Can I succeed in law school if English is not my first language?

Here is a question I get pretty frequently from my readers:

“Can I succeed in law school even if English is my second language/I am a bad writer?”

Here is a more specific example of this I got a couple of weeks ago:

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Apparently, a lot of Larry Law Law readers are not from the US.

Actually I address two questions.

First, if English is your FIRST language AND you were/are a terrible writer in college, I would say two things:

  • Your writing can always improve with deliberate practice, i.e., someone giving you feedback, and you working hard to respond to that feedback; BUT
  • You are facing an uphill battle. If you are a terrible writer — or worse, hate writing — why you are pursuing a career in the law, which is entirely based on expressing complex ideas with writing?

Second, I have different things to say if you are worried about your writing because English is your second language (and you are otherwise pretty bright),  OR if you are a native English speaker but you rate your writing ability as just so-so — not terrible, but not awesome.

Here is the key and the good news.

Legal writing is its own thing. And law school exam writing is even more narrow and specific.

Law school exam writing has its own rules.

If you understand those rules and can apply them — or understand those rules faster than other students in your class — you will do well in law school, even if you are just a so-so or not-great “general” writer.

On the flip side: even if you are a very good “general” writer, if you do not learn the rules of law school writing, you won’t do well.

*   *   *

Law school exam writing gives life to the late Justice Scalia’s recital of an old aphorism about legal writing (which is expressed in the form of an SAT-like analogy):

“Legal writing is to writing as military music is to music.”

What he meant was: legal writing follows its own narrow form and logic.

No piece of legal writing will approach the beauty or lyricism of The Master and Margarita, Ulysses, or The Great Gatsby. Or A Song of Ice and Fire, for that matter (since I am obviously obsessed with Game of Thrones).

In fact, it is beside the point if you do.

Literature is art.  Maybe a particular book has a purpose (exploring the ultimate ambiguity or simplicity of this life, shedding light on social issues, entertaining, uncovering the absurd, etc.).  Maybe it is an end in itself.

Legal writing (by lawyers) is not art.  It is functional. It has one purpose and one purpose only (“We’re gonna do one thang, and one thang only — killing Nat-zeesss….“): to persuade a decision maker (judge or jury) to make a particular decision within a framework of competing arguments.

Law school exam writing is functional.  It is also not art.

Law school writing has a different purpose from general writing or even professional legal writing by lawyers.

The purpose of law school exam writing is to persuade your professor that you have spotted more legal issues, more thoroughly and creatively, than 90% of the other students in your class.

That’s it.

You must write well within these confines to get a good grade.

This is bad news for good general writers who don’t take the time to know what the confines of good law school writing are.

This is great news for anyone who is a mediocre writer or does not speak English as her first language.

IF you master the confines, the unspoken rules of law school exam writing, you will do well in law school.

Even if you make grammar or usage mistakes in English.

What might be unacceptable for literary writing or even normal legal writing — some level of typos, grammatical mistakes, unexplained or uncommon abbreviations — can be tolerated by law professors (“Professors are used to typos and grammar mistakes.”)

Want some proof?

Enter D., a law student at Berkeley Law.  She was not born or raised in the United States (I won’t say where she grew up. I can say, confidently, not Mauritius).  She did go to college in the U.S.

D. started KTCOOLS the summer before she started law school.   She finished almost all of the hypos for several subjects before she went to law school.

When I had issue-spotting contests ($20 Starbucks cards as rewards), she won one contest and was runner up in another. (A lot of Starbucks gift cards I gave away…).

She won even though her submissions had some syntax or grammar mistakes that a native English speaker would not make.

But it did not matter.  Her answers were superior to those of other students because she was absolutely fluent in the specific language of law school issue spotting and exam writing.

And her professors evidently felt the same way I did.

I caught up with her after her first semester, and this is what she wrote:

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Think about that.

D. did well in her courses — and she had the second best grade in her whole class in torts.

She did better in torts than all but one person in a room full of students born and raised in the United States.

Now, she is off to a Vault Top 10 law firm in New York for the summer. (Actually, it is a Vault Top 5 firm, but who’s counting?)

D. was prepared, and excelled despite not being a native English spaker.

* * *
So, why is law school like this?

(And is this bad news if I am an excellent writer?)

Oooh, I feel another analogy coming on!

Think of the sports ice hockey and water polo.  Both sports combine a variety of skills, but each has a single foundational skill.  Meaning, there is one skill you have to at least be competent at to play at all:

  • You must be able to skate to play ice hockey.
  • You must be able to swim to play water polo.

But these foundational skills just enable you to play at all.   If you are an awesome skater or awesome swimmer, it helps, but it’s not the point of these sports (Aren’t there separate sporting events dedicated to just skating and just swimming, right?)

You only need to swim or skate well enough to score goals:

  • Wayne Gretsky, the greatest hockey player ever, was not the fastest skater (orbest shot, or biggest, toughest player, for that matter).  He skated well enough.
  • Despite having played water polo myself, I can’t name a single famous player.  There is the Hungarian Men’s National Team.  No famous swimmers amongst these players.  Yet these guys swam well enough to win nine (9!!!) Olympic Gold Medals.
  • Meanwhile, Michael Phelps — the most decorated swimmer ever — may or may not be a great water polo player.  He might beat everyone else to the ball, but what can he do with it?  Will he score?

It is the same with law school and writing.  Writing is a foundational skill, but not an end in itself:

  • You must be able to write to do well in law school.
  • But you don’t need to be the best (general) writer in your class to grab all the As.
  • You just need to write well enough to show you can spot issues better than everyone else.

That’s it.

*   *   *

One other story, in the opposite direction, about an awesome law student who was a terrible writer in other contexts:

I became the Senior Notes Editor of New York University Law Review late in my 2L year.

I had to edit the student notes (academic law review article written by a current law students who are on Law Review) of both 2Ls and 3Ls.

One unnamed 3L was ranked, if memory serves, in the top 10 students in his class (not 10%, top 10, Mitch McDeere style).

He was headed to a super prestigious Second Circuit appellate clerkship. He had attended a top-3 Ivy League college.

And oh, boy could he write well for his law school exams. (His class rank and clerkship showed that he was absolutely awesome at that.)

But when I got his student note, it was . . . at best profoundly confusing.

I had to work with my best editor to untangle the confused 100-page hedgerow of a word-collage, only to ultimately publish a somewhat-less-confusing melange of purported-English-language sentences.

To this day, I STILL do not understand how he did so well in law school.

But he did.  And if the note was a fair sample of his writing, that boy could not write.

But he got As.

To my eternal confusion.

*  *  *

TL;DR version:  Not-great writers can kill it in law school.

Even non-native-English-speakers can be top law students.

IF they deliberately practice the right thing: law school exam writing and issue spotting.

Law school success, immigrants, and the American Dream

A change of pace today.

A lot of Larry Law Law is about how  — how to kill it in law school, become a great lawyer, etc.

But this post is about why, and weirdly, wherefrom.

(Yes, I just made up a word.  Put that in the Dictionary of Modern Usage, Bryan Garner!)

I like to think that Larry Law Law is about more than just law school and legal careers and what not.

I like to think that this site is a bit about the American Dream as well, and how each of us can help improve — ourselves and others — in pursuit of that Dream.

(I have Canadian students as well.  Insert “Canadian Dream” where you see “American Dream” and we’re not far off.  Except much of your country is colder and has better gravy-smothered French fries.)

I say this because many of us — myself included — are the children of immigrants.

Many of you all (my students) are children of immigrants, or immigrants too, having gotten to know many of you.

(Of course, many of you are not children of immigrants, but your grandparents or great-grandparents or someone at some point was an immigrant, so bear with me.)

Education is a big deal if you are the child of immigrants.  It’s a way out of the limited circumstances of your immediate life.

My family was never exactly poor, but frankly education was the only way I was going to get the hell out of Reno, Nevada (great question: what Koreans in their right minds settle in Reno, Nevada?  No one, that’s who.  My parents were obviously not in their right minds.)

I wasn’t going to be able to get out of Reno as an athlete or poker player or model (although my feet are pretty, I would say).  There was just school.

Funny, isn’t it, how excelling on something mundane like an exam or standardized test can be almost magical in how it can transform your life?

I’m not saying that we live in a complete meritocracy.  We don’t.

But under the right circumstances, killing it in school can make all the difference.

(If you didn’t feel this way, you wouldn’t be reading this blog.)

Mostly, it means more choices — more money, yes, but more experiences, more travel, more connections, more interesting people in your life — in short, more of a chance to make the world a little better and your parents proud.

Becoming a lawyer — already a difficult academic task in itself — in an immigrant family can mean status and pride if your parents come from a country where lawyers are respected, and practically can mean being able to navigate tricky stuff (taxes, lawsuits, immigration issues) that otherwise are frightening.

Sidenote:  In my case, “status and pride” meant that my dad would handout my Big Law business cards to complete strangers in the casino poker room where he used to hang out daily.

He would — I am not making this up — actually puff his chest out, hand a card to said drunk complete stranger, and boast “My son is a lawyer!”

Thanks, Dad.  I’m still waiting for a call from a drunk stranger in jail.  End sidenote.

Still, when I said that killing it in school makes all the difference “under the right circumstances,” what are those “right circumstances”?

Well, basically, in my view, even if you’re smart, you don’t make it on your own.

You also need people rooting for you, helping you up the ladder, helping you to make good decisions.

I went to Harvard as an undergrad.  (Hold on — I’m not saying this to impress you, I’m saying this to tell you what an asshole I was.)

I once visited a finals club — those exclusive social clubs for rich private school kids.  (A finals club is briefly shown, in exaggerated fashion, in The Social Network, an execrable movie, but whatevs).

These finals club kids had connections — their daddies or daddies’ friends got them fancy internships on Wall Street.  They had help — paid tutors (like me) when needed.  They had files at their clubs filled with old exams and essays (I saw this with my own eyes).

And at worst, their parents would support them financially if they messed up completely.

They had every tool, every means of keeping up good grades and getting jobs.

My reaction — when I visited the club, and every time I heard of some rich kid getting some fancy internship that I applied for and didn’t get — was defensive disdain:

“That’s not me.  Look at me, I worked hard, Daddy didn’t help me at all — he has no network and speaks Mr. Miyagi-like English (sorry Dad).  I got into Harvard all on my own without all this added help that these rich babies seem to get.”

But take a closer look at what I was thinking.

Only looking back can I see the terrible attitude, born of a scarcity mindset and envy.

Of course I wasn’t a rich kid like they were.

But in my moments of envy, thinking those bitter thoughts, I had utterly, horribly, ungraciously, ignored and forgotten every single person who helped me along the way.

My life was filled with mentors and people willing to help.  They steered me, encouraged me.

There were teachers, but there were other, older students who had been there.  Many of them (not all) were also the children of immigrants, but they had been there before.

I got into Harvard because of hard work, sure.

But it wasn’t just hard work.

I was lucky, too.

I went to a public school where there were older students who got into good schools (rare though it was), and those older students befriended me.

They were role models and advisers.  They made me see that it WAS possible to excel, even at a public school in Nowheresville, Nevada.  They gave me tactical and strategic advice and real encouragement.  And they gave me friendship without strings.

Even at Harvard, though filled with assholes (like myself), there still were many, many other friendly older students who were more than happy to give advice and and help me get better.

Even before and in law school, my life was crawling with mentors.

I did well in law school, I am positive, because a high school friend who had gone to Harvard Law forced me to have drinks with him.

He brought his BARBRI Conviser Mini Review book to the bar, shoved it in my hands, and told me to pre-study the law, to never write case briefs, to start to look at real exams when I arrived at school . . . does some of this sound familiar?

I am positive without my friend’s intervention that I would have, like, briefed cases (gasp!) or some other dumb thing in law school that would have resulted in bad grades.

And when I got to law school, there were other students, upperclassmen, always willing to help me or answer questions or make me think what I wanted to do was possible.  To me this is the key.

So, sure, I didn’t have the exact kind of network or benefits or riches that those finals club guys had.

But I did have my own, different networks and riches.

Many, many people helped me.

Any success I’ve had in my life was somewhat attributable to smarts and more to hard work, but a huge amount of it was luck in having people willing to help me — the right mentors to find me, guide me, and encourage me.

It was luck.  I could have received the wrong advice.  While I sought out mentors, I didn’t control which mentors would help me and if they had any clue what they were talking about.

Weirdly, in this narrow sense, we may have more control over the luck of others than the luck we receive.

That is, once we actually know what we’re doing, we may be better placed to bestow luck on others, to mentor those younger than us.

So, if I could leave you with one thing in this post, it is this:

Attain some success — in law school, as a lawyer, in life — and pay it forward, as soon as you can.

Once you have some success in something and can convey know-how that is useful to someone else, become a mentor and make luck for other people.

And pick mentees who can use the help — those who don’t have a network, don’t have riches, but have the desire and ability.

I feel like this is a great way to make a difference in life.

You don’t have to do it on a big scale or create an institution.

(And if you can help in a big way, do!  Save the world!  We need help!)

But, if I could ask you to do one thing, it is to be a mentor to someone else.

Answer questions, meet people for coffee, and help someone who can use it.

If Your Law School Grades Sucked, You Must Face Vader

Short TL;DR version: If your law school grades sucked, even if it makes your upper or lower GI tracts quiver a bit, you must face your law professors for feedback on your final exams.

That’s it.

Now, the longer version for people who as kids would have done well in the Stanford Marshmallow Test:

As I write this, it’s cold.  Where I am.  And in most places where you are reading this.

(Or what passes for cold if you go to law school in California or Arizona.  Or Texas or Florida…).

And maybe you feel . . . terrible.  And that’s compounded by the cold.

Sorry for that.

Most everyone in law school (except maybe the top 3 people in the class), at some point get some grade that they didn’t like and didn’t expect.

(And even number 2 and 3 in a law school class have an axe to grind with some professor or other for not being number 1).

This post is not about what to do differently in law school.

Not yet.  (I have lots of thoughts on that elsewhere.)

Later, in another post, plenty of tips.

For this moment, Kleenex and active listening, for you and for me.

First tell me what’s on your mind:  larrylawlaw at gmail dot com.  (I read every email.)  Or tell someone what you’re thinking and feeling.  Talk it out.

Along with that, here are other healthy, well-recognized ways to cope with the painful feelings you’re having:

  • Go for a vigorous run (or swim or bike or whatever).
  • Cry vigorously.
  • Go to vigorous therapy.  (Find out why you went to law school, while you’re at it.)
  • Have sex.  Vigorously.  (With someone you vigorously like and care about and are vigorously attracted to.)
  • Meditate.  (Vigorously.)

Kudos to the non-existent over-achievers who did ALL FIVE at the same time, with bonus points for juggling chainsaws and baby seals!*  (Vigorously.)

*(No baby seals were hurt, even in my imagination, as I drafted this.  So please relax.)

(And here is an incomplete list of unhelpful ways to cope:  drinking, recreational drugs, overeating, 12-hour video game sessions, 12-hours of “not being the master of your domain” sessions, liking pictures from 5 years ago on your ex’s Facebook albums, binge-watching crappy shows, getting in twitter fights with basically anyone, etc.  I’m not Nancy Reagan by any means — and it depresses me that I feel the need to include this link to explain the reference — but please trust me, guys, from personal experience, those other things don’t help you cope in the long term.)

Give yourself a little time.

Treat your feelings about law school like grief.  It is.  You are mourning the loss of something — the hope top grades and everything that may have meant to you (your identity as a perfect student, the pride of your parents and friends, being future Supreme Court clerk, whatever that might be.)

Mourn that lost optimism.  (It’s OK to say goodbye to it.  It was blind optimism.)

Then (and here’s the hard part):  Once you’ve digested those painful emotions, get ready for more painful emotions.

Once you can look at your grades and your past semester with less (but not zero) pain, talk to your professor.  

You must face Vader.  

(Please tell me I don’t have to explain that reference.  Darth Vader is not Nancy Reagan.*)

*(I am extremely proud of this borderline meaningless sentence.)

What I mean is:  you must face your law professors in ALL the classes you did not do well in (and, frankly, if you want to kill it in law school, I suggest visiting every prof who did not give you and A or A-).  And maybe even, to top it off, go to the profs whose classes you did ace.

BE SPECIFIC IN YOUR REQUEST FOR HELP.

Ask why you got the grade you did.

Ask in great detail about what it was that your prof liked and didn’t like.

Ask ask ask.

Ask to see your own exam answer, especially if it is marked up.  (Few people do this.)

Ask if you can see a model answer.  (Almost no one does this.)

And if your professor doesn’t give you a model answer, ask why you cannot see a model answer.

[Watch your professor faint or have his jaw fall and shatter on the floor.]

Now, for some of you (if you are a sensitive flower like me) this will be difficult.

But to be clear, do NOT:

  • Complain about your grade or about the class.  I have never heard of anyone succeed doing this.
  • Complain about the professor; or
  • Complain, come to think of it, at all.

And do not fool yourself (and you are the easiest person to fool):

Do not passive-aggressively ask questions about your exam while arguing that you did get everything your prof asked for.

So, I knew this guy (“This Guy”) from law school.  A year behind me.  This Guy was unhappy with his Civ Pro grade and went back to no less than to his professor, The Arthur Miller, and did this.

This Guy asked to see his exam.  The Arthur Miller spent one hour going over This Guy’s entire exam with This Guy.  This Guy kept arguing each point with him until The Arthur Miller blew up.

(To be clear:  The Arthur Miller is the legendary former Harvard Law Professor, now at NYU Law, who helped shape the modern Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  He is not the playwright who married Marilyn Monroe, but maybe he wishes her were.)

To be clear:  This Guy gets an A++ for balls.  No fear, apparently, in badgering The Arthur Miller.

But This Guy gets a C- for having a growth mindset.

It’s funny that This Guy went for such small stakes — get a single grade changed — when he could have spent time learning from a master how to ace a law school exam.

Now, let’s be clear.  Even if you don’t take This Guy’s approach, and instead focus only on learning, you should ask and ask and ask what a good exam looks like.

BUT your professor may get angry with you anyway.

Grading feels subjective to them, I think, deep down in their bellies.  It does not feel super comfortable to decide the future of students in this way.

I do believe — much as I often crap on law professors — that they try to be fair.

But to come in to their offices with earnest questions, well.  If they get upset, know that you tried. And there is little most law professors can do to you.

(Did This Guy’s grade in Civ Pro get worse because he badgered The Arthur Miller?  No.  Was he going to get a recommendation or anything else from The Arthur Miller?  Nope.)

In any case, the point of this exercise is to learn.

To paraphrase Ramit Sethi, the point is for you to go from anger and disbelief and move to curiosity.

But you still have objections to facing Vader:

  • It’s awkward.
  • I’m too shy to do this.
  • Isn’t this weird?
  • The Arthur Miller has razor-sharp teeth and will EAT ME because I am a ginger.

Okay, except for the last, totally healthy and rational fears.  (I am not a ginger, so I’m safe!)

Let me be brutally honest:  do you want to excel in law school?

(Maybe — I am not being facetious — the answer is no, you don’t.  Maybe law school wasn’t your idea at some level.  But that story of law school as default option and subconscious sabotage is for another day.)

Even if you want to excel, it can be terrifying to see your prof.

You don’t have to deny or repress your fear, but you do have to face it and still perform.

(In fact, some recent research suggests that fear can help you.  There is an great new book on this, The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It (affiliate link), which helped me recently.)

And here, all “perform” means is summoning the courage to ask your professor for feedback on your exam and seeing, with clear eyes, the quality of your exam.

Maybe this is the first time you got anything but As.

If you choose to rabbit-hole (a new verb I learned of that means “avoid your fear by living in denial” something that I have done more times than I can count myself.), then that’s OK do that.

But there is a meta-skill to be learned here.

Great lawyers perform despite feeling deeply uncomfortable (or maybe, as Kelly McGonigal would say in that book, because they were uncomfortable).

Most actual being-a-lawyer situations are anything but uncomfortable.

And you might as well get use to it as early as you can.

Think:  if you can’t ask a professor about your exam, how are you going to …

  • Give bad news to a client (when that case is critical)?
  • Face off against opposing counsel on a deal or a tough case?
  • Face angry questions from a judge — questions upon which your case depends?
  • Get a delinquent client to pay a bill?
  • Interview hostile witnesses when they have information that could make or break your case?
  • Interview friendly witnesses who you are pretty sure are lying to you?
  • Push back on a job review where a partner is lying about you?
  • Push back against a senior associate who is trying to throw you under the bus?

All of this stuff happens.  (I can say that because I went through most of the above as a practicing lawyer.)

Even more, situations like these not only involve the ability cope with uncomfortable emotions and anger from other people.

These situations involve another critical skills that all great lawyers have:  having a realistic understanding of situations.

How can you give your client good advice if you don’t know all the facts, good and bad?  How are you going to deal with opposing counsel and avoid being blindsided unless you know all the angles?

So you might as well start learning the skills of managing discomfort and getting a realistic and precise understanding of what your professors were looking for and why you missed that.

Also, let me flip this around:  What is the worst that could happen to you if you ask?

Don’t get me wrong.  Sometimes it hurts to ask.  (“Hey, it’s me. Friday night, I was thinking we could have the Johnsons over for some light couple-swapping… Honey? Hello?”).

Nothing happened, in the end, to the guy I know who went to Arthur Miller.  There is no invisible blacklist for people who were obnoxious with a law professor once or twice.

And here, your grade is already in.

It won’t get worse if, worst case, your professor gets angry at your for asking why you got the grade you did.

(It won’t get better, either.  Again, please be respectful and don’t complain or argue for a better grade).

But it is your choice:  Will you let your fear and desire to avoid uncomfortable feelings stop you from getting the very information you need to correct course in law school?

And, if so, are you reinforcing a habit for your future legal career, in which fear and a desire to avoid uncomfortable feelings will stop you from doing what you need to do for yourself and for your clients?

You would KILL IT in law school IF . . .

. . . if I could convince you to focus on just one thing early in the semester in law school (and ideally earlier).

And I am going to spend another long post and over 30 minutes of free video trying to convince you to do this one thing.

But before I tell you what that one thing is, it’s all my fault.

I scattered your focus.

I have given you advice on a bunch of different things, in three previous pieces:

Now, don’t get me wrong.

These are all good tips.

I mean, I wrote them, so they must be awesome [read some irony into that, please].

(It would be strange if I suddenly declared, “HA!  I was just kidding!  This is all shitty advice!”).

Still, if I could leave you with just one tip, it would be this:

TAKE PRACTICE EXAMS!!!

That’s it.  Sorry for shouting.

Oh, and one other thing:

TAKE MANY CRAPLOADS OF PRACTICE EXAMS.  

Oops forgot one more thing:

TAKE MANY CRAPLOADS OF PRACTICE EXAMS . . . EARLY IN LAW SCHOOL.  

This is it.

After years of tutoring laws students in person and watching them on my previous online prep course, this is the one thing all successful students (read: students who got As) have in common:

THEY TOOK BOATLOADS OF CRAPLOADS OF PRACTICE EXAMS . . . EARLY IN LAW SCHOOL.

Surprise!

Made you look!

But I hope this makes sense of my previous posts.

All of the were aimed at helping to position you to do practice exams.

You need to understand the general framework, learn to avoid doing the things that will prevent you from practice exams (briefing cases and other stupidities), and learn enough law so you can issue spot.

And that’s the key right?

Taking practice exams is the key to getting to practice issue-spotting.

ISSUE SPOTTING, my little chickens!

The skill of skills!

But it is more specific than that.

Issue spotting is a general legal skill — a critical legal skill that, in my mind, divides lawyers and non lawyers.

But your mission is more specific:  to master the particular kind of issue spotting on a final exam, under the conditions of a final exam.

This is something you do on your law school exams, the bar exam, and then never again.

When you are a lawyer, no one is going to point a gun at your head and tell you “find all the issues you can in 3 hours within this strange set of facts that you’ve never seen with no access to legal research tools, just based on what you’ve memorized, do well or I will kill you, and …. GO!”

The funny thing is that despite the fact that issue spotting is critical to your life as a lawyer and is the very thing you are tested on under very difficult conditions (huge time constraints, no research tools), your professors . . .

. . . give you no encouragement to think about issue spotting ON AN EXAM until maybe November of your first semester, and

. . . give you very little guidance on precisely what to do on those exams or what they are looking for.

So let me help you with both.  Let me help you with more than that.  With 5 videos below.

1.  Issue spotting:  What is an issue?

Since practice exams, are about issue spotting, it helps to know what an “issue” is, how to spot an issue, and how to analyze an issue.

This first video — replete with shotguns and Smurfette — is helpful with identifying what I now call “issue hooks:  facts that trigger legal analysis.

Another way to put it:  An issue is not the same as a successful claim.  An issue is basically “any fact or facts worthy of further legal analysis.”

2. Issue spotting:  Think “can I make an argument,” not “can I win?”

Before I get to the next video . . . issue spotting involves a slight mindset change.  Actually, scratch that.  Law school and being a lawyer involve big mindset changes.

We commonly think of the law as being very clear.  It is important to notice that you are influenced by the casual portrayals of the law on movies and TV.  The law is usually clear (Don’t kill people!  Don’t steal!  Don’t have sex with that rabbit!), but the facts are a mystery (Who dunnit?  Who killed?  Who stole?  Who, uh… Framed Roger Rabbit?).

In real life — and for your purposes, on law school exams — it is the opposite.

You are given facts (and you may have more to investigate) but you usually must give an initial legal assessment based on the few facts you do know.

And your answer will rarely be a yes/no answer.

In many instances, you have pretty certain legal answers.

But in many, many more, there are gray areas.  They are gray because you are given incomplete facts (ones that do not cleanly or easily allow you to determine who has winning and losing claims and defenses).  They are gray because you do not know what a judge will buy.

We as lawyers and law students — we don’t deal with certainties.  Let me put it this way:  If you could just look in a single book and know the answer to legal questions easily, we would be out of jobs.

Many questions are this easy.  But people go to lawyers because they have problems that aren’t so easily answered.

We deal with legal probabilities.  In the end an at least somewhat unpredictable human being (or group of human beings, if there is a jury trial) will decide your case.

So:  do you raise only clear winners?  What if your facts give you no clear winners?  And yet as a lawyer you’re obligated to do your best.

So you raise every claim or defense that a judge might be somewhat likely to accept that will win your client the case.

And in planning the case and advising your client, you also anticipate and think of every claim or defense that the other side might well raise that could hurt your client.  That way you can provide the most accurate advice you can to your client about whether she has a good claim and it is worth proceeding with a lawsuit (which is fun for no one, not even the person bringing it), or whether you tell your client it is probably better not to bring a claim.

Now, we lawyers and law students have a technical word for “a claim that is sort of a stretch but maybe a judge will buy it because it is at least not a laughable claim.”

Think COLORABLE when you are doing a practice exam or a real exam.

Now watch this damned video.

3.  Issue Analysis:  IRAC

Okay, so this is a little advanced, but you should have a preview.

This is my take on IRAC.

What in God’s name, you ask, is IRAC?

IRAC is the standard issue analysis framework you are given:

“Issue/Rule/Analysis/Conclusion.”

In my mind, this is more a description of what answers often contain rather than useful guidance on how to answer legal questions.

My video focus on using IRAC to follow different shifts in viewpoint, in mindsets as you work through a single legal issue (a single claim).

These mindset shifts really will help you flesh out excellent answers.   And I have honestly not heard these anywhere else:

*  *  *

Now for some nitty-gritty.  Now that you know a bit about issue spotting, a couple of videos on practice exams.

4.  Take practice exams, early and often.

So we’re back to this point.

Law students are usually told to take practice exams in November after outlining.  Most only start this in late November or early December, just before exams.

But this is a terrible idea if you want to be a top law student.

You must take practice exams early and often because we have to assume, ex ante, that you are not a special snowflake.  Let’s go through a bit of reasoning:

  • All of your classmates are about equally smart and equally hard working.  You are no better an no worse than your classmates.  You’re in the same law school, after all.  (And if you think otherwise and believe you are The Special, then why are you here, hanging on my every word for advice?).
  • This means that most of you will learn at roughly the same rate.
  • Frankly, most people eventually do understand how to issue spot effectively.  It just takes time.

So question for you:  If you start taking practice exams EXACTLY WHEN EVERYONE ELSE DOES, and if everyone else is just as smart and just as fast at learning things, what makes you think you will get As?

(I mentioned the forced curve, right?  Only 5-7% of the class will get flat As).

So how can you get ahead of your class?

My answer:  taking practice exams, early and often:

5.  Take practice exams like they are real

I had a swim coach, a reasonably wise old swim coach who always told me, “Never practice like it’s practice.  Always practice like it is a real swim meet.”

It took me a lot of years to understand what he meant.  I had long stopped swimming.

When we practice something, we sometimes don’t give it our full intensity.

And this is understandable because it is utterly exhausting to give it your all every day.

But you need practice doing it.

Not only do you need to have practice issue spotting, but you need to have the practice of taking an exam under exam conditions — under the time pressure and physical conditions that you would face.

Did you know, for instance, that Presidential candidates usually practice in a mockup of the real venue.  They try to make everything the same, including the decor, the lights, the temperature so that everything feels as natural as possible to the candidates.

You should do the same.

Impose hard time-limits on yourself (you will think at first that you have an impossibly short period of time to do these things).  Wear what you might wear.

Sit in a place that is as much like a real exam as you can (like, don’t take exams sitting in bed in your Green Lantern pajamas eating Count Chocula).

And follow this advice:

Finally:  Selling you on two things.

So these were my free tips.  Even more will come as long as you stay subscribed to this newsletter.

I give most of my content away for free.

Look away now if you don’t like being sold on things.

I am about to sell you on two things:  one is a (free but difficult) idea; the other is a (not free but easy) product.

First, the idea:  My advice is utterly useless to you unless you follow it.

A lot of the tips I give you will help you, but only if you follow them.

It’s like reading a diet book.  Great to have the knowledge, but if you don’t follow it, you won’t get healthier.  I really want to see you excel.

So whatever you do:  if you like my tips, really work to incorporate them into your law school life.

Second, the product.

But just before the product.  Yes, it is very hard to follow these ideas.

This is why I created an online program to help you focus and practice the things that will lead to law school success:

It’s called Kick the Crap Out Of Law School (or “KTCOOLS” for short).

It is the product of many years of hard work and experience, trial and error.  It contains the best tips I learned took many years of being as a tutor to top law students, and my previous work in running an online law school prep course.

Let me help you become a top law student.

Let me help make law school easier for you (because I would be lying if I said “I can make it easy for you”).

Let me give you a clear plan, a clear roadmap to law school success.

But it’s more than that:  I don’t just point you to the path, I walk down it with you.

KTCOOLS is not just a bunch of battle-tested specific tips (it is that as well).

KTCOOLS is also the many, many, many practice exams I give you so you can get better at issue-spotting.

KTCOOLS is also the post-exam analysis, the self-scoring sheets, the debriefs, and even (at times) video analysis I do to help you tell the difference between good answers and bad answers.

KTCOOLS is as close as you can get to having me AS YOUR PERSONAL LAW SCHOOL TUTOR.

(And you get the benefit of my exam wisdom without the awkwardness of having me stand in your living room demanding milk and cookies in a shitty Batman voice.)

Sign up below to be on the waitlist for the course.  We are launching very very soon, please stand by!

To be clear, the course itself is ready.  The holdup is that I did a launch to a small group of people, and that soft launch revealed technical problems with my payment processors that I am trying to clear up.

So sign up for the KTCOOLS waitlist for this course below (but only if you’re not on it already!):



Iron Chef and the Law: Recipes & Ingredients Are Like Claims & Elements

So previously, we discussed (1) an overall strategy for how to do well law school and (2) what NOT to do in law school.

I promised not to be so negative, but to tell you what you should do.

This time — the third part of a five piece series — I focus on the first pillar to success: master the law.

I have got a practical video on this below.

(Yes, I did those awesome drawings myself.)

Once you are done with the video, please read the below.  (It is different that what is in the video and, if anything, will make the video make more sense.)

Mastering the Law and the Three Pillars of Law School Success

Let me get even more basic for a second.

As I mentioned before, there are 3 components of studying law you must focus on to succeed in law school: mastering the law, mastering issue-spotting, and mastering your professor.

In what follows, I talk in detail about issue spotting just so I can explain why you need to “master the law” more clearly.

Now, of the Three Pillars of Law School Success, mastering issue-spotting is the most critical by far.

It is the skill, I would argue, that makes you a lawyer.

Issue-spotting, to me, can be reduced to this: a friend tells you a crazy story about something badhappened to her and asks you “can I sue?” If you can answer that question accurately, with proper care, nuance and creativity, you are issue spotting. (Honestly, if you can do that, you are a motherf-ing lawyer in my book.)

BUT – big “but” there – before you can issue-spot, you need to know what the law is.

What do I mean by “master the law”?

To “master the law” in a given subject area (for instance, “criminal law,” “torts,” “tax”) means: to memorize (1) all the major claims and defenses of a major area of law; and (2) all the elements of each major claims and defenses in that area of law.

Now, what is a “claim or defense”? (I am being a little casual here, but you’ll forgive me later.)

It is the legal basis of lawsuit or criminal charge: “intent to kill murder” or “battery” or “negligence.”

And what is an “element” of a claim or defense?

The elements of a claim are every point you need to prove with facts to win a case.

A single element is a building block of the legal basis of a law suit or criminal charge: For instance: “intent,” “killing,” “caused apprehension of imminent harm, etc.”

(This is an oversimplification, but one you need right now).

A food analogy…

Think of claims or defenses as “legal recipes” and elements as “ingredients.”

You want to win a lawsuit (you want to eat a dish of something yummy).

You have to follow the recipe and have every ingredient to have that dish of food.

Think of something simple.

A root beer float.

The recipe for a root beer float requires: (1) 12 ounces of root beer; and (2) 1 scoop of ice cream (usually vanilla, but if you want to make a mess, please, be my guest, scoop and dump that Phish Food into your frosty mug of Mug).

Now, you can have varying amounts of root beer and ice cream. But you have to have both to say, with a straight face, that you’ve got an ice cream float.

No root beer? Not a root beer float. You’ve just got ice cream. You don’t even have a “root-beer-free root beer float.” That is nonsense.

No ice cream? You’ve just got root beer. You don’t even have a “low-cal, ice-cream-free root beer float.” That is equal nonsense.

Let’s not take that analogy too far. You get my point.

To have a prima facie case (your hot dish of yummy food), a chef (lawyer) started with a legal claim or defense (recipe), and met every element (added each and every necessary ingredient).

BUT BUT BUT: Law school is not that simple.

Because with law school exams, it’s not like you study recipes, and your test is to go to the store and buy the ingredients and make the dish.

NO. It is much harder than that.

A law school final exam is like the TV show Iron Chef.

For those of you who don’t know:  On Iron Chef, you are given surprise ingredients and a limited amount of time, and have to make dishes using only the recipes (claims and defenses) you have in your head.

What is going on in the head of the Iron Chef contestant at the beginning of the hour?

She is reviewing the ingredients (what do I have?) and thinking “what can I make?”

But to do that well, she needs to have lots of recipes in her head, and she needs to be able to use them actively. She is not holding recipes in her hand to go shopping. The shopping has been done by some asshole TV produces.

She has to mentally review the recipes in her head and think: what combinations of individual ingredients allow me to create what dishes?

What am I going to make?

Seth Rogan, A Bong, and What It Means to “Master the Law”

So let’s use a non-food example.

Pretend for a moment:  Seth Rogan looks me in the eye, swings at my beautiful (Bat-masked) face with his 6-foot tall glass bong, and makes contact. I am bleeding. Badly.

(But please, don’t mind me. Keep reading. I’m fine.)

Can I sue? Would I win?

How do I know the answers to those questions?

In casual conversation, we might think he owes me some kind of money. The dude hit me. The worst person in the world hit me.

How would a lawyer treat this?

A lawyer would not let me go to court and scream, “Waaaaaaaah, the star of The Interview hit me in the face with a bong and I am bleeding, GIVE ME MOOOOOONEEEEEEYYY!!!”

No. I have got to speak the language of the law. A court hears me say that and hears a toddler’s babble: “Gah goo goo blah boo boo MOOOOOONEEEEEEYYY!!!”

My lawyer has to present a dish, identifying a recipe and presenting each and every ingredient required by the recipe. to mix metaphors, my lawyer must say something to the court that is complete according to the rules of legal grammar (at least subject and verb, let us say).

Seth Rogan’ physical violence here is only the beginning: it starts us on our search for legal theories (claims) that we can win on and that a court can recognize.

So, my lawyer starts like the Iron Chef contestant, in search of a claim to
apply (issue spotting), and then we need to apply it (issue analysis).

Sounds like . . . well, what torts deal with hitting someone?

  • Assault? No, under the law, assault is “almost hitting someone or pretending to hit someone.”
  • Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress? No, that’s not it either.
  • Negligence? Maybe. Hitting is sometimes involved. You know, the State Farm commercials seem to involve a lot of stuff being wrecked. Maybe people. Gotta think more about that.
  • Battery? Yes, that sounds more like it. Battery is “hitting someone on purpose.”

Now we know we need to do issue analysis.

Analysis means seeing if we can identify facts (or make factual inference) that match each and every element of the claim.

But we need to know what every element of battery is to do this analysis.

We need the “recipe.”

And not only that, but we need enough recipes to find the right one.

(By the way, I realize you are pretty chill and probably stoned, but if Seth Rogan’s people are reading this, SETH ROGAN NEVER HIT ME IN THE FACE WITH HIS BONG. I SHOULD BE SO HONORED. THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION – CRAPPY FICTION – WRITTEN PURELY FOR PEDAGOGICAL ENDS THAT YOUR FREAKS AND GEEKS PERSONA SHOULD SURELY APPRECIATE. OR NOT. DIDN’T WATCH THAT SEMINAL SHOW. YES, SETH, I SAID “SEMINAL.” JACKASS.)

So here is a simple definition of battery, which has five elements:

“A battery is (1) an intentional (2) offensive (3) impermissible (4) touching (5) that caused harm.”

There are other formulations of battery – just as there are sometimes different recipes for even simple dishes. When you are in school, use exactly the definition your professor gives you. But this will be pretty close to what you learn.

Each element may seem clear, but we should discuss each one further.

And after that explanation, let’s see how the facts (or inferences I can make) fit the elements of law:

(1) Intentional

  • Definition: “Whatever you did, you did it on purpose, not on accident.”
  • Facts: Seth Rogan eyeballed me [fact], which is strong evidence that meant to hit me [conclusion]. If it were an accident, maybe he wouldn’t have looked at me [factual inference].

(2) Offensive

  • Definition: “This thing you did is generally recognized as not so nice as we normally understand it.” (Super technical, right?” Not a light pat on the back.
  • Facts: This is easy, no one thinks getting hit with a ridiculously oversized “I am compensating for something” bong is nice.

(3) Impermissible

  • Definition: “You did not have permission.”
  • Facts: In the facts as given, I did not turn to Seth Rogan and say “please hit me with your bong” or even “I don’t mind if you hit me with your bong.”

(4) Touching

  • Definition: means “made physical contact with me.”
  • Facts: I am a human being, and Seth Rogan’s bong made contact with me.

(5) That Caused Harm

  • Definition: this means “it hurt me in some way” (but the law of battery recognizes some dignitary harms that don’t require broken bones or blood being drawn). Spitting on someone is sufficient harm, as is an unwanted grope in an erogenous zone (no harm to the tissue, but clearly unwanted and terrible for the person).
  • Facts: Yup, that hurt.
  • Note: Sometimes this is an optional element for proving liability. Sometimes the extent of harm goes to how much I can collect in damages.

Now, if I am missing proof on any of these elements, I can’t even make out a case.

In a full trial, if Seth Rogan can prove that I am simply wrong about a fact I offer as to just one of these elements – JUST ONE – then I lose the claim.

If I lied, and in fact, I told Seth, “No, please, hit me really hard with that bong, Seth Rogan!”, then I lose.

Just as a root beer float is not a root beer float without root beer and ice cream.

Recap:  Why You Need To Master the Law

We need to know claims and defenses (defenses – like intoxication or self-defense – have elements and must be proven just the way a claim must be proven).

So let’s back up.

You need to master the law so you can master issue spotting, the very skill your law school grades depend on.

Specifically, you need to know enough law so you can pick out facts that are “issue hooks” that would trigger a deeper look at a particular legal claim or defense.

Once you decide you need to look deeper at a set of facts to see if a claim or defense matches the facts, you need to know all of the elements of the claim or defense to do the analysis.

Then, repeat this exercise  until YOU BECOME THE IRON CHEF!

Next time: Part 4 on Mastering Issue Spotting.

Also: I am having some technical difficulties. I do plan on opening up sales to my course, Kick the Crap Out of Law School in my next post.

“First Year They Scare You To Death:” Manage Fear and Protect Your Time In Law School

Fear.

FEAR!

(As embodied by the weirdo White Walker/Gandalf snowman guy above.  Or this guy.)

Fear is the dominant emotion for many law students before and during your first year in law school.

Law school is at least a bit scary.  Maybe a lot.

Maybe you don’t want to admit it to others, but at least admit it to yourself.

Fear isn’t so bad — it is an evolutionary response to perceived danger.

But in law school, fear can hurt you.  You will waste time if you do not manage your fear and channel it properly.

But you can. And you will.  I will give you the tools — specific tips — to help you manage your fear and protect your time in law school.

Because protecting your time is so, so incredibly important.

Your time and focus are incredibly limited resources.  Every moment you spend on the wrong thing is a moment you are not working towards your goal of getting good grades (so you can get a dream job, which is why you went to law school in the first place, right?)

But before I give you those very specific tactical tips, we need to talk about the psychology of the first year law student and how fear can lead you down the wrong path.

You really need to understand this before the tips I offer will be useful to you.  (In fact, if you don’t understand the psychology of law school, you might reject the tips that I offer you as incredibly stupid.).

So, let’s do it.

*  *  *

1. Why is 1L year scary?

Let’s look at this. What precisely is scary about your first year?

Well, when I talk to law students I have tutored, they mention two big fears:

1. Getting bad grades.

2.  Being humiliated in class like this (or check out video below)

It is the law school equivalent to the “I’m in class naked” dream.

Neither nightmare is fun.

But only one of these nightmares is permanent.

Bad grades can follow you for a long time, stop you from getting work, leave you unable to pay your law school debt… and on and on and on. I don’t want to repeat what others have said better, but this is serious stuff.

A bad day in class, on the other hand, may feel terrible for a day or two. Or if you are like me and would do almost anything to avoid being called out in public, you might obsess for weeks about sounding stupid in front of your classmates. Your feelings of embarrassment might come back at any time in your head for years.

Unlike bad grades, a bad day in class will pass.

Do you agree with me on this? Say it aloud:

“Bad grades are a million times worse than a bad day in class.”

So here is my question: Why do so many law students seem to organize their law school lives to avoid #2 (a bad day in class) rather than to avoid #1 (bad grades)?

This question is less judgmental than it sounds. It is, honestly, kind of a mystery.  But this is what I’ve learned:

Let’s take the typical law student, you.

You are smart. You work hard. Maybe you are a perfectionist. (And maybe you feel incredibly imperfect).

So you wouldn’t pick a study plan that would lead to bad grades, right?

Not if you knew it would lead to bad grades, right?

But many people do.

So what is going on?  A combination of factors:

1. Most law students get mediocre grades because law school grades are on a vicious curve. At many law schools, only the top 3-7% of the class gets an A, and maybe the next 5-10% of the class gets an A-. And Cs are rare now in law school, so it means everyone else basically gets a B+, B or B-.

2. Law school pedagogy is totally messed up. Your grade in a class depends entirely on your performance on a final exam. But your final exam performance depends on a skill (issue spotting) that your time in class does not teach.

3. But — hugely important point here — law school as a whole is set up to appear like a test of legal knowledge rather than the reality:  law school exams test a single, specific legal skill called “issue spotting.”

4. Consider: You are assigned tons of reading in class; some estimates say you read between 20-30 hours a week. You will spend your 12-15 classroom hours per week discussing these cases. Those two activities are already a full time job. This full time job does not help you with issue-spotting, the skill upon which your entire legal future is based.

5. Indeed, all the social pressure in law school focuses on making sure you read and are prepared for class. If you are not prepared to discuss these cases, a professor is standing by to make sure you feel like an idiot. Thanks, Professor Brewster “Angry Asshole” Kingman. And other scared law students reinforce this pressure. They will keep talking about understanding cases and preparing for class and briefing cases.

6. No one else will notice if you are learning how to do issue spotting, if you are really preparing for final exams, if you are really looking out for your own best interest. No student or professor will say, “Hey, dude, you are an idiot for not knowing issue spotting!”

7. Indeed, professors will tell you that all you have to do is read the cases, come to class prepared, pay attention, do a little outlining and practice exams (which they give you absolutely no guidance on ), and you should do fine. According to professors, there is no difference between what you need to do to avoid classroom embarrassment, and what you need to do to avoid bad grades. They don’t think so, and I think most professors truly believe this. (More on this in a future post).

8. You must be thinking: Your professors would not possibly pull the old bait-and-switch (see also: switcheroo, switcherooney, the switch-meister, switchy-switch-switch-switch), right?

They would not tell and make you learn a bunch of things while testing you on something almost completely different, right? You are spending a giant crap-load of (probably borrowed) money to go to law school.

There are beautiful buildings, smart professors from prestigious law schools and immaculate resumes. They are nice, honest-seeming people. They are neatly dressed. These people wouldn’t be tricking you, right? Right?

9. You haven’t heard of any clear alternative to doing what the professor says to do to get good grades AND avoid social embarrassment, other than what you have heard from professors. You have heard from other law students, but what do they know? Everyone has a competing and maybe compelling theory on how to dominate in law school. Also, they are competing with you. Maybe other students are telling you one thing so they can go off and do another thing they know will lead to success?

10. In this confusion, you think about your college success. In college you got good grades by being smart, working hard, and doing exactly what the professor asked you to do. Why wouldn’t that work now? So you start

So how do you, a typical and rational law student, react?

You are scared. You fall back on your old habits.  You do what the professor says.  You do what others are doing.  Everyone else is furiously doing the reading. Everyone else seems incredibly prepared for class. Everyone else is briefing cases, putting a ton of work into legal writing assignments, doing moot court, etc.

So you do the same.  You read and re-read and read cases again. You brief cases — partly because some law schools tell you that you must (but they’re not checking if you do them).  You work until late on legal writing.  You join moot court, APALSA, Amnesty, Federalist Society, whatever.

And you don’t want to be that girl or that guy in class.

So you Work. Really. Hard.

That is your strategy.

Day to day, you still fear being called on in class, but you are prepared.

It feels good to get through lots of material and master those cases and feel like you have really gotten into the details of a case. You know it cold by the time you get to class.

That professor won’t make a fool of you. You’ll look good in class! You’ll look smart!

But — and I am speaking from experience, from students who had this happen — before you know it, a semester has flown by, and finals are coming up.

Everyone else is outlining and taking practices exams.

So you are on the same schedule as everyone else.

You have to prepare for exams.  But you still have to keep reading, keep briefing cases, AND do legal research papers AND extracurriculars you signed up for (because you want to look well-rounded and others pushed you into joining moot court, and you want to get real skills…).

So you get to your exams. You didn’t outline everything, you took a practice exam or two, and you didn’t sleep well before exams.

You are nervous, maybe more nervous than you have ever been.

You start taking the exam and it feels . . . awkward and foreign. You studied the law, you think, but this exam is different.

You aren’t seeing the issues right away.

Other people around you are typing away furiously. They seem to know what they’re doing.

You stare at your screen (or paper). You can’t think of anything.

You see the time. Only 2 hours left. You start writing something. It seems stupid, but you have to write something. You keep writing. You remember some things. It seems easier.

Time. You turn in (or submit) your exam. You have a gnawing feeling that you did terribly, but you still have a little hope. Your classmates also seem shellshocked (some seem cocky, but you ignore them), and so you are hopeful.

How well do you think this story turns out?

Do you think, under this scenario, you end up being pleasantly surprised by your grades?

With a grading curve, if everyone is pretty smart, and everyone else works hard, and everyone else does the same kind of work, what is the chance that you will get the A?

Maybe you are The Special (watch The Lego Movie sometime, it’s on HBONow) and you just get law school in a way that others don’t.  You’ll get the A.

And maybe not.

You get your grades back: definitely not special.

If you think I am making this up, I am not.

This is just what I have seen with students I tutored.

This precise series of things happened to many of the law students who came to me for tutoring after their very trying first semester.

And I can tell you that most of the law students who came to me for advice before law school, heeded this cautionary tale, followed my advice below, and avoided this fate.

* * *

2. 4 Specific Tips to Protect Your Time And Kick Ass In Law School

Let’s be clear: You do not need to be “the special.”

Just assume — as is frankly the truth — that you are no smarter than your already smart classmates.

If you follow these tips, you will be on a different path from most of your classmates.

You will be clearing up your time to avoid time-wasting activities.

You will be able to protect your time.

Of course these tips are just a start. I am not suggesting you clear up your schedule you so you can just party. (Don’t avoid parties, by the way, in my view. The valedictorian from my law school class went out a lot.)

You are clearing your schedule so you can channel your fear and your hard work towards those activities that will actively help you get good grades.

(Such as:  mastering the law, mastering issue spotting, and mastering your professor.)

Also: these tips are simple and easy to implement. Mostly, I am telling you things NOT to do.

But they may be hard to keep doing (or not doing).

These tips seem simple. But initially they may involve you having a struggle in your own head with your fear, with peer pressure, and between intense short term pressures and long term goals that are more important but exert less pressure on you day to day.

That is, it is easy for me to give you these tips. It is hard — because of psychological reasons I mentioned above — to follow them.

Here they are.

Protect Your Time 1:  AVOID BRIEFING CASES

This video, that I made, tells you what you need to know about briefing cases. Basically, do not do it. At some law schools, (ahem, Wash U Law School), the dean (I am reliably told) tells students that they must brief cases. Even so, don’t do it.

Protect Your Time 2: Don’t overprepare for class in any other way

This is a corollary to Point 1. That is, maybe while you might not brief cases, you might be doing other things to prepare for class. Maybe you are frantically re-read cases 4-5 times to memorize the details. Maybe you read way ahead.

Do not do it. Now notice, I am not telling you NOT to do the reading. Do the reading. But do not over do it.

My recommendation is: read the cases the night before class. Scribble notes in the book or type a couple of key lines. You will never be tested on the teeny-tiny obscure details of the case. You may be ASKED about them, but so what?

Also, as I mention elsewhere, class time should never be the first time you learn about a part of the law. If you pre-study the law, you won’t be frantically reviewing cases to understand what is going on. (But more on that later).

I gave you my recommendation, but do what works for you. Just make sure that thing is consistent with strictly limiting how much time you spend reading cases.

And remember that if you are over preparing for class, you are forgetting that (1) classroom performance does not matter for your final grade (and is not even a sign of how well you get the material); and (2) every minute you over-prepare for class you are not preparing for your exams.

Protect Your Time 3:  AVOID EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES

Watch the video below, but in short: Extracurriculars — with only 2 exceptions — will not help you in law school. Focus on going out and bonding with law students socially.

In short: DO NOT add work to your life. Do NOT add work-like obligations to your already cluttered life. Maybe you managed it in college, but this is your first year in law school.

Don’t give yourself work when you don’t yet know what it takes to succeed in law school.

Protect Your Time 4: Do as little work as possible in your legal writing.

I will say more on this later, but your legal writing (sometimes “legal research & writing” or LRW”) class is another potential time suck.

LRW is a class that is not focused on a single subject, but teaches you the mechanics of practicing law. Things like drafting legal briefs, researching cases, writing client memos, etc.

Sounds important and super practice, right? Except you do it for a bit your first year and never come back to it.

Also, unfortunately, law school is not where you get real training for work. (I am not saying this is a good thing. But it is more or less the truth.)

So my advice is different than the other 3 points above and depends on whether LRW is pass/fail or a graded class for you.

If LRW is pass/fail, do the minimum possible to pass. Trust me, if you at least hand in something semi-coherent, no one will fail you. But getting a “pass” in LRW is not going to help you get a job. So don’t over do it. You will feel some pressure for your instructor because, unlike with other professors, he or she will give you feedback. And if you put in only the minimum amount of effort, that feedback will not generally be friendly. DO NOT give into temptation and put more energy into LRW. It will not help you with your grade.

If LRW is a fully graded class, my advice is a little different. Sit down and spend time calculating how much LRW factors into your grades. Then figure out how much time you actually have to study.

Be realistic. Start from 168 hours, and subtract 8 hours of night for sleep — don’t skim on sleep! — class time, meals, exercise and maybe going out. Then multiply by percentage . Let’s say LRW is 3 credits and you have 15. Don’t spend more than 20% of your available study time on it.

Because even if LRW is graded, you should not treat it as if it were more important than other classes.

This sounds like common sense, but I have watched students plow a disproportionate amount of time — like 30-40% of their available study time — into LRW. It is tempting, because you want some kind of A. LRW seems like a good way to get that A.

Legal writing is different from your other main classes in that you get graded on multiple papers and so this is an A you can control, so you work REALLY HARD.

But this is a dangerous illusion.

First, if there is a curve for LRW, remember that your classmates have the same incentives. They will also plow a ton of work into LRW. So your chances of getting an A may not be higher.

Second, even if there is no curve for LRW, you can lose critical study time for your other classes — the “real” classes that most employers and judges and other law schools (if you are thinking of transferring) look at.

Many employers, judges and others do not value LRW highly.

That is, if you get an A in LRW but no other As, you will not stand out. You might not get your foot in the door for an interview.

They can, however, accept the converse: If you get A’s in torts and contracts and crim, but you get a B in LRW, you will get the interview. You may be asked “what the hell happened in LRW” but that is a much easier problem to deal with (“I was too busy kicking ass in my other classes and had to make choices about what to work on, so I am showing you I can prioritize well and excel where it matters.”) than NOT GETTING THE INTERVIEW.

And, in the end, isn’t that what law school is about?

You are not trying to kick ass in law school for its own sake.

You are going to law school to make a difference in the world, to help your family, to better your situation.

All of these things are more closely within your reach if you can manage your fear and protect your time.

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