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Welcome to Law School, Part V

There is an enormous and expensive economy out there in “law school prep” materials and courses. Blogs and boards are full of commentary about “Planet Law School,” “Law School Confidential,” classics like One L, prep classes, and recommendations that incoming students review study guides for their first year courses or learn “how-to” methods for exams and outlining — even before classes begin.

Today’s tip: I can’t say that incoming students won’t get anything out of reading and following prep guides or taking prep classes; if you spend the money and think that it’s valuable, fine. It’s a mistake, though, to dedicate too much time and energy (and a lot of money) to what third parties tell you about law school and not enough to keeping your eyes, ears, and mind open to what’s happening in law school itself.

The heart of law school, which is reading the assigned cases and coming to class prepared (prepared not only to listen to the professor and to discuss the reading yourself, but also prepared to listen to what your classmates have to say) is important, even if advice gurus and system-sellers imply that you can master the material by keeping professors and fellow students at a distance and mastering the study guides alone. Every year, a few of my Contracts students throw extraneous black-letter legal analysis into their exam answers, contract law that may not be wrong, and may not even be irrelevant, but that wasn’t part of the syllabus. This stuff comes from study guides and canned outlines. I don’t know what other professors do when they encounter this sort of thing, but I give zero credit for it. On the exams that I give, I want to know if students can apply the material that I’ve assigned, not feed back whatever material they’ve memorized.

To be a good lawyer, and more important in immediate terms, to do well in law school, you have to learn how to read and discuss the law. Memorizing rules (the so-called “black-letter” law) isn’t the point. Being able to talk and write about them is the point.

Link to Welcome to Law School, Part I: Get fit.

Link to Welcome to Law School, Part II: Scientists should read some literature.

Link to Welcome to Law School, Part III: Non-scientists should read some science.

Link to Welcome to Law School, Part IV: Write.

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