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Here’s Why We Didn’t Apply to Med School

Before I went to law school, I did a short stint at the University of Chicago, in a graduate program. How much did we read?  A book a week, per class. That’s three books—about 1200 pages—a week. I repeat: 1200 pages a week.

Pause and take that in: there are whole graduate schools full of students as smart as you are who will end up—most of ‘em —teaching half-wits in some community college in backwoods USA making about a third of what you are going to make if you survive the One L year. These headstuffers are reading 1200 pages a week, trying to remember pages and pages of complicated postmodern theory of this or that, evaluate paradigm shifts, consume piles of data in studies and surveys, and blah blah blah. I know from experience: If you want to be ground like a piece of sausage, grad school is the real deal.

And what do you have to get mastery over? 40 lousy pages a day. 200 pages a week, maybe. And really, when you read about 40 cases a week, that actually ends up in 25 or 30 sentences of real stuff you really have to know for exams. Do you hear that? 25 or 30 sentences a week. That is what it boils down to.

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The Law School Workload

One thing about law school: If you have never had to digest large amounts of material before, you are going to have something to get used to. If you don’t keep up you will fall behind, and about five weeks before exams—when you should be doing your outlining—you will be in serious trouble.

Now that is the bad news. The good news is that, in fact, there isn’t that much reading to do. It seems like a lot to the ordinary One L, but that is only because the ordinary One L is soft. The ordinary One L skated through high school because, well, high school is easy to skate through if you are smart enough to eventually get into law school. College? Sheesh. There are very few truly demanding college programs anymore, unless you are in the hard sciences or engineering. But if you were in one of those programs, you probably aren’t reading this blog.

Most of us came to law school from the law school ticket degrees: Poli Sci, English, Sociology, Criminal Justice, or History. Frankly, unless you went to a handful of super-rigorous schools, you never really learned to read and digest anywhere near the amount of information you are going to take in during the One L year. But here’s another dirty little secret: it isn’t that much.

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These Days, Everyone Graduates; That’s the Bad News

Talk to anyone who went to law school in the 1950s and they will tell you that one half to two-thirds of their class failed to survive the One L year. “Look to your left, and look to your right,” the old law school deans used to say in deep voices, like reapers. “By the time this class graduates, only one of you will remain.” In that model, 150 One Ls meant only 50 Two Ls and Three Ls.

That may make for great stories for Senior Partners in old school silk stocking law firms, but consider how silly that was for law schools as a business model: as long as they held up high grading standards, they flunked out about one-half their annual revenues. Not exactly a good business plan. But once they got wise to this, law schools stopped flunking people out. These days only a tiny percentage of the students in a 150 person One L class is gone at the end of the third year.

The good news from all of this is that you are likely to survive the One L year. Congratulations. The bad news is that so are virtually all of your classmates who are going to be competing with you for jobs when you get out.

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The Conventional Law School Wisdom is Wrong

As I mentioned in my last blog post, most people that finished well behind me in my law school class worked a good deal harder than I did. My experience as a law student and as a teacher has led me to the opinion is that the reason most people end up in the middle is not primarily related to the amount of work that a person is willing to do. I think it is something else.

If you go to a law school orientation meeting at your school on how to be successful in law school, what are you told? The conventional wisdom about law school. This includes advice about reading your cases, briefing, outlining, and so on. And everyone that is in those workshops nods their heads and tries to implement that advice.

But consider this: if everyone is implementing the same conventions to succeed in law school, where is everyone going to end up? Where the conventions say they will: in the middle, along with everyone else.

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