Preparing for class means something totally different in law school than it did in your previous academic life. Reading takes forever (it seems) and even if you do all the reading, you may not understand it or be able to answer the professor’s questions in class. How frustrating is that!
When I talk to law students about how much time they spend reading for class, especially 1Ls, the answer typically is all of their time. They believe that time put in reading for class will lead to stellar grades come exam time. Know what the problem is—you are kind of wrong. Preparing for class helps you take part in class where you learn material (and what your professor thinks is important). It is a critical part of learning the law, but it does not mean that you will be prepared for final exams—that involves an entirely different exercise, which includes outlining, studying, and practicing.
Does this mean that you shouldn’t read and prepare for class? No! Preparing for class is an important part of the law school experience. You just want to make sure that you are preparing correctly and that you are allowing yourself additional time for activities such as thinking about and studying the material.
What are the top five mistakes students make when preparing for class?
There are many common issues I see with 1Ls in regard to preparing for class.
1. Students spend too much time reading.
I think a good rule of thumb is one to two hours of reading for each hour of class you attend in a week. Sure, that may sound like a lot, but it is a doable amount. Most students have 13 to 15 hours of class a week. That is somewhere between 13 and 30 hours of reading. You actually do have time to do all that work in a week, believe it or not. But some students spend way too much time reading everything once (or even twice). That is likely too much time spent reading, as you need that time for doing other work and studying. If you are spending more time than this on reading, it is likely you are reading stuff you don’t need to (see #5).
2. Students Google cases before reading them.
Some students regularly Google cases before reading them in order to make the reading go faster. I know this is tempting, but you are cheating yourself out of the opportunity to struggle with the material. And struggling with the material is how you learn and get better at it. Know a nasty secret? When you start practicing law, the cases you will read will not likely have canned briefs online. You are going to need to figure them out for yourself. So why not start doing that now! After struggling with a case, if you still can’t figure it out, you may want a little help. But start out by trying to understand the material. Who knows, you might learn something.
3. Students write long briefs that are basically just huge chunks of text copied directly from the case.
Briefing is really just note-taking so you can recall what you read in order to be prepared if you get called on in class. Should your brief for a given case be five pages long? Nope! Should it copy out huge paragraphs of the case? No! Because you won’t understand it. A brief is just that—something that is brief. It consists of your notes on the case. Those notes should be in your own words so you can think through and understand the material. A good rule of thumb is that a brief should be no longer than a page.
4. Students brief while they are reading, instead of at the end of a case (this note is for those doing written briefs, specifically).
Instead of briefing while you are reading, what if you briefed as soon as you were done with a case. Wouldn’t that make it much easier to decide what you need to remember in the case? Briefing while reading is like deciding you know the most important chapter in a book before you get to the end and see how everything turns out. So, sit and read and then go back and brief. This will force you to remember what the case is about and help you decide what is important. Again, you might actually learn something and remember the case better when it comes time for class.
5. Students think supplements must be read before class as some additional required reading.
Supplements are great. We love supplements and they were a huge help to us while we were in law school. But supplements are supplemental and most students find them helpful when reviewing topics after class or when working on outlines. If you try to read supplements before class, you may be spending time reading material that will contradict what your professor says or may be off point about what your professor thinks is important. So save the supplements until you need them. You will enjoy the extra free time by not reading them now.
Want more tips on how to brief? Here you go (even with some examples of our written and book briefs).
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Here are some other helpful posts:
- Save Yourself a Few Books – Buying Law School Supplements
- A Common Law School Mistake: Spending Time Studying Material You Already Know
- How to Turn Your Class Notes Into an Outline
- 5 Things to Include in Your Law School Class Notes
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