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5 Law School Tips For Entering Students

If you’re thinking about going to law school and you’re looking for some tips on ways to improve your chances of doing well, consider the 5 tips below.  These are tips I’ve put together from my personal experiences in law school and the experiences of some of my law school peers.

Just because these tips have worked for us doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll work for you.  Nonetheless, these are still pretty straightforward tips that will never hurt!  Ultimately, you’ll decide what works best for you.  Until then, consider the following.

1) Read The Assignments!

I know, it sounds really obvious, but it can’t be stressed enough.  Read the assignments in their entirety!

You probably will not be surprised to learn that most law school reading assignments aren’t all that exciting.  In fact, the reading materials for some classes are just downright awful.  Nonetheless, you should read all of it.  You will be surprised by how many of your peers don’t read or only read certain parts of the assignments.  This gives the student who reads the entire assignment an automatic advantage.  Plus, it’ll help you when it comes time for the professor’s Socratic method.

2) Don’t Fall Behind On Assignments

Piggybacking off #1, do NOT fall behind on your reading assignments.  You’ll quickly find that it becomes nearly impossible to catch up after missing just one assignment.  Page ranges for each class’ readings are anywhere from 35–70 (sometimes more and sometimes less) pages.  Needless to say, the pages pile up fast.

Chances are pretty good that if you miss an assignment you’ll put off reading the skipped material until the very end of the semester, if you read it at all.  You should avoid this!  Also, if you skip an assignment, you’ll find it harder to follow along in class.  You’ll essentially be relying on your professor to learn complicated new material while he/she teaches it to the class.  Problem is, not all law school material is comprehendible on the first try (unless you’re extra smart), and not all professors are good teachers.

Best bet = don’t fall behind on your reading assignments!

3) Don’t Surf The Net (at least try not to!)

I can just hear some of my best friend’s saying it’s inevitable sometimes.  Honestly, I’m not immune to it either.  There are a myriad of reasons students surf the net during class.  Not all reasons revolve around the professor.  Sometimes you’ll be checking your e-mail, looking up sport scores, reading a news article, etc.  The important thing to remember here is that you will not be able to pay full attention to both.  Your class notes will suffer while you’re surfing the net.  I guarantee it.

If you must check your e-mail, check it quickly.  If you want a sports score, try waiting until the class is over or until your professor gives a class break.  If you’re looking for news articles to read, just hold off.  There’s usually nothing positive in the news anyway!

4) Make Your Own Outlines

You’ll hear the word “outlines” over and over again your first semester or two.  Many students (myself included) will not even know how to start their first outline.  Luckily, my school offered an Advanced Skills Program course that walked us through making outlines.  If your school offers a similar course, you should consider taking it.

At some point, you’ll probably come across someone else’s outline.  These are USUALLY good to use as cross-references, but do NOT entirely rely on someone else’s outline (regardless of whether the author is first in his/her class!).  No two courses are ever taught the same way.  Different professors teach differently and sometimes use different casebooks.  The same professor who taught the course last semester may decide to switch books or switch assignments in the next semester.  Also, caselaw changes over time.  There might have been some cases taught last semester that are no longer good law.  If you rely entirely on the old outline, you’ll either get confused or you’ll remember the wrong material.

Another point to keep in mind is that by creating your own outlines you’re forcing yourself to study the material.  Outlines take a very long time to complete.  The good news is that you will inevitably start remembering a lot of the material you’re putting into the outline.

In addition, you’ll also find that certain concepts are clarified once you start working on your outline.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve floated through a class or two not understanding the material and feeling like the only student who wasn’t following along.  Nearly every time, however, the material will become clear as day once I start putting it into my outline.  Essentially, it’s a way of forcing yourself to write the course’s information into your own words.  Such a practice will help you comprehend the material even better.

Try it out.

5) Don’t Cram!

Law school is different from any type of schooling you’ve done before.  I have friends with MBAs and PhDs who say their respective programs weren’t as intense.  It’s scary, I know.   But, no worries—it’s still doable.

Let me just say that some of my best friends in law school are “crammers” and they have good GPAs (I personally don’t understand how, but it works for them).  Thus, some people can still cram and do well.  It’s also worth noting that one of my crammer best friends gets incredibly stressed out prior to final exams.  On the other hand, non-crammers tend to be (at least it seems) much more at ease during finals.  There’s a trade-off.  You’ll learn where you fall after your first semester, but I still think your best bet will be not to cram.

Cramming in law school also tends to result in not being able to cover everything you’ve learned throughout the semester.  Instead, you’re focusing on the major concepts and major cases.  For the most part, that’s still good enough to pass a course.  But, professors will tell you that sometimes the secondary concepts and cases will prove the difference between one grade and the other.  Why not prepare in advance to increase the chances of earning the better grade?

Closing

These are just 5 law school tips that I’ve handpicked.  I’m sure there are a bunch of other tips floating around on the web (it wouldn’t hurt you to read those too).  As noted above, you’ll ultimately decide what works best for you on your own.  Either way, make sure you work hard and then a little bit harder after that and remain focused on your studies.  Law school isn’t easy.

Good luck!

– Daniel E. Bonilla

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