PREMIUM LEGAL RESOURCES
ASK A LAWYER
Prepared by Charles Glasser, while a 2-L at NYU School of Law
Managing Editor of the NYU Law Commentator
(c)1994 The Commentator
May be distributed electronically without permission, but please
do not modify the text in this document.
The statements below are editorial in nature and do not represent
the views or policies of New York University's Faculty or
1. This FAQ
2. How Can I Hit the Ground Running?
3. How Can I Get Ready For Law School?
4. What Classes Should I Take?
5. Are Study Groups Good?
6. Mental Health
7. Hornbooks, Outlines...Whats The Deal?
8. How should I take notes?
9. Socrates Unplugged
10. Exams...Am I Doomed?
12. Not Losing your Mind
1. No one set of answers is going to apply to every school, nor
to every individual. Nonetheless, there are some commonalties among
all law students and law schools. This FAQ is just a general guide,
and to be sure there are things not covered here that ought to be.
When you do arrive at law school, try not to put too much faith
in third-hand cafeteria info. One-L's tend to filter out the real
information in this stuff and generally pass along only the most
If you can acquaint yourself with a 2 or 3L that can spend time
with you, you"ll be doing yourself a big favor. Also, try and meet
a 2 or 3L that has taken the same class with the same professor. He
or she might clue you into their style both in the class and on the
exam. More on this in "Exams."
Develop a good BS detector. Anecdotal evidence is usually
suspect, especially when it's been passed around for years at a law
2. How can I hit the ground running?
This is a question that appears often. Law students are generally a
more motivated type, and its understandable that one might want to
get a "head start."
Unfortunately, law students are usually as equally paranoid as
they are motivated--a dangerous combination.
Law Schools do not expect you to know either substantive law,
nor forms of legal analysis before you get there. Try to remember
that the fact that you got in means that they believe that you have
the requisite ability to learn both. Let it happen at the pace that
the school has designed for you.
As to the summer before one-l, you might read something fairly
erudite and law-related, like Holmes' "The Path of The Law," or
Llewellen"s "The Bramble Bush," but for the most part, you should
take this time to relax your mind, and get the other parts of your
life in order.
3. How can I get ready for Law School?
As mentioned in answer 2, there isnt much that you have to (or
should) do to be intellectually prepared.
However, there are a couple of things that you should do to make
your life easier during one-l. Take care of business that might
possibly distract you, or eat up large quantities of time.
Are you sitting on the fence in a relationship? This is the time
to fall off the fence, either one way or another. Do you have a
place to live? Are you planning on getting dental surgery? Take
care of these kinds of things *before* school starts. Likewise for
financial aid and scholarship stuff. Try to get any problems
squared away *before* school starts. In every class there is always
that one student that is freaked out in the middle of the semester
about money and tuition, when her mind should be on Conditions
Precedent To Contract.
Are you in a band, or have a part-time job, or involved in some
creative endeavor that requires a commitment of time? Be honest
with the other people in that group and back out *now*. Unless you
are going to night law school, you simply will not have the time to
do both, or at least, to do both well.
4. What classes should I take?
In most ABA schools, first-years dont have a choice. You are
assigned a "section" and the whole lot of you have the same
schedule for Contracts, CivPro, Torts, etc.
5. Are study groups a good idea?
This is a very subjective call. A lot of this depends on your
studying style, interpersonal skills, and the class method in
question. They tend to sink to the level of the "slowest" person in
the group. Out of kindness, study groups tend to slow down, making
sure that everyone understands the material. This might annoy you,
this might help you. The study group *should* have a defined method
before starting. Not that any one goal is better than the next, but
you all should decide whether you re going to quiz each other, or
compare notes, or work together on finished outlines. Some find
study groups to be most useful right before exams. (See "Exams",
John Sexton, Dean of NYU strongly suggests study groups to his
first-year students, but not just to study. Rather, it allows one-
L's to develop small support networks. There is a lot to be said
for this. (See "Exams," and "Not Losing Your Mind," infra.)
6. Other than required books, what else should I buy?
There is a huge industry designed to extract money from your wallet
based solely on paranoia. You'll see ads that read "I was failing
Contracts until I got Joe Schmoe's Instant Contract Whiz. Now I'm
at the top of my class!" There are even people that call themselves
"one-L tutors" that charge several hundred bucks to teach you to
take issue spotting exams. For the most part, this is pure crap.
If you don't have a great memory, and you are in a class that
relies upon a strange taxonomy like Property or Contracts, the
flash cards might be useful. (See "Exams," infra.)
7. Hornbooks, Outlines...What's The Deal?
Hornbooks (or treatises) are in-depth discussions of a specific
topic, usually written by professors (and their 2nd-year research
assistants). Often, they are companion pieces to casebooks. Others
have been around for 75 years and are constantly edited. Should you
Depends. First, they aren't cheap, usually running about 50
bucks each. And they are available in your library. Second, they
may confuse you more than help you. Rather than giving the law
student a broad picture of elements of say, Civil Procedure, they
are more inclined to go into fine detail about one narrow issue at
a time. That means that reading a hornbook for detail without the
requisite general knowledge might confuse you more than help. On
the other hand, for the more intellectually curious, hornbooks are
the best way to flesh out parts of a narrow argument or concept.
(See Recommendations, infra.)
Outlines, such as Gilberts and Emmanuels on the other hand, are
about as general as one can get. They serve as a kind of road map,
giving the student an overview of the topic that helps one get the
general idea before reading the assigned cases themselves. In
every class, there is always one person that sniffs at them,
ridiculing others for using them. By the end of the semester he or
she is using them. They are not definitive, they are not always
accurate, but they serve a purpose well. WARNING! These commercial
outlines are not substitutes for reading the material assigned in
class. Even if they cover the same material as the professor
assigned, they often arrive at different conclusions.
Canned Briefs, or "casenotes" are the bottom-feeders of the
legal publishing world. These pre-digested notes are tempting, as
they are published to "track" your casebook. But learning law
really doesnt mean memorizing a bunch of rules and cases. It means
learning to analyze and extract theory from a set of circumstances,
and these books negate the need for you to practice that skill.
8. How should I take notes?
Use a pen. *rim shot* Seriously, you got through undergrad, you
already know how to take notes. Many thoughtful students' best
notes are taken *the night before* class. Huh? That's right...
Don't just read the cases the night before, or fall prey to the
highlighter syndrome. As you are reading the cases, devote at least
one page to each case, and brief it in some variation of the
Name, Jurisdiction, Posture, Facts of the Case, Rule Applied,
Court's Reasoning. Also, if something about the case throws you, or
if you are confused about something, write it down. If it doesnt
get answered in class, you can at least ask the professor about it.
Now, the next day in class, as the case is discussed, you can go
through your list as it is being discussed, and check off what you
got right, or correct what you missed. No frantic writing or missed
words. And if you are "hit" (See "Socrates Unplugged", infra.) you
have it all in front of you.
9. Socrates Unplugged
The Paper Chase was a movie. This is the real world. The fact is,
that at most top schools, it is considered very bad form among
professors to torture students publicly. Some teachers hit students
randomly, others call on the same people, looking for someone to
parrot their take on things, yet others go in the order of the
seating chart in a democratic fashion.
The fact is, that answering a question incorrectly in front of a
hundred people is a rite of passage, and it has to happen to
everyone sooner or later.
The best thing to do is be good-natured about it. The professor
may tease you a little, and the class may laugh, but this laughter
is more often than not nervous rather than malicious. Most of them
are thinking "Thank god it's them and not me." So if you *do* say
something dumb, or stumble, or both, laugh right along with them.
10. Exams...Am I Doomed?
Sort of, but its not as bad as you think. Larry Kramer, formerly a
Professor at University of Michigan and now at NYU says that after
an exam, "your hand should hurt, your vision should be bleary and
you should be totally exhausted."
Law school exams are like *nothing* you had as an undergraduate.
In most cases, youll have something like three or four hours to
answer two or three fact patterns. A fact pattern is a heinously
long story, the point of which is to get the student to extract
each possible theory and define, apply and conclude it. Some
professors throw in a "policy" question to let you run with the
ball a bit, but it is usually a request for you to echo their
Many schools keep old exams and even model answers on file at
the library. Look at them about half-way through the semester, and
try to ascertain what wave-length that professor is on. Most
professors want the kitchen sink on their exams. Others want a
tight, clear exposition on the relevant facts and points of law.
Exams alone could fill pages of an FAQ. The general rule here is
to practice taking full length-exams well before exam week. This is
where study groups are helpful. Each person in the group should
take the practice exam alone, and then get together to compare
answers. You'll be surprised at how many issues you miss at first.
But with practice, you'll fall right into line.
This period is when you are at your most vulnerable. Avoid those
students that feel the need to play head games with others. You'll
hear students say things like "I studied last night for 11 hours,"
or "I took the practice exam and aced it, didnt you?" Avoid this
junk like the plague. What you need right now is friends, not
competitors. The toughest competition is with yourself, not others.
Try to avoid the law library before exams. The tension level is
incredible. You are much better off studying in the undergrad
library, or at a local cafe. Don't forget to treat yourself well
during exam week. See a movie, or a ball game, or have a nice
dinner. If you feel under the gun, you wont be relaxed, and are
more likely to freeze up.
Unless you totally freak out and write gibberish, youll pass. But
is passing enough? It depends where you go to school. It isnt fair,
but the facts of life are that if you are at a second-tier school,
you are best advised to do particularly well. At "top" schools,
even the bottom of the class get major jobs.
In the middle of the curve, you'll find that grades are
distributed on a pretty whimsical, arbitrary basis. The very best
get A's, the very worst get D's, and some undefinable nuance is the
difference between a B and a B plus.
Dont buy into the BS that these first semester grades are the
most important ones of your whole career. The people that propagate
this rubbish the most are those that sell courses and aids to
first-years. Most firms and judges would much rather see a slow,
steady upward trend in grades, than a brilliant start followed by
There are many of you who are in for a big shock. Most law
students are used to getting all A's in undergrad. In law, you will
be lucky if you get one A in a year. Yes, there are those that fall
right into place and pop out all A's. But for the first time in your
life, you are not the smartest person in the school. Some people
have trouble adjusting to this concept, but the sooner you get used
to it, the happier you'll be.
12. Not Losing your Mind...Possible?
Sure. Keep things in perspective. Remember than millions have done
this before you, that you're not breaking new ground here. Go with
Avoid head games. Some students are going to lay all kinds of
junk on you. "Inside information" and "my roommate's niece's
hairdresser's brother went here and he says..." and other assorted
Compete with yourself and no one else.
Remember that the system isn't really as adversarial as it
seems, and that most professors are willing to have you come to
their office and ask questions.
You might also have a Student Bar Association, or minority law-
students group or other organization available. Use these resources
for help and guidance, and don't forget to contribute time and
effort in return.
If your law school has a student newspaper, see if you can join
the staff. Usually, nobody knows more about whats going on at the
school than they do.
Have a life. Enjoy whatever cultural amenities your city has to
offer. Parks, museums, movies, whatever. Well-rounded people with
mediocre grades get more interesting jobs than straight-A cranks
that have nothing to contribute.
Make friends, and support one another. Share your notes and
outlines. Encourage those that are having a hard time, and ignore
those that think that professorial *ss-kissing and snide put-downs
are any kind of skill worth having. If you catch someone hiding a
book in the library, or tearing out a page, either report them, or
better yet, beat them to a pulp.
Good things *do* happen to good people. Jerks have to live with
In outlines, Emmanuels for Civil Procedure, Torts and Contracts are
pretty much on the beam, and Gilbert's Property outline is well
received. Also, Glannon's Civil Procedure, though more of a text
than an outline is a great aid to getting through the sticky
concepts of issue preclusion, jurisdiction, and third-party
In hornbooks, Calamari and Perillo's Contracts is excellent, as
is LaFave and Scott's in Criminal, Miller's in Civil Procedure, and
Prosser on Torts.
Law-in-a-Flash are a good tool for Contracts and Torts,
especially if you face closed-book exams in these subjects.
Use your Internet access for help. Most law students are given
free accounts through the server at the university that houses the
law school. The LAWSCH-L list is peopled with many who offer help,
notes and advice. The only caveat here is to make sure that you
are getting advice from a law student, and not some Cliff Claven-
type that never went to law school.
Brought to you by - The 'Lectric Law Library
The Net's Finest Legal Resource For Legal Pros & Laypeople Alike.