At the beginning of one spring semester, during the time I taught at the University of Montana School of Law, 38 first-year students in my legal writing classes responded to the following question.
What should professors have told you about law school in the first month of law school that would have helped?
The term "dead week" in their comments refers to the reading week most law schools provide. It is a week, or some cases just a few days, during which no classes are scheduled. It occurs just before finals begin and its purpose is for students to prepare for finals.
WRITING FOR EXAMS (8)
The professors could have helped by spending time on how to create the correct format for the essay exams. That was the only thing that I really struggled with. I needed much better guidance on how to write the exam.
More about the specific writing structure they wanted on the exam and actually grade practice exams!
I wish the professors would have given us sample questions and answers so I would have had a better understanding of what they are looking for.
The professors could have started discussing essay writing techniques that they were partial to.
My professors, in general, were quite fair and adequately prepared me (I'm the one taking full responsibility for not going the extra mile)-I think exams like criminal law and torts could have been prepared for more extensively. Those classes gave no preparation on essay writing tailored to that discipline.
Address the pertinent issues first, worry about your writing later. Also, not to worry too much about exams.
I wish I had known how important finding old outlines, tests, matrixes were to doing well on the tests. Writing for a particular professor's style/likes/dislikes/forms is so important in the end.
They could have told me to begin outlining sooner and to relax and let the process happen-not try to force it to happen.
I would have benefited from my professors periodically drawing up a course outline, and relating things that we are learning to other topics that we are learning to help tie it all together.
My professors told me to begin outlining early and keep up with my outlines but I didn't listen. This is imperative for success because it allows for more time to study and practice before the exams.
Reiterate that the traditional outline format may not be appropriate for certain classes.
I thought the most helpful thing was getting a 2 nd or 3 rd year's outlines and taking notes on them as we went along. Then, at the end of the semester I had a new outline that was my own while also being able to follow along in class. Also, don't look around at other people to see what they are reading or what they are studying. Your own system will work for you and it will only cause unnecessary stress to gauge what you are doing by what others are doing.
I think it would have been helpful if the professors had helped with explaining outlining and how to approach studying more than they did.
Get a season ski pass and start your outline, i.e. read your notes and study the class material, prior to dead week.
FINAL EXAMS PREP & PRACTICE EXAMS (8)
I wish my professors had told me how much rested on performance on final exams, and how important it to prepare for how to take a final. I had no idea how to prepare good outlines, study effectively or apply my knowledge on an exam correctly. As a result, I failed miserably.
If professors would have told me to make time to periodically review sections of material, rather than wait until "dead week" to do so. I feel my exam grades would have been improved.
I think the professors could have stressed analyzing and distinguishing a bit more. For the finals, analysis of the rules as they apply to specific facts is probably more important than just knowing the rule. I think most people figured it out, though.
Actually do some practice tests. They are very helpful.
It would have been good to know where the old exams were right off the bat. They told us, but by then we were so overwhelmed I don't think it sank in.
I think it would have been helpful if the professors had emphasized the importance of taking some kind of practice test rather than just studying for finals.
I think that in most of my classes I could have used more preparation for the final. I wish professors had encouraged more practice exams.
They should have told me that some of my fellow students won't be very nice. Also, I would like to have been told that my absolute best won't always result with an "A".
I don't know what the professors could have told us. Maybe that the class is composed of some great people and some "different" ones as well!
I'm glad they told us to make a concerted effort to keep up our outside/external activities-it was a good way to keep sane.
To worry less about everything and not give our selves stress headaches because of our perceptions about how things were going.
That grades are not everything and that you can still be a great attorney without studying constantly.
My professors should have told me that, well, I guess I just didn't understand the intent in reading cases.
You don't have to study the same way everyone else does.
The professors could have taught us to use the parachute before jumping out of the plane rather than us just jumping out and learning how to operate the parachute just enough to be able to survive the landing.
Professors should explicitly explain at the outset that law school is not designed to be an academic experience. It is a trade school. Presenting it as such would have helped me adjust more quickly.
Breath instead of depth emphasis-need to know the material well enough to know when to apply it, no more, no less.
Other related articles on this website include
Advice-The Explanation and
Advice-Question 1. Below are two additional articles that discuss the law school experience and making the adjustment to it.
Good luck in law school!