You’ve probably had a professor or two who railed against the use of supplements in law school, implying that they were a crutch for the lazy student or suggesting that they would fill your head with incorrect legal concepts. These professors often think that you should be able to glean all you need to know to succeed merely by reading your textbook and listening to lectures. Nonsense, I say. What is the first thing a lawyer does when she is researching an unfamiliar area of law or trying to acquaint herself with new concepts? She doesn’t randomly start searching through cases on Westlaw; she looks at an Amjur or an ALR annotation or asks a colleague for background information. In other words, she uses a supplement. Just as the use of supplements have a place in the practice of law, the use of supplements have a place in law school. But, to really benefit from a supplement, it’s key to use them in the right way.
1. Don’t Rely Exclusively On Supplements
They’re called supplements for a reason. Whether it’s a commercial outline, a hornbook, a practice problem set, or a really great attack plan you got from a 3L, it’s there to supplement, not replace, your other study tools. Supplements can help you scrape by if you haven’t done your work, but they will be most helpful if you’ve put in the initial effort to understand the material. You should use supplements to help improve on what you’ve already done by completing the read, attending class, and creating an outline, rather than using them as a whole-sale substitute for doing your work.
2. Get Recommendations
Not all supplements are created equal. There are some very good supplements available, but there are also some unreliable or unhelpful supplements out there. Your resources are limited in law school, so you don’t want to waste your time or money on something that won’t be beneficial. Ask students who’ve done well in your classes if they have any specific supplements they found useful. There’s often one or two books that match up well with course coverage and your professor’s style. If you’re lucky, you may actually have a professor who recommends a specific supplement for the course. If you can’t get any good recommendations, the best strategy is to use one of the name brand supplements that have been around for a long time and have a good reputation. Avoid random internet products or outline banks because you can’t verify their reliability.
3. Use The Right Supplement For Your Needs
To get the most out of a supplement, make sure you’re selecting the right one for your purpose. If you’re feeling completely lost in a class and need something to help you understand the basics, you should consider reading a mini-hornbook, nutshell, or other book that condenses and explains the material in plain English. If you’re struggling to outline or unclear as to how to organize the concepts, a commercial outline like Emmanuel’s, Gilbert’s, or Black Letter can help guide you. Commercial outlines are also a good resource if you need to double-check your rule statements (remember, you’re using these supplements to help you clarify and improve the work you’ve already done, not to replace your own outline). If you want to improve your issue spotting skills or test yourself throughout the semester, supplements with a lot of targeted practice problems like Examples and Explanations, Acing, or the Exam Pro Series are a good place to start. The key point is that you shouldn’t buy a supplement just for the sake of having a supplement. Instead, you should buy a supplement only after reflecting on what your needs are and what skills you want to improve.
4. Make The Most Of Practice Questions
One of the best ways to prepare for finals is to practice! You should be completing practice problems prior to your exam, including multiple choice, short answer, and long essays. Most supplements have at least some practice questions that you can use to self-test your knowledge and improve your legal writing. Throughout the semester, but more significantly in the last couple of weeks before finals, you should make the most of your supplements by completing as many practice problems as you can. While a lot of supplements have great practice problems, sometimes the explanations or answers they provide stray from traditional legal writing conventions or analyze the problem in a way that is slightly different from the approach that your professor will want to see. While the model answers will still be helpful in determining whether you’ve spotted all the issues and key facts, you’ll get the most out of these practice problems if you can get feedback from someone at your school. So consider sending your practice problems and answers to a teaching assistant for feedback or reviewing them with a study group, or if you’re really lucky, ask one of your most helpful professors to walk through how they would have answered the problem.
Supplements can be a big help in law school, especially when it comes time to prepare for finals. But to really excel in class, it’s essential to use your supplements responsibly. While you may be able to survive by relying primarily on supplements, they can never replace the knowledge and fluency you’ll gain by doing the work yourself. So consider supplements as merely one tool that you can use to help improve your comprehension and skills, and not as your principal study resource.
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