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All this talk of large page counts makes me nervous. I am a very slow reader. It's always been a huge academic handicap to me. Do you know slow readers who manage, or am I going to face an epic disaster?

I think you're exaggerating. Don't you have a 99.9th percentile LSAT score? You're not a "very slow reader". Keep things in perspective.

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I think you're exaggerating. Don't you have a 99.9th percentile LSAT score? You're not a "very slow reader". Keep things in perspective.

 

I managed that only because I am a fast question answerer. (And it was 99.8th, I think.)

Edited by omph

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But moreover, as said above, you don't even have to read a lot of this material unless you want to. You can write exams based on summaries and very selective reading.

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Okay, I hope so. It bothers me not to read things in full, though. Maybe because I am neurotic or something.

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Okay, I hope so. It bothers me not to read things in full, though. Maybe because I am neurotic or something.

This was my problem in first semester, so I always did the readings in full and operated on very little sleep (I'm sure some people can do all the readings and still sleep a lot, I'm just slow at readings AND at writing case briefs).

 

The idea of not fully doing as I'm supposed to drives me nuts. Not looking at other people's maps, not reading treatises, etc. was fine, even when people kept telling me I would get more value out of doing that rather than doing the assigned readings. I just went with what felt right to me, which was doing all the readings (because my anxiety would have been way too high not doing them), and it worked out just fine.

 

I'm not sure what approach will work for you, but I'm sure you'll find one that works.

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It is definitely possible to do all of your readings.  I read every page of every assigned law school reading and went to every class.  I also went out lots.  I just didn't mess around during the day like lots of people do, spending more time chatting in the library about how they have lots to do, rather than just doing it.  I also didn't spend lots of time procrastinating at home (i.e. unnecessary cleaning, tv watching, etc.).  I saved procrastinating for when I was doing my doctorate.  So you can definitely get through the readings if that's what makes you feel more comfortable.

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I always did all my readings as well, because it gives you a real head start when you get to class. I think you would find that to be true of all of the more successful students, with some limited exceptions.

 

Of course, it's true of a whole bunch of less successful students as well....

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spending more time chatting in the library about how they have lots to do, rather than just doing it.

This.

 

I honestly don't find the quantity to be that bad, but students become very inefficient in 1L. Paralyzed by anxiety is my favourite way of putting it.

 

No matter what handicap you have, you got into law school because you're capable of doing well. It might mean working harder or playing around with strategies to find out what works for you, but you're capable of doing well.

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I also always do all of my readings.  But I think the earliest I've ever started is 2 weeks before exams.  During the semester, I'll read some head notes, skim the treatise, half pay attention in class.  By the time exams are closing in, I've got a pretty good idea of what to look for in the cases.  My experience has been that at the beginning of the class, you don't really have an idea of what the course is about, so doing the readings serves little purpose.  Might as well relax, cuz the two weeks before exams are going to suck.

 

ETA: All that to say, everyone has their own style.  You gotta figure out what works for you.

Edited by sonandera

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Are these treatises included in course book lists, or are they an independent endeavour and you have to look up what to buy etc on your own? I'm asking because of costs -- if it's included in course lists then I assume it's included in "book cost" estimates (~$1000); if not, it's a separate expenditure. ...or do you just find them at the library? 

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Are these treatises included in course book lists, or are they an independent endeavour and you have to look up what to buy etc on your own? I'm asking because of costs -- if it's included in course lists then I assume it's included in "book cost" estimates (~$1000); if not, it's a separate expenditure. ...or do you just find them at the library? 

None of my courses had required treatises. Most courses either have one required casebook or a reader the prof puts together of case excerpts.

 

As ProfReader said earlier, the treatises are about explaining what a case said, but your assigned readings are usually just case excerpts and cases. I strongly believe that if you read all the cases fully and do your own case briefs, you are just fine without ever opening a treatise (but I'm aware that different things work for everyone).

 

Here is an example of a course book list. As I posted back then, everything with "*" next to it is optional.

 

What is actually required on that list is:

Property: A reader the prof put together with cases he wants us to read

Torts: A casebook and a book (stupid book we all bought and didn't end up having to read - the other Torts section only had the casebook)

Criminal: A casebook and a supplement (supplements are usually small readers a prof puts together of a small number of recently decided cases not in the casebook)

Constitutional: A casebook and the Constitutional Act (very short, can find it online, never once looked at it)

 

If you actually wanted to get a flavour of law school readings, take a look at one of the casebooks on that list that I said was required. That is what you will spend most of your year looking at.

 

You'll see that some of the treatises I have mentioned here are on that list. Therefore, yes, the treatises are often included on the course book list, but they're all optional readings. Not included in the ~$1,000 you will spend (I think I spent under $700 for all the required books, btw), but they will also, as I said, be available (1) for free online on your library website and (2) at the library. No need to buy them.

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Are these treatises included in course book lists, or are they an independent endeavour and you have to look up what to buy etc on your own? I'm asking because of costs -- if it's included in course lists then I assume it's included in "book cost" estimates (~$1000); if not, it's a separate expenditure. ...or do you just find them at the library? 

 

Some are included in course costs.  Torts, Property, and Crim were all required in my first year.  They're at the library.  Most schools have the Irwin Law books in online text as well.  Or you can buy them.  I usually buy them if you're allowed to bring them in for your exam.

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I also always do all of my readings.  But I think the earliest I've ever started is 2 weeks before exams.  During the semester, I'll read some head notes, skim the treatise, half pay attention in class.  By the time exams are closing in, I've got a pretty good idea of what to look for in the cases.  My experience has been that at the beginning of the class, you don't really have an idea of what the course is about, so doing the readings serves little purpose.  Might as well relax, cuz the two weeks before exams are going to suck.

 

ETA: All that to say, everyone has their own style.  You gotta figure out what works for you.

 

I know a lot of people did it that way, but I can't for the life of me understand that approach. In first year classes, each concept is made up of a bunch of cases, each setting out one or two propositions that build on each other, until you get a picture of the basic principles, and the exceptions and nuances. If you read the cases before class, you might not know exactly what proposition it's standing for, but you know what the facts are, what the fight is about, and what the result ultimately was. Then you can think intelligently about why you read it and how it fits in the big picture.

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Torts, Property, and Crim were all required in my first year.

I guess every school is very different! I have never heard of a treatise being an assigned text.

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I know a lot of people did it that way, but I can't for the life of me understand that approach. In first year classes, each concept is made up of a bunch of cases, each setting out one or two propositions that build on each other, until you get a picture of the basic principles, and the exceptions and nuances. If you read the cases before class, you might not know exactly what proposition it's standing for, but you know what the facts are, what the fight is about, and what the result ultimately was. Then you can think intelligently about why you read it and how it fits in the big picture.

Same here (in my first semester).

 

I think people read cases and weren't able to understand what proposition it stood for so they stopped reading them and read treatises instead.

 

I just went with the basic assumption that if I'm doing exactly what a professor suggests, I should be able to do well in his class. So I read all the cases even when they made no sense, and it all came together when I prepared for exams at the end. No need for a treatise.

Edited by 12192008

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I know a lot of people did it that way, but I can't for the life of me understand that approach. In first year classes, each concept is made up of a bunch of cases, each setting out one or two propositions that build on each other, until you get a picture of the basic principles, and the exceptions and nuances. If you read the cases before class, you might not know exactly what proposition it's standing for, but you know what the facts are, what the fight is about, and what the result ultimately was. Then you can think intelligently about why you read it and how it fits in the big picture.

 

I just find it so difficult to even pay attention to the facts until I've got a general understanding of how the law works in the area.  There are so many irrelevant facts.  In fact, I think the big thing that helped me on my finals was the realization that most facts don't matter very much.

 

edit: that's a terrible way of explaining what I'm trying to.  Maybe another 2L/3L can explain what I mean.  Point is, don't take too narrow a view of cases. 

Edited by sonandera

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I always did all my readings as well, because it gives you a real head start when you get to class. I think you would find that to be true of all of the more successful students, with some limited exceptions.

 

This.

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I'm with sonandera, as I often have trouble understanding a case without already having some knowledge of the area of law. I will often turn to some kind of secondary source (such as a treatise, or even just a good set of CANs) before doing my readings, so as to be able to put the facts and analysis into context and thereby make my reading more efficient.

 

I try to keep up on readings during the term, but usually fall behind at some point. I usually rely on secondary materials at that point. However, where time permits, I do try to complete all the readings prior to exams (again, like sonandera). For one exam this term, I read the course materials in their entirety in the two days preceding the exam.

 

For particularly slow readers, I would definitely recommend taking a look at secondary materials before digging into the cases, as you will then know what to skim and what to read closely.

 

In my opinion, the most important factor in succeeding in a given class is seeing the big picture - the overall structure of the area of law and how it all fits together. Overlay this with your prof's idiosyncratic perspective of the area, and you're golden. To get this, I always take a very close look at the syllabus and try to pay close attention in class. I keep the structure of the course or casebook in mind while I do the readings, so I know where to categorize each case. Where a given case has application in more than one area of the course, I will write it down in the relevant sections of my notes. This is a big part of "working smarter"—focus on what each case means in the context of the course; don't spend time on the irrelevant facts of each case.

 

Some people can get very good results with that approach, even without actually doing any of the readings (e.g. I've had A's in classes I didn't do a single reading in), but this is highly dependent on the type of exam and is very, very risky.

 

When you combine the above with actually doing the readings, you're working like the people who will graduate in the top 10-20% of their classes.

 

If you just grind away at the readings without taking a step back and considering how it all fits together, and, further, how it fits together in your professor's perspective, you may also do very well, just based on a detailed understanding of each case. However, this too depends on the exam. If there is a fact pattern that allows for close reasoning by analogy to a case you know in detail, you're good. If a question requires you to synthesize principles from a variety of cases to form an overaching theory of an area (sounds complicated, but is fairly common on exams and is surprisingly easy when you have the big picture in mind), you may struggle. You may be able to do this on the fly, but with the time pressure of the typical law exam this may be difficult.

 

What I'm trying to say is that the usual instruction to "work smarter, not harder" is generally good advice, working smarter and harder will set you apart. To maximize your potential, you need to understand each case within the context of the area of law and within the context of the specific professor's interpretation of the area.

 

 

And on that note, I have a question for ProfReader: in your experience as a student at different levels, and as a professor yourself, what are your thoughts on potential difficulties faced by students who take views of the law that conflict with their professor's?

 

I have had a few professors take highly idiosyncratic views of particular areas of law (for example, Robert Flannigan on fiduciary obligations), and some outright rejected all other views. In some cases, there have been fairly legitimate arguments to the contrary, but I've generally erred on the side of pandering rather than confrontation out of self-interest.

 

However, my experience in undergrad was that some profs seemed to appreciate well-reasoned arguments taking a position contrary to their own, and I often took that approach just for fun. In law, I've been much more careful, and have always tried to work within my professor's conceptual framework for each assignment and exam. In your opinion, what are the risks and potential benefits (if any), of challenging your professor's position? Should a student ever risk it on an exam?

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So annoying...my reply disappeared, so I will post it in two pieces this time.

 

With first year classes and upper year classes that have hypothetical problems, I don't think it is such a problem to disagree with your professor (unless perhaps they hold very idiosyncratic views).  For example, I teach a mix of black letter law, policy reasons for decisions, and theory.  I don't teach from a particular theoretical viewpoint, but rather might say that a particular theory may be used to explain an otherwise seemingly inconsistent result.  Even if I thought, for example, that consideration was stupid and shouldn't be required for a contract, I still realize that consideration is a required part of a contract and would still expect a student to discuss that on an exam.

 

However, your concern might arise where you are asked a question like how should the law respond to this legal problem?  what are the problems with this area of the law?  etc.  In these areas, most professors are fairly receptive to opposing views as long as they are backed by logical arguments.  Sometimes it is refreshing to read one of these answers in a sea of people that are just repeating back to you what they think you want to hear.  There are, of course, always going to be my way or the highway sorts of professors, but you will be able to pick those people out as they also won't be receptive to counterarguments in class.  I certainly don't condone those types of professors, but I think that the best way to handle them is probably to agree with them. But in general, I would see no problem with you adopting an opposing view on an exam, particularly if you are addressing both sides of the argument and presenting a well-balanced view.

 

There may be one caveat to this...

 

I think there is a difference between disagreeing with a professor on a view they have just formed through teaching the course and a view they have formed as a result of their own research in that area.  Let's say that your professor has mentioned in the context of a s. 7 analysis that psychological stress for the purposes of "security of the person" has broadened over time and he or she argues for whatever reason that it has gone too far.  It would probably not be a problem to adopt an opposing view.  Let's say, on the other hand, that your professor wrote his or her dissertation on how s. 7 should be expanded to encompass positive rights and that he or she has been publishing in this area for years.  It may not be prudent to adopt an opposing view in this area.  This is not because your professor can't see the validity of counterarguments, but rather because he or she has thought through these counterarguments in such detail that it may be difficult to avoid finding lots of fault in the exam answer.

 

For that reason, I usually just don't ask questions that will directly engage my own research interests on an exam.  I did, however, have a student who wrote a paper with a thesis statement that was basically the polar opposite of what I argued in my dissertation and had been arguing for years.  It was not as though I couldn't see the merits in the counterarguments--I would not have spent years writing in an area where the arguments were clear cut and non-controversial.  However, I must admit that it was difficult not to poke holes in the arguments.  However, I might have felt the same way if the student had written a paper mirroring my own views.  Ultimately, I resolved the problem by giving a colleague 5 papers with marks on them and this student's paper without a mark and asking what mark she would have assigned it.

 

In sum, this is not something that you should be overly concerned with.  If you feel really passionate about something, feel free to disagree, although perhaps tread cautiously if it is an area of particular expertise for that professor or if that professor seems particularly averse to opposing arguments in class.

Edited by ProfReader
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One thing I'll emphasize:  The more reading you do, the more efficiently you can do it.  This counts for case briefs as well.  At the beginning, my briefs were WAY too long.  I was focusing very intricately on the parties' arguments, noting all the precedents the court referred to, other less than useful facts (etc.).  As I did this more and more, I got to understanding what the case was *really* about, often without the professor telling me.

 

It's like any skill in that regard.  You have to do it more and more to get better at it.  This seems to me to be the reason why the readings are longer 2nd term.  By then, profs expect that reading and briefing a 10 page case will take you *much* less time.  And it should take you much less time!

 

My other advice is just stay with the class.  Don't get behind.  Do a little bit of work every day rather than a lot sometimes (although that's a personal thing I guess).  I certainly don't advocate waiting until partway through the course to start your reading, but everyone's different.  My undergrad involved heavy reading but I wasn't always an efficient reader.  You have to learn sometime, and although that "sometime" maybe shouldn't be law school, you will eventually need to learn.  Maybe if you have trouble reading quickly, instead of using the summer to teach yourself the law (pretty useless IMO) just spend the summer learning how to read more efficiently.  Just a thought :)

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