Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
harveyspecter993

How to Best Prepare for Law School

Recommended Posts

I've previously come across older threads on this matter but I can't seem to find them. At any rate, a new and up to date thread is warranted anyway.  First of all, in what way does a law student think differently from an undergrad. Do methods of studying that proved successful during one's undergrad need to be modified in any way? Is getting good grades achieved merely by doing the requisite amount of studying and understanding the material? Also, what is a summary and how should I use them? Sorry, if the last two seems obvious, I just need to cover all my bases.

I've also read that your grade in a lot of courses is dependent entirely on a 100% final. Do students have access to past exams? If not, how do students gauge their understanding of the material in such a course. Further, are there any books you recommend that help incoming law students to quickly adapt? Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Edited by harveyspecter993
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

To preface my advice, I am not in law school yet. However, my dad is a professor of law at Canadian universities. I asked him this question recently, and his advice was to grow accustomed to the format of law school exams, which is different than what any undergrad would be used to. A lot of first years see the question and then answer, "Well, it could be _____, or it could be _____," which won't result in a good grade.

I'm a try-hard, so I've taken some books out of the library to start looking over some basic legal concepts and get familiar with them, because it's always easier to learn something the second time around. But beyond that, I'm not sure. I'm excited to see what others comment!

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Alright, I've got some time procrastinating for my next 2 exams. So I'll give you these tips 3: 

1. Listen to what everyone says and don't try to "pre-learn" the law. There are a lot of reasons why this is a bad idea. The one that's at the forefront of my mind, since I'm currently midway through my first year, is that there's a lot of law in books that the specific prof you have will not like, will disapprove of, or will flat out disagree with. They will flag that for you when you get there. And when you're frantically studying for your exams wondering just why there's SO MUCH info to remember, it's really not a good idea for you to have dual impressions of concepts. Is it the one you already learned prior to coming to class, or is the one your prof taught that was a slight variation on it? Trust me when I say that given how much stuff you'll have to memorize, it's better to learn it all only once. That way your instincts can just kick in. You won't have a "wrong" version to draw on. 

2. I'm not going to tell you not to go learn "study skills". It may very well help to know what the alternatives are. But don't assume that you'll really be able to figure out what works for you until you're here. And the profs will all teach in different ways which may require that you adjust your habits to suit their styles. As we're told here over and over again, there is not one best way to do this. Everyone has their own methods. So don't go and waste time/energy learning habits, when they may not be the ones you'll need when you get here. You might be better off learning something else (like, for instance, a language). 

3. A summary is basically a summary of everything being taught. For me, it's basically me going through my notes, formatting them, and making sure I understand them. That's the long summary - when set up in Word, they're about 70-110 pages. Then your short summary are the key concepts that you'll probably need when you get into an exam. For most of the cases, all you'll really need is a line or two to remind you what the case was about, and the ratio/rule that comes from it. And then you'll need to apply those rules to the fact pattern you're given on the exam. So most of your test-referencing will just be coming from your short summary, which is usually in the 10 page range. So once you're IN law school, definitely make sure you keep up with making sure your notes are clean after class, and you get what's going on. Did I mention there's a lot of stuff to know come exam time? You won't have a chance to learn all those concepts.

And some people also make shorter quick sheets/reference sheets/maybe a map of the steps they'll need for each type if problem -> what needs to be considered. e.g. all the steps to proving negligence > what are the defences -> what are the remedies etc. 

There are also very helpful people here, and I'm sure at all the other schools, that will happily give their summaries to you. Use with discretion. They've made theirs during stressful exam times, some of them off of summaries that were given to them, there could be some bad law, there could be some outdated law, etc. And using someone else's summary is never as good as using your own, because things could make sense when you're reading them but you have to be able to explain something in your own words. Plus, during an exam, you will not have time to flip through looking for things; if you made your own summaries, then you know where everything is. 

Those are my three quick tips. Now, back to studying *cries*. 

  • Like 6

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
27 minutes ago, katefromlawschool said:

"Well, it could be _____, or it could be _____," which won't result in a good grade.

 

Depending on the prof, this may be the only recipe for a good grade. 

I'm packing now, but will come back and supplement what Kiamia has said when I'm waiting for my flight at god-help-me-o'clock.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This post seems to pop up every year. The short answer is that you should enjoy yourself. You really, truly do not need to do anything to prepare.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Read the cases. Make a summary or amend an old one as you go. About halfway through the semester get copies of old exams that the prof has used. Write a practice answer to a section of the exam on a topic you covered. Take the practice answer to your prof during office hours and ask them to critique the substance and how you wrote the answer. Do more practice exams. Repeat with other profs. You are now learning how to write law school exams.  Keep writing practice answers. This will both help your substantive knowledge — because the many of the same major topics are going to be covered on your real exam — and your exam writing skills. You are now a good law student and will get a job as a lawyer (god help you).

You can’t do any of this before law school starts. 

Edited by NYCLawyer
  • Like 6

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh yeah, the other reason you should be careful with summaries you're given, or with trying to get a head start studying, is that some profs get pissed when you bring up stuff on an exam that they haven't taught you.  If it's something they've taught in previous years, maybe that's okay (eh), but if it's law you've gotten from a summary for another prof's class...well let's just say the last thing you want to do is tick off the person marking your exam.

It's fine to use an old summary and add/edit it as you go in class, as NYCLawyer suggests, but make sure you verify everything on there and not just rely on it instead of your prof and textbook. Profs can tell.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

But to also add to that: some of my profs love it when you quote a part of a case (or even a case that wasn't assigned!) On your exam and it's relevant. It means you're really thinking about what you're learning and not just treating it as a means to an end.

 

Of course be careful about this because your interpretation may be wrong, especially in 1L. I took the risk and it worked out a few times. But I would recommend running the case/idea by your prof as you come up over it during the semester rather than on the exam.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree that you should be editing a summary, if at all, from your prof’s class and not some other prof because that’s the best starting place. I guess you could theoretically quote law that the prof didn’t teach you but the summary is a summary of cases and you should know what cases you were assigned. If the old summary contains cases not covered this time around then delete them. 

FWIW I always made my own summaries as a 1L but I can see the merit it starting with a template.  Ultimately you’re going to own it by editing it to fix parts you think the original author got wrong and include parts you think are signifant that they missed. The risk of relying too heavily on an old summary is most 1Ls are dumb and get stuff wrong or miss things, so you need to be editing as you go if you’re going this route. 

Exercise common sense etc. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just make your own. Go to class, pay attention, and most profs spoon feed it to you. 

  • Like 6

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 minutes ago, Jaggers said:

Just make your own. Go to class, pay attention, and most profs spoon feed it to you. 

Yeah I agree with this. There's learning that happens by virtue of having to make it yourself. By putting that information into words yourself it forces you to conceptualize it. Or at least I think that's how it works. 

 

I did better in courses I did this than those I didn't.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I know shows and movies portray it very differently (along with the self-selection of 0Ls meaning we have some background), but am I correct in saying that 1L assumes absolutely zero legal knowledge?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
37 minutes ago, pzabbythesecond said:

But to also add to that: some of my profs love it when you quote a part of a case (or even a case that wasn't assigned!) On your exam and it's relevant. It means you're really thinking about what you're learning and not just treating it as a means to an end.

 

Of course be careful about this because your interpretation may be wrong, especially in 1L. I took the risk and it worked out a few times. But I would recommend running the case/idea by your prof as you come up over it during the semester rather than on the exam.

I think if you did this, you'd be giving off a different vibe than what I'm describing. You're basically saying "you're such a good prof, and you've made me really interested in this material, and made me want to learn more about it, yay!". The kind of message I'm talking about is the "you chose these cases to teach us about this material, but I really think these other cases are better, and/or I was too lazy to pay attention to what you were saying so I just used somebody's else's notes." 

At Western, our exams are marked anonymously and we're not allowed to identify ourselves, so discussing specific outside cases with our profs and then using them on exams would probably be a bad idea. So you'd basically have to thrown in these extra cases on an exam blind, which is pretty risky and also not at all necessary to get a good grade. I wouldn't generally recommend it (although I can think of a couple of profs that might respond well).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 minutes ago, RNGesus said:

I know shows and movies portray it very differently (along with the self-selection of 0Ls meaning we have some background), but am I correct in saying that 1L assumes absolutely zero legal knowledge?

The less the better.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 minutes ago, kiamia said:

I think if you did this, you'd be giving off a different vibe than what I'm describing. You're basically saying "you're such a good prof, and you've made me really interested in this material, and made me want to learn more about it, yay!". The kind of message I'm talking about is the "you chose these cases to teach us about this material, but I really think these other cases are better, and/or I was too lazy to pay attention to what you were saying so I just used somebody's else's notes." 

At Western, our exams are marked anonymously and we're not allowed to identify ourselves, so discussing specific outside cases with our profs and then using them on exams would probably be a bad idea. So you'd basically have to thrown in these extra cases on an exam blind, which is pretty risky and also not at all necessary to get a good grade. I wouldn't generally recommend it (although I can think of a couple of profs that might respond well).

I didn't mean to speak with the prof so they know it's you who did it. Honestly when the prof is marking 100 exams on Christmas or new years eve to meet the grading deadline it won't cross their minds it's you (most likely). I meant talk to them to make sure your interpretation/understanding of it is valid. It's easy to think justice Abella is saying one thing, when in fact it was MchLachlin in her dissent who was saying that and Abella was saying the exact opposite. Profs can help.. correct you.

 

Edit: to anyone reading. What I'm saying is abnormal/not expected at all. I'm just a law dork.  First and foremost you should be using what is covered/taught in your classes.

Edited by pzabbythesecond

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, kiamia said:

 

At Western, our exams are marked anonymously and we're not allowed to identify ourselves, so discussing specific outside cases with our profs and then using them on exams would probably be a bad idea. So you'd basically have to thrown in these extra cases on an exam blind, which is pretty risky and also not at all necessary to get a good grade. I wouldn't generally recommend it (although I can think of a couple of profs that might respond well).

If they’re marked anonymously, how do you get your results? Is there like a code separate from your student number that gets tracked??

And how bad is the 8.0 load in first year?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As promised, here is BQ's tired-as-hell-at-an-airport guide to law school success*:

  1. Don't look at a case thinking you'll figure out the law. There's absolutely no way this will help. Either you'll be reading a case far in advance of when you need to read it, and thus likely getting the wrong lesson (or "ratio") out of it, or you'll never be reading that case anyway. This is only exasperated by the fact that, criminal law excepted, the cases you'll likely to be starting with are ancient cases in common law topics, which means they're both outdated and esoterically written. And if you think you're tricky and figured out that you can read criminal law cases now, you're not — most profs will have you read extremely edited down and compact versions of cases, so reading the whole case will be a waste of time. 
     
  2. Do work on your typing speed. Most, if not all, law schools in Canada will allow you to type your exams. Law school exams are notorious for being time-crunch exams, where it's practically impossible to address every issue. A 5 wpm increase in your typing speed translates to (theoretically) 900 extra words during a three-hour exam. That's ~3 more issues you can address in depth on your exam than the slower typing version of yourself. 
     
  3. Do work on your reading comprehension and speed. During a typical week, I have about 250 pages of dense case law to read in 1L. Some of my peers have 300 or 400 pages. If you're a slow reader, you're going to struggle to keep up. And note that "slow reader" here doesn't mean legitimately slow; it means "typical high-achieving undergraduate" slow. For reference, I read about 500 words per minute, which is fast compared to my peers (though some of our resident lawyers here read ~1000 words per minute, which blows my mind). I would say that if you're reading less than 250 wpm you're going to struggle. I would say that  What's the best way to improve your reading skills? Easy — read! Go down to your local used bookstore and purchase everything you think sounds interesting. Then, purchase something that doesn't sound interesting, like anything written by Aristotle, who was always wrong about everything. Then, lock yourself in your room for the summer (or, you know, go to a beach) and read everything you bought. 
     
  4. Do create your own summaries. Summaries, as explained above, are really just a collection of your class notes that are reformatted and reduced. The following is what worked for me; what works for you may be different. I took detailed reading notes and light class notes throughout the semester. Come finals, I compacted this down into a short summary, largely skipping the "long summary" part of the process. The resulting document usually resembled a list of ratios and their associated cases sorted by topic or stage of analysis (So homicide is grouped together in my crim summary, while nuisance is grouped in my torts summary). If this short summary was over 20 pages, I cut it down more to make it fit under my self-imposed limit. By then, I mainly had the content memorized. I further solidified that knowledge by...
     
  5. Do(ing) practice tests. There's nothing like the real thing, so it's essential to drill yourself with practice questions early and often (think mid/late october, depending on if your school has midterms). Osgoode has no-downside (and also no-upside) midterms, so I treated these as my practice exam that I got feedback on. If your school doesn't have those, do what NYCLawyer said to do. 
     
  6. Don't stress out when everyone else does. Law school is this weird little breeding ground for stress. Ignore that. People will stress over everything — which clubs they get to be 1L reps for, midterms that are literally worth absolutely nothing, moots that are for bragging rights, hypothetical jobs that are so far away from realization that stressing over them is absurd. Literally everything. Ignore that garbage. Go to pub nights. Go out for beers with your friends. Find other ways to manage your stress with substance abuse (just kidding). Just try to keep a semblance of school-life balance. It's hard to justify going to the gym when your friends are saying they were up until 3 am reading contracts, but you should do it. So long as you feel comfortable with your preparedness, that's all that matters.
     
  7. Do talk to and befriend upper years. There are three reasons for this, and all are selfish:
     
    1. They can help guide you through the adjustment period — they've been where you are, and they understand what you're going through. If you feel overwhelmed or stressed or inadequate or confused, they can help.
    2. They can be an incredible resource — want to apply to that clinic that sounds so cool? Your upper year friend either did it or can put you in touch with a friend that did. Want to try that mooting thing? Your upper year friend will help coach you. Want to apply for 1L jobs? Your upper year friend has interview tips. 
    3. They're stressed, but it's a different stress — when all your friends are freaking out about your first assignment it's nice to have an upper year friend to hit up a brewery with. And when they're stressed about OCIs, it's nice for them to have you around to drag them to pub night (just not during actual OCIs). 
       
  8. Do go to O-week. It's really fun, and I met some of my best friends in law school there. It's also a great way to meet those aforementioned upper year friends. You don't have to go to everything, but check out the events that sound interesting. At Osgoode, you can't miss the Dean's gala, the Old Osgoode tour, or the pub crawl. They're all great fun. 
  9. Go live your life. Don't look now, but you're getting closer and closer to the point where your summers aren't yours and the pressures of the real-world start to add up. Go do something fun! I drove across the country with my girlfriend and everything I own to get to law school. I visited every brewery in Vancouver in a quest to teach my best friend to like beer (and now she sends me pictures of what she's drinking). I drove 10 hours both ways through the night to spend a free weekend in Calgary at Stampede. I talked my way into a country music festival. Do something fun and reckless and exhilarating! 

*Disclaimer: this was written at 5:30 am while sitting in an uncomfortable chair at Pearson. Also, I've only been in law school for 1/2 a year, and I haven't gotten any real grades back, though I did quite well on my midterms. 

Edited by BlockedQuebecois
  • Like 7

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, NYCLawyer said:

Read the cases. Make a summary or amend an old one as you go. About halfway through the semester get copies of old exams that the prof has used. Write a practice answer to a section of the exam on a topic you covered. Take the practice answer to your prof during office hours and ask them to critique the substance and how you wrote the answer. Do more practice exams. Repeat with other profs. You are now learning how to write law school exams.  Keep writing practice answers. This will both help your substantive knowledge — because the many of the same major topics are going to be covered on your real exam — and your exam writing skills. You are now a good law student and will get a job as a lawyer (god help you).

You can’t do any of this before law school starts. 

Thanks, this is really good advice. Just to be clear, do I have to ask the profs for the past exams or is there a database?  (Osgoode if it matters).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.


  • Recent Posts

    • I received two invites in March last year (one on the 12th and the other I don’t remember). I wouldn’t give up yet!
    • I second this advice. Start studying and write the LSAT as soon as you can.
    • Years ago, I wrote the LSAT in September of my third year of undergrad. It was fine. I didn't have to worry about it anytime close to when I was applying. The LSAT should be written as early as possible as long as you are well-prepared and have been consistently scoring well on the practice tests. Too many people leave it til the last minute and that's a mistake. You should have a competitive valid score in hand prior to applying so you know where you are a competitive candidate.
    • People are accepted every year with fewer than five courses in one semester. Will this, in and of itself, prevent you from getting into law school? The answer is no.
    • Demonstrated interest through ECs will go a lot further in applications/interviews than a grade, so I wouldn't worry too much about it. Something not entirely relevant but anecdotal: I had a class where my grade was lower than I anticipated, so I went to see the prof and review my exam. In reviewing it they found that they incorrectly marked a multiple choice question (for law...I know...) and with the correction it bumped me up a grade. Also in reviewing it, they found that my fact pattern/essay response was among the top of the class, but I just bombed the MC (which is why multiple choice should not be a thing in law school). They immediately corrected the grade/my transcript and offered to write me a reference letter explaining why my grade, though good, wasn't entirely representative of my knowledge in the course - just providing more context to the grade. Does your prof know about your interest/EC activity in family law? Do you have a rapport with them? You could always request a letter if you're worried about it. It wouldn't hurt to approach them and even say "I'm worried about this grade, I want to go into family law, I'm applying for articling positions - is there anything you can suggest I do going forward?" This could either open the door to a) a reference letter or b) their recommendations for courses, ECs, research help, a referral to someone that might be looking for a student.

×
×
  • Create New...