Thursday, September 15, 2016
You've done it - you've survived your first few classes of law school. If you are like me you're probably teeming with thoughts about the experience. Well, you are not alone.
I wrote this when I was still in the heat of the semester while everything was fresh. As scary as it seems, you are not alone.
Here are my first impressions about law school.
I’ve endured a little over a month’s worth of 1L hell and have had the opportunity to form my first impressions of law school. And, let's be honest, what’s the point of having a blog if I’m not going to word-vomit my personal reflections into the world from time to time (or all the time…as it were *cough* *cough*). So on with the vomiting, er, I mean opining. Here are my 5 first impressions about law school:
1. Back to school - If you're like me and you are going back to school to study law after working for a few years the stupidity of school might be challenging. And when I say the stupidity of school let me be clear - universities and colleges can do stupid stuff. The people you encounter (likely students employed by various departments of the school) lack any professionalism and customer service skill (I'm talking about you, Bookstore Lady. You know who you are.) You pay money for the privilege of being treated like crap....it's school. That won’t change because it's 'grad' school or 'professional' or 'law' school. Try to take the stupidity with a grain of salt and roll with the punches.
2. The work – Law school is a boatload of brain-busting work. It's hard. I read cases in undergrad and it wasn't as hard as this. I've read SCOTUS opinions, in full, online, that weren’t as hard as this. The cases are dense, the legal scholarship is dense, and sometimes the stuff you learn flies in the face of what you spent a life time learning (two spaces after a period? WTF do you think this is, 1945? Come on now.) It's supposed to be hard. Expect it to be hard and you’ll be in the right mindset.
3. Classrooms Aren’t As Scary As You’ve Heard - you've probably heard law school teachers are different. You’ve probably heard people say the professors use the Socratic Method to teach, whatever that means, and they like to crush students into puddles of tears. Well, those people aren't wrong....but they aren't right either (who ever 'they' are. Stupid rumor mongers). Teachers, from what I can tell, don’t want to see you cry or freak out. The Socratic Method, for the most part, means the teachers ask questions of the class instead of lecturing. Here's an example:
Prof: "If you enter into an agreement with your friend to rob a bank is that a binding contract?"
Another student raises their hand: "Because there was no consideration or exchange."
Prof: "Okay, let's say you and your friend enter into an agreement where if you help him rob a bank he will pay you 50% of the take. Is that a binding contract?"
Student: "Yes. Because there is a promise of a consideration or an exchange."
Prof: "Is it?"
Different student: "Yes, it's a future promise so it's a binding executory contract."
Prof: "Are you sure?"
Different student: "No. It's not a binding contract."
Prof: "Good. Why?"
Student: "Because it's an agreement to do something illegal. The illegal nature of the activity voids the contract."
Or something like that.
Not so scary, is it?
The key to surviving this method is doing the homework. Shocker, I know~! You must do the homework. And if you mess up your reading (because you got the assignments confused, or a flying monkey ate your Torts book or otherwise converted your chattels, tell your professor before class. I’ve witnessed someone flounder through a cold call who didn’t do the reading and it was painful. After the Prof drilled them for questions (and helped them out a time or two) she asked if they did the reading. The student said he didn’t do the reading for this week because he read next week’s cases by mistake. The professor replied, “Next time tell me so I don’t call on you.”
She could have said this:
The lesson is that painful, embarrassing crap could have been avoided had the kid just let the professor know they had made a mistake (or done the reading).
4. Get comfortable being average – You are a high achiever, right? That’s why you got into law school in the first place. Maybe you were top of your class in undergrad. Maybe you have a Phd in some mind-blowingly complex STEM subject. Maybe you kick the LSAT’s butt until it begged for mercy. You are smart so give yourself a pat on the back. Now look around you. Everyone in your law school is smart too. Yep, that’s right. Out in the wilds of the world you may have been a special snowflake of brilliance but in here, in law school, you are average. You will not get straight A’s. You won’t. You can’t get straight A', actually, because the forced curve in the 1L courses basically prevents it (or makes it nearly impossible to get an A). Get comfortable being average (easier said than done for us high-achieving folks, amirite?). Chances are good you will not be top of your class. Chances are good you will not be top 10% of your class. That doesn’t mean you don’t try – try hard, do the work, etc. All I mean is you need to get snuggly with the idea that you may not be top of your class and that’s okay. I’m only a month in and have already witnessed a handful of freak-outs over this very issue. Being average is relative and being average in law school isn’t (or shouldn’t be) an insult.
5.1. The people - oh my lawd, the people of law school! I had to break this observation into two points because it seems that everyone in law school falls into one of two categories: A*holes and non-A*holes. Let’s talk about the former first. There is a dark, sinister minority of students in law school who can make life painful. Of course I’m talking about the A*hole student. In law school they are called gunners. The stereotypical gunner is someone who works to sabotage their classmates but that is actually not the most common gunner. Mostly, gunners in the part-time evening classes are just douchey. They argue for the sake of arguing. They get stuck on syntax instead of the theory. They essentially believe they know more about the law than the professor. When they get called out for their behavior they backtrack and swear that they weren't being a douche. They love to hear themselves talk so they constantly volunteer during class but not in meaningful ways (.....I think I dated a gunner once....*swallows back the vomit*).Even having two of these gunners in a class can make for painful discussions. So call them gunners or call them douchebags....they exist and you need to be ready.
5.2. The people, cont. – The good news is there will be no shortage of nice, non-A*hole people at law school. And, here again, I think I benefit from going to school as a part-time night student because my classes are mostly filled with working adults. My classmates, for the most part, are mature enough to not get swept up in the gossiping BS. These cool, non-A*hole students are helpful and encouraging and funny. They are the light in the darkness so-to-speak. These non-A*hole students will become your friends and together you will survive this. Gotta love the non-A*holes of the world. And aside from the occasional douche your classes will be filled with non-A*hole people who are smart. Some will be smarter than you (see getting comfortable with being average above). Some will get the material faster than you. Who cares? You'll get through it. Do the work. Talk to folks, make friends, and ask for help often (before it's too late). Its school and you've done it before. You'll survive this too. At least that's my plan.
Thursday, August 4, 2016
And so it begins: law school. Traditionally, law school begins in August every year. Although I've been through this before, I'm still a 1L. I'm a part-time student which means I haven't accumulated enough credits to be a true 2L. So, in solidarity with my 1L brethren, I offer these insights on what to do during your first semester.
When my study group and I were wrapping up our first semester of law school we reflected back on what we wish we would have done to make the semester a little less stressful.
School is hard enough without making it harder by missing opportunities. Effective and efficient management of school work is the name of the game.
So, for those of you crazy enough to attempt the JD degree, here are the 5 tips from my study group on how to effectively prepare for exams:
1. Do your reading. This should go without saying but I said it so I’m going to talk about it. Being prepared is a big deal in law school. It’s considered unprofessional to show up without having done the reading. Read your cases. Brief your cases. Some upperclassmen may tell you not to ‘waste’ time with briefing but to them I say “back off you crazy, lazy, gunning b*stards.” Briefing is a substantial study tool and a helpful skill to develop. Don’t sell yourself short. You got here – now do the work.
2. Start outlining earlier! If your school is anything like mine, then they will have this super nice Academic Success Program. The program involves students presenting on tips and tricks for succeeding in law school. One of the tips they offered was to wait to outline until November (about a month before exams). The theory was that you, as a new law student, wouldn't really understand how the rules fit together so your outline wouldn't make sense. But, I'm telling you, start as soon as possible. And when I say start, I mean, grab the table of contents for your case book and compare it to your syllabus. Write up a rough outline of subjects using those two resources as a guide. Do it before classes start if you can. And then, each week, type your class notes under the applicable section heading. This will help you tremendously when exams are looming over you.
3. Type your notes each week. Some of my professors didn't allow laptops in class which meant taking notes by hand. This didn't bother me because the act of writing something down always seemed to cement it in my mind. However, outlines are typed. And outlining is easier and faster if your notes are typed. Just don't do what most of my study group did - don't let your notes pile up. It's overwhelming and you don't need anything else overwhelming on your plate.
4. Run hypos sooner. When you get close to exams you'll likely want to run hypos. This means finding a study aid (like E&E's) and reading their hypothetical questions and noodling out your best guess of an answer. We did this for hours and hours on end before exams. But we all agreed it would have helped us tremendously if we had tackled hypos each week. Learn something new in Contracts? Run a corresponding hypo to make sure you understand the material. The exercises help you recall the concepts and keep the materials fresh.
5. Meet with your study group sooner. We all agreed we wish we would have started meeting sooner. Meet each week. Meet whenever. But meet sooner than you think you need to. Meet and discuss what was covered in class. Meet and talk through your questions. Meet and work on your collaborative outline. Do whatever. But meet. Meeting helped us stay accountable and kept us on track.
Hope these tips help. Have additional tips? Share them here.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
It's that time of year! The time of year when new 0L's law students begin stressing obsessively about becoming 1L's. (They don't call it 1L Hell for nothin'). Ah, I remember those days. It seems like a lifetime ago.
I wrote this post after wrapping up my first semester exams. I had some perspective at this point and could reflect on what you should do before you even step foot in the building. Take your freedom seriously, because it's about to end. Embrace your last bit of summer.
I'm done with my first semester of 1Lhell. Which means I'm sleeping as much as humanly possible and trying to have fun (you know, that three letter word that was so familiar BEFORE school). So I thought I'd take a moment to reflect over the beginning of it all. If you are starting law school in the future maybe these things will come in handy.
Here are my top 9 things to do before starting law school:
1. Talk to everyone! Tell everyone who will listen that you are going to law school. I mean, don’t be a jerk about it but get the word out. Who knows, someone may know someone who is an attorney and *boom* instant network connection. Networking is a constant in the professional world. For those who haven’t worked in a career before this will come as a shock. For those of you (like me) who are pursuing law as a second (or third) career you know networking starts now. Heck, maybe it started yesterday. Just get to it and don’t worry about sounding silly. You’re a 1L – no one expects you to know everything.
2. Get a good, light weight, laptop. This cannot be understated. You will already have about a billion pounds worth of books to lug around. Who wants to lug around a 5 million pound 17 in’ laptop? No one. *insert aint no one got time for that meme* I use a Microsoft Surface (pro 2) and I love it. Some people will tell you to get a Mac – I’m not a super Mac fan but if that’s what floats your boat then, by all means, float your boat.
3. Get your job sitch figured out – you don’t need any extra stress. Set expectations early with your employer that you will need flexibility in order to make school work.
4. Get your home sitch figured out – home is essential. It’s where you unwind. It’s where you relax. It’s where you spend your time when you aren’t at work or at the library. So start talking to your SO’s or family now. Set expectations with them early and often. This is going to be a HUGE change and they need to be on board. They are your partners in this endeavor. You need their support.
5. Have as much fun as possible – this is your last moment of freedom before you commit to a grueling lifestyle of hard work. Take this moment to celebrate EVERYTHING and ANYTHING! Celebrate getting into school. Celebrate the fact that it’s Thursday. Just be sure you are enjoying life because when things get hard you’ll want happy memories to see you through.
6. Visit family – you may not be able to travel for every holiday anymore. Sure, you have Thanksgiving week off from class but it’s also the last week before finals. You’ll want that time to study. So maybe that means spending turkey day at home instead of with the fam. Plan now for how you will spend your holidays and set those expectations. You’ll feel a lot less stress if you take care of it now. Not to mention the total awesome feeling you’ll get from spending time with your loved ones.
7. Get your personal medical issues in order – I was getting headaches as I studied for the LSAT. I had Lasik about 10 yrs ago and knew it was guaranteed so I made time to visit with the eye doc and find out what was causing my headaches. The issue was nothing that could be corrected with a repeat procedure so it was determined that I needed glasses. Better that I got those glasses before school as opposed to suffering through and then getting them in the middle of first semester. This applies to mental health issues as well. I’m glad I didn’t wait until the semester started to discuss my mental health with my provider. This is serious stuff. You need to take it seriously.
8. Plan to protect your time – a lot of people will tell you that just because you’re in school doesn’t mean you need to give up on the things that you love. If you’re like me and you enjoy running and fitness then schedule time in your day to work out. It’s not enough to schedule the time. You need to protect that time like a momma bear protects her cubs. Luckily for me I’ve learned this skill because I love to write and writing is a task that can get easily run over by the rest of life. Now, this is easier said than done. For example, I regularly miss my workouts and have had to drop writing sessions completely for a while. But it’s not because I didn’t try. I did. I am. And I’m adapting my schedule to what will work.
9. Sleep. Sleeeeeeeeep. For the love of god sleep. You will likely run on less sleep than you thought possible once school gets underway. So make sure you aren’t going into it already operating at a deficit.
Hope these tips help you as you get ready to start your law school journey.
Have you been through 1Lhell? What did you wish you could have done before the semester started? Share here.