Looking to rock your law school exams without even trying? Good luck with that. Unless you are a part of the small minority that can take an exam with little preparation and a couple shots of tequila, you will have to do some work to do well throughout your law school career. While reading all your assignments, briefing all relevant cases, and kissing up to all your law professors may help your grades a little, there is still no guarantee that all that extra work will earn you the top grades you are gunning for.
There is a strategy to doing well in law school. Most importantly, know that there is no one strategy that works for everybody. You know how you like to study, and you know what works best for you. That being said, the recruiting professionals at Lateral Link have compiled a list of tips below that worked for them and the attorneys they have placed at top firms around the world….
Keep your friends close, keep your gunners closer. While they may annoy you and make class that much more boring, gunners can be a useful resource throughout your law school career (especially upperclassmen gunners). Make friends with the overachieving law reviewers, and ask for their advice on classes and exams. A lot of perceived gunners are actually real people with human emotions. Several of these individuals are more than happy to help out a fellow classmate, especially if you are not in the same class as them. They might even send you copies of their notes and outlines that worked for them, and give you tips about the exam if they already took the class. True, there will be gunners who will require a résumé, LSAT score, and application fee before they give you the time of day, but you really don’t want to concern yourself with those individuals anyway. Play nice and be respectful. You never know when you will need a favor, whether in law school or in legal practice.
Keep on top of class notes. Ideally, after every class, head to the library or your place of solitude and review your class notes. Take the time to highlight or bold any major points your professor made in class. If a legal concept, statute, or case still confuses you, review it again. Check out nutshells, practice guides, or other secondary sources that might help you understand the problem areas. Most law professors will not take the time to cover blackletter law issues. They will presume you are already familiar with the basic concepts, and will probably focus on the theoretical aspects of the law. But be careful: if the secondary source is irrelevant or contrary to your professor’s notes, go with your professor. At the end of the day, he or she will be grading your exam, and that is the opinion that truly matters.
Outline and short-sheet often. In addition to reviewing your reading assignments and class notes constantly, make a point to create short sheets, outlines, tables, or whatever study tactic that will help you consolidate your notes. The best time to consolidate your notes is at the end of a chapter or legal concept as it is covered in class. You will appreciate being on top of this at the end of the semester, while you are studying for your final exams. The topic will be fresh in your mind, and you will be able to gain a firm understanding of the major points of your class well before crunch time. This will enable you to focus on exceptions or minor points that will differentiate an “A” exam from a “B” exam.
Take several practice exams. One of the worst things for a 1L to do is go into a law school exam blindly. You will waste precious time organizing your thoughts and trying to configure what you learned in class into the format your professor is looking for. Maybe your contracts professor likes multiple choice questions on blackletter law, maybe she likes issues-spotting essay exams, or maybe he will make you draft your own ironclad contract after presenting you with a hypothetical. You will be graded on a curve. Don’t allow your classmates a leg up on you by not practicing exam taking when they already did so. Most law professors have old exams available for students to review and practice with. If not, try and determine what kind of exam the professor will be giving: multiple-choice, essay, true-false, take home, etc. When you know the type of exam, go to the law school bookstore or go online and purchase practice exams based on the format of the exam. If you are nice and can make friends, ask upperclassmen for their advice on exams. They can let you know what resources worked for them, and might even give you copies of practice exams they used. Plus, they might even warn you about a curveball question or issue that will give you extra time to prepare for it.