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Things I would do differently before coming to law school (or, tips for studying smart in law school)

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I bombed by 1st year in law school.  After agonizing whether I made the right decision and whether I should stay in school or not, I got to do a bit of reflection, and here’s what I realized.

Before coming to law school, I got all the right advices. Don’t pay too much attention in classes, what your professor says, or readings. Get the outlines, commercial study aids, old exams with answers as early as you can and practice writing exam answers with it.  So I did so.  I even took a pre-law school course.  And I massively failed. So how come I bombed my first year after following all the right advice?  I didn’t have anyone who could check whether I am on a right track and give me necessary feedback. Yes I was doing everything I was supposed to do, but there was no way to tell whether I am doing it correctly or not.  I was learning to play a sports on my own – which can easily lead to incorrect way of playing or posture.

When people ask me “so, how bad is the law school?” I usually give this hypo:

You want to be a tennis player, so you signed up for a tennis school.  You would expect learning by actually playing it with an instructor, with the instructor giving you corrections and feedback.  Well, instead, all they do in class is learning the nature of tennis tools, watch videos of old games and learn about famous tennis players and coaches.  And one day, the instructor hands you a tennis racket and ball, and say, “go out and play, I’ll grade how well do you play in comparison of others.”

In terms of efficient learning, this is wrong in so many ways, right? There will be people who somehow learn how to play tennis in this way but the number will be very, very small.  This is how things are “taught” in law school.

If I could go back in time, I would definitely to the following:

1) Get a good idea of rules and how to do legal writing BEFORE you get into law school. 

The point of law school legal writing, including exam, is how to apply the rules to facts and explain it to the reader.  And of course law school doesn’t teach this.  There is no need to give an absolute, clear conclusion.  At least for me, it took a while to realize this because I was in habit of writing “academic English writing” (and English isn’t my first language!).  Get a tutor, or someone who knows legal writing and can spend time with you, doing questions together, explain the rules even generally and give constant feedbacks on how to write.  Trust me, it will make your life so much easier.

When I was still unsure whether I should go back to school or not, I happened to meet a very personal and kind law school professor (not from my school) to talk about this matter.  Here’s her answer. “Law school doesn’t teach what you need to know upright.  Some people just do it well in their 1st year, probably without realizing what they are doing.  Some people get it in their 2nd year. Or 3rd year.  And unfortunately, some people just don’t get it until they graduate.  Based on your email I read, you have it but you either just didn’t realized it yet, or how to apply it to the legal writing.  What you need is someone who can sit down and spend time and do problems and give you a constant feedback.  Ask your school whether they can provide this.”

“Okay, what if they can’t?”

“Well, then get a bar tutor.  That’s what they do.”

So I did after I came back to school, and I’m kicking myself for not doing it early on, instead of spending $ on some not very helpful pre-law program.  Before getting a tutor, just do your research and talk with them. I did a test-drive with two tutors on separate subjects.  One was awful.  As time goes by, I was under the impression that tutoring just isn’t really high on her priority and she’s not taking it seriously.  Another one was so much professional and timely in communication and scheduling.  Of course I dumped the former one after the test drive is over. One of the person I called called ridiculously high price.  Some tutors can offer a discount if you do multiple subjects or stick with them for a long time.  So get a tutor, do your research with their professionalism and pricing.

2)  Use commercial aids!

Most cases, many professors describe commercial outlines as evil stuff that you should avoid at all cost.  They say “do the readings, go to classes every day and you’ll be fine.”  WRONG unless you are one of the small number of lucky ones, as I described in the above-mentioned tennis hypo.  Here’s what I would do if I go back to my 1st year.

Get a used textbook with lots of notes and highlights.
Get a casebriefs matching your textbook – commercial study aids what provides you a summary of each cases in your textbook.

For preparing your class, read the casebrief first.  You are ready for in-class cold calls…unless your professor is a pervert who asks every single details.

3) Get help for your legal writing class…from outside. 

Granted, the legal writing class will take almost all of your 1L year time, although they carry a lot less credit then your other classes (which is BS but I will probably write this in a separate post).  You’ll be lost how to find relevant rules, how to organize them, etc.  Does professor help? Probably not.

Here’s what happened in my first year legal writing class.  We were supposed to write a thing called “brief.”  My professor never provided a sample we can refer to: to the request, she simply said “you can find it from internet.”  When someone asks about something with the issue or how to put stuff on the paper, she answered “it depends on you.”  When I say that English isn’t my 1st language and I would like to get an extra help, she said she will be glad to help and I can contact her TA.  So I had a few extra meetings with TA but later on TA intentionally started to ignore my e-mails and texts, probably thinking I’m trying to cheat or get unfair advantage.  Of course I shitbombed that class.

After that, I asked a friend of mine to provide me some relevant secondary sources for each of my writing assignments.  I didn’t even ask to review my paper – just provide me relevant readings.  Then my writing grade started to get so much better.  Again, I kicked myself for not doing so early on.

 

Law school is like South Korean public education in many ways.  In South Korea, students actually learn from tutors and private prep institutions and get tested in school.  With a very small exceptions, it’s a norm that to be successful in school, you have to grind with tutors and private prep institutions.  If I were a Korean who went through Korean education system, I probably knew this early on.  Ironically though, I’m the Korean who didn’t really go through the national education system: most of my education was done in American system where people don’t really rely on tutors except special occasions.

In summary, get out of your undergrad habit.  Get help from outside early on, and don’t really expect to learn a lot from school.

 

* Some other thoughts
– Many law students are people who aced in small, local colleges and did not experience much failures.  So it’s pretty natural that a lot of them think they are in the top of the world.  Also, given that a lot of them doesn’t really have real life experience (paying your own bills, arranging your insurance, living on a payroll and dealing with various clients and bosses) they think they are entitled to something…not sure I am doing a good job describing the law school world.  Basically it’s pretty elitist.
– If you talk to the students individually, a lot of them are nice and friendly.  If you group them together, they all go a bit nuts.
– Don’t expect to get a help from your classmates.  I had instances where people (even upperclassmen who are not in the same class with me) said they can help me with exam prep, can give me old books, can talk with me for future scheduling, etc., only to disappear, ignore my contacts or meet me but make it pretty clear that they are annoyed.  Was I the only one? No, my friend – the only person I can actually call friend and would like to keep touch even after graduation – said same thing.

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