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The First Big Step Away from the Pack

Remember what I keep saying? Exam performance is the only thing that matters. A key question, then, is how exactly are you going to separate your exam answer from the masses of answers that others will give to the same question?

Consider what is going to happen after exams are completed. The professor in the ordinary law school class is going to get about 150 answers to grade in a One L class, or 80 to grade in others. In the largest class, then, 30 exams are going to end up in the bottom 10-20%, ranging from bad to terrible. The remaining 120 exams are going to be the top 80% of the class. For our purposes, the only remaining distinction is whether you end up in the big middle—in this case, 84 of these—or in the top 30%, the highest 36 students in the class.

The important question, then, is simple: what will separate the best 36 exam answers from the rest of the big middle? As I have said elsewhere in the book, the primary separation will not be the substance of the exam answer. My experience is that the answers of the large range of serious law students will generally cover the same basic material, more or less. For the most part, everyone who ends up in the middle of the class and higher will have basically the same knowledge of the law going into exams. It will not be exactly the same quality of knowledge, to be sure, but the knowledge levels will be comparable enough that the distinctions between top grades and middling grades will come from elsewhere.

Step #1: Memorize the outline. I’ll say it again: Memorize your outline. Absolutely cold. You have plenty of time–exams are 5 weeks away, after all, and you aren’t reading cases anymore. Memorize all of your outlines.

You think this is going to be a big challenge, right? No. I’ve been through it; I memorized outlines for all my classes in all six semesters before I was done with law school, and then I did it again for ten areas of the law that were covered in the Bar exam. Memorizing your outlines is much easier than you think it is going to be.  In fact, if you have an ordinary 15 page outline, it will take you about eight hours to memorize it absolutely cold, probably less. You have to trust me here: in eight hours you will be able to write down the entire 15 page outline immediately from memory.

If you are getting wobbly at this point, or if you have decided this book is crazy and you are going to move on, okay. I am sorry to hear that. But before you go, just be sure to count the costs of doing something less than what I am recommending. “I can’t possibly do that.” “That is asking too much.”   

Really? Well friend, you can slouch just about now. And if you have worked through an outline yourself, and put it down on paper and stopped there, then you will have stopped just about where every other law student that ends up in the big middle of the curve stops as well.   And you may be comfortable with that. But then why did you buy this book? Do you not want to excel? Do you not want to be exceptional? Didn’t you buy this book so that you could learn how to approach law school shrewdly, sharpening your focus on what is going to set you apart?

Or, if I can be this crass, do you really want to make sure that you have a substantial disadvantage in the job market against the rest of the people who are going the extra step to excel? Do you want to live in the second tier of earning power in the legal world when you get out? Let me remind you, Glaucon: class rank and a lawyer’s early salary range are related by a factor of, say, 100%.

So: Memorize your outlines. Memorize them so well that you can write down any portion of them down without hesitation the first moment you are prompted to any particular topic in your class.

If the word “Negligence” pops up in your Facebook page, you ought to be able to immediately spit out the words: Duty. . . Breach. . . Causation. . . Damages. And then your mind will take you to the next level of outline, immediately: Duty: A person has the duty to prevent foreseeable harms for which the cost of prevention is less than the risk of harm . . . . Breach: the person acts or fails to act in such a way as to violate that duty. . .Causation: But for; proximate cause. And so on it goes.  Each of these bullet item words should lead you to a more complete explanation of each concept, and you have that memorized too. So, you can then run the gamut of the entire law of negligence in about 45 seconds in your head.

Why? Are you actually asking me why you need to know it this well? Because a law school exam is nothing more than a list of words that do the same thing as that Facebook page reference: an exam prompts you with words to reveal your knowledge about a topic. If you see a word, the recall of that law needs to appear immediately in your head. If it does, you will be prepared to respond to the question very effectively. The better you know it, the tighter your answers are going to be.

And what if the law doesn’t immediately appear in your head from memory because you slouched about now? You can answer that yourself.

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