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Five things I wish I knew before law school

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Law Students

After you have completed the LSAT and received your first law school acceptance letter, you will likely celebrate passing the first major milestones on your path to becoming an attorney. You might wonder what to expect during law school. Watching movies like “The Paper Chase” or the “Legally Blonde” series will not give you good information and may frighten you. There are some simple steps you can take to be better prepared for law school from the first day, possibly helping you to do better while also enjoying the experience.

1. The grades in most law school classes are based on one final exam

In college, most of your classes probably had grades based on at least three exams along with other, smaller tasks. This meant that if you did not score as well as you would have liked on one test, you could still make up for it through homework assignments or subsequent exams. You will not have that luxury in law school, however. A majority of law school classes base your grade on how well you do on a single final exam. This can greatly increase the stress levels of all of the students. Understanding the expectations and studying early and often can help you to tackle your finals feeling thoroughly prepared.

2. Outlining early can help you to stay ahead of the game

A large part of law school is learning to love outlining. You will find that outlining your notes and the reading from your textbooks is vitally important for your ability to pass your classes. You should begin the outlining process early on. It is a good idea to outline your class notes on a weekly basis so that you have an ongoing outline that builds along with the course material as it is presented to you.

It is also possible to search for outlines of the textbooks you will have for purchase online or from students at your school who have already completed the courses. Just remember that there is no guarantee that another person’s outline is a good one, and the process of outlining itself helps many students to learn the material as they are writing their outlines.

It is also smart to save your outlines from your first year of law school. The classes that you will take in your 1L year mirror the topics that will appear on your bar examination. Saving the outlines can help you to be better prepared when you sit for the bar.

3. Learn to love the IRAC method

You will be expected to internalize a method of analyzing facts from a legal perspective to the point that doing so will become second nature. This method is called the IRAC method, which stands for issue, rule, analysis and conclusion. Doing this involves first identifying the legal issue presented in a set of facts. Then, you will need to identify the correct rule that applies. Once you have identified the issue and the rule, the analysis should be straightforward. You finally wrap up your answer by writing your conclusion, which should be a restatement that flows naturally out of your analytical process.

Some students make the mistake of overfocusing on every single word in a set of facts rather than taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. You will find that looking at the entire forest will help you to spot the issues and the applicable rules much faster than spending too much time on the individual trees that make up the forest. After you have used the IRAC method for a while, it will become second nature to you. If you want to be ready to use it beginning the first day, you could always ask for practice sessions with any lawyer friends that you have before starting law school.

4. Head to the library for supplements

There are supplements available for your law school courses. Many students find the supplements to be very helpful, and some students feel that they need them for every course they take. You will likely hear about the Legal Lines Case Briefs series of books from your classmates. While these supplements are good, they are also very expensive. Running out and purchasing them for all of your classes could quickly add up. Instead, head to your school’s library to find the supplements titled Examples and ExplanationsNutshells and others for the information you need but without the hit to your wallet.

5. Don’t forget to live your life beyond law school

When you are in law school, you will quickly find that there never seems to be enough time to get all of your work done. Law school is rigorous and demands significant amounts of your time. If you spend all of your time studying, outlining, writing and researching, you are much likelier to burn out and to give up. Instead, learn to put your books down, and go out and have fun. You might try making a schedule for studying, reading and having fun so that you don’t let life pass you by while you are in law school.

Law school can be both exciting and difficult. If you take the time to prepare yourself, you might have an easier time once you actually begin your classes. While it may seem stressful while you are actually in the throes of your legal education, you will be surprised at how fondly you will look back on your law school days once you have moved on with your legal career.

Steven Sweat Steven Sweat is the principal founding partner of Steven M. Sweat, APC, a nationally recognized personal injury law firm based in Los Angeles, CA. He has been the recipient of many awards including being named a "Super Lawyer" by Thomson Reuters News Service and one the "Top 100" trial attorneys by the National Trial Lawyers Association. He is the author of numerous blogs about law and legal issues.