Really Really Belated Advice to New Law Students:

I know it’s probably too late, since you’re already deeply embroiled in your first year classes (and have given up, among other things, trolling through the Volokh Conspiracy), I did want to pass along two thoughts in response to master conspirator Eugene’s calls for our thoughts on the matter, for what they’re worth.

The summer before law school, I read Charles Rembar’s wonderful book “The Law of the Land,” and I recall myself thinking, many times during my first year, how glad I was that I had done so. Rembar takes you through the history of the development of Anglo-American law, and I found it both fabulously entertaining and extremely helpful as a practical matter – trying to extract some meaning from those inscrutable texts that one encounters early on in most first-year classes (Pierson v. Post in property, Hadley v. Baxendale in contracts, and all the rest) is not easy, and I found it helpful to have some rudimentary understanding of the archaic and arcane forms that the law had taken in the past – about the old pleading rules and their “writs” and forms of action, about the Field Code, about the differences between law and equity courts in the old days, and like matters. Highly recommended.

Second: I agree with all that was said, in several other postings here, about different learning styles for different people. But I suspect everyone would agree on one thing: to be a good lawyer, you have to know how to write well. You’re probably taking some kind of “legal research and writing” class during your first year, and, if you’re tempted to blow it off (as you may well be), my advice to you is: Don’t. In many, many ways, what you learn there is more important than what you learn in any one of your doctrinal classes – there are a lot of terrific lawyers out there who never really understood (and still don’t understand) property law, say, or constitutional law, or contracts. But there are very few terrific lawyers out there who haven’t mastered legal writing and legal research. (And consider this, too: all of those judicial opinions you’re reading in your “doctrinal” classes are themselves the output of judges (and their law clerks) engaged in the process of “legal research and writing”; the more you understand about that process, believe me, the better you’ll be able to understand those opinions and, therefore, the better you’ll be able to understand the various doctrinal subjects you’re encountering). If I had the magic bullet to get you to write well I’d reveal it to you, but I don’t. Legal writing, in my view, is one of those things (like playing the piano, or juggling, or carpentry) that you get better at by practice, and only by practice. There are lots of guidebooks out there – Volokh’s, of course, and Bryan Garner’s got a good one – and I’ve even tried (here) to put down on paper pretty much everything I could about how to write good legal prose. But you won’t learn how to write good legal prose by talking about it or reading about it – you learn by practicing it, so look for every opportunity you can to do so

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