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The Worst Advice for Law School and How to Avoid It

October 9, 2017

If you're getting ready for law school check this out: we put together a free e-book called the “Ultimate Pre-Law Checklist.” Just click the link below to download it. It's some of our best tips and strategies for getting ahead before you start law school, and it will put you miles ahead of your classmates, just click here.   

Advice about what you should do in law school are like assholes. Everybody has one, and most of them stink.

 

I was chatting with some of my fellow lawyers about some of the worst advice that they had gotten before they went to law school. And I realized that there is a lot of bad advice out there. So I want to make sure that you don't suffer from that same advice the way that some of my friends did. I want to talk about some of the worst advice that's out there, and why you should ignore it.

 

In no particular order, the first thing you should not listen to is the advice that says, you don't need to go to class or pay attention once you get there. This is terrible advice. Every professor is different. They're going to have their own slant on the law. They may actually teach you different black letter law than is the law in most states. They may have a different philosophical bent than other people do. They may have a pet issue that they go into a huge amount of depth, whereas other professors just skip over it or simply cover it from a cursory point of view.

 You want to understand what idiosyncrasies our professor has, and the only way you can do that is to go to class. You shouldn't go to class expecting that you're going to understand all the substantive law. In fact, most of the time, you're going to learn the substantive law on your own, when you go back and you compile and synthesize the information from your class notes with your commercial outlines into your personal outline. That's where you really understand and learn the law. But make no mistake, it is vital that you go to class,

because as I said, your professor is going to have their own individual spin on the law. And if you don't go to class, you're going to miss out on what that is.

 

The second example of really horrible, terrible advice is that you should brief every case you read. I don't know why, but when students get to law school, often, their own law school faculty will tell them that they need to case brief every single case. A case brief is almost like a book report. You're summarizing every individual portion of the case that you read. This is a huge waste of time.

Most of what you learn from a case will not go into the final exam. Really, the only things that you can use from a case include the fax of that particular case, and perhaps the black letter law that is gleaned from that particular case. Most of the information in the case, the procedural posture, the dissenting opinion, the dicta, all of that is irrelevant for the purposes of your final exam. So all of that time you put into case briefing is a total waste of time. Don't fall into the trap of case briefing every case that you read, by and large, it's a huge waste of time. Don't feel like you need to do that for every case, or perhaps, even any of your cases.

 

The third example of some really terrible advice is that you should not use commercial outlines. Or some people even say, using commercial outlines is cheating. This is terrible advice. Commercial outlines are great. They're not a substitute for doing your own outlines. You're certainly going to have to put the time into making your own personal outline yourself. But they're invaluable to summarizing really abstract and arcane types of law for you. Most of the time in law school, what you need are simple statements of the law. Most of law school is going to be incredibly confusing, but using a commercial outline to get to the heart of matters, will really help out. You can use commercial outlines to prepare you for class.

 In fact, one thing I recommend is to read the section of the commercial outline on the subject that's going to be covered in class, so that you have primed yourself with a cursory understanding, so that when you go into the nuance in class, you've already primed yourself to understand. Commercial outlines are great. You'll use them hand-in-hand with your class notes, when you go back and synthesize the law, and compile everything into a personal outline for yourself. Don't feel like it's cheating. When you practice in the law, you'll learn that everybody uses practice guides and Westlaw headnotes for summaries. Few people have the time to read every single case front to back when they're researching. Real lawyers use all the shortcuts that they can get, and as a law student, you should, too.

 

The fourth piece of some really terrible advice, this one's really going to hurt your pocketbook if you follow it. Buy all of your casebooks new, because you'll use them in practice. A couple things that are wrong here. One, just because your casebook has some highlighting and some underlining in it, that doesn't change its usefulness.

A casebook, really, is just a compilation of cases that are in the public domain. There's really no benefit to getting a new casebook, except if you are really unable to get past some notes that are in the book. For the most part, I think people can see past the highlighting, and if someone has already highlighted it, maybe they did a good job and you can skip that entirely. But the second half of this advice is just insane. No one will ever use a casebook in practice. They're totally useless. First of all, who knows if you'll even be practicing in the same state as the cases in your casebook? And more to the point, it's going to be outdated, it's probably outdated by the time it's published. So you're certainly not going to be using your casebook either in practice or for studying the bar. The second your class ends, you will never pick up that casebook again.

 

The fifth piece of really terrible advice it to wait until the end of the semester to do your outlines. I think this is a horrible idea. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was to do your outlines every week. Set aside time every weekend to synthesize all the substantive law and your case notes, and put it into an outline. It's gonna save you a huge amount of time. People say that you need context to understand. That's total crap. You will forget what is covered. So it's better to create your outlines while it's still fresh in your mind, and just get it over with.

When the semester is over, if you need to redo parts of your outline, it's much easier to redo the outline, than it is to start from scratch. And most likely, what will happen is that if you do it every week, instead of waiting till the end, you'll have an entire outline that's done, so that you can hit the ground running with practice tests and memorizing the law during your study period, instead of starting from scratch on your outlines. It'll save you a huge amount of time. Context is overrated.

 

Just start and iterate from there. People say that you study by building your outline. And while that's true, it's not like you're ignoring that work, by doing your outline every single week. You're just getting that done ahead of time, so that you can put more time into memorizing the law, and doing your practice tests. So you'll be way ahead of everybody else, who waits until the end of the semester to do their outline.

If you're getting ready for law school check this out: we put together a free e-book called the “Ultimate Pre-Law Checklist.” Just click the link below to download it. It's some of our best tips and strategies for getting ahead before you start law school, and it will put you miles ahead of your classmates, just click here.   

 

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