I’ve probably heard every law student excuse there is. What continues to amaze me, though, is how law students can be so quick to do the very things that hurt them the most without even realizing they’re doing them. Even when they know from experience that they’re headed down the wrong road, law students can be absolute masters at convincing themselves they’ve got a handle on the situation. It sounds delusional, but it’s true, and so very common. In fact, I used to do some of these same things when I was in law school.
So, in the spirit of knocking out the excuses once and for all and getting a harsh reality check, here are some of the most common things I’ve heard and why they’re nonsense. If you’re convincing yourself of any of these things, you’re probably wrong, so get it together while you still have time.
I Learn Better by Reading, So I Will Just Read Instead of Doing Hypos.
I don’t care whether you’re reading through your class notes, reading the case book, and reading multiple supplements every single day—just reading is not enough. Unless you truly do have some kind of eidetic memory (which most people don’t), it’s going to take a lot more than that.
Eidetic memories in law school are like gluten allergies in California—a lot people think they have one, and they like to tell everyone about it, but the vast majority of people probably don’t (and might not even know what they’re saying). So, why does all this matter? Will just reading your notes (or eating fewer starchy snack foods) likely help you? Sure. Is it the magical cure you were hoping for? Probably not. Do yourself a favor, stop thinking you’re a special situation (unless of course, you really are getting sick—then obviously go talk to your doctor). Long story short, ladies and gentlemen, hypos make every legal writer better. I’ve never seen a student who didn’t benefit from doing hypos. Just get over it and do them. You won’t be sorry.
I Can’t Write Useful Hypos Because I Don’t Know the Law Well Enough Yet.
Hypos are no fun. I get it. I hated writing hypos in law school. In fact, I remember in vivid detail how terrible my very first hypo was. It was on Negligence and I really missed the mark. I had no idea what I was doing, and even though I knew the basic elements, I applied them so badly, it’s almost funny to look back at. I remember getting my hypo back with comments in purple pen and thinking to myself that my prof. was just being nitpicky—“I probably have a better handle on things than she thinks,” I told myself. “I’m a good writer, how could I be this bad at hypos? It’s just writing, after all?”
Guess what, though. Hypo writing is totally and utterly different. You can think you know this stuff all you want, but until you can write the kind of hypo your prof. thinks is good enough, it doesn’t matter if you think you’re right. You’re not. Her rules are the rules to live by. So, long story short, I did a ton of Torts hypos, and you know what? I got an A in the class. But believe me, I definitely didn’t start out good at Torts. It took a lot of crashing and burning on hypos to get there.
If you’re waiting to do hypos until you know the law, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. I’ve seen this so many times, and I get it. It’s counterintuitive to jump in and do something you feel absolutely terrible at in an attempt to get better. Plus, it’s supremely uncomfortable—especially for people who are used to getting things right the first time (i.e. most law students).
It’s sort of like surfing, though. You have to fall down—a lot—before you can really become any good at it. Also like surfing, you can’t just stand on the sand watching other people and think this is going to help you in any way. You can only glean so much technique by observation. What you really need to do is just dive in and try it for yourself—even if you fall flat on your face—a lot. Remember learning how to ride a two-wheeler? Yep, that’s the only way to get better.
Sure I Do Unproductive Stuff, But Don’t Worry About Me, I’m Different.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this one. A lot of law students seem to think they are special and different and will somehow triumph despite throwing out conventional wisdom. How does this idea typically manifest? Law students will say things like: Sure, I keep my cell phone on my desk while reading, but don’t worry about me, I’m really good at multi-tasking (no you’re not). Here’s another one: Sure, I leave everything until the last minute, but don’t worry about me, I actually do better work under pressure (no you don’t). Finally: Sure, I don’t take notes in class, but don’t worry about me, I learn better by listening (yeah, okay, let’s see how that works out for you when it comes time to outline).
These are real examples, and they all backfire every single time. Yes, you know yourself better than anyone else, certainly better than I do. But, you don’t know law school yet. You’ve never done anything quite like this before. The rules are different now. Can you possibly skate by and pass your classes while playing on your phone, procrastinating and taking terrible class notes? Sure, maybe. Why not. But you know what? It will be a lot harder! Why make your life harder? Your mom was right, you are a special, lovely snowflake, and there’s no one like you in the whole world. But, when it comes to doing well in law school, the overwhelming consensus is that you’re just like everyone else. You need to work really hard if you want good results.
I Don’t Need to Make My Own Outline, I Have a Really Good One from a Friend.
You know who your friend’s outline works really well for? Your friend. Outlines aren’t just about the final product, they’re about the process it takes to make them. The process of boiling down and condensing the material from class and the readings and turning it into short, concise bullet points—that’s what helps you learn.
Sure, you could sit there staring at your friend’s outline and memorize those same exact bullet points, but you won’t know them the way he does because you didn’t do the work he took to get there. Is it possible to do a great job in a class that you never made an outline for? Of course. It’s a lot harder, though. If you want to do well, do the difficult work yourself.
My Prof. is Really Unhelpful and Mean, So Office Hours Are Pointless.
This may come as a surprise, but profs. aren’t always themselves in class. I had three different professors in law school who were perfectly terrifying in class. They were the kind of guys you try not to make eye contact with because you’re just dreading getting called on and put on the spot. In law school, I saw two students (a guy and a girl) leave lecture half way through in tears. Is being a jerk pedagogically helpful? Probably not, but it does happen.
Guess what, though, all three of these profs. were awesome in office hours. They went above and beyond to explain things. They were so much nicer too. No one left crying. If you haven’t been to office hours because you think your prof. is a patronizing jerk, just try it. You might be pleasantly surprised, and you might learn something.
This is also good practice in life because guess what, you could very likely get a mean, scary (patronizing jerk) boss some day, and if you have a hard time talking to people you don’t like or if you feel uncomfortable around people who aren’t actively trying to put you at ease, it’s a good idea to just get over that now. If you have a hard time functioning with anything but warm, fuzzy human interactions that leave you feeling good about humanity and the world, you’re probably headed for the wrong profession.
I Am So Busy Reading for Class, I Don’t Have Time to Do Anything Else.
I wish I could tell you the number of students I’ve heard this one from! But guess what, that doesn’t make this correct. This is absolutely the wrong approach to take. I understand, there is so much to do when you’re in law school! Sometimes it can feel like law schools have conspired to burden students with so much busy work that they never have a chance to focus on their exams until it’s too late.
Back to another ocean analogy: If you’re keeping up with the class work and required assignments, you’re just treading water. You know who doesn’t become a world-class swimmer? People who can only tread water. You need to get moving and learn how to swim. I don’t care if you think you don’t have time, believe me, you do. Your life right now is likely the slowest and most pleasant it will be for a long time. When you’re studying for the bar, and when you’re practicing law, you likely won’t have the free time and flexibility you have now. I know, it’s a scary thought, but it’s true.
So, the time needs to come from somewhere. See if you can cut down the hours you’re spending reading—maybe start by taking fewer reading notes or paying more attention to the big picture rules instead of all the minutiae. What are you doing every day that you really don’t need to do? Can you spend just two hours this weekend writing hypos instead of brunch, sleeping in, or running an errand you could do later? Think of it this way: Keeping up with class work is a great way to get straight Cs, or worse. If you want Bs or As, there’s a lot more work to do.
— – —
Want more law school tips? Sign up for our free mailing list today.
Check out these other helpful posts:
- The People You Will Meet in Law School
- How to Get The Most out of Law School with Extracurricular Activities
- All The Supplies You Need to Start Law School Right
- How to Start Law School Right
Photo Credit: Yoki / Shutterstock
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.