. . . 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:
- First, you’ve learned about the three pillars to law school success.
- Second, you’ve learned what not to do in law school.
- Third, you’ve learned how and why to master the law (by learning the elements to all of the major claims and defenses of a given area).
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.
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:
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!):