3 Tips to Avoid Law School FAIL

Law school is pretty damn difficult as it is; unfortunately, everyone who goes through law school makes it a little bit tougher on themselves. I somehow managed to make a good deal of mistakes in my three years, and it made the experience all the more miserable. Given that a lot of 1Ls are starting law school as we speak, I thought I would compile a list of some of the bigger mistakes I made or I saw others make.

1. Keep it simple, stupid

Law school is an all-in endeavor, and for three years, law school will likely be the biggest part of your life. If there are other distractions in your world, your grades will suffer without question. In my first year of law school, I almost got deployed to the middle east, my wife and I had the worst landlord in the history of landlords, and we had a baby. My grades absolutely suffered (“B-” is for baby… minus). With everything that I had to worry about outside of law school, I wasn’t able to dedicate my finite amount of stress management efforts to everything that was going on inside the law school.

To the greatest extent possible, you need to make sure that your home life stays static. There is a reason why the American Bar Association limits the ability of law students to work; and it’s not because the ABA cares about your free time. Your 1L year takes every ounce of effort that you can spare, and the ABA is well aware of that fact. The more you are distracted with doctor’s visits, family/relationship problems, thinking of ways to vandalize your landlord’s garden gnomes, or money issues, the more your GPA will look like an ace pitcher’s ERA.

2. Show Your Work

At the moment, commercial law school outlines are big business, but Gilbert’s and Emanuel aren’t the only ones doling out study aids.  Without much effort, you can find old law school outlines on certain databases, on eBay, or even with the help of a generous 2L. Avoid these things like hipsters avoid the suburbs.

Outlining—which you will come to love so, so much—has two purposes: 1) it consolidates your lecture and casenotes into an easy to use exam aid, and 2) the actual practice of “outlining” cements in your overloaded brain the key concepts that you need for the exam. This second aspect of outlining is the most underrated and most important part of your semester-end studying. When you buy or borrow an outline, you are only getting the first benefit of the outline. When you create your own, you are getting a better exam aid that isn’t generically designed for every law student in the country (looking at you, Gilbert’s), and you are walking in to the exam in much better shape.

3. Stay Classy

Law school isn’t undergrad; in fact, it’s your new job. If you attach the same negative connotation of calling in sick to work to the prospect of skipping class, the thought of dodging class will seem much less enticing. The biggest reason students skip a class is that they didn’t read the material and are afraid of getting called on. Don’t do this. Missing class means you miss the following: you miss an explanation of the insanely confusing contracts case you read, you miss out on indications from the professor on what he thinks is important, and you miss an opportunity to contribute in class. If you didn’t read the materials, then you can still go to class but just give the professor a heads up so that she doesn’t make you look stupid in front of everyone. If you are avoiding reading enough to the point that you are afraid of alerting the professor repeatedly, then you are doing something wrong.

Lots of people make lots of mistakes in law school… too many to cover here. But the above three screw-ups were the ones that doomed me on occasion and have doomed others over the years. Go to your classes, lock-down your home life and do your own outlines. Do those three things and you will get through the toughest three years of your life with a GPA that is hopefully somewhere above Pi.

(image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisgriffith/3769283867/)

Law School

  • http://mommsenlaw.com chris

    I agree with these things wholeheartedly, but particularly with the “going to class” tip. I found if I missed class it took me about three hours of independent studying to make up for what I missed in an hour of class.

  • William Chuang

    (0.0) Make sure you know what lawyers do and that you would like to make a career out of it. Being good at arguing, by the way, is not a good qualification for being a lawyer. And a law degree isn’t good to have “just in case” if it costs you $150,000 in tuition and three years of foregone income.
    (0.1) Don’t go to a law school ranked lower than the first tier of the US News ratings.
    (0.2) If you get Cs 1L year, drop out. Really.

    • Tyler White

      I’ll agree with the (0.0), but deciding whether to go to law school is a different discussion altogether.

      I don’t agree with (0.1); I know a lot of succesful and happy lawyers that went to a tier 3 or (GASP!) a tier 4 school.

      And as for (0.2), if you get A BUNCH of Cs in your first year, yeah maybe. But a “C” does not doom you for your entire career. Sure, it may knock you out of contention for OCIs, but that’s not everyone’s goal. I think that the more important barometer for future success is whether you are enjoying what you are doing, and whether you are actually doing your best. If you don’t care in your 1L year, you won’t care when you start practicing.

      • Beth

        I got a 2 C’s 1L year and still got my 2L big firm summer job. But, I also got an A+ (and won an award) along with other A’s and B+’s, and went to a top 20 law school. C’s are not the end of the world. However, if you go to a 2nd or 3rd tier law school, and get C’s, you will have very slim job prospects.

  • Bob

    Agree with 1 & 3, but 2 should come with a caveat. While you should take notes and organize them and should not rely exclusively on commercial or other outside outlines, and this is all some folks need, Gilbert’s and the like can be very useful (even essential) depending on your learning style.

    I made the mistake of following the advice in point 2 for my first semester in law school and my grades suffered as a result. I began supplementing with commercial outlines in my second semester and I improved by at least a half-grade in all classes.

    Gilbert’s and Emanuel’s helped me fill in gaps and understand the “big picture.” The law my professors taught was not substantially different than what was contained in those outlines, and by paying attention in class I was able to catch their particular points of emphasis. I wish I had ignored the folks who gave me the same advice as point 2 and had instead considered my own personal learning style and the advantages commercial outlines could give me earlier in my law school career.