Fila Sophia

applied philosophy, deep democracy, sustainability / by A.R.Teleb

Fourteen Tips for Law School & Life

In summarizing my law school tips to a younger collaborator, I thought they might be helpful for other people too. They are based only on my own experiences, and your mileage may vary.

1) Nutshell books at the start of each semester
This one I owe to an older friend at Harvard, and it’s the single best thing you can do to improve your learning. Before attending a single lecture of your course, skim or read a “Nutshell” or similar book on the subject. It does three things:
a) It gives you a big-picture perspective;
b) It provides the mental hooks to uptake the information you’re learning;
c) It gives you confidence in class (so you can relax and learn) knowing that you already know where the class is heading, its major themes and issues.

2) Bramble Bush & The Ages of American Law
Karl Llewellyn and Grant Gilmore’s books, respectively, are concise introductions to the nature of Anglo-American law and its status at mid-20th century.

3) A fun Socratic attitude
You’ll hear a million things about the so-called “Socratic method.” Forget all of it, and flip the script. Instead of going to class worrying about what you might be asked, go thinking about what you could ask the professor. Have a sense of “play,” respectfully. Remember, there are no entirely correct answers, but there are many interesting questions.

4) Two-three outside books for each class
The number two most important thing for learning in law school (or anywhere) going beyond the assigned text, especially to an approach to the material that resonates with you. I recommend at least two back-ups or references. You can check these out for free at the library. It would be a good idea to make at least one of those a non-case book “perspectives” book written by a respected law professor. If that person is slightly eccentric, all the better. In all the classes in which I received A’s, I read more from non-assigned materials than from what we were supposed to read.

5) Learn to speed read
Your time/money investment will be paid back many times over. Part of doing this is learning what’s important and what isn’t in what you read. This is a vital life skill well beyond any academic setting.

6) Build relationships with professors from day one
Begin with awareness that they are people too, and want to connect with and be liked by other people, even their students! It will make your law school experience more pleasant and might lead to networking or recommendation opportunities in the future.

7) Take your legal writing class seriously
It is a life skill. Little can make you feel more alive and energetic than expressing yourself clearly. This is just one form of doing so, but what you learn there is easily transferable.

8) Join one or two campus or community organizations
Especially if they are law-related, they will make law school more relevant to your life. Secondly, they are an opportunity to meet interesting people and network.

9) Join the American Constitution Society if and only if you join The Federalists
As a lawyer, or just a good citizen, you want to be able to see many sides of an issue. Moreover, being able to connect with people you might not normally agree with is another opportunity for growth. And if you care about social justice, join the National Lawyers’ Guild. They hold no punches when it comes to social critique.

10) Do law review or be a research assistant
Yes, it can be tedious and time consuming, but if you ever decide to be ambitious, it will not only brighten your resume but will let you refine the research skills you will use on the job. If law review is not an option, then work as a research assistant to a professor where writing and research are a significant part of the project.

11) Language awareness
You are learning a new language but that uses the same words as English. Be careful that words become “terms of art” in legal context, and even these will often have different nuances in different legal subfields.

12) Be Like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland
She’s the one that practiced “believing six false things before breakfast.” This means that when presented with simplified illustrations in class or on an exam, believe what the problem tells you to assume. The facts are usually given, and you are asked to apply the law.

13) Take daily (Non-entertainment) down time
Whether for prayer, meditation, going to the gym, walking, or jogging, some silent time alone lets your brain rest and reminds you of what’s important to you.

14) Practice typing
Most of your exams will be essay form, and most allow or require a computer. If you type more quickly, you will get more down and (other things being equal) earn a higher grade.

Readers with other tips or a different perspective, your comments are welcome.

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5 comments on “Fourteen Tips for Law School & Life

  1. Alexandra C.
    2014-01-27

    I really appreciate you taking the time to compile this list. Many people have offered me advice regarding law school…but very few of them have actually experienced law school itself. If you ever do a follow-up post to this one, I would be interested to hear your advice on time management. One of my biggest fears is becoming a zombie in law school. Instead, I want to maintain a rich, fulfilling personal life on top of my studies and would appreciate your thoughts on how to accomplish this.

    • Ahmed R Teleb
      2014-01-29

      Take my time management advice with a grain of salt because I had a tendency to take on too many projects during law school. That meant that sometimes my grades suffered, but my involvement earned me a leadership award for my graduating class.

      Note that I’ve updated the post with more tips and modified some of the others; #11 is a particularly important one in my view.

      • Alexandra C.
        2014-01-29

        Thank you for your input! Everyone approaches time management differently, so it’s helpful to get a different perspective.

  2. Pingback: Ten “tips” for law school | Lawyer in the Making

  3. Ahmed R Teleb
    2014-03-12

    Here’s a nice illustration by Lawrence Lessig of Constitutional interpretation–and of the Anglo-American legal method in general. He compares legal interpretation by judges (of previous cases, statutes, the Constitution) to playing Frogger.
    http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2010/12/17-constitutional-interpretation-lessig

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This entry was posted on 2014-01-21 by in Applied Philosophy, Law, Politics, Psychology and tagged , , .
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