Tag Archives: law students

A Road Map to Success on Law School Exams

© Alvaro German Vilela | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The most common way to study for law school exams is to create an outline for each subject, synthesizing everything from the course (case briefs, class notes, etc.) into a single coherent document. Outlining is an effective way to study, as it forces you to consider how cases, statutes, and hypotheticals fit together. A good outline identifies the key legal issues from the course, pulls the rules, definitions, and explanations from the cases related to those issues, and organizes the material in such a way that the student can predict how to use that material on the exam.

Although outlining is a solid approach to your law school studies, some subjects benefit from an even more focused approach – a technique that I’ll call “road mapping.” A road map takes the material related to a legal issue from your outline and turns it into an action plan for how you will analyze that issue on an exam. If you take this approach, each legal issue should have its own road map. When you identify that legal issue in a fact pattern on the exam, you will know exactly how to tackle that issue.

So how do you create a road map?

  • First, start with identifying the issue. The issue is the starting point on your road map. You may want to think about what types of facts may signal that this issue is “in play” in the question. For example, if you are taking a Torts exam, and the defendant is identified as an employee, you may ask yourself: “Could there be a vicarious liability issue here?” Usually, you’ve identified all possible issues for a subject in that subject’s outline, so this step is usually easy.
  • Second, ask yourself: “What should I do first?” Generally, the first thing that you want to do is identify the appropriate rule for the issue. Does this issue have two or more possible rules? In many subjects, there may both majority rules and minority rules. Some professors may assign jurisdiction-specific reading based on the state your law school is in. And in Contracts, for example, you must determine if you should apply the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) or the common law. As soon as you realize that there is more than one possible rule, you know you must answer a preliminary question. For example: “What jurisdiction are we in?” or “Is this a contract for the sale of goods?” Identify what the steps are for determining the applicable rule. Then based on which rule is chosen, determine what the actual rule statement should be.
  • Third, ask yourself: “What should I do next?” Answering this question requires you to think about how the rule should be explained or defined further. Does the rule include a series of elements that must be met? If so, how would you work through those elements in an essay exam? Keep repeating this process until you reach the end of your rule analysis portion of your road map.
  • Fourth, ask yourself: “Are there exceptions to the rule that I’ve identified and explained?” Those exceptions should be included in the process as well – after determining if the rule would otherwise be met, you will want to work through the possible exceptions.
  • Fifth, ask yourself: “Have courts applied public policy to their analysis of this issue?” If so, you will want to identify and explain what public policies may be applied to the issue, and determine when you would want to go into that policy discussion.
  • Sixth, having gone through this process, identify at which points you would want to include facts from the exam hypothetical in the analysis. Note in your road map the places where you would apply the legal rule to the hypothetical facts.
  • Finally, note how you would approach the conclusion to any analysis of this issue.

As you can see from the steps above, the key to a good road map is being intentional. Don’t just memorize rules – think about how you would apply those rules to a new set of facts. Your road map should be an action plan for how you would tackle each issue on the exam.

The last month before finals is the perfect time to create road maps. Much of your outlining should be completed by this stage, and you should be focused on reviewing material and taking practice exams as finals approach. An additional benefit to road mapping: you will identify aspects of  legal issues that you don’t yet understand, and you have the time at this point to work through those legal issues and go to your professors’ office hours to refine your understanding of the material.

(Want more information about how to effectively outline for law school exams? I’ve previously explored this topic here, here, here, and here.)

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Filed under Law School Exams, Outlines, Study Tips

How Time Management Contributes to Success on Law School Exams

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If only I’d had more time.

Such is the lament of law students across the country during the final exams period. Time is almost always an issue during law school exams – some professors even warn students that it’s impossible to completely answer all questions in the time allotted. A student’s ability to manage time during the exam can be key to academic success, and the failure to do so can have disastrous consequences. Almost every semester, students do poorly or even fail exams because they spend too much time on one part of the exam and either don’t have enough time to finish or never get to the final part of the exam. And the time constraints also contribute to feelings of stress both before and during the exam.

You may feel like you have no control of the time challenge. After all, it’s your professor who creates the exam and determines how much time you will have to complete it. All you can do is show up on the day of the exam and write as quickly as possible, hoping to make it to the finish before time is called. In reality, however, there are steps you can take to manage time during the exam. These steps, by themselves, are not sufficient to guarantee success – but with a strong study plan before the exam, and good written analysis during the exam, time management can contribute to your academic success.

With that in mind, here are some tips for managing time during your law school exams:

Assess Before You Write. You can’t manage what you don’t know. If your professor doesn’t give you specific details about the number and type of questions in advance, take a minute or two at the beginning of the exam to evaluate what the parts of the exam are and what each section is worth.

Follow Your Professor’s Instructions. If your professor tells you how much time to spend on each section of the exam, pay attention to those instructions. Your professor designed the exam with those time constraints in mind, and the time is likely to correspond with the value of each part of the exam.

Assign Time Based on Value. If your professor’s instructions do not include time suggestions, allot time based on value. For example, let’s say you are taking a Contracts Law exam that is scheduled for 3 hours. When you look at the exam, you see a multiple choice section, worth 1/3 of the exam, and two essays, each worth 1/3 of the exam. You should allow 1 hour for the multiple choice section, 1 hour for the first essay question, and 1 hour for the second essay question.

Create a Schedule for the Exam – and Stick to It. Once you have calculated how much time you should spend on each part of the exam, create a schedule. Write down the times you should finish one part of the exam and move on to the next, and then stick to the schedule. If you happen to finish a section a little early, then the remaining time can go towards another section. But don’t “steal” time from one section to give to another by ignoring the schedule altogether.

Don’t Let Open Book Exams Get Out of Control. Occasionally, students will have an “open book” exam, where the professor allows students to bring in casebooks, outlines, and class notes. Students often think that open book exams are easier, but that is usually not the case. Every time you have to look something up during the exam, you are not writing. It is almost always better to prepare for open book exams in the same way that you would prepare for a closed book exam, and only look things up during the exam if you really can’t remember the law you need to answer the question.

Take Practice Exams to Develop Time Management Strategies. If your professors have released any old exams, take a few timed practice exams before the exam period begins. Practice exams allow you to develop your time management strategies without worrying about grades.

With these time management tips in mind, good luck on your final exams!

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5 Tips for Surviving (and Thriving) during Law School Final Exams

image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

As law students head into final exams, here are 5 tips for surviving (and thriving) during the final exam period:

(1) Take care of yourself. Law school exams are not a sprint but a marathon. Make sure that you get plenty of sleep each night – if you stay up late (or all night) trying to get ahead on your studies, your brain will not function as well afterwards. The next day, it will take you longer to accomplish tasks that would normally be easy, and lack of sleep also has a negative effect on memory. A tired brain does not contribute to academic success in law school. It’s also important to not skip meals – brains need food too! And make sure that you take regular breaks from your studies. Take a walk, or do something else that gets you up out of your chair. After each break, you will go back to your studies refreshed and ready to tackle your outlines!

(2) Create a study plan. Students commonly spend most of their study time on the first exam or two, and then they run out of steam before the end of the exam period. Print out a blank calendar, and divide up your days so that each class gets a reasonable portion of the remaining study time. You will realize that you need to rotate your schedule to give each class its due. For some students, maybe assigning one subject per day makes most sense; for other students, studying two subjects a day may work better. The important thing is to be intentional – if you have a study plan, you know exactly what you should be doing each day to stay on track and maximize your studying.

(3) Identify your priorities. Students often study for exams by going through their outlines over and over again, from cover to cover. Although that approach may work for reviewing course material throughout the semester, it is usually not the most efficient way to study in the days leading up to your final exams. Instead, create a checklist of issues for each subject (instructions for creating a checklist can be found here). Once you’ve created your checklists, start each day by printing out the checklist(s) for that day’s study subject(s). Go through the checklist, evaluating if you can comfortably discuss the law for each issue.

(4) Develop road maps. After you’ve created your outline, think about how you would actually use the information on an exam. If you identify a particular legal issue in an essay exam question, what would you do first? What would you do next? Some students create a flow chart that shows the analytical process they would use in their essays, while other students list a series of steps (kind of like following a recipe). The form is up to you, but try to do much of the thinking about how you would organize your analysis for each legal issue before you get into the exam. If you do, you will spend more time writing during the exam, and less time thinking. And your essays are likely to be more focused and better organized. The process of developing a road map also helps you to identify topics that may need more review.

(5) Take practice exams. Sometimes your professors have released old exams or practice questions. If they have, there’s an opportunity to better understand what your professors are looking for in the exam answers. One way to use a practice exam is to simulate the actual exam experience. Find a quiet, distraction-free place to take the practice exam. Time yourself, so that you write for the amount of time that the professor would allow for that question during an actual exam. If the exam is closed book, don’t look at your notes. Taking an exam, even if you only do one essay, can be a great way of assessing how prepared you are for the exam. You can then spend more time reviewing the areas of the law that seemed too vague or fuzzy. If you feel that you don’t have enough time to write out complete essays, you can still use a professor’s old exams to test your ability to spot legal issues and make sure that you know the law for those issues.

Following these tips can help you make the best use of limited time in the days leading up to final exams. Good luck on your exams!

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Filed under Law School Exams, Stress and Mental Health, Study Tips

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

A New Culture, a New Language: Welcome to Law School!

I’ve talked about this subject previously, but it bears repeating as new students are getting ready to head off to law school for the first time this month. The first weeks of law school can be intimidating for new law students. For many students, it can be like you’ve been dropped into a foreign country–one where you don’t speak the language, don’t really understand the culture, and really wish you could figure out what happened to your tour guide. This experience can be stressful, but remember you are not alone in the process–many law students have traveled the path before you, and there really are many resources (the equivalent of guide books, foreign language dictionaries, and those tour guides) to help you along the way.

Image courtesy of bplanet at freedigitalphotos.net.

Image courtesy of bplanet at freedigitalphotos.net.

So what makes law school so different? First, you will most likely find the culture of law school very different from what you’ve experienced in undergrad and graduate school programs. There are new expectations for professional behavior, and you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to your education. Many of your classes will be taught using Socratic method, with the professor guiding your learning by asking you questions rather than lecturing. If you are not prepared for class, you will quickly be left behind. Second, class assignments will require more time and effort than you have had to put into your studies in the past. And especially in the first several weeks of the semester, as you read course assignments, there will be many words you don’t understand; much of the law that you will study has a context that you won’t have learned yet.

Like learning a foreign language, learning the language of law will require significant time and effort during your years in law school. You will read cases multiple times, learning to “translate” each case into usable information for class and exam purposes. You will look up countless legal words and phrases in your law dictionary. You may create flashcards to help you memorize the key vocabulary and legal tests (the “grammar” of law), much as you approached taking Spanish, French, or Chinese in high school and college.

Although it really isn’t possible to learn most of the language of law until you are immersed in it during your 1L year, it is possible to develop some of the context for that language now, during the summer before you begin your life as a law student. Sometimes your law school will provide specific suggestions of things you should read prior to your 1L year—check with your law school’s Admissions staff or Academic Support professionals for additional guidance. As I’ve described previously, there are a number of books out there that provide good information about what to expect in law school, and many of those books provide some context for the legal language you will learn. There are also books you can read “for fun” and still learn some legal language and context. There are also some great websites, such as the Federal Judicial Center’s “Inside the Federal Courts” website, created to educate federal court employees but useful for incoming law students as well. Other state and federal court websites may provide additional helpful information.

So what types of information would be helpful to know before the first day of law school? Here’s a nonexclusive list of suggested topics to learn more about this summer:

(1) the differences between civil law and criminal law;

(2) the meaning of words and phrases such as “case law,” “common law,” and “statutory law”;

(3) the federal court system and federal appellate process;

(4) the state court system and state appellate process for the state in which your law school is located in;

(5) how the U.S. Supreme Court functions and who the current Supreme Court Justices are; and

(6) basic information about the types of law you will be studying during your first year of law school, which, depending on the law school, might include subjects such as Torts, Property Law, Civil Procedure, Contracts, Criminal Law, and Constitutional Law.

Remember, you don’t have to be a legal expert before you go to law school; you are just creating a context for what you will learn as a 1L. You will have your equivalent of “tour guides” in law school–your professors, law school administrators and staff, Academic Support professionals, and upper level students who have gone through what you are going through. But a little research before the first day will make you feel less like a tourist wandering in a foreign land.

Image courtesy of keerati at freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of keerati at freedigitalphotos.net

Stay tuned for more advice for new law students in the coming weeks! We will explore a number of topics, including Socratic Method, law school grades, reading and briefing cases, and numerous other subjects of interest to incoming students.

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Filed under Pre-Law, Study Tips

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

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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