Every law student is a successful college student, but that prior academic success doesn’t necessarily translate into future academic success. Study strategies developed in college don’t automatically lead to good results in law school because legal education is a different animal, with unique teaching techniques, assessment methods, and expectations. Part 1 of this series discussed some of these differences so that you will know what to expect when you start law school.
But if law school is so different from college, how exactly are you supposed to study? Well, you don’t have to completely abandon all of your undergrad study strategies. Instead, you need to adapt your current methods to law school’s demands while also developing a few new skills along the way. If you relied on any of the following strategies during college, consider incorporating these adjustments to maximize their effectiveness during law school:
Highlighting text, although one of the most popular study strategies, is also one of the least effective. Highlighting is a passive activity that can be accomplished without requiring any real comprehension or retention of the material, which means that relying solely on highlighting while reading can lead to disaster in law school. If you choose to highlight passages in your casebook, make sure you’re also taking notes on the case and summarizing the key points in your own words, whether it’s via a book brief, case brief, or some other format. Taking notes and paraphrasing will force you to grapple with the material until you understand it, rather than giving you the illusion of comprehension simply because you have highlighted a few passages.
2. Taking Lectures Notes
Your college notetaking system will need to evolve in order to accommodate law school’s unique classroom environment. Rather than mindlessly transcribing a lecture that spoon-feeds you the key points, you’ll need to be efficient and strategic in your notetaking in order to deal with the Socratic dialogue you’ll experience in a law school classroom. First, you must show up prepared and remain attentive throughout class to avoid missing crucial information. Second, you’ll need to practice parsing the relevant discussion from the irrelevant discussion. Focus on jotting down key facts from cases (as opposed to the entire background) as well as legal rules and any policies that underpin the rules (these will be a crucial part of your outline). At the same time, pay attention to the discussion so that you can see how your professor develops a student’s argument or analysis on a legal issue.
By the time you’re done with college, you should have plenty of weapons in your arsenal to help you memorize information. Whether you prefer to use flashcards, recite material out loud, create pneumonic devices, or something else, you can continue to use these memorization techniques in law school. Of course, unlike in undergrad, merely memorizing and rehashing information will not be sufficient; you’ll need to go beyond memorization so that you can also independently spot when a rule is at issue and then apply the rule to a new scenario. Your undergrad memorization techniques will still have a place in exam preparation, but keep in mind that they are only one step in the preparation process.
If there’s one activity you’re guaranteed to do a lot of in law school, it’s reading. Easy, right? After all, you know how to read! Yes, but the reading in law school is going to be much longer, more complex, and demand a greater amount of focus than the typical college reading assignment. To adapt your reading strategies to law school, avoid simply opening your case book and diving in. Instead, do some pre-reading that will give the assignment context – identify where the case falls in the table of contents or syllabus and skim a trustworthy supplement that will give you some crucial background knowledge. Then, take your time and don’t let yourself move on from a paragraph until you’re sure you understood it. Lastly, make a concerted effort to identify the main points from the reading rather than hoping your professor will make things clear in lecture.
Law school will require you to make use of your preexisting writing skills – like proper grammar, syntax, and organization – but it will also require you to learn new writing formats and conventions. Don’t underestimate the importance of your legal writing class and make sure you give yourself plenty of opportunities to practice your legal writing and get feedback.
Many college study strategies can be effective in law school, so long as you’re able to adapt them to this new learning environment. In addition to modifying preexisting study strategies, successful law students also implement new strategies into their study routine. Check out part 3 of this series to learn what new skills you will need to develop in law school.
For more helpful advice, check out these posts:
- Start Law School Right!
- Podcast Episode 89: The Leap from Undergrad to Law School
- Ahead of the Curve: What Should You be Doing to Prepare for Class as a 1L and How Long Should it Take?
- Ahead of the Curve: Time Management in Law School
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.