Study Techniques for Incoming Law Students or 1Ls


You are ready to start law school!  Congratulations! 

Make no mistake that there is a separate skill set required to do well on exams than there is for everyday participation in class.  Professors may tell you that if you read all of the assigned cases and discussion questions from the antiquated textbooks and talk in class, you will be do fine on the exams.  Not fine.  One of my favorite legal writing commentators, Bryan A. Garner, in “Why Lawyers Can’t Write”[1] recognizes that law professors “inundate students with poorly written, legalese-riddled opinions that read like over-the-top . . . parodies of stiffness and hyperformality.”  Will reading these cases prepare you for exams?  Of course not.

What can you do instead?  The short answer is that you must 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 came closer and closer, I memorized my mini outlines and drafted answers to many practice-exam questions. Once I used this process, my grades shot up! This is what worked for me. You will have to find what will work for you.  I am sure that you would like to learn what works for you sooner than later. 

Like preparing for exams, you must determine what works for you to use to prepare for class every day.  In other words, how do you use the least amount of effort possible to prepare for class?  Many law schools use the Socratic method, which means that professors “call on” students like in the movie, Paper Chase (which is about first year students or 1Ls at Harvard Law School.)  Far be it for this author to suggest that if you know when your professor is likely to “call on” you, then you really prepare for class.  Nor would this author suggest that you dedicate far fewer of your personal resources (your time) to pre-class work, if there is little chance that you will be on the hotseat that day.  Most likely, your professor’s singling you out for a one-on-one discussion before your entire class will be random.  In that instance, you must prepare for class.  Again, it is your job to determine just what that minimal effort will be so that you avoid humiliation in front of your peers.  Of course, there is value in understanding and being present for each law school class session, if for no other reason than to bring that learning to your exam preparation.  

Preparing well for exams is key.  Figure out what works for you so that you can do as well as possible on exams.  And, learn this sooner than later.  These were some legal writing tips for law students. If you would like to learn more about legal writing, consider taking a legal writing course before or while you are in law school. If you take a legal writing course before or during law school, it is likely that you will do much better on law school exams and papers than you would have done without it! There are many good legal writing courses online. Consider taking my course, Legal Writing Launch.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffet states, “[b]y far the best investment you can make is in yourself.”  [2]  Buffett added that  developing one’s communication skills—both in writing and in-person—”can increase [one’s] value by at least fifty percent.”  [3]  

[1] Garner, Why Lawyers Can’t Write 1, 1.

[2]  Warren Buffet Says This 1 Investment Decision Will Be By Far the Best One You Ever Make, (Jan. 2021).,by%20at%20least%2050%20percent.%22

[3]  Warren Buffet Says This 1 Investment Decision Will Be By Far the Best One You Ever Make, supra.,by%20at%20least%2050%20percent.%22

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