Advice for 1L’s
- OK… almost every 2L feels a compulsion to perform the ritual act of passing on his or her wisdom to those who are coming behind them.
I am no exception, so here is my advice for all entering 1L’s…
Note this advice is specifically for students at Oklahoma City University School of Law. This advice might be great for you if you go somewhere else or it may really suck. Reader beware.
1. Know thyself. — If you were a studious go-getter as an undergrad, you will probably be one as a law student. If you were a slacker as an undergrad, you probably won’t change. Don’t stress it either way. It is better to do the things that worked for you in the past than to try to be someone that you are not. (just be the best “you” that you can be)
1-b. Know thy prof — The sooner you can get inside your prof’s head and learn how he or she thinks, the better off you are. Remember your exam is basically written to an audience of one, so use your semester wisely to learn how your audience thinks.
2. When it’s time to work, work. — This is probably the one thing that I struggled to learn and am still learning. The best way to study is hard and fast. Don’t daddle. Read quickly and get it done. Don’t waste 3 hours on what should 30 minutes. Studying on subjects you find boring is best done quickly so it is out of the way. Procrastination will kill you.
3. If you’re scared to death (and most folks will be), don’t let it keep you from living. Life is more than law school (thank God). Keep in touch with your old friends. Read some books that have nothing to do with the law. Enjoy being outside. If you faith is important to you, don’t lose it. Going to church is not a waste of time. It may be the one thing that keeps you sane.
4. Take detailed notes of your cases IN YOUR BOOK. Most folks will start off with writing detailed case briefs and maybe that has some worth but you are better off moving to book briefing ASAP. The important thing to remember is that book briefing is more than just underlining key sections, but rather it is underlining/highlighting/etc in an organized fashion with annotations. It does you no good to have stuff underlined if you don’t remember why you underlined it. Notes are essential.
5. More on book briefing – My suggested method is a variation on the Llewelyn brief form that Professor Dillon taught my Contracts class.
However, instead of writing out that info in complete sentences on a seperate sheet of paper, I think it is much better to highlight those sections in the case itself (so you can quote the case itself) with headings in the margin telling you what the elements are:
Here is what I look for in a case…
- SOC – Statement of Case – a sentence or paragraph that tells you the procedural posture of the case
FACTS – normally at the beginning of a case, sometimes elsewhere
ISSUE – This is simple. Look for the question of law that the court is asked to resolve (see more on this on point #6). Often there will be multiple issues, or even sub-issues. The best way to deal with this is to number the issues.
HOLDING – This term was an engima to me when I first started, so let me explain it like this. A holding is a statement of how the court resolved the issue. (in other words, the answer to the question stated in the “issue”). Another way to say this is… “The court holds that YADA YADA YADA…,” with the yada’s being the holding. — BTW, make sure you have found a holding for every issue and sub-issue. Use the same numbering system. (I.e. Holding #3 is the answer to the Issue #3, etc.)
RULE – This is a statement of the law, which can either be explicit or implicit.
RESULT – This is how the court resolved the case. This is in many cass the least important part of the case because often the rule of law that is critical is not the one the court ends up deciding the case upon.
DICTA – a nasty and nebulus class of statements. One could argue that everything not mentioned above is dicta, but I prefer to think of dicta as the asides that the court puts in a case to explain things that are not directly related to the main issue of the case but are somehow related.
One important sub-set of dicta is POLICY — which basically are dicta statements about the policy reasons for the rule the court is adopting — some profs love to talk policy, others ignore it
So, when reading a case look for those bits of information. Highlight the sentences that contain this information and then clearly mark in the margin the heading for them. Do this consistently and neatly (it takes 1 more second to write neatly enough to be able to read it back later) and you’ll be ready for anything.
6. Remember when reading a case that 95% of the time you are reading appelate decisions, which means the trial court has already answered the questions of FACT at hand. So, the only issues that are up for debate on appeal in most cases are not questions of fact but rather questions of LAW. (I.e. the issue in a crim law case will not be “did John Doe kill Jane Doe” but rather for instance “did the trial court act correctly in telling the jury YADA YADA YADA in the jury instructions?”
7. It is smart to volunteer for class recitation/questions when you know the answer because you are less likely to called on later on when you don’t.
8. HOWEVER, it is dumb to volunteer too much. If you volunteer too much and you often don’t know the answer, then everyone thinks you just like to hear yourself talk.
If, however, you always know the answer, it is even worse, because first of all eveyone will be envious of you, but secondly your prof will rely on you whenever he/she is behind schedule and wants to move the class further along. (since he/she knows you are reliable person to call on) If you ever end up in this predicament the best way to weasel out of it is to act dumb the next time you are called on. Say something so stupid that the prof will asume that he overestimated you.
By the way, the best way to be perceived in your prof’s eyes is “hard working and stupid,” because then he or she will cut you slack. If the prof thinks your “smart and lazy” then you’re screwed because he/she will try to break you so that you’ll be more motivated, and if your prof thinks your “smart and hard working” then you’ll end up getting called on too much. (and of course looking dumb and lazy is always a bad idea)
9. Make friends fast and don’t be paranoid. Share your outlines freely.- I wished I had learned this sooner in my 1L year. I would have had much more fun if I did. — As to sharing outlines, the reason I share mine freely is because I know that others are more likely to reciprocate in turn. Besides, knowledge is only half the battle. You still have to express that knowledge in those stupid blue books. Someone can have a killer outline and have it memorized and still bomb the test, so why not share freely. — BTW, One L by Scott Turow (which I think everyone reads) is not real life (and neither is The Paper Chase. At least at OCU, law students are not mean people. Your classmates are rooting for you. They are not out to get you. Besides that is what the socratic system of torture wants you to do… to fear your classmates. Instead, turn your fear and anger towards those who are tormenting you. (in most cases your profs) You are all in this together. Don’t ever forget that.
10. Don’t feel compelled to join a study group. For some folks they are great, but for many (including myself) they don’t work. They tend to be mostly a big waste of time with lots of talking and not much studying.
11. If you can afford to do so (which if you’re like me is always the kicker), buy one good commercial outline for each class and possibly also some review tapes. I recommend the Crunchtime series for outlines (very good material, and also some of the cheapest… under $20 each). If you have the tapes, listen to them before the semester starts and when you’re driving throughout the semster. They do a good job of explaining all of the stuff that the prof won’t tell you because he or she wants to torture you and have the “fun experience” of learning it yourself the hardway. — No offense to them but I don’t appreciate wasting time barking up the wrong tree. A little helpful advice goes a long way.
12. If you have a class that really stumps you and the prof doesn’t know how to teach (thankfully I’ve had only one was truly like this) DO NOT DESPAIR but also DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE END OF THE SEMESTER to figure it out. If your prof can’t teach, then forget him. Get a good commercial outline and teach yourself the material. If the prof can’t teach, then it only means you gotta figure it out yourself. (The good news is that one of my best grades last semester was in the class I felt lost in all semester)
13. It is critical that you know the absence policy for each prof and that you also keep track of your absences. Profs have been known to screw up the attendance records and forget their own attendance policies. (it happened last year for several of my classmates) Keep track of it yourself IN WRITING so you won’t get screwed. Also, budget your absences out over the whole semester. Most classes only let you miss 6 times, so if you avoid missing more than one a month, then you’ll have 1-2 left if you get sick the last week. You don’t want to go down to the wire with no cushion left.
14. Don’t freak out about grades. 80% of the class will make C’s. That is just life at OCU Law School. If you do better than that, call your Mom but don’t tell your classmates. — BTW, the people who tell everyone what they made are often liars. Looking at the grading scale I know that the number of A’s given out compared to the number of A’s claimed by some folks is not in the realm of reality. Don’t let lying braggarts freak you out. Everyones’ grades suck.
15. Treat the little people good. Don’t take out your frustration on computer lab monitors, janitorial staff, financial aid workers, folks in the registrar’s office or faculty secretaries. Those folks have to deal with a lot of crap from law students and faculty. Don’t make their lives any harder. — Besides those folks can also help you a lot IF they want to. Treat them good and they’ll help you when you need it. (Treat them bad and I don’t blame them for blowing you off.)
16. Don’t let your vices consume you. – Everyone in L-school will give into their pet vices at time. (Only you will know what that is… food, alcohol, drugs, spending money, sex, whatever it is for you.) A little bit of a vice might help you survive for awhile and I guess has its place but don’t let it consume you. Stay rooted in what’s important.
And if you find yourself off course, don’t stay that way. There’s new hope every day, even in L-school.
17. Remind yourself at least weekly why you started L-school in the first place. It is so easy to forget, but we are entering a noble profession. To practice law is to be participant in our civil society by protecting the rights of others. Doing this, be it in commercial law, criminal justice, family law, you name it, is to be an advocate for others. This is a noble thing. Don’t let the indignities of law school rob you of that pride.