Advice to Entering Law Students:

Lawprofs Orin Kerr and Brannon Denning have useful advice for entering law students. Here are a few suggestions of my own.

I. Get to know at least some of your professors outside of class.

As Orin suggests, it can help you understand the class assignments better. But just as important, it will be a big help when you need to ask them for recommendations for jobs or clerkships. If all I know about a student is that he or she got a good grade in my class and did well in class discussion, I can't write a recommendation that will say much beyond what the employer can learn by reading the student's transcript.

Sadly, there are some professors who still don't realize that seeing students outside of class is part of the job. But more often than not, talking to profs will be easier than you think, because most academics love to talk about their subject! If they didn't, they probably wouldn't be in academia in the first place.

One particularly good way to get to know professors is to work as a research assistant. It certainly worked well for me.

II. Do the reading.

I'm not a believer in the theory that law school classes are vastly different from other types of classes, or that mastering legal materials is some kind arcane art that is unlike anything else you will ever study. But one way in which law school classes do differ from many undergraduate classes is that it's much harder to "wing it" without doing the reading. Legal issues often turn on fine distinctions buried in judicial precedents or in the text of statutes. It's hard to learn these things if you didn't do the reading.

III. Get to know the other students.

Many of your classmates are likely to end up working in the same field of law as you do. They can be extremely useful connections. And if you're lucky, they might turn out to be interesting people as well. This is one of the things that I neglected when I was in law school. It was a major mistake. So do as I say, not as I did!

IV. Do extracurricular activities.

Most law schools have a variety of activities for students outside the classroom, including numerous clinics and student organizations such as the conservative/libertarian Federalist Society and the liberal American Constitution Society. Getting involved in these will help you learn more about the law, and can also lead to important career benefits. You may learn about an area of law that will become the focus of your career, and you can also develop useful contacts that will help you later.

If you are at all interested in constitutional law or in public policy, I especially recommend the Fed Soc and the ACS (established as the left's answer to Fed Soc). But there are lots of other groups catering to a wide range of interests. If you go through law school doing nothing but taking classes and studying, it will probably be a mistake - both educationally and career-wise.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Advice to Entering Law Students:
  2. Good Advice for Incoming Law Students,
Cornellian (mail):
My suggestion: Learn to type, preferably before you start law school.

You're going to be taking notes on your laptop in class and taking exams on your laptop (virtually all students at my law school did both). The ability to type quickly and accurately is a huge advantage.
8.5.2006 1:03am
John Jenkins (mail):
I disagree *emphatically* with number IV. In my experience, unless you're already a convert either of those groups is a waste of time. If you're a convert, you can get the same thing in the student lounge as you do in the official meetings. What pass for extracurriculars in law school are a waste of time (clinics are classes where I am from, so that's different from my angle).

I, II, and III are all good though, especially I. I, too, was an RA for a professor and the professor for whom I worked, just by the fact that I worked for him, got me the job I am in now because of his eminence in the field (so I may be a little biased).
8.5.2006 1:25am

useful advice for entering law students

Get psychiatric help before apply..............never mind.
8.5.2006 1:36am
I would also tend to disagree with IV for at least the first year. Student activities in the 1L year should really be limited to passive participation lest they interfere with classes. Likewise, any time someone calls something a "good networking opportunity" it should be treated like an offer to buy the Brooklyn Bridge or a Florida timeshare. If it were truly a good networking opportunity, no one would be pushing it! (Of course, the best advice would be to turn around, cut any losses, and run from law school right away before it even begins.)
8.5.2006 1:47am
Peter B. Nordberg (mail) (www):
Combine II and III. Talk to the other students you've gotten to know about the reading you've done. It will help in validating and sharpening your interpretation of the reading. It will also help you to remember what you've read. But do this in a friendly and cooperative (if sometimes collegially disputatious) spirit. Don't be unduly competitive about it, or about anything in law school for that matter, because an excessive focus on competition clouds the mind (besides alienating your peers, and possibly even those professors you've gotten to know outside the classroom).
8.5.2006 2:32am
Dustin (mail):
I have a bit of an addition to Cornelian's tip that may sound a bit off-topic.

New law students will probably be getting a laptop. A lot of schools offer special deals (often with Dell). In choosing a laptop for law school, you should be aware that the primary consideration you should be making is how easy it is to type on. It is so silly to get a hypersmall machine that hurts your fingers or a super huge model that your wrists have a hard time resting on. Most laptops have terrible keyboard quality but look very pretty. Second, the machine should be rugged enough to be carried around daily with books.

Fairly consistently, Thinkpads are considered to have the best keyboards by a longshot. They are durable too. (also generally long battery life)

Don't get that new computer your law school is selling. Buy a recently discontinued Thinkpad for half as much (maybe add a little memory). A one or two year old model will easily do everything you need it to in school. Regardless of your laptop choice, you should focus on that keyboard before you consider the processor or the screen. Some HP models are said to have great keyboards too, I read. It's hard to find thinkpads in stores, but if you have a chance, try to type a lot of text on the keyboard of candidate machines from a seated position.

Few investments will be relied on so much in law school as the laptop.
8.5.2006 7:41am
Adam B. (mail) (www):
Recognize this fact: even though it seems counterintuitive, since you don't yet know anything, the first year of law school is by far the most important in determining your potential career trajectories. Take it seriously, and realize that anyone trying to relieve said pressure is just being nice, but not realistic.
8.5.2006 9:28am
I've taken all my notes in law school with regular ol' pen &paper (although I type my exams on my laptop like everyone else) and I've done just fine. In general, I don't think students should suddenly change their learning habits from undergrad just because laptops are the hip thing to do in law school.

That FedSoc and ACS crappola is a huge waste of time. There's plenty of interesting guest lectures around a law school campus, and the university campus generally, that one can attend without taking on bureaucratic responsibilities in these organizations. Maybe your membership might help down the road if you're seeking jobs in the federal government (depending which party is in power). And the euphemistic titles of the organizations (seriously, would an uninformed person have any clue about the true identity of the groups from their names? What does it mean to advocate "federalism"? Isn't that just the definition of our system of government? And what does it mean to have a society for the American Constitution?? Is there anyone out there who's against the American Constitution??) annoy me to no end.
8.5.2006 11:51am
First Year: work very hard, get very good grades to position yourself well for interviews in second year.

Second Year: get on law review, take a ton of credits, get respectable grades.

Third Year: take a light load (because you got so many credits second year) - your life will suck after graduation, enjoy it while you can.
8.5.2006 12:02pm
Dustin (mail):
spider, that's impressive if your notes by hand are as neat and easy to go through as mine on a computer. And if that's what works for you, then I'm glad you didn't just follow everyone else. But I really think that taking notes electronically is much better than by hand. I encourage anyone who is considering starting law school without a laptop to reconsider.

After all, there isn't a single capability lost and many gained. I can't tell you how many times I realized something was important and was able to underline it neatly... or that I went over something I had already covered and pasted that section into another course's outline. My laptop has my school schedule with my professor's office hours and all my other important stuff. I can't tell you how many times some topic can up in random conversation that I knew nothing about until I googled it. I wonder, now that I think about it, what I would do if I had to go without a laptop.

So I'm curious, what benefits are there to the pen method? (and I mean that seriously, I bet there are tons of things I haven't really considered.)
8.5.2006 12:52pm
mike (mail) (www):
Why is doing the reading so important? In almost every law school class the final exam has zero questions on any of the cases that you read... it's all fact patterns that are completely different. Why waste time reading all these cases that you won't be tested on (other than to be ready for socratic questions from your professor)? Having a good final outline that has all the black letter law down and splits between jurisdiction is far more important than doing all the reading. I know people who barely read any of their civ pro books and just read really good supplements and got A's my first year...
8.5.2006 1:40pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

I'm not a believer in the theory that law school classes are vastly different from other types of classes, or that mastering legal materials is some kind arcane art that is unlike anything else you will ever study. But one way in which law school classes do differ from many undergraduate classes is that it's much harder to "wing it" without doing the reading. Legal issues often turn on fine distinctions buried in judicial precedents or in the text of statutes. It's hard to learn these things if you didn't do the reading.

Or are you just saying this because you get frustrated when you "call" on students and they are unprepared.

I found that if I came to every class and took meticulous notes, I could blow off the reading entirely and still do well in the class.
8.5.2006 2:41pm
Cornellian (mail):
I also disagree with IV. I think extracurricular activities are a waste of time, especially during first year. If you want to do them, by all means do them, but don't go around joining groups just because you think you need to engage in extracurricular activities. I did fine in law school without joining anything.
8.5.2006 4:53pm
Ilya Somin:
The main points raised by most of the critics are objections to my Suggestion IV, joining extracurricular activities. Here's why it's a good idea:

First, you get to know the area of law the activity involves, which is often much harder to do through classes alone. Second, you meet people with common interests who are likely to be useful contacts for both professional and personal reasons. Third, in organizations such as Fed Soc and ACS that bring speakers to campus, if you are a member you are likely to get a chance to meet the speakers, go to dinner with them, etc. That can be both interesting and professionally useful.

Will these benefits outweigh the opportunity costs for everyone? Probably not. But they are important enough to justify doing the activities for many people.
8.5.2006 5:34pm
Ilya Somin:
Regarding the claims made by some commenters that doing the reading is not important to getting good grades, it's probably true that there are a few classes like that. But if the final exam really has little or nothing to do with the cases you read, then the professor isn't doing his job. Ditto if his lectures are just repeating what was said in the reading.

Most professors that I know try to avoid both of these pitfalls. If you are at a school where one or both of these is actually the norm, you may want to consider transferring somewhere else.
8.5.2006 5:37pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
I graduated from Temple a number of years ago.

"Ditto if his lectures are just repeating what was said in the reading."

I would bet that most teachers at most law schools cover virtually everything that will be on the test in their course lectures.
8.5.2006 5:58pm
David Krinsky (mail):
I too disagree with IV, or at least with the emphasis. I'd recommend doing an extracurricular or two, but ACS and the Federalist Society aren't for everyone and are often a waste of time. By all means, do a journal, and/or do moot court or mock trial, and/or get to know people through some other extracurricular that interests you. But don't join an extracurricular because you think it's a good networking opportunity, and don't spend a lot of time on it, especially first year, unless you're doing it because you enjoy it. But that brings us to a few more points:

V. Try to get away from the law school. Many law students, especially first year, are high-strung crazies. Being a high-strung crazy is neither necesssary nor sufficient to do well; indeed, it's for the most part counterproductive. I lived out in the suburbs, a ways off campus, and relished having a pleasant living environment that was totally separate from the law school and a (public transit) commute that was an opportunity to relax and/or do reading. Obviously, one's opportunities here depend on one's budget, one's knowledge of the area, and one's stage of life (I had the advantage of being married), but even if you're an unmarried single person in a strange city, try to find roommates who aren't law students.

VI. Have a life outside law school. Relatedly, maintain non-legal interests, and spend some time with non-law students.

If you have friends who were a few years ahead and are now lawyers, actually, they're also good to hang out with—they'll be interested in the things you're obsessing over and will have good advice for the future, but won't be caught up in exam mania.

VII. Don't think there's one magic studying technique. Advice like "you must brief cases", "start your outlines four weeks before finals", "type your exams", and even "do your own detailed outlines" are one-size-fits-all advice that, for you, may well be wrong.

I didn't type a single exam in law school, never did anything more than a cursory handwritten list of cases as an outline (and not always that), and handwrote virtually all my notes (leaving the laptop home except when I had a paper to write). I graduated at the top of my class in large part, I think, because I did the reading, did more reading about legal stuff I was interested in (hooray for blawgs!), and then studied mostly by reviewing old exams (to grok each professor's style) and my own handwritten notes from front to back. In other words, I spent most of the semester enjoying learning about law, then a little time at the end gaming the system. This worked for me; it may not work for you; but what someone else tells you to do may not work either.

That said, I'm willing to bet that those impeccable 150-page fed courts outlines with the pretty color-coding, which future students then passed on for the next several years, probably involved quite a lot of wasted time. (The time could have been better spent studying, but possibly also sleeping, wandering around an art museum, or playing Nintendo.)

VIII. Take good classes. This sounds obvious, but "good" is a weasel word. Take classes with good professors; also take seminars. The former will keep you engaged, even if the topics aren't your first choices; the latter will give you good writing experience, raw material to publish, extra interaction with professors, and (frequently) easy[/easier] A's.

IX. Don't panic. This brings us back to V. One thing that's awful about first year of law school is that It Counts. Law-firm recruiting season, at the beginning of 2L year, is based almost entirely on 1L grades, as (often) is journal membership, which will open doors for your whole career. And prestigious clerkships require good grades all along. This, understandably, leads people to freak out first year, when they have no idea what they're doing or how well they're doing it. Just relax and try to have fun with what you're doing, though, and your enthusiasm will lead you to do well. Neurosis—and studying at the expense of being a functioning human or getting enough sleep—will get you nowhere.

X. Don't go unless you're interested in law. Lots of people say "don't go" is good advice for law school. I disagree. But what is good advice is "don't go unless you want to be a lawyer"—because at the end of law school, modulo the bar exam, that's what you'll be. Law school is not College Continued or What To Do With My English Degree; it's a way into a particular profession and a particular academic discipline. If you're not interested in learning about the law, or in practicing as a lawyer (either is sufficient, both are ideal), you've come to the wrong place.

Good luck, welcome aboard, and have fun!
8.5.2006 6:02pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
One thing that irks me a little about law professors saying: "This is what you need to do" is that such fails to realize that 1) individuals differ on what methods of learning work best for them, and 2) it also depends on how well you want to do. Not everyone wants to or can graduated in the top 5% of their class and make law review.

The advice that we heard over and over again from the profs left had us working 60 plus hours a week in class prep. I think one teacher told us to spend three hours preparing for class for every one hour of class lectures. And this didn't take into account the time we spend reviewing or typing up our outlines.

When we realized that we didn't have to read and brief every case in order to do well on the exam, it became hard to take that kind of advice seriously.

The most important thing that you need to do is learn the material that is taught in class. How a student best goes about doing so is up to him or her.
8.5.2006 6:08pm
Cornellian (mail):
Watch this useful instructional video:
8.5.2006 6:17pm
Cornellian (mail):
If you're going to law school because you don't think you'll be able to get a job with your B.A. and you can't think of anything else to do, you're headed for disaster.

Most law schools don't give first year students any choice as to their courses and sections of courses, but in your second and third years, find out who the bad profs are and avoid them. I had one prof who clearly didn't know the subject and had little interest in teaching it. I would have avoided that prof had it not been a first year course.
8.5.2006 6:19pm
Cornellian (mail):
It's not that important to know the details of the assigned cases in order to do well on an exam. However, going into class fully familiar with the case will make it much easier for your class notes to reflect the points the prof is trying to make. The points the prof is trying to make in class will collectively almost always form almost the entirety of the issues on the exam. If you haven't read the case you're not going to understand the point the prof is trying to make in class and your notes will not be the asset in exam preparation that they could be.
8.5.2006 6:23pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

If you haven't read the case you're not going to understand the point the prof is trying to make in class and your notes will not be the asset in exam preparation that they could be.

I couldn't disagree more. I had entire classes where I did little of the reading but took meticulous notes and got an A, A-, or B+ on the exam (in a school with a 2.85 curve). If you can come to class, follow the prof, understand what's going on, and take it all down in notes, then you don't need to do the reading.

I could.

However, I understand that not everyone learns the same way. I know folks who couldn't follow the teacher's lecture without doing the reading. And of course, if you blow off class or otherwise let your mind wander, then this doesn't work.

I probably would have been diagnosed with ADD had I or my parents pursued the matter. As such, when I get bored with reading, my mind wanders and I have a hard time paying attention. Ditto with just sitting and listening to material that I am not interesting in.

If I get my "fingers" into it, that helps me to pay attention. So I found that if I acted like a stenographer (I felt like I "worked" hard at taking notes) I could follow the lecture, take it all down, and not have to do the reading.

And it worked for me.

Of course, I knew students who blew off classes, took few notes and learned EVERYTHING by doing the reading. And they also did well.
8.5.2006 6:35pm
John Jenkins (mail):
One important thing is to go to class often enough, but not too often. At the risk of offending *all* of the contributors to VC, most law classes (and by extension, professors) add exactly nothing to the experience.

Reading the cases and then reading something to make sense of the cases (secondary literature) is much more useful than listening to someone try to recite the facts of the case for 10 minutes, then drone about the holding, and what he thinks is really important.

There are some really good professors (my first Tax prof was one) who just cut through the bullshit and keep the class moving, but for the most part it is like evolution. Long, slow and boring with occasional important moments. Why is that? Because law students don't know anything about the law. That's why they're THERE.

People joke about the TAs in other disciplines, but at least they are up front about the fact that the T.A. is teaching the class. Many law school classes can be roughly described as Bill Clinton asking George W. Bush questions to try to guide Bush into teaching rhetoric to everyone else present. Possibly with Powerpoint.

BTW, IV is still wrong, I think. Seriously, there is better resume fodder out there and I think Prof. Somin is suffering from top 5/D.C. bias. Schools out in the hinterlands don't get too terribly many people out there talking about things for ACS or Fed Soc meetings.. It might be different at Yale, Chicago, or in D.C., but where I went both organizations were laughable. You could get better political discussions at a local diner than the average ACS or Fed Soc meeting.

Finally, it *IS* important to know the cases for the exam. Professors are creative people, but not that creative. The fact patterns from the cases you read will show up on the exam, and being able to analogize to a case you read is a very useful shortcut during the exam because it's an analysis you've already learned. I finished almost every law school exam (except for Federal Securities Law) in a little more than half the allotted time, and a lot of that is because of this one timesaver.
8.5.2006 7:52pm
I think there should also be a warning about 1L's participating in things like negotiation competitions, client-counseling competitions, and even 1L moot court. Unfortunately, a lot of law schools push these (even in the first semester!), but they are really so much more trouble than they are worth and ultimately do nothing to help the vast majority of participants. Indeed, the Great One (Judge Kozinski), has written a devastatingly true assault on moot court, which should be required reading before participation in that or any similar activity.
8.5.2006 8:54pm
elChato (mail):
Lucan, I participated in a moot court competition my first semester and got hammered, but I learned a bit from the brutal experience (of course I probably should've been studying for classes instead).

I agree with those above who said the actual reading was not all that important. I usually read most of the cases, but that's kind of my style (i.e. geek) and like many I had friends who didn't read the cases and still did very well on the exams.

My advice to someone entering law school is, study law school exams because they are unlike other exams you have taken before. Reading cases, and getting/making outlines to understand the black letter law is not even close to being enough; if you have merely memorized the law at the end of the semester you will be very disappointed in your grade.
8.5.2006 9:12pm
Dustin, to answer your question, I have ridiculously neat handwriting, and I just find that I can make notes that are more visually informative and useful for my learning if I use pen &paper, rather than typing. This may not be true for everyone. Indeed, at my university, in many undergrad classes, many students are beginning to bring their laptops to lecture to take notes. So whatever floats your boat, I say...
8.5.2006 10:48pm
Cornellian (mail):
At my law school you'd have a hard time finding anyone who didn't use a laptop to take notes in class and to write exams. However, the proportion of laptop users seems much lower at the undergrad level. That's probably because the student body is less competitive, less serious about what they're doing and quite often doing stuff so easy that class attendance is barely necessary, let alone taking notes on a laptop.
8.6.2006 12:18am
Lincoln (www):
I think the advice given so far (with the exception of some comments here) barely begins to scratch the surface. Regarding doing the reading, such advice is profanely pointless when you consider that students are often saddled with so many monstrous reading assignments that it's virtually impossible to stay on top of it all. Prof. Somin fails to stress how important it is to be able to extract the relevant portions of what we read, and more importantly WHAT THOSE RELEVANT portions are supposed to be (which in essence is black letter law). Yet students who receive no helpful guidance from law professors may spend more time reading (and memorizing) procedural history or pointless dicta simply because they don't know any better. For this I place the blame largely on law professors who love to play hide the ball, and worse still, consider it to be a legitimate method for teaching students. I find such a callous and even contemptuous attitude such professors (not all thankfully) exhibit towards their students to be grossly offensive.

Law school may not be "vastly" different from undergrad school, but it is SIGNIFICANTLY different, and students MUST understand that if they are to survive.

Here are my personal suggestions (based on my own research) for any beginning law student who might be reading this thread:

1. Learn and understand the value of Commercial Outlines (known as COs.) Once you know the casebook you'll be assigned, purchase a CO keyed to that casebook. Commercial Outlines basically extract and highlight the black letter law of the cases you read, which is exceedingly important, because your ability to understand and internalize BBL will be crucial to your success in law school.

2. A lot of the stress generated by law school can be attributed not only to being overwhelmed with assignments, but because of not knowing where to start. The primary purpose of these reading assignments is to find and extract the relevant black letter law (that's what your outlines will be all about). Everything else is largely superfluous. Once you understand that, and know what to look for, the stress levels will drop dramatically. You'll still have to work very hard, but working hard with a clear sense of direction will prove eons better than having no sense of direction at all.

3. Understand that "briefing cases" in law school is only remotely similar to briefing cases the way attorneys actually do it in real life. Do not fall into the trap of placing more weight on briefing cases than you should. Only a minor portion of your time should be spent briefing. The rest should be spent on learning and internalizing black letter law.

4. Unless the law professor is a jerk and detracts from the norm, your law school exam will almost always consist of "fact patterns." Here is the reason why learning black letter law is so important, but another pitfall you need to avoid is to merely regurgitate BBL on your exams. The professor is not testing your knowledge of BBL, rather, he is testing your ability to APPLY your knowledge of BBL to the fact pattern that you're given. That is the crux of law school exams and you must absolutely understand this if you want to do well. Like an engineer, you won't be tested on your knowledge of tools of the trade, but rather your ability to use these tools efficiently and effectively.

5. Make use of primers (the most famous being Aspen). Some professors use them (God bless them) and some don't. Primers are designed to introduce you to black letter law in an easy to understand manner. They are abundantly worth their weight in gold.

6. Get copies of old law schools exams from your professors to practice on (and if they don't have any or refuse to give you any, look for databases of exams online). You should start practicing on these exams as soon as you've retained enough BBL to work them (maybe halfway through the semester?) Do not wait until the last week before final exams to start practicing. This is not the kind of education where you can cram all night long the day before the test and think it will prove effective. It will be a death sentence instead.

7. Ignore the advice to sign up for extracurricular activities. This is law school, not high school. From one source, I was told I should expect to spend 3 hours studying for every hour of class I took. That's roughly 48 hours a week, and joining clubs nilly-willy will add even more time to that. Focus on your studies instead. You have two years to join any extracurricular club, so for your first year, forget about it. First acclimate yourself to the law school environment until you've adapted to the differences, and feel confident enough that you can take on a little bit more without placing any undue stress on yourself. Note, after your first year, one "extracurricular" activity that should in fact be considered an absolute MUST is a clinical program. Law school clinics will provide you the closest thing ever to what its like to practice law FOR REAL. They are invaluable, and should be a mandatory part of any law school curriculum.

8. You will soon become intimate with the term "hypos" (short for hypotheticals). These involve changing facts around in a "fact pattern" and then determining if the black letter law that applied in the first pattern would still apply to the new one. Think of hypos to be like the mini-me version of final exams, and you'll begin to realize their importance. Hypos are the barbells that will work out your mental biceps, and they are more or less the only way you can develop your skills in analyzing fact patterns and "spotting the issue."

In summary, studying in law school is basically a two prong process. The first is to learn, understand and internalize black letter law, and the second is to utilize that knowledge effectively (by playing with hypos), so you can spot the relevant issues in fact patterns and then apply the appropriate BBL.

That's it (in a nutshell). I hope somebody out there finds it helpful.

P.S. Students should note that some professors will frown on the use of COs or even primers. Too bad. They're not the ones paying your $30,000 a year tuition. In the end you need to do what's best for you, and just because they're professors does not mean they are automatically looking out for you. Indeed, some of the most inane advice I have ever heard came from the mouths of law professors, which I can only surmise is attributable to some "Ivory Tower" complex that is affecting their capacity for common sense.
8.6.2006 1:00am

law professors who love to play hide the ball, and worse still, consider it to be a legitimate method for teaching students.

I had exactly one who actually used the socalled socratic method.

professors will frown on the use of COs or even primers. Too bad.

F$$$ing A to that. The casebook is the DC streets; the COs and primers are the maps. You want to know where you were, where you are, where you are going - get a map.

Law school tests, similar to bar exam essay questions, are meant to be orgasms in ink.
8.6.2006 2:32am
Lincoln (www):
Lev, I wouldn't quite put it that eloquently, but you're right. :)
8.7.2006 12:19pm
The River Temoc (mail):
There's a lot of sound advice in these threads, and I'll put in my two cents.

First off, understand that law school is a professional school. Unless you're one of the very few law students who is headed for academia (and admittedly, they're probably overrepresented on this blog), your focus needs to be on landing job offers at the beginning of your 3L year. Most, if not all, other decisions are a means to that end. In short, you need to approach law school like B-school.

This leads me to point number two. Whn you pick a law school -- i.e., when you fork over all that tuition money -- what you're really buying into is a professional network. The first year curriculum at most law schools is identical. What really distinguishes the JFK School of Law in Walnut Creek, CA from Stanford is the quality of your network, and where the students will be ten years after graduation.

As such, I disagree strongly with those who counsel to ignore extracurricular activities, receptions, and other networking activities. Indeed, you should try to get into as many such fora as possible, even if they are nominally designated for 2Ls. Also, get business cards (professional-looking ones with your school's seal) printed *first thing*. Now, networking is a lot like venture investing: 95% of the contacts you make will be useless to you, but it's the remaining 5% that are a gold mine.

For similar reasons, I agree with the recommendation to get to know your professors. I keep in touch regularly with at least four of my law school professors, three of whom have been instrumental to me from a career standpoint after I graduated.

Third, the law is, unfortunately, a very solitary profession, one that places a relatively low value on teamwork. Yes, this is alienating, but it is what it is. As such, I recommend eschewing the ubiqutous study groups and group-made outlines. Your exams will test you on the entirety of your coursework throughout the semester. You may have contributed twenty pages to a comprehensive 200 page outline, but you probably haven't mastered the material in the remaining 180 pages if you approach studying in this way. It would be far better to create your own thirty-page outline. (Lawyers love things to be far more complex than they need to be.) I had the best or second-best exam in several classes on the basis of just such outlines, many of which I did in flow-chart format.

Fourth, I agree with the comments that you should socialize outside law school circles. There are just too many law students who are boring and uptight and don't want to discuss anything other than that 200 page group outline. This is counterproductive. After your 1L year, cross-register into non-law classes. In addition to being intellectually interesting, it is also an important way to expand your professional network.

Fifth, I also agree that there's no such thing as "learning to think like a lawyer." Go ahead and carry on learning however you learn best. In particular, don't buy into the idea that studying for ten hours is necessarily better than studying for two. Quality is as important as quantity. Lawyers forget this, probably because law firm economics dictate the use of the billable hour, which percolates down into law school.

Sixth, do read all the material -- once in the order it's assigned, and a second time in the three-week period before exams. If you find something confusing on the first pass, ask your law professor to recommend a law review article on the subject. This technique is far more effective than purchasing a commercial outline, because the law review article (if it's well written) will set forth the black letter law and then analyze it at a much more sophisticated level. (And yes, the most important thing for you to do is to learn the black letter law.)
8.7.2006 12:57pm
The River Temoc (mail):
My suggestion: Learn to type, preferably before you start law school.

This is good advice for pretty much anybody these days, but for law school, I say this: become a power user of MS-Word. Learn how to use all the bells and whistles (cross references, ordered lists, outline format, etc.)
8.7.2006 1:25pm