Some time in their first semester, law students wonder how to succeed in law school.
Actually, that’s not true. This is the question students want to know about when they attend their law school orientation. Nay, when they apply to law school. Nay, even before that, when they take their first pre-law class.
So since you’ve been thinking about this at various points in your college (or pre-college!) career, let’s talk about how to succeed in law school, month-by-month and year-by-year.
How to Succeed in Law School: 1L
In the first year of law school, I teach my Legal Writing students about the three most important parts of the critical Fall semester calendar: Survival, outlining, and practice exams.
With the right schedule (and a few helpful tools), you can ace your first year of law school.
At this stage in the game, “survival” means showing up to class every day and briefing cases (if you start falling behind, use Casebriefs or another pre-drafted set of briefs to get you through class that day).
If you want to get ahead of the game, use WINNIN’ TIME! and The Trigger List to get a preview of how to spot issues, what rules can realistically be written during a final exam, and how to present your answer and finish on time.
What if you could get the correct answer three years early and succeed in law school? Want the correct answer? It’s right there in WINNIN’ TIME! with the foundation lecture on how to succeed in law school and the bar exam by writing strong exam answers on time.
Do you have to work hard to survive in August/September? No. Set a schedule and stick to it. Use some next-level resources like WINNIN’ TIME! and The Trigger List to get ahead of the game and know the correct answer ahead of time.
Think of law school as a full-time job. From 8-4, 9-5, or even 8-6, you should be reading cases, briefing cases, going to class, and staying on top of assignments. And read WINNIN’ TIME! and The Trigger List to reinforce what the correct answer is when you get to exam time.
Why not target your studies every day towards preparing for the point-generating activity at the end of the semester? This ain’t a Ph.D. orals exam, folks. You gotta learn how to take a 60-minute essay in 60 minutes, while spotting all the issues and writing analytically.
Now what if you feel that you’re starting to get in over your head in the first month of law school? Fear not! The games haven’t even begun yet! WINNIN’ TIME! and The Trigger List are the appropriate resources to pull you back from confusion and from feeling overwhelmed. The correct answer is there. The tools you need to get back on that treadmill and keep moving on the journey? They’re all there. The best way to succeed in law school is to do a little bit every day and know what professors need on their final exams well ahead of time.
During this survival period, what about work/life balance? Well, nobody can promise you that in law school! There’s a lot of work to do. But do your job. Give yourself some incentives each day. Read those cases for Property class. Take an hour off and watch a sporting event you wanted to watch. Watch that cooking show. Then get that Contracts reading done. Same thing.
Again and again and again.
This is the time to start working on your outlining. There are two types of people here, folks, and be honest with yourself: are you a procrastinator or not?
Many professors will tell you to create your own outlines. It may help you learn the material better because you typed it. But if you’re a procrastinator, you know that you won’t do all that work on your own. What do you do?
Either way, you need to get a few examples of outlines to see what they look like. Don’t try to create one without seeing how others have done it!
Some outlines are 10 pages long. Others are 40 pages. Others are 100-200 pages! YIKES! Does that sound like a recipe for success?
So, get a couple of outlines that were written by 2Ls or 3Ls who took your professor, and use WINNIN’ TIME!’s bluebook-ready rules that were tailor-made for when you’re stressed the most…on exam day! Use WINNIN’ TIME! for your Cal Bar subject finals (i.e., Torts, Contracts, Property, etc.). Professorize WINNIN’ TIME! outlines by adding things that your professor likes to emphasize in class.
Use my formatting, and add those things your professor likes, and my 8-15 page outline turns into a 15-20 page outline. Perfect for memorization purposes: not too long, and you know half of the rules already because the rules are written in the same writing structure.
Procrastinators, you already know what to do! Succeed in law school by having WINNIN’ TIME! by your side every step of the way. Someone’s already done the work for you!
November: Practice Exams
The 2-3 weeks before the reading period begins (i.e., the time between the last day of classes and the beginning of finals) is when you need to excel…NOT during the reading period (for many, that’s too late!).
Do a practice question (that’s one question, not an entire exam) every single day. If you have multiple choice and essay components on your exams, then do a practice essay and do some multiple choice questions every day.
Every. Single. Day.
“But what if I haven’t memorized the material yet? How can I take practice exams if I haven’t memorized anything yet?”
Well, friends, let’s think about that for a second. When will you have memorized the material? November 1? Nope, there’s still 3 weeks of class left. Last day of class? Nope, you still need to finish outlining from the last days of class. Day before the exam? Nope, that’s when I’m going to memorize!
What’s the solution? Forcing yourself to take practice exams BEFORE you finish the last day of classes. Schedule your day around the practice exam. Wake up, schedule your practice exam for the day. Schedule your outlining. Schedule your classes. Schedule when you brief cases. Then schedule when you eat. Etc.
How can you take practice exams if you don’t know the law yet? Use the appropriate resources, of course.
WINNIN’ TIME! is open when you take the exam. Take 10 extra minutes for each practice exam (i.e., 70 minutes for a 60-minute question, 100 minutes for a 90-minute question, etc.). And when you finish taking the question, look at the sample answer (if you’re practicing on Cal Bar questions) and see what issues you missed. How do you solve the problem of your missed issues? The Trigger List of course!
BONUS ROUND: Just Before Finals!
It’s down to the wire now. What if your grand outlining plans fall apart? What if you don’t take any practice exams? What if your plan goes to hell due to family taking over your Thanksgiving period, or a big life event unexpectedly takes place?
I have a secret for you. I didn’t write WINNIN’ TIME! and The Trigger List for easy days, but for crisis ones!
If you only have one long day to focus before your final exam, these books can save your semester. Remember, perfection is the enemy of excellence. Be diligent. Do your job. Use next level resources designed to help you succeed when it matters most. Work smarter not harder.
That’s how to succeed in law school during 1L Fall semester.
Spring/Summer Semesters & 2L
Once you survive the first semester, take stock of what you did during finals. What worked? What didn’t? Adapt and make sure you follow the best plan you can.
Spring Break? Work on your outlines. Or get WINNIN’ TIME! and The Trigger List and have next level resources to help you with the Holy Trinity of Law School Exam success: issue spotting, outlining your essay answer with bluebook-ready rules, and presentation.
Professorize your existing WINNIN’ TIME! outline with things your professor likes to emphasize. Go to office hours and ask questions. Prepare one-page white papers with bullet points for potential policy questions. And no matter what, on April 1, start taking practice exams instead of waiting until the day or two before the exam!
For future semesters, focus on WINNIN’ TIME!’s Essay Writing Lecture to help you get in and out of issues faster and finish your exams on time. If you’re taking Evidence, stop EVERYTHING and get WINNIN’ TIME! so you can crush your Evidence final with the undefeated, exceptional Evidence Boilerplate. First one to 20 issues wins, my friends! Or if you’re taking PR, get WINNIN’ TIME! and practice that PR Boilerplate once a week to nail down those CA distinctions, organize by conduct and succeed on exam day!
You don’t have to be smart to succeed in law school. But you need to be organized. Sometimes Socrates scores higher on exams than plumbers. But not frequently. Why?
Plumbers know what the professor is looking for. They show up every day and take all the practice exams they can find. Socrates crushes the Ph.D orals defense, but doesn’t do practice exams and writes fascinating essays about a few issues of their choosing.
Socrates doesn’t finish the essay on time—they were too busy writing really interesting stuff but not worried about introductory or tertiary issues. The plumber? Crushes the exam because they know how to take a 60 minute exam in 60 minutes and how to use The Trigger List to ensure that words and phrases are spotted, issues implicated, outlined, and written up on time.
Socrates may know 80% of the material, but if they don’t take practice exams or knows what the professor is looking for, they’re going to get crushed by the plumber who knows 20% of the law, but grinds every practice exam, knows how issues are implicated, and how to analyze the way the professor wants.
The student who succeeds in law school is the GRINDER, the one who reads WINNIN’ TIME! to learn how to take an essay and uses The Trigger List to spot all of the issues. Because if you can’t spot an issue, it doesn’t matter what you know or how well you IRAC. You’re screwed.
How to Succeed in Law School: 3L
This is crunch time, folks. It doesn’t get more serious than this.
I recommend 3L students use the same materials they will use to prepare for the Bar, as this gives you an early preview of what’s to come. Having WINNIN’ TIME! and The Trigger List means you don’t have to draft outlines from scratch.
Briefing cases is unrealistic, and so is outlining. So get your bluebook-ready outlines with WINNIN’ TIME! in October, take some practice exams in November, blow off prep during Thanksgiving, use those two beautiful books the day or two before the exam to save your semester, and excel on exam day.
For the Cal Bar, how many Bar courses should you take in law school? I recommend all except for Community Property and Remedies. If you need either or both of those courses to graduate because you need the units, that’s fine. But if the only reason you’re taking those courses is to get ready for the Bar exam, you don’t need to do so. You can pick up those courses during the summer.
Now you know how to succeed in law school. Think of it as a day job. Get your work done, and then reward yourself by doing something you like. Be organized. Survive. Outline. Take practice exams early and often. Use WINNIN’ TIME! and The Trigger List to help you thrive throughout the exam process.
And if your plans don’t quite go according to Hoyle and you’re in over your head? Fear not! WINNIN’ TIME! and The Trigger List are here to help you at any time during the semester. Especially if you have only one day to focus.
Remember: perfection is the enemy of excellence. Use the proper tools, work smarter not harder, and succeed in law school!