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Starting Law School?

Prepare this Summer to Succeed in the Fall

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Congratulations on your acceptance to law school. You’re about to embark on a unique learning experience, unlike anything you’ve encountered in the past. In addition to significant amounts of reading, you’ll also be exposed to the Socratic method, a tactic used by professors to foster critical thinking and help you “learn to think like a lawyer.” Instead of the teacher giving you answers during class, you’ll be the one answering questions.

Instead of the teacher giving you answers during class, you’ll be the one answering questions.

As a result of the heavy reading workload and unfamiliar teaching style, even the best students can find law school hard and overwhelming at times. Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can prepare this summer to succeed in the fall. Here’s how:

  1. Make a game plan.
    Effective time management is one of the keys to law school success. Keep a calendar and log important dates for the upcoming semester. Be sure to note milestones like midterms and finals, and set goals for how far in advance to begin studying. You also should think beyond the demands of the law school semester and allocate time for internship applications (due as early as December). Come next summer you’ll be glad you did.
  2. Learn the language of the law.
    You’ll be reading hundreds of pages of legal cases on a weekly basis, and much of what you read will be filled with terms unknown to you. This “legalese” is designed to convey a precise meaning. A law dictionary like the Bouvier Law Dictionary, or Black’s Law Dictionary, is an indispensable tool you’ll find useful throughout law school to master legal terms like jurisdiction, holding, stare decisis, prima facie, and more.
  3. Get to know how the legal system works.
    Our legal system is organized under a set of rules. You may be familiar with how laws are enacted, applied, and enforced from a college Political Science course; but in law school you will need to have a much deeper understanding.

    Read a good book or two to brush up on political institutions and the development of public policy, the evolution of Common Law, and our court structure. Whose Monet: An Introduction to the American Legal System is an informative and entertaining book by by John A. Humbach which provides a highly accessible orientation to the American legal system and modern civil litigation while following an art dispute through the court system.
  4. Practice briefing a case.
    You’ll be reading cases throughout law school and your legal career. Summer is the perfect time to get your feet wet and try briefing a case to identify its most important aspects. Learn the elements to look for – facts, procedural posture, issues, judgment, etc. – and try to discern them as you read. Open Book: The Inside Track to Law School Success by Barry Friedman and John C.P. Goldberg offers insight for briefing a case, and then explains how to use your briefs to prepare for and ace exams.
  5. Learn what to expect in class.
    You’ve heard about the Socratic method of teaching. Now is a great time to talk to law school students and ask them about their experiences in class. Chances are you’ll hear that they didn’t always know what their professor was looking for, but they were able to persevere and you will, too. Once school begins, try to avoid the temptation of becoming a stenographer. As your professor asks questions, the underpinning of the Socratic method, stay engaged in the class dialog. To give you an edge in reading and answering questions in class, read What Every Law Student Really Needs to Know: An Introduction to the Study of Law, 2E by Tracey E. George and Suzanna Sherry which covers not only briefing cases and the Socratic method but also basic legal concepts.

Fall will be here before you know it and will be an exhilarating and busy time. Remember to breathe. Strive to maintain a balance between studying and life beyond law school. Make time for recreation and relaxation. And, finally, be the type of law student you’d like to get to know better. Reputations are built over time, but start from Day 1.

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