1L Common Mistakes (Case Briefing, Class Note-Taking, and Different Study Techniques) How to make your study time count for better grades.
Starting law school is a difficult task, but it’s not an impossible one. The most successful law school students are the ones that understand that what law school professors expect on exams differs dramatically from what was required in undergrad to get an “A”. It can make the difference between being an average student and a top law schools student..
When briefing a case, look at what the court held, what argument was used, and how the law was applied. Many law schools require the integration of law from cases, statutes, and customs, like the UCC code for Contracts, or the Common Law for Torts. On an exam, unless otherwise noted, cases are good for illustrating a point, rather than basing a whole argument. Instead, analysis of the holding and how it came to be is what bridges the gap between case briefing and an “A” essay.
Preparing for Class:
So, how can one prepare for classes? Do the reading ahead of time, and if time permits, peruse a commercial bar review outline to see how bar examiners structure the content for a course. This can be helpful for “overall” pictures, as well as looking up specific subject topics, like “consideration” in Contracts. Consideration is actually the third issue to discuss in whether a contract was validly formed, not the first. One must discuss offer and acceptance before “consideration.”
Oftentimes 1L professors and the casebooks do not begin classes in the same order that a subject should be structured for proper order and analysis on an exam and in legal pleadings. This can lead to confusion when trying to prepare an outline for exams and to argue in an essay. For example, “damages” is an element of a contract, but one must first establish if a contract has been made, and if it is even valid, before looking at damage potential.
Use bar review outlines that are clear, streamlined, and easy to follow.
Bar review outlines that give you a Writing Approach, are more useful and less overwhelming. Use a bar review outline that actually shows you how to write that issue on an exam. One that gives you a writing template, format, clear rules of law and is well structured. You can also use bar review materials as tools for gaining a broader understanding of concepts and for looking up specific topics to a subject. The bar review outlines can also help you structure your note taking in class. However, be sure to adapt accordingly, as some professors have different styles of teaching.
Most important. Don’t wait until the end of the semester to do all of this, though! Start now. The more practice you get writing exam questions, the more comfortable you will be come finals. Some professors even offer looking over practice questions you do, so be sure to look out for opportunities like that!
Study Groups: 1L
Study groups can be an effective tool your 1L year, but be careful not to let them distract you from the ultimate goal: performing well in law school. Lastly, look at hypotheticals your professors give in class and old exam questions. Those can be essential to understanding how your professor might ask a question on your final.
Practice Exams Posted by Your Professor:
See if your professor has posted previous exams online or through the law school library. If not, ask him or her if they will post sample exams or hypos. You will do better on midterms and final exams, if you practice writing and applying what you are learning in class to actual exams your professors have previously given. Knowing the law in a vacuum does not help you write a good exam. Knowing how to apply the rules you are learning and analyzing the issues the way your professors like, is the key to an “A” exam.
In sum, law school writing is both technical and linear. Leave your elegant introductions and flowing prose aside and practice, at least for the next several years, just writing direct, repetitively structured answers that address the issues, rules, and applications of law to the facts. (Basic IRAC. (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion). Good luck!