Monthly Archives: August 2009

1L: It Was

It’s really that much time. We really do read that much. We really do analyze what “is” means. (“Most? Most? How could he use the word “most” on a true/false exam question? “Most” is not a true/false kind of word. “Most reliable?” Inconceivable.) We really, really write quite a bit and stress over memos and appellate briefs for weeks. We really don’t maintain outside relationships very well. For a year, it’s hard to talk about anything but class and cases. For a lot of us.

I think the purpose of 1L is to fundamentally alter (if necessary, and for most I’d say it is) the way you think. The statistics I read bear out that it fundamentally alters the personality of a large proportion of the students: “as many as two-fifths . . . experienc[e] severe psychological disturbances” within months of starting law school.1 I, and several of those I know and love, are still reeling in various ways.

But we made it. And you can make it, and the best part of making it is that it’s challenging. The strategy is learning to deal. I found things that work for me and things I wish I’d known prior to law school but so much of the experience is personal that I have no idea how much can be extrapolated to the 1Ls who will begin on Monday. But I think it’s valuable to hear and play with various strategies:

(1) Used books are fine. Last year’s edition is fine.

I realized, after dropping $750 on books first semester that I can actually read through someone else’s highlighting and notes (which can be a gold mine, depending on who wrote them). A casebook (those big red books) is a huge book of abbreviated cases and then very few notes and questions (without answers) to get you thinking. You don’t know enough to be thinking.

Seriously, if you buy used, you will miss some new questions and your pagination will likely be off. Buy used and then sit on the floor of the bookstore and using your syllabus, figure out what pages in your edition you need to read. IF you are missing a case, do not stress. For the love of Cthulhu, you have free access to LexisNexis and Westlaw which not only have the cases in full (the only drawback I note – the case isn’t abbreviated so there’s more to read/skim) but they’ve briefed the case for you too.

Second semester, I dropped $150 and bought my books on Amazon used. I gently pried off the red hardback cover, paid $3.00 to have Kinko’s chop off the page binding (the glue) and then sat for an hour and 3-ring hole-punched two of my red casebooks. Each week, I just carried around the pages we were gonna read and discuss. My back felt better instantly. You have no idea how much weight you’re gonna be carting around in casebooks. One book I left intact – Dressler’s Crim Law because it’s not a real big book anyway. Maybe twice was a case referenced that I’d left at home. No. big. deal. You may think you want to keep your casebooks forever. You don’t. Don’t.

(2) You can brief cases if you want. I don’t.

It’s a valuable skill, no doubt. You don’t have time if you want to sleep during the first six weeks when you’re learning to write and research. LexisNexis briefs each case using the precise language from the case itself. Westlaw’s briefs are in Westlaw’s paid lawyers words. In class, you’re gonna want the case words. Go over the Lexis headnotes which are the rule(s) you’re looking for.

In your class notes, copy/paste from Lexis or Westlaw the things you want briefed. Read the facts (in the beginning, profs love to quiz you on the facts you don’t even remember reading) and try to make short notes on each judge’s opinion. Can you sum up their opinion in a sentence of your own? Wikipedia.org is amazing at this. Well, not in your own words, but for summing up and noting major concurrences and dissents.

During class, I keep open my notes into which I’ve copied and pasted things from the case (using Lexis) and which contain hyperlinks to Lexis, Lexis opened (new tabs for each) to the cases we’re gonna talk about, an oyez.org summary, wiki, Facebook (this is because everyone is on FB or g-chat during class) and/or somebody’s brief on the Internet I may have found. When the prof starts in on some phrase in the case, I’m doing a CTRL-F in Lexis.

(3) You’re not going to class to be taught the Black Letter Law, per se. You’re going to class to torque Black Letter Law (BLL) and you can’t do that if you don’t know it first.

You want supplements. This really comes before briefing, if you ask me. Look at the syllabus. Are you discussing Pierson v. Post? Look it up on wiki. Why are you reading Pierson v. Post? It’s about possession? Go grab your Crunch Time Property or Emanuel’s or Gilbert. Read them. Now, go skim Lexis and your casebook. Now you might be ready to answer casebook questions or your prof in class. This is time-consuming. But I’d do a supplement and Lexis before I’d read the casebook.

You do have to know how to read a case and you do need it to become natural, but that process will be smoother, I think, if you know why and what you’re reading first.

(4) The supplements you want are kind of personal. You’ll look at some and think “overkill.” And they are. For some profs, the supplement may lead you down the wrong path. Sorry to say you’ll just kind of feel your way here. I like CrunchTime because the others are overkill for 1L. Maybe your library has them. (Speaking of, your library may have your casebook and you can just read it in the library instead of buying it.)

(5) Notetaking software: it does not matter.

I use a Mac. If you’re on a PC, a lot of people swear by Microsoft’s OneNote. Looks like severe overkill to me. Many people just use Word to take notes. There is no point in taking class notes or book notes in outline form. Your exam outline should be an outline of your class notes. That said, I would try to outline each section of the syllabus when you finish it in class. End of semester is a hard time to completely outline a course. But, I managed and I never quite outlined before the last two weeks. Look at outlines online and you’ll see what people do. (Just found this blog draft from last semester: Finals begin a week from Thursday. Con, Crim, Prop. I’ve got two mostly finished outlines and one that I swear looks like I just began it tonight.) (Ha.)

I use OpenOffice on my Mac and am very happy with it. I save everything in .doc and can easily share with classmates and can easily (easily!) make a PDF if I want.

(6) Back everything the freak up. Use Dropbox. Use Mozy. Use Google docs. Email your notes and outline to yourself. Back it up. I mean it. Don’t be this guy.

(7) Share. Your notes or outline will not propel someone into the grade stratosphere; you can afford to share. Unless the dude is never coming to class, I share. If he’s not, I just say I don’t share. It’s a pet peeve. I’m not doing all your work, but if you miss a class or two, or need to step out, ‘s’all good.

(8) The issue isn’t always black and white. Listen to other people – their arguments are going to come in handy on the exam when you need to see both sides.

(9) Don’t sweat the questions in class. None of us knew the answer and we were all just glad we didn’t get hit with the question. Unless you’re a gunner, we are so not laughing at you.

(10) For the love of Cthulhu, do something social with your class: beer darts, softball, whatever-it-is-you-do-in-groups besides drink (that’ll be a natural occurrence for most of us in law school).

Ran out of time on this, but a lot of stressing occurred over this year as I look back over it, so I throw out there what worked for me. I wanted to add some more positive things, but I’ve got to get this up. I meet the 1L’s I’m peer advising in 2.5 hours and can not understand the new mass transit system map. Unless it means we have no service to the law school. (I think that’s what it means. I hate them. I hope they die.)

Now Playing: When 2Ls Ruled the School.


1See Grant H. Morris, Preparing Law Students for Disappointing Exam Results: Lessons from Casey at the Bat, 45 San Diego L. Rev. 441, 442 (May-June 2008) (citing a 1986 American Bar Foundation Research Journal study which reported that seventeen to forty percent of the alumni and students studied suffered from depression and “reported other significantly elevated symptoms, including obsessive-compulsive, interpersonal sensitivity, anxiety, hostility, paranoid ideation, and psychoticism (social alienation and isolation).”) The students were normal when they began school.

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