How to Succeed in Law School
Law School is not like undergrad, or really any other educational experience. Therefore, it is important to change your mindset and adopt new strategies in order to be successful as a law student. Here are some tips that will help during our journey through Law School:
Top Tips for Law School Success
Law School Tip 1: Schedule in enough time to complete assignments
Especially in the beginning of your first semester of law school, reading and understanding the assigned cases will take longer than you expect. So, plan for it. Give yourself double the prep time you think it may take.
Law School Tip 2: Actively engage in class discussion
Students learn best when they are actively engaged. This is especially important to keep in mind and prioritize in your first year (1L) of law school, as the sooner you can familiarize yourself with this new style of collaborative learning, the better.
Law School Tip 3: Get Involved outside of the classroom
It is easy to get distracted by all the bright, shiny clubs and organizations in the first few weeks of law school. There’s no reason not to attend the events and meetings that really pique your interest. However, do not take on more than you can handle, especially in the beginning. Become involved, but do not overly commit yourself until you know what your new normal looks like as a law student. Your coursework should remain your focus.
Law School Tip 4: Experiement with different ways of studying
Law school is a new experience, and studying is going to be different than how you approached it as an undergrad. Try out new techniques, and determine what works best for you. The first few weeks are a good time to go back and forth between methods to see what really works for you.
Law School Tip 5: Take studying seriously, but maintain balance
Your studies are important, there is no doubt about it. You need to make sure you stay on top of your coursework throughout the semester, and be serious about it. But there is such a thing as overkill. When you get to the point where things are not sinking in, take a break. Planned breaks will help your studying, not hinder it.
Law School Tip 6: Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice exam questions throughout the semester so that you can get a feel for how you are going to answer the question during the real exam. Being able to do so will help you learn the rules and be able to apply them more quickly on the real test – which you will find out is definitely useful.
Law School Tip 7: Do NOT be afraid to ask professors for help
Professors are there to help you. They are there to educate you, your TA’s are there to aid your classroom learning, and advisers are there to help guide you in the right direction during law school and beyond. Ask for help when you need it!
Law School Tip 8: Remember that your grades do not define you
You have already accomplished so much up to this point. You have succeeded in your elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education. Some of you have also been successful with careers in the real world. Your grades do not reflect what kind of person you are or how successful you may be once you graduate.
Law School Tip 9: Remember the real world
Now that you have started law school, it may seem like everything else in your life halts. This does not need to be the case. Remember to take a breather to connect with your friends and family and to do the things that bring you joy. This will help provide balance.
Skills Needed in Law School
The daily life of a law student involves two things that you may not be familiar with: case briefing and outlining. These two skills are necessary in order to be successful because of the Socratic Method.
The Socratic Method of teaching involves almost no lecturing and lots of in-class discussion. Your professor will ask you progressively more challenging questions, asking you to recall and manipulate a case fact pattern and answer a bunch of “what-ifs”. This is likely very different from your undergrad classroom discussions. Therefore, your preparation should also be different.
Case Briefing in Law School
The best way to prepare for your law school class is to become adept at case briefing. Case briefing is an essential step in learning how to “think like a lawyer” and in being prepared for a Socratic dialogue. The goal of case briefing is to summarize the case so you have a quick reference if called on in class. Your case briefs are also a necessary component for the outline creation process. The basic components of a case brief are Facts, Issue, Procedure, Holding and Rule. Note: your professor may wish for you to add additional sections to your briefs.
Components of a Case Brief
- Facts. The most straight-forward section in any brief – note the parties, and how they ended up in court.
- Issue. What does the court need to decide? Keywords for finding this are “whether” and “if.” Important note: in a torts case, a party is liable (never guilty).
- Procedure. What has been the progression of this case through the courts? Is it at trial or appellate level? Note, at trial level, the person who files is Plaintiff and the other party is the Defendant. If it’s an appellate case, the person who filed the appeal is the Appellant, and the other party (who probably won at trial) is the Appellee.
- Holding. What did the Court decide and how did they get there?
- Rule. What is the take away from the case? It should be general enough that it can be applied to other cases as well – and several assigned cases may be slightly different so the rules become nuanced – to be applied when certain facts are present.
Outlining in Law School
Outlining is a way for you to synthesize the material you have read and discussed in class so that you can fully understand the law and prepare for your final exam. Your finished outline should condense all the materials (syllabus, class notes, case briefs, notes from outside reading, statutes, problems) into an organized study aid. If you do it properly, your outline will be your primary, if not only, study aid for when you prepare for your final exams. It is a good idea to start the creation of your outline with your syllabus and your course book table of contents. This will allow you to create a skeleton outline of the topics/subtopics/cases. Then, to flesh out your outline, add a condensed version of each case brief into your outline. (See, your case briefs come in handy even after class!) It is a great idea to add your class notes and additional content that you think may help you think and understand the content.
Outlining is additional work you will need to do on top of your class load and other assignments. Remember: the goal of outlining is to internalize/learn the law, not to create the outline itself. Creating the outline is an essential step, but the outline itself is merely evidence of the process of learning the law. If you find yourself focused on the length of the outline, color coding, font and so forth, you are focusing on the product, the outline itself, rather than the process of internalizing the law.
Continue to review and condense your outline through the semester. Your outline will become a list of what you don’t know and “triggers” to help you recall the facts and relevant law. Starting early will help you turn a mountain of work into a manageable mole hill. Be sure you are working on your outlines each week. Don’t put it off. Add it to your calendar each week to ensure you stay on track.
How to Succeed on Law School Final Exams
Law School Final Exam Tip 1: Plan your studies in advance
You will likely have 3-4 final exams. By planning your study time in advance, you will have enough time to meet all of the demands of law school and have time to enjoy some outside activities. This is also good advice for being a successful attorney.
Law School Final Exam Tip 2: Take advantage of your professors.
Most professors put their previous exams on file in the library. Check them out. Grab a study group and work through a few. Get a feel for what is asked, how it is asked, and the timing of the exam. If your professor distributes a practice question and says that she will review your answer if you submit it by a certain time, then do it. Get a feel for what is important to your professor. You’ll gain a distinct advantage by knowing what is important to your professor in advance of their exam.
Law School Final Exam Tip 3: Get help if you need it
It is not uncommon for students to be confused about the substantive law covered in their classes, how to prepare for class, how to study for exams, how to manage their time or how to take law school exams. Indeed, it is the rare student who does not have questions about these subjects from time to time, particularly during the first year of law school. Remember that there are a number of resources available to you, from the professor who holds weekly office hours, to academic support, and your upper level law school friends. Use them!
With a little planning, a little elbow grease, and a little trial and error, you will be successful. Success in law school is not tied to any one thing, but following these principles will get you quickly acclimated to the process, and from there you can thrive. Enjoy the ride.