You made it through your first week!! We’re proud of you! This was probably not one of the easiest weeks of your 1L life. The professors, eager to assert their intellectual superiority over you as well as start getting your mind to “think like a lawyer”, may have “cold called” you or your classmates already.
I remember one of my first contracts classes well. It was harrowing. Straight out of the line from The Paper Chase, “Here’s a quarter, go call you mother and tell her you flunked out of law school” but it went something like this. Miss Hart, as I will call her (and every other student I ever refer to on this blog) was called upon by our professor to answer some questions about an assigned case. “What is the issue?” The professor asked.
Awkward pause. Had she read? We all held our breath as she looked down at the page. “…What is a…chicken?” Collective exhale, she did it. Next question. She didn’t know the answer. That’s okay, the professor is throwing some curve balls. But then the next. Nothing. She, like most of us in the classroom that day, couldn’t get past the first line.
So cold calling is terrifying, especially when you are starting out. There were times when I would read a case three times and walk into class thinking I had just read something in a foreign language. The truth is, you are learning a new language. There are some things, however, that you can do to help ease the anxiety when your name is called.
1. Always Brief Your Cases Especially Your First Semester
So I too would rather watch Game of Thones or something mindless like Real Housewives, instead of doing my reading. I will also admit, which is made clear by my previous statement, that I did not read every case assigned to me in law school. What is imperative, however, is that you at least identify the breakdown of the case as you are running down the hallway to class.
There are different methods of breaking down a case. You may already be familiar with “IRAC,” “CIRAC,” “FIRAC,” and “ROYGBIV” (gunners, don’t worry, that last acronym is not a legal term, it is the colors of the rainbow. No need to Google. I was just kidding.) The only thing that changes is what your Case Brief starts with. Some people like jumping to the “I,” or issue of the case. Others like to give the court’s holding, or conclusion first, and then again at the end of the brief, to bring the analysis full circle. And some of you, like Leah, like to give the facts of the case first. Leah likes this method because it got her in the habit of looking to see what facts influenced the court’s decision. I, on the other hand, always looked for the holding first, to see what the rule of law was so I could tie in the relevant facts.
Remember, you do not need to identify every single fact given – in fact, you should work on refining the fact pattern, so you are able to identify exactly what gave rise to a cause of action. Also, I began to be selective about which cases I read three times, and which cases I skimmed. After all, how many cases do you need to read, that lay out the elements for the common law tort of battery? You need to know the rule of law for battery. You don’t need to know the history of battery cases passed down through the pyramids of time. This selective reading skill will become more apparent, your second semester after your first set of finals. You will learn, that you spent too much time on cases and not enough time preparing for exams and actually learning and understanding the black letter law presented obscurely in the cases. There has to be an easier way—right?
Fortunately for students, judges will most of the time spoon feed the issue to the reader, saying things like “the issue in this case is ______,” or, “the question here is whether _______,” or, “the rule of law is ______________.” Miss Hart, from the story above, was clearly able to quickly identify this issue. Why you ask? Because Frigaliment Importing Co. v. B.N.S. International Sales Corp., 190 F. Supp. 116 (1960) begins, “The issue is, what is chicken?” We all laughed, only to start crying as we continued down the page. I promise though, this will get easier. Soon you will be able to identify, and understand, where the rules are, where the analysis is, how to ignore dicta, and how to reach the same conclusion the court did in that case. All you have to do is practice. And stop downloading CaseNotes. You know who you are.
2. Talk to your classmates!!!
I know at this point you are all terrified of talking to each other. No one wants to be the “gunner,” and no one wants to be considered “stupid” either. But you are doing yourselves a disservice at this point by avoiding each other. Even if you just talk about one word in a case, you are benefiting from a different point of view, a different understanding of a case. And because the law oftentimes comes down to the interpretation of a single word, developing this kind of rapport with your peers will help you tremendously in your careers.
Talking things out is helpful because you can walk away with a better understanding, or more questions. Either of these things is good, because both results show that you have developed your analytical skills. Simply reading the case and going to class will not help you in this regard, because you have no one questioning your own analysis. That is, unless you get cold called, at which point the professor will work his or her hardest to make you feel like that chicken, they just asked you about? That chicken now could be a half-dragon/half unicorn hybrid that can breathe on a contract and make it unenforceable.
3. Go to Class
This one seems obvious, but it’s pretty surprising to see people who stop showing up to class. Not only does this leave you unprepared in general, but also it prevents you from getting the hang of cold calling, and the Socratic Method. Don’t worry about getting embarrassed or sounding stupid. You may think you’re the only one who thought all chickens were the same, but I guarantee that more than half the class thought the same thing while reading that case. If you don’t engage with the professor, you will not develop the art of legal reasoning that is so important to future endeavors, like the California Bar. And remember, learning how to read a case is important to passing the Performance Test on the California Bar Exam and in the practice of law. It’s a skill that needs to be learned. Once learned, you can begin, as the semester progresses, to focus more on study time management that integrates how to do well on final exams, which establishes your class standing and job prospects, and being prepared for class, and learning how to think like a lawyer.
4. We Believe in You! You can do it.
In the meantime, you are smart, you can do this and we are here to help. Any questions, please feel free to call firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get back to you. You are not alone.
Professor Shari Karney, Esq. has been a prominent force in the world of legal education and California Bar Review for the past 30 years. Whether you’re just starting law school, about to take the bar, or an out-of-state attorney taking the California Bar Exam, BarWinners California Bar Review is here to help. She is the Owner and Creator of BarWinners and the author of The Approach Book, “Bar Bible”. She writes a weekly column-blog Legal Ease with Leah M. Kaufman, Esq., the Founder at LMK Strategy & Research. Visit BarWinners at barwinners.com. Visit the Barwinners page on Facebook, and the BarWinners page on Google+ or email Shari via email@example.com.