Law School Success Tips, Part 1 of 10: Why Is Law School So Confusing?

Here is an important question:  Why is law school so confusing?

It seems easy in concept:

  • Read case book.
  • Go to class.
  • Study hard!
  • Take the exam.

But in practice it makes very little sense.  It’s more like this:

  • You read a bunch of stuff.  It is terribly written and makes no sense.
  • You go to class and hope that your prof will talk about this stuff that makes no sense.
  • Instead, your professor asks questions of students who make no sense in trying to make sense of the stuff that makes no sense.
  • You then take an exam that makes no sense and appears to have nothing in common with the stuff you read that makes no sense or that your professor asked questions about that made no sense.

Got it?

So why is law school like this?

Understanding the mystery of law school — and why it is confusing — will help you understand how to make it un-confusing.

Law school used to be simpler.

Years ago — like over 100 years ago — there were a number of ways to become a lawyer.

You could go to law school, apprentice with a lawyer, or even study yourself (looking at you, Abe Lincoln).

Everyone studied books called treatises that collected bodies of law and clearly described the law. (Lincoln studied Blackstone’s Commentaries.)

All that changed in 1895.

A jackass named Christopher Langdell, who became dean at Harvard Law School despite being a totally unremarkable lawyer, decided law school was too easy.

Langdell thought students should learn how to think about the law, whatever that means.

So he scrapped the old method (actually teaching students the law) for a new one: make them figure it out for themselves.

More specifically, under Langdell’s new method:

  • Students read real court cases (from a case book, not a treatise) in which the law is applied but not explained.
  • Professors ask questions about the cases.
  • Students magically learn the “legal reasoning,” supposedly learning general principles of law by reading specific cases.

Under this method, the professor should not tell students what the law is.

Nor do professors teach students how to apply the law to new situations, even though that skill is exactly what final exams test.

If Langdell’s method sounds crazy, it is.

For more than 100 years to this day, every law school in the U.S. has taught Langdell’s way.

When students take bar review courses (like BarBRI), they are going back to the pre-Langdell way of studying law.

These prep courses do two things:

  • They actually teach you the law, rather than make you figure it out from cases (. In bar prep, law school professors (the same ones who spend the school year not teaching you the law) actually teach you the law (i.e., “the elements of murder are A, B & C”). Insanity! CHAOS AND INSANITY!!!!!
  • They also (kind of) teach you how to apply the law. Not a lot. But they try. UNLIKE in law school, bar prep courses give you some instruction on exam writing (maybe a lecture on IRAC, see my videos on here and here), and some feedback on exam writing. That’s it. (And it costs about $5,000, which your employer often pays for.)

To top it off, the bar exam is much harder than law school exams.

A law school contracts exam calls for contracts issue spotting.

On the bar exam, anything goes: contracts, torts, evidence, civ pro, your mother, anything.

So, a recap: law school exams and the bar exam both involve applying black letter law to an issue spotting fact-pattern essay exam.

But law school takes the annoying scenic route to your destination by making you figure out the law yourself by reading cases.

Bar prep courses take you straight to the same destination. No detours.

Now, isn’t that interesting?

Do you see what I see?

The Solution: 3 Shortcuts Inspired By Bar Review Courses

By comparing law school with bar prep, we can see a potential “hack” or shortcut to studying in law school.

Treat law school like the bar exam.

You can strip away the unnecessary and get a simple recipe to law school success (simple in concept, anyway):

Avoid case-related busy work.

Study the law directly. Practice issue spotting daily.

That’s it!

Do three things – follow just 13 words! — and you will get better grades and feel more relaxed than 90% of your classmates!

This is simple in concept but harder to execute.

You have to be willing to do things that other students aren’t doing, and that maybe your professors won’t like (if you told them).

Next time we’ll look at each short cut in detail.

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