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What First Year Law Students Need to Know

What First Year Law Students Need to Know

Take the LSAT and Give it Great Weight!

Take the LSAT before you start law school, and don't even consider going to law school unless you can score at or above the 60th percentile. The LSAT measures logical reasoning and reading comprehension, the two most important skills needed for success in law school and in passing Bar Exams. The LSAT is an extremely reliable indicator of your ultimate chances of success.

The First Year is the Most Important

Succeeding in the first year of law school is critical. Failure to do well in the first year can doom your law school career. The three things you need to learn are:

  • The Rules of Law,
  • What to Say on Essay Exams, and
  • The Relationship of Law to Equity.

Time is of the Essence

Law school demands all the time you have and time is very precious. You must not waste your time in unproductive activities. Use "canned briefs" to save valuable time. Case law is often stressed in law school lectures, but hardly tested at all on exams. And use "commercial outlines" like Nailing the Bar's Simple Outlines to learn the law that is actually tested on exams.

Write Practice Essays to Learn Style and Timing

It is essential that you have the ability to write proper Essay Answers without running out of time.

In law school and on Bar exams "essay answers" use a stylized approach to the issues presented by a hypothetical scenario described in a "fact pattern". It requires a style unique to law school and is absolutely nothing like "essays" one might write for an English literature, political science or creative writing class.

You can only learn to write good essay answers in the proper style by seeing examples of what is expected of you and practicing to write the same style of answers repeatedly in a timed setting. That forces you to identify the issues of importance and ignore irrelevant facts. It forces you to learn to concisely state the Rules of Law. And it teaches you to do that without running out of time. Nailing the Bar's "How to Write Essays for..." series is specifically designed for this purpose.

The more practice essay questions you test yourself with, the more legal and equitable issues you will learn to spot, the better your essays will become, and the better you will do on exams.

Practice with the Professor's Old Exam Questions

Often old exam questions posed by the professor are available from the professor, the law school or the Student Bar Association. Sometimes they also have old answers by students that received high marks. Get those old exam questions and use them to practice writing essay answers for your midterm and final exams. If you can get past student answers study them to learn the style your professor likes. Every professor favors a particular approach.

Create Your Own Flash Cards to Learn the Law

Law students often buy and test themselves with "flash cards". But it is far better to make your own flash cards to really learn the Rules of Law.

Get 3X5 index cards and computer labels that will fit those cards at an office supply store. Then compile your own "questions" and "answers" for your flash cards using a word-processing application (e.g. Word for Windows).

For example, your question might be "What crimes require proof of INTENT TO KILL?" and your answer should be, "ATTEMPTED MURDER and VOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER" (but not murder!).

Print your "questions" and "answers" on the labels using the "label" printing feature of the application, and stick the labels on opposite sides of the index cards.

This is fun and simple, and the process of creating cards this way is extremely educational.

Tape Lectures

If you go to a "sit-down" law school, get a voice-activated tape recorder, sit in the front of the lecture hall, and tape the professor's lecture.

Professors get distracted and lose track of the time. Then when the students start to rustle their papers and close their books at the end of class the professor often blurts out the most important thing said in entire the lecture like "The midterm will cover Chapter 6." But few students hear him because they are making noise and heading for the door. You might not be able to hear it either but if you have it on tape, you can replay it to find out what he said. Then you won't study the wrong materials for your exam!

Create Your Own Course Outline

Take notes during lectures and transcribe them onto your computer after class. Then after several weeks make a copy of all those notes and convert it into an outline of the subject using the "outline view" of your word processing application. In Word for Windows that option is under the "View" menu.

In the "outline view" use "cut and paste" to move different portions of your notes around until you have a cohesive and logical structure showing the general rule of law in each area, the recognized exceptions to those general rules, and often there are "exceptions to those exceptions".

Here again, the process of creating this outline is extremely illuminating.

Distinguish Law from Equity.

In the first year of law school professors usually teach students very, very little about the distinction between LAW and EQUITY. But the distinction is extremely important for understanding case decisions concerning contracts and torts (there is no concept of "equity" in criminal law).

Nailing the Bar's "Simple Outlines" for Contracts and Torts have a complete, concise explanation of remedies and the difference between legal and equitable remedies. So get those and read the chapters on "Remedies" carefully. Better yet, get the Simple Remedies Outline for complete discussion of remedies.

Last updated December 8, 2012