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Another Dirty Little Secret: Briefing Cases is Overrated

John Boy Law Student spends one hour a night reading his cases for the next day, and three hours briefing them. He briefs every one start to finish in a beautiful Microsoft Word template he has made for every class. He closes the library every night, all semester long. “Good John,” his mother says. “What a serious boy,” says Dad. And every day John goes to class, full of enthusiasm. He thinks: “I’ll be ready if I get called on today, yes sir!” And sure enough, the one day in the semester he gets called on to explain a case, he is spot on. “How proud we all are of John.”

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Violence in Law School, a.k.a. the Socratic Method

Law school classes are typically built on the Socratic method. By now you probably know what that means: Everyday you go to class, and the professor calls out a name—presumably randomly—and that person is on the spot for the entire class. There is no way out. The professor then starts grilling that student about one concept—the key concept—in one lousy case that was in the assigned reading for the day. What proceeds is a brutal Q and A session on that case with the lucky student of the day, who, no matter how well prepared she is, will end up looking like a total moron.

At the end of this ritual sacrifice the bloody student stumbles out of the room with everyone else, who are grateful that today, at least, their number didn’t come up. That is the Socratic method in a nutshell.

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Two L: Outsmarting the Herd

There is a piece of conventional wisdom out there that says that a person’s class rank is pretty much fixed following the One L second semester exams. The thought is that generally the ranking after One L exams puts you in a spot in the class, and thereafter people tend to sort in the second year grades in essentially the same way that they sorted after the first year exams.  The thought continues for the third year as well and very little change in rank occurs. Once again, the conventional wisdom is to be ignored. In fact, because of its unique qualities, my view is that the Two L year provides the savvy law student with more opportunities to gain serious advantages over other students than the One L year. I climbed several places in my class in the Two L year, and I have very strong opinions on how you can too, taken from my experience and what my students have told me.

I firmly believe that you can jump a significant number of places in the class the second year. Perhaps that idea is an exception to the conventional rule, but of course, the whole point of my book is that to be successful, you need to be the exception to the rule. By definition, the people that live by the conventional rules end up in the middle of the curve.

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