Tag Archives: moot court

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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Filed under General, Legal Writing and Oral Arguments, Study Tips

Law Student Voices: Taking the Wheel on the Journey to JD

Image courtesy of dan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Legal education has evolved over the decades from being a singular means to an end to just one step in the process. Many years ago, to become a lawyer a person simply got the education. Then upon graduation, employers would come knocking, handing out jobs and benefits. Now the roles have reversed: it is our responsibility to convince employers to take a chance on us. It is no longer enough to earn a J.D. and pass the bar exam. Surprisingly, there is still a lingering expectation, despite the recession and debates about how legal education is losing value, that law students will graduate and “magically” land a great job. We must understand that our legal destiny is largely within our own control.

Each student entering law school needs to not just know but fully understand that we get out of it what we put into it. Granted, that concept is simple and seems obvious, but I’m not sure many students truly grasp it. Drawing from my own experiences and observations, here are some suggestions for putting this principle into practice:

Grades: Law school is hard! The most important thing is to always put 110% effort towards our grades. (One caveat: Performance in law school is not the only definition of living a fulfilling life. More later on balance and holding on to sanity during this journey.) Grades are one of the most visible defining characteristics of a law student, and the outside world, legal or otherwise, will place a heavy emphasis on grades. So, this means: do your reading, ask questions, study with others, and consult trusted mentors to help you with success strategies. Although some people may have more of a natural inclination for understanding the law, that is not a free pass for others to simply give up on excellence because of having different strengths. The Law School Curve makes life interesting and difficult when it comes to grades, but always giving your best efforts will keep you from ever wondering if there was more you could have done.

Get Involved! Extracurriculars such as moot court, trial team, and law review are valuable in so many ways. These activities not only “look good on a resume” but provide practical skills that will be useful later. I’ve had the privilege of competing in two moot court competitions so far. The skills and confidence that I have gained from these experiences are invaluable. Panel interview for a big law firm? Bring it on! In this same vein, internships and externships are equally as valuable. They give us real world experience that shows potential employers that we are willing and ready to tackle hands-on application of what we are learning in the classroom. This is an area ripe for us to take control of our futures. If you are interested in working for a firm or externing with a government office that is not currently affiliated with your school, ask your career services office for guidance on initiating contact. Don’t wait for someone else to get the ball rolling because that person will then have the advantage of impressing a potential employer.

Networking: Everyone knows someone who can help shape our futures, sometimes in the most unexpected places. I have stumbled upon amazing opportunities simply by striking up a conversation with someone new. I highly recommend carrying business cards. Don’t be afraid to let people know that you are in law school. You may be speaking with someone who has a relative or close friend who is the hiring partner at a firm. Also, always keep in mind that, as a lawyer, your name and reputation are all that you have. Act professionally and courteously at all times. You never know when you are making an impression on your next employer.

The key is to take active control of your law school experience—you have the power to make it a good one!

This post was authored by Amanda M. Fisher, J.D., Savannah Law School ’15.

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Filed under General, Law Student Voices

Taking the Terror Out of Oral Arguments

It’s that time in the semester where law students are preparing for oral arguments in legal writing and appellate advocacy courses or moot court competitions. Students often tell me that they are terrified of oral arguments. Although oral arguments can be intimidating at first if you don’t have much experience–especially if you don’t enjoy public speaking–there are things that you can do to reduce the stress associated with oral arguments and maximize your academic success.

First–and I’m sure you’ve heard it from your professors already–the key is preparation and practice. There is no substitute for preparation, no magic pill that helps you to skip to the front of the line. You must be the “expert” on your oral argument viewpoint. After you have prepared, practice your oral argument until it feels natural. It can also help to practice with friends, asking each other hard questions to simulate the oral argument experience.

Second, imagine your worst case scenarios and develop an action plan for how you will address each challenge if it happens. For example, students often ask me, “What should I do if the judges ask me about a case I have never heard of or haven’t read?” To address this challenge, you might develop an answer like this: “Your Honor, I haven’t had the opportunity to consider X case in light of the issues presented here. I would be happy to submit a supplemental brief in response to this question if Your Honor desires it.” Anticipating possible challenges and determining in advance how you will respond in those situations can reduce stress, take away the fear, and help you respond appropriately if that situation does arise.

Finally, for students who feel intimidated by the judges, it can help to reframe how you think of oral arguments. Think of oral arguments as a type of conversation. Questions are an opportunity for you, not something scary. The person asking you the question is giving you guidance about what information he or she needs to make a decision. If you think about questions using this approach, they become less intimidating–instead, they will be a helpful tool for accomplishing your goals in your argument.

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Filed under General, Legal Writing and Oral Arguments