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What Matters in Law School (or, what Doesn’t)

One of the primary difficulties of being a One L is that for most of the semester the only graded items—exams—are far off, in the distance, at the end of the semester. As a result, there are usually about 16 weeks in a semester during which there is very little guidance on what is important to do with your time. Worse, there seem to be about two dozen things you can be doing with your time, and being the cave dweller that you are, you have no perspective from which to judge what are good things to do, and what aren’t.  A good place to start on the One L year is right here: what do I do all semester? What matters, and what doesn’t?

What Doesn’t Matter

There is a wide range of One L common practices that are trumpeted by the powers that be as the keys to law school success. The standard law school orientation panel will tell you the conventional wisdom about what to do as a One L law student.

Conventional Wisdom Rule #1: Read your cases everyday, and brief them. Briefing cases, we are told, is the most important study tool for the One L. You will always be prepared for class, and the briefs will be a critical studying tool when fi nal exams come around.

Conventional Wisdom Rule #2: Join a study group. Law school is about the volume of work. You can only do so much, and you need a group that can lean on each other to get it all covered. Plus, it’s fun! And we all need some fun now and then.

Conventional Wisdom Rule #3: Make sure you keep up with your outlines every day. Don’t let yourself get behind!

Look: what I am saying here is likely to get me in trouble. So come close and listen carefully as I whisper.  Briefing cases every day?  Doesn’t matter.  Being ready when you are called on in class? It doesn’t matter either. Being that guy that asks all the good questions in contracts class? Nope. Talking to the Professors after class? Doesn’t matter.  Being in a study group? Nada, nunca, nil. Outlining every day? Hear me: None of this matters.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  You need to read your cases. You need to pay attention in class. You will probably sink if you don’t read, and you will certainly sink if you don’t listen for the professor’s outline in class. And you are going to have to outline each class at some point. I am making a different point.

Most people approach law school day to day as though each of the tasks we do are ends in themselves.  For example, briefing cases before class is thought by some to be the most important thing anyone can do to be successful in law school.  Most One Ls I know measure the quality of their studying in the first year by how faithfully they brief each day’s cases.

If you are tempted to buy into this standard view, just try this: a week into classes, go find the smartest Two L you know and ask her if you can see one of her case briefs from the first week of her Two L classes as a sample. She will laugh out loud.

So too, others overvalue the importance of being ready for the Socratic method. So, right before class nervous One Ls can be seen going over their briefs for the third time, worried sick they are going to be called on. And what happens? They don’t get called on. Meanwhile, many are so nervous about getting called on that they are space cadets through the entire class, and miss virtually everything that has been said.


  1. Posted July 13, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    thanks for the advice :D love your blog!!

  2. Gary Young
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Thanks. Let me know what pays off.


  3. Tamara
    Posted June 26, 2013 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this fabulous blog! I laughed out loud at the Two L reference and am very grateful to have found some sound advice for my upcoming One L experience.

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