Law School is by far the most competitive and difficult educational institution that the vast majority of students have encountered. In other articles I have discussed why law school is so competitive (curved grading, job opportunities). In this article I will offer some advice for those students that have the ambitions of getting to the top of their class.
In my opinion, anyone attending law school no matter what the reasons for attending should strive to get into the top of their class. Luckily, for those who are aiming for top grades you really aren’t competing with the entire class. Why not? Because, although law school is difficult and you have to study more to pass than in undergrad, many students do just that. They study hard enough to get a C, to pass, and they never try harder. This is great news, because if everyone was studying like they should be the competition would be even fiercer.
I had an excellent professor during my Barbri Law Preview Course that had some excellent advice for the class. “Half the students in law school do essentially the same thing they did in undergrad, they put in the bare minimum and then they get drunk over the weekends”. This might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but for the most part it rang true my 1L year. I had one friend that liked dropping acid every week, and I had another that was always asking if I wanted to go bar hopping. Honestly, I wouldn’t have believed they were in law school if they hadn’t been sitting in my class.
So What Do You Need to Do to Succeed?
Brief, Brief, Brief
Do not take shortcuts on your readings or your case briefs. I know that many professors nowadays will put students “on notice” the week they are up for cold calls. Unfortunately, many students take advantage of this by only briefing cases when they are at risk of being called. Other students will skim the case or go online and find shortened summaries so they can write a quick brief. Your missing the point of law school when you do this, your not going to learn nearly as much, and its going to show come exam day. If you want to score well you need to thoroughly brief every case you are assigned and do all the readings.
Remember that Law Professors are or have been practicing attorneys and they are scholars. They are going to have certain interests in their field, and you will notice it as time goes on. If your book covers a subject in a paragraph, but your professor dedicates an entire class period to it, that’s a dead giveaway that he/she is passionate about the subject and it will be somewhere on the exam.
Raising your hand before your professor cold calls you is a really good idea. In a classroom of sometimes two hundred students (or many more) you should be trying to make yourself as memorable to the professor as possible. For me, participating in the class also keeps my interest heightened, even if its Contracts (blehh).
The dreaded sixty page outline is real and Jesus it’s a lot of information. A good outline takes skill, and you don’t want to pack every last detail of the class into the outline. Black Letter Law needs to be memorized cold, not outlined.
You would be surprised at the number of students who wait until late November to start their outlines. Do not do this, I start my outlining before October 1st. By the time the reading period comes along I’m not feverishly writing my class outline, I’ve already been reviewing the vast majority of it for several weeks.
Some professors and students will tell you that it doesn’t hurt to save time by taking old outlines from 2Ls and 3Ls. Others will tell you that you absolutely need to write your own, and not doing so is equivalent to heresy. I don’t have a dog in the fight, I see people succeed going either way.
If you do decide to take an outline from an upperclassmen MAKE 100% CERTAIN that it is a good outline. Now some may consider it rude to ask what an upperclassman’s grade was in a particular class. If you don’t want to be that direct fine, check to see whether or not they are in Law Review. Chances are their outline is excellent if they made Law Review.
Your Going to Have to Slash Your Social Life to the Minimal
It sucks, I know. Personally, I’m a very outgoing person and I like to be around friends very frequently. You have to remember though that 1L year is by far the most important, and it can open so many doors if you succeed. I’m not saying that you have to burn bridges, but when your friends invite you to go out over the weekends and you know your not going to get your reading done you have to make a choice. Slashing your social life is a small price to pay for improving your career prospects.
2L and 3L Year you will have a lot more free time. Hell they assign 1L students to 8:30 A.M classes, because the faculty knows that 2 and 3Ls wont show up that early.
I love flash cards, I literally have thousands of them when I was learning Spanish. Learning the Law is a lot like learning Spanish in that you are learning a new language. I began writing black letter law flashcards the first week of classes and continued throughout each semester. Obviously we are in the 21st century so if you want to do this through your cellphone that is just as good, I guess I’m just old fashioned. If you review these cards on a consistent basis, by the time of your exams you will have so much information in your head that it is second nature to you. It’s a great feeling when you can recite laws upon laws as if they were your address.
Study Hard but Don’t Get to Crazy
It can seem confusing that professors (and me) will tell you that you have to study like you’ve never studied during your 1L year. After giving the speech about how hard you need to study, they will say “but don’t overdo it and get burned out”. Burning out is a real issue in law school, and unless you’re a robot, if you try and study 12 hours a day, seven days a week you will get burned out. It can be difficult to find the right balance between studying and leisure in law school, but I promise things will get easier after that first semester.
Nobody ever said law school is easy and for good reason. Top students sacrifice a lot their first year to ensure they get the grades. High marks requires diligence, perseverance, intelligence, and a lot of hard work. You have already proved your intelligence by getting admitted into law school, now you just have to put in the work to separate yourself from the mass of other students.