Advice for new law students, part II: additional thoughts

As promised in part I, here’s some additional thoughts for new law students:

Read carefully. It’s not enough to read the assigned materials passively. Don’t skim. It’s not enough just to get the “gist” of the materials — you need to come to class prepared to discuss the materials and to apply the principles contained in the materials to different fact patterns. So read slowly. Sometimes the placement of even a comma makes a huge difference in the meaning of a phrase or a statute.

Read critically. Though it’s vital to understand a court’s rationale, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think critically about what you read. Are there flaws in the court’s reasoning? Has the decision glossed over difficult or unresolved steps of its analysis? If the nine Justices of the United States Supreme Court can disagree, you too can question what you read. Remember, not all decisions are binding precedent — for example, a decision on state contract law decided in Ohio is not binding to a Pennsylvania court deciding Pennsylvania contract law, and vice-versa. If you were trying to persuade a Pennsylvania judge not to follow an Ohio court opinion, what would you argue?

Re-read. Read and re-read the materials. You’ll appreciate and understand legal materials better upon re-reading (or re-re-reading, etc.) them.

Look things up. Don’t know the meaning of a latin term contained in a case? Look it up in a legal dictionary like Black’s Law Dictionary.

Don’t book brief. Don’t do your briefs in the margins of your casebook. Type or write them up separately. Taking the time to write things out makes you think about what you’re trying to articulate and helps you to understand it better.

Don’t be a court reporter. You’re a law student, not a transcriptionist. If you use a laptop (and some professors will not permit them), don’t transcribe everything that’s being said. Be an active listener — listen carefully to classroom discussion and think about what’s being said.

Don’t sweat what the other person is doing. Everybody learns differently. Color-coded tabs or highlighters might be great for one person and a waste of time to the next.

Study groups. Some people work effectively in study groups, some don’t. Know thyself.

Keep your life. Take time to exercise, to get sleep, to have fun, or to simply do nothing.

Build bridges. The relationships you build in law school may last your entire professional and personal life. Your professional career doesn’t start upon graduation, it starts the first day of orientation.


Advice part I (life and stress) here.
Advice part II (studying and attitudes) here.
Advice part III (back up your data) here.
Advice part IV (essay exams) here.
Advice part V (conclusory argumentation) here.
Advice part VI (incomplete argumentation) here.

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