Thinking about law school? 3 keys to first year success at law school

Before your first year of law school, current and former students will give you loads of advice on how to succeed. Some good and some bad. As a recent law school grad I have had some time to reflect on my academic career and I’ve identified three things that helped me to succeed in law school. The only problem was that nobody advised me to follow these techniques early on. In fact, sometimes I received advice opposite of the three keys that I am about to list. So follow these three guidelines and you will be on your way to success.

1. Memorize

You will hear this sentence: “You do not need to memorize to be successful in law school; you just have to understand the material and then apply it.” The second part of that sentence is true, but the first is not. In order to understand and apply the material, you must memorize it. Memorization is the first step in every law school course. Each class will supply you with a set of rules that you will pull from the cases and outline. Pull the rules, outline them and memorize them early and often. Once the rules are memorized, the understanding and application part will come naturally. Nothing will save you if you encounter an issue on your exam and you do not know the rule. You want it to be there, and if it is, you will be successful.

2. Commercial outlines

You will hear this sentence: “You do not need commercial outlines to be successful in law school; what you should do is make your own outlines.” Again, the second part of the sentence is sound advice, but the first is not. It is true that you do not need commercial outlines, but they are a valuable tool to have in your law school arsenal. You will encounter concepts in class or in your book that you just can’t seem to grasp. Commercial outlines will provide you with succinct explanations of those ideas. Hours trying to figure out a concept can be cut down to minutes with the aid of a commercial outline. If you have a bad professor, a commercial outline may be your only lifeline to learning a concept. Use them early and often. Find them in law libraries or online.

3. Adapt your writing style to the class

In law school, not all writing is equal. You may be a prize-winning author coming into law school and those skills will benefit you greatly, but they may not get you an A. The key to success in writing for law professors is giving them what they want. Each professor will instruct you on how they expect the exam to be written. Heed those rules and then mold your writing to them. You may have the best-written essay in the class, but if you didn’t follow the professor’s guidelines they will notice. Be water and take the form of the professor’s wishes when writing your exams.