Strategies for Success in Law School

LSAC LawHub Webinar Series - Strategies for Success in Law School

April 20, 2022

How is law school different from undergraduate course work? And what strategies can I use to succeed in law school? In this webinar, aimed at individuals planning to start law school by August 2022, attendees learned more about the law school experience and gained insights on how to plan a successful strategy to succeed academically in that important first year so they can unlock opportunities for the rest of law school and beyond.

Full Transcript

COLLIN TAKITA: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the LawHub® Webinar Series. My name is Collin Takita, and I’m the director of prelaw learning here at LSAC. If you have joined us today, that means you are interested in going to law school. Now it’s possible you’ve started your application. Maybe it’s possible you’re even accepted and planning to start this fall. Now, whether you plan to start in a few months or a few years, a question that could be on your mind is, “How do I succeed in law school?”

Now, success has many forms, and one form of success, which we will focus on here today, is academic success. On the path to academic success, you develop some skills that are important and will help you to be a better lawyer and professional, as well as to pass the Bar. There are other benefits too. In fact, certain jobs really care about your grades. For example, the highest-paying jobs at large law firms or federal judicial clerkships, for example. Now, there’s a lot to unpack here. So we’re going to get started.

Leading the great conversation today will be Ashley Heidemann, owner of JD Advising. She has an exceptional presentation prepared today, and I am sure you will all find it incredibly helpful. But before I hand things over to Ashley, I wanted to let everyone know that she will be answering questions as part of the Q&A period during the second half of this program. If you have questions, we encourage you to submit them via the Q&A throughout the presentation. We will do our best to respond to as many questions as possible. Now, with that, Ashley, take it away.


ASHLEY HEIDEMANN: Thank you so much, Collin, and thank you to LSAC, I’m really excited to be here today and talk about how to succeed in law school. So, today I’m going to go through a presentation on how to succeed in law school, and specifically I’m going to discuss the strategies that I used to graduate as the No. 1 student in my class, and that so many of our students have used to excel in law school.

So, what we’re going to do today is talk about four things. First, we’re going to talk about who we are and who JD Advising is for just about 15 seconds. Next I’m going to tell you why academic success is important. We’re going to spend the bulk of our time talking about what law school is like; if you’re anything like me, you don’t have a lot of lawyers in your family, and so you might not know exactly what law school is like. I’m going to tell you the classes that you’ll take in law school and exactly how law school is different than undergrad.

And then lastly, we’ll talk about how to succeed in law school. So I’m going to go through an in-depth strategy on what you can do throughout the semester to not only succeed, but excel in law school, and we’ll spend the bulk of our time discussing that.

So first, I want to start with a very quick poll before we get into the very first step of our presentation. So, to succeed in law school, which of the following statements do you agree with? I need to be extremely smart, I need to work extremely long hours, I need an effective study strategy, or I need all of the above?

OK, perfect. So, a lot of people think that to succeed in law school, you need to be extremely smart. This is actually a myth. When I went to law school, I was definitely not the smartest person in my class. There were a lot of times when I felt like I didn’t know exactly what the professor was talking about, and other students seemed to catch on very quickly, versus I would have to go home and study my notes for a few hours. Of course, you need some baseline level of intelligence to succeed in law school, but you have that, or you wouldn’t be admitted into law school.

A lot of people also think that you need to work extremely long hours to succeed in law school. And it’s true that law school is a lot of work. So you do need to put in the time; you definitely cannot get by in law school without studying. But in a lot of ways, quality of studying is more important than duration.

So, the key differentiator between students who succeed and excel in law school, and those that don’t, is really this effective study strategy. And just to give you another little tip, when I was in law school, I used to take every single Sunday off. So I used to take one full day a week off of studying, and I would work really hard six days of the week, but I definitely did not spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week studying. What I found was much more effective was using a study strategy, which I’ll share with you today.

So let’s briefly take 15 seconds to talk about who we are, and I’m not going to go into a big speech about who JD Advising is. The main thing that I want to emphasize is that we help students both nationally and globally, and one of the key things that we do is tutor law students so we can help them excel in law school. So when I’m talking to you today, I’m not talking just about my own experience in law school, but I’m talking about all the different students that we tutor, and we have hundreds of them from all different law schools from all over the place. So this strategy is not unique to me; this is used by hundreds of law students to excel in law school.

I want to take a quick second to talk about why academic success is important. A lot of people wonder why succeeding academically is important and what opportunities can academic success unlock. So academic success can unlock a lot of opportunities, and this is particularly true if you succeed in law school your first year and your first semester, and some of the opportunities academic success can unlock are getting a job at a big law firm, doing things like law review or moot court, which are more prestigious extracurricular activities in law school, getting competitive clerkships and internships.

And then another thing that academic success can lead to is passing the Bar exam the first time. And this is particularly true for academic success your first year of law school, because what is taught your first year of law school is later tested on the Bar exam. So, succeeding academically can have a lot of benefits. However, I want to make an important note that academic success is just one way to define success. And in fact, it’s a narrow way to define success. There are a lot of other ways to succeed in law school.

So, one way to succeed in law school is personal happiness and fulfillment, basically being happy, having a fulfilling time in law school, having a fulfilling career after law school. Another way is professional network development like networking. This is very important in law school, and a lot of people get their jobs through their network. In fact, even though I graduated as the No. 1 student in my class, I got my very first job through my network, through a professor that I had. So networking is a very great way to define success.

Making the world a better place like working pro bono hours or working to further a certain cause, this is also a wonderful way to define success. And then lastly, developing certain skills or niches. I had a lot of friends in law school and I have a lot of students now who maybe they aren’t necessarily the very top at their class, but they really carved out a special niche for themselves in research or doing something else. So my point in saying this is that there are a lot of different ways to define success. My presentation today is focusing on this narrow definition, but important definition, of academic success. That is my area of expertise, so that’s what I’ll be talking about.

Now I want to dive right in and talk about what law school is like. When I went to law school, I didn’t have any attorneys in my family and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. So I want to give you a rundown of exactly what law school is like, and specifically how law school differs from undergrad. So the first way that law school differs from undergrad is the classes. The classes in law school are different. And let me tell you exactly what those classes are. Your very first year of law school, you’ll take some substantive law classes, usually three or four at a time, and then you’ll take a legal writing or research class.

So one substantive law class that you will likely take your first year of law school is property. This says, like, “What is property? How do you use property? How do you buy and sell property?” So it talks about all aspects of property. Another class you’ll take is contracts. How do you make contracts? What happens once you have a contract? How do you perform on that? What if you breach a contract? Another class is civil procedure. This is basically the life of a lawsuit. If you have to file a lawsuit, where do you file it? What happens when you file it? What are the different stages of the lawsuit? Once you’re in court, how do you get out of court?

Next you’ll also likely have criminal law your first year of law school. This talks about crimes like homicide, robbery, arson. It talks about different parties to a crime, defenses to a crime, even a basic question like: What is a crime? You’ll have constitutional law your first year of law school. Some students are disappointed because you don’t necessarily learn the fun stuff like free speech your first year of law school. Instead, you’ll likely learn about the powers of the government and the three branches of government, and a historical development of our constitutional law.

And then lastly, you’ll have torts. A lot of people don’t know what a tort is before they go to law school. But this is something like, let’s say you slip and fall in a grocery store or something, and so you want to sue for negligence, and it talks about different torts or causes of action that you can sue for. And then lastly, you’ll have a legal writing and research class. Different law schools approach this differently — sometimes it’s graded on a letter grade, sometimes it’s just given for credit — but it is common to include this in the first year of law school curriculum, where you’ll be expected to write papers and research.

So this is an overview of the classes that you’ll likely encounter your first year of law school. Every law school is slightly different, so your classes might look different than this, but this is a traditional first-year curriculum. Another difference between law school and undergrad is that your assignments will come from casebooks in law school. So in undergrad, you might have been used to having a textbook that tells you everything that you need to know, and you can consult that textbook to see exactly what it is that you need to know. In law school, instead of having a textbook for your course-substantive law school classes, you will have a casebook.

A casebook is what it sounds like: It’s a book full of cases, and cases are legal opinions written by judges. So you’ll have a book full of these legal opinions. Some cases are in your casebook because of their landmark cases, some are in your case book because they show the historical development of the law over time, some are in your casebook because the judge got the law wrong, so it’s an example of bad legal reasoning. When you’re in law school, the vast majority of your assignments will be reading cases. So the professor will say, “Read all these cases and come prepared to talk about them tomorrow in class.”

That leads me to the next difference between law school and college, which is that in law school, professors pretty much use the Socratic method as their primary teaching tool. So, in undergrad, you might have been used to a professor getting up and basically talking and telling you what you needed to know. In law school, in a traditional first-year class, a professor will instead get up in front of the students and choose a student to answer questions, typically about the assigned reading. So they might say things like, “What happened in this case? What did the plaintiff argue? What did the defendant argue? What was the holding of the case?” So they’ll choose a student to answer questions about their reading.

Some students get very intimidated by the Socratic method, but you’ll get used to it, because it is a pretty common method that professors use to teach. And while some professors use a very random method of choosing students to answer questions, other professors will give you some advance notice of when you are going to be on call. For example, they’ll allow you to choose a day, they’ll pick volunteers, they’ll go in alphabetical order or up and down the rows. So it might not necessarily be as bad as it initially seems.

Another big difference between law school and undergrad is the exams. Now, these are different in two ways, and I want to really make this point. The first big difference between exams in undergrad and law school is the style of exam. In law school, typically the exams don’t test things like, “Tell me what the law is,” or “Tell me what happened in this case.” They’re usually not as straightforward of questions that you’ll get. Instead, usually the exam will consist of a story called the fact pattern, and you’ll be expected to read this story, pick out the issues, state the rules, apply the law, and arrive at conclusions for the issues presented in the story. And I’ll talk about that in just a little bit.

But the point that I want to make now is that the exams that you’ll get in law school are a little bit different than the exams that you’ll have in undergrad, and they require more critical thinking. The second point I want to make about exams in law school is that in a traditional first-year law school class, that final exam at the end of the semester is worth 100% of your final grade in law school for that class. So, for example, in your contracts class, you’ll have that one final exam at the end, and in a traditional law school class, it’s worth 100% of your grade. So you’re not really given any feedback and you’re not graded on anything until the end of the semester.

Now please check your syllabus because some professors will change this, they’ll have a midterm or they’ll have other graded assignments, but the vast majority of professors still use this one exam method where they give one exam at the end, and that determines your final grade for the class. Another difference between law school and undergrad is that in your first year of law school, there is a strict grading curve. So, basically, a lot of students don’t get As the first year of law school. Instead, fewer students will get As and a lot of students will get Bs and Cs. So an A your first year of law school basically means a lot, because As aren’t just given to everybody.

And then lastly, we talked about this a little bit before, but law school does require a lot of work. And the best way to work is to work smart. So, to have an efficient approach to law school, which is what I’m going to talk about next. So, I’m going to spend the bulk of my time here talking about how to succeed in law school and exact strategies that you can use throughout the semester to succeed. My goal here is to give you an efficient approach so that you can use this approach throughout the semester and know that you’re on track to do well on the final exam.

And in the meantime, I also hope to save you time, because there’s a lot of inefficient ways to approach law school and to approach studying in general. So I want to give you some ways to save you time and help you study effectively. Before I go through the exact strategy, I want to start with this one tip to keep in mind. And that is that academic success in law school is success on law school final exams. So keep in mind that most of your professors who are giving this traditional law school class will have that one exam at the end that determines your whole final grade, which essentially determines your entire class grade.

So if you want to succeed in law school, really what we’re talking about is succeeding on that final exam. So the question then becomes, what do law school exams test? If you want to succeed on the final exam, you have to know exactly what these law school exams test. And law school exams test two things. First, how well you know the law, and then second, how well you can apply the law to the kind of fact pattern that you’re given on an exam. So, these are the things that you want to focus on throughout the semester.

When was in law school, people would ask how I studied, and I would say, “Memorize and apply, memorize and apply. That’s all I do.” Because these are the key things to focus on throughout the semester. So how do you learn the law? There are really three steps to this. You want to prepare for class effectively so that you can follow a law and you can answer questions and you know what the professor is talking about. Next, you want to create an outline of the law, so you want to have this effective tool that you can use to study. And then lastly, you want to learn your outlines, so you actually want to know the elements of the rules that you’re learning.

And then how do you learn to apply the law to fact patterns? Because it’s not necessarily enough just to know the law, you also want to know how to apply it to those strange exam questions that you’ll likely get on exam day. So this really has two parts: Learn a strategy for answering exam questions, and then practice that strategy. Practice makes perfect, and it’s the best way to get better at the strategy. So what I’m going to do is walk through each of these five things. I’m going to talk about how you learn the law by preparing for class, outlining, and learning your outlines. Then I’m going to talk about an effective strategy to answer exam questions and how to practice that strategy throughout the semester.

So let’s start just by talking about how you learn the law. So the first step to learning the law is preparing for class effectively. There are a few critical things to do when you prepare for class. First, complete the reading pretty close to class. In fact, I recommend completing reading as close to class as possible. You’re going to be assigned a lot of reading; it’s going to be the bulk of your homework assignments in law school. And it’s effective to complete the reading either the morning that you have class or the day before you have class. Some students, and I also made this mistake when I was in law school, try to pre-read the cases, like try to take the weekend and read all the cases for the upcoming week.

But the problem with that, is by the time you get to your Thursday class, you’ll forget a lot of what you read because there’s so much reading. And so you’ll end up either reading it again, which is not effective, or going to class slightly unprepared, which is also not ideal. So it’s a good idea to complete your reading pretty close to class time so that it’s fresh in your mind. Next, prepare to participate. You might be called on in class, so you want to be able to prepare to participate in case you are called on. Preparing to participate also relieves anxiety. If you know you’re prepared, you won’t go to class feeling very anxious.

And then lastly, even if you aren’t necessarily called on, it’s always nice to volunteer. It keeps you engaged and focused in class. And then lastly, book brief cases. This is a very active way to approach cases in law school. So you’ll have a lot of reading in law school. The best way to do this is to take notes and annotate your casebook. And let me show you an example of this. This might be an example of your case. So you might have a case that looks something like this. The best way to approach a case like this when you’re reading it is to do something like highlight the facts, highlight the rule of law, highlight the analysis.

Some students use a complicated highlighter system where the facts are always in yellow, the rule of law is always in blue, the analysis is always in green. And so they carry around a bunch of highlighters. Other students just annotate their casebook — they’ll write facts, rule, analysis next to the corresponding portion of their casebook. The nice thing about doing this is you can follow along closely in class. So, if you are going to class and you’re called on, or you just want to be able to follow along with what the professor is saying, you can have your casebook right in front of you. The professor expects you to consult your casebook during class and if you’re called on.

So by taking these notes right in your casebook, this is an active way to prepare for class and effectively learn the material and follow along. So that’s really the first step, is you want to effectively prepare for class every day, taking this active approach to book briefing cases. The next thing that you want to do is outline the law. Outlining is basically the process of organizing and condensing the law, particularly your class notes, focusing on the rules of law, because it’s ultimately the rules that you want to learn.

Outlining is also very effective because once you have your class outlines, then you don’t necessarily need to go back and look at your class notes, you don’t need to look at your casebooks again, you’re basically distilling everything that you need to know into this document called an outline. And that outline will serve as your tool for review throughout the semester. So having an outline is very freeing because it reduces the amount of things that you need to consult throughout the semester.

So how do you outline? A lot of people aren’t used to outlining; you probably didn’t necessarily create a lot of outlines in undergrad, if any. The best way to get started outlining is to look at your syllabus and organize your outline using your syllabus. So for example, look at the headings in your syllabus. The headings in this mock syllabus that we have on the screen are negligence, affirmative defenses to negligence, and intentional torts. And then under each of those major headings are subheadings: duty of care, breach, causation, harm. Under intentional torts, we have battery, assault, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress.

So these can all serve as headings in your outline. It can tell you the structure of your outline, like this can be your skeleton outline, and then you’ll go in and fill in the appropriate rules of law. Let me give you an example. Let’s say that we take the intentional tort of battery, which is right under ... It’s the first tort under intentional torts in our table of contents. And I’m going to give you a quick lesson on battery. So this is your one-minute substantive law lesson here.

A battery takes place when the defendant acts with intent to cause a harmful or offensive contact or imminent apprehension of such contact, and a harmful or offensive contact directly or indirectly results. All right? That’s the rule of law. What does that mean? Basically, let’s say that someone punches me in the face. OK? I could sue them for battery. They acted by punching me. They had the intent to cause a harmful contact, so they had this bad intent, and then a harmful contact resulted directly because their fist hit my face. OK? So that’s an example of a battery, and that’s a tort that you’ll learn about. And we’re going to circle back to this tort in just a minute when I show you another example.

But one thing you’ll notice when you’re looking at this rule statement is that this rule statement is hard to read, and it will be hard to memorize. It’s just a long sentence. So instead of writing your rule statement like this, what I recommend is that you write it like this. OK? So you can see that the elements of battery are broken up into three pieces. Defendant acts, they have the intent to cause a harmful or offensive contact, and then a harmful or offensive contact results. So it’s these three elements. It’s much easier to memorize and learn the law when you have it broken up into elements, especially if they’re bolded like this.

And then when you think of battery, rather than thinking of one long sentence, you can anchor the rule to these three important elements of act, intent and contact. So I want to show you what an outline looks like, because a lot of what we’re doing is talking generally about outlining, but sometimes it’s a little bit more clear on how to outline when you can see an example. So here’s an example. You can see intentional torts, and you can see the torts of battery, you can see the tort of assault, you can see that each one has elements under it, like with assault, you can see act, intent, and then the third element of imminent apprehension. Here’s false imprisonment. Again, you can see the elements.

Now, if we just take a second and we zoom in on this intentional tort of battery, which we just talked about, you can see the rules are broken up right into those three elements: act, intent, and contact. Then you can see that there’s some additional notes from class. And what I want to point out is that you can also see importantly, there is a case that was reviewed in class called Garratt v. Dailey. I want to make this note because a lot of first-year law students will make the mistake of organizing their whole outline around the cases that they’re reading.

But the important thing is to organize it around rules of law that you’re learning, like battery, assault, false imprisonment, whatever. Cases really serve to illustrate the rules and usually to illustrate a couple important points about the rules of law, but it’s those rules of law that you want to end up knowing and memorizing. So don’t make the mistake of organizing your whole outline around cases; instead, use those cases to illustrate the rules. You can see that this Garratt v. Dailey case is in the outline, but it’s just a couple of sentences. It’s not like you’re including a three-page summary of the case. So it’s just a couple of sentences, and it’s under the appropriate tort of battery. So it’s basically serving to illustrate that tort.

Cases are like story problems in math. So if you took math in undergrad or in high school, you might have remembered having story problems. You didn’t go home and memorize the story problems. Instead, you learned the principles of math they illustrated, because it was those principles that you were later tested on. And cases are very similar in law school. In almost all law school classes, you’re not going to be tested on the specific facts of a case. Rather, you’re going to be tested on the legal principle they illustrate. So make sure to incorporate, if you do incorporate cases in your outline, for example, the landmark cases, put them in the appropriate place, but organize your outline around the rules of law, rather than cases.

Next point about outlining, I highly recommend that you outline within 24 hours of class. If you take your class notes after class and then make it a habit to outline — like what I would do is just go right to a coffee shop, I wouldn’t go home, and I would start creating my outlines. It’s really fresh in your mind if you do this right after class. You’ll internalize what was important from class, and it’s much better to do it shortly after class when the material is fresh in your mind than it is to wait and put it off until, for example, the end of the semester, like some students do.

And that brings me to the next point, which is to start right away. Students who start outlining right away, they have a few advantages. First of all, they get better at outlining as the semester goes on. Second, they tend to feel a lot less lost in their law school classes. For example, if you take time to outline every day after class, for example, then you’ll start to see how the law fits together. By the time you get to week five or six in law school, you’ll understand how what you’re learning that week fits into what you’ve learned in weeks prior. So it’s important to start making this a habit from the beginning of the semester to create your outlines and add to them after class.

As another tip, the No. 1 thing to focus on is what your professor says in class. Remember that your professor is the one who is giving the exam at the end of the semester, your professor is the one grading the exam. So your professor’s class notes are what you really want to focus on.

And I make this point because a lot of students will consult supplements throughout law school, which is great, supplements can be very helpful, but some students consult so many supplements and they have so many resources that they get overwhelmed, and they create all this work for themselves while forgetting that supplements are really there to supplement your class notes, and to supplement what the professor says in class, and what you really want to focus on is what your professor thinks is important and what they talk about in class.

Next, learn your outlines. So just like you should start outlining early on, you should also start reviewing the law early on, and reviewing your outlines early on. Make it a habit to review your outlines regularly. So maybe after you create your outlines, you take a while to review them and try to commit some of the law to memory. One important point about learning the law is, learning the law throughout the semester as you go along will give you increased confidence throughout the semester, you’ll feel better about what you’re learning and less lost, similar to the benefits of actually creating your outlines throughout the semester.

The other important thing to note about learning the law is you don’t necessarily only want to learn it for your final exam, but you’ll also want to know that same law for the Bar exam, which is given when you graduate from law school. And then you’ll also want to know the law just in your profession. You want to be able to understand what the law is and you want to be able to know the rules of law. So learning the law not only will help you on your final exam, but it will also help you on the Bar exam and it will also help you in your profession. So it is an important thing to do throughout the semester.

Use active learning methods. So, this is another important thing to do. I want to give you a quick poll here and ask you, which of the following is an example of active learning? Rereading class notes, listening to lecture, quizzing yourself using flash cards, or all of the above? OK, great. Active learning is so important, because a lot of people will, when I tell them, for example, review your outlines, a lot of people will get in the habit of just reading or rereading their outlines, which is not that effective.

An example of active learning from the poll is to quiz yourself using flash cards. And let me expand on this a little bit more. Active learning typically involves more than one sense, and it typically involves doing something with the material, like quizzing yourself. For example, how I used to learn outlines in law school was covering up the elements of the law and seeing if I could quickly write them down. That’s an example of active learning. Discussing concepts with others, like in a study group; making charts, diagrams, or concept maps. So again, you’re doing something with the material.

Passive learning is exactly how it sounds. It’s just a little bit more passive. Usually it only requires one of your five senses, and it’s things like reading notes, or listening to lecture, or watching videos, but not necessarily doing anything with the material. If you take an active approach to your outlines and make sure that you’re actively learning them and reviewing them, you’ll end up learning the law much quicker and much more efficiently than those who are using passive learning techniques.

And just as a side note, before we move on to the next slide, I do want to make a note that, among the students that we tutor, people who make outlining and learning their outlines a priority tend to do very well in law school. Students that have the best intentions but end up putting it off till the end struggle a little bit more, or their success is not as, for lack of a better word, it’s not as guaranteed in law school. So the best way to put yourself in a position to do well in law school is to make learning the law a priority. But the next thing I want to talk about is applying the law, because this is just as important. You have to learn to apply the law to those strange fact patterns or stories that you’ll be given on your exam.

So this really involves two steps: learning a strategy for answering exam questions, and then practicing that strategy. So the strategy that we’re going to talk about today and that you’ll hear about in law school is the IRAC strategy. And I want to tell you exactly what this is, but I want to illustrate it with a quick fact pattern. So my three word fact pattern is: A punched B. OK? On your actual law school exam, this fact pattern will be longer — it might be something like A punched B, B went to the hospital, the doctor committed malpractice, B slipped and fell on his way out — and they’ll have all kinds of strange things that happen.

But just for the sake of simplicity, we’re going to have this quick, three-word fact pattern. I did hear that a Harvard law professor gave this as a final exam for torts for one year, and students had three hours to discuss the fact pattern. I don’t actually know if it’s true, but I thought that was interesting. So the first step in IRAC is issue; that’s what I stands for in IRAC. So you want to spot all the issues in the fact pattern, and this is how you approach a fact pattern. This is what you want to do on exam day and well before exam day when you’re practicing.

So if we look at this fact pattern, A punched B, what are some of the issues that we see? Well, one of the issues is battery, which we talked about earlier. A punched B; this could be a battery. Other issues could be assault. Maybe there’s a self-defense claim that A could raise, like, “Yes, I punched B, but I was acting in self-defense.” So there could be many issues raised by this simple three word fact pattern. So next, if we look at IRAC, again, the I stands for issue. The R stands for rule. So here you want to state the rules of law. And this is why it’s important that you have those rules of law memorized and that you know the rules of law, because you’re going to have to be able to articulate them on your law school final exam.

So if we look at the rule of law, we could say a battery is an act with intent to cause a harmful or offensive contact and a harmful or offensive contact directly or indirectly results. So we have those three elements of act, intent, and contact. OK? So you state the rule. Next you provide an analysis. OK? And this is where you really want to argue both sides. So you want to use your critical thinking skills and consider arguments on behalf of a plaintiff and of the defendant. This analysis section is worth the bulk of your points on a law school exam. You have to be able to spot the issues and state the rules to even get to this analysis section.

But this is where you’re going to get the most points, because you’re showing off your ability to not only know the law, but also understand it and use it as a tool for arguing. So the best way to get good at an analysis section and to write a good analysis is to ask yourself, “What would the plaintiff argue? What would the defendant argue?” So in this case, what would A argue? What would B argue? A will argue, “Yes, I punched B, but I was acting in self-defense because B lunged at me or whatever.” B would say, “No, you weren’t acting in self-defense. All the elements of battery are present, act, intent, contact, et cetera, et cetera.” Again, the analysis section is where you’ll get the bulk of your points.

And then lastly, we have a conclusion. So this is where you want to arrive at a conclusion and say who will win. Like, A will likely win or B will likely win. Your analysis says why. Some students focus a lot on the conclusion; they’ll say, “Oh, what answer did you arrive at?” after the exam is over. But in reality, the conclusion is worth the least amount of points. In fact, some professors don’t even give points for one conclusion or the other with big issues in the fact pattern. Instead, they just want you to arrive at a conclusion, but they don’t really care what conclusion you arrive at as long as it’s well reasoned.

So this is the IRAC strategy that you want to use on an exam: picking out the issues, stating the rules, applying the law, and concluding for each issue presented. The best way to get good at this is to practice exams. And this is truly the difference between an A student and a B student in law school, and we see this a lot with our own students. Students who take the time to practice exams ahead of time are in very good shape. And they tend to excel on law school exams. Not only that, but if you practice exams ahead of time, when you walk into the exam, it won’t be as daunting, because you’ve already done it.

The final exam itself can be stressful, it’s usually three or four hours, and you have all these fact patterns, but if you do a bunch of them ahead of time, when you walk into the exam, you’ve already done it several times, you’ll feel pretty good about it going into the exam and hopefully leaving the exam. So it’s really critical to practice exams. Obviously you cannot do this your very first week of law school, but you should start incorporating it as the semester goes on. People ask, “Where do I get exams?” This is a critical question. The best source of exams for you to use are your professor’s past exams.

Oftentimes a law school will make this available to you; it could be shared on your law school website. Sometimes there’s exam banks. Sometimes it’s not online, but you have to go to your law library, and they’ll have books of exams or other things that you can copy. But the best source of exams are your professors’ past exams, because this shows you what the professor likes to test. It shows you the format of their exam, the issues that they typically bring up. And if you can get a model answer or student answer, that kind of shows the example of a very good answer, you’ll also see exactly what the professor likes to see in response to their exam. So I recommend that you get a handful or as many of your professor’s past exams as possible and practice them.

And then this step is very important. Once you have an exam that you’ve practiced, compare your answer to a model or sample answer, which is often given with your exam. Self-assessment is critical in law school, because you’re not given feedback throughout the semester. So it’s very important that you take your practice answer and you compare it with the model answer and say things like, “Did I spot the issues? Did I state the rules, or do I need to work on memorization more? How is my analysis? Did I arrive at arguably correct conclusions?” Basically go through the exam very closely next to the model or sample answer and see how you performed.

If your professor does not make past exams available, it’s still important to practice exams. And what I would recommend doing is simply using Google, Google something like “contracts exam model answer,” and you’ll find other professors’ exams. So do a variety of them and make sure that you are answering them well using this self-assessment tool. So this is, again, an overview of how to excel in law school. Basically, learning the law and practicing applying the law, not only close to final exams, but also throughout the semester so that you can be preparing for that final exam.

I want to give a couple other productivity hacks that I sometimes learned a little bit too late and wish I would’ve known earlier, before we get to the Q&A. So my first productivity hack is to take breaks. Some students don’t understand the importance of this, but let’s say that you know are going to study in the library for four hours. Don’t go and study for four hours straight. Instead, break it up into increments and take a quick 10-minute break after 30-, 40-, 50-minute increments. You will do better if you make breaks a priority when you study; you’ll come back more refreshed and focused and able to retain information.

Next, do your most dreaded task first. When I was in law school, I found the hardest thing to do was to memorize my outlines and learn the rules of law. So I would do this early in the morning when I had a cup of coffee, less people were bothering me, and I could also cross it off my list like it was done for the day, I didn’t have to think about it. It also gave me motivation to do the other tasks on my list, because I already got the worst one done.

Make a to-do list and a done list to stay motivated. This is especially important for law students, where there’s a propensity to feel kind of overwhelmed, or like, “Am I doing enough throughout the semester?” So, what I recommend is making a to-do list so you can stay organized and on top of all the things that you need to do. But then also, after you do something, move it to a done list. And that way, you will feel motivated by everything that you’ve accomplished, and if you ever feel like you’re not doing enough, or you feel overwhelmed, you can look back at everything that you’ve already done, and it’ll be a good tool to motivate you to keep going.

Make mental and physical health a priority. I cannot overstate this enough, not only for the sake of studying better, because you really will study better, and you’ll focus more and you’ll be able to retain information and come up with creative arguments if you exercise, if you sleep, if you eat well. But also it’s just important because you will need it after law school. When you’re studying for the Bar exam, when you’re an attorney, mental and physical health should not be ignored.

Stay flexible. This is my very last tip. It’s important to use this general strategy, but understand that your strategy might change depending on your professor and your classes, not in any great way, but for example, some professors might focus a lot on the details and the nitpicky facts of cases. They might take every sentence and dissect that sentence and ask students to define every vocabulary word, versus other professors really might not talk about or focus on the facts of the cases at all. So you’ll want to take a slightly different approach to each of your classes, and you’ll kind of learn what that approach is as the semester goes on and you become more comfortable with the classes and your material. So stay flexible in your approach to your classes in general.

So that wraps up my presentation. We’ll do the Q&A now. If you want to visit us, you can visit our website, social media, or feel free to add me on LinkedIn, but in the meantime, we can head right on over to the Q&A.


COLLIN: Great. Awesome. Awesome, awesome. Thank you, Ashley. So, lots of great questions have come in, and I want to encourage everyone to continue asking questions for the rest of the next 10, 15 minutes or so that we have for Q&A, make sure you keep using that Q&A box and submitting more great questions. So, one question which came in, which I thought was interesting, and maybe it’s a matter of wording, but I think you can clarify it. And the question is, “Is outlining a case the same or different from outlining the rules of law like battery, for example?”


ASHLEY: That is a really good question. Some people will create, essentially, case briefs. So it is ... To answer the question first, it is different. A case brief is when you ... It’s similar to book briefing, like I showed in the presentation, but it’s where you actually write out, here’s the facts of the case, here’s the rule of law, here’s the holding, here’s the procedural history, and you’ll write out the different parts of the case. Usually on a separate piece of paper from your casebook. That’s one tool for actively reading the cases.

Outlining in and of itself is a little bit different because you’re not focusing on the cases, you’re focusing on the rules of law stated in class. And then the cases are simply used to illustrate the rules of law. So it is slightly different. And that case briefing tool can be used as an active way to prepare for class, similar to book briefing, but it’s not the same thing as creating an entire law school outline.


COLLIN: Great. Great. So, it sounds like both are important. Would you say that?


ASHLEY: Yes. It’s important to read closely, and it’s important to outline.


COLLIN: Great. Absolutely. So then, along the lines of stuff that’s important, or maybe not important, I wanted to get your opinion on this question. It’s come in actually several times. How important are study groups, and would you recommend joining one?


ASHLEY: Yes, that is a really good question. So, it really depends on the personal preference of the student. And I’ll give you an example. I, for example, study better by myself. I’m a visual learner. I don’t learn well by discussing concepts with others. Instead, I’d rather have my outline to myself, quiz myself, make concept maps and things like that. So, I did not find study groups that effective and I did not join one in law school. So, basically the first part of the question is, don’t feel pressured to join a study group if it’s not effective for you.

But the second part is, a lot of students do find study groups very effective. We have a lot of students that we tutor that, for example, have little study groups. They’ll talk about exam questions together, they’ll clarify points on their outline together. And so, as long as you have a good study group where you have a clear agenda laid out about what you’re going to talk about, it can be very effective for some students. So if you’re the type of student that benefits from that group learning, I highly recommend joining one. If you really do not benefit from that, then don’t feel pressured to join one just because you feel like you should. It’s really a personal learning style.


COLLIN: Great. And along those lines as to what works best for certain people, maybe not for others, some students have been asking about, “Is it better or worse to type your notes or handwrite them? And is it better or worse to try to outline during class or wait till after?” I don’t know if you have some comments about those kind of two high-level type of questions there?


ASHLEY: Yes. I have a lot of comments and opinions. Regarding the handwriting versus typing, in general, most students type their class notes. I think it’s just people are used to having their laptops, are used to typing. There has been a lot of studies, though, on how handwriting can actually be a lot more effective, because you can’t basically transcribe everything your professor says. So it forces you to think about things before you write them down and take a little bit, I would say, better class notes, even if you’re not writing down every word.

When I was in law school, I found it effective to handwrite, and I handwrote my class notes, but I would say that’s not the majority of students, even though handwriting has been shown to be more effective. The next question about whether or not you should create your outline during class, I’m very passionate about this, and the answer is no, you should not create your outline during class. The problem with students doing that, like basically using their class notes as their outline, is that they become unruly. Basically, there’s too much in there. They can get unorganized. And the idea behind outlining is not to have some 200-page guide that you need to read through, but to have something more concise that lists pretty much exactly what you need to know.

And so, it’s very important to go through your class notes once class is over, and organize them and condense them and get rid of what you don’t necessarily need in your outline. That’s not to say you need to delete your class notes. That would give me anxiety also, but you can just keep them separate from your outline, and then your outline will be more organized and much more easy to use. Great question.


COLLIN: To change gears slightly, a great question which came in is, “Is there an appropriate time to ask your professor if they have past exams available?” And as a follow-up to that, “What if they don’t make their exams available?”


ASHLEY: Yes, that is a great question. Most professors will have something about past exams in their syllabus. Some professors say, if you want to hide something from a student, put it in the syllabus, because nobody reads the syllabus. It’s important to look at the syllabus, because oftentimes they’ll tell you if they’re available there, or they’re available on your web, like, your law school portal or website. So you don’t necessarily even need to ask them, but if they don’t make it available ahead of time, I would ask after the first couple weeks of class if they are available somewhere, just so you can get an idea of what they test.

Sometimes professors don’t have past exams. Typically, this is when they’re newer professors. So if it’s their first year teaching, for example, then they’re not going to have a past exam available. Some of them will nicely try to create some kind of practice exam ahead of time, so you can see their style of exam. But if that’s the case and there really is nothing available for you, then I think it’s very important to Google, for example, “contracts exam model answer,” or “contracts exam with student answers,” so that you can see what other professors have given for their contracts exams, as an example. And you can see different styles of giving an exam.

It might not be exactly tailored to what your professor teaches, but it’ll be close enough, and it’ll give you a good idea of how to approach the general exam. You’ll find that, while it’s important to do your professors’ past exams, if they’re available, a lot of professors are testing the same issues, just dressed up in different fact patterns. So, preparing by using other exams will also be an effective tool.


COLLIN: Great. So obviously, because of today’s topic, we’re talking a lot about success. So some people are wondering if there’s maybe an example of a time you didn’t necessarily have some success in law school was, maybe to make it a little bit easier for you, was there one class in particular that you found particularly difficult, and why did you find it so difficult, and maybe how did these strategies helped you to push through?


ASHLEY: Yes, very good question. When I was in law school, I found my criminal law class to be difficult my first year. I liked criminal law, I still do, but I thought my professor was so much smarter than I was and talked at a level that was way up here. And every day after class, I would go home and I would say, “What in the world did he say?” I couldn’t understand what he was saying. And so, I would consult supplements very heavily for that class, like the examples and explanation series, for example, to try to understand and make sense of my class notes.

I still ended up doing well in the class because I did figure out what he was saying. I did a lot of practice exams, but it was a very big struggle for me to learn from that professor. And I think that most students will find that they have a professor that’s more difficult to learn from than others.


COLLIN: Great. And along those lines, some students might feel like, “OK, well, I’m struggling in a class, I have to just try harder. I have to put in more hours, I have to do more work.” What would you say is the average amount of time? It’s hard to say, obviously, but what does a typical studying workload look like for a law student?


ASHLEY: Yes, that’s a really good question. A lot of people wonder how much time they should put in. I would say that, in a lot of ways, you’re expected to put in time and work hard in law school, but at some point, quality of studying becomes more important than duration. So it’s not just add an extra hour, add an extra hour, and all of a sudden I’m going to do better. Instead, it’s: How am I using the time that I have efficiently? So, if you’re studying efficiently, then that’s more key than looking at the exact number of hours.

But I would say in general, most students will study, like, a few hours during the day. Let’s say, like, three hours during a weekday where you have classes. And then more on weekends. I took every Sunday off, which was not the norm. So I did not study on Sundays, it was just my break day, and it helped rejuvenate me and get me focus and ready for the week. But most students will put in, I would say, a six- to eight-hour day on Saturday and sometimes on Sunday as well. So that’s probably more typical, to put in that number of hours, but you don’t need to study something like 14 hours a day. And in fact, it’s not a good idea to try.


COLLIN: Another tool which students might be tempted to use is their faculty or professor office hours. Would you recommend visiting your professor during office hours? Would that be helpful in a student’s approach to preparing for exams, for example?


ASHLEY: Yes. Visiting office hours is something I recommend. There are a couple things to keep in mind with office hours. The first is, you should tell your professor ahead of time. So even if they have an open-door policy, I don’t recommend just showing up. I did that a few times as a student, and I felt like I was annoying the professor. Instead, I would recommend just telling them, shooting them an email and saying, “Hey, I’m planning on being there.” And then when you are there, come with specific questions. So say, like, “I would like to just discuss this concept or this concept, or could you take a quick look at something I wrote in response to one of the exam questions? Let me know what you think.” So basically come with something specific in mind rather than just showing up expecting them to enlighten you on something.


COLLIN: Great. So I think we have time for one more question, and then I want to make sure you have an opportunity to give some closing thoughts. So my last question is this. If a student were to struggle in their first year, in their first semester or their first year overall, are their chances of success doomed? I think the answer is no, but I wanted to give you a chance to respond.


ASHLEY: Yes, definitely not. Succeeding academically has a lot of advantages, and they can open doors, but there are also so many different ways to carve out your own path, both in your career and otherwise. And one of the things I mentioned in fact early on was networking, for example, building a good connection with your peers. Some students even, like, let’s say I’ve known some students who just really want to work at a big law firm, and big law firms look at grades, but they just take a different route there. They work at a different firm and they work their way up. They have a connection with somebody that they get to know throughout law school. So there’s a lot of different ways to succeed and to carve your own path in law school, even if you don’t necessarily do great your first year. So you’re definitely not doomed by any means.


COLLIN: Fantastic. Well, Ashley, we are remarkably at the end of this, so I wanted to give you an opportunity to close out with some final comments with the people who are still with us today.


ASHLEY: Thank you so much. Well, I just wanted to say a quick thank you to everyone who joined us today, and I also wanted to make a note that I loved law school, I found it to be such a nice challenge, I felt so privileged to be in law school and learn this new way of learning, learn this new way of thinking. And so, even though sometimes it felt really difficult or hard or overwhelming, it gave me a lot of confidence and helped me develop a lot of new skills. So, while law school might seem scary, I think that you’ll really enjoy the experience and that you’ll be very glad that you ended up choosing this path.


COLLIN: Great. Fantastic. Thank you, Ashley, I really appreciate your time today.


ASHLEY: Thank you so much.


COLLIN: Great. Thank you everyone else for joining us today as well. We have done our best to answer as many of your questions as possible during this Q&A, and we got to a lot of them, but we do understand that it was not possible to respond to all of you. So, if you have additional questions, please feel free to email us at

Now, we are adding to the schedule of LawHub webinars. So in addition to today, we have two more webinars coming up over the next two months. So depending on where you are in your law school application journey, I would like to encourage you to join us next week on April 28, for a webinar on making the transition to law school, as well as next month, on May 25, for webinar on how to disagree like a lawyer. Both of those are going to be great.

So if you don’t already have a LawHub account, please be sure to set up one today. Look out for learning opportunities every single month, stay connected with LSAC on social media, and stay tuned for more information about the upcoming Admission Unmasked and Law School Unmasked programs coming this summer. We look forward to seeing you all again soon. Thanks, and have a wonderful day.

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