Hey guys! So, Top Law Schools gave me a TON of guidance before/during my first semester of law school and I want to pay it forward. Yes, I'm only a second semester 1L, but the first semester is really the absolute most important semester of your career and I finished mine rank 1 thanks to all the folks over at TLS. I cannot echo enough, before I start this, that there are so many ways to succeed in law school, not just my way. Please, look at all the collective wisdom on here and leftover at TLS and figure out what works for you!
I'm going to preface this whole thing by saying that law school is hard work. However, at a TT, a lot can be gained by just treating school like a job. Show up at 7 or 8 a.m., don't leave until 5 p.m., and work all but the lunch hour and you'll already be setting yourself up fantastically. This is not going to be as true at HYS or T1s in general where almost every single person is a hyper-motivated student. Down here in TT land, though, I'd almost bet that simply putting in the time will get you to the top 3rd. If you have any questions for me, I'd post below. I still haven't figured this place out well enough yet to know where my DMs are.
The Summer Before:
I was that guy that panicked about doing all of this prep work before law school. Don't. I wasted so much time. Getting to Maybe is great; read it the week before you start school. Other than that, READ TLS GUIDES and generally start familiarizing yourself with various approaches. Go on r/lawschool and other forums and just absorb other people's experience. It sounds ridiculous; it will pay off. Big time. Don't do substantive work though; it's not going to set you apart, I promise. Go have fun, spend time with friends who you will not have too much time for once you start school. Please haha 🙂
My Class Schedule
Monday: 9-10 (Civ Pro), 1:55-4 (Torts)
Tuesday: 9:30-11 (Writing), 11-12:30 (Ks), 2:30-3:30 (Research)
Wednesday: Same as Monday, but with Ks from 11-12:30
Thursday: Same as Tuesday but no Research in the afternoon
Friday: 9-10 (Civ Pro)
My Approach (Shoutout to Arrow and Lazy)
So my approach was definitely a blend of Arrow and Lazy's approach from TLS. I owe the both of them a ton of credit. Other guides I also took some inspiration from, but those two guys are my gold standard.
Essentially, I knew I wanted to take Saturdays off (I love college football) and I wanted to be done at 5 or 6 p.m. every night because I got married right before I started school and, go figure, I love spending time with my wife and dog. So, here's what I did and I'll do my best to put it in order of importance.
1. I read ALL of my cases for the upcoming week on Friday afternoons and Sundays. This isn't an approach advocated by too many guides I've seen, though some do recommend it and I absolutely agree. One caveat: Be honest with yourself as to whether or not you can pay attention to cases while streamlining them this way. If you can't, then find a new approach. You need to be able to focus. Reading cases is totally important. You know what's not so important? . . . .
2. DO NOT, PLEASE DO NOT, FULLY BRIEF EVERY CASE. Don't do it. Some people have done this and been VERY successful. Some people (hi) haven't and have also been VERY successful. Efficiency matters, dudes. I briefed for the first two weeks to make sure I understood how it worked and then never again. Seriously. Instead what you should do is: For each case, get the issue and rule from Quimbee (but DON'T read the facts or analysis), THEN read the case. I mean *really* read it. Knowing the issue and the rule will simply help you key in on the points the court is making regarding the most important things. You'll notice yourself saying "ahhhh yes, the rule here is X and the court is saying the rule might be Y if there were other facts, but it's X because these are the facts."
3. Find a note-taking arrangement that works for you. I had a OneNote that had pages for each of my classes. On each page, I had a 3 column table. The first column I put the Issue (Quimbee) the Rule (Quimbee) the Facts (after I read the case, I boiled it down to 2-4 sentences on the most key facts) and the Court's Conclusion (Follows the facts. Court said X wasn't guilty because of reasons A,B,C). The second column was for different rule distinctions or fact distinctions the court noted throughout its opinion. For example, in Ks, the second column was where I put Restatements or UCC provisions and anything the court noted about how they're applied. The 3rd column is for the Notes or Comments after the case where there are sometimes important points about the law (skim the Notes/Comments every time just to make sure there isn't something important there).
3(a). Class Notes. I'd handwrite them. It forces you to only write down what's important like when the Professor discusses the elements, different fact situations that would change the outcome, minority court rules, etc etc. There's also tons of research on handwriting being much better for retention. To each their own, but I had my laptop up to respond to coldcalls from my notes and I handwrote my class notes. Pay very close attention to your Professor's tendencies. My Torts Professor LOVED policy. He ate it up. It's a big reason I got an A+ in his course. I was the only one who fed him his favorite meal. For Restatements and similar bits of law, make flashcards as you cover them in class. It'll save you time at the end of the semester when so many other folks are JUST starting to write theirs.
4. Outlining. Every Thursday, I would update my outlines. I organized my outline according to the course syllabus most of the time. In Torts, for example, we lead off with Intentional Torts. So, that'd be a heading and then I'd have sub-headings for Battery, Assault, etc. Under Battery, I'd start copy-pasting the rule from my OneNote then I'd add notes below the case that came from the Professor's lecture/the other columns in my OneNote that I felt were very important. You may not know it yet, but if you're doing the readings and such, you'll really be able to discern what's super important and what's not. It's kind of magical, but the usual suspects are rule variations, policy, fact variations, etc.
5. Supplement Work. I did all my readings on Friday/Sunday before the week. So guess what I used all that time between classes for? Supplement work. Whatever classes I had that day, I'd be reading the supplement I had for that course to either finish up the section we were working on or read the section we were headed towards the next week. I mostly used E&E's, but I made use of a plethora of supplements from the library. There's a supplement that works for everyone; find yours. Try to keep it to one per class throughout the semester but that's not a hard and fast rule. You should know when you're sinking too much time into one class. Be mindful. I took very loose notes on the supplements as I read them just to stay engaged. If I wasn't clear on something in class, I took much more in-depth notes on that section of the supplement and it usually cleared things up.
6. I set up my schedule to take Saturdays off and to stop working at 5-6p.m. every night. So that's what I did and I stuck to it. Down time is crucial to me, and that was especially true in the midst of first semester 1L. It is SO easy to let law school kick the shit out of you. It is SO hard to turn your brain away from it. You have to learn to let yourself off the hook sometimes. Did I break my late night rule sometimes? Sure. Maybe 3-4 times a month. For the most part I stuck to it, though. Mental health is a really big problem for a lot of people. There is no shame in establishing an amount of down time you need to be able to get through the marathon. Just make sure you're being reasonable. This time schedule did not apply to the 4 weeks before exams. I'm about to get to those.
7. I am almost POSITIVE I am forgetting some of the stuff I wanted to say in this section. Ask questions if you have them! Just be prepared for a long answer that starts with "OH YEAH I meant to cover that lol!"
4 Weeks Before Exams and Exams
So now we're in the clutch time. The gas is running out of a lot of the cars that are on this road with you and you're not feeling too great yourself. This is where you have to make the difference, though. Good thing you've been giving yourself the down-time you need to still be relatively fresh!
1. Take your outlines (and flash cards and whatever else you've been making notes on), crack out solid pen and paper, and start cutting those things down to 10 pages, front and back, handwritten. Trim the fat. You'll be surprised to learn that, of everything you learned over the semester, you only have time to apply 10-20% of it during an exam. So, all those detailed notes on Battery become something like:
- (Definition of Battery)
- Kids/Insane people can form the intent
- The intent to make contact is what matters, offense/harm just has to result
- Transferred Intent Doctrine
- Thin Skull Rule
You're going to do this for every class. Every day, devote about an hour to each class to work on this handwritten masterpiece. You'll be surprised how quickly it comes together and how clear it'll make the big picture in your head. The mountain will start to look VERY climbable. In most cases, if you've been putting in the time, you'll find out just how much you already knew anyway. It's cool stuff! You do this after school has ended because you still have stuff going on throughout the day (classes, supp work, legal writing work, etc). Your early nights are over. Saturdays are still for the boys, though. So, take solace in that!
2. Start using some of your supplement time to actually answer the examples. TYPE THE ANSWERS and then check your answer against the explanation. You should have done some research in how to answer a law school exam before you got to school, either through TLS/here or through Getting to Maybe or whatever. (Meant to say this above but, do it. Start learning what a good law school answer looks like.) This is where I started fishing into other supplements. For hypos that had model answers. The Q&A series is great for this, both essay and Multiple Choice. See if a Professor will sit down and review an answer for you.
3. Start figuring out if there's a "golden" supplement such as audio tapes for the class. If you're in Civ Pro and Erie just isn't clicking for you, or really you want to just re-learn the whole class in 6-7 hours, Richard Freer is your God. His audio tapes, easily found on R/lawschool if you use their search bar, are AMAZING. I listened to them 2 days before my Civ Pro exam just as insurance and he revolutionized my analytical framework for how I approached Civ Pro hypos. I got an A in the course and I SMASHED the Erie essay. Feelsgoodman. Acing Civil Procedure is a great book too for its checklists. These are the things you want to find. For other classes, just ask and I'll go back and evaluate what I used.
4. So, you've gotten all of your outlines down to the 10 pages, you have your flash cards for the Restatements and such, you've listened to Freer/other audiotapes and loosely transcribed those as you went along, and here you are. You probably, at this point, are amazed with how much you've learned and how much you grasp. Hypos have started to look like frogs that you systematically dissect using all these wonderful tools that we call legal principles/law. Cool. Now memorize. Memorize those sheets and those Restatements. It's not as hard at this point, you've seen all this stuff 7-8 times each across all of your note takings.
5. Start answering Hypos/Old Exams without your materials. Hone your skills and flesh out your analytical framework. Figure out how you're going to analyze a Civ Pro hypo, or a torts hypo. I did Torts by issue, Civ Pro I went through the usual path of PJ/SMJ/Venue etc etc. If you want more details on the frameworks I used, just ask and I'll try to give a more full answer. It becomes pretty easy to see the directions you need to go in once you've put in all the legwork though.
The Day Before the Exam
Do 1 long-ish hypo and then rest. You're as good as you're going to be for that class. Get some R&R, don't drink or anything, but take it easy. Review your notes/run through them in your head before you go to bed. For Ks, go through your Restatements and just think of the cases that showed how each one applies. And take some time to appreciate that, no matter how the exam goes, you've put in a lot of effort and you've got the knowledge to prove it. To be honest, the day before the exam always felt the best. There's some comfort in knowing you came to learn something and you have. A grade can't take that away from you.
After The Exam and When It's All Said and Done
Don't talk about it. Earbuds in, eyes forward, on to the next one. You've still got work to do until you don't. Once you don't, go out with friends. Drink. Be happy. Keep your mind off of grades and start reaching out to attorneys you know to network. The job hunt awaits. Job well done no matter what, though. You've been through a pretty grueling, and yet awesome experience.
I hope somebody finds my guide helpful. I'm more than willing to pass on any experience or knowledge I can and will do my best to answer any questions in a timely manner. I am in the midst of my second semester, so I've got some stuff going on right now. But I *will* get back to you! For what it's worth, from the TT world, I was able to land 2 biglaw gigs this summer that are paid. It's totally possible to succeed down here; it just takes some decent work. A quick note I will say on that point is that I came TT for a full-ride. I don't know that I would have turned down a T1 if I didn't have this scholarship at a regionally-decent TT. It was a risk I chose to take and, for me, it paid off. Make sure you do your due diligence on your offers and where you're going to go to school. You can be successful anywhere, but you really have to ask yourself how hard you're willing to work.
Another huge thanks to Arrow, Lazy, and the rest of the TLS community (now this community). I could not have done ANYTHING I was able to do if it weren't for the wisdom of those who came before me. I am lamely sentimental and honored to have ended up in a spot where I felt like it was my place to share this kind of wisdom. I never imagined I would be in a spot where I felt like my advice/experience might be helpful and you guys made that possible. Words cannot express my gratitude. Best of luck guys! Law school is what you make of it!
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