So, you got through the first semester of law school – Congratulations! What, you don’t feel like celebrating? Oh, your grades are not what you’re used to – no A’s, and more C’s than B’s? In fact, are you starting to wonder if law school was a good choice? Well, that is an important question. However, before you throw in the towel, consider hitting the “reset” button. If the dream of being a lawyer is really that important to you, then you have to consider the possibility that you may not have done everything necessary to succeed.
By now you realize law school is a completely different experience than college. Every professor expects you to complete the assigned reading before class, and then to engage in challenging discussions based on that reading. Not to mention the quantity of the reading, briefing, outlining, issue-spotting old exams, etc. can be overwhelming. The question you have to ask yourself is, “Did I do enough, or did I do what I always did to get by in college?” So, how do you answer that question? Hit the “reset” button and consider the following:
1. Did you make enough time in your life for the demands of law school?
The best way to answer this question is to pull out a calendar program and fill it in with how you use your week. How many hours do you devote to preparing for class? How many hours are you actually in class? Are you working? How much time did you devote to socializing, going to church, playing with your kids, etc. A calendar shows you how you actually use your time.
2. Did you brief every case?
Was it a full brief, or a book brief? Finally, did you rely on commercial briefs for class? Many law students discount the importance of briefing, so they go straight to the use of commercial briefs. But here’s the problem; the process you go through to create the brief actually helps you learn the material. Relying on a brief created by someone who is not even in your class may send you down a different path than that laid out by your professor. Professors want you to see the cases the way they see them. Plus, as a lawyer, you will be briefing cases all the time – you might as well master that skill now.
3. When did you start outlining?
Did you primarily rely on commercial outlines, or even outlines prepared by students who had taken this professor before? Just like briefing, outlining, when done from scratch, helps you learn the material. Relying on an outline which consists of someone else’s thought process is dangerous, even if based on the same class from the same professor. There is an often-repeated theory that an outline prepared by a student from his or her own lecture notes and briefs has more value than any other outline, even if the student eventually loses that outline before the exam (of course, that should never happen with a computer backup to the cloud). Again, it is the thinking process you engage in when creating the outline that is of value. It is also the source for the attack outline you will prepare before finals.
4. Did you issue-spot old exams created by your professor?
If those are not available, did you issue-spot other old exams or fact patterns? While you may or may not choose to be in a study group for any other reason, this is one use of a study group that should be considered crucial. You will learn a lot from hearing how others see issues in sets of facts. You will be surprised how often you will hear a classmate’s voice in your head while reading a fact pattern during an exam. It will also help you fine tune your approach to organizing a law school essay.
5. Did you take some practice exams under timed circumstances?
It is important to feel the pressure of the time clock before you experience it in a final. Think about how you used your time to review the fact pattern, spot the issues, and plot out how to answer the call of the question. Practice actually makes you a little more perfect in this scenario.
6. Did you meet with your professor to go over your exam answer?
You want to know what the professor says you did well, and what the professor found deficient. While a general commitment to the use of IRAC is important, it is just as important to understand what the person grading the exam considers important.
The earlier you do this the better. You can make some great improvements in your performance in law school during this new semester. You just have to hit the “reset” button!
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