Congratulations on your admission to law school! Now that you are a first-year law student, many companies will be rushing to sell you all types of aids to make your first year of law school easier. Some of these aids are truly vital and some are unnecessary. You can save time and money by purchasing only what you need.
Must Haves For First Year Law Students
Copies of Prior Exams Written By Your Professors for You To Practice On
Usually the law library at your law school will have a repository of prior exams written by various law professors. Make yourself copies of prior exams written by your professors at the beginning of the semester, when they are most easily available. Sometimes professors will distribute copies of old exams or practice exams they have written in class.
An important thing to determine at the beginning of the semester is what kinds of questions your professor gives on exams: essay questions, short answer questions or multiple choice. If your professor gives multiple choice questions, you may want to use a commercial outline that gives you a lot of multiple choice questions to review.
A Commercial Outline
Sometimes your choice is easy. Some professors will recommend a particular commercial outline, or even assign readings from a particular commercial outline as preparation for class. Other professors will advise you not to purchase a commercial outline because it will all come together through attending class and doing the readings. This type of advice, while sincere, is misguided for two reasons. First, if you do not purchase a commercial outline and other students do, they will have a great advantage over you by having additional explanations of an area of law and how it is structured that you will not have. Do you really want to be at a disadvantage when competing for grades (and jobs) with your fellow law students? Second, a commercial outline can fill in gaps in your understanding of a particular area of law. Sometimes a law professor will be unable to cover all the materials that the professor intended to cover in class. If that material was in the reading, you will still be responsible for understanding it and a commercial outline can really help.
How do you choose a commercial outline when your professor does not recommend one or tells you not to use one? Look for an outline that is keyed to your casebook. Many commercial outlines will state they are keyed to a particular casebook. If you cannot find an outline keyed to your casebook, most law school law libraries will have at least some commercial outlines on reserve. Take a look at these outlines and pick the one that is easiest for you to use and tracks what your professor is teaching in class. Only one commercial outline per class is necessary.
Your Personal Book Brief Of Cases Assigned For Today’s Class
You need to do your best to determine the parties of the case, the procedure by which the case got to the current court, what the parties are fighting about, the rule of law that the court applied, and the decision that the court reached. Use a highlighter in your case book to identify these items, rather than writing out a whole separate brief.
A Pen and Paper For Taking Notes
I recommend not taking notes on a computer for two reasons. First, it is too easy to get distracted by emails and browsing the web when you should be paying attention in class. Second, it is important to take few but highly relevant and useful notes when in class. Writing out notes manually limits the amount of notes you can take.
What You Don’t Need To Have As A First Year Law Student
Case Summaries Or Case Briefs
You need to develop the ability to brief a case on your own, not only for law school but for when you are a practicing lawyer. In addition, if you are taking the bar in a jurisdiction that requires a performance exam, you may need to brief cases as part of a bar exam performance question.
A Legal Dictionary
Legal dictionaries make great headrests if you are lying down at the beach or in a park. Otherwise, you can just google a technical legal term that you do not understand. For example, the first case I ever read in law school was about “decedent.” What the heck is a decedent? Google it and find out. Please note that googling is only intended for technical legal words, and not for an entire rule of law. If you need to find out about burglary, your best sources are your class notes, the readings your professor has assigned, and a commercial outline.
A Hornbook Or Treatise
A hornbook or treatise is an extremely detailed explanation of the law. These resources contain much more information than you need. A good commercial outline will suffice.
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