law school advice
December 14, 2008 6:43 PM   Subscribe

LawSchoolFilter: Starting law school at Michigan in May. Yey! I have 6 months to get really prepared so that I excel as a 1L. Recommendations? I'm currently reviewing the Nutshells for 1L classes, but I've also been told that this may be of marginal help. Thoughts?
posted by leotrotsky to Education (25 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've heard v. good things about BarBri.
posted by k8t at 6:51 PM on December 14, 2008

Best answer: In terms of helping you think like a lawyer, the Nutshells won't be much help. In terms of stuffing you full of knowledge that is often difficult to absorb from overly Socratic professors or ones that are just generally poor at lecturing and/or fostering class discussion, they are very valuable. Caveat: They're effectively one year out of date, so you still need to pay attention in class and the least you can do for yourself generally is to read SCOTUSblog.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:53 PM on December 14, 2008

Best answer: k8t, BarBri is a program used to study for the bar. Unless you've graduated from law school already there's no point. It's also freaking expensive ($2000-$3500 depending on state).

My recommendation is to spend the next six months brushing up on how to be a normal human being. Law school is a pretty intense experience, and there are a huge number of majorly egotistical type-A personalities that show up. If you haven't figured out how not to be an ass before you get to law school, law school isn't going to make that any easier. Grubbing for grades and kissing up to professors in class is not guaranteed to get you good grades (and good grades aren't guaranteed to get you a job, while we're on that subject) but doing those things is guaranteed to make people not like you. You don't get brownie points for being smart in law school the way you did in college. In law school, especially at a place like Michigan, everyone is smart, and the sooner you stop getting into pissing contests the happier everyone will be with you.

In short:

1) Realize that you aren't the smartest, most accomplished person in the room.

2) Be okay with that.

You get those down and you'll do fine, regardless of what your career looks like. Fail at those and, well, there's a reason the legal profession is associated with alcoholism and a high divorce rate.

As far as actual academic preparation, I'd say don't bother. Horror stories notwithstanding, 1L classes don't actually cover that much material. The hardest part is whether or not you "get" thinking like a lawyer, and believe me, there's little you can do by mucking about with a nutshell or even a textbook before you get there. I've seen several people who thought they were The Shit because they understood concepts like consideration before they got to Contracts. Those people wound up looking like self-important idiots because, actually, they didn't understand those concepts, because they're actually pretty subtle. So sure, familiarize yourself with the vocabulary, but don't kill yourself. You'll be much better served by not stressing about it than by doing extra homework.
posted by valkyryn at 7:14 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Read this. There really is nothing you can do to prepare yourself to excel as a 1L, except to be well rested and ready to apply yourself once classes actually start. Relax and good luck.
posted by ajr at 7:15 PM on December 14, 2008

Best answer: Learn to understand civil procedure. Why? Because understanding procedure will enable you to understand how a case moves through the system, put in context why a professor is singling the case out for class, and generally give you "the bigger picture." To this day, 10 years after law school, my classmates and I still talk about how much more we would have understood/comprehended had we been taught civ pro first.

(This advice doesn't really hold true for constitutional law, but you've already got the SCOTUSblog tip. I would also add Howard Bashman's excellent and very frequently updated HowAppealing for a more day-to-day picture of the appellate world.).

Oh, and find out who's got the greatest outlines and buy him/her all the beer they can drink all semester long.
posted by webhund at 7:15 PM on December 14, 2008

Best answer: If I could have done anything differently in preparing for law school I would have 1) traveled somewhere awesome before I started; and 2) spent the last month practicing being on a normal schedule so that I could treat law school like a 9-5 job. Excelling at law school isn't as much about learning the stuff in the nutshells as it is learning what the professors want you to know. And that's different for every professor. You'll only learn the answer from your professors, so you should go to office hours and take practice exams if you want an A. Seriously, you got into law school, you'll be fine.

My other advice is to take 1) Richard Primus for Employment Discrimination and anything else he's teaching while you're there and 2) take clinics. Both those things will make you a better lawyer.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:16 PM on December 14, 2008

Best answer: Oh, and if you are determined to study before school starts, I would read "Getting to Maybe."
posted by ajr at 7:18 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd read Dudley C. Lunt's The Road to the Law.

Although it is dated in many ways, I think it gets the flavor just right.Also, I'd get some much needed rest. You're gonna need it. Help yourself by making sure all of your loose ends are taken care of before school starts.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:27 PM on December 14, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks folks. Everybody gets best answers! Happy Holidays!
posted by leotrotsky at 7:32 PM on December 14, 2008

Best answer: BarBri has a 1L review program, valkryryn, which is presumably what k8t is referring to. I seem to recall that you get the review materials if you sign up for the bar review (i.e., lock in your BarBri rate).

Here's some advice:

1. Go to class, every day, prepared to answer questions and take good notes. Whatever that takes for you (multiple alarms, buddy system, sleep schedule adjustment, etc), do it. You will be amazed at the number of your classmates who either skip class or waste time playing solitaire, checking facebook, etc.

2. Generally speaking, don't ask questions in class. If you don't understand something, go to your professor's office hours. You'll get better, more personal results this way and won't risk asking something foolish or being seen as a gunner.

3. Stay ahead in the readings by at least one day. Take at least some notes in your casebooks (e.g., identifying the holding and outcome of a case). Even if the bulk of your notes are in an outline, having the basics in your casebooks will help refresh your memory when you go back over material in class.

4. Build an outline over the course of the semester. Don't wait until the last week of class to cram it together.

If you want some inspiration for working hard, just look at the law firm news in the ABA Journal. The job market for lawyers is in the toilet (layoffs, firms going bankrupt, law students having job offers rescinded, etc), so you will have to do extremely well to distinguish yourself.
posted by jedicus at 7:33 PM on December 14, 2008

This may be your last opportunity to travel or just dick around and be young. Do you have kids? A family to support? A 9-5 (or a 9-9, or a 9-1 am) job to go to? You will. The best thing you can do is take advantage of this time to explore the world and your many interests so that some day, when you're in the library for the 18th straight day and you have a date that night, you have something you can talk to her about that isn't promissory estoppel.

The professors will teach you what you need to know. They will assign the reading that you need to study from. Every professor will emphasize different aspects of the law. Studying now will not help you as much as you think, if at all. I know people who read a ridiculous number of books the summer before law school, both on the subject matter and on general strategy, and some of them still did not do very well. Are you smart? Do you know how to study and adapt to new challenges? You'll be fine.
posted by prefpara at 7:43 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding "Getting to Maybe". Enough to make you anxious, but it's a good guide on how to do well in school and gives you a framework for "thinking like a lawyer."

The consensus is to enjoy life before school and read plenty while you're in it.

Seconding lots of clinical work, especially if you're looking for a job in a field where there's a clinic.
The most popular outlines are Gilbert's. They're good generally, but making your own outlines is much more helpful for getting top marks. Questions and Answers (not the "multiple choice" edition) for Civ Pro is commonly considered fairly helpful.

Each of the more detailed answers above are excellent. There's little you can do to prepare yourself other than understanding that this will be a full time venture and remember that there's a reason you're here (hopefully) ... that reason will keep you on target for your studies and let you enjoy your profession when you begin to work after school.

I wouldn't worry about buying beer for the guy with the "good" outlines - the value of the outline is what you learn from processing it yourself. Figuring out what come first, breaking it down into components that are reasonable to you, and making it usable for exams. Build you own outlines as best you can, consider supplementing with Gilbert's when you can't break out the elements of a section but mostly it's about you getting it from the cases and class discussion and then onto your outline. Then maybe folks will buy you beer.

Don't even think about the word BarBri for a few years except to give them a deposit to ensure you get their course for a lower fee ($100 1L year should save you about $300 of the price later). Sign up with a friend who is working for Barbri so they can get closer to their quota). Barbri should have nothing to do with your time in law school (except for their MPRE course which is about 2 days, sign up when all your classmates do).

One thing I wish I'd done a bit more of: practice exams with groups of other students. One thing I wish I'd done less of: collecting debt (and I didn't collect a helluva lot).

Michigan has a fair loan repayment assistance program (not as good as Boalt's, but they'er still improving it).

Have a great time and do everything you can to get the job you want, not the job your classmates seem to be fighting over because it's supposed to be "better" than another firm or career.
posted by unclezeb at 7:44 PM on December 14, 2008

Current Michigan Law student here. Happy to answer any questions you might have before you get here. Shoot me a me-/ e-mail. My advice for the next few months would be to enjoy yourself. Don't know what you're doing right now, but if you have the opportunity to travel, do it. Law school is hard work and it takes up 3 years of your 20s, when you wanna be out doing exciting things. There are a lot of things I want to do that I can't currently because of school and I kinda missed my chance before I started. Don't read law books. They won't help you that much. Read for pleasure. Reading becomes a chore once you're forced to do it for hours and hours a day. Over all, if you're able, just take some time to yourself and do things that you like to do. You'll pick up plenty of stress here. Best to come with as little as possible.
posted by PhatLobley at 7:48 PM on December 14, 2008

Personally I WOULD read a few nutshell-type books. The pedagogical methodology of law school is simply wrong; that is it violates every known psychological fact known about human learning. Its role in society is price-control, but that is neither here nor there. When you are reading cases or listening to a professor "lecturing" (which 75% of the time consists of astoudingly tedious "Socratic" interactions with students) it can be difficult to develop a big-picture awareness of the conceptual space of the area. For example it was not until I read a nutshell that I understood tort liability is all on a scale from strict liability to negligence to intentional. Or something like that, I've long since forgotten. My other bit of advice is be very good at taking notes in class. LAW IS AWESOME.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 8:21 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Stop being a gunner. Seriously, you're going to be knee deep in the material for 8 hours a day for the next 3yrs, you don't need to be reading nutshells right now. Do something fun that you wont have time to do later.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:12 PM on December 14, 2008

Oh jeez... current 2L taking time out from crim pro studying to surf AskMeFi...

The best thing you can do now to prep for starting 1L in 6 months is stop thinking about how you're going to prep for starting 1L in 6 months. Seriously. Go drink a beer or something. Enjoy this time. You will be working hard once you get to school, I promise you, but you really won't get anything out of reading your civ pro text book in advance, presuming you can even find out what your civ pro text book is going to be, or what your particular civ pro professor is going to want you to focus on until the week before class starts.

You got into Michigan, so you're not stupid. You'll do fine once you get there.
posted by Inkoate at 9:17 PM on December 14, 2008

Third Getting to Maybe. That is the book you must, must, must read.

Also, I posted an AskMe thread similar to this one before I started some while back -- the advice there still isn't bad, but it's more geared to what you should do when you start the semester rather than now.

I spent the summer before law school reading as many Pulitzer-prize winning nonfiction books as I could. It was tons of fun and I think it helped acclimate me to law books a bit. Other than that, get your casebooks a week or two early and make sure you're ready to go on the first day -- BUT DON'T OVERDO IT. Just be chill and take one, nice, last deep breath before diving in.
posted by spiderwire at 10:17 PM on December 14, 2008

I agree: don't study before getting to law school, and read Getting to Maybe.

I understand why you have the urge to read outlines 6 months before going to law school: because you're eager to go to law school, which is great. If you do want to do some thinking about it in advance, you could read this comment I made on a previous thread (starting a few paragraphs in), which is a long list of tips for being a law student -- note taking, law review, understanding cases, etc.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:49 AM on December 15, 2008

I would travel. Maybe put a couple of the books mentioned in your carry-on luggage. Take a deep breath.
posted by craven_morhead at 5:50 AM on December 15, 2008

Don't bother to try to learn the material for your classes in advance. Do, however, read up on current events and news concerning federal, state and local government and courts. Maybe even read some American history.

Make sure that you keep up with people who won't be going to law school next year, so that you can socialize with people outside of the 1L bubble.

If you want to do anything specifically law school related, the one and only thing to do is to read Getting to Maybe.
posted by andrewraff at 7:35 AM on December 15, 2008

Current Michigan 3L here.

Best advice is to stop worrying and enjoy your spring/summer. Seriously. You'll learn all you need to know when you get here.

Happy to talk more if you want to send me a message.
posted by soonertbone at 10:06 AM on December 15, 2008

Recent law grad here. Just to try to get some credibility, I'll let you know that I did well enough my 1L year to transfer from a tier 4 school to a tier 1.


First don't worry too much about trying to learn substance ahead of time. It can actually screw you over if your prof disagrees with your book (guess which one is grading your exam). Once you discover which profs are mainstream, if you have a long commute, audio books are a great, low stress way to "read ahead" if you are so inclined.

Second, do try to get a decent, real life idea of what law school is going to be like. Figure out what note taking program you'll use. I recommend OneNote. Have a game plan or two as to how you're going to go about your life for the first semester. It will calm you down and you'll freak a little less the first week. I suggest Law School Confidential. DO NOT READ 1L!!!!

(A side note to the above is to brace your friends and family for the disappearing act you're gonna pull for the next 9 months.)

Learn to brief a case BEFORE you get to law school. You'll be doing this a lot, and you'll suck at first. This is where a lot of people will fall behind in the first few weeks. Often the first cases of a particular subject are the oldest and most likely to be written in ye' ole English style so it'll be difficult enough. Also, be careful about the temptation of book briefing. A lot of your classmates will do it early on to save time. You need to have briefing down cold to be able to productively book brief.


Your 1L grades are the most important. Can't stress this enough. Fall of your second year you'll interview for a summer position at firms. Essentially these positions are your trial run to work at that firm. After you're invited for the summer, most firms never look at your grades again (as long as they don't plummet), they judge you on your work and fit in the firm.

Your GPA is what gets you in the door to employers, not your writing grade. Don't sink too much time into your writing class. Most 1L writing classes demand a highly disproportionate amount of time than your doctrinal classes, yet are worth significantly less credits. Now I'm not suggesting you don't learn citation or the basics of brief writing, but if you're concerned with your writing, worry about that your 2L year after you get the GPA you want/need. Just get a grade that you can live with and won't raise red flags to interviewers.

Law school exams are only looking for the reasoning you used to get your answer. If your answer doesn't contain the word "because," it's practically worthless. Also, always mention any way it could come out otherwise no matter how remote (without adding new facts).

Make as many connections with your classmates as possible. Especially 2Ls and 3Ls for outlines and prof recommendations. (I.e. email those who have offered help in this question). Don't screw anyone over, and don't refuse to share outlines. These people are your professional peers now, and you never know how they can help or even hurt you in the future.

The best advice I ever got is not to focus on how you're doing and your progress, it won't get you anywhere. This (at least the first year) is the time to just focus on doing as good a job as you are capable. You're gonna put everything into it and see what you're able to accomplish.

After class on Friday you're not allowed to study. You'll need this mandatory time off so as not to go crazy. Especially the first few weeks organize groups of people to go to the nearest bar and grab a drink. (Just announce the plan after your last class and almost half the people will probably show.) Great way to let off some steam and meet your classmates. You'll need these people for commiseration. There's only so much your friends and family can hear about law school.

Well that got to rambling mode so I'll just say

Good luck!
posted by JakeLL at 11:38 AM on December 15, 2008

Oh, and find out who's got the greatest outlines and buy him/her all the beer they can drink all semester long.

No, make your own outline. Most of the value in the outline isn't the product; it's the process of distilling the essential points.

I'd often spend weeks and weeks making an outline (that is, the roadmap to a class that you use for studying for the final exam), and spend only the last couple days actually reading it through. I don't consider that to be faulty time management -- I consider that ideal. When I had other people's outlines, it was more trouble than it was worth to translate their shorthand into terms that worked for me, and it also lulled me into a false sense of security ("oh, it's not that hard, I have all I need right here and I didn't even need to work for it").
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:38 AM on December 16, 2008

Best answer: it also lulled me into a false sense of security ("oh, it's not that hard, I have all I need right here and I didn't even need to work for it")

Yes. This, like most things in law school, is a self-discipline question. If you can make an outline independently and then look over others' outlines to find things you may have missed or different angles, that's ideal.

The temptation, though, is simply to cut-and-paste, which will not help you at all. It's very, very hard to read another outline and then force yourself to do it over again, even though you know in your heart that the process is the only thing that's really important. It's really easy to make promises to yourself and even easier to then break them when you're tired of studying.

Rather than make all these promises to yourself that you know you'll break, the better route is just to not give yourself the option to cut corners at all. If you really want to be a good law student, here's the stunning secret: Don't be lazy. Just sit down and do the work. Don't cut corners, but don't just work for the sake of working, either. Be honest with yourself about how you learn and what needs to be done, and then do it.
posted by spiderwire at 11:59 AM on December 16, 2008

Best answer: I agree with those above who suggest reading Getting to Maybe. But we should explain why. That book isn't about Contracts or Torts. It's about (typical) law school exams: how they work, and what they're looking for. If you understand this before starting 1L, then you will have a clearer idea of what you should be getting out of readings, lectures, notes, etc. That will allow you to focus toward exams, which are the end goal for most 1Ls. If you're going to start work before classes begin, the difference between memorizing a Torts outline and reading Getting to Maybe is the difference between working hard and working smart.

If you absolutely must work on substantive material before you begin, try audio lectures (two series: Sum & Substance, and Law School Legends). Depending on the lecturer, some are exam-focused while others give a more general overview. Browse reviews on Amazon. Most are ~8 hours, which you can either cover at your leisure, possibly during your commute to work. The advantage to a pre-1L is that, by just listening and not bothering to take notes, a short overview of a first-year subject might give you a helpful framework for later, when you begin actually working through the material. (Again, I don't necessarily recommend doing this—but if you're one of those people who's going to do something anyway, it's not a bad option.)

There are a handful of interesting things you can read, apart from substantive material: Karl Llewellyn's Bramble Bush, Benjamin Cardozo's The Nature of the Judicial Process, and Oliver Wendell Holmes's The Common Law are popular and excellent choices. Harvard Law School's library used to have a Top 20 list of law review articles on its website (I think this is that list), a few of which would be appropriate for a pre-1L—most notably, Holmes's "The Path of the Law," which is freely available. (I really like Felix Cohen's "Dialogue on Private Property," although you probably can't get it free online. It was published in 1954 in Rutgers Law Review, volume 9, pages 357–87.) James Boyd White wrote an essay titled "The Study of Law as an Intellectual Activity: A Talk to Entering Students," published in his book Heracles' Bow which is on Google Books. Finally, there are a few lay books well-known for their portrayals of the legal process: Gideon's Trumpet, A Civil Action, The Buffalo Creek Disaster, etc. Many 1L classes have one of these assigned.

Depending on your circumstances, there are more basic things you could do. Clear and organize a work space for yourself at home; for many students, relying on the library as a study space tends to foster misery. Update your resume, and browse law schools' webpages about 1L summer jobs to learn what's out there, and what you might be interested in doing. Those webpages should also have cover-letter samples and advice; your school's Career Services staff will help you when the time comes, but you could draft a few samples now so you won't be starting from scratch. The beginning of the 1L summer job search coincides with reading period and exams, so getting mise en place now could save valuable time later. And definitely, if your incoming class forms a group on Facebook: join, and attend events. It's fun getting to know people beforehand, especially since 1L sections can sometimes be insular once divided. These people will be your classmates for life.

Keep in mind: No preparation is necessary. You can walk in cold and do fine. Most people do; and often those who do, fare better than those who fastidiously prepare. Law school is tough, but it's not as bad as the myth. Admissions screening has been heavily refined, partly in order to reduce attrition rates—the result being, most people who can gain admission to a decent law school have nothing to worry about. You'll do fine. Good luck, and have fun.
posted by cribcage at 4:45 PM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

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