Category Archives: General

New Law Student Guide to the First Weeks of Class

Images courtesy of nuttakit at freeditigalphotos.net

Images courtesy of nuttakit at freeditigalphotos.net

It’s that time of year when law schools are preparing to welcome new students to Orientation and their first semester of classes. As a new law student, you have probably received numerous communications from your law school, providing a variety of instructions regarding your 1L year. You may have read some books which describe the law school experience, and you may have current or former law students giving you advice. There are a wealth of articles on this blog to help you during your transition to law school, but I thought that I would highlight some that may be particularly useful in the first few weeks. Here they are:

First, a couple of articles explaining one of the common approaches to the law school classroom, Socratic Method:

Here are some articles about reading and briefing cases for law school:

Next, a couple of articles about taking notes in your law school classes:

Finally, here’s an article about how to create a good study schedule while in law school:

 

More posts about how to be a successful law student coming in the future. In the meantime, does anyone have any specific questions or concerns about starting law school? Feel free to put your questions in the comments section for this post.

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Filed under General, Pre-Law, Study Tips

Law Student Voices: The Top 5 Apps for Law Students

Incoming and returning law students are often interested in finding apps to support their studies in law school. Here is a post from the blog, updated to include new editions. I hope you find these suggestions helpful!

Law School Success

For two years in a row now, I’ve done a presentation titled “Technology for Law Students” as part of my school’s 1L Orientation program. Much of what I discuss in that segment revolves around the use of apps to make studying for classes or drafting assignments easier and/or more effective for new law students. While I rely exclusively on iPhone/iPad apps, there are likely equivalents on Android and other platforms. Here, in no particular order, are my five favorite apps for law school:

1. Dropbox (Free)

DropboxDropbox is great for accessing files across all of your devices (i.e., laptop, tablet, phone) and also for sharing folders with classmates. One of my professors had a ban on laptops in the classroom, but didn’t have a problem with tablets. I was able to take advantage of that exception to view my briefs in class, eliminating the need to print them out beforehand…

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4 Things to Do the Summer Before Starting Law School

I often have incoming law students ask me what they should be doing the summer before they start law school. You want to do well, and you may be concerned that you will be left behind if you don’t do something to get a head start. In response to those questions, here are 4 suggestions for things that you can do the summer before starting law school (as well as some suggestions for what not to do as well!):

1. Do some reading. But don’t read every book out there on how to succeed in law school. Many students think that they need to read as much as possible about law school and the subjects they will be studying. But there are three problems with that kind of approach. First, many of the books that are out there are written by people who were successful in law school themselves, but these people may not have any expertise in how to help other people be successful. Second, you don’t need to be an expert on the law before you even come to law school—if you did, law school wouldn’t be necessary in the first place. You could just study on your own and then take the bar exam. Third, students who try to prepare too much in the summer before law school often end up burning out because their brains are already tired before the first day.

So what should you read instead? Read for fun. Read those novels you haven’t had time to read because you were finishing up that senior project in undergrad (and won’t have much time for once law school begins). Read some magazines, or even some comic books! Have fun with reading rather than making it a chore. And if you really want to read something law related, still try to read books that are not too academically oriented. Everyone has their favorites, but here are a couple of websites that list some of the best law-related books: ABA Journal’s 25 Great Law Novels Ever, and 50 Greatest Legal Novels for Both Lawyers and Laymen.

2. Create a context for the things you will be studying in law school. Expand your understanding of the larger world, whether through travel, going to museums, reading and watching the news, or other efforts. Law is situated within the fabric of our society as a whole—its art, culture, political structure, debates, current events. The more background information you know, the more context you will have for the topics you will be studying in law school. And, as a bonus, it’s fun as well!

3. If you don’t already have one, develop a healthy routine to take care of your mind, body, and spirit. As I’m sure that you’ve heard before, law school is an intense, often stressful, experience. Developing the habits that you need to take care of yourself now will help you tremendously once you are in law school. What each person needs in this respect is different, although there are some common elements. Try to eat food that are good for you—what nourishes the body also nourishes the brain! Develop some type of exercise plan. For some people it may be running, while for others it may be yoga or swimming. Even if you just take a walk every day, you will be improving your overall health. You will be able to handle stress better, and it also can have a positive effect on your immune system. Law students often ignore their physical health because they are so focused on academics, but physical health can have a significant effect on mental health and academic performance as well.

4. Have some fun with friends and family. Law school will be a busy time, and you won’t always be able to spend as much time with friends and family as you would like. So take the opportunity this summer to have fun. Enjoy holidays like the Fourth of July with family. Have those cookouts, and go on those family vacations. Go to the movies. By spending time with your friends and family you will be communicating that they are important to you, even if you won’t have as much time to hang out with them in the Fall, and you will be recharging your batteries as well so that you are ready to hit the books in August!

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Using Study Groups to Develop Hypothetical Practice Questions

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yesterday, we explored some of the dos and don’ts for effective law school study groups. Today, I want to take that discussion a step further and explain how the members of your study group can develop your own hypothetical practice questions as you prepare for final exams.

One way to test your understanding of course material in law school is to go through hypothetical questions, but your casebooks and commercial study aids often have a limited number of practice questions. Students often ask me where they can find more practice questions, and I always explain that it is possible to create your own hypotheticals. This approach is particularly effective if you participate in a study group. For the best results, you should first complete your outline of the legal issue(s) you want to practice.

Here are 5 steps for creating hypothetical practice questions:

  1. Identify specific legal issues that you want to practice. The best issues for this purpose are complex issues—the kind that you might have some difficulty with on an exam. For example, in Civil Procedure you might want to practice how you would apply the law to fact patterns where the Erie Doctrine or Subject Matter Jurisdiction was at issue. For Constitutional Law, you might choose to focus on Equal Protection or Due Process issues. For Evidence, maybe you want to explore some of the hearsay exceptions.
  2. Assign each member of your study group a time period or jurisdiction for their hypotheticals. Taking this approach ensures that two people do not bring the same hypothetical to the next group meeting. For example, if your group is going to study the Erie Doctrine, maybe one person looks for Erie cases from the Second Circuit, another looks for cases from the First Circuit, and the third looks for cases from the Third Circuit. Just make sure that, if the law has changed in recent years, you do not assign time periods prior to any changes in the law.
  3. Each person will look for cases on Westlaw, LexisNexis, or other legal search platforms that focus on the legal issue your group has chosen. You may choose to create your own search terms or may look to see what other cases have cited the cases you studied in class. Just make sure that any cases you choose are still good law! (An added benefit to this process is that you practice your research skills as well!)
  4. Look for cases that have a well-developed but concisely worded set of facts and good explanations of the legal outcomes. The statements of facts from your cases will become the foundation for your hypotheticals, and the court’s explanations are your answer keys for the hypotheticals.
  5. Have each member of the study group bring 3 to 5 hypotheticals to your group’s next meeting. Take turns having each person present one of their hypotheticals. The other members of the group should talk through their legal analysis for that hypothetical, based upon their outlining and studying prior to the group meeting. After the group’s analysis is complete, the person who brought the hypothetical should explain how the court actually resolved the legal issue(s) in the underlying case.

Taking this approach, your study group can create an endless number of hypothetical questions. The process of talking through the legal analysis for these hypotheticals, as well as explaining how the court actually resolved the legal issues in this case, will improve your understanding of important legal issues and provide practice for how you should analyze similar fact patterns in your exams.

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Filed under General, Law School Exams, Outlines, Study Tips

Using Study Groups to Study for Final Exams

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With final exams coming up soon, I’ve had a number of law students ask me about how to use study groups to study for final exams. Study groups can be very helpful as you are preparing for finals—if you take the right approach. But it’s important to avoid some common pitfalls associated with study groups if you want to maximize their value in the upcoming weeks. Today, we will explore some of the Dos and Don’ts associated with law school study groups.

Don’t use study groups to divide up the work. Sometimes law students think that study groups can provide a shortcut for creating an outline. They will divide up the course materials among the members of the group, with each person only creating one part of the outline. The problem with this approach is that outlining is about synthesis. Some of the most important parts of law school learning take place as you weave together the course materials and figure out how everything fits together. Students who take the “divide and conquer” approach to outlining only fully understand the material that they have outlined on their own—if they are tested on the legal issues that others outlined, they do not tend to perform as well.

Instead, do use the study group to reinforce your own outlining. Some of the best study group meetings take place when everyone in the group has already tackled his or her own outline. Set a specific goal for what legal issues everyone must outline prior to the study group meeting. When the group comes together, you can compare what each person has done. If you have identified something you don’t understand, maybe another member of the group has figured that issue out and can explain it to you. You will be better off as you begin to see how others have interpreted the course materials, and you can clarify your own understanding of the legal issues. Even students who are teaching other members of the group benefit in this environment, as the process of teaching the material helps the teacher to understand it even better as well.

Don’t let study groups become a time drain. Sometimes study groups meet for long periods of time without really accomplishing anything. Law students usually have limited time available to study, and it’s important that your group study sessions do not degenerate into a gossip fest or otherwise not accomplish its goals.

Instead, do create an agenda for each study group meeting. Get the members of your study group to set goals for what you want to accomplish at each meeting, and create a plan for how you will accomplish those goals. Make sure that the study group stays on track at each meeting so that your goals are accomplished and your time is used effectively.

Don’t schedule so many study group meetings that you don’t have time to study on your own. Study groups can be one effective way to study, but as I talked about before, it is important to have the time to work on your own outlines as well.

Instead, do schedule study group meetings to ensure that you maximize both your personal study time and the benefits of the group. If properly spaced out, study group meetings can provide additional motivation for your studies and a system of accountability. There is nothing like knowing that someone else expects you to have something done to help you stay on track with your personal study plans.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog post, when I will explain how a study group can be used to create and explore hypothetical practice questions! And happy studying!

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Scheduling for Success

It’s that time of year when law students start thinking about what classes they will take during the next school year. The registrar’s office is sending out instructions for course enrollment, and you may be exploring the law school course schedule and course descriptions as you consider what classes you want to enroll in. I often have students ask me for advice about scheduling courses. Some students are overwhelmed by the options available to upper-level students, especially after having had no choice in their schedule during their first year of law school. These students may not even know where to start in creating a schedule for the upcoming year. Other students want to do too much—they see so many courses that sound interesting, and they are trying to cram them all into the Fall semester. Sometimes students have not done as well as they would like during their first year of law school, and they are concerned about creating a schedule that helps them be more successful and improve their GPA. You may have many concerns about how to create the best class schedule for you.

Here are some tips for choosing next year’s classes:

Start with the required courses. The first thing that you should do is figure out what classes are required for graduation. Law schools usually have a set of core required (or highly recommended) courses for graduation. Most, if not all, of those courses are also covered on the bar exam. Depending on your law school and state, these courses may include subjects such as Business Organizations, Administrative Law, Evidence, Wills and Trusts, Secured Transactions, Federal Taxation, etc. Every law student in the United States takes Professional Responsibility. You will also usually have upper-level writing requirements—and possibly other skills requirements. Some schools require certain courses to be taken in the second year and other courses in the third year. You should determine what specific requirements you will need to graduate and create a plan for when you will fulfill each of those requirements.

Don’t try to cram all required courses into one or two semesters though. It is good to be able to check off your requirements, but it won’t leave you time to explore new areas of the law if all you do is take required courses. Similarly, don’t wait until your final year of law school to try to take all required courses. Pushing off too many required courses until the end could reduce your options, make your schedule unwieldy, or even prevent you from graduating on time if you assume that a class will be offered and it isn’t in the schedule.

Ask yourself what academic experiences you want to have as a law student. If you are interested in participating in a clinic, you may first want to take some foundational classes that will help you get more out of the clinic experience. Some clinics may even have prerequisites. For example, Evidence and Criminal Procedure would be helpful and may be required for clinics focusing on criminal law issues, while Immigration Law would be beneficial for a student wanting to participate in an immigration law clinic. Similarly, if you are interested in pursuing a particular type of externship or internship, determine what courses provide a good background for that opportunity.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Look for classes that relate to your professional goals. If you are interested in labor and employment law, take classes related to those interests. If Environmental Law intrigues you, take not only classes specifically covering that topic but also related courses, such as Administrative Law. If you are interested in a judicial clerkship, you may want to take more writing courses because writing is so important in clerking. If you aren’t sure which courses might be helpful for your chosen career path, reach out to alumni practitioners. It’s a good opportunity to network, and you might be surprised about the courses that those attorneys think are important.

Take a class that inspires you and reminds you why you came to law school in the first place. If you are interested in litigation, taking Trial Practice, a Clinic, or some other course that allows you to apply what you are learning may reinvigorate your learning. If you’ve always enjoyed reading and writing, maybe a Law and Literature class is for you. Maybe you had a professor during your first year of law school who inspired you because of his or her enthusiasm for the course materials—see what other courses that professor offers.

Create a schedule that has balance. Think about what you need to be an effective learner. Schedule classes to maximize the way you study and the schedule that works best for you. Law schools will often post the final exam schedule before it is time to schedule your courses—check that schedule to see if you are choosing courses that have exams back-to-back, and find out what your law school’s policy is for rescheduling exams that are too close together. Even if you love writing, don’t sign up for too many writing courses at the same time. A student who is taking multiple seminar courses may find that the due dates are very close together or that the total amount of writing is hard to accomplish when taking into account the rest of his or her schedule.

If you make thoughtful choices about your course schedule, you will take the first step towards academic success in the upcoming school year. Just as important, you are likely to enjoy your law school experience much more as well.

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Filed under General, Grades, Stress and Mental Health

Learning from Mistakes: Editing Tips for Legal Writing

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’ve all had that experience—you drafted an assignment for a legal writing class or upper-level writing course, or maybe a project for a legal internship or job. When you got the assignment back from your professor or supervisor, it was covered in corrections and comments. The real question: What did you do next? If you were required to revise the assignment, you probably made the corrections and submitted the final version. But did you take any steps to learn from your mistakes so that you won’t repeat them in future assignments?

Successful law students and lawyers constantly strive to improve their writing. One of the best ways to improve your writing is to learn from past mistakes. But learning from mistakes requires some conscious effort—simply making corrections to an existing document is usually not enough to reinforce how you should approach your writing in the future. Instead, one way to learn from your mistakes is to create your own customized editing checklist. You may already have an editing checklist that a professor or supervisor has given you. If so, you should continue to use that checklist as well. The customized checklist should supplement any more general checklist, focusing on specific issues that you personally have had trouble with in the past.

Here are some tips for creating and using a customized editing checklist:

  1. Divide a large piece of paper into five columns. At the top of each column, put one of the following headings: (a) grammar errors; (b) citation/Bluebook errors; (c) analytical issues; (4) writing style issues; and (5) formatting problems.
  2. Pull out old assignments that contain corrections and comments from a professor or supervisor. Go through each of those assignments, placing each error in one of the five columns you’ve created. For example, maybe your professor commented that you improperly used a comma to separate two independent clauses. That issue would go in the “grammar errors” column. Maybe you find a comment about your analysis being too conclusory. You would place that feedback in the “analytical issues” column. Maybe you keep forgetting to italicize “Id.” Put that error in your citation/Bluebook errors column.
  3. Each time that you see a comment or correction that relates to an issue you’ve already put in your checklist, add a star by that issue in the checklist. Making the same error multiple times is a sign that you want to focus on that issue more.
  4. For grammar and citation errors in particular, look up the appropriate rule in a grammar guide or the Bluebook. Make a note of the proper rule(s) that relate to that issue, as well as where that rule is found. When you edit documents in the future, you will then have easy access to the rule as well as the cross-reference for where to find further information if necessary.
  5. After completing a draft of a new assignment, use your customized checklist to make sure that you do not repeat old mistakes. Go through the paper focusing on one column at a time so that you don’t miss anything in the editing process.
  6. As you get feedback on new assignments, go through the same process. Add any new editing issues to your checklist. Regularly update your checklist to reflect your editing priorities. And, as you improve your writing, analysis, and citations you may remove old issues that are no longer a problem for you.

Creating a customized editing checklist is one of the best ways to learn from your past mistakes so that you don’t repeat them. Take an intentional approach to your editing, and your legal writing will continue to improve more and more over time.

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Filed under General, Legal Writing and Oral Arguments

Tackling Legal Writing Assignments (and Other Law School Projects)

Image courtesy of ratch0013 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ratch0013 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just when you think you have everything under control, it happens: You’re making progress on your outlines, and you’re keeping up-to-date with your assigned reading for each class. You think you may even have some time next weekend to meet up with some friends from undergrad or catch up on the new episodes of your favorite series on Netflix. You think you have developed a study schedule that is working for you, and then your legal writing professor gives your class a new major writing assignment. Or maybe you are an upper-level law student, and you have a seminar paper, draft of a law review note, moot court brief, or some other project coming due soon. How can you maintain your study plan, complete this new major project, and still maintain some semblance of a balanced life? The key to your success in this instance is going to be developing a strong plan of attack.

Law students tend to have problems with these types of big assignments for three main reasons. First, they may be intimidated by the size of the project from the beginning, viewing it as one colossal mountain that must be conquered. Second, students often underestimate the amount of time it requires to do a good job on a writing assignment. They may remember how long it took to write a paper in undergrad and assume that the new writing task is similar in its time demands. Finally, law students often procrastinate in starting a new project, either because they are intimidated by its size or because they underestimate its requirements. By the time that they actually start the project, they may not have left enough time to do a good job on it—and in the meantime, they let their other studies slide.

Image courtesy of pandpstock001 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of pandpstock001 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So how can you approach these types of major projects in a way that will maximize your opportunity to successfully complete them and prevent an increase in stress? Here is a step-by-step method for tackling your big law school projects:

  1. Develop a “project plan” as soon as your professor assigns the project. One key to successful planning is to avoid delay.
  2. Break major projects up into several smaller components. Dividing the project into smaller pieces will help you to not be intimidated by the project’s size. It will also help you to better evaluate what needs to be accomplished and how much time the project will take. Make a list of the “tasks” that have to be accomplished and estimate how long each task will take. For example, maybe you have to draft an appellate brief for a class. Some of the tasks that you might list for this assignment include: reading and taking notes from the case record; researching the applicable standard of review and relevant legal issues (treat each legal issue as a separate task); drafting the brief (treat each section of the brief—for example, statement of the issues, statement of the facts, statement of the case, jurisdictional statement, argument/analysis of each legal issue, conclusion, etc.—as a separate task); formatting (i.e., creating case caption, signature block, Table of Contents, and Table of Authorities); and editing. Even editing might be broken up into separate tasks. For example, one editing task might be to edit argument and analysis. Another editing task might be to edit for grammar, typographical errors, and spelling. A third edit might focus solely on citations and Bluebooking.
  3. Set a separate deadline for each task you’ve identified—create a place for each task in your study schedule. Spread out the tasks so that you are able to maintain your other studies as well. Make conscious choices about scheduling—some tasks will require less brain power than others. Schedule difficult tasks for times that your brain is fresher, and easy tasks for times that you may be more tired. These types of conscious decisions allow you to make the best use of your time.
  4. Hold yourself accountable—don’t become complacent because it seems like the deadline is far away. Thinking “I have plenty of time” results in procrastination and less successful outcomes.
  5. Don’t forget time for editing. Editing is one of the most important parts of the writing process, and most students don’t give it the time that it deserves. Schedule tasks early enough to give yourself plenty of time for editing. The quality of your work will be much better, and your grades will reflect the extra effort.

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Making the Best Use of Spring Break in Law School

Law students the world over look forward to breaks from law school. Some students view these breaks as a holiday—a time to get away from the intense daily demands of their studies, travel, and visit with family and friends. Other students have ambitious plans for catching up or getting ahead in their studies. Regardless of which approach you take, you are probably pretty happy when you see Spring Break finally approaching. There is nothing wrong to either approach to Spring break, at least in the abstract. In fact, the best Spring Break plans should probably include some of both. The key is to come back to law school after the break in a better place than you were before—and accomplishing this task takes just a little advance planning.

Here are a few tips for making the best use of your Spring Break or other holidays:

Set reasonable goals for studying during the break. I often have law students tell me that they are going to outline for all of their classes during the break, do practice exams for each class, get ahead in their reading assignments, and read a bunch of supplements. Spring break can be the perfect time to work on getting caught up in your studies, but it is important to set realistic goals. After all, Spring Break usually only lasts a week. You aren’t superhuman, and you can’t do everything. When you set unrealistic goals for yourself, it is easy to get defeated and give up when you realize that you can’t get everything done. Instead, decide what your highest priority items are, and focus on those first. Create a study schedule for yourself during the break, and set reasonable goals for what you intend to accomplish during each of those study sessions. You will be focused and productive, and your efforts will build momentum for the weeks leading up to final exams.

Image courtesy of smokesalmon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of smokesalmon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Give yourself permission to take some time off. Don’t get me wrong—it’s good to work on getting caught up on your studies during Spring Break. In fact, I encourage you to do so. But it isn’t particularly healthy to work long days every day during the break, including weekends. There is still a lot of time before the end of the semester, and you don’t want to burn yourself out. If you take a little time off from your studies, you will come back refreshed and ready to tackle the hard stuff. At the minimum, give yourself a couple of days off entirely. Do something fun. Get out of the house. See your friends and family. Read that book (for fun) that everyone has been talking about. Go see a movie. Do something entirely unrelated to law. On the days that you study, take regular breaks. Maybe you will decide to get up and do your studying from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm each day, and then take the rest of the day off. (You can even accomplish this if you travel on vacation during the break—just make sure your goals and study schedule are reasonable!) If you set realistic study goals for yourself and create a study plan to achieve those goals, you will be able to build in some time to relax as well. Your studies will be more productive, and you will return to law school ready to tackle the remainder of the semester.

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Make vacation plans that recharge your batteries, not leave you even more tired. Maybe you are caught up on your law school studies, and you’ve decided to go on vacation during Spring Break. (Or you are making it a combination study/travel break!) It’s important to make sure that your vacation plans don’t leave you exhausted as you are heading back to classes. It’s still a long uphill climb to final exams, and you won’t be setting yourself up for success if you have run full speed the entire break. It’s best to avoid the type of Spring Break plans that were popular in undergrad, where everyone partied hard and drank heavily every night. Think about what you need to do for yourself to recharge your batteries while you on vacation, and following through on those things will help you in the long term. I also recommend that you not plan to come home at the very last minute—it’s good to give yourself the time to get sorted about before classes resume, and you will have reading to do for your upcoming classes.

Above all, think balance. As with everything in law school, taking a balanced approach to Spring Break and other holidays will help to keep you on the right path to academic and personal success.

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Filed under General, Outlines, Stress and Mental Health, Study Tips

Taking an Intentional Approach to Reading in Law School

Image courtesy of Surachai at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Surachai at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here is a common scenario in law school: Classes are over for the day, and you head to the law school library to get started on your assigned reading for tomorrow. You set down with the casebook and pull out the class syllabus to find out what you need to read. Next to tomorrow’s date, the syllabus states, “Read Casebook pp. 243-97.” You open the casebook to page 243 and begin to read, highlighting as you go and jotting a few notes in the margin. Two or three hours later you repeat this process with the next class’s assignment, and then again with your third class. You go into class the next day having read the assigned readings but not remembering exactly what you read and why you’ve read it (beyond the fear of being unprepared if you are called on in class!).

So what is the problem with this scenario? Law students are often not intentional in how they prepare for class. Don’t get me wrong—you may be doing the assigned reading and make some effort to brief the cases for class (even if briefing only involves highlighting and making notes in the margins). But you may not be thinking about why you are reading the assignment. Instead, you are just trying to get assignments done so that you can cross them off your list and move on to the next thing. But when you approach your reading in this way you are not receiving the full benefit of your efforts. You may not see the connections between cases you’ve read on different days, and you may not anticipate the types of questions your professor will ask during class. You haven’t started the process of synthesizing material to make outlining more productive and efficient in the future.

A better approach to reading is to make intentional choices about how you read and how you connect each reading assignment to what came before and what will come after. Here are some suggestions for how you can take an intentional approach to your law school reading:

  • Identify the legal topic prior to doing the reading assignment. Look for clues in the Course Syllabus, the casebook Table of Contents, and any headings that come before the cases. Ask yourself: are you starting a new topic in this reading, or is this a continuation of a topic that you’ve previously explored in other readings? The answer to this question can start to create a context for the case.
  • Ask yourself as you read: Why this case now? Situate each case in the context of what came before and what may be coming after it. If it’s the first assignment for a new topic, the cases may be setting out the foundational rules for that new legal issue. If the previous reading has already set out those rules, you want to ask how this new case relates to that earlier reading—in other words, does it provide a definition or other further explanation of one of the elements of a legal test? Does it set up a competing rule, such as a minority jurisdiction approach to that issue? Maybe the new case introduces an exception to the general rule. Or it may demonstrate how competing public policy considerations affect a court’s application of the rule. The casebook editors were very deliberate about why they chose that particular case for inclusion in their book, and they often leave clues regarding their motives. Headings, subheadings, introductory paragraphs and even notes after cases can help you determine why you’re reading this particular case.
  • Make a few quick notes about any relationships you see among cases in the reading. Professors often ask students to compare different cases that they’ve read, or explain why the outcomes in two cases are different. If you’ve already started thinking about the relationships between those cases, you will be able to anticipate those types of questions. This type of notes will also be helpful later, once your class has finished covering that particular legal issue and you sit down to start working on that part of your outline. Your notes will help you organize your outline so that the relationships between the cases (more particularly, the relationships between the legal rules and explanations of those rules explored in those cases) are the main focus.

Taking an intentional approach to each day’s reading helps you to get more out of the cases. Your reading will more effectively prepare you for class discussions, and you will also have a stronger foundation for outlining and studying for exams.

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