Today’s tip for incoming law students is directed primarily to those who are scientists or engineers by training, whether that training comes from undergraduate or postgraduate education, or otherwise. It’s also directed to all other incoming students who haven’t had a lot of recent reading experience.
Law school is all about the word. If you do all the assigned work, and even if you don’t but you try to make up for it with study guides and outlines, you will be reading a lot of stuff. Most of it will be in English (a little of it will be Latin, and a little will be mangled French), but much of it will be incomprehensible, at least at first. Even if you do come from an academic discipline that’s based on reading a lot of text — such as history, or literature — this is going to be tough going. If you’re not used to reading a lot in the first place, you’ll have an even steeper learning curve.
The tip, then, is this: Start to get comfortable with dense, complicated text. Spend some meaningful time this summer with some good literature. Try Ulysses by James Joyce. Work through a few of Shakespeare’s plays. For something mind-bending, try Borges. (One of my teachers in college maintained that you were a virgin until you’d read Borges.) If you want something modern and tech-y, pick up Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, or even the whole Baroque Cycle. If you happen to be coming to Pittsburgh this fall, check out some of August Wilson’s amazing plays about African-Americans here. Jane Austen awaits.
These are only suggestions, and by making a point about scientists and engineers, I don’t mean to suggest that others shouldn’t invest in challenging literature (everyone should, and Michael Crichton and J.K. Rowling don’t count) or that scientists and engineers aren’t up to the intellectual demands of law school (they certainly are). In fact, I’ll have a tip shortly for students coming in from an arts and humanities background. They have ground to make up, too.