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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Between now and Thanksgiving--some advice for 1Ls.

OK, 1Ls:  you're probably exhausted right now.  You're working on your Legal Writing papers--which to many of you will feel as if you're writing in another language, on another planet--and you're starting to outline your first-semester courses.  You feel as if you've been drinking from a fire hose with all of the information you've been learning.  And you are starting to get heartburn / nightmares about finals.  What should you be doing right now?

1.  Legal writing matters.  Don't blow off your Legal Writing papers, even if your school makes the course a pass/fail course.  Legal writing = legal thinking, so for every minute that you spend drafting your papers, you're actually building your skills for exam-writing.  Think of your papers as two-fers:  fulfilling a course's requirements and learning step-by-step legal analysis, which is the skill that exams will be testing.  Moreover, most legal employers now are bemoaning the execreble (look it up!) writing skills of baby lawyers.  You'll be able to stand out later if you work hard on your legal writing skills now.

2.  Outlines are a tool for answering exams; they're not an end in themselves.  Our book gives you several different options for outlining your  courses.  There's not a single outline format that works best, and your professors aren't going to grade your outlines, so you need to figure out what type of outline will help you prepare for step #3.

3.  Start taking practice exams.  Yes, we know:  you don't know "the law" yet.  You haven't (a) started outlining or (b) finished outlining.  But here's the point:  MOST OF YOUR GRADES WILL BE BASED ON YOUR EXAM PERFORMANCE.  You've never taken law school exams before, so you need to learn the skill set that exams require:  issue identification, application of the facts in the hypo to the rules of law; ignoring red herrings; and prioritizing your discussion points to maximize your grade.  (Yes, we have two chapters devoted to exam-taking.) 

4.  Prepare to be unprepared.  Roughly two days after your courses end, you should STOP OUTLINING and start drilling for exams, even if you haven't finished your outlines.  It's more important to find out what you don't know (by taking practice exams) and to build your exam skills (yep, by taking practice exams) than it is to finish your outlines. 

5.  Prepare to work in groups.  Even if you prefer going solo during the semester, take practice exams with some of your law school colleagues.  You'll see where your blind spots are--and get a feel for the many ways to write exam answers--if you compare notes on your practice exams.

6.  EXERCISE.  Then exercise some more.  Exercise = reduced stress.  Reduced stress = better exam performance.


  1. #3 is especially good advice, and if you can get a look at your professor's old exams (ideally with a copy of the model answers) then you've struck gold. Each professor has a particular "style" they are looking for in exam answers. Figure out what that style is and you will have a tremendous advantage come exam time.


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