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.

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