An Insider's Guide to Law School

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					   CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNER                                                                                                          1.800. 973. 1177

An Insider’s Guide to Law School
[Hanna Stotland]
First year, they scare you to death. Second year, they work you to death. Third year, they bore you to death. There’s more than a grain of truth to this bit of
legal lore: Here’s how to stay afloat as you dive into law school, year by year.

Books, movies, and every lawyer you meet              ments.                                              plus, they’re an invaluable study aid at exam
feed you the same horror story: Your first            Criminal Law, not surprisingly, covers crimi-       time. There’s no right way to brief a case, but
year in law school is going to be the toughest        nal statutes and penalties.                         following a set structure helps. Usually, you
of your life, complete with mountains of              You debate the merits of abortion rights, free      start by stating the nature of the case and
reading, sadistic professors, and cutthroat           speech, and gun control in Constitutional           what rule of law it illustrates; following that,
classmates. While the experience varies from          Law.                                                you might summarize the key facts, identify
school to school and student to student, most                                                             the issues, and indicate the court’s holding
                                                      Property is the study of ownership and rights,
first-years say that the agony described in                                                               and decision. One student at Cardozo Law
                                                      and when these rights are infringed.
“One-L” and “The Paper Chase” is only half                                                                School says, “In the first semester, they ask
the story; hard work and a steep learning                                                                 you the facts of the case a lot, so briefing is
                                                      Most schools also require a first-year
curve do come with the territory, but not only                                                            really helpful. But going forward, you start
                                                      seminar in legal writing and research, often
is it possible to survive your first year-it’s                                                            learning to highlight and to make marginal
                                                      culminating in a moot court exercise where
actually possible to enjoy it.                                                                            notes.”
                                                      1Ls argue an imaginary case before a panel
                                                      of “judges” played by professors or practic-
Academics                                                                                                 A note about outside aids: While commercial
                                                      ing attorneys.
                                                                                                          hornbooks, casenotes, and outlines (the
Grab your new laptop (some schools, such as                                                               Cliffs Notes of the legal world) are certainly
                                                      Tip: Some schools require you to dress the part
Stanford, require you to buy one; you’ll find                                                             useful to many students, they’re not neces-
                                                      for this, so you may have to spring for a suit.
that many students actually use them to take                                                              sarily a substitute for reading the cases
notes in class), and hit the ground running.                                                              yourself.
                                                      Conventional wisdom has it right: Be
Generally, law schools split the first-year
                                                      prepared to spend more time reading than
class into sections. You will get to know                                                                 Tip: Before you shell out money for guides, ask
                                                      ever before. “Nothing prepares you for this
your sectionmates well, as you take all your                                                              a 2L or 3L for advice and check to see if they’re
                                                      much work,” says Bethany Currie, a 1L at
classes with them. Though sections disband                                                                available in the library.
                                                      Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. “I’m
after the first year, the bonds formed during
                                                      constantly surprised by how much homework
this intense period are usually some of the                                                               Most schools use the time-honored Socratic
                                                      there is.” Expect an adjustment period as you
strongest in a law school career.                                                                         method to teach law in the classroom. Rather
                                                      learn to read case law, a unique skill that
First-year students attend class roughly 14                                                               than lecturing, professors call on students
                                                      only practice can perfect. “In the beginning of
to 15 hours per week. Whether your courses                                                                randomly (or for some lucky sections, ac-
                                                      my first year, it took an hour to read and brief
are yearlong or semester-long depends on                                                                  cording to an alphabetical list) and question
                                                      a 10-page case,” explains Deborah Dencer,
the school, but the first-year curriculum is                                                              them at length-in front of the class-about the
                                                      a 1L at another Midwestern law school. “But
virtually identical at every law school in the                                                            implications of the assigned reading. This
                                                      eventually it becomes second nature.” In
country:                                                                                                  type of dialogue, pioneered by the Greek phi-
                                                      time, you’ll find yourself breezing through
                                                                                                          losopher Socrates, forces students to arrive
                                                      cases at warp speed.
Civil Procedure covers the nuts and bolts of                                                              at the answer by gradually building a logical
litigation. In Torts, you learn about civil inju-                                                         chain, link by link. This teaches you to apply-
                                                      Briefing a case is just what it sounds like:
ries and their remedies, often with a healthy                                                             legal reasoning in novel situations, instead of
                                                      Creating short outlines for each case helps
dose of economic theory.                                                                                  merely memorizing the principles behind a
                                                      immensely when you’re called on in class;
Contracts is the study of enforceable agree-                                                              given case.

PAGE 1                                                                                                                                            continued on back
   CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNER                                                                                                 1.800. 973. 1177

Cold-calling is also an extremely effective-        many bar review courses are offered for first- and   quality time with your classmates.
method of getting everyone in the class to do       second-year classes to help students synthesize
the reading every day. It’s natural to feel like    the material.                                       Zachary H. Smith, a 1L at Boston University,
a deer caught in the headlights when you’re                                                             says his classmates provide a welcome re-
called on for the first time; chances are, ev-      Grades generally don’t come in for at least         spite from the daily grind: “For the most part,
eryonein the class will freeze up under ques-       three to six weeks after the exam. Professors       everyone is friendly and happy to spend time
tioning at some point. While you may never          may post grades keyed to anonymous code             together inside and outside the classroom.”
forget the time it happens to you, bear in mind     numbers on a bulletin board in the school, or
that your classmates will only remember their       you may have to call an automated telephone         Looking Ahead
own moments of embarrassment.                       information system to receive them. At some
                                                    schools, you still get them the old-fashioned       The National Association for Law Placement
At most schools, class participation won’t          way-by mail.                                        (NALP), which works with law schools and
affect your grades. “Be prepared for daily                                                              employers to set guidelines for recruiting and
classes,” says Pedro Cervantes, a 1L at the         No matter how you prepare, expect the               hiring, mandates that law schools can’t give
University of Illinois, “but focus more on en-      unexpected when your report card arrives.           career advice to 1Ls until November 1, and
suring that you know how to take the exams at       Most law school courses base grades solely          1Ls aren’t permitted to begin looking for jobs
the end of the semester.”                           on one do-or-die half-day exam at the end of        until December 1.
                                                    the semester, and many conscientious stu-
The exam period will generally last for two         dents get nasty surprises when they see their       “The limited discretionary time of 1Ls should
weeks at the end of each semester. Some             grades. Finding yourself in the middle of the       be spent adjusting to the rigors of law school’s
schools give you a week of reading days to          curve may be difficult to get used to after the     academic demands, rather than focusing on
prepare; others might allot only a weekend          academic success that got you into law school       employment concerns,” explains Paula A.
for this purpose. Exams are often three hours       in the first place. But grades “don’t mean          Patton, executive director of NALP. But once
long, writing intensive, and sometimes may be       what they meant in college,” Currie points out.     December rolls around, it’s full speed ahead.
taken on your laptop; at some schools, there        “Celebrate with a B+, and be ecstatic if you get    “You think you have a few years before you
are take-home exams for which you will be           an A.”                                              have to decide what you’re going to do,” warns
given a set period of time.                                                                             Holly Yoshinari, a Harvard first-year, “but
                                                    The curve varies from school to school. At          you are immediately immersed in interviewing
The best way to prepare is to take the exams        some, the same percentage of students gets a        workshops, resume seminars, and the 1L
your professor gave in previous years. Many         certain grade on all first-year exams. Some         summer-job hunt.”
law schools file them in the library; if yours      have set policies, so 25 percent of students
doesn’t, ask your professor if you can see          may get Cs and many more get As. At others,         Summer gigs aren’t easy to come by, since
an old exam. Most 1Ls also find it helpful to       you may find that no one gets a C, but only 3       few firms recruit 1Ls on campus. Expect tough
create course outlines, which boil down the         percent get As.                                     competition for cushy summer associate
substance of the course into a digestible form.                                                         positions; even at top schools, 1Ls will get nu-
“Put your notes into outline form from the          Life-Social and Otherwise                           merous rejections for every offer. Sending out
very first day of school,” advises a 1L at Suf-                                                         200 resumes and cover letters to firms in your
folk University in Boston. “It saves you a lot of   You can have a life while keeping up with your      target cities and getting “dinged” (rejected)
work right before finals.” Organizing a study       classes, but by all accounts, it’s a balancing      at 195 isn’t an uncommon 1L experience. If
group of two to six friends or sectionmates         act. Working nonstop with no outlet for your        you’re determined to work for a particular
can help you fill in the gaps and keep you          stress is a recipe for personal misery and          firm, persistence (and good old-fashioned
motivated. And stay calm, cool, and collected       academic burnout. “Although it is important         connections) may be more important than-
through the whole ordeal with tips from our         to do your best in law school, definitely go out    what’s on your resume. Visit your career
resident health guru, Dr. of Law.                   and have a goodtime,” advises Cervantes, who        office for information on how to conduct the
                                                    plays on a “beer league” basketball team and        1L job search. If you don’t find out what you
Tip: Review for common first-year exams by           maintains a busy social life. Intramural sports     need, ask a career counselor for advice.
attending bar prep classes. Although you won’t      teams, cultural clubs, and volunteer oppor-
take your bar exam till after your third year,      tunities offor the chance to relax and spend        The most reliable, though certainly not

   CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNER                       1.800. 973. 1177

the most lucrative, way to build your legal
resume during 1L summer is to take an
unpaid internship with a nonprofit
organization,such as a legal aid bureau, or a
government agency (e.g., a local prosecutor’s
office). Some law schools provide stipends to
students doing unpaid summer work; if yours
doesn’t, it should still be able to help you ap-
ply to private foundations that do.

Tip: If your summer job doesn’t cover all your
expenses, ask professors about research opportu-
nities.They’re a great opportunity to boost your
resume and earn some extra cash.


Description: First year in law school is tough but the bonds formed during this intense period are the strongest in a law school career. Civil Procedure covers the litigation. Learn about civil injuries and their remedies in Torts.
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