. Be nice to your significant other. Often times in law school we become very self centered as we think about all we have to do and study and learn. But if your spouse isn't in school, its also a big change for them. No more hang outs after work, and the weekends aren't available for spontaneous getaways like they used to be. Your spouse will be adjusting just like you are to the new schedule. Don't forget that they are sacrificing for you too, appreciate them and though you should use them as a shoulder to rely on... also remember that in some ways they are a student with you as well. Be kind and be understanding when they dont understand your stress. Sometimes law school stress is best understood by other law students.
  20. Take advantage of the practical work experience. It can't be underestimated how extremely important summer internships are. Oftentimes they begin recruiting for the summer in the fall. Sometimes people don't apply in the fall because they are so consumed with their studies. Don't let that happen. Start getting your resume ready and cover letters together now and apply for all summer internships you are interested in. Experience really matters and its best to get it while in law school. The majority of students who have jobs upon graduation get them from their summer internships. Also take advantage of practicum courses and clinics, they can help you put something on a resume and give you much needed real world experience.
  21. Pay attention in class. Ha, you might be thinking... ummm duh?! Not as easy as it sounds when you can have the laptop in class and surf at leisure. I am so guilty of this as well but I've learned that when I surf in class, I end up having to do double the work outside of class. Pay attention and if you can't resist surfing disable it or write with a pen and pad. You'll be glad you did.
  22. Live. I know people who study from dawn to beyond dusk and fret in the time in between. Don't forget to live your life. See your friends and family. One tip that many gave and I took wholeheartedly was taking one day off per week that I did not study at all. Just like you shouldn't lift weights every day when working out, a day off from studying can be a great way to recoup and refresh.
  23. Working out burns adrenaline. Law school is stressful and I found that when I began running on a regular basis I was better able to manage my stress. It might not work for you but you should try to find something that will help you deal with stress and anxiety. Oh, and working out will help make sure all the cookies you consume as you study will not ALL land on your hips :)
  24. Don't go part-time. Unless you are at a job where getting the degree will simply give you more money or advance your position then perhaps part-time works, but if you are planning a career change, I'd almost reconsider going to law school in the first place. Your rankings are delayed so you are not as competitive as your counterparts when it comes to hiring for summer internships which are the key to full time jobs upon graduation. You also miss out on many networking opportunities and feel very disconnected from the learning process. I went one year and switched to full-time. I feel part-time is the worst decision I ever made.
  25. Check the grade distributions before taking a class. Some schools have them on reserve and you can see how each professor grades and you can pick those who give higher grades. Though you should take classes for what you learn, at the same time you don't want to risk taking a professor who is a notorious low grade giver and you're then stuck with a lower GPA then desirable for that simple reason. And grades really matter in law school.
  26. Sign up for BARBRI early... verdict is out on PMBR. I'm doing the Bar thing right now and it pricey. It helps to put your deposit down the first year to lock in the rate because the prices do increase. If you can be a rep for them that is great because if you sign up a certain amount of people you get a free course, and most of the people I know who were reps got free courses. This will save you about $2,700. I personally have felt that PMBR is really not that worth it. BarBri is very all inclusive so you might want to do a little research on what others have to say on PMBR before you invest the money.
  27. Around exam time brace for the panic. People freak out and particularly hours before the exam you will see mania like never before. Find a quiet classroom and don't be a part of the drama. Its only going to hurt you. Also, AFTER exams, leave. Don't stick around to discuss the exam. Whats the point? Its over. And it will likely only panic you more and get you more off balance for the next exams you will have that week.
  28. Buy earplugs for your exams, the typing can get loud. My library offered them for free, but I'd invest in them because the typing can get very very loud.
  29. Stock up on some food to keep your energy levels up. Like any other exam, wear layers and bring some liquid and some candy to keep the energy levels flowing.
  30. Type your exams if you can but its not essential. I found typing to be the best way to take an exam but I noticed when I had to hand write my grades were never significantly different. Its up to you and your preference, the grades end up the same in the end. I do like computer because you can go back and delete so you get an easier to read copy.
  31. When taking exams... read it once and take a deep breath (because I normally have a complete anxiety attack) then read it again but highlight the issues you see as you go. When ready to write it out make sure to incorporate the word BECAUSE after every point you make and make sure to also use the words ON THE OTHER HAND to show the other point of view. If you remember those two things your grades will be much higher. I found my grades highest when I stated the issue, the applicable rule, why it applied to the facts, and why it possibly did not apply to the facts.
  32. Don't freak out about RWA and oral arguments. You will take some course and it might be called something different but you will do legal writing and some oral arguments. I was among the many who took this class way too seriously. Its a very small credit hour class and it has very little significance in your GPA. But because the assignments are more regular and you get graded more, people put WAY too much focus on this class. Relax and just go with the flow and know the curve is VERY tight in these courses and dont waste too much time fretting about it.
  33. Lexis and Westlaw resources. Both law school search engines provide free printing. I wish I'd known that early on. Lexis will even hole punch it for you. They also have a live help funciton where in an instant messenger format someone will help you locate anything you need. Its invaluable.
  34. Take classes you like. Though you should take some of the bar courses, remember that BarBri will prepare you for most of what you'll need to pass the bar. Take some classes you love. Your grades are very important in law school and I always did best in the classes I loved.
  35. Go to your professors. They get bored and like it when you ask for advice. The one thing I found most helpful with going to professors is to ask your professor to review a sample exam you did, it doesnt cost a dime to ask but you could get an incredible boost if they agree to look at it.

11 comments:

chickpea said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of these tips and pointers. I'm starting to get nervous and worrisome about law school, this August I'll be a 1L.

I bookmarked this post and will keep all of this in mind when I slowly start to lose my mind!

svend said...

Don't forget Bookfinder.com. It searches multiple sites.

Editor said...

Assalamu 'alaykum wa rahmatullah
I pray that you are in the best of health & imaan.
This is a short message to notify you that this entry has been selected for publishing on I J T E M A; a venture to highlight the best of the Muslim blogosphere.
To find out more about I J T E M A, and how you can further contribute, please click here.
May Allah bless you for your noble efforts.
Wa'salam

Anonymous said...

Good advice! I never read "Get to Maybe" though. And personally I don't like study groups.

- a 2L

Enyur said...

Bless your soul!! Thank you! My younger sibling is planning to go to law school Insha'allah and this down to earth and honest advice is just what she is looking for!!

Rabz said...

Thanks for the useful advice. In case I ever decide to take up law school, I'll be sure to refer back to this :)

hope said...

ooh aisha girl, how long did it take you to write all this???

people, as someone who just finished law school myself, i give this list my seal of approval. its all true. one caveat - about outlining. i wish i didnt outline for the sake of outlining my 1L year and actually left enough time to finish my outlines in plenty of time before finals, so i had a chance to review them and study them. even if your exam is "open book," (meaning you can bring in your books etc with you), study your outline to the point that you have it memorized. thats what saved me 2L and 3L year.

also, by the time you get to 3L (or even 2L) year, you might find that you can do well by just modifying an older outline from someone who took the class before you. (this is where building bridges in the legal community comes in real handy).

bottom line - just make sure your outlines are working for you, and not you for your outlines.

Aisha said...

Chickpea- awww that makes me sooo happy to know that this was helpful. Thanks! :)

svend- I wish I knew that earlier! I hope others reading this will take advantage.

anon- thanks, and yeah study groups are ok.... but the book is good! I would recommend it even now :)

ENyur, Rabz- glad its helpful :)

Hope, haha well yeah it was fermenting in my mind for a while now (this post) Thanks for your take on outlines. I always outlined myself for the big classes (in my opinion) like family law, Constitutional Law II, but the stuff that was less vital like "Secured Transactions" I didnt freak out too much, and I totally agree, doing an outline well in advance and adding to it so you can have time to study off of it and trim it down to a more cohesive understandable thing.

I hope anyone else with other great advice for incoming students please share!

youngMuslimah said...

I think you got just about everything covered aisha!:) These were helpful, for any school! Jazakum Allahu Kheir!

Optimistic Guard said...

what a great effort, even though i'm done with school, i read through the whole post to see what I had done right and wrong, im sure this will be of great help to a lot of people.

eun ha said...

So I didn't end up taking the June LSAT. Maybe I'll take it in September. Maybe not. In any case, I feel like I should bookmark this and show it to a lot of my coworkers... :-P ... it was very interesting for me to read!

Post a Comment

I love to hear from you!