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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.

My Two L strategies for climbing in the class are unorthodox. But they are powerful and easy to implement. They all surround the central principle of my book: if you want to do well, focusing exclusively on exam performance is what makes it happen. As we will see, I am going to put you through some paces here that are intended to give you a significant advantage in test taking versus your other class mates in the second year so that you can continue to place yourself on the right side of the curve. If you continue to be on the right side of the curve, you will climb.

Picking Classes — Ninja Style

The key difference between the One L and Two L year—besides the fact that the Two Ls have been pulled out of the cave—is that Two Ls are able to pick their classes. Most classes after the One L year are elective, and there is a wide range of classes you can take. The One L reading, outlining and test-taking strategies that I lay out in the first part of the book apply in the Two L year as well. But the fact that Two Ls pick their classes adds a few powerful tactics that Ninja Two Ls can take advantage of.

The first strategy is so simple that most people miss it. In 1994, I was sitting in the library at the University of Nebraska College of Law. It was two or three days into the exam season for first semester of the second year. I had finished the first year ranked sixth in my class. I was disappointed by this.  I know, I’m a jerk, I’m “that guy,” whatever: I wanted to move up.

After finishing my first exam, I was out in the hallway debriefing with a friend of mine, and up walks a “big middle” student. She says to us: “I’d like to stay, but I have an exam tomorrow.” “Wow. That is horrible,” I said. Exams are challenges mentally of course, but at the time my hand was still aching from the four hours worth of text I had just written. I had no idea how I could ever pull that off physically, let alone have enough wherewithal mentally to do two days of exams in a row.  Then she went on: “I know. It is terrible. And I have another exam the next day.”


She was a good egg, but she had no clue what was important in law school to maximize her chances for success. Maybe grades didn’t matter to her. Maybe she didn’t have the desire to climb. I don’t know. But one thing was clear at that point: she was not going to climb, no matter what kind of ability she had. I don’t care if she was the next Sandra Day O’Connor, nobody can do three law school exams in three days and hope to do their best on any of them. Truthfully, I don’t think anyone can do three tests in three days and avoid the hospital.

Like I said, my classmate was a decent person. There was nothing wrong with her. It just never occurred to her that something as insignificant the date of her exams was about to train wreck her grade point average and class rank. She had never stopped to think about a critically important point that was now glaring at her in the face.

I am not trying to say anything radical. It only makes sense that if the key input on your grade point average is how you perform on your end of semester exams, then one of the key questions to ask before signing up for the classes you are going to take should be obvious: what is the exam schedule?  I will talk about this ridiculous suggestion more in my next post.

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