25 - student - NYC That's all for now.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

My 13 Thoughts on Law School: An Exhaustive Retrospective

Before I get into that - as promised - I will reveal the answers to yesterday's penetrating questions.

The sky is blue due to Rayleigh scattering.

The world's largest Burrito was created by La Costena, a famed South Bay taqueria, and "manufactured" in Rengstorff Park, Mountain View, CA (where I used to live).

And the MLB player with the most homeruns whose last name starts with the letter "Z" is Todd Zeile. 253 HRs.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program: My 13 Thoughts on 3 Years of Law

1. Study hard for the stupid LSAT : For some reason, the powers that be have decided to base admissions almost solely on that idiotic standardized test. Let me just say that I have never once come across a question at law school that involves putting Tom, Dick and Harry in the correct order with the correct color hat with only limited clues as to those arrangements. I don't know - maybe there is some correlation between this "analytic" capability and success at law school. But my sense of it is that law school is law school is law school. The bar does not discriminate between the top of the US World and New Report Rankings and the bottom. The academic experience is the same. But the job opportunities are not. So - if you want to make it easier on yourself - study for that stupid exam.

2. Apply early : The whole application process is much more stressful than the actual schooling. So rest easy after you've gotten into your school. But the worst part of the whole process (other than the LSAT and getting your professors to send in their recommendations) is the waiting. This pain can be exaggerated further if you find yourself involved in applicant message boards. The surest way to become defeatist is to spend time on those boards listening to people complaining that they only have a 178 LSAT (out of 180) and a 3.92 GPA and are worried about getting into any law school. Don't worry about it. Apply early and you'll most likely get in somewhere before January. No need to stress and freak.

3. The experience can be as easy or as hard as you make it : The people who tell you that law school is three years of hell made it that way for themselves. You don't have to join every organization in the school or take seven courses a semester. You don't have to write onto the law review and work two jobs to support your four kids. Well, you may have to do the latter if you have four kids. But the point is that law school is only as hard as you make it. For most classes you are only responsible for one thing: taking a final exam. You can go or not go to class. You can read or not read the assignments. You can outline or not outline. You can take notes or not take notes. You can study or not study for the final. (I don't recommend the last one). If you're involved in so many things at once and still trying to ace your exams - well, law school can be a stressful environment. But if you learn to manage yourself and your time, it's really not too bad. In fact, it's a heck of a lot easier than real life.

4. The Socratic Method is not as bad as it's made out to be : Some professors don't even do it and most have some half-assed version that involves telling you when you're on call. My torts professor went down the rows from back to front, my contracts professor went alphabetically, my first amendment professor let you pick a thinker, my evidence professor let you pick a topic. The few profs who actually cold-call are not intimidating enough to be worried about - law school is hardly real. What's to be worried about? Besides, I can tell you the truth - nobody cares if you mess up. At most they are just glad it wasn't them - and then they forget about it the next day. Memories are shallow when it comes to the "method."

5. Talking about grades is bad policy : It's ugly. Don't do it. At least you shouldn't do it with anyone who isn't your closest friend. At best, it's vanity or self-serving sympathy-inducing. At worst, it's an ugly side of human pride. You're not making anyone like or respect you when you tell them about that "A+." In fact, you're probably making enemies. Tell your mom and dad or significant other. Your classmates don't need to know. It's a curve, after all.

6. Find a hobby : Now this one is on all the lists. You can't go through three years of law school completely immersed in the law. You need to come up for air. My particular choice was ultimate frisbee, but that's not for everyone. I probably spent more time in my hobby than most - I was out of town pretty much every Saturday from April until October, and then gone for full weekends almost every other Saturday. But I think it really gave me some balance. I also recommend an exercise regimen of some sort - just to clear your system.

7. Find a good friend : It could be a spouse or a girlfriend or just a pal. Law school can be a lonely journey and you'll need support from time to time. Make sure there is someone around to whom you can complain with relative frequency and ease. Plus - it doesn't hurt if that person helps to make sure you keep grounded and reminds you that forgetting to properly cite a case in a paper is not the end of the world.

8. Don't be afraid of commercial outlines : In fact, embrace their black-lettery goodness. It's not cheating. And that's not just because everyone does it. It's just smart. Look... chances are you missed a few classes and your notes for some of the other classes you attended look like you were on Mars for that hour. Moreover, certain professors "teach" in a manner more befitting philosophers than lawyers. At the end of the day, however, law exams are all pretty much the same. They give you questions and they want answers that apply the law. No matter what dribble they taught all semester, they want you to take the black letter law and apply it to the facts presented on the exam. Well, in many cases you're not going to have any idea what the law is - unless you find it in a lovely commercial outline. Take the plunge, it's warm and fuzzy.

9. Make liberal use of practice exams : Especially if the exams are from the same professor. Especially if they have model answers. I've heard of a number of examples about lazy professors who just change the names in the questions and give out the same exam. Well, if you took it already and learned the model answer... you're ahead of the game. Shame on the prof, but if you didn't look at that model - you're gonna lose out to those who did. Plus, it's a good idea to see what kind of things the professor is looking for - there's still room for BS on law exams (despite the fact that professors all claim there isn't).

10. Learn to take an exam : There is no doubt in my mind that there is a right way to write an exam. It doesn't involve any specific formula but coherence, quality and quantity are all important elements. If you have a word limit, then quantity obviously isn't as important. For each person the method may be different, but the end result should be the same. On in-class exams, I've always found that the more you write the better. The professors often grade off checklists and the more checks you get, the higher the grade. Verbal diarrhea appears to be the key. At the same time, you want to maintain a certain level of coherence. You won't get the best grades if you're all over the map. Finally, you have to look at both sides. The key thing to remember is that it wouldn't be on the exam if there were an easy answer. Address both sides - make an argument for both - and then pick a side.

11. Don't schedule classes on Fridays : Do I need to explain this one?

12. Getting a job : This whole experience deserves its own retrospective. I could relate my own mistakes in the whole job-seeking process. I made pretty much every minor (and a few major) mistakes in the book, but I landed myself a job. So there is hope for the most idiotic of us, as I'm living proof.

13. Finally, have fun : Find a city or town you like and go to school there. No sense in wasting away for three years in a smelly pit. There's plenty of free time if you make time for it. I chose NYC - maybe not for everyone - but it's a cute little town. Get out and enjoy yourself - after all, you'll have plenty of time to slave away once you start working.


Blogger --neurotic in newton said...

hey dan--this makes law school seem just about manageable. great advice for anyone either in the thick of it or thinking about applying. hold these thoughts for a.j. in five years, ok?--sharon

8:45 AM


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