Daniel Bogart, Professor at Chapman University School of Law, shares two important pieces of advice about how 1L students should approach their first year of law school.
I’m often asked about how best to approach the first year of law school. Students will ask me that, and I give a somewhat bipolar answer to this.
When you get to law school, you’re going to have to study differently than you studied before, many of you. Some of you who come from an engineering background, this is going to sound familiar, but those of you who come from a traditional undergraduate background, this is going to be a little different.
This is a collaborative, yet argumentative environment. The endgame is going to be an exam where you’re not working with anyone else. Unless you’re cheating, you’re on your own.
You’re a creature of habit. When you get to an exam and there’s a question on nuisance law, for example, you’re going to answer that question as you always do. You’re going to see the same points, as it were, the same issues.
But if, during the course of a semester, you’ve been working with one or two very bright people who you deliberately chose, who see the world differently than you do… You’re always arguing with them. They seem to see something else. It makes you mad! But when you get to the exam, you’re going to hear that voice, or those voices, just in the back of your head, saying, “Yes, but there’s another way.”
You answer it your way, and you have a few minutes left. Then you see, “Oh, I’ve got some time. My friend Elaine always answers it this other way,” and that’s what distinguishes your paper, a B from an A.
That’s the first half. Now here’s the second. Very often, students will do something which I think is terribly destructive. They will divide up areas of the law among themselves, in something of an outlining session. One person will contribute the landlord/tenant section of a property course. Someone else will contribute the easement section. That person did an outline, and this person did…
Oh, my God! The only person who can put information in your head is you. At some point, you have to go back to your room, your carrel, your apartment. You have to study it on your own. The collaborative element comes after you’ve read the material so well, and you’ve listened in class, and you have questions that are remaining, and your friends answer those questions with you.
That’s when you hear the voice in your head on the final exam, but you’re going to have to do the hard work of organizing and then synthesizing the material, because quite honestly casebooks don’t do a good job of that. That’s why an individual outlines. I would always throw away the outline I prepared for a course.
People say, “Do you have your outlines?” I say, “No, I threw my property outline away.” That was my highest grade. I threw that away in the trash can on the way into the exam. Its only job was to help me synthesize and organize material. When that was over, I was done with it. What I kept were the memories of the arguments I had with my friends.