Three Tips for Student Success in Law School


You got into law school. Congratulations. Don’t assume that you will do well there.  

You have always done well. But, law school grades on a curve. Do not assume that you will do well on that curve.

You can prepare before law school to do well. This blog addresses:

  1. College did not prepare you for law school, but you can still prepare on your own  before you walk through your Law school’s doors.  
  2. Many law schools grade on a curve.  So, how do you move to the top of the curve?  
  3. Once law school starts, find a system that works for you so that you can excel on your exams.

I have taught or mentored hundreds of students who have completed pre-law courses or were law students or new lawyers. Below are three tips for success in law school:        

College has not prepared you for law school, but you can still prepare before you walk through your law schools’ doors.

As hard as it is to hear, colleges are not preparing incoming law students for law school, according to many commentators. In fact, college is not preparing incoming law students to think like lawyers.[1] Many students are not prepared for the rigorous analysis required.[2] One experienced law professor found that students who think unclearly write unclearly.[3] College students have deficits in critical reading, complex reasoning, and writing during the first two years of college. Rigorous college courses with extensive reading and writing requirements can result in true academic improvement.[4] What if you haven’t had those rigorous courses? You will be alright.  

Logic is necessary to excel in the law, but many law students have not learned logic in college.  No one has taught college students how to create and construct legal arguments.[5] Incoming law students should, but do not, know the basics of classical rhetoric: the different modes of persuasion and how to identify fallacies.[6] After all, practicing law is a trade. What is the trade based upon? It is based upon: flawless writing, logical reasoning, and persuasive argument.[7]  Not surprising, these three skills have evolved from the classical and medieval curriculum of grammar, logic and rhetoric.[8] Many students do not possess these skills when they enter law school.  

How can incoming law students develop logic and writing skills in which they may be deficient? And quickly? Consider taking a legal writing course. There are many good legal writing courses available online.

My course, Legal Writing Launch, is a great option because you can take it at your own pace and it includes the option for live instructor feedback. It is available at

One commentator noted that students can harness educational technologies to develop some of the basic skills necessary for law school.[9] Legal Writing Launch is a legal writing intensive course. In this on-line, self-paced course, students will learn to draft power-packed packed paragraphs™ using the legal reasoning structure taught in law school—Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion, commonly known as IRAC. Another commentator has discussed the value of the Core Grammar for Lawyers on-line platform to prepare students for their first year of law school.[10] Legal Writing Launch offers Core Grammar as part of its focus in ensuring that law students know the fundamentals of grammar before starting law school.      

Many law schools grade on a curve.  So, how do you move to the top of the curve?  

Most law schools grade on a curve.[11]  Make no mistake, law school grades are very important.[12]  One commentator states simply “grades matter.”[13] In fact, grades, have for years, determined a student’s ranking in the class. Schools use grades to dole out rewards such as scholarships, law review positions, and access to prestigious clerkships.[14] Students may receive low exam grades in law school not because of a deficit in their substantive knowledge, but due to a deficit in exam-taking.[15] 

Again, how do incoming law students potentially improve their performance before they even enter law school? Take a legal writing course. In law school, it is critical to use excellent legal writing skills on exams and papers in order to obtain the highest of grades.  

Once law school starts, find a system that works for you so that you can excel on your exams

You must determine what works for you to do well on law school exams. Of course, it is fine to take advice from instructors. But, what one instructor says may not be the formula for success for you. I remember my first year Criminal Law professor saying “don’t buy those commercial outlines. Just read the cases carefully and you will be fine.” Not fine. Most students did not do well based upon that advice. Why? There is a huge difference between preparing for class and doing well on a law school exam. I did what the faculty members said to do my first year. Then, I found what worked for me in my second year. And, this was not reading the minutia in case books to prepare to write exams. One of the preeminent experts in legal writing, Bryan A. Garnar, notes that it is no wonder that lawyers can’t write: law schools provide students with “poorly-written, legalese opinions that read like over-the-top . . . parodies of stiffness and hyper-formality.”[16]  Garner faults the law school system where professors offer little if any feedback on students’ writing on their exams or writing assignments.[17] 

So what works? How do you do well on exams? The short answer is that you have to find what works for you. Every day after a class, I sat down and created a master outline (for that class)—from my class notes, a commercial outline (like Gilberts), and case summaries (like Casenotes.) As exam season approached, I made an outline of my outline. As the exams became closer and closer, I memorized my mini outlines and drafted answers to many practice-exam questions. My grades shot up! This is what worked for me.

Click the button below to see if my course might assist you before you start law school.  One of our target audiences is incoming law students.  (View the introductory video, and access the actual contents of the course under any of the course levels—Basic Course, Assignment Editing Add-On, or Zoom Weekly Meeting (includes Assignment Editing Add-On.) 

[1] Flanagan, The Kids Aren’t Alright: Rethinking the Law Students Skills Deficit (Kids Aren’t Alright) (2015) Brigham Young Univ. Educ. And Law Journal 136.

[2] Kids Aren’t Alright, supra, at p. 175.

[3] Viatar, Adams & Reese, Legal Education’s Perfect Storm: Law Students’ Poor Writing and Legal Analysis Skills Collide with Dismal Employment Prospects, Creating the Urge to Reconfigure the First-Year Curriculum (Legal Education’s Perfect Storm) (2012) 61 Cath. U. L Rev. 735, 742, n. 26.,the%20Urgent%20Need%20to%20Reconfigure%20the%20First-Year%20Curriculum

[4] Legal Education’s Perfect Storm, supra, at pp. 735 & 755, n. 97.

[5] Legal Education’s Perfect Storm, supra, at pp. 735 & 755, n. 97.

[6]Legal Education’s Perfect Storm, supra, at p. 759.

[7] Legal Education’s Perfect Storm, supra, at pp. 755-756.

[8] Legal Education’s Perfect Storm, supra, at p. 756.  

[9] Kids Aren’t Alright, supra, at p. 182.

[10] Kids Aren’t Alright, supra, at p. 175 and

[11] Kids Aren’t Alright, supra, at 146.

[12] Keating, 10 Myths About Law School Grading (10 Myths), Washington University Law Review (1998) 171, 174.

[13] Rose, Norm-Referenced Grading in the Age of Carnegie: Why Criteria-Referenced Grading is More Consistent with Current Trends in Legal Education and How Legal Writing Can Lead the Way (Norm-Referenced Grading),  17 The Journal of the Legal Writing Institute 123, 123.  

[14] Norm-Referenced Grading, supra, at p. 123.)

[15] 10 Myths, supra, at p. 174.

[16] Garnar, Why Lawyers Can’t Write, 1, 2.

[17] Why Lawyers Can’t Write, supra, at p. 2.

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