Law School: Emkay’s Guide to 1L Success

by Emkay

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This OP chronicles my advice to 1Ls about making a study plan. It is largely based on my own plan as a 1L during the fall semester. I hope others will find it useful, and I'll continue to edit the OP over the course of the next several weeks. I hope to work on it a bit each day until it's fleshed out. If you have comments or suggestions or anything you'd like me to add, please let me know. Got a different opinion/approach than me? Awesome. Please make a guide outlining your approach to 1L year so that others can benefit from the knowledge! TLS was incredibly helpful in guiding me through the LSAT and 1L year, and I hope LSL can offer that same help to current 0Ls and 1Ls.

I'll also make a separate guide to succeeding in your LRW class if people think that would be helpful.

Let me start by saying what this guide is not.

This is not a guide to survive being a 1L. It's not a guide to median. This is a guide aimed at doing well. At a T14 and just looking for median? This is probably overkill for you. Just do your reading and make your own outline and take a few practice exams and you'll be fine so long as you have decent exam-writing skills.

This is also not a guide on how to take a law school exam. There are some snippets of advice along those lines here (Read Getting to Maybe, make a point checklist, etc., review practice exams with others so you capture arguments and points you're missing), but it's not comprehensive and this is not intended to be that. You need to also learn how to take an exam. If you do all these things, but suck at writing an exam, it will have been all for naught. Read Getting to Maybe, read advice posted on how to take an exam, practice taking exams, and compare your answers to other people so you know how your exam writing compares to others and how you can improve it. Also, learn to type quickly. (Serious suggestion.)

This is also not a guarantee. I don't know if this will work for you. I did this one semester (just the first) and it worked for me. Didn't do it others because I stopped caring as much.

The most important thing to keep in mind as you read this guide is that studying for law school, much like studying for the LSAT, is not one-size-fits-all. You may find that what I outline here works well for you, or you may find that it does not. Pay attention to your own strengths and weaknesses, and definitely don't stick with any study plan if it's not working for you.

1L SUMMER

Read Getting to Maybe. There are a lot of used copies on Amazon or eBay you can pick up on the cheap. Here's the Amazon link:

https://www.amazon.com/Getting-Maybe-Excel-School-Exams/dp/0890897603/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1517458549&sr=8-1&keywords=getting+to+maybe

Have a lot of fun. Do nothing else. Maybe buy some highlighters.

DURING ORIENTATION/FIRST PART OF THE SEMESTER

Make friends with 2Ls and 3Ls who had your professors. Use them to get outlines. Pro tip: most journals and student organizations have outline banks. Try to find someone with access to your school's law review outline bank, if one exists. Get outlines from it. (You want outlines from people who did well in the course.) You'll want between 2 and 3 outlines for each course from people who did well in it.

DURING THE SEMESTER

Before Class

1. Read each case twice. The first time, skim it and get a basic understanding. The second time, highlight different parts of the case in four different colors - facts in one color, rules/the holding in another color, legal reasoning in a third color, and policy arguments in a fourth. Do not bother trying to make sure you capture every single detail. You don't need to remember every important bit about a case.
2. Brief each case - but VERY SHORT briefs. A brief is just a short little document that includes the case's procedural posture, facts, holding/rules, and the judge's reasoning. Some people say briefing is a waste of time, but in my opinion that's because they write long briefs. Mine were never more than about 1/3 a page, single-spaced. Just include one sentence for procedural posture (what happened in the lower courts), 2–3 sentences of facts, 1–2 sentences for rules/the holding, 2–3 sentences for reasoning, and that's it. Each one was a bullet point. You should not spend longer than like 5 minutes a case doing this.

During Class

I wrote down very little during class. It's more important, in my opinion, to listen actively. I had maybe 1.5 pages of notes (typed) for class each day. If you try to record everything or make a transcript of what the professor says, you won't digest any of the information.

Things to write down: any time the professor gives elements of a thing, or says a rule, write down his or her EXACT wording. Often rules and elements can be worded several ways (For example, Burglary = entering the dwelling of another person at night to commit a crime vs. Burglary = breaking and entering a business or dwelling at night with the intention to execute a felony). Both of these are the correct definitions of burglary, but professors like to see it the way they would say it on an exam. Also, write down any time the professor offers an opinion (do they think the death penalty is good or bad, and what arguments do they have to support that, for example). You'll want to be able to spit out those arguments on an exam. Also, write down any time the professor discusses a hypothetical situation and arguments about that hypothetical situation—those hypos are very similar to what you'll see on the exam.

You'll notice there is a theme: write down things you will need to know on the exam, and things that will help you accumulate points on the exam. There is no need to write down other things.

After Class

After class each day, read the section of a supplement/hornbook that was over what we talked about in class that day, and take notes on it. I always read two: the E&E (Examples & Explanations, there's one for pretty much every 1L course). And a more traditional hornbook/supplement. But you can always ask your professor if they recommend a supplement. Or, if your casebook has a supplement worth getting, get that one. Some people don't like supplements. That's fine. I always liked them because I managed to find a few arguments/forks (read Getting to Maybe and this will make sense) that I hadn't thought of just from the cases and class. This is helpful for writing a better exam.

Be careful with supplements though; always go with the wording/opinion of the professor if there's a conflict between the two.

Supplements I'd recommend:
Examples & Explanations (for each course)
Glannon's Guide to Civil Procedure
Glannon's Guide Criminal Law
Dressler's Criminal Law
Gilberts Law Summaries for Property
Any workbook that includes a lot of practice questions for estates and future interests (there are a lot). You'll need one.
Chemerinsky's Constitutional Law
Emanuel's Torts Guide
Concepts and Case Analysis in the Law of Contracts by Chirelstein

On Weekends

On Saturday, I would outline my classes from the previous week. There's no real secret to outlining. For me, I would take my briefs from the cases we had read, my class notes, and my supplement notes, and copy and paste them together into my outline document. Then I'd organize them. After organizing it, I'd check the outlines I had from other people and see if I needed to add anything. This is an important step. You want to make sure you have all potential arguments, so you can score points on the exam. So looking at old outlines is very, very helpful.

It generally took me about 1.5 hours per class each Saturday to do this, or 4.5 hours total.

I like to organize outlines by elements. Essentially, here's what that means: First, I list the "governing" rule. Then, I break it down into elements. Within each element, I have the definitions of those elements, cases related to that element (I just copy and paste my short brief, then shorten it a little), and potential policy arguments or other arguments I can make on the exam. I can post examples of small sections of my outlines from 1L if people think this would be helpful.

Really though, there is no right way or wrong way to outline. Organize the information in a way that makes sense to you.

After I would outline, I made flashcards. Make flashcards for rules, important cases, elemental tests, etc. Keep your flashcards in your backpack and run through them whenever you have spare time - on the bus, in between classes, whenever. This is especially important if you have any closed book exams.

I took Sundays off. I highly recommend you do the same.

After you outline, if there is anything you don't understand, flag it. Go to your professor's office hours and ask your questions now, during the semester. If you wait until the end, everyone will be trying to go and so you'll waste an hour sitting in line to get your questions answered when you could've gotten it done earlier in the semester. Don't go every week, you don't want to be a nuisance. But go every three weeks or so with the questions you have.

ONE MONTH BEFORE YOUR EXAM

You have to start taking timed practice exams. This is the most important thing. If you digest and learn all this information, but then never figure out how to use it to write a good exam and then practice doing so, you'll have worked for nothing.

At four and three weeks out, I took one a week for each class, and then reviewed it with a study group. This part is important. Law school exams are often graded by who makes the most valid points/arguments. Professors literally put little tally marks all over your essays and then add up how many tallies you got. (Not every professor and every class, but many.) So you need to know if there are arguments other people are making and you're not on your practice exams, so you can be sure to make those on the exam. Just make sure those arguments are correct. Make sure you've captured every argument/fork/counterargument you can.

TWO WEEKS BEFORE THE EXAM

At two weeks out, I took one exam each day but then took Sunday off. That way I was taking two exams per week, per class, and then reviewing it. At this point in time, you also want to start reading your outlines every night before you go to bed. This will be a huge help. It takes a while, but it is worth it. Also keep using the flash cards you've been making all semester.

ONE WEEK OUT

Still take one practice exam a day and read your outlines each night, but you also have to do a few other things, too. At this point your outline will be really long for each class. Condense it down to about 16 pages. Also, make a "checklist" for the exam—a one/two page list you can look at to make sure you hit every argument for a potential topic. I can send you an example if you PM me your email address. Use this checklist as you take your practice exams (and on the exam if open book) to make sure you're getting all the points you need. This is super helpful. You'll literally have a list there to make sure you grab every point you can.

DURING DEAD DAYS (OR READING PERIOD IF YOUR SCHOOL CALLS IT THAT)

I took two practice exams a day, reviewed them, plus read over my whole outline each night before I went to sleep and did my flashcards for exams that were closed book.

That looked like this:
9:00 - Wake up. Read the condensed version of my outline.
9:30 - Take first practice exam.
12:30 - Eat lunch.
1:30 - Review first exam with study group.
3:00 - Take second practice exam.
6:00 - Review second practice exam using your outline and other resources.
7:30 - Eat dinner and relax for a few hours.
Bedtime - read over long outline, do flashcards for about 30 minutes if it's a closed book exam.

NIGHT BEFORE THE EXAM

Read over your condensed outline one time. Other than that, relax.

I know this is a lot, but I really didn't pull any late nights. The key is to not waste time—it's really easy to waste breaks between classes, but if you work during them, you'll never have to be working later than 6 or 7 at night, and I never worked past lunchtime on Saturdays or at all on Sundays. This is not about brute force. You shouldn't be working all that hard, just working consistently with an eye toward exam preparation. If you're doing something, and you don't think it will eventually help you do well on the exam, stop doing whatever that thing is.

 

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