Law School: Quiver’s Guide to 1L Success

by Quiver

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Below is a description of my study method for 1L year. The purpose of this guide is simply to provide another data point for 0Ls and 1Ls looking to craft a study plan--there is no ONE way to succeed in law school. So, the first thing I'd suggest is to read all the advice threads here (Emkay's guide and TSL's guide are both excellent) and in the TLS wasteland (Arrow's guide and xeoh85's guide are great as well). These all have fantastic advice, and reading them will allow you to pick and choose which strategies appeal to your learning style.

I'll try to go through the main points and people can ask any follow-up questions (either here or via PM).

Before the Semester

Immediately before each semester, I would print out all my professors' prior exams and look through them. Obviously I had no idea what the hell I was looking at; this was more about seeing how my professor structured the exam than about what they tested. It was important for me to see, for example, if I would be dealing with issue spotters, short answers, multiple choice, policy questions, or some combination thereof. This guided my focus throughout the semester. From what I've found, professors do not seem to vary their exam structure from year to year unless they're relatively new.

So it wasn't about seeing, for example, "oh, there are a lot of questions about expectation damages vs. compensatory damages" or whatever. Again, I had no idea what the law was at the beginning of the semester. It was more like, "hmm there seems to be a lot of contract fact patterns where the buyer’s purchase order and the seller’s acknowledgment contain terms that don't match". So if I ran across such a situation in the readings or in class, it would alert me to the fact that I should pay close attention.

Outlining

Lots of people will take extensive notes in class (aka merely regurgitating what the professor says onto their computer) and then go back through these (literally) hundreds of pages of notes late in the semester to make an outline. While the process of making the outline this way can function as a review of the material, I believe that its costs outweigh its benefits. An outline is putting all the info you need into one place in an organized manner; so, the way I see it, every second you spend going through material that you don't put in your outline is wasted time. However, that being said, I know plenty of people who were successful with this method.

I did outlining differently. I would take notes sparingly during class and take these notes directly into my outline. I've always taken notes like this and I don't type fast enough to create a transcript of class anyway. I figured that if something was important enough for me to take down, it was going to end up in my outline anyway. Why not cut out the middle man and just make my notes into my outline? Because of this, my outline was essentially up to date by the end of every class (with edits later for clarity, conciseness, format, etc.). I think this was critical for me because it freed up time during "test prep" (more on that later) to do practice exams.

Daily Schedule

First semester and second semester differed in terms of my routine but I think overall it looked like this: wake up and go to class, do briefing between classes (usually about 2 hours), go to my second class, head back to my apartment and eat, study for about 2 hours, workout, eat dinner, study a little more if I felt it was necessary, go to bed. I used the time between classes to do case briefing (more on that later) and I spent almost all the time after class reading supplements. Almost all the professors I had 1L year were excellent and nearly all of them told us the black letter law flat out. Because of this, the supplements functioned more as review and a way to get another perspective on the material rather than a way to learn the black letter law. Weekends were pretty laid back: I used Saturdays for LRW assignments and Sundays I used for review.

One thing that I found very helpful was setting aside Sunday as a review day. Because my outlines were up to date by the time I walked out of class, I was able to study and memorize my outlines every Sunday. I guess this would be considered "frontloading" the semester a bit, but I look at it more as pacing myself. Lots of people go through the motions at the beginning of the semester and are stuck trying to both study and make their outlines at the end. By constantly being up to date on my outlines and reviewing every Sunday, I memorized and learned the material as it came. As a result, I barely studied at all in the days before finals (in the sense of pulling all-nighters, getting cracked out on caffeine, memorizing material, and frantically creating outlines) and was able to focus exclusively on practice exams.

Test Prep and Practice Exams

Practice exams are absolutely critical in my opinion. By practice exams I primarily mean old exams by my professor, but I would also use other professors' exams if I ran out of those.

For the majority of the semester I followed the schedule above, but about a month before finals I entered "test prep". I would assign 3 days to each subject and just drill that subject for those 3 days, then move on to the next subject and so on. So for example, I would study only Torts for 3 days, then only Contracts for the next 3, then only Civ Pro for the next 3, then back to Torts for the next 3. I would schedule it so that the last 3 day section before the first exam was for that subject. The schedule within those 3 days looked something like this: first day was strictly review and memorization, second day was one practice question and more review, third day was 2 or 3 practice questions. I liked to ramp up and start with fewer practice questions at the beginning of test prep (and more review) and then do more practice questions (and less review) by the end of test prep. By this method, I was doing full practice exams in the days before each actual exam so that it was pretty much second nature when I sat down for the real thing. One other thing to note is that I did these practice questions and tests under exam conditions (timed, typed everything out, etc.). Obviously old exams with answers are the best because you can see what you missed, but I did ones without answers too because it helped get my timing down in addition to just seeing how my professor tested certain issues and what key things to look for (patterns in wording or key words corresponding to certain issues).

One last point about practice exams: keep doing them no matter how poorly you perform. I don't remember ever doing as well on practice exams as I wanted to; I always missed issues or ran out of time or something. It was tough because I remember feeling dejected and down, and it made me not want to do any more of them. But that's why you take practice exams. This will sound super cheesy, but every time I bombed one I would say: "I can do this wrong a thousand times, but I only have to do it right once."

Some people would try to be 2-3 weeks ahead in case briefing such that they are basically done with all assigned readings before starting test prep. That's absurd. First semester I was 2-3 DAYS ahead in briefing and second semester I would brief the night before or even right before class. When I started test prep, I stopped briefing all together and took my chances on being cold called. Yes it did happen anyway, and yes it sucked. But I wouldn't change anything; class participation doesn't really figure into your grade (although it depends on your school's policy) and I thought it was a calculated risk to gain more on the final exam (which was 100% of my grade) than to gain some dignity in class (which was 0% of my grade).

Case Briefing

Case briefing (assigned class readings) is a waste of time in my opinion. Some people type/write out full briefs for each case (facts, holding, procedural posture, etc.) but almost everyone abandons this during or after the first semester. I used a modified LEEWS method for briefing. I had a document with 2 columns: on one side I'd have a few sentences just stating the facts of the case and the rule of law and the other side would be left blank to take any notes about that case during class. In reality, I barely ever used that second column for notes since I would take notes directly into my outline (see above), but I would throw occasional lines in there that were really case specific or that weren't quite important enough to put in my outline.

LRW

If LRW is graded at your school, it is likely worth significantly less credits than your substantive classes. The assignments suck ass, there's just no way around it. They're annoying and they take up a hugely disproportionate amount of time for the number of credits. I don't have any advice on this front except to not lose sight of the big picture. As I explained above, I tried to keep LRW work to only Saturdays. When the assignments got bigger and more involved (mostly second semester) I had to use some of Sunday or some time during the week too. I think that's fine as long as you're not sacrificing too much of your study time for the substantive classes that are worth a lot more credit. It's a judgment call but I'd caution not got so engrossed in the assignment (as many people do) that your studying for the other classes suffers. If LRW is ungraded, then kick back, relax, and play this game.

Final Advice

The last thing I'll say here is that it's fine to not be a machine. There were some days where I didn't feel like studying or I didn't feel well and I just didn't get a lot done those days. That's okay as long as those don't become too frequent. It's perfectly normal to have some down days and I would definitely suggest staying with the things you do for fun (going out drinking early in the semester, watching a game, hanging with friends, playing sports, going to the gym, etc.).

Also, try to let things go. I spent hours after I went to bed just staring at the ceiling and thinking about the law, exams, etc. After each exam I would constantly think about it and mentally find issues I missed. Without exaggeration, I actually had dreams where i would sit down and grade my own exam, finding issue after issue that I should have examined. Eerily, these dreams were 100% accurate. But here's the thing: the curve will do most of the work. There is no sense trying to predict your grade--just take the exam and wipe it from your memory.

Hopefully that gives a good sense of my study method. Again, I'm happy to answer any follow-up questions.

 

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