Planet Law School II, by Atticus Falcon (Book Review)

The Best Book on Law School Success

To me, Planet Law School II (affiliate link) is the gold standard of a law school book on, well, law school success.

If someone pointed a gun to my head and said ”only one book on law school success,” this would be it.

(Don’t just buy one book for your law school prep by the way. Buy everything you need!)

I recommend this book to every law student I tutor.

I have mostly praise for PLS, and only a few criticisms, as I set out below.

But honestly, no other book currently on the market comes close to being honest about the law school game and how to beat it.

Planet Law School: The Good

The author, Atticus Falcon (obviously not his real name), provides a clear-eyed, thorough, and well-articulated critique of the entire law school system. 

No one describes in more rich and convincing detail the pathology of law school. Like, all of it: the dumb use of the Socratic method in class, and the bait and switch of it all (that you spend all your time out of class reading cases, all your class time watching your professor make the law much more complicated than it is, and then you’re tested on things you were supposed to have figured out on your own from this mess.)

Only Planet Law School, of all of the books I’ve read, puts together such a readable retelling of an ancient history (how over 100 years ago, Christopher Langdell came up with the method used to teach law school everywhere in the U.S.) that has such relevance to the lives of law students and that so few in the legal academy wants to revisit.

Why is it important to know the history of law school? 

If you know, before going to law school, how arbitrary and insane the curriculum actually is, and how far removed it is from actual legal practice, you will approach law school with the proper perspective.

You can detach emotionally from your instinctive and unthinking sense of obedience to do what the professor wants, and do the opposite–that is, do exactly what you need to in order to ace law school.

To do well in law school, you need to be at least a little bit cynical about law school. Once you have read Mr. Falcon’s history of legal education, you will never be the same again.

Just as you never want to sausage again after reading The Jungle, you will never again trust another law professor after reading PLS.

Planet Law School isn’t just full of history, however.

Most of it is extremely practical, actionable advice, most of which I agree with. For instance: 

  • Atticus Falcon recommends pre-studying, using commercial outlines, because the Socratic method/case study method does not make any sense in terms of mastering the black letter law which you are actually tested on law school.
  • Planet Law School also recommends not briefing cases because it is a giant waste of time.
  • PLS also emphasizes taking as many practice law school exams as possible.

Planet Law School: The Bad

I have a couple criticisms of this book. None of them prevent me from recommending this to law students, but you should be aware. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Disorganized. The book is refreshingly quirky in tone and in substance. But I wish it were not so quirky as to form. The chapters are not named in a straightforward way. I appreciate the literate and clever references (the chapter on the law school bait and switch is titled “The Walrus and the Carpenter”). But it is annoying to navigate this book to find the advice you want fast.
  • WAAAAY too long. Planet Law School weighs in at 800 pages, almost doubling the size of the original book, Planet Law School I. Many chapters should have been cut from the hard copy of the book. They could have been put in an online supplement for people who want to read more.
    • For instance, there is a whole chapter addressing criticisms of the first addition of his book. Why? Who, other than Atticus Falcon, cares? Certainly, the arguments are convincing. They become arcane and presume the knowledge that the student seeks to obtain. Too much detail that aimed at defending the methods set out in the book, but they quickly add to the student’s information overload.
    • In short, there is too much of a good thing. But while the book could be more reader-friendly, you might better view the book as a heavy reference volume (like a dictionary or encyclopedia) instead of a handy, quick start, “how to do law school” action guide.
  • Not a one stop shop. At 800 pages you would think that Planet Law School II would include everything you need to succeed in law school. It doesn’t. Atticus Falcon specifically tells you to buy other books so you can do well in law school. I’m fine with this, though, because I think you should buy everything you need. He recommends law school primers. Cool. You really should, as he said, buy them because they are important to your success in law school.
  • But you would think that PLS itself would contain enough methodology–concrete steps on how to do well on a law school exam. He recommends that you buy LEEWS, as well as books by John Delaney. Those are great resources, but he could have offered help with this.
  • In short, it would have been nice if Mr. Falcon had provided more specific, usable tactics on how to write a good issue-spotting law school exam. This would have been nice. He does, however, go through an exam in detail, which is nice.

Overall assessment

Despite my criticisms, and they are minor, I highly recommend this great book if you are about to start law school, or even after you start. If you find yourself at all lost or alienated by law school, but still want to do well, please get this book.

I have asked that most of my tutoring students purchase this book.

Most of them have found this idiosyncratic book eye-opening and helpful.

Law School Confidential (Robert H. Miller), A Book Review

The book Law School Confidential (affiliate link here), by Robert H. Miller, now in its third edition as of 2011, is a popular, ranked second on Amazon for the search “law school,” and is a standard law school success book.

I bought a copy years ago when I became a law school tutor.

But is this a good advice book?

In short: better books exist on how to succeed in law school, such as Planet Law School, but this book is not terrible.

There is a lot of helpful general information in Law School Confidential (and there are even some terrific passages, I will admit).

Overall, there is nothing ”confidential” about the book—it collects conventional wisdom about law school.

You should at least know the conventional wisdom.

But be clear what Law School Confidential is not — it is not a manual for succeeding on law school exams.

There is not a single page of advice on precisely how to write an excellent law school exam, i.e., one that will convince your professor to give you some kind of an A.

There is some general advice on how one prepares for exams, but not what to look for or what to write or how to write an answer on an exam.

To me, this is a big lacuna in a book devoted to law school success.

But let me give you the good, the bad, and my conclusions on this book.

The Good About Law School Confidential

I have some good things to say about Law School Confidential.

First, it is a post-apocalypse treatment of whether to go to law school, and is full of a lot of sensible information. That is, this book was revised after the great implosion of the legal job market in late 2008. I think much of the book fairly reflects the new post-apocalyptic reality. (I think this is true as of 2022 as well, with all of the weirdness in the last 2 years.)

Second, Law School Confidential is very well-organized, well laid-out, and easy to read.

This may sound like faint praise, but good organization and good graphic design matter. You want a book to be easy to read and approachable, and this book makes it extremely easy to find what you need or learn, very quickly, what this book does not provide.

(By contrast, Planet Law School — a book I otherwise regard as substantively superior to this one — is really poorly organized.)

Third, the book is comprehensive and starts from the basics. The book covers everything from the application process to law school itself, to graduating and passing the bar.

Miller does not assume that you know anything about law school, so you can read this and really grasp the basics about what it takes to apply to law school, choose a good one, excel, and graduate.

Fourth, I do like and agree with much of the specific advice Law School Confidential gives.

For instance, at pages 150 to 154, the book suggests that you avoid writing case briefs because it is a colossal waste of time. (As I’ve written elsewhere, I could not agree more.)

Miller also suggests, at pages 135 to 136, that you purchase certain supplements and read them no matter what the professor says (and they are usually tell you not to buy them). I also agree completely — reading cases and allowing the professor and a confused student to scramble your brains with the Socratic method are not recipes for success.

Fifth, and finally, there are a couple of interviews that alone are worth the cover price of Law School Confidential.

One is an interview (at pages 51 to 72) with Cornell Law Schools’ admissions officer, and another is an interview with two heads of recruiting for major law firms (see pages 284 to 313). I doubt interviews full of such valuable information are available in free, public sources; not that I have seen, at least.

The Bad About Law School Confidential

First, as I mentioned in my summary, my major complaint about this book is the lack of concrete tips concerning how to write good law school exams or, failing that, any advice as to where I else I can turn beyond this book on how to get such tips.

How did Miller get good grades? Do I use the IRAC method? Do I take Wentworth Miller’s LEEWS class (no relation to Robert H. Miller)? Should I read Getting to Maybe? Should I just do nothing?

Not a word.

In the few pages on “Examsmanship” (pp. 212-16) there is very general advice, such as “budget your time” because the failure to do so is the “most common and most destructive exam mistake made by first-year students.” (p. 213).

True enough.

Also, the book suggests taking time to just read the question. Also to spend time just outlining an answer before actually writing it.

Again, totally agree as to both points

But what and how do I write on the exam? Law School Confidential doesn’t say. Assume that I budget my time and read the question and outline an answer. What should the answer look like? What is a good answer, and what is a bad answer? Again, silence.

Second, the advice at times is trite, which is too bad for a book on law school success.

Really, people need to be told to “[m]aintain a sense of humor” (p. 172)? Or not to act like arrogant jerks towards other students (p. 174-176)?

Perhaps I overestimate law students, but this is general LIFE advice. In any case, some paragraphs in a book on law school will not convince humorless people or arrogant jerks to not be.

Third, the testimonials on the book are quite vague.

What I mean is: Is there a single person who read this book and got As, or better grades than they had before? No? Then what benefit are the students getting?

To me, tellingly, the testimonials near the front cover are book reviews by other publications.

Not a one is by a student who read the book before starting law school and excelled as a result.

Fourth, the book chooses completeness over clarity and priority. This is the disease of mediocre lawyers and law students.

For instance, one of the most confused sections is the chart called “First Semester Performance Evaluation” (pages 218 to 222).

It is supposed to be a post-mortem, self evaluation asking you to offer information as to 35 different factors, including “Did you write in blue or black pen?” and “Did you take a bathroom break to clear your head?”

Seriously? Blue or black pen? Did you go pee-pee?

To me, this chart is almost a parody of the paranoid, common-sense-free and perspective-less mindsets that law students often adopt.

It is a comically comprehensive chart that I challenge anyone to actually use, much less benefit from.

There is also no evidence of anyone ever having used the chart to accurately self-diagnose and correct habits to get excellent grades.

But all of this comes back to a question that I think Law School Confidential never answers: what really matters?

Can there really be 35 different factors, all of which really influence your grades (the most important thing in your time at a law school)?

Um, no. The simple answer is: it doesn’t matter if your wrote in blue or black pen.

What matters is: did you understand the law (i.e., do you remember each and every element of each cause of action or defense that may be relevant), did you use the law to spot issues, and did you apply the law coherently and intelligently (say, on a torts exam) (and for an A, creatively) to the facts?

If you haven’t practiced writing a good law school exam — and you’re on your own because law professors will never teach you how to do this — then everything seems like a crap shoot.

You might do well or you might do poorly, depending on, I don’t know, your pen color and your bladder’s fullness.


I really wish this were a better book, especially because it is a best seller.

Abook that has confidential in the title should give you some secrets on law school success.

To me, and perhaps self-servingly, good advice must dish some secrets on how to succeed on law school exams. 

Without that critical component, what is the point?

Aren’t you in trouble if you need to be told to use rudimentary table manners at a law firm lunch? I quote: “When you sit down, don’t forget to place your napkin in your lap.” (p. 281)?

Here is my bottom line.

If you buy only one book on law school success, skip this one.

(By the way — you should not just buy one book—you should buy everything you need to succeed in law school.)

But if you are buying a bunch of books and don’t feel super organized, do it Buy a copy of Law School Confidential as your third or fourth book.

Standard of care: nail negligence issues on a torts exam

I have kids.  (Hold on– I’ll get to the standard of care and negligence and how to use them on a torts exam soon.)

My kids, like all kids, are sometimes clumsy and have accidents.

They trip and fall . . . over their own feet.  Or mine.  Or my wife’s.

I am a super cool dad, like Phil Dunphy from Modern Family!

Self-awareness is hard.  Really, I am not calm when they trip.  I find myself shouting useless things like “don’t fall!’ when they fall, or “don’t drop shit!” when they drop shit.

What students get wrong about the duty of care

What does my shitty parenting have to do with the standard of care (or the duty of care as it is also known)?

I’ve noticed in grading a practice law school exam that many students take the “don’t drop shit!” approach with negligence issues on a torts exam.

That is, the way you spot a negligence issue is noticing some kind of harm (someone falls or drops shit.)

So what students do is they march through the elements of negligence.

They formulate a standard of care (the basis of the duty of care that the defendant owes the plaintiff) by reverse-engineering the harm.

But most students do this in way that is too simple and too cookie-cutter.

They borrow from my Cool Dad Playbook and write “The standard of care is NOT doing [the injury from the fact pattern].”

For instance, here are the types of duty of care they identify:

  • Duty not to [accidentally crash into my car]!
  • Duty not to [drop shit on my head!]
  • Duty not to [leave toxic waste in my swimming pool for my guests to choke on]!

The right way to write the standard on a torts exam

There is a different, better way to articulate a good duty of care.

In short three tips will help you both find the standard of care and get it right on a law school exam.  In short:

  • Find harm: identify the specific action that caused the harm.
  • Get 1-2 levels more abstract:  Draft a standard of care by identifying what the defendant should have done in language that is 1 or 2 levels more general or abstract than the specific action that caused the harm.
  • Be affirmative: formulate a duty of care in the affirmative (i.e., say what the defendant should have done or how he should behave), not negative (i.e., “Don’t do what you just did!”)

Watch this video for a deeper dive on these three tips:

Law School Success Tips: In class, listen for 3 key things

Law school success depends, in part, on you focusing on the right things in class.

But what are those things?

Watch the video below, and then read a bit more of the text.

Listening for law school success

In short, listen carefully for three things:

FIRST, look for your professor’s specific wording of the rule of general application of any case that is discussed.

You might read about the elements of battery in Emanuels. Your professor might have a different way to word it or even different elements.  Use your professor’s exact wording (if she even tries to describe or define the black letter law.)

The example I use is my 1L crim law professor.  The defense of being “intoxication sufficient to negate specific intent for crimes of specific intent” was, for him, “Leningrad drunk” or even “LD.” He insisted you use that specific wording on the exam.

SECOND, listen carefully for what I call “fact triggers.”  That is, when a professor is grilling a student in class with hypothetical variants of the cases you were supposed to read.  Watch for the professor’s reactions to student attempts to grapple with them.

Usually you will know when your professor says “Suppose . . . we change one fact in this case” or “what if we changed this one fact…”

THIRD, listen carefully to forms of general argumentation the professor likes.  What does your professor respond (happily) to when she is listening to students talk about cases? (This is whether or not they are discussing hypos or fact triggers.)

Watch carefully his or her reactions to student arguments.

  • Does your professor like counter-intuitive arguments?
  • Does your professor like law & economic arguments?
  • Is your professor into fairly academic or theory-based arguments?
  • Is your professor very practice-oriented (i.e., lived in the trenches of litigation for many years)?

To succeed, do not waste time on these things:

  • Use class discussion to obtain general understanding of cases (you should study the black letter law directly to do that.)
  • Write down very much of what other students say (unless the professor says something like “did everyone here what Ms. Smith said?”).
  • Write down anything that is clearly unusable – really general history, procedural posture, stupid trivia, non-famous precedent the case follows.  Anything, in short, that you know you will not be able to use.

For more law school success tips, check out links to:

Law school success depends, in part, on you focusing on the right things in class.

But what are those things?

Watch the video below, and then read a bit more of the text.

Read Cases Faster: Law School Success Tip 5 of 5

This Law School Success Tip on how to read cases faster is Part 5 of 5. (Here are links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Last time we discussed the black letter law and why it was important.

That may have left you the impression that I do not think reading cases is important.

I think that it is still helpful, but it is not the most important thing.

This post discusses how to read cases faster, in light of the importance of the black letter law.

Specifically, this video discusses (1) why it is still important to read cases, (2) WHAT to look for in reading cases and (3) HOW to read faster and be more efficient:

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