7 Steps to Succeed in Law School

The first thing you must realize about law school is that, in order to succeed, you must focus on the end game. This means focusing on the exam and, more long term, focusing on how to get a good job after graduation. Any work performed that is not targeted towards these goals is a waste.

Step (1): Find out which classes give credit for class participation and which do not. Oddly enough, some professors will tell you on day one that your class participation will not affect your grade and then they complain when no one in the class participates. If the professor does not count class participation, there is no need to waste your weekends reading the assigned materials and being prepared for class each day. Even if the professor calls on you, it may be embarrassing not knowing the answer, but it really doesn’t matter because not knowing the answer will not affect your grade in any way. In those classes, your grade is solely based on the exam, so that is all you should concentrate on. Others will waste time at the end of the semester trying to catch up on reading and trying to be prepared for each day’s class. Instead, use that time more wisely to take practice tests and outline your notes so you can begin focusing on the end game immediately.

If your professor provides weight to classroom participation, make the effort to participate. In most large classes, the effort requires a simple raise of hand to ask a question or answer a question no more than once per day. No need to be a superstar here.

Just make sure that you participate often enough for the professor to know your name. In most large lectures, most people are too afraid to participate, so take advantage. Often times, it could lead to a bump or even major bump in your grade (B- can become B+, B+ can become and A-).

Since you spend so much time studying and preparing, you may as well use any break you can get. Also helpful is to attend the professor’s office hours a few times during the semester with a few questions about the course. Most students rarely show up for the hours and the professors have to be there, so take advantage of your ability to boost your grade with a little bit of effort. You are likely to add to your grade more significantly with class participation than cramming extra time studying or revising your outline a million times.

Step (2): Get a copy of the professor’s past exams. They are usually available in the library or, occasionally, the professor will provide them to you himself. See exactly what kinds of questions are asked on his exams. Are they essays, fill-ins, multiple choice, or none of the above? Knowing exactly what kinds of questions the professor will ask helps your study preparation. For example, if the exam is essay only, there is no need to memorize the minutia of every little case. You will only need to focus on the broad concepts and the seminal cases.

Step (3): Learn how to write essay answers using the IRAC method. Go to the school’s free writing center or hire a tutor. Practice writing exam questions using the professor’s old exams. Sometimes, you can even convince a professor to look at one of your sample answers in his office hours to gain an extra edge and hear exactly what the professor is looking for.

Step (4): Determine how you would like to study. Some students swear by learning in study groups; others favor learning by themselves. There is no one way better than another. Use whatever you did in high school and college and do not deviate now. If it worked then to get you into law school, it will work for you now. As an aside, if you use study groups and do not understand some issues, go to the professor during office hours and ask. Do not rely on guess answers provided by fellow students who are learning the material for the first time, as you are.

Step (5): Start preparing your outlines for each class 6 weeks before the final.
Make sure your final outline is no more than 35 pages in length. Law school exams generally test the main concepts, so any level of detail beyond 35 pages likely will not be useful for the exam and thus be a waste of your time.
Do NOT try to cram information a week before the exam. Many concepts build upon each other, so cramming (unlike in high school or college) is extremely difficult.

Step (6): Try to join Law Review/Journal and/or Moot Court. Do not join law campus activities/organizations like student senate, etc. Unlike in high school, employers do not care about extra curricular activities. All employers care about are GPA, law school rank, law review/journal, and moot court experience. You have a limited amount of time, do not waste time on activities that will not help you. Do not lose focus on the end game.

Step (7): Attend study sessions held by the professor’s assistant. Usually, the professor has an assistance who will hold a tutorial once a week on the class. The student usually has taken and excelled at the professor’s class. Use him as a resource to gain inside knowledge on the professor’s exam and grading scale.