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Tips for new law students: Take practice tests, and start your outline now!

Your first year grades will depend primarily on how you perform on your final exam. Accordingly, the best possible use of your time, in preparing for that exam, is to take practice tests. Your professor probably has some previous exams on reserve in the library; if not, exams from other professors who have taught the same course are probably on reserve.

Practice tests will help you with time management when the real exam comes around, and get you familiar with the format. So when you take the final exam, you should have completely figured out how to write an exam essay. The typical first year law school exam is very different from essay questions in college. Your job in the law school exam is simply to spot the relevant legal issues in a particular factual context, and explain the pro/con arguments that are relevant to analysis of the legal situation. Beautiful writing is not important. You are just presenting an organized listing of how the law might be applied to a given set of facts.

You absolutely should not wait until the final weeks of the semester to begin your practice exams. Within a few weeks, you will have covered enough material so that you can answer at least some exam questions. For example, if your Torts class is one semester, you will probably be finished with intentional torts no later than early October. At that point, you can practice the essay on a Torts exam which covers intentional torts. (A typical exam might have one essay on intentional torts, one on negligence, and one on strict liability.)

By the end of the third week of school, you should begin outlines for your classes. After three weeks, you will have completed at least one discrete section or subsection in all of your classes. For example, in Torts, you will have finished assault, and the class will have moved on to other intentional torts.

If can get ahold of Bar Review outlines for your classes, do so. Sit down and read through them. Your objective is not to memorize the contents. Rather, you are engaged in pre-reading. If before you read a non-fiction book, you closely read the table of contents, your comprehension of the book itself will probably be better. Likewise, reading a bar review outline will give you a good overview of the subject, and help you understand where a particular day's class fits into the context of the subject as a whole.

A final tip: there is a vast difference between the first year of medical school and the first year of law school. In the former, students must learn an enormous number of facts. But the substantive content of a first-semester law school course is rather thin. The full content of all the black-letter law that you will learn in, say, first-semester criminal law, could be taught in a semester to a bright group of seventh graders. The main thing that you are learning is not the law itself, but how to analyze legal problems: how to spot legal issues in a factual pattern, and how to make pro/con arguments. That's why taking practice exams in September will not only make you a better exam-taker in December or January, it will also make you a better student in October.

And BTW, this is advice is not about working harder than your classmates. It is about working smarter. You should definitely have time to go to campus football games, do whatever sports you enjoy, go out drinking and listening to music on weekend nights, etc. The amount of time wasted by hard-working but inefficient first-semester law students is enormous. To wit: investing a huge amount of labor (rather than just a lot of labor) in a pass/fail writing class; using hornbooks to excess (a hornbook is fine to use to clarify a legal concept you don't understand; you should not use a hornbook to learn extra law, unless for your own intellectual curiuosity. All the law you need to know for the exam is in your casebook); creating an overly detailed, 200 page outline (100 pages, at most, should be plenty for a single semester class, and some classes can be done in 50); obsessively studying the details of cases for fear of not being able to answer a question in class (spend as much time as you need teaching yourself how to read a case; after that, you should not need to read most cases more than once to extract the legal rule(s) from the case. Except in constitutional law, there few if any cases for which remembering the facts of the case will do you any good on the exam).

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Really Really Belated Advice to New Law Students:
  2. Tips for new law students: Take practice tests, and start your outline now!
OrinKerr:
FWIW, I strongly disagree. I tell my students not to take practice tests or start outlining yet. With 13 days of law school down, 1Ls are just beginning to begin to get a feel for what law is. It's just too early to be taking tests and outlining; students don't know enough to make it worthhile, and it will end up as time wasted, I think.
9.4.2008 3:25pm
Big E:
I would recommend that students work through the problems in their casebooks. Those suckers are like mini-exams.
9.4.2008 3:32pm
TCO:
If the key aspect of law and legal education is applying the law to questions (essentially analytics) why not have the training emphasize that with lots of work product required to be turned in?

P.s. I really know nothing of the law...well..I thought THE PAPER CHASE great fun. And a lawyer relative of mine said that law school was divine. Great fun. But that the practice of the law sucks.
9.4.2008 3:35pm
Happyshooter:
+1 for what DK said. This is how you get a good grade in law school.

What he didn't say is that reading the old tests and paying attention in class will tell you the prof's bias and how to spin your responses. Getting the magic phrases down [ex: duty; breach; causation; injury] will get you a pass, applying it to say that gays (or whatever he loves) are great in a super lib's class will get you the A.
9.4.2008 3:37pm
Ugh (mail):
Also, when you've finished your last exam, that bright, shiny thing in the sky that hurts your eyes when you look at it is called the "sun", which will have been absent from your life if you've followed David Kopel's advice.
9.4.2008 3:38pm
Kevin!:
This is great advice, with the possible exception of timing. But I think it really does force you to approach material from an exam-taking perspective. It tests your knowledge to see what concepts you really do grasp. It forces students to attack material from the perspective of fitting it within a coherent framework.

Supplements are superb, here. Perhaps you think you understand Assault. Then a Supplement challenges you to say what result if someone shouts "Watch out! Incoming missile!" You duck, are honestly in fear of contact... but it was all a prank. What result?
9.4.2008 3:38pm
Nunzio:
Don't look at practice tests or start to outline until the World Series is over.

When you're reading or watching news, tv or moviews or talking with people and you start to spot some legal issues you've learned, you're pretty much catching on. When you can't turn this skill off, your only friends will be other lawyers.
9.4.2008 3:43pm
Kevin!:
Actually, the beauty of using outlines/supplements from an early point is that it actually REDUCES the amount of study time you need.

Law students don't know what is important about a case, when they start reading them. So they think everything is important -- otherwise, why would it be in the casebook?????

Prepping yourself with an outline allows you to see the case as intended -- a central holding, usually expressable in a sentence or two, coupled with analysis.

Some might argue that there's some virtue to puzzling out, on your own, the key holding of a case. In my experience, it's really just a way for Professors to hold everyone in suspense before making it look easy with a few remarks.
9.4.2008 3:43pm
SPO:
I actually took the time to read the "note" cases at the end of chapters. Found that on some exams it was helpful.
9.4.2008 3:45pm
Anony:
I think this is great advice. It might be a couple of weeks early, but there's no reason why a 1L can't be going over old exams by the end of September. Your entire grade is determined by that exam - you should study for it.

For an analogy, few people suggest that you prepare for the LSAT by reading complicated books and doing newspaper jumbles and don't look at an actual LSAT until a couple of weeks prior.
9.4.2008 3:48pm
Ugh (mail):
Less snarkily, I'm suspicious of any one size fits all advice on how to do well on law school exams (although I think E. Volokh's advice on effectvie legal writing can be applied across the board). There's just too many factors that go into how one prepares and how one actually takes the test to give advice that fits everyone (other than you won't do well if you don't study at all). From how fast you read, to how well you retain information, to how good the professor is, to how good the case book is, to how well you take notes in class, to whether you retain information well, to whether you like the material, to how much sleep you got the night before.

The only thing in my mind that might fit everybody is not to fall behind on the reading. Even then, someone who reads fast and retains information very well could even ignore that.

My other piece of advice would be: relax.
9.4.2008 4:09pm
Sean M:
I agree that the timing is way too early.

However, I do agree that practice exams are the number one way to study. Another note: Actually practice writing full exams, both in and out of time pressure. Don't say you'll "outline" the answer and move on. Actually write a full essay.

Outline answers are what everyone will have. It's how you fill in the details that makes your essay stand-out.
9.4.2008 4:17pm
holdfast (mail):
Draft your outlines as you go along - every week for each class (not on the same day for all) go through your class and reading notes for that subject and put them into your outline. This way you are fixing the material in you noggin while it is still fresh, and you are building your outline as you go, saving time so you can do those practice tests near the end of the semester.
9.4.2008 4:21pm
Blonde-Haired Buttercream Frosted Murder Cake:
Agreed that everyone's approach differs. However, in my experience, an outline longer than 50 pages is too long to be useful on an exam. You'll spend more time navigating the outline than analyzing the issue.

Also, if your prof teaches from the same outline every semester (like a certain property prof at GULC), the copy shop around the corner likely has a copy of it that (a) everyone else in the class is working off of and (b) will make your life easier as well. It may be missing a couple of things, but those are easy to catch and fill in if you follow the class discussion.
9.4.2008 4:34pm
ResIpsaLoquitur:
I read my casebooks with a 5-highlighter system. I outlined essential facts in red; case history in orange; the issue in yellow; the essential holding in green; and the court's reasoning in blue. The yellow and green turned out to be critical to generating outlines later.

BTW, we haven't discussed the benefit of commercial outlines. Granted, they can be anywhere from overrated to irrelevant (I remember buying some outlines that were only 25% useful to the professor's text), but they can have some merit, can be useful as a model on how to outline, and do have helpful practice tests and answers.

My study group and I played Trivial Pursuit with Emmanuel's flashcards. We found them very helpful AND entertaining.
9.4.2008 4:42pm
Snaphappy Fishsuit Mokiligon:
As the individual with the highest grade-point average of my first year section, I disagree.

The best way to prepare for exams at this point is to READ and BRIEF every case. Simple advice, but even just a few weeks in it becomes painfully obvious that the number of students who do this declines steeply and steadily after the first week. Annotate your briefs during class discussion. I found it most helpful to brief and annotate without a laptop. In fact it seems like it would be difficult to effectively take notes this way with a laptop.

After Halloween, you might start preparing an outline, which really is largely a synthesized and distilled version of those annotated briefs, informed by the syllabus. You simply cannot start that synthesis until you have some idea what you're doing.

Save the practice tests until you have come close to completing your outline. Otherwise you will undermine your own confidence and make the exams stale before they're really useful.
9.4.2008 4:43pm
zippypinhead:
Also, when you've finished your last exam, that bright, shiny thing in the sky that hurts your eyes when you look at it is called the "sun", which will have been absent from your life if you've followed David Kopel's advice.
That wasn't a problem for Dave back when he was in law school in the Great White North, since the sun didn't shine in Michigan in December anyway...

If you can get ahold of the professor's old exams, they're the single best supplemental study resource, especially if you also have access to some "A" exam answers -- and some professors DO make available not only old exams, but also sample answers.

Although I remember a situation where a professor got lazy and re-used a very old evidence exam question, apparently forgetting that the law review kept a file cabinet down in the basement that contained copies of virtually every old exam he and most other profs had ever given. The professor had a bit of a problem when, 5 minutes after the exam ended, all the review members in his class trudged into his office to confess that they'd not only seen the question before, but they dissected and discussed it in depth in their study group.
9.4.2008 4:57pm
Guest 2L:
Before I went to law school, I was a grad student at the university affiliated with the law school I now go to. As a grad student, I took a 1L class without all the orientation and advice that 1Ls get. I just did the reading and showed up for class with a pencil, paper, and the text book. When the exam came around, I studied for it. I had no idea what outlining or briefing was, and I wasn't thinking strategically. I loved the course. I learned a lot. And I got an A.

So, I had high hopes for my first year when I went to law school. My grades were good my first year. But I was miserable, and don't feel as if I learned as much as I could have.

I blame all the advice. It's not that the advice is bad. It's just that the sheer volume of it focuses the mind on strategic grade grubbing rather than learning. And you feel guilty that you don't manage to follow all the advice. I don't think there should be a moratorium on advice, but I think that most of it should be prefaced with the warning "This is just strategic BS. This is meant to be used in addition to actually trying to learn something, and should not be taken as a substitute for actually trying to learn something."
9.4.2008 5:01pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
So what is the motivation (if any) of offering these standardized length essays and other common elements of a law exam so that students, by practicing this format, can gain an upper hand.

I mean the law school exam essay is not a format I've ever seen a real lawyer make use of so it's not like it's important to practice that particular format. Moreover, if this was merely about effectively teaching students to write or absorb new formats then practicing that particular format shouldn't be necessary. For instance if you switched up the length of the essay on exams so students never new what to expect it seems you would evaluate all of the writing skills desired without mixing irrelevant issues of studying that format into the mix.

I mean ultimately for the students studying is all about relative advantage. Creating exams on which it is useful to practice essays of one particular length necessarily takes student time away from other types of more useful studying and into mastering a specific format that is neither theoretically important nor practically useful once they leave school.

------

Not that this means you can just up and change it. I'm running a calculus class this term and the types of exams we are required by tradition to give there are even less useful than what you describe here. I'm just wondering if there is some justification for this.
9.4.2008 5:04pm
zippypinhead:
...strategic grade grubbing rather than learning.
But isn't strategic grade grubbing the whole purpose of law school? If I had $5 for every time I heard the old fallacy "law school doesn't actually teach you the law" I could retire.
9.4.2008 5:12pm
Guest 2L:
zippypinhead:

But isn't strategic grade grubbing the whole purpose of law school?

I'm willing to agree with that, but I still like to think that the strategy of trying to learn something is often as effective, and always more satisfying, than the strategy of figuring out how many different colors of highlighter you should use.
9.4.2008 5:20pm
FantasiaWHT:
Disagree, for my tastes. Creating the outline at the end of the year works much better for me. The first bit of studying I do for a final is to draft an outline from memory, being as complete as possible. After that I read my notes in their entirety and add anything that I missed.

I tried keeping an outline as I went once and it really didn't help me at all. Same went for writing full case briefs for everything I read.
9.4.2008 5:33pm
theobromophile (www):
I started outlining around the end of the first week, and it worked for me.

YMMV.

While I'm very good at synthesising information, and have an excellent memory, I really hate putting things off. Work that could be done earlier (although in a more time-consuming fashion) becomes exponentially less appealing to me as time went on. For me, outlining early kept my stress in check, which seemed as good a reason as any to do it. (I also bribed myself with a Thanksgiving trip to Florida if I kept on top of my work.)

The Sox won the World Series my 1L year, so I spent far too much time watching them make the comeback of all time against the Yankees. Was very glad to have started outlining at the end of August, because there was a lot of cushion in my study schedule.

The one downside to this approach is that your classmates will spend quite a bit of time quoting a certain scene from the Paper Chase at you.
9.4.2008 5:43pm
A.C.:
The further you go in law school, the earlier in the term it makes sense to outline. In first year, I started in the second half of the term because my brain wasn't ready to do it until then. There was too much else going on, and I didn't get a sense of where a course was going until it had been going for quite a while. Dividing the world into intentional torts, negligence, and strict liability, for example... that structure became apparent, but I didn't start the term with those three bins already in place. They were just words in a table of contents until we had spent some time putting specific material into them.

By second year I had a system, and by third year I could manipulate that system at will to make room for paper deadlines, job interviews, and extracurriculars. Outlining as you go is fine later in law school, especially in fields where you are taking your fourth or fifth class. But even then, it isn't essential to do it at any particular time. Set up time for it when you HAVE the time.
9.4.2008 6:09pm
JimmyL:
As another individual who finished first in his first year class, I echo Snaphappy's comments. I recommend three things: (1) brief, (2) briefly review notes after each class for errors, and (3) create your own outline.

I recommend reading and briefing every case, and if you "book brief" be thorough. No need for multiple highlighters, just understand the case and its reasoning. I took copious notes in my classes (on Microsoft's OneNote program) and also participated considerably (hopefully without being annoying).

The key for me, though, was reviewing my notes after each class (or at worst at the end of each week) to make sure that they were accurate (e.g., didn't omit words like "not") and that they recapped the important points. If not, I would add any additional information to my notes before it left my mind forever (a benefit of using the computer). Later in the semester, once you get around to outlining for the class, this step becomes less important because you can just incorporate your class notes into your updated outline. If you spend eight hours a day at school (including class time) with minimal goofing off and work some on the weekends, this is easy to do.

Thus, by the time I got around to outlining in late October and early November, I knew my class notes were complete and comprehensive, thereby allowing me to select the most important and relevant material for the outline. (And I didn't copy and paste from my notes. I retyped all the relevant material, but I just learn better that way.)

Once this was complete, it was all practice exams, whether from my school's database or a commercial supplement. (By the way commercial supplements are great if you are having trouble understanding a concept. But they may contain a lot of information you didn't cover in class, i.e., information that likely won't be tested). If the exam database didn't have questions re: a particular topic that we covered in class, I'd make up my own question with multiple angles and then answer it, so that I could get used to writing about the topic.

So I disagree with DK re: timing. If you have done all of the above, its perfectly fine to wait until the last 2-3 weeks to begin practice exams.

Ultimately, like Guest 2L, if you approach class with a desire to learn the material and you actively think critically about the law and its implications beyond the case you read (i.e., those pesky hypotheticals), then you'll do fine.

This advice was given to me by someone who finished first in his class, and it has paid similar dividends for me.
9.4.2008 6:27pm
Jason O (mail):
"obsessively studying the details of cases for fear of not being able to answer a question in class"

This is BY FAR the most common way I see law students wasting their time and effort. If I could give my 1L self advice, I would tell myself not to give a crap about looking dumb in class. It just doesn't matter. E.g., some professors like to grill you about the procedural posture of the case, but they will never ask you about that on the exam (assuming it's not a procedure class, of course). A lot of law professors are jerks who just want to put people on the spot. They like to watch you squirm. Look them in the eye, shrug your shoulders, and say you don't know the answer, and all their power is gone and they will move on to the next person. And you can focus on what is really important.
9.4.2008 7:22pm
zippypinhead:
So we can conclude the unanimous consensus of this thread (and the other VC threads on point) is that there's no one right way to study effectively as a 1L. Lots of techniques will work for different individuals. OK, let's run with that. If nothing else, hopefully the various suggestions will help reassure some nervous 1Ls that, just because they aren't doing exactly what that smart-looking person down the row in Torts is doing, their legal future isn't in the express lane to oblivion.

Incidentally, don't necessarily dismiss Dave Kopel's early approach -- since class rank is being bandied around to bolster the bona fides of various study techniques, his suggestion pretty obviously worked for him. Rumor has it Kopel did somehow manage to graduate in the top 5% from a top-10 school, magna cum laude, Order of the Coif, Law Review. And had enough free time to be a freelance writer for the university's daily newspaper, plus work on at least one Presidential primary campaign
9.4.2008 7:32pm
Elizabeth Howell (mail):
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9.4.2008 7:58pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

I tried keeping an outline as I went once and it really didn't help me at all.

Not everything works for everybody. I recommend updating your outlines every week, then compare to a friend's. Trying to write essay exams as early as possible makes sense in modular courses like Property (Adverse Possession!) as well as Torts. I'd wait on Contracts for a while, because each essay question should cover the course from beginning to end.

Developing the mindset to argue both sides takes time for those not used to it, as does using all the facts available, multiple times if possible. Doing practice exams really helps here.

Whatever you do, do not add stuff from a commercial outline if your teacher didn't cover it. Usually there is a polished outline floating around for your class/prof, written by some OCD sufferer. Use that outline to backfill any holes in your own.

Then try to boil your outline down to 30 pages. For closed book exams, boil it down to a single page that you can jot down on a sheet of scratch paper as soon as the exam begins. This will reassure you that you are not leaving out any issues, because after an hour or so of heavy analysis, your ability to recall the course outline will be reduced.

Repeated working of practice exams will get the outline into your head. Play games where you write down issues and use every fact. Write down a flow chart for the Erie analysis.

Don't spend a lot of time outlining exam answers. List issues, then go back and add the elements, then match facts to elements.

Kindly profs will be willing to look at a sample essay or two. Wait til you feel you've produced something fairly good before you ask for this favor.

Often exams combine multiple choice questions with essays. People good at seeing both sides will suddenly freak from the responsibility of finding one right answer. Do practice questions from the MBE bar prep books to get comfortable with this format.
9.4.2008 8:08pm
Lurking Prof:
Among the advice here: (1) "[S]tart your outline now!; (2) "[t]he best possible use of your time, in preparing for that exam, is to take practice tests"; (3) on a law school exam, "[y]ou are just presenting an organized listing of how the law might be applied to a given set of facts; (4) "[w]ithin a few weeks, you will have covered enough material so that you can answer at least some exam questions"; (5) "The full content of all the black-letter law that you will learn in, say, first-semester criminal law, could be taught in a semester to a bright group of seventh graders."; (6) "taking practice exams in September will . . . make you a better student in October."; (7) "All the law you need to know for the exam is in your casebook"; (8) "100 pages, at most, should be plenty for a single semester class, and some classes can be done in 50"; (9) after a bit, "you should not need to read most cases more than once to extract the legal rule(s) from the case"; (10) "[e]xcept in constitutional law, there few if any cases for which remembering the facts of the case will do you any good on the exam".

This is admirably specific; based on my casual observations, I am confident in about 10 percent, and inclined to disagree with the vast majority of it. Could you explain the empirical basis for your opinions? I'm sure you draw on your experience in law school, and that you've chatted with other lawyers and law students about these topics -- that is, you're in as good a position, at least, as your average law school grad. I also see by clicking on your profile that you co-taught a seminar ten years ago. But there may be more to it than that: Have you taught first-year courses or otherwise assessed them, and carefully compared the strategies of students who were successful and unsuccessful? If so, it might be helpful in assessing the advice.

No one has substantially greater or lesser authority based on his or her own performance. Suffice it to say that those who do well in law school are often unable to exclude that other strategies would have worked for them, and those who do poorly do not know exactly what would have worked for them. Some improve their performance, but usually change lots of variables at the same time, and they are usually redressing weaknesses specific to them. The least number have the authority to extrapolate from their experience so as to sow concern and confusion among the many eager for a clear solution.
9.4.2008 8:16pm
pbf (mail) (www):
I certainly agree there's no "one size fits all" approach. I also have to point out that there's a premise the recommendation is based on that is not true at most law schools -- that the legal research, analysis, and writing class isn't graded. That class also happens to be the most useful for actual work as a lawyer, so I have to agree with the suggestion that the recommendation does have a flavor of "grade grubbing" about it. If I were talking to a law student I'd suggest this approach worked for David and it will work for some other students at some schools. I would conclude nothing more from it.
9.4.2008 10:10pm
pbf (mail) (www):
I have to add one more thing: I disagree profoundly with the suggestion that the procedural posture of the case is irrelevant. If you're only reading the case for the rules, as far as I'm concerned, you don't understand the case the way a lawyer needs to. The rules are the easy things. You can get them out of any commercial outline.
9.4.2008 10:15pm
zippypinhead:
there's a premise the recommendation is based on that is not true at most law schools -- that the legal research, analysis, and writing class isn't graded... so I have to agree with the suggestion that the recommendation does have a flavor of "grade grubbing" about it. If I were talking to a law student I'd suggest this approach worked for David and it will work for some other students at some schools.
You're referring to his statement "The amount of time wasted by hard-working but inefficient first-semester law students is enormous. To wit: investing a huge amount of labor (rather than just a lot of labor) in a pass/fail writing class."

In fairness to Dave, when he took his 1L legal research and writing course 25 years ago, it was graded pass/fail. And nobody with a pulse failed. And the small group portions were largely taught by work-study 3Ls, not professors. It simply wasn't a course one stressed about. I hear it ain't like that now.

Although I think the basic point Dave was trying to make, that too many 1Ls spin their wheels with very inefficient and misdirected study efforts, is a good one. He's correct when he says "You should definitely have time to go to campus football games, do whatever sports you enjoy, go out drinking and listening to music on weekend nights, etc." And I have it on very good authority he did all of those non-curricular activities, and more.
9.4.2008 10:58pm
tvk:
I agree that first year law school is about learning to "think like a lawyer" much more than to learn the rules of the law. But a few disagreements:

1. I think it is tremendously important to remember and understand the facts of the cases and how the facts framed an issue and drove a particular legal outcome--in other words, how judges actually think and react. Law school exams are invariably written with a factual scenario where the two cases you read appear to have diametrically opposed legal holdings. Just knowing the legal rule and regurgitating that X and Y cases appear to be directed to this issue and their legal rules cannot be reconciled might be accurate, but it is a "B-" answer. The key here is to understand the facts that matter versus those that don't.

2. I think of Bar review materials as hornbooks. So to the extent it is unwise to read hornbooks for extra law, it is similarly unwise to read bar review materials for that purpose. Hornbooks are a real mixed bag. In my view, they can help a "C" student get a "B"; but they can be counterproductive and lower an "A" student to a "B" too. By listing legal principles and encouraging regurgitation, they ensure you won't do too badly; but it also ensures that any particular answer will not truly shine.
9.5.2008 12:00am
Sum Budy:
I disagree.

(First point: Take every bit of advice with a grain of salt; stick with tactics that work best for YOU.)

For me, outlining *is* studying for the exam. And that's best done within the few weeks before the exam so that you actually remember what you've studied. It's the act of outlining itself that actually prepares you.

Similarly, good practice exams are difficult to come by, especially if the professor hasn't been teaching for many years. And a practice exam is only useful the first time you look at it. Therefore, a student shouldn't take a practice exam until the outline is at least mostly finished. (This isn't to say that a student shouldn't practice issue spotting throughout a semester, but that requires fact patterns, not "real" old exams.)

Also, a student with just two weeks of law school under his belt doesn't yet have a clue what the big picture is. In fact, most students are probably still learning how to brief cases at this point. Trying to write an outline without a good view of the big picture -- at least half a semester worth of the subject -- is just about worthless.
9.5.2008 12:17am
Happyshooter:
Just to note for the new students reading this thread...

Law school is not the practice of law. You game the LSAT test and diversity essays to get into the highest ranked school you can, to get a better job. You game the heck out of your first year's grades to get a better job.

You must recall that almost none of the profs have ever practiced. Most of them, at most, did brief checking and filled out opinions to a judge's outline. Then, they got hired at the U because they wrote a good note in the review in law school and were clerking for a really respected judge or a really liberal judge.

Once there, they help on a brief every few years, and appear in court even less. They have no idea what the practice of law is, and make no attempt to make their classes fit.

Law school, and the admissions process, are a two and one-half year gaming process to get positioned for the rest of your working life. Actual law in most cases will be learned first at bar-bri and later at seminars and on the job.

You game the admissions process with a lot of study and work, you game and study your butt off the first year, and then you game and edit your butt off to get on the best journal you can. Then you switch to chill mode for the rest of law school while you wait to start learning the practice of law.
9.5.2008 9:50am
Happyshooter:
My comments above do not apply for a working law school like Tom Cooley. Some friends went there, and it is a tough school with teachers who are working lawyers.

They teach actual law with an eye towards practice, send the students out for internships, and fail about 1/3 of the students out.

Those who pass, hit the bar exam ready to go out and run a general practice of law.
9.5.2008 10:04am
zippypinhead:
You game the LSAT test and diversity essays to get into the highest ranked school you can, to get a better job. You game the heck out of your first year's grades to get a better job.

[A]lmost none of the profs have ever practiced.... They have no idea what the practice of law is, and make no attempt to make their classes fit. Law school, and the admissions process, are a two and one-half year gaming process to get positioned for the rest of your working life.
Wow, that's depressing, Happyshooter! Especially since I assume you're speaking from experience, and Dave Kopel, you and I all attended the same happy little neo-gothic architecture institution in the Great White North.

Law school isn't a trade school. The first year as taught in tier-1 schools is largely about the theory of law. You're not going to learn how to probate a will, take a deposition, or file a motion for directed verdict. Consider 1L the foundation upon which one's later learning (including learning during one's career) occurs. Perhaps the emphasis on 1L grades is a bit perverse in that context, but a definitive ruling on that topic is above my pay grade.

A cautionary anecdote on assumptions about law professors without practice experience: When I was a 3L, in one of the then-Dean's student meet-and-greet sessions some of my comrades expressed a sentiment similar to yours. The Dean asked us to name the most practically-grounded professors. I mentioned Jerry Israel. Then the Dean asked me to name the most head-in-clouds, divorced-from-reality professor [name withheld to protect the guilty]. The Dean, in what was clearly not his first "gotcha" on this topic, explained that Israel had never actually practiced law (other than occasional pro bono gigs), while the other prof had been in government and private practice for 11 years before joining the faculty. The difference? Israel made a point of actually talking to line prosecutors, public defenders, and even cops (and sometimes bringing them in to team-teach seminars with him), and thus learned how things worked "in the real world." While the other prof taught law as a branch of pure philosophy, for better or worse. So one-size-fits all conclusions about tier-1 faculty may be an oversimplification. Probably even more so today, when practical clinics are a bigger part of the curriculum than back in the dark ages when I was a Hutchins Hall inmate.
9.5.2008 1:05pm