First, there are 2 types of prep, General Prep and Substantive Prep.
General Prep consist of things like learning how to brief cases, learning the basics of issue spotting, learning the process of outlining (and how best to outline specifically in relation to law school exams), learning how to read opinions (or getting used to reading opinions), or any law school exam test taking prep/studying tips. The idea of general prep is working to build a really great foundation that you can further build on throughout the semester. It should help you structure your studying from the very beginning, as well as give you a good idea of what you should be focusing on during class and as you read cases. It should also give you tools and tips to make “thinking like a lawyer” and legal analysis come easier. Additionally my version of general prep will help me begin the basics of learning how to write like a lawyer.
Substantive prep is actually getting into the law and beginning to learn the basics of all the classes (or the hardest classes) 1Ls typically take (such as torts, property, or constitutional law). Some people do this by reading Explanations & Examples (E&Es) books or Hornbooks (which are somewhat like the law school version of “sparknotes”) on these different subjects. The idea of substantive prep is that you try to grasp some of the basic legal concepts before you officially start school, which could make class easier to understand and take away some of the learning curve to also contribute to structuring your studying and helping you understand cases and hypotheticals better.
My focus is going to be on general prep because I personally don’t think substantive prep is necessary or significantly helpful.
From what I’ve read substantive prep seems to be a hit or miss. Either it ends up being a waste of time, even worse you end up confusing yourself, or it helps a little bit in getting down the basics but you’ll still have to adjust your analysis and way of thinking to your professor. I have yet to read anything or talk to anyone who’s like “Substantive prep is gonna make or break you. I did substantive prep and I think it was what made the ultimate difference in my grades and ranking” because (even if there are exceptions to the rule) it usually doesn’t.
General prep however, seems to have that power.
Winning the “game of law school” is based almost entirely on final exams, therefore any and everything you do whether during prep or during the actual semester should be contributing to the end goal of doing well on the final exam and that’s why general prep is so important.
Law school doesn’t teach you how to be a lawyer it teaches you how to think and analyze like a lawyer. Then they test your abilities by proposing questions that (unlike undergrad), don’t allow you to regurgitate memorized answers, but instead ask you to apply memorized law to a specific set of facts (which usually can be applied multiple ways).Therefore, the sooner you grasp issue spotting, and the basics of legal reasoning and case analysis the sooner you’ll begin molding your mind into a legal thinking machine. (Or so I hope based on all this research)
Every thing I’ve read and every person I’ve talked to regardless of school or state say the same thing and that is, “no teacher in law school is going to teach you HOW to take a law school exam”, and that is the game catch. Everything relies on something they never blatantly teach you how to do, as they also incorporate a teaching method that distracts you from your ultimate goal (aka the oh-so-feared socratic method). The ability to grasp that and excel is what separates the top from the rest.
So based on all that, here are my goals
1. (Overall) Get my study habits back up (time management, reading dense material- ultimately get back in school mode)
2. Do a grammar/writing refresher and an introduction to legal writing
3. Learn the simplest and most productive ways for briefing cases
4. Learn how to read legal opinions/cases and start training myself to find the “black letter law” within them
5. Learn issue spotting (and possibly familiarize myself with the I.R.A.C. method)
5.a. and possibly practice my ability to issue spot with hypotheticals (also known as “hypos” in the forums I link to) [I’m not really doing substantive prep so I don’t know how practicing hypotheticals will go when I don’t know much law to begin with, but one of the books, “Getting to Maybe” (which I’ll talk more about later), teaches a lot about issue spotting and has some practice situations in the back of the book, so I’m pretty sure I will at least be able to work through those after getting through the whole book and then I can go from there and find more hypotheticals similar to those. Also, a lot of people have suggested practicing hypotheticals so I don’t think I need to know everything in order to practice but I’ll update as I go.]
6. Learn the general rules/tools/process of outlining for legal exams
7. (also overall) Get as familiar as possible with law school, law school exams, studying methods, what t expect and what will be expected of me
I feel like these are all pretty reachable goals as long as I put the time in and it will all (seemingly) start me off at a really good point.
I realized that this post is going to be way to long if I just keep going and make it into one so I’m breaking it up into 3 post, Goals, Materials, Plans. So the next post will talk about the books and give the links to helpful sites.