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In law school, time is precious. If you have read and briefed before class, that is a great achievement. But if you can schedule a little time to consciously prepare your assigned cases for class, a quick review of the cases to refresh your memory can go a long way. Here is an approach for effectively following-up on all of your reading and briefing efforts that will have you as prepared as possible for class.
1. Schedule Your Class Prep
Try to schedule a time dedicated to class prep and make it a routine. The quicker you can establish a good routine, the more likely you are to consistently make it to class prepared and confident. If your routine puts you in the library every Tuesday for 30 minutes before torts, after your morning contracts class, just consider that time obligated and try not to double book it. (I recommend you read Ariel Salazar’s post Time Management When Starting Law School. Scheduling is great but don’t let the scheduling itself be a distraction.)
Keep in mind that prioritization at this point is key. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good in late-stage review. If you have fifteen good minutes to prepare, try to work quickly enough to review your main cases first, then move to note cases.
2. Skim Your Case And Streamline Your Brief
Don’t start re-reading. Just let your eyes pass over the case with your highlighting and notes and let it jog your memory. If you read and briefed diligently, trust in your earlier reading and briefing process.
If you made an independent written brief, read through it. Does it make sense? Think about the case in the context of all of your assigned reading. Tighten up your case brief if necessary so it can serve as a helpful class aid. Remember briefs are usually more effective if they are concise and provide just the key information. If you are depending on your brief to be a reference if you are called on – paragraphs of information will not help.
If your career center has discussed the concept of an elevator pitch, this is a good chance to practice. Try to reduce each case to a 30-second summary – facts, law, holding. If your professor starts class by saying, “Mr./Ms. [Your Name] give us the facts of Jones v. Smith,” it doesn’t have to tell the whole story, but you will need to be able to start talking.
3. Anticipate Based On Past Class Experience
Learning the material is the primary goal, but feeling prepared for your upcoming class is a close second. While your approach to reading should take a similar form regardless of the course, the step of preparing for class should be based on your past class experience. It doesn’t take much more than a week of class to be able to anticipate your professor’s style and expectations. Tailor your final class prep to what will help you succeed. If your professor loves case facts or if class discussion always leads to hypos based on note cases, target those areas in your class prep.
4. Embrace The Unknown
Keep your class preparation in perspective. All of the case reading, briefing, and preparing is all a means to an end. As Law School Toolbox co-founder Allison Monahan points out —
[L]aw school isn’t about memorizing cases – it’s about knowing the law and being able to apply that law to a new fact pattern on an exam. Cases are valuable only to the extent they tell you what the law is. … The problem with rereading cases is that you feel like you’re working hard, but you’re not really actively engaging with the material (which is the really hard part of law school). (Read more about perspective in Alison’s post How Many Times Should You Read a Case in Law School?)
Most Professors do not give participation grades and, if they do, they are not a large percentage of your overall grade. You do want to go to class prepared, learn through active participation, and all those good things, but to an extent, you have to embrace the unknown. Especially with the Socratic method-type professors, no matter how much you prepare, you will feel unprepared. (For a great primer on the Socratic Method, listen to Surviving the Socratic Method in Law School Classes.) The professor may huff and puff when a hypo stumps the class or no one reads a particular note case, but that is all part of the law school experience. Fight the temptation to stress too much about class preparation and performance. It can take some time to strike the right balance, but know when to be done preparing for class. Read, brief, prepare, and then close the book.
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