You have a couple more precious summer months before starting your life as a future lawyer. You’re probably beginning to feel at least a little anxious about how everything will work once classes begin. Maybe you’ve heard law school horror stories or about a terrifying little thing called the “Socratic method.” In any case, you’re probably pretty serious about getting good grades and succeeding, which is great!
I can’t stress enough, though, that your performance in your first semester of law school will be due to many factors that are completely out of your control. I’m not saying this to scare you, but it’s the truth. Your grade in each class will likely depend on one final exam at the end of the semester. (one shot, that’s all you get—so don’t have a bad day!) The curve and competition can be unforgiving. Remember, everyone around you in class has probably excelled their entire lives too, and only a fraction of you can get the As. Plus, all of the opportunities you had to build up or pad your GPA in undergrad just aren’t available anymore: No quizzes, no midterms, no extra credit. And since all the grading is anonymous, you’re definitely not getting any bonus points for your shining personality.
So, how do combat these steep odds? Well, you’re just going to have to do everything you can to stack the deck in your favor in every area you can control. That way, you can start law school right from day one! Here’s how:
Learn how to read and brief a case.
Most of your “homework” in law school involves reading dense, often archaic, court decisions and extracting the legally significant gems. Reading and briefing a case effectively and quickly, though, is not just about being strategic reader or a smart person. It really is a learned skill. If you want to start law school on the right foot, get comfortable reading and briefing a case before classes even begin. Once the assignments start piling up, there isn’t much time to figure out how to do this. And, you’re professors won’t teach you how. Worse yet, it’s pretty hard to see the error of your ways if you do it wrong since, remember, there aren’t usually any midterms or benchmark assignments.
If you want hands-on practice with case briefing, examples, and someone to tell you whether you’re teasing out and synthesizing the right information, check out what we offer in our Start Law School Right course for incoming 1Ls. You can also peruse these blog posts about it: How to Brief a Case, and How to Avoid Common Mistakes.
Explore different supplements.
Supplements are books that you can read along with your textbooks (or “casebooks”) in law school. Supplements are a resource to go to if you need to figure out what a particular case stands for, why it was assigned to you, and how it fits into the larger picture of what you’re responsible for learning during the semester. Not all supplements are created equal, though. And, some work well for some people and not at all for others. I would recommend going to a law bookstore at your school and picking a random first-year legal topic. For example, you could choose consideration in Contracts, trespass to chattels in Torts or subject matter jurisdiction in Civil Procedure. Browse through the index of several supplements and then read the first part of the chapter on your chosen topic in each one. See if any one book makes more sense to you than the others. You don’t have to buy supplements during the summer, but at least get a feel for what they are and which ones are easier to understand for you. Since you probably don’t know anything about any of these random topics yet, if you understand the basics of what the supplement says, that’s a good gauge for you to see if that type of book might be helpful to you. Once you get your syllabus in each class, you can look to see if there are particular supplements keyed to your textbook (this means they’re written specifically for users of your textbook so they cover the same exact material and cases).
One of the things we discuss in our Start Law School Right course is what different kinds of supplements are out there, our favorites, how to use them, and how to know when you need to seek out the kind of extra explanations provided by this resource. You can also review these blog posts: What To Do with Supplements, and How to Save Money on Supplements.
Understand what a fantastic exam answer looks like.
Most 1Ls who go into their first round of final exams have no idea what a good law school exam answer looks like. Many of them have never written a practice law school exam. In order to do well on your finals, it’s crucial that you understand what is expected of you. Law school exam writing is different than any kind of writing you’ve ever done in your academic career. Often, it’s the very best writers who find this new style difficult to adjust to. You’re also being graded in a really specific way. The tricky thing is, none of your law school classes will actually tell you how to write a final exams. Some professors won’t even give you samples to practice on. More and more, professors will even refuse to discuss exams until the end of the semester. This can make it incredibly challenging to figure out if you’re where you need to be with the material you’re learning each day. Once you get your syllabi, you can ask the library if there are any exams for your professor on file. You won’t be ready to practice exams until a few weeks into the semester, but you can at least start stockpiling materials.
A lot of what we work on with our students involves learning to write good exam answers. In our Start Law School Right course, you will learn what information goes into a passing answer, the difference between a passing answer and a great answer, and how to develop a skill set you can practice throughout your first semester to make sure you’re not taken by surprise when finals roll around. If you want practice writing a hypothetical law school exam and feedback from experienced law school tutors who have been in your shoes, check out our Start Law School Right course here, or take a look at these blog posts: What Makes an Exam Answer Good, The Most Important Word on Your Law School Exam, The Best List of Exam Tips.
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And check out these helpful posts:
- Pre-1L Summer Checklist
- How to Get The Most out of Law School with Extracurricular Activities
- All The Supplies You Need to Start Law School Right
- Do You Have the Right Mindset for the Stress of Law School?
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