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To the 1Ls, on the occasion of their first exams


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#1 Uriel

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 02:44 PM

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I'll do my best to keep this from being a long and convoluted story, especially since I'm writing it by phone! What follows might be a bit syrupy, but I would have wanted to hear it last November, so here goes.

There are going to be a lot of people over the next month telling you not to stress out over your first exams: that they don't matter that much, that a bad mark is not the end of the world. Do me a favour. Listen to those people.

My first mark at law school was a big, stinky C. The mark itself looked and felt like an open wound from a shattered beer bottle. It was the only mark I had in my pocket as I went home for the December holidays. I got to listen to the lamentations of my classmates at the end-of-term party: "I feel so stupid! I've never had a B+ in my life!" "Well, at least it's not a C+, man, that would be a kick in the face." "Ha! Yeah, that's basically code for, 'get out of law school'."

It was humiliating, depressing, and stressful in the extreme. Questions started to float, especially as my exam marks started coming back with Bs --- and those were the good ones. Was it a huge mistake to come to law school? Should I ever have quit that great job? Am I really so much dumber than everyone else?

What I didn't realize at the time was that just like me, anyone else who went through the same thing was too humiliated to talk about it. But I wasn't alone, and these things do happen.

Now, for the point! Most of you will do beautifully, and rock the hell out of your exams. That's what curves do. Almost all of you will ride those exams like an insolent mule and stagger lopingly into the ruby sunset.

But for those of you that do start slow, like me, don't lose faith in yourselves. You got this far for a reason, and no one gets into law school that can't hack it. (Though whether they want to is another matter.) I promise, there really is such thing as a slow start, and you WILL get better. Looking back on my notes, I can actually see the transformation around Valentine's Day. You won't notice it happening, and you will probably still feel like you bombed your finals, but you'll actually learn a lot from your first term and turn out more awesome than you think.

I got the word yesterday; I'm off to my favourite firm on Bay Street. I would have never thought it was possible any time last year, in the pressure cooker that is 1L. So please, do your families and friends a favour in the slim chance you're a slow starter too --- don't beat yourself up. It gets better, a lot better, and in the big picture your first term marks often couldn't be more irrelevant. Really. No, really. Shut up. Really.

There's more than enough paranoia to go around in 1L, but the truth is you'll be exponentially better educated in April than you can be in December, and when it comes time to find work, people are going to hire you, not your transcript.

So, I suppose, I'm putting this up in case anyone feels like they've had a catastrophe in January, or after exams. If you can't find anyone to talk to anonymously, please do send me a PM. People can go from the bottom of the class to the top. I know many who did, and I'm one of them. I bombed my first term, bombed December, and came back with enough rocket power that I absolutely shocked myself when our grades came back. Now the sun's in the sky and I couldn't be happier.

So get out there and give 'em hell, 1Ls! You'll be amazing! And even in the off chance you're a little (or a lot!) less than stellar, trust me --- it's far from over, and the wide horizon is still swelling before you. Though you will feel like cat vomit ground into shag carpeting. That's just what's up, I'm not going to lie, but once you get over the shock, I swear: those exams have definitely not heard the last of you!
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#2 Uriel

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 02:47 PM

I'll do my best to keep this from being a long and convoluted story


This just in: I am no good at this.
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#3 Isaac_Mack

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 04:40 PM

Great post Uriel. I'm not a 1L yet, but your post will stay in my back pocket until I need it.Thanks...and congrats on your Bay St gig!

#4 Diplock

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 05:54 PM

I'll add - I too had a poor showing in my first year midterm grades. It isn't a long-term problem. It'll mess up your ability to get a major firm job in 1L (a crap shoot in any event) but otherwise has no long-term bearing on your success in law school.

And kudos to Uriel for taking on an important and timely topic. Too often, lately, my own sporadic contributions here consist of telling people off. Way to carry the torch in terms of bringing something positive as well.
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#5 DenningAnonymous

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 06:05 PM

Uriel - congratulations on the job.

I wish I had read something like this when I was in 1L. My midterm grades were also depressingly average, marred by an unattractive C+ in property. I distinctly remember questioning whether law school was meant for me - what was the point if I was never going to get a job? I applied everywhere for a 1L job and ended up with a surprisingly interesting public interest position. My final grades came in and they were significantly better. And as of yesterday, I will be working at a seven sister.

So I'd just like to echo this post by reiterating that your career doesn't end if your 1L midterm grades aren't what they expected. This is only the beginning :)

#6 Uriel

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 06:56 PM

Uriel - congratulations on the job.


Thanks -- you too! If we're not already friends, maybe I'll see you around the Court. (Commerce, not Divisional.) :)

#7 benjaminquinn

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 08:27 PM

Thanks, Uriel. I really appreciate this.

#8 tpetrucci

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 04:34 PM

Great post, great topic.
Thanks for taking your time to write it, and congratulations on your job.
Good luck to you in your future endeavors.

#9 Lyle

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Posted 07 November 2009 - 10:59 PM

Great post.

#10 Mathematics

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Posted 09 November 2009 - 09:49 PM

Just wanted to echo the "great post" sentiments that have already been shared. I'm a long way away from LS but stories like this inspire me and definitely help keep people from beating themselves up too much. Like you said, if you are able to get into Law School you are capable of handling the pressure. How you are able to deal with pressure and adversity says a lot about the character of a person and if you are willing to pull your boot straps up and work hard, any goal is within reach. Failure cannot be an option!

Oh and congrats on the Bay St. job!

Sincerely,
Mathematics!
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#11 lawstudent2L_26

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Posted 11 November 2009 - 05:19 AM

Hi everyone!

I don't often post anymore, but I also wanted to echo this post. Last year after midterms I was devasted (then again we had "no downside risk midterms so they didn't REALLY count) but I thought to myself, if I am failing the midterms how on earth am I going to be able to get through 100% exams??? I was especially worried when for one of my midterms (after already recieving a horrible result in Torts) we were told as a class that everyone did very well, and got around X for their grade....when I got my exam back, I definitely did not get around X, and felt like crap. I thought I had studied, I didn't know what I did wrong, I didn't know how to fix it, and I was stressing. But somehow I figured out how to do things, and brought my grades way up for the finals of first term (my worst midterm ended up being my best grade) and now I also have a position on Bay st, at a firm where I know I will be very happy.

DON'T STRESS! (especially those at Osgoode who have 'no downside risk' midterms - they really are to help you no to make it more stressful)
Good luck everyone!
hmmm talking about exams, maybe I should get started on summaries?!?

#12 mem

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 06:45 PM

From a freaked out first year, thank you!
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#13 ihaveseoul

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Posted 20 November 2009 - 01:51 AM

Thanks.. I needed this. After a 6 hour property review and crying a little bit inside because of the Rule Against Perpetuities and the Dower Act and Delgamuukw.

I guess there is proof that people survive this stretch.. I mean I see upper year students and lawyers all the time. But, this was a nice cap to the end of a LOOOOONG day.

#14 cheeseplease

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Posted 21 November 2009 - 02:42 PM

No disrespect Uriel but at UofT the first set of exams do not not count, so those C's are not on your transcript and that is why you got a Bay St gig. At Osgoode if you get a C in your first set of exams its on your transcript.

#15 Uriel

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Posted 21 November 2009 - 04:57 PM

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* * *

I had hoped the above post would suggest not to despair if your December exams don't go well, since it can take you a while to get used to law. You really can go from the bottom of the class to near the top, and that was all I hoped to get across. I didn't intend to imply that unfortunate grades would not go on your transcript. While some of my terrible marks did matter, comprising 30% of grades that ultimately turned out quite well, you're quite correct --- the majority of them did not appear on my final transcript. But since the majority of jobs are picked up off Bay Street, and the majority of employers have access to four full terms when making an articling decision, the fact that you can really lift-off after your first term might be encouraging to some, so I wrote a post to that effect.

I'm not making any representations as to the job you're going to get. I'm saying not to let yourself get down if your December marks are disappointing; you're not stupid and coming to law school was not a terrible idea. People really can come into their own later in the year. That's all. (Although, for the record, I would suspect that if my December grades were on my transcript, I wouldn't have done all that much worse --- I'm not sure there are all that many employers that would throw out someone with an impressive second-term transcript on the basis that they had a rough December. Everyone knows law school is a big transition.)

Thank you, however, for correcting my omission. As you point out, my statement of encouragement and optimism at a very stressful time of year was insufficiently qualified, and someone could have made the error of taking heart to an irresponsible degree.
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#16 DeliveryOfJustice

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Posted 27 November 2009 - 12:32 PM

Uriel congrats on your position!

Thanks for the motivational speech as well. Inspiring. :)

#17 HB200

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Posted 28 November 2009 - 06:06 PM

"No one gets into law school that can't hack it."

I'm not even in yet, but I'm expecting that if I do get in, I'm going to feel a bit like a deer in headlights. I'll remember this.
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#18 sandour

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 06:51 AM

Dear Uriel,

For those of us facing our first set of law school exams, studying non-stop interspersed with bouts of nervousness and vomiting, your post is the handy after-mint. It's always nice to have a friend who will hand you a mint and offer soothing words of encouragement.

Thank you,
1Ls

#19 Mal

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Posted 05 January 2010 - 11:36 AM

Just bumping this as grades start to trickle in. Personally I have gotten a couple back now.

Wishing all those lawstudents.ca'ers good luck!

#20 snowgirl

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Posted 13 January 2010 - 06:27 PM

Mehhhh....B-, B-, B, B, B+

...blah. I am kicking myself about a couple of silly omissions i made, but am pretty much aware where I went wrong, which is better than having no idea why I got low marks. Overall, I'm not gonna dwell. No point in convincing myself that I suck and will not get better. Positivity! :)

#21 liveitout

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Posted 13 January 2010 - 08:13 PM

I was totally freaked out in September because I got in off the waitlist, so I was worried that everyone else was more capable or better prepared than I was. I was also concerned because I attended an undergraduate institution that is very small time. It doesn't even make the Macleans rankings. So I have been pleasantly surprised with my grades.

#22 sandour

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Posted 13 January 2010 - 10:29 PM

grades are out already? this must be UT law specific unless it's happening at oz as well?

#23 whereverjustice

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Posted 14 January 2010 - 06:54 AM

grades are out already? this must be UT law specific unless it's happening at oz as well?

Osgoode grades won't be out until the end of the month.

#24 vitalbird

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Posted 30 January 2010 - 09:06 AM

Western grades have been out for almost two weeks now. I did quite well, so my advice is study well in advance, make your own summaries, and start studying well enough in advance so that you can still go out in the middle of the exam period. Oh, and start well in advance. And make your own summaries. :mrgreen:
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#25 amarie85

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Posted 30 January 2010 - 12:05 PM

Uriel this post is great for 1Ls!
I am well past that now, but I had a HORRIBLE mark in 1L (December) - and it counted!

I had tried so hard at those December exams but really, I had no idea what I was doing.
I met up with the prof that gave me that bad mark, and he confirmed that I had no idea what I was doing! Focusing on the wrong issues, totally disorganized, etc.
I was so worried that I was stupid and just couldn't hack it...But in reality, I had noticed all the correct issues, but had made a big deal about the wrong ones, and was all over the map.

If you get a bad mark and it is an exam that doesn't count in a full year first year class, my best advice is to see those professors - and find out what you did wrong. Don't worry if you cry in their office. They've seen it all. If you get the exam itself back, compare it to others you wrote where you did ok/good. You might notice a difference yourself, but if you don't - find out why the professor didn't like your exam.

Honestly, it doesn't matter which prof it is/which course it is - the more organized your exam is - the better your grade will likely be. And sometimes, professors don't want you to just throw every possible issue into the exam. Say its a constitutional/charter exam - and you discuss violations of s. 2a, 15 (then s. 1) - if you then notice a s. 7 issue but don't think its too relevant, some profs want you to say that you notice that there may be a s. 7 issue, but that you don't think it is crucial, and that you are not going to go through a s. 1 analysis.
On the other hand, some profs want everything including the kitchen sink - so best advice: Ask the prof! Ask during exam review! Say - "would you prefer us to discuss all issues, or focus on the important ones, and mention the additional ones?" - they almost certainly tell you - and if you aren't sure - ask a few upper years.

In the end - I organized my exams (i.e. the beginning - I would say: For Client X (or whatever the questions asks) the following issues are likely to come up - and then I would list them in numbers. I would then start with the first issue, and go through the process. Then, I would go on to the second issue (I would underline when it started - writing #2 - and the "title" I would give the issue.)
Think of all the exams your prof is reading - just for your class - not to mention the upper year exams/papers AND research they are doing themselves. Organization is so important and probably most overlooked during December exams when you are trying to spot the bunnies (issues).

My marks greatly improved from my December exams - likely because I became more concerned not with just learning the law, but learning HOW to write a law exam.
As Uriel said, the light WILL turn on February as to how the law works - but writing a good law exam is something you shouldn't overlook!
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