Friday, July 29, 2016

How To Prepare for a Law School Class

As we creep up on fall and get closer and closer to orientation season, I have decided to write a series of posts on law school to help all the soon to be newbie law students out there. As a rising 3L, I finally feel like I have finally gotten this whole law school thing figured out and I want to pay it forward for all the blogs that helped me get ready to start law school. 




I am not going to lie, during undergrad, my preparation for a class was to make sure I got dressed and brought something to take notes with. I rarely found reading the book necessary but in the classes where it was . . . I read. Maybe highlighted a line or two if I felt like it. I didn't do anything else. Unfortunately, that is not enough for a law school class. Especially during the first year.

Here is what I try to do before every class. I was much more dedicated my 1L year but overall, I still do the majority of theses things before class. Most my effort is geared towards the final exam and not towards the fear of being cold called. Sounding intelligent in class gets you exactly zero points towards your grade and besides, I've only been cold called a handful of times in two years of law classes. However, with that said, I've found that by focusing on the exam, I am usually more than prepared to answer questions in class. And, as more and more of my classmates have started to skip the reading, I sound even better. Yay for 2L and 3L apathy.

Read -
Not to state the obvious but ... you really do need to read before a law school class. Not only is there the possibility that you will get called on but the class makes zero sense if you didn't read. The way the class is structured, there is no lecture. You cannot simply show up and take good notes if you didn't already read the material. Class mostly focuses on each case separately and you are responsible for putting it all together to make a cohesive whole. Guess what, the majority of casebooks do that for you! (If you have a crappy, hide the ball casebook, buy supplements. Work smart guys.) If you only listen to each case separately, you will never pick up on the things that connect them together.


Highlight -
Very early on during my first 1L semester, I learned that briefing each case helped if you got called on, but it also helped understand each part of the case and what it actually meant. The only downside is that briefing a case takes forever and when you have 30 cases (between all classes) to read each night . . . well, something had to give. Where I drew the line was with typing up each brief. I started trying the book briefing method and I haven't looked back yet. The way that works is as you read, you assign a different color for what would have been each section of your brief. For example, green is for facts; blue is for issue/question; pink is for reasoning; yellow is for rule/holding; purple is for concurrence; orange is for dissent. This way, you are still training your brain to separate the different parts of the case but you don't need to spend forever typing it all up. If I find something confusing or hard to explain, I rewrite it in the margins and I'm often drawing graphs, arrows etc in the casebook. When I get called on, I can quickly find the information I need to answer the question.

For this to work well, you can't be a highlight everything kind of person. Only highlight the parts you need, not everything that is a fact, etc.


Notes -
As I've discussed before, (HERE and HERE) I write all my notes in outline form pulled from the syllabus and table of contents from the casebook. Before classes start, I type up the empty outline and fill it in as we get to it throughout the semester. The part I fill in from the book tends to be the information in between the cases, especially the intro to each chapter or section. My ultimate goal is that by the last class of the semester, I do not need to look at my book AT ALL in order to study for finals. My outlines are less than 100 pages (usually much much less) and my casebooks can be up to 1304 pages. It's much easier and much more productive to study from my outline than from the casebook. Easier = awesome.

And even though I don't brief each case in my notes anymore, I do type up a short blurb on each case in my outline. It usually ends up being two to three sentences that include the rule of law and a bit of the reasoning. 1L's might need a bit more but as you train your brain, you can write less and less.

Class Preparation Schedule -
During my first 1L semester, I found that for me doing all my casebook reading and pre-class notes for the next week over the weekend gave me the best results. At that time, I had three law based classes and then legal research and writing. So on Friday after class, I would try to get all of the next weeks reading done for class one. Saturday I would finish up class one and get all of class two out of the way. Then on Sunday, I would do a weeks worth of reading for class three. This left Monday through Thursday for my R&W classwork and for some sort of work/life balance. (Haha, I lie, there was no balance my 1L year. If I had free time, I usually ended up catching up on stuff I got behind on.) I found that when I tried to do it day by day, I was wasting time by trying to remember where we left off, fighting the post class exhaustion, and couldn't keep up when something would pop up to screw up my schedule. Because of all this, I often had to stay awake until 2 to 3 am when I had a class at 8:30. Day by day reading simply did not work for me. On the other hand, I did (and still do) have to sacrifice my entire weekend while many of my classmates considered that their slow down time.

For many of my classmates, my method would not have worked for them at all. They needed the mental strength of having at least one full day off from law school a week. Or they had different professors (my R&W professor is famous for her intense workload) and different study needs. My best advice is to try different methods (an not just regarding when to study but also how) and find the way that works for you. I've tried dozens of study methods I've seen online or through friends and the ones that work, I keep. The ones that don't, don't.




However, once you find a method that works for you, and actually do the work, all that is left is to find pants and grab your computer. You are ready for class. Not as easy as undergrad but not all that bad either. Read, highlight (or brief if that works for you) and jot down some notes. And if it seems to take forever and that you must be the slowest reader in the world, it gets better and you WILL get faster at it.





1 comment:

  1. I like that all the information is presented via law school.

    ReplyDelete