Start law school with exams in mind


Yes, you read that right. I recommend brand new 1L’s start law school in August thinking about exams taking place in December.

Stop the eye rolling. 2L’s & 3L’s are nodding their heads right now because they know I’m right. And, I have the data to prove it.

1L Orientation starts in two weeks and can be an overwhelming information overload. Most law school orientations teach basics like IRAC, reading and briefing cases, and outlining to prepare students for the first few weeks of law school.

Too many 1L’s mistake the advice on reading and briefing cases and outlining as the only steps necessary for getting “good” grades in law school and budget their time per day or week based on how many pages in a casebook they have to read and brief. Spoiler alert: over the course of a term, you will read 100’s of cases. For each subject.

Reading and briefing cases is the barest of bare minimums. Reading and briefing cases is a means goal, not the end goal. The end goal – getting an A on your law school exam – requires not just 100’s of individual cases, but how those cases fit together into complex rule structures, and how to apply those complex rule structures to brand new facts you have never seen in an organized, thoughtful manner, in the time allotted.

Now that you know your end goal – acing your Torts exam – how do you get to your end goal over the next 3-4 months?

Plan to read and brief your cases, and immediately quiz yourself on what the case means and what your prof wants you to get out of it. If you read two cases on the same topic, quiz yourself on what the cases have in common and how they differ. Test your understanding of the cases by asking if the outcome would be different if the facts were different.

Look for “Notes & Comments” after the cases you read in your casebooks. DO NOT SKIP THEM, they are law school gold. Work through the notes and questions after you read a case or a group of cases. Will it be easy? No, it will probably suck and you will hate it. But, it is medicine and it is good for you, so do it.

Recent research on law student study habits proves that law students who quiz and test themselves in addition to reading, briefing, and outlining are highly likely to have high law GPA’s, but students who spend all of their time reading and briefing to understand individual cases without practice applying the law are highly likely to have low law GPA’s.

Now, start planning to get that A.

Mapping the Law – Using Visual Mindmaps in Legal Education

Try to remember something, to pull something out of the recesses of your memory. For example, what you did with your significant other on your last anniversary or more specifically, what gift you gave your significant other at that anniversary. Having trouble pulling it up? (The brain is not a computer after all).

Now try to visualize where you were. Images help memory recall. Associating strong visual and mental images with verbal or abstract information makes that information easier to recall in the future.

Professor Jeffrey Ritter of Georgetown Law leverages the power of mental imaging in “Mapping the Law: Building and Using Visual Mindmaps in Legal Education.” The video is part of the Igniting Law Teaching conference hosted by LegalEd at American University, Washington College of Law. Igniting Law Teaching provided a forum for professors experimenting with cutting edge technologies and techniques in law teaching to spread ideas to the broader legal education community.

You can read more about images and memory devices in Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel.

ABA Task Force on Future of Legal Education calls for greater innovation

The ABA Task Force on Future of Legal Education released its Draft Report and Recommendations today calling for changes to financing of law-related education, greater innovation in legal education, and changes to ABA policies on distance learning, among others. The Task Force’s report comes on the heels of recent public calls for radical changes to legal education.

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Teach a student to learn and they will be able to learn for a lifetime

The “teaching” paradigm is shifting. “Learning” is the new “teaching.” Recent scholarship on teaching and learning focuses on developing learners, not producing learners.

Teach a person to fish, and they will eat for a lifetime. Teach a person to learn, and they will be able to do just about whatever they need to do in a lifetime.